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GOP and Feinstein Join to Fulfill Obama’s Demand for Renewed Warrantless Eavesdropping December 29, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Civil Liberties, Constitution.
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Roger’s note: More Obama hypocrisy and lies.

 

Published on Friday, December 28, 2012 by The Guardian/UK

The California Democrat’s disgusting rhetoric recalls the worst of Dick Cheney while advancing Obama’s agenda

Dianne Feinstein, Saxby Chambliss, Mike Rogers

Democratic Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein joined with GOP Senator Saxby Chambliss (right) to extend Obama’s warrantless eavesdropping powers. (Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP)

by Glenn Greenwald

To this day, many people identify mid-2008 as the time they realized what type of politician Barack Obama actually is. Six months before, when seeking the Democratic nomination, then-Sen. Obama unambiguously vowed that he would filibuster “any bill” that retroactively immunized the telecom industry for having participated in the illegal Bush NSA warrantless eavesdropping program.

But in July 2008, once he had secured the nomination, a bill came before the Senate that did exactly that – the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 – and Obama not only failed to filibuster as promised, but far worse, he voted against the filibuster brought by other Senators, and then voted in favor of enacting the bill itself. That blatant, unblinking violation of his own clear promise – actively supporting a bill he had sworn months earlier he would block from a vote – caused a serious rift even in the middle of an election year between Obama and his own supporters.

Critically, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 did much more than shield lawbreaking telecoms from all forms of legal accountability. Jointly written by Dick Cheney and then-Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Jay Rockefeller, it also legalized vast new, sweeping and almost certainly unconstitutional forms of warrantless government eavesdropping.

In doing so, the new 2008 law gutted the 30-year-old FISA statute that had been enacted to prevent the decades of severe spying abuses discovered by the mid-1970s Church Committee: by simply barring the government from eavesdropping on the communications of Americans without first obtaining a warrant from a court. Worst of all, the 2008 law legalized most of what Democrats had spent years pretending was such a scandal: the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program secretly implemented by George Bush after the 9/11 attack. In other words, the warrantless eavesdropping “scandal” that led to a Pulitzer Prize for the New York Times reporters who revealed it ended not with investigations or prosecutions for those who illegally spied on Americans, but with the Congressional GOP joining with key Democrats (including Obama) to legalize most of what Bush and Cheney had done. Ever since, the Obama DOJ has invoked secrecy and standing doctrines to prevent any courts from ruling on whether the warrantless eavesdropping powers granted by the 2008 law violate the Constitution.

The 2008 FISA law provided that it would expire in four years unless renewed. Yesterday, the Senate debated its renewal. Several Senators – Democrats Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden of Oregon along with Kentucky GOP Senator Rand Paul – each attempted to attach amendments to the law simply to provide some modest amounts of transparency and oversight to ensure that the government’s warrantless eavesdropping powers were constrained and checked from abuse.

Just consider how modest these amendments were. Along with Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, Sen. Wyden has spent two years warning Americans that the government’s eavesdropping powers are being interpreted (by secret court decisions and the Executive Branch) far more broadly than they would ever suspect, and that, as a result, these eavesdropping powers are being applied far more invasively and extensively than is commonly understood.

As a result, Wyden yesterday had two amendments: one that would simply require the NSA to give a general estimate of how many Americans are having their communications intercepted under this law (information the NSA has steadfastly refused to provide), and another which would state that the NSA is barred from eavesdropping on Americans on US soil without a warrant. Merkley’s amendment would compel the public release of secret judicial rulings from the FISA court which purport to interpret the scope of the eavesdropping law on the ground that “secret law is inconsistent with democratic governance”; the Obama administration has refused to release a single such opinion even though the court, “on at least one occasion”, found that the government was violating the Fourth Amendment in how it was using the law to eavesdrop on Americans.

But the Obama White House opposed all amendments, demanding a “clean” renewal of the law without any oversight or transparency reforms. Earlier this month, the GOP-led House complied by passing a reform-free version of the law’s renewal, and sent the bill Obama wanted to the Senate, where it was debated yesterday afternoon.

The Democratic Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, took the lead in attacking Wyden, Merkley, Udall and Paul with the most foul Cheneyite accusations, and demanded renewal of the FISA law without any reforms. And then predictably, in virtually identical 37-54 votes, Feinstein and her conservative-Democratic comrades joined with virtually the entire GOP caucus (except for three Senators: Paul, Mike Lee and Dean Heller) to reject each one of the proposed amendments and thus give Obama exactly what he demanded: reform-free renewal of the law (while a few Democratic Senators have displayed genuine, sustained commitment to these issues, most Democrats who voted against FISA renewal yesterday did so symbolically and half-heartedly, knowing and not caring that they would lose as evidenced by the lack of an attempted filibuster).

In other words, Obama successfully relied on Senate Republicans (the ones his supporters depict as the Root of All Evil) along with a dozen of the most militaristic Democrats to ensure that he can continue to eavesdrop on Americans without any warrants, transparency or real oversight. That’s the standard coalition that has spent the last four years extending Bush/Cheney theories, eroding core liberties and entrenching endless militarism: Obama + the GOP caucus + Feinstein-type Democrats. As Michelle Richardson, the ACLU’s legislative counsel, put it to the Huffington Post: “I bet [Bush] is laughing his ass off.”

But what’s most remarkable here is not so much what happened but how it happened. When Obama voted in 2008 to massively increase the government’s warrantless eavesdropping powers, I so vividly recall his supporters insisting that he was only doing this because he wanted to win the election, and then would get into power and fix these abuses by reversing them. Yes, there were actually large numbers of people who believed this. And they were encouraged to believe this by Obama himself, who, in explaining his 2008 vote, said things like this:

“I know that the FISA bill that passed the House is far from perfect. I wouldn’t have drafted the legislation like this, and it does not resolve all of the concerns that we have about President Bush’s abuse of executive power. . . .

I do so [vote for the FISA bill] with the firm intention – once I’m sworn in as president – to have my Attorney General conduct a comprehensive review of all our surveillance programs, and to make further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse in the future.”

Needless to say, none of that ever happened. Now, the warrantless eavesdropping bill that Obama insisted was plagued by numerous imperfections is one that he is demanding be renewed without a single change. Last week, Marcy Wheeler documented the huge gap between (a) what Obama vowed he would do when he voted for this law in 2008 versus (b) what he has actually done in power (they’re opposites).

Indeed, when it came time last year to vote on renewal of the Patriot Act – remember how Democrats used to pretend during the Bush years to find the Patriot Act so alarming? – the Obama administration also demanded its renewal without a single reform. When a handful of Senators led by Rand Paul nonetheless proposed modest amendments to eliminate some of the documented abuses of the Patriot Act, Democratic majority leader Harry Reid did his best Dick Cheney impression by accusing these disobedient lawmakers of risking a Terrorist attack by delaying renewal:

“When the clock strikes midnight tomorrow, we will be giving terrorists the opportunity to plot against our country undetected. The senator from Kentucky is threatening to take away the best tools we have for stopping them.

“We all remember the tragic Fort Hood shootings less than two years ago. Radicalized American terrorists bought guns and used them to kill 13 civilians [by "civilians", Reid means: members of the US military]. It is hard to imagine why the senator would want to hold up the Patriot Act for a misguided amendment that would make American less safe.”

In other words: if you even try to debate the Patriot Act or add any amendments to it, then you are helping the Terrorists: classic Dick Cheney. (Democratic Sen. Udall defended Paul from Reid’s disgusting attack: “This is not a Patriot Act. Patriots stand up for the Constitution. Patriots stand up for freedom and liberty that’s embodied in the Constitution. And I think true patriots, when they’re public servants, public servants stand up and do what’s right, even if it’s unpopular”).

Yesterday, I watched as Dianne Feinstein went well beyond Harry Reid’s disgusting Cheneyite display. Feinstein is one of the Senate’s richest plutocrats, whose husband, Richard Blum, has coincidentally been quite enriched by military and other government contracts during her Senate career. During this time, Feinstein has acted as the most faithful servant in the Senate of the National Security State’s unchecked, authoritarian power.

Yesterday, Feinstein stood up on the Senate floor and began by heaping praise on her GOP comrade, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, for leading his caucus to join her in renewing the FISA act without any reforms. She then unleashed a vile attack on her Democratic colleagues – Wyden, Merkley, and Udall, along with Paul – in which she repeatedly accused them of trying to make the nation vulnerable to a Terrorist attack.

Feinstein insisted that one could support their amendments only if “you believe that no one is going to attack us”. She warned that their amendments would cause “another 9/11″. She rambled about Najibullah Zazi and his attempt to detonate a bomb on the New York City subway: as though a warrant requirement, let alone disclosure requirements for the eavesdropping program, would have prevented his detection. Having learned so well from Rudy Giuliani (and Harry Reid), she basically just screamed “Terrorist!” and “9/11″ over and over until her time ran out, and then proudly sat down as though she had mounted rational arguments against the transparency and oversight amendments advocated by Wyden, Merkley, Udall and Paul.

Even more notably, Feinstein repeatedly argued that requiring even basic disclosure about the eavesdropping program – such as telling Americans how many of them are targeted by it – would, as she put it, “destroy the program”. But if “the program” is being conducted properly and lawfully, why would that kind of transparency kill the program? As the ACLU’s Richardson noted: “That Sen. Feinstein says public oversight will lead to the end of the program says a lot about the info that’s being hidden.” In response to her warnings that basic oversight and transparency would destroy the program, Mother Jones’ Adam Serwer similarly asked: “Why, if it’s all on the up and up?”

All of this was accomplished with the core Bush/Cheney tactic used over and over: they purposely waited until days before the law is set to expire to vote on its renewal, then told anyone who wants reforms that there is no time to consider them, and that anyone who attempted debate would cause the law to expire and risk a Terrorist attack. Over and over yesterday, Feinstein stressed that only “four days remained” before the law expires and that any attempts even to debate the law, let alone amend it, would leave the nation vulnerable.

It’s hard to put into words just how extreme was Feinstein’s day-long fear-mongering tirade. “I’ve never seen a Congressional member argue so strongly against Executive Branch oversight as Sen. Feinstein did today re the FISA law,” said Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations. Referring to Feinstein’s alternating denials and justifications for warrantless eavesdropping on Americans, the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer observed: “This FISA debate reminds of the torture debate circa 2004: We don’t torture! And anyway, we have to torture, we don’t have any choice.”

Jaffer added that Feinstein’s strident denials that secret warrantless eavesdropping poses any dangers “almost makes you nostalgic for Ashcroft’s ‘phantoms of lost liberty’ speech” – referring to the infamous 2001 decree from Bush’s Attorney General:

“To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists for they erode our unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America’s enemies and pause to America’s friends.”

That is exactly the foul message which Dianne Feinstein, doing the bidding of the Obama White House, spewed at her liberal Senate colleagues (and a tiny handful of Republicans) for the crime of wanting to bring some marginal transparency and oversight to the warrantless eavesdropping powers with which Obama vested himself when voting in 2008 for that FISA law. As it turns out, Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin had it exactly right in mid-2008 when explaining – in the face of lots of progressive confusion and even anger – why Obama decided to support a FISA bill that vested the executive with massive unchecked eavesdroppoing power: namely, Obama “plans to be the executive”, so “from Obama’s perspective, what’s not to like?”

Just four or five years ago, objections to warrantless eavesdropping were a prime grievance of Democrats against Bush. The controversies that arose from it were protracted, intense, and often ugly. Progressives loved to depict themselves as stalwartly opposing right-wing radicalism in defense of Our Values and the Constitution.

Fast forward to 2012 and all of that, literally, has changed. Now it’s a Democratic President demanding reform-free renewal of his warrantless eavesdropping powers. He joins with the Republican Party to codify them. A beloved Democratic Senator from a solidly blue state leads the fear-mongering campaign and Terrorist-enabling slurs against anyone who opposes it. And it now all happens with virtually no media attention or controversy because the two parties collaborate so harmoniously to make it happen. And thus does a core guarantee of the founding – the search warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment – blissfully disappear into nothingness.

Here we find yet again a defining attribute of the Obama legacy: the transformation of what was until recently a symbol of right-wing radicalism – warrantless eavesdropping – into meekly accepted bipartisan consensus. But it’s not just the policies that are so transformed but the mentality and rhetoric that accompanies them: anyone who stands in the way of the US Government’s demands for unaccountable, secret power is helping the Terrorists. “The administration has decided the program should be classified”, decreed Feinstein, and that is that.

In 2005, the Bush White House invoked the “very bad guy” defense to assure us that we need not worry about the administration’s secret warrantless eavesdropping program; as a Bush White House spokesman put it:

“This is a limited program. This is not about monitoring phone calls designed to arrange Little League practice or what to bring to a potluck dinner. These are designed to monitor calls from very bad people to very bad people who have a history of blowing up commuter trains, weddings and churches.”

In 1968, Nixon Attorney General John Mitchell similarly told the public in the face of rising concerns over government eavesdropping powers that “any citizen of this United States who is not involved in some illegal activity has nothing to fear whatsoever.” That is the noble tradition which the Obama White House, Dianne Feinstein and their GOP partners are continuing now.

© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited

Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon. His most recent book is, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. His other books include: Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics, A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.

Extremism normalized July 31, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Torture.
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Roger’s note: I am reminded of Barry Goldwater’s infamous statement in his acceptance speech for the 1964 Republican nomination: “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice!”  Today’s neo-con Republicans have come a long way since then, in a neo-fascist direction that I suspect would trouble a libertarian like Goldwater, who was an Air Force General if I remember correctly.  I would argue in fact that Goldwater’s genuine spiritual heirs are not the nut case Republican leadership or Fox News racists, but rather the libertarian Republicans such as Ron Paul, who are the only vocal critics in Congress (apart from a handful of Democrats)  of the Bush/Clinton/Obama super imperialist and militarist foreign policy (while, unfortunately, remaining shills for American corporatism with respect to domestic policy).

Tuesday, Jul 31, 2012 05:19 AM EST, www.salon.com

 

How Americans are efficiently trained to acquiesce to ideas once deemed so radical as to be unthinkable

By

 

Extremism normalizedSen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, shakes hands with Vice President Dick Cheney after McCain introduced Cheney during a campaign stop, Friday, July 16, 2004, at the Lansing Center in Lansing, Mich. (Credit: AP Photo/Al Goldis)

(updated below – Update II)

Remember when, in the wake of the 9/11 attack, the Patriot Act was controversial, held up as the symbolic face of Bush/Cheney radicalism and widely lamented as a threat to core American liberties and restraints on federal surveillance and detention powers? Yet now, the Patriot Act is quietly renewed every four years by overwhelming majorities in both parties (despite substantial evidence of serious abuse), and almost nobody is bothered by it any longer. That’s how extremist powers become normalized: they just become such a fixture in our political culture that we are trained to take them for granted, to view the warped as normal. Here are several examples from the last couple of days illustrating that same dynamic; none seems overwhelmingly significant on its own, but that’s the point:

After Dick Cheney criticized John McCain this weekend for having chosen Sarah Palin as his running mate, this was McCain’s retort:

Look, I respect the vice president. He and I had strong disagreements as to whether we should torture people or not. I don’t think we should have.

Isn’t it amazing that the first sentence there (“I respect the vice president”) can precede the next one (“He and I had strong disagreements as to whether we should torture people or not”) without any notice or controversy? I realize insincere expressions of respect are rote ritualism among American political elites, but still, McCain’s statement amounts to this pronouncement: Dick Cheney authorized torture — he is a torturer — and I respect him. How can that be an acceptable sentiment to express? Of course, it’s even more notable that political officials whom everyone knows authorized torture are walking around free, respected and prosperous, completely shielded from all criminal accountability. “Torture” has been permanently transformed from an unspeakable taboo into a garden-variety political controversy, where it shall long remain.

Equally remarkable is this Op-Ed from The Los Angeles Times over the weekend, condemning President Obama’s kill lists and secret assassinations:

Allowing the president of the United States to act as judge, jury and executioner for suspected terrorists, including U.S. citizens, on the basis of secret evidence is impossible to reconcile with the Constitution’s guarantee that a life will not be taken without due process of law.

Under the law, the government must obtain a court order if it seeks to target a U.S. citizen for electronic surveillance, yet there is no comparable judicial review of a decision to kill a citizen. No court is even able to review the general policies for such assassinations. . . .

But if the United States is going to continue down the troubling road of state-sponsored assassination, Congress should, at the very least, require that a court play some role, as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court does with the electronic surveillance of suspected foreign terrorists. Even minimal judicial oversight might make the president and his advisors think twice about whether an American citizen poses such an “imminent” danger that he must be executed without a trial.

Isn’t it amazing that a newspaper editorial even has to say: you know, the President isn’t really supposed to have the power to act as judge, jury and executioner and order American citizens assassinated with no transparency or due process? And isn’t it even more amazing that the current President has actually seized and exercised this power with very little controversy? Recall that when The New York Times first confirmed Obama’s targeting of citizens for assassinations in 2010, it noted, citing “officials,” that “it is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing.” No longer. That presidential power — literally the most tyrannical power a political leader can seize — is also now a barely noticed fixture of our political culture.

Meanwhile, we have this, from the Associated Press yesterday:

Remember when John Poindexter’s “Total Information Awareness” program – which was “to use data mining technologies to sift through personal transactions in electronic data to find patterns and associations connected to terrorist threats and activities”: basically create real-time surveillance of everyone – was too extreme and menacing even for an America still at its peak of post-9/11 hysteria? Yet here we have the NYPD — more than a decade removed from 9/11 — announcing a very similar program in very similar terms, and it’s almost impossible to envision any real controversy.

Similarly, in the AP’s sentence above describing the supposed targets of this new NYPD surveillance program: what, exactly, is a “potential terrorist”? Isn’t that an incredibly Orwellian term given that, by definition, it can include anyone and everyone? In practice, it will almost certainly mean: all Muslims, plus anyone who engages in any activism that opposes prevailing power factions. That’s how the American Surveillance State is always used. Still, the undesirability of mass, “all-seeing,” indiscriminate surveillance regime was a given — a view, in sum, that the East German Stasi was a bad idea that we would not want to replicate on American soil — yet now, there is almost no limit on the level of state surveillance we tolerate.

In The New York Times yesterday, Elisabeth Bumiller wrote about the very moving and burdensome plight of America’s drone pilots who, sitting in front of a “computer console [] in the Syracuse suburbs,” extinguish people’s lives thousands of miles away by launching missiles at them. The bulk of the article is devoted to eliciting sympathy and admiration for these noble warriors, but when doing so, she unwittingly describes America’s future with domestic surveillance drones:

Among the toughest psychological tasks is the close surveillance for aerial sniper missions, reminiscent of the East German Stasi officer absorbed by the people he spies on in the movie “The Lives of Others.” A drone pilot and his partner, a sensor operator who manipulates the aircraft’s camera, observe the habits of a militant as he plays with his children, talks to his wife and visits his neighbors. They then try to time their strike when, for example, his family is out at the market.

“They watch this guy do bad things and then his regular old life things,” said Col. Hernando Ortega, the chief of aerospace medicine for the Air Education Training Command, who helped conduct a study last year on the stresses on drone pilots. . . . ”You see them wake up in the morning, do their work, go to sleep at night,” said Dave, an Air Force major who flew drones from 2007 to 2009 at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada and now trains drone pilots at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.

That’s the level of detailed monitoring that drone surveillance enables. Numerous attributes of surveillance drones — their ability to hover in the same place for long periods of time, their ability to remain stealthy, their increasingly cheap cost and tiny size — enable surveillance of a breadth, duration and invasiveness unlike other types of surveillance instruments, such as police helicopters or satellites. Recall that one new type of drone already in use by the U.S. military in Afghanistan — the Gorgon Stare, named after the “mythical Greek creature whose unblinking eyes turned to stone those who beheld them” — is “able to scan an area the size of a small town” and “the most sophisticated robotics use artificial intelligence that [can] seek out and record certain kinds of suspicious activity”; boasted one U.S. General: “Gorgon Stare will be looking at a whole city, so there will be no way for the adversary to know what we’re looking at, and we can see everything.”

There is zero question that this drone surveillance is coming to American soil. It already has spawned a vast industry that is quickly securing formal approval for the proliferation of these surveillance weapons. There’s some growing though still marginal opposition among both the independent left and the more libertarian-leaning precincts on the right, but at the moment, that trans-ideological coalition is easily outgunned by the combination of drone industry lobbyists and Surveillance State fanatics. The idea of flying robots hovering over American soil monitoring what citizens do en masse is yet another one of those ideas that, in the very recent past, seemed too radical and dystopian to entertain, yet is on the road to being quickly mainstreamed. When that happens, it is no longer deemed radical to advocate such things; radicalism is evinced by opposition to them.

* * * * *

Whatever one thinks of the RT network, Alyona Minkovski, a host of a show on that network, is an excellent journalist and interviewer. Last night was her last show — she’s leaving to work on a Huffington Post video show — and I was on last night, along with Jane Hamsher, discussing several domestic police state issues…

 

Over the weekend, in the column I wrote hailing the Internet’s capacity to detect falsehoods and myths better than traditional journalism, I made reference to the “mass panic” caused by Orson Wells’ 1938 broadcast of “The War of the Worlds.” Numerous people — in comments, via email and elsewhere — objected by arguing that no such panic was ever documented. Journalism Professor W. Joseph Campbell makes the case here that this is nothing more than urban myth. He suggests that the widespread propagation of this myth on the Internet undermines my argument because it shows how the Internet can spread rather than combat falsehoods (Dan Drezner makes a related argument here), but (at least with regard to Campbell’s argument) I’d say the opposite is true. Leaving aside that this “mass panic” myth was widely believed long before the Internet was widely used, I was quickly exposed to, and persuaded by, the likely mythical nature of my claim as a result of the interactive process of Internet journalism which I praised.

UPDATE: In Mother Jones, Adam Serwer argues that “Congress is finally standing up to President Barack Obama on targeted killing” — specifically that they “are pushing the administration to explain why it believes it’s legal to kill American terror suspects overseas.” Notably, this push is coming from Republican Senators, while leading Democrats such as  are attempting to impede these efforts to bring basic accountability and transparency to this most radical power. Note the debate here: not whether the President should have the power to order Americans executed without due process, but simply whether he should have to account to Congress for what he does and what the legal framework is that he believes authorizes this.

 

UPDATE II: Via BuzzFeed and Spencer Ackerman, here is the logo for the U.S. Navy’s executive offices for its drone planes:

 Why do they hate us?

Is Obama Continuing the Bush/Cheney Assassination Program? July 14, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Pakistan, Torture, War.
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Published on Tuesday, July 14, 2009 by RebelReports

Congress is outraged that Cheney concealed a CIA program to assassinate al Qaeda leaders, but they should also be investigating why Obama is continuing—and expanding—U.S. assassinations.

by Jeremy Scahill

In June, CIA Director Leon Panetta allegedly informed members of the House Intelligence Committee of the existence of a secret Bush era program implemented in the days after 9-11 that, until last month, had been hidden from lawmakers. The concealment of the plan, Panetta alleged, happened at the orders of then-Vice President Dick Cheney.

Now, The New York Times is reporting that this secret program that had “been hidden from lawmakers” by Cheney was a plan “to dispatch small teams overseas to kill senior Qaeda terrorists.” The Wall Street Journal, which originally reported on the plan, reported that the paramilitary teams were to implement a “2001 presidential legal pronouncement, known as a finding, which authorized the CIA to pursue such efforts.”

The plan, the Times says, never was carried out because “Officials at the spy agency over the years ran into myriad logistical, legal and diplomatic obstacles.” Instead, the Bush administration “sought an alternative to killing terror suspects with missiles fired from drone aircraft or seizing them overseas and imprisoning them in secret C.I.A. jails.”

The House Intelligence Committee is now reportedly preparing an investigation into this program and the Senate may follow suit. “We were kept in the dark. That’s something that should never, ever happen again,” said Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein. Withholding this information from Congress “is a big problem, because the law is very clear.”

There are several important issues raised by this unfolding story. First, while the Times claims the program was never implemented, the program sounds very similar to what Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sy Hersh described in March as an “executive assassination ring” run by Dick Cheney that operated throughout the Bush years:

“Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths.”Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.

Hersh’s description sounds remarkably similar to that offered by the Times and the Wall Street Journal. While the House and Senate should certainly investigate this program-and lying to Congress, misleading it or concealing from it such programs is likely illegal-it is also important to guarantee that it has actually stopped. But another pressing issue for the Congress is investigating the Obama administration’s adoption of this secret program’s central components. As the Times noted, the major reason-beyond logistical hurdles-that the program was not implemented (if that is even true) was that the Bush administration began increasing its use of weaponized drones to conduct Israeli-style targeted assassinations (often, these drones kill many more civilians than so-called “targets”). These drone attacks, coupled with the use of extraordinary rendition and secret prisons, became the official program for “eliminating” specific individuals labeled “high value” targets by the administration.

The Obama administration has not only continued the Bush policy of using drones to carry out targeted assassinations, but has also continued the use of prisons where people are held indefinitely without charge or access to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Under Obama, Bagram air base in Afghanistan is expanding and, at present, hundreds of prisoners are held there without charges. In essence, the Obama administration is doing exactly what this secret CIA program sought to do, albeit out in the open.

Beyond the Cheney assassination program, what is really worthy of Congressional investigation right now is the legality of Obama’s current policy of assassination. In 1976, President Gerald Ford issued an executive order banning assassinations. “No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination,” states Executive Order 11905.

White House lawyers–with their seemingly infinite legal creativity–would likely say that the drone strikes are not assassinations, but rather part of war. That putting poison in a cigar of a foreign leader is different than launching missiles at a funeral where an “enemy” is believed to be among the mourners. While the implications of the U.S. assassinating heads of state or foreign officials are grave, it could be argued that, on some levels, the drone attacks are worse in the sense that they kill many more civilians. Moreover, these drone attacks largely take place is Pakistan, which is a sovereign nation. There is no legal or Congressional declaration of war against Pakistan.

It is long past due that the Congress investigate this U.S. government assassination program. The politically inconvenient truth, however, is this: An actual investigation would require the Democrats pounding Cheney over his concealment of an assassination program (that allegedly was not implemented) to focus their investigation on how President Obama actually implemented and expanded that very program.

© 2009 Jeremy Scahill

Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.

Are leading Democrats Afraid of a Special Prosecutor to Investigate Torture? April 24, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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by Jeremy Scahill

There are not exactly throngs of Democratic Congressmembers beating down the doors of the Justice Department demanding that Attorney General Eric Holder appoint a special Independent Prosecutor to investigate torture and other crimes. And now it seems that whatever Congress does in the near term won’t even be open to the public. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said this week that he prefers that the Senate Intelligence Committee hold private hearings. The chair of the committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, has asked the White House not to take any action until this private affair is concluded. She estimates that will take 6-8 months.

“I think it would be very unwise, from my perspective, to start having commissions, boards, tribunals, until we find out what the facts are,” Reid said Wednesday. “I don’t know a better way of getting the facts than through the intelligence committee.” It is hard to imagine other Democrats bucking Reid on this and there is certainly no guarantee that the committee will release an unclassified report when it concludes its private inquiry. While Representative John Conyers says he will hold hearings, that is not the same as the independent criminal investigation this situation warrants.

Then there is the deeply flawed plan coming from the other influential camp in the Democratic leadership. The alternative being offered is not an independent special prosecutor, but rather a more politically palatable counter-proposal for creating a bi-partisan commission. This is a very problematic approach (as I have pointed out) for various reasons, including the possibility of immunity offers and a sidelining of actual prosecutions. Michael Ratner from the Center for Constitutional Rights has also advocated against this, saying this week it will lead to a “whitewash:”

We have reached a critical political moment on this issue. Obama has been forced or pushed to open the door to prosecutions, an opening I thought would take much longer to achieve. If there was ever a time to push that door open wider and demand a special prosecutor it is now. We have documented and open admissions of criminality. We have Cheney and Hayden admitting what they approved these techniques; and Cheney saying he would approve waterboarding again. We have the Senate Armed Services Report detailing how the torture program was authored and approved by our highest officials in the White House and employed in Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan. And we have thousands of pages of proof. There is public outrage about the torture program and the media in the U.S. and the world are covered with the U.S. misdeeds.So at this moment, instead of human rights groups getting together and calling for a special prosecutor what do they do? Call for a commission. What this call does and it must be said strongly is take the pressure off what is the growing public push for prosecutions and deflects it into a commission. Outrage that could actually lead to prosecutions is now focused away and into a commission. Think if this list of human rights groups had demanded prosecutions. We would be closer and not farther from the goal.

There are some powerful Democrats who certainly would not want an independent public investigation, particularly those who served on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees when Bush was in power and torture was being ordered and authorized. That’s because in the aftermath of 9/11, some in Congress were briefed on the torture methods in real time and either were silent or, in some cases, supported these brutal tactics or, as some have suggested, possibly encouraged them to be expanded.

While Republicans are flailing to find ways of defending all of this torture and attempting to discredit or marginalize those who speak out against it, it is interesting to note the Op-ed Thursday in The Wall Street Journal by Reprentative Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, called “Congress Knew About the Interrogations.” In the piece where Hoekstra parrots the Dick Cheney blah-blah-blah about torture working, he manages to make an important point:

[M]embers of Congress from both parties have been fully aware of them since the program began in 2002. We believed it was something that had to be done in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to keep our nation safe. After many long and contentious debates, Congress repeatedly approved and funded this program on a bipartisan basis in both Republican and Democratic Congresses.

Hoekstra cites the internal memo written last week by Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, to his staff in which Blair said “[h]igh value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa’ida organization that was attacking this country.” (This was the memo that was originally released to the public with that sentence conveniently ommitted).

Hoekstra writes:

Members of Congress calling for an investigation of the enhanced interrogation program should remember that such an investigation can’t be a selective review of information, or solely focus on the lawyers who wrote the memos, or the low-level employees who carried out this program. I have asked Mr. Blair to provide me with a list of the dates, locations and names of all members of Congress who attended briefings on enhanced interrogation techniques.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) added to this mix by saying that he had seen a partial list of Congressmembers “who were briefed on these interrogation methods and not a word was raised at the time, not one word.”

Among those on the House Intelligence Committee at the time was current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She has said, “we were not, I repeat, we were not told that waterboarding or other enhanced methods were used.”

“What they did tell us is that they had some legislative counsel … but not that they would. And that further, further the point was that if and when they would be used they would brief Congress at that time.”

But contrary to Pelosi’s assertion, The Washington Post reported that Pelosi and other Democrats were “given a virtual tour of the CIA’s overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk:”

Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said.

“The briefer was specifically asked if the methods were tough enough,” said a U.S. official who witnessed the exchange.

The Pakistani Monster March 8, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uncategorized.
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Recently, a top US diplomat warned that Pakistan poses a bigger security threat to the world than Afghanistan. This ominous statement tracks a series of alarming developments: the surreal video of twelve gunmen brazenly attacking the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore’s broad daylight; Pakistan’s capitulation to the Taliban on implementing sharia law in the Swat Valley; several days of riots after the Supreme Court banned popular opposition leader Nawaz Sharif and his brother from holding office; evidence directly linking Pakistani terrorist groups to November’s Mumbai tragedy; a significant increase in suicide bombings within Pakistan; and, of course, the rapid Talibanisation of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) – a Grand Central Station for multicultural extremists seeking training, support and safe haven.

Although Barack Obama’s initial language, tone and action towards Pakistan reflected a unilateral belligerence reminiscent of his predecessor (he’d launched two controversial predator drone attacks as of March), the new president recently conceded: “We’ve been thinking very militarily, but we haven’t been as effective in thinking diplomatically – we haven’t been thinking effectively around the development side of the equation.”

In fact, neither the leaders of the US nor Pakistan have ever sincerely committed their resources and money to empowering Pakistan’s electorate, building infrastructure or creating sustainable social, economic and political reform programmes.

California senator Dianne Feinstein’s recent disclosure regarding CIA predator drones doesn’t bolster Pakistanis’ confidence in their ineffectual leadership – despite the government’s assurance to citizens that it will never compromise its “sovereignty”. Feinstein revealed the painfully obvious: the unmanned CIA predator aircraft responsible for successfully eliminating 11 to 20 high-profile threats – as well as killing hundreds of innocent Pakistani civilians – were flown from Pakistani air bases. A prominent Pakistani attorney and activist told me last year that the prevailing attitude among Pakistanis is that their government is either a complete ghulam (servant) of the US or a toothless, complicit partner, since “the road to Islamabad leads to the White House”.

That “road” was paved by the CIA and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence during the 1980s as the US funded and supported the dictatorship of General Zia ul Haq, whose “Islamisation” period nurtured the proliferation of radical Islamic madrassas and trained the mujahiden soldiers – future Taliban and al-Qaida members – to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Insisting een soldierson supporting military dictators to the detriment of Pakistan’s democratically inclined electorate, the Bush administration championed General Pervez Musharraf, who spearheaded freedom and democracy by imposing martial law, sacking a critical and independent judiciary, arresting activists and lawyers and shutting down private television stations. He was rewarded with nearly $12bn as an ally in the “war on terror”.

According to Ahmed Rashid in his book Descent into Chaos, the ISI played Jekyll and Hyde as it spent some of these resources providing valuable intelligence, while covertly supporting the Taliban as a buffer between Pakistan and India – which they believe uses Afghanistan to gain “strategic depth” and fund Balochi insurgents to undermine Pakistan. Musharraf’s India obsession also gave deferential, protective treatment to terrorist organizations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba – which initially fought for the nationalist, political struggle in Kashmir, but then flourished into a full-fledged, ideological militant jihad responsible in part for the Mumbai tragedy.

The bargain myopically forged by the US and Pakistan in training radicalised militias to fight as their proxies spawned a terrible monster that has effectively escaped from the laboratory, set it on fire and then evolved into a multi-headed hydra chasing its own creators.

FATA now serves as a haven for international jihadists of all stripes. The Taliban are no longer a homogenous group, as they have splintered operationally into the “Afghan Taliban” and “Pakistan Taliban”, which in turn have divergent movements. For example, Jalaluddin Haqqani‘s Taliban and Mullah Omar exhort limiting jihad against US and Nato forces in Afghanistan and criticize those who commit acts of terrorism on Pakistan, as they are “bringing a bad name to mujahideen,” according to Omar.

However, Baitullah Mehsud‘s group, which is indigenous to Pakistan, openly perpetrates attacks on the Pakistani government and its security forces.

As Brookings scholar Stephen Cohen told me, “the root problem is that Pakistan is unable to exercise sovereign control over its own territory in FATA.” If the Obama administration is sincere about changing America’s egregiously short-sighted Pakistan policy and truly embracing the tools of diplomacy, then it requires a dedicated partnership with Pakistan’s military and leadership. Too bad that leadership has been equally self-serving, callous and foolish in its policy initiatives and cynical alliances.

Only by mutually endorsing a long-term vision that gradually invites those operating in FATA – including some of the radical elements – to join a committed programme of political reform, economic aid, social welfare and educational development can the US and Pakistan hope to satiate, tame and ultimately pacify the unleashed beast forged by their own hands.

  • If Pakistan now poses a greater threat to the world than Afghanistan, the US is responsible for setting it on its violent path

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