Tags: al-Qaeda, Alberto Gonzales, bush administration, cia, detainees, dod, ethical standards, geneva conventions, Guantanamo, human experimentation, human rights, interrogations, jason leopold, jay bybee, jeffrey kaye, john yoo, Mohammed al-Qahtani, nazi atrocities, nuremberg, prisoners of war, psychological warfare, research, roger hollander, rumsfeld, sere, Taliban, torture, torture memos, waterboarding, wolfowitz
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(Roger’s Note: many people, including so-called liberals and progressives, balk at the use of the word “fascist” to describe the US government. They should read this article. Add Paul Wolfowitz, who already has major claim to infamy, to the list of torture enablers that includes Rumsfeld, John Yoo, Jay Bybee, et. al. The use of the term “breed” by Wolfowitz is particularly chilling [“We are dealing with a special breed of person here.”]. Since holding onto power [at the moment, the task of maintaining majorities in Congress] is the major objective of President Obama and the Democratic Party, don’t expect much attention to be paid to the Nazi-like human research described in this article, any more than the Obama Administration has paid attention to the massive human rights violations characterized by illegal detentions, rendition, and torture. History will judge.)
Thursday 14 October 2010
(Illustration: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t)
In 2002, as the Bush administration was turning to torture and other brutal techniques for interrogating “war on terror” detainees, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz loosened rules against human experimentation, an apparent recognition of legal problems regarding the novel strategies for extracting and evaluating information from the prisoners.
Wolfowitz issued his directive on March 25, 2002, about a month after President George W. Bush stripped the detainees of traditional prisoner-of-war protections under the Geneva Conventions. Bush labeled them “unlawful enemy combatants” and authorized the CIA and the Department of Defense (DoD) to undertake brutal interrogations.
Despite its title – “Protection of Human Subjects and Adherence to Ethical Standards in DoD-Supported Research” – the Wolfowitz directive weakened protections that had been in place for decades by limiting the safeguards to “prisoners of war.”
“We’re dealing with a special breed of person here,” Wolfowitz said about the war on terror detainees only four days before signing the new directive.
One former Pentagon official, who worked closely with the agency’s ex-general counsel William Haynes, said the Wolfowitz directive provided legal cover for a top-secret Special Access Program at the Guantanamo Bay prison, which experimented on ways to glean information from unwilling subjects and to achieve “deception detection.”
“A dozen [high-value detainees] were subjected to interrogation methods in order to evaluate their reaction to those methods and the subsequent levels of stress that would result,” said the official.
A July 16, 2004 Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) report obtained by Truthout shows that between April and July 2003, a “physiological warfare specialist” atached to the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) program was present at Guantanamo. The CID report says the instructor was assigned to a top-secret Special Access Program.
It has been known since 2009, when President Barack Obama declassified some of the Bush administration’s legal memoranda regarding the interrogation program, that there were experimental elements to the brutal treatment of detainees, including the sequencing and duration of the torture and other harsh tactics.
However, the Wolfowitz directive also suggests that the Bush administration was concerned about whether its actions might violate Geneva Conventions rules that were put in place after World War II when grisly Nazi human experimentation was discovered. Those legal restrictions were expanded in the 1970s after revelations about the CIA testing drugs on unsuspecting human subjects and conducting other mind-control experiments.
For its part, the DoD insists that it “has never condoned nor authorized the use of human research testing on any detainee in our custody,” according to spokeswoman Wendy Snyder.
However, from the start of the war on terror, the Bush administration employed nontraditional methods for designing interrogation protocols, including the reverse engineering of training given to American troops trapped behind enemy lines, called the SERE techniques. For instance, the near-drowning technique of waterboarding was lifted from SERE manuals.
Retired US Air Force Capt. Michael Shawn Kearns, a former SERE intelligence officer, said the Wolfowitz directive appears to be a clear attempt to shield then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from the legal consequences of “any dubious research practices associated with the interrogation program.”
Scott Horton, a human rights attorney and constitutional expert, noted Wolfowitz’s specific reference to “prisoners of war” as protected under the directive, as opposed to referring more generally to detainees or people under the government’s control.
“At the time that Wolfowitz was issuing this directive, the Bush administration was taking the adamant position that prisoners taken in the’ war on terror’ were not ‘prisoners of war’ under the Geneva Conventions and were not entitled to any of the protections of the Geneva Conventions.
“Indeed, it called those protections ‘privileges’ that were available only to ‘lawful combatants.’ So the statement [in the directive] that ‘prisoners of war’ cannot be subjects of human experimentation … raises some concerns – why was the more restrictive term ‘prisoners of war’ used instead of ‘prisoners’ for instance.”
The Wolfowitz directive also changed other rules regarding waivers of informed consent. After the scandals over the CIA’s MKULTRA program and the Tuskegee experiments on African-Americans suffering from syphilis, Congress passed legislation known as the Common Rule to provide protections to human research subjects.
The Common Rule “requires a review of proposed research by an Institutional Review Board (IRB), the informed consent of research subjects, and institutional assurances of compliance with the regulations.”
Individuals who lack the capacity to provide “informed consent” must have an IRB determine if they would benefit from the proposed research. In certain cases, that decision could also be made by the subject’s “legal representative.”
However, according to the Wolfowitz directive, waivers of informed consent could be granted by the heads of DoD divisions.
Professor Alexander M. Capron, who oversees human rights and health law at the World Health Organization, said the delegation of the power to waive informed consent procedures to Pentagon officials is “controversial both because it involves a waiver of the normal requirements and because the grounds for that waiver are so open-ended.”
The Wolfowitz directive also changes language that had required DoD researchers to strictly adhere to the Nuremberg Directives for Human Experimentation and other precedents when conducting human subject research.
The Nuremberg Code, which was a response to the Nazi atrocities, made “the voluntary consent of the human subject … absolutely essential.” However, the Wolfowitz directive softened a requirement of strict compliance to this code, instructing researchers simply to be “familiar” with its contents.
“Why are DoD-funded investigators just required to be ‘familiar’ with the Nuremberg Code rather than required to comply with them?” asked Stephen Soldz, director of the Center for Research, Evaluation and Program Development at Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis.
Soldz also wondered why “enforcement was moved from the Army Surgeon General or someone else in the medical chain of command to the Director of Defense Research and Engineering” and why “this directive changed at this time, as the ‘war on terror’ was getting going.”
The original impetus for the changes seems to have related more to the use of experimental therapies on US soldiers facing potential biological and other dangers in war zones.
The House Armed Services Committee proposed amending the law on human experimentation prior to the 9/11 attacks. But the Bush administration pressed for the changes after 9/11 as the United States was preparing to invade Afghanistan and new medical products might be needed for soldiers on the battlefield without their consent, said two former officials from the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Yet, there were concerns about the changes even among Bush administration officials. In a September 24, 2001, memo to lawmakers, Bush’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said the “administration is concerned with the provision allowing research to be conducted on human subjects without their informed consent in order to advance the development of a medical product necessary to the armed forces.”
The OMB memo said the Bush administration understood that the DoD had a “legitimate need” for “waiver authority for emergency research,” but “the provision as drafted may jeopardize existing protections for human subjects in research, and must be significantly narrowed.”
However, the broader language moved forward, as did planning for the new war on terror interrogation procedures.
In December 2001, Pentagon general counsel Haynes and other agency officials contacted the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), which runs SERE schools for teaching US soldiers to resist interrogation and torture if captured by an outlaw regime. The officials wanted a list of interrogation techniques that could be used for detainee “exploitation,” according to a report released last year by the Senate Armed Services Committee.
These techniques, as they were later implemented by the CIA and the Pentagon, were widely discussed as “experimental” in nature.
Bryan Thomas, a spokesman for the Senate Armed Services Committee, declined to comment on the Wolfowitz directive.
Back in Congress, the concerns from the OMB about loose terminology were brushed aside and the law governing how the DoD spends federal funds on human expirementation and research, was amended to give the DoD greater leeway regarding experimentation on human subjects.
A paragraph to that law, 10 USC 980, which had not been changed since it was first enacted in 1972, was added authorizing the defense secretary to waive “informed consent” for human subject research and experimentation. It was included in the 2002 Defense Authorization Act passed by Congress in December 2001. The Wolfowitz directive implemented the legislative changes Congress made to the law when it was issued three months later.
The changes to the “informed consent” section of the law were in direct contradiction to presidential and DoD memoranda issued in the 1990s that prohibited such waivers related to classified research. A memo signed in 1999 by Secretary of Defense William Cohen called for the prohibitions on “informed consent” waivers to be added to the Common Rule regulations covering DoD research, but it was never implemented.
As planning for the highly classified Special Access Program began to take shape, most officials in Congress appear to have averted their eyes, with some even lending a hand.
The ex-DIA officials said the Pentagon briefed top lawmakers on the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee in November and December 2001, including the panel’s chairman Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and his chief of staff Patrick DeLeon, about experimentation and research involving detainee interrogations that centered on “deception detection.”
To get a Special Access Program like this off the ground, the Pentagon needed DeLeon’s help, given his long-standing ties to the American Psychological Association (APA), where he served as president in 2000, the sources said.
According to former APA official Bryant Welch, DeLeon’s role proved crucial.
“For significant periods of time DeLeon has literally directed APA staff on federal policy matters and has dominated the APA governance on political matters,” Welch wrote. “For over twenty-five years, relationships between the APA and the Department of Defense (DOD) have been strongly encouraged and closely coordinated by DeLeon….
“When the military needed a mental health professional to help implement its interrogation procedures, and the other professions subsequently refused to comply, the military had a friend in Senator Inouye’s office, one that could reap the political dividends of seeds sown by DeLeon over many years.”
John Bray, a spokesman for Inuoye, said in late August he would look into questions posed by Truthout about the Wolfowitz directive and the meetings involving DeLeon and Inuoye. But Bray never responded nor did he return follow-up phone calls and emails. DeLeon did not return messages left with his assistant.
Legal Word Games
Meanwhile, in January 2002, President Bush was receiving memos from then-Justice Department attorneys Jay Bybee and John Yoo as well as from Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Bush’s White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, advising Bush to deny members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban prisoner-of-war status under the Geneva Conventions.
Also, about a month before the Wolfowitz directive was issued, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) asked Joint Forces Command if they could get a “crash course” on interrogation for the next interrogation team headed out to Guantanamo, according to the Armed Services Committee’s report. That request was sent to Brig. Gen. Thomas Moore and was approved.
Bruce Jessen, the chief psychologist of the SERE program, and Joseph Witsch, a JPRA instructor, led the instructional seminar held in early March 2002.
The seminar included a discussion of al-Qaeda’s presumed methods of resisting interrogation and recommended specific methods interrogators should use to defeat al-Qaeda’s resistance. According to the Armed Services Committee report, the presentation provided instructions on how interrogations should be conducted and on how to manage the “long term exploitation” of detainees.
There was a slide show, focusing on four primary methods of treatment: “isolation and degradation,” “sensory deprivation,” “physiological pressures” and “psychological pressures.”
According to Jessen and Witsch’s instructor’s guide, isolation was the “main building block of the exploitation process,” giving the captor “total control” over the prisoner’s “inputs.” Examples were provided on how to implement “degradation,” by taking away a prisoner’s personal dignity. Methods of sensory deprivation were also discussed as part of the training.
Jessen and Witsch denied that “physical pressures,” which later found their way into the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program, were taught at the March meeting.
However, Jessen, along with Christopher Wirts, chief of JPRA’s Operational Support Office, wrote a memo for Southern Command’s Directorate of Operations (J3), entitled “Prisoner Handling Recommendations,” which urged Guantanamo authorities to take punishment beyond “base line rules.”
So, by late March 2002, the pieces were in place for a strategy of behavior modification designed to break down the will of the detainees and extract information from them. Still, to make the procedures “legal,” some reinterpretations of existing laws and regulation were needed.
For instance, attorneys Bybee and Yoo would narrow the definition of “torture” to circumvent laws prohibiting the brutal interrogation of detainees.
In his directive, Wolfowitz also made subtle, but significant, word changes. While retaining the blanket prohibition against experimenting on prisoners of war, Wolfowitz softened the language for other types of prisoners, using a version of rules about “vulnerable” classes of individuals taken from regulations meant for civilian research by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
This research and experimentation examined physiological markers of stress, such as cortisol, and involved psychologists under contract to the CIA and the military who were experts in the field, the ex-DIA officials said.
One study, called “The War Fighter’s Stress Response,” was conducted between 2002 and 2003 and examined physiological measurements of mock torture subjects drawn from the SERE program and other high-stress military personnel, such as Special Forces Combat Divers.
Researchers measured cortisol and other hormone levels via salivary swabbing and blood samples, a process that also was reportedly done to war on terror detainees.
Three weeks after the Wolfowitz directive was signed, SERE psychologist Jessen produced a Draft Exploitation Plan for use at Guantanamo. According to the Armed Services Committee’s report, JPRA was offering its services for “oversight, training, analysis, research, and [tactics, techniques, and procedures] development” to Joint Forces Command Deputy Commander Lt. Gen. Robert Wagner. (Emphasis added.)
There were other indications that research was an important component of JPRA services to the DoD and CIA interrogation programs. When three JPRA personnel were sent to a Special Mission Unit associated with Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in August 2003 for what was believed to be special training in interrogation, one of the three was JPRA’s manager for research and development.
Three former top military officials interviewed by the Armed Services Committee have described Guantanamo as a “battle lab.”
According to Col. Britt Mallow, the commander of the Criminal Investigative Task Force (CITF), he was uncomfortable when Guantanamo officials Maj. Gen. Mike Dunleavy and Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller used the term “battle lab,” meaning “that interrogations and other procedures there were to some degree experimental, and their lessons would benefit DoD in other places.”
CITF’s deputy commander told the Senate investigators, “there were many risks associated with this concept … and the perception that detainees were used for some ‘experimentation’ of new unproven techniques had negative connotations.”
In May 2005, a former military officer who attended a SERE training facility sent an email to Middle East scholar Juan Cole stating that “Gitmo must be being used as a ‘laboratory’ for all these psychological techniques by the [counter-intelligence] guys.”
The Al-Qahtani Experiment
One of the high-value detainees imprisoned at Guantanamo who appears to have been a victim of human experimentation was Mohammed al-Qahtani, who was captured in January 2002.
A sworn statement filed by Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt, al-Qahtani’s attorney, said Secretary Rumsfeld was “personally involved” in the interrogation of al-Qahtani and spoke “weekly” with Major General Miller, commander at Guantanamo, about the status of the interrogations between late 2002 and early 2003.
The treatment of al-Qahtani was cataloged in an 84-page “torture log” that was leaked in 2006. The torture log shows that, beginning in November 2002 and continuing well into January 2003, al-Qahtani was subjected to sleep deprivation, interrogated in 20-hour stretches, poked with IVs and left to urinate on himself.
Gitanjali S. Gutierrez, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights who represents al-Qahtani, had said in a sworn declaration that his client, was subjected to months of torture based on verbal and written authorizations from Rumsfeld.
“At Guantánamo, Mr. al-Qahtani was subjected to a regime of aggressive interrogation techniques, known as the ‘First Special Interrogation Plan,'” Gutierrez said. “These methods included, but were not limited to, 48 days of severe sleep deprivation and 20-hour interrogations, forced nudity, sexual humiliation, religious humiliation, physical force, prolonged stress positions and prolonged sensory over-stimulation, and threats with military dogs.”
In addition, the Senate Armed Services Committee report said al-Qahtani’s treatment was viewed as a potential model for other interrogations.
In his book, “Oath Betrayed,” Dr. Steven Miles wrote that the meticulously recorded logs of al-Qahtani’s interrogation and torture focus “on the emotions and interactions of the prisoner, rather than on the questions that were asked and the information that was obtained.”
The uncertainty surrounding these experimental techniques resulted in the presence of medical personnel on site, and frequent and consistent medical checks of the detainee. The results of the monitoring, which likely included vital signs and other stress markers, would also become data that could be analyzed to understand how the new interrogation techniques worked.
In January 2004, the Director of Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E) initiated a DoD-wide review of human subjects protection policies. A Navy slide presentation at DoD Training Day on November 14, 2006, hinted strongly at the serious issues behind the entire review.
The Navy presentation framed the problem in the light of the history of US governmental “non-compliance” with human subjects research protections, including “US Government Mind Control Experiments – LSD, MKULTRA, MKDELTA (1950-1970s)”; a 90-day national “stand down” in 2003 for all human subject research and development activities “ordered in response to the death of subjects”; as well as use of “unqualified researchers.”
The Training Day presentation said the review found the Navy “not in full compliance with Federal policies on human subjects protection.” Furthermore, DDR&E found the Navy had “no single point of accountability for human subject protections.”
DoD refused to respond to questions regarding the 2004 review. Moreover, Maj. Gen. Ronald Sega, who at the time was the DDR&E, did not return calls for comment.
Meanwhile, the end of the Bush administration has not resulted in a total abandonment of the research regarding interrogation program.
Last March, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, who recently resigned, disclosed that the Obama administration’s High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG), planned on conducting “scientific research” to determine “if there are better ways to get information from people that are consistent with our values.”
“It is going to do scientific research on that long-neglected area,” Blair said during testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. He did not provide additional details as to what the “scientific research” entailed.
As for the Wolfowitz directive, Pentagon spokeswoman Snyder said it did not open the door to human experimentation on war on terror detainees.
“There is no detainee policy, directive or instruction – or exceptions to such – that would permit performing human research testing on DoD detainees,” Snyder said. “Moreover, none of the numerous investigations into allegations of misconduct by interrogators or the guard force found any evidence of such activities.”
Snyder added that DoD is in the process of updating the Wolfowitz directive and it will be “completed for review next year.”
Jason Leopold is the Deputy Managing Editor at Truthout. He is the author of the Los Angeles Times bestseller, “News Junkie,” a memoir. Visit newsjunkiebook.com for a preview.
Jeffrey Kaye, a psychologist living in Northern California, writes regularly on torture and other subjects for Firedoglake. He also maintains
Bush, Cheney and the Great Escape February 9, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture.
Tags: bybee, cheney, chilcot, doj, downing memos, Elfyn Llwyd, feith, George Bush, interrogation, Iraq, Iraq invasion, Iraq war, john yoo, justice, justice department, opr, Perle, roger hollander, Rove, rumsfeld, Tony Blair, torture, torture memos, War Crimes, waterborading, william rivers pitt, wmd, wolfowitz
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Friday 05 February 2010
(Photo: phxpma; Edited: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t)
With each passing day, it becomes more and more astonishing to encompass the fact that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and their henchmen from the prior administration have managed thus far to escape any accounting whatsoever for the massive battery of criminal activity committed during their time in office. More than a year has passed since these men had their hands on the levers of power, and evidence of their myriad crimes and frauds is laying all over the countryside, yet nothing has come of it.
The British government has been running a wide-ranging inquiry into the manner in which the UK and United States were led to war in Iraq by then-President Bush and then-Prime Minister Tony Blair. An astonishing amount of damning evidence and information has been uncovered and publicly aired, including the following statements delivered by a senior member of Parliament (MP) on Tuesday:
A senior Welsh MP said last night he knew “for certain” Tony Blair and George Bush struck a deal to invade Iraq at their notorious Crawford Ranch meeting in 2002 – a year before war was declared. Elfyn Llwyd, Plaid Cymru’s parliamentary leader, said he had seen a confidential memo to that effect, although he would not divulge its exact contents.
Critics of the military action in Iraq have long suspected Mr Blair and President Bush came to an agreement at the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas in April 2002, a claim Mr Blair denied in evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry last week. Mr Llwyd said he had offered to give evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry himself, in private if necessary.
The Meirionnydd Nant Conwy MP said: “I think other things should have been pursued [at the inquiry], in particular the detailed conversation at the ranch in Crawford in April 2002. I do know that the deal was struck, I know for certain it was struck at that stage so just to pretend months down the road that no deal had been struck I think is unforgivable. I have offered to give evidence and Chilcot has said ‘I’ll come back to you’. At that stage I will have private discussions with him.”
MP Llwyd refers here to the infamous Downing Street Memos, a collection of British government documents that lay out George W. Bush’s intent to invade and occupy Iraq whether or not there was any WMD/terrorism evidence to support the action, documents that further demonstrate Prime Minister Tony Blair’s willing acquiescence to the plan. Most damning of all is the secret memo dated 23 July 2002, explaining that war in Iraq was coming, and if the facts did not support the action, those facts would be twisted and buried. “There was a perceptible shift in attitude,” read the memo [emphasis added]. “Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.”
These documents, along with testimony from the likes of MP Llwyd, offer a vivid portrait of a Bush administration far gone in the pursuit of its own militant plans, and more than willing to break laws and deceive the public to achieve the ends they sought. It was a nest of criminals that occupied the White House for those eight long years, proof of this continues to pile up in vast drifts, and nothing comes of it.
Quite the contrary, in fact. A recent report from the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility slapped a big fat “Not Guilty” stamp on the jackets of John Yoo and Jay Bybee, the two central authors of the notorious “torture memos” that argued the legal justifications for the use of torture by the Bush administration. Worse, it appears Obama’s DOJ went out of the way to make sure Bybee and Yoo escaped free and clear from any censure for their despicable activities. According to a recent Newsweek report:
An upcoming Justice Department report from its ethics-watchdog unit, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), clears the Bush administration lawyers who authored the “torture” memos of professional-misconduct allegations.
While the probe is sharply critical of the legal reasoning used to justify waterboarding and other “enhanced” interrogation techniques, NEWSWEEK has learned that a senior Justice official who did the final review of the report softened an earlier OPR finding. Previously, the report concluded that two key authors – Jay Bybee, now a federal appellate court judge, and John Yoo, now a law professor – violated their professional obligations as lawyers when they crafted a crucial 2002 memo approving the use of harsh tactics, say two Justice sources who asked for anonymity discussing an internal matter.
But the reviewer, career veteran David Margolis, downgraded that assessment to say they showed “poor judgment,” say the sources. (Under department rules, poor judgment does not constitute professional misconduct.) The shift is significant: the original finding would have triggered a referral to state bar associations for potential disciplinary action – which, in Bybee’s case, could have led to an impeachment inquiry.
The truth of the matter is plain enough. Yoo and Bybee are not going to turn themselves in. Neither are any of the other actors in this gruesome play. If any measure of justice is going to be achieved, it will fall upon Congress, President Obama and his Department of Justice to get it done. Subpoenas must be issued, evidence gathered and testimony heard for the truth to be brought forth and for punishment to be meted out.
But this DOJ cannot even accept the judgment of its own OPR on two comparatively minor foot soldiers of the Bush administration without sanding down the conclusions enough to spare Yoo and Bybee the punishment they so richly deserve. Is there any hope at all that the larger players in the Bush-era criminal activities – Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, Perle, Feith and Wolfowitz most prominently – will be brought to justice when those two lesser lights are allowed to return to a law school classroom and a seat on the federal bench?
Disgraceful as it is to say, don’t hold your breath.
Speaking of evidence, there is this: a bomb in Karbala exploded on Wednesday, killing and wounding dozens of Shiite pilgrims. Another bomb in Karbala was attached to a military vehicle and killed and wounded dozens on Wednesday. Another bomb killed and wounded several other pilgrims outside Baghdad on Wednesday. Gunmen shot and killed a police officer in Kirkuk on Wednesday. The day before, a suicide bomber killed 54 and wounded dozens more in the outskirts of Baghdad. As of Wednesday, almost 5,000 US soldiers had been killed in Iraq, and nearly 50,000 more have been wounded. More than a million Iraqi civilians have likewise been killed and wounded.
Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, Perle, Feith, Wolfowitz, Rice, and a dozen other members of the Bush administration, including Yoo and Bybee, are directly responsible for this carnage. They lied through their teeth and broke any number of laws to see it done. They are guilty of much more than the war crimes they committed in both Iraq and the United States. They are guilty of bankrupting this nation with two wars begun on false pretenses and perpetuated to enrich the few, while further cementing the stranglehold “defense spending” has on our growth as a civilized nation.
Thanks in no small part to the Iraq debacle, there is no political impetus to lay a finger on the wildly bloated “defense” budget, even as the fabric of our society shreds and shatters under the economic yoke placed upon our necks by the previous administration. Ours is a government staffed from stem to stern with political cowards who refuse to heal these wounds, and with those who are just as culpable as those members of the Bush administration (read: members of Congress who voted to support each and every criminal act that led us to this place).
Justice? When it comes to the Bush administration, the word has no meaning. They have escaped that justice, and we are all less free because of it.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: “War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You to Know” and “The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.” His newest book, “House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America’s Ravaged Reputation,” is now available from PoliPointPress.
Gonzales’s Advice to Bush on How to Avoid War Crimes June 22, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, George W. Bush, Torture.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, acul, al-Qaeda, Alberto Gonzales, bush administration, Condoleezza Rice, defense department, detainee abuses, dod, doug feith, foa, freedom of information, geneva conventions, George Bush, Guantanamo, jason leopold, mike dunlavey, richard myers, roger hollander, rumsfeld, sere, Taliban, torture, War Crimes, waterboarding, william haynes, wolfowitz
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17 June 2009by: Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t | Report
On January 25, 2002, then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales advised George W. Bush in a memo to deny al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners protections under the Geneva Conventions because doing so would “substantially reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act” and “provide a solid defense to any future prosecution.”
Two weeks later, Bush signed an action memorandum dated February 7, 2002, addressed to Vice President Dick Cheney, which denied baseline protections to al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners under the Third Geneva Convention. That memo, according to a recently released bipartisan report issued by the Senate Armed Services Committee, opened the door to “considering aggressive techniques,” which were then developed with the complicity of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Bush’s National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and other senior Bush officials.
“The President’s order closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, to al-Qaeda or Taliban detainees,” says the committee’s December 11 report.
“While the President’s order stated that, as ‘a matter of policy, the United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of the Geneva Conventions,’ the decision to replace well established military doctrine, i.e., legal compliance with the Geneva Conventions, with a policy subject to interpretation, impacted the treatment of detainees in US custody.”
The Supreme Court held in 2006, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, that the prisoners were entitled to protections under the Geneva Conventions.
Many of the classified policy directives, such as Gonzales’s memo to Bush, are now part of the public record thanks to the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Bush administration, which has so far resulted in the release of more than 100,000 pages of documents that shows how Bush officials twisted the law in order to build a legal framework for torture.
These documents have been posted on the ACLU’s web site. But several hundred of the most explosive records were republished in the book “Administration of Torture” along with hard-hitting commentary by the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer, who heads the group’s National Security Project, and Amrit Singh, a staff attorney with the organization.
Rumsfeld Wanted a “Product”
On February 14, 2002, just one week after Bush signed the action memo, Maj. Gen. Mike Dunlavey was contacted by Rumsfeld, who asked him to attend a Defense Department meeting with Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and others on February 21 or 22. At the meeting, Rumsfeld told Dunlavey he wanted him to oversee interrogations at the Guantanamo Bay naval facility in Cuba. Prisoners captured by US military personnel had first arrived at Guantanamo a month earlier. Dunlavey was a family court judge in Erie County, Pennsylvania, when he got the call from Rumsfeld and was placed in charge of interrogations at Guantanamo.
Rumsfeld told Dunlavey, according to a witness statement he made on March 17, 2005, to US Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt, who was investigating FBI complaints about abuse at Guantanamo, that the Department of Defense had rounded up “a number of bad guys” and the secretary of defense “wanted a product and wanted intelligence now.”
Rumsfeld “wanted to set up interrogation operations and to identify the senior Taliban and senior operatives and to obtain information on what they were going to do regarding their operations and structure,” Dunlavey said, according to a copy of his witness statement. “Initially, I was told that I would answer to SECDEF (Secretary of Defense) and [US Southern Command]. The directions changed and I got my marching orders from the President of the United States. I was told by the SECDEF that he wanted me back in Washington, DC every week to brief him…. The mission was to get intelligence to prevent another 9/11.”
Dunlavey did not explain what he meant by “I got my marching orders from the president.” But his comments suggest that Bush may have played a much larger role in the interrogation of prisoners than he has let on. Moreover, Dunlavey’s witness statement indicates that harsh interrogations, such as waterboarding, may have taken place earlier than previously known and may have preceded an August 1, 2002, legal opinion issued by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel authorizing specific interrogation techniques to use against prisoners.
As early as December 2001, according to the documents obtained by the ACLU, high-ranking military officials began to implement an Army and Air Force survival-training program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE), which were meant to prepare US soldiers for abuse they might suffer if captured by an outlaw regime.
In June 2004, Gen. James Hill of Southern Command, the Defense Department’s command unit responsible for military operations in Central and South America and the Caribbean, held a press briefing and confirmed that interrogation techniques specifically authorized by Rumsfeld for use at Guantanamo were derived from the SERE school. In October 2002, Dunlavey wrote to Hill to seek authorization that interrogators be granted the authority to use methods that strayed from the Army Field Manual in order to extract information from prisoners.
Dunlavey, in making his case to Hill for authority to use more aggressive techniques, attached a copy of Bush’s then classified February 7, 2002, action memo along with an analysis that said, “since the detainees are not [Enemy Prisoners of War] the Geneva Conventions limitations that ordinarily would govern captured enemy personnel interrogations are not binding on US personnel.”
Hill sent Dunlavey’s request to Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Myers discussed it with William Haynes II, the Defense Department’s general counsel, who briefed Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith. The request ultimately ended up on Rumsfeld’s desk and he approved it, according to the documents.
“The documents establish that senior officials in Washington, including White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, constructed a legal framework that would permit the abuse and torture of prisoners,” the ACLU’s Jaffer and Singh wrote in “Administration of Torture.” “They establish that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, relying on this legal framework, expressly authorized the use of interrogation methods – including SERE methods – that went far beyond those endorsed by the Army Field Manual. They establish that Rumsfeld and Gen. Geoffrey Miller oversaw the implementation of the newly authorized interrogation methods and closely supervised the interrogation of prisoners thought to be especially valuable.”
In early December 2002, FBI officials who had participated in some interrogations at Guantanamo complained to Miller that the methods used against prisoners at Guantanamo were unlawful. But Miller was not receptive. That led FBI officials to conclude that senior Bush administration officials and Rumsfeld were making decisions about interrogations in particular.
A December 16, 2002, email written by an FBI official expressed frustration that the Defense Department refused to budge from its controversial interrogation methods.
“Looks like we are stuck in the mud with the interview approach of the military vs. law enforcement,” the email said.
In May 2004, Miller told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he briefed Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense Stephen Cambone about his plan to “Gitmo-ize” the Abu Ghraib prison.
That month, an email written by a senior FBI agent in Iraq in 2004 specifically stated that President George W. Bush had signed an executive order approving the use of military dogs, sleep deprivation, and other tactics to intimidate Iraqi detainees.
The FBI email, dated May 22, 2004, followed disclosures about abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison and sought guidance on whether FBI agents in Iraq were obligated to report the US military’s harsh interrogation of inmates when that treatment violated FBI standards, but fit within the guidelines of a presidential executive order.
According to the email, Bush’s executive order authorized interrogators to use military dogs, “stress positions,” sleep “management,” loud music and “sensory deprivation through the use of hoods, etc.” to extract information from detainees in Iraq.
The May 2004, FBI email stated that the FBI interrogation team in Iraq understood that despite revisions in the executive order that occurred after the furor over the Abu Ghraib abuses, the presidential sanctioning of harsh interrogation tactics had not been rescinded.
“I have been told that all interrogation techniques previously authorized by the Executive Order are still on the table but that certain techniques can only be used if very high-level authority is granted,” the author of the FBI email said.
“We have also instructed our personnel not to participate in interrogations by military personnel which might include techniques authorized by Executive Order but beyond the bounds of FBI practices.”
The White House had emphatically denied that any such presidential executive order existed, calling the unnamed FBI official who wrote the email “mistaken.” Prior to the May 22, 2004, email several others written by FBI agents that month were sent to Valerie Caproni, the FBI’s general counsel, about detainees being tortured before the unnamed agent sent Caproni the email citing Bush’s alleged executive order.
On July 9, 2004, the FBI’s Office of Inspections distributed an email asking its agents who were stationed at Guantanamo whether they had witnessed, “Aggressive treatment, interrogations or interview techniques … which were not consistent with FBI interview policy/guidelines.”
More than two-dozen agents responded that they observed numerous instances of detainee abuse. One FBI agent wrote that, despite Rumsfeld’s public statements to the contrary, the interrogation methods “were approved at high levels w/in DoD.” In addition to Rumsfeld, the FBI emails said Paul Wolfowitz, one Bush administration official who has largely escaped scrutiny in the torture debate, approved the methods at Guantanamo.
In 2006, Miller received a Distinguished Service Medal for “exceptionally meritorious service.” Dunlavey is an Erie County judge.
Jason Leopold is editor in chief of The Public Record, www.pubrecord.org.
Tags: congress, constitution, crimes against humanity, Criminal Justice, cynthia boaz, Dick Cheney, extraordinary rendition, ford, George Bush, george stephanopoulos, gonzales, high crimes, International law, Iraq invasion, justice, justice committee, nixon, nuremberg, nuremberg principle, nuremberg trial, ollie north, president obama, reagan, reconciliation, retribution, roger hollander, rule of law, rumsfeld, special prosecutor, torture, truth commission, us attorney, War Crimes, weinberger, wiretapping, wolfowitz
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by Roger Hollander
www.rogerhollander.wordpress.com, February 19, 2009
(SEE UPDATE BELOW)
An essay entitled “Obama’s Justice: Reconciliation Not Retribution” appeared recently in the progressive online journal, Truthout.com (http://www.truthout.org/021809J). Its author is Cynthia Boaz, assistant professor of political science at Sonoma State University, who is described as a specialist “in political development, quality of democracy and nonviolent struggle.”
Professor Boaz’s approach was most annoying in that she felt the need to set up a straw man (the notion that those who want justice want it for purposes of retribution) and resort to the ad hominem by characterizing those who are pushing for investigations and prosecution of the Bush era crimes as “disgruntled, self-identified progressives” and comparing them to “villagers wielding torches and pitchforks.”
But such annoyances pale in light of the implication of her thesis in support of Obama as a “unifier,” and his mission of “reconciliation, not retribution” in an attempt to justify Obama’s oxymoronic and disingenuous statement that he believes in the rule of law but would rather look forward rather than backward.
(To her credit Professor Boaz acknowledges that the Bush administration may have committed misdeeds “which in some cases, rise to the level of crimes against humanity” and does not argue that they should not be brought to justice. Her point is that justice should not be politicized, that the president should not seek “retribution” for his predecessor)
In the real world justice in fact usually occurs in a political context – especially when crimes occur at the higher levels of government. Obama recognizes this and his remarks to George Stephanopoulos were in response to overwhelming public sentiment for him to appoint a special prosecutor as reflected in his transition sounding exercise. Presidents do appoint Special Prosecutors and the United States Attorney General. Presidents grant pardons, often controversial and often of a political nature (Ford/Nixon; Reagan/Weinberger, North, Irangate). The political and the judicial are indeed intertwined.
Talking about “reconciliation” and “looking forward rather than backward” is in itself a blatant political intrusion in the world of justice. If Obama were not signaling to the heads of the Justice Committees in both houses of Congress (and the American people) that he would prefer for them to back off, then he simply would have affirmed his commitment to the rule of law and left it at that.
The evidence that is already in the public domain with respect to the knowingly false pretense for the invasion of Iraq, the high level authorization of torture, the extraordinary renditions, the wiretapping, the U.S. Attorney firings, etc. is so overwhelming that – in spite of the sacred principle of “innocent until proven guilty” – the American and world public cannot be faulted for demanding that the Nuremberg principles be applied to the neo-fascist Bush clique. That former Vice President Cheney, who is universally considered to have been the Bush administration Godfather, has been making the rounds boasting about his role in committing in effect what are crimes against humanity, constitutes an open challenge to anyone who takes the rule of law seriously. Given the literally millions of human beings whose lives have been destroyed or seriously debilitated by the actions of the Bush administration and the gross violations of constitutional and international law, the imperative for speedy justice within the context of due process is overwhelming.
What I fear is some kind of Truth Commission based on the premise of giving immunity for the sake of getting the truth out. This, I believe, is what Obama was getting at with his “looking forward” remark and what Professor Boaz would like to see. Such a notion mocks the concept and dignity of Justice. It gives no closure to those who have suffered at the hands of high level war criminals and it has little or no deterrent effect. What it is is politically expedient.
Do I expect to ever see Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Wolfowitz et. al. in a United States court of law charged with high crimes? Honestly I do not (but I didn’t ever expect to see the election of an Afro-American president in my lifetime either). But genuine truth, reconciliation and justice demand that such high crimes be investigated and prosecuted; those who suffered deserve justice; and the future of what is left of constitutional democracy is worth fighting for.
What is more, if President Barak Obama or anyone else acts in any way to impede or frustrate the carrying out of justice, they become to some extent complicit with the principal perpetuators.
UPDATE (May 1, 2009)
There has been a lot of -pardon the pun – wate(boarding) under the bridge since I wrote this piece in mid February. If you surf around my Blog or the many Blogs I post on it, you will find dozens if not hundreds of articles on the issue of torture and criminal responsibility for it. Just today, for example, I posted an excellent article by Glenn Greenwald that appeared in salon.com which documented the words of, of all people, Ronald Reagan, who, in introducing the law that made torture a serious crime in the United States, states that torture is a crime, with no exception for extraordinary circumstances (including, presumably, the phony “ticking time bomb” scenario). Ronald Reagan!
Professor Boaz, who is the target of my criticism in the original article above, had argued that those of us demanding that now President Obama take criminal action against the Torturers were misunderstanding the role of the presidency. Investigation and criminal prosecution in the bailiwick of the Judicial System, not the presidency she tells us. I wonder what she is thinking now that President Obama has heard, tried and exonerated the CIA agents who carried out the war crime known as torture.
During the longest eight years in history that we lived through under Bush/Cheney, one felt that what was happening as if it were in the realm of the surreal. Anti-war election results, and the war escalates (excuse me, surges). Torture with impunity. Habeas Corpus out the window. Warrantless wiretapping. An ideologically politicized Justice Department. Signing Statements allowing the President to ignore laws passed by Congress. Dr. Strangeglove figures such as Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice, Gonzales; and Darth Vader himself disguised as Dick Cheney, bunker and all.
May the goddess help me, I am having the same surrealistic dizziness all over again. The Attorney General declares that waterboarding is torture. Torture is a crime. Therefore … do nothing about it. The President releases evidence in the form of the infamous torture memos that, that along with photographic and other (International Red Cross, for example) evidence, leaves no doubt about the nature and extent of the torture; and then he proceeds to grant amnesty to those who committed the crimes. They were only following orders, he says, as the Nuremburg amnesia sets in alongside the swine flu. Pelosi and Reid want investigations … in secret (!). The mainstream media, as it did under Bush/Cheney, plays along with the Alice in Wonderland fantasies, and the maniacs on the neo-Fascist Right have convinced a signficant percentage of Americans that torture is not a crime under “certain circumstances.” The torture memos written by John Yoo and Jay Bybee are so patently phony and Kafkesque that Yoo is invited to teach law in Orange County and Bybee is made a Federal Judge.
It has been suggested that President Obama doesn’t feel there is the political will to prosecute the war criminals, which is why he has been so wishy-washy, but that he has released the tortue memos and is soon to release more photos as a way to achieve that will. I don’t believe this, but that doesn’t matter. Only by latching on to the the issue like a pit bull and refusing to let go can we who believe in Decency and Justice bring the American War Criminals to justice.
Obama Lawyers Set to Defend Yoo January 28, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Torture.
Tags: al-Qaeda, ashcroft, bush administration, doj, eric holder, Guantanamo, John Walker Lindh, john yoo, jose padila, josh gerstein, justice department, military law, obama administration, roger hollander, rumsfeld, sensory deprivation, torture, waterboarding, wolfowitz, yale law school
John Yoo, credited with writing what are known as the torture memos, is being sued by Jose Padilla over aggressive interrogation techniques Padilla endured at a South Carolina Navy brig. (Photo: (Karen Ballard / The Los Angeles Times)
28 January 2009, www.truthout.org
by: Josh Gerstein, The Politico
In Democratic legal circles, no attorney has been more pilloried than former Bush Justice Department official John Yoo, chief author of the so-called torture memos that Barack Obama last week sought to nullify.
But now President Obama’s incoming crew of lawyers has a new and somewhat awkward job: defending Yoo in federal court.
Next week, Justice Department lawyers are set to ask a San Francisco federal judge to throw out a lawsuit brought against Yoo by Jose Padilla, a New York man held without charges on suspicion of being an Al Qaeda operative plotting to set off a “dirty bomb.”
The suit contends that Yoo’s legal opinions authorized Bush to order Padilla’s detention in a Navy brig in South Carolina and encouraged military officials to subject Padilla to aggressive interrogation techniques, including death threats and long-term sensory deprivation.
That’s not all. On Thursday, Justice Department lawyers are slated to be in Charleston, S.C., to ask a federal magistrate there to dismiss another lawsuit charging about a dozen current and former government officials with violating Padilla’s rights in connection with his unusual detention on U.S. soil, without charges or a trial.
The defendants in that case are like a who’s who of Bush administration boogeymen to Obama’s liberal followers – former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz and former Attorney General John Ashcroft.
The two cases raise the question of how aggressively the Obama administration intends to defend alleged legal excesses of the Bush administration in the war on terror. The Supreme Court recently gave the new president until March to decide whether to defend the detention without trial of another man held as an enemy combatant, Ali Saleh Al-Marri.
And with more than a hundred court cases pending relating to Guantanamo, the Obama team faces a fast and furious series of deadlines to adopt or reject the Bush administration’s stance regarding specific detainees.
“This is going to happen again and again across the government,” said Karen Greenberg, the executive director of the Center on Law and Security at New York University. “They’re between a rock and a hard place.”
Obama’s lawyers aren’t the first at Justice to have to stand by a prior administration’s legal work – whether they agree with it or not – merely in the interest of protecting U.S. government prerogatives.
But the Bush war-on-terror team inspires particular antipathy in the liberal legal set – and none more than Yoo, who became a sort of symbol of the Bush administration’s efforts to construct a carefully crafted legal framework to justify practices that critics say are torture.
“When they go back to the privacy of their offices, they may wish that someone would draw and quarter John Yoo, but they have to wave the flag,” said a former federal terrorism prosecutor, Andrew McCarthy. “What they have to do is appear as if they are defending all the prerogatives of government that people want them to defend. … That’s the job of the Justice Department.”
Padilla’s lawyers, who are affiliated with a human rights clinic at Yale Law School, declined to comment for this article. Yoo also declined to be interviewed, though in an op-ed piece for The Wall Street Journal last year he described himself as the victim of an attempt to use “the tort system to harass those who served in government in wartime.”
Obama’s appointee for attorney general, Eric Holder, has taken issue with some of Yoo’s conclusions but does not appear to have singled him out by name. “I never thought I would see the day when a Justice Department would claim that only the most extreme infliction of pain and physical abuse constitutes torture,” Holder said in a speech last year, alluding to a 2002 memo Yoo wrote.
Holder said the Bush administration was “wrong” when it “authorized the use of torture,” when it “secretly detained Americans without due process” and for violating the Constitution, though he said he did not take issue with the “motives” of those who helped set the policies.
Other Obama Justice Department appointees have been far more strident in their criticism of Yoo. In an article in Slate just last year, Obama’s pick to head the Office of Legal Counsel, Dawn Johnsen of Indiana University, called one of Yoo’s memos “plainly flawed” and his defense of it “irresponsibly and dangerously false.”
Johnsen was so vocal in her criticism of Yoo that a liberal magazine, Mother Jones, branded her the “anti-Yoo.”
A leading authority on legal ethics, Stephen Gillers, said the incoming officials’ criticism of the former Bush officials has been so withering that they should press to be defended by their own lawyers – at government expense.
“If I were counseling Yoo or Rumsfeld, I would certainly advise them to have private counsel or shadow counsel,” Gillers said. “The defense has to be put in the hands of people who have not been vocal in condemning Rumsfeld and Yoo and who have not taken a public position on the legality of their conduct.”
Obama also seems to be no fan of Yoo’s work. One of the new president’s first acts upon taking office last week was to nullify every detainee-related legal opinion issued during the Bush administration by the unit Yoo worked in, the Office of Legal Counsel.
Some liberal lawyers have suggested Yoo or other officials should face not just civil suits but a full-scale investigation into possible war crimes. “People really haven’t been talking about civil exposure. People have been talking more about potential criminal exposure,” said Eugene Fidell, an attorney specializing in military law.
While such questions swirled during Holder’s confirmation hearings, Gillers said he thinks the chances of such a prosecution against Yoo remain slim. “I think he still has no worry about that,” Gillers said.
To an extent, the lawsuits against Yoo and Rumsfeld are symbolic. Padilla was transferred from military to civilian custody in 2006. A jury later convicted him on conspiracy charges unrelated to the alleged “dirty bomb” plot. A judge sentenced him to 17 years in prison, though an appeal is pending. While Padilla does want an order barring another involuntary trip to the brig, each suit seeks only $1 in damages, plus legal fees.
At present, it doesn’t look like Yoo’s sharpest critics will end up directly in the chain of command responding to the civil lawsuits. Obama has tapped an Oakland, Calif., lawyer, Tony West, to head up DOJ’s civil division, which has primary responsibility for such cases. West hasn’t played a vocal role in the debate over detainee policy, but he was one of the lawyers for John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban caught in Afghanistan.
A former lawyer in Bush’s White House, Brad Berenson, said he expects the new Obama officials not only to defend against the suits but to win them. “There are just all kinds of doctrines that protect government officials, even when they’re wrong,” he said. “The dirty little secret here is that the United States government has enduring institutional interests that carry over from administration to administration and almost always dictate the position the government takes.”
Rewriting the First Draft of History January 15, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Iraq and Afghanistan, Media, Uncategorized, War.
Tags: al-Qaeda, amy goodman, bush administration, chris matthews, Condoleezza Rice, congress, fox news, history, Iraq, lou dobbs, mainstream media, mass media, naomi klein, new york times, news media, powell, Robert Scheer, roger hollander, rumsfeld, saddam hussein, scott riter, sy hersh, un weapons inspector, war, william pitt, wmds, wolfowitz
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– Chris Matthews, MSNBC, 09 April 2003
by: William Rivers Pitt, t r u t h o u t | Columnist
Seeing as how we currently find ourselves hurtling along this downhill run towards new history – the countdown to the day America has itself a president named Obama can be measured in hours instead of days or weeks now – it seems an appropriate moment to pause and reflect on a bit of older history we’ve already passed through. I’m not talking about any kind of ancient history, mind you. For the purposes of this reflection, we need only take a small leap backwards in time, just six short years ago.
We all passed through the little slice of history that began to take shape in the early months of 2003, and we all remember that time in our own way. Today, however, there is a great deal of effort being expended to make sure this bit of history is remembered differently than how it really happened. An even better result for those exerting this effort would be if this bit of history were not remembered at all. That may, in fact, be their ultimate goal.
I am referring, of course, to the very beginning of another downhill run towards history, the one that began in 2003 and led us into the current Iraq debacle that is about to become another president’s problem.
I am not, however, referring to anyone who works or once worked within the Bush administration. To be sure, Mr. Bush would prefer if we remembered all this differently than it happened, as would Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Powell, Mr. Wolfowitz, Mr. Feith, Ms. Rice, and every other one of the glorified think-tank cube-rats who ginned the whole thing up to begin with. Richard Perle, in an amusing aside, actually allowed himself to be quoted saying the neocons had nothing to do with Iraq, had no hand in the planning and implementation of same, and anyone who says differently is just wrong and dumb and should go away.
That one’s a hoot, in’it?
No, I am referring to an equally large, craven and culpable body outside the official bounds of our federal governmental: the mainstream American news media. They work fist in glove with that government now, worked with them yesterday, and will likewise be working with them tomorrow. Specifically, they will be working as hard as Bush & Co. to make us remember that downhill run to Iraq differently, because they never worked more closely with our government on anything than they did on Iraq just six short years ago.
The mainstream news media did not concoct false evidence to justify a course for war, but they fobbed off that false proof as if it were holy truth. They did not lie to the American people about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but they passed on Bush administration lies to the American people with full-throated credulity. They did not browbeat the American people with dire threats of impending terrorism to cover up political liabilities, but they passed those threats on from Bush’s people to the American people with the kind of breathless energy only seen whenever media types have skyrocketing ratings and ad revenues twinkling in their eyes.
The mainstream American news media is just as responsible for what has happened in Iraq as the Bush administration; they are as responsible for the lies they repeated as the ones who first told them, and are as guilty for what happened in Iraq as the Bush administration officials they enabled and covered for.
Many people, by now, may have forgotten the manner in which this gruesome symbiosis played out six years ago. An organization called Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting has compiled a little refresher course on the topic. Behold some of the highlights:
“Oh, it was breathtaking. I mean I was almost starting to think that we had become inured to everything that we’d seen of this war over the past three weeks, all this sort of saturation. And finally, when we saw that it was such a just true, genuine expression. It was reminiscent, I think, of the fall of the Berlin Wall. And just sort of that pure emotional expression, not choreographed, not stage-managed, the way so many things these days seem to be. Really breathtaking.”
– Ceci Connolly, Washington Post reporter, on Fox News Channel on 09 April 2003
“This has been a tough war for commentators on the American left. To hope for defeat meant cheering for Saddam Hussein. To hope for victory meant cheering for President Bush. The toppling of Mr. Hussein, or at least a statue of him, has made their arguments even harder to defend. Liberal writers for ideologically driven magazines like The Nation and for less overtly political ones like The New Yorker did not predict a defeat, but the terrible consequences many warned of have not happened. Now liberal commentators must address the victory at hand and confront an ascendant conservative juggernaut that asserts United States might can set the world right.”
– David Carr, New York Times reporter, 16 April 2003
“We’re proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who’s physical, who’s not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like Dukakis or Mondale, all those guys, McGovern. They want a guy who’s president. Women like a guy who’s president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It’s simple. We’re not like the Brits.”
– Chris Matthews, MSNBC, 01 May 2003
“He looked like an alternatively commander in chief, rock star, movie star and one of the guys.”
– Lou Dobbs, CNN, 01 May 2003
“We had controversial wars that divided the country. This war united the country and brought the military back.”
– Howard Fineman, MSNBC, 07 May 2003
Some people may remember hearing these lines when they were uttered. A great many people can probably remember hearing or reading similar comments during that time. The sentiment was all but ubiquitous, at least within the mainstream media’s echo chamber, that the weapons were there, that Bush was right, that war was necessary, so let’s go.
I remember it a little differently.
In the summer of 2002, after working in concert with former chief UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, I wrote and had published a book titled “War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You to Know.” The book argued that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, no al-Qaeda operatives in Iraq, no connection between Iraq and 9/11, thus there was no reason to go to war against Iraq, and that any such war would be a disaster of vast proportions.
In short, the book was spot-on correct.
The latter half of 2002, however, saw very few people arguing these points make their way into the mainstream media conversation. I tried, believe me. I did dozens of radio interviews with every small-market, community-based radio personality in and out of America. I traveled tens of thousands of miles trying to let people know what was what. By the spring of 2003, the book became a New York Times and international best seller, and was translated into 13 languages, but my own informed perspective on the issue had failed to break into the mainstream media conversation.
Mine was not nearly the only voice shut out of the debate by the mainstream news media. From the very beginning, independent or investigative journalists were sounding the alarm, preparing the facts, and not getting heard. People like Amy Goodman, Sy Hersh, Mike Malloy, Juan Cole, Dahr Jamail, Bernard Weiner, Norman Solomon, William Greider, Joe Conason, Robert Scheer, Robert Kuttner, Molly Ivins and Naomi Klein have been horribly vindicated by the passage of time. There are many, many other voices like theirs which, had they been included in the conversation six years ago, could have perhaps saved us all from the disaster they saw coming a mile away.
Of course, not everyone in the mainstream news media participated six years ago in making sure the Iraq war happened, but so very many of them did. Those well-known personalities who actively participated in selling the war, along with their editors, producers and corporate owners, want no part of being rightly remembered for their role in the debacle that is Iraq. For the last couple of years, they’ve been backpedaling furiously away from the mess they were deeply involved in creating; all those once-dismissed “left-wing” talking points about the folly of this war and the absence of Iraqi WMD, seemingly overnight, were adopted by the mainstream news media with nary a hiccup.
Remember how that worked? From 2003 until around 2006, the line from the media was, “Of course everyone knows there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.” But after the WMD’s failure to turn up entered a fourth year, a switch got thrown. Suddenly, the line from the media was, “Of course everyone knows there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” after which came all the anti-Bush rhetoric they’d once ridiculed.
They skipped the all-important middle part. In between “Of course they have WMD” and “Of course they had no WMD” should have been a few deadly serious questions: Why did they tell us there were WMD? Why did we accept their version of the facts so easily? How responsible are we for making the American people believe all that WMD stuff was true?
They skipped all that, because media people avoid self-analysis the way cats avoid water. Now, they want us to remember things differently than how they were. Again.
The folks in the mainstream news media see themselves as the writers and crafters of the first edition of history. This is a position they monstrously abused regarding Iraq, and now, they would like to rewrite that first draft, so they can edit out their own direct involvement as major players in the drama.
Bush must be held responsible, along with all his minions and Congressional enablers, for the bloodbath of criminal wrongdoing that took place and continues in Iraq. But the media must be held accountable, as well. They’d like us to forget what they did. Don’t let them let us forget. We all have skin in this particular game.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: “War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn’t Want You to Know” and “The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.” His newest book, “House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America’s Ravaged Reputation,” is now available from PoliPointPress.
From Ecuador: Good and Evil December 22, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Environment.
Tags: alfred palacio, amazon, chevron, cofan, condaleezza rice, ecology, Ecuador, Evo Morales, exxon valdez, George Bush, global bonds, Greg Palast, Hugo Chavez, IMF, Latin America, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, occidental petroleum, oxy, petroleum, quechua, quito, Rafael Correa, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., roger hollander, texaco, Venezuela, wolfowitz, World Bank
A Conversation with Ecuador’s New President
by Greg Palast http://www.gregpalast.com/a-quechua-christmas-carol/ (no date)
[Quito] I don’t know what the hell seized me. In the middle of an hour-long interview with the President of Ecuador, I asked him about his father.
I’m not Barbara Walters. It’s not the kind of question I ask.
He hesitated. Then said, “My father was unemployed.”
He paused. Then added, “He took a little drugs to the States… This is called in Spanish a mula [mule]. He passed four years in the states- in a jail.”
He continued. “I’d never talked about my father before.”
Apparently he hadn’t. His staff stood stone silent, eyes widened.
Correa’s dad took that frightening chance in the 1960s, a time when his family, like almost all families in Ecuador, was destitute. Ecuador was the original “banana republic” – and the price of bananas had hit the floor. A million desperate Ecuadorans, probably a tenth of the entire adult population, fled to the USA anyway they could.
“My mother told us he was working in the States.”
His father, released from prison, was deported back to Ecuador. Humiliated, poor, broken, his father, I learned later, committed suicide.
At the end of our formal interview, through a doorway surrounded by paintings of the pale plutocrats who once ruled this difficult land, he took me into his own Oval Office. I asked him about an odd-looking framed note he had on the wall. It was, he said, from his daughter and her grade school class at Christmas time. He translated for me.
“We are writing to remind you that in Ecuador there are a lot of very poor children in the streets and we ask you please to help these children who are cold almost every night.”
It was kind of corny. And kind of sweet. A smart display for a politician.
Or maybe there was something else to it.
Correa is one of the first dark-skinned men to win election to this Quechua and mixed-race nation. Certainly, one of the first from the streets. He’d won a surprise victory over the richest man in Ecuador, the owner of the biggest banana plantation.
Doctor Correa, I should say, with a Ph.D in economics earned in Europe. Professor Correa as he is officially called – who, until not long ago, taught at the University of Illinois.
And Professor Doctor Correa is one tough character. He told George Bush to take the US military base and stick it where the equatorial sun don’t shine. He told the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which held Ecuador’s finances by the throat, to go to hell. He ripped up the “agreements” which his predecessors had signed at financial gun point. He told the Miami bond vultures that were charging Ecuador usurious interest, to eat their bonds. He said ‘We are not going to pay off this debt with the hunger of our people. ” Food first, interest later. Much later. And he meant it.
It was a stunning performance. I’d met two years ago with his predecessor, President Alfredo Palacio, a man of good heart, who told me, looking at the secret IMF agreements I showed him, “We cannot pay this level of debt. If we do, we are DEAD. And if we are dead, how can we pay?” Palacio told me that he would explain this to George Bush and Condoleezza Rice and the World Bank, then headed by Paul Wolfowitz. He was sure they would understand. They didn’t. They cut off Ecuador at the knees.
But Ecuador didn’t fall to the floor. Correa, then Economics Minister, secretly went to Hugo Chavez Venezuela’s president and obtained emergency financing. Ecuador survived.
And thrived. But Correa was not done.
Elected President, one of his first acts was to establish a fund for the Ecuadoran refugees in America – to give them loans to return to Ecuador with a little cash and lot of dignity. And there were other dragons to slay. He and Palacio kicked US oil giant Occidental Petroleum out of the country.
Correa STILL wasn’t done.
I’d returned from a very wet visit to the rainforest – by canoe to a Cofan Indian village in the Amazon where there was an epidemic of childhood cancers. The indigenous folk related this to the hundreds of open pits of oil sludge left to them by Texaco Oil, now part of Chevron, and its partners. I met the Cofan’s chief. His three year old son swam in what appeared to be contaminated water then came out vomiting blood and died.
Correa had gone there too, to the rainforest, though probably in something sturdier than a canoe. And President Correa announced that the company that left these filthy pits would pay to clean them up.
But it’s not just any company he was challenging. Chevron’s largest oil tanker was named after a long-serving member of its Board of Directors, the Condoleezza. Our Secretary of State.
The Cofan have sued Condi’s corporation, demanding the oil company clean up the crap it left in the jungle. The cost would be roughly $12 billion. Correa won’t comment on the suit itself, a private legal action. But if there’s a verdict in favor of Ecuador’s citizens, Correa told me, he will make sure Chevron pays up.
Is he kidding? No one has ever made an oil company pay for their slop. Even in the USA, the Exxon Valdez case drags on to its 18th year. Correa is not deterred.
He told me he would create an international tribunal to collect, if necessary. In retaliation, he could hold up payments to US companies who sue Ecuador in US courts.
This is hard core. No one – NO ONE – has made such a threat to Bush and Big Oil and lived to carry it out.
And, in an office tower looking down on Quito, the lawyers for Chevron were not amused. I met with them.
“And it’s the only case of cancer in the world? How many cases of children with cancer do you have in the States?” Rodrigo Perez, Texaco’s top lawyer in Ecuador was chuckling over the legal difficulties the Indians would have in proving their case that Chevron-Texaco caused their kids’ deaths. “If there is somebody with cancer there, [the Cofan parents] must prove [the deaths were] caused by crude or by petroleum industry. And, second, they have to prove that it is OUR crude – which is absolutely impossible.” He laughed again. You have to see this on film to believe it.
The oil company lawyer added, “No one has ever proved scientifically the connection between cancer and crude oil.” Really? You could swim in the stuff and you’d be just fine.
The Cofan had heard this before. When Chevron’s Texaco unit came to their land the the oil men said they could rub the crude oil on their arms and it would cure their ailments. Now Condi’s men had told me that crude oil doesn’t cause cancer. But maybe they are right. I’m no expert. So I called one. Robert F Kennedy Jr., professor of Environmental Law at Pace University, told me that elements of crude oil production – benzene, toluene, and xylene, “are well-known carcinogens.” Kennedy told me he’s seen Chevron-Texaco’s ugly open pits in the Amazon and said that this toxic dumping would mean jail time in the USA.
But it wasn’t as much what the Chevron-Texaco lawyers said that shook me. It was the way they said it. Childhood cancer answered with a chuckle. The Chevron lawyer, a wealthy guy, Jaime Varela, with a blond bouffant hairdo, in the kind of yellow chinos you’d see on country club links, was beside himself with delight at the impossibility of the legal hurdles the Cofan would face. Especially this one: Chevron had pulled all its assets out of Ecuador. The Indians could win, but they wouldn’t get a dime. “What about the chairs in this office?” I asked. Couldn’t the Cofan at least get those? “No,” they laughed, the chairs were held in the name of the law firm.
Well, now they might not be laughing. Correa’s threat to use the power of his Presidency to protect the Indians, should they win, is a shocker. No one could have expected that. And Correa, no fool, knows that confronting Chevron means confronting the full power of the Bush Administration. But to this President, it’s all about justice, fairness. “You [Americans] wouldn’t do this to your own people,” he told me. Oh yes we would, I was thinking to myself, remembering Alaska’s Natives.
Correa’s not unique. He’s the latest of a new breed in Latin America. Lula, President of Brazil, Evo Morales, the first Indian ever elected President of Bolivia, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. All “Leftists,” as the press tells us. But all have something else in common: they are dark-skinned working-class or poor kids who found themselves leaders of nations of dark-skinned people who had forever been ruled by an elite of bouffant blonds.
When I was in Venezuela, the leaders of the old order liked to refer to Chavez as, “the monkey.” Chavez told me proudly, “I am negro e indio” – Black and Indian, like most Venezuelans. Chavez, as a kid rising in the ranks of the blond-controlled armed forces, undoubtedly had to endure many jeers of “monkey.” Now, all over Latin America, the “monkeys” are in charge.
And they are unlocking the economic cages.
Maybe the mood will drift north. Far above the equator, a nation is ruled by a blond oil company executive. He never made much in oil – but every time he lost his money or his investors’ money, his daddy, another oil man, would give him another oil well. And when, as a rich young man out of Philips Andover Academy, the wayward youth tooted a little blow off the bar, daddy took care of that too. Maybe young George got his powder from some guy up from Ecuador.
I know this is an incredibly simple story. Indians in white hats with their dead kids and oil millionaires in black hats laughing at kiddy cancer and playing musical chairs with oil assets.
But maybe it’s just that simple. Maybe in this world there really is Good and Evil.
Maybe Santa will sort it out for us, tell us who’s been good and who’s been bad. Maybe Lawyer Yellow Pants will wake up on Christmas Eve staring at the ghost of Christmas Future and promise to get the oil sludge out of the Cofan’s drinking water.
Or maybe we’ll have to figure it out ourselves. When I met Chief Emergildo, I was reminded of an evening years back, when I was way the hell in the middle of nowhere in the Prince William Sound, Alaska, in the Chugach Native village of Chenega. I was investigating the damage done by Exxon’s oil. There was oil sludge all over Chenega’s beaches. It was March 1991, and I was in the home of village elder Paul Kompkoff on the island’s shore, watching CNN. We stared in silence as “smart” bombs exploded in Baghdad and Basra.
Then Paul said to me, in that slow, quiet way he had, “Well, I guess we’re all Natives now.”
Well, maybe we are. But we don’t have to be, do we?
Maybe we can take some guidance from this tiny nation at the center of the earth. I listened back through my talk with President Correa. And I can assure his daughter that she didn’t have to worry that her dad would forget about “the poor children who are cold” on the streets of Quito.
Because the Professor Doctor is still one of them.
President Bush and the Flying Shoes: A Cautionary Tale December 17, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in George W. Bush, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan, foreign policy, George Bush, Guantanamo, Iraq, iraq reconstruction, Iraq war, kabul, Muntadar al-Zaidi, Robert Gates, Robert Scheer, roger hollander, saddam, shoes, torture, wolfowitz
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Posted on Dec 16, 2008
|AP photo / Karim Kadim|
They hate us for our shoes. Somewhere in what passes for the deeper regions of President Bush’s mind might come that reassuring giggle of a thought as he once again rationalizes away Iraqi ingratitude for the benevolence he has bestowed upon them. Ever at peace with himself, despite many obvious reasons not to be, Bush quipped, “I didn’t know what the guy said but I saw his sole.” But the lame jokes no longer work.
The shoe-throwing Iraqi journalist is now a venerated celebrity throughout the Mideast, and his words to the president—“this is the farewell kiss, you dog”—will stand as the enduring epitaph in the region on Bush’s folly, which is the reality of his claimed legacy of success in the war on terror. That and the Iraqi’s devastating follow-up as he threw his second shoe, “This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq,” a reminder that we have used much deadlier force than a shoe in the shock-and-awe invasion once celebrated in the American media as a means of building respect for democracy.
This was more than a presidential photo op gone wildly awry. One might suspect that the weekend event was designed originally to draw attention from the Friday release of the long-awaited Senate Armed Services Committee’s report on Bush’s torture policy. A report that unanimously concluded that it was the White House and not a few bad apples that “damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.” The report, endorsed by all Republican senators on the committee, including ranking minority member Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., cited former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora’s testimony that “the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq—as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat—are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.”
Not only has the Bush administration subverted the image of the United States’ commitment to the rule of law and justice, but it has done similar damage to our reputation for economic efficiency. On Sunday, The New York Times reported on an unpublished 513-page federal history of the Iraq reconstruction, which the article termed “a $100 billion failure by bureaucratic turf wars, spiraling violence and ignorance of the basic elements of Iraqi society and infrastructure.”
This invasion, according to then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, was supposed to be financed by Iraqi oil money, but instead has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $1 trillion. The results, as the Times’ account of the report put it, are abysmal: “The hard figures on basic services and industrial production compiled for the report reveal that for all the money spent and promises made, the rebuilding effort never did much more than restore what was destroyed during the invasion and the convulsive looting that followed.”
No wonder then that we are perceived as blundering bullies by so many in the region that we claimed to be interested in modernizing. That an Iraqi journalist, whose family had been victimized by Saddam Hussein and who was kidnapped by insurgents while attempting to work as a TV reporter, came to so loathe the American president, as does much of the world, should serve as the final grade on the Bush administration. It should also serve as a caution to President-elect Barack Obama as he seeks to triangulate withdrawal from Iraq with an escalation of the far more treacherous attempt to conquer Afghanistan.
In the end, it does not matter that our claimed intentions appear noble if our practice on the ground adds up to a mélange of brutal incompetence. It is significant that increased troop deployment to Afghanistan was recently announced by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who will hold that same post in the new administration. This is the same Gates who in his 1996 memoir details how, as a member of the Carter administration, he was involved in supporting the mujahedeen Islamic fighters against the secular government in Kabul six months before the Soviet invasion.
These foreign adventures always start out so wonderfully: We will be greeted as liberators, democracy will flourish, the West will be safer, and instead we end up ever more scorned. The media traveling with Bush reported it as a victory of sorts that no reporters in Kabul threw shoes at our president during his press conference there. So much for lowered expectations.
Robert Scheer is author of a new book, “The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America.”
Tags: aei, aipac, Barack Obama, bpc, clawson, coats-robb, daschle, dennis ross, feith, hawks, hillary clinton, Iran, iran nuclear, islamic republic, israel, kinetic action, neocons, neoconservatives, preventive military action, revolutionary guards, richard holbrooke, robert dreyfuss, roger hollander, susan rice, tony lake, uani, war, war on terrorism, winep, wolfowitz
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Tuesday 02 December 2008, www.truthout.org
by: Robert Dreyfuss, TomDispatch.com
Douglas Feith. (Illustration: Paul Giambarba)
What, exactly, does Barack Obama’s mild-mannered choice to head the Department of Health and Human Services, former Senator Tom Daschle, have to do with neocons who want to bomb Iran?
A familiar coalition of hawks, hardliners, and neoconservatives expects Barack Obama’s proposed talks with Iran to fail – and they’re already proposing an escalating set of measures instead. Some are meant to occur alongside any future talks. These include steps to enhance coordination with Israel, tougher sanctions against Iran, and a region-wide military buildup of U.S. strike forces, including the prepositioning of military supplies within striking distance of that country.
Once the future negotiations break down, as they are convinced will happen, they propose that Washington quickly escalate to war-like measures, including a U.S. Navy-enforced embargo on Iranian fuel imports and a blockade of that country’s oil exports. Finally, of course, comes the strategic military attack against the Islamic Republic of Iran that so many of them have wanted for so long.
It’s tempting to dismiss the hawks now as twice-removed from power: first, figures like John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz, and Douglas Feith were purged from top posts in the Bush administration after 2004; then the election of Barack Obama and the announcement Monday of his centrist, realist-minded team of establishment foreign policy gurus seemed to nail the doors to power shut for the neocons, who have bitterly criticized the president-elect’s plans to talk with Iran, withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq, and abandon the reckless Global War on Terrorism rhetoric of the Bush era.
“Kinetic Action” Against Iran
When it comes to Iran, however, it’s far too early to dismiss the hawks. To be sure, they are now plying their trade from outside the corridors of power, but they have more friends inside the Obama camp than most people realize. Several top advisers to Obama – including Tony Lake, UN Ambassador-designate Susan Rice, Tom Daschle, and Dennis Ross, along with leading Democratic hawks like Richard Holbrooke, close to Vice-President-elect Joe Biden or Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton – have made common cause with war-minded think-tank hawks at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and other hardline institutes.
Last spring, Tony Lake and Susan Rice, for example, took part in a WINEP “2008 Presidential Task Force” study which resulted in a report entitled, “Strengthening the Partnership: How to Deepen U.S.-Israel Cooperation on the Iranian Nuclear Challenge.” The Institute, part of the Washington-based Israel lobby, was founded in coordination with the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and has been vigorously supporting a confrontation with Iran. The task force report, issued in June, was overseen by four WINEP heavyweights: Robert Satloff, WINEP’s executive director, Patrick Clawson, its chief Iran analyst, David Makovsky, a senior fellow, and Dennis Ross, an adviser to Obama who is also a WINEP fellow.
Endorsed by both Lake and Rice, the report opted for an alarmist view of Iran’s nuclear program and proposed that the next president set up a formal U.S.-Israeli mechanism for coordinating policy toward Iran (including any future need for “preventive military action”). It drew attention to Israeli fears that “the United States may be reconciling itself to the idea of ‘living with an Iranian nuclear bomb,'” and it raised the spurious fear that Iran plans to arm terrorist groups with nuclear weapons.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with consultations between the United States and Israel. But the WINEP report is clearly predisposed to the idea that the United States ought to give undue weight to Israel’s inflated concerns about Iran. And it ignores or dismisses a number of facts: that Iran has no nuclear weapon, that Iran has not enriched uranium to weapons grade, that Iran may not have the know-how to actually construct a weapon even if, sometime in the future, it does manage to acquire bomb-grade material, and that Iran has no known mechanism for delivering such a weapon.
WINEP is correct that the United States must communicate closely with Israel about Iran. Practically speaking, however, a U.S.-Israeli dialogue over Iran’s “nuclear challenge” will have to focus on matters entirely different from those in WINEP’s agenda. First, the United States must make it crystal clear to Israel that under no circumstances will it tolerate or support a unilateral Israeli attack against Iran. Second, Washington must make it clear that if Israel were indeed to carry out such an attack, the United States would condemn it, refuse to widen the war by coming to Israel’s aid, and suspend all military aid to the Jewish state. And third, Israel must get the message that, even given the extreme and unlikely possibility that the United States deems it necessary to go to war with Iran, there would be no role for Israel.
Just as in the wars against Iraq in 1990-1991 and 2003-2008, the United States hardly needs Israeli aid, which would be both superfluous and inflammatory. Dennis Ross and others at WINEP, however, would strongly disagree that Israel is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Ross, who served as Middle East envoy for George H.W. Bush and then Bill Clinton, was also a key participant in a September 2008 task force chaired by two former senators, Daniel Coats (R.-Ind.) and Chuck Robb (D.-Va.), and led by Michael Makovsky, brother of WINEP’s David Makovsky, who served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the heyday of the Pentagon neocons from 2002-2006. Robb, incidentally, had already served as the neocons’ channel into the 2006 Iraq Study Group, chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Representative Lee Hamilton. According to Bob Woodward’s latest book, The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008, it was Robb who insisted that the Baker-Hamilton task force include an option for a “surge” in Iraq.
The report of the Coats-Robb task force – “Meeting the Challenge: U.S. Policy Toward Iranian Nuclear Development” – went far beyond the WINEP task force report that Lake and Rice signed off on. It concluded that any negotiations with Iran were unlikely to succeed and should, in any case, be short-lived. As the report put the matter, “It must be clear that any U.S.-Iranian talks will not be open-ended, but will be limited to a pre-determined time period so that Tehran does not try to ‘run out the clock.'”
Anticipating the failure of the talks, the task force (including Ross) urged “prepositioning military assets,” coupled with a “show of force” in the region. This would be followed almost immediately by a blockade of Iranian gasoline imports and oil exports, meant to paralyze Iran’s economy, followed by what they call, vaguely, “kinetic action.”
That “kinetic action” – a U.S. assault on Iran – should, in fact, be massive, suggested the Coats-Robb report. Besides hitting dozens of sites alleged to be part of Iran’s nuclear research program, the attacks would target Iranian air defense and missile sites, communications systems, Revolutionary Guard facilities, key parts of Iran’s military-industrial complex, munitions storage facilities, airfields, aircraft facilities, and all of Iran’s naval facilities. Eventually, they say, the United States would also have to attack Iran’s ground forces, electric power plants and electrical grids, bridges, and “manufacturing plants, including steel, autos, buses, etc.”
This is, of course, a hair-raising scenario. Such an attack on a country that had committed no act of war against the United States or any of its allies would cause countless casualties, virtually destroy Iran’s economy and infrastructure, and wreak havoc throughout the region. That such a high-level group of luminaries should even propose steps like these – and mean it – can only be described as lunacy. That an important adviser to President-elect Obama would sign on to such a report should be shocking, though it has received next to no attention.
Palling Around With the Neocons
At a November 6 forum at WINEP, Patrick Clawson, the erudite, neoconservative strategist who serves as the organization’s deputy director for research, laid out the institute’s view of how to talk to Iran in the Obama era. Doing so, he said, is critically important, but only to show the rest of the world that the United States has taken the last step for peace – before, of course, attacking. Then, and only then, will the United States have the legitimacy it needs to launch military action against Iran.
“What we’ve got to do is to show the world that we’re making a big deal of engaging the Iranians,” he said, tossing a bone to the new administration. “I’d throw everything, including the kitchen sink, into it.” He advocates this approach only because he believes it won’t work. “The principal target with these offers [to Iran] is not Iran,” he adds. “The principal target of these offers is American public opinion and world public opinion.”
The Coats-Robb report, Meeting the Challenge,” was written by one of the hardest of Washington’s neoconservative hardliners, Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute. Rubin, who spent most of the years since 9/11 either working for AEI or, before and during the war in Iraq, for the Wolfowitz-Feith team at the Pentagon, recently penned a report for the Institute entitled: “Can A Nuclear Iran Be Deterred or Contained?” Not surprisingly, he believes the answer to be a resounding “no,” although he does suggest that any effort to contain a nuclear Iran would certainly require permanent U.S. bases spread widely in the region, including in Iraq:
“If U.S. forces are to contain the Islamic Republic, they will require basing not only in GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries, but also in Afghanistan, Iraq, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. Without a sizeable regional presence, the Pentagon will not be able to maintain the predeployed resources and equipment necessary to contain Iran, and Washington will signal its lack of commitment to every ally in the region. Because containment is as much psychological as physical, basing will be its backbone.”
The Coats-Robb report was issued by a little-known group called the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC). That organization, too, turns out to be interwoven with WINEP, not least because its foreign policy director is Michael Makovsky. Perhaps the most troubling participant in the Bipartisan Policy Center is Barack Obama’s éminence grise and one of his most important advisers during the campaign, Tom Daschle, who is slated to be his secretary of health and human services. So far, Daschle has not repudiated BPC’s provocative report.
Ross, along with Richard Holbrooke, recently made appearances amid another collection of superhawks who came together to found a new organization, United Against Nuclear Iran. UANI is led by Mark Wallace, the husband of Nicole Wallace, a key member of Senator John McCain’s campaign team. Among UANI’s leadership team are Ross and Holbrooke, along with such hardliners as Jim Woolsey, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Fouad Ajami, the Arab-American scholar who is a principal theorist on Middle East policy for the neoconservative movement.
UANI is primarily a propaganda outfit. Its mission, it says, is to “inform the public about the nature of the Iranian regime, including its desire and intent to possess nuclear weapons, as well as Iran’s role as a state sponsor of global terrorism, and a major violator of human rights at home and abroad” and to “heighten awareness nationally and internationally about the danger that a nuclear-armed Iran poses to the region and the world.”
Barack Obama has, of course, repeatedly declared his intention to embark on a different path by opening talks with Iran. He’s insisted that diplomacy, not military action, will be at the core of his approach to Tehran. During the election campaign, however, he also stated no less repeatedly that he will not take the threat of military action “off the table.”
Organizations like WINEP, AIPAC, AEI, BPC, and UANI see it as their mission to push the United States toward a showdown with Iran. Don’t sell them short. Those who believe that such a confrontation would be inconceivable under President Obama ought to ask Tony Lake, Susan Rice, Dennis Ross, Tom Daschle, and Richard Holbrooke whether they agree – and, if so, why they’re still palling around with neoconservative hardliners.
Robert Dreyfuss, an independent journalist in Alexandria, Virginia, is a contributing editor at The Nation magazine, whose website hosts his The Dreyfuss Report, and has written frequently for Rolling Stone, The American Prospect, Mother Jones, and the Washington Monthly. He is the author of “Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam.”