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Profile: Bush administration (43)
a.k.a. George W. Bush administration
July 7, 2003
“There is other reporting to suggest that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Africa. However, the information is not detailed or specific enough for us to be certain that attempts were in fact made.”
[New York Times, 7/8/2003]
Bush administration (43) was a participant or observer in the following events:
Page 14 of 15 (1488 events)previous
Tom Brokaw. [Source: David Shankbone]NBC anchor emeritus Tom Brokaw defends the media’s performance during the run-up to the Iraq war, and says that it was too much to expect that the media be able to cut through what he calls “the fog of war,” even before the war. In an interview with his successor, Brian Williams, Brokaw says that the coverage “needs to be viewed in the context of that time. When a president says we’re going to war, that there’s a danger of the mushroom crowd. We know there had been experiments with Iraqi nuclear programs in the past. Honorable people believed he had weapons of mass destruction. But there’s always a drumbeat that happens at that time. And you can raise your hand and put on people like Brent Scowcroft, which we did, a very creditable man who said this was the wrong decision.… There was this feeling, that this was a bad man, he had weapons of mass destruction, we couldn’t make the connection that he was sponsoring terrorists or harboring them, we raised that question day after day. But this president was determined to go to war. It was more theology than it was anything else. That’s pretty hard to deal with.… [T]here is a fog of war, Brian, and also the fog in covering war.” Many Democrats, too, went along with the Bush administration’s push to war, Brokaw adds.
Brokaw Considers War Propaganda Standard Procedure - Williams notes that former press secretary Scott McClellan has said that the war was “based on propaganda.” Brokaw replies: “All wars are based on propaganda. John Kennedy launched the beginning of our war in Vietnam by talking about the domino theory and embracing the Green Berets. Lyndon Johnson kept it up and so did Richard Nixon. World War II—a lot of that was driven by propaganda, and suppressing things that people should have known at the time. So people should not be surprised by that. In this business we often bump up against what I call the opaque world. The White House has an unbelievable ability to control the flow of information at any time but especially at a time when they are planning to go to war.”
Rebutting Brokaw - Editor & Publisher’s Greg Mitchell calls Brokaw’s arguments “bankrupt,” and counters several specifics. For Brokaw to say that it was “hard to deal with” the administration’s “drumbeat” for war is specious, Mitchell says: “NBC and others chose to focus on the ‘evidence’ of WMD rather than the evidence that the administration was simply bent on going to war, WMD or not.” Neither Brokaw nor most of his colleagues spent much time focusing on the fact that UN inspectors had found no evidence whatsoever of the WMD programs being hyped by the administration. Mitchell finds Brokaw’s dismissal of the administration’s propaganda efforts disturbing, and writes: “For Brokaw, who has embraced the notion of [World War II] being the ‘good war,’ to put the Iraq invasion in the same class is outrageous. There is a huge difference between admitting that there is a propaganda element to every war—and pointing out that certain wars are mainly based on propaganda and that a country has been misled, or lied, into war. Surely, Brokaw doesn’t think FDR hyped the Japanese and German threat—or was hellbent on war.” Mitchell finds Brokaw’s note that NBC allowed war critic Brent Scowcroft on the air to be disingenuous: “Studies… have shown that such critics were vastly—hideously—outnumbered by war supporters who got face time.” As for Democratic complicity, Mitchell retorts, “What kind of journalist explains a failure to probe the real reasons for a war on others who may not be doing their own due diligence?” [Editor & Publisher, 5/31/2008]
The campaign of Republican presidential nominee John McCain (R-AZ) says that if elected, McCain would retain the right to operate his own warrantless wiretapping program against Americans. Like President Bush, McCain believes that the president’s “wartime” powers trump federal criminal statutes and court oversight. McCain’s campaign is also backing off on earlier assertions that more oversight is needed for telecom companies accused of illegally cooperating with the NSA’s domestic spying program; the campaign now says that McCain is for “unconditional immunity” from prosecution for telecoms. Campaign spokesman Doug Holtz-Eakin says: “[N]either the administration nor the telecoms need apologize for actions that most people, except for the ACLU and the trial lawyers, understand were Constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001.… We do not know what lies ahead in our nation’s fight against radical Islamic extremists, but John McCain will do everything he can to protect Americans from such threats, including asking the telecoms for appropriate assistance to collect intelligence against foreign threats to the United States as authorized by Article II of the Constitution.” The Article II citation has long been used by Bush officials to justify their contention that a president’s wartime powers are virtually unlimited. McCain’s stance directly contradicts a statement he made in December 2007, when he told Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage: “I think that presidents have the obligation to obey and enforce laws that are passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, no matter what the situation is.… I don’t think the president has the right to disobey any law.” McCain’s campaign is so far refusing to respond to requests to explain the differences between his December assertions and those made today. [Wired News, 6/3/2008]
The Iraqi government will miss a July 31, 2008 target for an agreement on long-term relations between the US and Iraq (see March 7, 2008), according to an Iraqi government spokesman. The Bush administration wants the agreement—which is far more broad and permanent than previously disclosed—passed for what many believe are political purposes (see June 5, 2008). Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh says the agreement will not be made by the target date: “I don’t think that we can meet this date. There is a difference in viewpoints between Iraq and the US. I don’t think that time is enough to end this gap and to reach a joint understanding.… Therefore, we are not committed to July as a deadline.” Iraq is also considering possible alternatives to the proposed agreement, he says, but gives no details. The agreement has raised strong objections among many Iraqis, who suspect the US of trying to create a permanent occupation of their nation. [Reuters, 6/3/2008]
Two Iraqi lawmakers denounce a proposed deal that would provide for a permanent presence of US forces in Iraq (see March 7, 2008 and June 5, 2008). In a hearing of a House foreign affairs subcommittee chaired by William Delahunt (D-MA), two Iraqi legislators, Sheikh Khalaf al-Ulayyan and Professor Nadeem al-Jaberi, both lambast the deal. Al-Ulayyan is a Sunni cleric and al-Jaberi is a Shi’ite parliamentarian. Al-Jaberi says that the biggest problem with the deal is that it threatens Iraq’s sovereignty. “The Iraqi government right now does not have the full reign of its sovereignty, because of the thousands of foreign troops that are on its land,” he says. “And perhaps the Iraqi government does not have as of yet sufficient tools to run its own internal affairs. Therefore, I ask the American government not to embarrass the Iraqi government by putting it in a difficult situation with this agreement.” Since the status of the two nations is so unequal, al-Jabari says, the deal will likely “lead to more instability,” and they hope “any future agreement does not affect or impact Iraqi sovereignty, such as permanent military bases.” Any such security deal must wait until US troops have fully withdrawn from Iraq, he says. Al-Ulayyan says he wants to “salute the American people for their stand against the war, which we saw on TV in the form of demonstrations and protests.” While he warns against a precipitous withdrawal of US forces that might lead to “impotence and flaws in the security,” he notes that “protecting Iraq does not require signing long-term agreements like the one proposed, because [the US has] bases in surrounding countries like Kuwait, Jordan and so forth, and therefore, we don’t see any importance or need for military bases in Iraq.” [Washington Independent, 6/4/2008]
The US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, denies that the US is trying to set up permanent military bases in Iraq. Recent reports have shown that the Bush administration is apparently trying to “strong-arm” Iraq into agreeing to a permanent military presence in the country (see June 5, 2008). While the Bush administration wants a military presence in Iraq for the foreseeable future, “It is not going to be forever,” Crocker says. “There isn’t going to be an agreement that infringes on Iraqi sovereignty.” The military agreement will have a provision for periodic review and renewal, as do similar agreements with other countries, Crocker says. Many Iraqi lawmakers and civilians are balking at some of the provisions of the proposed agreement, including the long-term placement of private security forces inside Iraq, the legal immunity enjoyed by US government and corporate personnel, the longevity of the 50 or so bases proposed in the agreement, the US control over Iraqi airspace, and, more generally, the worry that the agreement will lock in US military, economic, and political domination of the country for generations to come. “The Americans have some demands that the Iraqi government regards as infringing on its sovereignty,” says lawmaker Haider al-Abadi. “This is the main dispute, and if the dispute is not settled, I frankly tell you there will not be an agreement.” Crocker denies that the bill contains any secret provisions, and that the entire deal is “transparent” for both Iraqis and Americans. The proposed agreement was kept secret for at least a month before being leaked to the British press in April (see March 7, 2008). [Associated Press, 6/5/2008]
The British newspaper The Independent reports on a secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad that would indefinitely perpetuate the American occupation of Iraq, no matter who wins the US presidential elections in November. Under the accord, US troops and private contractors will occupy over 50 permanent military bases, conduct military operations without consulting the Iraqi government, arrest Iraqis at will, control Iraqi airspace, and be immune from Iraqi law. The agreement goes much farther than a previous draft agreement created between the two countries in March (see March 7, 2008). It is based on a so-called “Declaration of Principles” issued by both governments in November 2007 (see November 26, 2007). The US says it has no intention of entering into a permanent agreement (see June 5, 2008).
Forcing Agreement Over Iraqi Opposition - President Bush intends to force the so-called “strategic alliance” onto the Iraqi government, without modifications, by the end of July. Inside sources believe that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki opposes the deal, but feels that his government cannot stay in power without US backing and therefore has no power to resist. Iraqi ministers have said they will reject any agreement that limits Iraqi sovereignty, insiders believe that their resistance is little more than bluster designed to shore up their credentials as defenders of Iraqi independence; they will sign off on the agreement in the end, observers believe. The only person with the authority to block the deal is Shi’ite religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. But al-Sistani is said to believe that the Shi’a cannot afford to lose US support if they intend to remain in control of the government. Al-Sistani’s political rival, cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, has exhorted his followers to demonstrate against the agreement as a compromise of Iraqi sovereignty. As for the other two power blocs in the country, the Kurds are likely to accept the agreement, and, interestingly, so are many Sunni political leaders, who want the US in Iraq to dilute the Shi’ites’ control of the government. (Many Sunni citizens oppose any such deal.) While the Iraqi government itself is trying to delay the signing of the accord, Vice President Dick Cheney has been instrumental in pushing for its early acceptance. The US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, has spent weeks trying to secure the agreement.
'Explosive Political Effect' - Many Iraqis fear that the deal will have what reporter Patrick Cockburn calls “an explosive political effect in Iraq… [it may] destabilize Iraq’s position in the Middle East and lay the basis for unending conflict in their country.” Cockburn writes that the accords may provoke a political crisis in the US as well. Bush wants the accords pushed through “so he can declare a military victory and claim his 2003 invasion has been vindicated.” The accord would also boost the candidacy of John McCain (R-AZ), who claims the US is on the brink of victory in Iraq. It would fly in the face of pledges made by McCain’s presidential opponent Barack Obama (D-IL), who has promised to withdraw US troops from Iraq if elected. McCain has said that Obama will throw away a US victory if he prematurely withdraws troops. An Iraqi politician says of the potential agreement, “It is a terrible breach of our sovereignty.” He adds that such an agreement will delegitimize the Iraqi government and prove to the world that it is nothing more than a puppet government controlled by the US. While US officials have repeatedly denied that the Bush administration wants permanent bases in Iraq, an Iraqi source retorts, “This is just a tactical subterfuge.”
Exacerbating Tensions with Iran - Iranian leader Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani says that the agreement will create “a permanent occupation.… The essence of this agreement is to turn the Iraqis into slaves of the Americans.” The deal may also inflame tensions between Iran and the US; currently the two countries are locked in an under-the-radar struggle to win influence in Iraq. [Independent, 6/5/2008]
Entity Tags: Moqtada al-Sadr, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Hashemi Rafsanjani, John McCain, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Ryan C. Crocker, Sayyid Ali Husaini al-Sistani, Patrick Cockburn, Nouri al-Maliki, Independent
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
Senate Democrats and Republicans spar over the just-released Senate Intelligence Committee report about the Bush administration’s use of intelligence in the run-up to war with Iraq (see June 5, 2008). However, no Democrat pushes for criminal charges against any White House officials, and administration officials dismiss the report as “old news.” Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) says of the report: “The tragic fact is, on issues of war and peace, which should require the most meticulous and the most precise adherence to the truth, the administration was too often careless with its words, including in some cases making presentations that were not substantiated by the available intelligence—or worse, directly contradicted by the available intelligence. The administration went well beyond what the intelligence community knew and what it believed.” Rockefeller says pushing for criminal charges would be pointless and would completely shut down already-strained relations between Congress and the White House. “It would mean nothing else, whether it’s clean air or FISA, would get done,” he says. “It’s like pressing for impeachment. It’s a grand act with only five or six months to go. It’s a futile act and it’s a wrong act, because we do have business to do.” Interestingly, Rockefeller acknowledges that charges should be brought, saying: “Should it be done in the wide sweep of history? Yes. Should it be done by us, now? No.” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) says, “It rots the very fiber of democracy when our government is put to these uses.” White House press secretary Dana Perino says that the report actually vindicates the administration in some areas, and in others merely rehashes old claims that the administration has already acknowledged and “taken measures to fix.” Republican committee member Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO) calls the report “political theater… that makes partisan points but isn’t grounded in fact,” and adds: “I don’t know why they’re trying to run against the Bush administration. Maybe they think it’s good. But unfortunately it denigrates the process of intelligence collection, analysis and oversight and that’s why it’s a very shabby example of how partisan politics can be misused in the intelligence community.” Former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke says there must be some accountability: “I just don’t think we can let these people back into polite society and give them jobs on university boards and corporate boards and just let them pretend that nothing ever happened when there are 4,000 Americans dead and 25,000 Americans grievously wounded, and they’ll carry those wounds and suffer all the rest of their lives.” Progressive commentator Arianna Huffington calls the report “a direct rebuke to the administration’s continued claims that it was the intelligence that was faulty, and that Bush and Co. were simply presenting what the CIA had given them.… The report doesn’t use the word, but we all know what it’s called when someone presents something as fact that’s directly contradicted by the evidence. A lie. Not a mistake. A lie.” [Hill, 6/5/2008; Huffington Post, 6/9/2008]
The Senate Intelligence Committee releases its long-awaited “Phase II” report on the Bush administration’s use of intelligence in convincing the country that it was necessary to invade Iraq. According to the report, none of the claims made by the administration—particularly that Iraq had WMD and that its government had working ties with Islamist terror organizations such as al-Qaeda—were based in any intelligence reporting. The committee released “Phase I” of its report in July 2004, covering the quality of intelligence used in making the case for war; the second phase was promised “soon afterwards” by the then-Republican leadership of the committee, but nothing was done until after Democrats took over the committee in November 2006. The report is the product of what the Associated Press calls “nasty partisan fight[ing]” among Republicans and Democrats, and largely fails to reveal much information that has not earlier been reported elsewhere. [Associated Press, 6/5/2008] The report is bipartisan in that two Republican committee members, Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE), joined the committee’s Democrats to sign the report. [Hill, 6/5/2008]
False Linkages between Iraq, Al-Qaeda - Time magazine notes that the report “doesn’t break any new ground,” but tries “to make the case that President Bush and his advisers deliberately disregarded conflicting intel and misled Americans on the severity of the Iraqi threat.” Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) says: “It is my belief that the Bush administration was fixated on Iraq, and used the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda as justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. To accomplish this, top administration officials made repeated statements that falsely linked Iraq and al-Qaeda as a single threat.” [Time, 6/6/2008]
Examination of Five Speeches - The report looks at the statements of current and former Bush administration officials such as President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, between October 2002 and the actual invasion of Iraq in March 2003 (see January 23, 2008), largely focusing on five speeches:
Cheney’s speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention (see August 26, 2002);
Bush’s statement to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002);
Bush’s speech in Cincinnati (see October 7, 2002);
Bush’s State of the Union speech (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003);
and Powell’s presentation to the United Nations Security Council (see February 5, 2003).
The report contrasts these speeches and statements to intelligence reports that have since then been released. The report only assesses the veracity of public comments made by Bush officials, and does not delve into any possible behind-the-scenes machinations by those officials or their surrogates. Some of the report’s conclusions:
“Statements which indicated that [Saddam] Hussein was prepared to give WMDs to terrorists were inconsistent with existing intelligence at the time, as were statements that suggested a partnership between the two.”
“Claims that airstrikes on their own would not be sufficient to destroy purported chemical and biological weapons in Iraq were unsubstantiated.”
“Most statements that supported the theory that Hussein had access to or the capacity to build chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons did not take into account the disagreements between intelligence agencies as to the credibility of the WMD allegations.”
'Statements beyond What the Intelligence Supported' - Rockefeller says the administration concealed information that contradicted their arguments that an invasion was necessary. “We might have avoided this catastrophe,” he says. The report finds that while many of the administration’s claims were supported by at least some intelligence findings, the administration routinely refused to mention dissents or uncertainties expressed by intelligence analysts about the information being presented. The committee’s five Republicans assail the report as little more than election-year partisanship, and accuse Democrats of using the report to cover for their own members, including Rockefeller and Carl Levin (D-MI), who supported the administration’s push for war at the time. [Senate Intelligence Committee, 6/5/2008 ; Associated Press, 6/5/2008; Time, 6/6/2008] Rockefeller answers the Republican charges by saying, “[T]here is a fundamental difference between relying on incorrect intelligence and deliberately painting a picture to the American people that you know is not fully accurate.” Committee member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) writes in a note attached to the report: “Even though the intelligence before the war supported inaccurate statements, this administration distorted the intelligence in order to build its case to go to war. The executive branch released only those findings that supported the argument, did not relay uncertainties, and at times made statements beyond what the intelligence supported.” [Huffington Post, 6/5/2008]
Entity Tags: Chuck Hagel, John D. Rockefeller, Colin Powell, Dianne Feinstein, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Carl Levin, Olympia Snowe, Al-Qaeda, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Senate Intelligence Committee, Saddam Hussein
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
The US is pressuring the Iraqi government to accept a military agreement for permanent US bases in Iraq (see March 7, 2008 and June 5, 2008) by using some $50 billion of Iraqi money being kept in the US Federal Reserve Bank as a negotiating tool. About $20 billion in outstanding court judgments exist against Iraq in the US. A presidential order currently gives that money protection from judicial attachment. But, US officials have told Iraqi lawmakers, if they do not sign the accord with the US, President Bush will lift that immunity and the $20 billion will be confiscated by the US court system. [Independent, 6/6/2008; Xinhua News Agency (Beijing), 6/6/2008] Reporter Patrick Cockburn writes: “The US is able to threaten Iraq with the loss of 40 percent of its foreign exchange reserves because Iraq’s independence is still limited by the legacy of UN sanctions and restrictions imposed on Iraq since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in the 1990s. This means that Iraq is still considered a threat to international security and stability under Chapter Seven of the UN charter. The US negotiators say the price of Iraq escaping Chapter Seven is to sign up to a new ‘strategic alliance’ with the United States.” Cockburn writes that regardless of the financial “blackmail,” Iraqis are resistant to the agreement because they fear it will make their nation a perpetual “client state” of the US. [Independent, 6/6/2008]
Jan Schakowsky. [Source: Washington Post]Fifty-six Democratic members of the House of Representatives send a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, asking him to appoint a special counsel to investigate whether top Bush administration officials committed crimes in authorizing the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics against suspected terrorists (see April 2002 and After). The lawmakers, who include John Conyers (D-MI), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and House Intelligence Committee members Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), cite “mounting evidence” that senior officials personally sanctioned the use of such extreme interrogation methods. An independent investigation is needed to determine whether such actions violated US or international law, the letter states. “This information indicates that the Bush administration may have systematically implemented, from the top down, detainee interrogation policies that constitute torture or otherwise violate the law,” the letter says. It adds that a broad inquiry is needed to examine the consequences of administration decisions at US detention sites in Iraq, at Guantanamo, and in secret prisons operated by the CIA. The interrogation methods have resulted in “abuse, sexual exploitation and torture” that may have violated the War Crimes Act of 1996 and the American Anti-Torture Act of 2007. “Despite the seriousness of the evidence, the Justice Department has brought prosecution against only one civilian for an interrogation-related crime,” the letter reads. “Given that record, we believe it is necessary to appoint a special counsel in order to ensure that a thorough and impartial investigation occurs.” Conyers tells reporters after sending the letter, “We need an impartial criminal investigation.” The entire detainee controversy is “a truly shameful episode” in US history, he says. “Because these apparent ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were used under cover of Justice Department legal opinions, the need for an outside special prosecutor is obvious.” The Justice Department refuses to comment on the letter. Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch says that the letter is significant even if Mukasey refuses to appoint a special counsel. “The fact that so many representatives have called for the investigation helps lay the groundwork for the inevitable reckoning and accounting that the next administration is going to have to do regarding this administration’s practices,” she says. [US House of Representatives, 6/6/2008; Washington Post, 6/7/2008; United Press International, 6/7/2008]
Entity Tags: Jerrold Nadler, House Intelligence Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), House Judiciary Committee, Human Rights Watch, Michael Mukasey, US Department of Justice, John Conyers, Jan Schakowsky, Jennifer Daskal
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Bill Moyers, John Walcott, Jonathan Landay, and Greg Mitchell on PBS’s ‘Journal.’ [Source: PBS]In his regular “Journal” broadcast, PBS political commentator Bill Moyers focuses on the role of the media in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. “America was deceived, with the media’s help,” Moyers declares, and interviews three media figures to help explain how: John Walcott, Washington bureau chief of McClatchy News; Jonathan Landay, one of Walcott’s “ace reporters;” and Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher, “known to many of us as the watchdog’s watchdog.” Part of the discussion focuses on the failure of most media reporters and broadcasters to question the Bush administration’s assertions about the Iraq war. Landay says, “I was just I was left breathless by some of the things that I heard where you heard correspondents say, ‘Well, we did ask the tough questions. We asked them to the White House spokesmen,’ Scott McClellan and others. And you say to yourself, ‘And you expected to get real answers? You expected them to say from the White House podium—“Yeah, well, there were disagreements over the intelligence, but we ignored them”’ when the President made his speeches and the Vice President made his speeches. No, I don’t think so.” Mitchell agrees, noting that ABC reporter Charles Gibson said that we “wouldn’t ask any different questions.” Mitchell says he found Gibson’s remarks “shocking.” Mitchell continues: “[T]hat someone would say we would even with the chance to relive this experience and so much we got wrong—going to war is—which is still going on over five years later, all the lost lives, all the financial costs of that. And then to look back at this, you know, this terrible episode in history of American journalism and say that if I could do it all over again, I’m not sure we would ask any different questions.” Walcott takes a different tack, saying that reporters “may have asked all the right questions. The trouble is they asked all the wrong people.” Landay notes that “you have to take the time to find those people,” and Mitchell adds that when you do find real information, “[y]ou can’t bury it.” Landay adds that some powerful, public admission of error and self-examination might go far to counter the perception that the media is just as untrustworthy as the government.
Drowned Out - Walcott notes that even when reporters found informed sources willing to talk about the realities behind the push for war, they were drowned out by “Donald Rumsfeld at the podium or Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice saying, ‘We can’t allow the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud’” (see September 4, 2002 and September 8, 2002). “Over and over again,” Moyers notes. “Over and over again on camera,” Walcott continues. “[T]hat trumps the kind of reporting that John and [Landay’s partner] Warren Strobel did from these mid-level guys who actually know that there’s no prospect of any smoking gun let alone a mushroom cloud. And so when it gets to packaging television news, it’s picture driven, it’s celebrity driven, and that doesn’t allow much room for this kind of hard-nosed reporting under the radar.” Mitchell says, “There’s been at least six opportunities in the last two months for the media to do this long delayed and much needed self-assessment, self-criticism to the American public and it hasn’t happened.”
Liberal vs. Conservative Media - Moyers notes that many conservative media outlets “do not believe they got it wrong. I mean, Fox News was reinforcing the administration’s messages back then and still does today.” Walcott notes, “You know, if Fox News’s mission is to defend Republican administrations then they’re right, they didn’t fail.” He notes that in his book, McClellan draws a distinction between the conservative and the “liberal” media (presumably the New York Times, Washington Post, etc). “I don’t understand what liberal versus conservative has to do with this,” Walcott says. “I would have thought that conservatives would be the ones to ask questions about a march to war. How much is this gonna cost us? What’s the effect of this gonna be on our military, on our country’s strength overseas? I don’t think it’s a liberal conservative question at all. I think that’s, frankly, a canard by Scott.”
Celebrity 'Experts' - Moyers asks about the “experts” who predicted that the war would be quick, bloodless, and successful. Even though they were “terribly wrong,” Moyers notes that most of them are “still on the air today pontificating. I mean, there seems to be no price to be paid for having been wrong about so serious an issue of life and death, war and peace.” Walcott says they are not news analysts so much as they are celebrities. Big name actors can make bad movies and still draw million-dollar salaries for their next film: “It’s the same phenomenon. A name is what matters. And it’s about celebrity. It’s about conflict. It’s about—” Landay completes Walcott’s sentence: “Ratings.”
'Skunks at the Garden Party' - Perhaps the most disturbing portion of the discussion is when Walcott notes that the kind of old-fashioned investigative reporting exemplified by Landay and Strobel is “by definition… unpopular.… Because the public doesn’t wanna hear it.… Doesn’t wanna hear the President lied to them. Doesn’t wanna hear that the local police chief is on the take. You know, people don’t like necessarily to hear all that kind of stuff. And when you’re worried about, above all, your advertising revenue, you become more vulnerable to those kinds of pressures.… Well, the skunks don’t get invited to the garden party. And part of our job is to be the skunks at the garden party.” [PBS, 6/6/2008]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Charles Gibson, Bush administration (43), Bill Moyers, ABC News, Fox News, Washington Post, Public Broadcasting System, Editor & Publisher, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, McClatchy News, Warren Strobel, Jonathan Landay, Greg Mitchell, Scott McClellan, John Walcott, New York Times
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
The recently released Senate Intelligence Committee report on misleading, exaggerated, and inaccurate presentations of the prewar Iraqi threat by the Bush administration (see June 5, 2008) leaves out some significant material. The report says that the panel did not review “less formal communications between intelligence agencies and other parts of the executive branch.” The committee made no attempt to obtain White House records or interview administration officials because, the report says, such steps were considered beyond the scope of the report. Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus notes that “[o]ne obvious target for such an expanded inquiry would have been the records of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), a group set up in August 2002 by then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.” WHIG (see August 2002) was composed of, among other senior White House officials, senior political adviser Karl Rove; the vice president’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby; communications strategists Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, and James Wilkinson; legislative liaison Nicholas Calio; and a number of policy aides led by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley.
WHIG Led Marketing of War - Scott McClellan, the former White House press secretary, recently wrote in his book What Happened that WHIG “had been set up in the summer of 2002 to coordinate the marketing of the war to the public.… The script had been finalized with great care over the summer [for a] “campaign to convince Americans that war with Iraq was inevitable and necessary.” On September 6, 2002, Card hinted as much to reporters when he said, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August” (see September 6, 2002). Two days later, the group scored its first hit with a front-page New York Times story about Iraq’s secret purchase of aluminum tubes that, the story said, could be used to produce nuclear weapons (see September 8, 2002). The information for that story came from “senior administration officials” now known to be members of WHIG. The story was the first to make the statement that “the first sign of a ‘smoking gun’ [proving the existence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program] may be a mushroom cloud” (see September 4, 2002); that same morning, the same message was repeated three times by various senior administration officials on the Sunday talk shows (see September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, and September 8, 2002). WHIG did not “deliberately mislead the public,” McClellan claimed in his book, but wrote that the “more fundamental problem was the way [Bush’s] advisers decided to pursue a political propaganda campaign to sell the war to the American people.… As the campaign accelerated,” caveats and qualifications were downplayed or dropped altogether. Contradictory intelligence was largely ignored or simply disregarded.”
Records Perusal Would 'Shed Light' - If indeed the White House “repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even nonexistent,” as committee chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) has said, then an examination of WHIG’s records would, Pincus writes, “shed much light” on the question. [Washington Post, 6/9/2008]
Entity Tags: New York Times, Karen Hughes, John D. Rockefeller, James R. Wilkinson, Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), Andrew Card, Karl C. Rove, Mary Matalin, Senate Intelligence Committee, Stephen J. Hadley, Walter Pincus, White House Iraq Group, Nicholas E. Calio, Scott McClellan, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Physicians for Human Rights logo. [Source: Newsguide (.us)]Retired Army Major General Antonio Taguba, who led the probe into prisoner torture and abuse at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison (see March 9, 2004), accuses the Bush administration of committing “war crimes,” and calls for Bush officials to be held accountable. Taguba’s remarks are part of a wide-ranging report on US torture by the human rights organization Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). The report, released today, finds that US personnel tortured and abused detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, using beatings, electrical shocks, sexual humiliation, sleep deprivation, isolation, being hung from ceilings, and other practices. One prisoner was forced to drink urine. “After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes,” Taguba wrote in the report. “The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.” PHR calls the report the most complete medical and psychological examination of former detainees to date. The report focuses on statements from, and medical examinations of, 11 detainees held for long periods of time in various US-run prisons and facilities before being released without charges. The report, titled “Broken Laws, Broken Lives,” concurs with an investigation of Guantanamo conducted by investigative reporters for McClatchy News. PHR president Leonard Rubenstein says there was a direct connection between the Pentagon’s authorizations of extreme interrogation methods and the abuses his organization documented. “The result was a horrific stew of pain, degradation, and… suffering,” he says. [Physicians for Human Rights, 6/2008; McClatchy News, 6/18/2008]
The Supreme Court rules 5-4 that foreign terror suspects held without charge at Guantanamo Bay have the Constitutional right to challenge their detention in US civilian courts. The Court splits along ideological lines, with the more liberal and moderate members supporting the finding, and the more conservative members opposing it. Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered a centrist, writes the ruling. He writes, “The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times.” The ruling specifically strikes down the portion of the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006) that denies detainees their habeas corpus rights to file petitions. [Associated Press, 6/12/2008; Associated Press, 6/12/2008] The case is Boumediene v. Bush, and was filed in the Supreme Court in March 2007 on behalf of Lakhdar Boumediene, a Bosnian citizen held in the Guantanamo camp since 2002 (see January 18, 2002). It was combined with a similar case, Al Odah v United States (see October 20, 2004). [Oyez (.org), 6/2007; Jurist, 6/29/2007]
'Stinging Rebuke' for Bush Administration - The ruling is considered a serious setback for the Bush administration (a “stinging rebuke,” in the words of the Associated Press), which insists that terror suspects detained at Guantanamo and elsewhere have no rights in the US judicial system. It is unclear whether the ruling will lead to prompt hearings for detainees [Associated Press, 6/12/2008; Associated Press, 6/12/2008] ; law professor James Cohen, who represents two detainees, says, “Nothing is going to happen between June 12 and January 20,” when the next president takes office. Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr says the decision will not affact war crimes trials already in the works: “Military commission trials will therefore continue to go forward.”
Scalia: Ruling Will 'Cause More Americans to Be Killed' - President Bush says he disagrees with the ruling, and says he may seek new legislation to keep detainees under lock and key. Justice Antonin Scalia, the leader of the Court’s ideological right wing, agrees; in a “blistering” dissent, he writes that the decision “will make the war harder on us. It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.” In his own dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts argues that the ruling strikes down “the most generous set of procedural protections ever afforded aliens detained by this country as enemy combatants.” Joining Scalia and Roberts in the minority are Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. Voting in the majority are Kennedy and Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter, and John Paul Stevens.
Military Tribunals 'Doomed,' Says Navy Lawyer - Former Navy lawyer Charles Swift, who argued a similar case before the Supreme Court in Hamdan v Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), says he believes the ruling removes any legal basis for keeping Guantanamo open, and says that military tribunals are “doomed.” The entire rationale for Guantanamo and the tribunals, Swift says, is the idea that “constitutional protections wouldn’t apply.” But now, “The court said the Constitution applies. They’re in big trouble.” Democrats and many human rights organizations hail the ruling as affirming the US’s commitment to the rule of law; some Republican lawmakers say the ruling puts foreign terrorists’ rights over the safety of the American people. Vincent Warren, the head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, says: “The Supreme Court has finally brought an end to one of our nation’s most egregious injustices. By granting the writ of habeas corpus, the Supreme Court recognizes a rule of law established hundreds of years ago and essential to American jurisprudence since our nation’s founding.” [Associated Press, 6/12/2008]
Entity Tags: Stephen Breyer, Vincent Warren, US Supreme Court, Samuel Alito, Military Commissions Act, Peter Carr, Bush administration (43), Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Charles Swift, Clarence Thomas, David Souter, George W. Bush, Lakhdar Boumediene, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, James Cohen, John G. Roberts, Jr, US Department of Justice
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
An internal Justice Department (DOJ) audit by the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) that found the department’s hiring practices were politically motivated in some instances has led critics to renew charges that DOJ officials, including US Attorneys, may have brought groundless charges against Democrats in order to affect elections. The audit, the results of which were recently made public, found that Bush administration officials implemented a policy in 2002 to screen out applicants with liberal or Democratic affiliations. The audit found that such disqualifications “constituted misconduct and also violated the department’s policies and civil service law that prohibit discrimination in hiring based on political or ideological affiliation.” Former Governor Don Siegelman (D-AL), convicted of bribery charges that he has said were politically motivated, says, “[The audit] validates and verifies what we all knew was taking place, and that is that under [the Bush administration] the Justice Department has been politicized and used as a political tool.” The OPR is investigating several cases, including Siegelman’s, along with charges filed against Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz Jr. and Wisconsin state procurement official Georgia Thompson (see May 5, 2008 and May 22, 2008). Federal prosecutors have denied the cases were filed for any political reasons, prompting House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) to say, “The department’s bald denials that politics never affected the cases under investigation simply cannot be taken at face value.” Thompson’s attorney Stephen Hurley says: “What they’ve said is politics played a role in personnel decisions. The question is did it play any role in decisions to prosecute? The latter is a much more serious issue.” He says he is ready to speak with officials from OPR. “I’d be glad if somebody called me because I have facts they might want to know,” Hurley says. [Associated Press, 6/25/2008]
David Addington and John Yoo before the House Judiciary Committee. [Source: Washington Post]David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Cheney and one of the architects of the Bush administration’s torture policies (see Late September 2001), testifies before the House Judiciary Committee. He is joined by Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, who authored or contributed to many of the legal opinions that the administration used to justify the torture and “extralegal” treatment of terror suspects (see November 6-10, 2001). Addington, unwillingly responding to a subpoena, is, in Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank’s description, “nasty, brutish, and short” with his questioners. [Washington Post, 6/27/2008] He tells lawmakers that the world has not changed much since the 9/11 attacks: “Things are not so different today as people think. No American should think we are free, the war is over, al-Qaeda is not coming.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/27/2008]
Refusing to Define 'Unitary Executive' - Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) peppers Addington with questions about the Bush administration and its penchant for the “unitary executive” paradigm, which in essence sees the executive branch as separate and above the other two, “lesser” branches of government. Addington is one of the main proponents of this theory (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But instead of answering Conyers’s questions, he slaps away the questions with what Milbank calls “disdain.”
Addington: “I frankly don’t know what you mean by unitary theory.”
Conyers: “Have you ever heard of that theory before?”
Addington: “I see it in the newspapers all the time.”
Conyers: “Do you support it?”
Addington: “I don’t know what it is.”
Conyers (angrily): “You’re telling me you don’t know what the unitary theory means?”
Addington: “I don’t know what you mean by it.”
Conyers: “Do you know what you mean by it?”
Addington: “I know exactly what I mean by it.”
Open Contempt - He flatly refuses to answer most questions, and treats the representatives who ask him those questions with open contempt and, in Milbank’s words, “unbridled hostility.” One representative asks if the president is ever justified in breaking the law, and Addington retorts, “I’m not going to answer a legal opinion on every imaginable set of facts any human being could think of.” When asked if he consulted Congress when interpreting torture laws, Addington snaps: “That’s irrelevant.… There is no reason their opinion on that would be relevant.” Asked if it would be legal to torture a detainee’s child (see After September 11, 2002), Addington answers: “I’m not here to render legal advice to your committee. You do have attorneys of your own.” He offers to give one questioner advice on asking better questions. When asked about an interrogation session he had witnessed at Guantanamo, he replies: “You could look and see mouths moving. I infer that there was communication going on.” At times he completely ignores questions, instead writing notes to himself while the representatives wait for him to take notice of their queries. At other times, he claims an almost complete failure of memory, particularly regarding conversations he had with other Bush officials about interrogation techniques. [Washington Post, 6/27/2008] (He does admit to being briefed by Yoo about an August 2002 torture memo (see August 1, 2002), but denies assisting Yoo in writing it.) [Los Angeles Times, 6/27/2008] Addington refuses to talk more specifically about torture and interrogation practices, telling one legislator that he can’t speak to him or his colleagues “[b]ecause you kind of communicate with al-Qaeda.” He continues, “If you do—I can’t talk to you, al-Qaeda may watch C-SPAN.” When asked if he would meet privately to discuss classified matters, he demurs, saying instead: “You have my number. If you issue a subpoena, we’ll go through this again.” [Think Progress, 6/26/2008; Washington Post, 6/27/2008]
Yoo Dodges, Invokes Privilege - Milbank writes that Yoo seems “embolden[ed]” by Addington’s “insolence.” Yoo engages in linguistic gymnastics similar to Addington’s discussion with Conyers when Keith Ellison (D-MN) asks him whether a torture memo was implemented. “What do you mean by ‘implemented’?” Yoo asks. Ellison responds, “Mr. Yoo, are you denying knowledge of what the word ‘implement’ means?” Yoo says, “You’re asking me to define what you mean by the word?” Ellison, clearly exasperated, retorts, “No, I’m asking you to define what you mean by the word ‘implement.’” Yoo’s final answer: “It can mean a wide number of things.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2008] Conyers asks Yoo, “Could the president order a suspect buried alive?” Yoo responds, “Uh, Mr. Chairman, I don’t think I’ve ever given advice that the president could order someone buried alive.” Conyers retorts: “I didn’t ask you if you ever gave him advice. I asked you thought the president could order a suspect buried alive.” Yoo answers, “Well Chairman, my view right now is that I don’t think a president—no American president would ever have to order that or feel it necessary to order that.” Conyers says, “I think we understand the games that are being played.” Reporter Christopher Kuttruff writes, “Throughout his testimony, Yoo struggled with many of the questions being asked, frequently delaying, qualifying and invoking claims of privilege to avoid answering altogether.” [Human Rights First, 6/26/2008; Truthout (.org), 6/27/2008]
The New York Times publishes a long front-page analysis of the policy disputes and mistakes that have bogged down US efforts to combat al-Qaeda’s safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal region. The article reveals that the US effort has often been “undermined by bitter disagreements within the Bush administration and within the CIA, including about whether American commandos should launch ground raids inside the tribal areas.… [B]y most accounts, the administration failed to develop a comprehensive plan to address the militant problem there, and never resolved the disagreements between warring agencies that undermined efforts to fashion any coherent strategy.” Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state for President Bush’s first term and the administration’s point person for Pakistan, says, “We’re just kind of drifting.” Pakistan’s policy as led by President Pervez Musharraf has also been adrift and/or ineffective: “Western military officials say Mr. Musharraf was instead often distracted by his own political problems, and effectively allowed militants to regroup by brokering peace agreements with them.” The Times concludes, “Just as it had on the day before 9/11, al-Qaeda now has a band of terrorist camps from which to plan and train for attacks against Western targets, including the United States.” The camps are smaller than the ones used prior to 9/11, but one retired CIA officer estimates that as many as 2,000 militants train in them at any given time, up from several hundred in 2005. “Leading terrorism experts have warned that it is only a matter of time before a major terrorist attack planned in the mountains of Pakistan is carried out on American soil.” [New York Times, 6/30/2008]
Jameel Jaffer. [Source: ACLU (.org)]The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases three heavily redacted documents detailing the Bush administration’s use of brutal torture methods against detainees in US custody. The documents are turned over to the ACLU by the CIA after a judge orders their release (see May 27, 2008). “These documents supply further evidence, if any were needed, that the Justice Department authorized the CIA to torture prisoners in its custody,” says ACLU official Jameel Jaffer. “The Justice Department twisted the law, and in some cases ignored it altogether, in order to permit interrogators to use barbaric methods that the US once prosecuted as war crimes.” One document is an August 2002 Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memo authorizing the CIA to use particular interrogation methods, including waterboarding (see August 1, 2002). The memo states that interrogation methods that cause severe mental pain do not amount to torture under US law unless they cause “harm lasting months or even years after the acts were inflicted upon the prisoners.” The other two documents, from 2003 and 2004, are memos from the CIA related to requests for legal advice from the Justice Department. The 2003 memo shows that the OLC authorized the agency to use what it called “enhanced interrogation techniques”; the memo shows that when those techniques were used, the CIA documented, among other things, “the nature and duration of each such technique employed” and “the identities of those present.” The 2004 memo shows that CIA interrogators were told that the Justice Department had concluded that waterboarding and other “harsh interrogation methods” did not constitute torture. The memo also advised CIA interrogators that, in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling that courts can decide whether foreign citizens could be held at Guantanamo (see June 28, 2004), they should be aware that their actions might possibly be subject to judicial review. Jaffer says: “While the documents released today do provide more information about the development and implementation of the Bush administration’s torture policies, even a cursory glance at the documents shows that the administration continues to use ‘national security’ as a shield to protect government officials from embarrassment, criticism, and possible criminal prosecution. Far too much information is still being withheld.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 7/24/2008]
The US dramatically increases the number of CIA drone attacks on Islamist militant targets in Pakistan, and no longer relies on permission from the Pakistani government before striking. Bush administration officials had been increasingly concerned about al-Qaeda’s resurgence in Pakistan’s tribal region. A 2006 peace deal between Islamist militants and the Pakistani government gave al-Qaeda and other militant groups a chance to recover from earlier pressures (see September 5, 2006). However, the Bush administration had close ties with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who did not want more aggressive US action. But Musharraf resigns on August 18, 2008 (see August 18, 2008), and within days, President Bush signs a secret new policy.
More Drone Strikes - From August 31, 2008, until late March 2009, the CIA carries out at least 38 drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal region. By contrast there were only 10 known drone strikes in 2006 and 2007 combined. There were three strikes in 2006, seven strikes in 2007, and 36 in 2008 (all but seven of those took place after Musharraf resigned in August). Drone capabilities and intelligence collection has improved, but the change mainly has to do with politics. A former CIA official who oversaw Predator drone operations in Pakistan will later say: “We had the data all along. Finally we took off the gloves.”
Permission No Longer Needed - Additionally, the US no longer requires the Pakistani government’s permission before ordering a drone strike. US officials had suspected that many of their targets were tipped off by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Now this is no longer a concern. Getting permission from Pakistan could take a day or more. Sometimes this caused the CIA to lose track of its target (see for instance 2006). [Los Angeles Times, 3/22/2009]
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) files a lawsuit against the National Security Agency (NSA), President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, former Attorney General and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, former Cheney chief of staff David Addington, and other members of the Bush administration. The EFF claims the lawsuit is “on behalf of AT&T customers to stop the illegal unconstitutional and ongoing dragnet surveillance of their communications and communications records.” The EFF is referring to its ongoing lawsuit against AT&T and other telecommunications firms, which it accuses of colluding with the NSA to illegally monitor American citizens’ domestic communications (see December 15, 2005). The case, the EFF writes, “is aimed at ending the NSA’s dragnet surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans and holding accountable the government officials who illegally authorized it.” After January 2009, the newly elected Obama administration will challenge the lawsuit, Jewel v. NSA, on the grounds that to defend itself against the lawsuit, the government would be required to disclose “state secrets” (see Late May, 2006). The government used similar arguments to quash the EFF’s lawsuit against AT&T (see April 28, 2006), arguments which were rejected by a judge (see July 20, 2006). [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2009] The suit will be dismissed (see January 21, 2010).
Wahid Mujda, an Afghan political analyst and former Taliban official for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, tells the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) network that the US is supplying arms to the Taliban to “jeopardize the security situation” as a justification to stay in Afghanistan. According to Iranian Press TV, Mujda says the US invaded Afghanistan on the pretext of fighting terrorism, but actually wanted to create a base to exercise pressure on rivals in the region. He also says that NATO-led forces are even encouraging cross border attacks by the Taliban from Pakistan. Alluding to meetings held in the United Arab Emirates, Mujda further suggests that the US has begun direct talks with the Taliban to secure results in the 2009 Afghanistan presidential election, implying the possibility of negotiations on an important role for the Taliban in the next Afghan government. [Press TV, 9/28/2008]
Steven Bradbury, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), officially repudiates an OLC memo from seven years earlier claiming that the president has the unilateral authority to order military strikes or raids within the US (see October 23, 2001). “[C]aution should be exercised before relying in any respect” on the memo, Bradbury writes, and it “should not be treated as authoritative for any purpose.” The 2001 contention that the Fourth Amendment is, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant in the face of presidential authority “does not reflect the current views of this Office,” Bradbury writes. Another portion of that 2001 memo, the contention that the president can set aside First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of the press (see October 23, 2001), are no longer operative, Bradbury writes. Much of Bradbury’s memo is an attempt to explain and justify the 2001 memo by recalling the period of anxiety and disarray after the 9/11 attacks. [US Department of Justice, 10/6/2008 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ] Yale law professor Jack Balkin will later note that the memo does not repudiate “any of the Bush administration’s specific policies regarding surveillance, detention, and interrogation.” [Jack Balkin, 3/3/2009]
Senior Bush administration officials meet in secret together with Afghanistan experts from NATO and the United Nations to brief advisers from the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Barack Obama on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. The meetings take place over two days and are held at an exclusive Washington club a few blocks from the White House. The briefing is part of an effort by the departing Bush administration to smooth the transition to the next team, according to a New York Times report. At the meetings, Bush administration officials reportedly press the need for the incoming president to have a plan for Afghanistan ready before taking office. The sessions are unclassified, but the participants agree not to discuss the content of the briefings or discussions publicly. Some participants, however, will later disclose some meeting details to the Times. Among issues reportedly discussed are:
Negotiating with the Taliban; and
Expanding the war in Pakistan.
The meetings are organized by New York University professor Barnett Rubin, an expert on Afghanistan. Participants include John K. Wood, the senior Afghanistan director at the National Security Council; Lieutenant General Karl W. Eikenberry, a former American commander in Afghanistan who will later become the next US ambassador to Afghanistan (see April 29, 2009); and Kai Eide, the United Nations representative in Afghanistan. The Obama campaign sends Jonah Blank, a foreign policy specialist for Senator Joe Biden, and Craig Mullaney, an Afghanistan adviser to Obama. The McCain campaign is represented by Lisa Curtis and Kori Schake, two former State Department officials. The New York Times suggests that the briefing on Afghanistan and Pakistan appears to have been the most extensive that Bush administration officials have provided on any issue to both presidential campaigns. It further notes that both Obama and McCain have promised to increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 10/30/2008]
Entity Tags: Karl Eikenberry, John McCain, John K. Wood, Craig Mullaney, Bush administration (43), Barnett Rubin, Barack Obama, Jonah Blank, Kai Eide, Lisa Curtis, United Nations, Kori Schake, Joseph Biden, North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan
Rose Tennent and Jim Quinn. [Source: OrbitCast]As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host Rose Tennent, on her nationally syndicated talk show Quinn & Rose, says that former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama “because he doesn’t want to be known as an Uncle Tom anymore. He wants to be black again.” Co-host Jim Quinn says of Powell: “He’s tired of being called an Oreo.… [R]emember, when he was in the Bush administration, he was a white guy.” Tennent responds: “Blacks hated him. They—‘Oh, he doesn’t count. It doesn’t count that you have someone black in the administration. He’s not really black, he’s an Uncle Tom.’” Tennent says that Powell’s endorsement of Obama “is racism.” [Media Matters, 10/20/2008]
A US District Court orders the Justice Department to turn over ten documents from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to determine whether they should be released under the Freedom of Information Act. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) say the documents may hold information that would shed light on the legal reasoning behind the Bush administration’s “Stellar Wind” warrantless wiretapping program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). EPIC and the ACLU seek the release of 30 documents from the OLC; Judge Henry Kennedy has ordered that 10 be turned over to him for further examination and 20 others remain classified because of national security considerations. Seven of those documents are about the government’s “Terrorist Surveillance Program” (TSP—apparently the same program as, or an element of, Stellar Wind), 12 are FBI documents detailing how TSP had assisted the Bureau in counterterrorism investigations, and one is an OLC memo covered under an exemption for “presidential communications”—presumably a memo written either by, or for, President Bush. [Ars Technica, 11/2/2008]
Paul Broun. [Source: Associated Press / Washington Blade]Responding to President-elect Barack Obama’s proposal for a “civilian national security force,” an idea supported by President Bush and designed in part to revive the moribund Americorps (see March 31, 2009), Representative Paul Broun (R-GA) accuses Obama of wanting to establish a Gestapo-like security force to impose a Marxist dictatorship. “It may sound a bit crazy and off base, but the thing is, he’s the one who proposed this national security force,” Broun says. “I’m just trying to bring attention to the fact that we may—may not, I hope not—but we may have a problem with that type of philosophy of radical socialism or Marxism.… That’s exactly what Hitler did in Nazi Germany and it’s exactly what the Soviet Union did. When he’s proposing to have a national security force that’s answering to him, that is as strong as the US military, he’s showing me signs of being Marxist.” Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor says the candidate was referring to a “civilian reserve corps” that could handle postwar reconstruction efforts in lieu of the military. The idea has been endorsed by the Bush administration. Broun also says that if elected, Obama will ban gun ownership among American citizens. Obama has repeatedly says he respects the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms, and favors “common sense” gun laws. Some gun advocates fear that Obama will curb ownership of assault weapons and concealed weapons. “We can’t be lulled into complacency,” Broun says. “You have to remember that Adolf Hitler was elected in a democratic Germany. I’m not comparing him to Adolf Hitler. What I’m saying is there is the potential of going down that road.” [Associated Press, 11/11/2008; Think Progress, 11/11/2008]
WTMJ-AM logo. [Source: Ignite Your Life (.org)]Dan Shelley, the former news director/assistant program director at Milwaukee’s WTMJ AM talk radio station, writes of the methodologies he and other programming experts used to make their talk show hosts popular. Like many other radio stations, WTMJ hosts primarily conservative broadcasters, though its only nationally syndicated host with a political bent is former comedian Dennis Miller. Two of its most popular local broadcasters are conservatives Charlie Sykes and Jeff Wagner. (Shelley is quite complimentary of Sykes in particular as a top-flight talk show host.) Shelley notes: “I was often angrily asked, once by then-Mayor John Norquist, why we just didn’t change our call letters to ‘WGOP.’ The complaints were just another sign of our impact.”
'Differentiating' - Shelley writes that Sykes and Wagner “are popular and powerful because they appeal to a segment of the population that feels disenfranchised and even victimized by the media. These people believe the media are predominantly staffed by and consistently reflect the views of social liberals. This view is by now so long-held and deep-rooted, it has evolved into part of virtually every conservative’s DNA.” Hosts such as Sykes and Wagner “must perpetuate the notion that his or her listeners are victims,” he writes, “and the host is the vehicle by which they can become empowered. The host frames virtually every issue in us-versus-them terms. There has to be a bad guy against whom the host will emphatically defend those loyal listeners. This enemy can be a politician—either a Democratic officeholder or, in rare cases where no Democrat is convenient to blame, it can be a ‘RINO’ (a ‘Republican In Name Only,’ who is deemed not conservative enough). It can be the cold, cruel government bureaucracy. More often than not, however, the enemy is the ‘mainstream media’—local or national, print or broadcast.… In the talk radio business, this concept, which must be mastered to be successful, is called ‘differentiating’ yourself from the rest of the media. It is a brilliant marketing tactic that has also helped Fox News Channel thrive. ‘We report, you decide’ and ‘Fair and Balanced’ are more than just savvy slogans. They are code words signaling that only Fox will report the news in a way conservatives see as objective and truthful.”
Vicitimization - One of their most successful strategies is to play into the perception that hosts and audience alike are “victims” of what Shelley sardonically calls “the left-wing spin machine.” Any criticism, especially personal epithets such as “right-winger” or “radio squawker” merely plays into those hosts’ hands, Shelley notes. “This allows a host like Sykes to portray himself as a victim… and will leave his listeners, who also feel victimized, dying to support him.”
One-Sided Discussions - However, talk show hosts rarely, if ever, present “fair, evenhanded discussions featuring a diversity of opinions.… Programmers learned long ago that benign conversations led by hosts who present all sides of an issue don’t attract large audiences.… Pointed and provocative are what win.” Shelley writes that callers never “win a disagreement” with Sykes or Wagner. Calls from listeners who disagree with them do not get on the air “if the show’s producer, who generally does the screening, fears they might make [the host] look bad. Sykes’s producer even denied calls from US Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), the current and former mayors of Milwaukee, and other prominent figures. However, callers with dissenting points of view would get on the air if the host could “use the dissenting caller to reinforce his original point… [b]y belittling the caller’s point of view.” Shelley notes of Sykes: “You can always tell, however, when the antagonist has gotten the better of Charlie. That’s when he starts attacking the caller personally.”
More Diversity in Audience than Readily Acknowledged - Shelley writes that many liberals believe talk radio audiences are composed of “angry, uneducated white men.” Such is not the case, he writes. “Many are businesspeople, doctors, lawyers, academics, clergy, or soccer moms and dads. Talk show fans are not stupid. They will detect an obvious phony. The best hosts sincerely believe everything they say. Their passion is real. Their arguments have been carefully crafted in a manner they know will be meaningful to the audience, and that validates the views these folks were already thinking.”
Shaping Opinion - Listeners cannot be “led like lemmings” to a particular conclusion, Shelley writes, but “they can be carefully prodded into agreement with the Republican views of the day.” Conservative talk show hosts, both national and local, receive “daily talking points emails from the Bush White House, the Republican National Committee, and, during election years, GOP campaign operations. They’re not called talking points, but that’s what they are. I know, because I received them, too.” Shelley writes that Sykes would “mine the emails, then couch the daily message in his own words.… Wagner would be more likely to rely on them verbatim.” Both Sykes and Wagner keep abreast of what other conservative hosts are saying: “Rush Limbaugh’s Web site was checked at least once daily. Atlanta-based nationally syndicated talker Neal Boortz was another popular choice.”
Strategic Disagreement - On occasion, Shelley writes, “[a] smart talk show host will, from time to time, disagree publicly with a Republican president, the Republican Party, or some conservative doctrine.” President Bush’s selection of his own lawyer, Harriet Miers, for the Supreme Court gave Sykes, Wagner, and other conservatives the chance to disagree vehemently with the administration. But, Shelley notes, “these disagreements are strategically chosen to prove the host is an independent thinker, without appreciably harming the president or party. This is not to suggest that hosts don’t genuinely disagree with the conservative line at times. They do, more often than you might think. But they usually keep it to themselves.”
Selective Facts - Shelley notes that it is often difficult to refute the arguments of a host such as Sykes, who builds “strong case[s] with lots of supporting facts.” Shelley notes that usually “those facts have been selectively chosen because they support the host’s preconceived opinion, or can be interpreted to seem as if they do.… Hosts… gather evidence, but in a way that modifies the old Joe Friday maxim: ‘Just the facts that I can use to make my case, ma’am.’”
Rhetorical Strategies - Shelley writes of the two main strategies conservatives (and presumably other talk show hosts of other political stripes) use to bolster weak arguments or refute strong opposing points of view. He calls them “You Know What Would Happen If” and “The Preemptive Strike.”
Shelley writes: “Using the first strategy, a host will describe something a liberal has said or done that conservatives disagree with, but for which the liberal has not been widely criticized, and then say: ‘You know what would happen if a conservative had said (or done) that? He (or she) would have been filleted by the “liberal media.”’ This is particularly effective because it’s a two-fer, simultaneously reinforcing the notion that conservatives are victims and that ‘liberals’ are the enemy.”
He then notes: “The second strategy, The Preemptive Strike, is used when a host knows that news reflecting poorly on conservative dogma is about to break or become more widespread. When news of the alleged massacre at Haditha first trickled out in the summer of 2006, not even Iraq War chest-thumper Charlie Sykes would defend the US Marines accused of killing innocent civilians in the Iraqi village. So he spent lots of air time criticizing how the ‘mainstream media’ was sure to sensationalize the story in the coming weeks. Charlie would kill the messengers before any message had even been delivered.”
Such strategies, and others, are reliable and effective, Shelley notes.
Double Standards - Shelley gives numerous examples of the hosts’ double standards with various issues.
“In the talk show world, the line-item veto was the most effective way to control government spending when Ronald Reagan was president; it was a violation of the separation of powers after President Clinton took office.”
“Perjury was a heinous crime when Clinton was accused of lying under oath about his extramarital activities. But when [Lewis ‘Scooter’] Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s top aide, was charged with lying under oath, it was the prosecutor who had committed an egregious act by charging Libby with perjury.”
“‘Activist judges’ are the scourge of the earth when they rule it is unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the rights heterosexuals receive. But judicial activism is needed to stop the husband of a woman in a persistent vegetative state—say Terri Schiavo—from removing her feeding tube to end her suffering.”
Shelley adds: “To amuse myself while listening to a talk show, I would ask myself what the host would say if the situation were reversed. What if alleged DC Madam client Senator David Vitter [R-LA] had been a Democrat? Would the reaction of talk show hosts have been so quiet you could hear crickets chirping? Hardly. Or what if former Representative Mark Foley [R-FL] had been a Democrat? Would his pedophile-like tendencies have been excused as a ‘prank’ or mere ‘overfriendly emails?’ Not on the life of your teenage son. Suppose Al Gore was president and ordered an invasion of Iraq without an exit strategy. Suppose this had led to the deaths of more than 4,000 US troops and actually made that part of the world less stable. Would talk show hosts have dismissed criticism of that war as unpatriotic? No chance. Or imagine that John Kerry had been president during Hurricane Katrina and that his administration’s rescue and rebuilding effort had been horribly botched. Would talk show hosts have branded him a great president? Of course not.”
Katrina an Epiphany - Shelley notes that it was Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath of that disaster that convinced him conservative talk show hosts such as Sykes and Wagner were extremists, and not merely a counterbalance to a left-skewed national media. Shelley was horrified when Sykes and Wagner, emulating their more prominent nationally syndicated colleagues such as Limbaugh and Miller, did not criticize the government’s lethally slow and callous response, but instead attacked the journalists who were obviously part of an “angry left” conspiracy to unfairly smear the Bush administration.
Conclusion - Shelley writes: “[T]he key reason talk radio succeeds is because its hosts can exploit the fears and perceived victimization of a large swath of conservative-leaning listeners. And they feel victimized because many liberals and moderates have ignored or trivialized their concerns and have stereotyped these Americans as uncaring curmudgeons. Because of that, there will always be listeners who believe that Charlie Sykes, Jeff Wagner, and their compatriots are the only members of the media who truly care about them.” [Milwaukee Magazine, 11/13/2008; WTMJ-AM, 11/13/2008]
Entity Tags: David Vitter, Russell D. Feingold, Rush Limbaugh, Terri Schiavo, WTMJ-AM, Charlie Sykes, Dan Shelley, Ronald Reagan, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Bush administration (43), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Neal Boortz, Fox News, Harriet E. Miers, Republican National Committee, Dennis Miller, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Jeff Wagner, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, John Norquist, Mark Foley
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Responding to speculation that his administration will continue the policies of torture and indefinite detention, President-elect Barack Obama says flatly that he will shut down the Guantanamo detention center as part of his administration’s new policy towards terror suspects. CBS interviewer Steve Kroft asks: “There are a number of different things that you could do early pertaining to executive orders. One of them is to shut down Guantanamo Bay. Another is to change interrogation methods that are used by US troops. Are those things that you plan to take early action on?” Obama responds: “Yes. I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that. I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture. And I’m gonna make sure that we don’t torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/11/2008; CBS News, 11/16/2008] Two days into his administration, Obama orders that the Guantanamo detention facility be closed (see January 22, 2009).
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases Defense Department documents that detail systematic patterns of prisoner abuse in US detention facilities in Iraq. The documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, also show that Army investigations of abuse allegations in Iraq were compromised by missing records, flawed interviews, and problems with witnesses. ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer says: “The Bush administration created a climate in which abuse was tolerated even when it wasn’t expressly endorsed. With a new administration entering the White House, we should remember that the tone set by senior military and intelligence officials has very real implications for what takes place in US detention facilities overseas. The new administration should make clear from the outset that it won’t turn a blind eye to torture and abuse.”
Variety of Abuses - The documents pertain to eight Army investigations into detainee abuse conducted in 2003 and 2004. The abuse allegations included food and sleep deprivation, electric shocks, sexual threats, urinating on detainees, and the use of stress positions and attack dogs. One soldier stationed at Camp Cropper testified that “soldiers would hog-tie detainees out of their own frustration, because detainees would continuously ask them for water or in some form not be compliant.” A prisoner held in a facility called “Kilometer 22” testified that he was punched and beaten by an Egyptian interrogator when he did not provide the answers his US interrogators wanted. “These documents provide more evidence that abuse of prisoners was systemic in Iraq, and not limited to any particular detention center or military unit,” Jaffer says. “There was a culture of impunity.”
Compromised Investigations - Six of the eight investigations were compromised by an inability to locate key records. Three investigations included documents where military personnel stated that their facilities were so disorganized that it would be impossible to produce records on detainees. Three investigations were constrained when interviewees claimed not to recognize the names of the relevant detention facilities or the names of the capturing units. [American Civil Liberties Union, 11/19/2008]
Federal Judge Richard Leon rules that the US government has unlawfully held five Algerian men at Guantanamo for nearly seven years (see January 18, 2002). Leon orders their release. Leon rules that the government’s case, based on a slender compilation of classified evidence, was too weak to justify the five men’s continued detention. The government’s case is based on a single “classified document from an unnamed source” for its central claim against the men, and the court has no way to accurately judge its credibility. “To rest on so thin a reed would be inconsistent with this court’s obligation,” Leon writes. He urges the Bush administration not to appeal the ruling, and recommends that they be released “forthwith.” Leon rules that a sixth Algerian, Bensayah Belkacem (see October 8, 2001), is being lawfully detained due to his demonstrable ties with al-Qaeda. The six are among the Guantanamo inmates who won a narrowly decided Supreme Court case recognizing their right to seek redress in the US court system (see June 22, 2008), and include Lakhdar Boumediene, for whom the Court’s ruling was named. Leon, a Republican appointee previously considered sympathetic to the Bush administration’s position on the detention of suspects, urges the government not to appeal his ruling: such an appeal could take as much as two years, and, he notes, “Seven years of waiting for our legal system to give them an answer to a question so important is, in my judgment, more than plenty.” If the government chooses not to appeal, the lawyers for the detainees expect them to be released into Bosnia, where they were arrested in early 2002. The Justice Department calls the ruling “perhaps an understandable consequence of the fact that neither the Supreme Court nor Congress has provided rules on how these habeas corpus cases should proceed in this unprecedented context.” One of the detainees’ lawyers, Robert Kirsch, says the case illustrates “the human cost of what can happen when mistakes are made at the highest levels of our government, and no one has the courage to acknowledge those mistakes.” Other detainee lawyers say the case is a broad repudiation of the Bush administration’s attempts to use the Guantanamo facility to avoid the scrutiny of US judges. Lawyer Zachary Katznelson, a member of the British human rights group Reprieve, says, “The decision by Judge Leon lays bare the scandalous basis on which Guantánamo has been based—slim evidence of dubious quality.” The case was not strengthened by the Bush administration’s pursuit of it: originally the six were charged with planning a bomb attack on the US Embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia, but in October, Justice Department lawyers abruptly withdrew those accusations. [New York Times, 11/20/2008; National Review, 11/20/2008] The five will be released the following month (see December 2008).
Twelve retired generals and admirals meet with President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team to ask that his administration completely repudiate the Bush administration’s policies of torture, rendition, and indefinite detentions of terror suspects. The group represents a larger number of some three dozen retired flag officers. Several of the participants tell reporters before the meeting about what they intend to discuss. The retired flag officers are going into the meeting with a list of “things that need to be done and undone,” says retired Marine General Joseph Hoar, who commanded the US Central Command (CENTCOM) from 1991 through 1994. “It is fairly extensive.” Such a set of moves by the Obama administration, the officers believe, would help reverse the decline in world opinion about the US, a decline they say was sparked by the issue of detainee abuse both in the Guantanamo detention center and in other such facilities. “We need to remove the stain, and the stain is on us, as well as on our reputation overseas,” says retired Vice Admiral Lee Gunn, a former Navy inspector general. Retired Major General Fred Haynes adds, “If he’d just put a couple of sentences in his inaugural address, stating the new position, then everything would flow from that.” But it needs to be done quickly and decisively, says Gunn: “Gradualism won’t do. That abrupt change will send a signal to the world that America is back.” [Associated Press, 12/2/2008; Reuters, 12/2/2008] Obama has said repeatedly that he will shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention center and stop the US practice of allowing detainees to be tortured (see November 16, 2008).
The Senate Armed Services Committee releases a classified 261-page report on the use of “harsh” or “enhanced interrogation techniques”—torture—against suspected terrorists by the US. The conclusion of the report will be released in April 2009 (see April 21, 2009). The report will become known as the “Levin Report” after committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI). Though the report itself is classified, the committee releases the executive summary to the public.
Top Bush Officials Responsible for Torture - One of the report’s findings is that top Bush administration officials, and not a “few bad apples,” as many of that administration’s officials have claimed, are responsible for the use of torture against detainees in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.
Began Shortly after 9/11 - The report finds that US officials began preparing to use “enhanced interrogation” techniques just a few months after the 9/11 attacks, and well before Justice Department memos declared such practices legal. The program used techniques practiced in a US military program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE—see December 2001), which trains US military personnel to resist questioning by foes who do not follow international bans on torture. As part of SERE training, soldiers are stripped naked, slapped, and waterboarded, among other techniques. These techniques were “reverse-engineered” and used against prisoners in US custody. Other techniques used against prisoners included “religious disgrace” and “invasion of space by a female.” At least one suspected terrorist was forced “to bark and perform dog tricks” while another was “forced to wear a dog collar and perform dog tricks” in a bid to break down their resistance.
Tried to 'Prove' Links between Saddam, Al-Qaeda - Some of the torture techniques were used before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq (see March 19, 2003). Much of the torture of prisoners, the report finds, was to elicit information “proving” alleged links between al-Qaeda and the regime of Saddam Hussein. US Army psychiatrist Major Paul Burney says of some Guantanamo Bay interrogations: “Even though they were giving information and some of it was useful, while we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. We were not being successful in establishing a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish this link… there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.” Others did not mention such pressure, according to the report. [Senate Armed Services Committee, 12/11/2008 ; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009] (Note: Some press reports identify the quoted psychiatrist as Major Charles Burney.) [McClatchy News, 4/21/2009] A former senior intelligence official later says: “There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used. The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack [after 9/11]. But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al-Qaeda and Iraq that [former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed] Chalabi (see November 6-8, 2001) and others had told them were there.… There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s people to push harder.” [McClatchy News, 4/21/2009]
Warnings of Unreliability from Outset - Almost from the outset of the torture program, military and other experts warned that such techniques were likely to provide “less reliable” intelligence results than traditional, less aggressive approaches. In July 2002, a memo from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JRPA), which oversees the SERE training program, warned that “if an interrogator produces information that resulted from the application of physical and psychological duress, the reliability and accuracy of this information is in doubt. In other words, a subject in extreme pain may provide an answer, any answer, or many answers in order to get the pain to stop” (see July 2002). [Senate Armed Services Committee, 12/11/2008 ; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009]
Ignoring Military Objections - When Pentagon general counsel William Haynes asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to approve 15 of 18 recommended torture techniques for use at Guantanamo (see December 2, 2002), Haynes indicated that he had discussed the matter with three officials who agreed with him: Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, and General Richard Myers. Haynes only consulted one legal opinion, which senior military advisers had termed “legally insufficient” and “woefully inadequate.” Rumsfeld agreed to recommend the use of the tactics. [Senate Armed Services Committee, 12/11/2008 ]
Entity Tags: William J. Haynes, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard B. Myers, Paul Burney, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, Douglas Feith, Donald Rumsfeld, Ahmed Chalabi, Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
In his first exit interview after the November 2008 elections, Vice President Dick Cheney unapologetically acknowledges that the US used waterboarding on suspected terrorists, and says that the Guantanamo Bay prison should remain open until terrorism has been eradicated. Methods such as waterboarding were indeed used on at least one subject, suspected 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see May 2002-2003, Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003, March 7 - Mid-April, 2003, After March 7, 2003, and May 2003), Cheney says, but he goes on to claim that those methods do not constitute torture. “On the question of so-called torture, we don’t do torture,” he says. “We never have. It’s not something that this administration subscribes to. I think those who allege that we’ve been involved in torture, or that somehow we violated the Constitution or laws with the terrorist surveillance program, simply don’t know what they’re talking about.” Asked if he authorized the waterboarding of Mohammed, Cheney says: “I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency [CIA] in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn’t do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.” Cheney says that waterboarding Mohammed produced critically important information: “There was a period of time there, three or four years ago, when about half of everything we knew about al-Qaeda came from that one source. So it’s been a remarkably successful effort. I think the results speak for themselves.” Cheney adds that the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein were justified regardless of whether that nation possessed weapons of mass destruction. The only thing US intelligence got wrong, he says, “was that there weren’t any stockpiles. What they found was that Saddam Hussein still had the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction. He had the technology, he had the people, he had the basic feed stock.” [ABC News, 12/15/2008; ABC News, 12/15/2008] In the US, waterboarding has been considered a war crime at least as far back as World War II (see 1947, January 21, 1968, and November 29, 2007); in 2007, a judge concurred (see November 4, 2007). A former senior Justice Department official determined that waterboarding is torture (see Late 2004-Early 2005), as did a former deputy secretary of state who was subjected to waterboarding as part of his military training (see January 21, 2009) and a US senator who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam (see April 20, 2009). The CIA suspended the use of waterboarding in 2005 after determining that the technique was most likely ineffective and certainly illegal (see Shortly After April 28, 2004-February 2005), and banned it entirely in 2006 (see Between May and Late 2006); the CIA’s Inspector General determined that the practice was torture (see March 6, 2009). The FBI and DIA have forbidden their agents from using the technique (see May 13, 2004 and February 7, 2008). The US military banned its use in 2006 (see September 6, 2006). The king of Saudi Arabia will accuse the Bush administration of torturing prisoners in its custody (see April 24, 2009). The information derived from torturing Mohammed and other prisoners is widely considered unreliable (see August 6, 2007, April 16, 2009, December 18, 2008, and March 29, 2009), and may well have been initially designed to elicit false confessions (see April 22, 2009).
Vice President Dick Cheney continues to justify his administration’s actions in its war on terror, building on his revelation from days earlier that the White House authorized the waterboarding of suspected terrorists (see December 15, 2008). “[I]it would have been unethical or immoral for us not to do everything we could in order to protect the nation,” he says. “In my mind, the foremost obligation we had from a moral or an ethical standpoint was to the oath of office we took when we were sworn in, on January 20 of 2001, to protect and defend against all enemies foreign and domestic. And that’s what we’ve done.” Asked if he would take the same steps he and his White House colleagues took after the 9/11 attacks, he says: “I feel very good about what we did. I think it was the right thing to do. If I was faced with those circumstances again I’d do exactly the same thing.” Asked if waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods constitute torture, Cheney says they do not. “I don’t believe it was torture,” he says. “We spent a great deal of time and effort getting legal advice, legal opinion out of the [Justice Department’s] Office of Legal Counsel. I thought the legal opinions that were rendered were sound. I thought the techniques were reasonable in terms of what [the CIA was] asking to be able to do. And I think it produced the desired result. I think it’s directly responsible for the fact that we’ve been able to avoid or defeat further attacks against the homeland for seven and a half years.” Cheney says that 33 high-value suspects were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques to gain information about al-Qaeda, and three were waterboarded. According to Cheney, those three were alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, militsant trsining camp facilitator Abu Zubaida, and al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. “I think it would have been unethical or immoral for us not to do everything we could in order to protect the nation against further attacks like what happened on 9/11,” he says. The abuse and torture of prisoners at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison was, he says, “not policy. [T]he people… that were subjected to abusive practices there, I don’t think had any special intelligence understandings, if you will, or special intelligence information that we needed.” [Washington Times, 12/18/2008]
Vanity Fair reporter David Rose publishes an extensive examination of the US’s use of torture to extract information from a number of suspected militant Islamists, focusing on three subjects: Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002, Mid-April-May 2002, May 2002-2003, Mid-May, 2002, Mid-May 2002 and After, June 2002, and December 18, 2007), Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see May 2002-2003, March 7 - Mid-April, 2003, After March 7, 2003, and August 6, 2007), and Binyam Mohamed (see May 17 - July 21, 2002, July 21, 2002 -- January 2004, and January-September 2004). The conclusion he draws, based on numerous interviews with current and former CIA, military, and administration sources, is that torture not only does not work to provide reliable intelligence, it provides so much false information that it chokes the intelligence system and renders the intelligence apparatus unreliable. One CIA official tells Rose: “We were done a tremendous disservice by the [Bush] administration. We had no background in this; it’s not something we do. They stuck us with a totally unwelcome job and left us hanging out to dry. I’m worried that the next administration is going to prosecute the guys who got involved, and there won’t be any presidential pardons at the end of it. It would be okay if it were [former Attorney Generals] John Ashcroft or Alberto Gonzales. But it won’t be. It’ll be some poor GS-13 who was just trying to do his job.”
Enormous Waste of Resources - A veteran FBI counterterrorism agent says the waste of time and resources on false leads generated through torture has been enormous. “At least 30 percent of the FBI’s time, maybe 50 percent, in counterterrorism has been spent chasing leads that were bullsh_t,” he says. “There are ‘lead squads’ in every office trying to filter them. But that’s ineffective, because there’s always that ‘What if?’ syndrome. I remember a claim that there was a plot to poison candy bought in bulk from Costco. You follow it because someone wants to cover himself. It has a chilling effect. You get burned out, you get jaded. And you think, ‘Why am I chasing all this stuff that isn’t true?’ That leads to a greater problem—that you’ll miss the one that is true. The job is 24-7 anyway. It’s not like a bank job. But torture has made it harder.”
No Proof of Efficacy of Torture - Former FBI counterterrorism specialist Dan Cloonan points to the near-total lack of proof the administration has been able to advance to show that torture works. “The proponents of torture say, ‘Look at the body of information that has been obtained by these methods,’” he says. “But if KSM [Khalid Shaikh Mohammed] and Abu Zubaida did give up stuff, we would have heard the details. What we got was pabulum.” A former CIA officer says: “Why can’t they say what the good stuff from Abu Zubaida or KSM is? It’s not as if this is sensitive material from a secret, vulnerable source. You’re not blowing your source but validating your program. They say they can’t do this, even though five or six years have passed, because it’s a ‘continuing operation.’ But has it really taken so long to check it all out?”
Propaganda Value - Officials who analyzed Zubaida’s interrogation reports say that his reports were given such credence within the White House not because of the American lives they would supposedly save, but because they could be used to rebut those who criticized the Iraq invasion. “We didn’t know he’d been waterboarded and tortured when we did that analysis, and the reports were marked as credible as they could be,” says a former Pentagon analyst. “The White House knew he’d been tortured. I didn’t, though I was supposed to be evaluating that intelligence.” He was unable to draw valid conclusions about the importance of Zubaida’s confessions without knowing how the information was extracted. “It seems to me they were using torture to achieve a political objective,” he says. “I cannot believe that the president and vice president did not know who was being waterboarded, and what was being given up.”
False Claims of Preventing London Attack - President Bush has claimed that secret CIA black site interrogations “helped foil a plot to hijack passenger planes and fly them into Heathrow [Airport] and London’s Canary Wharf” (see October 6, 2005). The former head of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist branch, Peter Clarke, who served through May 2008 and helped stop several jihadist attacks, says Bush’s claim is specious. Clarke says it is possible that al-Qaeda had considered some sort of project along the lines of Bush’s assertion, but if it had, it was nowhere near fruition. “It wasn’t at an advanced stage in the sense that there were people here in the UK doing it,” he says. “If they had been, I’d have arrested them.” No terror plot of which Clarke is aware has been foiled due to information gathered due to torture.
FBI Director Confirms No Plots Disrupted by Torture Interrogations - Rose concludes by quoting an interview he held with FBI Director Robert Mueller in April 2008. Rose lists a number of plots disrupted by the FBI, all “foiled by regular police work.” He asked Mueller if he was aware of any attacks on America that had been disrupted thanks to what the administration calls “enhanced techniques.” Mueller responded, “I’m really reluctant to answer that.” He paused, looked at an aide, then said quietly, “I don’t believe that has been the case.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008] On April 21, 2009, a spokesman for Mueller will say, “The quote is accurate.” [New York Times, 4/22/2008]
Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, Abu Zubaida, US Department of Defense, Robert S. Mueller III, Peter Clarke, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Rose, George W. Bush, Dan Cloonan, John Ashcroft, Binyam Mohamed
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Newsweek reveals that Thomas Tamm, a former high-level Justice Department official, was one of the whistleblowers who revealed the government’s illegal domestic wiretapping program, known as “Stellar Wind,” to the New York Times (see December 15, 2005). Tamm, an ex-prosecutor with a high security clearance, learned of the program in the spring of 2004 (see Spring 2004).
Intense FBI Scrutiny - As of yet, Tamm has not been arrested as one of the leakers in the criminal leak investigation ordered by President Bush (see December 30, 2005), though since the December 2005 publication, Tamm has remained under Justice Department suspicion—FBI agents have raided his home, hauled away his personal possessions, and relentlessly questioned his family and friends (see August 1, 2007). He no longer has a government job, and is having trouble finding steady work as a lawyer. He has resisted pressure to plead to a felony charge of divulging classified information. Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff writes, “[H]e is living under a pall, never sure if or when federal agents might arrest him.” Perhaps his biggest regret is the impact the FBI investigation has had on his wife and children. “I didn’t think through what this could do to my family,” he says. But, “I don’t really need anybody to feel sorry for me,” he says. “I chose what I did. I believed in what I did.”
No Decision to Prosecute Yet - The Justice Department has deferred a decision over whether to arrest and prosecute Tamm until after the Bush administration leaves office and a new attorney general takes over the department. Both President-elect Barack Obama and the incoming Attorney General, Eric Holder, have denounced the warrantless wiretapping program. In one speech Holder gave in June 2008, he said that President Bush had acted “in direct defiance of federal law” by authorizing the NSA program. Former US Attorney Asa Hutchinson, who is helping in Tamm’s defense, says: “When I looked at this, I was convinced that the action he took was based on his view of a higher responsibility. It reflected a lawyer’s responsibility to protect the rule of law.” Hutchinson has no use for the idea, promulgated by Bush officials and conservative pundits, that the Times story damaged the “war on terror” by alerting al-Qaeda terrorists to Stellar Wind and other surveillance programs. “Anybody who looks at the overall result of what happened wouldn’t conclude there was any harm to the United States,” he says. Hutchinson is hopeful that Holder’s Justice Department will drop its investigation of Tamm.
The Public 'Ought to Know' about NSA Eavesdropping - Recently Tamm decided to go public with his story, against the advice of his lawyers. “I thought this [secret program] was something the other branches of the government—and the public—ought to know about,” he tells Isikoff. “So they could decide: do they want this massive spying program to be taking place?… If somebody were to say, who am I to do that? I would say, ‘I had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution.’ It’s stunning that somebody higher up the chain of command didn’t speak up.” Tamm also admits that he leaked information to the Times in part over his anger at other Bush administration policies for the Justice Department, including its aggressive pursuit of death penalty cases, and its use of “renditions” and “enhanced” interrogation techniques against terrorist suspects. He insists that he divulged no “sources and methods” that might compromise national security when he spoke to the Times. He could not tell the Times reporters anything about the NSA program, he says, because he knew nothing specific about the program. As Isikoff writes, “All he knew was that a domestic surveillance program existed, and it ‘didn’t smell right.’” (Times reporter Eric Lichtblau refuses to confirm if Tamm was one of his sources for the stories he wrote with fellow Times reporter James Risen.) [Newsweek, 12/22/2008]
Entity Tags: Michael Isikoff, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Asa Hutchinson, ’Stellar Wind’, Eric Holder, Eric Lichtblau, Newsweek, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Thomas Tamm, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Bush administration updates the secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program, which is designed to ensure the survival of the federal government during disasters. Federal emergency responsibilities are consolidated within the White House Military Office, a move designed to simplify the government’s response procedures. Under the changes, the Department of Defense and the Bush administration take over parts of the program from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). According to the New York Times, “Under the revamped structure, the White House Military Office, which reports to the office of the White House chief of staff, has assumed a more central role in setting up a temporary ‘shadow government’ in a crisis.” According to the Times, the move comes after “months of heated internal debate about the balance of power and the role of the military” in a time of crisis. “Supporters of the plan inside the Bush White House, including Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, saw the erratic response to the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as a mandate for streamlining an emergency response process they considered clunky because it involved too many agencies.” Officials opposed to the plan argue the new structure places “too much power in the hands of too few people.” They also perceive the changes to be “part of the Bush administration’s broader efforts to enhance the power of the White House.” Supporters of the plan originally wanted to take the changes further, but according to the Times, “concerns about the perception of growing military influence in the emergency process set off an internal struggle, and the White House decided not to move ahead with a more ambitious proposal to give the power of the purse to the military arm, rather than FEMA, for budgeting the emergency operations, one official said.” A spokesman for the Pentagon will later describe the changes as a “minor tweaking” of the system. The changes are authorized by President Bush’s National Security Presidential Directive 51 (NSPD-51), which was signed in May 2007 (see May 9, 2007). [New York Times, 7/27/2009]
Judge Vaughn Walker rules that “sufficient facts” exist to keep alive a lawsuit brought by the defunct Islamic charity Al Haramain, which alleges it was subjected to illegal, warrantless wiretapping by the US government (see February 28, 2006). The lawsuit centers on a Top Secret government document accidentally disclosed to plaintiffs’ lawyers Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoo that allegedly proves the claim of illegal wiretapping; previous court rulings forced Belew and Ghafoo to return the document to the government and prohibited its use in the lawsuit. The lawsuit is widely viewed as a test case to decide in court whether the Bush administration abused its power by authorizing a secret domestic spying program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). Jon Eisenberg, the lawyer for Belew and Ghafoo, says it does not matter whether the case pertains to the Bush administration or the incoming Obama administration. “I don’t want President Obama to have that power any more than I do President Bush,” he says. Because the lawsuit contains sufficient evidence even without the Top Secret document, Walker rules, it can continue. “The plaintiffs have alleged sufficient facts to withstand the government’s motion to dismiss,” he writes. Therefore, he adds, the law demands that they be allowed to review the classified document, and others, to determine whether the lawyers were spied on illegally and whether Bush’s spy program was unlawful. “To be more specific, the court will review the sealed document ex parte and in camera,” Walker writes. “The court will then issue an order regarding whether plaintiffs may proceed—that is, whether the sealed document establishes that plaintiffs were subject to electronic surveillance not authorized by FISA” (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—see 1978). [Wired News, 1/5/2009]
Newsweek publishes a range of responses to its article about Justice Department whistleblower Thomas Tamm (see December 22, 2008), who alerted the New York Times to the Bush administration’s illegal domestic wiretapping program “Stellar Wind” (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). Most are extremely supportive of Tamm; Newsweek writes, “Nearly all labeled Tamm a hero.” One reader wonders why “few in the Justice Department were as troubled as Tamm about the illegality of the secret domestic wiretapping program or had the courage of his convictions.” Another notes, “Whistle-blowers like him are heroes because they are protecting ‘We the people.’” A Milwaukee reader, Harvey Jay Goldstein, suggests that President-elect Obama honor Tamm’s courage and service by “issuing him a pardon” and then “seek indictments against those involved in authorizing and carrying out the illegal program, including President Bush and Vice President Cheney.” The reader is “appalled” that Tamm “is being harassed and persecuted by the FBI (see August 1, 2007) for his part in disclosing the coverup of a program that originated in the Oval Office.” He calls Tamm “a national hero who had the guts to do what he thought was right and wasn’t intimidated by the power of the presidency.” Goldstein accuses Bush and Cheney of “undermining and circumventing the protections of the First and Fourth amendments [in what] are perhaps the most egregious attempts to consolidate absolute power within the executive branch since the dark days of Richard Nixon.” Illinois reader Leonard Kliff, a World War II veteran, writes: “It is disgusting that this man is on the run when he should be receiving a medal for his actions. I am sure the majority of Americans fully support him.” The Reverend Joseph Clark of Maryland calls Tamm “a common man doing his job—upholding the Constitution of the United States and the rule of law.… Thank God for people like Thomas Tamm who spoke when no one else was finding a voice.… This nation is made up of people like Tamm, and that is our strength.” And a former schoolmate of Tamm’s, Peter Craig, writes: “No one who attended Landon School in Bethesda, Md., in the late 1960s, as I did, will be at all surprised to learn that Tom Tamm ended up risking it all to do the right thing. In his senior year, for instance, Tom, then the president of the student council, decided to turn himself in to the rest of the council for some minor infraction unknown to anyone else (and ultimately warranting no punishment). It showed the same character and a burgeoning morality that years later would compel him to do what he did.” Only one published letter, from Bob Spickelmier, expresses the view that Tamm should go to jail for his actions. [Newsweek, 1/10/2009]
Former military prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld, who resigned his post in protest over the unwarranted prosecution of detainee Mohammed Jawad (see January 18, 2009), joins the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)‘s lawsuit on behalf of Jawad. The ACLU is demanding that Jawad be granted the right of habeas corpus and, ultimately, his release. Jawad has been held without trial for over six years, and, according to Vandeveld and the ACLU, no credible evidence of his probable guilt exists. Evidence does exist that Jawad was tortured while in US custody. In a brief filed with the court, Vandeveld writes, “[T]here is no credible evidence or legal basis to justify Mr. Jawad’s detention in US custody or his prosecution by military commission.” There is, however, “reliable evidence that [Jawad] was badly mistreated by US authorities both in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo.” Jawad was originally charged with throwing a hand grenade at US soldiers. Vandeveld writes that the evidence indicates Jawad, who was 16 when he was captured, never participated in any such attack, and was lured into joining an Afghan insurgent group by the promise of a well-paying job, and was drugged and lied to by the insurgents. What evidence does exist against Jawad is mostly exculpatory, Vandeveld writes, and all the evidence is scattered haphazardly throughout the Guantanamo facility. Some was found in a locker, and other documents have been lost. Thus, the US’s case against Jawad is unacceptably weak, Vandeveld contends. [Charlotte Examiner, 1/13/2009]
Jawad 'No Threat' - In defending Jawad, Vandeveld writes: “Had I returned to Afghanistan or Iraq, and had I encountered Mohammed Jawad in either of those hostile lands, where two of my friends have been killed in action and one of my very best friends in the world had been terribly wounded, I have no doubt at all—none—that Mr. Jawad would pose no threat whatsoever to me, his former prosecutor and now-repentant persecuter. Six years is long enough for a boy of 16 to serve in virtual solitary confinement, in a distant land, for reasons he may never fully understand.” [Salon, 1/21/2009]
Torture 'Miserably Common for Detainees in US Custody' - Salon’s Glenn Greenwald will write in support of Jawad and Vandeveld: “Jawad was never waterboarded, but no civilized human being would deny that the cumulative effect of his treatment at the hands of our country is torture in every sense of the word. And there’s nothing unique about his treatment. It wasn’t aberrational. Rather, it has been miserably common for detainees in US custody—not only at Guantanamo, but also in Bagram and throughout Iraq.” [Salon, 1/21/2009]
Susan Crawford. [Source: Susan Crawford / Washington Post]The senior Bush administration official in charge of bringing Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial rules that the US military tortured a detainee, and therefore the US cannot try him. Susan Crawford, the convening authority of military commissions, says that the US tortured Mohamed al-Khatani, a Saudi national accused of planning to participate in the September 11 attacks (see August 4, 2001). Crawford says al-Khatani was interrogated with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, and which cumulatively left him in a “life-threatening condition.” Crawford says: “We tortured [al-]Khatani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution. Crawford is a retired judge who served as the Army’s general counsel during the Reagan administration and the Pentagon’s inspector general during the first Bush administration. She is the first senior official of the current Bush administration to publicly state that a detainee was tortured while in US custody.
Cumulative Effect Equals Torture - None of the individual techniques used against al-Khatani were torturous in and of themselves, Crawford says, but the cumulative effect—particularly their duration and the deleterious effect on al-Khatani’s health—combined to constitute torture. “The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent,” she says. “You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge” to call it torture. Al-Khatani has been in US custody since December 2001 (see December 2001), and was interrogated from November 2002 through January 2003 (reports of the exact dates vary—see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003 and October 11, 2002). He was held in isolation until April 2003. “For 160 days his only contact was with the interrogators,” Crawford says. “Forty-eight of 54 consecutive days of 18-to-20-hour interrogations. Standing naked in front of a female agent. Subject to strip searches. And insults to his mother and sister.” He was threatened with a military dog named Zeus. He “was forced to wear a woman’s bra and had a thong placed on his head during the course of his interrogation,” Crawford says, and “was told that his mother and sister were whores.” With a leash tied to his chains, he was led around the room “and forced to perform a series of dog tricks,” according to reports from his interrogations. He was twice hospitalized with bradycardia, a potentially lethal condition where the heartbeat drops to abnormally low levels.
Ruling Halts Future Prosecution against al-Khatani - Crawford dismissed war crimes charges against al-Khatani in May 2008 (see May 13, 2008). In November, military prosecutors said they would refile charges against al-Khatani, based on subsequent interrogations that did not employ harsh techniques (see November 18, 2008). But Crawford says that she would not let any such prosecutions go forward. However, Crawford is not unaware of the potential danger posed by letting him go free. “There’s no doubt in my mind he would’ve been on one of those planes had he gained access to the country in August 2001,” Crawford says. “He’s a muscle hijacker.… He’s a very dangerous man. What do you do with him now if you don’t charge him and try him? I would be hesitant to say, ‘Let him go.’” Al-Khatani’s civilian lawyer, Gitanjali Gutierrez, says, “There is no doubt he was tortured.” Gutierrez says: “He has loss of concentration and memory loss, and he suffers from paranoia.… He wants just to get back to Saudi Arabia, get married and have a family.” Al-Khatani “adamantly denies he planned to join the 9/11 attack,” she adds. “He has no connections to extremists.” Gutierrez says she thinks Saudi Arabia has an effective rehabilitation program and Khatani ought to be returned there. [Washington Post, 1/14/2009; New York Times, 1/14/2009] His lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights describe him as a broken, suicidal man who can never be prosecuted because of his treatment at the hands of his captors. [New York Times, 1/14/2009]
Sympathetic but Unbending - Crawford, a lifelong Republican, says she sympathizes with the situation faced by the Bush administration and the CIA after the 9/11 attacks. “I sympathize with the intelligence gatherers in those days after 9/11, not knowing what was coming next and trying to gain information to keep us safe,” she acknowledges. “But there still has to be a line that we should not cross. And unfortunately what this has done, I think, has tainted everything going forward.” Noting that the 2006 Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case (see June 30, 2006) disallowed torture but allowed for “coercive interrogation techniques,” Crawford says even those techniques should not be allowed: “You don’t allow it in a regular court.” Crawford says she is not yet sure if any of the other five detainees accused of participating in the 9/11 plot, including their leader, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were tortured, but she believes they may have been. “I assume torture,” she says, and notes that CIA Director Michael Hayden has publicly confirmed that Mohammed was one of three detainees subjected to waterboarding, a technique classified by law as torture. Crawford has not blocked prosecution of the other five detainees. Ultimately, she says, the responsibility for the farrago of illegal detentions and torture rests with President Bush. He was right to create a system to try suspected terrorists, she says, but the implementation was fatally flawed. “I think he hurt his own effort.… I think someone should acknowledge that mistakes were made and that they hurt the effort and take responsibility for it.… We learn as children it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is for permission. I think the buck stops in the Oval Office.” [Washington Post, 1/14/2009]
Rules Change - Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says that the Hamdan case changed the rules, and thus retroactively classified al-Khatani’s treatment as torture. “The [Defense] Department has always taken allegations of abuse seriously,” he says. “We have conducted more than a dozen investigations and reviews of our detention operations, including specifically the interrogation of Mohamed al-Khatani, the alleged 20th hijacker. They concluded the interrogation methods used at [Guantanamo], including the special techniques used on Khatani in 2002, were lawful. However, subsequent to those reviews, the Department adopted new and more restrictive policies and procedures for interrogation and detention operations. Some of the aggressive questioning techniques used on al-Khatani, although permissible at the time, are no longer allowed in the updated Army field manual.” [Washington Post, 1/14/2009]
Prosecutors Unprepared - When Crawford came to Guantanamo as convening authority in 2007, she says “the prosecution was unprepared” to bring cases to trial. Even after four years of working possible cases, “they were lacking in experience and judgment and leadership.” She continues: “A prosecutor has an ethical obligation to review all the evidence before making a charging decision. And they didn’t have access to all the evidence, including medical records, interrogation logs, and they were making charging decisions without looking at everything.” It took over a year, and the intervention of Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, for prosecutors to turn over possibly exculpatory evidence to defense lawyers, even though the law requires that such evidence be turned over immediately. The entire system at Guantanamo is a blot on the reputation of the US and its military judicial system, she says: “There’s an assumption out there that everybody was tortured. And everybody wasn’t tortured. But unfortunately perception is reality.” The system she oversees cannot function now, she believes. “Certainly in the public’s mind, or politically speaking, and certainly in the international community” it may be forever tainted. “It may be too late.” [Washington Post, 1/14/2009]
Entity Tags: Susan Crawford, Gordon England, Gitanjali Gutierrez, George W. Bush, Geoff Morrell, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Bush administration (43), Center for Constitutional Rights, Mohamed al-Khatani, US Department of Defense, Michael Hayden
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Eric Holder. [Source: New York Times]Incoming Attorney General Eric Holder says the Justice Department will defend the US’s warrantless eavesdropping program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005) in court, based on Congress’s passage of legislation immunizing US telecommunications companies from lawsuits challenging their participation in the government spy program (see January 5, 2009). Holder makes this statement during Senate hearings to confirm his selection as attorney general. “The duty of the Justice Department is to defend statutes that have been passed by Congress,” Holder says. “Unless there are compelling reasons, I don’t think we would reverse course.” President-elect Obama, while a senator, opposed granting immunity to the telecommunications firms, but voted for immunity because it was included in a broader surveillance bill that gave the Bush administration broad new powers to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants. [Wired News, 1/15/2009]
As one of its last official acts, the Bush administration asks federal judge Vaughn Walker to stay his ruling that keeps alive a lawsuit testing whether a sitting president can bypass Congress and eavesdrop on Americans without warrants. The request, filed at 10:56 p.m. on President Bush’s last full day in office, asks Walker to stay his ruling and allow the federal government to appeal his ruling that allows the al-Haramain lawsuit to proceed (see February 28, 2006). The warrantless wiretapping alleged in the lawsuit took place in 2004, well before Congress’s 2008 authorization of the government’s spy program. The Obama administration’s incoming Attorney General, Eric Holder, says the Justice Department will defend the spy program because Congress made it legal (see January 15, 2009). It is not clear whether the Justice Department under Holder will continue to fight the Al Haramain lawsuit. The Bush administration wants Walker to reverse his decision to let plaintiffs’ lawyers Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoo use a Top Secret document that was accidentally disclosed to them in 2004 (see January 5, 2009); that document, which allegedly proves the warrantless and illegal nature of the wiretapping performed against the Al Haramain charity, is at the center of the lawsuit. Previous rulings disallowed the use of the document and forced the defense lawyers to return it to the government, but Walker ruled that other evidence supported the claim of warrantless wiretapping, and therefore the document could be used. In its request for a stay, the Bush administration asserts that allowing the document to be used in the lawsuit would jeopardize national security, and that the document is protected under the state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953). Administration lawyers say that Walker should not be allowed to see the document, much less the defense lawyers. “If the court were to find… that none of the plaintiffs are aggrieved parties, the case obviously could not proceed, but such a holding would reveal to plaintiffs and the public at large information that is protected by the state secrets privilege—namely, that certain individuals were not subject to alleged surveillance,” the administration writes in its request. If the lawsuit continues, the government says, that decision “would confirm that a plaintiff was subject to surveillance” and therefore should not be allowed: “Indeed, if the actual facts were that just one of the plaintiffs had been subject to alleged surveillance, any such differentiation likewise could not be disclosed because it would inherently reveal intelligence information as to who was and was not a subject of interest, which communications were and were not of intelligence interest, and which modes of communication were and were not of intelligence interest, and which modes of communication may or may not have been subject to surveillance.” Jon Eisenberg, the lawyer for Belew and Ghafoo, says: “We filed this lawsuit to establish a judicial precedent that the president cannot disregard Congress in the name of national security. Plaintiffs have a right to litigate the legality of the surveillance.” [Wired News, 1/20/2009]
As one of his first official acts as president, Barack Obama orders that all military prosecutions of terrorist suspects at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility be suspended for 120 days. The order comes during the inaugural ceremonies, and is issued by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the only Cabinet holdover from the Bush administration. “In the interests of justice, and at the direction of the president of the United States and the secretary of defense, the government respectfully requests the military commission grant a continuance of the proceedings in the above-captioned case until 20 May 2009,” the request reads. [CNN, 1/21/2009; Agence France-Presse, 1/21/2009] Obama promised repeatedly during and after the presidential campaign that he would close the detention facility at the Guantanamo Naval Base. This request does not go that far, but it does bring to a halt the planned prosecution of 21 detainees currently facing war crimes charges, including 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Jamil Dakwar, a representative for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) at the base, calls the request “a good step in the right direction.” Gabor Rona, an observer for Human Rights Watch, also calls the order “a first step.” Rona continues, “The very fact that it’s one of his first acts reflects a sense of urgency that the US cannot afford one more day of counterproductive and illegal proceedings in the fight against terrorism.” Dakwar says the ACLU believes all charges against the prisoners should be dropped. “A shutdown of this discredited system is warranted,” he says. “The president’s order leaves open the option of this discredited system remaining in existence.” Major Jon Jackson, the lawyer for one of the 9/11 defendants, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (see Early-Late June, 2001 and September 24, 2001-December 26, 2002), says, “We welcome our new commander in chief and this first step towards restoring the rule of law.” Approximately 245 detainees are currently housed at the camp; some 60 detainees have been cleared for release, but no country has agreed to take them. [CNN, 1/21/2009; Washington Post, 1/21/2009] Michele Cercone, spokesman for the European Union Justice and Home Affairs Commission, says the commission “has been very pleased that one of the first actions of Mr. Obama has been to turn the page on this sad episode of Guantanamo.” The request is accepted the day after (see January 21, 2009), and the Los Angeles Times writes that it “may be the beginning of the end for the Bush administration’s system of trying alleged terrorists.” [Associated Press, 1/21/2009]
Entity Tags: Jon Jackson, European Union Justice and Home Affairs Commission, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, American Civil Liberties Union, Gabor Rona, Jamil Dakwar, Los Angeles Times, Robert M. Gates, Michele Cercone, Human Rights Watch, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
Officials for the incoming Obama administration are dismayed to find that the task of closing Guantanamo Bay, one of President Obama’s first orders as president (see January 22, 2009), is going to be much harder than anticipated, because the records and details of the approximately 245 prisoners in custody are in terrific disarray. Obama officials, barred from examining classified records on the detainees until the inauguration, also find that many of the prisoners have no comprehensive case files at all. What information that does exist on the detainees is, according to a senior Obama official, “scattered throughout the executive branch.” Most detainees have little more than a dossier containing brief summaries of information, and lack any sort of background or investigative information that would be required for federal prosecutions. Obama named a Cabinet-level panel to review each case individually before the base is to be closed in a year, and those panel members will now have to spend weeks and perhaps months hunting down and correlating relevant material.
'Food Fights' among Bush Agencies - Officials from the former Bush administration admit that the files are incomplete, and that no single government office was tasked with keeping the information on Guantanamo detainees together. They blame the CIA and other intelligence agencies for not adequately sharing information, and add that the Bush administration’s focus was more on detention and interrogation, and much less on putting together information for future prosecutions. A former Pentagon official says that “regular food fights” between competing government agencies over the sharing of information contributed to the lack of coherent and consistent files. (A CIA official denies that the agency ever balked at sharing information with other governmental agencies, and says the Defense Department was more likely to be responsible for laspes in information.)
Former Bush Officials Say Obama Officials 'Look[ing] for Excuses' - However, other former Bush officials say the Obama team is trying to “look for excuses” instead of dealing with the complexities of the issues involved. Obama officials, after promising quick solutions, are now “backpedaling and trying to buy time” by blaming its predecessor, according to a former senior Bush official. He says that “all but about 60… are either high-level al-Qaeda people responsible for 9/11 or bombings, or were high-level Taliban or al-Qaeda facilitators or money people,” and the Obama administration will come to the same conclusion as Bush officials: that they need to stay in detention without trial or charges.
Files 'Not Comprehensive,' Problem Noted in Previous Judicial Proceedings - But Obama officials say they want to make their own judgments. A senior Obama official says: “The consensus among almost everyone is that the current system is not in our national interest and not sustainable. [But] it’s clear that we can’t clear up this issue overnight” in part because the files “are not comprehensive.” Justice Department lawyers claim that after the Supreme Court ruled detainees have habeas corpus rights (see June 30, 2006), Bush officials were “overwhelmed” by the sudden need to gather and correlate information and material. In one federal filing, the Justice Department told a court that the record for a particular detainee “is not simply a collection of papers sitting in a box at the Defense Department. It is a massive undertaking just to produce the record in this one case.” In another filing, Justice Department officials told a court that “defending these cases requires an intense, inter-agency coordination of efforts. None of the relevant agencies, however, was prepared to handle this volume of habeas cases on an expedited basis.” Some former military officials say that evidence gathered for military commissions trials was scattered and incomplete. One former Guantanamo prosecutor, Darrel Vandeveld, says evidence was “strewn throughout the prosecution offices in desk drawers, bookcases packed with vaguely-labeled plastic containers, or even simply piled on the tops of desks.” He says he once accidentally found “crucial physical evidence” that “had been tossed in a locker located at Guantanamo and promptly forgotten.” [Washington Post, 1/25/2009] Vandeveld says that evidence at Guantanamo was often so disorganized “it was like a stash of documents found in a village in a raid and just put on a plane to the US.” [United Press International, 1/14/2009]
Prosecutors Lacked Evidence Necessary for Prosecutions, Says Senior Official - “A prosecutor has an ethical obligation to review all the evidence before making a charging decision,” says Susan Crawford, the convening authority for the military commissions. “And they didn’t have access to all the evidence, including medical records, interrogation logs, and they were making charging decisions without looking at everything.” Crawford has stated that another detainee was tortured while at Guantanamo (see January 14, 2009). [ABA Journal, 1/14/2009]
Defense Department: Information There, but Scattered - Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says the files are in good order: “Fundamentally, we believe that the individual files on each detainee are comprehensive and sufficiently organized,” however, “in many cases, there will be thousands of pages of documents… which makes a comprehensive assessment a time-consuming endeavor.… Not all the documents are physically located in one place,” but most are available through a database. “The main point here is that there are lots of records, and we are prepared to make them available to anybody who needs to see them as part of this review.” [Washington Post, 1/25/2009]
Omar Khadr. The photo, presumably taken in 2001, was given to Canadian reporters by his mother, Maha Khadr, after a 2005 press conference. [Source: Maha Khadr / Associated Press]Colonel Patrick Parrish, a military judge in the Guantanamo prosecutions, orders that the trial of Omar Khadr be suspended. President Obama has asked for all trials of Guantanamo detainees to be suspended for 120 days (see January 20, 2009). Other trials are almost certain to be suspended as well, including the trial of five detainees accused of participating in the 9/11 attacks. Khadr is accused of killing a US soldier in Afghanistan with a grenade during a firefight in 2001. Khadr, who was 15 at the time, was captured shortly thereafter. He has been in detention ever since. Military prosecutors say it is “in the interests of justice” to freeze the trials until about May 20 to give the new administration time to evaluate the cases and decide what forum best suits any future prosecution. Obama has repeatedly promised to shut down the Guantanamo prison camp; it is not clear what will happen to the approximately 245 detainees currently housed there. While officials of the former Bush administration have said they planned to bring some 80 detainees to trial, as yet only three trials have been held. [Reuters, 1/21/2009] Prosecutor Clay Trivett says all pending cases should be suspended because a review of the military commissions system may result in significant changes. Khadr’s defense lawyer, Lieutenant Commander William Kuebler, says the suspension “has the practical effect of stopping the process, probably forever.… This military process and the charges Omar faced are dead.” Kuebler says Khadr should either be returned to his native Canada or tried in a civilian court. “He’s anxious, he’s nervous,” Kuebler says. “Let’s hope this creates the process… that will take Omar back to Canada.” The de facto leader of the five men accused of planning the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, tells court officials he opposes the delay. “We should continue so we don’t go backward, we go forward,” he says. [Associated Press, 1/21/2009; Washington Post, 1/21/2009]
President Barack Obama issues an executive order limiting the ability of former presidents to block the release of records from their time in the White House. Obama’s order overturns an executive order from former President Bush (see November 1, 2001) that is currently the subject of a federal lawsuit, and was found in part illegal by a federal judge in 2007. Obama’s order invalidates Bush’s order entirely. Obama’s order allows former presidents to ask the National Archives to keep certain documents private, but strips their power to compel the Archives to do so. The order also covers former vice presidents and the families of deceased presidents. “It’s a great signal to send on the president’s first day in office,” says Scott Nelson, a lawyer with the civil liberties group Public Citizen, which led the challenge to Bush’s order. Nelson says the order will make it easier for researchers to gain access to White House records.
Strips Power from Former Executives - Under the Presidential Records Act, former presidents can restrict access to some of their records, including confidential communications with advisers, for up to 12 years. Bush’s order extended that restriction indefinitely, and gave former vice presidents and even the families and heirs of deceased presidents the same power to restrict documents. Obama’s order limits claims of executive privilege to records concerning national security, law enforcement or internal communications; it also specifies that only living former presidents may request that papers not be made public, and gives them 30 days to say so once they get word of the archivist’s intention to release records. The order gives the Obama administration and the National Archives, not the former executives, the final decision-making power. Under Obama’s order, former Vice President Dick Cheney can no longer block access to records from his records during his eight years in the White House. Cheney is engaged in a lawsuit to block access to his vice-presidential records. [Washington Post, 1/21/2009]
Wide-Ranging Impact - Experts agree that the executive order could have wide-ranging impacts on a number of issues relating to the Bush administration. Douglas Kmiec, a conservative law professor and an expert on executive privilege, says the order could strongly impact current battles over Bush’s records, “whether it be the dismissal of US attorneys, whether it be other assertions of executive privilege dealing with White House emails and the like.” It could also affect investigations into the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, and the Bush administration’s efforts to precipitate a war with Iraq. [TPM Muckraker, 1/22/2009] Neil Eggleston, who served as White House counsel in the Clinton administration, says he believes the Obama order is specifically designed to pry loose information from the Bush administration about such issues. “This is absolutely about all those issues,” he says. In a sense, Eggleston continues, it is an order to the National Archivist: “It says, ‘Archivist—if Bush calls up and says don’t release certain papers, don’t listen to what he says, listen to what I say.’” [TPM Muckraker, 1/23/2009]
Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which released a classified report on the Bush administration’s policies on torture (see December 11, 2008), suggests to Eric Holder, the attorney general-nominee, that President Obama appoint someone with “real credibility” to mount an independent investigation into the use of torture by US officials. He tells a reporter: “We’re going to try to complete this investigation, at least on the [Defense Department] side… [b]ut on the intelligence, the CIA side, that’s going to be up to the Intelligence Committee. I know I suggested to Eric Holder… that he select some people or hire an outside person whose got real credibility, perhaps a retired federal judge, to take all the available information, and there’s reams of it.” [Think Progress, 1/22/2009]
Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, asked if waterboarding is torture, replies, “Absolutely.” Armitage’s interview is broadcast as part of the WNET documentary Torturing Democracy. Armitage, who graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1967 and served in Vietnam, was waterboarded as part of his Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training, which was later used as a platform for developing the Bush administration’s torture policies (see December 2001 and January 2002 and After). He describes his own waterboarding, with physical gestures: “I was put on an incline. My legs were like that and my back went down. I can’t remember if it was a wet T-shirt or a wet towel was put over my nose and mouth, and it was completely soaked. But I could still breathe. And then a question would be asked and I would not answer, and water would slowly be poured in this. And the next time I took a breath, I’d be drawing in water, whether I took it from my mouth or my nose. For me, it was simply a feeling of helplessness.” The interviewer observes: “I’ve talked to a former SERE instructor who was also waterboarded, and he said there’s nothing simulated about it. You think you are drowning.” Armitage replies: “Except in the case that I did realize I was in Northern California, and I did realize the people doing this were actually on my side. But the sensation to me was one of total helplessness, and I’ve had a lot of sensations in my life, but helplessness was not generally one of them. But the sensation was enormously unpleasant and frightening to me.” Would he describe it as torture? Armitage is asked. “Absolutely,” he responds. “No question.” The interviewer then asks, “So how do you explain the recent indecision over whether or not waterboarding is torture?” Armitage responds: “I cannot believe that my nation is having a discussion on what is torture. There is no question in my mind—there’s no question in any reasonable human being, there shouldn’t be, that this is torture. I’m ashamed that we’re even having this discussion.” Armitage says the State Department was deliberately left out of the Bush administration discussions of torture, “I think precisely because we’d have no part of it.” As for the discussions among White House and Justice Department officials over what did and did not constitute torture, Armitage says: “Well, if you were twisting yourselves into knots because you’re fearful that you may be avoiding some war crimes, then you’re probably tripping too closely to the edge. The fact that you want to have a discussion about how to avoid being accused of war crimes would indicate that you’re pretty close to the edge to me.” [National Security Archives, 1/21/2009]
After taking office as president (see January 20-21, 2009), Barack Obama instructs new CIA Director Leon Panetta to develop options and find new resources for pursuing Osama bin Laden. An unnamed senior official will later say that while “a lot of good” had been done during the Bush administration years, resources for the CIA’s bin Laden hunt “fluctuated over time.” As part of the effort, the CIA increases the number of drone strikes on militant leaders in Pakistan’s tribal region. [Reuters, 5/12/2011]
Obama: Bin Laden Must Be Killed - In the spring of 2009, Obama tells his top intelligence officials that al-Qaeda can never be truly defeated unless bin Laden is killed, and the US needs the closure his death would provide. Obama allegedly says: “We need to redouble our efforts in hunting bin Laden down.… I want us to start putting more resources, more focus, and more urgency into that mission.” [ABC News, 6/9/2011]
New Attitude towards Pakistan - Part of the change is a new attitude towards the government of Pakistan. President Bush had close personal ties to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. But Musharraf resigned shortly before Obama became president (see August 18, 2008), making those ties moot. An unnamed former top Bush administration official will later say: “For a long time there was a strong inclination at the highest levels during our time to work with the Pakistanis, treat them as partners, defer to their national sensitivities.… There was some good reason for that.” But, this person says, the Obama administration “do seem more willing to push the envelope.” In 2011, former senior State Department official Vali Nasr will say: “Obama was fundamentally honest that the United States and Pakistan were on different trajectories in Afghanistan. Under Bush, there was this pretense that we were all in this war on terror together.” The Obama administration is increasingly skeptical about Pakistan’s promises to act against militants, and the US is more willing to act on its own to get militants hiding in Pakistan. [Reuters, 5/12/2011]
President Barack Obama signs a series of executive orders mandating the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within one year’s time, and declares that prisoners at that facility will be treated within the parameters of the Geneva Conventions. Obama’s order also mandates the closure of the CIA’s secret prisons overseas. Another element of those orders bans the practice of torture on detainees (see January 22, 2009). Obama calls the order the first move by his administration to reclaim “the moral high ground” vacated by the previous administration. Americans understand that battling terrorism cannot continue with a “false choice between our safety and our ideals,” he says. [Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2009; Washington Post, 1/23/2009] “We can no longer afford drift, and we can no longer afford delay, nor can we cede ground to those who seek destruction,” he adds. [Associated Press, 1/22/2009] “We believe we can abide by a rule that says, we don’t torture, but we can effectively obtain the intelligence we need.” [New York Times, 1/23/2009] The Washington Post reports that the orders essentially end the “war on terror” as it has been managed by the Bush administration, and writes, “[T]he notion that a president can circumvent long-standing US laws simply by declaring war was halted by executive order in the Oval Office.” However, Obama’s order does not detail what should be done with the detainees currently housed at Guantanamo. According to a White House summary, Obama’s orders “set… up an immediate review to determine whether it is possible to transfer detainees to third countries, consistent with national security.” If a prisoner cannot be transferred, “a second review will determine whether prosecution is possible and in what forum.” Obama says, “The message that we are sending the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism and we are going to do so vigilantly and we are going to do so effectively and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals.” The US will now “observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard,” he adds. The orders do not specifically ban the practice of “rendition,” or secretly transferring prisoners to the custody of other nations, some of which practice torture. “There are some renditions that are, in fact, justifiable, defensible,” says a senior Obama administration official. “There’s not going to be rendition to any country that engages in torture.”
Republicans, Conservatives Object - Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), a supporter of torture by the Bush administration, says Obama’s orders are imprecise and vague: “This is an executive order that places hope ahead of reality—it sets an objective without a plan to get there.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2009; Washington Post, 1/23/2009] “What do we do with confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his fellow terrorist conspirators.” Hoekstra asks, “offer them jail cells in American communities?” [Financial Times, 1/22/2009] Conservative news outlet Fox News tells its viewers, “The National Security Council told Fox that for now even [O]sama bin Laden or a high-ranking terrorist planner would be shielded from aggressive interrogation techniques that the CIA says produced lifesaving intelligence from… Mohammed.” [US News and World Report, 1/23/2009]
'A New Era for America' - Newly installed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a different view. “I believe with all my heart that this is a new era for America,” she tells reporters as she assumes her duties at the State Department. [Agence France-Presse, 1/22/2009] Former Bush official John Bellinger, the National Security Council’s top legal adviser, praises Obama’s orders, calling them “measured” and noting that they “do not take any rash actions.” Bellinger adds: “Although the Gitmo order is primarily symbolic, it is very important. It accomplishes what we could never accomplish during the Bush administration.” [New York Times, 1/23/2009] Retired admiral John Hutson agrees. “It is a 180 degree turn,” says Hutson. “It restores our status in the world. It enables us to be proud of the way we are prosecuting the war.” Closing the Guantanamo prison camp and banning torture “is the right thing to do morally, diplomatically, militarily and constitutionally,” Hutson adds, “but it also makes us safer.” Senator John Kerry (D-MA) calls the move “a great day for the rule of law.” [Financial Times, 1/22/2009; New York Times, 1/23/2009]
Entity Tags: Peter Hoekstra, Hillary Clinton, John Bellinger, Obama administration, John D. Hutson, John Kerry, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, National Security Council, Fox News, Washington Post, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
US defense officials, led by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, say they are not entirely supportive of President Obama’s promise to withdraw from Iraq within 16 months. Gates is the only Obama administration holdover from the former Bush administration. Instead of getting behind Obama’s 16-month withdrawal, which was a central promise of Obama’s campaign, defense officials say they intend to present Obama with a “full range of options.” Asked about Obama’s meeting with him and senior US military commanders to discuss withdrawal, Gates says the 16-month timetable is just “the beginning of a process of evaluating various options.” The White House has said that the plans to withdraw American forces from Iraq in 16 months are firm. “Let me just say, I think our obligation is to give the president a range of options and the risks associated with each of those options,” Gates notes. “And he will make the decision.” Iraq is still a nation in transition, says Admiral Michael Mullen, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and this year’s series of elections in Iraq provides reason for both hope and apprehension. “There’s growing confidence, but it’s not in leaps and bounds,” Mullen says. General Ray Odierno, the senior US commander in Iraq, says, “How the provincial elections play out will, I think, be a big indicator for 2009, which is a big year.” Mullen is in favor of a “responsible drawdown,” but is not sure exactly how it should progress. Outgoing US ambassador Ryan Crocker joins Gates, Mullen, and Odierno in warning of what he calls a “precipitous” withdrawal (see January 22, 2009). “Al-Qaeda is incredibly tenacious,” Crocker says. “As long as they hang on they are looking for the opportunity to regenerate.” Obama intends to withdraw some forces from Iraq for duty in Afghanistan, which he views as the US’s central front in battling terrorism. There are currently 143,000 US troops in Iraq, and only 34,000 in Afghanistan. The US commander in Afghanistan wants another 30,000 troops; the Pentagon says those will be provided over the next 12 to 18 months. Gates agrees with Obama’s intention to refocus US military efforts on Afghanistan: “The president has been quite clear that the mission is to responsibly draw down and end our active combat role, the role that we have been playing over the last number of years. He wants to put more emphasis on Afghanistan and deal with the problems in Afghanistan there and the challenges that we face in Afghanistan.” [Agence France-Presse, 1/22/2009]
David Kris. [Source: Brookings Institution]President Obama picks as his nominee to lead the Justice Department’s National Security Division an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s legal justifications for warrantless wiretapping. David Kris served as a senior Justice Department official in both the Clinton and Bush administrations before accepting a position at Georgetown University’s law school, and is considered an expert on intelligence law. After the New York Times revealed the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005), Kris wrote a 25-page legal analysis describing the rationale for the program as “weak” and probably invalid. When he was at the Justice Department, Kris advised his then-boss, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, not to sign a batch of wiretapping warrants—results of the warrantless wiretap program—because intelligence officials would not reveal how the information in the wiretaps was obtained. If confirmed by the Senate, Kris will not only oversee intelligence and national security law, but may be responsible for the dispensation of the detainees in the Guantanamo prison camp (see January 22, 2009). [New York Times, 1/22/2009]
Federal judge John Bates gives the Obama administration until February to tell him whether it wants to change the legal definition of the term “enemy combatant.” Several detainees held at US detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay and Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan are challenging their classfication as “enemy combatant,” which the Bush administration defined as having virtually no legal rights in the US judicial system. The Obama administration has until February 9 to make a decision on behalf of the Guantanamo lawsuits, and until February 20 for the Bagram lawsuits. “The new presidential administration may wish to review the government’s current position regarding the appropriate definition of ‘enemy combatant’ to be used in these and other habeas cases,” Bates says. Bates adds that Obama’s orders to close Guantanamo Bay (see January 22, 2009) and to outlaw torture (see January 22, 2009) indicate “significant changes to the government’s approach to the detention, and review of detention, of individuals currently held at Guantanamo Bay.” He notes, “A different approach could impact the court’s analysis of certain issues central to the resolutions of [Bagram] cases as well.” [Associated Press, 1/23/2009]
Retired Major General Paul Eaton, one of the 16 retired flag officers who joined President Obama in Obama’s signing of his executive order banning torture (see January 22, 2009), says that the Abu Ghraib scandal “immediately undermined me, my moral authority” as he worked in Iraq with eight other nations to build up Iraqi security forces. “It created a far more dangerous environment for every soldier, every marine we had in Iraq,” Eaton says. Eaton places direct blame for Abu Ghraib on the Bush administration’s push for enhanced interrogation techniques. [Bloomberg, 1/23/2009]
Time reports on a brewing conflict between President Barack Obama and his Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, over the idea of replacing America’s aging nuclear arsenal. Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration, favors putting the $100 billion Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) Program into effect, because the nation’s nuclear weapons, many produced in the 1970s and 1980s, are becoming old and possibly unreliable. In a November 2008 speech, Gates called the RRW program “not about new capabilities but about safety, reliability, and security.” After Obama selected Gates to remain at the Pentagon, Gates told reporters that Congress must fund the RRW “for safety, for security, and for a more reliable deterrent.” Obama disagrees. After taking the oath of office on January 20, he declared on the new White House Web site’s policy section that his administration “will stop the development of new nuclear weapons.” Nuclear defense expert Michael O’Hanlon describes Obama and Gates “at loggerheads on this.” A Pentagon official asked about the issue says he doesn’t think Obama and Gates have discussed the matter as yet. Many experts such as O’Hanlon suggest retooling existing warheads to ensure their efficacy and functionality, but the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration, responsible for developing and maintaining the US nuclear arsenal, has said it cannot meet the goals set for RRW by modifying existing weapons. Congress has repeatedly refused to fund RRW. Gates has argued that by enhancing and retooling the nuclear arsenal, the US could afford to dramatically shrink its numbers. Time reporter Mark Thompson explains the logic of Gates’s argument: “After all, if you have only a 50 percent level of confidence that a nuclear weapon is going to perform as advertised, you’ll need twice as many.” Critics note that US policy tends to, in Thompson’s words, “embrace the notion that all nuclear weapons possessed by adversaries will work, while those possessed by the US won’t.” [Time, 1/26/2009]
Susan Rice, speaking at the UN. [Source: Agence France-Presse]The newly named US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, says that the Obama administration will reverse years of Bush administration policies and engage in “direct diplomacy” with Iran. Such direct diplomatic efforts have not been tried with Iran since before the 1979 Iranian revolution (see February-November 4, 1979), when Iranian radicals captured 52 Americans and held them hostage for well over a year (see November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981). [Associated Press, 1/26/2009] Israel’s Arutz Shiva calls the announcement a “not-unexpected bombshell.” [Arutz Shiva, 1/26/2009]
Iran Open to Engagement - Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki says Iran is “ready for new approaches by the United States.” Mottaki adds that Iran would consider the idea of allowing the US to open a diplomatic office in Tehran. The last US diplomatic office was closed in 1979.
US Still 'Deeply Concerned' about Iran's Nuclear Program - Rice says that Iran must meet UN Security Council demands to suspend uranium enrichment before the US will be willing to discuss its nuclear program. “The dialogue and diplomacy must go hand in hand with a very firm message from the United States and the international community that Iran needs to meet its obligations as defined by the Security Council,” Rice says. “And its continuing refusal to do so will only cause pressure to increase.” Rice says the US remains “deeply concerned about the threat that Iran’s nuclear program poses to the region, indeed to the United States and the entire international community.” She adds, “We look forward to engaging in vigorous diplomacy that includes direct diplomacy with Iran, as well as continued collaboration and partnership” with the other four permanent members of the Security Council—Britain, China, France and Russia—as well as Germany.
NATO: Iran Must Be Included in Decisions Regarding Afghanistan - NATO Secretary General Japp de Hoop Scheffer says that Iran must be part of the engagement process of escalating the war in Afghanistan. “We need a discussion that brings in all the relevant players: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, Russia—and yes, Iran,” he says. “We need a pragmatic approach to solve this very real challenge.” Bush officials have long sought to isolate Iran from having any influence over the events in Afghanistan, even though its ruling Shi’ite theocracy has long opposed Afghanistan’s Taliban. [Associated Press, 1/26/2009; Arutz Shiva, 1/26/2009]
Clinton: 'New, Perhaps Different Approach' - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says: “Obviously, the incoming administration views with great concern the role that Iran is playing in the world, its sponsorship of terrorism, its continuing interference with the functioning of other governments, and its pursuit of nuclear weapons. There is an ongoing policy review that the Obama administration has undertaken, but… our goal will be to do everything we can, pursue through diplomacy, through the use of sanctions, through creating better coalitions with countries that we believe also have a big stake in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon power, to try to prevent this from occurring. We are not taking any option off the table, at all. But we will pursue a new, perhaps different approach that will become a cornerstone of what the Obama administration believes is an attitude towards engagement that might bear fruit.” She says that the US continues to view an Iranian nuclear program as “unacceptable.” [Arutz Shiva, 1/26/2009]
Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tells an NPR reporter that he never allowed the Justice Department (DOJ) to become politicized, and that he believes the historical judgment of his tenure in the department will be favorable. He acknowledges making some errors, including failing to properly oversee the DOJ’s push to fire nine US attorneys in 2008, a process many believe was orchestrated by the White House with the involvement of Gonzales and then-White House political guru Karl Rove.
Failure to Engage - “No question, I should have been more engaged in that process,” he says, but adds that he is being held accountable for decisions made by his subordinates. “I deeply regret some of the decisions made by my staff,” he says, referring to his former deputy Paul McNulty, who resigned over the controversy after telling a Senate committee that the attorney firings were performance-related and not politically motivated. Gonzales says his then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, was primarily responsible for the US attorney review process and for working with McNulty. “If Paul McNulty makes a recommendation to me—if a recommendation includes his views—I would feel quite comfortable that those would be good recommendations coming to me” about the qualifications of the US attorneys under question, Gonzales says. He adds that he has “seen no evidence” that Rove or anyone at the White House tried to use the US attorneys to politicize the work at the DOJ. A review by the DOJ’s Inspector General found that the firing policy was fundamentally flawed, and that Gonzales was disengaged and had failed to properly supervise the review process.
Claims He Was Unfairly Targeted by 'Mean-Spirited' Washington Insiders - Gonzales says he has been unfairly held responsible for many controversial Bush administration policies, including its refusal to abide by the Geneva Conventions (see Late September 2001, January 9, 2002, January 18-25, 2002, January 25, 2002, August 1, 2002, November 11, 2004, and January 17, 2007) and its illegal eavesdropping on US citizens (see Early 2004, March 9, 2004, December 19, 2005, Early 2006, and February 15, 2006), because of his close personal relationship with former President Bush. Washington, he says, is a “difficult town, a mean-spirited town.” He continues: “Sometimes people identify someone to target. That’s what happened to me. I’m not whining. It comes with the job.”
Visiting Ashcroft at the Hospital - In 2004, Gonzales, then the White House counsel, and White House chief of staff Andrew Card raced to the bedside of hospitalized Attorney General John Ashcroft to persuade, or perhaps coerce, Ashcroft to sign off on a secret government surveillance program (see March 10-12, 2004). The intervention was blocked by Deputy Attorney General James Comey (see March 12-Mid-2004). Gonzales says he has no regrets about the incident: “Neither Andy nor I would have gone there to take advantage of somebody who was sick. We were sent there on behalf of the president of the United States.” As for threats by Justice Department officials to resign en masse over the hospital visit (see Late March, 2004), Gonzales merely says, “Lawyers often disagree about important legal issues.”
Warning about Plain Speaking - Gonzales says Obama’s attorney general nominee, Eric Holder, should refrain from making such statements as Holder made last week when he testified that waterboarding is torture. “One needs to be careful in making a blanket pronouncement like that,” Gonzales says, adding that such a statement might affect the “morale and dedication” of intelligence officials and lawyers who are attempting to make cases against terrorism suspects. [National Public Radio, 1/26/2009]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Eric Holder, Bush administration (43), Andrew Card, Alberto R. Gonzales, Geneva Conventions, George W. Bush, James B. Comey Jr., Karl C. Rove, Paul J. McNulty, D. Kyle Sampson
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Convicted al-Qaeda conspirator Jose Padilla (see January 22, 2008) files a lawsuit holding former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other former Bush administration officials responsible for his years in US detention without a lawyer or criminal charge. Last year Padilla sued former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo for writing legal opinions that led to his designation as an “enemy combatant” (see January 4, 2008); that case is still pending. In both cases, Padilla is seeking only a token $1 in damages; he wants a judge to declare his treatment illegal and unconstitutional. Justice Department lawyers argue that the lawsuit should be dismissed, saying that allowing it to proceed would endanger national security. A Padilla victory, they argue, “would strike at the core functions of the political branches, impacting military discipline, aiding our enemies, and making the United States more vulnerable to terrorist attack.” The government’s brief states, “Adjudication of the claims pressed by [Padilla] in this case would necessarily require an examination of the manner in which the government identifies, captures, designates, detains, and interrogates enemy combatants.” The Justice Department also wants the lawsuit against Yoo dismissed. “The issues of Padilla’s extreme interrogations and punitive conditions of confinement were never addressed by this court, the Fourth Circuit, or any other court,” Padilla’s lawyers say in their brief. They say the ordeal left Padilla psychologically disabled. “This guy had nothing,” says lawyer Michael O’Connell. “He was utterly isolated and had no clue that there was anybody out there advocating for him. He was just there forever. I don’t think I could have stood that and come out sane.… I can’t think of another time in this country that that ever happened to an American citizen.” Padilla’s lawyers argue that his designation as an enemy combatant violated his rights as a citizen. In their brief, they argue, “It was clearly established that military agents could not enter a civilian jail, seize a man from the civilian justice system, transport him to a military prison, detain him there indefinitely without criminal charge or conviction, deprive him of contact with attorneys or family, take from him his ability to fulfill the minimum requirements of his religion, and subject him to a program of extreme interrogations, sensory deprivation, and punishment.” [Christian Science Monitor, 1/29/2009]
Attorneys for Jose Padilla, a US citizen convicted in 2007 of material support for terrorist activities (see May 8, 2002 and August 27, 2002) say that senior Bush administration officials knew Padilla was being tortured ever since being held as an enemy combatant in a South Carolina naval brig (see June 9, 2002). The lawyers say Bush officials such as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld must have known, because of the command structure and because Rumsfeld approved harsh interrogation tactics (see December 2, 2002). Padilla and his mother are suing the government for employing a wide variety of harsh interrogation tactics, including sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, extended periods of isolation, forcible administering of hallucinogenic drugs, threats of death and mutilation, and enforced stress positions, as well as for violating his rights by holding him as an enemy combatant without due legal process. Both Rumsfeld and former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz are named as defendants. Tahlia Townsend, an attorney for Padilla, says: “They knew what was going on at the brig and they permitted it to continue. Defendants Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were routinely consulted on these kinds of questions.” The Justice Department is trying to get the case dismissed. [Raw Story, 1/30/2009] Justice Department lawyers claim that allowing the lawsuit to proceed would damage national security. They argue that a court victory for Padilla “would strike at the core functions of the political branches, impacting military discipline, aiding our enemies, and making the United States more vulnerable to terrorist attack.… Adjudication of the claims pressed by [Padilla] in this case would necessarily require an examination of the manner in which the government identifies, captures, designates, detains, and interrogates enemy combatants.” Padilla is seeking a symbolic $1 fine from each defendant along with a favorable ruling. [Christian Science Monitor, 1/29/2009]
Reflecting on the Bush administration’s prewar insistence that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program (see September 4, 2002, September 8, 2002, and September 8, 2002, among others), Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain’s former ambassador to the UN and its former special representative in Iraq, says: “When I arrived in New York, in July 1998, it was quite clear to me that all the members of the Security Council, including the United States, knew well that there was no current work being done on any kind of nuclear weapons capability in Iraq. It was, therefore, extraordinary to me that later on in this saga there should have been any kind of hint that Iraq had a current capability. Of course, there were worries that Iraq might try, if the opportunity presented itself, to reconstitute that capability. And therefore we kept a very close eye, as governments do in their various ways, on Iraq trying to get hold of nuclear base materials, such as uranium or uranium yellowcake, or trying to get the machinery that was necessary to develop nuclear-weapons-grade material. We were watching this the whole time. There was never any proof, never any hard intelligence, that they had succeeded in doing that. And the American system was entirely aware of this.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
In 2009, reflecting on the Bush administration’s decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC—see May 6, 2002), ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo will say: “When I started at the ICC, in 2003, the Bush administration appeared hostile towards the court, as though we were radioactive. But what started with hostility over time became less so. All of a sudden the court was seen to be useful. On Darfur, for example, the administration could have vetoed the Security Council vote referring Darfur to my office. They didn’t. That was a big change. But I’ve kept a respectful distance. They don’t give me intelligence. They cannot control me.… Ironically, the hostility has helped in my dealings with countries that might otherwise perceive me to be in the pocket of the Americans. It has been one positive factor in the Arab and African worlds. The US distance from the court seems to have had the very opposite effect of that intended—of strengthening it.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Reflecting on the Bush administration’s decision to create “military commissions” to try terror suspects (see November 13, 2001), John Bellinger, the former legal adviser to the National Security Council during much of the Bush administration, says: “A small group of administration lawyers drafted the president’s military order establishing the military commissions, but without the knowledge of the rest of the government, including the national security adviser, me, the secretary of state, or even the CIA director. And even though many of the substantive problems with the military commissions as created by the original order have been resolved by Congress in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hamdan case (see June 30, 2006), we have been suffering from this original process failure ever since.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Yale economist Robert Schiller reflects on the genesis of the economic recession, tracing it back in part to policies pursued by the Bush administration for the 2004 presidential election effort. At that time, Schiller warned of a “housing bubble” caused by a plethora of bad loans and toxic debt, and called for re-regulation of the housing markets. His warnings were ignored. Schiller says: “The Bush strategists were aware of the public enthusiasm for housing, and they dealt with it brilliantly in the 2004 election by making the theme of the campaign the ownership society. Part of the ownership society seemed to be that the government would encourage home ownership and, therefore, boost the market. And so Bush was playing along with the bubble in some subtle sense. I don’t mean to accuse him of any—I think it probably sounded right to him, and the political strategists knew what was a good winning combination. I don’t think that he was in any mode to entertain the possibility that this was a bubble. Why should he do that? Attention wasn’t even focused on this. If you go back to 2004, most people were just—they thought that we had discovered a law of nature: that housing, because of the fixity of land and the growing economy and the greater prosperity, that it’s inevitable that this would be a great investment. It was taken for granted.” John C. Dugan, the comptroller of the currency since 2005, says he believes a lack of regulation caused the “housing bubble.” Dugan says: “A lot of mortgages got made to people who could not afford them and on terms that would get progressively worse over time, and that created the seeds of an even bigger problem. As the whole market became even more dependent on house-price appreciation, when house prices flattened and then started to decline the whole situation began to unravel. The question you have to ask yourself: Why did credit become so easy? Why would lenders make mortgages that became increasingly less likely to be repaid? Part of the answer is that there was a huge chunk of the mortgage market that was not regulated to any significant extent. The overwhelming proportion of subprime loans were being done in entities that were not banks and not regulated as banks—I’m talking here about mortgage brokers and non-bank mortgage lenders that could originate these mortgages and then sell them to Wall Street firms that could package them into new kinds of mortgage securities, which arguably could take into account the lower credit risks and still be salable to investors worldwide. Unfortunately, the theory was not in accord with the reality. Although they thought they had accurately gauged that risk, they too were in fact depending—when you get to the bottom of it—on house prices continuing to go up and up and up. And they did not.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Alberto Mora, the former general counsel for the Navy and a harsh critic of the Bush administration’s torture policies (see January 23-Late January, 2003), says: “I will tell you this: I will tell you that General Anthony [Antonio] Taguba, who investigated Abu Ghraib, feels now that the proximate cause of Abu Ghraib were the OLC memoranda that authorized abusive treatment (see November 6-10, 2001 and August 1, 2002). And I will also tell you that there are general-rank officers who’ve had senior responsibility within the Joint Staff or counterterrorism operations who believe that the number one and number two leading causes of US combat deaths in Iraq have been, number one, Abu Ghraib, number two, Guantanamo, because of the effectiveness of these symbols in helping recruit jihadists into the field and combat against American soldiers.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Reflecting on the failure of the Bush administration to make its case on Iraq and the detrimental effect it had on the Bush presidency’s popularity with the American people, former Bush communications director Dan Bartlett says: “At the end of the day I think the divisiveness of this presidency will fundamentally come down to one issue: Iraq. And Iraq only because, in my opinion, there weren’t weapons of mass destruction. I think the public’s tolerance for the difficulties we face would’ve been far different had it felt like the original threat had been proved true. That’s the fulcrum. Fundamentally, when the president gets to an approval rating of 27 percent, it’s this issue.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Henry Paulson, the former secretary of the treasury, explains how the recession and market destruction came about on his watch. Part of his problem was his admitted lack of knowledge about regulation and regulatory authorities. “I easily could imagine and expected there to be financial turmoil,” he says. “But the extent of it, okay, I was naive in terms of—I knew a lot about regulation but not nearly as much as I needed to know, and I knew very little about regulatory powers and authorities. I just had not gone into it in that kind of detail. This’ll be the longest we’ve gone in recent history without there being turmoil, and given all the innovation in the private pools of capital and the over-the-counter derivatives and the excesses around the world, we figured that when there was turmoil, and these things were tested for the first time by stress, it would be more significant than anything else. I said at the time, I have a concern that every rally we’re going to have in the financial markets will be a false rally until we break the back of the price correction in real estate. And these things are never over until you have a couple of institutions go that surprise everyone. Bear Stearns can hardly be a shock (see March 15, 2008). But having said that, it’s one thing to see it intellectually and it’s another to see where we are.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Reflecting on the tenure of his former boss, Secretary of State Colin Powell, former chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson recalls: “I’m not sure even to this day that he’s willing to admit to himself that he was rolled to the extent that he was. And he’s got plenty of defense to marshal because, as I told [former defense secretary] Bill Perry one time when Bill asked me to defend my boss—I said, ‘Well, let me tell you, you wouldn’t have wanted to have seen the first Bush administration without Colin Powell.’ I wrote Powell a memo about six months before we were leaving, and I said, ‘This is your legacy, Mr. Secretary: damage control.’ He didn’t like it much. In fact, he kind of handed it back to me and told me I could put it in the burn basket. But I knew he understood what I was saying. ‘You saved the China relationship. You saved the transatlantic relationship and each component thereof—France, Germany.’ I mean, he held [then-German Foreign Minister] Joschka Fischer’s hand under the table on occasions when Joschka would say something like, ‘You know, your president called my boss a f_cking _sshole.’ His task became essentially cleaning the dogsh_t off the carpet in the Oval Office. And he did that rather well. But it became all-consuming. I think the clearest indication I got that [former Deputy Secretary of State] Rich [Armitage] and he both had finally awakened to the dimensions of the problem was when Rich began—I mean, I’ll be very candid—began to use language to describe the vice president’s office with me as the Gestapo, as the Nazis, and would sometimes late in the evening, when we were having a drink—would sometimes go off rather aggressively on particular characters in the vice president’s office.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Anthony Cordesman. [Source: Voice of America]The Bush administration touted its “surge” of additional forces in Iraq (see January 10, 2007) as “a game-changer,” bringing what it described as “peace and stability” to the beleagured nation. In retrospect, national security expert Anthony Cordesman agrees to a point. “We can all argue over the semantics of the word ‘surge,’ and it is fair to say that some goals were not met,” he tells a reporter. “We didn’t come close to providing additional civilian-aid workers that were called for in the original plan. And often it took much longer to achieve the effects than people had planned. But the fact was that this was a broad political, military, and economic strategy, which was executed on many different levels. And credit has to go to General [David] Petraeus, General [Raymond] Odierno, and Ambassador [Ryan] Crocker for taking what often were ideas, very loosely defined, and policies which were very broadly stated, and transforming them into a remarkably effective real-world effort. It’s important to note that we made even more mistakes in Afghanistan than we did in Iraq. We were far slower to react, but in both cases we were unprepared for stability operations; we had totally unrealistic goals for nation building; at a political level we were in a state of denial about the seriousness of popular anger and resistance, about the rise of the insurgency, about the need for host-country support and forces; and we had a singularly unfortunate combination of a Secretary of Defense [Donald Rumsfeld] and a Vice President [Dick Cheney] who tried to win through ideology rather than realism and a Secretary of State [Condoleezza Rice] who essentially stood aside from many of the issues involved. And in fairness, rather than blame subordinates, you had a president who basically took until late 2006 to understand how much trouble he was in in Iraq and seems to have taken till late 2008 to understand how much trouble he was in in Afghanistan.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, reflects on the perception of the incoming Bush administration’s foreign policy approach in 2001. Wilkerson says: “We had this confluence of characters—and I use that term very carefully—that included people like Powell, Dick Cheney, Condi Rice, and so forth, which allowed one perception to be ‘the dream team.’ It allowed everybody to believe that this Sarah Palin-like president [the governor of Alaska, known for her ignorance of foreign affairs]—because, let’s face it, that’s what he was—was going to be protected by this national security elite, tested in the cauldrons of fire. What in effect happened was that a very astute, probably the most astute, bureaucratic entrepreneur I’ve ever run into in my life became the vice president of the United States. He became vice president well before George [W.] Bush picked him. And he began to manipulate things from that point on, knowing that he was going to be able to convince this guy to pick him, knowing that he was then going to be able to wade into the vacuums that existed around George Bush—personality vacuum, character vacuum, details vacuum, experience vacuum.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) invests $90 billion in clean energy projects for the next 10 years via loan guarantees, tax incentives, and grants. $38 billion of this is government spending and $20 billion is tax incentives. Symbolically, President Obama signs the bill into law at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where he takes a tour of the museum’s solar panel installation. He says he hopes the bill will inspire Americans to get involved in “green” energy the same way that President Kennedy’s goal to put a man on the moon inspired Americans in the 1960s. “I hope this investment will ignite our imagination once more in science, medicine, energy and make our economy stronger, our nation more secure, and our planet safer for our children,” Obama says before signing the bill. The bill includes:
A three-year extension to the tax credit for wind, which would have expired at the end of this year, and an extension until the end of 2013 for geothermal and biomass renewable-energy projects. The credit has been increased to 30 percent of the investment.
$4.5 billion in direct spending to modernize the electricity grid with smart-grid technologies.
$6.3 billion in state energy-efficient and clean-energy grants, and $4.5 billion to make federal buildings more energy efficient.
$6 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy systems, biofuel projects, and electric-power transmission facilities.
$2 billion in loans to manufacture advanced batteries and components for applications such as plug-in electric cars.
$5 billion to weatherize homes of up to 1 million low-income people.
$3.4 billion appropriated to the Department of Energy for fossil energy research and development, such as storing carbon dioxide underground at coal power plants.
A tax credit of between $2,500 and $5,000 for purchase of plug-in electric vehicles, available for the first 200,000 placed into service.
Most companies in the green-tech field hail the new focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy in the bill, contrasting it with the Bush administration’s support for fossil fuel energy production and its disdain for clean energy programs. Investors and analysts say the new law is a step towards a comprehensive energy policy based on sustained commitment to renewable energy and efficiency. Michael Liebriech of New Energy Finance says: “For years, US policymakers’ support for clean energy has been uneven. No longer… the US will have a great chance to be the growth engine for our industry over the next several years.” The spending should have an almost-immediate impact, especially in areas such as smart grid technology and energy efficiency, says venture capitalist Dennis Costello. However, even this influx of government funding does not solve all the financial problems facing energy technology firms. The recession continues to grip the economy, he notes, damping demand and making financing of new projects difficult. “It’s kind of refreshing to see at least beginnings of a real energy policy, some sort of unified approach to our energy problems,” he says. “But it isn’t going to solve our energy problems. There are a lot of countervailing factors to give pause to being over-exuberant on the future of energy sector and clean tech.” [CNET News, 2/17/2009; Adam Johnston, 7/2013]
Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder says that if he is confirmed, he intends to review current litigation in which the Bush administration asserted the so-called “state secrets” privilege (see March 9, 1953), and that he intends to minimize the use of the privilege during his tenure. “I will review significant pending cases in which DOJ [the Justice Department] has invoked the state secrets privilege, and will work with leaders in other agencies and professionals at the Department of Justice to ensure that the United States invokes the state secrets privilege only in legally appropriate situations,” he writes in a response to pre-confirmation questions. (Shortly after Holder’s testimony, the Justice Department again asserts the “state secrets” privilege in a case involving a Guantanamo detainee—see February 9, 2009). Holder adds: “I firmly believe that transparency is a key to good government. Openness allows the public to have faith that its government obeys the law.” To a related question, he asserts his belief that the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) must disclose as many of the opinions it generates as possible: “Once the new assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel is confirmed, I plan to instruct that official to review the OLC’s policies relating to publication of its opinions with the [objective] of making its opinions available to the maximum extent consistent with sound practice and competing concerns.” [Federation of American Scientists, 2/2/2009; Senate Judiciary Committee, 2/2/2009] Weeks later, the Justice Department will release nine controversial OLC memos from the Bush administration (see March 2, 2009).
Two British High Court judges rule against releasing documents describing the torture and abuse of Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001). The judges cite threats from the US government as shaping their decision, saying that the US had threatened to withhold intelligence cooperation from Britain if the information on Mohamed’s treatment were made public.
Confession through Torture, Detainee Alleges - Mohamed is a British resident who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 (see September 2001 - April 9, 2002). He was initially charged with planning a “dirty bomb” attack in the US (see November 4, 2005); those charges were later dropped (see October-December 2008), but he has allegedly confessed to being an al-Qaeda operative and remains in detention without charges. Mohamed says that the confession was tortured out of him during his detention in secret prisons in Pakistan (see April 10-May, 2002 and May 17 - July 21, 2002), Morocco (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004), and Afghanistan (see January-September 2004), and later in Guantanamo. During his incarcerations at these various prisons, he says he was beaten, deprived of sleep, and had his genitals cut with a scalpel. Mohamed’s attorneys argue that he has committed no crime and is a victim of torture and rendition by US officials, with British cooperation (see February 24, 2009). [Washington Post, 2/5/2009; Los Angeles Times, 2/5/2009]
Judges, Lawmakers 'Dismayed' at US Threats - In their decision, Judges John Thomas and David Lloyd Jones write, “We did not consider that a democracy governed by the rule of law would expect a court in another democracy to suppress a summary of the evidence… relevant to allegations of torture and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment, politically embarrassing though it might be.” [Washington Post, 2/5/2009] They are dismayed that “there would be made a threat of the gravity of the kind made by the United States government, that it would reconsider its intelligence-sharing relationship” with Britain, one of its closest allies, if the British government made the summary public. [Los Angeles Times, 2/5/2009] They warn that a US withdrawal from intelligence-sharing could “inflict on the citizens of the United Kingdom a very considerable increase in the dangers they face at a time when a serious terrorist threat” remains. Conservative member of parliament David Davis tells the House of Commons, “The government is going to have to do some pretty careful explaining about what’s going on.” It is absolutely inappropriate for the US to have “threatened” the British government, Davis says: “The ruling implies that torture has taken place in the Mohamed case, that British agencies may have been complicit, and further, that the United States government has threatened our High Court that if it releases this information the US government will withdraw its intelligence cooperation with the United Kingdom.… Frankly, it is none of their business what our courts do.”
Lawyer Objects - Clive Stafford Smith, Mohamed’s attorney, says that by not disclosing the evidence, Britain is guilty of “capitulation to blackmail.… The judges used the word ‘threat’ eight times. That’s a criminal offense right there. That’s called blackmail. Only the Mafia have done that sort of stuff.” Smith continues: “It is hardly Britain’s finest hour. As the judges say, it is up to President Obama to put his money where his mouth is. He must repudiate his predecessor’s reprehensible policy.”
Prime Minister Knows Nothing of Threats - Officials in Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s office say they know nothing of any threats from Obama officials. “We have not engaged with the new administration on the detail of this case,” says a Brown spokesman. But British Foreign Secretary David Miliband notes: “Matters regarded as secret by one government should be treated as secret by others. For it to be called into question would pose a serious and real risk to continuing close intelligence-sharing with any government.” Miliband notes that the British government has made “strenuous efforts” to have Mohamed released (see August 2007). [New York Times, 2/4/2009; Washington Post, 2/5/2009]
ACLU Asks for Clarification - The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asking that she clarify the Obama administration’s position on the Mohamed case and to reject what it described as the Bush administration’s policy of using false claims of national security to avoid judicial review of controversial programs. According to ACLU head Anthony Romero, “The latest revelation is completely at odds with President Obama’s executive orders that ban torture and end rendition, as well as his promise to restore the rule of law.” State Department spokesman Robert Wood refuses to comment on the judges’ statement, saying, “It’s the first I’ve heard of it.” [Washington Post, 2/5/2009; Los Angeles Times, 2/5/2009]
Entity Tags: Robert Wood, John Thomas, Binyam Mohamed, Anthony D. Romero, American Civil Liberties Union, Bush administration (43), Obama administration, Clive Stafford Smith, David Lloyd Jones, David Davis, Gordon Brown, David Miliband, Hillary Clinton
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
MSNBC host Keith Olbermann slams former Vice President Dick Cheney for Cheney’s recent warnings concerning the policies of President Obama (see February 4, 2009). Olbermann calls Cheney’s remarks a “destructive and uninformed diatribe… that can only serve to undermine the nation’s new president, undermine the nation’s effort to thwart terrorism, and undermine the nation itself.” Cheney said that the Obama administration seems “more concerned about reading the rights to an al-Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans.” Olbermann responds by asking: “What delusion of grandeur makes you think you have the right to say anything like that? Because a president, or an ordinary American, demands that we act as Americans and not as bullies; demands that we play by our rules; that we preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States; you believe we have chosen the one and not the other? We can be Americans, or we can be what you call ‘safe’—but not both?” Olbermann says that the Bush-Cheney policies—the so-called “Bush System,” as recently dubbed by former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo (see January 29, 2009)—“[s]tart[ed] the wrong war, detain[ed] the wrong people, employ[ed] the wrong methods, pursue[d] the wrong leads, utilize[d] the wrong emotions.” He continues: “We, sir, will most completely assure our security not by maintaining the endless, demoralizing, draining, life-denying blind fear and blind hatred which you so thoroughly embody. We will most easily purchase our safety by repudiating the ‘Bush System.’ We will reserve the violence for which you are so eager, sir, for any battlefield to which we truly must take, and not for unconscionable wars which people like you goad and scare and lie us into. You, Mr. Cheney, you terrified more Americans than did any terrorist in the last seven years, and now it is time for you to desist, or to be made to desist. With damnable words like these, sir, you help no American, you protect no American, you serve no American—you only aid and abet those who would destroy this nation from within or without.” [MSNBC, 2/5/2009]
Binyam Mohamed. [Source: Independent]A lawyer for a Guantanamo detainee demands the release of her client because he is near death. Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley is in London to ask that her client, British resident Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001), who is still in Guantanamo even though all charges against him have been dropped (see October-December 2008), be released. Through Bradley, Mohamed claims that he has been repeatedly tortured at the behest of US intelligence officials (see April 10-May, 2002, May 17 - July 21, 2002, July 21, 2002 -- January 2004, and January-September 2004). Bradley says that Mohamed is dying in his cell. Mohamed and some twenty other detainees are so unhealthy that they are on what Bradley calls a “critical list.”
Hunger Strike, Beatings - Fifty Guantanamo detainees, including Mohamed, are on a hunger strike, and are being strapped to chairs and force-fed; those who resist, witnesses say, are beaten. Mohamed has suffered drastic weight loss, and has told his lawyer that he is “very scared” of being attacked by guards after witnessing what The Guardian describes as “a savage beating for a detainee who refused to be strapped down and have a feeding tube forced into his mouth.” Bradley is horrified at Mohamed’s description of the state of affairs in the prison. She says: “At least 50 people are on hunger strike, with 20 on the critical list, according to Binyam. The JTF [the Joint Task Force running Guantanamo] are not commenting because they do not want the public to know what is going on. Binyam has witnessed people being forcibly extracted from their cell. SWAT teams in police gear come in and take the person out; if they resist, they are force-fed and then beaten. Binyam has seen this and has not witnessed this before. Guantanamo Bay is in the grip of a mass hunger strike and the numbers are growing; things are worsening. It is so bad that there are not enough chairs to strap them down and force-feed them for a two- or three-hour period to digest food through a feeding tube. Because there are not enough chairs the guards are having to force-feed them in shifts. After Binyam saw a nearby inmate being beaten it scared him and he decided he was not going to resist. He thought, ‘I don’t want to be beat, injured or killed.’ Given his health situation, one good blow could be fatal.… Binyam is continuing to lose weight and he is going to get worse. He has been told he is about to be released, but psychologically and physically he is declining.”
Demanding Documents to Prove Torture, Rendition - Bradley is also demanding documents that she says will prove her client was tortured, and may also prove British complicity in Mohamed’s treatment (see February 24, 2009). An American court in San Francisco is also slated to hear evidence that Mohamed was subjected to “extraordinary rendition” by the CIA, where Mohamed and other prisoners were sent to other countries that tortured them. That lawsuit was originally dismissed when the Bush administration asserted “state secrets privilege” (see March 9, 1953), but lawyers for Mohamed refiled the case hoping that the Obama administration would be less secretive.
US Intelligence Wants Mohamed Dead? - The Guardian also notes that “some sections of the US intelligence community would prefer Binyam did die inside Guantanamo.” The reason? “Silenced forever, only the sparse language of his diary would be left to recount his torture claims and interviewees with an MI5 officer, known only as Witness B. Such a scenario would also deny Mohamed the chance to personally sue the US, and possibly British authorities, over his treatment.” [Guardian, 2/8/2009]
Ben Wizner, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) representing five plaintiffs suing a Boeing subsidiary for participating in their extraordinary rendition and torture (see February 9, 2009, says it is remarkable that the Obama administration is opposing the lawsuit. Wizner notes that the entire claim of “state secrets” advocated by the Justice Deparment in its quest to have the lawsuit thrown out is based on two sworn declarations from former CIA Director Michael Hayden. One was made public and one was filed secretly with the court. In those declarations, Hayden argued that courts cannot become involved in the case because to do so would be to disclose and thus degrade secret CIA programs of rendition and “harsh interrogation.” Wizner notes that President Obama ordered those programs shut down (see January 22, 2009). He says it is difficult to see how the continuation of the lawsuit could jeopardize national security when the government claims to have terminated the programs that are being protected. Salon pundit Glenn Greenwald writes: “What this is clearly about is shielding the US government and Bush officials from any accountability. Worse, by keeping Bush’s secrecy architecture in place, it ensures that any future president—Obama or any other—can continue to operate behind an impenetrable wall of secrecy, with no transparency or accountability even for blatantly criminal acts.” [Salon, 2/9/2009]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases previously classified documents that contain excerpts from a government report on harsh interrogation tactics used by US personnel against detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. The excerpts document repeated instances of abusive behavior, sometimes resulting in the deaths of prisoners. The documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), contain a report by Vice Admiral Albert Church, who compiled a comprehensive report on the Defense Department’s interrogation operations. Church terms the interrogations at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan as “clearly abusive, and clearly not in keeping with any approved interrogation policy or guidance.” Only two pages from the Church report were released without redactions.
Deaths at Bagram - A portion of the document reports on the deaths of two prisoners at Bagram (see December 5-9, 2002 and November 30-December 3, 2002), who were, the document states, “handcuffed to fixed objects above their heads in order to keep them awake.” The report continues: “Additionally, interrogations in both incidents involved the use of physical violence, including kicking, beating, and the use of ‘compliance blows,’ which involved striking the [prisoners] legs with the [interrogators] knees. In both cases, blunt force trauma to the legs was implicated in the deaths. In one case, a pulmonary embolism developed as a consequence of the blunt force trauma, and in the other case pre-existing coronary artery disease was complicated by the blunt force trauma.” Both detainees died from pulmonary embolisms caused by, the ACLU writes, “standing chained in place, sleep deprivation, and dozens of beatings by guards and possibly interrogators.”
Deaths at Other Facilities - The documents also report on torture conducted at Guantanamo and several US-Afghan prisons in Kabul; the death of prisoner Dilar Dababa in Iraq in 2003 at the hands of US forces; the torture and beating of an Iraqi prisoner at “The Disco,” a detention facility located in the Special Operations Force Compound at Mosul Airfield in Iraq; an investigation into torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad; and the murder of prisoner Abed Mowhoush.
Process Flowed Through Undersecretary Cambone - Columnist Scott Horton writes: “A large portion of the torture, maiming, and murder of detainees occurred under authority issued under secret rules of engagement in the Pentagon. Much of this flowed through Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone, a figure who has so far evaded scrutiny in the torture scandal.… Even the Senate Armed Services Committee review fails to get to the bottom of Dr. Cambone, his interrogations ROEs for special operations units he controlled, and the death, disfigurement, and torture of prisoners they handled. This is one of many reasons why a comprehensive investigation with subpoena power is urgently needed. But full airing of the internal investigations already conducted by the Department of Defense is an essential next step.” [Raw Story, 2/12/2009; American Civil Liberties Union, 2/12/2009]
The Justice Department is holding back on publicly releasing an internal department report on the conduct of former department officials involved in approving waterboarding and other torture techniques. The department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), led by H. Marshall Jarrett, completed the report in the final weeks of the Bush administration. The report probes whether the legal advice given in crucial interrogation memos “was consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys.” According to knowledgeable sources, the report harshly criticizes three former department lawyers: John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Steven Bradbury, all former members of the department’s Office of Legal Counsel. But then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy, Mark Filip, objected to the draft. Filip wanted the report to be “balanced” with responses from the three principals. The OPR is now waiting on the three to respond to the draft’s criticisms before presenting the report to Attorney General Eric Holder. “The matter is under review,” says Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller. The OPR report could be forwarded to state bar associations for possible disciplinary actions against any or all of the three. But Bush-era officials feel the probe is inherently unfair. “OPR is not competent to judge [the opinions by Justice Department attorneys]. They’re not constitutional scholars,” says a former Bush lawyer. Mukasey criticized the report, calling it “second-guessing” and says that Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury operated under “almost unimaginable pressure” after 9/11, and offered “their best judgment of what the law required.” OPR investigators looked into charges by former OLC chief Jack Goldsmith and others that the legal opinions provided by the three were “sloppy,” legally dubious, and slanted to give Bush administration officials what they wanted. [Newsweek, 2/14/2009; Newsweek, 2/16/2009] Some of the report is later leaked to the press (see February 22, 2009).
Entity Tags: Jay S. Bybee, Eric Holder, Bush administration (43), Jack Goldsmith, US Department of Justice, Matthew Miller, Office of Professional Responsibility, Mark Filip, John C. Yoo, Michael Mukasey, Steven Bradbury, H. Marshall Jarrett
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she is not sure whether North Korea actually has a secret program to enrich uranium, as the Bush administration had long claimed. She adds that she intends to persuade Pyongyang to give up the weapons-grade plutonium it does possess. “There is a debate within the intelligence community as to exactly the extent of the highly-enriched-uranium program,” she says. “My goal is the denuclearization of North Korea,” she continues. “That means a verifiably complete accounting of whatever programs they have and the removal of the reprocessed plutonium that they were able to achieve because they were given the opportunity to do so.… When they move forward” on ending the program, “we have a great openness to working with them, [and] a willingness to help the people of North Korea.”
Broadening Focus Beyond Uranium Possession - The claim of the uranium program led to the Bush administration’s rejection of the 1994 agreement that kept the North Korean nuclear weapons program in check (see October 21, 1994), she says: “The Agreed Framework was torn up on the basis of the concerns about the highly-enriched-uranium program. There is no debate that, once the Agreed Framework was torn up, the North Koreans began to reprocess plutonium with a vengeance because all bets were off. The result is they now have nuclear weapons, which they did not have before.” When the Bush administration withdrew from the Agreed Framework (see October 20, 2002), Clinton says, North Korea restarted its plutonium-based reactor at Yongbyon and now has enough material for at least a half-dozen nuclear weapons. A 2006 nuclear test by the North Koreans prompted Bush officials to reopen negotiations and eventually craft a new agreement remarkably similar to the Agreed Framework (see February 8, 2007 and After). Most Asian nations are expected to welcome Clinton’s new position on the uranium issue, as they thought the Bush administration had put too much emphasis on North Korea’s uranium possession. [Washington Post, 2/15/2009] Clinton also warns North Korea not to test-fire a long-range ballistic missile (see February 15, 2009).
'Old Wine in a New Bottle' - The senior editorial writer for South Korea’s Hankyoreh newspaper, Jungsoo Jang, calls the Clinton proposal little more than “old wine in a new bottle,” writing: “Of course, the side by side denuclearization and normalization plan elucidated by Clinton clearly does represent a considerable change from the Bush administration, which focused on a schematic view of denuclearization first, normalization second. But Clinton’s solution does have limitations, in that normalization of North Korea-US relations cannot be pursued as long as prior issues such as total abolition of nuclear weapons and suspicions about enriched uranium are not neatly resolved.” Jang says that a conflict between a more conservative camp and a more progressive camp in the Obama State Department is currently being won by the conservatives, who favor an emphasis on US-Japanese relations and a more direct, confrontational approach to dealing with North Korea’s nuclear program. [Hankyoreh, 2/16/2009]
Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union calls the case of alleged al-Qaeda detainee Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see June 23, 2003) a key test of “the most far-reaching use of detention powers” ever asserted by the executive branch. Al-Marri has spent five years incarcerated in the Charleston Naval Brig without being charged with a crime. “If President Obama is serious about restoring the rule of law in America, they can’t defend what’s been done to Marri. They would be completely buying into the Bush administration’s war on terror,” he says. Hafetz, who is scheduled to represent al-Marri before the Supreme Court in April, compares the Bush administration’s decision to leave al-Marri in isolation to his client’s being stranded on a desert island. “It’s a Robinson Crusoe-like situation,” he adds. Hafetz says that among the issues to be decided is “the question of who is a soldier, and who is a civilian.” He continues: “Is the fight against terrorism war, or is it not war? How far does the battlefield extend? In the past, they treated Peoria as a battlefield. Can an American be arrested in his own home and jailed indefinitely, on the say-so of the president?” Hafetz wants the Court to declare indefinite detention by executive fiat illegal. He also hopes President Obama will withdraw al-Marri’s designation as an enemy combatant and reclassify him as a civilian; such a move would allow al-Marri to either be charged with crimes and prosecuted, or released entirely. Civil liberties and other groups on both sides of the political divide have combined to file 18 amicus briefs with the Court, all on al-Marri’s behalf. The al-Marri decision will almost certainly impact the legal principles governing the disposal of the approximately 240 detainees still being held at Guantanamo.
Opinion of Former Bush Administration Officials - Former Bush State Department counsel John Bellinger says of his counterparts in the Obama administration: “They will have to either put up or shut up. Do they maintain the Bush administration position, and keep holding [al-]Marri as an enemy combatant? They have to come up with a legal theory.” He says that Obama officials will find it more difficult to put their ideals into action: “Governing is different from campaigning,” he notes, and adds that Obama officials will soon learn that “they can’t just set the clocks back eight years, and try every terror suspect captured abroad in the federal courts.” Former Attorney General John Ashcroft calls keeping al-Marri and other “enemy combatants” locked away without charges or trials a “sound decision” to “maximize the national interest,” and says that in the end, Obama’s approach will be much like Bush’s. “How will he be different?” he asks. “The main difference is going to be that he spells his name ‘O-b-a-m-a,’ not ‘B-u-s-h.’”
Current Administration's Opinion - Obama spokesman Larry Craig sums up the issue: “One way we’ve looked at this is that we own the solution. We don’t own the problem—it was created by the previous administration. But we’ll be held accountable for how we handle this.” [New Yorker, 2/23/2009]
In a speech at the Nixon Center, neoconservative guru Richard Perle (see 1965 and Early 1970s) attempts to drastically rewrite the history of the Bush administration and his role in the invasion of Iraq. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank writes that listening to Perle gave him “a sense of falling down the rabbit hole.” Milbank notes: “In real life, Perle was the ideological architect of the Iraq war and of the Bush doctrine of preemptive attack (see 1987-2004, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, March, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 15, 2001, September 19-20, 2001, November 14, 2001, November 14, 2001, November 18-19, 2001, May 2002, August 16, 2002, November 20, 2002, January 9, 2003, February 25, 2003, and March 27, 2003). But at yesterday’s forum of foreign policy intellectuals, he created a fantastic world in which:
Perle is not a neoconservative.
Neoconservatives do not exist.
Even if neoconservatives did exist, they certainly couldn’t be blamed for the disasters of the past eight years.” [Washington Post, 2/20/2009]
Perle had previously advanced his arguments in an article for National Interest magazine. [National Interest, 1/21/2009]
'No Such Thing as a Neoconservative Foreign Policy' - Perle tells the gathering, hosted by National Interest: “There is no such thing as a neoconservative foreign policy. It is a left critique of what is believed by the commentator to be a right-wing policy.” Perle has shaped the nation’s foreign policy since 1974 (see August 15, 1974, Early 1976, 1976, and Early 1981). He was a key player in the Reagan administration’s early attempts to foment a nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union (see Early 1981 and After, 1981 and Beyond, September 1981 through November 1983, May 1982 and After, and October 11-12, 1986). Perle denies any real involvement with the 1996 “Clean Break” document, which Milbank notes “is widely seen as the cornerstone of neoconservative foreign policy” (see July 8, 1996 and March 2007). Perle explains: “My name was on it because I signed up for the study group. I didn’t approve it. I didn’t read it.” In reality, Perle wrote the bulk of the “Clean Break” report. Perle sidesteps questions about the letters he wrote (or helped write) to Presidents Clinton and Bush demanding the overthrow of Saddam Hussein (see January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998, and September 20, 2001), saying, “I don’t have the letters in front of me.” He denies having any influence on President Bush’s National Security Strategy, which, as Milbank notes, “enshrin[ed] the neoconservative themes of preemptive war and using American power to spread freedom” (see May 1, 2001), saying: “I don’t know whether President Bush ever read any of those statements [he wrote]. My guess is he didn’t.” Instead, as Perle tells the audience: “I see a number of people here who believe and have expressed themselves abundantly that there is a neoconservative foreign policy and it was the policy that dominated the Bush administration, and they ascribe to it responsibility for the deplorable state of the world. None of that is true, of course.” Bush’s foreign policy had “no philosophical underpinnings and certainly nothing like the demonic influence of neoconservatives that is alleged.” And Perle claims that no neoconservative ever insisted that the US military should be used to spread democratic values (see 1965, Early 1970s, Summer 1972 and After, August 15, 1974, 1976, November 1976, Late November, 1976, 1977-1981, 1981 and Beyond, 1984, Late March 1989 and After, 1991-1997, March 8, 1992, July 1992, Autumn 1992, July 8, 1996, Late Summer 1996, Late Summer 1996, 1997, November 12, 1997, January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998, May 29, 1998, July 1998, February 1999, 2000, September 2000, November 1, 2000, January 2001, January 22, 2001 and After, March 12, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 24, 2001, September 25-26, 2001, October 29, 2001, October 29, 2001, November 14, 2001, November 20, 2001, November 29-30, 2001, December 7, 2001, February 2002, April 2002, April 23, 2002, August 6, 2002, September 4, 2002, November 2002-December 2002, November 12, 2002, February 2003, February 13, 2003, March 19, 2003, December 19, 2003, March 2007, September 24, 2007, and October 28, 2007), saying, “I can’t find a single example of a neoconservative supposed to have influence over the Bush administration arguing that we should impose democracy by force.” His strident calls for forcible regime change in Iran were not what they seemed, he says: “I’ve never advocated attacking Iran. Regime change does not imply military force, at least not when I use the term” (see July 8-10, 1996, Late Summer 1996, November 14, 2001, and January 24, 2004).
Challenged by Skeptics - Former Reagan administration official Richard Burt (see Early 1981 and After and May 1982 and After), who challenged Perle during his time in Washington, takes issue with what he calls the “argument that neoconservatism maybe actually doesn’t exist.” He reminds Perle of the longtime rift between foreign policy realists and neoconservative interventionists, and argues, “You’ve got to kind of acknowledge there is a neoconservative school of thought.” Perle replies, “I don’t accept the approach, not at all.” National Interest’s Jacob Heilbrunn asks Perle to justify his current position with the title of his 2003 book An End to Evil. Perle claims: “We had a publisher who chose the title. There’s hardly an ideology in that book.” (Milbank provides an excerpt from the book that reads: “There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust. This book is a manual for victory.”) Perle blames the news media for “propagat[ing] this myth of neoconservative influence,” and says the term “neoconservative” itself is sometimes little more than an anti-Semitic slur. After the session, the moderator asks Perle how successful he has been in making his points. “I don’t know that I persuaded anyone,” he concedes. [Washington Post, 2/20/2009]
'Richard Perle Is a Liar' - Harvard professor Stephen Walt, a regular columnist for Foreign Policy magazine, writes flatly, “Richard Perle is a liar.” He continues: “[K]ey neoconservatives like Douglas Feith, I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, and others [were] openly calling for regime change in Iraq since the late 1990s and… used their positions in the Bush administration to make the case for war after 9/11, aided by a chorus of sympathetic pundits at places like the American Enterprise Institute, and the Weekly Standard. The neocons were hardly some secret cabal or conspiracy, as they were making their case loudly and in public, and no serious scholar claims that they ‘bamboozled’ Bush and Cheney into a war. Rather, numerous accounts have documented that they had been openly pushing for war since 1998 and they continued to do so after 9/11.… The bottom line is simple: Richard Perle is lying. What is disturbing about this case is is not that a former official is trying to falsify the record in such a brazen fashion; Perle is hardly the first policymaker to kick up dust about his record and he certainly won’t be the last. The real cause for concern is that there are hardly any consequences for the critical role that Perle and the neoconservatives played for their pivotal role in causing one of the great foreign policy disasters in American history. If somebody can help engineer a foolish war and remain a respected Washington insider—as is the case with Perle—what harm is likely to befall them if they lie about it later?” [Foreign Policy, 2/23/2009]
Entity Tags: Richard Perle, Jacob Heilbrunn, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, George W. Bush, Douglas Feith, Dana Milbank, Bush administration (43), Stephen Walt, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Burt
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence
A Justice Department investigation finds that the legal work done by John Yoo and two other former Justice lawyers for the Bush administration was unacceptably deficient. Opinions written by Yoo, his former boss Jay Bybee of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), and Bybee’s successor, Steven Bradbury, often ignored legal precedent and existing case law as they took extralegal stances on a number of controversial issues, including torture and domestic surveillance. Many of the opinions, including the August 2002 “Golden Shield” memo (see August 1, 2002), were written specifically to authorize illegal acts such as waterboarding that had already taken place, in an apparent attempt to provide the Bush administration with retroactive legal “cover.” The investigation finds that in that memo, Yoo ignored the landmark 1952 Youngstown Supreme Court ruling (see June 2, 1952) that restricts presidential authority. The investigation also finds that in the March 2003 memo authorizing the military to ignore the law in using extreme methods in interrogating suspected terrorists (see March 14, 2003), Yoo ignored the advice of military lawyers and Justice Department officials who warned that the memo contained major legal flaws. In this and others of Yoo’s torture memos, the investigation finds that he went well beyond the legal bounds of interrogation methods, failed to cite legal cases that might have undercut the Bush administration’s claims of broad new war powers, and refused to rewrite his opinions in light of these caveats. And, the investigation finds, Yoo often went over the head of Attorney General John Ashcroft and dealt directly with the White House, particularly with White House lawyers David Addington and Alberto Gonzales. The investigation was headed by H. Marshall Jarrett, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), and has been in operation since 2004, following the Abu Ghraib torture scandal and the leak of one of Yoo’s “torture memos.” It is unclear whether the final OPR report will find that the actions of the former OLC lawyers rose to the level of “professional misconduct.” The report is being reviewed by Attorney General Eric Holder and other Justice Department officials. A draft was actually completed last year, and a copy was supposed to be given to Senators Richard Durbin (R-IL) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), but then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey repeatedly blocked the report’s release in order to give Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury time to prepare their responses. Durbin and Whitehouse have asked Jarrett to explain the delay in the report’s release. [Public Record, 2/22/2009]
Entity Tags: David S. Addington, Sheldon Whitehouse, Steven Bradbury, US Department of Justice, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Bush administration (43), Office of Professional Responsibility, Michael Mukasey, Eric Holder, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), H. Marshall Jarrett, Alberto R. Gonzales, John C. Yoo, John Ashcroft, Jay S. Bybee
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Department of Health and Human Services rescinds the controversial “conscience rule” that allows health care workers to refuse to provide abortion counseling or other family-planning services if doing so would violate their moral or religious beliefs. The rule was announced on December 19, 2008 as one of the Bush administration’s final policy initiatives. Seven states have already challenged the rule in court, arguing that it sacrifices the health of patients to religious beliefs of medical providers. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has reported numerous cases regarding the rule, including a Virginia mother of two who became pregnant after being denied emergency contraception, and a rape victim whose prescription for emergency contraception was rejected by a pharmacist. Obama officials say the administration will consider drafting a new rule to clarify what health care workers can reasonably refuse for patients. The public has 30 days to respond to the move before it becomes viable. Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, said in December that her organization supported the rule because in recent years “we have seen a variety of efforts to force Catholic and other health care providers to perform or refer for abortions and sterilizations.” However, opponents of the rule, including the American Medical Association, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, and Planned Parenthood, said it could have voided state laws requiring insurance plans to cover contraceptives and requiring hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims. It could also allow drugstore employees to refuse to fill prescriptions for contraceptives. And the Civil Rights Act of 1964 already offers broad protection against discrimination based on religion, mandating that an employer must make reasonable accommodations for an employee’s practices and beliefs. Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood says, “Today’s action by the Obama administration demonstrates that this president is not going to stand by and let women’s health be placed in jeopardy.” [Chicago Tribune, 2/27/2009; New York Times, 2/27/2009]
Entity Tags: Catholic Health Association, American Medical Association, American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Carol Keehan, US Department of Health and Human Services, National Association of Chain Drug Stores, Obama administration, Cecile Richards, Civil Rights Act of 1964, Bush administration (43), Planned Parenthood
Timeline Tags: US Health Care
According to media reports, the Obama administration intends to reverse the “right of conscience rule,” formally called the Provider Refusal Rule, for health care workers enacted by President Bush in the last weeks of his term. In December 2008, Bush issued an executive order allowing health care workers to deny care based on their personal beliefs. The order was issued to target doctors and nurses who do not want to provide abortions, even if they work in a facility that offers abortions to clients. Specifically, the rule denies Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) funding to institutions that do not allow workers to refuse care that goes against their beliefs. Now the Obama administration says President Obama will override that order. Seven states have already challenged the rule, claiming it sacrifices the health of patients in order to satisfy the religious or moral beliefs of medical personnel. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has reported cases such as that of a Virginia mother of two who became pregnant because she was denied emergency contraception; in Texas, the group said, a rape victim had her prescription for emergency contraception rejected by a pharmacist. Obama has already overturned a ban on US funding for international aid groups that provide abortion services. However, administration officials say the administration may consider a rule that would clarify what health care workers can reasonably refuse. An HHS spokesman says: “We recognize and understand that some providers have objections to providing abortions. But we do not want to impose new limitations on services that would allow providers to refuse to provide to women and their families services like family planning and contraception that would actually help prevent the need for an abortion in the first place.” Dr. Suzanne Poppema of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health praises Obama “for placing good health care above ideological demands,” and says: “Physicians across the country were outraged when the Bush administration, in its final days, limited women’s access to reproductive health care. Hundreds of doctors protested these midnight regulations and urged President Obama to repeal them quickly. We are thrilled that President Obama took the first steps today to ensure that our patients’ health is once again protected.” Tony Perkins of the anti-abortion Family Research Council (FRC) counters: “Protecting the right of all health care providers to make professional judgments based on moral convictions and ethical standards is foundational to federal law and is necessary to ensure that access to health care is not diminished, which will occur if health care workers are forced out of their jobs because of their ethical stances. President Obama’s intention to change the language of these protections would result in the government becoming the conscience and not the individual. It is a person’s right to exercise their moral judgment, not the government’s to decide it for them.” [Chicago Tribune, 2/27/2009; CNN, 2/27/2009; New York Times, 2/27/2009] The liberal Center for American Progress (CAP) writes in April 2009: “Conservatives have criticized the Obama administration for infringing upon the conscience of health care professionals and ‘forcing’ them to provide abortion services.… Yet this assertion could not be further from the truth. President Obama’s proposal to rescind Bush’s last-minute rule restores the pre-existing compromise established through decades of debate.” CAP notes that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act disallows employers from firing or harassing workers who decline to fulfill assigned tasks due to moral or religious objections. “Obama’s proposal to rescind the Bush ‘conscience’ rule simply restores the prior balance that existed on matters of conscience,” CAP concludes. “It once again guides the health care system to value the consciences of health care providers and patients.” [Jessica Arons and Sarah Dreier, 4/28/2009] However, for reasons never made publicly clear, the Obama administration will never actually rescind the order. It is possible that Obama or HHS officials bow to pressure from a number of organizations such as the FRC and the Christian Medical Association, which have continually pressured the administration not to rescind the order. [Fox News, 4/8/2009; Time, 2/4/2010; Megan Sullivan, 7/13/2010]
Entity Tags: American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Family Research Council, Christian Medical Association, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), Center for American Progress, Tony Perkins, George W. Bush, US Department of Health and Human Services, Obama administration, Provider Refusal Rule, Suzanne Poppema
Timeline Tags: US Health Care
Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that Iran is not close to having a nuclear weapon, which gives the US and other nations time to persuade Tehran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program. Gates tells NBC’s David Gregory, “They’re not close to a stockpile, they’re not close to a weapon at this point, and so there is some time.” Gates’s statement contradicts a recent warning from Admiral Michael Mullen, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who told a CNN audience that he believes Iran has enough fissile material to build a nuclear bomb (see March 1, 2009). Tehran insists that its nuclear program is strictly about producing electricity for peaceful purposes. Gates says there is “a continuing focus on how do you get the Iranians to walk away from a nuclear weapons program” in the Obama administration, just as had been in the Bush administration. Obama officials have called Tehran’s nuclear development program an “urgent problem,” and have said they favor a balance between economic sanctions and incentives for engagement. [Reuters, 3/1/2009]
Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean says that after reading the nine newly released Bush-era Justice Department memos that asserted sweeping powers for the president not granted by the Constitution (see March 2, 2009), “you’ve gotta almost conclude we had an unconstitutional dictator. It’s pretty deadly and pretty serious, what’s in these materials.” Anyone deemed a terrorist by President Bush could be kidnapped, incarcerated, and tortured, all without any legal recourse. “Who in this formula was supposed to decide that these were terrorists?” asks MSNBC host Keith Olbermann. Dean replies: “Well, according to these memos, that was rather limited to the president of the United States and there are no guidelines as to how he might describe who was or was not a terrorist. The president can unilaterally or, theoretically, even somebody he delegates can decide who indeed can be incarcerated, who can not. That is why I say, this is pretty close to being an unconstitutional dictator, in any definition under the law of this country.” [MSNBC, 3/2/2009; Raw Story, 3/3/2009]
The Justice Department defies a recent court order (see February 27, 2009) and refuses to provide a document that might prove the Bush administration conducted illegal wiretaps on a now-defunct Islamic charity. The Justice Department files a brief with a California federal district court challenging the court’s right to carry out its own decision to make that evidence available in a pending lawsuit. Even though the document is critical to the lawsuit, the lawyers can obtain the necessary top-secret clearances, and the document would not be made public, the Justice Department claims that the document cannot be entered into evidence. The lawyers for Al Haramain, the Islamic charity and the plaintiffs in the suit, calls the Justice Department’s decision “mind-boggling.”
Government's Position - For its part, the Justice Department writes in a brief that the decision to release the document “is committed to the discretion of the executive branch, and is not subject to judicial review.” The document has been in the possession of the court since 2004, when the government inadvertently released it to the plaintiffs. In the same brief, the Justice Department writes: “If the Court intends to itself grant access to classified information directly to the plaintiffs’ counsel, the government requests that the Court again provide advance notice of any such order, as well as an ex parte, in camera description of the information it intends to disclose, to enable the government to either make its own determination about whether counsel has a need to know, or to withdraw that information from submission to the Court and use in this case. If the Court rejects either action by the government, the government again requests that the Court stay proceedings while the government considers whether to appeal any such order.” The statement is an implied threat that the Justice Department lawyers will themselves physically remove the document from the court files if the judge says he has the right to allow Al Haramain’s lawyers to see it.
Response from Plaintiff's Attorney - Jon Eisenberg, a lawyer for Al-Haramain, says in an e-mail: “It’s a not-so-thinly veiled threat to send executive branch authorities (the FBI? the Army?) to Judge [Virginia] Walker’s chambers to seize the classified material from his files! In my view, that would be an unprecedented violation of the constitutional separation of powers. I doubt anything like it has happened in the history of this country.” Eisenberg says that the Obama administration, through the Justice Department, “seems to be provoking a separation-of-powers confrontation with Judge Walker.”
Administration's Second Use of State Secrets - This is the second time the Obama administration has invoked the “state secrets” privilege to keep information secret (see February 9, 2009). Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) says: “In the Bush administration, the state secrets doctrine was used to buttress the power of the president and make it difficult if not impossible to contest such issues as presidential authority to conduct warrantless wiretapping in the United States. We would think that when such disagreements occur, it’s properly before the judiciary to resolve them. But the Bush administration asserted the state secrets doctrine for the purpose of making it effectively impossible for courts to review the matter.” The Al Haramain case is significant because of “the apparent willingness of the Obama administration’s Justice Department to carry further that same argument in federal court. It is of great concern.” [Washington Independent, 3/2/2009]
Some of the Justice Department memos released today. [Source: Los Angeles Times]The Department of Justice releases nine memos written after the 9/11 attacks that claimed sweeping, extraconstitutional powers for then-President Bush. The memos, written primarily by John Yoo of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), claim that Bush could, if he desired, order military raids against targets within the US, and order police or military raids without court warrants (see October 23, 2001). The only justification required would be that Bush had declared the targets of such raids to be suspected terrorists. Other powers the president had, according to the memos, were to unilaterally abrogate or abandon treaties with foreign countries, ignore Congressional legislation regarding suspected terrorists in US detention (see March 13, 2002), suspend First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and information dissemination (see October 23, 2001), and conduct a program of warrantless domestic surveillance (see September 25, 2001). In January, an opinion issued by the OLC claimed that the opinions of the earlier memos had not been acted upon since 2003, and were generally considered unreliable (see January 15, 2009). Attorney General Eric Holder, who signed off on the release of the memos, says: “Too often over the past decade, the fight against terrorism has been viewed as a zero-sum battle with our civil liberties. Not only is that thought misguided, I fear that in actuality it does more harm than good.” [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ; US Department of Justice, 3/2/2009; US Department of Justice, 3/2/2009; New York Times, 3/2/2009]
Memos Laid Groundwork for Warrantless Wiretapping - Though many of the powers said to belong to the president in the memos were never exercised, the assertions led to the warrantless wiretapping of US citizens (see December 15, 2005 and Spring 2004) and the torture of detained terror suspects. [Newsweek, 3/2/2009]
'How To ... Evade Rule of Law' - Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says the memos begin “to provide details of some of the Bush administration’s misguided national security policies” that have long been withheld from public scrutiny. Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch says the memos collectively “read like a how-to document on how to evade the rule of law.” [Washington Post, 3/3/2009] Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies says that the memos were part of a larger effort “that would basically have allowed for the imposition of martial law.” [Newsweek, 3/2/2009]
'Tip of Iceberg' - The memos are, according to a former Bush administration lawyer, “just the tip of the iceberg” in terms of what the Bush administration authorized. Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says the Bush administration memos “essentially argue that the president has a blank check to disregard the Constitution during wartime, not only on foreign battlefields, but also inside the United States.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/3/2009] The ACLU, which has sued to obtain these and other memos, applauds the release of the documents, and says it hopes this is the first step in a broader release. [Reuters, 3/2/2009]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) welcomes the release of nine Bush administration documents that detail that administration’s policies on detainee interrogation and torture (see March 2, 2009). Jameel Jaffer, the director of the ACLU National Security Project, says in a statement: “We welcome the Justice Department’s decision to release these memos, some of which provided the basis for the Bush administration’s unlawful national security policies. These memos essentially argue that the president has a blank check to disregard the Constitution during wartime, not only on foreign battlefields, but also inside the United States. We hope today’s release is a first step, because dozens of other OLC [Office of Legal Counsel] memos, including memos that provided the basis for the Bush administration’s torture and warrantless wiretapping policies, are still being withheld. In order to truly turn the page on a lawless era, these memos should be released immediately.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 3/2/2009]
Columnist and international law expert Scott Horton writes of his horror and shock at the nine just-released Bush administration memos from the Justice Department designed to grant President Bush extraordinary executive authority (see March 2, 2009).
'Disappearing Ink' - Horton writes: “Perhaps the most astonishing of these memos was one crafted by University of California at Berkeley law professor John Yoo. He concluded that in wartime, the president was freed from the constraints of the Bill of Rights with respect to anything he chose to label as […] counterterrorism operations inside the United States” (see October 23, 2001, and October 23, 2001). Horton continues: “John Yoo’s Constitution is unlike any other I have ever seen. It seems to consist of one clause: appointing the president as commander in chief. The rest of the Constitution was apparently printed in disappearing ink.”
Timing of Repudiation Proves Bush Officials Found Claims Useful - Horton has no patience with the claims of former Office of Legal Counsel chief Steven Bradbury that the extraordinary powers Yoo attempted to grant Bush were not used very often (see January 15, 2009). “I don’t believe that for a second,” Horton notes, and notes Bradbury’s timing in repudiating the Yoo memos: five days before Bush left office. “Bradbury’s decision to wait to the very end before repealing it suggests that someone in the Bush hierarchy was keen on having it,” Horton asserts.
Serving Multiple Purposes - The memos “clear[ly]” served numerous different purposes, Horton notes. They authorized, or provided legal justification for, the massive domestic surveillance programs launched by military agencies such as the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency (see September 25, 2001). But the memos went much farther, Horton says: “[T]he language of the memos suggest that much more was afoot, including the deployment of military units and military police powers on American soil. These memos suggest that John Yoo found a way to treat the Posse Comitatus Act as suspended.” They also gave Bush the apparent legal grounds to order the torture of people held at secret overseas sites (see March 13, 2002), and to hold accused terrorist Jose Padilla without charge or due process, even though the administration had no evidence whatsoever of the crimes he had been alleged to commit (see June 8, 2002).
American Dictatorship - Horton’s conclusion is stark. “We may not have realized it at the time, but in the period from late 2001-January 19, 2009, this country was a dictatorship,” he writes. “The constitutional rights we learned about in high school civics were suspended. That was thanks to secret memos crafted deep inside the Justice Department that effectively trashed the Constitution. What we know now is likely the least of it.” [Harper's, 3/3/2009]
Legal experts and civil libertarians are “stunned” by the recently released memos from the Bush-era Justice Department which assert sweeping powers for the president not granted by the Constitution (see March 2, 2009 and March 3, 2009). Yale law professor Jack Balkin calls the memos a demonstration of the Bush “theory of presidential dictatorship.” Balkin continues: “They say the battlefield is everywhere. And the president can do anything he wants, so long as it involves the military and the enemy.… These views are outrageous and inconsistent with basic principles of the Constitution as well as with two centuries of legal precedents. Yet they were the basic assumptions of key players in the Bush administration in the days following 9/11.” George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr agrees. “I agree with the left on this one,” he says. The approach in the memos “was simply not a plausible reading of the case law. The Bush [Office of Legal Counsel, or OLC] eventually rejected [the] memos because they were wrong on the law—and they were right to do so” (see January 15, 2009). Balkin says the time period of most of the memos—the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks—merely provided a convenient excuse for the administration’s subversion of the Constitution. “This was a period of panic, and panic creates an opportunity for patriotic politicians to abuse their power,” he says. [Jack Balkin, 3/3/2009; Los Angeles Times, 3/4/2009] Civil litigator and columnist Glenn Greenwald writes that the memos helped provide the foundation for what he calls “the regime of secret laws under which we were ruled for the last eight years… the grotesque blueprint for what the US government became.” [Salon, 3/3/2009] Duke University law professor Walter Dellinger says that, contrary to the memos’ assertion of blanket presidential powers in wartime, Congress has considerable powers during such a time. Congress has, according to the Constitution, “all legislative powers,” including the power “to declare war… and make rules concerning captures on land and water” as well as “regulation of the land and naval forces.” Dellinger, who headed the OLC during the Clinton administration, continues: “You can never get over how bad these opinions were. The assertion that Congress has no role to play with respect to the detention of prisoners was contrary to the Constitution’s text, to judicial precedent, and to historical practice. For people who supposedly follow the text [of the Constitution], what don’t they understand about the phrase ‘make rules concerning captures on land and water’?” [Los Angeles Times, 3/4/2009]
David Rivkin, a lawyer in the Justice Department during the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Rivkin is testifying in regards to committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT)‘s proposal to form a Congressional “Truth Commission” to investigate the Bush administration’s conduct of its “war on terror.” Rivkin, like many other Bush supporters, is opposed to such a commission. He tells the committee: “Yes, mistakes were made. Yes, some bad things happened. But compared with the historical baseline of past wars, the conduct of the United States in the past eight years… has been exemplary.” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) disagrees. He responds, “I would suggest, Mr. Rivkin, that until you know, and we all know, what was done under the Bush administration, you not be so quick to throw other generations of Americans under the bus, and assume that they did worse.” [TPM Muckraker, 3/4/2009]
Karen Greenberg, the executive director of the Center on Law and Security at the New York University School of Law, asks when the Obama administration intends on closing down the detention facility at Bagram Air Force Base (see October 2001). The facility has been the site of repeated torture and brutalization of prisoners (see January 2002, March 15, 2002, April-May 2002, Late May 2002, June 4, 2002-early August 2002, June 5, 2002, July 2002, August 22, 2002, Late 2002-February 2004, Late 2002 - March 15, 2004, December 2002, December 2002, December 1, 2002, December 5-9, 2002, December 8, 2002-March 2003, December 26, 2002, Beginning 2003, February 2003, Spring 2003, October 2004, and May 20, 2005). Greenberg calls it a “far grimmer and more important American detention facility” than Guantanamo.
Little Information on Prisoners - Greenberg is unable to elicit specific information about how many prisoners are currently incarcerated at Bagram, who they are, where they are from, how they are classified—prisoners of war, enemy combatants, “ghost” detainees—how they are being treated, what human rights organizations have access to them, or what, if any, legal proceedings they have been put through. “It turns out that we can say very little with precision or confidence about that prison facility or even the exact number of prisoners there,” she writes. “News sources had often reported approximately 500-600 prisoners in custody at Bagram, but an accurate count is not available. A federal judge recently asked for ‘the number of detainees held at Bagram Air Base; the number of Bagram detainees who were captured outside Afghanistan; and the number of Bagram detainees who are Afghan citizens,’ but the information the Obama administration offered the court in response remains classified and redacted from the public record. We don’t even know the exact size of the prison or much about the conditions there, although they have been described as more spartan and far cruder than Guantanamo’s in its worst days. The International Committee of the Red Cross has visited the prison, but it remains unclear whether they were able to inspect all of it. A confidential Red Cross report from 2008 supposedly highlighted overcrowding, the use of extreme isolation as a punishment technique, and various violations of the Geneva Convention.”
Plans to Expand Facility - Greenberg says that the government is planning a large expansion of the Bagram facility, which is envisioned as holding up to 1,100 prisoners. She recommends:
The administration stop being secretive about Bagram and release complete information on the prisoners being held there, or at the very least admit why some information cannot be released. “Otherwise, the suspicion will always arise that such withheld information might be part of a cover-up of government incompetence or illegality.”
The reclassification of all detainees as “prisoners of war” who are protected under the Geneva Conventions. “Currently, they are classified as enemy combatants, as are the prisoners at Guantanamo, and so, in the perverse universe of the Bush administration, free from any of the constraints of international law. The idea that the conventions are too ‘rigid’ for our moment and need to be put aside for this new extra-legal category has always been false and pernicious, primarily paving the way for the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques.’”
The rejection of the idea of “ghost prisoners” at Bagram or anywhere else. “The International Committee of the Red Cross must be granted access to all of the prisons or prison areas at Bagram, while conditions of detention there should be brought into accordance with humane treatment and standards.”
The re-establishment of a presumption of innocence. “The belief that there is a categorical difference between guilt and innocence, which went by the wayside in the last seven years, must be restored. All too often, the military brass still assumes that if you were rounded up by US forces, you are, by definition, guilty. It’s time to change this attitude and return to legal standards of guilt.”
Greenberg concludes: “In the Bush years, we taught the world a series of harmful lessons: Americans can be as cruel as others. Americans can turn their backs on law and reciprocity among nations as efficiently as any tribally organized dictatorship. Americans, relying on fear and the human impulse toward vengeance, can dehumanize other human beings with a fervor equal to that of others on this planet. It’s time for a change. It’s time, in fact, to face the first and last legacy of Bush detention era, our prison at Bagram Air Base, and deal with it.” [TomDispatch (.com), 3/5/2009]
John Boehner (R-OH), the House Minority Leader, calls on the Obama administration to implement a freeze on government spending, and for President Obama to veto a $410 billion spending bill. Boehner says recent spikes in unemployment figures are a sign of a worsening recession, and the only way to address the recession is to freeze government spending until the end of the fiscal year. He calls the spending bill, crafted in December with input from Congressional Democrats and Republicans as well as from the Bush White House, full of wasteful “earmarks” and “pork.” [Associated Press, 3/6/2009] Boehner introduces a resolution calling for the freeze in the House; it fails, even though all House Republicans present for the vote and eight Democrats vote for it. [Human Events, 3/6/2008] Two days after Boehner’s call for a spending freeze, conservative columnist David Brooks calls the proposal “insane” and blames the influence of conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh for the idea. Brooks says that Limbaugh and the Republican Party is fixated on repeating a Reagan-era economic agenda. “The problem with them and the problem with Limbaugh in terms of intellectual philosophy is they are stuck with Reagan,” Brooks says. “They are stuck with the idea that government is always the problem. A lot of Republicans up in Capitol Hill right now are calling for a spending freeze in a middle of a recession/depression. That is insane. But they are thinking the way they thought in 1982, if we can only think that way again, that is just insane. And there are a lot of Republicans like David Frum… who are trying to say Reagan was right for his era, but it is time to move on. And there are just not a lot of them on Capitol Hill right now, and I think the party is looking for that kind of Republican.” [Huffington Post, 3/8/2009]
Conservative pundit Ann Coulter tells a New York Times reporter that the editorial staff of the Times—which she brands the “Treason Times”—should have been executed for treason for revealing the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). Coulter responded to a set of questions e-mailed to her regarding her upcoming debates with political satirist Bill Maher. Asked if she believes she speaks for the conservative movement, for her own fan base, or someone else, she answers, “I think I speak for all Americans who think newspaper editors who print the details of top secret anti-terrorist intelligence gathering programs on page one in wartime should be executed for treason.” [New York Times, 3/9/2009]
The New York Review of Books publishes a lengthy article documenting the Red Cross’s hitherto-secret report on US torture practices at several so-called “black sites.” The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a report on “The Black Sites” in February 2007 (see October 6 - December 14, 2006), but that report has remained secret until now. These “black sites” are secret prisons in Thailand, Poland, Afghanistan, Morocco, Romania, and at least three other countries (see October 2001-2004), either maintained directly by the CIA or used by them with the permission and participation of the host countries.
Specific Allegations of Torture by Official Body Supervising Geneva - The report documents the practices used by American guards and interrogators against prisoners, many of which directly qualify as torture under the Geneva Conventions and a number of international laws and statutes. The ICRC is the appointed legal guardian of Geneva, and the official body appointed to supervise the treatment of prisoners of war; therefore, its findings have the force of international law. The practices documented by the ICRC include sleep deprivation, lengthy enforced nudity, subjecting detainees to extensive, intense bombardment of noise and light, repeated immersion in frigid water, prolonged standing and various stress positions—sometimes for days on end—physical beatings, and waterboarding, which the ICRC authors call “suffocation by water.” The ICRC writes that “in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they [the detainees] were subjected while held in the CIA program… constituted torture.” It continues, “In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” Both torture and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” are specifically forbidden by Geneva and the Convention Against Torture, both of which were signed by the US (see October 21, 1994). The 14 “high-value detainees” whose cases are documented in the ICRC report include Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), and Tawfiq bin Attash (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004). All 14 remain imprisoned in Guantanamo. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009 ; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] Based on the ICRC report and his own research, Danner draws a number of conclusions.
The US government began to torture prisoners in the spring of 2002, with the approval of President Bush and the monitoring of top Bush officials, including Attorney General John Ashcroft. The torture, Danner writes, “clearly violated major treaty obligations of the United States, including the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, as well as US law.”
Bush, Ashcroft, and other top government officials “repeatedly and explicitly lied about this, both in reports to international institutions and directly to the public. The president lied about it in news conferences, interviews, and, most explicitly, in speeches expressly intended to set out the administration’s policy on interrogation before the people who had elected him.”
Congress was privy to a large amount of information about the torture conducted under the aegis of the Bush administration. Its response was to pass the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006), which in part was designed to protect government officials from criminal prosecutions under the War Crimes Act.
While Congressional Republicans were primarily responsible for the MCA, Senate Democrats did not try to stop the bill—indeed, many voted for it. Danner blames the failure on its proximity to the November 2006 midterm elections and the Democrats’ fear of being portrayed as “coddlers of terrorists.” He quotes freshman Senator Barack Obama (D-IL): “Soon, we will adjourn for the fall, and the campaigning will begin in earnest. And there will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be criticized as caring more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans. And I know that the vote before us was specifically designed and timed to add more fuel to that fire.” (Obama voted against the MCA, and, when it passed, he said, “[P]olitics won today.”)
The damage done to the US’s reputation, and to what Danner calls “the ‘soft power’ of its constitutional and democratic ideals,” has been “though difficult to quantify, vast and enduring.” Perhaps the largest defeat suffered in the US’s “war on terror,” he writes, has been self-inflicted, by the inestimable loss of credibility in the Muslim world and around the globe. The decision to use torture “undermin[ed] liberal sympathizers of the United States and convinc[ed] others that the country is exactly as its enemies paint it: a ruthless imperial power determined to suppress and abuse Muslims. By choosing to torture, we freely chose to become the caricature they made of us.”
A Need for Investigation and Prosecution - Danner is guardedly optimistic that, under Democratic leadership in the White House and Congress, the US government’s embrace of torture has stopped, and almost as importantly, the authorization and practice of torture under the Bush administration will be investigated, and those responsible will be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. But, he notes, “[i]f there is a need for prosecution there is also a vital need for education. Only a credible investigation into what was done and what information was gained can begin to alter the political calculus around torture by replacing the public’s attachment to the ticking bomb with an understanding of what torture is and what is gained, and lost, when the United States reverts to it.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Abu Zubaida, New York Review of Books, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, John Ashcroft, International Committee of the Red Cross, Mark Danner
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that the Obama administration’s policies endanger America, and defends his administration’s actions, including warrantless wiretapping, torture of suspected terrorists, and its economic policies. Using torture against suspected terrorists and wiretapping Americans without court orders were both “absolutely essential” to get information needed to prevent terrorist attacks similar to that of 9/11, Cheney tells a CNN audience, though he does not use the word “torture.” But Obama’s new policies are putting America at risk, he says: “President Obama campaigned against it all across the country, and now he is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack.”
'Pre-9/11 Mindset' - Cheney says to return to a pre-9/11 mindset of treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue, rather than a military problem, is a mistake: “When you go back to the law enforcement mode, which I sense is what they’re doing, closing Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009) and so forth… they are very much giving up that center of attention and focus that’s required, that concept of military threat that is essential if you’re going to successfully defend the nation against further attacks.” Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA), appearing after Cheney, counters Cheney’s arguments, saying that the Bush/Cheney policies undercut “what is actually the source of America’s greatness—our principles.” Sestak asks, “How can we say that keeping a man in a black hole forever—perpetually in a black hole—and saying, ‘Let’s torture when we decide to,’ is what America stands for?” Sestak is a retired admiral who led the Navy’s anti-terrorism efforts.
Iraq a Success - As for Iraq, Cheney says that while his administration had to spend more money than it had anticipated, and although over 4,200 US soldiers have lost their lives fighting in that country, the invasion and occupation of Iraq is an almost-unvarnished success. The US has “accomplished nearly everything we set out to do” in Iraq, including establishing a democratic government in the Middle East, Cheney says. Cheney answers questions about the threat of supposed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction by saying, “We’ve eliminated that possibility.” Sestak disagrees, saying the problems the Bush/Cheney policies in Iraq created have overshadowed the “whole fabric” of US national security: “The cost of this war is something that I strongly believe has far, far hurt us. We’re going to recover, because we’re Americans. But Iraq was just one piece of our security, and this administration failed to realize that.”
Opposition to Hill as Iraqi Ambassador - Cheney says he does not support the Obama administration’s choice of Christopher Hill as the ambassador to Iraq (see March 18, 2009). Hill successfully concluded negotiations with North Korea during the last years of the Bush administration, but Cheney repudiates his accomplishments. “I did not support the work that Chris Hill did with respect to North Korea,” he says, and adds that Hill lacks the Middle East experience necessary for him to represent the US in Baghdad. “I think it’s a choice that I wouldn’t have made,” he says. [CNN, 3/15/2009]
The F-22 Raptor. [Source: AeroSpaceWeb (.org)]According to the Boston Globe, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is preparing to announce sweeping cuts in weapons programs over the following months. Gates, the only holdover in the Obama administration from the Bush cabinet, said before President Bush left office that the US “cannot expect to eliminate national security risks through higher defense budgets, to do everything and buy everything.” Whoever President Obama’s new defense secretary might be, he then said, would have to eliminate some costly hardware and invest in new tools for fighting insurgents. At that point, Gates did not know that he would be asked to stay on as defense secretary.
Scope of Cuts - Senior defense officials say that the impending program cuts will be the largest since the end of the Cold War, during the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. About a half-dozen programs will be canceled, including the Air Force’s F-22 fighter jet, a new Navy destroyer, Army ground combat vehicles, and other programs such as aircraft carriers and new nuclear weapons.
Gates' Role - The Globe reports: “As a former CIA director with strong Republican credentials, Gates is prepared to use his credibility to help Obama overcome the expected outcry from conservatives. And after a lifetime in the national security arena, working in eight administrations, the 65-year-old Gates is also ready to counter the defense companies and throngs of retired generals and other lobbyists who are gearing up to protect their pet projects.” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says, “He has earned a great deal of credibility over the past two years, both inside and outside the Pentagon, and now he is prepared to use it to lead the department in a new direction and bring about the changes he believes are necessary to protect the nation’s security.”
Support - James Shinn, who served under Gates as an assistant defense secretary in the Bush administration, says Gates is perhaps the only person in Washington who can make such drastic cuts happen: “He obviously has huge credibility as something of a hawk. No one can even remotely challenge Gates in terms of his well-informed and conservative approach toward threats and the weapon systems associated with threats.” Longtime Washington official Brent Scowcroft, one of Gates’ closest friends and mentors, says: “He is going to have a hard time. The resistance in the system is heavy. But that what Bob is trying to take on.”
Potential Opposition - However, any cuts will face strong opposition from defense contractors and members of Congress whose districts rely on defense monies. “There are so many people employed in the industry and they are spread across the country,” says William Cohen, a Republican who served as defense secretary in the Clinton administration. “Even though members of Congress may say, ‘It’s great that you are recommending the termination of X, Y, and Z,’ they will also say ‘that means 4,000 jobs in my state. Frankly, I can’t go along with that.’” The declining economy makes such arguments even more compelling, Cohen adds. [Boston Globe, 3/17/2009]
Journalist and author Mark Danner, who has just published a lengthy examination of torture under Bush administration policies (see March 15, 2009), says as long as the press continues to dodge the use of the word “torture,” the country will continue to have trouble coming to grips with the issues surrounding the policies. Danner, appearing on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, says the press continues to engage in a “semantic debate” over whether the US committed torture under the Bush administration. “One can continue to talk about torture is in the eye of the beholder, etc., etc., but frankly, nobody of any legal reputation believes that,” says Danner. Danner adds he is “frustrated by the practices of the press” that are “interfering with a clear debate.” Danner says: “I think the definitional question is extremely important, and… I think it’s extremely important to get by it already. We’re debilitated in that by some degree by the practices of the American press, frankly, which is that as long as the president or people in power continue to cling to a definition that they assert is the truth—as President Bush did when it came to torture, he said repeatedly the United States does not torture—the press feels obliged to report that and consider the matter as a question of debate.” [Think Progress, 3/17/2009]
Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff and now chairs the New America Foundation/US-Cuba 21st Century Policy Initiative, writes an op-ed titled “Some Truths about Guantanamo Bay” for the Washington Note. Wilkerson explains why he believes so many people were captured and so many of those were tortured, for so little gain, and in the process covers several other issues regarding the Bush administration.
Handling of Terror Suspects - Wilkerson writes that the entire process of capturing, detaining, and processing suspected Islamist militants was marked by incompetence and a casual, improvisational approach. Most of the “suspects” captured during the first weeks and months of the Afghanistan invasion (see October 7, 2001) were merely picked up in sweeps, or bought from corrupt regional warlords, and transported wholesale to a variety of US bases and military camps, and then sent to Guantanamo, mostly in response to then-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s exhortation to “just get the b_stards to the interrogators.” Wilkerson blames the civilian leadership, for failing to provide the necessary information and guidance to make sensible, informed decisions about who should and should not have been considered either terror suspects or potential sources of information. When detainees were found not to have had any ties to Islamist radical groups, nor had any real intelligence value, they were kept at Guantanamo instead of being released. Wilkerson writes that “to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership from virtually day one of the so-called Global War on Terror and these leaders already had black marks enough.… They were not about to admit to their further errors at Guantanamo Bay. Better to claim that everyone there was a hardcore terrorist, was of enduring intelligence value, and would return to jihad if released.” He writes that State Department attempts to rectify the situation “from almost day one” experienced almost no success.
Data Mining Called for Large Numbers of Detainees - Wilkerson notes what he calls “ad hoc intelligence philosophy that was developed to justify keeping many of these people,” a data mining concept called in the White House “the mosaic philosophy.” He explains: “Simply stated, this philosophy held that it did not matter if a detainee were innocent. Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance (this general philosophy, in an even cruder form, prevailed in Iraq as well, helping to produce the nightmare at Abu Ghraib). All that was necessary was to extract everything possible from him and others like him, assemble it all in a computer program, and then look for cross-connections and serendipitous incidentals—in short, to have sufficient information about a village, a region, or a group of individuals, that dots could be connected and terrorists or their plots could be identified. Thus, as many people as possible had to be kept in detention for as long as possible to allow this philosophy of intelligence gathering to work. The detainees’ innocence was inconsequential. After all, they were ignorant peasants for the most part and mostly Muslim to boot.” Unfortunately for this data mining effort, the gathering, cataloging, and maintenance of such information was carried out with what he calls “sheer incompetence,” rendering the information structure virtually useless either for intelligence or in prosecuting terror suspects.
No Information of Value Gained from Guantanamo Detainees - And, Wilkerson adds, he is not aware of any information gathered from Guantanamo detainees that made any real contribution to the US’s efforts to combat terrorism: “This is perhaps the most astounding truth of all, carefully masked by men such as Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney in their loud rhetoric—continuing even now in the case of Cheney—about future attacks thwarted, resurgent terrorists, the indisputable need for torture and harsh interrogation, and for secret prisons and places such as Gitmo.”
Hindrance to Prosecution - This incompetence in gathering and storing information had a powerful impact on the ability of the US to prosecute the two dozen or so detainees who actually might be what Wilkerson calls “hardcore terrorists.” For these and the other detainees, he writes, “there was virtually no chain of custody, no disciplined handling of evidence, and no attention to the details that almost any court system would demand” (see January 20, 2009).
Shutting Down Guantanamo - Wilkerson writes that the Guantanamo detention facility could be shut down much sooner than President Obama’s promised year (see January 22, 2009), and notes he believes a plan for shutting down the facility must have existed “[a]s early as 2004 and certainly in 2005.”
War on Terror Almost Entirely Political - Wilkerson charges that the Bush administration’s driving rationale behind the “never-ending war on terror” was political: “For political purposes, they knew it certainly had no end within their allotted four to eight years,” he writes in an op-ed about the US’s detention policies. “Moreover, its not having an end, properly exploited, would help ensure their eight rather than four years in office.”
Cheney's Criticisms of Obama 'Twisted ... Fear-Mongering' - Wilkerson excoriates former Vice President Dick Cheney for his recent statements regarding President Obama and the “war on terror” (see February 4, 2009). Instead of helping the US in its fight against al-Qaeda and Islamic terrorism, Wilkerson writes, Cheney is making that fight all the more difficult (see February 5, 2009). “Al-Qaeda has been hurt, badly, largely by our military actions in Afghanistan and our careful and devastating moves to stymie its financial support networks. But al-Qaeda will be back. Iraq, Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, heavily-biased US support for Israel, and a host of other strategic errors have insured al-Qaeda’s resilience, staying power, and motivation. How we deal with the future attacks of this organization and its cohorts could well seal our fate, for good or bad. Osama bin Laden and his brain trust, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are counting on us to produce the bad. With people such as Cheney assisting them, they are far more likely to succeed.” [Washington Note, 3/17/2009]
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