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Lawyers refile a civil suit against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on behalf of “enemy combatant” Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who has been in US custody since late 2001 (see December 12, 2001) and was designated as an enemy combatant a year and a half later (see June 23, 2003). Al-Marri is asking the federal district court in South Carolina to declare unconstitutional what he, through his lawyers, calls the severe and unnecessary deprivations and restrictions to which he has been subjected since he was placed in military custody. Al-Marri had already filed a suit challenging the legality of his detention on habeas corpus grounds, a lawsuit that was ultimately dismissed (see October 4, 2004). Human Rights Watch director Jamie Fellner says: “It is bad enough that al-Marri has been held indefinitely without charges and incommunicado. Now we learn that his life in the brig has also been one of cruelty and petty vindictiveness.” [Human Rights Watch, 8/8/2005]
Allegations of Cruel Treatment - Al-Marri is currently the only known person designated as an enemy combatant still in legal limbo. He has been in solitary confinement since his December 2001 arrest, and in Guantanamo since mid-2003. Al-Marri was sent to the Charleston, South Carolina Naval brig once he was designated as an enemy combatant, isolated in a lightless cell hardly larger than a closet, and since then, his lawyers say, he has been subjected to deprivations of the most basic kinds, including shoes, socks, blankets, toilet paper, toothpaste, and sunlight. Sometimes he is denied water. During the day his mattress is removed. His captors often turn the temperature down in his cell to near-freezing conditions, but do not give him extra clothes or blankets. He is provided three short “recreation” sessions a week—in handcuffs and leg irons—but those are often denied him. He is allowed three showers a week, again in handcuffs and leg irons. He has been denied access to medical care. A devout Muslim, he is not given the basic necessities for religious observances—his captors even refuse to tell him which way to face towards Mecca, an essential element of daily devotions. Letters from his wife and children are heavily censored. Privileged notes he has written to his lawyer have been confiscated and not returned. He is subjected to constant video surveillance. He was repeatedly interrogated, his lawyers say, but has not been interrogated for a year. His captors have repeatedly threatened his family, telling him that he would be sent to Egypt or Saudi Arabia, where he would be tortured and sodomized and his wife raped in front of him. According to the lawsuit, his captors falsely told him that, because of him, his father and four of his brothers were in jail, and that if he cooperated, they would be released.
Commentary - “Mr. al-Marri has been detained at a naval brig for two-and-a-half years in cell that is 9 feet by 6 feet,” says law professor Jonathan Hafetz, who will become one of al-Marri’s lawyers. “During that time he has long been denied books, news, any contact with the outside world other than his attorneys, including his wife and five children, who he has neither seen nor spoken to. I mean things that we don’t even do to people who’ve been convicted of crimes.” Fellner says: “It’s the combination of restrictions imposed on al-Marri that offends basic norms of decency. There is no security justification for them. The Pentagon apparently believes it can hold him under any conditions they choose for as long as they choose.” [Human Rights Watch, 8/8/2005; Associated Press, 8/9/2005; Al-Marri v. Rumsfeld, 8/9/2005 ; CNN, 12/13/2005]
Military Denies Mistreatment - The military denies that al-Marri has been mistreated. [CNN, 12/13/2005] Defense spokesman Navy Lieutenant Commander J. D. Gordon says in 2007, “The government in the strongest terms denies allegations of torture, allegations made without support and without citing a shred of record evidence. It is our policy to treat all detainees humanely.” [Progressive, 3/2007]
The outgoing Saudi ambassador to Britain, Prince Turki al-Faisal, criticizes the Blair government over its lack of response to terrorism and says that MI5 is hampering efforts to clamp down. Prince Turki describes his experience: “When you call somebody, he says it is the other guy. If you talk to the security people, they say it is the politicians’ fault. If you talk to the politicians, they say it is the Crown Prosecution Service. If you call the Crown Prosecution service, they say, no, it is MI5. So we have been in this runaround…” Turki particularly criticizes the government’s failure to act against Saad al-Fagih of the movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia and Mohammed al-Massari. Al-Fagih is accused of being involved in the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) and a plot to assassinate King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. [London Times, 8/10/2005]
Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who has already tendered his resignation, gives his farewell speech to an assemblage in the Justice Department. Comey makes what author and reporter Charlie Savage will later call “a cryptic reference to the fights over warrantless surveillance and torture issues that he had fought alongside [former Office of Legal Counsel chief Jack] Goldsmith and the other non-team players” (see Late 2003-2005 and June 17, 2004). Comey tells the assembled employees that, during his tenure, he had dealt with issues that “although of consequence almost beyond my imagination, were invisible because the subject matter demanded it.” In these disputes, he says he worked with people whose loyalty “to the law… would shock people who are cynical about Washington.” Those people, he says, “came to my office, or my home, or called my cell phone late at night, to quietly tell me when I was about to make a mistake; they were people committed to getting it right—and to doing the right thing—whatever the price. These people know who they are. Some of them did pay a price for their commitment to [do] right, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.” [US Department of Justice, 8/15/2005; Consortium News, 2/8/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 199] Comey will later testify that one of the people he is referring to is former Justice Department lawyer Patrick Philbin. [Savage, 2007, pp. 199]
A protester holds a sign signifying his agreement with Pat Robertson’s call to assassinate Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. [Source: Foreign Policy Magazine]Right-wing Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson, a former Republican candidate for president, tells his viewing audience that the US should assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Robertson makes his statement on The 700 Club, the flagship broadcast of his Christian Broadcast Network. The US should assassinate Chavez to prevent Venezuela from becoming “a launching pad for communist infiltration and Muslim extremism.” Robertson says: “We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don’t need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator [referring to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein]. It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.… You know, I don’t know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war… and I don’t think any oil shipments will stop.” [Associated Press, 8/22/2005; Foreign Policy, 10/22/2010]
Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick tells reporters that if China continues to pursue energy contracts with Iran it will find itself increasingly in conflict with the United States. He adds that it isn’t clear whether the force behind China’s dealmaking comes from new Chinese oil companies or some government “strategic plan.” He also asserts that China will not be able to guarantee its energy security through contracts with countries such as Iran “because you can’t lock up energy resources” in the global marketplace. [Reuters, 9/6/2005]
During a news conference in Washington, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urges China, Russia, and India to support US threats of imposing sanctions against Iran for its nuclear programs. Iran needs to get a “unified message,” she says. “I think that after the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) report a couple of days ago, it is clear that Iran is not living up to its obligations, and so UN Security Council referral seems to be a reasonable option.” [US Department of State, 9/9/2005; BBC, 9/10/2005]
Author and journalist Melik Kaylan writes an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal advocating the mining of the entire Iraqi border—all 2,250 miles of it. Kaylan writes that if the US turned the entire Iraqi border into a minefield, the Iraqi insurrection could not be replenished with manpower and materiel from Syria and other sources. “Why has nobody publicly debated this idea?” he asks, and says the reason might be “the shock-horror-gasp factor” along with the late Princess Diana’s attempts to ban mines and bad memories of US mining efforts in Vietnam. However, he writes, “once tempers have cooled, it should become clear that of all the unpleasant products of war in Iraq, mining the border offers the least unpleasant.” The 2,250 mines can be laid out according to a strict plan, Kaylan advocates, and removed once hostilities have ended. “The point here is that a precisely ordered minefield is a weapon of peace, rather than war, a deterrent and a stabilizer,” he writes. “When done right, its aim is not to kill or maim but to take a swatch of territory out of the conflict—and to give relief to innocent border-area residents forced, at the point of a gun, to collaborate with infiltrators.” The proposal will not be given serious consideration by US or Iraqi war planners. [Wall Street Journal, 9/17/2005; Foreign Policy, 10/22/2010]
The six-way talks over North Korea’s nuclear program (see August 2003 and Spring and Summer 2005) finally bear fruit: all participants, including North Korea and the US, agree to “the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner.” The North Koreans had insisted that they were entitled to receive light-water nuclear reactors in return for disarming, a central provision of the 1994 Agreed Framework (see October 21, 1994). The US refused to agree, and the Chinese brokered a compromise statement in which North Korea “stated that it has the right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy” and that the “other parties expressed their respect” and will discuss the reactor demand “at an appropriate time.” But Bush administration conservatives, furious at the agreement, prevail on President Bush to modify the US’s position. The White House forces US negotiator Christopher Hill to read a hard-line statement written by Bush conservatives that defines the “appropriate time” for the reactor discussions as being after North Korea has unilaterally disarmed. Simultaneously, the Treasury Department announces its imposition of sanctions on an Asian bank for allegedly laundering North Korean funds. The North Koreans respond by walking out of the negotiations, leaving the agreement unsigned. They will not return to negotiations for 15 months. [BBC, 12/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 244]
New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman says: “I think we’re in the end game now.… I think we’re in a six-month window here where it’s going to become very clear and this is all going to pre-empt I think the next congressional election—that’s my own feeling—let alone the presidential one.” Friedman will continue predicting a resolution of the Iraq situation in “the next six months” until at least May 2006 (see May 6-11, 2006). [MSNBC, 9/25/2005; Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 5/16/2006]
Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, says there are no plans to use military force against Iran. “All United States presidents always say all options are open. But it is not on the table, it is not on the agenda. I happen to think that it is inconceivable,” he says, referring to President Bush’s history of stating “all options are on the table” when describing the situation with Iran. [Associated Press, 9/28/2005; Daily Telegraph, 9/28/2005]
Iran’s Supreme National Security Council spokesman, Ali Aghamohammadi, says that Iran has no intention of withdrawing from a multi-billion dollar deal to sell natural gas to India. There have been rumors that Iran, upset over India’s support of an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolution declaring Iran in breach of its Safeguard Agreements (see September 24, 2005), had informed India the deal was in jeopardy. “We have had good, deep relations with India in many fields and regional affairs and their behavior at the IAEA was strange and we didn’t expect them to vote against Iran,” he says. Nonetheless, “We don’t want to review our current relations with India and their vote against Iran doesn’t affect the gas project.” [BBC, 9/28/2005]
New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman says: “Maybe the cynical Europeans were right. Maybe this neighborhood is just beyond transformation. That will become clear in the next few months as we see just what kind of minority the Sunnis in Iraq intend to be. If they come around, a decent outcome in Iraq is still possible, and we should stay to help build it. If they won’t, then we are wasting our time.” Friedman will continue predicting a resolution of the Iraq situation in “the next six months” until at least May 2006 (see May 6-11, 2006). [New York Times, 9/28/2005]
Mother Jones reporter Jack Fairweather and his Iraqi colleague, Aqil Hussein, use tribal records to track down the real Lieutenant General Jamal al-Ghurairy. After 9/11, the Iraqi National Congress prepared an Iraqi defector to pose as al-Ghurairy for a sensational, and false, story claiming that the Hussein regime was training Islamist terrorists (see November 6-8, 2001). The general lives in his home town of Mahmudiya, and meets with the reporters. During their interview, al-Ghurairy grows increasingly angry. He says he never worked at the Salman Pak military installation, where the supposed terrorist training took place, but had been the commandant at the Suwara military base from 1993 until 2000. He says he has never spoken to US intelligence agents or military officials, and until now was unaware that someone had borrowed his identity to disseminate fabrications. “I have never met these people!” he storms. “I have not left Iraq. The people who say this were trying to use my name to make war!” Fairweather notes that he cannot independently verify al-Ghurairy’s identity, writing, “[R]ecords in Iraq are in considerable disarray, and many people have incentive to conceal the truth about their activities before and after the war—former generals are likely high on that list.” But Fairweather was able to corroborate al-Ghurairy’s information with other senior Iraqi officials, who confirmed that the training at the Salman Pak facility was for Iraqi special forces preparing to retake hijacked planes from terrorists. (They do confirm that some foreign fighters were housed at the facility in preparation for the US’s March 2003 invasion.) [Mother Jones, 4/2006]
Three war contractors for KBR, the firm supplying logistical support for US troops in Iraq and Kuwait, meet in a quiet lounge in London’s Cumberland Hotel. The three men are unaware that federal agents are tailing them. They spend the afternoon drinking and discussing the various bribes they have accepted as kickbacks as a routine part of doing business. KBR procurement manager Stephen Seamans, who, unbeknownst to his colleagues, is wearing a wire for the FBI, wonders whether or not he should return $65,000 in bribes his two fellows, executives from the Saudi conglomerate Tamimi Global Co, gave him. One of the two executives, Tamimi operations director Shabbir Khan, tells him to conceal the money by falsifying business records. “Just do the paperwork,” Khan advises. This and other information about KBR war profiteering in Iraq comes from a federal investigation that will begin in late 2007 (see October 2006 and Beyond). [Chicago Tribune, 2/20/2008; Chicago Tribune, 2/21/2008]
In their book The Next Attack, Daniel Benjamin, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and co-author Steven Simon write that neoconservative Laurie Mylroie’s theories about Iraq being behind every terrorist attack on the US since 1993 (see October 2000 and September 12, 2001) are simply unbelievable. They write: “Mylroie’s work has been carefully investigated by the CIA and the FBI.… The more knowledgeable analysts and investigators at the CIA and FBI believe that their work conclusively disproves Mylroie’s claims.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 216]
In an essay for the Virginia Law Review entitled “Liberalism, Torture, and the Ticking Bomb,” Georgetown law professor David Luban dismantles the familiar argument that torture of a detainee might be necessary to stop the so-called “ticking bomb scenario.” Author and former White House counsel John Dean, who quotes Luban in his 2006 book Conservatives Without Conscience, will describe the scenario and its ramifications thusly: “A nuclear bomb has been planted in the heart of a major American city and authorities have in custody a person who knows where it is located. To save possibly millions of lives, would it not be justified to torture this individual to get the necessary information to stop it? Absolutely. Is not this lesser evil justified? Of course it is. And this argument is a wonderful means to comfort those who have moral problems with torture. Its beauty is that once you concede there are circumstances in which torture might be justified, morally and legally… you are on the other side of the line. You’ve joined the torture crowd. To paraphrase [George W.] Bush, you’ve joined the evildoers.” Dean calls it “a bogus argument, a rhetorical device. It is seductively simple, and compellingly logical. But it is also pure fantasy.” The likelihood of such conditions are extremely remote, Dean writes, on the order of a giant meteor striking the Earth. Dean will cite Luban’s arguments as counters to the scenario. Luban writes, “[T]here are certain situations so monstrous that the idea that the processes of moral rationality could yield an answer in them is insane… to spend time thinking what one would decide if one were in such a situation is also insane, if not actually frivolous.” Luban notes that Senator John McCain (R-AZ), himself a victim of torture during the Vietnam War (see October 1, 2005 and November 21, 2005), “has said that ultimately the debate is over who we are. We will never figure that out until we stop talking about ticking bombs, and stop playing games with words.” [Dean, 2006, pp. 165]
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), an ardent opponent of torture by US officials (see November 21, 2005), continues to press an amendment to a $440 billion defense appropriations bill that prohibits cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners held in US captivity (see July 24, 2005 and After). The bill also posits the US Army Field Manual as the uniform standard for interrogations by any Defense Department personnel. The Field Manual is being revised, and Pentagon sources have claimed the revisions will include a section on the importance of following the Geneva Conventions. The amendment is facing stiff opposition from the White House, which asserts that it would encroach on the power of the president as the commander in chief, and would threaten national security by reducing the ability of military interrogators to obtain critical intelligence from prisoners. On the floor of the Senate, McCain reads a letter from former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had opposed Vice President Cheney on the issue of torture. Powell writes: “Our troops need to hear from Congress. The world will note that America is making a clear statement with respect to the expected future behavior of our soldiers.” McCain himself calls the White House’s legal theories on torture “strange,” and warns that enemies could use America’s justifications of torture as justifications for the torture of US captives. “We are Americans and we hold ourselves to humane standards of treatment of people no matter how evil or terrible they may be,” he says. Terrorists “don’t deserve our sympathy. But this isn’t about who they are. This is about who we are. These are the values that distinguish us from our enemies.” The White House continues to oppose the amendment. President Bush threatens to veto the entire bill, and Cheney circulates pro-torture talking points to friendly Congressional Republicans. Cheney, with CIA Director Porter Goss in tow, asks McCain to exempt CIA officials from the anti-torture amendment at the discretion of the president; McCain refuses. McCain is bolstered by a letter signed by over two dozen retired generals urging Congress to pass the amendment, including Powell and former Joint Chiefs chairman General John Shalikashvili. The amendment passes the Senate 90 to nine. However, the House leadership, steered by Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), refuses to allow the amendment into the House version by refusing to let the House vote on it at all. It will take a House-Senate conference committee to decide the fate of the amendment. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 195; Savage, 2007, pp. 221]
Dan Senor. [Source: ThinkProgress.org]Fox News analyst Dan Senor, the former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq [White House, 10/1/2006; Salon, 5/10/2008] , writes an article for the neoconservative magazine Weekly Standard about the upcoming trial of captured Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein. Senor writes that the trial will provide “a peek into the depths of human evil and, embarrassingly, if incidentally, into the concurrent indifference of Western nations to Iraqi suffering. Thus far, the accountability of Nuremberg, the Hague, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone has eluded Arab-Muslim leaders. This is about to change.” Senor also says that part of Hussein’s trial strategy will be to attempt to create sympathy for his “humiliation” that will translate into “a spike in the insurgency…” He notes that “an increase in violence is anticipated by Commanding General George Casey too.” [Weekly Standard, 10/2/2005] According to Pentagon documents released as part of the New York Times investigation into the Pentagon propaganda operation surrounding Iraq (see May 9, 2008), Senor routinely asks the advice of Pentagon public relations official Larry Di Rita about what he should say on his television broadcasts, and submits articles such as this to Di Rita for editing directions. [Salon, 5/10/2008]
Hundreds of women from 23 women’s organizations demonstrate outside the British Embassy in Tehran protesting Britain’s support of international efforts to deny Iran its right to have a civilian nuclear energy program. [United Press International, 10/3/2005]
Britain accuses Iran of having played a role in the transfer of explosive technology from Hezbollah in Lebanon to the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army in Iraq. British officials say Iran is responsible for the deaths of all eight UK soldiers killed in Iraq this year, all of whom died in explosions. Iran denies the charges. [BBC, 9/5/2005; Reuters, 10/6/2005]
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says that, despite reports to the contrary, there are no plans to establish direct diplomatic contact with Iran. “[T]here is no change in our policy with respect to Iran. I think that over the past, if anything, over the past weeks and months you have seen an even tougher-minded US policy as well as a tougher-minded policy from the international community with respect to Iran’s behavior,” he says. A recent State Department briefing paper reportedly suggested establishing direct diplomatic contact with Iran in an effort to reopen negotiations with the European Union. [Associated Press, 10/6/2005; US Department of State, 10/6/2005]
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rules that President Bush, as commander in chief, can continue to hold Jose Padilla (see June 9, 2002), a US citizen arrested on US soil (see June 8, 2002), indefinitely as an enemy combatant. Padilla is to be treated the same as an American captured on a foreign battlefield (see June 28, 2004). The majority ruling is written by Judge J. Michael Luttig, often thought of as a potential Bush Supreme Court nominee. Luttig rules there is “no difference in principle between [Yaser Esam] Hamdi (see June 28, 2004) and Padilla.” Bush’s “powers include the power to detain identified and committed enemies such as Padilla, who associated with al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime, and who entered the United States for the avowed purpose of further prosecuting [terrorism] by attacking American citizens and targets on our own soil.” Luttig ignores the fact that Padilla has never been charged, much less convicted, of any crime. When the Bush administration later charges Padilla as an ordinary criminal—and does not charge him with with any of the terrorist activities it had long alleged he had committed—many administration critics will conclude that, just as in the Hamdi case, the administration had used inflammatory rhetoric and baseless charges to obtain a judicial decision it wanted (see October 10, 2004). When Luttig learns of the administration’s actions, he will issue a supplementary opinion excoriating the White House (see December 21, 2005). [Savage, 2007, pp. 200]
The White House continues to fight against the McCain anti-torture amendment (see October 1, 2005). Vice President Cheney and CIA Director Porter Goss meet privately with Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the primary sponsor of the amendment, for 45 minutes to push a change in the language that would exempt CIA interrogators from the amendment’s restrictions. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write on the remarkable aspects of Cheney’s requests. For the first time, the CIA would be “clearly authorize[d] to engage in abusive interrogations. In effect, it would legalize the abuse of detainees in CIA prisons, a matter that had previously been a gray area at best.” McCain flatly rejects Cheney’s proposal, and later says: “I don’t see how you could possibly agree to legitimizing an agent of the government engaging in torture. No amendment at all would be better than that.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 220]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases a report that documents the death of 44 detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan while in US custody. Most died during interrogation. The report, based on government reports (including autopsy reports, death reports, and other documents turned over to the ACLU through a Freedom of Information Act request), finds that “detainees were hooded, gagged, strangled, beaten with blunt objects, subjected to sleep deprivation, and to hot and cold environmental conditions.” ACLU director Anthony Romero says: “There is no question that US interrogations have resulted in deaths. High-ranking officials who knew about the torture and sat on their hands and those who created and endorsed these policies must be held accountable. America must stop putting its head in the sand and deal with the torture scandal that has rocked our military.” The detainees died during or after interrogations by Navy SEALs, military intelligence officials, and “OGA” (Other Governmental Agency) personnel, a designation the ACLU says is usually used to refer to the CIA. Twenty-one of the 44 deaths were homicides, the ACLU says. Eight died from abusive techniques; autopsy reports show the causes of death were “strangulation,” “asphyxiation,” and “blunt force injuries.” Most of the “natural deaths” were attributed to what government doctors termed “Arteriosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease.” The ACLU notes that the report proves that detainees died not only at the hands of CIA personnel, but from abuse and maltreatment by Navy SEALs and military intelligence officials as well. The report cites, among other deaths, an Iraqi prisoner who died from hypothermia (see April 5, 2004), an Iraqi prisoner who was strangled and beaten to death (see January 9, 2004), an Iraqi general who died from smothering and “chest compressions” (see November 26, 2003), an Iraqi prisoner beaten and smothered to death (see Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003), two Afghani civilians beaten to death by US soldiers (see November 6, 2003 and December 10, 2002), and an older Iraqi man strangled to death while in US custody (see June 5, 2003). ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh says: “These documents present irrefutable evidence that US operatives tortured detainees to death during interrogations. The public has a right to know who authorized the use of torture techniques and why these deaths have been covered up.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/24/2005]
The media learns that Vice President Dick Cheney and staffers from the Office of the Vice President (OVP) regularly interfered with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2004 report on the intelligence community’s failures to accurately assess Iraq’s WMD threat (see July 9, 2004). According to administration and Congressional sources, that interference was facilitated and encouraged by committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS). Cheney and the OVP members regularly intervened in the committee’s deliberations, and drastically limited the scope of the investigation.
Protecting the Bush Administration - Reporter Laura Rozen will later write, “In order to prevent the White House and the Office of the Vice President itself from ever coming under any Congressional oversight scrutiny, Cheney exerted ‘constant’ pressure on [Roberts] to stall an investigation into the Bush administration’s use of flawed intelligence on Iraq.” Cheney and the OVP also withheld key documents from the committee. Some of the withheld materials included portions of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s February 2003 address to the United Nations (see February 5, 2003) that were written by Cheney’s then-chief of staff, Lewis Libby, and documents that Libby used to make the administration’s case for war with Iraq. The OVP also withheld the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) documents: written intelligence summaries provided to President Bush by the CIA. The decision to withhold the documents was spearheaded by Cheney’s chief legal counsel and chief of staff David Addington. Much of the withheld material, and Cheney-OVP interference, was designed to keep the committee from looking into the Bush administration’s use of intelligence findings to promote the war. According to committee member John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), Cheney attended regular policy meetings in which he gave White House orders to Republican committee staffers. It is “not hearsay,” Rockefeller says, that Cheney pushed Roberts to, in reporter Jonathan Landay’s words, “drag out the probe of the administration’s use of prewar intelligence.” The committee chose to defer the second portion of its report, about the administration’s use of intelligence to propel the nation to war, until after the November 2004 elections. That portion of the report remains uncompleted.
Shifting the Blame to the White House - Reporter Murray Waas writes, “Had the withheld information been turned over, according to administration and Congressional sources, it likely would have shifted a portion of the blame away from the intelligence agencies to the Bush administration as to who was responsible for the erroneous information being presented to the American public, Congress, and the international community.” He continues: “When the [report] was made public, Bush, Cheney, and other administration officials cited it as proof that the administration acted in good faith on Iraq and relied on intelligence from the CIA and others that it did not know was flawed. But some Congressional sources say that had the committee received all the documents it requested from the White House the spotlight could have shifted to the heavy advocacy by Cheney’s office to go to war. Cheney had been the foremost administration advocate for war with Iraq, and Libby played a central staff role in coordinating the sale of the war to both the public and Congress.” [National Journal, 10/27/2005; Wilson, 2007, pp. 381]
Entity Tags: Office of the Vice President, John D. Rockefeller, George W. Bush, David S. Addington, Colin Powell, Bush administration (43), Jonathan Landay, Murray Waas, Laura Rozen, Senate Intelligence Committee, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Pat Roberts
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
David Addington. [Source: Richard A. Bloom / Corbis]David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Dick Cheney, is named Cheney’s chief of staff to replace Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the Valerie Plame Wilson case (see February 13, 2002). [National Journal, 10/30/2005; MSNBC, 11/4/2005] Addington is described by one White House official as “the most powerful man you never heard of.” A former Justice Department official says of Addington, “He seems to have his hand in everything, and he has these incredible powers, energy, reserves in an obsessive, zealot’s kind of way.” He is, according to former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, Cheney’s “eyes, ears, and voice.” [US News and World Report, 5/21/2006] Addington is a neoconservative ideologue committed to dramatically expanding the power of the presidency, and a powerful advocate of the “unitary executive” theory of presidential power. He has been with Cheney for years, ever since Cheney chose him to serve as the Pentagon’s chief counsel while Cheney was Defense Secretary under Ronald Reagan. During that time, Addington was an integral part of Cheney’s battle to keep the Iran-Contra scandal from exploding (see 1984). [Washington Post, 10/11/2004; National Journal, 10/30/2005; MSNBC, 11/4/2005; US News and World Report, 5/21/2006] According to Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, documentary evidence shows that Cheney’s office, and Addington in particular, were responsible for giving at least tacit approval for US soldiers to abuse and torture prisoners in Iraq (see January 9, 2002). In an administration devoted to secrecy, Addington stands out in his commitment to keeping information away from the public. [Washington Post, 10/11/2004] Though Addington claims to have a lifelong love affair with the Constitution, his interpretation of it is somewhat unusual. One senior Congressional staffer says, “The joke around here is that Addington looks at the Constitution and sees only Article II, the power of the presidency.” [US News and World Report, 5/21/2006] Addington’s influence in the White House is pervasive. He scrutinizes every page of the federal budget, hunting for riders that might restrict the power of the president. He worked closely with Gonzales to oppose attempts by Congress to pry information from the executive branch, and constantly battles the State Department, whose internationalist philosophy is at odds with his and Cheney’s own beliefs. [Washington Post, 10/11/2004] Former Reagan Justice Department official Bruce Fein calls Addington the “intellectual brainchild” of overreaching legal assertions that “have resulted in actually weakening the presidency because of intransigence.” According to Fein, Addington and Cheney are doing far more than reclaiming executive authority, they are seeking to push it farther than it has ever gone under US constitutional authority. They have already been successful in removing executive restraints formerly in place under the War Powers Act, anti-impoundment legislation, the legislative veto and the independent counsel statute. “They’re in a time warp,” Fein says. “If you look at the facts, presidential powers have never been higher.” [Washington Post, 10/11/2004] “He thinks he’s on the side of the angels,” says a former Justice Department official. “And that’s what makes it so scary.” [US News and World Report, 5/21/2006]
Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, US Department of State, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, US Department of Justice, US Department of Defense, Ronald Reagan, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, National Security Council, Bruce Fein, Bradford Berenson, 9/11 Commission, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David S. Addington, John Bellinger, Jack Goldsmith, Lawrence Wilkerson, John C. Yoo, Valerie Plame Wilson
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
In 2004, Undersecretary of State John Bolton privately informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran is conducting research into the carefully timed detonations of conventional weapons needed to trigger a nuclear device. The tests, Bolton claimed, are being held at Parchin, a secret facility south of Tehran that hosts Iran’s Defense Industries Organization, and a site where large amounts of conventional weapons and chemical munitions and fuels are manufactured. Satellite imagery shows a bunker that might be suitable for such tests. IAEA inspectors are granted limited access to the site, and find no evidence of Bolton’s claims. “We found no evidence of nuclear materials,” a European diplomat associated with the IAEA will say in 2007. The underground explosive-testing pit, the diplomat will recall, “resembled what South Africa had when it developed its nuclear weapons” in the 1970s. While the bunker could be used for nuclear trigger testing, it could also serve other purposes, such as testing rocket fuel, which routinely takes place at Parchin. The diplomat will say, “The Iranians have demonstrated that they can enrich uranium, and trigger tests without nuclear yield can be done. But it’s a very sophisticated process—it’s also known as hydrodynamic testing—and only countries with suitably advanced nuclear testing facilities as well as the necessary scientific expertise can do it. I’d be very skeptical that Iran could do it.” In November 2006, Israel will claim that new satellite photos show further evidence of possible nuclear trigger testing. [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]
Joseph Galloway. [Source: National Public Radio]Veteran war correspondent Joseph Galloway, a stern critic of the Iraq policies of the administration and the Pentagon, journeys to the Pentagon for what he believes to be a one-on-one lunch with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The reporter is surprised to find that Rumsfeld has invited four colleagues along to assist him with Galloway: Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Richard Cody, the vice chief of staff of the Army; the director of the Joint Staff, Walter Sharp; and the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, Larry Di Rita. The highlights of the lunch discussion, which is marked by a series of digressions and tangential conversations, are as follows:
Rumsfeld tells Galloway, “I’m not hearing anything like the things you are writing about.” Galloway responds that he often found that people in positions of such power and influence rarely receive the unvarnished truth. Rumsfeld retorts: “Oh, I know that but I talk to lots of soldiers all the time. Why, I have given over 600 town hall meetings and anyone can ask me anything.”
Rumsfeld then shifts gears to visit one of Galloway’s favorite topics: the question of whether the US Army is broken. Far from being in poor shape, Rumsfeld asserts, the Army is “light years better than it was four years ago.” Galloway counters that Rumsfeld’s strategies are nonsensical if they result in Army and Marine soldiers being sent in endless forays down the same highways to die by roadside bombs. The US is playing to the insurgency’s strong suit, Galloway argues. Rumsfeld agrees, and says he has instructed the US commander in Iraq, General George Casey, to shift the focus from patrolling to “standing up” the Iraqi defense forces. He has told Iraq’s leaders that the US is losing the stomach for the ever-growing casualty count, “and they understand that and agree with it.” Galloway parries Rumsfeld’s talk with a question about the Army sending bill collectors after wounded soldiers who lost limbs in a bombing, or were “overpaid” for combat duty and benefits. Rumsfeld blames the Pentagon’s computer system, and says the problem is being addressed.
Rumsfeld agrees with one of Galloway’s columns that lambasted the Pentagon for doing enemy body counts. “We are NOT going to do body counts,” Rumsfeld asserts. Galloway retorts that the Pentagon is indeed doing body counts and releasing them, and has been doing so for a year. If you don’t want to do body counts, Galloway says, then stop doing them.
Throughout the conversation, Rumsfeld jots down notes on what he considers to be valid points or criticisms. Galloway writes: “Others at the table winced. They had visions of a fresh shower of the secretary’s famous ‘snowflakes,’ memos demanding answers or action or both.” Before Galloway leaves, Rumsfeld shows him some memorabilia and tells him, “I want you to know that I love soldiers and I care about soldiers. All of us here do.” Galloway replies that concern for the troops and their welfare and safety are his only purpose, “and I intend to keep kicking your butt regularly to make sure you stay focused on that goal.” As Galloway writes, “He grinned and said: ‘That’s all right. I can take it.’” [Knight Ridder, 11/2/2005]
Vice President Cheney appears at the weekly Republican senatorial luncheon in the Capitol and speaks against the McCain anti-torture amendment (see October 1, 2005 and October 20, 2005). He argues that CIA interrogations of high-value al-Qaeda prisoners have produced valuable information, and the president needs the power and flexibility to use torture against prisoners in order to fight terrorism and protect the nation. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the primary sponsor of the amendment, counters Cheney’s arguments during the same luncheon, arguing that the idea of the US torturing prisoners damages its standing with its international allies. [Savage, 2007, pp. 220] The next day, the Washington Post will publish an expose of the CIA’s secret prison network (see November 2-18, 2005), causing a firestorm of criticism and sparking a former Bush administration official to say that the “philosophical guidance” behind the torture of prisoners comes directly from Cheney’s office (see November 3, 2005).
The White House continues to battle a Senate-approved amendment against torture (see October 1, 2005). Vice President Cheney, the administration’s strongest voice in favor of torture, gathers a group of Republican senators and gives what is later described as an impassioned plea to let the CIA torture when necessary. President Bush needs that option, Cheney argues, and a prohibition against torture may eventually cost the nation “thousands of lives.” He cites alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed as one of torture’s success stories (see February 29 or March 1, 2003, Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003, and June 16, 2004). Cheney fails to tell the gathering that the US has overseen the torture of Mohammed’s wife and children, and that Mohammed was told that if he didn’t cooperate, his children would be subjected to further abuse (see After September 11, 2002). He also fails to tell them that the information elicited from Mohammed was considered unreliable (see Summer 2003), and that many of Mohammed’s interrogators felt that torture merely hardened his resistance. During the meeting, John McCain (R-AZ), the author of the anti-torture amendment, tells Cheney, “This is killing us around the world.” On November 4, the Republican House leadership postpones a vote on the amendment when it realizes the amendment will pass overwhelmingly. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 196]
Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, says that he has seen documents that show a “visible audit trail” that links the practice of abuse and torture of prisoners by US soldiers directly back to the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. “There’s no question in my mind,” he says, “where the philosophical guidance and the flexibility in order to [torture prisoners] originated—in the vice president of the United States’ office.” Wilkerson, while in Powell’s office, had access to a raft of documents concerning the allegations of prisoner abuse. He says that Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld led a quiet push to deny prisoners Geneva Convention protections. According to Wilkerson, Cheney’s then-chief counsel, David Addington (now Cheney’s chief of staff—see October 28, 2005), helped begin the process. Addington “was a staunch advocate of allowing the president in his capacity as commander in chief to deviate from the Geneva Conventions.” Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington, and others “began to authorize procedures within the armed forces that led to, in my view, what we’ve seen,” Wilkerson says. The Pentagon’s contentions that such prisoner abuses, particularly at Abu Ghraib, were limited to a few soldiers of low rank are false, he says: “I’m privy to the paperwork, both classified and unclassified, that the secretary of state asked me to assemble on how this all got started, what the audit trail was, and when I began to assemble this paperwork, which I no longer have access to, it was clear to me that there was a visible audit trail from the vice president’s office through the secretary of defense down to the commanders in the field that in carefully couched terms—I’ll give you that—that to a soldier in the field meant two things: We’re not getting enough good intelligence and you need to get that evidence, and, oh, by the way, here’s some ways you probably can get it. And even some of the ways that they detailed were not in accordance with the spirit of the Geneva Conventions and the law of war. You just—if you’re a military man, you know that you just don’t do these sorts of things because once you give just the slightest bit of leeway, there are those in the armed forces who will take advantage of that.” [Washington Post, 11/4/2005; Savage, 2007, pp. 220]
The US charges British citizen Binyam Ahmed Mohamed (see May-September, 2001), who has allegedly used the aliases Talha al-Kini, Foaud Zouaoui, Taha al-Nigeri, and John Samuel, with conspiracy to foment and carry out terrorist attacks against US targets. Mohamed, who was arrested in Pakistan in April 2002, is charged with “attacking civilians; attacking civilian objects; murder by an unprivileged belligerent; destruction of property by an unprivileged belligerent; and terrorism,” though the charge sheet is unclear whether Mohamed carried out any of these actions himself, or whether he was part of a larger conspiracy by the al-Qaeda terrorist organization. The charges allege links between Mohamed and “shoe bomber” Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001), radical Islamist Abu Zubaida, 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and alleged “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla. Mohamed is alleged to have been part of the Padilla bomb plot. [US Defense Department, 11/4/2005 ] Much of the evidence against Mohamed comes from confessions he allegedly made while in US custody at the detention camp at Bagram Air Force Base (see January-September 2004), and in Guantanamo Bay (see September 2004 and After). He was also held in Pakistan (see April 10-May, 2002 and May 17 - July 21, 2002), and “rendered” to a secret prison in Morocco (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004). Through his lawyers, Mohamed has claimed that he was tortured in all four detention sites. The British judiciary will later establish that British officials facilitated Mohamed’s interrogation in Pakistan, and had “full knowledge of the reported conditions of his detention and treatment” (see February 24, 2009). [Guardian, 2/5/2009] As with Padilla, the charges relating to the “dirty bomb” plot will later be dropped due to lack of evidence, and all charges against Mohamed will eventually be dropped (see October-December 2008 and February 4, 2009).
Representative John Murtha (D-PA) introduces a bill in the House to compel the redeployment of US troops out of Iraq “at the earliest practicable date.” Murtha introduces the bill in conjunction with his public call for withdrawal (see November 17, 2005). The bill states that “clear, measurable progress towards” a stable economy or a secure populace has not been shown. Additionally, the bill states that it would take so many additional US troops to force stability that the US government would be forced to reinstate the military draft; that “US forces have become the target of the insurgency;… over 80 percent of the Iraqi people want the US forces out of Iraq;… 45 percent of the Iraqi people feel that the attacks on US forces are justified; and [therefore] Congress finds it evident that continuing US military action in Iraq is not in the best interests of the United States of America, the people of Iraq, or the Persian Gulf Region.” The bill never makes it out of committee. [US House of Representatives, 11/17/2005]
The Defense Department admits to having detained over 80,000 people in facilities from Afghanistan to Guantanamo since the 9/11 attacks. At least 14,500 people are currently in US custody in connection with the war on terror; around 13,814 are being held in Iraq and some 500 detainees are at the Guantanamo detention facility. An unknown number are being held in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The Bush administration has defended its incarceration of so many detainees, many without charge or legal representation, from criticism by human rights organizations, civil liberties groups, and political opponents. What many find indefensible is the CIA’s practice of “rendering” terror suspects to foreign countries for interrogation and torture, as well as making some prisoners “disappear” into secret prisons in foreign countries. Currently, the Bush administration is attempting to counter reports that the CIA has used private jets to transport suspects to at least six countries, either in Europe or through European countries’ airspace. “If these allegations turn out to be true, the crucial thing is whether these flights landed in the member states with or without the knowledge and approval of the authorities,” says Terry Davis, the Council of Europe’s secretary general. The CIA has refused to comment on this or other reports. [Guardian, 11/18/2005]
John Murtha during his press conference. [Source: Larry Downing / Reuters]Representative John Murtha (D-PA), one of the most conservative and hawkish Democrats in the House of Representatives and a longtime supporter of the military, stuns opponents and fellow Democrats alike by calling for the immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Fighting back tears, Murtha, a former US Marine and a decorated Vietnam veteran, says the troops in Iraq suffer from poor equipment and low morale. Moreover, the troops’ presence there now serves as an impediment to Iraqi progress towards stability and self-governance. The war is “a flawed policy wrapped in illusion,” he says, and adds, “Our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency.” Islamic insurgents “are united against US forces, and we have become a catalyst for violence.… I resent the fact, on Veterans Day, [Bush] criticized Democrats for criticizing them. This is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion. The American public knows it. And lashing out at critics doesn’t help a bit. You’ve got to change the policy.… It’s time to bring [the soldiers] home.” Murtha submits a bill to compel the withdrawal of troops as soon as feasible (see November 17, 2005). Congressional Republicans counter with accusations of cowardice (see November 18-21, 2005) and even siding with terrorists over their country. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) says: “Murtha and Democratic leaders have adopted a policy of cut and run. They would prefer that the United States surrender to the terrorists who would harm innocent Americans.”
Democratic Leaders Cautious - Democratic leaders such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and campaign chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) react cautiously to Murtha’s call for withdrawal. Pelosi has privately said that she will call for a complete withdrawal of troops in 2006, but does not yet join Murtha in his call for withdrawal, merely saying that he deserves to have “his day.” Emanuel is even more cautious, saying, “Jack Murtha went out and spoke for Jack Murtha.” As for Iraq policy, Emanuel says, “At the right time, we will have a position.”
Mishandling of Intelligence - Murtha joins with other Democrats in accusing the administration of deliberately misrepresenting intelligence about Iraq’s WMD and its connections to al-Qaeda. Vice President Cheney has called such accusations “dishonest and reprehensible.” President Bush responds: “I expect there to be criticism. But when Democrats say that I deliberately misled the Congress and the people, that’s irresponsible. They looked at the same intelligence I did, and they voted—many of them voted—to support the decision I made.… So I agree with the vice president.” Asked about the comments, Murtha retorts, “I like guys who got five deferments and [have] never been there and send people to war, and then don’t like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done.” Cheney received five deferments during the Vietnam War which allowed him to sit out the war; Bush was a Texas Air National Guardsman who did not leave the country during that war. Other Democrats say that they were themselves misled about the intelligence on Iraq’s WMD.
Angry Rhetoric from Both Sides - The White House issues a statement in response to Murtha’s call for a pullout, declaring that Murtha is “endorsing the policy positions of [liberal filmmaker] Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party.” Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) responds that Bush and Cheney “have begun a new campaign of distortion and manipulation. Because of the polls showing that Americans have lost trust in the president and believe he manipulated intelligence before the war, the president and vice president have abandoned any pretense of leading this country and have gone back on the campaign trail.” They could not find weapons of mass destruction, Kennedy says, and “they can’t find the truth, either.” Kennedy’s Senate colleague Ted Stevens (R-AK) responds by accusing Kennedy and other Democrats of attempting to “undermine the people standing abroad by repeatedly calling [Bush] a liar.” House Republican Geoff Davis says Murtha’s statements are “shameful.” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) says that if the US does not prevail in Iraq, it will invite another 9/11-type attack: “Four years have expired without a second attack on our homeland because we’ve aggressively projected America’s fighting forces in the theaters in Afghanistan and Iraq.” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) counters that the White House has “shamelessly decided to play politics” over Iraq. “We need a commander in chief, not a campaigner in chief,” Reid says. “We need leadership from the White House, not more whitewashing of the very serious issues confronting us in Iraq.” [Washington Post, 11/18/2005; New York Times, 11/18/2005; New York Sun, 11/18/2005]
Entity Tags: Ted Stevens, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Nancy Pelosi, Rahm Emanuel, Dennis Hastert, Geoffrey C. (“Geoff”) Davis, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Duncan Hunter, George W. Bush, John P. Murtha, Harry Reid, Michael Moore
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
In response to a bill by Representative John Murtha (D-PA) calling for a measured troop withdrawal from Iraq (see November 17, 2005 and November 17, 2005), Duncan Hunter (R-CA), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and a staunch supporter of the war, submits a “stunt resolution” calling for the immediate, unconditional withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq. The resolution’s entire text reads, “It is the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately.” Hunter and his fellow Republicans never intend for the measure to be passed; Republicans say the resolution was merely intended to show how extreme Murtha’s bill is, while Democrats say it was offered to tie up debate on Murtha’s real legislative offering. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) explains that his party offered the resolution because: “We want to make sure that we support our troops that are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. We will not retreat.” The resolution fails 403-3. No Republican, including Hunter, votes for it. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) instructs Democrats not to play into Republicans’ hands by voting for the bill. She later says, “Just when you thought you’d seen it all, the Republicans have stooped to new lows, even for them.” [Associated Press, 11/18/2005; New York Times, 11/19/2005]
Jean Schmidt making her statement on the floor of the House. [Source: Pensito Review]Representative Jean Schmidt (R-OH) accuses fellow Representative John Murtha (D-PA) of cowardice. Murtha, an ex-Marine, decorated Vietnam veteran, and longtime military supporter, has called for US troops to be withdrawn from Iraq as soon as possible (see November 17, 2005) and November 17, 2005). Schmidt says she is merely quoting the words of a constituent when she says on the floor of the House: “Yesterday I stood at Arlington National Cemetery attending the funeral of a young Marine in my district. He believed in what we were doing is the right thing and had the courage to lay his life on the line to do it. A few minutes ago I received a call from Colonel Danny Bubp, Ohio representative from the 88th district in the House of Representatives. He asked me to send Congress a message: Stay the course. He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run, Marines never do. Danny and the rest of America and the world want the assurance from this body—that we will see this through.” Democrats, appalled by Schmidt’s words, boo and shout her down; Democrat Harold Ford (D-TN) charges across the chamber’s center aisle and shouts that Schmidt’s attack is unwarranted. Democrat Martin Meehan (D-MA) shouts: “You guys are pathetic! Pathetic.” The conflict comes during a debate over a Republican “stunt resolution” that calls for the immediate, unconditional withdrawal of all troops from Iraq (see November 18, 2005).
Defending Murtha - Some House Republicans later defend Murtha’s patriotism: Henry Hyde (R-IL) says, “I give him an A-plus as a truly great American.” But Democrats are unforgiving. “This is a personal attack on one of the best members, one of the most respected members of this House, and it is outrageous,” says Jim McGovern (D-MA). In the Senate, John Kerry (D-MA) says, “I won’t stand for the swift-boating of Jack Murtha.” Kerry is referring to false accusations against him launched during the 2004 presidential election by a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that challenged his Vietnam record. [Think Progress (.org), 11/18/2005; New York Times, 11/19/2005]
Schmidt Withdraws Statement - After the speaker pro tempore, Mike Simpson (R-IL) orders that her words be “taken down” (documented as possible violations of House rules), Schmidt attempts to backpedal: “Mr. Speaker, my remarks were not directed at any member of the House and I did not intend to suggest that they applied to any member. Most especially the distinguished gentleman from Pennsylvania. I therefore ask for unanimous consent that my words be withdrawn.” [Jesse Lee, 11/18/2005]
Bubp: Never Discussed Murtha with Schmidt - Three days later, Bubp, the reserve Marine colonel and Ohio state representative Schmidt claims to be quoting, says that he never discussed Murtha with Schmidt and would never impugn a fellow Marine’s patriotism. “There was no discussion of him personally being a coward or about any person being a coward,” Bubp says. “The unfortunate thing about all of that is that her choice of words on the floor of the House—I don’t know, she’s a freshman, she had one minute. Unfortunately, they came out wrong.… My message to the folks in Washington, DC, and to all the Congress people up there, is to stay the course. We cannot leave Iraq or cut and run—any terminology that you want to use.… I don’t want to be interjected into this. I wish she never used my name.” [Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/22/2005]
Raymond Tanter. [Source: PBS]Neoconservative Raymond Tanter, a member of the Institute for Near East Policy and a fervent advocate of regime change in Iran, tells the National Press Club that the Bush administration should use the Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) and its political arm, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) as an insurgent militia against the Iranian government. “The National Council of Resistance of Iran and the Mujahedeen-e Khalq are not only the best source for intelligence on Iran’s potential violations of the nonproliferation regime,” Tanter says, but “[t]he NCRI and MEK are also a possible ally of the West in bringing about regime change in Tehran” (see January 2005). Tanter also advocates using nuclear weapons against Iran’s nuclear program, and suggests that Israel might use bombs sold to it by the US to avoid conflicts with the UN’s Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Israel has refused to sign. He says that the Bush administration should “delist” MEK and the NCRI from its list of terrorist organizations: “The international community should realize that there is only one group to which the regime pays attention and fears: the Mujahedeen-e Khalq and the political coalition of which the MEK is a part, the National Council of Resistance of Iran. By delisting the NCRI and MEK from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations listing maintained by the Department of State, it would allow regime change to be on the table in Tehran. With regime change in the open, Tehran would have to face a choice about whether to slow down in its drive to acquire nuclear weapons or not.” [Iran Policy Committee, 11/21/2005; Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
McCain speaking against torture on Fox News. [Source: Daily Gadfly (.com)]Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a former prisoner of war during the Vietnam War and a victim of torture, writes an impassioned op-ed for Newsweek exhorting the US not to resort to torture in its interrogations of terror suspects. He writes: “I do, respectfully, take issue with the position that the demands of this war require us to accord a lower station to the moral imperatives that should govern our conduct in war and peace when they come in conflict with the unyielding inhumanity of our vicious enemy.… We should not torture or treat inhumanely terrorists we have captured. The abuse of prisoners harms, not helps, our war effort.”
Produces False Information - He gives numerous reasons: abusing prisoners does not produce reliable information, but instead “often produces bad intelligence because under torture a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear—whether it is true or false—if he believes it will relieve his suffering.” McCain recounts his own example of providing false information under torture, giving his captors the names of the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line instead of the names of his flight squadron. “It seems probable to me that the terrorists we interrogate under less than humane standards of treatment are also likely to resort to deceptive answers that are perhaps less provably false than that which I once offered.”
Betrays America's 'Commitment to Basic Humanitarian Values' - Moreover, McCain writes, America’s “commitment to basic humanitarian values affects—in part—the willingness of other nations to do the same. Mistreatment of enemy prisoners endangers our own troops who might someday be held captive.” We cannot expect al-Qaeda and other such enemies to be “bound by the principle of reciprocity,” but “we should have concern for those Americans captured by more traditional enemies, if not in this war then in the next.” Global public criticism of North Vietnam’s brutality towards US prisoners resulted in a substantial decrease in their abuse of POWs. The war against terrorism is “a war of ideas,” he writes, “a struggle to advance freedom in the face of terror in places where oppressive rule has bred the malevolence that creates terrorists. Prisoner abuses exact a terrible toll on us in this war of ideas. They inevitably become public, and when they do they threaten our moral standing, and expose us to false but widely disseminated charges that democracies are no more inherently idealistic and moral than other regimes.” To defeat the idea of terrorism, “we must prevail in our defense of American political values as well. The mistreatment of prisoners greatly injures that effort.”
'We Are Different and Better than Our Enemies' - McCain writes that while he does not “mourn the loss of any terrorist’s life… [w]hat I do mourn is what we lose when by official policy or official neglect we allow, confuse, or encourage our soldiers to forget that best sense of ourselves, that which is our greatest strength—that we are different and better than our enemies, that we fight for an idea, not a tribe, not a land, not a king, not a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion, but for an idea that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights.”
Waterboarding Is Torture - McCain states flatly that any interrogation technique that simulates an execution, including waterboarding, is torture. “[I]f you gave people who have suffered abuse as prisoners a choice between a beating and a mock execution, many, including me, would choose a beating. The effects of most beatings heal. The memory of an execution will haunt someone for a very long time and damage his or her psyche in ways that may never heal. In my view, to make someone believe that you are killing him by drowning is no different than holding a pistol to his head and firing a blank. I believe that it is torture, very exquisite torture.”
Exceptions Do Not Require New Laws - There is always the extreme circumstance bandied about in discussions: what should be done with a terror suspect who holds critical information about an imminent terrorist attack? While such an extreme circumstance may well require extreme interrogation methods, McCain writes, “I don’t believe this scenario requires us to write into law an exception to our treaty and moral obligations that would permit cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment. To carve out legal exemptions to this basic principle of human rights risks opening the door to abuse as a matter of course, rather than a standard violated truly in extremis. It is far better to embrace a standard that might be violated in extraordinary circumstances than to lower our standards to accommodate a remote contingency, confusing personnel in the field and sending precisely the wrong message abroad about America’s purposes and practices.” [Newsweek, 11/21/2005]
Dr. Peter Feaver. [Source: Georgia State University]President Bush gives what is touted as a major speech on the Iraq war strategy at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. The event is heavily stage-crafted, with the strategy document labeled “Our National Strategy for Victory in Iraq,” and the phrase “Plan for Victory” prominently repeated (in what author Frank Rich will later call “Orwellian mitosis”) over the stage and podium. Bush uses the word “victory” 15 times in his speech. The speech itself is not a military strategy proposal, but rather a public relations document based on the work of Duke University political scientist Peter Feaver, who joined the National Security Council as a special adviser in June 2005 to monitor and bolster American public opinion on the war. Feaver, a Navy reservist who has frequently written articles supportive of Bush foreign policies, analyzed poll data from 2003 and 2004 and concluded that the American public would support a war with rising casualties if it believed such a war would ultimately succeed. The speech was written to hammer home the idea (see May 24, 2005) that victory in Iraq is attainable. Other political scientists question both Feaver’s analysis and the ethics of using such tactics to shape public opinion. John Mueller of Ohio State University says that Feaver’s idea would only produce a small, transient rise in public support for the war. Referring to the costs in lives and in dollars, Mueller says, “As the costs go up, support goes down.” “This is not really a strategy document from the Pentagon about fighting the insurgency,” says Christopher F. Gelpi, another Duke professor who co-authored the research on American tolerance for casualties. “The Pentagon doesn’t need the president to give a speech and post a document on the White House Web site to know how to fight the insurgents. The document is clearly targeted at American public opinion.” The media was not supposed to know about Feaver’s contribution to the “strategy” document; the plan, posted on the White House’s Web site, does not credit Feaver’s work, but the software used to produce the document shows the original author to be “feaver-p.” The White House confirms that Feaver and another NSC staff member, Deputy National Security Adviser Meghan O’Sullivan, wrote the document with assistance from members of O’Sullivan’s staff. The White House insists that the document is an interagency production that reflects the thinking of the entire administration, not just a few NSC officials and staffers. Press secretary Scott McClellan calls the document an unclassified explanation of strategies that have been in use since 2003. Interestingly, Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey, who supervises the training of Iraqi troops, says he did not see the document before its public release. [White House, 11/30/2005; New York Times, 12/4/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 198]
As Congress debates legislation that will outlaw “cruel, inhuman, and degrading” treatment of terrorist suspects and detainees in US custody, the Justice Department issues a secret opinion, one that few lawmakers even know exists, ruling that none of the CIA’s interrogation methods violate that standard. The Justice Department has already issued one secret opinion countermanding the Bush administration’s stated position that torture is “abhorrent” (see February 2005). Both rulings are efforts by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and White House officials to realign the Justice Department with the White House after an in-house revolt by many Justice officials threw administration policies on torture and domestic surveillance into doubt (see Late 2003-2005). Though the public debate on torture becomes ever more pervasive during President Bush’s second term, the two rulings will remain in effect through the end of 2007 and beyond, helping the White House give US officials the broadest possible legal latitude for abusing and torturing prisoners. As late as October 2007, the White House will insist that it has always followed US and international law in its authorization of interrogation practices. Those assurances will be countered by an array of current and former officials involved in counterterrorism (see October 3, 2007). [New York Times, 10/4/2007] In 2007, Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will say in conjunction with a lawsuit filed against the Justice Department’s interrogation practices, “These torture memos should never have been written, and it is utterly unacceptable that the administration continues to suppress them while at the same time declaring publicly that it abhors torture. It is now obvious that senior administration officials worked in concert over a period of several years to evade and violate the laws that prohibit cruelty and torture. Some degree of accountability is long overdue.” The ACLU will also note that the administration had failed to disclose the existence of the two opinions in its court filings, a failure characterized by the administration as an accidental oversight. [Harper's, 11/7/2007]
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, who for a year has advocated that the US issue clear rules about detention and interrogation of terror suspects (see Summer 2005), calls a meeting of three dozen Pentagon officials, including the vice chief and top uniformed lawyer for each military branch. England wants to discuss a proposed new directive defining the US military’s detention policies. The secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force are present, as are generals from each branch of service and a number of military lawyers, including Naval General Counsel Alberto Mora. The agenda is set by Matthew Waxman, the deputy assistant secretary for detainee affairs. Waxman says that the president’s general statement that detainees should be treated humanely “subject to military necessity” (see February 7, 2002) has left US military interrogators and others unsure about how to proceed with detainees. Waxman has proposed making it official Pentagon policy to treat detainees in accordance with Common Article III of the Geneva Conventions, which bars cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, as well as “outrages against human dignity.” The standard has already been in effect since the Geneva Conventions were first put into place over 50 years ago, and US military personnel are trained to follow it. In 2007, the Washington Post will observe, “That was exactly the language… that [Vice President] Cheney had spent three years expunging from US policy.” Mora will later recall of the meeting, “Every vice chief came out strongly in favor, as did every JAG,” or Judge Advocate General.
Opposition - Every military officer supports the Waxman standard, but two civilians oppose it: Stephen Cambone, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and William Haynes, the Pentagon’s general counsel and a close associate of Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington. Cambone and Haynes argue that the standard will limit the US’s “flexibility” in handling terror suspects, and it might expose administration officials to charges of war crimes. If Common Article III becomes the standard for treatment, then it might become a crime to violate it.
War Crimes Questions - An exasperated Mora points out that whether the proposal is adopted or not, the Geneva Conventions are already solidly part of both US and international law. Any serious breach is in legal fact a war crime. Mora reads from a copy of the US War Crimes Act, which already forbids the violation of Common Article III. It is already the law, Mora emphasizes, and no one is free to ignore it. Waxman believes his opponents are isolated, and issues a draft of DOD Directive 2310, incorporating the Geneva-based language.
Browbeating Waxman - Within a few days, Addington and Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff, bring Waxman in for a meeting. The meeting goes poorly for Waxman. Addington ridicules the vagueness of the Geneva ban on “outrages upon personal dignity,” saying it leaves US troops timid in the face of unpredictable legal risk. Waxman replies that the White House policy is far more opaque, and Addington accuses him of trying to replace the president’s decision with his own. Mora later says, “The impact of that meeting is that Directive 2310 died.” Shortly thereafter, Waxman will leave the Pentagon for a post at the State Department. [New Yorker, 2/27/2006; Washington Post, 6/25/2007]
Entity Tags: Alberto Mora, David S. Addington, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, William J. Haynes, War Crimes Act, Matthew Waxman, Gordon England, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Defense, Geneva Conventions, Stephen A. Cambone
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Members of the 9/11 Commission, issuing their final report on progress made in meeting the commission’s earlier recommendations, give the Bush administration a grade of “D” in its nonproliferation efforts. The administration has wholly failed to help Russia secure loose nuclear materials and actual weapons, the commission finds (see January 10, 2001 and After and June 2005). President Bush needs to make nonproliferation a priority, to “ride herd on the bureaucracy” and engage in “a maximum effort” to ensure the US’s nuclear security. “Given the potential for catastrophic destruction,” the commission members find, “our current efforts fall far short of what we need to do.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 210]
Author and Vanity Fair reporter Craig Unger interviews Michael Ledeen regarding the false claims that Iraq attempted to purchase massive amounts of uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Ledeen, a prominent neoconservative who holds the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute, is well known to have extensive ties to the Italian intelligence community and for his relationship with discredited Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar (see 1981 and December 9, 2001). Ledeen denies any involvement in promulgating the fraudulent uranium allegations. “I’m tired of being described as someone who likes fascism and is a warmonger,” he says. (Ledeen has written books and articles praising Italy’s Benito Mussolini, and wrote numerous articles in the run-up to the Iraq invasion calling for the US to forcibly overthrow numerous Middle Eastern governments along with Iraq’s—see September 20, 2001, December 7, 2001, and August 6, 2002.) “I think it’s obvious I have no clout in the administration. I haven’t had a role. I don’t have a role.” He barely knows White House political adviser Karl Rove, he says, and has “no professional relationship with any agency of the federal government during the Bush administration. That includes the Pentagon.” The facts contradict Ledeen’s assertions. Since before Bush’s inauguration, Rove has invited Ledeen to funnel ideas to the White House (see After November 2000). Former Pentagon analyst Karen Kwiatkowski says Ledeen “was in and out of [the Pentagon] all the time.” Ledeen is very close to David Wurmser, who held key posts in the Pentagon and State Department before becoming the chief Middle East adviser for Vice President Dick Cheney. Ledeen also has close ties to National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Of course, none of this proves or disproves his connections, if any, to the Iraq-Niger fabrications. [Unger, 2007, pp. 231]
Entity Tags: Manucher Ghorbanifar, Bush administration (43), American Enterprise Institute, Craig Unger, David Wurmser, Karen Kwiatkowski, Karl C. Rove, Stephen J. Hadley, Michael Ledeen, US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney
Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Mohammed Jawad, an Afghan teenager in US custody at Guantanamo for nearly three years (see December 17, 2002 and October 19, 2004), is found by a US Administrative Review Board (ARB) to pose a continuing danger to the national security of the United States, and is denied release. The decision is based on US claims that Jawad belongs to a group with ties to al-Qaeda, and on a signed “confession” obtained from Jawad. The boy claims that Afghan police tortured and beat him until he signed the confession. The ARB decision will be reaffirmed in late 2006. [Human Rights First, 9/2008] Jawad “signed” his confession with a fingerprint, as he cannot write his name. The confession was written in a language he cannot speak or read, and, as Salon’s Glenn Greenwald will later note, “was given to him after several days of beatings, druggings, and threats—all while he was likely 15 or 16 years old.” [Salon, 1/21/2009]
The Bush administration relents in its opposition to the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA), which would ban torture of prisoners by US personnel (see July 24, 2005 and After and December 30, 2005). President Bush meets with the bill’s primary sponsor, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and John Warner (R-VA), chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, in a press conference to praise the bill. McCain says after the conference that the bill “is a done deal.” The bill still faces some opposition from Congressional Republicans such as House Armed Services Committee chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who says he won’t vote for the bill unless it can be amended to ensure that the nation’s ability to gather intelligence is not diminished. Both the House and Senate have voted by veto-proof margins to accept the bill, which is actually an amendment to a defense appropriations bill. McCain says after the conference with Bush and Warner, “We’ve sent a message to the world that the United States is not like the terrorists. We have no grief for them, but what we are is a nation that upholds values and standards of behavior and treatment of all people, no matter how evil or bad they are.” Bush says the ban “is to make it clear to the world that this government does not torture and that we adhere to the international convention of torture, whether it be here at home or abroad.” McCain has been the target of months of vilification and opposition from the White House over the bill, which argued that the bill would limit Bush’s authority to protect the US from terrorist attacks, and that the bill is unnecessary because US officials do not torture. [CNN, 12/15/2005]
Loopholes - But the bill contains key loopholes that some experts believe significantly waters down the bill’s impact. Author Alfred McCoy, an expert on the CIA, notes that the bill as revised by White House officials does not give any real specifics. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will assert that the only restrictions on prisoner interrogations are the ban on “severe” psychological or physical pain, “the same linguistic legerdemain that had allowed the administration to start torturing back in 2002” (see August 1, 2002). Gonzales also implies that practices such as waterboarding are not prohibited. [TomDispatch (.com), 2/8/2006]
Legal Cover - A provision of the bill inserted after negotiation with White House officials says that CIA and military officials accused of torture can claim legal protection by arguing that they were simply following the orders of their superiors, or they have a reasonable belief that they are carrying out their superiors’ wishes. McCain dropped the original provision that all military personnel must follow the stringent guidelines for interrogation laid out in the Army Field Manual; the bill now follows the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which says that anyone accused of violating interrogation rules can defend themselves if a “reasonable” person could conclude they were following a lawful order. McCain resisted pressure from the White House to include language that would afford interrogators accused of torture protection from civil or criminal lawsuits. [CNN, 12/15/2005; Associated Press, 12/15/2005]
Controversial Amendment - Perhaps even more troubling is an amendment to the bill that would essentially strip the judiciary’s ability to enforce the ban. The amendment, originally crafted by senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and added to by Carl Levin (D-MI), denies Guantanamo detainees the right to bring legal action against US personnel who torture or abuse them—effectively denying them the fundamental legal right of habeas corpus. It also gives the Defense Department the implicit ability to consider evidence obtained through torture or inhumane treatment in assessing detainees’ status. Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that the DTA marks the first time in history that Congress would allow the use of evidence obtained through torture. HRW’s Tom Malinowski says, “With the McCain amendment, Congress has clearly said that anyone who authorizes or engages in cruel techniques like water boarding is violating the law. But the Graham-Levin amendment leaves Guantanamo detainees no legal recourse if they are, in fact, tortured or mistreated. The treatment of Guantanamo Bay detainees will be shrouded in secrecy, placing detainees at risk for future abuse.… If the McCain law demonstrates to the world that the United States really opposes torture, the Graham-Levin amendment risks telling the world the opposite.” [Human Rights Watch, 12/16/2005] Geoffrey Corn, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Judge Advocate General lawyer, agrees. In January 2006, he will write that the “recent compromise inclusion of an ‘obedience to orders’ defense… has effectively undermined the goal Senator John McCain fought so long to achieve. Instead of sending a clear message to US forces that cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment of detainees is never permissible, the compromise has validated President Bush’s belief that the necessities of war provide the ultimate ‘trump card’ to justify ‘whatever it takes’ in the war on terror.” [Jurist, 1/6/2006]
Entity Tags: Tom Malinowski, Lindsey Graham, US Department of Defense, Jon Kyl, Uniform Code of Military Justice, John McCain, John W. Warner, Geoffrey Corn, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), Alfred McCoy, Carl Levin, Detainee Treatment Act, Central Intelligence Agency, Human Rights Watch, Duncan Hunter
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approves the Senate’s amendment to a defense appropriations bill that outlaws torture (see October 1, 2005 and November 1-4, 2005), 308-122, after the Republican House leadership stops blocking a vote on the amendment (see October 1, 2005). The next day, President Bush meets privately with the author of the amendment, Senator John McCain (R-AZ). In a surprising reversal of the White House’s opposition to the bill, Bush now says he supports the amendment—or will if McCain makes some changes. Bush asks McCain to alter the language of the amendment so that US intelligence officers, if charged with war crimes due to their abuse of a prisoner, can offer a defense that a “reasonable” person could conclude they were following a lawful order. McCain agrees. Bush and McCain hold a joint press conference to announce the White House’s support for the amendment (see December 15, 2005). The press bills the agreement between Bush and McCain as a serious setback for Vice President Cheney, the leader of the White House’s opposition to the bill, with the New York Times calling the vote a “stinging defeat” for Bush and a “particularly significant setback for Vice President Dick Cheney, who since July has led the administration’s fight to defeat the amendment or at least exempt the Central Intelligence Agency from its provisions” (see October 20, 2005). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 196; Savage, 2007, pp. 223]
Continuing his trend of predicting a resolution in Iraq within six months—a trend that has been ongoing since at least November 2003 (see May 6-11, 2006)—New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman says on CBS, “We’ve teed up this situation for Iraqis, and I think the next six months really are going to determine whether this country is going to collapse into three parts or more or whether it’s going to come together.” [CBS News, 12/18/2005 ; Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 5/16/2006]
During a press conference, President Bush is asked if he will order an investigation into the leak that revealed the NSA’s domestic surveillance program (see December 15, 2005). Bush says he has not directly ordered an investigation, presuming the Justice Department is handling the matter, but he calls the leak “a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war.” And he implies that the leak, and the New York Times’s decision to print the resulting article, is treason: “The fact that we’re discussing this program is helping the enemy.… But it is a shameful act by somebody who has got secrets of the United States government and feels like they need to disclose them publicly.” When asked why he “skip[ped] the basic safeguards of asking courts for permission for the intercepts,” he answers: “[R]ight after September the 11th, I knew we were fighting a different kind of war. And so I asked people in my administration to analyze how best for me and our government to do the job people expect us to do, which is to detect and prevent a possible attack. That’s what the American people want. We looked at the possible scenarios. And the people responsible for helping us protect and defend came forth with the current program, because it enables us to move faster and quicker. And that’s important. We’ve got to be fast on our feet, quick to detect and prevent. We use FISA still—you’re referring to the FISA court in your question—of course, we use FISAs. But FISA is for long-term monitoring. What is needed in order to protect the American people is the ability to move quickly to detect. Now, having suggested this idea, I then, obviously, went to the question, is it legal to do so? I am—I swore to uphold the laws. Do I have the legal authority to do this? And the answer is, absolutely.… [T]he legal authority is derived from the Constitution, as well as the authorization of force by the United States Congress” (see September 14-18, 2001). A reporter asks why “has your administration not sought to get changes in the law instead of bypassing it, as some of your critics have said?” Bush responds by reiterating the point that the program is “limited in nature to those that are known al-Qaeda ties and/or affiliates.” He then reiterates another point: he believes he has the authority to bypass the law. He “share[s] the same concerns” about civil liberties that members of Congress have expressed (see December 16, 2005).” However, his reassurances that domestic calls are not being monitored are not absolute. “[I]f you’re calling from Houston to [Los Angeles], that call is not monitored. And if there was ever any need to monitor, there would be a process to do that.” He is asked: “You say you have an obligation to protect us. Then why not monitor those calls between Houston and LA? If the threat is so great, and you use the same logic, why not monitor those calls? Americans thought they weren’t being spied on in calls overseas—why not within the country, if the threat is so great?” Bush replies: “We will, under current law, if we have to. We will monitor those calls. And that’s why there is a FISA law. We will apply for the right to do so. And there’s a difference—let me finish—there is a difference between detecting so we can prevent, and monitoring. And it’s important to know the distinction between the two.” He concludes, “I just want to assure the American people that, one, I’ve got the authority to do this; two, it is a necessary part of my job to protect you; and, three, we’re guarding your civil liberties.” [White House, 12/19/2005]
Continuing his trend of predicting a resolution in Iraq within six months—a trend that has been ongoing since at least November 2003 (see May 6-11, 2006)—New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman says on PBS: “We’re at the beginning of, I think, the decisive, I would say six months in Iraq, okay, because I feel like this election—you know, I felt from the beginning Iraq was going to be ultimately… what Iraqis make of it.” [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 5/16/2006]
North Korea declares it will resume building nuclear reactors, and blames the US for withdrawing from the deal it had made in 1994 to build two light-water reactors in return for the nation eschewing nuclear weapons (see October 21, 1994). [BBC, 12/2007]
In an interview on ABC’s “Nightline,” Vice President Cheney takes exception to recent press reports that he was defeated in his opposition to a Congressional anti-torture bill (see December 15-16, 2005). The line on torture is, he says, whether or not a particular act “shocks the conscience.” Cheney says: “Now you can get into a debate about what shocks the conscience and what is cruel and inhumane. And to some extent, I suppose, that’s in the eye of the beholder.” Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later write that Cheney is using the most primitive form of solipsism to say that torture is not really torture. And Cheney is once again evoking fears of terrorist attacks: “There he was, Dick Cheney, nakedly amoral and driven by fear,” Dubose and Bernstein will write. Cheney continues, “We think it’s important to remember that we are in a war against a group of individuals, a terrorist organization that in fact did slaughter three thousand innocent Americans on 9/11; that it’s important for us to be able to have effective interrogations of those people when we capture them.” The implication, Dubose and Bernstein will write, is that further attacks are inevitable—a matter of when and not if—and an evocation of what author Ron Suskind calls “the one percent doctrine… [i]f there was even a one percent chance of terrorists getting a weapons of mass destruction… the United States must now act as if it was a certainty.” Dubose and Bernstein illustrate how keeping torture as a viable interrogation option plays into this mindset: “The end justified any means necessary. It didn’t matter how effective torture was as long as it provided even a remote chance that it might save American lives.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 197]
Continuing his trend of predicting a resolution in Iraq within six months—a trend that has been ongoing since at least November 2003 (see May 6-11, 2006)—New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman writes: “The only thing I am certain of is that in the wake of this election, Iraq will be what Iraqis make of it—and the next six months will tell us a lot. I remain guardedly hopeful.” [New York Times, 12/21/2005; Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 5/16/2006]
Federal appeals court judge J. Michael Luttig, widely considered to be such a reliably conservative supporter of the Bush administration that he is a potential Supreme Court nominee and the author of a highly favorable ruling in the Jose Padilla detention case (see October 9, 2005), is infuriated by the administration’s decision not to charge Padilla with the lurid array of terrorism-related charges it had alleged in Luttig’s courtroom (see November 22, 2005). Luttig believes that he and the rest of the appeals court judges were misled into making a ruling favorable to the administration. Luttig issues a supplementary opinion accusing the White House of manipulating the judicial process to ensure the Supreme Court could not review the precedent his opinion set. The Padilla indictment raises serious questions about the credibility of the government’s accusations against Padilla, and, Luttig writes, leaves “the impression that Padilla may have been held for these years, even justifiably, by mistake.” Luttig and his colleagues take the unusual step of blocking Padilla’s transfer from military custody into the hands of the Justice Department. The move is aimed at attempting to keep the possibility open of a Supreme Court hearing on the Padilla matter, and giving the Court the chance to reverse Luttig’s precedent. The Court will quickly overrule Luttig’s attempt to keep Padilla in military custody and will dismiss Padilla’s appeal because he is no longer classified as an enemy combatant. Author and reporter Charlie Savage will later write: “Just as Luttig had feared, the maneuver ensured that his precedent—written on the assumption that the administration was telling the truth when it said it had good evidence that Padilla was plotting attacks on US soil—was left intact.” Luttig’s move sours his relations with the White House and dooms whatever chance he may have had to be nominated for the high court. He will soon resign from his life-tenured position on the appeals court and take the position of general counsel for Boeing. [Savage, 2007, pp. 200-201]
Without the knowledge of many in Congress, Vice President Cheney and his allies in Congress manage to insert language into the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 30, 2005) that renders much of the bill nearly worthless. Some of the widest exceptions are inserted without the knowledge of all but a very few Congressmen. One is the exemption for the CIA, which instead of being bound by the interrogation techniques described in the US Army Field Manual, is only forbidden in general to employ “cruel” or “inhuman” methods. Those terms will be defined in light of US constitutional law. Because of the Supreme Court’s decision that cruelty is an act that “shocks the conscience,” Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington, has argued that harsh interrogations would be much less shocking if performed on detainees suspected of planning or taking part in mass casualty terrorist attacks. What “shocks the conscience” is to an extent “in the eye of the beholder,” Cheney has already said. [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]
After months of opposition and a recent, clandestine rewriting of the bill (see Before December 30, 2005), President Bush signs the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA) into law, effectively outlawing torture by government and military officials (see December 15, 2005). However, Bush also inserts a signing statement into the record reserving for himself the right to ignore the law under his powers as commander in chief if he judges that torturing a prisoner is in the interest of national security (see December 30, 2005). Signing statements have no legal status, but serve to inform the nation as to how the president interprets a particular law. In this case, Bush writes that he will waive the restrictions on torture if he feels it is necessary to protect national security. “We consider ourselves bound by the prohibition on cruel, unusual, and degrading treatment,” says a senior administration official, but under unusual circumstances—a “ticking time bomb” scenario, for example, where a detainee is believed to have information that could prevent an imminent terrorist attack, Bush’s responsibility to protect the nation will supersede the law. Law professor David Golove is critical of the White House’s position, saying: “The signing statement is saying ‘I will only comply with this law when I want to, and if something arises in the war on terrorism where I think it’s important to torture or engage in cruel, inhuman, and degrading conduct, I have the authority to do so and nothing in this law is going to stop me.’ They don’t want to come out and say it directly because it doesn’t sound very nice, but it’s unmistakable to anyone who has been following what’s going on.” Bush has issued numerous signing statements signaling his intent to flaunt the law in the areas of domestic surveillance, detaining terrorist suspects without due legal process, and previous legislation forbidding the torture of prisoners. Many legal and civil rights organizations believe that Bush’s signing statement is part of his push for a “unitary executive,” where the president has virtually unlimited powers in the areas of foreign policy and national security, and neither Congress nor the courts have the right to limit his powers (see April 30, 1986). Former Justice Department official and law professor Marty Lederman says: “The whole point of the McCain Amendment was to close every loophole. The president has re-opened the loophole by asserting the constitutional authority to act in violation of the statute where it would assist in the war on terrorism.” Human Rights Watch director Elisa Massamino calls the signing statement an “in-your-face affront” to both McCain and to Congress. “The basic civics lesson that there are three co-equal branches of government that provide checks and balances on each other is being fundamentally rejected by this executive branch. Congress is trying to flex its muscle to provide those checks [on detainee abuse], and it’s being told through the signing statement that it’s impotent. It’s quite a radical view.” [Boston Globe, 1/4/2006; Boston Globe, 4/30/2006]
After President Bush signs the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 30, 2005), his office issues a “signing statement” concerning how he believes the government should enforce the new law. His advisers have spent days composing a statement that declares the administration’s support for the bill. But that statement is never issued. Just before Bush signs the bill, Vice President Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington, intercepts the statement “and just literally takes his red pen all the way through it,” a White House official will later recall. Instead, Addington substitutes a single sentence. Bush, writes Addington, would interpret the law “in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the president to supervise the unitary executive branch and as commander in chief.” Neither Addington nor Cheney have any qualms about ignoring or superseding what Addington calls “interagency treaties” or language “agreed between cabinet secretaries.” Top officials from the CIA, the Justice Department, State Department, and Defense Department oppose the substitution. The White House’s senior national security lawyer, John Bellinger, says that Congress will view the statement as a “stick in the eye.” Nevertheless, with Cheney’s backing, White House counsel Harriet Miers sends the revised statement to Bush for his signature. Bush signs the statement. [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]
President Bush orders the Joint Chiefs of Staff to draw up a contingency war plan for Iran that can be implemented, upon orders from the president, within 24 hours. A special planning group will be formed to carry out the assignment. The plan will initially focus on a bombing campaign targeting Iran’s nuclear facilities. It will also include a scheme for regime change.
After a major strategy shift takes place in early 2007 (see Late 2006), the plan will be revised to include targets in Iran believed to be involved in the supplying or aiding of militants in Iraq. [New Yorker, 3/5/2007]
KBR subcontractor Stephen Seamans and his business crony, Shabbir Khan of the Saudi Arabian conglomerate Tamimi Global Co, are arrested as part of the ongoing investigation into war profiteering by KBR and its subcontractors (see October 2006 and Beyond). Khan is convicted of lying to federal agents about the kickbacks he provided Seamans (see February 20, 2008, October 2005, October 2002, April 2003, and June 2003), and will serve 51 months in prison. Seamans pleads guilty to charges stemming from the same business deals, and serves a year and a day in prison. Seamans, an Air Force veteran, once taught ethics to junior KBR employees. In December, during his sentencing hearing, he says he is sorry for taking the bribes, “It is not the way that Americans do business.” [Chicago Tribune, 2/20/2008; Chicago Tribune, 2/21/2008]
Sometime in 2006, the deputy commander of the Defense Department’s Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF) at Guantanamo tells the Senate Armed Services Committee (see April 21, 2009) that CITF “was troubled with the rationale that techniques used to harden resistance to interrogations [SERE training—see December 2001, January 2002 and After, and July 2002 ] would be the basis for the utilization of techniques to obtain information.” [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
Douglas Feith. [Source: Whodidit.org]Law professor Phillippe Sands interviews Douglas Feith, the former undersecretary of defense for policy and one of the key architects of the Iraq invasion. [Vanity Fair, 5/2008] Feith is joining the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University as a lecturer. [Washington Post, 5/25/2006] Feith discusses his great pride in his part in the administration’s decision to ignore the Geneva Conventions’ restrictions on interrogating prisoners (see February 7, 2002). Feith says that Geneva merely got in the way of the US doing what it needed to do with regards to the detainees. Since al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives did not function under Geneva, he argues, the US did not need to, either. Feith says that between his arguments and the contempt the civilians in the White House and the Pentagon held for the military officers who stood by the Geneva restrictions, the decision was made to set Geneva aside when circumstances warranted. It was never a matter of questioning Geneva’s status as international law, but deciding to whom and in what circumstances the conventions apply.
Catch 22 - Sands writes that according to Feith’s (and eventually the administration’s) rationale: “Geneva did apply to the Taliban, but by Geneva’s own terms Taliban fighters weren’t entitled to POW status, because they hadn’t worn uniforms or insignia. That would still leave the safety net provided by the rules reflected in Common Article 3—but detainees could not rely on this either, on the theory that its provisions applied only to ‘armed conflict not of an international character,’ which the administration interpreted to mean civil war. This was new. In reaching this conclusion, the Bush administration simply abandoned all legal and customary precedent that regards Common Article 3 as a minimal bill of rights for everyone.… I asked Feith, just to be clear: Didn’t the administration’s approach mean that Geneva’s constraints on interrogation couldn’t be invoked by anyone at Guantanamo? ‘Oh yes, sure,’ he shot back. Was that the intended result?, I asked. ‘Absolutely.… That’s the point.‘… As he saw it, either you were a detainee to whom Geneva didn’t apply or you were a detainee to whom Geneva applied but whose rights you couldn’t invoke.”
Impact on Interrogations - When asked about the difference for the purpose of interrogation, Sands will write: “Feith answered with a certain satisfaction, ‘It turns out, none. But that’s the point.’ That indeed was the point. The principled legal arguments were a fig leaf. The real reason for the Geneva decision, as Feith now made explicit, was the desire to interrogate these detainees with as few constraints as possible.” Reflecting on that time, Feith says with obvious relish, “This year I was really a player.” Sands asks Feith if he ever worried that the Geneva decision might have eroded the US’s moral authority. Feith’s response is blunt: “The problem with moral authority [is] people who should know better, like yourself, siding with the _ssholes, to put it crudely.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2008]
Author and media critic Frank Rich publishes a book entitled The Greatest Story Ever Sold about the Bush administration’s PR efforts. One of his conclusions is that, despite the administration’s foreign policy efforts, “all three components of the ‘axis of evil’ [Iraq, Iran, and North Korea] (see January 29, 2002) are more dangerous than they were when that phrase was coined in 2002.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 210]
Georgetown law professor Marty Lederman, a former Justice Department official under both the Bush and Clinton administrations, notes the recent signing statement from the White House that essentially states President Bush will ignore the newly authorized Detainee Treatment Act (see December 30, 2005). “So much for the president’s assent to the McCain Amendment” (see December 15, 2005), Lederman writes. Of Bush’s signing statement itself, he writes: “Translation: I reserve the constitutional right to waterboard when it will ‘assist’ in protecting the American people from terrorist attacks.… You didn’t think [Vice President] Cheney and [Cheney’s chief of staff David] Addington (see December 30, 2005) were going to go down quietly, did you?” [Marty Lederman, 1/2/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 225]
The three Republican senators who co-sponsored the recently passed Detainee Treatment Act prohibiting torture (see December 15, 2005) criticize President Bush for his signing statement indicating that he would not follow the law if he sees fit (see December 30, 2005). Senators John McCain (R-AZ), the primary sponsor of the bill, and John Warner (R-VA) issue a statement rejecting Bush’s signing statement. “We believe the president understands Congress’s intent in passing, by very large majorities, legislation governing the treatment of detainees,” the senators write. “The Congress declined when asked by administration officials to include a presidential waiver of the restrictions included in our legislation. Our committee intends through strict oversight to monitor the administration’s implementation of the new law.” The third co-sponsor, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), says he agrees with the letter, “and would go a little bit further.” Graham says: “I do not believe that any political figure in the country has the ability to set aside any… law of armed conflict that we have adopted or treaties that we have ratified. If we go down that road, it will cause great problems for our troops in future conflicts because [nothing] is to prevent other nations’ leaders from doing the same.” The White House refuses to respond to the senators’ comments. Law professor David Golove, a specialist in executive power issues, says the senators’ statements “mean that the battle lines are drawn” for an escalating fight over the balance of power between the two branches of government. “The president is pointing to his commander in chief power, claiming that it somehow gives him the power to dispense with the law when he’s conducting war,” Golove says. “The senators are saying: ‘Wait a minute, we’ve gone over this. This is a law Congress has passed by very large margins, and you are compelled and bound to comply with it.’” Elisa Massimino of Human Rights First says the senators’ statements should warn military and CIA interrogators that they could be subject to prosecution if they torture or abuse a detainee, regardless of Bush’s signing statement. “That power [to override the law] was explicitly sought by the White House, and it was considered and rejected by the Congress,” she says. “And any US official who relies on legal advice from a government lawyer saying there is a presidential override of a law passed by Congress does so at their peril. Cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment is illegal.” Golove notes that it is highly unlikely that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would prosecute anyone for performing actions Bush had authorized. [Boston Globe, 1/5/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 225-226]
Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Condoleezza Rice says that the US is seeking to encourage “a new strategic alignment” that is emerging in the Middle East between “responsible” leaders on the one side, and extremists on the other. She says the US is working with Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and certain reformist leaders in Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territories “to empower democratic and other responsible leaders across the region.” (Notably, only two of these countries—Turkey and Israel—have democratic forms of governments) Explaining the US’s interest in the Middle East, she says: “The security of this region is an enduring vital interest for the United States. America’s presence in this part of the world contributes significantly to its stability and success.” [US Congress, 1/11/2007 ] According to a later article by veteran reporter Seymour Hersh, the policy she is describing is actually aimed at rolling back the influence that Iran has gained since the US invasion of Iraq (see Late 2006).
Farid Ghadry. [Source: Committee on the Present Danger]Farid Ghadry, the president of the Washington-based Reform Party of Syria (see October 2001), “wants to be the [Ahmed] Chalabi of Syria,” warns Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. Chalabi played a key role in the US’s attempt to bring about regime change in Iraq, and was the neoconservatives’ choice to lead Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein (see 2002-2003). Perthes says, “Chalabi is a role model for Ghadry.” [ABC News, 1/12/2006] Ghadry, like Chalabi, is a rich Arab exile with strong connections to Washington neoconservatives who wants to overthrow the Ba’athist dictator of his native country—in this case, Bashir Assad. Ghadry says that even though there doesn’t seem to be a strong impetus to invade Syria any time soon in Washington, Syria needs to be targeted, and soon. In February 2005, he said, “Maybe we don’t have weapons of mass destruction. But there’s reason enough to help. It’s important to free Syria because Syria could be on the avant-garde of helping the US win the war on terror.” Ghadry has taken pains to distance himself from the inevitable comparisons with his Iraqi counterpart, even sending one mass e-mail titled “I am not Ahmed Chalabi.” But like Chalabi, he has cultivated friends and colleagues within the American political and business communities; [Slate, 2/7/2005] in the US, where he is known as “Frank” Ghadry, he once presented himself as Lebanese instead of Syrian, and has owned a number of businesses, including a small defense contracting firm and a failed Washington coffee-shop chain called Hannibal’s. [Washington Business Journal, 10/4/1996; Business Forward, 3/2000] He is charming, comfortable with Westerners, and has long supported the idea of peaceful co-existence with Israel. [Slate, 2/7/2005] For instance, in May 2007, Ghadry, a member of the right-wing American Israel Public Affairs Committee, will write, “As a Syrian and a Muslim, I have always had this affinity for the State of Israel. As a businessman and an advocate of the free economic system of governance, Israel to me represents an astounding economic success in the midst of so many Arab failures.… While many Arabs view Israel as a sore implant, I view it as a blessing.” [Vanity Fair, 3/2007; Farid Ghadry, 5/5/2007]
Ties to US Neoconservatives - Upon creating the Reform Party of Syria, Ghadry told reporters that Chalabi provided him with a template for his own plans for Syria: “Ahmed paved the way in Iraq for what we want to do in Syria.” And in 2005, Ghadry discussed his agenda with Chalabi, a discussion which took place in the living room of powerful US neoconservative and Chalabi sponsor Richard Perle, who, like Ghadry, supports enforced regime change in Syria. [Boston Globe, 12/13/2005] Later, Ghadry joined the Committee on the Present Danger, a group of mostly right wing politicians and think-tank fellows, and which boasts as members such prominent neoconservatives as Newt Gingrich, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and James Woolsey. [Slate, 2/7/2005] He is particularly close to Elizabeth Cheney, the daughter of the vice president, who serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs [Syria News Wire, 2/19/2006] and heads of the State Department’s Iran-Syria Operations Group, tasked with planning strategies to “democratize” the two nations. [Vanity Fair, 3/2007] Cheney ensured that Ghadry’s group received some of the hundreds of millions of dollars given to the “Middle East Partnership Initiative,” which contributes to opposition groups throughout the region, [Iran Solidarity, 11/5/2006] and has coordinated at least one meeting, in February 2006, between Ghadry and senior Bush administration officials, including officials from Vice President Cheney’s office, the National Security Council, and the Pentagon. [Washington Post, 3/26/2005] Ghadry describes notorious neoconservative political operator Michael Ledeen as “my friend.” [National Review, 3/2/2005] He writes frequent screeds warning of dire consequences to the world if Assad remains in power, which often get picked up in right-wing media outlets such as Front Page and the Washington Times. And, like Chalabi, Ghadry says that once the US moves against Syria, it will be a virtual cakewalk: though Ghadry hasn’t lived in Syria since the 1960s, he says he has intimate knowledge of the Syrian society and culture, and he knows the Syrian people will welcome their US liberators. Syria has, he says, “good dissidents, who understand the United States, can work with the United States, and can help bring about major change.” [Slate, 2/7/2005] Boston Globe columnist H.D.S. Greenway wasn’t so sure, writing in December 2005, “Chalabi… is often accused of seducing the administration with false intelligence into invading Iraq. But the fact is that the Bush administration desperately wanted to be seduced. If you are feeling charitable, you can say that Chalabi, having lived in exile for so many years, may just have been out of touch with the real situation in Iraq. But one suspects that Farid Ghadry may be no better informed about his homeland than was Chalabi.” [Boston Globe, 12/13/2005]
Refusal to Work With Other Dissidents - A Syrian news site observes in February 2006 that Ghadry’s plans for Syria are made more difficult by his refusal to work with other dissident groups because, according to one dissident leader, Husam Ad-Dairi, Ghadry “only wanted to be a leader.” Another dissident Syrian, Riad At-Turk, calls Ghadry’s idea of opposition “nonsense.” Ad-Dairi says, “Ghadry did not split off from the [Syrian National Council, an umbrella organization of dissident groups] because we are Ba’athists or Islamists. He split off because he was not willing to be part of the group; he only wanted to be a leader. He wanted to start a Syrian government in exile with 19 people in Washington DC. Who does that represent? So we opposed it.” Ghadry will later attack Ad-Dairi, At-Turk, and other dissidents, widely considered some of the most liberal in the disparate dissident movements, “Stalinists” and accuse them of supporting al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. [Syrian Comment, 1/30/2006; Syria News Wire, 2/19/2006]
Ties to Abramoff? - Ghadry’s hopes to lead Syria may be tainted by his apparent ties to GOP lobbyist and convicted criminal Jack Abramoff. In January 2006, the Reform Party of Syria’s headquarters were located very near the offices of Abramoff’s lobbying firm, Middle Gate Ventures, which was apparently partnered with the Reform Party. Middle East expert Joshua Landis called the group “a front organization for Israeli interests in the Levant… supported by an impressive constellation of neoconservative stars. Regime change, effected by a US invasion and occupation of Syria and Lebanon, is the one and only item at the top of this gang’s agenda, and it comes as no surprise that Abramoff’s ill-gotten gains went to funding it.” [Syrian Comment, 1/11/2006]
Entity Tags: Richard Perle, Joshua Landis, Michael Ledeen, Syrian National Council, Newt Gingrich, Reform Party of Syria, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Riad At-Turk, James Woolsey, Farid Ghadry, Institute for International and Security Affairs, Ahmed Chalabi, Bashir Assad, Jack Abramoff, Committee on the Present Danger, Volker Perthes, Elizabeth (“Liz”) Cheney, Middle Gate Ventures, HDS Greenway, Husam Ad-Dairi
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Neoconservative Influence
After Human Rights Watch, an organization which works to end torture of government detainees around the globe, claims that the Bush administration has made a “deliberate policy choice” to abuse detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says, “What took place at Guantanamo is a matter of public record today, and the investigations turned up nothing that suggested that there was any policy in the department other than humane treatment.” In 2002, President Bush declared that detainees in US custody should be treated “humanely, and to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles” of the Geneva Conventions (see January 19, 2002). Shortly after Rumsfeld’s statement, White House press secretary Scott McClellan says that Human Rights Watch has damaged its own credibility by making such claims. [New Yorker, 2/27/2006]
The American Civil Liberties Union releases documents detailing prisoner abuse at US facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo. The documents prove the existence of a “Special Access Program,” involving a special operations unit, Task Force 6-26, that has been implicated in numerous abuse incidents in Iraq, and whose operatives used fake names to thwart an Army investigation. ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh says: “These documents confirm that the torture of detainees and its subsequent cover-up was part of a larger clandestine operation, in all likelihood, authorized by senior government officials. Despite mounting evidence of systemic abuse authorized or endorsed from above, however, not a single high-level official has thus far been brought to justice.”
Fake Names, Computer Malfunctions Avoid Accountability - An Army memorandum shows that a prisoner was captured by Task Force 6-26 in Tikrit, Iraq, and subsequently beaten into unconsciousness. The task force members used “fake names,” according to the Army memo, and the claim of a computer malfunction to avoid accountability.
SERE Techniques Used - A heavily redacted memo refers to the use of “Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape” procedures at Guantanamo (see December 10, 2002). Sworn statements from military interrogators and a written “Chronology of Guard/Detainee Issues” show that the Army began receiving reports of prisoner abuse from Afghanistan as early as January 2002. The abuse continued, the documents show, through 2004 and perhaps beyond (see February 12-16, 2004, March 28, 2004, and May 6, 2004). Documents detail incidents where US soldiers poured peroxide and water over an Iraqi prisoner’s open wounds, and fired slingshot missiles at Iraqi children attempting to steal food from the base. [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/12/2006]
A federal appeals court refuses to block the forced redeployment of a California National Guardsman under the Army’s so-called “stop-loss” program (see August 2004). The appeals court finds that the right of the plaintiff, known for purposes of the lawsuit as “John Doe,” were not violated. “[T]he ‘stop-loss’ order extending Doe’s enlistment is a valid exercise of presidential power” authorized by a federal law, and that law neither violates the Fifth Amendment’s requirement of due process of law nor is an improper delegation of congressional power,” writes Circuit Judge Stephen Trott in a unanimous three-judge opinion. Trott also finds that the “stop-loss” order does not conflict with other sections of federal law, and even if it did, it would override such laws. The appeals court upholds a similar finding of a lower court from March 2005. Doe’s attorney, Michael Sorgen, had argued that without a Congressional declaration of war, the president’s power to force soldiers to serve indefinitely violates the Constitutional separation of powers. [Oakland Tribune, 1/14/2006]
A secret witness in the court-martial of a US soldier charged with murdering an Iraqi prisoner (see November 26, 2003 and October 5, 2004) says that the soldier, Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, disregarded interrogation rules so casually that he wrote a memo warning his CIA superiors. The witness testifies in open court, but is shielded behind a curtain to protect his identity. (Defense lawyers accidentally exposed the witness’s ties to the CIA during previous questioning.) The testimony is conducted in public after much legal wrangling, with lawyers from the Colorado Springs Gazette and other media outlets insisting that the witness’s testimony be conducted in open court. The witness says Welshofer, accused of smothering the prisoner, did not seem to care. “He said he was pretty sure they were breaking those rules every day.” Earlier witnesses have testified that the techniques used by Welshofer—which included covering the prisoner’s head with a bag, wrapping electrical cord around the bag, sitting on the man’s chest, and covering his mouth—were forbidden by order of CENTCOM commander Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. Another witness, Chief Warrant Officer Todd Sonnek, a Green Beret assigned to interrogations at the makeshift prison near the Syrian border, says that two days before Mowhoush’s death, he witnessed Welshofer bringing CIA and Iraqi paramilitary fighters in to witness his interrogation of the prisoner, which Welshofer called an implementation of the accepted method called “fear-up,” in which an interrogator attempts to terrify a prisoner into divulging information. Welshofer, along with the CIA officials and Iraqi fighters, questioned Mowhoush, and interrupted the questions with insults and slaps. Instead of cowering in fear, Mowhoush became enraged and broke free from his plastic handcuffs. Sonnek says he wrestled Mowhoush to the ground, and everyone in the room joined in beating and kicking Mowhoush. Sonnek testifies that Mowhoush was able to walk unaided back to his cell; other witnesses have said that it took five soldiers to carry him back to it. [Rocky Mountain News, 1/17/2006; Colorado Springs Gazette, 1/19/2006; Rocky Mountain News, 1/24/2006] Welshofer will be convicted, but will not serve jail time or even be discharged from the Army (see January 24, 2006).
Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, testifying in his own defense on charges of murdering an Iraqi prisoner (see November 26, 2003 and October 5, 2004), says that he was unsure of what interrogation techniques were acceptable and what were not. He also says that he was under orders to treat prisoners very harshly. He testifies: “Basically [an August 30, 2003 memo] said that as far as they [senior commanders] knew there were no ROE [Rules of Engagement] for interrogations. They were still struggling with the definition for a detainee. It also said that commanders were tired of us taking casualties and they [told interrogators they] wanted the gloves to come off.… Other than a memo saying that they were to be considered ‘unprivileged combatants’ we received no guidance from them [on the status of detainees].” [Human Rights First, 2/2006] Welshofer will be convicted, but will not serve jail time or even be discharged from the Army (see January 24, 2006).
Conservative New York Times pundit David Brooks writes: “[D]espite administration hopes, there is scant reason to believe that imagined Iranian cosmopolitans would shut down the nuclear program, or could if they wanted to, or could do it in time—before Israel forced the issue to a crisis point. This is going to be a lengthy and tortured debate, dividing both parties. We’ll probably be engaged in it up to the moment the Iranian bombs are built and fully functioning.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]
Continuing his trend of predicting a resolution in Iraq within six months—a trend that has been ongoing since at least November 2003 (see May 6-11, 2006)—New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman says on the Oprah Winfrey Show: “I think that we’re going to know after six to nine months whether this project has any chance of succeeding. In which case, I think the American people as a whole will want to play it out or whether it really is a fool’s errand.” [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 5/16/2006]
Speaking to a cheering crowd of military families in Kansas, President Bush declares that he has no intention of following the laws requiring warrants for wiretaps (see December 15, 2005 and December 18, 2005) because Congress authorized the use of military force against terrorists (AUMF—see September 14-18, 2001), and because he has the power to bypass laws at his own discretion in the interest of national security. The Kansas appearance is part of an election-style “blitz” of appearances around the country designed to build support for the warrantless wiretapping program, and to bolster support for Republicans in the midterm elections (see January 20, 2006). “I’m not a lawyer, but I can tell you what [the AUMF] means,” he says. “It means Congress gave me the authority to use necessary force to protect the American people but it didn’t prescribe the tactics.… If [terrorism suspects] are making phone calls into the United States, we need to know why, to protect you.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 203]
CWO Lewis Welshofer. [Source: Associated Press / Jerilee Bennett / Salon]Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer is found guilty of causing the death of an Iraqi prisoner, Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush (see November 26, 2003). Welshofer, who was originally charged with murder (see October 5, 2004), is not found guilty of murder, but of far lesser charges of negligent homicide and negligent dereliction of duty. The court-martial board sentences Welshofer, who sat on Mowhoush’s chest and smothered him to death, to a reprimand, a fine of $6,000, and 60 days’ restriction. He is not sentenced to jail; neither is he discharged from the Army or even reduced in rank. Soldiers in the courtroom audience applaud the sentence. Welshofer’s attorney, Frank Spinner, says after the sentence, “The court understood our argument that this was a very difficult environment in which the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment was operating in November 2003.” Army prosecutor Captain Elana Matt had argued for at least two years’ imprisonment and a dishonorable discharge: “Chief Welshofer should have known better, with 19 years in the Army. You heard some bad things about General Mowhoush, but standards don’t apply just to good victims. They apply to everyone. The reputation of the Army has been dishonored at home and abroad.… You may be tempted to believe that this is the kind of guy the Army needs because he gets the job done. Don’t do it, because that would reduce us to the level of our enemies.” But the court was apparently swayed by Welshofer’s denials that he had done anything that could have led to Mowhoush’s death, and by the argument of Spinner and Welshofer’s military lawyer, Captain Ryan Rosauer, who said that Welshofer was confused by hazy interrogation rules (see January 19, 2006), and was merely doing his duty and trying to save lives. For his part, Welshofer begged the panel to allow him to stay out of jail and in the Army. He said that he had “tried to be a loyal soldier, putting the needs of this institution before my own.” [Rocky Mountain News, 1/24/2006; Colorado Springs Gazette, 1/24/2006] Brigadier General David Irvine, a retired intelligence officer who taught prisoner interrogation and military law for 18 years, and human rights activist David Danzig, will call Welshofer’s sentence a “slap on the wrist,” and write that the verdict “spared the defendant, indicted the prosecutor, and found the law irrelevant” (see January 27, 2006). [Salon, 1/27/2006]
Brigadier General David Irvine, a retired intelligence officer who taught prisoner interrogation and military law for 18 years, and human rights activist David Danzig write an angry response to the recent court-martial of Army interrogator Lewis Welshofer. Welshofer was found guilty of negligent homicide in causing the death of an Iraqi prisoner (see November 26, 2003 and October 5, 2004), but was given what Irvine and Danzig consider an absurdly light sentence: a reprimand, a small fine, two months’ restriction, and no jail time (see January 24, 2006). Irvine and Danzig believe that the verdict points to a larger problem: “The Welshofer case puts a fine point on a question that has plagued us since Abu Ghraib: Is the Army institutionally capable of dealing with the debacle of torture? The Army and the nation cannot afford to have soldiers draw the obvious lesson from the case’s nonsensical outcome: that in combat, the ends justify the means, and the Geneva Conventions and the McCain anti-torture amendment are subject to change depending on the circumstances or executive whim. Since the Army seems to have no inclination to enforce the principles of command discipline and accountability among the senior ranks, the corrosive effects of US torture in Iraq and elsewhere will continue to haunt any efforts to regain lost stature and credibility in the world.” [Salon, 1/27/2006]
Continuing his trend of predicting a resolution in Iraq within six months—a trend that has been ongoing since at least November 2003 (see May 6-11, 2006)—New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman says on CBS: “I think we’re in the end game there, in the next three to six months… We’ve got for the first time an Iraqi government elected on the basis of an Iraqi constitution. Either they’re going to produce the kind of inclusive consensual government that we aspire to in the near term, in which case America will stick with it, or they’re not, in which case I think the bottom’s going to fall out.” [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 5/16/2006]
In his State of the Union address, President Bush insists that his authority to wiretap Americans’ phones without warrants (see December 15, 2005 and December 18, 2005) is validated by previous administrations’ actions, saying that “previous presidents have used the same constitutional authority I have.” He fails to note that those presidents authorized warrantless wiretaps before court orders were required for such actions (see June 19, 1972 and 1973). Since the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act passed (see 1978), no president except Bush has ever defied the law. Law professor David Cole calls Bush’s assertion of authority “either intentionally misleading or downright false.” Fellow law professor Richard Epstein predicts that the Supreme Court will strike down any such assertions, if it ever addresses the issue. “I find every bit of this legal argument disingenuous,” he says. Even many conservatives refuse to support Bush, with columnist George Will calling his arguments “risible” and a “monarchical doctrine” that is “refuted by the plain text of the Constitution.” David Keene, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, says the legal powers claimed by Bush and his officials can be used to justify anything: “Their argument is extremely dangerous.… The American system was set up on the assumption that you can’t rely on the good will of people with power.” Conservative activist Grover Norquist says flatly, “There is no excuse for violating the rule of law.” And former Justice Department official Bruce Fein says Bush and his officials have “a view that would cause the Founding Fathers to weep. The real conservatives are the ones who treasure the original understanding of the Constitution, and clearly this is inconsistent with the separation of powers.” Even former George H. W. Bush official Brent Scowcroft says that Bush’s interpretation of the Constitution is “fundamentally in error.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 203-204]
The Navy’s former general counsel, Alberto Mora, now the general counsel for Wal-Mart’s international operations, ends a long, self-imposed silence about his opposition to the military’s advocacy of torture and abuse of terror suspects (see July 7, 2004). Mora tells New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer that the administration’s legal response to the 9/11 attacks was flawed from the outset, triggering a series of subsequent errors and misjudgments that were virtually impossible to correct. In particular, the determination to ignore the Geneva Conventions “was a legal and policy mistake,” but “very few lawyers could argue to the contrary once the decision had been made.” Mora continues, “It seemed odd to me that the actors weren’t more troubled by what they were doing.” Many administration lawyers seemed to be ignorant of history. “I wondered if they were even familiar with the Nuremberg trials—or with the laws of war, or with the Geneva Conventions. They cut many of the experts on those areas out. The State Department [whose lawyers and officials often opposed the use of abusive interrogation tactics] wasn’t just on the back of the bus—it was left off the bus.… [P]eople were afraid that more 9/11s would happen, so getting the information became the overriding objective. But there was a failure to look more broadly at the ramifications. These were enormously hardworking, patriotic individuals. When you put together the pieces, it’s all so sad. To preserve flexibility, they were willing to throw away our values.” [New Yorker, 2/27/2006]
As part of a panel discussion at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, Aaron Friedberg, the deputy national security adviser for Vice President Cheney, says that the most dire ramification of the ongoing six-party talks over North Korea’s nuclear program (see August 2003) is that North Korea’s Kim Jong Il would remain in power (see May 4, 2003). Author J. Peter Scoblic will write in 2008 that Friedberg does not seem to realize “that the six-party process was not designed to oust Kim—and could in fact only succeed in stopping the North’s nuclear program if the regime was assured of its survival.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 241]
Two former CIA officials directly involved in producing intelligence estimates on Iran’s nuclear program (see August 2, 2005) say that the Bush administration’s policy of threatening to use military force against Iran is a driving force behind that nation’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran is fearful of such an attack, the two officials say, and therefore wants nuclear weapons as a way to divert such a threat. Paul Pillar, who managed the writing of all NIEs on Iran from 2000 through 2005 as the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, says, “Iranian perceptions of threat, especially from the United States and Israel, were not the only factor, but were in our judgment part of what drove whatever effort they were making to build nuclear weapons.” Had the US tried to reassure Iran on its security fears, Pillar says, that would have had a significant effect on Iranian policies. Iran has made several diplomatic overtures to the US since 2003 (see May 4, 2003), Pillar says, that have not been reciprocated by the Bush administration. While Iran wishes to be the “dominant regional superpower” in the Middle East, the NIEs state, it is not pursuing that aspiration by means that would jeopardize the possibility of thawed relations with the US. According to Ellen Laipson, who managed several NIEs on Iran as national intelligence officer for the Near East from 1990 through 1993, and closely followed others as vice-chair of the National Intelligence Council from 1997 to 2002, says the Iranian fear of a US attack has long been “a standard element” in NIEs on Iran. Laipson is “virtually certain the estimates linked Iran’s threat perceptions to its nuclear program.” The 1991 Gulf War heightened fears of US attacks on Iran, Laipson says, and the recent belligerence of the Bush administration have again agitated Iran’s rulers. Iran’s 2002 listing as one of seven countries that might be targeted by US nuclear weapons, and President Bush’s 2002 naming of Iran as a member of the so-called “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002), further heightened Iranian fears of a US strike. In return, Iran has tried to counterbalance that threat with the threat of its own nuclear weapons as well as attempts to shore up relations with the US. Non-proliferation expert Joseph Cirincione says that US attempts to ease Iran’s fears would go a long way to convincing Iran to give up its nuclear program. “No nation has ever been coerced into giving up a nuclear program,” Cirincione says, “but many have been convinced to do so by the disappearance of the threat.” He cites the examples of three former Soviet republics, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, and Libya as nations who gave up their nuclear ambitions after fundamental international or internal changes eliminated the security threats that were driving their nuclear weapons programs. [Inter Press Service, 2/10/2006]
Seton Hall law professor Mark Denbeaux, who represents some of the detainees at Guantanamo, releases a report on the status of 517 prisoners currently incarcerated at the detention facility. Denbeaux bases his report on documents released by the US military. Eighty-six percent of the detainees had been sold to the US by either Northern Alliance or Pakistani soldiers in Afghanistan during the height of military operations in 2001, with little hard evidence that the captives sold to the Americans were actually Taliban or al-Qaeda fighters. Military analysts concluded that only 8 percent of the Guantanamo detainees had committed attacks on US forces or its allies, and another 30 percent of the detainees were likely members of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, or other radical Islamist groups before their capture, though they themselves had not fought. Over 60 percent of the detainees—some 310 of the 517 detainees—had no ties to terrorist or radical groups whatsoever. In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write, “Such facts might have emerged had the detainees been given hearings before a ‘competent tribunal,’ a right guaranteed by the Geneva Conventions and obeyed by the United States in every war up to and including the Gulf War.” [Denbeaux and Denbeaux, 2/7/2006 ; Savage, 2007, pp. 147-148]
Major General Paul Eaton, who retired last month after being in charge of training new Iraqi military personnel, says the Bush administration’s strategy to use those new Iraqi troops to replace departing American troops was crippled from the beginning. Eaton says that the replacement program was never given the planning, funding, or staffing it needed to progress. The first year of the occupation was a critical time, Eaton says, and the US and Iraqi military might be much closer to President Bush’s goal of Iraqi forces “standing up” as US forces “stand down” had so much of that first year not been lost. Former military officials interviewed by the New York Times agree with Eaton’s assessment, as do a number of civilian officials involved in US operations in Iraq at the time. Eaton was replaced as the senior US official in charge of training Iraqi troops by Lieutenant General David Petraeus. Eaton began his yearlong stint on May 9, 2003, and now recalls: “I was very surprised to receive a mission so vital to our exit strategy so late. I would have expected this to have been done well before troops crossed the line of departure. That was my first reaction: ‘We’re a little late here.’” Eaton was told that training Iraqi troops was fifth on the priority list for Iraqi security forces, behind a civil defense corps, police, border guards, and guards for government and commercial facilities. “We set out to man, train, and equip an army for a country of 25 million—with six men,” Eaton recalls. He worked into the fall of 2003 with what he calls “a revolving door of individual loaned talent that would spend between two weeks and two months.” He never received even half of the 250 professional staff members he was promised. Between the chaos that ensued immediately after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the decision by Coalition Provisional Agency head L. Paul Bremer to dissolve the Iraqi army (see May 23, 2003), and the insurgency that arose shortly thereafter, Eaton and his small staff were never able to build the army they had hoped. Perhaps the worst blow was the wholesale dissolution of the Iraqi army. This left Eaton to train an entire military force essentially from scratch, without any Iraqi noncommissioned officers. New York Times reporter Thom Shanker observes, “Training an army without noncommissioned officers to serve as drill sergeants is like pitching a tent without poles.” [New York Times, 2/11/2006]
The online news site Raw Story publishes an article claiming that the exposure of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, and July 14, 2003) caused more damage to US national security than has previously been admitted, particularly in the area of containing foreign nuclear proliferation. Editor and reporter Larisa Alexandrovna sources the story from a number of anonymous current and former intelligence officials. Plame Wilson, the officials say, was an integral part of an operation tracking distribution and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction technology to and from Iran. Alexandrovna writes, “Their [the officials’] accounts suggest that Plame [Wilson]‘s outing was more serious than has previously been reported and carries grave implications for US national security and its ability to monitor Iran’s burgeoning nuclear program.” The officials say that while previous reports indicate Plame Wilson may have been involved in monitoring nuclear “black market” activities, particularly those involving Abdul Qadeer Khan (see Late February 1999), her real focus was Iran, though her team would have come into contact with Khan’s black market network during the course of its work on Iran’s nuclear program. Khan’s network is believed to have been the primary source of Iran’s nuclear weapons efforts. The officials refuse to identify the specifics of Plame Wilson’s work, but do say that her exposure resulted in “severe” damage to her team and significantly hampered the CIA’s ability to monitor nuclear proliferation. [Raw Story, 2/13/2006] The officials also say that the CIA conducted an “aggressive” in-house assessment of the damage caused by Plame Wilson’s exposure shortly after the White House leaked her identity to the press, and found the damage done by the leak “severe” (see Before September 16, 2003).
The progressive Internet news site Washington Note writes a follow-up to the day’s revelation that the exposure of Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity as a covert CIA agent caused heavy damage to the CIA’s ability to monitor Iran’s nuclear weapons program (see February 13, 2006). The Note reports that, according to its source, Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, included information about Iran’s nuclear program in the report from his 2002 trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and March 4-5, 2002). Note reporter Steve Clemons says he cannot be sure of the accuracy of the claim, “so please take the following with a grain of salt until further sourced.” Clemons describes his source as “[s]omeone with knowledge of the classified report that Joe Wilson ‘orally’ filed after his now famed investigative trip to Niger.” Wilson allegedly included two notes in his debriefing that related to Iran and its possible activities in Niger. Clemons writes that “various intelligence sources” speculate that if Iran was indeed attempting to acquire Nigerien uranium, it would be to avoid “the international intelligence monitoring of Iran’s domestic mining operations.” Wilson, according to the source, may have reported that Iran, not Iraq, tried to acquire 400 to 500 tons of Nigerien uranium (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001). Clemons writes that the notes from Wilson’s Niger debriefing have been destroyed, making it much harder to verify the claims. [Washington Note, 2/13/2006]
Former National Security Agency (NSA) intelligence analyst and current whistleblower Russell Tice tells the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations that he worries about what he calls a “special access” electronic surveillance program that is far more wide-ranging than the warrantless wiretapping recently exposed by the New York Times. However, Tice says he is forbidden by law to reveal specifics of the program to Congress. Tice says he believes the program violates the Constitution’s protection against unlawful search and seizures, but for him to discuss it with anyone in Congress or even with the NSA’s inspector general would violate classification laws. A spokesman for Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) says both Kucinich and committee chairman Christopher Shays (R-CT) believe that a few members of the Armed Services Committee have high enough security clearances for Tice’s information: “Congressman Kucinich wants Congressman Shays to hold a hearing [on the program]. Obviously it would have to take place in some kind of a closed hearing. But Congress has a role to play in oversight. The [Bush] administration does not get to decide what Congress can and can not hear.” In January 2006, it emerged Tice was one of the sources for the New York Times’s revelation that the NSA is engaged in possibly illegal wiretapping of American civilians as part of the war on terror (see January 10, 2006). Tice was fired from the NSA in 2005 and labeled “paranoid,” a classification Tice says was pasted on him in retaliation for his whistleblowing both inside the agency and to the public (see January 25-26, 2006). [United Press International, 2/14/2006] Author James Bamford, an expert on US intelligence, says, “The congressional intelligence committees have lost total control over the intelligence communities. You can’t get any oversight or checks and balances; the Congress is protecting the White House and the White House can do whatever it wants.” [In These Times, 5/15/2006]
A Bush administration official sends an e-mail to senior members of the Defense Department’s Transportation Command, including General Norton Schwartz, who later becomes the Air Force chief of staff. The e-mail recommends that a set of prisoners slated for release from Guantanamo be detained longer for fear of negative press coverage. The e-mail will be released three years later as part of an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request (see February 12, 2009). The name of the author of the message will be redacted from the document. It reads in part: “We may need to definitely think about checking with Southcom to see if we can hold off on return flights for 45 days or so until things die down. Otherwise we are likely to have hero’s welcomes awaiting the detainees when they arrive.… It would probably be preferable if we could deliver these detainees in something smaller and more discreet.” The e-mail forwards correspondence entitled “US Getting Creamed on Human Rights,” which cites international news coverage of UN reports on conditions at Guantanamo. The e-mail cites that press coverage, along with “lingering interest in Abu Ghraib photos,” all of which “adds up to the US taking a big hit on the issues of human rights and respect for the rule of law.” In 2009, reporter Liliana Segura will observe: “The line fits neatly with the rest of what we know about the Bush administration’s philosophy: that perceptions of abuse were worth worrying about; the abuse itself? Not so much.” Gitanjali Gutierrez, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, will add: “It is astonishing that the government may have delayed releasing men from Guantanamo in order to avoid bad press. Proposing to hold men for a month and a half after they were deemed releasable is inexcusable. The Obama administration should avoid repeating this injustice and release the innocent individuals with all due haste.” [Center for Constitutional Rights, 2/12/2009; AlterNet, 2/13/2009]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases Defense Department documents showing that senior Pentagon officials approved harsh interrogation techniques that FBI agents termed abusive, ineffective, and unlawful. “We now possess overwhelming evidence that political and military leaders endorsed interrogation methods that violate both domestic and international law,” according to ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer. “It is entirely unacceptable that no senior official has been held accountable.” One document shows that FBI personnel at Guantanamo questioned harsh methods being used by military interrogators (see May 30, 2003). Another shows that senior Pentagon officials approved interrogation methods considered abusive by FBI agents (see May 5, 2004). The ACLU says that, combined with a memo from Navy general counsel Alberto Mora (see January 15-22, 2003), evidence “show[s] conclusively that Pentagon officials at the highest levels authorized the abuse of prisoners and persisted in their endorsement of unlawful interrogation methods even after FBI and Navy personnel objected to those methods orally and in writing.” The documents released by the ACLU also show that interrogators from the Department of Homeland Security identified themselves as FBI agents while using harsh methods against detainees. One FBI memo observed, “The next time a real agent tries to talk to that guy, you can imagine the result.” The documents also show that while FBI agents expressed concern about the harsh interrogation methods being employed by military and other interrogators, the FBI itself did little to counter such tactics (see January 24, 2004). [American Civil Liberties Union, 2/23/2006]
Elizabeth ‘Liz’ Cheney. [Source: Leading Authorities (.com)]The State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) spends at least $85 million over the year to fuel dissident movements in Iran and Syria. According to authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, the State Department program “bore similarities to the program to support Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress in the run-up to the war on Iraq” (see (1994), After 1996, and After April 18, 2006). The program has the support of Vice President Cheney, not the least because his daughter, Elizabeth “Liz” Cheney, heads it. Dubose and Bernstein describe the younger Cheney as “smart, competent, hard-working… and compltely unqualified for the job she held: principal deputy assistant for Near Eastern affairs,” or PDAS. Her boss, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch, apparently knows better than to attempt to control the younger Cheney. “[S]he’s the vice president’s daughter,” says a State Department source. “There was a kind of parallel universe over there, where David had his projects and Liz had hers. There were some things that David didn’t touch.” The younger Cheney will eventually leave the State Department, but before leaving, she places people throughout the NEA bureau who are ideologically in sync with her and her father, and are intensely loyal. “Until she came in, the NEA bureau always had a variety of people and a variety of perspectives,” the State Department source recalls. “Under [former Secretary of State Colin] Powell, anyone could voice their opinion, make dissenting arguments even if it wasn’t the policy of the administration. That changed when Liz came to be PDAS. It’s now understood that it does you no good to make your views known. In fact, it can even hurt you professionally.… There’s always a fear of the [Pentagon] hawks associated with her father, and she’s obviously talking to her father and his people.” Dubose and Bernstein will write that once the younger Cheney leaves the department in the spring of 2006, “there [will be] a definite policy shift away from military options and toward negotiation with Iran.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 183-184]
Continuing his trend of predicting a resolution in Iraq within six months—a trend that has been ongoing since at least November 2003 (see May 6-11, 2006)—New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman says on NBC: “I think we are in the end game. The next six to nine months are going to tell whether we can produce a decent outcome in Iraq.” [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 5/16/2006]
Conservative columnist George Will writes that he is reconsidering his earlier support for the Iraq occupation. Will writes that the Bush administration’s relentless rhetoric of victory “just around the corner” and the necessity to “stay the course” is increasingly based on supposition and wishful thinking, and is contradicted by the facts. “Almost three years after the invasion, it is still not certain whether, or in what sense, Iraq is a nation,” Will writes. “And after two elections and a referendum on its constitution, Iraq barely has a government.” The government is riddled with corruption that, in correspondent Lawrence Kaplan’s words, “would have made South Vietnam’s kleptocrats blush.… [C]orruption has helped drive every public service measure—electricity, potable water, heating oil—down below its prewar norm.” The country is torn apart by sectarian violence that cannot be dismissed or negated by US rhetoric. Will concludes that “all three components of the ‘axis of evil’—Iraq, Iran, and North Korea—[are] more dangerous than they were when that phrase was coined in 2002.” [Washington Post, 3/2/2006]
US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the US’s top envoy to Iraq, tells the Los Angeles Times that the 2003 invasion of Iraq has opened a “Pandora’s box.” Iraq is currently embroiled in violence fueled by ethnic and sectarian tensions. Khalilzad says the “potential is there” for the situation to become a full-blown civil war. [Los Angeles Times, 3/7/2006] Four years earlier, Philip Gordon of the Brooking Institution had used the same exact words in warning about the potential for civil war if the US were to invade Iraq. In March 2002, he said, “Removing Saddam will be opening a Pandora’s box, and there might not be any easy way to close it back up” (see Late March 2002).
Former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi says that the violence in Iraq has reached the point of civil war and that his country is nearing a “point of no return.” Allawi, who leads a 25-member coalition of representatives in the Iraqi National Assembly, says: “It is unfortunate that we are in civil war. We are losing each day, as an average, 50 to 60 people through the country, if not more.” Answering claims that Iraq is not locked in such a conflict, Allawi says, “If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is.” General George Casey, commander of US forces in Iraq, contradicts Allawi, claiming, “We’re a long way from civil war.” Vice President Dick Cheney, part of an administration that is marking the three-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq by US and coalition forces (see March 19, 2003) by presenting a unified front, echoes Casey’s remarks, and adds that the war must be viewed in a broader context. “It’s not just about Iraq, it’s not about just today’s situation in Iraq,” he says. “It’s about where we’re going to be 10 years from now in the Middle East and whether or not there’s going to be hope and the development of the governments that are responsive to the will of the people, that are not a threat to anyone, that are not safe havens for terror or manufacturers of weapons of mass destruction.” Cheney blames the news media for the perception that the war is going badly: “I think it has less to do with the statements we’ve made, which I think were basically accurate and reflect reality, than it does with the fact that there’s a constant sort of perception, if you will, that’s created because what’s newsworthy is the car bomb in Baghdad,” he says. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld compares the Iraq war to the two great conflicts of his generation, World War II and the Cold War. “Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis,” he writes in an op-ed published by the Washington Post. “It would be as great a disgrace as if we had asked the liberated nations of Eastern Europe to return to Soviet domination.” [New York Times, 3/19/2006]
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admits that the US has committed “thousands” of “tactical errors in Iraq,” but made “the right strategic decision” to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein. “This could have gone that way, or that could have gone this way,” she says of the war and the subsequent occupation. “I am quite certain there are going to be dissertations written about the mistakes of the Bush administration,” she says. “I know we’ve made tactical errors—thousands of them, I’m sure. But when you look back in history, what will be judged is did you make the right strategic decisions. I believe strongly that it was the right strategic decision, that Saddam [Hussein] had been a threat to the international community long enough.”
Retired General 'Outraged' - Retired General Greg Newbold calls Rice’s statement “an outrage,” and says, “It reflects an effort to obscure gross errors in strategy by shifting the blame for failure to those who have been resolute in fighting” (see April 9, 2006). [BBC, 3/31/2006; CNN, 4/1/2006]
Rice Backpedals - When asked to give specific examples of those “tactical mistakes,” Rice backpedals, saying: “First of all, I meant it figuratively, not literally. Let me be very clear about that. I wasn’t sitting around counting.… The point I was making… is that, of course, if you’ve ever made decisions, you’ve undoubtedly made mistakes. The important thing is to get the big strategic decisions right, and that I am confident that the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein and give the Iraqi people an opportunity for peace and for democracy is the right decision.… The other point I was making to the questioner is that I’m enough of a historian to know that things that looked brilliant at the moment turn out in historical perspective to be mistakes, and the things that look like mistakes turn out to have been right decisions.” [CNN, 4/1/2006]
The newly released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq says that the US invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the 9/11 attacks. The NIE is compiled from information provided by the 16 American intelligence agencies, and written by the US government’s National Intelligence Council. The NIE is released internally in April 2006, but portions are made public on September 24, 2006. It is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began. [New York Times, 9/24/2006] Robert Hutchings, the council’s former chairman, says, "The war in Iraq has exasperated the global war on terror." [Toronto Daily News, 9/24/2006] The White House has issued its own reports touting its successes against Islamist terrorism and predicting that such activities will dwindle in the coming months. [New York Times, 9/24/2006] The NIE report says, "[T]he Iraq war has become the ‘cause celebre’ for jihadists…and is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives. …[T]he Iraq conflict has greatly increased the spread of al-Qaeda ideological virus, as shown by a rising number of terrorist attacks in the past three years from London to Kabul, and from Madrid to the Red Sea. Our study shows that the Iraq war has generated a stunning increase in the yearly rate of fatal jihadist attacks, amounting to literally hundreds of additional terrorist attacks and civilian lives lost. Even when terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan is excluded, fatal attacks in the rest of the world have increased by more than one third." Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of the British secret service (MI5), agrees. She will say in early 2007, "Young teenagers are being groomed to be suicide bombers. The threat is serious, is growing and will, I believe, be with us for a generation." [Independent, 3/1/2007] Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) says the report should "put the final nail in the coffin for President Bush’s phony argument about the Iraq war." [ABC News, 9/25/2006]
A map drawn by one of the defectors, showing his version of the Salman Pak facility. [Source: PBS]The story told by three Iraqi defectors in November 2001, of a terrorist training camp in Salman Pak, outside of Baghdad, has long been disproven (November 6-8, 2001) and one defector has been shown to have pretended to be former Iraqi general Jamal al-Ghurairy, the key source for the story. But only now are the news reporters and pundits beginning to acknowledge—however grudgingly—that they were duped, and that their credulous reportings helped cement the Bush administration’s fabricated case for invading Iraq. The story was one of at least 108 planted in the US and British press by the Iraqi National Congress (INC) between October 2001 and May 2002, a number audaciously provided by the INC itself in its attempts to persuade Congress to continue its funding (see June 26, 2002). The New York Times eventually admitted some faults with its prewar reporting, but only admitted that its coverage of the Salman Pak story had “never been independently verified.” PBS, similarly gulled by the defectors and their fraudulent claims (see
October 2005), amended its Frontline Web site for its “Gunning for Saddam” story, which featured interviews with the defectors, to note that the defector’s claims have “not been substantiated,” and later will admit to the likelihood that its reporter, Christopher Buchanan, was duped. New York Times reporter Chris Hedges now says he took the word of producer Lowell Bergman as to the validity of the defector, and was further convinced by one of the defector’s military appearance. As for Bergman, Hedges says, “There has to be a level of trust between reporters. We cover each other’s sources when it’s a good story because otherwise everyone would get hold of it.” Hedges admits he was not aware at the time of how close Bergman, and other Times reporters such as Judith Miller, was to INC head Ahmed Chalabi. “I was on the periphery of all this. This was Bergman’s show.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006] In 2004, Hedges noted that he attempted to get confirmation from the US government about the defectors and their story, and government officials confirmed the claims: “We tried to vet the defectors and we didn’t get anything out of Washington that said ‘these guys are full of sh*t.’” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004] Hedges says he later rejected an attempt by Chalabi to convince him that UN inspectors were spying for Saddam Hussein. He also says that he never believed the stories placing 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta in Prague (see April 8, 2001). He no longer trusts Chalabi as a source of information: “He’s a sleazy guy who I was not comfortable working around, but there was nothing right after 9/11 to indicate he was an outright liar.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges notes that Chalabi seemed to have an “endless stable” of defectors to talk with reporters. “He had defectors for any story you wanted. He tried to introduce me to this guy who said he knew about Iraqi spies on the UN inspection teams: the guy was a thug. I didn’t trust either of them.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004] However, none of this uncertainty made it into Hedges’s Times report. Bergman says, “You’ve got to remember that back then there really was only one show in town, and that was Chalabi’s. If you were doing a story on Saddam’s Iraq, you would speak to the Iraqi government, the White House, and the INC.” Bergman tried to confirm the al-Ghurairy story with former CIA director and prominent neoconservative James Woolsey, and Woolsey told him that “al-Ghurairy” had met with the FBI in Ankara. (At the time, Woolsey was hardly a neutral source since it was already reported that he was aggressively trying to drum up connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see Late September 2001 and Mid-September-October 2001).) “Chalabi was dangerous goods in the sense you know he’s advocating war” Bergman recalls. “But that label is up-front. I think Chalabi is given too much credit for influencing the march to war.” Many conservative pundits still cite the al-Ghurairy tale as justification for the Iraq invasion. And the White House still lists “shutting down the Salman Pak training camp where members of many terrorist camps trained” in its “Progress Report on the Global War on Terrorism” Web page. In 2004, Chalabi boasted, “As far as we’re concerned, we’ve been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone, and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We’re ready to fall on our swords if he wants. We are heroes in error.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004; Mother Jones, 4/2006]
Entity Tags: Jamal al-Ghurairy, Chris Hedges, Bush administration (43), Ahmed Chalabi, Iraqi National Congress, Christopher Buchanan, Saddam Hussein, Mohamed Atta, New York Times, Public Broadcasting System, Lowell Bergman, Judith Miller, James Woolsey
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Lawmakers in Congress complain that restrictions on their discussion of upcoming appropriations bills make it almost impossible to conduct appropriate oversight on those bills. The House votes 327 to 96 to authorize an appropriations bill to fight the administration’s war on terror, but only about a dozen members have actually read the bill. Rules adopted by the Republican leadership of both houses in concert with the White House (see February 1, 2004) allow lawmakers to read the bills, but prohibit discussing the contents of those bills, even if that information has already been leaked to the press, under penalty of criminal prosecution and expulsion from Congress. “It’s a trap,” says Representative Russ Carnahan (D-MO), referring to the restrictions on discussing the bill. “Either way, you’re flying blind.” Carnahan’s colleague, Walter Jones (R-NC) agrees: “We ought to be doing a better job on oversight, [but] if you’re not going to be able to question it or challenge it, that makes it difficult.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 117]
Jeffrey Rapp, the director of the Joint Intelligence Task Force for Combating Terrorism at the Defense Intelligence Agency, provides a 16-page document supporting the government’s declaration that Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri is an enemy combatant (see December 12, 2001). Rapp gives the classified document, originally prepared in September 2004 and partially declassified for the court, to the trial judge presiding over the case, Henry Floyd (see April 6, 2006). The document, informally known as the “Rapp Declarations,” makes an array of charges against al-Marri, including alleging that he “met personally” with Osama bin Laden and was sent to the US to “explore computer-hacking methods to disrupt bank records and the US financial system.” Rapp claims that al-Marri was trained in the use of poisons and had detailed information about poisonous chemicals on his laptop computer, a claim verified by an FBI search. Additionally, Rapp says that al-Qaeda “instructed al-Marri to explore possibilities for hacking into the mainframe computers of banks with the objective of wreaking havoc on US banking records.” Rapp also says that al-Marri’s computer was loaded with “numerous computer programs typically utilized by computer hackers; ‘proxy’ computer software which can be utilized to hide a user’s origin or identity when connected to the Internet; and bookmarked lists of favorite Web sites apparently devoted to computer hacking.” Rapp refuses to cite any sources other than “specific intelligence sources” that are “highly classified.” [Jeffrey M. Rapp, 9/9/2004 ; CNET News, 9/22/2006] While this kind of evidence is routinely dismissed as hearsay evidence inadmissible in court, Floyd rules that because the Supreme Court ruled in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld that hearsay evidence can be used against alleged enemy combatants (see June 28, 2004), the “Rapp Declarations” would be considered. Floyd says that al-Marri’s lawyers will have to provide “more persuasive evidence” that counters the government’s case—a reversal of the usual burden of proof that places the responsibility of proving guilt on the prosecution and not the defense. [CNET News, 9/22/2006]
Justice Department prosecutors defend their designation of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari citizen alleged to have been part of the 9/11 planning (see December 12, 2001), as an “enemy combatant.” The government’s “enemy combatant” allegations against al-Marri are contained within documents signed by Jeffrey Rapp, the director of the Pentagon’s Joint Intelligence Task for Combating Terrorism (known as the Rapp Declarations) (see April 5, 2006). The unclassified portion of the allegations states almost verbatim the same charges against al-Marri that were dropped in 2003—setting up fake bank accounts, stealing credit cards, and keeping pro-terrorist literature and photos on his computer (see June 23, 2003). The government says it has more evidence tying al-Marri to the 9/11 plot, but that evidence remains classified, so neither al-Marri nor his lawyers can see it. While al-Marri’s lawyers protest that the evidence is “triple hearsay” and inadmissible in court, the judge rules otherwise. Slate’s Emily Bazelon will report, “The declassified allegations aren’t revelatory.” The material attempts to link al-Marri to the 9/11 plotters through Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the lead plotter for the attacks. It still is not clear in the newly released evidence who the sources of the information are, but it seems that much of the evidence against al-Marri comes from interrogation sessions held with Mohammed himself. Bazelon observes, “[I]t’s also a safe bet that evidence against al-Marri was obtained through torture.” Such evidence is legally inadmissable as well. Mohammed and other witnesses subjected to illegal interrogation methods can “certainly not be used as witnesses, because that could expose classified information and could open up charges from defense lawyers that their earlier statements were a result of torture,” says a government official. [Slate, 4/20/2006]
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