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In recent letters to Congress, the Justice Department has suggested that the Geneva Conventions’ ban on “outrages against personal dignity” does not automatically apply to terrorism suspects in the custody of US intelligence agencies (see August 8, 2007 and March 6, 2008). The letters are just now being made public, with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) making them available to the Washington Post. Last year, Wyden asked the Justice Department to provide an explanation for President Bush’s 2007 executive order authorizing the CIA to continue using so-called “harsh interrogation techniques” on detainees (see July 20, 2007) even as Bush claimed US interrogators would always observe Geneva restrictions. The department responded with several letters that reasserted the Bush administration’s contentions that it is not bound by domestic law or international treaties in deciding how the Geneva Conventions apply to the interrogation of terror suspects. [Washington Post, 4/27/2008; Voice of America, 4/27/2008]
'Humane Treatment' Subject to Interpretation, Circumstances - The Justice Department acknowledges that the US is bound by Common Article 3 of the Conventions, which requires that a signatory nation treat its detainees humanely; however, the letters say that the definition of “humane treatment” can be interpreted in a variety of ways, and can depend on the detainee’s identity and the importance of the information he possesses. In a letter written to a Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, the principal deputy assistant attorney general, Brian Benczkowski, wrote, “Some prohibitions… such as the prohibition on ‘outrages against personal dignity,’ do invite the consideration of the circumstances surrounding the action.” The government can weigh “the identity and information possessed by a detainee” in deciding whether to use harsh and potentially inhumane techniques, according to Benczkowski. A suspect with information about a future attack, for example, could and possibly would be subjected to extreme treatment, he says, and notes that a violation of the Geneva Conventions would only occur if the interrogator’s conduct “shocks the conscience” because it is out of proportion to “the government interest involved.” He continued, “The fact that an act is undertaken to prevent a threatened terrorist attack, rather than for the purpose of humiliation or abuse, would be relevant to a reasonable observer in measuring the outrageousness of the act.” Furthermore, any action defined as an “outrage upon personal dignity” must be deliberate and involve an “intent to humiliate and degrade.”
Government Arguments 'Appalling,' Says Senator - A spokeswoman for Wyden, Jennifer Hoelzer, says that the administration’s contention that the Geneva Conventions can be selectively applied is “stunning.” Hoelzer says: “The Geneva Convention in most cases is the only shield that Americans have when they are captured overseas. And for the president to say that it is acceptable to interpret Geneva on a sliding scale means that he thinks that it is acceptable for other countries to do the same. Senator Wyden—and I believe any other reasonable individual—finds that argument appalling.” Law professor Scott Silliman, who teaches national security law at Duke University, agrees with Wyden’s assessments. He notes, “What they are saying is that if my intent is to defend the United States rather than to humiliate you, than I have not committed an offense.” An anonymous Justice Department official disagrees. “I certainly don’t want to suggest that if there’s a good purpose you can head off and humiliate and degrade someone. The fact that you are doing something for a legitimate security purpose would be relevant, but there are things that a reasonable observer would deem to be outrageous.” However, he adds, “there are certainly things that can be insulting that would not raise to the level of an outrage on personal dignity.” Wyden states that if the US is subjective in deciding what is and isn’t compliant under Geneva, then other countries will do the same to US prisoners in their custody. “The cumulative effect in my interpretation is to put American troops at risk,” he says. [Washington Post, 4/27/2008; New York Times, 4/27/2008] He adds that the letters help make the case for a law that explicitly puts the CIA interrogations under the same restrictions as the military, or another set of clear standards. [Wall Street Journal, 4/27/2008]
'Full Compliance' - The CIA refuses to comment on Benczkowski’s memo, but spokesman Mark Mansfield says the CIA’s detainee program “has been and continues to be in full compliance with the laws of our country.” He adds, “The program has disrupted terrorist plots and has saved lives.” [Washington Post, 4/27/2008; New York Times, 4/27/2008]
Entity Tags: Geneva Conventions, Mark Mansfield, Brian A. Benczkowski, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, Ron Wyden, Senate Intelligence Committee, Jennifer Hoelzer
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Hamid Karzai on parade, April 27, 2008. [Source: massoud_hossaini_afp_getty]On April 27, 2008, there is an attempted assassination of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, as assailants fire guns and mortars towards him, scores of senior officials, and foreign diplomats during a military parade in downtown Kabul. Karzai escapes unharmed, but three Afghans are killed, including a member of parliament. Two months later, Afghanistan’s intelligence agency accuses the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, of organizing the assassination. The agency claims that phone calls from the cell phones of those arrested show a Pakistan link. Investigators suspect one assassin tried to call his supervisor in Pakistan from a nearby hotel to ask for instructions because he could not get a clear shot at Karzai from the hotel window. Investigators believe Jalaluddin Haqqani, a Taliban leader based in the Pakistani tribal region of Waziristan with long-time ISI ties, instigated the plot. Karzai’s spokesman makes the same accusation against the ISI more obliquely, “Evidence shows the hallmark of a particular foreign intelligence agency which we believe was behind this attack.” [Agence France-Presse, 6/25/2008; Washington Post, 6/27/2008]
Rosa DeLauro. [Source: Washington Post]A group of Democrats in Congress, dismayed and angered by recent revelations of a secret Pentagon propaganda campaign to manipulate public opinion regarding Iraq (see April 20, 2008, Early 2002 and Beyond, and April 24, 2008), calls for explanations from the parties involved. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, asks Defense Secretary Robert Gates to investigate the program. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) writes to the heads of the five major television networks, asking each to provide more information about their practices for vetting and hiring so-called “independent military analysts” to provide commentary and opinion about Iraq and other US military operations and strategies. DeLauro writes, “When you put analysts on the air without fully disclosing their business interests, as well as relationships with high-level officials within the government, the public trust is betrayed.” [New York Times, 4/26/2008] Senator John Kerry (D-MA) calls on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct its own investigation. Kerry asks for “the names of all senior Pentagon officials involved in this effort, and the extent of that effort; [t]he extent of the contact between Pentagon officials and the military analysts in question regarding what was said by the analysts over the public airwaves”; what financial interests the analysts had “that were in some way linked to their analysis, including a list of federal contracts that are in any way linked to the companies that employ any of the analysts in question”; to what extent those financial interests were used by Pentagon officials “to promote misleading, inaccurate or false information through the media”; how much, if any, of those interests were disclosed to the media outlets and to the public; if the propaganda program is in any way illegal; what procedures ensure that the analysts aren’t using their access to further their own business interests; and what steps Congress and the Pentagon can take “to ensure that this type of effort is not repeated.” [Senator John Kerry, 4/28/2008]
Authors and columnists Diane Farsetta and Sheldon Rampton show that the Pentagon’s recently revealed covert propaganda program using “independent military analysts” to promulgate Pentagon viewpoints about Iraq and the war on terror (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) is “not only unethical but illegal.”
Congress Prohibitions Since 1951 - According to every appropriations bill passed by Congress since 1951, “No part of any appropriation contained in this or any other Act shall be used for publicity or propaganda purposes within the United States not heretofore authorized by the Congress.”
Congressional Research Service Finds Government-Funded Propaganda Illegal - A March 2005 report by the Congressional Research Service defines “publicity or propaganda” as either “self-aggrandizement by public officials… purely partisan activity… covert propaganda.” Farsetta and Rampton explain, “By covert propaganda, GAO [the Government Accountability Office] means information which originates from the government but is unattributed and made to appear as though it came from a third party.” The GAO has determined that government-funded video news releases (VNRs) are illegal when an agency such as the Defense Department fails “to identify itself as the source of a prepackaged news story [and thusly] misleads the viewing public by encouraging the viewing audience to believe that the broadcasting news organization developed the information. The prepackaged news stories are purposefully designed to be indistinguishable from news segments broadcast to the public. When the television viewing public does not know that the stories they watched on television news programs about the government were in fact prepared by the government, the stories are, in this sense, no longer purely factual—the essential fact of attribution is missing.” Farsetta and Rampton argue that the supposedly “independent” commentary by the complicit analysts is little different from the VNRs. The GAO has also noted, “The publicity or propaganda restriction helps to mark the boundary between an agency making information available to the public and agencies creating news reports unbeknownst to the receiving audience.”
Justice Department Finds Propaganda Cannot be Funded by Government - And in 2005, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) found that after the Bush administration had been caught paying pundits to write op-eds favorable of administration policies, “OLC determined in 1988 that a statutory prohibition on using appropriated funds for ‘publicity or propaganda’ precluded undisclosed agency funding of advocacy by third-party groups. We stated that ‘covert attempts to mold opinion through the undisclosed use of third parties’ would run afoul of restrictions on using appropriated funds for ‘propaganda.’” Farsetta and Rampton write: “The key passage here is the phrase, ‘covert attempts to mold opinion through the undisclosed use of third parties.’ As the [New York] Times report documented in detail, the Pentagon’s military analyst program did exactly that.” [PRWatch, 4/28/2008]
Pentagon Says Program Legal - Former Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita says the program is simply a “mirror image” of the Pentagon’s program of embedding journalists with combat units in the field, and Pentagon spokespersons insist that the program was merely to ensure that the US citizenry was well informed about the war. [New York Times, 4/21/2008]
Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama. [Source: Boston Globe]Two of the three major presidential candidates speak out against the Pentagon’s propaganda campaign to manipulate public opinion about Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond).
Clinton - Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) says the program raises questions of “credibility and trust at the Pentagon,” and calls for an investigation by the Defense Department’s inspector general. The Clinton campaign says that, considering the Bush administration’s record on intelligence and misinformation, an investigation of the operation is necessary to determine how the Pentagon manipulated the “commentary of putatively independent television military analysts” for “‘selling’ the Iraq war and our country’s defense policy now.” The campaign also says that “serious questions” have been raised “about the potential linkage of government contracts to favorable public commentary by military analysts.”
Obama - Democratic Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) says he is “deeply disturbed” that the administration “sought to manipulate the public’s trust,” and says the program “deserves further investigation to determine if laws or ethical standards were violated.” The Obama campaign calls for “greater transparency to ensure that those who lobby the Pentagon are not rewarded for favorable commentary about the administration’s policies.”
McCain - Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has as yet said nothing about the program. [Nation, 4/28/2008]
Brian Williams. [Source: The Onion.com]NBC News anchor Brian Williams staunchly defends NBC’s use of two military analysts, Barry McCaffrey and the late Wayne Downing, in his response to recent stories about the Pentagon’s well-orchestrated propaganda campaign using retired military officers to promote the Bush administration’s agenda in the mainstream media (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Williams notes that he quickly became friends with both analysts, and toured Iraq four times with Downing. Williams says that neither Downing nor McCaffrey ever “gave what I considered to be the party line,” and both, particularly McCaffrey, often criticized the administration’s policies in Iraq. He calls them “tough, honest critics of the US military effort in Iraq,” “passionate patriots,” and “honest brokers” of information. He says that when they went to the Pentagon for briefings, “[t]hey never came back spun, and never attempted a conversion.” He calls them “warriors-turned-analysts, not lobbyists or politicians.” Williams also lauds a third military analyst, retired Army colonel Jack Jacobs. Jacobs, a Medal of Honor winner, is a “rock-solid” analysts who “has never hesitated to take a whack at the Pentagon brass.” After his defense of NBC’s analysts, Williams writes: “I think it’s fair, of course, to hold us to account for the military analysts we employ, inasmuch as we can ever fully know the ‘off-duty’ actions of anyone employed on an ‘of counsel’ basis by us. I can only account for the men I know best. The Times article was about the whole lot of them—including instances involving other networks and other experts, who can answer for themselves. At no time did our analysts, on my watch or to my knowledge, attempt to push a rosy Pentagon agenda before our viewers. I think they are better men than that, and I believe our news division is better than that.” [MSNBC, 4/29/2008]
Author Tom Engelhardt explores the connections between the retired military analysts recently exposed as part of a Pentagon propaganda operation to manipulate public opinion regarding the war and occupation of Iraq (see Early 2002 and Beyond) and “America’s General,” David Petraeus. Petraeus, slated to become the commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM), has long been a media darling, Engelhardt notes. For the last three years, Petraeus has been touted as virtually the only hope for an American victory in Iraq. Engelhardt writes, “Petraeus is the president’s anointed general, [President] Bush’s commander of commanders, and (not surprisingly) he exhibits certain traits much admired by the Bush administration in its better days.”
Petraeus Turns to Analysts to Promote Surge - In the New York Times article exposing the Pentagon propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008, one event has as yet gotten little attention: the fact that when Petraeus was appointed the commanding general in Iraq in January 2007, one of his first acts was to meet with a group of the Pentagon’s military analysts (see January 2007). Engelhardt explains, “In other words, on becoming US commander in Iraq, he automatically turned to the military propaganda machine the Pentagon had set up to launch his initial surge—on the home front.” Petraeus was by then a willing, and a key, participant in the Pentagon’s propaganda operation, which itself dovetailed with the Bush administration’s attempt to market the escalation of US troops—the “surge” (see January 10, 2007)—as the latest attempt to turn the corner in Iraq. President Bush himself was, by that point, “a thoroughly tarnished brand,” Engelhardt writes, not the person to launch such a marketing campaign.
Petraeus Is Administration's "Face" - Bush and the Pentagon both looked to Petraeus, who quickly “became the ‘face’ of the administration (just as American military and civilian officials had long spoken of putting an ‘Iraqi face’ on the American occupation of that country).” In the following months, Bush cited Petraeus over 150 times as part of his attempts to paint the US occupation as a success. Petraeus himself quickly turned to the Pentagon’s cadre of retired military officers, now network analysts reliably providing the administration’s talking points on the news broadcasts, to help him promulgate the surge. Engelhardt notes that one of those analysts, retired Army general and ABC News analyst Jack Keane, was himself the co-author of the “surge” strategy (see January 2007). Between the president, the administration officials, the military analysts, and the enthusiastic media reporters and talking heads, establishing the surge as a putative success and Petraeus as a name brand with a positive image was achieved in relatively short order. [Asia Times, 4/29/2008]
David Westin. [Source: ABC News]ABC News president David Westin responds to a letter from Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) demanding an explanation of his network’s involvement in the recently revealed Pentagon propaganda operation (see April 24, 2008). Westin says that ABC employs two of the military analysts cited as being part of the Pentagon operation, retired Army General Jack Keane and retired Army Major General William Nash. Westin acknowledges that Keane was one of the architects of the Bush administration’s “surge” in Iraq (see January 2007), and says, “On several occasions when General Keane appeared in an ABC News program we specifically disclosed to our audience his position as an (unpaid) adviser on the subject.” Westin concludes, “From what I know of our reporting involving our military analysts, I am satisfied that ABC News has acted responsibly and has served its audience well.” [Westin, 4/29/2008 ]
Author Tom Engelhardt, reflecting on the recent exposure of the Pentagon’s propaganda campaign using retired military officers to promote the Iraq war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), writes that this is but one of possibly many such operations. The others, if they exist, remain to be exposed. The military analysts operation is “unlikely to have been the only one,” Engelhardt writes. He has his suspicions:
Selling the 'Surge' - “We don’t yet fully know the full range of sources the Pentagon and this administration mustered in the service of its ‘surge,’” he writes, though he notes how quickly General David Petraeus, the commander of US forces in Iraq, was to turn to the analysts for support in their nightly news broadcasts (see April 29, 2008).
Sunnis and Shi'ites - Engelhardt notes that it is possible that a similar propaganda campaign helped transform Iraqi Sunni insurgents into heroes—“Sons of Iraq”—if they joined the “Awakening” movement, or members of “al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia” if they did not join the movement. Similarly, it may have been a propaganda campaign that encouraged the media to quickly label every Shi’ite rebel as an Iranian agent.
Iran's Influence - “We don’t know what sort of administration planning has gone into the drumbeat of well-orchestrated, ever more intense claims that Iran is the source of all the US’s ills in Iraq, and directly responsible for a striking percentage of US military deaths there,” Engelhardt writes. The New York Times recently reported that, according to “senior officers” in the US military in Baghdad’s Green Zone, 73% of attacks on US troops in the past year were caused by roadside bombs planted by so-called “special groups,” a euphemism for Iraqi Shi’ites trained by Iran.
Guided Tours - Many influential Washington insiders have been given carefully orchestrated tours of Iraq by the Pentagon, including former military figures, prominent think tank analysts, journalists, pundits, and Congressional representatives. Many of them have been granted a special audience with Petraeus and his top commanders; many have subsequently lauded the “surge” (see January 10, 2007) and praised the US policies in Iraq.
Successful Marketing Campaign - Engelhardt writes, “Put everything we do know, and enough that we suspect, together and you get our last ‘surge’ year-plus in the US as a selling/propaganda campaign par excellence. The result has been a mix of media good news about ‘surge success,’ especially in ‘lowering violence,’ and no news at all as the Iraq story grew boringly humdrum and simply fell off the front pages of our papers and out of the TV news (as well as out of the Democratic Congress). This was, of course, a public relations bonanza for an administration that might otherwise have appeared fatally wounded. Think, in the president’s terminology, of victory—not over Shi’ite or Sunni insurgents in Iraq, but, once again, over the media at home. None of this should surprise anyone. The greatest skill of the Bush administration has always been its ability to market itself on ‘the home front.’ From September 14, 2001, on, through all those early ‘mission accomplished’ years, it was on the home front, not in Afghanistan or Iraq, that administration officials worked hardest, pacifying the media, rolling out their own “products”, and establishing the rep of their leader and ‘wartime’ commander-in-chief.” [Asia Times, 4/29/2008]
Second Author Concurs - Author and Salon commentator Glenn Greenwald concurs with Engelhardt. Greenwald writes, “It should also be noted that this military analyst program is but one small sliver of the Pentagon’s overall media management effort, which, in turn, is but one small sliver of the administration’s general efforts to manipulate public opinion. We’re only seeing these documents and the elaborate wrongdoing they establish because the [New York Times] was so dogged in attempting to compel the [Pentagon] to disclose them, even while the Pentagon fought tenaciously to avoid having to do so, to the point where they were threatened with sanctions by a federal judge. But this is just one discrete, isolated program. Most of what this government has done—including, certainly, its most incriminating behavior—remains concealed by the unprecedented wall of secrecy behind which this administration operates.” [Salon, 5/12/2008]
Five retired military officers respond harshly to a recent New York Times article that revealed a systematic propaganda operation conducted by the Pentagon and carried out, in part, by retired military officers serving as military analysts for the print and broadcast media (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). All five have performed as analysts for a variety of US media outlets; some still do. The five are:
Retired Air Force general Thomas G. McInerney;
Retired Army general Paul Vallely;
Retired Navy captain Charles Nash;
Retired Marine lieutenant colonel William Cowan; and
Retired intelligence officer Wayne Simmons.
Intelligence Summit Members - All five are part of an organization called the International Intelligence Summit, which describes itself as “a non-partisan, non-profit, neutral forum that uses private charitable funds to bring together intelligence agencies of the free world and the emerging democracies.” McInerney and Vallely are executive board members, as is retired Navy commander Richard Marcinko, author of the Rogue Warrior series of pulp fiction novels.
Criticism of NYT Article - The five accuse the Times article, by reporter David Barstow, of “malign[ing] virtually all military analysts, accusing some of being tools of a Pentagon propaganda machine,” an assertion that they state “is flatly wrong.” They state: “We have never stated anything about defense or national security that we did not believe to be true. Equally important, we also have served the essential wartime function of helping civilians be better informed about our military, our enemies, and how the war is being conducted.” They note that some of them had “similar arrangement[s]” with the Clinton administration.
'Unconscionable Libel' - They accuse Barstow of reporting “old news,” and call his assertion that they “intentionally misled the American people for partisan political purposes or some quid pro quo personal gain… an unconscionable libel of our honor and long service to this nation.” They explain their participation in Pentagon public relations briefings as stemming from the Pentagon’s belief that “we had the credentials to do so as military professionals,” and argue, “When it comes to discussing needs and tactics of the US military, who is better suited to give advice and reliable commentary on war and peace issues than those who have spent so much of their lives in this profession?” They assert their belief that the US must “defeat Radical Islam which threatens our nation and the Free World,” and say that they “will continue to speak out honestly to the American people about national security threats” because it is “our duty.” [Tom McInerney, Paul Vallely, Charles Nash, Bill Cowan, and Wayne Simmons, 4/2008]
Reporter Eric Brewer asks White House spokesman Dana Perino about recent reports of the Pentagon’s systematic propaganda operation to manipulate public opinion about the war in Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). After briefly summarizing the story, Brewer asks, “[D]id the White House know about and approve of this operation?” Perino stumbles through her initial response before recovering: “Look, I didn’t know—look, I think that you guys should take a step back and look at this—look, [the Defense Department] has made a decision, they’ve decided to stop this program (see April 26, 2008). But I would say that one of the things that we try to do in the administration is get information out to a variety of people so that everybody else can call them and ask their opinion about something. And I don’t think that that should be against the law. And I think that it’s absolutely appropriate to provide information to people who are seeking it and are going to be providing their opinions on it. It doesn’t necessarily mean that all of those military analysts ever agreed with the administration. I think you can go back and look and think that a lot of their analysis was pretty tough on the administration. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk to people.” [White House, 4/30/2008; Raw Story, 4/30/2008]
The memo from Rumsfeld to Hadley. [Source: Department of Defense] (click image to enlarge)White House Press Secretary Dana Perino denies that the White House had any prior knowledge of the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). A reporter asks, “Did the White House know about the program?” Perino answers, “I just said: no.” [Raw Story, 5/14/2008] But a memo in the Pentagon’s own “document dump” about the program (see May 9, 2008) proves otherwise. A July 12, 2005 memo from Donald Rumsfeld to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley reads, “Attached is a summary of the effects of the military analysts we took down to GTMO [Guantanamo] earlier this month.” Rumsfeld was presumably referring to the Pentagon-sponsored trip to Guantanamo (see June 24-25, 2005 that was carefully analyzed for its effects in manipulating the media (see June 24, 2005). [Rolling Stone, 5/15/2008]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says that, according to newly released documents, the US military continued to use abusive and illegal interrogation methods on detainees well after an October 2003 directive meant to end such practices was issued. A number of Defense Department documents shows how military medical workers systematically failed to report abuses, and how psychologists took part in such interrogations—violations of both the law and medical oaths, the ACLU says.
Documents Part of Church Report - The documents, part of what is known as the Church report (see May 11, 2004), have been newly unredacted in connection with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed in 2004. The government has yet to release any details of interrogation methods used after the 2003 directive was issued. ACLU attorney Amrit Singh says the documents also show that “the use of some of the techniques… continued even until July 2004, despite the fact that many were retracted by the October 2003 memorandum, and some were subsequently prohibited by the May 2004 memorandum.” The report says, “The relatively widespread use of these techniques supports our finding that the policy documents were not always received or thoroughly understood.” The Church report, an internal review of prisoner interrogation policies conducted after the Abu Ghraib scandal, found that no military or civilian leaders either directed or encouraged the prisoner abuses committed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. [Associated Press, 4/30/2008]
Medics Failed to Report Abuse - According to the documents, Army medics failed to report abuses even after witnessing them. The Church report found that “enlisted medics witnessed obvious episodes of detainee abuse apparently without reporting them to superiors.” One medic watched as guards deliberately struck a detainee in his wounded leg. Two separate incidents involved detainees handcuffed in painful positions for extended periods of time; one of the detainees suffered a dislocated shoulder and the other experienced what the ACLU terms “excruciating pain when eventually forced to stand.” Another medic witnessed pictures of naked detainees in a pyramid but did not report the episode to superiors. “The documents reveal that psychologists and medical personnel played a key role in sustaining prisoner abuse—a clear violation of their ethical and legal obligations,” says Singh. “The documents only underscore the need for an independent investigation into responsibility for the systemic abuse of detainees held in US custody abroad.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/30/2008]
Partial Disclosure - Some of the report was disclosed in 2005, and parts of it have been declassified. Other portions remained classified in the interest of national security, according to government officials. Singh says these documents prove again that such classifications further a pattern “of claiming national security as pretext for withholding information to cover up embarrassing information.” The ACLU has long been critical of the Church report, calling it incomplete and sanitized. Lawsuits to force further disclosure are still pending. [Associated Press, 4/30/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 4/30/2008]
Regardless of the intention of the military to “minimize” its controversial “stop-loss” program (see November 2002 and January 19, 2007), which forces US soldiers to remain deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan for months after their term of duty has expired, the number of soldiers affected by the policy has increased by 43 percent in the last year, and Army officials say the stop-loss program will remain in effect through at least the fall of 2009. Some officials say that the number of troops affected by stop-loss orders will fall as “surge” troops (see January 10, 2007) redeploy. Currently, over 12,230 soldiers are being prevented from returning home even though their commitments to the Army have expired. That number was 8,540 in May 2007. Since 2002, about 58,000 soldiers have been affected by stop-loss policies. “As the [war zone] demand comes down, we should be able to get us weaned off stop-loss,” says Lieutenant General James Thurman. Stop-loss policies forbid active-duty soldiers within 90 days of retirement or obligated service from leaving the Army if they are in units alerted for deployment. Reservists and National Guard members are barred from leaving if their units have been alerted for mobilization. Though Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered the Army and other branches of service to “minimize” their use of stop-loss, the number of soldiers affected has increased since Gates’s orders were issued in January 2007. [Army Times, 5/5/2008]
Mohammed Jawad, who has been detained at Guantanamo since age 16 (see December 17, 2002 and January 13, 2009), is beaten so badly by guards that weeks later he still has what Salon’s Glenn Greenwald will describe as “extreme bruises on his arms, knees, shoulders, forehead, and ribs.” [Salon, 1/21/2009]
Former Bush administration press secretary Scott McClellan, reflecting on the buildup to the Iraq invasion, says that President Bush “managed the [Iraq] crisis in a way that almost guaranteed that the use of force would become the only feasible option.” Between the increasingly belligerent rhetoric, the UN ultimatum (see September 12, 2002), and the “massive buildup of American arms and military forces in the region, which, for logistical reasons, couldn’t remain in the area indefinitely without being used,” war became the only viable option. McClellan blames Bush’s advisers as much as Bush, and observes: “[D]uring the buildup to war, the president’s advisers allowed his own hands to be tied, putting Bush in a position where avoiding conflict was more difficult than launching it. By creating this enormous momentum for war, the president and his advisers achieved several things. He made the job of his political opponents extraordinarily difficult, putting those who opposed the war in the position of arguing against what was almost a fait accompli. He trapped Saddam Hussein in a shrinking box, making it less and less acceptable for the dictator to continue to temporize and play games with his neighbors. He forced other countries… to make hard decisions as to whether or not they would permit a US-led invasion absent a clear imminent threat. Most important, the White House forestalled any debate about the fundamental goals and long-term plans for such an invasion. By pushing so hard on the WMD issue, reducing the larger issue of the future of the Middle East into a short-term emergency threat that must be dealt with now, the president and his advisers avoided having to discuss the big issues of what would happen after the invasion. Who would rule Iraq? How would the region respond? How long would the United States have to remain on the ground? How would tensions among the nation’s ethnic and religious groups be resolved? Few of these questions ever appeared on the national radar screen during the run-up to war. But they would come back to haunt the president, and the nation, in years to come, when it became clear that the stated rationales for war—the WMD threat and Iraq’s link to terrorism—were less than convincing. The lack of candor underlying the campaign for war would severely undermine the president’s entire second term in office.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 142-144]
Former Bush White House press secretary Scott McClellan, in his book What Happened, reflects on what he considers to be the biggest mistakes of President Bush’s presidency: the rush to war with Iraq, and the unwillingness to admit that rushing to war was an error. McClellan writes: “The first grave mistake of Bush’s presidency was rushing towards military confrontation with Iraq. It took his presidency off course and greatly damaged his standing with the public. His second grave mistake was his virtual blindness about his first mistake, and his unwillingness to sustain a bipartisan spirit during a time of war and change course when events demanded it.” McClellan writes that his own views of the Iraq war “have evolved in parallel to those of most Americans.” Before the invasion, McClellan writes that he was torn between uncertainty over launching an unprecedented pre-emptive strike on a nation that had not attacked us, and a desire to avenge the 9/11 attacks. Now, he has “been forced to conclude that we should never have rushed to war in the first place.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 210]
Former CBS News president Andrew Heyward calls the recently revealed Pentagon propaganda program for the promotion of the Iraq war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) “a deliberate attempt to deceive the public,” adding, “Analysts whose real allegiance was to the Pentagon and who apparently were given at least special access for that allegiance were presented as analysts whose allegiance was to the networks and, therefore, the public.” Heywood left CBS News in 2005. Former Army Major General John Batiste calls the operation “a very deliberate attempt on the part of the administration to shape public opinion.” Batiste, who commanded an infantry division in Iraq before retiring from the military in 2005 to speak out against Bush administration policies in the Middle East, was an analyst for CBS News for a brief time. However, unlike the analysts in the propaganda operation, Batiste was never invited to any Pentagon briefings and thus not exposed to the full brunt of the Pentagon’s public relations messaging offensive. “It also sounded to me as if they were parroting administration talking points,” he says. “It sounded very much to me like I was up against an information operation. I had no idea that it was so extensive.” National Public Radio’s managing editor, Brian Duffy, says that in light of the revelations about the propaganda operation, NPR is reviewing its policies towards using retired military officers as analysts and “asking more rigorous questions about anyone that we’re paying as a consultant.” [PBS, 5/1/2008]
John Murtha. [Source: ABC News]Representative John Murtha (D-PA), a hawkish military veteran who has built a long political career on supporting the military, says that he is “disappointed” in both the US military and the news media for being part of the Pentagon’s recently revealed Iraq propaganda operation (see Early 2002 and Beyond). Murtha says that he was struck by the fact that, in the New York Times article that revealed the operation (see April 20, 2008), even some of the military analysts who most enthusiastically repeated the Pentagon’s talking points on the airwaves “didn’t even believe what they were saying.” Murtha says: “Well, the military’s held in the highest level and the highest esteem in this country. All of us appreciate their sacrifices. I’ve gotten to the point where I now distrust the military because they have been dishonored by these kind of untruths. It used to be that I could listen to the military, they would come to me, and what they said privately they were willing to say publicly. With [former Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld’s tenure, they distorted everything. And that’s the way they got by for four years because the public said, well, the military’s saying that. Well, the public’s no longer accepting that. The public realizes we made a mistake when we went in, much of the information was inaccurate and they continue to say these kind of things. So, I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed in the news media. I tell ya, till I spoke out, the news media was not honest—or afraid to come forward. And I think the tactic was, ‘we don’t give them access if they say anything bad about us.’”
Credits Blogs - Murtha credits the political blogs for keeping the story alive: “The blogs have been so important to bringing out the truth. I didn’t know what a blog was till a couple of years ago. Now, I not only know, I understand how important they are because people have an opportunity to hear the other side of what they’re saying.” (Notably, Murtha gives this interview to a news blog, the left-leaning ThinkProgress.)
Propaganda Effort in Vietnam Did Decades of Damage - Murtha reflects on the tremendous damage done by military and government propaganda campaigns during Vietnam (see March 1971). “It took us 20 years to get over Vietnam,” he says. “It took us through the Ford administration, the Carter administration, it took us into the Reagan administration because we didn’t pay for the war and the public was misled. Now the public recognized it very early on in Vietnam because they casualties were so heavy. Because of the technology increases, they didn’t recognize it as quickly in Iraq. But until the end of the Clinton administration, where we had a budget with a surplus, we were paying for the Vietnam war. We’re doing the same thing now.… I mean, nobody recognized we’re paying now with inflation, we’re paying all the expenses in Iraq. We’re paying $343 million dollars a day because of Iraq. So, it’s unfortunate and it just makes it that much more difficult for us to overcome this, because people who don’t believe it now, believed it for a while and they don’t want to be misled again.” [ThinkProgress (.org), 5/1/2008]
Jim Walton. [Source: CNN]CNN president Jim Walton responds to a letter from Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) demanding an explanation of his network’s involvement in the recently revealed Pentagon propaganda operation (see April 24, 2008). Walton says that his network fully cooperated with the New York Times’s investigation of the operation (see April 20, 2008), but CNN was not a part of any such operation. Indeed, Walton claims, “[m]ilitary analysts, and the handful of generals on CNN, contribute only a small portion to CNN’s overall coverage.” He acknowledges that CNN was not always as alert as it should have been to its analysts’ financial connections to defense contractors, and notes that the network fired one of its analysts after discovering “the extent of his dealings” (see July 2007). Walton concludes by assuring DeLauro that the network is committed to “protecting the public trust” and holds itself to “the highest ethical standards” of journalism. [Walton, 5/2/2008 ]
CBS News and Washington Post media commentator Howard Kurtz is asked during an online question and answer session about the Pentagon’s recently reported propaganda campaign mounted through the mainstream news media (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). The questioner asks, “Why do you think the networks still are silent on this?” Kurtz replies, “I can only conclude that the networks are staying away from what would otherwise be a legitimate news story because they are embarrassed about what some of their military analysts did or don’t want to give the controversy more prominence.” Another questioner asks if he has missed coverage of the story, and Kurtz replies: “You didn’t miss it. It’s just not there. The networks are ducking this one, big time.” [Washington Post, 5/5/2008]
John Dingell. [Source: MSNBC]Democratic representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and John Dingell (D-MI) write a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Kevin J. Martin, urging that his agency begin an immediate investigation of the Pentagon’s recently revealed propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). DeLauro has already written requests for explanations to five different networks, and has received only two responses (see May 2, 2008 and April 29, 2008). DeLauro and Dingell want to know whether the operation violated the Communications Act of 1934 and/or FCC rules, particularly the sponsorship identification requirements. “While we deem the DoD’s [Defense Department’s] policy unethical and perhaps illegal,” they write, “we also question whether the analysts and the networks are potentially equally culpable pursuant to the sponsorship identification requirements in the Communications Act of 1934… and the rules of the Federal Communications Commission.… It could appear that some of these analysts were indirectly paid for fostering the Pentagon’s views on these critical issues. Our chief concern is that as a result of the analysts’ participation in this [Defense Department] program, which included the [Defense Department]‘s paying for their commercial airfare on [Defense Department]-sponsored trips to Iraq, the analysts and the networks that hired them could have run afoul of certain laws or regulations.” DeLauro and Dingell conclude: “When seemingly objective television commentators are in fact highly motivated to promote the agenda of a government agency, a gross violation of the public trust occurs. The American people should never be subject to a covert propaganda campaign but rather should be clearly notified of who is sponsoring what they are watching.” [US House of Representatives, 5/6/2008]
Mohammed Jawad, a young Guantanamo detainee held in US captivity for almost six years (see December 17, 2002) and charged with attempted murder (see October 7, 2007), agrees to participate in his trial (see March 12, 2008), but authorizes his defense counsel, Major David Frakt, only to represent him for the purpose of challenging the legitimacy of the military commission system. Frakt tells the court that Jawad has been punished for his behavior at his arraignment (see March 12, 2008) by the loss of certain “comfort items,” including his only blanket. Frakt asks that the blanket and other items be returned to Jawad, asks for a mental health evaluation (see December 2003), and for changes in Jawad’s conditions of confinement. [Human Rights First, 9/2008] At some point in May, presumably after the hearing, Jawad will be severely beaten by his guards (see May 2008).
The story of the Pentagon’s propaganda operation—using military analysts in media outlets to promote the administration’s policies in Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond)—is going remarkably unreported in those selfsame media outlets. Political bloggers are keeping the story alive, and Democratic congressmen are beginning to call for investigations (see April 28, 2008 and May 6, 2008)), but remarkably little about the operation has appeared either in the mainstream press or on broadcast news shows. One such lawmaker, Senator John Kerry (D-MA), says that he “decided to push this issue hard because ever since the New York Times expose appeared, the silence has been deafening.” Kerry says there needs to be a “thorough investigation” into government contracts and “whether Americans’ tax dollars were being used to cultivate talking heads to sell the administration’s Iraq policy.” But unlike the pre-Internet paradigm, this story may not be so quick to disappear. Tom Rosenstiel, the director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, says, “We are in a time when stories can have a second life.” Political bloggers on the Internet, who keep chipping away at stories long after they have disappeared from the headlines, can give stories another chance, says Rosenstiel, citing the example of bloggers reviving the story of the US attorney firings in 2007 (see November 8, 2007). Rosenstiel says that his organization tracked the mainstream media for a week after the Times story was printed. Out of around 1,300 news stories, only two touched on the Pentagon analysts report, and both of those were on PBS’s Newshour (see April 24, 2008). Independent television analyst Andrew Tyndall says it would be too much to expect for any broadcast news outlets to engage in the story over the airwaves, as they almost never do what he calls “self-criticism stories,” but, he says, “this is really the sort of thing that all of the networks should have addressed online.” Virtually the only mainstream response from the broadcast news has been a short piece from NBC anchorman Brian Williams, who responded on his blog ten days after the Times story ran, and generally extolled the virtues of the analysts with whom he had worked (see April 29, 2008). Former CBS editorial director Dick Meyer, who oversaw CBS’s “Public Eye” blog before it was discontinued due to cutbacks, says that would have been the perfect place to examine the story. “This controversy about military analysts would have been right in our ballpark,” says Meyer, who now works for National Public Radio. “It’s irresponsible for a modern news organization to not have some kind of readers’ advocate, some kind of public editor function,” he says. [Politico, 5/8/2008]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Brian Williams, Andrew Tyndall, CBS News, Project for Excellence in Journalism, Dick Meyer, New York Times, John Kerry, Tom Rosenstiel, Public Broadcasting System
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
Michael J. Copps. [Source: Cable's Leaders in Learning (.org)]The Pentagon’s propaganda operation—using military analysts in media outlets to promote the administration’s policies in Iraq (see Early 2002 and Beyond), as recently revealed in the New York Times (see April 20, 2008)—draws a sharp reaction from Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Michael J. Copps. Copps, a Democrat, applauds the efforts of Democratic lawmakers and political bloggers to keep pushing for accountability (see May 8, 2008), saying: “President Eisenhower warned against the excesses of a military-industrial complex. I’d like to think that hasn’t morphed into a military-industrial-media complex, but reports of spinning the news through a program of favored insiders don’t inspire a lot of confidence.” The propaganda operation was “created in order to give military analysts access in exchange for positive coverage of the Iraq war,” Copps adds. [Politico, 5/8/2008]
The Pentagon posts the more than 8,000 pages of documents, transcripts, and audio tapes it was forced to release to the New York Times as evidence of its ongoing propaganda campaign to manipulate public opinion concerning Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). The only explanation given on the Web site is, “These documents were released to the New York Times regarding the Pentagon’s Military Analyst program.” [Staff, 5/9/2008]
Salon columnist and former civil litigator Glenn Greenwald, after reviewing the more than 8,000 pages of documents and audio tapes released by the Pentagon (see May 9, 2008) concerning its ongoing Iraq propaganda campaign (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) says bluntly, “Anyone who reads through them, as I’ve now done, can only be left with one conclusion: if this wasn’t an example of an illegal, systematic ‘domestic propaganda campaign’ by the Pentagon, then nothing is.” Greenwald continues: “As corrupt as the Pentagon was here, our nation’s major media outlets were at least just as bad. Their collective Pravda-like suppression now of the entire story—behavior so blatantly corrupt that even the likes of [Howard] Kurtz (see May 9, 2008) and The Politico (see May 8, 2008) are strongly condemning them—has become the most significant and revealing aspect of the entire scandal.” [Salon, 5/9/2008]
Society of Professional Journalists logo. [Source: Society of Professional Journalists]Executives of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) urge the US media to hold their military analysts to the same ethical standards that journalists are required to meet concerning possible conflicts of interests, financial ties, and relationships with government agencies. The warnings come after the exposure of a Pentagon propaganda operation involving retired military officers being hired by television news broadcasters and using their position to promote the Bush administration’s war policies (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). SPJ president Clint Brewer says: “The Pentagon’s practices to co-opt military analysts should end and be replaced by an honest, open dialogue with representatives of the media about the facts of the war. In addition, the country’s news organizations should disclose the ties of their analysts both past and present. America’s news media should hold these analysts to the same ethical tests they would any journalist.” [Editor & Publisher, 5/12/2008]
An editorial from the St. Petersburg Times rails against the recently revealed Pentagon propaganda operation that uses retired military officers to promote the administration’s policies in Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). “We were duped,” the editorial begins, and calls the Pentagon program a “spin operation.” The retired military officers serving as network analysts “are not as independent or as objective as they are portrayed,” the editorial continues. “They are feeding the public the Bush administration line just as they have been encouraged to do. The shilling then bought them plum access to the Pentagon that could be traded on later, giving them a leg up in securing large military contracts for their companies and clients.” The editorial calls the networks and cable news outlets that hired and televised these analysts “enablers in this propaganda campaign,” and lambasts them for not bothering to investigate their analysts’ connections to either the Defense Department or to defense contractors with vested interests in Iraq: “These former military officers were unlikely to give a fair reading of the war in Iraq when their corporate clients were paying huge sums for friendly Pentagon access so they could win business off the war.” [St. Petersburg Times, 5/12/2008]
Former Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita denies that the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation recently exposed in the New York Times (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) ever excluded critics of the Pentagon. Di Rita is proven wrong by the Pentagon’s own documents concerning the operation (see May 9, 2008). Moreover, one of those military analysts, Fox News’s William Cowan, was fired in 2005 for criticizing the US’s progress in Iraq (see August 3-4, 2005).
No Recollection - In an e-mail exchange with Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald, Di Rita claims, “I simply don’t have any recollection of trying to restrict [Cowan] or others from exposure to what was going on.” Di Rita cites two supporting sources, fellow analyst Barry McCaffrey and McClatchy war correspondent Joseph Galloway, as examples of the Pentagon “reaching out to people who specifically disagreed with us.” Three days later, Galloway responds in his own e-mail to Greenwald, and disputes Di Rita’s veracity.
Laughter - Galloway says he “howled with laughter” when he read Di Rita’s attempt to “cite me as proof that [the Defense Department] did so reach out to military analysts who were anything but friendly to [former Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld & Co. I was never invited to any of those hush-hush briefings of the favored military analysts/retired generals and colonels.” Galloway recalls attending “an off-the-record lunch with Rumsfeld in the early summer of 2003,” and “was astounded by his failure to grasp the reality of the situation on the ground in Iraq; even more astounded by his flat declaration that the US was NOT going to do any ‘nation-building’ there.”
Lunch - Over two years later, Galloway declined an invitation to join Rumsfeld on a trip to the Middle East and Australia because of a previous commitment, but accepted a November 2005 invitation to have a “one-on-one” lunch with Rumsfeld. The “one-on-one” consisted of Rumsfeld and four other senior Pentagon officials, who spent an hour and a half battling Galloway on war policies (see November 1, 2005). Galloway writes, “I remain puzzled at their motives in this so-called reach out to me in fall of 2005 after they had so steadfastly ignored two and a half years of my weekly columns pointing out everything they were doing wrong. I suppose they thought [Rumsfeld] could somehow ‘handle’ me or impress me or scare me. Whatever it was it didn’t work.” [Salon, 5/15/2008]
'Horse Manure' - In his own column on the Di Rita incident, Galloway writes, “So much for the Rumsfeld/DiRita outreach to their critics. They were much too busy hand-feeding horse manure to their TV generals, who in turn were feeding the same product to the American public by the cubic yard. There’s little doubt that this program violated the laws against covert propaganda operations mounted against the American public by their own government. But in this administration, there’s no one left to enforce that law or any of the other laws the Bush operatives have been busy violating. The real crime is that the scheme worked. The television network bosses swallowed the bait, the hook, the line and the sinker, and they have yet to answer for it.” [McClatchy News, 5/15/2008]
Bush playing golf, presumably before August 19, 2003. [Source: Raw Story]President Bush says he gave up golfing almost five years ago as a way to honor America’s servicemen. Reporter Mike Allen asks: “Mr. President, you haven’t been golfing in recent years. Is that related to Iraq?” Bush replies: “Yes, it really is. I don’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf. I feel I owe it to the families to be as—to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal.” Bush says he stopped playing golf after August 19, 2003, when the UN offices in Baghdad were bombed and UN special representative Sergio Vieira de Mello was killed. “And I was playing golf—I think I was in central Texas—and they pulled me off the golf course and I said, it’s just not worth it anymore to do.” [Associated Press, 5/13/2008]
Played Golf Months after Supposedly Giving It Up - Bush’s claim of giving up golf after the UN bombing is untrue. The Associated Press reported on October 13, 2003, almost two months after the bombing, that Bush spent a “cool, breezy Columbus Day” playing “a round of golf with three long-time buddies.” On that afternoon, Bush joked with reporters: “Fine looking crew you got there. Fine looking crew. That’s what we’d hope for presidential coverage. Only the best.”
'Insipid,' 'Shallow' - The press is critical of Bush’s statement. Washington Post columnist Dan Froomkin mocks Bush’s idea of giving up golf as a “personal sacrifice on account of the war.… [H]is decision to stop playing golf five years ago wasn’t just an exercise in image control or a function of his bum knee—it was an act of solidarity with the families of the dead and wounded.” Froomkin calls Bush’s claim “the latest in a series of statements by Bush, the first lady and Vice President Cheney illustrating how far removed they are from the consequences of the decision to go to war—and stay at war… a hollow, trivial sacrifice at best.” Presidential historian Robert Dallek says Bush’s claims about Iraq “speak to his shallowness.… That’s his idea of sacrifice, to give up golf?” Golf blogger William Wolfrum calls the entire interview with Bush “insipid” and notes sarcastically that for Bush to continue golfing “would just send the wrong signal to the thousands killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families. War supporters take note—put away your golf clubs. It’s just disrespectful.” Kevin Hayden writes: “Military funerals he’s attended: 0. Annual National Press Club comedy routines he’s participated in: All of them. Times he played guitar while the Gulf Coast was drowning: 1. Estimated number of returning veterans not being treated for PTSD and other disorders: tens of thousands. He’s biked, run, worked out, met with members of athletic teams, thrown out first pitches, dismissed the importance of finding Osama bin Laden, opposed expanding the GI Bill, but our troops and country can go to sleep happily assured that their commander in chief is not dissing their sweat and sacrifice, blood and tears by playing any of that dastardly golf stuff.” [Washington Post, 5/14/2008]
'Slap in the Face' - More seriously, US infantry officer Brandon Friedman, a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns, calls Bush’s claim that he sacrificed golf for the war a “slap in the face” to US soldiers and their families, and an “insult to all Americans.” “Thousands of Americans have given up a lot more than golf for this war,” Friedman says. “For President Bush to imply that he somehow stands in solidarity with families of American soldiers by giving up golf is disgraceful.… It just shows he’s a guy who doesn’t understand the idea of sacrifice for your country and military service. Giving up golf is not a sacrifice. It shows how disconnected he is from everyday Americans, especially those who are serving in Iraq and their families.” [Press Association (London), 5/14/2008; Guardian, 5/15/2008]
President Bush says that the election of a Democrat in 2008 might lead to another 9/11-like attack on the US. Reporter Mike Allen asks: “I wonder if you—various people and various candidates talk about pulling out next year. If we were to pull out of Iraq next year, what’s the worst that could happen, what’s the doomsday scenario?” Bush replies, “Doomsday scenario of course is that extremists throughout the Middle East would be emboldened, which would eventually lead to another attack on the United States.” After making this statement, Bush repeats several statements that he has been making for years: Iraq “just happens to be” part of the global war on terror, Iraq “is the place where al-Qaeda and other extremists have made their stand,” and terrorists “can’t stand to live in a free society, that’s why they try to fight free societies.” [Associated Press, 5/13/2008] MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann calls Bush’s claim “ludicrous, infuriating, holier-than-thou and… bone-headedly wrong,” and says, “Terrorism inside Iraq is your creation, Mr. Bush.” [MSNBC, 5/14/2008]
Keith Olbermann, the host of MSNBC’s Countdown, gives over a portion of his broadcast to savage President Bush’s recent claim that he gave up golf as his personal sacrifice for the Iraq war (see May 13, 2008). After lambasting Bush for his doomsday rhetoric over the possibility that electing a Democratic president would lead to another 9/11-like attack on the US (see May 13, 2008), Olbermann calls Bush’s golf claim his “final blow to our nation’s solar plexus, his last reopening of our common wounds, his last remark that makes the rest of us question not merely his leadership or his judgment but his very suitability to remain in office.” Olbermann then asks incredulously: “Golf, sir? Golf sends the wrong signal to the grieving families of our men and women butchered in Iraq? Do you think these families, Mr. Bush, their lives blighted forever, care about you playing golf? Do you think, sir, they care about you? You, Mr. Bush, let their sons and daughters be killed. Sir, to show your solidarity with them you gave up golf? Sir, to show your solidarity with them you didn’t give up your pursuit of this insurance-scam, profiteering, morally and financially bankrupting war. Sir, to show your solidarity with them you didn’t even give up talking about Iraq, a subject about which you have incessantly proved without pause or backwards glance, that you may literally be the least informed person in the world?… Four thousand Americans give up their lives and your sacrifice was to give up golf!” [MSNBC, 5/14/2008; Raw Story, 5/15/2008]
Washington Post political reporter and columnist Dan Froomkin, in an online chat with Post readers, gets the following question: “It looks like the Pentagon may have been behind ‘planting’ retired officers as analysts for news outlets (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Do you think this can be tied to the White House? Is their any evidence of White House involvement?” Froomkin responds, “There’s no question at all that the Pentagon organized it. As for White House involvement, that’s a very good question. There’s no hard evidence thus far, but I’m not sure anyone’s really digging for it—and it’s hard to imagine they weren’t plugged in to some extent.” [Washington Post, 5/14/2008]
UN rights envoy Philip Alston says that foreign intelligence agents leading Afghan units are operating with impunity in Afghanistan and are responsible for killing innocent civilians in numerous secret raids. Alston, a special investigator for the UN Human Rights Council, slams the operations as “absolutely unacceptable,” and says that foreign officials have dodged responsibility when confronted on the allegations. “It is absolutely unacceptable for heavily armed internationals accompanied by heavily armed Afghan forces to be wandering around conducting dangerous raids that too often result in killings without anyone taking responsibility for them,” says Alston. While not specifying the intelligence agencies involved, Alston implies American involvement, mentioning one raid in January conducted by Afghans and personnel from US special forces based in Kandahar that killed two Afghan brothers. Alston’s sources of information include senior government ministers, the chief justice, the Afghan intelligence chief, international military commanders, members of civic groups, and tribal elders. “Based on my discussions, there is no reason to doubt that at least some of these units are led by personnel belonging to international intelligence services,” he says. [Associated Press, 5/15/2008]
William Odom. [Source: Brendan Smialowski / Bloomberg News]Retired Lieutenant General William Odom, former director of the National Security Agency (NSA) under Ronald Reagan, says that he is “shocked” by the revelations of a propaganda campaign mounted by the Pentagon to manipulate public opinion regarding Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Odom says: “Well, I was a little shocked by it.… My own sense of my obligations and my officer’s honor in the past would make me think that’s not a proper thing to do.… But I don’t think they’ll be able to defend that position publicly very well, particularly because of its sort of conspiratorial nature. I think it’s quite legitimate for military officers to talk to a number of people in the Pentagon, but to be part of a recurring meeting that is designed to shape the public opinion—that’s a strange thing for officers to be willing to do, in my view.” [WAMU-FM American University, 5/19/2008; Think Progress, 5/19/2008]
The Department of Justice (DOJ) releases a long-anticipated report on the alleged torture and abuse of terrorist suspects in US custody. The report was spurred by a Congressional request after Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests showed that FBI agents at Guantanamo had raised concerns about CIA- and military-conducted interrogations. The report identifies then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice as a recipient of complaints of torture. [American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008] The report, issued by DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine, shows that CIA officials regularly ignored DOJ warnings that the interrogation tactics they were using amounted to “borderline torture.” The report also concludes that the Defense Department is ultimately responsible for how prisoners in military custody are being treated. As a result, the report finds no reason to bring criminal complaints against CIA officials or interrogators.
'Seven Months of Foot-Dragging' - The report documents what CBS News calls “seven months of foot-dragging” by the Pentagon, which attempted to water down the report. Failing that, the report cites numerous instances where Pentagon officials attempted to redact information in the report from public view. The report is lightly redacted.
FBI Praised for Legal, Non-Coercive Interrogation Techniques - The report generally praises the FBI’s own interrogation efforts, methods, and results. It confirms that when CIA officials became impatient with what they were calling “throwaway results” by FBI interrogators, particularly in the case of Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002), the CIA took over interrogations of prisoners such as Zubaida and began using harsh, torturous techniques. The FBI pulled its agents from the ongoing interrogations, refusing to participate in what it considered to be illegal actions (see May 13, 2004). (In 2009, a former FBI interrogator will confirm that the FBI gathered far more useful information from its non-coercive techniques than the CIA did with its “borderline torture” methods—see Late March through Early June, 2002 and April 22, 2009.) [CBS News, 5/20/2008; Newsweek, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Witnesses to Torture - However, the report makes clear that FBI agents witnessed harsh interrogations that may have constituted torture at three locations—Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison, Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Force Base facility, and Guantanamo Bay. FBI agents are explicitly banned from using brutality, physical violence, intimidation, or other means of causing duress when interviewing suspects. Instead, the FBI generally tries to build a rapport with suspects to get information. “Beyond any doubt, what they are doing (and I don’t know the extent of it) would be unlawful were these enemy prisoners of war,” one FBI employee, senior FBI lawyer Spike Bowman, reported. Bowman worried that the FBI would be “tarred by the same brush,” when asked whether the FBI should refer the matter to the Defense Department Inspector General, and added, “Were I still on active duty, there is no question in my mind that it would be a duty to do so.” The report cites two FBI agents at Guantanamo who “had concerns not only about the proposed techniques but also about the glee with which the would-be [military] participants discussed their respective roles in carrying out these techniques, and the utter lack of sophistication and circus-like atmosphere within this interrogation strategy session.” [CBS News, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Blocking Access to Zubaida - CIA general counsel John Rizzo refused to let DOJ investigators interview Zubaida for the report. The CIA has admitted that Zubaida was waterboarded (see Mid-May, 2002, March 2002 and April - June 2002). The report says that the CIA’s denial of access to Zubaida was “unwarranted,” and “hampered” the investigation, and contrasts the CIA’s actions with those of the Defense Department, which allowed DOJ investigators to interview Guantanamo prisoners. Rizzo told the DOJ that Zubaida “could make false allegations against CIA employees.” [Newsweek, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Split over Al-Khatani - The rift between the CIA and FBI came to a head over the treatment of Mohamed al-Khatani, one of several suspected terrorists accused of being the fabled “20th hijacker” for the 9/11 attacks (see December 2001). According to the report, al-Khatani was abused in a number of ways by military interrogators at Guantanamo; the report cites the use of attack dogs, shackling and stress positions, sexual humiliation, mocking al-Khatani’s religion, and extended sleep deprivation among other tactics. FBI officials complained to the White House after learning that military interrogators forced him to “perform dog tricks,” “be nude in front of a female,” and wear “women’s underwear on his head.” Al-Khatani did eventually “confess” (see July 2002), but FBI officials expressed serious doubts as to the validity of his confession, both in its accuracy and in its admissability in a criminal court. The then-chief of the Guantanamo facility, Major General Geoffrey Miller, ordered a “relentless” and “sustained attack” on al-Khatani. “The plan was to keep him up until he broke,” an FBI agent told superiors, and some of those superiors worried that those techniques would render his confession inadmissible. Al-Khatani was hospitalized for hypothermia during those interrogations. His lawyer, Gitanjali Gutierrez, says her client recently attempted suicide because of his treatment. “The tactics that were used against and the impact, the pain and suffering it caused him and the damage that it caused him does rise to a level of torture,” she says. The government recently dropped all charges against al-Khatani (see October 26, 2006 and January 14, 2009), because if he had been brought to trial, all of the evidence of his treatment would be made public. [CBS News, 5/20/2008; Newsweek, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Glenn Fine, John Rizzo, Marion (“Spike”) Bowman, Gitanjali Gutierrez, Geoffrey D. Miller, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Condoleezza Rice, Abu Zubaida, Mohamed al-Khatani, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of Defense
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
The House passes an amendment to the 2009 Defense Authorization Bill; the amendment, written by Representative Paul Hodes (D-NH), will, if it becomes law, prohibit the Pentagon from engaging in propaganda programs like the one revealed by the New York Times (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). The amendment also requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to launch an investigation of the Pentagon’s propaganda program. Hodes says on the floor of the House: “In a free and democratic society, our government should never use the public airwaves to propagandize our citizens. Congress cannot allow an administration to manipulate the public with false propaganda on matters of war and our national security.… This amendment will ensure that no money authorized in this act will be used for a propaganda program, and require a report to Congress by both the Defense Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office on whether previous restrictions on propaganda have been violated. It’s time for the American people to finally know the truth.” [US House of Representatives, 5/22/2008]
Thirty-one Iraqi legislators write a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the entire US Congress emphasizing that their government has no intention of signing any security agreement with the US that does not include a specific timetable for the withdrawal of US troops. The US government is working to hammer out an agreement between itself and the Iraqi government that would provide for some temporary (see March 7, 2008) or permanent (see June 5, 2008) US presence in Iraq. On June 4, Representative William Delahunt (D-MA) will release the letter. The letter reads in part, “[T]he majority of Iraqi representatives strongly reject any military-security, economic, commercial, agricultural, investment or political agreement with the United States that is not linked to clear mechanisms that obligate the occupying American military forces to fully withdraw from Iraq, in accordance with a declared timetable and without leaving behind any military bases, soldiers or hired fighters.” [US House of Representatives, 5/29/2008; Politico, 6/4/2008]
Tom Brokaw. [Source: David Shankbone]NBC anchor emeritus Tom Brokaw defends the media’s performance during the run-up to the Iraq war, and says that it was too much to expect that the media be able to cut through what he calls “the fog of war,” even before the war. In an interview with his successor, Brian Williams, Brokaw says that the coverage “needs to be viewed in the context of that time. When a president says we’re going to war, that there’s a danger of the mushroom crowd. We know there had been experiments with Iraqi nuclear programs in the past. Honorable people believed he had weapons of mass destruction. But there’s always a drumbeat that happens at that time. And you can raise your hand and put on people like Brent Scowcroft, which we did, a very creditable man who said this was the wrong decision.… There was this feeling, that this was a bad man, he had weapons of mass destruction, we couldn’t make the connection that he was sponsoring terrorists or harboring them, we raised that question day after day. But this president was determined to go to war. It was more theology than it was anything else. That’s pretty hard to deal with.… [T]here is a fog of war, Brian, and also the fog in covering war.” Many Democrats, too, went along with the Bush administration’s push to war, Brokaw adds.
Brokaw Considers War Propaganda Standard Procedure - Williams notes that former press secretary Scott McClellan has said that the war was “based on propaganda.” Brokaw replies: “All wars are based on propaganda. John Kennedy launched the beginning of our war in Vietnam by talking about the domino theory and embracing the Green Berets. Lyndon Johnson kept it up and so did Richard Nixon. World War II—a lot of that was driven by propaganda, and suppressing things that people should have known at the time. So people should not be surprised by that. In this business we often bump up against what I call the opaque world. The White House has an unbelievable ability to control the flow of information at any time but especially at a time when they are planning to go to war.”
Rebutting Brokaw - Editor & Publisher’s Greg Mitchell calls Brokaw’s arguments “bankrupt,” and counters several specifics. For Brokaw to say that it was “hard to deal with” the administration’s “drumbeat” for war is specious, Mitchell says: “NBC and others chose to focus on the ‘evidence’ of WMD rather than the evidence that the administration was simply bent on going to war, WMD or not.” Neither Brokaw nor most of his colleagues spent much time focusing on the fact that UN inspectors had found no evidence whatsoever of the WMD programs being hyped by the administration. Mitchell finds Brokaw’s dismissal of the administration’s propaganda efforts disturbing, and writes: “For Brokaw, who has embraced the notion of [World War II] being the ‘good war,’ to put the Iraq invasion in the same class is outrageous. There is a huge difference between admitting that there is a propaganda element to every war—and pointing out that certain wars are mainly based on propaganda and that a country has been misled, or lied, into war. Surely, Brokaw doesn’t think FDR hyped the Japanese and German threat—or was hellbent on war.” Mitchell finds Brokaw’s note that NBC allowed war critic Brent Scowcroft on the air to be disingenuous: “Studies… have shown that such critics were vastly—hideously—outnumbered by war supporters who got face time.” As for Democratic complicity, Mitchell retorts, “What kind of journalist explains a failure to probe the real reasons for a war on others who may not be doing their own due diligence?” [Editor & Publisher, 5/31/2008]
Australian troops at Camp Terendak crowd around newly elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd during his December 2007 visit to the camp. [Source: Australian Defense Department]The Australian government announces that its entire deployment of 550 troops is leaving Iraq immediately. Australian troops lower the national flag that had flown over their last enclave, Camp Terendak in Talil. The troops will be officially welcomed home on June 28 by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who had campaigned on a platform of bringing the nation’s troops home as soon as possible. Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon says the withdrawal “closed another chapter in a strong and proud Australian military history.” Australian soldiers had rarely engaged in combat per se, but had protected engineers carrying out reconstruction work, had helped train Iraqi soldiers and police, and had taken part in training Iraqis for counterinsurgency operations. Fitzgibbon calls the decision to withdraw overdue, noting Australian deployments in East Timor and Afghanistan. Former Prime Minister John Howard, who made the unpopular decision to deploy troops to Iraq in support of US and British forces, describes himself as “baffled” by the decision to withdraw, and says that had he been returned to office, “we would not have been bringing them home, we would have been looking at transitioning them from their soon-to-be terminated role to a training role.” Rudd counters by accusing Howard of misleading the country over the necessity of invading Iraq, saying, “Of most concern to this government was the manner in which the decision to go to war was made: the abuse of intelligence information, a failure to disclose to the Australian people the qualified nature of that intelligence.” 300 Australian soldiers will remain in Baghdad to help guard Australian diplomats, and 500 more will remain in the Middle East. [Guardian, 6/2/2008; Associated Press, 6/2/2008]
The USS Peleliu. [Source: Zack Baddor / AP]Human rights groups claim that the US is operating “floating prisons” as detention facilities for prisoners taken in the “war on terror.” The groups claim that the US is keeping prisoners aboard ships such as the USS Ashland, the USS Bataan, and the USS Peleliu (see December 27, 2001), and say that the Americans refuse to admit to the existence of such detainees. The human rights group Reprieve has asked that the US list the names and whereabouts of such “ghost detainees” held aboard US vessels. The existence of the detainees has come to light from a number of sources, including statements from US military officials, information provided by the Council of Europe and other parliamentary bodies, and prisoner testimonies (see June 2, 2008).
Details of Detentions - Reprieve says the US has used as many as 17 ships as “floating prisons” since 2001. While aboard, the prisoners are interrogated, then rendered to undisclosed locations. Fifteen of those ships may have operated around the British territory of Diego Garcia, which hosts a large British-American military base (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973 and After February 7, 2002). According to information obtained by Reprieve, in early 2007, the Ashland was involved in the detention and rendering of over 100 individuals abducted by Somali, Kenyan, and Ethiopian forces during an upsurge of fighting in Somalia, and then interrogated by FBI and CIA agents. Those individuals have now disappeared, but many are believed to be held in prisons in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Guantanamo Bay, among other possible sites. One prisoner released from Guantanamo has retold the account of a fellow inmate’s detention: “[H]e was in the cage next to me. He told me that there were about 50 other people on the ship. They were all closed off in the bottom of the ship. The prisoner commented to me that it was like something you see on TV. The people held on the ship were beaten even more severely than in Guantanamo.” Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve’s legal director, says the US military “choose ships to try to keep their misconduct as far as possible from the prying eyes of the media and lawyers. We will eventually reunite these ghost prisoners with their legal rights.… By its own admission, the US government is currently detaining at least 26,000 people without trial in secret prisons, and information suggests up to 80,000 have been ‘through the system’ since 2001 (see November 17, 2005). The US government must show a commitment to rights and basic humanity by immediately revealing who these people are, where they are, and what has been done to them.”
British Officials Ask for Accountability - Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative MP who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition, says both the US and British governments must own up to their practices of rendition and “ghost detainees.” “Little by little, the truth is coming out on extraordinary rendition,” he says. “The rest will come, in time. Better for governments to be candid now, rather than later. Greater transparency will provide increased confidence that President Bush’s departure from justice and the rule of law in the aftermath of September 11 is being reversed, and can help to win back the confidence of moderate Muslim communities, whose support is crucial in tackling dangerous extremism.” Tyrie has requested that an investigation into the use of Diego Garcia as a rendition refueling stop be undertaken (see June 2, 2008). Liberal Democrat MP Edward Davey adds: “If the Bush administration is using British territories to aid and abet illegal state abduction, it would amount to a huge breach of trust with the British government. Ministers must make absolutely clear that they would not support such illegal activity, either directly or indirectly.” A US Naval spokesman says that none of its vessels have “detention facilities,” but admits that some detainees had been put on ships “for a few days” during their initial days of detention. He refuses to comment on reports that US Naval vessels stationed in or near Diego Garcia had been used as “prison ships.” [Guardian, 6/2/2008]
The British human rights organization Reprieve claims that the US has detained around 26,000 terror suspects in its network of secret prisons. It also says that several prisoners were held on a network of secret prison ships, both for detention and for interrogation sessions that were held “off the books.” The prisoners allegedly included American-born John Walker Lindh (see December 2001-January 2002) and Australian David Hicks (see July 3, 2003). Reprieve says that the US has used ships stationed off the Somali coast and off the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia to detain suspects (see June 2, 2008), including the USS Ashland, the USS Bataan, and the USS Peleliu; up to 17 naval vessels have been used, the group says. The Navy admits that its ships have sometimes housed prisoners for short periods of time, but denies that its vessels are used as long-term floating prisons. “We do not operate detention facilities on board Navy ships,” says Navy Commander Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman. Reprieve bases its claims on evidence from the US military, the Council of Europe, and testimony from a former detainee at the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. [Associated Press, 6/2/2008]
Aerial photo of Diego Garcia island. [Source: Department of Defense]British Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie, who chairs the all-party Parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition, files a formal complaint with the government’s Information Commissioner over the government’s use of the island of Diego Garcia for the rendition of US prisoners to foreign countries for interrogation and possibly torture (see After February 7, 2002 and June 2, 2008). Diego Garcia is a large atoll in the Indian Ocean under British jurisdiction, and hosts a large British-American military base (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973). Tyrie says he decided to make the complaint to learn if Britain was in breach of its obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994). The British government has recently admitted that at least two US rendition planes used Diego Garcia as a refueling base in 2002 (see December 2001-January 2002). “The foreign secretary has been forced to admit that two rendition planes refueled at Diego Garcia, despite explicit US assurances to the [British] government that no such flights had taken place,” Tyrie says. “Clearly people will conclude that these assurances are worthless.… But in response to requests by me the government has twice refused to release the terms of these assurances. Their disclosure will allow for a legal assessment of whether or not [Britain] has breached its obligations under the convention against torture, both with respect to Diego Garcia and to rendition generally.” Tyrie’s complaint requests that Foreign Secretary David Milbrand name the prisoners rendered through Diego Garcia by the US. Milbrand has already apologized to Parliament about falsely claiming that no US rendition flights have ever used Diego Garcia as a refueling base; other British government officials have issued similar denials (see January 8, 2003). But Manfred Novak, the UN special investigator on torture, says that he has credible evidence that detainees were held on Diego Garcia between 2002 and 2003. Human rights attorney Clive Stafford Smith says he believes two of the detainees were Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni (see Early January-January 9, 2002 and March 2004) and Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (see December 19, 2001 and January 2002 and After), though he cannot be sure since neither the US nor British governments are releasing the names of potential detainees kept at Diego Garcia. In 2007, a Council of Europe investigation into extraordinary rendition will learn that US agencies use Diego Garcia in the “processing” of “high-value detainees.” [Guardian, 6/2/2008; Guardian, 6/2/2008]
The Iraqi government will miss a July 31, 2008 target for an agreement on long-term relations between the US and Iraq (see March 7, 2008), according to an Iraqi government spokesman. The Bush administration wants the agreement—which is far more broad and permanent than previously disclosed—passed for what many believe are political purposes (see June 5, 2008). Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh says the agreement will not be made by the target date: “I don’t think that we can meet this date. There is a difference in viewpoints between Iraq and the US. I don’t think that time is enough to end this gap and to reach a joint understanding.… Therefore, we are not committed to July as a deadline.” Iraq is also considering possible alternatives to the proposed agreement, he says, but gives no details. The agreement has raised strong objections among many Iraqis, who suspect the US of trying to create a permanent occupation of their nation. [Reuters, 6/3/2008]
Henry Waxman (D-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, writes to Attorney General Michael Mukasey requesting access to the transcripts of interviews by President Bush and Vice President Cheney regarding the “outing” of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). The interviews were conducted as part of the investigation of former Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Waxman notes that he made a similar request in December 2007 which has gone unfulfilled (see December 3, 2007). Waxman wants the reports from Bush and Cheney’s interviews, and the unredacted reports from the interviews with Libby, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, former White House aide Cathie Martin, “and other senior White House officials.” Information revealed by McClellan in conjuction with his new book What Happened, including McClellan’s statement that Bush and Cheney “directed me to go out there and exonerate Scooter Libby,” and his assertion that “Rove, Libby, and possibly Vice President Cheney… allowed me, even encouraged me, to repeat a lie,” adds to evidence from Libby’s interviews that Cheney may have been the source of the information that Wilson worked for the CIA. For Cheney to leak Wilson’s identity, and to then direct McClellan to mislead the public, “would be a major breach of trust,” Waxman writes. He adds that no argument can be made for withholding the documents on the basis of executive privilege, and notes that in 1997 and 1998, the Oversight Committee demanded and received FBI interviews with then-President Clinton and then-Vice President Gore without even consulting the White House. [US House of Representatives, 6/3/2008; TPM Muckraker, 6/3/2008]
Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Henry A. Waxman, Condoleezza Rice, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Scott McClellan, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Michael Mukasey
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Two Iraqi lawmakers denounce a proposed deal that would provide for a permanent presence of US forces in Iraq (see March 7, 2008 and June 5, 2008). In a hearing of a House foreign affairs subcommittee chaired by William Delahunt (D-MA), two Iraqi legislators, Sheikh Khalaf al-Ulayyan and Professor Nadeem al-Jaberi, both lambast the deal. Al-Ulayyan is a Sunni cleric and al-Jaberi is a Shi’ite parliamentarian. Al-Jaberi says that the biggest problem with the deal is that it threatens Iraq’s sovereignty. “The Iraqi government right now does not have the full reign of its sovereignty, because of the thousands of foreign troops that are on its land,” he says. “And perhaps the Iraqi government does not have as of yet sufficient tools to run its own internal affairs. Therefore, I ask the American government not to embarrass the Iraqi government by putting it in a difficult situation with this agreement.” Since the status of the two nations is so unequal, al-Jabari says, the deal will likely “lead to more instability,” and they hope “any future agreement does not affect or impact Iraqi sovereignty, such as permanent military bases.” Any such security deal must wait until US troops have fully withdrawn from Iraq, he says. Al-Ulayyan says he wants to “salute the American people for their stand against the war, which we saw on TV in the form of demonstrations and protests.” While he warns against a precipitous withdrawal of US forces that might lead to “impotence and flaws in the security,” he notes that “protecting Iraq does not require signing long-term agreements like the one proposed, because [the US has] bases in surrounding countries like Kuwait, Jordan and so forth, and therefore, we don’t see any importance or need for military bases in Iraq.” [Washington Independent, 6/4/2008]
Mark Levin. [Source: 640 WHLO-AM]As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, nationally syndicated radio host Mark Levin tells his listeners that presidential candidate Barack Obama “lied to” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) when he “told them today that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards should be designated a terrorist group after voting against a bill designating them a terrorist group a year ago.” Fox News anchor Martha McCallum echoes the accusation a day later on her show The Live Desk, saying that Obama “seems to be changing his tune on the significant issue.” Both Levin and McCallum are misrepresenting Obama’s voting record. He has consistently voted to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, and co-sponsored a November 2007 bill to do just that. Levin and McCallum are referencing a 2007 bill that Obama says he would have voted against, a bill that, Obama said, “states that our military presence in Iraq should be used to counter Iran.” Obama disagreed with that portion of the resolution, not another section that advocated for the designation of the Guards as a terrorist organization. The false characterization of Obama’s stance on the Guards may originate with Obama’s opponent John McCain, who says just before Levin’s broadcast that Obama “was categorical in his statement when he opposed that legislation. Then he goes before AIPAC and supports it. I know he’s changing on the surge, he’s trying to change on his pledge to negotiate with dictators without preconditions.” Levin flatly calls Obama “a liar… he’s a radical extremist and he’s a liar.” [Media Matters, 6/6/2008]
The US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, denies that the US is trying to set up permanent military bases in Iraq. Recent reports have shown that the Bush administration is apparently trying to “strong-arm” Iraq into agreeing to a permanent military presence in the country (see June 5, 2008). While the Bush administration wants a military presence in Iraq for the foreseeable future, “It is not going to be forever,” Crocker says. “There isn’t going to be an agreement that infringes on Iraqi sovereignty.” The military agreement will have a provision for periodic review and renewal, as do similar agreements with other countries, Crocker says. Many Iraqi lawmakers and civilians are balking at some of the provisions of the proposed agreement, including the long-term placement of private security forces inside Iraq, the legal immunity enjoyed by US government and corporate personnel, the longevity of the 50 or so bases proposed in the agreement, the US control over Iraqi airspace, and, more generally, the worry that the agreement will lock in US military, economic, and political domination of the country for generations to come. “The Americans have some demands that the Iraqi government regards as infringing on its sovereignty,” says lawmaker Haider al-Abadi. “This is the main dispute, and if the dispute is not settled, I frankly tell you there will not be an agreement.” Crocker denies that the bill contains any secret provisions, and that the entire deal is “transparent” for both Iraqis and Americans. The proposed agreement was kept secret for at least a month before being leaked to the British press in April (see March 7, 2008). [Associated Press, 6/5/2008]
The British newspaper The Independent reports on a secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad that would indefinitely perpetuate the American occupation of Iraq, no matter who wins the US presidential elections in November. Under the accord, US troops and private contractors will occupy over 50 permanent military bases, conduct military operations without consulting the Iraqi government, arrest Iraqis at will, control Iraqi airspace, and be immune from Iraqi law. The agreement goes much farther than a previous draft agreement created between the two countries in March (see March 7, 2008). It is based on a so-called “Declaration of Principles” issued by both governments in November 2007 (see November 26, 2007). The US says it has no intention of entering into a permanent agreement (see June 5, 2008).
Forcing Agreement Over Iraqi Opposition - President Bush intends to force the so-called “strategic alliance” onto the Iraqi government, without modifications, by the end of July. Inside sources believe that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki opposes the deal, but feels that his government cannot stay in power without US backing and therefore has no power to resist. Iraqi ministers have said they will reject any agreement that limits Iraqi sovereignty, insiders believe that their resistance is little more than bluster designed to shore up their credentials as defenders of Iraqi independence; they will sign off on the agreement in the end, observers believe. The only person with the authority to block the deal is Shi’ite religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. But al-Sistani is said to believe that the Shi’a cannot afford to lose US support if they intend to remain in control of the government. Al-Sistani’s political rival, cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, has exhorted his followers to demonstrate against the agreement as a compromise of Iraqi sovereignty. As for the other two power blocs in the country, the Kurds are likely to accept the agreement, and, interestingly, so are many Sunni political leaders, who want the US in Iraq to dilute the Shi’ites’ control of the government. (Many Sunni citizens oppose any such deal.) While the Iraqi government itself is trying to delay the signing of the accord, Vice President Dick Cheney has been instrumental in pushing for its early acceptance. The US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, has spent weeks trying to secure the agreement.
'Explosive Political Effect' - Many Iraqis fear that the deal will have what reporter Patrick Cockburn calls “an explosive political effect in Iraq… [it may] destabilize Iraq’s position in the Middle East and lay the basis for unending conflict in their country.” Cockburn writes that the accords may provoke a political crisis in the US as well. Bush wants the accords pushed through “so he can declare a military victory and claim his 2003 invasion has been vindicated.” The accord would also boost the candidacy of John McCain (R-AZ), who claims the US is on the brink of victory in Iraq. It would fly in the face of pledges made by McCain’s presidential opponent Barack Obama (D-IL), who has promised to withdraw US troops from Iraq if elected. McCain has said that Obama will throw away a US victory if he prematurely withdraws troops. An Iraqi politician says of the potential agreement, “It is a terrible breach of our sovereignty.” He adds that such an agreement will delegitimize the Iraqi government and prove to the world that it is nothing more than a puppet government controlled by the US. While US officials have repeatedly denied that the Bush administration wants permanent bases in Iraq, an Iraqi source retorts, “This is just a tactical subterfuge.”
Exacerbating Tensions with Iran - Iranian leader Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani says that the agreement will create “a permanent occupation.… The essence of this agreement is to turn the Iraqis into slaves of the Americans.” The deal may also inflame tensions between Iran and the US; currently the two countries are locked in an under-the-radar struggle to win influence in Iraq. [Independent, 6/5/2008]
Entity Tags: Moqtada al-Sadr, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Hashemi Rafsanjani, John McCain, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Ryan C. Crocker, Sayyid Ali Husaini al-Sistani, Patrick Cockburn, Nouri al-Maliki, Independent
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
NBC News Middle East correspondent Richard Engel, discussing the proposed permanent basing of US forces in Iraq (see June 5, 2008), says that, according to US and Iraqi officials, the bases would technically belong to Iraq. Such a measure is part of what Engel calls “a face saving device.” Engel says that “US troops would reside on them as tenants.” Engel’s report meshes with a recent statement by US Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who has said that “there isn’t going to be an agreement that infringes on Iraqi sovereignty” (see June 5, 2008). [American University Radio, 6/5/2008; Think Progress (.org), 6/7/2008]
Senate Democrats and Republicans spar over the just-released Senate Intelligence Committee report about the Bush administration’s use of intelligence in the run-up to war with Iraq (see June 5, 2008). However, no Democrat pushes for criminal charges against any White House officials, and administration officials dismiss the report as “old news.” Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) says of the report: “The tragic fact is, on issues of war and peace, which should require the most meticulous and the most precise adherence to the truth, the administration was too often careless with its words, including in some cases making presentations that were not substantiated by the available intelligence—or worse, directly contradicted by the available intelligence. The administration went well beyond what the intelligence community knew and what it believed.” Rockefeller says pushing for criminal charges would be pointless and would completely shut down already-strained relations between Congress and the White House. “It would mean nothing else, whether it’s clean air or FISA, would get done,” he says. “It’s like pressing for impeachment. It’s a grand act with only five or six months to go. It’s a futile act and it’s a wrong act, because we do have business to do.” Interestingly, Rockefeller acknowledges that charges should be brought, saying: “Should it be done in the wide sweep of history? Yes. Should it be done by us, now? No.” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) says, “It rots the very fiber of democracy when our government is put to these uses.” White House press secretary Dana Perino says that the report actually vindicates the administration in some areas, and in others merely rehashes old claims that the administration has already acknowledged and “taken measures to fix.” Republican committee member Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO) calls the report “political theater… that makes partisan points but isn’t grounded in fact,” and adds: “I don’t know why they’re trying to run against the Bush administration. Maybe they think it’s good. But unfortunately it denigrates the process of intelligence collection, analysis and oversight and that’s why it’s a very shabby example of how partisan politics can be misused in the intelligence community.” Former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke says there must be some accountability: “I just don’t think we can let these people back into polite society and give them jobs on university boards and corporate boards and just let them pretend that nothing ever happened when there are 4,000 Americans dead and 25,000 Americans grievously wounded, and they’ll carry those wounds and suffer all the rest of their lives.” Progressive commentator Arianna Huffington calls the report “a direct rebuke to the administration’s continued claims that it was the intelligence that was faulty, and that Bush and Co. were simply presenting what the CIA had given them.… The report doesn’t use the word, but we all know what it’s called when someone presents something as fact that’s directly contradicted by the evidence. A lie. Not a mistake. A lie.” [Hill, 6/5/2008; Huffington Post, 6/9/2008]
The Senate Intelligence Committee releases its long-awaited “Phase II” report on the Bush administration’s use of intelligence in convincing the country that it was necessary to invade Iraq. According to the report, none of the claims made by the administration—particularly that Iraq had WMD and that its government had working ties with Islamist terror organizations such as al-Qaeda—were based in any intelligence reporting. The committee released “Phase I” of its report in July 2004, covering the quality of intelligence used in making the case for war; the second phase was promised “soon afterwards” by the then-Republican leadership of the committee, but nothing was done until after Democrats took over the committee in November 2006. The report is the product of what the Associated Press calls “nasty partisan fight[ing]” among Republicans and Democrats, and largely fails to reveal much information that has not earlier been reported elsewhere. [Associated Press, 6/5/2008] The report is bipartisan in that two Republican committee members, Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE), joined the committee’s Democrats to sign the report. [Hill, 6/5/2008]
False Linkages between Iraq, Al-Qaeda - Time magazine notes that the report “doesn’t break any new ground,” but tries “to make the case that President Bush and his advisers deliberately disregarded conflicting intel and misled Americans on the severity of the Iraqi threat.” Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) says: “It is my belief that the Bush administration was fixated on Iraq, and used the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda as justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. To accomplish this, top administration officials made repeated statements that falsely linked Iraq and al-Qaeda as a single threat.” [Time, 6/6/2008]
Examination of Five Speeches - The report looks at the statements of current and former Bush administration officials such as President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, between October 2002 and the actual invasion of Iraq in March 2003 (see January 23, 2008), largely focusing on five speeches:
Cheney’s speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention (see August 26, 2002);
Bush’s statement to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002);
Bush’s speech in Cincinnati (see October 7, 2002);
Bush’s State of the Union speech (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003);
and Powell’s presentation to the United Nations Security Council (see February 5, 2003).
The report contrasts these speeches and statements to intelligence reports that have since then been released. The report only assesses the veracity of public comments made by Bush officials, and does not delve into any possible behind-the-scenes machinations by those officials or their surrogates. Some of the report’s conclusions:
“Statements which indicated that [Saddam] Hussein was prepared to give WMDs to terrorists were inconsistent with existing intelligence at the time, as were statements that suggested a partnership between the two.”
“Claims that airstrikes on their own would not be sufficient to destroy purported chemical and biological weapons in Iraq were unsubstantiated.”
“Most statements that supported the theory that Hussein had access to or the capacity to build chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons did not take into account the disagreements between intelligence agencies as to the credibility of the WMD allegations.”
'Statements beyond What the Intelligence Supported' - Rockefeller says the administration concealed information that contradicted their arguments that an invasion was necessary. “We might have avoided this catastrophe,” he says. The report finds that while many of the administration’s claims were supported by at least some intelligence findings, the administration routinely refused to mention dissents or uncertainties expressed by intelligence analysts about the information being presented. The committee’s five Republicans assail the report as little more than election-year partisanship, and accuse Democrats of using the report to cover for their own members, including Rockefeller and Carl Levin (D-MI), who supported the administration’s push for war at the time. [Senate Intelligence Committee, 6/5/2008 ; Associated Press, 6/5/2008; Time, 6/6/2008] Rockefeller answers the Republican charges by saying, “[T]here is a fundamental difference between relying on incorrect intelligence and deliberately painting a picture to the American people that you know is not fully accurate.” Committee member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) writes in a note attached to the report: “Even though the intelligence before the war supported inaccurate statements, this administration distorted the intelligence in order to build its case to go to war. The executive branch released only those findings that supported the argument, did not relay uncertainties, and at times made statements beyond what the intelligence supported.” [Huffington Post, 6/5/2008]
Entity Tags: Chuck Hagel, John D. Rockefeller, Colin Powell, Dianne Feinstein, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Carl Levin, Olympia Snowe, Al-Qaeda, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Senate Intelligence Committee, Saddam Hussein
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
The US is pressuring the Iraqi government to accept a military agreement for permanent US bases in Iraq (see March 7, 2008 and June 5, 2008) by using some $50 billion of Iraqi money being kept in the US Federal Reserve Bank as a negotiating tool. About $20 billion in outstanding court judgments exist against Iraq in the US. A presidential order currently gives that money protection from judicial attachment. But, US officials have told Iraqi lawmakers, if they do not sign the accord with the US, President Bush will lift that immunity and the $20 billion will be confiscated by the US court system. [Independent, 6/6/2008; Xinhua News Agency (Beijing), 6/6/2008] Reporter Patrick Cockburn writes: “The US is able to threaten Iraq with the loss of 40 percent of its foreign exchange reserves because Iraq’s independence is still limited by the legacy of UN sanctions and restrictions imposed on Iraq since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in the 1990s. This means that Iraq is still considered a threat to international security and stability under Chapter Seven of the UN charter. The US negotiators say the price of Iraq escaping Chapter Seven is to sign up to a new ‘strategic alliance’ with the United States.” Cockburn writes that regardless of the financial “blackmail,” Iraqis are resistant to the agreement because they fear it will make their nation a perpetual “client state” of the US. [Independent, 6/6/2008]
Jan Schakowsky. [Source: Washington Post]Fifty-six Democratic members of the House of Representatives send a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, asking him to appoint a special counsel to investigate whether top Bush administration officials committed crimes in authorizing the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics against suspected terrorists (see April 2002 and After). The lawmakers, who include John Conyers (D-MI), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and House Intelligence Committee members Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), cite “mounting evidence” that senior officials personally sanctioned the use of such extreme interrogation methods. An independent investigation is needed to determine whether such actions violated US or international law, the letter states. “This information indicates that the Bush administration may have systematically implemented, from the top down, detainee interrogation policies that constitute torture or otherwise violate the law,” the letter says. It adds that a broad inquiry is needed to examine the consequences of administration decisions at US detention sites in Iraq, at Guantanamo, and in secret prisons operated by the CIA. The interrogation methods have resulted in “abuse, sexual exploitation and torture” that may have violated the War Crimes Act of 1996 and the American Anti-Torture Act of 2007. “Despite the seriousness of the evidence, the Justice Department has brought prosecution against only one civilian for an interrogation-related crime,” the letter reads. “Given that record, we believe it is necessary to appoint a special counsel in order to ensure that a thorough and impartial investigation occurs.” Conyers tells reporters after sending the letter, “We need an impartial criminal investigation.” The entire detainee controversy is “a truly shameful episode” in US history, he says. “Because these apparent ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were used under cover of Justice Department legal opinions, the need for an outside special prosecutor is obvious.” The Justice Department refuses to comment on the letter. Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch says that the letter is significant even if Mukasey refuses to appoint a special counsel. “The fact that so many representatives have called for the investigation helps lay the groundwork for the inevitable reckoning and accounting that the next administration is going to have to do regarding this administration’s practices,” she says. [US House of Representatives, 6/6/2008; Washington Post, 6/7/2008; United Press International, 6/7/2008]
Entity Tags: Jerrold Nadler, House Intelligence Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), House Judiciary Committee, Human Rights Watch, Michael Mukasey, US Department of Justice, John Conyers, Jan Schakowsky, Jennifer Daskal
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Bill Moyers, John Walcott, Jonathan Landay, and Greg Mitchell on PBS’s ‘Journal.’ [Source: PBS]In his regular “Journal” broadcast, PBS political commentator Bill Moyers focuses on the role of the media in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. “America was deceived, with the media’s help,” Moyers declares, and interviews three media figures to help explain how: John Walcott, Washington bureau chief of McClatchy News; Jonathan Landay, one of Walcott’s “ace reporters;” and Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher, “known to many of us as the watchdog’s watchdog.” Part of the discussion focuses on the failure of most media reporters and broadcasters to question the Bush administration’s assertions about the Iraq war. Landay says, “I was just I was left breathless by some of the things that I heard where you heard correspondents say, ‘Well, we did ask the tough questions. We asked them to the White House spokesmen,’ Scott McClellan and others. And you say to yourself, ‘And you expected to get real answers? You expected them to say from the White House podium—“Yeah, well, there were disagreements over the intelligence, but we ignored them”’ when the President made his speeches and the Vice President made his speeches. No, I don’t think so.” Mitchell agrees, noting that ABC reporter Charles Gibson said that we “wouldn’t ask any different questions.” Mitchell says he found Gibson’s remarks “shocking.” Mitchell continues: “[T]hat someone would say we would even with the chance to relive this experience and so much we got wrong—going to war is—which is still going on over five years later, all the lost lives, all the financial costs of that. And then to look back at this, you know, this terrible episode in history of American journalism and say that if I could do it all over again, I’m not sure we would ask any different questions.” Walcott takes a different tack, saying that reporters “may have asked all the right questions. The trouble is they asked all the wrong people.” Landay notes that “you have to take the time to find those people,” and Mitchell adds that when you do find real information, “[y]ou can’t bury it.” Landay adds that some powerful, public admission of error and self-examination might go far to counter the perception that the media is just as untrustworthy as the government.
Drowned Out - Walcott notes that even when reporters found informed sources willing to talk about the realities behind the push for war, they were drowned out by “Donald Rumsfeld at the podium or Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice saying, ‘We can’t allow the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud’” (see September 4, 2002 and September 8, 2002). “Over and over again,” Moyers notes. “Over and over again on camera,” Walcott continues. “[T]hat trumps the kind of reporting that John and [Landay’s partner] Warren Strobel did from these mid-level guys who actually know that there’s no prospect of any smoking gun let alone a mushroom cloud. And so when it gets to packaging television news, it’s picture driven, it’s celebrity driven, and that doesn’t allow much room for this kind of hard-nosed reporting under the radar.” Mitchell says, “There’s been at least six opportunities in the last two months for the media to do this long delayed and much needed self-assessment, self-criticism to the American public and it hasn’t happened.”
Liberal vs. Conservative Media - Moyers notes that many conservative media outlets “do not believe they got it wrong. I mean, Fox News was reinforcing the administration’s messages back then and still does today.” Walcott notes, “You know, if Fox News’s mission is to defend Republican administrations then they’re right, they didn’t fail.” He notes that in his book, McClellan draws a distinction between the conservative and the “liberal” media (presumably the New York Times, Washington Post, etc). “I don’t understand what liberal versus conservative has to do with this,” Walcott says. “I would have thought that conservatives would be the ones to ask questions about a march to war. How much is this gonna cost us? What’s the effect of this gonna be on our military, on our country’s strength overseas? I don’t think it’s a liberal conservative question at all. I think that’s, frankly, a canard by Scott.”
Celebrity 'Experts' - Moyers asks about the “experts” who predicted that the war would be quick, bloodless, and successful. Even though they were “terribly wrong,” Moyers notes that most of them are “still on the air today pontificating. I mean, there seems to be no price to be paid for having been wrong about so serious an issue of life and death, war and peace.” Walcott says they are not news analysts so much as they are celebrities. Big name actors can make bad movies and still draw million-dollar salaries for their next film: “It’s the same phenomenon. A name is what matters. And it’s about celebrity. It’s about conflict. It’s about—” Landay completes Walcott’s sentence: “Ratings.”
'Skunks at the Garden Party' - Perhaps the most disturbing portion of the discussion is when Walcott notes that the kind of old-fashioned investigative reporting exemplified by Landay and Strobel is “by definition… unpopular.… Because the public doesn’t wanna hear it.… Doesn’t wanna hear the President lied to them. Doesn’t wanna hear that the local police chief is on the take. You know, people don’t like necessarily to hear all that kind of stuff. And when you’re worried about, above all, your advertising revenue, you become more vulnerable to those kinds of pressures.… Well, the skunks don’t get invited to the garden party. And part of our job is to be the skunks at the garden party.” [PBS, 6/6/2008]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Charles Gibson, Bush administration (43), Bill Moyers, ABC News, Fox News, Washington Post, Public Broadcasting System, Editor & Publisher, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, McClatchy News, Warren Strobel, Jonathan Landay, Greg Mitchell, Scott McClellan, John Walcott, New York Times
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
PBS political commentator Bill Moyers hosts a wide-ranging discussion of the media’s role in legitimizing the Bush administration’s military interventionism in the Middle East (see June 6, 2008). Joining Moyers are John Walcott, the Washington bureau chief of McClatchy News; McClatchy reporter Jonathan Landay; and Greg Mitchell, the purveyor of the media watchdog site Editor & Publisher. The four spend a good part of their time discussing the US’s attempt to “sell” a war with Iran. Moyers says the administration is having trouble pushing such a war because the American public is leery of more dire administration warnings, “given how we were misled about Iraq.” Walcott points out that Iran is a more imminent threat than Iraq, “a much tougher problem than Iraq ever was,” and notes that while Iraq never supported terrorists or had WMD, Iran supports terrorist groups “with a fair amount of enthusiasm” and has a nuclear energy program with the potential to cause grave harm. Landay notes that one big difference in the way the administration is handling Iran as opposed to how it handled Iraq is the fact that the administration is now working with the UN Security Council and even the International Atomic Energy Agency, whereas with Iraq the administration displayed a belligerent, “go it alone” attitude.
They're a Bunch of Crazy Shi'ites - Walcott notes that he finds one argument about Iran particularly disturbing: “[T]hat’s the one that says the Iranians would use nuclear weapons against us or against Israel. Well, both Israel and the United States have the capability to turn Iran into a skating rink. When you explode a nuclear weapon over sand, it turns into glass. And the counter to that from some quarters has been as crazy as anything I’ve heard, which is, well, that we can’t deter the Iranians because they’re Shi’ites and they’re all eager to commit suicide to hasten the arrival of the 12th Imam. So deterrents won’t work against Iran because they’re a bunch of crazy Shi’ites. That to me is as crazy as anything we heard about Saddam [Hussein] and his ties to al-Qaeda. That one, the fact that that one’s out there concerns me.”
Military Strike against Iran? - Walcott says he knows for a fact that there is a large and influential faction within the Bush administration that is determined to force a military strike against Iraq before Bush’s term of office ends. This faction has the support of influential Israeli government officials, even hints of support from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. “[T]hat issue’s gonna be on the table until January 20th [2009, when the next US president is inaugurated] because one of the things we’ve learned is these people don’t go away,” Walcott says. “They’re still out there. They’re still advocating.” Landay notes that many of the same people who advocated for the invasion of Iraq are the ones pushing for a strike against Iran, “[a]nd yet they keep being brought on television and quoted in newspaper stories, when their, you know, now, after this horrendous track record they had in Iraq. So you wonder how it is that there are people who have been fanning the flames for going after Iran. Some of them the very same people.” Mitchell notes that the questions that should have been asked and re-asked by the media before the Iraq invasion—will military force neutralize the threats, what will be the aftereffects and ramifications of military strikes, how many will die—are not yet being asked about Iran. Walcott notes how easily Iran could retaliate for US strikes: “sink one oil tanker in the Persian Gulf or the Strait of Hormuz, just one, and the insurance rates will take care of the rest. And you’ll have $200, $250 a barrel oil. So that’s one thing to think about.”
Iran and the NIE - Moyers asks why it was so easy for President Bush to simply disavow the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear weapons (see December 3, 2007) just by saying that, in essence, “the NIE’s conclusions don’t reflect his own views, that there is an ongoing threat.” Moyers says that Bush does not care “what the facts are, this is [his] reality.” Mitchell notes that NBC anchor emeritus Tom Brokaw called it more of a matter of “theology” (see May 29, 2008). But Landay says that just as interesting is the fact that, if Iran indeed is building nuclear weapons, which it well may be, “the administration’s having a really hard time getting traction for its case. Why? Because it’s lost its credibility on Iraq.” Mitchell adds, “And the media has lost credibility.” [PBS, 6/6/2008]
In a panel discussion hosted by PBS’s Bill Moyers, journalist Jonathan Landay, discussing the US war in Afghanistan, notes that the vast majority of media coverage has been granted to the Iraq occupation. The war in Afghanistan is largely forgotten by the media, or merely rolled into Iraq coverage. Landay notes that Afghanistan is “a far more serious threat for US national security than Iraq is.” Similarly, the media rarely reports on the dire terrorist threats centered in the tribal areas of Pakistan. “[T]his is a black hole virtually which the United States is deeply involved in that we don’t see a lot of meaningful, I mean, in-depth coverage of,” he says. [PBS, 6/6/2008]
During a PBS broadcast of a panel discussion about US interventions in the Middle East, host Bill Moyers observes that the hidden costs of the Iraq war are staggering. He notes that the huge number of suicides among US soldiers in Iraq as well as those who have come home is “the dirty little secret of this war.” The broken Veterans Administration, and its inability to provide decent medical care for the troops, is another, he says. Not only are these underreported in the US media, he says, even the economic costs get relatively little play, despite the fact that “The war’s costing us $5,000 a second, $12 1/2 billion to $13 billion a month,” with the costs ultimately soaring into the trillions of dollars. “[T]hat would seem to hit people in the viscera,” he says. Guest Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher says that the economic issues of the war are one of the biggest reasons why President Bush’s approval ratings stay below 30 percent, even as the media touts the “surge” (see January 2007 and January 10, 2007) as such a success. “[T]he reason is the people figured out long ago, long ago that the war was a mistake and that it’s incredibly costly in the human and financial and even moral terms.” [PBS, 6/6/2008]
A group of German civil rights lawyers files a lawsuit against the German government, demanding that the government attempt to extradite 13 CIA agents named in the alleged kidnapping of a German citizen. Khalid el-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, says he was abducted in December 2003 at the Serbian-Macedonian border (see December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004 and January 23 - March 2004). He was flown by the CIA to a detention center in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he was interrogated and abused for months. El-Masri says he was released in Albania in May 2004, and told that he was the victim of mistaken identity (see May 29, 2004). No government or body has yet taken responsibility for el-Masri’s kidnapping and brutalization. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other US officials have refused to address the case, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the US acknowledged making a mistake with el-Masri.
Accountability - “We are demanding accountability” with the lawsuit, says attorney Wolfgang Kaleck. For himself, el-Masri says, “I just want the German government to acknowledge what happened to me.” An American judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by el-Masri against the CIA and three US corporations in 2006 (see May 18, 2006). In January 2007, German prosecutors issued warrants for the arrests of 13 CIA agents, accusing them of wrongfully imprisoning el-Masri and causing him serious bodily harm. The US Justice Department refused the requests, citing “American national interests,” and the German Ministry of Justice dropped the request. The lawsuit seeks to force the German government to reconsider extradition for the CIA agents.
Extraordinary Rendition - According to human rights organizations, el-Masri’s case is an example of “extraordinary rendition,” where the US takes suspected terrorists to foreign countries where they are subjected to abuse and torture. A criminal lawsuit against CIA officers in conjunction with the el-Masri case is also ongoing in Macedonia; that case could end up before the European Court of Human Rights. And the American Civil Liberties Union has also filed a petition on el-Masri’s behalf through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a body that seeks to establish international laws. [Associated Press, 6/9/2008]
The recently released Senate Intelligence Committee report on misleading, exaggerated, and inaccurate presentations of the prewar Iraqi threat by the Bush administration (see June 5, 2008) leaves out some significant material. The report says that the panel did not review “less formal communications between intelligence agencies and other parts of the executive branch.” The committee made no attempt to obtain White House records or interview administration officials because, the report says, such steps were considered beyond the scope of the report. Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus notes that “[o]ne obvious target for such an expanded inquiry would have been the records of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), a group set up in August 2002 by then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.” WHIG (see August 2002) was composed of, among other senior White House officials, senior political adviser Karl Rove; the vice president’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby; communications strategists Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, and James Wilkinson; legislative liaison Nicholas Calio; and a number of policy aides led by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley.
WHIG Led Marketing of War - Scott McClellan, the former White House press secretary, recently wrote in his book What Happened that WHIG “had been set up in the summer of 2002 to coordinate the marketing of the war to the public.… The script had been finalized with great care over the summer [for a] “campaign to convince Americans that war with Iraq was inevitable and necessary.” On September 6, 2002, Card hinted as much to reporters when he said, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August” (see September 6, 2002). Two days later, the group scored its first hit with a front-page New York Times story about Iraq’s secret purchase of aluminum tubes that, the story said, could be used to produce nuclear weapons (see September 8, 2002). The information for that story came from “senior administration officials” now known to be members of WHIG. The story was the first to make the statement that “the first sign of a ‘smoking gun’ [proving the existence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program] may be a mushroom cloud” (see September 4, 2002); that same morning, the same message was repeated three times by various senior administration officials on the Sunday talk shows (see September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, and September 8, 2002). WHIG did not “deliberately mislead the public,” McClellan claimed in his book, but wrote that the “more fundamental problem was the way [Bush’s] advisers decided to pursue a political propaganda campaign to sell the war to the American people.… As the campaign accelerated,” caveats and qualifications were downplayed or dropped altogether. Contradictory intelligence was largely ignored or simply disregarded.”
Records Perusal Would 'Shed Light' - If indeed the White House “repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even nonexistent,” as committee chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) has said, then an examination of WHIG’s records would, Pincus writes, “shed much light” on the question. [Washington Post, 6/9/2008]
Entity Tags: New York Times, Karen Hughes, John D. Rockefeller, James R. Wilkinson, Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), Andrew Card, Karl C. Rove, Mary Matalin, Senate Intelligence Committee, Stephen J. Hadley, Walter Pincus, White House Iraq Group, Nicholas E. Calio, Scott McClellan, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
The lawyer for Mohammed Jawad, a young Guantanamo detainee held in US captivity for almost six years (see December 17, 2002) and charged with attempted murder (see October 7, 2007), attempts to have the charges against his client dismissed. Major David Frakt tells the court that Jawad has been subjected to a harsh regime of sleep deprivation nicknamed the “frequent flyer program.” Records show that Jawad was moved from one cell to another 112 times over the period of two weeks, with guards shackling, moving, and unshackling him for an average of once every two hours and 50 minutes. Frakt tells the court that Jawad had attempted suicide months before. The military commission judge refuses to dismiss the charges. [Human Rights First, 9/2008]
The Supreme Court rules 5-4 that foreign terror suspects held without charge at Guantanamo Bay have the Constitutional right to challenge their detention in US civilian courts. The Court splits along ideological lines, with the more liberal and moderate members supporting the finding, and the more conservative members opposing it. Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered a centrist, writes the ruling. He writes, “The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times.” The ruling specifically strikes down the portion of the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006) that denies detainees their habeas corpus rights to file petitions. [Associated Press, 6/12/2008; Associated Press, 6/12/2008] The case is Boumediene v. Bush, and was filed in the Supreme Court in March 2007 on behalf of Lakhdar Boumediene, a Bosnian citizen held in the Guantanamo camp since 2002 (see January 18, 2002). It was combined with a similar case, Al Odah v United States (see October 20, 2004). [Oyez (.org), 6/2007; Jurist, 6/29/2007]
'Stinging Rebuke' for Bush Administration - The ruling is considered a serious setback for the Bush administration (a “stinging rebuke,” in the words of the Associated Press), which insists that terror suspects detained at Guantanamo and elsewhere have no rights in the US judicial system. It is unclear whether the ruling will lead to prompt hearings for detainees [Associated Press, 6/12/2008; Associated Press, 6/12/2008] ; law professor James Cohen, who represents two detainees, says, “Nothing is going to happen between June 12 and January 20,” when the next president takes office. Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr says the decision will not affact war crimes trials already in the works: “Military commission trials will therefore continue to go forward.”
Scalia: Ruling Will 'Cause More Americans to Be Killed' - President Bush says he disagrees with the ruling, and says he may seek new legislation to keep detainees under lock and key. Justice Antonin Scalia, the leader of the Court’s ideological right wing, agrees; in a “blistering” dissent, he writes that the decision “will make the war harder on us. It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.” In his own dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts argues that the ruling strikes down “the most generous set of procedural protections ever afforded aliens detained by this country as enemy combatants.” Joining Scalia and Roberts in the minority are Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. Voting in the majority are Kennedy and Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter, and John Paul Stevens.
Military Tribunals 'Doomed,' Says Navy Lawyer - Former Navy lawyer Charles Swift, who argued a similar case before the Supreme Court in Hamdan v Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), says he believes the ruling removes any legal basis for keeping Guantanamo open, and says that military tribunals are “doomed.” The entire rationale for Guantanamo and the tribunals, Swift says, is the idea that “constitutional protections wouldn’t apply.” But now, “The court said the Constitution applies. They’re in big trouble.” Democrats and many human rights organizations hail the ruling as affirming the US’s commitment to the rule of law; some Republican lawmakers say the ruling puts foreign terrorists’ rights over the safety of the American people. Vincent Warren, the head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, says: “The Supreme Court has finally brought an end to one of our nation’s most egregious injustices. By granting the writ of habeas corpus, the Supreme Court recognizes a rule of law established hundreds of years ago and essential to American jurisprudence since our nation’s founding.” [Associated Press, 6/12/2008]
Entity Tags: Stephen Breyer, Vincent Warren, US Supreme Court, Samuel Alito, Military Commissions Act, Peter Carr, Bush administration (43), Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Charles Swift, Clarence Thomas, David Souter, George W. Bush, Lakhdar Boumediene, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, James Cohen, John G. Roberts, Jr, US Department of Justice
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh tells his audience that the Islamic terrorist organization Hamas has endorsed Democratic candidate Barack Obama. A Hamas spokesman had made positive comments about Obama in April, but after Obama stated his support for Israel against Hamas and other Islamist terror organizations, a Hamas spokesman stated that his organization “does not differentiate between the two presidential candidates, Obama and [Republican John] McCain, because their policies regarding the Arab-Israel conflict are the same and are hostile to us, therefore we do have no preference and are not wishing for either of them to win.” As reported by progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, Limbaugh says: “I will guaran-damn-tee you there will not be a terrorist attack before the election. And you know why there won’t be one? Because they want Obama elected.… Hamas has endorsed Obama. Hamas has endorsed Obama. Do you think they’re going to do anything to upset the apple cart of Obama’s election? Why do you think they’ve endorsed Obama? Because they want a very strong ally for Israel in the White House?” Limbaugh expands his rhetoric to equate Democrats with Islamic terrorists: “[E]very time I hear [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad speak, every time I hear a tape from [al-Qaeda leader] Ayman al Zawahiri or a so-called dispatch from [Osama] bin Laden, whenever I hear from any of these Middle East al-Qaeda terrorists, I think I’m hearing Democrat [sic] Party talking points.… Am I politically incorrect for saying this? We all know it to be true.” Limbaugh has previously asserted that “Islamofascists are actively campaigning for the election of Democrats.” [Reuters, 6/4/2008; Media Matters, 6/24/2008]
David Addington and John Yoo before the House Judiciary Committee. [Source: Washington Post]David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Cheney and one of the architects of the Bush administration’s torture policies (see Late September 2001), testifies before the House Judiciary Committee. He is joined by Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, who authored or contributed to many of the legal opinions that the administration used to justify the torture and “extralegal” treatment of terror suspects (see November 6-10, 2001). Addington, unwillingly responding to a subpoena, is, in Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank’s description, “nasty, brutish, and short” with his questioners. [Washington Post, 6/27/2008] He tells lawmakers that the world has not changed much since the 9/11 attacks: “Things are not so different today as people think. No American should think we are free, the war is over, al-Qaeda is not coming.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/27/2008]
Refusing to Define 'Unitary Executive' - Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) peppers Addington with questions about the Bush administration and its penchant for the “unitary executive” paradigm, which in essence sees the executive branch as separate and above the other two, “lesser” branches of government. Addington is one of the main proponents of this theory (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But instead of answering Conyers’s questions, he slaps away the questions with what Milbank calls “disdain.”
Addington: “I frankly don’t know what you mean by unitary theory.”
Conyers: “Have you ever heard of that theory before?”
Addington: “I see it in the newspapers all the time.”
Conyers: “Do you support it?”
Addington: “I don’t know what it is.”
Conyers (angrily): “You’re telling me you don’t know what the unitary theory means?”
Addington: “I don’t know what you mean by it.”
Conyers: “Do you know what you mean by it?”
Addington: “I know exactly what I mean by it.”
Open Contempt - He flatly refuses to answer most questions, and treats the representatives who ask him those questions with open contempt and, in Milbank’s words, “unbridled hostility.” One representative asks if the president is ever justified in breaking the law, and Addington retorts, “I’m not going to answer a legal opinion on every imaginable set of facts any human being could think of.” When asked if he consulted Congress when interpreting torture laws, Addington snaps: “That’s irrelevant.… There is no reason their opinion on that would be relevant.” Asked if it would be legal to torture a detainee’s child (see After September 11, 2002), Addington answers: “I’m not here to render legal advice to your committee. You do have attorneys of your own.” He offers to give one questioner advice on asking better questions. When asked about an interrogation session he had witnessed at Guantanamo, he replies: “You could look and see mouths moving. I infer that there was communication going on.” At times he completely ignores questions, instead writing notes to himself while the representatives wait for him to take notice of their queries. At other times, he claims an almost complete failure of memory, particularly regarding conversations he had with other Bush officials about interrogation techniques. [Washington Post, 6/27/2008] (He does admit to being briefed by Yoo about an August 2002 torture memo (see August 1, 2002), but denies assisting Yoo in writing it.) [Los Angeles Times, 6/27/2008] Addington refuses to talk more specifically about torture and interrogation practices, telling one legislator that he can’t speak to him or his colleagues “[b]ecause you kind of communicate with al-Qaeda.” He continues, “If you do—I can’t talk to you, al-Qaeda may watch C-SPAN.” When asked if he would meet privately to discuss classified matters, he demurs, saying instead: “You have my number. If you issue a subpoena, we’ll go through this again.” [Think Progress, 6/26/2008; Washington Post, 6/27/2008]
Yoo Dodges, Invokes Privilege - Milbank writes that Yoo seems “embolden[ed]” by Addington’s “insolence.” Yoo engages in linguistic gymnastics similar to Addington’s discussion with Conyers when Keith Ellison (D-MN) asks him whether a torture memo was implemented. “What do you mean by ‘implemented’?” Yoo asks. Ellison responds, “Mr. Yoo, are you denying knowledge of what the word ‘implement’ means?” Yoo says, “You’re asking me to define what you mean by the word?” Ellison, clearly exasperated, retorts, “No, I’m asking you to define what you mean by the word ‘implement.’” Yoo’s final answer: “It can mean a wide number of things.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2008] Conyers asks Yoo, “Could the president order a suspect buried alive?” Yoo responds, “Uh, Mr. Chairman, I don’t think I’ve ever given advice that the president could order someone buried alive.” Conyers retorts: “I didn’t ask you if you ever gave him advice. I asked you thought the president could order a suspect buried alive.” Yoo answers, “Well Chairman, my view right now is that I don’t think a president—no American president would ever have to order that or feel it necessary to order that.” Conyers says, “I think we understand the games that are being played.” Reporter Christopher Kuttruff writes, “Throughout his testimony, Yoo struggled with many of the questions being asked, frequently delaying, qualifying and invoking claims of privilege to avoid answering altogether.” [Human Rights First, 6/26/2008; Truthout (.org), 6/27/2008]
Doctored photo supposedly showing Barack Obama in the company of Osama bin Laden. [Source: Media Matters / Newsradio 850 KOA]As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host “Gunny” Bob Newman posts doctored “satirical” photographs of Democratic candidate Barack Obama supposedly posing with Osama bin Laden and as “Che Obama” (appearing as South American socialist revolutionary Che Guevara) on his radio station’s Web site. Newman also posts real photos of Obama with fake captions featuring profanity-laden threats directed at Newman. The Web site, like Newman’s radio station, KOA Radio of Denver, is owned by Clear Channel Communications. One caption has Obama saying about Newman, “If that sumb_tch even tries to get into my convention [the Democratic National Convention], I’ll have him disappeared like Jimmy Hoffa.” Another reads, “Upon seeing Gunny Bob approaching with a microphone, Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama angrily warns the Gunny, ‘If you come any closer, I’ll have the Secret Service shoot and then waterboard you, you fascist Marine capitalist b_stard!’” The fake Obama-bin Laden photo is captioned, “Endorsed By Terrorists, Tyrants and Racists Everywhere.” [Media Matters, 7/9/2008] In May, Newman accused Obama of being a “thug,” and rhetorically asked the candidate if he intended to come to Denver and “whip [his] white _ss” (see May 19, 2008).
As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host “Gunny” Bob Newman, the host of a popular Denver talk show, says that if Barack Obama (D-IL) is elected president, the US will be overrun by Muslim terrorists. If Obama is elected, Newman tells his audience, “we better start learning Arabic.… There will be a lot more Arabic speakers here in our country if he [is], because there will be an invasion of Muslim terrorists if he becomes president.” Under an Obama presidency, Newman says, “the first sentence… American kids would have to learn is ‘please don’t cut my head off.’” [Media Matters, 7/11/2008] Newman continues the right-wing assertion that Obama is a Muslim, an assertion long since proven false (see January 22-24, 2008).
Yousaf Raza Gillani. [Source: Public Domain]Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, visits the US and meets with President George Bush in Washington, D.C. Bush privately confronts Gillani with evidence that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, has been helping the Taliban and al-Qaeda. US intelligence has long suspected that Pakistan has been playing a “double game,” accepting over a billion dollars of US aid per year meant to help finance Pakistan’s fight with Islamic militants, but at the same time training and funding those militants, who often go on to fight US soldiers in Afghanistan. The London Times reports that Gillani “was left in no doubt that the Bush administration had lost patience with the ISI’s alleged double game.” Bush allegedly warned that if one more attack in Afghanistan or elsewhere were traced back to Pakistan, the US would take “serious action.” The key evidence is that US intelligence claims to have intercepted communications showing that the ISI helped plan a militant attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier in the month (see July 7, 2008). US officials will leak this story of ISI involvement to the New York Times several days after Bush’s meeting with Gillani (see August 1, 2008). Gillani also meets with CIA Director Michael Hayden, who confronts him with a dossier on ISI support for the Taliban. Pakistanis officials will claim they were shocked at the “grilling” they received. One Pakistani official who came to the US with Gillani will say, “They were very hot on the ISI. Very hot. When we asked them for more information, Bush laughed and said, ‘When we share information with your guys, the bad guys always run away’.” When the story of Bush’s confrontation with Gillani is leaked to the press, Pakistani officials categorically deny any link between the ISI and militants in Afghanistan. But senior British intelligence and government officials have also told the Pakistanis in recent days that they are convinced the ISI was involved in the embassy bombing. This is believed to be the first time the US has openly confronted Pakistan since a warning given several days after 9/11 (see September 13-15, 2001). The US is said to be particularly concerned with the ISI’s links to Jalaluddin Haqqani, who runs a militant network that the US believes was involved in the bombing. And the US is worries about links between the ISI and Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistan-based militant group that is said to have been behind a recent attack against US forces in Afghanistan that killed nine. [London Times, 8/3/2008]
Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) is retracting previous comments he made about Republican presidential candidate and fellow senator John McCain (R-AZ). Cochran recently recounted the story of McCain physically assaulting a Nicaraguan official in 1987 (see Fall 1987). He has said: “The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine. He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me.” Cochran has now backed off of his characterization somewhat, and says that McCain has learned to control his temper since 1987. A Cochran spokesperson says: “I think Senator Cochran went into as much detail yesterday as is necessary to make the point that, though Senator McCain has had problems with his temper, he has overcome them. Though Senator Cochran saw the incident he described to you, decades have passed since then and he wanted to make the point that over the years he has seen Senator McCain mature into an individual who is not only spirited and tenacious but also thoughtful and levelheaded.” Cochran supports McCain’s bid for the presidency. [Biloxi Sun-Herald, 7/1/2008]
Cover of ‘The Obama Nation’ [Source: Threshold / FactCheck (.org)]Dr. Jerome Corsi, a conservative author and blogger who was deeply involved in the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign to besmirch presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), publishes a book, The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality. The title is a play on the word ‘abomination.’ In his book, Corsi, who writes for the conservative Web site WorldNetDaily and blogs at the extremist Free Republic, attacks Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in a fashion similar to that used against Kerry—combining fact, hyperbole, speculation, and outright falsehoods in an attempt to demean and disparage Obama’s character and professional career. The publisher, Threshold (a division of Simon and Schuster devoted to publishing conservative political works), calls the book “[s]crupolously sourced” and “[m]eticulously researched and documented…” Among other allegations, Corsi accuses Obama of growing up under the influence of Communist, socialist, and radical Islamic mentors; of deep and secretive affiliations with ‘60s radicals William Ayers and Bernadette Dohrn; of espousing what he calls “black liberation theology” through his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright; connections to socialists and radical Islamists in Kenya, his father’s home country; deep and criminal ties to Chicago real-estate mogul Tony Rezko; and an intent to, if elected president, implement what Corsi calls “far-left” domestic and foreign policies. [Simon and Schuster, 8/1/2008; New York Times, 8/12/2008; St. Petersburg Times, 8/20/2008] The book debuts as number one on the New York Times bestseller list, propelled by large bulk sales (large buys by particular organizations designed to artificially elevate sales figures) and an intensive marketing campaign carried out on conservative talk radio shows. “The goal is to defeat Obama,” Corsi says. “I don’t want Obama to be in office.” [New York Times, 8/12/2008]
Allegations Roundly Debunked - Unfortunately for Corsi, his allegations do not stand up to scrutiny. FactCheck.org, a non-partisan “‘consumer advocate’ for voters” site run by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, finds that Corsi’s book “is a mishmash of unsupported conjecture, half-truths, logical fallacies and outright falsehoods.” It “is not a reliable source of facts about Obama.” FactCheck notes: “Corsi cites opinion columns and unsourced, anonymous blogs as if they were evidence of factual claims. Where he does cite legitimate news sources, he frequently distorts the facts. In some cases, Corsi simply ignores readily accessible information when it conflicts with his arguments.” The organization notes that Threshold’s chief editor, Republican operative Mary Matalin, said the book was not political, but rather “a piece of scholarship, and a good one at that.” FactCheck responds: “The prominent display of Corsi’s academic title (he holds a Ph.D. in political science) seems clearly calculated to convey academic rigor. But as a scholarly work, The Obama Nation does not measure up. We judge it to be what a hack journalist might call a ‘paste-up job,’ gluing together snippets from here and there without much regard for their truthfulness or accuracy.” [FactCheck (.org), 2008; FactCheck (.org), 9/15/2008] The St. Petersburg Times’s PolitiFact finds, “Taken as a whole, the book’s primary argument is that Obama is a likely communist sympathizer with ties to Islam who has skillfully hidden his true agenda as he ruthlessly pursues elected office,” an argument that the organization concludes is wholly unsupported by Corsi’s arguments and sources. [St. Petersburg Times, 8/1/2008] And an Associated Press article finds the book a “collect[ion of] false rumors and distortions [designed] to portray Obama as a sort of secret radical who can’t be trusted.” [Associated Press, 8/16/2008]
Unreliable Sources - As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, Corsi’s sources are often unreliable: for example, his allegation that Obama’s father divorced his mother according to “Islamic sharia law” is based on a single and unverifiable post made by an anonymous blogger. [Media Matters, 8/4/2008] FactCheck notes that although Corsi points to his over 600 endnotes as proof of his “rigorous” sourcing, many of those endnotes refer to obscure, unverifiable Internet postings, blog posts, and opinion columns. Four of Corsi’s sources refer to his own work. “Where Corsi does cite news sources,” the site says, “he sometimes presents only those that are consistent with his case while ignoring evidence that doesn’t fit the picture he paints.” [FactCheck (.org), 9/15/2008]
Demonstrably False Claims - Some of Corsi’s claims are completely false: his statement that Obama did not dedicate his 2004 memoir, Dreams from My Father, to his parents or grandparents is easily debunked merely by reading the book’s introduction, in which Obama wrote, “It is to my family, though—my mother, my grandparents, my siblings, stretched across oceans and continents—that I owe the deepest gratitude and to whom I dedicated this book.” [Media Matters, 8/4/2008; St. Petersburg Times, 8/20/2008] Corsi also claims, falsely, that Obama holds dual citizenship in the US and Kenya, though the Kenyan Constitution specifically prohibits dual citizenship. [FactCheck (.org), 9/15/2008] Corsi goes on to claim that Obama has long rejected his white family members from his mother’s side, including his grandparents in Hawaii who raised him for much of his childhood. This is part of Corsi’s argument about Obama’s secret embrace of the so-called “radical black rage” teachings of American activist Malcolm X. According to Corsi’s reading of Obama’s memoir: “His race, he self-determines, is African-American. In making that determination, he rejects everyone white, including his mother and his grandparents. We do not have to speculate about this. Obama tells this to us outright; his words are direct, defying us to miss his meaning.” But PolitiFact calls this “a significant misreading of Obama’s memoir,” and notes that Corsi ignores a large amount of evidence that points to Obama’s continued close relationship with his white family members throughout his life. PolitiFact concludes, “To conclude that Obama rejects everyone white, including his mother and his grandparents, Corsi has to significantly read against the memoir’s stated meaning. We find factual evidence also contradicts this statement, indicating that Obama maintained lifelong relations with his white relatives.” [St. Petersburg Times, 8/1/2008]
Insinuations and Leading Questions - Many of Corsi’s allegations are based on little more than questions and insinuations: for example, Corsi insinuates that Obama may not have stopped using marijuana and cocaine, as he admitted to doing during his high school years. Corsi writes: “Still, Obama has yet to answer questions whether he ever dealt drugs, or if he stopped using marijuana and cocaine completely in college, or whether his drug usage extended into his law school days or beyond. Did Obama ever use drugs in his days as a community organizer in Chicago, or when he was a state senator from Illinois? How about in the US Senate? If Obama quit using drugs, the public inquiry certain to occur in a general election campaign for the presidency will most certainly aim at the when, how and why…?” According to Media Matters, Obama wrote in his book Dreams from My Father that he stopped using drugs shortly after beginning college. [Media Matters, 8/4/2008] FactCheck notes: “Corsi… slyly insinuates—without offering any evidence—that Obama might have ‘dealt drugs’ in addition to using them. And he falsely claims that Obama has ‘yet to answer’ whether he continued using drugs during his law school days or afterward.… In fact, Obama has answered that question twice, including once in the autobiography that Corsi reviews in his book.”
Guilt by Association - Corsi alleges that Obama has links to Kenyan presidential candidate Raila Odinga, and claims that Obama is somehow linked to the violence surrounding the 2007 Kenyan presidential election. He bases his claim on a single visit by Obama and his wife, Michelle, to Kenya, where they publicly took AIDS tests to demonstrate the tests’ safety. In the testing process, Obama spoke briefly to the crowd. Odinga was on stage while Obama spoke. Corsi construes the speech as an Obama endorsement of Odinga, and, as FactCheck writes, “[h]e goes on to attribute all the violence in Kenya to an elaborate Odinga plot.” Corsi ignores the fact that during that trip, Obama also met with the other Kenyan presidential candidate, Mwai Kibaki, and with opposition leader Uhuru Kenyatta. Human Rights Watch blamed the violence following the election on both Odinga and Kibaki and their followers. FactCheck notes that Corsi uses the logical fallacy of “guilt by association” to fill Chapters 3 through 7. [FactCheck (.org), 9/15/2008]
Misquoting Other Sources - Media Matters finds that Corsi sometimes misquotes and rewrites source material, as when he attributed a claim concerning Obama’s supposedly untoward business relationship with Rezko to articles in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Boston Globe, and Salon (.com) that made none of the claims Corsi attributes to them. Corsi also misquoted the conservative Web site NewsMax when he used one of its articles to falsely claim that Obama had been present at Chicago’s Trinity United Church during Reverend Wright’s denunciation of America’s “white arrogance.” (Obama was actually in Miami during Wright’s sermon.) [Media Matters, 8/4/2008] Corsi uses a man he calls one of Obama’s “closest” childhood friends, Indonesian Zulfan Adi, to back his assertion that Obama was once a practicing Muslim. However, Corsi does not report that Adi later retracted his claims about Obama’s religious practices, and admitted to knowing Obama for only a few months. Corsi also ignores a Chicago Tribune story that contains interviews with “dozens of former classmates, teachers, neighbors and friends [who] show that Obama was not a regular practicing Muslim when he was in Indonesia,” and other media reports that have conclusively proven Obama was never a Muslim (see January 22-24, 2008).
Ignoring the Obvious - Corsi repeatedly claims that Obama is a master speaker who bedazzles crowds with soaring flights of rhetoric, but never actually gives any specifics of what he intends to do as president. He writes: “At the end of every rhetorically uplifting speech Obama gives about the future of hope, millions of listeners are still left pondering, ‘Now what exactly did he say?’ If the politician is the message, as [campaign manager David] Axelrod and Obama have proclaimed, they can’t forever avoid telling us what precisely that message is.” But FactCheck notes that “Obama’s Web site is packed with details of what he proposes to do if elected. He lays out descriptions of his policy proposals, including tax cuts for most families and increases for those making more than $250,000 per year; a $150 billion, 10-year program to develop alternative energy sources and more efficient vehicles; a proposal to increase the size of the Army by 65,000 troops and another to create a public health insurance plan for those whose employers don’t offer health coverage. Whether or not one agrees with them, Obama has indeed presented detailed plans for dozens of policies. It’s hard to see how anyone writing a book on Obama could fail to acknowledge their existence.”
Conspiracy Theorist, 'Bigot,' and Veteran Liar - FactCheck notes: “Corsi is a renowned conspiracy theorist who says that [President] George Bush is attempting to create a North American Union… and that there is evidence that the World Trade Center may have collapsed [after the 9/11 attacks] because it was seeded with explosives. More recently, Corsi claimed that Obama released a fake birth certificate. We’ve debunked that twice now. [M]any of the themes in The Obama Nation are reworked versions of bogus chain e-mail smears.” [FactCheck (.org), 9/15/2008] In August 2004, Media Matters found that Corsi routinely embraced both extremist opinions and personal invective. Corsi called Islam “a worthless, dangerous Satanic religion.” Of Catholicism, he wrote, “Boy buggering in both Islam and Catholicism is okay with the Pope as long as it isn’t reported by the liberal press.” Of Muslims themselves, he wrote, “RAGHEADS are Boy-Bumpers as clearly as they are Women-Haters—it all goes together.” And of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), he wrote: “Anybody ask why HELLary couldn’t keep BJ Bill [former President Clinton] satisfied? Not lesbo or anything, is she?” [Media Matters, 8/6/2004] (Corsi posted these comments on the Free Republic under the moniker “jrlc,” and identified himself as “jrlc” on March 19, 2004.) [Free Republic, 3/18/2004; Jerome Corsi, 8/7/2004] An Obama campaign spokesman calls Corsi “a discredited, fringe bigot.” [Associated Press, 8/16/2008] FactCheck concludes, “In Corsi’s case, we judge that both his reputation and his latest book fall short when measured by the standards of good scholarship, or even of mediocre journalism.” [FactCheck (.org), 9/15/2008] PolitiFact concludes: “A reader might think that because the book is printed by a mainstream publishing house it is well-researched and credible. On the contrary—we find The Obama Nation to be an unreliable document for factual information about Barack Obama.” [St. Petersburg Times, 8/20/2008]
Entity Tags: Mwai Kibaki, NewsMax, Salon (.com), Raila Odinga, Simon and Schuster, Trinity United Church of Christ, Tony Rezko, Michelle Obama, St. Petersburg Times, Zulfan Adi, Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ayers, Media Matters, Hillary Clinton, Malcolm X, Boston Globe, Bernadette Dohrn, Barack Obama, Associated Press, Annenberg Public Policy Center, Chicago Sun-Times, Mary Matalin, Chicago Tribune, FactCheck (.org), John Kerry, Jerome Corsi, David Axelrod, Jeremiah A. Wright Jr, Free Republic, WorldNetDaily, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections
The lawyer for Mohammed Jawad, a young Guantanamo detainee held in US captivity for almost six years (see December 17, 2002) and charged with attempted murder (see October 7, 2007), again attempts to have the charges against his client dismissed (see June 19, 2008). Major David Frakt shows evidence that General Thomas Hartmann, the military commission’s chief legal adviser, had pressured Guantanamo prosecutors to charge his client (see January 13, 2009 and January 18, 2009). Judge Stephen Henley finds that Hartmann had indeed brought undue pressure to prosecute Jawad, and bars Hartmann from any further involvement in the case as Hartmann has demonstrated his inability to stay neutral. Henley also orders a top-level review of the charges against Jawad. [Human Rights First, 9/2008] Henley will throw out the evidence against Jawad, ruling that Jawad’s confession was obtained through torture (see November 22, 2008).
Former Afghan National Police (ANP) trained by US forces including the controversial American security contractor Blackwater are defecting to the Taliban, according to Al Jazeera. The channel reports that around 70 former police in the province of Herat have joined the Taliban in the past two months. Recruits featured in a video report carry weapons provided by the Afghan government and certificates for weapons training from the US. Some of the fighters openly display their Blackwater-issued IDs. One new Taliban recruit, Abdul Rahim, says he received training from Blackwater for 45 days. “I can use the training to save my life in these mountains and I can also use it to fight them,” he explains. The former members of the ANP tell Al Jazeera that they have joined the Taliban for ideological reasons and are using their weapons and training to fight the coalition. Another defector, Sulieman Ameri, along with 16 men under his command, were until a month ago enlisted in the ANP and patrolling the border with Iran. “Our soil is occupied by Americans and I want them to leave this country. That is my only goal,” he says. [Al Jazeera, 10/15/2008; Al Jazeera, 10/15/2008]
The US dramatically increases the number of CIA drone attacks on Islamist militant targets in Pakistan, and no longer relies on permission from the Pakistani government before striking. Bush administration officials had been increasingly concerned about al-Qaeda’s resurgence in Pakistan’s tribal region. A 2006 peace deal between Islamist militants and the Pakistani government gave al-Qaeda and other militant groups a chance to recover from earlier pressures (see September 5, 2006). However, the Bush administration had close ties with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who did not want more aggressive US action. But Musharraf resigns on August 18, 2008 (see August 18, 2008), and within days, President Bush signs a secret new policy.
More Drone Strikes - From August 31, 2008, until late March 2009, the CIA carries out at least 38 drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal region. By contrast there were only 10 known drone strikes in 2006 and 2007 combined. There were three strikes in 2006, seven strikes in 2007, and 36 in 2008 (all but seven of those took place after Musharraf resigned in August). Drone capabilities and intelligence collection has improved, but the change mainly has to do with politics. A former CIA official who oversaw Predator drone operations in Pakistan will later say: “We had the data all along. Finally we took off the gloves.”
Permission No Longer Needed - Additionally, the US no longer requires the Pakistani government’s permission before ordering a drone strike. US officials had suspected that many of their targets were tipped off by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Now this is no longer a concern. Getting permission from Pakistan could take a day or more. Sometimes this caused the CIA to lose track of its target (see for instance 2006). [Los Angeles Times, 3/22/2009]
Angry Afghani citizens march in protest against the US air strike at Azizabad. [Source: Reuters]A series of US airstrikes kills over 90 civilians, mostly women and children, in the western Afghani province of Herat, according to an Afghan government investigation. Most of the deaths take place in and around the village of Azizabad. Nematullah Shahrani, the Afghan Religious Affairs Minister, says the strikes, carried out by US, NATO, and Afghan forces, were planned to strike at a Taliban commander, but were not coordinated and did not kill any Taliban fighters. The US-led coalition claims 30 militants and no civilians died, a claim repudiated by Afghan officials and the United Nations. “We went to the area and found out that the bombardment was very heavy, lots of houses have been destroyed and more than 90 non-combatants including women, children, and elders have died,” says Shahrani. “Most are women and children.” President Hamid Karzai fires two senior Afghan army commanders in the area over the strikes, and sharply criticizes American and NATO military commanders for the errant air strikes. Shahrani says he intends to meet with US Special Forces commanders who were involved in the operation. “They have claimed that Taliban were there. They must prove it,” he says. “So far it is not clear for us why the coalition conducted the air strikes.” Local residents engage in angry, grief-stricken demonstrations outside the blast zones. Such incidents, Shahrani says, have a “very bad impact” on the local populace. “It causes the people to distance themselves from the government.” The UN special representative in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, agrees, saying that such operations undermine the “trust and confidence of the Afghan people.” Karzai has ordered Shahrani’s team to pay 100,000 afghanis ($2,000) for each person killed. [Agence France-Presse, 8/24/2008; Financial Times, 8/26/2008] Karzai later says that the raid did not kill “a single Taliban” but caused serious harm to US-Afghan relations. A government spokesman will say that the US acted on false information provided by a rival tribe. A UN investigation later finds that 92 civilians died in the strikes. [Associated Press, 9/16/2008] Karzai says he will launch a “full review” of the agreements allowing US and NATO forces to operate in his country. “The government of Afghanistan has repeatedly discussed the issue of civilian casualties with the international forces and asked for all air raids on civilian targets, especially in Afghan villages, to be stopped,” the government says in a statement. “The issues of uncoordinated house searches and harassing civilians have also been of concern to the government of Afghanistan which has been shared with the commanders of international forces in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, to date, our demands have not been addressed, rather, more civilians, including women and children, are losing their lives as a result of air raids.” [Financial Times, 8/26/2008]
Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld, a former Army prosecutor at Guantanamo, resigns his position after becoming increasingly disillusioned and despondent over the treatment of detainees at the facility, many of whom he believes are likely innocent.
A Reluctant Believer in Stories of Abuse - Vandeveld began as an enthusiastic prosecutor. He joined to help avenge the 9/11 attacks, and served for seven years as a military lawyer in Bosnia, Africa, Afghanistan, and Iraq. “All of us fought because we believed that we were protecting America and its ideals,” he will later write. “But my final tour of duty made me question everything we had done.” Vandeveld was a prosecutor for the Office of Military Commissions in Guantanamo from June 2007 through September 2008. He will write, “Warning signs appeared early on, but I ignored them.” He was powerfully impressed when his superior officer, Colonel Morris Davis, resigned rather than agree to pursue politically motivated prosecutions (see October 4, 2007). Vandeveld’s own turning point came when he began working on the prosecution of Mohammed Jawad, who was 16 at the time he was captured (see December 17, 2002). When Vandeveld learned that Jawad claimed to have been horrifically abused while in US custody, as he later recalls: “I accused him of exaggerating and ridiculed his story as ‘idiotic.’ I did not believe that he was a juvenile, and I railed against Jawad’s defense attorney, whom I suspected of being a terrorist sympathizer.” He came to change his mind, eventually filing a declaration in federal court “stating that it is impossible to prepare a fair prosecution against detainees at Guantanamo Bay (see January 13, 2009).… I had concluded that the system of handling evidence is a haphazard farce. I saw this clearly with Jawad.” Vandeveld will write that he has seen evidence proving both Jawad’s age and his stories of being brutalized, including beatings, being thrown down a flight of stairs, and being subjected to an intense program of sleep deprivation (see June 19, 2008): “As a juvenile, Jawad should have been treated with care, held separately from the adult population, and provided educational and other rehabilitation services. Instead, he was placed in isolation and deprived of sleep. More than once he tried to commit suicide, according to detainee records” (see December 2003).
Torturing an Innocent Man - Vandeveld began combing through evidence suggesting that Jawad was innocent, and found that not only had Jawad been duped and drugged by the terrorists who recruited him, the evidence shows that he never carried out the attack against US soldiers of which he stands accused. Vandeveld writes of the difficulties he had in gathering the evidence; military investigators repeatedly kept it from him. “Only after long delays and many, many requests was it finally given to me,” he will later write, “because even after nearly seven years, the military commissions do not have a system in place for discovering exculpatory evidence or providing it to the defense” (see January 20, 2009).
Sinking into Despair - Vandeveld began working towards Jawad’s release to his family in Afghanistan. But Vandeveld’s superiors refused to countenance the idea. Vandeveld will write of his increasing depression and despair, and his inability to discuss his mental anguish with his family or friends due to the classified nature of the case. He finally turned to a Jesuit priest, Father John Dear, whom, he writes, “has written and spoken widely about justice.” He could not give Dear more than an overview of the situation, but Dear’s advice was blunt. “Quit Gitmo,” Dear told him. “The whole world knows it is a farce. Refuse to cooperate with evil, and start your life over.” But Vandeveld was afraid to take Dear’s advice. As he recalls, “I was afraid of losing friends, my job, whatever popularity I enjoyed, and my status as someone who was well thought of in this community.”
Resignation - It was Dear and, ironically, Jawad’s defense lawyer, whom Vandeveld descirbes as “a scorned adversary whose integrity and intelligence transformed him into a trusted friend,” who finally led Vandeveld to make a decision: he resigns. His final appearance before the Guantanamo military commissions was as a witness in Jawad’s defense (see January 13, 2009). “My testimony was a confession of sorts,” he later writes, “an acknowledgment of the error of my own ways as well as a candid admission of the shortcomings of the system that I had so enthusiastically supported.” [Washington Post, 1/18/2009] Vandeveld will write that Guantanamo has become a “stain” on the US’s international reputation (see January 18, 2009). He will also call for Jawad’s release (see January 13, 2009).
Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, believes the US war strategy there is doomed to failure and that public opinion should primed for “an acceptable dictator” to be installed in Kabul, according to a leaked diplomatic cable sent by a French diplomat who met with Sir Sherard. The ambassador’s comments are recounted in a coded diplomatic dispatch sent by deputy French Ambassador to Kabul François Fitou to President Sarkozy and the Foreign Ministry. They are later published by the French investigative weekly Le Canard Enchaîné. Claude Angeli, the veteran Canard journalist who reports the cable, says that he has a copy of the two-page decoded text, which is partially printed in facsimile in his newspaper. “It is quite explosive,” he tells the London Times. According to the leaked memo, Sir Sherard, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, tells Fitou that the only realistic outlook for Afghanistan would be the installation of “an acceptable dictator” within five or 10 years, and that public opinion should be primed for this. He says that Britain had no alternative to supporting the United States in Afghanistan despite the fact that the US-led NATO military operation was making things worse. “We should tell them that we want to be part of a winning strategy, not a losing one,” he is quoted as saying. “In the short term we should dissuade the American presidential candidates from getting more bogged down in Afghanistan.… The American strategy is doomed to fail.” The French Foreign Ministry does not deny the existence of the cable but denounces its publication by Le Canard Enchaîné. Acknowledging that the meeting between Sir Sherard and Fitou did take place, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office says that the cable does not accurately reflect the ambassador’s views. Sources in the British government say the French account is a parody of the British Ambassador’s remarks. The exact date of the meeting is unclear. The Times reports that Sir Sherard imparts his thoughts to Mr Fitou on September 2, but The Guardian and the New York Times clarify that Le Canard Enchaîné reported that the cabled dispatch was sent to the Élysée Palace and the French Foreign Ministry on September 2, relating a meeting that had just happened. [Guardian, 10/2/2008; London Times, 10/2/2008; New York Times, 10/3/2008]
A US Special Operations unit, possibly together with an Afghan unit, raids a remote Pakistani village near the border with Afghanistan and kills at least 15 people including women and children, according to sources, eyewitnesses, and officials in Pakistan. One eyewitness to the attack, area resident Habib Khan Wazir, will tell the Associated Press that the assault happens before dawn, after an American helicopter lands in the village of Musa Nikow in South Waziristan. He says “American and Afghan soldiers starting firing” at the owner of a home who had stepped outside with his wife. Khan says the troops then enter the house and kill seven other people, including women and children. [Associated Press, 9/3/2008] (Geo TV reports that the owner of the house is local tribesman Taj Muhammad, and that “coalition forces” kill nine members of his family, with five women and four children among the dead.) [Geo TV, 9/3/2008] Khan says the troops also kill six other residents. Two local intelligence officials will confirm the account on condition of anonymity. Another official says that 19 people die in total. Major Murad Khan, a spokesman for the Pakistani Army, will confirm that an attack did occur on a house near the Pakistan-Afghan border, but does not specify if Americans are involved. “We are collecting details,” he says. The US embassy in Islamabad declines to comment, and the US-led coalition in Afghanistan says it has not received any report on such an operation. [Associated Press, 9/3/2008] Long War Journal reporter Bill Roggio suggests that the Special Operations unit alleged to be involved in the assault may be the secretive “hunter-killer” team known as Task Force 88. He suggests that such units can operate freely outside of any regular command in Afghanistan, giving the US military the option of plausibly denying that its forces are involved in such raids. Roggio writes that a raid of this nature—the insertion of a US Special Operations team inside Pakistani territory—is rare, and if confirmed, the assault would be the fourth cross-border attack since August 20, and the 10th confirmed attack this year, marking an overall increase in such raids. He notes that 10 such raids were recorded in 2006 and 2007 combined. [Long War Journal, 9/3/2008] Journalists Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann will later refer to this incident, writing that US Navy SEALS are involved and that 20 people are killed. [New Republic, 6/3/2009]
Civilian deaths in Afghanistan from US and NATO air strikes almost tripled from 2006 to 2007, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW). A spate of recent airstrikes has exacerbated the problem and is fueling a public backlash, the report says. The report also condemns the Taliban’s use of “human shields,” a direct violation of the laws of war. The report is titled “‘Troops in Contact’: Airstrikes and Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan.” It analyzes the use of airstrikes by US and NATO forces and resulting civilian casualties, particularly when used to make up for the lack of ground troops and during emergency situations.
Different Types of Strikes - The vast majority of civilian deaths occur during unplanned, impromptu airstrikes, the report finds; planned airstrikes result in far fewer civilian casualties. “Rapid response airstrikes have meant higher civilian casualties, while every bomb dropped in populated areas amplifies the chance of a mistake,” says HRW official Brad Adams. “Mistakes by the US and NATO have dramatically decreased public support for the Afghan government and the presence of international forces providing security to Afghans.”
Deaths Escalate from 2006 to 2007 - In 2006, 116 Afghan civilians died during US/NATO airstrikes; in 2007, 321 died during US/NATO airstrikes. In both years, the number of civilians dying due to Taliban strikes far outnumbered those killed by US or NATO forces. All of these trends continue during the first seven months of 2008.
'Poor Response by US Officials' - HRW is highly critical of what it calls “the poor response by US officials when civilian deaths occur.” The report finds: “Prior to conducting investigations into airstrikes causing civilian loss, US officials often immediately deny responsibility for civilian deaths or place all blame on the Taliban. US investigations conducted have been unilateral, ponderous, and lacking in transparency, undercutting rather than improving relations with local populations and the Afghan government. A faulty condolence payment system has not provided timely and adequate compensation to assist civilians harmed by US actions.”
Demanding Solutions - Adams says that the US must work to curtail the unplanned airstrikes that kill so many Afghan civilians, and when civilians are killed, the US must take the proper responsibility and provide “timely compensation.” He adds: “While Taliban shielding is a factor in some civilian deaths, the US shouldn’t use this as an excuse when it could have taken better precautions. It is, after all, its bombs that are doing the killing.” HRW also notes that in many instances, civilian deaths are accompanied by destroyed villages, causing that entire village’s population to become refugees. Afghanistan has a large and ever-growing number of what HRW calls “internally displaced persons.” Adams says: “The recent airstrikes killing dozens of Afghans make clear that the system is still broken and that civilians continue to pay the ultimate price. Civilian deaths from airstrikes act as a recruiting tool for the Taliban and risk fatally undermining the international effort to provide basic security to the people of Afghanistan.” [Human Rights Watch, 9/7/2008]
The United Nations reports that 1,445 Afghan civilians have died during fighting between Taliban insurgents and US and/or NATO forces in 2008. This is a 40 percent increase over 2007 (see September 7, 2008). Around 55 percent of those civilian deaths were caused by Taliban attacks or by al-Qaeda or local strikes, says the UN report. Around 40 percent of those deaths were due to US, NATO, and/or Afghan troop attacks. Of those deaths, 395 were from US or NATO airstrikes. The number and percentages of civilian deaths at the hands of US/NATO forces is up significantly from 2007. “This is the highest number of civilian deaths to occur in a single month since the end of major hostilities and the ousting of the Taliban regime at the end of 2001,” says UN human rights chief Navi Pillay. He calls for greater transparency in accountability procedures for US and NATO forces involved in civilian casualties. The UN does not provide information on how its figures were collected. Afghan officials say that a recent US-led operation in the western village of Azizabad killed 90 civilians, including 60 children, dramatically increasing the death toll and damaging US-Afghan relations (see August 22, 2008). US General David McKiernan, the commander of US-led forces in Afghanistan, says he is fighting the war with too few ground troops. As a result, he is forced to rely more on air power, and that costs civilian lives. With violence escalating, McKiernan says he is fighting the war with too few ground troops, and that the shortage compels him to rely more on air power, at the cost of higher civilian casualties. Some 65,000 coalition ground troops are in Afghanistan, 33,000 of those American. Still, the UN emphasizes, most civilians die at the hands of Taliban attacks. Militants routinely kill civilians in suicide bombings and random strikes, but are also targeting Afghans that they suspect are working with the government of President Hamid Karzai, or with US-led forces. “There is substantial evidence indicating that the Taliban are carrying out a systematic campaign of intimidation and violence aimed at Afghan civilians they believe to be supportive of the government, the international community, and military forces,” says Pillay. [Associated Press, 9/16/2008]
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia hosts “ice-breaking” talks between the Afghan government, current and “former” Taliban, and representatives of other militant groups. Among the participants are Mullah Omar’s former “foreign minister” and his former Kandahar spokesman, Afghan government officials, and a representative of former mujaheddin commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose group, Hezb-i-Islami, is labeled a “terrorist organization” by the United States. [CNN, 10/5/2008] Hamid Karzai’s brother, Abdul Qayum, and ex-Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif are also reported to be in the meetings. [Independent, 10/8/2008; Independent, 11/13/2008] During the talks, all parties reportedly agree that continued dialogue should be sought. AFP, citing Saudi sources, reports that the negotiators move on to Islamabad, Pakistan on Sunday, September 27, 2008. A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai will later deny that negotiations were held, saying that Afghan religious scholars had visited Saudi Arabia during Ramadan and attended a dinner with King Abdullah. A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahed, also denies any meetings. [Agence France-Presse, 10/7/2008]
Bombs explode in crowded places in the towns of Malegaon and Modasa, killing five people. The Bharatiya Janata Party (see July 2000) promptly condemns the attacks. Islamist groups are initially suspected, partly because one of the bombs was placed on a motorcycle that had Islamist stickers attached. The police investigation, however, traces the motorcycle to a member of the Jagran Manch, a Hindu extremist organization with reported links to the BJP. [Express India, 10/22/2008; Indian Express, 10/24/2008]
Wahid Mujda, an Afghan political analyst and former Taliban official for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, tells the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) network that the US is supplying arms to the Taliban to “jeopardize the security situation” as a justification to stay in Afghanistan. According to Iranian Press TV, Mujda says the US invaded Afghanistan on the pretext of fighting terrorism, but actually wanted to create a base to exercise pressure on rivals in the region. He also says that NATO-led forces are even encouraging cross border attacks by the Taliban from Pakistan. Alluding to meetings held in the United Arab Emirates, Mujda further suggests that the US has begun direct talks with the Taliban to secure results in the 2009 Afghanistan presidential election, implying the possibility of negotiations on an important role for the Taliban in the next Afghan government. [Press TV, 9/28/2008]
ISI Director Nadeem Taj is replaced by Ahmad Shuja Pasha. [Daily Times (Lahore), 9/30/2008] One day ago, it was reported that the US was intensely pressuring Taj and two of his assistants to resign from the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, because of alleged “double-dealing” with militants. Taj became ISI head only a year ago (see 2007). [Australian, 9/29/2008] In March 2009, the New York Times will report that shortly after Asif Ali Zardari became president of Pakistan in September 2008 (see September 9, 2008), he faced accusations by the US that the ISI helped the militants bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008 and July 28, 2008). Zardari promised that the ISI would be “handled” and anyone working with militants would be fired. This apparently led to the replacement of Taj and his assistants. The Indian embassy bombing occurred during Taj’s brief time as ISI director. However, the Times will also report that many US and even Pakistani officials have since complained that the ISI’s support for militants remains as strong as ever (see March 26, 2009). [New York Times, 3/26/2009] In October 2001, the US also successfully pressured Pakistan to replace its ISI director and several others because of their support for Islamist militants, only to see the replacements continue the same policy of supporting militants (see October 8, 2001).
The US and Britain jointly drop all charges against terror suspect Binyam Mohamed, realizing that Mohamed’s confession to his involvement in a so-called “dirty bomb” plot (see November 4, 2005) is likely the product of torture and not real (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004). However, his captors refuse to release him from Guantanamo, driving him to try to force the matter by filing a lawsuit (see February 4, 2009) and going on a hunger strike (see February 8, 2009). In late February 2009, Mohamed will be released (see February 22-24, 2009). [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
Steven Bradbury, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), officially repudiates an OLC memo from seven years earlier claiming that the president has the unilateral authority to order military strikes or raids within the US (see October 23, 2001). “[C]aution should be exercised before relying in any respect” on the memo, Bradbury writes, and it “should not be treated as authoritative for any purpose.” The 2001 contention that the Fourth Amendment is, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant in the face of presidential authority “does not reflect the current views of this Office,” Bradbury writes. Another portion of that 2001 memo, the contention that the president can set aside First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of the press (see October 23, 2001), are no longer operative, Bradbury writes. Much of Bradbury’s memo is an attempt to explain and justify the 2001 memo by recalling the period of anxiety and disarray after the 9/11 attacks. [US Department of Justice, 10/6/2008 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ] Yale law professor Jack Balkin will later note that the memo does not repudiate “any of the Bush administration’s specific policies regarding surveillance, detention, and interrogation.” [Jack Balkin, 3/3/2009]
Jerome Corsi leaving Kenya, with members of his entourage and Kenyan escorts. [Source: Los Angeles Times]Jerome Corsi, the author of a bestselling book that smears US presidential candidate Barack Obama (see August 1, 2008 and After), is detained in Kenya after engaging in a book tour in Nairobi, the nation’s capital. Authorities say Corsi is attempting to promote his book without a work permit, a breach of Kenyan law. [London Times, 10/8/2008] “His papers were not in order,” says Immigration Ministry spokesman Elias Njeru. “He came in with a tourist visa but had to do business. So his papers were on the wrong side of the law.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/8/2008] Corsi also intended to present a check for $1,000 to George Obama, a half-brother of the candidate who was found living in poverty in a Nairobi slum a few weeks ago. The London Times calls the attempted donation “a stunt to suggest that [Obama] was not taking care of his Kenyan-based relative.” One Kenyan governmental source suggests that Corsi is being held in part for rumors he has spread that Obama is partly responsible for the wave of violence that engulfed the country after the 2007 presidential elections; The Times writes that few in Kenya take Corsi’s allegations seriously. According to promotional literature Corsi and his associates intended to distribute, “Dr. Corsi will also expose details of deep secret ties between US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and a section of Kenya government leaders, their connection to certain sectoral groups in Kenya and subsequent plot to be executed in Kenya should Senator Obama win the American presidency.” Obama, whose father is Kenyan, is “hugely popular across Africa,” The Times reports, and many Africans wonder “why American right-wingers would wish him ill.” [London Times, 10/8/2008]
Attempts to Blame Obama for Detention - Progressive media watchdog site Media Matters reports that while in Kenyan detention, Corsi calls in on an American conservative radio talk show, Quinn & Rose, and, after claiming he was in detention because the Kenyans lost his travel papers, suggests that Obama had somethng to do with his detention. “Call Barack’s office and—call Barack’s office and ask him why I’m being detained,” Corsi says. “Tell you what: I think it’s pretty dangerous—it’s pretty dangerous to write a critical book of Barack Obama. I wouldn’t advise anybody do it.” (Corsi has repeatedly suggested that the Obama campaign had tried to censor him—see August 16, 2008 and September 7, 2008.) [Media Matters, 10/8/2008]
Leaves Kenya without Incident - Hours later, Corsi later leaves Kenya; it is not clear whether his departure is voluntary. Kenyan police say Corsi leaves of his own volition, but a Corsi spokesman accuses the Kenyan authorities of treating Corsi “like a criminal.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/8/2008]
Senior Bush administration officials meet in secret together with Afghanistan experts from NATO and the United Nations to brief advisers from the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Barack Obama on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. The meetings take place over two days and are held at an exclusive Washington club a few blocks from the White House. The briefing is part of an effort by the departing Bush administration to smooth the transition to the next team, according to a New York Times report. At the meetings, Bush administration officials reportedly press the need for the incoming president to have a plan for Afghanistan ready before taking office. The sessions are unclassified, but the participants agree not to discuss the content of the briefings or discussions publicly. Some participants, however, will later disclose some meeting details to the Times. Among issues reportedly discussed are:
Negotiating with the Taliban; and
Expanding the war in Pakistan.
The meetings are organized by New York University professor Barnett Rubin, an expert on Afghanistan. Participants include John K. Wood, the senior Afghanistan director at the National Security Council; Lieutenant General Karl W. Eikenberry, a former American commander in Afghanistan who will later become the next US ambassador to Afghanistan (see April 29, 2009); and Kai Eide, the United Nations representative in Afghanistan. The Obama campaign sends Jonah Blank, a foreign policy specialist for Senator Joe Biden, and Craig Mullaney, an Afghanistan adviser to Obama. The McCain campaign is represented by Lisa Curtis and Kori Schake, two former State Department officials. The New York Times suggests that the briefing on Afghanistan and Pakistan appears to have been the most extensive that Bush administration officials have provided on any issue to both presidential campaigns. It further notes that both Obama and McCain have promised to increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 10/30/2008]
Entity Tags: Karl Eikenberry, John McCain, John K. Wood, Craig Mullaney, Bush administration (43), Barnett Rubin, Barack Obama, Jonah Blank, Kai Eide, Lisa Curtis, United Nations, Kori Schake, Joseph Biden, North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan
The Pentagon Inspector General (IG) issues a report warning that serious problems with controls and accounting for US weapons and explosives supplied to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) could lead to the diversion of arms to insurgents. A later GAO audit will expand on this assessment (see February 12, 2009). The IG report identifies the following failures in the $7.4 billion program to equip and train Afghan security forces:
The Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A) did not issue instructions or procedures governing the accountability, control, and physical security of arms the US is supplying to ANSF, nor did it clearly define the missions, roles, and responsibilities of US training teams and mentors advising the ANSF and the Afghan Ministries of Defense and Interior.
The CSTC-A did not record the serial numbers of weapons that were issued to the ANSF and did not report these serial numbers to the Department of Defense Small Arms Serialization Program. The report warns, “weapons that fall into enemy hands may not be traceable to the responsible individual[s], if recovered.”
The US office charged with overseeing the foreign military sales program to Afghanistan is too small and its staff lack the rank, skills, and experience to monitor whether arms are being diverted. The report finds that only nine people, led by an Army major, were assigned to oversee a program that disbursed more than $1.7 billion in 2007.
The program to arm and equip Afghan forces is hindered by delays in the Foreign Military Assistance program. Military commanders want the processing time for the military aid requests cut from 120 days to 30 days. “We believe that the strategic importance to the United States of standing up the ANSF merits establishing a reduced [foreign military sales] case processing time standard for the wartime conditions it faces in Afghanistan,” the report says. [Department of Defense, Office of the Inspector General, 10/24/2008 ; Washington Times, 10/31/2008; Washington Post, 2/12/2009]
The Indian Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) arrests Lieutenant Colonel Shrikant Purohit as the ninth person taken into custody in connection with the Malegaon bombings (see September 29, 2008). Others arrested include retired Major Ramesh Upadhyay and Pragya Singh Thakur, a Hindu nun. Thakur is a former member of the students’ wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP—see July 2000). She is also a former member of the national executive of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the students’ wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which is the leading Hindu nationalist organization in India. [Times of India, 11/5/2008; New York Times, 11/11/2008] ATS officials say that Purohit used military intelligence funds and resources to execute the bombings. They also ask the court for permission to interrogate a “high profile leader” who is rumored to be Yogi Adityanath, a BJP Member of Parliament. [Indo-Asian News Service, 11/11/2008] ATS Chief Hermant Karkare states that the ATS has sufficient evidence to convict Purohit, and that the case will go to court. [Tehelka, 12/6/2008] Investigators say that Purohit and Upadhyay were both members of Abhinav Bharat, a Hindu nationalist organisation. The BJP initially distances itself from the accused, but then changes tack and defends and offers to provide legal support for Thakur. [London Times, 11/8/2008]
Afghan President Hamid Karzai reportedly briefs British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on talks his government has been holding with Taliban representatives on ways to work together to end the conflict in Afghanistan. The Independent discloses that Karzai’s government has also been holding secret talks with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar through members of his family, which is consistent with news published early the following year (see February 2009). Karzai is visiting London after meetings in New York with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, figures who have also been involved in the ongoing Afghan government-Taliban insurgent dialogue. In September, the Saudi King sponsored talks between the Afghan government and emissaries of the Taliban and other insurgent groups, including representatives of Hekmatyar, at a series of confidential meetings held in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan (see Between September 24 and 27, 2008). The British government continues to publicly deny any involvement in negotiations or direct contact with the Taliban and other insurgents while encouraging the Afghan government to reach out to moderate elements of the insurgency and the Taliban. [Independent, 11/13/2008]
Responding to speculation that his administration will continue the policies of torture and indefinite detention, President-elect Barack Obama says flatly that he will shut down the Guantanamo detention center as part of his administration’s new policy towards terror suspects. CBS interviewer Steve Kroft asks: “There are a number of different things that you could do early pertaining to executive orders. One of them is to shut down Guantanamo Bay. Another is to change interrogation methods that are used by US troops. Are those things that you plan to take early action on?” Obama responds: “Yes. I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that. I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture. And I’m gonna make sure that we don’t torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/11/2008; CBS News, 11/16/2008] Two days into his administration, Obama orders that the Guantanamo detention facility be closed (see January 22, 2009).
Mohamed al-Khatani in September 2009. [Source: US Defense Department]Military prosecutors at Guantanamo say they are going to file new war crimes charges against Mohamed al-Khatani, the so-called “20th hijacker” in the 9/11 plot. The senior official in charge of prosecutions at Guantanamo, Susan Crawford, dismissed similar charges against al-Khatani six months before (see May 13, 2008). Military officials now say that even though al-Khatani was originally interrogated using previously approved, then later disapproved, techniques (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003 and October 11, 2002), those previous interrogations will not make it impossible to try him. Speculation has been rife that Crawford dismissed the charges against al-Khatani over concerns that he was tortured at Guantanamo. (In 2009, Crawford will verify that al-Khatani was indeed tortured—see January 14, 2009). Colonel Lawrence Morris, the chief prosecutor at Guantanamo, says of al-Khatani, “His conduct is significant enough that he falls into the category of people who ought to be held accountable by being brought to trial.” According to evidence compiled by the 9/11 Commission, al-Khatani was slated to have been one of the “muscle hijackers” (see August 4, 2001). Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Broyles, al-Khatani’s defense lawyer, says new charges filed against his client would be disturbing. “It speaks about the moral bankruptcy of this whole process,” Broyles says, “that there’s nothing we can do to these people that is too much, that there are no consequences for our own misconduct.” [New York Times, 11/18/2008]
Federal Judge Richard Leon rules that the US government has unlawfully held five Algerian men at Guantanamo for nearly seven years (see January 18, 2002). Leon orders their release. Leon rules that the government’s case, based on a slender compilation of classified evidence, was too weak to justify the five men’s continued detention. The government’s case is based on a single “classified document from an unnamed source” for its central claim against the men, and the court has no way to accurately judge its credibility. “To rest on so thin a reed would be inconsistent with this court’s obligation,” Leon writes. He urges the Bush administration not to appeal the ruling, and recommends that they be released “forthwith.” Leon rules that a sixth Algerian, Bensayah Belkacem (see October 8, 2001), is being lawfully detained due to his demonstrable ties with al-Qaeda. The six are among the Guantanamo inmates who won a narrowly decided Supreme Court case recognizing their right to seek redress in the US court system (see June 22, 2008), and include Lakhdar Boumediene, for whom the Court’s ruling was named. Leon, a Republican appointee previously considered sympathetic to the Bush administration’s position on the detention of suspects, urges the government not to appeal his ruling: such an appeal could take as much as two years, and, he notes, “Seven years of waiting for our legal system to give them an answer to a question so important is, in my judgment, more than plenty.” If the government chooses not to appeal, the lawyers for the detainees expect them to be released into Bosnia, where they were arrested in early 2002. The Justice Department calls the ruling “perhaps an understandable consequence of the fact that neither the Supreme Court nor Congress has provided rules on how these habeas corpus cases should proceed in this unprecedented context.” One of the detainees’ lawyers, Robert Kirsch, says the case illustrates “the human cost of what can happen when mistakes are made at the highest levels of our government, and no one has the courage to acknowledge those mistakes.” Other detainee lawyers say the case is a broad repudiation of the Bush administration’s attempts to use the Guantanamo facility to avoid the scrutiny of US judges. Lawyer Zachary Katznelson, a member of the British human rights group Reprieve, says, “The decision by Judge Leon lays bare the scandalous basis on which Guantánamo has been based—slim evidence of dubious quality.” The case was not strengthened by the Bush administration’s pursuit of it: originally the six were charged with planning a bomb attack on the US Embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia, but in October, Justice Department lawyers abruptly withdrew those accusations. [New York Times, 11/20/2008; National Review, 11/20/2008] The five will be released the following month (see December 2008).
The judge in the case of Guantanamo detainee Mohammed Jawad (see December 17, 2002 and October 7, 2007) throws out the evidence against Jawad, saying that it was obtained under coercion. Jawad was charged with throwing a grenade at two US soldiers in Kabul, Afghanistan. The judge, Colonel Stephen Henley, finds that the sole evidence against Jawad, a confession he signed while in the custody of Afghan police, was, as the American Civil Liberties Union says, “gathered through coercive interrogations.” [Ottawa Citizen, 11/22/2008]
A former Air Force interrogator writing under the pseudonym “Matthew Alexander” pens an impassioned plea against the use of torture for the Washington Post. Alexander is a former Special Operations soldier with war experience in Bosnia and Kosovo before volunteering to serve as a senior interrogator in Iraq from February 2006 through August 2006. He writes that while he served in Iraq, his team “had successfully hunted down one of the most notorious mass murderers of our generation, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the mastermind of the campaign of suicide bombings that had helped plunge Iraq into civil war.” Yet upon his return, Alexander writes that he was less inclined to celebrate American success than “consumed with the unfinished business of our mission: fixing the deeply flawed, ineffective and un-American way the US military conducts interrogations in Iraq.” Since then, Alexander has written a book, How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq (see December 2-4, 2008). He writes that interrogation techniques used against terror suspects in Iraq both “betrays our traditions” and “just doesn’t work.”
Army Used 'Guantanamo Model' of Interrogation - When he joined the team hunting for al-Zarqawi, he was astonished to find that “[t]he Army was still conducting interrogations according to the Guantanamo Bay model: Interrogators were nominally using the methods outlined in the US Army Field Manual, the interrogators’ bible, but they were pushing in every way possible to bend the rules—and often break them.… These interrogations were based on fear and control; they often resulted in torture and abuse.”
New and Different Methodology - Alexander refused to allow his interrogators to use such tactics, he writes, and instead taught them a new set of practices: “one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information. I personally conducted more than 300 interrogations, and I supervised more than 1,000. The methods my team used are not classified (they’re listed in the unclassified Field Manual), but the way we used them was, I like to think, unique. We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal investigative techniques to our work (something that the Field Manual permits, under the concept of ‘ruses and trickery’). It worked. Our efforts started a chain of successes that ultimately led to Zarqawi.” Alexander writes that his attitude, and that of his colleagues, changed during this time. “We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shi’ite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money.” When Alexander pointed this out to General George Casey, then the top US commander in Iraq, Casey ignored him. Alexander writes that Casey’s successor, General David Petraeus, used some of the same “rapport-building” techniques to help boost the “Anbar Awakening,” which saw tens of thousands of Sunnis repudiate al-Zarqawi and align themselves with the US. And, the techniques persuaded one of al-Zarqawi’s associates to tell where he was hiding, giving the US a chance to find and kill him (see June 8, 2006).
Little Overall Change - Even the success in locating and killing al-Zarqawi had little effect on US interrogation methods outside of Alexander’s unit. He left Iraq still unsettled about the methods being used; shortly after his return, he was horrified at news reports that the CIA had waterboarded detainees to coerce information from them (see Between May and Late 2006). Such hard-handed techniques are not only illegal and morally reprehensible, Alexander notes, they usually don’t work. He writes: “Torture and abuse are against my moral fabric. The cliche still bears repeating: Such outrages are inconsistent with American principles. And then there’s the pragmatic side: Torture and abuse cost American lives.” He remembers one jihadist who told him: “I thought you would torture me, and when you didn’t, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That’s why I decided to cooperate.”
Torture Breeds Terrorism - Alexander writes that while in Iraq, he learned that the primary reason foreign jihadists came to Iraq to fight Americans was because of their outrage and anger over the abuses carried out at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. “Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq,” he writes. “The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on US and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of US soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me—unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.”
Writing about His Experiences - Alexander began writing about his time in Iraq after returning to the US. When he submitted his book for the Defense Department’s review (standard procedure to ensure no classified information is being released), he writes that he “got a nasty shock.” The Pentagon delayed the review past the first scheduled printing date, then redacted what Alexander says was “an extraordinary amount of unclassified material—including passages copied verbatim from the Army’s unclassified Field Manual on interrogations and material vibrantly displayed on the Army’s own Web site.” Alexander was forced to file a lawsuit to get the review completed and to appeal the redactions. “Apparently, some members of the military command are not only unconvinced by the arguments against torture; they don’t even want the public to hear them.”
Conclusions - How we conduct ourselves in the “war on terror” helps define who we are as Americans, Alexander writes. “Murderers like Zarqawi can kill us, but they can’t force us to change who we are. We can only do that to ourselves.” It is up to Americans, including military officers directly involved in the battle against terrorist foes, “to protect our values not only from al-Qaeda but also from those within our own country who would erode them.” He continues: “We’re told that our only options are to persist in carrying out torture or to face another terrorist attack. But there truly is a better way to carry out interrogations—and a way to get out of this false choice between torture and terror.” With the ascension of Barack Obama to the White House, Alexander describes himself as “quite optimistic” that the US will renounce torture. “But until we renounce the sorts of abuses that have stained our national honor, al-Qaeda will be winning. Zarqawi is dead, but he has still forced us to show the world that we do not adhere to the principles we say we cherish. We’re better than that. We’re smarter, too.” [Washington Post, 11/30/2008]
Five Algerian detainees are released from Guantanamo after seven years’ imprisonment without charges ever being formally filed against them. They are released after a Supreme Court ruling ordered them granted habeas corpus rights in US courts (see June 22, 2008), and after a federal judge orders their detention to end (see November 20, 2008). The five tell reporters that their time in Guantanamo was hellish. “Nobody can imagine how horrible it was. Even the devil couldn’t have created such a bad, bad place,” says one detainee, computer technician Mustafa Ait Idir. “I was questioned and beaten more than 500 times during those seven years. The guards used to come in groups of six or seven, always using a spray against us first, and then the beatings would start.” Idir says he saw doctors participate in the abuse of prisoners: “I once saw a doctor with a group of guards. The doctor pointed to different places on a body of a prisoner saying ‘hit him here.’ After the beating, there were no visible marks on the body but that man was in such pain he couldn’t move.” Lawyer Stephen Oleskey says his client, Lakhdar Boumediene, had been force-fed through a nasal tube after he went on a seven-month hunger strike. “Twice a day he is strapped onto a chair at seven points,” says Oleskey of his client’s ordeal. “One side of his nose is broken, so they put it [the tube] in the other side… Sometimes it goes to his lung instead of his stomach. He can’t say anything because he has the mask on: that’s torture.” Idir recalls being confined in bare cells, often in complete darkness, others with powerful lights that prevented him from sleeping. [Agence France-Presse, 1/22/2009]
Twelve retired generals and admirals meet with President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team to ask that his administration completely repudiate the Bush administration’s policies of torture, rendition, and indefinite detentions of terror suspects. The group represents a larger number of some three dozen retired flag officers. Several of the participants tell reporters before the meeting about what they intend to discuss. The retired flag officers are going into the meeting with a list of “things that need to be done and undone,” says retired Marine General Joseph Hoar, who commanded the US Central Command (CENTCOM) from 1991 through 1994. “It is fairly extensive.” Such a set of moves by the Obama administration, the officers believe, would help reverse the decline in world opinion about the US, a decline they say was sparked by the issue of detainee abuse both in the Guantanamo detention center and in other such facilities. “We need to remove the stain, and the stain is on us, as well as on our reputation overseas,” says retired Vice Admiral Lee Gunn, a former Navy inspector general. Retired Major General Fred Haynes adds, “If he’d just put a couple of sentences in his inaugural address, stating the new position, then everything would flow from that.” But it needs to be done quickly and decisively, says Gunn: “Gradualism won’t do. That abrupt change will send a signal to the world that America is back.” [Associated Press, 12/2/2008; Reuters, 12/2/2008] Obama has said repeatedly that he will shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention center and stop the US practice of allowing detainees to be tortured (see November 16, 2008).
Cover of ‘How to Break a Terrorist.’ [Source: Military (.com)]Former Iraq interrogator “Matthew Alexander” (a pseudonym) publishes his book How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq. Alexander has just published an editorial in the Washington Post detailing his success in using non-coercive interrogation techniques to locate terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and denouncing the use of torture by US interrogators in Iraq and Guantanamo (see November 30, 2008). Time’s Gilbert Cruz writes, “Structured around a series of interrogations, [Alexander’s book] details the battle of wills between ‘gators [Alexander’s term for interrogators] and suspects as well as the internal fight between Alexander’s team and the old-school military inquisitors used to more brutal methods of questioning.” In his book, Alexander writes that these “old-school” interrogation tactics not only failed to elicit useful information, they “led down the disastrous path to the Abu Ghraib scandal.” Cruz calls the book “a claustrophobic read,” bringing the reader into the interrogation rooms with him, his partner, and the detainee during marathon questioning sessions. However, “Alexander scarcely discusses the theories behind his interrogation strategy, its derivation, or whether the US military continues to use it.” He concludes, “[A] fuller epilogue could have broadened the story beyond this single set of circumstances.” [Time, 12/2/2008]
'Times Where You Have to be Harsher' - In an interview about the book, Fox News host Sean Hannity attempts to assert that there will be times when torture is necessary to gain critical information. Alexander refuses to agree. Hannity says: “But I do think there’s going to be times where you have to be harsher. That’s an outsider’s view. Never? It never will work?” Alexander replies: “No.… I don’t say that torture doesn’t work; it does work on occasion. But what I say is that there’s better ways to do it.” [Fox News, 12/3/2008]
'Extremely Ineffective and Counter-Productive' - In another interview the same evening, Alexander tells MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann that torture is “extremely ineffective and counter-productive to what we are trying to accomplish in both the short-term and the long-term.” He explains: “In the short-term, when you torture somebody, it hardens their resolve, the information that you get is unreliable. And if you do get reliable information, you’re able to stop a terrorist attack, al-Qaeda is then going to use the fact that we torture people to recruit new members, and then we’re going to have to deal with a whole new wave of terrorists.” In the MSNBC interview, Alexander calls for an outright ban on torture and the retraining of US interrogators in non-coercive methods of questioning. [MSNBC, 12/4/2008]
In a speech at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington, outgoing President Bush discusses his decision to invade Iraq. “It is true, as I have said many times, that Saddam Hussein was not connected to the 9/11 attacks,” he says. “But the decision to remove Saddam from power cannot be viewed in isolation from 9/11. In a world where terrorists armed with box cutters had just killed nearly 3,000 people, America had to decide whether we could tolerate a sworn enemy that acted belligerently, that supported terror, and that intelligence agencies around the world believed had weapons of mass destruction. It was clear to me, to members of both political parties, and to many leaders around the world that after 9/11, this was a risk we could not afford to take. So we went back to the UN Security Council, which unanimously passed Resolution 1441 calling on Saddam Hussein to disclose, disarm, or face serious consequences (see November 8, 2002). With this resolution, we offered Saddam Hussein a final chance to comply with the demands of the world. When he refused to resolve the issue peacefully, we acted with a coalition of nations to protect our people and liberated 25 million Iraqis.” Amanda Terkel, a writer for the liberal website Think Progress, notes that all of Bush’s acknowledgments that Iraq had no connections to 9/11 came after the war began; in the months prior to the invasion, Bush and his top officials strove to create the impression that Hussein had close links to al-Qaeda and the 9/11 planners (see (Between 10:30 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, Mid-September, 2001, September 17, 2001, September 19, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 28, 2001, November 6-8, 2001, December 9, 2001, 2002-March 2003, March 19, 2002, June 21, 2002, July 25, 2002, August 2002, August 20, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 16, 2002, September 21, 2002, September 25, 2002, September 26, 2002, September 27, 2002, September 28, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 15, 2002, December 2, 2002, December 12, 2002, January 26, 2003, January 28, 2003, Early February 2003, February 5, 2003, (2:30 a.m.-9:00 a.m.) February 5, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 6, 2003, February 11 or 12, 2003, and February 17, 2003). Terkel writes, “Bush still embraces his pre-war lies, as he admitted in his Saban address today, because without them, the public wouldn’t have supported his case for war.” [USA Today, 12/5/2008; Think Progress, 12/5/2008]
It is reported that the US is attempting to place former ISI Director Hamid Gul on a United Nations Security Council list of people and organizations that assist al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban. Additionally, the US is trying to add four other former ISI officials to the list. If a person is added to the list, all UN countries are supposed to freeze the person’s assets and deny them visas. However, all 15 Security Council members must sign off on additions to the list, including permanent member China. In the past, China has not always signed off on additions that the Pakistani government does not want on the list, due to China’s close ties to Pakistan. There is no indication that Gul or any of the others have actually been added to the list. [Reuters, 12/7/2008; Hindu, 12/9/2008]
Charges against Gul - A document listing the charges against Gul is leaked to some Pakistani newspapers. He is accused of helping to relocate al-Qaeda fighters from Iraq to Pakistan’s tribal region earlier in the year, providing financial and military support to the Taliban, and helping to recruit fighters to attack US forces in Afghanistan. It is also claimed he is in contact with Baitullah Mahsud, leader of Tehrik-i-Taliban (the Pakistani Taliban). [Reuters, 12/7/2008] Gul strongly denies the allegations. He was head of the ISI from 1987 to 1989 (see April 1987). Since then, he has maintained a high public profile in Pakistan, generally speaking in support of Islamist militant groups, and even defending Osama bin Laden on occasion. According to the Washington Post, both Indian and US officials say that Gul has maintained particularly close ties to the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba, and he is believed to have played an advisory role in several of that group’s recent attacks. [Washington Post, 12/9/2008] The names of the other four ex-ISI officials the US wants to add to the UN list have not been made public. However, ex-ISI official Khalid Khawaja says he suspects he is one of the other names. “I openly say I have links” to the Taliban and other militants, Khawaja says, but he denies there is anything illegal about his activities. [Reuters, 12/7/2008] The US could also place Gul on its own terrorist blacklist, but if it has done so, it has not made this public.
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