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The Senate Armed Services Committee releases a classified 261-page report on the use of “harsh” or “enhanced interrogation techniques”—torture—against suspected terrorists by the US. The conclusion of the report will be released in April 2009 (see April 21, 2009). The report will become known as the “Levin Report” after committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI). Though the report itself is classified, the committee releases the executive summary to the public.
Top Bush Officials Responsible for Torture - One of the report’s findings is that top Bush administration officials, and not a “few bad apples,” as many of that administration’s officials have claimed, are responsible for the use of torture against detainees in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.
Began Shortly after 9/11 - The report finds that US officials began preparing to use “enhanced interrogation” techniques just a few months after the 9/11 attacks, and well before Justice Department memos declared such practices legal. The program used techniques practiced in a US military program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE—see December 2001), which trains US military personnel to resist questioning by foes who do not follow international bans on torture. As part of SERE training, soldiers are stripped naked, slapped, and waterboarded, among other techniques. These techniques were “reverse-engineered” and used against prisoners in US custody. Other techniques used against prisoners included “religious disgrace” and “invasion of space by a female.” At least one suspected terrorist was forced “to bark and perform dog tricks” while another was “forced to wear a dog collar and perform dog tricks” in a bid to break down their resistance.
Tried to 'Prove' Links between Saddam, Al-Qaeda - Some of the torture techniques were used before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq (see March 19, 2003). Much of the torture of prisoners, the report finds, was to elicit information “proving” alleged links between al-Qaeda and the regime of Saddam Hussein. US Army psychiatrist Major Paul Burney says of some Guantanamo Bay interrogations: “Even though they were giving information and some of it was useful, while we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. We were not being successful in establishing a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish this link… there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.” Others did not mention such pressure, according to the report. [Senate Armed Services Committee, 12/11/2008 ; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009] (Note: Some press reports identify the quoted psychiatrist as Major Charles Burney.) [McClatchy News, 4/21/2009] A former senior intelligence official later says: “There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used. The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack [after 9/11]. But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al-Qaeda and Iraq that [former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed] Chalabi (see November 6-8, 2001) and others had told them were there.… There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s people to push harder.” [McClatchy News, 4/21/2009]
Warnings of Unreliability from Outset - Almost from the outset of the torture program, military and other experts warned that such techniques were likely to provide “less reliable” intelligence results than traditional, less aggressive approaches. In July 2002, a memo from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JRPA), which oversees the SERE training program, warned that “if an interrogator produces information that resulted from the application of physical and psychological duress, the reliability and accuracy of this information is in doubt. In other words, a subject in extreme pain may provide an answer, any answer, or many answers in order to get the pain to stop” (see July 2002). [Senate Armed Services Committee, 12/11/2008 ; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009]
Ignoring Military Objections - When Pentagon general counsel William Haynes asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to approve 15 of 18 recommended torture techniques for use at Guantanamo (see December 2, 2002), Haynes indicated that he had discussed the matter with three officials who agreed with him: Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, and General Richard Myers. Haynes only consulted one legal opinion, which senior military advisers had termed “legally insufficient” and “woefully inadequate.” Rumsfeld agreed to recommend the use of the tactics. [Senate Armed Services Committee, 12/11/2008 ]
Entity Tags: William J. Haynes, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard B. Myers, Paul Burney, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, Douglas Feith, Donald Rumsfeld, Ahmed Chalabi, Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
In a Newsweek interview, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari calls former ISI Director Hamid Gul a “political ideologue of terror.” He is asked about reports that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked him to arrest Gul, due to Gul’s alleged links to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Zardari replies: “Hamid Gul is an actor who is definitely not in our good books. Hamid Gul is somebody who was never appreciated by our government. She [Rice] did not go into specifics, if I may share that with you.… He has not been accused in the Mumbai incident.… I think he is more of a political ideologue of terror rather than a physical supporter.” Zardari also strongly denies that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, had any role in the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008). [Newsweek, 12/12/2008] In fact, Gul has been accused in regards to the “Mumbai incident,” which is a reference to the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India. Several days prior to Zardari’s interview, it was reported that India is seeking Gul’s arrest for a role in that attack along with that of some other Pakistanis. The Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba has been accused of having a role in the attack, and Gul is widely seen as a frequent adviser to this group. Gul denies any link to the attack, or any other attack. Also several days before Zardari’s interview, it was reported the US is attempting to add Gul’s name to a terrorist watchlist for actual roles in attacks and not just being a “political ideologue of terror” (see December 7, 2008). [Washington Post, 12/9/2008] In 2010, it will be reported that Gul has been linked to many recent militant attacks (see July 26, 2010).
Taliban presence map: January-September 2009. [Source: International Council on Security and Development]An international research and policy group reports that the Taliban have attained a permanent presence in about 80 percent of Afghanistan, up from 72 percent in November 2008 and 54 percent in November 2007. The International Council on Security and Development (ICOS), formerly known as The Senlis Council, also reports that another 17 percent of Afghanistan is seeing “substantial” Taliban activity. Furthermore, it reports a recent sharp rise in Taliban activity in the north, a formerly peaceful area. “The dramatic change in the last few months has been the deterioration of the situation in the north of Afghanistan, which was previously one of the most stable parts of Afghanistan. Provinces such as Kunduz and Balkh are now heavily affected by Taliban violence. Across the north of Afghanistan, there has been a dramatic increase in the rate of insurgent attacks against international, Afghan government, and civilian targets,” states Alexander Jackson, a policy analyst at ICOS. Spokeswoman Jane Francis says ICOS’s data is based on reports from a team in Afghanistan and was gathered from daily insurgent activity reports between January and September 2009. “The unrelenting and disturbing return, spread, and advance of the Taliban is now without question,” says Norine MacDonald QC, president and lead field researcher for ICOS. [International Council on Security and Development, 9/10/2009; Associated Press, 9/10/2009]
Judge Vaughn Walker rules that “sufficient facts” exist to keep alive a lawsuit brought by the defunct Islamic charity Al Haramain, which alleges it was subjected to illegal, warrantless wiretapping by the US government (see February 28, 2006). The lawsuit centers on a Top Secret government document accidentally disclosed to plaintiffs’ lawyers Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoo that allegedly proves the claim of illegal wiretapping; previous court rulings forced Belew and Ghafoo to return the document to the government and prohibited its use in the lawsuit. The lawsuit is widely viewed as a test case to decide in court whether the Bush administration abused its power by authorizing a secret domestic spying program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). Jon Eisenberg, the lawyer for Belew and Ghafoo, says it does not matter whether the case pertains to the Bush administration or the incoming Obama administration. “I don’t want President Obama to have that power any more than I do President Bush,” he says. Because the lawsuit contains sufficient evidence even without the Top Secret document, Walker rules, it can continue. “The plaintiffs have alleged sufficient facts to withstand the government’s motion to dismiss,” he writes. Therefore, he adds, the law demands that they be allowed to review the classified document, and others, to determine whether the lawyers were spied on illegally and whether Bush’s spy program was unlawful. “To be more specific, the court will review the sealed document ex parte and in camera,” Walker writes. “The court will then issue an order regarding whether plaintiffs may proceed—that is, whether the sealed document establishes that plaintiffs were subject to electronic surveillance not authorized by FISA” (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—see 1978). [Wired News, 1/5/2009]
Darrel Vandeveld, in a photo from 2001. [Source: Go Erie (.com)]Former military prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld agrees with the American Civil Liberties Union’s position that Guantanamo detainee Mohammed Jawad should be released. Vandeveld was the lead prosecutor on the military commission trying Jawad, who has been held for over six years. Vanderveld says in a declaration that there is “no credible evidence or legal basis” to justify Jawad’s detention or prosecution. “There is, however, reliable evidence that he was badly mistreated by US authorities both in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo,” says the declaration, which Vandeveld files in a Washington court in support of the ACLU’s habeas corpus petition. Jawad, who was captured in Afghanistan in 2002 at age 16, was accused of throwing a hand grenade at two US soldiers and their interpreter. Jawad and fellow detainee Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen, are the last two detainees to face charges based on acts they allegedly committed while they were juveniles. The ACLU maintains that Jawad was tortured to force him to confess. Vandeveld resigned from the military commissions in September 2008, saying he could not ethically proceed with Jawad’s case. In his declaration, Vandeveld says the “chaotic state of evidence” in the military commissions “make it impossible for anyone to harbor the remotest hope that justice is an achievable goal” (see January 20, 2009). [Agence France-Presse, 1/13/2009]
Former military prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld, who resigned his post in protest over the unwarranted prosecution of detainee Mohammed Jawad (see January 18, 2009), joins the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)‘s lawsuit on behalf of Jawad. The ACLU is demanding that Jawad be granted the right of habeas corpus and, ultimately, his release. Jawad has been held without trial for over six years, and, according to Vandeveld and the ACLU, no credible evidence of his probable guilt exists. Evidence does exist that Jawad was tortured while in US custody. In a brief filed with the court, Vandeveld writes, “[T]here is no credible evidence or legal basis to justify Mr. Jawad’s detention in US custody or his prosecution by military commission.” There is, however, “reliable evidence that [Jawad] was badly mistreated by US authorities both in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo.” Jawad was originally charged with throwing a hand grenade at US soldiers. Vandeveld writes that the evidence indicates Jawad, who was 16 when he was captured, never participated in any such attack, and was lured into joining an Afghan insurgent group by the promise of a well-paying job, and was drugged and lied to by the insurgents. What evidence does exist against Jawad is mostly exculpatory, Vandeveld writes, and all the evidence is scattered haphazardly throughout the Guantanamo facility. Some was found in a locker, and other documents have been lost. Thus, the US’s case against Jawad is unacceptably weak, Vandeveld contends. [Charlotte Examiner, 1/13/2009]
Jawad 'No Threat' - In defending Jawad, Vandeveld writes: “Had I returned to Afghanistan or Iraq, and had I encountered Mohammed Jawad in either of those hostile lands, where two of my friends have been killed in action and one of my very best friends in the world had been terribly wounded, I have no doubt at all—none—that Mr. Jawad would pose no threat whatsoever to me, his former prosecutor and now-repentant persecuter. Six years is long enough for a boy of 16 to serve in virtual solitary confinement, in a distant land, for reasons he may never fully understand.” [Salon, 1/21/2009]
Torture 'Miserably Common for Detainees in US Custody' - Salon’s Glenn Greenwald will write in support of Jawad and Vandeveld: “Jawad was never waterboarded, but no civilized human being would deny that the cumulative effect of his treatment at the hands of our country is torture in every sense of the word. And there’s nothing unique about his treatment. It wasn’t aberrational. Rather, it has been miserably common for detainees in US custody—not only at Guantanamo, but also in Bagram and throughout Iraq.” [Salon, 1/21/2009]
Pentagon press spokesman Geoff Morrell tells journalists that the Defense Department has new numbers documenting the “recidivism” of former Guantanamo detainees now engaged in terror activities. “The new numbers are, we believe, 18 confirmed and 43 suspected of returning to the fight,” Morrell says. “So 61 in all former Guantanamo detainees are confirmed or suspected of returning to the fight.” [US Department of Defense, 1/13/2009]
No Details on Numbers - The Pentagon figure would represent around 11 percent of the roughly 520 detainees released from the facility. National security expert Peter Bergen notes that the recidivism rate for prisoners in the US civilian judicial system is about 65 percent. Morrell defends the report, but refuses to say exactly where the information comes from. Instead, he says: “We don’t make these figures up. They’re not done willy-nilly.” Other Pentagon officials say they will not discuss how the figures were derived because of national security concerns. Morrell says the figures come from the Defense Intelligence Agency, “and they go over this with great care.” [CNN, 1/22/2009]
Law Professor: Pentagon Figures 'Egregiously' Wrong - In an exhaustive study of the Pentagon’s records of detainees, Seton Hall University law professor Mark Denbeaux disputes the Pentagon claim, calling it “egregiously” wrong (see January 16, 2009). “Once again, they’ve failed to identify names, numbers, dates, times, places, or acts upon which their report relies,” Denbeaux writes. “Every time they have been required to identify the parties, the DOD [Defense Department] has been forced to retract their false IDs and their numbers. They have included people who have never even set foot in Guantanamo—much less were they released from there. They have counted people as ‘returning to the fight’ for their having written an op-ed piece in the New York Times and for their having appeared in a documentary exhibited at the Cannes Film Festival. The DOD has revised and retracted their internally conflicting definitions, criteria, and their numbers so often that they have ceased to have any meaning—except as an effort to sway public opinion by painting a false portrait of the supposed dangers of these men. Forty-three times they have given numbers—which conflict with each other—all of which are seriously undercut by the DOD statement that ‘they do not track’ former detainees. Rather than making up numbers ‘willy-nilly’ about post release conduct, America might be better served if our government actually kept track of them.” [Seton Hall University, 1/15/2009] It is difficult to know exactly how many former Guantanamo detainees have returned to fighting, Denbeaux’s study finds, because of the incredibly poor record-keeping kept on detainees by the Pentagon (see January 20, 2009 ). Some of the detainees identified as recidivists never appeared on the detainee rolls. Some detainees were misidentified by the Pentagon, or identified as more than one person—and subsequently counted as more than one recidivist. Some have been dead for years, or are in the custody of other nations’ judicial systems. The Pentagon counts the so-called “Tipton Three” (see November 28, 2001) as “returning to the fight,” even though their only “terrorist activity” has been their participation in a documentary about unjust imprisonment in Guantanamo. The Pentagon also lists the recently released Uighurs, Chinese Muslims who were found to have no ties whatsoever to Islamic terrorism. One of the released Uighurs wrote a 2006 op-ed column for the New York Times protesting his imprisonment (see September 17, 2006), the extent of his documented “terrorist” actions. [New American, 1/27/2009]
Defense Secretary Downplays Report's Significance - Terrorism analyst Peter Bergen notes that many of the Guantanamo detainees were never terrorists at all, but were singled out as terrorists by Afghani villagers who told US authorities that they were members of al-Qaeda, either for personal revenge or for bounty money. Quoting former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Bergen says, “We know that a lot of people who were in Guantanamo don’t qualify as being the ‘worst of the worst.’” Bergen says that many of the “suspected” terrorists have done nothing more than publicly make anti-American statements, “something that’s not surprising if you’ve been locked up in a US prison camp for several years.” Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the only holdover from the Bush administration currently serving in President Obama’s cabinet and an advocate for closing the Guantanamo facility, downplays the number of detainees supposedly engaged in terrorism. “It’s not as big a number if you’re talking about 700 or a thousand or however many have been through Guantanamo,” he says. [CNN, 1/22/2009]
Susan Crawford. [Source: Susan Crawford / Washington Post]The senior Bush administration official in charge of bringing Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial rules that the US military tortured a detainee, and therefore the US cannot try him. Susan Crawford, the convening authority of military commissions, says that the US tortured Mohamed al-Khatani, a Saudi national accused of planning to participate in the September 11 attacks (see August 4, 2001). Crawford says al-Khatani was interrogated with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, and which cumulatively left him in a “life-threatening condition.” Crawford says: “We tortured [al-]Khatani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution. Crawford is a retired judge who served as the Army’s general counsel during the Reagan administration and the Pentagon’s inspector general during the first Bush administration. She is the first senior official of the current Bush administration to publicly state that a detainee was tortured while in US custody.
Cumulative Effect Equals Torture - None of the individual techniques used against al-Khatani were torturous in and of themselves, Crawford says, but the cumulative effect—particularly their duration and the deleterious effect on al-Khatani’s health—combined to constitute torture. “The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent,” she says. “You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge” to call it torture. Al-Khatani has been in US custody since December 2001 (see December 2001), and was interrogated from November 2002 through January 2003 (reports of the exact dates vary—see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003 and October 11, 2002). He was held in isolation until April 2003. “For 160 days his only contact was with the interrogators,” Crawford says. “Forty-eight of 54 consecutive days of 18-to-20-hour interrogations. Standing naked in front of a female agent. Subject to strip searches. And insults to his mother and sister.” He was threatened with a military dog named Zeus. He “was forced to wear a woman’s bra and had a thong placed on his head during the course of his interrogation,” Crawford says, and “was told that his mother and sister were whores.” With a leash tied to his chains, he was led around the room “and forced to perform a series of dog tricks,” according to reports from his interrogations. He was twice hospitalized with bradycardia, a potentially lethal condition where the heartbeat drops to abnormally low levels.
Ruling Halts Future Prosecution against al-Khatani - Crawford dismissed war crimes charges against al-Khatani in May 2008 (see May 13, 2008). In November, military prosecutors said they would refile charges against al-Khatani, based on subsequent interrogations that did not employ harsh techniques (see November 18, 2008). But Crawford says that she would not let any such prosecutions go forward. However, Crawford is not unaware of the potential danger posed by letting him go free. “There’s no doubt in my mind he would’ve been on one of those planes had he gained access to the country in August 2001,” Crawford says. “He’s a muscle hijacker.… He’s a very dangerous man. What do you do with him now if you don’t charge him and try him? I would be hesitant to say, ‘Let him go.’” Al-Khatani’s civilian lawyer, Gitanjali Gutierrez, says, “There is no doubt he was tortured.” Gutierrez says: “He has loss of concentration and memory loss, and he suffers from paranoia.… He wants just to get back to Saudi Arabia, get married and have a family.” Al-Khatani “adamantly denies he planned to join the 9/11 attack,” she adds. “He has no connections to extremists.” Gutierrez says she thinks Saudi Arabia has an effective rehabilitation program and Khatani ought to be returned there. [Washington Post, 1/14/2009; New York Times, 1/14/2009] His lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights describe him as a broken, suicidal man who can never be prosecuted because of his treatment at the hands of his captors. [New York Times, 1/14/2009]
Sympathetic but Unbending - Crawford, a lifelong Republican, says she sympathizes with the situation faced by the Bush administration and the CIA after the 9/11 attacks. “I sympathize with the intelligence gatherers in those days after 9/11, not knowing what was coming next and trying to gain information to keep us safe,” she acknowledges. “But there still has to be a line that we should not cross. And unfortunately what this has done, I think, has tainted everything going forward.” Noting that the 2006 Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case (see June 30, 2006) disallowed torture but allowed for “coercive interrogation techniques,” Crawford says even those techniques should not be allowed: “You don’t allow it in a regular court.” Crawford says she is not yet sure if any of the other five detainees accused of participating in the 9/11 plot, including their leader, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were tortured, but she believes they may have been. “I assume torture,” she says, and notes that CIA Director Michael Hayden has publicly confirmed that Mohammed was one of three detainees subjected to waterboarding, a technique classified by law as torture. Crawford has not blocked prosecution of the other five detainees. Ultimately, she says, the responsibility for the farrago of illegal detentions and torture rests with President Bush. He was right to create a system to try suspected terrorists, she says, but the implementation was fatally flawed. “I think he hurt his own effort.… I think someone should acknowledge that mistakes were made and that they hurt the effort and take responsibility for it.… We learn as children it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is for permission. I think the buck stops in the Oval Office.” [Washington Post, 1/14/2009]
Rules Change - Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says that the Hamdan case changed the rules, and thus retroactively classified al-Khatani’s treatment as torture. “The [Defense] Department has always taken allegations of abuse seriously,” he says. “We have conducted more than a dozen investigations and reviews of our detention operations, including specifically the interrogation of Mohamed al-Khatani, the alleged 20th hijacker. They concluded the interrogation methods used at [Guantanamo], including the special techniques used on Khatani in 2002, were lawful. However, subsequent to those reviews, the Department adopted new and more restrictive policies and procedures for interrogation and detention operations. Some of the aggressive questioning techniques used on al-Khatani, although permissible at the time, are no longer allowed in the updated Army field manual.” [Washington Post, 1/14/2009]
Prosecutors Unprepared - When Crawford came to Guantanamo as convening authority in 2007, she says “the prosecution was unprepared” to bring cases to trial. Even after four years of working possible cases, “they were lacking in experience and judgment and leadership.” She continues: “A prosecutor has an ethical obligation to review all the evidence before making a charging decision. And they didn’t have access to all the evidence, including medical records, interrogation logs, and they were making charging decisions without looking at everything.” It took over a year, and the intervention of Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, for prosecutors to turn over possibly exculpatory evidence to defense lawyers, even though the law requires that such evidence be turned over immediately. The entire system at Guantanamo is a blot on the reputation of the US and its military judicial system, she says: “There’s an assumption out there that everybody was tortured. And everybody wasn’t tortured. But unfortunately perception is reality.” The system she oversees cannot function now, she believes. “Certainly in the public’s mind, or politically speaking, and certainly in the international community” it may be forever tainted. “It may be too late.” [Washington Post, 1/14/2009]
Entity Tags: Susan Crawford, Gordon England, Gitanjali Gutierrez, George W. Bush, Geoff Morrell, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Bush administration (43), Center for Constitutional Rights, Mohamed al-Khatani, US Department of Defense, Michael Hayden
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Sparked by the official confirmation that Guantanamo detainee Mohamed al-Khatani was tortured (see January 14, 2009), Amnesty International calls for the incoming Obama administration and Congress to launch an independent commission of inquiry into human rights violations in the “war on terror.” In a press release, Amnesty International writes: “Torture is a crime under international law. The USA is obliged as a party to the UN Convention against Torture (see October 21, 1994) to investigate ‘wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction.’ The same treaty requires it to submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution. The treaty, and international law more generally, precludes the invocation of exceptional circumstances or superior orders as justification for torture. Anyone who has authorized, committed, is complicit, or participated in torture must be brought to justice, no matter their level of office or former level of office. Yet the public acknowledgement that the USA has tortured al-Khatani was not accompanied by any news of efforts to bring those responsible to justice.” Such a government commission “must not be used to block or delay the prosecution of any individual against whom there is already sufficient evidence of wrongdoing. A criminal investigation into the torture of Mohamed al-Khatani is already long overdue.” The incoming president, Barack Obama, has already acknowledged that waterboarding, one of the “harsh interrogation techniques” used against Guantanamo detainees, is torture. “Next week, then, the USA will have a president who considers that torture has been committed by the USA,” Amnesty writes. “He will be under an obligation to ensure full individual and institutional accountability. There must be no safe havens for torturers.” As for al-Khatani, Amnesty believes the US should either release him or try him “in accordance with international fair trial standards in an independent and impartial court—not a military commission. No information obtained under torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment should be admitted in any proceedings, except against the perpetrators of any such treatment as evidence that it occurred.” [Amnesty International, 1/14/2009]
Eric Holder. [Source: New York Times]Incoming Attorney General Eric Holder says the Justice Department will defend the US’s warrantless eavesdropping program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005) in court, based on Congress’s passage of legislation immunizing US telecommunications companies from lawsuits challenging their participation in the government spy program (see January 5, 2009). Holder makes this statement during Senate hearings to confirm his selection as attorney general. “The duty of the Justice Department is to defend statutes that have been passed by Congress,” Holder says. “Unless there are compelling reasons, I don’t think we would reverse course.” President-elect Obama, while a senator, opposed granting immunity to the telecommunications firms, but voted for immunity because it was included in a broader surveillance bill that gave the Bush administration broad new powers to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants. [Wired News, 1/15/2009]
Michael Hayden, in the last days of his position as CIA director, defends the agency’s use of secret prisons and extreme interrogation methods on suspected terrorists. Hayden claims the techniques and practices helped prevent new terrorist attacks, though he refuses to provide evidence of this claim, and says that they were done “out of duty, not out of enthusiasm.” Hayden says the CIA detainee program should not be subject to a public investigation, because the program was made legal by secret Justice Department memos (see January 28, 2009) and some members of Congress were informed of the program’s existence. In addition, a public investigation could possibly damage the careers of CIA officers and the agency’s espionage operations. “We are asked to do things routinely that no one else is asked to do, that no one else is allowed to do,” Hayden says. “You can’t do this to these people.” Asked if he was concerned that Attorney General-designee Eric Holder unequivocally termed waterboarding as torture, Hayden responds, “It’s an uninteresting question to the Central Intelligence Agency.” He continues: “We don’t do that. We haven’t done it since March 2003, and we don’t intend to do it. What the agency has done in the past, what it is doing now, what it will do in the future is based on the best legal counsel it has at the time.” Hayden says he was “heartened” by President Obama’s recent remarks that the nation must “move beyond” the Bush years. [McClatchy News, 1/15/2009]
Steven Bradbury, the outgoing head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a legal opinion finding certain earlier opinions from the OLC invalid. Bradbury is referring to several memos issued by former OLC lawyers John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and others after the 9/11 attacks (see March 2, 2009).
'Doubtful Nature' - Bradbury writes that these opinions had not been relied upon since 2003, and notes that it is important to acknowledge in writing “the doubtful nature of these propositions.” The opinions “do not currently reflect, and have not for some years reflected, the views of the” OLC, Bradbury writes, “and on several occasions we have already acknowledged the doubtful nature of these propositions.”
President's Position - One portion of Bradbury’s memo says it is “not sustainable” to argue that the president’s power as commander in chief “precludes Congress from enacting any legislation concerning the detention, interrogation, prosecution, and transfer of enemy combatants.” Bradbury is referring to a 2002 memo that claimed President Bush could order the “rendition” of detainees to other countries without regard to Congressional legislation (see March 13, 2002).
'Novel and Complex Questions' - In repudiating the memos, Bradbury writes that they were the product of Yoo and others confronting what he calls “novel and complex questions in a time of great danger and under extraordinary time pressure.” [US Department of Justice, 1/15/2009 ; New York Times, 3/2/2009; Reuters, 3/2/2009]
Response - Yale law professor Jack Balkin later notes that the memo does not repudiate “any of the Bush administration’s specific policies regarding surveillance, detention, and interrogation.” [Jack Balkin, 3/3/2009] In 2004, the Justice Department repudiated the so-called “golden shield” memo, written by Yoo and the then-chief counsel for Vice President Cheney, David Addington, which gave US personnel almost unlimited authority to torture prisoners (see August 1, 2002). The New York Times writes that Bradbury’s last-minute memo “appears to have been the Bush lawyers’ last effort to reconcile their views with the wide rejection by legal scholars and some Supreme Court opinions of the sweeping assertions of presidential authority made earlier by the Justice Department.” Walter Dellinger, who headed the OLC during the Clinton administration, says that Bradbury’s memo “disclaiming the opinions of earlier Bush lawyers sets out in blunt detail how irresponsible those earlier opinions were.” Dellinger says it is important to note that the Bush administration’s assertions “that Congress had absolutely no role in these national security issues was contrary to constitutional text, historical practice, and judicial precedent.” [New York Times, 3/2/2009] Bradbury, who like Yoo and Bybee may face disbarment, is careful to note that while the legal opinions are invalid, he is not suggesting that the authors did not “satisfy” professional standards. [Washington Post, 3/3/2009]
Mark Denbeaux. [Source: Seton Hall University]Mark Denbeaux, the director of the Seton Hall Law School Center for Policy and Research, and the lawyer for two detainees at Guantanamo, describes how his research disproved the Pentagon’s recent claim that 61 former detainees have returned to terrorist activities (see January 13-14, 2009). Denbeaux, interviewed by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, says that his analysis of the information released by the government shows that the claim has changed over and over again, and has never been supported by evidence. “Our model is simply to look at what the government’s reports show and analyze them,” he says. “The government has given its 43rd attempt to describe the number of people who have left Guantanamo and returned to the battlefield. Forty-one times they have done it orally as they have this last time. And their numbers have changed from 20 to 12 to seven to more than five to two to a couple to a few—25, 29, 12 to 24. Every time, the number has been different. In fact, every time they give a number, they don’t identify a date, a place, a time, a name, or an incident to support their claim.” In June 2007, Denbeaux says, the Pentagon identified 15 detainees as having “returned to the battlefield.” Denbeaux analyzed the information about the 15 so-called “recidivist terrorists.” Three of the 15, the so-called “Tipton Three” (see November 28, 2001), were considered as having “returned to the battlefield” because of their appearance in a documentary, The Road to Guantanamo. Five others are Chinese Uighurs who were listed as having “returned to terrorism” because one of their number wrote an editorial criticizing Guantanamo detention policies (see September 17, 2006). Two others were never at Guantanamo. Two were Russians who were arrested in Russia but never prosecuted. Two were arrested in their home country of Morocco, and the last was arrested in his home country of Turkey. So of the 15 so-called “recidivists,” a maximum of three could even be considered as possibly “returning to the battlefield.” Denbeaux says that the current listing of 61 so-called “recidivists” includes the 15 on the 2007 list, and the remaining 46 names have similar issues with documenting actual acts of terrorism. [MSNBC, 1/16/2009]
Robert Mugabe. [Source: Desmond Kwande / AFP / Getty Images]Former US diplomat and current human rights advocate John Prendergast calls for the US to oust the dictator of Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe, either by international isolation or by military force. Prendergast’s column in the Christian Science Monitor follows an earlier op-ed in the Washington Post calling for the US assassination of Mugabe (see December 9, 2008). Prendergast, who has worked in Zimbabwe to alleviate the suffering of its people, details Mugabe’s crimes against his populace, then details the advantages of each of his recommended strategies. International isolation—including other nations closing their borders with Zimbabwe and sanctioning Mugabe and other officials—is a dangerous tactic, as it might precipitate the starvation of millions of citizens. Prendergast harks back to 1979, when Tanzania intervened to overthrow the murderous regime of Uganda’s Idi Amin; to 1997, when a coalition of nations supported the rebel overthrow of Congo’s Mobute Sese Seko; and to 2003, when an international effort forced Liberia’s Charles Taylor out of office. “[T]he time has come for neighboring governments to expedite Mugabe’s departure,” Prendergast writes. “[T]he international community should not delay putting the wheels in motion to oust Mugabe. It will probably be messy in the short run and not without unintended consequences. But the status quo will guarantee that any hope for Zimbabwe—and huge numbers of its people—will eventually cease to exist.” [Christian Science Monitor, 1/16/2009; Foreign Policy, 10/22/2010]
Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld (see January 13, 2009), a former Army prosecutor at Guantanamo who resigned his position in September 2008 (see September 2008), publishes a column in the Washington Post explaining his decision. After a lengthy recounting of his experiences at Guantanamo, he concludes: “I am ashamed that it took me so long to recognize the stain of Guantanamo, not simply on America’s standing in the world, but as part, now, of a history we cannot undo. We have kept human beings in solitary confinement for as long as seven years, even though they have never been charged with any crime. In other places, we have beaten hooded, shackled prisoners, at least two of whom died as a result. There is a way out of Guantanamo. It is not as difficult as some apologists have made it seem. Many of the detainees have not committed war crimes and the handful of real terrorists and war criminals can be tried in federal court.… For the detainees who have not committed any crime, we must begin an immediate and intensive program of rehabilitation that will allow them to reintegrate into the societies from which they were removed on the flimsiest of legal bases.… No one who has fought for our country and its values has done so to enable what happened in Guantanamo. We did not sacrifice so that an administration of partisan civilians, abetted by military officers who seemed to have lost their moral compass, could defile our Constitution and misuse the rule of law. For a few dark years, it was ‘legal’ to mistreat fellow human beings. Now, some of that treatment has been called ‘torture’ by Susan Crawford, the convening authority of military commissions (see January 14, 2009). I just hope no one will see that kind of abuse—and look the other way—again.” [Washington Post, 1/18/2009]
As one of its last official acts, the Bush administration asks federal judge Vaughn Walker to stay his ruling that keeps alive a lawsuit testing whether a sitting president can bypass Congress and eavesdrop on Americans without warrants. The request, filed at 10:56 p.m. on President Bush’s last full day in office, asks Walker to stay his ruling and allow the federal government to appeal his ruling that allows the al-Haramain lawsuit to proceed (see February 28, 2006). The warrantless wiretapping alleged in the lawsuit took place in 2004, well before Congress’s 2008 authorization of the government’s spy program. The Obama administration’s incoming Attorney General, Eric Holder, says the Justice Department will defend the spy program because Congress made it legal (see January 15, 2009). It is not clear whether the Justice Department under Holder will continue to fight the Al Haramain lawsuit. The Bush administration wants Walker to reverse his decision to let plaintiffs’ lawyers Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoo use a Top Secret document that was accidentally disclosed to them in 2004 (see January 5, 2009); that document, which allegedly proves the warrantless and illegal nature of the wiretapping performed against the Al Haramain charity, is at the center of the lawsuit. Previous rulings disallowed the use of the document and forced the defense lawyers to return it to the government, but Walker ruled that other evidence supported the claim of warrantless wiretapping, and therefore the document could be used. In its request for a stay, the Bush administration asserts that allowing the document to be used in the lawsuit would jeopardize national security, and that the document is protected under the state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953). Administration lawyers say that Walker should not be allowed to see the document, much less the defense lawyers. “If the court were to find… that none of the plaintiffs are aggrieved parties, the case obviously could not proceed, but such a holding would reveal to plaintiffs and the public at large information that is protected by the state secrets privilege—namely, that certain individuals were not subject to alleged surveillance,” the administration writes in its request. If the lawsuit continues, the government says, that decision “would confirm that a plaintiff was subject to surveillance” and therefore should not be allowed: “Indeed, if the actual facts were that just one of the plaintiffs had been subject to alleged surveillance, any such differentiation likewise could not be disclosed because it would inherently reveal intelligence information as to who was and was not a subject of interest, which communications were and were not of intelligence interest, and which modes of communication were and were not of intelligence interest, and which modes of communication may or may not have been subject to surveillance.” Jon Eisenberg, the lawyer for Belew and Ghafoo, says: “We filed this lawsuit to establish a judicial precedent that the president cannot disregard Congress in the name of national security. Plaintiffs have a right to litigate the legality of the surveillance.” [Wired News, 1/20/2009]
Constitutional lawyer and author Bruce Fein, a former official in the Justice Department under Ronald Reagan, writes that if President Obama wants to “restore the rule of law and to prevent future wrongdoing by high-level government officials,” he “should investigate, among others, former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former White House counsel and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and former White House political adviser Karl Rove. The crimes to be investigated should include complicity in torture, illegal surveillance, illegal detention, perjury, obstruction of justice, and contempt of Congress. Prosecutions should follow if the evidence convinces a grand jury to indict.” Fein states that “[t]he best way to deter government criminality and to teach citizens the rule of law is to punish the perpetrators who are unanimously found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by independent and impartial jurors.”
FBI, CIA Feared Prosecution for Torture - He notes that the FBI refused to participate in “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding, for fear of being charged with war crimes. And the CIA required specific legal opinions from the Bush Justice Department—the so-called “golden shield” (see August 1, 2002)—and specific presidential authorization before it would allow its agents to torture detainees. And the White House ordered an end to waterboarding after it was warned that such tactics left its officials open to charges of torture and war crimes.
Attorney General Feared Prosecution under FISA - He goes on to note that Justice Department officials such as acting Attorney General James Comey “balked at approving… Bush’s warrantless surveillance program without modification in March 2004 probably because he feared criminal prosecution under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act” (see 1978).
'Unpunished Lawlessness by Government Officials Invites Lawlessness Generally' - Fein asserts that “unpunished lawlessness by government officials invites lawlessness generally.” He quotes former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “Decency, security, and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.” The best way to deter criminal behavior, he says, is to prosecute alleged criminals, and that process must start with government officials. [Washington Times, 1/20/2009]
Officials for the incoming Obama administration are dismayed to find that the task of closing Guantanamo Bay, one of President Obama’s first orders as president (see January 22, 2009), is going to be much harder than anticipated, because the records and details of the approximately 245 prisoners in custody are in terrific disarray. Obama officials, barred from examining classified records on the detainees until the inauguration, also find that many of the prisoners have no comprehensive case files at all. What information that does exist on the detainees is, according to a senior Obama official, “scattered throughout the executive branch.” Most detainees have little more than a dossier containing brief summaries of information, and lack any sort of background or investigative information that would be required for federal prosecutions. Obama named a Cabinet-level panel to review each case individually before the base is to be closed in a year, and those panel members will now have to spend weeks and perhaps months hunting down and correlating relevant material.
'Food Fights' among Bush Agencies - Officials from the former Bush administration admit that the files are incomplete, and that no single government office was tasked with keeping the information on Guantanamo detainees together. They blame the CIA and other intelligence agencies for not adequately sharing information, and add that the Bush administration’s focus was more on detention and interrogation, and much less on putting together information for future prosecutions. A former Pentagon official says that “regular food fights” between competing government agencies over the sharing of information contributed to the lack of coherent and consistent files. (A CIA official denies that the agency ever balked at sharing information with other governmental agencies, and says the Defense Department was more likely to be responsible for laspes in information.)
Former Bush Officials Say Obama Officials 'Look[ing] for Excuses' - However, other former Bush officials say the Obama team is trying to “look for excuses” instead of dealing with the complexities of the issues involved. Obama officials, after promising quick solutions, are now “backpedaling and trying to buy time” by blaming its predecessor, according to a former senior Bush official. He says that “all but about 60… are either high-level al-Qaeda people responsible for 9/11 or bombings, or were high-level Taliban or al-Qaeda facilitators or money people,” and the Obama administration will come to the same conclusion as Bush officials: that they need to stay in detention without trial or charges.
Files 'Not Comprehensive,' Problem Noted in Previous Judicial Proceedings - But Obama officials say they want to make their own judgments. A senior Obama official says: “The consensus among almost everyone is that the current system is not in our national interest and not sustainable. [But] it’s clear that we can’t clear up this issue overnight” in part because the files “are not comprehensive.” Justice Department lawyers claim that after the Supreme Court ruled detainees have habeas corpus rights (see June 30, 2006), Bush officials were “overwhelmed” by the sudden need to gather and correlate information and material. In one federal filing, the Justice Department told a court that the record for a particular detainee “is not simply a collection of papers sitting in a box at the Defense Department. It is a massive undertaking just to produce the record in this one case.” In another filing, Justice Department officials told a court that “defending these cases requires an intense, inter-agency coordination of efforts. None of the relevant agencies, however, was prepared to handle this volume of habeas cases on an expedited basis.” Some former military officials say that evidence gathered for military commissions trials was scattered and incomplete. One former Guantanamo prosecutor, Darrel Vandeveld, says evidence was “strewn throughout the prosecution offices in desk drawers, bookcases packed with vaguely-labeled plastic containers, or even simply piled on the tops of desks.” He says he once accidentally found “crucial physical evidence” that “had been tossed in a locker located at Guantanamo and promptly forgotten.” [Washington Post, 1/25/2009] Vandeveld says that evidence at Guantanamo was often so disorganized “it was like a stash of documents found in a village in a raid and just put on a plane to the US.” [United Press International, 1/14/2009]
Prosecutors Lacked Evidence Necessary for Prosecutions, Says Senior Official - “A prosecutor has an ethical obligation to review all the evidence before making a charging decision,” says Susan Crawford, the convening authority for the military commissions. “And they didn’t have access to all the evidence, including medical records, interrogation logs, and they were making charging decisions without looking at everything.” Crawford has stated that another detainee was tortured while at Guantanamo (see January 14, 2009). [ABA Journal, 1/14/2009]
Defense Department: Information There, but Scattered - Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says the files are in good order: “Fundamentally, we believe that the individual files on each detainee are comprehensive and sufficiently organized,” however, “in many cases, there will be thousands of pages of documents… which makes a comprehensive assessment a time-consuming endeavor.… Not all the documents are physically located in one place,” but most are available through a database. “The main point here is that there are lots of records, and we are prepared to make them available to anybody who needs to see them as part of this review.” [Washington Post, 1/25/2009]
The Swiss government says it will consider allowing Guantanamo detainees to be repatriated to Switzerland if it will help shut down that detention facility. In a statement, the Swiss government says: “For Switzerland, the detention of people in Guantanamo is in conflict with international law. Switzerland is ready to consider how it can contribute to the solution of the Guantanamo problem.” The Swiss government says it welcomes the expressed intention of President Obama to close the prison, and says it will investigate the security and legal implications of possibly taking in detainees. After calling for years for the detention camp to be shut down, European governments are now under some pressure to help find a home for the approximately 245 detainees. Many of the detainees’ home countries are refusing to take them back, and the US under former President Bush says it will not allow them to remain in the US if released. Switzerland is a traditional supporter of refugees, and the home of international organizations such as the Red Cross and the United Nations’s refugee agencies. At least two other European nations, Portugal and France, have stated their willingness to accept detainees. [Reuters, 1/21/2009]
Lindsey Graham. [Source: Boston Globe]Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) says that some detainees currently held in Guantanamo should be imprisoned indefinitely, without legal recourse. Graham is responding to President Obama’s order to close Guantanamo within a year (see January 22, 2009). On Fox News, Graham says, “I do believe we can close Gitmo, but what to do with them [the remaining detainees]?” He says there are three options: “Repatriate some back to other countries makes sense, if you can do it safely. Some of them will be tried for war crimes. And a third group will be held indefinitely because the sensitive nature of the evidence may not subject them to the normal criminal process, but if you let them go, we’ll be letting go someone who wants to go back to the fight.… So we’ve got three lanes we’ve got to deal with: repatriation, trials, and indefinite detention.” Civil liberties expert Ken Gude is critical of Graham’s position: “US courts have tried some of the most dangerous terrorists the world has ever known, and done so while both protecting classified information and the rights of the accused to ensure the verdict is fair, legitimate, and accurate.… Of course these prosecutions will not be easy, but the admissibility of classified evidence is not an insurmountable obstacle to trials of Guantanamo detainees.” [Think Progress, 1/21/2009]
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) responds to President Obama’s order closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility by wondering why anyone wants to close it. After all, Boehner says, the detainees at Guantanamo enjoy privileges denied to many Americans: “I don’t know that there’s a terrorist treated better anywhere in the world than what has happened at Guantanamo. It is—we have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build a facility that has more comforts than a lot of Americans get.” Boehner states that once “a terrorist detainee is brought to the United States[,] that terrorist is automatically afforded more constitutional rights than US military personnel under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.” [Office of the House Minority Leader, 1/22/2009; Think Progress, 1/22/2009]
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says she intends to push for Congressional legislation mandating a single standard for military and CIA interrogators that would in effect ban the use of torture. Feinstein says she applauds President Obama’s executive order banning torture (see January 22, 2009), but notes that Obama or a future president could overturn that order at any time. “I think that ultimately the government is well served by codifying it, by having it in law,” Feinstein says. Some liberal and civil rights organizations support Feinstein’s drive for a Congressional ban on torture; they also press Feinstein, Obama, and other Democrats to engage in a full investigation of the detention and torture programs under the Bush presidency. [New York Times, 1/23/2009]
President Barack Obama signs a series of executive orders mandating the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within one year’s time, and declares that prisoners at that facility will be treated within the parameters of the Geneva Conventions. Obama’s order also mandates the closure of the CIA’s secret prisons overseas. Another element of those orders bans the practice of torture on detainees (see January 22, 2009). Obama calls the order the first move by his administration to reclaim “the moral high ground” vacated by the previous administration. Americans understand that battling terrorism cannot continue with a “false choice between our safety and our ideals,” he says. [Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2009; Washington Post, 1/23/2009] “We can no longer afford drift, and we can no longer afford delay, nor can we cede ground to those who seek destruction,” he adds. [Associated Press, 1/22/2009] “We believe we can abide by a rule that says, we don’t torture, but we can effectively obtain the intelligence we need.” [New York Times, 1/23/2009] The Washington Post reports that the orders essentially end the “war on terror” as it has been managed by the Bush administration, and writes, “[T]he notion that a president can circumvent long-standing US laws simply by declaring war was halted by executive order in the Oval Office.” However, Obama’s order does not detail what should be done with the detainees currently housed at Guantanamo. According to a White House summary, Obama’s orders “set… up an immediate review to determine whether it is possible to transfer detainees to third countries, consistent with national security.” If a prisoner cannot be transferred, “a second review will determine whether prosecution is possible and in what forum.” Obama says, “The message that we are sending the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism and we are going to do so vigilantly and we are going to do so effectively and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals.” The US will now “observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard,” he adds. The orders do not specifically ban the practice of “rendition,” or secretly transferring prisoners to the custody of other nations, some of which practice torture. “There are some renditions that are, in fact, justifiable, defensible,” says a senior Obama administration official. “There’s not going to be rendition to any country that engages in torture.”
Republicans, Conservatives Object - Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), a supporter of torture by the Bush administration, says Obama’s orders are imprecise and vague: “This is an executive order that places hope ahead of reality—it sets an objective without a plan to get there.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2009; Washington Post, 1/23/2009] “What do we do with confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his fellow terrorist conspirators.” Hoekstra asks, “offer them jail cells in American communities?” [Financial Times, 1/22/2009] Conservative news outlet Fox News tells its viewers, “The National Security Council told Fox that for now even [O]sama bin Laden or a high-ranking terrorist planner would be shielded from aggressive interrogation techniques that the CIA says produced lifesaving intelligence from… Mohammed.” [US News and World Report, 1/23/2009]
'A New Era for America' - Newly installed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a different view. “I believe with all my heart that this is a new era for America,” she tells reporters as she assumes her duties at the State Department. [Agence France-Presse, 1/22/2009] Former Bush official John Bellinger, the National Security Council’s top legal adviser, praises Obama’s orders, calling them “measured” and noting that they “do not take any rash actions.” Bellinger adds: “Although the Gitmo order is primarily symbolic, it is very important. It accomplishes what we could never accomplish during the Bush administration.” [New York Times, 1/23/2009] Retired admiral John Hutson agrees. “It is a 180 degree turn,” says Hutson. “It restores our status in the world. It enables us to be proud of the way we are prosecuting the war.” Closing the Guantanamo prison camp and banning torture “is the right thing to do morally, diplomatically, militarily and constitutionally,” Hutson adds, “but it also makes us safer.” Senator John Kerry (D-MA) calls the move “a great day for the rule of law.” [Financial Times, 1/22/2009; New York Times, 1/23/2009]
Entity Tags: Peter Hoekstra, Hillary Clinton, John Bellinger, Obama administration, John D. Hutson, John Kerry, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, National Security Council, Fox News, Washington Post, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
President Barack Obama, in the same sweeping set of executive orders that mandates the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and orders the closure of the CIA’s secret prisons (see January 22, 2009), orders that the US no longer torture prisoners. And in a broad repudiation of Bush administration policies and legal arguments, Obama’s order nullifies every single legal order and opinion on interrogations issued by any lawyer in the executive branch—including the Department of Justice—since September 11, 2001 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001, Late September 2001, October 23, 2001, Late October 2001, November 6-10, 2001, January 9, 2002, January 25, 2002, and April 2002 and After). “Key components of the secret structure developed under Bush are being swept away,” the Washington Post reports. Obama orders that all interrogations conducted by the CIA and other US officials strictly follow the procedures outlined in the US Army Field Manual. Retired Admiral Dennis Blair, Obama’s nominee to become the director of national intelligence, says that the government may revise the Field Manual to include more coercive interrogation techniques; a commission will be appointed to determine if the Field Manual is adequate. Currently the Field Manual limits interrogators to 19 approved techniques, bans torture, and prohibits harsh questioning techniques in favor of using psychological approaches. “I can say without exception or equivocation that the United States will not torture,” Obama tells a group of listeners at the State Department. “The message that we are sending the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism and we are going to do so vigilantly and we are going to do so effectively and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals,” he adds. The US will now “observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard.” [Agence France-Presse, 1/22/2009; Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2009; Washington Post, 1/23/2009] Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch says that he is certain Obama will not secretly authorize torture. Malinowski says that while Obama might oversee some changes in the Field Manual, he says that Obama will not renege on his promise that detainees would not be tortured or treated inhumanely. [Financial Times, 1/22/2009]
Dennis Blair. [Source: US Navy / Public domain]Retired Admiral Dennis Blair, President Obama’s pick as Director of National Intelligence, refuses to state that waterboarding is torture during his Senate confirmation hearings. Blair, worried that for him to make such a characterization might place CIA employees who used the technique in legal jeopardy, says instead, “I’m hesitating to set a standard here.” He then says: “There will be no waterboarding on my watch. There will be no torture on my watch.” In last week’s Senate hearings, Obama’s nominee for Attorney General, Eric Holder, said flatly, “Waterboarding is torture.” Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) tells Blair, “If the attorney general designee can answer it, you can too.” After the day’s hearings, Blair tells reporters that CIA agents who violated internal standards should be held accountable, and that an Obama task force overhauling interrogation policies would examine the past practices. [Reuters, 1/22/2009]
US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, a Bush administration appointee who is preparing to depart the country in favor of a new appointee from President Obama, says he hopes Obama will not prematurely withdraw US troops from Iraq. He adds that to do so would be a potentially disastrous error. Crocker says that after discussing the matter with Obama in a four-way video conference, along with General Ray Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq, and Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he is confident Obama will not do so. Obama promised repeatedly during the presidential campaign that he would withdraw US forces from Iraq within 16 months of taking office. Crocker says that during the video conference, Obama repeated his campaign promise to withdraw American forces from Iraq “responsibly.” “If it were to be a precipitous withdrawal,” Crocker says, “that could be very dangerous, but I think it’s clear that that’s not the direction in which this is trending.” Crocker adds: “We’re worried about a too-swift withdrawal. That’s when I think the spirit of compromise, of accommodation, of focus on institutional development, all of that could run the risk of getting set aside.” Crocker warns that the reaction to a US pullout among Iraqi citizens might be along the lines of “Uh, oh, we had better pull back, dig the trenches, build the berms and get ready for whatever comes next.… I’m not saying that that will happen, but I think these are dangers that could happen.” (Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qadir Muhammed Jassim says his country is “prepared for the worst.”) Crocker says of the nation’s political and social status: “We’re at a very encouraging, hopeful point, but it is not a culminating point by any means. It’s not a point at which I at least can lay claims to legacy or make any claims resembling a definitive judgment. It is still fragile, and it is still reversible.” A US official quotes an adage he attributes to Crocker about the situation in Iraq: “Everything here is harder than you think it is, everything will take longer, and something will come along to screw it up.” [McClatchy News, 1/22/2009; Washington Post, 1/23/2009]
Law professor Brandt Goldstein recommends that President Obama not rely on an executive order to shut down the Guantanamo detention facility, as he has ordered (see January 22, 2009), but work with Congress to pass a federal statute that will forever outlaw the use of the base as a prison. Goldstein notes that Guantanamo was used to house Haitian refugees in the early 1990s, when President George H. W. Bush used it to detain around 300 HIV-positive dissidents who were fleeing Haiti after a military coup. The Justice Department created the legal rationale that Guantanamo, because it is not within the US territorial boundaries, does not fall under Constitutional restrictions, even though the prison is on a US naval base. President Bill Clinton released the last of the Haitians in June 1993, but his administration managed to overturn a court decision that prohibited the federal government from housing detainees at Guantanamo indefinitely. President George W. Bush used the detention facility to house hundreds of terror suspects from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the US invasion of Afghanistan. Goldstein writes: “[T]wice in recent times, the temptation to use Guantanamo as an offshore, extralegal prison camp has mired a presidential administration in legal and moral muck. It’s high time we cut off Guantanamo as an option for this sort of mess—forever. An executive order won’t do that.” Such an order can be vacated by the next president, or even Obama himself should he choose to change his mind. “If Congress passes such legislation,” Goldstein writes, “and Obama signs it into law, then not only will he be bound by its prohibitions, but future presidents will be bound by it as well. The political will is there to deal with this issue. Now is the time to do it.” Goldstein adds, “Some conservative policy scholars won’t like this idea. They’ll wring their hands about closing off options regarding situations we cannot foresee. The answer to that is simple: Some options should be off the table, and experience indicates that using Guantanamo as a prison camp is one of them. Of course, if a future president believes that new circumstances make it truly necessary to use Guantanamo as a detention facility, that future president can go to Capitol Hill and try to convince the House and Senate to change their minds on the matter.” [Huffington Post, 1/22/2009]
US defense officials, led by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, say they are not entirely supportive of President Obama’s promise to withdraw from Iraq within 16 months. Gates is the only Obama administration holdover from the former Bush administration. Instead of getting behind Obama’s 16-month withdrawal, which was a central promise of Obama’s campaign, defense officials say they intend to present Obama with a “full range of options.” Asked about Obama’s meeting with him and senior US military commanders to discuss withdrawal, Gates says the 16-month timetable is just “the beginning of a process of evaluating various options.” The White House has said that the plans to withdraw American forces from Iraq in 16 months are firm. “Let me just say, I think our obligation is to give the president a range of options and the risks associated with each of those options,” Gates notes. “And he will make the decision.” Iraq is still a nation in transition, says Admiral Michael Mullen, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and this year’s series of elections in Iraq provides reason for both hope and apprehension. “There’s growing confidence, but it’s not in leaps and bounds,” Mullen says. General Ray Odierno, the senior US commander in Iraq, says, “How the provincial elections play out will, I think, be a big indicator for 2009, which is a big year.” Mullen is in favor of a “responsible drawdown,” but is not sure exactly how it should progress. Outgoing US ambassador Ryan Crocker joins Gates, Mullen, and Odierno in warning of what he calls a “precipitous” withdrawal (see January 22, 2009). “Al-Qaeda is incredibly tenacious,” Crocker says. “As long as they hang on they are looking for the opportunity to regenerate.” Obama intends to withdraw some forces from Iraq for duty in Afghanistan, which he views as the US’s central front in battling terrorism. There are currently 143,000 US troops in Iraq, and only 34,000 in Afghanistan. The US commander in Afghanistan wants another 30,000 troops; the Pentagon says those will be provided over the next 12 to 18 months. Gates agrees with Obama’s intention to refocus US military efforts on Afghanistan: “The president has been quite clear that the mission is to responsibly draw down and end our active combat role, the role that we have been playing over the last number of years. He wants to put more emphasis on Afghanistan and deal with the problems in Afghanistan there and the challenges that we face in Afghanistan.” [Agence France-Presse, 1/22/2009]
President Obama signals a new direction for US policy towards Israel and Palestine by promising to seek a lasting peace between the two warring sides. Obama says the US will always support Israel’s “right to defend itself,” but will also seek an equitable, peaceful solution for the Palestinian people. In conjunction with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Obama names former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as the administration’s special envoy to the Middle East, and former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke as the administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mitchell helped broker the Clinton administration-led peace agreement in Northern Ireland, and Holbrooke helped write the peace agreement that ended the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia. [Associated Press, 1/22/2009; The Nation (Lahore), 1/23/2009]
The Supreme Court grants the Obama administration a month’s delay in the case of alleged al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali al-Marri (see December 12, 2001). Al-Marri is the only known person being held as an “enemy combatant” in the United States (see June 23, 2003 and January 22, 2009). Obama has directed the Justice Department to review al-Marri’s case. [Associated Press, 1/23/2009]
President Obama says that the US’s battle against global terrorism will be refocused away from Iraq and towards Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the first step in that process, Obama names veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke as the US’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan (see January 22, 2009). In his acceptance remarks, Holbrooke says: “This is a very difficult assignment as we all know. Nobody can say the war in Afghanistan has gone well.… In Pakistan the situation is infinitely complex. I will say that in putting Afghanistan and Pakistan together in the one envoy, we fully respect Pakistan has its own history and its own traditions.” Obama says that the situation remains “perilous” in Afghanistan, and any progress in combating the Taliban-led insurgency will take time. Holbrooke will lead “our effort to forge and implement a sustainable approach to this critical region,” Obama adds. [The Nation (Lahore), 1/23/2009]
Retired Major General Paul Eaton, one of the 16 retired flag officers who joined President Obama in Obama’s signing of his executive order banning torture (see January 22, 2009), says that the Abu Ghraib scandal “immediately undermined me, my moral authority” as he worked in Iraq with eight other nations to build up Iraqi security forces. “It created a far more dangerous environment for every soldier, every marine we had in Iraq,” Eaton says. Eaton places direct blame for Abu Ghraib on the Bush administration’s push for enhanced interrogation techniques. [Bloomberg, 1/23/2009]
An array of Afghan and Pakistani human rights representatives and former Guantanamo inmates say that President Obama’s plans to close the detention camp (see January 22, 2009) do not go far enough. Other US detention centers should also be shut down and former inmates should be compensated, they say. Obama “is closing it in order to put an end to the criticism from human rights groups and also to get rid of the bad image it created for the Americans,” says Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan who spent more than three years imprisoned at Guantanamo. “But he needs to restore justice for prisoners who were persecuted there during investigations. There were innocent people imprisoned there. He needs to put on trial those who were involved in the persecution of inmates.” Lal Gul Lal, the head of the Afghanistan Human Rights Organization, calls the Guantanamo prison “a flagrant violation of international and American laws.” He continues: “If Obama’s administration wants to get rid of the criticism and wants to implement justice then it should hand over to their respective countries all the prisoners it has in various prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. If that does not happen the closure of Guantanamo will have no meaning.” Some 250 prisoners are still being held in Guantanamo, around 600 prisoners still remain in custody at the detention facility at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, and more are being held in camps at Kandahar and Khost. Many of the detainees have never been charged with a crime. Amina Masood Janjua, a Pakistani campaigner for the release of detainees, says while the closing of Guantanamo will be a positive development, “those governments which are running illegal torture cells and safe houses set up by intelligence agencies and militaries should be forced to close them too.” Khalid, a former Pakistani security agent who now heads the Defense of Human Rights organization, calls the closure “nothing… a media stunt.” He adds: “After brutally and inhumanely treating inmates, now they’re pretending that they believe in justice and human rights. What about the human rights crimes committed there? What about those who have seen the worst time of their lives there? Is it that easy to ignore or forgive?” [Reuters, 1/22/2009]
Said Ali al-Shihri. [Source: Interpol]A former Guantanamo Bay detainee apparently resurfaces as a deputy leader of the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda, prompting concerns that closing the detention facility might lead to the release of potentially dangerous terrorists. Said Ali al-Shihri was released from Guantanamo in 2007 and given over to Saudi custody, where he went through what the New York Times calls a “rehabilitation program for former jihadists.” He is suspected of helping carry out a bombing attack near the American Embassy in Yemen in September 2008. Al-Qaeda in Yemen identifies its new deputy leader as “Abu Sayyaf al-Shihri”; “Abu Sayyaf” is a commonly used nom de guerre used by jihadists to conceal their real identities. Almost half of the 245 remaining detainees in Guantanamo are Yemeni nationals like al-Shihri; the US is helping Yemen implement a rehabilitation program similar to the Saudi program. The Saudis claim that no graduate of its program has returned to terrorism. The Pentagon claims that dozens of released Guantanamo detainees have “returned to the fight,” but has provided no documentation of the claim, and many critics disbelieve it (see January 13-14, 2009). Yemeni journalist Abdulela Shaya and terrorism analyst Gregory Johnson both say that the Guantanamo detainee and the Yemeni al-Qaeda deputy are the same person. [New York Times, 1/22/2009]
Screen capture of an MSNBC broadcast in which the disputed recidivism claim was made. [Source: Media Matters]Many media figures repeat a disputed claim by the Pentagon that 61 former Guantanamo detainees are again engaged in terrorist activities (see January 13-14, 2009), without noting that the figure is being challenged. The argument is being used to criticize President Obama’s announced plans to close the Guantanamo detention facility within a year (see January 22, 2009). Liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters documents a number of media outlets promulgating the claim. On Fox News, host Sean Hannity tells a guest, “But we know… 61 Gitmo detainees that have already been released, according to the Pentagon, went right back to the battlefield with their fanaticism.” On CNN, neoconservative guest Clifford May tells host Campbell Brown: “Many hundreds have been released. About 60 of them—a little more than that—have returned to the battlefield.” Brown fails to challenge the claim. Nor does MSNBC’s Chris Matthews challenge a similar assertion from Senator Christopher Bond (R-MO), who says, “we know already that more than 60 of the people who have been released have been killing our troops, our Americans and civilians on the battlefield.” [Media Matters, 1/23/2009] The Boston Globe reports, “Pentagon statistics show that of the hundreds of detainees that have been released from Guantanamo since it opened in early 2002, at least 61 have returned to terrorist activities.” [Boston Globe, 1/22/2009] The Los Angeles Times reports, “The Pentagon has said that 61 former detainees have taken up arms against the US or its allies after being released from the military prison in Cuba.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2009] The San Francisco Chronicle reports, “Republicans also claimed that 61 detainees already released have been ‘found back on the battlefield.’” [San Francisco Chronicle, 1/23/2009] And an ABC News article repeats House Minority Leader John Boehner’s (R-OH) statement, “Do we release them back into the battlefield, like some 61 detainees that have been released we know are back on the battlefield?” ABC does not report that the claim is disputed. [ABC News, 1/22/2009]
Entity Tags: Clifford May, CNN, Boston Globe, Barack Obama, ABC News, Campbell Brown, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, Sean Hannity, John Boehner, US Department of Defense, San Francisco Chronicle, Media Matters, MSNBC, Los Angeles Times, Chris Matthews, Fox News
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Retired Brigadier General James Cullen, one of the 16 retired flag officers who joined President Obama in Obama’s signing of his executive order banning torture (see January 22, 2009), calls himself and his fellow officers “flank protection” against any criticism Obama may face for his order. Cullen, who served in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, once thought that the abuses reported at Abu Ghraib prison were aberrations, the acts of a few individuals and perhaps their commanding officers. “I wanted to believe that,” he says. “Then l began to hear similar reports coming out of Guantanamo and Bagram in Afghanistan. There was a pattern—the sexual humiliation, the abuse. This kind of pattern is not a coincidence.” Cullen pins some of the blame for the torture and abuse of prisoners in American custody on former Vice President Dick Cheney, who said five days after the 9/11 attacks that the US would need more than a conventional military response to 9/11: “We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will” (see September 16, 2001). Cullen says that for military personnel, Cheney’s remarks were the equivalent of “the dissolute uncle up there winking, telling him he’s got license.” Cullen says that he was not alone in being shocked and appalled at the reports of torture; many of his fellow flag officers felt the same revulsion. “We were muttering to ourselves in the closet,” he says. “We knew this was not the military we left. Especially after the draft ended, people were in the services because they wanted to be—to better themselves and serve their country. A wonderful group of people who are receptive to training.” Cullen was instrumental in bringing retired flag officers together with Human Rights First, a civil advocacy group, to oppose the Bush torture policies. Cullen says that the practice of torture is not only immoral and inhumane, but ineffective. He says that a favorite scenario—the so-called “ticking time bomb,” where a bomb is planted to go off and only the torture of a suspect will provide the information needed to find and defuse the bomb in time to save civilian lives—is baseless. “It’s a false question from a classroom and from television shows like 24,” Cullen says, because an actual terrorist could give misleading information, or because people under intense pressure will say anything, true or false, to make the torture stop. “Another terrorist attack is going to happen. We feel certain of that. It’s not going to be because we ended torture. We will get better intelligence without it. And we keep our values.” [New York Times, 1/23/2009]
News columnist Ann Woolner writes that with President Obama’s executive orders to close Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009) and stop torture of terror suspects (see January 22, 2009), “I am beginning to recognize my country again.” Referring to the infamous picture of the hooded Abu Ghraib prisoner with electric wires attached to his body (see April 29-30, 2004), “It’s time to lift the hood and let the man under it step off that box.” [Bloomberg, 1/23/2009]
Washington Post reporter Dana Priest, in a news analysis, writes that by signing executive orders to close Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009), stop torture of terror suspects, and void Justice Department legal orders concerning torture and interrogations (see January 22, 2009), President Obama has “effectively declared an end to the ‘war on terror,’ as [former] President George W. Bush had defined it, signaling to the world that the reach of the US government in battling its enemies will not be limitless.” She continues: “While Obama says he has no plans to diminish counterterrorism operations abroad, the notion that a president can circumvent long-standing US laws simply by declaring war was halted by executive order in the Oval Office.… It was a swift and sudden end to an era that was slowly drawing to a close anyway, as public sentiment grew against perceived abuses of government power.” [Washington Post, 1/23/2009]
A CIA-controlled Predator drone operating in Pakistan mistakenly attacks the residence of a pro-government tribal leader six miles outside the town of Wana, South Waziristan. Its missiles kill the tribal leader’s entire family, including three children, one of whom is only five. [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
A CIA-controlled Predator drone assassinates four Arabs in Pakistan. New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer will later comment that the men are “all likely affiliated with al-Qaeda.” [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
White House counsel Greg Craig says that the executive orders given by President Obama in his first days in office, particularly those outlawing torture (see January 22, 2009) and closing Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009) have been in the works for over a year. Craig also notes that Obama has not finished issuing reforms, and has deliberately put off grappling with several of the most thorny legal issues. Craig says that as Obama prepared to issue the orders, he was “very clear in his own mind about what he wanted to accomplish, and what he wanted to leave open for further consultation with experts.”
Process Began before First Presidential Caucus - Craig says that the thinking and discussion behind these orders, and orders which have yet to be issued, began in Iowa in January 2008, before the first presidential caucus. Obama met with former high-ranking military officers who opposed the Bush administration’s legalization of harsh interrogation tactics, including retired four-star generals Dave Maddox and Joseph Hoar. They were sickened at the abuses committed at Abu Ghraib prison, and, as reporter Jane Mayer writes, “disheartened by what they regarded as the illegal and dangerous degradation of military standards.” They had formed what Mayer calls “an unlikely alliance with the legal advocacy group Human Rights First, and had begun lobbying the candidates of both parties to close the loopholes that Bush had opened for torture.” The retired flag officers lectured Obama on the responsibilities of being commander in chief, and warned the candidate that everything he said would be taken as an order by military personnel. As Mayer writes, “Any wiggle room for abusive interrogations, they emphasized, would be construed as permission.” Craig describes the meeting as the beginning of “an education process.”
'Joy' that US is 'Getting Back on Track' - In December 2008, after Obama’s election, the same group of retired flag officers met with Craig and Attorney General-designate Eric Holder. Both Craig and Holder were impressed with arguments made by retired Marine general and conservative Republican Charles Krulak, who argued that ending the Bush administration’s coercive interrogation and detention regime was “right for America and right for the world.” Krulak promised that if the Obama administration would do what he calls “the right thing,” which he acknowledged will not be politically easy, that he would personally “fly cover” for it. Sixteen of those flag officers joined Obama for the signing of the executive order banning torture. After the signing, Obama met with the officers and several administration officials. “It was hugely important to the president to have the input from these military people,” Craig says, “not only because of their proven concern for protecting the American people—they’d dedicated their lives to it—but also because some had their own experience they could speak from.” During that meeting, retired Major General Paul Eaton called torture “the tool of the lazy, the stupid, and the pseudo-tough. It’s also perhaps the greatest recruiting tool that the terrorists have.” Retired Admiral John Hutson said after the meeting that the feeling in the room “was joy, perhaps, that the country was getting back on track.”
Uncertainty at CIA - Some CIA officials are less enthusiastic about Obama’s changes. They insist that their so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” have provided critical intelligence, and, as Craig says, “They disagree in some respect” with Obama’s position. Many CIA officials wonder if they will be forced to follow the same interrogation rules as the military. Obama has indeed stopped torture, Craig says, but the president “is somewhat sympathetic to the spies’ argument that their mission and circumstances are different.” Craig says that during the campaign, Obama’s legal, intelligence, and national security advisers visited CIA headquarters in Langley for two intensive briefings with current and former intelligence officials. The issue of “enhanced interrogation tactics” was discussed, and the advisers asked the intelligence veterans to perform a cost-benefit analysis of such tactics. Craig says, “There was unanimity among Obama’s expert advisers that to change the practices would not in any material way affect the collection of intelligence.” [New Yorker, 1/25/2009]
Entity Tags: Paul Eaton, Dave Maddox, Charles Krulak, Central Intelligence Agency, Barack Obama, Eric Holder, Greg Craig, Human Rights First, Jane Mayer, Joseph Hoar, John D. Hutson, Obama administration
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly says that he finds it “insulting” that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is concerned with civilian casualties from US military strikes in his country. Karzai has criticized the US for a recent air strike that he says killed 16 Afghani civilians (see January 26, 2009). O’Reilly tells his listeners: “US and NATO forces in Afghanistan are risking their lives to protect the Afghan people from the Taliban and al-Qaeda. But President Karzai does not seem to get that. Once again, he has condemned American forces after a raid killed some civilians. In that raid, a top Taliban commander and some of his cronies were also killed, but apparently, Karzai doesn’t understand that in war, collateral damage is constantly present. US military is investigating the situation, but Check [a segment on O’Reilly’s show] believes Karzai is making a political grandstand play, and it is insulting. Without us, his head is on a stick.” [Think Progress (.org), 1/27/2009]
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemns a US attack that he says killed 16 civilians in eastern Afghanistan. Hundreds of Afghan villagers protested the raid, which the US military says killed 15 Taliban militants. Karzai says no Taliban were killed, but among the civilian dead were two women and three children. Karzai says killing innocent Afghans “is strengthening the terrorists” and requests that Afghanistan be given more oversight of US military operations in the country. Vice President Joseph Biden says that the situation in Afghanistan will not improve any time soon. “We’ve inherited a real mess,” Biden says. “We’re about to go in and try to essentially reclaim territory that’s been effectively lost. All of this means we’re going to be engaging the enemy more now.” [New York Daily News, 1/26/2009] In 2008, Human Rights Watch condemned the US and NATO for killing hundreds of Afghan civilians, mostly in impromptu “rapid response” airstrikes (see September 7, 2008). Casualties in 2008 were higher than ever, according to a UN report (see September 16, 2008).
Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tells an NPR reporter that he never allowed the Justice Department (DOJ) to become politicized, and that he believes the historical judgment of his tenure in the department will be favorable. He acknowledges making some errors, including failing to properly oversee the DOJ’s push to fire nine US attorneys in 2008, a process many believe was orchestrated by the White House with the involvement of Gonzales and then-White House political guru Karl Rove.
Failure to Engage - “No question, I should have been more engaged in that process,” he says, but adds that he is being held accountable for decisions made by his subordinates. “I deeply regret some of the decisions made by my staff,” he says, referring to his former deputy Paul McNulty, who resigned over the controversy after telling a Senate committee that the attorney firings were performance-related and not politically motivated. Gonzales says his then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, was primarily responsible for the US attorney review process and for working with McNulty. “If Paul McNulty makes a recommendation to me—if a recommendation includes his views—I would feel quite comfortable that those would be good recommendations coming to me” about the qualifications of the US attorneys under question, Gonzales says. He adds that he has “seen no evidence” that Rove or anyone at the White House tried to use the US attorneys to politicize the work at the DOJ. A review by the DOJ’s Inspector General found that the firing policy was fundamentally flawed, and that Gonzales was disengaged and had failed to properly supervise the review process.
Claims He Was Unfairly Targeted by 'Mean-Spirited' Washington Insiders - Gonzales says he has been unfairly held responsible for many controversial Bush administration policies, including its refusal to abide by the Geneva Conventions (see Late September 2001, January 9, 2002, January 18-25, 2002, January 25, 2002, August 1, 2002, November 11, 2004, and January 17, 2007) and its illegal eavesdropping on US citizens (see Early 2004, March 9, 2004, December 19, 2005, Early 2006, and February 15, 2006), because of his close personal relationship with former President Bush. Washington, he says, is a “difficult town, a mean-spirited town.” He continues: “Sometimes people identify someone to target. That’s what happened to me. I’m not whining. It comes with the job.”
Visiting Ashcroft at the Hospital - In 2004, Gonzales, then the White House counsel, and White House chief of staff Andrew Card raced to the bedside of hospitalized Attorney General John Ashcroft to persuade, or perhaps coerce, Ashcroft to sign off on a secret government surveillance program (see March 10-12, 2004). The intervention was blocked by Deputy Attorney General James Comey (see March 12-Mid-2004). Gonzales says he has no regrets about the incident: “Neither Andy nor I would have gone there to take advantage of somebody who was sick. We were sent there on behalf of the president of the United States.” As for threats by Justice Department officials to resign en masse over the hospital visit (see Late March, 2004), Gonzales merely says, “Lawyers often disagree about important legal issues.”
Warning about Plain Speaking - Gonzales says Obama’s attorney general nominee, Eric Holder, should refrain from making such statements as Holder made last week when he testified that waterboarding is torture. “One needs to be careful in making a blanket pronouncement like that,” Gonzales says, adding that such a statement might affect the “morale and dedication” of intelligence officials and lawyers who are attempting to make cases against terrorism suspects. [National Public Radio, 1/26/2009]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Eric Holder, Bush administration (43), Andrew Card, Alberto R. Gonzales, Geneva Conventions, George W. Bush, James B. Comey Jr., Karl C. Rove, Paul J. McNulty, D. Kyle Sampson
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
President Obama and Hisham Melhem, during the interview. [Source: Al Arabiya / Time]President Obama gives his first interview after assuming the presidency to the Dubai-based satellite broadcaster Al Arabiya. He tells interviewer Hisham Melhem that Americans are not the enemy of the Muslim world, and wants Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace negotiations. [Al Arabiya, 1/27/2009] Melhem, Al Arabiya’s Washington bureau chief, originally believes he was slated to interview the newly named US envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell (see January 22, 2009). Melhem believed there was some discussion among White House officials on whether it was the right time for Obama to grant an interview to the Arab media. The selection of Al Arabiya is deliberate, as that channel is considered more moderate and Western-friendly than, for example, Al Jazeera. [Time, 1/28/2009]
Intent to Reopen Talks between Israel, Palestinians - Obama intends to resume negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and says the US will open up new talks by listening to the two sides instead of immediately issuing demands. “[W]hat I told Mitchell] is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating—in the past on some of these issues—and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved. So let’s listen. He’s going to be speaking to all the major parties involved. And he will then report back to me. From there we will formulate a specific response. Ultimately, we cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what’s best for them. They’re going to have to make some decisions. But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. And that instead, it’s time to return to the negotiating table.” The larger peace plan for the Middle East recently proposed by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah will play an important role in the negotiations, Obama says.
'A Language of Respect' - Language matters, Obama notes. “[M]y job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world that the language we use has to be a language of respect,” he says. “[T]he language we use matters. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith’s name.”
Restoring Relations with the Muslim World - Melhem asks Obama about tensions between the US and the Islamic world, inflamed by demagogues and extremists on both sides. Obama says: “Well, I think that when you look at the rhetoric that they [extremists]‘ve been using against me before I even took office… what that tells me is that their ideas are bankrupt. There’s no actions that they’ve taken that say a child in the Muslim world is getting a better education because of them, or has better health care because of them.” Obama reminds Melhem, and the viewers, that he lived for a time in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, during his childhood. He learned through his experiences in Indonesia and other Muslim countries that everyone, regardless of differences in culture or faith, has similar hopes and aspirations. “My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy,” he says. “We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there’s no reason why we can’t restore that.”
Dealing with Iran - Wrapping up the interview, Melhem asks if the US is prepared to “live with a nuclear Iran.” Obama responds: “I said during the campaign that it is very important for us to make sure that we are using all the tools of US power, including diplomacy, in our relationship with Iran.… Iran has acted in ways that’s not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region: their threats against Israel; their pursuit of a nuclear weapon which could potentially set off an arms race in the region that would make everybody less safe; their support of terrorist organizations in the past—none of these things have been helpful. But I do think that it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress.” [Al Arabiya, 1/27/2009]
Responses - In Pakistan, Obama’s interview is widely viewed, and receives what CNN calls “a generally positive response from analysts there.” Islamabad author and journalist Imtiaz Gul says, “It’s a good sign of an attempt to reconcile with the Muslim world, to say America wants to reach out to them and not to consider them as an enemy.” [CNN, 1/27/2009] Egyptian student Omar Youssef, who has joined in protests against the Israeli war in Gaza, says of Obama: “He’s a man of diplomacy and speaks well. Bush, Arab people hate him. But the world needs a man like Obama.” Another student, Ahmed Mahmoud, adds, “Maybe if he can solve the problem between white and black people in America, he can also solve the problem between Arab and Jewish people here.” [Time, 1/28/2009] Melhem, who has long criticized US policies towards the Middle East, later says he was touched by Obama’s conciliatory tone and references to his Muslim roots. “You can feel the authenticity about him,” he says. “The interview was his way of saying, ‘There is a new wind coming from Washington.’ Barack Obama definitely sees the world differently from a man named George W. Bush.” [Time, 1/29/2009] Al Arabiya General Manager Abdul Rahman al-Rashed says: “What he did campaigning in the US he is trying to do in the Middle East, convincing people that he is on their side. He is telling Muslims that he is proud of his Muslim roots. This is being received positively.” And Jordanian news columnist Jamil Nimri writes, “The language of force, conceit, and threat has totally disappeared.” [Time, 1/28/2009] Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer disputes Obama’s implication that the Bush administration treated Islam with any disrespect, saying: “[S]omehow he is implying that somehow the Obama era is a break with the American past. Somehow it is undoing a disrespect of Islam that had somehow occurred under the previous administration.… We have no need to apologize. Extend a hand, yes, but to imply that there was a disrespect of Islam in the last administration, I think is unfair and fictional.” [Fox News, 1/28/2009]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asks the Obama administration to publicly release some 50 secret Bush Justice Department memos that were written to justify the Bush administration’s interrogation and domestic spying programs. The Bush White House consistently refused to release the memos, citing national security, attorney-client privilege, and the need to protect the government’s deliberative process. The ACLU request comes after President Obama rescinded a 2001 executive order that gave government agencies broad legal cover to reject public disclosure requests (see January 21, 2009). Obama has asked agencies to be more transparent in deciding what documents can and cannot be released under the Freedom of Information Act; the ACLU intends to put Obama’s words to the test. “The president has made a very visible and clear commitment to transparency,” says Jameel Jaffer, the director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. “We’re eager to see that put into practice.” Many see the Justice Department memos, written by lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel, as the “missing puzzle pieces” that will help explain the Bush administration’s antiterrorism policies. Critics of the Bush administration say that the memos may help determine whether officials of the former administration should be held accountable for legal opinions that justified waterboarding and other illegal interrogation practices. “We don’t have anything resembling a full picture of what happened over the last eight years and on what grounds the Bush administration believed it could order such methods,” says Jaffer. “We think the OLC memos are really central to that narrative.” The ACLU is aware of the memos’ existence, but not much else. Jaffer says: “There are about a dozen memos where we just have one or two lines about the subject matter and that’s it. When you put it all together you realize how much is still being held secret.” [McClatchy News, 1/28/2009]
The Iraqi government informs the US Embassy in Baghdad that it will not issue a new operating license to Blackwater Worldwide, the embassy’s main security company. In effect, the decision forces Blackwater to cease operations within Iraq. Many Blackwater employees are accused of using excessive force while protecting US diplomats and State Department personnel. Those Blackwater employees not accused of improper conduct may continue working as private security contractors in Iraq, as long as they quit Blackwater and begin working for other firms. Blackwater must leave Iraq as soon as a joint US-Iraqi committee finalizes guidelines for the conduct and liability of private contractors under the new security agreement between the two countries. Under earlier agreements, Blackwater and other US contractors have been entirely immune from prosecution under Iraqi law. Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Abdul-Karim Khalaf says, “When the work of this committee ends,” private security companies “will be under the authority of the Iraqi government, and those companies that don’t have licenses, such as Blackwater, should leave Iraq immediately.” US State Department spokesman Noel Clay says the department’s contractors will obey Iraqi law: “We will work with the government of Iraq and our contractors to address the implications of this decision in a way that minimizes any impact on safety and security of embassy Baghdad personnel.” A Blackwater spokeswoman says her firm is unaware of the Iraqi government’s decision. The Interior Ministry revoked Blackwater’s license to operate in Iraq in September 2007 and threatened to expel the firm’s employees, but US officials ignored the order and renewed the company’s contract. Blackwater contractors have been involved in around 200 shootings in Iraq since 2005, many involving Iraqi civilians. Five Blackwater contractors face manslaughter charges for killing 17 Iraqi civilians in September 2007, the incident that prompted the Interior Ministry to try to expel the firm from the country. The widow of one of the 17 civilians, Umm Tahsin, says of Blackwater: “Those people are a group of criminals. What they did was a massacre. Pushing them out is the best solution. They destroyed our family.” [Washington Post, 1/28/2009]
Former US President Jimmy Carter says that any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians must include Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian movement that controls the Gaza Strip. “Hamas has got to be involved before peace can be concluded,” Carter says. Israel, which like the US and many Western nations considers Hamas a terrorist organization, is in the midst of a military operation against Hamas. Carter says that previous presidents have been either unable or unwilling to oppose Israel’s supporters in the US, but he has high hopes for George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s new envoy to the Middle East (see January 22, 2009). “The fact is that very few of the presidents have been willing to confront Israel’s forces in the United States, politically speaking,” Carter says. “If you look at US Middle East envoys in the past, almost all of them have been closely associated with Israel, sometimes even working professionally for Israel. George Mitchell is a balanced and honest broker compared to the others.” He continues by noting that any possible reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, the organization led by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, has been “objected to and obstructed by the US and Israel.” He hopes the Obama administration will work to bring Hamas and Fatah together. Abbas and Fatah control the West Bank, while Hamas controls the Gaza Strip. President Obama has indicated he intends to institute new peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, but has reiterated previous international demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel, renounce violence, and recognize previous peace agreements before they can join in any future negotiations. [Al Jazeera, 1/29/2009; Al Jazeera, 1/29/2009]
John Yoo, the former Bush administration legal adviser who authored numerous opinions on the legality of torture, detentions without legal representation, and warrantless wiretapping (see November 6-10, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, August 1, 2002, and August 1, 2002, among others), writes an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal opposing the Obama administration’s intent to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility (see January 20, 2009 and January 22, 2009)) and restrict the CIA’s ability to torture detainees (see January 22, 2009). Yoo, now a law professor and a member of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, writes that while President Obama’s decision “will please his base” and ease the objections to the Bush “imperial presidency,” it will “also seriously handicap our intelligence agencies from preventing future terrorist attacks.” Yoo writes that the Obama decisions mark a return “to the failed law enforcement approach to fighting terrorism that prevailed before Sept. 11, 2001.” Yoo recommends that Obama stay with what he calls “the Bush system” of handling terror suspects. Yoo fails to note that the US law enforcement system prevented, among others, the “millennium bombing” plot (see December 14, 1999), the plot to bomb New York City’s Lincoln and Holland Tunnels (see June 24, 1993), and Operation Bojinka (see January 6, 1995).
Obama Needs to be Able to Torture Prisoners Just as Bush Did, Yoo Declares - And by eschewing torture, Obama is giving up any chance on forcing information from “the most valuable sources of intelligence on al-Qaeda” currently in American custody. The Bush administration policies prevented subsequent terrorist attacks on the US, Yoo contends, and Obama will need the same widespread latitude to interrogate and torture prisoners that Bush employed: “What is needed are the tools to gain vital intelligence, which is why, under President George W. Bush, the CIA could hold and interrogate high-value al-Qaeda leaders. On the advice of his intelligence advisers, the president could have authorized coercive interrogation methods like those used by Israel and Great Britain in their antiterrorism campaigns. (He could even authorize waterboarding, which he did three times in the years after 9/11.)” It is noteworthy that Yoo refused to confirm that Bush ordered waterboarding of suspects during his previous Congressional hearings (see June 26, 2008).
Interrogations Must be 'Polite' - According to Yoo, in forcing the CIA and other US interrogators to follow the procedures outlined in the Army Field Manual, they can no longer use “coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines used in police stations throughout America.… His new order amounts to requiring—on penalty of prosecution—that CIA interrogators be polite. Coercive measures are unwisely banned with no exceptions, regardless of the danger confronting the country.” [Wall Street Journal, 1/29/2009] Yoo is incorrect in this assertion. The Army Field Manual explicitly countenances many of the “coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines” Yoo says it bans. Further, the Field Manual says nothing about requiring interrogators to be “polite.” [Army, 9/2006] And actual field interrogators such as the Army’s Matthew Alexander have repeatedly said that torturing prisoners is ineffective and counterproductive, while building relationships and treating prisoners with dignity during interrogations produces usable, reliable intelligence (see November 30, 2008).
Shutting Down Military Commissions - Obama’s order to stay all military commission trials and to review the case of “enemy combatant” Ali Saleh al-Marri (see June 23, 2003) is also mistaken, Yoo writes. Yoo fears that Obama will shut down the military commissions in their entirety and instead transfer detainees charged with terrorist acts into the US civilian court system. He also objects to Obama’s apparent intent to declare terrorists to be prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, instead of following the Bush precedent of classifying terrorists “like pirates, illegal combatants who do not fight on behalf of a nation and refuse to obey the laws of war.” To allow terror suspects to have rights under Geneva and the US legal system, Yoo asserts, will stop any possibility of obtaining information from those suspects. Instead, those suspects will begin using the legal system to their own advantage—refusing to talk, insisting on legal representation and speedy trials instead of cooperating with their interrogators. “Our soldiers and agents in the field will have to run more risks as they must secure physical evidence at the point of capture and maintain a chain of custody that will stand up to the standards of a civilian court,” Yoo writes. [Wall Street Journal, 1/29/2009] In reality, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), as well as the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 15, 2005) and the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006), all mandate that detainees must be handled according to the Geneva Conventions.
Risk to Americans - Another effect of transferring detainees into the civilian justice system, Yoo claims, is to allow “our enemies to obtain intelligence on us.” Defense lawyers will insist on revealing US intelligence—information and methods—in open court, and will no doubt force prosecutors to accept plea bargains “rather than risk disclosure of intelligence secrets.”
Obama 'Open[ed] the Door to Further Terrorist Acts on US Soil' - Obama said in his inaugural speech that the US must “reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” Yoo calls that statement “naive,” and writes, “That high-flying rhetoric means that we must give al-Qaeda—a hardened enemy committed to our destruction—the same rights as garden-variety criminals at the cost of losing critical intelligence about real, future threats.” By making his choices, Yoo writes, “Mr. Obama may have opened the door to further terrorist acts on US soil by shattering some of the nation’s most critical defenses.” [Wall Street Journal, 1/29/2009]
Military judge Colonel James Pohl denies the Obama administration’s request to suspend legal proceedings at Guantanamo Bay (see January 20, 2009) in the case of a detainee accused of planning the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). Because of Pohl’s order, the Pentagon may be forced to temporarily withdraw charges against accused Cole plotter Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and perhaps 20 other detainees facing military trials, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see January 5-8, 2000 and November-December 2000).
White House Response - Obama officials are startled by Pohl’s order, as five other military judges have agreed to the government’s request. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says, “We just learned of the ruling here… and we are consulting with the Pentagon and the Department of Justice to explore our options in that case.” Asked if the decision will hamper the administration’s ability to evaluate detainees’ cases, Gibbs replies, “Not at all.”
Judge: Government Arguments 'Unpersuasive' - Pohl says he finds the government’s arguments in favor of suspension “unpersuasive” and that the case will go forward because “the public interest in a speedy trial will be harmed by the delay in the arraignment.” The White House wants the delay in order to review the cases of the approximately 245 detainees at Guantanamo and decide the disposition of each case. Pohl says he is bound by the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006), “which remains in effect.”
Reactions Mixed - Navy Commander Kirk Lippold, who commanded the Cole when it was attacked, says he is “delighted” with the ruling, and adds, “It proves the military commissions work without undue command influence, and this decision puts us back on track to see an accounting for al-Nashiri’s terrorist acts.” Human rights activists disagree, with many arguing that the charges against al-Nashiri and perhaps other detainees should be withdrawn in order to allow the option of preserving or reforming military commissions at a new location. “Given that the Guantanamo order was issued on day two of the new administration, the president was clearly trying to make the immediate decisions needed while giving himself the flexibility to deal with the rest down the road,” says Human Rights Watch official Jennifer Daskal. “That said, the only sure way to ensure that the commissions process is brought to a halt is to now withdraw the charges.”
Options for Proceeding - Susan Crawford, the Pentagon official who approves charges and refers cases to trial (see January 14, 2009), can withdraw charges “without prejudice,” which would allow for refiling at a later date, whether under a modified military commissions procedure or for a civilian or military court. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says, “And so while that executive order is in force and effect, trust me, there will be no proceedings continuing down at Gitmo with military commissions.” Al-Nashiri’s case is complicated by the fact that he is one of at least three detainees who were waterboarded by CIA interrogators (see May 2002-2003). [Washington Post, 1/30/2009]
Entity Tags: Susan Crawford, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Geoff Morrell, James L. Pohl, Jennifer Daskal, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Obama administration, US Department of Justice, Kirk Lippold, Robert Gibbs, US Department of Defense
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Several Republican senators plan to visit the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and report their findings. They are expected to continue their calls for keeping Guantanamo open indefinitely. Senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK), David Vitter (R-LA), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Mel Martinez (R-FL) decided to make the trip after President Obama issued an executive order mandating that the prison be closed within a year (see January 22, 2009). “I’ve always looked at [the prison] as being a real valuable asset,” says Inhofe. He admits he does not “have a solution to what we’re going to ultimately do” with the prisoners deemed most dangerous. “I’m not addressing that problem,” he says. Inhofe says Obama’s order to close the prison “failed to take into consideration the implications of closing [Guantanamo]—what happens to current detainees, what the military will do with detainees held in other military prisons around the world and what judicial process is going to be used.” Obama has asked for a “comprehensive interagency review” to settle those questions. [Daily Oklahoman, 1/30/2009; Bixby Bulletin, 1/30/2009] Burr says that he is “so far unconvinced that moving trained terrorists to the United States is in the best national security interests of our nation.” And Vitter notes that he is “very disappointed in President Obama’s decision to close the detention facility at Guantanamo.” He continues: “This facility should not be closed, and these individuals should not be released until we can determine the extent of their potential involvement in terrorist activities. And we most certainly should use every available measure to ensure that they do not make their way into the United States if in fact they are released.” [Bixby Bulletin, 1/30/2009]
Worry about Housing Detainees in US Prisons - Like Inhofe, Roberts is concerned that some Guantanamo inmates will be transferred into prisons in his home state. Kansas is the home of Fort Leavenworth, which houses a large Army prison. “I am especially concerned with ridiculous speculation that Ft. Leavenworth is equipped to handle these detainees, some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world,” he says. “I am convinced these terrorists cannot and will not be housed in Kansas.” [KansasCW, 1/30/2009]
Advocating Continued Detentions without Trials - In an interview with Fox News, Vitter goes further than his Senatorial colleagues, saying that he favors continuing to detain some suspects without trials. “We need the ability to deal with these folks adequately,” he says. “To me, that has to include the ability to detain some—without trial—to continue proper interrogation.… I’d like to have Gitmo stay open. But certainly, we need detention facilities where we can detain dangerous terrorists without trial, continue to interrogate them.” [Think Progress, 1/30/2009] Fellow Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has already made the same recommendation (see January 21, 2009).
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair says he has constantly questioned his decision to join former US President George W. Bush in the 2003 invasion of Iraq since stepping down as prime minister. Blair, now an international envoy to the Middle East, says he constantly examines his “sense of responsibility” over the deaths of soldiers and civilians since the invasion. Asked if he suffers doubt over the decision to invade, Blair says: “Of course you ask that question the whole time. You’d be weird if you didn’t ask that question.” He adds: “The most difficult thing in any set of circumstances is the sense of responsibility for people who have given their lives and fallen—the soldiers and the civilians. If I did not feel that, there really would be something wrong with me, and there is not a single day of my life when I do not reflect upon it… many times. And that’s as it should be.” Nevertheless, Blair stands by his decision. “On the other hand you have to take the decision,” he says, “and I look at the Middle East now and I think, well, if Saddam and his two sons were still running Iraq how many other people would have died and would the region be more stable?” [Daily Telegraph, 1/30/2009]
Attorneys for Jose Padilla, a US citizen convicted in 2007 of material support for terrorist activities (see May 8, 2002 and August 27, 2002) say that senior Bush administration officials knew Padilla was being tortured ever since being held as an enemy combatant in a South Carolina naval brig (see June 9, 2002). The lawyers say Bush officials such as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld must have known, because of the command structure and because Rumsfeld approved harsh interrogation tactics (see December 2, 2002). Padilla and his mother are suing the government for employing a wide variety of harsh interrogation tactics, including sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, extended periods of isolation, forcible administering of hallucinogenic drugs, threats of death and mutilation, and enforced stress positions, as well as for violating his rights by holding him as an enemy combatant without due legal process. Both Rumsfeld and former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz are named as defendants. Tahlia Townsend, an attorney for Padilla, says: “They knew what was going on at the brig and they permitted it to continue. Defendants Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were routinely consulted on these kinds of questions.” The Justice Department is trying to get the case dismissed. [Raw Story, 1/30/2009] Justice Department lawyers claim that allowing the lawsuit to proceed would damage national security. They argue that a court victory for Padilla “would strike at the core functions of the political branches, impacting military discipline, aiding our enemies, and making the United States more vulnerable to terrorist attack.… Adjudication of the claims pressed by [Padilla] in this case would necessarily require an examination of the manner in which the government identifies, captures, designates, detains, and interrogates enemy combatants.” Padilla is seeking a symbolic $1 fine from each defendant along with a favorable ruling. [Christian Science Monitor, 1/29/2009]
Reflecting on the Bush administration’s prewar insistence that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program (see September 4, 2002, September 8, 2002, and September 8, 2002, among others), Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain’s former ambassador to the UN and its former special representative in Iraq, says: “When I arrived in New York, in July 1998, it was quite clear to me that all the members of the Security Council, including the United States, knew well that there was no current work being done on any kind of nuclear weapons capability in Iraq. It was, therefore, extraordinary to me that later on in this saga there should have been any kind of hint that Iraq had a current capability. Of course, there were worries that Iraq might try, if the opportunity presented itself, to reconstitute that capability. And therefore we kept a very close eye, as governments do in their various ways, on Iraq trying to get hold of nuclear base materials, such as uranium or uranium yellowcake, or trying to get the machinery that was necessary to develop nuclear-weapons-grade material. We were watching this the whole time. There was never any proof, never any hard intelligence, that they had succeeded in doing that. And the American system was entirely aware of this.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Reflecting on the Bush administration’s decision to create “military commissions” to try terror suspects (see November 13, 2001), John Bellinger, the former legal adviser to the National Security Council during much of the Bush administration, says: “A small group of administration lawyers drafted the president’s military order establishing the military commissions, but without the knowledge of the rest of the government, including the national security adviser, me, the secretary of state, or even the CIA director. And even though many of the substantive problems with the military commissions as created by the original order have been resolved by Congress in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hamdan case (see June 30, 2006), we have been suffering from this original process failure ever since.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Alberto Mora, the former general counsel for the Navy and a harsh critic of the Bush administration’s torture policies (see January 23-Late January, 2003), says: “I will tell you this: I will tell you that General Anthony [Antonio] Taguba, who investigated Abu Ghraib, feels now that the proximate cause of Abu Ghraib were the OLC memoranda that authorized abusive treatment (see November 6-10, 2001 and August 1, 2002). And I will also tell you that there are general-rank officers who’ve had senior responsibility within the Joint Staff or counterterrorism operations who believe that the number one and number two leading causes of US combat deaths in Iraq have been, number one, Abu Ghraib, number two, Guantanamo, because of the effectiveness of these symbols in helping recruit jihadists into the field and combat against American soldiers.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Two senior Bush administration officials reflect on the executive order denying any Geneva Convention protections to Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees (see February 7, 2002).
Jack Goldsmith, formerly head of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) at the Justice Department, says: “To conclude that the Geneva Conventions don’t apply—it doesn’t follow from that, or at least it shouldn’t, that detainees don’t get certain rights and certain protections. There are all sorts of very, very good policy reasons why they should have been given a rigorous legal regime whereby we could legitimatize their detention. For years there was just a giant hole, a legal hole of minimal protections, minimal law.” Lawrence Wilkerson, the chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, recalls: “Based on what the secretary and [State Department legal adviser William] Taft were telling me, I think they both were convinced that they had managed to get the president’s attention with regard to what they thought was the governing document, the Geneva Conventions. I really think it came as a surprise when the February memo was put out. And that memo, of course, was constructed by [Cheney chief counsel David] Addington, and I’m told it was blessed by one or two people in OLC. And then it was given to [Vice President] Cheney, and Cheney gave it to the president. The president signed it.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Secret negotiations backed by the British government are under way to bring warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar back into Afghanistan’s political process, according to Al Jazeera. The talks between Taliban-linked mediators, Western officials, and the Afghan government are believed to involve a proposal for the return to Afghanistan of Hekmatyar, granting him immunity from prosecution there. Hekmatyar would first be offered asylum in Saudi Arabia under the proposal. The meetings recall earlier Afghan negotiations involving Hekmatyar and a Saudi role (see Between September 24 and 27, 2008). Ghairat Baheer, a Hektmatyar son-in-law released from the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan in May last year after six years in custody, is reported to be involved in the negotiations. Baheer, an ambassador to Pakistan in the 1990s, was given a visa to travel to London by British authorities last month. Humayun Jarir, a Kabul-based politician and another son-in-law of Hekmatyar, is also said to have been involved. This is consistent with a report published late last year of Hekmatyar family members being engaged in negotiations with the Afghan government in coordination with Britain (see November 13, 2008). James Bays, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Kabul, adds that the plan is to widen these talks and bring in elements of the Taliban. [Independent, 10/8/2008; Al Jazeera, 2/27/2009]
A US military newspaper reports that continued resurgence of the Taliban has led residents in Kabul to surmise that the US is supporting the Taliban. US support for the Taliban is “virtually ubiquitous” in Kabul, according to Stars and Stripes. “Now we think America is supporting both the Taliban and the Afghan government. That’s what everyone says,” states Kabul shopkeeper Qand Mohmadi. “We don’t know for sure why they are doing it,” says real estate broker Daoud Zadran. “Politics is bigger than our thoughts. But maybe America wants to build up the Taliban so they have an excuse to remain in Afghanistan because of the Iranian issue.” Stars and Stripes also reports that many residents suspect that the US and Western companies are colluding with Afghan officials to pilfer the economy. [Stars and Stripes, 2/15/2009]
National Opinion Survey Reveals Public Alarm, Plummeting Confidence - A public opinion survey conducted by ABC News, the BBC, and the German TV station ARD finds plummeting public confidence in and support for the Afghan government and its Western allies. Just 40 percent of those surveyed say they feel the country is heading in the right direction, down from 77 percent in 2005. Approval of overall US efforts in Afghanistan is only 32 percent, compared to 68 percent three years ago. The poll also shows falling support for the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In 2005, 80 percent of Afghans said they supported the Karzai regime, but just 49 percent say the same thing today. In addition to corruption and complaints about food, fuel, and the economy, the resurgence of the Taliban is a key element of the public’s alarm: 58 percent of Afghans see the Taliban as the biggest danger to the country. 43 percent say the Taliban have grown stronger in the past year in comparison to 24 percent who think the movement has weakened. [ABC News, 2/9/2009]
Police Chief Doubts Veracity of Public Suspicions - One district police chief in Kabul expresses frustration with American efforts, but finds it hard to believe that the US is supporting the Taliban. “People see that America is so strong and they wonder—why can’t it wipe out the Taliban?” says Col. Najeeb Ullah Samsour, adding that he does not personally think the US is supporting the insurgents. “People are saying that for six or seven years we have all these international troops, but everything is getting worse… security, the economy, everything. So they think America must be supporting the Taliban.”
Osama bin Laden - “This government is so corrupt that if Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar were crossing the street together right outside, no one would call the police because they know the police would just take a bribe to let them go,” says resident Habib Rahman. “A lot of people say that Osama is really from America,” according to Nasrallah Wazidi. “They say he’s just playing a role like a movie star.” [Stars and Stripes, 2/15/2009]
George W. Bush’s former political guru Karl Rove echoes incorrect statements made by former Bush lawyer John Yoo. In an op-ed, Yoo claimed that President Obama’s prohibition against torture, and the mandate for US interrogators to use the Army Field Manual as their guide, prevents interrogators from using long-established, non-invasive techniques to question prisoners (see January 29, 2009). In an address at Loyola Marymount University, Rove tells his listeners: “The Army Field Manual prohibits ‘good cop, bad cop.’ All that stuff you see on CSI—the Army Field Manual prohibits it.… If you stop collecting that information, you begin to make America more at risk.” [Torrance Daily Breeze, 2/3/2009] Both Rove and Yoo are wrong. The Army Field Manual explicitly permits many of the “coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines” Yoo and Rove claim it bans. [Army, 9/2006]
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that because of the Obama administration’s new policies, there is what he calls a “high probability” that terrorists will attempt a catastrophic nuclear or biological attack in coming years. “If it hadn’t been for what we did—with respect to the terrorist surveillance program (see After September 11, 2001 and December 15, 2005), or enhanced interrogation techniques for high-value detainees (see September 16, 2001 and November 14, 2001, among others), the Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001), and so forth—then we would have been attacked again,” says Cheney. “Those policies we put in place, in my opinion, were absolutely crucial to getting us through the last seven-plus years without a major-casualty attack on the US.” The situation has changed, he says. “When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an al-Qaeda terrorist (see January 22, 2009) than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry,” he says. Protecting the country’s security is “a tough, mean, dirty, nasty business,” he continues. “These are evil people. And we’re not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek.” He calls the Guantanamo detention camp, which President Obama has ordered shut down (see January 22, 2009), a “first-class program” and a “necessary facility” that is operated legally and provides inmates better living conditions than they would get in jails in their home countries. But the Obama administration is worried more about its “campaign rhetoric” than it is protecting the nation: “The United States needs to be not so much loved as it needs to be respected. Sometimes, that requires us to take actions that generate controversy. I’m not at all sure that that’s what the Obama administration believes.” Cheney says “the ultimate threat to the country” is “a 9/11-type event where the terrorists are armed with something much more dangerous than an airline ticket and a box cutter—a nuclear weapon or a biological agent of some kind” that is deployed in the middle of an American city. “That’s the one that would involve the deaths of perhaps hundreds of thousands of people, and the one you have to spend a hell of a lot of time guarding against. I think there’s a high probability of such an attempt. Whether or not they can pull it off depends whether or not we keep in place policies that have allowed us to defeat all further attempts, since 9/11, to launch mass-casualty attacks against the United States.” [Politico, 2/4/2009] Cheney has warned of similarly dire consequences to potential Democratic political victories before, before the 2004 presidential elections (see September 7, 2004) and again before the 2006 midterm elections (see October 31, 2006).
The US Defense Department admits that it lacks a strategy for victory in Afghanistan even as it prepares to deploy 17,000 additional troops to that beleaguered country, but it has made some recommendations to change the US strategy there. Last week, during President Obama’s meeting with Defense Secretary Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Obama asked, “What is the end game” in the military’s strategy for Afghanistan? According to one military official present in the briefing, the response was, “Frankly, we don’t have one.” Senior military officials confirm that the Joint Chiefs have delivered a classified memo to Obama that recommends refocusing the military’s mission in Afghanistan to defeating al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and leaving the “hearts and minds” aspect of the war to other US agencies—particularly the State, Justice, and Agriculture Departments—and NATO. “This is a classic counnterinsurgency strategy, but the military cannot do it alone,” says one official. The officials admit that the Taliban “has definitely gained the upper hand” in some areas of Afghanistan, particularly the south, because there’s just too much territory and too few American forces to “clear and hold” an area. “The Taliban is no match” for US forces, the officials say, but once the Americans drive the Taliban from a region, then leave, the Taliban immediately filter back in and regain control. “In many remote areas, the Taliban have established ‘shadow governments’ and in some cases gained the confidence and support of the locals,” says an official. “We need a strategy that will convince the Afghan people [in the remote areas] that the Taliban’s extremism is no longer attractive as a government or a career,” the officials say. Such a strategy must increase Afghan security, then establish strong, fair local governments and create jobs and educational opportunities. “But that is not the military’s job,” one military official says. “We can build the schools, we can build the courthouses, but we cannot help them establish the good governance, justice and educations systems” that are needed. The new strategy also targets the Afghani drug trade, and loosens the previous rules of engagement that only allowed for eradication of poppy fields and confrontation with drug lords after it had been established that those activities were directly connected to the Taliban or al-Qaeda. The new rules assume any drug activities help the insurgency and are, therefore, “fair game.” [MSNBC, 2/4/2009]
Two British High Court judges rule against releasing documents describing the torture and abuse of Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001). The judges cite threats from the US government as shaping their decision, saying that the US had threatened to withhold intelligence cooperation from Britain if the information on Mohamed’s treatment were made public.
Confession through Torture, Detainee Alleges - Mohamed is a British resident who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 (see September 2001 - April 9, 2002). He was initially charged with planning a “dirty bomb” attack in the US (see November 4, 2005); those charges were later dropped (see October-December 2008), but he has allegedly confessed to being an al-Qaeda operative and remains in detention without charges. Mohamed says that the confession was tortured out of him during his detention in secret prisons in Pakistan (see April 10-May, 2002 and May 17 - July 21, 2002), Morocco (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004), and Afghanistan (see January-September 2004), and later in Guantanamo. During his incarcerations at these various prisons, he says he was beaten, deprived of sleep, and had his genitals cut with a scalpel. Mohamed’s attorneys argue that he has committed no crime and is a victim of torture and rendition by US officials, with British cooperation (see February 24, 2009). [Washington Post, 2/5/2009; Los Angeles Times, 2/5/2009]
Judges, Lawmakers 'Dismayed' at US Threats - In their decision, Judges John Thomas and David Lloyd Jones write, “We did not consider that a democracy governed by the rule of law would expect a court in another democracy to suppress a summary of the evidence… relevant to allegations of torture and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment, politically embarrassing though it might be.” [Washington Post, 2/5/2009] They are dismayed that “there would be made a threat of the gravity of the kind made by the United States government, that it would reconsider its intelligence-sharing relationship” with Britain, one of its closest allies, if the British government made the summary public. [Los Angeles Times, 2/5/2009] They warn that a US withdrawal from intelligence-sharing could “inflict on the citizens of the United Kingdom a very considerable increase in the dangers they face at a time when a serious terrorist threat” remains. Conservative member of parliament David Davis tells the House of Commons, “The government is going to have to do some pretty careful explaining about what’s going on.” It is absolutely inappropriate for the US to have “threatened” the British government, Davis says: “The ruling implies that torture has taken place in the Mohamed case, that British agencies may have been complicit, and further, that the United States government has threatened our High Court that if it releases this information the US government will withdraw its intelligence cooperation with the United Kingdom.… Frankly, it is none of their business what our courts do.”
Lawyer Objects - Clive Stafford Smith, Mohamed’s attorney, says that by not disclosing the evidence, Britain is guilty of “capitulation to blackmail.… The judges used the word ‘threat’ eight times. That’s a criminal offense right there. That’s called blackmail. Only the Mafia have done that sort of stuff.” Smith continues: “It is hardly Britain’s finest hour. As the judges say, it is up to President Obama to put his money where his mouth is. He must repudiate his predecessor’s reprehensible policy.”
Prime Minister Knows Nothing of Threats - Officials in Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s office say they know nothing of any threats from Obama officials. “We have not engaged with the new administration on the detail of this case,” says a Brown spokesman. But British Foreign Secretary David Miliband notes: “Matters regarded as secret by one government should be treated as secret by others. For it to be called into question would pose a serious and real risk to continuing close intelligence-sharing with any government.” Miliband notes that the British government has made “strenuous efforts” to have Mohamed released (see August 2007). [New York Times, 2/4/2009; Washington Post, 2/5/2009]
ACLU Asks for Clarification - The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asking that she clarify the Obama administration’s position on the Mohamed case and to reject what it described as the Bush administration’s policy of using false claims of national security to avoid judicial review of controversial programs. According to ACLU head Anthony Romero, “The latest revelation is completely at odds with President Obama’s executive orders that ban torture and end rendition, as well as his promise to restore the rule of law.” State Department spokesman Robert Wood refuses to comment on the judges’ statement, saying, “It’s the first I’ve heard of it.” [Washington Post, 2/5/2009; Los Angeles Times, 2/5/2009]
Entity Tags: Robert Wood, John Thomas, Binyam Mohamed, Anthony D. Romero, American Civil Liberties Union, Bush administration (43), Obama administration, Clive Stafford Smith, David Lloyd Jones, David Davis, Gordon Brown, David Miliband, Hillary Clinton
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Leon Panetta. [Source: San Diego Union-Tribune]President Obama’s pick to head the CIA, former Clinton administration chief of staff Leon Panetta, says that the CIA will not carry out “extraordinary renditions” under his tenure. Sparked by recent claims that the Obama administration intends to continue such extraordinary renditions, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asks Panetta during his Senate confirmation hearings, “Will the CIA continue the practice of extraordinary rendition by which the government will transfer a detainee to either a foreign government or a black site for the purpose of long-term detention and interrogation, as opposed to for law enforcement purposes?” Panetta says, “No we will not.” He adds, “[B]ecause under the executive order signed by the president (see January 22, 2009), that kind of extraordinary rendition, where we send someone for the purposes of torture or for actions by another country that violate our human values—that has been forbidden by the executive order.” Panetta goes on to note the difference between “extraordinary rendition” and law enforcement rendition. [Think Progress, 2/5/2009]
During Senate confirmation hearings, President Obama’s candidate for CIA director, Leon Panetta, is asked by Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) if a president has the authority to order torture. Panetta responds, “No one is above the law.” He continues: “I understand the powers that the president has under Article II [of the US Constitution], and they are broad powers, but nobody is above the law. Nobody is above the law. And I think that even the president of the United States has to abide by the statutes and by the laws passed by the Congress. So yes, he has broad authority under Article II, but I do not think he can violate the laws of this country.” [Think Progress, 2/5/2009]
MSNBC host Keith Olbermann slams former Vice President Dick Cheney for Cheney’s recent warnings concerning the policies of President Obama (see February 4, 2009). Olbermann calls Cheney’s remarks a “destructive and uninformed diatribe… that can only serve to undermine the nation’s new president, undermine the nation’s effort to thwart terrorism, and undermine the nation itself.” Cheney said that the Obama administration seems “more concerned about reading the rights to an al-Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans.” Olbermann responds by asking: “What delusion of grandeur makes you think you have the right to say anything like that? Because a president, or an ordinary American, demands that we act as Americans and not as bullies; demands that we play by our rules; that we preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States; you believe we have chosen the one and not the other? We can be Americans, or we can be what you call ‘safe’—but not both?” Olbermann says that the Bush-Cheney policies—the so-called “Bush System,” as recently dubbed by former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo (see January 29, 2009)—“[s]tart[ed] the wrong war, detain[ed] the wrong people, employ[ed] the wrong methods, pursue[d] the wrong leads, utilize[d] the wrong emotions.” He continues: “We, sir, will most completely assure our security not by maintaining the endless, demoralizing, draining, life-denying blind fear and blind hatred which you so thoroughly embody. We will most easily purchase our safety by repudiating the ‘Bush System.’ We will reserve the violence for which you are so eager, sir, for any battlefield to which we truly must take, and not for unconscionable wars which people like you goad and scare and lie us into. You, Mr. Cheney, you terrified more Americans than did any terrorist in the last seven years, and now it is time for you to desist, or to be made to desist. With damnable words like these, sir, you help no American, you protect no American, you serve no American—you only aid and abet those who would destroy this nation from within or without.” [MSNBC, 2/5/2009]
Upon his return from a brief tour of the Guantanamo detention facility (see January 30, 2009), Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) delivers a speech on the floor of the Senate recommending that the facility remain open, despite President Obama’s decision to close it (see January 22, 2009). Inhofe says, “The military detention facilities at GTMO meet the highest international standards and are a fundamental part of protecting the lives of Americans from terrorism.” He says “[t]he detainees are being treated humanely,” there are “two lawyers for every detainee that has been charged or had charges preferred against them,” and there is one health care professional for every two detainees, ensuring that they receive the highest level of medical care (see April-May 2002, August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003, and March 10-April 15, 2007). Guantanamo “is the only complex in the world that can safely and humanely hold these individuals who pose such a grave security risk to the US,” Inhofe insists. “It is a secure location away from population centers, provides the maximum security required to prevent escape, provides multiple levels of confinement opportunities based on the compliance of the detainee, and provides medical care not available to a majority of the population of the world.” He goes on: “Furthermore, GTMO is the single greatest repository of human intelligence in the war on terror. This intelligence has prevented terrorist attacks and saved lives in the past and continues to do so today (see Summer 2000 and November 30, 2008). New intelligence is continually being collected from detainees at GTMO and is being used to fight terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the globe.” Since the US “will continue to capture, hold and detain enemy combatants,” he says, “we require a location to safely detain and care for these detainees.” [US Senate, 2/5/2009] Fellow Republican Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), who joined Inhofe on the tour, agrees, saying that the Guantanamo facility is “well thought out and in keeping with our nation’s highest ideals.” Burr adds that it is the US guards, not the prisoners, who are being mistreated: “If anyone receives mistreatment at Guantanamo, it is the guard force. They must endure frequent verbal and physical attacks from detainees while maintaining the highest standard of care for those same individuals.” [US Senate, 2/2/2009] Neither Inhofe nor Burr address the hunger strike among Guantanamo detainees, nor the allegations that prisoners are being force-fed and beaten (see February 8, 2009). Satyam Khanna of the left-leaning website Think Progress notes: “It is unclear how Inhofe and his conservative colleagues failed to see 50 detainees on hunger strike, some near death, while touring the prison. Conveniently, none of the senators alerted the public to these facts upon their return.” [Think Progress, 2/9/2009]
Binyam Mohamed. [Source: Independent]A lawyer for a Guantanamo detainee demands the release of her client because he is near death. Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley is in London to ask that her client, British resident Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001), who is still in Guantanamo even though all charges against him have been dropped (see October-December 2008), be released. Through Bradley, Mohamed claims that he has been repeatedly tortured at the behest of US intelligence officials (see April 10-May, 2002, May 17 - July 21, 2002, July 21, 2002 -- January 2004, and January-September 2004). Bradley says that Mohamed is dying in his cell. Mohamed and some twenty other detainees are so unhealthy that they are on what Bradley calls a “critical list.”
Hunger Strike, Beatings - Fifty Guantanamo detainees, including Mohamed, are on a hunger strike, and are being strapped to chairs and force-fed; those who resist, witnesses say, are beaten. Mohamed has suffered drastic weight loss, and has told his lawyer that he is “very scared” of being attacked by guards after witnessing what The Guardian describes as “a savage beating for a detainee who refused to be strapped down and have a feeding tube forced into his mouth.” Bradley is horrified at Mohamed’s description of the state of affairs in the prison. She says: “At least 50 people are on hunger strike, with 20 on the critical list, according to Binyam. The JTF [the Joint Task Force running Guantanamo] are not commenting because they do not want the public to know what is going on. Binyam has witnessed people being forcibly extracted from their cell. SWAT teams in police gear come in and take the person out; if they resist, they are force-fed and then beaten. Binyam has seen this and has not witnessed this before. Guantanamo Bay is in the grip of a mass hunger strike and the numbers are growing; things are worsening. It is so bad that there are not enough chairs to strap them down and force-feed them for a two- or three-hour period to digest food through a feeding tube. Because there are not enough chairs the guards are having to force-feed them in shifts. After Binyam saw a nearby inmate being beaten it scared him and he decided he was not going to resist. He thought, ‘I don’t want to be beat, injured or killed.’ Given his health situation, one good blow could be fatal.… Binyam is continuing to lose weight and he is going to get worse. He has been told he is about to be released, but psychologically and physically he is declining.”
Demanding Documents to Prove Torture, Rendition - Bradley is also demanding documents that she says will prove her client was tortured, and may also prove British complicity in Mohamed’s treatment (see February 24, 2009). An American court in San Francisco is also slated to hear evidence that Mohamed was subjected to “extraordinary rendition” by the CIA, where Mohamed and other prisoners were sent to other countries that tortured them. That lawsuit was originally dismissed when the Bush administration asserted “state secrets privilege” (see March 9, 1953), but lawyers for Mohamed refiled the case hoping that the Obama administration would be less secretive.
US Intelligence Wants Mohamed Dead? - The Guardian also notes that “some sections of the US intelligence community would prefer Binyam did die inside Guantanamo.” The reason? “Silenced forever, only the sparse language of his diary would be left to recount his torture claims and interviewees with an MI5 officer, known only as Witness B. Such a scenario would also deny Mohamed the chance to personally sue the US, and possibly British authorities, over his treatment.” [Guardian, 2/8/2009]
A Justice Department official says that the Obama administration will continue to assert the so-called “state secrets privilege” (see March 9, 1953) in a lawsuit filed by Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed (see February 8, 2009). In the case Mohamed et al v Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc, Mohamed and four former detainees are suing a Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen Dataplan, for cooperating with the CIA in subjecting them to “extraordinary rendition,” flying them to foreign countries and secret overseas CIA prisons where, they say, they were tortured. The case was thrown out a year ago, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has appealed it. According to a source inside the Ninth US District Court, a Justice Department lawyer tells the presiding judge that its position has not changed, that the new administration stands behind arguments that the previous administration made, with no ambiguity at all. The lawyer says the entire subject matter remains a state secret. According to Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller, “It is the policy of this administration to invoke the state secrets privilege only when necessary and in the most appropriate cases, consistent with the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Reynolds that the privilege not ‘be lightly invoked.’” Miller adds that Attorney General Eric Holder is conducting a review of all state secret privilege matters. “The Attorney General has directed that senior Justice Department officials review all assertions of the State Secrets privilege to ensure that the privilege is being invoked only in legally appropriate situations,” Miller says. “It is vital that we protect information that, if released, could jeopardize national security. The Justice Department will ensure the privilege is not invoked to hide from the American people information about their government’s actions that they have a right to know. This administration will be transparent and open, consistent with our national security obligations.” The ACLU’s Anthony Romero says that the Obama administration is doing little besides offering “more of the same.” He continues: “Eric Holder’s Justice Department stood up in court today and said that it would continue the Bush policy of invoking state secrets to hide the reprehensible history of torture, rendition, and the most grievous human rights violations committed by the American government. This is not change. This is definitely more of the same. Candidate Obama ran on a platform that would reform the abuse of state secrets, but President Obama’s Justice Department has disappointingly reneged on that important civil liberties issue. If this is a harbinger of things to come, it will be a long and arduous road to give us back an America we can be proud of again.” ACLU attorney Ben Wizner, who argued the case for Mohamed and the other plaintiffs, adds: “We are shocked and deeply disappointed that the Justice Department has chosen to continue the Bush administration’s practice of dodging judicial scrutiny of extraordinary rendition and torture. This was an opportunity for the new administration to act on its condemnation of torture and rendition, but instead it has chosen to stay the course. Now we must hope that the court will assert its independence by rejecting the government’s false claims of state secrets and allowing the victims of torture and rendition their day in court.” [ABC News, 2/9/2009]
The new Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Dennis Blair, tells the Senate Intelligence Committee that the economic crisis, not global terrorism, is the biggest national security issue facing the US today. “The primary near-term security concern of the United States is the global economic crisis and its geopolitical implications,” Blair says. If the crisis continues for more than two years, Blair says, governments could topple, with all the unrest that would entail. About 25 percent of the world’s governments, mostly in Europe and among former Soviet Union client states, have already experienced “low-level instability,” including government changes, because of the economic climate (see February 1, 2009). Blair also warns of “high levels of violent extremism” as seen during the downturn in the 1920s and 1930s, along with “regime-threatening instability.” He explains, “Besides increased economic nationalism, the most likely political fallout for US interests will involve allies and friends not being able to fully meet their defense and humanitarian obligations.” US allies in Europe are angry over the Obama stimulus bill’s provision to “Buy American,” Blair notes, and says the provision is being used to question the US’s leadership in shoring up the global economy and international financial structure. The biggest beneficiary of this global chaos, Blair says, could be China, if that nation’s government can “exert a stabilizing influence by maintaining strong import growth and not letting its currency slide.” Global coordination is essential to rebuild trust in the financial system and to ensure that the crisis does “not spiral into broader geopolitical tensions,” Blair recommends. [EUObserver, 2/13/2009]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases previously classified documents that contain excerpts from a government report on harsh interrogation tactics used by US personnel against detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. The excerpts document repeated instances of abusive behavior, sometimes resulting in the deaths of prisoners. The documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), contain a report by Vice Admiral Albert Church, who compiled a comprehensive report on the Defense Department’s interrogation operations. Church terms the interrogations at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan as “clearly abusive, and clearly not in keeping with any approved interrogation policy or guidance.” Only two pages from the Church report were released without redactions.
Deaths at Bagram - A portion of the document reports on the deaths of two prisoners at Bagram (see December 5-9, 2002 and November 30-December 3, 2002), who were, the document states, “handcuffed to fixed objects above their heads in order to keep them awake.” The report continues: “Additionally, interrogations in both incidents involved the use of physical violence, including kicking, beating, and the use of ‘compliance blows,’ which involved striking the [prisoners] legs with the [interrogators] knees. In both cases, blunt force trauma to the legs was implicated in the deaths. In one case, a pulmonary embolism developed as a consequence of the blunt force trauma, and in the other case pre-existing coronary artery disease was complicated by the blunt force trauma.” Both detainees died from pulmonary embolisms caused by, the ACLU writes, “standing chained in place, sleep deprivation, and dozens of beatings by guards and possibly interrogators.”
Deaths at Other Facilities - The documents also report on torture conducted at Guantanamo and several US-Afghan prisons in Kabul; the death of prisoner Dilar Dababa in Iraq in 2003 at the hands of US forces; the torture and beating of an Iraqi prisoner at “The Disco,” a detention facility located in the Special Operations Force Compound at Mosul Airfield in Iraq; an investigation into torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad; and the murder of prisoner Abed Mowhoush.
Process Flowed Through Undersecretary Cambone - Columnist Scott Horton writes: “A large portion of the torture, maiming, and murder of detainees occurred under authority issued under secret rules of engagement in the Pentagon. Much of this flowed through Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone, a figure who has so far evaded scrutiny in the torture scandal.… Even the Senate Armed Services Committee review fails to get to the bottom of Dr. Cambone, his interrogations ROEs for special operations units he controlled, and the death, disfigurement, and torture of prisoners they handled. This is one of many reasons why a comprehensive investigation with subpoena power is urgently needed. But full airing of the internal investigations already conducted by the Department of Defense is an essential next step.” [Raw Story, 2/12/2009; American Civil Liberties Union, 2/12/2009]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other human rights organizations release over a thousand pages of government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The documents provide new details of the Bush administration’s treatment of prisoners in its “global war on terror.” Among other things, the documents show a much closer collaboration between the CIA and the Defense Department than initially believed; the Defense Department was intimately involved with the CIA’s practices of indefinite “ghost” detentions and torture. The documents confirm the existence of a previously “undisclosed detention facility” at Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base and details of the extensive abuse and torture of prisoners at that facility. They also show that the Defense Department worked to keep the Red Cross away from its detainees by refusing to register their capture with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for two weeks or more, “to maximize intelligence collection,” a practice the Defense Department officials acknowledged in their private communications to be illegal under the Geneva Conventions.
CIA, Defense Department in Collusion? - The Center for Constitutional Rights notes, “These policies demonstrate the ease with which the CIA could have used DOD facilities as ‘sorting facilities’ without having to worry about ICRC oversight or revelation of the ghost detainee program.” The documents also include e-mails sent to Defense Department Transportation Command officials recommending that a number of prisoners slated for release from Guantanamo be detained longer, for fear of negative press coverage (see February 17, 2006). [AlterNet, 2/13/2009] “These newly released documents confirm our suspicion that the tentacles of the CIA’s abusive program reached across agency lines,” says Margaret Satterthwaite of New York University’s International Human Rights Clinic. “In fact, it is increasingly obvious that defense officials engaged in legal gymnastics to find ways to cooperate with the CIA’s activities. A full accounting of all agencies must now take place to ensure that future abuses don’t continue under a different guise.”
Heavy Redactions Thwart Intent of FOIA - Amnesty International’s Tom Parker notes that much of the information in the documents was blacked out before its release. “Out of thousands of pages, most of what might be of interest was redacted,” he says. “While the sheer number of pages creates the appearance of transparency, it is clear this is only the tip of the iceberg and that the government agencies have not complied with spirit of President Obama’s memo on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests (see January 21, 2009). We call on Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama administration to put teeth into the memo and work actively to comply with FOIA requests.” [Center for Constitutional Rights, 2/12/2009]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Geneva Conventions, Central Intelligence Agency, Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International, American Civil Liberties Union, International Committee of the Red Cross, Obama administration, International Human Rights Clinic, New York University, Margaret Satterthwaite, Tom Parker
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) presents its report on weapons accountability problems in Afghanistan to a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee. The congressionally ordered audit reveals that the US military did not track hundreds of thousands of weapons—over half of the total procured for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)—between 2004 and 2008. The report expands on an earlier assessment produced by the Pentagon’s Inspector General (see October 24, 2008). The Washington Post quotes subcommittee chairman Rep. John F. Tierney (D-MA) as saying that the failures could lead to American soldiers being killed by insurgents using a weapon purchased by US taxpayers. “That’s what we risk if we were to have tens of thousands of weapons we provided washing around Afghanistan, off the books,” Tierney says in a written statement. [Washington Post, 2/12/2009] The audit finds that American military officials did not keep complete records on about 87,000 rifles, pistols, mortars, and other weapons the United States sent to Afghan soldiers and police, nor did they keep reliable records on 135,000 more weapons donated to Afghanistan by 21 countries. The GAO audit also finds:
Inventory controls were lacking for more than a third of the 242,000 light weapons donated to Afghan forces by the United States—a stockpile that includes thousands of AK-47 assault rifles as well as mortars, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
Until June 2008, the military did not even take the elementary step of recording the serial numbers of some 46,000 weapons the United States provided to the Afghans, making it impossible to track or identify any that might be in the wrong hands. Serial numbers for the 41,000 other weapons from the United States were recorded, but American military officials had no idea where those weapons were.
American trainers were not following their own rules, finding that weapons were issued to Afghans even when there were concerns about—or evidence of—poor security at weapons depots and corruption by Afghan officials.
Afghan security procedures were so inadequate that weapons supplied to Afghan forces were at “serious risk of theft or loss.” Many of the weapons were left in the care of Afghan-run military depots with a history of desertion, theft, and sub-par security systems that sometimes consist of a wooden door and a padlock. [Government Accountability Office, 2/12/2009 ]
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during a tour of Asia, warns North Korea not to fulfill its threat to test a long-range Taepodong-2 ballistic missile. “The possible missile launch that North Korea is talking about would be very unhelpful in moving our relationship forward,” Clinton says. North Korea greets Clinton’s arrival in Japan, where she issues her warning, with an oblique statement that says in part, “One will come to know later what will be launched.” [New York Times, 2/16/2009; Associated Press, 2/16/2009] During the same trip, Clinton says the US is willing to provide assistance to North Korea in return for its dismantling of its nuclear program (see February 15, 2009).
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she is not sure whether North Korea actually has a secret program to enrich uranium, as the Bush administration had long claimed. She adds that she intends to persuade Pyongyang to give up the weapons-grade plutonium it does possess. “There is a debate within the intelligence community as to exactly the extent of the highly-enriched-uranium program,” she says. “My goal is the denuclearization of North Korea,” she continues. “That means a verifiably complete accounting of whatever programs they have and the removal of the reprocessed plutonium that they were able to achieve because they were given the opportunity to do so.… When they move forward” on ending the program, “we have a great openness to working with them, [and] a willingness to help the people of North Korea.”
Broadening Focus Beyond Uranium Possession - The claim of the uranium program led to the Bush administration’s rejection of the 1994 agreement that kept the North Korean nuclear weapons program in check (see October 21, 1994), she says: “The Agreed Framework was torn up on the basis of the concerns about the highly-enriched-uranium program. There is no debate that, once the Agreed Framework was torn up, the North Koreans began to reprocess plutonium with a vengeance because all bets were off. The result is they now have nuclear weapons, which they did not have before.” When the Bush administration withdrew from the Agreed Framework (see October 20, 2002), Clinton says, North Korea restarted its plutonium-based reactor at Yongbyon and now has enough material for at least a half-dozen nuclear weapons. A 2006 nuclear test by the North Koreans prompted Bush officials to reopen negotiations and eventually craft a new agreement remarkably similar to the Agreed Framework (see February 8, 2007 and After). Most Asian nations are expected to welcome Clinton’s new position on the uranium issue, as they thought the Bush administration had put too much emphasis on North Korea’s uranium possession. [Washington Post, 2/15/2009] Clinton also warns North Korea not to test-fire a long-range ballistic missile (see February 15, 2009).
'Old Wine in a New Bottle' - The senior editorial writer for South Korea’s Hankyoreh newspaper, Jungsoo Jang, calls the Clinton proposal little more than “old wine in a new bottle,” writing: “Of course, the side by side denuclearization and normalization plan elucidated by Clinton clearly does represent a considerable change from the Bush administration, which focused on a schematic view of denuclearization first, normalization second. But Clinton’s solution does have limitations, in that normalization of North Korea-US relations cannot be pursued as long as prior issues such as total abolition of nuclear weapons and suspicions about enriched uranium are not neatly resolved.” Jang says that a conflict between a more conservative camp and a more progressive camp in the Obama State Department is currently being won by the conservatives, who favor an emphasis on US-Japanese relations and a more direct, confrontational approach to dealing with North Korea’s nuclear program. [Hankyoreh, 2/16/2009]
Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union calls the case of alleged al-Qaeda detainee Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see June 23, 2003) a key test of “the most far-reaching use of detention powers” ever asserted by the executive branch. Al-Marri has spent five years incarcerated in the Charleston Naval Brig without being charged with a crime. “If President Obama is serious about restoring the rule of law in America, they can’t defend what’s been done to Marri. They would be completely buying into the Bush administration’s war on terror,” he says. Hafetz, who is scheduled to represent al-Marri before the Supreme Court in April, compares the Bush administration’s decision to leave al-Marri in isolation to his client’s being stranded on a desert island. “It’s a Robinson Crusoe-like situation,” he adds. Hafetz says that among the issues to be decided is “the question of who is a soldier, and who is a civilian.” He continues: “Is the fight against terrorism war, or is it not war? How far does the battlefield extend? In the past, they treated Peoria as a battlefield. Can an American be arrested in his own home and jailed indefinitely, on the say-so of the president?” Hafetz wants the Court to declare indefinite detention by executive fiat illegal. He also hopes President Obama will withdraw al-Marri’s designation as an enemy combatant and reclassify him as a civilian; such a move would allow al-Marri to either be charged with crimes and prosecuted, or released entirely. Civil liberties and other groups on both sides of the political divide have combined to file 18 amicus briefs with the Court, all on al-Marri’s behalf. The al-Marri decision will almost certainly impact the legal principles governing the disposal of the approximately 240 detainees still being held at Guantanamo.
Opinion of Former Bush Administration Officials - Former Bush State Department counsel John Bellinger says of his counterparts in the Obama administration: “They will have to either put up or shut up. Do they maintain the Bush administration position, and keep holding [al-]Marri as an enemy combatant? They have to come up with a legal theory.” He says that Obama officials will find it more difficult to put their ideals into action: “Governing is different from campaigning,” he notes, and adds that Obama officials will soon learn that “they can’t just set the clocks back eight years, and try every terror suspect captured abroad in the federal courts.” Former Attorney General John Ashcroft calls keeping al-Marri and other “enemy combatants” locked away without charges or trials a “sound decision” to “maximize the national interest,” and says that in the end, Obama’s approach will be much like Bush’s. “How will he be different?” he asks. “The main difference is going to be that he spells his name ‘O-b-a-m-a,’ not ‘B-u-s-h.’”
Current Administration's Opinion - Obama spokesman Larry Craig sums up the issue: “One way we’ve looked at this is that we own the solution. We don’t own the problem—it was created by the previous administration. But we’ll be held accountable for how we handle this.” [New Yorker, 2/23/2009]
British Military commanders and officers brief Foreign Secretary David Miliband during his 2-day fact-finding visit to Helmand province on their discovery that British-made electronic components have been found in remote controls and roadside bombs used by the Taliban and other insurgents against coalition troops in Afghanistan. The British military concludes that British Muslims are providing the Taliban with these electronic devices, which they claim are either sent to sympathizers in the region or smuggled into Pakistan en route to Afghanistan. Brigadier Gordon Messenger, the Royal Marine commander of the British battlegroup in Helmand, leads the briefing in which the devices are displayed and details of their origin are explained. “We have found electronic components in devices used to target British troops that originally come from Britain,” a British explosives officer tells Miliband. The electronic devices range from basic remote control units that are normally used to fly model airplanes, mobile phones filled with explosives, and more sophisticated devices that can be used against military vehicles and for remote attacks from up to a mile away. The Telegraph, however, does not report any evidence the military may have to substantiate these claims. [Daily Telegraph, 2/20/2009]
Former 9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003), a former adviser to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (see February 28, 2005), calls for the US to launch a military strike against North Korea in order to remove that nation’s nuclear weapons capability. Zelikow dismisses Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s reservations about North Korea’s nuclear program (see February 15, 2009) and writes, “To accept the combination of nuclear weapons and IRBMs or ICBMs in the hands of North Korea is a gamble, betting on deterrence of one of the least well understood governments on earth, in a country now undergoing high levels of internal stress.” Zelikow refers directly to the 2006 call from two former Defense Department officials, Ashton Carter and William Perry, for a military strike against North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (see June 22, 2006), and writes that at the time he believed the call for military action was “premature.” Now, however, “political predicate for the Carter-Perry recommendations has been well laid.” Zelikow recommends that the Obama administration issue the requisite warnings to dismantle the nuclear weapons, and if North Korea refuses to heed the warnings, the US should destroy them. [Foreign Policy, 2/17/2009; Foreign Policy, 10/22/2010]
Brandon Neely. [Source: Associated Press]A former Guantanamo guard, Specialist Brandon Neely, discusses his experiences with MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow. He also gives a lengthier interview to the Guantanamo Testimonials Project, run by the Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas at the University of California at Davis. Neely was at Guantanamo when the first prisoners arrived in January 2002, and stayed for some six months before being transferred. Later, he served in Iraq. Neely says he is still haunted by the memories of what he saw during his time at Guantanamo. Neely, who was honorably discharged from the Army in 2008, is the president of the Houston chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).
'I Was Ready for Revenge' - When he learned that he was being assigned to Guantanamo, as he recalls, “We were told… these people would not fall under the Geneva Convention.” Neely says that from the outset, he and the other guards were trained to be very adversarial towards the detainees: “We were just told from the get-go that these were the guys who planned 9/11, that these are the worst people in the world.… I was ready for revenge. I was angry. I was ready to go to war.” He recalls the day that the first detainees arrived (see January 11, 2002-April 30, 2002). When they arrived, Neely was startled: “Most of them were small, underweight, very scared, and injured. I was expecting these people to come off that bus looking like vicious monsters.”
Fear of Execution Provoked Resistance - Neely recalls one physical incident between himself and an older prisoner that happened the first day. When the prisoner resisted being forced to his knees, Neely slammed him to the cement floor; other guards “went ahead and hog-tied him.” The next day, as Neely recalls: “I could see on the side of his—side of his face, he was all scraped up and bruised.… And I later learned from other detainees the reason that he moved and he jerked away from us was when we placed him on his knees, he thought we were going to execute him.” However, his fellow guards were pleased, saying, “Man, that was a good job; you got you some.” Neely witnessed other physical abuses, including one instance when a prisoner was beaten by a medic for refusing to drink a can of Ensure. Neely later learned that the prisoner believed the Ensure to have been poisoned. He also witnessed a detainee beaten unconscious for calling a female guard a “b_tch.” Guards sometimes called prisoners “sand n_ggers.” Guards sometimes told detainees that their villages or countries had been bombed and their families were all dead. Sometimes the guards told prisoners that they could be executed at any time.
Lack of Respect for Religious Beliefs - Neely knows of at least one incident where a guard, searching a prisoner’s cage, threw the prisoner’s Koran to the floor, provoking outrage among the detainees. Neely says the guard swore that he threw the Koran aside without thinking. Other incidents were more deliberately provocative: loud rock music or the national anthem would be played during the morning call to prayer; soldiers would mock and ridicule prisoners during their worship services, soldiers would blast praying detainees with water and call the incidents accidents; prisoners were fed pork, a proscribed food, without being informed of what they were eating.
David Hicks: Humanizing the 'Monsters' - Neely spent a good amount of time talking with Australian detainee David Hicks (see December 2000-December 2001). Hicks repeatedly insisted that he had been in Afghanistan fighting well before the Americans arrived, and that he would never fight Americans. He told Neely that he had been captured by Northern Alliance forces while trying to leave the country, and his captors sold him to the Americans for $1,500. Neely recalls: “Hicks did not come across as the cold-blooded killer that we were told all these guys were. He was a normal guy like me.… During these times is when I really started to look at the detainees as real people and not just monsters, as I had been told they were.”
'Trial and Error' - Neely says: “There was no standard operating procedures as far as how a detainee camp was supposed to be run. There was kind of like a trial-and-error period, if this didn’t work, we’ll try this way one day—you know, just everyday was something different until they thought it was right.” He tells The Independent: “As far as the Geneva Conventions, we touched very shortly on that in training. Most of what people knew about them was from their own readings.” [MSNBC, 2/17/2009; Independent, 2/18/2009]
Conclusion - Neely says: “I think everyone can agree that, at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, there are some really bad people. And there are a lot of good people there as well. But—innocent, guilty, black, white, Muslim, or Jew, no matter what you are—there is no excuse to treat people in the manner that I and other people did. It’s wrong and just downright criminal, and it goes against everything the United States of America stands for.” [Independent, 2/18/2009]
President Obama orders 17,000 additional US troops to be deployed in Afghanistan. He says that nation must be stabilized, and the US-led offensive there has suffered from years of neglect. The move effectively doubles the number of US combat brigades in the country, though both White House and Pentagon officials have been careful not to call the increase a “surge,” as the 2007 increase in US troops in Iraq was called (see January 2007 and January 10, 2007).
Answering Request from Months Before - Obama notes that a request for more troops had been made months before, by General David McKiernan, the top US commander in Afghanistan. “This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires,” Obama says. [Los Angeles Times, 2/18/2009] “The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda supports the insurgency and threatens America from its safe haven along the Pakistani border.” Obama recognizes “the extraordinary strain this deployment places on our troops and military families,” but the deteriorating security situation in the region requires “urgent attention and swift action.” [Australian, 2/19/2009] Some 3,000 soldiers have already arrived in Afghanistan, where they are seeing combat near Kabul. [Associated Press, 2/17/2009]
Refocus on Afghanistan, Away from Iraq - During the presidential campaign, he repeatedly promised to refocus American efforts onto Afghanistan and away from Iraq. A full strategic review of the US’s war plans in Afghanistan is still pending (see February 4, 2009). Military officials warn that without a commensurate reduction in troops deployed in Iraq, the already-critical strain on US troops will only increase. One Pentagon official says: “All we are doing is moving demand from Iraq to Afghanistan. This sustains and, to some degree, increases the demands on soldiers.” [Los Angeles Times, 2/18/2009]
Afghans Welcome Additional Troops - Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed Is’haq Payman calls the deployment “a positive move,” and adds: “[W]e have our own conditions. We want these troops to be deployed in areas where they could play a positive role in suppressing terrorists.” [Taipei Times, 2/19/2009] Afghan President Hamid Karzai welcomes the deployment; after discussing the move with Obama via telephone, he says that former tensions between the US and Afghanistan over the issue of US-inflicted civilian casualties (see August 22, 2008, September 7, 2008, September 16, 2008, and January 26, 2009) are finished. “The tension was over civilian casualties and uncoordinated operations by foreign troops,” he says. “From now on, no foreign troop operations will be uncoordinated with Afghan forces. The tension the Afghan government had with the US government is now over.” [Reuters, 2/18/2009]
In the case of Kiyemba v Obama the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously blocks a judge’s order to free 17 Chinese Uighurs (see September 17, 2006 and June 30, 2008) from detention in Guantanamo. [New York Times, 2/18/2009; Constitution Project, 2/18/2009]
Not a Threat to the US - The Uighurs, members of a small Muslim ethnic and religious minority, have been in detention for seven years after being captured in Pakistan; they insist they were receiving training to resist Chinese oppression, and never harbored any ill will towards the US or had any intention of participating in attacks on US or US-allied targets. Judge Ricardo Urbina concurred in an October ruling. Even Bush officials had decided not to try to prove the 17 men were “enemy combatants”; instead, they said that they would continue imprisoning them because they had “trained for armed insurrection against their home country” in a Uighur camp in Afghanistan. The Obama administration can choose to release the Uighurs if it can find a country—the US or another nation—to accept the detainees for resettlement. Obama officials do not want to turn the Uighurs over to Chinese authorities for fear that they will be imprisoned and tortured.
Two Rulings, One on Release, One on Habeas Corpus - All three appellate judges agree to overturn Urbina’s order to release the Uighurs, but split 2-1 on a separate question: whether detainees such as the Uighurs have habeas corpus rights to challenge their detention. Two, Judges Arthur Randolph and Karen Henderson, say that the law, as decided by the Supreme Court in the June 2008 Boumediene v Bush case (see June 22, 2008), does not give judges the right to release detainees into the US. “Never in the history of habeas corpus,” the majority opinion finds, “has any court thought it had the power to order an alien held overseas brought into the sovereign territory of a nation and released into the general population.” Judge Judith Rogers dissents, writing that the ruling “ignores the very purpose” of the writ of habeas corpus, which is, she writes, to serve as “a check on arbitrary executive power.” If the court has no legal right to release the Uighurs into the US, Rogers writes, the Boumediene ruling has no meaning. A lawyer for the Uighurs, Susan Baker Manning, says the ruling means innocent people “can spend the rest of their lives in prison even though the US knows it’s a mistake.” [New York Times, 2/18/2009]
Civil Rights Organization 'Disappointed' in Ruling, Calls for Release - Sharon Bradford Franklin of the Constitution Project, a civil rights organization, writes: “We are disappointed by today’s DC Circuit ruling that denies freedom to the 17 men whom the government admits are not ‘enemy combatants’ and yet continues to hold at Guantanamo for a seventh year. President Obama should exercise his power to release the Uighurs into the US. The appellate court’s ruling that the trial court lacked the power to compel the executive branch to release the Uighurs into the United States in no way limits the ability of the executive branch to release the Uighurs on its own. We therefore call on President Obama to choose the right course and evaluate the terms under which the Uighurs may be released into the United States. The writ of habeas corpus is a fundamental constitutional right. For habeas corpus to have meaning, it must permit a court to end wrongful detentions. We regret that today’s decision failed to recognize the court’s ability to check arbitrary detention, such as that suffered by the Uighurs.” [Constitution Project, 2/18/2009]
NWFP Minister Bashir Bilour with Swat Treaty Hasham Ahmed. [Source: Agence France Presse - Getty Images]Pakistan agrees to a truce with Taliban fighters that would impose strict Islamic religious law—sharia—on the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan, a setback for the Obama administration’s hopes to mount a united front against Islamist militants there and in Afghanistan. The agreement gives the Taliban religious and social control of the Swat region, considered of critical strategic importance in battling insurgents in the wild border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. James Dobbins, a former Bush administration envoy to Afghanistan, says: “It is definitely a step backwards. The Pakistanis have to take a stronger line with extremists in the region.” Obama administration envoy Richard Holbrooke says, “We are very concerned about Pakistan and stability.” A Pentagon official calls it a “negative development,” but other officials are more circumspect. “What is, of course, important is that we are all working together to fight terrorism and particularly to fight the cross-border activities that some Taliban engage in,” says Pentagon spokesman Gordon Duguid. NATO officials take a tougher stance, with NATO spokesman James Appathurai calling the truce a “reason for concern.” He adds, “Without doubting the good faith of the Pakistani government, it is clear that the region is suffering very badly from extremists and we would not want it to get worse.” Amnesty International official Sam Zarifi says, “The government is reneging on its duty to protect the human rights of people from Swat Valley by handing them over to Taliban insurgents.” [Associated Press, 2/18/2009]
In a speech at the Nixon Center, neoconservative guru Richard Perle (see 1965 and Early 1970s) attempts to drastically rewrite the history of the Bush administration and his role in the invasion of Iraq. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank writes that listening to Perle gave him “a sense of falling down the rabbit hole.” Milbank notes: “In real life, Perle was the ideological architect of the Iraq war and of the Bush doctrine of preemptive attack (see 1987-2004, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, March, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 15, 2001, September 19-20, 2001, November 14, 2001, November 14, 2001, November 18-19, 2001, May 2002, August 16, 2002, November 20, 2002, January 9, 2003, February 25, 2003, and March 27, 2003). But at yesterday’s forum of foreign policy intellectuals, he created a fantastic world in which:
Perle is not a neoconservative.
Neoconservatives do not exist.
Even if neoconservatives did exist, they certainly couldn’t be blamed for the disasters of the past eight years.” [Washington Post, 2/20/2009]
Perle had previously advanced his arguments in an article for National Interest magazine. [National Interest, 1/21/2009]
'No Such Thing as a Neoconservative Foreign Policy' - Perle tells the gathering, hosted by National Interest: “There is no such thing as a neoconservative foreign policy. It is a left critique of what is believed by the commentator to be a right-wing policy.” Perle has shaped the nation’s foreign policy since 1974 (see August 15, 1974, Early 1976, 1976, and Early 1981). He was a key player in the Reagan administration’s early attempts to foment a nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union (see Early 1981 and After, 1981 and Beyond, September 1981 through November 1983, May 1982 and After, and October 11-12, 1986). Perle denies any real involvement with the 1996 “Clean Break” document, which Milbank notes “is widely seen as the cornerstone of neoconservative foreign policy” (see July 8, 1996 and March 2007). Perle explains: “My name was on it because I signed up for the study group. I didn’t approve it. I didn’t read it.” In reality, Perle wrote the bulk of the “Clean Break” report. Perle sidesteps questions about the letters he wrote (or helped write) to Presidents Clinton and Bush demanding the overthrow of Saddam Hussein (see January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998, and September 20, 2001), saying, “I don’t have the letters in front of me.” He denies having any influence on President Bush’s National Security Strategy, which, as Milbank notes, “enshrin[ed] the neoconservative themes of preemptive war and using American power to spread freedom” (see May 1, 2001), saying: “I don’t know whether President Bush ever read any of those statements [he wrote]. My guess is he didn’t.” Instead, as Perle tells the audience: “I see a number of people here who believe and have expressed themselves abundantly that there is a neoconservative foreign policy and it was the policy that dominated the Bush administration, and they ascribe to it responsibility for the deplorable state of the world. None of that is true, of course.” Bush’s foreign policy had “no philosophical underpinnings and certainly nothing like the demonic influence of neoconservatives that is alleged.” And Perle claims that no neoconservative ever insisted that the US military should be used to spread democratic values (see 1965, Early 1970s, Summer 1972 and After, August 15, 1974, 1976, November 1976, Late November, 1976, 1977-1981, 1981 and Beyond, 1984, Late March 1989 and After, 1991-1997, March 8, 1992, July 1992, Autumn 1992, July 8, 1996, Late Summer 1996, Late Summer 1996, 1997, November 12, 1997, January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998, May 29, 1998, July 1998, February 1999, 2000, September 2000, November 1, 2000, January 2001, January 22, 2001 and After, March 12, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 24, 2001, September 25-26, 2001, October 29, 2001, October 29, 2001, November 14, 2001, November 20, 2001, November 29-30, 2001, December 7, 2001, February 2002, April 2002, April 23, 2002, August 6, 2002, September 4, 2002, November 2002-December 2002, November 12, 2002, February 2003, February 13, 2003, March 19, 2003, December 19, 2003, March 2007, September 24, 2007, and October 28, 2007), saying, “I can’t find a single example of a neoconservative supposed to have influence over the Bush administration arguing that we should impose democracy by force.” His strident calls for forcible regime change in Iran were not what they seemed, he says: “I’ve never advocated attacking Iran. Regime change does not imply military force, at least not when I use the term” (see July 8-10, 1996, Late Summer 1996, November 14, 2001, and January 24, 2004).
Challenged by Skeptics - Former Reagan administration official Richard Burt (see Early 1981 and After and May 1982 and After), who challenged Perle during his time in Washington, takes issue with what he calls the “argument that neoconservatism maybe actually doesn’t exist.” He reminds Perle of the longtime rift between foreign policy realists and neoconservative interventionists, and argues, “You’ve got to kind of acknowledge there is a neoconservative school of thought.” Perle replies, “I don’t accept the approach, not at all.” National Interest’s Jacob Heilbrunn asks Perle to justify his current position with the title of his 2003 book An End to Evil. Perle claims: “We had a publisher who chose the title. There’s hardly an ideology in that book.” (Milbank provides an excerpt from the book that reads: “There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust. This book is a manual for victory.”) Perle blames the news media for “propagat[ing] this myth of neoconservative influence,” and says the term “neoconservative” itself is sometimes little more than an anti-Semitic slur. After the session, the moderator asks Perle how successful he has been in making his points. “I don’t know that I persuaded anyone,” he concedes. [Washington Post, 2/20/2009]
'Richard Perle Is a Liar' - Harvard professor Stephen Walt, a regular columnist for Foreign Policy magazine, writes flatly, “Richard Perle is a liar.” He continues: “[K]ey neoconservatives like Douglas Feith, I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, and others [were] openly calling for regime change in Iraq since the late 1990s and… used their positions in the Bush administration to make the case for war after 9/11, aided by a chorus of sympathetic pundits at places like the American Enterprise Institute, and the Weekly Standard. The neocons were hardly some secret cabal or conspiracy, as they were making their case loudly and in public, and no serious scholar claims that they ‘bamboozled’ Bush and Cheney into a war. Rather, numerous accounts have documented that they had been openly pushing for war since 1998 and they continued to do so after 9/11.… The bottom line is simple: Richard Perle is lying. What is disturbing about this case is is not that a former official is trying to falsify the record in such a brazen fashion; Perle is hardly the first policymaker to kick up dust about his record and he certainly won’t be the last. The real cause for concern is that there are hardly any consequences for the critical role that Perle and the neoconservatives played for their pivotal role in causing one of the great foreign policy disasters in American history. If somebody can help engineer a foolish war and remain a respected Washington insider—as is the case with Perle—what harm is likely to befall them if they lie about it later?” [Foreign Policy, 2/23/2009]
Entity Tags: Richard Perle, Jacob Heilbrunn, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, George W. Bush, Douglas Feith, Dana Milbank, Bush administration (43), Stephen Walt, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Burt
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence
Retired Major General Anthony Taguba, who headed an intensive military investigation into the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison (see March 9, 2004), is one of the most prominent supporters of the call to investigate the Bush administration’s interrogation, detention, and torture policies. Taguba joins 18 human rights organizations, former State Department officials, former law enforcement officers, and former military leaders in asking President Obama to create a non-partisan commission to investigate those abuses. Even though prosecuting former Bush officials might be difficult, Taguba says, a commission would provide some measure of accountability for the practices Taguba calls “misguided,” “illegal,” “despicable and questionable.” Taguba wants the commission to study the Bush administration’s claims that torture provides good intelligence, which he disputes. He particularly wants the commission to investigate administration officials’ claims that the administration’s policies were legal. Taguba says he supports “a structured commission with some form of authority with clear objectives and a follow-on action plan. I’m not looking for anything that is prosecutorial in nature, unless a suspected violation of relevant laws occurred, which should be referred to the Department of Justice.… In my opinion, our military prosecuted those who were involved in torture or unlawful interrogation. And I think our military has come to terms with that. We are an institution that prides itself on taking corrective action immediately, admitting to it, and holding ourselves accountable. And we have done that. But I am not so sure that our civilian authorities in government have done that for themselves.” Speaking about the Bush Justice Department’s findings that torture and indefinite detentions are legal (see Late September 2001, November 11-13, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, August 1, 2002, and August 1, 2002), Taguba says: “This notion that a lot of constitutional legal experts—lawyers with great intellect, well educated—came up with such despicable and questionable legal findings that were contrary to the definition of defending the Constitution? And then they framed this as if the executive branch had the authority to extend beyond the constitution to establish a policy of torture and illegal detention?… Some of those that were tortured were innocent. How do we come to terms with those that were cruelly mistreated and were innocent, never charged, were illegally detained, and never compensated for their suffering? This is not a political issue, but a moral and ethical dilemma which has far-reaching implications.” [Salon, 2/21/2009]
White House officials give the press a broad outline of President Obama’s ambitious arms-control agenda. Obama’s plan calls for dramatic cuts in both US and Russian nuclear arsenals, an end to a Bush administration plan for a more advanced nuclear warhead, the ratification of a global treaty banning underground nuclear testing, and a worldwide ban on the production of nuclear weapons material. The long-term goal, officials say, is “a world without nuclear weapons” in which the US leads by example. Obama’s plans are striking departures from the Bush administration agenda, which had little use for arms-control treaties (see May 24, 2002 and Late May 2005) and pulled out entirely from the anti-ballistic missile treaty with Russia (see December 13, 2001). Obama has said his plans are based in part on the work of the bipartisan Nuclear Security Project, headed by former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, former Clinton administration Defense Secretary William Perry, and former Republican Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz.
Criticism - Some conservative organizations and members of the national security community warn that Obama’s proposals could weaken US security. Henry Sokolski, a member of the bipartisan US Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism and an advocate of limited arms reduction, says: “This brave new, nuclear world may be anything but peaceful. As the qualitative and quantitative differences between nuclear weapons states become smaller, rivalries are likely to become much more dangerous.” The Heritage Foundation’s Baker Strang says of the Obama administration: “The problem is that they are betting the physical survival of the US on nothing more than the hope that other nuclear-armed states and any states or non-state actors that join the nuclear club will follow suit by disarming. This gamble involves the highest possible stakes and has an exceedingly low likelihood of success.” And neoconservative Frank Gaffney, a Defense Department official during the Reagan administration and president of the Center for Security Policy, says, “Every other declared nuclear weapon state is modernizing its stockpile and the most dangerous wannabes—North Korea and Iran—are building up their offensive missile capabilities and acquiring as quickly as possible the arms to go atop them.” Obama may also face opposition from within his Cabinet; Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Republican holdover from the Bush administration, wants to implement the Reliable Replacement Warhead program (see January 26, 2009), a nuclear warhead replacement program that Obama opposes.
Support - Obama’s plan has strong support among Congressional Democrats: Representative Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), who heads the House subcommittee overseeing US nuclear forces, says that reducing US and Russian arsenals, negotiating a treaty to end production of new nuclear weapons material, and ratifying the test ban pact “are all achievable goals. The debate is at a point where it is a question about when we achieve these goals, not if,” she says. Ultimately, achieving Obama’s goals will be difficult, says nonproliferation expert Joseph Cirincione. “It is going to require a herculean effort,” he says. “It is completely doable, but it will require the sustained attention of the president himself.” [Boston Globe, 2/22/2009]
Entity Tags: Joseph Cirincione, Frank Gaffney, Ellen Tauscher, Barack Obama, Baker Strang, George Shultz, Henry Sokolski, Robert M. Gates, Sam Nunn, US Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, William Perry, Nuclear Security Project, Obama administration, Henry A. Kissinger
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
An Iraqi war widow. [Source: Johan Spanner / New York Times]Iraqi women, particularly war widows, have an extremely difficult time surviving in their country, according to a profile by the New York Times. Of Iraqi women between 15 and 80 years of age, 740,000, or around one in 11, are estimated to be widows; only about 120,000 of those widows receive any governmental aid.
Depressed Living Conditions - Many of the widows profiled by the Times live, either alone or with the remnants of their families, in a trailer park for war widows in a poor section of Baghgad. Many other widows are not so fortunate; the trailer park, which houses 750 people, is among the very few aid programs available for the widows. Many of those widows and their children live in public parks or inside gas station restrooms. The sight of war widows begging on the street—or available as potential recruits for insurgents—is an everyday occurrence.
Potential Insurgency Recruits - Times reporter Timothy Williams writes: “As the number of widows has swelled during six years of war, their presence on city streets begging for food or as potential recruits by insurgents has become a vexing symbol of the breakdown of Iraqi self-sufficiency. Women who lost their husbands had once been looked after by an extended support system of family, neighbors, and mosques. But as the war has ground on, government and social service organizations say the women’s needs have come to exceed available help, posing a threat to the stability of the country’s tenuous social structures.”
'Too Many' Widows to Help - Leila Kadim, a managing director in the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, acknowledges that the situation will not change soon. “We can’t help everybody,” she says. “There are too many.”
Alternatives - Some engage in “temporary marriages,” Shi’ite-sanctioned unions lasting anywhere from an hour to a year and usually based on sex, to become eligible for government, religious, or tribal leaders. Others have become prostitutes. Others have joined the insurgency in return for steady pay. The Iraqi military says dozens of women have become suicide bombers, and that number is expected to increase.
Minimal Government Assistance - The government’s current stipend for widows is an ungenerous $50/month and an additional $12/month for each child; efforts to increase that stipend have not made progress. And only about one in six widows receive that small amount of money. Widows and their advocates say that to receive benefits they must either have political connections or agree to temporary marriages with the powerful men who control the distribution of government funds. Samira al-Mosawi, chair of the women’s affairs committee in Parliament, says: “It is blackmail. We have no law to treat this point. Widows don’t need temporary support, but a permanent solution.”
Paying Men to Marry Widows - One solution has been proposed by Mazin al-Shihan, director of the Baghdad Displacement Committee. Al-Shihan has introduced a proposal to pay men to marry widows. When asked why money shouldn’t go directly to the widows, al-Shihan laughs. “If we give the money to the widows, they will spend it unwisely because they are uneducated and they don’t know about budgeting,” he says. “But if we find her a husband, there will be a person in charge of her and her children for the rest of their lives. This is according to our tradition and our laws.” [New York Times, 2/22/2009]
Mohamed returning to London. [Source: Lewis Whyld / Associated Press]Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001, February 8, 2009, and February 9, 2009) is released from Guantanamo, and returns to Great Britain. He is flown to Britain on a private chartered Gulfstream jet similar to those used by the CIA in “extraordinary renditions.” His sister, Zuhra Mohamed, meets him at the RAF Northolt airbase in west London, and tells reporters: “I am so glad and so happy, more than words can express. I am so thankful for everything that was done for Binyam to make this day come true.” His lawyers claim that he has suffered severe physical and psychological abuse, some of which was inflicted in recent days. He suffers from what his lawyers call a huge range of injuries. Doctors have found Mohamed suffering from extensive bruising, organ damage, stomach complaints, malnutrition, sores to feet and hands, and severe damage to ligaments. His weight has dropped from around 170 pounds to 125 pounds. His lawyers say he suffers from serious emotional and psychological problems, which have been exacerbated by the refusal of Guantanamo officials to provide him with counseling. Mohamed’s British lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, says his client had been beaten “dozens” of times, with the most recent abuse occurring in the last few weeks (see September 2004 and After). “He has a list of physical ailments that cover two sheets of A4 paper,” says Stafford Smith. “What Binyam has been through should have been left behind in the middle ages.” Mohamed’s American military lawyer, Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley, adds: “He has been severely beaten. Sometimes I don’t like to think about it because my country is behind all this.” Britain’s former Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, an advocate for the closure of Guantanamo, says that allegations of abuse against Mohamed, a British resident, should be raised by Foreign Secretary David Miliband with his American counterpart, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “If there are credible accounts of mistreatment then they need to be pursued,” Goldsmith says.
Care Provided upon Return - Upon his return to Britain, Mohamed will receive physical care and emotional counseling in a secure, secret location by a team of volunteer doctors and psychiatrists. He will be kept under a “voluntary security arrangement,” where he must report regularly to authorities, but will not be subject to charges or anti-terror control orders. The US dropped all charges against Mohamed last year, including allegations that he had participated in a “dirty bomb” plot. [Guardian, 2/22/2009; Guardian, 2/24/2009]
MI5 to Be Investigated? - At least one MI5 officer may face a criminal investigation over his alleged complicity in torturing Mohamed (see February 24, 2009). And Mohamed’s future testimony is expected to shed light upon MI5’s own participation in his interrogation and alleged torture; Mohamed may sue the British government and MI5, Britain’s counter-intelligence and security service, over its alleged complicity in his detention, abduction, treatment, and interrogation. If filed, Mohamed’s lawsuit could force US and British authorities to disclose vital evidence regarding Mohamed’s allegations of torture. [Guardian, 2/22/2009]
Former Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001), a British citizen who suffered extensive abuse during his detention (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004 and February 8, 2009) and is just now released (see February 22-24, 2009), says in a written statement that British officials from MI5 played an integral part in his abduction and torture at the hands of the CIA and Moroccan officials. Senior MPs say they intend to investigate his claims. Just after his arrival in London, Mohamed tells reporters: “For myself, the very worst moment came when I realized in Morocco that the people who were torturing me were receiving questions and materials from British intelligence.… I had met with British intelligence in Pakistan. I had been open with them. Yet the very people who I had hoped would come to my rescue, I later realized, had allied themselves with my abusers.” Days later, the Daily Mail will obtain documents from Mohamed’s American court proceedings that show MI5 agents twice gave CIA agents lists of questions they wanted to have asked, as well as dossiers of photographs. [Guardian, 2/24/2009; Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
Gives Primary Blame to CIA - Mohamed places the bulk of the blame on his rendition and torture on the CIA, and says, “It is still difficult for me to believe that I was abducted, hauled from one country to the next, and tortured in medieval ways—all orchestrated by the United States government.” [Scotsman, 2/24/2009]
'They Sold Me Out' - Mohamed will later say that he reached his “lowest ebb” when he realized British agents were involved in his interrogation and torture. “They started bringing British files to the interrogations,” he will recall, “not one, but several of them, thick binders, some of them containing sheaves of photos of people who lived in London and places there like mosques. It was obvious the British were feeding them questions about people in London. When I realized that the British were co-operating with the people who were torturing me, I felt completely naked.… They sold me out.” The documents indicate that MI5 did not know where Mohamed was being held, but that its agents knew he was in a third nation’s custody through the auspices of the CIA. MI5 agents met with their CIA counterparts in September 2002, well after Mohamed’s rendition to Morocco, to discuss the case. [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
False Confession - He suffered tortures in Pakistan (see April 10-May, 2002), Morocco, and Afghanistan (see January-September 2004), including being mutilated with scalpels, a mock execution, sleep deprivation for days, being fed contaminated food, and being beaten for hours while hanging by his wrists from shackles in the ceiling. He says that the closest he came to losing his mind entirely was when, in US custody in Afghanistan, he was locked in a cell and forced to listen to a CD of rap music played at ear-shattering volume 24 hours a day for a month. It was these tortures that drove him to confess to being part of a plot to build a radioactive “dirty bomb” (see November 4, 2005), a confession he now says was untrue and given merely to avoid further torment. He also confessed to meeting Osama bin Laden and getting a passport from 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed: “None of it was true.” [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
'Zero Doubt' of British Complicity - His lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, says Mohamed is being cared for under the auspices of his legal team, and is “incredibly skinny and very emaciated.” Stafford Smith says he has “zero doubt” Britain was complicit in his client’s ill-treatment. “Britain knew he was being abused and left him,” he says. Stafford Smith also says Mohamed was subjected to “very serious abuse” in Guantanamo. Mike Gapes, the chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, says he intends to question Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch Brown over “outstanding issues,” which include “rendition, what happened to people in Guantanamo Bay, and black sites,” a reference to prisons in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Two British judges say they are suppressing “powerful evidence” of Mohamed’s torture at the insistence of Miliband and US authorities (see February 4, 2009). [Guardian, 2/24/2009] Miliband says Mohamed’s release was effected due to “intensive negotiations with the US government,” in which he played a key part. Edward Davey of the Liberal Democrats has little use for Miliband’s claims, saying, “It is telling that David Miliband is unable to give a straightforward yes or no as to whether British agents and officials have been complicit in torture,” and adds that “Mohamed’s case may just be the tip of the iceberg.” [Scotsman, 2/24/2009]
Evidence that MI5 Lied - The new revelations about MI5’s involvement contradict the testimony of MI5 officials, who in 2007 told Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee that the agency had no idea that Mohamed had been subjected to “extraordinary rendition” to Morocco or anywhere else. The Daily Mail will note, “The revelations will put Foreign Secretary David Miliband under even greater pressure to come clean about British involvement in the rendition and alleged torture of Muslim terror suspects.” [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
Attorney General Eric Holder confirms the Obama administration’s plans to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility (see November 16, 2008 and January 22, 2009), but calls it a well-run, professional institution. Closing Guantanamo “will not be an easy process,” Holder says after visiting the site. “It’s one we will do in a way that ensures that people are treated fairly and that the American people are kept safe.” Holder leads the administration’s effort to close the facility within a year. Most of that time will be spent reviewing the case files and histories of the 245 inmates currently incarcerated there: “It’s going to take us a good portion of that time to look at all of the files that we have to examine, until we get our hands around what Guantanamo is, and also what Guantanamo was,” he says. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), an outspoken advocate of keeping Guantanamo open (see February 5, 2009), says he is encouraged by Holder’s remarks. “I believe as more time goes by there is a chance the administration will grow to realize that we need Gitmo and must keep it open,” he says. “More time will allow facts to replace political rhetoric.” Inhofe is promoting legislation that will bar any Guantanamo detainees from coming to the US. [Associated Press, 2/25/2009]
One month ahead of the official announcement of President Obama’s war strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan (see March 27, 2009), John McCain delivers a policy speech on Afghanistan to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), expressing confidence that ‘victory’ is possible there. Promoting the counterinsurgency strategy advanced by David Kilcullen and the approach already begun by US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and retired Lieutenant General David Barno in Afghanistan, McCain calls for a continued shift from counterterrorism to a counterinsurgency strategy focused on providing security. He also invokes General David Petraeus and the counterinsurgency strategy employed in Iraq. “As it was in Iraq, security is the precondition for political and economic progress in Afghanistan,” he says. McCain states that the US must assist an Afghan surge of security forces, “backed with robust intelligence resources and a sufficient number of troops to carry it out.” He says that at a minimum, the US and allies need to more than double the current size of the Afghan army to 160,000 troops, and should consider enlarging it to 200,000 with the aid of an international trust fund to provide long-term financing. In conclusion, he warns that the days of the war in Afghanistan being perceived as “the good war” may be numbered as costs and casualties mount. [American Enterprise Institute, 2/25/2009]
Mullah Agha Jan Mutassim, a former Taliban finance minister and member of the group’s political council, tells al-Samoud magazine that the Taliban are willing to work with all Afghan groups to achieve peace. “We would like to take an Afghan strategy that is shared and large-scale, in consultation with all the Afghan groups, to reach positive and fruitful results,” Mutassim is quoted as saying in an interview translated by the US-based Site Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi web sites. Mutassim, thought to be close to Mullah Omar, stresses that Afghanistan’s problems can be solved only if foreign troops withdraw from the country. “If these forces leave, the problem will be over, the question will be finished, and peace will prevail,” he says. Despite harsh words for the West, Mutassim praises the government of Saudi Arabia, according to the report. Saudi Arabia, which has allegedly been a source of funding for the Taliban (see 1996) and was one of only three states to recognize the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan between 1997 and 2001 (see May 26, 1997), has hosted talks between former Taliban, Afghan government officials, and others (see Between September 24 and 27, 2008). Mutassim adds that the Taliban are not seeking to share power in an “agent government,” but want the institution of an Islamic Emirate in which “educating women is as necessary as educating men.” [Site Intelligence Group, 2/25/2009; Reuters, 2/26/2009]
Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair says the Guantanamo detention facility needs to be closed (see January 22, 2009) because its existence has done serious damage to the US’s reputation and its ability to achieve foreign policy goals. “Countries won’t deal with us,” Blair tells the House Intelligence Committee. “Our popularity’s down. We don’t have blue chips to trade.” [Associated Press, 2/25/2009; Associated Press, 2/25/2009]
A federal appeals court rejects the Obama administration’s assertion that a potential threat to national security should stop a lawsuit challenging the government’s warrantless wiretapping program. The Justice Department had requested an emergency stay in a case brought by a defunct Islamic charity, the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (see February 28, 2006). Al Haramain has asked that classified information be made available to the court to prove its case that the electronic surveillance brought to bear against it by the government was illegal; Justice Department lawyers contend that the information needs to remain classified and unavailable to the court, and cite the “state secrets” privilege (see March 9, 1953) as legal justification. Although the court rejects the request for the stay, Justice Department lawyers say they will continue fighting to keep the information secret. “The government respectfully requests that the court refrain from further actions to provide plaintiffs with access to classified information,” says a filing made by the Justice Department in regards to the ruling. A lawyer for Al Haramain, Steven Goldberg, says: “All we wanted was our day in court and it looks like we’re finally going to get our day in court. This case is all about challenging an assertion of power by the executive branch which is extraordinary.” The American Civil Liberties Union’s Ann Brick says the court has now crafted a way to review the issue in which “national security isn’t put at risk, but the rule of law can still be observed.” [Associated Press, 2/27/2009] Days later, the Justice Department will file a brief announcing its intention to refuse to honor the appeals court’s decision (see March 2, 2009).
Federal prosecutors charge Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, the only “enemy combatant” held on US soil (see June 23, 2003), with criminal terrorism charges. Al-Marri is charged with two counts of providing material support to al-Qaeda and conspiring with others to provide material support to al-Qaeda, according to a press release from the Justice Department. He faces a maximum jail sentence of 30 years. US Attorney Rodger Heaton says: “The indictment alleges that Ali al-Marri provided material support to al-Qaeda, which has committed horrific terrorist acts against our nation. As a result, he will now face the US criminal justice system, where his guilt or innocence will be determined by a jury in open court.” Such a decision takes al-Marri out of the military commissions system and places him in the US criminal judicial system. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is representing al-Marri’s Supreme Court challenge to the “enemy combatant” designation, but criminal charges will not necessarily resolve that issue. Part of the discussion of whether to charge al-Marri centered on the evidence against him: al-Marri’s lawyers claim that much of the evidence against their client was obtained through harsh interrogation techniques and torture, which would render that evidence inadmissible in a US court. Some of the evidence may also be too sensitive to reveal in open court, having been gathered through classified intelligence operations. Lead counsel Jonathan Hafetz says: “[T]he decision to charge al-Marri is an important step in restoring the rule of law and is what should have happened seven years ago when he was first arrested (see February 8, 2002). But it is vital that the Supreme Court case go forward because it must be made clear once and for all that indefinite military detention of persons arrested in the US is illegal and that this will never happen again.” Amnesty International’s Geneve Mantri calls the decision to charge al-Marri “another crucial step in the right direction,” and adds: “If there are individuals who pose a real threat to the United States, the best, most effective means of dealing with them is the current system of justice. There are a number of outstanding questions about how the detainee cases will be reviewed and what the approach of the new administration will be, but Amnesty International welcomes this as an indication that they have faith in the US justice system and rule of law.” [US Department of Justice, 2/27/2009; Washington Post, 2/27/2009; American Civil Liberties Union, 2/27/2009] The ACLU wants the Supreme Court to ignore the criminal charges and rule on al-Marri’s petition for habeas corpus rights; the Justice Department says that the criminal charges render al-Marri’s lawsuit moot. [Lyle Denniston, 2/26/2007]
Many Iraqi officials and citizens hail the decision by US President Obama to withdraw most American forces from Iraq by August 2010 (see February 27, 2009). Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki endorses the plan; an Iraqi government spokesman says: “We welcome such a decision and support it. We consider this as a good-faith sign from the American administration toward Iraq and Iraqis.” Some Iraqi political factions want the Americans to leave sooner, particularly the powerful Mahdi Army led by Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. But some factions, mostly made up of minority Sunnis, are nervous that a US drawdown will leave them vulnerable to a resurgence of sectarian violence against them. And the commanders of Iraq’s security forces worry that US logistical support will fade as the soldiers leave. “It’s really necessary for the American troops to remain now,” says Yousef Aboud Ahmed, a Sunni volunteer fighter with a militia supported by US forces in Baghdad. “If we had a nonsectarian government in power, then yes, it would be a good idea for the American forces to go. They should go one day. But not in this situation.” “All Iraqis want the Americans to withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible,” says Sunni politician Adnan al-Dulaimi. “We’re just afraid of the vacuum that this withdrawal may cause.” Mohammed Faris, a car salesman in Mosul, says: “I wish it [the withdrawal] could happen more quickly, but it is the beginning of the end of the US occupation. I think Iraq is getting stronger by the day.” Interior Ministry spokesman General Abdul-Karim Khalaf says: “We will be ready to take over when the Americans leave. There is no doubting the improved performance of Iraq’s security forces. We are even now taking on and beating al-Qaeda and the militias.” Former Planning Minister Mahdi al-Hafez calls the withdrawal timetable “wise,” and says the US must continue using its diplomatic influence to solve thorny issues such as the debate over the control of the northern city of Kirkuk. Of the plan, al-Hafez says: “It is a realistic and responsible plan. It represents a recognition that Iraq must take matters into their own hands and deal with those huge challenges as an independent country.” American soldiers are more than ready to leave. Army Captain Matt van Stavern, whose unit is stationed in Mosul, says: “My boys are ready to go home. And the Iraqi people will be ready.” [Time, 2/27/2009; Guardian, 2/27/2009]
Entity Tags: Mohammed Faris, Al-Qaeda, Adnan al-Dulaimi, Abdul-Karim Khalaf, Barack Obama, Matt van Stavern, Mahdi Army, Mahdi al-Hafez, Moqtada al-Sadr, Nouri al-Maliki, Yousef Aboud Ahmed
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
President Obama greets Marines at Camp Lejeune. [Source: White House]President Obama says that the target date for a substantial withdrawal of US troops from Iraq is August 31, 2010. “Let me say this as plainly as I can,” he tells the gathered Marines: “by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.” Around 100,000 troops will be withdrawn by that date. However, major withdrawals will not begin until after December 2009, to ensure that national elections go smoothly. Obama promised that US troops would be out of Iraq 16 months after he took office in January; the new deadline extends the withdrawal by some three months. Obama tells the Marines: “I want to be very clear. We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime—and you got the job done. We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government—and you got the job done. And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life—that is your achievement; that is the prospect that you have made possible.” Some 35,000 to 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq under a new mission of training, civilian protection, and counterterrorism operations. According to the latest Status of Forces (SOF) agreement between Iraq and the US, all US troops must withdraw from Iraq by December 31, 2011. White House officials say that Obama has no interest in keeping troops in Iraq after that date. The August 2010 date was decided after input from all the key principals, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The date was chosen to best manage security risks without jeopardizing the gains of recent months. Obama has refused to set specific withdrawal schedules, preferring to give his commanders in Iraq some flexibility. One White House official says, “They’ll either speed it up or slow it down, depending on what they need.” [Associated Press, 2/27/2009; White House, 2/27/2009]
Positive Response - Many Iraqi citizens and lawmakers hail the decision to pull out (see February 27, 2009). And so do many of the Marines at Camp Lejeune. Petty Officer Ryan Junkin says he has an “all around pretty good feeling. It’s good that he gave some direction.” Sergeant Aldwin Del Rosario says, “My biggest take away is that he had dates, and he plans to meet those goals and those dates.” And Lance Corporal Codell Campbell says: “Iraq got all our full attention for the past years. A lot of fellow Marines have died trying to make the country better.… Afghanistan is where the real fight is.” [Think Progress, 2/17/2009]
Republicans Credit Bush Strategy - Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Obama’s challenger in the 2008 presidential race, says he is “cautiously optimistic” that the withdrawal will work. Both McCain and former Bush national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe credit the 2007 “surge” (see January 2007 and January 10, 2007) for making the withdrawal possible. [New York Times, 2/27/2009]
The Afghan government initiates preliminary negotiations with the al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, considered one of the most dangerous insurgent factions in the region. In return, the Haqqani network, a key Pakistan-based Taliban ally that has had ties to the ISI, CIA, and Osama bin Laden (see Early October 2001), tentatively agrees to discuss a peace proposal with government-backed mediators, according to a Christian Science Monitor report. In the talks, mediators draft a road map for an eventual settlement in which the first stage would ensure that the Haqqani network stops burning schools and targeting reconstruction teams, while the US military stops house raids and releases Haqqani-network prisoners. The draft proposal states that if these conditions are met on both sides, the next step would be to agree on a system of government. The Haqqani network and the Taliban say they want an “Islamic Emirate” based solely on their interpretation of Islamic law. The final stage would set a deadline for the withdrawal of foreign military forces, which Jalaluddin Haqqani and other leaders of the Haqqani network would require before accepting any Afghan government posts. Analysts say that the American concessions or changes to their counterinsurgency strategy are unlikely; they are more likely to give political concessions, rather than military ones. “If the Haqqanis can be drawn into the negotiation process, it would be a serious sign that the insurgents are open to one day making a deal,” says Kabul-based political analyst Waheed Muzjda. “Ultimately, the US will have to come to a political settlement, and that may mean a situation where insurgent leaders are brought into the government.” The Christian Science Monitor notes that initial contact between the Afghan government and the Haqqani network may have begun in the months after meetings were held the previous year between the Afghan government and representatives of various insurgent groups under Saudi auspices in Mecca (see Between September 24 and 27, 2008). [Christian Science Monitor, 3/19/2009]
Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that Iran most likely has enough fissile material to make a nuclear weapon. When asked by CNN’s John King whether Iran “might now have enough fissile material to make a bomb,” Mullen replies, “We think they do, quite frankly.” He adds, “Iran having a nuclear weapon, I believe, for a long time, is a very, very bad outcome for the region and for the world.” A spokesman for Mullen later “clarifies” his remarks to emphasize that Mullen was talking about “low-grade” material, and notes that for such to be used in a nuclear weapon, it would need to be highly enriched. Defense Secretary Robert Gates contradicts Mullen, saying that Iran is “not close to a weapon at this point” (see March 1, 2009), a point with which both the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, agree. After Mullen’s interview, his spokesman, Captain John Kirby, tells CNN: “There are two components here: having enough and having it highly enriched. The chairman concurs Iran has enough low-enriched to produce a nuclear weapon, but it’s important to note it’s low-grade, and to enrich it would take time.” Iran has recently tested its first nuclear power plant, using dummy fuel rods that did not produce a nuclear reaction. [CNN, 3/1/2009]
Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that Iran is not close to having a nuclear weapon, which gives the US and other nations time to persuade Tehran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program. Gates tells NBC’s David Gregory, “They’re not close to a stockpile, they’re not close to a weapon at this point, and so there is some time.” Gates’s statement contradicts a recent warning from Admiral Michael Mullen, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who told a CNN audience that he believes Iran has enough fissile material to build a nuclear bomb (see March 1, 2009). Tehran insists that its nuclear program is strictly about producing electricity for peaceful purposes. Gates says there is “a continuing focus on how do you get the Iranians to walk away from a nuclear weapons program” in the Obama administration, just as had been in the Bush administration. Obama officials have called Tehran’s nuclear development program an “urgent problem,” and have said they favor a balance between economic sanctions and incentives for engagement. [Reuters, 3/1/2009]
Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean says that after reading the nine newly released Bush-era Justice Department memos that asserted sweeping powers for the president not granted by the Constitution (see March 2, 2009), “you’ve gotta almost conclude we had an unconstitutional dictator. It’s pretty deadly and pretty serious, what’s in these materials.” Anyone deemed a terrorist by President Bush could be kidnapped, incarcerated, and tortured, all without any legal recourse. “Who in this formula was supposed to decide that these were terrorists?” asks MSNBC host Keith Olbermann. Dean replies: “Well, according to these memos, that was rather limited to the president of the United States and there are no guidelines as to how he might describe who was or was not a terrorist. The president can unilaterally or, theoretically, even somebody he delegates can decide who indeed can be incarcerated, who can not. That is why I say, this is pretty close to being an unconstitutional dictator, in any definition under the law of this country.” [MSNBC, 3/2/2009; Raw Story, 3/3/2009]
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