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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]
In a letter to Judge Alvin Hellerstein regarding the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)‘s lawsuit against the US Defense Department, the Justice Department informs Hellerstein that the CIA destroyed 92 videotapes of prisoner interrogations. The CIA’s previous admissions of the number of destroyed videotapes were far smaller (see November 2005). [Re: ACLU et al v. Department of Defense et al, 3/2/2009 ] The CIA confirms that the tapes showed what it calls “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on a number of detainees. The Justice Department adds that it will provide a list of summaries, transcripts, and memoranda related to the destroyed tapes, though the American Civil Liberties Union notes that a previous list was almost entirely redacted. [TPM Muckraker, 3/6/2009; American Civil Liberties Union, 3/6/2009] The disclosure comes as part of a criminal inquiry into the tapes’ destruction. As the investigation comes to a close, observers expect that no charges will be filed against any CIA employees. The agency’s Directorate of Operations chief, Jose Rodriguez, ordered the recordings destroyed in November 2005 (see November 2005); former CIA Director Michael Hayden argued that the tapes posed “a serious security risk” because they contained the identities of CIA participants in al-Qaeda interrogations. Rodriguez has not yet been questioned. It is believed that the tapes show, among other interrogation sessions, the waterboarding of two detainees, Abu Zubaida (see Mid-May 2002 and After) and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see (November 2002)). Civil libertarians and human rights advocates are outraged at the destruction of the tapes. “The sheer number of tapes at issue demonstrates that this destruction was not an accident,” says Amrit Singh, a staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “It’s about time the CIA was held accountable for its flagrant violation of the law,” she adds. CIA spokesman George Little says the destruction of the tapes was not an attempt to break the law or evade accountability. “If anyone thinks it’s agency policy to impede the enforcement of American law, they simply don’t know the facts,” Little says. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, confirms that her panel intends to conduct a broader investigation of the CIA’s interrogation program. [Washington Post, 3/3/2009]
Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Jose Rodriguez, Jr., US Department of Justice, Senate Intelligence Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, Amrit Singh, American Civil Liberties Union, George Little, US Department of Defense, Alvin K. Hellerstein, Dianne Feinstein
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Some of the Justice Department memos released today. [Source: Los Angeles Times]The Department of Justice releases nine memos written after the 9/11 attacks that claimed sweeping, extraconstitutional powers for then-President Bush. The memos, written primarily by John Yoo of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), claim that Bush could, if he desired, order military raids against targets within the US, and order police or military raids without court warrants (see October 23, 2001). The only justification required would be that Bush had declared the targets of such raids to be suspected terrorists. Other powers the president had, according to the memos, were to unilaterally abrogate or abandon treaties with foreign countries, ignore Congressional legislation regarding suspected terrorists in US detention (see March 13, 2002), suspend First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and information dissemination (see October 23, 2001), and conduct a program of warrantless domestic surveillance (see September 25, 2001). In January, an opinion issued by the OLC claimed that the opinions of the earlier memos had not been acted upon since 2003, and were generally considered unreliable (see January 15, 2009). Attorney General Eric Holder, who signed off on the release of the memos, says: “Too often over the past decade, the fight against terrorism has been viewed as a zero-sum battle with our civil liberties. Not only is that thought misguided, I fear that in actuality it does more harm than good.” [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ; US Department of Justice, 3/2/2009; US Department of Justice, 3/2/2009; New York Times, 3/2/2009]
Memos Laid Groundwork for Warrantless Wiretapping - Though many of the powers said to belong to the president in the memos were never exercised, the assertions led to the warrantless wiretapping of US citizens (see December 15, 2005 and Spring 2004) and the torture of detained terror suspects. [Newsweek, 3/2/2009]
'How To ... Evade Rule of Law' - Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says the memos begin “to provide details of some of the Bush administration’s misguided national security policies” that have long been withheld from public scrutiny. Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch says the memos collectively “read like a how-to document on how to evade the rule of law.” [Washington Post, 3/3/2009] Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies says that the memos were part of a larger effort “that would basically have allowed for the imposition of martial law.” [Newsweek, 3/2/2009]
'Tip of Iceberg' - The memos are, according to a former Bush administration lawyer, “just the tip of the iceberg” in terms of what the Bush administration authorized. Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says the Bush administration memos “essentially argue that the president has a blank check to disregard the Constitution during wartime, not only on foreign battlefields, but also inside the United States.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/3/2009] The ACLU, which has sued to obtain these and other memos, applauds the release of the documents, and says it hopes this is the first step in a broader release. [Reuters, 3/2/2009]
Time columnist Michael Scherer, writing about the nine just-released Bush administration memos from the Justice Department designed to grant President Bush extraordinary executive authority (see March 2, 2009), notes: “I know I am late on this, but every American should take note of the incredible neo-Orwellian, near-totalitarian powers that President Bush’s Justice Department granted the White House in the days after September 11.… They are certainly not based on a ‘conservative’ limited government reading of the constitution. They are, by almost every account, of doubtful constitutional merit. And if we wish to continue to teach our children that freedom and liberty are the bedrock of the American form of government, we should as citizens take care to make sure they do not become a precedent for future presidents to use in responding to attacks on the homeland.” [Time, 3/3/2009]
Columnist and civil litigator Glenn Greenwald writes that the recently released Bush-era Justice Department memos documenting the enormous power Bush attempted to gather for himself (see March 2, 2009) mandates a wide-ranging investigation of the Bush administration’s criminal activities. He notes, “[T]here is almost certainly a whole slew of other activities that remain concealed, and very well may remain undisclosed for years” because of the apparent reluctance of the Obama administration to give serious consideration to such an investigation, or, as Greenwald writes, “a new administration that seems bizarrely desperate to keep concealed the secrets of the old one.” Greenwald continues: “The most vital point is that all of the documents released yesterday by the Obama [Justice Department] comprise nothing less than a regime of secret laws under which we were governed. Nothing was redacted when those documents yesterday were released because they don’t contain any national security secrets. They’re nothing more than legal decrees, written by lawyers. They’re just laws that were implemented with no acts of Congress, unilaterally by the executive branch. Yet even the very laws that governed us were kept secret for eight years. This is factually true, with no hyperbole: Over the last eight years, we had a system in place where we pretended that our ‘laws’ were the things enacted out in the open by our Congress and that were set forth by the Constitution. The reality, though, was that our government secretly vested itself with the power to ignore those public laws, to declare them invalid, and instead, create a whole regimen of secret laws that vested tyrannical, monarchical power in the president (see March 3, 2009). Nobody knew what those secret laws were because even Congress, despite a few lame and meek requests, was denied access to them. What kind of country lives under secret laws?” But, he writes: “If our political class had its way, even the bits and pieces we’ve now seen would continue to be hidden in the dark. Most of the specific individuals who initiated these measures may no longer be in power, but the institutions and the political and media elites who enabled all of it haven’t gone anywhere. They’re now actively working to keep as much as possible concealed and to insist that nothing should be done about any of it.” [Salon, 3/3/2009]
Columnist and international law expert Scott Horton writes of his horror and shock at the nine just-released Bush administration memos from the Justice Department designed to grant President Bush extraordinary executive authority (see March 2, 2009).
'Disappearing Ink' - Horton writes: “Perhaps the most astonishing of these memos was one crafted by University of California at Berkeley law professor John Yoo. He concluded that in wartime, the president was freed from the constraints of the Bill of Rights with respect to anything he chose to label as […] counterterrorism operations inside the United States” (see October 23, 2001, and October 23, 2001). Horton continues: “John Yoo’s Constitution is unlike any other I have ever seen. It seems to consist of one clause: appointing the president as commander in chief. The rest of the Constitution was apparently printed in disappearing ink.”
Timing of Repudiation Proves Bush Officials Found Claims Useful - Horton has no patience with the claims of former Office of Legal Counsel chief Steven Bradbury that the extraordinary powers Yoo attempted to grant Bush were not used very often (see January 15, 2009). “I don’t believe that for a second,” Horton notes, and notes Bradbury’s timing in repudiating the Yoo memos: five days before Bush left office. “Bradbury’s decision to wait to the very end before repealing it suggests that someone in the Bush hierarchy was keen on having it,” Horton asserts.
Serving Multiple Purposes - The memos “clear[ly]” served numerous different purposes, Horton notes. They authorized, or provided legal justification for, the massive domestic surveillance programs launched by military agencies such as the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency (see September 25, 2001). But the memos went much farther, Horton says: “[T]he language of the memos suggest that much more was afoot, including the deployment of military units and military police powers on American soil. These memos suggest that John Yoo found a way to treat the Posse Comitatus Act as suspended.” They also gave Bush the apparent legal grounds to order the torture of people held at secret overseas sites (see March 13, 2002), and to hold accused terrorist Jose Padilla without charge or due process, even though the administration had no evidence whatsoever of the crimes he had been alleged to commit (see June 8, 2002).
American Dictatorship - Horton’s conclusion is stark. “We may not have realized it at the time, but in the period from late 2001-January 19, 2009, this country was a dictatorship,” he writes. “The constitutional rights we learned about in high school civics were suspended. That was thanks to secret memos crafted deep inside the Justice Department that effectively trashed the Constitution. What we know now is likely the least of it.” [Harper's, 3/3/2009]
Legal experts and civil libertarians are “stunned” by the recently released memos from the Bush-era Justice Department which assert sweeping powers for the president not granted by the Constitution (see March 2, 2009 and March 3, 2009). Yale law professor Jack Balkin calls the memos a demonstration of the Bush “theory of presidential dictatorship.” Balkin continues: “They say the battlefield is everywhere. And the president can do anything he wants, so long as it involves the military and the enemy.… These views are outrageous and inconsistent with basic principles of the Constitution as well as with two centuries of legal precedents. Yet they were the basic assumptions of key players in the Bush administration in the days following 9/11.” George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr agrees. “I agree with the left on this one,” he says. The approach in the memos “was simply not a plausible reading of the case law. The Bush [Office of Legal Counsel, or OLC] eventually rejected [the] memos because they were wrong on the law—and they were right to do so” (see January 15, 2009). Balkin says the time period of most of the memos—the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks—merely provided a convenient excuse for the administration’s subversion of the Constitution. “This was a period of panic, and panic creates an opportunity for patriotic politicians to abuse their power,” he says. [Jack Balkin, 3/3/2009; Los Angeles Times, 3/4/2009] Civil litigator and columnist Glenn Greenwald writes that the memos helped provide the foundation for what he calls “the regime of secret laws under which we were ruled for the last eight years… the grotesque blueprint for what the US government became.” [Salon, 3/3/2009] Duke University law professor Walter Dellinger says that, contrary to the memos’ assertion of blanket presidential powers in wartime, Congress has considerable powers during such a time. Congress has, according to the Constitution, “all legislative powers,” including the power “to declare war… and make rules concerning captures on land and water” as well as “regulation of the land and naval forces.” Dellinger, who headed the OLC during the Clinton administration, continues: “You can never get over how bad these opinions were. The assertion that Congress has no role to play with respect to the detention of prisoners was contrary to the Constitution’s text, to judicial precedent, and to historical practice. For people who supposedly follow the text [of the Constitution], what don’t they understand about the phrase ‘make rules concerning captures on land and water’?” [Los Angeles Times, 3/4/2009]
David Rivkin, a lawyer in the Justice Department during the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Rivkin is testifying in regards to committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT)‘s proposal to form a Congressional “Truth Commission” to investigate the Bush administration’s conduct of its “war on terror.” Rivkin, like many other Bush supporters, is opposed to such a commission. He tells the committee: “Yes, mistakes were made. Yes, some bad things happened. But compared with the historical baseline of past wars, the conduct of the United States in the past eight years… has been exemplary.” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) disagrees. He responds, “I would suggest, Mr. Rivkin, that until you know, and we all know, what was done under the Bush administration, you not be so quick to throw other generations of Americans under the bus, and assume that they did worse.” [TPM Muckraker, 3/4/2009]
The US military announces that 12,000 troops will withdraw from Iraq by September 2009. “Two brigade combat teams who were scheduled to redeploy in the next six months, along with enabling forces such as logistics, engineers, and intelligence, will not be replaced,” says a Pentagon spokesman. US forces will also turn over a number of facilities to Iraqi control. Additionally, the remaining 4,000 British soldiers, stationed in southern Iraq, will also depart by that time. The US withdrawal is the first step in President Obama’s announced “drawdown” of troops from Iraq by August 2010 (see February 27, 2009). Major withdrawals will not happen until after Iraq’s national parliamentary elections in December 2009. The “Status of Forces” agreement between the US and Iraq requires all American forces to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011; it also requires US forces out of all major Iraqi cities by the end of June 2009. Even in the face of increasing troop withdrawals, Major General David Perkins, a spokesman for the US command structure in Iraq, says the military is “by no means complacent.” Perkins adds: “We know that al-Qaeda, although greatly reduced in capability and numbers, still is desperate to maintain relevance here.… When al-Qaeda senses that it is under extreme pressure and it is losing momentum, it works very hard to gain relevance and to regain momentum.” The remaining US forces will be redeployed around the country, most likely in areas such as the city of Mosul and Diyala province, both of which contain a still-fierce insurgency. “We will not leave any seams in regards to security,” Perkins says. “We know how to do this. This is not the first time we’ve reduced our forces.” [China Daily, 3/8/2009; Washington Post, 3/9/2009; Daily Telegraph, 3/9/2009]
The head of Canada’s Army, Lieutenant General Andrew Leslie, tells the Canadian Senate that Canada’s Army has been so strained by its participation in the Afghanistan war that it may need a one-year “pause” to regroup and rebuild after Canada withdraws troops from that region in 2011. Canada has suffered disproportionately large losses in Afghanistan in comparison with both American and British troops (see January 4, 2008). According to Leslie, the Canadian Army has suffered huge losses in both personnel and equipment, and is dealing with a shortage of experienced officers and soldiers as well as a shortage of functional armored vehicles and mechanics to effect repairs. “We will always be prepared to carry out our various national and international tasks,” he tells the Senate, but emphasizes the need to rebuild and retool the Army. [Toronto Star, 3/9/2009] General Walter Natynczyk, chief of defense staff of the Canadian Forces, agrees, telling a reporter, “It’s an army that’s undergoing an incredible operational tempo right now.” [CTV, 3/10/2009]
Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate for Iran, and its conclusion that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003, is still valid (see December 3, 2007). Administration officials have issued contradictory opinions in the days before Blair’s testimony (see March 1, 2009 and March 1, 2009). Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) asks Blair: “In 2007, the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran said that ‘the intelligence community judges with high confidence that in the fall of 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.’ Is the position of the intelligence community the same as it was back in October of ‘07? Has that changed?” Blair answers: “Mr. Chairman, the nuclear weapons program is one of the three components required for deliverable system, including the delivery system and the uranium. But as for the nuclear weapons program, the current position is the same, that Iran has stopped its nuclear weapons design and weaponization activities in 2003 and did not—has not started them again, at least as of mid-2007.” [Think Progress, 3/10/2009]
Reporter Seymour Hersh speaking at a 2007 forum on the media in Doha, Qatar. [Source: Reuters / Fadi Al-Assaad / MinnPost (.com)]In a wide-ranging seminar with former Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale and investigative journalist Seymour Hersh at the University of Minnesota, Hersh claims that he has evidence that the US operated what he calls an “executive assassination wing” during the Bush administration, perhaps controlled by the office of then Vice President Dick Cheney. [MinnPost (.com), 3/11/2009] (Hersh will later say he used the word “wing,” but it was widely misreported as “ring” in the media.) [CNN, 3/30/2009] Hersh says he will explain his charges more fully in an upcoming book. When asked about recent instances of a president exceeding his constitutional authority, Hersh gives a response that moves from CIA activities, through the Joint Special Operations Command, to the alleged “assassination wing”: “After 9/11, I haven’t written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet. Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command—JSOC it’s called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him.… Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination wing essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths. Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us. It’s complicated because the guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they are committing what we would normally call murder. It’s a very complicated issue. Because they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you’ve heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized. In many cases, they were the best and the brightest. Really, no exaggerations. Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find themselves torturing people. I’ve had people say to me—five years ago, I had one say: ‘What do you call it when you interrogate somebody and you leave them bleeding and they don’t get any medical committee and two days later he dies. Is that murder? What happens if I get before a committee?’ But they’re not gonna get before a committee.” Mondale says of Cheney and his office that “they ran a government within a government.” Hersh adds, “Eight or nine neoconservatives took over our country.” Mondale notes that the precedents of abuse of vice presidential power by Cheney would remain “like a loaded pistol that you leave on the dining room table.” [MinnPost (.com), 3/11/2009] CIA spokesman George Little responds to Hersh’s allegation by writing: “I saw your story on Seymour Hersh’s recent allegations regarding CIA activities since 9/11. If you wish, you can attribute the quoted portion that follows to me, in name, as a CIA spokesman: ‘This is utter nonsense.’” [MinnPost (.com), 3/12/2009]
Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean says that the allegation of an “executive assassination wing,” as recently made by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh (see March 10, 2009), could well be a war crime if it is true. Both Dean and MSNBC host Keith Olbermann note that if true, Cheney’s actions could well violate a 1976 executive order that states in part, “No employee of the United States government shall engage in or conspire to engage in political assassination.” Dean says: “[F]ighting terrorism is not dealing with tiddlywinks. We want our government to deal with the most effective tools they have. But they also have to be legal. The executive order, really, is nothing more than direction to the executive branch and the presidency is the only one who you can even argue might have the authority to engage in assassinations. It’s an unresolved question. So, it’s potentially a war crime, it’s potentially just outright murder, and it could clearly be in violation of the Ford executive order.” In the same broadcast, author and political analyst Howard Fineman says of Hersh’s report: “In checking around in the intelligence community today, I can say this, you know, Seymour Hersh is somebody they respect. They don’t always trust. But they put it this way, as one of them said to me, ‘Look, I don’t know anything about this specifically at all, but I wouldn’t dismiss what Sy Hersh is saying without checking carefully.’ That’s their backhanded way of saying it’s worth looking into, for sure.” [MSNBC, 3/12/2009]
The New York Review of Books publishes a lengthy article documenting the Red Cross’s hitherto-secret report on US torture practices at several so-called “black sites.” The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a report on “The Black Sites” in February 2007 (see October 6 - December 14, 2006), but that report has remained secret until now. These “black sites” are secret prisons in Thailand, Poland, Afghanistan, Morocco, Romania, and at least three other countries (see October 2001-2004), either maintained directly by the CIA or used by them with the permission and participation of the host countries.
Specific Allegations of Torture by Official Body Supervising Geneva - The report documents the practices used by American guards and interrogators against prisoners, many of which directly qualify as torture under the Geneva Conventions and a number of international laws and statutes. The ICRC is the appointed legal guardian of Geneva, and the official body appointed to supervise the treatment of prisoners of war; therefore, its findings have the force of international law. The practices documented by the ICRC include sleep deprivation, lengthy enforced nudity, subjecting detainees to extensive, intense bombardment of noise and light, repeated immersion in frigid water, prolonged standing and various stress positions—sometimes for days on end—physical beatings, and waterboarding, which the ICRC authors call “suffocation by water.” The ICRC writes that “in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they [the detainees] were subjected while held in the CIA program… constituted torture.” It continues, “In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” Both torture and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” are specifically forbidden by Geneva and the Convention Against Torture, both of which were signed by the US (see October 21, 1994). The 14 “high-value detainees” whose cases are documented in the ICRC report include Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), and Tawfiq bin Attash (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004). All 14 remain imprisoned in Guantanamo. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009 ; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] Based on the ICRC report and his own research, Danner draws a number of conclusions.
The US government began to torture prisoners in the spring of 2002, with the approval of President Bush and the monitoring of top Bush officials, including Attorney General John Ashcroft. The torture, Danner writes, “clearly violated major treaty obligations of the United States, including the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, as well as US law.”
Bush, Ashcroft, and other top government officials “repeatedly and explicitly lied about this, both in reports to international institutions and directly to the public. The president lied about it in news conferences, interviews, and, most explicitly, in speeches expressly intended to set out the administration’s policy on interrogation before the people who had elected him.”
Congress was privy to a large amount of information about the torture conducted under the aegis of the Bush administration. Its response was to pass the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006), which in part was designed to protect government officials from criminal prosecutions under the War Crimes Act.
While Congressional Republicans were primarily responsible for the MCA, Senate Democrats did not try to stop the bill—indeed, many voted for it. Danner blames the failure on its proximity to the November 2006 midterm elections and the Democrats’ fear of being portrayed as “coddlers of terrorists.” He quotes freshman Senator Barack Obama (D-IL): “Soon, we will adjourn for the fall, and the campaigning will begin in earnest. And there will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be criticized as caring more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans. And I know that the vote before us was specifically designed and timed to add more fuel to that fire.” (Obama voted against the MCA, and, when it passed, he said, “[P]olitics won today.”)
The damage done to the US’s reputation, and to what Danner calls “the ‘soft power’ of its constitutional and democratic ideals,” has been “though difficult to quantify, vast and enduring.” Perhaps the largest defeat suffered in the US’s “war on terror,” he writes, has been self-inflicted, by the inestimable loss of credibility in the Muslim world and around the globe. The decision to use torture “undermin[ed] liberal sympathizers of the United States and convinc[ed] others that the country is exactly as its enemies paint it: a ruthless imperial power determined to suppress and abuse Muslims. By choosing to torture, we freely chose to become the caricature they made of us.”
A Need for Investigation and Prosecution - Danner is guardedly optimistic that, under Democratic leadership in the White House and Congress, the US government’s embrace of torture has stopped, and almost as importantly, the authorization and practice of torture under the Bush administration will be investigated, and those responsible will be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. But, he notes, “[i]f there is a need for prosecution there is also a vital need for education. Only a credible investigation into what was done and what information was gained can begin to alter the political calculus around torture by replacing the public’s attachment to the ticking bomb with an understanding of what torture is and what is gained, and lost, when the United States reverts to it.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Abu Zubaida, New York Review of Books, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, John Ashcroft, International Committee of the Red Cross, Mark Danner
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that the Obama administration’s policies endanger America, and defends his administration’s actions, including warrantless wiretapping, torture of suspected terrorists, and its economic policies. Using torture against suspected terrorists and wiretapping Americans without court orders were both “absolutely essential” to get information needed to prevent terrorist attacks similar to that of 9/11, Cheney tells a CNN audience, though he does not use the word “torture.” But Obama’s new policies are putting America at risk, he says: “President Obama campaigned against it all across the country, and now he is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack.”
'Pre-9/11 Mindset' - Cheney says to return to a pre-9/11 mindset of treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue, rather than a military problem, is a mistake: “When you go back to the law enforcement mode, which I sense is what they’re doing, closing Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009) and so forth… they are very much giving up that center of attention and focus that’s required, that concept of military threat that is essential if you’re going to successfully defend the nation against further attacks.” Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA), appearing after Cheney, counters Cheney’s arguments, saying that the Bush/Cheney policies undercut “what is actually the source of America’s greatness—our principles.” Sestak asks, “How can we say that keeping a man in a black hole forever—perpetually in a black hole—and saying, ‘Let’s torture when we decide to,’ is what America stands for?” Sestak is a retired admiral who led the Navy’s anti-terrorism efforts.
Iraq a Success - As for Iraq, Cheney says that while his administration had to spend more money than it had anticipated, and although over 4,200 US soldiers have lost their lives fighting in that country, the invasion and occupation of Iraq is an almost-unvarnished success. The US has “accomplished nearly everything we set out to do” in Iraq, including establishing a democratic government in the Middle East, Cheney says. Cheney answers questions about the threat of supposed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction by saying, “We’ve eliminated that possibility.” Sestak disagrees, saying the problems the Bush/Cheney policies in Iraq created have overshadowed the “whole fabric” of US national security: “The cost of this war is something that I strongly believe has far, far hurt us. We’re going to recover, because we’re Americans. But Iraq was just one piece of our security, and this administration failed to realize that.”
Opposition to Hill as Iraqi Ambassador - Cheney says he does not support the Obama administration’s choice of Christopher Hill as the ambassador to Iraq (see March 18, 2009). Hill successfully concluded negotiations with North Korea during the last years of the Bush administration, but Cheney repudiates his accomplishments. “I did not support the work that Chris Hill did with respect to North Korea,” he says, and adds that Hill lacks the Middle East experience necessary for him to represent the US in Baghdad. “I think it’s a choice that I wouldn’t have made,” he says. [CNN, 3/15/2009]
Journalist and author Mark Danner, who has just published a lengthy examination of torture under Bush administration policies (see March 15, 2009), says as long as the press continues to dodge the use of the word “torture,” the country will continue to have trouble coming to grips with the issues surrounding the policies. Danner, appearing on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, says the press continues to engage in a “semantic debate” over whether the US committed torture under the Bush administration. “One can continue to talk about torture is in the eye of the beholder, etc., etc., but frankly, nobody of any legal reputation believes that,” says Danner. Danner adds he is “frustrated by the practices of the press” that are “interfering with a clear debate.” Danner says: “I think the definitional question is extremely important, and… I think it’s extremely important to get by it already. We’re debilitated in that by some degree by the practices of the American press, frankly, which is that as long as the president or people in power continue to cling to a definition that they assert is the truth—as President Bush did when it came to torture, he said repeatedly the United States does not torture—the press feels obliged to report that and consider the matter as a question of debate.” [Think Progress, 3/17/2009]
Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff and now chairs the New America Foundation/US-Cuba 21st Century Policy Initiative, writes an op-ed titled “Some Truths about Guantanamo Bay” for the Washington Note. Wilkerson explains why he believes so many people were captured and so many of those were tortured, for so little gain, and in the process covers several other issues regarding the Bush administration.
Handling of Terror Suspects - Wilkerson writes that the entire process of capturing, detaining, and processing suspected Islamist militants was marked by incompetence and a casual, improvisational approach. Most of the “suspects” captured during the first weeks and months of the Afghanistan invasion (see October 7, 2001) were merely picked up in sweeps, or bought from corrupt regional warlords, and transported wholesale to a variety of US bases and military camps, and then sent to Guantanamo, mostly in response to then-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s exhortation to “just get the b_stards to the interrogators.” Wilkerson blames the civilian leadership, for failing to provide the necessary information and guidance to make sensible, informed decisions about who should and should not have been considered either terror suspects or potential sources of information. When detainees were found not to have had any ties to Islamist radical groups, nor had any real intelligence value, they were kept at Guantanamo instead of being released. Wilkerson writes that “to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership from virtually day one of the so-called Global War on Terror and these leaders already had black marks enough.… They were not about to admit to their further errors at Guantanamo Bay. Better to claim that everyone there was a hardcore terrorist, was of enduring intelligence value, and would return to jihad if released.” He writes that State Department attempts to rectify the situation “from almost day one” experienced almost no success.
Data Mining Called for Large Numbers of Detainees - Wilkerson notes what he calls “ad hoc intelligence philosophy that was developed to justify keeping many of these people,” a data mining concept called in the White House “the mosaic philosophy.” He explains: “Simply stated, this philosophy held that it did not matter if a detainee were innocent. Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance (this general philosophy, in an even cruder form, prevailed in Iraq as well, helping to produce the nightmare at Abu Ghraib). All that was necessary was to extract everything possible from him and others like him, assemble it all in a computer program, and then look for cross-connections and serendipitous incidentals—in short, to have sufficient information about a village, a region, or a group of individuals, that dots could be connected and terrorists or their plots could be identified. Thus, as many people as possible had to be kept in detention for as long as possible to allow this philosophy of intelligence gathering to work. The detainees’ innocence was inconsequential. After all, they were ignorant peasants for the most part and mostly Muslim to boot.” Unfortunately for this data mining effort, the gathering, cataloging, and maintenance of such information was carried out with what he calls “sheer incompetence,” rendering the information structure virtually useless either for intelligence or in prosecuting terror suspects.
No Information of Value Gained from Guantanamo Detainees - And, Wilkerson adds, he is not aware of any information gathered from Guantanamo detainees that made any real contribution to the US’s efforts to combat terrorism: “This is perhaps the most astounding truth of all, carefully masked by men such as Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney in their loud rhetoric—continuing even now in the case of Cheney—about future attacks thwarted, resurgent terrorists, the indisputable need for torture and harsh interrogation, and for secret prisons and places such as Gitmo.”
Hindrance to Prosecution - This incompetence in gathering and storing information had a powerful impact on the ability of the US to prosecute the two dozen or so detainees who actually might be what Wilkerson calls “hardcore terrorists.” For these and the other detainees, he writes, “there was virtually no chain of custody, no disciplined handling of evidence, and no attention to the details that almost any court system would demand” (see January 20, 2009).
Shutting Down Guantanamo - Wilkerson writes that the Guantanamo detention facility could be shut down much sooner than President Obama’s promised year (see January 22, 2009), and notes he believes a plan for shutting down the facility must have existed “[a]s early as 2004 and certainly in 2005.”
War on Terror Almost Entirely Political - Wilkerson charges that the Bush administration’s driving rationale behind the “never-ending war on terror” was political: “For political purposes, they knew it certainly had no end within their allotted four to eight years,” he writes in an op-ed about the US’s detention policies. “Moreover, its not having an end, properly exploited, would help ensure their eight rather than four years in office.”
Cheney's Criticisms of Obama 'Twisted ... Fear-Mongering' - Wilkerson excoriates former Vice President Dick Cheney for his recent statements regarding President Obama and the “war on terror” (see February 4, 2009). Instead of helping the US in its fight against al-Qaeda and Islamic terrorism, Wilkerson writes, Cheney is making that fight all the more difficult (see February 5, 2009). “Al-Qaeda has been hurt, badly, largely by our military actions in Afghanistan and our careful and devastating moves to stymie its financial support networks. But al-Qaeda will be back. Iraq, Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, heavily-biased US support for Israel, and a host of other strategic errors have insured al-Qaeda’s resilience, staying power, and motivation. How we deal with the future attacks of this organization and its cohorts could well seal our fate, for good or bad. Osama bin Laden and his brain trust, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are counting on us to produce the bad. With people such as Cheney assisting them, they are far more likely to succeed.” [Washington Note, 3/17/2009]
Greg Gutfeld of Fox’s ‘Red Eye’ during the March 17 broadcast. [Source: CTV]The host and panelists on Fox News’s satirical news show Red Eye devote a segment of their broadcast to mocking and denigrating Canadian soldiers’ service in Afghanistan. Canadian soldiers have died in disproportionately higher numbers than either their US or British counterparts (see January 4, 2008), and the head of the Canadian Army, Lieutenant General Andrew Leslie, has recently testified as to the terrific strain that service has placed on the military branch (see March 9, 2009), facts the Red Eye panelists do not share with their audience. (Progressive media watchdog site News Hounds will note than none of the Red Eye panelists have themselves served in the military of any country.) Red Eye host Greg Gutfeld opens the segment by mocking Leslie’s name, observing that “Leslie” is “an unusual name for a man.” He then says that the Canadian military would prefer to “do some yoga, paint landscapes, run on the beach in gorgeous white capri pants.” Gutfeld then asks panelist Doug Benson, “Isn’t this the perfect time to invade this ridiculous country?” Benson retorts, “I didn’t even know that they [Canada] were in the war,” and notes that he thought of Canada as a nation where people went to avoid fighting. Gutfeld asks, “Would Canada be able to get away with this if they didn’t share a border with the most powerful country in the universe?” Panelist Bill Schulz answers: “No, they probably wouldn’t. Does this surprise any of us? We have police officers and they have Mounties. Our cops ride heavily armored cars. They ride horses. We have bullet-proof vests. They have wonderful little red jackets that can be seen a mile away. This is not a smart culture, Greg.” [News Hounds, 3/22/2009; Canada National Post, 3/23/2009]
Canadian Outrage - The video quickly becomes well known after four Canadian soldiers die in two separate explosions near Kandahar, and many Canadians respond with indignation and outrage. Toronto’s National Star calls the remarks “shockingly ignorant.” Dan Dugas, a spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, says: “We want an apology from this so-called comedian [Gutfeld] and his panel. These are despicable, hurtful, and ignorant comments. No one is laughing and they owe Canada, and more importantly the families of each one of our fallen heroes, an apology for their ill-informed mistakes.” Steve Staples of Ottowa’s Rideau Institute calls the performance a “shameful display” at the expense of Canadian families who have lost family members, and adds, “The dismissal of Canadian efforts in Afghanistan simply rubs salt in the wounds of Canadian families whose sons and daughters have been injured or killed in the war.” MP Denis Coderre calls the performance “a disgrace.” [Canada National Post, 3/23/2009]
Apology - Days after the broadcast, Gutfeld e-mails an apology. He says the segment “was in no way an attempt to make light of troop efforts,” and adds: “I realize that my words may have been misunderstood. It was not my intent to disrespect the brave men, women, and families of the Canadian military, and for that I apologize. Red Eye is a satirical take on the news, in which all topics are addressed in a lighthearted, humorous, and ridiculous manner.” Gutfeld had made a statement on Twitter hours before that read, “My apologies to the Canadian military, they probably could at least beat the Belgians.” [Canada National Post, 3/23/2009]
Entity Tags: Fox News, Dan Dugas, Canadian Ministry of National Defense, Doug Benson, Canadian Forces Land Force Command, Andrew Leslie, Steve Staples, Greg Gutfeld, Bill Schulz, Denis Coderre
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, War in Afghanistan
Senior White House and Pentagon officials tell the New York Times that President Obama is expected to approve a Pentagon plan to vastly expand Afghanistan’s security forces to about 400,000 troops and national police officers: more than twice the forces’ current size. The officials say the plan is part of a broader Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy to fill a void left by the weak central government and to do more to promote stability. The new proposal would authorize a doubling of the army to 260,000 soldiers in addition to around 140,000 police officers, commandos, and border guards. The Times notes that presently the army has 90,000 troops and the Afghan National Police numbers about 80,000 officers.
Program Costs a Concern for Administration Officials - The Times reports that members of Obama’s national security team appeared taken aback by the cost projections which dwarf the budget currently provided to the Afghan government; cost projections to establish and train the forces range from $10 billion to $20 billion over the next six or seven years, and officials have yet to determine costs to sustain the security forces over the long term. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, endorses the goal and justifies the costs of expanding Afghan security forces saying, “The cost is relatively small compared to the cost of not doing it—of having Afghanistan either disintegrate, or fall into the hands of the Taliban, or look as though we are dominating it.”
Concerns over the Power of an Expanded Security Force Dismissed - The former commander of American and coalition forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005, Lieutenant General David Barno, now the director of Near East and South Asian security studies at National Defense University, dismisses concerns that either the Afghan army or the Ministry of Defense would challenge the authority of the central government in Kabul. Other military analysts cite Pakistan, Egypt, and Turkey as models where the United States supports civilian governments in which military and security forces are at least as powerful as those governments. [New York Times, 3/18/2009]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Obama administration, Carl Levin, Afghan National Army, Afghan Ministry of Defense, Afghan Government, Afghan National Police, Afghan National Security Forces, Hamid Karzai, Barack Obama, David Barno
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Many top US military commanders in the Middle East are distressed at Senate Republicans’ efforts to block Christopher Hill’s attempt to become the next US ambassador to Iraq. Hill, who was largely successful in crafting a nuclear non-proliferation agreement with North Korea (see Spring and Summer 2005 and February 8, 2007 and After), is being blocked by the efforts of Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
Republican Opprobrium - Brownback calls Hill’s past dealings with Congress over North Korea “evasive and unprofessional”; McCain and Graham have said that Hill has a “controversial legacy” on North Korea, and added: “The next ambassador should have experience in the Middle East and in working closely with the US military in counterinsurgency or counterterrorism operations. Mr. Hill has neither.”
Military Wants Hill Confirmed - But CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus, top Iraq commander General Raymond Odierno, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates want Hill in the slot as soon as possible. Odierno says he has served as de facto ambassador since the previous ambassador, Ryan Crocker, left the position on February 13. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says: “Generals Odierno and Petraeus have come out very publicly and very forcefully in support of Ambassador Hill’s nomination. I know they support it. They know him from previous assignments, they like him, they believe he is well suited to the job, and are anxiously awaiting his confirmation because they do need help, frankly.… Everybody involved with Iraq wants to find a way to replicate that arrangement,” referring to the effective interaction between Generals Odierno and Petraeus and former Ambassador Crocker. “So that you have an even yoke that on the civilian/diplomatic side and on the military side which share the burden and are working together to get the job done. It’s what’s in the best interest of the Iraqi people and the American people. With regards to [Senate] members who have issue with him, I would say this. We appreciate their steadfast support of the Iraq mission. But you can’t be bullish in support of that mission and not send an ambassador in a timely fashion.”
Difficult, Myriad Tasks in New Position - Hill faces a difficult job: political stabilization and economic development have taken precedence over military missions in Iraq; tensions between Arabs and Kurds are heightening; sectarian groups are struggling for political dominance; and national elections are approaching. A Washington official says that keeping a lid on such political tensions is “crucial to consolidating the security gains from the surge, yet the advocates of the surge want to slow down the process of getting an ambassador to Iraq.” Retired General William Nash, who commanded US troops in Bosnia, says: “I would not at all be surprised if military commanders in Iraq are frustrated that they don’t have a new ambassador in position. The issues are far more political and economic than they are military and US efforts need to move forward on those fronts. That’s particularly critical in the execution of the withdrawal plan.”
Political Retribution? - Asked why McCain, Brownback, and Graham are blocking Hill’s appointment, Nash says the three are “being difficult to be difficult. I have known Chris Hill for 14 years. He is a wonderful diplomat and exactly the kind of guy we need in Iraq.” Crocker has spoken out in favor of Hill, as has Richard Lugar (R-IN), the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. So have former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and former US ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, who join in writing a letter that reads in part: “We need his experience during this crucial time in Iraq. His previous experiences will serve him greatly when addressing extreme challenges in Iraq.” A Democratic Senate staffer says, “This is all about retribution.” Conservatives blame Hill for nudging Bush’s second term North Korea policy towards multi-party talks, and thusly, “[t]hey want to give Hill a black eye.” Noting that these same Republican senators have argued that Iraq is a central element in America’s national security, the staffer asks, “Why are they d_cking around and not putting an ambassador in there if Iraq is so important?” [Foreign Policy, 3/18/2009]
Entity Tags: Raymond Odierno, John McCain, Geoff Morrell, David Petraeus, Lindsey Graham, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, US Central Command, Robert M. Gates, Ryan C. Crocker, William Nash, Samuel Brownback, John Negroponte, Richard Lugar
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
Condoleezza Rice on the Charlie Rose show. [Source: PBS]Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tells PBS’s Charlie Rose that “no one” in the White House ever asserted that Saddam Hussein had any connections to 9/11. Rose says, “But you didn’t believe [the Hussein regime] had anything to do with 9/11.” Rice replies: “No. No one was arguing that Saddam Hussein somehow had something to do with 9/11.… I was certainly not. The president was certainly not.… That’s right. We were not arguing that.” Rice refuses to answer Rose’s question asking if former Vice President Dick Cheney ever tried to make the connection. In reality, former President Bush and his top officials, including Cheney and Rice, worked diligently to reinforce a connection between Iraq and 9/11 in the public mind before the March 2003 invasion (see (Between 10:30 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, Mid-September, 2001, September 17, 2001, September 19, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 28, 2001, November 6-8, 2001, December 9, 2001, 2002-March 2003, March 19, 2002, June 21, 2002, July 25, 2002, August 2002, August 20, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 16, 2002, September 21, 2002, September 25, 2002, September 26, 2002, September 27, 2002, September 28, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 15, 2002, December 2, 2002, December 12, 2002, January 26, 2003, January 28, 2003, Early February 2003, February 5, 2003, (2:30 a.m.-9:00 a.m.) February 5, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 6, 2003, February 11 or 12, 2003, and February 17, 2003). [Think Progress, 3/19/2009]
President Barack Obama releases a video message directed at Iran. The White House sends the message to commemorate the Iranian holiday of Nowruz, or “New Day,” the Iranian New Year. Obama begins by lauding the history and culture of the Iranian people. He acknowledges that the US and Iran continue to have strained and difficult relations, but says, “[A]t this holiday we are reminded of the common humanity that binds us together.” Obama promises that the US will work to build a strong relationship through honest, respectful diplomacy. To Iran’s governmental leaders, he says: “You, too, have a choice. The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right—but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization. And the measure of that greatness is not the capacity to destroy, it is your demonstrated ability to build and create.” He concludes by quoting a famous Iranian poet and giving holiday greetings in Farsi: “I know that this won’t be reached easily. There are those who insist that we be defined by our differences. But let us remember the words that were written by the poet Saadi, so many years ago: ‘The children of Adam are limbs to each other, having been created of one essence.’ With the coming of a new season, we’re reminded of this precious humanity that we all share. And we can once again call upon this spirit as we seek the promise of a new beginning. Thank you, and Eid-eh Shoma Mobarak [Happy New Year].” [White House, 3/19/2009; White House, 3/19/2009; Washington Post, 3/20/2009]
'Groundbreaking' Message May Force Iranian Hardliners to Give Ground - Reaction to the message is mixed. The New York Times calls the message “groundbreaking,” and notes that Obama’s use of the proper name of the country—“The Islamic Republic of Iran”—acknowledges the nation’s theological governance in a respectful manner not done by members of the Bush administration and, the Washington Post observes, “signaling an apparent break from President George W. Bush’s unstated promotion of a change of leadership.” Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel, says of the message: “That wording is designed to demonstrate acceptance of the government of Iran. The message is dripping with sincerity and directly addresses one of the things they are most concerned about.” Iranian officials acknowledge the message, but say that Obama’s actions must live up to his words, and past grievances, such as the US 1988 downing of an Iranian airliner, must be redressed. A senior government official, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, says: “This cannot only be done by us, we cannot simply forget what the US did to our nation. They need to perceive what wrong orientation they had and make serious efforts to make up for it.” A former Iranian ambassador to France, Sadegh Kharrazi, says: “Obama had no practical suggestion that we can work with. This is a lost opportunity.” But Iranian-American expert Karim Sadjadpour says that Obama’s message will force the Iranian government to, in the words of the Times, “put up or shut up on prospects for better relations with the United States.” Sadjadpour says: “What this message does is, it puts the hard-liners in a difficult position, because where the Bush administration united disparate Iranian political leaders against a common threat, what Obama is doing is accentuating the cleavages in Iran. It makes the hard-liners look increasingly like they are the impediment.” [New York Times, 3/20/2009; Washington Post, 3/20/2009]
Neoconservative: Obama 'Kowtowing' to Iranian Government - Neoconservative William Kristol deplores the message, calling it little more than a “message of weakness” and criticizing Obama for not calling on the Iranian government to emphasize “liberty,” “freedom,” “democracy,” and “human rights.” Kristol writes, “[W]hat’s distinctive about Obama’s statement is his respect for the ‘leaders,’ the clerical dictatorship,” to whom Obama is “kowtowing.” Kristol deplores Obama’s failure to echo the Bush administration’s call for regime change in Iran, and criticizes Obama’s failure to call for an end to Iran’s nuclear program. “Obama doesn’t believe in threats,” Kristol writes. “He believes that we should speak nicely to our enemies, and carry no stick.” [Weekly Standard, 3/30/2009]
Israeli President Shimon Peres issues a special message to the Iranian people, in time to commemorate the Iranian holiday of Nowruz. Peres sends his message just minutes after US President Obama sent his own video message to Iran (see March 19, 2009). Unlike Obama, Peres refuses to address the Iranian government, but issues his message directly to the Iranian people, and adopts a far less conciliatory tone than the American leader. He tells the Iranians: “Unfortunately, the relations between our two countries have hit a low point, stemming from ideas that compel your leaders to act in every possible way against the state of Israel and its people. But I am convinced that the day is not far off when our two nations will restore good neighborly relations and cooperation in thriving in every way.” Peres continues: “Things in Iran are tough. There is great unemployment, corruption, a lot of drugs, and a general discontent? You can’t feed your children enriched uranium, they need a real breakfast. It cannot be that the money is invested in enriched uranium and the children are told to remain a little hungry, a little ignorant. [I suggest] you don’t listen to [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, it is impossible to preserve a whole nation on incitement and hatred, the people will become tired of it.… I see the suffering of the children and ask myself, why? [Iran] is such a rich country with such a rich culture, why do they allow a handful of religious fanatics take the worst possible path, both in the eyes of God and in the eyes of man?” Peres then encourages the Iranian people to overthrow their own government: “It is impossible to preserve a whole nation on incitement and hatred. I think that the Iranian people will topple these leaders, these leaders who don’t serve the people—in the end the people will realize that.” Some of Peres’s message is recorded in Farsi, and the message is broadcast on Israel’s Radio Farsi, which has a large audience in the Middle East. [Washington Post, 3/20/2009; Ha'aretz, 3/21/2009] The neoconservatives of the Weekly Standard applaud Peres’s speech, writing, “Now that’s how a president should be speaking to the prisoners of the Mullahcracy.” [Weekly Standard, 3/20/2009]
American Delta Force commandos in Afghanistan reportedly net a “high ranking al-Qaeda official” in a secret raid that leaves five people dead, upsetting German military officials and intelligence sources who later tell Der Spiegel magazine that the US forces are actually used by a drug clan to execute an underworld rival. The secret raid, which the Germans describe as “unilateral,” takes place in Kunduz province where German forces are assisting with security and reconstruction. According to the Der Spiegel report, the operation commences when a US liaison officer asks a German reconstruction team to guard the Kunduz airport without informing the Germans of the impending operation. A Hercules transport aircraft then lands at the airfield together with a fleet of combat and transport helicopters, which then take off for the nearby town of Imam Sahib. There, the American commandos reportedly storm a guesthouse owned by the local mayor, killing his driver, cook, bodyguard, and two of his guests. According to the US military, one of those captured is the target of the operation, a “high-ranking” member of al-Qaeda, but Der Spiegel reports that the tip-off to the person’s location comes from a source in a rival drug clan close to a member of the Afghan government reputed to be deeply involved in the drug trade. High-ranking German commanders in Afghanistan are later understood to have alerted Der Spiegel to the mission and intelligence sources explain how the Americans are “set up.” There will be no immediate comment from the American military regarding the allegations. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 3/30/2009; Daily Telegraph, 3/30/2009]
President Obama disagrees with recent statements from former Vice President Dick Cheney that his administration’s policies are endangering America (see February 4, 2009 and March 15, 2009). “I fundamentally disagree with Dick Cheney—not surprisingly,” Obama tells CBS reporter Steve Kroft. “I think that Vice President Cheney has been at the head of a movement whose notion is somehow that we can’t reconcile our core values, our Constitution, our belief that we don’t torture, with our national security interests. I think he’s drawing the wrong lesson from history. [CNN, 3/22/2009; CBS News, 3/22/2009] The facts don’t bear him out.” Cheney “is eager to defend a legacy that was unsustainable,” Obama says, and notes that Cheney’s politics reflect a mindset that “has done incredible damage to our image and position in the world.” [Raw Story, 3/22/2009; CBS News, 3/22/2009] In response to Cheney’s advocacy of extreme interrogation methods—torture—of suspected terrorists, Obama asks: “How many terrorists have actually been brought to justice under the philosophy that is being promoted by Vice President Cheney? It hasn’t made us safer. What it has been is a great advertisement for anti-American sentiment.” [Politico, 3/21/2009; CBS News, 3/22/2009] “The whole premise of Guantanamo promoted by Vice President Cheney was that, somehow, the American system of justice was not up to the task of dealing with these terrorists,” Obama continues. “This is the legacy that’s been left behind and, you know, I’m surprised that the vice president is eager to defend a legacy that was unsustainable. Let’s assume that we didn’t change these practices. How long are we going to go? Are we going to just keep on going until, you know, the entire Muslim world and Arab world despises us? Do we think that’s really going to make us safer? I don’t know a lot of thoughtful thinkers, liberal or conservative, who think that was the right approach.” [Raw Story, 3/22/2009; CBS News, 3/22/2009]
Conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly writes an op-ed that claims, apparently sarcastically, that former Vice President Cheney would have had reporters assassinated if he really controlled a military assassination squad. Responding to the allegations by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh that Cheney controlled an “executive assassination wing” (see March 10, 2009), O’Reilly writes: “The other day, left-wing muckraker Seymour Hersh went on MSNBC and said he had information, provided by the usual anonymous sources, that Dick Cheney was running an assassination squad out of the White House. I have but one simple observation: If Cheney really had such a crew, Hersh would have been dead a long time ago, and so would most everybody at MSNBC.” [Boston Herald, 3/22/2009; Think Progress, 3/22/2009]
NATO wants to grow the Afghan National Army (ANA) from a force of 80,000 to 270,000 by 2016, an effort described as the heart of Afghan nation-building. “We’re building an army on an industrial scale,” British Brigadier Neil Baverstock tells The Atlantic correspondent Robert Kaplan. This target closely resembles Pentagon proposals for massively increased ANA numbers (see March 18, 2009), but has not been publicly mentioned or explicitly endorsed by the Obama Administration (see March 27, 2009) or NATO (see April 4, 2009). Kaplan reports that the American military is leading an effort to establish the Afghan equivalents of West Point and the National Defense University, in addition to basic training and advanced combat schools, a noncommissioned officer academy, an officer candidate school, and a counterinsurgency academy.
Brain Drain and the Threat of Future Coups - Kaplan writes that the budding Afghan military complex threatens to funnel Afghanistan’s educated elite away from civilian and government jobs, thus weakening the state’s capacity to maintain authority and control over the security forces. He suggests that this equation in Afghanistan increases the risk of the country facing African and Latin American-style coups in the future. When this possibility is raised with American generals, they tell Kaplan that the threat of a coup is a risk worth taking if it means more stability in the short term.
Afghan Public Protection Program - While the coalition builds an army from the top down, they also hope to improve security in the provinces and villages from the bottom up through the Afghan Public Protection Program (APPFP). American Brig. Gen. Mark Milley explains that the program recruits, trains, and arms locals across tribal and ethnic lines, making them answerable to provincial governors. A pilot APPFP is being developed in Wardak province, just south of Kabul. Kaplan notes that Wardak’s pro-American governor, Mohammed [Halim] Fidai, is one of a group of governors with whom the Americans are working, in effect, “to circumvent total reliance on Karzai.” [The Atlantic, 3/24/2009]
Logo for the Foreign Policy Initiative. [Source: Foreign Policy Initiative]Neoconservatives form a new think tank to rehabilitate their image and regain some of the influence they had under the Bush administration, according to news reports. The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) is headed by Weekly Standard publisher William Kristol, foreign policy consultant Robert Kagan, and former Bush administration official Dan Senor. Its first activity will be to sponsor a March 31 conference (see March 31, 2009) pushing for a US “surge” in Afghanistan similar to the one Kagan helped plan for Iraq (see January 2007).
Successor to PNAC - Many see the FPI as the logical successor to Kristol and Kagan’s previous neoconservative organization, the now-defunct Project for the New American Century (PNAC—see January 26, 1998). PNAC’s membership roll included many prominent Bush administration officials, including then-Vice President Dick Cheney and the Defense Department’s top two officials, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz.
Employees - Information about FPI’s creation is initially sketchy, with the organization deliberately avoiding media attention. Two of its three listed staff members, Jamie Fly and Christian Whiton, are former Bush administration officials, while the third, Rachel Hoff, last worked for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Mission Statement; Conflict with China, Russia - FPI’s mission statement says that the “United States remains the world’s indispensable nation,” and warns that “strategic overreach is not the problem and retrenchment is not the solution” to Washington’s current financial and strategic woes. It calls for “continued engagement—diplomatic, economic, and military—in the world and rejection of policies that would lead us down the path to isolationism.” The statement lists a number of threats to US security, including “rogue states,” “failed states,” “autocracies,” and “terrorism,” but focuses primarily on the “challenges” posed by “rising and resurgent powers,” of which only China and Russia are named. Kagan has argued that the 21st century will be dominated by an apocalyptic struggle between the forces of democracy, led by the US, and the forces of autocracy, led by China and Russia. He has called for the establishment of a League of Democracies to oppose China and Russia; the FPI statement stresses the need for “robust support for America’s democratic allies.” Apparently, confrontation with China and Russia will be the centerpiece of FPI’s foreign policy stance, a similar position to that taken by the Bush administration before the 9/11 attacks.
Reactions to New Think Tank - Steven Clemons of the New America Foundation says: “This reminds me of the Project for the New American Century. Like PNAC, it will become a watering hole for those who want to see an ever-larger US military machine and who divide the world between those who side with right and might and those who are evil or who would appease evil.” Reporters Daniel Luban and Jim Lobe write, “[T]he formation of FPI may be a sign that its founders hope once again to incubate a more aggressive foreign policy during their exile from the White House, in preparation for the next time they return to political power.” [Inter Press Service, 3/25/2009]
Entity Tags: Jim Lobe, Dan Senor, Christian Whiton, Daniel Luban, Jamie Fly, Rachel Hoff, Steve Clemons, Foreign Policy Initiative, Project for the New American Century, William Kristol, Robert Kagan
Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) releases a report that says the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq by the end of 2011 (see February 27, 2009) will be a “massive and expensive effort” that is likely to increase, rather than lower, Iraq-related spending for several years. The GAO report finds, “Although reducing troops would appear to lower costs,” withdrawals from previous conflicts have shown that costs often rise in the short term. The price of equipment repairs and replacements, along with closing or turning over 283 US military installations in Iraq, “will likely be significant,” the report finds. Even smaller bases will take up to two months to close, and the largest facilities, such as Balad Air Base, with 24,000 soldiers and support personnel, may take up to 18 months to shut down. The report also notes uncertainties surrounding civilian security, issues surrounding the US Embassy in Baghdad, and the Iraqi government’s ability to sustain basic services and infrastructure. Currently, the US Army plans on withdrawing eight of the 14 brigades deployed in Iraq by August 2010. All US forces are to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. [Washington Post, 3/25/2009]
The US places a $5 million bounty on the head of militant leader Sirajuddin Haqqani. Haqqani has been slowly taking over leadership of the Haqqani network from his aging father Jalaluddin Haqqani. The Haqqani network is a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban and is based in Pakistan. The US State Department announcement of the bounty claims that Sirajuddin Haqqani “maintains close ties to al-Qaeda,” and it further claims that he admitted planning a January 2008 attack on a hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, that killed six people, including a US citizen (see January 14, 2008), and he also admitted planning the April 2008 assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai (see April 27, 2008). [US Department of State, 3/25/2009] However, the US has yet to officially blacklist the Haqqani network itself. Nor has the US put a bounty on Jalaluddin Haqqani, even though he continues to lead the network with Sirajuddin. US intelligence believes the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, has long-standing links to the Haqqani network, and to Jalaluddin Haqqani in particular (see July 28, 2008).
The New York Times reports that there is fresh evidence the Pakistani government supports many Islamist militant groups who are fighting US forces. Pakistani support for militants has mainly run through the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency.
US Pressure Not Effective - Shortly after Asif Ali Zardari became president of Pakistan in September 2008 (see September 9, 2008), he faced accusations by the US that the ISI helped the militants bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008 and July 28, 2008). Zardari promised that the ISI would be “handled” and anyone working with militants would be fired. Some top ISI officials were replaced, including ISI Director Nadeem Taj (see September 30, 2008). However, many US and even Pakistani officials have since complained to the Times that there has been little effect seen. The Times reports that “new details reveal that the spy agency is aiding a broader array of militant networks with more diverse types of support than was previously known—even months after Pakistani officials said that the days of the ISI’s playing a ‘double game’ had ended.”
The Mysterious S Wing - US officials say that it is unlikely that the highest ranking Pakistani officials are managing relationships with militants. Instead, most of the contacts are done by the S Wing of the ISI. Very little is publicly known about the S Wing. [New York Times, 3/26/2009] However, a later Times article will note, “Pakistani military officials give the spy service’s ‘S Wing’—which runs external operations against the Afghan government and India—broad autonomy, a buffer that allows top military officials deniability.” [New York Times, 7/26/2010] The groups S Wing is believed to support include:
The Taliban. Taliban leaders are believed to be given safe haven in the Pakistani town of Quetta.
The Haqqani network. This is a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban, based in Pakistan’s tribal region. Its leader is Jalaluddin Haqqani, who has been an ISI asset since the 1980s.
The Gulbuddin Hekmatyar network. Like the Haqqani network, Hekmatyar’s network is based in Pakistan but attacks US forces in Afghanistan in alliance with Taliban forces.
Lashkar-e-Taiba. This Pakistani militant group is not very active in Afghanistan, but it has been linked to a number of attacks, including the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India.
The ISI’s S Wing gives these groups funding, training, protection, and intelligence. The groups are tipped off to planned US drone strikes and other attacks. S Wing operatives even search radical madrassas (boarding schools) in Pakistan to find new recruits for the groups. Most shockingly, ISI officials regularly sit in on meetings of Taliban leaders and other militant leaders and help decide strategy. This practice has become so widely known that in recent months, the British government has repeatedly asked the ISI to use its influence with the Taliban to scale back attacks in Afghanistan before the August presidential elections there.
Opposition to Tehrik-i-Taliban - Not all militants are supported, however. For instance, the Pakistani government generally opposes the Tehrik-i-Taliban (also known as the Pakistani Taliban), even though it is linked to the Taliban and other groups Pakistan does support, because this group has the goal of overthrowing Pakistan’s government. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair recently told US senators, “There are some [groups the Pakistani government] believe have to be hit and that we should cooperate on hitting, and there are others they think don’t constitute as much of a threat to them and that they think are best left alone.”
Pakistan's Reasoning - Publicly, Pakistan denies all support for militant groups. But privately, unnamed Pakistani officials tell the Times that “the contacts were less threatening than the American officials depicted and were part of a strategy to maintain influence in Afghanistan for the day when American forces would withdraw and leave what they fear could be a power vacuum to be filled by India, Pakistan’s archenemy.” One official says that Pakistan needs groups like the Taliban as “proxy forces to preserve our interests.” [New York Times, 3/26/2009]
President Obama formally announces his administration’s war strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, explicitly linking the two countries in a shared threat assessment requiring a comprehensive regional approach that commits US police and army trainers to Afghanistan, promises an enlargement of Afghan Security Forces, and a requests a boost in funding for Pakistan. The president specifically announces a deployment of 4,000 US troops to train Afghan Army and Police while calling for an accelerated effort to enlarge these forces to an army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000. The Interagency Policy Group White Paper on the strategy suggests the build-up of Afghan Security Force numbers is only a first step. “Initially this will require a more rapid build-up of the Afghan Army and police up to 134,000 and 82,000 over the next two years, with additional enlargements as circumstances and resources warrant,” reads the paper. [The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 3/27/2009; Interagency Policy Group, 3/27/2009 ] The New York Times, reporting a day in advance of the announcement, notes that the new strategy will not explicitly endorse the request from American commanders to increase the Afghan national security forces to 400,000 as it had reported earlier in the week (see March 18, 2009). [New York Times, 3/26/2009] Commenting later on Obama’s strategy, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, one of the chief architects of the nation-building counterinsurgency doctrine, will say that Obama’s troop increase and trainer push falls short and is a merely a “down payment” on what needs to be done to secure Afghanistan (see March 31, 2009).
Baltasar Garzon. [Source: Presidency of Argentina]A Spanish court begins preliminary work towards opening a criminal investigation into allegations that six former top Bush administration officials may be guilty of war crimes related to torture of prisoners at Guantanamo. Spanish law allows the investigation and prosecution of people beyond its borders in the case of torture or war crimes. Investigative judge Baltasar Garzon, who ordered the arrest of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and has overseen the prosecution of numerous terrorists and human rights violators, wants to prosecute former US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee, former Defense Department officials William Haynes and Douglas Feith, and David Addington, the former chief of staff to then-Vice President Cheney. Many legal experts say that even if Garzon’s case results in warrants being issued, it is highly doubtful that the warrants would ever be served as long as the six potential defendants remain in the US. Spain has jurisdiction in the case because five Spanish citizens or residents have claimed to have been tortured at Guantanamo; the five faced charges in Spain, but were released after the Spanish Supreme Court ruled that evidence obtained through torture was inadmissible. Garzon’s complaint rests on alleged violations of the Geneva Conventions and the 1984 Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994). The complaint was prepared by Spanish lawyers with the assistance of experts in Europe and America, and filed by the Association for the Dignity of Prisoners, a Spanish human rights group. Lawyer Gonzalo Boye, who filed the complaint, says that Gonzales, Yoo, and the others have what he calls well-documented roles in approving illegal torture techniques, redefining torture, and ignoring the constraints set by the Convention Against Torture. “When you bring a case like this you can’t stop to make political judgments as to how it might affect bilateral relations between countries,” Boye says. “It’s too important for that.” Boye adds: “This is a case from lawyers against lawyers. Our profession does not allow us to misuse our legal knowledge to create a pseudo-legal frame to justify, stimulate, and cover up torture.” The US is expected to ignore any extradition requests occuring from the case. [New York Times, 3/28/2009; Associated Press, 3/28/2009]
Entity Tags: William J. Haynes, Jay S. Bybee, David S. Addington, John C. Yoo, Geneva Conventions, Convention Against Torture, Gonzalo Boye, Association for the Dignity of Prisoners, Alberto R. Gonzales, Baltasar Garzon, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
US CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus disagrees with assertions by former Vice President Cheney that President Obama is endangering the country (see February 4, 2009 and March 15, 2009). Petraeus, whom Cheney has called “extremely capable,” says when asked about Cheney’s comments: “Well, I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that. I think in fact that there is a good debate going on about the importance of values in all that we do. I think that if one violates the values that we hold so dear, that we jeopardize.… We think for the military, in particular that camp, that’s a line [torture] that can’t be crossed. It is hugely significant to us to live the values that we hold so dear and that we have fought so hard to protect over the years.” [Think Progress, 3/29/2009]
CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer interviews investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, who recently alleged that an “executive assassination wing” operated out of the White House (see March 10, 2009). Blitzer notes that the entity Hersh cited, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), denies Hersh’s claim, and says, in Blitzer’s words, “their forces operate under established rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict.” The JSOC “has no command and control authorities over the US military,” the JSOC has told Blitzer. Additionally, former Bush national security expert Frances Townsend has denied Hersh’s claim.
Not New Reporting - Hersh tells Blitzer that though he has not written specifically about the “assassination wing,” he and others have written about the actions of the JSOC well before now. “[I]t’s a separately independent unit that does not report to Congress, at least in the years I know about.… It has been given executive authority by the president in as many as 12 countries to go in and kill we’re talking about high value targets. That’s absolutely correct.” He says that such actions are not only illegal, but have no basis in intelligence. “The idea that you’re telling a group of American combat soldiers,” he says, “[t]he idea that we have a unit set up who goes after high-value targets who up to a certain point I know for sure until very recently were clearing lists. That doesn’t mean Cheney has an assassination unit that he says I want to go get somebody. That’s how it sort of played out in the press. The idea that we have a unit that goes around and without reporting to Congress, Congress knows very little about this group, can’t get clearings, can’t get hearings, can’t get even a classified hearings on it. Congresspeople have told me this. Those are out and has authority for the president to go into a country without telling the CIA station chief or the ambassador and whack somebody and I’m sorry, Wolf, I have a lot of problems with that.”
Poor Choice of Phrase - Hersh says he regrets using the phrase “executive assassination wing,” because it is a “loaded phrase.” Word choice aside, Hersh says: “It comes down to the same thing, that you can—you’ve delegated authority to troops in the field to hit people on the basis of whatever intelligence they think is good and I can tell you it’s always not good and sometimes things get very bloody.… The bottom line is, it’s—if it were the way your little presentation set up, that everything was checked and cleared, in fact, it was an awful lot of delegation to this group, which does not brief the Congress. And this does raise profound questions of constitutional authority. It’s the same questions that have come up repeatedly in the Bush administration. That is a unitarian president, the notion that a president can do things without telling Congress and unilaterally. This is an extension of that issue.”
Implied Confirmation from Former Cheney Adviser - John Hannah, the former national security adviser to Vice President Cheney, says Hersh’s allegations are “not true,” but in his next statement, he seems to confirm Hersh’s allegations to an extent. Blitzer says: “Explain exactly what’s going on in terms of a list. Is there a list of terrorists, suspected terrorists, out there who can be assassinated?” Hannah replies: “There is—there’s clearly a group of people that go through a very extremely well-vetted process—interagency process, as I think was explained in your piece, that have committed acts of war against the United States, who are at war with the United States, or is suspected of planning operations of war against the United States, who authority is given, to our troops in the field in certain war theaters to capture or kill those individuals. That is certainly true.… Osama bin Laden and his number two are right at the top of the list. [The number of individuals to be assassinated] is a small group and the point is that it is very, very heavily vetted throughout the interagency process.” Hannah says that he has trouble believing that Congress was not aware of actions, presumably including possible assassinations, carried out by the JSOC: “I don’t know exactly what the consultations are with the Congress, but it’s hard for me to believe that those committee chairman and the leadership on the Hill involved in intelligence and armed services, if they want to know about these operations, cannot get that information through the Defense Department.” Asked if such assassinations are legal and Constitutional, Hannah says: “There is no question. And in a theater of war, when we are at war, and there’s no doubt, we are still at war against al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and on that Pakistani border, that our troops have the authority to go out after and capture and kill the enemy, including the leadership of the enemy.” [CNN, 3/30/2009; MinnPost (.com), 3/31/2009]
One of the intellectual godfathers of President Barack Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy and an influential authority on counterinsurgency strategy warns that the White House is dangerously shortchanging efforts to create a viable Afghan Army. Retired Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security think tank, says he is worried that the Obama administration’s commitment to building local forces to secure the country wasn’t given enough emphasis in the president’s AFPAK strategy announcement speech a few days earlier (see March 27, 2009). Speaking at a seminar sponsored by the Foreign Policy Initiative think tank in Washington, Nagl asserts, “The long-term answer has to be an expanded Afghan National Army, and this is the policy I hoped to hear [at the speech] but did not.” He adds that the Afghan National Army, as the country’s most respected institution, must be expanded to 250,000 troops, which closely resembles a reported Pentagon plan to expand the Afghan National Army to 260,000 troops (see March 18, 2009). Nagl refers to Obama’s troop increase and trainer push as a “down payment” on what’s needed to prevent Taliban re-infiltration of the population and keep extremists from taking over Afghanistan. [Military.com, 4/3/2009]
Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh discusses his recent allegation that what he calls an “executive assassination wing” was run from the office of former Vice President Dick Cheney (see March 10, 2009). Interviewer Amy Goodman opens her segment with Hersh by playing what was apparently an implicit confirmation, to an extent, of Hersh’s claims from a former Cheney aide (see March 30, 2009). Hersh notes that the comments from the former aide, John Hannah, verify that “yes, we go after people suspected—that was the word he used—of crimes against America. And I have to tell you that there’s an executive order, signed by Jerry Ford, President Ford, in the ‘70s, forbidding such action. It’s not only contrary—it’s illegal, it’s immoral, it’s counterproductive.” Of the allegations that the “assassination wing” is operated through the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), Hersh says: “[T]he problem with having military go kill people when they’re not directly in combat, these are asking American troops to go out and find people and… they go into countries without telling any of the authorities, the American ambassador, the CIA chief, certainly nobody in the government that we’re going into, and it’s far more than just in combat areas. There’s more—at least a dozen countries and perhaps more. [President Bush] has authorized these kinds of actions in the Middle East and also in Latin America, I will tell you, Central America, some countries. They’ve been—our boys have been told they can go and take the kind of executive action they need, and that’s simply—there’s no legal basis for it.… [T]he idea that the American president would think he has the constitutional power or the legal right to tell soldiers not engaged in immediate combat to go out and find people based on lists and execute them is just amazing to me.… And not only that, Amy, the thing about George Bush is, everything’s sort of done in plain sight. In his State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003)… about a month and a half before we went into Iraq, Bush was describing the progress in the war, and he said—I’m paraphrasing, but this is pretty close—he said that we’ve captured more than 3,000 members of al-Qaeda and suspected members, people suspected of operations against us. And then he added with that little smile he has, ‘And let me tell you, some of those people will not be able to ever operate again. I can assure you that. They will not be in a position.’ He’s clearly talking about killing people, and to applause. So, there we are. I don’t back off what I said. I wish I hadn’t said it ad hoc… sometimes when you speak off the top, you’re not as precise.” JSOC, Hersh explains, is a group of Navy Seals, Delta Force soldiers, and other “commandos” (a word the soldiers don’t prefer, but, Hersh says, most journalists use), which has been “transmogrified, if you will, into this unit that goes after high-value targets.” Hersh explains the involvement of Cheney’s office: “And where Cheney comes in and the idea of an assassination ring—I actually said ‘wing,’ but of an assassination wing—that reports to Cheney was simply that they clear lists through the vice president’s office. He’s not sitting around picking targets. They clear the lists. And he’s certainly deeply involved, less and less as time went on, of course, but in the beginning very closely involved.” Goodman concludes by asking, “One question: Is the assassination wing continuing under President Obama?” Hersh replies: “How do I know? I hope not.” [Democracy Now!, 3/31/2009]
Former Bush defense official Douglas Feith claims he had nothing to do with the Bush administration’s torture policies. Feith makes his remarks in response to a recent announcement that a Spanish court would consider filing criminal charges against him and five other former Bush officials “over allegations they gave legal cover for torture at Guantanamo.” Appearing on Fox News, Feith says he never approved any torture policies: “I’m being criticized for a position that I never advocated. And so the facts are just wrong.” Feith says he merely gave President Bush “advice” and had no role in “directing” torture policy: “But there’s also a broader point of principle here, which is what the Spanish authorities are considering doing is indicting people, former US government officials for giving advice to the president. And the idea that a foreign official can disagree with advice given to the president, they’re not talking about action. And they’re not even talking about directing people to take action. They’re talking about people who were advising the president on policy and legal questions. This is an effort to intimidate US government officials.” [Think Progress, 3/31/2009] But Feith has bragged before of his influence on Bush administration torture policies, telling British author and law professor Phillippe Sands that he played a key role in ensuring that Geneva Convention policies did not apply to detainees (see Early 2006).
US presidential envoy Richard Holbrooke meets briefly and informally with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Mehdi Akhondzadeh. Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representatative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Akhondzadeh are participants in a major international conference at The Hague convened to discuss the problem of Afghanistan. The two talk briefly during a lunch break. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will say of the meeting: “It was cordial, unplanned, and they agreed to stay in touch. I myself did not have any direct contact with the Iranian delegation.” Clinton says the US has asked the Iranian delegation to intercede in the cases of two American citizens being detained in Iran and a third who is missing. The New York Times calls the two contacts “another step in the Obama administration’s policy of engagement… a tentative process, in which the White House makes symbolic gestures, like President Obama’s recent video greeting to the Iranian people and government for their New Year (see March 19, 2009), while continuing to formulate its longer-term strategy.” Some experts believe that the meeting between Holbrooke and Akhondzadeh is not entirely fortuitous, but is the product of some planning. In the conference, Akhondzadeh says Iran will help reconstruction in Afghanistan as well as take part in efforts to curb the exploding Afghan drug trade. “The fact that they came today, that they intervened today, is a promising sign that there will be future cooperation,” Clinton says. “The Iranian representative set forth some very clear ideas that we will all be pursuing together.” The US and Iran have mutual interests in curbing Afghanistan’s drug trade, Clinton says: “The questions of border security, and in particular the transit of narcotics across the border from Afghanistan to Iran is a worry that the Iranians have, which we share.” [New York Times, 3/31/2009]
Air Force, Navy, and other coalition warplanes drop a record number of bombs in Afghanistan during this month. Warplanes release a record 438 bombs according to Air Forces Central (AFCent) figures, marking the fourth consecutive month of increasing bomb drops. The Navy Times reports that the munitions are released during 2,110 close-air support sorties, and that the total number of air strikes is even higher because the AFCent numbers do not include attacks by helicopters and special operations gun ships. The numbers also do not include strafing runs or small missile launches. [Navy Times, 5/4/2009]
A deputy to Richard Holbrooke meets with a representative of Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to discuss the role his group, Hizb-i-Islami (HIA) could play in ending the Afghan conflict, according to Afghan media. The HIA is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and Hekmatyar has a reported $25 million price on his head. The meeting is held with Hekmatyar emissary Daud Abedi. The US-Hekmatyar meeting is the most recent in a series of meetings and negotiations reportedly involving Hekmatyar representatives and the Afghan government, Taliban representatives, and the Saudis, inter alia (see Between September 24 and 27, 2008 and February 2009). [Daily Telegraph, 4/8/2009]
Withdrawal of Foreign Troops a Top Priority - In an interview with Asia Times reporter and analyst Syed Saleem Shahzad, Mr Abedi will recount the meeting, which he describes as positive, adding that he participated on his own initiative, was given Hekmatyar’s approval, and did not involve Pakistani officials. Abedi will not name the US official(s) he met because the talks are, he explains, ongoing. He says a ceasefire is possible in Afghanistan once talks are concluded and an exact schedule for the earliest possible departure of foreign troops is known: a top priority for the HIA. “I know what the HIA wants and what the Taliban wants in order to see if we could make a situation possible in which foreign troops leave Afghanistan as soon as possible,” he will say. Abedi denies that there is any chance the HIA will join the Afghan government in the near future. Insurgents loyal to Hekmatyar hold complete command over Kapissa province’s Tagab valley, only 30 kilometers north of Kabul. Syed Saleem Shahzad will suggest that the HIA, whose political wing has offices all over Afghanistan and keeps 40 seats in the Afghan parliament, is fully geared to replace President Hamid Karzai in the upcoming presidential elections. [Asia Times, 4/10/2009]
Deep Ties to Major Players in Region - Hekmatyar, among the most ruthless and extreme of the Afghan Islamic warlords, has had deep ties to Osama bin Laden, the CIA, the ISI, and the drug trade (see 1984), 1983, and (see March 13, 1994).
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman says that Israel’s new right-wing government will not be bound by a US-backed understanding to work towards establishing an independent Palestinian nation, the so-called “two-state solution.” Lieberman’s remarks outrage many Palestinian leaders, and indicate a sharp divide between the Obama administration and the government of newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The conservative Netanyahu has long opposed the idea of a sovereign Palestinian state, though he has recently said he supports an agreement towards limited Palestinian self-rule. Lieberman’s speech, described by the Los Angeles Times as “blunt and openly hawkish” and by the New York Times as “blunt and belligerent,” warns against giving concessions to the Palestinians, saying they “only bring pressure and more wars.” “[T]hose who wish for peace should prepare for war,” he adds. “Those who think that through concessions they will gain respect and peace are wrong. It is the other way around; it will lead to more wars.” The 2007 agreement, made at Annapolis, Maryland between then-US President George W. Bush, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, committed the parties to further “the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine.” Now, Lieberman says: “It has no validity. The Israeli government never ratified Annapolis, nor did parliament.” Palestinian spokesman Nabil abu Rudaineh calls Lieberman’s position dangerous, and recommends that the Obama administration “take a clear position against this policy before things get worse.” Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says Lieberman has “closed the door on Annapolis and closed the door in the face of the international community.” An Obama spokesman says that the US remains committed to a two-state solution. Lieberman’s statement is contradicted by a warning from Israeli President Shimon Peres that “the majority of countries in the world” back the Palestinian quest for statehood, hinting that to withdraw support for a two-state solution will result in Israel’s isolation. “The outgoing government espoused the vision of two states for two peoples, which was initiated by the American government and accepted by the majority of countries in the world,” Peres states. “It is up to your government to decide the shape of the reality to come.” Netanyahu has privately told Western officials that he, not Lieberman, will set Israel’s foreign policy; Netanyahu gave Lieberman the position because Lieberman’s nationalist party, Israel Is Our Home, is a member of Netanyahu’s rightist coalition government. But Netanyahu’s own foreign policy adviser, Zalman Shoval, says that the prime minister also considers the Annapolis declaration nonbinding. Tony Blair, the former British prime minister now serving as an envoy to the Middle East peace negotiations, says the peace process is in “very great jeopardy.” [New York Times, 4/1/2009; Los Angeles Times, 4/2/2009]
A US drone attacks a target in Pakistan that the CIA believes is Hakimullah Mahsud, a lieutenant of Tehrik-i-Taliban (Pakistani Taliban) leader Baitullah Mahsud. However, it kills 10 to 12 of his followers instead. [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
A day before the NATO Summit on Afghanistan opens in Strasbourg, France, the New York Times reports that according to American military planners and NATO-nation diplomats, NATO has set a goal of producing an Afghan Army of up to 220,000 troops and an enlarged police force of 180,000. This echoes earlier reports (see March 18, 2009) and (see March 24, 2009) on planned Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) numbers. These reported targets remain, however, much greater than either the Obama administration (see March 27, 2009) or NATO (see April 4, 2009) has officially disclosed. In support of a central pillar of Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy focusing on security and an expansion of Afghan security forces, the US’s NATO allies are to focus on the training of the Afghan army and police by committing several thousand personnel, according to alliance military planners. [New York Times, 4/2/2009]
President Obama receives approval from NATO leaders on his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan at a NATO summit in Strasbourg, France. Obama in turn heralds commitments from NATO allies, saying their agreement to send up to 5,000 more trainers and police to Afghanistan is “a strong down payment” toward securing the country. Obama is echoing a phrase delivered by counterinsurgency guru, retired Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, a week earlier (see March 31, 2009). At the NATO meeting, leaders pledge to send 3,000 more troops on short-term assignments to boost security for the scheduled elections in Afghanistan on August 20, and some 2,000 additional personnel to train growing Afghan security forces. They also promise to send 300 paramilitary police trainers and provide $600 million to finance the Afghan Army and civilian assistance, according to Obama. He adds that these figures should not be considered a ceiling, suggesting that more could be sought at some point in the future. “We’ll need more resources and a sustained effort to achieve our ultimate goals,” he states. [Reuters, 4/4/2009; Associated Press, 4/4/2009]
Afghan Defense Minister, General Abdul Rahim Wardak, tells the Council on Foreign Relations in an interview that Washington’s commitment to equipping and expanding the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) falls short of expectations. “It was a big surprise” when the president made his announcement, he remarks. Wardak says that President Obama’s announced plan to raise 134,000 Afghan National Army soldiers and 82,000 National Police by 2011 (see March 27, 2009) is not an overall increase in numbers or pacing, explaining that those targets had been planned for months. Wardak says he was expecting a much more rapid increase of combined forces to between 400,000 and 450,000 in number. Similar numbers were floated by US military and NATO sources in earlier reports (see March 18, 2009, April 2, 2009, and March 24, 2009). Furthermore, Gen. Wardak says he has repeatedly asked the US and NATO for help in getting more and better equipment, but to no avail. “At the moment we are still lighter than light infantry,” Wardak says. “I was much [better] equipped when we were fighting the Soviets” in the 1980s. [Council on Foreign Relations / CFR.org, 4/16/2009]
The White House releases four key Justice Department memos documenting the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation methods—torture—against suspected terrorists. The memos were released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The documents show that two high-level detainees were subjected to waterboarding at least 266 times between them. Al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida was waterboarded at least 83 times in August 2002, contradicting earlier CIA reports that he “broke” after a single waterboarding session (see December 10, 2007). Confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded at least 183 times in March 2003. The so-called “insect” technique—exposure to insects within an enclosed box—was approved for use on Zubaida, but apparently never used. Numerous prisoners were subjected to “walling” and “sleep deprivation,” with at least one detainee subjected to the technique for 180 hours (over seven days). Three of the memos were written by then-Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) chief Steven Bradbury in May 2005 (see May 10, 2005, May 10, 2005, and May 30, 2005), and the fourth by Bradbury’s predecessor, Jay Bybee, in August 2002 (see August 1, 2002). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009; BBC, 4/23/2009] Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says: “These legal memoranda demonstrate in alarming detail exactly what the Bush administration authorized for ‘high value detainees’ in US custody. The techniques are chilling. This was not an ‘abstract legal theory,’ as some former Bush administration officials have characterized it. These were specific techniques authorized to be used on real people.” [CNN, 4/17/2009] House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) agrees, saying: “This release, as well as the decision to ban the use of such techniques in the future, will strengthen both our national security and our commitment to the rule of law and help restore our country’s standing in the international community. The legal analysis and some of the techniques in these memos are truly shocking and mark a disturbing chapter in our nation’s history.” [Think Progress, 4/16/2009] Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), whose committee is conducting an investigation of abusive interrogation methods used during the Bush administration, says Bush officials “inaccurately interpreted” the Geneva Conventions prohibiting torture. “I find it difficult to understand how the opinions found these interrogation techniques to be legal,” she says. “For example, waterboarding and slamming detainees head-first into walls, as described in the OLC opinions, clearly fall outside what is legally permissible.” [United Press International, 4/16/2009]
White House Condemns Methods, Opposes Investigations - Attorney General Eric Holder says of the memos: “The president has halted the use of the interrogation techniques described in these opinions, and this administration has made clear from day one that it will not condone torture. We are disclosing these memos consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.” Holder adds that, according to a Justice Department statement, “intelligence community officials who acted reasonably and relied in good faith on authoritative legal advice from the Justice Department that their conduct was lawful, and conformed their conduct to that advice, would not face federal prosecutions for that conduct.” Holder states, “It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department.” [US Department of Justice, 4/16/2009] President Obama condemns what he calls a “dark and painful chapter in our history,” and promises that such torture techniques will never be used again. However, he restates his opposition to a lengthy investigation into the program, saying that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” In contrast, Leahy says that the memos illustrate the need for an independent investigation. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, points out that the memos were written at a time when the CIA was working to prevent a repeat of the 9/11 attacks. “Those methods, read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing,” he says. “But we will absolutely defend those who relied on these memos.” [New York Times, 4/19/2009] The ACLU demands criminal prosecution of Bush officials for their torture policies (see April 16, 2009). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009]
Techniques Include Waterboarding, Insect Exposure, 'Walling' - The memos show that several techniques were approved for use, including waterboarding, exposure to insects within a “confinement box,” being slammed into a wall, sleep deprivation, stress positions, forced nudity, and others. [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009; BBC, 4/23/2009]
Waterboarded Well beyond Allowed Procedures - Because the information about the waterboarding of Zubaida and Mohammed comes from the classified and heavily redacted CIA’s inspector general report, which has not yet been released to the public, the information is at least in part based on the videotapes of Zubaida’s interrogation sessions that were later destroyed by CIA officials (see March 6, 2009). The CIA memo explained that detainees could be waterboarded between 12 and 18 times in a single day, but only on five days during a single month—which mathematically only adds up to 90 times in a month, and thus does not explain how Mohammed could have been waterboarded 183 times in a month if these procedures were being followed. The memos also reveal that in practice, the waterboarding went far beyond the methodologies authorized by the Justice Department and used in SERE training (see December 2001 and July 2002).
Information Unearthed by Blogger - Initial media reports fail to divulge the extraordinary number of times Zubaida and Mohammed were waterboarded. It falls to a blogger, Marcy Wheeler, to unearth the information from the CIA memo and reveal it to the public (see April 18, 2009). [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009]
Entity Tags: Marcy Wheeler, Central Intelligence Agency, Dennis C. Blair, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Dianne Feinstein, Jay S. Bybee, Geneva Conventions, Eric Holder, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), John Conyers, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Steven Bradbury, Patrick J. Leahy, Abu Zubaida, Obama administration
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Marcy Wheeler. [Source: Project Censored]Progressive blogger Marcy Wheeler, who posts under the moniker “emptywheel” at FireDogLake.com, finds that, upon careful perusal of the March 30, 2005 CIA torture memo just released by the Obama administration (see May 30, 2005 and April 16, 2009), two suspected terrorists, Abu Zubaida and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were waterboarded 266 times. Initial, more cursory news reports on the memo did not reveal this fact. The next day, the New York Times will cite Wheeler in its report on the discovery. [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009] Wheeler writes: “The CIA wants you to believe waterboarding is effective. Yet somehow, it took them 183 applications of the waterboard in a one month period to get what they claimed was cooperation out of KSM. That doesn’t sound very effective to me.” [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009] Days later, an unidentified “US official with knowledge of the interrogation program” will tell a Fox News reporter that the claim of 183 waterboardings for Mohammed is inaccurate and misleading. Mohammed was only waterboarded five times, the official will claim. The figure of 183 is the number of “pours” Mohammed was subjected to. “The water was poured 183 times—there were 183 pours,” the official says, adding, “[E]ach pour was a matter of seconds.” The report of five waterboardings for Mohammed comes from a 2007 Red Cross report, the official will say. [Fox News, 4/28/2009]
The Senate Armed Services Committee releases a report showing that CIA and Pentagon officials explored ways to “break” Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees in early 2002, eight months before the Justice Department issued its “golden shield” memo (see August 1, 2002) approving the use of waterboarding and nine other methods of interrogation that most legal observers believe amount to torture. The report, under Pentagon review since before its release, focuses solely on military interrogations, and not on interrogations carried out by CIA officers and contractors; it rejects claims by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials that Pentagon policies played no role in the torture of prisoners in US custody. Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) says the report shows a direct link between early Bush administration policy decisions and the torture and abuse of detainees. “Senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques,” Levin says. “Those senior officials bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses. The paper trail on abuse leads to top civilian leaders, and our report connects the dots. This report, in great detail, shows a paper trail going from that authorization” by Rumsfeld “to Guantanamo to Afghanistan and to Iraq.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ; New York Times, 4/21/2009; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009; Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Torture Policies Driven from Top - 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. Levin says in a statement that the report proves that such claims “were simply false.” He adds that the report is “a condemnation of both the Bush administration’s interrogation policies and of senior administration officials who attempted to shift the blame for abuse—such as that seen at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and Afghanistan—to low-ranking soldiers.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ; Washington Post, 4/22/2009] The report adds details to the material already released that showed Bush officials, particularly those in the Offices of the Vice President and Defense Secretary, pushed for harsher and more brutal interrogation techniques to be used during the run-up to war with Iraq, in hopes that results might prove the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda that administration officials had long touted (see December 11, 2008). Levin says: “I think it’s obvious that the administration was scrambling then to try to find a connection, a link [between al-Qaeda and Iraq]. They made out links where they didn’t exist.” Senior Guantanamo interrogator David Becker confirmed that only “a couple of nebulous links” between al-Qaeda and Iraq were uncovered during interrogations of unidentified detainees. [McClatchy News, 4/21/2009]
Ignored Warnings that Torture Techniques Worthless, Illegal - The report, released in classified form in December 2008 (see December 11, 2008), also documents multiple warnings from legal sources and trained interrogation experts that the techniques could backfire, producing false and erroneous intelligence, and might violate US and international law. One Army lieutenant colonel warned in 2002 that coercion “usually decreases the reliability of the information because the person will say whatever he believes will stop the pain,” according to the Senate report. Another official, after being briefed on plans to use “extreme methods” on detainees, asked, “Wouldn’t that be illegal?” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009; Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Torture Methods Became Procedures at Detention Sites - Instead of being abandoned, the methods became the basis for harsh interrogations at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and other US detention facilities around the world, including the CIA’s so-called “black sites.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ; Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
White House Officials Ignorant of SERE Techniques - The report—261 pages long and with almost 1,800 footnotes—documents how techniques from a US military training program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) were adapted for use against detainees. SERE trains US soldiers to resist harsh interrogation methods if captured by an enemy that does not observe the Geneva Conventions’ ban on torture. The military’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JRPA) reverse-engineered SERE methods to use against detainees (see December 2001). Other tactics, such as waterboarding, were culled from methods used by Chinese Communists against US soldiers captured during the Korean War (see July 2002). [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009; Washington Post, 4/22/2009] According to the report, Bush White House officials seemed unaware of the Chinese Communist origins of the SERE tactics, and were apparently unaware that veteran SERE trainers insisted that the methods were useless for getting reliable information from a prisoner. Moreover, the former military psychologist who recommended that the CIA adopt SERE techniques “had never conducted a real interrogation.” One CIA official called the process “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm.” Bush administration officials also ignored concerns raised by military legal experts over the efficacy and legality of the techniques (see November 2002).
Torture Policies Directly Responsible for Abu Ghraib Scandal - The Armed Service Committee concludes that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were a direct result of the Bush torture policies. It writes: “The abuses of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own.… Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials (see December 2, 2002) conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in US custody.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ]
Ali Soufan, an FBI supervisory special agent from 1997 to 2005, writes an op-ed for the New York Times about his experiences as a US interrogator. Soufan, who was one of the initial interrogators of suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see Late March through Early June, 2002), says he has remained silent for seven years “about the false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding.” Until now, he has spoken only in closed government hearings, “as these matters were classified.” But now that the Justice Department has released several memos on interrogation (see April 16, 2009), he can publicly speak out about the memos. “I’ve kept my mouth shut about all this for seven years,” Soufan says. “I was in the middle of this, and it’s not true that these techniques were effective. We were able to get the information about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in a couple of days. We didn’t have to do any of this [torture]. We could have done this the right way.” [New York Times, 4/22/2009; Newsweek, 4/25/2009] In early 2002, Soufan trained Guantanamo interrogators in the use of non-coercive interrogation techniques; a colleague recalls the military intelligence officials in the session being resistant to the ideas Soufan proposed (see Early 2002). [Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
'False Premises' Underpinning Use of Torture - Soufan says the memos are based on what he calls “false premises.” One is the August 2002 memo granting retroactive authorization to use harsh interrogation methods on Zubaida on the grounds that previous methods had been ineffective (see August 1, 2002). Soufan asserts that his questioning of Zubaida had indeed been productive (contradicting earlier CIA claims—see December 10, 2007), and that he used “traditional interrogation methods” to elicit “important actionable intelligence” from the suspected operative. The harsh methods later used on Zubaida produced nothing that traditional methods could not have produced, Soufan says; moreover, those harsh techniques—torture—often “backfired” on the interrogators. Many of the methods used on detainees such as Zubaida remain classified, Soufan writes: “The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.”
False Claims 'Proving' Usefulness of Torture - Some claim that Zubaida gave up information leading to the capture of suspected terrorists Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Jose Padilla. “This is false,” Soufan writes. “The information that led to Mr. Shibh’s capture came primarily from a different terrorist operative who was interviewed using traditional methods. As for Mr. Padilla, the dates just don’t add up: the harsh techniques were approved in the memo of August 2002, Mr. Padilla had been arrested that May.”
Restoring the 'Chinese Wall' - Because of the use of torture by the CIA, the two agencies will once again be separated by what Soufan calls “the so-called Chinese wall between the CIA and FBI, similar to the communications obstacles that prevented us from working together to stop the 9/11 attacks.” Since the FBI refused to torture suspects in its custody, “our agents who knew the most about the terrorists could have no part in the investigation. An FBI colleague of mine who knew more about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed than anyone in the government was not allowed to speak to him.”
Targeted Investigations - Soufan writes that any investigations into the use of torture by the CIA should not seek to punish the interrogators who carried out the government’s policies. “That would be a mistake,” he writes. “Almost all the agency officials I worked with on these issues were good people who felt as I did about the use of enhanced techniques: it is un-American, ineffective, and harmful to our national security.” Soufan goes farther, adding, “It’s worth noting that when reading between the lines of the newly released memos, it seems clear that it was contractors, not CIA officers, who requested the use of these techniques.” The CIA itself must not be targeted for retribution, Soufan writes, as “[t]he agency is essential to our national security.” Instead, “[w]e must ensure that the mistakes behind the use of these techniques are never repeated.” [New York Times, 4/22/2009; Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
Rachel Maddow and Ron Suskind during their MSNBC interview. [Source: Huffington Post]MSNBC host Rachel Maddow interviews author Ron Suskind, who has written several books documenting the clandestine activities of the Bush administration. Maddow is most interested in the recent release of the Senate Armed Services Committee report documenting the use of torture against prisoners in US custody (see April 16, 2009 and April 21, 2009). Suskind notes that there were two separate but parallel tracks being followed in the administration, authorizing both the military and the CIA to torture prisoners. He believes the administration’s underlying motive was to find, or create through false confessions, a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda that would justify the invasion of Iraq. Suskind tells Maddow: “What’s fascinating here is that if you run the timelines side by side, you see for the first time… that the key thing being sent down by the policymakers, by the White House, is ‘Find a link between Saddam [Hussein] and al-Qaeda, so that we can essentially link Saddam to the 9/11 attacks and then march into Iraq with the anger of 9/11 behind us.’ That was the goal and was being passed down as the directive.… It’s often called ‘the requirement’ inside the CIA, for both agents with their sources and interrogators with their captives: ‘Here’s what we’re interested in, here’s what we, the duly elected leaders want to hear about. Tell us what you can find.’ What’s fascinating, is in the Senate report, is finally, clear confirmation that that specific thing was driving many of the activities, and, mind you, the frustration inside of the White House… as frustration built inside of the White House that there was no link that was established, because the CIA told the White House from the very start that there is no Saddam to al-Qaeda link—‘We checked it out, we did it every which way, sorry’—the White House simply wouldn’t take no for an answer, and it went with another method: torture was the method. ‘Get me a confession, I don’t care how you do it.’ And that bled all the way through the government, both on the CIA side and the Army side.” Suskind notes that the “impetus was not to foil potential al-Qaeda attacks. The impetus here was largely political and diplomatic. The White House had a political/diplomatic problem. It wanted it solved in the run up to the war.” [Huffington Post, 4/22/2009; MSNBC, 4/22/2009]
Jordan’s King Abdullah, during an interview on NBC, says the US indeed tortured prisoners during the last administration. “Well, from what we’ve seen and what we’ve heard, there are enough accounts to show that this is the case,” Abdullah says. Interviewer David Gregory says: “That’s an important point. You actually do believe that the United States engaged in torture.” Abdullah responds, “What I see on the press… shows that there were illegal ways of dealing with detainees.” [Think Progress, 4/25/2009]
Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, former intelligence chief and ambassador to Washington (see May 1998), recommends the Obama administration emulate earlier administrations and work with insurgent leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, a key Pakistan-based Taliban ally who has had ties to the ISI, CIA, and Osama bin Laden (see Early October 2001). Haqqani is “someone who could be reached out to… to negotiate and bring [the Taliban] into the fold,” Prince Turki tells a group of government and business leaders and journalists over a dinner in Washington organized by blogger Steve Clemons. Haqqani is thought to be behind recent suicide attacks in Afghanistan, and is suspected to have been behind the attempted assassination of Hamid Karzai (see April 27, 2008). Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President Gerald Ford and President George H. W. Bush, also urges the US to negotiate with some members of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan in remarks following Prince Turki’s. [Washington Times, 4/27/2009]
Prince Turki al-Faisal, former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to Washington, tells editors and reporters from the Washington Times that Pakistan can survive the Taliban threat provided the military remains intact. He asserts that the army does not want to intervene in politics, but suggests a military coup is possible if the civilian government does not improve its performance. Criticizing the Pakistani government, he charges that it has not found a proper way of dealing with the Taliban. Prince Turki, who oversaw Saudi funding and support of the mujaheddin two decades ago during the fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (see Early 1980), downplays concerns about Pakistan’s stability in the face of mounting security threats. “As long as the armed forces are intact, the state is not going to be at risk,” he says. [Washington Times, 4/28/2009]
Todd Hinnen. [Source: Corbis James Berglie]Todd Hinnen, the deputy assistant attorney general for law and policy in the Justice Department’s national security division, discusses his team’s focus on the nation’s security needs at a presentation at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). Hinnen says his team does the “30,000 foot level strategic thinking, policy development, and legal analysis” for the Justice Department’s national security work. Hinnen believes that developing an appropriate, long-term legal framework is “essential to effectively combating terrorism for reasons that are both principled and pragmatic.” Hinnen tells the gathering: “It is essential on grounds of principle because the law has defined this nation, a nation of laws, since its founding.… It would be a Pyrrhic victory if, in our struggle to preserve this country against the threat of international terrorism, we sacrificed so central a part of what this country stands for and why it has been a model for the rest of the world. It is essential on grounds of pragmatism because a lawless response to terrorism—one for instance that includes torture, black site prisons, and indefinite detention without due process—undermines our moral credibility and standing abroad, weakens the coalitions with foreign governments that we need to effectively combat terrorism, and provides terrorist recruiters with some of their most effective material.” [Think Progress, 4/28/2009]
Newly retired Lieutenant General Karl W. Eikenberry, the former top commander of US forces in Afghanistan, is sworn in as the new US ambassador to Kabul. Prior to his appointment, Eikenberry served as the deputy chairman of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Military Committee in Brussels, Belgium. In a rare move, Eikenberry retired from the Army the day before he is sworn in as ambassador by Hillary Clinton at the State Department. [American Forces Press Service, 4/28/2009; Associated Press, 4/28/2009] Shortly before President Obama’s nomination of Eikenberry was made public, the New York Times noted that the decision to send an about-to-retire career Army officer to fill one of the country’s most sensitive diplomatic jobs was “a highly unusual choice,” raising concerns among critics of the war that the Pentagon has too much influence over American foreign policy. [New York Times, 1/29/2009]
An attack by CIA drones in Pakistan kills between six and ten people. One of those who dies is believed to be an al-Qaeda leader. [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]
ABC News learns that two former military officers, both psychologists, were paid $1,000 a day to design a program to torture and waterboard detainees in US custody. The psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen (see January 2002 and After, April 16, 2002, Mid-April 2002, and Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002), were recipients of a contract awarded by the CIA to their firm, Mitchell Jessen and Associates. Mitchell and Jessen told the CIA that waterboarding was safe to use on prisoners. The American Civil Liberties Union’s Jameel Jaffer says, “It’s clear that these psychologists had an important role in developing what became the CIA’s torture program.” According to ABC, “Associates say the two made good money doing it, boasting of being paid a thousand dollars a day by the CIA to oversee the use of the techniques on top al-Qaeda suspects at CIA secret sites.” Air Force interrogator Colonel Steven Kleinman says, “The whole intense interrogation concept that we hear about is essentially their concepts.” ABC notes that “neither Mitchell nor Jessen had any experience in conducting actual interrogations before the CIA hired them.” A military officer says that the CIA “went to two individuals who had no interrogation experience. They are not interrogators.” The CIA came to believe that the waterboarding “expertise” they claimed was “misrepresented,” and therefore the claims that waterboarding was “medically safe” and “effective” were questionable. As ABC notes, “The waterboarding used on al-Qaeda detainees was far more intense than the brief sessions used on US military personnel in the training classes.” [ABC News, 4/30/2009; Raw Story, 5/1/2009]
Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari held without charge for seven years by the Bush administration on suspicion of being an al-Qaeda sleeper agent (see December 12, 2001 and June 23, 2003), pleads guilty to one felony count of providing material support to a terrorist organization. Al-Marri was released from the Naval Brig in Charleston on order of the Obama administration’s Justice Department and charged with multiple counts of supporting terrorism (see February 27, 2009). He faces up to 15 years in prison. Until accepting the plea, al-Marri has always denied any connection with al-Qaeda or with Islamist terrorism. Attorney General Eric Holder says of the al-Marri plea: “Without a doubt, this case is a grim reminder of the seriousness of the threat we as a nation still face. But it also reflects what we can achieve when we have faith in our criminal justice system and are unwavering in our commitment to the values upon which the nation was founded and the rule of law.” Lawrence Lustberg, one of al-Marri’s lawyers, says his client agreed to the plea bargain “because he wanted to go home,” and because of fears that a jury trial might end up with al-Marri serving 30 years and not a maximum of 15. (Holder rejected earlier plea deals, insisting that al-Marri serve at least 15 years in prison.) Court papers show that al-Marri was an al-Qaeda agent, with close ties to alleged 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Al-Marri admitted to attending al-Qaeda training camps between 1998 and 2001, and to coming to the US at Mohammed’s direction (see September 10, 2001). The plan was for al-Marri to stay in contact with Mohammed using code names—al-Marri was “Abdo” and Mohammed was “Muk,” apparently short for his nickname “Mukhtar” (see August 28, 2001)—and a Hotmail email account. Documents confirming this were found at an al-Qaeda safe house in Pakistan. Al-Marri’s attempts to contact both Mohammed and al-Qaeda financier Mustafa al-Hawsawi after the 9/11 attacks were unsuccessful. Al-Marri also conducted research on the effects of cyanide gas, and on potential targets for terrorist attacks, including waterways, dams, and tunnels. Al-Marri’s plea agreement says that he will be deported to Saudi Arabia or Qatar when his sentence is completed, or perhaps sooner. The judge in the case, Michael Mihm, has not yet ruled whether al-Marri will be given credit for the seven years he served in the Charleston brig. [Politico, 4/30/2009; New York Times, 4/30/2009; US Newswire, 4/30/2009]
Federal prosecutors drop all charges against two former lobbyists accused of passing classified information to Israel (see August 4, 2005). The lobbyists, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, worked for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) when they took classified information from former government official Larry Franklin and passed it to Israeli officials (see April 13, 1999-2004 and October 5, 2005). The case against Rosen and Weissman had the potential to criminalize the exchange of classified information among journalists, lobbyists, and ordinary citizens not bound by government restrictions. “Thank God we live in a country where you can defend yourself against an injustice like this,” says Rosen. He calls the case an example of government officials “who have an obsession with leaks (see May 21, 2006)… and an obsession with Israel and the theory that it spies on America.” The lawyers for the two former lobbyists believe that Obama administration officials had reservations about the case where their predecessors in the Bush administration did not, but former FBI counterintelligence official David Szady says that politics played no part in the decision to withdraw the charges. Prosecutors say that recent court rulings would make winning their case much more difficult than they had previously anticipated. Gary Wasserman, a Georgetown University professor who is writing a book about the case, says it is understandable that AIPAC welcomes the dismissal. A trial, he says, “would have provoked a lot of public discussion about how they worked.” [Washington Post, 5/2/2009]
The former deputy head of British intelligence, MI6, says that Britain was “dragged into a war in Iraq which was always against our better judgment.” Nigel Inkster served as deputy director of MI6 at the time Britain entered the war in Iraq. Inkster says there were always deep reservations about the war among the senior officials of MI6, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service. MI6 has taken the brunt of the blame for the failed intelligence that helped lead Britain to join the US in the war, including the “sexed-up” or “dodgy” dossier that led then-Prime Minister Tony Blair to claim that Iraq had the capability to launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. Inkster, during a speech at the Institute for Public Policy Research, says weakness at the Foreign Office allowed Britain to become involved in a war that few felt comfortable joining. “The Foreign Office no longer does foreign policy,” Inkster says. “It acts as a platform for a multiplicity of UK departments and the lack of a clearly articulated sense of our strategic location in the world explains how we got dragged into a war with Iraq which was always against our better judgment.” Inkster also criticizes Britain’s role in Afghanistan, saying Britain has been attempting to implement an agenda that is “ludicrously at variants with the resources allocated to that task.” Inkster says the world is moving from “being policed by America to be policed by nobody,” and the dangers of an increasingly unstable world mean populations are likely to fall back on the “snake oil and voodoo” of religious and nationalistic movements. [Daily Telegraph, 5/3/2009]
Mohammad Qasim Fahim. [Source: Ozier Muhammad / New York Times]President Hamid Karzai formally registers as a candidate for re-election, choosing Mohammad Qasim Fahim—a powerful warlord accused of human rights abuses and criminality—as one of his vice presidential running mates, just hours before leaving for meetings in Washington with US President Barack Obama and Pakistani President Asif Zadari. Human rights groups immediately condemn the selection of Fahim, who was a top commander in the militant group Jamiat-e-Islami during Afghanistan’s 1990s civil war, a Northern Alliance intelligence chief, a former interim vice president, and defense minister.
Human Rights Watch: Choice a "Terrible Step Backwards for Afghanistan" - Human Rights Watch (HRW) states that Karzai is “insulting the country” with the choice. “To see Fahim back in the heart of government would be a terrible step backwards for Afghanistan,” says Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director. “He is widely believed by many Afghans to be still involved in many illegal activities, including running armed militias, as well as giving cover to criminal gangs and drug traffickers.” [Associated Press, 5/4/2009] General Fahim was one of the chief Jamiat-e-Islami commanders under Ahmed Shah Massoud. A 2005 HRW report, “Blood-Stained Hands,” found that “credible and consistent evidence of widespread and systematic human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law” were committed by Jamiat commanders, including Fahim, who was among those “directly implicated in abuses described in this report, including the 1993 Afshar campaign.” [Human Rights Watch, 7/6/2005]
Afghan Civil Society Responds - Fahim served as Karzai’s first vice president in Afghanistan’s interim government set up after the ouster of the Taliban in the 2001 US-led invasion. During the 2004 election, Karzai dropped Fahim from his ticket. Aziz Rafiee, the executive director of the Afghan Civil Society Forum says that Karzi’s pick begs a question. “If (Fahim) was a good choice, why did (Karzai) remove him [in 2004]?” Rafiee asks. “And if he was a bad choice, why did he select him again? The people of Afghanistan will answer this question while voting.” According to Mohammad Qassim Akhgar, a political columnist and the editor in chief of the Afghan newspaper 8 a.m., Fahim could be an issue for Western countries invested in Afghanistan’s success. “Perhaps if Karzai wins the election Western countries are going to use this point as an excuse and limit their assistance to Afghanistan,” he says. “This is also a matter of concern for all human rights organizations who are working in Afghanistan and working for transitional justice.”
US Response Evasive - The US Embassy does not comment on the choice, saying it is not helpful for the United States to comment on individual candidates. However, the US does issue the following statement: “We believe the election is an opportunity for Afghanistan to move forward with leaders who will strengthen national unity.” [Associated Press, 5/4/2009]
Entity Tags: Mohammad Qassim Akhgar, Jamiat-e-Islami, Hamid Karzai, Afghan Civil Society Forum, Afghan Government, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Aziz Rafiee, Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch, Mohammad Qasim Fahim
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal. [Source: DoD photo by Helene C. Stikkel/Released, via Reuters]Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen announce the nomination of controversial former special/black operations commander Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal to replace the top US commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan. At the Pentagon, Gates explains that “new leadership and fresh eyes” are needed to reverse the course of the seven-year-old war. “We have a new strategy, a new mission, and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership also is needed,” he says. The White House confirms that President Obama has signed off on the nomination. McChrystal is the former commander of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which during his tenure was tied to prisoner abuse and covert assassinations in Iraq, as well as controversy in the military’s handling of the death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan. McKiernan will remain in place until the Senate confirms the appointments of McChrystal and his designated deputy, Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, also a veteran of elite US forces. Both officers have experience in Afghanistan and have more familiarity with counterinsurgency operations than McKiernan. Gates says that McChrystal and Rodriguez will “bring a unique skill set in counterinsurgency to these issues, and I think that they will provide the kind of new leadership and fresh thinking that [Admiral Mike Mullen] and I have been talking about.” [CNN, 5/11/2009; Army Times, 5/11/2009]
Prisoner Abuse, Geneva Convention Violations - Under McChrystal’s command, the Joint Special Operations Command supplied elite troops to a secret unit known variously as Task Force 626 and Task Force 121, based at Camp Nama (an acronym for “nasty ass military area”) near Baghdad. A Human Rights Watch report found evidence that the task force engaged in prisoner torture and abuse, and that the JSOC command likely violated the Geneva Conventions (see November 2004). According to the report, which was based on soldier testimony, inmates at the camp were subjected to beatings, exposure to extreme cold, threats of death, humiliation, and various forms of psychological abuse or torture. The report’s sources claimed that written authorizations were required for abusive techniques—indicating that the use of these tactics was approved up the chain of command—and that McChrystal denied the Red Cross and other investigators access to Camp Nama, a violation of the Geneva Conventions. [New York Times, 3/19/2006; Sifton and Garlasco, 7/22/2006; Daily Telegraph, 5/17/2009]
Secret Assassinations - During McChrystal’s tenure as head of JSOC, he led campaigns to track down, capture, or kill enemies. To this end, McChrystal built a sophisticated network of soldiers and intelligence operatives to assassinate Sunni insurgent leaders and decapitate al-Qaeda in Iraq. He is also understood to have led the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, a Human Rights Watch report on the secret units under JSOC command states that although targets included Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the operations also swept up “hundreds of anonymous, and often innocent, detainees.” One senior Pentagon officer, quoted by the Washington Post, warns, “People will ask, what message are we sending when our high-value-target hunter is sent to lead in Afghanistan?” [Sifton and Garlasco, 7/22/2006; Washington Post, 5/13/2009] Newsweek has noted that JSOC is likely part of what then-Vice President Dick Cheney was referring to when he said America would have to “work the dark side” after 9/11 (see September 16, 2001). [Newsweek, 6/26/2006] Furthermore, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh has reported that JSOC ran what he called an “executive assassination wing” that reported directly to Cheney’s office, which then cleared lists of people to be targeted for assassination by secret JSOC units (see March 10, 2009 and March 31, 2009).
Pat Tillman Silver Star Controversy - The Pentagon’s inspector general found McChrystal responsible for promulgating false and misleading information in the aftermath of the “friendly fire” death of Pat Tillman in 2004. In the controversy, McChrystal had approved paperwork recommending Tillman for a silver star, which stated that he died from “devastating enemy fire,” despite knowledge of internal investigations pointing to friendly fire as the cause of death (see April 29, 2004) and April 23-Late June, 2004). McChrystal then backtracked only when he learned that then-President Bush was about to quote from the misleading silver star citation in a speech. The US Army later overruled the Pentagon inspector general’s recommendation that McChrystal be held accountable for his actions. [Washington Post, 8/4/2007; Daily Telegraph, 5/17/2009]
Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, Task Force 121, Robert M. Gates, Task Force 626, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David Rodriguez, Obama administration, Camp Nama, David D. McKiernan, Human Rights Watch, Joint Special Operations Command, Michael Mullen, Pat Tillman, Stanley A. McChrystal
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Former Vice President Dick Cheney praises President Obama’s choice of Stanley McChrystal to replace General David McKiernan as the top commander in Afghanistan. In an interview with Fox News’s Neil Cavuto, Cheney says that the Obama administration’s decision to assign Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal the top job in Afghanistan is a good one. “I think the choice is excellent.… Stan is an absolutely outstanding officer,” Cheney tells Cavuto. “I think you would be hard put to find anybody better than Stan McChrystal to take on that assignment.” [Your World with Neil Cavuto, Fox News, 5/13/2009] In a 2006 profile of McChrystal, Newsweek noted that the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which McChrystal then headed, was likely part of what Cheney was referring to when he said America would have to “work the dark side” after 9/11 (see September 16, 2001). [Newsweek, 6/26/2006]
Stanley McChrystal, nominated to lead US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, directs the transfer of a large area of the National Military Command Center—the Pentagon’s principal underground command and control center and emergency operations facility—to the Afghan war effort. This indicates that McChrystal is at work even before his official confirmation to the top war post. McChrystal’s pre-confirmation activity is corroborated by an account by analyst Mark Perry, who will later report that McChrystal and staff arrive in Kabul within days of his nomination as top commander to assess the case for sending more troops (see Between May 12 and June 10, 2009). [New York Times, 6/10/2009]
Stanley McChrystal arrives in Kabul with teams of counterinsurgency staff within days of his nomination to replace General David McKiernan (see May 11, 2009) as top commander in Afghanistan. Military and foreign policy analyst Mark Perry will later report that McChrystal “commandeers” McKiernan’s headquarters on arrival in Kabul. McChrystal’s teams then fan out all over the country to assess the need for a large increase in US troops to fight a strengthening insurgency. “They absolutely flooded the zone,” a US development officer will tell Perry. “There must have been hundreds of them. They were in every province, every village, talking to everyone. There were 10 of them for every one of us.” Perry will also cite a White House official who asserts that McChrystal and his team use the period before his official confirmation to the top post to begin building a case for more US troops. “From the minute that McChrystal showed up in Kabul, he drove the debate,” the White House official will say. “You’ll notice—from May on it was no longer a question of whether we should follow a military strategy or deploy additional troops. It was always, ‘should we do 20,000 or 30,000 or 40,000, or even 80,000’? We weren’t searching for the right strategy; we were searching for the right number.” [Asia Times, 12/10/2009]
The Pentagon gives Stanley McChrystal, nominated to become commander of US and allied forces in Afghanistan, unprecedented leeway to handpick his top staff, according to nearly a dozen senior military officers who provide details about McChrystal’s plans to the New York Times. According to the Times report, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has personally told McChrystal that “he could have his pick from the Joint Staff.” McChrystal chooses several veterans of Special Operations, including former colleagues now serving with the Joint Staff, to join his inner circle. He is ultimately assembling a corps of 400 officers and soldiers who will rotate between the United States and Afghanistan for a minimum of three years (see October 7, 2009), a rare military commitment to one theater of combat which is common to Special Operations.
Special Operations Vets Chosen for Inner Circle - McChrystal chooses friend and former Army Ranger colleague Lieutenant General David M. Rodriguez to be his deputy, marking the first time an American commander in Afghanistan will have a three-star second in command. Rodriguez will be in charge of running day-to-day combat operations. McChrystal picks a senior intelligence adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Major General Michael T. Flynn, to join him in Kabul as director of intelligence. General Flynn was McChrystal’s chief of intelligence when he headed the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). McChrystal selects Brigadier General Scott Miller to organize a new Pakistan-Afghanistan coordination cell. Miller is a longtime Special Operations officer assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff who has served previously under McChrystal. [New York Times, 6/10/2009; Wall Street Journal, 6/12/2009]
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says his administration is investigating numerous reports of “unknown” military helicopters carrying gunmen to the northern provinces of the country amid increasing militancy in the area. At a press conference, Karzai says that his government has received information over the last five months from local residents and officials indicating that unmarked helicopters have been ferrying militants to Baghlan, Kunduz, and Samangan provinces, and have been air-dropping them at night. “Even today we received reports that the furtive process is still ongoing,” he tells journalists, though he does not share any evidence, arguing that the issue is too sensitive. Karzai adds that authorities have received similar reports in the northwest as well, and that a comprehensive investigation is underway to determine which country the helicopters belonged to, why armed men are being snuck into the region, and whether increasing insecurity in the north is linked to this. “I hope in the near future we will find out who these helicopters belong to,” he says. [Ferghana Information Agency, 10/12/2009; Press TV, 10/12/2009; Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 10/12/2009] Western officials will later deny there is any truth to the reports (see October 14 - 29, 2009). The Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) notes that helicopters are almost entirely the exclusive domain of foreign forces in Afghanistan; NATO forces control Afghanistan’s air space and have a monopoly on aircraft. IWPR reports that Afghans believe the insurgency is being deliberately moved north, with international troops transporting fighters in from the volatile south to create mayhem in new locations. [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009] The International Council on Security and Development has reported a dramatic rise in Taliban presence and activity in the formerly peaceful north in recent months (see Between January and September 2009), coinciding with the helicopter reports. The Asia Times reports that the Taliban now have complete control over several districts in the northern province of Kunduz. [Asia Times, 10/16/2009]
Who Are the Militants? - The majority of reports cite eyewitnesses who claim the militants are Taliban. In Kunduz province, northern Afghanistan, a soldier from the 209th Shahin Corps of the Afghan National Army tells of an incident in which helicopters intervened to rescue Taliban during a battle. “Just when the police and army managed to surround the Taliban in a village of Qala-e-Zaal district, we saw helicopters land with support teams,” he says. “They managed to rescue their friends from our encirclement, and even to inflict defeat on the Afghan National Army.” Residents in a district of Baghlan province also witness a battle in which they insist that two foreign helicopters offload Taliban fighters who then attack their district center. “I saw the helicopters with my own eyes,” says Sayed Rafiq of Baghlan-e-Markazi. “They landed near the foothills and offloaded dozens of Taliban with turbans, and wrapped in patus [a blanket-type shawl].” According to numerous media reports, the district police chief along with the head of counter-narcotics and a number of soldiers are killed in the attack. The governor of Baghlan-e-Markazi, Commander Amir Gul, insists that the Taliban fighters are delivered by helicopter. “I do not know to which country the helicopters belonged,” he tells the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. “But these are the same helicopters that are taking the Taliban from Helmand to Kandahar and from there to the north, especially to Baghlan.” According to Gul, the district department of the National Security Directorate has identified the choppers, but refuses to comment. Baghlan police chief, Mohammad Kabir Andarabi, says that his department has reported to Kabul that foreign helicopters are transporting the Taliban into Baghlan. Baghlan provincial governor, Mohammad Akbar Barikzai, tells a news conference that his intelligence and security services have discovered that unidentified helicopters have been landing at night in some parts of the province. “We are investigating,” he says. [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009] Other officials say the militants are not only Taliban. The provincial governor of Kunduz claims the fighters being transported are members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Sanobar Shermatova, a Moscow-based Central Asia analyst, writes that the IMU likely comprises the bulk of Taliban-allied militants moving into northern Afghanistan. [Eurasianet, 10/13/2009; Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 11/6/2009] Afghan Lower House representative, Ms. Najia Aimaq, quotes Interior Ministry authorities who say that helicopters are transporting Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s men to the northern provinces to fight the Taliban. [Nukhost Daily via UNAMA, 10/14/2009]
Who Is Providing the Air Transport? - Unconfirmed reports are circulating that the helicopters are American, according to Iran’s Press TV. [Press TV, 10/12/2009] McClatchy suggests that although Karzai does not say which nations he suspects are providing the helicopters, his remarks stir speculation that the US is somehow involved. However, a Karzai campaign staffer will later clarify that Karzai does not mean to imply the helicopters are American (see October 14 - 29, 2009). “We believe what the American ambassador [Karl Eikenberry] has said, and that the helicopters don’t belong to America,” says Moen Marastyal, an Afghan parliament member who has worked on the Karzai re-election campaign. [McClatchy, 10/14/2009] Afghan political analyst Ghulam Haidar Haidar asserts that foreign forces led by the US are behind the increasing instability in Kunduz and that coalition forces are training and equipping the insurgents in order to spread insecurity to Central Asia. “The United States wants a base from which to threaten Russia,” he says. An unnamed resident from Chahr Dara district echoes Haidar’s analysis, insisting that the Taliban are being supported by the US. “I saw it with my own eyes,” he says. “I was bringing my cattle home in the evening, and I saw Taliban getting off American helicopters. They were also unloading motorcycles from these aircraft. Later, a local mullah whom I know very well went to talk to the Americans, and then the helicopter left.” [Asia Times, 10/16/2009] Press TV will later cite unnamed diplomats who say the British army has been relocating Taliban insurgents from southern Afghanistan to the north via its Chinook helicopters. [Press TV, 10/17/2009] According to Rahim Rahimi, a professor at Balkh University, both America and Britain are trying to undermine security in Afghanistan to justify the need for foreign forces. “They will try and destabilize the north any way they can,” he says. “It is a good excuse to expand their presence in the area, to get a grip on the gas and oil in Central Asia.” [Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 10/29/2009]
Entity Tags: North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Sanobar Shermatova, Rahim Rahimi, Taliban, Stanley A. McChrystal, Najia Aimaq, Sayed Rafiq, Mohammad Kabir Andarabi, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Moen Marastyal, Afghan National Security Forces, Amir Gul, Mohammad Akbar Barikzai, Ghulam Haidar Haidar, International Security Assistance Force, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Hamid Karzai
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
A New York Times investigation finds that some munitions procured by the Pentagon for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are leaking to the Taliban and other insurgents for use against American troops. Arms and ordnance collected from dead insurgents are found to be identical to ammunition the United States and other allies have provided to Afghan government forces, according to an examination of ammunition markings and interviews with American officers and arms dealers conducted by the New York Times. Military officials, arms analysts, and dealers say that poor American and Afghan controls on the vast inventory of weapons and ammunition sent to Afghanistan—as well as outright corruption among Afghan forces—may have helped insurgents stay supplied. Furthermore, military officers say that American forces do not examine all captured weapons to trace how insurgents obtain them, nor do they seek to determine whether the Afghan government, directly or indirectly, is a significant Taliban supplier. An American unit from the 26th Infantry allows the New York Times to examine the weapons it had retrieved from a raid on Taliban fighters. Examination of the Taliban’s cartridges finds telling signs of diversion in which the ammunition bears markings from an American company which sells cartridges to Afghan soldiers and police officers through middlemen. Ammo from a Czech company which has donated surplus ammo to the Afghan government is also identified.
Afghan Government and Security Forces Blamed for Weapon Diversions - The New York Times cautions that given the large number of potential weapons sources, “the probability that the Taliban and the Pentagon were sharing identical supply sources [is] small.” James Bevan, a researcher specializing in ammunition for the Geneva-based research group, Small Arms Survey, says that the munitions have most likely slipped from Afghan state custody. Mr. Bevan, who has documented ammunition diversion in Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan, surmises that interpreters, soldiers, or police officers sell ammunition for profit or pass it along for other reasons, including support for the insurgency. The American military does not dispute the possibility that theft or corruption could be steering ammunition to insurgents, but it backs Mr. Bevan’s statement that illicit diversion of arms is the fault of Afghan security forces, particularly corruption within the police. Capt. James C. Howell, commander of the unit that captured the ammunition, says the findings are unsurprising but explains that this form of corruption is not the norm, citing poor discipline and oversight in the Afghan national security forces rather than deliberate diversion. Another officer, Brig. Gen. Anthony R. Ierardi, the deputy commander of the transition command, cautions that insurgent use of American-procured munitions is not widespread, noting that the captured ammunition sampling was small and that munitions might have leaked to the Taliban through less nefarious means.
United States Military Also to Blame - The United States military was recently criticized by the Government Accountability Office and the Pentagon’s Inspector General, which blamed the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan for failing to account for hundreds of thousands of weapons issued to the ANSF, warning that unaccounted for weapons were at great risk of being diverted to insurgents (see February 12, 2009) and (see October 24, 2008). [New York Times, 5/19/2009]
Entity Tags: Taliban, Small Arms Survey, James C. Howell, New York Times, Afghan National Security Forces, Afghan National Police, Afghan National Army, Anthony Ierardi, Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, Government Accountability Office, James Bevan, Office of the Inspector General (DoD)
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Pakistan’s army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, suggests that NATO weapons are crossing the border from Afghanistan and going to the Taliban in Pakistan. In an interview with CNN, General Abbas links Afghanistan to the battle between Pakistani armed forces and the Taliban in Pakistan’s Swat valley, saying that the Taliban are “very well equipped from the border area.” Abbas adds that the United States should “stop worrying about the nukes and start worrying about the weapons lost in Afghanistan.” He explains that Washington is neglecting this problem by focusing too much on the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. General Abbas further suggests, without elaborating, that the Taliban are also getting weapons and support from “foreign intelligence agencies.” [CNN, 5/29/2009]
The price of the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle more than doubles in Afghanistan. Time reports that the price of a Chinese-made AK-47 smuggled in from Pakistan has risen to $400 from $150 in just three months. The Independent reports that the weapons are going for $600 apiece and that a steady stream of them is heading to the north of the country. Both sources suggest that the surge in demand for the guns is due in part to mounting tensions over the disputed August presidential elections, which are widely perceived by Afghans, diplomats, and foreign observers as marred by fraud in favor of current President Hamid Karzai. “People are arming themselves,” Time quotes one Western official in Kabul as saying. In the Panjshir Valley, the heartland of the Northern Alliance and a Tajik stronghold of presidential challenger Abdullah Abdullah, former Mujahedeen commander Gul Shah Mohammed tells The Independent that the Tajiks will not tolerate being deprived by a fraudulent poll. “We know how to use these weapons, we haven’t forgotten how to fight,” he declares. [Independent, 9/2/2009; Time, 9/10/2009] Such a dramatic rise in price is an ominous sign of demand in a country already awash in weapons. In addition to the demand and flow of arms to the north, also portentous is the sharp rise in Taliban presence and activity in the previously peaceful northern regions of Afghanistan (see Between January and September 2009), and reports that Taliban and other insurgents are being ferried to the north by helicopter (see May-October 12, 2009).
US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) sends 1,000 more Special Operations forces and support staff into Afghanistan, military sources tell Fox News contributor and conservative author Rowan Scarborough. A spokesman at SOCOM confirms this will bring the publicly acknowledged number of Special Operations forces in Afghanistan to about 5,000. The movement of forces comes as Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal is awaiting Senate confirmation to take command in Afghanistan. McChrystal is expected to put more emphasis on using Special Forces and black operations for counterinsurgency, man hunting, capture, and assassination operations.
Revamping Special Operations Afghanistan - SOCOM has also been revamping the command structure and the way commandos operate in Afghanistan. Military sources say Brigadier General Ed Reeder, who heads the new Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command in Afghanistan, has changed the way Green Beret “A” Teams, Delta Force, and other special operators conduct counterinsurgency. Reeder’s new secret command combines the more open Green Berets and Marine commandos with secret Delta Force and Navy SEAL units that conduct manhunts. The covert side works in task forces identified by a secret three-digit number, and is aided by Army Rangers and a Joint Interagency Task Force made up of the CIA, National Security Agency, FBI, and other intelligence units. [Fox News, 6/5/2009]
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment--Delta, Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command, Central Intelligence Agency, Ed Reeder, Green Berets, Navy Seals, US Army Rangers, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Defense, US Special Operations Command, Stanley A. McChrystal
Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen calls Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev) to press for Stanley McChrystal’s speedy confirmation as the new top commander in Afghanistan. Mullen stresses that it is a matter of urgency that McChrystal be able to depart for Afghanistan this very night. According to Reid, Admiral Mullen says that “McChrystal is literally waiting by an airplane” to leave. Later on the Senate floor during the confirmation proceedings, Reid will tell of the call from Mullen in an impassioned plea for McChrystal’s speedy confirmation (see June 10, 2009). [New York Times, 6/10/2009]
The US Senate unanimously approves Stanley McChrystal’s appointment as the next commander of US and allied forces in Afghanistan. The Senate also approves his promotion to four-star general. [Associated Press, 6/10/2009] The New York Times reports that in order to prevent any delay in McChrystal’s confirmation, Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev) makes an impassioned plea for a swift yes vote on the Senate floor, telling of a phone call he received from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen in which Mullen told him that it was urgent that McChrystal be able to go to Afghanistan that very night (see Early June 10, 2009). McChrystal and senior members of his command team are reportedly scheduled to fly from Washington within hours of the Senate vote confirming his appointment, with two stops planned in Europe to confer with allies before landing in Kabul. [New York Times, 6/10/2009]
General Stanley McChrystal, commander of military forces in Afghanistan, pushes successfully for the installment of his personal choice to head the CIA station in Kabul after Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan, objects to the CIA’s original choice for the post. ABC News will report that after the CIA withdraws its preferred candidate due to Holbrooke’s objection, McChrystal successfully pressures it to appoint the official he has in mind, who is known only as “Spider.” [ABC News, 2/19/2010; Wall Street Journal, 8/24/2010] According to ABC, Spider is a friend and career paramilitary operative with prior experience in an elite Marine commando unit and as the CIA’s liaison to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) at a time when JSOC was headed by McChrystal. ABC notes that Spider previously served as CIA station chief in Kabul sometime in the middle of the decade (see (June 2004)). A spokesperson for Holbrooke will later deny his involvement in the decision. CIA spokesman George Little will also deny that Holbrooke or McChrystal had any involvement in the agency’s decision.
Intelligence Officers Fear CIA Subordinate to the Military - Current and former intelligence officials will later tell ABC that the CIA’s capitulation to McChrystal and Holbrooke indicates a waning of its influence in Afghanistan. “McChrystal can have anyone he wants running the CIA station,” says a former senior intelligence official and Pentagon consultant. The officials fear the episode is proof that the CIA has become subordinate to the military in shaping strategy and relegated to an historically unprecedented supporting role. “The CIA is supposed to be a check on the military and their intelligence, not their hand maiden,” adds former CIA agent Robert Baer. “This is a sign of things to come, where the military dominates intelligence.” [ABC News, 2/19/2010]
Militarization of the CIA and a Special Forces Surge - Soon after McChrystal is tapped to become the new commander, he leads an effort to increase the role of Special Forces in intelligence and operations which coincides with increased militarization of the CIA in Afghanistan. Within months, the CIA will expand its teams of spies, analysts, and paramilitary operatives in Afghanistan to support an expanding covert war led by Special Operations and military intelligence (see September 2009). According to one current intelligence official, the CIA has roughly 800 personnel in Afghanistan. [ABC News, 2/19/2010] In June, just ahead of McChrystal’s confirmation, the Pentagon sends 1,000 additional Special Operations personnel to Afghanistan, raising the publicly acknowledged number of Special Operations forces there to about 5,000 (see June 5, 2009).
The CIA releases heavily redacted documents containing statements by Guantanamo detainees concerning their allegations of torture and abuse at the hands of CIA personnel. The documents are released as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The lawsuit seeks uncensored transcripts from Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) that determine if prisoners held by the Defense Department at Guantanamo qualify as “enemy combatants.” Previously released versions were redacted so heavily as to contain almost no information about abuse allegations; the current versions, while still heavily redacted, contain some new information. ACLU attorney Ben Wizner, the lead attorney on the FOIA lawsuit, says: “The documents released today provide further evidence of brutal torture and abuse in the CIA’s interrogation program and demonstrate beyond doubt that this information has been suppressed solely to avoid embarrassment and growing demands for accountability. There is no legitimate basis for the Obama administration’s continued refusal to disclose allegations of detainee abuse, and we will return to court to seek the full release of these documents.” The ACLU press release notes, “The newly unredacted information includes statements from the CSRTs of former CIA detainees,” and includes quotes from alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003); alleged high-level al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see Mid-May 2002 and After); and accused terrorists Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see (November 2002)) and Majid Khan (see March 10-April 15, 2007). These statements include details about their treatment, which the ACLU refers to as “torture and coercion”:
Abu Zubaida - “After months of suffering and torture, physically and mentally, they did not care about my injuries that they inflicted to my eye, to my stomach, to my bladder, and my left thigh and my reproductive organs. They didn’t care that I almost died from these injuries. Doctors told me that I nearly died four times.… They say ‘this in your diary.’ They say ‘see you want to make operation against America.’ I say no, the idea is different. They say no, torturing, torturing. I say ‘okay, I do. I was decide to make operation.’”
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri - “[And, they used to] drown me in water.”
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed - “This is what I understand he [a CIA interrogator] told me: you are not American and you are not on American soil. So you cannot ask about the Constitution.”
Majid Khan - “In the end, any classified information you have is through… agencies who physically and mentally tortured me.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 6/15/2009]
Thousands of US Marines launch Operation Khanjar (“Strike of the Sword”) in a campaign to assert control in the lower Helmand River valley, a stronghold of the Taliban and other insurgent groups and center of the world’s largest opium poppy producing region. Nearly 4,000 Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) are deployed in the offensive, which is being called one of the biggest operations conducted by foreign troops in Afghanistan since the 1989 Soviet withdrawal. Approximately 650 Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police forces also participate in the mission. An adjacent operation called “Panther Claw” initiated by British-led Task Force Helmand has been under way in northern Helmand for a week. Operation Khanjar marks the beginning of a new effort by the US and its allies to assert control in Afghanistan since the arrival of commander General Stanley McChrystal, as well as the first major initiative under the Obama administration’s troop increase and counterinsurgency strategy, which it says is intended to secure and stabilize the country. US commanders say the operation is part of an effort to restore the authority of local government and security forces in Helmand and to secure the region for the presidential elections scheduled for August. “What makes Operation Khanjar different from those that have occurred before is the massive size of the force introduced, the speed at which it will insert, and the fact that where we go we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build, and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces,” says Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commanding general of the MEB in Afghanistan. US Forces reportedly meet with very little direct resistance as insurgents blend into the local population and prepare for later attacks. [Reuters, 7/2/2009; Marines.mil, 7/2/2009]
US military leaflet dispersed to villages in Paktika and Ghazni provinces, Afghanistan. [Source: CBS]The US military blankets at least two southeastern Afghan villages with leaflets made at Bagram Air Base that threaten to “target” villagers with aggressive measures if a US soldier who was kidnapped by the Taliban in the area is not freed. Villagers tell CBS News that aircraft drop the leaflets over a period of several days, and that the papers are found stuck in trees and scattered on rooftops. One side of the leaflet shows a US soldier with his head bowed and the message, “If you do not free the American soldier, then…” The message continues on the other side: “… you will be targeted” (or “hunted,” according to one translation) over an image of Western troops kicking down a door to break into a house. Military spokeswoman Captain Elizabeth Mathias later confirms that the leaflets are produced at Bagram Air Base and distributed in the region. She will contradict the villagers’ account, however, saying they were distributed by hand, not by aircraft. Mathias then explains that another, non-threatening leaflet was dropped from aircraft in the region. This leaflet informs locals that a US soldier is missing and requests information on his whereabouts. Mathias’ colleague, Lieutenant Commander Christine Sidenstricker, says no threats were made in this air-dropped leaflet, which, according to the US military’s translation, reads: “One of our American guests is missing. Return the guest to his home.” The leaflet includes a phone number and shows a US soldier sitting among smiling Afghan children. Taliban commander Mawlavi Sangin tells Reuters that US forces have been harassing Afghans in Paktika and Ghazni provinces over the kidnapping. “They have put pressure on the people in these two provinces and if that does not stop we will kill [the kidnapped US soldier],” Sangin says by telephone. [CBS News, 7/16/2009; Reuters, 7/16/2009]
Winning over and Protecting the Local Population? - The US military launched a major operation in the southern province of Helmand on July 2 (see Early Morning July 2, 2009) under US President Obama’s recent troop escalation and counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan that new US commander Stanley McChrystal has said is intended, in part, to “win over” and protect the Afghan people. “At the end of the day, you’re fighting for the population, not with the population or against the population,” McChrystal tells the New York Times. [New York Times, 7/15/2009]
Villagers from towns in Helmand province accuse provincial Afghan police forces of perpetrating abuse against the local population recently and in the period before the Taliban re-gained control of the region. The reports include accusations of extortion and the rape of pre-teen boys. Villagers tell US and British troops who have arrived in the area for major operations (see Early Morning July 2, 2009) about the abuses, and say that the local police are a bigger problem than the Taliban. In fact, village elders say that they are willing to support the Taliban against coalition troops if these police forces are allowed to return. The accusations are acknowledged by some Western civilian and military officials, but their response is tepid. Adding to the problem of abuse and corruption is that the districts where the US-British military operation in Helmand is taking place are especially sensitive because they contain the main opium poppy fields in the province. Some of the police are linked to the private militia of a powerful warlord who has been implicated in drug trafficking. Former US ambassador to Afghanistan, Ronald Neumann, says that the problem is not surprising and can be traced back to the creation of the national police after the overthrow of the Taliban regime in late 2001 (see November 13, 2001). Neumann recalls that the Afghan police were “constituted from the forces that were then fighting the Taliban.” [Inter Press Service, 7/29/2009]
Child Rape, Extortion - “The police would stop people driving on motorcycles, beat them, and take their money,” says Mohammad Gul, an elder in the village of Pankela, which British troops have been operating for the past three days. Gul also points to two compounds where pre-teen boys have been abducted by police to be used for the local practice of “bachabazi,” or sex with pre-pubescent boys. “If the boys were out in the fields, the police would come and rape them,” he says. “You can go to any police base and you will see these boys. They hold them until they are finished with them and then let the child go.” The Interior Ministry in Kabul says it will address the reports only after contacting police commanders in the area. [Reuters, 7/12/2009] A villager in the village of Aynak, Ghulam Mohammad, says that villagers are happy with the Afghan army, but not the police. “We can’t complain to the police because they take money and abuse people,” he says. [Associated Press, 7/13/2009]
Some Locals Prefer Taliban to Afghan Police - Mohammad Rasul, an elderly farmer, says that local people rejoiced when the Taliban arrived in the village 10 months ago and drove the police out. Even though his own son was killed by a Taliban roadside bomb five years ago, Rasul says the Taliban fighters earned their welcome in the village by treating people with respect. “We were happy [after the Taliban arrived]. The Taliban never bothered us,” he says. “If [the British] bring these people back, we can’t live here. If they come back, I am sure they will burn everything.” Another resident adds: “The people here trust the Taliban. If the police come back and behave the same way, we will support the Taliban to drive them out.” [Reuters, 7/12/2009] Similarly, within hours of the arrival of US troops in Aynak, villagers report the police abuse to US military officers and claim the local police force is “a bigger problem than the Taliban.” [Associated Press, 7/13/2009]
Police Linked to Narco Warlord's Militia - Afghan police in the province are linked to corrupt local warlord Sher Mohammed Akhunzadeh. Akhunzadeh, a former Mujihideen commander and ally of President Hamid Karzai, has been implicated in heroin trafficking and the maintenance of a vengeful private militia from which many of the local police force were drawn under a Karzai plan to form an “Afghanistan National Auxiliary Police.” Akhundzada was the Karzai-appointed governor of Helmand for four years but was forced to step down after a British-trained counter narcotics team found nearly 10 tons of heroin in his basement. He remained powerful in the province, however, after Karzai appointed weak governors and/or allies in his place, allowing him to maintain control of the police, who were drawn in part from his own 500-man private army. Akhundzada’s predatory reign ended in 2008 when the Taliban regained control of the region. [Inter Press Service, 7/29/2009]
Official US and UK Response Tepid - The spokesman for British-led Task Force Helmand, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, tells IPS that the task force is aware of the grievances voiced by village elders to British officers. He declines, however, to specify the grievances that are imparted to the British and says, “If there is any allegation, it will be dealt with by the appropriate authorities.” He specifies that this would mean “the chain of command of the Afghan national police.” The spokesman for the US 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB), Captain William Pelletier, is even less helpful. He tells IPS that he has no information about the allegations of misconduct by police as reported to British officers. IPS notes that the MEB’s headquarters in Helmand are right next to those of the British Task Force Helmand. Pelletier does not respond to another IPS query about the popular allegations made to US officers of police abuses in the US area of responsibility in Helmand. [Inter Press Service, 7/29/2009]
Training for Afghan National Police - The Associated Press reports that after US troops arrive in the district, they send the old police force in Aynak to a US-sponsored training program called “focused district development.” The program, launched last spring, is geared toward police officers mainly from districts in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, and gives them eight weeks of intense training. Thousands of the nation’s 83,000-strong police force have already undergone training at regional training centers staffed by Western military personnel and police officers hired by US private security firm DynCorp, according to an NPR report. It is unclear whether the abusive police in Aynak had received US training under this program, but the head of the interim police force that replaced the abusive police, Colonel Ghulam, says that these officers had already had training. “They had training but not enough, and that’s why the people had problems with them,” he says. [National Public Radio, 3/17/2008; Associated Press, 7/13/2009]
Entity Tags: Task Force Helmand, Sher Mohammed Akhunzadeh, Taliban, Ronald Neumann, Hamid Karzai, Nick Richardson, Afghan Ministry of Interior, Afghan National Army, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Afghan National Police, DynCorp International, Ghulam, Afghan National Security Forces, William Pelletier
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Inter Press Service correspondent Gareth Porter reports that provincial police forces in Helmand province of Afghanistan accused of systemic abuses against the local population are likely returning to the opium-rich area behind US and British forces engaged in major military operations there (see Early Morning July 2, 2009). One stated goal of the coalition operations is to clear out the Taliban and secure the region in order to allow the Afghan National Army and police to take over control of the population. Porter reports that the strategy poses an acute problem because the Afghan police in the province are linked to corrupt local warlord Sher Mohammed Akhunzadeh and have systematically committed abuses against the population, including the abduction and rape of pre-teen boys. As a result, the local population has repeatedly expressed a preference for the Taliban over the local police force (see July 12-14, 2009). Akhunzadeh, an ally of President Hamid Karzai, has been implicated in heroin trafficking and the maintenance of a vengeful private militia from which many of the local police force were drawn under a Karzai plan to form an “Afghanistan National Auxiliary Police.” Porter writes that it is not clear whether US and British forces in Helmand will prevent the return of these abusive police. On the one hand, US troops in the town of Aynak have reportedly sent problematic police stationed in the local headquarters out of the province for several weeks of training, replacing them with a unit they had brought with them. Yet this implies the old police will return after training. Furthermore, the spokesman for the British Task Force Helmand, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, tells Porter that both the Afghan military and police, who had been ousted by the Taliban before the US-British offensive in Helmand, “are returning to the area bit by bit.” In fact, the Associated Press reports that US troops encountered a group of these police occupying the headquarters when they entered the village of Aynak, suggesting the police force had either returned or had never left. [Associated Press, 7/13/2009; Inter Press Service, 7/29/2009]
The July death toll for coalition troops fighting in Afghanistan reaches 47, surpassing full month highs set in August and June 2008. The record toll comes in the two weeks since the US and its allies launched a massive offensive dubbed “Operation Khanjar” in opium-ridden Helmand province as part of the Obama administration’s new escalation and counterinsurgency strategy (see Early Morning July 2, 2009). According to a CNN count based on government figures, the deaths in July so far include 23 Americans, 15 Britons, five Canadians, two Turks, an Italian, and a NATO soldier whose nationality has not been revealed. [CNN, 6/16/2009]
Surge and Death Rate Mirror Iraq War - In the two weeks coinciding with the launch of US-led “Operation Khanjar,” international troops have died at an average rate of three a day, which is almost 20 times the rate in Afghanistan from 2001-04 and approaching the death rate of the deadliest days in Iraq. “It is something we did anticipate occurring as we extend our influence in the south,” says US Rear Admiral Greg Smith, spokesman for US and NATO forces, adding that the increased violence is likely to continue for several months at minimum. The Obama administration’s escalation strategy resembles some tactics of the “surge” of additional forces that then-President Bush ordered in Iraq in 2007, which saw months of increased American casualties before violence declined (see December 30, 2007). The US military does not use the term “surge” to refer to the increase in forces in Afghanistan because the escalation is considered indefinite as opposed to the time limit the Bush administration set in Iraq. [Reuters, 6/15/2009]
US troop deaths in Afghanistan reach 31, the highest toll for US troops in Afghanistan in any month since the war began in late 2001, surpassing the previous record of 28 deaths in June 2008. “This is probably the new normal,” says Seth G. Jones, an analyst for the Rand Corporation and author of a new book on the war in Afghanistan. “I’d actually be shocked if casualties didn’t continue to increase.” The Washington Post notes that although thousands of US Marines are in the midst of a major operation in the southern province of Helmand (see Early Morning July 2, 2009), American troops suffer the heaviest losses in the eastern part of the country where 16 US soldiers have been killed so far this month. The majority of the fatalities are caused by roadside bombs, which have grown increasingly sophisticated. [Washington Post, 7/22/2009] By the end of the month, the death toll for US troops will reach at least 43 among 75 coalition troops killed. [Voice of America, 7/31/2009] A similar spike in US military fatalities occurred in Iraq in 2007 just after then-President George W. Bush dispatched around 30,000 additional troops to the country (see December 30, 2007). US troop levels will roughly double this year in Afghanistan, a rate of increase sharper than that of the Iraq “surge” ordered by Bush (see January 10, 2007). [Washington Post, 7/22/2009]
Stanley Karnow, seated, in Washington, paying respect to the first American causalities killed in Vietnam. July 8, 2009. [Source: Chase Martinez / Washington Times, via AP]Richard Holbrooke, US special envoy to Afghanistan, and Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal, telephone Stanley Karnow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnam War historian to discuss the similarities between the two American wars and to seek guidance from the eminent scholar. Holbrooke will later confirm that the three men conferred on the two wars. “We discussed the two situations and what to do,” he will say during a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels. Karnow, an acknowledged critic of the war in Afghanistan, will also confirm that the discussion was held. “Holbrooke rang me from Kabul and passed the phone to the general,” says Karnow, who authored the 1983 book, Vietnam: A History. He does not, however, elaborate on the specifics of the conversation. The telephone call is made in the context of a reevaluation of American strategy in Afghanistan amidst an escalation in spending, troops, and casualties. President Obama has tasked General McChrystal to conduct a strategic review of the increasingly criticized and unpopular war.
Comparing Ngo Dinh Diem and Hamid Karzai - Among the issues voiced by scholars and analysts who draw their own analogies between the Vietnam War and the war in Afghanistan is the credibility of President Hamid Karzai’s government, which is widely seen as corrupt and ineffective. David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency specialist who the Associated Press reports will soon assume a role as a senior adviser to McChrystal, compares Karzai to former South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem. “[Karzai] has a reasonably clean personal reputation but he’s seen as ineffective; his family are corrupt; he’s alienated a very substantial portion of the population,” Kilcullen says. “He seems paranoid and delusional and out of touch with reality,” he continues. “That’s all the sort of things that were said about President Diem in 1963.” Ngo Dinh Diem was killed in a US-backed coup in 1963 (see November 1963).
Comparing the 1967 Vietnam Ballot and the 2009 Afghanistan Ballot - The Associated Press quotes other analysts who draw parallels between Afghanistan’s presidential election schedule for August 20 and the failed US effort in Vietnam to legitimize a military regime lacking broad popular support through an imposed presidential election in 1967. James McAllister, a political science professor who has written extensively on Vietnam, recognizes why US policy chiefs are looking to the Vietnam War for parallels and lessons, especially with regard to the presidential elections. “That [1967 ballot] helped ensure that US efforts would continue to be compromised by its support for a corrupt, unpopular regime in Saigon,” McAllister says. Rufus Phillips, Holbrooke’s former boss in Vietnam and author of the book Why Vietnam Matters, echoes this warning. “The rigged election in South Vietnam proved [to be] the most destructive and destabilizing factor of all,” says Phillips, now in Kabul helping to monitor the upcoming election.
Karnow: Lessons We Learned from Vietnam and What to Expect in Afghanistan - “It now seems unthinkable that the US could lose [in Afghanistan], but that’s what experts… thought in Vietnam in 1967,” Karnow will say later, from his home in Maryland. “It could be that there will be no real conclusion and that it will go on for a long time until the American public grows tired of it.” When asked what lessons could be drawn from the Vietnam experience, Karnow will tell the Associated Press: “What did we learn from Vietnam? We learned that we shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Obama and everybody else seem to want to be in Afghanistan, but not I.” [Associated Press, 8/6/2009]
Britain’s ambassador to the United States, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, warns that Afghanistan will need “global support” for decades before being able to govern and protect itself. “We’re going to have a very long-term commitment to Afghanistan’s future,” he says. “This is not just one year; this is going to be for decades. We’re going to help them get to a state which they can ward off the return of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. That’s our strategic objective.” Sheinwald denies that public support for British involvement in Afghanistan is flagging, saying that opinion in Britain remains evenly divided on the war and will improve when results are seen “over the next year or so.” Sheinwald is accompanying British Foreign Secretary David Miliband who is on a two-day visit to the US to discuss war policy in Afghanistan with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, among others. [Boston Globe, 7/31/2009]
Anders Fogh Rasmussen. [Source: Publicity Photo]NATO will stay in Afghanistan “for as long as it takes,” according to the new NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. “We will support the Afghan people for as long as it takes—let me repeat that, for as long as it takes,” Rasmussen says in a press conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Opening his remarks with a moral argument, Rasmussen says, “Anyone who believes in basic human rights, including women’s rights, should support this mission.” He also states that NATO’s immediate goal is to ensure “credible elections,” which are scheduled for later in the month. Rasmussen, who has just replaced Jap de Hoop Scheffer as NATO chief, explains NATO’s longer-term goal in terms of handing over the lead in security to the Afghan National Security Forces, with NATO stepping back into a support role. “The longer-term goal must be to move forward, concretely and visibly, with transferring lead security responsibility for Afghanistan to the Afghans,” he says. [CNN, 8/3/2009; NATO, 8/3/2009]
The British general in line to become the UK’s next head of the Army states that British and international engagement in Afghanistan could last up to 30 or 40 years. “The Army’s role will evolve, but the whole process might take as long as 30 to 40 years,” General Sir David Richards says in an interview with the London Times. Richards, who was a former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, emphasizes that British troop involvement there should only be needed for the medium term, but insists that there is “absolutely no chance” of NATO pulling out. “I believe that the UK will be committed to Afghanistan in some manner—development, governance, security sector reform—for the next 30 to 40 years,” he says. Liam Fox, the shadow defense secretary, responds that 30 to 40 years in Afghanistan is untenable and unaffordable. “Any idea of maintaining military involvement for that length of time is not a runner. It would require a total rethink of our foreign and security policy,” he says. General Richards adds that Western forces need to focus on the expansion of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police as part of an exit strategy that should not be understood as an abandonment of the region. In fact, the general insists that Western forces will stay on to demonstrate their commitment to the region and to prove “opponents” wrong. “We need now to focus on the expansion of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. Just as in Iraq, it is our route out militarily, but the Afghan people and our opponents need to know that this does not mean our abandoning the region. We made this mistake once. Our opponents are banking on us doing it again, and we must prove them wrong,” he says. [London Times, 8/8/2009] Richards will later seek to clarify his comments, stating that British military involvement “along current lines” would be needed for a much shorter period than broader international engagement in development, governance, and security sector reform. [Reuters, 8/17/2009]
US Brigadier General Walter Givhan says that the US military is looking to eventually equip Afghanistan’s air corps with unmanned aircraft, otherwise known as “drones,” for surveillance missions. Givhan, who is working to train and arm Afghanistan’s air force, says that although the US military is not presently seeking to arm the corps with drones, they are likely to be supplied in the future. “I think it fits into that category of things that, as we continue to develop and we get the basics down, that we look at adding to their portfolio,” Givhan says. [Agence France-Presse, 8/12/2009] Givhan explains to Agence France-Presse that the US military wants to give Afghanistan’s air force the capability to carry out reconnaissance and surveillance missions, which would initially be carried out with manned aircraft, but because Afghanistan also needs to deploy manned aircraft for moving troops and supplies, the Afghan military will eventually need to have the unmanned (drone) option. The plan to revive the country’s air force is part of a wider US-led effort to train and equip the Afghan National Security Forces. The Afghan Army’s air corps currently has 36 aircraft and 2,700 airmen, but Washington’s goal is to increase the fleet to 139 aircraft with 7,250 airmen by 2016, according to Givhan. [Agence France-Presse, 8/12/2009]
Extrajudicial Killing and High Civilian Casualties - The US has used drones extensively in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, not only for surveillance, but also for targeted missile attacks that have killed civilians and militant leaders alike, earning the widely unpopular weapon strong criticism as a legally dubious instrument of extrajudicial killing. [CBS News, 7/21/2009] A Brookings report, citing analysis by journalists Peter Bergen, Katherine Tiedemann, and Pakistani terrorism expert Amir Mir, estimates that drones may have killed 10 civilians for every militant killed in Pakistan. [New Republic, 6/3/2009; Brookings, 7/14/2009] Counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen has cited even more alarming statistics. In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, he said that 98 civilians are killed for every two targeted individuals. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 1/6/2009]
Malcolm Nance, the former master instructor and chief of training at the Navy’s Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) School who now serves as a consultant on counterterrorism and terrorism intelligence for the US government, makes a cogent point about “breaking” interrogation subjects. Nance is interviewed by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who asks: “One of the other things that I think is a term that sort of gets bandied around by civilians who don’t have experience in these things when we talk about, not only the politics of interrogation, but also the utility of interrogation, is this idea of somebody being broken, a prisoner, the subject of an interrogation being a broken person. And that was described by political actors about interrogation techniques as sort of the goal, about what the idea was to—what the object was of what we wanted to be doing to al-Qaeda prisoners. Does breaking a person in interrogation terms make sense if what you’re trying to do is get real information out of them?” Nance replies, “The process of ‘breaking,’ quote-unquote, a prisoner is not something interrogators do. Interrogators really don’t want to break you down as a human being and take away all of your ability to think and reason and give a coherent answer. That was something that was developed by totalitarian and hostile regimes who saw that a confession is what they wanted out of you. They didn’t care whether you had done it or not. A confession is what they needed out of you, and to get that confession, what they would do is break you physically, psychologically, and mentally so that you could get into a state of learned helplessness and you would comply no matter what they would say. Now, this killed hundreds, if not thousands, of American service members in Korea, World War II, and Vietnam. And this is not something which any real interrogator would want to try because, of course, at that point, you are not getting information. You are just getting compliance. And any idiot can comply and that makes no intelligence whatsoever.” Nance and Maddow note that former SERE psychologists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, the two SERE psychologists who designed the US torture program (see Late 2001-Mid-March 2002, January 2002 and After, Late March through Early June, 2002, April - June 2002, Mid-April 2002, April 16, 2002, Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002, Mid-May 2002 and After, June 2002, July 2002, April 2009, and April 30, 2009), were experienced in the methodologies of “breaking” prisoners and not in extracting useful information. [MSNBC, 8/13/2009]
Defense Secretary Robert Gates offers no timeline for a US withdrawal from Afghanistan and states that the length of US combat engagement there is a “mystery.” When asked at a press conference how long he thinks American combat forces will be fighting active war in Afghanistan, Gates, a former CIA director, responds: “[I]n the intelligence business, we always used to categorize information in two ways, secrets and mysteries.… Mysteries were those where there were too many variables to predict. And I think that how long US forces will be in Afghanistan is in that area.” When pressed further, he reasserts the unpredictability of the proposition, but guesses that “a few years” may be required to defeat the insurgency militarily, and that the larger enterprise of institution-building and economic development will require US engagement for decades. Responding to a question concerning a statement made by incoming British Army Chief General Sir David Richards that British and international engagement in Afghanistan could last up to 30 or 40 years (see August 8, 2009), Gates replies that he does not agree that troops will be committed in combat operations for that long, but agrees with Richards’s later distinction that wider engagement in areas such as economic development and governance will be a “decades-long enterprise.” Joining Gates at the press conference is Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman General James Cartwright. Cartwright backs Gates’s “mystery” assessment, but he links the possibility of force withdrawal to the political situation and handing over competencies to the Afghan National Security Forces. [Associated Press, 8/13/2009; U.S. Department of Defense, 8/13/2009]
On the eve of the Afghan elections, Hezb-i-Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar speaks out on the war in Afghanistan in statements to various media outlets. In a statement given to CNN, Hekmatyar says that he is willing to “help” the US and NATO forces if they announce a pullout timeline and prepare to leave Afghanistan. “We are ready to help with the United States and… other coalition forces if foreign troops announce the time frame for the pulling out their troops from Afghanistan,” he says in the statement. “I am sure Afghans will fight US forces and will continue Jihad against them like they fought against Russia before if they don’t leave the country,” he adds. Hekmatyar does not define what he means by “help,” nor is it clear if he would agree to join coalition forces against the Taliban and other insurgents. [CNN, 8/17/2009] In an interview with Sky News on the same day, Hekmatyar elaborates. He emphasizes that he is open to negotiation and a political process, but says his forces would stop fighting only if negotiations for an end to the occupation are made in good faith: “We are not against [a] political solution.… We are ready to negotiate with friends and enemies, with Afghans and non-Afghans. We will not close the door to negotiations.” However, he reaffirms his demand for an end to foreign occupation and also rules out participation in any Afghan government formed under US and NATO occupation. “We never want to take part in a puppet government under foreign dictators and to end occupation and establishing an Islamic government in a free Afghanistan via a free election,” he says. Hekmatyar also says he is open to negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, but points out that there are some Taliban who refuse to cooperate with the Hezb-i-Islami to form a united Islamic front. The United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia, and the Afghan government have been engaged in negotiations with Hekmatyar representatives over the last year (see February 2009 and Early April 2009) to discuss possible arrangements in which Hekmatyar, who is wanted by the US government for terrorism, is granted immunity and a role in a future Afghan government. In the Sky News interview, Hekmatyar denies negotiations with Britain, but acknowledges having had contact with the Afghan government, which he describes as a “dirty swamp” of corruption under foreign control of which he wants no part. He indicates that Kabul is powerless and unwilling to implement the advice (and conditions) he sent it for “ending the war.” [Sky News, 8/17/2009] Hekmatyar is considered to be among the most ruthless and extreme of the Afghan warlords and has had deep ties to Osama bin Laden, the CIA, the ISI, and the drug trade (see 1984, 1983, and March 13, 1994).
Cover of CIA OIG report, with redactions. [Source: CIA / New York Times]A 2004 report by the CIA’s inspector general (IG) on torture (see May 7, 2004) is released to the public, after months of speculation as to its contents. The CIA opposed the release of the report for years, arguing that the release would demoralize its personnel and make it more difficult for the agency to do its job. The report’s release is triggered by a federal judge’s ruling in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The report, authored by former Inspector General John Helgerson, is heavily redacted, but the portions released to the public include a number of illegal and ethically questionable tactics used by US interrogators against detainees. Some of those tactics include the use of handguns, power drills, threats, smoke, and mock executions. Many of the techniques used against detainees were carried out without authorization from higher officials, and the Justice Department is reopening investigations into a number of the most serious allegations (see First Half of August 2009). The report says that the CIA’s efforts to provide “systematic, clear, and timely guidance” to interrogators were “inadequate at first” and that that failure largely coincided with the most significant incidents involving the unauthorized coercion of detainees, but as guidelines from the Justice Department accumulated over several years, oversight “improved considerably.” In the words of the Washington Post, “the report pointed to ongoing tensions between interrogators in the field and officials at the CIA Counterterrorism Center as to when detainees were compliant and when the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ was appropriate.” [MSNBC, 8/24/2009; Washington Post, 8/24/2009] In a statement, Helgerson says, “The most important findings of the review related to basic systemic issues: had management controls been established; were necessary laws, regulations, and guidelines in place and understood; had staff officers and contractors been adequately trained; and had they discharged their responsibilities properly?” [Washington Post, 8/24/2009] Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff says that the “report was generated at the beginning by agency officials within themselves who had deep concerns about what was going on. I was struck. One officer is quoted in this report saying that he’s concerned that he might one day—agency officers might one day end up on some ‘wanted list’ to appear before the world court for war crimes stemming from these activities. It was agents—it was the concerns about this came from within the agency. That’s what generated this report.”
Recommendations Redacted - Isikoff notes that at least half of the report is redacted, including the IG’s recommendations, and says, “I’m told the worst stuff is in those blacked out passages, which means we still don’t know the full story of this program.” [MSNBC, 8/25/2009] The report contains 10 recommendations for action on the CIA’s part, but all of them are redacted. [McClatchy, 8/24/2009] Helgerson states his regret that so much of the report is redacted. “The essence of the report is expressed in the Conclusions and Recommendations,” he says. “I am disappointed that the government did not release even a redacted version of the Recommendations, which described a number of corrective actions that needed to be taken.” [Washington Post, 8/24/2009] Isikoff’s Newsweek colleague, Mark Hosenball, says he believes much of the redacted information has to do with “renditions”: detainees transferred to foreign countries “and abused there.” [PBS, 8/24/2009]
Detailing 'Crime Scene[s]' - Author and reporter Jane Mayer says she believes the report, “in essence, [details] a crime scene. It’s very hard to get away from the fact that things like death threats and mock executions are specifically identified as torture under the Convention Against Torture and, therefore, are illegal, and they’re considered very major crimes. So the problem for the Obama administration, which inherited this report and the question about what to do about it, is that it’s a red flag to any prosecutor. It’s very hard to ignore this, when you’ve taken an oath of office that says you’re going to execute the laws and uphold the Constitution. So they’ve got to somehow do something with this. I was interviewing Larry [Laurence] Tribe, a law professor, who said, you know, it’s hard to do nothing about this when you see it.” Reporter David Ignatius notes that an earlier review by Justice Department prosecutors found that no one at the CIA could be prosecuted for crimes based on the findings of the report. However, that may no longer be true. “[I]t is interesting and troubling to people at the CIA that something that was already decided not prosecutable is now maybe prosecutable,” he says. Mayer notes that during the Bush administration, possible prosecutions were short-circuited by political appointees such as then-US Attorney Paul McNulty, “who was very much a political player, who actually wound up having to resign later in the Bush administration for other political problems.” [PBS, 8/24/2009]
Federal Prosecutor Appointed - In part as a result of reviewing the CIA report, Attorney General Eric Holder names a special prosecutor to determine if the CIA or its hired contractors broke any laws in interrogating detainees (see August 24, 2009).
Reactions - CIA Director Leon Panetta issues a statement that supports the agency’s efforts while avoiding defending torture or abuse. In his statement, Panetta writes that he is not “eager to enter the debate, already politicized, over the ultimate utility of the agency’s past detention and interrogation effort.” He says the program produced crucial intelligence but adds that use of the harsh methods “will remain a legitimate area of dispute.” Overall, Panetta says, the agency is committed to “moving forward” and not spending large amounts of time reflecting on past practices. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) calls the report, and the concurrent appointment of special prosecutor John Durham to investigate torture allegations (see August 24, 2009), “a great relief, a great moment for America as a country.” He continues: “We’ve finally seen the rule of law brought forward in a way that it is clear and direct on this situation, which has been so sort of poisoned with personalities and politics and propaganda. It’s a first kind of clear, bright light, and I couldn’t be happier, couldn’t be more relieved.” [New York Times, 8/24/2009; Central Intelligence Agency, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009] The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer says, “The report underscores the need for a comprehensive criminal investigation that reaches not just the interrogators who exceeded authority but the senior officials who authorized torture and the Justice Department lawyers who facilitated it.” [Washington Post, 8/24/2009] Joanne Mariner, the terrorism and counterterrorism program director at Human Rights Watch, says: “The CIA inspector general’s report provides compelling official confirmation that the CIA committed serious crimes. A full criminal investigation into these crimes, and who authorized them, is absolutely necessary.” [Human Rights Watch, 8/24/2009]
Entity Tags: Jane Mayer, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), John Durham, David Ignatius, Jameel Jaffer, Joanne Mariner, Eric Holder, US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Paul J. McNulty, Sheldon Whitehouse, Laurence Tribe, John Helgerson, Mark Hosenball, Leon Panetta, National Counterterrorism Center, Obama administration, Michael Isikoff
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
General David Petraeus, head of US Central Command (CENTCOM), officially opens the Joint Intelligence Operations Center at CENTCOM, which houses a new intelligence organization to train military officers, covert agents, analysts, and policy makers who agree to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan for up to a decade. The organization, called the Afghanistan Pakistan Intelligence Center of Excellence (COE), is led by Derek Harvey, a retired colonel in the Defense Intelligence Agency who became one of Petraeus’s most trusted analysts during the 2007-2008 counterinsurgency campaign in Iraq. Harvey explains that the new organization is both a training center and “like a think tank,” partnered not only with the US military and intelligence establishments, but also with academia and the private sector in order to further long-term US interests in the region. [U.S. Central Command Public Affairs, 8/25/2009; U.S. Central Command Public Affairs, 8/26/2009] In an interview with the Washington Times, Harvey says the center will focus on training and will immerse future analysts, officers, and covert operators in Pashtu and Dari language and culture. Recruits will also be asked to sign a form that commits them to work on Afghanistan and Pakistan for up to 10 years. Harvey explains that in addition to training, the center will focus on intelligence gathering and analysis. He speaks about a shift from traditional spying and surveillance toward using on-the-ground sources, such as military officers and aid workers. “We have tended to rely too much on intelligence sources and not integrating fully what is coming from provincial reconstruction teams, civil affairs officers, commanders, and operators on the ground that are interacting with the population and who understand the population and can actually communicate what is going on in the street,” he says. The center will coordinate with the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the NATO International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. According to Harvey, the CIA has also detailed many analysts to support the center and will continue to cooperate with CENTCOM. [Washington Times, 8/24/2009]
US officials reveal that the CIA is expanding its teams of spies, analysts, and paramilitary operatives in Afghanistan as part of a larger intelligence “surge” led by the Pentagon, in which its station is expected to rival the size of the massive CIA stations in Iraq and Vietnam at the height of those wars. A Los Angeles Times report outlines a distinctly militarized CIA role in Afghanistan, with enhanced paramilitary capacity to support an expanding covert war led by Special Operations and military intelligence. Among other things, the escalation in covert operations reportedly aims to collect information on Afghan officials involved in the drug trade and increase targeted raids to counter an increasingly effective insurgency. Interestingly, one US intelligence official tells the Los Angeles Times that the spy agencies “anticipated the surge in demand for intelligence” in Afghanistan.
Militarized CIA Role to Support Pentagon - The Los Angeles Times reports that the CIA is preparing to deploy Crisis Operations Liaison Teams—small paramilitary units that are attached to regional military commands—to give the military access to information gathered by the CIA and other sources, while General Stanley McChrystal, commander of allied forces in Afghanistan, is expanding the use of teams known for raids and assassinations that combine CIA operatives with Special Operations commandos. These developments are in line with Pentagon programs established this year (see August 26, 2009 and October 7, 2009) to integrate military and civilian spy operations and develop intelligence capabilities dedicated to Afghanistan and Pakistan for the long term. Furthermore, the CIA’s Afghanistan station, based at the US Embassy in Kabul, is now headed by an operative with an extensive background in paramilitary operations, according to US officials. The Times notes that most CIA operatives in the country have been deployed to secret bases and scattered military outposts, with the largest concentration of CIA personnel at Bagram Air Base, headquarters for US Special Operations forces and the site of a secret agency prison.
Operatives to Trace Ties between Drug Kingpins and Corrupt Officials - Officials say that the spies are being used in various assignments, from teaming up with Special Forces units pursuing high-value targets and tracking public sentiment in provinces that have been shifting toward the Taliban, to collecting intelligence on drug-related corruption in the Afghan government. The Times notes that US spy agencies have already increased their scrutiny of corruption in Kabul, citing a recent Senate report that described a wiretapping system activated last year aimed at tracing ties between government officials and drug kingpins in the country. [US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 8/10/2009; Los Angeles Times, 9/20/2009]
Tom Ridge and Rachel Maddow. [Source: Armchair Generalist]Former Homeland Security head Tom Ridge is interviewed by progressive television host Rachel Maddow. Ridge has authored a book, The Test of Our Times, a memoir of his tenure in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from October 2001 through the end of President Bush’s first term. Maddow notes that 22 federal agencies were incorporated under the leadership of DHS, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Border Patrol to the Coast Guard and the Secret Service, “the biggest change in what we pay federal tax dollars for since we got a unified Defense Department in 1947.” She goes on to note that one of the new agency’s biggest failures was its lackadaisical and incompetent response to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, though the Coast Guard, one of DHS’s daughter agencies, did eventually deliver what she calls “belated but frankly relatively competent aid,” and Ridge was not DHS secretary when Katrina struck.
Raising the Threat Level - Maddow’s primary focus during much of the interview is the Bush administration’s raising of the so-called “threat level” during 2004, as the presidential elections heated up (see July 8, 2004, for example). In his book, Ridge noted that he wasn’t sure events justified the raising of the threat level.
October 2004 Threat Level Escalation 'Not Political,' Ridge Says - In his book, Ridge wrote that the administration tried to raise the threat level to “orange” just days before the presidential election, on October 29, 2004 (see October 29, 2004). However, when pressed on the subject, Ridge backs away from the implications he raised in his book that politics, not national security, prompted the escalation. “Well, that’s not quite the argument that I put in here,” he tells Maddow. “That passage has generated a lot of heat, so I would like to generate a little light on it.… Further in the book, I remind everybody that the system we designed to raise the threat level could not be manipulated, could not be orchestrated, directed, or pressured by any single individual. Regardless of what anybody says, the system was designed by the president to include the homeland security cabinet group sitting around from time to time when the intelligence warranted that group discussion. If you had a YouTube video of it, you would see the secretary of defense, the attorney general, the secretary of state, and others, having a conversation as to whether the intelligence generates enough concern that we want to raise the threat level. That happened many, many times. This is a particularly dramatic moment, because it is the weekend before the election.… We don’t see anything in the department that generates it, and certainly other people agreed with us. But Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft, very strong in their opinions, as everybody had expressed opinions on any other occasions that you never heard about because we never—we never raised the threat level. At the end of the day, I am using in the book, is there more intelligence, is there something—that is new.… [A]t no time—at no time—at no time did politics enter in my judgment, anybody’s equation. These are tough judgment calls. We made them on a series of occasions throughout two years. Rarely did we make those decisions to go up. Politics was not involved.” Ridge says flatly, “I was not pressured” to raise the threat level. Maddow reads from the fly leaf of Ridge’s book, “He recounts episodes such as the pressure that the DHS received to raise the security alert on the eve of the ‘04 presidential election,” to which Ridge retorts: “Those aren’t my words.… It’s the dust jacket.”
Raising the Threat Level for Political Reasons - Maddow reminds Ridge that both in interviews and his book, he has frequently asked the question of whether the decision to raise the threat level during his tenure was made for political reasons, and notes: “I think that I am persuaded by the argument that I think you make in the book, and you may not have intended it from what you said earlier, that it is a pernicious thing for the American people to perceive that the parts of our government responsible for ensuring our security are actually making decisions that aren’t about our security at all. They’re telling us it’s about security and it’s not.” In 2005, she notes, “you said at a forum about the terror alert level, you said there were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, ‘for that?’ (see May 10, 2005) Were there times—were there times when you felt like people were wanting to raise it for reasons that weren’t about the country’s safety?” Ridge denies ever raising the question, and explains: “I do admit, there were some times when we took a look at the intelligence. Some of my colleagues said, ‘Yes, I think we better go up.’ But none of those colleagues had the responsibility of dealing with the consequences of taking the country to a higher level. And so we were always very modest.… I don’t doubt for a moment that any of my colleagues who were involved in those discussions felt the reason we should either go up or not go up, add more security or reduce the security, was based on what they thought was in the best interest of the security of the country, period.… When I said, ‘for what?’ I must tell you, a couple of times I would come back to the office and say, ‘I don’t get it.‘… I don’t think that’s enough to go up. And part of that is yours truly saying to his leadership team who has responsibilities to oversee what’s going to go on, there’s not enough here to tell the governors and the mayors and the security professionals, you have got to raise another level, you have got to increase expenses, you have got to call in personnel. In my judgment, it wasn’t enough. And by the way, at the time we made the right decision, I believe.” Maddow reminds Ridge that in his book he wrote: “[I]t seemed possible to me that something could be afoot. I wondered, is this about security or politics?” She asks, “You’re saying now that you wondered that and you shouldn’t have?” Ridge replies: “No. I mused at the time, ‘Is there something else here?’ I said, ‘Is it politics? Is it security?‘… But there wasn’t anything there.”
Praising the President in 2004 - After a brief discussion of DHS’s response to Hurricane Katrina, Maddow asks about an incident in August 2004, when Ridge praised President Bush’s leadership in the Middle East. As Maddow describes it, Ridge was asked to praise Bush’s leadership. During a subsequent press conference, Ridge said that Bush’s leadership “was causing us to better target our defensive measures here and away from home. And the implication was that going to war in Iraq was a defensive measure like homeland security stuff that we do here at home.” She asks if he regrets making that statement. Ridge says he agrees with his 2004 assessment, and says he merely “threw the sentence into the press conference.” He says his comment became a “sideshow” that “marginalized the process” and caused people to question his objectivity. Ridge tries to deny that he was specifically talking about the war effort in Iraq, though, as Maddow notes, “[W]hen you said ‘targeting our defensive measures away from home,’ this is August ‘04, so we are more than a year into the war in Iraq with the implication there was that you were talking about Iraq.” Ridge now says that he meant the general war against terrorism. “I should have never mentioned the president’s name,” he says, “because it, again, created a perception—we talked about this earlier—that somehow politics were involved, but and politics was not involved in that decision. It was driven by intelligence.”
Making the Case for War with Iraq - Maddow segues into a statement Ridge made in February 2003, when he said on ABC: “I agree that as the president has said, the world community has said this is a rogue regime that has chemical biological weapons, trying to develop nuclear weapons, has means of delivery. That’s the reason this individual needs to be disarmed. The point in fact is that the world community has known for 12 years he’s got chemical biological weapons, means of delivery, and that’s precisely the reason of the United States and its partners are trying to disarm Saddam Hussein. He’s a threat to his region, he’s a threat to our allies. He’s a threat to us.” Maddow notes: “You were a crucial authoritative part of making what turned out to be a false case to the American people about Iraq being a threat, and us needing to attack them.… You made that case on national television a month before we started invading. Do you regret that?” Ridge replies: “No.… At the time, I think [sic] it’s true, and subsequent to that, the president’s leadership and the things we have done have kept America safe.” Ridge goes on to note that “everyone” believed the intelligence showed Iraq was an imminent threat to the US at the time the invasion was being considered. “You believed it at the time,” Maddow confirms, and then asks, “You don’t still believe it, do you?” Ridge replies: “Well, it’s pretty clear that the intelligence communities of several countries who had assessed his—who claimed that he had weapons of mass destruction, we haven’t found them.… But there were other reasons to go in. That was the one that was—that everybody focused on, and everyone who has been critical of the president for going into Iraq said we never found them. But I think the president made the decisions based on the facts and the intelligence as he knew it at the time, and I think it was the right decision at the time.” He denies that anyone in the administration did anything to “skew” or politicize the intelligence on Iraq’s WMD programs. “There’s no way that anybody in that group—I just—they would commit our blood and our treasure to a cause if they didn’t think it was necessary to commit our blood and treasure to a cause to keep America safe. The intelligence may have proven to be false, but there was no doubt in my mind that they were motivated to keep America safe. In retrospect, we can say that the intelligence was faulty.”
Maddow: No Credibility on National Security until GOP Admits Fault - Maddow tells Ridge: “I think you making that argument right now is why Republicans after the Bush and Cheney administration are not going to get back the country’s trust on national security. To look back at that decision and say, we got it wrong but it was in good faith and not acknowledge the foregone conclusion that we are going to invade Iraq that pervaded every decision that was made about intelligence—looking back at that decision-making process, it sounds like you’re making the argument you would have made the same decision again. Americans need to believe that our government would not make that wrong a decision, that would not make such a foregone conclusion—take such a foregone conclusion to such an important issue, that the intelligence that proved the opposite point was all discounted, that the intelligence was combed through for any bit that would support the foregone conclusion of the policy makers. The system was broken. And if you don’t see that the system was broken and you think it was just that the intel was wrong, I think that you’re one of the most trusted voices on national security for the Republican Party, and I think that’s the elephant in the room. I don’t think you guys get back your credibility on national security until you realize that was a wrong decision made by policy makers. It wasn’t the spies’ fault.” Ridge says any suggestion that anyone would have deliberately skewed or misinterpreted the intelligence on Iraq is “radical.… Later on, it may have proven that some of the information was inaccurate, but there were plenty of reasons to go into Iraq at the time; the foremost was weapons of mass destruction. That obviously proven [sic] to be faulty. But the fact of the matter is, at that time, given what they knew—and they knew more than you and I did—it seemed to be the right thing to do, and the decision was made in what they considered to be the best interests of our country.” When democracy in Iraq is finally established, Ridge says, “the notion that we went in improperly will be obviously reversed, and the history has yet to be written.” Maddow replies: “If you can go back in time and sell the American people on the idea that 4,000 Americans ought to lose their lives and we ought to lose those trillions of dollars for democracy in Iraq, you have a wilder imagination than I do. We were sold that war because of 9/11. We were sold that war because of the threat of weapons of mass destruction from this guy who didn’t have them, and our government should have known it. And, frankly, a lot of people believe that our government did know it, and that it was a cynical decision. And maybe everybody wasn’t in on it, maybe that is a radical thing to conclude, but I think that…” Ridge interjects: “I don’t share that point of view. You do.” [MSNBC, 9/2/2009]
Reactions - Reactions to the interview are predictably split, with progressives noting how much Ridge backpedals on questions he himself raised, and conservatives declaring victory for Ridge. Talking Points Memo notes the irony in Ridge’s claim that while his words should be trusted, the words on the dust jacket of his book should not be. [TPM LiveWire, 9/2/2009] Posters on the conservative blog Free Republic write that Ridge “pwned” Maddow, video game slang for dominating or “owning” someone. [Free Republic, 9/1/2009]
Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Free Republic, Talking Points Memo, George W. Bush, US Secret Service, John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Republican Party, Tom Ridge, Rachel Maddow, US Border Patrol, US Department of Homeland Security, US Coast Guard
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
The Taliban’s capabilities and attacks have grown increasingly sophisticated according to US military officials who say it appears as if they have received training from elite forces. Several officials interviewed by the Washington Post say that it appears as if the insurgents attended something akin to the US Army Ranger School. “In some cases… we started to see that enhanced form of attack,” says a US Army general who previously oversaw forces in Afghanistan. He tells the Post that the insurgents have “developed the ability to do some of the things that make up what you call a disciplined force.” Another officer stationed at the Pentagon suggests that the Taliban are improving with experience by studying US forces in remote areas such as the Korengal Valley near the border with Pakistan. According to the officer, battles in this region “are a perfect lab to vet fighters and study US tactics.” Some officers conjecture that fighters are receiving professional instruction from Arab and Central Asian countries though the use of embedded trainers, a mentoring technique used by the US military. [Washington Post, 9/2/2009] Last year, Al Jazeera reported that former members of the Afghan National Police who had received training from US forces including Blackwater were defecting to the Taliban (see (August) - October 15, 2008).
In his biggest break from Bush administration policies to date, President Obama announces his abandonment of Pentagon plans to build a missile defense shield system in Poland and the Czech Republic. During a July Moscow visit, Obama indicated that he would order a 60-day review of the project. The findings since then are said to conclude that Iran’s long-range missile program is progressing more slowly than previously thought; the resulting report also cites US officials’ belief that Iran’s short- to medium-range program poses a more potent and immediate danger. Therefore, the system is to be replaced by other facilities, placed closer to Iran. Obama says that the new approach offers “stronger, swifter, and smarter defense” for the US and its allies. He adds that the move will more readily focus on the threat posed by Iran’s proliferation of short- and medium-range missiles, as opposed to its intercontinental nuclear capabilities. “This new approach will provide capabilities sooner, build on proven systems to offer greater defenses to the threat of attack than the 2007 European missile defense program,” he says.
Russian Reaction - Russia had asserted that the undertaking was aimed against Russia and threatened to deploy short-range nuclear weapons in the Russian region of Kaliningrad, just inside the European Union. However, now it suggests that Obama’s decision will not garner swift or generous concessions on its part, but a foreign ministry spokesman, Andrei Nesterenko, describes the move as “obviously a positive sign for us” while assuring that the decision was unilateral by Washington alone. Nesterenko says that there have been no deals with Moscow on Iran or any other issues. “That would disagree with our policy of resolution of any problems in relations with any countries, no matter how difficult or sensitive they may be.” Recently, however, analysts said that the decision would assist Obama in securing Moscow’s cooperation with a possible new sanctions package against Iran as well as further the president’s desire to reset relations with Moscow after a bleak period under the Bush administration. “Obama has taken a step in the direction of improving US-Russian relations. This will definitely help build a partnership,” Yevgeny Miasnikov, a senior research scientist at Moscow’s Centre for Arms Control, says. “Russia will also now make some concessions, maybe on strategic talks over nuclear arms reduction or maybe over Iran. Moscow will try to catalyze the process of improving US-Iranian relations and will facilitate dialogue between the two sides. I don’t think threatening Iran is the way to solve this problem,” he adds.
Prior Notification to Allies - The night before his announcement, Obama telephoned leaders of Poland and the Czech Republic to tell them he had dropped plans to construct missile interceptors and a radar station in their respective countries, telling them that his decision was prompted by advances in missile technology and new intelligence about Iran’s existing missile capabilities. He said that “updated intelligence” on Iran’s existing short- and medium-range missiles showed they were “capable of reaching Europe,” adding that the US would continue its efforts to end Iranian attempts to develop an “illicit nuclear program.”
Reaction of Poland and Czech Republic - While many Western European leaders cheer the US’s decision, the Czech Republic and Poland express disappointment with the White House’s reversal following six years of intricate negotiations. Senior government sources in the two countries say they will insist that the US honor pledges made last year by the Bush administration to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies in exchange for agreeing to the missile defense deployment plans. Former Czech deputy prime minister and Washington ambassador Alexandr Vondra, who was intimately involved in the negotiations, says: “This is a U-turn in US policy. But first we expect the US to honor its commitments. If they don’t they may have problems generating support for Afghanistan and on other things.” According to Miasnikov, the US may now consider ways of mollifying Poles and Czechs, which might include providing Patriot interceptors that are capable of shooting down short- and medium-range missiles. [Guardian, 9/17/2009]
President Obama tells Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that “it is past time to talk about starting negotiations—it is time to move forward.” Obama’s meeting with the two Middle East leaders is the highest level of diplomacy of his presidency, although it is reported that expectations for resuming the talks fall short. Obama and State Department officials hoped that the meeting would pave the way for fresh negotiations of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. However, during a recent previous meeting, special Mideast envoy George Mitchell was unsuccessful in securing a deal in which Israel would halt West Bank settlements construction in return for the Arab states taking minute steps toward recognition. “Permanent status negotiations must begin, and begin soon,” Obama tells the two leaders, referring to talks on the fundamental issues that divide the parties, such as borders, Jerusalem’s status, and building settlements. The meetings, held at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where Obama meets with Netanyahu and Abbas separately before all three meet together, produce no real reconciliation, only an Israeli-Palestinian commitment to send negotiating teams to Washington, along with a general agreement that peace talks should quickly resume. “We knew this wasn’t going to be easy,” Mitchell says, adding that the talks were at times “blunt” with Obama importuning the two to “get things done.” Obama seems to concede that his previous calls for a construction freeze on settlements fell on deaf ears, and says that Israel has offered only to “restrain” its settlement activity. He appears to acknowledge that his early calls for a settlement freeze have fallen on deaf ears. Israel, he says, has only offered to “restrain” settlement production. The restraint on settlement building “is not everything we might have wanted,” says a senior State Department official speaking on condition of anonymity—one of the rules set by the White House before the meetings—but “it’s certainly a significant step.” US government officials try to dispel later impressions that Obama sought to play down the settlements issue, although senior Israeli government officials say they left the meeting with a separate message; the Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren says, “That’s not just the impression, that’s the reality.” An additional senior US official says Obama will not cease to press the settlements issue, arguing that the tentative steps Israel has agreed to extend “far, far beyond what any previous government has ever done to control settlement activity.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 9/22/2009]
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