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The Secret Service, reacting to credible threats, grants presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-IL) protection—the earliest by far any presidential candidate has ever been granted Secret Service protection. The protection is warranted, as the Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies will thwart at least four assassination attempts on Obama’s life (see June-December 2008). [Time, 9/30/2010]
US Justice Department official Craig Donsanto, the director of the election crimes branch, sends an email to a colleague expressing his incredulity that the US Attorney for Eastern Wisconsin, Steven Biskupic, brought a case against Wisconsin procurement official Georgia Thompson. Thompson was released in April by an appeals court which overturned her conviction and found that Biskupic’s prosecution was based on extraordinarily sketchy evidence (see April 5, 2007). Many critics now believe that the case was politically motivated (see April 7-10, 2007, April 16, 2007, and April 24, 2007). “Bad facts make bad law. How in heck did this case get brought?” Donsanto writes in an email to Justice Department official Raymond Hulser. The press will not report on Donsanto’s consternation until September 2007, when it will be turned over to the House Judiciary Committee, involved in an investigation of the 2006 US Attorney purge (see March 10, 2006, December 7, 2006, and December 20, 2006). Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) will say in a statement: “This email demonstrates that even Justice Department insiders thought the Thompson case was seriously flawed. This only underscores the need for further investigation into the administration’s alleged role in politicizing prosecutions.” Biskupic was once named on a list of US Attorneys to be fired (see March 2, 2005), but was later removed from the list. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will later testify that he does not know why Biskupic was considered for removal or why he was taken off the list. [Associated Press, 9/6/2007]
Daniel Kopelman (l) poses with conservative activist David Horowitz (r) at a 2004 Young Republicans function in Arapahoe County. [Source: Denver Metro Young Republicans]The press learns that Daniel J. Kopelman, a technology manager for the elections division of the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, was caught selling Colorado voter data to Republican political candidates. Kopelman is responsible for oversight and maintenance of Colorado’s master voter registration database. He was found to be offering “GOP campaign help” on the Web site of his privately-owned company, Political Live Wires. Kopelman’s help was comprised of voter and fundraising lists drawn from the master voter database. Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman (R-CO) issues a statement saying that his office had no knowledge of Kopelman’s activities, which Coffman calls Kopelman’s “side business,” and says Kopelman’s activities constitute a “conflict of interest” with his job. Coffman spokesperson Dana Williams says Coffman feels it was “inappropriate for an employee to be both overseeing and selling voter lists.” After learning of Kopelman’s Web site, Deputy Secretary of State William A. Hobbs directs Kopelman to take the site down. The office is opening a formal investigation into Kopelman’s activities. However, Coffman’s claims of being unaware of Kopelman’s “side business” are in doubt. Coffman’s campaign expenditure reports from the fall of 2006, when Coffman was running for the office, show multiple expenditures to Political Live Wires and to Kopelman for services including “consulting” and “software expenses.” In 2006, Kopelman apparently worked for Coffman, then the state treasurer, as a systems analyst, and provided both political consulting and software engineering for him, both personally and through his firm. Kopelman also mounted an unsuccessful campaign for Arapahoe County treasurer that year; Coffman supported that campaign, as did US Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO) and former Senator Bill Armstrong (R-CO). After the story breaks in the press, Political Live Wires, registered as a trade name since January 1, 2004, is no longer available on the Web. And after the press begins reporting on the incident, Coffman releases a second statement that reads: “Dan Kopelman took a leave of absence last fall from his job at Treasury to help with my secretary of state’s campaign. He asked to be paid for his time under the name of the entity in question [Political Live Wires]. I was not aware that he was engaged in soliciting the sale of voter lists or that he maintained a Web site. The voter lists for my secretary of state’s campaign were purchased from Tactical Data Solutions.” [ePluribus Media, 5/4/2007; Crooks and Liars, 5/6/2007] According to a personnel letter to Kopelman from Hobbs, the investigation will conclude without finding evidence of criminal wrongdoing, and Kopelman will retain his job pursuant to his following all relevant state laws, terminating outside employment without the State Department’s authorization, and continuing to keep the Political Live Wires Web site inactive. [William A. Hobbs, 5/30/2007 ]
The trial of suspected al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla begins in a Miami criminal court. Padilla is charged with conspiring to “murder, kidnap, and maim” people overseas. The charges include no allegations of a “dirty bomb” plot or other plans for US attacks, as have been alleged by Bush administration officials (see June 10, 2002). Two co-defendants, Adham Amin Hassoun (see 1993) and Kifah Wael Jayyousi (see (October 1993-November 2001)), also face charges of supporting terrorist organizations. “The defendants were members of a secret organization, a terrorism support cell, based right here in South Florida,” says prosecutor Brian Frazier in his opening statement. “The defendants took concrete steps to support and promote this violence.” Defense attorneys argue that Padilla, Hassoun, and Jayyousi are peaceful Muslims interested in studying their religion and helping their fellow Muslims in war-ravaged areas of the world. Padilla’s attorney, Anthony Natale, calls the case against his client the product of “the politics of fear” in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. “Political crises can cause parts of our government to overreach. This is one of those times,” he says. “He’s a young man who has been wrongly accused.” Hassoun’s attorney, Jeanne Baker, says: “The government really is trying to put al-Qaeda on trial in this case, and it doesn’t belong in this courtroom. There’s a lot of rhetoric, but there’s no evidence.” Much of the evidence against the three consists of FBI wiretaps, documents, and witness statements. One of the strongest pieces of evidence against Padilla is his application to attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in July 2000 (see September-October 2000). Prosecutors say Hassoun recruited Padilla when they met in a Florida mosque. “Jose Padilla was an al-Qaeda terrorist trainee providing the ultimate form of material support—himself,” says Frazier. “Padilla was serious, he was focused, he was secretive. Padilla had cut himself off from most things in his life that did not concern his radical view of the Islamic religion.” [Associated Press, 5/14/2007]
Bush officials are battling a lawsuit filed against them by former CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson, according to a report by the Associated Press. Plame Wilson is suing (see July 13, 2006) four Bush administration officials—Vice President Dick Cheney (see July 7-8, 2003), White House political strategist Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), convicted perjurer Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007), and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see June 13, 2003)—for deliberately disclosing her identity as a CIA official to the public for political gain. Cheney’s lawyer calls the lawsuit “a fishing expedition” and accuses Plame Wilson of making “fanciful claims.” Plame Wilson says her constitutional rights were violated by the defendants. Armitage’s lawyer says the suit is “principally based on a desire for publicity and book deals.” Plame Wilson’s lawyer counters by saying the case is “about egregious conduct by defendants that ruined a woman’s career.” Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, arguing on behalf of all four defendants, says that none of the officials deliberately disclosed classified information, specifically the information of Plame Wilson’s covert status in the CIA. The defendants’ lawyers claim that they should not be sued personally for actions taken as part of their official duties. And a Justice Department lawyer claims that Cheney should have much the same legal immunity as President Bush. [Associated Press, 5/17/2007] The lawsuit will soon be dismissed (see July 19, 2007).
Former Wisconsin procurement officer Georgia Thompson, wrongly convicted of corruption in 2006 (see 2001 and June 13, 2006) and freed by an appeals court in 2007 (see April 5, 2007) amid speculation that her prosecution was politically motivated (see April 7-10, 2007, April 16, 2007, and April 24, 2007), was pressured by federal prosecutors to turn on high-ranking Democrats in Wisconsin state government, according to officials involved in the case. In return, prosecutors promised leniency or dropping the charges in their entirety. Her lawyer, Stephen Hurley, says prosecutors wanted her to testify against Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI), the then-Department of Administration Secretary Marc Marotta, and other elected officials. The pressure came from US Attorney Steven Biskupic and others in his office, according to Hurley and co-counsel Marcus Berghahn. “I began to get the impression that the indictment was being used to squeeze her,” says Hurley, saying that these attempts continued even after Thompson’s sentencing (see September 22, 2006), with offers to seek a reduced sentence if Thompson produced evidence that Doyle or others in his administration had broken the law. Hurley, who has been a criminal defense attorney for over 30 years, says: “It was the only time in my career that, after the person was sentenced, the prosecutor has called to renew the discussion. I’ve never had that happen before.” Reporter Bill Lueders writes, “These offers, though not necessarily indicative of improper conduct, suggest that Biskupic and his staff prosecuted Thompson as part of a larger agenda, with potential political overtones.” Biskupic has denied any political motivations behind the prosecution (see April 14, 2007) and refuses to discuss any plea offers with Lueders. Former Dane County assistant district attorney John Burr, a past president of the Association of State Prosecutors, says of Biskupic’s plea offers: “You can’t tell me it was not politically motivated. The powers that be over there thought they were going to go all the way to the governor.” Biskupic’s office, says Burr, prosecuted Thompson to get to Doyle and others. And, “[w]hen they didn’t find anything, they were stuck with it. It blew up in their faces.” Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Green (R-WI) used the Thompson prosecution as the centerpiece of his campaign against Doyle in the 2006 elections, accusing Doyle of running a corrupt administration. Doyle defeated Green in the election. Many have speculated that the case can be tied to the 2006 US Attorney purge (see March 10, 2006, December 7, 2006, and December 20, 2006), with Biskupic pursuing the Thompson case to curry favor with the Bush administration and keep himself from being fired. Biskupic was considered for firing in 2005 (see March 2, 2005), but was later removed from the list of those being considered for firing. Biskupic insisted throughout the prosecution that the case was entirely about Thompson, and not about Doyle or other elected officials, but in his closing arguments, he cited Doyle, Marotta, and others as “players” in the affair, saying: “She’s the link. She’s the one who made this happen. What a terrible coincidence for her that she is in the middle of all this.” One juror later said that “nobody in the jury room had any doubt whatsoever” that Doyle and others were involved, though there is no evidence to support such a conclusion. Former US Attorney Frank Tuerkheimer says there is nothing untoward or unusual about Biskupic trying to “flip” Thompson to get information about higher-ups. “In principle, there is nothing wrong with it,” he says. “There’s no question in my mind that Biskupic was after Thompson to get higher-ups.” The problem was, Tuerkheimer adds, that “Biskupic had a theory of criminality that was ridiculous”—that Thompson was acting at others’ behest. “It just bothers you ‘cause the woman got screwed.” Tuerkheimer notes that Biskupic had Thompson jailed pending her appeal, which was unusual for such a case. She had no criminal history, was not a flight risk, and had a legitimate case for appeal. Most people in her position would have been allowed to stay out of jail pending the appeal. Why did Biskupic insist on having her jailed? Tuerkheimer replies, “It appeared to me that they were trying to pressure her to talk.” [Madison Isthmus, 5/18/2007] Doyle says he is alarmed by the reports that Biskupic and others tried to pressure Thompson into testifying against members of his administration. “The story is pretty alarming, particularly given that she had testified under oath that nobody had ever asked her to do anything inappropriately,” Doyle says. “Even after… testifying under oath they were still trying to get her to give information that just wasn’t true.” Doyle refuses to say directly that the prosecution was politically motivated, but asks rhetorically, “Does anybody really think that Georgia Thompson, if it hadn’t been an election year, that this would have ever happened to her?” Biskupic’s chief assistant Michelle Jacobs denies that the prosecution had any political components to it, saying: “We would never, and have never, encouraged a defendant to lie to us. To suggest that it is somehow untoward or unusual to approach a post-trial defendant, even a defendant who has testified, about cooperating with us, it’s just not unusual.” [Associated Press, 5/18/2007]
Entity Tags: James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Bush administration (43), Bill Lueders, Georgia Lee Thompson, Steven M. Biskupic, Mark Andrew Green, Michelle Jacobs, Marc Marotta, John Burr, Frank Tuerkheimer, Stephen Hurley, Marcus Berghahn
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Patrick Fitzgerald, who successfully prosecuted former Bush administraton official Lewis Libby for perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements (see March 6, 2007), recommends 30 to 37 months in prison for Libby’s jail sentence. In a court filing with Judge Reggie Walton, Fitzgerald notes that the Libby defense called Libby’s prosecution “unwarranted, unjust, and motivated by politics,” and Libby’s supporters (see February 21, 2006) continue to do so.
Libby Chose to Lie - To address this charge, Fitzgerald goes back through the investigation and notes that Libby, a lawyer himself, fully understood his obligations as a government witness. “He, of course, could have told the truth, even if, as was the case for many other witnesses, doing so risked the possibility of criminal prosecution, or personal or political embarrassment,” Fitzgerald writes. “He also could have declined to speak to the FBI agents, invoked his Fifth Amendment rights before the grand jury, or challenged any lines of inquiry he believed improper. And the evidence at trial showed that Mr. Libby had access to counsel and had adequate time to review relevant documents and contemplate his conduct before he testified. Regrettably, Mr. Libby chose the one option that the law prohibited: he lied. He lied repeatedly to FBI agents and in sworn grand jury testimony, and he lied about multiple facts central to an assessment of his role in the disclosure of Ms. Wilson’s CIA employment. He lied about when he learned of [Valerie Plame Wilson’s] CIA employment, about how he learned of her CIA employment, about who he told of her CIA employment, and about what he said when he disclosed it. In short, Mr. Libby lied about nearly everything that mattered.” Libby’s choice to lie, Fitzgerald goes on to note, made it impossible to discover “the role that Mr. Libby and those with whom he worked played in the disclosure of Ms. Wilson’s information regarding CIA employment and about the motivations for their actions.… Mr. Libby’s lies corrupted a truth-seeking process with respect to an important investigation, and on behalf of which many others subordinated important public, professional, and personal interests. To minimize the seriousness of Mr. Libby’s conduct would deprecate the value that the judicial system places on the truthfulness of witnesses, and tempt future witnesses who face similar obligations to tell the truth to question the wisdom and necessity of doing so.” Fitzgerald notes that Libby “has expressed no remorse, no acceptance of responsibility, and no recognition that there is anything he should have done differently—either with respect to his false statements and testimony, or his role in providing reporters with classified information about Ms. Wilson’s affiliation with the CIA.”
Justifies Libby's Prosecution when Other Leakers Not Prosecuted - Fitzgerald counters the arguments that because only Libby, and not all three proven leakers (see October 2, 2003 and February 2004), was prosecuted, his prosecution was somehow invalid. The other leakers, Richard Armitage and Karl Rove, eventually admitted to leaking Plame Wilson’s name to the press. Libby consistently lied about his leaks. “To accept the argument that Mr. Libby’s prosecution is the inappropriate product of an investigation that should have been closed at an early stage,” Fitzgerald writes, “one must accept the proposition that the investigation should have been closed after at least three high-ranking government officials were identified as having disclosed to reporters classified information about covert agent Valerie Wilson, where the account of one of them was directly contradicted by other witnesses, where there was reason to believe that some of the relevant activity may have been coordinated, and where there was an indication from Mr. Libby himself that his disclosures to the press may have been personally sanctioned by the vice president. To state this claim is to refute it. Peremptorily closing this investigation in the face of the information available at its early stages would have been a dereliction of duty, and would have afforded Mr. Libby and others preferential treatment not accorded to ordinary persons implicated in criminal investigations.”
States that Prosecution Knew Plame Wilson Was Covert from Outset - Fitzgerald also says what he was unable to say directly in the trial, that “it was clear from very early in the investigation that Ms. Wilson qualified under the relevant statute… as a covert agent whose identity had been disclosed by public officials, including Mr. Libby, to the press.” Fitzgerald explains that he chose not to charge Libby with outing a covert intelligence agent in part because Libby’s lies, and presumably the obfuscatory and contradictory statements of other Bush administration officials, made it difficult to prove beyond doubt that Libby knew Plame Wilson was a covert agent when he exposed her as a CIA official. “On the other hand, there was clear proof of perjury and obstruction of justice which could be prosecuted in a relatively straightforward trial.”
No Justification for Leniency - “In light of the foregoing,” Fitzgerald writes, “the assertions offered in mitigation are consistent with an effort by Mr. Libby’s supporters to shift blame away from Mr. Libby for his illegal conduct and onto those who investigated and prosecuted Mr. Libby for unexplained ‘political’ reasons (see March 6, 2007, March 6, 2007, March 6, 2007, March 6, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 8-9, 2007, March 9, 2007, and March 11, 2007). The assertions provide no basis for Mr. Libby to receive a reduced sentence.… While the disappointment of Mr. Libby’s friends and supporters is understandable, it is inappropriate to deride the judicial process as ‘politics at its worst’ on behalf of a defendant who, the evidence has established beyond a reasonable doubt, showed contempt for the judicial process when he obstructed justice by repeatedly lying under oath about material matters in a serious criminal investigation.… Mr. Libby’s prosecution was based not upon politics but upon his own conduct, as well as upon a principle fundamental to preserving our judicial system’s independence from politics: that any witness, whatever his political affiliation, whatever his views on any policy or national issue, whether he works in the White House or drives a truck to earn a living, must tell the truth when he raises his hand and takes an oath in a judicial proceeding or gives a statement to federal law enforcement officers. The judicial system has not corruptly mistreated Mr. Libby; Mr. Libby has been found by a jury of his peers to have corrupted the judicial system.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 5/30/2007]
Sentenced to 30 Months in Prison - Libby will be sentenced to 30 months in prison (see June 5, 2007), but will have his sentence commuted before he serves any time (see July 2, 2007).
Writing in anticipation of a judicial sentence for convicted felon Lewis Libby, columnist Byron York publishes a column in the conservative National Review criticizing the sentencing recommendation made by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Though Libby could theoretically be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison for his four felony convictions (see March 6, 2007), Fitzgerald is asking Judge Reggie Walton to sentence him to 30-37 months in jail (see May 25, 2007), appropriate, Fitzgerald says, because of the seriousness of the investigation which he obstructed. York argues that Fitzgerald never proved anyone in the White House violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act or the Espionage Act, but in his recommendation Fitzgerald argues that his grand jury “obtained substantial evidence indicating that one or both of the… statutes may have been violated.” York states that Fitzgerald is asking Walton to sentence Libby as if he had indeed committed such a violation: “Because the investigation defendant was convicted of endeavoring to obstruct focused on violations of the IIPA and the Espionage Act, the court much calculate defendant’s offense level by reference to the guidelines applicable to such violations.” York argues that because Fitzgerald was never able to prove that any violations of either the IIPA or the Espionage Act were committed, Walton cannot sentence Libby in light of his obstruction of that investigation. York says that a pre-sentencing report poses a different view: As quoted in Fitzgerald’s brief, the report states, “The criminal offense would have to be established by a preponderance of the evidence [but] the defendant was neither charged nor convicted of any crime involving the leaking of [Valerie Plame Wilson’s] ‘covert’ status.” The pre-sentencing report therefore supports a lighter sentence. Fitzgerald continues, “The reasons why Mr. Libby was not charged with an offense directly relating to his unauthorized disclosures of classified information regarding Ms. Wilson included, but were not limited to, the fact that Mr. Libby’s false testimony obscured a confident determination of what in fact occurred, particularly where the accounts of the reporters with whom Mr. Libby spoke (and their notes) did not include any explicit evidence specifically proving that Mr. Libby knew that Ms. Wilson was a covert agent.” [National Review, 5/29/2007] Libby will be sentenced to 30 months in prison (see June 5, 2007), but will have his sentence commuted before he serves any time (see July 2, 2007).
Friends of convicted felon Lewis Libby fear that when Judge Reggie Walton sentences Libby (see June 5, 2007), Libby will be sent directly to jail. A member of the Libby Legal Defense Trust (see February 21, 2006) says, “I think that he will get some jail time and probably be sent away that day.” [US News and World Report, 5/30/2007]
Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond. [Source: Wall Street Journal]Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, demands that former CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson explain what he calls “differences” in her various accounts of how her husband, Joseph Wilson, was sent to Niger in 2002 to investigate claims that Iraq was attempting to secretly buy uranium from that nation (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003).
Plame’s differing versions have furthered “misinformation” about the origins of the case that roiled official Washington beginning in July 2003, Bond says. A recently released CIA memo from February 2002 said Plame Wilson “suggested” her husband for the trip. Bond says this is at odds with Plame Wilson’s March 2007 testimony before Congress, where she said a CIA colleague first suggested her husband for the trip (see March 16, 2007). In Bond’s version of events, Plame Wilson has told three different versions of events: in 2003 or 2004, she told the CIA’s Inspector General that she suggested Wilson; in 2004, she told committee staffers that she wasn’t sure if she had suggested Wilson (see July 9, 2004); in her March testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, she said that a colleague had first suggested Wilson for the trip. A spokeswoman for Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the committee chairman, says she is not sure whether Rockefeller is interested in having committee investigators interview Plame Wilson, but Bond says he has asked the CIA for permission to re-interview her. Melanie Sloan, the attorney representing Plame Wilson, says her client has “always been very consistent that she is not the person responsible for sending Joe Wilson” to Africa. Instead, Sloan says, trying to impugn Plame Wilson’s truthfulness is an attempt to draw attention from the “real wrong here—a White House that outed a covert operative and undermined national security.” [USA Today, 5/30/2007] The Senate Intelligence Committee did report that Plame Wilson recommended Wilson for the trip, but that report was based on somewhat inaccurate information provided in a State Department memo; both in her March 2007 testimony and her book Fair Game, Plame Wilson recalls that a young records officer first suggested that Wilson be sent (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005).
The lawyers for convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007) submit their recommendations for Libby’s upcoming sentencing. After quoting “over 160 heartfelt letters submitted to the court on his behalf” (see May 31, 2007) describing Libby as “distinguished… generous… selfless [and] devoted,” the brief lauds Libby’s career as a government official “dedicat[ed] to promoting freedom abroad and keeping Americans safe at home,” and recommends Libby be granted probation without any jail time. Libby’s public service, and his devotion to his children and family, warrant such a light sentence, the lawyers argue. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 5/31/2007 ; Associated Press, 5/31/2007] The lawyers also argue that the sentencing recommendation of 30-37 months in prison, as provided by the government (see May 25, 2007), is “wrong as a matter of both fact and law.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 5/31/2007 ] Libby will be sentenced to 30 months in prison by Judge Reggie Walton, the low end of the sentencing recommendation provided by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (see June 5, 2007).
Judge Reggie Walton, who presided over the Lewis Libby perjury trial (see March 6, 2007), says in the interest of transparency he will release the more than 150 letters he has received regarding Libby’s upcoming sentencing (see May 25, 2007 and June 5, 2007). He will release the letters after sentence is passed. Many of the letters are from current and former Bush administration officials pleading for leniency on Libby’s behalf. Libby, through his attorney William Jeffress, opposes the letters’ release, saying the letter writers never expected their words to be made public. [CBS News, 1/25/2007; Associated Press, 5/31/2007] The letters are released after Libby’s sentencing. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrote of Libby, “I know Mr. Libby to be a patriot, a dedicated public servant, a strong family man, and a tireless, honorable, selfless human being.” Henry Kissinger, the secretary of state in the Nixon administration and an informal Bush administration adviser, wrote: “I would never have associated the actions for which he was convicted with his character. Nor do I believe that they will ever be repeated. Having served in the White House and under pressure, I have seen how difficult it is to recall precisely a particular series of events.” [Raw Story, 6/5/2007] Others who submitted letters include General Peter Pace, former Clinton administration peace negotiator Dennis Ross, and former Bush administration officials Paul Wolfowitz and John Bolton. President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney did not submit letters on behalf of Libby. [PBS, 6/5/2007] Jeffress actively solicited letters from Libby’s friends and associates asking Walton to either give Libby a light sentence or no real sentence at all. In Jeffress’s filing asking that the letters remain private, he writes, “Given the extraordinary media scrutiny here, if any case presents the possibility that these letters, once released, would be published on the Internet and their authors discussed, even mocked, by bloggers, it is this case.” Marcy Wheeler, who spearheaded a team of bloggers that provided in-depth coverage of the Libby case (see February 15, 2007), derides Jeffress’s fears of being mocked by bloggers, but says there are far more compelling reasons to release the letters than to discomfit the letter writers. Wheeler notes that a lighter sentence would dissuade Libby from testifying against his former boss, Cheney, who is widely suspected of orchestrating the Plame Wilson exposure. Moreover, some of Libby’s supporters themselves have reason, she writes, “to be thankful that Libby successfully obstructed the investigation” and are anything but neutral. Finally, she writes: “[T]his sentencing, now scheduled for June 5, takes place against the background of the Bush administration’s purge of at least nine US attorneys, in at least one case at the behest of Republicans who complained that the US attorney didn’t file charges against a Democrat before an election. We have every reason to suspect that Bush’s supporters have inappropriately intervened in the administration of justice. Without seeing those letters, how can we be sure the same isn’t happening here?” [Guardian, 5/29/2007]
Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Donald Rumsfeld, Dennis Ross, George W. Bush, John R. Bolton, William Jeffress, Paul Wolfowitz, Henry A. Kissinger, Reggie B. Walton, Peter Pace, Marcy Wheeler, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Norman Pearlstine. [Source: Norman Pearlstine.]Norman Pearlstine, the former editor of Time magazine and the person who made the final decision to cooperate with the prosecution in the Lewis Libby perjury trial by turning over notes from former Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see July 1, 2005), writes a column for Time outlining how he feels the trial of Libby (see January 16-23, 2007 and March 6, 2007) did serious and possibly permanent damage to the mainstream media, much of that damage self-inflicted. Pearlstine begins by echoing many conservative writers in saying that “[w]hile the administration’s behavior was tawdry, there was no proof that intelligence laws had been broken or that an investigation was necessary.” Unlike many conservative pundits and publications, Pearlstine does not lambast special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, instead observing that “once convinced that Libby (but not [White House political strategist Karl] Rove) had lied under oath, the prosecutor argued that he had no choice but to indict, charging Libby with perjury, making false statements, and obstruction of justice.” Pearlstine says that whatever Fitzgerald’s intentions, he incited a “First Amendment showdown” with the press: “By issuing subpoenas that required reporters to betray their sources, Fitzgerald created the showdown.” Pearlstine says that because Fitzgerald won the court battles to force journalists to testify about their sources, “[s]ome ugly truths emerged about one of the biggest problems with Washington journalism—a symbiosis between reporters and sources in which the reporters often think that it is their first job to protect their sources and that informing the public comes second.” Pearlstine is critical of former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who went to jail rather than reveal her sources to Fitzgerald’s grand jury (see July 6, 2005). It was clear during Miller’s testimony that her record-keeping was sloppy and disorganized (see January 31, 2007), and that she was all too willing to cooperate with Libby to the possible detriment of her reporting, as when she agreed to obfuscate his identity by identifying him as a “former Hill staffer” instead of a senior White House official (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). Pearlstine writes, “It was a telling example of her willingness to breach journalistic ethics in order to coddle close sources.” Pearlstine concludes by observing that because Fitzgerald was so successful in compelling journalists to reveal their confidential sources, other lawyers will seek to do the same. “Journalism and the public interest will suffer,” he writes. Pearlstine advocates the legislative passage of a federal shield law to protect journalists and their sources. [Time, 5/31/2007]
James Reston Jr. [Source: James Reston, Jr]James Reston Jr., a member of David Frost’s research team for the famous Nixon-Frost interviews (see Early 1976), publishes his book, The Conviction of Richard Nixon, about those debates and their echoes in the actions of the Bush administration. Reston writes that “it might be argued that the post-September 11 domestic abuses find their origin in Watergate. In 1977 the commentators were shocked when Nixon said about his burglaries and wiretaps, ‘If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal’ (see April 6, 1977).… These brazen words… come eerily down to us through the tunnel of the last thirty years.”
Presidential Immunity - Reston writes: “In the area of criminal activity, Nixon argues, the president is immune. He can eavesdrop; he can cover up; he can approve burglaries; he can bend government agencies like the CIA and the FBI to his own political purposes. He can do so in the name of ‘national security’ and ‘executive privilege.’ And when these acts are exposed, he can call them ‘mistakes’ or ‘stupid things’ or ‘pipsqueak’ matters. In the 21st century, Nixon’s principle has been extended to authorizing torture, setting up secret prisons around the world, and ignoring the requirement for search warrants. A president can scrap the Geneva Convention and misuse the Defense Department and lie about the intelligence analyses. He is above the law. This is especially so when the nation is mired in an unpopular war, when the country is divided, when mass protests are in the streets of America, and an American president is pilloried around the world. If Nixon’s words resonate today, so also does the word Watergate.”
Echoes of Nixon and Watergate - Reston continues: “Again the nation is in a failing, elective war. A Nixon successor is again charged with abuse of power in covering up and distorting crucial facts as he dragged the country, under false pretenses, into war. Again secrecy reigns in the White House, and the argument is made that national security trumps all.… In 2007 the issue has returned with a vengeance. And one can become almost wistful in realizing that the period after Watergate brought an era of reform. A campaign finance law was passed; Congress reasserted its control over intelligence activities; and moral codes were enunciated for public officials. National security, the New York Times editorialized after the interviews, was no longer ‘the magic incantation’ that automatically paralyzed inquiry. After September 11, the incantation became magic again. And so, people have asked, after the Bush presidency, who will be his David Frost? It is hard to imagine that there will be one.” [Reston, 2007, pp. 9-10, 180]
Former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby, found guilty of four felonies in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see March 6, 2007), is sentenced by Judge Reggie Walton to 30 months in jail, fined $250,000, and given two years’ probation. The sentence is at the low end of the 30-37 month recommendation provided by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (see May 25, 2007). Libby’s plea for leniency is denied. An appeals court will refuse to allow Libby to remain free while he appeals the convictions. [National Review, 5/29/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] “Many defendants are first offenders, most defendants have family. We need to make clear that the truth matters and one’s station in life does not matter,” says prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. “We had to… chase down rabbit holes that he took us down by lying to us… [the jury had] to sort through this fun house of mirrors.” Libby’s attorney Theodore Wells argues that because of the “public humiliation” caused to Libby by the trial, and because of Libby’s “exceptional public service to the nation,” he should be given no jail time. Libby’s co-counsel, William Jeffress, continues to insist that Plame Wilson was not covert, a position long since disproven (see Fall 1992 - 1996, Late 1990s-2001 and Possibly After, April 22, 1999, (July 11, 2003), Before July 14, 2003, July 22, 2003, July 30, 2003, September 30, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, January 9, 2006, February 13, 2006, September 6, 2006, and March 16, 2007), and attempts to assert that Libby did not actually expose her as a CIA agent, an argument again debunked during the proceedings. For himself, Libby speaks briefly, thanking the court for treating him kindly, and says he is ready for the sentence: “Now I realize fully the court must decide on punishment, and I hope the court will consider my whole life,” he says. In pronouncing sentence, Walton says: “I’ve watched these proceedings with a sense of sadness because I have the highest respect for government servants. It is important that we expect and demand a lot of people who are in those situations. They have a certain high level obligation when they occupy that situation. In this situation Libby failed to meet the bar.” [Raw Story, 6/5/2007] Libby will spend no time behind bars (see July 2, 2007).
Shirley Phelps-Roper, a leader of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After), is arrested during a protest in Bellevue, Nebraska. Today, as is her practice, Phelps-Roper wears an American flag around her waist, which she allows to drag the ground, and allows her son to stand on another American flag. Phelps-Roper is charged with desecrating the flag, negligent child abuse, disturbing the peace, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Three years later, the flag desecration and contributing to delinquency charges will be dropped, in part because a federal judge will have found the flag desecration statute unconstitutional. Bellevue will also pay Phelps-Roper $17,000 in return for her dropping of a lawsuit against the city. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012]
Legal analysts call Vice President Dick Cheney’s publicly expressed desire for convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007) to be freed “unusual” and “troubling.” They note that while Cheney and President Bush are friends and former colleages of Libby, they are also officials sworn to uphold the law and run the branch of government that prosecuted Libby. “It’s a disappointment whenever a person who occupies a high office and takes an oath doesn’t respond to a demonstrated serious criminal event in a serious governmental way,” says former Iran-Contra prosecutor John Barrett. “It’s an adversary process and I understand the personal dimension, but the United States is the side of the case that President Bush and Vice President Cheney are on. Those are their jobs.” Attorney Lance Cole, who worked with Democrats on the Senate Whitewater Committee, says, “Libby’s lies derailed the investigation, and Cheney’s role has never been fully explained; the comments of the president and especially the vice president are troubling in this context” (see May 25, 2007). Presidential scholar Stanley Kutler, author of The Wars of Watergate, a famous book on the Watergate scandal, says Cheney’s statement is unusual in a historical content. “I know of no time in Watergate where someone who was convicted got the warm embrace of those in power,” Kutler says. He calls allegations that Libby’s political activity was unfairly criminalized “spurious.” [Associated Press, 6/6/2007]
Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald urges Judge Reggie Walton not to delay convicted felon Lewis Libby’s 30-month jail sentence (see March 6, 2007 and June 5, 2007). Libby’s lawyers have argued that Libby should not have to begin his jail term until his appeal has concluded (see June 19, 2007). Fitzgerald has argued that the evidence against Libby was overwhelming, and the appeal is likely to bear little fruit. If Libby is ordered to jail, his lawyers are expected to ask the appeals court to put the sentence on hold. [Associated Press, 6/12/2007] Walton will not delay jailing Libby (see June 14, 2007), but President Bush will commute Libby’s sentence, sparing him the need to actually go to jail (see July 2, 2007).
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) publishes a set of three non-classified documents secured from telecommunications giant AT&T by former AT&T technician and current whistleblower Mark Klein. Klein has used the documents to prove his assertions that AT&T colluded with the National Security Agency to illegally eavesdrop on Americans’ telephone and Internet communications (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009). The EFF has sued AT&T for violating its customers’ privacy, and Klein and the documents are key elements of its case (see February 23-28, 2006). After years of opposing their public disclosure and attempting to force their return (see April 6-8, 2006), AT&T acquiesced to the documents’ disclosure earlier this week after the EFF threatened to take the corporation to a federal appeals court. The documents were released in part by Wired News over a year ago against AT&T’s wishes (see May 17, 2006), and PBS also made them public as a part of a Frontline documentary. The Justice Department considered classifying the documents, then rejected the idea (see Late March - April 4, 2006). According to EFF’s Cindy Cohn, AT&T agreed to the disclosure of those portions to escape the embarrassment of arguing that documents available on the Internet for more than a year were secret. Wired’s Ryan Singel writes: “There are no surprises in the AT&T documentation… which consist of a subset of the pages already published by Wired News. They include AT&T wiring diagrams, equipment lists, and task orders that appear to show the company tapping into fiber-optic cables at the point where its backbone network connects to other ISPs at a San Francisco switching office. The documents appear to show the company siphoning off the traffic to a room packed with Internet-monitoring gear.” The EFF also releases a formerly sealed, signed declaration by Klein (see February 23-28, 2006) and a written analysis of the documentation by Internet expert J. Scott Marcus (see March 29, 2006). Marcus’s analysis, which had previously remained largely under court-ordered seal, is “the most interesting” of the releases, Singel writes. Marcus said the AT&T technical configuration allowed the NSA to conduct “surveillance and analysis of Internet content on a massive scale, including both overseas and purely domestic traffic,” and found it probable that AT&T had “15 or 20” secret facilities around the country, not just the few facilities of which Klein was aware. AT&T, with the Justice Department, is trying to prevent EFF’s lawsuit from continuing, insisting that such a trial would expose “state secrets” (see April 28, 2006 and May 13, 2006). Judge Vaughn Walker has already considered and dismissed that claim (see July 20, 2006); AT&T and the government hope an appeals court will find in their favor. Cohn tells Singel she hopes the documents will show the public that their case is based in fact and not speculation, and that the government’s claim of a national security risk is overblown: “It really paints them into a corner, how unreasonable their claims of state secrets are. I’m hoping [the document release] demonstrates we are right and know what we are talking about and that we don’t need much more to win our case. We are much closer than people think.” [Wired News, 6/13/2007]
Convicted perjurer Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007) is told by Judge Reggie Walton he cannot delay starting his jail term (see June 5, 2007) while he appeals his conviction. Libby’s lawyers say they will seek an emergency order delaying Libby’s prison sentence. They are also appealing Libby’s conviction. [CBS News, 1/25/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] Libby will spend no time behind bars (see July 2, 2007).
Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, described by observers as a moderate liberal, castigates US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and the government lawyers who successfully prosecuted former White House senior aide Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby (see October 28, 2005 and March 6, 2007). Unlike some of his more conservative colleagues (see October 29, 2005, October 31, 2005, November 4, 2005, November 17, 2005, November 18, 2005, December 8, 2005, April 9, 2006, April 17, 2006, July 12, 2006, Late August-Early September, 2006, September 2-5, 2006, September 5, 2006, September 5, 2006, September 7, 2006, October 16, 2006, January 17, 2007, February 16, 2007, February 16, 2007, February 27, 2007, March 6, 2007, March 6, 2007, March 6, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 8-9, 2007, March 9, 2007, and March 11, 2007), Cohen does not plainly state that Libby is innocent of any crime. Rather, Cohen accuses Fitzgerald of doing the work of the “liberal press (especially the New York Times)” and “opponents of the Iraq war” in “mak[ing] a mountain out of a molehill.” The outing of clandestine CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003 and July 12, 2006) was nothing more than a “run-of-the-mill leak,” he writes. Moreover, he writes, Fitzgerald “wound up prosecuting not the leaker—Richard Armitage of the State Department (see June 13, 2003)—but Libby, convicted in the end of lying. Cohen justifies his claim by writing: “This is not an entirely trivial matter since government officials should not lie to grand juries, but neither should they be called to account for practicing the dark art of politics. As with sex or real estate, it is often best to keep the lights off.” Cohen goes on to call the Libby investigation “a train wreck—mile after mile of shame, infamy, embarrassment, and occasional farce.” He accuses Fitzgerald of using the power of his office to unjustly compel journalists to testify to their own knowledge and complicity in Libby’s leak. The Iraq war opponents “cheered” Fitzgerald on, Cohen writes, and goes on to say that those opponents “thought—if ‘thought’ can be used in this context—that if the thread was pulled on who had leaked the identity of Valerie Plame to Robert D. Novak, the effort to snooker an entire nation into war would unravel and this would show… who knows? Something. For some odd reason, the same people who were so appalled about government snooping, the USA Patriot Act, and other such threats to civil liberties cheered as the special prosecutor weed-whacked the press, jailed a reporter, and now will send a previously obscure government official to prison for 30 months.” Had the Iraq war only claimed 300 American lives and ended with a clear victory, Cohen writes, no one would have called for any such investigation. As it stands, he continues, the anti-war left and the “liberal press” demanded “scalps” and was given Libby’s. “Accountability is one thing,” Cohen writes. “By all means, let Congress investigate and conduct oversight hearings with relish and abandon. But a prosecution is a different matter. It entails the government at its most coercive—a power so immense and sometimes so secretive that it poses much more of a threat to civil liberties, including freedom of the press, than anything in the interstices of the scary Patriot Act.” He concludes by calling on President Bush to commute Libby’s sentence. [Washington Post, 6/19/2007; Salon, 6/19/2007] Cohen has previously asked that the prosecution of Libby be terminated (see October 13, 2005),
called Libby’s prosecution “silly,” and misrepresented the facts behind the prosecution (see January 30, 2007). Author, columnist, and former civil liberties lawyer Glenn Greenwald, writing a response to Cohen’s column for his blog in the Internet news publication Salon, savages Cohen by mockingly “praising” Cohen’s column as perfectly “capturing the essence of our Beltway media.” Cohen’s exhortation to allow politics to be practiced with “the lights off” is, Greenwald asserts, “the central belief of our Beltway press.… If that isn’t the perfect motto for our bold, intrepid, hard-nosed political press, then nothing is.” Greenwald notes what he calls the “multiple falsehoods” of Cohen’s argument—the appointment of Fitzgerald to investigate the leak that outed Plame Wilson was not a result of pressure from the “liberal press” or what Cohen calls the “sanctimon[ious]” anti-war left, unless the CIA and the Justice Department are left-wing organizations (see July 30, 2003, Before September 16, 2003 and December 30, 2003). Greenwald writes that the core of Cohen’s apparent horror and indignation at the pursuit of the Plame Wilson leak is that his colleagues in the media were investigated and in one instance jailed (see July 6, 2005). “As any prosecutor knows—and Martha Stewart can attest—white-collar types tend to have a morbid fear of jail,” Greenwald quotes Cohen as writing. Greenwald responds: “Indeed, it is so terribly unfair to investigate powerful government officials because, as ‘white-collar types,’ they have a ‘morbid fear of jail’—in contrast, of course, to blue-collar types, and darker ones still, who really do not mind prison at all. Why would they? It’s their natural habitat, where they belong. That is what prison is for. That has been the real point here all along. The real injustice is that prison is simply not the place for the most powerful and entrenched members of the Beltway royal court, no matter how many crimes they commit. There is a grave indignity to watching our brave Republican elite be dragged before such lowly venues as a criminal court and be threatened with prison, as though they are common criminals or something. How disruptive and disrespectful and demeaning it all is.” Greenwald says that the “most valuable lesson of Cohen’s column… is that the overriding allegiance of our permanent Beltway ruling class is to the royal court which accords them their status and prestige. That overarching allegiance overrides, easily, any supposed partisan, ideological or other allegiances which, in their assigned roles, they are ostensibly defending.” Were the Beltway press to actually investigate and pursue stories instead of “snuggling” with their “friends” in government, it would expose corruption and foster justice, instead of encouraging corruption and fostering injustice. Greenwald concludes: “Our media stars have not merely stood idly by while our highest government officials engage in endless deceit and corruption. They actively defend it, enable it, justify it, and participate in it. Keeping the lights off is their principal function, one which—with rare and noble exceptions—they perform quite eagerly.” [Salon, 6/19/2007]
Convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007), sentenced to 30 months in federal prison (see June 5, 2007), becomes federal inmate No. 28301-016. Libby’s inmate number is assigned by the US Bureau of Prisons, which is determining which facility he will be assigned to serve his time at. As a non-violent, first-time offender, Libby will likely be placed in a minimum-security prison camp. [Associated Press, 6/28/2007] Libby will not serve any jail time (see July 2, 2007).
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) files a lawsuit against former White House staffer Gregory Jenkins. The lawsuit accuses Jenkins, who planned public events for President Bush, of concocting a policy designed to stop potential dissenters from getting near the president during public events. According to the lawsuit, Jenkins “unlawfully excluded individuals perceived to be critical of the administration,” thereby “cleansing” public forums of dissent. The lawsuit is filed on behalf of four plaintiffs, two West Virginia citizens who wore T-shirts critical of Bush’s policies to a Bush event, and two Denver residents whose car had an anti-war bumper sticker (see November 21, 2005). According to the 2002 Presidential Advance Manual for planning presidential events, which Jenkins apparently helped create, the White House employs numerous strategies for countering dissent at rallies and events. The manual reads in part: “The formation of ‘rally squads’ is a common way to prepare for demonstrators by countering their message. This tactic involves utilizing small groups of volunteers to spread favorable messages using large hand held signs, placards, or perhaps a long sheet banner, and placing them in strategic areas around the site. These squads should be instructed always to look for demonstrators. The rally squad’s task is to use their signs and banners as shields between the demonstrators and the main press platform. If the demonstrators are yelling, rally squads can begin and lead supportive chants to drown out the protesters (USA!, USA!, USA!). As a last resort, security should remove the demonstrators from the event site. The rally squads can include, but are not limited to, college/young republican organizations, local athletic teams, and fraternities/sororities.” [Wired News, 6/29/2007]
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously refuses to delay convicted felon Lewis Libby’s prison sentence (see March 6, 2007 and June 5, 2007). Unless President Bush intercedes, there is no further impediment to Libby going to prison. Libby argued that he should not have to go to jail because he has a good possibility of winning his appeal (see June 19, 2007). [Associated Press, 7/2/2007] Hours after the appeals court hands down its ruling, Bush commutes Libby’s sentence (see July 2, 2007).
Ending weeks of speculation, President Bush commutes the sentence of convicted felon and former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see March 6, 2007 and June 5, 2007), calling the sentence “excessive.” Libby is now a free man, though he is still due to serve two years’ probation period and pay a $250,000 fine. Many Libby supporters, including Vice President Dick Cheney, have called upon Bush to pardon Libby [Politico, 7/2/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] , but Bush stopped short of issuing a full pardon. [Washington Post, 7/3/2007] White House press secretary Tony Snow says that the White House did not bow to pressure from Republicans and conservative pundits to pardon or commute Libby’s sentence. “This has nothing to do with political pressure,” Snow says. “It has everything to do with justice.… The president is doing the right thing for a principled reason. For once, it might be refreshing for people to consider that principle tends to be governing in this White House and not polls. He’s laid out some highly defensible reasons and he takes his powers very seriously. If you take a look at pardons and commutations, they’ve been done very carefully in this White House. Not every White House has done that.” [Washington Post, 7/3/2007] Bush says in a written statement that he decided to “respect” the jury’s conviction of Libby, but adds that Libby’s “exceptional public service” and prior lack of a criminal record led him to conclude that the 30-month sentence handed down last month was “excessive.” Bush notes that he had previously promised not to intervene until Libby had exhausted all of his appeals, but because an appeals court denied Libby a delay in beginning his prison sentence (see July 2, 2007), Bush decided to act: “With the denial of bail being upheld and incarceration imminent, I believe it is now important to react to that decision.… The reputation he gained through his years of public service and professional work in the legal community is forever damaged. His wife and young children have also suffered immensely. He will remain on probation. The significant fines imposed by the judge will remain in effect. The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant, and private citizen will be long-lasting.” Libby’s lawyer Theodore Wells says in a statement that Libby and his family “wish to express their gratitude for the president’s decision today,” and says Libby will continue to pursue an appeal. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald acknowledges Bush’s power to commute Libby’s sentence, but disputes the characterization of Libby’s sentence as excessive, saying: “An experienced federal judge considered extensive argument from the parties and then imposed a sentence consistent with the applicable laws. It is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals. That principle guided the judge during both the trial and the sentencing.” [Politico, 7/2/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
Libby's Commutation Allows Refusal to Testify before Congress - Author Laura Rozen will note that by commuting Libby’s sentence instead of pardoning Libby, Bush allows Libby to retain the ability to refuse to testify before Congress on the grounds that he could incriminate himself. Thusly, Libby can avoid not only testifying about his own actions in the Valerie Plame Wilson leak affair, but about the roles of his former bosses, Bush and Cheney. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 388]
Split Reactions - The reactions to Libby’s commutation are split along largely partisan lines, with many Democrats and their supporters expressing their outrage over the decision to spare Libby from serving prison time (see July 2, 2007).
Reactions to President Bush’s commutation of Lewis Libby’s prison sentence (see July 2, 2007) are mixed, and split largely along partisan divides.
Democrats: Commutation 'Disgraceful,' 'Tramples' on Principle of Equal Justice - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calls the decision “disgraceful” and says history will judge Bush “harshly” for it. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a 2008 presidential contender, says, “This is exactly the kind of politics we must change so we can begin restoring the American people’s faith in a government that puts the country’s progress ahead of the bitter partisanship of recent years.” Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), another presidential candidate, says Bush’s decision shows that “cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice.” Former Senator John Edwards (D-NC), another presidential contender, says, “Only a president clinically incapable of understanding that mistakes have consequences could take the action he did today.” Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), another presidential hopeful, states, “I call for all Americans to flood the White House with phone calls tomorrow expressing their outrage over this blatant disregard for the rule of law.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says: “As Independence Day nears, we’re reminded that one of the principles our forefathers fought for was equal justice under the law. This commutation completely tramples on that principle.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says Bush has “abandoned all sense of fairness when it comes to justice.… The president’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s prison sentence does not serve justice, condones criminal conduct, and is a betrayal of trust of the American people.” House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) says that “until now, it appeared that the president merely turned a blind eye to a high ranking administration official leaking classified information. The president’s action today makes it clear that he condones such activity.”
Republicans: Commutation 'the Right Thing' but Political Damage May Be Severe - While most Republican lawmakers do not issue public comments, House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) says: “President Bush did the right thing today in commuting the prison term for Scooter Libby. The prison sentence was overly harsh, and the punishment did not fit the crime.” Former Senator Fred Thompson, also a 2008 presidential hopeful and a long-time supporter of Libby’s (see After October 28, 2005 and March 7, 2007), says Bush should issue a full pardon for Libby, adding, “This will allow a good American who has done a lot for his country to resume his life.” Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani calls the commutation a “reasonable” and “correct” decision. [Bush commutes Libby prison sentence, 7/2/2007; CNN, 7/2/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] But other Republicans are not so sanguine. “The dirty little secret is that in his own way, Bush has shown as much contempt for the law as [former President Bill] Clinton did,” says Curt Smith, a speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush. An unidentified Washington Republican says, “We have now witnessed the evisceration of the Bush presidency by its own hand.” A senior Republican operative observes: “Thirty months in jail was absolutely excessive, but zero is offensive to the average American. Commuting to 60 days in jail would have made this a lot more palatable to the average person.” [New York Daily News, 7/8/2007]
Wilson: Libby a 'Traitor' Who 'Endangered ... Country's National Security' - Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador and vehement war critic whose wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was exposed as a covert CIA agent by Libby, says both he and his wife are “deeply disappointed” by Bush’s decision. “The president’s actions send the message that leaking classified information for political purposes is acceptable,” Wilson says. “Mr. Libby not only endangered Valerie and our family, but also our country’s national security.” Asked if he has anything to say to Libby, Wilson says with apparent anger: “I have nothing to say to Scooter Libby. I don’t owe this administration. They owe my wife and my family an apology for having betrayed her. Scooter Libby is a traitor.”
Law Professor Calls Commutation 'Hypocritical and Appalling' - Law professor Douglas Berman says the commutation is “hypocritical and appalling from a president whose Justice Department is always fighting” attempts by judges and lawmakers to lower the punishment called for under federal sentencing guidelines. Berman says Bush’s message amounted to “My friend Scooter shouldn’t have to serve 30 months in prison because I don’t want him to.” Most polls show overwhelming public support for Libby’s jailing. [Politico, 7/2/2007; CNN, 7/2/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
Entity Tags: Fred Thompson, Curt Smith, Valerie Plame Wilson, Douglas Berman, Charles Schumer, Barack Obama, Roy Blunt, Nancy Pelosi, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Joseph C. Wilson, Hillary Clinton, John Conyers, Harry Reid, Joseph Biden, George W. Bush, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, John Edwards
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Judge Reggie Walton, whose 30-month sentence of convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007 and June 5, 2007) was obviated by President Bush’s commutation of the sentence (see July 2, 2007), declines to comment on Bush’s action. In an email, Walton says, “To now say anything about sentencing on the heels of yesterday’s events will inevitably be construed as comments on the president’s commutation decision, which would be inappropriate.” [Canadian Broadcasting Company, 7/3/2007]
Convicted felon Lewis Libby (see March 6, 2007 and June 5, 2007) pays his $250,000 fine, plus a $400 special assessment fee. With the commutation of his jail sentence by President Bush (see July 2, 2007), Libby is only required to serve two years’ probation to complete his sentencing requirements. [CBS News, 1/25/2007]
Representative John Conyers (D-MI), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, writes a letter to President Bush asking him to allow his top White House officials to explain why he commuted convicted felon Lewis Libby’s prison sentence (see July 2, 2007). Conyers says Bush should “waive executive privilege and provide relevant documents and testimony” about the decision. [CBS News, 1/25/2007] As far as is known, Conyers receives no reply from the White House.
A federal district court in Washington dismisses the lawsuit filed by Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame Wilson against four current and former White House officials (see July 13, 2006). Judge John C. Bates finds that while the lawsuit, asking for punitive damages against Vice President Dick Cheney, his former chief of staff Lewis Libby, White House political strategist Karl Rove, and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage for violating their rights in outing Plame Wilson as a CIA agent, may have merit, and the actions of the defendants were “highly unsavory,” there is no constitutional remedy for their claims. The Wilsons’ allegations pose “important questions relating to the propriety of actions undertaken by our highest government officials,” but the claims are dismissed on jurisdictional grounds. “Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted,” Bates finds. “This court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiffs’ claims for public disclosure of private facts.” The Wilsons will appeal the decision; their lawyer, Melanie Sloan, says in a statement: “While we are obviously very disappointed by today’s decision, we have always expected that this case would ultimately be decided by a higher court. We disagree with the court’s holding and intend to pursue this case vigorously to protect all Americans from vindictive government officials who abuse their power for their own political ends.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 305; Bloomberg, 7/19/2007]
Steven Bradbury, the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a classified memo on what a new interpretation of the Geneva Conventions’ Common Article 3 means for the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program.” The Bradbury memo, released after months of debate among Bush officials regarding the ramifications of the recent Supreme Court decision extending Geneva protections to enemy combatants in US custody (see June 30, 2006), new legislation following the Court’s decision (see October 17, 2006), and an executive order on interrogations (see July 20, 2007), spells out what interrogation practices the CIA can use. The memo’s existence will not become known until after the 2009 release of four Justice Department torture memos (see April 16, 2009). Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights will say upon learning of the memo, “The CIA still seems to want to get authority to interrogate people outside of what would be found to be a violation of the Geneva Conventions and the law.” Ratner will add that the memo raises questions about why the CIA felt it needed expanded authorities for interrogations. “What we don’t know is whether, after Hamdan, that 2007 memo modifies what the CIA is able to do in interrogation techniques,” he will say. “But what’s more interesting is why the CIA thinks it needs to use those interrogation techniques. Who are they interrogating in 2007? Who are they torturing in 2007? Is that they’re nervous about going beyond what OLC has said? These are secret-site people. Who are they? What happened to them?” [Washington Independent, 4/21/2009]
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband formally asks the Bush administration to release five British citizens from detention at Guantanamo. The administration will release three, but refuse to release Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001 and November 4, 2005) and Shaker Aamer, citing security concerns. [Guardian, 2/5/2009]
FBI agents raid the home of former Justice Department prosecutor Thomas Tamm, who is suspected of leaking information to the New York Times regarding the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). Tamm previously worked in the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), which oversees surveillance of terrorist and espionage suspects. The FBI agents seize Tamm’s computer as well as those of his three children and a store of personal files. They also take some of his books (including one on famed Watergate whistleblower “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005), and even the family’s Christmas card list. Tamm is not home when the raid is staged, so the agents sit his wife and children around the kitchen table and grill them about Tamm’s activities. His oldest son, Terry, will later recall: “They asked me questions like ‘Are there any secret rooms or compartments in the house’? Or did we have a safe? They asked us if any New York Times reporters had been to the house. We had no idea why any of this was happening.” The raid is part of a leak probe ordered by President Bush (see December 30, 2005). James X. Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology calls the decision to stage the raid “amazing,” and says it shows the administration’s misplaced priorities: using FBI agents to track down leakers instead of processing intel warrants to close the gaps. [Newsweek, 8/2007; Newsweek, 12/22/2008] In late 2008, Tamm will reveal to Newsweek that he is one source for the Times articles (see December 22, 2008). At the time of the raid, his family has no idea that he knows anything about the wiretapping program, or that he has spoken to reporters. [Newsweek, 12/22/2008]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases documents that provide evidence of a possible cover-up of Iraqi prisoner abuse by American personnel in 2003. The documents detail US Army Office of Inspector General investigations by three high-ranking Army officials: Major General Barbara Fast, then the top intelligence officer in Iraq (see December 2003); Major General Walter Wojdakowski; and former CENTCOM head Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. The documents suggest that these three flag officers failed to act promptly when informed of the abuses at Abu Ghraib. They also show that an Army investigator found that the conditions of prisoners held in isolation at the Iraqi prison qualified as torture. “These documents make clear that prisoners were abused in US custody not only at Abu Ghraib, but also in other locations in Iraq,” says ACLU official Amrit Singh. “Rather than putting a stop to these abuses, senior officials appear to have turned a blind eye to them.” The documents also show that Major General George Fay (see August 25, 2004) found the conditions of prisoners held in isolation at Abu Ghraib to be torture: “[W]hat was actually being done at Abu Ghraib was they were placing people in their cells naked and they were—those cells they were placing them in, in many instances were unlit. No light whatsoever. And they were like a refrigerator in the wintertime and an oven in the summertime because they had no outside form of ventilation. And you actually had to go outside the building to get to this place they called the ‘hole,’ and were literally placing people into it. So, what they thought was just isolation was actually abuse because it’s—actually in some instances, it was torturous. Because they were putting a naked person into an oven or a naked person into a refrigerator. That qualifies in my opinion as torture. Not just abuse.” Fay also noted in the document that a memo from then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorizing removal of clothing created a ‘mindset’ in which that kind of humiliation was considered an “acceptable technique.” He noted that even though Rumsfeld later rescinded the memo (see August 25, 2004), not everyone received notice that the interrogation of naked prisoners was no longer permissible. [American Civil Liberties Union, 8/15/2007]
AT&T attorney Michael Kellogg enters the courtroom. [Source: Wired News]The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco hears two related cases: one a government appeal to dismiss a case brought against AT&T for its involvement in the National Security Agency (NSA)‘s domestic wiretapping program (see July 20, 2006), and the other a challenge to the government’s authority to wiretap overseas phone calls brought on behalf of a now-defunct Islamic charity, Al Haramain (see February 28, 2006). The AT&T lawsuit is brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (see January 31, 2006). Among the onlookers is AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), who has provided key documentation for the EFF lawsuit (see Early January 2006).
Government Lawyer: Court Should Grant 'Utmost Deference' to Bush Administration - Deputy Solicitor General Gregory Garre, arguing on behalf of the US government, tells Judge Harry Pregerson, one of the three judges presiding over the court, that allowing the EFF lawsuit against AT&T to go forward would result in “exceptionally grave harm to national security in the United States,” even though a previous judge has ruled otherwise (see July 20, 2006) and the government itself has admitted that none of the material to be used by EFF is classified as any sort of state secret (see June 23, 2006). Pregerson says that granting such a request would essentially make his court a “rubber stamp” for the government, to which Garre argues that Pregerson should grant the “utmost deference” to the Bush administration. Pregerson retorts: “What does utmost deference mean? Bow to it?” [Wired News, 8/15/2007] Klein will later accuse Garre of using “scare tactics” to attempt to intimidate the judges into finding in favor of AT&T and the government. [Klein, 2009, pp. 79]
Government Refuses to Swear that Domestic Surveillance Program Operates under Warrant - Garre says that the goverment’s domestic surveillance program operates entirely under judicial warrant; he says the government is not willing to sign a sworn affidavit to that effect. Reporter Kevin Poulsen, writing for Wired News, says that Garre’s admission of the government’s reluctance to swear that its domestic surveillance program operates with warrants troubles all three judges. AT&T attorney Michael Kellogg argues that AT&T customers have no proof that their communications are being given over to the government without warrants, and therefore the EFF lawsuit should be dismissed. “The government has said that whatever AT&T is doing with the government is a state secret,” Kellogg says. “As a consequence, no evidence can come in whether the individuals’ communications were ever accepted or whether we played any role in it.” EFF attorney Robert Fram argues that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) allows citizens to challenge electronic surveillance by permitting courts to hear government evidence in chambers. He is careful, Poulsen writes, to note that EFF does not want specific information on the NSA’s sources and methods, and says that EFF already has enough evidence to prove its assertion that AT&T compromised its customers’ privacy by colluding with the NSA’s domestic surveillance program.
Government Mocks Whistleblower's AT&T Documentation - Garre mocks Klein’s AT&T documents, saying that all they prove is that the NSA’s secret room in AT&T’s San Francisco facility (see Late 2002-Early 2003, January 2003, and October 2003) “has a leaky air conditioner and some loose cables in the room.” Fram counters that Klein’s documentation is specific and damning. It proves that the NSA housed a splitter cabinet in that secret room that “split” data signals, allowing the NSA to wiretap literally millions of domestic communications without the knowledge of AT&T customers (see February 2003, Fall 2003, Late 2003, and Late 2003). Fram says Klein’s documents, along with other non-classified documentation EFF has presented, proves “the privacy violation on the handover of the Internet traffic at the splitter into the secret room, which room has limited access to NSA-cleared employees. What is not part of our claim is what happens inside that room.” Klein’s documentation proves the collusion between AT&T and the NSA, Fram states, but Judge M. Margaret McKeown questions this conclusion. According to Poulsen, McKeown seems more willing to grant the government the argument that it must protect “state secrets” than Pregerson.
Government Argues for Dismissal of Al Haramain Case - As in the AT&T portion of the appeal hearing, the government, represented by Assistant US Attorney General Thomas Brody, argues for the Al Haramain lawsuit’s dismissal, saying, “The state secrets privilege requires dismissal of this case.” Even the determination as to whether Al Haramain was spied upon, he argues, “is itself a state secret.” The Top Secret government document that Al Haramain is using as the foundation of its case is too secret to be used in court, Brody argues, even though the government itself accidentally provided the charity with the document. Even the plaintiff’s memories of the document constitute “state secrets” and should be disallowed, Brody continues. “This document is totally non-redactable and non-segregable and cannot even be meaningfully described,” he says. A disconcerted Judge McKeown says, “I feel like I’m in Alice and Wonderland.” Brody concludes that it is possible the Al Haramain attorneys “think or believe or claim they were surveilled. It’s entirely possible that everything they think they know is entirely false.” [Wired News, 8/15/2007]
No Rulings Issued - The appeals court declines to rule on either case at this time. Klein will later write, “It was clear to everyone that this panel would, if they ever issued a ruling, deny the ‘state secrets’ claim and give the green light for the EFF lawsuit to go forward.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 79-81] Wired News’s Ryan Singel writes that the panel seems far more sympathetic to the EFF case than the Al Haramain case. The judges seem dismayed that the government fails to prove that no domestic surveillance program actually exists in the EFF matter. However, they seem far more willing to listen to the government’s case in the Al Haramain matter, even though McKeown says that the government’s argument has an “Alice in Wonderland” feel to it. Singel believes the government is likely to throw out the secret document Al Haramain uses as the foundation of its case. However, he writes, “all three judges seemed to believe that the government could confirm or deny a secret intelligence relationship with the nation’s largest telecom, without disclosing secrets to the world.… So seemingly, in the eyes of today’s panel of judges, in the collision between secret documents and the state secrets privilege, ‘totally secret’ documents are not allowed to play, but sort-of-secret documents—the AT&T documents—may be able to trump the power of kings to do as they will.” [Wired News, 8/15/2007] Wired News’s David Kravets notes that whichever way the court eventually rules, the losing side will continue the appeals process, probably all the way to the US Supreme Court. The biggest question, he says, is whether the NSA is still spying on millions of Americans. [Wired News, 8/15/2007]
Entity Tags: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, US Supreme Court, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Bush administration (43), Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, AT&T, David Kravets, Ryan Singel, Thomas Brody, National Security Agency, Mark Klein, Kevin Poulsen, M. Margaret McKeown, Gregory Garre, Harry Pregerson, Robert Fram, Michael Kellogg
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The White House denies reports that a secret Justice Department opinion in 2005 authorized the use of torture against detainees suspected of terrorist connections, or superseded US anti-torture laws (see February 2005). Press secretary Dana Perino tells reporters: “This country does not torture. It is a policy of the United States that we do not torture and we do not.” The existence of the 2005 memo, signed by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, was revealed by the New York Times. It apparently superseded a late 2004 memo that characterized torture as “abhorrent” and limited the use of “harsh interrogation techniques” (see December 30, 2004). Perino confirms the existence of the 2005 memo, but will not comment on what techniques it authorized. She merely says that the memo did not reinterpret the law. Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says the 2004 opinion remains in effect and that “neither Attorney General Gonzales nor anyone else within the department modified or withdrew that opinion. Accordingly, any advice that the department would have provided in this area would rely upon, and be fully consistent with, the legal standards articulated in the December 2004 memorandum.” Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a consistent opponent of torture, says he was “personally assured by administration officials that at least one of the techniques allegedly used in the past, waterboarding, was prohibited under the new law.” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) calls the 2005 memo and other Justice Department memos authorizing torture “cynical attempt[s] to shield interrogators from criminal liability and to perpetuate the administration’s unlawful interrogation practices.” House Democrats want Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), to “be made available for prompt committee hearings.” Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a presidential candidate, says: “The secret authorization of brutal interrogations is an outrageous betrayal of our core values, and a grave danger to our security. We must do whatever it takes to track down and capture or kill terrorists, but torture is not a part of the answer—it is a fundamental part of the problem with this administration’s approach.” Perino does not comment on another secret memo that apparently concluded all of the CIA’s torture methodologies were legal (see Late 2005). [Associated Press, 10/4/2007]
In light of new disclosures that the Justice Department endorsed torture in 2005 (see October 4, 2007), President Bush says the CIA broke no laws in its interrogations of prisoners, and reiterates his oft-stated assertion that the US “does not torture people.” In a brief appearance at the White House, Bush says, “We stick to US law and our international obligations.” But when the US finds a terrorism suspect: “You bet we’re going to detain them, and you bet we’re going to question them—because the American people expect us to find out information, actionable intelligence so we can help protect them. That’s our job.” Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says in response: “The administration can’t have it both ways. I’m tired of these games. They can’t say that Congress has been fully briefed while refusing to turn over key documents used to justify the legality of the program.” Rockefeller is referring to attempts by the White House and its defenders to assert that Congress knew as much about the CIA’s torture policies as did the White House, and its simultaneous refusal to turn over to Congress Justice Department and other documents used in the Bush administration’s assertions of legality. [Los Angeles Times, 10/6/2007]
After almost five years in US custody, Mohammed Jawad (see December 17, 2002) is charged with attempted murder in violation of the law of war and intentionally causing serious bodily injury. Jawad is alleged to have thrown a hand grenade into a US military vehicle in Kabul, Afghanistan, but denies the charges. [Human Rights First, 9/2008]
A bipartisan immigration bill fails in the Senate, largely because of opposition mounted by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who mobilizes public opinion against it. Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) later explains: “We came out and said, ‘We have a grand compromise.‘… Republicans and Democrats, moderates, conservatives, liberals. ‘We got a deal.’ And then we went home to celebrate, but we didn’t bother to say what was in it. Rush Limbaugh said, ‘This is amnesty’ [for illegal immigrants]. We were dead at that moment because they had a one-word bumper sticker, ‘amnesty,’ and we had a six-paragraph explanation. We got killed. So talk radio has a real impact.” Authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will later write that Limbaugh “trumpet[s] his influence” by playing the audio clip of Lott’s statement in his radio broadcast. [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 58]
CIA Director Michael Hayden orders an unusual internal investigation of the agency’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the press will later learn. The OIG, led by Inspector General John Helgerson, has conducted aggressive investigations of the CIA’s detention and interrogation programs (see May 7, 2004). Current and former government officials say that Hayden’s probe has created anxiety and anger in the OIG, and has sparked questions in Congress of possible conflicts of interest. The review is focusing on complaints that the OIG has not been, as the New York Times reports, a “fair and impartial judge of agency operations,” but instead has “begun a crusade against those who have participated in controversial detention programs.” Some current and former officials say that such a probe threatens to undermine the independence of the office. Former CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz, who served from 1990 through 1998, says any move by Hayden to conduct a probe into the OIG would “not be proper.” Hitz calls it “a terrible idea,” and adds: “Under the statute, the inspector general has the right to investigate the director. How can you do that and have the director turn around and investigate the IG?” A CIA spokesman says Hayden’s only motive is “to help this office, like any office at the agency, do its vital work even better.” The investigation is being overseen by Robert Deitz, a trusted aide to Hayden who served with him when he ran the National Security Agency. Another member of the investigating group is Associate Deputy Director Michael Morrell. Under the law, the proper procedure for Hayden would be to file complaints with the Integrity Committee of the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency, which oversees all the inspectors general, or to go directly to the White House. For an internal inquiry to be launched against an agency’s OIG by the agency head violates the independence and the position of the OIG. Critics say that the timing of Hayden’s investigation is more than coincidental, as Helgerson’s office is readying a number of reports on CIA detention, interrogation, and rendition practices. [New York Times, 10/11/2007]
Dissent among CIA personnel, brewing for well over a year (see April 19, 2006), has become even more intense in recent months, according to reporter Ken Silverstein. Some CIA employees, increasingly disgusted with the Bush administration’s torture and rendition policies, have taken their complaints directly to Inspector General (IG) John Helgerson. In response, CIA Director Michael Hayden has launched an internal inquiry into Helgerson’s office (see Before October 11, 2007). Silverstein reports that on top of internal dissent and complaints to Helgerson’s office, a former senior legal official quit in protest over the administration’s torture policies. Silverstein is not at liberty to reveal the name of the official, but says he worked as a deputy inspector general under former IG Frederick Hitz, who left the position in 1998, and after that worked in the CIA’s office of general counsel. Silverstein says the official had the reputation of being a “hardliner” on terrorism and prisoner interrogations. According to Silverstein, “sources tell me he couldn’t stomach what he deemed to be abuses by the Bush administration and stepped down from his post.” [Harper's, 10/12/2007]
Abdallah Higazy, an Egyptian national who falsely confessed to owning a suspicious airline transceiver after the 9/11 attacks because the FBI threatened to have his family tortured (see December 17, 2001), December 27, 2001, and January 11-16, 2002), has his lawsuit against the FBI reinstated by a US appeals court. The majority opinion finds, “An officer in [FBI agent Michael] Templeton’s shoes would have understood that the confession he allegedly coerced from Higazy would have been used in a criminal case against Higazy and that his actions therefore violated Higazy’s Constitutional right to be free from compelled self-incrimination.” [New York Sun, 10/18/2007]
Decision Issued and Withdrawn - Interestingly, the appeals court posts its full opinion on the case, then within minutes withdraws that opinion and issues another one, with an identical conclusion but with much of the details of Higazy’s allegations redacted. The new ruling reads: “This opinion has been redacted because portions of the record are under seal. For the purposes of the summary judgment motion, Templeton did not contest that Higazy’s statements were coerced.” But the initial opinion has already been downloaded by dozens of legal observers and bloggers, and the evidence redacted by the court is in the public view.
"People Don't Do that Voluntarily" - Washington Post reporter Dan Eggen writes, “The fresh details about his interrogation in December 2001 illustrate how an innocent man can be persuaded to confess to a crime that he did not commit, and the lengths to which the FBI was willing to go in its terrorism-related investigations after the Sept. 11 attacks.” A Justice Department spokesman says that although it does not concede that Higazy’s allegations are true, it has agreed to proceed under the assumption that they are true in order to argue the case. The appellate court does not rule on the veracity of Higazy’s story, but instead concludes that Templeton lacks the “qualified immunity” that would shield him from a civil suit.
Redacted Information - Appellate court clerk Catherine O’Hagan Wolfe says that the original Higazy ruling contained information that should have been sealed from the outset. The decision to seal the information was the court’s, she says, and not the Justice Department’s or the FBI. She says that the decision to seal the information about Templeton’s coercion, and Higazy’s fears of the Egyptian intelligence service, was made out of concern for the safety of Higazy and his family. “Prior to the world of the Internet, a decision would be issued and then withdrawn without any consequences of any moment,” Wolfe says. “Now if that happens it raises the specter of interference or some nefarious intent at work, which is not the case.” Appellate lawyer Stephen Bergstein says that the redacted information “was more embarrassing than worthy of secrecy.” He continues: “Had they left it in, a lot of people probably wouldn’t have noticed. With the Internet, nothing ever goes away.” [Howard Bashman, 10/18/2007; New York Times, 10/20/2007; Washington Post, 10/25/2007]
The cover of Plame Wilson’s ‘Fair Game.’ [Source: Amazon (.com)]Former CIA spy and case officer Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), an expert on Iraqi WMD, publishes her memoir of her time in the CIA, Fair Game. The book’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, notes that significant amounts of material Plame Wilson originally wrote for the book were redacted by the CIA, and the redactions survived a lawsuit aimed at restoring them. “Accordingly,” the publisher writes, “Ms. Wilson’s portion of this book contains only that information that the CIA has deemed unclassified and has allowed her to include.” The portions the CIA ordered redacted are represented by blacked-out passages. Some of the incidents covered in the redacted material are revealed in an afterword written by journalist Laura Rozen. [Simon & Schuster, 9/19/2007 ] On the subject of Iraqi WMDs, Plame Wilson writes: “[I]t is easy to surrender to a revisionist idea that all the WMD evidence against Iraq was fabricated. While it is true that powerful ideologues encouraged a war to prove their own geopolitical theories, and critical failures of judgment were made throughout the intelligence community in the spring and summer of 2002, Iraq, under its cruel dictator Saddam Hussein, was clearly a rogue nation that flouoted international treaties and norms in its quest for regional superiority.” Using material and information collected by the nonpartisan Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Plame Wilson notes that by 2001, Iraq had made progress in all three major areas of WMD.
Iraq could have “probably” fabricated a crude nuclear device if it had successfully secured enough uranium or plutonium.
Iraq was a few years away from being able to produce its own weapons-grade fissile material.
It had a large, experienced pool of nuclear weapons scientists and technicians, and viable plans for building nuclear devices.
Iraq had actively sought equipment related to building nuclear devices.
Iraq had repeatedly violated UN Resolution 687, which mandated that all materials and information related to the construction of nuclear weapons possessed by Iraq must be destroyed.
Between 1972 and 1991, Iraq had an active and growing nuclear weapons development program involving some 10,000 people and $10 billion, and in 1990 it attempted to divert uranium sealed under an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for nuclear weapons development.
Iraq had plans for equipping existing Al-Hussein (modified Scud-B) missiles, with a 300-kilometer range, or possibly modifying Al-Hussein missiles, to fly as far as 650 kilometers. The US believed that, if allowed to work unchallenged, Iraq could build missiles capable of flying 3,000 kilometers within 5 years and build full-fledged ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) within 15 years.
In 1987, Iraq had reportedly field-tested some sort of radiological bomb.
Iraq was believed to have retained stockpiles of biological weapons munitions, including over 150 aerial bombs and at least 25 Al-Hussein missiles with either chemical or biological warheads. At least 17 metric tons of bioweapons growth media remained unaccounted for. Iraq was also believed to possess weaponized strains of anthrax, smallpox, and camelpox. It had conducted tests on delivering biological and/or chemical payloads via unmanned “drone” aircraft.
Iraq was believed to have bioweapons sprayers built to be deployed by its fleet of F-1 Mirage fighters.
Iraq was believed to have kept hidden bioweapons laboratories capable of producing “dry” biological weapons, which have much longer shelf lives and can be deployed with greater dissemination. It was also thought to be able to produce anthrax, aflatoxin, botulism, and clostridium.
During the 1990-91 Gulf War, Iraq had prepared, but not launched, a number of Al-Hussein missiles equipped with biological and/or chemical warheads.
Iraq had repeatedly violated the mandate of UN Resolution 687, which required that all Iraqi bioweapons capabilities be destroyed.
In 2001, Iraq was believed to possess a stockpile of chemical munitions, including at least 25 chemical or biologically-equipped Al-Hussein missiles, 2,000 aerial bombs, up to 25,000 rockets, and 15,000 artillery shells.
Iraq was believed to have the means to produce hundreds of tons of mustard gas, VX toxin, and other nerve agents.
Iraq was reconstructing its former dual-use chemical weapons facilities that had been destroyed during the 1991 Gulf War and during follow-up air strikes. A huge chemical arsenal had been destroyed by UN inspectors after the war.
Iraq retained a large and experienced pool of scientists and technicians capable of making chemical weapons.
In 1988 and 1989, Iraq had used chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds, and from 1983 through 1989, had used chemical weapons against Iranian troops.
Iraq had repeatedly violated UN Resolution 687, which mandated that all chemical weapons technology and materials in Iraqi hands be destroyed.
Iraq was not a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Plame Wilson writes that in 2001, the general view of Iraq among the US intelligence community was that the nation’s government was “dangerous and erratic,” and very interested in procuring chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons technology. The community’s knowledge of Iraq’s WMD program “was a huge puzzle with only a few pieces that fit together correctly.… [N]one of us knew what the completed puzzle would look like.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 97-98]
Through investgative blogger Brad Friedman, former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds makes an open offer to all broadcast TV networks to give any one of them an exclusive “tell all” interview in exchange for unedited air time. Edmonds says, “[h]ere’s my promise to the American Public: If anyone of the major networks—ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, Fox—promise to air the entire segment, without editing, I promise to tell them everything that I know.” She further explains, “I can tell the American public exactly what it is, and what it is that they are covering up,” adding, “I’m not compromising ongoing investigations,” as “they’ve all been shut down since.” Edmonds has already gone to Congress, the Justice Department inspector general, and the 9/11 Commission, and on two separate occasions had been gagged under the State Secrets Act to prevent her testimony in court. Regarding what she has to talk about, Friedman summarizes it as: “Everything she hasn’t been allowed to tell since 2002, about the criminal penetration of the FBI where she worked, and at the Departments of State and Defense; everything she heard concerning the corruption and illegal activities of several well-known members of Congress; everything she’s aware of concerning information omitted and/or covered up in relation to 9/11. All of the information gleaned from her time listening to and translating wire-taps made prior to 9/11 at the FBI.” [Bradblog.com, 10/29/2007]
Evan Wallach, a New York judge who teaches the law of war at two New York City law schools, pens an editorial for the Washington Post protesting the argument that waterboarding has somehow become legal. Wallach, a former Judge Advocate General officer in the Nevada National Guard, recalls routinely lecturing military policemen about their legal obligations towards their prisoners. He writes that he always concluded by saying: “I know you won’t remember everything I told you today, but just remember what your mom told you: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” He is proud to note that the unit he was with, the 72nd Military Police Company, “refused to participate in misconduct at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.”
Waterboarding Is Real, Not Simulated, Drowning - Wallach then explains what waterboarding is. It is not “simulated drowning,” as many media reports characterize it: “That’s incorrect. To be effective, waterboarding is usually real drowning that simulates death. That is, the victim experiences the sensations of drowning: struggle, panic, breath-holding, swallowing, vomiting, taking water into the lungs, and, eventually, the same feeling of not being able to breathe that one experiences after being punched in the gut. The main difference is that the drowning process is halted. According to those who have studied waterboarding’s effects, it can cause severe psychological trauma, such as panic attacks, for years.”
Prosecution of Waterboarding as Torture Goes Back to 1898 - Wallach notes that after World War II, several Japanese soldiers were tried and executed for waterboarding American and Allied prisoners of war. One former POW, Lieutenant Chase Nielsen, testified: “I was given several types of torture.… I was given what they call the water cure.… Well, I felt more or less like I was drowning… just gasping between life and death.” The waterboarding of POWs was one of the driving forces behind the US’s organization of war crimes trials for senior Japanese military and civilian officials. Wallach writes: “Leading members of Japan’s military and government elite were charged, among their many other crimes, with torturing Allied military personnel and civilians. The principal proof upon which their torture convictions were based was conduct that we would now call waterboarding.” (Weeks later, torture opponent Senator John McCain will cite the Japanese prosecutions in a presidential debate—see November 29, 2007). Wallach notes that as far back as 1898, US soldiers were court-martialed for waterboarding Filipino guerrillas during the Spanish-American War. More recently, a group of Filipino citizens sued, in a US district court, the estate of former Phillipine President Ferdinand Marcos, claiming they had been waterboarded and subjected to other tortures. The court awarded the plaintiffs $766 million in damages, and wrote: “[T]he plaintiffs experienced human rights violations including, but not limited to… the water cure, where a cloth was placed over the detainee’s mouth and nose, and water producing a drowning sensation.” In 1983, a Texas sheriff and three of his deputies were convicted of violating prisoners’ civil rights by subjecting them to a procedure similar to waterboarding (see 1983). Wallach concludes: “We know that US military tribunals and US judges have examined certain types of water-based interrogation and found that they constituted torture. That’s a lesson worth learning. The study of law is, after all, largely the study of history. The law of war is no different. This history should be of value to those who seek to understand what the law is—as well as what it ought to be.” [Washington Post, 11/4/2007]
Republican senator and presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ) says that during World War II, Japanese soldiers were tried and hanged for war crimes involving the waterboarding of American prisoners of war. “There should be little doubt from American history that we consider that [waterboarding] as torture otherwise we wouldn’t have tried and convicted Japanese for doing that same thing to Americans,” McCain says. He notes that he forgot to bring this piece of information up during the previous night’s debate with fellow Republican candidates; during the debate, he criticized former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) for refusing to say what interrogation techniques he would rule out if president. “I would also hope that he would not want to be associated with a technique which was invented in the Spanish Inquisition, was used by Pol Pot in one of the great eras of genocide in history, and is being used on Burmese monks as we speak,” McCain says. “America is a better nation than that.” Waterboarding is banned by US law and international treaties. “If the United States was in another conflict, which could easily happen, with another country, and we have allowed that kind of torture to be inflicted on people we hold captive, then there’s nothing to prevent that enemy from also torturing American prisoners,” McCain adds. [Associated Press, 11/29/2007]
Convicted terrorism conspirator Jose Padilla (see January 22, 2008) sues former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo. Padilla claims Yoo’s legal arguments led to his mistreatment and illegal detention at a US Navy brig. Padilla’s lawsuit says that Yoo’s memos led President Bush to designate Padilla as an “enemy combatant” (see June 10, 2002) and subject him to indefinite detention without being charged or having access to a lawyer. The lawsuit asks for only $1 in damages, and seeks a legal judgment declaring that the policies violated the US Constitution. “This is ultimately about right and wrong, not money,” says Padilla’s attorney Jonathan Freiman, a law professor at Yale University. Freiman says Yoo is being sued because “he gave the green light” to how to deal with Padilla. The lawsuit reiterates claims that Padilla was subjected to harsh interrogation techiques and mistreatment that amounted to torture, claims Justice Department and Pentagon officials deny. [Associated Press, 1/4/2008]
Coinciding with the publication of the first article in a series in Britain’s Sunday Times covering some of her allegations (see Mid-Late 1990s, (1997-2002), 2000-2001, Summer 2000, Summer 2001 and After September 11, 2001), former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds posts a gallery of 18 photos of people and three images of question marks on her website, justacitizen.com (see August 8, 2009). The 21 images are divided into three groups, and the page is titled “State Secrets Privilege Gallery.” No other explanation of the images is given, and the photos include no names or captions. [Sibel Edmonds, 1/6/2008] Luke Ryland, a blogger who has been closely following Sibel Edmonds’s case, posts an entry on his blog titled “Sibel ‘names names’ (in pictures!),” in which he puts names to the faces, and says, “we can reasonably presume that they are the 21 guilty people in her case.” Ryland notes that the three groups correspond to the affiliations of the people in the photos: “The first group contains current and former Pentagon and State Department officials”: Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Eric Edelman, Marc Grossman, Brent Scowcroft, and Larry Franklin. “The second group is current and former congressmen”: Ex-House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Dan Burton (R-IN), Tom Lantos (D-CA), ? (box with question mark), Bob Livingston (R-LA), a former House speaker, and Stephen Solarz (D-NY). “The third group includes people who all appear to work at think tanks—primarily WINEP, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy”: Graham E. Fuller—RAND Corporation, David Makovsky—WINEP, Alan Makovsky—WINEP, ? (box with question mark), ? (box with question mark), Yusuf Turani (president-in-exile, Turkestan), Professor Sabri Sayari (Georgetown, WINEP), and Mehmet Eymur (former head of the Turkish intelligence agency MIT). [Luke Ryland, 1/6/2008]
Entity Tags: Tom Lantos, Sibel Edmonds, David Makovsky, Dan Burton, Brent Scowcroft, Bob Livingston, Alan Makovsky, Dennis Hastert, Stephen Solarz, Douglas Feith, Graham Fuller, Sabri Sayari, Roy Blunt, Richard Perle, Marc Grossman, Luke Ryland, Eric Edelman, Yusuf Turani
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
A poster promoting ‘Hillary: The Movie.’ [Source: New York Times]The conservative lobbying group Citizens United (CU—see May 1998 and (May 11, 2004)) releases a film entitled Hillary: The Movie. The film is a lengthy diatribe attacking the character and career of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Large portions of the film are comprised of conservative critics launching attacks against the personalities and character of Clinton and her husband, former President Clinton. CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) says he based his film on a documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, released in 2004 by liberal filmmaker Michael Moore (see August 6, 2004), and calls it “a rigorously researched critical biography” comparable to the material presented on political talk shows such as Meet the Press. [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Moneyocracy, 2/2012] Bossie intended for the film to be released in late 2007 and impact the 2008 race in the same way that he believes Fahrenheit 9/11 impacted the 2004 race. A cable company made the film, at a cost of $1.2 million, available for free to viewers on “video on demand.” Bossie also scheduled a small theater run for the film, but his primary focus was always cable television and the accompanying television advertisements. Knowing the film will probably run afoul of campaign law, he hired lawyers, first James Bopp Jr. (a former member of the far-right Young Americans for Freedom—YAF—and the former general counsel for the National Right to Life Committee—see November 1980 and After) [New Yorker, 5/21/2012] and later Theodore B. Olson, the former solicitor general under the Bush administration. Olson will later say the film is “a critical biographical assessment” that provides “historical information about the candidate and, perhaps, some measure of entertainment as well.” The New York Times calls it “a scathingly hostile look at Mrs. Clinton” replete with “ripe voice-overs, shadowy re-enactments, and spooky mood music.” The film also contains interviews and material from mainstream media reporters, and interviews with figures such as former CIA agent Gary Aldrich, who wrote a “tell-all” book about the Clinton administration, and with Kathleen Willey, who has claimed that Bill Clinton once made an unwelcome sexual advance towards her. Reviewer Megan Carpentier of Radar Online will trounce the movie, saying that it “scrolls through more than a decade of press clippings and a treasure trove of unflattering pictures in its one-sided romp” and will advise potential viewers to watch it “while inebriated in the manner of your choosing, and only if you don’t pay $10 for the privilege.” [New York Times, 3/5/2009] Bossie claims the movie has nothing to do with the impending primary elections. CU intends to show the movie in a small number of theaters but primarily on “video on demand” cable broadcasts, with accompanying television advertisements. In return for a $1.2 million fee, a cable television consortium has agreed to make the movie freely available to its customers as part of what CU calls its “Election ‘08” series. (CU has another negative documentary on Clinton’s Democratic challenger Barack Obama in the works—see October 28-30, 2008—but apparently has no plans to air any documentaries on Republican candidate John McCain or any other Republican presidential candidates.) However, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) refuses to allow the film to be aired on cable channels, or advertised for theater release, because the FEC considers the film “electioneering” and thus subject to campaign finance law (see March 27, 2002) restrictions. Moreover, the film and its planned distribution are funded by corporate donations. [United States District Court for the District Of Columbia, 1/15/2008; Richard Hasen, 1/15/2008; New Yorker, 5/21/2012] Bossie claims the film takes no position on Clinton’s candidacy, and says that if he had to vote between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, he would vote for Clinton. [New York Times, 3/5/2009]
Court Fight - Bopp, CU’s original lawyer, decides to pursue the same general aggressive course that he took in a recent successful Supreme Court campaign finance case, the Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL) decision (see Mid-2004 and After). The Hillary film was envisioned from the outset to serve multiple purposes: to advance conservative ideology, damage Clinton’s presidential chances (despite Bossie’s claims), and generate profits. Bopp knows that the FEC would likely classify the film as a political advertisement and not a work of journalism or entertainment (see August 6, 2004), and therefore would fall under campaign law restrictions. Before the film is officially released, Bopp takes the film to the FEC for a ruling, and when the FEC, as expected, rules the film to be “electioneering communication” that comes under campaign law restrictions, Bopp files a lawsuit with the Washington, DC, federal district court. The court rules in favor of the FEC judgment, denying CU its request for a preliminary injunction against the FEC’s ruling. The court specifically finds that the WRTL decision does not apply in this case. “[I]f the speech cannot be interpreted as anything other than an appeal to vote for or against a candidate, it will not be considered genuine issue speech even if it does not expressly advocate the candidate’s election or defeat,” the court states. The court also questions CU’s statement that the film “does not focus on legislative issues.… The movie references the election and Senator Clinton’s candidacy, and it takes a position on her character, qualifications, and fitness for office.” Film commentator Dick Morris has said of the film that it will “give people the flavor and an understanding of why she should not be president.” The court rules, “The movie is susceptible of no other interpretation than to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her.” (During arguments, Bopp says that the film is much like what a viewer would see on CBS’s evening news show 60 Minutes, and Judge Royce Lamberth laughs aloud, saying: “You can’t compare this to 60 Minutes. Did you read this transcript?” Other judges find it problematic that one of the film’s central “issues” is its assertion that Clinton is, in Bopp’s words, “a European socialist,” but still claims not to be overtly partisan.) [Mother Jones, 1/13/2008; United States District Court for the District Of Columbia, 1/15/2008; Richard Hasen, 1/15/2008; New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Supreme Court Appeal - CU appeals the court’s decision directly to the Supreme Court. Bossie soon decides to replace Bopp with Olson, a far more prominent figure in conservative legal circles. Toobin will write: “Ted Olson had argued and won Bush v. Gore (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000), and was rewarded by President Bush with an appointment as solicitor general. Olson had argued before the Supreme Court dozens of times, and he had a great deal of credibility with the justices. He knew how to win.” [Richard Hasen, 1/15/2008; New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Previous Attempt - In September 2004, Bossie and CU attempted, without success, to release a similar “documentary” supporting President Bush and attacking Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) on television, just weeks before the presidential election. The FEC turned down the group’s request. The FEC did allow the film to be shown in theaters (see September 8, 2004 and September 27-30, 2004).
'Ten-Year Plan' - Bopp will later reveal that the lawsuit is part of what he will call a “10-year plan” to push the boundaries of campaign finance law, and that he urged Bossie and other CU officials to use the documentary as a “test case” for overturning the body of law (see January 25, 2010).
Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Kathleen Willey, Megan Carpentier, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, New York Times, Michael Moore, John McCain, Royce Lamberth, James Bopp, Jr, Dick Morris, Gary Aldrich, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), Hillary Clinton, Citizens United, David Bossie, Federal Election Commission, Clinton administration
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections
Jose Padilla (see May 14, 2007), convicted in August 2007 of conspiring to assist terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda, is sentenced for his crimes. Padilla was not charged with plotting to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb,” as Bush administration officials have long alleged (see June 10, 2002). He is sentenced to over 17 years in prison, but is not sentenced to life in prison, as Judge Marcia Cooke could have given him. Cooke gives Padilla some credit for his detention in a US naval brig, and agrees that he was subjected to what she calls “harsh conditions” and “extreme environmental stresses” while there. “I do find that the conditions were so harsh for Mr. Padilla… they warrant consideration in the sentencing in this case,” she rules. Padilla does not get credit for time served. Two co-defendants, Adham Amin Hassoun (see 1993) and Kifah Wael Jayyousi (see (October 1993-November 2001)), are also convicted; Hassoun receives over 15 years in prison and Jayyousi is sentenced to over 12 years. Cooke says that the prosecution failed to prove that either defendant was responsible for any specific acts of terrorism. “There is no evidence that these defendants personally maimed, kidnapped, or killed anyone in the United States or elsewhere,” she rules. The reactions from the defendants’ lawyers and family members are mixed. “I feel good about everything. This is amazing,” says Padilla’s mother, Estela Lebron. Hassoun’s lawyer, Jeanne Baker, calls the verdict “a defeat for the government.” And Jayyousi’s lawyer, William Swor, says: “The government has not made America any safer. It has just made America less free.” [Associated Press, 1/22/2008] Padilla will serve his prison sentence at a so-called “supermax” prison facility in Colorado. Domestic terrorists such as Terry Nichols, convicted of conspiring to bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City (see Late 1992-Early 1993 and Late 1994), “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski (see April 3, 1996), and al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui (see April 22, 2005) are also held at this facility. [Jurist, 4/19/2008]
CIA Director Michael Hayden and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell testify to a Senate committee that US officials had indeed waterboarded three terrorist suspects (see May 2002-2003, Mid-May 2002 and After, (November 2002), and After March 7, 2003). Hayden and McConnell, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, say that while the CIA banned the use of waterboarding (see Between May and Late 2006), the agency might authorize it again if circumstances warranted. Hayden says that the CIA found it necessary to waterboard the three suspects—alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida, and al-Qaeda manager Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri—because the US believed they had information about an imminent attack, and because it needed information about al-Qaeda immediately. “Those two circumstances have changed,” says Hayden. McConnell calls waterboarding a “lawful technique” that could be used again if needed. Hayden says the CIA has held fewer than 100 detainees, and of those, less than a third were put through what he calls “enhanced techniques.” Hayden also admits that “private contractors” took part in subjecting detainees to those “enhanced techniques,” which many call torture. He says he is not sure if any contractors were involved in waterboarding anyone. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) calls for an immediate Justice Department investigation into whether waterboarding is a criminal act. [Wall Street Journal, 2/6/2008] Two days later, Attorney General Michael Mukasey announces his decision not to investigate the US’s use of waterboarding (see February 7, 2008).
Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Abu Zubaida, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Al-Qaeda, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mike McConnell, Senate Intelligence Committee, Michael Mukasey, Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
In House testimony, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Lieutenant General Michael Maples of the Defense Intelligence Agency say that they stand by their agencies’ decisions not to waterboard detainees. Two days before, CIA Director Michael Hayden and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell testified that the CIA had used waterboarding and might do so again (see February 5, 2008). The Pentagon has banned its employees from using the tactic, and the FBI has stated, “its investigators do not use coercive tactics when interviewing terror suspects.” Rush Holt (D-NJ) asks Mueller and Maples why their agencies do not use coercive interrogation: “Do you never interrogate people who have critical information?” Mueller responds: “Our protocol is not to use coercive techniques. That is our protocol. We have lived by it. And it is sufficient and appropriate for our mission here in the United States.… We believe in the appropriateness of our techniques to our mission here in the United States.” Maples adds: “The Army Field Manual guides our efforts and the efforts of the armed forces.… We believe that the approaches that are in the Army Field Manual give us the tools that are necessary for the purpose under which we are conducting interrogations.” The field manual bans the use of coercion against detainees. [Think Progress, 2/7/2008] The same day, Attorney General Michael Mukasey announces his decision not to investigate the US’s use of waterboarding (see February 7, 2008).
The Defense Department announces that it is bringing death penalty charges against six high-value enemy detainees currently being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The six, all charged with involvement in the 9/11 attacks, will be tried under the much-criticized military tribunal system (see October 17, 2006) implemented by the Bush administration. They are:
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a Pakistani who claims responsibility for 31 terrorist attacks and plots, is believed to have masterminded the 9/11 attacks, and claims he beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (see January 31, 2002). Mohammed was subjected to harsh interrogation tactics by the CIA, including waterboarding.
Ali Adbul Aziz Ali, Mohammed’s nephew and cousin of jailed Islamist terrorist Ramzi Yousef. He is accused of facilitating the attacks by sending $120,000 to US-based terrorists, and helping nine of the hijackers enter the US.
Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, accused of being a link between al-Qaeda and the 9/11 hijackers. Bin al-Shibh is accused of helping some of the hijackers obtain flight training.
Khallad bin Attash, who has admitted planning the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and is accused of running an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. He claims to have helped in the bombing of the US embassy in Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).
Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, accused of being a financier of the 9/11 attacks, providing the hijackers with cash, clothing, credit cards, and traveller’s checks.
Mohamed al-Khatani, another man accused of being a “20th hijacker;” al-Khatani was stopped by immigration officials at Orlando Airport while trying to enter the US. He was captured in Afghanistan.
Many experts see the trials as part of an election-year effort by the Bush administration to demonstrate its commitment to fighting terrorism, and many predict a surge of anti-American sentiment in the Middle East and throughout the Islamic world. Some believe that the Bush administration is using the trials to enhance the political fortunes of Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who has made the US battle against al-Qaeda a centerpiece of his campaign. “What we are looking at is a series of show trials by the Bush administration that are really devoid of any due process considerations,” says Vincent Warren, the executive director head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many Guantanamo detainees. “Rather than playing politics the Bush administration should be seeking speedy and fair trials. These are trials that are going to be based on torture as confessions as well as secret evidence. There is no way that this can be said to be fair especially as the death penalty could be an outcome.”
Treatment of Detainees an Issue - While the involvement of the six detainees in the 9/11 attacks is hardly disputed, many questions surround their treatment at Guantanamo and various secret “black sites” used to house and interrogate terror suspects out of the public eye. Questions are being raised about the decision to try the six men concurrently instead of separately, about the decision to seek the death penalty, and, most controversially, the admissibility of information and evidence against the six that may have been gathered by the use of torture.
Details of Forthcoming Tribunals - While the charges are being announced now, Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann, the Pentagon official supervising the case, acknowledges that it could be months before the cases actually begin, and years before any possible executions would be carried out. Hartmann promises the trials will be “as completely open as possible,” with lawyers and journalists present in the courtroom unless classified information is being presented. Additionally, the six defendants will be considered innocent until proven guilty, and the defendants’ lawyers will be given “every stitch of evidence” against their clients.
'Kangaroo Court' - British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, who has worked with “enemy combatants” at Guantanamo, believes nothing of what Hartmann says. The procedures are little more than a “kangaroo court,” Stafford Smith says, and adds, “Anyone can see the hypocrisy of espousing human rights, then trampling on them.” Despite Hartmann’s assurances, it is anything but clear just what rights the six defendants will actually have. [Independent, 2/12/2008] The charges against al-Khahtani are dropped several months later (see May 13, 2008).
Entity Tags: Vincent Warren, US Department of Defense, Khallad bin Attash, Daniel Pearl, Clive Stafford Smith, John McCain, Mohamed al-Khatani, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Thomas Hartmann, Center for Constitutional Rights, Ramzi Yousef, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Bush administration (43), Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Al-Qaeda
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The Washington Post publishes an editorial by New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, accusing the Bush administration of protecting predatory lenders from state officials through use of the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). Spitzer notes that since the OCC’s founding in the 1860s, its function was to monitor the records of national banks and ensure they were balanced. Yet as the current crisis in predatory lending became acute, the OCC used a clause from the 1863 National Bank Act to make all state predatory lending laws inert. In addition, Spitzer asserts that the OCC created new rules making it impossible for state officials to employ their own consumer protection laws against national banks. Spitzer continues to note that when he opened an investigation of the mortgage lending practices of several banks, the OCC brought a federal lawsuit to prevent the inquiry from moving forward. “When history tells the story of the subprime lending crisis and recounts its devastating effects on the lives of so many innocent homeowners,” Spitzer concludes, “the Bush administration… will be judged as a willing accomplice to the lenders who went to any lengths in their quest for profits.” [Washington Post, 2/14/2008]
Britain’s information commissioner, Richard Thomas, rules that the minutes of Cabinet meetings at which ministers discussed the legality of invading Iraq should be published. In his finding, Thomas says that documents and transcripts concerning the legal discussions should be made public in part because “there is a widespread view that the justification for the decision on military action in Iraq is either not fully understood or that the public were not given the full or genuine reasons for that decision.” In this case, Thomas says, the public interest in disclosure outweighs the principles that normally allow the government not to have to publish minutes of cabinet decisions. The government is expected to appeal Thomas’s decision. In and of itself, Thomas’s decision does not have enough legal weight to force publication. Many lawyers, legal experts, and antiwar figures believe that the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was illegal under international law. On March 17, 2003, then-Attorney General Lord Goldsmith ruled that the invasion was legal (see March 17, 2003), but Goldsmith had issued dramatically different opinions before the eve of the war (see Before October 7, 2002). One of Goldsmith’s legal opinions against the war, published on March 7, 2003, was kept from the Cabinet ministers, and many argue that had the Cabinet known of Goldsmith’s reservations, some of the ministers may not have supported then-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to invade Iraq. Former international development secretary Clare Short, who quit the government following the war, says the Cabinet minutes would only give a “sanitized” account of the meetings, but their release would set an important precedent: “[H]aving made this decision, the discussion won’t stop there. There will be pressure for more,” she says. The Cabinet Office has not yet decided whether to obey Thomas’s ruling. [Guardian, 2/26/2008] That office previously rejected a Freedom of Information request for the transcripts. [BBC, 2/26/2008]
Attorney General Michael Mukasey refuses to refer a House contempt citation against two of President Bush’s top officials to a federal grand jury. The House has found former White House counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer Congressional subpoenas (see February 14, 2008), but Mukasey says neither Bolten nor Miers have committed any crimes. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has, in return, given the House Judiciary Committee the authority to file a lawsuit against Miers and Bolten in federal court. Mukasey says Bolten and Miers were right to ignore the subpoenas because both were acting at President Bush’s behest. Pelosi retorts: “The American people demand that we uphold the law. As public officials, we take an oath to uphold the Constitution and protect our system of checks and balances and our civil lawsuit seeks to do just that.” Democrats want the filing to move swiftly so that a judge might rule before the November elections; a key tenet of Democratic political strategy is the accusation that the Bush administration has abused its executive powers and considers itself above the law. Bolten and Miers were subpoenaed to testify about the possible political motivations behind the 2006 firings of nine US attorneys. Mukasey agrees with the Bush administration in saying that neither Miers nor Bolten, as officials of the executive branch, are required to answer to Congress for their actions, “The contempt of Congress statute was not intended to apply and could not constitutionally be applied to an executive branch official who asserts the president’s claim of executive privilege,” he writes. “Accordingly, the department has determined that the noncompliance by Mr. Bolten and Ms. Miers with the Judiciary Committee subpoenas did not constitute a crime.” Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) says of Mukasey’s decision: “Today’s decision to shelve the contempt process, in violation of a federal statute, shows that the White House will go to any lengths to keep its role in the US attorney firings hidden. In the face of such extraordinary actions, we have no choice but to proceed with a lawsuit to enforce the committee’s subpoenas.” [Associated Press, 2/29/2008]
The online news site Wired News reveals that a “whistleblower” is alleging that the US government has had direct, high-speed access to a major wireless carrier’s systems, exposing US citizens’ telephone calls, data transmissions, and even physical movements to potentially illegal government surveillance. Babak Pasdar, the CEO of Bat Blue and a former computer security consultant, says he worked for the unnamed carrier in late 2003. “What I thought was alarming is how this carrier ended up essentially allowing a third party outside their organization to have unfettered access to their environment,” Pasdar says. “I wanted to put some access controls around it; they vehemently denied it. And when I wanted to put some logging around it, they denied that.” According to Wired News, while Pasdar refuses to name the carrier, his claims are virtually identical to allegations made in a 2006 federal lawsuit against four telecommunications firms and the US government (see January 31, 2006); the suit named Verizon Wireless as taking actions similar to those claimed by Pasdar. Pasdar has provided an affidavit to the nonprofit Government Accountability Project (GAP), which has begun circulating the affidavit along with talking points to Congressional staffers. Congress is working on legislation that would grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications firms that worked with the government to illegally wiretap American citizens’ communications (see July 10, 2008). Pasdar says he learned of the surveillance in September 2003, when he led a team hired to revamp security on the carrier’s internal network. When he asked about a so-called “Quantico Circuit” linking its network to an unnamed third party, the carrier’s officials became uncommunicative (see September 2003). Quantico is the center of the FBI’s electronic surveillance operations. “The circuit was tied to the organization’s core network,” Pasdar writes in his affidavit. “It had access to the billing system, text messaging, fraud detection, Web site, and pretty much all the systems in the data center without apparent restrictions.” The “Quantico Circuit” was unshielded, which would have given the recipient unfettered access to customer records, data, and information. Pasdar tells a Wired News reporter, “I don’t know if I have a smoking gun, but I’m certainly fairly confident in what I saw and I’m convinced it was being leveraged in a less than forthright and upfront manner.” Verizon Wireless refuses to comment on Pasdar’s allegations, citing national security concerns. Representative John Dingell (D-MI), the chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, writes in response: “Mr. Pasdar’s allegations are not new to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, but our attempts to verify and investigate them further have been blocked at every turn by the administration. Moreover, the whistleblower’s allegations echo those in an affidavit filed by Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), a retired AT&T technician, in the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s lawsuit against AT&T.… Because legislators should not vote before they have sufficient facts, we continue to insist that all House members be given access to the necessary information, including the relevant documents underlying this matter, to make an informed decision on their vote. After reviewing the documentation and these latest allegations, members should be given adequate time to properly evaluate the separate question of retroactive immunity.” [Wired News, 3/6/2008] Klein will assist Pasdar in writing a letter opposing immunity for the telecom firms based on Pasdar’s evidence, a letter which GAP provides to newspapers across the country. However, Klein will write, only a few smaller newspapers will publish the letter. [Klein, 2009, pp. 103]
President Bush vetoes legislation passed by Congress that would have banned the CIA from using waterboarding and other “extreme” interrogation techniques. The legislation is part of a larger bill authorizing US intelligence activities. The US Army prohibits the use of waterboarding and seven other interrogation techniques in the Army Field Manual; the legislation would have brought the CIA in line with US military practices. Waterboarding is banned by many countries and its use by the US and other regimes has been roundly condemned by US lawmakers and human rights organizations. The field manual also prohibits stripping prisoners naked; forcing them to perform or simulate sexual acts; beating, burning, or otherwise inflicting harm; subjecting prisoners to hypothermia; subjecting prisoners to mock executions; withholding food, water, or medical treatment; using dogs to frighten or attack prisoners; and hooding prisoners or strapping duct tape across their eyes.
Reasoning for Veto - “Because the danger remains, we need to ensure our intelligence officials have all the tools they need to stop the terrorists,” Bush explains. The vetoed legislation “would diminish these vital tools.” Bush goes on to say that the CIA’s interrogation program has helped stop terrorist attacks on a US Marine base in Djibouti and the US consulate in Pakistan, as well as stopped plans for terrorists to fly hijacked planes into a Los Angeles tower or perhaps London’s Heathrow Airport. He gives no specifics, but adds, “Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al-Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland.” John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, disagrees, saying he knows of no instances where the CIA has used such methods of interrogation to obtain information that led to the prevention of a terrorist attack. “On the other hand, I do know that coercive interrogations can lead detainees to provide false information in order to make the interrogation stop,” he says. CIA Director Michael Hayden says that the CIA will continue to work within both national and international law, but its needs are different from those of the Army, and it will follow the procedures it thinks best. Bush complains that the legislation would eliminate not just waterboarding, but “all the alternative procedures we’ve developed to question the world’s most dangerous and violent terrorists.” [Reuters, 3/8/2008; Associated Press, 3/8/2008]
Criticism of Veto - Democrats, human rights leaders, and others denounce Bush’s veto. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says, “This president had the chance to end the torture debate for good, yet he chose instead to leave the door open to use torture in the future.” Feinstein notes that Bush ignored the advice of 43 retired generals and admirals, and 18 national security experts, who all supported the bill. “Torture is a black mark against the United States,” she says. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says she and fellow Democrats will try to override the veto and thus “reassert [the United States’s] moral authority.” Elisa Massimino of Human Rights First says, “The president’s refusal to sign this crucial legislation into law will undermine counterterrorism efforts globally and delay efforts to rebuild US credibility on human rights.” [Associated Press, 3/8/2008] New York Times journalist Steven Lee Myers writes that Bush vetoes the bill not just to assert his support for extreme interrogation techniques or to provide the government everything it needs to combat terrorism, but as part of his ongoing battle to expand the power of the presidency. Myers writes, “At the core of the administration’s position is a conviction that the executive branch must have unfettered freedom when it comes to prosecuting war.” [New York Times, 3/9/2008]
Entity Tags: Nancy Pelosi, Human Rights First, George W. Bush, Elisa Massimino, Dianne Feinstein, Central Intelligence Agency, John D. Rockefeller, Michael Hayden, US Department of the Army, Senate Intelligence Committee, Steven Lee Myers
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Mohammed Jawad, a young Guantanamo detainee held in US captivity for almost six years (see December 17, 2002) and charged with attempted murder (see October 7, 2007), is arraiged before a military commission. Jawad refuses to accept the assistance of his military counsel, Air Force Major David Frakt, says he knows of no civilian lawyer who would represent him, and says he does not wish to represent himself. Jawad tells the court he has no desire to continue the proceedings. The judge rules that Frakt will continue to represent Jawad. [Human Rights First, 9/2008]
Barack Obama. [Source: Public domain via US Senate]The State Department confirms that three of its contract employees improperly accessed the private passport files of Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Two of the three were fired and a third was subjected to as-yet-unstated disciplinary procedures. The Obama campaign quickly demands a “complete investigation” of who accessed the files, who they may have shared the information with, and what their possible motivations may have been. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack refuses to identify the three employees, and says that there is no reason as yet to believe that the three break-ins were motivated by anything but “imprudent curiosity.” The State Department’s inspector general is conducting an internal investigation. The Justice Department is monitoring the situation, and may launch its own investigation. [Chicago Tribune, 3/21/2008; Associated Press, 3/21/2008] Senior State Department officials claim not to have known about the violations of Obama’s passport files until very recently. [Computerworld, 3/21/2008] Patrick Kennedy, the Undersecretary of State for Management and the department official responsible for the Bureau of Consular Affairs, the office which oversees such records, also refuses to divulge any information about the contractors who broke into Obama’s records. [Speaker of the House, 3/21/2008]
Bureau Should Have Informed Senior Officials - Kennedy says that his department erred in not informing senior State Department officials about the violations. “I will fully acknowledge this information should have been passed up the line,” he says. “It was dealt with at the office level.” Kennedy also says that the political affiliations of the three contract employees are not known, but “[n]ow that this has arisen, this becomes a germane question, and that will be something for the appropriate investigation to look into.” [Associated Press, 3/21/2008] Kennedy says he will brief Obama’s campaign staff today on the situation. [Washington Post, 3/21/2008] Kennedy is new to the post; before him, the bureau chief was Maura Harty, who served as a US ambassador to Paraguay under the Clinton administration. [Huffington Post, 3/21/2008]
Breaches Immediately Detected - The files were accessed on January 9, February 21, and March 14 (see March 21, 2008). All three improper accesses were immediately detected through a computerized monitoring system, and supervisors were notified shortly after each access. But no one in the Obama campaign was notified until today, a week after the third break-in. [Chicago Tribune, 3/21/2008]
Breaches May Constitute a Crime - The employees who broke into Obama’s files had access to his basic personal information, including his Social Security number, as well as his travel information, including information submitted by various US consulates from the nations to which Obama traveled (see March 21, 2008). Obama’s Social Security number can be used to pull a vast amount of information about Obama’s finances and other private, protected information. While the breaches themselves are not illegal (though they are violations of State Department protocols), if any information from the files were shared with anyone else, that would likely constitute a violation of US privacy laws.
Compared with 1991 Breach - In 1991, President George H. W. Bush’s re-election campaign illegally broached Democratic contender Bill Clinton’s passport files for political reasons; that incident prompted an investigation led by independent counsel Joseph diGenova. DiGenova says of the Obama breach that because the two contract employees who were fired were not State Department employees, it will be more difficult for the acting inspector general of the department to force them to testify. “My guess is if he tries to talk to them now, in all likelihood they will take the Fifth,” he says, referring to the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination. DiGenova says it is improbable that senior State Department officials, perhaps including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, could not have known about the breaches. “Is inconceivable to me that civil servants working in a department which was part of a scandal in 1992 on this very subject would not understand that it was a management necessity to inform superiors,” he says. [Associated Press, 3/21/2008] DiGenova’s investigations brought no charges against anyone in the Bush passport break-in. [Washington Post, 3/21/2008]
Entity Tags: Joseph diGenova, Maura Harty, George Herbert Walker Bush, Sean McCormack, Condoleezza Rice, Patrick Kennedy, US Department of State, US Department of Justice, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Barack Obama
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections
After the State Department reveals that Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama’s passport file had been inappropriately accessed three times between January and March (see March 20, 2008), the department also reveals that the passport files of the other two major presidential candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton (see March 21, 2008) and Republican John McCain, have also been breached. The same State Department contract employee who accessed Obama’s file also accessed McCain’s file, says department spokesman Sean McCormack. McCormack says that the department learned of the McCain breach “earlier this year.” He says that employee has been reprimanded but not yet fired. “We are reviewing our options with that person” and their employment status, he says. McCain says that any breach of passport privacy deserves an apology and a full investigation, and “corrective action should be taken.” [Associated Press, 3/21/2008; BBC, 3/21/2008] It is not known what information, if any, was obtained from McCain’s file, though the file contains a trove of private data (see March 21, 2008).
Henry Waxman (D-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, writes to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asking for information about the recently announced, unauthorized access to Senator Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport files (see March 20, 2008). Waxman also asks that the State Department make the information public. In a letter to Rice, Waxman asks for the names of the two State Department contractors who broke into Obama’s files. [Speaker of the House, 3/21/2008; Henry A. Waxman, 3/21/2008 ] State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says the State Department will make results of its internal investigation available to congressional oversight committees and to Obama’s office. [Associated Press, 3/21/2008]
The State Department confirms that Senator Hillary Clinton’s (D-NY) passport file was also inappropriately accessed, a day after the department revealed that Senator Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport file was breached three times since January 2008 (see March 20, 2008). Obama and Clinton are battling for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she has apologized to Obama for the breach, “I told him that I was sorry, and I told him that I myself would be very disturbed.” Clinton says that she was told her passport file was breached sometime in 2007. Rice says she only learned of the Obama breach on March 20, 2008, the same day the news of the violations broke in the media. [Associated Press, 3/21/2008] State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says Clinton’s file was inadvertently accessed during a “training exercise.” [TPM Muckraker, 3/21/2008] Rice promises a “full investigation” into the Obama passport breach, and presumably the Clinton breach as well, though she has not spoken directly of the Clinton passport breach. “[N]one of us wants to have a circumstance in which any American’s passport file is looked at in an unauthorized way. And in this case it should have been known to senior management. It was not, to my knowledge. And we also want to take every step that we can to make sure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again,” Rice says. [Washington Post, 3/21/2008] It is unknown what information, if any, was obtained from Clinton’s passport file, though the file contains a trove of private data (see March 21, 2008).
Stanley, Inc logo. [Source: Stanley, Inc.]Two of the government contractors who improperly accessed Senator Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport records (see March 20, 2008) are revealed to have worked for a Virginia-based firm, Stanley, Inc, before being fired. A third, who accessed both Obama’s and Senator John McCain’s (R-AZ) records (see March 21, 2008), worked for the Analysis Corporation. Both Obama and McCain are presidential candidates. Their files were improperly accessed by contractors working for the State Department.
Stanley, Inc - Both of the Stanley contractors were fired the same day they performed the unauthorized search, according to a Stanley spokeswoman, who refuses to identify the contractors or explain why either of them accessed Obama’s files. In 2006, the State Department awarded Stanley a $164 million contract to print and mail millions of new US passports. Just this week, the firm was awarded a $570 million contract to “continue support of the US Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs/Passport Services Directorate.” Stanley does almost all of its business with the State Department; all of its employees are trained on the Privacy Act and must sign a Privacy Act acknowledgment before beginning work. The two contractors may have violated the Privacy Act when they broke into Obama’s files.
Analysis, Inc - The Analysis contractor who accessed Obama’s and McCain’s files has not yet been fired; that contractor is described as a veteran State Department contractor and an otherwise “terrific” employee. Analysis is staffed with an array of former intelligence-community officials. Its CEO is John Brennan, the former head of the National Counterterrorism Center and a former deputy executive director of the CIA. Stanley’s chairman and CEO, Philip Nolan, has made campaign contributions to Republicans and Democrats alike, including to Obama’s Democratic rival, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY). Interestingly, Brennan advises Obama on foreign policy and intelligence issues, and has donated to Obama’s campaign. [NBC News, 3/21/2008; CNN, 3/22/2008]
Navy Lieutenant Commander Brian Mizer, the lawyer for Guantanamo detainee Salim Hamdan, says that senior Pentagon officials are orchestrating war crimes prosecutions for the 2008 presidential campaign. In a court brief filed on this day, Mizer describes a September 29, 2006 meeting at the Pentagon where Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England asked lawyers to consider 9/11-related prosecutions in light of the upcoming presidential campaign. “We need to think about charging some of the high-value detainees because there could be strategic political value to charging some of these detainees before the election,” England is quoted as saying (see September 29, 2006). Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman refuses to discuss specifics of the case, but says that the Pentagon “has always been extraordinarily careful to guard against any unlawful command influence” in upcoming military commissions trials. Mizer says that because of England’s instructions, and other examples of alleged political interference, his client cannot get a fair trial. Three weeks before England’s observation about the “strategic political value” of the trials, President Bush disclosed that he had ordered the CIA to transfer “high-value detainees” from years of secret custody to Guantanamo for trial.
Issues 'Scrambled' - Attorney Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, says the Hamdan motion exposes the problem of Pentagon appointees’ supervisory relationship to the war court. “It scrambles relationships that ought to be kept clear,” he says. England’s statement, says Fidell, is “enough that you’d want to hold an evidentiary hearing about it, with live witnesses. It does strike me as disturbing for there to be even a whiff of political considerations in what should be a quasi-judicial determination.” Susan Crawford is the White House-appointed supervisor for the court proceedings; England is a two-term White House appointee who has supervised the prison camps’ administrative processes. Crawford, England, and other White House officials have crossed the legal barriers that separate various functions of a military court, Mizer argues. Mizer plans to call the former chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo trials, Morris Davis (see October 4, 2007), who first brought the England remark to light. Davis resigned his position after contending that political influence was interfering with the proper legal procedures surrounding the prosecution of accused war criminals.
Motion for Dismissal - Mizer’s motion asks the judge, Navy Captain Keith Allred, to dismiss the case against Hamdan as an alleged 9/11 co-conspirator on the grounds that Bush administration officials have exerted “unlawful command influence.” Hamdan is a former driver for Osama bin Laden whose lawyers successfully challenged an earlier war court format (see June 30, 2006). Hamdan’s case is on track to be the first full-scale US war crimes tribunal since World War II. [Miami Herald, 3/28/2008]
Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Eugene R. Fidell, Central Intelligence Agency, Bryan Whitman, Brian Mizer, George W. Bush, Gordon England, Keith Allred, US Department of Defense, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Susan Crawford, Morris Davis, Osama bin Laden
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections
Russell Dean Landers, a member of the anti-government Montana Freemen serving an 11-year prison sentence for conspiracy, bank fraud, and threatening a federal judge (see November 8, 1998), is sentenced to an additional 15 years after being convicted of trying to extort his release from federal prison in El Reno, Oklahoma. Landers and two other inmates, Clayton Heath Albers and Barry Dean Bischof, filed legal documents demanding hundreds of thousands of dollars from prison officials for using the inmates’ names, which they claim had been “copyrighted.” The three also fraudulently obtained a credit report on the prison warden, and used the information in it to try to file false liens against the warden’s personal property. In 2004, the three hired a man to seize the warden’s vehicles, freeze his bank accounts, and change the locks on his doors, based on the liens; Landers and his accomplices did not know that they had hired an undercover FBI agent. Believing that the warden’s property had been seized, the three demanded to be released from prison before negotiating the return of the warden’s property. Two other inmates, Carl Ervin Batts and William Michael Roberson, have already pled guilty for their parts in the scheme. Albers and Bischof also receive lengthy jail terms. [US Department of Justice, 4/7/2008; Southern Poverty Law Center, 8/2008]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) secures an 81-page memo from March 14, 2003 that gave Pentagon officials legal justification to ignore laws banning torture (see March 14, 2003). The Justice Department memo was written by John Yoo, then a top official at the Office of Legal Counsel, on behalf of then-Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes. It guides Pentagon lawyers on how to handle the legal issues surrounding “military interrogations of alien unlawful combatants held outside the United States.” According to Yoo’s rationale, if a US interrogator injured “an enemy combatant” in a way that might be illegal, “he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al-Qaeda terrorist network.” That motive, Yoo opines, justifies extreme actions as national self-defense. While the existence of the memo has been known for some time, this is the first time the public has actually seen the document. This memo is similar to other Justice Department memos that define torture as treatment that “shock[s] the conscience” and risks organ failure or death for the victim. Legal scholars call the memo evidence of “the imperial presidency,” but Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, says the memo is unremarkable, and is “far from inventing some novel interpretation of the Constitution.” The ACLU receives the document as the result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from itself, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and other organizations filed in June 2004 to obtain documents concerning the treatment of prisoners kept abroad. The Yoo memo is one of the documents requested. [John C. Yoo, 3/14/2003 ; United Press International, 4/2/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 4/2/2008] According to the ACLU, the memo not only allows military officials to ignore torture prohibitions, but allows the president, as commander in chief, to bypass both the Fourth and Fifth Amendments (see April 2, 2008). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/2/2008] The Fourth Amendment grants the right for citizens “to be secure in their persons” and to have “probable cause” shown before they are subjected to “searches and seizures.” The Fifth Amendment mandates that citizens cannot be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” [Cornell University Law School, 8/19/2007] Amrit Singh, an ACLU attorney, says: “This memo makes a mockery of the Constitution and the rule of law. That it was issued by the Justice Department, whose job it is to uphold the law, makes it even more unconscionable.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/2/2008]
John Yoo, the author of the just-released 2003 torture memo that advocated virtually unlimited presidential powers and asserted that US military can torture terrorist suspects (see March 14, 2003 and April 1, 2008), says that the memo is anything but extraordinary, and accuses his Justice Department successors of giving in to political pressures. Yoo is a former Justice Department official who now teaches law at the University of California at Berkeley. Yoo says the Justice Department altered its opinions “for appearances’ sake,” and his successors “ignored the Department’s long tradition in defending the president’s authority in wartime.” The memo did not “invent… some novel interpretation of the Constitution… our legal advice to the president, in fact, was near boilerplate.” [Washington Post, 4/2/2008] Yoo says that memos such as his sacrificed sensibility for exactitude, and asserts that he felt it necessary to be as detailed and specific as possible. “You have to draw the line. What the government is doing is unpleasant. It’s the use of violence. I don’t disagree with that. But I also think part of the job unfortunately of being a lawyer sometimes is you have to draw those lines. I think I could have written it in a much more—we could have written it in a much more palatable way, but it would have been vague.” [Washington Post, 4/6/2008] Others do not agree with Yoo’s defense (see April 2-4, 2008).
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), responding to a recently released Justice Department memo authorizing a wide array of torture techniques against detainees in US custody (see April 1, 2008), decries both the authorization of torture as an acceptable interrogation methodology and “the Bush administration’s extraordinarily sweeping conception of executive power.” ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer adds: “The administration’s lawyers believe the president should be permitted to violate statutory law, to violate international treaties, and even to violate the Fourth Amendment inside the US. They believe that the president should be above the law.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/2/2008]
Legal experts and media observers react with shock and anger at former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo’s defense of his March 2003 torture defense (see April 2, 2008). Eugene Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale and American University, says: “This is a monument to executive supremacy and the imperial presidency. It’s also a road map for the Pentagon for fending off any prosecutions.” [New York Times, 4/2/2008] Thomas J. Romig, the Army’s judge advocate general at the time the memo was issued, says that Yoo’s memo seems to argue that there are no rules in a time of war, an argument Romig finds “downright offensive.” [Washington Post, 4/2/2008] Retired Air Force General Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when the memo was written, says that he never saw the document authorizing harsh military interrogations and that its narrow definition of torture is “absolutely ludicrous.” Myers adds: “I frankly don’t know anyone in the military who bought into that as a good definition of when you cross the line. In the end, you want to do the right thing. I worry most about reciprocity, how other countries will treat us.” [Washington Post, 4/4/2008] Legal experts (see April 2-6, 2008) and media observers (see April 4, 2008) join in criticizing Yoo’s rationale for the torture memo.
Several legal experts join the retired military officials (see April 2-4, 2008) and media pundits (see April 4, 2008) who have spoken out against former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo’s 2003 torture memo (see April 2, 2008). Dawn Johnsen, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel during the Clinton administration, says of Yoo’s memo: “Having 81 pages of legal analysis with its footnotes and respectable-sounding language makes the reader lose sight of what this is all about. He is saying that poking people’s eyes out and pouring acid on them is beyond Congress’s ability to limit a president. It is an unconscionable document.” [Washington Post, 4/6/2008] Former Office of Legal Counsel lawyer Martin Lederman, now a law professor at Georgetown University, says the Yoo memo helped create a legal environment that allowed prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib. “What else could have been the source of belief in Iraq that the gloves were off and all laws could be disregarded with impunity?” Lederman asks. “It created a world in which everyone on the ground believed the laws did not apply. It was a law-free zone.” [Washington Post, 4/2/2008] Doug Cassell, the director of Notre Dame Law School’s Center for Civil and Human Rights, says: “This newly disclosed memo confirms that John Yoo inflicted his legal theory, that the commander in chief can do anything in wartime, not only on the CIA, but on the Pentagon as well. Yet when the Justice Department revoked the Yoo memos, it expressly declined to address that theory. It is high time for the Justice Department to repudiate Yoo’s pernicious doctrine, once and for all.” [Institute for Public Accuracy, 4/2/2008]
Attorneys for US soldiers charged with abuse at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison say they will use the recently released Justice Department torture memo (see March 14, 2003 and April 1, 2008) to show that the highest levels of government condoned the harsh interrogations and brutality used against prisoners in US detention facilities. The government argues that the brutal treatment meted out to detainees in Abu Ghraib was performed by low-ranking soldiers without military or government authorization. The Justice Department has already dropped 22 of 24 cases of detainee abuse against civilian employees and contractors referred by the CIA and Defense Department, and a US official says the torture memo’s legal arguments—interrogators are exempt from criminal liability—may have been part of the reason why those cases were dropped. A law enforcement official involved in the decisions says: “Could it conceivably have played a role in deciding whether to prosecute or not? Certainly, in theory. If there was a memo blessing behavior at a certain point in time, and someone relied on legal guidance, could they have formed the necessary intent” to break the law? Lawyer Charles Gittins, representing Army Private Charles Graner Jr. in Graner’s appeal of his convictions stemming from his abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, says the memo seems to show that President Bush suspended maltreatment laws for the military during a time of war. Gittins will submit the document to Graner’s parole board when it meets in May. [Washington Post, 4/4/2008]
The Congressional Quarterly reports on a growing body of evidence that indicates US interrogators are using mind-altering drugs on prisoners suspected of terrorist ties. The evidence is not yet conclusive, but reporter Jeff Stein writes: “There can be little doubt now that the government has used drugs on terrorist suspects that are designed to weaken their resistance to interrogation. All that’s missing is the syringes and videotapes.”
Connection to Yoo Memo - The idea that the US might be using hallucinogenic or other drugs on detainees in Guantanamo and other US detention facilities was bolstered by the recent revelation of another “torture memo,” this one written in 2003 by then-Justice Department lawyer John Yoo (see March 14, 2003). Yoo wrote that US interrogators could use mind-altering drugs on terror suspects as long as the drugs did not produce “an extreme effect” calculated to “cause a profound disruption of the senses or personality.” Yoo first rationalized the use of drugs on prisoners in earlier “torture memos” (see January 9, 2002 and August 1, 2002).
Criticism - Stephen Miles, a bioethicist and author of a recent book detailing medical complicity in US torture of suspected terrorists, notes: “The new Yoo memo, along with other White House legal memoranda, shows clearly that the policy foundation for the use of interrogational drugs was being laid. The recent memo on mood-altering drugs does not extend previous work on this area. The use of these drugs was anticipated and discussed in the memos of January and February 2002 by [Defense Department, Justice Department], and White House counsel using the same language and rationale. The executive branch memos laid a comprehensive and reiterated policy foundation for the use of interrogational drugs.” Jeffrey Kaye, a clinical psychologist who works with torture victims through Survivors International, says plainly: “Yes, I believe [drugs] have been used. I came across some evidence that they were using mind-altering drugs, to regress the prisoners, to ascertain if they were using deception techniques, to break them down.”
Varieties of Drugs and Placebos Being Used? - It is well known that US military personnel often use sedatives on shackled and hooded prisoners on “rendition” flights from Middle Eastern countries to Guantanamo. There is no hard evidence to support claims that US interrogators are using hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD on detainees. However, Michael Caruso, who represents suspected al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla (see May 8, 2002), filed a motion last year asserting that his client “was given drugs against his will, believed to be some form of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) or phencyclidine (PCP), to act as a sort of truth serum during his interrogations.” Caruso had no proof to back up his claim.
KUBARK - Stein notes that a 1963 CIA interrogation manual, code-named KUBARK, advocated the use of placebos as well as real drugs on prisoners. And Michael Gelles, a psychologist with the Naval Criminal Investigative Institute who has spoken out against the abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo, says that he never saw anything related to drugs. “I never saw that raised as an issue,” he says. Hallucinogens such as LSD do not make subjects tell the truth. According to KUBARK, “Their function is to cause capitulation, to aid in the shift from resistance to cooperation.”
Winging It - In July 2003, the CIA, the RAND Corporation, and the American Psychological Association hosted a workshop that explored the question of using drugs to “affect apparent truth-telling behavior” (see June 17-18, 2003). After 9/11, top Bush administration officials pushed military commanders for quick intelligence but, according to a recent study, the interrogators unsure how to use harsher methodologies (see December 2006) and began “mak[ing] it up on the fly.”
Guantanamo - Guantanamo staff judge advocate Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver says that some of the interrogators drew inspiration from the popular TV drama 24 (see Fall 2006). Beaver makes no mention of drugs being used, but Ewe Jacobs, the director of Survivors International, says she may not have seen or heard about their use. “The Guantanamo camps were isolated from one another,” he says. What happened in one part of the facility may not have been known in other areas. Miles adds, “I suspect that most of the use of interrogational drugs was by CIA and Special Ops interrogators, and thus still remains classified.”
Credibility Issues - As with victims of the CIA’s MK-ULTRA program from the 1960s and 70s, when unwitting subjects were dosed with hallucinogenic drugs and their reactions catalogued and observed, the detainees who may have been forcibly given such drugs will likely not be believed by many. Absent hard evidence, many will consider the detainees either “looney,” in Stein’s words, or liars. Few believe that Padilla was drugged. And, Stein concludes, “Even fewer will believe the other prisoners, a number of whom are deranged from prolonged interrogation—if they ever get out.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/4/2008]
Entity Tags: Jose Padilla, Ewe Jacobs, Diane E. Beaver, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), American Psychological Association, Jeff Stein, John C. Yoo, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of the Army, Jeffrey Kaye, Stephen Miles, RAND Corporation, Michael Caruso, Michael Gelles, Survivors International
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
The New York Times’s editorial board berates former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo for his defense of his 2003 advocacy of torture (see April 2, 2008), joining retired military officials (see April 2-4, 2008) and legal experts (see April 2-6, 2008). The board writes: “You can often tell if someone understands how wrong their actions are by the lengths to which they go to rationalize them. It took 81 pages of twisted legal reasoning to justify President Bush’s decision to ignore federal law and international treaties and authorize the abuse and torture of prisoners. Eighty-one spine-crawling pages in a memo that might have been unearthed from the dusty archives of some authoritarian regime and has no place in the annals of the United States. It is must reading for anyone who still doubts whether the abuse of prisoners were rogue acts rather than calculated policy.… The purpose of the March 14 memo was equally insidious: to make sure that the policy makers who authorized those acts, or the subordinates who carried out the orders, were not convicted of any crime.… Reading the full text, released this week, makes it startlingly clear how deeply the Bush administration corrupted the law and the role of lawyers to give cover to existing and plainly illegal policies.… When the abuses at Abu Ghraib became public, we were told these were the depraved actions of a few soldiers. The Yoo memo makes it chillingly apparent that senior officials authorized unspeakable acts and went to great lengths to shield themselves from prosecution.” [New York Times, 4/4/2008]
The press reports that, beginning in the spring of 2002, top Bush administration officials approved specific details about how terrorism suspects would be interrogated by the CIA. The officials issued their approval as part of their duties as the National Security Council’s Principals Committee (see April 2002 and After). [ABC News, 4/9/2008] The American Civil Liberties Union’s Caroline Fredrickson says: “With each new revelation, it is beginning to look like the torture operation was managed and directed out of the White House. This is what we suspected all along.” [Associated Press, 4/10/2008]
Law professor Jonathan Turley, discussing recent revelations that top White House officials regularly met to discuss and approve torture methods for terror suspects in US custody (see April 2002 and After and April 11, 2008), says: “What you have are a bunch of people talking about what is something that’s a crime. For those of us who look at the criminal code and see torture for what it is, this is like a meeting of the Bada Bing club. These people are sitting around regularly talking about something defined as a crime. Then you have [former Attorney General] John Ashcroft standing up and saying, maybe we shouldn’t be talking about this at the White House. Well, obviously, that’s quite disturbing. It shows that this was a program, not just some incident, not just someone going too far. It was a torture program, implemented by the United States of America and approved as the very highest level. And it goes right to the president’s desk. And it’s notable that this group wanted to get lawyers to sign off on this, and they found those lawyers, people like Jay Bybee and John Yoo (see August 1, 2002). And those people were handsomely rewarded. In Bybee’s case, he became a federal judge after signing off on a rather grotesque memo that said that they could do everything short of causing organ failure or death.” Asked if what the White House officials did could lead to war crimes prosecutions, Turley answers: “It’s always been a war crimes trial ready to happen. But Congress is like a convention of Claude Rains actors. Everyone’s saying, we’re shocked, shocked; there’s torture being discussed in the White House. But no one is doing anything about it. So what we have is the need for someone to get off the theater and move to the actual in going and trying to investigate these crimes.” [MSNBC, 4/10/2008]
John Conyers. [Source: Public domain / US Congress]Democrats in Congress lambast the Bush administration over recent disclosures that senior White House officials specifically approved the use of extreme interrogation measures against suspected terrorists (see April 2002 and After). Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) calls the news “yet another astonishing disclosure about the Bush administration and its use of torture.… Who would have thought that in the United States of America in the 21st century, the top officials of the executive branch would routinely gather in the White House to approve torture? Long after President Bush has left office, our country will continue to pay the price for his administration’s renegade repudiation of the rule of law and fundamental human rights.” [Associated Press, 4/10/2008] John Conyers (D-MI), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, calls the actions “a stain on our democracy.” Conyers says his committee is considering subpoenaing members of the Principals, and perhaps the author of the torture memo, John Yoo (see August 1, 2002), to testify about the discussions and approvals. [Progressive, 4/14/2008]
President Bush admits he knew about his National Security Council Principals Committee’s discussion and approval of harsh interrogation methods against certain terror suspects (see April 2002 and After). Earlier reports had noted that the Principals—a group of top White House officials led by then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice—had deliberately kept Bush “out of the loop” in order for him to maintain “deniability.” Bush tells a reporter: “Well, we started to connect the dots in order to protect the American people. And yes, I’m aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved.” Bush says that the news of those meetings to consider extreme interrogation methods was not “startling.” He admitted as far back as 2006 that such techniques were being used by the CIA (see September 6, 2006). But only now does the news of such direct involvement by Bush’s top officials become public knowledge. The Principals approved the waterboarding of several terror suspects, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003 and March 10, 2007); Bush defends the use of such extreme measures against Mohammed, saying: “We had legal opinions that enabled us to do it. And no, I didn’t have any problem at all trying to find out what Khalid Shaikh Mohammed knew.… I think it’s very important for the American people to understand who Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was. He was the person who ordered the suicide attack—I mean, the 9/11 attacks.” [ABC News, 4/11/2008] Bush’s admission is no surprise. The day before Bush makes his remarks, law professor Jonathan Turley said: “We really don’t have much of a question about the president’s role here. He’s never denied that he was fully informed of these measures. He, in fact, early on in his presidency—he seemed to brag that they were using harsh and tough methods. And I don’t think there’s any doubt that he was aware of this. The doubt is simply whether anybody cares enough to do anything about it.” [MSNBC, 4/10/2008]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) calls for an independent counsel to investigate President Bush and his current and former top officials over their involvement in approving torture against terror suspects held captive by US military and intelligence personnel (see April 2002 and After and April 11, 2008). The ACLU’s executive director, Anthony Romero, says: “We have always known that the CIA’s use of torture was approved from the very top levels of the US government, yet the latest revelations about knowledge from the president himself and authorization from his top advisers only confirms our worst fears. It is a very sad day when the president of the United States subverts the Constitution, the rule of law, and American values of justice.” The ACLU’s Caroline Frederickson adds: “No one in the executive branch of government can be trusted to fairly investigate or prosecute any crimes since the head of every relevant department, along with the president and vice president, either knew [of] or participated in the planning and approval of illegal acts. Congress cannot look the other way; it must demand an independent investigation and independent prosecutor.” Romero says the ACLU is offering legal assistance to any terrorism suspect being prosecuted by the US: “It is more important than ever that the US government, when seeking justice against those it suspects of harming us, adhere to our commitment to due process and the rule of law. That’s why the ACLU has taken the extraordinary step to offer our assistance to those being prosecuted under the unconstitutional military commissions process.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/12/2008]
Ruth Conniff. [Source: PBS]Columnist and veteran news commentator Ruth Conniff writes in the Progressive that she is disturbed both by the news that senior Bush officials signed off on the use of specific torture methods against al-Qaeda suspects in US custody (see April 2002 and After), and by the fact that the mainstream media, with notable exceptions, has virtually ignored the story. Between this story and the follow-up that President Bush himself knew of the discussions and approvals (see April 11, 2008), Conniff asks: “Why is this not bigger news? Remember when the nation was brought to a virtual standstill over Bill Clinton’s affair with a White House intern? We now have confirmation that the president of the United States gave the OK for his national security team to violate international law and plot the sordid details of torture. The Democrats in Congress should be raising the roof.” [Progressive, 4/14/2008]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases Defense Department documents that confirm the military’s use of illegal interrogation methods on detainees held in US custody in Afghanistan. The documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, are from an Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) probe. The ACLU’s Amrit Singh says: “These documents make it clear that the military was using unlawful interrogation techniques in Afghanistan. Rather than putting a stop to these systemic abuses, senior officials appear to have turned a blind eye to them.” In the CID reports, Special Operations officers in Gardez, Afghanistan, admitted to using what are known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) techniques, which for decades American service members experienced as training to prepare for the brutal treatment they might face if captured (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, and July 2002). At least eight prisoners in custody at Gardez were beaten, burned, and doused with cold water before being placed into freezing weather conditions. One of the eight prisoners, Jamal Naseer, died in US custody (see March 16, 2003). Subsequent investigations ignored numerous witness statements describing torture; Naseer was eventually declared dead due to a “stomach ailment.” The documents also provide evidence showing that prisoners were sodomized. “These documents raise serious questions about the adequacy of the military’s investigations into prisoner abuse,” says Singh. [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2008]
The Justice Department launches an investigation into whether its former officials acted properly in advising President Bush that his wartime authority trumped domestic law, United Nations treaties, and international bans on torture. The investigation hinges on a March 2003 memo written by then-Office of Legal Counsel lawyer John Yoo that approved of Bush officials’ intent to use torture (see March 14, 2003). Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) says the investigation will “help us discover what went wrong and how to put it right.” Whitehouse continues, “The abject failure of legal scholarship in the Office of Legal Counsel’s analysis of torture suggests that what mattered was not that the reasoning was sound, or that the research was comprehensive, but that it delivered what the Bush administration wanted.” Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says that the investigation is part of an overall investigation that has been underway for years. [Associated Press, 4/17/2008]
The Washington Post reports that at least two dozen current and former detainees at Guantanamo Bay claim that they were given drugs against their will, or witnessed other inmates being drugged. These detainees believe that they were drugged in order to force confessions of terrorist ties from them (see 2002-2005). The CIA and the Defense Department deny using drugs in their interrogations, and suggest that such claims are either lies or mistaken interpretations of routine medical treatment.
Claims Bolstered by Justice Department Memo - But the claims are bolstered by the recent revelation of a 2003 Justice Department memo that explicitly condoned the use of drugs on detainees (see March 14, 2003). The memo, written by then-Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, reversed a decades-old US ban on the use of “mind-altering substances” on prisoners. Instead, Yoo wrote, drugs could indeed be used as long as they did not inflict permanent or “profound” psychological damage. US law “does not preclude any and all use of drugs,” Yoo wrote. The claims are also given weight by a 2004 statement from the commander of a detention facility in Afghanistan, who alluded to the CIA drugging detainees (see February 2004).
Drugging Detainees a Gross Violation of Anti-Torture Treaties - Legal experts and human rights groups are calling for a full accounting, including release of detailed prison medical records. They say that forcing drugs on detainees for non-medical reasons is a particularly serious violation of international treaties banning torture. Medical ethics expert Leonard Rubinstein, the president of Physicians for Human Rights, says: “The use of drugs as a form of restraint of prisoners is both unlawful and unethical. These allegations demand a full inquiry by Congress and the Department of Justice.” Scott Allen, the co-director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, says that there are no accepted medical standards for the use of drugs to interrogate or subjugate prisoners. Any such use “would have to be considered an experimental use of medicine.… The involvement of physicians and other health professionals in such a program would be a profound betrayal of medical trust and needs to be investigated further.” The Geneva Conventions do not specifically refer to drugs, but they ban any use of force or coercion in interrogating prisoners of war. Law professor Barbara Olshansky, the author of a book on military tribunals, says: “If you’re talking about interrogations, you’re talking about very specific prohibitions that mean you cannot use any force, at all, to interrogate someone. The law is beyond clear.”
Team of Guards Present - When inmates were injected or forced to take pills, former detainees claim, the personnel administering the drugs were always accompanied by a squad of specially equipped guards known as the “Immediate Reaction Force” to handle any possible violent reactions from the drugged inmates. One former detainee who was later released without charge, Ruhel Ahmed, recalls that the guards wore padded gear and “forced us to have injections.” Ahmed recalls, “You are not allowed to refuse it and you don’t know what it is for.” He says he was given about a dozen injections, which “had the effect of making me feel very drowsy.”
No Solid Evidence of Claims - No evidence of such drugging is known to the public, outside of detainee claims of effects from the injections that range from unnatural drowsiness to full-blown hallucinations. Former US intelligence officials have acknowledged giving sedatives to terror suspects before transporting them from one facility to another (see May 1, 2002). Former Navy general counsel Alberto Mora, who attempted without success to resist the Bush administration’s decision to use harsh interrogation tactics against detainees (see December 17-18, 2002), says he knows of no instances where detainees were drugged as part of their questioning. However, he adds, the detainees “knew they were being injected with something, and it is clear from all accounts that some suffered severe psychological damage.” Emi MacLean, a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), an organization which represents dozens of current and former detainees, says that many former detainees have clear and disturbing memories of being forcibly drugged. “Many speak about forced medication at Guantanamo without knowledge about what medication they were being forced to take,” MacLean says. “For some released [military] detainees, the forced medication they experienced was the most traumatic part” of their captivity. Other detainees have claimed, in interviews and statements provided by their lawyers, to have had injections and/or pills forcibly administered to them. One former detainee, French national Mourad Benchellali, says that during his three years at Guantanamo he was given treatments that were described to him as antibiotics or vitamins, yet they left him in what he describes as a mental fog. “These medicines gave us headaches, nausea, drowsiness,” Benchellali recalls. “But the effects were different for different detainees. Some fainted or threw up. Some had reactions such as pimples.” Other injections, often administered by force, left him and other detainees nauseated and light-headed, he says. “We were always tired and always felt groggy.” Detainee Moazzam Begg says that he believes he was given legitimate medications, but in improper dosages by poorly trained prison workers. Once, while being treated with pills for a panic attack, he began to hallucinate. “I saw things moving when they were not,” he recalls. “I talked to myself. I cried, laughed and sat immobile in a corner for hours. All of this was noted by the MPs and recorded.”
Use of Hallucinogens on Recalcitrant Prisoners? - Benchellali says that a different type of injection was used on detainees who were particularly uncooperative. His recollections are echoed by statements from four other detainees. “The injection would make them crazy,” he recalls. “They would have a crisis or dementia—yelling, no longer sleeping, soiling themselves. Some of us suspected they were given LSD.” Center for Constitutional Rights attorney J. Wells Dixon says the government seems to have given drugs to detainees whose extended captivity made them distraught or rebellious. “Many of these men have become desperately suicidal,” Dixon says. “And the government’s response has been to administer more medication, often without the consent of the prisoners.” [Washington Post, 4/22/2008]
Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Central Intelligence Agency, Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, Center for Constitutional Rights, Barbara Olshansky, Alberto Mora, Emi MacLean, J. Wells Dixon, Mourad Benchellali, Scott Allen, Physicians for Human Rights, Geneva Conventions, Moazzam Begg, US Department of Justice, Leonard Rubinstein, US Department of Defense, Rhuhel Ahmed
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Mohammed Jawad, who has been detained at Guantanamo since age 16 (see December 17, 2002 and January 13, 2009), is beaten so badly by guards that weeks later he still has what Salon’s Glenn Greenwald will describe as “extreme bruises on his arms, knees, shoulders, forehead, and ribs.” [Salon, 1/21/2009]
The Justice Department is investigating four cases of alleged selective prosecution, including the prosecution and overturned conviction of Wisconsin government official Georgia Thompson by former US Attorney Steven Biskupic (see April 5, 2007). The department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) informs the House Judiciary Committee of the investigations, in a letter signed by OPR chief H. Marshall Jarrett. Since Thompson’s conviction was overturned over a year ago, her prosecution has been widely criticized as giving the appearance of being politically motivated (see April 7-10, 2007, April 16, 2007, and April 24, 2007). Committee members John Conyers (D-MI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Linda Sanchez (D-CA) are spearheading the committee’s probe into the Thompson prosecution. Many suspect that Biskupic prosecuted Thompson in order to avoid being fired in the 2006 US Attorney purge (see March 10, 2006, December 7, 2006, and December 20, 2006). Biskupic has denied knowing he was being considered for termination before he opened his prosecution of Thompson (see March 2, 2005), though he has also admitted to learning about being on the “purge” list after the fact (see April 14, 2007). After he opened that investigation, his name disappeared from the list. [WisPolitics Courtwatch Blog, 5/23/2008; Capital Times, 5/29/2008]
Mohammed Jawad, a young Guantanamo detainee held in US captivity for almost six years (see December 17, 2002) and charged with attempted murder (see October 7, 2007), agrees to participate in his trial (see March 12, 2008), but authorizes his defense counsel, Major David Frakt, only to represent him for the purpose of challenging the legitimacy of the military commission system. Frakt tells the court that Jawad has been punished for his behavior at his arraignment (see March 12, 2008) by the loss of certain “comfort items,” including his only blanket. Frakt asks that the blanket and other items be returned to Jawad, asks for a mental health evaluation (see December 2003), and for changes in Jawad’s conditions of confinement. [Human Rights First, 9/2008] At some point in May, presumably after the hearing, Jawad will be severely beaten by his guards (see May 2008).
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases Pentagon documents that include previously classified internal investigations into the abuse of detainees in US custody overseas. The documents provide new details about the deaths of detainees in Iraq, and internal dissent in the military over torture methods used at Guantanamo Bay. ACLU attorney Amrit Singh says: “These documents provide further evidence that the torture of prisoners in US custody abroad was not aberrational, but was widespread and systemic. They only underscore the need for an independent investigation into high-level responsibility for prisoner abuse.” The documents provide details of four investigations into prisoner deaths conducted by the Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS):
March 2003: Iraqi prisoner Hemdan El Gashame was shot to death in Nasiriyah (see March 2003);
June 2003: A 53-year-old Iraqi man, Naem Sadoon Hatab, was strangled to death at the Whitehorse detainment camp in Nasiriyah (see June 2003);
November 2003: Manadel al-Jamadi was beaten to death, apparently with a stove, at Abu Ghraib (see Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003 and November 5, 2003);
2004: Iraqi prisoner Farhad Mohamed died in Mosul (see 2004); later examination found contusions under his eyes and the bottom of his chin, a swollen nose, and cuts and large bumps on his forehead.
Another document shows that as far back as September 2002 Army officials were objecting to the methods used in interrogating Guantanamo prisoners (see September 2002). [American Civil Liberties Union, 5/14/2008]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) responds to a just-released Justice Department report about prisoner abuse at Guantanamo and in US-run prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan (see May 20, 2008). “Today’s OIG [Office of the Inspector General] report reveals that top government officials in the Defense Department, CIA, and even as high as the White House turned a blind eye to torture and abuse and failed to act aggressively to end it,” says ACLU executive director Anthony Romero. “Moreover, the country’s top law enforcement agency—the FBI—did not take measures to enforce the law but only belatedly reported on the law’s violations. It’s troubling that the government seems to have been more concerned with obscuring the facts than with enforcing the law and stopping the torture and abuse of detainees. Had the government taken action in 2002, perhaps the disgrace of Abu Ghraib and other abuses could have been avoided.” Senior ACLU official Caroline Fredrickson says: “Attorney General Michael Mukasey recently testified to Congress that he cannot prosecute anyone for anything approved by Justice Department opinions that authorized detainee abuse (see February 7, 2008). But no one gets immunity for acts they should have known were illegal. The filtering up of information from FBI agents to high government officials makes claims of immunity even more incredulous.” And ACLU senior legislative counsel Christopher Anders says: “This new report should become exhibit A at the next Congressional hearing on the Bush administration’s use of torture. The House Judiciary Committee is in the middle of the first thorough Congressional review of the development and implementation of the torture policies at the top levels of government. The questions are who did what and what crimes were committed. This Justice Department report helps answer both questions.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Entity Tags: Christopher Anders, Anthony D. Romero, American Civil Liberties Union, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, House Judiciary Committee, US Department of Justice, Michael Mukasey, US Department of Defense, Caroline Fredrickson
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
The Department of Justice (DOJ) releases a long-anticipated report on the alleged torture and abuse of terrorist suspects in US custody. The report was spurred by a Congressional request after Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests showed that FBI agents at Guantanamo had raised concerns about CIA- and military-conducted interrogations. The report identifies then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice as a recipient of complaints of torture. [American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008] The report, issued by DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine, shows that CIA officials regularly ignored DOJ warnings that the interrogation tactics they were using amounted to “borderline torture.” The report also concludes that the Defense Department is ultimately responsible for how prisoners in military custody are being treated. As a result, the report finds no reason to bring criminal complaints against CIA officials or interrogators.
'Seven Months of Foot-Dragging' - The report documents what CBS News calls “seven months of foot-dragging” by the Pentagon, which attempted to water down the report. Failing that, the report cites numerous instances where Pentagon officials attempted to redact information in the report from public view. The report is lightly redacted.
FBI Praised for Legal, Non-Coercive Interrogation Techniques - The report generally praises the FBI’s own interrogation efforts, methods, and results. It confirms that when CIA officials became impatient with what they were calling “throwaway results” by FBI interrogators, particularly in the case of Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002), the CIA took over interrogations of prisoners such as Zubaida and began using harsh, torturous techniques. The FBI pulled its agents from the ongoing interrogations, refusing to participate in what it considered to be illegal actions (see May 13, 2004). (In 2009, a former FBI interrogator will confirm that the FBI gathered far more useful information from its non-coercive techniques than the CIA did with its “borderline torture” methods—see Late March through Early June, 2002 and April 22, 2009.) [CBS News, 5/20/2008; Newsweek, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Witnesses to Torture - However, the report makes clear that FBI agents witnessed harsh interrogations that may have constituted torture at three locations—Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison, Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Force Base facility, and Guantanamo Bay. FBI agents are explicitly banned from using brutality, physical violence, intimidation, or other means of causing duress when interviewing suspects. Instead, the FBI generally tries to build a rapport with suspects to get information. “Beyond any doubt, what they are doing (and I don’t know the extent of it) would be unlawful were these enemy prisoners of war,” one FBI employee, senior FBI lawyer Spike Bowman, reported. Bowman worried that the FBI would be “tarred by the same brush,” when asked whether the FBI should refer the matter to the Defense Department Inspector General, and added, “Were I still on active duty, there is no question in my mind that it would be a duty to do so.” The report cites two FBI agents at Guantanamo who “had concerns not only about the proposed techniques but also about the glee with which the would-be [military] participants discussed their respective roles in carrying out these techniques, and the utter lack of sophistication and circus-like atmosphere within this interrogation strategy session.” [CBS News, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Blocking Access to Zubaida - CIA general counsel John Rizzo refused to let DOJ investigators interview Zubaida for the report. The CIA has admitted that Zubaida was waterboarded (see Mid-May, 2002, March 2002 and April - June 2002). The report says that the CIA’s denial of access to Zubaida was “unwarranted,” and “hampered” the investigation, and contrasts the CIA’s actions with those of the Defense Department, which allowed DOJ investigators to interview Guantanamo prisoners. Rizzo told the DOJ that Zubaida “could make false allegations against CIA employees.” [Newsweek, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Split over Al-Khatani - The rift between the CIA and FBI came to a head over the treatment of Mohamed al-Khatani, one of several suspected terrorists accused of being the fabled “20th hijacker” for the 9/11 attacks (see December 2001). According to the report, al-Khatani was abused in a number of ways by military interrogators at Guantanamo; the report cites the use of attack dogs, shackling and stress positions, sexual humiliation, mocking al-Khatani’s religion, and extended sleep deprivation among other tactics. FBI officials complained to the White House after learning that military interrogators forced him to “perform dog tricks,” “be nude in front of a female,” and wear “women’s underwear on his head.” Al-Khatani did eventually “confess” (see July 2002), but FBI officials expressed serious doubts as to the validity of his confession, both in its accuracy and in its admissability in a criminal court. The then-chief of the Guantanamo facility, Major General Geoffrey Miller, ordered a “relentless” and “sustained attack” on al-Khatani. “The plan was to keep him up until he broke,” an FBI agent told superiors, and some of those superiors worried that those techniques would render his confession inadmissible. Al-Khatani was hospitalized for hypothermia during those interrogations. His lawyer, Gitanjali Gutierrez, says her client recently attempted suicide because of his treatment. “The tactics that were used against and the impact, the pain and suffering it caused him and the damage that it caused him does rise to a level of torture,” she says. The government recently dropped all charges against al-Khatani (see October 26, 2006 and January 14, 2009), because if he had been brought to trial, all of the evidence of his treatment would be made public. [CBS News, 5/20/2008; Newsweek, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Glenn Fine, John Rizzo, Marion (“Spike”) Bowman, Gitanjali Gutierrez, Geoffrey D. Miller, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Condoleezza Rice, Abu Zubaida, Mohamed al-Khatani, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of Defense
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
The House Judiciary Committee releases a May 5 letter written to Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR—see May 5, 2008). The letter advises Conyers that OPR is investigating “allegations of selective prosecution relating to the prosecutions of Don Siegelman, Georgia Thompson, and Oliver Diaz and Paul Minor.” The House and Senate Judiciary Committees are investigating widespread allegations of politically-driven prosecutions by the Justice Department under the Bush administration. Former Governor Don Siegelman (D-AL) is facing bribery charges. Georgia Thompson is a former Wisconsin state employee convicted of corruption by US Attorney Steven Biskupic (see April 14, 2007), but who was set free after an appeals court found the case against her irreparably flawed. Diaz, a former Mississippi State Supreme Court justice, and Minor, a Mississippi lawyer, were both prosecuted by US Attorney Dunn Lampton, and the cases for both are being investigated by the House Judiciary Committee as being possibly driven by partisan political interests. [TPM Muckraker, 2/25/2008; TPM Muckraker, 5/22/2008; Talking Points Memo, 2011]
The Secret Service, in conjunction with other law enforcement agencies, thwarts at least four alleged assassination attempts on the life of presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-IL—see May 2007 and After). One attempt is launched by militiamen in Pennsylvania, one by white supremacists in Denver, one by white supremacists in Tennessee, and one by an active-duty Marine in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. All the participants are arrested and charged with a variety of criminal actions. The Secret Service refuses to give details of the alleged assassination plots. [Time, 9/30/2010]
Jan Schakowsky. [Source: Washington Post]Fifty-six Democratic members of the House of Representatives send a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, asking him to appoint a special counsel to investigate whether top Bush administration officials committed crimes in authorizing the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics against suspected terrorists (see April 2002 and After). The lawmakers, who include John Conyers (D-MI), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and House Intelligence Committee members Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), cite “mounting evidence” that senior officials personally sanctioned the use of such extreme interrogation methods. An independent investigation is needed to determine whether such actions violated US or international law, the letter states. “This information indicates that the Bush administration may have systematically implemented, from the top down, detainee interrogation policies that constitute torture or otherwise violate the law,” the letter says. It adds that a broad inquiry is needed to examine the consequences of administration decisions at US detention sites in Iraq, at Guantanamo, and in secret prisons operated by the CIA. The interrogation methods have resulted in “abuse, sexual exploitation and torture” that may have violated the War Crimes Act of 1996 and the American Anti-Torture Act of 2007. “Despite the seriousness of the evidence, the Justice Department has brought prosecution against only one civilian for an interrogation-related crime,” the letter reads. “Given that record, we believe it is necessary to appoint a special counsel in order to ensure that a thorough and impartial investigation occurs.” Conyers tells reporters after sending the letter, “We need an impartial criminal investigation.” The entire detainee controversy is “a truly shameful episode” in US history, he says. “Because these apparent ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were used under cover of Justice Department legal opinions, the need for an outside special prosecutor is obvious.” The Justice Department refuses to comment on the letter. Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch says that the letter is significant even if Mukasey refuses to appoint a special counsel. “The fact that so many representatives have called for the investigation helps lay the groundwork for the inevitable reckoning and accounting that the next administration is going to have to do regarding this administration’s practices,” she says. [US House of Representatives, 6/6/2008; Washington Post, 6/7/2008; United Press International, 6/7/2008]
Entity Tags: Jerrold Nadler, House Intelligence Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), House Judiciary Committee, Human Rights Watch, Michael Mukasey, US Department of Justice, John Conyers, Jan Schakowsky, Jennifer Daskal
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
The FBI arrests Pittsburgh-area resident Bradley T. Kahle as part of a larger sweep of a domestic terrorist group (see June 8, 2008). Kahle, a recruiter for the Pennsylvania Citizens Militia, tells authorities he had planned to shoot black people from a rooftop in Pittsburgh, and says that if either Barack Obama (D-IL) or Hillary Clinton (D-NY) are elected president, the country will be engulfed in civil war. Kahle, a resident of Troutville, Pennsylvania, allegedly gave undercover FBI agents explicit instructions on how to make deadly grenades using “bean cans” or other such containers. Undercover agents have been monitoring Kahle and other area domestic terrorism plotters for well over a year. In a raid, FBI agents find 16 improvised bombs in what the agents term a “gun reloading room,” along with cans of fragmentation and bags of lead shot. Kahle has shown undercover agents a number of firearms, including assault rifles and a sniper rifle, and over 5,000 rounds of ammunition. An FBI affidavit says of Kahle’s improvised grenades: “Kahle continued that a tactic for employing a bean can, if raided, is to wait until the police shoot gas through your door. The hole made by the gas projectile can then be used to throw a bean can grenade back out at the approaching entry team to kill as many law enforcement officers as possible.” He allegedly told an undercover agent that once he began attacking law enforcement officials: “You wouldn’t want to be near me. SWAT teams included. Bring them all on.… don’t send the kids, bring your very best. Hey, eight or 10 good bean bombs… five or 600 rounds of ammo and some good equipment. I would be a tough take.” Kahle told undercover agents that he intended to begin by shooting judges, magistrates, and police chiefs, which he said would “start the doomsday process.” He also told an undercover agent that he hoped Clinton or Obama would “get assassinated” if they were elected president. “If not they will disarm the country, and we will have a civil war.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 6/11/2008; Associated Press, 6/11/2008; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2011] Federal Judge Pete Pesto will rule that despite Kahle’s stockpile of weapons and his rhetoric, he does not pose a threat to the community, and releases him on house arrest with an electronic monitor pending his trial. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 6/12/2008] Kahle will be acquitted of all charges. He will say that “the US Constitution was the big winner” in the verdict. Defense attorney Blair Hindman will successfully argue that Kahle never directly threatened anyone, and all of his weapons were for defensive purposes and “no different than what thousands of other Americans have in their garages.” [Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, 3/10/2010]
A screenshot of a local Pittsburgh news broadcast showing three of four suspects arrested on charges of domestic terrorism. [Source: FireDogLake (.com)]The FBI arrests four Pittsburgh-area people on suspicion of plotting terrorist attacks. Marvin Hall of Rimersburg, Perry Landis of the Clarion area, Morgan Jones of Lucinda, and Melissa Huet, presumably of Pittsburgh, are arrested after authorities learned they were stockpiling a cache of weapons with plans to target local government buildings. Two more suspects will be arrested days later, including Bradley T. Kahle (see June 8, 2008). Many of the six have ties to the right-wing militia movement; Landis is sergeant-at-arms of the Brookville Tiger Militia in Jefferson County. In a raid, the FBI confiscates hundreds of weapons, including hunting rifles, a Romanian assault rifle, 16 homemade bombs, homemade rockets, a homemade flame thrower, blasting caps, and cannons. The four made threats to blow up government buildings and carry out other acts of domestic terrorism. They face numerous federal firearms charges as well as charges of illegal sales, manufacture, and transport of weapons. The raid is the culmination of three years of investigations, including the insertion of undercover agents inside the operation. Federal agents have raided other area compounds over the last two days in the Clarion area; one of these raids led to Kahle’s arrest. Landis has told undercover agents that he intended to assassinate Governor Ed Rendell (D-PA). David Neiwert, a progressive reporter and blogger who is an expert on right-wing terrorism, later writes of the dearth of mainstream media coverage: “Imagine, if you will, how this would have been handled were these folks of Arab extraction or believers in radical Islamist ideology instead of your garden-variety far-right American ideology. CNN would have the cameras and reporters there, NBC would host an hour discussing the threat, and [conservative bloggers] Michelle Malkin and Little Green Footballs’ Chuck Johnson would [be] bouncing around the walls of their rubber rooms even more frenetically than usual amid shouts of ‘Jihad!!!!’” [KDKA-TV, 6/9/2008; David Neiwert, 6/10/2008; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 6/12/2008; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2011] Hall, Landis, Jones, and Huet will be convicted. [Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, 3/10/2010]
A group of German civil rights lawyers files a lawsuit against the German government, demanding that the government attempt to extradite 13 CIA agents named in the alleged kidnapping of a German citizen. Khalid el-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, says he was abducted in December 2003 at the Serbian-Macedonian border (see December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004 and January 23 - March 2004). He was flown by the CIA to a detention center in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he was interrogated and abused for months. El-Masri says he was released in Albania in May 2004, and told that he was the victim of mistaken identity (see May 29, 2004). No government or body has yet taken responsibility for el-Masri’s kidnapping and brutalization. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other US officials have refused to address the case, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the US acknowledged making a mistake with el-Masri.
Accountability - “We are demanding accountability” with the lawsuit, says attorney Wolfgang Kaleck. For himself, el-Masri says, “I just want the German government to acknowledge what happened to me.” An American judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by el-Masri against the CIA and three US corporations in 2006 (see May 18, 2006). In January 2007, German prosecutors issued warrants for the arrests of 13 CIA agents, accusing them of wrongfully imprisoning el-Masri and causing him serious bodily harm. The US Justice Department refused the requests, citing “American national interests,” and the German Ministry of Justice dropped the request. The lawsuit seeks to force the German government to reconsider extradition for the CIA agents.
Extraordinary Rendition - According to human rights organizations, el-Masri’s case is an example of “extraordinary rendition,” where the US takes suspected terrorists to foreign countries where they are subjected to abuse and torture. A criminal lawsuit against CIA officers in conjunction with the el-Masri case is also ongoing in Macedonia; that case could end up before the European Court of Human Rights. And the American Civil Liberties Union has also filed a petition on el-Masri’s behalf through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a body that seeks to establish international laws. [Associated Press, 6/9/2008]
Physicians for Human Rights logo. [Source: Newsguide (.us)]Retired Army Major General Antonio Taguba, who led the probe into prisoner torture and abuse at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison (see March 9, 2004), accuses the Bush administration of committing “war crimes,” and calls for Bush officials to be held accountable. Taguba’s remarks are part of a wide-ranging report on US torture by the human rights organization Physicians for Human Rights (PHR). The report, released today, finds that US personnel tortured and abused detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, using beatings, electrical shocks, sexual humiliation, sleep deprivation, isolation, being hung from ceilings, and other practices. One prisoner was forced to drink urine. “After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts, and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes,” Taguba wrote in the report. “The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.” PHR calls the report the most complete medical and psychological examination of former detainees to date. The report focuses on statements from, and medical examinations of, 11 detainees held for long periods of time in various US-run prisons and facilities before being released without charges. The report, titled “Broken Laws, Broken Lives,” concurs with an investigation of Guantanamo conducted by investigative reporters for McClatchy News. PHR president Leonard Rubenstein says there was a direct connection between the Pentagon’s authorizations of extreme interrogation methods and the abuses his organization documented. “The result was a horrific stew of pain, degradation, and… suffering,” he says. [Physicians for Human Rights, 6/2008; McClatchy News, 6/18/2008]
The lawyer for Mohammed Jawad, a young Guantanamo detainee held in US captivity for almost six years (see December 17, 2002) and charged with attempted murder (see October 7, 2007), attempts to have the charges against his client dismissed. Major David Frakt tells the court that Jawad has been subjected to a harsh regime of sleep deprivation nicknamed the “frequent flyer program.” Records show that Jawad was moved from one cell to another 112 times over the period of two weeks, with guards shackling, moving, and unshackling him for an average of once every two hours and 50 minutes. Frakt tells the court that Jawad had attempted suicide months before. The military commission judge refuses to dismiss the charges. [Human Rights First, 9/2008]
The Supreme Court rules 5-4 that foreign terror suspects held without charge at Guantanamo Bay have the Constitutional right to challenge their detention in US civilian courts. The Court splits along ideological lines, with the more liberal and moderate members supporting the finding, and the more conservative members opposing it. Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered a centrist, writes the ruling. He writes, “The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times.” The ruling specifically strikes down the portion of the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006) that denies detainees their habeas corpus rights to file petitions. [Associated Press, 6/12/2008; Associated Press, 6/12/2008] The case is Boumediene v. Bush, and was filed in the Supreme Court in March 2007 on behalf of Lakhdar Boumediene, a Bosnian citizen held in the Guantanamo camp since 2002 (see January 18, 2002). It was combined with a similar case, Al Odah v United States (see October 20, 2004). [Oyez (.org), 6/2007; Jurist, 6/29/2007]
'Stinging Rebuke' for Bush Administration - The ruling is considered a serious setback for the Bush administration (a “stinging rebuke,” in the words of the Associated Press), which insists that terror suspects detained at Guantanamo and elsewhere have no rights in the US judicial system. It is unclear whether the ruling will lead to prompt hearings for detainees [Associated Press, 6/12/2008; Associated Press, 6/12/2008] ; law professor James Cohen, who represents two detainees, says, “Nothing is going to happen between June 12 and January 20,” when the next president takes office. Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr says the decision will not affact war crimes trials already in the works: “Military commission trials will therefore continue to go forward.”
Scalia: Ruling Will 'Cause More Americans to Be Killed' - President Bush says he disagrees with the ruling, and says he may seek new legislation to keep detainees under lock and key. Justice Antonin Scalia, the leader of the Court’s ideological right wing, agrees; in a “blistering” dissent, he writes that the decision “will make the war harder on us. It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.” In his own dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts argues that the ruling strikes down “the most generous set of procedural protections ever afforded aliens detained by this country as enemy combatants.” Joining Scalia and Roberts in the minority are Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. Voting in the majority are Kennedy and Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter, and John Paul Stevens.
Military Tribunals 'Doomed,' Says Navy Lawyer - Former Navy lawyer Charles Swift, who argued a similar case before the Supreme Court in Hamdan v Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), says he believes the ruling removes any legal basis for keeping Guantanamo open, and says that military tribunals are “doomed.” The entire rationale for Guantanamo and the tribunals, Swift says, is the idea that “constitutional protections wouldn’t apply.” But now, “The court said the Constitution applies. They’re in big trouble.” Democrats and many human rights organizations hail the ruling as affirming the US’s commitment to the rule of law; some Republican lawmakers say the ruling puts foreign terrorists’ rights over the safety of the American people. Vincent Warren, the head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, says: “The Supreme Court has finally brought an end to one of our nation’s most egregious injustices. By granting the writ of habeas corpus, the Supreme Court recognizes a rule of law established hundreds of years ago and essential to American jurisprudence since our nation’s founding.” [Associated Press, 6/12/2008]
Entity Tags: Stephen Breyer, Vincent Warren, US Supreme Court, Samuel Alito, Military Commissions Act, Peter Carr, Bush administration (43), Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Charles Swift, Clarence Thomas, David Souter, George W. Bush, Lakhdar Boumediene, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, James Cohen, John G. Roberts, Jr, US Department of Justice
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
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