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An unrepentant Jim Adkisson, right, shares a laugh with his lawyer Mark Stephens during Adkisson’s court proceedings. [Source: Lisa Hudson / AP]Jim David Adkisson, charged with killing two and wounding seven in his attack on a Tennessee church congregation (see July 27, 2008), pleads guilty to all charges in a Knoxville, Tennessee, courthouse. Adkisson has accepted a sentence of life in prison. District Attorney General Randall Nichols tells the court that Adkisson “knowingly created a great risk of death to two or more persons other than the victims murdered,” and that the murders “were committed in the course of an act of terrorism.” In his explanation for his actions, given in a four-page document found in his car in the minutes after the shooting (see July 27, 2008 and After), Adkisson said his motives were rooted in patriotism and a desire to kill political liberals. The same day he pleads guilty, Adkisson releases the document to the press, though the local sheriff denies him access to reporters who may wish to interview him. Adkisson’s lawyer, Mark Stephens, says he advised Adkisson to go to trial using an insanity defense, but Adkisson refused, saying the plea deal is “the honorable thing to do.” Stephens adds: “He pled guilty to everything he was charged with. He accepted his responsibility. I’m sorry for those folks that went through that ordeal.” One of the congregation members who wrestled Adkisson to the ground during the shooting spree, John Bohstedt, responds to Stephens’s contention by saying: “There’s no insanity defense that I can see, unbalance, yes, bitter, yes, evil, yes.… I’m sickened that he shows no signs of remorse.” Tammy Sommers, who is recuperating from shotgun wounds inflicted by Adkisson, says, “He needs to stay in prison, which is what’s happening.” A convict who spent time in jail with Adkisson, Matthew David Chamberlain, says Adkisson told him that the motive behind the attack was purely ideological. “He said if he got out [of prison], he’d do it again,” Chamberlain says. Local citizen Brian Griffith believes Chamberlain is correct, and echoes the sentiments of many local residents by saying he was offended by Adkisson’s demeanor in court. “Today, he just sat there and sneered and seemed proud of it,” Griffith says. Church choir leader Vicki Masters, a witness to the shootings, agrees. “When he first came out into the courtroom, he had a look of sheer evil, he really did—evil as well as arrogance,” she says. “And he sat down after he looked around, and then he used his third finger to scratch the back of his head, with an air of arrogance and just pure evil. Those are the only words I can use to describe what I saw.” However, many church members say they are glad Adkisson chose to accept a plea, thus avoiding the necessity of the children who witnessed the shooting having to relive it in court. The Reverend William Sinkford, president of the Universalist Unitarian Society, says, “I am glad that the perpetrator is able to acknowledge publicly in the legal process what he did, and I am also glad that this community and church are not subjected to public trial.” [CNN, 2/9/2009; Knoxville News Sentinel, 2/10/2009; WATE, 2/10/2009]
A newly released government threat analysis shows that slain trust-fund millionaire James G. Cummings, an American Nazi sympathizer from Maine who was killed by his wife Amber in December 2008, possessed the radioactive components necessary to build a so-called “dirty bomb.” Cummings, infuriated by the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, purchased depleted uranium over the Internet from an American company.
FBI Confiscates Radioactive Materials - The Bangor Daily News reports, “According to an FBI field intelligence report from the Washington Regional Threat and Analysis Center posted online by WikiLeaks, an organization that posts leaked documents, an investigation into the case revealed that radioactive materials were removed from Cummings’s home after his shooting death on December 9.” According to the Washington Regional Threat and Analysis Center: “Amber [Cummings] indicated James was very upset with Barack Obama being elected president. She indicated James had been in contact with ‘white supremacist group(s).’ Amber also indicated James mixed chemicals in the kitchen sink at their residence and had mentioned ‘dirty bombs.’” An FBI search of the Cummings home found four jars of depleted uranium-238 labeled “uranium metal” and the name of an unidentified US corporation, another jar labeled “thorium” and containing that material, and a second, unlabeled jar which also contained thorium-232. Other materials found in Cummings’s home were consistent with the manufacture of an explosive device, which if detonated could have spread radioactive debris throughout a relatively large local area. The FBI also found information on how to build “dirty bombs,” and information about cesium-137, strontium-90, cobalt-60, and other radioactive materials. FBI evidence shows Cummings had numerous ties to a variety of right-wing white supremacist groups. Cummings also owned a collection of Nazi memorabilia which, according to local tradesmen, he proudly displayed throughout his home. Police reports show that Cummings has a long history of violence. Amber Cummings contends she is innocent of her husband’s murder by reason of insanity, and claims she suffered years of mental, physical, and sexual abuse at his hands. The Department of Homeland Security has refused to comment on the incident. [Bangor Daily News, 2/10/2009; Raw Story, 3/9/2009] Local law enforcement officials downplay the threat Cummings posed, and the national media virtually ignores the story. [Time, 9/30/2010]
Later Information Shows Depth of Threat Posed by Cummings - Additional information gleaned by Time reporter Barton Gellman from Cummings’s notes and records later shows that the threat posed by Cummings was even more serious than initially reported. Cummings had applied to join the National Socialist Party (the American Nazi organization), and had detailed plans on how to assassinate President-elect Obama. Gellman will call Cummings “a viciously angry and resourceful man who had procured most of the supplies for a crude radiological dispersal device and made some progress in sketching a workable design.” Gellman says that in his attempt to construct a nuclear weapon, Cummings “was far ahead of Jose Padilla, the accused al-Qaeda dirty-bomb plotter (see June 10, 2002), and more advanced in his efforts than any previously known domestic threat involving a dirty bomb.” The materials were later confirmed to be the radioactive materials they were labeled as being; Amber Cummings will say that her husband bought them under the pretense of conducting legal research for a university. Although the materials Cummings had would not, themselves, succeed in unleashing large amounts of radiation over a large area, he was actively searching for three ingredients that would serve such a purpose: cobalt-60, cesium-137, and strontium-90. He had succeeded in manufacturing large amounts of TATP, an explosive favored by Islamist suicide bombers and brought on board an aircraft by “shoe bomber” Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001). “His intentions were to construct a dirty bomb and take it to Washington to kill President Obama,” Amber Cummings says. “He was planning to hide it in the undercarriage of our motor home.” She says her husband had practiced crossing checkpoints with dangerous materials aboard, taking her and their daughter along for an image of innocence. Maine state police detective Michael McFadden, who participated in the investigation throughout, says he came to believe that James Cummings posed “a legitimate threat” of a major terrorist attack. “When you’re cooking thorium and uranium under your kitchen sink, when you have a couple million dollars sitting in the bank and you’re hell-bent on doing something, I think at that point you become someone we want to sit up and pay attention to,” he says. “If she didn’t do what she did, maybe we would know Mr. Cummings a lot better than we do right now.” [Time, 9/30/2010]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases previously classified documents that contain excerpts from a government report on harsh interrogation tactics used by US personnel against detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. The excerpts document repeated instances of abusive behavior, sometimes resulting in the deaths of prisoners. The documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), contain a report by Vice Admiral Albert Church, who compiled a comprehensive report on the Defense Department’s interrogation operations. Church terms the interrogations at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan as “clearly abusive, and clearly not in keeping with any approved interrogation policy or guidance.” Only two pages from the Church report were released without redactions.
Deaths at Bagram - A portion of the document reports on the deaths of two prisoners at Bagram (see December 5-9, 2002 and November 30-December 3, 2002), who were, the document states, “handcuffed to fixed objects above their heads in order to keep them awake.” The report continues: “Additionally, interrogations in both incidents involved the use of physical violence, including kicking, beating, and the use of ‘compliance blows,’ which involved striking the [prisoners] legs with the [interrogators] knees. In both cases, blunt force trauma to the legs was implicated in the deaths. In one case, a pulmonary embolism developed as a consequence of the blunt force trauma, and in the other case pre-existing coronary artery disease was complicated by the blunt force trauma.” Both detainees died from pulmonary embolisms caused by, the ACLU writes, “standing chained in place, sleep deprivation, and dozens of beatings by guards and possibly interrogators.”
Deaths at Other Facilities - The documents also report on torture conducted at Guantanamo and several US-Afghan prisons in Kabul; the death of prisoner Dilar Dababa in Iraq in 2003 at the hands of US forces; the torture and beating of an Iraqi prisoner at “The Disco,” a detention facility located in the Special Operations Force Compound at Mosul Airfield in Iraq; an investigation into torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad; and the murder of prisoner Abed Mowhoush.
Process Flowed Through Undersecretary Cambone - Columnist Scott Horton writes: “A large portion of the torture, maiming, and murder of detainees occurred under authority issued under secret rules of engagement in the Pentagon. Much of this flowed through Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone, a figure who has so far evaded scrutiny in the torture scandal.… Even the Senate Armed Services Committee review fails to get to the bottom of Dr. Cambone, his interrogations ROEs for special operations units he controlled, and the death, disfigurement, and torture of prisoners they handled. This is one of many reasons why a comprehensive investigation with subpoena power is urgently needed. But full airing of the internal investigations already conducted by the Department of Defense is an essential next step.” [Raw Story, 2/12/2009; American Civil Liberties Union, 2/12/2009]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other human rights organizations release over a thousand pages of government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The documents provide new details of the Bush administration’s treatment of prisoners in its “global war on terror.” Among other things, the documents show a much closer collaboration between the CIA and the Defense Department than initially believed; the Defense Department was intimately involved with the CIA’s practices of indefinite “ghost” detentions and torture. The documents confirm the existence of a previously “undisclosed detention facility” at Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base and details of the extensive abuse and torture of prisoners at that facility. They also show that the Defense Department worked to keep the Red Cross away from its detainees by refusing to register their capture with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for two weeks or more, “to maximize intelligence collection,” a practice the Defense Department officials acknowledged in their private communications to be illegal under the Geneva Conventions.
CIA, Defense Department in Collusion? - The Center for Constitutional Rights notes, “These policies demonstrate the ease with which the CIA could have used DOD facilities as ‘sorting facilities’ without having to worry about ICRC oversight or revelation of the ghost detainee program.” The documents also include e-mails sent to Defense Department Transportation Command officials recommending that a number of prisoners slated for release from Guantanamo be detained longer, for fear of negative press coverage (see February 17, 2006). [AlterNet, 2/13/2009] “These newly released documents confirm our suspicion that the tentacles of the CIA’s abusive program reached across agency lines,” says Margaret Satterthwaite of New York University’s International Human Rights Clinic. “In fact, it is increasingly obvious that defense officials engaged in legal gymnastics to find ways to cooperate with the CIA’s activities. A full accounting of all agencies must now take place to ensure that future abuses don’t continue under a different guise.”
Heavy Redactions Thwart Intent of FOIA - Amnesty International’s Tom Parker notes that much of the information in the documents was blacked out before its release. “Out of thousands of pages, most of what might be of interest was redacted,” he says. “While the sheer number of pages creates the appearance of transparency, it is clear this is only the tip of the iceberg and that the government agencies have not complied with spirit of President Obama’s memo on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests (see January 21, 2009). We call on Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama administration to put teeth into the memo and work actively to comply with FOIA requests.” [Center for Constitutional Rights, 2/12/2009]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Geneva Conventions, Central Intelligence Agency, Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International, American Civil Liberties Union, International Committee of the Red Cross, Obama administration, International Human Rights Clinic, New York University, Margaret Satterthwaite, Tom Parker
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
The Justice Department is holding back on publicly releasing an internal department report on the conduct of former department officials involved in approving waterboarding and other torture techniques. The department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), led by H. Marshall Jarrett, completed the report in the final weeks of the Bush administration. The report probes whether the legal advice given in crucial interrogation memos “was consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys.” According to knowledgeable sources, the report harshly criticizes three former department lawyers: John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Steven Bradbury, all former members of the department’s Office of Legal Counsel. But then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy, Mark Filip, objected to the draft. Filip wanted the report to be “balanced” with responses from the three principals. The OPR is now waiting on the three to respond to the draft’s criticisms before presenting the report to Attorney General Eric Holder. “The matter is under review,” says Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller. The OPR report could be forwarded to state bar associations for possible disciplinary actions against any or all of the three. But Bush-era officials feel the probe is inherently unfair. “OPR is not competent to judge [the opinions by Justice Department attorneys]. They’re not constitutional scholars,” says a former Bush lawyer. Mukasey criticized the report, calling it “second-guessing” and says that Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury operated under “almost unimaginable pressure” after 9/11, and offered “their best judgment of what the law required.” OPR investigators looked into charges by former OLC chief Jack Goldsmith and others that the legal opinions provided by the three were “sloppy,” legally dubious, and slanted to give Bush administration officials what they wanted. [Newsweek, 2/14/2009; Newsweek, 2/16/2009] Some of the report is later leaked to the press (see February 22, 2009).
Entity Tags: Jay S. Bybee, Eric Holder, Bush administration (43), Jack Goldsmith, US Department of Justice, Matthew Miller, Office of Professional Responsibility, Mark Filip, John C. Yoo, Michael Mukasey, Steven Bradbury, H. Marshall Jarrett
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union calls the case of alleged al-Qaeda detainee Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see June 23, 2003) a key test of “the most far-reaching use of detention powers” ever asserted by the executive branch. Al-Marri has spent five years incarcerated in the Charleston Naval Brig without being charged with a crime. “If President Obama is serious about restoring the rule of law in America, they can’t defend what’s been done to Marri. They would be completely buying into the Bush administration’s war on terror,” he says. Hafetz, who is scheduled to represent al-Marri before the Supreme Court in April, compares the Bush administration’s decision to leave al-Marri in isolation to his client’s being stranded on a desert island. “It’s a Robinson Crusoe-like situation,” he adds. Hafetz says that among the issues to be decided is “the question of who is a soldier, and who is a civilian.” He continues: “Is the fight against terrorism war, or is it not war? How far does the battlefield extend? In the past, they treated Peoria as a battlefield. Can an American be arrested in his own home and jailed indefinitely, on the say-so of the president?” Hafetz wants the Court to declare indefinite detention by executive fiat illegal. He also hopes President Obama will withdraw al-Marri’s designation as an enemy combatant and reclassify him as a civilian; such a move would allow al-Marri to either be charged with crimes and prosecuted, or released entirely. Civil liberties and other groups on both sides of the political divide have combined to file 18 amicus briefs with the Court, all on al-Marri’s behalf. The al-Marri decision will almost certainly impact the legal principles governing the disposal of the approximately 240 detainees still being held at Guantanamo.
Opinion of Former Bush Administration Officials - Former Bush State Department counsel John Bellinger says of his counterparts in the Obama administration: “They will have to either put up or shut up. Do they maintain the Bush administration position, and keep holding [al-]Marri as an enemy combatant? They have to come up with a legal theory.” He says that Obama officials will find it more difficult to put their ideals into action: “Governing is different from campaigning,” he notes, and adds that Obama officials will soon learn that “they can’t just set the clocks back eight years, and try every terror suspect captured abroad in the federal courts.” Former Attorney General John Ashcroft calls keeping al-Marri and other “enemy combatants” locked away without charges or trials a “sound decision” to “maximize the national interest,” and says that in the end, Obama’s approach will be much like Bush’s. “How will he be different?” he asks. “The main difference is going to be that he spells his name ‘O-b-a-m-a,’ not ‘B-u-s-h.’”
Current Administration's Opinion - Obama spokesman Larry Craig sums up the issue: “One way we’ve looked at this is that we own the solution. We don’t own the problem—it was created by the previous administration. But we’ll be held accountable for how we handle this.” [New Yorker, 2/23/2009]
Brandon Neely. [Source: Associated Press]A former Guantanamo guard, Specialist Brandon Neely, discusses his experiences with MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow. He also gives a lengthier interview to the Guantanamo Testimonials Project, run by the Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas at the University of California at Davis. Neely was at Guantanamo when the first prisoners arrived in January 2002, and stayed for some six months before being transferred. Later, he served in Iraq. Neely says he is still haunted by the memories of what he saw during his time at Guantanamo. Neely, who was honorably discharged from the Army in 2008, is the president of the Houston chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).
'I Was Ready for Revenge' - When he learned that he was being assigned to Guantanamo, as he recalls, “We were told… these people would not fall under the Geneva Convention.” Neely says that from the outset, he and the other guards were trained to be very adversarial towards the detainees: “We were just told from the get-go that these were the guys who planned 9/11, that these are the worst people in the world.… I was ready for revenge. I was angry. I was ready to go to war.” He recalls the day that the first detainees arrived (see January 11, 2002-April 30, 2002). When they arrived, Neely was startled: “Most of them were small, underweight, very scared, and injured. I was expecting these people to come off that bus looking like vicious monsters.”
Fear of Execution Provoked Resistance - Neely recalls one physical incident between himself and an older prisoner that happened the first day. When the prisoner resisted being forced to his knees, Neely slammed him to the cement floor; other guards “went ahead and hog-tied him.” The next day, as Neely recalls: “I could see on the side of his—side of his face, he was all scraped up and bruised.… And I later learned from other detainees the reason that he moved and he jerked away from us was when we placed him on his knees, he thought we were going to execute him.” However, his fellow guards were pleased, saying, “Man, that was a good job; you got you some.” Neely witnessed other physical abuses, including one instance when a prisoner was beaten by a medic for refusing to drink a can of Ensure. Neely later learned that the prisoner believed the Ensure to have been poisoned. He also witnessed a detainee beaten unconscious for calling a female guard a “b_tch.” Guards sometimes called prisoners “sand n_ggers.” Guards sometimes told detainees that their villages or countries had been bombed and their families were all dead. Sometimes the guards told prisoners that they could be executed at any time.
Lack of Respect for Religious Beliefs - Neely knows of at least one incident where a guard, searching a prisoner’s cage, threw the prisoner’s Koran to the floor, provoking outrage among the detainees. Neely says the guard swore that he threw the Koran aside without thinking. Other incidents were more deliberately provocative: loud rock music or the national anthem would be played during the morning call to prayer; soldiers would mock and ridicule prisoners during their worship services, soldiers would blast praying detainees with water and call the incidents accidents; prisoners were fed pork, a proscribed food, without being informed of what they were eating.
David Hicks: Humanizing the 'Monsters' - Neely spent a good amount of time talking with Australian detainee David Hicks (see December 2000-December 2001). Hicks repeatedly insisted that he had been in Afghanistan fighting well before the Americans arrived, and that he would never fight Americans. He told Neely that he had been captured by Northern Alliance forces while trying to leave the country, and his captors sold him to the Americans for $1,500. Neely recalls: “Hicks did not come across as the cold-blooded killer that we were told all these guys were. He was a normal guy like me.… During these times is when I really started to look at the detainees as real people and not just monsters, as I had been told they were.”
'Trial and Error' - Neely says: “There was no standard operating procedures as far as how a detainee camp was supposed to be run. There was kind of like a trial-and-error period, if this didn’t work, we’ll try this way one day—you know, just everyday was something different until they thought it was right.” He tells The Independent: “As far as the Geneva Conventions, we touched very shortly on that in training. Most of what people knew about them was from their own readings.” [MSNBC, 2/17/2009; Independent, 2/18/2009]
Conclusion - Neely says: “I think everyone can agree that, at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, there are some really bad people. And there are a lot of good people there as well. But—innocent, guilty, black, white, Muslim, or Jew, no matter what you are—there is no excuse to treat people in the manner that I and other people did. It’s wrong and just downright criminal, and it goes against everything the United States of America stands for.” [Independent, 2/18/2009]
In the case of Kiyemba v Obama the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously blocks a judge’s order to free 17 Chinese Uighurs (see September 17, 2006 and June 30, 2008) from detention in Guantanamo. [New York Times, 2/18/2009; Constitution Project, 2/18/2009]
Not a Threat to the US - The Uighurs, members of a small Muslim ethnic and religious minority, have been in detention for seven years after being captured in Pakistan; they insist they were receiving training to resist Chinese oppression, and never harbored any ill will towards the US or had any intention of participating in attacks on US or US-allied targets. Judge Ricardo Urbina concurred in an October ruling. Even Bush officials had decided not to try to prove the 17 men were “enemy combatants”; instead, they said that they would continue imprisoning them because they had “trained for armed insurrection against their home country” in a Uighur camp in Afghanistan. The Obama administration can choose to release the Uighurs if it can find a country—the US or another nation—to accept the detainees for resettlement. Obama officials do not want to turn the Uighurs over to Chinese authorities for fear that they will be imprisoned and tortured.
Two Rulings, One on Release, One on Habeas Corpus - All three appellate judges agree to overturn Urbina’s order to release the Uighurs, but split 2-1 on a separate question: whether detainees such as the Uighurs have habeas corpus rights to challenge their detention. Two, Judges Arthur Randolph and Karen Henderson, say that the law, as decided by the Supreme Court in the June 2008 Boumediene v Bush case (see June 22, 2008), does not give judges the right to release detainees into the US. “Never in the history of habeas corpus,” the majority opinion finds, “has any court thought it had the power to order an alien held overseas brought into the sovereign territory of a nation and released into the general population.” Judge Judith Rogers dissents, writing that the ruling “ignores the very purpose” of the writ of habeas corpus, which is, she writes, to serve as “a check on arbitrary executive power.” If the court has no legal right to release the Uighurs into the US, Rogers writes, the Boumediene ruling has no meaning. A lawyer for the Uighurs, Susan Baker Manning, says the ruling means innocent people “can spend the rest of their lives in prison even though the US knows it’s a mistake.” [New York Times, 2/18/2009]
Civil Rights Organization 'Disappointed' in Ruling, Calls for Release - Sharon Bradford Franklin of the Constitution Project, a civil rights organization, writes: “We are disappointed by today’s DC Circuit ruling that denies freedom to the 17 men whom the government admits are not ‘enemy combatants’ and yet continues to hold at Guantanamo for a seventh year. President Obama should exercise his power to release the Uighurs into the US. The appellate court’s ruling that the trial court lacked the power to compel the executive branch to release the Uighurs into the United States in no way limits the ability of the executive branch to release the Uighurs on its own. We therefore call on President Obama to choose the right course and evaluate the terms under which the Uighurs may be released into the United States. The writ of habeas corpus is a fundamental constitutional right. For habeas corpus to have meaning, it must permit a court to end wrongful detentions. We regret that today’s decision failed to recognize the court’s ability to check arbitrary detention, such as that suffered by the Uighurs.” [Constitution Project, 2/18/2009]
Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck has a special segment called “War Games” during the week’s broadcasts. In today’s show, he is joined by former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer (see February 1996) and retired Army Sergeant Major, Tim Strong. The three discuss what they say is the upcoming “civil war” in America, which, they assert, will be led by “citizen militias” made up of principled, ideologically correct conservatives. Beck says that he “believes we’re on this road.” The three decide among themselves that the US military would refuse to obey President Obama’s orders to subdue the insurrection and would instead join with “the people” in “defending the Constitution” against the government. [Salon, 2/22/2009] Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin’s blog “Hot Air” features an entry that calls Beck’s rhetoric “implausible” and “nutty.” [Hot Air, 2/22/2009]
Retired Major General Anthony Taguba, who headed an intensive military investigation into the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison (see March 9, 2004), is one of the most prominent supporters of the call to investigate the Bush administration’s interrogation, detention, and torture policies. Taguba joins 18 human rights organizations, former State Department officials, former law enforcement officers, and former military leaders in asking President Obama to create a non-partisan commission to investigate those abuses. Even though prosecuting former Bush officials might be difficult, Taguba says, a commission would provide some measure of accountability for the practices Taguba calls “misguided,” “illegal,” “despicable and questionable.” Taguba wants the commission to study the Bush administration’s claims that torture provides good intelligence, which he disputes. He particularly wants the commission to investigate administration officials’ claims that the administration’s policies were legal. Taguba says he supports “a structured commission with some form of authority with clear objectives and a follow-on action plan. I’m not looking for anything that is prosecutorial in nature, unless a suspected violation of relevant laws occurred, which should be referred to the Department of Justice.… In my opinion, our military prosecuted those who were involved in torture or unlawful interrogation. And I think our military has come to terms with that. We are an institution that prides itself on taking corrective action immediately, admitting to it, and holding ourselves accountable. And we have done that. But I am not so sure that our civilian authorities in government have done that for themselves.” Speaking about the Bush Justice Department’s findings that torture and indefinite detentions are legal (see Late September 2001, November 11-13, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, August 1, 2002, and August 1, 2002), Taguba says: “This notion that a lot of constitutional legal experts—lawyers with great intellect, well educated—came up with such despicable and questionable legal findings that were contrary to the definition of defending the Constitution? And then they framed this as if the executive branch had the authority to extend beyond the constitution to establish a policy of torture and illegal detention?… Some of those that were tortured were innocent. How do we come to terms with those that were cruelly mistreated and were innocent, never charged, were illegally detained, and never compensated for their suffering? This is not a political issue, but a moral and ethical dilemma which has far-reaching implications.” [Salon, 2/21/2009]
Mohamed returning to London. [Source: Lewis Whyld / Associated Press]Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001, February 8, 2009, and February 9, 2009) is released from Guantanamo, and returns to Great Britain. He is flown to Britain on a private chartered Gulfstream jet similar to those used by the CIA in “extraordinary renditions.” His sister, Zuhra Mohamed, meets him at the RAF Northolt airbase in west London, and tells reporters: “I am so glad and so happy, more than words can express. I am so thankful for everything that was done for Binyam to make this day come true.” His lawyers claim that he has suffered severe physical and psychological abuse, some of which was inflicted in recent days. He suffers from what his lawyers call a huge range of injuries. Doctors have found Mohamed suffering from extensive bruising, organ damage, stomach complaints, malnutrition, sores to feet and hands, and severe damage to ligaments. His weight has dropped from around 170 pounds to 125 pounds. His lawyers say he suffers from serious emotional and psychological problems, which have been exacerbated by the refusal of Guantanamo officials to provide him with counseling. Mohamed’s British lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, says his client had been beaten “dozens” of times, with the most recent abuse occurring in the last few weeks (see September 2004 and After). “He has a list of physical ailments that cover two sheets of A4 paper,” says Stafford Smith. “What Binyam has been through should have been left behind in the middle ages.” Mohamed’s American military lawyer, Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley, adds: “He has been severely beaten. Sometimes I don’t like to think about it because my country is behind all this.” Britain’s former Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, an advocate for the closure of Guantanamo, says that allegations of abuse against Mohamed, a British resident, should be raised by Foreign Secretary David Miliband with his American counterpart, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “If there are credible accounts of mistreatment then they need to be pursued,” Goldsmith says.
Care Provided upon Return - Upon his return to Britain, Mohamed will receive physical care and emotional counseling in a secure, secret location by a team of volunteer doctors and psychiatrists. He will be kept under a “voluntary security arrangement,” where he must report regularly to authorities, but will not be subject to charges or anti-terror control orders. The US dropped all charges against Mohamed last year, including allegations that he had participated in a “dirty bomb” plot. [Guardian, 2/22/2009; Guardian, 2/24/2009]
MI5 to Be Investigated? - At least one MI5 officer may face a criminal investigation over his alleged complicity in torturing Mohamed (see February 24, 2009). And Mohamed’s future testimony is expected to shed light upon MI5’s own participation in his interrogation and alleged torture; Mohamed may sue the British government and MI5, Britain’s counter-intelligence and security service, over its alleged complicity in his detention, abduction, treatment, and interrogation. If filed, Mohamed’s lawsuit could force US and British authorities to disclose vital evidence regarding Mohamed’s allegations of torture. [Guardian, 2/22/2009]
The National Museum of Iraq, which was extensively looted and vandalized in the weeks after the US invasion (see April 13, 2003 and June 13, 2003), reopens, though the public cannot yet visit. Many of the stolen items have been returned, the vandalism has been repaired, and the museum refurbished and updated. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other dignitaries receive a private tour before the museum is opened to the public. The opening generated some controversy, with the Ministry of Tourism pushing for a gala reopening celebration and the Ministry of Culture arguing that security remains too tenuous for such a high-profile event. The state minister for tourism and antiquities, Qahtan Juboori, says that of about 15,000 pieces stolen from the museum, 6,000 have been returned. They include 2,466 items brought back from Jordan, 1,046 from the United States, and 701 from Syria. It is unclear when the public will be allowed back into the premises. [Los Angeles Times, 2/23/2009]
Former Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001), a British citizen who suffered extensive abuse during his detention (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004 and February 8, 2009) and is just now released (see February 22-24, 2009), says in a written statement that British officials from MI5 played an integral part in his abduction and torture at the hands of the CIA and Moroccan officials. Senior MPs say they intend to investigate his claims. Just after his arrival in London, Mohamed tells reporters: “For myself, the very worst moment came when I realized in Morocco that the people who were torturing me were receiving questions and materials from British intelligence.… I had met with British intelligence in Pakistan. I had been open with them. Yet the very people who I had hoped would come to my rescue, I later realized, had allied themselves with my abusers.” Days later, the Daily Mail will obtain documents from Mohamed’s American court proceedings that show MI5 agents twice gave CIA agents lists of questions they wanted to have asked, as well as dossiers of photographs. [Guardian, 2/24/2009; Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
Gives Primary Blame to CIA - Mohamed places the bulk of the blame on his rendition and torture on the CIA, and says, “It is still difficult for me to believe that I was abducted, hauled from one country to the next, and tortured in medieval ways—all orchestrated by the United States government.” [Scotsman, 2/24/2009]
'They Sold Me Out' - Mohamed will later say that he reached his “lowest ebb” when he realized British agents were involved in his interrogation and torture. “They started bringing British files to the interrogations,” he will recall, “not one, but several of them, thick binders, some of them containing sheaves of photos of people who lived in London and places there like mosques. It was obvious the British were feeding them questions about people in London. When I realized that the British were co-operating with the people who were torturing me, I felt completely naked.… They sold me out.” The documents indicate that MI5 did not know where Mohamed was being held, but that its agents knew he was in a third nation’s custody through the auspices of the CIA. MI5 agents met with their CIA counterparts in September 2002, well after Mohamed’s rendition to Morocco, to discuss the case. [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
False Confession - He suffered tortures in Pakistan (see April 10-May, 2002), Morocco, and Afghanistan (see January-September 2004), including being mutilated with scalpels, a mock execution, sleep deprivation for days, being fed contaminated food, and being beaten for hours while hanging by his wrists from shackles in the ceiling. He says that the closest he came to losing his mind entirely was when, in US custody in Afghanistan, he was locked in a cell and forced to listen to a CD of rap music played at ear-shattering volume 24 hours a day for a month. It was these tortures that drove him to confess to being part of a plot to build a radioactive “dirty bomb” (see November 4, 2005), a confession he now says was untrue and given merely to avoid further torment. He also confessed to meeting Osama bin Laden and getting a passport from 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed: “None of it was true.” [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
'Zero Doubt' of British Complicity - His lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, says Mohamed is being cared for under the auspices of his legal team, and is “incredibly skinny and very emaciated.” Stafford Smith says he has “zero doubt” Britain was complicit in his client’s ill-treatment. “Britain knew he was being abused and left him,” he says. Stafford Smith also says Mohamed was subjected to “very serious abuse” in Guantanamo. Mike Gapes, the chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, says he intends to question Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch Brown over “outstanding issues,” which include “rendition, what happened to people in Guantanamo Bay, and black sites,” a reference to prisons in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Two British judges say they are suppressing “powerful evidence” of Mohamed’s torture at the insistence of Miliband and US authorities (see February 4, 2009). [Guardian, 2/24/2009] Miliband says Mohamed’s release was effected due to “intensive negotiations with the US government,” in which he played a key part. Edward Davey of the Liberal Democrats has little use for Miliband’s claims, saying, “It is telling that David Miliband is unable to give a straightforward yes or no as to whether British agents and officials have been complicit in torture,” and adds that “Mohamed’s case may just be the tip of the iceberg.” [Scotsman, 2/24/2009]
Evidence that MI5 Lied - The new revelations about MI5’s involvement contradict the testimony of MI5 officials, who in 2007 told Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee that the agency had no idea that Mohamed had been subjected to “extraordinary rendition” to Morocco or anywhere else. The Daily Mail will note, “The revelations will put Foreign Secretary David Miliband under even greater pressure to come clean about British involvement in the rendition and alleged torture of Muslim terror suspects.” [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
Attorney General Eric Holder confirms the Obama administration’s plans to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility (see November 16, 2008 and January 22, 2009), but calls it a well-run, professional institution. Closing Guantanamo “will not be an easy process,” Holder says after visiting the site. “It’s one we will do in a way that ensures that people are treated fairly and that the American people are kept safe.” Holder leads the administration’s effort to close the facility within a year. Most of that time will be spent reviewing the case files and histories of the 245 inmates currently incarcerated there: “It’s going to take us a good portion of that time to look at all of the files that we have to examine, until we get our hands around what Guantanamo is, and also what Guantanamo was,” he says. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), an outspoken advocate of keeping Guantanamo open (see February 5, 2009), says he is encouraged by Holder’s remarks. “I believe as more time goes by there is a chance the administration will grow to realize that we need Gitmo and must keep it open,” he says. “More time will allow facts to replace political rhetoric.” Inhofe is promoting legislation that will bar any Guantanamo detainees from coming to the US. [Associated Press, 2/25/2009]
A federal appeals court rejects the Obama administration’s assertion that a potential threat to national security should stop a lawsuit challenging the government’s warrantless wiretapping program. The Justice Department had requested an emergency stay in a case brought by a defunct Islamic charity, the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (see February 28, 2006). Al Haramain has asked that classified information be made available to the court to prove its case that the electronic surveillance brought to bear against it by the government was illegal; Justice Department lawyers contend that the information needs to remain classified and unavailable to the court, and cite the “state secrets” privilege (see March 9, 1953) as legal justification. Although the court rejects the request for the stay, Justice Department lawyers say they will continue fighting to keep the information secret. “The government respectfully requests that the court refrain from further actions to provide plaintiffs with access to classified information,” says a filing made by the Justice Department in regards to the ruling. A lawyer for Al Haramain, Steven Goldberg, says: “All we wanted was our day in court and it looks like we’re finally going to get our day in court. This case is all about challenging an assertion of power by the executive branch which is extraordinary.” The American Civil Liberties Union’s Ann Brick says the court has now crafted a way to review the issue in which “national security isn’t put at risk, but the rule of law can still be observed.” [Associated Press, 2/27/2009] Days later, the Justice Department will file a brief announcing its intention to refuse to honor the appeals court’s decision (see March 2, 2009).
Federal prosecutors charge Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, the only “enemy combatant” held on US soil (see June 23, 2003), with criminal terrorism charges. Al-Marri is charged with two counts of providing material support to al-Qaeda and conspiring with others to provide material support to al-Qaeda, according to a press release from the Justice Department. He faces a maximum jail sentence of 30 years. US Attorney Rodger Heaton says: “The indictment alleges that Ali al-Marri provided material support to al-Qaeda, which has committed horrific terrorist acts against our nation. As a result, he will now face the US criminal justice system, where his guilt or innocence will be determined by a jury in open court.” Such a decision takes al-Marri out of the military commissions system and places him in the US criminal judicial system. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is representing al-Marri’s Supreme Court challenge to the “enemy combatant” designation, but criminal charges will not necessarily resolve that issue. Part of the discussion of whether to charge al-Marri centered on the evidence against him: al-Marri’s lawyers claim that much of the evidence against their client was obtained through harsh interrogation techniques and torture, which would render that evidence inadmissible in a US court. Some of the evidence may also be too sensitive to reveal in open court, having been gathered through classified intelligence operations. Lead counsel Jonathan Hafetz says: “[T]he decision to charge al-Marri is an important step in restoring the rule of law and is what should have happened seven years ago when he was first arrested (see February 8, 2002). But it is vital that the Supreme Court case go forward because it must be made clear once and for all that indefinite military detention of persons arrested in the US is illegal and that this will never happen again.” Amnesty International’s Geneve Mantri calls the decision to charge al-Marri “another crucial step in the right direction,” and adds: “If there are individuals who pose a real threat to the United States, the best, most effective means of dealing with them is the current system of justice. There are a number of outstanding questions about how the detainee cases will be reviewed and what the approach of the new administration will be, but Amnesty International welcomes this as an indication that they have faith in the US justice system and rule of law.” [US Department of Justice, 2/27/2009; Washington Post, 2/27/2009; American Civil Liberties Union, 2/27/2009] The ACLU wants the Supreme Court to ignore the criminal charges and rule on al-Marri’s petition for habeas corpus rights; the Justice Department says that the criminal charges render al-Marri’s lawsuit moot. [Lyle Denniston, 2/26/2007]
Samantha Burton, a 25-year-old Florida resident in the 25th week of her pregnancy, is told by her doctor that she is at risk of miscarrying her child. The doctor orders her to immediately undertake a program of bed rest. Burton disagrees, saying that as a working mother with two children already, she cannot afford to miss work. She asks for a second opinion. Instead, her doctor informs Florida authorities; the Circuit Court of Leon County summarily forces Burton to be admitted to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital against her will and orders that she undergo whatever procedure her doctor orders. Burton is granted no legal representation in the decision; the forcible hospitalization is imposed after a single telephone “hearing” without a review of her medical records. Burton requests that she be moved to a different hospital, a request denied by the court, which rules that “such a change is not in the child’s best interest at this time.” Three days into her forced hospitalization, Burton is forced to submit to an emergency C-section, at which time her fetus is found to have died. [New York Times, 1/12/2010; Diana Kasdan, 1/13/2010; Roxann MtJoy, 1/15/2010] The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that such a prescription of enforced bed rest does nothing to help prevent miscarriage and premature birth, and does not recommend it. [BabyCenter (.com), 1/2010] Burton, along with the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), sues the State of Florida, claiming that Florida violated her constitutional rights. Burton and the ACLU argue, “To ignore this fundamental constitutional distinction between the state interest in protecting fetal life and its interest in the protecting the lives and health of people is to risk virtually unfettered intrusion into the lives of pregnant women.” Instead, the court rules against Burton, finding that Florida was merely maintaining what it calls the “status quo,” and that it was forced to intervene in what it calls an “extraordinary” situation. Burton appeals the decision. [New York Times, 1/12/2010; Roxann MtJoy, 1/15/2010] The ACLU’s Diana Kasdan writes that the court’s intervention denies Burton “her fundamental right to make her own informed decisions about medical care during her pregnancy.… It is hard to imagine any worse approach to helping pregnant women have safe pregnancies and healthy newborns than the one used by the State of Florida in Ms. Burton’s case.” [Diana Kasdan, 1/13/2010]
Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean says that after reading the nine newly released Bush-era Justice Department memos that asserted sweeping powers for the president not granted by the Constitution (see March 2, 2009), “you’ve gotta almost conclude we had an unconstitutional dictator. It’s pretty deadly and pretty serious, what’s in these materials.” Anyone deemed a terrorist by President Bush could be kidnapped, incarcerated, and tortured, all without any legal recourse. “Who in this formula was supposed to decide that these were terrorists?” asks MSNBC host Keith Olbermann. Dean replies: “Well, according to these memos, that was rather limited to the president of the United States and there are no guidelines as to how he might describe who was or was not a terrorist. The president can unilaterally or, theoretically, even somebody he delegates can decide who indeed can be incarcerated, who can not. That is why I say, this is pretty close to being an unconstitutional dictator, in any definition under the law of this country.” [MSNBC, 3/2/2009; Raw Story, 3/3/2009]
In a letter to Judge Alvin Hellerstein regarding the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)‘s lawsuit against the US Defense Department, the Justice Department informs Hellerstein that the CIA destroyed 92 videotapes of prisoner interrogations. The CIA’s previous admissions of the number of destroyed videotapes were far smaller (see November 2005). [Re: ACLU et al v. Department of Defense et al, 3/2/2009 ] The CIA confirms that the tapes showed what it calls “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on a number of detainees. The Justice Department adds that it will provide a list of summaries, transcripts, and memoranda related to the destroyed tapes, though the American Civil Liberties Union notes that a previous list was almost entirely redacted. [TPM Muckraker, 3/6/2009; American Civil Liberties Union, 3/6/2009] The disclosure comes as part of a criminal inquiry into the tapes’ destruction. As the investigation comes to a close, observers expect that no charges will be filed against any CIA employees. The agency’s Directorate of Operations chief, Jose Rodriguez, ordered the recordings destroyed in November 2005 (see November 2005); former CIA Director Michael Hayden argued that the tapes posed “a serious security risk” because they contained the identities of CIA participants in al-Qaeda interrogations. Rodriguez has not yet been questioned. It is believed that the tapes show, among other interrogation sessions, the waterboarding of two detainees, Abu Zubaida (see Mid-May 2002 and After) and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see (November 2002)). Civil libertarians and human rights advocates are outraged at the destruction of the tapes. “The sheer number of tapes at issue demonstrates that this destruction was not an accident,” says Amrit Singh, a staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “It’s about time the CIA was held accountable for its flagrant violation of the law,” she adds. CIA spokesman George Little says the destruction of the tapes was not an attempt to break the law or evade accountability. “If anyone thinks it’s agency policy to impede the enforcement of American law, they simply don’t know the facts,” Little says. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, confirms that her panel intends to conduct a broader investigation of the CIA’s interrogation program. [Washington Post, 3/3/2009]
Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Jose Rodriguez, Jr., US Department of Justice, Senate Intelligence Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, Amrit Singh, American Civil Liberties Union, George Little, US Department of Defense, Alvin K. Hellerstein, Dianne Feinstein
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
The Justice Department defies a recent court order (see February 27, 2009) and refuses to provide a document that might prove the Bush administration conducted illegal wiretaps on a now-defunct Islamic charity. The Justice Department files a brief with a California federal district court challenging the court’s right to carry out its own decision to make that evidence available in a pending lawsuit. Even though the document is critical to the lawsuit, the lawyers can obtain the necessary top-secret clearances, and the document would not be made public, the Justice Department claims that the document cannot be entered into evidence. The lawyers for Al Haramain, the Islamic charity and the plaintiffs in the suit, calls the Justice Department’s decision “mind-boggling.”
Government's Position - For its part, the Justice Department writes in a brief that the decision to release the document “is committed to the discretion of the executive branch, and is not subject to judicial review.” The document has been in the possession of the court since 2004, when the government inadvertently released it to the plaintiffs. In the same brief, the Justice Department writes: “If the Court intends to itself grant access to classified information directly to the plaintiffs’ counsel, the government requests that the Court again provide advance notice of any such order, as well as an ex parte, in camera description of the information it intends to disclose, to enable the government to either make its own determination about whether counsel has a need to know, or to withdraw that information from submission to the Court and use in this case. If the Court rejects either action by the government, the government again requests that the Court stay proceedings while the government considers whether to appeal any such order.” The statement is an implied threat that the Justice Department lawyers will themselves physically remove the document from the court files if the judge says he has the right to allow Al Haramain’s lawyers to see it.
Response from Plaintiff's Attorney - Jon Eisenberg, a lawyer for Al-Haramain, says in an e-mail: “It’s a not-so-thinly veiled threat to send executive branch authorities (the FBI? the Army?) to Judge [Virginia] Walker’s chambers to seize the classified material from his files! In my view, that would be an unprecedented violation of the constitutional separation of powers. I doubt anything like it has happened in the history of this country.” Eisenberg says that the Obama administration, through the Justice Department, “seems to be provoking a separation-of-powers confrontation with Judge Walker.”
Administration's Second Use of State Secrets - This is the second time the Obama administration has invoked the “state secrets” privilege to keep information secret (see February 9, 2009). Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) says: “In the Bush administration, the state secrets doctrine was used to buttress the power of the president and make it difficult if not impossible to contest such issues as presidential authority to conduct warrantless wiretapping in the United States. We would think that when such disagreements occur, it’s properly before the judiciary to resolve them. But the Bush administration asserted the state secrets doctrine for the purpose of making it effectively impossible for courts to review the matter.” The Al Haramain case is significant because of “the apparent willingness of the Obama administration’s Justice Department to carry further that same argument in federal court. It is of great concern.” [Washington Independent, 3/2/2009]
Some of the Justice Department memos released today. [Source: Los Angeles Times]The Department of Justice releases nine memos written after the 9/11 attacks that claimed sweeping, extraconstitutional powers for then-President Bush. The memos, written primarily by John Yoo of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), claim that Bush could, if he desired, order military raids against targets within the US, and order police or military raids without court warrants (see October 23, 2001). The only justification required would be that Bush had declared the targets of such raids to be suspected terrorists. Other powers the president had, according to the memos, were to unilaterally abrogate or abandon treaties with foreign countries, ignore Congressional legislation regarding suspected terrorists in US detention (see March 13, 2002), suspend First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and information dissemination (see October 23, 2001), and conduct a program of warrantless domestic surveillance (see September 25, 2001). In January, an opinion issued by the OLC claimed that the opinions of the earlier memos had not been acted upon since 2003, and were generally considered unreliable (see January 15, 2009). Attorney General Eric Holder, who signed off on the release of the memos, says: “Too often over the past decade, the fight against terrorism has been viewed as a zero-sum battle with our civil liberties. Not only is that thought misguided, I fear that in actuality it does more harm than good.” [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ; US Department of Justice, 3/2/2009; US Department of Justice, 3/2/2009; New York Times, 3/2/2009]
Memos Laid Groundwork for Warrantless Wiretapping - Though many of the powers said to belong to the president in the memos were never exercised, the assertions led to the warrantless wiretapping of US citizens (see December 15, 2005 and Spring 2004) and the torture of detained terror suspects. [Newsweek, 3/2/2009]
'How To ... Evade Rule of Law' - Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says the memos begin “to provide details of some of the Bush administration’s misguided national security policies” that have long been withheld from public scrutiny. Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch says the memos collectively “read like a how-to document on how to evade the rule of law.” [Washington Post, 3/3/2009] Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies says that the memos were part of a larger effort “that would basically have allowed for the imposition of martial law.” [Newsweek, 3/2/2009]
'Tip of Iceberg' - The memos are, according to a former Bush administration lawyer, “just the tip of the iceberg” in terms of what the Bush administration authorized. Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says the Bush administration memos “essentially argue that the president has a blank check to disregard the Constitution during wartime, not only on foreign battlefields, but also inside the United States.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/3/2009] The ACLU, which has sued to obtain these and other memos, applauds the release of the documents, and says it hopes this is the first step in a broader release. [Reuters, 3/2/2009]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) welcomes the release of nine Bush administration documents that detail that administration’s policies on detainee interrogation and torture (see March 2, 2009). Jameel Jaffer, the director of the ACLU National Security Project, says in a statement: “We welcome the Justice Department’s decision to release these memos, some of which provided the basis for the Bush administration’s unlawful national security policies. These memos essentially argue that the president has a blank check to disregard the Constitution during wartime, not only on foreign battlefields, but also inside the United States. We hope today’s release is a first step, because dozens of other OLC [Office of Legal Counsel] memos, including memos that provided the basis for the Bush administration’s torture and warrantless wiretapping policies, are still being withheld. In order to truly turn the page on a lawless era, these memos should be released immediately.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 3/2/2009]
Time columnist Michael Scherer, writing about the nine just-released Bush administration memos from the Justice Department designed to grant President Bush extraordinary executive authority (see March 2, 2009), notes: “I know I am late on this, but every American should take note of the incredible neo-Orwellian, near-totalitarian powers that President Bush’s Justice Department granted the White House in the days after September 11.… They are certainly not based on a ‘conservative’ limited government reading of the constitution. They are, by almost every account, of doubtful constitutional merit. And if we wish to continue to teach our children that freedom and liberty are the bedrock of the American form of government, we should as citizens take care to make sure they do not become a precedent for future presidents to use in responding to attacks on the homeland.” [Time, 3/3/2009]
Columnist and civil litigator Glenn Greenwald writes that the recently released Bush-era Justice Department memos documenting the enormous power Bush attempted to gather for himself (see March 2, 2009) mandates a wide-ranging investigation of the Bush administration’s criminal activities. He notes, “[T]here is almost certainly a whole slew of other activities that remain concealed, and very well may remain undisclosed for years” because of the apparent reluctance of the Obama administration to give serious consideration to such an investigation, or, as Greenwald writes, “a new administration that seems bizarrely desperate to keep concealed the secrets of the old one.” Greenwald continues: “The most vital point is that all of the documents released yesterday by the Obama [Justice Department] comprise nothing less than a regime of secret laws under which we were governed. Nothing was redacted when those documents yesterday were released because they don’t contain any national security secrets. They’re nothing more than legal decrees, written by lawyers. They’re just laws that were implemented with no acts of Congress, unilaterally by the executive branch. Yet even the very laws that governed us were kept secret for eight years. This is factually true, with no hyperbole: Over the last eight years, we had a system in place where we pretended that our ‘laws’ were the things enacted out in the open by our Congress and that were set forth by the Constitution. The reality, though, was that our government secretly vested itself with the power to ignore those public laws, to declare them invalid, and instead, create a whole regimen of secret laws that vested tyrannical, monarchical power in the president (see March 3, 2009). Nobody knew what those secret laws were because even Congress, despite a few lame and meek requests, was denied access to them. What kind of country lives under secret laws?” But, he writes: “If our political class had its way, even the bits and pieces we’ve now seen would continue to be hidden in the dark. Most of the specific individuals who initiated these measures may no longer be in power, but the institutions and the political and media elites who enabled all of it haven’t gone anywhere. They’re now actively working to keep as much as possible concealed and to insist that nothing should be done about any of it.” [Salon, 3/3/2009]
Columnist and international law expert Scott Horton writes of his horror and shock at the nine just-released Bush administration memos from the Justice Department designed to grant President Bush extraordinary executive authority (see March 2, 2009).
'Disappearing Ink' - Horton writes: “Perhaps the most astonishing of these memos was one crafted by University of California at Berkeley law professor John Yoo. He concluded that in wartime, the president was freed from the constraints of the Bill of Rights with respect to anything he chose to label as […] counterterrorism operations inside the United States” (see October 23, 2001, and October 23, 2001). Horton continues: “John Yoo’s Constitution is unlike any other I have ever seen. It seems to consist of one clause: appointing the president as commander in chief. The rest of the Constitution was apparently printed in disappearing ink.”
Timing of Repudiation Proves Bush Officials Found Claims Useful - Horton has no patience with the claims of former Office of Legal Counsel chief Steven Bradbury that the extraordinary powers Yoo attempted to grant Bush were not used very often (see January 15, 2009). “I don’t believe that for a second,” Horton notes, and notes Bradbury’s timing in repudiating the Yoo memos: five days before Bush left office. “Bradbury’s decision to wait to the very end before repealing it suggests that someone in the Bush hierarchy was keen on having it,” Horton asserts.
Serving Multiple Purposes - The memos “clear[ly]” served numerous different purposes, Horton notes. They authorized, or provided legal justification for, the massive domestic surveillance programs launched by military agencies such as the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency (see September 25, 2001). But the memos went much farther, Horton says: “[T]he language of the memos suggest that much more was afoot, including the deployment of military units and military police powers on American soil. These memos suggest that John Yoo found a way to treat the Posse Comitatus Act as suspended.” They also gave Bush the apparent legal grounds to order the torture of people held at secret overseas sites (see March 13, 2002), and to hold accused terrorist Jose Padilla without charge or due process, even though the administration had no evidence whatsoever of the crimes he had been alleged to commit (see June 8, 2002).
American Dictatorship - Horton’s conclusion is stark. “We may not have realized it at the time, but in the period from late 2001-January 19, 2009, this country was a dictatorship,” he writes. “The constitutional rights we learned about in high school civics were suspended. That was thanks to secret memos crafted deep inside the Justice Department that effectively trashed the Constitution. What we know now is likely the least of it.” [Harper's, 3/3/2009]
Legal experts and civil libertarians are “stunned” by the recently released memos from the Bush-era Justice Department which assert sweeping powers for the president not granted by the Constitution (see March 2, 2009 and March 3, 2009). Yale law professor Jack Balkin calls the memos a demonstration of the Bush “theory of presidential dictatorship.” Balkin continues: “They say the battlefield is everywhere. And the president can do anything he wants, so long as it involves the military and the enemy.… These views are outrageous and inconsistent with basic principles of the Constitution as well as with two centuries of legal precedents. Yet they were the basic assumptions of key players in the Bush administration in the days following 9/11.” George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr agrees. “I agree with the left on this one,” he says. The approach in the memos “was simply not a plausible reading of the case law. The Bush [Office of Legal Counsel, or OLC] eventually rejected [the] memos because they were wrong on the law—and they were right to do so” (see January 15, 2009). Balkin says the time period of most of the memos—the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks—merely provided a convenient excuse for the administration’s subversion of the Constitution. “This was a period of panic, and panic creates an opportunity for patriotic politicians to abuse their power,” he says. [Jack Balkin, 3/3/2009; Los Angeles Times, 3/4/2009] Civil litigator and columnist Glenn Greenwald writes that the memos helped provide the foundation for what he calls “the regime of secret laws under which we were ruled for the last eight years… the grotesque blueprint for what the US government became.” [Salon, 3/3/2009] Duke University law professor Walter Dellinger says that, contrary to the memos’ assertion of blanket presidential powers in wartime, Congress has considerable powers during such a time. Congress has, according to the Constitution, “all legislative powers,” including the power “to declare war… and make rules concerning captures on land and water” as well as “regulation of the land and naval forces.” Dellinger, who headed the OLC during the Clinton administration, continues: “You can never get over how bad these opinions were. The assertion that Congress has no role to play with respect to the detention of prisoners was contrary to the Constitution’s text, to judicial precedent, and to historical practice. For people who supposedly follow the text [of the Constitution], what don’t they understand about the phrase ‘make rules concerning captures on land and water’?” [Los Angeles Times, 3/4/2009]
Karen Greenberg, the executive director of the Center on Law and Security at the New York University School of Law, asks when the Obama administration intends on closing down the detention facility at Bagram Air Force Base (see October 2001). The facility has been the site of repeated torture and brutalization of prisoners (see January 2002, March 15, 2002, April-May 2002, Late May 2002, June 4, 2002-early August 2002, June 5, 2002, July 2002, August 22, 2002, Late 2002-February 2004, Late 2002 - March 15, 2004, December 2002, December 2002, December 1, 2002, December 5-9, 2002, December 8, 2002-March 2003, December 26, 2002, Beginning 2003, February 2003, Spring 2003, October 2004, and May 20, 2005). Greenberg calls it a “far grimmer and more important American detention facility” than Guantanamo.
Little Information on Prisoners - Greenberg is unable to elicit specific information about how many prisoners are currently incarcerated at Bagram, who they are, where they are from, how they are classified—prisoners of war, enemy combatants, “ghost” detainees—how they are being treated, what human rights organizations have access to them, or what, if any, legal proceedings they have been put through. “It turns out that we can say very little with precision or confidence about that prison facility or even the exact number of prisoners there,” she writes. “News sources had often reported approximately 500-600 prisoners in custody at Bagram, but an accurate count is not available. A federal judge recently asked for ‘the number of detainees held at Bagram Air Base; the number of Bagram detainees who were captured outside Afghanistan; and the number of Bagram detainees who are Afghan citizens,’ but the information the Obama administration offered the court in response remains classified and redacted from the public record. We don’t even know the exact size of the prison or much about the conditions there, although they have been described as more spartan and far cruder than Guantanamo’s in its worst days. The International Committee of the Red Cross has visited the prison, but it remains unclear whether they were able to inspect all of it. A confidential Red Cross report from 2008 supposedly highlighted overcrowding, the use of extreme isolation as a punishment technique, and various violations of the Geneva Convention.”
Plans to Expand Facility - Greenberg says that the government is planning a large expansion of the Bagram facility, which is envisioned as holding up to 1,100 prisoners. She recommends:
The administration stop being secretive about Bagram and release complete information on the prisoners being held there, or at the very least admit why some information cannot be released. “Otherwise, the suspicion will always arise that such withheld information might be part of a cover-up of government incompetence or illegality.”
The reclassification of all detainees as “prisoners of war” who are protected under the Geneva Conventions. “Currently, they are classified as enemy combatants, as are the prisoners at Guantanamo, and so, in the perverse universe of the Bush administration, free from any of the constraints of international law. The idea that the conventions are too ‘rigid’ for our moment and need to be put aside for this new extra-legal category has always been false and pernicious, primarily paving the way for the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques.’”
The rejection of the idea of “ghost prisoners” at Bagram or anywhere else. “The International Committee of the Red Cross must be granted access to all of the prisons or prison areas at Bagram, while conditions of detention there should be brought into accordance with humane treatment and standards.”
The re-establishment of a presumption of innocence. “The belief that there is a categorical difference between guilt and innocence, which went by the wayside in the last seven years, must be restored. All too often, the military brass still assumes that if you were rounded up by US forces, you are, by definition, guilty. It’s time to change this attitude and return to legal standards of guilt.”
Greenberg concludes: “In the Bush years, we taught the world a series of harmful lessons: Americans can be as cruel as others. Americans can turn their backs on law and reciprocity among nations as efficiently as any tribally organized dictatorship. Americans, relying on fear and the human impulse toward vengeance, can dehumanize other human beings with a fervor equal to that of others on this planet. It’s time for a change. It’s time, in fact, to face the first and last legacy of Bush detention era, our prison at Bagram Air Base, and deal with it.” [TomDispatch (.com), 3/5/2009]
Court documents filed by the government show that the CIA destroyed 12 videotapes specifically depicting two detainees being tortured by interrogators. Though the CIA has previously admitted to destroying 92 videotapes (see March 2, 2009), this is the first time it has admitted that some of the tapes showed detainees being tortured. The agency does not use the word “torture,” but instead uses the phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques.” According to the heavily redacted classified document: “There are 92 videotapes, 12 of which include EIT [enhanced interrogation techniques] applications. An OGC [Office of General Counsel] attorney reviewed the videotapes” and the CIA’s “OIG [Office of Inspector General} reviewed the videotapes in May 2003.” The document, along with others, are filed pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit begun by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU has asked that the CIA be found in contempt for destroying the videotapes, a motion that is still pending. The videotapes were destroyed to prevent disclosure of evidence showing that CIA interrogators actively tortured detainees, using waterboarding and other methods. The destruction is under investigation by acting US Attorney John Durham (see January 2, 2008). The two detainees depicted in the videotapes are Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, both of whom were waterboarded by the CIA (see March 2002, April - June 2002, and (November 2002)). The document describing the destroyed videotapes says “interrogators administered the waterboard to Al-Nashiri.” The videotapes are believed to have been made at the CIA’s secret detention center in Thailand. The CIA has promised to release more information about the videotapes by March 20. However, according to acting US Attorney Lev Dassin, “to date, the CIA is not aware of any transcripts of the destroyed videotapes.” An unredacted version of the inventory of the destroyed videotapes will only be made available for the ACLU to view behind closed doors in court: “This inventory identifies the tapes and includes any descriptions that were written on the spine of the tapes.” Much of the information sought by the ACLU will remain classified, Dassin says. ACLU attorney Amrit Singh says the “government is needlessly withholding information about these tapes from the public, despite the fact that the CIA’s use of torture—including waterboarding—is no secret. This new information only underscores the need for full and immediate disclosure of the CIA’s illegal interrogation methods. The time has come for the CIA to be held accountable for flouting the rule of law.” Author and reporter Jane Mayer believes the tapes were destroyed at least in part because Democratic members of Congress briefed on the tapes began inquiring whether the interrogations of Zubaida and al-Nashiri were legal. [Public Record, 3/6/2009]
In response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the CIA turns over unredacted pages of a classified internal agency report that concluded the techniques used on two prisoners “appeared to constitute cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment, as defined by the International Convention Against Torture” (see October 21, 1994). The CIA also turns over evidence showing that videotapes of the two prisoners being tortured were destroyed (see March 6, 2009). The pages are from a 2004 report compiled by then-CIA Inspector General John Helgerson. The document reads in part: “In January 2003, OIG [Office of Inspector General] initiated a special review of the CIA terrorist detention and interrogation program. This review was intended to evaluate CIA detention and interrogation activities, and was not initiated in response to an allegation of wrongdoing. During the course of the special review, OIG was notified of the existence of videotapes of the interrogations of detainees. OIG arranged with the NCS [National Clandestine Service, the covert arm of the CIA] to review the videotapes at the overseas location where they were stored. OIG reviewed the videotapes at an overseas covert NCS facility in May 2003. After reviewing the videotapes, OIG did not take custody of the videotapes and they remained in the custody of NCS. Nor did OIG make or retain a copy of the videotapes for its files. At the conclusion of the special review in May 2004, OIG notified [the Justice Department] and other relevant oversight authorities of the review’s findings.” The report has never been made public, but information concerning it was revealed by the New York Times in 2005 (see May 7, 2004). [Public Record, 3/6/2009]
The New York Review of Books publishes a lengthy article documenting the Red Cross’s hitherto-secret report on US torture practices at several so-called “black sites.” The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a report on “The Black Sites” in February 2007 (see October 6 - December 14, 2006), but that report has remained secret until now. These “black sites” are secret prisons in Thailand, Poland, Afghanistan, Morocco, Romania, and at least three other countries (see October 2001-2004), either maintained directly by the CIA or used by them with the permission and participation of the host countries.
Specific Allegations of Torture by Official Body Supervising Geneva - The report documents the practices used by American guards and interrogators against prisoners, many of which directly qualify as torture under the Geneva Conventions and a number of international laws and statutes. The ICRC is the appointed legal guardian of Geneva, and the official body appointed to supervise the treatment of prisoners of war; therefore, its findings have the force of international law. The practices documented by the ICRC include sleep deprivation, lengthy enforced nudity, subjecting detainees to extensive, intense bombardment of noise and light, repeated immersion in frigid water, prolonged standing and various stress positions—sometimes for days on end—physical beatings, and waterboarding, which the ICRC authors call “suffocation by water.” The ICRC writes that “in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they [the detainees] were subjected while held in the CIA program… constituted torture.” It continues, “In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” Both torture and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” are specifically forbidden by Geneva and the Convention Against Torture, both of which were signed by the US (see October 21, 1994). The 14 “high-value detainees” whose cases are documented in the ICRC report include Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), and Tawfiq bin Attash (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004). All 14 remain imprisoned in Guantanamo. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009 ; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] Based on the ICRC report and his own research, Danner draws a number of conclusions.
The US government began to torture prisoners in the spring of 2002, with the approval of President Bush and the monitoring of top Bush officials, including Attorney General John Ashcroft. The torture, Danner writes, “clearly violated major treaty obligations of the United States, including the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, as well as US law.”
Bush, Ashcroft, and other top government officials “repeatedly and explicitly lied about this, both in reports to international institutions and directly to the public. The president lied about it in news conferences, interviews, and, most explicitly, in speeches expressly intended to set out the administration’s policy on interrogation before the people who had elected him.”
Congress was privy to a large amount of information about the torture conducted under the aegis of the Bush administration. Its response was to pass the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006), which in part was designed to protect government officials from criminal prosecutions under the War Crimes Act.
While Congressional Republicans were primarily responsible for the MCA, Senate Democrats did not try to stop the bill—indeed, many voted for it. Danner blames the failure on its proximity to the November 2006 midterm elections and the Democrats’ fear of being portrayed as “coddlers of terrorists.” He quotes freshman Senator Barack Obama (D-IL): “Soon, we will adjourn for the fall, and the campaigning will begin in earnest. And there will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be criticized as caring more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans. And I know that the vote before us was specifically designed and timed to add more fuel to that fire.” (Obama voted against the MCA, and, when it passed, he said, “[P]olitics won today.”)
The damage done to the US’s reputation, and to what Danner calls “the ‘soft power’ of its constitutional and democratic ideals,” has been “though difficult to quantify, vast and enduring.” Perhaps the largest defeat suffered in the US’s “war on terror,” he writes, has been self-inflicted, by the inestimable loss of credibility in the Muslim world and around the globe. The decision to use torture “undermin[ed] liberal sympathizers of the United States and convinc[ed] others that the country is exactly as its enemies paint it: a ruthless imperial power determined to suppress and abuse Muslims. By choosing to torture, we freely chose to become the caricature they made of us.”
A Need for Investigation and Prosecution - Danner is guardedly optimistic that, under Democratic leadership in the White House and Congress, the US government’s embrace of torture has stopped, and almost as importantly, the authorization and practice of torture under the Bush administration will be investigated, and those responsible will be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. But, he notes, “[i]f there is a need for prosecution there is also a vital need for education. Only a credible investigation into what was done and what information was gained can begin to alter the political calculus around torture by replacing the public’s attachment to the ticking bomb with an understanding of what torture is and what is gained, and lost, when the United States reverts to it.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Abu Zubaida, New York Review of Books, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, John Ashcroft, International Committee of the Red Cross, Mark Danner
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff and now chairs the New America Foundation/US-Cuba 21st Century Policy Initiative, writes an op-ed titled “Some Truths about Guantanamo Bay” for the Washington Note. Wilkerson explains why he believes so many people were captured and so many of those were tortured, for so little gain, and in the process covers several other issues regarding the Bush administration.
Handling of Terror Suspects - Wilkerson writes that the entire process of capturing, detaining, and processing suspected Islamist militants was marked by incompetence and a casual, improvisational approach. Most of the “suspects” captured during the first weeks and months of the Afghanistan invasion (see October 7, 2001) were merely picked up in sweeps, or bought from corrupt regional warlords, and transported wholesale to a variety of US bases and military camps, and then sent to Guantanamo, mostly in response to then-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s exhortation to “just get the b_stards to the interrogators.” Wilkerson blames the civilian leadership, for failing to provide the necessary information and guidance to make sensible, informed decisions about who should and should not have been considered either terror suspects or potential sources of information. When detainees were found not to have had any ties to Islamist radical groups, nor had any real intelligence value, they were kept at Guantanamo instead of being released. Wilkerson writes that “to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership from virtually day one of the so-called Global War on Terror and these leaders already had black marks enough.… They were not about to admit to their further errors at Guantanamo Bay. Better to claim that everyone there was a hardcore terrorist, was of enduring intelligence value, and would return to jihad if released.” He writes that State Department attempts to rectify the situation “from almost day one” experienced almost no success.
Data Mining Called for Large Numbers of Detainees - Wilkerson notes what he calls “ad hoc intelligence philosophy that was developed to justify keeping many of these people,” a data mining concept called in the White House “the mosaic philosophy.” He explains: “Simply stated, this philosophy held that it did not matter if a detainee were innocent. Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance (this general philosophy, in an even cruder form, prevailed in Iraq as well, helping to produce the nightmare at Abu Ghraib). All that was necessary was to extract everything possible from him and others like him, assemble it all in a computer program, and then look for cross-connections and serendipitous incidentals—in short, to have sufficient information about a village, a region, or a group of individuals, that dots could be connected and terrorists or their plots could be identified. Thus, as many people as possible had to be kept in detention for as long as possible to allow this philosophy of intelligence gathering to work. The detainees’ innocence was inconsequential. After all, they were ignorant peasants for the most part and mostly Muslim to boot.” Unfortunately for this data mining effort, the gathering, cataloging, and maintenance of such information was carried out with what he calls “sheer incompetence,” rendering the information structure virtually useless either for intelligence or in prosecuting terror suspects.
No Information of Value Gained from Guantanamo Detainees - And, Wilkerson adds, he is not aware of any information gathered from Guantanamo detainees that made any real contribution to the US’s efforts to combat terrorism: “This is perhaps the most astounding truth of all, carefully masked by men such as Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney in their loud rhetoric—continuing even now in the case of Cheney—about future attacks thwarted, resurgent terrorists, the indisputable need for torture and harsh interrogation, and for secret prisons and places such as Gitmo.”
Hindrance to Prosecution - This incompetence in gathering and storing information had a powerful impact on the ability of the US to prosecute the two dozen or so detainees who actually might be what Wilkerson calls “hardcore terrorists.” For these and the other detainees, he writes, “there was virtually no chain of custody, no disciplined handling of evidence, and no attention to the details that almost any court system would demand” (see January 20, 2009).
Shutting Down Guantanamo - Wilkerson writes that the Guantanamo detention facility could be shut down much sooner than President Obama’s promised year (see January 22, 2009), and notes he believes a plan for shutting down the facility must have existed “[a]s early as 2004 and certainly in 2005.”
War on Terror Almost Entirely Political - Wilkerson charges that the Bush administration’s driving rationale behind the “never-ending war on terror” was political: “For political purposes, they knew it certainly had no end within their allotted four to eight years,” he writes in an op-ed about the US’s detention policies. “Moreover, its not having an end, properly exploited, would help ensure their eight rather than four years in office.”
Cheney's Criticisms of Obama 'Twisted ... Fear-Mongering' - Wilkerson excoriates former Vice President Dick Cheney for his recent statements regarding President Obama and the “war on terror” (see February 4, 2009). Instead of helping the US in its fight against al-Qaeda and Islamic terrorism, Wilkerson writes, Cheney is making that fight all the more difficult (see February 5, 2009). “Al-Qaeda has been hurt, badly, largely by our military actions in Afghanistan and our careful and devastating moves to stymie its financial support networks. But al-Qaeda will be back. Iraq, Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, heavily-biased US support for Israel, and a host of other strategic errors have insured al-Qaeda’s resilience, staying power, and motivation. How we deal with the future attacks of this organization and its cohorts could well seal our fate, for good or bad. Osama bin Laden and his brain trust, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are counting on us to produce the bad. With people such as Cheney assisting them, they are far more likely to succeed.” [Washington Note, 3/17/2009]
Condoleezza Rice on the Charlie Rose show. [Source: PBS]Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tells PBS’s Charlie Rose that “no one” in the White House ever asserted that Saddam Hussein had any connections to 9/11. Rose says, “But you didn’t believe [the Hussein regime] had anything to do with 9/11.” Rice replies: “No. No one was arguing that Saddam Hussein somehow had something to do with 9/11.… I was certainly not. The president was certainly not.… That’s right. We were not arguing that.” Rice refuses to answer Rose’s question asking if former Vice President Dick Cheney ever tried to make the connection. In reality, former President Bush and his top officials, including Cheney and Rice, worked diligently to reinforce a connection between Iraq and 9/11 in the public mind before the March 2003 invasion (see (Between 10:30 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, Mid-September, 2001, September 17, 2001, September 19, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 28, 2001, November 6-8, 2001, December 9, 2001, 2002-March 2003, March 19, 2002, June 21, 2002, July 25, 2002, August 2002, August 20, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 16, 2002, September 21, 2002, September 25, 2002, September 26, 2002, September 27, 2002, September 28, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 15, 2002, December 2, 2002, December 12, 2002, January 26, 2003, January 28, 2003, Early February 2003, February 5, 2003, (2:30 a.m.-9:00 a.m.) February 5, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 6, 2003, February 11 or 12, 2003, and February 17, 2003). [Think Progress, 3/19/2009]
The Justice Department informs CIA Director Leon Panetta that, after due deliberation, it will recommend to the White House that it release four Bush-era “torture memos” almost uncensored (see April 16, 2009), in compliance with a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Panetta, who is about to leave for an overseas trip, tells Attorney General Eric Holder and White House officials that the administration needs to consider the possibility that the memos’ release might expose CIA officers to lawsuits on allegations of torture and abuse. He also demands more censorship of the memos. The Justice Department informs other senior CIA officials, and as a courtesy, former agency directors Michael Hayden, Porter Goss, George Tenet, and John Deutch. Senior CIA officials object, arguing that the memos’ release could damage the agency’s ability to interrogate prisoners in the future and would further besmirch CIA officers who had acted on the Bush administration’s legal guidance. They also warn that the release might harm foreign intelligence services’ trust in the CIA’s ability to protect national security secrets. The four former directors also raise objections, arguing that the release might compromise ongoing intelligence operations. The torture authorized by the Bush White House had been approved under Tenet’s directorship. On March 19, the Justice Department requests a two-week delay in releasing the memos; department officials tell the court handling the lawsuit that the administration is considering releasing the memos without waiting for a court verdict. Two weeks later, Justice Department officials tell the court that the memos would come out on or before April 16. President Obama becomes more and more involved in the matter, leading a National Security Council (NSC) session on the issue and holding high-level sessions with Holder and other Cabinet members. Obama also discusses the issue with lower-level officials, and with an unidentified NSC official from the Bush administration. Obama’s biggest worry is the possibility of endangering ongoing intelligence operations. The Justice Department argues that the ACLU lawsuit would in the end force the administration to release the documents anyway. Obama eventually agrees, and the White House decides it will be better to release the memos voluntarily and avoid the perception of only releasing them after being forced to do so by a court ruling. Obama also decides that very few redactions should be made in the documents. The only redactions in the memos are the names of US employees, foreign services, and items related to techniques still in use. To mollify CIA personnel concerns, Obama will send a personal letter to CIA employees reassuring them that he supports them, understands the clandestine nature of their operations, and has no intention of prosecuting CIA employees who followed the legal guidelines set forth in the memos. [Associated Press, 4/17/2009]
Dr. George Tiller, one of three doctors in the US that perform late-term abortions, is acquitted of misdemeanor charges that he violated laws governing such abortions. Within minutes of the acquittal, the Kansas Board of Healing Arts announces that it is investigating allegations against Tiller almost identical to the charges rejected by the jury. Prosecutors alleged that in 2003, Tiller had gotten second opinions on late-term abortions, not from an independent doctor as required by law, but from a doctor that was an employee of his. The jury takes an hour to reject the 19 charges. “You would hope it would be over,” says Tiller’s attorney Dan Monnat, “but there is a group of people who want to suppress the constitutional rights of women.” Tiller has maintained that the charges are politically motivated. He has long been a target of violent anti-abortion protests; his clinic was bombed in 1985 and targeted by the 1991 “Summer of Mercy” protests featuring violent demonstrations, and in 1993 he was shot by an anti-abortion activist (see August 19, 1993). [Associated Press, 3/27/2009] Tiller will be murdered by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder several weeks later (see May 31, 2009).
Baltasar Garzon. [Source: Presidency of Argentina]A Spanish court begins preliminary work towards opening a criminal investigation into allegations that six former top Bush administration officials may be guilty of war crimes related to torture of prisoners at Guantanamo. Spanish law allows the investigation and prosecution of people beyond its borders in the case of torture or war crimes. Investigative judge Baltasar Garzon, who ordered the arrest of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and has overseen the prosecution of numerous terrorists and human rights violators, wants to prosecute former US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee, former Defense Department officials William Haynes and Douglas Feith, and David Addington, the former chief of staff to then-Vice President Cheney. Many legal experts say that even if Garzon’s case results in warrants being issued, it is highly doubtful that the warrants would ever be served as long as the six potential defendants remain in the US. Spain has jurisdiction in the case because five Spanish citizens or residents have claimed to have been tortured at Guantanamo; the five faced charges in Spain, but were released after the Spanish Supreme Court ruled that evidence obtained through torture was inadmissible. Garzon’s complaint rests on alleged violations of the Geneva Conventions and the 1984 Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994). The complaint was prepared by Spanish lawyers with the assistance of experts in Europe and America, and filed by the Association for the Dignity of Prisoners, a Spanish human rights group. Lawyer Gonzalo Boye, who filed the complaint, says that Gonzales, Yoo, and the others have what he calls well-documented roles in approving illegal torture techniques, redefining torture, and ignoring the constraints set by the Convention Against Torture. “When you bring a case like this you can’t stop to make political judgments as to how it might affect bilateral relations between countries,” Boye says. “It’s too important for that.” Boye adds: “This is a case from lawyers against lawyers. Our profession does not allow us to misuse our legal knowledge to create a pseudo-legal frame to justify, stimulate, and cover up torture.” The US is expected to ignore any extradition requests occuring from the case. [New York Times, 3/28/2009; Associated Press, 3/28/2009]
Entity Tags: William J. Haynes, Jay S. Bybee, David S. Addington, John C. Yoo, Geneva Conventions, Convention Against Torture, Gonzalo Boye, Association for the Dignity of Prisoners, Alberto R. Gonzales, Baltasar Garzon, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The CIA’s torture of a supposed high-ranking al-Qaeda operative, Abu Zubaida, produced no information that helped foil any terrorist attacks or plots, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Zubaida was subjected to intensive waterboarding and other tortures (see April - June 2002), and provided information about a fantastic array of al-Qaeda plots that sent CIA agents all over the globe chasing down his leads. But none of his information panned out, according to the former officials. Almost everything Zubaida said under torture was false, and most of the reliable information gleaned from him—chiefly the names of al-Qaeda members and associates—was obtained before the CIA began torturing him. Moreover, the US’s characterization of Zubaida as “al-Qaeda’s chief of operations” and a “trusted associate” of Osama bin Laden turned out to be false as well. Several sources have challenged the government’s characterization of Zubaida as a “high-level al-Qaeda operative” before now (see Shortly After March 28, 2002 and April 9, 2002 and After).
'Fixer' for Islamists before 9/11 - Zubaida, a native Palestinian, never even joined al-Qaeda until after 9/11, according to information obtained from court documents and interviews with current and former intelligence, law enforcement, and military sources. Instead, he was a “fixer” for a number of radical Islamists, who regarded the US as an enemy primarily because of its support for Israel. Many describe Zubaida as a “travel agent” for al-Qaeda and other radical Islamists. He joined al-Qaeda because of the US’s preparations to invade Afghanistan. US officials are contemplating what, if any, charges they can use to bring him into court. Zubaida has alleged links with Ahmed Ressam, the so-called “Millennium Bomber” (see December 14, 1999), and allegedly took part in plans to retaliate against US forces after the overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001 (see December 17, 2001). But some US officials worry that bringing him into a courtroom would reveal the extent of his torture and abuse at the hands of the CIA, and that any evidence they might have against him is compromised because it was obtained in part through torture. Those officials want to send him to Jordan, where he faces allegations of conspiracy in terrorist attacks in that country.
Defending Zubaida's Information - Some in the US government still believe that Zubaida provided useful information. “It’s simply wrong to suggest that Abu Zubaida wasn’t intimately involved with al-Qaeda,” says a US counterterrorism official. “He was one of the terrorist organization’s key facilitators, offered new insights into how the organization operated, provided critical information on senior al-Qaeda figures… and identified hundreds of al-Qaeda members. How anyone can minimize that information—some of the best we had at the time on al-Qaeda—is beyond me.… Based on what he shared during his interrogations, he was certainly aware of many of al-Qaeda’s activities and operatives.” But the characterization of Zubaida as a well-connected errand runner was confirmed by Noor al-Deen, a Syrian teenager captured along with Zubaida at a Pakistani safe house (see March 28, 2002). Al-Deen readily answered questions, both in Pakistan and in a detention facility in Morocco. He described Zubaida as a well-known functionary with little knowledge of al-Qaeda operations. (Al-Deen was later transferred to Syria; his current whereabouts and status are unknown to the public.) A former Justice Department official closely involved in the early investigation of Zubaida says: “He was the above-ground support” for al-Qaeda and other radicals. “He was the guy keeping the safe house, and that’s not someone who gets to know the details of the plans. To make him the mastermind of anything is ridiculous.” A former intelligence officer says the US spent an inestimable amount of time and money chasing Zubaida’s “leads” to no effect: “We spent millions of dollars chasing false alarms.”
Connected to KSM - Zubaida knew radical Islamist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed for years. Mohammed, often dubbed “KSM” by US officials, approached Zubaida in the 1990s about finding financial backers for a plan he had concocted to fly a small plane into the World Trade Center. Zubaida declined involvement but recommended he talk to bin Laden. Zubaida quickly told FBI interrogators of Mohammed and other al-Qaeda figures such as alleged “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla (see May 8, 2002). He also revealed the plans of the low-level al-Qaeda operatives he fled Afghanistan with. Some wanted to strike US forces in Afghanistan with bombs, while others harbored ideas of further strikes on American soil. But he knew few details, and had no knowledge of plans by senior al-Qaeda operatives. At this point, the CIA took over the interrogations, and the torture began (see Mid-April-May 2002). As a result of the torture, Zubaida began alternating between obstinate silence and providing torrents of falsified and fanciful “intelligence”; when FBI “clean teams” attempted to re-interview some detainees who had been tortured in order to obtain evidence uncontaminated by abusive treatment, Zubaida refused to cooperate. Joseph Margulies, one of Zubaida’s attorneys, says: “The government doesn’t retreat from who KSM is, and neither does KSM. With Zubaida, it’s different. The government seems finally to understand he is not at all the person they thought he was. But he was tortured. And that’s just a profoundly embarrassing position for the government to be in.” Margulies and other lawyers want the US to send Zubaida to another country besides Jordan—Saudi Arabia, perhaps, where Zubaida has family. Military prosecutors have already deleted Zubaida’s name from the charge sheets of detainees who will soon stand trial, including several who were captured with Zubaida and are charged with crimes in which Zubaida’s involvement has been alleged.
Pressure from the White House - The pressure from the White House to get actionable information from Zubaida was intense (see Late March 2002), according to sources. One official recalls the pressure as “tremendous.” He says the push to force information from Zubaida mounted from one daily briefing to the next. “They couldn’t stand the idea that there wasn’t anything new. They’d say, ‘You aren’t working hard enough.’ There was both a disbelief in what he was saying and also a desire for retribution—a feeling that ‘He’s going to talk, and if he doesn’t talk, we’ll do whatever.’” [Washington Post, 3/29/2009]
Entity Tags: Jose Padilla, Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Ressam, Abu Zubaida, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, US Department of Justice, Joseph Margulies, Central Intelligence Agency, Noor al-Deen
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Dick Morris discussing the economy on Fox News. [Source: Fox News]Conservative political pundit Dick Morris tells a Fox News audience that the recent G20 economic summit advocated a “global approach” to the current economic crisis, and discussed putting both the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Federal Reserve under the control of the International Monetary Fund—a position not advocated or discussed by anyone in the Obama administration. He worries that there will soon be what he calls “a supernational authority run by bureaucrats, not by elected officials, that will be telling the elected governments, including the United States, what its [economic] regulations should be.” President Obama is far more amenable to the idea of allowing a multinational authority to control the US economy, Morris insists, and adds that Obama intends to preside over what he calls “a global redistribution of income, downward,” using environmental policy as “an excuse.” “We’re about to meet Barack Obama the internationalist,” Morris continues, “not fighting for American interests, but looking for global coordination.” He concludes, “Those crazies in Montana who say, ‘We’re going to kill ATF agents because the UN’s going to take over’—well, they’re beginning to have a case.” [Media Matters, 3/31/2009]
Afghan President Hamid Karzai pardons five convicted drug traffickers who in 2007 were caught in military uniforms transporting over 100 kg of heroin in a police truck and sentenced to more than 10 years in jail. One of the released men is the nephew of a powerful Afghan politician who heads Karzai’s presidential re-election campaign in 2009. A spokesman for Karzai will later confirm the pardons. The spokesman, Siyamak Herawi, explains that Karzai ordered the release of the five men only after the customary intercession of tribal chiefs. “The tribal chiefs had sought their release and the president… acquitted them,” he will say. One of the pardoned men is Bilal Wali Mohammad, the aforementioned nephew of Haji Din Mohammad, the powerful politician who will later resign his post as Kabul governor to become Karzai’s presidential re-election campaign manager. Spokesman Herawi will also claim that the pardons are not linked with the 2009 election or Haji Din Mohammad’s position. At the time of his arrest, Bilal was working as the personal secretary for his cousin, Haji Zahir, commander of the border police in Takhar, a province that borders Tajikistan and serves as a conduit for drugs to Europe. In fact, all five pardoned traffickers were employed by Zahir at the time of their arrest. Reuters adds that Bilal belongs to a powerful family from eastern Afghanistan, and that one of his brothers served as a deputy to Karzai before he was assassinated in 2002. The Boston Globe will report that by July 2009, Karzai has ordered the release of at least 10 convicted drug traffickers since he began pardoning drug traffickers this month. Records seen at the Afghan attorney general’s office suggest that the total figure is almost certainly far higher. [Boston Globe, 7/3/2009; Reuters, 7/9/2009]
The CIA fires two contractors, psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, from their lucrative consulting contracts. Mitchell and Jessen designed the CIA’s torture program (see January 2002 and After, April 16, 2002, Mid-April 2002, and Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002), and earned $1,000 a day in doing so (see April 30, 2009). The CIA now believes that the two fundamentally misrepresented their knowledge of the safety and efficacy of particular torture techniques, particularly waterboarding. The firings are part of a larger “purge” by CIA Director Leon Panetta of all contractors involved in the Bush-era torture program. Panetta tells CIA employees that all contractors involved in the interrogation program and secret prisons are being “promptly terminated.” [ABC News, 6/16/2009]
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, in an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, refuses to acknowledge his role in approving the torture of suspected terrorists. In 2008, ABC News named Powell as one of the members of the National Security Council’s principals committee who repeatedly authorized a variety of torture techniques to be used on detainees (see April 9, 2008). He also declines to affirm that several techniques, including waterboarding and sleep deprivation, qualify as torture. Powell says the torture of Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002) and other al-Qaeda suspects “were not play-by-play discussed but there were conversations at a senior level with regard to what could be done with these types of interrogation. I cannot say further because I don’t have knowledge of all the meetings that took place or what was discussed at each of those meetings and I think it’s going to have to be in the written record of that meeting what will determine whether anything improper took place. But it is always the case that at least in the State Department’s standpoint, we should be consistent with the requirements of the Geneva Convention and that’s why this was such a controversial, controversial issue that you have to go—in due course I think we all will go to the written record. I’m not sure what memos were signed or not signed. I didn’t have access to all of that information.” Maddow asks, “If there was a meeting, though, at which senior officials were giving the approval for sleep deprivations, stress positions, waterboarding, were those officials committing crimes when they were getting their authorization?” Powell refuses to answer, saying, “I don’t know If any of these items would be considered criminal and I would wait for whatever investigation that the government or the Congress intends to pursue with this.” Maddow asks if he regrets his own participation in discussions about interrogations and torture, but Powell cuts her off to state: “There was no meeting on torture. It is constantly said that the meetings—I had an issue with this—we had meetings on what torture to administer. What I recall, the meetings I was in, I was not in all the meetings and I was not an author of many of the memos that have been written and some have come out and some have not come out. The only meetings I recall was where we talked about what is it we can do with respect to trying to get information from individuals who were in our custody. And I will just have to wait until the full written record is available and examined.… I don’t know where these things were being approved at a political level.” [MSNBC, 4/1/2009; Think Progress, 4/1/2009]
Within hours of Richard Poplawski’s murder of three Pittsburgh police officers (see April 4, 2009), the media learns that he is an avowed racist and white supremacist who has been preparing for a violent confrontation with authorities. Poplawski has contributed to racist Web sites, writing about his hatred of “race mixing,” the economic recession, Zionist conspiracies, and his fondness for his “AK” rifle. He also bears what one columnist will describe as a “Nazi-style tattoo,” and on Stormfront, a neo-Nazi Web site, described the tattoo as a “deliberately Americanized version of the [Nazi] iron eagle.” In a March 13 post on a racist site, he wrote: “One can read the list of significant persons in government and in major corporations and see who is pulling the strings. One can observe the policies and final products and should walk away with little doubt there is Zionist occupation and—after some further research [and] critical thinking—will discover their insidious intentions.” In the same month, Poplawski also posted that “the federal government, mainstream media, and banking system in these United States are strongly under the influence of—if not completely controlled by—Zionist interest. An economic collapse of the financial system is inevitable, bringing with it some degree of civil unrest if not outright balkanization of the continental US, civil/revolutionary/racial war.… This collapse is likely engineered by the elite Jewish powers that be in order to make for a power and asset grab.” His more recent posts, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), were escalating in their rhetorical violence, urging fellow white supremacists to achieve “ultimate victory for our people” by “taking back our nation.” He promised that he would be “ramping up the activism” soon. After the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl in February 2009, Poplawski dismissed NFL football as what he called “negroball,” then went out, conducted surveillance of how police tried to control crowds, and posted about his findings, saying that it was a prelude to the government rounding up citizens for imprisonment in concentration camps. Most of Poplawski’s postings were on Stormfront and Infowars, a conspiracy-minded Web site hosted by radio talk show host Alex Jones. The posts began, as far as can be ascertained, in 2007 and ended a few hours before the shootings. The ADL’s Mark Pitcavage says of Poplawski’s writings: “Cumulatively, what these postings reveal is a lot more about his mindset. They show a growing anti-government and anti-police hostility.” Other postings made by Poplawski show his intense, race-based dislike of President Obama and his intention to violently resist any government attempts to take away his guns. Pitcavage notes that in the last month, Poplawski changed his online moniker from “Rich P” to “Braced for Fate.” He says of the change, “I mean, this is talking about some inevitable confrontation, and possibly a fatal confrontation.” [New York Times, 4/7/2009; Anti-Defamation League, 4/8/2009; Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 6/12/2009] Mrs. Poplawski tells police that her son, who was discharged from the Marine Corps for assaulting his drill sergeant during basic training, had been “stockpiling guns and ammunition, buying and selling the weapons online, because he believed that as a result of the economic collapse, the police were no longer able to protect society.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4/6/2009] Poplawski and his friend Edward Perkovic collaborated on an Internet broadcast where they showed video clips and talked politics [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4/4/2009] , including a clip and subsequent discussion of a discussion on Fox News between host Glenn Beck and guest Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), which featured warnings about concentration camps run by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Perkovic, who shares many of Poplawski’s beliefs, will say of his friend: “He was really into politics and really into the First and Second Amendment. One thing he feared was he feared the gun ban because he thought that was going to take away peoples’ right to defend themselves. He never spoke of going out to murder or to kill.” He adds: “We recently discovered that 30 states had declared sovereignty. One of his concerns was why were these major events in America not being reported to the public.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4/5/2009; Anti-Defamation League, 4/8/2009] On his MySpace page, Perkovic has written of his admiration for a novel called The Turner Diaries, which depicts the white supremacist takeover of the US and the extermination of minorities (see 1978), and the long-debunked “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a manifesto that purports to lay out the plans of “Zionists” to take over the world. [Crooks and Liars, 4/4/2009] Perkovic has posted about the “Zionist occupied government,” “mixed bloodlines that will erase national identity,” and Jewish control of the media. [Anti-Defamation League, 4/8/2009]
Richard Poplawski. [Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]Pittsburgh resident Richard Poplawski kills three police officers after his mother calls 911 to have him removed from her home. According to a criminal complaint and affidavit, around 7 a.m. Margaret Poplawski and her son begin arguing over a dog urinating in the house; the argument escalates to the point where she calls the police to have him removed. When officers Stephen Mayhle and Paul Sciullo arrive, Mrs. Poplawski asks them inside. Unbeknownst to his mother, Poplawski has donned a bulletproof vest and taken up an AK-47 semi-automatic rifle, a .22 long rifle, and a pistol. From a position behind his mother, he shoots both officers in the head, killing them almost instantly. His mother hears the gunshots and flees to the basement, screaming, “What the hell have you done?” Poplawski shoots Mayhle again to ensure his death, then shoots a third officer, Eric Kelly, when he arrives to provide assistance. Kelly, critically wounded, manages to call for assistance; a fourth officer, Timothy McManaway, is shot in the hand as he arrives on the scene and attempts to help Kelly. Kelly will die at the hospital from multiple wounds to the torso and legs.
Four-Hour Siege - Poplawski retreats to his bedroom and, as police assemble outside the home, fires at the officers. Police return fire, and between them, hundreds of shots are exchanged. During the siege, Poplawski calls a friend, Edward Perkovic, and tells him: “Eddie, I’m going to die today. Tell your family and friends I love them. This is probably the end.” The standoff between Poplawski and police lasts some four hours before officers finally persuade Poplawski to surrender; they enter the house and lead him out in handcuffs. Poplawski suffers at least one bullet wound during the exchange of gunfire. After the standoff, neighbors describe the scene as a “war zone.” Police have been called numerous times to the Poplawski residence to break up fights and disputes between mother and son. Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson will later say of the shootings: “I’d like to understand why. It’s senseless.” [Associated Press, 4/5/2009; New York Times, 4/5/2009; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4/6/2009; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4/8/2009] Poplawski is held without bail in the Alleghany County Jail, charged with the murder of three police officers, the shooting of a fourth, and eight counts of assault derived from his shooting at other officers. His grandmother, Catherine Scott, will tell a reporter that she is praying for her grandson, but: “My grandson did a terrible thing. There is no mercy for what he did.” [Associated Press, 4/5/2009; New York Times, 4/13/2009] Poplawski will later say he planned on forcing the police to kill him, but decided to surrender so he could write a book from inside prison. He will express no remorse for the men he kills. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4/8/2009]
White Supremacist, Anti-Semitic, Feared Gun Confiscation - The media will soon learn that Poplawski is a white supremacist who hates Jews and fears his guns will be taken away by the government (see April 4, 2009 and April 4, 2009 and After).
Many in the media speculate as to the motivations behind Richard Poplawski’s murder of three Pittsburgh police officers, which takes place on this day (see April 4, 2009). Findings that Poplawski is a white supremacist who hates Jews and fears that the federal government will confiscate his guns (see April 4, 2009) lead some to speculate that he was driven to violence by right-wing speculation and hate speech. In June 2009, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert will call Poplawski’s action a “right-wing, hate-driven attack,” and note that Poplawski and others like him have been inflamed by information provided by such organizations as the National Rifle Association (NRA), which consistently tells its Web site visitors that President Obama is planning to mount a nationwide gun confiscation. Herbert will also note that a friend of Poplawski’s told reporters that the shooter “feared the Obama gun ban that’s on the way.” [New York Times, 6/19/2009] In the days after Poplawski’s killing spree, Daily Beast columnist Max Blumenthal will speculate that Poplawski was driven to violence by the steady diet of right-wing hate speech and anti-government conspiracy theories he immersed himself in. Blumenthal notes that Alex Jones of Infowars, while himself not an advocate of white supremacy, is popular on the neo-Nazi Web site Stormfront.org for his incessant diatribes about the imminent takeover of the citizenry by FEMA and the Obama administratrion’s plans on confiscating guns as part of its plan to establish a leftist dictatorship. Blumenthal also notes Poplawski’s fondness for Fox News’s Glenn Beck, who often repeats and embellishes Jones’s conspiracy theories on his show, and his apparent self-affiliation with the radical fringes of the Tea Party movement. Author and reporter David Neiwert will tell Blumenthal: “It’s always been a problem when major-league demagogues start promulgating false information for political gain. What it does is unhinge fringe players from reality and dislodges them even further. When someone like Poplawski hears Glenn Beck touting One World Government and ‘they’re gonna take your gun’ theories, they believe then that it must be true. And that’s when they really become crazy.” [Daily Beast, 4/7/2009] Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an expert on political extremists, says of Poplawski’s views, “For some time now there has been a pretty good connection between being sucked into this conspiracy world and propagating violence.” She says Poplawski’s attack on the police is “a classic example of what happens when you start buying all this conspiracy stuff.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4/5/2009]
Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck attempts to disavow any connection between his rhetoric and accused murderer Richard Poplawski, who killed three police officers in Pittsburgh two days ago (see April 4, 2009). Poplawski said he was influenced by Beck and other conservative talk show hosts who have repeatedly warned that the government intends to forcibly confiscate citizens’ guns (see April 4, 2009). Beck tells his listeners, “[T]he press, the blogs, everybody immediately went to, ‘This guy’s a conservative with guns that says Obama’s coming.’” But later in his show, Beck repeats his assertions, telling viewers that President Obama “will slowly but surely take away your gun or take away your ability to shoot a gun, carry a gun. He will make them more expensive; he’ll tax them out of existence. He will because he has said he would. He will tax your gun or take your gun away one way or another.” [Media Matters, 4/9/2009]
Mike Gallagher. [Source: All Access (.com)]Conservative radio host Mike Gallagher discusses an exchange between the Second Amendment Foundation’s Alan Gottlieb and MSNBC anchor David Shuster that occurred the night before, on MSNBC’s Hardball. Gallagher lauds Gottlieb’s “great job in explaining logically why people are worried about what the Obama administration wants to do with our guns,” and airs a clip from the conversation in which Shuster asked Gottlieb, “Do you believe that the Obama administration and the Feds are coming to take away everybody’s guns?” Gottlieb replied: “I believe that’s what they would like to do. I don’t think we’re going to let them get away with it.” Gallagher later tells his listeners: “[L]isten to the way Gottlieb leaves the liberal columnist stuttering and stammering, explaining very eloquently why so many of us are worried and scurrying to buy guns right now.… [I]f you think the government might take your rights away from you, you want to try and exercise them before that happens. It’s a normal reaction.” Gallagher suggests “a national movement to register as many people as we can… to become gun owners,” and continues: “We’re going to set up a Web site, we’re going to get listener participation on this, we’re going to register and create as many gun owners—new, first-time gun owners as possible. I don’t even want to set a number. I’m number one—I’ll be the first one.” However, Gallagher criticizes media reports that state Pittsburgh cop-killer Richard Poplawski killed three police officers for fear that government or law enforcement officials would take away his guns (see April 4, 2009). [Media Matters, 4/7/2009; Media Matters, 4/9/2009]
Former Republican senator Rick Santorum writes in an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer that President Obama is “contemptuous of American values.” Santorum, now a columnist for the Inquirer, ties his comments to the pending nomination of Harold Koh to become the State Department’s lead counsel. Santorum and other far-right conservatives oppose Koh, a former Yale Law School dean, because of his “internationalist” views. Obama’s nomination of Koh for the State Department, and Obama’s recent supposed “apology for American arrogance” to European audiences, “helped convince me that [Obama] has a deep-seated antipathy toward American values and traditions,” Santorum writes. Santorum opposes Koh’s view that the US must become part of the international legal community, and instead insists that the US hold itself apart from international law, a position Santorum shares with the former Bush administration. “Koh’s ‘transnationalism’ stands in contrast to good, old-fashioned notions of national sovereignty, in which our Constitution is the highest law of the land,” Santorum writes. “In the traditional view, controversial matters, whatever they may be, are subject to democratic debate here. They should be resolved by the American people and their representatives, not ‘internationalized.’ What Holland or Belgium or Kenya or any other nation or coalition of nations thinks has no bearing on our exercise of executive, legislative, or judicial power. Koh disagrees. He would decide such matters based on the views of other countries or transnational organizations—or, rather, those entities’ elites.” Koh supports the International Criminal Court, which Santorum views as an objectionable intrusion upon American sovereignty. [Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/9/2009] Santorum is echoing recent arguments by Fox News host Glenn Beck (see April 1, 2009) and Accuracy in Media editor Cliff Kincaid (see April 6, 2009).
The CIA says it intends to close down the network of secret overseas prisons it used to torture suspected terrorists during the Bush administration. CIA Director Leon Panetta says that agency officers who worked in the program “should not be investigated, let alone punished” because the Justice Department under President Bush had declared their actions legal. Justice Department memos (see April 16, 2009) and investigations by the International Committee of the Red Cross (see October 6 - December 14, 2006) have shown that torture was used on several prisoners in these so-called “black sites.” Panetta says the secret detention facilities have not been used since 2006, but are still costing taxpayers money to keep open. Terminating security contracts at the sites would save “at least $4 million,” he says. The CIA has never revealed the location of the sites, but independent investigations and news reports place at least some of them in Afghanistan, Thailand, Poland, Romania, and Jordan. Agency officials have claimed that fewer than 100 prisoners were ever held in the sites, and around 30 of them were tortured. The last 14 prisoners were transferred to Guantanamo in 2006 (see September 2-3, 2006), but then-President Bush ordered the sites to remain open for future use. Since then, two suspected al-Qaeda operatives are known to have been kept in the sites. Panetta also says that the CIA will no longer use private contractors to conduct interrogations. [New York Times, 4/10/2009]
One of Hayden’s Twitter posts. [Source: Twitteradar (.com)]Daniel Knight Hayden, an Oklahoma man who has declared himself affiliated with local tea party organizations and the “Oath Keeper” movement (see March 9, 2009 and March 2010), is arrested by FBI agents after posting a series of messages on Twitter threatening to unleash a violent attack on Oklahoma state government officials on April 15, “Tax Day.” On April 13, under the moniker “CitizenQuasar,” Hayden began posting a blizzard of “tweets” about his intention to be on the Oklahoma State Capitol steps on the 15th, at first as part of a peaceful tea party event, then escalating into harsher rhetoric, and eventually threats of violence. On April 14, he wrote: “Tea Parties: And Poot Gingrich wants to stand in the limelight. He is a NWO operative,” referring to former Republican House Speaker and tea party favorite Newt Gingrich, and accusing him of being an “operative” for the “New World Order” (see September 11, 1990). Towards midnight of April 14, Hayden begins the following series of posts: “Maybe it’s time to die. Let’s see if I can video record the Highway Patrol at the entrance to the Oklahoma State Capitol.” “While trying to inform them of Oath Keepers” (and links to the Oath Keepers blog). “And post it on the internet. Since i live on this sorry f_cking state,that is as good a place as ANY to die and start a WAR. WEshallsee.” “I WISH I had someone to watch my back with MY camera.” “AND, no matter WHAT happens, to post it on the internet IMMEDIATELY, AND send it to Alex Jones!!!!!!!!!!!!” (referring to radio talk show host Alex Jones). “Damnit!” “Alas… WE SHALL see the TRUTH about this sorry f_cking state!!!!!!!” After a few more posts, Dyer begins posting direct threats of violence (later removed from the Twitter account, but presented in the FBI affidavit). “The WAR wWIL start on the stepes of the Oklahoma State Capitol. I will cast the first stone. In the meantime, I await the police.” “START THE KILLING NOW! I am wiling to be the FIRST DEATH! I Await the police. They will kill me in my home.” “After I am killed on the Capitol Steps like REAL man, the rest of you will REMEMBER ME!!!” “I really don’ give a sh_t anymore. Send the cops around. I will cut their heads off the heads and throw the on the State Capitol steps.” Hayden is taken into custody before he can go to the Capitol building, and arrested for transmitting threats to kill or injure people using interstate communication tools over the Internet. FBI agent Michael Puskas confirms that Dyer posted under the moniker “CitizenQuasar,” and says Dyer also has MySpace and Blogger accounts under similar monikers. Wired magazine says it “appears to be [the] first criminal prosecution to stem from posts on the microblogging site,” and calls Dyer’s MySpace page “a breathtaking gallery of right-wing memes about the ‘New World Order,’ gun control as Nazi fascism, and Barack Obama’s covert use of television hypnosis, among many others.” Dyer will be arraigned on April 16 and ordered released to a halfway house, a move the Associated Press reports as suggesting “the magistrate judge does not consider him a genuine threat.” [Wired News, 4/24/2009; Associated Press, 4/26/2009] Posters on the conservative blog Free Republic, commenting on Hayden’s arrest, label him a “leftist” who intended to kill tea party protesters, a contention they say is proven by Hayden’s vows to seek revenge for the government’s execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). One poster writes: “Hayden appears to be one of those mixtures of far out ideologies. On one hand he seems to support nazism but accused Obama of using mind control.” [Free Republic, 4/24/2009]
Fox News host Glenn Beck, broadcasting live from a “tea party” protest at the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, interviews Joe Horn, who was charged with shooting to death two illegal immigrants whom Horn says he caught burglarizing his neighbor’s home. The Alamo is the site of the Republic of Texas’s 1836 stand against the Mexican Army, and apparently Beck’s interview of Horn is chosen to symbolize American “resistance” to Mexican immigrants. “It’s a different world in Texas,” Beck says, and Horn replies, backed by cheers from a small audience behind Beck, “Thank God for it.” Regarding the shooting, Horn says, “I thought it was the right thing to do, and I did it.” As Beck retells the story, Horn saw the two men burglarizing the neighbor’s home, called 911, and, before the police could respond, told the 911 operator that he was going to the home to “stop them.” Defying the operator’s request not to confront the two, Horn took his shotgun to the neighbor’s home and shot both intruders, killing them. (His admission of shooting them triggers wild cheering; the Fox News cameras focus on a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag waved from the crowd.) Horn claims that the men were approaching him when he opened fire. The crowd cheers at Beck’s retelling of another story of a homeowner shooting an alleged burglar, and cheers at every subsequent mention of guns and shootings. “Joe, what kind of world are we living in that people don’t understand you have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?” Beck asks. Horn says he had no intention of “letting those two men kill me,” even though police investigations showed that he shot both of them in the back, apparently as they were fleeing, and he told the 911 operator before leaving his home, “I’m going to kill them.” Neither one of the alleged burglars was armed. Texas prosecutors failed to indict Horn. [New York Times, 12/13/2007; Media Matters, 4/15/2009]
Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who served during President Bush’s first term, says had he known that the Bush administration authorized torture while he was in office, the right thing to do would have been to resign. “I hope, had I known about it at the time I was serving, I would’ve had the courage to resign,” he tells an Al Jazeera television interviewer. During the interview, host Avi Lewis asks, “So when you knew that the administration of which you were a part was departing from the Geneva Conventions and sidelining them, why didn’t you quit?” Armitage responds: “In hindsight maybe I should’ve. But in those positions you see how many more battles you have. You maybe fool yourself. You say how much worse would X, Y, or Z be if I weren’t here trying to do it? So torture is a matter of principle as far as I’m concerned. I hope, had I known about it at the time I was serving, I would’ve had the courage to resign.” [Huffington Post, 4/15/2009]
President Obama presides over a deeply divided group of top advisers as he decides whether or not to release four Bush-era Justice Department memos documenting the Bush administration’s torture policies (see April 16, 2009). CIA Director Leon Panetta and his four immediate predecessors have already registered their flat disapproval of the memos’ release (see March 18, 2009 and After), as has Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan. On the other side are Attorney General Eric Holder, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, and White House counsel Gregory Craig. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has indicated he supports the release because it is inevitable anyway—the memos are the subject of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit—and because Obama is willing to promise that no CIA officers will be prosecuted for abuse. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen sides with Gates. Obama presides over a “mini-debate” in the office of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, where each side designates a spokesperson to present its views. When the debate is concluded, Obama immediately dictates a draft of his announcement of the memos’ release. During the discussion, Obama rejects the proposal that the memos’ release be delayed in anticipation of a so-called “truth commission” to investigate Bush torture policies, saying that such delay would just create further divisiveness. Craig argues persuasively that the judge overseeing the FOIA lawsuit is unlikely to grant any delays. Obama aides later say the president’s decision is in keeping with his frequent campaign promises that he would not only stop the torture and abuse of prisoners in US custody, but get to the truth behind the Bush administration’s torture policies. [Newsweek, 4/18/2009; Washington Post, 4/24/2009]
As the Obama administration releases four new and controversial Bush-era torture memos (see April 16, 2009), both the White House and the CIA reassure agency personnel that they will not be prosecuted for carrying out the policies of the Bush administration. The White House statement is carefully worded to give no such reassurances to former Bush administration officials who helped codify and implement such policies. “It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department,” says Attorney General Eric Holder. White House officials say that any CIA agency employee subjected to international tribunals or Congressional inquiries would receive legal representation at no cost to themselves, and the government would indemnify agency workers against any financial judgments. In the weeks before the memos’ release, top CIA officials, including CIA Director Leon Panetta, argued that the memos should not be released because the graphic detail in them could lead to a demand for investigations and prosecutions of CIA interrogators and other personnel. Panetta tells CIA employees that since the torture policies were approved at the highest level of the Bush administration, they would not be prosecuted as long as they followed the legal guidelines laid down by the Justice Department. “You need to be fully confident that as you defend the nation, I will defend you,” Panetta says. Some civil rights organizations respond with a call for prosecutions. A statement from the Center for Constitutional Rights says, “Whether or not CIA operatives who conducted waterboarding are guaranteed immunity, it is the high level officials who conceived, justified, and ordered the torture program who bear the most responsibility for breaking domestic and international law, and it is they who must be prosecuted.” [Washington Post, 4/17/2009] The American Civil Liberties Union is calling for criminal investigations (see April 16, 2009).
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) welcomes the release of Bush-era Justice Department memos that detail the torture methods approved for use under that administration (see April 16, 2009), and calls for the prosecution of government officials responsible for the torture policies. ACLU executive director Anthony Romero says in a statement: “We have to look back before we can move forward as a nation. When crimes have been committed, the American legal system demands accountability. President Obama’s assertion that there should not be prosecutions of government officials who may have committed crimes before a thorough investigation has been carried out is simply untenable. Enforcing the nation’s laws should not be a political decision. These memos provide yet more incontrovertible evidence that Bush administration officials at the highest level of government authorized and gave legal blessings to acts of torture that violate domestic and international law. There can be no more excuses for putting off criminal investigations of officials who authorized torture, lawyers who justified it, and interrogators who broke the law. No one is above the law, and the law must be equally enforced. Accountability is necessary for any functioning democracy and for restoring America’s reputation at home and abroad.” ACLU official Jameel Jaffer adds: “Memos written by the Office of Legal Counsel, including the memos released today, provided the foundation for the Bush administration’s torture program. Through these memos, Justice Department lawyers authorized interrogators to use the most barbaric interrogation methods, including methods that the US once prosecuted as war crimes. The memos are based on legal reasoning that is spurious on its face, and in the end these aren’t legal memos at all—they are simply political documents that were meant to provide window dressing for war crimes. While the memos should never have been written, we welcome their release today. Transparency is a first step towards accountability.” And ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh concludes: “The documents released today provide further confirmation that lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel purposefully distorted the law to support the Bush administration’s torture program. Now that the memos have been made public, high-ranking officials in the Bush administration must be held accountable for authorizing torture. We are hopeful that by releasing these memos, the Obama administration has turned the page on an era in which the Justice Department became complicit in some of the most egregious crimes.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009]
Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley discusses the Bush-era Justice Department torture memos released by the Obama administration (see April 16, 2009). Turley is interviewed by MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, who notes that as the memos were being released, President Obama said, “This is a time for reflection, not retribution; nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” She wonders if Obama means he won’t prosecute CIA officers who carried out the orders to torture prisoners, or if he means he won’t prosecute the civilian officials who sanctioned torture. Turley is not sure. “But what is really disturbing is that President Obama’s obviously referring to criminal investigation and prosecution,” he says, “that somehow he’s equating the enforcement of federal laws that he took an oath to enforce, to uphold the Constitution and our laws—and he’s equating that with an act of retribution, and some sort of hissy fit or blame game. You know, it’s not retribution to enforce criminal laws. But it is obstruction to prevent that enforcement and that is exactly what he has done thus far. He is trying to lay the groundwork, to look principled when he’s doing an utterly unprincipled thing. There’s very few things worse for a president to do than to protect accused war criminals, and that’s what we’re talking about here. President Obama himself has said that waterboarding is torture. And torture violates at least four treaties and is considered a war crime. So, the refusal to let it be investigated is to try to obstruct a war crime investigation. That puts it in the same category as Serbia and other countries that have refused to allow investigations to occur.” It is not up to a president to decide who gets prosecuted for breaking a law and who does not, Turley notes, and adds: “[W]hat’s amazing is that we’ve gotten used to senators and our president and the attorney general talking about whether it’s a convenient time, whether this is a good time for us to investigate, whether we’ve got other things to do. There aren’t any convenient or inconvenient times to investigate war crimes. You don’t have a choice. You don’t wait for the perfect moment. You have an obligation to do it. And what I think the president is desperately trying to do is to sell this idea that somehow it’s a principled thing not to investigate war crimes because it’s going to really be painful. And, quite frankly, I think the motive is obvious. He knows that it will be politically unpopular, because an investigation will go directly to the doorstep of President Bush and he knows it. And there’s not going to be a lot of defenses that could be raised for ordering a torture program.” [MSNBC, 4/17/2009]
Marcy Wheeler, an author and progressive blogger whose research is used by mainstream media to flesh out its coverage of the torture controversy (see April 18, 2009), discovers a footnote in a recently released Justice Department memo (see May 10, 2005 and April 16, 2009) that proves US interrogators sometimes exceeded the restrictions laid down on waterboarding by this and other Justice Department legal opinions. [Marcy Wheeler, 4/17/2009] The memo was dated May 10, 2005 and was issued by Steven Bradbury, then the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. [Office of Legal Counsel, 5/10/2005 ] Wheeler writes: “In other words, the interrogators were dumping water on [Abu Zubaida]‘s and KSM’s [Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s] faces and repeating that treatment over and over and over. Without any legal authorization to do so, no matter how bogus.… And note, this is precisely why the torture tapes were destroyed (see March 2, 2009 and March 6, 2009). CIA has admitted that the guys waterboarding Abu Zubaida broke the law. That tape was the irrefutable evidence of who did what.” [Marcy Wheeler, 4/17/2009] She adds: “There’s been a lot of discussion about whether those who did what the OLC memos authorized should be prosecuted. But in the case of those who waterboarded [KSM and Abu Zubaida], that’s irrelevant, because they did things the OLC memos didn’t authorize.” [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009]
The White House releases four key Justice Department memos documenting the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation methods—torture—against suspected terrorists. The memos were released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The documents show that two high-level detainees were subjected to waterboarding at least 266 times between them. Al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida was waterboarded at least 83 times in August 2002, contradicting earlier CIA reports that he “broke” after a single waterboarding session (see December 10, 2007). Confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded at least 183 times in March 2003. The so-called “insect” technique—exposure to insects within an enclosed box—was approved for use on Zubaida, but apparently never used. Numerous prisoners were subjected to “walling” and “sleep deprivation,” with at least one detainee subjected to the technique for 180 hours (over seven days). Three of the memos were written by then-Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) chief Steven Bradbury in May 2005 (see May 10, 2005, May 10, 2005, and May 30, 2005), and the fourth by Bradbury’s predecessor, Jay Bybee, in August 2002 (see August 1, 2002). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009; BBC, 4/23/2009] Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says: “These legal memoranda demonstrate in alarming detail exactly what the Bush administration authorized for ‘high value detainees’ in US custody. The techniques are chilling. This was not an ‘abstract legal theory,’ as some former Bush administration officials have characterized it. These were specific techniques authorized to be used on real people.” [CNN, 4/17/2009] House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) agrees, saying: “This release, as well as the decision to ban the use of such techniques in the future, will strengthen both our national security and our commitment to the rule of law and help restore our country’s standing in the international community. The legal analysis and some of the techniques in these memos are truly shocking and mark a disturbing chapter in our nation’s history.” [Think Progress, 4/16/2009] Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), whose committee is conducting an investigation of abusive interrogation methods used during the Bush administration, says Bush officials “inaccurately interpreted” the Geneva Conventions prohibiting torture. “I find it difficult to understand how the opinions found these interrogation techniques to be legal,” she says. “For example, waterboarding and slamming detainees head-first into walls, as described in the OLC opinions, clearly fall outside what is legally permissible.” [United Press International, 4/16/2009]
White House Condemns Methods, Opposes Investigations - Attorney General Eric Holder says of the memos: “The president has halted the use of the interrogation techniques described in these opinions, and this administration has made clear from day one that it will not condone torture. We are disclosing these memos consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.” Holder adds that, according to a Justice Department statement, “intelligence community officials who acted reasonably and relied in good faith on authoritative legal advice from the Justice Department that their conduct was lawful, and conformed their conduct to that advice, would not face federal prosecutions for that conduct.” Holder states, “It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department.” [US Department of Justice, 4/16/2009] President Obama condemns what he calls a “dark and painful chapter in our history,” and promises that such torture techniques will never be used again. However, he restates his opposition to a lengthy investigation into the program, saying that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” In contrast, Leahy says that the memos illustrate the need for an independent investigation. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, points out that the memos were written at a time when the CIA was working to prevent a repeat of the 9/11 attacks. “Those methods, read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing,” he says. “But we will absolutely defend those who relied on these memos.” [New York Times, 4/19/2009] The ACLU demands criminal prosecution of Bush officials for their torture policies (see April 16, 2009). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009]
Techniques Include Waterboarding, Insect Exposure, 'Walling' - The memos show that several techniques were approved for use, including waterboarding, exposure to insects within a “confinement box,” being slammed into a wall, sleep deprivation, stress positions, forced nudity, and others. [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009; BBC, 4/23/2009]
Waterboarded Well beyond Allowed Procedures - Because the information about the waterboarding of Zubaida and Mohammed comes from the classified and heavily redacted CIA’s inspector general report, which has not yet been released to the public, the information is at least in part based on the videotapes of Zubaida’s interrogation sessions that were later destroyed by CIA officials (see March 6, 2009). The CIA memo explained that detainees could be waterboarded between 12 and 18 times in a single day, but only on five days during a single month—which mathematically only adds up to 90 times in a month, and thus does not explain how Mohammed could have been waterboarded 183 times in a month if these procedures were being followed. The memos also reveal that in practice, the waterboarding went far beyond the methodologies authorized by the Justice Department and used in SERE training (see December 2001 and July 2002).
Information Unearthed by Blogger - Initial media reports fail to divulge the extraordinary number of times Zubaida and Mohammed were waterboarded. It falls to a blogger, Marcy Wheeler, to unearth the information from the CIA memo and reveal it to the public (see April 18, 2009). [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009]
Entity Tags: Marcy Wheeler, Central Intelligence Agency, Dennis C. Blair, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Dianne Feinstein, Jay S. Bybee, Geneva Conventions, Eric Holder, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), John Conyers, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Steven Bradbury, Patrick J. Leahy, Abu Zubaida, Obama administration
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
ProPublica reporter Dafna Linzer discovers that one of the CIA torture memos released on this day by the Obama administration (see April 16, 2009) inadvertently identifies one of the so-called CIA “ghost detainees” being held in an agency “black site.” The May 30, 2005 memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see May 30, 2005) was redacted before its release, but it identifies one detainee as “Gul.” This apparently refers to Hassan Ghul, arrested in northern Iraq in early 2004 (see January 23, 2004). At the time of his capture, President Bush stated: “Just last week we made further progress in making America more secure when a fellow named Hassan Ghul was captured in Iraq. Hassan Ghul reported directly to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was the mastermind of the September 11 attacks. He was captured in Iraq, where he was helping al-Qaeda to put pressure on our troops.” US officials, including then-CIA Director George Tenet, described Ghul as an al-Qaeda facilitator who delivered money and messages to top leaders. Those were the last references any US official made to him, except a brief reference in the 9/11 Commission report, which noted that Ghul was in “US custody.” The CIA has never acknowledged holding Ghul. In late 2006, human rights groups were surprised when Ghul was not one of a group of 14 “high-value” detainees sent from secret CIA prisons to Guantanamo (see September 2-3, 2006). Since then, Ghul has been considered a missing, or “ghost” detainee (see June 7, 2007). The May 30 memo notes that he was one of 28 CIA detainees who were subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques.” It says that he was subjected to the following interrogation methods: “facial hold,” “facial slap,” “stress positions,” “sleep deprivation,” “walling,” and the “attention grasp.” There is no mention in the unredacted portions of the memo as to when or where Ghul was in CIA custody, or where he is today. [ProPublica, 4/16/2009] Apparently, the CIA transferred Ghul to Pakistani custody in 2006 so he would not have to join other prisoners sent to the Guantantamo prison (see (Mid-2006)), and Pakistan released him in 2007, allowing him to rejoin al-Qaeda (see (Mid-2007)).
Responding to the just-released CIA torture memos (see April 16, 2009), conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh “slaps” himself on the air, and tells his listeners: “I’m torturing myself right now. That’s torture according to these people.” After granting that President Obama “probably” doesn’t want the country to be attacked by terrorists again, Limbaugh says (with the sound of slaps interspersed): “I just slapped myself. I’m torturing myself right now. That’s torture according to these people.” Limbaugh goes on to say that the outcry over the revelations of torture makes the US a “laughing stock” in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other nations in and around the Middle East. [Media Matters, 4/17/2009] During the same broadcast, Limbaugh says: “If you look at what we are calling torture, you have to laugh.… Slapping, putting an insect in with a prisoner in a small confined area.… If you go through the, what are said to be the four worst—waterboarding, of course, which worked on, um, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed… sleep deprivation, facial slaps, [insect exposure]… it worked. This is what supposedly made us the moral equivalent of al-Qaeda.” [Media Matters, 4/17/2009]
Fox News commentators mock the idea of using insects to torture prisoners, as was revealed in recently released Justice Department torture memos (see April 16, 2009). Mike Huckabee (R-AR), the former governor of Arkansas and a 2008 presidential candidate who now has his own talk show on Fox, says, “Look, I’ve been in some hotels where there were more bugs than these guys faced.” Huckabee goes on to characterize the Obama administration’s version of prisoner interrogation, saying, “We’re going to talk to them, we’re going to have a nice conversation, we’re going to invite them down for some tea and crumpets.” Huckabee’s fellow commentators Gretchen Carlson and Steve Doocy join in the hilarity. [Media Matters, 4/17/2009; Media Matters, 4/21/2009]
Marcy Wheeler. [Source: Project Censored]Progressive blogger Marcy Wheeler, who posts under the moniker “emptywheel” at FireDogLake.com, finds that, upon careful perusal of the March 30, 2005 CIA torture memo just released by the Obama administration (see May 30, 2005 and April 16, 2009), two suspected terrorists, Abu Zubaida and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were waterboarded 266 times. Initial, more cursory news reports on the memo did not reveal this fact. The next day, the New York Times will cite Wheeler in its report on the discovery. [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009] Wheeler writes: “The CIA wants you to believe waterboarding is effective. Yet somehow, it took them 183 applications of the waterboard in a one month period to get what they claimed was cooperation out of KSM. That doesn’t sound very effective to me.” [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009] Days later, an unidentified “US official with knowledge of the interrogation program” will tell a Fox News reporter that the claim of 183 waterboardings for Mohammed is inaccurate and misleading. Mohammed was only waterboarded five times, the official will claim. The figure of 183 is the number of “pours” Mohammed was subjected to. “The water was poured 183 times—there were 183 pours,” the official says, adding, “[E]ach pour was a matter of seconds.” The report of five waterboardings for Mohammed comes from a 2007 Red Cross report, the official will say. [Fox News, 4/28/2009]
Psychologists and medical ethicists react with horror to recent reports that a psychologist and various medical professionals took part in torturing prisoners—information that was revealed by recently released Justice Department memos (see April 16, 2009). A psychologist, whose name was redacted from the memos but is apparently James Mitchell (see January 2002 and After), provided, as the Washington Post reports, “ideas, practical advice, and even legal justification for interrogation methods that would break [detainee] Abu Zubaida, physically and mentally. Extreme sleep deprivation, waterboarding, the use of insects to provoke fear—all were deemed acceptable, in part because the psychologist said so.” The names of other psychologists and medical practicioners were also redacted from the memos. They monitored torture victims, helped keep them alive during sometimes-brutal interrogation sessions, and sometimes, the Post writes, “actively participated in designing the interrogation program and monitoring its implementation. Their presence also enabled the government to argue that the interrogations did not include torture.” The detainees were not the only ones being monitored. Psychologists were dispatched to each secret CIA prison, or “black site,” to make sure the medical professionals involved in the daily torture “could stand up, psychologically handle it,” says a former CIA official. Most of the psychologists were contract employees of the CIA.
Debate over Ethics of Participating in Torture - Frank Donaghue of the advocacy group Physicians for Human Rights says: “The health professionals involved in the CIA program broke the law and shame the bedrock ethical traditions of medicine and psychology. All psychologists and physicians found to be involved in the torture of detainees must lose their license and never be allowed to practice again.” George Annas, a professor of health law and bioethics, says, “I don’t think we had any idea doctors were involved to this extent, and it will shock most physicians.” The use of doctors to monitor torture victims is “totally unethical.… In terms of ethics, it’s not even a close call.” The American Medical Association’s policy guidelines state that physicians “must not be present when torture is used or threatened,” and doctors can treat detainees only “if doing so is in their best interest” and not merely to monitor their health “so that torture can begin or continue.” Author and professor of medicine Steven Miles says the actions described in the memos are the “kind of stuff that doctors have been tried, convicted, and imprisoned for in other countries—and that’s what should happen here.” But Michael Gross, an Israeli author and professor, says if medical professionals believe particular interrogation tactics do not constitute torture, then there is no reason for them not to participate. “Physicians are faced with a hard dilemma,” he says. “They have professional obligations to do no harm, but they also have a duty as a citizen to provide expertise to their government when the national security is at stake. In a national security crisis, I believe our duties as citizens take precedence.” The American Psychological Association (APA) has condemned any participation by its members in interrogations involving torture, but critics of the organization have noted that the APA has failed to censure members involved in harsh interrogations. The International Committee of the Red Cross said in a 2006 report, “The interrogation process is contrary to international law and the participation of health personnel in such a process is contrary to international standards of medical ethics.”
Memos Say US Doctors' Participation Morally Distinct from Instances in Other Countries - The memos acknowledged that the participation of medical professionals in torturing prisoners posed an ethical dilemma, but contended that the CIA’s use of doctors in such interrogations is morally distinct from the practices of other countries that practice torture. One such distinction was that doctors observing interrogations could stop them “if in their professional judgment the detainee may suffer severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” In one instance, the CIA chose not to subject a detainee to waterboarding due to a “medical contraindication,” according to a May 10, 2005, memo. [Washington Post, 4/18/2009]
Entity Tags: Frank Donaghue, American Medical Association, Abu Zubaida, Central Intelligence Agency, Washington Post, Michael Gross, Steven Miles, George Annas, International Committee of the Red Cross, US Department of Justice, American Psychological Association
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Congressional Quarterly reporter Jeff Stein publishes an article alleging that House Democrat Jane Harman (D-CA) was captured on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage charges against two officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC—see October 2005). The offer was allegedly made in return for AIPAC’s help in Harman’s attempt to gain the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee (see Summer 2005). Stein’s sources say the wiretap was approved by a federal court as part of an FBI investigation into illegal Israeli covert actions in Washington. Stein also reports on accusations that the FBI investigation into Harman’s activities was halted by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in return for Harman’s support for the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Late 2005). In a statement, Harman says the allegations are false. “These claims are an outrageous and recycled canard, and have no basis in fact,” she says through a spokesman. “I never engaged in any such activity. Those who are peddling these false accusations should be ashamed of themselves.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009] Harman’s chief of staff, John Hess, later tells reporters that Stein’s story “recycles three-year-old discredited reporting of largely unsourced material to manufacture a ‘scoop’ out of widely known and unremarkable facts—that Congresswoman Jane Harman is and has long been a supporter of AIPAC, and that some members of AIPAC regarded her as well qualified to chair the House Intelligence Committee following the 2006 elections.” Hess adds, “If there is anything about this story that should arouse concern, it is that the Bush administration may have been engaged in electronic surveillance of members of the Congressional intelligence committees.” [Roll Call, 4/21/2009]
Explanation of Harman's Failure to Ascend - According to Stein, “[s]uch accounts go a long way toward explaining not only why Harman was denied the gavel of the House Intelligence Committee (see December 2, 2006), but failed to land a top job at the CIA or Homeland Security Department in the Obama administration.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009]
Bipartisan Corruption - Both Congressional Democrats and their Republican colleagues are remarkably silent on the charges, which, if true, would taint both a high-ranking Congressional Democrat and a former Republican attorney general. “The whole thing smells, and nobody’s hands are clean,” says an aide to a senior Democratic lawmaker. Conservative scholar Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute says, “I don’t think anybody wants to touch it.” Ornstein, who says he knows Harman “very well,” calls the charges a “big embarrassment,” but notes that he would be “very surprised” if the charges proved to be true. The political watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is calling for an investigation. CREW executive director Melanie Sloan says, “If Rep. Harman agreed to try to influence an ongoing criminal investigation in return for help securing a committee chairmanship, her conduct not only violates federal law and House rules, but also her oath to uphold the Constitution.” [Roll Call, 4/21/2009]
Entity Tags: John Hess, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Central Intelligence Agency, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Alberto R. Gonzales, House Intelligence Committee, Jeff Stein, US Department of Homeland Security, Jane Harman, Norman Ornstein, National Security Agency, Melanie Sloan, Obama administration
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden refuses to confirm information from a recently released CIA memo that shows alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed had been waterboarded 183 times in a single month (see April 16, 2009). Even though the memo has been released to the public, Hayden says he believes that information is still classified. Hayden says he opposed the release of the memo and three others recently released by the White House. Even though President Obama has said that the US will never use waterboarding and other “harsh interrogation techniques” again, Hayden says: “At the tactical level, what we have described for our enemies in the midst of a war are the outer limits that any American would ever go to in terms of interrogating an al-Qaeda terrorist. That’s very valuable information. Now, it doesn’t mean we would always go to the outer limits, but it describes the box within which Americans will not go beyond. To me, that’s very useful for our enemies, even if as a policy matter, this president at this time had decided not to use one, any, or all of those techniques. It reveals the outer limits. That’s very important.” Hayden also disputes reports that suspected terrorist Abu Zubaida revealed nothing new after being tortured; he says that after Zubaida was subjected to waterboarding and other unspecified “techniques,” he revealed information leading to the capture of suspected terrorist Ramzi bin al-Shibh. [New York Times, 4/19/2009; Think Progress, 4/19/2009] Days later, former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan will reveal information that disputes Hayden’s claims (see Late March through Early June, 2002 and April 22, 2009).
Responding to the news that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in a single month (see April 18, 2009), Senator John McCain (R-AZ) reiterates his opposition to waterboarding and to torture: “One is too much. Waterboarding is torture, period. I can ensure [sic] you that once enough physical pain is inflicted on someone, they will tell that interrogator whatever they think they want to hear. And most importantly, it serves as a great propaganda tool for those who recruit people to fight against us.” He adds, “The image of the United States of America throughout the world is a recruiting tool for Islamic extremists.” However, McCain says it was a “serious mistake” for the Obama administration to release the CIA torture memos (see April 16, 2009), saying, “The release of these memos helps no one, doesn’t help America’s image, does not help us address the issue.” [Think Progress, 4/20/2009]
Brian Kilmeade. [Source: Chattahbox (.com)]Brian Kilmeade, a co-host of Fox News’s morning broadcast Fox and Friends, says he “feel[s] better” knowing that alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in a single month (see April 16, 2009 and April 18, 2009). “Guess what?” Kilmeade says. “Maybe if he were so scared of caterpillars [referring to militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida’s torture by insects—see August 1, 2002]… maybe he should have thought about that before he helped plot the taking down of 3,000-plus people on 9/11.” (Kilmeade is either unaware of, or ignoring, reports that show Zubaida may not have been a member of al-Qaeda and had no involvement in the 9/11 planning—see March 28, 2002, Shortly After March 28, 2002, and April 9, 2002 and After.) Kilmeade continues: “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, I understand, was waterboarded 183 times. Did anyone care about that? Does anyone in America walk around going, ‘I’m really upset that the mastermind of 9/11 was waterboarded 183 times.’ That makes me feel better.… It’s unbelievable that people care more about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, uh, his health, than they would about the future attacks that are being hatched.” [Media Matters, 4/20/2009]
Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) tells a Fox News interviewer that he opposed the release of four Bush-era Justice Department memos approving torture (see April 16, 2009). “I thought release of the memos was a bad idea,” he says. “It wasn’t necessary. It just helps our enemies. It doesn’t really help us.” Lieberman then says that one of the tactics considered the harshest, waterboarding, should always be available to US interrogators. Asked if he believes waterboarding is torture, Lieberman replies: “Well, I take a minority position on this. Most people think it’s definitely torture. The truth is, it has mostly a psychological impact on people. It’s a terrible thing to do.… I want the president of the United States in a given circumstance where we believe somebody we’ve got in our control may have information that could help us stop an attack, an imminent attack on the United States like 9/11 or, God forbid, worse, we ought to be able to use something like waterboarding.” Lieberman says he believes Bush officials’ claims that waterboarding worked to prevent terrorist attacks. [Think Progress, 4/21/2009] Two days later, Lieberman will write that he has always “strongly opposed” waterboarding (see April 22, 2009).
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that since memos disclosing the opinions surrounding the Bush administration’s torture policies have been released (see April 16, 2009), he wants the Obama administration to release documents that he says show the critical information garnered through the use of torture—though he does not consider the methods used to be torture (see December 15, 2008). To release the documents would make for an “honest debate.” Cheney, interviewed by conservative pundit Sean Hannity, asks why the memos were released but not documents proving the efficacy of torture. “One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is they put out the legal memos, the memos that the CIA got from the [Justice Department’s] Office of Legal Counsel, but they didn’t put out the memos that showed the success of the effort,” he says. Cheney says he has requested that those documents also be declassified. “I haven’t talked about it, but I know specifically of reports that I read, that I saw, that lay out what we learned through the interrogation process and what the consequences were for the country,” he says. “I’ve now formally asked the CIA to take steps to declassify those memos so we can lay them out there and the American people have a chance to see what we obtained and what we learned and how good the intelligence was.” [Fox News, 4/20/2009] The CIA memos Cheney is referring to are released several months later (see August 24, 2009). Though Cheney will insist that the memos prove his point (see August 24, 2009), many, including a former CIA case officer, will disagree (see August 25, 2009).
Ali Soufan, an FBI supervisory special agent from 1997 to 2005, writes an op-ed for the New York Times about his experiences as a US interrogator. Soufan, who was one of the initial interrogators of suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see Late March through Early June, 2002), says he has remained silent for seven years “about the false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding.” Until now, he has spoken only in closed government hearings, “as these matters were classified.” But now that the Justice Department has released several memos on interrogation (see April 16, 2009), he can publicly speak out about the memos. “I’ve kept my mouth shut about all this for seven years,” Soufan says. “I was in the middle of this, and it’s not true that these techniques were effective. We were able to get the information about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in a couple of days. We didn’t have to do any of this [torture]. We could have done this the right way.” [New York Times, 4/22/2009; Newsweek, 4/25/2009] In early 2002, Soufan trained Guantanamo interrogators in the use of non-coercive interrogation techniques; a colleague recalls the military intelligence officials in the session being resistant to the ideas Soufan proposed (see Early 2002). [Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
'False Premises' Underpinning Use of Torture - Soufan says the memos are based on what he calls “false premises.” One is the August 2002 memo granting retroactive authorization to use harsh interrogation methods on Zubaida on the grounds that previous methods had been ineffective (see August 1, 2002). Soufan asserts that his questioning of Zubaida had indeed been productive (contradicting earlier CIA claims—see December 10, 2007), and that he used “traditional interrogation methods” to elicit “important actionable intelligence” from the suspected operative. The harsh methods later used on Zubaida produced nothing that traditional methods could not have produced, Soufan says; moreover, those harsh techniques—torture—often “backfired” on the interrogators. Many of the methods used on detainees such as Zubaida remain classified, Soufan writes: “The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.”
False Claims 'Proving' Usefulness of Torture - Some claim that Zubaida gave up information leading to the capture of suspected terrorists Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Jose Padilla. “This is false,” Soufan writes. “The information that led to Mr. Shibh’s capture came primarily from a different terrorist operative who was interviewed using traditional methods. As for Mr. Padilla, the dates just don’t add up: the harsh techniques were approved in the memo of August 2002, Mr. Padilla had been arrested that May.”
Restoring the 'Chinese Wall' - Because of the use of torture by the CIA, the two agencies will once again be separated by what Soufan calls “the so-called Chinese wall between the CIA and FBI, similar to the communications obstacles that prevented us from working together to stop the 9/11 attacks.” Since the FBI refused to torture suspects in its custody, “our agents who knew the most about the terrorists could have no part in the investigation. An FBI colleague of mine who knew more about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed than anyone in the government was not allowed to speak to him.”
Targeted Investigations - Soufan writes that any investigations into the use of torture by the CIA should not seek to punish the interrogators who carried out the government’s policies. “That would be a mistake,” he writes. “Almost all the agency officials I worked with on these issues were good people who felt as I did about the use of enhanced techniques: it is un-American, ineffective, and harmful to our national security.” Soufan goes farther, adding, “It’s worth noting that when reading between the lines of the newly released memos, it seems clear that it was contractors, not CIA officers, who requested the use of these techniques.” The CIA itself must not be targeted for retribution, Soufan writes, as “[t]he agency is essential to our national security.” Instead, “[w]e must ensure that the mistakes behind the use of these techniques are never repeated.” [New York Times, 4/22/2009; Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
Rachel Maddow and Ron Suskind during their MSNBC interview. [Source: Huffington Post]MSNBC host Rachel Maddow interviews author Ron Suskind, who has written several books documenting the clandestine activities of the Bush administration. Maddow is most interested in the recent release of the Senate Armed Services Committee report documenting the use of torture against prisoners in US custody (see April 16, 2009 and April 21, 2009). Suskind notes that there were two separate but parallel tracks being followed in the administration, authorizing both the military and the CIA to torture prisoners. He believes the administration’s underlying motive was to find, or create through false confessions, a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda that would justify the invasion of Iraq. Suskind tells Maddow: “What’s fascinating here is that if you run the timelines side by side, you see for the first time… that the key thing being sent down by the policymakers, by the White House, is ‘Find a link between Saddam [Hussein] and al-Qaeda, so that we can essentially link Saddam to the 9/11 attacks and then march into Iraq with the anger of 9/11 behind us.’ That was the goal and was being passed down as the directive.… It’s often called ‘the requirement’ inside the CIA, for both agents with their sources and interrogators with their captives: ‘Here’s what we’re interested in, here’s what we, the duly elected leaders want to hear about. Tell us what you can find.’ What’s fascinating, is in the Senate report, is finally, clear confirmation that that specific thing was driving many of the activities, and, mind you, the frustration inside of the White House… as frustration built inside of the White House that there was no link that was established, because the CIA told the White House from the very start that there is no Saddam to al-Qaeda link—‘We checked it out, we did it every which way, sorry’—the White House simply wouldn’t take no for an answer, and it went with another method: torture was the method. ‘Get me a confession, I don’t care how you do it.’ And that bled all the way through the government, both on the CIA side and the Army side.” Suskind notes that the “impetus was not to foil potential al-Qaeda attacks. The impetus here was largely political and diplomatic. The White House had a political/diplomatic problem. It wanted it solved in the run up to the war.” [Huffington Post, 4/22/2009; MSNBC, 4/22/2009]
Two days after staunchly defending waterboarding as an interrogation tactic (see April 20, 2009), Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) now claims he has always “strongly opposed” waterboarding. Lieberman, joined by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), writes: “We have… strongly opposed the overly coercive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, that these [recently released Justice Department] memos (see April 16, 2009) deemed legal. We do not believe, however, that legal analysis should be criminalized, as proposals to prosecute government lawyers suggest.” [US Senate, 4/22/2009] The same day Lieberman defended the use of waterboarding, McCain, who has always opposed torture as an interrogation method, spoke out again against the practice (see April 20, 2009).
Jordan’s King Abdullah, during an interview on NBC, says the US indeed tortured prisoners during the last administration. “Well, from what we’ve seen and what we’ve heard, there are enough accounts to show that this is the case,” Abdullah says. Interviewer David Gregory says: “That’s an important point. You actually do believe that the United States engaged in torture.” Abdullah responds, “What I see on the press… shows that there were illegal ways of dealing with detainees.” [Think Progress, 4/25/2009]
Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ), a strong opponent of torture (see July 24, 2005 and After, October 1, 2005, November 21, 2005, December 13, 2005, December 15, 2005, and April 20, 2009), says that the US must “move on” from the Bush era of torture and not investigate the Bush administration’s torture policies. McCain refuses to support Democratic calls to impeach former Justice Department official Jay Bybee, who authored several of the torture memos (see August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2002), even as he acknowledges Bybee broke the law. McCain says: “He falls into the same category as everybody else as far as giving very bad advice and misinterpreting, fundamentally, what the United States is all about, much less things like the Geneva Conventions. Look, under President Reagan we signed an agreement against torture. We were in violation of that.” McCain says that “no one has alleged, quote, wrongdoing” on the part of Bush officials such as Bybee, saying only that they gave “bad advice” to Bush and other senior officials. [Think Progress, 4/26/2009]
Journalist Steve Benen notes that former President Bush promised that any American who performed torture on prisoners would be prosecuted (see May 5, 2004). In light of Bush’s statement, Benen writes: “‘Full investigation.’ We want to know ‘the truth.’ We believe in ‘justice.’ ‘We act’ in response to allegations of torture. We’re transparent and discuss developments ‘with the media.’ To fail to answer questions is to act like a ‘dictatorship.’ It seems to me if Democrats are looking for an excuse to do the right thing, they don’t have to say much more than, ‘We’re doing what Bush told us to do.’” [Washington Monthly, 4/27/2009]
Judge Jay Bybee, who authored or signed a number of memos authorizing torture while the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC—see August 1, 2002, August 1, 2002, and December 2003-June 2004), defends his actions to the New York Times. Bybee has been a federal judge for over five years (see February 5, 2003); many civil libertarians and critics of the Bush administration want him to either step down from the bench or face impeachment (see April 21, 2009), and the Justice Department is investigating his professional conduct (see Before April 22, 2009). In recent days, Bybee’s friends and colleagues have reported his “regrets” over the memos (see April 25, 2009). Now, Bybee says while in hindsight he would have done some things differently, like clarifying and sharpening the analysis of some of his answers to help the public better understand the basis for his conclusions, the memos represent “a good-faith analysis of the law” that properly defined the narrow divide between harsh treatment and torture. Bybee’s memos gave a legal framework for the use of illegal interrogation tactics such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and enforced isolation. In a statement, Bybee says: “The central question for lawyers was a narrow one; locate, under the statutory definition, the thin line between harsh treatment of a high-ranking al-Qaeda terrorist that is not torture and harsh treatment that is. I believed at the time, and continue to believe today, that the conclusions were legally correct.” He had the support of other administration lawyers, he says. “The legal question was and is difficult. And the stakes for the country were significant no matter what our opinion. In that context, we gave our best, honest advice, based on our good-faith analysis of the law.” Bybee’s former colleague, law professor Christopher Blakesley, says he challenged Bybee on one of the memos in 2004, shortly after it became public knowledge. “I asked him how he could sign such an awful thing,” Blakesley recalls. Bybee refused to discuss the matter, and the two men have not spoken since. Blakesley says Bybee “has some basic flaws including being very naïve about leaders. He has too much respect for authority and will avoid a confrontation no matter what.” Some law clerks who worked with Bybee after he left the OLC recall him speaking about his involvement in some matters “so awful, so terrible, so radioactive” that he doubted the administration would ever disclose them. One of the then-clerks, Nina Rabin, says she finds Bybee’s position disturbing because he suggests a lawyer can be divorced from the policies being pursued under his legal rubric. “He definitely offered a view that was sanitized,” she says, “and I thought that was disingenuous in that it removed any responsibility on the part of the lawyer for what was happening.” [New York Times, 4/28/2009]
ABC News learns that two former military officers, both psychologists, were paid $1,000 a day to design a program to torture and waterboard detainees in US custody. The psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen (see January 2002 and After, April 16, 2002, Mid-April 2002, and Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002), were recipients of a contract awarded by the CIA to their firm, Mitchell Jessen and Associates. Mitchell and Jessen told the CIA that waterboarding was safe to use on prisoners. The American Civil Liberties Union’s Jameel Jaffer says, “It’s clear that these psychologists had an important role in developing what became the CIA’s torture program.” According to ABC, “Associates say the two made good money doing it, boasting of being paid a thousand dollars a day by the CIA to oversee the use of the techniques on top al-Qaeda suspects at CIA secret sites.” Air Force interrogator Colonel Steven Kleinman says, “The whole intense interrogation concept that we hear about is essentially their concepts.” ABC notes that “neither Mitchell nor Jessen had any experience in conducting actual interrogations before the CIA hired them.” A military officer says that the CIA “went to two individuals who had no interrogation experience. They are not interrogators.” The CIA came to believe that the waterboarding “expertise” they claimed was “misrepresented,” and therefore the claims that waterboarding was “medically safe” and “effective” were questionable. As ABC notes, “The waterboarding used on al-Qaeda detainees was far more intense than the brief sessions used on US military personnel in the training classes.” [ABC News, 4/30/2009; Raw Story, 5/1/2009]
Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean says that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may have unwittingly admitted to being part of a criminal conspiracy in regards to the Bush administration’s torture policies. Rice recently told students at Stanford University that she did not authorize any torture policies, she merely forwarded the authorization for them from higher up (see April 28, 2009). Dean tells MSNBC talk show host Keith Olbermann that she may have admitted to a criminal conspiracy. Dean calls Rice’s comments “surprising,” and says she has mired herself in the possibility of legal proceedings. “She tried to say she didn’t authorize anything, then proceeded to say she did pass orders along to the CIA to engage in torture if it was legal by the standard of the Department of Justice,” Dean says. “This really puts her right in the middle of a common plan, as it’s known in international law, or a conspiracy, as it’s known in American law, and this indeed is a crime. If it indeed happened the way we think it did happen.… These kinds of statements are going to come back and be interesting to any investigator.” Dean says that President Obama will stand in violation of the Geneva Conventions if he refuses to prosecute those found responsible for the torture policies. “He is indeed in violation if the United States does not undertake investigation of this, or ultimately prosecution, if that’s necessary,” Dean says. “It’s not only the Geneva Convention, the Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994) also requires this. There are no exceptions with torture. There are no real things like ‘torture light.’ The world community I think is going to hold the United States responsible, and if we don’t proceed, somebody is going to proceed.” [Raw Story, 5/1/2009; MSNBC, 5/1/2009]
Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari held without charge for seven years by the Bush administration on suspicion of being an al-Qaeda sleeper agent (see December 12, 2001 and June 23, 2003), pleads guilty to one felony count of providing material support to a terrorist organization. Al-Marri was released from the Naval Brig in Charleston on order of the Obama administration’s Justice Department and charged with multiple counts of supporting terrorism (see February 27, 2009). He faces up to 15 years in prison. Until accepting the plea, al-Marri has always denied any connection with al-Qaeda or with Islamist terrorism. Attorney General Eric Holder says of the al-Marri plea: “Without a doubt, this case is a grim reminder of the seriousness of the threat we as a nation still face. But it also reflects what we can achieve when we have faith in our criminal justice system and are unwavering in our commitment to the values upon which the nation was founded and the rule of law.” Lawrence Lustberg, one of al-Marri’s lawyers, says his client agreed to the plea bargain “because he wanted to go home,” and because of fears that a jury trial might end up with al-Marri serving 30 years and not a maximum of 15. (Holder rejected earlier plea deals, insisting that al-Marri serve at least 15 years in prison.) Court papers show that al-Marri was an al-Qaeda agent, with close ties to alleged 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Al-Marri admitted to attending al-Qaeda training camps between 1998 and 2001, and to coming to the US at Mohammed’s direction (see September 10, 2001). The plan was for al-Marri to stay in contact with Mohammed using code names—al-Marri was “Abdo” and Mohammed was “Muk,” apparently short for his nickname “Mukhtar” (see August 28, 2001)—and a Hotmail email account. Documents confirming this were found at an al-Qaeda safe house in Pakistan. Al-Marri’s attempts to contact both Mohammed and al-Qaeda financier Mustafa al-Hawsawi after the 9/11 attacks were unsuccessful. Al-Marri also conducted research on the effects of cyanide gas, and on potential targets for terrorist attacks, including waterways, dams, and tunnels. Al-Marri’s plea agreement says that he will be deported to Saudi Arabia or Qatar when his sentence is completed, or perhaps sooner. The judge in the case, Michael Mihm, has not yet ruled whether al-Marri will be given credit for the seven years he served in the Charleston brig. [Politico, 4/30/2009; New York Times, 4/30/2009; US Newswire, 4/30/2009]
Marcus Epstein. [Source: Pensito Review]Marcus Epstein, a “nativist” leader with close ties to numerous racist and white supremacist organizations (see October 8, 2007 and January 31, 2009), pleads guilty to assaulting an African-American woman both physically and verbally. According to court documents, on the evening of July 7, 2007, an intoxicated Epstein was walking down a Washington, DC, street and making apparently random racial imprecations. When he saw the woman in question, he called her a “n_gger” and “delivered a karate chop” to her head. He was briefly detained by the woman’s husband but managed to break away and flee. Within minutes Epstein was taken into custody by a Secret Service officer who witnessed the incident. Epstein pleads guilty to simple assault. He faces a maximum punishment of 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. He is bound by a restraining order to stay away from the couple, has agreed to seek mental health treatment, complete an alcohol treatment program, write an apology to the victim, and donate $1,000 to the United Negro College Fund. Epstein consistently denies being a racist, though he writes for the overtly racist VDare.com Web site, attends racist conferences, and heads a discussion group, the Robert A. Taft Club, that regularly hosts racists as guest speakers. Epstein, who is of Korean and Jewish ancestry, has become something of a “star” in some conservative circles, particularly among groups interested in hindering or stopping immigration into America. Epstein is executive director of The American Cause, a white nationalist group headed by MSNBC commentator Pat Buchanan. He also serves as executive director of Team America PAC, a political action committee run by Buchanan’s sister Bay Buchanan and founded by former Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO), an outspoken opponent of immigration. He is a leader of Youth for Western Civilization (YWC), a group dedicated to launching a right-wing youth movement at university campuses around the nation, and which was prominently featured at February’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Some of Epstein’s colleagues do not denounce him for his crime. Bay Buchanan merely calls the incident “out of character” for Epstein and explains that he was struggling with personal issues at the time of the assault. She adds, however, that he will soon be leaving Team America PAC. Tancredo dismisses the incident entirely, blaming the news coverage on the fact that a Hispanic, Sonia Sotomayor, has been nominated to the Supreme Court (see May 28, 2009). [Southern Poverty Law Center, 10/8/2007; One People's Project, 5/19/2009; Denver Post, 6/2/2009; Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/3/2009] On his Web site, Epstein will claim that he has been admitted to the University of Virginia School of Law for the fall 2009 term, and thusly “will more or less suspend my political activities.” However, the law school will deny admitting Epstein, and will write that it does “not expect him to be an enrolled student in the future.” [DC Indymedia, 5/27/2009]
Entity Tags: United Negro College Fund, Robert A. Taft Club, Patrick Buchanan, Marcus Epstein, Bay Buchanan, Team America PAC, Tom Tancredo, Youth for Western Civilization, University of Virginia School of Law, VDare (.com ), The American Cause
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
From left to right: Brandon Piekarsky, Colin Walsh, and Derrick Donchak. [Source: Moral Low Ground (.com)]Two Pennsylvania teenagers who beat an illegal immigrant to death (see July 12, 2008 and After) are found not guilty of the major crimes they were alleged to have committed. The all-white jury in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, finds Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak guilty of simple assault against Luis Ramirez. Piekarsky is found innocent of third-degree murder; both are found innocent of ethnic intimidation. Friends and relatives of the two teenagers have to be restrained by court officers when they attempt to rush the defense table to congratulate the two defendants. Gladys Limon, a lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, calls the jury’s verdicts “a complete failure of justice.” She adds, “It’s just outrageous and very difficult to understand how any juror could have had reasonable doubt.” Piekarsky and Donchak may face federal charges over the murder of Ramirez. Prosecutors said they were two of a group of four drunken teenagers who targeted Ramirez because of his race, and beat him to death while screaming racial epithets. Piekarsky delivered the fatal blow, a kick to the head. Ramirez died of the injury two days later. Defense lawyers called Ramirez the aggressor, and called the incident a street brawl that ended badly. Jury foreman Eric Macklin says the evidence led them to acquit Piekarsky and Donchak of all but the most minor charges. “I feel bad for Luis’s friends and family,” Macklin says. “I know they feel they haven’t gotten justice.” Neither Piekarsky nor Donchak will serve more than two years in prison. Another assailant, Colin Walsh, who actually knocked Ramirez unconscious before Piekarsky began stomping him, pled guilty to a charge of violating Ramirez’s civil rights, earning four years in prison; Walsh testified for the prosecution. A fourth assailant, Brian Scully, is charged in juvenile court with aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation (see May 18, 2009). [CNN, 5/2/2009; Associated Press, 5/4/2009; Philadelphia Weekly, 5/19/2009]
Hispanic Residents Say Verdict Encourages More Racial Intimidation - Shenandoah residents say after the verdict that other white teenagers apparently feel empowered by the verdict, and have issued threats against other Hispanic residents. One, high school student Felix Bermejo, is told by a group of white males that he will be the next one to be beaten to death. Residents who have spoken out against the murder are harassed and threatened. One white resident, who asks that her name not be used for fear of retaliation, tells a reporter: “It’s only gotten worse since the verdict. The whole thing has set us backwards, and if the trial had swung the other way, it would have just been the whites who were angry.” Some white residents say that the only racial tensions in Shenandoah are those sparked by the national media coverage, but some Hispanic residents say differently. Fermin Bermejo, the father of the threatened Felix Bermejo, tells a reporter, “This town is a place where people can be very kind, but there are also a lot of folks who don’t like change and they don’t like people who are different, and they make sure you know it.” The Bermejos are American citizens. Fermin Bermejo says he has tried repeatedly to get school authorities to intervene in what he calls the bullying of his son; instead, his son has been suspended for standing up to the white youths. “All we were asking the principal to do is talk to the bullies and tell them that if the accusations were true, they would be in serious trouble,” Bermejo says. Other Hispanic residents tell of being targeted by ethnic slurs and criticized for speaking Spanish in public. One Hispanic shopkeeper says his store’s front window was shattered by vandals after the verdict. [New York Times, 5/16/2009]
Federal Investigation Mounted - After the verdict, Governor Ed Rendell (D-PA) calls the verdict racially motivated, and calls for a Justice Department investigation. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Rendell writes: “The evidence suggests that Mr. Ramirez was targeted, beaten, and killed because he was Mexican. Such lawlessness and violence hurts not only the victim of the attack, but also our towns and communities that are torn apart by such bigotry and intolerance.” After an FBI investigation, federal charges will be filed against Piekarsky, Donchak, and three local police officers (see December 15, 2009). [CNN, 12/15/2009]
Entity Tags: Eric Holder, Brian Scully, Brandon Piekarsky, Colin Walsh, Edward Gene (“Ed”) Rendell, Luis Eduardo Ramirez Zavala, Fermin Bermejo, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Derrick Donchak, Gladys Limon, Eric Macklin, Felix Bermejo
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism
Mohammad Qasim Fahim. [Source: Ozier Muhammad / New York Times]President Hamid Karzai formally registers as a candidate for re-election, choosing Mohammad Qasim Fahim—a powerful warlord accused of human rights abuses and criminality—as one of his vice presidential running mates, just hours before leaving for meetings in Washington with US President Barack Obama and Pakistani President Asif Zadari. Human rights groups immediately condemn the selection of Fahim, who was a top commander in the militant group Jamiat-e-Islami during Afghanistan’s 1990s civil war, a Northern Alliance intelligence chief, a former interim vice president, and defense minister.
Human Rights Watch: Choice a "Terrible Step Backwards for Afghanistan" - Human Rights Watch (HRW) states that Karzai is “insulting the country” with the choice. “To see Fahim back in the heart of government would be a terrible step backwards for Afghanistan,” says Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director. “He is widely believed by many Afghans to be still involved in many illegal activities, including running armed militias, as well as giving cover to criminal gangs and drug traffickers.” [Associated Press, 5/4/2009] General Fahim was one of the chief Jamiat-e-Islami commanders under Ahmed Shah Massoud. A 2005 HRW report, “Blood-Stained Hands,” found that “credible and consistent evidence of widespread and systematic human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law” were committed by Jamiat commanders, including Fahim, who was among those “directly implicated in abuses described in this report, including the 1993 Afshar campaign.” [Human Rights Watch, 7/6/2005]
Afghan Civil Society Responds - Fahim served as Karzai’s first vice president in Afghanistan’s interim government set up after the ouster of the Taliban in the 2001 US-led invasion. During the 2004 election, Karzai dropped Fahim from his ticket. Aziz Rafiee, the executive director of the Afghan Civil Society Forum says that Karzi’s pick begs a question. “If (Fahim) was a good choice, why did (Karzai) remove him [in 2004]?” Rafiee asks. “And if he was a bad choice, why did he select him again? The people of Afghanistan will answer this question while voting.” According to Mohammad Qassim Akhgar, a political columnist and the editor in chief of the Afghan newspaper 8 a.m., Fahim could be an issue for Western countries invested in Afghanistan’s success. “Perhaps if Karzai wins the election Western countries are going to use this point as an excuse and limit their assistance to Afghanistan,” he says. “This is also a matter of concern for all human rights organizations who are working in Afghanistan and working for transitional justice.”
US Response Evasive - The US Embassy does not comment on the choice, saying it is not helpful for the United States to comment on individual candidates. However, the US does issue the following statement: “We believe the election is an opportunity for Afghanistan to move forward with leaders who will strengthen national unity.” [Associated Press, 5/4/2009]
Entity Tags: Mohammad Qassim Akhgar, Jamiat-e-Islami, Hamid Karzai, Afghan Civil Society Forum, Afghan Government, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Aziz Rafiee, Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch, Mohammad Qasim Fahim
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Bryce Lefever, a former military psychologist who worked with the US military’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) program, says the techniques reverse-engineered from the program and used to torture terrorism suspects in US custody are justified. Lefever has worked with two military psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, since 1990, developing techniques for SERE training. That training helps prepare US soldiers to resist torture if they are captured by enemy forces and interrogated. Mitchell and Jessen helped create the torture program of interrogation used by the US against suspected terrorists (see January 2002 and After, April 16, 2002, and Mid-April 2002). Lefever himself served as a military psychologist at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where prisoners were routinely tortured and brutalized.
Patriots - Unlike many critics who have attacked the psychologists’ lack of ethics and concern, Lefever calls Mitchell and Jessen patriots. “I think the media ought to give us a big ol’ thank you for our efforts on behalf of America,” Lefever says. “There should be some recognition of the effort—the really extreme effort—that we’ve gone through to help.”
Ethically Compelled to Construct Torture Program - Lefever says the criticism of Mitchell and Jessen is unfounded and stems from a basic misunderstanding of the ethical mission of psychologists. “[T]he idea that they would be involved in producing some pain just seems at first blush to be something that would be wrong, because we ‘do no harm,’” he says, but “the ethical consideration is always to do the most good for the most people.” Because torturing a “few” prisoners might well produce intelligence that would help prevent another attack on the magnitude of 9/11, Lefever says, it was incumbent on Mitchell, Jessen, and himself to use their knowledge of SERE tactics to construct an interrogation program that might elicit such actionable intelligence. “America’s house was broken into on 9/11 and someone had to raise their hand to stop it,” he says. “And early on there was a sense of desperation in intelligence-gathering.” Lefever has no doubts that torture works to produce reliable intelligence. “You know, the tough nut to crack, if you keep him awake for a week, you torture him, you tie his arms behind him, you have him on the ground—anyone can be brought beyond their ability to resist.” Indeed, he says, it would have been unethical for him not to come forward: “America is my client; Americans are who I care about. I have no fondness for the enemy and I don’t feel like I need to take care of their mental health needs.” Mitchell, Jessen, and other military psychologists felt the same way, he says. “Anyone who wants to throw stones in this situation really needs to step back and figure out what they themselves would do in these situations and not just be ‘ivory tower’ critics,” he notes. “Most of the time they have no idea what they’re talking about.” [National Public Radio, 5/4/2009]
Accused of Abandoning Ethical Code - Psychologist Stephen Soldz, who writes for the organization Psychoanalysts for Peace and Justice, is highly critical of Lefever’s stance, accusing him of renouncing the psychologists’ code of ethics, and notes that Lefever implicitly acknowledges that SERE tactics were used on US detainees, an admission CIA and Pentagon officials have been loath to make. [Psychoanalysts for Peace and Justice, 5/4/2009]
Experts say that the so-called “ticking time bomb” scenario, which is often used to justify the use of torture, is fallacious. Many novels (see 1960), movies, and television shows, most recently Fox’s 24 (see Fall 2006), routinely portray a time-critical scene where the hero of the story must torture a prisoner to obtain information needed to avert an imminent attack, usually the “ticking time bomb” planted and ready to explode. Terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman says that such scenarios are dubious at best. “I’ve personally been told that they happen but I have to admit that in the years, in now the decade I have been told about it, I have become increasingly skeptical,” he says. “A ticking bomb becomes a default assumption which in turn becomes a legitimization or justification for torture. And in actual fact, even though people have told me about it, I have yet to see an actual documented case independently of what I was told.” Former CIA agent Michael Scheuer says that he knows of cases where torture elicited useful and critical information, but refuses to give specifics. CIA officials are unwilling or unable to provide details of the effectiveness of techniques such as waterboarding. Former military interrogator Matthew Alexander (see December 2-4, 2008) says of the CIA’s waterboarding of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see April 16, 2009 and April 18, 2009), “What I get most out of the waterboarding of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is that any approach—I don’t care what it is—if you have to do it 183 times, it is not working,” he says. “When they did use the waterboard on Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, what they were getting each time was the absolute minimum he could get away with. And that’s what you get when you use torture—you get the absolute minimum amount of information.” [National Public Radio, 5/5/2009]
FBI special agent and whistleblower Robert G. Wright Jr. wins the right to publish most of the information over which he has been fighting the FBI in court for nearly seven years (see May 9, 2002). US District Court Judge Gladys Kessler rules that Wright can publish most of the information in his 500-page manuscript, all of the information in two complaints he had filed with the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General regarding the FBI’s handling of terrorism investigations, and his answers to New York Times reporter Judith Miller’s questions. Kessler also rules that Wright’s colleague and co-plaintiff, FBI Special Agent John Vincent, can publish his answers to Miller’s questions.
Judge Repeatedly Faults FBI - In her 41-page memorandum opinion, Kessler repeatedly finds fault with the FBI. The preface to the opinion summarizes the proceedings and the related issues in this way: “This is a sad and discouraging tale about the determined efforts of the FBI to censor various portions of a 500-page manuscript, written by a former long-time FBI agent, severely criticizing the FBI’s conduct of the investigation of a money laundering scheme in which United States-based members of the Hamas terrorist organization were using non-profit organizations in this country to recruit and train terrorists and fund terrorist activities both here and abroad. The FBI also sought to censor answers given by both plaintiffs to a series of written questions presented to them by a New York Times reporter concerning Wright’s allegations about the FBI’s alleged mishandling of the investigation. In its efforts to suppress this information, the FBI repeatedly changed its position, presented formalistic objections to release of various portions of the documents in question, admitted finally that much of the material it sought to suppress was in fact in the public domain and had been all along, and now concedes that several of the reasons it originally offered for censorship no longer have any validity. Unfortunately, the issues of terrorism and of alleged FBI incompetence remain as timely as ever.” [Memorandum Opinion: Wright, v. FBI (PDF), 5/6/2009 ]
A 'Pyrrhic Victory' for Wright - Reporting on the case for Politico, Josh Gerstein will call the outcome “a pyrrhic victory for [Wright], since the passage of time appears to have diminished the market for his book.” Gerstein will quote one of Wright and Vincent’s lawyers, Paul Orfanedes of Judical Watch, as saying, “It’s a perfect example of how delaying somebody’s ability to publish is a clear violation of their rights.” Gerstein will also report, “Orfanedes said Wright’s book ‘might be made public in a reduced format,’ but that the group’s main hope now was to expose how the government system for pre-publication reviews of books by FBI, CIA, and other national security-related officials, is dysfunctional.” [Politico, 5/11/2009]
FBI Attempts to Censor Judge's Memorandum Opinion and Fails - In an ironic twist, an FBI demand for redaction of a portion of Kessler’s memorandum opinion calls attention to that portion of the text, which is easily readable due to improper redaction technique; the text under the blacked out portion can be copied and pasted. The redacted portion is an FBI argument for why a portion of Wright’s manuscript must be redacted. It reads, “[D]isclosure of the location and use of this infrastructure could allow individuals to survey, attempt to penetrate, or disrupt the activities that take place in the infrastructure.” It is unclear why the FBI believes that a general reference to sensitive infrastructure is sensitive in itself. [Memorandum Opinion: Wright, v. FBI (PDF), 5/6/2009 ; Memorandum Opinion: Wright, v. FBI (PDF), 5/6/2009; Memorandum Opinion: Wright, v. FBI (PDF), 5/6/2009]
Ted Sorenson. [Source: Living Dialogues (.com)]Ted Sorenson, a former speechwriter and chief adviser to President John F. Kennedy, says that too many American lawyers stood idly by while the US conducted illegal torture and violated the Constitution. Sorenson, giving the commencement address at his alma mater, the University of Nebraska College of Law, urges the graduates to act with courage and integrity during their own careers. Sorenson says that the use of torture and other illegal tactics actually weakens US national security. “Yes, torture gets results,” he says. “It has resulted in easier, swifter, more successful recruitment for terrorist organizations among the millions of young Islamic fanatics who are willing to use the one weapon against which an open society such as ours has no sure defense—suicide bombing. It also resulted in a sharp decline in America’s standing among allies who might otherwise have provided intelligence and other forms of help. It has cost us the respect of other countries that we enjoyed, which protected us against attacks from abroad.” Few military leaders support torture, Sorenson says: “They know that the moral authority of the United States, its traditional ability to occupy the moral high ground in an international conflict, is an important part of our security. More important than the worthless statements extracted from torture’s victims who will cry out anything to halt it.” Sorenson is harshly critical of the lawyers who facilitated the Bush administration’s torture policies: “Intellectually and morally dishonest lawyers [in the Department of Justice] disgraced not only their country but their profession” in claiming that waterboarding and other forms of torture were legal, he says. “In a country based on the rule of law, in which no man is above the law, whatever his rank or title, no man can undertake, authorize, or immunize unlawful conduct.” He advocates investigation and prosecution for those who authorized and employed torture. “Our current wonderful president cannot promise the CIA practitioners of torture that they will not be prosecuted,” he says. “With all those now exposed of complicity in torture pointing fingers of blame at each other, it is clear that the guilty include political ideologues, cowardly bureaucrats, and inexperienced psychologists, all of whom plead ignorance of the law. But what about the lawyers?” [Lincoln Journal-Star, 5/9/2009]
In an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation, former Vice President Dick Cheney acknowledges that President Bush knew of the torture program as performed under his administration. However, he again says that in his view the practices employed by the US on enemy detainees did not constitute torture (see December 15, 2008). He also reiterates earlier claims that by dismantling Bush-era policies on torture and warrantless wiretapping, the Obama administration is making the country more vulnerable to terrorist attacks (see January 22, 2009, January 22, 2009, January 23, 2009, February 2009, March 17, 2009, March 29, 2009, April 20, 2009, April 21, 2009, April 22, 2009, April 22, 2009, April 22, 2009, April 23, 2009, and April 26, 2009), and reiterates his claim that classified documents will prove that torture was effective in producing actionable intelligence (see April 20, 2009).
Claims Documents Prove Efficacy of Torture - Cheney says: “One of the things that I did six weeks ago was I made a request that two memos that I personally know of, written by the CIA, that lay out the successes of those policies and point out in considerable detail all of—all that we were able to achieve by virtue of those policies, that those memos be released, be made public (see April 22, 2009). The administration has released legal opinions out of the Office of Legal Counsel. They don’t have any qualms at all about putting things out that can be used to be critical of the Bush administration policies. But when you’ve got memos out there that show precisely how much was achieved and how lives were saved as a result of these policies, they won’t release those. At least, they haven’t yet.” Host Bob Schieffer notes that Attorney General Eric Holder has denied any knowledge of such documents, and that other administration officials have said that torture provided little useful information. Cheney responds: “I say they did. Four former directors of the Central Intelligence Agency say they did, bipartisan basis. Release the memos. And we can look and see for yourself what was produced.” Cheney says the memos specifically discuss “different attack planning that was under way and how it was stopped. It talks [sic] about how the volume of intelligence reports that were produced from that.… What it shows is that overwhelmingly, the process we had in place produced from certain key individuals, such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaida (see After March 7, 2003), two of the three who were waterboarded.… Once we went through that process, he [Mohammed] produced vast quantities of invaluable information about al-Qaeda” (see August 6, 2007). Opponents of Bush torture policies, Cheney says, are “prepared to sacrifice American lives rather than run an intelligent interrogation program that would provide us the information we need to protect America.”
Bush Knew of Torture Program - Cheney also acknowledges that then-President Bush knew of the torture program, saying: “I certainly, yes, have every reason to believe he knew—he knew a great deal about the program. He basically authorized it. I mean, this was a presidential-level decision. And the decision went to the president. He signed off on it.” Cheney concludes by saying that he would be willing to testify before Congress concerning the torture program and his administration’s handling of its war on terror, though he refuses to commit to testifying under oath. [Congressional Quarterly, 5/10/2009; CBS News, 5/10/2009 ]
Malalai Joya. [Source: Getty]In a series of editorials and interviews, Afghan MP Malalai Joya declares that the upcoming presidential election polls in Afghanistan are illegitimate and have been determined in advance in favor of current Afghan President Hamid Karzai by the United States in cooperation with a group of powerful allied warlords and former Mujaheddin. “Under the shadow of warlordism, corruption, and occupation, this vote will have no legitimacy, and once again it seems the real choice will be made behind closed doors in the White House,” Joya writes in a Guardian editorial. [Guardian, 7/25/2009] She echoes this in a later interview in London with the Arab daily, Asharq Al-Awsat: “Even the upcoming presidential elections in Afghanistan will not change anything because the next president will be chosen behind the closed doors of the Pentagon.” [Asharq Al-Awsat, 8/3/2009]
Karzai a 'Shameless Puppet' of Afghan Warlords, Coalition Occupiers - In an interview with Johann Hari in The Independent, Joya rails against the current government of Hamid Karzai, the US and NATO occupation, and the mafia-ridden warlordism that dominates Afghan social and political life. She asserts that Karzai keeps power only as “a shameless puppet” of both the Afghan warlords and the occupying powers, thus guaranteeing him victory in the August elections due to his fealty to these powers. “He hasn’t yet stopped working for his masters, the US and the warlords.… At this point in our history, the only people who get to serve as president are those selected by the US government and the mafia that holds power in our country,” she says. “Dust has been thrown into the eyes of the world by your governments. You have not been told the truth. The situation now is as catastrophic as it was under the Taliban for women. Your governments have replaced the fundamentalist rule of the Taliban with another fundamentalist regime of warlords. [That is] what your soldiers are dying for.” [Independent, 7/28/2009] Joya also slams the recent western troop surge as a farce masquerading as support for democratic elections. In the progressive Internet magazine ZNet, she writes: “We are told that additional US and NATO troops are coming to Afghanistan to help secure the upcoming presidential election. But frankly the Afghan people have no hope in this election—we know that there can be no true democracy under the guns of warlords, the drug trafficking mafia, and occupation.” [ZNet, 5/16/2009]
Suspended from Assembly, in Hiding from Assassins - Joya was elected to the 249-seat National Assembly, or Wolesi Jirga, in September 2005 as a representative of Farah province, but was suspended from the parliament in 2007 for publicly denouncing fellow members as drug smugglers, warlords, and war criminals. Her suspension sparked international condemnation and is currently under appeal. Joya, a champion of women’s rights and democracy in Afghanistan, lives in hiding and has survived at least four assassination attempts. [Human Rights Watch, 5/23/2007; Democracy Now!, 6/19/2007]
Brian Scully, a Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, teenager charged with taking part in the fatal beating of illegal immigrant Luis Ramirez (see July 12, 2008 and After), admits to taking part in the fight that resulted in him and a number of his friends kicking and stomping the unconscious Ramirez to death. Scully, charged as a juvenile with aggravated assault and ethnic intimidation, is classified as a “delinquent” and ordered to spend 90 days in a treatment center. The three teenagers charged as adults in the murder were recently acquitted of all but the lightest charges in the murder (see May 2, 2009 and After). Scully says he is sorry for his actions. [Associated Press, 5/18/2009]
Author and pro-choice advocate Cristina Page writes that the murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009) is anything but an isolated incident, and warns that more anti-abortion violence may well be forthcoming. “The pattern is clear and frightening,” she writes. Page notes that the tenure of President Clinton, who supported abortion rights, was marred by a large and ever-escalating number of violent protests and attacks on abortion providers, beginning with the murder of Dr. David Gunn in 1993 (see March 10, 1993); Gunn’s murder, Page writes, “was the beginning of what would become a five-fold increase in violence against abortion providers throughout the Clinton years.” During Clinton’s two terms, six abortion providers and clinical staff members were murdered, and 17 other attempted murders took place. There were 12 bombings or arsons during Clinton’s tenure. From 2001 through 2008, no abortion-related murders, nor attempted murders, occurred, while George W. Bush, an anti-abortion president, was in office. A single clinic bombing took place during Bush’s two terms. Since the election of President Obama, another pro-choice president, a steady escalation of anti-abortion violence has occurred (see February-May, 2009), culminating in the murder of Tiller. Page notes that in the eight years of the Bush administration, abortion and women’s health clinics registered 396 harassing phone calls. In the five months of the Obama administration, that number is at 1401 and rising. Page writes: “Battered women are at greatest danger of being killed by their abusers when they are most strong—that is, when they muster the courage to leave. The same phenomenon may be true in the abusive political abortion debate. The pro-choice movement, specifically our abortion providers, are in the greatest danger of violence when we take power. When the anti-abortion movement loses power, their most extreme elements appear to move to the fore and take control. The murder of Dr. Tiller suggests that violence against abortion providers may be far more linked to the power, or lack thereof, anti-abortion groups have politically than to laws designed to increase penalties against such acts.” She notes the violent rhetoric of numerous anti-abortion organization leaders since Obama’s election, many targeting Obama himself, with one official calling Obama a “radical pro-abortion president” and another saying that Obama will “force Americans to pay for the killing of innocents.” Elizabeth Barnes, executive director of the Philadelphia Women’s Center, says: “When the pendulum swung in the direction of protecting women’s rights, we expected something. The way the antis are reacting has changed, they’re taking more liberties, pressing the boundaries of legal, civil protest.” Page concludes: “Anti-abortion groups will put out carefully worded press statements condemning the murder of Dr. Tiller, as became routine for them during the Clinton years. But unless the rhetoric they choose from now on becomes careful too—they may be the enablers of murder and terror.” [Huffington Post, 5/31/2009]
A screenshot of Bill O’Reilly, taken during one of his segments featuring his criticism of Dr. George Tiller. [Source: Drive-By Times]Progressive author and blogger David Neiwert compiles three years of video evidence that he says proves Fox News host Bill O’Reilly helped target murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009). Since 2006, Neiwert writes, O’Reilly has targeted the man he called “Tiller the Killer” in recurrent episodes of his Fox television show, The O’Reilly Factor, and on his radio show, accusing Tiller of “executing babies” and recommending that “something” be done to stop Tiller from continuing his practice. In November 2006, O’Reilly told his audience: “If we as a society allow an undefined mental health exception in late-term abortions, then babies can be killed for almost any reason.… This is the kind of stuff that happened in Mao’s China and Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union.… If we allow this, America will no longer be a noble nation.… If we allow Dr. George Tiller and his acolytes to continue, we can no longer pass judgment on any behavior by anybody. What Tiller is doing is that bad.” In the same broadcast, he said: “I don’t care what you think. We have incontrovertible evidence that this man is executing babies about to be born because the woman is depressed… if you don’t believe me, I don’t care.… You are okay with Dr. Tiller executing babies about to be born because the mother says she’s depressed.” O’Reilly claimed that Tiller was a criminal and told his audience, “George Tiller will execute babies for $5,000 if the mother is depressed.” O’Reilly has urged “massive” protests at Tiller’s clinic, once in January 2006, when he said, “There should be thousands of people protesting outside Tiller’s abortion clinic in Wichita.” According to Neiwert, the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue (see 1986), which regularly prints O’Reilly’s articles in its newsletter, answered O’Reilly’s call, and O’Reilly used information from Operation Rescue to further lambast Tiller on his shows. In May 2007, O’Reilly described Tiller with the following diatribe: “killer, murder, murderer, barbarian, barbaric procedure, disgrace.” Neiwert writes that O’Reilly is not legally culpable for Tiller’s murder, but he is “morally and ethically culpable.” [Crooks and Liars, 6/1/2009; Salon, 6/1/2009]
Stormfront logo. [Source: Stormfront (.org)]Journalist and media observer Greg Mitchell reports on the reaction on an extreme-right Web site to the museum shooting by white supremacist James von Brunn (see June 10, 2009 and After). Mitchell pays a visit to the Web site of the neo-Nazi organization Stormfront, and finds that an apparently lively discussion thread about the shooting has already been shut down; one poster says that the thread was closed because commentators were overly supportive of the shooting. Other threads, including what Mitchell calls “years-old tributes” to von Brunn, are still active. Many of the comments are critical of the shooting because of the negative publicity sure to ensue from it. Other comments are neutral. Some posters call von Brunn a “victim of Jewish extremism,” setting off a number of anti-Semitic responses. One poster writes that “von Brunn was trying to send a powerful and courageous message,” and someone else writes: “Heroes refuse to go out with a whimper. An example to all of us.” One poster writes: “I am watching the media try to pull to heart strings of white Americans who are watching. Remember if you ever question whats going around you you’ll eventually be led to psychotic acts of violence.” And other posters predict that the shooting, and the subsequent publicity, “will do some recruiting for us.” [Editor & Publisher, 6/10/2009]
James von Brunn. [Source: UPI / TPM Muckraker]James von Brunn, an 88-year-old man with a long history of violence and anti-Semitism, opens fire inside Washington’s Holocaust Museum. Von Brunn kills a security guard, Stephen T. Johns, before being brought down by fire from other security guards. Von Brunn is hospitalized in critical condition. Von Brunn brought a .22 rifle into the museum and began shooting almost immediately upon entering the building. [WJLA-TV, 6/10/2009; New York Daily News, 6/11/2009] The New York Daily News identifies von Brunn as a “neo-Nazi.” [New York Daily News, 6/11/2009]
Targeting Jewish White House Official - Von Brunn has a list of nine locations in his car, including the White House, the US Capitol, and media outlets such as Fox News and the Washington Post. [WJLA-TV, 6/10/2009] A note in a notebook found in the car reads: “You want my weapons, this is how you’ll get them. The Holocaust is a lie. Obama was created by Jews. Obama does what his Jew owners tell him to do.” In September 2010, the press will learn that von Brunn intended to kill President Obama’s senior adviser David Axelrod, a Jew. Von Brunn did not believe he could get to Obama, authorities will later confirm, but he had the “motive, means, and intent” to kill Axelrod, one of Obama’s closest aides. Axelrod will be given special Secret Service protection. [Guardian, 6/11/2009; Time, 9/30/2010; TPM Muckraker, 9/30/2010]
Shock, Sadness Mark Reactions - Within hours, President Obama and a number of political and cultural organizations will express their shock and sorrow over the shooting (see June 10-11, 2009).
Long History of Violence, White Supremacist Ties, and Anti-Semitism - Von Brunn maintains a Web site, “holywesternempire.org,” described by reporters as “racist [and] anti-Semitic,” and is the author of a book, Kill the Best Gentiles, which alleges a Jewish “conspiracy to destroy the white gene pool.” Von Brunn served six years in prison for a 1981 attempt to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve Board. (On his Web site, he complained of being convicted by a “Jew/Negro” conspiracy of lawyers and judicial officials.) His Web site alleges that the Holocaust is a hoax, and calls Nazi Germany the “cultural gem of the West.” The FBI is investigating the shooting as a possible hate crime or a case of domestic terrorism. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) lists von Brunn’s Web site as a hate site. [WJLA-TV, 6/10/2009; NBC New York, 6/11/2009; USA Today, 6/11/2009] “We’ve been tracking this guy for decades,” says SPLC official Heidi Beirich. “He thinks the Jews control the Federal Reserve, the banking system, that basically all Jews are evil.” [Associated Press, 6/10/2009] Von Brunn’s son, Erik von Brunn, says his father’s virulent racism and anti-Semitism has blighted their family for years. In a statement, he writes: “For the extremists who believe my father is a hero: it is imperative you understand what he did was an act of cowardice. His actions have undermined your ‘movement,’ and strengthened the resistance against your cause. He should not be remembered as a brave man or a hero, but a coward unable to come to grips with the fact he threw his and his families lives away for an ideology that fostered sadness and anguish.” [Washington Post, 6/14/2009] Further investigation turns up evidence that Von Brunn has connections to white supremacist organizations and anti-government groups. In 2004, von Brunn stayed for four days in Hayden, Idaho, with Stan Hess, then the representative for white supremacist David Duke’s European rights group. Hess recalls von Brunn as being “very angry about society and the Jewish influence at the Federal Reserve.” Von Brunn, Hess says, alluded to violence but never spoke specifically about a target. [NBC New York, 6/11/2009; USA Today, 6/11/2009] FBI investigators find a painting of Adolf Hitler and Jesus Christ standing together in von Brunn’s home. They also find more firearms, and child pornography on his computer. [MyFoxDC, 6/17/2009; Washington Post, 6/19/2009] Von Brunn also has ties to the far-right, white supremacist British National Party, and had attended meetings of the American Friends of the British National Party. [Guardian, 6/11/2009]
Eradicating Evidence of Support - Within hours of the murder, Web sites featuring von Brunn’s work begin removing his material from their pages; some of those sites are operated by organizations whose members had praised and supported von Brunn’s white supremacist and anti-Obama statements (see June 10-11, 2009).
Connections to Anti-Obama 'Birther' Movement - Von Brunn has also written about his belief that Obama is at the heart of a conspiracy to cover up his Kenyan citizenship (see October 8-10, 2008). Reporter Ben Smith writes, “The penetration of the birther mythology into the violent fringe has to be a worry for the Secret Service, because at it’s heart, it’s about denying Obama’s legitimacy to hold the office of president.” [Politico, 6/10/2009; USA Today, 6/11/2009]
Indicted for Murder, Dies before Trial - Von Brunn will be indicted for first-degree murder in the death of Johns. [Washington Post, 7/29/2009] However, he will die in prison before his trial can commence. [BBC, 1/6/2010]
Entity Tags: British National Party, David Axelrod, James von Brunn, Heidi Beirich, Federal Reserve Board of Governors, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Barack Obama, Erik von Brunn, US Holocaust Museum, American Friends of the British National Party, Southern Poverty Law Center, Stephen T. Johns, Stan Hess, US Secret Service
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism
Within hours of the murder of a security guard by white supremacist James von Brunn (see June 10, 2009 and After), Web sites that had praised von Brunn’s cultural and political stances begin removing his material. Wikipedia had already eradicated his user page and changes because, according to a spokesman, von Brunn violated the site’s policy on hate speech. An art site removes posts from von Brunn, including an image of a painting he created. [New York Times, 6/10/2009] The progressive Internet news site Talking Points Memo finds a cached copy of a December 2008 anti-Obama post by Von Brunn on the far-right Free Republic news and commentary site; Free Republic had removed it from its listings soon after the shooting became known. Von Brunn’s post garnered over 200 responses, almost all positive and supportive. [TPM Muckraker, 6/10/2009]
Hours after a white supremacist kills a security guard in the Washington, DC, Holocaust Museum (see June 10, 2009 and After), White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says that President Obama is “obviously saddened by what has happened.” The next day, Obama says: “We have lost a courageous security guard who stood watch at this place of solemn remembrance. This outrageous act reminds us that we must remain vigilant against anti-Semitism and prejudice. No American institution is more important to this effort than the Holocaust museum.” A week before, on a visit to the site of a Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald, Germany, Obama said: “There are those who insist the Holocaust never happened.… This place is the ultimate rebuke to such thoughts, a reminder of our duty to confront those who would tell lies about our history.” Israeli government official Yuli Edelstein says the shooting is “further proof that anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial have not passed from the world.” And the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a prominent American Muslim organization, says in a statement, “We condemn this apparent bias-motivated attack and stand with the Jewish community and with Americans of all faiths in repudiating the kind of hatred and intolerance that can lead to such disturbing incidents.” [WJLA-TV, 6/10/2009; NBC New York, 6/11/2009; USA Today, 6/11/2009]
Journalist Daphne Eviatar writes that during the eight years of the Bush presidency, prosecutions and enforcement of the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE—see May 1994) “cratered,” with Justice Department officials refusing to prosecute or sometimes even investigate complaints of vandalism, harassment, and assault. After the recent murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009), Eviatar and the Washington Independent obtained government data showing that enforcement of the FACE law, and other federal laws designed to protect abortion providers and clinics, declined by 75 percent during the Bush presidency. Between 1994 and 1999, when President Clinton was in office, the Justice Department filed 17 complaints under the FACE Act. Between 2001 and 2009, when President Bush was in office, the Justice Department only filed a single case. Tiller’s own clinic was vandalized numerous times, but complaints against the actions were ignored by the department. Statistics provided by the National Abortion Federation (NAF) show that over 3,200 acts of violence against abortion providers in the US and Canada were committed between 2000 and 2008, and the organization says the number of actual incidents was probably “much higher.” The number does not include threats, vandalism, and harassment. NAF statistics show that at least 17 cases of “extreme” violence against abortion providers in the US were reported, including arson, stabbings, bombings, and fake anthrax mailings. But the Bush Justice Department only prosecuted 11 individuals for these attacks. The two highest-profile anti-abortion prosecutions were those of anthrax mailer Clayton Waagner (see 1997-December 2001) and bomber Eric Rudolph (see April 14, 2005). However, none of Waagner’s or Rudolph’s associates in the extremist organization Army of God (see 1982) were ever prosecuted as accessories to the two activists’ crimes. Neither was the Army of God ever investigated as a potential domestic terrorist organization (see Early 1980s). [Washington Independent, 6/12/2009]
Federal authorities launch raids and arrests in three states based on four years of evidence compiled by a confidential informant who has managed to get close to white supremacists Dennis and Daniel Mahon (see January 26, 2005 and After). The Mahons’ home in Illinois is searched, as is a Missouri farm owned by survivalist Robert Joos and an Indiana home owned by supremacist leader Tom Metzger (see 1981 and After). The Mahons are arrested on suspicion of bombing a Scottsdale federal office (see February 26, 2004 and After), and Joos on weapons charges. Metzger is not arrested. Joos is later convicted and sentenced to six and a half years in federal prison. The Mahons will go on trial in 2012 (see January 10, 2012 and After). Metzger later says that he was released because he was innocent of any crime, and that he doubts the Mahon brothers are guilty of anything, either: “I have a hard time believing that they did it. I’ve always cautioned them against going across the line.” [TPM Muckraker, 1/10/2012]
Senator-elect Al Franken (D-MN) acknowledges his victory in front of his Minneapolis home. His wife Franni Franken looks on. [Source: Jeffrey Thompson / Getty Images / Zimbio]The Minnesota Supreme Court rejects Senate candidate Norm Coleman’s motion to reconsider the vote recount that found his opponent, Al Franken (D-MN), the winner of the November 2008 Senate race (see January 5, 2009). Coleman, a Republican and the incumbent, concedes the election in a brief appearance after the ruling. Hours later, Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) signs the election certificate for Franken, clearing the way for Franken to take his seat in the US Senate. “I can’t wait to get started,” Franken says. “I won by 312 votes, so I really have to earn the trust of the people who didn’t vote for me.” Coleman says he chose not to appeal to federal courts given the likelihood that the results would not have gone his way, and says he respects the high court’s decision. The court rejects Coleman’s contention that hundreds of absentee ballots ruled invalid should be counted, ruling that voters have the expectation of filling out the ballots properly and should understand that improperly completed ballots will be rejected. Franken’s seating gives Democrats a 60-vote majority in the Senate, theoretically giving them a “filibuster-proof majority” that would overcome Republican efforts to block legislation by refusing to allow cloture votes. However, Democrats rarely vote in unified “blocs” as Republicans often do, and two Senate Democrats, Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Robert Byrd (D-WV), are hospitalized and unable to cast votes. Franken will be seated after Congress’s July 4 recess. [Associated Press, 6/30/2009; Commercial Appeal (Memphis), 7/1/2009] Politico describes the ruling as “remarkably decisive, picking apart and rejecting one Coleman legal claim after another.” Law professor Larry Jacobs says, “Norm Coleman has gotten shellacked in the court room—by judges who were appointed by Pawlenty.” The Minnesota Republican Party protests the ruling, claiming that it “wrongly disenfranchised thousands of Minnesotans who deserve to have their votes counted,” but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says he accepts the decision, stating: “While I am very disappointed in the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision today, I respect Norm’s decision not to pursue his case any further. After having more votes on Election Day, he made a great personal sacrifice to pursue an accurate account of the vote for Minnesotans. For that, and his dedicated service on behalf of Minnesota, he should be commended.” [Politico, 6/30/2009]
Entity Tags: Politico, Larry Jacobs, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Al Franken, Minnesota Republican Party, Minnesota Supreme Court, Robert C. Byrd, Mitch McConnell, Norm Coleman, Tim Pawlenty
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections
The non-partisan PolitiFact, an organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, again delves into the ever-widening controversy surrounding President Obama’s supposed lack of US citizenship. A year ago, the organization attempted to debunk the wildly varying claims that Obama is not a US citizen (see June 27, 2008). Since then, the number and nature of the various claims against Obama’s heritage and citizenship have continued to swell. PolitiFact examines one aspect of the controversy, the question about “long form” vs. “short form” birth certificates. According to PolitiFact researcher Robert Fairley, so-called “birthers” claim that Obama has never produced a valid “long form” birth certificate, only an easily faked “short form” certificate that is generated via a computer database in Honolulu, the city of Obama’s birth. In August 2008, researchers from FactCheck stated that they had verified the authenticity of a physical and true copy of the birth certificate, though the verification did little to stem the tide of claims and conspiracy theories. The “long form”—kept in state vaults by Hawaiian law—is the actual “birth certificate,” birthers claim; the “short form” is merely a “certification of live birth,” and, they say, useless for proving anyone’s actual status as a citizen. Many “birthers” believe that the “hidden” long form would prove Obama’s foreign birth, and claim that Hawaii’s refusal to release it (a violation of state law) is proof of Obama’s hidden heritage. Some claim that Hawaii does not accept a “certification of live birth” as proof that an individual was physically born in Hawaii, and point to a statement on the Web site of the Hawaii Department of Home Lands, which reads in part: “In order to process your application, DHHL utilizes information that is found only on the original certificate of live birth, which is either black or green. This is a more complete record of your birth than the certification of live birth (a computer-generated printout). Submitting the original certificate of live birth will save you time and money since the computer-generated certification requires additional verification by DHHL.” DHHL spokesman Lloyd Yonenaka says the statement is somewhat misleading. In order to be eligible for Hawaii’s Home Lands program, an applicant must be able to prove that his ancestry is 50 percent native Hawaiian or indigeneous. Obama has never asserted that his ancestry is native Hawaiian. The DHHL Web site now states: “The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands accepts both certificates of live birth (original birth certificate) and certifications of live birth because they are official government records documenting an individual’s birth. The certificate of live birth generally has more information which is useful for genealogical purposes as compared to the certification of live birth which is a computer-generated printout that provides specific details of a person’s birth. Although original birth certificates (certificates of live birth) are preferred for their greater detail, the State Department of Health (DOH) no longer issues certificates of live birth. When a request is made for a copy of a birth certificate, the DOH issues a certification of live birth.” Janice Okubo of the Hawaii Department of Health says there is no real difference between the “long form” and “short form” for any useful purposes. The terms are “just words,” she says. Obama’s birth certificate as posted on the Internet (see June 13, 2008) “is considered a birth certificate from the state of Hawaii. There’s only one form of birth certificate.” Hawaii has followed the same practice of keeping the “long form” on file and issuing copies of the “short form” since the 1960s, she says. The forms have changed somewhat in appearance over the ensuring decades, she notes, and says there are no doubt differences between certificates issued in, say 1961 and those issued now. “When you request a birth certificate, the one you get looks exactly like the one posted on his site,” she says. “That’s the birth certificate.” The so-called “short form” “certification of live birth” would show if Obama had been born in a foreign land, she says. The certificate states that he was born in Honolulu. [St. Petersburg Times, 7/1/2009]
The cover of Mark Klein’s ‘Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine… and Fighting It.’ [Source: BookSurge / aLibris (.com)]Former AT&T technician Mark Klein self-publishes his book, Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine… and Fighting It. In his acknowledgements, Klein writes that he chose to self-publish (through BookSurge, a pay-to-publish venue) because “[t]he big publishers never called me,” and the single small publishing house that offered to publish his book added “an unacceptable requirement to cut core material.” Klein based his book on his experiences as an AT&T engineer at the telecom giant’s San Francisco facility, where he primarily worked with AT&T’s Internet service. In 2002 and 2003, Klein witnessed the construction of of a “secret room,” a facility within the facility that was used by the National Security Agency (NSA) to gather billions of email, telephone, VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol), and text messages, most of which were sent by ordinary Americans. The NSA did its electronic surveillance, Klein writes, secretly and without court warrants. Klein describes himself as “wiring up the Big Brother machine,” and was so concerned about the potential illegality and constitutional violations of the NSA’s actions (with AT&T’s active complicity) that he retained a number of non-classified documents proving the extent of the communications “vacuuming” being done. Klein later used those documents to warn a number of reporters, Congressional members, and judges of what he considered a horrific breach of Americans’ right to privacy. [Klein, 2009, pp. 9-11, 21-24, 33, 35, 38, 40] In 2007, Klein described his job with the firm as “basically to keep the systems going. I worked at AT&T for 22 and a half years. My job was basically to keep the systems going. They were computer systems, network communication systems, Internet equipment, Voice over Internet [Protocol (VoIP)] equipment. I tested circuits long distance across the country. That was my job: to keep the network up.” He explained why he chose to become a “whistleblower:” “Because I remember the last time this happened.… I did my share of anti-war marches when that was an active thing back in the ‘60s, and I remember the violations and traffic transgressions that the government pulled back then for a war that turned out to be wrong, and a lot of innocent people got killed over it. And I’m seeing all this happening again, only worse. When the [NSA] got caught in the ‘70s doing domestic spying, it was a big scandal, and that’s why Congress passed the FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] law, as you know, to supposedly take care of that (see 1978). So I remember all that. And the only way any law is worth anything is if there’s a memory so that people can say: ‘Wait a minute. This happened before.’ And you’ve got to step forward and say: ‘I remember this. This is the same bad thing happening again, and there should be a halt to it.’ And I’m a little bit of that institutional memory in the country; that’s all.” [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007]
Villagers from towns in Helmand province accuse provincial Afghan police forces of perpetrating abuse against the local population recently and in the period before the Taliban re-gained control of the region. The reports include accusations of extortion and the rape of pre-teen boys. Villagers tell US and British troops who have arrived in the area for major operations (see Early Morning July 2, 2009) about the abuses, and say that the local police are a bigger problem than the Taliban. In fact, village elders say that they are willing to support the Taliban against coalition troops if these police forces are allowed to return. The accusations are acknowledged by some Western civilian and military officials, but their response is tepid. Adding to the problem of abuse and corruption is that the districts where the US-British military operation in Helmand is taking place are especially sensitive because they contain the main opium poppy fields in the province. Some of the police are linked to the private militia of a powerful warlord who has been implicated in drug trafficking. Former US ambassador to Afghanistan, Ronald Neumann, says that the problem is not surprising and can be traced back to the creation of the national police after the overthrow of the Taliban regime in late 2001 (see November 13, 2001). Neumann recalls that the Afghan police were “constituted from the forces that were then fighting the Taliban.” [Inter Press Service, 7/29/2009]
Child Rape, Extortion - “The police would stop people driving on motorcycles, beat them, and take their money,” says Mohammad Gul, an elder in the village of Pankela, which British troops have been operating for the past three days. Gul also points to two compounds where pre-teen boys have been abducted by police to be used for the local practice of “bachabazi,” or sex with pre-pubescent boys. “If the boys were out in the fields, the police would come and rape them,” he says. “You can go to any police base and you will see these boys. They hold them until they are finished with them and then let the child go.” The Interior Ministry in Kabul says it will address the reports only after contacting police commanders in the area. [Reuters, 7/12/2009] A villager in the village of Aynak, Ghulam Mohammad, says that villagers are happy with the Afghan army, but not the police. “We can’t complain to the police because they take money and abuse people,” he says. [Associated Press, 7/13/2009]
Some Locals Prefer Taliban to Afghan Police - Mohammad Rasul, an elderly farmer, says that local people rejoiced when the Taliban arrived in the village 10 months ago and drove the police out. Even though his own son was killed by a Taliban roadside bomb five years ago, Rasul says the Taliban fighters earned their welcome in the village by treating people with respect. “We were happy [after the Taliban arrived]. The Taliban never bothered us,” he says. “If [the British] bring these people back, we can’t live here. If they come back, I am sure they will burn everything.” Another resident adds: “The people here trust the Taliban. If the police come back and behave the same way, we will support the Taliban to drive them out.” [Reuters, 7/12/2009] Similarly, within hours of the arrival of US troops in Aynak, villagers report the police abuse to US military officers and claim the local police force is “a bigger problem than the Taliban.” [Associated Press, 7/13/2009]
Police Linked to Narco Warlord's Militia - Afghan police in the province are linked to corrupt local warlord Sher Mohammed Akhunzadeh. Akhunzadeh, a former Mujihideen commander and ally of President Hamid Karzai, has been implicated in heroin trafficking and the maintenance of a vengeful private militia from which many of the local police force were drawn under a Karzai plan to form an “Afghanistan National Auxiliary Police.” Akhundzada was the Karzai-appointed governor of Helmand for four years but was forced to step down after a British-trained counter narcotics team found nearly 10 tons of heroin in his basement. He remained powerful in the province, however, after Karzai appointed weak governors and/or allies in his place, allowing him to maintain control of the police, who were drawn in part from his own 500-man private army. Akhundzada’s predatory reign ended in 2008 when the Taliban regained control of the region. [Inter Press Service, 7/29/2009]
Official US and UK Response Tepid - The spokesman for British-led Task Force Helmand, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, tells IPS that the task force is aware of the grievances voiced by village elders to British officers. He declines, however, to specify the grievances that are imparted to the British and says, “If there is any allegation, it will be dealt with by the appropriate authorities.” He specifies that this would mean “the chain of command of the Afghan national police.” The spokesman for the US 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB), Captain William Pelletier, is even less helpful. He tells IPS that he has no information about the allegations of misconduct by police as reported to British officers. IPS notes that the MEB’s headquarters in Helmand are right next to those of the British Task Force Helmand. Pelletier does not respond to another IPS query about the popular allegations made to US officers of police abuses in the US area of responsibility in Helmand. [Inter Press Service, 7/29/2009]
Training for Afghan National Police - The Associated Press reports that after US troops arrive in the district, they send the old police force in Aynak to a US-sponsored training program called “focused district development.” The program, launched last spring, is geared toward police officers mainly from districts in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, and gives them eight weeks of intense training. Thousands of the nation’s 83,000-strong police force have already undergone training at regional training centers staffed by Western military personnel and police officers hired by US private security firm DynCorp, according to an NPR report. It is unclear whether the abusive police in Aynak had received US training under this program, but the head of the interim police force that replaced the abusive police, Colonel Ghulam, says that these officers had already had training. “They had training but not enough, and that’s why the people had problems with them,” he says. [National Public Radio, 3/17/2008; Associated Press, 7/13/2009]
Entity Tags: Task Force Helmand, Sher Mohammed Akhunzadeh, Taliban, Ronald Neumann, Hamid Karzai, Nick Richardson, Afghan Ministry of Interior, Afghan National Army, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Afghan National Police, DynCorp International, Ghulam, Afghan National Security Forces, William Pelletier
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Inter Press Service correspondent Gareth Porter reports that provincial police forces in Helmand province of Afghanistan accused of systemic abuses against the local population are likely returning to the opium-rich area behind US and British forces engaged in major military operations there (see Early Morning July 2, 2009). One stated goal of the coalition operations is to clear out the Taliban and secure the region in order to allow the Afghan National Army and police to take over control of the population. Porter reports that the strategy poses an acute problem because the Afghan police in the province are linked to corrupt local warlord Sher Mohammed Akhunzadeh and have systematically committed abuses against the population, including the abduction and rape of pre-teen boys. As a result, the local population has repeatedly expressed a preference for the Taliban over the local police force (see July 12-14, 2009). Akhunzadeh, an ally of President Hamid Karzai, has been implicated in heroin trafficking and the maintenance of a vengeful private militia from which many of the local police force were drawn under a Karzai plan to form an “Afghanistan National Auxiliary Police.” Porter writes that it is not clear whether US and British forces in Helmand will prevent the return of these abusive police. On the one hand, US troops in the town of Aynak have reportedly sent problematic police stationed in the local headquarters out of the province for several weeks of training, replacing them with a unit they had brought with them. Yet this implies the old police will return after training. Furthermore, the spokesman for the British Task Force Helmand, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, tells Porter that both the Afghan military and police, who had been ousted by the Taliban before the US-British offensive in Helmand, “are returning to the area bit by bit.” In fact, the Associated Press reports that US troops encountered a group of these police occupying the headquarters when they entered the village of Aynak, suggesting the police force had either returned or had never left. [Associated Press, 7/13/2009; Inter Press Service, 7/29/2009]
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