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The cover of Plame Wilson’s ‘Fair Game.’ [Source: Amazon (.com)]Former CIA spy and case officer Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), an expert on Iraqi WMD, publishes her memoir of her time in the CIA, Fair Game. The book’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, notes that significant amounts of material Plame Wilson originally wrote for the book were redacted by the CIA, and the redactions survived a lawsuit aimed at restoring them. “Accordingly,” the publisher writes, “Ms. Wilson’s portion of this book contains only that information that the CIA has deemed unclassified and has allowed her to include.” The portions the CIA ordered redacted are represented by blacked-out passages. Some of the incidents covered in the redacted material are revealed in an afterword written by journalist Laura Rozen. [Simon & Schuster, 9/19/2007 ] On the subject of Iraqi WMDs, Plame Wilson writes: “[I]t is easy to surrender to a revisionist idea that all the WMD evidence against Iraq was fabricated. While it is true that powerful ideologues encouraged a war to prove their own geopolitical theories, and critical failures of judgment were made throughout the intelligence community in the spring and summer of 2002, Iraq, under its cruel dictator Saddam Hussein, was clearly a rogue nation that flouoted international treaties and norms in its quest for regional superiority.” Using material and information collected by the nonpartisan Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Plame Wilson notes that by 2001, Iraq had made progress in all three major areas of WMD.
Iraq could have “probably” fabricated a crude nuclear device if it had successfully secured enough uranium or plutonium.
Iraq was a few years away from being able to produce its own weapons-grade fissile material.
It had a large, experienced pool of nuclear weapons scientists and technicians, and viable plans for building nuclear devices.
Iraq had actively sought equipment related to building nuclear devices.
Iraq had repeatedly violated UN Resolution 687, which mandated that all materials and information related to the construction of nuclear weapons possessed by Iraq must be destroyed.
Between 1972 and 1991, Iraq had an active and growing nuclear weapons development program involving some 10,000 people and $10 billion, and in 1990 it attempted to divert uranium sealed under an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for nuclear weapons development.
Iraq had plans for equipping existing Al-Hussein (modified Scud-B) missiles, with a 300-kilometer range, or possibly modifying Al-Hussein missiles, to fly as far as 650 kilometers. The US believed that, if allowed to work unchallenged, Iraq could build missiles capable of flying 3,000 kilometers within 5 years and build full-fledged ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) within 15 years.
In 1987, Iraq had reportedly field-tested some sort of radiological bomb.
Iraq was believed to have retained stockpiles of biological weapons munitions, including over 150 aerial bombs and at least 25 Al-Hussein missiles with either chemical or biological warheads. At least 17 metric tons of bioweapons growth media remained unaccounted for. Iraq was also believed to possess weaponized strains of anthrax, smallpox, and camelpox. It had conducted tests on delivering biological and/or chemical payloads via unmanned “drone” aircraft.
Iraq was believed to have bioweapons sprayers built to be deployed by its fleet of F-1 Mirage fighters.
Iraq was believed to have kept hidden bioweapons laboratories capable of producing “dry” biological weapons, which have much longer shelf lives and can be deployed with greater dissemination. It was also thought to be able to produce anthrax, aflatoxin, botulism, and clostridium.
During the 1990-91 Gulf War, Iraq had prepared, but not launched, a number of Al-Hussein missiles equipped with biological and/or chemical warheads.
Iraq had repeatedly violated the mandate of UN Resolution 687, which required that all Iraqi bioweapons capabilities be destroyed.
In 2001, Iraq was believed to possess a stockpile of chemical munitions, including at least 25 chemical or biologically-equipped Al-Hussein missiles, 2,000 aerial bombs, up to 25,000 rockets, and 15,000 artillery shells.
Iraq was believed to have the means to produce hundreds of tons of mustard gas, VX toxin, and other nerve agents.
Iraq was reconstructing its former dual-use chemical weapons facilities that had been destroyed during the 1991 Gulf War and during follow-up air strikes. A huge chemical arsenal had been destroyed by UN inspectors after the war.
Iraq retained a large and experienced pool of scientists and technicians capable of making chemical weapons.
In 1988 and 1989, Iraq had used chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds, and from 1983 through 1989, had used chemical weapons against Iranian troops.
Iraq had repeatedly violated UN Resolution 687, which mandated that all chemical weapons technology and materials in Iraqi hands be destroyed.
Iraq was not a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Plame Wilson writes that in 2001, the general view of Iraq among the US intelligence community was that the nation’s government was “dangerous and erratic,” and very interested in procuring chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons technology. The community’s knowledge of Iraq’s WMD program “was a huge puzzle with only a few pieces that fit together correctly.… [N]one of us knew what the completed puzzle would look like.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 97-98]
Through investgative blogger Brad Friedman, former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds makes an open offer to all broadcast TV networks to give any one of them an exclusive “tell all” interview in exchange for unedited air time. Edmonds says, “[h]ere’s my promise to the American Public: If anyone of the major networks—ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, Fox—promise to air the entire segment, without editing, I promise to tell them everything that I know.” She further explains, “I can tell the American public exactly what it is, and what it is that they are covering up,” adding, “I’m not compromising ongoing investigations,” as “they’ve all been shut down since.” Edmonds has already gone to Congress, the Justice Department inspector general, and the 9/11 Commission, and on two separate occasions had been gagged under the State Secrets Act to prevent her testimony in court. Regarding what she has to talk about, Friedman summarizes it as: “Everything she hasn’t been allowed to tell since 2002, about the criminal penetration of the FBI where she worked, and at the Departments of State and Defense; everything she heard concerning the corruption and illegal activities of several well-known members of Congress; everything she’s aware of concerning information omitted and/or covered up in relation to 9/11. All of the information gleaned from her time listening to and translating wire-taps made prior to 9/11 at the FBI.” [Bradblog.com, 10/29/2007]
A federal appeals court hears the case of alleged al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who was the victor in a recent court decision that ruled he could no longer be held in military detention with no access to the US court system (see June 11, 2007). Al-Marri’s lawyer, Jonathan Hafetz, asks the Fourth US Court of Appeals to uphold the recent verdict, which was rendered by a three-judge panel from the same court. Now the entire court is reconsidering the case at the government’s request. Hafetz says the court must uphold the decision. “To rule otherwise is to sanction a power the president has never had and was never meant to have.”
Authorization for the Use of Military Force - Judge Paul Neimeyer, a George H. W. Bush appointee, challenges Hafetz’s assertion that al-Marri cannot be held in military custody because he was not captured on a battlefield; to make such a claim would mean “25 or 30 terrorists could sneak into the US” and the military could not stop them. Justice Department lawyer Gregory Garre makes the same argument that the appeals court panel rejected—that Congress gave the president the authority to seize and detain anyone affiliated with al-Qaeda, regardless of where they were captured, when it passed its Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) after the 9/11 attacks (see September 14-18, 2001). Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, appointed to the bench by former president Ronald Reagan, says that Congress could appeal or revise the AUMF whenever it likes. [Associated Press, 10/31/2007] Wilkinson acknowledges that many have concerns that the AUMF “may have authorized some sweeping detention problem… [, b]ut people are not being swept off the streets of Omaha.” Judge Diana Gribbon Motz interjects, “No, it was Peoria.”
Question of Constitutionality - Wilkinson wonders why the “carefully targeted response by the government” has created “all this hoopla?” Comparing the detention of al-Marri and another enemy combatants, Jose Padilla, to the round-ups of German-Americans during World War I and of Japanese-Americans during World War II, Wilkinson asks if “we’ve lost our sense of perspective.” Judge Roger Gregory says: “The calculus for determining constitutionality is not whether we have a good king or a bad king. It’s not whether he stays his hand in generosity.” Motz and Gregory were the majority judges in the June decision. When Garre argues that al-Marri had ample opportunity to challenge his detention, and “squandered” those opportunities, Judge William Traxler asks, “How does a person who’s held incommunicado challenge” his detention? [Baltimore Daily Record, 11/1/2007]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Roger Gregory, William Traxler, Ronald Reagan, Paul Neimeyer, Jonathan Hafetz, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, Al-Qaeda, Jose Padilla, Diana Gribbon Motz, Gregory Garre, J. Harvie Wilkinson, George Herbert Walker Bush
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed. [Source: Associated Press]The trial of 28 people accused of a role in the 2004 Madrid train bombings comes to an end, and 21 are found guilty. However, only three are convicted of murder and are given life sentences: Jamal Zougam, Othman El Gnaoui, and Emilio Suarez Trashorras. Seven of the principal bombers blew themselves up one month after the bombings (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). None of the accused confessed, making convictions difficult. Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed was accused of being the bombing mastermind. While living it Italy, he reportedly bragged, “I was the leader of Madrid,” and “the Madrid bombings were my project, and those who died as martyrs there were my beloved friends.” But his defense attorneys argued successfully that the tapes were mistranslated and so they were thrown out as evidence. A counterterrorism expert says the court appeared to have a very strict standard of admissible evidence. However, Ahmed is serving a ten-year prison sentence in Italy based on unrelated charges. [Washington Post, 11/14/2004; MSNBC, 10/31/2007; New York Times, 11/1/2007] Many victims’ relatives complain that the sentences are too lenient. And a spokesperson for Spain’s main opposition party comments, “We still don’t know who gave the order, we still don’t know who built those bombs, and we still don’t know who was the coordinator of these cells that carried out these attacks.” [BBC, 11/1/2007] Some of the other verdicts:
Hamid Ahmidan - 23 years.
Rachid Aglif - 18 years.
Abdelmajid Bouchar - 18 years.
Basel Ghalyoun - 12 years.
Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam - 12 years.
Fouad el Morabit - 12 years.
Mouhannad Almallah - 12 years.
Rafa Zouhier - 10 years.
Youssef Belhadj - 12 years.
Antonio Toro - Acquitted.
Carmen Toro - Acquitted. [El Mundo (Madrid), 11/1/2007]
Entity Tags: Rachid Aglif, Mouhannad Almallah, Othman El Gnaoui, Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, Rafa Zouhier, Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam, Emilio Suarez Trashorras, Hamid Ahmidan, Abdelmajid Bouchar, Antonio Toro, Basel Ghalyoun, Carmen Toro, Fouad el Morabit, Jamal Zougam, Youssef Belhadj
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Richard Convertino. [Source: Associated Press]Richard Convertino is acquitted by a Detroit federal court jury of subverting justice in a 2003 trial (see June 2003-August 2004). Convertino had been accused of withholding photographs from defense attorneys that might have undermined their 2003 prosecution and convictions of four alleged al-Qaeda-linked terrorists in Detroit. In 2003, defense attorneys wanted photos of a Jordanian hospital, hoping the photos would not match a crude drawing Convertino argued was a terrorist planning sketch. Convertino said there were none, and claims he never saw them, but photos of the hospital were later found. [Detroit Free Press, 11/1/2007] However, a later FBI analysis determined the sketch did closely match the photos after all, so the photos would have actually strengthened Convertino’s case, not weakened it. The guilty verdicts against three of the four men - Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi, Karim Koubriti, and Ahmed Hannan - were later overturned, in large part due to the dispute over the photos (see June 2003-August 2004). The Associated Press will later comment that evidence that the sketch and photos did match “renews questions about whether the government correctly arrested the four men as a terrorist cell…” [Associated Press, 4/21/2006] Convertino alleges the charges against him were politically motivated to punish him for complaining before Congress about a lack of resources in the trial. He has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the Justice Department. [Detroit Free Press, 11/1/2007] A judge dismisses one remaining charge against Convertino a month later. [Associated Press, 12/12/2007] It appears the Justice Department also battled with Convertino and his prosecution team and prevented him from using evidence that could have strengthened his case (see Early 2003).
Marc Falkoff. [Source: Northern Illinois University]Law professor Marc Falkoff, who represents some of the Guantanamo terror suspects, says that the resignation of Colonel Morris Davis as the lead prosecutor in the Guantanamo military commissions trials (see October 4, 2007) is important not just because only 80 of the 350 detainees are slated to be tried, leaving the other 270 in what Falkoff calls a “legal limbo, subject to indefinite detention without charge or trial or any court oversight for the duration of the war on terror,” but because of Davis’s revelations that the commissions have been tainted by political considerations. Davis’s resignation “may finally signal to the American public that politics rather than principle reigns at Guantanamo, and that decisions about the administration of justice at the camp are being made—largely outside of public view and without accountability—by political actors for nakedly political reasons.” As an example, Falkoff notes that every European in custody has been returned to their home countries, but 90% of the Yemenis in detention remain in custody even though many have been cleared for release by the US military. Falkoff says that he and his colleagues have for over three years visited their clients in Guantanamo to bring them what he calls “good news” about the court victories they have won. Falkoff writes, “To a man, upon hearing our news, our clients have smiled politely and shrugged, pointing out to us that they still have not had their day in court and that they still are not treated in accord with the Geneva Conventions. ‘You have to understand,’ they tell us, ‘this is all a big game.’ More and more, I am starting to think they are right.” [Jurist, 11/2/2007]
Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. [Source: Anjum Naveed Associated Press]On October 6, 2007, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf won a parliamentary vote that gave him a second term as president (see October 6, 2007). However, Pakistani law prohibits an active military officer from running as president, and Musharraf is both president and the head of the military. Pakistan’s Supreme Court is to decide soon if Musharraf’s reelection vote is valid. The outcome is uncertain, especially since the Supreme Court is headed by Iftikhar Chaudhry, who was fired by Musharraf earlier in the year and then reinstated against Musharraf’s will (see March 9, 2007). But on November 3, before the court renders a verdict, Musharraf declares a state of emergency. He suspends the constitution and basic rights. He fires Chaudhry and all the other Supreme Court judges, and places them under house arrest. He also forces all other high court judges to sign a loyalty oath validating his actions. A majority refuse to sign and are placed under house arrest as well. All private television stations are taken off the air, leaving only one state-controlled network to give the news. Up to ten thousand activists and politicians are arrested. The main opposition politician, Benazir Bhutto, is placed under house arrest for several days. Musharraf then passes six constitutional amendments legalizing his rule. In a further effort to legitimize his rule, he also resigns from the army on November 28 and gives command of the army to Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, a former ISI director. But still facing widespread condemnation at home and abroad, he lifts the state of emergency on December 15, rescinds the draconian measures he imposed, and releases the thousands who have been arrested (however, Chaudhry and the other fired judges remain under house arrest). He announces that elections to pick a new prime minister will be held in January 2008. Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid will later comment, “The forty-two-day-long emergency had blighted Pakistan, undermined its economy, destroyed what little trust the political parties and public had in Musharraf, and turned the increasingly influential middle-class and civil society against both the army and the president.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 387-388]
Evan Wallach, a New York judge who teaches the law of war at two New York City law schools, pens an editorial for the Washington Post protesting the argument that waterboarding has somehow become legal. Wallach, a former Judge Advocate General officer in the Nevada National Guard, recalls routinely lecturing military policemen about their legal obligations towards their prisoners. He writes that he always concluded by saying: “I know you won’t remember everything I told you today, but just remember what your mom told you: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” He is proud to note that the unit he was with, the 72nd Military Police Company, “refused to participate in misconduct at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.”
Waterboarding Is Real, Not Simulated, Drowning - Wallach then explains what waterboarding is. It is not “simulated drowning,” as many media reports characterize it: “That’s incorrect. To be effective, waterboarding is usually real drowning that simulates death. That is, the victim experiences the sensations of drowning: struggle, panic, breath-holding, swallowing, vomiting, taking water into the lungs, and, eventually, the same feeling of not being able to breathe that one experiences after being punched in the gut. The main difference is that the drowning process is halted. According to those who have studied waterboarding’s effects, it can cause severe psychological trauma, such as panic attacks, for years.”
Prosecution of Waterboarding as Torture Goes Back to 1898 - Wallach notes that after World War II, several Japanese soldiers were tried and executed for waterboarding American and Allied prisoners of war. One former POW, Lieutenant Chase Nielsen, testified: “I was given several types of torture.… I was given what they call the water cure.… Well, I felt more or less like I was drowning… just gasping between life and death.” The waterboarding of POWs was one of the driving forces behind the US’s organization of war crimes trials for senior Japanese military and civilian officials. Wallach writes: “Leading members of Japan’s military and government elite were charged, among their many other crimes, with torturing Allied military personnel and civilians. The principal proof upon which their torture convictions were based was conduct that we would now call waterboarding.” (Weeks later, torture opponent Senator John McCain will cite the Japanese prosecutions in a presidential debate—see November 29, 2007). Wallach notes that as far back as 1898, US soldiers were court-martialed for waterboarding Filipino guerrillas during the Spanish-American War. More recently, a group of Filipino citizens sued, in a US district court, the estate of former Phillipine President Ferdinand Marcos, claiming they had been waterboarded and subjected to other tortures. The court awarded the plaintiffs $766 million in damages, and wrote: “[T]he plaintiffs experienced human rights violations including, but not limited to… the water cure, where a cloth was placed over the detainee’s mouth and nose, and water producing a drowning sensation.” In 1983, a Texas sheriff and three of his deputies were convicted of violating prisoners’ civil rights by subjecting them to a procedure similar to waterboarding (see 1983). Wallach concludes: “We know that US military tribunals and US judges have examined certain types of water-based interrogation and found that they constituted torture. That’s a lesson worth learning. The study of law is, after all, largely the study of history. The law of war is no different. This history should be of value to those who seek to understand what the law is—as well as what it ought to be.” [Washington Post, 11/4/2007]
Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, breaches the rule of secrecy in revealing information about classified briefings to object to what he says are mischaracterizations of his and other Congressional lawmakers’ support for the administration’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” against terror suspects. In a statement on the floor of the Senate opposing the nomination of Judge Michael Mukasey to become Attorney General (see November 8, 2007), Feingold says, “Last week the White House press secretary again implied the members of Congress who have been briefed in the CIA’s interrogation program have approved it or consented to it. That is not the case. I have vigorously opposed the program and continue to do so. The program is of highly questionable legality, it is inconsistent with our values as a nation, and it does not make our nation any safer. In fact, I believe it may have the effect of exposing Americans, including other US personnel, to greater risk.” Feingold and other lawmakers are bound not to reveal the nature of such classified briefings, or even that they participated in them. Feingold reveals his own participation in some of the briefings because he believes that the administration is taking advantage of that secrecy restriction to “spin” the issue as regards the members’ reactions and levels of support. Feingold continues, “I have detailed the reasons for my strong objections to the CIA’s program in classified correspondence sent very shortly after I was first briefed on it (see May 1-10, 2007). More recently I’ve stated my opposition publicly, although I am prohibited by classification rules from providing further details about my concerns in a public setting.” Feingold calls one of the most notorious techniques employed by the CIA, waterboarding, “barbaric,” notes that it “has been used by some of the most evil regimes in history” and “has been considered torture in this country for over a century,” and asks, “If Judge Mukasey won’t say the simple truth—that this barbaric practice is torture—how can we count on him to stand up to the White House on other issues?” [US Senate, 11/7/2007; Washington Post, 12/9/2007]
Michael Mukasey. [Source: US Department of Justice]After two months of controversy, and a round of sporadically contentious Senate confirmation hearings, former judge Michael Mukasey narrowly wins the Senate’s approval to become the next attorney general, by an almost-party line 53-40 vote. Musakey replaces Alberto Gonzales, who resigned under fire in September 2007. Many Democrats vote against Mukasey because of his refusal to categorize the interrogation technique of waterboarding as torture, and his refusal to say that he would oppose President Bush’s insistence on eavesdropping on US citizens. Some Democrats took comfort in Mukasey’s characterization of waterboarding as “repugnant,” but others were not pleased by his refusal to say that the practice constitutes torture. Two key Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) refused to block Mukasey from going to the Senate for a confirmation vote. Both indicated that they reluctantly supported Mukasey’s nomination because the Justice Department needs an immediate infusion of leadership—Schumer called the department “adrift and rudderless” and in need of “a strong and independent leader”—and they feared if Mukasey was not confirmed, President Bush would put someone worse in the position as an interim appointment. [CNN, 11/8/2007] Schumer says he eventually decided to vote for Mukasey after the judge said “if Congress passed further legislation in this area, the president would have no legal authority to ignore it and Judge Mukasey would enforce it.” But Schumer’s colleague, Ted Kennedy (D-MA), is unimpressed. “Enforcing the law is the job of the attorney general,” Kennedy says. “It’s a prerequisite—not a virtue that enhances a nominee’s qualifications.” Ben Cardin (D-MD) wonders just how far, and how specifically, Congress will have to go to outlaw torture. He asks, “Are we going to have to outlaw the rack because there’s a question whether the rack is torture in this country?” [National Public Radio, 11/7/2007] Arlen Specter (R-PA), the committee’s ranking Republican, calls Mukasey “ethical, honest [and] not an intimate of the president.” [CNN, 11/8/2007] Mukasey is quietly sworn in only hours after winning the Senate vote. [National Public Radio, 11/9/2007] All four Democratic senators running for president—Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Barack Obama (D-IL), Joseph Biden (D-DE), and Christopher Dodd (D-CT)—have said they oppose Mukasey’s nomination. Obama calls Mukasey’s refusal to label waterboarding as torture “appalling,” and notes that Mukasey’s belief that the president “enjoys an unwritten right to secretly ignore any law or abridge our constitutional freedoms simply by invoking national security” disqualify him for the position. The other candidates make similar statements. [Fox News, 10/30/2007] However, none of them actually show up to cast their vote for or against Mukasey. John McCain (R-AZ), another senator running for president, also does not vote. [Associated Press, 11/8/2007] Three days after Mukasey’s confirmation, the New York Times writes a blistering editorial excoriating both the Bush administration and the compliant Senate Democrats for allowing Mukasey to become attorney general (see November 11, 2007).
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Senate Judiciary Committee, Michael Mukasey, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Dianne Feinstein, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Alberto R. Gonzales, Geneva Conventions, Arlen Specter, Charles Schumer, Ben Cardin, New York Times
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
In a blistering editorial, the New York Times lambasts both the Bush administration and the Democratic leadership in the Senate for allowing Michael Mukasey, the new attorney general, to slide through the confirmation process with so little challenge (see November 8, 2007). The only thing left in the Senate’s traditional responsibility of “advice and consent” is the “consent” part, the editors write. The editorial continues: “Once upon a time, the confirmation of major presidential appointments played out on several levels—starting, of course, with politics. It was assumed that a president would choose like-minded people as cabinet members and for other jobs requiring Senate approval. There was a presumption that he should be allowed his choices, all other things being equal. Before George W. Bush’s presidency, those other things actually counted. Was the nominee truly qualified, with a professional background worthy of the job? Would he discharge his duties fairly and honorably, upholding his oath to protect the Constitution? Even though [he or] she answers to the president, would the nominee represent all Americans? Would he or she respect the power of Congress to supervise the executive branch, and the power of the courts to enforce the rule of law? In less than seven years, Mr. Bush has managed to boil that list down to its least common denominator: the president should get his choices.” The Times observes that in the first six years of Bush’s rule, he had an enthusiastically compliant set of Republican allies in Congress, but during that time, minority Democrats “did almost nothing… to demand better nominees than Mr. Bush was sending up. And now that they have attained the majority, they are not doing any better.” The editors focus particularly on two issues: Mukasey’s refusal to answer straightforward questions on whether waterboarding is torture, and the Democrats’ refusal to filibuster the Senate vote. The Times notes that Mukasey passed confirmation with a 53-40 vote. Democrats have made what the Times calls “excuses for their sorry record” on a host of issues, and first and foremost is the justification that it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster. “So why did Mr. Mukasey get by with only 53 votes?” the Times asks. “Given the success the Republicans have had in blocking action when the Democrats cannot muster 60 votes, the main culprit appears to be the Democratic leadership, which seems uninterested in or incapable of standing up to Mr. Bush.” The editors do not accept the rationale of Mukasey supporters like Charles Schumer (D-NY), who argued that by not confirming Mukasey, the path would be clear for Bush to make an interim appointment of someone far more extreme. The Times calls this line of argument “cozy rationalization,” and by Mukasey’s refusal to answer questions about his position on waterboarding, he has already aligned himself with the extremist wing of the administration. For the record, the Times notes, “Waterboarding is specifically banned by the Army Field Manual, and it is plainly illegal under the federal Anti-Torture Act, federal assault statutes, the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 30, 2005), the Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994), and the Geneva Conventions.” Therefore, “[i]t is hard to see how any nominee worthy of the position of attorney general could fail to answer ‘yes.’” The Times speculates that Mukasey was not permitted to answer the question by the White House because a “no” answer “might subject federal officials who carried out Mr. Bush’s orders to abuse and torture prisoners after the 9/11 attacks: the right answer could have exposed them to criminal sanctions.” All in all, the Times is appalled by “the Senate giving the job of attorney general, chief law enforcement officer in the world’s oldest democracy, to a man who does not even have the integrity to take a stand against torture.” [New York Times, 11/11/2007]
Ahmed Idris Nasreddin is quietly removed from the US and UN terrorist financier lists. Neither the US nor the UN publicly announces the decision or explains why his name is no longer on an updated list of financiers. Nasreddin, a 78-year old businessman based in Italy and Switzerland, was formally listed in 2002 due to his ties with the banned Al Taqwa Bank (see November 7, 2001). That bank was considered one of the top funders for al-Qaeda and other militant groups until it was banned in late 2001. When asked by the Los Angeles Times about the delisting, the Treasury Department says the original listing was appropriate but Nasreddin was delisted because he submitted signed statements certifying he had terminated all business relationships with Al Taqwa and related entities and individuals. Former State Department official Victor Comras complains: “They seem to be saying that he was a bad guy but that he has renounced being a bad guy. If that’s the criteria, wow, a lot of people will try to get off the list. All they have to do is say, We’re not doing it anymore.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/28/2007]
President Bush signs the ‘Declaration of Principles’ as part of a teleconference with Prime Minister al-Maliki. [Source: White House]The White House issues a “Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America.” The “Declaration of Principles” is signed by both President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. According to the White House press release, the declaration will affirm the “long-term relationship [of] two fully sovereign and independent states with common interests… based on the heroic sacrifices made by the Iraqi people and the American people for the sake of a free, democratic, pluralistic, federal, and unified Iraq.” The principles, as enumerated by the White House, include the following:
Supporting the Republic of Iraq in defending its democratic system against internal and external threats;
Defending of the Iraqi constitution;
“Providing security assurances and commitments to the Republic of Iraq to deter foreign aggression against Iraq that violates its sovereignty and integrity of its territories, waters, or airspace”;
Helping Iraq combat “all terrorist groups, at the forefront of which is al-Qaeda, Saddamists, and all other outlaw groups regardless of affiliation, and destroy[ing] their logistical networks and their sources of finance, and defeat[ing] and uproot[ing] them from Iraq”;
Supporting and training the Iraq Security Force;
Supporting efforts to achieve national reconciliation;
Supporting Iraq’s attempts to “enhance its position in regional and international organizations and institutions so that it may play a positive and constructive role in the region and the world,” as well as assisting it in joining the World Trade Organization and achieving “most favored” trading status with the US;
Helping Iraq achieve peaceful relations with its neighboring countries;
Promoting “cultural, educational, and scientific exchanges between” Iraq and the US;
Helping Iraq in its “transition to a market economy”;
Building Iraq’s economic infrastructure and institutions;
Encouraging foreign investment, “especially American investments, to contribute to the reconstruction and rebuilding of Iraq”;
Helping Iraq recover funds and properties illegally hidden away by the family and associates of former dictator Saddam Hussein, “as well as antiquities and items of cultural heritage, smuggled before and after April 9, 2003” (see April 9, 2003);
Helping Iraq secure “forgiveness of its debts and compensation for the wars waged by the former regime.”
The declaration states that Iraq will request a final extension of the UN-mandated Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I); after that extension expires, Iraq’s UN status will revert to the levels enjoyed before August 1990’s UN Resolution 661 that determined the country was “a threat to international peace and security.” Iraq will, in the eyes of the UN, then enjoy “the full sovereignty of Iraq over its territories, waters, and airspace, and its control over its forces and the administration of its affairs.” The White House wants a formal agreement to this end signed by July 31, 2008. [White House, 11/26/2007]
Republican senator and presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ) says that during World War II, Japanese soldiers were tried and hanged for war crimes involving the waterboarding of American prisoners of war. “There should be little doubt from American history that we consider that [waterboarding] as torture otherwise we wouldn’t have tried and convicted Japanese for doing that same thing to Americans,” McCain says. He notes that he forgot to bring this piece of information up during the previous night’s debate with fellow Republican candidates; during the debate, he criticized former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) for refusing to say what interrogation techniques he would rule out if president. “I would also hope that he would not want to be associated with a technique which was invented in the Spanish Inquisition, was used by Pol Pot in one of the great eras of genocide in history, and is being used on Burmese monks as we speak,” McCain says. “America is a better nation than that.” Waterboarding is banned by US law and international treaties. “If the United States was in another conflict, which could easily happen, with another country, and we have allowed that kind of torture to be inflicted on people we hold captive, then there’s nothing to prevent that enemy from also torturing American prisoners,” McCain adds. [Associated Press, 11/29/2007]
In December 2007, scientist Bruce Ivins is privately told by the FBI that he could be a suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). This is according to Ivins’s attorney Paul Kemp, who also says that he and Ivins have a meeting with the FBI that same month in response. Ivins’s house had been searched by the FBI the month before, which presumably made the FBI’s interest in Ivins obvious (see November 1, 2007). Kemp will later claim that he and Ivins will meet with the FBI about four or five times between this time and Ivins’s death in July 2008 (see July 29, 2008). Additionally, Kemp will claim that Ivins had been interviewed by the FBI about 20 to 25 times before he was told he could be a suspect, yet Ivins regularly had his security clearances renewed. [Time, 8/5/2008]
The White House refuses to allow special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to turn over key documents from his investigation into the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak to Congress, as requested by House Oversight Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) since June 2007 and revealed by Waxman today. Waxman has repeatedly requested reports of interviews by President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and five top White House aides—White House political strategist Karl Rove, former press secretary Scott McClellan, former chief of staff Andrew Card, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and former communications director Dan Bartlett. Waxman has also requested transcripts and other documents relevant to these officials’ testimony. According to Waxman, Fitzgerald is willing to turn over the documents to the committee, but cannot gain White House permission to do so. Waxman appeals to newly appointed Attorney General Michael Mukasey to overrule the White House and release the documents. “I hope you will not accede to the White House objections,” Waxman writes to Mukasey. “During the Clinton administration, your predecessor, Janet Reno, made an independent judgment and provided numerous FBI interview reports to the committee, including reports of interviews with President Clinton, Vice President Gore, and three White House chiefs of staff. I have been informed that Attorney General Reno neither sought nor obtained White House consent before providing these interview records to the committee. I believe the Justice Department should exercise the same independence in this case.… There is no legitimate basis for the withholding of these documents. Mr. Fitzgerald has apparently determined that these documents can be produced to the committee without infringing on his prosecutorial independence or violating the rules of grand jury secrecy. As records of statements made by White House officials to federal investigators, outside the framework of presidential decision-making, the documents could not be subject to a valid claim of executive privilege.” Mukasey will not accede to Waxman’s request. Many believe that even though Fitzgerald only managed to convict one White House official as a result of his investigation (see March 6, 2007), he compiled evidence that indicates others, including Cheney, were involved in leaking Plame Wilson’s CIA status. Fitzgerald has indicated that his investigation into other White House officials was drastically hindered by Libby’s repeated lies under oath (see 9:00 a.m. February 20, 2007 and May 25, 2007). Fitzgerald has declined to testify before Waxman’s committee, citing rules that prohibit him from revealing grand jury proceedings, and noting that prosecutors “traditionally refrain from commenting outside of the judicial process on the actions of persons not charged with criminal offenses.” [Washington Post, 12/3/2007] Waxman will continue, without success, to request the information (see June 3, 2008), though the White House will release heavily redacted transcripts of Libby’s grand jury testimony in the summer of 2008. [Murray Waas, 12/23/2008]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Stephen J. Hadley, Valerie Plame Wilson, Andrew Card, Dan Bartlett, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Scott McClellan, Michael Mukasey, Henry A. Waxman, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Janet Reno, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Several current and former members of Congress have varying recollections of being given a classified briefing in the months after the 9/11 attacks on the interrogation methods being used by the CIA on terror suspects, including waterboarding (see September 2002). Former House Intelligence Committee chairman Porter Goss recalls: “Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing. And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement.” Former Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Bob Graham (D-FL) says he does not recall ever being briefed about waterboarding or other extreme interrogation methods, “Personally, I was unaware of it, so I couldn’t object.” Graham says he believes waterboarding and many of the other interrogation techniques used by the CIA are illegal and constitute torture. Then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) refuses to comment on the briefings, but a source familiar with her position on the matter says she recalls some discussions of enhanced interrogation, and that she was told the techniques described to her were in the planning stages at the time of the briefings. The source acknowledges that Pelosi raised no objections at the time. Former ranking House Intelligence Committee member Jane Harman (D-CA) says that in the months after the briefing, she filed a classified letter with the CIA officially protesting the interrogation program. Harman says that she had been prevented from publicly revealing the letter, or the CIA interrogation program, because of strict rules of secrecy. “When you serve on intelligence committee you sign a second oath—one of secrecy,” she says. “I was briefed, but the information was closely held to just the Gang of Four. I was not free to disclose anything.” The “Gang of Four” consists of the ranking Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate intelligence committees. Pat Roberts (R-KS), then the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, refuses to discuss his participation in the briefings, as does the then-ranking Democrat on that committee, John D. Rockefeller (D-WV). Since 2005, Rockefeller has pushed for expanded Congressional oversight and an investigation of CIA practices. “I proposed without success, both in committee and on the Senate floor, that the committee undertake an investigation of the CIA’s detention and interrogation activities,” Rockefeller says. [Washington Post, 12/9/2007]
Michael McConnell, the director of national intelligence, writes an op-ed for the New York Times pushing for Congressional immunity for US telecommunications firms over their cooperation with the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. Under August’s Protect America Act, McConnell writes, the country is “safer” from terrorist attacks while the privacy of US citizens is protected (see August 5, 2007). The government has “greater understanding of international [al-]Qaeda networks, and the law has allowed us to obtain significant insight into terrorist planning.” But the Act expires in two months, and McConnell wants it re-enacted and significantly expanded “if we are to stay ahead of terrorists who are determined to attack the United States.” Echoing the arguments of Bush administration officials, McConnell attacks the “outdated” Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as significantly hindering the government’s “ability to collect timely foreign intelligence.” McConnell complains: “Our experts were diverted from tracking foreign threats to writing lengthy justifications to collect information from a person in a foreign country, simply to satisfy an outdated statute that did not reflect the ways our adversaries communicate. The judicial process intended to protect the privacy and civil liberties of Americans was applied instead to foreign intelligence targets in foreign countries. This made little sense, and the Protect America Act eliminated this problem.” McConnell calls for new legislation that would obviate the need for intelligence agencies such as the NSA to seek warrants to monitor US citizens’ telephone and e-mail communications: “The intelligence community should spend its time protecting our nation, not providing privacy protections to foreign terrorists and other diffuse international threats.” He also calls for retroactive immunity for “private parties”—i.e. the US telecommunications companies—that are subject to lawsuits over their cooperation with the NSA in monitoring US communications. “The intelligence community cannot go it alone,” he writes. “Those in the private sector who stand by us in times of national security emergencies deserve thanks, not lawsuits.” Two days later, new Attorney General Michael Mukasey will write a virtually identical op-ed for the Los Angeles Times (see December 12, 2007). [New York Times, 12/10/2007]
The Ninth Court of Appeals in San Francisco upholds a 2004 ruling (see January 23, 2004) that portions of the USA Patriot Act are unconstitutional. The original ruling found that portions of the Act banning any advice or assistance to designated terrorist organizations is too broad and vague; the appeals court agrees, ruling that the language of the Act is too vague to be understood by someone of ordinary intelligence. Without clear language, the Act says that those who provide assistance to foreign terrorist organizations could be subject to prison terms of up to 15 years. To survive a vagueness challenge, the appeals court says, a statute “must be sufficiently clear to put a person of ordinary intelligence on notice that his or her contemplated conduct is unlawful.” Congressional amendments to the Act have not remedied the problem, the court says. [Associated Press, 12/10/2007]
Colonel Morris Davis, the former head of the Office of Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay, writes in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times that he resigned (see October 4, 2007) because he “concluded that full, fair and open trials were not possible under the current system.” He adds that, “I felt that the system had become deeply politicized and that I could no longer do my job effectively or responsibly.” Davis writes that while the legitimacy of the military commissions rests on the belief that they are being conducted fairly and honestly, the political appointee who is now the “convening authority,” Susan Crawford, is “not living up to that obligation.” The convening authority has “no counterpart in civilian courts,” Davis explains, and has great powers over certain aspects of prosecutions, such as which charges go to trial, which are dismissed, who serves on the jury, and whether to approve requests for experts, and reassesses findings of guilt and sentences. The position is mandated by law to be absolutely impartial, favoring neither prosecutions or defendants. While Crawford’s predecessor conducted himself with the required impartiality: “Crawford, on the other hand, had her staff assessing evidence before the filing of charges, directing the prosecution’s pretrial preparation of cases… drafting charges against those who were accused and assigning prosecutors to cases, among other things. How can you direct someone to do something—use specific evidence to bring specific charges against a specific person at a specific time, for instance—and later make an impartial assessment of whether they behaved properly? Intermingling convening authority and prosecutor roles perpetuates the perception of a rigged process stacked against the accused.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/10/2007]
Convicted felon Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see March 6, 2007), formerly the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, decides to drop his appeal of his convictions. [Washington Post, 7/3/2007] Libby’s lawyer, Theodore Wells, says Libby is dropping the appeal mainly because of the burden the legal maneuvering has placed on his family. “We remain firmly convinced of Mr. Libby’s innocence,” he says. “However, the realities were that after five years of government service by Mr. Libby and several years of defending against this case, the burden on Mr. Libby and his young family of continuing to pursue his complete vindication are too great to ask them to bear.… The appeal would lead only to a retrial, a process that would last even beyond the two years of supervised release, cost millions of dollars more than the fine he has already paid (see July 5, 2007), and entail many more hundreds of hours preparing for an all-consuming appeal and retrial.” Wells also says no one has discussed a pardon with President Bush. [CBS News, 1/25/2007; Associated Press, 12/10/2007] Libby’s conviction was commuted by Bush months before (see July 2, 2007).
The CIA decides it will not prosecute former officer John Kiriakou, who recently admitted that the agency had waterboarded militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida (see December 10, 2007). [ABC News, 12/11/2007] One report, in the New York Times, suggests that “Kiriakou sought and received approval from the CIA” for the interviews. [New York Times, 12/11/2007] However, Kiriakou denies this and it appears not to be the case. [ABC News, 12/11/2007] Some accounts say a section of CIA officials are furious at him over the interviews. [ABC News, 12/11/2007; Harpers, 12/21/2007] However, according to Harper’s journalist Scott Horton, “Many high-level figures were elated to see the telegenic Kiriakou vigorously defend the agency on a subject on which it is already taking a lot of flak.” This is because efforts by CIA Director Michael Hayden and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell to fend off criticism from Congress and the public have “fallen flat.” One source will tell Horton: “Falling flat is putting it pretty generously. The public seems to have decided that they don’t really believe Hayden or McConnell on this issue. That’s bad news for us.” Horton adds: “Since the leaders of the intelligence community are under constant attack these days both from Democrats and Republicans, this can’t really be surprising. Kiriakou was, simply put, far more credible and appealing as a media figure.” [Harpers, 12/21/2007] Whatever the case, the CIA decides not to ask the Justice Department to investigate Kiriakou to determine whether he leaked classified information. Instead, CIA Director Michael Hayden issues a memo warning all employees “of the importance of protecting classified information,” although the memo does not mention Kiriakou by name. A spokesman adds, “Disclosing classified information is a violation of the law,” and “intelligence officers have a lifelong, moral and legal responsibility to safeguard classified information. This continues even after someone leaves the agency.” [ABC News, 12/11/2007] However, on this day Kiriakou reveals that the White House and Justice Department were involved in the waterboarding (see December 11, 2007), causing the CIA to change its mind and initiate an investigation of him (see December 20, 2007).
Michael Mukasey, the new Attorney General, writes an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times pushing for Congressional immunity for US telecommunications firms over their cooperation with the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. Mukasey supports the NSA program, echoing the administration’s long insistence that the surveillance program is “crucial” in protecting the country against terrorist attacks. He also reiterates the administration’s criticism of the “outdated” Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which he says hampers the government’s ability to collect needed intelligence and does little to protect the privacy of US citizens. Mukasey calls for Congress to pass a Senate bill that would grant the telecommunications firms retroactive immunity to civil lawsuits and criminal charges surrounding their cooperation with the NSA, and would no longer require court orders for the government to “direct surveillance at foreign targets overseas”—surveillance that would target US citizens. Mukasey says the US will “need the full-hearted help of private companies in our intelligence activities; we cannot expect such cooperation to be forthcoming if we do not support companies that have helped us in the past.” Mukasey strongly opposes another Senate bill that would grant no immunity and would continue to require the government to obtain FISA Court warrants before wiretapping domestic communications. Two days earlier, the director of national intelligence, Michael McConnell, penned a virtually identical op-ed for the New York Times (see December 10, 2007). [Los Angeles Times, 12/12/2007]
The trial of the “Miami Seven” results in a deadlocked federal jury after nine days of deliberations, with one man, Lyglenson Lemorin, acquitted and a mistrial declared for the other six. The men each faced four terrorism-related conspiracy charges that carry a combined maximum of 70 years in prison. The charges relate to an alleged terrorist cell formed by the men, who hoped to forge an alliance with al-Qaeda to carry out bombings against the Sears Tower in Chicago, the FBI’s Miami office and other federal buildings (see June 23, 2006). The group operated out of a warehouse in the Liberty City section of Miami. [Guardian, 12/13/2007] The arrests of the men in 2006 were heralded as a major victory for the Bush administration’s “War on Terror.” Then-US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales warned that, if “left unchecked, these homegrown terrorists may prove to be as dangerous as groups like al-Qaeda.” The alleged plot was used as an example of the government’s post-9/11 improvements to counter-terrorism methods. The men were members of the Moorish Science Temple, a sect that blends Islam, Christianity and Judaism and does not recognize the legitimacy of the US government. The majority of the evidence in the case came from an FBI Middle Eastern informant, Elie Assad, posing as an al-Qaeda operative named “Brother Mohammad.” He had worked for the FBI for years before he approached Narseal Batiste, the alleged ringleader. Among the evidence he obtained was a recording from March 16, 2006 in which the men vowed to act as “Islamic soldiers” for al-Qaeda. Other evidence included a further 12,000 recorded conversations, including one in which Batiste spoke of waging a “ground war.” The prosecution also presented surveillance photos some defendants took of federal buildings in Miami, wish lists of weapons, and a request for $50,000 made to the informant. Batiste claimed during the trial that he was conning the informant, just as the informant was conning him. He says he was desperate for money to aid his failing construction business, so he went along with the informant in hopes of tricking him into giving him $50,000. [Time, 12/13/2007] The mistrial and acquittal is considered a major loss for the government and its strategy of pre-emptive prosecution of suspected terrorists. The jury of six men and six women twice sent notes to the presiding judge indicating they could not reach verdicts but were told to keep trying. The mistrial came after their third vote. [Guardian, 12/13/2007] The jury foreman, Jeffrey Agron, says, “It was a very difficult case with a lot of evidence… people see evidence in different ways. There were different takes that people had.” A large part of the defense was based on the extensive FBI involvement in the plot: the warehouse was paid for by the FBI and the defendants moved their operations there at the suggestion of the FBI informant. The vows to al-Qaeda were instigated by the informant, who even suggested the bombing of the Miami FBI office. Defense attorney Albert Levin says, “The case was written, produced and directed by the FBI.” Attorney Joshua Dratel, who has defended several suspects in terrorism cases, says: “[A]re we interested in finding terrorists or creating them? Even in cases where people are found guilty, I’m not sure that [this strategy] is necessarily finding people who are a genuine danger. What it’s really doing is finding people who—with enough inducement and encouragement—may do something. But whether they would ever do anything on their own, we’ll never know.” A new trial is scheduled for next year. [Time, 12/13/2007]
The Justice Department urges a federal judge not to begin an inquiry into the destruction of CIA videotapes in a case involving 11 Guantanamo Bay detainees. The judge in the case, Henry Kennedy, had previously issued a ruling that evidence related to the detainees should be preserved (see June-July 2005). After attorneys for the detainees file a motion saying the CIA’s destruction of the tapes “raises grave concerns about the government’s compliance with the preservation order entered by this court,” the administration argues it was not under an obligation to preserve the videotapes and tells US District Judge Kennedy that asking for information about the tapes’ destruction could “potentially complicate” a Justice Department inquiry into it. The Justice Department also says the judge lacks jurisdiction and is worried he will compel CIA officers to testify. In addition, the destroyed tapes were made outside Guantanamo, whereas the order previously issued by the judge only directly affected material in Guantanamo. However, evidence from “a senior al-Qaeda lieutenant” is being used against one of the detainees, and this lieutenant may have been shown on the destroyed tapes, making them relevant to the case. The Associated Press calls the Justice Department’s request “unusual,” and law professor Douglas Kmiec comments, “It’s hard to know on the surface whether this is obstruction or an advancement of a legitimate inquiry.” [New York Times, 12/11/2007; Associated Press, 12/15/2007] Another law professor, Jonathon Turley, comments: “The Justice Department insists it will essentially investigate itself and then tells the court that because it is investigating itself it won’t turn over evidence of its possible criminal misconduct. It’s so circular, it’s maddening.” [ABC News, 12/15/2007] In early January 2008, Kennedy will decline to hold a hearing into the destruction, saying that the destroyed tapes were not directly related to this case, as they were not made in Guantanamo. He is also “influenced by the assurances of the Department of Justice” that its criminal investigation will cover the issue of whether the tapes’ destruction “was inconsistent with or violated any legal obligations.” [New York Times, 1/10/2008]
Morris Davis, the former lead prosecutor for the Guantanamo military commissions who resigned in October (see October 4, 2007), tells interviewer Dan Rather that the upcoming prosecutions at Guantanamo are largely driven by political concerns (see October 19, 2007). “I think the big fear that was expressed was if Hillary Clinton wins the White House [in 2008]—this whole show goes away, and Guantanamo is shut down.… So, there’s a distrust of the military. And you’ve got political involvement. What I’ve seen in this process is that if you combine—ya know, excessive—arrogance with excessive ignorance—you wind up with six years later with—one guilty plea done.” [Business Wire, 12/14/2007]
The Bush administration begins a push to get Congress to pass legislation to protect telecommunications companies from lawsuits over their assistance with the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. This is part of the administration’s long and sometimes uneasy partnership with the telecom industry to conduct a wide range of secret anti-terrorism surveillance operations. The firms fear further lawsuits and more public exposure, and some have refused outright to cooperate (see February 27, 2001 and 1990s).
Fiber Optics - Twenty years ago, the NSA had little difficulty in monitoring telephone communications because older technology relied on broadcast signals carried by microwave towers and satellite relays; the agency used its own satellite dishes to cull the signals. But fiber optic communications are much more difficult to tap, forcing the agency to seek the cooperation of the telecoms to monitor their signals.
Relationship - “It’s a very frayed and strained relationship right now, and that’s not a good thing for the country in terms of keeping all of us safe,” says an industry official in favor of immunity for the telecoms. “This episode has caused companies to change their conduct in a variety of ways.” Both the director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, and the new Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, write virtually identical op-eds in recent days calling for passage of legislation to grant immunity to the telecoms and remove the need to obtain warrants to wiretap Americans’ communications (see December 10, 2007 and December 12, 2007).
Two Bills - Currently, two bills are before Congress: one largely crafted by Republicans and passed on by the Senate Intelligence Committee that would grant retroactive immunity to the telecoms, and another from the House Judiciary Committee that would not. The White House says President Bush will veto any legislation that does not grant immunity to the telecoms. [New York Times, 12/16/2007]
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) replies to a letter from the Justice Department that claims the CIA’s detainee interrogation program is fully compliant with the Geneva Conventions and with US and international law (see September 27, 2007). Wyden challenges the legal rationale for the claims, noting that the cases cited do not directly apply to the question of whether the definitions of “humane treatment” and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” can vary depending on the identity of the detainee and the circumstances surrounding his interrogation. He also challenges the Justice Department’s rather narrow interpretation of the protections afforded by the Eighth Amendment and the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 30, 2005). [US Senate, 3/6/2008 ]
The CIA refers the case of John Kiriakou, a former officer who has recently admitted the agency waterboarded militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida (see December 10, 2007), to the Justice Department for investigation. The department is to investigate whether Kiriakou committed a criminal offence by illegally disclosing classified information in the interviews he gave about Zubaida’s treatment. [McClatchy, 12/20/2007] The CIA originally decided not to refer the case (see December 11, 2007), but pressure was applied by the Justice Department and National Security Council after Kiriakou revealed its involvement in a later interview (see December 11, 2007).
J. William Leonard, resigning his post as the director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) at the National Archives after 34 years of government service, says his battles with the Office of the Vice President (OVP) are a contributing factor in his decision to resign. Leonard’s office challenged Dick Cheney’s attempt to declare his office exempt from federal rules governing classified information, and in return Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington, attempted to have ISOO abolished (see 2003 and May 29, 2007-June 7, 2007). Leonard is described by Archivist Allen Weinstein as “the gold standard of information specialists in the federal government.” Leonard says that he was “disappointed that rather than engage on the substance of an issue, some people would resort to that.” Leonard says he was frustrated when President Bush announced that he never intended for Cheney’s office to have to comply with classification reporting rules: “I’ve had 34 years of frustration. That’s life in the big city. I also accept that I’m not always right…. But this was a big thing as far as I was concerned.”
Possible Connection to Plame Affair - Leonard refuses to say whether he believes the timing of Cheney’s decision—the fall of 2003, the same time as the media began paying attention to the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson—is significant, but “some of the things based on what I’ve read [have] given me cause for concern.” Leonard says that some of the exhibits in the trial of former Cheney chief of staff Lewis Libby were annotated “handle as SCI,” or “sensitive compartmentalized information,” including an unclassified transcript of a conversation between Cheney and his staff members about concocting a plan to respond to the media over the allegations of Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson.
National Security vs. National Security - Leonard believes that the government needs to “introduce a new balancing test” for deciding whether to classify information. “In the past, we’ve looked at it as, ‘we have to balance national security against the public’s right to know or whatever.’ My balancing test would be national security versus national security: yes, disclosing information may cause damage, but you know what, withholding that information may even cause greater damage…. And I don’t think we sufficiently take[…] that into greater account. The global struggle that we’re engaged in today is more than anything else an ideological struggle. And in my mind… that calls for greater transparency, not less transparency. We’re in a situation where we’re attempting to win over the hearts and minds of the world’s population. And yet, we seem to have a habit—when we restrict information, we’re often times find ourselves in a position where we’re ceding the playing field to the other side. We allow ourselves to be almost reduced to a caricature by taking positions on certain issues, oh, we simply can’t talk about that.” [Newsweek, 12/27/2007]
Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Office of the Vice President, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joseph C. Wilson, David S. Addington, National Archives and Records Administration, Allen Weinstein, J. William Leonard, Information Security Oversight Office, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Convicted terrorism conspirator Jose Padilla (see January 22, 2008) sues former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo. Padilla claims Yoo’s legal arguments led to his mistreatment and illegal detention at a US Navy brig. Padilla’s lawsuit says that Yoo’s memos led President Bush to designate Padilla as an “enemy combatant” (see June 10, 2002) and subject him to indefinite detention without being charged or having access to a lawyer. The lawsuit asks for only $1 in damages, and seeks a legal judgment declaring that the policies violated the US Constitution. “This is ultimately about right and wrong, not money,” says Padilla’s attorney Jonathan Freiman, a law professor at Yale University. Freiman says Yoo is being sued because “he gave the green light” to how to deal with Padilla. The lawsuit reiterates claims that Padilla was subjected to harsh interrogation techiques and mistreatment that amounted to torture, claims Justice Department and Pentagon officials deny. [Associated Press, 1/4/2008]
An internal FBI audit reveals that US telecommunications companies have repeatedly terminated FBI access to wiretaps of suspected terrorists and other criminal suspects because bureau officials failed to pay outstanding phone bills. The report, written by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine, finds that over half of the nearly 1,000 telecommunications bills reviewed by investigators were not paid on time. One unidentified field office allowed a $66,000 invoice to go unpaid. In another instance, a wiretap conducted under a FISA warrant was terminated because of “untimely payment.” The report notes, “Late payments have resulted in telecommunications carriers actually disconnecting phone lines established to deliver surveillance results to the FBI, resulting in lost evidence.” [Washington Post, 1/11/2008] Some of the problems stem from telecoms billing multiple times for single surveillance warrants, which ratchets up the bills quickly. Cox Communications, for example, billed the FBI $1,500 for a single, 30-day wiretap order. Telecoms also bill the FBI for Internet connections and phone lines connecting the carrier’s wiretap-ready switches with the FBI’s own wiretap software system, known as the Digital Collection System. Each field office’s computers are connected together with the other offices, and with FBI headquarters, through a secure fiber optic network managed by Sprint. In some cases, FBI officials were confused about whether to use confidential case funds or general funds to pay the telecom bills. Sometimes they were so confused that when the telecoms sent refunds, the officials returned the refunds to the carriers. [Wired News, 1/10/2008] The report faults the agency for poor handling of money used in undercover investigations, which it says makes the agency vulnerable to theft and mishandled invoices. [Reuters, 1/10/2008] This is the latest in a string of audits by Fine’s office that has found serious financial and management problems at the bureau. FBI spokesman Richard Kolko says that in every case the outstanding bills were eventually paid and the intercepted information was recovered. “No evidence was lost in these cases,” he says. FBI assistant director John Miller blames an “inadequate” financial management system for the failures to pay telecom bills. Previous reports have noted a persistent failure to account for hundreds of computers and weapons, and a pattern of careless bookkeeping that spans a much wider area than the wiretapping program. The audit itself, a detailed, 87-page document, is too sensitive for public release, says the Justice Department, and only a seven-page summary is released. The American Civil Liberties Union calls on the FBI to release the entire document. ACLU counsel Michael German, himself a former FBI agent, questions the motives of the telecom firms, who in many instances have allowed the government to operate wiretaps on their systems without court warrants. “It sounds as though the telecoms believe it when the FBI says the warrant is in the mail, but not when they say the check is in the mail,” he says. [Washington Post, 1/11/2008]
A poster promoting ‘Hillary: The Movie.’ [Source: New York Times]The conservative lobbying group Citizens United (CU—see May 1998 and (May 11, 2004)) releases a film entitled Hillary: The Movie. The film is a lengthy diatribe attacking the character and career of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Large portions of the film are comprised of conservative critics launching attacks against the personalities and character of Clinton and her husband, former President Clinton. CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) says he based his film on a documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, released in 2004 by liberal filmmaker Michael Moore (see August 6, 2004), and calls it “a rigorously researched critical biography” comparable to the material presented on political talk shows such as Meet the Press. [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Moneyocracy, 2/2012] Bossie intended for the film to be released in late 2007 and impact the 2008 race in the same way that he believes Fahrenheit 9/11 impacted the 2004 race. A cable company made the film, at a cost of $1.2 million, available for free to viewers on “video on demand.” Bossie also scheduled a small theater run for the film, but his primary focus was always cable television and the accompanying television advertisements. Knowing the film will probably run afoul of campaign law, he hired lawyers, first James Bopp Jr. (a former member of the far-right Young Americans for Freedom—YAF—and the former general counsel for the National Right to Life Committee—see November 1980 and After) [New Yorker, 5/21/2012] and later Theodore B. Olson, the former solicitor general under the Bush administration. Olson will later say the film is “a critical biographical assessment” that provides “historical information about the candidate and, perhaps, some measure of entertainment as well.” The New York Times calls it “a scathingly hostile look at Mrs. Clinton” replete with “ripe voice-overs, shadowy re-enactments, and spooky mood music.” The film also contains interviews and material from mainstream media reporters, and interviews with figures such as former CIA agent Gary Aldrich, who wrote a “tell-all” book about the Clinton administration, and with Kathleen Willey, who has claimed that Bill Clinton once made an unwelcome sexual advance towards her. Reviewer Megan Carpentier of Radar Online will trounce the movie, saying that it “scrolls through more than a decade of press clippings and a treasure trove of unflattering pictures in its one-sided romp” and will advise potential viewers to watch it “while inebriated in the manner of your choosing, and only if you don’t pay $10 for the privilege.” [New York Times, 3/5/2009] Bossie claims the movie has nothing to do with the impending primary elections. CU intends to show the movie in a small number of theaters but primarily on “video on demand” cable broadcasts, with accompanying television advertisements. In return for a $1.2 million fee, a cable television consortium has agreed to make the movie freely available to its customers as part of what CU calls its “Election ‘08” series. (CU has another negative documentary on Clinton’s Democratic challenger Barack Obama in the works—see October 28-30, 2008—but apparently has no plans to air any documentaries on Republican candidate John McCain or any other Republican presidential candidates.) However, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) refuses to allow the film to be aired on cable channels, or advertised for theater release, because the FEC considers the film “electioneering” and thus subject to campaign finance law (see March 27, 2002) restrictions. Moreover, the film and its planned distribution are funded by corporate donations. [United States District Court for the District Of Columbia, 1/15/2008; Richard Hasen, 1/15/2008; New Yorker, 5/21/2012] Bossie claims the film takes no position on Clinton’s candidacy, and says that if he had to vote between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, he would vote for Clinton. [New York Times, 3/5/2009]
Court Fight - Bopp, CU’s original lawyer, decides to pursue the same general aggressive course that he took in a recent successful Supreme Court campaign finance case, the Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL) decision (see Mid-2004 and After). The Hillary film was envisioned from the outset to serve multiple purposes: to advance conservative ideology, damage Clinton’s presidential chances (despite Bossie’s claims), and generate profits. Bopp knows that the FEC would likely classify the film as a political advertisement and not a work of journalism or entertainment (see August 6, 2004), and therefore would fall under campaign law restrictions. Before the film is officially released, Bopp takes the film to the FEC for a ruling, and when the FEC, as expected, rules the film to be “electioneering communication” that comes under campaign law restrictions, Bopp files a lawsuit with the Washington, DC, federal district court. The court rules in favor of the FEC judgment, denying CU its request for a preliminary injunction against the FEC’s ruling. The court specifically finds that the WRTL decision does not apply in this case. “[I]f the speech cannot be interpreted as anything other than an appeal to vote for or against a candidate, it will not be considered genuine issue speech even if it does not expressly advocate the candidate’s election or defeat,” the court states. The court also questions CU’s statement that the film “does not focus on legislative issues.… The movie references the election and Senator Clinton’s candidacy, and it takes a position on her character, qualifications, and fitness for office.” Film commentator Dick Morris has said of the film that it will “give people the flavor and an understanding of why she should not be president.” The court rules, “The movie is susceptible of no other interpretation than to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her.” (During arguments, Bopp says that the film is much like what a viewer would see on CBS’s evening news show 60 Minutes, and Judge Royce Lamberth laughs aloud, saying: “You can’t compare this to 60 Minutes. Did you read this transcript?” Other judges find it problematic that one of the film’s central “issues” is its assertion that Clinton is, in Bopp’s words, “a European socialist,” but still claims not to be overtly partisan.) [Mother Jones, 1/13/2008; United States District Court for the District Of Columbia, 1/15/2008; Richard Hasen, 1/15/2008; New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Supreme Court Appeal - CU appeals the court’s decision directly to the Supreme Court. Bossie soon decides to replace Bopp with Olson, a far more prominent figure in conservative legal circles. Toobin will write: “Ted Olson had argued and won Bush v. Gore (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000), and was rewarded by President Bush with an appointment as solicitor general. Olson had argued before the Supreme Court dozens of times, and he had a great deal of credibility with the justices. He knew how to win.” [Richard Hasen, 1/15/2008; New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Previous Attempt - In September 2004, Bossie and CU attempted, without success, to release a similar “documentary” supporting President Bush and attacking Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) on television, just weeks before the presidential election. The FEC turned down the group’s request. The FEC did allow the film to be shown in theaters (see September 8, 2004 and September 27-30, 2004).
'Ten-Year Plan' - Bopp will later reveal that the lawsuit is part of what he will call a “10-year plan” to push the boundaries of campaign finance law, and that he urged Bossie and other CU officials to use the documentary as a “test case” for overturning the body of law (see January 25, 2010).
Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Kathleen Willey, Megan Carpentier, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, New York Times, Michael Moore, John McCain, Royce Lamberth, James Bopp, Jr, Dick Morris, Gary Aldrich, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), Hillary Clinton, Citizens United, David Bossie, Federal Election Commission, Clinton administration
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections
Mike Huckabee. [Source: mikehuckabee.com]Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and outspoken fundamentalist Christian, tells Michigan voters that the US Constitution should be amended to reflect what he considers to be Christian values. Huckabee says, “[Some of my opponents] do not want to change the Constitution, but I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God, and that’s what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards.” Based on the rest of his speech, it appears Huckabee is referring to his desire to pass constitutional amendments outlawing abortion and defining marriage as being strictly between a man and a woman. [MSNBC, 1/15/2008]
Jose Padilla (see May 14, 2007), convicted in August 2007 of conspiring to assist terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda, is sentenced for his crimes. Padilla was not charged with plotting to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb,” as Bush administration officials have long alleged (see June 10, 2002). He is sentenced to over 17 years in prison, but is not sentenced to life in prison, as Judge Marcia Cooke could have given him. Cooke gives Padilla some credit for his detention in a US naval brig, and agrees that he was subjected to what she calls “harsh conditions” and “extreme environmental stresses” while there. “I do find that the conditions were so harsh for Mr. Padilla… they warrant consideration in the sentencing in this case,” she rules. Padilla does not get credit for time served. Two co-defendants, Adham Amin Hassoun (see 1993) and Kifah Wael Jayyousi (see (October 1993-November 2001)), are also convicted; Hassoun receives over 15 years in prison and Jayyousi is sentenced to over 12 years. Cooke says that the prosecution failed to prove that either defendant was responsible for any specific acts of terrorism. “There is no evidence that these defendants personally maimed, kidnapped, or killed anyone in the United States or elsewhere,” she rules. The reactions from the defendants’ lawyers and family members are mixed. “I feel good about everything. This is amazing,” says Padilla’s mother, Estela Lebron. Hassoun’s lawyer, Jeanne Baker, calls the verdict “a defeat for the government.” And Jayyousi’s lawyer, William Swor, says: “The government has not made America any safer. It has just made America less free.” [Associated Press, 1/22/2008] Padilla will serve his prison sentence at a so-called “supermax” prison facility in Colorado. Domestic terrorists such as Terry Nichols, convicted of conspiring to bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City (see Late 1992-Early 1993 and Late 1994), “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski (see April 3, 1996), and al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui (see April 22, 2005) are also held at this facility. [Jurist, 4/19/2008]
US District Judge Richard Roberts says that CIA interrogation videotapes may have been relevant to a case before him and orders the administration to explain why they were destroyed in 2005, and also to say whether other evidence was destroyed. The government has three weeks to produce the report, as the judge thinks the tapes may have been relevant to the case of Guantanamo detainee Hani Abdullah. The charges against Abdullah are based, at least in part, on information obtained from militant leader Abu Zubaida, who was shown on the tapes and was subjected to waterboarding and other “enhanced techniques” (see Spring-Late 2002 and Mid-May 2002 and After). The report also has to explain what the government has done to preserve evidence since Roberts issued an order in July 2005 not to destroy it, what it is doing now, and whether any other potentially relevant evidence has been destroyed. [Associated Press, 1/24/2008]
Newly released CIA documents show that the agency uses “national security letters” (NSLs) to secure financial and other information about US citizens from employers, financial institutions, libraries, and other private and public firms (see January 2004). The documents were requested by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act. The FBI has used NSLs for years, and drawn heavy criticism for its use of the instruments (see February 2005), but until now, the CIA’s use of NSLs has been a closely guarded secret. Like the FBI NSLs, the CIA’s letters come with “gag orders” that force the recipients to remain silent about the demand for information, or that there was even such a demand. According to ACLU lawyer Melissa Goodman, often the recipient of an NSL cannot keep a copy of the letter or even take notes about the information turned over to the CIA. A CIA spokesman denies that its use of NSLs was ever kept secret, and the information has always been requested on a voluntary basis for “such legitimate purposes as counterintelligence and counterterrorism.” [Washington Post, 1/25/2008]
Vice President Dick Cheney calls in to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh’s broadcast. Cheney argues in favor of the administration’s push for Congress to grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications firms suspected of cooperating with US intelligence agencies in illegally monitoring the telephone and e-mail communications of US citizens (see November 7-8, 2007). In his recent State of the Union address, President Bush made the same call, but refused to admit that the telecoms had actually participated in such actions (see January 28, 2008). Cheney is more forthcoming. He tells Limbaugh that the proposed legislation is about “retroactive liability protection for the companies that have worked with us and helped us prevent further attacks against the United States.” [MSNBC, 1/31/2008]
MSNBC host Keith Olbermann reveals what may be a personal stake in the Bush administration’s push for immunity for telecommunications companies who helped the NSA spy on Americans (see January 28, 2008). Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s son Marc Mukasey is a partner in the law firm of Bracewell & Giuliani (the same Rudolph Giuliani who up until recently was a candidate for the Republican nomination for president). Marc Mukasey is one of the lawyers representing Verizon, one of the telecom firms being sued for cooperating with the government’s surveillance program (see May 12, 2006 and June 26, 2006). Olbermann says of the Mukasey-Giuliani connection: “Now it begins to look like the bureaucrats of the Third Reich trying to protect the Krupp family industrial giants by literally re-writing the laws for their benefit. And we know how that turned out: Alfred Krupp and eleven of his directors were convicted of war crimes at Nuremburg.” [MSNBC, 1/31/2008]
MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann lambasts President Bush’s State of the Union call to protect US telecom firms from liability in their cooperation with government surveillance of US citizens (see January 28, 2008): “President Bush has put protecting the telecom giants from the laws ahead of protecting you from the terrorists. He has demanded an extension of the FISA law—the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—but only an extension that includes retroactive immunity for the telecoms who helped him spy on you.… This, Mr. Bush, is simple enough even for you to understand: If Congress approves a new FISA act without telecom immunity and sends it to your desk and you veto it—you, by your own terms and your own definitions, you will have just sided with the terrorists. Ya gotta have this law, or we’re all gonna die. But you might veto this law!” Olbermann terms Bush’s call for telecom immunity a “shameless, breathless, literal, textbook example of fascism—the merged efforts of government and corporations who answer to no government.” With heavy sarcasm Olbermann says: “[The telecom immunity] isn’t evil, it’s ‘to protect America.’ It isn’t indiscriminate, it’s ‘the ability to monitor terrorist communications.’ It isn’t unlawful, it’s just the kind of perfectly legal thing, for which you happen to need immunity.… This is not a choice of protecting the telecoms from prosecution, or protecting the people from terrorists, sir. It is a choice of protecting the telecoms from prosecution, or pretending to protect the people from terrorists.… The eavesdropping provisions of FISA have obviously had no impact on counter-terrorism, and there is no current or perceived terrorist threat, the thwarting of which could hinge on an e-mail or a phone call going through room 641-A at AT&T in San Francisco next week or next month. Because if there were, Mr. Bush, and you were to, by your own hand, veto an extension of this eavesdropping, and some terrorist attack were to follow, you would not merely be guilty of siding with the terrorists, you would not merely be guilty of prioritizing the telecoms over the people, you would not merely be guilty of stupidity, you would not merely be guilty of treason, but you would be personally, and eternally, responsible.” [MSNBC, 1/31/2008]
Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) lets slip the news that changes proposed to US surveillance laws drastically increase the government’s ability to conduct electronic surveillance inside the US. While speaking against an amendment that would require the government to destroy non-emergency evidence procured through domestic surveillance if a court later finds the surveillance was illegal, Rockefeller reveals that the new laws will not just “make it easier for the NSA to wiretap terrorists,” as the argument goes, but will allow the NSA to, in reporter Ryan Singel’s words, “secretly and unilaterally install filters inside America’s phone and Internet infrastructure.” Rockefeller tells his fellow senators: “Unlike traditional [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] application orders which involve collection on one individual target, the new FISA provisions create a system of collection. The courts role in this system of collection is not to consider probable cause on individual targets but to ensure that procedures used to collect intelligence are adequate. The courts’ determination of the adequacy of procedures therefore impacts all electronic communications gathered under the new mechanisms, even if it involves thousands of targets.” Singel puts it more plainly: “In short, the changes legalize Room 641A, the secret spying room inside AT&T’s San Francisco Internet switching center” (see November 7-8, 2007). FISA judges will, if the law is passed, no longer evaluate whether the government has sufficient cause to eavesdrop on someone inside the US. Instead, the judges will only be able to evaluate descriptions of what the NSA is doing with its “filters.” There is no provision in the new bill to penalize the NSA for conducting illegal surveillances. [Wired News, 2/5/2008]
CIA Director Michael Hayden and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell testify to a Senate committee that US officials had indeed waterboarded three terrorist suspects (see May 2002-2003, Mid-May 2002 and After, (November 2002), and After March 7, 2003). Hayden and McConnell, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, say that while the CIA banned the use of waterboarding (see Between May and Late 2006), the agency might authorize it again if circumstances warranted. Hayden says that the CIA found it necessary to waterboard the three suspects—alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida, and al-Qaeda manager Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri—because the US believed they had information about an imminent attack, and because it needed information about al-Qaeda immediately. “Those two circumstances have changed,” says Hayden. McConnell calls waterboarding a “lawful technique” that could be used again if needed. Hayden says the CIA has held fewer than 100 detainees, and of those, less than a third were put through what he calls “enhanced techniques.” Hayden also admits that “private contractors” took part in subjecting detainees to those “enhanced techniques,” which many call torture. He says he is not sure if any contractors were involved in waterboarding anyone. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) calls for an immediate Justice Department investigation into whether waterboarding is a criminal act. [Wall Street Journal, 2/6/2008] Two days later, Attorney General Michael Mukasey announces his decision not to investigate the US’s use of waterboarding (see February 7, 2008).
Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Abu Zubaida, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Al-Qaeda, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mike McConnell, Senate Intelligence Committee, Michael Mukasey, Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Two civil liberties organizations, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Asian Law Caucus (ALC), file a joint lawsuit against the US Department of Homeland Security. The two organizations file under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and demand that DHS make available its records on the questioning and searches of lawful travelers through US borders. The suit follows a large number of complaints by US citizens, immigrants, and visitors who have spoken out about what they term excessive and repeated screenings by US Customs and Border Protection agents (see 2007). ALC’s Shirin Sinnar says, “When the government searches your books, peers into your computer, and demands to know your political views, it sends the message that free expression and privacy disappear at our nation’s doorstep. The fact that so many people face these searches and questioning every time they return to the United States, not knowing why and unable to clear their names, violates basic notions of fairness and due process.” EFF’s Marcia Hofmann agrees, saying, “The public has the right to know what the government’s standards are for border searches. Laptops, phones, and other gadgets include vast amounts of personal information. When will agents read your email? When do they copy data, where is it stored, and for how long? How will this information follow you throughout your life? The secrecy surrounding border search policies means that DHS has no accountability to America’s travelers.” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008; Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008] The lawsuit demands the public release of DHS’s policies on border searches and interrogations. It also demands an explanation as to how far government agents can go in questioning and searching citizens who are not suspected of any crime. The question of whether federal agents have the right to search electronic devices at all without suspicion of a crime is already under review in the federal courts.
Racial or Religious Profiling? - Almost all of the complaints come from travelers of Muslim, Middle Eastern, or South Asian descent. Many of the complainants believe they were targeted because of racial or religious profiling. US Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Lynn Hollinger denies the charge. It is not her agency’s “intent to subject travelers to unwarranted scrutiny,” she says, and adds that a laptop may be seized if it contains information possibly tied to terrorism, narcotics smuggling, child pornography or other criminal activity. However, a Customs officers training guide says that “it is permissible and indeed advisable to consider an individual’s connections to countries that are associated with significant terrorist activity.” Law professor David Cole asks, “What’s the difference between that and targeting people because they are Arab or Muslim?” [Washington Post, 2/7/2008]
Attorney General Michael Mukasey says he will not investigate the government’s use of waterboarding. “No, I am not, for this reason: Whatever was done as part of a CIA program at the time that it was done was the subject of a [Justice Department] opinion through the Office of Legal Counsel and was found to be permissible under the law as it existed then.” [Mother Jones, 2/7/2008]
In House testimony, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Lieutenant General Michael Maples of the Defense Intelligence Agency say that they stand by their agencies’ decisions not to waterboard detainees. Two days before, CIA Director Michael Hayden and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell testified that the CIA had used waterboarding and might do so again (see February 5, 2008). The Pentagon has banned its employees from using the tactic, and the FBI has stated, “its investigators do not use coercive tactics when interviewing terror suspects.” Rush Holt (D-NJ) asks Mueller and Maples why their agencies do not use coercive interrogation: “Do you never interrogate people who have critical information?” Mueller responds: “Our protocol is not to use coercive techniques. That is our protocol. We have lived by it. And it is sufficient and appropriate for our mission here in the United States.… We believe in the appropriateness of our techniques to our mission here in the United States.” Maples adds: “The Army Field Manual guides our efforts and the efforts of the armed forces.… We believe that the approaches that are in the Army Field Manual give us the tools that are necessary for the purpose under which we are conducting interrogations.” The field manual bans the use of coercion against detainees. [Think Progress, 2/7/2008] The same day, Attorney General Michael Mukasey announces his decision not to investigate the US’s use of waterboarding (see February 7, 2008).
The Defense Department announces that it is bringing death penalty charges against six high-value enemy detainees currently being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The six, all charged with involvement in the 9/11 attacks, will be tried under the much-criticized military tribunal system (see October 17, 2006) implemented by the Bush administration. They are:
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a Pakistani who claims responsibility for 31 terrorist attacks and plots, is believed to have masterminded the 9/11 attacks, and claims he beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (see January 31, 2002). Mohammed was subjected to harsh interrogation tactics by the CIA, including waterboarding.
Ali Adbul Aziz Ali, Mohammed’s nephew and cousin of jailed Islamist terrorist Ramzi Yousef. He is accused of facilitating the attacks by sending $120,000 to US-based terrorists, and helping nine of the hijackers enter the US.
Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, accused of being a link between al-Qaeda and the 9/11 hijackers. Bin al-Shibh is accused of helping some of the hijackers obtain flight training.
Khallad bin Attash, who has admitted planning the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and is accused of running an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. He claims to have helped in the bombing of the US embassy in Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).
Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, accused of being a financier of the 9/11 attacks, providing the hijackers with cash, clothing, credit cards, and traveller’s checks.
Mohamed al-Khatani, another man accused of being a “20th hijacker;” al-Khatani was stopped by immigration officials at Orlando Airport while trying to enter the US. He was captured in Afghanistan.
Many experts see the trials as part of an election-year effort by the Bush administration to demonstrate its commitment to fighting terrorism, and many predict a surge of anti-American sentiment in the Middle East and throughout the Islamic world. Some believe that the Bush administration is using the trials to enhance the political fortunes of Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who has made the US battle against al-Qaeda a centerpiece of his campaign. “What we are looking at is a series of show trials by the Bush administration that are really devoid of any due process considerations,” says Vincent Warren, the executive director head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many Guantanamo detainees. “Rather than playing politics the Bush administration should be seeking speedy and fair trials. These are trials that are going to be based on torture as confessions as well as secret evidence. There is no way that this can be said to be fair especially as the death penalty could be an outcome.”
Treatment of Detainees an Issue - While the involvement of the six detainees in the 9/11 attacks is hardly disputed, many questions surround their treatment at Guantanamo and various secret “black sites” used to house and interrogate terror suspects out of the public eye. Questions are being raised about the decision to try the six men concurrently instead of separately, about the decision to seek the death penalty, and, most controversially, the admissibility of information and evidence against the six that may have been gathered by the use of torture.
Details of Forthcoming Tribunals - While the charges are being announced now, Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann, the Pentagon official supervising the case, acknowledges that it could be months before the cases actually begin, and years before any possible executions would be carried out. Hartmann promises the trials will be “as completely open as possible,” with lawyers and journalists present in the courtroom unless classified information is being presented. Additionally, the six defendants will be considered innocent until proven guilty, and the defendants’ lawyers will be given “every stitch of evidence” against their clients.
'Kangaroo Court' - British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, who has worked with “enemy combatants” at Guantanamo, believes nothing of what Hartmann says. The procedures are little more than a “kangaroo court,” Stafford Smith says, and adds, “Anyone can see the hypocrisy of espousing human rights, then trampling on them.” Despite Hartmann’s assurances, it is anything but clear just what rights the six defendants will actually have. [Independent, 2/12/2008] The charges against al-Khahtani are dropped several months later (see May 13, 2008).
Entity Tags: Vincent Warren, US Department of Defense, Khallad bin Attash, Daniel Pearl, Clive Stafford Smith, John McCain, Mohamed al-Khatani, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Thomas Hartmann, Center for Constitutional Rights, Ramzi Yousef, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Bush administration (43), Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Al-Qaeda
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the presumptive Republican nominee for president, urges President Bush to veto an upcoming bill prohibiting waterboarding and other extreme methods of interrogation after himself voting against the bill. The bill passes the Senate on a largely partisan 51-45 vote. It has already passed the House on a similar party-line vote, and Bush has already announced his intention to veto the bill. McCain has won a reputation as an advocate of prisoner rights and a staunch opponent of torture; his five-year stint as a POW in North Vietnam is well-known. But McCain voted against the legislation when it came up for a vote in the Senate, and he opposes the bill now. McCain says he is opposed to waterboarding, but does not want the CIA restricted to following the practices outlined in the US Army Field Manual, as the legislation would require. McCain says: “I knew I would be criticized for it. I think I can show my record is clear. I said there should be additional techniques allowed to other agencies of government as long as they were not” torture. “I was on the record as saying that they could use additional techniques as long as they were not cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. So the vote was in keeping with my clear record of saying that they could have additional techniques, but those techniques could not violate” international rules against torture. McCain has said he believes waterboarding is already prohibited by the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (see December 30, 2005). And CIA director Michael Hayden has said that current law may well prohibit waterboarding; he claims to have stopped CIA agents from waterboarding detainees in 2006, and also claims that the technique was not used later than 2003. McCain’s Senate colleague, Charles Schumer (D-NY) says that if Bush vetoes the bill, then he in essence “will be voting in favor of waterboarding.” [New York Times, 2/13/2008; Associated Press, 2/21/2008] Bush will indeed veto the bill (see March 8, 2008).
Steven Bradbury, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), tells the House Judiciary Committee that the Bush administration routinely allowed the CIA to use interrogation tactics that were “quite distressing, uncomfortable, even frightening,” as long as they did not cause enough severe and lasting pain to constitute illegal torture. One of those techniques, waterboarding, is legal and not torture, Bradbury says, because it is a “procedure subject to strict limitations and safeguards.” Those standards and limitations make waterboarding as used by the CIA substantially different from historical uses of the technique as it was employed during the Spanish Inquisition and by the Japanese during World War II. Bradbury, asked if waterboarding violates US and international laws against torture, says it does not. Waterboarding as practiced by the CIA bears “no resemblance” to what torturers in time past have done. “There’s been a lot of discussion in the public about historical uses of waterboarding,” Bradbury says. The “only thing in common is the use of water.” Spanish and Japanese water torture techniques “involved the forced consumption of a mass amount of water.” When asked if he is aware of any “modern use” of waterboarding that involves the “lungs filling with water,” Bradbury says he is not. Bradbury says that the Japanese forced the ingestion of so much water that it was “beyond the capacity of the victim’s stomach.” Weight or pressure was then applied by standing or jumping on the stomach of the victim, sometimes leading to “blood coming of the victim’s mouth.” The Spanish Inquisition would use the technique to the point of “agony or death.” The CIA does not do that, Bradbury says. “Strict time limits” are involved—presumably governing the length of time that interrogators can induce the sensation of drowning. Additionally, “safeguards” and “restrictions” make waterboarding a much more controlled procedure. Together, waterboarding as practiced by the CIA is not torture. However, Bradbury admits that recent Supreme Court decisions have changed the OLC’s analysis, and says that in 2006 the CIA stopped using waterboarding. [TPM Muckraker, 2/14/2008; Washington Post, 2/18/2008]
Bradbury's Comparison 'Obscene' - Bradbury claimed that no water entered the lungs of three al-Qaeda captives subjected to the practice; many believe that those captives had cellophane or cloth over their noses and mouths while waterboarded. Torture experts say that practice poses a serious risk of asphyxiation. Former OLC official Martin Lederman says he finds Bradbury’s testimony “chilling.” Lederman notes that “to say that this is not severe physical suffering—is not torture—is absurd. And to invoke the defense that what the Spanish Inquisition did was worse and that we use a more benign, non-torture form of waterboarding… is obscene.” Human rights experts have said that the CIA’s particular form of waterboarding is similar to those practiced by such regimes as the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the French colonial government in Algeria, and the government of Myanmar (Burma). All three of those regimes have been criticized for brutality and flagrant human rights violations. [Washington Post, 2/18/2008]
The House of Representatives votes to hold White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers in contempt of Congress. Bolten and Miers have refused to testify to a House committee investigating the firing of several US attorneys. Many House Republicans walk off the House floor before the vote is cast, ostensibly because they want to work on reauthorizing the Protect America Act (see August 5, 2007) rather than deal with the contempt citation. Minority Leader John Boehner complains, “We have space on the calendar today for a politically charged fishing expedition, but no space for a bill that would protect the American people from terrorists who want to kill us.” [Associated Press, 2/14/2008] “We will not stand for this, and we will not stay for this. And I would ask my House Republican colleagues and those who believe we should be protecting the American people, to not vote on this bill. Let’s just get up and leave.” [Think Progress, 2/14/2008] (Before they walk out, Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL) attempts to disrupt the memorial service for the recently deceased Tom Lantos (D-CA), taking place in Statuary Hall just a few steps from the House chambers, by calling for a procedural vote during the memorial service. An MSNBC reporter says Diaz-Balart’s action is apparently the result of “pique.”) [MSNBC, 2/14/2008] The contempt citation will be forwarded to the US Attorney for the District of Columbia. The two resolutions passed hold Bolten and Miers in contempt, and allow for the House to file a civil suit against the Bush administration to compel the aides’ testimony. “I hope this administration will realize this Congress is serious about its constitutional role of oversight,” says House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Pelosi says she “had hoped that this day would never have come,” and adds that if the White House instructs Justice Department attorneys not to prosecute the contempt citations, “we will have power to go to federal court and seek civil enforcement of our subpoenas.” [The Hill, 2/14/2008; Associated Press, 2/14/2008]
White House Conditions 'Beyond Arrogance' - The White House has already said it will not allow the Justice Department to pursue the contempt charges, claiming that the information is off-limits because of executive privilege, and that Bolten and Miers are immune from prosecution. House Democrats such as Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) had tried for months to work with the White House to win its approval for the aides’ testimony, but were unwilling to accept the White House’s restrictive conditions—investigators would not have been allowed to make transcripts of the testimony, to copy documents presented in the testimony, or to seek any more information after the single session. Pelosi said of the White House’s conditions, “This is beyond arrogance. It’s hubris taken to the ultimate degree.”
Republicans Say Testimony Would 'Undermine' Power of Executive Branch - Republicans such as David Dreier (R-CA) warn that such a case might “undermine the power of the first [executive] branch of government.” [The Hill, 2/14/2008; Associated Press, 2/14/2008]
Miller: Bush Attempting to 'Decide by Decree' - Representative Brad Miller (D-NC) says during the deliberations, “The president cannot decide by decree. The president cannot announce with absolute unreviewable authority what information the administration will provide or withhold. The framers of our Constitution had just fought a war against an autocratic king. It is inconceivable that they intended to create an executive branch with the power the Bush administration now claims and that the minority now supports.” [Speaker of the House, 2/14/2008]
The Washington Post publishes an editorial by New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, accusing the Bush administration of protecting predatory lenders from state officials through use of the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). Spitzer notes that since the OCC’s founding in the 1860s, its function was to monitor the records of national banks and ensure they were balanced. Yet as the current crisis in predatory lending became acute, the OCC used a clause from the 1863 National Bank Act to make all state predatory lending laws inert. In addition, Spitzer asserts that the OCC created new rules making it impossible for state officials to employ their own consumer protection laws against national banks. Spitzer continues to note that when he opened an investigation of the mortgage lending practices of several banks, the OCC brought a federal lawsuit to prevent the inquiry from moving forward. “When history tells the story of the subprime lending crisis and recounts its devastating effects on the lives of so many innocent homeowners,” Spitzer concludes, “the Bush administration… will be judged as a willing accomplice to the lenders who went to any lengths in their quest for profits.” [Washington Post, 2/14/2008]
Admiral Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, admits during a radio interview that the main issue over the renewal of the Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007) is not the security and safety of the nation, but the need to extend liability immunity to the nation’s telecommunications firms. In recent days, President Bush has said that unnamed terrorists are planning attacks on the US that will make 9/11 “pale by comparison,” and the only way to stop those attacks is to renew the PAA with new provisions that will grant telecommunications firms such as BellSouth, Verizon, and AT&T retroactive immunity from prosecution. Those firms are accused of illegally aiding the government in electronically monitoring the telephone and e-mail conversations of US citizens (see February 5, 2006). The PAA expires on February 16, but the government can operate under its provisions for another year. McConnell tells a National Public Radio reporter that the biggest issue surrounding the legislation is liability protection for the telecom firms. “We can’t do this mission without their help,” he says. “Currently there is no retroactive liability protection for them. They’re being sued for billions of dollars.” They did not break the law, McConnell asserts, but the lawsuits are curtailing their willingness to cooperate with the government. “The Senate committee that passed the bill examined the activities of the telecom companies and concluded they were not violating the law,” he says. By not extending retroactive immunity, McConnell says, “we’d lose the capability to protect the country.” [National Public Radio, 2/15/2008] Two days later, McConnell echoes his unusually frank admission. Interviewed on Fox News, he says: “Let me make one other point just—very important. The entire issue here is liability protection for the carriers. And so the old law and extended law are an expired law if we don’t have retroactive liability protection for the carriers. They are less inclined to help us, and so their support.… And therefore, we do not have the agility and the speed that we had before to be able to move and try to capture [terrorists’] communications to thwart their planning.” He also implies that the argument against granting immunity—if the telecoms’ actions were legal in the first place then they wouldn’t need immunity—is valid. Interviewer Chris Wallace says: “Isn’t the central issue here that you’ve lost your power to compel telecommunications companies to cooperate with you and also your ability to offer them legal immunity? Again, the Democrats would say, ‘Look, if the cooperation is legal, they don’t need legal immunity.’” McConnell replies: “Exactly right. The issue now is there’s uncertainty because the law has expired and the law of August, the Protect America Act, allowed us to compel—compel—support from a private carrier. That’s now expired.… [T]he private sector, although willingly helped us [sic] in the past, are now saying, ‘You can’t protect me. Why should I help you?’” Interestingly, after all of the talk of imminent terror attacks, when Wallace asks, “Do you believe al-Qaeda is more of a threat now than any time since 9/11?” McConnell says flatly: “No. Following 9/11, al-Qaeda’s leadership and operatives were degraded probably two-thirds or three-quarters.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) responds that the administration’s attempt to tie the renewal of the PAA into the threat of future terrorist attacks is “wrong, divisive and nothing but fear-mongering.” Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) adds that McConnell’s “latest comments show yet again the shamelessness of the administration’s tactics.” [Fox News, 2/17/2008]
The Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) expires today. Congress has refused to pass a reauthorization of the legislation that contains a provision to grant retroactive immunity to US telecommunications firms to protect them from lawsuits arising from their previous cooperation with government eavesdroppers (see February 5, 2006). President Bush has warned for days that by refusing to reauthorize the bill, Congress is leaving the US “more in danger of attack.” The surveillance elements of the PAA will continue in force for another year after its passage even as the PAA itself expires, so the government’s capability to use electronic surveillance against suspected terrorists and citizens alike continues unabated through August 2008.
Republican Reaction - House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) warns, “This is a grave problem, and the Democrat leaders ought to be held accountable for their inaction.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says, “The companies have been waiting for six months for retroactive liability” protection. “They are under pressure from their directors, pressure from their shareholders, and you’re jeopardizing the entire existence of the company by continuing to do this.”
Democratic Reaction - But House Democrats seem to be in no mood to give in to Bush’s rhetoric. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says Bush is “misrepresenting the facts on our nation’s electronic-surveillance capabilities.” “There is no risk the program will go dark,” says Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Many Democrats accuse the administration of putting the interests of telecom firms over national security—accusations that intensify after Bush’s Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, admitted that the real issue behind the reauthorization is the immunity for telecoms (see February 15-17, 2008). Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) says that the entire argument is “nothing more than a scare tactic designed to avoid legal and political accountability and keep Americans in the dark about the administration’s massive lawbreaking.” House member Tim Walz (D-MN) says, “Coming from a military background, I sure don’t downplay that there are threats out there, but the president’s demagoguery on this is the equivalent of the boy crying wolf.” And Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), the head of the House Democratic Caucus, says bluntly: “This is not about protecting Americans. The president just wants to protect American telephone companies.”
Previous Depiction - When the law was signed into effect August 5, 2007, it was portrayed by the White House as “a temporary, narrowly focused statute to deal with the most immediate needs of the intelligence community to protect the country.” Now it is being portrayed by Bush officials as the cornerstone of the nation’s terrorist-surveillance program. The issue is sure to resurface when Congress returns from a week-long break in late February. [Associated Press, 2/14/2008; Washington Post, 2/16/2008]
With the Protect America Act expiring amid warnings of imminent terror attacks from Bush administration officials and Congressional Republicans (see February 16, 2008 and February 15-17, 2008), most experts outside the administration say its expiration will have little effect on national security. Under the PAA, the government could wiretap domestic phones and computer systems without a warrant, but the legislation was considered a temporary stopgap measure to give Congress and the White House a chance to work together to create new, permanent regulations covering domestic surveillance. The government’s domestic wiretapping program now reverts to the procedures followed for 30 years under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which requires warrants from the FISA Court to engage in surveillance inside the US. Despite administration claims that the paperwork for those warrants is too cumbersome, many experts say that FISA gives the government the tools it needs to spy on terrorists. Timothy Lee from the conservative Cato Institute recalls that the last time FISA was revamped, after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush praised the overhaul, saying it “recognizes the realities and dangers posed by the modern terrorist.” Lee observes: “Those are the rules we’ll be living under after the Protect America Act expires this weekend. There’s no reason to think our nation will be in any more danger in 2008 than it was in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, or 2006.” Ben Wittes of the centrist Brookings Institution says that because existing warrantless surveillance begun under the temporary laws could continue for up to a year, the “sky is not falling at all.” Wittes says he is “somewhat bewildered by the apocalyptic rhetoric” of the Bush administration. Many experts note that emergency FISA warrants can, and have, been granted in a matter of minutes, and government eavesdroppers have up to three days to wiretap a phone or computer and then retroactively acquire a warrant. But administration officials have a different view. White House press secretary Dana Perino says the PAA’s expiration “will harm our ability to conduct surveillance to detect new threats to our security, including the locations, intentions and capabilities of terrorists and other foreign intelligence targets abroad.” Perino says that the PAA “temporarily closed” a “dangerous intelligence gap.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) calls that warning “categorically false.” Hoyer continues: “In fact, a wide range of national security experts has made clear that the president and our intelligence community have all the tools they need to protect our nation, if the Protect America Act—temporary legislation passed last August—expires.… We believe the president’s rhetoric is inaccurate and divisive, and an attempt to stampede the House of Representatives to rubber-stamp legislation by stoking the fears of the American people. We will not be stampeded.” [Washington Times, 2/16/2008]
Andrew Warren, chief of the CIA’s station in Algeria, allegedly date-rapes a woman who is an Algerian national, but is resident in Spain. When Warren is later confronted with the allegations, he will admit having sex with the woman, but deny raping her. The woman will say that by the date of the alleged date rape she has known Warren for several months, having met him with her husband at a function related to the US Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, where Warren used to work. Warren invites her to his residence and gives her a tour. They sit down on the couch and Warren takes a photograph of her on his digital phone, with her permission. Warren then offers to make her a drink, she asks for an apple martini, and he prepares it in the kitchen. After they finish their drinks, Warren offers her another and goes to the kitchen to make it. However, when she follows him, he hands her a plate of crackers and sends her away, so the drink is prepared out of her sight. The woman suddenly feels sick while drinking the second martini, and begins to pass in and out of consciousness. The next thing she recalls is being in Warren’s bathroom upstairs and feeling sick, although Warren is trying to remove her pants. She asks Warren to stop, but he says she will feel better after a bath and continues to undress her. The woman then remembers being in the bath in her shirt, and slipping under water. Then she recalls being out of the bath and trying to put her jeans back on. The next thing she remembers is being on Warren’s bed and him trying to undress her again. Warren comments, “Nobody stays in my expensive sheets with clothes on.” As Warren takes her clothes off, she repeatedly asks, “What’s happening to me?” Finally, the woman recalls seeing Warren naked with an erection and about to penetrate her. She asks him to use a condom and remembers only images of him having sex with her. The woman later wakes up in Warren’s bed, but will not recall how she gets dressed and goes home. About two days later, she texts Warren, accusing him of abusing her. According to her, he replies, “I am sorry.” She tells her husband and psychologist of the incident, but will not inform anybody at the US Embassy until she returns to Algeria in September (see September 15, 2008). [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 10/2008 ] Date rape drugs will be found in a search of Warren’s house (see October 13, 2008).
An extraordinary assembly of elected representatives in Pristina adopts the Kosovo Declaration of Independence, declaring Kosova “an independent and sovereign state,” taking up the responsibilities previously belonging to UNMIK (United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo) and the Republic of Serbia. The declaration specifically denies being “a precedent for any other situation.” It says independence is what the people of Kosova want and is consistent with UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari’s Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement. The government is envisioned as “a democratic, secular, and multi-ethnic republic, guided by the principles of non-discrimination and equal protection under the law.” The representatives accept the borders delineated in the Ahtisaari Plan. Kosova seeks reconciliation at home and friendly relations with neighboring states, “including the Republic of Serbia with whom we have deep historical, commercial, and social ties that we seek to develop further in the near future.” Earlier in the declaration, gratitude is expressed for the international intervention in 1999, “removing Belgrade’s influence over Kosovo” and putting Kosova under temporary UN jurisdiction. The declaration says “no mutually-acceptable status outcome was possible [after years of negotiation between Yugoslavia/Serbia and Kosova], in spite of the good faith engagement of leaders.” It invites an international civilian mission to oversee the Ahtisaari Plan, an EU legal mission, and continued NATO military involvement. The Kosovar government states its wish to join the EU. A year later, Kosova President Jakup Krasniqi, the KLA’s spokesperson during the war, will note in an anniversary speech that 54 countries have recognized the Republic of Kosova, including all of its neighbors, save Serbia. He says, “Serb community in Kosovo and Albanian community in Serbia should be a reason more for relationship and cooperation between two countries.” This is not the first time elected representatives have declared Kosova independent, but Kosova was occupied after it declared itself a republic during the dissolution of Yugoslavia. [Assembly of Kosova, 5/15/2010]
Moroccan police arrest 35 people for involvement in a radical militant group led by an informant for the Belgian government. Over the next several weeks, it will gradually be leaked to the media that the arrested leader of the group, Abdelkader Belliraj, has worked for Belgian intelligence and possibly the CIA since at least 2000 (see February 29, 2008). Belliraj holds both Belgian and Moroccan citizenship and is a Shiite. His unnamed group has both Shiite and Sunni Muslim links, and is linked to Islamist militant groups like al-Qaeda as well as to traditional organized crime. Others arrested in Morocco with Belliraj include local politicians, businessmen, a police commander and Hezbollah television station correspondent. A large stockpile of weapons is found in police raids, including assault rifles, machine guns, and detonators. Two days after the raids, the small Islamist party al-Badil al-Hadari is officially dissolved after several of those arrested are found to have links to the party, including the party’s secretary general. The Moroccan government claims Belliraj’s group was planning a series of political assassinations in Morocco. [Los Angeles Times, 2/27/2008; Terrorism Focus, 3/4/2008]
A judge says that the FBI has no evidence against Steven Hatfill, who has been the only publicly named suspect so far in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Reggie Walton, the federal judge presiding over a lawsuit brought by Hatfill against the Justice Department and the FBI for damaging his reputation, says in court, “There is not a scintilla of evidence that would indicate that Dr. Hatfill had anything to do with [the anthrax attacks].” Walton has reviewed four still secret FBI memos about the status of the anthrax investigation. [Los Angeles Times, 6/28/2008] Later in the year, Hatfill will settle with the government and will be awarded $6 million (see June 27, 2008).
The Justice Department’s Inspector General, Glenn Fine, writes to Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). Fine is responding to their request for an investigation of Justice Department officials’ role in authorizing and overseeing the use of waterboarding by CIA interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Fine notes: “[U]nder current law, the OIG [Office of the Inspector General] does not have jurisdiction to review the actions of [Justice Department] attorneys acting in their capacity to provide legal advice. Legislation that would remove this limitation has passed the House and is pending in the Senate (see April 23, 2008), but at this point the OIG does not have the jurisdiction to undertake the review you request.” [US Department of Justice, 2/19/2008 ]
Chief Warrant Officer Pete Peleti, formerly the military’s top food adviser in the Middle East, is sentenced to 28 months in prison for taking bribes from US contractors operating fraudulent war-profiteering schemes in Iraq and Kuwait. Peleti took bribes from Saudi conglomerate Tamimi Global Co, US firm Public Warehousing Co, and others between 2003 and 2006. Among the bribes Peleti accepted was a trip to the 2006 Super Bowl. Peleti also accepted bribes from Tamimi executive Shabbir Khan to influence military contracts. In 2006, Peleti was arrested as he re-entered the US at Dover Air Force Base; he was carrying a duffel bag stuffed with watches and jewelry, and had $40,000 hidden inside his clothes. Peleti is now cooperating with prosecutors. This and other information about KBR war profiteering in Iraq comes from a federal investigation that will begin in late 2007 (see October 2006 and Beyond). [Chicago Tribune, 2/20/2008; Chicago Tribune, 2/21/2008]
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and Attorney General Michael Mukasey pen a letter to Silvestre Reyes (D-TX, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, claiming that because the Democratically led Congress has allowed the Protect America Act (PAA) to expire (see February 16, 2008), the government is losing critically needed intelligence on potential terrorist threats. McConnell and Mukasey do not include any evidence of the claim in their letter. In the six days since the PAA expired, the two write, some of the government’s “partners” in intelligence operations—US telecommunications firms—have “reduced [their] cooperation” in the government’s warrantless wiretapping program. The two officials do not name which firms they say have cut back on their cooperation. The telecom firms are more reluctant to continue their cooperation with the government because they do not have retroactive legal immunity from civil and criminal charges for their cooperation in the past. The Bush administration and Congressional Republicans allowed the PAA to expire rather than approve an extension of the law that did not include an immunity clause (see February 23, 2008). In their letter, McConnell and Mukasey claim that since the Protect America Act lapsed, telecom firms “have delayed or refused compliance with our requests to initiate new surveillances of terrorist and other foreign intelligence targets under existing directives issued pursuant to the Protect America Act.” They add, “Although most partners intend to cooperate for the time being, they have expressed deep misgivings about doing so in light of the uncertainty and have indicated that they may well cease to cooperate if the uncertainty persists.” McConnell and Mukasey write that if Congress does not extend immunity to the telecom firms, the firms will continue to be reluctant to cooperate with the surveillance program: “This uncertainty may well continue to cause us to miss information that we otherwise would be collecting.” A day later, the two retract their claim (see February 23, 2008). Reyes and other Democrats have accused the administration of exaggerating the claims of threats to national security because of their refusal to grant the telecoms immunity; some have accused the administration of “fearmongering” and employing “scare tactics.” [Newsweek, 2/22/2008; Newsweek, 2/22/2008; Politico, 2/22/2008]
Democrats Take 'Strong Offense' to Charges - In a joint statement, Reyes, Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), and other Democrats respond to McConnell and Mukasey’s letter: “Further politicizing the debate, the administration today announced that they believe there have been gaps in security since the Protect America Act expired. They cannot have it both ways; if it is true that the expiration of the PAA has caused gaps in intelligence, then it was irresponsible for the president and congressional Republicans to openly oppose an extension of the law. Accordingly, they should join Democrats in extending it until we can resolve our differences.” [Newsweek, 2/22/2008] Reyes says: “President Bush has just been spoiled dealing with the Republican-controlled Congress before. I take strong offense at the president’s comments that somehow we’re less safe because the Protect America Act expired.” [Politico, 2/22/2008]
Republicans Refuse to Discuss Legislation - Democratic staffers in the House and Senate Intelligence Committees meet today to discuss how to iron out difference between the two chambers’ version of the proposed extension of the PAA; Republican aides refuse to attend. [Associated Press, 2/23/2008] Democrats also charge that, contrary to administration claims of wanting to work with Congress to pass an acceptable update to the law, the White House has refused to supply lawmakers with documents they have requested pertaining to the extension. [Politico, 2/22/2008]
A day after the director of national intelligence and the attorney general warned that the government is losing critical intelligence on terrorist activities because Congress had not reauthorized the Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007), the same two officials now admit that the government is receiving the same intelligence as it did before the PAA expired (see February 16, 2008 and February 22, 2008). Mike McConnell and Michael Mukasey now admit that the nation’s telecommunications firms are still cooperating with the government’s warrantless wiretapping program. “We learned last night after sending [the original] letter that… new surveillances under existing directives issued pursuant to the Protect America Act will resume, at least for now,” Mukasey and McConnell say in a statement. “We appreciate the willingness of our private partners to cooperate despite the uncertainty.” But in the same letter, McConnell and Mukasey contradict themselves, saying, “Unfortunately, the delay resulting from this discussion impaired our ability to cover foreign intelligence targets, which resulted in missed intelligence information.” No one in the White House will give specifics of what intelligence data may have been missed, or how serious it may have been. A Democratic Congressional official says he is skeptical that anything was missed because the law permits continued monitoring of terrorists and their associates regardless of the PAA’s expiration. “This is serious backpedaling by the DNI,” the Democratic official says of McConnell. “He’s been saying for the last week that the sky is falling, and the sky is not falling.” The American Civil Liberties Union’s Caroline Fredrickson, whose organization is suing a number of telecoms for information about the government’s warrantless wiretapping program, says, “In an attempt to get sweeping powers to wiretap without warrants, Republicans are playing politics with domestic surveillance legislation.” [Los Angeles Times, 2/24/2008]
President Bush again demands that Congress reinstate the Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007), with new provisions providing the nation’s telecommunications industry retroactive legal immunity from criminal and civil prosecution for possible crimes committed in the administration’s domestic wiretapping program (see May 12, 2006). Bush says that without such immunity, US telecom firms will be reluctant to help the administration spy on potential terrorists. The PAA is a central part of the legislative update of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) (see 1978) which mandates that any wiretaps must receive the approval of the FISA Court. Bush insists that he will veto an update to FISA without the immunity provisions, even as he asserts the country is at risk of further terrorist attacks without the FISA updates, and after letting the PAA lapse without signing an extension of the legislation into law. However, Bush blames Congress for not passing the FISA update with an immunity clause: “Congress’ failure to pass this legislation was irresponsible,” he says. “In other words, the House’s refusal to act is undermining our ability to get cooperation from private companies. And that undermines our efforts to protect us from terrorist attack.” He explains why the Democrats don’t want his bill: “House leaders are blocking this legislation, and the reason can be summed up in three words: class action lawsuits.” A spokesman for Congressional Democrats retorts: “They cannot have it both ways. If it is true that the expiration of the [surveillance law] has caused gaps in intelligence, then it was irresponsible for the president and Congressional Republicans to openly oppose an extension of the law.”
Democrats Put Trial Lawyers Before National Security? - Bush says: “The Senate bill would prevent plaintiffs’ attorneys from suing companies believed to have helped defend America after the 9/11 attacks. More than 40 of these lawsuits have been filed, seeking hundreds of billions of dollars in damages from these companies.… It is unfair and unjust to threaten these companies with financial ruin only because they are believed to have done the right thing and helped their country.” The lawsuits (see June 26, 2006) seek damages based upon violations of FISA, the Wiretap Act, the Communications Act, and the Stored Communications Act, among other laws. Bob Edgar of Common Cause says neither money nor punishment is the issue: “Innocent Americans who have had their rights violated by the telecoms deserve their day in court. If these companies did nothing wrong, then they have nothing to fear.” Bush is apparently attempting to refocus the issue as an attack on trial lawyers—traditionally a group supportive of Democrats—in saying: “Members of the House have a choice to make: They can empower the trial bar—or they can empower the intelligence community. They can help class action trial lawyers sue for billions of dollars—or they can help our intelligence officials protect millions of lives. They can put our national security in the hands of plaintiffs’ lawyers—or they can entrust it to the men and women of our government who work day and night to keep us safe.” House member John Conyers (D-MI) calls such characterizations “irresponsible” and “inaccurate.” [CBS News, 2/23/2008]
Joseph Margulies. [Source: PBS]Joseph Margulies, a law professor at Northwestern University, and lawyer George Brent Mickum write of their plans to meet with Guantanamo detainee Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) as part of his legal defense team. The lawyers write: “Zubaydah’s world became freezing rooms alternating with sweltering cells. Screaming noise replaced by endless silence. Blinding light followed by dark, underground chambers. Hours confined in contorted positions. And, as we recently learned, Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding. We do not know what remains of his mind, and we will probably never know what he experienced.” What exactly the CIA did to Zubaida may never be determined, as the agency destroyed the videotapes of his interrogations (see Spring-Late 2002). Zubaida’s subsequent confessions to FBI agents are essentially meaningless, the lawyers assert, because his will and mind were already irrevocably broken by the time of the FBI interviews. The lawyers hope to piece together what Zubaida knew and what was done to him, although they are not confident they will be given the documentation necessary to find out what they want to know. They fear that, if they are not able to learn the truth of Zubaida’s participation with al-Qaeda and the interrogation methods he was subjected to, then in his and others’ cases, the truth will be “only what the administration reports it to be. We hope it has not come to that.” [Washington Post, 2/23/2008]
Jaber Elbaneh’s appearance in court. [Source: Associated Press / Mohammed al-Qadhi.]Jaber Elbaneh, an Islamist militant wanted by the US, comes out of hiding to appear in court in Yemen, but is not arrested. Elbaneh, a US citizen and whose family came from Yemen, had lived in Lackawanna, New York, before the 9/11 attacks. He went to Afghanistan to train at an al-Qaeda training camp along with about six other men from Lackawanna, but while the others dropped out and returned to the US, Elbaneh never returned (see April-August 2001). He moved to Yemen. The Yemeni government says he also helped plan the 2002 attack on the oil tanker Limburg off Yemen’s coast (see October 6, 2002). He was arrested there in 2004 after being charged in the US for attending the training camp. He was sentenced to ten years in prison, but in February 2006, he and 22 other suspected al-Qaeda operatives escaped from a high-security Yemeni prison (see February 3, 2006). The US offered $5 million for information leading to his arrest. Elbaneh was then implicated in a September 2006 bombing in Yemen that took place several days before national elections (see September 15, 2006). Some suggest the bombers may have colluded with the government to use the bombing to successfully help Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh win reelection. Elbaneh was convicted, but allowed to stay at home under a loose form of house arrest. Given the outstanding $5 million reward for him, Elbaneh appears to surprise everyone by appearing in court where his conviction in the 2006 bombing was being appealed. Furthermore, he gives a speech proclaiming his innocence. He says that after his prison escape, he surrendered directly to President Saleh in May 2007, who absolved him of any jail time. The New York Times comments: “Perhaps the greatest mystery surrounding [Elbaneh] is his decision to appear in court… The Yemeni government has generally instructed the jihadists with whom it arranges amnesty to avoid the news media and keep low profiles. But Mr. Elbaneh deliberately spoke out in a public setting, with journalists present, and named the president in his brief tirade.” [Reuters, 2/27/2008; New York Times, 3/1/2008]
Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) pens a blistering op-ed for the conservative National Review that accuses House Democrats of allowing the Protect America Act to expire (PAA—see February 16, 2008) and thereby endangering the country by leaving it unprotected against terrorist attacks. This is the same argument President Bush and Republicans have advanced in recent days in favor of continued warrantless wiretapping (see February 23, 2008). Hoekstra calls the Democrats’ action “unprecedented irresponsibility.” The “burdensome paperwork, government lawyers, and court orders” that implementing wiretaps will now engender, Hoekstra writes, “could mean the difference in stopping a terrorist plot or saving the life of an American soldier.” Hoekstra quickly turns to another key agenda for reauthorizing the PAA—providing retroactive immunity from lawsuits for American telecommunications firms. He echoes the arguments of Bush and other officials such as Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell (see February 22, 2008) by writing that without such immunity, “these companies obviously will be reluctant to cooperate with the government in the future.” But Hoekstra takes the argument even farther, equating the Democrats’ refusal to reauthorize the PAA with their support from trial lawyers, who “have contributed more $1.5 million to Democrat coffers.” He then says that US intelligence agents will suffer because, he asserts, “many of [them] have been forced to take out professional liability insurance to protect them from the actions of the Democratic Congress.” Hoekstra claims that Democrats consistently favor working to investigate global warming over protecting the nation. [National Review, 2/25/2008] Hoekstra continues the attack the next day with a piece in the Wall Street Journal co-authored with his House colleague Lamar Smith (R-TX) and his Senate colleague Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO). The three open this column with the rhetorical question, “Are Americans as safe today as they were before Congress allowed the Protect America Act to expire on Feb. 16?” and answer it with much the same arguments that Hoekstra advanced the day before. “We are less safe today and will remain so until Congress clears up the legal uncertainty for companies that assist in collecting intelligence for the government—and until it gives explicit permission to our intelligence agencies to intercept, without a warrant, foreign communications that pass through the US,” they claim. They also echo the claim asserted by McConnell and Mukasey that the nation’s intelligence community has lost valuable intelligence because of the lapse in legislation—without acknowledging that McConnell and Mukasey withdrew that claim within hours (see February 23, 2008). [Wall Street Journal, 2/26/2008]
Britain’s information commissioner, Richard Thomas, rules that the minutes of Cabinet meetings at which ministers discussed the legality of invading Iraq should be published. In his finding, Thomas says that documents and transcripts concerning the legal discussions should be made public in part because “there is a widespread view that the justification for the decision on military action in Iraq is either not fully understood or that the public were not given the full or genuine reasons for that decision.” In this case, Thomas says, the public interest in disclosure outweighs the principles that normally allow the government not to have to publish minutes of cabinet decisions. The government is expected to appeal Thomas’s decision. In and of itself, Thomas’s decision does not have enough legal weight to force publication. Many lawyers, legal experts, and antiwar figures believe that the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was illegal under international law. On March 17, 2003, then-Attorney General Lord Goldsmith ruled that the invasion was legal (see March 17, 2003), but Goldsmith had issued dramatically different opinions before the eve of the war (see Before October 7, 2002). One of Goldsmith’s legal opinions against the war, published on March 7, 2003, was kept from the Cabinet ministers, and many argue that had the Cabinet known of Goldsmith’s reservations, some of the ministers may not have supported then-Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to invade Iraq. Former international development secretary Clare Short, who quit the government following the war, says the Cabinet minutes would only give a “sanitized” account of the meetings, but their release would set an important precedent: “[H]aving made this decision, the discussion won’t stop there. There will be pressure for more,” she says. The Cabinet Office has not yet decided whether to obey Thomas’s ruling. [Guardian, 2/26/2008] That office previously rejected a Freedom of Information request for the transcripts. [BBC, 2/26/2008]
The Washington Post reports that US intelligence has finally determined that Anwar al-Awlaki is linked to al-Qaeda. Al-Awlaki was an imam at two different mosques attended by hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Hani Hanjour, and he has been suspected of assisting the 9/11 plot. An anonymous US counterterrorism official tells the Post, “There is good reason to believe Anwar al-Awlaki has been involved in very serious terrorist activities since leaving the United States [after 9/11], including plotting attacks against America and our allies.” However, the US apparently did not ask Yemen to extradite him when he was arrested there in 2006, because there was no pending legal case against him. He continues to reside in Yemen and apparently still has not been charged with any crime. [Washington Post, 2/27/2008] In December 2007, just two months before this article, the US approved the release of al-Awlaki in Yemen, apparently because there still was no pending legal case against him (see Early September 2006-December 2007). He also does not appear to be on any public wanted list.
Attorney General Michael Mukasey refuses to refer a House contempt citation against two of President Bush’s top officials to a federal grand jury. The House has found former White House counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer Congressional subpoenas (see February 14, 2008), but Mukasey says neither Bolten nor Miers have committed any crimes. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has, in return, given the House Judiciary Committee the authority to file a lawsuit against Miers and Bolten in federal court. Mukasey says Bolten and Miers were right to ignore the subpoenas because both were acting at President Bush’s behest. Pelosi retorts: “The American people demand that we uphold the law. As public officials, we take an oath to uphold the Constitution and protect our system of checks and balances and our civil lawsuit seeks to do just that.” Democrats want the filing to move swiftly so that a judge might rule before the November elections; a key tenet of Democratic political strategy is the accusation that the Bush administration has abused its executive powers and considers itself above the law. Bolten and Miers were subpoenaed to testify about the possible political motivations behind the 2006 firings of nine US attorneys. Mukasey agrees with the Bush administration in saying that neither Miers nor Bolten, as officials of the executive branch, are required to answer to Congress for their actions, “The contempt of Congress statute was not intended to apply and could not constitutionally be applied to an executive branch official who asserts the president’s claim of executive privilege,” he writes. “Accordingly, the department has determined that the noncompliance by Mr. Bolten and Ms. Miers with the Judiciary Committee subpoenas did not constitute a crime.” Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) says of Mukasey’s decision: “Today’s decision to shelve the contempt process, in violation of a federal statute, shows that the White House will go to any lengths to keep its role in the US attorney firings hidden. In the face of such extraordinary actions, we have no choice but to proceed with a lawsuit to enforce the committee’s subpoenas.” [Associated Press, 2/29/2008]
Justice Department attorney Brian Benczkowski replies to a follow-up letter from Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), who is challenging the department’s claims that the CIA detainee interrogation program is fully compliant with US and international law (see December 20, 2007). Much of Benczkowski’s letter is a reiteration of points made in an earlier letter (see September 27, 2007), even citing the same legal cases that Wyden challenged as not directly relevant to the Justice Department’s arguments. Benczkowski reiterates that the definitions of “humane treatment” and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” are flexible, in the department’s view, and can change drastically depending on the identity of the detainee and the circumstances surrounding his interrogation. The standards of compliance are also mitigated by the “nature and importance of the government interest,” he claims, giving as an example the possibility of abrogating a detainee’s fundamental rights under the Geneva Conventions and other statutes in order to force information about an impending terrorist attack from him. Benczkowski reiterates that the Eighth Amendment only applies to prisoners after they have been convicted of a crime; hence, detainees never tried or charged for crimes have no rights under that amendment. It is apparent that Benczkowski considers the discussion closed; he concludes his letter with the statement, “Please do not hesitate to contact the Department if we can be of assistance in other matters.” [US Department of Justice, 3/6/2008 ]
The online news site Wired News reveals that a “whistleblower” is alleging that the US government has had direct, high-speed access to a major wireless carrier’s systems, exposing US citizens’ telephone calls, data transmissions, and even physical movements to potentially illegal government surveillance. Babak Pasdar, the CEO of Bat Blue and a former computer security consultant, says he worked for the unnamed carrier in late 2003. “What I thought was alarming is how this carrier ended up essentially allowing a third party outside their organization to have unfettered access to their environment,” Pasdar says. “I wanted to put some access controls around it; they vehemently denied it. And when I wanted to put some logging around it, they denied that.” According to Wired News, while Pasdar refuses to name the carrier, his claims are virtually identical to allegations made in a 2006 federal lawsuit against four telecommunications firms and the US government (see January 31, 2006); the suit named Verizon Wireless as taking actions similar to those claimed by Pasdar. Pasdar has provided an affidavit to the nonprofit Government Accountability Project (GAP), which has begun circulating the affidavit along with talking points to Congressional staffers. Congress is working on legislation that would grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications firms that worked with the government to illegally wiretap American citizens’ communications (see July 10, 2008). Pasdar says he learned of the surveillance in September 2003, when he led a team hired to revamp security on the carrier’s internal network. When he asked about a so-called “Quantico Circuit” linking its network to an unnamed third party, the carrier’s officials became uncommunicative (see September 2003). Quantico is the center of the FBI’s electronic surveillance operations. “The circuit was tied to the organization’s core network,” Pasdar writes in his affidavit. “It had access to the billing system, text messaging, fraud detection, Web site, and pretty much all the systems in the data center without apparent restrictions.” The “Quantico Circuit” was unshielded, which would have given the recipient unfettered access to customer records, data, and information. Pasdar tells a Wired News reporter, “I don’t know if I have a smoking gun, but I’m certainly fairly confident in what I saw and I’m convinced it was being leveraged in a less than forthright and upfront manner.” Verizon Wireless refuses to comment on Pasdar’s allegations, citing national security concerns. Representative John Dingell (D-MI), the chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, writes in response: “Mr. Pasdar’s allegations are not new to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, but our attempts to verify and investigate them further have been blocked at every turn by the administration. Moreover, the whistleblower’s allegations echo those in an affidavit filed by Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), a retired AT&T technician, in the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s lawsuit against AT&T.… Because legislators should not vote before they have sufficient facts, we continue to insist that all House members be given access to the necessary information, including the relevant documents underlying this matter, to make an informed decision on their vote. After reviewing the documentation and these latest allegations, members should be given adequate time to properly evaluate the separate question of retroactive immunity.” [Wired News, 3/6/2008] Klein will assist Pasdar in writing a letter opposing immunity for the telecom firms based on Pasdar’s evidence, a letter which GAP provides to newspapers across the country. However, Klein will write, only a few smaller newspapers will publish the letter. [Klein, 2009, pp. 103]
The US and Iraqi governments draft an agreement that will provide for an open-ended US military presence in Iraq. The agreement is marked “secret” and “sensitive”; it will be leaked to The Guardian in April. If ratified, the agreement will supplant the UN mandate currently governing the US presence in Iraq. It will give the US the power to “conduct military operations in Iraq and to detain individuals when necessary for imperative reasons of security” without time limits. The authorization is described as “temporary,” and says that the US “does not desire permanent bases or a permanent military presence in Iraq.” However, there is no time limit or restrictions on occupation by US or other coalition forces. The agreement contains no limits on the numbers of US occupation forces, nor does it constrain their actions or bring them under Iraqi law. The agreement goes far beyond long-term US security agreements with other countries such as South Korea. Opposition to the agreement from Iraqi Sunnis and some Shi’ites is expected to be fierce. A knowledgeable Iraqi Sunni says: “The feeling in Baghdad is that this agreement is going to be rejected in its current form.… The government is more or less happy with it as it is, but parliament is a different matter.” It will also face stiff opposition in Washington, with Congressional Democrats such as Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) accusing the Bush administration of attempting to tie the hands of the next president by pushing through such a commitment. The agreement goes so far beyond other such commitments that, according to Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), it constitutes a treaty between Iraq and the US, and as such, would need to be ratified by Congress. But the White House has no intention of allowing Congress to ratify or deny the agreement (see April 8, 2008). [Guardian, 4/8/2008]
President Bush vetoes legislation passed by Congress that would have banned the CIA from using waterboarding and other “extreme” interrogation techniques. The legislation is part of a larger bill authorizing US intelligence activities. The US Army prohibits the use of waterboarding and seven other interrogation techniques in the Army Field Manual; the legislation would have brought the CIA in line with US military practices. Waterboarding is banned by many countries and its use by the US and other regimes has been roundly condemned by US lawmakers and human rights organizations. The field manual also prohibits stripping prisoners naked; forcing them to perform or simulate sexual acts; beating, burning, or otherwise inflicting harm; subjecting prisoners to hypothermia; subjecting prisoners to mock executions; withholding food, water, or medical treatment; using dogs to frighten or attack prisoners; and hooding prisoners or strapping duct tape across their eyes.
Reasoning for Veto - “Because the danger remains, we need to ensure our intelligence officials have all the tools they need to stop the terrorists,” Bush explains. The vetoed legislation “would diminish these vital tools.” Bush goes on to say that the CIA’s interrogation program has helped stop terrorist attacks on a US Marine base in Djibouti and the US consulate in Pakistan, as well as stopped plans for terrorists to fly hijacked planes into a Los Angeles tower or perhaps London’s Heathrow Airport. He gives no specifics, but adds, “Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al-Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland.” John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, disagrees, saying he knows of no instances where the CIA has used such methods of interrogation to obtain information that led to the prevention of a terrorist attack. “On the other hand, I do know that coercive interrogations can lead detainees to provide false information in order to make the interrogation stop,” he says. CIA Director Michael Hayden says that the CIA will continue to work within both national and international law, but its needs are different from those of the Army, and it will follow the procedures it thinks best. Bush complains that the legislation would eliminate not just waterboarding, but “all the alternative procedures we’ve developed to question the world’s most dangerous and violent terrorists.” [Reuters, 3/8/2008; Associated Press, 3/8/2008]
Criticism of Veto - Democrats, human rights leaders, and others denounce Bush’s veto. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says, “This president had the chance to end the torture debate for good, yet he chose instead to leave the door open to use torture in the future.” Feinstein notes that Bush ignored the advice of 43 retired generals and admirals, and 18 national security experts, who all supported the bill. “Torture is a black mark against the United States,” she says. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says she and fellow Democrats will try to override the veto and thus “reassert [the United States’s] moral authority.” Elisa Massimino of Human Rights First says, “The president’s refusal to sign this crucial legislation into law will undermine counterterrorism efforts globally and delay efforts to rebuild US credibility on human rights.” [Associated Press, 3/8/2008] New York Times journalist Steven Lee Myers writes that Bush vetoes the bill not just to assert his support for extreme interrogation techniques or to provide the government everything it needs to combat terrorism, but as part of his ongoing battle to expand the power of the presidency. Myers writes, “At the core of the administration’s position is a conviction that the executive branch must have unfettered freedom when it comes to prosecuting war.” [New York Times, 3/9/2008]
Entity Tags: Nancy Pelosi, Human Rights First, George W. Bush, Elisa Massimino, Dianne Feinstein, Central Intelligence Agency, John D. Rockefeller, Michael Hayden, US Department of the Army, Senate Intelligence Committee, Steven Lee Myers
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
The House Judiciary Committee asks a federal judge to compel two White House officials to testify about the firings of eight US attorneys in 2007. Former White House counsel Harriet Miers and current White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten have both refused to testify, ignoring subpoenas from the Judiciary Committee (see February 14, 2008), and Attorney General Michael Mukasey has refused to enforce the subpoenas (see February 29, 2008). The White House steered the refusals. Judge John D. Bates, a federal district court judge in Washington, is overseeing the case. The suit says that neither Miers nor Bolten may avoid testimony by citing executive privilege, as both they and the White House have asserted. White House press secretary Dana Perino calls the suit “partisan theater,” and adds, “The confidentiality that the president receives from his senior advisers and the constitutional principle of separation of powers must be protected from overreaching, and we are confident that the courts will agree with us.” Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) vehemently disagrees, saying, “The administration’s extreme claim to be immune from the oversight processes are at odds with our constitutional principles.” Conyers warns, “We will not allow the administration to steamroll Congress.” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) calls the suit a waste of time and accuses the committee of “pandering to the left-wing swamps of loony liberal activists.” The case is central to the ongoing tension between the White House and Congress over the balance of power between the two branches. Constitutional law professor Orin S. Kerr says the case raises fresh issues. While the Supreme Court recognized executive privilege in 1974, it acknowledged that executive privilege was not absolute and could be overturned in some instances, such as a criminal investigation. No court has ruled whether a claim of executive privilege outweighs a Congressional subpoena. According to lawyer Stanley Brand, who is involved in the suit for the Democrats, the committee turned to the legal system to avoid the possibility of charging Miers and Bolten with contempt and trying them in Congress on the charges. Such an action, Brand says, would be unseemly. [House Judiciary Committee v. Miers & Bolten, 3/10/2008 ; New York Times, 3/11/2008]
Former Attorney General John Ashcroft denies any conflict of interest in his involvement in a deal for the Justice Department to monitor a corporation accused of breaking the law. Ashcroft, now a lobbyist for the Ashcroft Group, agreed for his firm to become a Justice Department monitor for Zimmer Holdings Inc, which manufactures replacement hip and knee joints. Zimmer agreed to pay $310 million in fees to settle charges of bribing doctors. Ashcroft was first asked to get involved in the deal in September 2007 by New Jersey US Attorney Christopher Christie, who worked for Ashcroft when he headed the department; reports indicate that Christie hand-picked Ashcroft in return for keeping Zimmer out of court. Such a deal is known as a “deferred prosecution agreement.” Ashcroft denies any involvement in the bidding for the contract, said to be worth between $28-$52 million—the Ashcroft Group is being paid $750,000 per month and $895 an hour, allegedly all from Zimmer—and denies any conflict of interest in his position.
Denial by Ashcroft - The no-bid contract was not “a backroom, sweetheart deal,” Ashcroft insists to a House Judiciary subcommittee investigating the deal. Ashcroft also denies that any public money has been spent on the deal, which was most likely engineered as part of a settlement agreement between Zimmer and the federal government. “There is not a conflict, there is not an appearance of a conflict,” says Ashcroft.
Alleged Conflict of Interests - The panel chairwoman, Linda Sanchez (D-CA) disagrees, saying that Ashcroft secured “what appeared to be a backroom, sweetheart deal” to serve as an independent corporate monitor and collect the multimillion-dollar fees. Sanchez also notes there was no public notice, no bidding, and Ashcroft had to use considerable time to prepare for the assignment and learn more about the business. She asks Ashcroft with apparent disbelief, “You don’t believe that it may be a conflict of interest in a former employee hiring the former boss, or suggesting that he be hired, for a very lucrative monitoring contract?” Ashcroft says that such a situation is not a conflict at all.
Monitoring "Lax" - Fellow House member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) says the current system of selecting monitors such as Ashcroft is far too lax, and can easily be manipulated by corporations with friends inside the Justice Department. Pallone is sponsoring legislation that would require federal judges to approve monitoring contracts.
Republican Reaction - Meanwhile, House Republicans defend Ashcroft, with one, Chris Cannon (R-UT) calling Sanchez’s questions “appalling.” Ashcroft’s ethics are “unquestioned,” he asserts. [Associated Press, 3/11/2008; Kansas City Star, 3/11/2008]
Mohammed Jawad, a young Guantanamo detainee held in US captivity for almost six years (see December 17, 2002) and charged with attempted murder (see October 7, 2007), is arraiged before a military commission. Jawad refuses to accept the assistance of his military counsel, Air Force Major David Frakt, says he knows of no civilian lawyer who would represent him, and says he does not wish to represent himself. Jawad tells the court he has no desire to continue the proceedings. The judge rules that Frakt will continue to represent Jawad. [Human Rights First, 9/2008]
Lawyers for alleged enemy combatant Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see December 12, 2001) file papers with the court asserting that al-Marri was systematically abused by FBI and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) interrogators while in military custody. Al-Marri continues to be held in the Naval brig in Charleston, South Carolina (see June 23, 2003). Additionally, al-Marri was told that cabinets full of videotapes of his interrogations exist, according to the legal filings. Al-Marri has been in federal detention, without charge, since 2003. The New York Times has reported that about 50 videotapes of interrogation sessions with al-Marri and fellow detainee Jose Padilla (see May 8, 2002) were recently found by Pentagon officials (see March 13, 2008). DIA spokesman Donald Black admits that one tape shows al-Marri being gagged with duct tape, but says that al-Marri brought that treatment upon himself by chanting loudly and disruptively. One of al-Marri’s lawyers, Jonathan Hafetz, says that the treatment al-Marri has been forced to endure is far worse than anything Black describes—al-Marri, Hafetz says, has been subjected to stress positions, sensory deprivation, and threats of violence or death. “On several occasions, interrogators stuffed Mr. al-Marri’s mouth with cloth and covered his mouth with heavy duct tape,” says the legal filings. “The [duct] tape caused Mr. al-Marri serious pain. One time, when Mr. al-Marri managed to loosen the tape with his mouth, interrogators re-taped his mouth even more tightly. Mr. al-Marri started to choke until a panicked agent from the FBI or Defense Intelligence Agency removed the tape.” [United Press International, 3/13/2008; Washington Post, 3/31/2008]
The Pentagon reviews a compendium of videotaped interrogations conducted at numerous US military detention facilities, including Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq. It identifies at least 50 tapes, including one showing the forcible gagging of a suspect. Defense Department officials say that only a few of the tens of thousands of interrogations conducted since 2001 were recorded. Most were “routinely destroyed” if they were found to have no continuing value, according to Pentagon spokesman Don Black. Among the 50 or so tapes already identified are interrogations of two high-level “enemy combatants,” Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri and Jose Padilla. Both were interrogated at the Naval brig in Charleston, South Carolina. A tape of an interrogation of al-Marri shows the terrorist suspect being gagged and manhandled by FBI agents (see March 13, 2008), but not waterboarded or otherwise tortured. Black says that the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lieutenant General Michael Maples, has reviewed the tape and is satisfied that al-Marri was treated in an acceptable fashion. As for other possible tapes, Admiral Mark H. Buzby, the military commander at Guantanamo, says, “We suspect that the recording devices contain recorded data but we are unable technologically to confirm whether data remains.” [New York Times, 3/13/2008]
William Delahunt. [Source: US House of Representatives]Democratic House members William Delahunt (D-MA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) announce legislation that will prohibit the use of federal funds to implement any long-term diplomatic and security agreement the Bush administration may enter into with the Iraqi government (see March 7, 2008). The Bush administration has not yet acknowledged that such a pact requires the approval of Congress; Delahunt and DeLauro say that such approval is mandated by the Constitution. The White House disagrees, saying that the entire controversy was triggered by what it calls a sloppy Arabic-to-English translation of the “Declaration of Principles” agreed to by President Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (see November 26, 2007); the declaration serves as the basis for the proposed agreement. The declaration states that the US will provide “security assurances and commitments to the Republic of Iraq to deter foreign aggression against Iraq that violates its sovereignty and integrity of its territories, waters or airspace.” Such an agreement would be a long-term military commitment in Iraq and would, therefore, be a treaty. Treaties must be ratified by a two-thirds vote of the Senate. But a senior administration official says the translation of the “security assurances” phrase “was something we struggled with.” He says the original Arabic phrase was “translated in kind of an interesting way,” and a better translation might have been, “We’ll consult.” Democrats are skeptical of the White House explanation. Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) says that when senators were recently briefed on the planned agreement, they “certainly did not speak to this unfortunate translation from Arabic.” Delahunt, who has co-chaired several hearings on the legality of the agreement, says he hasn’t heard this either, and says, “If it’s sloppy language, it borders on irresponsible to use words like ‘security assurances’ or ‘security commitments’ [when] their customary interpretation would be binding.” Bush officials say that Congress was indeed told about the problematic translation. Delahunt says he believes that the administration, having been “outed, if you will” by Congressional oversight, has decided that it is the “safe course” to argue that the words are not what they appear to be. And Webb’s spokeswoman, Jessica Smith, wonders why the White House did not “retranslate” the troublesome phrase before releasing the declaration. A Bush official says that the final version of the agreement will use the phrasing “consult” rather than “security assurances.” “There aren’t many countries that we give security guarantees to,” he says. [Politico, 3/13/2008]
Fred Hollander, a New Hampshire resident, files a lawsuit challenging presidential contender John McCain (R-AZ)‘s ability to serve as president. Hollander names the Republican National Committee (RNC) as a co-defendant. [Hollander v. McCain et al, 3/14/2008] Hollander’s challenge hinges on a February 2008 report from conservative news blog News Busters that said since McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936 (his parents, both US citizens were stationed on a Navy base in Panama at the time), he may not be eligible under Article II of the Constitution to be president. News Busters went on to report that McCain’s claim to have been born in the Coco Solo Naval Hospital in the Canal Zone was false, since that hospital was not built until 1941, and the nearest hospital at the time of his birth was not on a US military base, but in the Panamanian city of Colon. Therefore, the report concluded, “we were lied to” about McCain’s birthplace, and News Busters speculated that McCain’s citizenship was in question. However, News Busters was in error. According to subsequent investigations by the press, the Panama Canal Zone did contain a small hospital at the Coco Solo submarine base in 1936, and McCain was born in that hospital. Archival records also show the name of the Naval doctor who signed McCain’s birth certificate, Captain W. L. Irvine, the director of the facility at the time. News Busters, and Hollander, are in error in their reading of the law. Both of McCain’s parents were US citizens, and McCain was born on a US military base, which qualifies under the Constitution as “US soil.” The McCain presidential campaign has refused to release a copy of McCain’s birth certificate, but a senior campaign official shows Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs a copy of the McCain birth certificate issued by the Coco Solo Naval hospital. [News Busters (.org), 2/21/2008; Washington Post, 5/20/2008] Additionally, the Panama American newspaper for August 31, 1936 carried an announcement of McCain’s birth. [Washington Post, 4/17/2008 ] Two lawyers interviewed by CBS News concur that under the law, McCain is a “natural born citizen” and eligible to serve as president. Theodore Olson, the solicitor general for the Bush administration, and Laurence Tribe, a Harvard law professor generally considered to be a liberal, agree that challenges to McCain’s citizenship are specious. [CBS News, 3/28/2008] Hollander files what is later determined to be a fake birth certificate with the court that purports to prove McCain has Panamanian citizenship. The court throws Hollander’s lawsuit out on the grounds that Hollander has no standing to challenge McCain’s citizenship. [US District Court, District of New Hampshire, 7/24/2008 ; Obama Conspiracy (.org), 2/27/2009; Obama Conspiracy (.org), 4/24/2010] The lawsuit is similar in nature to numerous court challenges to McCain’s Democratic opponent, Senator Barack Obama (see August 21-24, 2008, October 9-28, 2008, October 17-22, 2008, October 21, 2008, October 31 - November 3, 2008, October 24, 2008, October 31, 2008 and After, November 12, 2008 and After, November 13, 2008, and Around November 26, 2008).
Barack Obama. [Source: Public domain via US Senate]The State Department confirms that three of its contract employees improperly accessed the private passport files of Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Two of the three were fired and a third was subjected to as-yet-unstated disciplinary procedures. The Obama campaign quickly demands a “complete investigation” of who accessed the files, who they may have shared the information with, and what their possible motivations may have been. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack refuses to identify the three employees, and says that there is no reason as yet to believe that the three break-ins were motivated by anything but “imprudent curiosity.” The State Department’s inspector general is conducting an internal investigation. The Justice Department is monitoring the situation, and may launch its own investigation. [Chicago Tribune, 3/21/2008; Associated Press, 3/21/2008] Senior State Department officials claim not to have known about the violations of Obama’s passport files until very recently. [Computerworld, 3/21/2008] Patrick Kennedy, the Undersecretary of State for Management and the department official responsible for the Bureau of Consular Affairs, the office which oversees such records, also refuses to divulge any information about the contractors who broke into Obama’s records. [Speaker of the House, 3/21/2008]
Bureau Should Have Informed Senior Officials - Kennedy says that his department erred in not informing senior State Department officials about the violations. “I will fully acknowledge this information should have been passed up the line,” he says. “It was dealt with at the office level.” Kennedy also says that the political affiliations of the three contract employees are not known, but “[n]ow that this has arisen, this becomes a germane question, and that will be something for the appropriate investigation to look into.” [Associated Press, 3/21/2008] Kennedy says he will brief Obama’s campaign staff today on the situation. [Washington Post, 3/21/2008] Kennedy is new to the post; before him, the bureau chief was Maura Harty, who served as a US ambassador to Paraguay under the Clinton administration. [Huffington Post, 3/21/2008]
Breaches Immediately Detected - The files were accessed on January 9, February 21, and March 14 (see March 21, 2008). All three improper accesses were immediately detected through a computerized monitoring system, and supervisors were notified shortly after each access. But no one in the Obama campaign was notified until today, a week after the third break-in. [Chicago Tribune, 3/21/2008]
Breaches May Constitute a Crime - The employees who broke into Obama’s files had access to his basic personal information, including his Social Security number, as well as his travel information, including information submitted by various US consulates from the nations to which Obama traveled (see March 21, 2008). Obama’s Social Security number can be used to pull a vast amount of information about Obama’s finances and other private, protected information. While the breaches themselves are not illegal (though they are violations of State Department protocols), if any information from the files were shared with anyone else, that would likely constitute a violation of US privacy laws.
Compared with 1991 Breach - In 1991, President George H. W. Bush’s re-election campaign illegally broached Democratic contender Bill Clinton’s passport files for political reasons; that incident prompted an investigation led by independent counsel Joseph diGenova. DiGenova says of the Obama breach that because the two contract employees who were fired were not State Department employees, it will be more difficult for the acting inspector general of the department to force them to testify. “My guess is if he tries to talk to them now, in all likelihood they will take the Fifth,” he says, referring to the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination. DiGenova says it is improbable that senior State Department officials, perhaps including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, could not have known about the breaches. “Is inconceivable to me that civil servants working in a department which was part of a scandal in 1992 on this very subject would not understand that it was a management necessity to inform superiors,” he says. [Associated Press, 3/21/2008] DiGenova’s investigations brought no charges against anyone in the Bush passport break-in. [Washington Post, 3/21/2008]
Entity Tags: Joseph diGenova, Maura Harty, George Herbert Walker Bush, Sean McCormack, Condoleezza Rice, Patrick Kennedy, US Department of State, US Department of Justice, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Barack Obama
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections
Convicted felon Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see March 6, 2007), formerly the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, is disbarred from practicing law. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rules that when a lawyer “is convicted of an offense involving moral turpitude, disbarment is mandatory.” [CBS News, 1/25/2007; Reuters, 3/20/2008] Libby’s conviction was commuted by President Bush months before (see July 2, 2007). Libby has already been suspended from practicing law. Libby says he will not challenge the disbarment. [Jeralyn Merritt, 3/20/2008; Reuters, 3/20/2008]
The timing of the unauthorized accesses of presidential contender Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport files at the State Department (see March 20, 2008) raises questions among political observers. The first breach of Obama’s files was on January 9, six days after Obama defeated fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in the Iowa caucuses and thereby became a national frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and the day after Clinton defeated Obama in New Hampshire. The second breach took place on February 21, a day after Obama’s primary victories in Wisconsin and Hawaii and the same day that Clinton and Obama debated in Texas. The third took place on March 14, ten days after Clinton and Obama split the votes in the key states of Ohio and Texas, and three days after Obama won Mississippi. March 14 is also the same day that the mainstream media began reporting the divisive and inflammatory comments made in months and years past by Obama’s pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. [Project VoteSmart, 2008; Independent, 3/21/2008] British journalist Leonard Doyle notes that the file violations seem similar to the 1991 violations of Democratic presidential contender Bill Clinton, when campaign officials for President George H. W. Bush not only broke into Clinton’s passport files, but asked for information about Clinton’s collegiate days at Oxford University from Britain’s Conservative government. Doyle adds, “The security breach also has echoes of the Watergate break-in during the Nixon administration” (see June 17, 1972). [Independent, 3/21/2008]
After the State Department reveals that Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama’s passport file had been inappropriately accessed three times between January and March (see March 20, 2008), the department also reveals that the passport files of the other two major presidential candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton (see March 21, 2008) and Republican John McCain, have also been breached. The same State Department contract employee who accessed Obama’s file also accessed McCain’s file, says department spokesman Sean McCormack. McCormack says that the department learned of the McCain breach “earlier this year.” He says that employee has been reprimanded but not yet fired. “We are reviewing our options with that person” and their employment status, he says. McCain says that any breach of passport privacy deserves an apology and a full investigation, and “corrective action should be taken.” [Associated Press, 3/21/2008; BBC, 3/21/2008] It is not known what information, if any, was obtained from McCain’s file, though the file contains a trove of private data (see March 21, 2008).
Henry Waxman (D-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, writes to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asking for information about the recently announced, unauthorized access to Senator Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport files (see March 20, 2008). Waxman also asks that the State Department make the information public. In a letter to Rice, Waxman asks for the names of the two State Department contractors who broke into Obama’s files. [Speaker of the House, 3/21/2008; Henry A. Waxman, 3/21/2008 ] State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says the State Department will make results of its internal investigation available to congressional oversight committees and to Obama’s office. [Associated Press, 3/21/2008]
The State Department confirms that Senator Hillary Clinton’s (D-NY) passport file was also inappropriately accessed, a day after the department revealed that Senator Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport file was breached three times since January 2008 (see March 20, 2008). Obama and Clinton are battling for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she has apologized to Obama for the breach, “I told him that I was sorry, and I told him that I myself would be very disturbed.” Clinton says that she was told her passport file was breached sometime in 2007. Rice says she only learned of the Obama breach on March 20, 2008, the same day the news of the violations broke in the media. [Associated Press, 3/21/2008] State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says Clinton’s file was inadvertently accessed during a “training exercise.” [TPM Muckraker, 3/21/2008] Rice promises a “full investigation” into the Obama passport breach, and presumably the Clinton breach as well, though she has not spoken directly of the Clinton passport breach. “[N]one of us wants to have a circumstance in which any American’s passport file is looked at in an unauthorized way. And in this case it should have been known to senior management. It was not, to my knowledge. And we also want to take every step that we can to make sure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again,” Rice says. [Washington Post, 3/21/2008] It is unknown what information, if any, was obtained from Clinton’s passport file, though the file contains a trove of private data (see March 21, 2008).
A typical US passport. [Source: MSNBC]Reporter Jaikumar Vijayan explores the kind of information contained in passport files, in the wake of reports that Democratic presidential frontrunner Barack Obama’s passport files were repeatedly breached (see March 20, 2008). All passport records are maintained in a classified records system in the State Department’s Passport Services annex in Washington, DC.
Extent of Information - Passport files are protected by the Privacy Act of 1974, and contain all the information supplied on passport applications, including Social Security numbers, date and place of birth, family status, occupation, and physical characteristics. They do not, as has been widely reported, contain evidence of travel such as exit and entrance stamps, visas, or residence permits. The files also include investigative reports compiled as a part of the granting or denial of a passport, criminal records related to passports, court documents and administrative determinations related to passports and citizenship, copies of birth and baptismal certificates, medical, personal, and financial reports, and details of arrest warrants that may have been issued.
Origin of Information - The information comes from the applicants themselves as well as law enforcement agencies, investigative and intelligence sources, and officials of foreign governments.
Access to Information - The information is used not only by the State Department, the IRS, foreign governments, federal, state, and local authorities, attorneys representing a client in a passport case, and in some instances, members of Congress. Only State Department employees (or their contractors) who have valid identification cards and who have passed background checks may access the passport information database, and then only with passwords issued to them by their supervisors.
Access Logged - All access to the database is logged in a computer system, and potentially unauthorized or inappropriate access is flagged and brought to the attention of a supervisor. [Computerworld, 3/21/2008]
Stanley, Inc logo. [Source: Stanley, Inc.]Two of the government contractors who improperly accessed Senator Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport records (see March 20, 2008) are revealed to have worked for a Virginia-based firm, Stanley, Inc, before being fired. A third, who accessed both Obama’s and Senator John McCain’s (R-AZ) records (see March 21, 2008), worked for the Analysis Corporation. Both Obama and McCain are presidential candidates. Their files were improperly accessed by contractors working for the State Department.
Stanley, Inc - Both of the Stanley contractors were fired the same day they performed the unauthorized search, according to a Stanley spokeswoman, who refuses to identify the contractors or explain why either of them accessed Obama’s files. In 2006, the State Department awarded Stanley a $164 million contract to print and mail millions of new US passports. Just this week, the firm was awarded a $570 million contract to “continue support of the US Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs/Passport Services Directorate.” Stanley does almost all of its business with the State Department; all of its employees are trained on the Privacy Act and must sign a Privacy Act acknowledgment before beginning work. The two contractors may have violated the Privacy Act when they broke into Obama’s files.
Analysis, Inc - The Analysis contractor who accessed Obama’s and McCain’s files has not yet been fired; that contractor is described as a veteran State Department contractor and an otherwise “terrific” employee. Analysis is staffed with an array of former intelligence-community officials. Its CEO is John Brennan, the former head of the National Counterterrorism Center and a former deputy executive director of the CIA. Stanley’s chairman and CEO, Philip Nolan, has made campaign contributions to Republicans and Democrats alike, including to Obama’s Democratic rival, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY). Interestingly, Brennan advises Obama on foreign policy and intelligence issues, and has donated to Obama’s campaign. [NBC News, 3/21/2008; CNN, 3/22/2008]
The Supreme Court dismisses an appeal by the political advocacy group Citizens United (CU) that argued the group’s First Amendment rights had been violated by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The Court had agreed to hear CU’s case that it should be allowed to broadcast a partisan political documentary about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Hillary: The Movie, on cable television networks in the days before critical primary elections (see January 10-16, 2008). The Court did not rule on the merits of the case, but instead ruled that CU should have filed its case first with the federal appeals court in Washington. The ruling does not dismiss the case entirely, but makes it unlikely that the Court will rule on the campaign law issues surrounding the case (see March 27, 2002) before the November 2008 elections. Lawyer James Bopp, representing CU, says, “It is our intention to get the case expeditiously resolved on the merits in the district court, and then if we are unsuccessful there, to appeal” again to the Court. Bopp accuses Justice Department lawyers of trying to slow down the case to prevent it being resolved before the election. CU also wants to release a similar documentary about the other leading Democratic presidential contender, Barack Obama (D-IL—see October 28-30, 2008), in a similar fashion to its planned widespread release of the Clinton film. Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the Court’s more liberal members, says in the order dismissing the appeal that had the case been taken up, he would have affirmed the previous decision in favor of the FEC. None of the other justices made any public statement about the case. The case will be heard by the Washington, DC, federal appeals court. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/24/2008] The appeals court will find against CU, and the organization will reapply to the Court for a hearing, an application which will be granted (see March 15, 2009).
Navy Lieutenant Commander Brian Mizer, the lawyer for Guantanamo detainee Salim Hamdan, says that senior Pentagon officials are orchestrating war crimes prosecutions for the 2008 presidential campaign. In a court brief filed on this day, Mizer describes a September 29, 2006 meeting at the Pentagon where Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England asked lawyers to consider 9/11-related prosecutions in light of the upcoming presidential campaign. “We need to think about charging some of the high-value detainees because there could be strategic political value to charging some of these detainees before the election,” England is quoted as saying (see September 29, 2006). Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman refuses to discuss specifics of the case, but says that the Pentagon “has always been extraordinarily careful to guard against any unlawful command influence” in upcoming military commissions trials. Mizer says that because of England’s instructions, and other examples of alleged political interference, his client cannot get a fair trial. Three weeks before England’s observation about the “strategic political value” of the trials, President Bush disclosed that he had ordered the CIA to transfer “high-value detainees” from years of secret custody to Guantanamo for trial.
Issues 'Scrambled' - Attorney Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, says the Hamdan motion exposes the problem of Pentagon appointees’ supervisory relationship to the war court. “It scrambles relationships that ought to be kept clear,” he says. England’s statement, says Fidell, is “enough that you’d want to hold an evidentiary hearing about it, with live witnesses. It does strike me as disturbing for there to be even a whiff of political considerations in what should be a quasi-judicial determination.” Susan Crawford is the White House-appointed supervisor for the court proceedings; England is a two-term White House appointee who has supervised the prison camps’ administrative processes. Crawford, England, and other White House officials have crossed the legal barriers that separate various functions of a military court, Mizer argues. Mizer plans to call the former chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo trials, Morris Davis (see October 4, 2007), who first brought the England remark to light. Davis resigned his position after contending that political influence was interfering with the proper legal procedures surrounding the prosecution of accused war criminals.
Motion for Dismissal - Mizer’s motion asks the judge, Navy Captain Keith Allred, to dismiss the case against Hamdan as an alleged 9/11 co-conspirator on the grounds that Bush administration officials have exerted “unlawful command influence.” Hamdan is a former driver for Osama bin Laden whose lawyers successfully challenged an earlier war court format (see June 30, 2006). Hamdan’s case is on track to be the first full-scale US war crimes tribunal since World War II. [Miami Herald, 3/28/2008]
Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Eugene R. Fidell, Central Intelligence Agency, Bryan Whitman, Brian Mizer, George W. Bush, Gordon England, Keith Allred, US Department of Defense, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Susan Crawford, Morris Davis, Osama bin Laden
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections
Russell Dean Landers, a member of the anti-government Montana Freemen serving an 11-year prison sentence for conspiracy, bank fraud, and threatening a federal judge (see November 8, 1998), is sentenced to an additional 15 years after being convicted of trying to extort his release from federal prison in El Reno, Oklahoma. Landers and two other inmates, Clayton Heath Albers and Barry Dean Bischof, filed legal documents demanding hundreds of thousands of dollars from prison officials for using the inmates’ names, which they claim had been “copyrighted.” The three also fraudulently obtained a credit report on the prison warden, and used the information in it to try to file false liens against the warden’s personal property. In 2004, the three hired a man to seize the warden’s vehicles, freeze his bank accounts, and change the locks on his doors, based on the liens; Landers and his accomplices did not know that they had hired an undercover FBI agent. Believing that the warden’s property had been seized, the three demanded to be released from prison before negotiating the return of the warden’s property. Two other inmates, Carl Ervin Batts and William Michael Roberson, have already pled guilty for their parts in the scheme. Albers and Bischof also receive lengthy jail terms. [US Department of Justice, 4/7/2008; Southern Poverty Law Center, 8/2008]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) secures an 81-page memo from March 14, 2003 that gave Pentagon officials legal justification to ignore laws banning torture (see March 14, 2003). The Justice Department memo was written by John Yoo, then a top official at the Office of Legal Counsel, on behalf of then-Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes. It guides Pentagon lawyers on how to handle the legal issues surrounding “military interrogations of alien unlawful combatants held outside the United States.” According to Yoo’s rationale, if a US interrogator injured “an enemy combatant” in a way that might be illegal, “he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al-Qaeda terrorist network.” That motive, Yoo opines, justifies extreme actions as national self-defense. While the existence of the memo has been known for some time, this is the first time the public has actually seen the document. This memo is similar to other Justice Department memos that define torture as treatment that “shock[s] the conscience” and risks organ failure or death for the victim. Legal scholars call the memo evidence of “the imperial presidency,” but Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, says the memo is unremarkable, and is “far from inventing some novel interpretation of the Constitution.” The ACLU receives the document as the result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from itself, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and other organizations filed in June 2004 to obtain documents concerning the treatment of prisoners kept abroad. The Yoo memo is one of the documents requested. [John C. Yoo, 3/14/2003 ; United Press International, 4/2/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 4/2/2008] According to the ACLU, the memo not only allows military officials to ignore torture prohibitions, but allows the president, as commander in chief, to bypass both the Fourth and Fifth Amendments (see April 2, 2008). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/2/2008] The Fourth Amendment grants the right for citizens “to be secure in their persons” and to have “probable cause” shown before they are subjected to “searches and seizures.” The Fifth Amendment mandates that citizens cannot be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” [Cornell University Law School, 8/19/2007] Amrit Singh, an ACLU attorney, says: “This memo makes a mockery of the Constitution and the rule of law. That it was issued by the Justice Department, whose job it is to uphold the law, makes it even more unconscionable.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/2/2008]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), fresh from obtaining the release of a 2003 Justice Department memo that justified torture for US military officials (see April 1, 2008), calls on the Bush administration to release a still-secret Justice Department memo from October 2001 that the 2003 memo used as legal justification to ignore the Fourth Amendment (see October 23, 2001). The Fourth Amendment protects against unlawful search and seizure. The 2001 memo claims that the “Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations.” The ACLU believes that the Fourth Amendment justification “was almost certainly meant to provide a legal basis for the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program, which President Bush launched the same month the memo was issued” (see Shortly After September 11, 2001-October 2005), a claim the Justice Department denies. The NSA is part of the Defense Department. Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, says: “The recent disclosures underscore the Bush administration’s extraordinarily sweeping conception of executive power. The administration’s lawyers believe the president should be permitted to violate statutory law, to violate international treaties, and even to violate the Fourth Amendment inside the US. They believe that the president should be above the law.” No one has ever tried to assert, before this memo was written, that the Fourth Amendment was legally impotent for any reason or justification inside US borders. Jaffer notes that no court has ever ruled that the Fourth Amendment does not apply to the military: “In general, the government can’t send an FBI agent to search your home or listen to your phone calls without a warrant, and it can’t send a soldier to do it, either. The applicability of the Fourth Amendment doesn’t turn on what kind of uniform the government agent is wearing.” The ACLU has known about the October 2001 memo for several months, but until now has not known anything of its contents. In response to a 2007 Freedom of Information lawsuit, the Justice Department acknowledged the existence of “a 37-page memorandum, dated October 23, 2001, from a deputy assistant attorney general in OLC [Office of Legal Counsel], and a special counsel, OLC, to the counsel to the president, prepared in response to a request from the White House for OLC’s views concerning the legality of potential responses to terrorist activity.” The only information publicly known about the memo was that it was related to a request for information about the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. The ACLU has challenged the withholding of the October 2001 memo in court. [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/2/2008]
John Yoo, the author of the just-released 2003 torture memo that advocated virtually unlimited presidential powers and asserted that US military can torture terrorist suspects (see March 14, 2003 and April 1, 2008), says that the memo is anything but extraordinary, and accuses his Justice Department successors of giving in to political pressures. Yoo is a former Justice Department official who now teaches law at the University of California at Berkeley. Yoo says the Justice Department altered its opinions “for appearances’ sake,” and his successors “ignored the Department’s long tradition in defending the president’s authority in wartime.” The memo did not “invent… some novel interpretation of the Constitution… our legal advice to the president, in fact, was near boilerplate.” [Washington Post, 4/2/2008] Yoo says that memos such as his sacrificed sensibility for exactitude, and asserts that he felt it necessary to be as detailed and specific as possible. “You have to draw the line. What the government is doing is unpleasant. It’s the use of violence. I don’t disagree with that. But I also think part of the job unfortunately of being a lawyer sometimes is you have to draw those lines. I think I could have written it in a much more—we could have written it in a much more palatable way, but it would have been vague.” [Washington Post, 4/6/2008] Others do not agree with Yoo’s defense (see April 2-4, 2008).
The Electronic Frontier Foundation joins the American Civil Liberties Union in its skeptical response to the news of a secret October 2001 Justice Department memo that says the Fourth Amendment does not apply in government actions taken against terrorists (see April 2, 2008). “Does this mean that the administration’s lawyers believed that it could spy on Americans with impunity and face no Fourth Amendment claim?” it asks in a statement. “It may, and based on the thinnest of legal claims—that Congress unintentionally allowed mass surveillance of Americans when it passed the Authorization of Use of Military Force in… 2001 (see September 14-18, 2001) .… In short, it appears that the administration may view NSA domestic surveillance, including the surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans… as a ‘domestic military operation.’ If so, this Yoo memo would blow a loophole in the Fourth Amendment big enough to fit all of our everyday telephone calls, web searches, instant messages and emails through.… Of course, the [Justice Department’s] public defense of the NSA program also asserted that warrantless surveillance did not violate the Fourth Amendment.… But the memo referenced above raises serious questions. The public deserves to know whether the 2001 Yoo memo on domestic military operations—issued the same month that the NSA program began—asserted that the Fourth Amendment did not apply to domestic surveillance operations conducted by the NSA. And of course it reinforces why granting immunity aimed at keeping the courts from ruling on the administration’s flimsy legal arguments is wrongheaded and dangerous.” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 4/2/2008]
Darrell Issa. [Source: Washington Post]Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) says during a House subcommittee meeting that he does not understand why the federal government should pay any more money to assist 9/11 emergency responders who have become ill after working at Ground Zero. Hundreds of firefighters, police officers, and paramedics have become ill, some terminally so, from exposure to smoke and toxins released in the collapse of the World Trade Center; the subcommittee is considering whether to reinstate federal funding for the 9/11 victims’ fund. Minutes after a retired New York City police officer, Michael Valentin, speaks of the serious health problems he has suffered since responding to the attacks, Issa says: “I have to ask why… the firefighters who went there and everyone in the City of New York needs to come to the federal government… How much money has the federal government put out post-9/11, including the buckets of $10 and $20 billion we just threw at the State and the City of New York versus how much has been paid out by the City and the State of New York?… It’s very simple: I can’t vote for additional money for New York if I can’t see why it would be appropriate to do this every single time a similar situation happens, which quite frankly includes any urban terrorist. It doesn’t have to be somebody from al-Qaeda. It can be someone who decides that they don’t like animal testing at one of our pharmaceutical facilities.” The attacks on the World Trade Center did not involve a dirty bomb or chemical weapons, Issa notes. “It simply was an aircraft, residue of the aircraft and residue of the materials used to build this building,” he adds. Issa’s colleague, Anthony Weiner (D-NY), is visibly enraged at Issa’s comments, replying, “The notion that this is the City of New York asking for more money because we were the point of attack on this country is absurd and insulting…. There are people every single day, bit by bit by bit, who are dying from that attack.” [Newsday, 4/1/2008; New York Post, 4/2/2008] A day later, Issa will retreat from the harshest of his comments after enduring a withering barrage of criticism (see April 3, 2008).
The American Civil Liberties Union learns of another Justice Department memo in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) response that produces a 2003 memo supporting the use of torture against terror suspects (see April 1, 2008). This 2001 memo (see October 23, 2001), says that the Constitution’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures—fundamental Fourth Amendment rights—do not apply in the administration’s efforts to combat terrorism. The Bush administration now says it disavows that view.
Background - The memo was written by John Yoo, then the deputy assistant attorney general, and the same lawyer who wrote the 2003 torture memo. It was written at the request of the White House and addressed to then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The administration wanted a legal opinion on its potential responses to terrorist activity. The 37-page memo itself has not yet been released, but was mentioned in a footnote of the March 2003 terror memo. “Our office recently concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations,” the footnote states, referring to a document titled “Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States.”
Relationship to NSA Wiretapping Unclear - It is not clear exactly what domestic military operations the October memo covers, but federal documents indicate that the memo relates to the National Security Agency’s Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP). The TSP began after the 9/11 attacks, allowing for warrantless wiretaps of phone calls and e-mails, until it stopped on January 17, 2007, when the administration once again began seeking surveillance warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (see May 1, 2007). White House spokesman Tony Fratto says that the October 2001 memo is not the legal underpinning for the TSP. Fratto says, “TSP relied on a separate set of legal memoranda” outlined by the Justice Department in January 2006, a month after the program was revealed by the New York Times (see February 2001, After September 11, 2001, and December 15, 2005). Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says department officials do not believe the October 2001 memo was about the TSP, but refuses to explain why it was included on FOIA requests for documents linked to the TSP.
No Longer Applicable - Roehrkasse says the administration no longer holds the views expressed in the October 2001 memo. “We disagree with the proposition that the Fourth Amendment has no application to domestic military operations,” he says. “Whether a particular search or seizure is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment requires consideration of the particular context and circumstances of the search.” The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer is not mollified. “The recent disclosures underscore the Bush administration’s extraordinarily sweeping conception of executive power,” he says. “The administration’s lawyers believe the president should be permitted to violate statutory law, to violate international treaties and even to violate the Fourth Amendment inside the US. They believe that the president should be above the law.” He continues, “Each time one of these memos comes out you have to come up with a more extreme way to characterize it.” The ACLU has filed a court suit to challenge the government’s withholding of the memo. [Associated Press, 4/3/2008] Another civil rights group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, joins the ACLU in challenging the memo (see April 2, 2008).
Entity Tags: Jameel Jaffer, Brian Roehrkasse, American Civil Liberties Union, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Terrorist Surveillance Program, US Department of Justice, John C. Yoo, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Tony Fratto
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), responding to a recently released Justice Department memo authorizing a wide array of torture techniques against detainees in US custody (see April 1, 2008), decries both the authorization of torture as an acceptable interrogation methodology and “the Bush administration’s extraordinarily sweeping conception of executive power.” ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer adds: “The administration’s lawyers believe the president should be permitted to violate statutory law, to violate international treaties, and even to violate the Fourth Amendment inside the US. They believe that the president should be above the law.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/2/2008]
Legal experts and media observers react with shock and anger at former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo’s defense of his March 2003 torture defense (see April 2, 2008). Eugene Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale and American University, says: “This is a monument to executive supremacy and the imperial presidency. It’s also a road map for the Pentagon for fending off any prosecutions.” [New York Times, 4/2/2008] Thomas J. Romig, the Army’s judge advocate general at the time the memo was issued, says that Yoo’s memo seems to argue that there are no rules in a time of war, an argument Romig finds “downright offensive.” [Washington Post, 4/2/2008] Retired Air Force General Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when the memo was written, says that he never saw the document authorizing harsh military interrogations and that its narrow definition of torture is “absolutely ludicrous.” Myers adds: “I frankly don’t know anyone in the military who bought into that as a good definition of when you cross the line. In the end, you want to do the right thing. I worry most about reciprocity, how other countries will treat us.” [Washington Post, 4/4/2008] Legal experts (see April 2-6, 2008) and media observers (see April 4, 2008) join in criticizing Yoo’s rationale for the torture memo.
Several legal experts join the retired military officials (see April 2-4, 2008) and media pundits (see April 4, 2008) who have spoken out against former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo’s 2003 torture memo (see April 2, 2008). Dawn Johnsen, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel during the Clinton administration, says of Yoo’s memo: “Having 81 pages of legal analysis with its footnotes and respectable-sounding language makes the reader lose sight of what this is all about. He is saying that poking people’s eyes out and pouring acid on them is beyond Congress’s ability to limit a president. It is an unconscionable document.” [Washington Post, 4/6/2008] Former Office of Legal Counsel lawyer Martin Lederman, now a law professor at Georgetown University, says the Yoo memo helped create a legal environment that allowed prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib. “What else could have been the source of belief in Iraq that the gloves were off and all laws could be disregarded with impunity?” Lederman asks. “It created a world in which everyone on the ground believed the laws did not apply. It was a law-free zone.” [Washington Post, 4/2/2008] Doug Cassell, the director of Notre Dame Law School’s Center for Civil and Human Rights, says: “This newly disclosed memo confirms that John Yoo inflicted his legal theory, that the commander in chief can do anything in wartime, not only on the CIA, but on the Pentagon as well. Yet when the Justice Department revoked the Yoo memos, it expressly declined to address that theory. It is high time for the Justice Department to repudiate Yoo’s pernicious doctrine, once and for all.” [Institute for Public Accuracy, 4/2/2008]
Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) tries to back away from his comments from the day before, where he disparaged New York City first responders who are now suffering long-term disabilities and illnesses stemming from the 9/11 attacks (see April 2, 2008).
Firestorm of Criticism - Frank Fraone, a California fire chief who led a 67-man crew at Ground Zero after the collapse of the World Trade Center, says: “That is a pretty distorted view of things. Whether they’re a couple of planes or a couple of missiles, they still did the same damage.” Republican colleague Peter King (R-NY) notes: “New York was attacked by al-Qaeda. It doesn’t have to be attacked by Congress.… I’m really surprised by Darrell Issa. It showed such a cavalier dismissal of what happened to New York. It’s wrong and inexcusable.” 9/11 victim’s relative Lorie Van Auken calls Issa’s comments “cruel and heartless.” She adds: “It’s really discouraging. People stepped up and did the right thing. They sacrificed themselves and now a lot of people are getting really horrible illnesses.”
Partial Withdrawal - Issa withdraws some of his earlier statements, now saying, “I want to make clear that I strongly support help for victims who suffered physical injury as a result of an attack on America, including support from Congress and the federal government.” Yet he refuses to withdraw his comments that the 9/11 attacks were little more than unremarkable plane crashes unworthy of any federal financial response. He now says that he only “asked tough questions about the expenditures.” Health officials estimate that it could cost up to $1 billion to properly care for survivors of 9/11 suffering from physical and emotional disabilities. A new bill to fund that care is being prepared for House debate. [New York Daily News, 4/3/2008; New York Post, 4/3/2008] A New York Daily News op-ed accuses Issa of “demeaning 9/11” and calls his remarks “callous in the extreme.” [New York Daily News, 4/3/2008]
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