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As reported by progressive media watchdog Media Matters, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh distorts and misstates comments by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama from 2001, asking listeners how Obama can be sworn in as president if he “flatly rejected” the Constitution. Limbaugh tells his listeners that Obama “calls himself a constitutional professor or a constitutional scholar. In truth, Barack Obama was an anti-constitutional professor. He studied the Constitution, and he flatly rejected it. He doesn’t like the Constitution, he thinks it is flawed, and now I understand why he was so reluctant to wear the American flag lapel pin. Why would he?… I don’t see how he can take the oath of office” because “[h]e has rejected the Constitution.” Obama said during a September 6, 2001 panel discussion on Chicago’s WBEZ radio that the Constitution “reflected the fundamental flaw of this country that continues to this day.” Obama’s criticism was directed at the Founding Fathers’ handling of the issue of slavery in the Constitution. Later in the discussion, Obama said that the Constitution is “a remarkable political document that paved the way for where we are now.” Limbaugh plays carefully edited clips from the WBEZ program but does not play the larger portion of Obama’s remarks that give a fuller picture of his meaning. Instead, he falsely accuses Obama of saying that the Constitution cannot “be fixed,” and asks: “How is he going to… how is he gonna place his hand on the Bible and swear that he, Barack Hussein Obama, will uphold the Constitution that he feels reflects the nation’s fundamental flaw. Fundamental. When he talks about a fundamental flaw, he’s not talking about a flaw that can be fixed. Fundamental means that this document is, from the get-go, wrong.” Media Matters notes that “several influential Republicans,” including President Bush, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Chief Justice John Roberts, “have articulated a similar view” to Obama’s. [Media Matters, 10/28/2008]
As the November 4 elections approach, data shows that 12,165 first-time Florida voters are on a list that may bar them from voting. The list has swelled from over 8,000 names on a list released on October 16. The so-called “no match” list contains names of first-time voters whose identification numbers—driver’s license numbers, Social Security numbers, and official state ID cards—apparently do not match their numbers as listed on their voter identification cards. The so-called “no match no vote” law (see September 17, 2007) is considered by many to be deeply flawed and prejudicial towards minority voters. If the individual voter cannot resolve the discrepancy, he will be forced to cast provisional ballots, which are likely not to be counted. The list, as did its earlier iteration, contains a disproportionate number of African-American, Hispanic, and Democratic voters, and South Florida residents. Fifty-five percent of the previous list was made up of African-Americans and Hispanics, and three-quarters of the people on the list were registered Democrats. Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark says her staff is trying to rectify mismatched voter information by calling people at night and sending up to three letters. “We don’t want to have them in pending status when they show up to vote,” she says. Some of the forms show invalid phone numbers, she adds. Republican Secretary of State Kurt Browning says the “no match” lists are necessary to ensure the integrity of the voter rolls. Adam Skaggs of the Brennan Center for Justice, whose group tried and failed to challenge the law in court (see September 17, 2007), says the figure is far too high, and the law “places an unacceptable burden on thousands of voters.” The voters having trouble matching the numbers are those without drivers’ licenses. Many of those people do not have state-issued ID cards, and they often do not carry their Social Security cards in public. He also notes that a number of newly enrolled Alachua County voters who are University of Florida students are on the “no match” list. [Tampa Bay Times, 10/28/2008]
Hawaii’s Director of Health Dr. Chiyome Fukino says she and the registrar of vital statistics, Alvin Onaka, have personally verified that the Hawaii Department of Health holds Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)‘s original birth certificate (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, July 2008, and August 21, 2008). Fukino says that she has “personally seen and verified that the Department of Health has Senator Obama’s original birth certificate on record in accordance with state policies and procedures.” Fukino and Onaka thereby verify that Obama is, indeed, an American citizen. Fukino releases the statement in an attempt to stem the tide of conspiracy theories that assert Obama is not a US citizen—“birtherism”—and therefore cannot be eligible to be president. Fukino adds that no state official, including Governor Linda Lingle (R-HI), ever issued instructions that Obama’s certificate be handled differently. Hawaii state law prohibits the release of the so-called “long form” birth certificate to anyone who does not have a tangible interest; state law says that the “short form” the state releases to its citizens, and that Obama has long ago made public (see June 13, 2008), is legal and valid in and of itself. State courts in Ohio, Pennsylvania (see August 21-24, 2008), and Washington State have recently dismissed court challenges to Obama’s citizenship. [FactCheck (.org), 8/21/2008; Associated Press, 10/31/2008] Fukino tells a Honolulu reporter: “This has gotten ridiculous (see July 20, 2008). There are plenty of other, important things to focus on, like the economy, taxes, energy.” Asked if this “[w]ill be enough to quiet the doubters,” Fukino responds: “I hope so. We need to get some work done.” [FactCheck (.org), 8/21/2008]
Cort Wrotnowski. [Source: Deutche Welle]Connecticut resident Cort Wrotnowski files a motion for Connecticut’s Supreme Court to order Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz to verify Senator Barack Obama (D-IL)‘s citizenship before allowing Obama to appear on the state’s presidential ballot. State Supreme Court Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers throws the case out for lack of jurisdiction within a half hour of reviewing it. Wrotnowski later says: “I have not seen the ruling yet. So, in reality, the case was not heard on its merits.… Currently, we are assembling information for another and better try.” [CORT WROTNOWSKI v. SUSAN BYSIEWICZ, SECRETARY OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT (SC 18264), 11/3/2008 ; WorldNetDaily, 11/13/2008] After Obama wins the presidential election, Wrotnowski will file a similar case with the US Supreme Court, Wrotnowski v. Bysiewicz, asking the Court to place an “emergency stay” on the US Electoral College’s November 2008 election results (see November 12, 2008 and After). His Supreme Court motion challenges Obama’s status as a “natural born citizen,” says that because Obama is not a valid US citizen he cannot legally take the oath of office to become president, and says that Obama’s own Hawaiian birth certificate (see June 13, 2008) “proves” he has dual British-US citizenship and is therefore ineligible to hold the presidency. Wrotnowski also accuses Bysiewicz’s office of “fail[ing] to protect the integrity of the electoral process.” [MarketWatch, 2009] The Supreme Court will decline to hear the case. [CITIZENS FOR THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION, 2009]
Leo C. Donofrio. [Source: Obama Conspiracy (.org)]Retired New Jersey attorney, professional gambler, and conservative blogger Leo C. Donofrio files a lawsuit asking the State Supreme Court to prohibit three candidates from appearing on New Jersey’s presidential ballot: Barack Obama (D-IL), John McCain (R-AZ), and Socialist Worker’s Party candidate Roger Calero. Donofrio claims that none of the three have proven to his satisfaction that they are “natural born citizens,” as the Constitution requires to serve as president (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, July 2008, August 21, 2008, and October 30, 2008). The lawsuit asks Secretary of State Nina Mitchell Wells to intervene in the elections process. In his filing, Donofrio writes that Obama is not eligible for the presidency “even if it were proved he was born in Hawaii, since… Senator Obama’s father was born in Kenya and therefore, having been born with split and competing loyalties, candidate Obama is not a ‘natural born citizen.’” Obama has long ago posted his authentic birth certificate stating he was born in Hawaii and therefore is a US citizen (see June 13, 2008). McCain’s birth in the Panama Canal Zone (see March 14 - July 24, 2008) and Calero’s birth in Nicaragua, Donofrio continues, invalidate their ability to be president as well, even though the Constitution states otherwise. With three ineligible presidential candidates on ballots, Donofrio warns, New Jersey voters will “witness firsthand the fraud their electoral process has become.” After being rejected by the New Jersey Court, US Supreme Court Justice David Souter rejects the lawsuit’s appearance on the Court docket. Justice Clarence Thomas allows the case to be submitted for consideration, but the Court rejects it. [Leo C. Donofrio v. Nina Mitchell Wells, Secretary of State of the State of New Jersey, 10/31/2008; WorldNetDaily, 11/13/2008; Obama Conspiracy (.org), 12/21/2008; St. Petersburg Times, 6/28/2010] After his case is thrown out, Donofrio will write on his blog that “you have no Constitution and you have no ‘Supreme’ court. You have a filthy corrupted snake pit which tried to protect itself from responsibility for this issue by using clerks like brutal praetorian guards.” [Obama Conspiracy (.org), 12/21/2008] An Internet rumor that Justice Antonin Scalia will “quietly” place the case on the Court docket is later proven entirely false (see June 28, 2010).
A US District Court orders the Justice Department to turn over ten documents from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to determine whether they should be released under the Freedom of Information Act. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) say the documents may hold information that would shed light on the legal reasoning behind the Bush administration’s “Stellar Wind” warrantless wiretapping program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). EPIC and the ACLU seek the release of 30 documents from the OLC; Judge Henry Kennedy has ordered that 10 be turned over to him for further examination and 20 others remain classified because of national security considerations. Seven of those documents are about the government’s “Terrorist Surveillance Program” (TSP—apparently the same program as, or an element of, Stellar Wind), 12 are FBI documents detailing how TSP had assisted the Bureau in counterterrorism investigations, and one is an OLC memo covered under an exemption for “presidential communications”—presumably a memo written either by, or for, President Bush. [Ars Technica, 11/2/2008]
Two days after the US Senate election in Minnesota failed to produce a clear winner (see November 4-5, 2008), Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) demands that his challenger, Al Franken (D-MN), concede. Franken has asked that the votes be recounted, as Coleman originally led with a razor-thin 725-vote margin of victory. (A recount is automatic under the law with a margin of victory of less than 0.5 percent, as this one is.) As ballot totals have shifted with the addition of absentee and other ballots, Coleman’s margin has shrunk even further, to 438 votes. Franken says that “a recount could change the outcome significantly,” and adds: “Let me be clear: Our goal is to ensure that every vote is properly counted.” Coleman has requested that the recount not take place, and has declared himself the winner of the election. Coleman also says that a recount would cost some $86,000 to Minnesota taxpayers, a cost he describes as prohibitively high considering that he would almost certainly win the recount. Franken does not concede. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/6/2008]
Conservative radio host Lars Larson says that President Obama intends to make gun ownership illegal. Larson tells his listeners, “I’m worried that when he starts naming people to the court, when that—when that happens, and it’s likely to during his administration, we’re going to end up with justices who think they can break free of the constraints of the Constitution—perhaps on the Second Amendment, one of my favorites.” Larson later reads a letter from a listener stating: “Lars, I’ve always said that if the gun-grabbers come to my front door and demand my guns due to some unconstitutional law being passed by the loony lefties in Washington, DC, I’ll have no choice but to hand them over. However, they will receive all of my ammunition first, all of it, just as fast as I can possibly give it to them.” [Media Matters, 4/9/2009]
Secret Service officials blame the inflammatory campaign rhetoric of Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin (R-AK) for an upsurge in death threats against president-elect Barack Obama (D-IL) in the final weeks of the presidential campaign. During the campaign, Palin accused Obama of consorting with terrorists, citing his association with 1960s antiwar radical William Ayers (see October 4-5, 2008). According to the Secret Service, “The attacks provoked a near lynch mob atmosphere at her rallies, with supporters yelling ‘terrorist’ and ‘kill him’ until the McCain campaign ordered her to tone down the rhetoric” (see October 15, 2008). The Secret Service says it has evidence that some white supremacists may have used Palin’s words as encouragement to issue credible and specific death threats. During the campaign, Obama’s wife Michelle, upset by one such report, asked her friend and campaign adviser Valerie Jarrett, “Why would they try to make people hate us?” A report by security and intelligence analysts Stratfor, coinciding with the Secret Service’s announcement, warns that Obama remains a high-risk target for racist assassins. The report finds: “Two plots to assassinate Obama were broken up during the campaign season and several more remain under investigation. We would expect federal authorities to uncover many more plots to attack the president that have been hatched by white supremacist ideologues.” McCain campaign aides blame Palin for engaging in heated rhetorical attacks on Obama, including direct accusations of him being un-American, without the knowledge or approval of McCain. Palin has retorted that these campaign aides are “jerks” who took her words “out of context,” saying: “I consider [their criticisms] cowardly. It’s not true. That’s cruel, it’s mean-spirited, it’s immature, it’s unprofessional, and those guys are jerks if they came away taking things out of context and then tried to spread something on national news that’s not fair and not right.” Palin claims she was victimized by sexist reporters and news commentators during the campaign. [Daily Telegraph, 11/8/2008]
After President Bush and US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson push through a long-sought change in how bank mergers are taxed, Bloomberg News sues the Federal Reserve for failing to reveal loan recipients. The change will deprive US taxpayers of as much as $140 billion in tax revenue. As the economy continues its downward spiral into what is called the worse economic crisis since the Great Depression, sources say that a late September $700 billion bailout is “a quiet windfall for US banks.” [Washington Post, 11/10/2008] The legality of Treasury-negotiated equity deals for many US banks is questioned by tax attorneys, as well as nearly $2 trillion that Ben Bernanke of the Federal Reserve handed out in emergency loans before the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, was enacted (see October 3, 2008). The Fed refuses to reveal which corporations received loans, or what collateral has been presented. Sources say that this secrecy is a legal violation. The Federal Reserve’s lending is significant because the central bank has stepped into a rescue role that was also the purpose of the TARP bailout plan, although without safeguards put into the TARP legislation by Congress. Total Fed lending topped $2 trillion for the first time and has risen by 140 percent, or $1.172 trillion, in the weeks since Fed governors relaxed the collateral standards on September 14. The difference includes a $788 billion increase in loans to banks through the Fed and $474 billion in other lending, mostly through the central bank’s purchase of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bonds. [Bloomberg News, 11/10/2008; AlterNet, 11/14/2008]
The campaign of US Senate candidate Norm Coleman (R-MN) says that “improbable shifts” in vote tallies are improperly favoring Coleman’s opponent, Al Franken (D-MN), in Minnesota’s Senate race. The accusation implies that Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) is exhibiting partisan bias in the Senate race recount. Franken requested a recount after Coleman was declared the winner by a margin narrow enough to legally support such a request (see November 4-5, 2008). Ritchie won the office two years ago after accusing his Republican predecessor of partisan bias. He promises that his oversight of the Senate recount will be fair, transparent, and impartial. “Minnesotans have an expectation of a nonpartisan election recount,” he has said. Coleman’s initial estimate of a 725-vote margin of victory has dwindled to some 200 votes, prompting Coleman to complain of “improbable shifts” in the vote tallies that are unfairly benefiting Franken. One of Coleman’s lawyers tells a reporter, “We’re not going to sit idly by while mysterious, statistically dubious changes in vote totals take place after official government offices close.” Ritchie responds by accusing the Coleman campaign of trying “to create a cloud” over the recount and “denigrating the election process,” and says that such shifts are normal when votes are retallied after any election, when county officials verify election night tabulations reported to his office. Ritchie says the Coleman campaign is mounting “a well-known political strategy,” adding, “If people want to accuse county elections officials of partisan activity, they better be ready to back it up.” Ritchie oversaw a recent Supreme Court election that was praised by both sides as being fairly handled. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/10/2008; TPM Muckraker, 11/11/2008] According to Ritchie’s office, small vote shifts after an election is called are normal. After an election, the office says: “[E]lection officials proof their work and make corrections, as necessary. It is routine for election officials to discover a number of small errors, including improper data entry, transposition of digits (e.g. entering the number 48 instead of 84), and other items that affect the reported outcome.” [Huffington Post, 11/21/2008]
An unsigned op-ed in the Wall Street Journal accuses the Senate campaign of Al Franken (D-MN) of voter fraud. Franken and incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) are locked in a race that was too close to call, and are awaiting the results of a recount (see November 4-5, 2008). Since then, the Coleman campaign (see November 10, 2008) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC—see November 11, 2008) have implied a variety of wrongdoings, including underhanded ballot tally manipulation, partisan bias, and even shadowy connections to the Communist Party. Some Democrats, the Journal states, are engaged in “stealing a Senate seat for left-wing joker Al Franken.” The Journal reiterates a claim by Coleman’s lead recount lawyer Fritz Knaak that the director of the Minneapolis Board of Elections forgot to count 32 absentee ballots that she had left in her car. The Coleman campaign attempted to get a judge to stop those ballots from being added to the total, the Journal states, but the judge refused to do so. The Journal also records a number of statistically “unusual” or “improbable” vote tally shifts that have combined to shave Coleman’s initial 725-vote lead to just over 200. The Journal joins Coleman and the NRSC in attacking Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN), whose office is overseeing the upcoming recount. It cites Ritchie’s own run for office in 2006, which was supported by, among others, liberal activist group MoveOn.org, and says Ritchie is “an ally” of “the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, of fraudulent voter-registration fame” (see May 2, 2008, October 7, 2008, October 18, 2008, and October 14, 2008). Ritchie’s “relationship” with ACORN, the Journal states, “might explain why prior to the election Mr. Ritchie waved off evidence of thousands of irregularities on Minnesota voter rolls, claiming that accusations of fraud were nothing more than ‘desperateness’ from Republicans.” The Journal expands its accusations to include the Franken campaign, which it says is “mau-mauing election officials into accepting tossed ballots.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/12/2008; MinnPost, 11/12/2008] The same day as the Journal op-ed is published, Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) repeats the allegation about the absentee ballots being left overnight in an election official’s car, telling a Fox News reporter: “As I understand it, and this is based on news accounts, he claims that even though they were in his car, that they were never outside of his security or area of control, so the courts allowed that. It seems a little loose to me.” Asked by a Fox reporter, “What were they doing in his car?” Pawlenty replies: “There has not been a good explanation for that, Kelly. That’s a very good question, but they’ve been included in the count pile which is concerning.” Pawlenty mischaracterizes the gender of the Minneapolis Elections Director, Cindy Reichert. Reichert also says the entire story is “just not true.” The story comes from Knaak, who initially told reporters, “We were actually told ballots had been riding around in her car for several days, which raised all kinds of integrity questions.” By the day’s end, Knaak backs away from the claim of impropriety. A local outlet reports, “Knaak said he feels assured that what was going on with the 32 ballots was neither wrong nor unfair.” Reichert says that Knaak’s story is entirely false. No ballots were ever left in her car, nor were they left unattended in anyone else’s car. They were secured between Election Night and when they were counted. They were briefly in an election official’s car, along with every other absentee ballot, as they were all driven from individual precincts to polling places as mandated by Minnesota election law. “What I find ludicrous is that this goes on all around the state,” Reichert says. “If we could process them [at City Hall] we’d love to do that.” The absentee ballots were transported, sorted, and counted according to standard elections procedures, Reichert says. The 32 ballots in question were not counted until November 8, and both the Coleman and Franken campaigns were informed that the ballots were not included in the initial Minneapolis tallies. The tally for those 32 ballots: Franken 18, Coleman seven, and seven for other candidates or for no one. [MinnPost, 11/12/2008]
Alan Keyes. [Source: WorldNetDaily (.com)]Alan Keyes (R-IL), the unsuccessful presidential candidate who ran under the American Independent Party banner, files a petition, Keyes v. Bowen, with the Superior Court of California in Sacramento. The action is filed by Gary Kreep of the United States Justice Foundation on behalf of Keyes, along with well-known “birther” lawyer Orly Taitz. Two California electors, Wiley S. Drake and Markham Robinson, are also named with Keyes in the action. Keyes’s “Petition for Writ of Mandate” claims that President-elect Barack Obama (D-IL)‘s US citizenship is unproven (see (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, July 2008, August 21, 2008, and October 30, 2008) and therefore he must be stopped from taking office until it is proven one way or the other. “Should Senator Obama be discovered, after he takes office, to be ineligible for the Office of President of the United States of America and, thereby, his election declared void,” the petition states, “Petitioners, as well as other Americans, will suffer irreparable harm in that (a) usurper will be sitting as the President of the United States, and none of the treaties, laws, or executive orders signed by him will be valid or legal.” The petition requests that Secretary of State Debra Bowen be prevented “from both certifying to the governor the names of the California Electors, and from transmitting to each presidential Elector a Certificate of Election, until such documentary proof is produced and verified showing that Senator Obama is a ‘natural born’ citizen of the United States and does not hold citizenship of Indonesia, Kenya, or Great Britain.” It continues with a request for a writ barring California’s electors from signing the Certificate of Vote until documentary proof is produced. The defendants include Bowen, Obama, Vice President-elect Joseph Biden (D-DE), and the 55 California electors. The petition uses a fraudulently edited audiotape (see October 16, 2008 and After) as primary evidence that Obama was born in Kenya and is therefore ineligible to be president. Referring to the tape’s transcript, and a previously dismissed lawsuit by Philip Berg (see August 21-24, 2008) currently using the same audiotape to justify an appellate reversal, Keyes writes, “Mr. Berg provided documents [to the Supreme Court] to the effect that Senator Obama was born in what is now Kenya… and that his paternal grandmother was present at his birth.” The petition states as a “fact” that Obama’s paternal grandmother stated that “she was present during [his] birth… [she] affirmed that she ‘was in the delivery room in Kenya when he was born Aug. 4, 1961.’” The suit asks that the court issue an immediate injunction prohibiting California’s 55 electors from voting for Obama in the upcoming Electoral College vote on December 15, 2008, which would prevent Obama from being officially declared president. Keyes’s writ asks that documentary proof be received and verified by the California secretary of state that the allegations are false and that Obama is affirmatively proven to be a “natural born citizen” by a series of tests not required of any previous president-elect. Investigative blogger Greg Doudna will speculate that Keyes’s extraordinary actions have been sparked in part because he has now been twice defeated by Obama in elections; Obama defeated him in an Illinois election for US Senate in 2004. [Keyes et al v. Bowie et al, 11/13/2008 ; WorldNetDaily, 11/14/2008; Sacramento Union, 11/15/2008; Greg Doudna, 12/9/2008 ] After filing the lawsuit, Keyes tells a reporter: “I and others are concerned that this issue be properly investigated and decided before Senator Obama takes office. Otherwise there will be a serious doubt as to the legitimacy of his tenure. This doubt would also affect the respect people have for the Constitution as the supreme law of the land. I hope the issue can be quickly clarified so that the new president can take office under no shadow of doubt. This will be good for him and for the nation.” [Sacramento Union, 11/15/2008]
'Pure Garbage' - An Obama spokesperson tells WorldNetDaily: “All I can tell you is that it [the petition] is just pure garbage. There have been several lawsuits, but they have been dismissed.” [WorldNetDaily, 11/13/2008]
Affidavit from Phony 'Computer Graphics Expert' - Self-described “computer graphics expert” “Dr. Ron Polarik,” a conservative blogger, records a video (that blurs his face and disguises his voice) explaining how the actual Obama birth certificate was forged using Photoshop. Polarik submits an affidavit in support of the filing, but because he signs it “XXXXXXXXXXX,” the affidavit is inadmissible. Kreep later tells a reporter, “If it ever comes down to it, we’ll use his real name.” [Washington Independent, 7/24/2009] The Berg lawsuit also used material supplied by Polarik. Computer forensics expert Dr. Neal Krawetz later determines that Polarik’s analysis is a clumsy fraud perpetuated by an amateur with no real expertise. [Neal Krawetz, 11/25/2008; Washington Independent, 7/24/2009; Hacker Factor, 2011] Libertarian lawyer Loren Collins later traces a timeline of what he will call Polarik’s “ever-changing resume,” and questions Polarik’s claims to his several doctorates and areas of expertise. [Loren Collins, 7/7/2009] Collins later discovers that “Polarik” is actually a man named Ronald Jay Polland, who holds a doctorate in instructional systems, has experience conducting surveys and statistical reports, operates a one-man consulting firm in Florida, and describes himself on his MySpace page as an “[e]xpert advisor on relationships, romance, and… dating.” Polland’s resume, unlike “Polarik’s,” claims no expertise in document forensics, computing systems, or graphics. [Loren Collins, 7/29/2009] Krawetz will learn that Polland claimed to use a pseudonym on the Internet because “he fears threats from Obama supporters.” [Neal Krawetz, 11/25/2008]
Entity Tags: Debra Bowen, Loren Collins, Gary Kreep, Greg Doudna, Joseph Biden, Markham Robinson, Neal Krawetz, Barack Obama, Wiley S. Drake, Alan Keyes, Philip J. Berg, Orly Taitz, US Electoral College, United States Justice Foundation, Ronald Jay Polland
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections
Warren County, Ohio, magistrate Andrew Hasselbach throws out a challenge by Ohio resident David M. Neal to President Obama’s qualifications to serve as president. Before the election, Neal filed a complaint that demanded Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner either prove Obama is a US citizen (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, July 2008, August 21, 2008, and October 30, 2008) or throw him off the ballot. Hasselbach writes that Neal gave too much credence to Internet rumors surrounding Obama’s citizenship, and writes: “The onus is upon one who challenges such public officer to demonstrate an abuse of discretion by admissible evidence—not hearsay, conclusory allegations, or pure speculation. It is abundantly clear that the allegations in Plaintiff’s complaint concerning ‘questions’ about Senator Obama’s status as a ‘natural born citizen’ are derived from Internet sources, the accuracy of which has not been demonstrated to either Defendant Brunner or this magistrate.” Neal had asked that Brunner obtain documents from the Federal Elections Commission, the Democratic National Committee, the Ohio Democratic Party, and possibly Obama himself to verify that Obama was born in Hawaii and not elsewhere. Neal asserted that the authentic certificate provided by the Obama campaign (see June 13, 2008) is not an original, and therefore not valid proof of birth. Neal, who maintains a politically oriented Web site, says he is part of what he calls a nationwide grassroots movement questioning Obama’s citizenship. When he filed the complaint, he said, referring to a local school: “When I enrolled my son in Knothole, I had to show his birth certificate.… This guy is running for president of the United States.” In arguing against Neal’s motion, Assistant Attorney General Mike Schuler told the court: “One can conservatively estimate that more than 3 million Ohioans intend to vote for Senator Obama. Mr. Neal asks this court to disenfranchise those 3 million voters based solely on rumor and innuendo.” [Cincinnati Enquirer, 10/31/2008]
Conservative radio host and convicted felon G. Gordon Liddy (see March 23, 1974) advises his listeners not to register their firearms. (Failure to register a firearm is a crime.) Liddy makes the suggestion because he believes the Obama administration intends to take away citizens’ guns, and if the guns are not registered, government and law enforcement officials have no way to locate them and their owners. While talking to a caller about assault weapons, Liddy says: “[P]eople are buying them. Some because they’ve always wanted one and think that the Obama administration will try to outlaw them again, the way the Clinton administration did (see September 13, 1994). Others figure: ‘OK, I’ll buy as many as I can get my hands on, and I’ll be grandfathered in. And then when they’re banned, I will be able to sell them at a very nice profit.’ So, that’s going on. But the main thing is, you know, get them into private hands as quickly as possible.… The first thing you do is, no matter what law they pass, do not—repeat, not—ever register any of your firearms. Because that’s where they get the list of where to go first to confiscate. So, you don’t ever register a firearm, anywhere.” [Media Matters, 4/9/2009] In 1994, Liddy advised radio listeners to shoot federal agents in the head if they came to their houses to confiscate their guns. “Head shots, head shots.… Kill the sons of b_tches,” he said (see August 26 - September 15, 1994).
Responding to speculation that his administration will continue the policies of torture and indefinite detention, President-elect Barack Obama says flatly that he will shut down the Guantanamo detention center as part of his administration’s new policy towards terror suspects. CBS interviewer Steve Kroft asks: “There are a number of different things that you could do early pertaining to executive orders. One of them is to shut down Guantanamo Bay. Another is to change interrogation methods that are used by US troops. Are those things that you plan to take early action on?” Obama responds: “Yes. I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that. I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture. And I’m gonna make sure that we don’t torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/11/2008; CBS News, 11/16/2008] Two days into his administration, Obama orders that the Guantanamo detention facility be closed (see January 22, 2009).
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases Defense Department documents that detail systematic patterns of prisoner abuse in US detention facilities in Iraq. The documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, also show that Army investigations of abuse allegations in Iraq were compromised by missing records, flawed interviews, and problems with witnesses. ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer says: “The Bush administration created a climate in which abuse was tolerated even when it wasn’t expressly endorsed. With a new administration entering the White House, we should remember that the tone set by senior military and intelligence officials has very real implications for what takes place in US detention facilities overseas. The new administration should make clear from the outset that it won’t turn a blind eye to torture and abuse.”
Variety of Abuses - The documents pertain to eight Army investigations into detainee abuse conducted in 2003 and 2004. The abuse allegations included food and sleep deprivation, electric shocks, sexual threats, urinating on detainees, and the use of stress positions and attack dogs. One soldier stationed at Camp Cropper testified that “soldiers would hog-tie detainees out of their own frustration, because detainees would continuously ask them for water or in some form not be compliant.” A prisoner held in a facility called “Kilometer 22” testified that he was punched and beaten by an Egyptian interrogator when he did not provide the answers his US interrogators wanted. “These documents provide more evidence that abuse of prisoners was systemic in Iraq, and not limited to any particular detention center or military unit,” Jaffer says. “There was a culture of impunity.”
Compromised Investigations - Six of the eight investigations were compromised by an inability to locate key records. Three investigations included documents where military personnel stated that their facilities were so disorganized that it would be impossible to produce records on detainees. Three investigations were constrained when interviewees claimed not to recognize the names of the relevant detention facilities or the names of the capturing units. [American Civil Liberties Union, 11/19/2008]
The recount process to determine the winner of the US Senate race in Minnesota begins. Incumbent Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) has a narrow lead over challenger Al Franken (D-MN), who requested the recount as permitted in Minnesota law when the results of a race are so close. The state Canvassing Board met on November 18 to certify the unofficial results, thus allowing the recounts to begin at almost 100 county and city election offices throughout the state. The procedure entails an appointed recount auditor examining each ballot by hand to determine the voter’s intent, monitored by representatives from each candidate’s campaign. Auditors will sort each ballot into the appropriate stacks. According to the 2008 Recount Guide issued by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, “a ballot or vote must not be rejected for a technicality if it is possible to decide what the voter intended, even though the voter may have made a mistake or the ballot is damaged.” Ballots that are in dispute will be sent to the five-member Canvassing Board, which includes Ritchie, two state Supreme Court justices, and two Ramsey County district court judges, who will make final decisions as to the validity of disputed ballots. KARE-TV has reported that as many as 6,000 ballots may have been missed by the optical-scan machines because of improper markings. Ramsey County elections head Joe Mansky says that around 2 percent of ballots are mismarked in each election. If the intention of the voter is clear, he says, those votes will be counted. Law professor David Schultz says the process reminds the observer of the election debacle in Florida during the 2000 presidential election (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000), and notes that Minnesota has a long tradition of not penalizing voters for failing to fill out ballots properly if their intent can be determined. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/6/2008] The Canvassing Board says it will not make a decision just yet on whether to count disputed absentee ballots. Minnesota Supreme Court Justice G. Barry Anderson, one of the five members of the board, says of the decision to table the absentee ballot issue: “I reference particularly the blizzard of paperwork that we have seen and whether or not there might be some additional time necessary to consider all of it. Is there anything about an additional period of time that will impact the rights of the parties to make election challenges or take other steps under the law?” Franken wants the absentee ballots in dispute to be counted; Franken’s lawyer David Lillehaug tells the board: “These people are real people who did everything right. They wanted to participate in our democracy. They wanted to vote and have their vote counted. Can’t we all agree that they shouldn’t have to start a lawsuit, or have somebody else start a lawsuit before their votes are counted?” Coleman’s attorney Fritz Knaak calls Lillehaug’s arguments “bothersome,” and says the board should not consider and count rejected absentee ballots. [Minnesota Public Radio, 11/18/2008]
Federal Judge Richard Leon rules that the US government has unlawfully held five Algerian men at Guantanamo for nearly seven years (see January 18, 2002). Leon orders their release. Leon rules that the government’s case, based on a slender compilation of classified evidence, was too weak to justify the five men’s continued detention. The government’s case is based on a single “classified document from an unnamed source” for its central claim against the men, and the court has no way to accurately judge its credibility. “To rest on so thin a reed would be inconsistent with this court’s obligation,” Leon writes. He urges the Bush administration not to appeal the ruling, and recommends that they be released “forthwith.” Leon rules that a sixth Algerian, Bensayah Belkacem (see October 8, 2001), is being lawfully detained due to his demonstrable ties with al-Qaeda. The six are among the Guantanamo inmates who won a narrowly decided Supreme Court case recognizing their right to seek redress in the US court system (see June 22, 2008), and include Lakhdar Boumediene, for whom the Court’s ruling was named. Leon, a Republican appointee previously considered sympathetic to the Bush administration’s position on the detention of suspects, urges the government not to appeal his ruling: such an appeal could take as much as two years, and, he notes, “Seven years of waiting for our legal system to give them an answer to a question so important is, in my judgment, more than plenty.” If the government chooses not to appeal, the lawyers for the detainees expect them to be released into Bosnia, where they were arrested in early 2002. The Justice Department calls the ruling “perhaps an understandable consequence of the fact that neither the Supreme Court nor Congress has provided rules on how these habeas corpus cases should proceed in this unprecedented context.” One of the detainees’ lawyers, Robert Kirsch, says the case illustrates “the human cost of what can happen when mistakes are made at the highest levels of our government, and no one has the courage to acknowledge those mistakes.” Other detainee lawyers say the case is a broad repudiation of the Bush administration’s attempts to use the Guantanamo facility to avoid the scrutiny of US judges. Lawyer Zachary Katznelson, a member of the British human rights group Reprieve, says, “The decision by Judge Leon lays bare the scandalous basis on which Guantánamo has been based—slim evidence of dubious quality.” The case was not strengthened by the Bush administration’s pursuit of it: originally the six were charged with planning a bomb attack on the US Embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia, but in October, Justice Department lawyers abruptly withdrew those accusations. [New York Times, 11/20/2008; National Review, 11/20/2008] The five will be released the following month (see December 2008).
US Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) denies saying that US Senate candidate Al Franken (D-MN), currently locked in a recount with Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN—see November 4-5, 2008), “stuff[ed] the ballot box” to stay abreast of Coleman in the Senate race. Bachmann made the comments on MSNBC’s Hardball just before the election. Fox News co-host Alan Colmes of Hannity and Colmes offers to show Bachmann a video clip of her making the statement, but Fox terminates the segment with Bachmann before the clip can be aired. In the same appearance, Bachmann accused President-elect Obama and some Democrats in Congress of being “anti-American,” and suggested the media investigate her claim. She denied making that statement also (see October 17-22, 2008). On Hannity and Colmes, Bachmann says that Franken “wants to stuff the ballot box with rejected ballots,” and this “calls into question what the record is and who’s watching the books.” Bachmann now says that Hardball host Chris Matthews baited and trapped her into making her remarks, and an “urban legend” about what she said quickly sprang up. “What I said was, ‘Do your job,’” she tells Colmes. “That’s what I said.” [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/20/2008]
The judge in the case of Guantanamo detainee Mohammed Jawad (see December 17, 2002 and October 7, 2007) throws out the evidence against Jawad, saying that it was obtained under coercion. Jawad was charged with throwing a grenade at two US soldiers in Kabul, Afghanistan. The judge, Colonel Stephen Henley, finds that the sole evidence against Jawad, a confession he signed while in the custody of Afghan police, was, as the American Civil Liberties Union says, “gathered through coercive interrogations.” [Ottawa Citizen, 11/22/2008]
As the recount in the US Senate race in Minnesota (see November 19, 2008) wears on, incumbent Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) gains a number of votes in the preliminary results, widening his lead to 180 votes from a previous total of 120. Coleman’s campaign observers are challenging many of the ballots granted to challenger Al Franken (D-MN) during the recount, forcing those ballots to be set aside and considered by the state Canvassing Board at a later date. Some mistakes were made in Duluth precincts, slowing the results from St. Louis County, including the discovery that several duplicate ballots were missing from one precinct. In Minneapolis, over 100 people are working in a warehouse building to count votes. Franken is leading Coleman by wide margins in almost all Minneapolis precincts. Coleman campaign observer Corlyss Affeldt says she is volunteering as an observer because “I want to make sure it’s right.… That seems to be the prevailing motivation right now.” [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/22/2008]
President-elect Barack Obama faces another challenge to his presidency—an Internet-based effort to block the US Electoral College from certifying him as president, according to a report from the Christian Science Monitor. The challenge centers on long-debunked accusations that Obama is not a US citizen (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, July 2008, August 21, 2008, and October 30, 2008). The Electoral College meets on December 15 to cast its votes, as garnered through the November 4 election results. The Constitution requires that the president be a US citizen; the people behind this effort insist that Obama was born in Kenya, and not in Hawaii as his birth certificate attests. North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall says: “Most of the world thinks this is settled except for a few conspiracy theorists. In the 2000 election… Republican electors felt under siege, and I expect the Democrat electors may end up feeling the same way [this time].” North Carolina elector Wayne Abraham (D-NC) says he has received three letters and a phone call asking him not to vote for Obama. “I was surprised, but I’m not worried about it,” he says. “As I said to the lady on the phone, I figured that the Bush administration had ample opportunity to investigate Senator Obama, and if they had discovered he was not truly a citizen they… would have let us know.” Immigration law expert Peter Spiro of Temple University says the entire issue is a “nonstarter, because Obama was born in Hawaii.” The biggest effort of the attempt to stop the Electoral College from certifying Obama’s presidency is a lawsuit in California brought by failed presidential candidate Alan Keyes (see November 12, 2008 and After). Lawyer Philip Berg, who has lost a lawsuit challenging Obama’s citizenship (see August 21-24, 2008), says: “People are going after electors now because they can only vote for a qualified candidate, and [Obama] hasn’t shown he’s qualified. I think we have enough trouble—we don’t need a fake president.” Melanie Siewert of Kenansville, North Carolina, says the questions surrounding Obama’s citizenship have moved her to get involved in politics for the first time in her life. “I’m not asking electors to overturn their vote, but really to, before we vote, to make absolutely sure,” she says. She says she has contacted most of North Carolina’s 15 electors. “This is not being a sore loser or racist. This is just about ensuring that our leader is being truthful about who he is.” Presidential historian Perry Leavell says: “Human beings will always go for myth because it’s compelling, dramatic, and, if it were true, it would be able to change history. You can go back into the history of the American presidency and find over and over again people… who are prepared to believe the exact opposite of what all the data would say.” Constitutional law binds state electors to cast their votes for the candidate who won their state. [Christian Science Monitor, 11/26/2008] The Electoral College will vote for Obama as president. [WRAL-TV, 12/15/2008]
Entity Tags: Wayne Abraham, Christian Science Monitor, Barack Obama, Alan Keyes, Elaine Marshall, Philip J. Berg, Melanie Siewert, Peter Spiro, Perry Leavell, US Electoral College
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections
A former Air Force interrogator writing under the pseudonym “Matthew Alexander” pens an impassioned plea against the use of torture for the Washington Post. Alexander is a former Special Operations soldier with war experience in Bosnia and Kosovo before volunteering to serve as a senior interrogator in Iraq from February 2006 through August 2006. He writes that while he served in Iraq, his team “had successfully hunted down one of the most notorious mass murderers of our generation, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the mastermind of the campaign of suicide bombings that had helped plunge Iraq into civil war.” Yet upon his return, Alexander writes that he was less inclined to celebrate American success than “consumed with the unfinished business of our mission: fixing the deeply flawed, ineffective and un-American way the US military conducts interrogations in Iraq.” Since then, Alexander has written a book, How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq (see December 2-4, 2008). He writes that interrogation techniques used against terror suspects in Iraq both “betrays our traditions” and “just doesn’t work.”
Army Used 'Guantanamo Model' of Interrogation - When he joined the team hunting for al-Zarqawi, he was astonished to find that “[t]he Army was still conducting interrogations according to the Guantanamo Bay model: Interrogators were nominally using the methods outlined in the US Army Field Manual, the interrogators’ bible, but they were pushing in every way possible to bend the rules—and often break them.… These interrogations were based on fear and control; they often resulted in torture and abuse.”
New and Different Methodology - Alexander refused to allow his interrogators to use such tactics, he writes, and instead taught them a new set of practices: “one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information. I personally conducted more than 300 interrogations, and I supervised more than 1,000. The methods my team used are not classified (they’re listed in the unclassified Field Manual), but the way we used them was, I like to think, unique. We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal investigative techniques to our work (something that the Field Manual permits, under the concept of ‘ruses and trickery’). It worked. Our efforts started a chain of successes that ultimately led to Zarqawi.” Alexander writes that his attitude, and that of his colleagues, changed during this time. “We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shi’ite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money.” When Alexander pointed this out to General George Casey, then the top US commander in Iraq, Casey ignored him. Alexander writes that Casey’s successor, General David Petraeus, used some of the same “rapport-building” techniques to help boost the “Anbar Awakening,” which saw tens of thousands of Sunnis repudiate al-Zarqawi and align themselves with the US. And, the techniques persuaded one of al-Zarqawi’s associates to tell where he was hiding, giving the US a chance to find and kill him (see June 8, 2006).
Little Overall Change - Even the success in locating and killing al-Zarqawi had little effect on US interrogation methods outside of Alexander’s unit. He left Iraq still unsettled about the methods being used; shortly after his return, he was horrified at news reports that the CIA had waterboarded detainees to coerce information from them (see Between May and Late 2006). Such hard-handed techniques are not only illegal and morally reprehensible, Alexander notes, they usually don’t work. He writes: “Torture and abuse are against my moral fabric. The cliche still bears repeating: Such outrages are inconsistent with American principles. And then there’s the pragmatic side: Torture and abuse cost American lives.” He remembers one jihadist who told him: “I thought you would torture me, and when you didn’t, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That’s why I decided to cooperate.”
Torture Breeds Terrorism - Alexander writes that while in Iraq, he learned that the primary reason foreign jihadists came to Iraq to fight Americans was because of their outrage and anger over the abuses carried out at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. “Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq,” he writes. “The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on US and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of US soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me—unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.”
Writing about His Experiences - Alexander began writing about his time in Iraq after returning to the US. When he submitted his book for the Defense Department’s review (standard procedure to ensure no classified information is being released), he writes that he “got a nasty shock.” The Pentagon delayed the review past the first scheduled printing date, then redacted what Alexander says was “an extraordinary amount of unclassified material—including passages copied verbatim from the Army’s unclassified Field Manual on interrogations and material vibrantly displayed on the Army’s own Web site.” Alexander was forced to file a lawsuit to get the review completed and to appeal the redactions. “Apparently, some members of the military command are not only unconvinced by the arguments against torture; they don’t even want the public to hear them.”
Conclusions - How we conduct ourselves in the “war on terror” helps define who we are as Americans, Alexander writes. “Murderers like Zarqawi can kill us, but they can’t force us to change who we are. We can only do that to ourselves.” It is up to Americans, including military officers directly involved in the battle against terrorist foes, “to protect our values not only from al-Qaeda but also from those within our own country who would erode them.” He continues: “We’re told that our only options are to persist in carrying out torture or to face another terrorist attack. But there truly is a better way to carry out interrogations—and a way to get out of this false choice between torture and terror.” With the ascension of Barack Obama to the White House, Alexander describes himself as “quite optimistic” that the US will renounce torture. “But until we renounce the sorts of abuses that have stained our national honor, al-Qaeda will be winning. Zarqawi is dead, but he has still forced us to show the world that we do not adhere to the principles we say we cherish. We’re better than that. We’re smarter, too.” [Washington Post, 11/30/2008]
Five Algerian detainees are released from Guantanamo after seven years’ imprisonment without charges ever being formally filed against them. They are released after a Supreme Court ruling ordered them granted habeas corpus rights in US courts (see June 22, 2008), and after a federal judge orders their detention to end (see November 20, 2008). The five tell reporters that their time in Guantanamo was hellish. “Nobody can imagine how horrible it was. Even the devil couldn’t have created such a bad, bad place,” says one detainee, computer technician Mustafa Ait Idir. “I was questioned and beaten more than 500 times during those seven years. The guards used to come in groups of six or seven, always using a spray against us first, and then the beatings would start.” Idir says he saw doctors participate in the abuse of prisoners: “I once saw a doctor with a group of guards. The doctor pointed to different places on a body of a prisoner saying ‘hit him here.’ After the beating, there were no visible marks on the body but that man was in such pain he couldn’t move.” Lawyer Stephen Oleskey says his client, Lakhdar Boumediene, had been force-fed through a nasal tube after he went on a seven-month hunger strike. “Twice a day he is strapped onto a chair at seven points,” says Oleskey of his client’s ordeal. “One side of his nose is broken, so they put it [the tube] in the other side… Sometimes it goes to his lung instead of his stomach. He can’t say anything because he has the mask on: that’s torture.” Idir recalls being confined in bare cells, often in complete darkness, others with powerful lights that prevented him from sleeping. [Agence France-Presse, 1/22/2009]
In a lengthy interview, terminally ill columnist Robert Novak says he would reveal the covert identity of former CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson again (see July 14, 2003), both because he feels he caused Plame Wilson no damage and because of his own personal desire for retribution against his critics. Novak says that while he expressed some “ambivalence” about his outing of Plame Wilson in his 2007 autobiography The Prince of Darkness, “Now I’m much less ambivalent. I’d go full speed ahead because of the hateful and beastly way in which my left-wing critics in the press and Congress tried to make a political affair out of it and tried to ruin me. My response now is this: The hell with you. They didn’t ruin me. I have my faith, my family, and a good life. A lot of people love me—or like me. So they failed. I would do the same thing over again because I don’t think I hurt Valerie Plame [Wilson] whatsoever.” [Washingtonian, 12/1/2008] Not only did Novak’s revelation of Plame Wilson’s identity do serious damage to the US intelligence community’s ability to learn of potential threats (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, and February 13, 2006), Plame Wilson has written that she feared for the lives of herself and her family after Novak’s outing (see July 14, 2003).
Twelve retired generals and admirals meet with President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team to ask that his administration completely repudiate the Bush administration’s policies of torture, rendition, and indefinite detentions of terror suspects. The group represents a larger number of some three dozen retired flag officers. Several of the participants tell reporters before the meeting about what they intend to discuss. The retired flag officers are going into the meeting with a list of “things that need to be done and undone,” says retired Marine General Joseph Hoar, who commanded the US Central Command (CENTCOM) from 1991 through 1994. “It is fairly extensive.” Such a set of moves by the Obama administration, the officers believe, would help reverse the decline in world opinion about the US, a decline they say was sparked by the issue of detainee abuse both in the Guantanamo detention center and in other such facilities. “We need to remove the stain, and the stain is on us, as well as on our reputation overseas,” says retired Vice Admiral Lee Gunn, a former Navy inspector general. Retired Major General Fred Haynes adds, “If he’d just put a couple of sentences in his inaugural address, stating the new position, then everything would flow from that.” But it needs to be done quickly and decisively, says Gunn: “Gradualism won’t do. That abrupt change will send a signal to the world that America is back.” [Associated Press, 12/2/2008; Reuters, 12/2/2008] Obama has said repeatedly that he will shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention center and stop the US practice of allowing detainees to be tortured (see November 16, 2008).
Cover of ‘How to Break a Terrorist.’ [Source: Military (.com)]Former Iraq interrogator “Matthew Alexander” (a pseudonym) publishes his book How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq. Alexander has just published an editorial in the Washington Post detailing his success in using non-coercive interrogation techniques to locate terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and denouncing the use of torture by US interrogators in Iraq and Guantanamo (see November 30, 2008). Time’s Gilbert Cruz writes, “Structured around a series of interrogations, [Alexander’s book] details the battle of wills between ‘gators [Alexander’s term for interrogators] and suspects as well as the internal fight between Alexander’s team and the old-school military inquisitors used to more brutal methods of questioning.” In his book, Alexander writes that these “old-school” interrogation tactics not only failed to elicit useful information, they “led down the disastrous path to the Abu Ghraib scandal.” Cruz calls the book “a claustrophobic read,” bringing the reader into the interrogation rooms with him, his partner, and the detainee during marathon questioning sessions. However, “Alexander scarcely discusses the theories behind his interrogation strategy, its derivation, or whether the US military continues to use it.” He concludes, “[A] fuller epilogue could have broadened the story beyond this single set of circumstances.” [Time, 12/2/2008]
'Times Where You Have to be Harsher' - In an interview about the book, Fox News host Sean Hannity attempts to assert that there will be times when torture is necessary to gain critical information. Alexander refuses to agree. Hannity says: “But I do think there’s going to be times where you have to be harsher. That’s an outsider’s view. Never? It never will work?” Alexander replies: “No.… I don’t say that torture doesn’t work; it does work on occasion. But what I say is that there’s better ways to do it.” [Fox News, 12/3/2008]
'Extremely Ineffective and Counter-Productive' - In another interview the same evening, Alexander tells MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann that torture is “extremely ineffective and counter-productive to what we are trying to accomplish in both the short-term and the long-term.” He explains: “In the short-term, when you torture somebody, it hardens their resolve, the information that you get is unreliable. And if you do get reliable information, you’re able to stop a terrorist attack, al-Qaeda is then going to use the fact that we torture people to recruit new members, and then we’re going to have to deal with a whole new wave of terrorists.” In the MSNBC interview, Alexander calls for an outright ban on torture and the retraining of US interrogators in non-coercive methods of questioning. [MSNBC, 12/4/2008]
A portion of the advertisement that runs in the Chicago Tribune. [Source: We the People (.org)]Robert L. Schulz, a wealthy anti-tax activist from upstate New York and the chairman of the We the People Foundation, takes out the second of two ads in the Chicago Tribune questioning whether President Barack Obama is a “natural born citizen” and thusly eligible to be president. Schulz confirms that his non-profit foundation spent “tens of thousands of dollars” on the ads. The ads echo long-debunked claims that Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate (see June 13, 2008) is fraudulent (see July 20, 2008, August 15, 2008, October 8-10, 2008, October 16, 2008 and After, and November 10, 2008). Cases challenging Obama’s citizenship have been thrown out of numerous state courts (see March 14 - July 24, 2008, 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), and the State of Hawaii has vouched for the authenticity of the Obama birth certificate, which by state law is locked in a state government vault with all other such “long form birth certificates” issued by Hawaiian officials (see July 1, 2009). Schulz’s ad raises the following claims:
The birth form released by Obama was “an unsigned, forged, and thoroughly discredited” live birth form, Schulz says. Digital and real copies of Obama’s birth certificate have been examined by experts, including members of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, and pronounced real (see August 21, 2008).
According to Schulz, “Hawaiian officials will not confirm” that Obama was born in their state. Hawaiian officials initially did resist releasing a copy of the certificate, citing state privacy laws. However, Hawaii’s health director and head of vital statistics reviewed Obama’s birth certificate in the department’s vault and vouched for its authenticity (see October 30, 2008).
Schulz says that legal affidavits state Obama was born in Kenya. Those affidavits were filed by challengers to Obama’s citizenship, and those challenges have been dismissed by a variety of courts (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).
Obama’s paternal grandmother is recorded on tape saying she attended Obama’s birth in Kenya, Schulz says. Schulz is referring to claims by street preacher Ron McRae who interviewed the second wife of Obama’s grandfather, Sarah Obama, via long-distance telephone (see October 16, 2008 and After). The audiotape clearly shows that the assembled Obama relatives, and the translator who spoke to McRae, repeatedly stated that Obama was born in Hawaii.
Schulz says that “US law in effect in 1961 [the year of Obama’s birth] denied citizenship to any child born in Kenya if the father was Kenyan and the mother was not yet 19 years of age.” Schulz is incorrect. US law states that any child born in the US is a legitimate citizen regardless of his parents’ nationalities and/or citizenships. Obama’s father had dual Kenyan/British citizenship, and his mother was a US citizen. Had Obama been born outside of US territory and his mother Ann Dunham been under 19 years of age, which she was, Obama would indeed not have been a citizen at the time of his birth, though the provisions of this law were subsequently loosened and made retroactive for government employees serving abroad and their families. The point is moot, because Obama was born in a hospital in Honolulu.
Schulz says that in 1965, Obama’s mother relinquished whatever Kenyan or US citizenship she and Obama had by marrying an Indonesian and becoming a naturalized Indonesian citizen. Schulz has produced no evidence to back this claim; Dunham did not file any of the documentation required to renounce one’s US citizenship, and even so, would not have jeopardized Obama’s citizenship in doing so. Obama and his mother moved to Indonesia in 1968, and returned to Hawaii while Obama was still in grade school. Schulz provides a reproduced Indonesian school document that states Obama’s citizenship at the time as “Indonesian,” but the same document lists Obama’s birthplace as “Honolulu, Hawaii.” [Chicago Tribune, 12/3/2008]
Schulz claims his challenges to Obama are not motivated by political partisanship. “We never get involved in politics,” he says of We The People. “We avoid it like the plague.” However, Schulz has done battle with local and state authorities for years; in 2007, a federal judge ordered him to shutter his Web site because he and his organization were, in the words of the Justice Department’s tax division, using the site to promote “a nationwide tax-fraud scheme.” Schulz now says he is being targeted by government operatives who are attempting to silence him. He says his group attempted to buy a similar ad in USA Today, but could not afford the cost. [Chicago Tribune, 12/3/2008; Salon, 12/5/2008]
Milwaukee radio host Mark Belling responds to a caller who says that “gun manufacturers” would be able to raise prices during the economic crisis, by saying: “Well, okay. You’re right about that. Everybody’s buying guns before Obama comes in and outlaws them all.” [Media Matters, 4/9/2009]
The Malaysian government releases alleged al-Qaeda operative Yazid Sufaat. Malaysian Interior Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar announces that Sufaat and five other detained Islamist militants are being freed because “they are no longer a threat and will no longer pose a threat to public order.” Albar adds that Sufaat “has been rehabilitated and can return to society.” Sufaat was arrested in Malaysia in December 2001 (see December 19, 2001). However, he was never tried or even charged. Malaysian law allows suspects to be held for up to two years without charge, and the two year period can be renewed multiple times. But apparently the Malaysian government decided to release him rather than put him on trial or hold him another two years.
Sufaat's History - Sufaat, a Malaysian, received a biological sciences degree in the US in the 1980s. There are allegations that he led al-Qaeda’s effort to get biological and chemical weapons until his arrest (see December 19, 2001). An important al-Qaeda summit was held in his apartment in January 2000; at least two 9/11 hijackers attended (see January 5-8, 2000). Later in 2000, Sufaat hosted al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui, and he provided papers that helped Moussaoui get in the US (see September-October 2000).
Concern about Sufaat's Release - Sufaat is supposed to be kept under close observation. However, Newsweek reports that US counterterrorism officials have “expressed doubt that Sufaat has abandoned his radical al-Qaeda views or his desire to attack the United States with biological weapons.” One unnamed official says, “This individual is considered dangerous.” [Newsweek, 12/16/2008]
One hundred and thirty-three ballots, stored in a single envelope, are missing from the warehouse containing the hundreds of thousands of ballots cast in Minnesota during the November elections. The ballots are part of a statewide recount (see November 19, 2008) to determine the winner of the US Senate race between incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Al Franken (D-MN—see November 4-5, 2008). Minneapolis officials are diligently searching for the missing ballots, according to Mayor R.T. Rybak (D-MN). The recounts are supposed to be finished today, but Minneapolis has been granted an extension to find the ballots. Franken’s lead recount attorney, Marc Elias, issues the following statement: “Find the ballots.… The outcome of this election might be at stake.” The Coleman campaign is alleging ballot tampering. “We do not know that there are any ballots missing, and it is premature and simply irresponsible to suggest that they are,” says Coleman’s attorney Fritz Knaak. He goes on to say that because Rybak, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, and many Minneapolis city officials are Democrats, there could be some kind of orchestrated effort to suppress votes to favor Franken. However, “It is critical that there be no effort to make this matter a partisan issue,” he adds. Minneapolis Elections Director Cindy Reichert says there is no evidence of any sort of “foul play” concerning the missing ballots (see November 12, 2008). Official recount tallies show Coleman with a 205-vote lead, but this number is not current and Franken is expected to gain votes, especially if the missing ballots are found and tallied. The missing ballots are from a precinct largely populated by college students, considered a group that generally favors Franken. [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 12/5/2008] Four days later, Minneapolis declares the ballots to be irretrievably missing, ending the state’s counting of ballots and moving the recount process into the next phase—canvassing the results and considering ballots challenged by the two campaigns. Ritchie says that the canvassed and audited election-night results from the precinct can be counted in lieu of the missing ballots, though it takes four more days for the Canvassing Board to come to the same conclusion. Counting the ballots adds 36 (later reported as 46) to Franken’s total. Coleman’s campaign says that there may be other reasons for the ballot issue, with a spokesman saying, “We would hope further review of these other scenarios will be conducted, rather than just accepting the political spin of the Franken campaign.” The Coleman campaign is also protesting some counties’ decision to review initially rejected absentee ballots. Franken is expected to gain votes if the absentee ballots in question are counted. [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 12/9/2008; TPM Election Central, 12/12/2008]
Five high-value detainees being held at Guantanamo tell a military tribunal they wish to plead guilty to charges related to the 9/11 attacks, but refuse to enter a guilty plea at this time. The five are alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM); Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who helped coordinate the attacks; Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, who assisted some of the 19 hijackers in Asia; and Khallad bin Attash, who attended a meeting with two of the hijackers in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000). The plea is not entered at this time, because it is not yet certain bin al-Shibh and al-Hawsawi are mentally competent to stand trial, and KSM says they all want to plead together. The judge, Colonel Stephen Henley, has already ordered a probe into the two men’s mental competence. The five say that they made their decision “without being under any kind of pressure, threat, intimidations, or promise from any party,” although an investigation of potential pressure would have to be conducted before such plea could be accepted. If convicted, the five men would face the death penalty, although four of them, including KSM, have declared a desire to become martyrs. KSM also says he wants to get rid of his military lawyer, who previously served in Iraq. For the first time, the hearing is watched live in the courtroom by nine relatives of people killed in the 9/11 attacks. [BBC, 12/8/2008]
The Senate Armed Services Committee releases a classified 261-page report on the use of “harsh” or “enhanced interrogation techniques”—torture—against suspected terrorists by the US. The conclusion of the report will be released in April 2009 (see April 21, 2009). The report will become known as the “Levin Report” after committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI). Though the report itself is classified, the committee releases the executive summary to the public.
Top Bush Officials Responsible for Torture - One of the report’s findings is that top Bush administration officials, and not a “few bad apples,” as many of that administration’s officials have claimed, are responsible for the use of torture against detainees in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.
Began Shortly after 9/11 - The report finds that US officials began preparing to use “enhanced interrogation” techniques just a few months after the 9/11 attacks, and well before Justice Department memos declared such practices legal. The program used techniques practiced in a US military program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE—see December 2001), which trains US military personnel to resist questioning by foes who do not follow international bans on torture. As part of SERE training, soldiers are stripped naked, slapped, and waterboarded, among other techniques. These techniques were “reverse-engineered” and used against prisoners in US custody. Other techniques used against prisoners included “religious disgrace” and “invasion of space by a female.” At least one suspected terrorist was forced “to bark and perform dog tricks” while another was “forced to wear a dog collar and perform dog tricks” in a bid to break down their resistance.
Tried to 'Prove' Links between Saddam, Al-Qaeda - Some of the torture techniques were used before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq (see March 19, 2003). Much of the torture of prisoners, the report finds, was to elicit information “proving” alleged links between al-Qaeda and the regime of Saddam Hussein. US Army psychiatrist Major Paul Burney says of some Guantanamo Bay interrogations: “Even though they were giving information and some of it was useful, while we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. We were not being successful in establishing a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish this link… there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.” Others did not mention such pressure, according to the report. [Senate Armed Services Committee, 12/11/2008 ; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009] (Note: Some press reports identify the quoted psychiatrist as Major Charles Burney.) [McClatchy News, 4/21/2009] A former senior intelligence official later says: “There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used. The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack [after 9/11]. But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al-Qaeda and Iraq that [former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed] Chalabi (see November 6-8, 2001) and others had told them were there.… There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s people to push harder.” [McClatchy News, 4/21/2009]
Warnings of Unreliability from Outset - Almost from the outset of the torture program, military and other experts warned that such techniques were likely to provide “less reliable” intelligence results than traditional, less aggressive approaches. In July 2002, a memo from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JRPA), which oversees the SERE training program, warned that “if an interrogator produces information that resulted from the application of physical and psychological duress, the reliability and accuracy of this information is in doubt. In other words, a subject in extreme pain may provide an answer, any answer, or many answers in order to get the pain to stop” (see July 2002). [Senate Armed Services Committee, 12/11/2008 ; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009]
Ignoring Military Objections - When Pentagon general counsel William Haynes asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to approve 15 of 18 recommended torture techniques for use at Guantanamo (see December 2, 2002), Haynes indicated that he had discussed the matter with three officials who agreed with him: Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, and General Richard Myers. Haynes only consulted one legal opinion, which senior military advisers had termed “legally insufficient” and “woefully inadequate.” Rumsfeld agreed to recommend the use of the tactics. [Senate Armed Services Committee, 12/11/2008 ]
Entity Tags: William J. Haynes, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard B. Myers, Paul Burney, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, Douglas Feith, Donald Rumsfeld, Ahmed Chalabi, Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
In his first exit interview after the November 2008 elections, Vice President Dick Cheney unapologetically acknowledges that the US used waterboarding on suspected terrorists, and says that the Guantanamo Bay prison should remain open until terrorism has been eradicated. Methods such as waterboarding were indeed used on at least one subject, suspected 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see May 2002-2003, Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003, March 7 - Mid-April, 2003, After March 7, 2003, and May 2003), Cheney says, but he goes on to claim that those methods do not constitute torture. “On the question of so-called torture, we don’t do torture,” he says. “We never have. It’s not something that this administration subscribes to. I think those who allege that we’ve been involved in torture, or that somehow we violated the Constitution or laws with the terrorist surveillance program, simply don’t know what they’re talking about.” Asked if he authorized the waterboarding of Mohammed, Cheney says: “I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency [CIA] in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn’t do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.” Cheney says that waterboarding Mohammed produced critically important information: “There was a period of time there, three or four years ago, when about half of everything we knew about al-Qaeda came from that one source. So it’s been a remarkably successful effort. I think the results speak for themselves.” Cheney adds that the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein were justified regardless of whether that nation possessed weapons of mass destruction. The only thing US intelligence got wrong, he says, “was that there weren’t any stockpiles. What they found was that Saddam Hussein still had the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction. He had the technology, he had the people, he had the basic feed stock.” [ABC News, 12/15/2008; ABC News, 12/15/2008] In the US, waterboarding has been considered a war crime at least as far back as World War II (see 1947, January 21, 1968, and November 29, 2007); in 2007, a judge concurred (see November 4, 2007). A former senior Justice Department official determined that waterboarding is torture (see Late 2004-Early 2005), as did a former deputy secretary of state who was subjected to waterboarding as part of his military training (see January 21, 2009) and a US senator who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam (see April 20, 2009). The CIA suspended the use of waterboarding in 2005 after determining that the technique was most likely ineffective and certainly illegal (see Shortly After April 28, 2004-February 2005), and banned it entirely in 2006 (see Between May and Late 2006); the CIA’s Inspector General determined that the practice was torture (see March 6, 2009). The FBI and DIA have forbidden their agents from using the technique (see May 13, 2004 and February 7, 2008). The US military banned its use in 2006 (see September 6, 2006). The king of Saudi Arabia will accuse the Bush administration of torturing prisoners in its custody (see April 24, 2009). The information derived from torturing Mohammed and other prisoners is widely considered unreliable (see August 6, 2007, April 16, 2009, December 18, 2008, and March 29, 2009), and may well have been initially designed to elicit false confessions (see April 22, 2009).
Vice President Dick Cheney continues to justify his administration’s actions in its war on terror, building on his revelation from days earlier that the White House authorized the waterboarding of suspected terrorists (see December 15, 2008). “[I]it would have been unethical or immoral for us not to do everything we could in order to protect the nation,” he says. “In my mind, the foremost obligation we had from a moral or an ethical standpoint was to the oath of office we took when we were sworn in, on January 20 of 2001, to protect and defend against all enemies foreign and domestic. And that’s what we’ve done.” Asked if he would take the same steps he and his White House colleagues took after the 9/11 attacks, he says: “I feel very good about what we did. I think it was the right thing to do. If I was faced with those circumstances again I’d do exactly the same thing.” Asked if waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods constitute torture, Cheney says they do not. “I don’t believe it was torture,” he says. “We spent a great deal of time and effort getting legal advice, legal opinion out of the [Justice Department’s] Office of Legal Counsel. I thought the legal opinions that were rendered were sound. I thought the techniques were reasonable in terms of what [the CIA was] asking to be able to do. And I think it produced the desired result. I think it’s directly responsible for the fact that we’ve been able to avoid or defeat further attacks against the homeland for seven and a half years.” Cheney says that 33 high-value suspects were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques to gain information about al-Qaeda, and three were waterboarded. According to Cheney, those three were alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, militsant trsining camp facilitator Abu Zubaida, and al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. “I think it would have been unethical or immoral for us not to do everything we could in order to protect the nation against further attacks like what happened on 9/11,” he says. The abuse and torture of prisoners at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison was, he says, “not policy. [T]he people… that were subjected to abusive practices there, I don’t think had any special intelligence understandings, if you will, or special intelligence information that we needed.” [Washington Times, 12/18/2008]
Vanity Fair reporter David Rose publishes an extensive examination of the US’s use of torture to extract information from a number of suspected militant Islamists, focusing on three subjects: Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002, Mid-April-May 2002, May 2002-2003, Mid-May, 2002, Mid-May 2002 and After, June 2002, and December 18, 2007), Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see May 2002-2003, March 7 - Mid-April, 2003, After March 7, 2003, and August 6, 2007), and Binyam Mohamed (see May 17 - July 21, 2002, July 21, 2002 -- January 2004, and January-September 2004). The conclusion he draws, based on numerous interviews with current and former CIA, military, and administration sources, is that torture not only does not work to provide reliable intelligence, it provides so much false information that it chokes the intelligence system and renders the intelligence apparatus unreliable. One CIA official tells Rose: “We were done a tremendous disservice by the [Bush] administration. We had no background in this; it’s not something we do. They stuck us with a totally unwelcome job and left us hanging out to dry. I’m worried that the next administration is going to prosecute the guys who got involved, and there won’t be any presidential pardons at the end of it. It would be okay if it were [former Attorney Generals] John Ashcroft or Alberto Gonzales. But it won’t be. It’ll be some poor GS-13 who was just trying to do his job.”
Enormous Waste of Resources - A veteran FBI counterterrorism agent says the waste of time and resources on false leads generated through torture has been enormous. “At least 30 percent of the FBI’s time, maybe 50 percent, in counterterrorism has been spent chasing leads that were bullsh_t,” he says. “There are ‘lead squads’ in every office trying to filter them. But that’s ineffective, because there’s always that ‘What if?’ syndrome. I remember a claim that there was a plot to poison candy bought in bulk from Costco. You follow it because someone wants to cover himself. It has a chilling effect. You get burned out, you get jaded. And you think, ‘Why am I chasing all this stuff that isn’t true?’ That leads to a greater problem—that you’ll miss the one that is true. The job is 24-7 anyway. It’s not like a bank job. But torture has made it harder.”
No Proof of Efficacy of Torture - Former FBI counterterrorism specialist Dan Cloonan points to the near-total lack of proof the administration has been able to advance to show that torture works. “The proponents of torture say, ‘Look at the body of information that has been obtained by these methods,’” he says. “But if KSM [Khalid Shaikh Mohammed] and Abu Zubaida did give up stuff, we would have heard the details. What we got was pabulum.” A former CIA officer says: “Why can’t they say what the good stuff from Abu Zubaida or KSM is? It’s not as if this is sensitive material from a secret, vulnerable source. You’re not blowing your source but validating your program. They say they can’t do this, even though five or six years have passed, because it’s a ‘continuing operation.’ But has it really taken so long to check it all out?”
Propaganda Value - Officials who analyzed Zubaida’s interrogation reports say that his reports were given such credence within the White House not because of the American lives they would supposedly save, but because they could be used to rebut those who criticized the Iraq invasion. “We didn’t know he’d been waterboarded and tortured when we did that analysis, and the reports were marked as credible as they could be,” says a former Pentagon analyst. “The White House knew he’d been tortured. I didn’t, though I was supposed to be evaluating that intelligence.” He was unable to draw valid conclusions about the importance of Zubaida’s confessions without knowing how the information was extracted. “It seems to me they were using torture to achieve a political objective,” he says. “I cannot believe that the president and vice president did not know who was being waterboarded, and what was being given up.”
False Claims of Preventing London Attack - President Bush has claimed that secret CIA black site interrogations “helped foil a plot to hijack passenger planes and fly them into Heathrow [Airport] and London’s Canary Wharf” (see October 6, 2005). The former head of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist branch, Peter Clarke, who served through May 2008 and helped stop several jihadist attacks, says Bush’s claim is specious. Clarke says it is possible that al-Qaeda had considered some sort of project along the lines of Bush’s assertion, but if it had, it was nowhere near fruition. “It wasn’t at an advanced stage in the sense that there were people here in the UK doing it,” he says. “If they had been, I’d have arrested them.” No terror plot of which Clarke is aware has been foiled due to information gathered due to torture.
FBI Director Confirms No Plots Disrupted by Torture Interrogations - Rose concludes by quoting an interview he held with FBI Director Robert Mueller in April 2008. Rose lists a number of plots disrupted by the FBI, all “foiled by regular police work.” He asked Mueller if he was aware of any attacks on America that had been disrupted thanks to what the administration calls “enhanced techniques.” Mueller responded, “I’m really reluctant to answer that.” He paused, looked at an aide, then said quietly, “I don’t believe that has been the case.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008] On April 21, 2009, a spokesman for Mueller will say, “The quote is accurate.” [New York Times, 4/22/2008]
Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, Abu Zubaida, US Department of Defense, Robert S. Mueller III, Peter Clarke, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Rose, George W. Bush, Dan Cloonan, John Ashcroft, Binyam Mohamed
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Newsweek reveals that Thomas Tamm, a former high-level Justice Department official, was one of the whistleblowers who revealed the government’s illegal domestic wiretapping program, known as “Stellar Wind,” to the New York Times (see December 15, 2005). Tamm, an ex-prosecutor with a high security clearance, learned of the program in the spring of 2004 (see Spring 2004).
Intense FBI Scrutiny - As of yet, Tamm has not been arrested as one of the leakers in the criminal leak investigation ordered by President Bush (see December 30, 2005), though since the December 2005 publication, Tamm has remained under Justice Department suspicion—FBI agents have raided his home, hauled away his personal possessions, and relentlessly questioned his family and friends (see August 1, 2007). He no longer has a government job, and is having trouble finding steady work as a lawyer. He has resisted pressure to plead to a felony charge of divulging classified information. Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff writes, “[H]e is living under a pall, never sure if or when federal agents might arrest him.” Perhaps his biggest regret is the impact the FBI investigation has had on his wife and children. “I didn’t think through what this could do to my family,” he says. But, “I don’t really need anybody to feel sorry for me,” he says. “I chose what I did. I believed in what I did.”
No Decision to Prosecute Yet - The Justice Department has deferred a decision over whether to arrest and prosecute Tamm until after the Bush administration leaves office and a new attorney general takes over the department. Both President-elect Barack Obama and the incoming Attorney General, Eric Holder, have denounced the warrantless wiretapping program. In one speech Holder gave in June 2008, he said that President Bush had acted “in direct defiance of federal law” by authorizing the NSA program. Former US Attorney Asa Hutchinson, who is helping in Tamm’s defense, says: “When I looked at this, I was convinced that the action he took was based on his view of a higher responsibility. It reflected a lawyer’s responsibility to protect the rule of law.” Hutchinson has no use for the idea, promulgated by Bush officials and conservative pundits, that the Times story damaged the “war on terror” by alerting al-Qaeda terrorists to Stellar Wind and other surveillance programs. “Anybody who looks at the overall result of what happened wouldn’t conclude there was any harm to the United States,” he says. Hutchinson is hopeful that Holder’s Justice Department will drop its investigation of Tamm.
The Public 'Ought to Know' about NSA Eavesdropping - Recently Tamm decided to go public with his story, against the advice of his lawyers. “I thought this [secret program] was something the other branches of the government—and the public—ought to know about,” he tells Isikoff. “So they could decide: do they want this massive spying program to be taking place?… If somebody were to say, who am I to do that? I would say, ‘I had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution.’ It’s stunning that somebody higher up the chain of command didn’t speak up.” Tamm also admits that he leaked information to the Times in part over his anger at other Bush administration policies for the Justice Department, including its aggressive pursuit of death penalty cases, and its use of “renditions” and “enhanced” interrogation techniques against terrorist suspects. He insists that he divulged no “sources and methods” that might compromise national security when he spoke to the Times. He could not tell the Times reporters anything about the NSA program, he says, because he knew nothing specific about the program. As Isikoff writes, “All he knew was that a domestic surveillance program existed, and it ‘didn’t smell right.’” (Times reporter Eric Lichtblau refuses to confirm if Tamm was one of his sources for the stories he wrote with fellow Times reporter James Risen.) [Newsweek, 12/22/2008]
Entity Tags: Michael Isikoff, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Asa Hutchinson, ’Stellar Wind’, Eric Holder, Eric Lichtblau, Newsweek, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Thomas Tamm, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously rejects a lawsuit by Minnesota Senate candidate Norm Coleman (R-MN), who argued that absentee ballots should not be counted in the vote tallies that are giving his opponent, Al Franken (D-MN), an edge in the recount for the Senate seat both are vying for (see November 4-5, 2008). The Coleman campaign, alleging that many of the votes were counted twice, has asked that vote tallies in 25 selected precincts should be reverted to their Election Night totals, which would blot out Franken’s lead in the vote count. The Minnesota high court rules that a question such as this should be reserved for post-recount proceedings, and says that the Coleman campaign’s theory of double-counted ballots is not supported by evidence. Currently, Franken leads by a narrow 47-vote margin. According to press reports, the lawsuit was Coleman’s last, best shot at winning the seat; with the high court’s decision, a Franken victory is “nearly a foregone conclusion when this recount finishes up in early January.” Coleman’s lead recount lawyer Fritz Knaak says that the decision “virtually guarantees that this will be decided in an election contest,” indicating that the Coleman campaign is not yet ready to concede defeat and may well be planning further litigation. “[I]t’s highly unlikely that one senator will be seated on January 6th,” Knaak says. Franken campaign spokesperson Andy Barr says: “We win in Supreme Court. The process can move forward despite attempts to halt its progress and cast doubt on the result.” [TPM Election Central, 12/24/2008; MPR News, 12/24/2008; Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 12/24/2008]
During the year, a number of states enact over 77 laws and other measures that affect reproductive rights, a sharp upturn from the 33 enacted in 2008. Some of these laws protect and enhance reproductive rights (see 2009), others restrict them. Some of the restrictive laws are as follows:
Arizona adopts what the Guttmacher Institute calls “a massive omnibus measure that essentially revamps abortion policy in the state,” requiring in-person counseling, long waiting periods before a woman can legally seek an abortion, and new restrictions on minors seeking abortions; the measure restricts the performance of abortion procedures to physicians only and grants providers new rights to refuse to participate in abortion-related services. The new measure is shepherded through the state legislature by Governor Jan Brewer (R-AZ), a strong opponent of abortion rights. Many of the new measures are not in effect due to legal challenges. Eighteen other states attempt to enact measures relating to parental involvement in attempts by minors to seek abortions, but fail.
Arizona, Kansas, North Dakota, and Ohio adopt laws requiring abortion providers to post signs informing women that they cannot be coerced into having abortions, and encouraging their clients to contact authorities or clinic staff if they feel they have been subjected to such pressure.
Arizona and Arkansas adopt measures restricting so-called “partial-birth abortions” similar to a federal ban upheld by the Supreme Court in 2007 (see April 17, 2007). In all, 17 states have such restrictions. Utah tightens the availability of such late-term abortions in its laws. A measure that would have entirely banned “partial-birth abortions” and restricted other such procedures was vetoed in Kansas.
Iowa, Maryland, and Minnesota continue existing prohibitions on public funding for abortion.
Kansas and Nebraska enact laws requiring that women seeking abortions after 19 weeks’ gestation be given information on the availability of ultrasound procedures. In all, 16 states now have similar requirements on the books.
Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, and Washington enact substantial cuts in family planning programs.
North Dakota enacts a law requiring women seeking abortions to be told that the procedure will “terminate the life of a whole, separate, and unique human being.” Similar provisions were enacted by the Kansas legislature, but vetoed by Governor Mark Parkinson (D-KS).
Oklahoma enacts laws banning abortions for purposes of “sex selection,” and institutes what the Guttmacher Institute calls “intrusive abortion reporting requirements” that will result in making private information about women seeking abortions public (see November 1, 2009).
Utah requires women seeking abortions to be provided with information on the purported ability of a fetus to feel pain, information many medical providers consider false. The state also institutes an “Abortion Litigation Trust Account” to cover the cost of defending the state against legal challenges filed against its anti-abortion laws.
Tennessee joins six other states in restricting access to contraceptive services.
Virginia authorizes the sale of license plates with the “Choose Life” slogan, and earmarks profits from the sale of those plates to fund “crisis pregnancy centers” (see April 2006) across the state. Twenty-one states now offer such license plates. [Guttmacher Institute, 1/2010]
The Creativity Movement, formerly known as the World Church of the Creator (WCOTC—see May 1996 and After) and nearly destroyed by failures of leadership (see January 9, 2003 and 2004-2005), experiences something of a resurgence when its Montana chapter begins doing literature drops and staging rallies. By the end of the year, the organization has 14 chapters, up from three in 2008. Though most of the chapters are in Montana, the Creativity Movement is led by James Logsdon of Zion, Illinois. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2010]
President-elect Barack Obama orders two days of secret briefings with the CIA on interrogation policies and procedures. He sends his chief counsel, Gregory Craig; his nominated National Security Adviser, James Jones; foreign policy adviser Denis McDonough; former senators David Boren (D-OK) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE); and former CIA general counsel Jeffrey H. Smith to Langley. They meet with CIA Director Michael Hayden, his deputy Stephen Kappes, and about 20 senior CIA officials, who brief Obama’s team on the agency’s counterterrorism and rendition programs. In the briefings, Hayden and his colleagues argue for the preservation of the agency’s secret prison and torture programs. Hayden acknowledges that the agency stopped using the secret prisons in 2006, and says that agency operatives stopped using waterboarding as an interrogation method in 2003. He wants the CIA to retain its option to use other “harsh methods” as needed. During the briefings, CIA officials acknowledge that some foreign intelligence agencies have begun withholding information about suspected terrorists from the agency for fear that they might become implicated in the eventual torture of those suspects. As Boren and Smith will later recall, the group is not convinced that whatever useful intelligence those methods may have garnered warrants keeping them as an option. “They said that they had produced valuable intelligence,” Smith will recall. “We took them at their word.” However, the group decides that “whatever utility it had at the outset… the secret prisons and enhanced techniques were no longer playing a useful role—the costs outweighed the gains.” Those costs include the palpable damage to America’s identity and values, and the lost credibility and prestige among many of its closest allies. Boren will later call attending the briefings “one of the most deeply disturbing experiences I have had.… I wanted to take a bath when I heard it. I was ashamed of it.” He believes that “fear was used to justify the use of techniques that violate our values and weaken our intelligence,” and that the agency did not prove those methods “are particularly effective at getting the truth.” [Washington Post, 4/24/2009]
Allen Michael Goff, a member of the Creativity Movement (see 2009) from Billings, Montana, is charged with felony assault with a weapon after shooting a Hispanic teenager in the leg after a party. Goff, 17, is charged as an adult because prosecutors say the shooting is racially motivated. When the court refuses to allow evidence of Goff’s membership in the Creativity Movement to be introduced in his trial, Goff pleads guilty to a misdemeanor charge of carrying a concealed weapon, and a jury acquits him of the felony charge. He is given six months’ probation and fined $150. Two days after the verdict, Goff confronts Travis McAdam, executive director of the Montana Human Rights Network, who is presiding over an exhibit featuring the literature and beliefs of the Creativity Movement. Goff accuses McAdam of ruining his life. “We’ve always felt he was one of the ringleaders,” McAdam says. “I think what that encounter showed everyone is that he’s going to feel more emboldened now.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2010]
US Senate candidate Al Franken (D-MN) is confirmed as the winner of the Minnesota Senate race over incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) after over a month of vote recounting and legal maneuvering by both sides. Coleman was initially declared the winner, but Franken immediately requested a recount, as the vote margin was very close (see November 4-5, 2008). Franken is declared the winner by 225 votes out of 2.9 million cast. The final totals: Franken with 1,212,431 votes and Coleman with 1,212,206 votes. Third-party candidate Dean Barkley also garnered a significant number of votes. Coleman says he intends to file a lawsuit challenging the results, blocking Franken from being seated in the Senate. Coleman’s attorney Tony Trimble says: “This process isn’t at an end. It is now just at the beginning.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says, “The race in Minnesota is not over.” Franken says, “After 62 days of careful and painstaking hand-inspection of nearly 3 million ballots, after hours and hours of hard work by election officials and volunteers around the state, I am proud to stand before you as the next senator from Minnesota.” Both sides mounted an aggressive challenge to votes, with campaign officials challenging thousands of ballots during the recounts. Franken made headway when election officials opened and counted some 900 ballots that had erroneously been disqualified on Election Day. Coleman says some ballots were mishandled and others were wrongly excluded from the recount, thus denying him the victory. His loss was made certain when the Minnesota Supreme Court refused to change the totals of the recount (see December 24, 2008). The state Canvassing Board, the entity in charge of the recounts, votes unanimously to accept the totals as final. Franken’s lawyer Mark Elias says of Coleman’s promised court fight: “Former Senator Coleman has to make a decision. And it is a profound decision, one that he has to look into his heart to make: Whether or not he wants to be the roadblock to the state moving forward and play the role of a spoiler or sore loser or whether he wants to accept what was a very close election.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says, “The race in Minnesota is over,” and calls Republican efforts to continue challenging the result “only a little finger pointing.” However, a spokesperson for Reid says Franken will not be seated when Congress convenes later in the week. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) warns that any attempt to seat Franken would result in “chaos.” Trimble says that the recount was handled poorly, and there “can be no confidence” in the result. The seat will remain unfilled until Coleman’s legal challenge is settled. [Bloomberg, 1/5/2009; Associated Press, 1/6/2009; Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/6/2009] Republicans in the Minnesota legislature have speculated on the possibility of Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) appointing someone, presumably a Republican, to take the Senate seat on a temporary basis while the recount plays out, but Democrats, who hold the majority in the legislature, say they will block any such efforts. Legal experts say Pawlenty’s legal authority to make such an appointment is dubious at best. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/6/2009] Later press reports will state that Franken’s margin of victory was 312 votes, after a judicial panel reviews the recount totals. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 4/22/2009] Coleman files a lawsuit to block Franken’s victory (see January 7, 2009).
Entity Tags: Dean Barkley, Harry Reid, Minnesota State Canvassing Board, Al Franken, John Cornyn, Minnesota Supreme Court, Tony Trimble, Mitch McConnell, Norm Coleman, Tim Pawlenty, Mark Elias
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections
Former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN), who was recently declared the loser in a hotly contested US Senate race in Minnesota (see January 5, 2009), rejects the findings of the Canvassing Board that reported his opponent, Al Franken (D-MN), as the winner, and files a lawsuit challenging the results. “Not every valid vote has been counted and some have been counted twice,” Coleman says. “Let’s take the time right now in this contested race to get it right.” The suit is filed in the District Court of Ramsey County, where Coleman hopes to convince a three-judge panel that votes were improperly excluded and included in the recount. Franken’s attorney Marc Elias calls Coleman’s lawsuit “an uphill battle to overturn the will of the people” and adds, “It is essentially the same thin gruel, warmed-over leftovers… that they have been serving the last few weeks.” Elias says the Franken campaign has its own questions about uncounted ballots. The lawsuit blocks Franken from being seated in the US Senate until it is resolved. Former Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson (R-MN) says Coleman should concede the election and bow out gracefully. “I don’t think it’s winnable,” Carlson says, and warns that Coleman risks damaging his reputation by pursuing such a lawsuit. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says Coleman is “entitled to the opportunity to proceed however he sees fit. But for someone who’s been in the trenches on a number of these elections, graciously conceding… would be the right step. This can’t drag on forever.” Coleman says the issue is not about his winning or losing, but about fairness and accuracy in vote counting. Coleman’s suit will contend that the Canvassing Board did not apply consistent standards to challenged ballots, and both local election officials and Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) counted ballots unfairly to the advantage of Franken. Coleman’s lawyer Fritz Knaak says the campaign’s lawyers are conducting their own “very real investigation” into the election, and promises that the campaign will present testimony about “double voting” in some precincts. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/7/2009]
Liberal author and columnist Joe Conason says that conservatives accusing Minnesota Senate candidate Al Franken (D-MN) of stealing the election from opponent Norm Coleman (R-MN) should show genuine evidence of voter fraud “or shut up.” Franken was recently declared the winner of the US Senate race by a narrow margin of votes (see January 5, 2009). Conason cites a raft of radio and television talk show hosts such as Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, and conservative billionaires such as Richard Mellon Scaife, who have been “scream[ing] that Franken is stealing, rigging, pilfering, scamming, thieving, and cheating his way to victory” without advancing any proof, and “in plain contradiction of the available facts.” Conason writes, “Not only is there no evidence that Franken or his campaign ‘cheated’ in any way during the election or the recount, but there is ample reason to believe that the entire process was fair, balanced, and free from partisan taint.” Conason cites claims by Limbaugh on January 5 that Franken “stole the race,” and quotes Limbaugh as saying on that same broadcast: “They are stealing the race up there blind in front of everybody’s nose. They are counting absentee ballots [which election officials are required to do by law].… They’re counting votes twice—votes that were rejected, all kinds of things [which election officials ordered after determining that some votes were rejected wrongly]. That’s just—the Democrats are stealing the election up there.” (The material in brackets is inserted by Conason.) Conason goes on to quote Republican political consultant Dick Morris, who appeared on O’Reilly’s show on January 7 and claimed: “I think there’s funny business—funny business going on in Franken’s thing. Sure, he’s cheating, and sure that Minnesota’s doing it for him. I mean, there’s no question that there’s cheating going on.… This is outright larceny. This is just a total theft.” Conason calls Morris’s accusations “incendiary,” and notes that like Limbaugh, Morris advanced no evidence to support his claims. As for O’Reilly, he has written columns on Newsmax asking readers to donate to the Republican National Lawyers Association to “stop Franken from stealing the election”; that organization is raising money to assist in Coleman’s election lawsuit (see January 7, 2009). Conason writes that the Canvassing Board, the bipartisan entity that decided the race in Franken’s favor, was “impeccably nonpartisan,” and continues, “Nobody in their right mind in Minnesota believes that the board was biased.” He cites conservative blogger Scott Johnson as saying: “There was no noticeable partisan division among the board. Minnesotans are justifiably proud of the transparency and fairness of their work.” Conason concludes: “In essence, [the right-wing pundits] have accused my friend Franken of a felony under Minnesota law. If they know of any evidence that would show he has stolen votes or violated any election statute, let them report it to the state law enforcement authorities. And if they don’t, perhaps they will at last have the decency to shut up.” [Salon, 1/9/2009]
Newsweek publishes a range of responses to its article about Justice Department whistleblower Thomas Tamm (see December 22, 2008), who alerted the New York Times to the Bush administration’s illegal domestic wiretapping program “Stellar Wind” (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). Most are extremely supportive of Tamm; Newsweek writes, “Nearly all labeled Tamm a hero.” One reader wonders why “few in the Justice Department were as troubled as Tamm about the illegality of the secret domestic wiretapping program or had the courage of his convictions.” Another notes, “Whistle-blowers like him are heroes because they are protecting ‘We the people.’” A Milwaukee reader, Harvey Jay Goldstein, suggests that President-elect Obama honor Tamm’s courage and service by “issuing him a pardon” and then “seek indictments against those involved in authorizing and carrying out the illegal program, including President Bush and Vice President Cheney.” The reader is “appalled” that Tamm “is being harassed and persecuted by the FBI (see August 1, 2007) for his part in disclosing the coverup of a program that originated in the Oval Office.” He calls Tamm “a national hero who had the guts to do what he thought was right and wasn’t intimidated by the power of the presidency.” Goldstein accuses Bush and Cheney of “undermining and circumventing the protections of the First and Fourth amendments [in what] are perhaps the most egregious attempts to consolidate absolute power within the executive branch since the dark days of Richard Nixon.” Illinois reader Leonard Kliff, a World War II veteran, writes: “It is disgusting that this man is on the run when he should be receiving a medal for his actions. I am sure the majority of Americans fully support him.” The Reverend Joseph Clark of Maryland calls Tamm “a common man doing his job—upholding the Constitution of the United States and the rule of law.… Thank God for people like Thomas Tamm who spoke when no one else was finding a voice.… This nation is made up of people like Tamm, and that is our strength.” And a former schoolmate of Tamm’s, Peter Craig, writes: “No one who attended Landon School in Bethesda, Md., in the late 1960s, as I did, will be at all surprised to learn that Tom Tamm ended up risking it all to do the right thing. In his senior year, for instance, Tom, then the president of the student council, decided to turn himself in to the rest of the council for some minor infraction unknown to anyone else (and ultimately warranting no punishment). It showed the same character and a burgeoning morality that years later would compel him to do what he did.” Only one published letter, from Bob Spickelmier, expresses the view that Tamm should go to jail for his actions. [Newsweek, 1/10/2009]
Al Franken (D-MN), declared the winner of the disputed US Senate race in Minnesota (see January 5, 2009), asks the Minnesota Supreme Court to order Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) to issue a signed certificate to allow him to take his seat in the Senate. Both Pawlenty and Ritchie have refused requests from Franken to issue the certificate, saying that Minnesota law requires them to wait until a lawsuit by Franken’s opponent Norm Coleman (R-MN) is resolved (see January 7, 2009). Franken’s petition to the Minnesota high court contends that one part of Minnesota law requiring the issuance of a certificate holds sway over the portion of law Pawlenty and Ritchie have cited. Part of Franken’s argument cites a court precedence saying that the US Senate, and not an individual state, must choose whether to seat an elected official. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/12/2009; Minnesota Independent, 1/13/2009] The Coleman campaign issues the following statement regarding Franken’s request: “Al Franken knows he can’t win this election contest based on the major inconsistencies and discrepancies that were part of the recount, and his attempted power play today is evidence of that. He can’t and won’t be seated in a seat he didn’t win, so he is trying this underhanded attempt to blatantly ignore the will of Minnesotans and the laws of the state. The totals certified by the state Canvassing Board include double-counted votes, inconsistencies regarding rejected absentee ballots, and inconsistent handling of newly discovered and missing ballots. These are serious issues that both the canvassing board and the Minnesota Supreme Court directed be handled in an election contest, and that will go forward as required.” Coleman’s lead recount attorney, Fritz Knaak, adds to the heat generated by the Coleman campaign by calling the request an “incredible and rather astonishing” power play, “an unprecedented and futile charade,” an “arrogant move,” and “an insult to the process.” He continues: “Al Franken is not the winner. There is no winner, and there won’t be a winner until the process stipulated in Minnesota election law has been completed.” When the process is complete, Knaak says, “Norm Coleman will be back on top and back to the United States Senate. No one, not Al Franken, not [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid, not the national Democrats can declare a winner in Minnesota before there’s an actual legal winner.… Today’s move by Al Franken signals his desperation.… Our voters and our laws matter too much to let politics try to influence the outcome of this election.” The Minnesota high court will refuse to issue the order. [MinnPost, 1/12/2009; Minnesota Independent, 1/13/2009]
Darrel Vandeveld, in a photo from 2001. [Source: Go Erie (.com)]Former military prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld agrees with the American Civil Liberties Union’s position that Guantanamo detainee Mohammed Jawad should be released. Vandeveld was the lead prosecutor on the military commission trying Jawad, who has been held for over six years. Vanderveld says in a declaration that there is “no credible evidence or legal basis” to justify Jawad’s detention or prosecution. “There is, however, reliable evidence that he was badly mistreated by US authorities both in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo,” says the declaration, which Vandeveld files in a Washington court in support of the ACLU’s habeas corpus petition. Jawad, who was captured in Afghanistan in 2002 at age 16, was accused of throwing a hand grenade at two US soldiers and their interpreter. Jawad and fellow detainee Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen, are the last two detainees to face charges based on acts they allegedly committed while they were juveniles. The ACLU maintains that Jawad was tortured to force him to confess. Vandeveld resigned from the military commissions in September 2008, saying he could not ethically proceed with Jawad’s case. In his declaration, Vandeveld says the “chaotic state of evidence” in the military commissions “make it impossible for anyone to harbor the remotest hope that justice is an achievable goal” (see January 20, 2009). [Agence France-Presse, 1/13/2009]
Former military prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld, who resigned his post in protest over the unwarranted prosecution of detainee Mohammed Jawad (see January 18, 2009), joins the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)‘s lawsuit on behalf of Jawad. The ACLU is demanding that Jawad be granted the right of habeas corpus and, ultimately, his release. Jawad has been held without trial for over six years, and, according to Vandeveld and the ACLU, no credible evidence of his probable guilt exists. Evidence does exist that Jawad was tortured while in US custody. In a brief filed with the court, Vandeveld writes, “[T]here is no credible evidence or legal basis to justify Mr. Jawad’s detention in US custody or his prosecution by military commission.” There is, however, “reliable evidence that [Jawad] was badly mistreated by US authorities both in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo.” Jawad was originally charged with throwing a hand grenade at US soldiers. Vandeveld writes that the evidence indicates Jawad, who was 16 when he was captured, never participated in any such attack, and was lured into joining an Afghan insurgent group by the promise of a well-paying job, and was drugged and lied to by the insurgents. What evidence does exist against Jawad is mostly exculpatory, Vandeveld writes, and all the evidence is scattered haphazardly throughout the Guantanamo facility. Some was found in a locker, and other documents have been lost. Thus, the US’s case against Jawad is unacceptably weak, Vandeveld contends. [Charlotte Examiner, 1/13/2009]
Jawad 'No Threat' - In defending Jawad, Vandeveld writes: “Had I returned to Afghanistan or Iraq, and had I encountered Mohammed Jawad in either of those hostile lands, where two of my friends have been killed in action and one of my very best friends in the world had been terribly wounded, I have no doubt at all—none—that Mr. Jawad would pose no threat whatsoever to me, his former prosecutor and now-repentant persecuter. Six years is long enough for a boy of 16 to serve in virtual solitary confinement, in a distant land, for reasons he may never fully understand.” [Salon, 1/21/2009]
Torture 'Miserably Common for Detainees in US Custody' - Salon’s Glenn Greenwald will write in support of Jawad and Vandeveld: “Jawad was never waterboarded, but no civilized human being would deny that the cumulative effect of his treatment at the hands of our country is torture in every sense of the word. And there’s nothing unique about his treatment. It wasn’t aberrational. Rather, it has been miserably common for detainees in US custody—not only at Guantanamo, but also in Bagram and throughout Iraq.” [Salon, 1/21/2009]
Pentagon press spokesman Geoff Morrell tells journalists that the Defense Department has new numbers documenting the “recidivism” of former Guantanamo detainees now engaged in terror activities. “The new numbers are, we believe, 18 confirmed and 43 suspected of returning to the fight,” Morrell says. “So 61 in all former Guantanamo detainees are confirmed or suspected of returning to the fight.” [US Department of Defense, 1/13/2009]
No Details on Numbers - The Pentagon figure would represent around 11 percent of the roughly 520 detainees released from the facility. National security expert Peter Bergen notes that the recidivism rate for prisoners in the US civilian judicial system is about 65 percent. Morrell defends the report, but refuses to say exactly where the information comes from. Instead, he says: “We don’t make these figures up. They’re not done willy-nilly.” Other Pentagon officials say they will not discuss how the figures were derived because of national security concerns. Morrell says the figures come from the Defense Intelligence Agency, “and they go over this with great care.” [CNN, 1/22/2009]
Law Professor: Pentagon Figures 'Egregiously' Wrong - In an exhaustive study of the Pentagon’s records of detainees, Seton Hall University law professor Mark Denbeaux disputes the Pentagon claim, calling it “egregiously” wrong (see January 16, 2009). “Once again, they’ve failed to identify names, numbers, dates, times, places, or acts upon which their report relies,” Denbeaux writes. “Every time they have been required to identify the parties, the DOD [Defense Department] has been forced to retract their false IDs and their numbers. They have included people who have never even set foot in Guantanamo—much less were they released from there. They have counted people as ‘returning to the fight’ for their having written an op-ed piece in the New York Times and for their having appeared in a documentary exhibited at the Cannes Film Festival. The DOD has revised and retracted their internally conflicting definitions, criteria, and their numbers so often that they have ceased to have any meaning—except as an effort to sway public opinion by painting a false portrait of the supposed dangers of these men. Forty-three times they have given numbers—which conflict with each other—all of which are seriously undercut by the DOD statement that ‘they do not track’ former detainees. Rather than making up numbers ‘willy-nilly’ about post release conduct, America might be better served if our government actually kept track of them.” [Seton Hall University, 1/15/2009] It is difficult to know exactly how many former Guantanamo detainees have returned to fighting, Denbeaux’s study finds, because of the incredibly poor record-keeping kept on detainees by the Pentagon (see January 20, 2009 ). Some of the detainees identified as recidivists never appeared on the detainee rolls. Some detainees were misidentified by the Pentagon, or identified as more than one person—and subsequently counted as more than one recidivist. Some have been dead for years, or are in the custody of other nations’ judicial systems. The Pentagon counts the so-called “Tipton Three” (see November 28, 2001) as “returning to the fight,” even though their only “terrorist activity” has been their participation in a documentary about unjust imprisonment in Guantanamo. The Pentagon also lists the recently released Uighurs, Chinese Muslims who were found to have no ties whatsoever to Islamic terrorism. One of the released Uighurs wrote a 2006 op-ed column for the New York Times protesting his imprisonment (see September 17, 2006), the extent of his documented “terrorist” actions. [New American, 1/27/2009]
Defense Secretary Downplays Report's Significance - Terrorism analyst Peter Bergen notes that many of the Guantanamo detainees were never terrorists at all, but were singled out as terrorists by Afghani villagers who told US authorities that they were members of al-Qaeda, either for personal revenge or for bounty money. Quoting former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Bergen says, “We know that a lot of people who were in Guantanamo don’t qualify as being the ‘worst of the worst.’” Bergen says that many of the “suspected” terrorists have done nothing more than publicly make anti-American statements, “something that’s not surprising if you’ve been locked up in a US prison camp for several years.” Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the only holdover from the Bush administration currently serving in President Obama’s cabinet and an advocate for closing the Guantanamo facility, downplays the number of detainees supposedly engaged in terrorism. “It’s not as big a number if you’re talking about 700 or a thousand or however many have been through Guantanamo,” he says. [CNN, 1/22/2009]
Susan Crawford. [Source: Susan Crawford / Washington Post]The senior Bush administration official in charge of bringing Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial rules that the US military tortured a detainee, and therefore the US cannot try him. Susan Crawford, the convening authority of military commissions, says that the US tortured Mohamed al-Khatani, a Saudi national accused of planning to participate in the September 11 attacks (see August 4, 2001). Crawford says al-Khatani was interrogated with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, and which cumulatively left him in a “life-threatening condition.” Crawford says: “We tortured [al-]Khatani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution. Crawford is a retired judge who served as the Army’s general counsel during the Reagan administration and the Pentagon’s inspector general during the first Bush administration. She is the first senior official of the current Bush administration to publicly state that a detainee was tortured while in US custody.
Cumulative Effect Equals Torture - None of the individual techniques used against al-Khatani were torturous in and of themselves, Crawford says, but the cumulative effect—particularly their duration and the deleterious effect on al-Khatani’s health—combined to constitute torture. “The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent,” she says. “You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge” to call it torture. Al-Khatani has been in US custody since December 2001 (see December 2001), and was interrogated from November 2002 through January 2003 (reports of the exact dates vary—see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003 and October 11, 2002). He was held in isolation until April 2003. “For 160 days his only contact was with the interrogators,” Crawford says. “Forty-eight of 54 consecutive days of 18-to-20-hour interrogations. Standing naked in front of a female agent. Subject to strip searches. And insults to his mother and sister.” He was threatened with a military dog named Zeus. He “was forced to wear a woman’s bra and had a thong placed on his head during the course of his interrogation,” Crawford says, and “was told that his mother and sister were whores.” With a leash tied to his chains, he was led around the room “and forced to perform a series of dog tricks,” according to reports from his interrogations. He was twice hospitalized with bradycardia, a potentially lethal condition where the heartbeat drops to abnormally low levels.
Ruling Halts Future Prosecution against al-Khatani - Crawford dismissed war crimes charges against al-Khatani in May 2008 (see May 13, 2008). In November, military prosecutors said they would refile charges against al-Khatani, based on subsequent interrogations that did not employ harsh techniques (see November 18, 2008). But Crawford says that she would not let any such prosecutions go forward. However, Crawford is not unaware of the potential danger posed by letting him go free. “There’s no doubt in my mind he would’ve been on one of those planes had he gained access to the country in August 2001,” Crawford says. “He’s a muscle hijacker.… He’s a very dangerous man. What do you do with him now if you don’t charge him and try him? I would be hesitant to say, ‘Let him go.’” Al-Khatani’s civilian lawyer, Gitanjali Gutierrez, says, “There is no doubt he was tortured.” Gutierrez says: “He has loss of concentration and memory loss, and he suffers from paranoia.… He wants just to get back to Saudi Arabia, get married and have a family.” Al-Khatani “adamantly denies he planned to join the 9/11 attack,” she adds. “He has no connections to extremists.” Gutierrez says she thinks Saudi Arabia has an effective rehabilitation program and Khatani ought to be returned there. [Washington Post, 1/14/2009; New York Times, 1/14/2009] His lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights describe him as a broken, suicidal man who can never be prosecuted because of his treatment at the hands of his captors. [New York Times, 1/14/2009]
Sympathetic but Unbending - Crawford, a lifelong Republican, says she sympathizes with the situation faced by the Bush administration and the CIA after the 9/11 attacks. “I sympathize with the intelligence gatherers in those days after 9/11, not knowing what was coming next and trying to gain information to keep us safe,” she acknowledges. “But there still has to be a line that we should not cross. And unfortunately what this has done, I think, has tainted everything going forward.” Noting that the 2006 Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case (see June 30, 2006) disallowed torture but allowed for “coercive interrogation techniques,” Crawford says even those techniques should not be allowed: “You don’t allow it in a regular court.” Crawford says she is not yet sure if any of the other five detainees accused of participating in the 9/11 plot, including their leader, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were tortured, but she believes they may have been. “I assume torture,” she says, and notes that CIA Director Michael Hayden has publicly confirmed that Mohammed was one of three detainees subjected to waterboarding, a technique classified by law as torture. Crawford has not blocked prosecution of the other five detainees. Ultimately, she says, the responsibility for the farrago of illegal detentions and torture rests with President Bush. He was right to create a system to try suspected terrorists, she says, but the implementation was fatally flawed. “I think he hurt his own effort.… I think someone should acknowledge that mistakes were made and that they hurt the effort and take responsibility for it.… We learn as children it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is for permission. I think the buck stops in the Oval Office.” [Washington Post, 1/14/2009]
Rules Change - Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says that the Hamdan case changed the rules, and thus retroactively classified al-Khatani’s treatment as torture. “The [Defense] Department has always taken allegations of abuse seriously,” he says. “We have conducted more than a dozen investigations and reviews of our detention operations, including specifically the interrogation of Mohamed al-Khatani, the alleged 20th hijacker. They concluded the interrogation methods used at [Guantanamo], including the special techniques used on Khatani in 2002, were lawful. However, subsequent to those reviews, the Department adopted new and more restrictive policies and procedures for interrogation and detention operations. Some of the aggressive questioning techniques used on al-Khatani, although permissible at the time, are no longer allowed in the updated Army field manual.” [Washington Post, 1/14/2009]
Prosecutors Unprepared - When Crawford came to Guantanamo as convening authority in 2007, she says “the prosecution was unprepared” to bring cases to trial. Even after four years of working possible cases, “they were lacking in experience and judgment and leadership.” She continues: “A prosecutor has an ethical obligation to review all the evidence before making a charging decision. And they didn’t have access to all the evidence, including medical records, interrogation logs, and they were making charging decisions without looking at everything.” It took over a year, and the intervention of Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, for prosecutors to turn over possibly exculpatory evidence to defense lawyers, even though the law requires that such evidence be turned over immediately. The entire system at Guantanamo is a blot on the reputation of the US and its military judicial system, she says: “There’s an assumption out there that everybody was tortured. And everybody wasn’t tortured. But unfortunately perception is reality.” The system she oversees cannot function now, she believes. “Certainly in the public’s mind, or politically speaking, and certainly in the international community” it may be forever tainted. “It may be too late.” [Washington Post, 1/14/2009]
Entity Tags: Susan Crawford, Gordon England, Gitanjali Gutierrez, George W. Bush, Geoff Morrell, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Bush administration (43), Center for Constitutional Rights, Mohamed al-Khatani, US Department of Defense, Michael Hayden
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Sparked by the official confirmation that Guantanamo detainee Mohamed al-Khatani was tortured (see January 14, 2009), Amnesty International calls for the incoming Obama administration and Congress to launch an independent commission of inquiry into human rights violations in the “war on terror.” In a press release, Amnesty International writes: “Torture is a crime under international law. The USA is obliged as a party to the UN Convention against Torture (see October 21, 1994) to investigate ‘wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction.’ The same treaty requires it to submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution. The treaty, and international law more generally, precludes the invocation of exceptional circumstances or superior orders as justification for torture. Anyone who has authorized, committed, is complicit, or participated in torture must be brought to justice, no matter their level of office or former level of office. Yet the public acknowledgement that the USA has tortured al-Khatani was not accompanied by any news of efforts to bring those responsible to justice.” Such a government commission “must not be used to block or delay the prosecution of any individual against whom there is already sufficient evidence of wrongdoing. A criminal investigation into the torture of Mohamed al-Khatani is already long overdue.” The incoming president, Barack Obama, has already acknowledged that waterboarding, one of the “harsh interrogation techniques” used against Guantanamo detainees, is torture. “Next week, then, the USA will have a president who considers that torture has been committed by the USA,” Amnesty writes. “He will be under an obligation to ensure full individual and institutional accountability. There must be no safe havens for torturers.” As for al-Khatani, Amnesty believes the US should either release him or try him “in accordance with international fair trial standards in an independent and impartial court—not a military commission. No information obtained under torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment should be admitted in any proceedings, except against the perpetrators of any such treatment as evidence that it occurred.” [Amnesty International, 1/14/2009]
Michael Hayden, in the last days of his position as CIA director, defends the agency’s use of secret prisons and extreme interrogation methods on suspected terrorists. Hayden claims the techniques and practices helped prevent new terrorist attacks, though he refuses to provide evidence of this claim, and says that they were done “out of duty, not out of enthusiasm.” Hayden says the CIA detainee program should not be subject to a public investigation, because the program was made legal by secret Justice Department memos (see January 28, 2009) and some members of Congress were informed of the program’s existence. In addition, a public investigation could possibly damage the careers of CIA officers and the agency’s espionage operations. “We are asked to do things routinely that no one else is asked to do, that no one else is allowed to do,” Hayden says. “You can’t do this to these people.” Asked if he was concerned that Attorney General-designee Eric Holder unequivocally termed waterboarding as torture, Hayden responds, “It’s an uninteresting question to the Central Intelligence Agency.” He continues: “We don’t do that. We haven’t done it since March 2003, and we don’t intend to do it. What the agency has done in the past, what it is doing now, what it will do in the future is based on the best legal counsel it has at the time.” Hayden says he was “heartened” by President Obama’s recent remarks that the nation must “move beyond” the Bush years. [McClatchy News, 1/15/2009]
Steven Bradbury, the outgoing head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a legal opinion finding certain earlier opinions from the OLC invalid. Bradbury is referring to several memos issued by former OLC lawyers John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and others after the 9/11 attacks (see March 2, 2009).
'Doubtful Nature' - Bradbury writes that these opinions had not been relied upon since 2003, and notes that it is important to acknowledge in writing “the doubtful nature of these propositions.” The opinions “do not currently reflect, and have not for some years reflected, the views of the” OLC, Bradbury writes, “and on several occasions we have already acknowledged the doubtful nature of these propositions.”
President's Position - One portion of Bradbury’s memo says it is “not sustainable” to argue that the president’s power as commander in chief “precludes Congress from enacting any legislation concerning the detention, interrogation, prosecution, and transfer of enemy combatants.” Bradbury is referring to a 2002 memo that claimed President Bush could order the “rendition” of detainees to other countries without regard to Congressional legislation (see March 13, 2002).
'Novel and Complex Questions' - In repudiating the memos, Bradbury writes that they were the product of Yoo and others confronting what he calls “novel and complex questions in a time of great danger and under extraordinary time pressure.” [US Department of Justice, 1/15/2009 ; New York Times, 3/2/2009; Reuters, 3/2/2009]
Response - Yale law professor Jack Balkin later notes that the memo does not repudiate “any of the Bush administration’s specific policies regarding surveillance, detention, and interrogation.” [Jack Balkin, 3/3/2009] In 2004, the Justice Department repudiated the so-called “golden shield” memo, written by Yoo and the then-chief counsel for Vice President Cheney, David Addington, which gave US personnel almost unlimited authority to torture prisoners (see August 1, 2002). The New York Times writes that Bradbury’s last-minute memo “appears to have been the Bush lawyers’ last effort to reconcile their views with the wide rejection by legal scholars and some Supreme Court opinions of the sweeping assertions of presidential authority made earlier by the Justice Department.” Walter Dellinger, who headed the OLC during the Clinton administration, says that Bradbury’s memo “disclaiming the opinions of earlier Bush lawyers sets out in blunt detail how irresponsible those earlier opinions were.” Dellinger says it is important to note that the Bush administration’s assertions “that Congress had absolutely no role in these national security issues was contrary to constitutional text, historical practice, and judicial precedent.” [New York Times, 3/2/2009] Bradbury, who like Yoo and Bybee may face disbarment, is careful to note that while the legal opinions are invalid, he is not suggesting that the authors did not “satisfy” professional standards. [Washington Post, 3/3/2009]
Mark Denbeaux. [Source: Seton Hall University]Mark Denbeaux, the director of the Seton Hall Law School Center for Policy and Research, and the lawyer for two detainees at Guantanamo, describes how his research disproved the Pentagon’s recent claim that 61 former detainees have returned to terrorist activities (see January 13-14, 2009). Denbeaux, interviewed by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, says that his analysis of the information released by the government shows that the claim has changed over and over again, and has never been supported by evidence. “Our model is simply to look at what the government’s reports show and analyze them,” he says. “The government has given its 43rd attempt to describe the number of people who have left Guantanamo and returned to the battlefield. Forty-one times they have done it orally as they have this last time. And their numbers have changed from 20 to 12 to seven to more than five to two to a couple to a few—25, 29, 12 to 24. Every time, the number has been different. In fact, every time they give a number, they don’t identify a date, a place, a time, a name, or an incident to support their claim.” In June 2007, Denbeaux says, the Pentagon identified 15 detainees as having “returned to the battlefield.” Denbeaux analyzed the information about the 15 so-called “recidivist terrorists.” Three of the 15, the so-called “Tipton Three” (see November 28, 2001), were considered as having “returned to the battlefield” because of their appearance in a documentary, The Road to Guantanamo. Five others are Chinese Uighurs who were listed as having “returned to terrorism” because one of their number wrote an editorial criticizing Guantanamo detention policies (see September 17, 2006). Two others were never at Guantanamo. Two were Russians who were arrested in Russia but never prosecuted. Two were arrested in their home country of Morocco, and the last was arrested in his home country of Turkey. So of the 15 so-called “recidivists,” a maximum of three could even be considered as possibly “returning to the battlefield.” Denbeaux says that the current listing of 61 so-called “recidivists” includes the 15 on the 2007 list, and the remaining 46 names have similar issues with documenting actual acts of terrorism. [MSNBC, 1/16/2009]
The lawsuit filed by former Senator Norm Coleman to block Senator-elect Al Franken (D-MN) from taking his seat in the US Senate (see January 7, 2009) is scheduled to begin on January 26. A three-judge panel will consider Coleman’s case and whether to reverse the findings of the state Canvassing Board, which declared Franken the winner (see January 5, 2009). [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 1/16/2009]
Neal Katyal. [Source: PBS]Georgetown law professor Neal Katyal is to be named the Justice Department’s deputy solicitor general. Katyal successfully argued for the defense in the landmark Hamdan v. Rumsfeld trial before the Supreme Court (see June 30, 2006). Legal Times reporter Joe Palazzolo writes, “Katyal’s appointment is another strong signal of President-elect Barack Obama’s intentions to depart sharply from the terrorist detention and interrogation policies of the Bush administration.” The Hamdan case, “which marked Katyal’s first appearance before the high court, was a stinging rebuke to [President Bush’s] broad assertion of wartime power.” Katyal’s boss, Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan, was named earlier in the month. Katyal was incoming Attorney General Eric Holder’s national security adviser in the Justice Department from 1998 to 1999, when Holder was deputy attorney general for the Clinton administration. Katyal also served as one of the co-counsels for Vice President Gore in the Supreme Court election dispute of December 2000. He once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. [Legal Times, 1/17/2009]
Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld (see January 13, 2009), a former Army prosecutor at Guantanamo who resigned his position in September 2008 (see September 2008), publishes a column in the Washington Post explaining his decision. After a lengthy recounting of his experiences at Guantanamo, he concludes: “I am ashamed that it took me so long to recognize the stain of Guantanamo, not simply on America’s standing in the world, but as part, now, of a history we cannot undo. We have kept human beings in solitary confinement for as long as seven years, even though they have never been charged with any crime. In other places, we have beaten hooded, shackled prisoners, at least two of whom died as a result. There is a way out of Guantanamo. It is not as difficult as some apologists have made it seem. Many of the detainees have not committed war crimes and the handful of real terrorists and war criminals can be tried in federal court.… For the detainees who have not committed any crime, we must begin an immediate and intensive program of rehabilitation that will allow them to reintegrate into the societies from which they were removed on the flimsiest of legal bases.… No one who has fought for our country and its values has done so to enable what happened in Guantanamo. We did not sacrifice so that an administration of partisan civilians, abetted by military officers who seemed to have lost their moral compass, could defile our Constitution and misuse the rule of law. For a few dark years, it was ‘legal’ to mistreat fellow human beings. Now, some of that treatment has been called ‘torture’ by Susan Crawford, the convening authority of military commissions (see January 14, 2009). I just hope no one will see that kind of abuse—and look the other way—again.” [Washington Post, 1/18/2009]
Robert Fuller, an FBI agent who interrogated Canadian terror suspect Omar Khadr at Bagram Air Base in 2002 (see October 7-22, 2002), testifies about the interrogation at a Guantanamo hearing. The hearing was requested by Khadr’s defence team, to have self-incriminating statements Khadr made during interrogations suppressed ahead of proceedings before a military commission. Fuller says that, during the interrogation, Khadr told him he recognised a man named Maher Arar from a safe house run by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and also possibly from a terror training camp. “He identified him by name,” Fuller says. [CBC News, 1/20/2009; Canwest News Service, 1/20/2009] However, cross-examination by the defense the next day will raise several issues that cast doubt on the identification (see January 20, 2009).
Former US attorney David Iglesias, who was fired in 2006 for refusing to prosecute politically motivated cases for the Bush administration Justice Department, is to help prosecute cases involving Guantanamo detainees. Iglesias is an officer in the Naval Reserve Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, and, as he tells a New Mexico news station, he has been reactivated to join a special prosecution team for the detainees. “One hundred percent of what I’m doing is prosecuting terrorist cases out of Guantanamo,” he says. “It’s the most significant set of orders I’ve had in my 24 years of Navy service. The level of detail that I’m looking into some of these terrorist groups, it just takes my breath away.” He adds, “We want to make sure that those terrorists that did commit acts will be brought to justice—and those that did not will be released.” [KRQE-TV, 1/20/2009; TPM Muckraker, 1/21/2009]
As one of his first official acts as president, Barack Obama orders that all military prosecutions of terrorist suspects at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility be suspended for 120 days. The order comes during the inaugural ceremonies, and is issued by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the only Cabinet holdover from the Bush administration. “In the interests of justice, and at the direction of the president of the United States and the secretary of defense, the government respectfully requests the military commission grant a continuance of the proceedings in the above-captioned case until 20 May 2009,” the request reads. [CNN, 1/21/2009; Agence France-Presse, 1/21/2009] Obama promised repeatedly during and after the presidential campaign that he would close the detention facility at the Guantanamo Naval Base. This request does not go that far, but it does bring to a halt the planned prosecution of 21 detainees currently facing war crimes charges, including 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Jamil Dakwar, a representative for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) at the base, calls the request “a good step in the right direction.” Gabor Rona, an observer for Human Rights Watch, also calls the order “a first step.” Rona continues, “The very fact that it’s one of his first acts reflects a sense of urgency that the US cannot afford one more day of counterproductive and illegal proceedings in the fight against terrorism.” Dakwar says the ACLU believes all charges against the prisoners should be dropped. “A shutdown of this discredited system is warranted,” he says. “The president’s order leaves open the option of this discredited system remaining in existence.” Major Jon Jackson, the lawyer for one of the 9/11 defendants, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (see Early-Late June, 2001 and September 24, 2001-December 26, 2002), says, “We welcome our new commander in chief and this first step towards restoring the rule of law.” Approximately 245 detainees are currently housed at the camp; some 60 detainees have been cleared for release, but no country has agreed to take them. [CNN, 1/21/2009; Washington Post, 1/21/2009] Michele Cercone, spokesman for the European Union Justice and Home Affairs Commission, says the commission “has been very pleased that one of the first actions of Mr. Obama has been to turn the page on this sad episode of Guantanamo.” The request is accepted the day after (see January 21, 2009), and the Los Angeles Times writes that it “may be the beginning of the end for the Bush administration’s system of trying alleged terrorists.” [Associated Press, 1/21/2009]
Entity Tags: Jon Jackson, European Union Justice and Home Affairs Commission, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, American Civil Liberties Union, Gabor Rona, Jamil Dakwar, Los Angeles Times, Robert M. Gates, Michele Cercone, Human Rights Watch, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
Constitutional lawyer and author Bruce Fein, a former official in the Justice Department under Ronald Reagan, writes that if President Obama wants to “restore the rule of law and to prevent future wrongdoing by high-level government officials,” he “should investigate, among others, former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former White House counsel and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and former White House political adviser Karl Rove. The crimes to be investigated should include complicity in torture, illegal surveillance, illegal detention, perjury, obstruction of justice, and contempt of Congress. Prosecutions should follow if the evidence convinces a grand jury to indict.” Fein states that “[t]he best way to deter government criminality and to teach citizens the rule of law is to punish the perpetrators who are unanimously found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by independent and impartial jurors.”
FBI, CIA Feared Prosecution for Torture - He notes that the FBI refused to participate in “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding, for fear of being charged with war crimes. And the CIA required specific legal opinions from the Bush Justice Department—the so-called “golden shield” (see August 1, 2002)—and specific presidential authorization before it would allow its agents to torture detainees. And the White House ordered an end to waterboarding after it was warned that such tactics left its officials open to charges of torture and war crimes.
Attorney General Feared Prosecution under FISA - He goes on to note that Justice Department officials such as acting Attorney General James Comey “balked at approving… Bush’s warrantless surveillance program without modification in March 2004 probably because he feared criminal prosecution under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act” (see 1978).
'Unpunished Lawlessness by Government Officials Invites Lawlessness Generally' - Fein asserts that “unpunished lawlessness by government officials invites lawlessness generally.” He quotes former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “Decency, security, and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.” The best way to deter criminal behavior, he says, is to prosecute alleged criminals, and that process must start with government officials. [Washington Times, 1/20/2009]
Marty Lederman. [Source: Georgetown Law School]Georgetown law professor Marty Lederman, familiar to legal scholars and progressive bloggers for his work on the legal blog “Balkinization,” joins the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) as assistant attorney general. Lederman has been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s policies on warrantless wiretapping and torture. Lederman’s boss, OLC chief Dawn Johnsen, has been a frequent “guest blogger” on Balkinization, as well as a contributor to Slate’s legal blog “Convictions.” Lederman’s colleague Jack Balkin writes: “Needless to say, I am very pleased for the country by Marty’s new job. I do not exaggerate when I say that Marty is one of the finest lawyers I know, and there is perhaps no better time to put his remarkable talents to use in helping to reform a Justice Department that so badly needs reform.” Lederman is taking the position formerly held by lawyer John Yoo during the first few years of the Bush administration. [Think Progress, 1/20/2009; Balkinization, 1/20/2009]
Officials for the incoming Obama administration are dismayed to find that the task of closing Guantanamo Bay, one of President Obama’s first orders as president (see January 22, 2009), is going to be much harder than anticipated, because the records and details of the approximately 245 prisoners in custody are in terrific disarray. Obama officials, barred from examining classified records on the detainees until the inauguration, also find that many of the prisoners have no comprehensive case files at all. What information that does exist on the detainees is, according to a senior Obama official, “scattered throughout the executive branch.” Most detainees have little more than a dossier containing brief summaries of information, and lack any sort of background or investigative information that would be required for federal prosecutions. Obama named a Cabinet-level panel to review each case individually before the base is to be closed in a year, and those panel members will now have to spend weeks and perhaps months hunting down and correlating relevant material.
'Food Fights' among Bush Agencies - Officials from the former Bush administration admit that the files are incomplete, and that no single government office was tasked with keeping the information on Guantanamo detainees together. They blame the CIA and other intelligence agencies for not adequately sharing information, and add that the Bush administration’s focus was more on detention and interrogation, and much less on putting together information for future prosecutions. A former Pentagon official says that “regular food fights” between competing government agencies over the sharing of information contributed to the lack of coherent and consistent files. (A CIA official denies that the agency ever balked at sharing information with other governmental agencies, and says the Defense Department was more likely to be responsible for laspes in information.)
Former Bush Officials Say Obama Officials 'Look[ing] for Excuses' - However, other former Bush officials say the Obama team is trying to “look for excuses” instead of dealing with the complexities of the issues involved. Obama officials, after promising quick solutions, are now “backpedaling and trying to buy time” by blaming its predecessor, according to a former senior Bush official. He says that “all but about 60… are either high-level al-Qaeda people responsible for 9/11 or bombings, or were high-level Taliban or al-Qaeda facilitators or money people,” and the Obama administration will come to the same conclusion as Bush officials: that they need to stay in detention without trial or charges.
Files 'Not Comprehensive,' Problem Noted in Previous Judicial Proceedings - But Obama officials say they want to make their own judgments. A senior Obama official says: “The consensus among almost everyone is that the current system is not in our national interest and not sustainable. [But] it’s clear that we can’t clear up this issue overnight” in part because the files “are not comprehensive.” Justice Department lawyers claim that after the Supreme Court ruled detainees have habeas corpus rights (see June 30, 2006), Bush officials were “overwhelmed” by the sudden need to gather and correlate information and material. In one federal filing, the Justice Department told a court that the record for a particular detainee “is not simply a collection of papers sitting in a box at the Defense Department. It is a massive undertaking just to produce the record in this one case.” In another filing, Justice Department officials told a court that “defending these cases requires an intense, inter-agency coordination of efforts. None of the relevant agencies, however, was prepared to handle this volume of habeas cases on an expedited basis.” Some former military officials say that evidence gathered for military commissions trials was scattered and incomplete. One former Guantanamo prosecutor, Darrel Vandeveld, says evidence was “strewn throughout the prosecution offices in desk drawers, bookcases packed with vaguely-labeled plastic containers, or even simply piled on the tops of desks.” He says he once accidentally found “crucial physical evidence” that “had been tossed in a locker located at Guantanamo and promptly forgotten.” [Washington Post, 1/25/2009] Vandeveld says that evidence at Guantanamo was often so disorganized “it was like a stash of documents found in a village in a raid and just put on a plane to the US.” [United Press International, 1/14/2009]
Prosecutors Lacked Evidence Necessary for Prosecutions, Says Senior Official - “A prosecutor has an ethical obligation to review all the evidence before making a charging decision,” says Susan Crawford, the convening authority for the military commissions. “And they didn’t have access to all the evidence, including medical records, interrogation logs, and they were making charging decisions without looking at everything.” Crawford has stated that another detainee was tortured while at Guantanamo (see January 14, 2009). [ABA Journal, 1/14/2009]
Defense Department: Information There, but Scattered - Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says the files are in good order: “Fundamentally, we believe that the individual files on each detainee are comprehensive and sufficiently organized,” however, “in many cases, there will be thousands of pages of documents… which makes a comprehensive assessment a time-consuming endeavor.… Not all the documents are physically located in one place,” but most are available through a database. “The main point here is that there are lots of records, and we are prepared to make them available to anybody who needs to see them as part of this review.” [Washington Post, 1/25/2009]
Under cross-examination at a pre-military commission hearing, FBI agent Robert Fuller provides a version of an interrogation of detainee Omar Khadr different to the one he gave a day earlier under direct examination (see January 19, 2009). Fuller had previously described an interrogation of Khadr at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan where Khadr linked a terror suspect named Maher Arar to al-Qaeda (see October 7-22, 2002) through a photograph identification. However, a lawyer for Khadr pulls out Fuller’s contemporary report of the interrogation and shows that the identification did not happen immediately, as Fuller initially claimed, but that it took several minutes. Lawyers for Khadr will also argue that their client made false statements to interrogators to avoid abuse, and that Arar was in the US and Canada at the time Khadr said he saw him in Afghanistan. [CBC News, 1/20/2009; Canwest News Service, 1/20/2009]
The Swiss government says it will consider allowing Guantanamo detainees to be repatriated to Switzerland if it will help shut down that detention facility. In a statement, the Swiss government says: “For Switzerland, the detention of people in Guantanamo is in conflict with international law. Switzerland is ready to consider how it can contribute to the solution of the Guantanamo problem.” The Swiss government says it welcomes the expressed intention of President Obama to close the prison, and says it will investigate the security and legal implications of possibly taking in detainees. After calling for years for the detention camp to be shut down, European governments are now under some pressure to help find a home for the approximately 245 detainees. Many of the detainees’ home countries are refusing to take them back, and the US under former President Bush says it will not allow them to remain in the US if released. Switzerland is a traditional supporter of refugees, and the home of international organizations such as the Red Cross and the United Nations’s refugee agencies. At least two other European nations, Portugal and France, have stated their willingness to accept detainees. [Reuters, 1/21/2009]
Omar Khadr. The photo, presumably taken in 2001, was given to Canadian reporters by his mother, Maha Khadr, after a 2005 press conference. [Source: Maha Khadr / Associated Press]Colonel Patrick Parrish, a military judge in the Guantanamo prosecutions, orders that the trial of Omar Khadr be suspended. President Obama has asked for all trials of Guantanamo detainees to be suspended for 120 days (see January 20, 2009). Other trials are almost certain to be suspended as well, including the trial of five detainees accused of participating in the 9/11 attacks. Khadr is accused of killing a US soldier in Afghanistan with a grenade during a firefight in 2001. Khadr, who was 15 at the time, was captured shortly thereafter. He has been in detention ever since. Military prosecutors say it is “in the interests of justice” to freeze the trials until about May 20 to give the new administration time to evaluate the cases and decide what forum best suits any future prosecution. Obama has repeatedly promised to shut down the Guantanamo prison camp; it is not clear what will happen to the approximately 245 detainees currently housed there. While officials of the former Bush administration have said they planned to bring some 80 detainees to trial, as yet only three trials have been held. [Reuters, 1/21/2009] Prosecutor Clay Trivett says all pending cases should be suspended because a review of the military commissions system may result in significant changes. Khadr’s defense lawyer, Lieutenant Commander William Kuebler, says the suspension “has the practical effect of stopping the process, probably forever.… This military process and the charges Omar faced are dead.” Kuebler says Khadr should either be returned to his native Canada or tried in a civilian court. “He’s anxious, he’s nervous,” Kuebler says. “Let’s hope this creates the process… that will take Omar back to Canada.” The de facto leader of the five men accused of planning the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, tells court officials he opposes the delay. “We should continue so we don’t go backward, we go forward,” he says. [Associated Press, 1/21/2009; Washington Post, 1/21/2009]
Lindsey Graham. [Source: Boston Globe]Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) says that some detainees currently held in Guantanamo should be imprisoned indefinitely, without legal recourse. Graham is responding to President Obama’s order to close Guantanamo within a year (see January 22, 2009). On Fox News, Graham says, “I do believe we can close Gitmo, but what to do with them [the remaining detainees]?” He says there are three options: “Repatriate some back to other countries makes sense, if you can do it safely. Some of them will be tried for war crimes. And a third group will be held indefinitely because the sensitive nature of the evidence may not subject them to the normal criminal process, but if you let them go, we’ll be letting go someone who wants to go back to the fight.… So we’ve got three lanes we’ve got to deal with: repatriation, trials, and indefinite detention.” Civil liberties expert Ken Gude is critical of Graham’s position: “US courts have tried some of the most dangerous terrorists the world has ever known, and done so while both protecting classified information and the rights of the accused to ensure the verdict is fair, legitimate, and accurate.… Of course these prosecutions will not be easy, but the admissibility of classified evidence is not an insurmountable obstacle to trials of Guantanamo detainees.” [Think Progress, 1/21/2009]
President Barack Obama issues an executive order limiting the ability of former presidents to block the release of records from their time in the White House. Obama’s order overturns an executive order from former President Bush (see November 1, 2001) that is currently the subject of a federal lawsuit, and was found in part illegal by a federal judge in 2007. Obama’s order invalidates Bush’s order entirely. Obama’s order allows former presidents to ask the National Archives to keep certain documents private, but strips their power to compel the Archives to do so. The order also covers former vice presidents and the families of deceased presidents. “It’s a great signal to send on the president’s first day in office,” says Scott Nelson, a lawyer with the civil liberties group Public Citizen, which led the challenge to Bush’s order. Nelson says the order will make it easier for researchers to gain access to White House records.
Strips Power from Former Executives - Under the Presidential Records Act, former presidents can restrict access to some of their records, including confidential communications with advisers, for up to 12 years. Bush’s order extended that restriction indefinitely, and gave former vice presidents and even the families and heirs of deceased presidents the same power to restrict documents. Obama’s order limits claims of executive privilege to records concerning national security, law enforcement or internal communications; it also specifies that only living former presidents may request that papers not be made public, and gives them 30 days to say so once they get word of the archivist’s intention to release records. The order gives the Obama administration and the National Archives, not the former executives, the final decision-making power. Under Obama’s order, former Vice President Dick Cheney can no longer block access to records from his records during his eight years in the White House. Cheney is engaged in a lawsuit to block access to his vice-presidential records. [Washington Post, 1/21/2009]
Wide-Ranging Impact - Experts agree that the executive order could have wide-ranging impacts on a number of issues relating to the Bush administration. Douglas Kmiec, a conservative law professor and an expert on executive privilege, says the order could strongly impact current battles over Bush’s records, “whether it be the dismissal of US attorneys, whether it be other assertions of executive privilege dealing with White House emails and the like.” It could also affect investigations into the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, and the Bush administration’s efforts to precipitate a war with Iraq. [TPM Muckraker, 1/22/2009] Neil Eggleston, who served as White House counsel in the Clinton administration, says he believes the Obama order is specifically designed to pry loose information from the Bush administration about such issues. “This is absolutely about all those issues,” he says. In a sense, Eggleston continues, it is an order to the National Archivist: “It says, ‘Archivist—if Bush calls up and says don’t release certain papers, don’t listen to what he says, listen to what I say.’” [TPM Muckraker, 1/23/2009]
In an interview for the German television program Frontal 21, broadcast on ZDF, Professor Manfred Nowak, the United Nations rapporteur responsible for torture, states that with George W. Bush’s head of state immunity now terminated, the new government of Barack Obama is obligated by international law to commence a criminal investigation into Bush’s torture practices. “The evidence is sitting on the table,” Nowak says. “There is no avoiding the fact that this was torture.” Nowak cites the Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994), which obligates a signatory country such as the US to criminally prosecute anyone who tortures a person, or extradites a person to a country which will torture him. “The government of the United States is required to take all necessary steps to bring George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld before a court,” Nowak says. Nowak headed a 2006 study of conditions at Guantanamo that concluded the practices used at that facility and approved by the Bush administration violated human rights norms and constituted torture. ZDF also interviews attorney Wolfgang Kaleck, who brought charges against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld before German prosecutors. The Obama administration is “off to a good beginning” with its explicit renunciation of torture, Kaleck says, but has yet to show how it will hold Bush, Rumsfeld, and others accountable for their crimes, nor has it demonstrated its legally obligated duty to provide compensation to torture victims. Lastly, law professor Dietmar Herz confirms that Bush bears personal responsibility for the introduction and use of torture. Herz confirms that once Bush lost his immunity from prosecution as a head of state, the US is obligated to prosecute him for crimes against humanity. [Harper's, 1/21/2009]
Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which released a classified report on the Bush administration’s policies on torture (see December 11, 2008), suggests to Eric Holder, the attorney general-nominee, that President Obama appoint someone with “real credibility” to mount an independent investigation into the use of torture by US officials. He tells a reporter: “We’re going to try to complete this investigation, at least on the [Defense Department] side… [b]ut on the intelligence, the CIA side, that’s going to be up to the Intelligence Committee. I know I suggested to Eric Holder… that he select some people or hire an outside person whose got real credibility, perhaps a retired federal judge, to take all the available information, and there’s reams of it.” [Think Progress, 1/22/2009]
Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, asked if waterboarding is torture, replies, “Absolutely.” Armitage’s interview is broadcast as part of the WNET documentary Torturing Democracy. Armitage, who graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1967 and served in Vietnam, was waterboarded as part of his Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training, which was later used as a platform for developing the Bush administration’s torture policies (see December 2001 and January 2002 and After). He describes his own waterboarding, with physical gestures: “I was put on an incline. My legs were like that and my back went down. I can’t remember if it was a wet T-shirt or a wet towel was put over my nose and mouth, and it was completely soaked. But I could still breathe. And then a question would be asked and I would not answer, and water would slowly be poured in this. And the next time I took a breath, I’d be drawing in water, whether I took it from my mouth or my nose. For me, it was simply a feeling of helplessness.” The interviewer observes: “I’ve talked to a former SERE instructor who was also waterboarded, and he said there’s nothing simulated about it. You think you are drowning.” Armitage replies: “Except in the case that I did realize I was in Northern California, and I did realize the people doing this were actually on my side. But the sensation to me was one of total helplessness, and I’ve had a lot of sensations in my life, but helplessness was not generally one of them. But the sensation was enormously unpleasant and frightening to me.” Would he describe it as torture? Armitage is asked. “Absolutely,” he responds. “No question.” The interviewer then asks, “So how do you explain the recent indecision over whether or not waterboarding is torture?” Armitage responds: “I cannot believe that my nation is having a discussion on what is torture. There is no question in my mind—there’s no question in any reasonable human being, there shouldn’t be, that this is torture. I’m ashamed that we’re even having this discussion.” Armitage says the State Department was deliberately left out of the Bush administration discussions of torture, “I think precisely because we’d have no part of it.” As for the discussions among White House and Justice Department officials over what did and did not constitute torture, Armitage says: “Well, if you were twisting yourselves into knots because you’re fearful that you may be avoiding some war crimes, then you’re probably tripping too closely to the edge. The fact that you want to have a discussion about how to avoid being accused of war crimes would indicate that you’re pretty close to the edge to me.” [National Security Archives, 1/21/2009]
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) responds to President Obama’s order closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility by wondering why anyone wants to close it. After all, Boehner says, the detainees at Guantanamo enjoy privileges denied to many Americans: “I don’t know that there’s a terrorist treated better anywhere in the world than what has happened at Guantanamo. It is—we have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build a facility that has more comforts than a lot of Americans get.” Boehner states that once “a terrorist detainee is brought to the United States[,] that terrorist is automatically afforded more constitutional rights than US military personnel under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.” [Office of the House Minority Leader, 1/22/2009; Think Progress, 1/22/2009]
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says she intends to push for Congressional legislation mandating a single standard for military and CIA interrogators that would in effect ban the use of torture. Feinstein says she applauds President Obama’s executive order banning torture (see January 22, 2009), but notes that Obama or a future president could overturn that order at any time. “I think that ultimately the government is well served by codifying it, by having it in law,” Feinstein says. Some liberal and civil rights organizations support Feinstein’s drive for a Congressional ban on torture; they also press Feinstein, Obama, and other Democrats to engage in a full investigation of the detention and torture programs under the Bush presidency. [New York Times, 1/23/2009]
President Barack Obama signs a series of executive orders mandating the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within one year’s time, and declares that prisoners at that facility will be treated within the parameters of the Geneva Conventions. Obama’s order also mandates the closure of the CIA’s secret prisons overseas. Another element of those orders bans the practice of torture on detainees (see January 22, 2009). Obama calls the order the first move by his administration to reclaim “the moral high ground” vacated by the previous administration. Americans understand that battling terrorism cannot continue with a “false choice between our safety and our ideals,” he says. [Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2009; Washington Post, 1/23/2009] “We can no longer afford drift, and we can no longer afford delay, nor can we cede ground to those who seek destruction,” he adds. [Associated Press, 1/22/2009] “We believe we can abide by a rule that says, we don’t torture, but we can effectively obtain the intelligence we need.” [New York Times, 1/23/2009] The Washington Post reports that the orders essentially end the “war on terror” as it has been managed by the Bush administration, and writes, “[T]he notion that a president can circumvent long-standing US laws simply by declaring war was halted by executive order in the Oval Office.” However, Obama’s order does not detail what should be done with the detainees currently housed at Guantanamo. According to a White House summary, Obama’s orders “set… up an immediate review to determine whether it is possible to transfer detainees to third countries, consistent with national security.” If a prisoner cannot be transferred, “a second review will determine whether prosecution is possible and in what forum.” Obama says, “The message that we are sending the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism and we are going to do so vigilantly and we are going to do so effectively and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals.” The US will now “observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard,” he adds. The orders do not specifically ban the practice of “rendition,” or secretly transferring prisoners to the custody of other nations, some of which practice torture. “There are some renditions that are, in fact, justifiable, defensible,” says a senior Obama administration official. “There’s not going to be rendition to any country that engages in torture.”
Republicans, Conservatives Object - Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), a supporter of torture by the Bush administration, says Obama’s orders are imprecise and vague: “This is an executive order that places hope ahead of reality—it sets an objective without a plan to get there.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2009; Washington Post, 1/23/2009] “What do we do with confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his fellow terrorist conspirators.” Hoekstra asks, “offer them jail cells in American communities?” [Financial Times, 1/22/2009] Conservative news outlet Fox News tells its viewers, “The National Security Council told Fox that for now even [O]sama bin Laden or a high-ranking terrorist planner would be shielded from aggressive interrogation techniques that the CIA says produced lifesaving intelligence from… Mohammed.” [US News and World Report, 1/23/2009]
'A New Era for America' - Newly installed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a different view. “I believe with all my heart that this is a new era for America,” she tells reporters as she assumes her duties at the State Department. [Agence France-Presse, 1/22/2009] Former Bush official John Bellinger, the National Security Council’s top legal adviser, praises Obama’s orders, calling them “measured” and noting that they “do not take any rash actions.” Bellinger adds: “Although the Gitmo order is primarily symbolic, it is very important. It accomplishes what we could never accomplish during the Bush administration.” [New York Times, 1/23/2009] Retired admiral John Hutson agrees. “It is a 180 degree turn,” says Hutson. “It restores our status in the world. It enables us to be proud of the way we are prosecuting the war.” Closing the Guantanamo prison camp and banning torture “is the right thing to do morally, diplomatically, militarily and constitutionally,” Hutson adds, “but it also makes us safer.” Senator John Kerry (D-MA) calls the move “a great day for the rule of law.” [Financial Times, 1/22/2009; New York Times, 1/23/2009]
Entity Tags: Peter Hoekstra, Hillary Clinton, John Bellinger, Obama administration, John D. Hutson, John Kerry, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, National Security Council, Fox News, Washington Post, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
President Barack Obama, in the same sweeping set of executive orders that mandates the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and orders the closure of the CIA’s secret prisons (see January 22, 2009), orders that the US no longer torture prisoners. And in a broad repudiation of Bush administration policies and legal arguments, Obama’s order nullifies every single legal order and opinion on interrogations issued by any lawyer in the executive branch—including the Department of Justice—since September 11, 2001 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001, Late September 2001, October 23, 2001, Late October 2001, November 6-10, 2001, January 9, 2002, January 25, 2002, and April 2002 and After). “Key components of the secret structure developed under Bush are being swept away,” the Washington Post reports. Obama orders that all interrogations conducted by the CIA and other US officials strictly follow the procedures outlined in the US Army Field Manual. Retired Admiral Dennis Blair, Obama’s nominee to become the director of national intelligence, says that the government may revise the Field Manual to include more coercive interrogation techniques; a commission will be appointed to determine if the Field Manual is adequate. Currently the Field Manual limits interrogators to 19 approved techniques, bans torture, and prohibits harsh questioning techniques in favor of using psychological approaches. “I can say without exception or equivocation that the United States will not torture,” Obama tells a group of listeners at the State Department. “The message that we are sending the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism and we are going to do so vigilantly and we are going to do so effectively and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals,” he adds. The US will now “observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard.” [Agence France-Presse, 1/22/2009; Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2009; Washington Post, 1/23/2009] Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch says that he is certain Obama will not secretly authorize torture. Malinowski says that while Obama might oversee some changes in the Field Manual, he says that Obama will not renege on his promise that detainees would not be tortured or treated inhumanely. [Financial Times, 1/22/2009]
Dennis Blair. [Source: US Navy / Public domain]Retired Admiral Dennis Blair, President Obama’s pick as Director of National Intelligence, refuses to state that waterboarding is torture during his Senate confirmation hearings. Blair, worried that for him to make such a characterization might place CIA employees who used the technique in legal jeopardy, says instead, “I’m hesitating to set a standard here.” He then says: “There will be no waterboarding on my watch. There will be no torture on my watch.” In last week’s Senate hearings, Obama’s nominee for Attorney General, Eric Holder, said flatly, “Waterboarding is torture.” Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) tells Blair, “If the attorney general designee can answer it, you can too.” After the day’s hearings, Blair tells reporters that CIA agents who violated internal standards should be held accountable, and that an Obama task force overhauling interrogation policies would examine the past practices. [Reuters, 1/22/2009]
Law professor Brandt Goldstein recommends that President Obama not rely on an executive order to shut down the Guantanamo detention facility, as he has ordered (see January 22, 2009), but work with Congress to pass a federal statute that will forever outlaw the use of the base as a prison. Goldstein notes that Guantanamo was used to house Haitian refugees in the early 1990s, when President George H. W. Bush used it to detain around 300 HIV-positive dissidents who were fleeing Haiti after a military coup. The Justice Department created the legal rationale that Guantanamo, because it is not within the US territorial boundaries, does not fall under Constitutional restrictions, even though the prison is on a US naval base. President Bill Clinton released the last of the Haitians in June 1993, but his administration managed to overturn a court decision that prohibited the federal government from housing detainees at Guantanamo indefinitely. President George W. Bush used the detention facility to house hundreds of terror suspects from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the US invasion of Afghanistan. Goldstein writes: “[T]wice in recent times, the temptation to use Guantanamo as an offshore, extralegal prison camp has mired a presidential administration in legal and moral muck. It’s high time we cut off Guantanamo as an option for this sort of mess—forever. An executive order won’t do that.” Such an order can be vacated by the next president, or even Obama himself should he choose to change his mind. “If Congress passes such legislation,” Goldstein writes, “and Obama signs it into law, then not only will he be bound by its prohibitions, but future presidents will be bound by it as well. The political will is there to deal with this issue. Now is the time to do it.” Goldstein adds, “Some conservative policy scholars won’t like this idea. They’ll wring their hands about closing off options regarding situations we cannot foresee. The answer to that is simple: Some options should be off the table, and experience indicates that using Guantanamo as a prison camp is one of them. Of course, if a future president believes that new circumstances make it truly necessary to use Guantanamo as a detention facility, that future president can go to Capitol Hill and try to convince the House and Senate to change their minds on the matter.” [Huffington Post, 1/22/2009]
David Kris. [Source: Brookings Institution]President Obama picks as his nominee to lead the Justice Department’s National Security Division an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s legal justifications for warrantless wiretapping. David Kris served as a senior Justice Department official in both the Clinton and Bush administrations before accepting a position at Georgetown University’s law school, and is considered an expert on intelligence law. After the New York Times revealed the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005), Kris wrote a 25-page legal analysis describing the rationale for the program as “weak” and probably invalid. When he was at the Justice Department, Kris advised his then-boss, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, not to sign a batch of wiretapping warrants—results of the warrantless wiretap program—because intelligence officials would not reveal how the information in the wiretaps was obtained. If confirmed by the Senate, Kris will not only oversee intelligence and national security law, but may be responsible for the dispensation of the detainees in the Guantanamo prison camp (see January 22, 2009). [New York Times, 1/22/2009]
Federal judge John Bates gives the Obama administration until February to tell him whether it wants to change the legal definition of the term “enemy combatant.” Several detainees held at US detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay and Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan are challenging their classfication as “enemy combatant,” which the Bush administration defined as having virtually no legal rights in the US judicial system. The Obama administration has until February 9 to make a decision on behalf of the Guantanamo lawsuits, and until February 20 for the Bagram lawsuits. “The new presidential administration may wish to review the government’s current position regarding the appropriate definition of ‘enemy combatant’ to be used in these and other habeas cases,” Bates says. Bates adds that Obama’s orders to close Guantanamo Bay (see January 22, 2009) and to outlaw torture (see January 22, 2009) indicate “significant changes to the government’s approach to the detention, and review of detention, of individuals currently held at Guantanamo Bay.” He notes, “A different approach could impact the court’s analysis of certain issues central to the resolutions of [Bagram] cases as well.” [Associated Press, 1/23/2009]
The Supreme Court grants the Obama administration a month’s delay in the case of alleged al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali al-Marri (see December 12, 2001). Al-Marri is the only known person being held as an “enemy combatant” in the United States (see June 23, 2003 and January 22, 2009). Obama has directed the Justice Department to review al-Marri’s case. [Associated Press, 1/23/2009]
Retired Major General Paul Eaton, one of the 16 retired flag officers who joined President Obama in Obama’s signing of his executive order banning torture (see January 22, 2009), says that the Abu Ghraib scandal “immediately undermined me, my moral authority” as he worked in Iraq with eight other nations to build up Iraqi security forces. “It created a far more dangerous environment for every soldier, every marine we had in Iraq,” Eaton says. Eaton places direct blame for Abu Ghraib on the Bush administration’s push for enhanced interrogation techniques. [Bloomberg, 1/23/2009]
An array of Afghan and Pakistani human rights representatives and former Guantanamo inmates say that President Obama’s plans to close the detention camp (see January 22, 2009) do not go far enough. Other US detention centers should also be shut down and former inmates should be compensated, they say. Obama “is closing it in order to put an end to the criticism from human rights groups and also to get rid of the bad image it created for the Americans,” says Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan who spent more than three years imprisoned at Guantanamo. “But he needs to restore justice for prisoners who were persecuted there during investigations. There were innocent people imprisoned there. He needs to put on trial those who were involved in the persecution of inmates.” Lal Gul Lal, the head of the Afghanistan Human Rights Organization, calls the Guantanamo prison “a flagrant violation of international and American laws.” He continues: “If Obama’s administration wants to get rid of the criticism and wants to implement justice then it should hand over to their respective countries all the prisoners it has in various prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. If that does not happen the closure of Guantanamo will have no meaning.” Some 250 prisoners are still being held in Guantanamo, around 600 prisoners still remain in custody at the detention facility at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, and more are being held in camps at Kandahar and Khost. Many of the detainees have never been charged with a crime. Amina Masood Janjua, a Pakistani campaigner for the release of detainees, says while the closing of Guantanamo will be a positive development, “those governments which are running illegal torture cells and safe houses set up by intelligence agencies and militaries should be forced to close them too.” Khalid, a former Pakistani security agent who now heads the Defense of Human Rights organization, calls the closure “nothing… a media stunt.” He adds: “After brutally and inhumanely treating inmates, now they’re pretending that they believe in justice and human rights. What about the human rights crimes committed there? What about those who have seen the worst time of their lives there? Is it that easy to ignore or forgive?” [Reuters, 1/22/2009]
Said Ali al-Shihri. [Source: Interpol]A former Guantanamo Bay detainee apparently resurfaces as a deputy leader of the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda, prompting concerns that closing the detention facility might lead to the release of potentially dangerous terrorists. Said Ali al-Shihri was released from Guantanamo in 2007 and given over to Saudi custody, where he went through what the New York Times calls a “rehabilitation program for former jihadists.” He is suspected of helping carry out a bombing attack near the American Embassy in Yemen in September 2008. Al-Qaeda in Yemen identifies its new deputy leader as “Abu Sayyaf al-Shihri”; “Abu Sayyaf” is a commonly used nom de guerre used by jihadists to conceal their real identities. Almost half of the 245 remaining detainees in Guantanamo are Yemeni nationals like al-Shihri; the US is helping Yemen implement a rehabilitation program similar to the Saudi program. The Saudis claim that no graduate of its program has returned to terrorism. The Pentagon claims that dozens of released Guantanamo detainees have “returned to the fight,” but has provided no documentation of the claim, and many critics disbelieve it (see January 13-14, 2009). Yemeni journalist Abdulela Shaya and terrorism analyst Gregory Johnson both say that the Guantanamo detainee and the Yemeni al-Qaeda deputy are the same person. [New York Times, 1/22/2009]
Retired Brigadier General James Cullen, one of the 16 retired flag officers who joined President Obama in Obama’s signing of his executive order banning torture (see January 22, 2009), calls himself and his fellow officers “flank protection” against any criticism Obama may face for his order. Cullen, who served in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, once thought that the abuses reported at Abu Ghraib prison were aberrations, the acts of a few individuals and perhaps their commanding officers. “I wanted to believe that,” he says. “Then l began to hear similar reports coming out of Guantanamo and Bagram in Afghanistan. There was a pattern—the sexual humiliation, the abuse. This kind of pattern is not a coincidence.” Cullen pins some of the blame for the torture and abuse of prisoners in American custody on former Vice President Dick Cheney, who said five days after the 9/11 attacks that the US would need more than a conventional military response to 9/11: “We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will” (see September 16, 2001). Cullen says that for military personnel, Cheney’s remarks were the equivalent of “the dissolute uncle up there winking, telling him he’s got license.” Cullen says that he was not alone in being shocked and appalled at the reports of torture; many of his fellow flag officers felt the same revulsion. “We were muttering to ourselves in the closet,” he says. “We knew this was not the military we left. Especially after the draft ended, people were in the services because they wanted to be—to better themselves and serve their country. A wonderful group of people who are receptive to training.” Cullen was instrumental in bringing retired flag officers together with Human Rights First, a civil advocacy group, to oppose the Bush torture policies. Cullen says that the practice of torture is not only immoral and inhumane, but ineffective. He says that a favorite scenario—the so-called “ticking time bomb,” where a bomb is planted to go off and only the torture of a suspect will provide the information needed to find and defuse the bomb in time to save civilian lives—is baseless. “It’s a false question from a classroom and from television shows like 24,” Cullen says, because an actual terrorist could give misleading information, or because people under intense pressure will say anything, true or false, to make the torture stop. “Another terrorist attack is going to happen. We feel certain of that. It’s not going to be because we ended torture. We will get better intelligence without it. And we keep our values.” [New York Times, 1/23/2009]
News columnist Ann Woolner writes that with President Obama’s executive orders to close Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009) and stop torture of terror suspects (see January 22, 2009), “I am beginning to recognize my country again.” Referring to the infamous picture of the hooded Abu Ghraib prisoner with electric wires attached to his body (see April 29-30, 2004), “It’s time to lift the hood and let the man under it step off that box.” [Bloomberg, 1/23/2009]
White House counsel Greg Craig says that the executive orders given by President Obama in his first days in office, particularly those outlawing torture (see January 22, 2009) and closing Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009) have been in the works for over a year. Craig also notes that Obama has not finished issuing reforms, and has deliberately put off grappling with several of the most thorny legal issues. Craig says that as Obama prepared to issue the orders, he was “very clear in his own mind about what he wanted to accomplish, and what he wanted to leave open for further consultation with experts.”
Process Began before First Presidential Caucus - Craig says that the thinking and discussion behind these orders, and orders which have yet to be issued, began in Iowa in January 2008, before the first presidential caucus. Obama met with former high-ranking military officers who opposed the Bush administration’s legalization of harsh interrogation tactics, including retired four-star generals Dave Maddox and Joseph Hoar. They were sickened at the abuses committed at Abu Ghraib prison, and, as reporter Jane Mayer writes, “disheartened by what they regarded as the illegal and dangerous degradation of military standards.” They had formed what Mayer calls “an unlikely alliance with the legal advocacy group Human Rights First, and had begun lobbying the candidates of both parties to close the loopholes that Bush had opened for torture.” The retired flag officers lectured Obama on the responsibilities of being commander in chief, and warned the candidate that everything he said would be taken as an order by military personnel. As Mayer writes, “Any wiggle room for abusive interrogations, they emphasized, would be construed as permission.” Craig describes the meeting as the beginning of “an education process.”
'Joy' that US is 'Getting Back on Track' - In December 2008, after Obama’s election, the same group of retired flag officers met with Craig and Attorney General-designate Eric Holder. Both Craig and Holder were impressed with arguments made by retired Marine general and conservative Republican Charles Krulak, who argued that ending the Bush administration’s coercive interrogation and detention regime was “right for America and right for the world.” Krulak promised that if the Obama administration would do what he calls “the right thing,” which he acknowledged will not be politically easy, that he would personally “fly cover” for it. Sixteen of those flag officers joined Obama for the signing of the executive order banning torture. After the signing, Obama met with the officers and several administration officials. “It was hugely important to the president to have the input from these military people,” Craig says, “not only because of their proven concern for protecting the American people—they’d dedicated their lives to it—but also because some had their own experience they could speak from.” During that meeting, retired Major General Paul Eaton called torture “the tool of the lazy, the stupid, and the pseudo-tough. It’s also perhaps the greatest recruiting tool that the terrorists have.” Retired Admiral John Hutson said after the meeting that the feeling in the room “was joy, perhaps, that the country was getting back on track.”
Uncertainty at CIA - Some CIA officials are less enthusiastic about Obama’s changes. They insist that their so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” have provided critical intelligence, and, as Craig says, “They disagree in some respect” with Obama’s position. Many CIA officials wonder if they will be forced to follow the same interrogation rules as the military. Obama has indeed stopped torture, Craig says, but the president “is somewhat sympathetic to the spies’ argument that their mission and circumstances are different.” Craig says that during the campaign, Obama’s legal, intelligence, and national security advisers visited CIA headquarters in Langley for two intensive briefings with current and former intelligence officials. The issue of “enhanced interrogation tactics” was discussed, and the advisers asked the intelligence veterans to perform a cost-benefit analysis of such tactics. Craig says, “There was unanimity among Obama’s expert advisers that to change the practices would not in any material way affect the collection of intelligence.” [New Yorker, 1/25/2009]
Entity Tags: Paul Eaton, Dave Maddox, Charles Krulak, Central Intelligence Agency, Barack Obama, Eric Holder, Greg Craig, Human Rights First, Jane Mayer, Joseph Hoar, John D. Hutson, Obama administration
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tells an NPR reporter that he never allowed the Justice Department (DOJ) to become politicized, and that he believes the historical judgment of his tenure in the department will be favorable. He acknowledges making some errors, including failing to properly oversee the DOJ’s push to fire nine US attorneys in 2008, a process many believe was orchestrated by the White House with the involvement of Gonzales and then-White House political guru Karl Rove.
Failure to Engage - “No question, I should have been more engaged in that process,” he says, but adds that he is being held accountable for decisions made by his subordinates. “I deeply regret some of the decisions made by my staff,” he says, referring to his former deputy Paul McNulty, who resigned over the controversy after telling a Senate committee that the attorney firings were performance-related and not politically motivated. Gonzales says his then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, was primarily responsible for the US attorney review process and for working with McNulty. “If Paul McNulty makes a recommendation to me—if a recommendation includes his views—I would feel quite comfortable that those would be good recommendations coming to me” about the qualifications of the US attorneys under question, Gonzales says. He adds that he has “seen no evidence” that Rove or anyone at the White House tried to use the US attorneys to politicize the work at the DOJ. A review by the DOJ’s Inspector General found that the firing policy was fundamentally flawed, and that Gonzales was disengaged and had failed to properly supervise the review process.
Claims He Was Unfairly Targeted by 'Mean-Spirited' Washington Insiders - Gonzales says he has been unfairly held responsible for many controversial Bush administration policies, including its refusal to abide by the Geneva Conventions (see Late September 2001, January 9, 2002, January 18-25, 2002, January 25, 2002, August 1, 2002, November 11, 2004, and January 17, 2007) and its illegal eavesdropping on US citizens (see Early 2004, March 9, 2004, December 19, 2005, Early 2006, and February 15, 2006), because of his close personal relationship with former President Bush. Washington, he says, is a “difficult town, a mean-spirited town.” He continues: “Sometimes people identify someone to target. That’s what happened to me. I’m not whining. It comes with the job.”
Visiting Ashcroft at the Hospital - In 2004, Gonzales, then the White House counsel, and White House chief of staff Andrew Card raced to the bedside of hospitalized Attorney General John Ashcroft to persuade, or perhaps coerce, Ashcroft to sign off on a secret government surveillance program (see March 10-12, 2004). The intervention was blocked by Deputy Attorney General James Comey (see March 12-Mid-2004). Gonzales says he has no regrets about the incident: “Neither Andy nor I would have gone there to take advantage of somebody who was sick. We were sent there on behalf of the president of the United States.” As for threats by Justice Department officials to resign en masse over the hospital visit (see Late March, 2004), Gonzales merely says, “Lawyers often disagree about important legal issues.”
Warning about Plain Speaking - Gonzales says Obama’s attorney general nominee, Eric Holder, should refrain from making such statements as Holder made last week when he testified that waterboarding is torture. “One needs to be careful in making a blanket pronouncement like that,” Gonzales says, adding that such a statement might affect the “morale and dedication” of intelligence officials and lawyers who are attempting to make cases against terrorism suspects. [National Public Radio, 1/26/2009]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Eric Holder, Bush administration (43), Andrew Card, Alberto R. Gonzales, Geneva Conventions, George W. Bush, James B. Comey Jr., Karl C. Rove, Paul J. McNulty, D. Kyle Sampson
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Halliburton Co agrees to pay a $559 million fine to end an investigation of its former KBR subsidiary if the US government approves the settlement. KBR, formerly Kellogg Brown & Root, has long been accused of violating anti-bribery laws by paying kickbacks to Nigerian officials in return for “sweetheart deals” involving Nigeria’s oil and natural gas fields. The fine, if paid, will be the largest penalty in history against a US company for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA); the settlement would allow Halliburton to avoid having a government monitor put in place, but would require the company to hire an independent consultant to assess its compliance with anti-bribery laws. Halliburton would pay $382 million to the Department of Justice and $177 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission in “disgorgement.” KBR, which has become independent of Halliburton since the incidents in question, refuses to comment on the settlement. The government’s probe of Halliburton/KBR goes back over 20 years, to the construction and expansion of a gas liquefaction facility at Bonny Island, Nigeria. Halliburton has admitted that its agents probably bribed Nigerian officials, and former KBR CEO Albert Stanley has already pled guilty to charges stemming from the Bonny Island bribery scheme. Former Vice President Dick Cheney was Stanley’s immediate supervisor when Cheney was CEO of Halliburton. [Reuters, 1/26/2009]
The lawsuit filed by former US Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) to block Senator-elect Al Franken (D-MN) from taking his seat in the US Senate (see January 7, 2009) begins badly for Coleman, with the three-judge panel stopping Coleman’s lawyers from reading off the names, counties, and categories from some 5,500 rejected absentee ballots that they say were improperly rejected. The copies of ballot envelopes the Coleman campaign wanted to admit into evidence weren’t clear enough to be considered proper evidence, the panel rules. Many of the copies were of poor quality and had markings and notes from Coleman campaign officials written on them. Judge Denise Reilly asks one witness, “If I look at these exhibits, how do I know what was put on there by the voter… or the election judge or someone else?” If the Coleman campaign wants to enter the ballots into evidence, it will have to secure the originals from 87 counties, a difficult task. The ruling leaves Coleman’s lawyers at ends for the remainder of the day, with one lawyer saying the team had no plans to go forward without the facsimiles being admitted into evidence. The rejected absentee ballots are a critical element of the Coleman case, which states that thousands of absentee ballots were improperly rejected or were considered with stricter standards than ballots that were counted. One hundred and seventy-six votes out of Franken’s 225-vote margin of victory came from recounted absentee ballots, and the Coleman campaign wants more absentee ballots counted, contending that the rejected ballots would give Coleman the victory. Franken’s attorneys say Coleman is merely fishing for votes, and producing arbitrary reasons to get more ballots into the count. Coleman’s lawyers also contend that some ballots, mostly for Franken, were “double-counted,” and cite results from the town of Eagan as “proof.” Eagan election officials say they have gone through their ballot counts and have found no evidence of any double-counting. Eagan City Clerk Maria Petersen says: “We’re confident, based on the information available to us, that no votes were counted twice. They were counted only once.” [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 1/26/2009]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asks the Obama administration to publicly release some 50 secret Bush Justice Department memos that were written to justify the Bush administration’s interrogation and domestic spying programs. The Bush White House consistently refused to release the memos, citing national security, attorney-client privilege, and the need to protect the government’s deliberative process. The ACLU request comes after President Obama rescinded a 2001 executive order that gave government agencies broad legal cover to reject public disclosure requests (see January 21, 2009). Obama has asked agencies to be more transparent in deciding what documents can and cannot be released under the Freedom of Information Act; the ACLU intends to put Obama’s words to the test. “The president has made a very visible and clear commitment to transparency,” says Jameel Jaffer, the director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. “We’re eager to see that put into practice.” Many see the Justice Department memos, written by lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel, as the “missing puzzle pieces” that will help explain the Bush administration’s antiterrorism policies. Critics of the Bush administration say that the memos may help determine whether officials of the former administration should be held accountable for legal opinions that justified waterboarding and other illegal interrogation practices. “We don’t have anything resembling a full picture of what happened over the last eight years and on what grounds the Bush administration believed it could order such methods,” says Jaffer. “We think the OLC memos are really central to that narrative.” The ACLU is aware of the memos’ existence, but not much else. Jaffer says: “There are about a dozen memos where we just have one or two lines about the subject matter and that’s it. When you put it all together you realize how much is still being held secret.” [McClatchy News, 1/28/2009]
Convicted al-Qaeda conspirator Jose Padilla (see January 22, 2008) files a lawsuit holding former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other former Bush administration officials responsible for his years in US detention without a lawyer or criminal charge. Last year Padilla sued former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo for writing legal opinions that led to his designation as an “enemy combatant” (see January 4, 2008); that case is still pending. In both cases, Padilla is seeking only a token $1 in damages; he wants a judge to declare his treatment illegal and unconstitutional. Justice Department lawyers argue that the lawsuit should be dismissed, saying that allowing it to proceed would endanger national security. A Padilla victory, they argue, “would strike at the core functions of the political branches, impacting military discipline, aiding our enemies, and making the United States more vulnerable to terrorist attack.” The government’s brief states, “Adjudication of the claims pressed by [Padilla] in this case would necessarily require an examination of the manner in which the government identifies, captures, designates, detains, and interrogates enemy combatants.” The Justice Department also wants the lawsuit against Yoo dismissed. “The issues of Padilla’s extreme interrogations and punitive conditions of confinement were never addressed by this court, the Fourth Circuit, or any other court,” Padilla’s lawyers say in their brief. They say the ordeal left Padilla psychologically disabled. “This guy had nothing,” says lawyer Michael O’Connell. “He was utterly isolated and had no clue that there was anybody out there advocating for him. He was just there forever. I don’t think I could have stood that and come out sane.… I can’t think of another time in this country that that ever happened to an American citizen.” Padilla’s lawyers argue that his designation as an enemy combatant violated his rights as a citizen. In their brief, they argue, “It was clearly established that military agents could not enter a civilian jail, seize a man from the civilian justice system, transport him to a military prison, detain him there indefinitely without criminal charge or conviction, deprive him of contact with attorneys or family, take from him his ability to fulfill the minimum requirements of his religion, and subject him to a program of extreme interrogations, sensory deprivation, and punishment.” [Christian Science Monitor, 1/29/2009]
John Yoo, the former Bush administration legal adviser who authored numerous opinions on the legality of torture, detentions without legal representation, and warrantless wiretapping (see November 6-10, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, August 1, 2002, and August 1, 2002, among others), writes an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal opposing the Obama administration’s intent to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility (see January 20, 2009 and January 22, 2009)) and restrict the CIA’s ability to torture detainees (see January 22, 2009). Yoo, now a law professor and a member of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, writes that while President Obama’s decision “will please his base” and ease the objections to the Bush “imperial presidency,” it will “also seriously handicap our intelligence agencies from preventing future terrorist attacks.” Yoo writes that the Obama decisions mark a return “to the failed law enforcement approach to fighting terrorism that prevailed before Sept. 11, 2001.” Yoo recommends that Obama stay with what he calls “the Bush system” of handling terror suspects. Yoo fails to note that the US law enforcement system prevented, among others, the “millennium bombing” plot (see December 14, 1999), the plot to bomb New York City’s Lincoln and Holland Tunnels (see June 24, 1993), and Operation Bojinka (see January 6, 1995).
Obama Needs to be Able to Torture Prisoners Just as Bush Did, Yoo Declares - And by eschewing torture, Obama is giving up any chance on forcing information from “the most valuable sources of intelligence on al-Qaeda” currently in American custody. The Bush administration policies prevented subsequent terrorist attacks on the US, Yoo contends, and Obama will need the same widespread latitude to interrogate and torture prisoners that Bush employed: “What is needed are the tools to gain vital intelligence, which is why, under President George W. Bush, the CIA could hold and interrogate high-value al-Qaeda leaders. On the advice of his intelligence advisers, the president could have authorized coercive interrogation methods like those used by Israel and Great Britain in their antiterrorism campaigns. (He could even authorize waterboarding, which he did three times in the years after 9/11.)” It is noteworthy that Yoo refused to confirm that Bush ordered waterboarding of suspects during his previous Congressional hearings (see June 26, 2008).
Interrogations Must be 'Polite' - According to Yoo, in forcing the CIA and other US interrogators to follow the procedures outlined in the Army Field Manual, they can no longer use “coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines used in police stations throughout America.… His new order amounts to requiring—on penalty of prosecution—that CIA interrogators be polite. Coercive measures are unwisely banned with no exceptions, regardless of the danger confronting the country.” [Wall Street Journal, 1/29/2009] Yoo is incorrect in this assertion. The Army Field Manual explicitly countenances many of the “coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines” Yoo says it bans. Further, the Field Manual says nothing about requiring interrogators to be “polite.” [Army, 9/2006] And actual field interrogators such as the Army’s Matthew Alexander have repeatedly said that torturing prisoners is ineffective and counterproductive, while building relationships and treating prisoners with dignity during interrogations produces usable, reliable intelligence (see November 30, 2008).
Shutting Down Military Commissions - Obama’s order to stay all military commission trials and to review the case of “enemy combatant” Ali Saleh al-Marri (see June 23, 2003) is also mistaken, Yoo writes. Yoo fears that Obama will shut down the military commissions in their entirety and instead transfer detainees charged with terrorist acts into the US civilian court system. He also objects to Obama’s apparent intent to declare terrorists to be prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, instead of following the Bush precedent of classifying terrorists “like pirates, illegal combatants who do not fight on behalf of a nation and refuse to obey the laws of war.” To allow terror suspects to have rights under Geneva and the US legal system, Yoo asserts, will stop any possibility of obtaining information from those suspects. Instead, those suspects will begin using the legal system to their own advantage—refusing to talk, insisting on legal representation and speedy trials instead of cooperating with their interrogators. “Our soldiers and agents in the field will have to run more risks as they must secure physical evidence at the point of capture and maintain a chain of custody that will stand up to the standards of a civilian court,” Yoo writes. [Wall Street Journal, 1/29/2009] In reality, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), as well as the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 15, 2005) and the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006), all mandate that detainees must be handled according to the Geneva Conventions.
Risk to Americans - Another effect of transferring detainees into the civilian justice system, Yoo claims, is to allow “our enemies to obtain intelligence on us.” Defense lawyers will insist on revealing US intelligence—information and methods—in open court, and will no doubt force prosecutors to accept plea bargains “rather than risk disclosure of intelligence secrets.”
Obama 'Open[ed] the Door to Further Terrorist Acts on US Soil' - Obama said in his inaugural speech that the US must “reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” Yoo calls that statement “naive,” and writes, “That high-flying rhetoric means that we must give al-Qaeda—a hardened enemy committed to our destruction—the same rights as garden-variety criminals at the cost of losing critical intelligence about real, future threats.” By making his choices, Yoo writes, “Mr. Obama may have opened the door to further terrorist acts on US soil by shattering some of the nation’s most critical defenses.” [Wall Street Journal, 1/29/2009]
Military judge Colonel James Pohl denies the Obama administration’s request to suspend legal proceedings at Guantanamo Bay (see January 20, 2009) in the case of a detainee accused of planning the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). Because of Pohl’s order, the Pentagon may be forced to temporarily withdraw charges against accused Cole plotter Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and perhaps 20 other detainees facing military trials, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see January 5-8, 2000 and November-December 2000).
White House Response - Obama officials are startled by Pohl’s order, as five other military judges have agreed to the government’s request. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says, “We just learned of the ruling here… and we are consulting with the Pentagon and the Department of Justice to explore our options in that case.” Asked if the decision will hamper the administration’s ability to evaluate detainees’ cases, Gibbs replies, “Not at all.”
Judge: Government Arguments 'Unpersuasive' - Pohl says he finds the government’s arguments in favor of suspension “unpersuasive” and that the case will go forward because “the public interest in a speedy trial will be harmed by the delay in the arraignment.” The White House wants the delay in order to review the cases of the approximately 245 detainees at Guantanamo and decide the disposition of each case. Pohl says he is bound by the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006), “which remains in effect.”
Reactions Mixed - Navy Commander Kirk Lippold, who commanded the Cole when it was attacked, says he is “delighted” with the ruling, and adds, “It proves the military commissions work without undue command influence, and this decision puts us back on track to see an accounting for al-Nashiri’s terrorist acts.” Human rights activists disagree, with many arguing that the charges against al-Nashiri and perhaps other detainees should be withdrawn in order to allow the option of preserving or reforming military commissions at a new location. “Given that the Guantanamo order was issued on day two of the new administration, the president was clearly trying to make the immediate decisions needed while giving himself the flexibility to deal with the rest down the road,” says Human Rights Watch official Jennifer Daskal. “That said, the only sure way to ensure that the commissions process is brought to a halt is to now withdraw the charges.”
Options for Proceeding - Susan Crawford, the Pentagon official who approves charges and refers cases to trial (see January 14, 2009), can withdraw charges “without prejudice,” which would allow for refiling at a later date, whether under a modified military commissions procedure or for a civilian or military court. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says, “And so while that executive order is in force and effect, trust me, there will be no proceedings continuing down at Gitmo with military commissions.” Al-Nashiri’s case is complicated by the fact that he is one of at least three detainees who were waterboarded by CIA interrogators (see May 2002-2003). [Washington Post, 1/30/2009]
Entity Tags: Susan Crawford, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Geoff Morrell, James L. Pohl, Jennifer Daskal, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Obama administration, US Department of Justice, Kirk Lippold, Robert Gibbs, US Department of Defense
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Several Republican senators plan to visit the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and report their findings. They are expected to continue their calls for keeping Guantanamo open indefinitely. Senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK), David Vitter (R-LA), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Mel Martinez (R-FL) decided to make the trip after President Obama issued an executive order mandating that the prison be closed within a year (see January 22, 2009). “I’ve always looked at [the prison] as being a real valuable asset,” says Inhofe. He admits he does not “have a solution to what we’re going to ultimately do” with the prisoners deemed most dangerous. “I’m not addressing that problem,” he says. Inhofe says Obama’s order to close the prison “failed to take into consideration the implications of closing [Guantanamo]—what happens to current detainees, what the military will do with detainees held in other military prisons around the world and what judicial process is going to be used.” Obama has asked for a “comprehensive interagency review” to settle those questions. [Daily Oklahoman, 1/30/2009; Bixby Bulletin, 1/30/2009] Burr says that he is “so far unconvinced that moving trained terrorists to the United States is in the best national security interests of our nation.” And Vitter notes that he is “very disappointed in President Obama’s decision to close the detention facility at Guantanamo.” He continues: “This facility should not be closed, and these individuals should not be released until we can determine the extent of their potential involvement in terrorist activities. And we most certainly should use every available measure to ensure that they do not make their way into the United States if in fact they are released.” [Bixby Bulletin, 1/30/2009]
Worry about Housing Detainees in US Prisons - Like Inhofe, Roberts is concerned that some Guantanamo inmates will be transferred into prisons in his home state. Kansas is the home of Fort Leavenworth, which houses a large Army prison. “I am especially concerned with ridiculous speculation that Ft. Leavenworth is equipped to handle these detainees, some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world,” he says. “I am convinced these terrorists cannot and will not be housed in Kansas.” [KansasCW, 1/30/2009]
Advocating Continued Detentions without Trials - In an interview with Fox News, Vitter goes further than his Senatorial colleagues, saying that he favors continuing to detain some suspects without trials. “We need the ability to deal with these folks adequately,” he says. “To me, that has to include the ability to detain some—without trial—to continue proper interrogation.… I’d like to have Gitmo stay open. But certainly, we need detention facilities where we can detain dangerous terrorists without trial, continue to interrogate them.” [Think Progress, 1/30/2009] Fellow Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has already made the same recommendation (see January 21, 2009).
Attorneys for Jose Padilla, a US citizen convicted in 2007 of material support for terrorist activities (see May 8, 2002 and August 27, 2002) say that senior Bush administration officials knew Padilla was being tortured ever since being held as an enemy combatant in a South Carolina naval brig (see June 9, 2002). The lawyers say Bush officials such as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld must have known, because of the command structure and because Rumsfeld approved harsh interrogation tactics (see December 2, 2002). Padilla and his mother are suing the government for employing a wide variety of harsh interrogation tactics, including sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, extended periods of isolation, forcible administering of hallucinogenic drugs, threats of death and mutilation, and enforced stress positions, as well as for violating his rights by holding him as an enemy combatant without due legal process. Both Rumsfeld and former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz are named as defendants. Tahlia Townsend, an attorney for Padilla, says: “They knew what was going on at the brig and they permitted it to continue. Defendants Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were routinely consulted on these kinds of questions.” The Justice Department is trying to get the case dismissed. [Raw Story, 1/30/2009] Justice Department lawyers claim that allowing the lawsuit to proceed would damage national security. They argue that a court victory for Padilla “would strike at the core functions of the political branches, impacting military discipline, aiding our enemies, and making the United States more vulnerable to terrorist attack.… Adjudication of the claims pressed by [Padilla] in this case would necessarily require an examination of the manner in which the government identifies, captures, designates, detains, and interrogates enemy combatants.” Padilla is seeking a symbolic $1 fine from each defendant along with a favorable ruling. [Christian Science Monitor, 1/29/2009]
In 2009, reflecting on the Bush administration’s decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC—see May 6, 2002), ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo will say: “When I started at the ICC, in 2003, the Bush administration appeared hostile towards the court, as though we were radioactive. But what started with hostility over time became less so. All of a sudden the court was seen to be useful. On Darfur, for example, the administration could have vetoed the Security Council vote referring Darfur to my office. They didn’t. That was a big change. But I’ve kept a respectful distance. They don’t give me intelligence. They cannot control me.… Ironically, the hostility has helped in my dealings with countries that might otherwise perceive me to be in the pocket of the Americans. It has been one positive factor in the Arab and African worlds. The US distance from the court seems to have had the very opposite effect of that intended—of strengthening it.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Reflecting on the Bush administration’s decision to create “military commissions” to try terror suspects (see November 13, 2001), John Bellinger, the former legal adviser to the National Security Council during much of the Bush administration, says: “A small group of administration lawyers drafted the president’s military order establishing the military commissions, but without the knowledge of the rest of the government, including the national security adviser, me, the secretary of state, or even the CIA director. And even though many of the substantive problems with the military commissions as created by the original order have been resolved by Congress in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hamdan case (see June 30, 2006), we have been suffering from this original process failure ever since.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Alberto Mora, the former general counsel for the Navy and a harsh critic of the Bush administration’s torture policies (see January 23-Late January, 2003), says: “I will tell you this: I will tell you that General Anthony [Antonio] Taguba, who investigated Abu Ghraib, feels now that the proximate cause of Abu Ghraib were the OLC memoranda that authorized abusive treatment (see November 6-10, 2001 and August 1, 2002). And I will also tell you that there are general-rank officers who’ve had senior responsibility within the Joint Staff or counterterrorism operations who believe that the number one and number two leading causes of US combat deaths in Iraq have been, number one, Abu Ghraib, number two, Guantanamo, because of the effectiveness of these symbols in helping recruit jihadists into the field and combat against American soldiers.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
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