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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]
Two senior Bush administration officials reflect on the executive order denying any Geneva Convention protections to Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees (see February 7, 2002).
Jack Goldsmith, formerly head of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) at the Justice Department, says: “To conclude that the Geneva Conventions don’t apply—it doesn’t follow from that, or at least it shouldn’t, that detainees don’t get certain rights and certain protections. There are all sorts of very, very good policy reasons why they should have been given a rigorous legal regime whereby we could legitimatize their detention. For years there was just a giant hole, a legal hole of minimal protections, minimal law.” Lawrence Wilkerson, the chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, recalls: “Based on what the secretary and [State Department legal adviser William] Taft were telling me, I think they both were convinced that they had managed to get the president’s attention with regard to what they thought was the governing document, the Geneva Conventions. I really think it came as a surprise when the February memo was put out. And that memo, of course, was constructed by [Cheney chief counsel David] Addington, and I’m told it was blessed by one or two people in OLC. And then it was given to [Vice President] Cheney, and Cheney gave it to the president. The president signed it.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), a small, virulently anti-gay organization in Topeka, Kansas, led by pastor Fred Phelps (see November 27, 1955 and After), announces its intention to travel to the United Kingdom to protest a performance of The Laramie Project, a highly respected play that documents the hate murder of gay student Matthew Shepard and how the incident impacted the Wyoming community (see October 14, 1998). The WBC protested at Shepard’s funeral, and tried unsuccessfully to raise a “monument” to Shepard vilifying him for being gay (see October 3, 2003). In response, the UK bans both Phelps and WBC church leader Shirley Phelps-Roper from entering its borders. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012]
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) invests $90 billion in clean energy projects for the next 10 years via loan guarantees, tax incentives, and grants. $38 billion of this is government spending and $20 billion is tax incentives. Symbolically, President Obama signs the bill into law at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where he takes a tour of the museum’s solar panel installation. He says he hopes the bill will inspire Americans to get involved in “green” energy the same way that President Kennedy’s goal to put a man on the moon inspired Americans in the 1960s. “I hope this investment will ignite our imagination once more in science, medicine, energy and make our economy stronger, our nation more secure, and our planet safer for our children,” Obama says before signing the bill. The bill includes:
A three-year extension to the tax credit for wind, which would have expired at the end of this year, and an extension until the end of 2013 for geothermal and biomass renewable-energy projects. The credit has been increased to 30 percent of the investment.
$4.5 billion in direct spending to modernize the electricity grid with smart-grid technologies.
$6.3 billion in state energy-efficient and clean-energy grants, and $4.5 billion to make federal buildings more energy efficient.
$6 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy systems, biofuel projects, and electric-power transmission facilities.
$2 billion in loans to manufacture advanced batteries and components for applications such as plug-in electric cars.
$5 billion to weatherize homes of up to 1 million low-income people.
$3.4 billion appropriated to the Department of Energy for fossil energy research and development, such as storing carbon dioxide underground at coal power plants.
A tax credit of between $2,500 and $5,000 for purchase of plug-in electric vehicles, available for the first 200,000 placed into service.
Most companies in the green-tech field hail the new focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy in the bill, contrasting it with the Bush administration’s support for fossil fuel energy production and its disdain for clean energy programs. Investors and analysts say the new law is a step towards a comprehensive energy policy based on sustained commitment to renewable energy and efficiency. Michael Liebriech of New Energy Finance says: “For years, US policymakers’ support for clean energy has been uneven. No longer… the US will have a great chance to be the growth engine for our industry over the next several years.” The spending should have an almost-immediate impact, especially in areas such as smart grid technology and energy efficiency, says venture capitalist Dennis Costello. However, even this influx of government funding does not solve all the financial problems facing energy technology firms. The recession continues to grip the economy, he notes, damping demand and making financing of new projects difficult. “It’s kind of refreshing to see at least beginnings of a real energy policy, some sort of unified approach to our energy problems,” he says. “But it isn’t going to solve our energy problems. There are a lot of countervailing factors to give pause to being over-exuberant on the future of energy sector and clean tech.” [CNET News, 2/17/2009; Adam Johnston, 7/2013]
In the weeks before his murder on May 31, 2009, Dr. George Tiller, who provides late-term abortions as part of his medical practice, has a feeling something major is planned. Other abortion rights advocates across the country will later say they notice an uptick in incidents and threats before the shooting: more people at protests, more clinic vandalism, and more singling-out of doctors. Tiller’s colleague Susan Hill will recall: “I said, ‘George, I think there’s something coming.’ He said, ‘I do, too.’ Strange things were happening in our Mississippi clinic and in North Carolina. He admitted that for the first time, he really believed that something was going to go down.” Warren Hern, one of the handful of remaining doctors who perform late-term abortions, will say he is not receiving the protection he needs from constant harassment at his Boulder, Colorado, clinic: “I’m practicing medicine. I’m doing something legal. Why should I have to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, millions of dollars, to keep from getting shot and to protect my patients? This is madness.” [Kansas City Star, 6/5/2009]
Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder says that if he is confirmed, he intends to review current litigation in which the Bush administration asserted the so-called “state secrets” privilege (see March 9, 1953), and that he intends to minimize the use of the privilege during his tenure. “I will review significant pending cases in which DOJ [the Justice Department] has invoked the state secrets privilege, and will work with leaders in other agencies and professionals at the Department of Justice to ensure that the United States invokes the state secrets privilege only in legally appropriate situations,” he writes in a response to pre-confirmation questions. (Shortly after Holder’s testimony, the Justice Department again asserts the “state secrets” privilege in a case involving a Guantanamo detainee—see February 9, 2009). Holder adds: “I firmly believe that transparency is a key to good government. Openness allows the public to have faith that its government obeys the law.” To a related question, he asserts his belief that the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) must disclose as many of the opinions it generates as possible: “Once the new assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel is confirmed, I plan to instruct that official to review the OLC’s policies relating to publication of its opinions with the [objective] of making its opinions available to the maximum extent consistent with sound practice and competing concerns.” [Federation of American Scientists, 2/2/2009; Senate Judiciary Committee, 2/2/2009] Weeks later, the Justice Department will release nine controversial OLC memos from the Bush administration (see March 2, 2009).
George W. Bush’s former political guru Karl Rove echoes incorrect statements made by former Bush lawyer John Yoo. In an op-ed, Yoo claimed that President Obama’s prohibition against torture, and the mandate for US interrogators to use the Army Field Manual as their guide, prevents interrogators from using long-established, non-invasive techniques to question prisoners (see January 29, 2009). In an address at Loyola Marymount University, Rove tells his listeners: “The Army Field Manual prohibits ‘good cop, bad cop.’ All that stuff you see on CSI—the Army Field Manual prohibits it.… If you stop collecting that information, you begin to make America more at risk.” [Torrance Daily Breeze, 2/3/2009] Both Rove and Yoo are wrong. The Army Field Manual explicitly permits many of the “coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines” Yoo and Rove claim it bans. [Army, 9/2006]
PBS’s Nova series broadcasts “The Spy Factory,” an examination of the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program. The program is crafted by author and national security expert James Bamford with PBS producer Scott Willis. One portion of the broadcast shows a representation of the enormous data flow of Internet communications entering the US from Asia at Morro Bay, California, and then goes to a small AT&T facility in San Luis Obispo. “If you want to tap into international communications, it seems like the perfect place is San Luis Obispo,” Bamford narrates. “That’s where 80 percent of all communications from Asia enters the United States.” However, the NSA taps into the AT&T datastream much farther north, in AT&T’s Folsom Street facility in San Francisco (see October 2003 and Late 2003). According to former AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004), the NSA would have far more access to domestic communications by tapping into the dataflow at the San Francisco facility. He will later write, “This fact belies the government’s claims that they’re only looking at international communications.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 50-51; PBS, 2/3/2009]
During Senate confirmation hearings, President Obama’s candidate for CIA director, Leon Panetta, repudiates former Vice President Dick Cheney’s insistence that the US is less safe under Obama (see February 4, 2009). Panetta says: “I was disappointed by those comments because the implication is that somehow this country is more vulnerable to attack because the president of the United States wants to abide by the law and the Constitution. I think we’re a stronger nation when we abide by the law and the Constitution.” [Think Progress, 2/5/2009]
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that because of the Obama administration’s new policies, there is what he calls a “high probability” that terrorists will attempt a catastrophic nuclear or biological attack in coming years. “If it hadn’t been for what we did—with respect to the terrorist surveillance program (see After September 11, 2001 and December 15, 2005), or enhanced interrogation techniques for high-value detainees (see September 16, 2001 and November 14, 2001, among others), the Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001), and so forth—then we would have been attacked again,” says Cheney. “Those policies we put in place, in my opinion, were absolutely crucial to getting us through the last seven-plus years without a major-casualty attack on the US.” The situation has changed, he says. “When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an al-Qaeda terrorist (see January 22, 2009) than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry,” he says. Protecting the country’s security is “a tough, mean, dirty, nasty business,” he continues. “These are evil people. And we’re not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek.” He calls the Guantanamo detention camp, which President Obama has ordered shut down (see January 22, 2009), a “first-class program” and a “necessary facility” that is operated legally and provides inmates better living conditions than they would get in jails in their home countries. But the Obama administration is worried more about its “campaign rhetoric” than it is protecting the nation: “The United States needs to be not so much loved as it needs to be respected. Sometimes, that requires us to take actions that generate controversy. I’m not at all sure that that’s what the Obama administration believes.” Cheney says “the ultimate threat to the country” is “a 9/11-type event where the terrorists are armed with something much more dangerous than an airline ticket and a box cutter—a nuclear weapon or a biological agent of some kind” that is deployed in the middle of an American city. “That’s the one that would involve the deaths of perhaps hundreds of thousands of people, and the one you have to spend a hell of a lot of time guarding against. I think there’s a high probability of such an attempt. Whether or not they can pull it off depends whether or not we keep in place policies that have allowed us to defeat all further attempts, since 9/11, to launch mass-casualty attacks against the United States.” [Politico, 2/4/2009] Cheney has warned of similarly dire consequences to potential Democratic political victories before, before the 2004 presidential elections (see September 7, 2004) and again before the 2006 midterm elections (see October 31, 2006).
Two British High Court judges rule against releasing documents describing the torture and abuse of Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001). The judges cite threats from the US government as shaping their decision, saying that the US had threatened to withhold intelligence cooperation from Britain if the information on Mohamed’s treatment were made public.
Confession through Torture, Detainee Alleges - Mohamed is a British resident who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 (see September 2001 - April 9, 2002). He was initially charged with planning a “dirty bomb” attack in the US (see November 4, 2005); those charges were later dropped (see October-December 2008), but he has allegedly confessed to being an al-Qaeda operative and remains in detention without charges. Mohamed says that the confession was tortured out of him during his detention in secret prisons in Pakistan (see April 10-May, 2002 and May 17 - July 21, 2002), Morocco (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004), and Afghanistan (see January-September 2004), and later in Guantanamo. During his incarcerations at these various prisons, he says he was beaten, deprived of sleep, and had his genitals cut with a scalpel. Mohamed’s attorneys argue that he has committed no crime and is a victim of torture and rendition by US officials, with British cooperation (see February 24, 2009). [Washington Post, 2/5/2009; Los Angeles Times, 2/5/2009]
Judges, Lawmakers 'Dismayed' at US Threats - In their decision, Judges John Thomas and David Lloyd Jones write, “We did not consider that a democracy governed by the rule of law would expect a court in another democracy to suppress a summary of the evidence… relevant to allegations of torture and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment, politically embarrassing though it might be.” [Washington Post, 2/5/2009] They are dismayed that “there would be made a threat of the gravity of the kind made by the United States government, that it would reconsider its intelligence-sharing relationship” with Britain, one of its closest allies, if the British government made the summary public. [Los Angeles Times, 2/5/2009] They warn that a US withdrawal from intelligence-sharing could “inflict on the citizens of the United Kingdom a very considerable increase in the dangers they face at a time when a serious terrorist threat” remains. Conservative member of parliament David Davis tells the House of Commons, “The government is going to have to do some pretty careful explaining about what’s going on.” It is absolutely inappropriate for the US to have “threatened” the British government, Davis says: “The ruling implies that torture has taken place in the Mohamed case, that British agencies may have been complicit, and further, that the United States government has threatened our High Court that if it releases this information the US government will withdraw its intelligence cooperation with the United Kingdom.… Frankly, it is none of their business what our courts do.”
Lawyer Objects - Clive Stafford Smith, Mohamed’s attorney, says that by not disclosing the evidence, Britain is guilty of “capitulation to blackmail.… The judges used the word ‘threat’ eight times. That’s a criminal offense right there. That’s called blackmail. Only the Mafia have done that sort of stuff.” Smith continues: “It is hardly Britain’s finest hour. As the judges say, it is up to President Obama to put his money where his mouth is. He must repudiate his predecessor’s reprehensible policy.”
Prime Minister Knows Nothing of Threats - Officials in Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s office say they know nothing of any threats from Obama officials. “We have not engaged with the new administration on the detail of this case,” says a Brown spokesman. But British Foreign Secretary David Miliband notes: “Matters regarded as secret by one government should be treated as secret by others. For it to be called into question would pose a serious and real risk to continuing close intelligence-sharing with any government.” Miliband notes that the British government has made “strenuous efforts” to have Mohamed released (see August 2007). [New York Times, 2/4/2009; Washington Post, 2/5/2009]
ACLU Asks for Clarification - The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asking that she clarify the Obama administration’s position on the Mohamed case and to reject what it described as the Bush administration’s policy of using false claims of national security to avoid judicial review of controversial programs. According to ACLU head Anthony Romero, “The latest revelation is completely at odds with President Obama’s executive orders that ban torture and end rendition, as well as his promise to restore the rule of law.” State Department spokesman Robert Wood refuses to comment on the judges’ statement, saying, “It’s the first I’ve heard of it.” [Washington Post, 2/5/2009; Los Angeles Times, 2/5/2009]
Entity Tags: Robert Wood, John Thomas, Binyam Mohamed, Anthony D. Romero, American Civil Liberties Union, Bush administration (43), Obama administration, Clive Stafford Smith, David Lloyd Jones, David Davis, Gordon Brown, David Miliband, Hillary Clinton
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Leon Panetta. [Source: San Diego Union-Tribune]President Obama’s pick to head the CIA, former Clinton administration chief of staff Leon Panetta, says that the CIA will not carry out “extraordinary renditions” under his tenure. Sparked by recent claims that the Obama administration intends to continue such extraordinary renditions, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asks Panetta during his Senate confirmation hearings, “Will the CIA continue the practice of extraordinary rendition by which the government will transfer a detainee to either a foreign government or a black site for the purpose of long-term detention and interrogation, as opposed to for law enforcement purposes?” Panetta says, “No we will not.” He adds, “[B]ecause under the executive order signed by the president (see January 22, 2009), that kind of extraordinary rendition, where we send someone for the purposes of torture or for actions by another country that violate our human values—that has been forbidden by the executive order.” Panetta goes on to note the difference between “extraordinary rendition” and law enforcement rendition. [Think Progress, 2/5/2009]
During Senate confirmation hearings, President Obama’s candidate for CIA director, Leon Panetta, is asked by Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) if a president has the authority to order torture. Panetta responds, “No one is above the law.” He continues: “I understand the powers that the president has under Article II [of the US Constitution], and they are broad powers, but nobody is above the law. Nobody is above the law. And I think that even the president of the United States has to abide by the statutes and by the laws passed by the Congress. So yes, he has broad authority under Article II, but I do not think he can violate the laws of this country.” [Think Progress, 2/5/2009]
MSNBC host Keith Olbermann slams former Vice President Dick Cheney for Cheney’s recent warnings concerning the policies of President Obama (see February 4, 2009). Olbermann calls Cheney’s remarks a “destructive and uninformed diatribe… that can only serve to undermine the nation’s new president, undermine the nation’s effort to thwart terrorism, and undermine the nation itself.” Cheney said that the Obama administration seems “more concerned about reading the rights to an al-Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans.” Olbermann responds by asking: “What delusion of grandeur makes you think you have the right to say anything like that? Because a president, or an ordinary American, demands that we act as Americans and not as bullies; demands that we play by our rules; that we preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States; you believe we have chosen the one and not the other? We can be Americans, or we can be what you call ‘safe’—but not both?” Olbermann says that the Bush-Cheney policies—the so-called “Bush System,” as recently dubbed by former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo (see January 29, 2009)—“[s]tart[ed] the wrong war, detain[ed] the wrong people, employ[ed] the wrong methods, pursue[d] the wrong leads, utilize[d] the wrong emotions.” He continues: “We, sir, will most completely assure our security not by maintaining the endless, demoralizing, draining, life-denying blind fear and blind hatred which you so thoroughly embody. We will most easily purchase our safety by repudiating the ‘Bush System.’ We will reserve the violence for which you are so eager, sir, for any battlefield to which we truly must take, and not for unconscionable wars which people like you goad and scare and lie us into. You, Mr. Cheney, you terrified more Americans than did any terrorist in the last seven years, and now it is time for you to desist, or to be made to desist. With damnable words like these, sir, you help no American, you protect no American, you serve no American—you only aid and abet those who would destroy this nation from within or without.” [MSNBC, 2/5/2009]
Upon his return from a brief tour of the Guantanamo detention facility (see January 30, 2009), Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) delivers a speech on the floor of the Senate recommending that the facility remain open, despite President Obama’s decision to close it (see January 22, 2009). Inhofe says, “The military detention facilities at GTMO meet the highest international standards and are a fundamental part of protecting the lives of Americans from terrorism.” He says “[t]he detainees are being treated humanely,” there are “two lawyers for every detainee that has been charged or had charges preferred against them,” and there is one health care professional for every two detainees, ensuring that they receive the highest level of medical care (see April-May 2002, August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003, and March 10-April 15, 2007). Guantanamo “is the only complex in the world that can safely and humanely hold these individuals who pose such a grave security risk to the US,” Inhofe insists. “It is a secure location away from population centers, provides the maximum security required to prevent escape, provides multiple levels of confinement opportunities based on the compliance of the detainee, and provides medical care not available to a majority of the population of the world.” He goes on: “Furthermore, GTMO is the single greatest repository of human intelligence in the war on terror. This intelligence has prevented terrorist attacks and saved lives in the past and continues to do so today (see Summer 2000 and November 30, 2008). New intelligence is continually being collected from detainees at GTMO and is being used to fight terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the globe.” Since the US “will continue to capture, hold and detain enemy combatants,” he says, “we require a location to safely detain and care for these detainees.” [US Senate, 2/5/2009] Fellow Republican Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), who joined Inhofe on the tour, agrees, saying that the Guantanamo facility is “well thought out and in keeping with our nation’s highest ideals.” Burr adds that it is the US guards, not the prisoners, who are being mistreated: “If anyone receives mistreatment at Guantanamo, it is the guard force. They must endure frequent verbal and physical attacks from detainees while maintaining the highest standard of care for those same individuals.” [US Senate, 2/2/2009] Neither Inhofe nor Burr address the hunger strike among Guantanamo detainees, nor the allegations that prisoners are being force-fed and beaten (see February 8, 2009). Satyam Khanna of the left-leaning website Think Progress notes: “It is unclear how Inhofe and his conservative colleagues failed to see 50 detainees on hunger strike, some near death, while touring the prison. Conveniently, none of the senators alerted the public to these facts upon their return.” [Think Progress, 2/9/2009]
Binyam Mohamed. [Source: Independent]A lawyer for a Guantanamo detainee demands the release of her client because he is near death. Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley is in London to ask that her client, British resident Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001), who is still in Guantanamo even though all charges against him have been dropped (see October-December 2008), be released. Through Bradley, Mohamed claims that he has been repeatedly tortured at the behest of US intelligence officials (see April 10-May, 2002, May 17 - July 21, 2002, July 21, 2002 -- January 2004, and January-September 2004). Bradley says that Mohamed is dying in his cell. Mohamed and some twenty other detainees are so unhealthy that they are on what Bradley calls a “critical list.”
Hunger Strike, Beatings - Fifty Guantanamo detainees, including Mohamed, are on a hunger strike, and are being strapped to chairs and force-fed; those who resist, witnesses say, are beaten. Mohamed has suffered drastic weight loss, and has told his lawyer that he is “very scared” of being attacked by guards after witnessing what The Guardian describes as “a savage beating for a detainee who refused to be strapped down and have a feeding tube forced into his mouth.” Bradley is horrified at Mohamed’s description of the state of affairs in the prison. She says: “At least 50 people are on hunger strike, with 20 on the critical list, according to Binyam. The JTF [the Joint Task Force running Guantanamo] are not commenting because they do not want the public to know what is going on. Binyam has witnessed people being forcibly extracted from their cell. SWAT teams in police gear come in and take the person out; if they resist, they are force-fed and then beaten. Binyam has seen this and has not witnessed this before. Guantanamo Bay is in the grip of a mass hunger strike and the numbers are growing; things are worsening. It is so bad that there are not enough chairs to strap them down and force-feed them for a two- or three-hour period to digest food through a feeding tube. Because there are not enough chairs the guards are having to force-feed them in shifts. After Binyam saw a nearby inmate being beaten it scared him and he decided he was not going to resist. He thought, ‘I don’t want to be beat, injured or killed.’ Given his health situation, one good blow could be fatal.… Binyam is continuing to lose weight and he is going to get worse. He has been told he is about to be released, but psychologically and physically he is declining.”
Demanding Documents to Prove Torture, Rendition - Bradley is also demanding documents that she says will prove her client was tortured, and may also prove British complicity in Mohamed’s treatment (see February 24, 2009). An American court in San Francisco is also slated to hear evidence that Mohamed was subjected to “extraordinary rendition” by the CIA, where Mohamed and other prisoners were sent to other countries that tortured them. That lawsuit was originally dismissed when the Bush administration asserted “state secrets privilege” (see March 9, 1953), but lawyers for Mohamed refiled the case hoping that the Obama administration would be less secretive.
US Intelligence Wants Mohamed Dead? - The Guardian also notes that “some sections of the US intelligence community would prefer Binyam did die inside Guantanamo.” The reason? “Silenced forever, only the sparse language of his diary would be left to recount his torture claims and interviewees with an MI5 officer, known only as Witness B. Such a scenario would also deny Mohamed the chance to personally sue the US, and possibly British authorities, over his treatment.” [Guardian, 2/8/2009]
A Justice Department official says that the Obama administration will continue to assert the so-called “state secrets privilege” (see March 9, 1953) in a lawsuit filed by Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed (see February 8, 2009). In the case Mohamed et al v Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc, Mohamed and four former detainees are suing a Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen Dataplan, for cooperating with the CIA in subjecting them to “extraordinary rendition,” flying them to foreign countries and secret overseas CIA prisons where, they say, they were tortured. The case was thrown out a year ago, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has appealed it. According to a source inside the Ninth US District Court, a Justice Department lawyer tells the presiding judge that its position has not changed, that the new administration stands behind arguments that the previous administration made, with no ambiguity at all. The lawyer says the entire subject matter remains a state secret. According to Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller, “It is the policy of this administration to invoke the state secrets privilege only when necessary and in the most appropriate cases, consistent with the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Reynolds that the privilege not ‘be lightly invoked.’” Miller adds that Attorney General Eric Holder is conducting a review of all state secret privilege matters. “The Attorney General has directed that senior Justice Department officials review all assertions of the State Secrets privilege to ensure that the privilege is being invoked only in legally appropriate situations,” Miller says. “It is vital that we protect information that, if released, could jeopardize national security. The Justice Department will ensure the privilege is not invoked to hide from the American people information about their government’s actions that they have a right to know. This administration will be transparent and open, consistent with our national security obligations.” The ACLU’s Anthony Romero says that the Obama administration is doing little besides offering “more of the same.” He continues: “Eric Holder’s Justice Department stood up in court today and said that it would continue the Bush policy of invoking state secrets to hide the reprehensible history of torture, rendition, and the most grievous human rights violations committed by the American government. This is not change. This is definitely more of the same. Candidate Obama ran on a platform that would reform the abuse of state secrets, but President Obama’s Justice Department has disappointingly reneged on that important civil liberties issue. If this is a harbinger of things to come, it will be a long and arduous road to give us back an America we can be proud of again.” ACLU attorney Ben Wizner, who argued the case for Mohamed and the other plaintiffs, adds: “We are shocked and deeply disappointed that the Justice Department has chosen to continue the Bush administration’s practice of dodging judicial scrutiny of extraordinary rendition and torture. This was an opportunity for the new administration to act on its condemnation of torture and rendition, but instead it has chosen to stay the course. Now we must hope that the court will assert its independence by rejecting the government’s false claims of state secrets and allowing the victims of torture and rendition their day in court.” [ABC News, 2/9/2009]
Ben Wizner, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) representing five plaintiffs suing a Boeing subsidiary for participating in their extraordinary rendition and torture (see February 9, 2009, says it is remarkable that the Obama administration is opposing the lawsuit. Wizner notes that the entire claim of “state secrets” advocated by the Justice Deparment in its quest to have the lawsuit thrown out is based on two sworn declarations from former CIA Director Michael Hayden. One was made public and one was filed secretly with the court. In those declarations, Hayden argued that courts cannot become involved in the case because to do so would be to disclose and thus degrade secret CIA programs of rendition and “harsh interrogation.” Wizner notes that President Obama ordered those programs shut down (see January 22, 2009). He says it is difficult to see how the continuation of the lawsuit could jeopardize national security when the government claims to have terminated the programs that are being protected. Salon pundit Glenn Greenwald writes: “What this is clearly about is shielding the US government and Bush officials from any accountability. Worse, by keeping Bush’s secrecy architecture in place, it ensures that any future president—Obama or any other—can continue to operate behind an impenetrable wall of secrecy, with no transparency or accountability even for blatantly criminal acts.” [Salon, 2/9/2009]
An unrepentant Jim Adkisson, right, shares a laugh with his lawyer Mark Stephens during Adkisson’s court proceedings. [Source: Lisa Hudson / AP]Jim David Adkisson, charged with killing two and wounding seven in his attack on a Tennessee church congregation (see July 27, 2008), pleads guilty to all charges in a Knoxville, Tennessee, courthouse. Adkisson has accepted a sentence of life in prison. District Attorney General Randall Nichols tells the court that Adkisson “knowingly created a great risk of death to two or more persons other than the victims murdered,” and that the murders “were committed in the course of an act of terrorism.” In his explanation for his actions, given in a four-page document found in his car in the minutes after the shooting (see July 27, 2008 and After), Adkisson said his motives were rooted in patriotism and a desire to kill political liberals. The same day he pleads guilty, Adkisson releases the document to the press, though the local sheriff denies him access to reporters who may wish to interview him. Adkisson’s lawyer, Mark Stephens, says he advised Adkisson to go to trial using an insanity defense, but Adkisson refused, saying the plea deal is “the honorable thing to do.” Stephens adds: “He pled guilty to everything he was charged with. He accepted his responsibility. I’m sorry for those folks that went through that ordeal.” One of the congregation members who wrestled Adkisson to the ground during the shooting spree, John Bohstedt, responds to Stephens’s contention by saying: “There’s no insanity defense that I can see, unbalance, yes, bitter, yes, evil, yes.… I’m sickened that he shows no signs of remorse.” Tammy Sommers, who is recuperating from shotgun wounds inflicted by Adkisson, says, “He needs to stay in prison, which is what’s happening.” A convict who spent time in jail with Adkisson, Matthew David Chamberlain, says Adkisson told him that the motive behind the attack was purely ideological. “He said if he got out [of prison], he’d do it again,” Chamberlain says. Local citizen Brian Griffith believes Chamberlain is correct, and echoes the sentiments of many local residents by saying he was offended by Adkisson’s demeanor in court. “Today, he just sat there and sneered and seemed proud of it,” Griffith says. Church choir leader Vicki Masters, a witness to the shootings, agrees. “When he first came out into the courtroom, he had a look of sheer evil, he really did—evil as well as arrogance,” she says. “And he sat down after he looked around, and then he used his third finger to scratch the back of his head, with an air of arrogance and just pure evil. Those are the only words I can use to describe what I saw.” However, many church members say they are glad Adkisson chose to accept a plea, thus avoiding the necessity of the children who witnessed the shooting having to relive it in court. The Reverend William Sinkford, president of the Universalist Unitarian Society, says, “I am glad that the perpetrator is able to acknowledge publicly in the legal process what he did, and I am also glad that this community and church are not subjected to public trial.” [CNN, 2/9/2009; Knoxville News Sentinel, 2/10/2009; WATE, 2/10/2009]
A newly released government threat analysis shows that slain trust-fund millionaire James G. Cummings, an American Nazi sympathizer from Maine who was killed by his wife Amber in December 2008, possessed the radioactive components necessary to build a so-called “dirty bomb.” Cummings, infuriated by the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, purchased depleted uranium over the Internet from an American company.
FBI Confiscates Radioactive Materials - The Bangor Daily News reports, “According to an FBI field intelligence report from the Washington Regional Threat and Analysis Center posted online by WikiLeaks, an organization that posts leaked documents, an investigation into the case revealed that radioactive materials were removed from Cummings’s home after his shooting death on December 9.” According to the Washington Regional Threat and Analysis Center: “Amber [Cummings] indicated James was very upset with Barack Obama being elected president. She indicated James had been in contact with ‘white supremacist group(s).’ Amber also indicated James mixed chemicals in the kitchen sink at their residence and had mentioned ‘dirty bombs.’” An FBI search of the Cummings home found four jars of depleted uranium-238 labeled “uranium metal” and the name of an unidentified US corporation, another jar labeled “thorium” and containing that material, and a second, unlabeled jar which also contained thorium-232. Other materials found in Cummings’s home were consistent with the manufacture of an explosive device, which if detonated could have spread radioactive debris throughout a relatively large local area. The FBI also found information on how to build “dirty bombs,” and information about cesium-137, strontium-90, cobalt-60, and other radioactive materials. FBI evidence shows Cummings had numerous ties to a variety of right-wing white supremacist groups. Cummings also owned a collection of Nazi memorabilia which, according to local tradesmen, he proudly displayed throughout his home. Police reports show that Cummings has a long history of violence. Amber Cummings contends she is innocent of her husband’s murder by reason of insanity, and claims she suffered years of mental, physical, and sexual abuse at his hands. The Department of Homeland Security has refused to comment on the incident. [Bangor Daily News, 2/10/2009; Raw Story, 3/9/2009] Local law enforcement officials downplay the threat Cummings posed, and the national media virtually ignores the story. [Time, 9/30/2010]
Later Information Shows Depth of Threat Posed by Cummings - Additional information gleaned by Time reporter Barton Gellman from Cummings’s notes and records later shows that the threat posed by Cummings was even more serious than initially reported. Cummings had applied to join the National Socialist Party (the American Nazi organization), and had detailed plans on how to assassinate President-elect Obama. Gellman will call Cummings “a viciously angry and resourceful man who had procured most of the supplies for a crude radiological dispersal device and made some progress in sketching a workable design.” Gellman says that in his attempt to construct a nuclear weapon, Cummings “was far ahead of Jose Padilla, the accused al-Qaeda dirty-bomb plotter (see June 10, 2002), and more advanced in his efforts than any previously known domestic threat involving a dirty bomb.” The materials were later confirmed to be the radioactive materials they were labeled as being; Amber Cummings will say that her husband bought them under the pretense of conducting legal research for a university. Although the materials Cummings had would not, themselves, succeed in unleashing large amounts of radiation over a large area, he was actively searching for three ingredients that would serve such a purpose: cobalt-60, cesium-137, and strontium-90. He had succeeded in manufacturing large amounts of TATP, an explosive favored by Islamist suicide bombers and brought on board an aircraft by “shoe bomber” Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001). “His intentions were to construct a dirty bomb and take it to Washington to kill President Obama,” Amber Cummings says. “He was planning to hide it in the undercarriage of our motor home.” She says her husband had practiced crossing checkpoints with dangerous materials aboard, taking her and their daughter along for an image of innocence. Maine state police detective Michael McFadden, who participated in the investigation throughout, says he came to believe that James Cummings posed “a legitimate threat” of a major terrorist attack. “When you’re cooking thorium and uranium under your kitchen sink, when you have a couple million dollars sitting in the bank and you’re hell-bent on doing something, I think at that point you become someone we want to sit up and pay attention to,” he says. “If she didn’t do what she did, maybe we would know Mr. Cummings a lot better than we do right now.” [Time, 9/30/2010]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases previously classified documents that contain excerpts from a government report on harsh interrogation tactics used by US personnel against detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. The excerpts document repeated instances of abusive behavior, sometimes resulting in the deaths of prisoners. The documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), contain a report by Vice Admiral Albert Church, who compiled a comprehensive report on the Defense Department’s interrogation operations. Church terms the interrogations at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan as “clearly abusive, and clearly not in keeping with any approved interrogation policy or guidance.” Only two pages from the Church report were released without redactions.
Deaths at Bagram - A portion of the document reports on the deaths of two prisoners at Bagram (see December 5-9, 2002 and November 30-December 3, 2002), who were, the document states, “handcuffed to fixed objects above their heads in order to keep them awake.” The report continues: “Additionally, interrogations in both incidents involved the use of physical violence, including kicking, beating, and the use of ‘compliance blows,’ which involved striking the [prisoners] legs with the [interrogators] knees. In both cases, blunt force trauma to the legs was implicated in the deaths. In one case, a pulmonary embolism developed as a consequence of the blunt force trauma, and in the other case pre-existing coronary artery disease was complicated by the blunt force trauma.” Both detainees died from pulmonary embolisms caused by, the ACLU writes, “standing chained in place, sleep deprivation, and dozens of beatings by guards and possibly interrogators.”
Deaths at Other Facilities - The documents also report on torture conducted at Guantanamo and several US-Afghan prisons in Kabul; the death of prisoner Dilar Dababa in Iraq in 2003 at the hands of US forces; the torture and beating of an Iraqi prisoner at “The Disco,” a detention facility located in the Special Operations Force Compound at Mosul Airfield in Iraq; an investigation into torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad; and the murder of prisoner Abed Mowhoush.
Process Flowed Through Undersecretary Cambone - Columnist Scott Horton writes: “A large portion of the torture, maiming, and murder of detainees occurred under authority issued under secret rules of engagement in the Pentagon. Much of this flowed through Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone, a figure who has so far evaded scrutiny in the torture scandal.… Even the Senate Armed Services Committee review fails to get to the bottom of Dr. Cambone, his interrogations ROEs for special operations units he controlled, and the death, disfigurement, and torture of prisoners they handled. This is one of many reasons why a comprehensive investigation with subpoena power is urgently needed. But full airing of the internal investigations already conducted by the Department of Defense is an essential next step.” [Raw Story, 2/12/2009; American Civil Liberties Union, 2/12/2009]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other human rights organizations release over a thousand pages of government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The documents provide new details of the Bush administration’s treatment of prisoners in its “global war on terror.” Among other things, the documents show a much closer collaboration between the CIA and the Defense Department than initially believed; the Defense Department was intimately involved with the CIA’s practices of indefinite “ghost” detentions and torture. The documents confirm the existence of a previously “undisclosed detention facility” at Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base and details of the extensive abuse and torture of prisoners at that facility. They also show that the Defense Department worked to keep the Red Cross away from its detainees by refusing to register their capture with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for two weeks or more, “to maximize intelligence collection,” a practice the Defense Department officials acknowledged in their private communications to be illegal under the Geneva Conventions.
CIA, Defense Department in Collusion? - The Center for Constitutional Rights notes, “These policies demonstrate the ease with which the CIA could have used DOD facilities as ‘sorting facilities’ without having to worry about ICRC oversight or revelation of the ghost detainee program.” The documents also include e-mails sent to Defense Department Transportation Command officials recommending that a number of prisoners slated for release from Guantanamo be detained longer, for fear of negative press coverage (see February 17, 2006). [AlterNet, 2/13/2009] “These newly released documents confirm our suspicion that the tentacles of the CIA’s abusive program reached across agency lines,” says Margaret Satterthwaite of New York University’s International Human Rights Clinic. “In fact, it is increasingly obvious that defense officials engaged in legal gymnastics to find ways to cooperate with the CIA’s activities. A full accounting of all agencies must now take place to ensure that future abuses don’t continue under a different guise.”
Heavy Redactions Thwart Intent of FOIA - Amnesty International’s Tom Parker notes that much of the information in the documents was blacked out before its release. “Out of thousands of pages, most of what might be of interest was redacted,” he says. “While the sheer number of pages creates the appearance of transparency, it is clear this is only the tip of the iceberg and that the government agencies have not complied with spirit of President Obama’s memo on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests (see January 21, 2009). We call on Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama administration to put teeth into the memo and work actively to comply with FOIA requests.” [Center for Constitutional Rights, 2/12/2009]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Geneva Conventions, Central Intelligence Agency, Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International, American Civil Liberties Union, International Committee of the Red Cross, Obama administration, International Human Rights Clinic, New York University, Margaret Satterthwaite, Tom Parker
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
The Justice Department is holding back on publicly releasing an internal department report on the conduct of former department officials involved in approving waterboarding and other torture techniques. The department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), led by H. Marshall Jarrett, completed the report in the final weeks of the Bush administration. The report probes whether the legal advice given in crucial interrogation memos “was consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys.” According to knowledgeable sources, the report harshly criticizes three former department lawyers: John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Steven Bradbury, all former members of the department’s Office of Legal Counsel. But then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy, Mark Filip, objected to the draft. Filip wanted the report to be “balanced” with responses from the three principals. The OPR is now waiting on the three to respond to the draft’s criticisms before presenting the report to Attorney General Eric Holder. “The matter is under review,” says Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller. The OPR report could be forwarded to state bar associations for possible disciplinary actions against any or all of the three. But Bush-era officials feel the probe is inherently unfair. “OPR is not competent to judge [the opinions by Justice Department attorneys]. They’re not constitutional scholars,” says a former Bush lawyer. Mukasey criticized the report, calling it “second-guessing” and says that Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury operated under “almost unimaginable pressure” after 9/11, and offered “their best judgment of what the law required.” OPR investigators looked into charges by former OLC chief Jack Goldsmith and others that the legal opinions provided by the three were “sloppy,” legally dubious, and slanted to give Bush administration officials what they wanted. [Newsweek, 2/14/2009; Newsweek, 2/16/2009] Some of the report is later leaked to the press (see February 22, 2009).
Entity Tags: Jay S. Bybee, Eric Holder, Bush administration (43), Jack Goldsmith, US Department of Justice, Matthew Miller, Office of Professional Responsibility, Mark Filip, John C. Yoo, Michael Mukasey, Steven Bradbury, H. Marshall Jarrett
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union calls the case of alleged al-Qaeda detainee Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see June 23, 2003) a key test of “the most far-reaching use of detention powers” ever asserted by the executive branch. Al-Marri has spent five years incarcerated in the Charleston Naval Brig without being charged with a crime. “If President Obama is serious about restoring the rule of law in America, they can’t defend what’s been done to Marri. They would be completely buying into the Bush administration’s war on terror,” he says. Hafetz, who is scheduled to represent al-Marri before the Supreme Court in April, compares the Bush administration’s decision to leave al-Marri in isolation to his client’s being stranded on a desert island. “It’s a Robinson Crusoe-like situation,” he adds. Hafetz says that among the issues to be decided is “the question of who is a soldier, and who is a civilian.” He continues: “Is the fight against terrorism war, or is it not war? How far does the battlefield extend? In the past, they treated Peoria as a battlefield. Can an American be arrested in his own home and jailed indefinitely, on the say-so of the president?” Hafetz wants the Court to declare indefinite detention by executive fiat illegal. He also hopes President Obama will withdraw al-Marri’s designation as an enemy combatant and reclassify him as a civilian; such a move would allow al-Marri to either be charged with crimes and prosecuted, or released entirely. Civil liberties and other groups on both sides of the political divide have combined to file 18 amicus briefs with the Court, all on al-Marri’s behalf. The al-Marri decision will almost certainly impact the legal principles governing the disposal of the approximately 240 detainees still being held at Guantanamo.
Opinion of Former Bush Administration Officials - Former Bush State Department counsel John Bellinger says of his counterparts in the Obama administration: “They will have to either put up or shut up. Do they maintain the Bush administration position, and keep holding [al-]Marri as an enemy combatant? They have to come up with a legal theory.” He says that Obama officials will find it more difficult to put their ideals into action: “Governing is different from campaigning,” he notes, and adds that Obama officials will soon learn that “they can’t just set the clocks back eight years, and try every terror suspect captured abroad in the federal courts.” Former Attorney General John Ashcroft calls keeping al-Marri and other “enemy combatants” locked away without charges or trials a “sound decision” to “maximize the national interest,” and says that in the end, Obama’s approach will be much like Bush’s. “How will he be different?” he asks. “The main difference is going to be that he spells his name ‘O-b-a-m-a,’ not ‘B-u-s-h.’”
Current Administration's Opinion - Obama spokesman Larry Craig sums up the issue: “One way we’ve looked at this is that we own the solution. We don’t own the problem—it was created by the previous administration. But we’ll be held accountable for how we handle this.” [New Yorker, 2/23/2009]
Less than one month after his inauguration, President Barack Obama signs into law a $787 billion recovery package, stating that this will “set our economy on a firmer foundation.” However, Obama reiterates during the bill’s signing ceremony at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science that he will not pretend “that today marks the end of our economic problems, nor does it constitute all of what we have to do to turn our economy around. Today marks the beginning of the end, the beginning of what we need to do to create jobs for Americans scrambling in the wake of layoffs.” The legislative battle on the bill ended with only three Republican votes in the Senate and none in the House. As president-elect, Obama initially expected to spend between $675 billion and $775 billion on the recovery package, and the final number is almost exactly that. However, Congress included $70 billion worth of tax cuts in the bill they approved, although more than a few economists say $70 billion in tax cuts won’t create as many new jobs as $70 billion in spending would. According to the government’s Recovery (.gov) Web site, the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act:
Saves and creates more than 3.5 million jobs over the next two years;
Takes a big step toward computerizing Americans’ health records, reducing medical errors, and saving billions in health care costs;
Revives the renewable energy industry and provides the capital over the next three years to eventually double domestic renewable energy capacity;
Undertakes the largest weatherization program in history by modernizing 75 percent of federal building space and more than one million homes;
Increases college affordability for seven million students by funding the shortfall in Pell Grants, increasing the maximum award level by $500, and providing a new higher education tax cut to nearly four million students;
Enacts the largest increase in funding of the nation’s roads, bridges, and mass transit systems since the creation of the national highway system in the 1950s;
Provides an $800 “Making Work Pay” tax credit for 129 million working households, and cuts taxes for the families of millions of children through an expansion of the Child Tax Credit;
Requires unprecedented levels of transparency, oversight, and accountability.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says Obama will seek additional stimulus/recovery funding if needed. [New York Times, 2/17/2009; recovery.gov, 2/17/2009]
Brandon Neely. [Source: Associated Press]A former Guantanamo guard, Specialist Brandon Neely, discusses his experiences with MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow. He also gives a lengthier interview to the Guantanamo Testimonials Project, run by the Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas at the University of California at Davis. Neely was at Guantanamo when the first prisoners arrived in January 2002, and stayed for some six months before being transferred. Later, he served in Iraq. Neely says he is still haunted by the memories of what he saw during his time at Guantanamo. Neely, who was honorably discharged from the Army in 2008, is the president of the Houston chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).
'I Was Ready for Revenge' - When he learned that he was being assigned to Guantanamo, as he recalls, “We were told… these people would not fall under the Geneva Convention.” Neely says that from the outset, he and the other guards were trained to be very adversarial towards the detainees: “We were just told from the get-go that these were the guys who planned 9/11, that these are the worst people in the world.… I was ready for revenge. I was angry. I was ready to go to war.” He recalls the day that the first detainees arrived (see January 11, 2002-April 30, 2002). When they arrived, Neely was startled: “Most of them were small, underweight, very scared, and injured. I was expecting these people to come off that bus looking like vicious monsters.”
Fear of Execution Provoked Resistance - Neely recalls one physical incident between himself and an older prisoner that happened the first day. When the prisoner resisted being forced to his knees, Neely slammed him to the cement floor; other guards “went ahead and hog-tied him.” The next day, as Neely recalls: “I could see on the side of his—side of his face, he was all scraped up and bruised.… And I later learned from other detainees the reason that he moved and he jerked away from us was when we placed him on his knees, he thought we were going to execute him.” However, his fellow guards were pleased, saying, “Man, that was a good job; you got you some.” Neely witnessed other physical abuses, including one instance when a prisoner was beaten by a medic for refusing to drink a can of Ensure. Neely later learned that the prisoner believed the Ensure to have been poisoned. He also witnessed a detainee beaten unconscious for calling a female guard a “b_tch.” Guards sometimes called prisoners “sand n_ggers.” Guards sometimes told detainees that their villages or countries had been bombed and their families were all dead. Sometimes the guards told prisoners that they could be executed at any time.
Lack of Respect for Religious Beliefs - Neely knows of at least one incident where a guard, searching a prisoner’s cage, threw the prisoner’s Koran to the floor, provoking outrage among the detainees. Neely says the guard swore that he threw the Koran aside without thinking. Other incidents were more deliberately provocative: loud rock music or the national anthem would be played during the morning call to prayer; soldiers would mock and ridicule prisoners during their worship services, soldiers would blast praying detainees with water and call the incidents accidents; prisoners were fed pork, a proscribed food, without being informed of what they were eating.
David Hicks: Humanizing the 'Monsters' - Neely spent a good amount of time talking with Australian detainee David Hicks (see December 2000-December 2001). Hicks repeatedly insisted that he had been in Afghanistan fighting well before the Americans arrived, and that he would never fight Americans. He told Neely that he had been captured by Northern Alliance forces while trying to leave the country, and his captors sold him to the Americans for $1,500. Neely recalls: “Hicks did not come across as the cold-blooded killer that we were told all these guys were. He was a normal guy like me.… During these times is when I really started to look at the detainees as real people and not just monsters, as I had been told they were.”
'Trial and Error' - Neely says: “There was no standard operating procedures as far as how a detainee camp was supposed to be run. There was kind of like a trial-and-error period, if this didn’t work, we’ll try this way one day—you know, just everyday was something different until they thought it was right.” He tells The Independent: “As far as the Geneva Conventions, we touched very shortly on that in training. Most of what people knew about them was from their own readings.” [MSNBC, 2/17/2009; Independent, 2/18/2009]
Conclusion - Neely says: “I think everyone can agree that, at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, there are some really bad people. And there are a lot of good people there as well. But—innocent, guilty, black, white, Muslim, or Jew, no matter what you are—there is no excuse to treat people in the manner that I and other people did. It’s wrong and just downright criminal, and it goes against everything the United States of America stands for.” [Independent, 2/18/2009]
In the case of Kiyemba v Obama the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously blocks a judge’s order to free 17 Chinese Uighurs (see September 17, 2006 and June 30, 2008) from detention in Guantanamo. [New York Times, 2/18/2009; Constitution Project, 2/18/2009]
Not a Threat to the US - The Uighurs, members of a small Muslim ethnic and religious minority, have been in detention for seven years after being captured in Pakistan; they insist they were receiving training to resist Chinese oppression, and never harbored any ill will towards the US or had any intention of participating in attacks on US or US-allied targets. Judge Ricardo Urbina concurred in an October ruling. Even Bush officials had decided not to try to prove the 17 men were “enemy combatants”; instead, they said that they would continue imprisoning them because they had “trained for armed insurrection against their home country” in a Uighur camp in Afghanistan. The Obama administration can choose to release the Uighurs if it can find a country—the US or another nation—to accept the detainees for resettlement. Obama officials do not want to turn the Uighurs over to Chinese authorities for fear that they will be imprisoned and tortured.
Two Rulings, One on Release, One on Habeas Corpus - All three appellate judges agree to overturn Urbina’s order to release the Uighurs, but split 2-1 on a separate question: whether detainees such as the Uighurs have habeas corpus rights to challenge their detention. Two, Judges Arthur Randolph and Karen Henderson, say that the law, as decided by the Supreme Court in the June 2008 Boumediene v Bush case (see June 22, 2008), does not give judges the right to release detainees into the US. “Never in the history of habeas corpus,” the majority opinion finds, “has any court thought it had the power to order an alien held overseas brought into the sovereign territory of a nation and released into the general population.” Judge Judith Rogers dissents, writing that the ruling “ignores the very purpose” of the writ of habeas corpus, which is, she writes, to serve as “a check on arbitrary executive power.” If the court has no legal right to release the Uighurs into the US, Rogers writes, the Boumediene ruling has no meaning. A lawyer for the Uighurs, Susan Baker Manning, says the ruling means innocent people “can spend the rest of their lives in prison even though the US knows it’s a mistake.” [New York Times, 2/18/2009]
Civil Rights Organization 'Disappointed' in Ruling, Calls for Release - Sharon Bradford Franklin of the Constitution Project, a civil rights organization, writes: “We are disappointed by today’s DC Circuit ruling that denies freedom to the 17 men whom the government admits are not ‘enemy combatants’ and yet continues to hold at Guantanamo for a seventh year. President Obama should exercise his power to release the Uighurs into the US. The appellate court’s ruling that the trial court lacked the power to compel the executive branch to release the Uighurs into the United States in no way limits the ability of the executive branch to release the Uighurs on its own. We therefore call on President Obama to choose the right course and evaluate the terms under which the Uighurs may be released into the United States. The writ of habeas corpus is a fundamental constitutional right. For habeas corpus to have meaning, it must permit a court to end wrongful detentions. We regret that today’s decision failed to recognize the court’s ability to check arbitrary detention, such as that suffered by the Uighurs.” [Constitution Project, 2/18/2009]
Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck has a special segment called “War Games” during the week’s broadcasts. In today’s show, he is joined by former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer (see February 1996) and retired Army Sergeant Major, Tim Strong. The three discuss what they say is the upcoming “civil war” in America, which, they assert, will be led by “citizen militias” made up of principled, ideologically correct conservatives. Beck says that he “believes we’re on this road.” The three decide among themselves that the US military would refuse to obey President Obama’s orders to subdue the insurrection and would instead join with “the people” in “defending the Constitution” against the government. [Salon, 2/22/2009] Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin’s blog “Hot Air” features an entry that calls Beck’s rhetoric “implausible” and “nutty.” [Hot Air, 2/22/2009]
Retired Major General Anthony Taguba, who headed an intensive military investigation into the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison (see March 9, 2004), is one of the most prominent supporters of the call to investigate the Bush administration’s interrogation, detention, and torture policies. Taguba joins 18 human rights organizations, former State Department officials, former law enforcement officers, and former military leaders in asking President Obama to create a non-partisan commission to investigate those abuses. Even though prosecuting former Bush officials might be difficult, Taguba says, a commission would provide some measure of accountability for the practices Taguba calls “misguided,” “illegal,” “despicable and questionable.” Taguba wants the commission to study the Bush administration’s claims that torture provides good intelligence, which he disputes. He particularly wants the commission to investigate administration officials’ claims that the administration’s policies were legal. Taguba says he supports “a structured commission with some form of authority with clear objectives and a follow-on action plan. I’m not looking for anything that is prosecutorial in nature, unless a suspected violation of relevant laws occurred, which should be referred to the Department of Justice.… In my opinion, our military prosecuted those who were involved in torture or unlawful interrogation. And I think our military has come to terms with that. We are an institution that prides itself on taking corrective action immediately, admitting to it, and holding ourselves accountable. And we have done that. But I am not so sure that our civilian authorities in government have done that for themselves.” Speaking about the Bush Justice Department’s findings that torture and indefinite detentions are legal (see Late September 2001, November 11-13, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, August 1, 2002, and August 1, 2002), Taguba says: “This notion that a lot of constitutional legal experts—lawyers with great intellect, well educated—came up with such despicable and questionable legal findings that were contrary to the definition of defending the Constitution? And then they framed this as if the executive branch had the authority to extend beyond the constitution to establish a policy of torture and illegal detention?… Some of those that were tortured were innocent. How do we come to terms with those that were cruelly mistreated and were innocent, never charged, were illegally detained, and never compensated for their suffering? This is not a political issue, but a moral and ethical dilemma which has far-reaching implications.” [Salon, 2/21/2009]
A Justice Department investigation finds that the legal work done by John Yoo and two other former Justice lawyers for the Bush administration was unacceptably deficient. Opinions written by Yoo, his former boss Jay Bybee of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), and Bybee’s successor, Steven Bradbury, often ignored legal precedent and existing case law as they took extralegal stances on a number of controversial issues, including torture and domestic surveillance. Many of the opinions, including the August 2002 “Golden Shield” memo (see August 1, 2002), were written specifically to authorize illegal acts such as waterboarding that had already taken place, in an apparent attempt to provide the Bush administration with retroactive legal “cover.” The investigation finds that in that memo, Yoo ignored the landmark 1952 Youngstown Supreme Court ruling (see June 2, 1952) that restricts presidential authority. The investigation also finds that in the March 2003 memo authorizing the military to ignore the law in using extreme methods in interrogating suspected terrorists (see March 14, 2003), Yoo ignored the advice of military lawyers and Justice Department officials who warned that the memo contained major legal flaws. In this and others of Yoo’s torture memos, the investigation finds that he went well beyond the legal bounds of interrogation methods, failed to cite legal cases that might have undercut the Bush administration’s claims of broad new war powers, and refused to rewrite his opinions in light of these caveats. And, the investigation finds, Yoo often went over the head of Attorney General John Ashcroft and dealt directly with the White House, particularly with White House lawyers David Addington and Alberto Gonzales. The investigation was headed by H. Marshall Jarrett, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), and has been in operation since 2004, following the Abu Ghraib torture scandal and the leak of one of Yoo’s “torture memos.” It is unclear whether the final OPR report will find that the actions of the former OLC lawyers rose to the level of “professional misconduct.” The report is being reviewed by Attorney General Eric Holder and other Justice Department officials. A draft was actually completed last year, and a copy was supposed to be given to Senators Richard Durbin (R-IL) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), but then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey repeatedly blocked the report’s release in order to give Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury time to prepare their responses. Durbin and Whitehouse have asked Jarrett to explain the delay in the report’s release. [Public Record, 2/22/2009]
Entity Tags: David S. Addington, Sheldon Whitehouse, Steven Bradbury, US Department of Justice, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Bush administration (43), Office of Professional Responsibility, Michael Mukasey, Eric Holder, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), H. Marshall Jarrett, Alberto R. Gonzales, John C. Yoo, John Ashcroft, Jay S. Bybee
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Mohamed returning to London. [Source: Lewis Whyld / Associated Press]Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001, February 8, 2009, and February 9, 2009) is released from Guantanamo, and returns to Great Britain. He is flown to Britain on a private chartered Gulfstream jet similar to those used by the CIA in “extraordinary renditions.” His sister, Zuhra Mohamed, meets him at the RAF Northolt airbase in west London, and tells reporters: “I am so glad and so happy, more than words can express. I am so thankful for everything that was done for Binyam to make this day come true.” His lawyers claim that he has suffered severe physical and psychological abuse, some of which was inflicted in recent days. He suffers from what his lawyers call a huge range of injuries. Doctors have found Mohamed suffering from extensive bruising, organ damage, stomach complaints, malnutrition, sores to feet and hands, and severe damage to ligaments. His weight has dropped from around 170 pounds to 125 pounds. His lawyers say he suffers from serious emotional and psychological problems, which have been exacerbated by the refusal of Guantanamo officials to provide him with counseling. Mohamed’s British lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, says his client had been beaten “dozens” of times, with the most recent abuse occurring in the last few weeks (see September 2004 and After). “He has a list of physical ailments that cover two sheets of A4 paper,” says Stafford Smith. “What Binyam has been through should have been left behind in the middle ages.” Mohamed’s American military lawyer, Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley, adds: “He has been severely beaten. Sometimes I don’t like to think about it because my country is behind all this.” Britain’s former Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, an advocate for the closure of Guantanamo, says that allegations of abuse against Mohamed, a British resident, should be raised by Foreign Secretary David Miliband with his American counterpart, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “If there are credible accounts of mistreatment then they need to be pursued,” Goldsmith says.
Care Provided upon Return - Upon his return to Britain, Mohamed will receive physical care and emotional counseling in a secure, secret location by a team of volunteer doctors and psychiatrists. He will be kept under a “voluntary security arrangement,” where he must report regularly to authorities, but will not be subject to charges or anti-terror control orders. The US dropped all charges against Mohamed last year, including allegations that he had participated in a “dirty bomb” plot. [Guardian, 2/22/2009; Guardian, 2/24/2009]
MI5 to Be Investigated? - At least one MI5 officer may face a criminal investigation over his alleged complicity in torturing Mohamed (see February 24, 2009). And Mohamed’s future testimony is expected to shed light upon MI5’s own participation in his interrogation and alleged torture; Mohamed may sue the British government and MI5, Britain’s counter-intelligence and security service, over its alleged complicity in his detention, abduction, treatment, and interrogation. If filed, Mohamed’s lawsuit could force US and British authorities to disclose vital evidence regarding Mohamed’s allegations of torture. [Guardian, 2/22/2009]
Former Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001), a British citizen who suffered extensive abuse during his detention (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004 and February 8, 2009) and is just now released (see February 22-24, 2009), says in a written statement that British officials from MI5 played an integral part in his abduction and torture at the hands of the CIA and Moroccan officials. Senior MPs say they intend to investigate his claims. Just after his arrival in London, Mohamed tells reporters: “For myself, the very worst moment came when I realized in Morocco that the people who were torturing me were receiving questions and materials from British intelligence.… I had met with British intelligence in Pakistan. I had been open with them. Yet the very people who I had hoped would come to my rescue, I later realized, had allied themselves with my abusers.” Days later, the Daily Mail will obtain documents from Mohamed’s American court proceedings that show MI5 agents twice gave CIA agents lists of questions they wanted to have asked, as well as dossiers of photographs. [Guardian, 2/24/2009; Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
Gives Primary Blame to CIA - Mohamed places the bulk of the blame on his rendition and torture on the CIA, and says, “It is still difficult for me to believe that I was abducted, hauled from one country to the next, and tortured in medieval ways—all orchestrated by the United States government.” [Scotsman, 2/24/2009]
'They Sold Me Out' - Mohamed will later say that he reached his “lowest ebb” when he realized British agents were involved in his interrogation and torture. “They started bringing British files to the interrogations,” he will recall, “not one, but several of them, thick binders, some of them containing sheaves of photos of people who lived in London and places there like mosques. It was obvious the British were feeding them questions about people in London. When I realized that the British were co-operating with the people who were torturing me, I felt completely naked.… They sold me out.” The documents indicate that MI5 did not know where Mohamed was being held, but that its agents knew he was in a third nation’s custody through the auspices of the CIA. MI5 agents met with their CIA counterparts in September 2002, well after Mohamed’s rendition to Morocco, to discuss the case. [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
False Confession - He suffered tortures in Pakistan (see April 10-May, 2002), Morocco, and Afghanistan (see January-September 2004), including being mutilated with scalpels, a mock execution, sleep deprivation for days, being fed contaminated food, and being beaten for hours while hanging by his wrists from shackles in the ceiling. He says that the closest he came to losing his mind entirely was when, in US custody in Afghanistan, he was locked in a cell and forced to listen to a CD of rap music played at ear-shattering volume 24 hours a day for a month. It was these tortures that drove him to confess to being part of a plot to build a radioactive “dirty bomb” (see November 4, 2005), a confession he now says was untrue and given merely to avoid further torment. He also confessed to meeting Osama bin Laden and getting a passport from 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed: “None of it was true.” [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
'Zero Doubt' of British Complicity - His lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, says Mohamed is being cared for under the auspices of his legal team, and is “incredibly skinny and very emaciated.” Stafford Smith says he has “zero doubt” Britain was complicit in his client’s ill-treatment. “Britain knew he was being abused and left him,” he says. Stafford Smith also says Mohamed was subjected to “very serious abuse” in Guantanamo. Mike Gapes, the chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, says he intends to question Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch Brown over “outstanding issues,” which include “rendition, what happened to people in Guantanamo Bay, and black sites,” a reference to prisons in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Two British judges say they are suppressing “powerful evidence” of Mohamed’s torture at the insistence of Miliband and US authorities (see February 4, 2009). [Guardian, 2/24/2009] Miliband says Mohamed’s release was effected due to “intensive negotiations with the US government,” in which he played a key part. Edward Davey of the Liberal Democrats has little use for Miliband’s claims, saying, “It is telling that David Miliband is unable to give a straightforward yes or no as to whether British agents and officials have been complicit in torture,” and adds that “Mohamed’s case may just be the tip of the iceberg.” [Scotsman, 2/24/2009]
Evidence that MI5 Lied - The new revelations about MI5’s involvement contradict the testimony of MI5 officials, who in 2007 told Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee that the agency had no idea that Mohamed had been subjected to “extraordinary rendition” to Morocco or anywhere else. The Daily Mail will note, “The revelations will put Foreign Secretary David Miliband under even greater pressure to come clean about British involvement in the rendition and alleged torture of Muslim terror suspects.” [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
Libertarian Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) introduces the American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2009, which would withdraw the United States from the United Nations. The bill is referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where it is expected to languish without coming up for a full House vote. The bill specifically claims it is designed “[t]o end membership of the United States in the United Nations.” It would repeal the United Nations Participation Act of 1945 and the United Nations Headquarters Agreement Act of 1947, and order the president to “terminate all participation by the United States in the United Nations, and any organ, specialized agency, commission, or other formally affiliated body of the United Nations.” The bill would remove the UN Mission from New York City to somewhere outside US borders. The US would terminate all funding it provides to the UN and terminate any participation in UN peacekeeping operations. It would also withdraw the US from the World Health Organization (WHO) and repeal the United Nations Environment Program Participation Act of 1973. Any treaties, conventions, agreements, and other such interactions between the US and UN would be terminated. [US Fed News Service, 2/27/2009] Paul will reintroduce the bill two years later (see March 17, 2011).
Attorney General Eric Holder confirms the Obama administration’s plans to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility (see November 16, 2008 and January 22, 2009), but calls it a well-run, professional institution. Closing Guantanamo “will not be an easy process,” Holder says after visiting the site. “It’s one we will do in a way that ensures that people are treated fairly and that the American people are kept safe.” Holder leads the administration’s effort to close the facility within a year. Most of that time will be spent reviewing the case files and histories of the 245 inmates currently incarcerated there: “It’s going to take us a good portion of that time to look at all of the files that we have to examine, until we get our hands around what Guantanamo is, and also what Guantanamo was,” he says. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), an outspoken advocate of keeping Guantanamo open (see February 5, 2009), says he is encouraged by Holder’s remarks. “I believe as more time goes by there is a chance the administration will grow to realize that we need Gitmo and must keep it open,” he says. “More time will allow facts to replace political rhetoric.” Inhofe is promoting legislation that will bar any Guantanamo detainees from coming to the US. [Associated Press, 2/25/2009]
Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair says the Guantanamo detention facility needs to be closed (see January 22, 2009) because its existence has done serious damage to the US’s reputation and its ability to achieve foreign policy goals. “Countries won’t deal with us,” Blair tells the House Intelligence Committee. “Our popularity’s down. We don’t have blue chips to trade.” [Associated Press, 2/25/2009; Associated Press, 2/25/2009]
Coffins of US war dead are shipped through Dover Air Force Base. [Source: Los Angeles Times]The Obama administration announces that the media can now photograph the flag-draped coffins of US soldiers killed in combat as they return through Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Under a ban begun by the first Bush administration in 1991, news photographers were prohibited from taking pictures, journalists were prevented from interviewing families of the war dead, and, as the Los Angeles Times notes, “no public record was made about the personal toll exacted by Washington’s policies on individual soldiers and their families.” President George W. Bush claimed the policy was to protect the privacy of military families; critics said that the policy was a public relations ploy to avoid bad publicity by personalizing the cost of war. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that if military families object, the coffins of their loved ones will not be photographed. [Los Angeles Times, 2/26/2009; Associated Press, 2/26/2009]
A federal appeals court rejects the Obama administration’s assertion that a potential threat to national security should stop a lawsuit challenging the government’s warrantless wiretapping program. The Justice Department had requested an emergency stay in a case brought by a defunct Islamic charity, the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (see February 28, 2006). Al Haramain has asked that classified information be made available to the court to prove its case that the electronic surveillance brought to bear against it by the government was illegal; Justice Department lawyers contend that the information needs to remain classified and unavailable to the court, and cite the “state secrets” privilege (see March 9, 1953) as legal justification. Although the court rejects the request for the stay, Justice Department lawyers say they will continue fighting to keep the information secret. “The government respectfully requests that the court refrain from further actions to provide plaintiffs with access to classified information,” says a filing made by the Justice Department in regards to the ruling. A lawyer for Al Haramain, Steven Goldberg, says: “All we wanted was our day in court and it looks like we’re finally going to get our day in court. This case is all about challenging an assertion of power by the executive branch which is extraordinary.” The American Civil Liberties Union’s Ann Brick says the court has now crafted a way to review the issue in which “national security isn’t put at risk, but the rule of law can still be observed.” [Associated Press, 2/27/2009] Days later, the Justice Department will file a brief announcing its intention to refuse to honor the appeals court’s decision (see March 2, 2009).
Federal prosecutors charge Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, the only “enemy combatant” held on US soil (see June 23, 2003), with criminal terrorism charges. Al-Marri is charged with two counts of providing material support to al-Qaeda and conspiring with others to provide material support to al-Qaeda, according to a press release from the Justice Department. He faces a maximum jail sentence of 30 years. US Attorney Rodger Heaton says: “The indictment alleges that Ali al-Marri provided material support to al-Qaeda, which has committed horrific terrorist acts against our nation. As a result, he will now face the US criminal justice system, where his guilt or innocence will be determined by a jury in open court.” Such a decision takes al-Marri out of the military commissions system and places him in the US criminal judicial system. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is representing al-Marri’s Supreme Court challenge to the “enemy combatant” designation, but criminal charges will not necessarily resolve that issue. Part of the discussion of whether to charge al-Marri centered on the evidence against him: al-Marri’s lawyers claim that much of the evidence against their client was obtained through harsh interrogation techniques and torture, which would render that evidence inadmissible in a US court. Some of the evidence may also be too sensitive to reveal in open court, having been gathered through classified intelligence operations. Lead counsel Jonathan Hafetz says: “[T]he decision to charge al-Marri is an important step in restoring the rule of law and is what should have happened seven years ago when he was first arrested (see February 8, 2002). But it is vital that the Supreme Court case go forward because it must be made clear once and for all that indefinite military detention of persons arrested in the US is illegal and that this will never happen again.” Amnesty International’s Geneve Mantri calls the decision to charge al-Marri “another crucial step in the right direction,” and adds: “If there are individuals who pose a real threat to the United States, the best, most effective means of dealing with them is the current system of justice. There are a number of outstanding questions about how the detainee cases will be reviewed and what the approach of the new administration will be, but Amnesty International welcomes this as an indication that they have faith in the US justice system and rule of law.” [US Department of Justice, 2/27/2009; Washington Post, 2/27/2009; American Civil Liberties Union, 2/27/2009] The ACLU wants the Supreme Court to ignore the criminal charges and rule on al-Marri’s petition for habeas corpus rights; the Justice Department says that the criminal charges render al-Marri’s lawsuit moot. [Lyle Denniston, 2/26/2007]
According to media reports, the Obama administration intends to reverse the “right of conscience rule,” formally called the Provider Refusal Rule, for health care workers enacted by President Bush in the last weeks of his term. In December 2008, Bush issued an executive order allowing health care workers to deny care based on their personal beliefs. The order was issued to target doctors and nurses who do not want to provide abortions, even if they work in a facility that offers abortions to clients. Specifically, the rule denies Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) funding to institutions that do not allow workers to refuse care that goes against their beliefs. Now the Obama administration says President Obama will override that order. Seven states have already challenged the rule, claiming it sacrifices the health of patients in order to satisfy the religious or moral beliefs of medical personnel. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has reported cases such as that of a Virginia mother of two who became pregnant because she was denied emergency contraception; in Texas, the group said, a rape victim had her prescription for emergency contraception rejected by a pharmacist. Obama has already overturned a ban on US funding for international aid groups that provide abortion services. However, administration officials say the administration may consider a rule that would clarify what health care workers can reasonably refuse. An HHS spokesman says: “We recognize and understand that some providers have objections to providing abortions. But we do not want to impose new limitations on services that would allow providers to refuse to provide to women and their families services like family planning and contraception that would actually help prevent the need for an abortion in the first place.” Dr. Suzanne Poppema of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health praises Obama “for placing good health care above ideological demands,” and says: “Physicians across the country were outraged when the Bush administration, in its final days, limited women’s access to reproductive health care. Hundreds of doctors protested these midnight regulations and urged President Obama to repeal them quickly. We are thrilled that President Obama took the first steps today to ensure that our patients’ health is once again protected.” Tony Perkins of the anti-abortion Family Research Council (FRC) counters: “Protecting the right of all health care providers to make professional judgments based on moral convictions and ethical standards is foundational to federal law and is necessary to ensure that access to health care is not diminished, which will occur if health care workers are forced out of their jobs because of their ethical stances. President Obama’s intention to change the language of these protections would result in the government becoming the conscience and not the individual. It is a person’s right to exercise their moral judgment, not the government’s to decide it for them.” [Chicago Tribune, 2/27/2009; CNN, 2/27/2009; New York Times, 2/27/2009] The liberal Center for American Progress (CAP) writes in April 2009: “Conservatives have criticized the Obama administration for infringing upon the conscience of health care professionals and ‘forcing’ them to provide abortion services.… Yet this assertion could not be further from the truth. President Obama’s proposal to rescind Bush’s last-minute rule restores the pre-existing compromise established through decades of debate.” CAP notes that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act disallows employers from firing or harassing workers who decline to fulfill assigned tasks due to moral or religious objections. “Obama’s proposal to rescind the Bush ‘conscience’ rule simply restores the prior balance that existed on matters of conscience,” CAP concludes. “It once again guides the health care system to value the consciences of health care providers and patients.” [Jessica Arons and Sarah Dreier, 4/28/2009] However, for reasons never made publicly clear, the Obama administration will never actually rescind the order. It is possible that Obama or HHS officials bow to pressure from a number of organizations such as the FRC and the Christian Medical Association, which have continually pressured the administration not to rescind the order. [Fox News, 4/8/2009; Time, 2/4/2010; Megan Sullivan, 7/13/2010]
Entity Tags: American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Family Research Council, Christian Medical Association, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), Center for American Progress, Tony Perkins, George W. Bush, US Department of Health and Human Services, Obama administration, Provider Refusal Rule, Suzanne Poppema
Timeline Tags: US Health Care
Italy’s Constitutional Court bars the prosecution at the trial over the 2003 rendition of Islamist radical Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar—see Noon February 17, 2003) from using some evidence. That evidence, barred on state secrecy grounds, includes phone taps and testimony from agents with the Italian military intelligence service SISMI. At least partially because of this ruling, five of seven SISMI agents charged with involvement in the rendition will not be convicted (see November 4, 2009). [Reuters, 11/4/2009]
Samantha Burton, a 25-year-old Florida resident in the 25th week of her pregnancy, is told by her doctor that she is at risk of miscarrying her child. The doctor orders her to immediately undertake a program of bed rest. Burton disagrees, saying that as a working mother with two children already, she cannot afford to miss work. She asks for a second opinion. Instead, her doctor informs Florida authorities; the Circuit Court of Leon County summarily forces Burton to be admitted to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital against her will and orders that she undergo whatever procedure her doctor orders. Burton is granted no legal representation in the decision; the forcible hospitalization is imposed after a single telephone “hearing” without a review of her medical records. Burton requests that she be moved to a different hospital, a request denied by the court, which rules that “such a change is not in the child’s best interest at this time.” Three days into her forced hospitalization, Burton is forced to submit to an emergency C-section, at which time her fetus is found to have died. [New York Times, 1/12/2010; Diana Kasdan, 1/13/2010; Roxann MtJoy, 1/15/2010] The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that such a prescription of enforced bed rest does nothing to help prevent miscarriage and premature birth, and does not recommend it. [BabyCenter (.com), 1/2010] Burton, along with the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), sues the State of Florida, claiming that Florida violated her constitutional rights. Burton and the ACLU argue, “To ignore this fundamental constitutional distinction between the state interest in protecting fetal life and its interest in the protecting the lives and health of people is to risk virtually unfettered intrusion into the lives of pregnant women.” Instead, the court rules against Burton, finding that Florida was merely maintaining what it calls the “status quo,” and that it was forced to intervene in what it calls an “extraordinary” situation. Burton appeals the decision. [New York Times, 1/12/2010; Roxann MtJoy, 1/15/2010] The ACLU’s Diana Kasdan writes that the court’s intervention denies Burton “her fundamental right to make her own informed decisions about medical care during her pregnancy.… It is hard to imagine any worse approach to helping pregnant women have safe pregnancies and healthy newborns than the one used by the State of Florida in Ms. Burton’s case.” [Diana Kasdan, 1/13/2010]
Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean says that after reading the nine newly released Bush-era Justice Department memos that asserted sweeping powers for the president not granted by the Constitution (see March 2, 2009), “you’ve gotta almost conclude we had an unconstitutional dictator. It’s pretty deadly and pretty serious, what’s in these materials.” Anyone deemed a terrorist by President Bush could be kidnapped, incarcerated, and tortured, all without any legal recourse. “Who in this formula was supposed to decide that these were terrorists?” asks MSNBC host Keith Olbermann. Dean replies: “Well, according to these memos, that was rather limited to the president of the United States and there are no guidelines as to how he might describe who was or was not a terrorist. The president can unilaterally or, theoretically, even somebody he delegates can decide who indeed can be incarcerated, who can not. That is why I say, this is pretty close to being an unconstitutional dictator, in any definition under the law of this country.” [MSNBC, 3/2/2009; Raw Story, 3/3/2009]
In a letter to Judge Alvin Hellerstein regarding the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)‘s lawsuit against the US Defense Department, the Justice Department informs Hellerstein that the CIA destroyed 92 videotapes of prisoner interrogations. The CIA’s previous admissions of the number of destroyed videotapes were far smaller (see November 2005). [Re: ACLU et al v. Department of Defense et al, 3/2/2009 ] The CIA confirms that the tapes showed what it calls “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on a number of detainees. The Justice Department adds that it will provide a list of summaries, transcripts, and memoranda related to the destroyed tapes, though the American Civil Liberties Union notes that a previous list was almost entirely redacted. [TPM Muckraker, 3/6/2009; American Civil Liberties Union, 3/6/2009] The disclosure comes as part of a criminal inquiry into the tapes’ destruction. As the investigation comes to a close, observers expect that no charges will be filed against any CIA employees. The agency’s Directorate of Operations chief, Jose Rodriguez, ordered the recordings destroyed in November 2005 (see November 2005); former CIA Director Michael Hayden argued that the tapes posed “a serious security risk” because they contained the identities of CIA participants in al-Qaeda interrogations. Rodriguez has not yet been questioned. It is believed that the tapes show, among other interrogation sessions, the waterboarding of two detainees, Abu Zubaida (see Mid-May 2002 and After) and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see (November 2002)). Civil libertarians and human rights advocates are outraged at the destruction of the tapes. “The sheer number of tapes at issue demonstrates that this destruction was not an accident,” says Amrit Singh, a staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “It’s about time the CIA was held accountable for its flagrant violation of the law,” she adds. CIA spokesman George Little says the destruction of the tapes was not an attempt to break the law or evade accountability. “If anyone thinks it’s agency policy to impede the enforcement of American law, they simply don’t know the facts,” Little says. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, confirms that her panel intends to conduct a broader investigation of the CIA’s interrogation program. [Washington Post, 3/3/2009]
Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Jose Rodriguez, Jr., US Department of Justice, Senate Intelligence Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, Amrit Singh, American Civil Liberties Union, George Little, US Department of Defense, Alvin K. Hellerstein, Dianne Feinstein
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
The Justice Department defies a recent court order (see February 27, 2009) and refuses to provide a document that might prove the Bush administration conducted illegal wiretaps on a now-defunct Islamic charity. The Justice Department files a brief with a California federal district court challenging the court’s right to carry out its own decision to make that evidence available in a pending lawsuit. Even though the document is critical to the lawsuit, the lawyers can obtain the necessary top-secret clearances, and the document would not be made public, the Justice Department claims that the document cannot be entered into evidence. The lawyers for Al Haramain, the Islamic charity and the plaintiffs in the suit, calls the Justice Department’s decision “mind-boggling.”
Government's Position - For its part, the Justice Department writes in a brief that the decision to release the document “is committed to the discretion of the executive branch, and is not subject to judicial review.” The document has been in the possession of the court since 2004, when the government inadvertently released it to the plaintiffs. In the same brief, the Justice Department writes: “If the Court intends to itself grant access to classified information directly to the plaintiffs’ counsel, the government requests that the Court again provide advance notice of any such order, as well as an ex parte, in camera description of the information it intends to disclose, to enable the government to either make its own determination about whether counsel has a need to know, or to withdraw that information from submission to the Court and use in this case. If the Court rejects either action by the government, the government again requests that the Court stay proceedings while the government considers whether to appeal any such order.” The statement is an implied threat that the Justice Department lawyers will themselves physically remove the document from the court files if the judge says he has the right to allow Al Haramain’s lawyers to see it.
Response from Plaintiff's Attorney - Jon Eisenberg, a lawyer for Al-Haramain, says in an e-mail: “It’s a not-so-thinly veiled threat to send executive branch authorities (the FBI? the Army?) to Judge [Virginia] Walker’s chambers to seize the classified material from his files! In my view, that would be an unprecedented violation of the constitutional separation of powers. I doubt anything like it has happened in the history of this country.” Eisenberg says that the Obama administration, through the Justice Department, “seems to be provoking a separation-of-powers confrontation with Judge Walker.”
Administration's Second Use of State Secrets - This is the second time the Obama administration has invoked the “state secrets” privilege to keep information secret (see February 9, 2009). Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) says: “In the Bush administration, the state secrets doctrine was used to buttress the power of the president and make it difficult if not impossible to contest such issues as presidential authority to conduct warrantless wiretapping in the United States. We would think that when such disagreements occur, it’s properly before the judiciary to resolve them. But the Bush administration asserted the state secrets doctrine for the purpose of making it effectively impossible for courts to review the matter.” The Al Haramain case is significant because of “the apparent willingness of the Obama administration’s Justice Department to carry further that same argument in federal court. It is of great concern.” [Washington Independent, 3/2/2009]
Some of the Justice Department memos released today. [Source: Los Angeles Times]The Department of Justice releases nine memos written after the 9/11 attacks that claimed sweeping, extraconstitutional powers for then-President Bush. The memos, written primarily by John Yoo of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), claim that Bush could, if he desired, order military raids against targets within the US, and order police or military raids without court warrants (see October 23, 2001). The only justification required would be that Bush had declared the targets of such raids to be suspected terrorists. Other powers the president had, according to the memos, were to unilaterally abrogate or abandon treaties with foreign countries, ignore Congressional legislation regarding suspected terrorists in US detention (see March 13, 2002), suspend First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and information dissemination (see October 23, 2001), and conduct a program of warrantless domestic surveillance (see September 25, 2001). In January, an opinion issued by the OLC claimed that the opinions of the earlier memos had not been acted upon since 2003, and were generally considered unreliable (see January 15, 2009). Attorney General Eric Holder, who signed off on the release of the memos, says: “Too often over the past decade, the fight against terrorism has been viewed as a zero-sum battle with our civil liberties. Not only is that thought misguided, I fear that in actuality it does more harm than good.” [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ; US Department of Justice, 3/2/2009; US Department of Justice, 3/2/2009; New York Times, 3/2/2009]
Memos Laid Groundwork for Warrantless Wiretapping - Though many of the powers said to belong to the president in the memos were never exercised, the assertions led to the warrantless wiretapping of US citizens (see December 15, 2005 and Spring 2004) and the torture of detained terror suspects. [Newsweek, 3/2/2009]
'How To ... Evade Rule of Law' - Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says the memos begin “to provide details of some of the Bush administration’s misguided national security policies” that have long been withheld from public scrutiny. Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch says the memos collectively “read like a how-to document on how to evade the rule of law.” [Washington Post, 3/3/2009] Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies says that the memos were part of a larger effort “that would basically have allowed for the imposition of martial law.” [Newsweek, 3/2/2009]
'Tip of Iceberg' - The memos are, according to a former Bush administration lawyer, “just the tip of the iceberg” in terms of what the Bush administration authorized. Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says the Bush administration memos “essentially argue that the president has a blank check to disregard the Constitution during wartime, not only on foreign battlefields, but also inside the United States.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/3/2009] The ACLU, which has sued to obtain these and other memos, applauds the release of the documents, and says it hopes this is the first step in a broader release. [Reuters, 3/2/2009]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) welcomes the release of nine Bush administration documents that detail that administration’s policies on detainee interrogation and torture (see March 2, 2009). Jameel Jaffer, the director of the ACLU National Security Project, says in a statement: “We welcome the Justice Department’s decision to release these memos, some of which provided the basis for the Bush administration’s unlawful national security policies. These memos essentially argue that the president has a blank check to disregard the Constitution during wartime, not only on foreign battlefields, but also inside the United States. We hope today’s release is a first step, because dozens of other OLC [Office of Legal Counsel] memos, including memos that provided the basis for the Bush administration’s torture and warrantless wiretapping policies, are still being withheld. In order to truly turn the page on a lawless era, these memos should be released immediately.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 3/2/2009]
Time columnist Michael Scherer, writing about the nine just-released Bush administration memos from the Justice Department designed to grant President Bush extraordinary executive authority (see March 2, 2009), notes: “I know I am late on this, but every American should take note of the incredible neo-Orwellian, near-totalitarian powers that President Bush’s Justice Department granted the White House in the days after September 11.… They are certainly not based on a ‘conservative’ limited government reading of the constitution. They are, by almost every account, of doubtful constitutional merit. And if we wish to continue to teach our children that freedom and liberty are the bedrock of the American form of government, we should as citizens take care to make sure they do not become a precedent for future presidents to use in responding to attacks on the homeland.” [Time, 3/3/2009]
Columnist and civil litigator Glenn Greenwald writes that the recently released Bush-era Justice Department memos documenting the enormous power Bush attempted to gather for himself (see March 2, 2009) mandates a wide-ranging investigation of the Bush administration’s criminal activities. He notes, “[T]here is almost certainly a whole slew of other activities that remain concealed, and very well may remain undisclosed for years” because of the apparent reluctance of the Obama administration to give serious consideration to such an investigation, or, as Greenwald writes, “a new administration that seems bizarrely desperate to keep concealed the secrets of the old one.” Greenwald continues: “The most vital point is that all of the documents released yesterday by the Obama [Justice Department] comprise nothing less than a regime of secret laws under which we were governed. Nothing was redacted when those documents yesterday were released because they don’t contain any national security secrets. They’re nothing more than legal decrees, written by lawyers. They’re just laws that were implemented with no acts of Congress, unilaterally by the executive branch. Yet even the very laws that governed us were kept secret for eight years. This is factually true, with no hyperbole: Over the last eight years, we had a system in place where we pretended that our ‘laws’ were the things enacted out in the open by our Congress and that were set forth by the Constitution. The reality, though, was that our government secretly vested itself with the power to ignore those public laws, to declare them invalid, and instead, create a whole regimen of secret laws that vested tyrannical, monarchical power in the president (see March 3, 2009). Nobody knew what those secret laws were because even Congress, despite a few lame and meek requests, was denied access to them. What kind of country lives under secret laws?” But, he writes: “If our political class had its way, even the bits and pieces we’ve now seen would continue to be hidden in the dark. Most of the specific individuals who initiated these measures may no longer be in power, but the institutions and the political and media elites who enabled all of it haven’t gone anywhere. They’re now actively working to keep as much as possible concealed and to insist that nothing should be done about any of it.” [Salon, 3/3/2009]
Columnist and international law expert Scott Horton writes of his horror and shock at the nine just-released Bush administration memos from the Justice Department designed to grant President Bush extraordinary executive authority (see March 2, 2009).
'Disappearing Ink' - Horton writes: “Perhaps the most astonishing of these memos was one crafted by University of California at Berkeley law professor John Yoo. He concluded that in wartime, the president was freed from the constraints of the Bill of Rights with respect to anything he chose to label as […] counterterrorism operations inside the United States” (see October 23, 2001, and October 23, 2001). Horton continues: “John Yoo’s Constitution is unlike any other I have ever seen. It seems to consist of one clause: appointing the president as commander in chief. The rest of the Constitution was apparently printed in disappearing ink.”
Timing of Repudiation Proves Bush Officials Found Claims Useful - Horton has no patience with the claims of former Office of Legal Counsel chief Steven Bradbury that the extraordinary powers Yoo attempted to grant Bush were not used very often (see January 15, 2009). “I don’t believe that for a second,” Horton notes, and notes Bradbury’s timing in repudiating the Yoo memos: five days before Bush left office. “Bradbury’s decision to wait to the very end before repealing it suggests that someone in the Bush hierarchy was keen on having it,” Horton asserts.
Serving Multiple Purposes - The memos “clear[ly]” served numerous different purposes, Horton notes. They authorized, or provided legal justification for, the massive domestic surveillance programs launched by military agencies such as the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency (see September 25, 2001). But the memos went much farther, Horton says: “[T]he language of the memos suggest that much more was afoot, including the deployment of military units and military police powers on American soil. These memos suggest that John Yoo found a way to treat the Posse Comitatus Act as suspended.” They also gave Bush the apparent legal grounds to order the torture of people held at secret overseas sites (see March 13, 2002), and to hold accused terrorist Jose Padilla without charge or due process, even though the administration had no evidence whatsoever of the crimes he had been alleged to commit (see June 8, 2002).
American Dictatorship - Horton’s conclusion is stark. “We may not have realized it at the time, but in the period from late 2001-January 19, 2009, this country was a dictatorship,” he writes. “The constitutional rights we learned about in high school civics were suspended. That was thanks to secret memos crafted deep inside the Justice Department that effectively trashed the Constitution. What we know now is likely the least of it.” [Harper's, 3/3/2009]
Chuck Norris approved this photo illustration of himself with the tag line, ‘Contrary to popular belief, America is not a democracy, it is a Chucktatorship.’ [Source: ChuckNorrisFacts (.com)]Conservative talk radio and Fox News host Glenn Beck interviews self-described “martial arts master, actor, and political activist” Chuck Norris on his radio show. Beck begins by telling Norris he wants to see a military investigation of Congress: “I was talking about General [David] Petraeus [the commander of US forces in the Middle East] the other day. I mean this sincerely: I would love to have General Petraeus go up to Washington and clean that hornet’s nest out. I’d like him to set up a military tribunal and call them in one by one, okay, going to have a little interview with you. Find out if they’re guilty or innocent of being involved in, you know, all kinds of the scandals that are going on and kick them out.” Norris offers to mete out some extrajudicial justice: “I want to go with General Petraeus myself and be next to him and when he finds out who’s guilty and, you know, dishonest, then I will take care of it for him. Took him out. I’ll choke them out, the ones that he finds dishonest, I will choke them out and stick them into a pile.” Later in the conversation, the two discuss the possibility of Texas seceding from the United States. Norris, a Texas resident, says, “Yeah, we could break off from the union if we wanted to.” Beck agrees: “You do, you call me.… Seriously, you do. I don’t mind having that lone star on my flag. I really don’t mind it. I’ve been out with a seam ripper looking at my flag going, I don’t know, California could go. I’m just saying—” Norris interjects jokingly, “I may run for president of Texas.” [Glenn Beck, 3/3/2009] Beck is putting together a conservative anti-government movement called “We Surround Them,” and Norris is an enthusiastic supporter (see March 9, 2009). [Glenn Beck, 3/10/2009]
Legal experts and civil libertarians are “stunned” by the recently released memos from the Bush-era Justice Department which assert sweeping powers for the president not granted by the Constitution (see March 2, 2009 and March 3, 2009). Yale law professor Jack Balkin calls the memos a demonstration of the Bush “theory of presidential dictatorship.” Balkin continues: “They say the battlefield is everywhere. And the president can do anything he wants, so long as it involves the military and the enemy.… These views are outrageous and inconsistent with basic principles of the Constitution as well as with two centuries of legal precedents. Yet they were the basic assumptions of key players in the Bush administration in the days following 9/11.” George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr agrees. “I agree with the left on this one,” he says. The approach in the memos “was simply not a plausible reading of the case law. The Bush [Office of Legal Counsel, or OLC] eventually rejected [the] memos because they were wrong on the law—and they were right to do so” (see January 15, 2009). Balkin says the time period of most of the memos—the weeks and months following the 9/11 attacks—merely provided a convenient excuse for the administration’s subversion of the Constitution. “This was a period of panic, and panic creates an opportunity for patriotic politicians to abuse their power,” he says. [Jack Balkin, 3/3/2009; Los Angeles Times, 3/4/2009] Civil litigator and columnist Glenn Greenwald writes that the memos helped provide the foundation for what he calls “the regime of secret laws under which we were ruled for the last eight years… the grotesque blueprint for what the US government became.” [Salon, 3/3/2009] Duke University law professor Walter Dellinger says that, contrary to the memos’ assertion of blanket presidential powers in wartime, Congress has considerable powers during such a time. Congress has, according to the Constitution, “all legislative powers,” including the power “to declare war… and make rules concerning captures on land and water” as well as “regulation of the land and naval forces.” Dellinger, who headed the OLC during the Clinton administration, continues: “You can never get over how bad these opinions were. The assertion that Congress has no role to play with respect to the detention of prisoners was contrary to the Constitution’s text, to judicial precedent, and to historical practice. For people who supposedly follow the text [of the Constitution], what don’t they understand about the phrase ‘make rules concerning captures on land and water’?” [Los Angeles Times, 3/4/2009]
Karen Greenberg, the executive director of the Center on Law and Security at the New York University School of Law, asks when the Obama administration intends on closing down the detention facility at Bagram Air Force Base (see October 2001). The facility has been the site of repeated torture and brutalization of prisoners (see January 2002, March 15, 2002, April-May 2002, Late May 2002, June 4, 2002-early August 2002, June 5, 2002, July 2002, August 22, 2002, Late 2002-February 2004, Late 2002 - March 15, 2004, December 2002, December 2002, December 1, 2002, December 5-9, 2002, December 8, 2002-March 2003, December 26, 2002, Beginning 2003, February 2003, Spring 2003, October 2004, and May 20, 2005). Greenberg calls it a “far grimmer and more important American detention facility” than Guantanamo.
Little Information on Prisoners - Greenberg is unable to elicit specific information about how many prisoners are currently incarcerated at Bagram, who they are, where they are from, how they are classified—prisoners of war, enemy combatants, “ghost” detainees—how they are being treated, what human rights organizations have access to them, or what, if any, legal proceedings they have been put through. “It turns out that we can say very little with precision or confidence about that prison facility or even the exact number of prisoners there,” she writes. “News sources had often reported approximately 500-600 prisoners in custody at Bagram, but an accurate count is not available. A federal judge recently asked for ‘the number of detainees held at Bagram Air Base; the number of Bagram detainees who were captured outside Afghanistan; and the number of Bagram detainees who are Afghan citizens,’ but the information the Obama administration offered the court in response remains classified and redacted from the public record. We don’t even know the exact size of the prison or much about the conditions there, although they have been described as more spartan and far cruder than Guantanamo’s in its worst days. The International Committee of the Red Cross has visited the prison, but it remains unclear whether they were able to inspect all of it. A confidential Red Cross report from 2008 supposedly highlighted overcrowding, the use of extreme isolation as a punishment technique, and various violations of the Geneva Convention.”
Plans to Expand Facility - Greenberg says that the government is planning a large expansion of the Bagram facility, which is envisioned as holding up to 1,100 prisoners. She recommends:
The administration stop being secretive about Bagram and release complete information on the prisoners being held there, or at the very least admit why some information cannot be released. “Otherwise, the suspicion will always arise that such withheld information might be part of a cover-up of government incompetence or illegality.”
The reclassification of all detainees as “prisoners of war” who are protected under the Geneva Conventions. “Currently, they are classified as enemy combatants, as are the prisoners at Guantanamo, and so, in the perverse universe of the Bush administration, free from any of the constraints of international law. The idea that the conventions are too ‘rigid’ for our moment and need to be put aside for this new extra-legal category has always been false and pernicious, primarily paving the way for the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques.’”
The rejection of the idea of “ghost prisoners” at Bagram or anywhere else. “The International Committee of the Red Cross must be granted access to all of the prisons or prison areas at Bagram, while conditions of detention there should be brought into accordance with humane treatment and standards.”
The re-establishment of a presumption of innocence. “The belief that there is a categorical difference between guilt and innocence, which went by the wayside in the last seven years, must be restored. All too often, the military brass still assumes that if you were rounded up by US forces, you are, by definition, guilty. It’s time to change this attitude and return to legal standards of guilt.”
Greenberg concludes: “In the Bush years, we taught the world a series of harmful lessons: Americans can be as cruel as others. Americans can turn their backs on law and reciprocity among nations as efficiently as any tribally organized dictatorship. Americans, relying on fear and the human impulse toward vengeance, can dehumanize other human beings with a fervor equal to that of others on this planet. It’s time for a change. It’s time, in fact, to face the first and last legacy of Bush detention era, our prison at Bagram Air Base, and deal with it.” [TomDispatch (.com), 3/5/2009]
Gregory Hollister. [Source: Tiny Politics (.com)]The US District Court of the District of Columbia dismisses a lawsuit brought against President Obama (naming him “Barry Soetoro” in the complaint) by retired Air Force Colonel Gregory Hollister, who challenges Obama’s citizenship. Judge James Robertson begins his order of dismissal by writing: “This case, if it were allowed to proceed, would deserve mention in one of those books that seek to prove that the law is foolish or that America has too many lawyers with not enough to do. Even in its relatively short life the case has excited the blogosphere and the conspiracy theorists. The right thing to do is to bring it to an early end.” Robertson rules that Hollister is likely working on behalf of lawyer Philip Berg, whose Pennsylvania lawsuit against Obama’s citizenship was recently dismissed (see August 21-24, 2008). “Mr. Hollister is apparently Mr. Berg’s fallback brainstorm, essentially a straw plaintiff, one who could tee Mr. Berg’s native-born issue up” in another venue and using a new theory: that Hollister’s fears of Obama being an “illegal alien” could jeopardize his ability to respond to a possible call to rejoin the military. Robertson calls Hollister’s claims “frivolous” and terms Berg and his partner, lawyer Lawrence J. Joyce, “agents provocateurs” seeking to waste the court’s time and bring false and malicious charges against Obama. He concludes that the lawyer who filed the brief on Hollister’s behalf, John D. Hemenway, is an officer of the court who is “directly responsible to this court for the pleadings that have been filed on behalf of the plaintiff.” Hemenway, Robertson rules, will “show cause why he has not violated Rules 11(b)(1) and 11(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and why he should not be required to pay reasonable attorneys fees and other expenses to counsel for the defendants.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/5/2009]
Court documents filed by the government show that the CIA destroyed 12 videotapes specifically depicting two detainees being tortured by interrogators. Though the CIA has previously admitted to destroying 92 videotapes (see March 2, 2009), this is the first time it has admitted that some of the tapes showed detainees being tortured. The agency does not use the word “torture,” but instead uses the phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques.” According to the heavily redacted classified document: “There are 92 videotapes, 12 of which include EIT [enhanced interrogation techniques] applications. An OGC [Office of General Counsel] attorney reviewed the videotapes” and the CIA’s “OIG [Office of Inspector General} reviewed the videotapes in May 2003.” The document, along with others, are filed pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit begun by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU has asked that the CIA be found in contempt for destroying the videotapes, a motion that is still pending. The videotapes were destroyed to prevent disclosure of evidence showing that CIA interrogators actively tortured detainees, using waterboarding and other methods. The destruction is under investigation by acting US Attorney John Durham (see January 2, 2008). The two detainees depicted in the videotapes are Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, both of whom were waterboarded by the CIA (see March 2002, April - June 2002, and (November 2002)). The document describing the destroyed videotapes says “interrogators administered the waterboard to Al-Nashiri.” The videotapes are believed to have been made at the CIA’s secret detention center in Thailand. The CIA has promised to release more information about the videotapes by March 20. However, according to acting US Attorney Lev Dassin, “to date, the CIA is not aware of any transcripts of the destroyed videotapes.” An unredacted version of the inventory of the destroyed videotapes will only be made available for the ACLU to view behind closed doors in court: “This inventory identifies the tapes and includes any descriptions that were written on the spine of the tapes.” Much of the information sought by the ACLU will remain classified, Dassin says. ACLU attorney Amrit Singh says the “government is needlessly withholding information about these tapes from the public, despite the fact that the CIA’s use of torture—including waterboarding—is no secret. This new information only underscores the need for full and immediate disclosure of the CIA’s illegal interrogation methods. The time has come for the CIA to be held accountable for flouting the rule of law.” Author and reporter Jane Mayer believes the tapes were destroyed at least in part because Democratic members of Congress briefed on the tapes began inquiring whether the interrogations of Zubaida and al-Nashiri were legal. [Public Record, 3/6/2009]
In response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the CIA turns over unredacted pages of a classified internal agency report that concluded the techniques used on two prisoners “appeared to constitute cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment, as defined by the International Convention Against Torture” (see October 21, 1994). The CIA also turns over evidence showing that videotapes of the two prisoners being tortured were destroyed (see March 6, 2009). The pages are from a 2004 report compiled by then-CIA Inspector General John Helgerson. The document reads in part: “In January 2003, OIG [Office of Inspector General] initiated a special review of the CIA terrorist detention and interrogation program. This review was intended to evaluate CIA detention and interrogation activities, and was not initiated in response to an allegation of wrongdoing. During the course of the special review, OIG was notified of the existence of videotapes of the interrogations of detainees. OIG arranged with the NCS [National Clandestine Service, the covert arm of the CIA] to review the videotapes at the overseas location where they were stored. OIG reviewed the videotapes at an overseas covert NCS facility in May 2003. After reviewing the videotapes, OIG did not take custody of the videotapes and they remained in the custody of NCS. Nor did OIG make or retain a copy of the videotapes for its files. At the conclusion of the special review in May 2004, OIG notified [the Justice Department] and other relevant oversight authorities of the review’s findings.” The report has never been made public, but information concerning it was revealed by the New York Times in 2005 (see May 7, 2004). [Public Record, 3/6/2009]
President Barack Obama orders a review of former President Bush’s signing statements. Bush often used signing statements to instruct administration officials how to implement, or to ignore, Congressional legislation and other laws (see Early 2005, January 13, 2006, and September 2007). Obama has sent memos to numerous federal agencies directing them to review Bush’s signing statements. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says that other presidents have used signing statements to note potential problems and conflicts, and says Obama will continue that practice. But, Gibbs says, Obama will not use signing statements to disregard Congress’s intent in its legislation. [Associated Press, 3/9/2009]
Conservative pundit Ann Coulter tells a New York Times reporter that the editorial staff of the Times—which she brands the “Treason Times”—should have been executed for treason for revealing the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). Coulter responded to a set of questions e-mailed to her regarding her upcoming debates with political satirist Bill Maher. Asked if she believes she speaks for the conservative movement, for her own fan base, or someone else, she answers, “I think I speak for all Americans who think newspaper editors who print the details of top secret anti-terrorist intelligence gathering programs on page one in wartime should be executed for treason.” [New York Times, 3/9/2009]
Self-described “martial arts master, actor, and political activist” Chuck Norris adds his voice to the call by some right-wing leaders for armed insurrection against the Obama administration. Norris and others are calling for open rebellion, and for the military to refuse orders from their commander in chief. Norris claims that thousands of right-wing “cell groups” have organized and are ready to launch what he calls a “second American Revolution.” Days before, he jokingly told radio host Glenn Beck that he was ready to “run for president of Texas” after Texas secedes from the US (see March 3, 2009). In an article for the conservative Web publication WorldNetDaily, Norris makes the same claim in a far more serious tone: according to Norris, Texas was never formally a part of the US, and Texas will be the first of many states to secede from the union. The need for him to run for president of Texas “may be a reality sooner than we think,” he writes. “If not me, someone someday may again be running for president of the Lone Star state, if the state of the union continues to turn into the enemy of the state.” He justifies his call for another revolution—essentially overthrowing the federal government and replacing it with one more to his liking—by writing, “[W]e’ve bastardized the First Amendment, reinterpreted America’s religious history, and secularized our society until we ooze skepticism and circumvent religion on every level of public and private life.” He asks: “How much more will Americans take? When will enough be enough? And, when that time comes, will our leaders finally listen or will history need to record a second American Revolution? We the people have the authority according to America’s Declaration of Independence, which states: That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government.” Norris has joined Beck’s nascent anti-government movement, “We Surround Them,” and writes, “Thousands of cell groups will be united around the country in solidarity over the concerns for our nation” when the group meets during a live telecast and series of “meetups” on March 13. Norris closes with the words of former Texas president Sam Houston, “We view ourselves on the eve of battle,” and finishes with a plug for his latest martial arts event in Houston, “Showdown in H-Town.” [Charlotte Examiner, 3/9/2009; WorldNetDaily, 3/9/2009] According to the website of “We Surround Them,” as of March 10, less than 30 sites have agreed to host meetings, a figure somewhat lower than the “thousands” Norris claims. The national unveiling of “We Surround Them” will take place on Fox News. [Charlotte Examiner, 3/10/2009]
By a 5-4 vote, the US Supreme Court narrows the provisions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and July 27, 2006), ruling in Bartlett v. Strickland that the VRA does not require state governments to draw electoral districts favorable to minority candidates in places where minorities make up less than half the population. The Court rules that race must be considered only in drawing boundaries where a “geographically compact group of minority voters” make up at least 50 percent of a single-member district. Law professor Richard Hasen says that because of the Court’s ruling, 50 percent is now a “magic number.” The decision makes it more difficult for minorities to challenge redistricting efforts that they believe may dilute voting rights after the upcoming 2010 census. Writing for the plurality opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy writes: “There is an underlying principle of fundamental importance: We must be most cautious before interpreting a statute to require courts to make inquiries based on racial classifications and race-based predictions.” Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito join with Kennedy’s opinion; Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas file a concurring opinion that claims no minorities should ever be able to go to court with complaints about minority vote dilution. The four moderate/liberal justices on the Court dissent. Hasen says that Kennedy’s opinion makes it likely that he will join the Court’s right wing to further limit the VRA in upcoming cases: Hasen says Kennedy seems open to interpreting the VRA “in ever stingier ways.” However, Kennedy also writes: “Racial discrimination and racially polarized voting are not ancient history. Much remains to be done to ensure that citizens of all races have equal opportunity to share and participate in our democratic processes and traditions.” The case hinges on a decision by the North Carolina legislature to enhance minority representation by creating a voting district that crosses county lines; the Court strikes down the district and rejects arguments that the district is needed for North Carolina to comply with the VRA. Instead, Kennedy writes, only districts where minorities made up more than 50 percent are protected under the VRA. Justice David Souter, writing the four-justice dissent, says that such “crossover districts” are sometimes needed to fulfill the goals of the VRA, and that the Court’s finding will “force the states to perpetuate racially concentrated districts, the quintessential manifestations of race consciousness in American politics.” It will require states “to pack black voters” into districts in which minorities make up the majority, Souter writes, “contracting the number of districts where racial minorities are having success in transcending racial divisions.” [New York Times, 3/9/2009; Washington Post, 3/10/2009]
Reporter Seymour Hersh speaking at a 2007 forum on the media in Doha, Qatar. [Source: Reuters / Fadi Al-Assaad / MinnPost (.com)]In a wide-ranging seminar with former Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale and investigative journalist Seymour Hersh at the University of Minnesota, Hersh claims that he has evidence that the US operated what he calls an “executive assassination wing” during the Bush administration, perhaps controlled by the office of then Vice President Dick Cheney. [MinnPost (.com), 3/11/2009] (Hersh will later say he used the word “wing,” but it was widely misreported as “ring” in the media.) [CNN, 3/30/2009] Hersh says he will explain his charges more fully in an upcoming book. When asked about recent instances of a president exceeding his constitutional authority, Hersh gives a response that moves from CIA activities, through the Joint Special Operations Command, to the alleged “assassination wing”: “After 9/11, I haven’t written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet. Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command—JSOC it’s called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him.… Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination wing essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths. Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us. It’s complicated because the guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they are committing what we would normally call murder. It’s a very complicated issue. Because they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you’ve heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized. In many cases, they were the best and the brightest. Really, no exaggerations. Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find themselves torturing people. I’ve had people say to me—five years ago, I had one say: ‘What do you call it when you interrogate somebody and you leave them bleeding and they don’t get any medical committee and two days later he dies. Is that murder? What happens if I get before a committee?’ But they’re not gonna get before a committee.” Mondale says of Cheney and his office that “they ran a government within a government.” Hersh adds, “Eight or nine neoconservatives took over our country.” Mondale notes that the precedents of abuse of vice presidential power by Cheney would remain “like a loaded pistol that you leave on the dining room table.” [MinnPost (.com), 3/11/2009] CIA spokesman George Little responds to Hersh’s allegation by writing: “I saw your story on Seymour Hersh’s recent allegations regarding CIA activities since 9/11. If you wish, you can attribute the quoted portion that follows to me, in name, as a CIA spokesman: ‘This is utter nonsense.’” [MinnPost (.com), 3/12/2009]
Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean says that the allegation of an “executive assassination wing,” as recently made by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh (see March 10, 2009), could well be a war crime if it is true. Both Dean and MSNBC host Keith Olbermann note that if true, Cheney’s actions could well violate a 1976 executive order that states in part, “No employee of the United States government shall engage in or conspire to engage in political assassination.” Dean says: “[F]ighting terrorism is not dealing with tiddlywinks. We want our government to deal with the most effective tools they have. But they also have to be legal. The executive order, really, is nothing more than direction to the executive branch and the presidency is the only one who you can even argue might have the authority to engage in assassinations. It’s an unresolved question. So, it’s potentially a war crime, it’s potentially just outright murder, and it could clearly be in violation of the Ford executive order.” In the same broadcast, author and political analyst Howard Fineman says of Hersh’s report: “In checking around in the intelligence community today, I can say this, you know, Seymour Hersh is somebody they respect. They don’t always trust. But they put it this way, as one of them said to me, ‘Look, I don’t know anything about this specifically at all, but I wouldn’t dismiss what Sy Hersh is saying without checking carefully.’ That’s their backhanded way of saying it’s worth looking into, for sure.” [MSNBC, 3/12/2009]
A lawsuit filed by failed presidential candidate Alan Keyes and handled by lawyers Orly Taitz and Gary Kreep (see November 12, 2008 and After) is dismissed by the Superior Court of California. The lawsuit asked that since President Obama’s US citizenship is “unproven,” the court bar him from serving as president until the issue is “resolved.” [Superior Court of California, 3/13/2009] Appeals of the lawsuit, going all the way to the California Supreme Court, will be dismissed as well. [Disposition: Keyes v. Bowen, 2/2/2011]
The New York Review of Books publishes a lengthy article documenting the Red Cross’s hitherto-secret report on US torture practices at several so-called “black sites.” The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a report on “The Black Sites” in February 2007 (see October 6 - December 14, 2006), but that report has remained secret until now. These “black sites” are secret prisons in Thailand, Poland, Afghanistan, Morocco, Romania, and at least three other countries (see October 2001-2004), either maintained directly by the CIA or used by them with the permission and participation of the host countries.
Specific Allegations of Torture by Official Body Supervising Geneva - The report documents the practices used by American guards and interrogators against prisoners, many of which directly qualify as torture under the Geneva Conventions and a number of international laws and statutes. The ICRC is the appointed legal guardian of Geneva, and the official body appointed to supervise the treatment of prisoners of war; therefore, its findings have the force of international law. The practices documented by the ICRC include sleep deprivation, lengthy enforced nudity, subjecting detainees to extensive, intense bombardment of noise and light, repeated immersion in frigid water, prolonged standing and various stress positions—sometimes for days on end—physical beatings, and waterboarding, which the ICRC authors call “suffocation by water.” The ICRC writes that “in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they [the detainees] were subjected while held in the CIA program… constituted torture.” It continues, “In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” Both torture and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” are specifically forbidden by Geneva and the Convention Against Torture, both of which were signed by the US (see October 21, 1994). The 14 “high-value detainees” whose cases are documented in the ICRC report include Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), and Tawfiq bin Attash (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004). All 14 remain imprisoned in Guantanamo. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009 ; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] Based on the ICRC report and his own research, Danner draws a number of conclusions.
The US government began to torture prisoners in the spring of 2002, with the approval of President Bush and the monitoring of top Bush officials, including Attorney General John Ashcroft. The torture, Danner writes, “clearly violated major treaty obligations of the United States, including the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, as well as US law.”
Bush, Ashcroft, and other top government officials “repeatedly and explicitly lied about this, both in reports to international institutions and directly to the public. The president lied about it in news conferences, interviews, and, most explicitly, in speeches expressly intended to set out the administration’s policy on interrogation before the people who had elected him.”
Congress was privy to a large amount of information about the torture conducted under the aegis of the Bush administration. Its response was to pass the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006), which in part was designed to protect government officials from criminal prosecutions under the War Crimes Act.
While Congressional Republicans were primarily responsible for the MCA, Senate Democrats did not try to stop the bill—indeed, many voted for it. Danner blames the failure on its proximity to the November 2006 midterm elections and the Democrats’ fear of being portrayed as “coddlers of terrorists.” He quotes freshman Senator Barack Obama (D-IL): “Soon, we will adjourn for the fall, and the campaigning will begin in earnest. And there will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be criticized as caring more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans. And I know that the vote before us was specifically designed and timed to add more fuel to that fire.” (Obama voted against the MCA, and, when it passed, he said, “[P]olitics won today.”)
The damage done to the US’s reputation, and to what Danner calls “the ‘soft power’ of its constitutional and democratic ideals,” has been “though difficult to quantify, vast and enduring.” Perhaps the largest defeat suffered in the US’s “war on terror,” he writes, has been self-inflicted, by the inestimable loss of credibility in the Muslim world and around the globe. The decision to use torture “undermin[ed] liberal sympathizers of the United States and convinc[ed] others that the country is exactly as its enemies paint it: a ruthless imperial power determined to suppress and abuse Muslims. By choosing to torture, we freely chose to become the caricature they made of us.”
A Need for Investigation and Prosecution - Danner is guardedly optimistic that, under Democratic leadership in the White House and Congress, the US government’s embrace of torture has stopped, and almost as importantly, the authorization and practice of torture under the Bush administration will be investigated, and those responsible will be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. But, he notes, “[i]f there is a need for prosecution there is also a vital need for education. Only a credible investigation into what was done and what information was gained can begin to alter the political calculus around torture by replacing the public’s attachment to the ticking bomb with an understanding of what torture is and what is gained, and lost, when the United States reverts to it.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Abu Zubaida, New York Review of Books, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, John Ashcroft, International Committee of the Red Cross, Mark Danner
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that the Obama administration’s policies endanger America, and defends his administration’s actions, including warrantless wiretapping, torture of suspected terrorists, and its economic policies. Using torture against suspected terrorists and wiretapping Americans without court orders were both “absolutely essential” to get information needed to prevent terrorist attacks similar to that of 9/11, Cheney tells a CNN audience, though he does not use the word “torture.” But Obama’s new policies are putting America at risk, he says: “President Obama campaigned against it all across the country, and now he is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack.”
'Pre-9/11 Mindset' - Cheney says to return to a pre-9/11 mindset of treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue, rather than a military problem, is a mistake: “When you go back to the law enforcement mode, which I sense is what they’re doing, closing Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009) and so forth… they are very much giving up that center of attention and focus that’s required, that concept of military threat that is essential if you’re going to successfully defend the nation against further attacks.” Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA), appearing after Cheney, counters Cheney’s arguments, saying that the Bush/Cheney policies undercut “what is actually the source of America’s greatness—our principles.” Sestak asks, “How can we say that keeping a man in a black hole forever—perpetually in a black hole—and saying, ‘Let’s torture when we decide to,’ is what America stands for?” Sestak is a retired admiral who led the Navy’s anti-terrorism efforts.
Iraq a Success - As for Iraq, Cheney says that while his administration had to spend more money than it had anticipated, and although over 4,200 US soldiers have lost their lives fighting in that country, the invasion and occupation of Iraq is an almost-unvarnished success. The US has “accomplished nearly everything we set out to do” in Iraq, including establishing a democratic government in the Middle East, Cheney says. Cheney answers questions about the threat of supposed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction by saying, “We’ve eliminated that possibility.” Sestak disagrees, saying the problems the Bush/Cheney policies in Iraq created have overshadowed the “whole fabric” of US national security: “The cost of this war is something that I strongly believe has far, far hurt us. We’re going to recover, because we’re Americans. But Iraq was just one piece of our security, and this administration failed to realize that.”
Opposition to Hill as Iraqi Ambassador - Cheney says he does not support the Obama administration’s choice of Christopher Hill as the ambassador to Iraq (see March 18, 2009). Hill successfully concluded negotiations with North Korea during the last years of the Bush administration, but Cheney repudiates his accomplishments. “I did not support the work that Chris Hill did with respect to North Korea,” he says, and adds that Hill lacks the Middle East experience necessary for him to represent the US in Baghdad. “I think it’s a choice that I wouldn’t have made,” he says. [CNN, 3/15/2009]
The US Supreme Court hears the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the Federal Election Commission (FEC) refused to let the conservative lobbying organization Citizens United (CU) air a film entitled Hillary: The Movie during the 2008 presidential primary season (see January 10-16, 2008). The FEC ruled that H:TM, as some have shortened the name, was not a film, but a 90-minute campaign ad with no other purpose than to smear and attack Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) as being unfit to hold office. A panel of appeals judges agreed with the FEC’s ruling, which found the film was “susceptible of no other interpretation than to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her.” As a campaign ad, the film’s airing on national network television came under campaign finance laws, particularly since the film was financed by corporate political donations. CU was allowed to air the film in theaters and sell it in DVD and other formats, but CU wanted to pay $1.2 million to have the movie aired on broadcast cable channels and video-on-demand (pay per view) services, and to advertise its broadcast. CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) hired former Bush Solicitor General Theodore Olson after the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Bossie denies that he chose Olson because of their shared loathing of the Clintons—they worked together to foment the “Arkansas Project,” a Clinton smear effort that resulted in Congress unsuccessfully impeaching President Clinton—but because Olson gave “us the best chance to win.” Bossie dedicated the Clinton film to Barbara Olson, Olson’s late wife, who died in the 9/11 attacks (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Christian Science Monitor, 3/23/2009] “I just don’t see how the Federal Election Commission has the authority to use campaign-finance rules to regulate advertising that is not related to campaigns,” Bossie told reporters last year. [Christian Science Monitor, 2/1/2008]
Uphold or Cut Back McCain-Feingold? - Observers, unaware of the behind-the-scenes machinations, believe the case gives the Court the opportunity to either uphold or cut back the body of law stemming from the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA, or McCain-Feingold) campaign finance law (see March 27, 2002), which limits the ability of corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on political advertising before elections. CU is arguing that the BCRA is unconstitutional, having argued before a previous court that the the BCRA law was unconstitutional in the way it was being enforced by the FEC against its film. In its brief to the Court, CU denies the film is any sort of “electioneering,” claiming: “Citizens United’s documentary engages in precisely the political debate the First Amendment was written to protect… The government’s position is so far-reaching that it would logically extend to corporate or union use of a microphone, printing press, or the Internet to express opinions—or articulate facts—pertinent to a presidential candidate’s fitness for office.” The Justice Department, siding with the FEC, calls the film an “unmistakable” political appeal, stating, “Every element of the film, including the narration, the visual images and audio track, and the selection of clips, advances the clear message that Senator Clinton lacked both the integrity and the qualifications to be president of the United States.” The film is closer to a political “infomercial” than a legitimate documentary, the Justice Department argues. The film’s “unmistakable message is that Senator Clinton’s character, beliefs, qualifications, and personal history make her unsuited to the office of the President of the United States,” according to a Justice Department lawyer, Edwin Kneedler, who filed a brief on behalf of the FEC. The Justice Department wants the Court to uphold FEC disclosure requirements triggered by promotional ads, while Olson and CU want the Court to strike down the requirements. Olson says financial backers of films such as H:TM may be reluctant to back a film if their support becomes publicly known. Kneedler, however, writes that such disclosure is in the public interest. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) is joining CU in its court fight, stating in a brief, “By criminalizing the distribution of a long-form documentary film as if it were nothing more than a very long advertisement, the district court has created uncertainty about where the line between traditional news commentary and felonious advocacy lies.” Scott Nelson of the Public Citizen Litigation Group, which supports the BCRA, disagrees with RCFP’s stance, saying, “The idea that [the law] threatens legitimate journalism and people who are out creating documentaries, I think, is a stretch.” [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Christian Science Monitor, 3/23/2009] The RCFP has said that the movie “does not differ, in any relevant respect, from the critiques of presidential candidates produced throughout the entirety of American history.” And a lawyer with the RCFP, Gregg P. Leslie, asked, “Who is the FEC to decide what is news and what kind of format news is properly presented in?” [New York Times, 3/5/2009]
Filled with False Information - The movie was relentlessly panned by critics, who found much of its “information” either misrepresentative of Clinton or outright false. CU made several other films along with the Clinton documentary, which included attacks on filmmaker Michael Moore, the American Civil Liberties Union, illegal immigrants, and Clinton’s fellow presidential contender Barack Obama (D-IL—see October 28-30, 2008). [Washington Post, 3/15/2009; Christian Science Monitor, 3/23/2009]
Arguments Presented - Olson and his opponent, Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart, present arguments in the case to the assembled Court. Traditionally, lawyers with the Solicitor General (SG)‘s office are far more straightforward with the Court than is usual in advocacy-driven cases. New Yorker reporter Jeffrey Toobin later writes: “The solicitor general’s lawyers press their arguments in a way that hews strictly to existing precedent. They don’t hide unfavorable facts from the justices. They are straight shooters.” Stewart, who clerked for former Justice Harry Blackmun and is a veteran of the SG office since 1993, is well aware of the requirements of Court arguments. Justice Samuel Alito, a conservative justice with a penchant for asking tough questions that often hide their true intentions behind carefully neutral wording, is interested in seeing how far he can push Stewart’s argument. Does the BCRA apply only to television commercials, he asks, or might it regulate other means of communication during a federal campaign? “Do you think the Constitution required Congress to draw the line where it did, limiting this to broadcast and cable and so forth?” Could the law limit a corporation from “providing the same thing in a book? Would the Constitution permit the restriction of all those as well?” Stewart says that the BCRA indeed imposes such restrictions, stating, “Those could have been applied to additional media as well.” Could the government regulate the content of a book? Alito asks. “That’s pretty incredible. You think that if a book was published, a campaign biography that was the functional equivalent of express advocacy, that could be banned?” Stewart, who tardily realizes where Alito was going, attempts to recover. “I’m not saying it could be banned,” he responds. “I’m saying that Congress could prohibit the use of corporate treasury funds and could require a corporation to publish it using its—” Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered a “swing” justice in some areas but a reliable conservative vote in campaign-spending cases, interrupts Stewart. “Well, suppose it were an advocacy organization that had a book,” Kennedy says. “Your position is that, under the Constitution, the advertising for this book or the sale for the book itself could be prohibited within the 60- and 30-day periods?” Stewart gives what Toobin later calls “a reluctant, qualified yes.” At this point, Roberts speaks up. According to Toobin, Roberts intends to paint Stewart into something of a corner. “If it has one name, one use of the candidate’s name, it would be covered, correct?” Roberts asks. Stewart responds, “That’s correct.” Roberts then asks, “If it’s a 500-page book, and at the end it says, ‘And so vote for X,’ the government could ban that?” Stewart responds, “Well, if it says ‘vote for X,’ it would be express advocacy and it would be covered by the preexisting Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972, 1974, May 11, 1976, and January 8, 1980) provisions.” Toobin later writes that with their “artful questioning, Alito, Kennedy, and Roberts ha[ve] turned a fairly obscure case about campaign-finance reform into a battle over government censorship.” Unwittingly, Stewart has argued that the government has the right to censor books because of a single line. Toobin later writes that Stewart is incorrect, that the government could not ban or censor books because of McCain-Feingold. The law applies to television advertisements, and stems from, as Toobin will write, “the pervasive influence of television advertising on electoral politics, the idea that commercials are somehow unavoidable in contemporary American life. The influence of books operates in a completely different way. Individuals have to make an affirmative choice to acquire and read a book. Congress would have no reason, and no justification, to ban a book under the First Amendment.” Legal scholars and pundits will later argue about Stewart’s answers to the three justices’ questions, but, as Toobin will later write, “the damage to the government’s case had been profound.” [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Behind the Scenes - Unbeknownst to the lawyers and the media, the Court initially renders a 5-4 verdict in favor of CU, and strikes down decades of campaign finance law, before withdrawing its verdict and agreeing to hear rearguments in the fall (see June 29, 2009). Toobin will write that the entire case is orchestrated behind the scenes, by Roberts and his fellow majority conservatives. Toobin will write of “a lengthy and bitter behind-the-scenes struggle among the justices that produced both secret unpublished opinions and a rare reargument of a case” that “reflects the aggressive conservative judicial activism of the Roberts Court.” Toobin will write that although the five conservatives are involved in broadening the scope of the case, and Kennedy actually writes the majority decision, “the result represented a triumph for Chief Justice Roberts. Even without writing the opinion, Roberts, more than anyone, shaped what the Court did. As American politics assumes its new form in the post-Citizens United era, the credit or the blame goes mostly to him.” The initial vote on the case is 5-4, with the five conservative justices—Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, and Clarence Thomas—taking the majority.
Expansive Concurrence Becomes the Majority Opinion - At the outset, the case is decided on the basis of Olson’s narrow arguments, regarding the issue of a documentary being made available on demand by a nonprofit organization (CU). Roberts takes the majority opinion onto himself. The four liberals in the minority are confident Roberts’s opinion would be as narrow as Olson’s arguments. Roberts’s draft opinion is indeed that narrow. Kennedy writes a concurrence opining that the Court should go further and overturn McCain-Feingold, the 1990 Austin decision (see March 27, 1990), and end the ban on corporate donations to campaigns (see 1907). When the draft opinions circulates, the other three conservatives begin rallying towards Kennedy’s more expansive concurrence. Roberts then withdraws his draft and lets Kennedy write the majority opinion in line with his concurrence. Toobin later writes: “The new majority opinion transformed Citizens United into a vehicle for rewriting decades of constitutional law in a case where the lawyer had not even raised those issues. Roberts’s approach to Citizens United conflicted with the position he had taken earlier in the term.” During arguments in a different case, Roberts had “berated at length” a lawyer “for his temerity in raising an issue that had not been addressed in the petition. Now Roberts was doing nearly the same thing to upset decades of settled expectations.”
Dissent - The senior Justice in the minority, John Paul Stevens, initially assigns the main dissent to Justice David Souter. Souter, who is in the process of retiring from the Court, writes a stinging dissent that documents some of the behind-the-scenes machinations in the case, including an accusation that Roberts violated the Court’s procedures to get the outcome he wanted. Toobin will call Souter’s planned dissent “an extraordinary, bridge-burning farewell to the Court” that Roberts feels “could damage the Court’s credibility.” Roberts offers a compromise: Souter will withdraw his dissent if the Court schedules a reargument of the case in the fall of 2009 (see June 29, 2009). The second argument would feature different “Questions Presented,” and the stakes of the case would be far clearer. The four minority justices find themselves in something of a conundrum. They feel that to offer the Kennedy opinion as it stands would be to “sandbag” them and the entire case, while a reargument would at least present the issues that the opinion was written to reflect. And there is already a 5-4 majority in favor of Kennedy’s expansive opinion. The liberals, with little hope of actually winning the case, agree to the reargument. The June 29, 2009 announcement will inform the parties that the Court is considering overturning two key decisions regarding campaign finance restrictions, including a decision rendered by the Roberts court (see March 27, 1990 and December 10, 2003) and allow essentially unlimited corporate spending in federal elections. Court observers will understand that the Court is not in the habit of publicly asking whether a previous Court decision should be overruled unless a majority is already prepared to do just that. Toobin will call Roberts and his four colleagues “impatient” to make the decision, in part because an early decision would allow the ruling to impact the 2010 midterm elections. [New Yorker, 5/21/2012]
Created to Give Courts Shot at McCain-Feingold - Critics, as yet unaware of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering, will later say that CU created the movie in order for it to fall afoul of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, and give the conservatives on the Court the opportunity to reverse or narrow the law. Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign will say: “The movie was created with the idea of establishing a vehicle to chip away at the decision. It was part of a very clear strategy to undo McCain-Feingold.” Bossie himself will later confirm that contention, saying: “We have been trying to defend our First Amendment rights for many, many years. We brought the case hoping that this would happen… to defeat McCain-Feingold.” [Washington Post, 1/22/2010] CU’s original lawyer on the case, James Bopp, will later verify that the case was brought specifically to give the Court a chance to cut back or overturn campaign finance law (see January 25, 2010). The Court will indeed overturn McCain-Feingold in the CU decision (see January 21, 2010).
Entity Tags: Clarence Thomas, US Department of Justice, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Scott Nelson, US Supreme Court, Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Citizens United, Barbara Olson, American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Kennedy, Barack Obama, Samuel Alito, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Michael Moore, Hillary Clinton, Gregg P. Leslie, Nick Nyhart, Edwin Kneedler, David Souter, Federal Election Commission, James Bopp, Jr, John Paul Stevens, David Bossie, John G. Roberts, Jr, Jeffrey Toobin, Malcolm Stewart
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff and now chairs the New America Foundation/US-Cuba 21st Century Policy Initiative, writes an op-ed titled “Some Truths about Guantanamo Bay” for the Washington Note. Wilkerson explains why he believes so many people were captured and so many of those were tortured, for so little gain, and in the process covers several other issues regarding the Bush administration.
Handling of Terror Suspects - Wilkerson writes that the entire process of capturing, detaining, and processing suspected Islamist militants was marked by incompetence and a casual, improvisational approach. Most of the “suspects” captured during the first weeks and months of the Afghanistan invasion (see October 7, 2001) were merely picked up in sweeps, or bought from corrupt regional warlords, and transported wholesale to a variety of US bases and military camps, and then sent to Guantanamo, mostly in response to then-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld’s exhortation to “just get the b_stards to the interrogators.” Wilkerson blames the civilian leadership, for failing to provide the necessary information and guidance to make sensible, informed decisions about who should and should not have been considered either terror suspects or potential sources of information. When detainees were found not to have had any ties to Islamist radical groups, nor had any real intelligence value, they were kept at Guantanamo instead of being released. Wilkerson writes that “to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership from virtually day one of the so-called Global War on Terror and these leaders already had black marks enough.… They were not about to admit to their further errors at Guantanamo Bay. Better to claim that everyone there was a hardcore terrorist, was of enduring intelligence value, and would return to jihad if released.” He writes that State Department attempts to rectify the situation “from almost day one” experienced almost no success.
Data Mining Called for Large Numbers of Detainees - Wilkerson notes what he calls “ad hoc intelligence philosophy that was developed to justify keeping many of these people,” a data mining concept called in the White House “the mosaic philosophy.” He explains: “Simply stated, this philosophy held that it did not matter if a detainee were innocent. Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance (this general philosophy, in an even cruder form, prevailed in Iraq as well, helping to produce the nightmare at Abu Ghraib). All that was necessary was to extract everything possible from him and others like him, assemble it all in a computer program, and then look for cross-connections and serendipitous incidentals—in short, to have sufficient information about a village, a region, or a group of individuals, that dots could be connected and terrorists or their plots could be identified. Thus, as many people as possible had to be kept in detention for as long as possible to allow this philosophy of intelligence gathering to work. The detainees’ innocence was inconsequential. After all, they were ignorant peasants for the most part and mostly Muslim to boot.” Unfortunately for this data mining effort, the gathering, cataloging, and maintenance of such information was carried out with what he calls “sheer incompetence,” rendering the information structure virtually useless either for intelligence or in prosecuting terror suspects.
No Information of Value Gained from Guantanamo Detainees - And, Wilkerson adds, he is not aware of any information gathered from Guantanamo detainees that made any real contribution to the US’s efforts to combat terrorism: “This is perhaps the most astounding truth of all, carefully masked by men such as Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney in their loud rhetoric—continuing even now in the case of Cheney—about future attacks thwarted, resurgent terrorists, the indisputable need for torture and harsh interrogation, and for secret prisons and places such as Gitmo.”
Hindrance to Prosecution - This incompetence in gathering and storing information had a powerful impact on the ability of the US to prosecute the two dozen or so detainees who actually might be what Wilkerson calls “hardcore terrorists.” For these and the other detainees, he writes, “there was virtually no chain of custody, no disciplined handling of evidence, and no attention to the details that almost any court system would demand” (see January 20, 2009).
Shutting Down Guantanamo - Wilkerson writes that the Guantanamo detention facility could be shut down much sooner than President Obama’s promised year (see January 22, 2009), and notes he believes a plan for shutting down the facility must have existed “[a]s early as 2004 and certainly in 2005.”
War on Terror Almost Entirely Political - Wilkerson charges that the Bush administration’s driving rationale behind the “never-ending war on terror” was political: “For political purposes, they knew it certainly had no end within their allotted four to eight years,” he writes in an op-ed about the US’s detention policies. “Moreover, its not having an end, properly exploited, would help ensure their eight rather than four years in office.”
Cheney's Criticisms of Obama 'Twisted ... Fear-Mongering' - Wilkerson excoriates former Vice President Dick Cheney for his recent statements regarding President Obama and the “war on terror” (see February 4, 2009). Instead of helping the US in its fight against al-Qaeda and Islamic terrorism, Wilkerson writes, Cheney is making that fight all the more difficult (see February 5, 2009). “Al-Qaeda has been hurt, badly, largely by our military actions in Afghanistan and our careful and devastating moves to stymie its financial support networks. But al-Qaeda will be back. Iraq, Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, heavily-biased US support for Israel, and a host of other strategic errors have insured al-Qaeda’s resilience, staying power, and motivation. How we deal with the future attacks of this organization and its cohorts could well seal our fate, for good or bad. Osama bin Laden and his brain trust, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are counting on us to produce the bad. With people such as Cheney assisting them, they are far more likely to succeed.” [Washington Note, 3/17/2009]
The Obama administration’s choice to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen, is endorsed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. All the committee Democrats vote to endorse her, and all but one Republican committee member vote against her; Arlen Specter (R-PA) abstains. After the endorsement, Senate Republicans use a variety of parliamentary procedures to delay or block her appointment. Legal expert and columnist Scott Horton writes, “The real reason for their vehement opposition is that Johnsen is committed to overturning the Bush administration’s policies on torture and warrantless surveillance that would clip the wings of the imperial presidency.” Johnsen formerly worked for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL), earning her the enmity of social conservatives who have made her the target of a massive opposition campaign. Anti-abortion groups call her a “radical, pro-abortion activist.” However, Horton notes, observations from Republican officials and opinion leaders show that the GOP’s real concern is not over Johnsen’s support for abortion, but for her apparent intent to roll back Bush-era policies on torture and warrantless surveillance. Even worse, Horton writes, is her intention to reveal secret information from the Bush years about those subjects. But it is politically difficult to attack Johnsen on these issues, Republicans say, so instead she is being targeted for her views on abortion. President Obama’s choice of Johnsen’s two deputies—Harvard law professor David Barron and Georgetown law professor Marty Lederman (see January 20, 2009)—are, like Johnsen, experienced in both academia and politics, and have been vehement critics of the OLC during the Bush years. [Daily Beast, 3/26/2009]
The Justice Department informs CIA Director Leon Panetta that, after due deliberation, it will recommend to the White House that it release four Bush-era “torture memos” almost uncensored (see April 16, 2009), in compliance with a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Panetta, who is about to leave for an overseas trip, tells Attorney General Eric Holder and White House officials that the administration needs to consider the possibility that the memos’ release might expose CIA officers to lawsuits on allegations of torture and abuse. He also demands more censorship of the memos. The Justice Department informs other senior CIA officials, and as a courtesy, former agency directors Michael Hayden, Porter Goss, George Tenet, and John Deutch. Senior CIA officials object, arguing that the memos’ release could damage the agency’s ability to interrogate prisoners in the future and would further besmirch CIA officers who had acted on the Bush administration’s legal guidance. They also warn that the release might harm foreign intelligence services’ trust in the CIA’s ability to protect national security secrets. The four former directors also raise objections, arguing that the release might compromise ongoing intelligence operations. The torture authorized by the Bush White House had been approved under Tenet’s directorship. On March 19, the Justice Department requests a two-week delay in releasing the memos; department officials tell the court handling the lawsuit that the administration is considering releasing the memos without waiting for a court verdict. Two weeks later, Justice Department officials tell the court that the memos would come out on or before April 16. President Obama becomes more and more involved in the matter, leading a National Security Council (NSC) session on the issue and holding high-level sessions with Holder and other Cabinet members. Obama also discusses the issue with lower-level officials, and with an unidentified NSC official from the Bush administration. Obama’s biggest worry is the possibility of endangering ongoing intelligence operations. The Justice Department argues that the ACLU lawsuit would in the end force the administration to release the documents anyway. Obama eventually agrees, and the White House decides it will be better to release the memos voluntarily and avoid the perception of only releasing them after being forced to do so by a court ruling. Obama also decides that very few redactions should be made in the documents. The only redactions in the memos are the names of US employees, foreign services, and items related to techniques still in use. To mollify CIA personnel concerns, Obama will send a personal letter to CIA employees reassuring them that he supports them, understands the clandestine nature of their operations, and has no intention of prosecuting CIA employees who followed the legal guidelines set forth in the memos. [Associated Press, 4/17/2009]
President Obama disagrees with recent statements from former Vice President Dick Cheney that his administration’s policies are endangering America (see February 4, 2009 and March 15, 2009). “I fundamentally disagree with Dick Cheney—not surprisingly,” Obama tells CBS reporter Steve Kroft. “I think that Vice President Cheney has been at the head of a movement whose notion is somehow that we can’t reconcile our core values, our Constitution, our belief that we don’t torture, with our national security interests. I think he’s drawing the wrong lesson from history. [CNN, 3/22/2009; CBS News, 3/22/2009] The facts don’t bear him out.” Cheney “is eager to defend a legacy that was unsustainable,” Obama says, and notes that Cheney’s politics reflect a mindset that “has done incredible damage to our image and position in the world.” [Raw Story, 3/22/2009; CBS News, 3/22/2009] In response to Cheney’s advocacy of extreme interrogation methods—torture—of suspected terrorists, Obama asks: “How many terrorists have actually been brought to justice under the philosophy that is being promoted by Vice President Cheney? It hasn’t made us safer. What it has been is a great advertisement for anti-American sentiment.” [Politico, 3/21/2009; CBS News, 3/22/2009] “The whole premise of Guantanamo promoted by Vice President Cheney was that, somehow, the American system of justice was not up to the task of dealing with these terrorists,” Obama continues. “This is the legacy that’s been left behind and, you know, I’m surprised that the vice president is eager to defend a legacy that was unsustainable. Let’s assume that we didn’t change these practices. How long are we going to go? Are we going to just keep on going until, you know, the entire Muslim world and Arab world despises us? Do we think that’s really going to make us safer? I don’t know a lot of thoughtful thinkers, liberal or conservative, who think that was the right approach.” [Raw Story, 3/22/2009; CBS News, 3/22/2009]
Conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly writes an op-ed that claims, apparently sarcastically, that former Vice President Cheney would have had reporters assassinated if he really controlled a military assassination squad. Responding to the allegations by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh that Cheney controlled an “executive assassination wing” (see March 10, 2009), O’Reilly writes: “The other day, left-wing muckraker Seymour Hersh went on MSNBC and said he had information, provided by the usual anonymous sources, that Dick Cheney was running an assassination squad out of the White House. I have but one simple observation: If Cheney really had such a crew, Hersh would have been dead a long time ago, and so would most everybody at MSNBC.” [Boston Herald, 3/22/2009; Think Progress, 3/22/2009]
The New York Times, in an unsigned editorial, warns of the possible ramifications of an upcoming Supreme Court case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The case was argued on March 15, eight days before the Web publication date of the editorial (see March 15, 2009) and nine days before the editorial is published in print; it is unclear in retrospect why the editorial is written as if the arguments have not yet taken place, or whether the dates of the published version are accurate. The Times sums up the case—a conservative nonprofit organization, Citizens United (CU), planned to air a 90-minute film that was highly critical of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY) in the days before 2008 presidential primary elections, in violation of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA, or “McCain-Feingold”—see March 27, 2002) that bans “electioneering communications” within 30 days of a primary election. CU was aware of the law, and filed a suit claiming that the law unconstitutionally violated its First Amendment rights. “The Supreme Court should affirm that ruling,” the Times states. The CU briefs “mak[e] a wide array of claims,” the “most dangerous” of which is a request to overturn the 1990 Austin Court decision (see March 27, 1990) that banned corporations from using monies from their general treasuries. The Times states: “If Citizens United prevails, it would create an enormous loophole in the law and allow corporate money to flood into partisan politics in ways it has not in many decades. It also would seriously erode the disclosure rules for campaign contributions.” [New York Times, 3/23/2009]
Dr. George Tiller, one of three doctors in the US that perform late-term abortions, is acquitted of misdemeanor charges that he violated laws governing such abortions. Within minutes of the acquittal, the Kansas Board of Healing Arts announces that it is investigating allegations against Tiller almost identical to the charges rejected by the jury. Prosecutors alleged that in 2003, Tiller had gotten second opinions on late-term abortions, not from an independent doctor as required by law, but from a doctor that was an employee of his. The jury takes an hour to reject the 19 charges. “You would hope it would be over,” says Tiller’s attorney Dan Monnat, “but there is a group of people who want to suppress the constitutional rights of women.” Tiller has maintained that the charges are politically motivated. He has long been a target of violent anti-abortion protests; his clinic was bombed in 1985 and targeted by the 1991 “Summer of Mercy” protests featuring violent demonstrations, and in 1993 he was shot by an anti-abortion activist (see August 19, 1993). [Associated Press, 3/27/2009] Tiller will be murdered by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder several weeks later (see May 31, 2009).
Baltasar Garzon. [Source: Presidency of Argentina]A Spanish court begins preliminary work towards opening a criminal investigation into allegations that six former top Bush administration officials may be guilty of war crimes related to torture of prisoners at Guantanamo. Spanish law allows the investigation and prosecution of people beyond its borders in the case of torture or war crimes. Investigative judge Baltasar Garzon, who ordered the arrest of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and has overseen the prosecution of numerous terrorists and human rights violators, wants to prosecute former US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee, former Defense Department officials William Haynes and Douglas Feith, and David Addington, the former chief of staff to then-Vice President Cheney. Many legal experts say that even if Garzon’s case results in warrants being issued, it is highly doubtful that the warrants would ever be served as long as the six potential defendants remain in the US. Spain has jurisdiction in the case because five Spanish citizens or residents have claimed to have been tortured at Guantanamo; the five faced charges in Spain, but were released after the Spanish Supreme Court ruled that evidence obtained through torture was inadmissible. Garzon’s complaint rests on alleged violations of the Geneva Conventions and the 1984 Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994). The complaint was prepared by Spanish lawyers with the assistance of experts in Europe and America, and filed by the Association for the Dignity of Prisoners, a Spanish human rights group. Lawyer Gonzalo Boye, who filed the complaint, says that Gonzales, Yoo, and the others have what he calls well-documented roles in approving illegal torture techniques, redefining torture, and ignoring the constraints set by the Convention Against Torture. “When you bring a case like this you can’t stop to make political judgments as to how it might affect bilateral relations between countries,” Boye says. “It’s too important for that.” Boye adds: “This is a case from lawyers against lawyers. Our profession does not allow us to misuse our legal knowledge to create a pseudo-legal frame to justify, stimulate, and cover up torture.” The US is expected to ignore any extradition requests occuring from the case. [New York Times, 3/28/2009; Associated Press, 3/28/2009]
Entity Tags: William J. Haynes, Jay S. Bybee, David S. Addington, John C. Yoo, Geneva Conventions, Convention Against Torture, Gonzalo Boye, Association for the Dignity of Prisoners, Alberto R. Gonzales, Baltasar Garzon, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The CIA’s torture of a supposed high-ranking al-Qaeda operative, Abu Zubaida, produced no information that helped foil any terrorist attacks or plots, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Zubaida was subjected to intensive waterboarding and other tortures (see April - June 2002), and provided information about a fantastic array of al-Qaeda plots that sent CIA agents all over the globe chasing down his leads. But none of his information panned out, according to the former officials. Almost everything Zubaida said under torture was false, and most of the reliable information gleaned from him—chiefly the names of al-Qaeda members and associates—was obtained before the CIA began torturing him. Moreover, the US’s characterization of Zubaida as “al-Qaeda’s chief of operations” and a “trusted associate” of Osama bin Laden turned out to be false as well. Several sources have challenged the government’s characterization of Zubaida as a “high-level al-Qaeda operative” before now (see Shortly After March 28, 2002 and April 9, 2002 and After).
'Fixer' for Islamists before 9/11 - Zubaida, a native Palestinian, never even joined al-Qaeda until after 9/11, according to information obtained from court documents and interviews with current and former intelligence, law enforcement, and military sources. Instead, he was a “fixer” for a number of radical Islamists, who regarded the US as an enemy primarily because of its support for Israel. Many describe Zubaida as a “travel agent” for al-Qaeda and other radical Islamists. He joined al-Qaeda because of the US’s preparations to invade Afghanistan. US officials are contemplating what, if any, charges they can use to bring him into court. Zubaida has alleged links with Ahmed Ressam, the so-called “Millennium Bomber” (see December 14, 1999), and allegedly took part in plans to retaliate against US forces after the overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001 (see December 17, 2001). But some US officials worry that bringing him into a courtroom would reveal the extent of his torture and abuse at the hands of the CIA, and that any evidence they might have against him is compromised because it was obtained in part through torture. Those officials want to send him to Jordan, where he faces allegations of conspiracy in terrorist attacks in that country.
Defending Zubaida's Information - Some in the US government still believe that Zubaida provided useful information. “It’s simply wrong to suggest that Abu Zubaida wasn’t intimately involved with al-Qaeda,” says a US counterterrorism official. “He was one of the terrorist organization’s key facilitators, offered new insights into how the organization operated, provided critical information on senior al-Qaeda figures… and identified hundreds of al-Qaeda members. How anyone can minimize that information—some of the best we had at the time on al-Qaeda—is beyond me.… Based on what he shared during his interrogations, he was certainly aware of many of al-Qaeda’s activities and operatives.” But the characterization of Zubaida as a well-connected errand runner was confirmed by Noor al-Deen, a Syrian teenager captured along with Zubaida at a Pakistani safe house (see March 28, 2002). Al-Deen readily answered questions, both in Pakistan and in a detention facility in Morocco. He described Zubaida as a well-known functionary with little knowledge of al-Qaeda operations. (Al-Deen was later transferred to Syria; his current whereabouts and status are unknown to the public.) A former Justice Department official closely involved in the early investigation of Zubaida says: “He was the above-ground support” for al-Qaeda and other radicals. “He was the guy keeping the safe house, and that’s not someone who gets to know the details of the plans. To make him the mastermind of anything is ridiculous.” A former intelligence officer says the US spent an inestimable amount of time and money chasing Zubaida’s “leads” to no effect: “We spent millions of dollars chasing false alarms.”
Connected to KSM - Zubaida knew radical Islamist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed for years. Mohammed, often dubbed “KSM” by US officials, approached Zubaida in the 1990s about finding financial backers for a plan he had concocted to fly a small plane into the World Trade Center. Zubaida declined involvement but recommended he talk to bin Laden. Zubaida quickly told FBI interrogators of Mohammed and other al-Qaeda figures such as alleged “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla (see May 8, 2002). He also revealed the plans of the low-level al-Qaeda operatives he fled Afghanistan with. Some wanted to strike US forces in Afghanistan with bombs, while others harbored ideas of further strikes on American soil. But he knew few details, and had no knowledge of plans by senior al-Qaeda operatives. At this point, the CIA took over the interrogations, and the torture began (see Mid-April-May 2002). As a result of the torture, Zubaida began alternating between obstinate silence and providing torrents of falsified and fanciful “intelligence”; when FBI “clean teams” attempted to re-interview some detainees who had been tortured in order to obtain evidence uncontaminated by abusive treatment, Zubaida refused to cooperate. Joseph Margulies, one of Zubaida’s attorneys, says: “The government doesn’t retreat from who KSM is, and neither does KSM. With Zubaida, it’s different. The government seems finally to understand he is not at all the person they thought he was. But he was tortured. And that’s just a profoundly embarrassing position for the government to be in.” Margulies and other lawyers want the US to send Zubaida to another country besides Jordan—Saudi Arabia, perhaps, where Zubaida has family. Military prosecutors have already deleted Zubaida’s name from the charge sheets of detainees who will soon stand trial, including several who were captured with Zubaida and are charged with crimes in which Zubaida’s involvement has been alleged.
Pressure from the White House - The pressure from the White House to get actionable information from Zubaida was intense (see Late March 2002), according to sources. One official recalls the pressure as “tremendous.” He says the push to force information from Zubaida mounted from one daily briefing to the next. “They couldn’t stand the idea that there wasn’t anything new. They’d say, ‘You aren’t working hard enough.’ There was both a disbelief in what he was saying and also a desire for retribution—a feeling that ‘He’s going to talk, and if he doesn’t talk, we’ll do whatever.’” [Washington Post, 3/29/2009]
Entity Tags: Jose Padilla, Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Ressam, Abu Zubaida, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, US Department of Justice, Joseph Margulies, Central Intelligence Agency, Noor al-Deen
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer interviews investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, who recently alleged that an “executive assassination wing” operated out of the White House (see March 10, 2009). Blitzer notes that the entity Hersh cited, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), denies Hersh’s claim, and says, in Blitzer’s words, “their forces operate under established rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict.” The JSOC “has no command and control authorities over the US military,” the JSOC has told Blitzer. Additionally, former Bush national security expert Frances Townsend has denied Hersh’s claim.
Not New Reporting - Hersh tells Blitzer that though he has not written specifically about the “assassination wing,” he and others have written about the actions of the JSOC well before now. “[I]t’s a separately independent unit that does not report to Congress, at least in the years I know about.… It has been given executive authority by the president in as many as 12 countries to go in and kill we’re talking about high value targets. That’s absolutely correct.” He says that such actions are not only illegal, but have no basis in intelligence. “The idea that you’re telling a group of American combat soldiers,” he says, “[t]he idea that we have a unit set up who goes after high-value targets who up to a certain point I know for sure until very recently were clearing lists. That doesn’t mean Cheney has an assassination unit that he says I want to go get somebody. That’s how it sort of played out in the press. The idea that we have a unit that goes around and without reporting to Congress, Congress knows very little about this group, can’t get clearings, can’t get hearings, can’t get even a classified hearings on it. Congresspeople have told me this. Those are out and has authority for the president to go into a country without telling the CIA station chief or the ambassador and whack somebody and I’m sorry, Wolf, I have a lot of problems with that.”
Poor Choice of Phrase - Hersh says he regrets using the phrase “executive assassination wing,” because it is a “loaded phrase.” Word choice aside, Hersh says: “It comes down to the same thing, that you can—you’ve delegated authority to troops in the field to hit people on the basis of whatever intelligence they think is good and I can tell you it’s always not good and sometimes things get very bloody.… The bottom line is, it’s—if it were the way your little presentation set up, that everything was checked and cleared, in fact, it was an awful lot of delegation to this group, which does not brief the Congress. And this does raise profound questions of constitutional authority. It’s the same questions that have come up repeatedly in the Bush administration. That is a unitarian president, the notion that a president can do things without telling Congress and unilaterally. This is an extension of that issue.”
Implied Confirmation from Former Cheney Adviser - John Hannah, the former national security adviser to Vice President Cheney, says Hersh’s allegations are “not true,” but in his next statement, he seems to confirm Hersh’s allegations to an extent. Blitzer says: “Explain exactly what’s going on in terms of a list. Is there a list of terrorists, suspected terrorists, out there who can be assassinated?” Hannah replies: “There is—there’s clearly a group of people that go through a very extremely well-vetted process—interagency process, as I think was explained in your piece, that have committed acts of war against the United States, who are at war with the United States, or is suspected of planning operations of war against the United States, who authority is given, to our troops in the field in certain war theaters to capture or kill those individuals. That is certainly true.… Osama bin Laden and his number two are right at the top of the list. [The number of individuals to be assassinated] is a small group and the point is that it is very, very heavily vetted throughout the interagency process.” Hannah says that he has trouble believing that Congress was not aware of actions, presumably including possible assassinations, carried out by the JSOC: “I don’t know exactly what the consultations are with the Congress, but it’s hard for me to believe that those committee chairman and the leadership on the Hill involved in intelligence and armed services, if they want to know about these operations, cannot get that information through the Defense Department.” Asked if such assassinations are legal and Constitutional, Hannah says: “There is no question. And in a theater of war, when we are at war, and there’s no doubt, we are still at war against al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and on that Pakistani border, that our troops have the authority to go out after and capture and kill the enemy, including the leadership of the enemy.” [CNN, 3/30/2009; MinnPost (.com), 3/31/2009]
Louisiana State Representative John LaBruzzo (R-Metarie) introduces legislation in the Louisiana State House of Representatives that would require all new applicants for state welfare to submit to drug testing. Those who fail would be denied benefits until they completed a required counseling program. Currently, Louisiana screens applicants through interviews and questionnaires. Those suspected of being drug users are tested, and they can still get Temporary Assistance for Needy Families as long as they comply with the state-paid treatment program. They are denied benefits only if they refuse the counseling-treatment program or when they fail to meet its requirements. LaBruzzo triggered a storm of criticism last year when he suggested paying welfare recipients to be sterilized (see September 23, 2008); the ensuing controversy cost him the vice chairmanship of the House Health and Welfare Committee. That idea was quickly shelved, and LaBruzzo now calls it “one of several ideas” from a “brainstorming session” on how to reduce public assistance rolls. “I never intended to draft legislation,” he says. LaBruzzo has said that Louisiana is losing tax revenues because people receiving government aid reproduce at a faster rate than wealthier, better-educated people who pay more in taxes. He calls his idea of drug-testing all welfare applicants a “sensible way” to trim the number of households on assistance, and says it will “prove that welfare recipients in Louisiana are not criminals,” by giving taxpayers assurance that anyone on assistance is drug free. His idea would mandate the Department of Social Services (DSS) to outsource the testing program to a private firm. LaBruzzo also says that anyone convicted of a drug felony should have to wait 10 years before receiving public assistance. Currently, the law mandates a one-year waiting period. In 2008, about 14,000 families received a total of $17 million in assistance. The monthly benefit to a qualifying parent with two children is about $250. LaBruzzo incorrectly says Louisiana already spends $40 million on testing and treatment programs, but DSS spokesperson Trey Williams says the actual figure is a tenth of LaBruzzo’s claim—$4.1 million. LaBruzzo also claims that Louisiana is suffering from a “growing problem of welfare,” though the number of recipients has been much lower since 1996, when President Clinton signed a federal law that limited recipients to a cumulative five years of benefits. [New Orleans Times-Picayune, 3/30/2009]
Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh discusses his recent allegation that what he calls an “executive assassination wing” was run from the office of former Vice President Dick Cheney (see March 10, 2009). Interviewer Amy Goodman opens her segment with Hersh by playing what was apparently an implicit confirmation, to an extent, of Hersh’s claims from a former Cheney aide (see March 30, 2009). Hersh notes that the comments from the former aide, John Hannah, verify that “yes, we go after people suspected—that was the word he used—of crimes against America. And I have to tell you that there’s an executive order, signed by Jerry Ford, President Ford, in the ‘70s, forbidding such action. It’s not only contrary—it’s illegal, it’s immoral, it’s counterproductive.” Of the allegations that the “assassination wing” is operated through the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), Hersh says: “[T]he problem with having military go kill people when they’re not directly in combat, these are asking American troops to go out and find people and… they go into countries without telling any of the authorities, the American ambassador, the CIA chief, certainly nobody in the government that we’re going into, and it’s far more than just in combat areas. There’s more—at least a dozen countries and perhaps more. [President Bush] has authorized these kinds of actions in the Middle East and also in Latin America, I will tell you, Central America, some countries. They’ve been—our boys have been told they can go and take the kind of executive action they need, and that’s simply—there’s no legal basis for it.… [T]he idea that the American president would think he has the constitutional power or the legal right to tell soldiers not engaged in immediate combat to go out and find people based on lists and execute them is just amazing to me.… And not only that, Amy, the thing about George Bush is, everything’s sort of done in plain sight. In his State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003)… about a month and a half before we went into Iraq, Bush was describing the progress in the war, and he said—I’m paraphrasing, but this is pretty close—he said that we’ve captured more than 3,000 members of al-Qaeda and suspected members, people suspected of operations against us. And then he added with that little smile he has, ‘And let me tell you, some of those people will not be able to ever operate again. I can assure you that. They will not be in a position.’ He’s clearly talking about killing people, and to applause. So, there we are. I don’t back off what I said. I wish I hadn’t said it ad hoc… sometimes when you speak off the top, you’re not as precise.” JSOC, Hersh explains, is a group of Navy Seals, Delta Force soldiers, and other “commandos” (a word the soldiers don’t prefer, but, Hersh says, most journalists use), which has been “transmogrified, if you will, into this unit that goes after high-value targets.” Hersh explains the involvement of Cheney’s office: “And where Cheney comes in and the idea of an assassination ring—I actually said ‘wing,’ but of an assassination wing—that reports to Cheney was simply that they clear lists through the vice president’s office. He’s not sitting around picking targets. They clear the lists. And he’s certainly deeply involved, less and less as time went on, of course, but in the beginning very closely involved.” Goodman concludes by asking, “One question: Is the assassination wing continuing under President Obama?” Hersh replies: “How do I know? I hope not.” [Democracy Now!, 3/31/2009]
Former Bush defense official Douglas Feith claims he had nothing to do with the Bush administration’s torture policies. Feith makes his remarks in response to a recent announcement that a Spanish court would consider filing criminal charges against him and five other former Bush officials “over allegations they gave legal cover for torture at Guantanamo.” Appearing on Fox News, Feith says he never approved any torture policies: “I’m being criticized for a position that I never advocated. And so the facts are just wrong.” Feith says he merely gave President Bush “advice” and had no role in “directing” torture policy: “But there’s also a broader point of principle here, which is what the Spanish authorities are considering doing is indicting people, former US government officials for giving advice to the president. And the idea that a foreign official can disagree with advice given to the president, they’re not talking about action. And they’re not even talking about directing people to take action. They’re talking about people who were advising the president on policy and legal questions. This is an effort to intimidate US government officials.” [Think Progress, 3/31/2009] But Feith has bragged before of his influence on Bush administration torture policies, telling British author and law professor Phillippe Sands that he played a key role in ensuring that Geneva Convention policies did not apply to detainees (see Early 2006).
The CIA fires two contractors, psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, from their lucrative consulting contracts. Mitchell and Jessen designed the CIA’s torture program (see January 2002 and After, April 16, 2002, Mid-April 2002, and Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002), and earned $1,000 a day in doing so (see April 30, 2009). The CIA now believes that the two fundamentally misrepresented their knowledge of the safety and efficacy of particular torture techniques, particularly waterboarding. The firings are part of a larger “purge” by CIA Director Leon Panetta of all contractors involved in the Bush-era torture program. Panetta tells CIA employees that all contractors involved in the interrogation program and secret prisons are being “promptly terminated.” [ABC News, 6/16/2009]
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, in an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, refuses to acknowledge his role in approving the torture of suspected terrorists. In 2008, ABC News named Powell as one of the members of the National Security Council’s principals committee who repeatedly authorized a variety of torture techniques to be used on detainees (see April 9, 2008). He also declines to affirm that several techniques, including waterboarding and sleep deprivation, qualify as torture. Powell says the torture of Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002) and other al-Qaeda suspects “were not play-by-play discussed but there were conversations at a senior level with regard to what could be done with these types of interrogation. I cannot say further because I don’t have knowledge of all the meetings that took place or what was discussed at each of those meetings and I think it’s going to have to be in the written record of that meeting what will determine whether anything improper took place. But it is always the case that at least in the State Department’s standpoint, we should be consistent with the requirements of the Geneva Convention and that’s why this was such a controversial, controversial issue that you have to go—in due course I think we all will go to the written record. I’m not sure what memos were signed or not signed. I didn’t have access to all of that information.” Maddow asks, “If there was a meeting, though, at which senior officials were giving the approval for sleep deprivations, stress positions, waterboarding, were those officials committing crimes when they were getting their authorization?” Powell refuses to answer, saying, “I don’t know If any of these items would be considered criminal and I would wait for whatever investigation that the government or the Congress intends to pursue with this.” Maddow asks if he regrets his own participation in discussions about interrogations and torture, but Powell cuts her off to state: “There was no meeting on torture. It is constantly said that the meetings—I had an issue with this—we had meetings on what torture to administer. What I recall, the meetings I was in, I was not in all the meetings and I was not an author of many of the memos that have been written and some have come out and some have not come out. The only meetings I recall was where we talked about what is it we can do with respect to trying to get information from individuals who were in our custody. And I will just have to wait until the full written record is available and examined.… I don’t know where these things were being approved at a political level.” [MSNBC, 4/1/2009; Think Progress, 4/1/2009]
Within hours of Richard Poplawski’s murder of three Pittsburgh police officers (see April 4, 2009), the media learns that he is an avowed racist and white supremacist who has been preparing for a violent confrontation with authorities. Poplawski has contributed to racist Web sites, writing about his hatred of “race mixing,” the economic recession, Zionist conspiracies, and his fondness for his “AK” rifle. He also bears what one columnist will describe as a “Nazi-style tattoo,” and on Stormfront, a neo-Nazi Web site, described the tattoo as a “deliberately Americanized version of the [Nazi] iron eagle.” In a March 13 post on a racist site, he wrote: “One can read the list of significant persons in government and in major corporations and see who is pulling the strings. One can observe the policies and final products and should walk away with little doubt there is Zionist occupation and—after some further research [and] critical thinking—will discover their insidious intentions.” In the same month, Poplawski also posted that “the federal government, mainstream media, and banking system in these United States are strongly under the influence of—if not completely controlled by—Zionist interest. An economic collapse of the financial system is inevitable, bringing with it some degree of civil unrest if not outright balkanization of the continental US, civil/revolutionary/racial war.… This collapse is likely engineered by the elite Jewish powers that be in order to make for a power and asset grab.” His more recent posts, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), were escalating in their rhetorical violence, urging fellow white supremacists to achieve “ultimate victory for our people” by “taking back our nation.” He promised that he would be “ramping up the activism” soon. After the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl in February 2009, Poplawski dismissed NFL football as what he called “negroball,” then went out, conducted surveillance of how police tried to control crowds, and posted about his findings, saying that it was a prelude to the government rounding up citizens for imprisonment in concentration camps. Most of Poplawski’s postings were on Stormfront and Infowars, a conspiracy-minded Web site hosted by radio talk show host Alex Jones. The posts began, as far as can be ascertained, in 2007 and ended a few hours before the shootings. The ADL’s Mark Pitcavage says of Poplawski’s writings: “Cumulatively, what these postings reveal is a lot more about his mindset. They show a growing anti-government and anti-police hostility.” Other postings made by Poplawski show his intense, race-based dislike of President Obama and his intention to violently resist any government attempts to take away his guns. Pitcavage notes that in the last month, Poplawski changed his online moniker from “Rich P” to “Braced for Fate.” He says of the change, “I mean, this is talking about some inevitable confrontation, and possibly a fatal confrontation.” [New York Times, 4/7/2009; Anti-Defamation League, 4/8/2009; Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 6/12/2009] Mrs. Poplawski tells police that her son, who was discharged from the Marine Corps for assaulting his drill sergeant during basic training, had been “stockpiling guns and ammunition, buying and selling the weapons online, because he believed that as a result of the economic collapse, the police were no longer able to protect society.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4/6/2009] Poplawski and his friend Edward Perkovic collaborated on an Internet broadcast where they showed video clips and talked politics [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4/4/2009] , including a clip and subsequent discussion of a discussion on Fox News between host Glenn Beck and guest Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), which featured warnings about concentration camps run by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Perkovic, who shares many of Poplawski’s beliefs, will say of his friend: “He was really into politics and really into the First and Second Amendment. One thing he feared was he feared the gun ban because he thought that was going to take away peoples’ right to defend themselves. He never spoke of going out to murder or to kill.” He adds: “We recently discovered that 30 states had declared sovereignty. One of his concerns was why were these major events in America not being reported to the public.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4/5/2009; Anti-Defamation League, 4/8/2009] On his MySpace page, Perkovic has written of his admiration for a novel called The Turner Diaries, which depicts the white supremacist takeover of the US and the extermination of minorities (see 1978), and the long-debunked “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a manifesto that purports to lay out the plans of “Zionists” to take over the world. [Crooks and Liars, 4/4/2009] Perkovic has posted about the “Zionist occupied government,” “mixed bloodlines that will erase national identity,” and Jewish control of the media. [Anti-Defamation League, 4/8/2009]
Richard Poplawski. [Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]Pittsburgh resident Richard Poplawski kills three police officers after his mother calls 911 to have him removed from her home. According to a criminal complaint and affidavit, around 7 a.m. Margaret Poplawski and her son begin arguing over a dog urinating in the house; the argument escalates to the point where she calls the police to have him removed. When officers Stephen Mayhle and Paul Sciullo arrive, Mrs. Poplawski asks them inside. Unbeknownst to his mother, Poplawski has donned a bulletproof vest and taken up an AK-47 semi-automatic rifle, a .22 long rifle, and a pistol. From a position behind his mother, he shoots both officers in the head, killing them almost instantly. His mother hears the gunshots and flees to the basement, screaming, “What the hell have you done?” Poplawski shoots Mayhle again to ensure his death, then shoots a third officer, Eric Kelly, when he arrives to provide assistance. Kelly, critically wounded, manages to call for assistance; a fourth officer, Timothy McManaway, is shot in the hand as he arrives on the scene and attempts to help Kelly. Kelly will die at the hospital from multiple wounds to the torso and legs.
Four-Hour Siege - Poplawski retreats to his bedroom and, as police assemble outside the home, fires at the officers. Police return fire, and between them, hundreds of shots are exchanged. During the siege, Poplawski calls a friend, Edward Perkovic, and tells him: “Eddie, I’m going to die today. Tell your family and friends I love them. This is probably the end.” The standoff between Poplawski and police lasts some four hours before officers finally persuade Poplawski to surrender; they enter the house and lead him out in handcuffs. Poplawski suffers at least one bullet wound during the exchange of gunfire. After the standoff, neighbors describe the scene as a “war zone.” Police have been called numerous times to the Poplawski residence to break up fights and disputes between mother and son. Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson will later say of the shootings: “I’d like to understand why. It’s senseless.” [Associated Press, 4/5/2009; New York Times, 4/5/2009; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4/6/2009; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4/8/2009] Poplawski is held without bail in the Alleghany County Jail, charged with the murder of three police officers, the shooting of a fourth, and eight counts of assault derived from his shooting at other officers. His grandmother, Catherine Scott, will tell a reporter that she is praying for her grandson, but: “My grandson did a terrible thing. There is no mercy for what he did.” [Associated Press, 4/5/2009; New York Times, 4/13/2009] Poplawski will later say he planned on forcing the police to kill him, but decided to surrender so he could write a book from inside prison. He will express no remorse for the men he kills. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4/8/2009]
White Supremacist, Anti-Semitic, Feared Gun Confiscation - The media will soon learn that Poplawski is a white supremacist who hates Jews and fears his guns will be taken away by the government (see April 4, 2009 and April 4, 2009 and After).
Many in the media speculate as to the motivations behind Richard Poplawski’s murder of three Pittsburgh police officers, which takes place on this day (see April 4, 2009). Findings that Poplawski is a white supremacist who hates Jews and fears that the federal government will confiscate his guns (see April 4, 2009) lead some to speculate that he was driven to violence by right-wing speculation and hate speech. In June 2009, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert will call Poplawski’s action a “right-wing, hate-driven attack,” and note that Poplawski and others like him have been inflamed by information provided by such organizations as the National Rifle Association (NRA), which consistently tells its Web site visitors that President Obama is planning to mount a nationwide gun confiscation. Herbert will also note that a friend of Poplawski’s told reporters that the shooter “feared the Obama gun ban that’s on the way.” [New York Times, 6/19/2009] In the days after Poplawski’s killing spree, Daily Beast columnist Max Blumenthal will speculate that Poplawski was driven to violence by the steady diet of right-wing hate speech and anti-government conspiracy theories he immersed himself in. Blumenthal notes that Alex Jones of Infowars, while himself not an advocate of white supremacy, is popular on the neo-Nazi Web site Stormfront.org for his incessant diatribes about the imminent takeover of the citizenry by FEMA and the Obama administratrion’s plans on confiscating guns as part of its plan to establish a leftist dictatorship. Blumenthal also notes Poplawski’s fondness for Fox News’s Glenn Beck, who often repeats and embellishes Jones’s conspiracy theories on his show, and his apparent self-affiliation with the radical fringes of the Tea Party movement. Author and reporter David Neiwert will tell Blumenthal: “It’s always been a problem when major-league demagogues start promulgating false information for political gain. What it does is unhinge fringe players from reality and dislodges them even further. When someone like Poplawski hears Glenn Beck touting One World Government and ‘they’re gonna take your gun’ theories, they believe then that it must be true. And that’s when they really become crazy.” [Daily Beast, 4/7/2009] Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an expert on political extremists, says of Poplawski’s views, “For some time now there has been a pretty good connection between being sucked into this conspiracy world and propagating violence.” She says Poplawski’s attack on the police is “a classic example of what happens when you start buying all this conspiracy stuff.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4/5/2009]
Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck attempts to disavow any connection between his rhetoric and accused murderer Richard Poplawski, who killed three police officers in Pittsburgh two days ago (see April 4, 2009). Poplawski said he was influenced by Beck and other conservative talk show hosts who have repeatedly warned that the government intends to forcibly confiscate citizens’ guns (see April 4, 2009). Beck tells his listeners, “[T]he press, the blogs, everybody immediately went to, ‘This guy’s a conservative with guns that says Obama’s coming.’” But later in his show, Beck repeats his assertions, telling viewers that President Obama “will slowly but surely take away your gun or take away your ability to shoot a gun, carry a gun. He will make them more expensive; he’ll tax them out of existence. He will because he has said he would. He will tax your gun or take your gun away one way or another.” [Media Matters, 4/9/2009]
Mike Gallagher. [Source: All Access (.com)]Conservative radio host Mike Gallagher discusses an exchange between the Second Amendment Foundation’s Alan Gottlieb and MSNBC anchor David Shuster that occurred the night before, on MSNBC’s Hardball. Gallagher lauds Gottlieb’s “great job in explaining logically why people are worried about what the Obama administration wants to do with our guns,” and airs a clip from the conversation in which Shuster asked Gottlieb, “Do you believe that the Obama administration and the Feds are coming to take away everybody’s guns?” Gottlieb replied: “I believe that’s what they would like to do. I don’t think we’re going to let them get away with it.” Gallagher later tells his listeners: “[L]isten to the way Gottlieb leaves the liberal columnist stuttering and stammering, explaining very eloquently why so many of us are worried and scurrying to buy guns right now.… [I]f you think the government might take your rights away from you, you want to try and exercise them before that happens. It’s a normal reaction.” Gallagher suggests “a national movement to register as many people as we can… to become gun owners,” and continues: “We’re going to set up a Web site, we’re going to get listener participation on this, we’re going to register and create as many gun owners—new, first-time gun owners as possible. I don’t even want to set a number. I’m number one—I’ll be the first one.” However, Gallagher criticizes media reports that state Pittsburgh cop-killer Richard Poplawski killed three police officers for fear that government or law enforcement officials would take away his guns (see April 4, 2009). [Media Matters, 4/7/2009; Media Matters, 4/9/2009]
Former Republican senator Rick Santorum writes in an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer that President Obama is “contemptuous of American values.” Santorum, now a columnist for the Inquirer, ties his comments to the pending nomination of Harold Koh to become the State Department’s lead counsel. Santorum and other far-right conservatives oppose Koh, a former Yale Law School dean, because of his “internationalist” views. Obama’s nomination of Koh for the State Department, and Obama’s recent supposed “apology for American arrogance” to European audiences, “helped convince me that [Obama] has a deep-seated antipathy toward American values and traditions,” Santorum writes. Santorum opposes Koh’s view that the US must become part of the international legal community, and instead insists that the US hold itself apart from international law, a position Santorum shares with the former Bush administration. “Koh’s ‘transnationalism’ stands in contrast to good, old-fashioned notions of national sovereignty, in which our Constitution is the highest law of the land,” Santorum writes. “In the traditional view, controversial matters, whatever they may be, are subject to democratic debate here. They should be resolved by the American people and their representatives, not ‘internationalized.’ What Holland or Belgium or Kenya or any other nation or coalition of nations thinks has no bearing on our exercise of executive, legislative, or judicial power. Koh disagrees. He would decide such matters based on the views of other countries or transnational organizations—or, rather, those entities’ elites.” Koh supports the International Criminal Court, which Santorum views as an objectionable intrusion upon American sovereignty. [Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/9/2009] Santorum is echoing recent arguments by Fox News host Glenn Beck (see April 1, 2009) and Accuracy in Media editor Cliff Kincaid (see April 6, 2009).
The CIA says it intends to close down the network of secret overseas prisons it used to torture suspected terrorists during the Bush administration. CIA Director Leon Panetta says that agency officers who worked in the program “should not be investigated, let alone punished” because the Justice Department under President Bush had declared their actions legal. Justice Department memos (see April 16, 2009) and investigations by the International Committee of the Red Cross (see October 6 - December 14, 2006) have shown that torture was used on several prisoners in these so-called “black sites.” Panetta says the secret detention facilities have not been used since 2006, but are still costing taxpayers money to keep open. Terminating security contracts at the sites would save “at least $4 million,” he says. The CIA has never revealed the location of the sites, but independent investigations and news reports place at least some of them in Afghanistan, Thailand, Poland, Romania, and Jordan. Agency officials have claimed that fewer than 100 prisoners were ever held in the sites, and around 30 of them were tortured. The last 14 prisoners were transferred to Guantanamo in 2006 (see September 2-3, 2006), but then-President Bush ordered the sites to remain open for future use. Since then, two suspected al-Qaeda operatives are known to have been kept in the sites. Panetta also says that the CIA will no longer use private contractors to conduct interrogations. [New York Times, 4/10/2009]
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in a rare public appearance to answer questions from the winners of a high school essay contest sponsored by the Bill of Rights Institute, says he does not embrace the Bill of Rights. “Today there is much focus on our rights,” he says. “Indeed, I think there is a proliferation of rights.” He suggests that there should be two “alternatives” to the document, saying: “I am often surprised by the virtual nobility that seems to be accorded those with grievances. Shouldn’t there at least be equal time for our Bill of Obligations and our Bill of Responsibilities?” [New York Times, 4/13/2009]
A three-judge panel rules that Al Franken (D-MN) is the legitimate winner of Minnesota’s hotly contested US senate seat (see November 4-5, 2008), ruling against Franken’s opponent, former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN—see January 26, 2009). Ironically, when the judges reviewed the ballots under consideration, Franken was awarded almost 100 more votes, setting his margin of victory at 312 votes. Coleman says he will appeal the decision, which will continue to block Franken from taking his seat in the Senate. [Associated Press, 4/14/2009]
One of Hayden’s Twitter posts. [Source: Twitteradar (.com)]Daniel Knight Hayden, an Oklahoma man who has declared himself affiliated with local tea party organizations and the “Oath Keeper” movement (see March 9, 2009 and March 2010), is arrested by FBI agents after posting a series of messages on Twitter threatening to unleash a violent attack on Oklahoma state government officials on April 15, “Tax Day.” On April 13, under the moniker “CitizenQuasar,” Hayden began posting a blizzard of “tweets” about his intention to be on the Oklahoma State Capitol steps on the 15th, at first as part of a peaceful tea party event, then escalating into harsher rhetoric, and eventually threats of violence. On April 14, he wrote: “Tea Parties: And Poot Gingrich wants to stand in the limelight. He is a NWO operative,” referring to former Republican House Speaker and tea party favorite Newt Gingrich, and accusing him of being an “operative” for the “New World Order” (see September 11, 1990). Towards midnight of April 14, Hayden begins the following series of posts: “Maybe it’s time to die. Let’s see if I can video record the Highway Patrol at the entrance to the Oklahoma State Capitol.” “While trying to inform them of Oath Keepers” (and links to the Oath Keepers blog). “And post it on the internet. Since i live on this sorry f_cking state,that is as good a place as ANY to die and start a WAR. WEshallsee.” “I WISH I had someone to watch my back with MY camera.” “AND, no matter WHAT happens, to post it on the internet IMMEDIATELY, AND send it to Alex Jones!!!!!!!!!!!!” (referring to radio talk show host Alex Jones). “Damnit!” “Alas… WE SHALL see the TRUTH about this sorry f_cking state!!!!!!!” After a few more posts, Dyer begins posting direct threats of violence (later removed from the Twitter account, but presented in the FBI affidavit). “The WAR wWIL start on the stepes of the Oklahoma State Capitol. I will cast the first stone. In the meantime, I await the police.” “START THE KILLING NOW! I am wiling to be the FIRST DEATH! I Await the police. They will kill me in my home.” “After I am killed on the Capitol Steps like REAL man, the rest of you will REMEMBER ME!!!” “I really don’ give a sh_t anymore. Send the cops around. I will cut their heads off the heads and throw the on the State Capitol steps.” Hayden is taken into custody before he can go to the Capitol building, and arrested for transmitting threats to kill or injure people using interstate communication tools over the Internet. FBI agent Michael Puskas confirms that Dyer posted under the moniker “CitizenQuasar,” and says Dyer also has MySpace and Blogger accounts under similar monikers. Wired magazine says it “appears to be [the] first criminal prosecution to stem from posts on the microblogging site,” and calls Dyer’s MySpace page “a breathtaking gallery of right-wing memes about the ‘New World Order,’ gun control as Nazi fascism, and Barack Obama’s covert use of television hypnosis, among many others.” Dyer will be arraigned on April 16 and ordered released to a halfway house, a move the Associated Press reports as suggesting “the magistrate judge does not consider him a genuine threat.” [Wired News, 4/24/2009; Associated Press, 4/26/2009] Posters on the conservative blog Free Republic, commenting on Hayden’s arrest, label him a “leftist” who intended to kill tea party protesters, a contention they say is proven by Hayden’s vows to seek revenge for the government’s execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). One poster writes: “Hayden appears to be one of those mixtures of far out ideologies. On one hand he seems to support nazism but accused Obama of using mind control.” [Free Republic, 4/24/2009]
Fox News host Glenn Beck, broadcasting live from a “tea party” protest at the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, interviews Joe Horn, who was charged with shooting to death two illegal immigrants whom Horn says he caught burglarizing his neighbor’s home. The Alamo is the site of the Republic of Texas’s 1836 stand against the Mexican Army, and apparently Beck’s interview of Horn is chosen to symbolize American “resistance” to Mexican immigrants. “It’s a different world in Texas,” Beck says, and Horn replies, backed by cheers from a small audience behind Beck, “Thank God for it.” Regarding the shooting, Horn says, “I thought it was the right thing to do, and I did it.” As Beck retells the story, Horn saw the two men burglarizing the neighbor’s home, called 911, and, before the police could respond, told the 911 operator that he was going to the home to “stop them.” Defying the operator’s request not to confront the two, Horn took his shotgun to the neighbor’s home and shot both intruders, killing them. (His admission of shooting them triggers wild cheering; the Fox News cameras focus on a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag waved from the crowd.) Horn claims that the men were approaching him when he opened fire. The crowd cheers at Beck’s retelling of another story of a homeowner shooting an alleged burglar, and cheers at every subsequent mention of guns and shootings. “Joe, what kind of world are we living in that people don’t understand you have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?” Beck asks. Horn says he had no intention of “letting those two men kill me,” even though police investigations showed that he shot both of them in the back, apparently as they were fleeing, and he told the 911 operator before leaving his home, “I’m going to kill them.” Neither one of the alleged burglars was armed. Texas prosecutors failed to indict Horn. [New York Times, 12/13/2007; Media Matters, 4/15/2009]
Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who served during President Bush’s first term, says had he known that the Bush administration authorized torture while he was in office, the right thing to do would have been to resign. “I hope, had I known about it at the time I was serving, I would’ve had the courage to resign,” he tells an Al Jazeera television interviewer. During the interview, host Avi Lewis asks, “So when you knew that the administration of which you were a part was departing from the Geneva Conventions and sidelining them, why didn’t you quit?” Armitage responds: “In hindsight maybe I should’ve. But in those positions you see how many more battles you have. You maybe fool yourself. You say how much worse would X, Y, or Z be if I weren’t here trying to do it? So torture is a matter of principle as far as I’m concerned. I hope, had I known about it at the time I was serving, I would’ve had the courage to resign.” [Huffington Post, 4/15/2009]
President Obama presides over a deeply divided group of top advisers as he decides whether or not to release four Bush-era Justice Department memos documenting the Bush administration’s torture policies (see April 16, 2009). CIA Director Leon Panetta and his four immediate predecessors have already registered their flat disapproval of the memos’ release (see March 18, 2009 and After), as has Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan. On the other side are Attorney General Eric Holder, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, and White House counsel Gregory Craig. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has indicated he supports the release because it is inevitable anyway—the memos are the subject of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit—and because Obama is willing to promise that no CIA officers will be prosecuted for abuse. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen sides with Gates. Obama presides over a “mini-debate” in the office of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, where each side designates a spokesperson to present its views. When the debate is concluded, Obama immediately dictates a draft of his announcement of the memos’ release. During the discussion, Obama rejects the proposal that the memos’ release be delayed in anticipation of a so-called “truth commission” to investigate Bush torture policies, saying that such delay would just create further divisiveness. Craig argues persuasively that the judge overseeing the FOIA lawsuit is unlikely to grant any delays. Obama aides later say the president’s decision is in keeping with his frequent campaign promises that he would not only stop the torture and abuse of prisoners in US custody, but get to the truth behind the Bush administration’s torture policies. [Newsweek, 4/18/2009; Washington Post, 4/24/2009]
As the Obama administration releases four new and controversial Bush-era torture memos (see April 16, 2009), both the White House and the CIA reassure agency personnel that they will not be prosecuted for carrying out the policies of the Bush administration. The White House statement is carefully worded to give no such reassurances to former Bush administration officials who helped codify and implement such policies. “It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department,” says Attorney General Eric Holder. White House officials say that any CIA agency employee subjected to international tribunals or Congressional inquiries would receive legal representation at no cost to themselves, and the government would indemnify agency workers against any financial judgments. In the weeks before the memos’ release, top CIA officials, including CIA Director Leon Panetta, argued that the memos should not be released because the graphic detail in them could lead to a demand for investigations and prosecutions of CIA interrogators and other personnel. Panetta tells CIA employees that since the torture policies were approved at the highest level of the Bush administration, they would not be prosecuted as long as they followed the legal guidelines laid down by the Justice Department. “You need to be fully confident that as you defend the nation, I will defend you,” Panetta says. Some civil rights organizations respond with a call for prosecutions. A statement from the Center for Constitutional Rights says, “Whether or not CIA operatives who conducted waterboarding are guaranteed immunity, it is the high level officials who conceived, justified, and ordered the torture program who bear the most responsibility for breaking domestic and international law, and it is they who must be prosecuted.” [Washington Post, 4/17/2009] The American Civil Liberties Union is calling for criminal investigations (see April 16, 2009).
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