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Harper’s reporter Ken Silverstein reports on a quiet but widespread swell of resistance among CIA personnel to the Bush administration’s detention and torture policies. A former senior agency official tells Silverstein that there is a “big swing” in sentiments away from supporting the administration at Langley. “I’ve been stunned by what I’m hearing,” he says. “There are people who fear that indictments and subpoenas could be coming down, and they don’t want to get caught up in it.” The former official says there “seems to be a quiet conspiracy by rational people” at the CIA to avoid involvement in the worst of the administration’s policies, particularly the “rendition” of prisoners to foreign countries for interrogation and torture. The former official says, “There’s an SS group within the agency that’s willing to do anything and there’s a Wehrmacht group that is saying, ‘I’m not gonna touch this stuff.’” Lawyer and human rights activist Scott Horton confirms Silverstein’s reporting, saying that he too is hearing stories of growing dissent at the CIA. Horton says: “When the sh_t hits the fan, the administration scapegoats lower-level people. It doesn’t do a lot in terms of inspiring confidence.” [Harper's, 4/19/2006]
Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, praises the CIA’s firing of official Mary McCarthy for allegedly leaking classified information to the press (see April 21, 2006), saying that “unauthorized disclosures of classified information can significantly harm our ability to protect the American people.” Roberts, who has consistently supported the Bush administration’s efforts to control and limit the flow of sensitive information to the press, says: “Those who leak classified information not only risk the disclosure of intelligence sources and methods, but also expose the brave men and women of the intelligence community to greater danger. Clearly, those guilty of improperly disclosing classified information should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” He adds that he is “pleased that the Central Intelligence Agency has identified the source of certain unauthorized disclosures, and I hope that the agency, and the [intelligence] community as a whole, will continue to vigorously investigate other outstanding leak cases.” However, Roberts may be guilty of a far more serious intelligence leak than anything McCarthy is accused of doing. Three years before, on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq, he disclosed classified intelligence information that impaired the US military’s attempts to capture Saddam Hussein (see March 20, 2003). Four former intelligence officials contrast Roberts’s disclosure of classified information with McCarthy’s, and note that her firing is an example of how “rank and file” intelligence professionals have much to fear from legitimate and even inadvertent contacts with journalists, while senior executive branch officials and members of Congress are almost never held accountable when they seriously breach national security through leaks of information. One former intelligence official who was involved in numerous leak investigations says: “On a scale of one to 10, if Mary McCarthy did what she is accused of doing, it would be at best a six or seven. What Pat Roberts did, from a legal and national security point of view, was an 11.” Another former intelligence official says that in her authorized interviews with reporters: “Mary might have said something or disclosed something inadvertently, which is exactly Roberts’ defense. The only difference between them is that Pat Roberts is the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Mary is somebody that they are using to set an example.” A third foreign intelligence official says that the Bush administration vigorously pursues “leaks and leakers they don’t like, while turning a blind eye to those they do like, or [leaks] they do themselves.” If this continues, the official warns, it will set a “dangerous precedent in that any president will be able to control the flow of information regarding any policy dispute.… When historians examine this, they will see that is how we got into war with Iraq.” [National Journal, 4/25/2006]
CBS’s 60 Minutes airs a half-hour interview with Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba, the first reporter to obtain the now-infamous forged documents that purported to show that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). The now-defunct 60 Minutes II had planned to show the segment just before the November 2004 elections, but questions from right-wing bloggers and commentators about another 60 Minutes II segment—one that showed President Bush did not fulfill his Texas Air National Guard duties during the Vietnam War—led CBS executives to pull the segment (see Late September 2004). [Newsweek, 9/23/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 142-143; CBS News, 4/23/2006] CBS News president Andrew Heyward refused to air the story during the last week of September 2004, saying it would be “inappropriate” to air it during the last weeks of the 2004 presidential election campaign. Media observer Mary Jacoby says the CBS report contains little new information, but “is powerfully, coherently, and credibly reported.” She calls CBS “cowardly” for not airing the segment when it was originally scheduled. [Salon, 9/29/2004] Author Jane Hamsher, the owner of the progressive blog FireDogLake, writes that the 60 Minutes segment is “a simple, direct narrative that will reach millions of Americans and let them know that they have been duped.” The segment does not delve into the outing of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson, staying strictly with the Iraq-Niger uranium claims, and, she writes, demonstrates that the officially sanctioned “investigations” into the claims were little more than “partisan hatchet jobs.” [Jane Hamsher, 4/23/2006]
Jim Lehrer interviews Richard Kerr and Ray McGovern about the firing of CIA official Mary McCarthy. [Source: PBS]In an interview on PBS, two former CIA officials agree that fired CIA official Mary McCarthy should have been relieved of her duties by the agency (see April 21, 2006 and April 24, 2006), but have very different opinions on the context of the firing. News anchor Jim Lehrer interviews Richard Kerr, a former deputy director of the CIA under President George H. W. Bush, and veteran CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who is an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s intelligence policies.
Moral and Legal Responsibility to Disclose War Crimes - McGovern says that McCarthy “was cognizant of war crimes [committed by the Bush adminsitration]. She needed to do something about that, from a moral and a legal perspective. And she chose this way to do it, because the other ways were blocked for her.” Kerr disagrees, saying “[i]t’s not at all clear to me that his description of the activity is fitting.” Either way, Kerr says, as a junior officer, McCarthy had no right to take her concerns public in any manner. “There’s all kinds of ways to go through the organization to make your feelings known, to give your views of it,” Kerr says, “[a]nd I think going out independently, with that kind of discipline, no intelligence organization can work that way.” McGovern agrees in principle, but says that McCarthy’s case is “exceptional.” McCarthy knew that the CIA was torturing prisoners in secret prisons around the globe (see November 2-18, 2005), and had no other means to alert the public to the war crimes being committed by the agency at the behest of the White House. McGovern says that her boss, CIA Inspector General John Helgerson, is “a creature of the director,” Porter Goss, who joined with Vice President Dick Cheney to push for authorization of torture, so she had no recourse by going through internal channels. Going to Congress would be pointless, McGovern says, because “the oversight committees—I hate to say this, but it’s a joke. She can’t get any redress from [Senator] Pat Roberts [(R-KS), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee]. I call him Patsy Roberts, because he’s a patsy for the administration.” She would fare no better in the House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Peter Hoekstra (R-MI). She had no other option, McGovern believes. “I knew Mary pretty well,” he says. “She’s got a lot of integrity. And, you know, you can argue that she has a moral responsibility and a legal responsibility.… [I]f she’s in the chain of command and she sees these kinds of crimes being perpetrated, under Nuremberg and other international law, she is required… to do something.” Kerr’s rejoinder: the nation is locked in “a different kind of war than we’ve been in before. We are going to take actions and be proactive in a way we’ve never done before. One of the real questions is: Do we operate within the values, the traditional values of the American culture, or do we stretch those and become very proactive? I don’t think it’s at all certain that we can operate the way we have in the past.”
Going through Channels and/or Resigning - Kerr disagrees with McGovern’s characterization of the situation and of Helgerson, saying, “[I]t may not be as easy to do that today as it was in the past, but I never found a time in 32 years where I couldn’t march up the organization and talk to people about concerns I had.” Kerr believes McCarthy should have resigned and then “argued against the policy” without revealing classified information. McGovern agrees, but continues to argue that the secret CIA prisons violate the War Crimes Act and therefore, “[t]his is not American. This is not the country that we serve. And when we see this happening, somebody has to speak out.” Resigning would not have made any difference, McGovern says, because McCarthy would still be bound by her secrecy agreement and therefore could not have spoken out in any meaningful sense. Kerr’s “is a specious argument,” McGovern says.
Making an Example - McGovern says McCarthy was fired for one simple reason: to make an example of her to deter other potential CIA leakers. “It’s sort of a deterrent sort of intimidation technique,” he says. “They’re running polygraph exams for everyone now. In our day, we got one every five years. Now they’re polygraphing everyone, so it’s part of this intimidation technique. But she took that risk. And I admire her for that.” Kerr says that while he sympathizes with McCarthy’s position, the agency must maintain internal discipline above all other concerns: “And one way to do that is to begin working leaks.” [PBS, 4/24/2006]
Ty Cobb, the lawyer for fired CIA agent Mary McCarthy (see April 21, 2006), denies that his client leaked classified information to any reporter, and denies that his client gave any information about secret CIA prisons to Washington Post reporter Dana Priest (see November 2-18, 2005). A CIA source confirms Cobb’s statement, saying that the agency no longer asserts that McCarthy was one of Priest’s key sources. Instead, the agency now says it fired McCarthy because she had “undisclosed contacts” with Priest and other journalists. Such contacts violated her security agreement, agency officials say.
No Leaks of Classified Information - The original allegations that McCarthy revealed classified information to journalists are, apparently, no longer operational. Cobb says that McCarthy, who worked in the CIA inspector general’s office, “did not have access to the information she is accused of leaking,” namely the classified information about any secret detention centers in Europe. Cobb says that his client, who is 61, was just 10 days from retirement when she was fired, and had held senior positions at both the White House and the National Intelligence Council, is “devastated” over her firing. She believes her career will “forever be linked with misinformation about the reasons for her termination,” and, her lawyer says, her firing was “certainly not for the reasons attributed to the agency.” McCarthy had begun her retirement process in December 2005, and was planning on pursuing a legal career after leaving the agency. She will be allowed to retain her pension. A former intelligence official says, “Firing someone who was days away from retirement is the least serious action they could have taken.”
Firing Designed to Intimidate Others? - He adds, “That’s certainly enough to frighten those who remain in the agency.” The official is not the only one to believe that McCarthy was fired to intimidate other potential leakers and whistleblowers who may feel impelled to reveal questionable activities such as the CIA’s secret prison programs. Thomas Blanton, the director of George Washington University’s National Security Archive, says the Post articles about the secret prisons contained nothing that would warrant prosecution. “It’s the fact of the thing that they’re trying to keep secret, not to protect sources and methods, but to hide something controversial,” he says. “That seems like a hard prosecution to me.” Kate Martin, executive director of the Center for National Security Studies, says, “[E]ven if the espionage statutes were read to apply to leaks of information, we would say the First Amendment prohibits criminalizing leaks of information which reveal wrongful or illegal activities by the government.” [Washington Post, 4/25/2006] In 2007, former senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson will write, “By firing Mary, who was only 10 days away from retirement, the CIA management under [Director] Porter Goss was sending a clear signal that no one was to step out of line and if they did, the results would be harsh.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 245-246]
President Bush personally intervenes in a Justice Department attempt to investigate the NSA’s domestic surveillance program (see May 9, 2006), refusing to grant the Justice Department’s investigators routine security clearances so they can proceed with the investigation. Bush’s intervention is later admitted by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 18, 2006. Bush’s action to block the granting of clearances to the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is unprecedented, and astonishes many legal experts. As a result of his decision, the OPR has no choice but to drop the investigation (see May 9, 2006). The OPR investigation would not have determined whether the surveillance program was illegal or unconstitutional; rather, the office would have investigated “allegations of misconduct involving department attorneys that relate to the exercise of their authority to investigate, litigate, or provide legal advice,” according to the office’s policies and procedures. [Associated Press, 5/11/2006; USA Today, 7/18/2006; Washington Post, 7/19/2006; National Journal, 3/15/2007]
Stopping Gonzales from Being Investigated - The press later learns that had the probe gone forward, Gonzales himself would have been a prime target of inquiry. It is unclear if Bush knows the OPR investigation would have focused on Gonzales. The probe would have focused on Gonzales’s role in authorizing the eavesdropping program while he was White House counsel, as well as his subsequent oversight of the program as attorney general. Before Bush shuts down the probe, OPR investigators were preparing to question two crucial witnesses—Jack Goldsmith, the former chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and James A. Baker, the counsel for the department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review. Both Goldsmith and Baker had raised questions about the propriety and legality of numerous aspects of the wiretapping program. The OPR would have also examined documents detailing Gonzales’s participation in the program. [National Journal, 3/15/2007]
OPR Chief Counsel Protests Decision - Upon Gonzales’s admission of Bush’s action, OPR chief counsel H. Marshall Jarrett responds: “Since its creation some 31 years ago, OPR has conducted many highly sensitive investigations involving executive branch programs and has obtained access to information classified at the highest levels. In all those years, OPR has never been prevented from initiating or pursuing an investigation.” Jarrett notes in other memos that clearances had previously been granted to lawyers and agents from the Justice Department and the FBI who were assigned to investigate the original leak of the NSA program’s existence to the media. He also writes that numerous other investigators and officials, including members of Congress and the members of a federal civil liberties board, had been granted access to or been briefed on the program. On March 21, he will write to Gonzales’s deputy, “In contrast, our repeated requests for access to classified information about the NSA program have not been granted.” Gonzales will defend the president’s decicion by saying, in a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA), that Bush “decided that protecting the secrecy and security of the program requires that a strict limit be placed on the number of persons granted access to information about the program for non-operational reasons. Every additional security clearance that is granted for the [program] increases the risk that national security might be compromised.” In other words, granting the OPR investigators routine security clearances, as has been done countless times in the last three decades as well as in the instances noted by Jarrett, would have jeopardized national security, according to Gonzales’s reasoning. [Associated Press, 5/11/2006; USA Today, 7/18/2006; Washington Post, 7/19/2006] “It is very difficult to understand why OPR was not given clearance so they could conduct their investigation,” Specter will say. “Many other lawyers in the Department of Justice had clearance.” [Boston Globe, 7/19/2006]
OPR Investigators Seeking Information Already in Justice Department's Possession - The questions surrounding the refusal to grant security clearances deepen when it is learned that the OPR investigators were only seeking information and documents relating to the NSA’s surveillance program that were already in the Justice Department’s possession, according to two senior government officials. The only classified information that OPR investigators were seeking was what had already been given to former Attorney General John Ashcroft, Gonzales, and other department attorneys in their original approval and advice on the program, the two senior government officials say. OPR’s request was limited to documents such as internal Justice Department communications and legal opinions, and didn’t extend to secrets that are the sole domain of other agencies. [National Journal, 5/29/2006]
OPR No; Private Citizens Yes - Jarrett will also note in his March 21 letter that, while Bush refused security clearances to OPR investigators, five “private individuals” who serve on Bush’s “Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board have been briefed on the NSA program and have been granted authorization to receive the clearances in question.” Private citizens, especially those who serve only part-time on governmental panels, have traditionally been considered higher security risks than full-time government employees, who can lose their jobs or even be prosecuted for leaking to the press. Jarrett says that in contrast to the private individuals on Bush’s advisory board, OPR’s “repeated requests for access to classified information about the NSA have not been granted. As a result, this office, which is charged with monitoring the integrity of the department’s attorneys and with ensuring that the highest standards of professional ethics are maintained, has been precluded from performing its duties.” Michael Shaheen, who headed the OPR from its inception until 1997, will say that his staff “never, ever was denied a clearance” and that OPR under his leadership had conducted numerous investigations involving the activities of various attorneys general. “No attorney general has ever said no to me,” Shaheen says. [National Journal, 7/18/2006]
Inquiry Opened - The Justice Department’s inspector general, Glenn Fine, will open a preliminary inquiry into how the FBI has used the NSA’s surveillance data, which has often been obtained without judicial warrants and is considered by many legal experts to be illegal. Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), who led the Congressional calls for an investigation of the NSA, says Bush’s decision is an example of “an administration that thinks it doesn’t have to follow the law.” [Washington Post, 7/19/2006] “We can’t have a president acting in a dictatorial fashion,” he says. [USA Today, 7/18/2006]
'Abusing' Their Offices? - Bruce Fein, a Republican constitutional lawyer who served in Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department, compares Gonzales unfavorably to Elliot Richardson, who resigned in 1973 rather than obey then-President Nixon’s order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. “If he was like Elliot Richardson, he’d say, ‘Mr. President, I quit,’” Fein observes. [Think Progress, 7/18/2006; Washington Post, 7/19/2006] In 2007, law professor and legal ethics expert Charles Wolfram will say that if Gonzales did not inform the president that he might be a target of the OPR investigation, then he ill-served Bush and abused “the discretion of his office” for his own benefit. However, Wolfram will continue, if Gonzales did inform Bush that the probe might harm Gonzales, then “both [men] are abusing the discretion of their offices.” [National Journal, 3/15/2007]
Defending Bush's Decision - Bush officials dismiss the attempted investigation, and the criticisms by Fein, Hinchey, and others, as politically motivated. White House press secretary Tony Snow says the NSA wiretapping program is adequately supervised by internal oversight procedures, including periodic reviews by Gonzales. [Think Progress, 7/18/2006; Washington Post, 7/19/2006] “The Office of Professional Responsibility was not the proper venue for conducting that,” Snow says. He adds that Bush’s denial of the security clearances is warranted because “in the case of a highly classified program, you need to keep the number of people to it tight for reasons of national security, and that was what he did.” [National Journal, 3/15/2007]
Entity Tags: Maurice Hinchey, John Ashcroft, James Baker, Michael Shaheen, US Department of Justice, Office of Professional Responsibility, National Security Agency, Ronald Reagan, Jack Goldsmith, H. Marshall Jarrett, Elliot Richardson, George W. Bush, Alberto R. Gonzales, Archibald Cox, Glenn Fine, Arlen Specter, Charles Wolfram, Bruce Fein, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Senate Judiciary Committee, Tony Snow
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Federal Emergency Management Agency posts a warning from the White House on its Web site about “dirty bombs” and radiological “suitcase bombs.” The warning says that a terrorist’s nuclear weapon would “probably be limited to a single smaller ‘suitcase’ weapon.” It adds: “The strength of such a weapon would be in the range of the bombs used during World War II. The nature of the effects would be the same as a weapon delivered by an intercontinental missile, but the area and severity of the effects would be significantly more limited.” [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 5/2006] In late 2007, a senior FBI agent will say that such “suitcase nukes” are unlikely to exist outside of fiction (see November 10, 2007).
Army documents released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reveal that Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the former commander of US forces in Iraq, ordered military interrogators to “go to the outer limits” to get information from detainees (see May 19, 2004). The documents also show that senior government officials were aware of abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan before the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. ACLU executive director Anthony Romero says: “When our leaders allow and even encourage abuse at the ‘outer limits,’ America suffers. A nation that works to bring freedom and liberty to other parts of the world shouldn’t stomach brutality and inhumanity within its ranks. This abuse of power was engineered and accepted at the highest levels of our government.” The ACLU also releases an April 2004 information paper entitled “Allegations of Detainee Abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan” that outlined the status of 62 investigations of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib (see April 2, 2004). According to the ACLU, the documents show that, far from being the work of “a few bad apples” as alleged by President Bush and other White House officials (see Mid-May 2004, August 2004, September 10, 2004, and October 1, 2004), the torture and abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was systematic and authorized by high-level officials, including Sanchez. “These documents are further proof that the abuse of detainees was widespread and systemic, and not aberrational,” says ACLU attorney Amrit Singh. “We know that senior officials endorsed this abuse, but these officials have yet to be held accountable.” Other documents show that US soldiers escaped prosecution after killing a detainee in their custody (see March 3, 2005), several reports of detainee abuse are considered “true/valid” (see May 25, 2004), and a military doctor cleared a detainee for further interrogations even after documenting injuries inflicted by beatings and electric shocks (see June 1, 2004). [American Civil Liberties Union, 5/2/2006]
USA Today headline. [Source: CBS News]USA Today reports that “[t]he National Security Agency (NSA) has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by the nation’s three biggest telecommunications providers, AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth,” according to “people with direct knowledge of the arrangement.” None of the sources would allow USA Today to identify them by name, job, or affiliation. The USA Today story claims that the NSA program “does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations,” but does use “the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity,” according to their sources. One source says that the NSA program is compiling “the largest database ever assembled in the world,” with the goal of creating “a database of every call ever made” within US borders. President Bush has said that the NSA program is focused exclusively on international calls, and for the calls to be recorded, “one end of the communication must be outside the United States.” However, this is now shown not to be the case (see January 16, 2004). A US intelligence official says that the NSA program is not recording the actual phone calls themselves, but is collecting what he calls “external” data about the communications to allow the agency to emply “social network analysis” for insight into how terrorist networks are connected with one another. Another large telecommunications company, Qwest, has refused to help the NSA eavesdrop on customer calls (see February 2001, February 2001 and Beyond, and February 27, 2001). USA Today’s sources say that the NSA eavesdropping program began after the 9/11 attacks, a claim that is not bolstered by the facts (see 1997, February 27, 2000, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, February 2001 and Beyond, February 2001, Spring 2001, April 2001, April 4, 2001, July 2001, Before September 11, 2001, and Early 2002). The sources say that the three companies agreed to provide “call-detail records,” lists of their customers’ calling histories, and updates, which would allow the agency to track citizens’ calling habits. In return, the sources say, the NSA offered to pay the firms for their cooperation. After the three firms agreed to help the agency, USA Today writes, “the NSA’s domestic program began in earnest” (see After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, October 2001, September 2002, and Spring 2004). NSA spokesman Don Weber says the agency is operating strictly “within the law,” but otherwise refuses to comment. Former US prosecutor Paul Butler says that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which governs surveillance operations by US intelligence agencies, “does not prohibit the government from doing data mining” (see 1978). White House press spokesman Dana Perino says, “There is no domestic surveillance without court approval,” and all surveillance activities undertaken by government agencies “are lawful, necessary, and required for the pursuit of al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorists.” All government-sponsored intelligence activities “are carefully reviewed and monitored,” she adds, and says that “all appropriate members of Congress have been briefed on the intelligence efforts of the United States” (see October 11, 2001 and October 25, 2001 and November 14, 2001). Don Weber, a senior spokesman for the NSA, refuses to discuss the agency’s operations, saying: “Given the nature of the work we do, it would be irresponsible to comment on actual or alleged operational issues; therefore, we have no information to provide. However, it is important to note that NSA takes its legal responsibilities seriously and operates within the law.” All three firms released similar comments saying that they would not discuss “matters of national security,” but were complying with the law in their alleged cooperation with the NSA. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is suing AT&T for what it calls its complicity in the NSA’s “illegal” domestic surveillance program (see January 31, 2006). [USA Today, 5/11/2006]
Entity Tags: Verizon Communications, USA Today, Qwest, Paul Butler, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Jane Harman, AT&T, BellSouth, National Security Agency, Dana Perino, Don Weber
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Former NSA Director Michael Hayden, testifying as part of his nomination hearings to head the CIA, denies that the NSA has engaged in illegal surveillance operations against US citizens, after allegations by former Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio that he met with NSA officials well before the 9/11 attacks and discussed such a surveillance program. Nacchio refused to cooperate with the NSA, and he says that his telecommunications firm suffered retaliation as a result of his refusal (see February 27, 2001). Other telecom firms such as BellSouth, AT&T, and Verizon did cooperate (see February 2001 and Beyond). Court documents show that Nacchio balked at cooperating with the NSA after learning that the agency wanted Qwest’s phone records of the firm’s customers, but had no warrants or approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees all US intelligence agencies’ surveillance operations.
Denial - Hayden denies that the NSA has broken the law, and that it has complied with its oversight responsibilities. “Everything that the agency has done has been lawful,” he says. “It’s been briefed to the appropriate members of Congress. The only purpose of the agency’s activities is to preserve the security and the liberty of the American people. And I think we’ve done that.” Nacchio says the NSA continued to make similar requests of Qwest until he left the firm in June 2002. The court documents are part of Nacchio’s trial on numerous counts of insider trading.
Political Reaction - The White House and Senate Republicans are generally supportive of Hayden while Senate Democrats have mixed feelings. One who questions Hayden’s credibility is Ron Wyden (D-OR) of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who says, “The American people have got to know that when the person who heads the CIA makes a statement that they are getting the full picture.” In contrast, Kit Bond (R-MO), a member of the select panel allowed access to classified information on the warrantless surveillance program, says, “The president’s program uses information collected from phone companies,” but only the telephone number called and the caller’s number. Conversations, says Bond, are not recorded. President Bush says that the NSA wiretapping program is not “mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans.”
Scope of Program - A senior government official given permission to speak anonymously about the program says that while the NSA has access to records of almost all domestic phone calls, the records are used solely to trace regular contacts of “known bad guys.” The NSA needs access to the entirety of citizens’ phone communications, the official says, but it isn’t “interested in the vast majority of them.” [Associated Press, 5/12/2006; New York Times, 5/12/2006; CBS News, 5/12/2006]
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Senate Intelligence Committee, Michael Hayden, Verizon Communications, Ron Wyden, Qwest, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, AT&T, Bush administration (43), BellSouth, Joe Nacchio, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, Central Intelligence Agency
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Two public interest lawyers sue Verizon Communications for $5 billion, claiming the telecommunications firm violated privacy laws by giving the phone records of its customers to the NSA for that agency’s secret, warrantless domestic surveillance program. Lawyers Bruce Afran and Carl Mayer are asking that Verizon stop turning over its records to the NSA without either a court order or the consent of the customer. Afran says of the NSA program, “This is the largest and most vast intrusion of civil liberties we’ve ever seen in the United States.” [CBS News, 5/12/2006] Days later, AT&T and BellSouth are added to the lawsuit. [CNN, 5/17/2006]
Verizon Helped Build an NSA Database? - The day before, the press reports that the NSA has built a database of millions of domestic phone records since shortly after the 9/11 attacks, using records from Verizon, BellSouth, and AT&T (see May 11, 2006). Former Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio, whose firm refused to cooperate with the NSA, says that he was approached months before the attacks to help set up such a program (see February 27, 2001). The NSA has the power, under President Bush’s interpretation of his wartime authority, to have the agency eavesdrop on international calls made to or from the US, but cannot legally eavesdrop on internal calls unless it has a court order. The lawsuit claims that the telecoms violated the Constitution and the Telecommunications Act by giving its records to the government without court authorization. The lawsuit seeks $1,000 for each violation of the Telecommunications Act, or $5 billion if the case is certified as a class-action suit. The lawyers are seeking documents detailing the origins of the NSA program, as well as Bush’s own role in authorizing the program. “Federal law prohibits the phone companies from giving records to the government without a warrant,” says Afran. “There was no warrant, nor was there any attempt to get warrants, which is in violation of the constitution and the Telecommunications Act.” [CBS News, 5/12/2006; CNET News, 5/15/2006] Afran says, “One of the purposes of this case is to, quite frankly, hold the threat of financial destruction over the heads of the phone companies to make them abandon this policy of cooperating with warrantless searches by the government.” [National Public Radio, 5/17/2006] The lawsuit alleges that Verizon constructed a dedicated fiber optic line from New Jersey to a large military base in Quantico, Virginia, that allowed government officials to gain access to all communications flowing through the carrier’s operations center. A former consultant who worked on internal security will later say he had tried numerous times to install safeguards on the line to prevent hacking on the system, as he was doing for other lines at the operations center, but he was prevented from doing so by a senior security official. One of the allegations against Verizon in the lawsuit is made by Philadelphia resident Norman LeBoon, who says after he read of the alleged surveillance of US citizens, he began asking Verizon if his landline communications were being shared. LeBoon says he eventually spoke with “Ellen” in Verizon customer service, who told him, “I can tell you, Mr. LeBoon, that your records have been shared with the government, but that’s between you and me.… They [Verizon] are going to deny it because of national security. The government is denying it and we have to deny it, too. Around here we are saying that Verizon has ‘plausible deniability.’” [Truthdig, 8/9/2007]
AT&T Grants Unlimited Access? - The lawsuit claims that in February 2001, days before Qwest was approached, NSA officials met with AT&T officials to discuss replicating an AT&t network center to give the agency access to all the global phone and e-mail traffic that ran through it (see February 2001).
Earlier Reporting Made Key Error - Earlier reporting of the NSA’s cooperation with the telecoms got a key detail wrong, says telecom analyst Scott Cleland: “What I think people got wrong with the original reporting, was that this was local phone companies tracking local phone calls. What is clear now is they were tracking long distance calls.” [National Public Radio, 5/17/2006]
Ira Winkler. [Source: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation]Former NSA analyst Ira Winkler, author of the 2005 book Spies Among Us, writes of his disgust with the NSA’s domestic surveillance program, saying that because it is warrantless, it is illegal. He argues the program violates both the NSA’s rules of engagement and its long-term missions.
Warrantless Surveillance is Illegal - Securing warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is easily done, Winkler says: “FISA blocks no legitimate acquisition of knowledge. It doesn’t even slow the process down.” The problem, Winkler says, is that the program is so large that securing FISA warrants for every communication the NSA monitors “would [take] an army of lawyers to get all the warrants they’d need to be in compliance with FISA.” However: “[T]he law is the law. No president has the right to pick and choose which laws they find convenient to follow.” President Bush could have asked Congress to amend the FISA laws: “After all, after 9/11 Congress passed a wide variety of laws (without, for the most part, reading them) that were supposed to prevent another attack. They could have easily slipped something modifying FISA into all of that legislation. They did not, though recent revelations about this administration’s use of signing statements may indicate that they simply didn’t want to raise the possibility of questions.” Merely ignoring FISA “is illegal,” Winkler writes.
Weakens National Security - Another issue is national security. Not obtaining warrants actually weakens natural security, he argues, “since the process of obtaining the warrants has an effect on quality control.” For example: “To date, FBI agents have been sent out to do thousands of investigations based on this warrantless wiretapping. None of those investigations turned up a legitimate lead. I have spoken to about a dozen agents, and they all roll their eyes and indicate disgust with the man-years of wasted effort being put into physically examining NSA ‘leads.’ This scattershot attempt at data mining drags FBI agents away from real investigations, while destroying the NSA’s credibility in the eyes of law enforcement and the public in general. That loss of credibility makes the NSA the agency that cried wolf—and after so many false leads, should they provide something useful, the data will be looked at skeptically and perhaps given lower priority by law enforcement than it would otherwise have been given.” Winkler says the NSA’s claim that it does not retain any personal information is ludicrous. “Frankly, you have to be a complete moron to believe that,” he writes. “It is trivial to narrow down access to a phone number to just a few members of a household, if not in fact to exactly one person.”
Extortion - And the warrantless surveillance is not the only illegal action taken by the government. If the government did threaten one telecom firm, Qwest, for not cooperating (see February 2001), “[t]hat’s extortion—another crime.” Winkler writes that both Congress and the American people must demand answers, or the White House and the NSA will continue to usurp our freedom under the cloak of protecting freedoms.
Arguments For Program are Specious - Winkler says the arguments for the program that he hears are groundless. He hears three main threads:
“I have nothing to worry about so I don’t care if they investigate me.” Winkler points out that plenty of people have been investigated and incarcerated in the US and abroad without doing anything wrong: “I believe that Saddam Hussein would cheerfully agree with the tired allegation that if you did nothing wrong, you shouldn’t mind the government looking at your calls. I think Lenin, Stalin, Hitler and the Chinese government would also agree with that line of thought. Is this the company we consent to keep in the name of safety?”
“[W]e need to do everything we can to protect ourselves.” Protecting ourselves, Winkler argues, means letting law enforcement work to protect US citizens against real, ongoing crimes. The government is “watching for dragons while very real snakes multiply freely in our midst.”
“[T]he NSA isn’t listening to the content of the calls, so there’s no harm.” Aside from the fact that Winkler believes the NSA is lying about not listening to the calls themselves, he says: “[The NSA] doesn’t need to hear your chatter to invade your privacy. By simply tying numbers together—an intelligence discipline of traffic analysis—I assure you I can put together a portrait of your life. I’ll know your friends, your hobbies, where your children go to school, if you’re having an affair, whether you plan to take a trip and even when you’re awake or asleep. Give me a list of whom you’re calling and I can tell most of the critical things I need to know about you.” The NSA is made up of mostly “good and honest people,” but it has “more than its share of bitter, vindictive mid- and senior-level bureaucrats. I would not trust my personal information with these people, since I have personally seen them use internal information against their enemies.” Winkler reminds his readers that the Bush administration deliberately outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson because her husband dared debunk an administration claim about Iraq (see November 20, 2007), and tried to undermine the credibility of former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke when he spoke out against the administration (see March 24, 2004). The NSA could easily provide the administration with damaging information about other administration enemies.
'Against Everything I Was Taught' - “NSA domestic spying is against everything I was ever taught working at the NSA,” Winkler writes. “I might be more for it if there was any credible evidence that this somehow provides useful information that couldn’t otherwise be had. However, the domestic spying program has gotten so massive that the well-established process of getting a warrant cannot be followed—and quantity most certainly doesn’t translate to quality. Quite the opposite.” The terrorists number in the hundreds, Winkler writes, but “the NSA is collecting data on hundreds of millions of people who are clearly not the enemy. These numbers speak for themselves.” [Computerworld, 5/16/2006]
Entity Tags: Qwest, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ira Winkler, National Security Agency, Valerie Plame Wilson, Saddam Hussein, Richard A. Clarke, Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The lawsuit brought forth by Khalid el-Masri and the ACLU (see December 6, 2005) is dismissed by US District Judge T.S. Ellis III in Alexandria, who rules that the state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953) was properly invoked by the US Justice Department. The judge argues that Masri’s “private interests must give way to the national interest in preserving state secrets.” [Washington Post, 5/19/2006]
US officials deny charges leveled by Amnesty International that US interrogators tortured prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay prison. White House officials also say that the administration intends to close the facility as soon as it is practical to do so. Amnesty International’s most recent annual report faults the US for allegedly abandoning human rights concerns in its pursuit of terrorists. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says Amnesty’s charges are false, and says while the administration wants to close Guantanamo, critics have given no answers as to what to do with the detainees. “At some point in the future, would we all like to see Guantanamo Bay closed down? Absolutely,” he says. “But at the moment, there are dangerous people being held in Guantanamo Bay. These are people that were picked up on battlefields, planning for, engaged in various acts of terrorism around the world. These are individuals who pose a threat potentially not only to American citizens, but citizens from Europe as well as around the world.” America is doing the world a service by detaining these dangerous terrorists, he says (see February 7, 2006). [Voice of America, 5/23/2006]
Senate Democrats Joseph Biden (D-DE), Carl Levin (D-MI), and Harry Reid (D-NV) issue a demand for the Bush administration to “provide policy direction for negotiations with North Korea relating to nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other security matters,” and to “provide leadership for United States participation in Six Party Talks on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” (see September 19-20, 2005). The White House ignores the demand. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 245]
George Terwilliger, a former deputy attorney general under George H. W. Bush, argues that the current Bush administration’s controversial data mining program (see Late 1999 and After September 11, 2001) is not illegal. Terwilliger tells the conservative National Review, “I think it’s fair to say that the statutes contemplate the transfer of this generic type of data much more on a case-by-case rather than a wholesale basis,” meaning that the law calls for a court order only in cases when the government is making a targeted request for information. But, he adds, “I don’t see anything in the statute that forbids such a wholesale turnover.” Terwilliger’s argument echoes the arguments of the Bush Justice Department, which argues that the data mining program—part of the NSA’s “Stellar Wind” surveillance program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005)—does not technically constitute “electronic surveillance” under the law. Both the Fourth Amendment and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as interpreted by the courts, define such actions as “electronic surveillance,” according to a number of legal experts, including law professor Orin Kerr. And, Ars Technica reporter Julian Sanchez notes in 2009, “the Stored Communications Act explicitly makes it a crime to ‘knowingly divulge a record or other information pertaining to a subscriber to or customer of such service… to any governmental entity.’” Sanchez will call Terwilliger’s argument “very strange,” but will note that Terwilliger is the attorney for then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and “a prominent defender of the administration’s surveillance policies.” Sanchez will conclude that while the argument “might pass for clever in a high school debate round… [i]t would be deeply unsettling if it [passes] for anything more in the halls of power.” [National Review, 6/5/2006; Ars Technica, 12/16/2008]
When asked why Osama bin Laden’s wanted poster only mentions his alleged involvement in the East African embassy bombings, but not 9/11, Rex Tomb of the FBI’s public affairs unit says, “The reason why 9/11 is not mentioned on Osama bin Laden’s Most Wanted page is because the FBI has no hard evidence connecting bin Laden to 9/11.” [Milli Gazette, 6/11/2006] The Washington Post will later pick up this story and say that bin Laden’s alleged involvement in the 9/11 operation is not mentioned on the poster because he has not been indicted for it (see August 28, 2006).
J. William Leonard, the head of the National Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), writes to David Addington, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, asking for reports on classification activity by Cheney’s office. [J. William Leonard, 6/8/2006 ] The request was prompted by a May 28, 2006 letter from Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists that states in part, “I believe that the Office of the Vice President is willfully violating a provision of [Executive Order 12958, as amended by President Bush (see 2003)] and of the implementing ISOO directive. Specifically, the Office of the Vice President (OVP) is refusing to comply with the ISOO requirement to ‘report annually to the Director of ISOO statistics related to its security classification program.‘… As you know, the President’s executive order states that this and other ISOO Directive requirements are ‘binding’ upon any ‘entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information.‘… Yet despite this requirement, the OVP has failed to report on its classification and declassification activity for three years in a row. Moreover, this appears to be a deliberate act on the part of the OVP, not simply a negligent one.” [Federation of American Scientists, 5/30/2006 ] Since 2003, Cheney and his staffers have argued that the Vice President’s office is not strictly part of the executive branch and therefore is not bound by the mandate of the executive orders: Cheney’s officials have also stated they do not believe the OVP is included in the definition of “agency” as set forth in the executive order, and therefore does not consider itself an “entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information.” [J. William Leonard, 6/8/2006 ] Aftergood wrote in his letter, “Nothing in the executive order excuses the OVP from reporting on classification activity in the performance of its executive duties merely because it also has separate legislative functions. It is hard to see how such an argument could be proposed by a reasonable person in good faith. Since the OVP has publicly staked out a position that openly defies the plain language of the executive order, I believe ISOO now has a responsibility to clarify the matter.… [B]y casting its non-compliance as a matter of principle, the OVP has mounted a challenge to the integrity of classification oversight and to the authority of the executive order. In my opinion, it is a challenge that should not go unanswered.” [Federation of American Scientists, 5/30/2006 ] In his letter to Addington, Leonard notes that until 2002, Cheney’s office did submit such reports to the ISOO. He also notes that under the Constitution, the Vice President’s office is indeed part of the executive branch, and that if it is not, then it is in repeated material breach of national security laws, as it has had routine access to top secret intelligence reports and other materials that are only available to the executive branch. Leonard asks Addington to ensure that Cheney’s office begins complying with the law. [J. William Leonard, 6/8/2006 ] Leonard’s letter is ignored. [Henry A. Waxman, 6/21/2007 ]
In an interview, Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell, recalls learning that for all intents and purposes, Vice President Cheney and his staff, and not President Bush and his staff, runs the US government’s foreign policy (see September 2000, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, and Mid-September, 2001). Wilkerson, a veteran politician with a strong understanding of bureaucracy, came to this understanding over the course of his four years in the State Department. Many procedures seemed peculiar to him, particularly the practice of Cheney’s national security staffers—part of Cheney’s shadow National Security Council, an unprecedented event in and of itself—reading all of the e-mail traffic between the White House and outside agencies and people. The reverse is not true; Cheney’s staff jealously guards its privacy, even from presidential aides. “Members of the president’s staff sometimes walk from office to office to avoid Cheney’s people monitoring their discussions,” Wilkerson recalls. “Or they use the phone.” A former White House staffer confirms Wilkerson’s perceptions. “Bush’s staff is terrified of Cheney’s people,” the former staffer says. Further, Cheney has liberally salted Bush’s staff with his own loyalists who report back to him about everything Bush’s staff does. Again, the reverse is not true; Cheney’s staff is small, tight, and intensely loyal to their boss. Two of Cheney’s “eyes and ears” in the White House are, or were, Stephen Hadley, formerly the deputy national security adviser before assuming the position himself; and Zalmay Khalilzad, formerly on the National Security Council before becoming the US ambassador to Baghdad. Other members of Cheney’s staff have undue influence over other agencies. One example is Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who, despite being the nation’s top law enforcement officer, always defers to the legal judgment of Cheney’s former top legal counsel and current chief of staff David Addington. “Al Gonzales is not going to stand up to [Addington],” a former military officer who worked with both Gonzales and Addington says. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 176-177]
Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell, recalls helping Powell prepare for his February 2003 presentation to the United Nations that made the administration’s case for war with Iraq (see January 29, 2003 and January 30-February 4, 2003). The presentation was later proven to be filled with half-truths, fabrications, and outright lies, many of them provided by the Office of the Vice President, Wilkerson says. Powell made the decision to toss aside the three dossiers given to him and Wilkerson by Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and instead go with the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, recently prepared by the CIA (NIE—see October 1, 2002). Wilkerson now believes that Libby’s dossiers were set-ups, red herrings designed to steer Powell to the NIE, which was better sourced but almost as badly flawed and misleading. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 182]
Brigadier General Richard Formica. [Source: Combined Security Transition Command, Afghanistan]The Defense Department publicly releases the so-called “Formica Report,” a report from two years before (see November 2004) that detailed the findings of an investigation into allegations of detainee abuse at Camp Nama, a US detention facility at Baghdad International Airport in Iraq. The report, overseen by Brigadier General Richard Formica, is made available through a Freedom of Information Act request by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The investigation found no evidence of any detainees being abused by Army personnel. A Defense Department official says: “This is not new news. The major points and the recommendations [from this report] have been implemented. This is an excellent example of the [Defense Department] doing the right thing; an excellent example of the department implementing the recommendations. You can’t ask for more from your government.” Formica conducted his investigation from May 2004 through November 2004. The official says that one of the most important changes made as a result of the Formica investigation was a clarification of authorized interrogation methods. [Armed Forces Press Service, 6/17/2006]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases Defense Department documents that include reports of suicide attempts by Guantanamo detainees. ACLU executive director Anthony Romero says: “These documents are the latest evidence of the desperate and immoral conditions that exist at Guantanamo Bay. The injustices at Guantanamo need to be remedied before other lives are lost. We must uphold our American values and end indefinite detentions and widespread abuse.” One report documents an attempted suicide by hanging that ended up with the detainee in a persistent “vegetative state” (see April 29, 2003). The ACLU notes that the Defense Department documents support other reports of attempted suicide at Guantanamo (see Summer 2002 and After, Mid-October 2002, October 9, 2003, and December 2003). Pentagon officials called the suicides an “act of asymmetrical warfare” and “a good PR move to draw attention.” The ACLU’s Amrit Singh says: “It is astounding that the government continues to paint the suicides as acts of warfare instead of taking responsibility for having driven individuals in its custody to such acts of desperation. The government may wish to hide Guantanamo Bay behind a shroud of secrecy, but its own documents reveal the hopelessness and despair faced by the detainees who are being held without charge and with no end in sight.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 6/19/2006]
William Perry, the former secretary of defense under President Clinton, and Ashton Carter, his deputy at the time, write an op-ed for the Washington Post calling for the Bush administration to launch a military attack on North Korea. Perry and Carter note that North Korea is in the final stages of testing a long-range ballistic missile that, they write, “some experts estimate can deliver a deadly payload to the United States.” They note that the last such test of a North Korean missile (see August 31, 1998) “sent a shock wave around the world, but especially to the United States and Japan, both of which North Korea regards as archenemies. They recognized immediately that a missile of this type makes no sense as a weapon unless it is intended for delivery of a nuclear warhead.” Now, North Korea has broken what they call the agreed-upon moratorium on such testing, but fail to note that no such agreement was ever finalized during the Clinton years (see October 2000), and skim over the fact that the Bush administration has repeatedly refused to engage in meaningful nuclear talks with the North Korean regime (see March 7, 2001, Late March, 2001, April 2002, November 2002, January 10, 2003 and After, Mid-January 2003, February 4, 2003, March 2003-May 2003, April 2003, May 4, 2003, August 2003, December 12, 2003, December 19, 2003, June 23-August 23, 2004, April 28, 2005, September 19-20, 2005, and June 2006). Perry and Carter are critical of the Bush administration’s doctrine of “pre-emption,” which necessarily precludes meaningful dialogue, but go on to observe that “intervening before mortal threats to US security can develop is surely a prudent policy.” Therefore, they write, “if North Korea persists in its launch preparations, the United States should immediately make clear its intention to strike and destroy the North Korean Taepodong missile before it can be launched.” [Washington Post, 6/22/2006; Foreign Policy, 10/22/2010] Shortly after the op-ed appears, North Korea threatens “nuclear retaliation” if the US mounts any such military offensive (see July 3-5, 2006).
At a campaign luncheon for Representative Scott Garrett (R-NJ), Vice President Dick Cheney lambasts the New York Times for reporting information that the administration wants kept secret. “Some in the press, in particular the New York Times, have made it harder to defend America against attack by insisting on publishing detailed information about vital national security programs,” he says. “First they reported the terrorist surveillance program (see March 2002), which monitors international communications when one end is outside the United States and one end is connected with or associated with al-Qaeda. Now the Times has disclosed the terrorist financial tracking program. On both occasions, the Times had been asked not to publish those stories by senior administration officials (see December 15, 2005). They went ahead anyway. The leaks to the New York Times and the publishing of those leaks is very damaging to our national security. The ability to intercept al-Qaeda communications and to track their sources of financing are essential if we’re going to successfully prosecute the global war on terror. Our capabilities in these areas help explain why we have been so successful in preventing further attacks like 9/11. And putting this information on the front page makes it more difficult for us to prevent future attacks. Publishing this highly classified information about our sources and methods for collecting intelligence will enable the terrorists to look for ways to defeat our efforts. These kinds of stories also adversely affect our relationships with people who work with us against the terrorists. In the future, they will be less likely to cooperate if they think the United States is incapable of keeping secrets.” [White House, 6/30/2006]
Former Justice Department official Marty Lederman, now a Georgetown law professor, writes of the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case (see June 30, 2006): “Focusing just on the [military] commissions aspect of this misses the forest for the trees. This ruling means that what the CIA and the Pentagon have been doing [detaining prisoners without due process] is, as of now, a war crime, which means that it should stop immediately.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 276]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) accuses the Defense Department of releasing a “whitewash” report on prisoner abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. The “Church report,” compiled in 2004 (see May 11, 2004), has just been released to the public in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the ACLU. The report’s executive summary was released in 2005, but the entirety of the report has now been made available. “Despite its best efforts to absolve high-ranking officials of any blame, the Church report cannot hide the fact that abusive and unlawful interrogation techniques authorized by Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld were used in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, and Afghanistan,” says ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh. “The facts speak for themselves, and only underscore the need for an independent investigation into command responsibility for the widespread and systemic abuse of detainees held in US custody abroad.” The report only focused on cases closed before September 30, 2004, did not attempt to determine the culpability of senior officials, and used abuse statistics that the Church investigation itself admitted were incomplete and out of date. The ACLU writes that the Church report “skirts the question of command responsibility for detainee abuse, euphemistically labeling official failure to issue interrogation guidelines for Iraq and Afghanistan as a ‘missed opportunity.’ In addition, it references a ‘failure to react to early warning signs of abuse… that should have prompted… commanders to put in place more specific procedures and direct guidance to prevent further abuse.’ The report provides details of how techniques such as ‘stress positions’—authorized by Secretary Rumsfeld for Guantanamo Bay in December 2002—came to be used in Afghanistan and Iraq. It specifically notes, moreover, that the ‘migration’ of interrogation techniques intended for Guantanamo Bay to Iraq was ‘neither accidental nor uncontrolled.’ Yet, the report concludes that there is ‘no link between approved interrogation techniques and detainee abuse.’” [American Civil Liberties Union, 7/3/2006]
North Korea announces that if it is attacked by the US, it will retaliate with nuclear weapons. A Bush administration spokesman says the threat is “deeply hypothetical” and not to be taken seriously (see October 9, 2006). Over the next two days after issuing the threat, North Korea test-fires seven ballistic missiles, including one long-range Taepodong-2 missile. [BBC, 12/2007]
Princeton economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman writes that, five years after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush and his allies have used the attacks to dramatically expand the power of the executive branch at the expense of the legislative and judiciary branches. Bush and his allies are “engaged in an authoritarian project,” Krugman writes, “an effort to remove all the checks and balances that have heretofore constrained the executive branch [and] create a political environment in which nobody dares to criticize the administration or reveal inconvenient facts about its actions.” In a follow-up column, Krugman writes: “It is only now, nearly five years after September 11, that the full picture of the Bush administration’s response to the terror attacks is becoming clear. Much of it, we can see now, had far less to do with fighting Osama bin Laden than with expanding presidential power. Over and over again, the same pattern emerges: Given a choice between following the rules or carving out some unprecedented executive power, the White House always shrugged off the legal constraints.” (Emphasis in source.) [Roberts, 2008, pp. 3]
Civil liberties lawyer and columnist Glenn Greenwald states that the recent Supreme Court ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), finding that the Bush administration’s Guantanamo Bay military commissions violate both federal law and the Geneva Conventions, also proves that the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program is illegal (see December 15, 2005). “To arrive at its decision,” Greenwald writes, “the Court emphatically rejected the administration’s radical theories of executive power, and in doing so, rendered entirely discredited the administration’s only defenses for eavesdropping on Americans without the warrants required by law. Actual compliance with the Court’s ruling, then, compels the administration to immediately cease eavesdropping on Americans in violation of FISA,” the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). “If the administration continues these programs now, then they are openly defying the Court and the law with a brazeness and contempt for the rule of law that would be unprecedented even for them.” Greenwald notes that FISA prohibits any surveillance of American citizens without judicial approval and oversight. The Bush administration has already admitted to conducting just such surveillance (see December 17, 2005 and December 21, 2005), and President Bush has even stated his intention to expand the program (see December 19, 2005). The Justice Department and a number of administration officials have attempted to claim the NSA surveillance program is both legal and necessary (see December 19, 2005, December 19, 2005, December 21-22, 2005, and Early 2006); Greenwald writes that the Hamdan decision “decimated” those claims, a conclusion shared by a number of legal experts (see January 9, 2006). Moreover, he writes, there is no remaining excuse for Democratic senators not to endorse Senator Russ Feingold’s resolution to censure Bush for violating FISA (see March 12, 2006 and After). The argument advanced by, among others, Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), that Bush believed he was complying with the law because his lawyers told him he was in compliance, is no longer relevant in light of Hamdan, Greenwald argues. “[T]here is no longer any good faith basis left for violating FISA. Ongoing warrantless eavesdropping can only be ordered by the president with a deliberate intent to break the law. After Hamdan, there are no more excuses left for the president to violate FISA, and there is therefore no more excuse left for Democratic senators to refuse to take a stand with Sen. Feingold against the administration’s lawbreaking.” Bush has two clear choices, Greenwald writes: either to comply with FISA or openly defy the Supreme Court. “If we are a country that continues to operate under the rule of law, compliance with the Supreme Court’s ruling compels the immediate cessation of the president’s warrantless eavesdropping program, as well as what are undoubtedly the other, still-secret programs prohibited by law but which have been justified by these same now-rejected theories of unlimited executive power. Put simply, after Hamdan, there are no more excuses left for the president’s refusal to comply with the law.” [Crooks and Liars, 7/8/2006]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases documents that show the Defense Department ignored requests from senior military commanders for clarification regarding interrogation tactics. In January 2003, military commanders in Afghanistan requested clarification from Pentagon officials as to what interrogation methods could be used against prisoners in US custody. Those officials ignored the request (see January 2003). “It is the Defense Department’s responsibility to ensure that prisoners are treated humanely, as the Geneva Conventions require,” says ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer. “But as these documents show, the Defense Department allowed abusive interrogation practices to flourish.” The documents also show that at least one unit in Afghanistan operated for eight months under rules of interrogation that had been rescinded (see May 2004). In other instances, field and unit commanders came up with their own rules for interrogation. One commander at Guantanamo came up with his own definition of sleep deprivation, according to the documents: “I define ‘sleep deprivation’ as keeping a detainee awake continuously for five or six day’s [sic] straight.” Another unit determined that, if soldiers could be subjected to 20-hour days in training, it should be acceptable to subject prisoners to similar conditions: “If it was okay to subject our soldiers to twenty-hour days, then in our mind’s [sic] it was okay to subject the terrorists to twenty-hour interrogations.” In one instance, a detainee was interrogated for 20 hours every day for almost two months. “These documents further confirm that systemic command failures led to the widespread abuse of detainees held in US custody abroad,” says the ACLU’s Amrit Singh. “Only an independent investigation into detainee abuse can be trusted to hold relevant officials accountable for such failures.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 7/10/2006]
Karl Rove and Robert Novak, 2003. Rove’s button reads, ‘I’m a Source, Not a Target.’ [Source: Lauren Shays / AP / New York Times]Conservative columnist Robert Novak, who outed Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status in a column three years earlier (see July 14, 2003), says that he can now write about his testimony before the grand jury investigating the leak. In his current column, he reveals that White House political strategist Karl Rove was one of his sources, as was CIA spokesman Bill Harlow. Novak writes that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has informed his attorneys that the “investigation of the CIA leak case concerning matters directly relating to me has been concluded. That frees me to reveal my role in the federal inquiry that, at the request of Fitzgerald, I have kept secret.” Novak writes: “I have cooperated in the investigation while trying to protect journalistic privileges under the First Amendment and shield sources who have not revealed themselves. I have been subpoenaed by and testified to a federal grand jury. Published reports that I took the Fifth Amendment, made a plea bargain with the prosecutors, or was a prosecutorial target were all untrue.” Novak says that Fitzgerald knew, “independent of me,” that his sources for his column outing Plame Wilson were Rove and then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see July 8, 2003), whom Novak does not identify in his column. “That Fitzgerald did not indict any of these sources may indicate his conclusion that none of them violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act,” Novak writes. Novak also identifies a third source, Harlow (see (July 11, 2003) and Before July 14, 2003). Novak writes that he reveals Rove as a source “because his attorney has divulged the substance of our conversation, though in a form different from my recollection.” Harlow, Novak writes, “has publicly disclosed his version of our conversation, which also differs from my recollection.” He does not name Armitage because Armitage “has not come forward to identify himself,” though he does note that Armitage considered his disclosure of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity “inadvertent.” After learning of Plame Wilson’s identity from Armitage, Novak writes, “I sought out the second administration official [Rove] and the CIA spokesman [Harlow] for confirmation. I learned Valerie Plame [Wilson]‘s name from Joe Wilson’s entry in Who’s Who in America. I considered his wife’s role in initiating Wilson’s mission, later confirmed by the Senate Intelligence Committee, to be a previously undisclosed part of an important news story. I reported it on that basis.” [CNN, 7/11/2006; Human Events, 7/12/2006; New York Times, 7/12/2006] Novak also says of Armitage: “The primary source was not a political operative.… I don’t believe it was part of a plan to discredit anybody.” Novak denies cooperating with a White House strategy to discredit former ambassador Joseph Wilson, a prominent critic of the Bush administration’s Iraq policies (see June 2003, October 1, 2003, and April 5, 2006). [Washington Post, 7/11/2006] Novak testified that when he asked about Plame Wilson’s CIA status, Rove replied, “Oh, you know that, too?” In Rove’s recollection, he responded, “I’ve heard that, too.” Rove’s spokesman, Mark Corallo, says that Rove did not even know Plame Wilson’s name at the time he spoke with Novak, that the columnist called Rove, not the other way around, and that Rove simply replied he had heard the same information that Novak passed along to him regarding Plame Wilson. However, “There was not much of a difference” between the recollections of Rove and Novak, Corallo says. Harlow’s difference with Novak’s portrayal of their conversation is more substantial than the differences between Novak’s and Rove’s recollections. Harlow has said that he warned Novak not to reveal Plame Wilson’s name or CIA status, but Novak has written, “I certainly wouldn’t have used her name if anyone [i.e. Harlow] had indicated she might be in danger.” [Washington Post, 7/11/2006; Associated Press, 7/12/2006] A former intelligence official tells CNN that when Harlow first spoke to Novak about Plame Wilson, he was not aware of her status as a covert employee, and that he tried to talk Novak out of publishing her name when he did find out, making it clear the disclosure could be damaging. [CNN, 7/11/2006] Progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters writes that Novak’s column is filled with “false and contradictory statements” (see July 12, 2006).
The United Nations Security Council unanimously votes to sanction North Korea for its illict ballistic missile tests (see July 3-5, 2006). The resolution demands UN members bar exports and imports of missile-related materials to North Korea and that it halt its ballistic missile program. [BBC, 12/2007]
Judge Vaughn Walker of the US District Court of Northern California rejects a request by the Justice Department to dismiss a lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF—see January 31, 2006) against AT&T. The EFF argues that AT&T violated its customers’ privacy by colluding with the National Security Agency (NSA) in that agency’s allegedly illegal domestic wiretapping project. The government has asserted that the lawsuit would jeopardize “state secrets” if permitted to go forward (see May 22, 2006 and June 23, 2006). According to AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein, working with the EFF in the lawsuit, Walker “ridicule[s]” the government’s request for dismissal on state secrets grounds, finding that “[t]he government has opened the door for judicial inquiry by publicly confirming and denying material information about its monitoring of communications content.… AT&T and the government have for all practical purposes already disclosed that AT&T assists the government in monitoring communication content. [T]he government has publicly admitted the existence of a ‘terrorist surveillance program’ (see After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, October 2001, and September 2002).… Considering the ubiquity of AT&T telecommunications services, it is unclear whether this program could even exist without AT&T’s acquiescence and cooperation.” EFF had given Walker the ammunition for his finding by providing him with a raft of media stories about AT&T’s involvement in the NSA surveillance program, as well as media coverage of Klein’s assertions (see April 12, 2006 and May 17, 2006). “The very subject matter of this action is hardly a secret” any longer, Walker finds (see May 24, 2006). “[D]ismissing this case at the outset would sacrifice liberty for no apparent enhancement of security.” Walker also rejects a separate motion to dismiss by AT&T, which had argued that its relationship with the government made it immune from prosecution. Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) says: “This cases arises against the backdrop of the accountability of the government as it pursues its surveillance program. This is a significant victory for the principle of government accountability.” AT&T spokesman Walt Sharp refuses to give a direct comment about the ruling, but says that AT&T has always protected its customers’ privacy (see February 2001 and Beyond, February 2001, and Late 2002-Early 2003). The government will obtain a stay of Walker’s ruling while it files an appeal, preventing the EFF documents from being publicly disseminated. [New York Times, 7/21/2006; Klein, 2009, pp. 78-79]
Brent Blanchard, a leading professional and writer in the controlled demolition industry, publishes a 12-page report that says it refutes claims that the World Trade Center was destroyed with explosives. The report is published on ImplosionWorld.com, a demolition industry website edited by Blanchard. Blanchard is also director of field operations for Protec Documentation Services, Inc., a company specializing in monitoring construction-related demolitions. In his report, Blanchard says that Protec had portable field seismographs in “several sites in Manhattan and Brooklyn” on 9/11. He says they did not show the “spikes” that would have been caused by explosions in the towers. Blanchard also takes aim at the claim that Building 7 of the WTC was demolished, writing: “Several demolition teams had reached Ground Zero by 3:00 pm on 9/11, and these individuals witnessed the collapse of WTC 7 within a few hundred feet of the event. We have spoken with several who possess extensive experience in demolition, and all reported hearing or seeing nothing to indicate an explosive detonation precipitating the collapse.” However, Blanchard does not identify the demolition teams and the witnesses he spoke to. [ImplosionWorld.com, 8/8/2006 ]
The report seems to receive official endorsement when it is later used as a source in a State Department debunking webpage entitled “The Top Ten September 11 Conspiracy Theories.” [International Herald Tribune, 9/2/2006; US State Department, 9/16/2006]
Rashid Rauf. [Source: Warrick Page/ Getty Images]British police arrest 24 people in connection with a plot to blow up aircraft flying from Britain to the United States. Metropolitan Police Deputy Commissioner Paul Stephenson says the plot was “intended to be mass murder on an unimaginable scale.” [CNN, 8/10/2006] Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff describes the plot as “well-advanced and well-thought-out and… really resourced to succeed.” [MSNBC, 8/10/2006] He also likens it to the foiled 1995 Bojinka plot, one portion of which involved blowing up up to a dozen airplanes over the ocean using liquid explosives smuggled onto the planes. [CNN, 8/11/2006] The British threat warning level is raised to critical and London’s Heathrow Airport is closed to most European flights. US officials say the plot involved hiding liquid explosives in carry-on luggage, and up to 12 flights would have been targeted. A senior US congressional source says the plotters planned to carry sports drinks onto the flights, which would then be mixed with a gel-like substance. The explosives would be triggered by the electrical charge from an iPod or mobile phone. Administration officials say the plot involved British Airways, Continental, United, and American Airlines. The plotters intended to detonate the devices over New York, Washington, San Francisco, Boston, and Los Angeles. Officials say the plot demonstrates “very strong links to al-Qaeda” and was nearly operational. In the US, the Department of Homeland Security raises the terror threat to the highest level, red, meaning “severe,” for commercial flights originating in Britain and bound for the US. In addition, the threat level is raised to orange, or “high,” for all commercial flights operating in or coming to the US. [CNN, 8/10/2006] British officials say the death toll could have exceeded the 2,700 of the September 11 attacks, with one source calling the plot “our 9/11.” The arrests were spurred by the detention in Pakistan of one of the plotters, Rashid Rauf. The Pakistanis arrested him at the behest of US Vice President Dick Cheney (see Before August 10, 2006 and Between July 28 and August 9, 2006). [Guardian, 8/11/2006] Officials say some plotters already had tickets for flights and planned to stage test runs over the weekend. Despite the 24 arrests, five suspects in Britain are still being urgently hunted. One official says, “They didn’t get them all.” But British officials claim the arrests in London and Birmingham snare all the alleged “main players.” [MSNBC, 8/10/2006] British Home Secretary John Reid says the operation is ongoing and more arrests may be made. US officials say the suspects are all British citizens between the ages of 17 and 35, with some being of Pakistani ethnicity. They add that some of the suspects had been monitored by British intelligence for several months. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of the Metropolitan Police Service Anti-Terrorist Branch, says the arrests follow an “unprecedented level of surveillance” over several months involving meetings, movements, travel, spending, and the aspirations of a large group of people. [CNN, 8/10/2006]
Liquids, Gels, Electronics Banned from Flights - Homeland Security bans all liquids and gels except baby formula and prescription medications in the name of the ticket holder in carry-on luggage on all flights. Passengers traveling from and through British airports are temporarily permitted to only carry-on items on a restricted list. These items have to be carried in transparent plastic bags. No liquids can be carried on board, including liquid medications “unless verified as authentic.” All electronic items are also banned. [Detroit Free Press, 8/10/2006]
Arrests, Alert Questioned - In the days following the security operation, the arrests will meet with some skepticism. Stephen Glover of the Daily Mail points to previous baseless terror scares in the US and Britain, as well as questioning the political motivations of the home secretary. [Daily Mail, 8/16/2006] Douglas Fraser of the Herald in Edinburgh suggests the “political component” of the operation has caused skepticism. He says the intelligence services are taking credit for foiling a major plot by “ramping up the level of public concern about the threat.” He notes that the timing coincides with an attempt by the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair to return to an issue it was defeated on before: increasing to 90 days the amount of time that people can be detained without charge in the case of alleged terrorist offenses. [VOA News, 8/18/2006] Sean O’Neill and Stewart Tendler of the London Times urge the public and the media to wait for solid evidence before accepting the version of events presented by the government. They say previous bungled anti-terror operations have put pressure on the authorities to build a solid case in public. [London Times, 8/12/2006] In response to these criticisms, intelligence services will be hesitant to release much information publicly, but confirm to The Guardian that surveillance and tips from informants pointed to a plot in the making. Police identify the explosives to be used in the plot as TATP (triacetone triperoxide) and HMTD (hexamethylene triperoxide diamine), both peroxide-based liquid explosives. [Guardian, 8/19/2006] Police will also reveal that the raids uncovered jihadist materials, receipts of Western Union money transfers, seven martyrdom videos, and the last will and testament of one plotter. [New York Times, 8/28/2006]
Some Suspects to Be Released; Security Measures Probably Unnecessary - However, The Guardian does indicate that some of the arrested suspects are likely to be released and that the security measures instituted following the arrests are almost certainly unnecessary. [Guardian, 8/19/2006] Contradicting earlier reports, a senior British official will suggest an attack was not imminent, saying the suspects had not yet purchased any airline tickets. In fact, some do not even have passports. [MSNBC, 8/14/2006] Over two and a half weeks after the arrests, a target date for the attacks and number of planes involved will still be undetermined by investigators. The estimate of 10 to 12 planes is characterized by officials as speculative and exaggerated. Clarke acknowledges the police are still investigating “the number, destination, and timing of the flights.” [New York Times, 8/28/2006]
12 Suspects to Be Tried - Twelve suspects will be charged with terrorism offences near the end of August 2006. Trials are expected to start in January 2008 at the earliest. Prosecutor Colin Gibbs says he expects “a very long trial of [between] five and eight months.” [IOL, 9/4/2006]
Entity Tags: Michael Chertoff, Paul Stephenson, US Department of Homeland Security, Peter Clarke, Metropolitan Police Service Anti-Terrorist Branch, Sean O’Neill, Rashid Rauf, John Reid, Al-Qaeda, Douglas Fraser, United Airlines, Frances Townsend, Stephen Glover, British Airways, American Airlines, Stewart Tendler, Continental Airlines
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Federal district court judge Anna Diggs Taylor rules that the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002) is unconstitutional and orders it ended. She amends her ruling to allow the program to continue while the Justice Department appeals her decision. The decision is a result of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other civil liberties groups. Taylor rules that the NSA program violates US citizens’ rights to privacy and free speech, the Constitutional separation of powers among the three branches of government, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). Taylor writes: “It was never the intent of the framers to give the president such unfettered control, particularly where his actions blatantly disregard the parameters clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights. There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all ‘inherent powers’ must derive from that Constitution.” [Verdict in ACLU et al v. NSA et al, 8/17/2006 ; Washington Post, 8/18/2006] The program “violates the separation of powers doctrine, the Administrative Procedures Act, the First and Fourth amendments to the United States Constitution, the FISA and Title III,” Taylor writes, and adds, “[T]he president of the United States… has undisputedly violated the Fourth in failing to procure judicial orders.” [CNN, 8/17/2006]
Judge Lets One Portion Stand - Taylor rejects one part of the lawsuit that seeks information about the NSA’s data mining program (see October 2001), accepting the government’s argument that to allow that portion of the case to proceed would reveal state secrets (see March 9, 1953). Other lawsuits challenging the program are still pending. Some legal scholars regard Taylor’s decision as poorly reasoned: national security law specialist Bobby Chesney says: “Regardless of what your position is on the merits of the issue, there’s no question that it’s a poorly reasoned decision. The opinion kind of reads like an outline of possible grounds to strike down the program, without analysis to fill it in.” The White House and its Republican supporters quickly attack Taylor, who was appointed to the bench by then-President Jimmy Carter, as a “liberal judge” who is trying to advance the agenda of Congressional Democrats and “weaken national security.” For instance, Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) says that halting the program “would hamper our ability to foil terrorist plots.” [Washington Post, 8/18/2006]
Democrats, Civil Libertarians Celebrate Ruling - But Democrats defend the ruling. For instance, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) says the ruling provides a much-needed check on the unfettered power of the Bush White House. “[N]o one is above the law,” says Kerry. [Washington Post, 8/18/2006] Lawyers for some of the other cases against the NSA and the Bush administration laud the decision as giving them vital legal backing for their own court proceedings. “We now have a ruling on the books that upholds what we’ve been saying all along: that this wiretapping program violates the Constitution,” says Kevin Bankston, who represents the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in its class-action case against AT&T for its role in the NSA’s surveillance program (see January 31, 2006). [Washington Post, 8/18/2006] Legal expert and liberal commentator Glenn Greenwald writes that Taylor’s ruling “does not, of course, prohibit eavesdropping on terrorists; it merely prohibits illegal eavesdropping in violation of FISA. Thus, even under the court’s order, the Bush administration is free to continue to do all the eavesdropping on terrorists it wants to do. It just has to cease doing so using its own secretive parameters, and instead do so with the oversight of the FISA court—just as all administrations have done since 1978, just as the law requires, and just as it did very recently when using surveillance with regard to the [British] terror plot. Eavesdropping on terrorists can continue in full force. But it must comply with the law.” Greenwald writes: “[T]he political significance of this decision cannot be denied. The first federal court ever to rule on the administration’s NSA program has ruled that it violates the constitutional rights of Americans in several respects, and that it violates criminal law. And in so holding, the court eloquently and powerfully rejected the Bush administration’s claims of unchecked executive power in the area of national security.” [Salon, 8/17/2006]
White House Refuses to Comply - The Bush administration refuses to comply with Taylor’s ruling, asserting that the program is indeed legal and a “vital tool” in the “war on terrorism.” It will quickly file an appeal, and law professors on both sides of the issue predict that Taylor’s ruling will be overturned. [Savage, 2007, pp. 206]
Lawsuit Ends with White House 'Compromise' - The lawsuit will end when the White House announces a “compromise” between the wiretapping program and FISC (see January 17, 2007).
Entity Tags: John Kerry, Kevin Bankston, Mike DeWine, US Department of Justice, Peter Hoekstra, Glenn Greenwald, National Security Agency, George W. Bush, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Alberto R. Gonzales, American Civil Liberties Union, AT&T, Anna Diggs Taylor, Bush administration (43), Bobby Chesney, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
J. William Leonard, the director of the National Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), writes a second letter to David Addington, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, after Addington ignored Leonard’s first letter (see June 8, 2006). The issue is Cheney’s continued refusal to follow Executive Orders 12958 and 13292 (see March 25, 2003) that require his office to report periodically to the ISOO on what it is classifying and how it is protecting that information. Cheney’s argument is that the Vice President’s office is not part of the executive branch and therefore is not bound by those orders. Leonard writes that, in the light of Cheney’s continued refusal to comply with the law and of Addington’s failure to respond to the first letter, he believes the issue should be referred to the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see January 9, 2007). [J. William Leonard, 8/23/2006 ] Addington will refuse to respond to this letter as well. [Henry A. Waxman, 6/21/2007 ]
The Washington Post notes that Osama bin Laden has still not been indicted for his alleged role in 9/11 and that his entry in the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list only mentions his involvement in the 1998 African embassy bombings. The FBI says the reason bin Laden is not officially wanted for 9/11 or the bombing of the USS Cole is that he has not yet been charged with involvement in the operations by the US. Bin Laden’s entry on a separate list, of the 25 most wanted terrorists, also fails to mention his alleged involvement in 9/11. According to the Post, “The curious omission underscores the Justice Department’s decision, so far, to not seek formal criminal charges against bin Laden” for 9/11. [Washington Post, 8/28/2006]
Michael Tabman, the Minneapolis FBI field office’s special agent in charge, prevents Harry Samit from speaking at a national security forum about the Moussaoui case and removes him from counterterrorism investigations. Samit was an important figure in the Zacarias Moussaoui investigation just before 9/11 (see August 15-September 10, 2001, August 16, 2001 and August 20-September 11, 2001). Unlike his former colleague Coleen Rowley (see May 21, 2002 and February 26, 2003), Samit has never gone public with his criticism of the FBI’s handling of the case. Tabman has been working at the Minneapolis office only since 2005. After Samit files a complaint, FBI headquarters will reassign him to counterterrorism and send Tabman back to headquarters. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 9/23/2006; Associated Press, 1/10/2007]
Neoconservative academic Meyrav Wurmser, the director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Hudson Institute, says the problem with the Iraq war is that it is confined to Iraq. “It’s a mess, isn’t it?” she says. “My argument has always been that this war is senseless if you don’t give it a regional context.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 344-345]
A leading current affairs program on Dutch television says that 9/11 was a governmental conspiracy. The program is entitled “Zembla: Het complot van 11 september.” Zembla is a weekly investigative report shown on the public broadcasting network VARA. (A version of the program with English subtitles is available on Zembla’s website.) The program’s highlight is an interview with Danny Jowenko, a Dutch expert and industry professional in demolition. When shown a video of the collapse of Building 7 of the World Trade Center, he concludes that it is undoubtedly the work of a professional demolition team. [Vara, 9/10/2006]
US senior negotiator Christopher Hill warns North Korea that it should not test a nuclear device (see October 9, 2006), and that if it does, the US may consider it a “provocative act,” implying that the US might retaliate with military force. [BBC, 12/2007]
Abu Bakker Qassim. [Source: McClatchy News]Abu Bakker Qassim, a Chinese Muslim and a member of that country’s Uighur minority, writes a column for the New York Times concerning what he says is his wrongful imprisonment at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Qassim is writing to protest Congress’s consideration of passing legislation that would deny Guantanamo detainees their habeas corpus right to challenge their detentions in federal court. Qassim says he and 17 of his fellow Uighurs fled Chinese government oppression and went to Afghanistan, where they were captured by Pakistani bounty hunters and “sold… to the United States military like animals for $5,000 a head. The Americans made a terrible mistake.” After he and four other Uighurs were granted court hearings, US authorities deported them to Albania. “Without my American lawyers and habeas corpus, my situation and that of the other Uighurs would still be a secret,” he writes. “I would be sitting in a metal cage today. Habeas corpus helped me to tell the world that Uighurs are not a threat to the United States or the West, but an ally. Habeas corpus cleared my name—and most important, it let my family know that I was still alive.” Qassim says that like his fellow Uighurs, he is “a great admirer of the American legal and political systems.” He continues: “I have the utmost respect for the United States Congress. So I respectfully ask American lawmakers to protect habeas corpus and let justice prevail. Continuing to permit habeas rights to the detainees in Guantanamo will not set the guilty free. It will prove to the world that American democracy is safe and well.” [New York Times, 9/17/2006] Because of this editorial, Qassim and four other Uighurs will be dubbed “returning to terrorist activities” by the Pentagon (see January 13-14, 2009).
President Bush signs the 2007 Defense Authorization Act into law. The bill contains a provision that allows the president to more easily declare “martial law” in the US. If Bush or a successor does so, the bill gives the administration the ability to strip much of state governors’ powers over their National Guards and relegate that authority to the federal government. Congress is likely to challenge that provision in the future. The bill makes significant changes to the Insurrection Act that allows the president to invoke the Act during events such as natural disasters, and thereby suspend the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act that prevents the US military from acting in a law enforcement capacity. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says, “[W]e certainly do not need to make it easier for Presidents to declare martial law. Invoking the Insurrection Act and using the military for law enforcement activities goes against some of the central tenets of our democracy.” [US Senate, 9/19/2006] The relevant section of the bill is entitled “Use of the Armed Forces in Major Public Emergencies.” This section states that “the President may employ the armed forces, including the National Guard in Federal service, to restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition in any State or possession of the United States, the President determines that domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of… maintaining public order, in order to suppress, in any State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy.” [US Congress, 9/19/2006] GlobalResearch’s Frank Morales will write that the new law allows the federal government to, if it chooses, “commandeer guardsmen from any state, over the objections of local governmental, military, and local police entities; ship them off to another state; conscript them in a law enforcement mode; and set them loose against ‘disorderly’ citizenry….” Under the new law, the federal government may more easily order National Guard troops to round up and detain protesters, illegal aliens, “potential terrorists,” and just about anyone else, and ship them off to detention facilities. Those facilities were contracted out for construction to KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton, in January 2006, according to the Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security International, at a cost of $385 million over five years. The Journal noted that “the contract is to be executed by the US Army Corps of Engineers… for establishing temporary detention and processing capabilities to augment existing [immigration] Detention and Removal Operations (DRO)—in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the US, or to support the rapid development of new programs.” [GlobalResearch (.ca), 10/29/2006] Virtually no Congressional lawmakers seriously objected to the bill’s provision during debate. One of the few exceptions is Leahy, who will, six weeks later, sharply criticize the provision during debate over a separate piece of legislation. Leahy will say, “Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy, and it is for that reason that the Insurrection Act has only been invoked on three—three—[occasions] in recent history. The implications of changing the Act are enormous, but this change was just slipped in the defense bill as a rider with little study. Other congressional committees with jurisdiction over these matters had no chance to comment, let alone hold hearings on, these proposals.… This is a terrible blow against rational defense policy-making and against the fabric of our democracy. Since hearing word a couple of weeks ago that this outcome was likely, I have wondered how Congress could have gotten to this point.… [I]t seems the changes to the Insurrection Act have survived… because the Pentagon and the White House want it.… Because of this rubberstamp Congress,… [w]e fail the National Guard, which expects great things from us as much as we expect great things from them. And we fail our Constitution, neglecting the rights of the States, when we make it easier for the president to declare martial law and trample on local and state sovereignty.” [US Senate, 10/29/2006]
Entity Tags: National Guard, Insurrection Act, Halliburton, Inc., GlobalResearch (.ca), George W. Bush, Frank Morales, Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International, Patrick J. Leahy, Kellogg, Brown and Root, Posse Comitatus Act
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Retired AT&T technician Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), working with a civil liberties group about his knowledge of governmental illegality in eavesdropping on Americans’ telephone and Internet communications (see Early January 2006), gives an interview for CBS’s flagship news program 60 Minutes. The interview is conducted by Steve Kroft. Klein later describes the interview as “good [and] solid,” and says it should make for a “blockbuster news story.” Klein has agreed to give CBS an “exclusive,” so he gives no interviews for the next four months while CBS fails to run the story. “I was silent during the entire 2006 election period,” Klein will write. Klein’s lead attorney, civil rights lawyer Jim Brosnahan, is astonished at CBS’s failure to run the segment, telling Klein the network has “no good reason” for not broadcasting it. CBS will never air the segment featuring Klein. Klein will later write, “It seems obvious to me that someone higher up at CBS had killed the story for political reasons, but could not tell us that, so they put us off without explanation.” Klein will later grant interviews to ABC and PBS; those interviews will be aired. [Klein, 2009, pp. 62-63]
Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) speaks out against the Military Commissions Act (MCA), which gives the federal government wide latitude to incarcerate and interrogate “terror suspects” without charge or due process of the law (see October 17, 2006). Obama says that “political considerations” for the upcoming midterm elections played a significant role in the timing of the bill, but “what we’re doing here today—a debate over the fundamental human rights of the accused—should be bigger than politics. This is serious. If this was a debate with obvious ideological differences—heartfelt convictions that couldn’t be settled by compromise—I would understand. But it’s not.” Obama notes that in five years of the Bush administration’s system of military tribunals, “not one terrorist has been tried. Not one has been convicted. And in the end, the Supreme Court of the United States found the whole thing unconstitutional (see June 30, 2006), which is why we’re here today. We could have fixed all of this in a way that allows us to detain and interrogate and try suspected terrorists while still protecting the accidentally accused from spending their lives locked away in Guantanamo Bay. Easily. This was not an either-or question.” Congress could have written and passed legislation that would have established “a real military system of justice that would sort out the suspected terrorists from the accidentally accused,” one that would be in line with domestic law and the Geneva Conventions. Instead, “politics won today.… The administration got its vote, and now it will have its victory lap, and now they will be able to go out on the campaign trail and tell the American people that they were the ones who were tough on the terrorists.” Meanwhile, Obama says, questions about the efficacy and legality of the Bush system of justice persist, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are regrouping “while we look the other way,” and the administration is bent on fighting a war in Iraq “that our own government’s intelligence says is serving as al-Qaeda’s best recruitment tool.… This is not how a serious administration would approach the problem of terrorism.” [US Senate, 9/28/2006]
Senator Patrick Leahy. [Source: AP]During an interview with Amy Goodman on the radio program Democracy Now!, long-time Democratic senator Patrick Leahy says Congress is not asking two essential questions about the Bush administration’s failure to heed pre-9/11 warnings and to get Osama bin Laden after the attacks: “And, of course, the two questions that the Congress would not ask, because the Republicans won’t allow it, is, why did 9/11 happen on George Bush’s watch when he had clear warnings that it was going to happen? Why did they allow it to happen? And secondly, when they had Osama bin Laden cornered, why didn’t they get him? Had there been an independent Congress, one that could ask questions, these questions would have been asked years ago. We’d be much better off. We would have had the answers to that.” [Democracy Now!, 9/29/2006]
The newly passed Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006) gives the executive branch sweeping new powers sought by President Bush and Vice President Cheney since the 9/11 attacks, according to a New York Times analysis. Reporters Scott Shane and Adam Liptak write, “Rather than reining in the formidable presidential powers Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have asserted since Sept. 11, 2001, the law gives some of those powers a solid statutory foundation. In effect it allows the president to identify enemies, imprison them indefinitely, and interrogate them—albeit with a ban on the harshest treatment—beyond the reach of the full court reviews traditionally afforded criminal defendants and ordinary prisoners. Taken as a whole, the law will give the president more power over terrorism suspects than he had before the Supreme Court decision this summer in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that undercut more than four years of White House policy” (see June 30, 2006). The MCA “does not just allow the president to determine the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions; it also strips the courts of jurisdiction to hear challenges to his interpretation.” Additionally, it gives Bush and his designees the absolute, unchallenged power to define anyone they choose as an “enemy combatant,” thereby stripping them of any traditional US legal protections and placing them under the far harsher and restrictive rubric of the MCA. “Over all, the legislation reallocates power among the three branches of government, taking authority away from the judiciary and handing it to the president.” Law professor Bruce Ackerman notes, “The president walked away with a lot more than most people thought. [The MCA] further entrenches presidential power” and allows the administration to declare even an American citizen an unlawful combatant subject to indefinite detention. “And it’s not only about these prisoners,” says Ackerman. “If Congress can strip courts of jurisdiction over cases because it fears their outcome, judicial independence is threatened.” [New York Times, 9/30/2006]
Former CIA counterterrorism specialist Philip Giraldi says that the 2002-2003 run-up to war with Iraq was chillingly similar to what the administration is now doing with Iran. “It is absolutely parallel,” he says. “They’re using the same dance steps—demonize the bad guys, the pretext of diplomacy, keep out of negotiations, use proxies. It is Iraq redux.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 344] In June 2006, Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff of ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell, echoed Giraldi’s sentiment. Noting that Vice President Dick Cheney and his office essentially drive the US’s foreign policy (see June 16, 2006), Wilkerson said of Cheney and his staff, “They are incapable of diplomacy” and determined to strike Iran. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 185]
Larry Wilkerson, who served as the chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, says that the Iraq occupation has had a devastating effect on Israel. Bush’s wars “have put Israel in the worst strategic and operational situation she’s been in since 1948,” Wilkerson says. This has all rebounded to Iran’s favor: “If you take down Iraq, you eliminate Iran’s number one enemy. And, oh, by the way, if you eliminate the Taliban, they might reasonably be assumed to be Iran’s number two enemy.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 339]
In two separate sessions, from October 6-11 and again from December 4-14, officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) interview 14 detainees newly transferred from a variety of CIA secret “black sites” to Guantanamo. The transfers followed President Bush’s acknowledgment that the CIA has maintained a number of these sites and his announced intention to have a number of the detainees sent to the Cuban facility (see September 17, 2001 and September 6, 2006).
ICRC Access - The ICRC is legally bound to monitor compliance with the Geneva Conventions and to supervise the treatment of prisoners of war; previously, it had not been allowed to see the detainees, and in some cases were never informed of their detention. The ICRC officials interview each prisoner in private, with the intention of producing “a description of the treatment and material conditions of detention of the 14 during the period they were held in the CIA detention program.”
Interviews - The 14 have been held for periods ranging “from 16 months to almost four and a half years.” The ICRC’s report, never intended for public consumption, will be released to the CIA several months later (see February 14, 2007) and revealed in a book in early 2009 (see March 15, 2009). Some of the detainees, concerned about the possible repercussions that may ensue from their discussions, ask the ICRC to withhold their names from some allegations, though most of the report attributes specific narratives and allegations to particular prisoners. Almost every allegation is independently corroborated by other, named detainees.
'Striking Similarity' - In 2009, author Mark Danner will write, quoting the ICRC report: “[I]ndeed, since the detainees were kept ‘in continuous solitary confinement and incommunicado detention’ throughout their time in ‘the black sites,’ and were kept strictly separated as well when they reached Guantanamo, the striking similarity in their stories, even down to small details, would seem to make fabrication extremely unlikely, if not impossible. ‘The ICRC wishes to underscore,’ as the writers tell us in the introduction, ‘that the consistency of the detailed allegations provided separately by each of the 14 adds particular weight to the information provided below.’”
Topics of Report - The report covers the following areas:
Main elements of the CIA detention program;
Arrest and transfer;
Continuous solitary confinement and incommunicado detention;
Other methods of ill-treatment;
Suffocation by water (the ICRC term for waterboarding);
Prolonged stress standing;
Beatings by use of a collar;
Beating and kicking;
Confinement in a box;
Sleep deprivation and use of loud music;
Exposure to cold temperature/cold water;
Prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles;
Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food;
Further elements of the detention regime.
Conclusion - The report concludes: “The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.” Danner will write, “Such unflinching clarity, from the body legally charged with overseeing compliance with the Geneva Conventions—in which the terms ‘torture’ and ‘cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment’ are accorded a strictly defined legal meaning—couldn’t be more significant.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
United States Geological Survey graphic showing the location of the North Korea nuclear test. The USGS notes the test as ‘seismic activity.’ [Source: United States Geological Survey]North Korea explodes a nuclear weapon in an underground test site. The test takes place in spite of repeated US (see September 11, 2006), United Nations, and other international warnings. The North Koreans claim that the test is an unmitigated success. Both Japanese and US sources report a seismic event at the time of the test, and Russia says it is “100 percent certain” a nuclear test has occurred. The US calls the test a “provocative act”; China, in an unusually strong denunciation of its ally, calls the test “brazen,” expresses its “resolute opposition” to the test, and says it “defied the universal opposition of international society.” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan calls the test “unpardonable” and notes that the region is now “entering a new, dangerous nuclear age.” Many observers believe the United Nations will attempt to impose economic sanctions on the country, and to condemn it in a Security Council resolution. “We expect the UN Security Council to take immediate actions to respond to this unprovoked act,” says White House press secretary Tony Snow. Abe, in South Korea to meet with President Roh Moo-hyun, agrees, urging the Security Council to take “undaunted” action. Abe says the test will spur Japan and the US to speed up work on a joint missile-defense system begun after a North Korean missile test in 1998. Roh says the test creates a “severe situation” that threatens stability in the region; South Korea’s military is on high alert. For its part, North Korea says the test is a “historic event that brought happiness to our military and people,” and claims the test will maintain “peace and stability” in the region. It is “a great leap forward in the building of a great prosperous, powerful socialist nation.” [BBC, 10/9/2006] A week later, the US confirms that the North Koreans have, in fact, tested a nuclear weapon of less than a kiloton. [Bloomberg, 10/16/2006]
North Korea says it may carry out further nuclear testing (see October 9, 2006), and says that any United Nations sanctions (see October 14, 2006) would be considered an act of war. The North blames the US for the threatened sanctions, and says, “If the US keeps pestering us and increases pressure, we will regard it as a declaration of war and will take a series of physical corresponding measures.” South Korea has placed its military on high alert. President Bush calls for stiff sanctions against North Korea, but insists the US has “no intentions of attacking” it. The US remains committed to diplomacy, Bush says, but “reserves all options to defend our friends in the region.” UN General Secretary Kofi Annan urges the US to hold bilateral talks with North Korea, and adds: “I would urge the North Korean authorities not to escalate the situation any further. We already have an extremely difficult situation.” Any further nuclear tests hinge on the US’s actions, says Kim Yong Nam, the deputy leader of the North Korean government. Kim says, “The issue of future nuclear tests is linked to US policy toward our country.” [Fox News, 10/11/2006]
The United Nations Security Council votes unanimously to sanction North Korea for its recent nuclear weapons test (see October 9, 2006). UN Resolution 1718 demands that North Korea dismantle its nuclear weapons as well as its ballistic missiles and other weapons of mass destruction. The resolution gives other nations the right to inspect cargo moving in and out of North Korea to look for non-conventional weapons, but has no threat of force connected to the inspections’ potential findings. It also demands that Pyongyang return “without precondition” to the stalled six-nation talks on its nuclear program. [BBC, 12/2007] As it threatened, North Korea labels the sanctions “a declaration of war” (see October 11, 2006). Though Pyongyang makes no direct military strikes towards South Korea or any other neighbor, indications are strong that it may be preparing for a second test. [Washington Post, 10/17/2006]
President Bush signs the Military Commissions Act into law. [Source: White House]President Bush signs the Military Commissions Act (MCA) into law. [White House, 10/17/2006] The MCA is designed to give the president the authority to order “enemy detainees” tried by military commissions largely outside the scope of US civil and criminal procedures. The bill was requested by the Bush administration after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (see June 28, 2004) that the US could not hold prisoners indefinitely without access to the US judicial system, and that the administration’s proposal that they be tried by military tribunals was unconstitutional (see June 28, 2004). [FindLaw, 10/9/2006] It is widely reported that the MCA does not directly apply to US citizens, but to only non-citizens defined as “enemy combatants. [CBS News, 10/19/2006] However, six months later, a Bush administration lawyer will confirm that the administration believes the law does indeed apply to US citizens (see February 1, 2007).
Sweeping New Executive Powers - The MCA virtually eliminates the possibility that the Supreme Court can ever again act as a check on a president’s power in the war on terrorism. Similarly, the law gives Congressional approval to many of the executive powers previously, and unilaterally, seized by the Bush administration. Former Justice Department official John Yoo celebrates the MCA, writing, “Congress… told the courts, in effect, to get out of the war on terror” (see October 19, 2006). [Savage, 2007, pp. 319, 322]
'Abandoning' Core 'Principles' - The bill passed the Senate on a 65-34 vote, and the House by a 250-170 vote. The floor debate was often impassioned and highly partisan; House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) called Democrats who opposed the bill “dangerous,” and Senate Judiciary Committee member Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said this bill showed that the US is losing its “moral compass.” Leahy asked during the debate, “Why would we allow the terrorists to win by doing to ourselves what they could never do, and abandon the principles for which so many Americans today and through our history have fought and sacrificed?” Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) had said he would vote against it because it is “patently unconstitutional on its face,” but then voted for it, saying he believes the courts will eventually “clean it up.” Specter’s attempt to amend the bill to provide habeas corpus rights for enemy combatants was defeated, as were four Democratic amendments. Republicans have openly used the debate over the MCA as election-year fodder, with House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) saying after the vote that “House Democrats have voted to protect the rights of terrorists,” and Boehner decrying “the Democrats’ irrational opposition to strong national security policies.” Democrats such as Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) say they will not fight back at such a level. “There will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be called everything from cut-and-run quitters to Defeatocrats, to people who care more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans,” Obama says. “While I know all of this, I’m still disappointed, and I’m still ashamed, because what we’re doing here today—a debate over the fundamental human rights of the accused—should be bigger than politics.” [Washington Post, 10/19/2006] After winning the vote, Hastert accused Democrats who opposed the bill of “putting their liberal agenda ahead of the security of America.” Hastert said the Democrats “would gingerly pamper the terrorists who plan to destroy innocent Americans’ lives” and create “new rights for terrorists.” [New York Times, 10/19/2006]
Enemy Combatants - The MCA applies only to “enemy combatants.” Specifically, the law defines an “unlawful enemy combatant” as a person “who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents,” and who is not a lawful combatant. Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch says the definition far exceeds the traditionally accepted definition of combatant as someone who directly participates in hostilities. But under the MCA, someone who provides “material support” for terrorists—whether that be in the form of financial contributions or sweeping the floors at a terrorist camp—can be so defined. Worse, the label can be applied without recourse by either Bush or the secretary of defense, after a “competent tribunal” makes the determination. The MCA provides no guidelines as to what criteria these tribunals should use. Taken literally, the MCA gives virtually unrestricted power to the tribunals to apply the label as requested by the president or the secretary. Mariner believes the definition is both “blatantly unconstitutional” and a direct contradiction of centuries of Supreme Court decisions that define basic judicial rights. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006] Under this definition, the president can imprison, without charge or trial, any US citizen accused of donating money to a Middle East charity that the government believes is linked to terrorist activity. Citizens associated with “fringe” groups such as the left-wing Black Panthers or right-wing militias can be incarcerated without trial or charge. Citizens accused of helping domestic terrorists can be so imprisoned. Law professor Bruce Ackerman calls the MCA “a massive Congressional expansion of the class of enemy combatants,” and warns that the law may “haunt all of us on the morning after the next terrorist attack” by enabling a round of mass detentions similar to the roundup of Japanese-American citizens during World War II. [Savage, 2007, pp. 322]
Military Commissions - The MCA mandates that enemy combatants are to be tried by military commissions, labeled “regularly constituted courts that afford all the necessary ‘judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples’ for purposes of common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.” The commissions must have a minimum of five commissioned military officers and a military judge; if death is a possible penalty, the commissions must have at least 12 officers. The defendant’s guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt; convictions require a two-thirds vote. Sentences of beyond 10 years require a three-quarters vote, and death penalties must be unanimously voted for. Defendants may either represent themselves or by military or civilian counsel. The court procedures themselves, although based on standard courts-martial proceedings, are fluid, and can be set or changed as the secretary of defense sees fit. Statements obtained through methods defined as torture are inadmissible, but statements take by coercion and “cruel treatment” can be admitted. The MCA sets the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 15, 2005) as a benchmark—statements obtained before the December 30, 2005 enactment of that law can be used, even if the defendant was “coerced,” if a judge finds the statement “reasonable and possessing sufficient probative value.” Statements after that date must have been taken during interrogations that fall under the DTA guidelines. Defendants have the right to examine and respond to evidence seen by the commission, a provision originally opposed by the administration. However, if the evidence is classified, an unclassified summary of that material is acceptable, and classified exculpatory evidence can be denied in lieu of what the MCA calls “acceptable substitutes.” Hearsay evidence is admissible, as is evidence obtained without search warrants. Generally, defendants will not be allowed to inquire into the classified “sources, methods, or activities” surrounding evidence against them. Some human rights activists worry that evidence obtained through torture can be admitted, and the fact that it was obtained by torture, if that detail is classified, will not be presented to the court or preclude the evidence from being used. Public access to the commissions will be quite limited. Many experts claim these commissions are illegal both by US constitutional law and international law. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006]
Secret Courts - The military tribunals can be partially or completely closed to public scrutiny if the presiding judge deems such an action necessary to national security. The government can convey such concerns to the judge without the knowledge of the defense. The judge can exclude the accused from the trial if he deems it necessary for safety or if he decides the defendant is “disruptive.” Evidence can be presented in secret, without the knowledge of the defense and without giving the defense a chance to examine that evidence, if the judge finds that evidence “reliable.” And during the trial, the prosecution can at any time assert a “national security privilege” that would stop “the examination of any witness” if that witness shows signs of discussing sensitive security matters. This provision can easily be used to exclude any potential defense witness who might “breach national security” with their testimony. Author and investigative reporter Robert Parry writes, “In effect, what the new law appears to do is to create a parallel ‘star chamber’ system for the prosecution, imprisonment, and elimination of enemies of the state, whether those enemies are foreign or domestic.” [Consortium News, 10/19/2006]
Appeals - Guilty verdicts are automatically appealed to a Court of Military Commission Review, consisting of three appellate military justices. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals has extremely limited authority of review of the commissions; even its authority to judge whether a decision is consistent with the Constitution is limited “to the extent [that the Constitution is] applicable.”
Types of Crimes - Twenty-eight specific crimes fall under the rubric of the military commissions, including conspiracy (not a traditional war crime), murder of protected persons, murder in violation of the bill of war, hostage-taking, torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, mutilation or maiming, rape, sexual abuse or assault, hijacking, terrorism, providing material support for terrorism, and spying. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006]
CIA Abuses - The MCA, responding to the recent Supreme Court decision of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006) that found the CIA’s secret detention program and abusive interrogation practices illegal, redefines and amends the law to make all but the most pernicious interrogation practices, even those defined as torture by the War Crimes Act and the Geneva Conventions, legal. The MCA actually rules that the Geneva Conventions are all but unenforceable in US courts. It also provides retroactive protection under the law to all actions as far back as November 1997. Under the MCA, practices such as waterboarding, stress positioning, and sleep deprivation cannot be construed as torture. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006] The MCA even states that rape as part of interrogations cannot be construed as torture unless the intent of the rapist to torture his victim can be proven, a standard rejected by international law. The MCA provides such a narrow definition of coercion and sexual abuse that most of the crimes perpetrated at Abu Ghraib are now legal. [Jurist, 10/4/2006] Although the MCA seems to cover detainee abuse for all US agencies, including the CIA, Bush says during the signing of the bill, “This bill will allow the Central Intelligence Agency to continue its program for questioning key terrorist leaders and operatives.” International law expert Scott Horton will note, “The administration wanted these prohibitions on the military and not on the CIA, but it did not work out that way.” Apparently Bush intends to construe the law to exempt the CIA from its restrictions, such as they are, on torture and abuse of prisoners. [Salon, 5/22/2007]
No Habeas Corpus Rights - Under the MCA, enemy combatants no longer have the right to file suit under the habeas corpus provision of US law. This means that they cannot challenge the legality of their detention, or raise claims of torture and mistreatment. Even detainees who have been released can never file suit to seek redress for their treatment while in US captivity. [FindLaw, 10/25/2006]
Retroactive Immunity - The administration added a provision to the MCA that rewrote the War Crimes Act retroactively to November 26, 1997, making any offenses considered war crimes before the MCA is adopted no longer punishable under US law. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2007 that the only reason he can fathom for the change is to protect administration officials—perhaps including President Bush himself—from any future prosecutions as war criminals. Dean will note that if the administration actually believes in the inherent and indisputable powers of the presidency, as it has long averred, then it would not worry about any such criminal liability. [Dean, 2007, pp. 239-240]
Entity Tags: Human Rights Watch, Joanne Mariner, US Supreme Court, Patrick J. Leahy, Military Commissions Act, John Dean, George W. Bush, Scott Horton, Geneva Conventions, Bruce Ackerman, Dennis Hastert, American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Detainee Treatment Act, Arlen Specter, War Crimes Act, Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), John Boehner
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The New York Times pens an editorial issuing a grim warning about the ramifications of the newly passed Military Commission Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006). The editorial calls the law’s stripping of habeas corpus rights for so-called “enemy combatants” “undemocratic.” It criticizes the highly charged rhetoric of the Republicans who attacked Democrats in opposition to the law as part of the Republican Party’s “scare-America-first strategy” for the upcoming midterm elections. The Times notes that President Bush misled the country into believing that the MCA is the only way the country has of adequately putting 9/11 suspects on trial: “The truth is that Mr. Bush could have done that long ago, but chose to detain them illegally at hidden CIA camps to extract information. He sent them to Guantanamo only to stampede Congress into passing the new law. The 60 or so men at Guantanamo who are now facing tribunals—out of about 450 inmates—also could have been tried years ago if Mr. Bush had not rebuffed efforts by Congress to create suitable courts. He imposed a system of kangaroo courts that was more about expanding his power than about combating terrorism.” The editorial criticizes Bush’s new “separate system of justice for any foreigner whom Mr. Bush chooses to designate as an ‘illegal enemy combatant,” one that “raises insurmountable obstacles for prisoners to challenge their detentions [and] does not require the government to release prisoners who are not being charged, or a prisoner who is exonerated by the tribunals.” However, the editorial gives false comfort to its readers by asserting that the MCA “does not apply to American citizens, but it does apply to other legal United States residents.” [New York Times, 10/19/2006]
Times Errs in Stating MCA Does Not Apply to US Citizens - Most other mainstream media outlets do not mention the possibility of the MCA applying to US citizens. But on the same day as the Times editorial, author and investigative journalist Robert Parry gives a powerful argument that the MCA can indeed be applied to them. The MCA reads in part, “Any person is punishable as a principal under this chapter who commits an offense punishable by this chapter, or aids, abets, counsels, commands, or procures its commission.… Any person subject to this chapter who, in breach of an allegiance or duty to the United States, knowingly and intentionally aids an enemy of the United States… shall be punished as a military commission… may direct.” The legal meaning of “any person,” Parry notes, clearly includes US citizens, particularly those who may act “in breach of an allegiance or duty to the United States.” Parry asks, “Who has ‘an allegiance or duty to the United States’ if not an American citizen? That provision would not presumably apply to Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, nor would it apply generally to foreign citizens. This section of the law appears to be singling out American citizens.” If an American citizen is charged with a crime under the MCA, that citizen, like the foreign nationals currently laboring under the weight of the law, cannot challenge their detention and charges under the habeas corpus provisions of US law, and cannot expect a fair trial. They will not be given the chance to appeal their convictions until they are prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced. And since the MCA defendant has no right to a “speedy trial,” that defendant cannot expect to be granted an appeal in any reasonable length of time. In effect, an American citizen, like a foreign national charged under the MCA, can be imprisoned indefinitely without recourse to the US judiciary.
Potential to Jail Media Leakers and Reporters - One aspect of the MCA that has not been widely discussed, Parry notes, is the provision that would allow the incarceration of “any person” who “collects or attempts to collect information by clandestine means or while acting under false pretenses, for the purpose of conveying such information to an enemy of the United States.” That provision is tremendously vague, and could easily be stretched to fit, for example, the whistleblowers who revealed the existence of the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program to the Times (see December 15, 2005) and the reporters and editors who published the story based on those revelations. [Consortium News, 10/19/2006] Six months later, a Justice Department lawyer will confirm that the Bush administration believes MCA does indeed apply to US citizens (see February 1, 2007).
John Yoo, a former Justice Department official, celebrates the passage of the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006). Yoo writes that Congress has ordered “the courts, in effect, to get out of the war on terror.” The bill is not so much a victory for the presidency, Yoo writes, as it is a loss for the judiciary, a “stinging rebuke to the Supreme Court. It strips the courts of jurisdiction to hear any habeas corpus claim filed by any alien enemy combatant anywhere in the world.” It supersedes the Court’s ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), which Yoo calls “an unprecedented attempt by the court to rewrite the law of war and intrude into war policy… [a] stunning power grab.” Now, he writes: “Congress and the president did not take the court’s power grab lying down. They told the courts, in effect, to get out of the war on terror, stripped them of habeas jurisdiction over alien enemy combatants, and said there was nothing wrong with the military commissions. It is the first time since the New Deal that Congress had so completely divested the courts of power over a category of cases. It is also the first time since the Civil War that Congress saw fit to narrow the court’s habeas powers in wartime because it disagreed with its decisions. The law goes farther. It restores to the president command over the management of the war on terror. It directly reverses Hamdan by making clear that the courts cannot take up the Geneva Conventions. Except for some clearly defined war crimes, whose prosecution would also be up to executive discretion, it leaves interpretation and enforcement of the treaties up to the president. It even forbids courts from relying on foreign or international legal decisions in any decisions involving military commissions.” Yoo had previously authored numerous torture memos (see October 4, 2001, November 6-10, 2001, November 20, 2001, December 21, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, January 11, 2002, January 14, 2002, January 22, 2002, January 24-26, 2002, March 13, 2002, July 22, 2002, August 1, 2002, August 1, 2002, and March 14, 2003) and opinions expanding the power of the president (see September 21, 2001, September 25, 2001, September 25, 2001, October 23, 2001, October 23, 2001, and June 27, 2002). [Wall Street Journal, 10/19/2006]
Exercising its new authority under the just-signed Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006), the Bush administration notifies the US District Court in Washington that it no longer has jurisdiction to consider 196 habeas corpus petitions filed by Guantanamo detainees. Many of these petitions cover multiple detainees. According to the MCA, “no court, justice, or judge” can consider those petitions or other actions related to treatment or imprisonment filed by anyone designated as an enemy combatant, now or in the future. The MCA is already being challenged as unconstitutional by several lawyers representing Guantanamo detainees. The MCA goes directly against two recent Supreme Court cases, Rasul v. Bush (see June 28, 2004) and Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), which provide detainees with habeas corpus and other fundamental legal rights. Many Congressional members and legal experts say that the anti-habeas provisions of the MCA are unconstitutional. For instance, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) notes that the Constitution says the right of any prisoner to challenge detention “shall not be suspended” except in cases of “rebellion or invasion.” [Washington Post, 10/20/2006] Law professor Joseph Margulies, who is involved in the detainee cases, says the administration’s persistence on the issue “demonstrates how difficult it is for the courts to enforce [the clause] in the face of a resolute executive branch that is bound and determined to resist it.” Vincent Warren of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many of the detainees, expects the legal challenges to the law will eventually wind up before the Supreme Court. [Washington Post, 10/20/2006]
In an abrupt reversal, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il apologizes for his country’s nuclear test (see October 9, 2006). He reportedly tells a Chinese delegation that he regrets the test, denies any plans for further tests (see October 11, 2006), and says he is willing for North Korea to resume its participation in international nuclear negotiations if the US agrees not to “financially isolate” his country. For their part, US State Department officials say they doubt Kim made any such statements. But the US is willing to rejoin negotiations. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says, “The Chinese are emphasizing the need for six-party talks to begin again and for the North to re-engage in the talks.” North Korea “urged us to be open to returning to those talks without preconditions, which for us is not difficult.” [MSNBC, 10/20/2006]
In an interview with WDAY’s Scott Heinen, Vice President Dick Cheney says it was a “no-brainer for me” to authorize waterboarding of suspected terrorists (see April 2002 and After and Summer 2003). Cheney says that since waterboarding and other brutal methods are not torture, as he defines the term (see Mid-March 2002), the entire issue is not really an issue. “We don’t torture,” he says. “That’s not what we’re involved in. We live up to our obligations in international treaties that we’re party to, and so forth. But the fact is, you can have a fairly robust interrogation program without torture, and we need to be able to do that.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 154-155; Financial Times, 10/26/2008] After Cheney’s statement causes a welter of criticism among lawmakers and media figures, the White House says Cheney was not talking about waterboarding, and insists that the US does not torture. Cheney calls reporters to bolster the denial. “I did not talk about specific techniques and won’t,” he says. “I didn’t say anything about waterboarding.… He [Heinen] didn’t even use that phrase.” Human Rights Watch says Cheney’s remarks are “the Bush administration’s first clear endorsement” of waterboarding. [Associated Press, 10/28/2006]
Majid Khan. [Source: Public domain via Washington Post]The Bush administration submits documents to US District Judge Reggie B. Walton arguing that Majid Khan, a Guatanamo detainee who was held in the secret CIA prison system for three years, cannot be allowed access to lawyers because he may reveal what interrogation techniques were used on him. CIA Information Review Officer Marilyn A. Dorn says in an affidavit that since “detained by CIA in this program, he may have come into possession of information, including locations of detention, conditions of detention, and alternative interrogation techniques that is classified at the TOP SECRET//SCI [sensitive compartmented information] level.” [Washington Post, 11/4/2006]
Mohammad-Hadi Homayoun. [Source: Cultural Heritage News (Tehran)]Mohammad-Hadi Homayoun, Iran’s deputy minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, declares during a conference in Moscow that the 9/11 attacks were a hoax orchestrated by the US government. “What we watched on the TVs regarding the slamming of two planes into the New York Twin Towers, was in fact a make-believe scene. The sky-scrapers were destroyed through bomb explosions and afterwards the massive US media propaganda and the crusade issue began.” [Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg), 10/27/2006; Cultural Heritage News Agency (Tehran), 3/5/2007]
The CIA acknowledges that it has operated under the rubric of two secret Bush administration documents that authorized it to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects overseas. Since 2004, the agency has refused to either confirm or deny the existence of the documents, and has argued in court that to make such an acknowledgement would jeopardize national security. The American Civil Liberties Union, which has fought the CIA in court over the documents, says in a statement by its executive director, Anthony Romero: “The CIA’s sudden reversal on these secret directives is yet more evidence that the Bush administration is misusing claims of national security to avoid public scrutiny. Confusion about whether such a presidential order existed certainly led to the torture and abuse scandal that embarrassed America. With a new Congress and renewed subpoena power, we now need to look up the chain of command.” One of the documents is a secret executive order signed by President Bush authorizing the CIA to set up “black site” detention facilities overseas (see September 17, 2001), and the other is a Justice Department legal analysis specifying interrogation methods that CIA interrogators could use against top al-Qaeda suspects. In legal papers previously filed in court, the CIA claimed that national security would be gravely injured if the CIA were compelled to admit or deny even an “interest” in interrogating detainees. Today, however, the agency acknowledges the existence of the two documents. It continues to withhold the documents themselves; their contents remain unknown to the public. The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer says: “We intend to press for the release of both of these documents. If President Bush and the Justice Department authorized the CIA to torture its prisoners, the public has a right to know.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 11/14/2006]
The Justice Department argues in federal court that immigrants arrested in the US and labeled as “enemy combatants” under the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) can be indefinitely detained without access to the US justice system. The argument comes as part of the Justice Department’s attempt to dismiss a habeas corpus suit challenging the detention of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari citizen accused by the government of being an al-Qaeda agent (see December 12, 2001 and February 1, 2007). The government argues that the MCA “removes federal court jurisdiction over pending and future habeas corpus actions and any other actions filed by or on behalf of detained aliens determined by the United States to be enemy combatants, such as petitioner-appellant al-Marri.… In plain terms, the MCA removes this Court’s jurisdiction (as well as the district court’s) over al-Marri’s habeas action. Accordingly, the Court should dismiss this appeal for lack of jurisdiction and remand the case to the district court with instructions to dismiss the petition for lack of jurisdiction.” This is the first time the Bush administration has argued in court that the MCA strips a detainee held within the US of habeas rights.
Defense Counterargument - Al-Marri’s lawyers say that because he is being held in a South Carolina detention facility, he has the right to challenge his detention in a civilian court like any other non-citizen held on criminal charges. The Justice Department says that enemy combatants have no such rights regardless of where they are being held. Jonathan Hafetz, one of al-Marri’s lawyers, says: “[T]he president has announced that he can sweep any of the millions of non-citizens off the streets of America and imprison them for life in a military jail without charge, court review, or due process. It is unprecedented, unlawful, and un-American.” [Jurist, 11/14/2006] The government has “never admitted that he has any rights, including the right not to be tortured,” Hafetz adds. “They’ve created a black hole where he has no rights.” [Progressive, 3/2007] The Bush administration is also challenging lawsuits filed by detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility on similar grounds. [Jurist, 11/14/2006]
The International Atomic Energy Agency is skeptical of the claim that Iran has made further progress in its uranium enrichment research program (see Mid-November, 2006). However, Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s defiant tone does nothing to lessen US suspicions about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. A European diplomat says: “There is no evidence of a large-scale covert enrichment program inside Iran. But the Iranians would not have launched themselves into a very dangerous confrontation with the West on the basis of a weapons program that they no longer pursue. Their enrichment program makes sense only in terms of wanting nuclear weapons. It would be inconceivable if they weren’t cheating to some degree. You don’t need a covert program to be concerned about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. We have enough information to be concerned without one. It’s not a slam dunk, but it’s close to it.” [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]
Responding to Iranian claims that it is progressing in its attempts to enrich uranium (see Mid-November, 2006) and the International Atomic Energy Agency’s skepticism of the claims (see Mid-November 2006), analysts and officials have alternative explanations. Whether peaceful or not, Iran’s nuclear program is a source of great national pride, and its popularity bolsters President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s rather tenuous grip on power. A former US intelligence official says it is not inconceivable that Ahmadinejad would welcome a limited military strike against Iran by the US, especially if it does not destroy its nuclear program. Such an attack would shore up Iran’s position in the Islamic world. “They learned that in the Iraqi experience, and relearned it in southern Lebanon,” the official says, referring to both the US debacle in Iraq and the resurgent popularity of Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, after Israel’s 2006 strike at the group in Lebanon. Indeed, the former official says, a US attack on Iran could possibly serve as a rallying point to unite the divided Sunni and Shi’ite populations. “An American attack will paper over any differences in the Arab world, and we’ll have Syrians, Iranians, Hamas, and Hezbollah fighting against us—and the Saudis and the Egyptians questioning their ties to the West,” he says. “It’s an analyst’s worst nightmare—for the first time since the caliphate there will be common cause in the Middle East.” A Pentagon consultant says the CIA does not believe that even a large-scale bombing attack will eradicate Iran’s nuclear program, and a limited campaign of subversion and sabotage plays into Iran’s hands, bolstering support for Iran’s theocratic leaders and “deepening anti-American Muslim rage.” [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich says in a speech, “My view is that either before we lose a city, or if we are truly stupid, after we lose a city, we will adopt rules of engagement that use every technology we can find to break up their capacity to use the Internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech, and to go after people who want to kill us to stop them from recruiting people before they get to reach out and convince young people to destroy their lives while destroying us.” He also suggests pressing for a new “Geneva convention for fighting terrorism which makes very clear that those who would fight outside the rules of law… are in fact subject to a totally different set of rules that allow us to protect civilization by defeating barbarism… .” [Newt (.org), 11/27/2006; New York Sun, 11/29/2006] Gingrich makes these remarks as the featured speaker at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications’ annual first amendment awards dinner, which honors New Hampshire citizens who exemplify and defend free speech liberties. [Union Leader, 11/28/2006]
The Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, and NSA Director Keith Alexander try to get a lawsuit dismissed that alleges the NSA illegally wiretapped a Saudi charitable organization (see February 28, 2006). The organization, the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, is presenting a classified US document as proof of the illegal wiretapping.
Invoking 'State Secrets' Privilege - In late 2006, Negroponte and Alexander tell the presiding judge, US District Judge Garr King, that in order to defend itself, the government would have to disclose “state secrets” (see March 9, 1953) that would expose US anti-terrorism efforts. This same argument will be reiterated in July 2007, when government lawyers say, “Whether plaintiffs were subjected to surveillance is a state secret, and information tending to confirm or deny that fact is privileged.” The judge will hear arguments for and against dismissing the case on August 15, 2007. [Associated Press, 8/5/2007]
Judicial Examination - King, in Portland, Oregon, examined the document for himself, and read classified briefs supplied by the Justice Department. Upon reading the briefs, King met with government lawyers to discuss turning over yet more documents in discovery—a decision unlikely to have been taken had King not believed the evidence did not show that the Al Haramain plaintiffs were, in fact, monitored. And, under FISA, had the surveillance been lawful and court-ordered, King would have been legally constrained to dismiss the lawsuit, since according to that law, plaintiffs can only sue if no warrant was ever issued for the alleged surveillance. “If there was a FISA warrant, the whole case would have crumbled on the first day,” says plaintiff attorney Thomas Nelson, “It’s pretty obvious from the government’s conduct in the case, there was no warrant.”
'Inherent Authority' of President - Justice Department lawyers rely on the argument that the president has the inherent authority to order surveillance of suspected terrorists with or without warrants, and that to judge the president’s decision would reveal national secrets that would alert terrorists to government anti-terrorist actions, thereby mandating that this and other lawsuits be dismissed.
Consolidation of Lawsuits - An August 2006 court ruling ordering that the Al Haramain case be consolidated with 54 other NSA-related lawsuits, under US District Court Judge Vaughn Walker, damaged the government’s argument that it cannot be sued in court. Walker has presided over the year-old class-action lawsuit brought before his court by the Electronic Frontier Foundation against AT&T for the telecom firm’s cooperation with the NSA program (see January 31, 2006); Walker ruled in July 2006 that the case would proceed, against government requests that it be thrown out because of national security requirements. Walker ruled that because the government had already admitted to the existence of the program, the state secrets privilege does not apply. (The Justice Department is appealing Walker’s decision.) As for Al Haramain, its lawyers want that case to be adjudicated separately, because the court has sufficient evidence to decide on the case without waiting for the appellate court decision. Another lawyer for the plaintiffs, Jon Eisenberg, tells Walker in February 2007, “You need only read the statutes to decide, ‘Does the president have the right to do this without a warrant?’” Walker has yet to rule on that request. [Wired News, 3/5/2007]
Entity Tags: Thomas Nelson, Vaughn Walker, National Security Agency, US Department of Justice, Jon Eisenberg, John Negroponte, AT&T, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (Oregon branch), Garr King, Keith Alexander, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Iraq Study Group (ISG), chaired by former Republican Secretary of State James Baker and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton, holds an early-morning breakfast session with senior officials of the Bush administration, including President Bush, to discuss its 79 recommendations for the future conduct of the Iraq war. The White House essentially ignores the report (see December 2006). ISG member Lawrence Eagleburger will later say of Bush, “I don’t recall, seriously, that he asked any questions” during the meeting.
Former Senator's Recollection - Former Republican Senator Alan Simpson, another ISG member present at the breakfast meeting, later recalls: “It was an early-morning session, seven a.m., I think, breakfast, the day we trotted it out. And Jim and Lee said, ‘Mr. President, we will’—and Dick was there, [Vice President] Cheney was there—‘just go around the room, if you would, and all of us share with you a quick thought?’ And the president said fine. I thought at first the president seemed a little—I don’t know, just maybe impatient, like, ‘What now?’ He went around the room. Everybody stated their case. It just took a couple minutes. I know what I said. I said, ‘Mr. President, we’re not here to present this to vex or embarrass you in any way. That’s not the purpose of this. We’re in a tough, tough situation, and we think these recommendations can help the country out. We’ve agreed on every word here, and I hope you’ll give it your full attention.’ He said, ‘Oh, I will.’ And I turned to Dick, and I said, ‘Dick, old friend, I hope you’ll gnaw on this, too. This is very important that you hear this and review it.’ And he said, ‘I will, I will, and thanks.’ Then the president gave an address not too far after that. And we were called by [National Security Adviser Stephen] Hadley on a conference call. He said, ‘Thank you for the work. The president’s going to mention your report, and it’ll be—there will be parts of it that he will embrace, in fact, and if he doesn’t happen to speak on certain issues, you know that they’ll be in full consideration in the weeks to come,’ or something like that. And we all listened with a wry smile. We figured that maybe five of the 79 recommendations would ever be considered, and I think we were pretty right.”
Hamilton's Recollection - Hamilton has similar recollections of the meeting and the administration’s response to the report: “Cheney was there, never said a word, not a—of course, the recommendations from his point of view were awful, but he never criticized. Bush was very gracious, said we’ve worked hard and did this great service for the country—and he ignored it so far as I can see. He fundamentally didn’t agree with it. President Bush has always sought, still seeks today, a victory, military victory. And we did not recommend that. The gist of what we had to say was a responsible exit. He didn’t like that.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Civil libertarians, both conservative and liberal, join in filing a legal brief on behalf of suspected al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see December 12, 2001), whose lawyers are preparing to file a suit challenging his detention as an “enemy combatant” (see February 1, 2007). Liberal and progressive law school deans Harold Koh of Yale and Laurence Tribe of Harvard are joined by conservatives such as Steven Calabresi, a former Reagan White House lawyer and co-founder of the staunchly conservative Federalist Society, in a brief that argues an immigrant or a legal resident of the US has the right to seek his freedom in the US court system. Al-Marri is a Qatari citizen who attended Bradley University in Illinois. The brief argues that the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) is unconstitutional. The brief “shows the phrases ‘conservative’ and ‘libertarian’ have less overlap than ever before,” says law professor Richard Epstein, a Federalist Society member who signed it, adding, “This administration has lost all libertarians on all counts.” Koh says: “This involves the executive branch changing the rules to avoid challenges to its own authority. Serious legal scholars, regardless of political bent, find what the government did inconsistent with any reasonable visions of the rule of law.” Epstein, who says Koh is “mad on many issues,” agrees, calling the al-Marri case “beyond the pale.” He says, “They figured out every constitutional protection you’d want and they removed them.” Lawyer Jonathan Hafetz, representing al-Marri, says the case brings up issues about what the framers of the Constitution intended—something libertarians and judicial conservatives often look to. [Associated Press, 12/13/2006]
Rashid Rauf in Pakistani custody. [Source: Farooq Naeem / Agence France-Presse]Terrorism charges are dropped in Pakistan against British-Pakistani militant Rashid Rauf, but he remains imprisoned there. Held since early August, Rauf was part of a British-based plot to blow up transatlantic airliners (see August 10, 2006). British officials have been seeking his extradition for five months, and the decision not to prosecute him in Pakistan on the charges apparently clears the way for him to be returned to Britain; although there is no extradition treaty between Pakistan and Britain, Pakistani officials indicate they are ready to send Rauf home. However, Rauf, who has denied any links with terrorism, still has to face trial next week on charges of carrying fake identity documents. His lawyer Hashmat Habib says the court’s decision to drop the terror charges clears Rauf of involvement in any bomb plots, and characterises the fake ID charges as “minor.” On the contrary, Rawalpindi police chief Saud Aziz says he will contest the court’s decision and insists Rauf had been involved in planning terrorist activities. “We did recover hydrogen peroxide from his possession and concentrated hydrogen peroxide mixed with gas can cause explosions,” he says. [Times (London), 4/12/2009] Rauf will escape prison in late 2007 in mysterious circumstances (see December 14, 2007).
President Bush signs the Postal Reform bill and includes a signing statement asserting that the federal government has a right to search the mail of any US citizen “for foreign intelligence collection.” While
White House spokesman Tony Snow insists that Bush is just clarifying current law, the New York Daily News reports that experts say Bush’s signing statement “is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed.” Nor do the lawmakers who drafted the law agree with Bush’s interpretation. “Despite the president’s statement that he may be able to circumvent a basic privacy protection, the new postal law continues to prohibit the government from snooping into people’s mail without a warrant,” says Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), who co-sponsored the bill. Under current law, federal agents must have a search warrant to open first-class mail. Commenting on Bush’s signing statement, Ann Beeson, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, remarks, “The signing statement raises serious questions whether he is authorizing opening of mail contrary to the Constitution and to laws enacted by Congress. What is the purpose of the signing statement if it isn’t that?” [New York Daily News, 1/4/2007; MSNBC, 1/5/2007]
US troops raid the compound of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the Shi’ite leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and capture two Iranians. The two, Brigadier General Mohsen Chirazi and Colonel Abu Amad Davari, are high-ranking members of Iran’s al-Quds Brigade, which the US accuses of supplying funding and training to Shi’ite insurgents in Iraq. After a tense nine-day diplomatic standoff, the US acquiesces to requests by the Iraqi government and its own State Department to allow the two to return to Iran, though the Pentagon wished to keep them in captivity for interrogation. [Washington Post, 1/12/2007; Asia Times, 3/31/2007] Iran calls both Chirazi and Davari “diplomats,” and says they are in Iraq at the invitation of Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani, as part of an agreement to improve security between the two countries. [BBC, 12/29/2006]
The Asian Law Caucus (ALC) receives over twenty complaints from Northern California residents reporting excessive and repeated screenings by US Customs and Border Protection agents upon their entering the country. The residents say they have been interrogated about their families, religious practices, volunteer activities, political beliefs, and political associations when they returned from traveling abroad, regardless of their First Amendment rights. The residents say their books, business cards, handwritten notes, personal photos, laptop computer files, and cell phone directories were examined and sometimes copied. When they complained, some of them were told, according to the ALC, “This is the border, and you have no rights.” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008; Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008]
Interrogation at the Border - Nabila Mango, a US citizen from San Francisco, returns from a trip to Jordan in December 2007. She will say she is told by customs officials at San Francisco International Airport to list every person she met and every place she slept. Her Arabic music books, business cards, and cell phone are examined, and she believes some of her documents are copied. [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008] Her daughter tries repeatedly to call her on her cell phone during the interrogation, but Mango finds that customs officials erased the records of her calls. [Washington Post, 2/7/2008] “In my 40 years in this country, I have never felt as vulnerable as I did during that interrogation,” Mango will say. “I want to find out whether my government is keeping files on me and other Americans based on our associations and ideas.” A California citizen, Amir Khan, will also say he is stopped and interrogated every time he returns to the country. He has his laptop, cell phone, and personal notebooks searched. He is never told why he is being singled out. “One customs officer even told me that no matter what I do, nothing would improve,” he will say. “Why do I have to part with my civil liberties each time I return home?” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008] Software engineer Kamran Habib, a permanent US resident, has his laptop and cell phone searched three times in 2007. Now, Habib says, “every time I travel, I basically clean out my phone. It’s better for me to keep my colleagues and friends safe than to get them on the list as well.”
Search and Seizure - Maria Udy, a marketing executive in Bethesda, Maryland, will say her company laptop is seized by a federal agent as she attempts to fly from Washington’s Dulles International Airport to London. Udy, a British citizen, is told by the agent that he has “a security concern” with her. “I was basically given the option of handing over my laptop or not getting on that flight,” she will recall. Udy is told that it is standard procedure to keep the computer for 10 to 15 days; over a year later, her laptop will not have been returned, and she will not be given any explanation. A tech engineer who wishes to remain anonymous will say he has a similar experience in the same airport months earlier. The engineer, a US citizen, says a federal agent requires him to open up his laptop and type in his password. “This laptop doesn’t belong to me,” he protests. “It belongs to my company.” He has little choice; he logs on, and the agent copies down every Web site he had visited on the laptop. The Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE)‘s Susan Gurley will say her organization has filed its own FOIA request to find out what happened to seized laptops and other electronic devices. “Is it destroyed right then and there if the person is in fact just a regular business traveler?” she asks. “People are quite concerned. They don’t want proprietary business information floating, not knowing where it has landed or where it is going. It increases the anxiety level.” The ALC’s Shiran Sinnar says that by examining the websites people visit and the phone numbers they store, “the government is going well beyond its traditional role of looking for contraband and really is looking into the content of people’s thoughts and ideas and their lawful political activities.” Legal experts say that if conducted inside the country, such searches would require a warrant and probable cause. The government insists that a laptop is legally the same as a suitcase, and can be opened and examined essentially at will. Law professor David Cole disagrees: “It’s one thing to say it’s reasonable for government agents to open your luggage. It’s another thing to say it’s reasonable for them to read your mind and everything you have thought over the last year. What a laptop records is as personal as a diary but much more extensive. It records every website you have searched. Every email you have sent. It’s as if you’re crossing the border with your home in your suitcase.” [Washington Post, 2/7/2008]
Entity Tags: Nabila Mango, US Customs and Border Protection, Association of Corporate Travel Executives, Asian Law Caucus, Amir Khan, David D. Cole, Maria Udy, Washington Dulles International Airport, Shirin Sinnar, Susan Gurley, Kamran Habib, San Francisco International Airport
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Ahmed Shayea. [Source: BBC]In an attempt to persuade Islamist militants to abandon violence, the Saudi government opens an unusual prison for militants designed to rehabilitate them. The small compound near Riyadh is called a “care center” and its inmates “beneficiaries.” It is run by the Interior Ministry’s newly-created Ideological Security Unit (ISU). The compound offers recreational facilities, including swimming pools, video games, and table tennis, even art therapy classes. Inmates are required to follow religious classes designed to modify their views. Since its opening, the center has processed former militants from Iraq as well as former Guantanamo prisoners. In a July 2008 report, the BBC interviews one of the inmates, Ahmed Shayea, who drove a truck bomb into the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad in August 2003, killing nine. He says he was tricked by Iraqi recruiters and the authorities have chosen to believe him. “I am now an enemy of al-Qaeda,” declares the former militant. According to the BBC, some former inmates have also received financial support after their release. [Terrorism Monitor, 8/15/2007; Christian Science Monitor, 10/9/2007; Strategic Comments, 5/2008; Sunday Times (London), 7/6/2008; BBC, 7/9/2008] Juma al-Dosari, who recruited people to join al-Qaeda in the US, is a beneficiary of this program after being mysteriously released from the Guantanamo prison in 2007 (see July 16, 2007).
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases FBI documents detailing 26 eyewitness accounts of prisoners abused by US personnel at Guantanamo. The FBI chose not to follow up 17 of the accounts. “These documents contain eyewitness FBI accounts of prisoner abuse which cannot be dismissed by the administration, and only underscore the need for a comprehensive investigation into the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and other US controlled detention facilities,” says the ACLU’s Amrit Singh. “The documents also call into question the FBI’s apparent decision to not follow up on prisoner abuses by Defense Department personnel. The fact that Defense Department policy allowed this treatment does not mean that it was legal, humane, or ethical.” The documents, compiled by FBI investigators after the Abu Ghraib scandal of 2004, contain eyewitness accounts by guards and interrogators of “aggressive mistreatment, interrogations, or interview techniques of GTMO detainees by representatives of any law enforcement, military, or bureau personnel which were not consistent with bureau guidelines.” Many of the eyewitness accounts focus on insulting the detainees’ religion:
Interrogators wrapped one detainee’s head in duct tape “because he would not stop quoting the Koran.”
An interrogator bragged about forcing a detainee to listen to “satanic black metal music for hours and hours.” That same interrogator later “dressed as a Catholic priest and baptized the detainee in order to save him.”
A Marine captain was observed enraging a detainee by squatting over a Koran in a fashion that the prisoner found extremely offensive.
After compiling these accounts, the FBI apparently chose not to pursue them further, citing the fact that what it observed was authorized by Defense Department policies. Only nine of the 26 accounts were slated for follow-up investigations. One incident marked “no further interview necessary” involved draping an Israeli flag around a detainee, shackling detainees to the floor, and subjecting them to excruciatingly loud music and strobe lights. ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer says: “The FBI appears to have turned a blind eye to the very abuses that most need investigating—those abuses that were expressly authorized by Defense Department policy. The FBI documents only remind us that a thorough and independent investigation is long overdue.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/3/2007]
Ryan Crocker [Source: CBC]In preparation for his expected announcement of a new “surge” of 21,500 combat troops for Iraq (see January 10, 2007), President Bush puts together a new team of advisers and officials to oversee his administration’s Iraq policy. The new team includes:
Zalmay Khalilzad as the ambassador to the United Nations. Khalilzad, the only Middle East native in a senior position in the administration, is the former ambassador to both Afghanistan and Iraq (see November 2003), a well-known neoconservative who formerly held a position with the oil corporation Unocal. He will replace interim ambassador John Bolton, an abrasive neoconservative who could never win confirmation in the post from the US Senate.
Ryan Crocker is the leading candidate to replace Khalilzad as the US ambassador to Iraq. Crocker, who speaks fluent Arabic, is currently the ambassador to Pakistan.
Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte will become the top deputy to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Negroponte, a controversial veteran of US foreign operations in Latin America and the Middle East, has also served as the US ambassador to Iraq. Rice is widely viewed as in dire need of a savvy, experienced deputy who can assist her both in handling the sprawling State Department bureaucracy, and focus her efforts to handle diplomatic efforts in the Middle East as well as in other regions.
Retired Admiral Mike McConnell, who headed the National Security Agency under former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, will replace Negroponte as DNI.
Admiral William Fallon, head of the US Pacific Command, will replace General John Abizaid as commander of the US forces in the Middle East. Abizaid has drawn media attention in recent months for his muted criticism of the Bush administration’s Iraqi policies.
Army General David Petraeus will replace General George Casey as the chief military commander in Iraq. Petraeus once headed the effort to train Iraqi security forces. Like Abizaid, Casey has been skeptical about the need for more US forces in Iraq. [USA Today, 1/5/2007; CBS News, 1/5/2007]
Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Unocal, United Nations, William Fallon, Ryan C. Crocker, George Herbert Walker Bush, George Casey, David Petraeus, John Negroponte, John P. Abizaid, George W. Bush, Mike McConnell, Condoleezza Rice, US Department of State
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
J. William Leonard, the director of the National Archives’s Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), writes to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales requesting an opinion on Vice President Dick Cheney’s decision to exempt his office from the mandate of Executive Order 12958. The order requires that everyone in the executive branch take steps to protect and secure classified information regarding national security, and report periodically to the ISOO (see 2003). Cheney’s position is that the vice president’s office is not strictly part of the executive branch. Leonard notes that until 2002 Cheney’s office did submit such reports to the ISOO. He also notes that under the Constitution, the vice president’s office is indeed part of the executive branch, and that if it is not, then it is in repeated material breach of national security laws, as it has had routine access to top secret intelligence reports and other materials that are only available to the executive branch. Leonard asks Gonzales to determine that Cheney’s office does indeed fall under the mandate of the executive order. [J.William Leonard, 1/9/2007 ] Gonzales will ignore the letter; Cheney’s office will attempt to abolish the ISOO (see May 29, 2007-June 7, 2007). [Henry A. Waxman, 6/21/2007 ]
Details of ‘surge’ troop deployments . [Source: Jordan Times] (click image to enlarge)In a major policy speech regarding Iraq, President Bush announces that he will order 21,500 more US combat troops to Iraq, in a troop escalation he calls a “surge.” The bulk of the troops will be deployed in and around Baghdad. In addition, 4,000 Marines will go to the violent al-Anbar province. In announcing the escalation, he concedes a point he has resisted for over three years, that there have not been enough US troops in Iraq to adequately provide security and create conditions favorable for an Iraqi democracy to take hold. He admits that his previous strategy was based on flawed assumptions about the unstable Iraqi government. “Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility lies with me,” he says. Bush says that to consider any withdrawals of American troops would be a grave mistake, and that by increasing the number of troops in Iraq now, conditions will improve to a point at which troops can be withdrawn. “To step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government,” he says. “Such a scenario would result in our troops being forced to stay in Iraq even longer, and confront an enemy that is even more lethal. If we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home.” Bush also commits the Iraqi government to meeting a series of “benchmarks,” tangible indicators of progress being made, that include adding a further 8,000 Iraqi troops and police officers in Baghdad, passage of long-delayed legislation to share oil revenues among Iraq’s ethnic groups, and a $10 billion jobs and reconstruction program, to be financed by the Iraqis. Bush aides insist that the new strategy is largely the conception of the Iraqi government, with only limited input from US planners. If successful, he says, the results will be a “functioning democracy” that “fights terrorists instead of harboring them.” [New York Times, 1/10/2007; ABC News, 1/10/2007; White House, 1/10/2007] While no one is sure how much the new policies will cost, Bush is expected to demand “billions” from Congress to fund his new escalation in the weeks ahead. [Marketwatch, 1/5/2005]
'New Way Forward' - The surge has a new marketing moniker, the “New Way Forward.” Some believe that the surge is more for political and public relations purposes than any real military effectiveness. “Clearly the deteriorating situation in Iraq is the overall background,” says political scientist Ole Holsti. The changes may indicate “they are looking for new bodies bringing fresh thinking…or you may have a kind of public-relations aspect,” to show Bush’s change in course is “more than just words.” [CBS News, 1/5/2007; USA Today, 1/5/2007]
Surge Already Underway - Interestingly, while Bush announces the “new” strategy of escalating the US presence in Iraq tonight, the escalation is already well underway. 90 advance troops from the Army’s 82nd Airborne are already in Baghdad, and another 800 from the same division are en route. The escalation will necessitate additional call-ups from the National Guard as well as additional reactivation of troops who have already toured Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, the naval group spearheaded by the aircraft carrier USS Stennis will shortly be en route to the Persian Gulf. Whether the new plan will work is anyone’s guess, say military commanders in Iraq. The escalation will take several months to implement and longer to see tangible results. One military official says, “We don’t know if this will work, but we do know the old way was failing.”
Contradicting Previous Assertions - In announcing the surge, Bush contradicts the position he has asserted since the March 2003 invasion—that military commanders were determining the direction of the war effort. Bush has repeatedly spoken of his disdain for micromanaging the war effort, and has said that he won’t second-guess his commanders. “It’s important to trust the judgment of the military when they’re making military plans,” he said in December 2006. “I’m a strict adherer to the command structure.” However, Bush balked at following the advice of many top military officials and generals, who have recommended a gradual drawdown in troop strengths, and in recent weeks replaced several top military officials who expressed doubts about the need or efficacy of new troop deployments in Iraq (see January 5, 2007). Instead, Bush believes the escalation will alleviate the drastically deteriorating security situation in Iraq. According to Pentagon officials, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who oppose the surge, have agreed to support it only grudgingly, and only because Bush officials have promised a renewed diplomatic and political effort to go along with the escalation. Outgoing Central Command chief General John Abizaid said in November that further troop increases were not a viable answer to the Iraq situation, and in their November 30 meeting, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki did not ask Bush for more troops, instead indicating that he wanted Iraqi troops to take a higher profile. Viewpoints differ on Bush’s interaction with his commanders up to this point—some have seen him as too passive with the generals and military advisers, allowing them almost free rein in Iraq, while others see him as asserting himself by forcing the retirements or reassignments of generals who disagree with his policies.
Rebuffing the ISG - Many observers believe the surge is a backhanded rebuff to the Iraq Study Group (see January 10, 2007).
Surge Plan Concocted at Right-Wing Think Tank - Interestingly, the surge plan itself comes largely from neoconservative planners at the American Enterprise Institute (see January 2007).
Long-Term Ramifications - The Joint Chiefs worry that a troop escalation will set up the US military for an even larger failure, without having any backup options. The Iraqis will not deliver the troops necessary for their own security efforts, they believe, and worry that US troops will end up fighting in what amounts to a political vacuum unless Bush comes up with a plan for dramatic political and economic changes to go along with the military effort. A surge could lead to increased attacks by Iraqi al-Qaeda fighters, open the troops up to more attacks by Sunni insurgents, and fuel the jihadist appeal for more foreign fighters to battle US forces in Iraq. And the escalation’s short-term conception—to last no more than six to eight months—might well play into the plans of Iraq’s armed factions by allowing them to “game out” the new strategy. The JCS also wonder just where Bush will find the troops for the surge. Frederick Kagan, one of the architects of the surge plan, and Republican presidential candidate John McCain want far more than 20,000 troops, but the Joint Chiefs say that they can muster 20,000 at best, and not all at once. Rumsfeld’s replacement, Robert Gates, played a key role in convincing the Joint Chiefs to support the escalation. The biggest selling point of the escalation is the White House’s belief that it will portray the administration as visibly and dramatically taking action in Iraq, and will help create conditions that will eventually allow for a gradual withdrawal of US troops: Bush says, “[W]e have to go up before we go down.” [Washington Post, 1/10/2007]
Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Edward Kennedy, George W. Bush, American Enterprise Institute, Carl Levin, Frederick Kagan, Harry Reid, Iraq Study Group, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Peter Pace, Robert M. Gates, John P. Abizaid, John McCain, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Donald Rumsfeld, Nouri al-Maliki, Nancy Pelosi, Ole Holsti
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
The CIA continues to fight an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit demanding that it turn over three key memos authorizing the detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists at secret overseas “black sites” (see November 10, 2006). Court documents filed by the agency cite national security concerns for keeping the documents hidden from public scrutiny. ACLU attorney Amrit Singh says: “The CIA’s declaration uses national security as a pretext for withholding evidence that high-level government officials in all likelihood authorized abusive techniques that amount to torture. This declaration is especially disturbing because it suggests that unlawful interrogation techniques cleared by the Justice Department for use by the CIA still remain in effect. The American public has a right to know how the government is treating its prisoners.” One document is a lengthy presidential order described by the CIA as a “14-page memorandum dated 17 September 2001 from President Bush to the director of the CIA pertaining to the CIA’s authorization to detain terrorists” (see September 17, 2001). Twelve of the 14 pages are “a notification memorandum” from the president to the National Security Council regarding a “clandestine intelligence activity.” ACLU officials say this statement “raises questions regarding the extent to which Condoleezza Rice was involved in establishing the CIA detention program as national security adviser.” The CIA declares in the brief that the presidential document is so “Top Secret” that NSC officials created a “special access program” governing access to it. The brief states that “the name of the special access program is itself classified SECRET,” meaning that the CIA believes that the disclosure of the program’s name “could be expected to result in serious danger to the nation’s security.” The other two documents are, respectively, an August 1, 2002 Justice Department memo “advising the CIA regarding interrogation methods it may use against al-Qaeda members” (see August 1, 2002), and an apparent “draft” version of the August 1 memo prepared for White House counsel Alberto Gonzales by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, the then-head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The draft memo apparently contends that physical abuse only equates to torture under US law if it inflicts pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” The memo was later rescinded (see December 2003-June 2004). The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer says: “Through these memos, the president and Office of Legal Counsel created a legal framework that was specifically intended to allow the CIA to violate both US and international law. While national security sometimes requires secrecy, it is increasingly clear that these documents are being kept secret not for national security reasons but for political ones.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/10/2007]
Irbil’s Iranian Liaison Office. [Source: Yahya Ahmed / Associated Press]US forces carry out two raids inside Iraq, capturing five Iranians as well as a large amount of documentary and computer data. Both raids are inside the Kurdish city of Irbil. One raid is at the Iranian Liaison Office, which is used as a local headquarters by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards; according to Iranian sources, five US helicopters land on the roof of the office building around 4 a.m. local time, and US soldiers break down doors, snatch up the five Iranians, and take away boxes of documents and computer equipment. The second raid, at the Irbil airport, ends differently, with US troops finding themselves confronting unfriendly Kurdish troops. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari says, “A massacre was avoided at the last minute.” No Iranians are detained as part of the airport raid. The two raids are part of a new US intelligence and military operation launched in December 2006 against Iranians allegedly providing assistance to Iraqi Shi’ite insurgents. Iran’s al-Quds Brigade, which provides funding and military training to other Shi’ite revolutionary groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, is the primary target of the US offensive. “Throughout Iraq, operations are currently ongoing against individuals suspected of being closely tied to activities targeting Iraqi and Coalition forces,” the headquarters of the US-led Multi-National Force-Iraq says in a prepared statement. The month before, two senior Iranians of al-Quds, Brigadier General Mohsen Chirazi and Colonel Abu Amad Davari, were captured in similar raids (see December 21-29, 2006), and freed shortly thereafter. [Alalam News, 1/11/2007; Washington Post, 1/12/2007; Newswire, 1/12/2007] US officials dismiss the raids as “routine.” [Reuters, 1/11/2007] Months later, a Kurdish government official says that the real target of the raids was not the Iranian liaison officials, but commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who were openly visiting Kurdish government officials. The commanders were not captured (see Early April, 2007). [Associated Press, 4/6/2007]
Rhetorical Escalation - Bush says that he has ordered US forces to “seek out and destroy the networks” arming and training US enemies, an indirect reference to Iran (see January 10, 2007). Joining Bush in the rhetorical escalation is General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who charges that Iran is “complicit” in providing weapons designed to kill American troops: “We will do all we need to do to defend our troops in Iraq by going after the entire network regardless of where those people come from.” The Iranian Liaison Office was opened with the approval of the Iraqi Kurds, who maintain a near-autonomous region in northern Iraq with the support of the US. Iran wants to upgrade the office to a formal consulate. US forces did not inform their Iraqi allies of the raids on the office beforehand; the raids may well disrupt Kurdish and Iraqi government attempts to deepen ties with the Iranian government. “This is a very, very dangerous thing,” says Zebari. The Iranian government has protested the raids, and the capture of their five officials, through Iraqi and Swiss diplomats to the United Nations (Switzerland represents US interests in Iran). Tehran insists that all five captured Iranians are diplomats, a claim rejected by US and Iraqi officials. [Washington Post, 1/12/2007] The State Department will assert, without presenting proof, that the Iranians are part of a much larger effort by Iran to support the Iraqi Shi’ite militias and insurgents. Apparently the United States’ charges that the Iranians are not diplomats rest on a bureaucratic foible: the five Iranians had applied for diplomatic accreditation, but their paperwork had not been fully processed. The Kurdish government were treating them as if they were accredited. Iran insists that the five are legitimate diplomats regardless of paperwork, and that by capturing them, the US is violating the Vienna Conventions and other international diplomatic regulations. But the US routinely ignores such laws in both Iraq and Afghanistan, causing criticism from human rights organizations and legal experts around the globe. Human Rights Watch researcher John Sifton says, “The US hasn’t articulated the legal grounds under which it detains ‘combatants’. They regularly conflate criminal terrorism, innocent civilians, and real combatants on the ground, and throw them all into the same pot. The vagueness of the war on terror has supplied the soil under which all this has flourished.” [Agence France-Presse, 1/25/2007; Asia Times, 3/31/2007]
Eventual Release of Some Captives - Months later, the US will release some of the captured Iranians (see November 6-9, 2007).
Entity Tags: al-Quds Brigade, US Department of Defense, Peter Pace, US Department of State, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Mohsen Chirazi, Human Rights Watch, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Abu Amad Davari, Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, Hezbollah, John Sifton, Iranian Liaison Office, Hoshyar Zebari, United Nations
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sends a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee informing it that the lawsuit against the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see August 17, 2006) is moot—the National Security Agency will now operate under the aegis of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) in its wiretaps. One of the FISC judges, Gonzales writes, has issued an “innovative” and “complex” order that allows the NSA to continue doing what it had been doing with the overall approval of the court, or at least the approval of the single FISC judge. Gonzales does not go into detail about the judge’s ruling, but the administration intensifies its attack on the lawsuit, asking an appeals court to set the previous ruling aside in light of the new FISC protocol, and even to erase the ruling from judicial history as a matter of “public interest.” The appeals court votes 2-1 to set aside the previous ruling; the majority opinion finds that the state secrets privilege prevents the courts from learning whether the plaintiffs in the case had the standing to sue. [Savage, 2007, pp. 207]
In a second day of testimony (see January 17, 2007), Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that the president has always had the inherent authority to bypass or ignore statutory law if he is acting in the interest of national security. Gonzales is referring to a recent Bush administration decision to use a sympathetic FISC judge to sign off on the warrantless wiretapping program (see January 17, 2007). “We commenced down this road five years ago because of a belief that we could not do what we felt was necessary to protect this country under FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act],” Gonzales testifies. “That is why the president relied upon his inherent authority under the Constitution. My own judgment is, the president has shown maturity and wisdom here in this particular decision. He recognizes that there is an inherent reservoir of inherent power that belongs to every president. You use it only when you have to. In this case, we don’t have to [anymore].” Yale law professor Jack Balkin strenuously disagrees. He points to a “remarkable similarity between the administration’s behavior in the Padilla case (see October 9, 2005 and December 21, 2005) and its behavior here.… Once again, the goal is to prevent a court from stating clearly that the president acted illegally and that his theories of executive power are self-serving hokum.” Instead of going to Congress for the authority to conduct a warrantless wiretapping program, Balkin writes that the administration used FISA’s supposed deficiencies “as an excuse to disregard the law, so that it could make claims of unbridled presidential authority to ignore FISA.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 207-208; Jack Balkin, 1/18/2007]
In brief, cautious testimony in the Lewis Libby perjury and obstruction trial, David Addington, the former senior counsel to Vice President Cheney and Libby’s successor as Cheney’s chief of staff, tells the court that in September 2003, Libby asked Addington whether the president had the authority to declassify government secrets and whether the CIA kept paperwork documenting its work. Addington says he replied yes to both (see September 2003); Addington testifies that Libby did not explain his request, and during the conversation, gestured at Addington as if to ask him to keep his voice down. Libby, Addington testifies, then told him, “I didn’t do it.” Addington says he did not ask Libby what “it” was, but surmised that he may have been referring to Joseph Wilson’s criticism of the Iraq war. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald believes Libby was denying his involvement in the leak of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. Addington also recalls an earlier meeting with Libby (see July 8, 2003), where Libby asked about the CIA paperwork involving sending a civilian overseas on a mission, an apparent reference to Wilson. Libby also asked Addington how one might determine if a CIA employee was working undercover. Addington, a former CIA counsel, told Libby there is no way to find that out, and testifies that he gave Libby a highlighted copy of the federal law barring disclosure of the identity of covert agents. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007; Washington Post, 1/30/2007; Associated Press, 1/30/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007]
In his new book America at Night, author and former CIA agent Larry Kolb writes: “[O]ur government has spent trillions turning Iraq into the world’s largest terrorist training camp, while pursuing policies guaranteed to keep at least a billion people around the workd intensely pissed at us. Our military forces are so overstretched that, if any real threat emerges, we will risk being seen as a paper tiger. And in spite of all the blue ribbon panels and commissions, and the new layer of bureaucracy called the Department of Homeland Security, the hundreds of billions of dollars spent to make us safe at home, America is less safe now from terrorism and cataclysm than it ever was.” [Kolb, 2007, pp. 225-226]
The Bush administration confirms that it believes US citizens can be designated as “enemy combatants” under the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006). The confirmation comes during the trial of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari and the only person on the American mainland being held as an enemy combatant. Al-Marri, currently held at the Charleston, South Carolina Naval brig, is a legal US resident accused of being a sleeper agent for al-Qaeda (see September 10, 2001). He was arrested in December 2001, while living with his family and studying computer science at Bradley University in Illinois. Al-Marri is charged, not with any direct terrorist activities, but with credit card fraud and lying to federal agents. He is challenging his indefinite detention in federal court, and the government is using the MCA to argue that al-Marri has no status in the courts because of his designation as an enemy combatant. One of the appellate court judges, Roger Gregory, asks Justice Department lawyer David Salmons, “What would prevent you from plucking up anyone and saying, ‘You are an enemy combatant?’” Salmons responds that the government can do just that, without interference from the courts, and adds, “A citizen, no less than an alien, can be an enemy combatant.” Gregory and the second of the three appellate judges, Diana Gribbon Motz, seem uncomfortable with the law’s provisions that the US judiciary has no role in such designations. When Motz asks Salmons about the difference between nations making war and individuals committing acts of terrorism, Salmons retorts with a familiar, and long-disputed, argument that the US Congress gave the government the right to detain terrorist suspects without charge or recourse to the judiciary when it granted the administration the right to use military force against terrorists after the 9/11 attacks (see September 14-18, 2001).
Theoretically Declaring War on PETA - Motz is skeptical of the argument, and asks a series of hypothetical questions about just what organizations or individuals President Bush could designate as enemy combatants. Using the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) as an example, Motz asks, “Could the president declare war on PETA?” Salmons says the question is unrealistic, but refuses to say that Bush could not do so if he chose. The Bush administration is careful in its use of the enemy combatant designation, Salmons says, therefore, “The representative of PETA can sleep well at night.” [New York Times, 2/2/2007]
Ignoring Constitutional Concept of 'Inalienable Rights' - Author and investigative journalist Robert Parry notes that in the al-Marri case, the Bush administration is arguing against the concept of “inalienable,” or “unalienable,” rights as granted by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. According to the administration, as long as the US is embroiled in what it calls the “war on terror,” Bush can use his “plenary,” or unlimited, executive powers to essentially waive laws and ignore Constitutional rights if he so chooses. Parry writes that “since the ‘war on terror’ will go on indefinitely and since the ‘battlefield’ is everywhere, Bush is asserting the president’s right to do whatever he wants to whomever he wants wherever the person might be, virtually forever.” Parry concludes, “The Justice Department’s arguments in the [al-]Marri case underscore that Bush still sees himself as a modern-day version of the absolute monarch who gets to decide which rights and freedoms his subjects can enjoy and which ones will be denied.” [Consortium News, 2/3/2007]
Entity Tags: Military Commissions Act, Bush administration (43), Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, Al-Qaeda, David Salmons, George W. Bush, Robert Parry, Roger Gregory, Diana Gribbon Motz, US Department of Justice, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Attorneys for accused al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see December 12, 2001) challenge his detention as an enemy combatant (see June 23, 2003). The attorneys, appearing before a three-judge panel in Richmond’s Fourth US Court of Appeals, say that al-Marri is being held unconstitutionally and should be allowed to challenge his imprisonment in court under his right to habeas corpus. Al-Marri, a Qatari national, is the only person being held as an enemy combatant on US soil. His lawyers argue that he has inalienable rights as a legal resident of the US, including the right to due process and to challenge his accusers in court. One of al-Marri’s lawyers, Jonathan Hafetz, tells the court: “The basic question is whether criminal or military law governs this case. [The president] cannot militarize the case of a man in Peoria with the stroke of a pen.” The government says that the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) gives the government the right to hold al-Marri and any other designated enemy combatant indefinitely, without recourse to the courts. Hafetz contends that the MCA doesn’t repeal defendants’ right to challenge their detention. He also says al-Marri was improperly classified as an enemy combatant. Justice Department lawyers argue that the court has no jurisdiction to hear such cases, and that the government has classified evidence proving that al-Marri is indeed an al-Qaeda agent. Judge Diana Gribbon Motz asks Justice Department lawyer David Salmons what would stop Bush from declaring anyone he chose an enemy combatant, even if that person was a citizen of a nation not at war with the US. “What I don’t understand is how you make one an enemy combatant,” she says. “What did the president look to, to call someone an enemy combatant?” Salmons says that Congress and the Supreme Court have granted Bush the authority to fight terrorism, (see September 14-18, 2001) and that authorization grants Bush the right to designate people with suspected al-Qaeda links as enemy combatants. Motz disagrees: “If the US can do this, it’s contrary to the Constitution. It would give other nations the ability to do that by declaring a US citizen an enemy combatant.” Salmons says the 9/11 attacks make the situation different. Al-Marri is supported in the court by, among others, former Attorney General Janet Reno, seven former Justice Department officials, and 29 US law school professors, who all contend that the government’s treatment of al-Marri is unconstitutional and sets a dangerous precedent in depriving US residents of basic legal rights. The case is al-Marri v. Wright, 06-7427. [Associated Press, 2/1/2007]
The US abruptly reverses course on its North Korean policy (see Mid-January 2003 and October 9, 2006) and reopens negotiations with the North Koreans. It offers to release $25 million in North Korean funds impounded by Banco Delta Asia and to allow chief negotiator Christopher Hill to finalize a deal on the North’s denuclearization. The US will provide heavy fuel oil as North Korea shuts down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor and allows international inspectors into the country. The deal is quite similar to the 1994 Agreed Framework negotiated by the Clinton administration (see October 21, 1994). The long-term goal is full disclosure of North Korea’s nuclear program, and normalized relations with the US. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “The North Korean regime seems no weaker for the years of antagonistic treatment by Bush conservatives” (see May 4, 2003). [BBC, 12/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 261]
Thom Hartmann. [Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]Author and talk show host Thom Hartmann issues a call for the repeal of the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006). He frames his argument with a quote from the revered British Conservative Prime Minister, Winston Churchill: “The power of the executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious, and the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist.” The MCA is “the most conspicuous part of a series of laws which have fundamentally changed the nature of this nation, moving us from a democratic republic to a state under the rule of a ‘unitary’ president,” Hartmann writes. The MCA is an “attack on eight centuries of English law,” the foundation of US jurisprudence that goes back to 1215 and the Magna Carta. While the MCA’s supporters in and out of the administration give reassurances that the law only applies to non-citizens, Hartmann notes that two US citizens, Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi, have already been stripped of their habeas corpus rights. Habeas corpus, Hartmann writes, is featured prominently in Article I of the US Constitution. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was flat wrong in saying that the Constitution provided “no express grant of habeas” (see January 17, 2007), Hartmann writes. “Our Constitution does not grant us rights, because ‘We’ already hold all rights. Instead, it defines the boundaries of our government, and identifies what privileges ‘We the People’ will grant to that government.” The authors of the Constitution “must be turning in their graves,” Hartmann writes, quoting the “most conservative” of those authors, Alexander Hamilton: “The establishment of the writ of habeas corpus… are perhaps greater securities to liberty and republicanism than any it [the Constitution] contains.… [T]he practice of arbitrary imprisonments have been, in all ages, the favorite and most formidable instruments of tyranny.” Hamilton’s colleague Thomas Jefferson said that laws such as habeas corpus make the US government “the strongest government on earth.” Now, Hartmann writes, the strength of that government is imperiled. [CommonDreams (.org), 2/12/2007]
Former Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), the former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says in an interview that the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak is one of the worst security breaches in US history. He also says that he believes Vice President Dick Cheney, and not just White House staffers such as Cheney’s former chief of staff Lewis Libby, was responsible for the leak. “It’s hard to believe that the chief of staff to the vice president was acting as a rogue agent,” Graham says. “What we have learned from the trial validates the suspicion that Libby was not just operating as a lone ranger. He was carrying out what the vice president wanted him to do, which was to besmirch Joe Wilson [Plame Wilson’s husband and a forceful critic of the Iraq war]. I think Libby has been a conspirator in one of the most reprehensible and damaging breaches of American security in modern history.” [National Journal, 2/15/2007]
Norman Podhoretz, one of the founding fathers of neoconservatism, meets with President Bush to urge a military strike against Iran. Podhoretz meets privately with Bush at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City, with Bush’s political adviser Karl Rove taking notes. The meeting is not logged in Bush’s schedule. Podhoretz will become senior foreign policy adviser to presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani (R-NY) (see October 28, 2007). The London Times characterizes the meeting as evidence of “the enduring influence of the neoconservatives at the highest reaches of the White House, despite some high-profile casualties in the past year.”
Iran Discussed - Podhoretz will say of his meeting with Bush: “I urged Bush to take action against the Iranian nuclear facilities and explained why I thought there was no alternative.… I laid out the worst-case scenario—bombing Iran—versus the worst-case consequences of allowing the Iranians to get the bomb.” Podhoretz recalls telling Bush: “You have the awesome responsibility to prevent another holocaust. You’re the only one with the guts to do it.” Podhoretz recalls Bush looking “very solemn.” Primarily, Bush listens without responding, though Podhoretz will recall both Bush and Rove laughing when he mentions giving “futility its chance,” a phrase used by fellow neoconservative Robert Kagan about the usefulness of pursuing United Nations sanctions against Iran.
No Sign of Agreement - “He gave not the slightest indication of whether he agreed with me, but he listened very intently,” Podhoretz will recall. Podhoretz is convinced that “George Bush will not leave office with Iran having acquired a nuclear weapon or having passed the point of no return”—a reference to the Iranians’ acquisition of sufficient technical capability to produce a nuclear weapon. “The president has said several times that he will be in the historical dock if he allows Iran to get the bomb. He believes that if we wait for threats to fully materialize, we’ll have waited too long—something I agree with 100 percent.”
No Need to Use Nukes - Podhoretz tells Bush that the US could neutralize Iran’s nuclear program without using its own nuclear weapons: “I’m against using nuclear weapons and I don’t think they are necessary.” Podhoretz is preparing a book, World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, which echoes the points he makes with Bush. According to Podhoretz, World War IV is the global struggle against terrorism (World War III was the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union). “The key to understanding what is happening is to see it as a successor to the previous totalitarian challenge to our civilization,” he says. Podhoretz asserts that Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran are merely different fronts of the same long war. [London Times, 9/30/2007] Podhoretz says that “the debate [over Iran] is secretly over and the people who are against military action are now preparing to make the case that we can live with an Iranian bomb.” [Daily Telegraph, 11/1/2007]
In hindsight, most observers believe that the break-in of the Nigerien embassy in Iraq that began the entire Iraq-Niger uranium affair (see January 2, 2001) was nothing more than it seemed—a crime of opportunity by individuals seeking to make money through fraud (see June or July 1999). They note that the burglary took place before President Bush took office. But Colonel Patrick Lang is not so sure. Lang, a former Middle East analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency, thinks that the entire affair may have been orchestrated to provoke an invasion of Iraq. He notes that he has no proof to back up his speculation. That being said, he goes on to note his belief that the US neoconservatives, who were so intensely interested in overthrowing Saddam Hussein, would not have hesitated to reach out to their friends in Italian intelligence (SISMI) even before Bush entered the White House. Lang tells author Craig Unger: “There’s no doubt in my mind that the neocons had their eye on Iraq. This is something they intended to do, and they would have communicated that to SISMI or anybody else to get the help they wanted.” SISMI would have cooperated, Lang says, if for no other reason than to ingratiate itself with the new US administration. Lang says: “These foreign intelligence agencies are so dependent on us that the urge to acquire IOUs is a powerful incentive by itself.… It would have been very easy to have someone go to Rome and talk to them or have one of the SISMI guys here [in Washington], perhaps the SISMI officer in the Italian embassy, talk to them.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 206-207]
Larry Wilkerson. [Source: New York Times]Military and national security experts outside of the neoconservative orbit view the US occupation of Iraq as a calamity that actually increases the threat towards both Israel and the US. “[Bush’s wars] have put Israel in the worst strategic and operational situation she’s been in since 1948,” says retired colonel Larry Wilkerson, who was Colin Powell’s chief of staff in the State Department. “If you take down Iraq, you eliminate Iran’s No. 1 enemy. And, oh, by the way, if you eliminate the Taliban, they might reasonably be assumed to be Iran’s No. 2 enemy.” The Brookings Institution’s Martin Indyk adds, “Nobody thought going into this war that these guys would screw it up so badly, that Iraq would be taken out of the balance of power, that it would implode, and that Iran would become dominant.” The Israeli hawks have decided that because of the disaster in Iraq, the only course left to protect itself against Iran is a military strike. “Attacking Iraq when it had no WMD may have been the wrong step,” says Uzi Arad, who advised former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on foreign affairs. “But then to ignore Iran would compound the disaster. Israel will be left alone, and American interests will be affected catastrophically.” [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
A report by the Center on Law and Security (CLS) finds that the “Iraq effect” is costing lives around the world. The report finds that the Iraq occupation is directly to blame for an upsurge in fundamentalist violence worldwide. It finds that the number killed in jihadist attacks around the world has risen dramatically since the Iraq war began in March 2003, comparing the period between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq with the period since the invasion. The count—excluding the Arab-Israel conflict—shows the number of deaths due to terrorism rose from 729 to 5,420. Iraq has served as the catalyst for a ferocious fundamentalist backlash, according to the study, which says that the number of those killed by Islamists within Iraq rose from 7 to 3,122. A similar rise in attacks has occurred in Afghanistan, Chechnya, in the Kashmir region between India and Pakistan, and throughout Europe. Both President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair insist that the opposite is true. Bush has said, “If we were not fighting and destroying the enemy in Iraq, they would not be idle. They would be plotting and killing Americans across the world and within our borders. By fighting these terrorists in Iraq, Americans in uniform are defeating a direct threat to the American people.” Blair insists that the Iraq war was not been responsible for Muslim fundamentalist attacks such as the 7/7 London bombings which killed 52 people (see July 7, 2005). “Iraq, the region and the wider world is a safer place without Saddam,” Blair said in July 2004. [Independent, 3/1/2007]
A report by a nonpartisan British think tank, the Oxford Research Group, warns that military strikes against Iran could actually accelerate Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. The report says military action could lead Iran to change the nature of its program and quickly build a few nuclear arms. Frank Barnaby, the nuclear scientist and arms expert who authored the report, says, "If Iran is moving towards a nuclear weapons capacity it is doing so relatively slowly, most estimates put it at least five years away." But an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities "would almost certainly lead to a fast-track program to develop a small number of nuclear devices as quickly as possible." It "would be a bit like deciding to build a car from spare parts instead of building the entire car factory." Western powers have threatened to expand sanctions on Iran; the US has not ruled out using force against Iran, but says it wants to give diplomacy a chance. [BBC, 3/5/2007]
A report by Glenn Fine, the Justice Department’s Inspector General, finds that the FBI used self-issued subpoenas known as National Security Letters (NSLs) to obtain phone, e-mail, and financial information on at least 143,074 targets between 2003 and 2005. The report’s main conclusions include:
More than half of those targeted are US citizens;
In many cases FBI officials evaded limits on NSLs and sometimes illegally issued them;
60% of the audited NSLs do not follow the FBI’s rules of issuance, and a further 22% contain unreported possible violations of the law, including improper requests and unauthorized collections of information;
The number of surveillance targets is probably far higher than the audit finds, because the FBI practices poor record-keeping that allow at least 22% of surveillance to go unreported;
Fine finds that agents had routinely issued the letters even when they had no open investigation, as required by law;
One office made arrangements with telecommunications firms to get information instantly, even before issuing NSLs, by sending “exigent letters” claiming it needed the requested information because of an emergency, and that the letters and necessary court warrants were in preparation (see Before Mid-March, 2007). But, the audit finds, “we could not confirm one instance in which a subpoena had been submitted to any US attorney’s office before the exigent letter was sent to the phone companies” and that “many were not issued in exigent circumstances.”
Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), a senior member of the House Homeland Security Committee, wants hearings. “The Inspector General’s report is a scathing critique of FBI misuse of the secretive process,” Markey says. Although the FBI has used NSLs for years, their usage soared after the USA Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001) eased the restrictions on them. Now, FBI agents in counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations can issue NSLs themselves, without court warrants or even the approval of a supervisor, as long as the agent affirms that the information they seek is “relevant” to an open investigation. The information obtained by NSLs remains in a massive “data warehouse,” where it can be accessed again for data-mining or subsequent investigations. [Wired News, 3/9/2007]
A photo of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed allegedly taken during his capture in 2003 (there are controversies about the capture). [Source: FBI]Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) attends his combat status review tribunal at Guantanamo Bay (see March 9-April 28, 2007), where he admits participating in the 9/11 attacks and numerous other plots, and offers a defense of his actions. He claims responsibility or co-responsibility for a list of 31 plots, including:
The 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993);
The 9/11 operation: “I was responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z”;
The murder of Daniel Pearl (see January 31, 2002): “I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl”;
The late 2001 shoe bombing operation (see December 22, 2001);
The 2002 Bali nightclub bombings (see October 12, 2002);
A series of ship-bombing operations (see Mid-1996-September 11, 2001 and June 2001);
Failed plots to assassinate several former US presidents;
Planned attacks on bridges in New York;
Various other failed attacks in the US, UK, Israel, Indonesia, Australia, Japan, Azerbaijan, the Philippines, India, South Korea, and Turkey;
The planned destruction of an El-Al flight in Bangkok;
The Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), and assassination plans for President Clinton (see September 18-November 14, 1994) and the Pope (see September 1998-January 1999); and
Planned attacks on the Library Tower in California, the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Empire State Building in New York, and the “Plaza Bank” in Washington State (see October 2001-February 2002). [US Department of Defense, 3/10/2007 ] However, the Plaza Bank was not founded until 2006, three years after KSM was captured. The bank’s president comments: “We’re confused as to how we got on that list. We’ve had a little bit of fun with it over here.” [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 3/15/2007]
On the other hand, KSM denies receiving funds from Kuwait or ever heading al-Qaeda’s military committee; he says this was a reporting error by Yosri Fouda, who interviewed him in 2002 (see April, June, or August 2002). In addition, he claims he was tortured, his children were abused in detention, and that he lied to his interrogators (see June 16, 2004). He also complains that the tribunal system is unfair and that many people who are not “enemy combatants” are being held in Guantanamo Bay. For example, a team sent by a Sunni government to assassinate bin Laden was captured by the Taliban, then by the US, and is being held in Guantanamo Bay. He says that his membership of al-Qaeda is related to the Bojinka operation, but that even after he became involved with al-Qaeda he continued to work with another organization, which he calls the “Mujaheddin,” was based in Pakistan, and for which he says he killed Daniel Pearl. [US Department of Defense, 3/10/2007 ] (Note: KSM’s cousin Ramzi Yousef was involved with the militant Pakistani organization Sipah-e-Sahaba.) [Reeve, 1999, pp. 50, 54, 67] Mohammed says he was waterboarded by his interrogators. He is asked: “Were any statements you made as the result of any of the treatment that you received during that time frame from 2003 to 2006? Did you make those statements because of the treatment you receive from these people?” He responds, “CIA peoples. Yes. At the beginning, when they transferred me.” [ABC News, 4/11/2008] He goes on to compare radical Islamists fighting to free the Middle East from US influence to George Washington, hero of the American War of Independence, and says the US is oppressing Muslims in the same way the British are alleged by some to have oppressed Americans. Regarding the fatalities on 9/11, he says: “I’m not happy that three thousand been killed in America. I feel sorry even. I don’t like to kill children and the kids.” Although Islam prohibits killing, KSM argues that there is an exception because “you are killing people in Iraq.… Same language you use, I use.… The language of war is victims.” [US Department of Defense, 3/10/2007 ] The hearing is watched from an adjoining room on closed circuit television by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) and former Senator Bob Graham (D-FL). [US Congress, 3/10/2007] KSM’s confession arouses a great deal of interest in the media, which is skeptical of it (see March 15-23, 2007 and Shortly After).
A cartoonist’s view of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s confession. [Source: Rob Rodgers / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s (KSM) confession at a Guantanamo Bay hearing (see March 10, 2007), becomes, as Time puts it, “a focus of cable TV and other media coverage, a reminder of America’s ongoing battle against international terrorism.” [Time, 3/15/2007] However, terrorism analysts are skeptical of some aspects of it. In an article entitled Why KSM’s Confession Rings False, former CIA agent Robert Baer says that KSM is “boasting” and “It’s also clear he is making things up.” Specifically, Baer doubts that KSM murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (see January 31, 2002). Baer notes that this “raises the question of just what else he has exaggerated, or outright fabricated.” Baer also points out he does not address the question of state support for al-Qaeda and that “al-Qaeda also received aid from supporters in Pakistan, quite possibly from sympathizers in the Pakistani intelligence service.” [Time, 3/15/2007] Pearl’s father also takes the confession of his son’s murder “with a spice of doubt.” [Hindustan Times, 3/23/2007] Journalist Yosri Fouda, who interviewed KSM in 2002 (see April, June, or August 2002), comments, “he seems to be taking responsibility for some outrages he might not have perpetrated, while keeping quiet about ones that suggest his hand.” Specifically, he thinks KSM may have been involved in an attack in Tunisia that killed about 20 people (see April 11, 2002). [London Times, 3/18/2007] KSM is also believed to have been involved in the embassy and USS Cole bombings (see Mid-1996-September 11, 2001), but these are also not mentioned. Terrorism analyst Bruce Riedel also does not take the confession at face value, saying, “He wants to promote his own importance. It’s been a problem since he was captured.” [Time, 3/15/2007] The Los Angeles Times notes that, according to intelligence officials, “the confession should be taken with a heavy dose of skepticism.” A former FBI manager says: “Clearly he is responsible for some of the attacks. But I believe he is taking credit for things he did not have direct involvement in.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/16/2007] The Seattle Post-Intelligencer points out that the Plaza Bank, one of the targets KSM says he planned to attack, was actually established in 2006, three years after he was captured. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 3/15/2007] Michael Scheuer, formerly head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, notes KSM only says he is “involved” in the plots and that 31 plots in 11 years “can hardly be called excessive.” [Hindustan Times, 3/23/2007] Some media are even more skeptical. For example, the Philadelphia Inquirer comments that KSM, “claimed credit for everything but being John Wilkes Booth’s handler.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/30/2007]
James Knodell. [Source: CommonDreams (.org)]White House Director of Security James Knodell testifies to the House Oversight Committee that the White House never investigated the possible involvement of White House officials in exposing Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity. [Think Progress, 3/16/2007; Editor & Publisher, 3/18/2007; Nation, 3/19/2007] Knodell says he is aware of no such internal investigation or report from anyone in the White House: “I have no knowledge of any investigation in my office.” The White House Office of Security would be the lawful body to conduct such an investigation. Knodell testifies only after the White House dropped its resistance to his appearing before the committee, which had threatened to subpoena the White House for Knodell’s testimony. Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) says that President Bush had promised a full internal probe (see September 30, 2003 and September 30, 2003), and Knodell again states he knows of no such probe. He adds that he has never talked to Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, political strategist Karl Rove, or anyone in the White House about the Plame Wilson leak. His knowledge of the affair, he says, comes from “the press.” He tells the committee that those who had participated in the leaking of classified information are required by law to own up to this, but he is not aware that anyone, including Rove, had done that. Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) calls the failure of the White House to mount an internal investigation “shocking,” and says that Knodell’s office’s failure to mount such a probe constitutes a “breach within a breach.” Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) calls it a “dereliction of duty.” Knodell promises to “review this with senior management.” He attempts to assert that since a criminal investigation was launched, no such internal probe was needed, but committee Democrats challenge his statement, saying that the criminal probe is narrowly focused, began only after months of inaction and stonewalling by the White House, and is required by law regardless of whatever other investigations are underway. Waxman asks, “[T]here was an obligation for the White House to investigate whether classified information was being leaked inappropriately, wasn’t there?” to which Knodell replies, “If that was the case, yes.” Committee Democrats also note that anyone who leaked information about classified information is required by law to have their security clearances denied, and ask Knodell why Rove still has such clearance. [Think Progress, 3/16/2007; Editor & Publisher, 3/18/2007]
Entity Tags: House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Bush administration (43), Elijah Cummings, Henry A. Waxman, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, White House Office of Security, Karl C. Rove, Valerie Plame Wilson, James Knodell, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Former Los Angeles Times editor Dean Baquet says his newspaper did not bow to government pressure in choosing not to run a story about allegations by AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009, December 15-31, 2005, and February 11, 2006 and After). In an ABC News report on Klein’s allegations of AT&T’s complicity with the National Security Agency (NSA) to illegally conduct warrantless electronic surveillance against American citizens, Klein says that the Times bowed to government pressure from the then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and the then-Director of the NSA Michael Hayden. Baquet, now the Washington bureau chief of the New York Times, says that while he spoke to both Negroponte and Hayden about the story, “government pressure played no role in my decision not to run the story.” Instead, Baquet says he and managing editor Doug Frantz decided “we did not have a story, that we could not figure out what was going on” based on Klein’s highly technical documents. Baquet says Times reporter Joseph Menn disagreed with his decision, “and was very disappointed.” Klein’s story was published in the New York Times in April 2006 (see April 7, 2006 and April 12, 2006). [ABC News, 3/26/2007] Klein will later write that Baquet’s explanation is an “absurd and flimsy excuse,” and will say it is obvious that the Los Angeles Times “capitulated to government pressure.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 62]
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