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For the first time, a scientific journal publishes a letter by scientists who think the World Trade Center buildings were destroyed by explosives, rather than impact damage and fire. The letter, cautiously entitled “Fourteen Points of Agreement with Official Government Reports on the World Trade Center Destruction,” is published in the Open Civil Engineering Journal. The lead author is Steven E. Jones, a physicist formerly at Brigham Young University. The abstract says: “Reports by FEMA and NIST lay out the official account of the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001. In this Letter, we wish to set a foundation for productive discussion and understanding by focusing on those areas where we find common ground with FEMA and NIST, while at the same time countering several popular myths about the WTC collapses.” [Open Civil Engineering Journal, 4/8/2008; Deseret News, 5/3/2008] However, unlike the vast majority of journals, the Open Civil Engineering Journal charges authors to publish their articles or letters in it. [Open Civil Engineering Journal, 2007]
Former Bush administration press secretary Scott McClellan, reflecting on the buildup to the Iraq invasion, says that President Bush “managed the [Iraq] crisis in a way that almost guaranteed that the use of force would become the only feasible option.” Between the increasingly belligerent rhetoric, the UN ultimatum (see September 12, 2002), and the “massive buildup of American arms and military forces in the region, which, for logistical reasons, couldn’t remain in the area indefinitely without being used,” war became the only viable option. McClellan blames Bush’s advisers as much as Bush, and observes: “[D]uring the buildup to war, the president’s advisers allowed his own hands to be tied, putting Bush in a position where avoiding conflict was more difficult than launching it. By creating this enormous momentum for war, the president and his advisers achieved several things. He made the job of his political opponents extraordinarily difficult, putting those who opposed the war in the position of arguing against what was almost a fait accompli. He trapped Saddam Hussein in a shrinking box, making it less and less acceptable for the dictator to continue to temporize and play games with his neighbors. He forced other countries… to make hard decisions as to whether or not they would permit a US-led invasion absent a clear imminent threat. Most important, the White House forestalled any debate about the fundamental goals and long-term plans for such an invasion. By pushing so hard on the WMD issue, reducing the larger issue of the future of the Middle East into a short-term emergency threat that must be dealt with now, the president and his advisers avoided having to discuss the big issues of what would happen after the invasion. Who would rule Iraq? How would the region respond? How long would the United States have to remain on the ground? How would tensions among the nation’s ethnic and religious groups be resolved? Few of these questions ever appeared on the national radar screen during the run-up to war. But they would come back to haunt the president, and the nation, in years to come, when it became clear that the stated rationales for war—the WMD threat and Iraq’s link to terrorism—were less than convincing. The lack of candor underlying the campaign for war would severely undermine the president’s entire second term in office.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 142-144]
The Department of Justice (DOJ) releases a long-anticipated report on the alleged torture and abuse of terrorist suspects in US custody. The report was spurred by a Congressional request after Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests showed that FBI agents at Guantanamo had raised concerns about CIA- and military-conducted interrogations. The report identifies then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice as a recipient of complaints of torture. [American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008] The report, issued by DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine, shows that CIA officials regularly ignored DOJ warnings that the interrogation tactics they were using amounted to “borderline torture.” The report also concludes that the Defense Department is ultimately responsible for how prisoners in military custody are being treated. As a result, the report finds no reason to bring criminal complaints against CIA officials or interrogators.
'Seven Months of Foot-Dragging' - The report documents what CBS News calls “seven months of foot-dragging” by the Pentagon, which attempted to water down the report. Failing that, the report cites numerous instances where Pentagon officials attempted to redact information in the report from public view. The report is lightly redacted.
FBI Praised for Legal, Non-Coercive Interrogation Techniques - The report generally praises the FBI’s own interrogation efforts, methods, and results. It confirms that when CIA officials became impatient with what they were calling “throwaway results” by FBI interrogators, particularly in the case of Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002), the CIA took over interrogations of prisoners such as Zubaida and began using harsh, torturous techniques. The FBI pulled its agents from the ongoing interrogations, refusing to participate in what it considered to be illegal actions (see May 13, 2004). (In 2009, a former FBI interrogator will confirm that the FBI gathered far more useful information from its non-coercive techniques than the CIA did with its “borderline torture” methods—see Late March through Early June, 2002 and April 22, 2009.) [CBS News, 5/20/2008; Newsweek, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Witnesses to Torture - However, the report makes clear that FBI agents witnessed harsh interrogations that may have constituted torture at three locations—Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison, Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Force Base facility, and Guantanamo Bay. FBI agents are explicitly banned from using brutality, physical violence, intimidation, or other means of causing duress when interviewing suspects. Instead, the FBI generally tries to build a rapport with suspects to get information. “Beyond any doubt, what they are doing (and I don’t know the extent of it) would be unlawful were these enemy prisoners of war,” one FBI employee, senior FBI lawyer Spike Bowman, reported. Bowman worried that the FBI would be “tarred by the same brush,” when asked whether the FBI should refer the matter to the Defense Department Inspector General, and added, “Were I still on active duty, there is no question in my mind that it would be a duty to do so.” The report cites two FBI agents at Guantanamo who “had concerns not only about the proposed techniques but also about the glee with which the would-be [military] participants discussed their respective roles in carrying out these techniques, and the utter lack of sophistication and circus-like atmosphere within this interrogation strategy session.” [CBS News, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Blocking Access to Zubaida - CIA general counsel John Rizzo refused to let DOJ investigators interview Zubaida for the report. The CIA has admitted that Zubaida was waterboarded (see Mid-May, 2002, March 2002 and April - June 2002). The report says that the CIA’s denial of access to Zubaida was “unwarranted,” and “hampered” the investigation, and contrasts the CIA’s actions with those of the Defense Department, which allowed DOJ investigators to interview Guantanamo prisoners. Rizzo told the DOJ that Zubaida “could make false allegations against CIA employees.” [Newsweek, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Split over Al-Khatani - The rift between the CIA and FBI came to a head over the treatment of Mohamed al-Khatani, one of several suspected terrorists accused of being the fabled “20th hijacker” for the 9/11 attacks (see December 2001). According to the report, al-Khatani was abused in a number of ways by military interrogators at Guantanamo; the report cites the use of attack dogs, shackling and stress positions, sexual humiliation, mocking al-Khatani’s religion, and extended sleep deprivation among other tactics. FBI officials complained to the White House after learning that military interrogators forced him to “perform dog tricks,” “be nude in front of a female,” and wear “women’s underwear on his head.” Al-Khatani did eventually “confess” (see July 2002), but FBI officials expressed serious doubts as to the validity of his confession, both in its accuracy and in its admissability in a criminal court. The then-chief of the Guantanamo facility, Major General Geoffrey Miller, ordered a “relentless” and “sustained attack” on al-Khatani. “The plan was to keep him up until he broke,” an FBI agent told superiors, and some of those superiors worried that those techniques would render his confession inadmissible. Al-Khatani was hospitalized for hypothermia during those interrogations. His lawyer, Gitanjali Gutierrez, says her client recently attempted suicide because of his treatment. “The tactics that were used against and the impact, the pain and suffering it caused him and the damage that it caused him does rise to a level of torture,” she says. The government recently dropped all charges against al-Khatani (see October 26, 2006 and January 14, 2009), because if he had been brought to trial, all of the evidence of his treatment would be made public. [CBS News, 5/20/2008; Newsweek, 5/20/2008; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/20/2008]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Glenn Fine, John Rizzo, Marion (“Spike”) Bowman, Gitanjali Gutierrez, Geoffrey D. Miller, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Condoleezza Rice, Abu Zubaida, Mohamed al-Khatani, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of Defense
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
The campaign of Republican presidential nominee John McCain (R-AZ) says that if elected, McCain would retain the right to operate his own warrantless wiretapping program against Americans. Like President Bush, McCain believes that the president’s “wartime” powers trump federal criminal statutes and court oversight. McCain’s campaign is also backing off on earlier assertions that more oversight is needed for telecom companies accused of illegally cooperating with the NSA’s domestic spying program; the campaign now says that McCain is for “unconditional immunity” from prosecution for telecoms. Campaign spokesman Doug Holtz-Eakin says: “[N]either the administration nor the telecoms need apologize for actions that most people, except for the ACLU and the trial lawyers, understand were Constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001.… We do not know what lies ahead in our nation’s fight against radical Islamic extremists, but John McCain will do everything he can to protect Americans from such threats, including asking the telecoms for appropriate assistance to collect intelligence against foreign threats to the United States as authorized by Article II of the Constitution.” The Article II citation has long been used by Bush officials to justify their contention that a president’s wartime powers are virtually unlimited. McCain’s stance directly contradicts a statement he made in December 2007, when he told Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage: “I think that presidents have the obligation to obey and enforce laws that are passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, no matter what the situation is.… I don’t think the president has the right to disobey any law.” McCain’s campaign is so far refusing to respond to requests to explain the differences between his December assertions and those made today. [Wired News, 6/3/2008]
Senate Democrats and Republicans spar over the just-released Senate Intelligence Committee report about the Bush administration’s use of intelligence in the run-up to war with Iraq (see June 5, 2008). However, no Democrat pushes for criminal charges against any White House officials, and administration officials dismiss the report as “old news.” Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) says of the report: “The tragic fact is, on issues of war and peace, which should require the most meticulous and the most precise adherence to the truth, the administration was too often careless with its words, including in some cases making presentations that were not substantiated by the available intelligence—or worse, directly contradicted by the available intelligence. The administration went well beyond what the intelligence community knew and what it believed.” Rockefeller says pushing for criminal charges would be pointless and would completely shut down already-strained relations between Congress and the White House. “It would mean nothing else, whether it’s clean air or FISA, would get done,” he says. “It’s like pressing for impeachment. It’s a grand act with only five or six months to go. It’s a futile act and it’s a wrong act, because we do have business to do.” Interestingly, Rockefeller acknowledges that charges should be brought, saying: “Should it be done in the wide sweep of history? Yes. Should it be done by us, now? No.” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) says, “It rots the very fiber of democracy when our government is put to these uses.” White House press secretary Dana Perino says that the report actually vindicates the administration in some areas, and in others merely rehashes old claims that the administration has already acknowledged and “taken measures to fix.” Republican committee member Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO) calls the report “political theater… that makes partisan points but isn’t grounded in fact,” and adds: “I don’t know why they’re trying to run against the Bush administration. Maybe they think it’s good. But unfortunately it denigrates the process of intelligence collection, analysis and oversight and that’s why it’s a very shabby example of how partisan politics can be misused in the intelligence community.” Former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke says there must be some accountability: “I just don’t think we can let these people back into polite society and give them jobs on university boards and corporate boards and just let them pretend that nothing ever happened when there are 4,000 Americans dead and 25,000 Americans grievously wounded, and they’ll carry those wounds and suffer all the rest of their lives.” Progressive commentator Arianna Huffington calls the report “a direct rebuke to the administration’s continued claims that it was the intelligence that was faulty, and that Bush and Co. were simply presenting what the CIA had given them.… The report doesn’t use the word, but we all know what it’s called when someone presents something as fact that’s directly contradicted by the evidence. A lie. Not a mistake. A lie.” [Hill, 6/5/2008; Huffington Post, 6/9/2008]
The Senate Intelligence Committee releases its long-awaited “Phase II” report on the Bush administration’s use of intelligence in convincing the country that it was necessary to invade Iraq. According to the report, none of the claims made by the administration—particularly that Iraq had WMD and that its government had working ties with Islamist terror organizations such as al-Qaeda—were based in any intelligence reporting. The committee released “Phase I” of its report in July 2004, covering the quality of intelligence used in making the case for war; the second phase was promised “soon afterwards” by the then-Republican leadership of the committee, but nothing was done until after Democrats took over the committee in November 2006. The report is the product of what the Associated Press calls “nasty partisan fight[ing]” among Republicans and Democrats, and largely fails to reveal much information that has not earlier been reported elsewhere. [Associated Press, 6/5/2008] The report is bipartisan in that two Republican committee members, Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE), joined the committee’s Democrats to sign the report. [Hill, 6/5/2008]
False Linkages between Iraq, Al-Qaeda - Time magazine notes that the report “doesn’t break any new ground,” but tries “to make the case that President Bush and his advisers deliberately disregarded conflicting intel and misled Americans on the severity of the Iraqi threat.” Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) says: “It is my belief that the Bush administration was fixated on Iraq, and used the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda as justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. To accomplish this, top administration officials made repeated statements that falsely linked Iraq and al-Qaeda as a single threat.” [Time, 6/6/2008]
Examination of Five Speeches - The report looks at the statements of current and former Bush administration officials such as President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, between October 2002 and the actual invasion of Iraq in March 2003 (see January 23, 2008), largely focusing on five speeches:
Cheney’s speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention (see August 26, 2002);
Bush’s statement to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002);
Bush’s speech in Cincinnati (see October 7, 2002);
Bush’s State of the Union speech (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003);
and Powell’s presentation to the United Nations Security Council (see February 5, 2003).
The report contrasts these speeches and statements to intelligence reports that have since then been released. The report only assesses the veracity of public comments made by Bush officials, and does not delve into any possible behind-the-scenes machinations by those officials or their surrogates. Some of the report’s conclusions:
“Statements which indicated that [Saddam] Hussein was prepared to give WMDs to terrorists were inconsistent with existing intelligence at the time, as were statements that suggested a partnership between the two.”
“Claims that airstrikes on their own would not be sufficient to destroy purported chemical and biological weapons in Iraq were unsubstantiated.”
“Most statements that supported the theory that Hussein had access to or the capacity to build chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons did not take into account the disagreements between intelligence agencies as to the credibility of the WMD allegations.”
'Statements beyond What the Intelligence Supported' - Rockefeller says the administration concealed information that contradicted their arguments that an invasion was necessary. “We might have avoided this catastrophe,” he says. The report finds that while many of the administration’s claims were supported by at least some intelligence findings, the administration routinely refused to mention dissents or uncertainties expressed by intelligence analysts about the information being presented. The committee’s five Republicans assail the report as little more than election-year partisanship, and accuse Democrats of using the report to cover for their own members, including Rockefeller and Carl Levin (D-MI), who supported the administration’s push for war at the time. [Senate Intelligence Committee, 6/5/2008 ; Associated Press, 6/5/2008; Time, 6/6/2008] Rockefeller answers the Republican charges by saying, “[T]here is a fundamental difference between relying on incorrect intelligence and deliberately painting a picture to the American people that you know is not fully accurate.” Committee member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) writes in a note attached to the report: “Even though the intelligence before the war supported inaccurate statements, this administration distorted the intelligence in order to build its case to go to war. The executive branch released only those findings that supported the argument, did not relay uncertainties, and at times made statements beyond what the intelligence supported.” [Huffington Post, 6/5/2008]
Entity Tags: Chuck Hagel, John D. Rockefeller, Colin Powell, Dianne Feinstein, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Carl Levin, Olympia Snowe, Al-Qaeda, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Senate Intelligence Committee, Saddam Hussein
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
The Supreme Court rules 5-4 that foreign terror suspects held without charge at Guantanamo Bay have the Constitutional right to challenge their detention in US civilian courts. The Court splits along ideological lines, with the more liberal and moderate members supporting the finding, and the more conservative members opposing it. Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered a centrist, writes the ruling. He writes, “The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times.” The ruling specifically strikes down the portion of the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006) that denies detainees their habeas corpus rights to file petitions. [Associated Press, 6/12/2008; Associated Press, 6/12/2008] The case is Boumediene v. Bush, and was filed in the Supreme Court in March 2007 on behalf of Lakhdar Boumediene, a Bosnian citizen held in the Guantanamo camp since 2002 (see January 18, 2002). It was combined with a similar case, Al Odah v United States (see October 20, 2004). [Oyez (.org), 6/2007; Jurist, 6/29/2007]
'Stinging Rebuke' for Bush Administration - The ruling is considered a serious setback for the Bush administration (a “stinging rebuke,” in the words of the Associated Press), which insists that terror suspects detained at Guantanamo and elsewhere have no rights in the US judicial system. It is unclear whether the ruling will lead to prompt hearings for detainees [Associated Press, 6/12/2008; Associated Press, 6/12/2008] ; law professor James Cohen, who represents two detainees, says, “Nothing is going to happen between June 12 and January 20,” when the next president takes office. Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr says the decision will not affact war crimes trials already in the works: “Military commission trials will therefore continue to go forward.”
Scalia: Ruling Will 'Cause More Americans to Be Killed' - President Bush says he disagrees with the ruling, and says he may seek new legislation to keep detainees under lock and key. Justice Antonin Scalia, the leader of the Court’s ideological right wing, agrees; in a “blistering” dissent, he writes that the decision “will make the war harder on us. It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.” In his own dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts argues that the ruling strikes down “the most generous set of procedural protections ever afforded aliens detained by this country as enemy combatants.” Joining Scalia and Roberts in the minority are Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. Voting in the majority are Kennedy and Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter, and John Paul Stevens.
Military Tribunals 'Doomed,' Says Navy Lawyer - Former Navy lawyer Charles Swift, who argued a similar case before the Supreme Court in Hamdan v Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), says he believes the ruling removes any legal basis for keeping Guantanamo open, and says that military tribunals are “doomed.” The entire rationale for Guantanamo and the tribunals, Swift says, is the idea that “constitutional protections wouldn’t apply.” But now, “The court said the Constitution applies. They’re in big trouble.” Democrats and many human rights organizations hail the ruling as affirming the US’s commitment to the rule of law; some Republican lawmakers say the ruling puts foreign terrorists’ rights over the safety of the American people. Vincent Warren, the head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, says: “The Supreme Court has finally brought an end to one of our nation’s most egregious injustices. By granting the writ of habeas corpus, the Supreme Court recognizes a rule of law established hundreds of years ago and essential to American jurisprudence since our nation’s founding.” [Associated Press, 6/12/2008]
Entity Tags: Stephen Breyer, Vincent Warren, US Supreme Court, Samuel Alito, Military Commissions Act, Peter Carr, Bush administration (43), Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Charles Swift, Clarence Thomas, David Souter, George W. Bush, Lakhdar Boumediene, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, James Cohen, John G. Roberts, Jr, US Department of Justice
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
David Addington and John Yoo before the House Judiciary Committee. [Source: Washington Post]David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Cheney and one of the architects of the Bush administration’s torture policies (see Late September 2001), testifies before the House Judiciary Committee. He is joined by Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, who authored or contributed to many of the legal opinions that the administration used to justify the torture and “extralegal” treatment of terror suspects (see November 6-10, 2001). Addington, unwillingly responding to a subpoena, is, in Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank’s description, “nasty, brutish, and short” with his questioners. [Washington Post, 6/27/2008] He tells lawmakers that the world has not changed much since the 9/11 attacks: “Things are not so different today as people think. No American should think we are free, the war is over, al-Qaeda is not coming.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/27/2008]
Refusing to Define 'Unitary Executive' - Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) peppers Addington with questions about the Bush administration and its penchant for the “unitary executive” paradigm, which in essence sees the executive branch as separate and above the other two, “lesser” branches of government. Addington is one of the main proponents of this theory (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But instead of answering Conyers’s questions, he slaps away the questions with what Milbank calls “disdain.”
Addington: “I frankly don’t know what you mean by unitary theory.”
Conyers: “Have you ever heard of that theory before?”
Addington: “I see it in the newspapers all the time.”
Conyers: “Do you support it?”
Addington: “I don’t know what it is.”
Conyers (angrily): “You’re telling me you don’t know what the unitary theory means?”
Addington: “I don’t know what you mean by it.”
Conyers: “Do you know what you mean by it?”
Addington: “I know exactly what I mean by it.”
Open Contempt - He flatly refuses to answer most questions, and treats the representatives who ask him those questions with open contempt and, in Milbank’s words, “unbridled hostility.” One representative asks if the president is ever justified in breaking the law, and Addington retorts, “I’m not going to answer a legal opinion on every imaginable set of facts any human being could think of.” When asked if he consulted Congress when interpreting torture laws, Addington snaps: “That’s irrelevant.… There is no reason their opinion on that would be relevant.” Asked if it would be legal to torture a detainee’s child (see After September 11, 2002), Addington answers: “I’m not here to render legal advice to your committee. You do have attorneys of your own.” He offers to give one questioner advice on asking better questions. When asked about an interrogation session he had witnessed at Guantanamo, he replies: “You could look and see mouths moving. I infer that there was communication going on.” At times he completely ignores questions, instead writing notes to himself while the representatives wait for him to take notice of their queries. At other times, he claims an almost complete failure of memory, particularly regarding conversations he had with other Bush officials about interrogation techniques. [Washington Post, 6/27/2008] (He does admit to being briefed by Yoo about an August 2002 torture memo (see August 1, 2002), but denies assisting Yoo in writing it.) [Los Angeles Times, 6/27/2008] Addington refuses to talk more specifically about torture and interrogation practices, telling one legislator that he can’t speak to him or his colleagues “[b]ecause you kind of communicate with al-Qaeda.” He continues, “If you do—I can’t talk to you, al-Qaeda may watch C-SPAN.” When asked if he would meet privately to discuss classified matters, he demurs, saying instead: “You have my number. If you issue a subpoena, we’ll go through this again.” [Think Progress, 6/26/2008; Washington Post, 6/27/2008]
Yoo Dodges, Invokes Privilege - Milbank writes that Yoo seems “embolden[ed]” by Addington’s “insolence.” Yoo engages in linguistic gymnastics similar to Addington’s discussion with Conyers when Keith Ellison (D-MN) asks him whether a torture memo was implemented. “What do you mean by ‘implemented’?” Yoo asks. Ellison responds, “Mr. Yoo, are you denying knowledge of what the word ‘implement’ means?” Yoo says, “You’re asking me to define what you mean by the word?” Ellison, clearly exasperated, retorts, “No, I’m asking you to define what you mean by the word ‘implement.’” Yoo’s final answer: “It can mean a wide number of things.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2008] Conyers asks Yoo, “Could the president order a suspect buried alive?” Yoo responds, “Uh, Mr. Chairman, I don’t think I’ve ever given advice that the president could order someone buried alive.” Conyers retorts: “I didn’t ask you if you ever gave him advice. I asked you thought the president could order a suspect buried alive.” Yoo answers, “Well Chairman, my view right now is that I don’t think a president—no American president would ever have to order that or feel it necessary to order that.” Conyers says, “I think we understand the games that are being played.” Reporter Christopher Kuttruff writes, “Throughout his testimony, Yoo struggled with many of the questions being asked, frequently delaying, qualifying and invoking claims of privilege to avoid answering altogether.” [Human Rights First, 6/26/2008; Truthout (.org), 6/27/2008]
Retired AT&T “whistleblower” Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009) has a short essay published in Wired News, sharply criticizing the recently passed legislation that amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA—see July 10, 2008) and granted telecommunications firms immunity from prosecution for helping government agencies illegally spy on American citizens. Klein initially offered the essay in letter form to the New York Times, but although the editors there showed what Klein will call “some interest,” they rejected the letter. Instead, Wired News’s Ryan Singel accepted the letter for one of his “Threat Level” columns. Singel describes Klein as “furious” at the vote, and quotes Klein: “[Wednesday]‘s vote by Congress effectively gives retroactive immunity to the telecom companies and endorses an all-powerful president. It’s a Congressional coup against the Constitution. The Democratic leadership is touting the deal as a ‘compromise,’ but in fact they have endorsed the infamous Nuremberg defense: ‘Just following orders.’ The judge can only check their paperwork. This cynical deal is a Democratic exercise in deceit and cowardice.… Congress has made the FISA law a dead letter—such a law is useless if the president can break it with impunity. Thus the Democrats have surreptitiously repudiated the main reform of the post-Watergate era and adopted Nixon’s line: ‘When the president does it that means that it is not illegal.’ This is the judicial logic of a dictatorship. The surveillance system now approved by Congress provides the physical apparatus for the government to collect and store a huge database on virtually the entire population, available for data mining whenever the government wants to target its political opponents at any given moment—all in the hands of an unrestrained executive power. It is the infrastructure for a police state.” [Wired News, 6/27/2008; Klein, 2009, pp. 108]
President Bush signs the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA), a revamping and expansion of the original Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). The legislation passed the House by a sweeping 293 to 129 votes, with most Democratic Congressional leaders supporting it over the opposition of the more liberal and civil liberties-minded Democrats. Republicans were almost unanimously supportive of the bill. Though Democratic Senators Russell Feingold (D-WI) and Christopher Dodd (D-CT) managed to delay the bill’s passage through the Senate, their attempt to modify the bill was thwarted by a 66-32 margin. (Dodd credits AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009) as one of the very few people to make the public aware of the illegal NSA wiretapping program, which the FISA amendment would protect. Without Klein, Dodd states, “this story might have remained secret for years and years, causing further erosion of our rights.”) Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, gave his qualified support to the bill, stating: “Given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as president, I will carefully monitor the program.” Obama had opposed an earlier Senate version that would have given “blanket immunity” to the telecommunications companies for their participation in the illegal NSA wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who organized Democratic support for the bill in the House, said that she supported the bill primarily because it rejects Bush’s argument that a wartime chief executive has the “inherent authority” to conduct some surveillance activity he considers necessary to fight terrorism. It restores the legal notion that the FISA law is the exclusive rule on government spying, she said, and added: “This is a democracy. It is not a monarchy.” Feingold, however, said that the bill granted “retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies that may have engaged in President Bush’s illegal wiretapping program.” The amendments restore many of the provisions of the expired Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) that drastically modify the original FISA legislation and grant the government broad new surveillance powers. Like the PAA, the FAA grants “third parties” such as telecommunications firms immunity from prosecution for engaging in illegal surveillance of American citizens if they did so in partnership with government agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA). [Washington Post, 6/20/2008; CNN, 6/26/2008; US Senate, 7/9/2008; White House, 7/10/2008; Klein, 2009, pp. 95-97] Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) actually refused to honor a “hold” placed on the bill by Dodd, a highly unusual move. Klein will later note that Reid has in the past always honored holds placed on legislation by Republicans, even if Democrats were strongly supportive of the legislation being “held.” Klein will write that Pelosi crafted a “showpiece” FISA bill without the immunity provisions, garnering much praise for her from civil liberties organizations; however, Pelosi’s colleague House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) had secretly worked with the White House to craft a bill that preserved immunity for telecoms, and on June 10, Pelosi “rammed” that bill through the House. The final bill actually requires the judiciary to dismiss lawsuits brought against telecom firms if those firms can produce evidence that they had worked in collusion with the NSA. Feingold later observes that the final bill is not a “compromise, it is a capitulation.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 101-103] Klein will write that Democrats and Republicans have worked together to “unw[ind] one of the main reforms of the post-Watergate era and accepted the outrageous criminal rationalizations of [President] Nixon himself.” Klein will quote Nixon as saying, “If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal” (see April 6, 1977), and will say that is “the essence of the FISA ‘compromise’” and turned Congress into the White House’s “rubber stamp.… It is the twisted judicial logic of a dictatorship.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 107]
Entity Tags: Nancy Pelosi, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA Amendments Act of 2008, Christopher Dodd, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Mark Klein, Russell D. Feingold, Richard M. Nixon, Harry Reid, Steny Hoyer, National Security Agency, Protect America Act
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Yousaf Raza Gillani. [Source: Public Domain]Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, visits the US and meets with President George Bush in Washington, D.C. Bush privately confronts Gillani with evidence that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, has been helping the Taliban and al-Qaeda. US intelligence has long suspected that Pakistan has been playing a “double game,” accepting over a billion dollars of US aid per year meant to help finance Pakistan’s fight with Islamic militants, but at the same time training and funding those militants, who often go on to fight US soldiers in Afghanistan. The London Times reports that Gillani “was left in no doubt that the Bush administration had lost patience with the ISI’s alleged double game.” Bush allegedly warned that if one more attack in Afghanistan or elsewhere were traced back to Pakistan, the US would take “serious action.” The key evidence is that US intelligence claims to have intercepted communications showing that the ISI helped plan a militant attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier in the month (see July 7, 2008). US officials will leak this story of ISI involvement to the New York Times several days after Bush’s meeting with Gillani (see August 1, 2008). Gillani also meets with CIA Director Michael Hayden, who confronts him with a dossier on ISI support for the Taliban. Pakistanis officials will claim they were shocked at the “grilling” they received. One Pakistani official who came to the US with Gillani will say, “They were very hot on the ISI. Very hot. When we asked them for more information, Bush laughed and said, ‘When we share information with your guys, the bad guys always run away’.” When the story of Bush’s confrontation with Gillani is leaked to the press, Pakistani officials categorically deny any link between the ISI and militants in Afghanistan. But senior British intelligence and government officials have also told the Pakistanis in recent days that they are convinced the ISI was involved in the embassy bombing. This is believed to be the first time the US has openly confronted Pakistan since a warning given several days after 9/11 (see September 13-15, 2001). The US is said to be particularly concerned with the ISI’s links to Jalaluddin Haqqani, who runs a militant network that the US believes was involved in the bombing. And the US is worries about links between the ISI and Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistan-based militant group that is said to have been behind a recent attack against US forces in Afghanistan that killed nine. [London Times, 8/3/2008]
Explosives on a chip [Source: Gary Meek/Georgia Institute of Technology]According to an article published in The Environmentalist, a peer-reviewed scientific journal published by Springer Netherlands, air quality data collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at Ground Zero support the hypothesis that cutting charges made with thermite were used to demolish the World Trade Center. The article by authors (and 9/11 truth activists) Kevin Ryan, James Gourley, and Steven Jones says the presence of thermite would best explain three major documented anomalies: [Ryan, Gourley, and Jones, 8/4/2008]
1) The Persistence of Fires at Ground Zero - As has been extensively reported, the rubble at Ground Zero continued to burn for months after 9/11, despite rain as well as firefighters’ use of large quantities of water and of the chemical fire suppressant Pyrocool. [New York Times, 11/19/2001] There is also eyewitness and photographic evidence of molten metal (see September 12, 2001-February 2002) and of explosions accompanied by white dust clouds. The book Aftermath: World Trade Center Archive by photographer Joel Meyerowitz shows a picture of such an explosion taking place on November 8, 2001. [Meyerowitz, 2006, pp. 178] Another photography books by NYPD officer John Botte also shows a picture of smoke emerging from the pile at Ground Zero and explains: “Occasionally, a huge flame would shoot out from the middle of the pile, sounding like a blow torch, as it did here.” [Botte, 2006, pp. 48-49]
2) Spikes of Certain Chemicals in the Air - EPA data shows that several spikes of chemical products of combustion, called volatile organic chemicals (VOC), occurred in October and November 2001, and in February 2002. According to the authors, these spikes indicate “abrupt, violent fires.”
3) The Presence of 1,3-Diphenylpropane - A third anomaly was the presence of large quantities of 1,3-diphenylpropane (1,3-DPP) in the air, a chemical that had not been found in previous structure fires. An EPA scientist told Newsday, “We’ve never observed it in any sampling we’ve ever done.” [Newsday, 9/14/2003]
A possible explanation would be the presence of novel “energetic nanocomposites” which include 1,3-DPP, according to scientific articles reviewed by Ryan et al. Such materials are “amenable to spray-on applications.” A 2002 report said: “The energetic coating dries to give a nice adherent film. Preliminary experiments indicate that films of the hybrid material are self-propagating when ignited by thermal stimulus.” [Ryan, Gourley, and Jones, 8/4/2008] The main center for nanocomposites research is Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). An October 2000 article in a LLNL publication provided an introduction to the research conducted there: “Energetic nanocomposites have a fuel component and an oxidizer component mixed together. […] In one such material (termed a thermite pyrotechnic), iron oxide gel reacts with metallic aluminum particles to release an enormous amount of heat. ‘These reactions typically produce temperatures in excess of 3,500 degrees Celsius’ says [LLNL researcher Randy] Simpson.” [Science & Technology Review, 10/2000] The authors conclude that “[t]he presence of energetic materials, specifically energetic nanocomposites, at [Ground Zero], has the potential to explain much of the unusual environmental data seen at the WTC. Thermite […] is such a pyrotechnic mixture that cannot be easily extinguished and is a common component of energetic nanocomposites.… [T]he detection of 1,3-DPP at the WTC supports this hypothesis. Finally, the spikes in VOCs, detected by EPA on specific dates, are more readily explained as a result of short-lived, violent fires caused by energetic materials.” [Ryan, Gourley, and Jones, 8/4/2008]
The Kashgar attack: a policeman holding a machete. [Source: New York Times]Sixteen policemen are killed in an attack by separatist Uighur militants in Kashgar, a border town in China’s western province of Xinjiang. According to the official account, two men drive a dump truck into a group of border police on their morning jog, then attack them with grenades and machetes. The attackers may belong to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a separatist group classified as a terrorist organization by China and the United States. [New York Times, 8/5/2008] However, several Westeners who witness the attack and take photographs from a nearby hotel will dispute the official account. They will say that, immediately after a truck had plowed into a large group of paramilitary border police, several men wearing the same green uniform were seen attacking other officers on the ground with machetes. [New York Times, 9/25/2008]
Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld, a former Army prosecutor at Guantanamo, resigns his position after becoming increasingly disillusioned and despondent over the treatment of detainees at the facility, many of whom he believes are likely innocent.
A Reluctant Believer in Stories of Abuse - Vandeveld began as an enthusiastic prosecutor. He joined to help avenge the 9/11 attacks, and served for seven years as a military lawyer in Bosnia, Africa, Afghanistan, and Iraq. “All of us fought because we believed that we were protecting America and its ideals,” he will later write. “But my final tour of duty made me question everything we had done.” Vandeveld was a prosecutor for the Office of Military Commissions in Guantanamo from June 2007 through September 2008. He will write, “Warning signs appeared early on, but I ignored them.” He was powerfully impressed when his superior officer, Colonel Morris Davis, resigned rather than agree to pursue politically motivated prosecutions (see October 4, 2007). Vandeveld’s own turning point came when he began working on the prosecution of Mohammed Jawad, who was 16 at the time he was captured (see December 17, 2002). When Vandeveld learned that Jawad claimed to have been horrifically abused while in US custody, as he later recalls: “I accused him of exaggerating and ridiculed his story as ‘idiotic.’ I did not believe that he was a juvenile, and I railed against Jawad’s defense attorney, whom I suspected of being a terrorist sympathizer.” He came to change his mind, eventually filing a declaration in federal court “stating that it is impossible to prepare a fair prosecution against detainees at Guantanamo Bay (see January 13, 2009).… I had concluded that the system of handling evidence is a haphazard farce. I saw this clearly with Jawad.” Vandeveld will write that he has seen evidence proving both Jawad’s age and his stories of being brutalized, including beatings, being thrown down a flight of stairs, and being subjected to an intense program of sleep deprivation (see June 19, 2008): “As a juvenile, Jawad should have been treated with care, held separately from the adult population, and provided educational and other rehabilitation services. Instead, he was placed in isolation and deprived of sleep. More than once he tried to commit suicide, according to detainee records” (see December 2003).
Torturing an Innocent Man - Vandeveld began combing through evidence suggesting that Jawad was innocent, and found that not only had Jawad been duped and drugged by the terrorists who recruited him, the evidence shows that he never carried out the attack against US soldiers of which he stands accused. Vandeveld writes of the difficulties he had in gathering the evidence; military investigators repeatedly kept it from him. “Only after long delays and many, many requests was it finally given to me,” he will later write, “because even after nearly seven years, the military commissions do not have a system in place for discovering exculpatory evidence or providing it to the defense” (see January 20, 2009).
Sinking into Despair - Vandeveld began working towards Jawad’s release to his family in Afghanistan. But Vandeveld’s superiors refused to countenance the idea. Vandeveld will write of his increasing depression and despair, and his inability to discuss his mental anguish with his family or friends due to the classified nature of the case. He finally turned to a Jesuit priest, Father John Dear, whom, he writes, “has written and spoken widely about justice.” He could not give Dear more than an overview of the situation, but Dear’s advice was blunt. “Quit Gitmo,” Dear told him. “The whole world knows it is a farce. Refuse to cooperate with evil, and start your life over.” But Vandeveld was afraid to take Dear’s advice. As he recalls, “I was afraid of losing friends, my job, whatever popularity I enjoyed, and my status as someone who was well thought of in this community.”
Resignation - It was Dear and, ironically, Jawad’s defense lawyer, whom Vandeveld descirbes as “a scorned adversary whose integrity and intelligence transformed him into a trusted friend,” who finally led Vandeveld to make a decision: he resigns. His final appearance before the Guantanamo military commissions was as a witness in Jawad’s defense (see January 13, 2009). “My testimony was a confession of sorts,” he later writes, “an acknowledgment of the error of my own ways as well as a candid admission of the shortcomings of the system that I had so enthusiastically supported.” [Washington Post, 1/18/2009] Vandeveld will write that Guantanamo has become a “stain” on the US’s international reputation (see January 18, 2009). He will also call for Jawad’s release (see January 13, 2009).
Giulietto Chiesa, a prominent Italian journalist who is also a member of the European Parliament, calls for an international tribunal to probe the events of 9/11. Chiesa makes his appeal in Berlin where he is to show his documentary Zero: An Investigation of 9/11, which argues that the US government’s account cannot be true. He says: “If feelings were strong enough a positive result could be obtained, but it would not happen immediately. So far it’s been the US administration that has won the information fight and obtained their result—unfortunately. Our task is to inform millions of people of the true situation. Everybody should be involved in this struggle with a tribunal or commission helping once we win approval for the idea.” Chiesa was a correspondent in Moscow for many years (see June 16, 1999). He announces that his film will be shown on Russian television (see September 12, 2008). [Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg), 9/8/2008]
’Iron atoms in steel: Black balls show irregularities that disrupt magnetic fields, weakening steel.’ [Source: BBC]Sergei Dudarev, a scientist with Britain’s Atomic Energy Agency, says that newly-discovered properties of steel could explain why the World Trade Center towers collapsed. Dr. Dudarev researches steel that can withstand the extreme temperatures inside a nuclear fusion reactor. He says that at about 500° Celsius, a temperature often reached in building fires, tiny irregularities in the structure of steel can cause a softening of the metal, although that is still far below the melting point. Dudarev says: “The steel didn’t melt, it just became soft. It is an unusual state and the temperatures in the Twin Towers were high enough to cause it because the thermal insulation was knocked off the girders through the impact with the aircraft.” [Guardian, 9/9/2008; BBC News, 9/10/2008; Independent, 9/10/2008; ABC Radio National (Australia), 9/20/2008]
Mahdi Dakhlallah, a former Syrian minister of information, writes in the newspaper Teshreen that the US may have orchestrated the 9/11 attacks to justify the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. “These plans were ready and prepared [in advance]—and all that was needed was to find a pretext to begin their immediate implementation.… No one believes that it was possible to invade Afghanistan and Iraq in the same way and so fast had it not been for the 9/11 attacks. That’s how it always is: the end justifies the means.” [Jerusalem Post, 9/11/2008; Middle East Media Research Institute, 9/11/2008]
Russia’s Channel One broadcasts Zero: An Investigation into 9/11, a documentary made by the Italian journalist Giulietto Chiesa that disputes the US government’s account of the 9/11 attacks, followed by a discussion between various Russian and foreign personalities. While some panel members defend the US government’s account, others reject it and praise the film. Vitaly Tretyakov, the former editor in chief of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, a major daily newspaper, calls the 9/11 Commission’s report “fiction” and says he could not believe that a small group of terrorists could have masterminded the attacks. Another journalist, Mikhail Leontyev, who is a Channel One presenter and editor in chief of Profil magazine, also expresses disbelief: “A certain organization committed a totally extraordinary act from the point of view of its coordination. Allegedly, this organization still exists, it continues fighting and killing people; it is keeping the US army in two countries in the world and, at the same time, there has not been a single [terrorist] act on the territory of the United States since.” He also says that the alleged organizers were controlled by US intelligence: “all the people who are regarded as the fictitious or real organizers of this [terrorist] act, all these people were controlled by the American special services.” The collapse of the World Trade Center is also discussed. Ashot Tamrazyan, the director of the Risks and Security of Buildings research center, says his organization had created a model and carried out many tests that had shown that the Twin Towers could not have collapsed unless there were other contributing factors. Robert Bridge, the editor in chief of the Moscow News, an English-language newspaper, says he does not believe Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon because of the lack of debris: “In any plane crash there are remains left. There is luggage, there are seats, etc.… Why did this plane crash so differently from any other crash we have seen?” Vladimir Dezhurov, a cosmonaut who observed the 9/11 events from the International Space Station, also questions the Pentagon crash (see (Between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He says an air crash always leaves debris behind. [Francesco Tre and Franco Fracassi, 2008; BBC Monitoring, 9/12/2008] Commenting on the broadcast, a Weekly Standard article entitled “The Russian Government Warms Up to 9/11 Conspiracy Theories” says that the Kremlin is promoting 9/11 skepticism to stoke anti-Americanism (see also November 2, 2008). [Weekly Standard, 10/13/2008]
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) files a lawsuit against the National Security Agency (NSA), President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, former Attorney General and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, former Cheney chief of staff David Addington, and other members of the Bush administration. The EFF claims the lawsuit is “on behalf of AT&T customers to stop the illegal unconstitutional and ongoing dragnet surveillance of their communications and communications records.” The EFF is referring to its ongoing lawsuit against AT&T and other telecommunications firms, which it accuses of colluding with the NSA to illegally monitor American citizens’ domestic communications (see December 15, 2005). The case, the EFF writes, “is aimed at ending the NSA’s dragnet surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans and holding accountable the government officials who illegally authorized it.” After January 2009, the newly elected Obama administration will challenge the lawsuit, Jewel v. NSA, on the grounds that to defend itself against the lawsuit, the government would be required to disclose “state secrets” (see Late May, 2006). The government used similar arguments to quash the EFF’s lawsuit against AT&T (see April 28, 2006), arguments which were rejected by a judge (see July 20, 2006). [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2009] The suit will be dismissed (see January 21, 2010).
The New York Times reports that the FBI and the New York City medical examiner’s office have identified the remains of 13 of the 9/11 hijackers. The remains are still in their custody because no one has claimed them (see Summer 2002). The FBI holds the remains of the nine hijackers who took over Flight 77 and Flight 93, which were recovered from the Pentagon and Shanksville crash sites. The identity of the remains was established indirectly. First, investigators identified the victims using DNA profiles provided by relatives. Those remains that could not be matched to any profile were assumed to belong to the hijackers. The New York City medical examiner’s office also has the remains of four hijackers recovered from the World Trade Center site. A DNA profile for each of the 10 hijackers who took part in the New York attacks was established by the FBI from recovered personal items, such as luggage and cigarette butts left in a rental car. The FBI then supplied these profiles to the medical examiner’s office but without naming them. Therefore, the examiner’s office could only match the four recovered sets of remains but could not identify them by name. Both the FBI and the medical examiner’s office refuse to disclose where exactly the remains are being kept. [New York Times, 9/21/2008; Newsweek, 1/12/2009]
The US and Britain jointly drop all charges against terror suspect Binyam Mohamed, realizing that Mohamed’s confession to his involvement in a so-called “dirty bomb” plot (see November 4, 2005) is likely the product of torture and not real (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004). However, his captors refuse to release him from Guantanamo, driving him to try to force the matter by filing a lawsuit (see February 4, 2009) and going on a hunger strike (see February 8, 2009). In late February 2009, Mohamed will be released (see February 22-24, 2009). [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
Steven Bradbury, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), officially repudiates an OLC memo from seven years earlier claiming that the president has the unilateral authority to order military strikes or raids within the US (see October 23, 2001). “[C]aution should be exercised before relying in any respect” on the memo, Bradbury writes, and it “should not be treated as authoritative for any purpose.” The 2001 contention that the Fourth Amendment is, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant in the face of presidential authority “does not reflect the current views of this Office,” Bradbury writes. Another portion of that 2001 memo, the contention that the president can set aside First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of the press (see October 23, 2001), are no longer operative, Bradbury writes. Much of Bradbury’s memo is an attempt to explain and justify the 2001 memo by recalling the period of anxiety and disarray after the 9/11 attacks. [US Department of Justice, 10/6/2008 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ] Yale law professor Jack Balkin will later note that the memo does not repudiate “any of the Bush administration’s specific policies regarding surveillance, detention, and interrogation.” [Jack Balkin, 3/3/2009]
Senior Bush administration officials meet in secret together with Afghanistan experts from NATO and the United Nations to brief advisers from the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Barack Obama on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. The meetings take place over two days and are held at an exclusive Washington club a few blocks from the White House. The briefing is part of an effort by the departing Bush administration to smooth the transition to the next team, according to a New York Times report. At the meetings, Bush administration officials reportedly press the need for the incoming president to have a plan for Afghanistan ready before taking office. The sessions are unclassified, but the participants agree not to discuss the content of the briefings or discussions publicly. Some participants, however, will later disclose some meeting details to the Times. Among issues reportedly discussed are:
Negotiating with the Taliban; and
Expanding the war in Pakistan.
The meetings are organized by New York University professor Barnett Rubin, an expert on Afghanistan. Participants include John K. Wood, the senior Afghanistan director at the National Security Council; Lieutenant General Karl W. Eikenberry, a former American commander in Afghanistan who will later become the next US ambassador to Afghanistan (see April 29, 2009); and Kai Eide, the United Nations representative in Afghanistan. The Obama campaign sends Jonah Blank, a foreign policy specialist for Senator Joe Biden, and Craig Mullaney, an Afghanistan adviser to Obama. The McCain campaign is represented by Lisa Curtis and Kori Schake, two former State Department officials. The New York Times suggests that the briefing on Afghanistan and Pakistan appears to have been the most extensive that Bush administration officials have provided on any issue to both presidential campaigns. It further notes that both Obama and McCain have promised to increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 10/30/2008]
Entity Tags: Karl Eikenberry, John McCain, John K. Wood, Craig Mullaney, Bush administration (43), Barnett Rubin, Barack Obama, Jonah Blank, Kai Eide, Lisa Curtis, United Nations, Kori Schake, Joseph Biden, North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) files a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the recently passed amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA—see July 10, 2008). The EFF is particularly concerned with the portion of the legislation that grants retroactive immunity from prosecution to telecommunications firms that worked with government agencies to illegally conduct electronic surveillance against American citizens (see December 15, 2005). The FISA Amendments Act of 2008, or FAA, violates the Constitution’s separation of powers, according to the EFF, and, the organization writes, “robs innocent telecom customers of their rights without due process of law.” The lawsuit was triggered by Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s recent submission of a classified certification in another EFF lawsuit about illegal electronic certification (see January 31, 2006) that claimed the electronic surveillance conducted on behalf of the National Security Agency by AT&T did not happen. EFF senior attorney Kevin Bankston says: “The immunity law puts the fox in charge of the hen house, letting the attorney general decide whether or not telecoms like AT&T can be sued for participating in the government’s illegal warrantless surveillance. In our constitutional system, it is the judiciary’s role as a co-equal branch of government to determine the scope of the surveillance and rule on whether it is legal, not the executive’s. The attorney general should not be allowed to unconstitutionally play judge and jury in these cases, which affect the privacy of millions of Americans.” Mukasey’s certification claimed the government has no “content-dragnet” program that surveills millions of domestic communications, though it does not deny having acquired such communications. EFF has provided the court with thousands of pages of documents proving the falsity of Mukasey’s assertions, the organization writes. EFF attorney Kurt Opsahl says: “We have overwhelming record evidence that the domestic spying program is operating far outside the bounds of the law. Intelligence agencies, telecoms, and the administration want to sweep this case under the rug, but the Constitution won’t permit it.” EFF spokesperson Rebecca Jeschke tells a reporter that the FAA “violates the federal government’s separation of powers and violates the Constitution. We want to make sure this unconstitutional law does not deny telecom customers their day in court. They have legitimate privacy claims that should be heard by a judge. Extensive evidence proves the existence of a massive illegal surveillance program affecting millions of ordinary Americans. The telecoms broke the law and took part in this. The FISA Amendments Act and its immunity provisions were an attempt to sweep these lawsuits under the rug, but it’s simply unconstitutional.” EFF lawyers fear the FAA will render their lawsuit invalid. [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 10/17/2008; Salon, 10/17/2008] The EFF has filed a related lawsuit against the NSA and senior members of the Bush administration (see September 18, 2008).
Stella Rimington (2004) [Source: Associated Press]Stella Rimington, a former director general of Britain’s domestic intelligence agency MI5, says the US response to 9/11 was “a huge overreaction.” She adds, “[It] was another terrorist incident. It was huge, and horrible, and seemed worse because we all watched it unfold on television.… I suppose I’d lived with terrorist events for a good part of my working life, and this was, as far as I was concerned, another one.” She says that President Bush’s successor should stop using the expression “war on terror”. “It got us off on the wrong foot, because it made people think terrorism was something you could deal with by force of arms primarily. And from that flowed Guantanamo, and extraordinary rendition, and… Iraq.” The Iraq War has motivated some jihadi terrorists to attack the West, she says. [Guardian, 10/18/2008]
A US District Court orders the Justice Department to turn over ten documents from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to determine whether they should be released under the Freedom of Information Act. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) say the documents may hold information that would shed light on the legal reasoning behind the Bush administration’s “Stellar Wind” warrantless wiretapping program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). EPIC and the ACLU seek the release of 30 documents from the OLC; Judge Henry Kennedy has ordered that 10 be turned over to him for further examination and 20 others remain classified because of national security considerations. Seven of those documents are about the government’s “Terrorist Surveillance Program” (TSP—apparently the same program as, or an element of, Stellar Wind), 12 are FBI documents detailing how TSP had assisted the Bureau in counterterrorism investigations, and one is an OLC memo covered under an exemption for “presidential communications”—presumably a memo written either by, or for, President Bush. [Ars Technica, 11/2/2008]
Responding to speculation that his administration will continue the policies of torture and indefinite detention, President-elect Barack Obama says flatly that he will shut down the Guantanamo detention center as part of his administration’s new policy towards terror suspects. CBS interviewer Steve Kroft asks: “There are a number of different things that you could do early pertaining to executive orders. One of them is to shut down Guantanamo Bay. Another is to change interrogation methods that are used by US troops. Are those things that you plan to take early action on?” Obama responds: “Yes. I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that. I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture. And I’m gonna make sure that we don’t torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/11/2008; CBS News, 11/16/2008] Two days into his administration, Obama orders that the Guantanamo detention facility be closed (see January 22, 2009).
Federal Judge Richard Leon rules that the US government has unlawfully held five Algerian men at Guantanamo for nearly seven years (see January 18, 2002). Leon orders their release. Leon rules that the government’s case, based on a slender compilation of classified evidence, was too weak to justify the five men’s continued detention. The government’s case is based on a single “classified document from an unnamed source” for its central claim against the men, and the court has no way to accurately judge its credibility. “To rest on so thin a reed would be inconsistent with this court’s obligation,” Leon writes. He urges the Bush administration not to appeal the ruling, and recommends that they be released “forthwith.” Leon rules that a sixth Algerian, Bensayah Belkacem (see October 8, 2001), is being lawfully detained due to his demonstrable ties with al-Qaeda. The six are among the Guantanamo inmates who won a narrowly decided Supreme Court case recognizing their right to seek redress in the US court system (see June 22, 2008), and include Lakhdar Boumediene, for whom the Court’s ruling was named. Leon, a Republican appointee previously considered sympathetic to the Bush administration’s position on the detention of suspects, urges the government not to appeal his ruling: such an appeal could take as much as two years, and, he notes, “Seven years of waiting for our legal system to give them an answer to a question so important is, in my judgment, more than plenty.” If the government chooses not to appeal, the lawyers for the detainees expect them to be released into Bosnia, where they were arrested in early 2002. The Justice Department calls the ruling “perhaps an understandable consequence of the fact that neither the Supreme Court nor Congress has provided rules on how these habeas corpus cases should proceed in this unprecedented context.” One of the detainees’ lawyers, Robert Kirsch, says the case illustrates “the human cost of what can happen when mistakes are made at the highest levels of our government, and no one has the courage to acknowledge those mistakes.” Other detainee lawyers say the case is a broad repudiation of the Bush administration’s attempts to use the Guantanamo facility to avoid the scrutiny of US judges. Lawyer Zachary Katznelson, a member of the British human rights group Reprieve, says, “The decision by Judge Leon lays bare the scandalous basis on which Guantánamo has been based—slim evidence of dubious quality.” The case was not strengthened by the Bush administration’s pursuit of it: originally the six were charged with planning a bomb attack on the US Embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia, but in October, Justice Department lawyers abruptly withdrew those accusations. [New York Times, 11/20/2008; National Review, 11/20/2008] The five will be released the following month (see December 2008).
Rashid Rauf, a leading British-Pakistani militant involved with a liquid bomb plot to destroy transatlantic airliners (see August 10, 2006), is reported to have been killed in Pakistan. Rauf is allegedly killed in a US airstrike by a pilotless drone in North Warizistan, a region associated with Pakistani militants. He is allegedly one of five people killed, along with a wanted Egyptian militant named Abu Zubair al-Masri. [BBC, 11/22/2009] However, the reports of his death are unconfirmed, and doubts will persist. [BBC, 11/22/2009; BBC, 11/26/2009] Rauf’s family disbelieve the claim. Speaking through Rauf’s lawyer Hashmat Malik, the family of Rauf’s wife in Pakistan says that the body had not been handed over to them, and the authorities are not responding to their questions. “It’s all a concocted story,” says Malik. “We’re sure that it is not Rashid Rauf.” He adds, “There was no reason for him to be in North Waziristan, he has no link with al-Qaeda or the Taliban.” Malik also comments that if Rauf is dead, then he did not die in this strike, but was murdered by Pakistan’s security services after he escaped from custody in mysterious circumstances the previous year (see December 14, 2007). [Guardian, 11/25/2008]
A former Air Force interrogator writing under the pseudonym “Matthew Alexander” pens an impassioned plea against the use of torture for the Washington Post. Alexander is a former Special Operations soldier with war experience in Bosnia and Kosovo before volunteering to serve as a senior interrogator in Iraq from February 2006 through August 2006. He writes that while he served in Iraq, his team “had successfully hunted down one of the most notorious mass murderers of our generation, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the mastermind of the campaign of suicide bombings that had helped plunge Iraq into civil war.” Yet upon his return, Alexander writes that he was less inclined to celebrate American success than “consumed with the unfinished business of our mission: fixing the deeply flawed, ineffective and un-American way the US military conducts interrogations in Iraq.” Since then, Alexander has written a book, How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq (see December 2-4, 2008). He writes that interrogation techniques used against terror suspects in Iraq both “betrays our traditions” and “just doesn’t work.”
Army Used 'Guantanamo Model' of Interrogation - When he joined the team hunting for al-Zarqawi, he was astonished to find that “[t]he Army was still conducting interrogations according to the Guantanamo Bay model: Interrogators were nominally using the methods outlined in the US Army Field Manual, the interrogators’ bible, but they were pushing in every way possible to bend the rules—and often break them.… These interrogations were based on fear and control; they often resulted in torture and abuse.”
New and Different Methodology - Alexander refused to allow his interrogators to use such tactics, he writes, and instead taught them a new set of practices: “one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information. I personally conducted more than 300 interrogations, and I supervised more than 1,000. The methods my team used are not classified (they’re listed in the unclassified Field Manual), but the way we used them was, I like to think, unique. We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal investigative techniques to our work (something that the Field Manual permits, under the concept of ‘ruses and trickery’). It worked. Our efforts started a chain of successes that ultimately led to Zarqawi.” Alexander writes that his attitude, and that of his colleagues, changed during this time. “We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shi’ite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money.” When Alexander pointed this out to General George Casey, then the top US commander in Iraq, Casey ignored him. Alexander writes that Casey’s successor, General David Petraeus, used some of the same “rapport-building” techniques to help boost the “Anbar Awakening,” which saw tens of thousands of Sunnis repudiate al-Zarqawi and align themselves with the US. And, the techniques persuaded one of al-Zarqawi’s associates to tell where he was hiding, giving the US a chance to find and kill him (see June 8, 2006).
Little Overall Change - Even the success in locating and killing al-Zarqawi had little effect on US interrogation methods outside of Alexander’s unit. He left Iraq still unsettled about the methods being used; shortly after his return, he was horrified at news reports that the CIA had waterboarded detainees to coerce information from them (see Between May and Late 2006). Such hard-handed techniques are not only illegal and morally reprehensible, Alexander notes, they usually don’t work. He writes: “Torture and abuse are against my moral fabric. The cliche still bears repeating: Such outrages are inconsistent with American principles. And then there’s the pragmatic side: Torture and abuse cost American lives.” He remembers one jihadist who told him: “I thought you would torture me, and when you didn’t, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That’s why I decided to cooperate.”
Torture Breeds Terrorism - Alexander writes that while in Iraq, he learned that the primary reason foreign jihadists came to Iraq to fight Americans was because of their outrage and anger over the abuses carried out at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. “Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq,” he writes. “The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on US and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of US soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me—unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.”
Writing about His Experiences - Alexander began writing about his time in Iraq after returning to the US. When he submitted his book for the Defense Department’s review (standard procedure to ensure no classified information is being released), he writes that he “got a nasty shock.” The Pentagon delayed the review past the first scheduled printing date, then redacted what Alexander says was “an extraordinary amount of unclassified material—including passages copied verbatim from the Army’s unclassified Field Manual on interrogations and material vibrantly displayed on the Army’s own Web site.” Alexander was forced to file a lawsuit to get the review completed and to appeal the redactions. “Apparently, some members of the military command are not only unconvinced by the arguments against torture; they don’t even want the public to hear them.”
Conclusions - How we conduct ourselves in the “war on terror” helps define who we are as Americans, Alexander writes. “Murderers like Zarqawi can kill us, but they can’t force us to change who we are. We can only do that to ourselves.” It is up to Americans, including military officers directly involved in the battle against terrorist foes, “to protect our values not only from al-Qaeda but also from those within our own country who would erode them.” He continues: “We’re told that our only options are to persist in carrying out torture or to face another terrorist attack. But there truly is a better way to carry out interrogations—and a way to get out of this false choice between torture and terror.” With the ascension of Barack Obama to the White House, Alexander describes himself as “quite optimistic” that the US will renounce torture. “But until we renounce the sorts of abuses that have stained our national honor, al-Qaeda will be winning. Zarqawi is dead, but he has still forced us to show the world that we do not adhere to the principles we say we cherish. We’re better than that. We’re smarter, too.” [Washington Post, 11/30/2008]
Five Algerian detainees are released from Guantanamo after seven years’ imprisonment without charges ever being formally filed against them. They are released after a Supreme Court ruling ordered them granted habeas corpus rights in US courts (see June 22, 2008), and after a federal judge orders their detention to end (see November 20, 2008). The five tell reporters that their time in Guantanamo was hellish. “Nobody can imagine how horrible it was. Even the devil couldn’t have created such a bad, bad place,” says one detainee, computer technician Mustafa Ait Idir. “I was questioned and beaten more than 500 times during those seven years. The guards used to come in groups of six or seven, always using a spray against us first, and then the beatings would start.” Idir says he saw doctors participate in the abuse of prisoners: “I once saw a doctor with a group of guards. The doctor pointed to different places on a body of a prisoner saying ‘hit him here.’ After the beating, there were no visible marks on the body but that man was in such pain he couldn’t move.” Lawyer Stephen Oleskey says his client, Lakhdar Boumediene, had been force-fed through a nasal tube after he went on a seven-month hunger strike. “Twice a day he is strapped onto a chair at seven points,” says Oleskey of his client’s ordeal. “One side of his nose is broken, so they put it [the tube] in the other side… Sometimes it goes to his lung instead of his stomach. He can’t say anything because he has the mask on: that’s torture.” Idir recalls being confined in bare cells, often in complete darkness, others with powerful lights that prevented him from sleeping. [Agence France-Presse, 1/22/2009]
In a speech at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington, outgoing President Bush discusses his decision to invade Iraq. “It is true, as I have said many times, that Saddam Hussein was not connected to the 9/11 attacks,” he says. “But the decision to remove Saddam from power cannot be viewed in isolation from 9/11. In a world where terrorists armed with box cutters had just killed nearly 3,000 people, America had to decide whether we could tolerate a sworn enemy that acted belligerently, that supported terror, and that intelligence agencies around the world believed had weapons of mass destruction. It was clear to me, to members of both political parties, and to many leaders around the world that after 9/11, this was a risk we could not afford to take. So we went back to the UN Security Council, which unanimously passed Resolution 1441 calling on Saddam Hussein to disclose, disarm, or face serious consequences (see November 8, 2002). With this resolution, we offered Saddam Hussein a final chance to comply with the demands of the world. When he refused to resolve the issue peacefully, we acted with a coalition of nations to protect our people and liberated 25 million Iraqis.” Amanda Terkel, a writer for the liberal website Think Progress, notes that all of Bush’s acknowledgments that Iraq had no connections to 9/11 came after the war began; in the months prior to the invasion, Bush and his top officials strove to create the impression that Hussein had close links to al-Qaeda and the 9/11 planners (see (Between 10:30 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, Mid-September, 2001, September 17, 2001, September 19, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 28, 2001, November 6-8, 2001, December 9, 2001, 2002-March 2003, March 19, 2002, June 21, 2002, July 25, 2002, August 2002, August 20, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 16, 2002, September 21, 2002, September 25, 2002, September 26, 2002, September 27, 2002, September 28, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 15, 2002, December 2, 2002, December 12, 2002, January 26, 2003, January 28, 2003, Early February 2003, February 5, 2003, (2:30 a.m.-9:00 a.m.) February 5, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 6, 2003, February 11 or 12, 2003, and February 17, 2003). Terkel writes, “Bush still embraces his pre-war lies, as he admitted in his Saban address today, because without them, the public wouldn’t have supported his case for war.” [USA Today, 12/5/2008; Think Progress, 12/5/2008]
The Senate Armed Services Committee releases a classified 261-page report on the use of “harsh” or “enhanced interrogation techniques”—torture—against suspected terrorists by the US. The conclusion of the report will be released in April 2009 (see April 21, 2009). The report will become known as the “Levin Report” after committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI). Though the report itself is classified, the committee releases the executive summary to the public.
Top Bush Officials Responsible for Torture - One of the report’s findings is that top Bush administration officials, and not a “few bad apples,” as many of that administration’s officials have claimed, are responsible for the use of torture against detainees in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.
Began Shortly after 9/11 - The report finds that US officials began preparing to use “enhanced interrogation” techniques just a few months after the 9/11 attacks, and well before Justice Department memos declared such practices legal. The program used techniques practiced in a US military program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE—see December 2001), which trains US military personnel to resist questioning by foes who do not follow international bans on torture. As part of SERE training, soldiers are stripped naked, slapped, and waterboarded, among other techniques. These techniques were “reverse-engineered” and used against prisoners in US custody. Other techniques used against prisoners included “religious disgrace” and “invasion of space by a female.” At least one suspected terrorist was forced “to bark and perform dog tricks” while another was “forced to wear a dog collar and perform dog tricks” in a bid to break down their resistance.
Tried to 'Prove' Links between Saddam, Al-Qaeda - Some of the torture techniques were used before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq (see March 19, 2003). Much of the torture of prisoners, the report finds, was to elicit information “proving” alleged links between al-Qaeda and the regime of Saddam Hussein. US Army psychiatrist Major Paul Burney says of some Guantanamo Bay interrogations: “Even though they were giving information and some of it was useful, while we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. We were not being successful in establishing a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish this link… there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.” Others did not mention such pressure, according to the report. [Senate Armed Services Committee, 12/11/2008 ; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009] (Note: Some press reports identify the quoted psychiatrist as Major Charles Burney.) [McClatchy News, 4/21/2009] A former senior intelligence official later says: “There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used. The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack [after 9/11]. But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al-Qaeda and Iraq that [former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed] Chalabi (see November 6-8, 2001) and others had told them were there.… There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s people to push harder.” [McClatchy News, 4/21/2009]
Warnings of Unreliability from Outset - Almost from the outset of the torture program, military and other experts warned that such techniques were likely to provide “less reliable” intelligence results than traditional, less aggressive approaches. In July 2002, a memo from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JRPA), which oversees the SERE training program, warned that “if an interrogator produces information that resulted from the application of physical and psychological duress, the reliability and accuracy of this information is in doubt. In other words, a subject in extreme pain may provide an answer, any answer, or many answers in order to get the pain to stop” (see July 2002). [Senate Armed Services Committee, 12/11/2008 ; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009]
Ignoring Military Objections - When Pentagon general counsel William Haynes asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to approve 15 of 18 recommended torture techniques for use at Guantanamo (see December 2, 2002), Haynes indicated that he had discussed the matter with three officials who agreed with him: Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, and General Richard Myers. Haynes only consulted one legal opinion, which senior military advisers had termed “legally insufficient” and “woefully inadequate.” Rumsfeld agreed to recommend the use of the tactics. [Senate Armed Services Committee, 12/11/2008 ]
Entity Tags: William J. Haynes, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard B. Myers, Paul Burney, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, Douglas Feith, Donald Rumsfeld, Ahmed Chalabi, Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Newsweek reveals that Thomas Tamm, a former high-level Justice Department official, was one of the whistleblowers who revealed the government’s illegal domestic wiretapping program, known as “Stellar Wind,” to the New York Times (see December 15, 2005). Tamm, an ex-prosecutor with a high security clearance, learned of the program in the spring of 2004 (see Spring 2004).
Intense FBI Scrutiny - As of yet, Tamm has not been arrested as one of the leakers in the criminal leak investigation ordered by President Bush (see December 30, 2005), though since the December 2005 publication, Tamm has remained under Justice Department suspicion—FBI agents have raided his home, hauled away his personal possessions, and relentlessly questioned his family and friends (see August 1, 2007). He no longer has a government job, and is having trouble finding steady work as a lawyer. He has resisted pressure to plead to a felony charge of divulging classified information. Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff writes, “[H]e is living under a pall, never sure if or when federal agents might arrest him.” Perhaps his biggest regret is the impact the FBI investigation has had on his wife and children. “I didn’t think through what this could do to my family,” he says. But, “I don’t really need anybody to feel sorry for me,” he says. “I chose what I did. I believed in what I did.”
No Decision to Prosecute Yet - The Justice Department has deferred a decision over whether to arrest and prosecute Tamm until after the Bush administration leaves office and a new attorney general takes over the department. Both President-elect Barack Obama and the incoming Attorney General, Eric Holder, have denounced the warrantless wiretapping program. In one speech Holder gave in June 2008, he said that President Bush had acted “in direct defiance of federal law” by authorizing the NSA program. Former US Attorney Asa Hutchinson, who is helping in Tamm’s defense, says: “When I looked at this, I was convinced that the action he took was based on his view of a higher responsibility. It reflected a lawyer’s responsibility to protect the rule of law.” Hutchinson has no use for the idea, promulgated by Bush officials and conservative pundits, that the Times story damaged the “war on terror” by alerting al-Qaeda terrorists to Stellar Wind and other surveillance programs. “Anybody who looks at the overall result of what happened wouldn’t conclude there was any harm to the United States,” he says. Hutchinson is hopeful that Holder’s Justice Department will drop its investigation of Tamm.
The Public 'Ought to Know' about NSA Eavesdropping - Recently Tamm decided to go public with his story, against the advice of his lawyers. “I thought this [secret program] was something the other branches of the government—and the public—ought to know about,” he tells Isikoff. “So they could decide: do they want this massive spying program to be taking place?… If somebody were to say, who am I to do that? I would say, ‘I had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution.’ It’s stunning that somebody higher up the chain of command didn’t speak up.” Tamm also admits that he leaked information to the Times in part over his anger at other Bush administration policies for the Justice Department, including its aggressive pursuit of death penalty cases, and its use of “renditions” and “enhanced” interrogation techniques against terrorist suspects. He insists that he divulged no “sources and methods” that might compromise national security when he spoke to the Times. He could not tell the Times reporters anything about the NSA program, he says, because he knew nothing specific about the program. As Isikoff writes, “All he knew was that a domestic surveillance program existed, and it ‘didn’t smell right.’” (Times reporter Eric Lichtblau refuses to confirm if Tamm was one of his sources for the stories he wrote with fellow Times reporter James Risen.) [Newsweek, 12/22/2008]
Entity Tags: Michael Isikoff, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Asa Hutchinson, ’Stellar Wind’, Eric Holder, Eric Lichtblau, Newsweek, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Thomas Tamm, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Bush administration updates the secretive Continuity of Government (COG) program, which is designed to ensure the survival of the federal government during disasters. Federal emergency responsibilities are consolidated within the White House Military Office, a move designed to simplify the government’s response procedures. Under the changes, the Department of Defense and the Bush administration take over parts of the program from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). According to the New York Times, “Under the revamped structure, the White House Military Office, which reports to the office of the White House chief of staff, has assumed a more central role in setting up a temporary ‘shadow government’ in a crisis.” According to the Times, the move comes after “months of heated internal debate about the balance of power and the role of the military” in a time of crisis. “Supporters of the plan inside the Bush White House, including Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, saw the erratic response to the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as a mandate for streamlining an emergency response process they considered clunky because it involved too many agencies.” Officials opposed to the plan argue the new structure places “too much power in the hands of too few people.” They also perceive the changes to be “part of the Bush administration’s broader efforts to enhance the power of the White House.” Supporters of the plan originally wanted to take the changes further, but according to the Times, “concerns about the perception of growing military influence in the emergency process set off an internal struggle, and the White House decided not to move ahead with a more ambitious proposal to give the power of the purse to the military arm, rather than FEMA, for budgeting the emergency operations, one official said.” A spokesman for the Pentagon will later describe the changes as a “minor tweaking” of the system. The changes are authorized by President Bush’s National Security Presidential Directive 51 (NSPD-51), which was signed in May 2007 (see May 9, 2007). [New York Times, 7/27/2009]
President-elect Barack Obama orders two days of secret briefings with the CIA on interrogation policies and procedures. He sends his chief counsel, Gregory Craig; his nominated National Security Adviser, James Jones; foreign policy adviser Denis McDonough; former senators David Boren (D-OK) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE); and former CIA general counsel Jeffrey H. Smith to Langley. They meet with CIA Director Michael Hayden, his deputy Stephen Kappes, and about 20 senior CIA officials, who brief Obama’s team on the agency’s counterterrorism and rendition programs. In the briefings, Hayden and his colleagues argue for the preservation of the agency’s secret prison and torture programs. Hayden acknowledges that the agency stopped using the secret prisons in 2006, and says that agency operatives stopped using waterboarding as an interrogation method in 2003. He wants the CIA to retain its option to use other “harsh methods” as needed. During the briefings, CIA officials acknowledge that some foreign intelligence agencies have begun withholding information about suspected terrorists from the agency for fear that they might become implicated in the eventual torture of those suspects. As Boren and Smith will later recall, the group is not convinced that whatever useful intelligence those methods may have garnered warrants keeping them as an option. “They said that they had produced valuable intelligence,” Smith will recall. “We took them at their word.” However, the group decides that “whatever utility it had at the outset… the secret prisons and enhanced techniques were no longer playing a useful role—the costs outweighed the gains.” Those costs include the palpable damage to America’s identity and values, and the lost credibility and prestige among many of its closest allies. Boren will later call attending the briefings “one of the most deeply disturbing experiences I have had.… I wanted to take a bath when I heard it. I was ashamed of it.” He believes that “fear was used to justify the use of techniques that violate our values and weaken our intelligence,” and that the agency did not prove those methods “are particularly effective at getting the truth.” [Washington Post, 4/24/2009]
Judge Vaughn Walker rules that “sufficient facts” exist to keep alive a lawsuit brought by the defunct Islamic charity Al Haramain, which alleges it was subjected to illegal, warrantless wiretapping by the US government (see February 28, 2006). The lawsuit centers on a Top Secret government document accidentally disclosed to plaintiffs’ lawyers Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoo that allegedly proves the claim of illegal wiretapping; previous court rulings forced Belew and Ghafoo to return the document to the government and prohibited its use in the lawsuit. The lawsuit is widely viewed as a test case to decide in court whether the Bush administration abused its power by authorizing a secret domestic spying program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). Jon Eisenberg, the lawyer for Belew and Ghafoo, says it does not matter whether the case pertains to the Bush administration or the incoming Obama administration. “I don’t want President Obama to have that power any more than I do President Bush,” he says. Because the lawsuit contains sufficient evidence even without the Top Secret document, Walker rules, it can continue. “The plaintiffs have alleged sufficient facts to withstand the government’s motion to dismiss,” he writes. Therefore, he adds, the law demands that they be allowed to review the classified document, and others, to determine whether the lawyers were spied on illegally and whether Bush’s spy program was unlawful. “To be more specific, the court will review the sealed document ex parte and in camera,” Walker writes. “The court will then issue an order regarding whether plaintiffs may proceed—that is, whether the sealed document establishes that plaintiffs were subject to electronic surveillance not authorized by FISA” (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—see 1978). [Wired News, 1/5/2009]
Newsweek publishes a range of responses to its article about Justice Department whistleblower Thomas Tamm (see December 22, 2008), who alerted the New York Times to the Bush administration’s illegal domestic wiretapping program “Stellar Wind” (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). Most are extremely supportive of Tamm; Newsweek writes, “Nearly all labeled Tamm a hero.” One reader wonders why “few in the Justice Department were as troubled as Tamm about the illegality of the secret domestic wiretapping program or had the courage of his convictions.” Another notes, “Whistle-blowers like him are heroes because they are protecting ‘We the people.’” A Milwaukee reader, Harvey Jay Goldstein, suggests that President-elect Obama honor Tamm’s courage and service by “issuing him a pardon” and then “seek indictments against those involved in authorizing and carrying out the illegal program, including President Bush and Vice President Cheney.” The reader is “appalled” that Tamm “is being harassed and persecuted by the FBI (see August 1, 2007) for his part in disclosing the coverup of a program that originated in the Oval Office.” He calls Tamm “a national hero who had the guts to do what he thought was right and wasn’t intimidated by the power of the presidency.” Goldstein accuses Bush and Cheney of “undermining and circumventing the protections of the First and Fourth amendments [in what] are perhaps the most egregious attempts to consolidate absolute power within the executive branch since the dark days of Richard Nixon.” Illinois reader Leonard Kliff, a World War II veteran, writes: “It is disgusting that this man is on the run when he should be receiving a medal for his actions. I am sure the majority of Americans fully support him.” The Reverend Joseph Clark of Maryland calls Tamm “a common man doing his job—upholding the Constitution of the United States and the rule of law.… Thank God for people like Thomas Tamm who spoke when no one else was finding a voice.… This nation is made up of people like Tamm, and that is our strength.” And a former schoolmate of Tamm’s, Peter Craig, writes: “No one who attended Landon School in Bethesda, Md., in the late 1960s, as I did, will be at all surprised to learn that Tom Tamm ended up risking it all to do the right thing. In his senior year, for instance, Tom, then the president of the student council, decided to turn himself in to the rest of the council for some minor infraction unknown to anyone else (and ultimately warranting no punishment). It showed the same character and a burgeoning morality that years later would compel him to do what he did.” Only one published letter, from Bob Spickelmier, expresses the view that Tamm should go to jail for his actions. [Newsweek, 1/10/2009]
Darrel Vandeveld, in a photo from 2001. [Source: Go Erie (.com)]Former military prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld agrees with the American Civil Liberties Union’s position that Guantanamo detainee Mohammed Jawad should be released. Vandeveld was the lead prosecutor on the military commission trying Jawad, who has been held for over six years. Vanderveld says in a declaration that there is “no credible evidence or legal basis” to justify Jawad’s detention or prosecution. “There is, however, reliable evidence that he was badly mistreated by US authorities both in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo,” says the declaration, which Vandeveld files in a Washington court in support of the ACLU’s habeas corpus petition. Jawad, who was captured in Afghanistan in 2002 at age 16, was accused of throwing a hand grenade at two US soldiers and their interpreter. Jawad and fellow detainee Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen, are the last two detainees to face charges based on acts they allegedly committed while they were juveniles. The ACLU maintains that Jawad was tortured to force him to confess. Vandeveld resigned from the military commissions in September 2008, saying he could not ethically proceed with Jawad’s case. In his declaration, Vandeveld says the “chaotic state of evidence” in the military commissions “make it impossible for anyone to harbor the remotest hope that justice is an achievable goal” (see January 20, 2009). [Agence France-Presse, 1/13/2009]
Former military prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld, who resigned his post in protest over the unwarranted prosecution of detainee Mohammed Jawad (see January 18, 2009), joins the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)‘s lawsuit on behalf of Jawad. The ACLU is demanding that Jawad be granted the right of habeas corpus and, ultimately, his release. Jawad has been held without trial for over six years, and, according to Vandeveld and the ACLU, no credible evidence of his probable guilt exists. Evidence does exist that Jawad was tortured while in US custody. In a brief filed with the court, Vandeveld writes, “[T]here is no credible evidence or legal basis to justify Mr. Jawad’s detention in US custody or his prosecution by military commission.” There is, however, “reliable evidence that [Jawad] was badly mistreated by US authorities both in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo.” Jawad was originally charged with throwing a hand grenade at US soldiers. Vandeveld writes that the evidence indicates Jawad, who was 16 when he was captured, never participated in any such attack, and was lured into joining an Afghan insurgent group by the promise of a well-paying job, and was drugged and lied to by the insurgents. What evidence does exist against Jawad is mostly exculpatory, Vandeveld writes, and all the evidence is scattered haphazardly throughout the Guantanamo facility. Some was found in a locker, and other documents have been lost. Thus, the US’s case against Jawad is unacceptably weak, Vandeveld contends. [Charlotte Examiner, 1/13/2009]
Jawad 'No Threat' - In defending Jawad, Vandeveld writes: “Had I returned to Afghanistan or Iraq, and had I encountered Mohammed Jawad in either of those hostile lands, where two of my friends have been killed in action and one of my very best friends in the world had been terribly wounded, I have no doubt at all—none—that Mr. Jawad would pose no threat whatsoever to me, his former prosecutor and now-repentant persecuter. Six years is long enough for a boy of 16 to serve in virtual solitary confinement, in a distant land, for reasons he may never fully understand.” [Salon, 1/21/2009]
Torture 'Miserably Common for Detainees in US Custody' - Salon’s Glenn Greenwald will write in support of Jawad and Vandeveld: “Jawad was never waterboarded, but no civilized human being would deny that the cumulative effect of his treatment at the hands of our country is torture in every sense of the word. And there’s nothing unique about his treatment. It wasn’t aberrational. Rather, it has been miserably common for detainees in US custody—not only at Guantanamo, but also in Bagram and throughout Iraq.” [Salon, 1/21/2009]
Pentagon press spokesman Geoff Morrell tells journalists that the Defense Department has new numbers documenting the “recidivism” of former Guantanamo detainees now engaged in terror activities. “The new numbers are, we believe, 18 confirmed and 43 suspected of returning to the fight,” Morrell says. “So 61 in all former Guantanamo detainees are confirmed or suspected of returning to the fight.” [US Department of Defense, 1/13/2009]
No Details on Numbers - The Pentagon figure would represent around 11 percent of the roughly 520 detainees released from the facility. National security expert Peter Bergen notes that the recidivism rate for prisoners in the US civilian judicial system is about 65 percent. Morrell defends the report, but refuses to say exactly where the information comes from. Instead, he says: “We don’t make these figures up. They’re not done willy-nilly.” Other Pentagon officials say they will not discuss how the figures were derived because of national security concerns. Morrell says the figures come from the Defense Intelligence Agency, “and they go over this with great care.” [CNN, 1/22/2009]
Law Professor: Pentagon Figures 'Egregiously' Wrong - In an exhaustive study of the Pentagon’s records of detainees, Seton Hall University law professor Mark Denbeaux disputes the Pentagon claim, calling it “egregiously” wrong (see January 16, 2009). “Once again, they’ve failed to identify names, numbers, dates, times, places, or acts upon which their report relies,” Denbeaux writes. “Every time they have been required to identify the parties, the DOD [Defense Department] has been forced to retract their false IDs and their numbers. They have included people who have never even set foot in Guantanamo—much less were they released from there. They have counted people as ‘returning to the fight’ for their having written an op-ed piece in the New York Times and for their having appeared in a documentary exhibited at the Cannes Film Festival. The DOD has revised and retracted their internally conflicting definitions, criteria, and their numbers so often that they have ceased to have any meaning—except as an effort to sway public opinion by painting a false portrait of the supposed dangers of these men. Forty-three times they have given numbers—which conflict with each other—all of which are seriously undercut by the DOD statement that ‘they do not track’ former detainees. Rather than making up numbers ‘willy-nilly’ about post release conduct, America might be better served if our government actually kept track of them.” [Seton Hall University, 1/15/2009] It is difficult to know exactly how many former Guantanamo detainees have returned to fighting, Denbeaux’s study finds, because of the incredibly poor record-keeping kept on detainees by the Pentagon (see January 20, 2009 ). Some of the detainees identified as recidivists never appeared on the detainee rolls. Some detainees were misidentified by the Pentagon, or identified as more than one person—and subsequently counted as more than one recidivist. Some have been dead for years, or are in the custody of other nations’ judicial systems. The Pentagon counts the so-called “Tipton Three” (see November 28, 2001) as “returning to the fight,” even though their only “terrorist activity” has been their participation in a documentary about unjust imprisonment in Guantanamo. The Pentagon also lists the recently released Uighurs, Chinese Muslims who were found to have no ties whatsoever to Islamic terrorism. One of the released Uighurs wrote a 2006 op-ed column for the New York Times protesting his imprisonment (see September 17, 2006), the extent of his documented “terrorist” actions. [New American, 1/27/2009]
Defense Secretary Downplays Report's Significance - Terrorism analyst Peter Bergen notes that many of the Guantanamo detainees were never terrorists at all, but were singled out as terrorists by Afghani villagers who told US authorities that they were members of al-Qaeda, either for personal revenge or for bounty money. Quoting former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Bergen says, “We know that a lot of people who were in Guantanamo don’t qualify as being the ‘worst of the worst.’” Bergen says that many of the “suspected” terrorists have done nothing more than publicly make anti-American statements, “something that’s not surprising if you’ve been locked up in a US prison camp for several years.” Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the only holdover from the Bush administration currently serving in President Obama’s cabinet and an advocate for closing the Guantanamo facility, downplays the number of detainees supposedly engaged in terrorism. “It’s not as big a number if you’re talking about 700 or a thousand or however many have been through Guantanamo,” he says. [CNN, 1/22/2009]
Susan Crawford. [Source: Susan Crawford / Washington Post]The senior Bush administration official in charge of bringing Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial rules that the US military tortured a detainee, and therefore the US cannot try him. Susan Crawford, the convening authority of military commissions, says that the US tortured Mohamed al-Khatani, a Saudi national accused of planning to participate in the September 11 attacks (see August 4, 2001). Crawford says al-Khatani was interrogated with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, and which cumulatively left him in a “life-threatening condition.” Crawford says: “We tortured [al-]Khatani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution. Crawford is a retired judge who served as the Army’s general counsel during the Reagan administration and the Pentagon’s inspector general during the first Bush administration. She is the first senior official of the current Bush administration to publicly state that a detainee was tortured while in US custody.
Cumulative Effect Equals Torture - None of the individual techniques used against al-Khatani were torturous in and of themselves, Crawford says, but the cumulative effect—particularly their duration and the deleterious effect on al-Khatani’s health—combined to constitute torture. “The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent,” she says. “You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge” to call it torture. Al-Khatani has been in US custody since December 2001 (see December 2001), and was interrogated from November 2002 through January 2003 (reports of the exact dates vary—see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003 and October 11, 2002). He was held in isolation until April 2003. “For 160 days his only contact was with the interrogators,” Crawford says. “Forty-eight of 54 consecutive days of 18-to-20-hour interrogations. Standing naked in front of a female agent. Subject to strip searches. And insults to his mother and sister.” He was threatened with a military dog named Zeus. He “was forced to wear a woman’s bra and had a thong placed on his head during the course of his interrogation,” Crawford says, and “was told that his mother and sister were whores.” With a leash tied to his chains, he was led around the room “and forced to perform a series of dog tricks,” according to reports from his interrogations. He was twice hospitalized with bradycardia, a potentially lethal condition where the heartbeat drops to abnormally low levels.
Ruling Halts Future Prosecution against al-Khatani - Crawford dismissed war crimes charges against al-Khatani in May 2008 (see May 13, 2008). In November, military prosecutors said they would refile charges against al-Khatani, based on subsequent interrogations that did not employ harsh techniques (see November 18, 2008). But Crawford says that she would not let any such prosecutions go forward. However, Crawford is not unaware of the potential danger posed by letting him go free. “There’s no doubt in my mind he would’ve been on one of those planes had he gained access to the country in August 2001,” Crawford says. “He’s a muscle hijacker.… He’s a very dangerous man. What do you do with him now if you don’t charge him and try him? I would be hesitant to say, ‘Let him go.’” Al-Khatani’s civilian lawyer, Gitanjali Gutierrez, says, “There is no doubt he was tortured.” Gutierrez says: “He has loss of concentration and memory loss, and he suffers from paranoia.… He wants just to get back to Saudi Arabia, get married and have a family.” Al-Khatani “adamantly denies he planned to join the 9/11 attack,” she adds. “He has no connections to extremists.” Gutierrez says she thinks Saudi Arabia has an effective rehabilitation program and Khatani ought to be returned there. [Washington Post, 1/14/2009; New York Times, 1/14/2009] His lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights describe him as a broken, suicidal man who can never be prosecuted because of his treatment at the hands of his captors. [New York Times, 1/14/2009]
Sympathetic but Unbending - Crawford, a lifelong Republican, says she sympathizes with the situation faced by the Bush administration and the CIA after the 9/11 attacks. “I sympathize with the intelligence gatherers in those days after 9/11, not knowing what was coming next and trying to gain information to keep us safe,” she acknowledges. “But there still has to be a line that we should not cross. And unfortunately what this has done, I think, has tainted everything going forward.” Noting that the 2006 Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case (see June 30, 2006) disallowed torture but allowed for “coercive interrogation techniques,” Crawford says even those techniques should not be allowed: “You don’t allow it in a regular court.” Crawford says she is not yet sure if any of the other five detainees accused of participating in the 9/11 plot, including their leader, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were tortured, but she believes they may have been. “I assume torture,” she says, and notes that CIA Director Michael Hayden has publicly confirmed that Mohammed was one of three detainees subjected to waterboarding, a technique classified by law as torture. Crawford has not blocked prosecution of the other five detainees. Ultimately, she says, the responsibility for the farrago of illegal detentions and torture rests with President Bush. He was right to create a system to try suspected terrorists, she says, but the implementation was fatally flawed. “I think he hurt his own effort.… I think someone should acknowledge that mistakes were made and that they hurt the effort and take responsibility for it.… We learn as children it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is for permission. I think the buck stops in the Oval Office.” [Washington Post, 1/14/2009]
Rules Change - Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says that the Hamdan case changed the rules, and thus retroactively classified al-Khatani’s treatment as torture. “The [Defense] Department has always taken allegations of abuse seriously,” he says. “We have conducted more than a dozen investigations and reviews of our detention operations, including specifically the interrogation of Mohamed al-Khatani, the alleged 20th hijacker. They concluded the interrogation methods used at [Guantanamo], including the special techniques used on Khatani in 2002, were lawful. However, subsequent to those reviews, the Department adopted new and more restrictive policies and procedures for interrogation and detention operations. Some of the aggressive questioning techniques used on al-Khatani, although permissible at the time, are no longer allowed in the updated Army field manual.” [Washington Post, 1/14/2009]
Prosecutors Unprepared - When Crawford came to Guantanamo as convening authority in 2007, she says “the prosecution was unprepared” to bring cases to trial. Even after four years of working possible cases, “they were lacking in experience and judgment and leadership.” She continues: “A prosecutor has an ethical obligation to review all the evidence before making a charging decision. And they didn’t have access to all the evidence, including medical records, interrogation logs, and they were making charging decisions without looking at everything.” It took over a year, and the intervention of Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, for prosecutors to turn over possibly exculpatory evidence to defense lawyers, even though the law requires that such evidence be turned over immediately. The entire system at Guantanamo is a blot on the reputation of the US and its military judicial system, she says: “There’s an assumption out there that everybody was tortured. And everybody wasn’t tortured. But unfortunately perception is reality.” The system she oversees cannot function now, she believes. “Certainly in the public’s mind, or politically speaking, and certainly in the international community” it may be forever tainted. “It may be too late.” [Washington Post, 1/14/2009]
Entity Tags: Susan Crawford, Gordon England, Gitanjali Gutierrez, George W. Bush, Geoff Morrell, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Bush administration (43), Center for Constitutional Rights, Mohamed al-Khatani, US Department of Defense, Michael Hayden
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Sparked by the official confirmation that Guantanamo detainee Mohamed al-Khatani was tortured (see January 14, 2009), Amnesty International calls for the incoming Obama administration and Congress to launch an independent commission of inquiry into human rights violations in the “war on terror.” In a press release, Amnesty International writes: “Torture is a crime under international law. The USA is obliged as a party to the UN Convention against Torture (see October 21, 1994) to investigate ‘wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction.’ The same treaty requires it to submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution. The treaty, and international law more generally, precludes the invocation of exceptional circumstances or superior orders as justification for torture. Anyone who has authorized, committed, is complicit, or participated in torture must be brought to justice, no matter their level of office or former level of office. Yet the public acknowledgement that the USA has tortured al-Khatani was not accompanied by any news of efforts to bring those responsible to justice.” Such a government commission “must not be used to block or delay the prosecution of any individual against whom there is already sufficient evidence of wrongdoing. A criminal investigation into the torture of Mohamed al-Khatani is already long overdue.” The incoming president, Barack Obama, has already acknowledged that waterboarding, one of the “harsh interrogation techniques” used against Guantanamo detainees, is torture. “Next week, then, the USA will have a president who considers that torture has been committed by the USA,” Amnesty writes. “He will be under an obligation to ensure full individual and institutional accountability. There must be no safe havens for torturers.” As for al-Khatani, Amnesty believes the US should either release him or try him “in accordance with international fair trial standards in an independent and impartial court—not a military commission. No information obtained under torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment should be admitted in any proceedings, except against the perpetrators of any such treatment as evidence that it occurred.” [Amnesty International, 1/14/2009]
Eric Holder. [Source: New York Times]Incoming Attorney General Eric Holder says the Justice Department will defend the US’s warrantless eavesdropping program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005) in court, based on Congress’s passage of legislation immunizing US telecommunications companies from lawsuits challenging their participation in the government spy program (see January 5, 2009). Holder makes this statement during Senate hearings to confirm his selection as attorney general. “The duty of the Justice Department is to defend statutes that have been passed by Congress,” Holder says. “Unless there are compelling reasons, I don’t think we would reverse course.” President-elect Obama, while a senator, opposed granting immunity to the telecommunications firms, but voted for immunity because it was included in a broader surveillance bill that gave the Bush administration broad new powers to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants. [Wired News, 1/15/2009]
Michael Hayden, in the last days of his position as CIA director, defends the agency’s use of secret prisons and extreme interrogation methods on suspected terrorists. Hayden claims the techniques and practices helped prevent new terrorist attacks, though he refuses to provide evidence of this claim, and says that they were done “out of duty, not out of enthusiasm.” Hayden says the CIA detainee program should not be subject to a public investigation, because the program was made legal by secret Justice Department memos (see January 28, 2009) and some members of Congress were informed of the program’s existence. In addition, a public investigation could possibly damage the careers of CIA officers and the agency’s espionage operations. “We are asked to do things routinely that no one else is asked to do, that no one else is allowed to do,” Hayden says. “You can’t do this to these people.” Asked if he was concerned that Attorney General-designee Eric Holder unequivocally termed waterboarding as torture, Hayden responds, “It’s an uninteresting question to the Central Intelligence Agency.” He continues: “We don’t do that. We haven’t done it since March 2003, and we don’t intend to do it. What the agency has done in the past, what it is doing now, what it will do in the future is based on the best legal counsel it has at the time.” Hayden says he was “heartened” by President Obama’s recent remarks that the nation must “move beyond” the Bush years. [McClatchy News, 1/15/2009]
Steven Bradbury, the outgoing head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a legal opinion finding certain earlier opinions from the OLC invalid. Bradbury is referring to several memos issued by former OLC lawyers John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and others after the 9/11 attacks (see March 2, 2009).
'Doubtful Nature' - Bradbury writes that these opinions had not been relied upon since 2003, and notes that it is important to acknowledge in writing “the doubtful nature of these propositions.” The opinions “do not currently reflect, and have not for some years reflected, the views of the” OLC, Bradbury writes, “and on several occasions we have already acknowledged the doubtful nature of these propositions.”
President's Position - One portion of Bradbury’s memo says it is “not sustainable” to argue that the president’s power as commander in chief “precludes Congress from enacting any legislation concerning the detention, interrogation, prosecution, and transfer of enemy combatants.” Bradbury is referring to a 2002 memo that claimed President Bush could order the “rendition” of detainees to other countries without regard to Congressional legislation (see March 13, 2002).
'Novel and Complex Questions' - In repudiating the memos, Bradbury writes that they were the product of Yoo and others confronting what he calls “novel and complex questions in a time of great danger and under extraordinary time pressure.” [US Department of Justice, 1/15/2009 ; New York Times, 3/2/2009; Reuters, 3/2/2009]
Response - Yale law professor Jack Balkin later notes that the memo does not repudiate “any of the Bush administration’s specific policies regarding surveillance, detention, and interrogation.” [Jack Balkin, 3/3/2009] In 2004, the Justice Department repudiated the so-called “golden shield” memo, written by Yoo and the then-chief counsel for Vice President Cheney, David Addington, which gave US personnel almost unlimited authority to torture prisoners (see August 1, 2002). The New York Times writes that Bradbury’s last-minute memo “appears to have been the Bush lawyers’ last effort to reconcile their views with the wide rejection by legal scholars and some Supreme Court opinions of the sweeping assertions of presidential authority made earlier by the Justice Department.” Walter Dellinger, who headed the OLC during the Clinton administration, says that Bradbury’s memo “disclaiming the opinions of earlier Bush lawyers sets out in blunt detail how irresponsible those earlier opinions were.” Dellinger says it is important to note that the Bush administration’s assertions “that Congress had absolutely no role in these national security issues was contrary to constitutional text, historical practice, and judicial precedent.” [New York Times, 3/2/2009] Bradbury, who like Yoo and Bybee may face disbarment, is careful to note that while the legal opinions are invalid, he is not suggesting that the authors did not “satisfy” professional standards. [Washington Post, 3/3/2009]
Mark Denbeaux. [Source: Seton Hall University]Mark Denbeaux, the director of the Seton Hall Law School Center for Policy and Research, and the lawyer for two detainees at Guantanamo, describes how his research disproved the Pentagon’s recent claim that 61 former detainees have returned to terrorist activities (see January 13-14, 2009). Denbeaux, interviewed by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, says that his analysis of the information released by the government shows that the claim has changed over and over again, and has never been supported by evidence. “Our model is simply to look at what the government’s reports show and analyze them,” he says. “The government has given its 43rd attempt to describe the number of people who have left Guantanamo and returned to the battlefield. Forty-one times they have done it orally as they have this last time. And their numbers have changed from 20 to 12 to seven to more than five to two to a couple to a few—25, 29, 12 to 24. Every time, the number has been different. In fact, every time they give a number, they don’t identify a date, a place, a time, a name, or an incident to support their claim.” In June 2007, Denbeaux says, the Pentagon identified 15 detainees as having “returned to the battlefield.” Denbeaux analyzed the information about the 15 so-called “recidivist terrorists.” Three of the 15, the so-called “Tipton Three” (see November 28, 2001), were considered as having “returned to the battlefield” because of their appearance in a documentary, The Road to Guantanamo. Five others are Chinese Uighurs who were listed as having “returned to terrorism” because one of their number wrote an editorial criticizing Guantanamo detention policies (see September 17, 2006). Two others were never at Guantanamo. Two were Russians who were arrested in Russia but never prosecuted. Two were arrested in their home country of Morocco, and the last was arrested in his home country of Turkey. So of the 15 so-called “recidivists,” a maximum of three could even be considered as possibly “returning to the battlefield.” Denbeaux says that the current listing of 61 so-called “recidivists” includes the 15 on the 2007 list, and the remaining 46 names have similar issues with documenting actual acts of terrorism. [MSNBC, 1/16/2009]
Neal Katyal. [Source: PBS]Georgetown law professor Neal Katyal is to be named the Justice Department’s deputy solicitor general. Katyal successfully argued for the defense in the landmark Hamdan v. Rumsfeld trial before the Supreme Court (see June 30, 2006). Legal Times reporter Joe Palazzolo writes, “Katyal’s appointment is another strong signal of President-elect Barack Obama’s intentions to depart sharply from the terrorist detention and interrogation policies of the Bush administration.” The Hamdan case, “which marked Katyal’s first appearance before the high court, was a stinging rebuke to [President Bush’s] broad assertion of wartime power.” Katyal’s boss, Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan, was named earlier in the month. Katyal was incoming Attorney General Eric Holder’s national security adviser in the Justice Department from 1998 to 1999, when Holder was deputy attorney general for the Clinton administration. Katyal also served as one of the co-counsels for Vice President Gore in the Supreme Court election dispute of December 2000. He once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. [Legal Times, 1/17/2009]
Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld (see January 13, 2009), a former Army prosecutor at Guantanamo who resigned his position in September 2008 (see September 2008), publishes a column in the Washington Post explaining his decision. After a lengthy recounting of his experiences at Guantanamo, he concludes: “I am ashamed that it took me so long to recognize the stain of Guantanamo, not simply on America’s standing in the world, but as part, now, of a history we cannot undo. We have kept human beings in solitary confinement for as long as seven years, even though they have never been charged with any crime. In other places, we have beaten hooded, shackled prisoners, at least two of whom died as a result. There is a way out of Guantanamo. It is not as difficult as some apologists have made it seem. Many of the detainees have not committed war crimes and the handful of real terrorists and war criminals can be tried in federal court.… For the detainees who have not committed any crime, we must begin an immediate and intensive program of rehabilitation that will allow them to reintegrate into the societies from which they were removed on the flimsiest of legal bases.… No one who has fought for our country and its values has done so to enable what happened in Guantanamo. We did not sacrifice so that an administration of partisan civilians, abetted by military officers who seemed to have lost their moral compass, could defile our Constitution and misuse the rule of law. For a few dark years, it was ‘legal’ to mistreat fellow human beings. Now, some of that treatment has been called ‘torture’ by Susan Crawford, the convening authority of military commissions (see January 14, 2009). I just hope no one will see that kind of abuse—and look the other way—again.” [Washington Post, 1/18/2009]
As one of its last official acts, the Bush administration asks federal judge Vaughn Walker to stay his ruling that keeps alive a lawsuit testing whether a sitting president can bypass Congress and eavesdrop on Americans without warrants. The request, filed at 10:56 p.m. on President Bush’s last full day in office, asks Walker to stay his ruling and allow the federal government to appeal his ruling that allows the al-Haramain lawsuit to proceed (see February 28, 2006). The warrantless wiretapping alleged in the lawsuit took place in 2004, well before Congress’s 2008 authorization of the government’s spy program. The Obama administration’s incoming Attorney General, Eric Holder, says the Justice Department will defend the spy program because Congress made it legal (see January 15, 2009). It is not clear whether the Justice Department under Holder will continue to fight the Al Haramain lawsuit. The Bush administration wants Walker to reverse his decision to let plaintiffs’ lawyers Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoo use a Top Secret document that was accidentally disclosed to them in 2004 (see January 5, 2009); that document, which allegedly proves the warrantless and illegal nature of the wiretapping performed against the Al Haramain charity, is at the center of the lawsuit. Previous rulings disallowed the use of the document and forced the defense lawyers to return it to the government, but Walker ruled that other evidence supported the claim of warrantless wiretapping, and therefore the document could be used. In its request for a stay, the Bush administration asserts that allowing the document to be used in the lawsuit would jeopardize national security, and that the document is protected under the state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953). Administration lawyers say that Walker should not be allowed to see the document, much less the defense lawyers. “If the court were to find… that none of the plaintiffs are aggrieved parties, the case obviously could not proceed, but such a holding would reveal to plaintiffs and the public at large information that is protected by the state secrets privilege—namely, that certain individuals were not subject to alleged surveillance,” the administration writes in its request. If the lawsuit continues, the government says, that decision “would confirm that a plaintiff was subject to surveillance” and therefore should not be allowed: “Indeed, if the actual facts were that just one of the plaintiffs had been subject to alleged surveillance, any such differentiation likewise could not be disclosed because it would inherently reveal intelligence information as to who was and was not a subject of interest, which communications were and were not of intelligence interest, and which modes of communication were and were not of intelligence interest, and which modes of communication may or may not have been subject to surveillance.” Jon Eisenberg, the lawyer for Belew and Ghafoo, says: “We filed this lawsuit to establish a judicial precedent that the president cannot disregard Congress in the name of national security. Plaintiffs have a right to litigate the legality of the surveillance.” [Wired News, 1/20/2009]
Robert Fuller, an FBI agent who interrogated Canadian terror suspect Omar Khadr at Bagram Air Base in 2002 (see October 7-22, 2002), testifies about the interrogation at a Guantanamo hearing. The hearing was requested by Khadr’s defence team, to have self-incriminating statements Khadr made during interrogations suppressed ahead of proceedings before a military commission. Fuller says that, during the interrogation, Khadr told him he recognised a man named Maher Arar from a safe house run by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and also possibly from a terror training camp. “He identified him by name,” Fuller says. [CBC News, 1/20/2009; Canwest News Service, 1/20/2009] However, cross-examination by the defense the next day will raise several issues that cast doubt on the identification (see January 20, 2009).
Former US attorney David Iglesias, who was fired in 2006 for refusing to prosecute politically motivated cases for the Bush administration Justice Department, is to help prosecute cases involving Guantanamo detainees. Iglesias is an officer in the Naval Reserve Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, and, as he tells a New Mexico news station, he has been reactivated to join a special prosecution team for the detainees. “One hundred percent of what I’m doing is prosecuting terrorist cases out of Guantanamo,” he says. “It’s the most significant set of orders I’ve had in my 24 years of Navy service. The level of detail that I’m looking into some of these terrorist groups, it just takes my breath away.” He adds, “We want to make sure that those terrorists that did commit acts will be brought to justice—and those that did not will be released.” [KRQE-TV, 1/20/2009; TPM Muckraker, 1/21/2009]
As one of his first official acts as president, Barack Obama orders that all military prosecutions of terrorist suspects at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility be suspended for 120 days. The order comes during the inaugural ceremonies, and is issued by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the only Cabinet holdover from the Bush administration. “In the interests of justice, and at the direction of the president of the United States and the secretary of defense, the government respectfully requests the military commission grant a continuance of the proceedings in the above-captioned case until 20 May 2009,” the request reads. [CNN, 1/21/2009; Agence France-Presse, 1/21/2009] Obama promised repeatedly during and after the presidential campaign that he would close the detention facility at the Guantanamo Naval Base. This request does not go that far, but it does bring to a halt the planned prosecution of 21 detainees currently facing war crimes charges, including 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Jamil Dakwar, a representative for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) at the base, calls the request “a good step in the right direction.” Gabor Rona, an observer for Human Rights Watch, also calls the order “a first step.” Rona continues, “The very fact that it’s one of his first acts reflects a sense of urgency that the US cannot afford one more day of counterproductive and illegal proceedings in the fight against terrorism.” Dakwar says the ACLU believes all charges against the prisoners should be dropped. “A shutdown of this discredited system is warranted,” he says. “The president’s order leaves open the option of this discredited system remaining in existence.” Major Jon Jackson, the lawyer for one of the 9/11 defendants, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (see Early-Late June, 2001 and September 24, 2001-December 26, 2002), says, “We welcome our new commander in chief and this first step towards restoring the rule of law.” Approximately 245 detainees are currently housed at the camp; some 60 detainees have been cleared for release, but no country has agreed to take them. [CNN, 1/21/2009; Washington Post, 1/21/2009] Michele Cercone, spokesman for the European Union Justice and Home Affairs Commission, says the commission “has been very pleased that one of the first actions of Mr. Obama has been to turn the page on this sad episode of Guantanamo.” The request is accepted the day after (see January 21, 2009), and the Los Angeles Times writes that it “may be the beginning of the end for the Bush administration’s system of trying alleged terrorists.” [Associated Press, 1/21/2009]
Entity Tags: Jon Jackson, European Union Justice and Home Affairs Commission, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, American Civil Liberties Union, Gabor Rona, Jamil Dakwar, Los Angeles Times, Robert M. Gates, Michele Cercone, Human Rights Watch, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
Constitutional lawyer and author Bruce Fein, a former official in the Justice Department under Ronald Reagan, writes that if President Obama wants to “restore the rule of law and to prevent future wrongdoing by high-level government officials,” he “should investigate, among others, former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former White House counsel and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and former White House political adviser Karl Rove. The crimes to be investigated should include complicity in torture, illegal surveillance, illegal detention, perjury, obstruction of justice, and contempt of Congress. Prosecutions should follow if the evidence convinces a grand jury to indict.” Fein states that “[t]he best way to deter government criminality and to teach citizens the rule of law is to punish the perpetrators who are unanimously found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by independent and impartial jurors.”
FBI, CIA Feared Prosecution for Torture - He notes that the FBI refused to participate in “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding, for fear of being charged with war crimes. And the CIA required specific legal opinions from the Bush Justice Department—the so-called “golden shield” (see August 1, 2002)—and specific presidential authorization before it would allow its agents to torture detainees. And the White House ordered an end to waterboarding after it was warned that such tactics left its officials open to charges of torture and war crimes.
Attorney General Feared Prosecution under FISA - He goes on to note that Justice Department officials such as acting Attorney General James Comey “balked at approving… Bush’s warrantless surveillance program without modification in March 2004 probably because he feared criminal prosecution under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act” (see 1978).
'Unpunished Lawlessness by Government Officials Invites Lawlessness Generally' - Fein asserts that “unpunished lawlessness by government officials invites lawlessness generally.” He quotes former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis: “Decency, security, and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.” The best way to deter criminal behavior, he says, is to prosecute alleged criminals, and that process must start with government officials. [Washington Times, 1/20/2009]
Officials for the incoming Obama administration are dismayed to find that the task of closing Guantanamo Bay, one of President Obama’s first orders as president (see January 22, 2009), is going to be much harder than anticipated, because the records and details of the approximately 245 prisoners in custody are in terrific disarray. Obama officials, barred from examining classified records on the detainees until the inauguration, also find that many of the prisoners have no comprehensive case files at all. What information that does exist on the detainees is, according to a senior Obama official, “scattered throughout the executive branch.” Most detainees have little more than a dossier containing brief summaries of information, and lack any sort of background or investigative information that would be required for federal prosecutions. Obama named a Cabinet-level panel to review each case individually before the base is to be closed in a year, and those panel members will now have to spend weeks and perhaps months hunting down and correlating relevant material.
'Food Fights' among Bush Agencies - Officials from the former Bush administration admit that the files are incomplete, and that no single government office was tasked with keeping the information on Guantanamo detainees together. They blame the CIA and other intelligence agencies for not adequately sharing information, and add that the Bush administration’s focus was more on detention and interrogation, and much less on putting together information for future prosecutions. A former Pentagon official says that “regular food fights” between competing government agencies over the sharing of information contributed to the lack of coherent and consistent files. (A CIA official denies that the agency ever balked at sharing information with other governmental agencies, and says the Defense Department was more likely to be responsible for laspes in information.)
Former Bush Officials Say Obama Officials 'Look[ing] for Excuses' - However, other former Bush officials say the Obama team is trying to “look for excuses” instead of dealing with the complexities of the issues involved. Obama officials, after promising quick solutions, are now “backpedaling and trying to buy time” by blaming its predecessor, according to a former senior Bush official. He says that “all but about 60… are either high-level al-Qaeda people responsible for 9/11 or bombings, or were high-level Taliban or al-Qaeda facilitators or money people,” and the Obama administration will come to the same conclusion as Bush officials: that they need to stay in detention without trial or charges.
Files 'Not Comprehensive,' Problem Noted in Previous Judicial Proceedings - But Obama officials say they want to make their own judgments. A senior Obama official says: “The consensus among almost everyone is that the current system is not in our national interest and not sustainable. [But] it’s clear that we can’t clear up this issue overnight” in part because the files “are not comprehensive.” Justice Department lawyers claim that after the Supreme Court ruled detainees have habeas corpus rights (see June 30, 2006), Bush officials were “overwhelmed” by the sudden need to gather and correlate information and material. In one federal filing, the Justice Department told a court that the record for a particular detainee “is not simply a collection of papers sitting in a box at the Defense Department. It is a massive undertaking just to produce the record in this one case.” In another filing, Justice Department officials told a court that “defending these cases requires an intense, inter-agency coordination of efforts. None of the relevant agencies, however, was prepared to handle this volume of habeas cases on an expedited basis.” Some former military officials say that evidence gathered for military commissions trials was scattered and incomplete. One former Guantanamo prosecutor, Darrel Vandeveld, says evidence was “strewn throughout the prosecution offices in desk drawers, bookcases packed with vaguely-labeled plastic containers, or even simply piled on the tops of desks.” He says he once accidentally found “crucial physical evidence” that “had been tossed in a locker located at Guantanamo and promptly forgotten.” [Washington Post, 1/25/2009] Vandeveld says that evidence at Guantanamo was often so disorganized “it was like a stash of documents found in a village in a raid and just put on a plane to the US.” [United Press International, 1/14/2009]
Prosecutors Lacked Evidence Necessary for Prosecutions, Says Senior Official - “A prosecutor has an ethical obligation to review all the evidence before making a charging decision,” says Susan Crawford, the convening authority for the military commissions. “And they didn’t have access to all the evidence, including medical records, interrogation logs, and they were making charging decisions without looking at everything.” Crawford has stated that another detainee was tortured while at Guantanamo (see January 14, 2009). [ABA Journal, 1/14/2009]
Defense Department: Information There, but Scattered - Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says the files are in good order: “Fundamentally, we believe that the individual files on each detainee are comprehensive and sufficiently organized,” however, “in many cases, there will be thousands of pages of documents… which makes a comprehensive assessment a time-consuming endeavor.… Not all the documents are physically located in one place,” but most are available through a database. “The main point here is that there are lots of records, and we are prepared to make them available to anybody who needs to see them as part of this review.” [Washington Post, 1/25/2009]
Under cross-examination at a pre-military commission hearing, FBI agent Robert Fuller provides a version of an interrogation of detainee Omar Khadr different to the one he gave a day earlier under direct examination (see January 19, 2009). Fuller had previously described an interrogation of Khadr at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan where Khadr linked a terror suspect named Maher Arar to al-Qaeda (see October 7-22, 2002) through a photograph identification. However, a lawyer for Khadr pulls out Fuller’s contemporary report of the interrogation and shows that the identification did not happen immediately, as Fuller initially claimed, but that it took several minutes. Lawyers for Khadr will also argue that their client made false statements to interrogators to avoid abuse, and that Arar was in the US and Canada at the time Khadr said he saw him in Afghanistan. [CBC News, 1/20/2009; Canwest News Service, 1/20/2009]
The Swiss government says it will consider allowing Guantanamo detainees to be repatriated to Switzerland if it will help shut down that detention facility. In a statement, the Swiss government says: “For Switzerland, the detention of people in Guantanamo is in conflict with international law. Switzerland is ready to consider how it can contribute to the solution of the Guantanamo problem.” The Swiss government says it welcomes the expressed intention of President Obama to close the prison, and says it will investigate the security and legal implications of possibly taking in detainees. After calling for years for the detention camp to be shut down, European governments are now under some pressure to help find a home for the approximately 245 detainees. Many of the detainees’ home countries are refusing to take them back, and the US under former President Bush says it will not allow them to remain in the US if released. Switzerland is a traditional supporter of refugees, and the home of international organizations such as the Red Cross and the United Nations’s refugee agencies. At least two other European nations, Portugal and France, have stated their willingness to accept detainees. [Reuters, 1/21/2009]
Omar Khadr. The photo, presumably taken in 2001, was given to Canadian reporters by his mother, Maha Khadr, after a 2005 press conference. [Source: Maha Khadr / Associated Press]Colonel Patrick Parrish, a military judge in the Guantanamo prosecutions, orders that the trial of Omar Khadr be suspended. President Obama has asked for all trials of Guantanamo detainees to be suspended for 120 days (see January 20, 2009). Other trials are almost certain to be suspended as well, including the trial of five detainees accused of participating in the 9/11 attacks. Khadr is accused of killing a US soldier in Afghanistan with a grenade during a firefight in 2001. Khadr, who was 15 at the time, was captured shortly thereafter. He has been in detention ever since. Military prosecutors say it is “in the interests of justice” to freeze the trials until about May 20 to give the new administration time to evaluate the cases and decide what forum best suits any future prosecution. Obama has repeatedly promised to shut down the Guantanamo prison camp; it is not clear what will happen to the approximately 245 detainees currently housed there. While officials of the former Bush administration have said they planned to bring some 80 detainees to trial, as yet only three trials have been held. [Reuters, 1/21/2009] Prosecutor Clay Trivett says all pending cases should be suspended because a review of the military commissions system may result in significant changes. Khadr’s defense lawyer, Lieutenant Commander William Kuebler, says the suspension “has the practical effect of stopping the process, probably forever.… This military process and the charges Omar faced are dead.” Kuebler says Khadr should either be returned to his native Canada or tried in a civilian court. “He’s anxious, he’s nervous,” Kuebler says. “Let’s hope this creates the process… that will take Omar back to Canada.” The de facto leader of the five men accused of planning the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, tells court officials he opposes the delay. “We should continue so we don’t go backward, we go forward,” he says. [Associated Press, 1/21/2009; Washington Post, 1/21/2009]
Lindsey Graham. [Source: Boston Globe]Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) says that some detainees currently held in Guantanamo should be imprisoned indefinitely, without legal recourse. Graham is responding to President Obama’s order to close Guantanamo within a year (see January 22, 2009). On Fox News, Graham says, “I do believe we can close Gitmo, but what to do with them [the remaining detainees]?” He says there are three options: “Repatriate some back to other countries makes sense, if you can do it safely. Some of them will be tried for war crimes. And a third group will be held indefinitely because the sensitive nature of the evidence may not subject them to the normal criminal process, but if you let them go, we’ll be letting go someone who wants to go back to the fight.… So we’ve got three lanes we’ve got to deal with: repatriation, trials, and indefinite detention.” Civil liberties expert Ken Gude is critical of Graham’s position: “US courts have tried some of the most dangerous terrorists the world has ever known, and done so while both protecting classified information and the rights of the accused to ensure the verdict is fair, legitimate, and accurate.… Of course these prosecutions will not be easy, but the admissibility of classified evidence is not an insurmountable obstacle to trials of Guantanamo detainees.” [Think Progress, 1/21/2009]
Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which released a classified report on the Bush administration’s policies on torture (see December 11, 2008), suggests to Eric Holder, the attorney general-nominee, that President Obama appoint someone with “real credibility” to mount an independent investigation into the use of torture by US officials. He tells a reporter: “We’re going to try to complete this investigation, at least on the [Defense Department] side… [b]ut on the intelligence, the CIA side, that’s going to be up to the Intelligence Committee. I know I suggested to Eric Holder… that he select some people or hire an outside person whose got real credibility, perhaps a retired federal judge, to take all the available information, and there’s reams of it.” [Think Progress, 1/22/2009]
Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, asked if waterboarding is torture, replies, “Absolutely.” Armitage’s interview is broadcast as part of the WNET documentary Torturing Democracy. Armitage, who graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1967 and served in Vietnam, was waterboarded as part of his Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training, which was later used as a platform for developing the Bush administration’s torture policies (see December 2001 and January 2002 and After). He describes his own waterboarding, with physical gestures: “I was put on an incline. My legs were like that and my back went down. I can’t remember if it was a wet T-shirt or a wet towel was put over my nose and mouth, and it was completely soaked. But I could still breathe. And then a question would be asked and I would not answer, and water would slowly be poured in this. And the next time I took a breath, I’d be drawing in water, whether I took it from my mouth or my nose. For me, it was simply a feeling of helplessness.” The interviewer observes: “I’ve talked to a former SERE instructor who was also waterboarded, and he said there’s nothing simulated about it. You think you are drowning.” Armitage replies: “Except in the case that I did realize I was in Northern California, and I did realize the people doing this were actually on my side. But the sensation to me was one of total helplessness, and I’ve had a lot of sensations in my life, but helplessness was not generally one of them. But the sensation was enormously unpleasant and frightening to me.” Would he describe it as torture? Armitage is asked. “Absolutely,” he responds. “No question.” The interviewer then asks, “So how do you explain the recent indecision over whether or not waterboarding is torture?” Armitage responds: “I cannot believe that my nation is having a discussion on what is torture. There is no question in my mind—there’s no question in any reasonable human being, there shouldn’t be, that this is torture. I’m ashamed that we’re even having this discussion.” Armitage says the State Department was deliberately left out of the Bush administration discussions of torture, “I think precisely because we’d have no part of it.” As for the discussions among White House and Justice Department officials over what did and did not constitute torture, Armitage says: “Well, if you were twisting yourselves into knots because you’re fearful that you may be avoiding some war crimes, then you’re probably tripping too closely to the edge. The fact that you want to have a discussion about how to avoid being accused of war crimes would indicate that you’re pretty close to the edge to me.” [National Security Archives, 1/21/2009]
President Barack Obama signs a series of executive orders mandating the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within one year’s time, and declares that prisoners at that facility will be treated within the parameters of the Geneva Conventions. Obama’s order also mandates the closure of the CIA’s secret prisons overseas. Another element of those orders bans the practice of torture on detainees (see January 22, 2009). Obama calls the order the first move by his administration to reclaim “the moral high ground” vacated by the previous administration. Americans understand that battling terrorism cannot continue with a “false choice between our safety and our ideals,” he says. [Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2009; Washington Post, 1/23/2009] “We can no longer afford drift, and we can no longer afford delay, nor can we cede ground to those who seek destruction,” he adds. [Associated Press, 1/22/2009] “We believe we can abide by a rule that says, we don’t torture, but we can effectively obtain the intelligence we need.” [New York Times, 1/23/2009] The Washington Post reports that the orders essentially end the “war on terror” as it has been managed by the Bush administration, and writes, “[T]he notion that a president can circumvent long-standing US laws simply by declaring war was halted by executive order in the Oval Office.” However, Obama’s order does not detail what should be done with the detainees currently housed at Guantanamo. According to a White House summary, Obama’s orders “set… up an immediate review to determine whether it is possible to transfer detainees to third countries, consistent with national security.” If a prisoner cannot be transferred, “a second review will determine whether prosecution is possible and in what forum.” Obama says, “The message that we are sending the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism and we are going to do so vigilantly and we are going to do so effectively and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals.” The US will now “observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard,” he adds. The orders do not specifically ban the practice of “rendition,” or secretly transferring prisoners to the custody of other nations, some of which practice torture. “There are some renditions that are, in fact, justifiable, defensible,” says a senior Obama administration official. “There’s not going to be rendition to any country that engages in torture.”
Republicans, Conservatives Object - Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), a supporter of torture by the Bush administration, says Obama’s orders are imprecise and vague: “This is an executive order that places hope ahead of reality—it sets an objective without a plan to get there.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2009; Washington Post, 1/23/2009] “What do we do with confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his fellow terrorist conspirators.” Hoekstra asks, “offer them jail cells in American communities?” [Financial Times, 1/22/2009] Conservative news outlet Fox News tells its viewers, “The National Security Council told Fox that for now even [O]sama bin Laden or a high-ranking terrorist planner would be shielded from aggressive interrogation techniques that the CIA says produced lifesaving intelligence from… Mohammed.” [US News and World Report, 1/23/2009]
'A New Era for America' - Newly installed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a different view. “I believe with all my heart that this is a new era for America,” she tells reporters as she assumes her duties at the State Department. [Agence France-Presse, 1/22/2009] Former Bush official John Bellinger, the National Security Council’s top legal adviser, praises Obama’s orders, calling them “measured” and noting that they “do not take any rash actions.” Bellinger adds: “Although the Gitmo order is primarily symbolic, it is very important. It accomplishes what we could never accomplish during the Bush administration.” [New York Times, 1/23/2009] Retired admiral John Hutson agrees. “It is a 180 degree turn,” says Hutson. “It restores our status in the world. It enables us to be proud of the way we are prosecuting the war.” Closing the Guantanamo prison camp and banning torture “is the right thing to do morally, diplomatically, militarily and constitutionally,” Hutson adds, “but it also makes us safer.” Senator John Kerry (D-MA) calls the move “a great day for the rule of law.” [Financial Times, 1/22/2009; New York Times, 1/23/2009]
Entity Tags: Peter Hoekstra, Hillary Clinton, John Bellinger, Obama administration, John D. Hutson, John Kerry, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, National Security Council, Fox News, Washington Post, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
Dennis Blair. [Source: US Navy / Public domain]Retired Admiral Dennis Blair, President Obama’s pick as Director of National Intelligence, refuses to state that waterboarding is torture during his Senate confirmation hearings. Blair, worried that for him to make such a characterization might place CIA employees who used the technique in legal jeopardy, says instead, “I’m hesitating to set a standard here.” He then says: “There will be no waterboarding on my watch. There will be no torture on my watch.” In last week’s Senate hearings, Obama’s nominee for Attorney General, Eric Holder, said flatly, “Waterboarding is torture.” Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) tells Blair, “If the attorney general designee can answer it, you can too.” After the day’s hearings, Blair tells reporters that CIA agents who violated internal standards should be held accountable, and that an Obama task force overhauling interrogation policies would examine the past practices. [Reuters, 1/22/2009]
David Kris. [Source: Brookings Institution]President Obama picks as his nominee to lead the Justice Department’s National Security Division an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s legal justifications for warrantless wiretapping. David Kris served as a senior Justice Department official in both the Clinton and Bush administrations before accepting a position at Georgetown University’s law school, and is considered an expert on intelligence law. After the New York Times revealed the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005), Kris wrote a 25-page legal analysis describing the rationale for the program as “weak” and probably invalid. When he was at the Justice Department, Kris advised his then-boss, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, not to sign a batch of wiretapping warrants—results of the warrantless wiretap program—because intelligence officials would not reveal how the information in the wiretaps was obtained. If confirmed by the Senate, Kris will not only oversee intelligence and national security law, but may be responsible for the dispensation of the detainees in the Guantanamo prison camp (see January 22, 2009). [New York Times, 1/22/2009]
The Supreme Court grants the Obama administration a month’s delay in the case of alleged al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali al-Marri (see December 12, 2001). Al-Marri is the only known person being held as an “enemy combatant” in the United States (see June 23, 2003 and January 22, 2009). Obama has directed the Justice Department to review al-Marri’s case. [Associated Press, 1/23/2009]
Retired Major General Paul Eaton, one of the 16 retired flag officers who joined President Obama in Obama’s signing of his executive order banning torture (see January 22, 2009), says that the Abu Ghraib scandal “immediately undermined me, my moral authority” as he worked in Iraq with eight other nations to build up Iraqi security forces. “It created a far more dangerous environment for every soldier, every marine we had in Iraq,” Eaton says. Eaton places direct blame for Abu Ghraib on the Bush administration’s push for enhanced interrogation techniques. [Bloomberg, 1/23/2009]
An array of Afghan and Pakistani human rights representatives and former Guantanamo inmates say that President Obama’s plans to close the detention camp (see January 22, 2009) do not go far enough. Other US detention centers should also be shut down and former inmates should be compensated, they say. Obama “is closing it in order to put an end to the criticism from human rights groups and also to get rid of the bad image it created for the Americans,” says Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, a former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan who spent more than three years imprisoned at Guantanamo. “But he needs to restore justice for prisoners who were persecuted there during investigations. There were innocent people imprisoned there. He needs to put on trial those who were involved in the persecution of inmates.” Lal Gul Lal, the head of the Afghanistan Human Rights Organization, calls the Guantanamo prison “a flagrant violation of international and American laws.” He continues: “If Obama’s administration wants to get rid of the criticism and wants to implement justice then it should hand over to their respective countries all the prisoners it has in various prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. If that does not happen the closure of Guantanamo will have no meaning.” Some 250 prisoners are still being held in Guantanamo, around 600 prisoners still remain in custody at the detention facility at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, and more are being held in camps at Kandahar and Khost. Many of the detainees have never been charged with a crime. Amina Masood Janjua, a Pakistani campaigner for the release of detainees, says while the closing of Guantanamo will be a positive development, “those governments which are running illegal torture cells and safe houses set up by intelligence agencies and militaries should be forced to close them too.” Khalid, a former Pakistani security agent who now heads the Defense of Human Rights organization, calls the closure “nothing… a media stunt.” He adds: “After brutally and inhumanely treating inmates, now they’re pretending that they believe in justice and human rights. What about the human rights crimes committed there? What about those who have seen the worst time of their lives there? Is it that easy to ignore or forgive?” [Reuters, 1/22/2009]
Said Ali al-Shihri. [Source: Interpol]A former Guantanamo Bay detainee apparently resurfaces as a deputy leader of the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda, prompting concerns that closing the detention facility might lead to the release of potentially dangerous terrorists. Said Ali al-Shihri was released from Guantanamo in 2007 and given over to Saudi custody, where he went through what the New York Times calls a “rehabilitation program for former jihadists.” He is suspected of helping carry out a bombing attack near the American Embassy in Yemen in September 2008. Al-Qaeda in Yemen identifies its new deputy leader as “Abu Sayyaf al-Shihri”; “Abu Sayyaf” is a commonly used nom de guerre used by jihadists to conceal their real identities. Almost half of the 245 remaining detainees in Guantanamo are Yemeni nationals like al-Shihri; the US is helping Yemen implement a rehabilitation program similar to the Saudi program. The Saudis claim that no graduate of its program has returned to terrorism. The Pentagon claims that dozens of released Guantanamo detainees have “returned to the fight,” but has provided no documentation of the claim, and many critics disbelieve it (see January 13-14, 2009). Yemeni journalist Abdulela Shaya and terrorism analyst Gregory Johnson both say that the Guantanamo detainee and the Yemeni al-Qaeda deputy are the same person. [New York Times, 1/22/2009]
Retired Brigadier General James Cullen, one of the 16 retired flag officers who joined President Obama in Obama’s signing of his executive order banning torture (see January 22, 2009), calls himself and his fellow officers “flank protection” against any criticism Obama may face for his order. Cullen, who served in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, once thought that the abuses reported at Abu Ghraib prison were aberrations, the acts of a few individuals and perhaps their commanding officers. “I wanted to believe that,” he says. “Then l began to hear similar reports coming out of Guantanamo and Bagram in Afghanistan. There was a pattern—the sexual humiliation, the abuse. This kind of pattern is not a coincidence.” Cullen pins some of the blame for the torture and abuse of prisoners in American custody on former Vice President Dick Cheney, who said five days after the 9/11 attacks that the US would need more than a conventional military response to 9/11: “We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will” (see September 16, 2001). Cullen says that for military personnel, Cheney’s remarks were the equivalent of “the dissolute uncle up there winking, telling him he’s got license.” Cullen says that he was not alone in being shocked and appalled at the reports of torture; many of his fellow flag officers felt the same revulsion. “We were muttering to ourselves in the closet,” he says. “We knew this was not the military we left. Especially after the draft ended, people were in the services because they wanted to be—to better themselves and serve their country. A wonderful group of people who are receptive to training.” Cullen was instrumental in bringing retired flag officers together with Human Rights First, a civil advocacy group, to oppose the Bush torture policies. Cullen says that the practice of torture is not only immoral and inhumane, but ineffective. He says that a favorite scenario—the so-called “ticking time bomb,” where a bomb is planted to go off and only the torture of a suspect will provide the information needed to find and defuse the bomb in time to save civilian lives—is baseless. “It’s a false question from a classroom and from television shows like 24,” Cullen says, because an actual terrorist could give misleading information, or because people under intense pressure will say anything, true or false, to make the torture stop. “Another terrorist attack is going to happen. We feel certain of that. It’s not going to be because we ended torture. We will get better intelligence without it. And we keep our values.” [New York Times, 1/23/2009]
News columnist Ann Woolner writes that with President Obama’s executive orders to close Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009) and stop torture of terror suspects (see January 22, 2009), “I am beginning to recognize my country again.” Referring to the infamous picture of the hooded Abu Ghraib prisoner with electric wires attached to his body (see April 29-30, 2004), “It’s time to lift the hood and let the man under it step off that box.” [Bloomberg, 1/23/2009]
Washington Post reporter Dana Priest, in a news analysis, writes that by signing executive orders to close Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009), stop torture of terror suspects, and void Justice Department legal orders concerning torture and interrogations (see January 22, 2009), President Obama has “effectively declared an end to the ‘war on terror,’ as [former] President George W. Bush had defined it, signaling to the world that the reach of the US government in battling its enemies will not be limitless.” She continues: “While Obama says he has no plans to diminish counterterrorism operations abroad, the notion that a president can circumvent long-standing US laws simply by declaring war was halted by executive order in the Oval Office.… It was a swift and sudden end to an era that was slowly drawing to a close anyway, as public sentiment grew against perceived abuses of government power.” [Washington Post, 1/23/2009]
The Obama administration names Gary Samore, a former National Security Council non-proliferation expert in the Clinton administration, as its coordinator for the prevention of WMD proliferation and terrorism, or its “nonproliferation czar.” Samore’s is a new position, recommended by Congressional legislation passed in 2007 but never created or filled under former President George W. Bush. The post does not require Senate confirmation. [Foreign Policy, 1/23/2009]
White House counsel Greg Craig says that the executive orders given by President Obama in his first days in office, particularly those outlawing torture (see January 22, 2009) and closing Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009) have been in the works for over a year. Craig also notes that Obama has not finished issuing reforms, and has deliberately put off grappling with several of the most thorny legal issues. Craig says that as Obama prepared to issue the orders, he was “very clear in his own mind about what he wanted to accomplish, and what he wanted to leave open for further consultation with experts.”
Process Began before First Presidential Caucus - Craig says that the thinking and discussion behind these orders, and orders which have yet to be issued, began in Iowa in January 2008, before the first presidential caucus. Obama met with former high-ranking military officers who opposed the Bush administration’s legalization of harsh interrogation tactics, including retired four-star generals Dave Maddox and Joseph Hoar. They were sickened at the abuses committed at Abu Ghraib prison, and, as reporter Jane Mayer writes, “disheartened by what they regarded as the illegal and dangerous degradation of military standards.” They had formed what Mayer calls “an unlikely alliance with the legal advocacy group Human Rights First, and had begun lobbying the candidates of both parties to close the loopholes that Bush had opened for torture.” The retired flag officers lectured Obama on the responsibilities of being commander in chief, and warned the candidate that everything he said would be taken as an order by military personnel. As Mayer writes, “Any wiggle room for abusive interrogations, they emphasized, would be construed as permission.” Craig describes the meeting as the beginning of “an education process.”
'Joy' that US is 'Getting Back on Track' - In December 2008, after Obama’s election, the same group of retired flag officers met with Craig and Attorney General-designate Eric Holder. Both Craig and Holder were impressed with arguments made by retired Marine general and conservative Republican Charles Krulak, who argued that ending the Bush administration’s coercive interrogation and detention regime was “right for America and right for the world.” Krulak promised that if the Obama administration would do what he calls “the right thing,” which he acknowledged will not be politically easy, that he would personally “fly cover” for it. Sixteen of those flag officers joined Obama for the signing of the executive order banning torture. After the signing, Obama met with the officers and several administration officials. “It was hugely important to the president to have the input from these military people,” Craig says, “not only because of their proven concern for protecting the American people—they’d dedicated their lives to it—but also because some had their own experience they could speak from.” During that meeting, retired Major General Paul Eaton called torture “the tool of the lazy, the stupid, and the pseudo-tough. It’s also perhaps the greatest recruiting tool that the terrorists have.” Retired Admiral John Hutson said after the meeting that the feeling in the room “was joy, perhaps, that the country was getting back on track.”
Uncertainty at CIA - Some CIA officials are less enthusiastic about Obama’s changes. They insist that their so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” have provided critical intelligence, and, as Craig says, “They disagree in some respect” with Obama’s position. Many CIA officials wonder if they will be forced to follow the same interrogation rules as the military. Obama has indeed stopped torture, Craig says, but the president “is somewhat sympathetic to the spies’ argument that their mission and circumstances are different.” Craig says that during the campaign, Obama’s legal, intelligence, and national security advisers visited CIA headquarters in Langley for two intensive briefings with current and former intelligence officials. The issue of “enhanced interrogation tactics” was discussed, and the advisers asked the intelligence veterans to perform a cost-benefit analysis of such tactics. Craig says, “There was unanimity among Obama’s expert advisers that to change the practices would not in any material way affect the collection of intelligence.” [New Yorker, 1/25/2009]
Entity Tags: Paul Eaton, Dave Maddox, Charles Krulak, Central Intelligence Agency, Barack Obama, Eric Holder, Greg Craig, Human Rights First, Jane Mayer, Joseph Hoar, John D. Hutson, Obama administration
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
President Obama and Hisham Melhem, during the interview. [Source: Al Arabiya / Time]President Obama gives his first interview after assuming the presidency to the Dubai-based satellite broadcaster Al Arabiya. He tells interviewer Hisham Melhem that Americans are not the enemy of the Muslim world, and wants Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace negotiations. [Al Arabiya, 1/27/2009] Melhem, Al Arabiya’s Washington bureau chief, originally believes he was slated to interview the newly named US envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell (see January 22, 2009). Melhem believed there was some discussion among White House officials on whether it was the right time for Obama to grant an interview to the Arab media. The selection of Al Arabiya is deliberate, as that channel is considered more moderate and Western-friendly than, for example, Al Jazeera. [Time, 1/28/2009]
Intent to Reopen Talks between Israel, Palestinians - Obama intends to resume negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and says the US will open up new talks by listening to the two sides instead of immediately issuing demands. “[W]hat I told Mitchell] is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating—in the past on some of these issues—and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved. So let’s listen. He’s going to be speaking to all the major parties involved. And he will then report back to me. From there we will formulate a specific response. Ultimately, we cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what’s best for them. They’re going to have to make some decisions. But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. And that instead, it’s time to return to the negotiating table.” The larger peace plan for the Middle East recently proposed by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah will play an important role in the negotiations, Obama says.
'A Language of Respect' - Language matters, Obama notes. “[M]y job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world that the language we use has to be a language of respect,” he says. “[T]he language we use matters. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith’s name.”
Restoring Relations with the Muslim World - Melhem asks Obama about tensions between the US and the Islamic world, inflamed by demagogues and extremists on both sides. Obama says: “Well, I think that when you look at the rhetoric that they [extremists]‘ve been using against me before I even took office… what that tells me is that their ideas are bankrupt. There’s no actions that they’ve taken that say a child in the Muslim world is getting a better education because of them, or has better health care because of them.” Obama reminds Melhem, and the viewers, that he lived for a time in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, during his childhood. He learned through his experiences in Indonesia and other Muslim countries that everyone, regardless of differences in culture or faith, has similar hopes and aspirations. “My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy,” he says. “We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there’s no reason why we can’t restore that.”
Dealing with Iran - Wrapping up the interview, Melhem asks if the US is prepared to “live with a nuclear Iran.” Obama responds: “I said during the campaign that it is very important for us to make sure that we are using all the tools of US power, including diplomacy, in our relationship with Iran.… Iran has acted in ways that’s not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region: their threats against Israel; their pursuit of a nuclear weapon which could potentially set off an arms race in the region that would make everybody less safe; their support of terrorist organizations in the past—none of these things have been helpful. But I do think that it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress.” [Al Arabiya, 1/27/2009]
Responses - In Pakistan, Obama’s interview is widely viewed, and receives what CNN calls “a generally positive response from analysts there.” Islamabad author and journalist Imtiaz Gul says, “It’s a good sign of an attempt to reconcile with the Muslim world, to say America wants to reach out to them and not to consider them as an enemy.” [CNN, 1/27/2009] Egyptian student Omar Youssef, who has joined in protests against the Israeli war in Gaza, says of Obama: “He’s a man of diplomacy and speaks well. Bush, Arab people hate him. But the world needs a man like Obama.” Another student, Ahmed Mahmoud, adds, “Maybe if he can solve the problem between white and black people in America, he can also solve the problem between Arab and Jewish people here.” [Time, 1/28/2009] Melhem, who has long criticized US policies towards the Middle East, later says he was touched by Obama’s conciliatory tone and references to his Muslim roots. “You can feel the authenticity about him,” he says. “The interview was his way of saying, ‘There is a new wind coming from Washington.’ Barack Obama definitely sees the world differently from a man named George W. Bush.” [Time, 1/29/2009] Al Arabiya General Manager Abdul Rahman al-Rashed says: “What he did campaigning in the US he is trying to do in the Middle East, convincing people that he is on their side. He is telling Muslims that he is proud of his Muslim roots. This is being received positively.” And Jordanian news columnist Jamil Nimri writes, “The language of force, conceit, and threat has totally disappeared.” [Time, 1/28/2009] Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer disputes Obama’s implication that the Bush administration treated Islam with any disrespect, saying: “[S]omehow he is implying that somehow the Obama era is a break with the American past. Somehow it is undoing a disrespect of Islam that had somehow occurred under the previous administration.… We have no need to apologize. Extend a hand, yes, but to imply that there was a disrespect of Islam in the last administration, I think is unfair and fictional.” [Fox News, 1/28/2009]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asks the Obama administration to publicly release some 50 secret Bush Justice Department memos that were written to justify the Bush administration’s interrogation and domestic spying programs. The Bush White House consistently refused to release the memos, citing national security, attorney-client privilege, and the need to protect the government’s deliberative process. The ACLU request comes after President Obama rescinded a 2001 executive order that gave government agencies broad legal cover to reject public disclosure requests (see January 21, 2009). Obama has asked agencies to be more transparent in deciding what documents can and cannot be released under the Freedom of Information Act; the ACLU intends to put Obama’s words to the test. “The president has made a very visible and clear commitment to transparency,” says Jameel Jaffer, the director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. “We’re eager to see that put into practice.” Many see the Justice Department memos, written by lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel, as the “missing puzzle pieces” that will help explain the Bush administration’s antiterrorism policies. Critics of the Bush administration say that the memos may help determine whether officials of the former administration should be held accountable for legal opinions that justified waterboarding and other illegal interrogation practices. “We don’t have anything resembling a full picture of what happened over the last eight years and on what grounds the Bush administration believed it could order such methods,” says Jaffer. “We think the OLC memos are really central to that narrative.” The ACLU is aware of the memos’ existence, but not much else. Jaffer says: “There are about a dozen memos where we just have one or two lines about the subject matter and that’s it. When you put it all together you realize how much is still being held secret.” [McClatchy News, 1/28/2009]
Former US President Jimmy Carter says that any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians must include Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian movement that controls the Gaza Strip. “Hamas has got to be involved before peace can be concluded,” Carter says. Israel, which like the US and many Western nations considers Hamas a terrorist organization, is in the midst of a military operation against Hamas. Carter says that previous presidents have been either unable or unwilling to oppose Israel’s supporters in the US, but he has high hopes for George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s new envoy to the Middle East (see January 22, 2009). “The fact is that very few of the presidents have been willing to confront Israel’s forces in the United States, politically speaking,” Carter says. “If you look at US Middle East envoys in the past, almost all of them have been closely associated with Israel, sometimes even working professionally for Israel. George Mitchell is a balanced and honest broker compared to the others.” He continues by noting that any possible reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, the organization led by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, has been “objected to and obstructed by the US and Israel.” He hopes the Obama administration will work to bring Hamas and Fatah together. Abbas and Fatah control the West Bank, while Hamas controls the Gaza Strip. President Obama has indicated he intends to institute new peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, but has reiterated previous international demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel, renounce violence, and recognize previous peace agreements before they can join in any future negotiations. [Al Jazeera, 1/29/2009; Al Jazeera, 1/29/2009]
John Yoo, the former Bush administration legal adviser who authored numerous opinions on the legality of torture, detentions without legal representation, and warrantless wiretapping (see November 6-10, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, August 1, 2002, and August 1, 2002, among others), writes an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal opposing the Obama administration’s intent to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility (see January 20, 2009 and January 22, 2009)) and restrict the CIA’s ability to torture detainees (see January 22, 2009). Yoo, now a law professor and a member of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, writes that while President Obama’s decision “will please his base” and ease the objections to the Bush “imperial presidency,” it will “also seriously handicap our intelligence agencies from preventing future terrorist attacks.” Yoo writes that the Obama decisions mark a return “to the failed law enforcement approach to fighting terrorism that prevailed before Sept. 11, 2001.” Yoo recommends that Obama stay with what he calls “the Bush system” of handling terror suspects. Yoo fails to note that the US law enforcement system prevented, among others, the “millennium bombing” plot (see December 14, 1999), the plot to bomb New York City’s Lincoln and Holland Tunnels (see June 24, 1993), and Operation Bojinka (see January 6, 1995).
Obama Needs to be Able to Torture Prisoners Just as Bush Did, Yoo Declares - And by eschewing torture, Obama is giving up any chance on forcing information from “the most valuable sources of intelligence on al-Qaeda” currently in American custody. The Bush administration policies prevented subsequent terrorist attacks on the US, Yoo contends, and Obama will need the same widespread latitude to interrogate and torture prisoners that Bush employed: “What is needed are the tools to gain vital intelligence, which is why, under President George W. Bush, the CIA could hold and interrogate high-value al-Qaeda leaders. On the advice of his intelligence advisers, the president could have authorized coercive interrogation methods like those used by Israel and Great Britain in their antiterrorism campaigns. (He could even authorize waterboarding, which he did three times in the years after 9/11.)” It is noteworthy that Yoo refused to confirm that Bush ordered waterboarding of suspects during his previous Congressional hearings (see June 26, 2008).
Interrogations Must be 'Polite' - According to Yoo, in forcing the CIA and other US interrogators to follow the procedures outlined in the Army Field Manual, they can no longer use “coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines used in police stations throughout America.… His new order amounts to requiring—on penalty of prosecution—that CIA interrogators be polite. Coercive measures are unwisely banned with no exceptions, regardless of the danger confronting the country.” [Wall Street Journal, 1/29/2009] Yoo is incorrect in this assertion. The Army Field Manual explicitly countenances many of the “coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines” Yoo says it bans. Further, the Field Manual says nothing about requiring interrogators to be “polite.” [Army, 9/2006] And actual field interrogators such as the Army’s Matthew Alexander have repeatedly said that torturing prisoners is ineffective and counterproductive, while building relationships and treating prisoners with dignity during interrogations produces usable, reliable intelligence (see November 30, 2008).
Shutting Down Military Commissions - Obama’s order to stay all military commission trials and to review the case of “enemy combatant” Ali Saleh al-Marri (see June 23, 2003) is also mistaken, Yoo writes. Yoo fears that Obama will shut down the military commissions in their entirety and instead transfer detainees charged with terrorist acts into the US civilian court system. He also objects to Obama’s apparent intent to declare terrorists to be prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, instead of following the Bush precedent of classifying terrorists “like pirates, illegal combatants who do not fight on behalf of a nation and refuse to obey the laws of war.” To allow terror suspects to have rights under Geneva and the US legal system, Yoo asserts, will stop any possibility of obtaining information from those suspects. Instead, those suspects will begin using the legal system to their own advantage—refusing to talk, insisting on legal representation and speedy trials instead of cooperating with their interrogators. “Our soldiers and agents in the field will have to run more risks as they must secure physical evidence at the point of capture and maintain a chain of custody that will stand up to the standards of a civilian court,” Yoo writes. [Wall Street Journal, 1/29/2009] In reality, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), as well as the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 15, 2005) and the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006), all mandate that detainees must be handled according to the Geneva Conventions.
Risk to Americans - Another effect of transferring detainees into the civilian justice system, Yoo claims, is to allow “our enemies to obtain intelligence on us.” Defense lawyers will insist on revealing US intelligence—information and methods—in open court, and will no doubt force prosecutors to accept plea bargains “rather than risk disclosure of intelligence secrets.”
Obama 'Open[ed] the Door to Further Terrorist Acts on US Soil' - Obama said in his inaugural speech that the US must “reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” Yoo calls that statement “naive,” and writes, “That high-flying rhetoric means that we must give al-Qaeda—a hardened enemy committed to our destruction—the same rights as garden-variety criminals at the cost of losing critical intelligence about real, future threats.” By making his choices, Yoo writes, “Mr. Obama may have opened the door to further terrorist acts on US soil by shattering some of the nation’s most critical defenses.” [Wall Street Journal, 1/29/2009]
Military judge Colonel James Pohl denies the Obama administration’s request to suspend legal proceedings at Guantanamo Bay (see January 20, 2009) in the case of a detainee accused of planning the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). Because of Pohl’s order, the Pentagon may be forced to temporarily withdraw charges against accused Cole plotter Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and perhaps 20 other detainees facing military trials, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see January 5-8, 2000 and November-December 2000).
White House Response - Obama officials are startled by Pohl’s order, as five other military judges have agreed to the government’s request. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says, “We just learned of the ruling here… and we are consulting with the Pentagon and the Department of Justice to explore our options in that case.” Asked if the decision will hamper the administration’s ability to evaluate detainees’ cases, Gibbs replies, “Not at all.”
Judge: Government Arguments 'Unpersuasive' - Pohl says he finds the government’s arguments in favor of suspension “unpersuasive” and that the case will go forward because “the public interest in a speedy trial will be harmed by the delay in the arraignment.” The White House wants the delay in order to review the cases of the approximately 245 detainees at Guantanamo and decide the disposition of each case. Pohl says he is bound by the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006), “which remains in effect.”
Reactions Mixed - Navy Commander Kirk Lippold, who commanded the Cole when it was attacked, says he is “delighted” with the ruling, and adds, “It proves the military commissions work without undue command influence, and this decision puts us back on track to see an accounting for al-Nashiri’s terrorist acts.” Human rights activists disagree, with many arguing that the charges against al-Nashiri and perhaps other detainees should be withdrawn in order to allow the option of preserving or reforming military commissions at a new location. “Given that the Guantanamo order was issued on day two of the new administration, the president was clearly trying to make the immediate decisions needed while giving himself the flexibility to deal with the rest down the road,” says Human Rights Watch official Jennifer Daskal. “That said, the only sure way to ensure that the commissions process is brought to a halt is to now withdraw the charges.”
Options for Proceeding - Susan Crawford, the Pentagon official who approves charges and refers cases to trial (see January 14, 2009), can withdraw charges “without prejudice,” which would allow for refiling at a later date, whether under a modified military commissions procedure or for a civilian or military court. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says, “And so while that executive order is in force and effect, trust me, there will be no proceedings continuing down at Gitmo with military commissions.” Al-Nashiri’s case is complicated by the fact that he is one of at least three detainees who were waterboarded by CIA interrogators (see May 2002-2003). [Washington Post, 1/30/2009]
Entity Tags: Susan Crawford, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Geoff Morrell, James L. Pohl, Jennifer Daskal, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Obama administration, US Department of Justice, Kirk Lippold, Robert Gibbs, US Department of Defense
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Several Republican senators plan to visit the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and report their findings. They are expected to continue their calls for keeping Guantanamo open indefinitely. Senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK), David Vitter (R-LA), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Mel Martinez (R-FL) decided to make the trip after President Obama issued an executive order mandating that the prison be closed within a year (see January 22, 2009). “I’ve always looked at [the prison] as being a real valuable asset,” says Inhofe. He admits he does not “have a solution to what we’re going to ultimately do” with the prisoners deemed most dangerous. “I’m not addressing that problem,” he says. Inhofe says Obama’s order to close the prison “failed to take into consideration the implications of closing [Guantanamo]—what happens to current detainees, what the military will do with detainees held in other military prisons around the world and what judicial process is going to be used.” Obama has asked for a “comprehensive interagency review” to settle those questions. [Daily Oklahoman, 1/30/2009; Bixby Bulletin, 1/30/2009] Burr says that he is “so far unconvinced that moving trained terrorists to the United States is in the best national security interests of our nation.” And Vitter notes that he is “very disappointed in President Obama’s decision to close the detention facility at Guantanamo.” He continues: “This facility should not be closed, and these individuals should not be released until we can determine the extent of their potential involvement in terrorist activities. And we most certainly should use every available measure to ensure that they do not make their way into the United States if in fact they are released.” [Bixby Bulletin, 1/30/2009]
Worry about Housing Detainees in US Prisons - Like Inhofe, Roberts is concerned that some Guantanamo inmates will be transferred into prisons in his home state. Kansas is the home of Fort Leavenworth, which houses a large Army prison. “I am especially concerned with ridiculous speculation that Ft. Leavenworth is equipped to handle these detainees, some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world,” he says. “I am convinced these terrorists cannot and will not be housed in Kansas.” [KansasCW, 1/30/2009]
Advocating Continued Detentions without Trials - In an interview with Fox News, Vitter goes further than his Senatorial colleagues, saying that he favors continuing to detain some suspects without trials. “We need the ability to deal with these folks adequately,” he says. “To me, that has to include the ability to detain some—without trial—to continue proper interrogation.… I’d like to have Gitmo stay open. But certainly, we need detention facilities where we can detain dangerous terrorists without trial, continue to interrogate them.” [Think Progress, 1/30/2009] Fellow Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has already made the same recommendation (see January 21, 2009).
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair says he has constantly questioned his decision to join former US President George W. Bush in the 2003 invasion of Iraq since stepping down as prime minister. Blair, now an international envoy to the Middle East, says he constantly examines his “sense of responsibility” over the deaths of soldiers and civilians since the invasion. Asked if he suffers doubt over the decision to invade, Blair says: “Of course you ask that question the whole time. You’d be weird if you didn’t ask that question.” He adds: “The most difficult thing in any set of circumstances is the sense of responsibility for people who have given their lives and fallen—the soldiers and the civilians. If I did not feel that, there really would be something wrong with me, and there is not a single day of my life when I do not reflect upon it… many times. And that’s as it should be.” Nevertheless, Blair stands by his decision. “On the other hand you have to take the decision,” he says, “and I look at the Middle East now and I think, well, if Saddam and his two sons were still running Iraq how many other people would have died and would the region be more stable?” [Daily Telegraph, 1/30/2009]
Attorneys for Jose Padilla, a US citizen convicted in 2007 of material support for terrorist activities (see May 8, 2002 and August 27, 2002) say that senior Bush administration officials knew Padilla was being tortured ever since being held as an enemy combatant in a South Carolina naval brig (see June 9, 2002). The lawyers say Bush officials such as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld must have known, because of the command structure and because Rumsfeld approved harsh interrogation tactics (see December 2, 2002). Padilla and his mother are suing the government for employing a wide variety of harsh interrogation tactics, including sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, extended periods of isolation, forcible administering of hallucinogenic drugs, threats of death and mutilation, and enforced stress positions, as well as for violating his rights by holding him as an enemy combatant without due legal process. Both Rumsfeld and former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz are named as defendants. Tahlia Townsend, an attorney for Padilla, says: “They knew what was going on at the brig and they permitted it to continue. Defendants Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were routinely consulted on these kinds of questions.” The Justice Department is trying to get the case dismissed. [Raw Story, 1/30/2009] Justice Department lawyers claim that allowing the lawsuit to proceed would damage national security. They argue that a court victory for Padilla “would strike at the core functions of the political branches, impacting military discipline, aiding our enemies, and making the United States more vulnerable to terrorist attack.… Adjudication of the claims pressed by [Padilla] in this case would necessarily require an examination of the manner in which the government identifies, captures, designates, detains, and interrogates enemy combatants.” Padilla is seeking a symbolic $1 fine from each defendant along with a favorable ruling. [Christian Science Monitor, 1/29/2009]
Reflecting on the Bush administration’s prewar insistence that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program (see September 4, 2002, September 8, 2002, and September 8, 2002, among others), Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain’s former ambassador to the UN and its former special representative in Iraq, says: “When I arrived in New York, in July 1998, it was quite clear to me that all the members of the Security Council, including the United States, knew well that there was no current work being done on any kind of nuclear weapons capability in Iraq. It was, therefore, extraordinary to me that later on in this saga there should have been any kind of hint that Iraq had a current capability. Of course, there were worries that Iraq might try, if the opportunity presented itself, to reconstitute that capability. And therefore we kept a very close eye, as governments do in their various ways, on Iraq trying to get hold of nuclear base materials, such as uranium or uranium yellowcake, or trying to get the machinery that was necessary to develop nuclear-weapons-grade material. We were watching this the whole time. There was never any proof, never any hard intelligence, that they had succeeded in doing that. And the American system was entirely aware of this.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Reflecting on the Bush administration’s decision to create “military commissions” to try terror suspects (see November 13, 2001), John Bellinger, the former legal adviser to the National Security Council during much of the Bush administration, says: “A small group of administration lawyers drafted the president’s military order establishing the military commissions, but without the knowledge of the rest of the government, including the national security adviser, me, the secretary of state, or even the CIA director. And even though many of the substantive problems with the military commissions as created by the original order have been resolved by Congress in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hamdan case (see June 30, 2006), we have been suffering from this original process failure ever since.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Alberto Mora, the former general counsel for the Navy and a harsh critic of the Bush administration’s torture policies (see January 23-Late January, 2003), says: “I will tell you this: I will tell you that General Anthony [Antonio] Taguba, who investigated Abu Ghraib, feels now that the proximate cause of Abu Ghraib were the OLC memoranda that authorized abusive treatment (see November 6-10, 2001 and August 1, 2002). And I will also tell you that there are general-rank officers who’ve had senior responsibility within the Joint Staff or counterterrorism operations who believe that the number one and number two leading causes of US combat deaths in Iraq have been, number one, Abu Ghraib, number two, Guantanamo, because of the effectiveness of these symbols in helping recruit jihadists into the field and combat against American soldiers.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Two senior Bush administration officials reflect on the executive order denying any Geneva Convention protections to Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees (see February 7, 2002).
Jack Goldsmith, formerly head of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) at the Justice Department, says: “To conclude that the Geneva Conventions don’t apply—it doesn’t follow from that, or at least it shouldn’t, that detainees don’t get certain rights and certain protections. There are all sorts of very, very good policy reasons why they should have been given a rigorous legal regime whereby we could legitimatize their detention. For years there was just a giant hole, a legal hole of minimal protections, minimal law.” Lawrence Wilkerson, the chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, recalls: “Based on what the secretary and [State Department legal adviser William] Taft were telling me, I think they both were convinced that they had managed to get the president’s attention with regard to what they thought was the governing document, the Geneva Conventions. I really think it came as a surprise when the February memo was put out. And that memo, of course, was constructed by [Cheney chief counsel David] Addington, and I’m told it was blessed by one or two people in OLC. And then it was given to [Vice President] Cheney, and Cheney gave it to the president. The president signed it.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
PBS’s Nova series broadcasts “The Spy Factory,” an examination of the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program. The program is crafted by author and national security expert James Bamford with PBS producer Scott Willis. One portion of the broadcast shows a representation of the enormous data flow of Internet communications entering the US from Asia at Morro Bay, California, and then goes to a small AT&T facility in San Luis Obispo. “If you want to tap into international communications, it seems like the perfect place is San Luis Obispo,” Bamford narrates. “That’s where 80 percent of all communications from Asia enters the United States.” However, the NSA taps into the AT&T datastream much farther north, in AT&T’s Folsom Street facility in San Francisco (see October 2003 and Late 2003). According to former AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004), the NSA would have far more access to domestic communications by tapping into the dataflow at the San Francisco facility. He will later write, “This fact belies the government’s claims that they’re only looking at international communications.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 50-51; PBS, 2/3/2009]
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that because of the Obama administration’s new policies, there is what he calls a “high probability” that terrorists will attempt a catastrophic nuclear or biological attack in coming years. “If it hadn’t been for what we did—with respect to the terrorist surveillance program (see After September 11, 2001 and December 15, 2005), or enhanced interrogation techniques for high-value detainees (see September 16, 2001 and November 14, 2001, among others), the Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001), and so forth—then we would have been attacked again,” says Cheney. “Those policies we put in place, in my opinion, were absolutely crucial to getting us through the last seven-plus years without a major-casualty attack on the US.” The situation has changed, he says. “When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an al-Qaeda terrorist (see January 22, 2009) than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry,” he says. Protecting the country’s security is “a tough, mean, dirty, nasty business,” he continues. “These are evil people. And we’re not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek.” He calls the Guantanamo detention camp, which President Obama has ordered shut down (see January 22, 2009), a “first-class program” and a “necessary facility” that is operated legally and provides inmates better living conditions than they would get in jails in their home countries. But the Obama administration is worried more about its “campaign rhetoric” than it is protecting the nation: “The United States needs to be not so much loved as it needs to be respected. Sometimes, that requires us to take actions that generate controversy. I’m not at all sure that that’s what the Obama administration believes.” Cheney says “the ultimate threat to the country” is “a 9/11-type event where the terrorists are armed with something much more dangerous than an airline ticket and a box cutter—a nuclear weapon or a biological agent of some kind” that is deployed in the middle of an American city. “That’s the one that would involve the deaths of perhaps hundreds of thousands of people, and the one you have to spend a hell of a lot of time guarding against. I think there’s a high probability of such an attempt. Whether or not they can pull it off depends whether or not we keep in place policies that have allowed us to defeat all further attempts, since 9/11, to launch mass-casualty attacks against the United States.” [Politico, 2/4/2009] Cheney has warned of similarly dire consequences to potential Democratic political victories before, before the 2004 presidential elections (see September 7, 2004) and again before the 2006 midterm elections (see October 31, 2006).
Two British High Court judges rule against releasing documents describing the torture and abuse of Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001). The judges cite threats from the US government as shaping their decision, saying that the US had threatened to withhold intelligence cooperation from Britain if the information on Mohamed’s treatment were made public.
Confession through Torture, Detainee Alleges - Mohamed is a British resident who was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 (see September 2001 - April 9, 2002). He was initially charged with planning a “dirty bomb” attack in the US (see November 4, 2005); those charges were later dropped (see October-December 2008), but he has allegedly confessed to being an al-Qaeda operative and remains in detention without charges. Mohamed says that the confession was tortured out of him during his detention in secret prisons in Pakistan (see April 10-May, 2002 and May 17 - July 21, 2002), Morocco (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004), and Afghanistan (see January-September 2004), and later in Guantanamo. During his incarcerations at these various prisons, he says he was beaten, deprived of sleep, and had his genitals cut with a scalpel. Mohamed’s attorneys argue that he has committed no crime and is a victim of torture and rendition by US officials, with British cooperation (see February 24, 2009). [Washington Post, 2/5/2009; Los Angeles Times, 2/5/2009]
Judges, Lawmakers 'Dismayed' at US Threats - In their decision, Judges John Thomas and David Lloyd Jones write, “We did not consider that a democracy governed by the rule of law would expect a court in another democracy to suppress a summary of the evidence… relevant to allegations of torture and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment, politically embarrassing though it might be.” [Washington Post, 2/5/2009] They are dismayed that “there would be made a threat of the gravity of the kind made by the United States government, that it would reconsider its intelligence-sharing relationship” with Britain, one of its closest allies, if the British government made the summary public. [Los Angeles Times, 2/5/2009] They warn that a US withdrawal from intelligence-sharing could “inflict on the citizens of the United Kingdom a very considerable increase in the dangers they face at a time when a serious terrorist threat” remains. Conservative member of parliament David Davis tells the House of Commons, “The government is going to have to do some pretty careful explaining about what’s going on.” It is absolutely inappropriate for the US to have “threatened” the British government, Davis says: “The ruling implies that torture has taken place in the Mohamed case, that British agencies may have been complicit, and further, that the United States government has threatened our High Court that if it releases this information the US government will withdraw its intelligence cooperation with the United Kingdom.… Frankly, it is none of their business what our courts do.”
Lawyer Objects - Clive Stafford Smith, Mohamed’s attorney, says that by not disclosing the evidence, Britain is guilty of “capitulation to blackmail.… The judges used the word ‘threat’ eight times. That’s a criminal offense right there. That’s called blackmail. Only the Mafia have done that sort of stuff.” Smith continues: “It is hardly Britain’s finest hour. As the judges say, it is up to President Obama to put his money where his mouth is. He must repudiate his predecessor’s reprehensible policy.”
Prime Minister Knows Nothing of Threats - Officials in Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s office say they know nothing of any threats from Obama officials. “We have not engaged with the new administration on the detail of this case,” says a Brown spokesman. But British Foreign Secretary David Miliband notes: “Matters regarded as secret by one government should be treated as secret by others. For it to be called into question would pose a serious and real risk to continuing close intelligence-sharing with any government.” Miliband notes that the British government has made “strenuous efforts” to have Mohamed released (see August 2007). [New York Times, 2/4/2009; Washington Post, 2/5/2009]
ACLU Asks for Clarification - The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asking that she clarify the Obama administration’s position on the Mohamed case and to reject what it described as the Bush administration’s policy of using false claims of national security to avoid judicial review of controversial programs. According to ACLU head Anthony Romero, “The latest revelation is completely at odds with President Obama’s executive orders that ban torture and end rendition, as well as his promise to restore the rule of law.” State Department spokesman Robert Wood refuses to comment on the judges’ statement, saying, “It’s the first I’ve heard of it.” [Washington Post, 2/5/2009; Los Angeles Times, 2/5/2009]
Entity Tags: Robert Wood, John Thomas, Binyam Mohamed, Anthony D. Romero, American Civil Liberties Union, Bush administration (43), Obama administration, Clive Stafford Smith, David Lloyd Jones, David Davis, Gordon Brown, David Miliband, Hillary Clinton
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Leon Panetta. [Source: San Diego Union-Tribune]President Obama’s pick to head the CIA, former Clinton administration chief of staff Leon Panetta, says that the CIA will not carry out “extraordinary renditions” under his tenure. Sparked by recent claims that the Obama administration intends to continue such extraordinary renditions, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asks Panetta during his Senate confirmation hearings, “Will the CIA continue the practice of extraordinary rendition by which the government will transfer a detainee to either a foreign government or a black site for the purpose of long-term detention and interrogation, as opposed to for law enforcement purposes?” Panetta says, “No we will not.” He adds, “[B]ecause under the executive order signed by the president (see January 22, 2009), that kind of extraordinary rendition, where we send someone for the purposes of torture or for actions by another country that violate our human values—that has been forbidden by the executive order.” Panetta goes on to note the difference between “extraordinary rendition” and law enforcement rendition. [Think Progress, 2/5/2009]
During Senate confirmation hearings, President Obama’s candidate for CIA director, Leon Panetta, is asked by Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) if a president has the authority to order torture. Panetta responds, “No one is above the law.” He continues: “I understand the powers that the president has under Article II [of the US Constitution], and they are broad powers, but nobody is above the law. Nobody is above the law. And I think that even the president of the United States has to abide by the statutes and by the laws passed by the Congress. So yes, he has broad authority under Article II, but I do not think he can violate the laws of this country.” [Think Progress, 2/5/2009]
Upon his return from a brief tour of the Guantanamo detention facility (see January 30, 2009), Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) delivers a speech on the floor of the Senate recommending that the facility remain open, despite President Obama’s decision to close it (see January 22, 2009). Inhofe says, “The military detention facilities at GTMO meet the highest international standards and are a fundamental part of protecting the lives of Americans from terrorism.” He says “[t]he detainees are being treated humanely,” there are “two lawyers for every detainee that has been charged or had charges preferred against them,” and there is one health care professional for every two detainees, ensuring that they receive the highest level of medical care (see April-May 2002, August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003, and March 10-April 15, 2007). Guantanamo “is the only complex in the world that can safely and humanely hold these individuals who pose such a grave security risk to the US,” Inhofe insists. “It is a secure location away from population centers, provides the maximum security required to prevent escape, provides multiple levels of confinement opportunities based on the compliance of the detainee, and provides medical care not available to a majority of the population of the world.” He goes on: “Furthermore, GTMO is the single greatest repository of human intelligence in the war on terror. This intelligence has prevented terrorist attacks and saved lives in the past and continues to do so today (see Summer 2000 and November 30, 2008). New intelligence is continually being collected from detainees at GTMO and is being used to fight terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the globe.” Since the US “will continue to capture, hold and detain enemy combatants,” he says, “we require a location to safely detain and care for these detainees.” [US Senate, 2/5/2009] Fellow Republican Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), who joined Inhofe on the tour, agrees, saying that the Guantanamo facility is “well thought out and in keeping with our nation’s highest ideals.” Burr adds that it is the US guards, not the prisoners, who are being mistreated: “If anyone receives mistreatment at Guantanamo, it is the guard force. They must endure frequent verbal and physical attacks from detainees while maintaining the highest standard of care for those same individuals.” [US Senate, 2/2/2009] Neither Inhofe nor Burr address the hunger strike among Guantanamo detainees, nor the allegations that prisoners are being force-fed and beaten (see February 8, 2009). Satyam Khanna of the left-leaning website Think Progress notes: “It is unclear how Inhofe and his conservative colleagues failed to see 50 detainees on hunger strike, some near death, while touring the prison. Conveniently, none of the senators alerted the public to these facts upon their return.” [Think Progress, 2/9/2009]
Binyam Mohamed. [Source: Independent]A lawyer for a Guantanamo detainee demands the release of her client because he is near death. Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley is in London to ask that her client, British resident Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001), who is still in Guantanamo even though all charges against him have been dropped (see October-December 2008), be released. Through Bradley, Mohamed claims that he has been repeatedly tortured at the behest of US intelligence officials (see April 10-May, 2002, May 17 - July 21, 2002, July 21, 2002 -- January 2004, and January-September 2004). Bradley says that Mohamed is dying in his cell. Mohamed and some twenty other detainees are so unhealthy that they are on what Bradley calls a “critical list.”
Hunger Strike, Beatings - Fifty Guantanamo detainees, including Mohamed, are on a hunger strike, and are being strapped to chairs and force-fed; those who resist, witnesses say, are beaten. Mohamed has suffered drastic weight loss, and has told his lawyer that he is “very scared” of being attacked by guards after witnessing what The Guardian describes as “a savage beating for a detainee who refused to be strapped down and have a feeding tube forced into his mouth.” Bradley is horrified at Mohamed’s description of the state of affairs in the prison. She says: “At least 50 people are on hunger strike, with 20 on the critical list, according to Binyam. The JTF [the Joint Task Force running Guantanamo] are not commenting because they do not want the public to know what is going on. Binyam has witnessed people being forcibly extracted from their cell. SWAT teams in police gear come in and take the person out; if they resist, they are force-fed and then beaten. Binyam has seen this and has not witnessed this before. Guantanamo Bay is in the grip of a mass hunger strike and the numbers are growing; things are worsening. It is so bad that there are not enough chairs to strap them down and force-feed them for a two- or three-hour period to digest food through a feeding tube. Because there are not enough chairs the guards are having to force-feed them in shifts. After Binyam saw a nearby inmate being beaten it scared him and he decided he was not going to resist. He thought, ‘I don’t want to be beat, injured or killed.’ Given his health situation, one good blow could be fatal.… Binyam is continuing to lose weight and he is going to get worse. He has been told he is about to be released, but psychologically and physically he is declining.”
Demanding Documents to Prove Torture, Rendition - Bradley is also demanding documents that she says will prove her client was tortured, and may also prove British complicity in Mohamed’s treatment (see February 24, 2009). An American court in San Francisco is also slated to hear evidence that Mohamed was subjected to “extraordinary rendition” by the CIA, where Mohamed and other prisoners were sent to other countries that tortured them. That lawsuit was originally dismissed when the Bush administration asserted “state secrets privilege” (see March 9, 1953), but lawyers for Mohamed refiled the case hoping that the Obama administration would be less secretive.
US Intelligence Wants Mohamed Dead? - The Guardian also notes that “some sections of the US intelligence community would prefer Binyam did die inside Guantanamo.” The reason? “Silenced forever, only the sparse language of his diary would be left to recount his torture claims and interviewees with an MI5 officer, known only as Witness B. Such a scenario would also deny Mohamed the chance to personally sue the US, and possibly British authorities, over his treatment.” [Guardian, 2/8/2009]
A Justice Department official says that the Obama administration will continue to assert the so-called “state secrets privilege” (see March 9, 1953) in a lawsuit filed by Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed (see February 8, 2009). In the case Mohamed et al v Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc, Mohamed and four former detainees are suing a Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen Dataplan, for cooperating with the CIA in subjecting them to “extraordinary rendition,” flying them to foreign countries and secret overseas CIA prisons where, they say, they were tortured. The case was thrown out a year ago, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has appealed it. According to a source inside the Ninth US District Court, a Justice Department lawyer tells the presiding judge that its position has not changed, that the new administration stands behind arguments that the previous administration made, with no ambiguity at all. The lawyer says the entire subject matter remains a state secret. According to Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller, “It is the policy of this administration to invoke the state secrets privilege only when necessary and in the most appropriate cases, consistent with the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Reynolds that the privilege not ‘be lightly invoked.’” Miller adds that Attorney General Eric Holder is conducting a review of all state secret privilege matters. “The Attorney General has directed that senior Justice Department officials review all assertions of the State Secrets privilege to ensure that the privilege is being invoked only in legally appropriate situations,” Miller says. “It is vital that we protect information that, if released, could jeopardize national security. The Justice Department will ensure the privilege is not invoked to hide from the American people information about their government’s actions that they have a right to know. This administration will be transparent and open, consistent with our national security obligations.” The ACLU’s Anthony Romero says that the Obama administration is doing little besides offering “more of the same.” He continues: “Eric Holder’s Justice Department stood up in court today and said that it would continue the Bush policy of invoking state secrets to hide the reprehensible history of torture, rendition, and the most grievous human rights violations committed by the American government. This is not change. This is definitely more of the same. Candidate Obama ran on a platform that would reform the abuse of state secrets, but President Obama’s Justice Department has disappointingly reneged on that important civil liberties issue. If this is a harbinger of things to come, it will be a long and arduous road to give us back an America we can be proud of again.” ACLU attorney Ben Wizner, who argued the case for Mohamed and the other plaintiffs, adds: “We are shocked and deeply disappointed that the Justice Department has chosen to continue the Bush administration’s practice of dodging judicial scrutiny of extraordinary rendition and torture. This was an opportunity for the new administration to act on its condemnation of torture and rendition, but instead it has chosen to stay the course. Now we must hope that the court will assert its independence by rejecting the government’s false claims of state secrets and allowing the victims of torture and rendition their day in court.” [ABC News, 2/9/2009]
The new Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Dennis Blair, tells the Senate Intelligence Committee that the economic crisis, not global terrorism, is the biggest national security issue facing the US today. “The primary near-term security concern of the United States is the global economic crisis and its geopolitical implications,” Blair says. If the crisis continues for more than two years, Blair says, governments could topple, with all the unrest that would entail. About 25 percent of the world’s governments, mostly in Europe and among former Soviet Union client states, have already experienced “low-level instability,” including government changes, because of the economic climate (see February 1, 2009). Blair also warns of “high levels of violent extremism” as seen during the downturn in the 1920s and 1930s, along with “regime-threatening instability.” He explains, “Besides increased economic nationalism, the most likely political fallout for US interests will involve allies and friends not being able to fully meet their defense and humanitarian obligations.” US allies in Europe are angry over the Obama stimulus bill’s provision to “Buy American,” Blair notes, and says the provision is being used to question the US’s leadership in shoring up the global economy and international financial structure. The biggest beneficiary of this global chaos, Blair says, could be China, if that nation’s government can “exert a stabilizing influence by maintaining strong import growth and not letting its currency slide.” Global coordination is essential to rebuild trust in the financial system and to ensure that the crisis does “not spiral into broader geopolitical tensions,” Blair recommends. [EUObserver, 2/13/2009]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other human rights organizations release over a thousand pages of government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The documents provide new details of the Bush administration’s treatment of prisoners in its “global war on terror.” Among other things, the documents show a much closer collaboration between the CIA and the Defense Department than initially believed; the Defense Department was intimately involved with the CIA’s practices of indefinite “ghost” detentions and torture. The documents confirm the existence of a previously “undisclosed detention facility” at Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base and details of the extensive abuse and torture of prisoners at that facility. They also show that the Defense Department worked to keep the Red Cross away from its detainees by refusing to register their capture with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for two weeks or more, “to maximize intelligence collection,” a practice the Defense Department officials acknowledged in their private communications to be illegal under the Geneva Conventions.
CIA, Defense Department in Collusion? - The Center for Constitutional Rights notes, “These policies demonstrate the ease with which the CIA could have used DOD facilities as ‘sorting facilities’ without having to worry about ICRC oversight or revelation of the ghost detainee program.” The documents also include e-mails sent to Defense Department Transportation Command officials recommending that a number of prisoners slated for release from Guantanamo be detained longer, for fear of negative press coverage (see February 17, 2006). [AlterNet, 2/13/2009] “These newly released documents confirm our suspicion that the tentacles of the CIA’s abusive program reached across agency lines,” says Margaret Satterthwaite of New York University’s International Human Rights Clinic. “In fact, it is increasingly obvious that defense officials engaged in legal gymnastics to find ways to cooperate with the CIA’s activities. A full accounting of all agencies must now take place to ensure that future abuses don’t continue under a different guise.”
Heavy Redactions Thwart Intent of FOIA - Amnesty International’s Tom Parker notes that much of the information in the documents was blacked out before its release. “Out of thousands of pages, most of what might be of interest was redacted,” he says. “While the sheer number of pages creates the appearance of transparency, it is clear this is only the tip of the iceberg and that the government agencies have not complied with spirit of President Obama’s memo on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests (see January 21, 2009). We call on Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama administration to put teeth into the memo and work actively to comply with FOIA requests.” [Center for Constitutional Rights, 2/12/2009]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Geneva Conventions, Central Intelligence Agency, Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International, American Civil Liberties Union, International Committee of the Red Cross, Obama administration, International Human Rights Clinic, New York University, Margaret Satterthwaite, Tom Parker
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during a tour of Asia, warns North Korea not to fulfill its threat to test a long-range Taepodong-2 ballistic missile. “The possible missile launch that North Korea is talking about would be very unhelpful in moving our relationship forward,” Clinton says. North Korea greets Clinton’s arrival in Japan, where she issues her warning, with an oblique statement that says in part, “One will come to know later what will be launched.” [New York Times, 2/16/2009; Associated Press, 2/16/2009] During the same trip, Clinton says the US is willing to provide assistance to North Korea in return for its dismantling of its nuclear program (see February 15, 2009).
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she is not sure whether North Korea actually has a secret program to enrich uranium, as the Bush administration had long claimed. She adds that she intends to persuade Pyongyang to give up the weapons-grade plutonium it does possess. “There is a debate within the intelligence community as to exactly the extent of the highly-enriched-uranium program,” she says. “My goal is the denuclearization of North Korea,” she continues. “That means a verifiably complete accounting of whatever programs they have and the removal of the reprocessed plutonium that they were able to achieve because they were given the opportunity to do so.… When they move forward” on ending the program, “we have a great openness to working with them, [and] a willingness to help the people of North Korea.”
Broadening Focus Beyond Uranium Possession - The claim of the uranium program led to the Bush administration’s rejection of the 1994 agreement that kept the North Korean nuclear weapons program in check (see October 21, 1994), she says: “The Agreed Framework was torn up on the basis of the concerns about the highly-enriched-uranium program. There is no debate that, once the Agreed Framework was torn up, the North Koreans began to reprocess plutonium with a vengeance because all bets were off. The result is they now have nuclear weapons, which they did not have before.” When the Bush administration withdrew from the Agreed Framework (see October 20, 2002), Clinton says, North Korea restarted its plutonium-based reactor at Yongbyon and now has enough material for at least a half-dozen nuclear weapons. A 2006 nuclear test by the North Koreans prompted Bush officials to reopen negotiations and eventually craft a new agreement remarkably similar to the Agreed Framework (see February 8, 2007 and After). Most Asian nations are expected to welcome Clinton’s new position on the uranium issue, as they thought the Bush administration had put too much emphasis on North Korea’s uranium possession. [Washington Post, 2/15/2009] Clinton also warns North Korea not to test-fire a long-range ballistic missile (see February 15, 2009).
'Old Wine in a New Bottle' - The senior editorial writer for South Korea’s Hankyoreh newspaper, Jungsoo Jang, calls the Clinton proposal little more than “old wine in a new bottle,” writing: “Of course, the side by side denuclearization and normalization plan elucidated by Clinton clearly does represent a considerable change from the Bush administration, which focused on a schematic view of denuclearization first, normalization second. But Clinton’s solution does have limitations, in that normalization of North Korea-US relations cannot be pursued as long as prior issues such as total abolition of nuclear weapons and suspicions about enriched uranium are not neatly resolved.” Jang says that a conflict between a more conservative camp and a more progressive camp in the Obama State Department is currently being won by the conservatives, who favor an emphasis on US-Japanese relations and a more direct, confrontational approach to dealing with North Korea’s nuclear program. [Hankyoreh, 2/16/2009]
Jonathan Hafetz of the American Civil Liberties Union calls the case of alleged al-Qaeda detainee Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see June 23, 2003) a key test of “the most far-reaching use of detention powers” ever asserted by the executive branch. Al-Marri has spent five years incarcerated in the Charleston Naval Brig without being charged with a crime. “If President Obama is serious about restoring the rule of law in America, they can’t defend what’s been done to Marri. They would be completely buying into the Bush administration’s war on terror,” he says. Hafetz, who is scheduled to represent al-Marri before the Supreme Court in April, compares the Bush administration’s decision to leave al-Marri in isolation to his client’s being stranded on a desert island. “It’s a Robinson Crusoe-like situation,” he adds. Hafetz says that among the issues to be decided is “the question of who is a soldier, and who is a civilian.” He continues: “Is the fight against terrorism war, or is it not war? How far does the battlefield extend? In the past, they treated Peoria as a battlefield. Can an American be arrested in his own home and jailed indefinitely, on the say-so of the president?” Hafetz wants the Court to declare indefinite detention by executive fiat illegal. He also hopes President Obama will withdraw al-Marri’s designation as an enemy combatant and reclassify him as a civilian; such a move would allow al-Marri to either be charged with crimes and prosecuted, or released entirely. Civil liberties and other groups on both sides of the political divide have combined to file 18 amicus briefs with the Court, all on al-Marri’s behalf. The al-Marri decision will almost certainly impact the legal principles governing the disposal of the approximately 240 detainees still being held at Guantanamo.
Opinion of Former Bush Administration Officials - Former Bush State Department counsel John Bellinger says of his counterparts in the Obama administration: “They will have to either put up or shut up. Do they maintain the Bush administration position, and keep holding [al-]Marri as an enemy combatant? They have to come up with a legal theory.” He says that Obama officials will find it more difficult to put their ideals into action: “Governing is different from campaigning,” he notes, and adds that Obama officials will soon learn that “they can’t just set the clocks back eight years, and try every terror suspect captured abroad in the federal courts.” Former Attorney General John Ashcroft calls keeping al-Marri and other “enemy combatants” locked away without charges or trials a “sound decision” to “maximize the national interest,” and says that in the end, Obama’s approach will be much like Bush’s. “How will he be different?” he asks. “The main difference is going to be that he spells his name ‘O-b-a-m-a,’ not ‘B-u-s-h.’”
Current Administration's Opinion - Obama spokesman Larry Craig sums up the issue: “One way we’ve looked at this is that we own the solution. We don’t own the problem—it was created by the previous administration. But we’ll be held accountable for how we handle this.” [New Yorker, 2/23/2009]
Former 9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003), a former adviser to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (see February 28, 2005), calls for the US to launch a military strike against North Korea in order to remove that nation’s nuclear weapons capability. Zelikow dismisses Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s reservations about North Korea’s nuclear program (see February 15, 2009) and writes, “To accept the combination of nuclear weapons and IRBMs or ICBMs in the hands of North Korea is a gamble, betting on deterrence of one of the least well understood governments on earth, in a country now undergoing high levels of internal stress.” Zelikow refers directly to the 2006 call from two former Defense Department officials, Ashton Carter and William Perry, for a military strike against North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (see June 22, 2006), and writes that at the time he believed the call for military action was “premature.” Now, however, “political predicate for the Carter-Perry recommendations has been well laid.” Zelikow recommends that the Obama administration issue the requisite warnings to dismantle the nuclear weapons, and if North Korea refuses to heed the warnings, the US should destroy them. [Foreign Policy, 2/17/2009; Foreign Policy, 10/22/2010]
In the case of Kiyemba v Obama the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously blocks a judge’s order to free 17 Chinese Uighurs (see September 17, 2006 and June 30, 2008) from detention in Guantanamo. [New York Times, 2/18/2009; Constitution Project, 2/18/2009]
Not a Threat to the US - The Uighurs, members of a small Muslim ethnic and religious minority, have been in detention for seven years after being captured in Pakistan; they insist they were receiving training to resist Chinese oppression, and never harbored any ill will towards the US or had any intention of participating in attacks on US or US-allied targets. Judge Ricardo Urbina concurred in an October ruling. Even Bush officials had decided not to try to prove the 17 men were “enemy combatants”; instead, they said that they would continue imprisoning them because they had “trained for armed insurrection against their home country” in a Uighur camp in Afghanistan. The Obama administration can choose to release the Uighurs if it can find a country—the US or another nation—to accept the detainees for resettlement. Obama officials do not want to turn the Uighurs over to Chinese authorities for fear that they will be imprisoned and tortured.
Two Rulings, One on Release, One on Habeas Corpus - All three appellate judges agree to overturn Urbina’s order to release the Uighurs, but split 2-1 on a separate question: whether detainees such as the Uighurs have habeas corpus rights to challenge their detention. Two, Judges Arthur Randolph and Karen Henderson, say that the law, as decided by the Supreme Court in the June 2008 Boumediene v Bush case (see June 22, 2008), does not give judges the right to release detainees into the US. “Never in the history of habeas corpus,” the majority opinion finds, “has any court thought it had the power to order an alien held overseas brought into the sovereign territory of a nation and released into the general population.” Judge Judith Rogers dissents, writing that the ruling “ignores the very purpose” of the writ of habeas corpus, which is, she writes, to serve as “a check on arbitrary executive power.” If the court has no legal right to release the Uighurs into the US, Rogers writes, the Boumediene ruling has no meaning. A lawyer for the Uighurs, Susan Baker Manning, says the ruling means innocent people “can spend the rest of their lives in prison even though the US knows it’s a mistake.” [New York Times, 2/18/2009]
Civil Rights Organization 'Disappointed' in Ruling, Calls for Release - Sharon Bradford Franklin of the Constitution Project, a civil rights organization, writes: “We are disappointed by today’s DC Circuit ruling that denies freedom to the 17 men whom the government admits are not ‘enemy combatants’ and yet continues to hold at Guantanamo for a seventh year. President Obama should exercise his power to release the Uighurs into the US. The appellate court’s ruling that the trial court lacked the power to compel the executive branch to release the Uighurs into the United States in no way limits the ability of the executive branch to release the Uighurs on its own. We therefore call on President Obama to choose the right course and evaluate the terms under which the Uighurs may be released into the United States. The writ of habeas corpus is a fundamental constitutional right. For habeas corpus to have meaning, it must permit a court to end wrongful detentions. We regret that today’s decision failed to recognize the court’s ability to check arbitrary detention, such as that suffered by the Uighurs.” [Constitution Project, 2/18/2009]
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