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The Iraqi government will miss a July 31, 2008 target for an agreement on long-term relations between the US and Iraq (see March 7, 2008), according to an Iraqi government spokesman. The Bush administration wants the agreement—which is far more broad and permanent than previously disclosed—passed for what many believe are political purposes (see June 5, 2008). Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh says the agreement will not be made by the target date: “I don’t think that we can meet this date. There is a difference in viewpoints between Iraq and the US. I don’t think that time is enough to end this gap and to reach a joint understanding.… Therefore, we are not committed to July as a deadline.” Iraq is also considering possible alternatives to the proposed agreement, he says, but gives no details. The agreement has raised strong objections among many Iraqis, who suspect the US of trying to create a permanent occupation of their nation. [Reuters, 6/3/2008]
Henry Waxman (D-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, writes to Attorney General Michael Mukasey requesting access to the transcripts of interviews by President Bush and Vice President Cheney regarding the “outing” of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). The interviews were conducted as part of the investigation of former Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Waxman notes that he made a similar request in December 2007 which has gone unfulfilled (see December 3, 2007). Waxman wants the reports from Bush and Cheney’s interviews, and the unredacted reports from the interviews with Libby, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, former White House aide Cathie Martin, “and other senior White House officials.” Information revealed by McClellan in conjuction with his new book What Happened, including McClellan’s statement that Bush and Cheney “directed me to go out there and exonerate Scooter Libby,” and his assertion that “Rove, Libby, and possibly Vice President Cheney… allowed me, even encouraged me, to repeat a lie,” adds to evidence from Libby’s interviews that Cheney may have been the source of the information that Wilson worked for the CIA. For Cheney to leak Wilson’s identity, and to then direct McClellan to mislead the public, “would be a major breach of trust,” Waxman writes. He adds that no argument can be made for withholding the documents on the basis of executive privilege, and notes that in 1997 and 1998, the Oversight Committee demanded and received FBI interviews with then-President Clinton and then-Vice President Gore without even consulting the White House. [US House of Representatives, 6/3/2008; TPM Muckraker, 6/3/2008]
Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Henry A. Waxman, Condoleezza Rice, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Scott McClellan, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Michael Mukasey
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Two Iraqi lawmakers denounce a proposed deal that would provide for a permanent presence of US forces in Iraq (see March 7, 2008 and June 5, 2008). In a hearing of a House foreign affairs subcommittee chaired by William Delahunt (D-MA), two Iraqi legislators, Sheikh Khalaf al-Ulayyan and Professor Nadeem al-Jaberi, both lambast the deal. Al-Ulayyan is a Sunni cleric and al-Jaberi is a Shi’ite parliamentarian. Al-Jaberi says that the biggest problem with the deal is that it threatens Iraq’s sovereignty. “The Iraqi government right now does not have the full reign of its sovereignty, because of the thousands of foreign troops that are on its land,” he says. “And perhaps the Iraqi government does not have as of yet sufficient tools to run its own internal affairs. Therefore, I ask the American government not to embarrass the Iraqi government by putting it in a difficult situation with this agreement.” Since the status of the two nations is so unequal, al-Jabari says, the deal will likely “lead to more instability,” and they hope “any future agreement does not affect or impact Iraqi sovereignty, such as permanent military bases.” Any such security deal must wait until US troops have fully withdrawn from Iraq, he says. Al-Ulayyan says he wants to “salute the American people for their stand against the war, which we saw on TV in the form of demonstrations and protests.” While he warns against a precipitous withdrawal of US forces that might lead to “impotence and flaws in the security,” he notes that “protecting Iraq does not require signing long-term agreements like the one proposed, because [the US has] bases in surrounding countries like Kuwait, Jordan and so forth, and therefore, we don’t see any importance or need for military bases in Iraq.” [Washington Independent, 6/4/2008]
The US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, denies that the US is trying to set up permanent military bases in Iraq. Recent reports have shown that the Bush administration is apparently trying to “strong-arm” Iraq into agreeing to a permanent military presence in the country (see June 5, 2008). While the Bush administration wants a military presence in Iraq for the foreseeable future, “It is not going to be forever,” Crocker says. “There isn’t going to be an agreement that infringes on Iraqi sovereignty.” The military agreement will have a provision for periodic review and renewal, as do similar agreements with other countries, Crocker says. Many Iraqi lawmakers and civilians are balking at some of the provisions of the proposed agreement, including the long-term placement of private security forces inside Iraq, the legal immunity enjoyed by US government and corporate personnel, the longevity of the 50 or so bases proposed in the agreement, the US control over Iraqi airspace, and, more generally, the worry that the agreement will lock in US military, economic, and political domination of the country for generations to come. “The Americans have some demands that the Iraqi government regards as infringing on its sovereignty,” says lawmaker Haider al-Abadi. “This is the main dispute, and if the dispute is not settled, I frankly tell you there will not be an agreement.” Crocker denies that the bill contains any secret provisions, and that the entire deal is “transparent” for both Iraqis and Americans. The proposed agreement was kept secret for at least a month before being leaked to the British press in April (see March 7, 2008). [Associated Press, 6/5/2008]
The British newspaper The Independent reports on a secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad that would indefinitely perpetuate the American occupation of Iraq, no matter who wins the US presidential elections in November. Under the accord, US troops and private contractors will occupy over 50 permanent military bases, conduct military operations without consulting the Iraqi government, arrest Iraqis at will, control Iraqi airspace, and be immune from Iraqi law. The agreement goes much farther than a previous draft agreement created between the two countries in March (see March 7, 2008). It is based on a so-called “Declaration of Principles” issued by both governments in November 2007 (see November 26, 2007). The US says it has no intention of entering into a permanent agreement (see June 5, 2008).
Forcing Agreement Over Iraqi Opposition - President Bush intends to force the so-called “strategic alliance” onto the Iraqi government, without modifications, by the end of July. Inside sources believe that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki opposes the deal, but feels that his government cannot stay in power without US backing and therefore has no power to resist. Iraqi ministers have said they will reject any agreement that limits Iraqi sovereignty, insiders believe that their resistance is little more than bluster designed to shore up their credentials as defenders of Iraqi independence; they will sign off on the agreement in the end, observers believe. The only person with the authority to block the deal is Shi’ite religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. But al-Sistani is said to believe that the Shi’a cannot afford to lose US support if they intend to remain in control of the government. Al-Sistani’s political rival, cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, has exhorted his followers to demonstrate against the agreement as a compromise of Iraqi sovereignty. As for the other two power blocs in the country, the Kurds are likely to accept the agreement, and, interestingly, so are many Sunni political leaders, who want the US in Iraq to dilute the Shi’ites’ control of the government. (Many Sunni citizens oppose any such deal.) While the Iraqi government itself is trying to delay the signing of the accord, Vice President Dick Cheney has been instrumental in pushing for its early acceptance. The US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, has spent weeks trying to secure the agreement.
'Explosive Political Effect' - Many Iraqis fear that the deal will have what reporter Patrick Cockburn calls “an explosive political effect in Iraq… [it may] destabilize Iraq’s position in the Middle East and lay the basis for unending conflict in their country.” Cockburn writes that the accords may provoke a political crisis in the US as well. Bush wants the accords pushed through “so he can declare a military victory and claim his 2003 invasion has been vindicated.” The accord would also boost the candidacy of John McCain (R-AZ), who claims the US is on the brink of victory in Iraq. It would fly in the face of pledges made by McCain’s presidential opponent Barack Obama (D-IL), who has promised to withdraw US troops from Iraq if elected. McCain has said that Obama will throw away a US victory if he prematurely withdraws troops. An Iraqi politician says of the potential agreement, “It is a terrible breach of our sovereignty.” He adds that such an agreement will delegitimize the Iraqi government and prove to the world that it is nothing more than a puppet government controlled by the US. While US officials have repeatedly denied that the Bush administration wants permanent bases in Iraq, an Iraqi source retorts, “This is just a tactical subterfuge.”
Exacerbating Tensions with Iran - Iranian leader Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani says that the agreement will create “a permanent occupation.… The essence of this agreement is to turn the Iraqis into slaves of the Americans.” The deal may also inflame tensions between Iran and the US; currently the two countries are locked in an under-the-radar struggle to win influence in Iraq. [Independent, 6/5/2008]
Entity Tags: Moqtada al-Sadr, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Hashemi Rafsanjani, John McCain, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Ryan C. Crocker, Sayyid Ali Husaini al-Sistani, Patrick Cockburn, Nouri al-Maliki, Independent
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
NBC News Middle East correspondent Richard Engel, discussing the proposed permanent basing of US forces in Iraq (see June 5, 2008), says that, according to US and Iraqi officials, the bases would technically belong to Iraq. Such a measure is part of what Engel calls “a face saving device.” Engel says that “US troops would reside on them as tenants.” Engel’s report meshes with a recent statement by US Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who has said that “there isn’t going to be an agreement that infringes on Iraqi sovereignty” (see June 5, 2008). [American University Radio, 6/5/2008; Think Progress (.org), 6/7/2008]
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 US is pressuring the Iraqi government to accept a military agreement for permanent US bases in Iraq (see March 7, 2008 and June 5, 2008) by using some $50 billion of Iraqi money being kept in the US Federal Reserve Bank as a negotiating tool. About $20 billion in outstanding court judgments exist against Iraq in the US. A presidential order currently gives that money protection from judicial attachment. But, US officials have told Iraqi lawmakers, if they do not sign the accord with the US, President Bush will lift that immunity and the $20 billion will be confiscated by the US court system. [Independent, 6/6/2008; Xinhua News Agency (Beijing), 6/6/2008] Reporter Patrick Cockburn writes: “The US is able to threaten Iraq with the loss of 40 percent of its foreign exchange reserves because Iraq’s independence is still limited by the legacy of UN sanctions and restrictions imposed on Iraq since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in the 1990s. This means that Iraq is still considered a threat to international security and stability under Chapter Seven of the UN charter. The US negotiators say the price of Iraq escaping Chapter Seven is to sign up to a new ‘strategic alliance’ with the United States.” Cockburn writes that regardless of the financial “blackmail,” Iraqis are resistant to the agreement because they fear it will make their nation a perpetual “client state” of the US. [Independent, 6/6/2008]
Jan Schakowsky. [Source: Washington Post]Fifty-six Democratic members of the House of Representatives send a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, asking him to appoint a special counsel to investigate whether top Bush administration officials committed crimes in authorizing the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics against suspected terrorists (see April 2002 and After). The lawmakers, who include John Conyers (D-MI), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and House Intelligence Committee members Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), cite “mounting evidence” that senior officials personally sanctioned the use of such extreme interrogation methods. An independent investigation is needed to determine whether such actions violated US or international law, the letter states. “This information indicates that the Bush administration may have systematically implemented, from the top down, detainee interrogation policies that constitute torture or otherwise violate the law,” the letter says. It adds that a broad inquiry is needed to examine the consequences of administration decisions at US detention sites in Iraq, at Guantanamo, and in secret prisons operated by the CIA. The interrogation methods have resulted in “abuse, sexual exploitation and torture” that may have violated the War Crimes Act of 1996 and the American Anti-Torture Act of 2007. “Despite the seriousness of the evidence, the Justice Department has brought prosecution against only one civilian for an interrogation-related crime,” the letter reads. “Given that record, we believe it is necessary to appoint a special counsel in order to ensure that a thorough and impartial investigation occurs.” Conyers tells reporters after sending the letter, “We need an impartial criminal investigation.” The entire detainee controversy is “a truly shameful episode” in US history, he says. “Because these apparent ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were used under cover of Justice Department legal opinions, the need for an outside special prosecutor is obvious.” The Justice Department refuses to comment on the letter. Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch says that the letter is significant even if Mukasey refuses to appoint a special counsel. “The fact that so many representatives have called for the investigation helps lay the groundwork for the inevitable reckoning and accounting that the next administration is going to have to do regarding this administration’s practices,” she says. [US House of Representatives, 6/6/2008; Washington Post, 6/7/2008; United Press International, 6/7/2008]
Entity Tags: Jerrold Nadler, House Intelligence Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), House Judiciary Committee, Human Rights Watch, Michael Mukasey, US Department of Justice, John Conyers, Jan Schakowsky, Jennifer Daskal
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
A group of German civil rights lawyers files a lawsuit against the German government, demanding that the government attempt to extradite 13 CIA agents named in the alleged kidnapping of a German citizen. Khalid el-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, says he was abducted in December 2003 at the Serbian-Macedonian border (see December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004 and January 23 - March 2004). He was flown by the CIA to a detention center in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he was interrogated and abused for months. El-Masri says he was released in Albania in May 2004, and told that he was the victim of mistaken identity (see May 29, 2004). No government or body has yet taken responsibility for el-Masri’s kidnapping and brutalization. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other US officials have refused to address the case, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the US acknowledged making a mistake with el-Masri.
Accountability - “We are demanding accountability” with the lawsuit, says attorney Wolfgang Kaleck. For himself, el-Masri says, “I just want the German government to acknowledge what happened to me.” An American judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by el-Masri against the CIA and three US corporations in 2006 (see May 18, 2006). In January 2007, German prosecutors issued warrants for the arrests of 13 CIA agents, accusing them of wrongfully imprisoning el-Masri and causing him serious bodily harm. The US Justice Department refused the requests, citing “American national interests,” and the German Ministry of Justice dropped the request. The lawsuit seeks to force the German government to reconsider extradition for the CIA agents.
Extraordinary Rendition - According to human rights organizations, el-Masri’s case is an example of “extraordinary rendition,” where the US takes suspected terrorists to foreign countries where they are subjected to abuse and torture. A criminal lawsuit against CIA officers in conjunction with the el-Masri case is also ongoing in Macedonia; that case could end up before the European Court of Human Rights. And the American Civil Liberties Union has also filed a petition on el-Masri’s behalf through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, a body that seeks to establish international laws. [Associated Press, 6/9/2008]
The recently released Senate Intelligence Committee report on misleading, exaggerated, and inaccurate presentations of the prewar Iraqi threat by the Bush administration (see June 5, 2008) leaves out some significant material. The report says that the panel did not review “less formal communications between intelligence agencies and other parts of the executive branch.” The committee made no attempt to obtain White House records or interview administration officials because, the report says, such steps were considered beyond the scope of the report. Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus notes that “[o]ne obvious target for such an expanded inquiry would have been the records of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), a group set up in August 2002 by then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.” WHIG (see August 2002) was composed of, among other senior White House officials, senior political adviser Karl Rove; the vice president’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby; communications strategists Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, and James Wilkinson; legislative liaison Nicholas Calio; and a number of policy aides led by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley.
WHIG Led Marketing of War - Scott McClellan, the former White House press secretary, recently wrote in his book What Happened that WHIG “had been set up in the summer of 2002 to coordinate the marketing of the war to the public.… The script had been finalized with great care over the summer [for a] “campaign to convince Americans that war with Iraq was inevitable and necessary.” On September 6, 2002, Card hinted as much to reporters when he said, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August” (see September 6, 2002). Two days later, the group scored its first hit with a front-page New York Times story about Iraq’s secret purchase of aluminum tubes that, the story said, could be used to produce nuclear weapons (see September 8, 2002). The information for that story came from “senior administration officials” now known to be members of WHIG. The story was the first to make the statement that “the first sign of a ‘smoking gun’ [proving the existence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program] may be a mushroom cloud” (see September 4, 2002); that same morning, the same message was repeated three times by various senior administration officials on the Sunday talk shows (see September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, and September 8, 2002). WHIG did not “deliberately mislead the public,” McClellan claimed in his book, but wrote that the “more fundamental problem was the way [Bush’s] advisers decided to pursue a political propaganda campaign to sell the war to the American people.… As the campaign accelerated,” caveats and qualifications were downplayed or dropped altogether. Contradictory intelligence was largely ignored or simply disregarded.”
Records Perusal Would 'Shed Light' - If indeed the White House “repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even nonexistent,” as committee chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) has said, then an examination of WHIG’s records would, Pincus writes, “shed much light” on the question. [Washington Post, 6/9/2008]
Entity Tags: New York Times, Karen Hughes, John D. Rockefeller, James R. Wilkinson, Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), Andrew Card, Karl C. Rove, Mary Matalin, Senate Intelligence Committee, Stephen J. Hadley, Walter Pincus, White House Iraq Group, Nicholas E. Calio, Scott McClellan, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
The lawyer for Mohammed Jawad, a young Guantanamo detainee held in US captivity for almost six years (see December 17, 2002) and charged with attempted murder (see October 7, 2007), attempts to have the charges against his client dismissed. Major David Frakt tells the court that Jawad has been subjected to a harsh regime of sleep deprivation nicknamed the “frequent flyer program.” Records show that Jawad was moved from one cell to another 112 times over the period of two weeks, with guards shackling, moving, and unshackling him for an average of once every two hours and 50 minutes. Frakt tells the court that Jawad had attempted suicide months before. The military commission judge refuses to dismiss the charges. [Human Rights First, 9/2008]
Newsweek reports that the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into the CIA’s destruction of video of the torture of al-Qaeda leaders Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is continuing, but proceeding slowly. Federal prosecutor John Durham has recently filed a federal court affidavit that states he is examining whether anyone “obstructed justice, made false statements, or acted in contempt of court or Congress in connection with the destruction of the videotapes.” He is specifically attempting to determine if the destruction violated any judge’s order. But progress is slow, and the investigation is likely to take six months or more, which means any criminal charges will probably come after the November 2008 presidential elections. Two sources close to former intelligence officials who are potential key witnesses in the case say these officials have not been summoned to give grand jury testimony. One of them has not even been questioned by the FBI yet. [Newsweek, 6/28/2008] Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed Durham to head the investigation in January 2008 (see January 2, 2008).
Jean Duley. [Source: Skip Lawrence / Fredrick News-Post]Scientist Bruce Ivins has had psychological problems since at least 2000, and his problems had become more pronounced after late 2006, when he realized the FBI was targeting him as their main anthrax attacks suspect. For the past three to six months, Ivins had been attending therapy sessions led by social worker Jean Duley. On July 9, 2008, Duley seeks a restraining order against him.
Duley's Claims against Ivins - In the paperwork for the order, she claims that he arrived for a group counseling session in his hometown of Fredrick and announced that, faced with the prospect of being charged with murder for the anthrax attacks, he had bought a gun and a bulletproof vest and had “a very detailed plan to kill his co-workers” at USAMRIID, the nearby US Army bioweapons laboratory where he still worked. In a court hearing on this day, Duley tells a judge: “He was going to go out in a blaze of glory, that he was going to take everybody out with him.… He is a revenge killer.… When he feels that he has been slighted, and especially towards women, he plots and actually tries to carry out revenge killings.” Duley also says that Ivins had a history of making homicidal threats going back to his college days, and that he has threatened her. She adds that he will soon be charged with five murders, which is the number of deaths in the anthrax attacks. In court records, Duley writes that Ivins’s psychiatrist had “called him homicidal, sociopathic with clear intentions.” [New York Times, 8/2/2008; Washington Post, 8/6/2008]
Unclear Relationship with FBI - Duley says in her court testimony that she is cooperating with the FBI, but the nature and extent of her cooperation remains unclear. It is unclear, for instance, how she could know that Ivins is going to be charged with the anthrax attacks soon.
Duley Alone with Her Claims - Ivins also sees a psychiatrist named David Irwin. But Irwin will later remain silent about Ivins, as will all the people in Ivins’s group therapy sessions. The Washington Post will later note, “To this day, Duley is the only person who has said publicly that Ivins intended to kill.” [Washington Post, 8/6/2008] A Guardian article will later comment: “Notably lacking in the FBI’s case, is corroboration of the deadly threats of revenge killings made by Ivins in group therapy, according to Duley. Nobody else from those sessions has spoken up? And if… the FBI knew about it, why was he allowed to continue working in the lab, with his high-security clearance as late as just [weeks before his suicide]? Why was he allowed to roam free for that matter?” [Guardian, 8/11/2008]
Poor Qualifications - Duley is an entry-level drug counselor and only allowed to work with patients under supervision of a more experienced professional. She is said to be a program director for Comprehensive Counseling Associates, a local mental-health counseling center. But less than one month later, it will be reported that she no longer works there. A Guardian article will call her statement to the judge “embarrassing,” as she misspells basic words one would assume a person in her field would know well, for instance spelling therapist as “theripist.” [Bloomberg, 8/1/2008; Guardian, 8/11/2008]
Duley's Troubled Past - Duley also has what the Washington Post calls a “troubled past.” She has recently completed 90 days of home detention after a drunk driving arrest in December 2007 (which is ironic given that she is working as a drug counselor). She has other convictions, including possession of narcotics paraphernalia. In a 1999 newspaper interview, she said she had been a member of a motorcycle gang member and a drug user. “Heroin. Cocaine. PCP. You name it, I did it.” [Washington Post, 8/6/2008; Guardian, 8/11/2008] In any case, the judge immediately grants an Emergency Medical Evaluation Petition for Ivins. The next day, Ivins is removed from work at USAMRIID and taken to a hospital (see July 10, 2008).
Police at Frederick City, Maryland, enter Fort Detrick to execute an Emergency Medical Evaluation Petition. The petition is for Bruce Ivins, a scientist working at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top biological laboratory, located inside Fort Detrick. The police are escorted to Ivins and take him out of the military base. He is informed that he will not be allowed back into the laboratory or the base again. Ivins is placed in a local hospital the same day. [Herald-Mail, 8/8/2008] Apparently he is hospitalized because he had been acting strangely in recent weeks and associates concluded he could be a danger to himself and others. Jean Duley, a social worker who had treated him in group therapy, sought a restraining order against him the day before (see July 9, 2008). She claims he had been making threats, but she does not claim he confessed to any role in the anthrax attacks. He remains hospitalized until July 23. [New York Times, 8/4/2008]
FBI agents search anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins’s house, office, and cars for a second time. The first search was in November 2007 (see November 1, 2007). This search comes two days after Ivins was removed from his workplace by police and put in a hospital (see July 10, 2008). The FBI will later claim they seize a bulletproof vest, ammunition, and homemade body armor. [Bloomberg, 8/7/2008]
About a week before Bruce Ivins dies (see July 29, 2008), FBI agents take a mouth swab to collect a DNA sample from him. It is unclear why investigators waited so long, since he had been an a suspect since 2006 (see Late 2006). [New York Times, 9/6/2008]
On July 23, 2008, anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins is released from a mental hospital. He had been in the hospital since July 10 after Jean Duley, a social worker who had been leading drug counseling group sessions attended by Ivins, tried to get a restraining order against him (see July 10, 2008). Just before Ivins was hospitalized, Duley made a series of remarkable claims about him, for instance claiming that he had just told her he had “a very detailed plan to kill his co-workers,” and, “He was going to go out in a blaze of glory, that he was going to take everybody out with him” (see July 9, 2008). Jeffrey Taylor, the US Attorney in Washington, DC, will later be asked why Ivins was not arrested after his release. Taylor will avoid the question and merely reply, “Our job in law enforcement is to pursue our criminal investigation.” But Joseph diGenova, who had previously held Taylor’s job, will explain, “They never arrested him because they wanted him to confess.” DiGenova will claim that the FBI was heavily pressuring Ivins into confessing because prosecutors knew “there would have been all sorts of problems on the reliability of the scientific analysis.” Ivins is said to be placed under 24- hour surveillance after his release, although it seems likely he was under surveillance already. [New York Times, 8/4/2008; Bloomberg, 8/7/2008]
In an interview with CNN, FBI Director Robert Mueller gives an upbeat assessment of the FBI’s investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), despite the exoneration of Steven Hatfill, the only publicly named suspect, the month before (see June 27, 2008). Mueller says: “I’m confident in the course of the investigation.… And I’m confident that it will be resolved.… I tell you, we’ve made great progress in the investigation. It’s in no way dormant. It’s active.… In some sense there have been breakthroughs, yes.” [CNN, 7/24/2008] Just days after these comments, Bruce Ivins, the FBI’s top unpublicized suspect at the time, will die of an apparent suicide (see July 29, 2008).
Not long before anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins commits suicide on July 29, 2008 (see July 29, 2008), W. Russell Byrne, an infectious-disease specialist who knows Ivins, sees him at a Sunday service at the local Roman Catholic church they both attend. Bryne will later recall: “He just looked worried, depressed, anxious, way turned into himself.… It would be overstating it to say he looked like a guy who was being led to his execution, but it’s not far off.” [Washington Post, 8/2/2008] Ivins is under 24-hour surveillance by the FBI at this time (see July 23, 2008), but it is unknown if he is under any kind of suicide watch. Jeffrey Adamovicz, who was Ivins’s boss several years earlier, will later say: “A lot of the tactics [the FBI used against Ivins] were designed to isolate him from his support. The FBI just continued to push his buttons.” [Washington Post, 8/3/2008]
On July 29, 2008, anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins and his attorney Paul Kemp are scheduled to have a meeting with FBI investigators. However, Ivins overdosed on pills two days earlier and dies two hours before the meeting is to take place (see July 29, 2008). In initial press reports, it is claimed that investigators had scheduled the meeting to discuss a plea bargain that would send Ivins to prison for life, but spare him a death sentence. [Washington Post, 8/2/2008] But these reports appear to be incorrect. Time magazine soon claims, “Contrary to previous media reports, Kemp says his client had not been negotiating a plea agreement at the time of his death. Indeed, contrary to some suggestions in initial reports, the grand jury investigating the case was at least a few weeks from handing down any kind of indictment.” Kemp further claims that he and Ivins had met with the FBI about four or five times since the FBI told Ivins he could be a suspect the year before, and this is just another in that series of meetings. Kemp says he did attend the meeting, not knowing Ivins was already dead. [Time, 8/5/2008] Tom DeGonia, who is co-counsel with Kemp, says that he attended the meeting with Kemp. He says that investigators gave a reverse proffer, which basically means they were revealing their intention to eventually indict him. DeGonia claims that while Ivins was alive, “We were never informed or advised that an indictment was imminent of him,” and while Ivins had been informed that he was a suspect, he had never been informed that he was the prime suspect. [WTOP Radio 103.5 (Washington), 8/8/2008] Jeffrey Taylor, the US Attorney in Washington, DC, also says that the meeting was to present “a reverse proffer, where we were going to sit down with him and lay our cards on the table: Here’s what we have. Here’s where this investigation is going.” [US Department of Justice, 8/6/2008]
On July 29, 2008, when anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins commits suicide (see July 29, 2008), the FBI still has not completed its case against him. Several days later, the New York Times reports that a grand jury in Washington had been planning to hear several more weeks of testimony before deciding to issue an indictment or not. Additionally, just days before his death, FBI agents
seize two public computers from the downtown public library in Frederick, the Maryland town where Ivins lives. The Times will call this “an indication that investigators were still trying to strengthen their case…” [New York Times, 8/4/2008]
Melanie Ulrich. [Source: Andrew Schotz]On August 1, 2008, it is first reported that Bruce Ivins, a scientist at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland, apparently killed himself after the FBI made him their chief suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). But many of Ivins’s colleagues at USAMRIID doubt that he was the killer.
On August 1, one unnamed colleague says, “They took an innocent man, a distinguished scientist, and smeared his reputation, dishonored him, questioned his children and drove him to take his life.… He just didn’t have the swagger, the ego to pull off that kind of thing, and he didn’t have the lab skills to make the fine powder anthrax that was used in the letters.” [ABC News, 8/1/2008]
On August 2, an unnamed USAMRIID employee says, “Almost everybody… believes that he had absolutely nothing to do with [the anthrax attacks].” [Washington Post, 8/2/2008]
Former colleague Norm Covert says, “We’re looking at a man with a distinguished 30-something-year career, unparalleled and known around the world.… His career and his reputation are trashed and the FBI still hasn’t said what they have on him.” [CNN, 8/2/2008]
Also on August 2, Dr. Kenneth Hedlund, the former chief of bacteriology as USAMRIID, says, “He did not seem to have any particular grudges or idiosyncrasies.… He was the last person you would have suspected to be involved in something like this.” [New York Times, 8/2/2008] Three days later, Hedlund adds, “I think he’s a convenient fall guy. They can say, ‘OK, we found him, case closed, we’re going home. The FBI apparently applied a lot of pressure to all the investigators there, and they found the weakest link.” He also says that Ivins was a bacteriologist and lacked the expertise to convert the anthrax into the deadly form used in the 2001 attacks.
Former colleague Dr. W. Russell Byrne says he believe Ivins was singled out partly because of Ivins’s personal weaknesses. “If they had real evidence on him, why did they not just arrest him?” [Baltimore Sun, 8/5/2008]
On August 4, David Franz, head of USAMRIID in the late 1990s, says, “The scientific community seems to be concerned that the FBI is going to blow smoke at us.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/4/2008]
On August 6, more than 200 of his USAMRIID colleagues attend a memorial for him. Col. John Skvorak, commander of USAMRIID, praises Ivins’s “openness, his candor, his humor and his honesty.” [Wall Street Journal, 8/7/2008]
On August 8, former colleague Gerry Andrews says, “Nothing is unimaginable. But I would definitely say it is doubtful” that Ivins was behind the anthrax attacks. [New York Times, 8/8/2008]
Also on August 8, Melanie Ulrich, a USAMRIID scientist until 2007, says the FBI’s case against Ivins does not add up and their description of him does not match the person she worked with for six years. For instance, she said that shortly after 9/11, an intensive, all-encompassing psychological review was conducted of all USAMRIID employees with access to dangerous biological agents, and it does not make sense that some as supposedly as unstable as Ivins could have remained employed for years of such scrutiny. The FBI claims that an anthrax flask in Ivins’s custody was the “parent” of a certain anthrax strain, but Ulrich says different anthrax samples were genetically identical so any one sample can not be more of a “parent” than any other. The FBI suggests Ivins used a lyophilizer to make powdered anthrax, but Ulrich says Ivins signed out a SpeedVac, but not a lyophilizer, which is too large to fit in the secure protective area Ivins used at the time. Furthermore, a SpeedVac operates slowly and it would have been impossible for Ivins to use it to dry the amount of anthrax used in the letters in the time frame the FBI says he did. [Herald-Mail, 8/8/2008]
On August 9, after the FBI has laid out its evidence against Ivins, Jeffrey Adamovicz, one of Ivins’s supervisors in USAMRIID’s bacteriology division, says, “I’d say the vast majority of people [at Fort Detrick] think he had nothing to do with it.” [Newsweek, 8/9/2008] He also says that the anthrax sent to Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) was “so concentrated and so consistent and so clean that I would assert that Bruce could not have done that part.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 8/7/2008]
Former colleague Luann Battersby says Ivins was weird, but “not any weirder than a typical scientist.… He was not the weirdest by far I worked with down there.” She says that he was not a “strong person.… I would say he was milquetoast.… The fact that he was a terrorist doesn’t really square with my opinion with who he was.… I’m amazed at all this. I assume there’s evidence and that it’s true, but I certainly never would have suspected him.” She says she is unsure if he had the technical skills to commit the crime. [Evening Sun, 8/10/2008]
Experts disagree if recently deceased anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins had the skills needed to make the anthrax used in the attacks.
Bioweapons Expert - “One bioweapons expert familiar with the FBI investigation” says Ivins did have this skills. This expert points out that Ivins worked with anthrax at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, and regularly made sophisticated preparations of anthrax bacteria spores for use in animal tests. “You could make it in a week,” the expert says. “And you could leave USAMRIID with nothing more than a couple of vials. Bear in mind, they weren’t exactly doing body searches of scientists back then.”
Former Weapons Inspector - But others disagree. Richard Spertzel, a former UN weapons inspector who worked with Ivins at USAMRIID, says: “USAMRIID doesn’t deal with powdered anthrax.… I don’t think there’s anyone there who would have the foggiest idea how to do it. You would need to have the opportunity, the capability and the motivation, and he didn’t possess any of those.”
Unnamed Former Colleague - An unnamed scientist who worked with Ivins says it was technically possible to make powdered anthrax at USAMRIID, but, “As well as we knew each other, and the way the labs were run, someone would discover what was going on, especially since dry spores were not something that we prepared or worked with.” [Washington Post, 8/3/2008]
Former Supervisor - Jeffrey Adamovicz, who had been Ivins’s supervisor in recent years, says that the anthrax sent to Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) was “so concentrated and so consistent and so clean that I would assert that [Ivins] could not have done that part.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 8/7/2008]
USAMRIID Division Chief - Gerry Andrews, the chief of USAMRIID’s bacteriology division at USAMRIID from 1999 to 2003, says the anthrax in the Daschle letter was “a startlingly refined weapons-grade anthrax spore preparation, the likes of which had never been seen before by personnel at [USAMRIID]. It is extremely improbable that this type of preparation could ever have been produced [there], certainly not of the grade and quality found in that envelope” (see August 9, 2008).
FBI Scientist - On August 18, FBI scientist Vahid Majidi says, “It would have been easy to make these samples at USAMRIID.” He believes that one person could make the right amount of anthrax in three to seven days (see August 18, 2008). [US Department of Justice, 8/18/2008]
The Kappa Kappa Gamma storage facility is located in this brick building. [Source: Mike Derer / Associated Press]On August 4, 2008, the Associated Press reports that the FBI has an explanation for why deceased anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins allegedly mailed the anthrax letters from a particular mailbox in Princeton, New Jersey: it is located across the street from a college sorority that he has had a grudge and obsession with for many years. “Multiple US officials” tell the Associated Press that Ivins was obsessed with Kappa Kappa Gamma, which has “a sorority that [sits] less than 100 yards away from” the mailbox from which he is said to have sent the letters. Ivins was said to have been fixated about the sorority since he apparently was romantically rebuffed by one of its members while attending college in Ohio decades earlier. Katherine Breckinridge Graham, an adviser to the sorority’s Princeton University chapter, says she has been interviewed by FBI agents “over the last couple of years” about the case. She says Ivins had no known connection to the Princeton chapter of the sorority or any of its members. [Associated Press, 8/4/2008; Associated Press, 8/5/2008] But the next day, the Associated Press publishes an updated version of the same article which reveals that Kappa Kappa Gamma does not have a Princeton University house for its members at all. The mailbox is near where the sorority has a storage unit for its initiation robes, rush materials, and other property. The article notes, “Even the government officials [who leaked the story] acknowledged that the sorority connection is a strange one, and it’s not likely to ease concerns among Ivins’ friends and former co-workers who are skeptical about the case against him.” [Associated Press, 8/5/2008] The New York Times notes that Ivins had visited “Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority houses at universities in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia,” but the last such visit was in 1981. [New York Times, 8/5/2008] Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald, a skeptic of the FBI’s case against Ivins, calls the sorority theory a “pitifully thin reed.” [Salon, 8/6/2008]
The Wall Street Journal publishes an op-ed by Richard Spertzel entitled, “Bruce Ivins Wasn’t the Anthrax Culprit.” As a UN weapons inspector, Spertzel headed the search for biological weapons in Iraq from 1994 to 1999. Spertzel does not believe the FBI’s case against deceased anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins mainly because he maintains that the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks was weaponized and Ivins did not have the skills to weaponize anthrax. Spertzel writes: “The spores could not have been produced at [USAMRIID], where Ivins worked, without many other people being aware of it. Furthermore, the equipment to make such a product does not exist at the institute.” He says the anthrax spores were “tailored to make them potentially more dangerous.” He cites comments by government officials in the months after the attacks which claimed that the spores were coated with silica and the particles in them were given a weak electric charge, making it easier for the spores to float through the air. He concludes: “From what we know so far, Bruce Ivins, although potentially a brilliant scientist, was not… [someone who] could make such a sophisticated product.… The multiple disciplines and technologies required to make the anthrax in this case do not exist at [USAMRIID]. Inhalation studies are conducted at the institute, but they are done using liquid preparations, not powdered products.” [Wall Street Journal, 8/5/2008] The FBI will present more evidence against Ivins in subsequent days (see August 6, 2008), and will assert that the anthrax spores were not weaponized with silica or anything else. But Spertzel will remain skeptical. On August 13, he will say of the case against Ivins: “Until we see the details, who knows?… There are too many loose ends.” [Time, 8/13/2008]
Jeffrey Taylor at the press conference. [Source: Agence France-Presse / Getty Images]The FBI holds a press conference laying out their evidence against recently deceased anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins. Some evidence is unsealed by a judge, and US Attorney for the District of Columbia Jeffrey Taylor presents the evidence to the media several hours later. Taylor says, “We consider Dr. Ivins was the sole person responsible for this attack.” Government investigators also allege:
Ivins alone controlled anthrax flask RMR-1029, which matches the anthrax used in the attacks (see February 22-27, 2002). Taylor says RMR-1029 was “created and solely maintained” by Ivins and that no one else could have had access to it without going through him.
Ivins worked an unusual amount of overtime in his lab around the time the anthrax letters were mailed and he could not give a good reason why.
In counseling sessions, he allegedly threatened to kill people. He also sent a threatening email to a friend involved in the case.
He sent a defective anthrax sample when asked to send a sample to investigators (see February 22-27, 2002).
He was having severe psychological problems at the time of the attacks. At one point, he told a colleague that he “feared that he might not be able to control his behavior” (see April-August 2000 and September-December 2001).
Print defects in envelopes used in the letters suggest they were bought at a post office in 2001 in Frederick, Maryland, where he had an account.
He was re-immunized against anthrax in early September 2001.
He sent an e-mail a few days before the anthrax attacks warning that “Bin Laden terrorists” had access to anthrax. This e-mail allegedly used similar language as the anthrax letters.
He frequently wrote letters to the editor and often drove to other locations to disguise his identity as the sender of documents. [BBC, 8/6/2008; US Department of Justice, 8/6/2008]
But many are not impressed with the FBI’s case. Over the next two days, the editorial boards at the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal argue that an independent inquiry should review and judge the evidence against Ivins (see August 7, 2008, August 7, 2008, and August 8, 2008). Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald will note, “One critical caveat to keep at the forefront of one’s mind is that when one side is in exclusive possession of all documents and can pick and choose which ones to release in full or in part in order to make their case, while leaving out the parts that undercut the picture they want to paint—which is exactly what the FBI is doing here—then it is very easy to make things look however you want.” [Salon, 8/6/2008]
On August 6, 2008, the FBI claims that anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins did not cooperate with investigators in 2002 and failed to hand over anthrax samples that could have linked him to the attacks. This is cited as an important reason why he is named as the FBI’s prime suspect. However, on August 19, it is revealed that Ivins did in fact hand over anthrax samples to the FBI in 2002. In February 2002, he sent in a sample but it did not meet the FBI’s standards for evidence, so the FBI destroyed it (see February 22-27, 2002). In April 2002, he sent in another sample and the FBI did use that (see April 2002). However, one investigator had kept a copy of the first sample, and it was later found not to match the second sample. This first sample was eventually shown to match with the anthrax used in the attacks, while the second one did not match. [Frederick News-Post, 8/19/2008]
Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) sends a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey and FBI Director Robert Mueller with a list of 18 questions about the FBI’s anthrax attacks investigation. He gives them two weeks to respond. The Los Angeles Times says the questions raise “concerns about virtually every aspect of the probe.” Grassley’s questions include how the government focused on suspect Bruce Ivins (who apparently committed suicide about a week earlier July 29, 2008), what was known about his deteriorating mental condition, whether he had taken a lie-detector test, and why investigators are sure that no one else helped him. “The FBI has a lot of explaining to do,” Grassley says. Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) also says in an interview that he is in discussions with other Congresspeople to arrange a Congressional inquiry that would combine the efforts of several Congressional oversight committees. Referring to President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination, Holt says, “We don’t want this to be another Lee Harvey Oswald case where the public says it is never solved to their satisfaction. Somebody needs to finish the job that would have been finished in a court of law.” Other than Congress, “I’m not sure where else to do it.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/8/2008]
The New York Times editorial board writes, “The FBI seems convinced that it has finally solved” the 2001 anthrax attacks by naming Bruce Ivins, yet its description of the evidence “leaves us uncertain about whether investigators have pulled off a brilliant coup after a bumbling start—or are prematurely declaring victory, despite a lack of hard, incontrovertible proof.… None of the investigators’ major assertions… have been tested in cross-examination or evaluated by outside specialists.… The bureau, unfortunately, has a history of building circumstantial cases that seem compelling at first but ultimately fall apart. Congress will need to probe the adequacy of this investigation—and to insist that federal officials release as much evidence as possible, so the public can be assured they really did get the right person this time.” [New York Times, 8/7/2008]
On August 7, 2008, the Washington Post editorial board writes, “The circumstantial evidence against Bruce E. Ivins appears overwhelming.… But as compelling as the allegations contained in the affidavits are, they have not been subjected to the rigors of a criminal trial… Although it would be no substitute for the testing of a judicial trial, an independent third party should be tapped to perform that task, weighing the validity of government allegations and analyzing the legitimacy of government conclusions. Such a third party could also examine allegations that the FBI hounded Mr. Ivins; if the allegations are unfounded, an independent assessment would benefit the agency. There is also an urgent need to explain how a man presumably as disturbed as Mr. Ivins was could have maintained a security clearance that allowed him to work with such deadly substances.” [Washington Post, 8/7/2008]
On August 8, 2005, the Washington Post reports that the FBI concedes that the anthrax sample that the FBI believes Bruce Ivins used in the 2001 anthrax attacks, RMR-1029, was shared with as many as 15 other laboratories across the US. But another clue was used to rule out the other labs. All four recovered anthrax letters used the same pre-stamped envelope, and the envelopes had a tiny printing defect. All of the envelopes with this defect were sold at post offices in Virginia and Maryland. Ivins was living in Frederick, Maryland, and rented a mailbox at the Frederick post office. Jeffrey Taylor, US Attorney for Washington, DC, says that investigators eventually concluded that “the envelopes used in the mailings were very likely sold at a post office in the greater Frederick, Md. area.” [Washington Post, 8/7/2008] However, it is not clear how the FBI narrowed down to just Frederick and not elsewhere in Maryland or Virginia. On August 15, the New York Times reports, “[P]eople who were briefed by the FBI said a batch of misprinted envelopes used in the anthrax attacks… could have been much more widely available than bureau officials had initially led them to believe.” [New York Times, 8/15/2008]
The Justice Department formally clears Steven Hatfill of any involvement in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). The department sends a letter to Hatfill’s lawyer, stating: “We have concluded, based on lab access records, witness accounts, and other information, that Dr. Hatfill did not have access to the particular anthrax used in the attacks, and that he was not involved in the anthrax mailings.” [MSNBC, 8/8/2008] Hatfill won $5.8 million from the government in a settlement in June 2008, but the government admitted no wrongdoing and did not make any statement officially clearing him (see June 27, 2008).
The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes, “As a whole… the FBI has assembled a compelling case” against recently deceased anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins. But the Journal continues, “To resolve any remaining doubts, independent parties need to review all the evidence, especially the scientific forensics. The FBI has so far only released its summary of the evidence, along with interpretative claims. This is an opportunity for Congress to conduct legitimate oversight…” [Wall Street Journal, 8/8/2008]
On August 8, 2008, the Washington Post prints an FBI leak that on September 17, 2001, anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins took administrative leave from his job at USAMRIID (the US Army’s top biological laboratory) in the morning and did not return to a work appointment until about 4 or 5 p.m. later that day. USAMRIID, in Frederick, Maryland, is about three hours away from the Princeton, New Jersey, mailbox where the first batch of anthrax letters are mailed that day. This would give him just enough time to drive to Princeton and then quickly return. The Post says that “government sources” believe “the gap recorded on his time sheet [offers] investigators a key clue into how he could have pulled off” the anthrax attacks. [Washington Post, 8/8/2008]
Debunked - However, Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald soon points out, “But almost immediately after the FBI leaked this theory as to when and how Ivins traveled to New Jersey undetected, it was pointed out in several online venues… that this timeline made no sense whatsoever—that, indeed, the FBI’s own theories were self-contradictory.” In other recently released documents, the FBI defines the “window of opportunity” for mailing that batch of letters as beginning on September 17 at 5 p.m. and ending sometime on September 18, because the last mail pick up is at 5 p.m. and the letters in question have a September 18 postmark. Ivins could not have traveled by day to Princeton and posted the letters after 5 p.m. if he was already back in his Maryland office by 5 p.m. [Salon, 8/18/2008]
FBI Changes Claim - On August 14, 2008, the FBI completely changes its claim. The Post reports: “[G]overnment sources offered more detail about Ivins’s movements on a critical day in the case: when letters were dropped into the postal box on Princeton’s Nassau Street… Investigators now believe that Ivins waited until evening to make the drive to Princeton on Sept. 17, 2001. He showed up at work that day and stayed briefly, then took several hours of administrative leave from the lab, according to partial work logs. Based on information from receipts and interviews, authorities say Ivins filled up his car’s gas tank, attended a meeting outside of the office in the late afternoon, and returned to the lab for a few minutes that evening before moving off the radar screen and presumably driving overnight to Princeton. The letters were postmarked Sept. 18.” [Washington Post, 8/14/2008]
Criticism of FBI - Greenwald comments several days later, “That the FBI is still, to this day, radically changing its story on such a vital issue—namely, how and when Bruce Ivins traveled to New Jersey, twice, without detection and mailed the anthrax letters—is a testament to how precarious the FBI’s case is.… [T]heir own theory as to how and when he sent the letters was squarely negated by their own claims, and so they had to re-leak their theory to the Post once that glaring deficiency, which they apparently overlooked, was pointed out on-line. This isn’t some side issue or small, obscure detail. Being able to link an accused to the scene of the crime is the centerpiece of any case.”
Criticism of Washington Post - Greenwald is also critical of the Post, noting that one Post journalist, Carrie Johnson, wrote or co-wrote the two articles, and yet failed to note the second article presented “a brand new theory that contradicted the one she mindlessly passed on from the FBI the week before.… To the contrary, in touting the FBI’s brand new theory, Johnson wrote that ‘government sources offered more detail about Ivins’s movements on a critical day in the case’—as though the FBI’s abandonment of its prior claim in favor of a new one comprised ‘more detail.’ The FBI didn’t offer ‘more detail’; it offered completely ‘new detail’ because the last ‘detail’ they leaked to Johnson was almost instantaneously disproven…” [Salon, 8/18/2008]
Gerry Andrews, the chief of the bacteriology division at USAMRIID from 1999 to 2003, publishes an editorial in the New York Times. USAMRIID is the US Army’s top biological laboratory, and one of Andrew’s subordinates there was Bruce Ivins, the FBI’s main suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) and also a friend of Andrews. Andrews says that the FBI’s recently revealed case against Ivins is unimpressive and lacks physical evidence. He states that the anthrax contained in a letter to Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) was “a startlingly refined weapons-grade anthrax spore preparation, the likes of which had never been seen before by personnel at [USAMRIID]. It is extremely improbable that this type of preparation could ever have been produced [there], certainly not of the grade and quality found in that envelope.” Andrews also complains that the FBI has not provided “enough detail about their procedure to enable other scientists to tell whether they could actually single out Dr. Ivins’s spore preparation as the culprit…” [New York Times, 8/9/2008]
The Justice Department gives a private briefing to some Congresspeople and government officials outlining the FBI’s case against deceased anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins. Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD), a target of one of the 2001 anthrax letters, attends the briefing and is impressed with the FBI’s arguments. He says that prior to the briefing, he was “very dubious,” but now he finds the government’s case “complete and persuasive.” [USA Today, 8/13/2008] However, Daschle’s reaction seems to be unusual. The New York Times reports that “a number of listeners said the briefing left them less convinced that the FBI had the right man, and they said some of the government’s public statements appeared incomplete or misleading.” Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) says, “The case is built from a number of pieces of circumstantial evidence, and for a case this important, it’s troubling to have so many loose ends. The briefing pointed out even more loose ends than I thought there were before.” Naba Barkakati, the chief technologist for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), says: “It’s very hard to get the sense of whether this was scientifically good or bad. We didn’t really get the question settled, other than taking their word for it.” As a result of these continuing doubts, the FBI decides to make public more details of their scientific evidence against Ivins in a press conference to be held a week later. [New York Times, 8/15/2008]
The lawyer for Mohammed Jawad, a young Guantanamo detainee held in US captivity for almost six years (see December 17, 2002) and charged with attempted murder (see October 7, 2007), again attempts to have the charges against his client dismissed (see June 19, 2008). Major David Frakt shows evidence that General Thomas Hartmann, the military commission’s chief legal adviser, had pressured Guantanamo prosecutors to charge his client (see January 13, 2009 and January 18, 2009). Judge Stephen Henley finds that Hartmann had indeed brought undue pressure to prosecute Jawad, and bars Hartmann from any further involvement in the case as Hartmann has demonstrated his inability to stay neutral. Henley also orders a top-level review of the charges against Jawad. [Human Rights First, 9/2008] Henley will throw out the evidence against Jawad, ruling that Jawad’s confession was obtained through torture (see November 22, 2008).
Vahid Majidi. [Source: FBI]In the face of continued widespread doubt about the government’s case against deceased anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins (see August 12, 2008), the FBI holds a press conference presenting more of its scientific evidence against Ivins. A panel discussion of experts working with the FBI is headed by Dr. Vahid Majidi, the FBI’s assistant director for the Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate, and Dr. Chris Hassell, who heads the FBI’s laboratory. The others on the panel are Paul Keim, Dr. James Burans, Dr. Rita Colwell, Claire Fraser-Liggett, Jacques Ravel, and Dr. Joseph Michael. They are all scientists who assisted with the FBI investigation.
Majidi says, “[T]here were no additional additives combined with the [anthrax] to make them any more dispersible.” He adds, “The material we have is pure spores.”
Hassell says that over 60 scientists worked with the anthrax investigation, validating the data throughout the process. He also says that more than ten peer reviewed scientific articles will be published in the coming months about the science behind the investigation’s findings.
Michael explains that initial results showed that the anthrax spores contained silicon and oxygen. This led to erroneous conclusions that the anthrax had been weaponized with additives to make it more deadly. Later, more powerful microscope analysis showed that the silicon and oxygen were within the anthrax spores and not a layer outside the spores, indicating the anthrax was not weaponized.
Burans says the silicon and oxygen were natural occurrences in the spores and they would not have made the anthrax deadlier since they were not on the outside of the spores.
Asked if the silicon and oxygen could have been intentionally put in the anthrax by a person, an unnamed official replies, “The understanding of that process is not well understood.”
Majidi says scientists were unable to determine what equipment was used to turn wet anthrax into the dry powder used in the attacks.
Burans says that one reason why there was so much confusion about the weaponization of the anthrax is because so little is known about dry anthrax. Nearly all experimentation on anthrax is done using wet anthrax, because it is much safer to handle. He says: “to this day in our laboratories, we avoid at all costs working with [anthrax] in dried form. There’s no reason to.”
Majidi says scientists were able to make anthrax resembling the anthrax used in the attacks, and the anthrax they made behaved in the same way. However, they were not able to recreate the presence of silicon inside the spores. He says, “It would have been easy to make these samples at USAMRIID.” Burans adds that one person could make the amount of anthrax used in the letters in three to seven days. [US Department of Justice, 8/18/2008]
On August 18, 2008, the FBI presented some of its scientific evidence against anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins at a press briefing (see August 18, 2008). However, one day later the New York Times editorial board writes that more evidence needs to be presented: “The FBI spent years pointing a finger at a different suspect. It is not enough for the agency to brush off continuing skepticism.… None of this circumstantial evidence [pointing to Ivins] has been subjected to close outside scrutiny. Congress should be sure to examine it closely.… Now that Dr. Ivins’s suicide has precluded a court trial, there needs to be an independent evaluation of whether the FBI has found the right man.” [New York Times, 8/19/2008] The Times editorial board published a similar editorial on August 7, calling for an independent evaluation of the case against Ivins (see August 7, 2008).
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) releases a draft version of the final report of its investigation of the collapse of World Trade Center Building 7, the 47-story skyscraper which collapsed late in the afternoon of 9/11 (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/21/2008] The report describes NIST’s conclusions on how fires that followed the impact of debris from the north WTC tower’s collapse resulted in the eventual collapse of WTC 7. It evaluates the emergency response and building evacuation procedures, and provides 13 recommendations for construction of buildings in the future, and improved procedures and practices. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/2008, pp. xiii ] Some of the report’s key findings are:
NIST describes its theory of what caused WTC 7 to collapse: “The probable collapse sequence… was initiated by the buckling of a critical interior column.… This column had become unsupported over nine stories after initial local fire-induced damage led to a cascade of local floor failures. The buckling of this column led to a vertical progression of floor failures up to the roof and to the buckling of adjacent interior columns to the south of the critical column. An east-to-west horizontal progression of interior column buckling followed, due to loss of lateral support to adjacent columns, forces exerted by falling debris, and load redistribution from other buckled columns. The exterior columns then buckled as the failed building core moved downward, redistributing its loads to the exterior columns. Global collapse occurred as the entire building above the buckled region moved downward as a single unit.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/2008, pp. xxxii ]
The collapse of WTC 7 “represents the first known instance of the total collapse of a tall building primarily due to fires. The collapse could not have been prevented without controlling the fires before most of the combustible building contents were consumed.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/2008, pp. 43 ]
The fires in WTC 7 “were ignited as a result of the impact of debris from the collapse of WTC 1, which was approximately 370 ft to the south.… The fires were ignited on at least 10 floors; however, only the fires on floors 7 through 9 and 11 through 13 grew and lasted until the time of the building collapse.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/2008, pp. xxxi-xxxii ]
“Even without the initial structural damage caused by debris impact from the collapse of WTC 1, WTC 7 would have collapsed from fires having the same characteristics as those experienced on September 11, 2001.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/2008, pp. 44 ]
“Had a water supply for the automatic sprinkler system been available and had the sprinkler system operated as designed, it is likely that fires in WTC 7 would have been controlled and the collapse prevented.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/2008, pp. 43 ]
Other skyscrapers had previously survived comparable fires. “The fires in WTC 7 were similar to those that have occurred previously in several tall buildings (One New York Plaza, 1970, First Interstate Bank, 1988, and One Meridian Plaza, 1991) where the automatic sprinklers did not function or were not present. However, because of differences between their structural designs and that of WTC 7, these three buildings did not collapse.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/2008, pp. 43 ]
NIST found that “temperatures did not exceed 300°C in the core or perimeter columns in WTC 7,” including the three interior columns that NIST says were the first to buckle in the collapse. “None of these columns were significantly weakened by elevated temperatures.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/2008, pp. 49-50 ]
NIST says it found “no evidence to suggest that WTC 7 was not designed in a manner generally consistent with applicable building codes and standards.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/2008, pp. 53 ]
The report concludes that neither explosives nor fuel oil fires fed by diesel tanks in WTC 7 played any role in the collapse (see August 21, 2008 and August 21, 2008). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/2008, pp. 44-45 ]
However, the report points out that WTC 7 “and the records kept within it were destroyed, and the remains of all the WTC buildings were disposed of before congressional action and funding was available for this investigation to begin. As a result, there are some facts that could not be discerned, and thus there are uncertainties in this accounting. Nonetheless, NIST was able to gather sufficient evidence and documentation to conduct a full investigation upon which to reach firm findings and recommendations.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/2008, pp. xxxi ]
NIST released a progress report in June 2004, which had included its “working hypothesis” at that time for the collapse of WTC 7 (see June 18, 2004). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 6/18/2004] After suggestions are made by members of the public in response to the current draft report, NIST will release the finished version of the report in November 2008, which includes the same major findings and recommendations as the draft version (see November 20, 2008). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 11/20/2008]
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) publicly rejects the theory that diesel fuel tanks installed in World Trade Center Building 7 played any role in the 47-story tower’s collapse, late in the afternoon of 9/11. This is clearly set out in a question-and-answer factsheet published on this day, together with an announcement of NIST’s draft report on the building’s collapse (see August 21, 2008 and August 21, 2008). The factsheet asks, “Did fuel oil systems in WTC 7 contribute to its collapse?” The answer is “No…. The worst-case scenarios associated with fires… could not have been sustained long enough, could not have generated sufficient heat to weaken critical interior columns, and/or would have produced large amounts of visible smoke from the lower floors, which were not observed.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/21/2008; New York Times, 8/21/2008] These findings are echoed in the draft version of its final report on the collapse. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/2008, pp. xxxii ] WTC 7 had three emergency power systems, all of which ran on diesel fuel. The systems contained two 12,000 gallon fuel tanks and two 6,000 gallon tanks located beneath the building’s loading docks, and another 6,000 gallon tank on its first floor. There were also 275 gallon tanks on the fifth, seventh, and eighth floors, and a 50 gallon tank on the ninth floor. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/21/2008] It has previously been suggested that diesel stored in these tanks might have contributed to fires that led to WTC 7’s collapse (see March 2, 2002). [New York Times, 3/2/2002] This possibility was proposed in the final report of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) investigation of the WTC collapses, published in May 2002 (see May 1, 2002). [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 5/1/2002, pp. 5-28 - 5-29] But in his summary of the findings of NIST’s three-year study of WTC 7, lead investigator Shyam Sunder says the building’s collapse was “not due to fires from the substantial amount of diesel fuel stored in the building.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/21/2008]
NIST lead investigator Shyam Sunder answering questions about NIST’s three-year study of the collapse of WTC 7. [Source: Don Berkemeyer / National Institute of Standards and Technology]The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announces the findings of its study of the collapse of World Trade Center Building 7, and says the 47-story tower fell late in the afternoon of 9/11 primarily due to fires. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/21/2008; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/21/2008] NIST releases its findings as part of a 915-page report, which is the result of three years’ work by over 50 federal investigators and a dozen contractors (see August 21, 2008). [New York Times, 8/21/2008]
Collapse Is 'No Longer a Mystery' - In a news conference at NIST’s headquarters in Gaithersburg, Maryland, lead investigator Shyam Sunder admits: “[W]e knew from the beginning of our study that understanding what happened to Building 7 on 9/11 would be difficult. It did not fit any textbook description that you could readily point to and say, yes, that’s why the building failed.” But, he says, “[T]he reason for the collapse of World Trade Center 7 is no longer a mystery.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/21/2008; New York Times, 8/21/2008]
'New Phenomenon' Caused Collapse - Sunder says the “critical factor” that initiated the collapse was “thermal expansion of long-span floor systems located in the east side of the building,” and adds that NIST’s study “has identified thermal expansion as a new phenomenon that can cause structural collapse. For the first time we have shown that fire can induce a progressive collapse.”
Collapse Sequence - Sunder describes the sequence of events NIST believes led to the collapse of WTC 7. He says debris from the collapse of the north WTC tower “started fires on at least 10 floors of the building. The fires burned out of control on six of these 10 floors for about seven hours. The city water main had been cut by the collapse of the two WTC towers, so the sprinklers in Building 7 did not function for much of the bottom half of the building.” He continues: “Fires on floors 7 through 9 and 11 through 13 were particularly severe.… Eventually, a girder on floor 13 lost its connection to a critical interior column.” Floor 13 collapsed, beginning a cascade of floor failures down to the fifth floor. “With the support of these floors gone, column 79 buckled, which initiated the fire-induced progressive collapse of the building.… This in turn caused the failure of nearby columns 80 and 81 and floor failures up to the roof line.… As the roof line begins to fall adjacent columns buckle as well. In quick succession, the remaining interior columns failed from east to west across WTC 7, until the entire core began moving downward. Finally, the remaining outer shell or façade of the building fell.”
NIST Created 'Virtual WTC 7' Model - Sunder says that NIST reached its conclusions about the collapse “by reconstructing the entire building, beam by beam, column by column, connection by connection into a computer model, a virtual WTC 7 building. We then filled that virtual building with as much detail as possible about exactly what types of furnishings were on each floor. Then we set fire to those virtual offices on the floors where video and other visual evidence told us the fires burned.” The investigators “used a well-validated computer program developed at NIST, for studying the growth and spread of fires, to calculate temperatures throughout the building.… And we used well-established data on the properties of structural steel, the sprayed fire resistive material or fireproofing, and other building materials to determine how those temperatures affected the structure.”
Explosives Not Used - Sunder says that the investigators “did not find any evidence that explosives were used to bring the building down” (see August 21, 2008), nor was the collapse “due to fires from the substantial amount of diesel fuel stored in the building” (see August 21, 2008). NIST commenced its investigation of the WTC collapses in 2002 (see August 21, 2002) and issued its findings on the collapses of the Twin Towers in October 2005 (see October 26, 2005). Since then it has been focused on WTC 7. [Government Computer News, 8/21/2008; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/21/2008]
Final Report to Be Released - After suggestions are made by members of the public in response to its current report, NIST will release a finished version of the same report in November 2008, thereby completing its WTC investigation (see November 20, 2008). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 11/20/2008]
After the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announces the results of its investigation into the collapse of World Trade Center Building 7, some critics dispute its explanation for the collapse and question its apparent debunking of claims that explosives were used to demolish the building. The 47-story tower collapsed late in the afternoon of 9/11, even though no plane hit it (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). Some have argued that fire and the falling debris from the Twin Towers’ collapses should not have brought down such a large steel and concrete structure. [Associated Press, 8/21/2008]
NIST Lacks 'the Expertise on Explosives' - James Quintiere, a professor of fire protection engineering at the University of Maryland who previously worked as the chief of NIST’s fire science and engineering division, says that NIST does not “have the expertise on explosives, so I don’t know how they came to that conclusion,” that explosives did not cause the collapse. However, Quintiere says he never personally believed explosives were involved. [Los Angeles Times, 8/22/2008] Richard Gage, a California architect and leader of a group called Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, complains, “How much longer do we have to endure the cover-up of how Building 7 was destroyed?” The New York Times points out that “the collapse of 7 World Trade Center—home at the time to branch offices of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Secret Service, and the Giuliani administration’s emergency operations center—is cited in hundreds of Web sites and books as perhaps the most compelling evidence that an insider secretly planted explosives, intentionally destroying the tower.” [New York Times, 8/21/2008]
NIST Presentation - At a presentation of its findings earlier in the day, NIST announced that, in its three-year study of the collapse, it found no evidence showing explosives were used to bring the building down. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/21/2008; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/21/2008] During his summary of the findings of NIST’s WTC 7 investigation (see August 21, 2008), lead investigator Shyam Sunder said, “We did not find any evidence that explosives were used to bring the building down.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/21/2008]
'No Witness Reports' of Loud Explosions - In the draft version of its final report on the collapse, which is released on this day (see August 21, 2008), NIST explains: “Blast from the smallest charge capable of failing a critical column… would have resulted in a sound level of 130 dB to 140 dB at a distance of at least half a mile if unobstructed by surrounding buildings.… This sound level is consistent with standing next to a jet plane engine and more than ten times louder than being in front of the speakers at a rock concert. There were no witness reports of such a loud noise, nor was such a noise heard on the audio tracks of video recordings of the WTC 7 collapse.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/2008, pp. 44-45 ]
NIST Rules out Thermite - Skeptics have argued that an incendiary material called thermite was used to bring down WTC 7 (see August 4, 2008), and this would not necessarily have created such a loud explosive boom. [New York Times, 8/21/2008] But in a fact sheet published on this day, NIST responds: “To apply thermite to a large steel column, approximately 0.13 lb of thermite would be needed to heat and melt each pound of steel. For a steel column that weighs approximately 1,000 lbs. per foot, at least 100 lbs. of thermite would need to be placed around the column, ignited, and remain in contact with the vertical steel surface as the thermite reaction took place. This is for one column… presumably, more than one column would have been prepared with thermite, if this approach were to be used. It is unlikely that 100 lbs. of thermite, or more, could have been carried into WTC 7 and placed around columns without being detected, either prior to Sept. 11 or during that day.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/21/2008] Sunder says that investigators therefore decided not to use their computer model to evaluate whether a thermite-fueled fire might have brought down WTC 7. Pointing to the omission, one skeptic says, “It is very difficult to find what you are not looking for.” [New York Times, 8/21/2008] In a 2006 fact sheet, NIST in fact admitted it “did not test for the residue” of explosives or thermite in the remaining structural steel from the WTC collapses (see August 30, 2006). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/30/2006] And, as the New York Times notes, “Adding to the suspicion is the fact that in the rush to clean up the site, almost all of the steel remains of the tower were disposed of, leaving investigators in later years with little forensic evidence” (see Shortly After September 11, 2001 and September 12-October 2001). [New York Times, 8/21/2008]
Extensive Preparations for Demolition - NIST’s new fact sheet also points out: “For [WTC 7] to have been prepared for intentional demolition, walls and/or column enclosures and fireproofing would have to be removed and replaced without being detected. Preparing a column includes steps such as cutting sections with torches, which produces noxious and odorous fumes. Intentional demolition usually requires applying explosive charges to most, if not all, interior columns, not just one or a limited set of columns in a building.” [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/21/2008]
The New York Times reports that the FBI is still trying to strengthen its case against deceased anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins in the face of heavy criticism (see September 6, 2008). In early August, days after Ivins’s death, Justice Department officials said the investigation would be formally closed within days or weeks. But now they say it will likely remain open for three to six more months. FBI agents are continuing to interview Ivins’s acquaintances and examine the computers he used in an effort to strengthen the case against him. But FBI and Justice Department officials say they have no doubt about their judgment against Ivins. One anonymous Justice Department official says, “People feel just as strongly as they did a month ago that this was the guy.” [New York Times, 9/6/2008]
The New York Times reports that “in interviews last week, two dozen bioterrorism experts, veteran investigators, and members of Congress expressed doubts about the FBI’s conclusions” about deceased anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins, and many “do not think the [FBI] has proved its case” against him. For instance:
Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) says, “My conclusion at this point is that it’s very much an open matter.… There are some very serious questions that have yet to be answered and need to be made public.”
Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) says, “If the case is solved, why isn’t it solved? It’s all very suspicious, and you wonder whether or not the FBI doesn’t have something to cover up and that they don’t want to come clean.”
Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) says, “[The FBI] took their shot… They hoped and maybe believed that the case they laid out would persuade everyone. I think they’re probably surprised by the level of skepticism.”
Bioterrorism expert Dr. Thomas Inglesby says, “For a lot of the scientific community, the word would be agnostic.… They still don’t feel they have enough information to judge whether the case has been solved.”
Dr. Ralph Frerichs, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, says, “There’s no clarity on the simplest aspect: is [making the anthrax used in the attacks] hard to do or easy to do?”
Dr. Gerry Andrews, who once served as Ivins’s boss at USAMRIID, says, “Despite the FBI’s scientific and circumstantial evidence, I and many of Dr. Ivins’s former colleagues don’t believe he did it and don’t believe the spore preparations were made at [USAMRIID]” (see August 1-10, 2008).
Officials have acknowledged “that they did not have a single, definitive piece of evidence indisputably proving that Dr. Ivins mailed the letters—no confession, no trace of his DNA on the letters, no security camera recording the mailings in Princeton, [New Jersey.]” But the Times also notes, “Even the strongest skeptics acknowledged that the bureau had raised troubling questions about Dr. Ivins’s mental health and had made a strong scientific case linking the mailed anthrax to a supply in his laboratory. But they said the bureau’s piecemeal release of information, in search warrant affidavits and in briefings for reporters and Congress, had left significant gaps in the trail that led to Dr. Ivins and had failed to explain how investigators ruled out at least 100 other people who the bureau acknowledged had access to the same flasks of anthrax.” [New York Times, 9/6/2008]
AIG logo. [Source: American International Group (AIG)]In an historic move, the federal government bails out insurance corporation AIG with an $85 billion loan, giving control of the firm to the US government. After resisting AIG’s overtures for an emergency loan or other intervention to prevent the insurer from falling into bankruptcy, the government decided AIG, like the now-defunct investment bank, Bear Stearns, was “too big to fail” (see March 15, 2008). The US government will lend up to $85 billion to AIG. In return, the government gets a 79.9 percent equity stake in warrants, called equity participation notes. The two-year loan will carry a LIBOR interest rate plus 8.5 percentage points. LIBOR, the London InterBank Offered Rate, is a common short-term lending benchmark. The bailout comes less than a week after the government allowed a large investment bank, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., to fold (see September 14, 2008). As part of the loan agreement, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson insists that AIG’s chief executive, Robert Willumstad, steps aside. Willumstad will be succeeded by Edward Liddy, the former head of insurer Allstate Corp (see September 18, 2008). [Wall Street Journal, 9/16/2008] Shares in AIG drop to $3.75 on the news. [Bloomberg, 3/5/2009]
The government of Iceland takes a 75 percent stake in the country’s third-largest bank, Glitnir, after the bank runs into short-term funding problems. [BBC, 2/2/2009]
House of Representatives bill 1424, known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), passes by a slim margin in both Congressional houses, and is immediately signed into law by President Bush. [White House, 10/3/2008]
The government of Iceland offers an unlimited guarantee for all savers in local banks. In addition, Iceland’s parliament passes emergency legislation enabling the government to intervene extensively in Iceland’s financial system. [BBC, 2/2/2009]
Trading in Iceland’s six biggest financial shares is suspended on the OMX Nordic Exchange Iceland. [BBC, 2/2/2009]
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]
The government of Iceland takes control of the country’s second and third largest banks, Landsbanki and Glitnir; it already had a majority in Glitnir (see September 29, 2008). The financial crisis hit Icelandic banks so severely because they owe relatively more money than banks in other countries. When the crisis starts in earnest, they owe around six times the country’s total gross domestic product. Therefore, when the world’s credit markets dry up, they are unable to refinance their loans. [BBC, 2/2/2009]
Iceland’s government takes control of the country’s biggest bank, Kaupthing. This follows a decision by the British government to invoke anti-terrorism legislation to freeze Icelandic assets in Britain (see October 8, 2008). [BBC, 2/2/2009]
The Central Bank of Iceland cuts the country’s interest rate by 3.5 percent to 12 percent. Interest rates had previously been at a record high of 15.5 percent. [BBC, 2/2/2009]
Iceland’s financial authorities formally announce the establishment of new Glitnir, Landsbanki, and Kaupthing banks. The old banks were taken over by the government two weeks previously as their condition had deteriorated due to the global credit crisis (see October 7, 2008 and October 8, 2008). [BBC, 2/2/2009]
The Pentagon Inspector General (IG) issues a report warning that serious problems with controls and accounting for US weapons and explosives supplied to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) could lead to the diversion of arms to insurgents. A later GAO audit will expand on this assessment (see February 12, 2009). The IG report identifies the following failures in the $7.4 billion program to equip and train Afghan security forces:
The Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A) did not issue instructions or procedures governing the accountability, control, and physical security of arms the US is supplying to ANSF, nor did it clearly define the missions, roles, and responsibilities of US training teams and mentors advising the ANSF and the Afghan Ministries of Defense and Interior.
The CSTC-A did not record the serial numbers of weapons that were issued to the ANSF and did not report these serial numbers to the Department of Defense Small Arms Serialization Program. The report warns, “weapons that fall into enemy hands may not be traceable to the responsible individual[s], if recovered.”
The US office charged with overseeing the foreign military sales program to Afghanistan is too small and its staff lack the rank, skills, and experience to monitor whether arms are being diverted. The report finds that only nine people, led by an Army major, were assigned to oversee a program that disbursed more than $1.7 billion in 2007.
The program to arm and equip Afghan forces is hindered by delays in the Foreign Military Assistance program. Military commanders want the processing time for the military aid requests cut from 120 days to 30 days. “We believe that the strategic importance to the United States of standing up the ANSF merits establishing a reduced [foreign military sales] case processing time standard for the wartime conditions it faces in Afghanistan,” the report says. [Department of Defense, Office of the Inspector General, 10/24/2008 ; Washington Times, 10/31/2008; Washington Post, 2/12/2009]
The Central Bank of Iceland raises its key interest rate to 18 percent from 12 percent due to problems in the country’s banking system. [BBC, 2/2/2009]
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]
To facilitate AIG’s ability to complete its corporate restructuring, the New York Federal Reserve, as authorized by the US Federal Reserve, creates Maiden Lane II LLC and Maiden Lane III LLC to fund the purchase of certain multi-sector collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) from certain AIG Financial Products Corporation (AIGFP) counterparts. The Asset Portfolio purchase will be made in two stages, with Maiden Lane II LLC lending AIG $26.8 billion on November 25, 2008, and Maiden Lane III LLC lending AIGFP and its counterparties $2.5 billion on December 18, 2008 (see March, 2008). [Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 11/10/2008]
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).
Detroit’s Big Three CEOs testify for more than two hours in a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee, using dire language to describe the financial straits that are threatening to bankrupt their companies. Chrysler LLC CEO Robert Nardelli says that without immediate help, his company could be forced into bankruptcy. “We cannot be confident that we will be able to successfully emerge,” he says. General Motors (GM) Corporation’s CEO, Rick Wagoner, adds that the failure of the industry would be “catastrophic,” causing the loss of 3 million jobs. Ford Motor Company CEO Alan Mulally tells the committee that if one of the automakers failed, the whole industry could be disrupted. “You’re here to get life support,” says ranking minority member Richard Shelby (R-AL). “Why aren’t you making money? How would you pay this money back?”
Financial Losses Worse than Originally Believed - The automakers say that their financial losses were worse than they at first thought, with Nardelli testifying that his company ran through $5 billion this year, including $3.3 billion in the third quarter, with only $6.1 billion on hand to last through the end of the year. Wagoner says that his firm would spend $15 billion by the end of 2008, and another $10 billion in 2009. Wagoner wants $10-$12 billion for GM, while Mulally and Nardelli want $7 billion for their respective corporations. Both Wagoner and Nardelli say that their companies will run out of money in a matter of months. One senator asks if the automakers would be willing to make monthly status reports on cash flow if the Senate agrees to the loan. Nardelli offers to take $1 a year as salary compensation; neither Mulally nor Wagoner did not make the same commitment. Nardelli also committed to Chrysler’s agreeing to consider new fuel efficiency standards. “We’d be open to any requirements,” he says.
Already Cut Costs, Moved to Restructure - The automakers testify how aggressively they have moved to cut costs, restructure, and revamp their product lines to be more competitive with foreign rivals, and say their companies were making progress until they were derailed by the credit crisis that has stalled the global economy and dried up consumer confidence. Auto sales are at their lowest level in at least 15 years, they say, dropping nearly 32 percent in October. As a testament to the seriousness of their financial crisis, the three automakers assure the committee that they would spend the requested $25 billion in the United States; however, they refuse to say that they would not come back for further bailout funding. Wagoner testifies that GM has cut $9 billion in costs since 2005. He touts labor agreements with the United Auto Workers that will further cut wage and health care expenses, and says that improvements in designing and manufacturing vehicles as well as developing fuel-saving technologies will also assist in reining in manufacturing costs. “As a result of these and other actions, we are now matching—or besting—foreign automakers in terms of productivity, quality and fuel economy,” he says. Wagoner assures the committee that the company was moving quickly to right its business. “We have more work to do in all aspects of our business,” Wagoner said. “This is hard stuff.” He said that GM would use some of the money to pay suppliers and pay for part of the Chevrolet Volt program.
UAW President Grilled - In his own testimony, United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger ranks the relative financial health of the Big Three as Ford being the most solvent, with Chrysler at number two, while General Motors may be at or near insolvency by the end of 2008. The UAW chief faces tough questions as well, as Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) pushes back on union work rules and the jobs bank. “I understand Mr. Gettelfinger has done a good job on behalf of all workers not working and being paid,” Corker says, calling the practice unacceptable in other businesses.
Disagreement among Democrats, Republicans - Democrats support a plan to subtract $25 billion from the $700 billion Wall Street bailout package, known as the Troubled Asset Recovery Program (TARP), while Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has joined the White House call to speed up money previously authorized for the automakers through an Energy Department loan program. “To basically change the qualifications of the money that we have already appropriated is a sound way to go forward,” said McConnell. House Democrats and many environmentalists oppose the use of the Energy Department loan, since it is approved only for projects that lead to significant fuel efficiency improvements. Carl Levin (D-MI) says that in order to get a bill, Republicans must write language that explains how they would quickly get $25 billion from the Energy Department program to automakers. But Levin is realistic about the long road they face. “Progress: No. Effort: Hell, yes. Big-time effort,” he says. “We haven’t seen progress and won’t see progress until we see the language from those who want to see the [Energy Department] funds.” Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) says she will “very reluctantly” agree to reworking the retooling loans if that was the only way to get help now. Other Senate allies of the auto industry, including Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Ken Salazar (D-CO), opposed the proposal to shift $25 billion from TARP. “I’m not sure we want to throw good money after bad,” Salazar says. Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, says it will be nearly impossible to make a deal before Congress adjourns for the year later this week. “Reading the tea leaves, I just don’t think it’s going to happen,” Baucus says. “There’s not enough time given the opposition of the White House and opposition of the other side of the aisle.” Corker echoes the belief that nothing would get done this year, calling the hearings “the first step in a loan application.”
Further Hearings Slated - The CEOs will return to Capitol Hill for a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee on Tuesday, November 25. [Detroit News, 11/19/2008]
Entity Tags: United Auto Workers, Ford Motor Company, Debbie Stabenow, Chrysler, Carl Levin, Alan Mulally, General Motors, Senate Banking Committee, Max Baucus, Rick Wagoner, Robert Nardelli
Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises
NIST’s ‘Final Report on the Collapse of World Trade Center Building 7.’ [Source: National Institute of Standards and Technology.]The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) releases the final report of its three-year investigation of the collapse of World Trade Center Building 7, the 47-story skyscraper which collapsed late in the afternoon of 9/11 (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). This is the completed version of the report, and comes three months after a draft version was released for public comment (see August 21, 2008). NIST states that the new report “is strengthened by clarifications and supplemental text suggested by organizations and individuals worldwide in response to the draft WTC 7 report.” NIST conducted an additional computer analysis in response to comments from the building community, and made several minor amendments to the report. But, it says, “the revisions did not alter the investigation team’s major findings and recommendations, which include identification of fire as the primary cause for the building’s failure.” With the release of this report, NIST has completed its six-year investigation of the World Trade Center collapses, which it commenced in August 2002 (see August 21, 2002). The final report of its investigation of the Twin Towers’ collapses was published in October 2005 (see October 26, 2005). [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 11/20/2008; Occupational Health and Safety, 11/25/2008]
The judge in the case of Guantanamo detainee Mohammed Jawad (see December 17, 2002 and October 7, 2007) throws out the evidence against Jawad, saying that it was obtained under coercion. Jawad was charged with throwing a grenade at two US soldiers in Kabul, Afghanistan. The judge, Colonel Stephen Henley, finds that the sole evidence against Jawad, a confession he signed while in the custody of Afghan police, was, as the American Civil Liberties Union says, “gathered through coercive interrogations.” [Ottawa Citizen, 11/22/2008]
US government-seized mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac suspend foreclosures from November 26, 2008 until January 9, 2009. The six-week suspension on both foreclosures and evictions will give loan servicers time to implement streamlined loan modifications for struggling borrowers. Since September 6, 2008, Fannie and Freddie have been federal government-controlled and sponsored entities that own or guarantee $5.2 billion of the $12 billion US home mortgage market. They offer borrowers who are 90 days or more delinquent with high loan-to-income ratios a chance to modify their mortgage terms to decrease their monthly mortgage payments by roughly 38 percent of the homeowner’s monthly pretax salary. The companies say they plan to reduce interest rates for up to 5 years while lengthening repayment terms as much as 40 years to trim monthly payments. [Bloomberg, 11/20/2008]
Twelve retired generals and admirals meet with President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team to ask that his administration completely repudiate the Bush administration’s policies of torture, rendition, and indefinite detentions of terror suspects. The group represents a larger number of some three dozen retired flag officers. Several of the participants tell reporters before the meeting about what they intend to discuss. The retired flag officers are going into the meeting with a list of “things that need to be done and undone,” says retired Marine General Joseph Hoar, who commanded the US Central Command (CENTCOM) from 1991 through 1994. “It is fairly extensive.” Such a set of moves by the Obama administration, the officers believe, would help reverse the decline in world opinion about the US, a decline they say was sparked by the issue of detainee abuse both in the Guantanamo detention center and in other such facilities. “We need to remove the stain, and the stain is on us, as well as on our reputation overseas,” says retired Vice Admiral Lee Gunn, a former Navy inspector general. Retired Major General Fred Haynes adds, “If he’d just put a couple of sentences in his inaugural address, stating the new position, then everything would flow from that.” But it needs to be done quickly and decisively, says Gunn: “Gradualism won’t do. That abrupt change will send a signal to the world that America is back.” [Associated Press, 12/2/2008; Reuters, 12/2/2008] Obama has said repeatedly that he will shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention center and stop the US practice of allowing detainees to be tortured (see November 16, 2008).
According to Jim Rogers, the co-founder of the Quantum Fund along with billionaire financier George Soros, the federal government’s efforts to fix the sector are “wrongheaded.” During a teleconference at the Reuters Investment Outlook 2009 Summit, Rogers says that the government’s $700 billion rescue package for the sector doesn’t address how banks manage their balance sheets, and rewards weaker lenders with new capital. More than two dozen banks have received infusions from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), and some TARP funds are being used for acquisitions. [White House, 10/3/2008] “Without giving specific names, most of the significant American banks, the larger banks, are bankrupt, totally bankrupt,” says Rogers, now a private investor. “What is outrageous economically and is outrageous morally is that normally in times like this, people who are competent and who saw it coming and who kept their powder dry go and take over the assets from the incompetent,” he continues. “What’s happening this time is that the government is taking the assets from the competent people and giving them to the incompetent people and saying, now you can compete with the competent people. It is horrible economics.” [Reuters, 12/11/2008]
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
Washington Post economics columnist Steven Pearlstein criticizes Mary Schapiro, President-Elect Barack Obama’s pick to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), a financial market regulator. Pearlstein says that the selection of Schapiro, who has a long background in regulating the industry, is “as safe and predictable as it is disappointing.” He adds that Schapiro has some good qualities and would be a sound pick at another time. However, “The problem is that there is nothing in her record to suggest that she is likely to clean house at the agency and launch a brutal and sustained assault on Wall Street culture.”
Unethical Practices - Pearlstein adds: “Remember the good old days when corporations would routinely manipulate earnings so that they came out just as the analysts expected? Or when analysts used to issue buy recommendations for stocks they knew were lousy just because it helped their firms win investment-banking business? Or when brokerage firms would routinely put clueless customers in mutual funds that offered high commissions, not the best results? Or when investment banks would put aside shares in the hottest IPOs for the personal accounts of corporate chief executives who steered underwriting business their way? These practices weren’t secrets—to anyone even vaguely familiar with the industry, they were hidden in plain view. And yet for years, no regulator, including Schapiro, was willing to risk being demonized by the industry, criticized by Congress and overturned by the courts to do what was necessary to stop these practices.”
'Show Trials' - He then sets out his vision for what the new chairman should do, what he thinks Schapiro will not do: “We need an SEC chairman who is willing to move beyond narrow enforcement actions and no-fault consent decrees to stage a series of regulatory show trials that will expose in graphic detail how people think and behave at all levels of Wall Street firms. We need a chairman who will use the commission’s broad powers to fine and debar from the industry big-name directors, top executives, ratings agency officials and other gatekeepers whose nonfeasance resulted in significant losses for investors, customers and taxpayers. We need a chairman who will make effective use of the bully pulpit to expose other well-known industry practices that put the interests of Wall Street ahead of those of its customers.” [Washington Post, 1/7/2009]
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]
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]
The California Nurses Association (CNA) releases the results of a study which found “a national single-payer style health care reform system would provide a major stimulus for the US economy by creating 2.6 million new jobs, and infusing $317 billion in new business and public revenues, with another $100 billion in wages into the US economy.” The study was conducted by the Institute for Health & Socio-Economic Policy (IHSP), a “non-profit policy and research group” that is “the exclusive research arm of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee.” In addition to the growth in jobs and revenues generated by covering the 47 million Americans who were uninsured as of 2006, the study also found that universal coverage “could be achieved for $63 billion beyond the current $2.1 trillion in direct health care spending,” according to the press release for the study, which also notes that this figure is “six times less than the federal bailout for CitiGroup, and less than half the federal bailout for AIG.” [CalNurses.org, 1/14/2009]
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]
NYU Economics Professor Nouriel Roubini tells Bloomberg News that, following the $350 billion injection by the Bush Administration, President Barack Obama will have to use as much as $1 trillion of taxpayer funds to shore up capitalization of the banking sector. “The problems of Citi, Bank of America and others suggest the system is bankrupt,” Roubini said. “In Europe, it’s the same thing.” Roubini also predicts that oil prices will continue to trade between $30 to $40 a barrel all year. Regarding commodities, Roubini said, “I see commodities falling overall another 15-20%. This outlook for commodity prices is beneficial for oil importers, it’s going to imply that economic recovery might occur faster, but from the point of view of oil exporters, this will be very negative.” [Street Insider.com, 1/20/2009; Bloomberg, 1/20/2009]
Marty Lederman. [Source: Georgetown Law School]Georgetown law professor Marty Lederman, familiar to legal scholars and progressive bloggers for his work on the legal blog “Balkinization,” joins the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) as assistant attorney general. Lederman has been an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s policies on warrantless wiretapping and torture. Lederman’s boss, OLC chief Dawn Johnsen, has been a frequent “guest blogger” on Balkinization, as well as a contributor to Slate’s legal blog “Convictions.” Lederman’s colleague Jack Balkin writes: “Needless to say, I am very pleased for the country by Marty’s new job. I do not exaggerate when I say that Marty is one of the finest lawyers I know, and there is perhaps no better time to put his remarkable talents to use in helping to reform a Justice Department that so badly needs reform.” Lederman is taking the position formerly held by lawyer John Yoo during the first few years of the Bush administration. [Think Progress, 1/20/2009; Balkinization, 1/20/2009]
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) responds to President Obama’s order closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility by wondering why anyone wants to close it. After all, Boehner says, the detainees at Guantanamo enjoy privileges denied to many Americans: “I don’t know that there’s a terrorist treated better anywhere in the world than what has happened at Guantanamo. It is—we have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build a facility that has more comforts than a lot of Americans get.” Boehner states that once “a terrorist detainee is brought to the United States[,] that terrorist is automatically afforded more constitutional rights than US military personnel under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.” [Office of the House Minority Leader, 1/22/2009; Think Progress, 1/22/2009]
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says she intends to push for Congressional legislation mandating a single standard for military and CIA interrogators that would in effect ban the use of torture. Feinstein says she applauds President Obama’s executive order banning torture (see January 22, 2009), but notes that Obama or a future president could overturn that order at any time. “I think that ultimately the government is well served by codifying it, by having it in law,” Feinstein says. Some liberal and civil rights organizations support Feinstein’s drive for a Congressional ban on torture; they also press Feinstein, Obama, and other Democrats to engage in a full investigation of the detention and torture programs under the Bush presidency. [New York Times, 1/23/2009]
President Barack Obama signs a series of executive orders mandating the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within one year’s time, and declares that prisoners at that facility will be treated within the parameters of the Geneva Conventions. Obama’s order also mandates the closure of the CIA’s secret prisons overseas. Another element of those orders bans the practice of torture on detainees (see January 22, 2009). Obama calls the order the first move by his administration to reclaim “the moral high ground” vacated by the previous administration. Americans understand that battling terrorism cannot continue with a “false choice between our safety and our ideals,” he says. [Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2009; Washington Post, 1/23/2009] “We can no longer afford drift, and we can no longer afford delay, nor can we cede ground to those who seek destruction,” he adds. [Associated Press, 1/22/2009] “We believe we can abide by a rule that says, we don’t torture, but we can effectively obtain the intelligence we need.” [New York Times, 1/23/2009] The Washington Post reports that the orders essentially end the “war on terror” as it has been managed by the Bush administration, and writes, “[T]he notion that a president can circumvent long-standing US laws simply by declaring war was halted by executive order in the Oval Office.” However, Obama’s order does not detail what should be done with the detainees currently housed at Guantanamo. According to a White House summary, Obama’s orders “set… up an immediate review to determine whether it is possible to transfer detainees to third countries, consistent with national security.” If a prisoner cannot be transferred, “a second review will determine whether prosecution is possible and in what forum.” Obama says, “The message that we are sending the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism and we are going to do so vigilantly and we are going to do so effectively and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals.” The US will now “observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard,” he adds. The orders do not specifically ban the practice of “rendition,” or secretly transferring prisoners to the custody of other nations, some of which practice torture. “There are some renditions that are, in fact, justifiable, defensible,” says a senior Obama administration official. “There’s not going to be rendition to any country that engages in torture.”
Republicans, Conservatives Object - Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), a supporter of torture by the Bush administration, says Obama’s orders are imprecise and vague: “This is an executive order that places hope ahead of reality—it sets an objective without a plan to get there.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2009; Washington Post, 1/23/2009] “What do we do with confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his fellow terrorist conspirators.” Hoekstra asks, “offer them jail cells in American communities?” [Financial Times, 1/22/2009] Conservative news outlet Fox News tells its viewers, “The National Security Council told Fox that for now even [O]sama bin Laden or a high-ranking terrorist planner would be shielded from aggressive interrogation techniques that the CIA says produced lifesaving intelligence from… Mohammed.” [US News and World Report, 1/23/2009]
'A New Era for America' - Newly installed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a different view. “I believe with all my heart that this is a new era for America,” she tells reporters as she assumes her duties at the State Department. [Agence France-Presse, 1/22/2009] Former Bush official John Bellinger, the National Security Council’s top legal adviser, praises Obama’s orders, calling them “measured” and noting that they “do not take any rash actions.” Bellinger adds: “Although the Gitmo order is primarily symbolic, it is very important. It accomplishes what we could never accomplish during the Bush administration.” [New York Times, 1/23/2009] Retired admiral John Hutson agrees. “It is a 180 degree turn,” says Hutson. “It restores our status in the world. It enables us to be proud of the way we are prosecuting the war.” Closing the Guantanamo prison camp and banning torture “is the right thing to do morally, diplomatically, militarily and constitutionally,” Hutson adds, “but it also makes us safer.” Senator John Kerry (D-MA) calls the move “a great day for the rule of law.” [Financial Times, 1/22/2009; New York Times, 1/23/2009]
Entity Tags: Peter Hoekstra, Hillary Clinton, John Bellinger, Obama administration, John D. Hutson, John Kerry, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, National Security Council, Fox News, Washington Post, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
President Barack Obama, in the same sweeping set of executive orders that mandates the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and orders the closure of the CIA’s secret prisons (see January 22, 2009), orders that the US no longer torture prisoners. And in a broad repudiation of Bush administration policies and legal arguments, Obama’s order nullifies every single legal order and opinion on interrogations issued by any lawyer in the executive branch—including the Department of Justice—since September 11, 2001 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001, Late September 2001, October 23, 2001, Late October 2001, November 6-10, 2001, January 9, 2002, January 25, 2002, and April 2002 and After). “Key components of the secret structure developed under Bush are being swept away,” the Washington Post reports. Obama orders that all interrogations conducted by the CIA and other US officials strictly follow the procedures outlined in the US Army Field Manual. Retired Admiral Dennis Blair, Obama’s nominee to become the director of national intelligence, says that the government may revise the Field Manual to include more coercive interrogation techniques; a commission will be appointed to determine if the Field Manual is adequate. Currently the Field Manual limits interrogators to 19 approved techniques, bans torture, and prohibits harsh questioning techniques in favor of using psychological approaches. “I can say without exception or equivocation that the United States will not torture,” Obama tells a group of listeners at the State Department. “The message that we are sending the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism and we are going to do so vigilantly and we are going to do so effectively and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals,” he adds. The US will now “observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard.” [Agence France-Presse, 1/22/2009; Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2009; Washington Post, 1/23/2009] Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch says that he is certain Obama will not secretly authorize torture. Malinowski says that while Obama might oversee some changes in the Field Manual, he says that Obama will not renege on his promise that detainees would not be tortured or treated inhumanely. [Financial Times, 1/22/2009]
Dennis Blair. [Source: US Navy / Public domain]Retired Admiral Dennis Blair, President Obama’s pick as Director of National Intelligence, refuses to state that waterboarding is torture during his Senate confirmation hearings. Blair, worried that for him to make such a characterization might place CIA employees who used the technique in legal jeopardy, says instead, “I’m hesitating to set a standard here.” He then says: “There will be no waterboarding on my watch. There will be no torture on my watch.” In last week’s Senate hearings, Obama’s nominee for Attorney General, Eric Holder, said flatly, “Waterboarding is torture.” Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) tells Blair, “If the attorney general designee can answer it, you can too.” After the day’s hearings, Blair tells reporters that CIA agents who violated internal standards should be held accountable, and that an Obama task force overhauling interrogation policies would examine the past practices. [Reuters, 1/22/2009]
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]
Amid reports of a $15.4 billion loss, $1.2 million in office redecorations and earlier-than-usual million-dollar bonuses using TARP funds, John Thain resigns as CEO of troubled firm Merrill Lynch, recently purchased by Bank of America.
Investigating Bonuses - While Thain forgoes a 2008 bonus, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is investigating bonuses paid to Merrill executives in late December, right before the deal closed. Merrill normally pays bonuses in January or February. Cuomo is investigating performance bonuses for Merrill’s CEO and other top executives, calling the bonuses an “oxymoron” during such an “abysmal year.” According to Merrill’s securities filings, Thain’s salary was $750,000 last year.
$837,000 for Redecoration - “Spending company money on a lavish redo at a time when Merrill’s finances were rocky sends the wrong message,” said Amy Borrus, deputy director at the Council of Institutional Investors in Washington. “Given the dire straits that so many financial institutions are in, redecorating the corner office should be way down on their to-do lists.” Someone familiar with Thain’s New York office redecoration claims that the CEO paid decorator Michael Smith $837,000 and his purchases included $87,000 for area rugs, $25,000 for a pedestal table and $68,000 for a 19th century credenza. Smith, a Santa Monica, California-based decorator, was recently commissioned by Michelle Obama to decorate the White House.
35,000 Job Losses - Thain, a former executive for Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and the New York Stock Exchange, joins about 35,000 employees that Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis plans to eliminate over the next few years from the combined firms’ total of over 260,000 employees.
Abysmal Performance - Lewis’s credibility was undercut after Merrill reported a record fourth-quarter deficit. Lewis considered backing out of the deal after learning the extent of Merrill’s losses in December 2008, but went ahead with the buyout at the insistence of US regulators who provided a new $138 billion aid package. “There was a certain surprise that the Merrill losses were as steep as they were,” says James Post, a professor of corporate governance and business ethics at Boston University School of Management. “On top of that, I think Lewis didn’t think Thain was doing as much as he could to control the expenses and minimize the losses.” Shares in Bank of America, down 53 percent so far in 2008, slide another 14 percent to $5.71 by the close of New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Thain bought 84,600 shares in Bank of America, at $5.71 each, the day before his ouster, a filing showed. [Bloomberg, 1/22/2009]
Halliburton Co agrees to pay a $559 million fine to end an investigation of its former KBR subsidiary if the US government approves the settlement. KBR, formerly Kellogg Brown & Root, has long been accused of violating anti-bribery laws by paying kickbacks to Nigerian officials in return for “sweetheart deals” involving Nigeria’s oil and natural gas fields. The fine, if paid, will be the largest penalty in history against a US company for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA); the settlement would allow Halliburton to avoid having a government monitor put in place, but would require the company to hire an independent consultant to assess its compliance with anti-bribery laws. Halliburton would pay $382 million to the Department of Justice and $177 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission in “disgorgement.” KBR, which has become independent of Halliburton since the incidents in question, refuses to comment on the settlement. The government’s probe of Halliburton/KBR goes back over 20 years, to the construction and expansion of a gas liquefaction facility at Bonny Island, Nigeria. Halliburton has admitted that its agents probably bribed Nigerian officials, and former KBR CEO Albert Stanley has already pled guilty to charges stemming from the Bonny Island bribery scheme. Former Vice President Dick Cheney was Stanley’s immediate supervisor when Cheney was CEO of Halliburton. [Reuters, 1/26/2009]
“The worst economic turmoil since the Great Depression is not a natural phenomenon but a man-made disaster in which we all played a part,” says Guardian City editor Julia Finch, who lists individuals who led the world into its current economic crisis (see June 2008). These individuals include:
Alan Greenspan, US Federal Reserve chairman, 1987-2006: “[B]lamed for allowing the housing bubble to develop as a result of his low interest rates and lack of regulation in mortgage lending. Backed sub-prime lending; urged homebuyers to swap fixed-rate mortgages for variable rate deals, leaving borrowers unable to pay when interest rates rose. Defended the booming derivatives business, which barely existed when he took over the Fed, but which mushroomed from $100tn in 2002 to more than $500tn five years later.”
Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England: “His ambition was that monetary policy decision-making should become ‘boring.’”
Bill Clinton, former US president: “Beefed up the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act to force mortgage lenders to relax their rules to allow more socially disadvantaged borrowers to qualify for home loans. Repealed the 1999 Glass-Steagall Act, prompting the era of the superbank; the year before the repeal, sub-prime loans were just 5 percent of all mortgage lending. By the time the credit crunch blew up it was approaching 30 percent.” [Guardian, 1/26/2009]
Depending on the extent and length of the economic crisis, the International Labor Organization (ILO) predicts in its annual Global Employment Trends Report that global unemployment could increase from 33 million to 51 million people, up 18 million from 2007 figures. The ILO urges global governments to emphasize job creation in their fiscal stimulus packages and improve social protection systems for the unemployed and the employed. “We are now facing a global jobs crisis,” Juan Somavia, ILO director general says. “Progress in poverty reduction is unraveling, and middle classes worldwide are weakening. The political and security implications are daunting.” The ILO is a United Nations organization that has painted three 2009 global unemployment scenarios, ranging from bad to worst. “In all scenarios, there will be a global unemployment rate increase in 2009, particularly the developed economies,” the ILO report says. Its most optimistic scenario is based on the International Monetary Fund’s November 2008 world economic growth projection, which indicates that there would be a global unemployment rate at 6.1 percent. This scenario has 18 million more people unemployed by the end of 2009, in comparison to the end of 2007, with a global unemployment rate of 6.1 percent. Under the ILO’s second and third scenarios, the numbers could rise by 30 million or even 51 million, with a much slower economic recovery, with unemployment reaching higher levels in developed countries. Under the ILO’s third scenario, approximately 200 million workers could be pushed into extreme poverty with incomes as low as $1.25 a day; 140 million would be in Asia. “The world is facing an unprecedented crisis that calls for creative solutions,” the organization says. [Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg), 1/28/2009]
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
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]
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]
Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder says that if he is confirmed, he intends to review current litigation in which the Bush administration asserted the so-called “state secrets” privilege (see March 9, 1953), and that he intends to minimize the use of the privilege during his tenure. “I will review significant pending cases in which DOJ [the Justice Department] has invoked the state secrets privilege, and will work with leaders in other agencies and professionals at the Department of Justice to ensure that the United States invokes the state secrets privilege only in legally appropriate situations,” he writes in a response to pre-confirmation questions. (Shortly after Holder’s testimony, the Justice Department again asserts the “state secrets” privilege in a case involving a Guantanamo detainee—see February 9, 2009). Holder adds: “I firmly believe that transparency is a key to good government. Openness allows the public to have faith that its government obeys the law.” To a related question, he asserts his belief that the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) must disclose as many of the opinions it generates as possible: “Once the new assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel is confirmed, I plan to instruct that official to review the OLC’s policies relating to publication of its opinions with the [objective] of making its opinions available to the maximum extent consistent with sound practice and competing concerns.” [Federation of American Scientists, 2/2/2009; Senate Judiciary Committee, 2/2/2009] Weeks later, the Justice Department will release nine controversial OLC memos from the Bush administration (see March 2, 2009).
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
US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announces a much bigger plan to rescue the US financial system than previously predicted or envisioned, including a much greater government role in markets and banks since the 1930s (see March 15, 2008). Although the administration provides few details, one central portion of the plan that investors most desired to learn about creates bad banks that rely on taxpayer and private investor funds to purchase and hold bad assets racked up by the banks from subprime mortgages, derivatives, and credit defaults. An additional focal point of the plan stretches the final $350 billion that the Treasury may use for the bailout, relying on the Fed’s capability to create money. This last tranche of funding allows the government to be involved in the management of markets and banks. For example, with the credit markets, the administration and the Fed propose to expand a lending program that spends as much as $1 trillion as a replacement for the $1.2 trillion decline between 2006 and 2008 for the issuance of securities backed primarily by consumer loans. The third component of the plan gives banks new capital to lend, but banks that receive new government assistance will have to cut the salaries and perks of their executives and limit dividends and corporate acquisitions. Banks must also publicly declare more information about their lending practices. With the newly proposed Treasury requirements, banks will have to give monthly statements on how many new loans they make, yet the plan stops short of ordering banks to issue new loans or requiring them to account in detail for the federal money. The Obama administration’s commitment to flood the banking system with funds will combine the $350 billion left in the bailout fund; the rest of the money will be from private investors and the Federal Reserve. Some market observers, along with some federal legislators and economists, criticize the plan for its lack of details. [New York Times, 2/10/2009]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases previously classified documents that contain excerpts from a government report on harsh interrogation tactics used by US personnel against detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. The excerpts document repeated instances of abusive behavior, sometimes resulting in the deaths of prisoners. The documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), contain a report by Vice Admiral Albert Church, who compiled a comprehensive report on the Defense Department’s interrogation operations. Church terms the interrogations at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan as “clearly abusive, and clearly not in keeping with any approved interrogation policy or guidance.” Only two pages from the Church report were released without redactions.
Deaths at Bagram - A portion of the document reports on the deaths of two prisoners at Bagram (see December 5-9, 2002 and November 30-December 3, 2002), who were, the document states, “handcuffed to fixed objects above their heads in order to keep them awake.” The report continues: “Additionally, interrogations in both incidents involved the use of physical violence, including kicking, beating, and the use of ‘compliance blows,’ which involved striking the [prisoners] legs with the [interrogators] knees. In both cases, blunt force trauma to the legs was implicated in the deaths. In one case, a pulmonary embolism developed as a consequence of the blunt force trauma, and in the other case pre-existing coronary artery disease was complicated by the blunt force trauma.” Both detainees died from pulmonary embolisms caused by, the ACLU writes, “standing chained in place, sleep deprivation, and dozens of beatings by guards and possibly interrogators.”
Deaths at Other Facilities - The documents also report on torture conducted at Guantanamo and several US-Afghan prisons in Kabul; the death of prisoner Dilar Dababa in Iraq in 2003 at the hands of US forces; the torture and beating of an Iraqi prisoner at “The Disco,” a detention facility located in the Special Operations Force Compound at Mosul Airfield in Iraq; an investigation into torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad; and the murder of prisoner Abed Mowhoush.
Process Flowed Through Undersecretary Cambone - Columnist Scott Horton writes: “A large portion of the torture, maiming, and murder of detainees occurred under authority issued under secret rules of engagement in the Pentagon. Much of this flowed through Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone, a figure who has so far evaded scrutiny in the torture scandal.… Even the Senate Armed Services Committee review fails to get to the bottom of Dr. Cambone, his interrogations ROEs for special operations units he controlled, and the death, disfigurement, and torture of prisoners they handled. This is one of many reasons why a comprehensive investigation with subpoena power is urgently needed. But full airing of the internal investigations already conducted by the Department of Defense is an essential next step.” [Raw Story, 2/12/2009; American Civil Liberties Union, 2/12/2009]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other human rights organizations release over a thousand pages of government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The documents provide new details of the Bush administration’s treatment of prisoners in its “global war on terror.” Among other things, the documents show a much closer collaboration between the CIA and the Defense Department than initially believed; the Defense Department was intimately involved with the CIA’s practices of indefinite “ghost” detentions and torture. The documents confirm the existence of a previously “undisclosed detention facility” at Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base and details of the extensive abuse and torture of prisoners at that facility. They also show that the Defense Department worked to keep the Red Cross away from its detainees by refusing to register their capture with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for two weeks or more, “to maximize intelligence collection,” a practice the Defense Department officials acknowledged in their private communications to be illegal under the Geneva Conventions.
CIA, Defense Department in Collusion? - The Center for Constitutional Rights notes, “These policies demonstrate the ease with which the CIA could have used DOD facilities as ‘sorting facilities’ without having to worry about ICRC oversight or revelation of the ghost detainee program.” The documents also include e-mails sent to Defense Department Transportation Command officials recommending that a number of prisoners slated for release from Guantanamo be detained longer, for fear of negative press coverage (see February 17, 2006). [AlterNet, 2/13/2009] “These newly released documents confirm our suspicion that the tentacles of the CIA’s abusive program reached across agency lines,” says Margaret Satterthwaite of New York University’s International Human Rights Clinic. “In fact, it is increasingly obvious that defense officials engaged in legal gymnastics to find ways to cooperate with the CIA’s activities. A full accounting of all agencies must now take place to ensure that future abuses don’t continue under a different guise.”
Heavy Redactions Thwart Intent of FOIA - Amnesty International’s Tom Parker notes that much of the information in the documents was blacked out before its release. “Out of thousands of pages, most of what might be of interest was redacted,” he says. “While the sheer number of pages creates the appearance of transparency, it is clear this is only the tip of the iceberg and that the government agencies have not complied with spirit of President Obama’s memo on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests (see January 21, 2009). We call on Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama administration to put teeth into the memo and work actively to comply with FOIA requests.” [Center for Constitutional Rights, 2/12/2009]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Geneva Conventions, Central Intelligence Agency, Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International, American Civil Liberties Union, International Committee of the Red Cross, Obama administration, International Human Rights Clinic, New York University, Margaret Satterthwaite, Tom Parker
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) presents its report on weapons accountability problems in Afghanistan to a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee. The congressionally ordered audit reveals that the US military did not track hundreds of thousands of weapons—over half of the total procured for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)—between 2004 and 2008. The report expands on an earlier assessment produced by the Pentagon’s Inspector General (see October 24, 2008). The Washington Post quotes subcommittee chairman Rep. John F. Tierney (D-MA) as saying that the failures could lead to American soldiers being killed by insurgents using a weapon purchased by US taxpayers. “That’s what we risk if we were to have tens of thousands of weapons we provided washing around Afghanistan, off the books,” Tierney says in a written statement. [Washington Post, 2/12/2009] The audit finds that American military officials did not keep complete records on about 87,000 rifles, pistols, mortars, and other weapons the United States sent to Afghan soldiers and police, nor did they keep reliable records on 135,000 more weapons donated to Afghanistan by 21 countries. The GAO audit also finds:
Inventory controls were lacking for more than a third of the 242,000 light weapons donated to Afghan forces by the United States—a stockpile that includes thousands of AK-47 assault rifles as well as mortars, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
Until June 2008, the military did not even take the elementary step of recording the serial numbers of some 46,000 weapons the United States provided to the Afghans, making it impossible to track or identify any that might be in the wrong hands. Serial numbers for the 41,000 other weapons from the United States were recorded, but American military officials had no idea where those weapons were.
American trainers were not following their own rules, finding that weapons were issued to Afghans even when there were concerns about—or evidence of—poor security at weapons depots and corruption by Afghan officials.
Afghan security procedures were so inadequate that weapons supplied to Afghan forces were at “serious risk of theft or loss.” Many of the weapons were left in the care of Afghan-run military depots with a history of desertion, theft, and sub-par security systems that sometimes consist of a wooden door and a padlock. [Government Accountability Office, 2/12/2009 ]
According to economists and other finance experts, most of the major US banks are broke, awash in losses from bad bets that overwhelm the banks’ assets. [Link TV, 2/10/2009; Financial Times, 2/10/2009] None of the experts focus on individual banks, and there are exceptions among the 50 largest banks in the country. Consumers and businesses do not need to fret about their federally insured deposits, and even banks that are technically insolvent can continue operating, and could recover their financial health once the economy improves. Until there is a cure for banks’ bad assets, the credit crisis that is dragging down the economy will linger, since banks cannot resume the lending needed to restart commerce.
Suggested Response - Economists and experts say that the answer is a larger, more direct government role than the recently-unveiled Treasury Department plan. The Obama-Geithner plan leans heavily on sketchy public-private investment funding to buy up the banks’ troubled mortgage-backed securities. Experts say that the government needs to delve in, weed out the weakest banks, inject capital into surviving banks and sell off bad assets. “The historical record shows that you have to do it eventually,” said Adam Posen, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “Putting it off only brings more troubles and higher costs in the long run.” The Obama administration’s recovery plan could help spur a timely economic spurt, and the value of the banks’ assets could begin to rise. Absent that, the prescription would not be easy or cheap. Estimates of the capital injection needed range from $1 trillion and beyond. By contrast, the commitment of taxpayer money is the $350 billion remaining in the financial bailout approved by Congress last fall.
Pessimism - In a new report Nouriel Roubini, professor of economics at the Stern School of Business at New York University, estimates that total losses on loans by American financial firms and the fall in the market value of the assets they hold will reach $3.6 trillion, up from his previous estimate of $2 trillion. [Global Economic Monitor, 2/10/2009] Of the total, he calculates that American banks face half that risk, or $1.8 trillion, with the rest borne by other financial institutions in the United States and abroad. “The United States banking system is effectively insolvent,” Roubini says. [International Herald Tribune, 2/13/2009]
Less than one month after his inauguration, President Barack Obama signs into law a $787 billion recovery package, stating that this will “set our economy on a firmer foundation.” However, Obama reiterates during the bill’s signing ceremony at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science that he will not pretend “that today marks the end of our economic problems, nor does it constitute all of what we have to do to turn our economy around. Today marks the beginning of the end, the beginning of what we need to do to create jobs for Americans scrambling in the wake of layoffs.” The legislative battle on the bill ended with only three Republican votes in the Senate and none in the House. As president-elect, Obama initially expected to spend between $675 billion and $775 billion on the recovery package, and the final number is almost exactly that. However, Congress included $70 billion worth of tax cuts in the bill they approved, although more than a few economists say $70 billion in tax cuts won’t create as many new jobs as $70 billion in spending would. According to the government’s Recovery (.gov) Web site, the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act:
Saves and creates more than 3.5 million jobs over the next two years;
Takes a big step toward computerizing Americans’ health records, reducing medical errors, and saving billions in health care costs;
Revives the renewable energy industry and provides the capital over the next three years to eventually double domestic renewable energy capacity;
Undertakes the largest weatherization program in history by modernizing 75 percent of federal building space and more than one million homes;
Increases college affordability for seven million students by funding the shortfall in Pell Grants, increasing the maximum award level by $500, and providing a new higher education tax cut to nearly four million students;
Enacts the largest increase in funding of the nation’s roads, bridges, and mass transit systems since the creation of the national highway system in the 1950s;
Provides an $800 “Making Work Pay” tax credit for 129 million working households, and cuts taxes for the families of millions of children through an expansion of the Child Tax Credit;
Requires unprecedented levels of transparency, oversight, and accountability.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says Obama will seek additional stimulus/recovery funding if needed. [New York Times, 2/17/2009; recovery.gov, 2/17/2009]
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