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Brandon Neely. [Source: Associated Press]A former Guantanamo guard, Specialist Brandon Neely, discusses his experiences with MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow. He also gives a lengthier interview to the Guantanamo Testimonials Project, run by the Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas at the University of California at Davis. Neely was at Guantanamo when the first prisoners arrived in January 2002, and stayed for some six months before being transferred. Later, he served in Iraq. Neely says he is still haunted by the memories of what he saw during his time at Guantanamo. Neely, who was honorably discharged from the Army in 2008, is the president of the Houston chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).
'I Was Ready for Revenge' - When he learned that he was being assigned to Guantanamo, as he recalls, “We were told… these people would not fall under the Geneva Convention.” Neely says that from the outset, he and the other guards were trained to be very adversarial towards the detainees: “We were just told from the get-go that these were the guys who planned 9/11, that these are the worst people in the world.… I was ready for revenge. I was angry. I was ready to go to war.” He recalls the day that the first detainees arrived (see January 11, 2002-April 30, 2002). When they arrived, Neely was startled: “Most of them were small, underweight, very scared, and injured. I was expecting these people to come off that bus looking like vicious monsters.”
Fear of Execution Provoked Resistance - Neely recalls one physical incident between himself and an older prisoner that happened the first day. When the prisoner resisted being forced to his knees, Neely slammed him to the cement floor; other guards “went ahead and hog-tied him.” The next day, as Neely recalls: “I could see on the side of his—side of his face, he was all scraped up and bruised.… And I later learned from other detainees the reason that he moved and he jerked away from us was when we placed him on his knees, he thought we were going to execute him.” However, his fellow guards were pleased, saying, “Man, that was a good job; you got you some.” Neely witnessed other physical abuses, including one instance when a prisoner was beaten by a medic for refusing to drink a can of Ensure. Neely later learned that the prisoner believed the Ensure to have been poisoned. He also witnessed a detainee beaten unconscious for calling a female guard a “b_tch.” Guards sometimes called prisoners “sand n_ggers.” Guards sometimes told detainees that their villages or countries had been bombed and their families were all dead. Sometimes the guards told prisoners that they could be executed at any time.
Lack of Respect for Religious Beliefs - Neely knows of at least one incident where a guard, searching a prisoner’s cage, threw the prisoner’s Koran to the floor, provoking outrage among the detainees. Neely says the guard swore that he threw the Koran aside without thinking. Other incidents were more deliberately provocative: loud rock music or the national anthem would be played during the morning call to prayer; soldiers would mock and ridicule prisoners during their worship services, soldiers would blast praying detainees with water and call the incidents accidents; prisoners were fed pork, a proscribed food, without being informed of what they were eating.
David Hicks: Humanizing the 'Monsters' - Neely spent a good amount of time talking with Australian detainee David Hicks (see December 2000-December 2001). Hicks repeatedly insisted that he had been in Afghanistan fighting well before the Americans arrived, and that he would never fight Americans. He told Neely that he had been captured by Northern Alliance forces while trying to leave the country, and his captors sold him to the Americans for $1,500. Neely recalls: “Hicks did not come across as the cold-blooded killer that we were told all these guys were. He was a normal guy like me.… During these times is when I really started to look at the detainees as real people and not just monsters, as I had been told they were.”
'Trial and Error' - Neely says: “There was no standard operating procedures as far as how a detainee camp was supposed to be run. There was kind of like a trial-and-error period, if this didn’t work, we’ll try this way one day—you know, just everyday was something different until they thought it was right.” He tells The Independent: “As far as the Geneva Conventions, we touched very shortly on that in training. Most of what people knew about them was from their own readings.” [MSNBC, 2/17/2009; Independent, 2/18/2009]
Conclusion - Neely says: “I think everyone can agree that, at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, there are some really bad people. And there are a lot of good people there as well. But—innocent, guilty, black, white, Muslim, or Jew, no matter what you are—there is no excuse to treat people in the manner that I and other people did. It’s wrong and just downright criminal, and it goes against everything the United States of America stands for.” [Independent, 2/18/2009]
Retired Major General Anthony Taguba, who headed an intensive military investigation into the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison (see March 9, 2004), is one of the most prominent supporters of the call to investigate the Bush administration’s interrogation, detention, and torture policies. Taguba joins 18 human rights organizations, former State Department officials, former law enforcement officers, and former military leaders in asking President Obama to create a non-partisan commission to investigate those abuses. Even though prosecuting former Bush officials might be difficult, Taguba says, a commission would provide some measure of accountability for the practices Taguba calls “misguided,” “illegal,” “despicable and questionable.” Taguba wants the commission to study the Bush administration’s claims that torture provides good intelligence, which he disputes. He particularly wants the commission to investigate administration officials’ claims that the administration’s policies were legal. Taguba says he supports “a structured commission with some form of authority with clear objectives and a follow-on action plan. I’m not looking for anything that is prosecutorial in nature, unless a suspected violation of relevant laws occurred, which should be referred to the Department of Justice.… In my opinion, our military prosecuted those who were involved in torture or unlawful interrogation. And I think our military has come to terms with that. We are an institution that prides itself on taking corrective action immediately, admitting to it, and holding ourselves accountable. And we have done that. But I am not so sure that our civilian authorities in government have done that for themselves.” Speaking about the Bush Justice Department’s findings that torture and indefinite detentions are legal (see Late September 2001, November 11-13, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, August 1, 2002, and August 1, 2002), Taguba says: “This notion that a lot of constitutional legal experts—lawyers with great intellect, well educated—came up with such despicable and questionable legal findings that were contrary to the definition of defending the Constitution? And then they framed this as if the executive branch had the authority to extend beyond the constitution to establish a policy of torture and illegal detention?… Some of those that were tortured were innocent. How do we come to terms with those that were cruelly mistreated and were innocent, never charged, were illegally detained, and never compensated for their suffering? This is not a political issue, but a moral and ethical dilemma which has far-reaching implications.” [Salon, 2/21/2009]
Mohamed returning to London. [Source: Lewis Whyld / Associated Press]Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001, February 8, 2009, and February 9, 2009) is released from Guantanamo, and returns to Great Britain. He is flown to Britain on a private chartered Gulfstream jet similar to those used by the CIA in “extraordinary renditions.” His sister, Zuhra Mohamed, meets him at the RAF Northolt airbase in west London, and tells reporters: “I am so glad and so happy, more than words can express. I am so thankful for everything that was done for Binyam to make this day come true.” His lawyers claim that he has suffered severe physical and psychological abuse, some of which was inflicted in recent days. He suffers from what his lawyers call a huge range of injuries. Doctors have found Mohamed suffering from extensive bruising, organ damage, stomach complaints, malnutrition, sores to feet and hands, and severe damage to ligaments. His weight has dropped from around 170 pounds to 125 pounds. His lawyers say he suffers from serious emotional and psychological problems, which have been exacerbated by the refusal of Guantanamo officials to provide him with counseling. Mohamed’s British lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, says his client had been beaten “dozens” of times, with the most recent abuse occurring in the last few weeks (see September 2004 and After). “He has a list of physical ailments that cover two sheets of A4 paper,” says Stafford Smith. “What Binyam has been through should have been left behind in the middle ages.” Mohamed’s American military lawyer, Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley, adds: “He has been severely beaten. Sometimes I don’t like to think about it because my country is behind all this.” Britain’s former Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, an advocate for the closure of Guantanamo, says that allegations of abuse against Mohamed, a British resident, should be raised by Foreign Secretary David Miliband with his American counterpart, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “If there are credible accounts of mistreatment then they need to be pursued,” Goldsmith says.
Care Provided upon Return - Upon his return to Britain, Mohamed will receive physical care and emotional counseling in a secure, secret location by a team of volunteer doctors and psychiatrists. He will be kept under a “voluntary security arrangement,” where he must report regularly to authorities, but will not be subject to charges or anti-terror control orders. The US dropped all charges against Mohamed last year, including allegations that he had participated in a “dirty bomb” plot. [Guardian, 2/22/2009; Guardian, 2/24/2009]
MI5 to Be Investigated? - At least one MI5 officer may face a criminal investigation over his alleged complicity in torturing Mohamed (see February 24, 2009). And Mohamed’s future testimony is expected to shed light upon MI5’s own participation in his interrogation and alleged torture; Mohamed may sue the British government and MI5, Britain’s counter-intelligence and security service, over its alleged complicity in his detention, abduction, treatment, and interrogation. If filed, Mohamed’s lawsuit could force US and British authorities to disclose vital evidence regarding Mohamed’s allegations of torture. [Guardian, 2/22/2009]
Global recession fears deepen as uncertainty regarding bank bailout plans drives negative investor sentiment on Wall Street. The Dow Jones index closes down 196.01 points, or 2.7% at 7169.66, the lowest since October 1997. The S&P 500 index loses 2.9% to 747.94, below its lowest close since April 1997. Investors initially welcomed reports that the Feds would convert an earlier investment in Citigroup into a large common stock holding, but enthusiasm faded as long-standing uncertainty about the government’s ultimate plan for banks resurfaced to pull indexes lower. European stocks also retreat, sending the Dow Jones Stoxx 600 Index to a new six-year low. It slides 0.9% to 175.29, dropping for a second straight day and closing at its lowest level since March 13, 2008. National benchmark indexes dropped in 15 of the 18 western European markets. [National Business Review, 2/23/2009]
Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit is in talks with the US government to increase the amount of public ownership of the bank in a move both politicians and bank bosses hope will avert the need for the ailing corporation to be taken into FDIC receivership (see March 15, 2008). Talks commenced after Citigroup shares dropped more than 20 percent in late trading on Friday, leaving the business with a share value of $10.6 billion, with balance sheet assets of $1.95 trillion. Government receivership of Citigroup is seen as politically unpalatable, and US taxpayers could conceivably own up to 40 percent of Citigroup. Economists see government takeover of the corporation as evidence of other major banks struggling with insolvency. The failure of major banks will have calamitous repercussions. The US treasury says it remains committed to helping the banking industry recover without taking complete control. “Because our economy functions better when financial institutions are well managed in the private sector, the strong presumption… is that banks should remain in private hands,” the Treasury Department said in a joint statement with the Federal Reserve. Speculation that a major Wall Street institution could be taken into public ownership toppled the market on Friday, February 20; likely targets were heavily rumored to be Citigroup and Bank of America. Bank of America lost nearly half its share value in three days before rallying late Friday afternoon. The latest talks center on a Treasury Department proposal to convert preference shares in Citigroup into new ordinary shares. This move would not involve additional taxpayer funds, but taxpayers would surrender the guaranteed dividends that come with preference stock, as well as some degree of protection in the event of a corporate collapse. Serious questions remain, such as the price at which new shares are issued. Estimates of the size of the government’s eventual stake range from 25 percent to 40 percent. With this move, Barack Obama’s administration would become a major presence on Citigroup’s ordinary share register, thus diluting the interests of existing investors, and heightening fears of political pressure being brought on US banks. Some analysts suggest that banks relying on taxpayer bail-outs are being encouraged to focus lending and liquidity on the national US market. [Guardian, 2/23/2009]
The National Museum of Iraq, which was extensively looted and vandalized in the weeks after the US invasion (see April 13, 2003 and June 13, 2003), reopens, though the public cannot yet visit. Many of the stolen items have been returned, the vandalism has been repaired, and the museum refurbished and updated. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other dignitaries receive a private tour before the museum is opened to the public. The opening generated some controversy, with the Ministry of Tourism pushing for a gala reopening celebration and the Ministry of Culture arguing that security remains too tenuous for such a high-profile event. The state minister for tourism and antiquities, Qahtan Juboori, says that of about 15,000 pieces stolen from the museum, 6,000 have been returned. They include 2,466 items brought back from Jordan, 1,046 from the United States, and 701 from Syria. It is unclear when the public will be allowed back into the premises. [Los Angeles Times, 2/23/2009]
Former Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001), a British citizen who suffered extensive abuse during his detention (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004 and February 8, 2009) and is just now released (see February 22-24, 2009), says in a written statement that British officials from MI5 played an integral part in his abduction and torture at the hands of the CIA and Moroccan officials. Senior MPs say they intend to investigate his claims. Just after his arrival in London, Mohamed tells reporters: “For myself, the very worst moment came when I realized in Morocco that the people who were torturing me were receiving questions and materials from British intelligence.… I had met with British intelligence in Pakistan. I had been open with them. Yet the very people who I had hoped would come to my rescue, I later realized, had allied themselves with my abusers.” Days later, the Daily Mail will obtain documents from Mohamed’s American court proceedings that show MI5 agents twice gave CIA agents lists of questions they wanted to have asked, as well as dossiers of photographs. [Guardian, 2/24/2009; Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
Gives Primary Blame to CIA - Mohamed places the bulk of the blame on his rendition and torture on the CIA, and says, “It is still difficult for me to believe that I was abducted, hauled from one country to the next, and tortured in medieval ways—all orchestrated by the United States government.” [Scotsman, 2/24/2009]
'They Sold Me Out' - Mohamed will later say that he reached his “lowest ebb” when he realized British agents were involved in his interrogation and torture. “They started bringing British files to the interrogations,” he will recall, “not one, but several of them, thick binders, some of them containing sheaves of photos of people who lived in London and places there like mosques. It was obvious the British were feeding them questions about people in London. When I realized that the British were co-operating with the people who were torturing me, I felt completely naked.… They sold me out.” The documents indicate that MI5 did not know where Mohamed was being held, but that its agents knew he was in a third nation’s custody through the auspices of the CIA. MI5 agents met with their CIA counterparts in September 2002, well after Mohamed’s rendition to Morocco, to discuss the case. [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
False Confession - He suffered tortures in Pakistan (see April 10-May, 2002), Morocco, and Afghanistan (see January-September 2004), including being mutilated with scalpels, a mock execution, sleep deprivation for days, being fed contaminated food, and being beaten for hours while hanging by his wrists from shackles in the ceiling. He says that the closest he came to losing his mind entirely was when, in US custody in Afghanistan, he was locked in a cell and forced to listen to a CD of rap music played at ear-shattering volume 24 hours a day for a month. It was these tortures that drove him to confess to being part of a plot to build a radioactive “dirty bomb” (see November 4, 2005), a confession he now says was untrue and given merely to avoid further torment. He also confessed to meeting Osama bin Laden and getting a passport from 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed: “None of it was true.” [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
'Zero Doubt' of British Complicity - His lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, says Mohamed is being cared for under the auspices of his legal team, and is “incredibly skinny and very emaciated.” Stafford Smith says he has “zero doubt” Britain was complicit in his client’s ill-treatment. “Britain knew he was being abused and left him,” he says. Stafford Smith also says Mohamed was subjected to “very serious abuse” in Guantanamo. Mike Gapes, the chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, says he intends to question Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch Brown over “outstanding issues,” which include “rendition, what happened to people in Guantanamo Bay, and black sites,” a reference to prisons in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Two British judges say they are suppressing “powerful evidence” of Mohamed’s torture at the insistence of Miliband and US authorities (see February 4, 2009). [Guardian, 2/24/2009] Miliband says Mohamed’s release was effected due to “intensive negotiations with the US government,” in which he played a key part. Edward Davey of the Liberal Democrats has little use for Miliband’s claims, saying, “It is telling that David Miliband is unable to give a straightforward yes or no as to whether British agents and officials have been complicit in torture,” and adds that “Mohamed’s case may just be the tip of the iceberg.” [Scotsman, 2/24/2009]
Evidence that MI5 Lied - The new revelations about MI5’s involvement contradict the testimony of MI5 officials, who in 2007 told Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee that the agency had no idea that Mohamed had been subjected to “extraordinary rendition” to Morocco or anywhere else. The Daily Mail will note, “The revelations will put Foreign Secretary David Miliband under even greater pressure to come clean about British involvement in the rendition and alleged torture of Muslim terror suspects.” [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009]
Attorney General Eric Holder confirms the Obama administration’s plans to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility (see November 16, 2008 and January 22, 2009), but calls it a well-run, professional institution. Closing Guantanamo “will not be an easy process,” Holder says after visiting the site. “It’s one we will do in a way that ensures that people are treated fairly and that the American people are kept safe.” Holder leads the administration’s effort to close the facility within a year. Most of that time will be spent reviewing the case files and histories of the 245 inmates currently incarcerated there: “It’s going to take us a good portion of that time to look at all of the files that we have to examine, until we get our hands around what Guantanamo is, and also what Guantanamo was,” he says. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), an outspoken advocate of keeping Guantanamo open (see February 5, 2009), says he is encouraged by Holder’s remarks. “I believe as more time goes by there is a chance the administration will grow to realize that we need Gitmo and must keep it open,” he says. “More time will allow facts to replace political rhetoric.” Inhofe is promoting legislation that will bar any Guantanamo detainees from coming to the US. [Associated Press, 2/25/2009]
Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair says the Guantanamo detention facility needs to be closed (see January 22, 2009) because its existence has done serious damage to the US’s reputation and its ability to achieve foreign policy goals. “Countries won’t deal with us,” Blair tells the House Intelligence Committee. “Our popularity’s down. We don’t have blue chips to trade.” [Associated Press, 2/25/2009; Associated Press, 2/25/2009]
According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), banks and thrifts issued reports of a fourth quarter 2008 net loss totaling $26.2 billion as well as a $27.8 billion decline from the $575 million earned in fourth quarter 2007; it is the first quarterly loss since 1990. Rising loan-loss provisions, losses from trading activities, and goodwill write-downs also contributed to the loss as banks continue to repair their balance sheets in order to return to future profitability. While more than two-thirds of all insured institutions were profitable, earnings were diluted by large losses at a number of big banks. “Public confidence in the banking system and deposit insurance is demonstrated by the increase in domestic deposits during the fourth quarter,” FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair says. “Clearly, people see an FDIC-insured account as a safe haven for their money in difficult times.” FDIC-insured lenders reported net income of $16.1 billion in 2008, down from $100 billion in 2007 and the lowest since the $11.3 billion reported in 1990, the agency says. Regulators shuttered 25 banks last year, including Washington Mutual Inc., the biggest bank failure in US history. Regulators have so far seized 14 lenders this year, including eight in February. [Bloomberg, 2/26/2009; Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, 2/26/2009; FDIC News and Events, 2/26/2009, pp. Press Releases]
Coffins of US war dead are shipped through Dover Air Force Base. [Source: Los Angeles Times]The Obama administration announces that the media can now photograph the flag-draped coffins of US soldiers killed in combat as they return through Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Under a ban begun by the first Bush administration in 1991, news photographers were prohibited from taking pictures, journalists were prevented from interviewing families of the war dead, and, as the Los Angeles Times notes, “no public record was made about the personal toll exacted by Washington’s policies on individual soldiers and their families.” President George W. Bush claimed the policy was to protect the privacy of military families; critics said that the policy was a public relations ploy to avoid bad publicity by personalizing the cost of war. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that if military families object, the coffins of their loved ones will not be photographed. [Los Angeles Times, 2/26/2009; Associated Press, 2/26/2009]
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the European Investment Bank (EIB), and the World Bank pledge to invest €24.5 billion in countries such as Latvia and Hungary that have been hit by the global economic slump. In a joint statement, the three groups announce that the two-year joint initiative will include equity and debt financing, and access to credit and risk insurance aimed at encouraging lending, on top of the countries’ national government responses. The bailout is designed to “deploy rapid, large-scale and coordinated financial assistance… to support lending to the real economy through private banking groups, in particular to small-and medium-sized enterprises.… The response takes into account the different macroeconomic circumstances in, and financial pressures on countries in Eastern Europe, acknowledging the diversity of challenges stemming from the global financial retrenchment,” the groups add. The EBRD was founded in 1991 to assist the transition of former communist nations to market economies—investing across 30 countries including Ukraine, Moldova, and Russia. “The institutions are working together to find practical, efficient and timely solutions to the crisis in eastern Europe,” says EBRD President Thomas Mirow. [BBC, 2/27/2009]
A federal appeals court rejects the Obama administration’s assertion that a potential threat to national security should stop a lawsuit challenging the government’s warrantless wiretapping program. The Justice Department had requested an emergency stay in a case brought by a defunct Islamic charity, the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (see February 28, 2006). Al Haramain has asked that classified information be made available to the court to prove its case that the electronic surveillance brought to bear against it by the government was illegal; Justice Department lawyers contend that the information needs to remain classified and unavailable to the court, and cite the “state secrets” privilege (see March 9, 1953) as legal justification. Although the court rejects the request for the stay, Justice Department lawyers say they will continue fighting to keep the information secret. “The government respectfully requests that the court refrain from further actions to provide plaintiffs with access to classified information,” says a filing made by the Justice Department in regards to the ruling. A lawyer for Al Haramain, Steven Goldberg, says: “All we wanted was our day in court and it looks like we’re finally going to get our day in court. This case is all about challenging an assertion of power by the executive branch which is extraordinary.” The American Civil Liberties Union’s Ann Brick says the court has now crafted a way to review the issue in which “national security isn’t put at risk, but the rule of law can still be observed.” [Associated Press, 2/27/2009] Days later, the Justice Department will file a brief announcing its intention to refuse to honor the appeals court’s decision (see March 2, 2009).
Federal prosecutors charge Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, the only “enemy combatant” held on US soil (see June 23, 2003), with criminal terrorism charges. Al-Marri is charged with two counts of providing material support to al-Qaeda and conspiring with others to provide material support to al-Qaeda, according to a press release from the Justice Department. He faces a maximum jail sentence of 30 years. US Attorney Rodger Heaton says: “The indictment alleges that Ali al-Marri provided material support to al-Qaeda, which has committed horrific terrorist acts against our nation. As a result, he will now face the US criminal justice system, where his guilt or innocence will be determined by a jury in open court.” Such a decision takes al-Marri out of the military commissions system and places him in the US criminal judicial system. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is representing al-Marri’s Supreme Court challenge to the “enemy combatant” designation, but criminal charges will not necessarily resolve that issue. Part of the discussion of whether to charge al-Marri centered on the evidence against him: al-Marri’s lawyers claim that much of the evidence against their client was obtained through harsh interrogation techniques and torture, which would render that evidence inadmissible in a US court. Some of the evidence may also be too sensitive to reveal in open court, having been gathered through classified intelligence operations. Lead counsel Jonathan Hafetz says: “[T]he decision to charge al-Marri is an important step in restoring the rule of law and is what should have happened seven years ago when he was first arrested (see February 8, 2002). But it is vital that the Supreme Court case go forward because it must be made clear once and for all that indefinite military detention of persons arrested in the US is illegal and that this will never happen again.” Amnesty International’s Geneve Mantri calls the decision to charge al-Marri “another crucial step in the right direction,” and adds: “If there are individuals who pose a real threat to the United States, the best, most effective means of dealing with them is the current system of justice. There are a number of outstanding questions about how the detainee cases will be reviewed and what the approach of the new administration will be, but Amnesty International welcomes this as an indication that they have faith in the US justice system and rule of law.” [US Department of Justice, 2/27/2009; Washington Post, 2/27/2009; American Civil Liberties Union, 2/27/2009] The ACLU wants the Supreme Court to ignore the criminal charges and rule on al-Marri’s petition for habeas corpus rights; the Justice Department says that the criminal charges render al-Marri’s lawsuit moot. [Lyle Denniston, 2/26/2007]
Representative Mary Bono Mack (R-CA) expresses her outrage over the so-called “Disneyland to Las Vegas” train (see February 13, 2009 and After), saying she cannot believe President Obama’s economic stimulus plan has ”$1 billion wasted on a magnetic-levitation train from LA to Sin City.” When challenged by reporter Dick Spotswood over the disproven claim, Mack sends a staff member to “get him the bill, it’s right there, show him.” As Spotswood later reports, “A few minutes later, a staffer emerges with a copy and quietly says ‘it’s not in the bill.’” [Marin Independent Journal, 3/1/2009]
In a letter to Judge Alvin Hellerstein regarding the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)‘s lawsuit against the US Defense Department, the Justice Department informs Hellerstein that the CIA destroyed 92 videotapes of prisoner interrogations. The CIA’s previous admissions of the number of destroyed videotapes were far smaller (see November 2005). [Re: ACLU et al v. Department of Defense et al, 3/2/2009 ] The CIA confirms that the tapes showed what it calls “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on a number of detainees. The Justice Department adds that it will provide a list of summaries, transcripts, and memoranda related to the destroyed tapes, though the American Civil Liberties Union notes that a previous list was almost entirely redacted. [TPM Muckraker, 3/6/2009; American Civil Liberties Union, 3/6/2009] The disclosure comes as part of a criminal inquiry into the tapes’ destruction. As the investigation comes to a close, observers expect that no charges will be filed against any CIA employees. The agency’s Directorate of Operations chief, Jose Rodriguez, ordered the recordings destroyed in November 2005 (see November 2005); former CIA Director Michael Hayden argued that the tapes posed “a serious security risk” because they contained the identities of CIA participants in al-Qaeda interrogations. Rodriguez has not yet been questioned. It is believed that the tapes show, among other interrogation sessions, the waterboarding of two detainees, Abu Zubaida (see Mid-May 2002 and After) and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see (November 2002)). Civil libertarians and human rights advocates are outraged at the destruction of the tapes. “The sheer number of tapes at issue demonstrates that this destruction was not an accident,” says Amrit Singh, a staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “It’s about time the CIA was held accountable for its flagrant violation of the law,” she adds. CIA spokesman George Little says the destruction of the tapes was not an attempt to break the law or evade accountability. “If anyone thinks it’s agency policy to impede the enforcement of American law, they simply don’t know the facts,” Little says. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, confirms that her panel intends to conduct a broader investigation of the CIA’s interrogation program. [Washington Post, 3/3/2009]
Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Jose Rodriguez, Jr., US Department of Justice, Senate Intelligence Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, Amrit Singh, American Civil Liberties Union, George Little, US Department of Defense, Alvin K. Hellerstein, Dianne Feinstein
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
The Justice Department defies a recent court order (see February 27, 2009) and refuses to provide a document that might prove the Bush administration conducted illegal wiretaps on a now-defunct Islamic charity. The Justice Department files a brief with a California federal district court challenging the court’s right to carry out its own decision to make that evidence available in a pending lawsuit. Even though the document is critical to the lawsuit, the lawyers can obtain the necessary top-secret clearances, and the document would not be made public, the Justice Department claims that the document cannot be entered into evidence. The lawyers for Al Haramain, the Islamic charity and the plaintiffs in the suit, calls the Justice Department’s decision “mind-boggling.”
Government's Position - For its part, the Justice Department writes in a brief that the decision to release the document “is committed to the discretion of the executive branch, and is not subject to judicial review.” The document has been in the possession of the court since 2004, when the government inadvertently released it to the plaintiffs. In the same brief, the Justice Department writes: “If the Court intends to itself grant access to classified information directly to the plaintiffs’ counsel, the government requests that the Court again provide advance notice of any such order, as well as an ex parte, in camera description of the information it intends to disclose, to enable the government to either make its own determination about whether counsel has a need to know, or to withdraw that information from submission to the Court and use in this case. If the Court rejects either action by the government, the government again requests that the Court stay proceedings while the government considers whether to appeal any such order.” The statement is an implied threat that the Justice Department lawyers will themselves physically remove the document from the court files if the judge says he has the right to allow Al Haramain’s lawyers to see it.
Response from Plaintiff's Attorney - Jon Eisenberg, a lawyer for Al-Haramain, says in an e-mail: “It’s a not-so-thinly veiled threat to send executive branch authorities (the FBI? the Army?) to Judge [Virginia] Walker’s chambers to seize the classified material from his files! In my view, that would be an unprecedented violation of the constitutional separation of powers. I doubt anything like it has happened in the history of this country.” Eisenberg says that the Obama administration, through the Justice Department, “seems to be provoking a separation-of-powers confrontation with Judge Walker.”
Administration's Second Use of State Secrets - This is the second time the Obama administration has invoked the “state secrets” privilege to keep information secret (see February 9, 2009). Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) says: “In the Bush administration, the state secrets doctrine was used to buttress the power of the president and make it difficult if not impossible to contest such issues as presidential authority to conduct warrantless wiretapping in the United States. We would think that when such disagreements occur, it’s properly before the judiciary to resolve them. But the Bush administration asserted the state secrets doctrine for the purpose of making it effectively impossible for courts to review the matter.” The Al Haramain case is significant because of “the apparent willingness of the Obama administration’s Justice Department to carry further that same argument in federal court. It is of great concern.” [Washington Independent, 3/2/2009]
Some of the Justice Department memos released today. [Source: Los Angeles Times]The Department of Justice releases nine memos written after the 9/11 attacks that claimed sweeping, extraconstitutional powers for then-President Bush. The memos, written primarily by John Yoo of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), claim that Bush could, if he desired, order military raids against targets within the US, and order police or military raids without court warrants (see October 23, 2001). The only justification required would be that Bush had declared the targets of such raids to be suspected terrorists. Other powers the president had, according to the memos, were to unilaterally abrogate or abandon treaties with foreign countries, ignore Congressional legislation regarding suspected terrorists in US detention (see March 13, 2002), suspend First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and information dissemination (see October 23, 2001), and conduct a program of warrantless domestic surveillance (see September 25, 2001). In January, an opinion issued by the OLC claimed that the opinions of the earlier memos had not been acted upon since 2003, and were generally considered unreliable (see January 15, 2009). Attorney General Eric Holder, who signed off on the release of the memos, says: “Too often over the past decade, the fight against terrorism has been viewed as a zero-sum battle with our civil liberties. Not only is that thought misguided, I fear that in actuality it does more harm than good.” [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ; US Department of Justice, 3/2/2009; US Department of Justice, 3/2/2009; New York Times, 3/2/2009]
Memos Laid Groundwork for Warrantless Wiretapping - Though many of the powers said to belong to the president in the memos were never exercised, the assertions led to the warrantless wiretapping of US citizens (see December 15, 2005 and Spring 2004) and the torture of detained terror suspects. [Newsweek, 3/2/2009]
'How To ... Evade Rule of Law' - Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says the memos begin “to provide details of some of the Bush administration’s misguided national security policies” that have long been withheld from public scrutiny. Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch says the memos collectively “read like a how-to document on how to evade the rule of law.” [Washington Post, 3/3/2009] Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies says that the memos were part of a larger effort “that would basically have allowed for the imposition of martial law.” [Newsweek, 3/2/2009]
'Tip of Iceberg' - The memos are, according to a former Bush administration lawyer, “just the tip of the iceberg” in terms of what the Bush administration authorized. Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says the Bush administration memos “essentially argue that the president has a blank check to disregard the Constitution during wartime, not only on foreign battlefields, but also inside the United States.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/3/2009] The ACLU, which has sued to obtain these and other memos, applauds the release of the documents, and says it hopes this is the first step in a broader release. [Reuters, 3/2/2009]
Reporter Seymour Hersh speaking at a 2007 forum on the media in Doha, Qatar. [Source: Reuters / Fadi Al-Assaad / MinnPost (.com)]In a wide-ranging seminar with former Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale and investigative journalist Seymour Hersh at the University of Minnesota, Hersh claims that he has evidence that the US operated what he calls an “executive assassination wing” during the Bush administration, perhaps controlled by the office of then Vice President Dick Cheney. [MinnPost (.com), 3/11/2009] (Hersh will later say he used the word “wing,” but it was widely misreported as “ring” in the media.) [CNN, 3/30/2009] Hersh says he will explain his charges more fully in an upcoming book. When asked about recent instances of a president exceeding his constitutional authority, Hersh gives a response that moves from CIA activities, through the Joint Special Operations Command, to the alleged “assassination wing”: “After 9/11, I haven’t written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet. Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command—JSOC it’s called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him.… Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination wing essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths. Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us. It’s complicated because the guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they are committing what we would normally call murder. It’s a very complicated issue. Because they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you’ve heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized. In many cases, they were the best and the brightest. Really, no exaggerations. Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find themselves torturing people. I’ve had people say to me—five years ago, I had one say: ‘What do you call it when you interrogate somebody and you leave them bleeding and they don’t get any medical committee and two days later he dies. Is that murder? What happens if I get before a committee?’ But they’re not gonna get before a committee.” Mondale says of Cheney and his office that “they ran a government within a government.” Hersh adds, “Eight or nine neoconservatives took over our country.” Mondale notes that the precedents of abuse of vice presidential power by Cheney would remain “like a loaded pistol that you leave on the dining room table.” [MinnPost (.com), 3/11/2009] CIA spokesman George Little responds to Hersh’s allegation by writing: “I saw your story on Seymour Hersh’s recent allegations regarding CIA activities since 9/11. If you wish, you can attribute the quoted portion that follows to me, in name, as a CIA spokesman: ‘This is utter nonsense.’” [MinnPost (.com), 3/12/2009]
Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean says that the allegation of an “executive assassination wing,” as recently made by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh (see March 10, 2009), could well be a war crime if it is true. Both Dean and MSNBC host Keith Olbermann note that if true, Cheney’s actions could well violate a 1976 executive order that states in part, “No employee of the United States government shall engage in or conspire to engage in political assassination.” Dean says: “[F]ighting terrorism is not dealing with tiddlywinks. We want our government to deal with the most effective tools they have. But they also have to be legal. The executive order, really, is nothing more than direction to the executive branch and the presidency is the only one who you can even argue might have the authority to engage in assassinations. It’s an unresolved question. So, it’s potentially a war crime, it’s potentially just outright murder, and it could clearly be in violation of the Ford executive order.” In the same broadcast, author and political analyst Howard Fineman says of Hersh’s report: “In checking around in the intelligence community today, I can say this, you know, Seymour Hersh is somebody they respect. They don’t always trust. But they put it this way, as one of them said to me, ‘Look, I don’t know anything about this specifically at all, but I wouldn’t dismiss what Sy Hersh is saying without checking carefully.’ That’s their backhanded way of saying it’s worth looking into, for sure.” [MSNBC, 3/12/2009]
The New York Review of Books publishes a lengthy article documenting the Red Cross’s hitherto-secret report on US torture practices at several so-called “black sites.” The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a report on “The Black Sites” in February 2007 (see October 6 - December 14, 2006), but that report has remained secret until now. These “black sites” are secret prisons in Thailand, Poland, Afghanistan, Morocco, Romania, and at least three other countries (see October 2001-2004), either maintained directly by the CIA or used by them with the permission and participation of the host countries.
Specific Allegations of Torture by Official Body Supervising Geneva - The report documents the practices used by American guards and interrogators against prisoners, many of which directly qualify as torture under the Geneva Conventions and a number of international laws and statutes. The ICRC is the appointed legal guardian of Geneva, and the official body appointed to supervise the treatment of prisoners of war; therefore, its findings have the force of international law. The practices documented by the ICRC include sleep deprivation, lengthy enforced nudity, subjecting detainees to extensive, intense bombardment of noise and light, repeated immersion in frigid water, prolonged standing and various stress positions—sometimes for days on end—physical beatings, and waterboarding, which the ICRC authors call “suffocation by water.” The ICRC writes that “in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they [the detainees] were subjected while held in the CIA program… constituted torture.” It continues, “In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” Both torture and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” are specifically forbidden by Geneva and the Convention Against Torture, both of which were signed by the US (see October 21, 1994). The 14 “high-value detainees” whose cases are documented in the ICRC report include Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), and Tawfiq bin Attash (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004). All 14 remain imprisoned in Guantanamo. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009 ; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] Based on the ICRC report and his own research, Danner draws a number of conclusions.
The US government began to torture prisoners in the spring of 2002, with the approval of President Bush and the monitoring of top Bush officials, including Attorney General John Ashcroft. The torture, Danner writes, “clearly violated major treaty obligations of the United States, including the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, as well as US law.”
Bush, Ashcroft, and other top government officials “repeatedly and explicitly lied about this, both in reports to international institutions and directly to the public. The president lied about it in news conferences, interviews, and, most explicitly, in speeches expressly intended to set out the administration’s policy on interrogation before the people who had elected him.”
Congress was privy to a large amount of information about the torture conducted under the aegis of the Bush administration. Its response was to pass the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006), which in part was designed to protect government officials from criminal prosecutions under the War Crimes Act.
While Congressional Republicans were primarily responsible for the MCA, Senate Democrats did not try to stop the bill—indeed, many voted for it. Danner blames the failure on its proximity to the November 2006 midterm elections and the Democrats’ fear of being portrayed as “coddlers of terrorists.” He quotes freshman Senator Barack Obama (D-IL): “Soon, we will adjourn for the fall, and the campaigning will begin in earnest. And there will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be criticized as caring more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans. And I know that the vote before us was specifically designed and timed to add more fuel to that fire.” (Obama voted against the MCA, and, when it passed, he said, “[P]olitics won today.”)
The damage done to the US’s reputation, and to what Danner calls “the ‘soft power’ of its constitutional and democratic ideals,” has been “though difficult to quantify, vast and enduring.” Perhaps the largest defeat suffered in the US’s “war on terror,” he writes, has been self-inflicted, by the inestimable loss of credibility in the Muslim world and around the globe. The decision to use torture “undermin[ed] liberal sympathizers of the United States and convinc[ed] others that the country is exactly as its enemies paint it: a ruthless imperial power determined to suppress and abuse Muslims. By choosing to torture, we freely chose to become the caricature they made of us.”
A Need for Investigation and Prosecution - Danner is guardedly optimistic that, under Democratic leadership in the White House and Congress, the US government’s embrace of torture has stopped, and almost as importantly, the authorization and practice of torture under the Bush administration will be investigated, and those responsible will be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. But, he notes, “[i]f there is a need for prosecution there is also a vital need for education. Only a credible investigation into what was done and what information was gained can begin to alter the political calculus around torture by replacing the public’s attachment to the ticking bomb with an understanding of what torture is and what is gained, and lost, when the United States reverts to it.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Abu Zubaida, New York Review of Books, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, John Ashcroft, International Committee of the Red Cross, Mark Danner
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that the Obama administration’s policies endanger America, and defends his administration’s actions, including warrantless wiretapping, torture of suspected terrorists, and its economic policies. Using torture against suspected terrorists and wiretapping Americans without court orders were both “absolutely essential” to get information needed to prevent terrorist attacks similar to that of 9/11, Cheney tells a CNN audience, though he does not use the word “torture.” But Obama’s new policies are putting America at risk, he says: “President Obama campaigned against it all across the country, and now he is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack.”
'Pre-9/11 Mindset' - Cheney says to return to a pre-9/11 mindset of treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue, rather than a military problem, is a mistake: “When you go back to the law enforcement mode, which I sense is what they’re doing, closing Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009) and so forth… they are very much giving up that center of attention and focus that’s required, that concept of military threat that is essential if you’re going to successfully defend the nation against further attacks.” Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA), appearing after Cheney, counters Cheney’s arguments, saying that the Bush/Cheney policies undercut “what is actually the source of America’s greatness—our principles.” Sestak asks, “How can we say that keeping a man in a black hole forever—perpetually in a black hole—and saying, ‘Let’s torture when we decide to,’ is what America stands for?” Sestak is a retired admiral who led the Navy’s anti-terrorism efforts.
Iraq a Success - As for Iraq, Cheney says that while his administration had to spend more money than it had anticipated, and although over 4,200 US soldiers have lost their lives fighting in that country, the invasion and occupation of Iraq is an almost-unvarnished success. The US has “accomplished nearly everything we set out to do” in Iraq, including establishing a democratic government in the Middle East, Cheney says. Cheney answers questions about the threat of supposed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction by saying, “We’ve eliminated that possibility.” Sestak disagrees, saying the problems the Bush/Cheney policies in Iraq created have overshadowed the “whole fabric” of US national security: “The cost of this war is something that I strongly believe has far, far hurt us. We’re going to recover, because we’re Americans. But Iraq was just one piece of our security, and this administration failed to realize that.”
Opposition to Hill as Iraqi Ambassador - Cheney says he does not support the Obama administration’s choice of Christopher Hill as the ambassador to Iraq (see March 18, 2009). Hill successfully concluded negotiations with North Korea during the last years of the Bush administration, but Cheney repudiates his accomplishments. “I did not support the work that Chris Hill did with respect to North Korea,” he says, and adds that Hill lacks the Middle East experience necessary for him to represent the US in Baghdad. “I think it’s a choice that I wouldn’t have made,” he says. [CNN, 3/15/2009]
Having received over $170 billion in taxpayer bailout funds in the last five months, troubled insurance giant American International Group (AIG) pays executives nearly $200 million in bonuses. The largest are bonus payouts that cover AIG Financial Products executives who sold risky credit default swap contracts that caused huge losses for the insurer (see September 16, 2008). Despite a request by US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for the insurance conglomerate to curtail future bonus pay—and AIG’s agreement to do so—the global insurer cuts bonus checks on Sunday, March 15, 2009, in order to meet a bonus payment agreement deadline. The Treasury Department has publicly acknowledged that the government does not have the legal authority to block current bonus payments, although AIG stated in early March that it suffered its largest corporate loss in history, when it reported fourth quarter 2008 losses of $61.7 billion.
Treasury Tried to Prevent Payments - An anonymous Obama administration official says that on March 11 Geithner called AIG Chairman Edward Liddy demanding that the CEO renegotiate the insurer’s present bonus structure. In a letter, Liddy informed Geithner that outside lawyers had advised AIG that the company could face lawsuits, should they not make the contractually obligated payments. “AIG’s hands are tied,” Liddy wrote, although acknowledging that, with the company’s fiduciary situation, he found it “distasteful and difficult” to approve and pay the bonuses. He wrote that the early 2008 bonus payments agreement was entered into prior to the company being forced last fall to obtain the first taxpayer bailout because of the company’s severe financial distress.
Some Monies Already Paid Out - A white paper generated by AIG asserted that the firm had already distributed $55 million in “retention pay” to nearly 400 AIG Financial Products employees. According to the white paper, the global entity “will labor to reduce 2009 bonus payment amounts,” trimming payouts by at least 30 percent this year. [Associated Press, 3/15/2009]
President Obama disagrees with recent statements from former Vice President Dick Cheney that his administration’s policies are endangering America (see February 4, 2009 and March 15, 2009). “I fundamentally disagree with Dick Cheney—not surprisingly,” Obama tells CBS reporter Steve Kroft. “I think that Vice President Cheney has been at the head of a movement whose notion is somehow that we can’t reconcile our core values, our Constitution, our belief that we don’t torture, with our national security interests. I think he’s drawing the wrong lesson from history. [CNN, 3/22/2009; CBS News, 3/22/2009] The facts don’t bear him out.” Cheney “is eager to defend a legacy that was unsustainable,” Obama says, and notes that Cheney’s politics reflect a mindset that “has done incredible damage to our image and position in the world.” [Raw Story, 3/22/2009; CBS News, 3/22/2009] In response to Cheney’s advocacy of extreme interrogation methods—torture—of suspected terrorists, Obama asks: “How many terrorists have actually been brought to justice under the philosophy that is being promoted by Vice President Cheney? It hasn’t made us safer. What it has been is a great advertisement for anti-American sentiment.” [Politico, 3/21/2009; CBS News, 3/22/2009] “The whole premise of Guantanamo promoted by Vice President Cheney was that, somehow, the American system of justice was not up to the task of dealing with these terrorists,” Obama continues. “This is the legacy that’s been left behind and, you know, I’m surprised that the vice president is eager to defend a legacy that was unsustainable. Let’s assume that we didn’t change these practices. How long are we going to go? Are we going to just keep on going until, you know, the entire Muslim world and Arab world despises us? Do we think that’s really going to make us safer? I don’t know a lot of thoughtful thinkers, liberal or conservative, who think that was the right approach.” [Raw Story, 3/22/2009; CBS News, 3/22/2009]
Conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly writes an op-ed that claims, apparently sarcastically, that former Vice President Cheney would have had reporters assassinated if he really controlled a military assassination squad. Responding to the allegations by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh that Cheney controlled an “executive assassination wing” (see March 10, 2009), O’Reilly writes: “The other day, left-wing muckraker Seymour Hersh went on MSNBC and said he had information, provided by the usual anonymous sources, that Dick Cheney was running an assassination squad out of the White House. I have but one simple observation: If Cheney really had such a crew, Hersh would have been dead a long time ago, and so would most everybody at MSNBC.” [Boston Herald, 3/22/2009; Think Progress, 3/22/2009]
CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer interviews investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, who recently alleged that an “executive assassination wing” operated out of the White House (see March 10, 2009). Blitzer notes that the entity Hersh cited, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), denies Hersh’s claim, and says, in Blitzer’s words, “their forces operate under established rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict.” The JSOC “has no command and control authorities over the US military,” the JSOC has told Blitzer. Additionally, former Bush national security expert Frances Townsend has denied Hersh’s claim.
Not New Reporting - Hersh tells Blitzer that though he has not written specifically about the “assassination wing,” he and others have written about the actions of the JSOC well before now. “[I]t’s a separately independent unit that does not report to Congress, at least in the years I know about.… It has been given executive authority by the president in as many as 12 countries to go in and kill we’re talking about high value targets. That’s absolutely correct.” He says that such actions are not only illegal, but have no basis in intelligence. “The idea that you’re telling a group of American combat soldiers,” he says, “[t]he idea that we have a unit set up who goes after high-value targets who up to a certain point I know for sure until very recently were clearing lists. That doesn’t mean Cheney has an assassination unit that he says I want to go get somebody. That’s how it sort of played out in the press. The idea that we have a unit that goes around and without reporting to Congress, Congress knows very little about this group, can’t get clearings, can’t get hearings, can’t get even a classified hearings on it. Congresspeople have told me this. Those are out and has authority for the president to go into a country without telling the CIA station chief or the ambassador and whack somebody and I’m sorry, Wolf, I have a lot of problems with that.”
Poor Choice of Phrase - Hersh says he regrets using the phrase “executive assassination wing,” because it is a “loaded phrase.” Word choice aside, Hersh says: “It comes down to the same thing, that you can—you’ve delegated authority to troops in the field to hit people on the basis of whatever intelligence they think is good and I can tell you it’s always not good and sometimes things get very bloody.… The bottom line is, it’s—if it were the way your little presentation set up, that everything was checked and cleared, in fact, it was an awful lot of delegation to this group, which does not brief the Congress. And this does raise profound questions of constitutional authority. It’s the same questions that have come up repeatedly in the Bush administration. That is a unitarian president, the notion that a president can do things without telling Congress and unilaterally. This is an extension of that issue.”
Implied Confirmation from Former Cheney Adviser - John Hannah, the former national security adviser to Vice President Cheney, says Hersh’s allegations are “not true,” but in his next statement, he seems to confirm Hersh’s allegations to an extent. Blitzer says: “Explain exactly what’s going on in terms of a list. Is there a list of terrorists, suspected terrorists, out there who can be assassinated?” Hannah replies: “There is—there’s clearly a group of people that go through a very extremely well-vetted process—interagency process, as I think was explained in your piece, that have committed acts of war against the United States, who are at war with the United States, or is suspected of planning operations of war against the United States, who authority is given, to our troops in the field in certain war theaters to capture or kill those individuals. That is certainly true.… Osama bin Laden and his number two are right at the top of the list. [The number of individuals to be assassinated] is a small group and the point is that it is very, very heavily vetted throughout the interagency process.” Hannah says that he has trouble believing that Congress was not aware of actions, presumably including possible assassinations, carried out by the JSOC: “I don’t know exactly what the consultations are with the Congress, but it’s hard for me to believe that those committee chairman and the leadership on the Hill involved in intelligence and armed services, if they want to know about these operations, cannot get that information through the Defense Department.” Asked if such assassinations are legal and Constitutional, Hannah says: “There is no question. And in a theater of war, when we are at war, and there’s no doubt, we are still at war against al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and on that Pakistani border, that our troops have the authority to go out after and capture and kill the enemy, including the leadership of the enemy.” [CNN, 3/30/2009; MinnPost (.com), 3/31/2009]
Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh discusses his recent allegation that what he calls an “executive assassination wing” was run from the office of former Vice President Dick Cheney (see March 10, 2009). Interviewer Amy Goodman opens her segment with Hersh by playing what was apparently an implicit confirmation, to an extent, of Hersh’s claims from a former Cheney aide (see March 30, 2009). Hersh notes that the comments from the former aide, John Hannah, verify that “yes, we go after people suspected—that was the word he used—of crimes against America. And I have to tell you that there’s an executive order, signed by Jerry Ford, President Ford, in the ‘70s, forbidding such action. It’s not only contrary—it’s illegal, it’s immoral, it’s counterproductive.” Of the allegations that the “assassination wing” is operated through the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), Hersh says: “[T]he problem with having military go kill people when they’re not directly in combat, these are asking American troops to go out and find people and… they go into countries without telling any of the authorities, the American ambassador, the CIA chief, certainly nobody in the government that we’re going into, and it’s far more than just in combat areas. There’s more—at least a dozen countries and perhaps more. [President Bush] has authorized these kinds of actions in the Middle East and also in Latin America, I will tell you, Central America, some countries. They’ve been—our boys have been told they can go and take the kind of executive action they need, and that’s simply—there’s no legal basis for it.… [T]he idea that the American president would think he has the constitutional power or the legal right to tell soldiers not engaged in immediate combat to go out and find people based on lists and execute them is just amazing to me.… And not only that, Amy, the thing about George Bush is, everything’s sort of done in plain sight. In his State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003)… about a month and a half before we went into Iraq, Bush was describing the progress in the war, and he said—I’m paraphrasing, but this is pretty close—he said that we’ve captured more than 3,000 members of al-Qaeda and suspected members, people suspected of operations against us. And then he added with that little smile he has, ‘And let me tell you, some of those people will not be able to ever operate again. I can assure you that. They will not be in a position.’ He’s clearly talking about killing people, and to applause. So, there we are. I don’t back off what I said. I wish I hadn’t said it ad hoc… sometimes when you speak off the top, you’re not as precise.” JSOC, Hersh explains, is a group of Navy Seals, Delta Force soldiers, and other “commandos” (a word the soldiers don’t prefer, but, Hersh says, most journalists use), which has been “transmogrified, if you will, into this unit that goes after high-value targets.” Hersh explains the involvement of Cheney’s office: “And where Cheney comes in and the idea of an assassination ring—I actually said ‘wing,’ but of an assassination wing—that reports to Cheney was simply that they clear lists through the vice president’s office. He’s not sitting around picking targets. They clear the lists. And he’s certainly deeply involved, less and less as time went on, of course, but in the beginning very closely involved.” Goodman concludes by asking, “One question: Is the assassination wing continuing under President Obama?” Hersh replies: “How do I know? I hope not.” [Democracy Now!, 3/31/2009]
Former Bush defense official Douglas Feith claims he had nothing to do with the Bush administration’s torture policies. Feith makes his remarks in response to a recent announcement that a Spanish court would consider filing criminal charges against him and five other former Bush officials “over allegations they gave legal cover for torture at Guantanamo.” Appearing on Fox News, Feith says he never approved any torture policies: “I’m being criticized for a position that I never advocated. And so the facts are just wrong.” Feith says he merely gave President Bush “advice” and had no role in “directing” torture policy: “But there’s also a broader point of principle here, which is what the Spanish authorities are considering doing is indicting people, former US government officials for giving advice to the president. And the idea that a foreign official can disagree with advice given to the president, they’re not talking about action. And they’re not even talking about directing people to take action. They’re talking about people who were advising the president on policy and legal questions. This is an effort to intimidate US government officials.” [Think Progress, 3/31/2009] But Feith has bragged before of his influence on Bush administration torture policies, telling British author and law professor Phillippe Sands that he played a key role in ensuring that Geneva Convention policies did not apply to detainees (see Early 2006).
In a speech to the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City President Thomas Hoenig declares that US banks’ ability to remain viable during a deeper recession—while undergoing federal government stress tests—demonstrates that most don’t need more taxpayer money. “Although the United States has several thousand banks, only 19 have more than $100 billion of assets,” Hoenig says. “After supervising authorities evaluate their condition, it is likely that few would require further government intervention.” Designed to demonstrate how much extra capital banks may need to survive a deeper economic downturn, the stress tests are to conclude by April 30, 2009, with the 19 biggest banks’ test results to be disseminated to President Barack Obama in meetings with his economic team. Hoenig reiterates his view that the government shouldn’t prop up failing financial institutions but take them over temporarily and wind them down, as with the 1984 takeover of Continental Illinois National Bank & Trust Co. “I encourage Congress to enact a new resolution process for systematically important firms,” he says. “There has been much talk lately about a new resolution process for systemically important firms that Congress could enact, and implement it as quickly as possible, but we do not have to wait for new authority. We can act immediately, using essentially the same steps we used for Continental. An extremely large firm that has failed would have to be temporarily operated as a conservatorship or a bridge organization and then reprivatized as quickly as is economically feasible. We cannot simply add more capital without a change in the firm’s ownership and management and expect different outcomes.” Hoenig declares that calling a firm “too big to fail” is a “misstatement” because a bank deemed insolvent “has failed.” “I believe that failure is an option,” he says. After the government’s fourth rescue of American International Group Inc. (AIG), Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke called for new powers to take over and sell off failing financial companies, and also called for stronger regulation to constrict risks that might endanger the financial system. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has the authority to take over failing firms, and dispose of their assets, but no such authority exists for non-banking financial firms such as a hedge fund or AIG, which have extensive links throughout the banking system. During a Q&A after his speech, Hoenig tells the audience that the Fed must be prepared to make a timely removal of its stimulus to deter a period of high inflation that could be likened to that of the early 1980s. “You cannot wait until you know for sure the economy is recovering,” Hoenig says, adding that “employment growth tends to lag” and may not be the best indicator of recovery. “We will watch every indicator of data that suggests we have a recovery under way.” He also says that if the US manages its economy well, the US dollar should remain the world’s reserve currency. “It is a matter of running your economy properly,” he says. “When the US does that, and I think we will, I think we will remain the largest, most successful reserve currency on the face of the earth.” [Bloomberg, 4/9/2009]
Wells Fargo, the second largest home lender in the US, posts a surprising record first-quarter profit, outperforming the most hopeful estimates on Wall Street. The bank’s earnings are the most since July 16, 2007, with shares down 33 percent in 2009. The report also states that Wachovia Corporation, acquired by Wells Fargo in October 2008, is exceeding expectations. According to data compiled by Bloomberg, Wachovia’s $101.9 billion in losses and writedowns are the most for any US lender, and its adjustable-rate home loans are considered among the industry’s riskiest. Yet, in its preliminary report, Wells Fargo states that acquiring Wachovia “has proven to be everything we thought it would be.” Official first-quarter results will be released the third week in April.
Other Banks Also Gain; Profits Expected - The preliminary earnings report rallies the stock market, and the S&P 500 caps a fifth consecutive weekly gain and adds 3.8 percent to a two-month high of 856.56, the longest stretch since the bear market began in October 2007. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rises 246.27, to 8,083.38. The largest US lender, Bank of America, gains 35 percent today; JPMorgan 19 percent, and Citigroup 13 percent. The 24-company KBW Bank Index surges 20 percent, its biggest one-day gain since May 1992. Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Chris Kotowski says of these firms, “Barring an act of God, they had better report some number that is in the black or potentially risk being involved in some of the most intense securities litigation on record.”
Accounting Rules May Have Helped Profit Statements - Christopher Whalen, a managing director of Risk Analytics, says that the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s relaxation of accounting rules may have helped banks—including Wells Fargo—report a profit. “Most analysts are expecting loss rates to be much, much higher than we have seen in the last 20 to 30 years, even longer,” he says. “Given that, provisions of the large banks are not high enough.”
Wells Fargo 'Underperforming?' - While Wells Fargo Chief Financial Officer Howard Atkins says that increasing the bank’s provision for loan losses to $23 billion is adequate compared with other large US banks, FBR Capital Markets analyst Paul Miller wrote in a report that the bank’s addition of a $4.6 billion provision was below his estimate of $6.25 billion. “We remain cautious based on what we don’t know.” Miller rates Wells Fargo shares “underperform” and said that the preliminary report did not contain the percentage of non-performing loans and trends in Wachovia’s option-adjustable rate mortgate portfolio, a percentage Miller deems important. Atkins says that Wells Fargo benefited from strong trading results at Wachovia’s capital markets business, which the bank continues to shrink. He said that the improvement will not reverse those plans. Approximately 75 percent of Wells Fargo’s mortgage applications are refinance. President Obama said that homeowner interest rates, at less than five percent, are the lowest since 1971, and that it was “money in their pocket” for homeowners. Wells Fargo’s biggest shareholder is Berkshire Hathaway Inc., an acquisitions and investments firm owned by Warren Buffett. [Bloomberg, 4/9/2009]
Entity Tags: Dow Jones Industrial Average, Christopher Whalen, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., Bank of America, Wachovia Bank, N.A., Standard & Poor’s, Warren Buffett, Paul Miller, Howard Atkins, JP Morgan Chase, Chris Kotowski, Risk Analytics, New York Stock Exchange, Oppenheimer & Co.
Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises
President Barack Obama implements a home mortgage rescue plan that he says will prevent as many as 9 million Americans from losing their homes to foreclosure. Obama says that turning around the battered economy requires stemming the continuing tide of foreclosures. He says that the housing crisis that began last year set many other factors in motion and helped lead to the current, widening recession. “In the end, all of us are paying a price for this home mortgage crisis,” Obama says. “All of us will pay an even steeper price if we allow this crisis to deepen. The American dream is being tested by a home mortgage crisis that not only threatens the stability of our economy but also the stability of families and neighborhoods. While this crisis is vast, it begins just one house and one family at a time.” Of the nearly 52 million US homeowners with a mortgage, about 13.8 million, or nearly 27 percent, owe more on their mortgage than their home is currently worth. Obama’s plan contains three initiatives:
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac homeowners owing between 80 and 105 percent of what their homes are worth can refinance their mortgage. Prior to implementation of the rescue plan, only those borrowers with at least 20 percent home equity could refinance. Refinancing at a lower rate may save borrowers thousands of dollars yearly on their mortgage payments.
Banks will be encouraged to work with homeowners to modify existing mortgages, which is different from refinancing. The Bush administration plan, “Hope for Homeowners,” passed late in 2008, tried to do what Obama has now accomplished, but, since banks were not eager to modify terms to help people stay in their houses, the Bush plan is considered a failure. Under Obama’s plan, banks who received TARP funding will have to participate and, if they do not, Obama may request that the Congress allow bankruptcy judges to modify mortgage terms. Before Obama’s new plan, judges already had the power to modify mortgage terms on a homeowner’s second and third homes, although not on their primary residences.
Interest rates will be kept low by having the Treasury Department buy up mortgage-backed securities from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, in the hope of re-inflating the market for mortgage-related products, even if Treasury may be overpaying for toxic assets in a market with few, if any, other buyers. [Mother Jones, 2/18/2009; CNN, 4/16/2009]
The White House releases four key Justice Department memos documenting the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation methods—torture—against suspected terrorists. The memos were released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The documents show that two high-level detainees were subjected to waterboarding at least 266 times between them. Al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida was waterboarded at least 83 times in August 2002, contradicting earlier CIA reports that he “broke” after a single waterboarding session (see December 10, 2007). Confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded at least 183 times in March 2003. The so-called “insect” technique—exposure to insects within an enclosed box—was approved for use on Zubaida, but apparently never used. Numerous prisoners were subjected to “walling” and “sleep deprivation,” with at least one detainee subjected to the technique for 180 hours (over seven days). Three of the memos were written by then-Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) chief Steven Bradbury in May 2005 (see May 10, 2005, May 10, 2005, and May 30, 2005), and the fourth by Bradbury’s predecessor, Jay Bybee, in August 2002 (see August 1, 2002). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009; BBC, 4/23/2009] Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says: “These legal memoranda demonstrate in alarming detail exactly what the Bush administration authorized for ‘high value detainees’ in US custody. The techniques are chilling. This was not an ‘abstract legal theory,’ as some former Bush administration officials have characterized it. These were specific techniques authorized to be used on real people.” [CNN, 4/17/2009] House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) agrees, saying: “This release, as well as the decision to ban the use of such techniques in the future, will strengthen both our national security and our commitment to the rule of law and help restore our country’s standing in the international community. The legal analysis and some of the techniques in these memos are truly shocking and mark a disturbing chapter in our nation’s history.” [Think Progress, 4/16/2009] Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), whose committee is conducting an investigation of abusive interrogation methods used during the Bush administration, says Bush officials “inaccurately interpreted” the Geneva Conventions prohibiting torture. “I find it difficult to understand how the opinions found these interrogation techniques to be legal,” she says. “For example, waterboarding and slamming detainees head-first into walls, as described in the OLC opinions, clearly fall outside what is legally permissible.” [United Press International, 4/16/2009]
White House Condemns Methods, Opposes Investigations - Attorney General Eric Holder says of the memos: “The president has halted the use of the interrogation techniques described in these opinions, and this administration has made clear from day one that it will not condone torture. We are disclosing these memos consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.” Holder adds that, according to a Justice Department statement, “intelligence community officials who acted reasonably and relied in good faith on authoritative legal advice from the Justice Department that their conduct was lawful, and conformed their conduct to that advice, would not face federal prosecutions for that conduct.” Holder states, “It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department.” [US Department of Justice, 4/16/2009] President Obama condemns what he calls a “dark and painful chapter in our history,” and promises that such torture techniques will never be used again. However, he restates his opposition to a lengthy investigation into the program, saying that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” In contrast, Leahy says that the memos illustrate the need for an independent investigation. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, points out that the memos were written at a time when the CIA was working to prevent a repeat of the 9/11 attacks. “Those methods, read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing,” he says. “But we will absolutely defend those who relied on these memos.” [New York Times, 4/19/2009] The ACLU demands criminal prosecution of Bush officials for their torture policies (see April 16, 2009). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009]
Techniques Include Waterboarding, Insect Exposure, 'Walling' - The memos show that several techniques were approved for use, including waterboarding, exposure to insects within a “confinement box,” being slammed into a wall, sleep deprivation, stress positions, forced nudity, and others. [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009; BBC, 4/23/2009]
Waterboarded Well beyond Allowed Procedures - Because the information about the waterboarding of Zubaida and Mohammed comes from the classified and heavily redacted CIA’s inspector general report, which has not yet been released to the public, the information is at least in part based on the videotapes of Zubaida’s interrogation sessions that were later destroyed by CIA officials (see March 6, 2009). The CIA memo explained that detainees could be waterboarded between 12 and 18 times in a single day, but only on five days during a single month—which mathematically only adds up to 90 times in a month, and thus does not explain how Mohammed could have been waterboarded 183 times in a month if these procedures were being followed. The memos also reveal that in practice, the waterboarding went far beyond the methodologies authorized by the Justice Department and used in SERE training (see December 2001 and July 2002).
Information Unearthed by Blogger - Initial media reports fail to divulge the extraordinary number of times Zubaida and Mohammed were waterboarded. It falls to a blogger, Marcy Wheeler, to unearth the information from the CIA memo and reveal it to the public (see April 18, 2009). [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009]
Entity Tags: Marcy Wheeler, Central Intelligence Agency, Dennis C. Blair, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Dianne Feinstein, Jay S. Bybee, Geneva Conventions, Eric Holder, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), John Conyers, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Steven Bradbury, Patrick J. Leahy, Abu Zubaida, Obama administration
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Marcy Wheeler. [Source: Project Censored]Progressive blogger Marcy Wheeler, who posts under the moniker “emptywheel” at FireDogLake.com, finds that, upon careful perusal of the March 30, 2005 CIA torture memo just released by the Obama administration (see May 30, 2005 and April 16, 2009), two suspected terrorists, Abu Zubaida and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were waterboarded 266 times. Initial, more cursory news reports on the memo did not reveal this fact. The next day, the New York Times will cite Wheeler in its report on the discovery. [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009] Wheeler writes: “The CIA wants you to believe waterboarding is effective. Yet somehow, it took them 183 applications of the waterboard in a one month period to get what they claimed was cooperation out of KSM. That doesn’t sound very effective to me.” [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009] Days later, an unidentified “US official with knowledge of the interrogation program” will tell a Fox News reporter that the claim of 183 waterboardings for Mohammed is inaccurate and misleading. Mohammed was only waterboarded five times, the official will claim. The figure of 183 is the number of “pours” Mohammed was subjected to. “The water was poured 183 times—there were 183 pours,” the official says, adding, “[E]ach pour was a matter of seconds.” The report of five waterboardings for Mohammed comes from a 2007 Red Cross report, the official will say. [Fox News, 4/28/2009]
Congressional Quarterly reporter Jeff Stein publishes an article alleging that House Democrat Jane Harman (D-CA) was captured on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage charges against two officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC—see October 2005). The offer was allegedly made in return for AIPAC’s help in Harman’s attempt to gain the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee (see Summer 2005). Stein’s sources say the wiretap was approved by a federal court as part of an FBI investigation into illegal Israeli covert actions in Washington. Stein also reports on accusations that the FBI investigation into Harman’s activities was halted by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in return for Harman’s support for the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Late 2005). In a statement, Harman says the allegations are false. “These claims are an outrageous and recycled canard, and have no basis in fact,” she says through a spokesman. “I never engaged in any such activity. Those who are peddling these false accusations should be ashamed of themselves.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009] Harman’s chief of staff, John Hess, later tells reporters that Stein’s story “recycles three-year-old discredited reporting of largely unsourced material to manufacture a ‘scoop’ out of widely known and unremarkable facts—that Congresswoman Jane Harman is and has long been a supporter of AIPAC, and that some members of AIPAC regarded her as well qualified to chair the House Intelligence Committee following the 2006 elections.” Hess adds, “If there is anything about this story that should arouse concern, it is that the Bush administration may have been engaged in electronic surveillance of members of the Congressional intelligence committees.” [Roll Call, 4/21/2009]
Explanation of Harman's Failure to Ascend - According to Stein, “[s]uch accounts go a long way toward explaining not only why Harman was denied the gavel of the House Intelligence Committee (see December 2, 2006), but failed to land a top job at the CIA or Homeland Security Department in the Obama administration.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009]
Bipartisan Corruption - Both Congressional Democrats and their Republican colleagues are remarkably silent on the charges, which, if true, would taint both a high-ranking Congressional Democrat and a former Republican attorney general. “The whole thing smells, and nobody’s hands are clean,” says an aide to a senior Democratic lawmaker. Conservative scholar Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute says, “I don’t think anybody wants to touch it.” Ornstein, who says he knows Harman “very well,” calls the charges a “big embarrassment,” but notes that he would be “very surprised” if the charges proved to be true. The political watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is calling for an investigation. CREW executive director Melanie Sloan says, “If Rep. Harman agreed to try to influence an ongoing criminal investigation in return for help securing a committee chairmanship, her conduct not only violates federal law and House rules, but also her oath to uphold the Constitution.” [Roll Call, 4/21/2009]
Entity Tags: John Hess, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Central Intelligence Agency, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Alberto R. Gonzales, House Intelligence Committee, Jeff Stein, US Department of Homeland Security, Jane Harman, Norman Ornstein, National Security Agency, Melanie Sloan, Obama administration
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Senate Armed Services Committee releases a report showing that CIA and Pentagon officials explored ways to “break” Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees in early 2002, eight months before the Justice Department issued its “golden shield” memo (see August 1, 2002) approving the use of waterboarding and nine other methods of interrogation that most legal observers believe amount to torture. The report, under Pentagon review since before its release, focuses solely on military interrogations, and not on interrogations carried out by CIA officers and contractors; it rejects claims by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials that Pentagon policies played no role in the torture of prisoners in US custody. Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) says the report shows a direct link between early Bush administration policy decisions and the torture and abuse of detainees. “Senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques,” Levin says. “Those senior officials bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses. The paper trail on abuse leads to top civilian leaders, and our report connects the dots. This report, in great detail, shows a paper trail going from that authorization” by Rumsfeld “to Guantanamo to Afghanistan and to Iraq.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ; New York Times, 4/21/2009; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009; Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Torture Policies Driven from Top - 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. Levin says in a statement that the report proves that such claims “were simply false.” He adds that the report is “a condemnation of both the Bush administration’s interrogation policies and of senior administration officials who attempted to shift the blame for abuse—such as that seen at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and Afghanistan—to low-ranking soldiers.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ; Washington Post, 4/22/2009] The report adds details to the material already released that showed Bush officials, particularly those in the Offices of the Vice President and Defense Secretary, pushed for harsher and more brutal interrogation techniques to be used during the run-up to war with Iraq, in hopes that results might prove the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda that administration officials had long touted (see December 11, 2008). Levin says: “I think it’s obvious that the administration was scrambling then to try to find a connection, a link [between al-Qaeda and Iraq]. They made out links where they didn’t exist.” Senior Guantanamo interrogator David Becker confirmed that only “a couple of nebulous links” between al-Qaeda and Iraq were uncovered during interrogations of unidentified detainees. [McClatchy News, 4/21/2009]
Ignored Warnings that Torture Techniques Worthless, Illegal - The report, released in classified form in December 2008 (see December 11, 2008), also documents multiple warnings from legal sources and trained interrogation experts that the techniques could backfire, producing false and erroneous intelligence, and might violate US and international law. One Army lieutenant colonel warned in 2002 that coercion “usually decreases the reliability of the information because the person will say whatever he believes will stop the pain,” according to the Senate report. Another official, after being briefed on plans to use “extreme methods” on detainees, asked, “Wouldn’t that be illegal?” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009; Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Torture Methods Became Procedures at Detention Sites - Instead of being abandoned, the methods became the basis for harsh interrogations at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and other US detention facilities around the world, including the CIA’s so-called “black sites.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ; Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
White House Officials Ignorant of SERE Techniques - The report—261 pages long and with almost 1,800 footnotes—documents how techniques from a US military training program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) were adapted for use against detainees. SERE trains US soldiers to resist harsh interrogation methods if captured by an enemy that does not observe the Geneva Conventions’ ban on torture. The military’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JRPA) reverse-engineered SERE methods to use against detainees (see December 2001). Other tactics, such as waterboarding, were culled from methods used by Chinese Communists against US soldiers captured during the Korean War (see July 2002). [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009; Washington Post, 4/22/2009] According to the report, Bush White House officials seemed unaware of the Chinese Communist origins of the SERE tactics, and were apparently unaware that veteran SERE trainers insisted that the methods were useless for getting reliable information from a prisoner. Moreover, the former military psychologist who recommended that the CIA adopt SERE techniques “had never conducted a real interrogation.” One CIA official called the process “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm.” Bush administration officials also ignored concerns raised by military legal experts over the efficacy and legality of the techniques (see November 2002).
Torture Policies Directly Responsible for Abu Ghraib Scandal - The Armed Service Committee concludes that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were a direct result of the Bush torture policies. It writes: “The abuses of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own.… Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials (see December 2, 2002) conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in US custody.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ]
Ali Soufan, an FBI supervisory special agent from 1997 to 2005, writes an op-ed for the New York Times about his experiences as a US interrogator. Soufan, who was one of the initial interrogators of suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see Late March through Early June, 2002), says he has remained silent for seven years “about the false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding.” Until now, he has spoken only in closed government hearings, “as these matters were classified.” But now that the Justice Department has released several memos on interrogation (see April 16, 2009), he can publicly speak out about the memos. “I’ve kept my mouth shut about all this for seven years,” Soufan says. “I was in the middle of this, and it’s not true that these techniques were effective. We were able to get the information about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in a couple of days. We didn’t have to do any of this [torture]. We could have done this the right way.” [New York Times, 4/22/2009; Newsweek, 4/25/2009] In early 2002, Soufan trained Guantanamo interrogators in the use of non-coercive interrogation techniques; a colleague recalls the military intelligence officials in the session being resistant to the ideas Soufan proposed (see Early 2002). [Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
'False Premises' Underpinning Use of Torture - Soufan says the memos are based on what he calls “false premises.” One is the August 2002 memo granting retroactive authorization to use harsh interrogation methods on Zubaida on the grounds that previous methods had been ineffective (see August 1, 2002). Soufan asserts that his questioning of Zubaida had indeed been productive (contradicting earlier CIA claims—see December 10, 2007), and that he used “traditional interrogation methods” to elicit “important actionable intelligence” from the suspected operative. The harsh methods later used on Zubaida produced nothing that traditional methods could not have produced, Soufan says; moreover, those harsh techniques—torture—often “backfired” on the interrogators. Many of the methods used on detainees such as Zubaida remain classified, Soufan writes: “The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.”
False Claims 'Proving' Usefulness of Torture - Some claim that Zubaida gave up information leading to the capture of suspected terrorists Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Jose Padilla. “This is false,” Soufan writes. “The information that led to Mr. Shibh’s capture came primarily from a different terrorist operative who was interviewed using traditional methods. As for Mr. Padilla, the dates just don’t add up: the harsh techniques were approved in the memo of August 2002, Mr. Padilla had been arrested that May.”
Restoring the 'Chinese Wall' - Because of the use of torture by the CIA, the two agencies will once again be separated by what Soufan calls “the so-called Chinese wall between the CIA and FBI, similar to the communications obstacles that prevented us from working together to stop the 9/11 attacks.” Since the FBI refused to torture suspects in its custody, “our agents who knew the most about the terrorists could have no part in the investigation. An FBI colleague of mine who knew more about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed than anyone in the government was not allowed to speak to him.”
Targeted Investigations - Soufan writes that any investigations into the use of torture by the CIA should not seek to punish the interrogators who carried out the government’s policies. “That would be a mistake,” he writes. “Almost all the agency officials I worked with on these issues were good people who felt as I did about the use of enhanced techniques: it is un-American, ineffective, and harmful to our national security.” Soufan goes farther, adding, “It’s worth noting that when reading between the lines of the newly released memos, it seems clear that it was contractors, not CIA officers, who requested the use of these techniques.” The CIA itself must not be targeted for retribution, Soufan writes, as “[t]he agency is essential to our national security.” Instead, “[w]e must ensure that the mistakes behind the use of these techniques are never repeated.” [New York Times, 4/22/2009; Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
The US Senate rejects an amendment to the US Bankruptcy Code supported by President Barack Obama that would have saved nearly 2 million homeowners facing foreclosure. Sponsored for the second time in as many years by Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL), the controversial amendment would have given judges the power to modify home mortgages, but strong opposition from the banking industry—as well as 39 Republicans and 12 Democrats—prevents passage. The House version of the controversial measure passed in March 2009. Called the ‘cramdown,’ the provision was supported by Obama as a final recourse for people to keep their homes. The amendment was a major priority of congressional Democrats and the Obama administration in a drive to tackle the housing crisis. “[H]ard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created—[that the banks] are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place,” Durbin said earlier in the week during an interview with Illinois radio. [ProgressIllinois.com, 4/29/2009; MinnPost.com, 4/30/2009]
Silverton Bank, a commercial bank that provided major wholesale banking services to client banks, is shuttered by regulators, making it the 30th US bank to fail in 2009. Based in Atlanta, it is the sixth Georgia bank to close this year and is taken over by the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which appoints the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) as receiver. Silverton was a correspondent bank that did not take public deposits or make consumer loans, but provided credit card operations, investments, and loan purchases to client banks. At its closure, the bank’s total assets are approximately $4.1 million and total deposits are about $3.3 billion. The FDIC says it has created Silverton Bridge Bank N.A. to manage bank business and minimize disruption to customers over the next 60 days; the FDIC estimates it will cost the Deposit Insurance Fund $1.3 billion.
Consequences of Collapse - The failure’s impact is expected to ripple through the banking industry and industry experts believe it will have catastrophic consequences for banks across the Sun Belt, potentially impacting hundreds of bank balance sheets. Founded in the mid-1980s, Silverton provided credit and deposit services for other banks, acting as a middleman for fiduciary services for 1,500 small US banks in 44 states. Services included federal funds repayments, a check clearinghouse, and loans to bank holding companies, directors, and executives. Local bank attorneys describe Silverton as a mini-Federal Reserve for community banks.
Other Banks Also Closing - As the deepening recession makes it more difficult for consumers and businesses to pay their loans, local banks have closed in droves. So far, on nearly every Friday this year, there has been at least one bank failure. During the third week in April, while banks prepared for the Obama administration’s ‘stress tests,’ four regional banks closed. Despite federal commitment of amounts in the trillions to increase liquidity as well as jumpstart the economy, the speed of bank failures has accelerated. In 2008, a total of 25 banks failed, yet, in the first four months of 2009, 30 banks have failed. Prior to Silverton’s closure, American Southern Bank in Kennesaw, Georgia, was the last FDIC-insured bank to fail; it was shut down on April 24. [Marketwatch, 5/1/2009; CNN, 5/1/2009; Associated Press, 5/1/2009]
Wells Fargo & Co. confirms that it is not one of the 10 megabanks that will repay TARP capital and also says it is not hastening to repay the money. There had been rumors, perhaps because it had objected to the TARP funding in 2008, that Wells was prepared to write a check to repay its $25-billion TARP infusion—at any given moment—to escape government restrictions on executive pay, dividends, etc., but these rumors are now found to be false. The San Francisco-based bank bought Wachovia Corporation last year when it was on the verge of collapse and in its statement Wells cites its need to focus on assimilating loss-ridden Wachovia. “We want to pay back the government’s investment on behalf of the US taxpayer at the earliest practical date, but we haven’t applied yet to our regulators to repay the investment,” the statement says. From the beginning, Wells Chairman Richard Kovacevich stoked anti-TARP sentiment and opposed his bank’s inclusion in the program. Mr. Kovacevich said then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson “forced” the money on the bank because Mr. Paulson believed that all of the nation’s largest banks should have been TARP participants so that none appeared to be singled out for federal involvement. Mr. Kovacevich also attacked the government’s “stress test” of the 19 major banks to determine whether they had enough capital to survive a worse-than-expected economy over the next two years. “We do stress tests all the time on all of our portfolios,” Kovacevich said, according to Bloomberg News. “We share those stress tests with our regulators. It is absolutely asinine that somebody would announce we’re going to do stress tests for banks and we’ll give you the answer in 12 weeks.” On May 7, the Federal Reserve judged Wells and nine other major banks short of capital and Wells was ordered to raise $13.7 billion in additional capital by November 2009. The following day, Wells quickly raised $8.6 billion in a stock sale. Wells says it will “work closely with our regulators to determine the appropriate time to repay the TARP funds while maintaining strong capital levels.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/9/2009]
The Congressional Oversight Panel, charged with monitoring the $700 billion TARP, says that as long as banks keep large amounts of toxic assets on their books, regulators should conduct stress tests on them. Noting that the worst-case unemployment rate used in recent bank stress tests will soon be surpassed, panel chair and Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren tells Congress’s Joint Economic Committee, “We have not actually broken through the worst-case scenario, but the numbers are bad and they’re heading in the wrong direction.” The Congressional Oversight Panel, which includes a former senator and a current member of the House of Representatives, also advocates replicate periodic tests as long as banks hold “appreciable amounts” of illiquid mortgage securities. Warren says the “US unemployment rate average for 2009, now at 8.5 percent, will soon exceed the 8.9 percent as the worst-case scenario used in regulators’ capital evaluations of the 19 largest US bank holding companies.” Unemployment climbed to 9.4 percent in May; many analysts expect the rate to increase. “The worst-case scenario number for 2009 is in fact not the worst case. We’re going to see worse numbers,” Warren affirms. Ordered for the top 19 US bank holding companies by the US Treasury Department, the panel’s monthly report says the stress tests used a risk-modeling approach that, in its totality, was “reasonable and conservative.” However, the panel also says that an external party would find it impossible to imitate the loss projections forming the core of the tests. Warren adds that to ensure they are valued properly, the oversight panel will also review transactions in which banks repurchase stock warrants from the Treasury. Valuation of warrants, intended to provide taxpayers a potential for gains from government capital injections, will be a key focus of the panel’s July report. While the panel’s report acknowledges that the stress tests had a positive effect on market confidence, it cautions against assigning too much value to them. “They do not model bank holding company performance under ‘worst case’ scenarios and, as a result, they do not project the capital necessary to prevent banks from being stressed to near the breaking point,” the panel says. Warren notes her oversight board was rebuffed although it “pressed really hard on the Fed” for more stress test details. She adds that the Treasury under Secretary Timothy Geithner has been more open. She also tells lawmakers that giving the panel subpoena power would make it easier to acquire documents and testimony from officials at Treasury and the Federal Reserve. [Reuters, 6/9/2009]
The US Treasury Department concludes that financial firms American Express, Bank of New York Mellon, Branch Banking & Trust (BB&T), Capital One Financial, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Northern Trust, State Street, and US Bancorp can return $68.3 billion in emergency bailout funds to government coffers although some of the banks have assets that are still government-controlled, with warrants worth approximately $4.6 billion. Twenty-two smaller banks already returned $1.9 billion. Morgan Stanley receives Treasury permission to return its TARP funding despite bank stress test details released early last May ordering the bank to increase its capital cushion fund by raising $1.8 billion. In a Treasury release, Secretary Timothy Geithner explains, “These repayments are an encouraging sign of financial repair, but we still have work to do.” President Obama comments that the ability of companies to repay the government does not detract from the need for reform. “The return of these funds does not provide forgiveness for past excesses or permission for future misdeeds,” he says. “This is not a sign that our troubles are over. Far from it.” [United Press International, 6/9/2009; New York Times, 6/9/2009]
Entity Tags: Capital One Financial, Bank of New York Mellon, American Express, Branch Banking & Trust (BB&T), US Bancorp, US Department of the Treasury, State Street, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Northern Trust, Barack Obama, Timothy Geithner
Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises
In an interview with Bill Moyers, Robert Reich, former labor secretary under President Clinton, says: “I believe that there’s no doubt that we’re going down to government intervention everywhere, government ownership unprecedented in this country. And it’s a long road and a slippery slope. Essentially, capitalism has swamped democracy. The Bush administration started the bank bailouts because the financial system had overreached with wild speculation and was on the verge of breaking down. Tim Geithner and [President] Obama are continuing these big bank bailouts, and I happen to think the bailouts have not worked very well, except as a kind of socialism for big corporations. There’s no such thing as pure capitalism without rules and regulations that set limits on profit making, because otherwise it’s everybody out for themselves. Otherwise, nobody can trust anybody. Otherwise, it’s the law of the jungle.… We rely upon government to set the boundaries—this can’t happen because it’s fraud, that can’t happen because you’re stealing something, this can’t happen because you’re imposing a huge burden on other people. Unless you have a democratic system that allows the rules to be created not by the companies but by the people and the people’s representatives reflecting what the public needs—not what the corporations need—you’re going to have a system that is not a democracy and not democratic capitalism. It’s super capitalism without the democracy. People pressuring their individual Congress members and Obama standing up to the banking industry will force real regulation. There will be no recovery in the sense of going back to where we were because the old path was unsustainable. If we don’t lift middle class wages, if we don’t get some control over Wall Street, if we don’t have genuine health care reform, if we don’t do something about the environment and global warming, we will not have a recovery. The next downturn is going to be worse than the downturn we just had, so there’s no going backwards. In every conversation I’ve participated in with the president, I was left with the impression that he understood this very, very well. I think most of the people around him understand this. The question is can he pull this off? Can he overcome the vested interests? It will be a clear indication of his toughness with regard to the willingness to twist arms and demand that the public interest be foremost.” [Bill Moyers Journal, 6/12/2009]
CIA Director Leon Panetta is informed by the agency’s Counterterrorist Center that it has a program to assassinate or capture al-Qaeda leaders. The program was established shortly after 9/11, but has never become operational (see Shortly After September 17, 2001). Panetta immediately cancels the program. [New York Times, 7/14/2009] CIA spokesman George Little says the decision was “clear and straightforward,” as Panetta “knew it [the program] hadn’t been successful.” [Washington Post, 8/20/2009] There is no resistance inside the CIA to this decision, apparently because the program is not fully operational and has not yet been briefed to Congress. [New York Times, 7/12/2009]
CIA Was Reviewing Program - It is unclear why Panetta is informed of the program at this time. However, the Counterterrorist Center has recently conducted a review of it, so he may learn of its existence due to the review, which will be presented to the White House and the Congressional intelligence committees. [New York Times, 8/20/2009]
Why Was Panetta Not Told Before? - It is also unclear why Panetta, who was confirmed as CIA director four months ago, was not told of the program earlier. One explanation is that it is because the program was not operational. “It’s a capability that wasn’t being used, so it wasn’t a front-burner issue,” says one unnamed official. Another retired official familiar with the program’s details says, “It would have been a big deal if it was operational, but since it was not, it’s not a big deal.” However, several former CIA officers and intelligence experts find this explanation unconvincing. According to Time magazine, “For one thing, they say, the mere fact that the program apparently merited [former Vice President Dick] Cheney’s close attention should have been a red flag.” A former operations expert says, “Even if the program was dormant, the top officials would have known about Cheney’s instructions, and they should have told Panetta right away.” Another retired senior official puts it more bluntly, saying, “[Given Cheney’s interest,] I don’t know why the program was not on the new director’s desk within his first two weeks on the job.” He adds, “The speed of Panetta’s actions when he was informed tells me that the program was pretty important.” Paul Pillar, a former deputy director of the Counterterrorist Center, comments, “In retrospect, the [Cheney] angle ought to be sufficient grounds for someone to think, this does deserve the boss’s attention.” [New York Times, 7/14/2009]
At an emergency meeting, CIA Director Leon Panetta tells the House and Senate intelligence committees of a CIA program to assassinate and capture al-Qaeda leaders (see Shortly After September 17, 2001). [New York Times, 7/14/2009; Washington Post, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009] Panetta learned of the program the previous day and immediately canceled it (see June 23, 2009). The lawmakers had not previously received information about the program, apparently at the direction of former Vice President Dick Cheney (see 2002). Panetta says he thinks the lawmakers should have been told earlier, because the program had moved beyond the planning stage and therefore deserved Congressional scrutiny. [Washington Post, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009]
On his website “Roubini Global Economics (RGE) Monitor,” New York University economics professor Nouriel Roubini interprets June’s unemployment report as a strong indication that any economic recovery indicators are “alleged green shoots” that are “mostly yellow weeds that may eventually turn into brown manure.” Known as “Dr. Doom” for his prescient 2006 speech to the International Monetary Fund warning fellow economists that the housing bubble would eventually lead to major global recession, Roubini analyzed June’s loss of 460,000 jobs as a strong indication that conditions in the labor market remain “extremely weak.” He also predicts that unemployment could reach 10 percent by the end of summer and that, by the end of 2009, the jobless rate “may well be at 10.5 if not 11 percent.” Roubini cites numerous reasons that an economic recovery, stumped by record high joblessness, is not likely to occur until unemployment falls below 8.5 percent in late 2013.
Roubini June 2009 Jobs Report Analysis -
Details of the unemployment report are worse than reported since, not only are there presently large job losses, but firms are inducing workers to reduce their hours and their hourly wages. According to Roubini, when observing the effect of the labor market on labor income, include three important elements in the total value of labor income—jobs, hours, and average hourly wages. Roubini says all three elements are currently falling, making their effects on labor income much more significant than job losses alone.
Job losses continue to exceed those in the last two recessions, and the unemployment rate has been rising steadily in the current cycle.
Rising unemployment will raise default on consumer loans and further pressure bank balance sheets.
Without home equity or easy credit, ongoing job losses and slower income growth will also keep up the pressure on consumer spending.
Large unemployment, underutilization of labor, and sharp slowdown in wages will add to deflationary pressures in the coming quarters.
Bank losses and tight lending are impacting households who already face wealth losses from housing and equity markets.
Impact of financial sector problems on the real economy are intensifying job losses and leading to lower work hours and wage growth. This puts further pressure on consumer spending while raising mortgage, credit card, and other debt defaults (the unemployment rate is highly correlated with delinquencies on credit cards and auto loans), also putting additional pressure on financial and corporate sector balance sheets.
US labor market aspects are worsening. Factor discouraged and partially-employed workers into jobless statistics, and the true and current unemployment rate is above 16 percent.
Temporary jobs are falling sharply, also an indicator that labor market conditions are becoming worse.
The average unemployment duration is at an all-time high, indicating that people are not only losing jobs, they’re finding it much more difficult to find new jobs.
Based on the birth/death model, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) continues to add approximately 150,000 to 200,000 jobs, distorting downward the number of job losses. However, based on the initial claims for unemployment benefits, job losses are closer to 600,000 per month rather than officially reported figures such as the 467,000 in the June report.
Should unemployment rates peak at or around 11 percent in 2010, expected bank loans and securities losses will be much higher than estimated in recent stress tests.
While there was a retail sales boost and a boost in real consumer spending during January and February 2009, the numbers from April, May, and now June remain extremely weak in real terms.
The significant increase in real personal income in April and May occurred only because of tax rebates and unemployment benefits.
There was a sharp fall in real personal spending in April, with only a marginal increase in May, suggesting that, just as in 2008, most tax rebates were saved rather than spent. In 2008, people expected the tax rebate to stimulate consumption through September, yet the personal spending increase in April, May, and June 2008 fizzled out by July.
Expect further significant reduction in consumer spending in the fall after the effects of the tax rebates fade since, according to Roubini, 2009 households are much more worried about jobs, income, credit cards, and mortgages than they are in personal consumption and spending. Roubini suggests that only approximately 20 cents on the dollar—rather than the 30 cents of 2008—is going to be spent in the fall of 2009.
By the end of 2010 and in 2011, large budgets and their monetization will eventually increase expected inflation, leading to a further increase in 10-year treasuries, long-term government bond yields, and mortgage and private-market rates. Combined with higher oil prices partly driven to increase by the treasuries, bonds, mortgage, and private market wall of liquidity, as opposed to fundamentals alone, this “could produce a double whammy that could push the economy into a double-dip or W-shaped recession by late 2010 or 2011, so the outlook ahead for the US and global economy remains extremely weak.”
The unemployment rate is already over 10 percent in approximately 13 states—and steadily rising. The ISM Employment Index for manufacturing and non-manufacturing has been contracting at a slower pace in recent months. Manpower Survey shows most employers plan to hold head count steady in the third quarter of 2009 relative to the second quarter of 2009. Online job vacancies fell in June, but have shown some improvement since March. JOLTS: The job openings level in April was at its lowest point since the series began in 2001. The hiring and job openings rates were unchanged and remained low
(see June 9, 2009).
Nobel Laureate Agrees - Economist Paul Krugman, 2008 Nobel laureate, comments: “Workers at any one company can help save their jobs by accepting lower wages and helping make the company more competitive. But when employers across the economy cut wages at the same time, the result is higher unemployment and lower wages in the economy. This will keep pressure on paying off debt and on consumer spending and the real economy.” [RGE Monitor, 7/2/2009]
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) spent $314.3 million to shut down 16 banks in June 2009, according to reports released today. The federal insurer closed seven banks on June 25, pushing the number of bank failures for 2009 to 52, more than double the failures for all of 2008. The late June closures included six Illinois regional banks, all controlled by one family whose bank business model, according to the FDIC, “created concentrated exposure in each institution.” The FDIC says that the failure of the six family-owned banks is due to the banks’ investments in collateralized debt obligations and other losses. The failures and subsequent government takeover of the Illinois banks brought total 2009 Illinois bank failures to 12. Local and regional banks have been especially hard hit by plummeting home values that devalued mortgage-backed assets, while rising unemployment rates forced increased numbers of consumers to default on their loans.
June 2009 Bank Failures FDIC Update through July 2, 2009 -
Founders Bank, Worth, Illinois, with approximately $962.5 million in assets, closed. The PrivateBank and Trust Company, Chicago, Illinois, agreed to assume all deposits, approximatedly $848.9 million.
Millennium State Bank of Texas, Dallas, Texas, approximately $118 million in assets, closed. State Bank of Texas, Irving, Texas, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $115 million.
The First National Bank of Danville, Danville, Illinois, approximately $166 million in assets, closed. First Financial Bank, N. A., Terre Haute, Indiana, assumed all deposits, approximately $147 million.
The Elizabeth State Bank, Elizabeth, Illinois, approximately $55.5 million in assets, closed. Galena State Bank and Trust Company, Galena, Illinois, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $50.4 million.
Rock River Bank, Oregon, Illinois, approximately $77 million in assets, closed. The Harvard State Bank, Harvard, Illinois, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $75.8 million.
The First State Bank of Winchester, Winchester, Illinois, approximately $36 million in assets, closed. The First National Bank of Beardstown, Beardstown, Illinois, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $34 million.
The John Warner Bank, Clinton, Illinois, with approximately $70 million in assets, was closed. State Bank of Lincoln, Lincoln, Illinois, agreed to assume all deposits, approximaedly $64 million.
Mirae Bank, Los Angeles, California, approximately $456 million in assets, closed. Wilshire State Bank, Los Angeles, California, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $362 million.
MetroPacific Bank, Irvine, California, approximately $80 million in assets, closed. Sunwest Bank, Tustin, California, agreed to assume all non-brokered deposits, approximately $73 million.
Horizon Bank, Pine City, Minnesota, approximately $87.6 million in assets, closed. Stearns Bank N. A., St. Cloud, Minnesota, agreed to assume all deposits, excluding certain brokered deposits, approximately $69.4 million.
Neighbor Community Bank, Newnan, Georgia, approximately $221.6 million in assets, closed. CharterBank, West Point, Georgia, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $191.3 million.
Community Bank of West Georgia, Villa Rica, Georgia, approximately $199.4 million in assets and approximately $182.5 million in deposits, approved for payout by the FDIC board of directors.
First National Bank of Anthony, Anthony, Kansas, approximately $156.9 million in assets, closed. Bank of Kansas, South Hutchinson, Kansas, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $142.5 million.
Cooperative Bank, Wilmington, North Carolina, approximately $970 million in assets, closed. First Bank, Troy, North Carolina, agreed to assume all deposits, excluding certain brokered deposits, approximately $774 million.
Southern Community Bank, Fayetteville, Georgia, approximately $377 million in assets, closed. United Community Bank, Blairsville, Georgia, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $307 million.
Bank of Lincolnwood, Lincolnwood, Illinois, approximately $214 million in assets, closed. Republic Bank of Chicago, Oak Brook, Illinois, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $202 million. [CNN, 7/2/2009; FDIC.gov, 7/2/2009]
While California grapples with budget problems as a result of the havoc wreaked by the global recession, a collection of banks—Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and JP Morgan Chase among them—say that commencing Friday, July 10, they will not accept state IOUs, adding pressure for the state to close its $26.3 billion budget gap.
IOUs Result of Credit Crisis - The banks initially made a commitment to accept IOU payments when the economically devastated state announced that it would issue more than $3 billion in IOUs beginning on or around July 1. Since the beginning of the year, state leaders have tried and failed to agree on a budget, and Governor Arnold Swarzenegger imposed monthly one to three-day monthly furloughs on at least 200,000 state employees; the furloughs are still in effect. The state began issuing IOUs—‘individual registered warrants’—to hundreds of thousands of creditors one day after the end of the 2009 fiscal year. John Chiang, California state controller, said, “Without IOUs, California will run out of cash by the end of July.” California’s annual budget is the eighth largest in the world. If the state continues issuing warrants, creditors will be forced to hold them until their maturity on October 2 or find other banks willing to honor them before maturity. The maturity of the IOUs will allow the state to pay back creditors directly at a 3.75 percent annual interest rate.
Response by California Bankers Association - California Bankers Association spokeswoman Beth Mills says that some banks might work with creditors to develop a short-term resolution, such as extending lines of credit to creditors. Mills says the banks were concerned that there aren’t processes in place to accept IOUs; she said that some of the banks were also worried about fraud issues, and notes that the July 10 deadline was not set by all banks. She adds that dozens of state credit unions would continue to accept IOUs.
Significance of California's Problems - Twelve percent of the nation’s gross domestic product comes from California and the state has the largest share of retail sales of any state. Retail consultant Burt P. Flickinger, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, explains, “California is the key catalyst for US retail sales, and if California falls further you will see the US economy suffer significantly.” Flickinger warns of more national retail chain and brand suppliers bankruptcies. At one dollar for every 80 cents, the state sends more in tax revenues to the federal government than it receives in return. Although California’s deep recession primarily only affects the state itself, it could make it harder for a national economic recovery since, because of its size—38.3 million people—it affects businesses from Texas to Michigan. Even if lawmakers solve the state’s deficit swiftly, there will likely be more government furloughs and layoffs with tens of billions of dollars more in spending cuts. This could cause a ripple effect throughout the state’s economy and fear of even more job losses. Jeff Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center for the University of the Pacific at Stockton, predicts that one million jobs are expected to be lost in the state in two years, with unemployment estimated to peak at 12.3 percent in early 2010. In 2008, for the first time since the Great Depression, personal income of Californians declined. Income revenue fell 34 percent for the first five months of 2009. [Associated Press, 6/29/2009; Wall Street Journal, 7/7/2009]
Entity Tags: California Bankers Association, Bank of America, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Beth Mills, California, John Chiang, JP Morgan Chase, Jeff Michael, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., Burt P. Flickinger, Citigroup, Strategic Resource Group
Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises
The cover of Mark Klein’s ‘Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine… and Fighting It.’ [Source: BookSurge / aLibris (.com)]Former AT&T technician Mark Klein self-publishes his book, Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine… and Fighting It. In his acknowledgements, Klein writes that he chose to self-publish (through BookSurge, a pay-to-publish venue) because “[t]he big publishers never called me,” and the single small publishing house that offered to publish his book added “an unacceptable requirement to cut core material.” Klein based his book on his experiences as an AT&T engineer at the telecom giant’s San Francisco facility, where he primarily worked with AT&T’s Internet service. In 2002 and 2003, Klein witnessed the construction of of a “secret room,” a facility within the facility that was used by the National Security Agency (NSA) to gather billions of email, telephone, VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol), and text messages, most of which were sent by ordinary Americans. The NSA did its electronic surveillance, Klein writes, secretly and without court warrants. Klein describes himself as “wiring up the Big Brother machine,” and was so concerned about the potential illegality and constitutional violations of the NSA’s actions (with AT&T’s active complicity) that he retained a number of non-classified documents proving the extent of the communications “vacuuming” being done. Klein later used those documents to warn a number of reporters, Congressional members, and judges of what he considered a horrific breach of Americans’ right to privacy. [Klein, 2009, pp. 9-11, 21-24, 33, 35, 38, 40] In 2007, Klein described his job with the firm as “basically to keep the systems going. I worked at AT&T for 22 and a half years. My job was basically to keep the systems going. They were computer systems, network communication systems, Internet equipment, Voice over Internet [Protocol (VoIP)] equipment. I tested circuits long distance across the country. That was my job: to keep the network up.” He explained why he chose to become a “whistleblower:” “Because I remember the last time this happened.… I did my share of anti-war marches when that was an active thing back in the ‘60s, and I remember the violations and traffic transgressions that the government pulled back then for a war that turned out to be wrong, and a lot of innocent people got killed over it. And I’m seeing all this happening again, only worse. When the [NSA] got caught in the ‘70s doing domestic spying, it was a big scandal, and that’s why Congress passed the FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] law, as you know, to supposedly take care of that (see 1978). So I remember all that. And the only way any law is worth anything is if there’s a memory so that people can say: ‘Wait a minute. This happened before.’ And you’ve got to step forward and say: ‘I remember this. This is the same bad thing happening again, and there should be a halt to it.’ And I’m a little bit of that institutional memory in the country; that’s all.” [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007]
Group of 8 (G-8) leaders from across the globe release a statement from their meeting in L’Aquila, Italy, saying that economic recovery from the worst recession since World War II is too frail for them to consider repealing efforts to infuse money into the economy. US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, European Commission President Jose Barroso, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev assembled for the annual gathering where Obama pressed to maintain an open door for additional stimulus actions. A new drop in stocks generated global concern that, to date, the $2 trillion already sunk into economies had not provided the economic bump that would bring consumers and businesses back to life. “The G-8 needed to sound a second wakeup call for the world economy,” Brown told reporters after the gathering’s opening sessions. “There are warning signals about the world economy that we cannot ignore.” A G-8 statement embraces options ranging from a second US stimulus package—advocated by some lawmakers and economists—to an emphasis by Germany on shifting the focus to deficit reduction.
What Next? - Disagreements over what to do next, as well as calls from developing nations to do more to counteract the slump, emphasize that the Group of 8 has little if any room to maneuver, since the largest borrowing binge in 60 years has, so far, failed to stop rising unemployment and has left investors doubting the potency of the recovery. Even as G-8 leaders held their first meeting, the Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) World Index of stocks continued a five-day slide, and the 23-nation index had dropped 8 percent since its three-month rally that ended on June 2. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) upgraded its 2010 growth forecast, saying the rebound would be “sluggish,” and urged governments to stay the course with economic stimuli. The IMF also said that emerging countries such as China would lead the way, with an expansion of 4.7 percent in 2010, up from their April prediction of 4 percent. “It’s a very volatile situation,” said European Commission President Barroso in a Bloomberg Television interview from L’Aquila. “We are not yet out of the crisis, but it seems now that the free fall is over.”
Exit Strategems Discussion - “Exit strategies will vary from country to country depending on domestic economic conditions and public finances,” the leaders conclude, but deputy US National Security Adviser Mike Froman tells reporters, “There is still uncertainty and risk in the system.” Froman says that although exit strategies should be drawn up, it’s not “time to put them into place.” The IMF forecasts that, in 2014, the debt of advanced economies will explode to at least 114 percent of US gross domestic product because of bank bailouts and recession-battling measures. German Chancellor Merkel, campaigning for re-election in September and the leading opponent of additional stimulus, warned against burgeoning budget deficits, which the IMF has predicted will rise to an average of 6 percent of the EU’s 2009 gross domestic product, from 2.3 percent in 2008. At last month’s European Union summit, Merkel pushed through a statement that called for “a reliable and credible exit strategy,” and insisted, “We have to get back on course with a sustainable budget, but with the emphasis on when the crisis is over.” [G8 Summit 2009, 7/2/2009; Bloomberg, 7/9/2009]
Entity Tags: Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) World Index, Mike Froman, Jose Manuel Barroso, International Monetary Fund, Taro Aso, National Security Council, Nicolas Sarkozy, Silvio Berlusconi, Angela Merkel, Gordon Brown, Barack Obama, Standard & Poor’s, Stephen Harper, Dmitriy Medvedev
Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) regulators take over real estate lender Colonial BancGroup Inc. in the biggest US bank failure this year. Regulators also close four banks in Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania. This increases to 77 the number of federally insured banks that have failed in 2009. The FDIC is appointed receiver of Colonial BancGroup, based in Montgomery, Alabama; Community Bank of Arizona, based in Phoenix; Union Bank, based in Gilbert, Arizona; Community Bank of Nevada, based in Las Vegas; and Dwelling House Savings and Loan Association, located in Pittsburgh. The FDIC approves the sale of Colonial’s $20 billion in deposits and about $22 billion of its assets to BB&T Corp., which is based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. According to the FDIC, the failed bank’s 346 branches in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, and Texas will reopen at normal times starting on Saturday as BB&T offices. A temporary government bank is established by the FDIC for Community Bank of Nevada to give depositors approximately 30 days to open accounts at other financial institutions. As of June 30, Community Bank of Nevada had assets of $1.52 billion and deposits of $1.38 billion; Community Bank of Arizona had assets of $158.5 million and deposits of $143.8 million; Union Bank had assets of $124 million and deposits of $112 million as of June 12. MidFirst Bank, based in Oklahoma City, agrees to assume all the deposits and $125.5 million of the assets of Community Bank of Arizona, as well as about $24 million of the deposits and $11 million of the assets of Union Bank, with the FDIC retaining what’s left for eventual sale. Dwelling House had $13.4 million in assets and $13.8 million in deposits as of March 31. PNC Bank, part of Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group Inc., agrees to assume all of Dwelling House’s deposits and about $3 million of its assets; the FDIC will hold the rest for eventual sale. The FDIC expects Colonial BancGroup’s failure to cost it an estimated $2.8 billion and that of Community Bank of Nevada, $781.5 million; Union Bank, $61 million; Community Bank of Arizona, $25.5 million; and Dwelling House, $6.8 million. The 77 bank failures nationwide this year compare with 25 last year and three in 2007. As the economy spiraled downward, bank failures increased seismically, siphoning billions out of the FDIC which, at $13 billion as of the first quarter, is at its lowest level since 1993. While losses on home mortgages may be leveling, commercial real estate loan delinquencies remain a potential trouble spot, say FDIC officials. The FDIC’s list of problem institutions soared to 305 in first quarter 2009—the highest since the savings and loan crisis in 1994—increasing from 252 in fourth quarter 2008. Regulators anticipate US bank failures will cost the FDIC about $70 billion through 2013. The shutdown in May of Florida thrift BankUnited is expected to cost the federal insurer $4.9 billion, the second-largest hit since the financial crisis commenced. So far, the costliest is the seizure of big California lender IndyMac Bank in 2008, where it is estimated that the FDIC lost $10.7 billion. In September 2008, the largest US bank failure was the failure of Seattle-based Washington Mutual Inc. (WAMU), with about $307 billion in assets. In a deal brokered by the FDIC, JP Morgan Chase and Co. purchased WAMU for $1.9 billion. [fdic.gov, 8/2009; ABC News, 8/14/2009]
The House Intelligence Committee launches an investigation into whether the CIA broke the law by failing to notify Congress about an agency program to assassinate and capture al-Qaeda leaders. The program was initiated shortly after 9/11 (see Shortly After September 17, 2001), but Congress was not notified of it, apparently at the instruction of former Vice President Dick Cheney (see 2002), until it was shut down in July 2009 (see June 23, 2009 and June 24, 2009). [Washington Post, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009] Congressional Democrats are furious that the program was not shared with the House Committee and with its Senate counterpart. However, some Congressional Republicans say that as Congress had already approved broad authorities for the CIA after 9/11, the CIA was not required to brief lawmakers on specifics about the program, which never became operational. [New York Times, 7/12/2009; New York Times, 7/14/2009]
The response by media and public officials to the announcement of a preliminary investigation by the Justice Department into whether crimes were committed in the course of a small number of detention and interrogation cases by the CIA (see August 24, 2009) is mixed. The investigation is headed by special prosecutor John Durham. Reporter Michael Isikoff says that it will be “difficult to bring cases against agency operatives when you have the [former] attorney general of the United States [John Ashcroft] saying repetitive use of waterboarding is okay with him. He has no problem with it. The Justice Department has no problem with it—which is why some people say if we’re not going to have criminal investigations at the very top, the leadership that authorized these programs, at least have full disclosure so the American public can know the full story of what happened.” Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) criticizes the potential focus on interrogators and says the inquiry should focus on former Bush administration officials and Justice Department lawyers; he says the investigation could echo the Abu Ghraib investigation, where “lower ranking troops who committed abuses were hung out to dry.” Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, says the Justice Department inquiry risks disrupting current counterterrorism operations, and claims that abuse charges have already been “exhaustively reviewed.” [New York Times, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009]
Lack of Accountability? - Joanne Mariner, the terrorism and counterterrorism program director at Human Rights Watch, says: “It’s heartening that the attorney general has opened a preliminary investigation of these crimes, but it’s crucial that its scope include senior officials who authorized torture. Lower-level CIA operatives—even if using so-called ‘unauthorized’ techniques—may still have relied on the letter or the spirit of high-level authorizations.” Human Rights Watch warns that if the investigation focuses solely on so-called “rogue” interrogators who acted without official authorization, but fails to investigate senior officials with responsibility for the interrogation program, it will lack credibility. The organization writes, “Such an approach would validate the Bush-era Justice Department memoranda that authorized torture.” It calls the US’s record on accountability for detainee abuse “abysmal.” [Human Rights Watch, 8/24/2009]
Focusing on 'Low-Level Operatives'? - The American Civil Liberties Union’s Jameel Jaffer later says that Durham’s investigation seems to be far too narrow in scope, focusing solely on CIA interrogators and ignoring Bush administration officials who authorized torture and other abusive actions. [TPM Muckraker, 8/31/2009] This position is echoed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, which states: “Responsibility for the torture program cannot be laid at the feet of a few low-level operatives. Some agents in the field may have gone further than the limits so ghoulishly laid out by the lawyers who twisted the law to create legal cover for the program, but it is the lawyers and the officials who oversaw and approved the program who must be investigated.” The center demands the appointment of “an independent special prosecutor with a full mandate to investigate those responsible for torture and war crimes, especially the high ranking officials who designed, justified, and orchestrated the torture program.” Another organization, Physicians for Human Rights, says that it “urges the administration to pursue any investigation up the chain of command to those officials who authorized and supervised the use of illegal techniques.” [TPM Muckraker, 8/24/2009] Several Democrats, including Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and two members of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and John Conyers (D-MI), issue statements urging the investigation to go beyond looking into the actions of CIA interrogators, and investigate the officials who authorized those actions. [TPM Muckraker, 8/24/2009]
Entity Tags: Eric Holder, Ron Wyden, Russell D. Feingold, US Department of Justice, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Peter Hoekstra, Center for Constitutional Rights, Patrick J. Leahy, Michael Isikoff, Jameel Jaffer, Jerrold Nadler, Joanne Mariner, John Conyers, John Ashcroft, Obama administration, John Durham
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
The tasks before the forthcoming Group of 20 (G-20) summit to be hosted by President Barack Obama in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, are rolled out in the media. The number one agenda item for global leaders will be restraining financial institutions’ compensation and forcing them to clean their balance sheets to avert a duplicate of the near-meltdown of global financial systems. They will also attempt to find new methods for controlling over-the-counter derivatives markets, which are said to have augmented the global crash. The leaders are also scheduled to “increase oversight of hedge funds, credit rating agencies, and debt securitization.” Most leaders agree that it is essential to find a resolution for the huge financial imbalances in trade, savings, and consumption, all of which played a role in the global financial crisis, and ultimately may leave global economies vulnerable to future financial shocks. Christine Lagarde, the French Finance Minister, says that signs of economic recovery should not act as an excuse to avoid economic reforms. Officials of France and Germany are recommending stringent financial sector regulations, which incorporate limits on executive pay. The mandate of the G-20 is to “promote open and constructive discussion between industrial and emerging-market countries on key issues related to global economic stability.” The G-20 is comprised of finance ministers and central bank governors from 19 countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union, which is represented by the rotating council presidency and the European Central Bank. [Reuters, 9/22/2009; New York Times, 9/22/2009; Voice of America, 9/22/2009; G-20.org, 9/22/2009]
Having received what the Obama administration calls “exceptional assistance,” American International Group (AIG), Citigroup, Bank of America, General Motors (GM), GMAC, Chrysler, and Chrysler Financial are now meeting with executive pay czar, Kenneth Feinberg, and must submit 2009 pay plans for their top 25 executives. In turn, Feinberg must perform a 60-day assessment while working with the seven companies on their salary configurations. Plans for the other 75 executives of the seven corporations are due later. Exorbitant executive pay and bonuses has its critics, with many outraged that the companies are collecting taxpayer money only to pay out expensive bonuses during a massive recession. Others fear that the feds have insinuated themselves too deeply into private business affairs. Feinberg himself admits that his job has built-in conflicts. “Historically, the American people frown on the notion of government insinuating itself into the private marketplace,” he says in an interview, one day after his appointment. “My answer to those critics is I understand that concern, I share that concern, and the question is how do you strike a balance between that legitimate concern and the populist outrage at prior industry compensation practices?” The Obama administration has already seen and experienced taxpayers’ fury; Feinberg hopes to avoid such outrage. Corporations must prove to him that they are rewarding good performance and discouraging undue risk-taking. “We are not going to provide a running commentary on that process, but it’s clear that Mr. Feinberg has broad authority to make sure that compensation at those firms strikes an appropriate balance,” say US Treasury Department spokespersons, while noting that Feinberg can’t force companies to renege on contract obligations executed prior to February 12, 2009. However, this hasn’t prevented cries of foul play by critics upset over excessive government interference in private businesses. “No matter which way I turn, you’re facing criticism either from those who are appalled at what these companies did versus those who question the value of the government getting involved,” Feinberg says. The recently appointed executive compensation czar is used to dealing with contentious sides having served as compensation fund chairman for the families of victims of the September 11 attacks. [ABC News, 8/12/2009]
With unemployment rates for American Indians at 27 percent, African-Americans logging jobless rates of 15 percent, and Hispanics at 13 percent, experts say that for these ethnic groups, the economic recession is more of a “Great Depression.” The foreclosure crisis is equally ominous, having worsened with increasing joblessness, unduly impacting minority groups at a staggering rate. Dr. James Carr, chief operating officer of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, explains: “The crisis is now fueled by unemployment and loss of income. In 2009, nearly 60 percent of foreclosures are triggered by unemployment.… The Obama administration’s endeavors to curtail foreclosures aren’t working.” He emphasizes that the loan modification program has “plenty of carrots” for the banks, “but no meaningful sticks to compel more responsible actions.” On average, lenders lose 10 times as much on foreclosures than loan modifications, or about $144,000 as opposed to a loan modification tax write-off of $14,000. Because they can, banks are choosing to deduct the greater loss on their current tax bill by foreclosing rather than modifying the loan. Consequently, only 12 percent of homeowners eligible for modification have received such through voluntary Making Home Affordable program set up by the Obama administration. According to Raymond Skinner, Maryland’s secretary of housing and community development: “Foreclosures are taking on a different face. As of the second quarter of 2009, the majority of the nation’s foreclosures are now on prime loans.”
Bankruptcy Law Reform, Homeowners Loan Corporation - What is needed, says Carr, is bankruptcy reform to allow judges to modify mortgages using the same methods they use to modify yacht and investment property payments; at least 30 percent of loans on the way to foreclosure could be helped by reformation of bankruptcy laws. Still, experts agree that even loan modifications won’t help many unemployed persons. Carr is calling for “a new version of the Great Depression-era Homeowners Loan Corporation” (HOLC) to allow the use of eminent domain to purchase loans between current market value and face value cost. The discount could then be used to modify the loans so that the unemployed homeowner could enter into rental agreements to stay in their homes, or even obtain emergency grants or loans to continue paying their mortgages. HOLC, however, is not under consideration by either Congress or the Obama administration.
Insufficient American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Resources - Some argue that the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act did not provide the resources needed by those hardest hit by the recession, which was supposedly the goal of the bill. As a result, there is now an immediate need for a targeted stimulus for job creation and unemployment benefits extension. “Channeling dollars to the individuals and communities that need them most will immediately stimulate the economy and save and create jobs for both the neediest households and the US population generally,” Carr says. “Families that live on the edge of survival will pour these recovery dollars immediately back into the economy through spending on groceries, medicine, clothing, childcare, energy, transportation, and other basic necessities. That spending would support multiple sectors of the economy and have positive impacts far outside of the communities where dollars are immediately spent.” Additionally, racial barriers and continuing discrimination need to be addressed to guarantee access to affordable housing alternative, transportation, education, and economic opportunity. [Nation, 9/25/2009; NPR, 9/28/2009]
The Group of 20 (G20)‘s pledge to return balance to the world economy may place the US dollar in a precarious position in the long run, experts feel. Over recent weeks, the dollar has fallen 4.3 percent this quarter because of equity market weakness as well as emerging major currencies as other countries begin their recovery from the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. Some G20 meeting attendees see the dollar as susceptible to damage while questioning its stability as well as its status as the global reserve currency, although the recent weakness of the dollar is not being blamed on the weakness of the US economy. Analysts say that short-term effects to the G20 meeting of other wealthy, developing economies will be subdued; however, they say that over a longer period, bank stocks and energy prices as well as the dollar may be harmed by G20 economic balancing actions. World leaders have expressed concern that the US economy’s recovery cannot be sustained because its rebound is due to government stimulus and increased borrowing. During the meeting in Pittsburgh, the leaders agree that to balance the global economy, the US needs to save more while the massive exporter China needs to consume more to support its growth. David Gilmore, partner at FX Analytics in Essex, Connecticut, explains, “The real problem is the world needs a huge consumer and the US has been basically doing it for decades, and now it’s spent.”
US Dollar as Reserve Currency - Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, says the US should not take the dollar’s status as the key global reserve currency for granted now that other options are emerging. Zoellick says that shifting global economic forces reveal that it is time to prepare for growth to come from multiple global sources. Although the world’s largest economies also agree to phase out subsidies on oil and other fossil fuels over the “medium term” to combat global warming, they acknowledge that the phase-out probably will not affect energy markets in the short term. In the long term, they say, the move could weigh on energy markets, cutting fuel demand in emerging markets. As for emergency economic support, G20 leaders promise to continue support until recovery is “at hand,” thus providing some relief for foreign currencies.
Economic Rebalancing Equals Shift from Dollar as Reserve Currency? - Global economic balancing is a two-edged sword for the dollar because the currency has been damaged by extremely low interest rates and the glut of dollars in the international monetary system. But the recession already has triggered partial rebalancing as US consumers cut spending while China spends $600 billion to stimulate its economy while making itself less dependent on exports. Analysts quickly note that minus tangible steps, the pledge only serves as lip service. The analysts also say it is improbable that countries would bend to G20 rules on how to run their economies. Nonetheless, the plan would be a clear shift, signaling a move away from the dollar. Currency strategist Kevin Chau of New York’s IDEAglobal says: “In the long run, I think they want another reserve currency, whether it’s the Special Drawing Rights or the Chinese yuan. For any country’s currency to gain that kind of credibility and trust, it would take years of development.” Still, last week, the dollar fell to a new low against the euro and even dropped below the key 90 yen-per-dollar level. [Reuters, 9/27/2009]
A US District Court judge awards damages in a lawsuit, finding the NSA illegally monitored the calls of the plaintiffs. The Al Haramain Islamic Foundation and two of its lawyers, Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor, sued the US government in 2006 based on evidence that their calls had been monitored; the US Treasury Department inadvertently provided them with an NSA log in August 2004 showing their calls had been monitored in May of that year (see February 28, 2006). In defending against the suit, the Justice Department argued, first under President Bush and then under President Obama, that the case should be dismissed based on the government’s invocation of the state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953) concerning the NSA log, and that the plaintiffs could not otherwise demonstrate that surveillance had occurred, meaning the plaintiffs had no standing to bring suit. Judge Vaughn Walker rejected these arguments, noting that the plaintiffs had introduced into evidence a speech posted on FBI’s Web site by FBI Deputy Director John Pistole to the American Bankers Association (ABA), in which he said that surveillance had been used to develop a case by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) against Al-Haramain, and Congressional testimony by Bush administration officials that disclosed the manner in which electronic surveillance was conducted. In the summary of his decision, Vaughn wrote, “[The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] FISA takes precedence over the state secrets privilege in this case,” and “defendants have failed to meet their burden to [provide] evidence that a FISA warrant was obtained, that plaintiffs were not surveilled or that the surveillance was otherwise lawful.” [Al-Haramain v. Obama, 3/31/2010; Washington Post, 4/1/2010, pp. A04]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Asim Ghafoor, Anthony J. Coppolino, Alberto R. Gonzales, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (Oregon branch), “Justice Department”, Barack Obama, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, Suliman al-Buthe, Keith Alexander, Eric Holder, US Department of the Treasury, Wendell Belew, Vaughn Walker, National Security Agency
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Microbiologist Dr. Henry Heine, a former colleague of alleged anthrax attacker Bruce Ivins, appears before a National Academy of Sciences panel tasked with reviewing the FBI’s scientific work on the investigation. Dr. Heine testifies that it would have been impossible for Ivins to have produced the number of anthrax spores alleged without his colleagues noticing. Dr. Heine also indicates that biological containment measures were inadequate in Ivins’s lab to prevent escape of anthrax spores. [New York Times, 4/22/2010]
Some leaders of US Congress are briefed about intelligence on Osama bin Laden’s secret compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will later say: “We were briefed about suspicions about the size, about the structure of the compound, about the absence of people going in or out. We were actually shown overhead long distance photos from the air and we were essentially told that there were suspicions, serious suspicions, that this may be the place where Osama bin Laden was and that there was a 24/7 oversight of this compound.” [Time, 5/3/2011] It is likely that all of the “Big 8”—the leaders of each party in the House and Senate and the top lawmakers from each party on the House and Senate intelligence committees—are informed about the intelligence. They will continue to receive periodic updates up until the raid that kills bin Laden on May 2, 2011 (see May 2, 2011). They will get calls from CIA Director Leon Panetta two days before the raid saying that the action against bin Laden is likely to take place soon. [Time, 5/3/2011; Politico, 5/3/2011]
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) finds that the source of the anthrax involved in the 2001 attacks was not established by the FBI’s science. This conclusion is in contrast to that of the Justice Department and the FBI, which have asserted unequivocally that RMR-1029, an anthrax flask linked to USAMRIID vaccine researcher and deceased alleged anthrax-killer Bruce Ivins, was the source of the anthrax used in the attacks. The NAS was contracted by the FBI in 2009, for nearly $880,000, to review the science underlying the FBI’s investigation. The NAS council did not review other types of evidence assembled by the FBI, did not have access to classified materials, and did not do its own research. In its report, it makes no judgments regarding the guilt or innocence of any parties, or judgments about the FBI’s conclusion that Ivins was the sole perpetrator. [Associated Press, 5/9/2009; Justice, 2/19/2010, pp. 28 PDF ; National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011; McClatchy-ProPublica-PBS Frontline, 10/11/2011] The primary conclusion of the NAS is that “it is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion about the origins of the anthrax… based solely on the available scientific evidence.” The NAS says there were “genetic similarities” between the samples from the letters and RMR-1029, but that “other possible explanations for the similarities—such as independent, parallel evolution—were not definitively explored during the investigation,” and “the data did not rule out other possible sources.” The NAS agrees with the FBI that “RMR-1029… was not the immediate source of spores used in the letters,” and that “one or more derivative growth steps would have been required to produce the anthrax in the attack letters.” The NAS says the FBI did correctly identify the anthrax as Ames strain. It also agrees with the FBI that there was no evidence that the silicon present in the samples had been added in order to weaponize the anthrax, but says that, based on the information made available to it, “one cannot rule out the intentional addition of a silicon-based substance to the New York Post letter, in a failed attempt to enhance dispersion.” Silicon had not been present in the anthrax in RMR-1029 and it is not a normal part of anthrax spores, though it may be incorporated if it is present in its environment as the spores develop. The reason for the presence of silicon (up to 10 percent by bulk mass in the New York Post sample, though this differed with the amount measured in the spores), as well as other elements such as tin, remains unresolved. [National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011] At a NAS press conference accompanying the report’s release, questions are raised regarding the amount of time needed to prepare the anthrax. Committee Chair Alice P. Gast responds, “There’s a lack of certainty in the time and effort it would take to make [the powders]… the FBI has not determined what method was used to create the powders.” In some situations several months might be required, but, according to Vice Chair David A. Relman, it would have been possible to complete the work in as little as two days. Regarding the low end of the estimate, Relman says: “There are a number of factors that would have to go into that calculation, including the skill set of the person or persons involved, the equipment and resources available, and the procedures and process selected. And, on that last point, that low end would rely upon the use of batch fermentation methods—liquid cultivation methods—which are available in a number of locations.” Co-workers of Ivins and other experts previously expressed doubts that Ivins had the skill, equipment, or opportunity to prepare the anthrax used, let alone do so in as short a time as the FBI has alleged (see August 1-10, 2008, August 3-18, 2008, August 5, 2008, August 9, 2008 and April 22, 2010). [National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011; ProPublica, 2/15/2011] In response to the NAS report, the FBI says in a press release that it was not the science alone that led it to conclude that Ivins was the sole perpetrator: “The FBI has long maintained that while science played a significant role, it was the totality of the investigative process that determined the outcome of the anthrax case. The scientific findings in this case provided investigators with valuable investigative leads that led to the identification of the late Dr. Bruce Ivins as the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks.” [Department of Justice, 2/15/2011] The FBI has claimed to have identified, and eliminated as suspects, 419 people at Fort Detrick and other locations, who either had access to the lab where Ivins worked or received samples from RMR-1029. However, the NAS finding that RMR-1029 has not been conclusively identified as the anthrax source indicates the pool of suspects may be wider than just those with links to RMR-1029. The NAS press release notes that, in October 2010, a draft version of the NAS report underwent a “required FBI security review,” and following that the FBI asked to submit materials to NAS that it had not previously provided. The NAS says: “Included in the new materials were results of analyses performed on environmental samples collected from an overseas site. Those analyses yielded inconsistent evidence of the Ames strain of B. anthracis in some samples. The committee recommends further review of the investigation of overseas environmental samples and of classified investigations carried out by the FBI and Department of Justice.” [National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011]
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani announces that he has ordered the Pakistani army to investigate how Osama bin Laden managed to hide in Pakistan for many years (see May 2, 2011). The investigation will be carried out by the army’s adjutant general, Lieutenant General Javed Iqbal. However, at the same time, Gillani says that it is “disingenuous” to blame any part of the Pakistani government for being “in cahoots” with al-Qaeda. “Allegations of complicity or incompetence are absurd. We didn’t invite Osama bin Laden to Pakistan,” he says. He specifically defends the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, which has been repeatedly accused of supporting some Islamist militants, saying: “The ISI is a national asset and has the full support of the government. We are proud of its considerable contribution to the anti-terror campaign.” [Guardian, 5/9/2011]
Provisions for indefinite detention included in the 2012 “National Defense Authorization Act,” an annual ‘must pass’ defense spending bill, begin to generate controversy soon after the proposed text is published. The language drafted by the Senate Armed Services Committee provides for indefinite military detention, without charge or trial, of essentially anyone accused of supporting or being associated with groups “engaged in hostilities” with the United States, including US citizens. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) begins monitoring the proceedings and urging the public to oppose the bill. [ACLU.org, 7/6/2011] Other civil liberties and human rights groups will follow suit, including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. The ACLU, CCR, and HRW point out that indefinite detention without charge or trial has not been codified since the McCarthy era. [ConstitutionCampaign.org, 12/6/2011; HRW.org, 12/15/2011; CCRJustice.org, 1/4/2012; Amnesty International, 1/5/2012] Constitutional experts Jonathan Turley and Glenn Greenwald will repeatedly condemn the bill’s indefinite military detention provisions. [Jonathan Turley, 1/2/2012; Salon, 12/15/2012] Two retired four-star Marine Generals, Charles C. Krulak and Joseph P. Hoar, will criticize the NDAA’s indefinite detention provision in an op-ed published in the New York Times, writing that under the law, “Due process would be a thing of the past.” And, “[T]his provision would expand the battlefield to include the United States—and hand Osama bin Laden an unearned victory long after his well-earned demise.” [New York Times, 12/13/2011] Congress will pass the bill on December 15 (see December 15, 2011) and President Obama will sign it into law on December 31 (see December 31, 2011). A poll conducted shortly after the bill is passed by Congress will find that only one in four likely voters support the NDAA (see December 22-26, 2011). After the bill is signed into law, states and municipalities will begin to pass laws and resolutions opposing the bill (see December 31, 2011 and After).
Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute and the author of Power Hungry: The Myths of ‘Green’ Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future, writes an op-ed for the New York Times claiming that solar power production is too costly in part because of the “huge” amount of land it requires. “[W]hile energy sources like sunlight and wind are free and naturally replenished, converting them into large quantities of electricity requires vast amounts of natural resources—most notably, land,” he writes. “Even a cursory look at these costs exposes the deep contradictions in the renewable energy movement.” Bryce cites as one example the Ivanpah solar plant, which takes up about five and a half acres in the Mojave Desert and will generate about 370 megawatts of power when completed (see September 22, 2013). “The math is simple: to have 8,500 megawatts of solar capacity, California would need at least 23 projects the size of Ivanpah, covering about 129 square miles, an area more than five times as large as Manhattan,” he writes. “While there’s plenty of land in the Mojave, projects as big as Ivanpah raise environmental concerns. In April, the federal Bureau of Land Management ordered a halt to construction on part of the facility out of concern for the desert tortoise, which is protected under the Endangered Species Act” (see August 13, 2013). Wind power generation consumes even more land, he writes, citing the example of a wind farm in Texas that covers 154 square miles and generates over 781 megawatts of energy. Add to that the need for “long swaths of land for power lines,” and you have what one conservation group calls “energy sprawl,” the need for large amounts of land to generate power. He concludes: “All energy and power systems exact a toll. If we are to [keep power generation systems small] while also reducing the rate of growth of greenhouse gas emissions, we must exploit the low-carbon energy sources—natural gas and, yes, nuclear—that have smaller footprints.” [New York Times, 8/6/2011]
'Gusher of Lies' - In 2010, the progressive news Web site Think Progress called Bryce’s book “a gusher of lies,” and recruited renewable energy expert Adam Siegel to debunk it. Siegel wrote: “Masquerading as an unbiased, fact-based look at America’s energy situation and viable paths forward into the future, Robert Bryce’s Power Hungry is a mixed collection of factual material, thought-provoking constructs, selective ‘truthiness,’ questionable (if not simply wrong) data crunching, and outright deceptions. This mix of material makes Bryce’s work dangerous reading for those without a serious grounding in energy (related) issues while that same mix calls into question this work’s value for anyone with that more serious background.” [Think Progress, 9/14/2010]
Counter-Claims - In 2003, the US Department of Energy concluded that most of the land needed for renewable energy sites could be supplied by abandoned industrial sites. Moreover, “with today’s commercial systems, the solar energy resource in a 100-by-100-mile area of Nevada could supply the United States with all of its electricity. If these systems were distributed to the 50 states, the land required from each state would be an area of about 17 by 17 miles. This area is available now from parking lots, rooftops, and vacant land. In fact, 90 percent of America’s current electricity needs could be supplied with solar electric systems built on the estimated 5 million acres of abandoned industrial sites in our nation’s cities.” The federal government is expanding its efforts to find “disturbed and abandoned lands that are suitable for renewable energy development.” Groups concerned with minimizing the impacts of energy development on wildlife prefer prioritizing these areas for development. The Energy Information Administration says: “Covering 4 percent of the world’s desert area with photovoltaics could supply the equivalent of all of the world’s electricity. The Gobi Desert alone could supply almost all of the world’s total electricity demand.” And a 2009 study found that “in most cases” solar arrays in areas with plenty of sunlight use “less land than the coal-fuel cycle coupled with surface mining.” [National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 1/2003 ; US Energy Information Administration, 12/19/2011; Defenders of Wildlife, 1/14/2013 ; Media Matters, 1/24/2013]
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