Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Bush Administration’ Category

Report To U.N. Calls Bullshit On Obama’s ‘Look Forward, Not Backwards’ Approach To Torture

leave a comment »

I was stunned when President Obama flatly stated that he would ignore the legal requirements to investigate credible allegations of torture—allegations that by the time of his statement we knew to be factual, but without knowledge of how vast the torture program was nor the details of those guilty of participating in the torture system, torture quite clearly being a crime under US (nd international) law. But President Obama did not seem bothered by it because, you see, the crimes had been committed in the past, so that we should not even look into them: “Look forward, not back,” something that must have puzzled law-enforcement agencies, whose total workload and responsibilities are dealing with crimes that took place in the past. However, I am sure it was heartening to criminals everywhere—and in particular those who had tortured people (some of them perfectly innocent of any wrong doing) and transported people to be tortured: The President has said that bad deeds done in the past are perfectly okay.

But now the dereliction of duty is starting to fester. Murtaza Hussein reports at The Intercept:

Months after President Obama frankly admitted that the United States had “tortured some folks” as part of the War on Terror, a new report submitted to the United Nations Committee Against Torture has been released that excoriates his administration for shielding the officials responsible from prosecution.

The report describes the post-9/11 torture program as “breathtaking in scope”, and indicts both the Bush and Obama administrations for complicity in it – the former through design and implementation, and the latter through its ongoing attempts to obstruct justice. Nothing that the program caused grievous harm to countless individuals and in many cases went as far as murder, the report calls for the United States to “promptly and impartially prosecute senior military and civilian officials responsible for authorizing, acquiescing, or consenting in any way to acts of torture.”

In specifically naming former President George W. Bush, Department of Justice lawyer John Yoo and former CIA contractor James Mitchell, among many others, as individuals sanctioned torture at the highest levels, the report highlights a gaping hole in President Obama’s promise to reassert America’s moral standing during his administration. Not only have the cited individuals not been charged with any crime for their role in the torture program, Obama has repeatedly reiterated his mantra of “looking forward, not backwards” to protect them from accountability.

Needless to say, you shouldn’t try that defense in court if you’re an ordinary American on trial for, say, a drug crime.

It’s also worth remembering that, horrific as it was, the torture regime described in the report was only a tiny part of the wide-ranging human rights abuses the United States committed after 9/11. It doesn’t even account for the network of prisons where hundreds of thousands of people were detained in Iraq and Afghanistan – many of whom suffered beatings, rape and murder at the hands of U.S. soldiers.

The environment that allowed such treatment as again authorized at the highest levels, but just as with the CIA program the only people to receive any legal sanction for these actions have been low-level soldiers who’ve essentially been used as scapegoats for the crimes of their superiors.

By refusing to prosecute Bush-era officials for their culpability in major human rights abuses such as the CIA program and Abu Ghraib, President Obama is not just failing to enforce justice but is essentiallyguaranteeing that such abuses will happen again in the future. His administration has demonstrated that even if government officials perpetrate the most heinous crimes imaginable, they will still be able to rely on their peers to conceal their wrongdoing and protect them from prosecution. This not only erodes the rule of law, it also helps create a culture of impunity that will inevitably give rise to such actions once again. . . .

Continue reading.

And it’s worth noting that Obama appointed John Brennan, deeply implicated in the torture program, to head the CIA, and has had people involved in the torture program trying to whitewash the Senate report on the torture program—while Obama refuses to declassify it.

Obama is quite clearly a willing accessory to the torture program, going to great lengths to protect those who did the torture and to prevent the US public from knowing exactly what happened. This is a dark blot on his record and reveals an aspect of his character worth considering.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 October 2014 at 12:20 pm

Mission creep toward a police state: The Patriot Act grows…

leave a comment »

Radley Balko writes at the Washington Post:

One of the more controversial provisions of the Patriot Act was to broaden the “sneak-and-peek” power for federal law enforcement officials. The provision allows investigators to conduct searches without informing the target of the search. We were assured at the time that this was an essential law enforcement tool that would be used only to protect the country from terrorism. Supporters argued that it was critical that investigators be allowed to look into the lives and finances of suspected terrorists without tipping off those terrorists to the fact that they were under investigation.

Civil libertarian critics warned that the federal government already had this power for national security investigations. The Patriot Act provision was far too broad and would almost certainly become a common tactic in cases that have nothing to do with national security.

But this was all immediately after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and there was little patience for civil libertarians. The massive Patriot Act of course passed overwhelmingly, including the sneak-and-peek provision, despite the fact that only a handful of members of Congress had actually read it. (Not to mention the public.)

More than a decade later, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has published an analysis on use of the sneak-and-peek power. Just as critics predicted, it’s now a ubiquitous part of federal law enforcement.

Law enforcement made 47 sneak-and-peek searches nationwide from September 2001 to April 2003. The 2010 report reveals 3,970 total requests were processed. Within three years that number jumped to 11,129. That’s an increase of over 7,000 requests. Exactly what privacy advocates argued in 2001 is happening: sneak and peak warrants are not just being used in exceptional circumstances—which was their original intent—but as an everyday investigative tool.

And as critics predicted, it is overwhelmingly used in cases that have nothing to do with terrorism. But even if you’re a cynic, it’s pretty shocking just how little the power is used in terrorism investigations.

Out of the 3,970 total requests from October 1, 2009 to September 30, 2010, 3,034 were for narcotics cases and only 37 for terrorism cases (about .9%). Since then, the numbers get worse. The 2011 report reveals a total of 6,775 requests. 5,093 were used for drugs, while only 31 (or .5%) were used for terrorism cases. The 2012 report follows a similar pattern: Only .6%, or 58 requests, dealt with terrorism cases. The 2013 report confirms the incredibly low numbers. Out of 11,129 reports only 51, or .5%, of requests were used for terrorism. The majority of requests were overwhelmingly for narcotics cases, which tapped out at 9,401 requests.

So since the Patriot Act passed, the number of of sneak-and-peeks each year has grown from about 16 per year to over 11,000 in 2013. Meanwhile, not only have the number of sneak-and-peek investigations unrelated to terrorism increased on a massive scale, the percentage of sneak-and-peeks that have anything to do with terrorism continues to drop. In other words, sneak-and-peek is increasingly ubiquitous while the justification for granting the government this power in the first place — terrorism — is not only irrelevant to the tactic’s increasing pervasiveness, it gets more irrelevant every year.

Lots of lessons here. A few that immediately come to mind: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2014 at 11:48 am

Interesting development: Peace Prize Laureates Urge Disclosure on U.S. Torture

leave a comment »

Charlie Savage reports in the NY Times:

A dozen Nobel Peace Prize laureates are urging President Obama to make “full disclosure to the American people of the extent and use of torture” by the United States, including the release of a long-delayed Senate report about the C.I.A.’s torture of terrorism suspects after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The laureates told Mr. Obama, who was awarded the Peace Prize himself in 2009, that the report’s prospective release has brought the United States to a “crossroads,” and that he must do more to bring closure to an era when the United States set an example that “will be used to justify the use of torture by regimes around the world.”

“It remains to be seen whether the United States will turn a blind eye to the effects of its actions on its own people and on the rest of the world, or if it will take the necessary steps to recover the standards on which the country was founded, and to once again adhere to the international conventions it helped to bring into being,” they wrote.

The joint letter was organized by two of the laureates, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and former President José Ramos-Horta of East Timor, and is part of a broader online petition campaign at TheCommunity.com, whose chairman is Mr. Ramos-Horta. An advance copy was provided to The New York Times.

The appeal comes as the White House continues to wrestle with how much of a 480-page executive summary of the report should be declassified, an issue that pits the C.I.A. against the mostly Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. . .

Continue reading.

In related news Obama is reversing his earlier anti-torture stand—Obama does a lot of reversing of his various stances—as reported earlier in the NY Times by Charlie Savage. I don’t think Obama has any firm principles regarding torture (or much of anything else, so far as I can see). That story begins:

When the Bush administration revealed in 2005 that it was secretly interpreting a treaty ban on “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” as not applying to C.I.A. and military prisons overseas, Barack Obama, then a newly elected Democratic senator from Illinois, joined in a bipartisan protest.

Mr. Obama supported legislation to make it clear that American officials were legally barred from using cruelty anywhere in the world. And in a Senate speech, he said enacting such a statute “acknowledges and confirms existing obligations” under the treaty, the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

But the Obama administration has never officially declared its position on the treaty [and indeed President Obama has resolutely ignored the provisions of the treaty that legally require the investigation of credible allegations of torture and prosecution of those responsible---Obama, for example, allowed the CIA to destroy all the video records of their torture sessions and has constantly said that we must not "look back" at the crimes committed before he became president, because.... {unclear} - LG]. . .  [N]ow, President Obama’s legal team is debating whether to back away from his earlier view. It is considering reaffirming the Bush administration’s position that the treaty imposes no legal obligation on the United States to bar cruelty outside its borders, according to officials who discussed the deliberations on the condition of anonymity. [No torture in the US, but the US can torture anywhere else in the world---they just have to transport the victim to another country or into international waters, and then (in Obama's view) torture is perfectly legal and acceptable. - LG]

The administration must decide on its stance on the treaty by next month, when it sends a delegation to Geneva to appear before the Committee Against Torture, a United Nations panel that monitors compliance with the treaty. That presentation will be the first during Mr. Obama’s presidency.

State Department lawyers are said to be pushing to officially abandon the Bush-era interpretation. Doing so would require no policy changes, since Mr. Obama issued an executive order in 2009 that forbade cruel interrogations anywhere and made it harder for a future administration to return to torture.

But military and intelligence lawyers are said to oppose accepting that the treaty imposes legal obligations on the United States’ actions abroad. They say they need more time to study whether it would have operational impacts. They have also raised concerns that current or future wartime detainees abroad might invoke the treaty to sue American officials with claims of torture, although courts have repeatedly thrown out lawsuits brought by detainees held as terrorism suspects. [To be clear courts have thrown out those lawsuits because Obama and Bush should "National security!!" as loud as they can, and the DOJ pleads with the courts to throw out the cases lest the US fall. That's how the US can kidnap innocent people, torture them for months, and there are no repercussions, no investigations, and no lawsuits allowed. The CIA is a Mafia, and the President is the don. - LG]

The internal debate is said to have been catalyzed by a memo that the State Department circulated within an interagency lawyers’ group several weeks ago. On Wednesday, lawyers from the State Department, the Pentagon, the intelligence community and the National Security Council met at the White House to discuss the matter, but reached no consensus.

Bernadette Meehan, a National Security Council spokeswoman, said Mr. Obama’s opposition to torture and cruel interrogations anywhere in the world was clear, separate from the legal question of whether the United Nations treaty applies to American behavior overseas.

“We are considering that question, and other questions posed by the committee, carefully as we prepare for the presentation in November,” Ms. Meehan said. “But there is no question that torture and cruel treatment in armed conflict are clearly and categorically prohibited in all places.”

In Mr. Obama’s first term, his top State Department lawyer, Harold H. Koh, began a push to reverse official government interpretations that two global rights treaties — the torture convention and a Bill of Rights-style accord — imposed no obligations on American officials abroad.

Both treaties contain phrases that make it ambiguous whether they apply to American-run prisons on foreign territory. For example, the provision barring cruelty that falls short of torture applies to a state’s conduct “in any territory under its jurisdiction.” . . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: The first story above, which discusses at some length the prohibitions specified in the Convention Against Torture but is completely silent on the requirements of that law, prompted me to send this letter to the editors:

Charlie Savage’s report, “Peace Prize Laureates Urge Disclosure on U.S. Torture,” discusses the prohibitions of the Convention Against Torture (cruelty, torture), but is oddly silent on what the Convention requires: that credible allegations of torture MUST be investigated, and if evidence is found, those responsible for torture must be prosecuted.

President Obama has ignored this law with his childish “Look forward, not back.” And yet we routinely investigate and prosecute crimes that have already occurred (i.e., all crimes). Why not these? Because powerful people in the US can do whatever they want?

In fact, the Obama Administration does not even allow innocent people the US has kidnapped and tortured to have a day in court. When lawsuits are brought, the Obama Administration cries, “State secrets!” to get the cases thrown out.

This behavior is so contemptible, and so violates the Convention Against Torture, that I found it astonishing that Savage’s article doesn’t even mention it—until the penny dropped.

Of course: this silence is another instance in which the NY Times is obeying a request/demand from the White House, just as the NY Times (as an accessory after the fact) helped the White House conceal the completely illegal warrantless wiretapping program.

So it’s business as usual for you: helping the government hide its criminality, just as before.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 October 2014 at 6:25 pm

When Abu-Ghraib is on the other foot

leave a comment »

I wonder how much of this is driven by well-known US atrocities such as Abu-Ghraib, the sergeant who went on a massacre of Afghan civilians, the total destruction of the two anti-Taliban town councils, the number of civilians (including wedding parties) killed in drone attacks, the well-known examples of torture by the US (183 waterboardings for one prisoner, for example),  the entire Iraq War and aftermath, and on and on. Certainly those do not in any way justify what ISIS is doing, but it perhaps can explain the source (and origin) of some of their anger. It’s not as though actions do not have consequences. The US cannot go around the world, conducting itself in such a fashion, and not expect pushback. That would be, IMO, unrealistic.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 October 2014 at 3:45 pm

Senate report on the US torture program: Not enough, very late, and still no recognition of the legal requirements of the Convention Against Torture

leave a comment »

Dan Froomkin thinks that Obama may be trying to run out the clock—holding off on declassifying the Executive Summary of the Senate report on the CIA torture program (which ignores those who ordered the program, of course) until after the election, so that a GOP-controlled Senate can kill the report altogether. Obama is nothing if not loyal to the torturers and to the Establishment, a grave disappointment. His main motive seems to be to protect malefactors, something that became evident when he named John Brennan to head the CIA. Froomkin writes:

Continued White House foot-dragging on the declassification of a much-anticipated Senate torture report is raising concerns that the administration is holding out until Republicans take over the chamber and kill the report themselves.

Senator Dianne Feinstein’s intelligence committee sent a 480-page executive summary of its extensive report on the CIA’s abuse of detainees to the White House for declassification more than six months ago.

In August, the White House, working closely with the CIA, sent back redactions that Feinstein and other Senate Democrats said rendered the summary unintelligible and unsupported.

Since then, the wrangling has continued behind closed doors, with projected release dates repeatedly falling by the wayside.  The Huffington Post reported this week that White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, a close ally of CIA Director John Brennan, is personally leading the negotiations, suggesting keen interest in their progress — or lack thereof — on the part of  Brennan and President Obama.

Human-rights lawyer Scott Horton, who interviewed a wide range of intelligence and administration officials for his upcoming book,  Lords of Secrecy: The National Security Elite and America’s Stealth Foreign Policy, told The Intercept that the White House and the CIA are hoping a Republican Senate will, in their words, “put an end to this nonsense.”

Stalling for time until after the midterm elections and the start of a Republican-majority session is the “battle plan,” Horton said. “I can tell you that Brennan has told people in the CIA that that’s his prescription for doing it.”

Republicans are widely expected to win control of the Senate Nov. 4.

Victoria Bassetti, a former Senate Judiciary Committee staffer, wrote this week that the administration is playing “stall ball” and that Senate staffers expect Republicans would “spike release of the report” should they take over the chamber.

Asked if the White House is slow-walking the negotiations on purpose, National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan replied: …

If you think she said, “Yes, that’s right: if we can just hold off a little longer, the report can be buried and the American people will be kept in the dark about what their government is doing.” — Just joking. Denial, obfuscation, stonewalling, and in general treating the public with contempt seems to be the order of business. But read the rest of the column—it’s worth reading.

McClatchy’s Jonathan Landay, Ali Watkins, and Marisa Taylor have a good report worth reading in its entirety. It begins:

A soon-to-be released Senate report on the CIA doesn’t assess the responsibility of former President George W. Bush or his top aides for any of the abuses of the agency’s detention and interrogation program, avoiding a full public accounting of one of the darkest chapters of the war on terror.

“This report is not about the White House. It’s not about the president. It’s not about criminal liability. It’s about the CIA’s actions or inactions,” said a person familiar with the document, who asked not to be further identified because the executive summary – the only part to that will be made public – still is in the final stages of declassification.

The Senate Intelligence Committee report also didn’t examine the responsibility of top Bush administration lawyers in crafting the legal framework that permitted the CIA to use simulated drowning called waterboarding and other interrogation methods widely described as torture, McClatchy has learned.

“It does not look at the Bush administration’s lawyers to see if they were trying to literally do an end run around justice and the law,” the person said.

As a result, the $40 million, five-year inquiry passed up what may be the final opportunity to render an official verdict on the culpability of Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and other senior officials for the program, in which suspected terrorists were abducted, sent to secret overseas prisons, and subjected to the harsh interrogation techniques.

“If it’s the case that the report doesn’t really delve into the White House role, then that’s a pretty serious indictment of the report,” said Elizabeth Goitein, the co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program at the New York University Law School. “Ideally it should come to some sort of conclusions on whether there were legal violations and if so, who was responsible.”

At the same time, she said, the report still is critically important because it will give “the public facts even if it doesn’t come to these conclusions. The reason we have this factual accounting is not for prurient interest. It’s so we can avoid something like this ever happening again in the future.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 October 2014 at 11:41 am

Blackwater employees go to prison, their boss remains free and rich

leave a comment »

In The Intercept Jeremy Scahill has a good report on the Baghdad massacre of civilians done by the Blackwater employees:

A federal jury in Washington, D.C., returned guilty verdicts against four Blackwater operatives charged with killing more than a dozen Iraqi civilians and wounding scores of others in Baghdad in 2007.

The jury found one guard, Nicholas Slatten, guilty of first-degree murder, while three other guards were found guilty of voluntary manslaughter: Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, and Dustin Heard. The jury is still deliberating on additional charges against the operatives, who faced a combined 33 counts, according to the Associated Press. A fifth Blackwater guard, Jeremy Ridgeway, had already pleaded guilty to lesser charges and cooperated with prosecutors in the case against his former colleagues. The trial lasted ten weeks and the jury has been in deliberations for 28 days.

The incident for which the men were tried was the single largest known massacre of Iraqi civilians at the hands of private U.S. security contractors. Known as “Baghdad’s bloody Sunday,” operatives from Blackwater gunned down 17 Iraqi civilians at a crowded intersection at Nisour Square on September 16, 2007. The company, founded by secretive right-wing Christian supremacist Erik Prince, pictured above, had deep ties to the Bush Administration and served as a sort of neoconservative Praetorian Guard for a borderless war launched in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

While Barack Obama pledged to reign in mercenary forces when he was a senator, once he became president he continued to employ a massive shadow army of private contractors. Blackwater — despite numerous scandals, congressional investigations, FBI probes and documented killings of civilians in both Iraq and Afghanistan — remained a central part of the Obama administration’s global war machine throughout his first term in office.

Just as with the systematic torture at Abu Ghraib, it is only the low level foot-soldiers of Blackwater that are being held accountable. Prince and other top Blackwater executives continue to reap profits from the mercenary and private intelligence industries. Prince now has a new company, Frontier Services Group, which he founded with substantial investment from Chinese enterprises and which focuses on opportunities in Africa. Prince recently suggested that his forces at Blackwater could have confronted Ebola and ISIS. “If the administration cannot rally the political nerve or funding to send adequate active duty ground forces to answer the call, let the private sector finish the job,” he wrote.

None of the U.S. officials from the Bush and Obama administrations who unleashed Blackwater and other mercenary forces across the globe are being forced to answer for their role in creating the conditions for the Nisour Square shootings and other deadly incidents involving private contractors. Just as the main architect of the CIA interrogation program, Jose Rodriguez, is on a book tour for his propagandistic love letter to torture, Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives, so too is Erik Prince pushing his own revisionist memoir, Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror.

While the Blackwater verdict is an important and rare moment of accountability in an overwhelmingly unaccountable private war industry, it does not erase the fact that those in power—the CEOs, the senior officials, the war profiteers—walk freely and will likely do so for the rest of their lives.

What is so seldom discussed in public discourse on the use of mercenaries are the stories of their victims. After the Nisour Square massacre, I met with Mohammed Kinani, whose 9-year-old son, Ali, was the youngest person killed by Blackwater operatives that day. As he and his family approached the square in their car: . . .

Continue reading.

He includes this brief movie:

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2014 at 4:43 pm

The total failure of the war on drugs, Afghanistan division

with one comment

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 1.38.06 PM

$7.6 billion dollars bought us that little dip toward the right. It’s like pushing a beach ball under the water: as soon as the pressure’s release (the money stops flowing), the ball bounces right back to the surface. We would be well ahead to deflate the damn ball if we want to keep it underwater: legals drugs (all of them), regulate (and tax) their sale, and deal with addiction as a medical problem rather than a criminal problem. But that makes sense, and politicians and governments are strongly resistant to things that make sense. Their attention is focused on big donors and lobbyists, and they seem to pay little attention to anything else..

The graph is from a very good article by Christopher Ingraham in the Washington Post:

The U.S. government wasted $7.6 billion on an ill-conceived drug war in Afghanistan that was doomed to failure from the start, according to ascathing new report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. The Afghan opium poppy crop, providing the raw material for the bulk of the world’s heroin supply, reached record levels in 2013 and is likely to climb even higher this year, the report finds.

“The recent record-high level of poppy cultivation calls into question the long-term effectiveness and sustainability” of the past decade of counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan, Special Inspector General John F. Sopko concludes. “Given the severity of the opium problem and its potential to undermine U.S. objectives in Afghanistan, I strongly suggest that your departments consider the trends in opium cultivation and the effectiveness of past counter-narcotics efforts when planning future initiatives.”

Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Vanda Felbab-Brown, who has written extensively about the relationship between drug economies and military conflict, is not at all surprised by the findings. “A lot of these programs were counterproductive,” she told me, “and more importantly did not really address the structural drivers of [poppy] cultivation.”

At its root, the Afghan poppy trade is just a symptom of a much broader problem: Afghanistan is “an extremely weak state with an extremely weak economy, and huge insecurity,” Felbab-Brown said. Given the uncertainties, many Afghan farmers turn to poppy because they know they can turn a profit off it.

Until Obama took office, most U.S. anti-drug efforts were focused onunsustainable crop eradication efforts. Starting in 2009, U.S. policies focused more on economic development and the structural drivers of poppy cultivation, but Felbab-Brown says the implementation of these programs has been deeply flawed. . . .

Continue reading.

We piss away money on things like this, shoveling sand against the surf, letting our government services—parks, our public educational system (elementary, secondary, and higher ed),  public hospitals and so on—gradually collapse.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2014 at 2:11 pm

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,292 other followers

%d bloggers like this: