Archive for the ‘Bush Administration’ Category
I’m watching The Man with One Red Shoe, an inferior remake of the French The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe, and I note that the CIA as a humorous organization falls a bit flat these days. When, for example, a CIA agent yanks every single tooth from a man’s head and it’s the wrong man, that is supposed to be funny. The problem is that we know the CIA has indeed tortured people—and indeed, on more than one occasion has tortured “the wrong man”: totally innocent bystanders detained or kidnapped, tortured, and finally released without so much as a by-your-leave. Moreover, the Senate report states that the CIA lied when it said it observed the torture guidelines (incredible that the US has such things) and the CIA went to great pains to destroy all video records of the interrogations to ensure that no one will ever know what they actually did. Now knowing all that, the tooth-pulling bit in the movie seems uncomfortably close to a harsh interrogation technique to be humorous. For all I know, it was used as a harsh interrogation technique. Certainly it’s harsh. But we will never know because the CIA destroyed the tapes, and they did that because they thought what was on the tapes was much worse than any could imagine. Not funny.
I have occasionally remarked that “CIA” stands for “Criminals In Action,” and that certainly seems to be the case in their kidnapping and torture program, which also resulted in some homicides. Ali Watkins, Jonathan Landay, and Marisa Taylor have a report at McClatchy of some sections leaked from the Senate report. Well worth reading. The report begins:
A still-secret Senate Intelligence Committee report calls into question the legal foundation of the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, a finding that challenges the key defense on which the agency and the Bush administration relied in arguing that the methods didn’t constitute torture.
The report also found that the spy agency failed to keep an accurate account of the number of individuals it held, and that it issued erroneous claims about how many it detained and subjected to the controversial interrogation methods. The CIA has said that about 30 detainees underwent the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.
The CIA’s claim “is BS,” said a former U.S. official familiar with evidence underpinning the report, who asked not to be identified because the matter is still classified. “They are trying to minimize the damage. They are trying to say it was a very targeted program, but that’s not the case.”
The findings are among the report’s 20 main conclusions. Taken together, they paint a picture of an intelligence agency that seemed intent on evading or misleading nearly all of its oversight mechanisms throughout the program, which was launched under the Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and ran until 2006.
Some of the report’s other conclusions, which were obtained by McClatchy, include:
_ The CIA used interrogation methods that weren’t approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters.
_ The agency impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making regarding the program.
_ The CIA actively evaded or impeded congressional oversight of the program.
_ The agency hindered oversight of the program by its own Inspector General’s Office.
The 6,300-page report is . . .
The US seems to be too often criminally irresponsible in its global conduct. Indeed, the entire Iraq War was one enormous criminal action that devastated countless lives, American, Iraqi, and others: families wrecked by the premature and violent death of loved ones, strong and capable individuals being wrecked with wounds and trauma and the psychological costs. And the US continues on its course, seemingly ignoring the costs of its actions. Kevin Sieff reports in the Washington Post:
As the U.S. military withdraws from Afghanistan, it is leaving behind a deadly legacy: about 800 square miles of land littered with undetonated grenades, rockets and mortar shells.
The military has vacated scores of firing ranges pocked with the explosives. Dozens of children have been killed or wounded as they have stumbled upon the ordnance at the sites, which are often poorly marked. Casualties are likely to increase sharply; the U.S. military has removed the munitions from only 3 percent of the territory covered by its sprawling ranges, officials said.
Clearing the rest of the contaminated land — which in total is twice as big as New York City — could take two to five years. U.S. military officials say they intend to clean up the ranges. But because of a lack of planning, officials say, funding has not yet been approved for the monumental effort, which is expected to cost $250 million.
“Unfortunately, the thinking was: ‘We’re at war and we don’t have time for this,’ ” said Maj. Michael Fuller, the head of the U.S. Army’s Mine Action Center at Bagram Airfield, referring to the planning.
There are a growing number of tragedies at these high-explosives ranges.
Mohammad Yusef, 13, and Sayed Jawad, 14, grew up 100 yards from a firing range used by U.S. and Polish troops in Ghazni province. The boys’ families were accustomed to the thundering explosions from military training exercises, which sometimes shattered windows in their village.
But as those blasts became less common — a function of the U.S. and NATO withdrawal — the boys started wandering onto the range to collect scrap metal to sell. They did not know that some U.S. explosives do not detonate on impact but can still blow up when someone touches them.
Last month, Jawad’s father, Sayed Sadeq, heard a boom and ran onto the range. He spotted his son’s bloodied torso.
“The left side of his body was torn up. I could see his heart. His legs were missing,” the father said.
One of the boys, it appeared, had stepped on a 40mm grenade, designed to kill anyone within five yards. Both teens died.
“If the Americans believe in human rights, how can they let this happen?” Sadeq said. . .
Amy Davidson writes at the New Yorker:
Who gets “emotional” about torture—or, rather, what is the proper emotional response to a history of torture and lies? On Fox News, on Sunday morning, Chris Wallace asked Michael Hayden, the former director of the C.I.A., about a report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, sixty-three hundred pages long, that “says the C.I.A. misled the public about the severity and the success of the enhanced interrogation program.” Hayden’s first response was to talk about the feelings of Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the committee, citing an article by David Ignatius: “He said Senator Feinstein wanted a report so scathing that it would ‘ensure that an un-American brutal program of detention and interrogation would never again be considered or permitted.’ ”
Now, that sentence, that motivation for the report, Chris, may show deep emotional feeling on part of the senator. But I don’t think it leads you to an objective report.
“Deep emotional feelings,” on the part of a woman like Feinstein, are apparently dizzying, especially when it comes to things like our integrity as a nation. But are Hayden and his former colleagues at the C.I.A., in touch with their own emotions on this one? The Senate voted on Thursday to submit the report for declassification; this process may take a while, because the White House and the C.I.A. will be involved, and the agency has fought the report. It has made its objections known feelingly, in a rebuttal that is also classified, in testimony, and in leaks to reporters about how the Senate just doesn’t understand what it was like—doesn’t get it, doesn’t care about what bad days its agents had. Not that the C.I.A. wants to tell. When John Brennan, the current head of the C.I.A., realized that the Senate investigators had some of the agency’s notes to itself—the so-called Panetta papers, in which, according to Senator Feinstein, the agency conceded points it is now denying—he had a bit of a fit. Feinstein said that the committee got the Panetta papers from the C.I.A. in a document dump; the agency said that even if it did, the committee ought to have known that those notes were private. It apparently searched the Senate’s computers and tried to get a criminal investigation started. Calling the cops is, admittedly, a common fantasy when an teen-ager realizes that his journal has been read, but it’s a bit unworthy of an intelligence agency when dealing with its congressional overseers.
Now, not that there’s anything wrong with wanting a scathing report in torture that will shock the conscience, but it’s probably worth noting that the Ignatius line Hayden cited took a Feinstein quote slightly out of context. (Though the layering of emotionalism is on Hayden.) Ignatius wrote that Feinstein “wanted a report so tough that it would ‘ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted,’ as she put it.” She had actually presented this as the reason to make the report public:
If the Senate can declassify this report, we will be able to ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted.
Emphasis added. It’s a fine distinction, but an important one: whatever her “motivation” was, it didn’t shape the writing of the report, but her feelings about who ought to get to read it. (On Saturday, Trevor Timm, of the Press Freedom Foundation, put out a “general plea” for a leak.)
There are really two issues here.
I truly do not understand why Obama is so eager to protect the torture regime, but he is. Kevin Drum points out some interesting points in a Washington Post story on the report. From Drum’s post (which is worth reading):
So the torture was even worse than we thought; it produced very little in the way of actionable intelligence; and the CIA lied about this in order to preserve their ability to torture prisoners.
Anybody who isn’t sickened by this needs to take very long, very deep look into their souls.
In the NY Review of Books Mark Danner reviews a quartet of books about the GW Bush Administration, include a book by Bush and a book by Cheney. A look back (and into).
“Why didn’t I know about this?” — George W. Bush
Almost exactly a decade ago, Vice President Dick Cheney greeted President George W. Bush one morning in the Oval Office with the news that his administration was about to implode. Or not quite: Cheney let the president know that something was deeply wrong, though it would take Bush two more days of increasingly surprising revelations, and the near mass resignation of his senior Justice Department and law enforcement officials, to figure out exactly what it was. “On the morning of March 10, 2004,” as the former president recounts the story in his memoirs,
Dick Cheney and Andy Card greeted me with a startling announcement: The Terrorist Surveillance Program would expire at the end of the day.
“How can it possibly end?” I asked. “It’s vital to protecting the country.”
The Terrorist Surveillance Program, then known to the handful who were aware of it only as “the Program” or by its code name, “Stellar Wind,” was a highly secret National Security Agency effort—eventually revealed by The New York Times in December 2005 and then in much greater detail by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden last June. Among other things, Stellar Wind empowered the agency to assemble a vast collection of “metadata,” including on the telephone calls and e-mails of millions of Americans, that its analysts could search and “mine” for information.
Though the program would appear on its face to violate the Fourth Amendment and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, President Bush had approved it three weeks after the September 11 attacks, securing the signature of Attorney General John Ashcroft after the fact. To remain in force the program had to be recertified by the president and the attorney general every forty-five days.
And now, two and a half years later, Cheney and White House chief of staff Andrew Card told Bush, Justice Department lawyers “had raised a legal objection to one component of the program.” Unless that “component”—apparently, the sweeping up of Internet metadata—was eliminated or modified, they told the president, the lawyers would refuse to certify that the program was legal.
“Why didn’t I know about this?” I asked. Andy shared my disbelief. He told me he had just learned about the objection the previous night.
What did the third member of the triumvirate, Vice President Cheney—who had known about the conflict for weeks—say at this moment? Did he profess to share the disbelief of the president and his chief of staff? Or did he, as so often, say nothing at all? President Bush does not say but as we read his account—a remarkable two-and-a-half-page aria on what the president knew, what he didn’t, and, even as the crisis that threatened his administration was breaking all around him, what he still doesn’t—the president’s painfully protracted series of discoveries makes sense only if we assume Dick Cheney’s persistent and stubborn silence.
Bush knows he has a crisis on his hands—confronting him with a “decision point,” as the title of his memoirs has it. By his account, before flying off to deliver a speech in Cleveland, the president orders Card and his White House counsel Alberto Gonzales “to work with” the attorney general “to solve the problem.” On his return, however, he finds that “little progress had been made.”. . .
One thing about living in a democracy, the birds often come home to roost, even when the government makes every effort to conceal what happened. And, of course, that is often why democracies stop being democracies: those in power have so much to hide that they go at it full time.
The only way to stop the totalitarian slide is to treat the wounds to the body politic as they occur, rather than covering them over and building up an enormous backlog of embarrassing and/or damning secrets. We’re pretty much over Iran-Contra nowadays because the facts came out and some accountability was seen. But now there seems to be a lot to hide: Mandela (which stimulated the post), the CIA’s torture program, the military sexual-assault problem, the SEC failing to hold Wall Street accountable, time and again, the FDA falling apart before our eyes, and so on. Still, the best course is to start coming clean—on the Mandela records, for instance. Also, Obama should turn over to the Senate the documents he’s been keeping secret, and the Senate report should be published. We could then hold strictly accountable any who found guilty of crimes—in particular, war crimes. It will be messy, but at least the wound can begin to heal. (Obviously, some very powerful people argue against this course, but they have an obvious conflict of interest.)
Democracy Now! has a program with the same title as this post. Their description:
In a Democracy Now! exclusive, one of the nation’s most prolific transparency activists, Ryan Shapiro, reveals he is suing the NSA, FBI and Defense Intelligence Agency in an attempt to force them to open their records on one of the country’s greatest secrets: how the U.S. helped apartheid South Africa capture Nelson Mandela in 1962, leading to his 27 years in prison. The U.S. has never confirmed its involvement, but details have leaked out over the years. Shapiro already has a pending suit against the CIA over its role in Mandela’s capture and to find out why it took until 2008 for the former South African president to be removed from the U.S. terrorist watch list. The NSA has already rejected one of Shapiro’s requests for its information on Mandela, citing “national defense.”
Sophie Richardot, a social psychologist at Université de Picardie, France, wrote a research paper, titled “’You Know What to Do With Them’: The Formulation of Orders and Engagement in War Crimes.” Bettina Chang writes about Richardot’s research in Pacific Standard:
Earlier this year, an 88-year-old man was charged in Germany for crimes committed in 1944 Nazi-occupied France. Prosecutors say “the suspect shot 25 men as part of a firing squad, and then helped as troops blockaded and then set fire to a church, in which dozens of women and children were burned alive,” according to the Associated Press. He was only 19 at the time.
On this side of history, during a relatively peaceful era in a stable nation, it’s nearly impossible to comprehend the atrocities of war. But the fact of the matter is that people often give orders to commit these types of crimes, and other human beings frequently obey. What does that say about human nature?
Sophie Richardot, a social psychologist at Université de Picardie, France, sought to answer this question. She first became interested in the subject in relation to Milgram’s famed obedience experiment. Milgram showed the disturbing extent to which normal people are willing to inflict pain on people in the name of obeying authority. Richardot says that Milgram’s orders were not coercive, but they were explicit.
From what she knew about the Holocaust and other mass war crimes, however, the orders were more coded and ambiguous. So she set about categorizing the orders given to commit war crimes and looking for patterns.
Her research paper, titled “’You Know What to Do With Them’: The Formulation of Orders and Engagement in War Crimes,” was published in the March/April 2014 issue of Aggression and Violent Behavior. She examined historical accounts of three modern conflicts: the German invasion of the USSR during World War II, the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War, and the most recent American conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Richardot found five distinct formulations of orders, each which provides, to some extent, a psychological cushion for subordinates to justify their actions. Regimes that are legally in power, like the United States military, tend to use . . .
Jason Leopold reports for Al Jazeera America:
A still-classified report on the CIA’s interrogation program established in the wake of 9/11 sparked a furious row last week between the agency and Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein. Al Jazeera has learned from sources familiar with its contents that the committee’s report alleges that at least one high-value detainee was subjected to torture techniques that went beyond those authorized by George W. Bush’s Justice Department.
Two Senate staffers and a U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the information they disclosed remains classified, told Al Jazeera that the committee’s analysis of 6 million pages of classified records also found that some of the harsh measures authorized by the Department of Justice had been applied to at least one detainee before such legal authorization was received. They said the report suggests that the CIA knowingly misled the White House, Congress and the Justice Department about the intelligence value of detainee Zain Abidin Mohammed Husain Abu Zubaydah when using his case to argue in favor of harsher interrogation techniques.
The committee’s report, completed in 2012, must go through a declassification review before any part of it may be released, but conflicts between the CIA — the original classification authority for the documents on which the report is based — and the Senate Intelligence Committee have complicated the process. Even if the report was declassified, releasing it would require Senate approval, and it’s not clear that Feinstein, a California Democrat, could muster enough votes to do so. President Barack Obama last week expressed support for releasing the report “so that the American people can understand what happened in the past … That can help guide us as we move forward.”
CIA Director John Brennan delivered a rebuttal to the report last June, more than four months after a deadline imposed by the Intelligence Committee. The 120-page CIA response, which addresses what the agency says are flaws in the Senate report, also remains classified.
The Intelligence Committee probe began in 2009 after allegations that detainees had been tortured in CIA captivity after the 9/11 attacks. Feinstein has said that a CIA internal review contradicts statements previously made by the agency, but Brennan insists that the committee never should have seen documents assembled by former CIA Director Leon Panetta — which Panetta claims was not a review — because they contain sensitive material protected by executive privilege.
The CIA alleges that Senate staffers walked out of a secure facility in Northern Virginia in possession of documents they were not authorized to access. Feinstein and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., have accused the CIA of monitoring the computers the agency had set up for Senate investigators to review the classified documents related to the agency’s rendition, detention and interrogation program. The Justice Department and FBI are now reviewing the matter.
Agent’s notes missing
Even before accessing the documents, committee staffers received crucial information in a briefing from former FBI agent Ali Soufan in early 2008, according to Al Jazeera’s sources. Soufan — who now runs a private security and intelligence consultancy — told the staffers that he had kept meticulous notes about the methods used by a psychologist under CIA contract to interrogate Abu Zubaydah at a CIA black site in Thailand after his capture in Pakistan in March of 2002. Soufan’s account, the staffers say, shows that torture techniques were used on Abu Zubaydah even before some had been sanctioned as permissible by the Bush administration.
Soufan described his briefing of Intelligence Committee researchers in his memoir, “The Black Banners.”
“In early 2008, in a conference room that is referred to as a sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF), I gave a classified briefing on Abu Zubaydah to staffers of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,” Soufan wrote. “The staffers present were shocked. What I told them contradicted everything they had been told by Bush administration and CIA officials. When the discussion turned to whether I could prove everything I was saying, I told them, ‘Remember, an FBI agent always keep his notes.’ ”
The committee tried to gain access to Soufan’s notes — then in possession of the CIA and FBI — after it launched a review of the agency’s detention and interrogation program in 2009. But Senate investigators were told, according to Al Jazeera’s sources, that Soufan’s notes were missing and could not be found in either the FBI’s or CIA’s computer system, where other classified records about the interrogation program were stored.
More than a year later, the notes ended up with the Senate Intelligence Committee, although it’s not clear whether they were turned over to committee investigators by the CIA or FBI or if they were in the cache of documents taken by investigators from the secure facility in Northern Virginia in 2010, which Senate staffers refer to as the Panetta review.
Two Senate staffers told Al Jazeera that the Panetta documents question the Bush administration claims about the efficacy of Abu Zubaydah’s torture, and the staffers noted that some of the techniques to which he was subjected early in his captivity had not yet been authorized. . .
The CIA tipped its hand when it deliberately destroyed all 92 videotapes of their interrogations. That was done for one obvious reason: the tapes showed war crimes being committed.
And remember that the Forbidden Fruit came from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil: maybe Genesis is warning us about organizations like CIA and NSA who seek suck knowledge by the dredger-load.
David Cole writes in the NY Review of Books:
The old Washington adage that the cover-up is worse than the crime may not apply when it comes to the revelations this week that the Central Intelligence Agency interfered with a Senate torture investigation. It’s not that the cover-up isn’t serious. It is extremely serious—as Senator Dianne Feinstein said, the CIA may have violated the separation of powers, the Fourth Amendment, and a prohibition on spying inside the United States. It’s just that in this case, the underlying crimes are still worse: the dispute arises because the Senate Intelligence Committee, which Feinstein chairs, has written an as-yet-secret 6,300 page report on the CIA’s use of torture and disappearance—among the gravest crimes the world recognizes—against al-Qaeda suspects in the “war on terror.”
By Senator Feinstein’s account, the CIA has directly and repeatedly interfered with the committee’s investigation: it conducted covert unauthorized searches of the computers assigned to the Senate committee for its review of CIA files, and it secretly removed potentially incriminating documents from the computers the committee was using. That’s the stuff that often leads to resignations, independent counsels, and criminal charges; indeed, the CIA’s own Inspector General has referred the CIA’s conduct to the Justice Department for a potential criminal investigation.
But the crime that we must never lose sight of is the conduct that led to the investigation in the first place. To recall: in 2002, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration authorized the CIA to establish a series of secret prisons, or “black sites,” into which it disappeared “high-value” al-Qaeda suspects, often for years at a time, without any public acknowledgment, without charges, and cut off from any access to the outside world. The CIA was further authorized to use a range of coercive tactics—borrowed from those used by the Chinese to torture American soldiers during the Korean War—to try to break the suspects’ will. These included depriving suspects of sleep for up to ten days, slamming them against walls, forcing them into painful stress positions, and waterboarding them.
The program was approved by President Bush himself, as well as Vice-President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and CIA Director George Tenet. John Yoo and Jay Bybee, Justice Department lawyers, wrote memos to whitewash the program. These acts were war crimes under the laws of war and grave human rights abuses. Yet no one has yet been held accountable for any of them. And the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation is until now the only comprehensive effort to review the extensive classified CIA records about the program.
Even before the investigation began, the CIA appears to have . . .
Conor Friedersdorf writes in the Atlantic:
As I reflect on the fight between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA (one I’ll return to soon), I can’t help but marvel at a detail that Senator Dianne Feinstein revealed.
“I should note that for most, if not all, of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, the now-acting general counsel was a lawyer in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center—the unit within which the CIA managed and carried out this program,” she said. “From mid-2004 until the official termination of the detention and interrogation program in January 2009, he was the unit’s chief lawyer. He is mentioned by name more than 1,600 times in our study.”
For the appropriate reaction, here’s Andrew Sullivan, a longtime torture critic: “Think about that for a moment. A man who was once the lawyer for the torture unit is now the lawyer for the CIA as a whole!“ he writes. “If that alone doesn’t tell you how utterly unrepentant the CIA is over its past, and how determined it is to keep its actions concealed, as well as immune to prosecution, what would? And how do we know that the lawyer is not just protecting his own posterior, because the report could lead to consequences for those who enabled such war crimes? We don’t.”
In fact, as Marcy Wheeler points out, Robert Eatinger, the CIA lawyer to whom Feinstein alludes but does not name, was also involved in the destruction of tapes documenting CIA torture, so “protecting his own posterior” is a plausible explanation.
Once again we’re seeing . . .
UPDATE: Also read this Politico article. He rightly emphasizes the urgency.
Truly: what is the stereotype of the “bad-guy” Soviet KGB of Cold War times? That the KGB would detain people—arrest them for no cause, torture them with impunity, dump the innocent aside, murder prisoners, torture prisoners, destroy evidence of their crimes—like, say, 92 videotapes worth? Somehow that stereotype has become realized in the CIA, and the CIA really is in a fight for its life—and look at what they are doing, in public, showing what is at stake for them. Just read the story in The Guardian by Dan Roberts and Spencer Ackerman:
The chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, Dianne Feinstein, on Tuesday accused the Central Intelligence Agency of a catalogue of cover-ups, intimidation and smears aimed at investigators probing its role in an “un-American and brutal” programme of post-9/11 detention and interrogation.
In a bombshell statement on the floor of the US Senate, Feinstein, normally an administration loyalist, accused the CIA of potentially violating the US constitution and of criminal activity in its attempts to obstruct her committee’s investigations into the agency’s use of torture. She described the crisis as a “defining moment” for political oversight of the US intelligence service.
Her unprecedented public assault on the CIA represented an intensification of the row between the committee and the agency over a still-secret report on the torture of terrorist suspects after 9/11.
Feinstein, who said she was making her statement “reluctantly”, confirmed recent reports that CIA officials had been accused of monitoring computer networks used by Senate staff investigators. Going further than previously, she referred openly to recent attempts by the CIA to remove documents from the network detailing evidence of torture that would incriminate intelligence officers.
She also alleged that anonymous CIA officials were effectively conducting a smear campaign in the media to discredit and “intimidate” Senate staff by suggesting they had hacked into the agency’s computers to obtain a separate, critical internal report on the detention and interrogation programme.
Staff working on the Senate investigation have been reported to the Department of Justice for possible criminal charges by a lawyer at the CIA who himself features heavily in the alleged interrogation abuses. The CIA’s inspector general has another inquiry open into the issue. John Brennan, the CIA director, rejected Feinstein’s claims that the agency had monitored the Senate committee’s computer networks, which were set up specifically for it to access confidential CIA documents.
Feinstein said the two investigations, launched at the behest of the CIA, amounted to an attempt at “intimidation”. She revealed that CIA officials had also been reported to the Department of Justice for alleged violations of the fourth amendment and laws preventing them from domestic spying.
“This is a defining moment for the oversight role of our intelligence committee … and whether we can be thwarted by those we oversee,” said Feinstein in a special address on the floor of the the US Senate.
“There is no legitimate reason to allege to the Justice Department that Senate staff may have committed a crime… this is plainly an attempt to intimidate these staff and I am not taking it lightly.”
Feinstein said that she would immediately . . .
You seldom see such a naked confrontation of power. This is historic, I think. A lot hangs in the balance, and the President—for this will quickly involve the White House—has already declared that we must look forward and not backward—that is, in the plainest possible language, that we are not to look at archives or records that would reveal actual war crimes, done in direct violation of the Convention Against Torture. And the President has also refused to order an investigation—a serious investigation, as in looking for criminals, not conducting a cover-up—of the misdeeds committed before he was sworn in. And now his hand is being forced because a lot is happening in public, where people can see, and of course Sen. Feinstein has only to push a button to publish that 6000-page report. But she’d better push it fast. We have already been told how NSA can erase any digital information it thinks should be gone.
And, not to put too fine a point on it, some extremely powerful people are highly threatened by what such an investigation would reveal.
Extremely high stakes, much power on both sides. Feinstein has power of connections, of course, and power of position, but I think she also has the public backing her, and that is still a potent force. But of course, I could be wrong about how the public would go.
This is right out of George Orwell. Or Philip K. Dick.
UPDATE: The Switch in the Washington Post has an excellent analysis.
A couple of observations:
- Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) seems to be reprising the experience of Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA). Rep. Harman strongly supported George W. Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program, right up until she found that her own phone was wiretapped (in a call in which she agreed to lobby the Department of Justice on behalf of AIPAC, ending the call with the comment “This call never happened.”). At that point, Rep. Harman suddenly saw the light. Perhaps Sen. Feinstein will also be awakened.
- John Brennan, CIA director, was intimately involved with the program of kidnapping, secret prisons, and torture of prisoners instituted by George W. Bush. He obviously has a very direct personal interest in closing down any investigation into those programs. (And, of course, Obama supports that: Obama has said that we should not “look backward” at offenses.)
- Brennan has denied that the CIA spied on the Senate committee, but his phrasing is odd: he said that the CIA “wouldn’t” do such spying, not that it “didn’t.” And—obviously—the question arises of how the CIA knew what the Senate committee had on their computers in the absence of spying. A lucky guess? Assuming that what they feared might be on the computers was on the computers?
Dan Froomkin has an excellent report at The Intercept:
Two top Senate leaders declared Tuesday that the CIA’s recent conduct has undermined the separation of powers as set out in the Constitution, setting the stage for a major battle to reassert the proper balance between the two branches.
Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), in a floor speech (transcript; video) that Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) immediately called the most important he had heard in his career, said the CIA had searched through computers belonging to staff members investigating the agency’s role in torturing detainees, and had then leveled false charges against her staff in an attempt to intimidate them.
“I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principle embodied in the United States Constitution, including the speech and debate clause,” she said. “It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities or any other government function.”
She concluded: “The recent actions that I have just laid out make this a defining moment for the oversight of our intelligence community. How Congress responds and how this is resolved will show whether the Intelligence Committee can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation’s intelligence activities, or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee. I believe it is critical that the committee and the Senate reaffirm our oversight role and our independence under the Constitution of the United States.”
She also accused the CIA of obstructing her committee’s torture inquiry in general, and of disputing findings that its own internal inquiry had substantiated.
The document at the heart of this confrontation is an internal review conducted by the CIA of the materials it had turned over to Feinstein’s committee during the course of the four-year congressional investigation into the Bush-era torture practices.
Feinstein said the document, which has become known as the Panetta Review after then-director of the CIA Leon Panetta, was first discovered by committee staff using CIA-provided search tools in 2010. It became particularly relevant later, after the committee completed a scathing 6,300-page report in December 2012, and the CIA sent its official response in June 2013.
The committee’s detailed report is still classified, but it is known to be highly critical of both the CIA’s role in the torture regime and its campaign to deceive Congress about it. The CIA vehemently took issue with those conclusions.
“Unlike the official response, these Panetta review documents were in agreement with the committee’s findings. That’s what makes them so significant and important to protect,” Feinstein said.
Based on the CIA’s extensive record of removal and destruction of evidence, which Feinstein detailed in her floor speech, committee staff decided “there was a need to preserve and protect” a copy of the review, which meant bringing it back from the CIA-leased offices in Virginia where staff had been forced to conduct their investigation to secure facilities in a Senate office building.
In December of 2013, Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) revealed that the intelligence committee was aware of the internal report, which he noted “is consistent with the Intelligence committee’s report, but amazingly it conflicts with the official CIA response.”
Feinstein said that a month later, John Brennan, the current director of the CIA, informed her that CIA personnel had conducted a search of the committee’s computers in the Virginia facility, including the standalone network that contained the committee staff’s own internal work product and communication.
The senator was outraged, she said, and fired off a letter expressing her concerns that the action was illegal and unconstitutional.
“I have asked for an apology and a recognition that this CIA search of computers used by its oversight committee was inappropriate. I have received neither,” she said.
“Besides the constitutional implications, the CIA search may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.”
Feinstein said she later learned that the CIA’s own inspector general had made a criminal referral to the Justice Department regarding the search of the congressional computers by CIA personnel.
But what seemed to really set her off was the CIA’s counter-charge, made through acting CIA general counsel Robert Eatinger, that her staff had illegally accessed and removed the document.
“Our staff involved in this matter have the appropriate clearances, handled this sensitive material according to established procedures and practice to protect classified information, and were provided access to the Panetta Review by the CIA itself,” she said.
“As a result, there is no legitimate reason to allege to the Justice Department that Senate staff may have committed a crime. I view the acting counsel general’s referral as a potential effort to intimidate this staff, and I am not taking this lightly.”
She added: “I should note that for most if not all of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, the now-acting general counsel was a lawyer in the CIA’s counterterrorism center, the unit within which the CIA managed and carried out this program. From mid-2004 until the official termination of the detention and interrogation program in January 2009, he was the unit’s chief lawyer. He is mentioned by name more than 1,600 times in our study.
“And now, this individual is sending a crimes report to the Department of Justice on the actions of Congressional staff — the same Congressional staff who researched and drafted a report that details how CIA officers, including the acting general counsel himself, provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice about the program.”
Feinstein’s fighting words were in stark contrast to her role as a champion of NSA surveillance. In most cases, Feinstein has served as an example of how badly oversight over the intelligence community has failed, serving as an accessory to the very kind of excesses her committee was established, in the 1970s, to prevent. . .
CIA: We Spied On Senate Intelligence Committee Only Because They Took Classified Documents That Prove We’re Liars
At the time I did not think John Brennan was a good pick for director of the CIA. His predecessor, Leon Panetta, is well respected and was not involved in the CIA during its program of torture. Panetta did allow evidence to be destroyed (92 videotapes of torture sessions) with no punishment for the CIA officer who obstructed justice—or would have obstructed justice had Obama shown one-tenth the prosecutorial zeal he’s shown in the case of Edward Snowden, who unfortunately for him does not have the wealth and connections that protect those who instituted and ran the US torture program. (For those, Obama elected to just let it go: “Look forward, not back,” a sentiment he has yet to express regarding Snowden.)
Brennan was highly involved in the torture program and naturally enough wants to avoid accountability, so he is fighting against the release of the report prepared under Panetta, who had no ax to grind. The problem with the Panetta report that the Senate committee now has is that it shows that the report prepared by Brennan is packed with self-serving lies.
Earlier this week, we wrote about the accusations that the CIA was spying on Senate staffers on the Senate Intelligence Committee as they were working on a massive $40 million, 6,300-page report condemning the CIA’s torture program. The DOJ is apparently already investigating if the CIA violated computer hacking laws in spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee computers. The issue revolved around a draft of an internal review by the CIA, which apparently corroborates many of the Senate report’s findings — but which the CIA did not hand over to the Senate. This internal report not only supports the Senate report’s findings, but also shows that the CIA has been lying in response to questions about the terror program.
In response to all of this, it appears that the CIA is attempting, weakly, to spin this as being the Senate staffers’ fault, arguing that the real breach was the fact that the Senate staffers somehow broke the rules in obtaining that internal review. CIA boss John Brennan’s statement hints at the fact that he thinks the real problem was with the way the staffers acted, suggesting that an investigation would fault “the legislative” branch (the Senate) rather than the executive (the CIA).
In his statement on Wednesday Brennan hit back in unusually strong terms. “I am deeply dismayed that some members of the Senate have decided to make spurious allegations about CIA actions that are wholly unsupported by the facts,” Brennan said.
“I am very confident that the appropriate authorities reviewing this matter will determine where wrongdoing, if any, occurred in either the executive branch or legislative branch,” Brennan continued, raising a suggestion that the Senate committee itself might have acted improperly.
A further report detailed what he’s talking about. Reporters at McClatchy have revealed that the Senate staffers working on this came across the document, printed it out, and simply walked out of the CIA and over to the Senate with it, and the CIA is furious about that. Then, in a moment of pure stupidity, the CIA appears to have confronted the Senate Intelligence Committee about all of this… directly revealing that they were spying on the Committee staffers.
Several months after the CIA submitted its official response to the committee report, aides discovered in the database of top-secret documents at CIA headquarters a draft of an internal review ordered by former CIA Director Leon Panetta of the materials released to the panel, said the knowledgeable person.
They determined that it showed that the CIA leadership disputed report findings that they knew were corroborated by the so-called Panetta review, said the knowledgeable person.
The aides printed the material, walked out of CIA headquarters with it and took it to Capitol Hill, said the knowledgeable person.
“All this goes back to what is the technical structure here,” said the U.S. official who confirmed the unauthorized removal. “If I was a Senate staffer and I was given access to documents on the system, I would have a laptop that’s cleared. I would be allowed to look at these documents. But with these sorts of things, there’s generally an agreement that you can’t download or take them.”
The CIA discovered the security breach and brought it to the committee’s attention in January, leading to a determination that the agency recorded the staffers’ use of the computers in the high-security research room, and then confirmed the breach by reviewing the usage data, said the knowledgeable person.
There are many more details in the McClatchy report, which I highly recommend reading. And, yes, perhaps there’s an argument that Senate staffers weren’t supposed to take such documents, but the CIA trying to spin this by saying it was those staffers who were engaged in “wrongdoing” is almost certainly going to fall flat with Congress. After all, the intelligence committee is charged with oversight of the CIA, not the other way around. “You stole the documents we were hiding from you which proved we were lying, so we spied on you to find out how you did that” is not, exactly, the kind of argument that too many people are going to find compelling.
Still, the latest is that the CIA has successfully convinced the DOJ to have the FBI kick off an investigation of the Senate staffers, rather than of the CIA breaking the law and spying on their overseers. . .
UPDATE: Also see Dan Froomkin’s report in The Intercept.
Very interesting article—and I would rate the comments interesting as well. Mark Mazzetti reports in the NY Times:
The Central Intelligence Agency’s attempt to keep secret the details of a defunct detention and interrogation program has escalated a battle between the agency and members of Congress and led to an investigation by the C.I.A.’s internal watchdog into the conduct of agency employees.
The agency’s inspector general began the inquiry partly as a response to complaints from members of Congress that C.I.A. employees were improperly monitoring the work of staff members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to government officials with knowledge of the investigation.
The committee has spent several years working on a voluminous report about the detention and interrogation program, and according to one official interviewed in recent days, C.I.A. officers went as far as gaining access to computer networks used by the committee to carry out its investigation.
The events have elevated the protracted battle — which began as a fight over who writes the history of the program, perhaps the most controversial aspect of the American government’s response to the Sept. 11 attacks — into a bitter standoff that in essence is a dispute over the separation of powers and congressional oversight of spy agencies.
The specifics of the inspector general’s investigation are unclear. But several officials interviewed in recent days — all of whom insisted on anonymity, citing a continuing inquiry — said it began after the C.I.A. took what Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, on Tuesday called an “unprecedented action” against the committee.
The action, which Mr. Udall did not describe, took place after C.I.A. officials came to suspect that congressional staff members had gained unauthorized access to agency documents during the course of the Intelligence Committee’s years-long investigation into the detention and interrogation program.
It is not known what the agency’s inspector general, David B. Buckley, has found in the investigation or whether Mr. Buckley has referred any cases to the Justice Department for further investigation. Spokesmen for the agency and the Justice Department declined to comment.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, gave few details about the dispute on Tuesday as she left a closed committee hearing on the crisis in Ukraine, but she did confirm that the C.I.A. had begun an internal review.
“There is an I.G. investigation,” she said.
Asked about the tension between the committee and the spy agency it oversees, Ms. Feinstein said, “Our oversight role will prevail.”
The episode is a rare moment of public rancor between the intelligence agencies and Ms. Feinstein’s committee, which has been criticized in some quarters for its muscular defense of many controversial intelligence programs — from the surveillance operations exposed by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden to the Obama administration’s targeted killing program using armed drones.
The origins of the current dispute date back more than a year, when the committee completed its work on a 6,000-page report about the Bush administration’s detention and interrogation program. People who have read the study said it is a withering indictment of the program and details many instances when C.I.A. officials misled Congress, the White House and the public about the value of the agency’s brutal interrogation methods, including waterboarding.
The report has yet to be declassified, but last June, John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, responded to the Senate report with a 122-page rebuttal challenging specific facts in the report as well as the investigation’s overarching conclusion — that the agency’s interrogation methods yielded little valuable intelligence.
Then, in December, Mr. Udall revealed that the Intelligence Committee had become aware of an internal C.I.A. study that he said was “consistent with the Intelligence Committee’s report” and “conflicts with the official C.I.A. response to the committee’s report.”
It appears that Mr. Udall’s revelation is what set off the current fight, with C.I.A. officials accusing the Intelligence Committee of learning about the internal review by gaining unauthorized access to agency databases. . .
Continue reading. And check out those comments. E.g.,
Loved twitter response from Greenwald:
Ironic: Senate Intel Comm – which endorses vast NSA spying on ordinary citizens – gets angry when they’re spied on.
Rebecca Gordon writes at Informed Comment:
Shortly after his first inauguration in 2009, President Obama issued an executive order forbidding torture and closing the CIA’s so-called “black sites.” But the order didn’t end “extraordinary rendition” – the practice of sending prisoners to other countries to be tortured. (This is actually illegal under the U.N. Convention against Torture, which the United States signed in 1994.) And it didn’t close the prison at Guantánamo, where to this day, prisoners are held in solitary confinement.
Periodic hunger strikes are met with brutal force feeding. Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel described the experience in a New York Times op-ed in April 2013:
I will never forget the first time they passed the feeding tube up my nose. I can’t describe how painful it is to be force-fed this way. As it was thrust in, it made me feel like throwing up. I wanted to vomit, but I couldn’t. There was agony in my chest, throat and stomach. I had never experienced such pain before. I would not wish this cruel punishment upon anyone.
The CIA’s black sites may (or may not) have been shut down, but we don’t have any idea what is going on in the detention centers run by the Joint Special Operations Command, especially in parts of Africa. (See Jeremy Scahill’s excellent Dirty Wars for more on this.)
Nor did Obama’s order end torture in another place where it is a daily occurrence, hidden in plain sight: U.S. prisons. It is no accident that the Army reservists responsible for the outrages at Abu Ghraib worked as prison guards in civilian life. As Spec. Charles A. Graner wrote in an email home, about his work at Abu Ghraib, “The Christian in me says it’s wrong, but the corrections officer in me says, “I love to make a grown man piss himself.”
Solitary confinement and the ever-present threat of rape are just two forms of institutionalized torture so commonly suffered by the people who make up the world’s largest prison population. The most recent Guantánamo hunger strikes just happened to coincide with similar actions by people held in solitary confinement in California’s high security prisons.
2. We still don’t have a full, official accounting.
As yet we have no official government accounting of how the United States has used torture in the “war on terror.” This is partly because so many different agencies, clandestine and otherwise, have been involved in one way or another. The Senate Intelligence Committee has written a 6,000-page report just on the CIA’s involvement, which has never been made public. Nor has the Committee been able to shake loose the CIA’s own report on its interrogation program. Most of what we do know is the result of leaks, and the dogged work of dedicated journalists and human rights lawyers. But we have nothing official, on the level, say, of the 1972 Church Committee.
Frustrated because both Congress and the Obama administration were unwilling to demand a full accounting, a blue-ribbon bipartisan committee produced their own damning report. Members included former DEA head Asa Hutchinson, former FBI chief William Sessions, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Thomas Pickering. The report reached two important conclusions: 1) “[I] t is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture,” and, “[T] he nation’s highest officials bear some responsibility for allowing and contributing to the spread of torture.”
3. . .
A very interesting reading that the action was not human error. Kevin Gosztola writes in Salon:
In recent weeks, it has been learned that a Malaysian doctoral student, who was twice granted a visa from the United States to study and obtain degrees in architecture, including a Ph. D, had her due process rights violated when she was placed on the no-fly list. She never posed a threat to the US, something the government conceded in a trial in December of last year. Yet, according to the government, her placement on the list was a result of “human error,” not because of the intricate system of putting people on watch lists that has developed since the September 11th attacks.
On January 2, 2005, Dr. Ibrahim was scheduled to be on board a flight from San Francisco to Kona, Hawaii. San Francisco police claimed she had “overstayed her visa,” according to a filed trial brief. Immigration documents showed this was not correct. Still, police led her away in handcuffs in front of her daughter, Rafeah, and about 50 others who were in line at a United Airlines counter. (Rafeah is a US citizen.)
Ibrahim was “publicly humiliated” and “imprisoned for approximately two hours, searched in a culturally insensitive manner, denied her medication until the paramedics were called and denied the ability to use the restroom in private.” She wanted to speak to an FBI agent named Kevin Kelley, the same agent who apparently committed the “human error” in this case that led to her being put on the no-fly list. She thought speaking to him would make it possible to clear her name. She did not get to speak with him and was released without any explanation.
Lee Korman, an Aviation Security Inspector with the Department of Homeland Security met Dr. Ibrahim in the holding cell and informed her that her name had been removed from the no-fly list. She was put on a flight the next day, but it was clear her name was not totally cleared. She was given a “bright red colored boarding pass” and given an “SSSS” status that led agents to subject her to “enhanced searches.”
In March 2005, when she wanted to travel to the US to complete her thesis, she was told her visa had been revoked and could not board her flight from Kuala Lumpur. And, again, in 2009, when she attempted to obtain a visa to travel to the US to be deposed for her case against the US government and to participate in her own trial, she was told she could not travel because of a section of the Immigrant and Nationality Act. When she asked what the section meant, a State Department representative wrote out the word “terrorist” on her visa application, right in front of her.
Ultimately, the judge decided her due process rights had been violated.
“This was no minor human error but an error with palpable impact, leading to the humiliation, cuffing and incarceration of an innocent and incapacitated air traveler. That it was human error may seem hard to accept—the FBI agent filled out the nomination form in a way exactly opposite from the instructions on the form, a bureaucratic analogy to a surgeon amputating the wrong digit—human error, yes, but of considerable consequence,” Judge William Alsup concluded.
Judge Alsup also wrote in his order, “FBI Agent Kelley made a plain, old-fashioned, monumental error in filling out the VGTOF [Violent Gang and Terrorist Organization File] nomination form for Dr. Ibrahim. He checked the boxes in exactly the opposite way from the instructions on the form, thus nominating Dr. Ibrahim to the no-fly list (against his intention). This was the start of all problems in Dr. Ibrahim’s case. Surprisingly, Agent Kelley first learned of this mistake eight years later at his deposition.”
Litigation began in 2006. The government initially won a dismissal of the case in August 2006 because the Transportation Security Administration had exclusive jurisdiction over review of orders of the TSA. A court of appeals subsequently reversed that decision in part.
As litigation continued and a court of appeals eventually found Dr. Ibrahim had a “substantial voluntary connection” to the US that would permit her to challenge her placement on the no-fly list, the government decided to invoke “state secrets privilege,” often abused to conceal information, hide embarrassing facts and prevent victims of government abuse from bringing cases. The government also invoked the “law enforcement privilege” and a privilege involving “sensitive security information” (SSI). This was done so the government would not have to inform Dr. Ibrahim of why she had been placed on the no-fly list.
The case moved closer to trial. The government eventually assured the judge that it would not invoke “state secrets” and rely on any information that had not been shared with Dr. Ibrahim and her lawyers. The judge issued a September 2013 order that made it clear, “The Government may not affirmatively seek to prevail in this action based upon information that has been withheld on grounds of privilege.” However, frustrating the judge, the government attempted to have the action dismissed at trial by refusing to “disclose state secrets.”
The government failed to block Dr. Ibrahim’s lawyers from getting an opportunity to challenge the government over her improper listing. “State secrets privilege”—an oft-abused claim that had worked in prior cases involving torture, rendition and warrantless wiretapping—did not work this time.
What was the government to do in order to prevent this case from having some kind of significant ramification for the whole system of placing individuals on the no-fly list? . . .
Continue reading. Of course, that makes sense only if you believe that a government official would actually lie to the American public.
Jonathan Chait explores Karl Rove’s blind spots in New York magazine:
Karl Rove is most famous for being architect of one of the worst presidencies in American history and then a Superpac strategist/delusional Romney campaign-night dead-ender. I’m a Rove junkie, and just as a snobbish fan of any popular band must have some obscure album he finds superior to the band’s most popular work, the Rove career function I find most delightful and rewarding is his work as a Wall Street Journal op-ed columnist. This is the medium that truly pulls back the curtain on Rove’s fascinating combination of insularity from facts outside the conservative pseudo-news bubble, delusional optimism, and utter lack of self-awareness. The Journal column is a weekly gift to amateur Rove psychoanalysts everywhere.
Today’s column begins with Rove’s bizarre belief that the health exchanges in Obamacare are a “single-payer” system, reflecting his apparent confusion about what this term means. (The single-payer in a single-payer system is the government, not the insurance companies in the exchanges.) But the main point is the Orwellian proposition that “Mr. Obama’s pattern is to act, or fail to act, in a way that will leave his successor with a boatload of troubles.” What kind of president would bequeath a boatload of troubles to his successor? Oh, the irresponsibility. The first count in Rove’s indictment is the budget deficit, which “was equal to roughly 40% of GDP when Mr. Obama took office. At last year’s end it was 72% of GDP.” One possible cause of this deficit might be the over-trillion-dollar annual deficit, that one George W. Bush handed over when he left office, along with the massive economic collapse.
Rove’s column goes on to express very strong views on the need for fiscal responsibility:
Then there’s Medicare, whose Hospital Insurance Trust Fund will go bankrupt in 2026. For five years, Mr. Obama has failed to offer a plan to restore Medicare’s fiscal health as he is required by the law establishing Medicare Part D. When Medicare goes belly-up, he will be out of office.
The Congressional Budget Office projects the Affordable Care Act will reduce deficits by more than a trillion dollars in its second decade. Yes, the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund is expected to reach insolvency by 2026, but when Bush left office, that projected insolvency date was nine years earlier. Meanwhile, Medicare’s projected spending has fallen by nearly $600 billion since the passage of Obamacare: . . .