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Probably their first line of defense if prosecuted: Bush Officials Did Little Oversight of CIA Program

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The Bush Administration advances incompetence as a defense. Associated Press reports in the NY Times:

In July 2004, despite growing internal concerns about the CIA’s brutal interrogation methods, senior members of George W. Bush’s national security team gave the agency permission to employ the harsh tactics against an al-Qaida facilitator the agency suspected was linked to a plot to disrupt the upcoming presidential election.

After weeks of torture that included being subjected to prolonged stress positions and sleep deprivation at a secret site in Romania, the prisoner, Janat Gul, begged to be killed. But he steadfastly denied knowledge of any plot, CIA records show __ leading interrogators to conclude he was not the hardened terrorist they thought he was, and that the informant who fingered him was a liar.

Yet there is no evidence the CIA relayed that information to the White House and the Justice Department, which continued to cite the case in legal justifications for the use of the brutal techniques.

In subsequent correspondence and testimony, the agency called the interrogation of Gul a success story on the grounds that it helped expose their original source as a fabricator.

The Gul case is an example of what a Senate investigation portrays as a dysfunctional relationship between the Bush White House and the CIA regarding the brutal interrogation program. The White House didn’t press very hard for information, and the agency withheld details about the brutality of the techniques while exaggerating their effectiveness, the report shows.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Alberto Gonzales, the former attorney general who was White House counsel when harsh CIA interrogations were approved, said it was not the White House’s responsibility to manage the program. Gonzales was the only former senior Bush administration official who agreed to speak on the record about the matter.

Once executive branch lawyers declared it legal for the CIA to use harsh methods on al-Qaida prisoners in secret facilities, Gonzales said, it was up to the spy agency to oversee the mechanics, punish abuses, and keep policymakers informed. So Bush officials can’t be blamed if CIA officers did things that were not authorized, or misinformed White House officials, as the report alleges, he said. . .

Continue reading.

It’s unclear why the Bush White House is singled out: the Obama Administration is equally determined not to look at what the CIA has done or is doing. Obama himself more or less promised that he would not look at their operations: “Look forward, not back.” Contemptible.

You see the pattern: Let the CIA do whatever it wants, and claim ignorance of its methods. Then, when the methods come out, declare that we should not look at what it did in the past…  So the cycle repeats with ever-worsening results.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2014 at 10:08 am

Panel picked by John Brennan (3 from CIA, 2 from outside) reaches forgone conclusion: No punishment for CIA employees who broke the law

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It doesn’t seem quite impartial: John Brennan selects the panel members—and just to be sure, 60% are CIA employees who report to John Brennan—and the panel finds that John Brennan is guilty of nothing, nor are the CIA employees who broke into the Senate staff computers. The CIA is above things like “accountability” and “laws” and, so far as I can tell, even the president cannot rein in the CIA. It’s hard to be sure, because Obama has not even tried, seeing his job as one of protecting the CIA from any accountability: “Look forward, not back,” and ignore crimes.

It’s a depressing sign of the increasing movement of the US toward an authoritarian government, and people seem well aware of what’s happening but are powerless to stop it—see the comments to the NY Times story by Matt Apuzzo and Mark Mazzetti:

A panel investigating the Central Intelligence Agency’s search of a computer network used by staff members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who were looking into the C.I.A.’s use of torture will recommend against punishing anyone involved in the episode, according to current and former government officials.

The panel will make that recommendation after the five C.I.A. officials who were singled out by the agency’s inspector general this year for improperly ordering and carrying out the computer searches staunchly defended their actions, saying that they were lawful and in some cases done at the behest ofJohn O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director.

While effectively rejecting the most significant conclusions of the inspector general’s report, the panel, appointed by Mr. Brennan and composed of three C.I.A. officers and two members from outside the agency, is still expected to criticize agency missteps that contributed to the fight with Congress.

But its decision not to recommend anyone for disciplinary action is likely to anger members of the Intelligence Committee, who have accused the C.I.A. of trampling on the independence of Congress and interfering with its investigation of agency wrongdoing. The computer searches occurred late last year while the committee was finishing an excoriating report on the agency’s detention and interrogation program.

The computer search raised questions about the separation of powers and caused one of the most public rifts in years between the nation’s intelligence agencies and the Senate oversight panel, which conducts most of its business in secret. It led to an unusually heated and public rebuke by Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who is the committee’s chairwoman.

Three C.I.A. technology officers and two lawyers had faced possible punishment. In their defense, some pointed to documents — including notes of a phone call with Mr. Brennan — that they said indicated that the director supported their actions, according to interviews with a half dozen current and former government officials and others briefed on the case. . .

Continue reading.

Once upon a time people who were believed to have broken law were given a trial. We are past that now.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2014 at 9:49 am

McCullough, DA in the Darren Wilson case, defends himself by saying he knew some witnesses were lying

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But he decided to let them testify anyone. His approach was to let anyone who wanted to testify as a witness do so, even when he knew that they were lying.

That’s his defense, and having a DA support perjury is not a good sign.

Here’s the story. He fully admits that he presented a biased picture to the jury by allowing untrue testimony. What a DA!

I wonder what he thinks a DA is supposed to do.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2014 at 5:45 pm

Philadelphians Save Homes From Civil Forfeiture Machine But Continue Legal Fight Over City’s Unconstitutional Program

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The Institute for Justice reports:

Today, Philadelphia’s Office of the District Attorney agreed to dismiss its civil-forfeiture proceedings against the family homes of Christos Sourovelis and Doila Welch. The dismissals mean that both families will no longer have to worry about losing their homes as they head into the holidays.

Since August, Christos and Doila have been embroiled in a legal battle with the city over its unprecedented use of civil forfeiture to seize the homes and personal property of thousands of Philadelphians without ever charging the owners with a crime. Both Christos and Doila are named plaintiffs in the federal, class-action lawsuit that seeks to end Philadelphia’s shocking system of seizing nearly $6 million in property from its citizens each year and using that money to pad law-enforcement budgets.

Although Christos and Doila’s individual, state-level civil-forfeiture proceedings have been dismissed, they will continue to lead the federal, class-action legal challenge to Philadelphia’s entire civil-forfeiture scheme.

“After months of uncertainty, my family can finally rest easy knowing that our home is our home again,” said Christos. “I’ve lived in Philadelphia for over 30 years. I never thought it was possible for the police to just show up at my doorstep without notice and take my house when I’ve done nothing wrong. But that’s exactly what happened to me and my family—and we’re not alone. That’s why we’re going to keep fighting for everyone still trapped in Philadelphia’s civil forfeiture nightmare.”

“We are pleased that Christos and Doila’s families will be able to enjoy their homes for the holidays,” said Darpana Sheth, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which is representing the plaintiffs in their challenge to Philadelphia’s program. “Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many other Philadelphia families. Philadelphia law enforcement continues to use its system of robo-forfeitures to pad its budgets with millions in unaccountable funds by stripping innocent people of their rights and property.”

Since the lawsuit challenging Philadelphia’s civil-forfeiture scheme was announced on August 12, the case has garnered national attention and has shed much-needed light on a relatively unknown practice that nets billions every year for law-enforcement agencies nationwide. Philadelphia’s program has received critical coverage from sources ranging from The Wall Street Journal editorial board to Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver, who said that “civil forfeiture laws have warped law enforcement priorities and perception and nowhere is that more clear than in Philadelphia.”

The Institute for Justice is leading the fight against civil forfeiture nationwide. To learn more about this case and IJ’s national efforts, visit


Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2014 at 1:40 pm

Best healthcare system in the world: How Nonprofit Hospitals Are Seizing Patients’ Wages

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Paul Kiel (ProPublica) and Chris Arnold (NPR) have an interesting story on how bad the US healthcare system is, compared to healthcare in most Western countries:

On the eastern edge of St. Joseph, Missouri, lies the small city’s only hospital, a landmark of brick and glass. Music from a player piano greets visitors at the main entrance, and inside, the bright hallways seem endless. Long known as Heartland Regional Medical Center, the nonprofit hospital and its system of clinics recently rebranded. Now they’re called Mosaic Life Care, because, their promotional materials say: “We offer much more than health care. We offer life care.”

Two miles away, at the rear of a low-slung building is a key piece of Mosaic—Heartland’s very own for-profit debt collection agency.

When patients receive care at Heartland and don’t or can’t pay, their bills often end up here at Northwest Financial Services. And if those patients don’t meet Northwest’s demands, their debts can make another, final stop: the Buchanan County Courthouse.

From 2009 through 2013, Northwest filed more than 11,000 lawsuits.  When it secured a judgment, as it typically did, Northwest was entitled to seize a hefty portion of a debtor’s paycheck. During those years, the company garnished the pay of about 6,000 people and seized at least $12 million—an average of about $2,000 each, according to a ProPublica analysis of state court data.

Many were uninsured Heartland patients who were eligible for financial aid that would have eliminated or drastically cut their bills. Instead, they were charged full price for their care, without the deep discounts negotiated by insurers, according to court records, interviews and data provided by Heartland. No other Missouri hospital sued more of its patients.

Blue collar workers, Walmart cashiers, nursing home aides, clerical staffers—these types of patients have long been the most vulnerable to unexpected debt. They can’t afford insurance, yet they’re not poor enough for Medicaid. Even after the 2010 Affordable Care Act, about 30 million Americans remain uninsured, in part because some states, like Missouri, have not expanded Medicaid to cover more of the poor.

Earlier this year, ProPublica and NPR reported that the wages of millions of U.S. workers are diverted to pay off a variety of consumer debts. Most states, like Missouri, allow creditors to take a quarter of after-tax wages—an amount that government surveys show is unaffordable for lower-income families.

Consumer advocates say the laws governing wage garnishment are outdated and overly punitive, regardless of the debt’s source. But the consequences are especially dire when garnishment is used to collect unavoidable health care bills—with interest and legal fees piled on.

No one tracks how many hospitals sue their patients and how frequently, but . . .

Continue reading. And do read the whole thing: it’s an in-depth article.

The US could fix this if it wanted, but it’s easier just to screw over poor people.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2014 at 1:23 pm

Meet Alfreda Bikowsky, the Senior Officer at the Center of the CIA’s Torture Scandals

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Glenn Greenwald and Porter Maas write at The Intercept:

NBC News yesterday called her a “key apologist” for the CIA’s torture program. A follow-up New Yorker article dubbed her “The Unidentified Queen of Torture” and in part “the model for the lead character in ‘Zero Dark Thirty.’” Yet in both articles she was anonymous.

The person described by both NBC and The New Yorker is senior CIA officer Alfreda Frances Bikowsky. Multiple news outlets have reported that as the result of a long string of significant errors and malfeasance, her competence and integrity are doubted — even by some within the agency.

The Intercept is naming Bikowsky over CIA objections because of her key role in misleading Congress about the agency’s use of torture, and her active participation in the torture program (including playing a direct part in the torture of at least one innocent detainee). Moreover, Bikowsky has already been publicly identified by news organizations as the CIA officer responsible for many of these acts.

The executive summary of the torture report released by the Senate last week provides abundant documentation that the CIA repeatedly and deliberately misled Congress about multiple aspects of its interrogation program. Yesterday, NBC News reported that one senior CIA officer in particular was responsible for many of those false claims, describing her as “a top al Qaeda expert who remains in a senior position at the CIA.”

NBC, while withholding her identity, noted that the same unnamed officer “also participated in ‘enhanced interrogations’ of self-professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, witnessed the waterboarding of terror suspect Abu Zubaydah and ordered the detention of a suspected terrorist who turned out to be unconnected to al Qaeda, according to the report.”

The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer, writing yesterday about the NBC article, added that the officer “is still in a position of high authority over counterterrorism at the C.I.A.” This officer, Mayer noted, is the same one who “dropped the ball when the C.I.A. was given information that might very well have prevented the 9/11 attacks; she gleefully participated in torture sessions afterward; she misinterpreted intelligence in such a way that it sent the C.I.A. on an absurd chase for Al Qaeda sleeper cells in Montana. And then she falsely told congressional overseers that the torture worked.” Mayer also wrote that the officer is “the same woman” identified in the Senate report who oversaw “the months-long rendition and gruesome interrogation of another detainee whose detention was a case of mistaken identity.”

Both news outlets withheld the name of this CIA officer even though her identity is widely known among journalists, and her name has been used by various media outlets in connection with her work at the CIA. Both articles cited requests by the CIA not to identify her, even though they provided details making her identity clear.

In fact, earlier this year, The Washington Post identified Bikowsky by name, describing her as a CIA analyst “who was tied to a critical intelligence-sharing failure before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the botched 2003 ‘rendition’ of an innocent German citizen thought to be an al-Qaeda operative.” That Post report led to both McClatchy and independent journalist Marcy Wheeler raising questions about the propriety of Bikowsky’s former personal lawyer, Robert Litt, playing a key role in his current capacity as a top government lawyer in deciding which parts of the torture report should be released.

The McClatchy article identified Bikowsky by name as the officer who “played a central role in the bungled rendition of Khaled el-Masri. El-Masri, who was revealed to be innocent, claimed to have been tortured by the agency.” El-Masri, a German citizen who was kidnapped from Macedonia and tortured by the CIA in Afghanistan, was released in 2003 after it was revealed he was not involved in al Qaeda.

Continue reading. Later in the story:

The Associated Press reported that a “hard-charging CIA analyst [who] had pushed the agency into one of the biggest diplomatic embarrassments of the U.S. war on terrorism” (the rendering for torture of the innocent El-Masri) was repeatedly promoted. Despite internal recommendations that she be punished, the AP reported that she instead “has risen to one of the premier jobs in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center.”

With regard to the last paragraph quoted, read this heart-rending story in McClatchy about how El-Masri’s life is basically ruined. But the US will not apologize or even acknowledge the damage done, and it certainly will not pay any compensation for kidnapping and torturing him. That’s not the kind of country we are. Canada, in contrast, paid

From Wikipedia:

Maher Arar (Arabic: ماهر عرار) (born 1970) is a telecommunications engineer with dual Syrian and Canadian citizenship who has resided in Canada since 1987. Arar’s story is frequently referred to as “extraordinary rendition” but the US government insisted it was a case of deportation.[1][2][3][4][5][6] [Although, oddly, he was not deported to his home country—Canada—but instead shipped off to Syria to be tortured.  – LG]

Arar was detained during a layover at John F. Kennedy International Airport in September 2002 on his way home to Canada from a family vacation in Tunis.[6] He was held without charges in solitary confinement in the United States for nearly two weeks, questioned, and denied meaningful access to a lawyer.[6] The US government suspected him of being a member of Al Qaeda and deported him, not to Canada, his current home and the passport on which he was travelling, but to Syria, even though its government is known to use torture.[7] He was detained in Syria for almost a year, during which time he was tortured, according to the findings of a commission of inquiry ordered by the Canadian government, until his release to Canada. The Syrian government later stated that Arar was “completely innocent.”[8][9] A Canadian commission publicly cleared Arar of any links to terrorism, and the government of Canada later settled out of court with Arar. He received C$10.5 million and Prime Minister Stephen Harper formally apologized to Arar for Canada’s role in his “terrible ordeal”.[10][11]

As of December 2011, Arar and his family remained on the US No Fly List.[12] His US lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit, Arar v. Ashcroft, which sought compensatory damages on Arar’s behalf and also a declaration that the actions of the US government were illegal and violated his constitutional, civil, and international human rights. After the lawsuit was dismissed by the Federal District Court, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal on November 2, 2009. The Supreme Court of the United States declined to review the case on June 14, 2010.

You might be interested to read how the “land of the free, home of the brave” decided to deny Arar any justice.

The US might make big mistakes, but we damn sure refuse to own up to them unless we can’t prevent the information from coming out, and we certainly do not compensate the victims of our mistakes. That’s not the US way.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 December 2014 at 1:04 pm

It’s becoming obvious that the US has no business criticizing the human rights record of other countries: Venezuela edition

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Forget about the US’s close alliances with countries like Saudi Arabia. Look that the US’s own record. Where does it get off criticizing Venezuela? (Or most other countries.) We say, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when the beam is in our own eye?

Diosdado Cabello writes in the NY Times:

CARACAS, Venezuela — IT seemed an unfortunate coincidence that just as scores of people demonstrating against police brutality were being arrested on the streets of New York and other cities, the United States Congress passed a bill to bring sanctions against members of my country’s government for alleged human rights abuses during protests earlier this year.

While Congress accused Venezuela’s government of cracking down on dissent, African-American communities across the United States expressed outrage over police killings of unarmed black men. Then, as legislators on Capitol Hill criticized Venezuelan officials for purported violations of democratic norms, a Senate report revealed the extent of torture by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The antigovernment protests in our country that began in February resulted in the deaths of more than 40 people, many of whom were either pro-government supporters or innocent bystanders. Of those deaths, a significant number were caused by antigovernment demonstrators, who used violence to try to oust our democratically elected government. Rather than engaging in lawful and peaceful demonstrations, those protesters used barricades and burning debris to block streets. They also caused the deaths of several motorcyclists by stringing wires across roads.

Our government responded with restraint, allowing those violent demonstrations to go on for several months. Every effort was made to ensure that only protesters who directly violated laws or placed the lives of others in danger were detained. For example, those responsible for burning public buses with Molotov cocktails, or who set fire to a public university, were rightly arrested and charged — as were 17 state security agents accusedof using excessive force against protesters, who are awaiting trial.

Eventually, our citizens grew tired of those protests and their incoherent tactics, which only created chaos and insecurity in our streets. The unrest subsided, and the opposition lost credibility. The leader of the opposition coalition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (the Democratic Unity Roundtable) subsequently resigned after disagreements within the organization.

After the death of my good friend, and our president, Hugo Chávez, almost two years ago, our country has experienced a series of difficulties, including economic problems. As president of the National Assembly and the vice president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, which was founded by Mr. Chávez, I have worked with President Nicolás Maduro to find viable solutions.

To respond to the falling price of oil, which underpins our economy, we are cutting public spending by 20 percent. But we will not cut funding to our key social programs, which provide essential medical care, education and welfare to our citizens. We are also taking measures to battle the high inflation that has plagued our nation over the past two years, and we are battling to end the black-market dollar trading that sabotages our foreign exchange system.

Some months ago, Mr. Maduro extended an olive branch to the Obama administration by naming an ambassador to the United States, and inviting Washington to name an ambassador to Venezuela. Mr. Maduro also named me to lead a high-level commission to repair relations with the United States government. To date, President Obama has neither accepted our ambassador, nor offered his own in return. And there has been no sign from Washington of any intent to engage with my commission.

Imposing sanctions against a country that has caused no harm to the United States is no way to move toward a constructive relationship. Unilateral sanctions against other nations have usually failed and have been rejected by a majority of the international community. . .

Continue reading.

The US is in no position to pretend any sort of moral superiority. Perhaps we should do a housecleaning here BEFORE we take on criticizing other nations and trying to fix them.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 December 2014 at 5:48 pm

Posted in Government


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