Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category
Probably their first line of defense if prosecuted: Bush Officials Did Little Oversight of CIA Program
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. . .
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.
Panel picked by John Brennan (3 from CIA, 2 from outside) reaches forgone conclusion: No punishment for CIA employees who broke the law
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. . .
Once upon a time people who were believed to have broken law were given a trial. We are past that now.
From time to time I make disparaging remarks about the competence and honesty of the FBI. There are obvious big problems in the agency: their finding that a man in Oregon was part of the Madrid bombing (when he had never been to Madrid) based on the FBI’s incompetence in identifying fingerprints. And now Matt Apuzzo and Michael Schmidt report in the NY Times:
F.B.I. agents in every region of the country have mishandled, mislabeled and lost evidence, according to a highly critical internal investigation that discovered errors with nearly half the pieces of evidence it reviewed.
The evidence collection and retention system is the backbone of the F.B.I.’s investigative process, and the report said it is beset by problems. It also found that the F.B.I. was storing more weapons, less money and valuables, and two tons more drugs than its records had indicated.
The report’s findings, based on a review of more than 41,000 pieces of evidence in F.B.I. offices around the country, could have consequences for criminal investigations and prosecutions. Lawyers can use even minor record-keeping discrepancies to get evidence thrown out of court, and the F.B.I. was alerting prosecutors around the country on Friday that they may need to disclose the errors to defendants.
Many of the problems cited in the report appear to be hiccups in the F.B.I.’s transition to a computer system known as Sentinel, which went online in 2012 and was intended to move the bureau away from a case-management system based on paper files. But other problems, including materials that disappeared or were taken from F.B.I. evidence rooms and not returned, are more serious.
“A majority of the errors identified were due in large part to human error, attributable to a lack of training and program management oversight,” auditors wrote in the report, which was obtained by The New York Times.
In a written statement, the bureau said the review had “yielded several valuable proposals to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the F.B.I.’s corporate tracking system for evidence, and the F.B.I. is currently in the process of implementing same.”
The F.B.I. is separately dealing with the fallout from a case at its Washington office, where an agent is under investigation for tampering with evidence. That has led to the dismissal of convictions in some drug cases. Though the internal review is unrelated to that matter, the issues are so entwined that the F.B.I. plans to distribute the report to dozens of lawyers involved whose cases were affected by the Washington investigation, officials said.
The errors cited in the audit range in severity from computer glitches and duplicate bar codes to evidence that could not be located. The investigation found that federal agents had removed 1,600 pieces of evidence from storage and had not returned them for more than four months. One piece of evidence in a drug case has been signed out since 2003. Another piece of evidence has been out since 2006, the report found.
Because the audit was based on a sample, the actual number of items that have been checked out and not returned is probably much higher. One F.B.I. official said the bureau was considering whether to conduct a broader review that would cover all drug evidence held by the F.B.I.
The results also varied by field office. . .
It’s heartening that the errors were found by an internal investigation (though, obviously, the FBI should be good at investigating). More problematic is whether any changes will be made. Big bureaucracies have a lot of resistance to change: people in positions of power often fight change fiercely. The CIA, for example, is not about to change—indeed, the CIA will not even admit to errors. The FBI is better than that, but let’s see how they deal with the problem they’ve identified.
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
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. [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. He was held without charges in solitary confinement in the United States for nearly two weeks, questioned, and denied meaningful access to a lawyer. 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. 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.” 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”.
As of December 2011, Arar and his family remained on the US No Fly List. 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.
Jane Mayer writes in the New Yorker:
For the past eight months, a furious battle has been raging behind closed doors at the White House, the C.I.A., and in Congress. The question has been whether the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence would be allowed to use pseudonyms as a means of identifying characters in the devastating report it released last week on the C.I.A.’s abusive interrogation and detention program. Ultimately, the committee was not allowed to, and now we know one reason why.
The NBC News investigative reporter Matthew Cole has pieced together a remarkable story revealing that a single senior officer, who is still in a position of high authority over counterterrorism at the C.I.A.—a woman whom he does not name—appears to have been a source of years’ worth of terrible judgment, with tragic consequences for the United States. Her story runs through the entire report. She 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.
Had the Senate Intelligence Committee been permitted to use pseudonyms for the central characters in its report, as all previous congressional studies of intelligence failures, including the widely heralded Church Committee report in 1975, have done, it might not have taken a painstaking, and still somewhat cryptic, investigation after the fact in order for the American public to hold this senior official accountable. Many people who have worked with her over the years expressed shock to NBC that she has been entrusted with so much power. A former intelligence officer who worked directly with her is quoted by NBC, on background, as saying that she bears so much responsibility for so many intelligence failures that “she should be put on trial and put in jail for what she has done.”
Instead, however, she has been promoted to the rank of a general in the military, most recently working as the head of the C.I.A.’s global-jihad unit. In that perch, she oversees the targeting of terror suspects around the world. (She was also, in part, the model for the lead character in “Zero Dark Thirty.”)
According to sources in the law-enforcement community who I have interviewed over the years, and who I spoke to again this week, this woman—whose name the C.I.A. has asked the news media to withhold—had supervision over an underling at the agency who failed to share with the F.B.I. the news that two of the future 9/11 hijackers had entered the United States prior to the terrorist attacks. As I recount in my book “The Dark Side,” the C.I.A. got wind that one of these Al Qaeda operatives, Khalid al-Mihdhar, had obtained a multiple-entry visa into the United States eighteen months before 9/11. The agency also learned, months before the attacks, that another Al Qaeda operative, Nawaf al-Hazmi, had flown into Los Angeles. Yet the C.I.A. appears to have done nothing. It never alerted the F.B.I., which had the principle domestic authority for protecting the U.S. from terror attacks. Its agents had, in fact, been on the trail of at least one of the hijackers previously, but had no way of knowing that he had entered the United States. Nor did the C.I.A. alert the State Department, which kept a “TIPOFF” watch list for terror suspects.
Amazingly, perhaps, more than thirteen years after the 9/11 attacks, no one at the C.I.A. has ever been publicly held responsible for this failure. Evidently, the C.I.A. was adamant in its negotiations with the White House and the Senate Intelligence Committee that the American public never learn the names of anyone directly involved in this failure.
As NBC recounts, this egregious chapter was apparently only the first in a long tale, in which the same C.I.A. official became a driving force in the use of waterboarding and other sadistic interrogation techniques that were later described by President Obama as “torture.” She personally partook in the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks, at a black site in Poland. According to the Senate report, she sent a bubbly cable back to C.I.A. headquarters in 2003, anticipating the pain they planned to inflict on K.S.M. in an attempt to get him to confirm a report from another detainee, about a plot to use African-American Muslims training in Afghanistan for future terrorist attacks. “i love the Black American Muslim at AQ camps in Afghanuistan (sic). … Mukie (K.S.M.) is going to be hatin’ life on this one,” she wrote, according to the report. But, as NBC notes, she misconstrued the intelligence gathered from the other detainee. Somehow, the C.I.A. mistakenly believed that African-American Muslim terrorists were already in the United States. The intelligence officials evidently pressed K.S.M. so hard to confirm this, under such physical duress, that he eventually did, even though it was false—leading U.S. officials on a wild-goose chase for black Muslim Al Qaeda operatives in Montana. According to the report, the same woman oversaw the extraction of this false lead, as well as the months-long rendition and gruesome interrogation of another detainee whose detention was a case of mistaken identity. Later, in 2007, she accompanied then C.I.A. director Michael Hayden to brief Congress, where she insisted forcefully that the torture program had been a tremendous and indispensable success.
Readers can speculate on . . .
The CIA has seemed so incompetent—google “CIA failures”—that it was hard to understand. But now it’s easier: the CIA rewards, promotes, and protects incompetents, so naturally enough the organization becomes increasingly incompetent.
And, of course, Obama cooperates in protecting the incompetents (including protecting John Brennan, noted liar). And Congress cooperates in not releasing the full truth to the American people.
The Taliban killed 132 children, 10 school staff members. How many children killed in US drone attacks?
The figure (according to Pakistan) is 94.
Tom Englehardt points out the US War on Wedding Parties:
I had counted news reports on seven of them by the time an eighth, a Yemeni wedding party, was blown away in December 2013. Since then, a correspondent has pointed out to me a report that a ninth wedding party, the second in Iraq, may have been hit by U.S. air power on October 8, 2004, in the city of Fallujah, with the groom dying and the bride wounded.
The US doesn’t apologize for these things. The US position is that such things are okay: “collateral damage” is the Orwellian phrase.
That’s from a Tom Englehardt column worth reading in its entirety. The conclusion of the column:
Here are three conclusions that should now be obvious enough when it comes to Washington’s never-ending war on terror and the growth of the national security state.
1. Whatever grim actions are the focus of debate at the moment, take it for granted that they don’t “work” because nothing connected to the war on terror has worked: The coverage of the Senate torture report has been focused on arguments over whether those “enhanced interrogation techniques,” or EITs, “worked” in the years after 9/11 (as in 2019, the coverage would undoubtedly focus on whether drone assassination campaigns had worked). The executive summary of the Senate report has already offered numerous cases where information gained through torture practices did not produce actionable intelligence or stop terror plots or save lives, though misinformation from them might have helped embolden the Bush administration in its invasion of Iraq.
Bush administration officials, former CIA directors, and the intelligence “community” in general have vociferously insisted on the opposite. Six former top CIA officials, including three former directors, publicly claimed that those torture techniques “saved thousands of lives.” The truth, however, is that we shouldn’t even be having a serious discussion of this issue. We know the answer. We knew it long before the redacted executive summary of the Senate report was released. Torture didn’t work, because 13 years of the war on terror has offered a simple enough lesson: nothing worked.
You name it and it failed. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about invasions, occupations, interventions, small conflicts, raids, bombing runs, secret operations, offshore “black sites,” or god knows what else — none of it came close to succeeding by even the most minimal standards set in Washington. In this period, many grim things were done and most of them blew back, creating more enemies, new Islamic extremist movements, and even a jihadist mini-state in the heart of the Middle East that, fittingly enough, was essentially founded at Camp Bucca, an American military prison in Iraq. Let me repeat that: if Washington did it any time in the last 13 years, whatever it was, it didn’t work. Period.
2. In national security and war terms, only one thing has “worked” in these years and that’s the national security state itself: Every blunder, every disaster, every extreme act that proved a horror in the world also perversely strengthened the national security state. In other words, the crew that couldn’t shoot straight could do no wrong when it came to their own agencies and careers.
No matter how poorly or badly or stupidly or immorally or criminally agents, operatives, war fighters, private contractors, and high officials acted or what they ordered done, each disaster in this period was like a dose of further career enhancement, like manna from heaven, for a structure that ate taxpayer dollars for lunch and grew in unprecedented ways, despite a world that lacked all significant enemies. In these years, the national security state entrenched itself and its methods in Washington for the long run. The Department of Homeland Security expanded; the 17 interlocked intelligence agencies that made up the U.S. intelligence community exploded; the Pentagon grew endlessly; the corporate “complexes” that surrounded and meshed with an increasingly privatized national security apparatus had a field day. And the various officials who oversaw every botched operation and sally into the world, including the torture regime the Bush administration created, were almost to a man promoted, as well as honored in various ways and, in retirement, found themselves further honored and enriched. The single lesson from all of this for any official was: whatever you do, however rash, extreme, or dumb beyond imagining, whatever you don’t accomplish, whomever you hurt, you are enriching the national security state — and that’s a good thing.
3. Nothing Washington did could ever qualify as a “war crime” or even a straightforward crime because, in national security terms, our wartime capital has become a crime-free zone: Again, this is an obvious fact of our era. There can be no accountability (hence all the promotions) and especially no criminal accountability inside the national security state. While the rest of us are still in legal America, its officials are in what I’ve long called “post-legal” America and in that state, neither torture (to the point of death), nor kidnapping and assassination, nor destroying evidence of criminal activity, perjury, or the setting up of an extralegal prison system are crimes. The only possible crime in national security Washington is whistleblowing. On this, too, the evidence is in and the results speak for themselves. The post-9/11 moment has proven to be an eternal “get out of jail free card” for the officials of two administrations and the national security state.
Unfortunately, the obvious points, the simple conclusions that might be drawn from the last 13 years go unnoticed in a Washington where nothing, it seems, can be learned. As a result, for all the sound and fury of this torture moment, the national security state will only grow stronger, more organized, more aggressively ready to defend itself, while ridding itself of the last vestiges of democratic oversight and control.
There is only one winner in the war on terror and it’s the national security state itself. So let’s be clear, despite its supporters who regularly hail the “patriotism” of such officials, and despite an increasingly grim world filled with bad guys, they are not the good guys and they are running what, by any normal standards, should be considered a criminal enterprise.