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Jane Mayer on Snowden—with video

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The New Yorker videos are good. Mayer writes:

My interview of Edward Snowden, conducted remotely in front of an audience at the New Yorker Festival, was a chance to pose not just my own questions but also those that have been raised by his fiercest critics. One of his most interesting answers was his explanation for why he had decided to flee the United States. A number of detractors have suggested that if Snowden, who disclosed controversial top-secret N.S.A. programs to reporters, truly wanted to commit an act of civil disobedience for reasons of conscience, then he should have faced the legal consequences, making his case to the American public while standing trial at home.

When I asked why he didn’t take this route, Snowden said that because of the way national-security laws have been interpreted since September 11, 2001, he believed that the government had deprived him, and other whistle-blowers, of ever having the opportunity to make their cases in this time-honored tradition. Instead of being allowed to make his arguments in an open, public court, he said, his lawyers were told that the government would close the court for national-security reasons. (When asked to comment, a Justice Department spokesman would say only, “It remains our position that Mr. Snowden should return to the United States and face the charges filed against him. If he does, he will be accorded full due process and protections.”)

Snowden said that he would “love” to return to the United States and stand trial, if he could be assured that it would be open and fair. He said, “I have told the government again and again in negotiations that if they’re prepared to offer an open trial, a fair trial, in the same way that Daniel Ellsberg got, and I’m allowed to make my case to the jury, I would love to do so. But they’ve declined.”

Instead, Snowden said, “They want to use special procedures. They want a closed court. They want to use something called the Classified Information [Procedures] Act.”

Snowden pointed out that in other post-9/11 whistle-blower cases, such as those of the former N.S.A. employee Thomas Drake, the government invoked national-security concerns in order to keep the public from fully hearing the basis of his arguments. (I covered Drake’s case, and remember well the stifling secrecy surrounding the proceedings; in the end, the serious charges were dropped in return for Drake pleading guilty to a single misdemeanor.) National security became, in essence, a form of legal censorship, blocking communication between the accused and the American public. With no assurance that he could make his case to the American public at home, Snowden said that he instead has found himself, ironically, in Russia, a state not exactly known for its defense of civil liberties.

I asked him what he missed about the United States. “The question is, What don’t I miss?” Snowden replied. “It’s a great country.”

By all means, watch the videos.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 3:51 pm

Laura Poitras and Edward Snowden

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I just found a couple of excellent long reads about the Snowden affair and Laura Poitras’s role in it.

First is an interview of Poitras by Tom Englehardt; second is an article by Alex Pasternack in Motherboard. I strongly encourage you to read both.

Englehardt begins:

Here’s a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! stat from our new age of national security. How many Americans have security clearances? The answer: 5.1 million, a figure that reflects the explosive growth of the national security state in the post-9/11 era. Imagine the kind of system needed just to vet that many people for access to our secret world (to the tune of billions of dollars). We’re talking here about the total population of Norway and significantly more people than you can find in Costa Rica, Ireland, or New Zealand. And yet it’s only about 1.6% of the American population, while on ever more matters, the unvetted 98.4% of us are meant to be left in the dark.

For our own safety, of course. That goes without saying.

All of this offers a new definition of democracy in which we, the people, are to know only what the national security state cares to tell us.  Under this system, ignorance is the necessary, legally enforced prerequisite for feeling protected.  In this sense, it is telling that the only crime for which those inside the national security state can be held accountable in post-9/11 Washington is not potential perjury before Congress, or the destruction of evidence of a crime, or torture, or kidnapping, or assassination, or the deaths of prisoners in an extralegal prison system, but whistleblowing; that is, telling the American people something about what their government is actually doing.  And that crime, and only that crime, has been prosecuted to the full extent of the law (and beyond) with a vigor unmatched in American history.  To offer a single example, the only American to go to jail for the CIA’s Bush-era torture program was John Kiriakou, a CIA whistleblower who revealed the name of an agent involved in the program to a reporter.

In these years, as power drained from Congress, an increasingly imperial White House has launched various wars (redefined by its lawyers as anything but), as well as a global assassination campaign in which the White House has its own “kill list” and the president himself decides on global hits.  Then, without regard for national sovereignty or the fact that someone is an American citizen (and upon the secret invocation of legal mumbo-jumbo), the drones are sent off to do the necessary killing.

And yet that doesn’t mean that we, the people, know nothing . . .

Continue reading.

And Pasternack begins:

I get my face photographed and printed on a temporary ID card that I deposit into a slot and I get on an elevator and am led down a hallway. On a desk, I spot a signed letter with the Vice President’s seal. I’m brought into a windowless room, and there is the filmmaker Laura Poitras. On a coffee table is a MacBook Pro with a sticker that says “National Security Agency—Monitored Device.” Behind her, there’s a framed Ricky Gervais poster. We are at the offices of HBO, which began discussions to acquire the TV rights to her new film, “Citizenfour,” even before it was finished, not long before it premiered at the New York Film Festival to a standing ovation. We shake hands and I display my recorder. “Mind if I record?” I ask.

She laughs briefly and agrees. “That’s very respectful, given the context,” she says.

The context is quite serious. It was a 12-minute video made by Poitras that in June 2013 attached a name and a face to disclosures of a massive secret and legally dubious global surveillance system. A year earlier, Poitras became the first journalist to communicate with the NSA contractor Edward J. Snowden, then anonymously. Though she shared bylines on stories in the Guardian and the Times and Der Spiegel, much of the reporting was done by Glenn Greenwald and others, most recently at The Intercept, the upstart outlet where Poitras is also now also a founding editor. She has been in more of a hide-out mode, working on her much-anticipated documentary on multiple computers out of a bunker-like editing studio in Berlin. She moved there from New York in 2012, after years of getting stopped at the airport every time she tried to fly; starting in 2006, her air tickets were marked “SSSS” for Secondary Security Screening Selection, subjecting her to extra scrutiny at the borders.

She is no longer stopped, but wagers that she is still watched by her own government. She uses her cell phone sparingly and has become an expert in encrypted communications. “I really do feel that there are some really angry powerful people, mad at the reporting that we’re doing. I should expect they’re paying attention to my communications and who I spend time with.”

I asked her if she thought that by speaking with her, I too would end up on such a list.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 3:22 pm

Afghanistan: ‘A Shocking Indictment’

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In the NY Review of Books Rory Stewart reviews a recent book on Afghanistan:

1.

Ashraf Ghani, who has just become the president of Afghanistan, once drafted a document for Hamid Karzai that began:

There is a consensus in Afghan society: violence…must end. National reconciliation and respect for fundamental human rights will form the path to lasting peace and stability across the country. The people’s aspirations must be represented in an accountable, broad-based, gender-sensitive, multi-ethnic, representative government that delivers daily value.

That was twelve years ago. No one speaks like that now—not even the new president. The best case now is presented as political accommodation with the Taliban, the worst as civil war.Western policymakers still argue, however, that something has been achieved: counterterrorist operations succeeded in destroying al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, there has been progress in health care and education, and even Afghan government has its strengths at the most local level. This is not much, given that the US-led coalition spent $1 trillion and deployed one million soldiers and civilians over thirteen years. But it is better than nothing; and it is tempting to think that everything has now been said: after all, such conclusions are now reflected in thousands of studies by aid agencies, multilateral organizations, foreign ministries, intelligence agencies, universities, and departments of defense.

But Anand Gopal’s No Good Men Among the Living shows that everything has not been said. His new and shocking indictment demonstrates that the failures of the intervention were worse than even the most cynical believed. Gopal, a Wall Street Journal and Christian Science Monitor reporter, investigates, for example, a US counterterrorist operation in January 2002. US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, had identified two sites as likely “al-Qaeda compounds.” It sent in a Special Forces team by helicopter; the commander, Master Sergeant Anthony Pryor, was attacked by an unknown assailant, broke his neck as they fought and then killed him with his pistol; he used his weapon to shoot further adversaries, seized prisoners, and flew out again, like a Hollywood hero.

As Gopal explains, however, the American team did not attack al-Qaeda or even the Taliban. They attacked the offices of two district governors, both of whom were opponents of the Taliban. They shot the guards, handcuffed one district governor in his bed and executed him, scooped up twenty-six prisoners, sent in AC-130 gunships to blow up most of what remained, and left a calling card behind in the wreckage saying “Have a nice day. From Damage, Inc.” Weeks later, having tortured the prisoners, they released them with apologies. [And now those very former prisoners hate us for our freedoms. /snark - LG] It turned out in this case, as in hundreds of others, that an Afghan “ally” had falsely informed the US that his rivals were Taliban in order to have them eliminated. In Gopal’s words:

The toll…: twenty-one pro-American leaders and their employees dead, twenty-six taken prisoner, and a few who could not be accounted for. Not one member of the Taliban or al-Qaeda was among the victims. Instead, in a single thirty-minute stretch the United States had managed to eradicate both of Khas Uruzgan’s potential governments, the core of any future anti-Taliban leadership—stalwarts who had outlasted the Russian invasion, the civil war, and the Taliban years but would not survive their own allies.

Gopal then finds the interview that the US Special Forces commander gave a year and a half later in which he celebrated the derring-do, and recorded that seven of his team were awarded bronze stars, and that he himself received a silver star for gallantry.

Gopal’s investigations into development are no more encouraging. I—like thousands of Western politicians—have often repeated the mantra that there are four million more children, and 1.5 million more girls, in school than there were under the Taliban. Gopal, however, quotes an Afghan report that in 2012, “of the 4,000 teachers currently on the payroll in Ghor, perhaps 3,200 have no qualifications—some cannot read and write…80 percent of the 740 schools in the province are not operating at all.” And Ghor is one of the least “Taliban-threatened” provinces of Afghanistan.

Or consider Gopal’s description of the fate of several principal Afghan politicians in the book:

Dr. Hafizullah, Zurmat’s first governor, had ended up in Guantanamo because he’d crossed Police Chief Mujahed. Mujahed wound up in Guantanamo because he crossed the Americans. Security chief Naim found himself in Guantanamo because of an old rivalry with Mullah Qassim. Qassim eluded capture, but an unfortunate soul with the same name ended up in Guantanamo in his place. And a subsequent feud left Samoud Khan, another pro-American commander, in Bagram prison, while the boy his men had sexually abused was shipped to Guantanamo….

Abdullah Khan found himself in Guantanamo charged with being Khairullah Khairkhwa, the former Taliban minister of the interior, which might have been more plausible—if Khairkhwa had not also been in Guantanamo at the time….

Nine Guantanamo inmates claimed the most striking proof of all that they were not Taliban or al-Qaeda: they had passed directly from a Taliban jail to American custody after 2001.

Why didn’t I—didn’t most of us—know these details? . . .

Continue reading.

The US has fucked up. But still we honor many of those responsible for the fuck-up. We do not learn, as a nation, or at least we learn quite slowly and uncertainly and quickly forget our lessons. We are a people who will put a teacher on leave because she was in Dallas, though she did not get within 10 miles of Texas Presbyterian Hospital. (On the bright side, we did not force everyone in Dallas to stay home for a couple of weeks.)

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2014 at 3:06 pm

Thomas Frank takes a hard look at Paul Krugman’s defense of President Obama

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 October 2014 at 6:43 am

Obama Administration working hard to ensure that the US can continue to torture

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Also, the US embraces cruelty as a way to treat prisoners. It feels to me that the US has lost its way. Charlie Savage writes in the NY Times:

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

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

But the Obama administration has never officially declared its position on the treaty, and now, President Obama’s legal team is debating whether to back away from his earlier view. It is considering reaffirming the Bush administration’s position that the treaty imposes no legal obligation on the United States to bar cruelty outside its borders, according to officials who discussed the deliberations on the condition of anonymity.

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

Continue reading.

You’ll notice Obama’s pattern: take one position in order achieve his goals, reverse his position once he’s gotten what he wants. For example, Obama’s solemn pledge to vote against telecom immunity from lawsuits regarding their illegal wiretaps stimulated a lot of support for him. Then he did vote in favor of telecom immunity. As the torture posturing shows, Obama cannot be trusted even to follow the law (the Convention Against Torture, which he ignores by not investigating and prosecuting those who authorized and delivered torture to prisoners held by the US).

Obviously, nowadays many believe that the US cannot survive as a free and democratic nation if we do not allow our law enforcement and military officials to torture prisoners and treat the untortured with cruelty. Such people have unreasonable confidence that those tactics will not be used on them.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 October 2014 at 5:36 am

I believe “FUBAR” was originally a Navy term?

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It’s easy to see why. Read this whole story, and think about iceberg visibility or about pulling just one thread on the coat…  for want of a nail. This thing has the potential to uncover quite a bit.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2014 at 2:49 pm

The Government War Against Reporter James Risen

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Norman Solomon and Marcy Wheeler have an excellent article in The Nation, which Margaret Sullivan points out in the column mentioned in my previous post. The article is good enough that I wanted to highlight it. The article begins:

Ever since New York Times reporter James Risen received his first subpoena from the Justice Department more than six years ago, occasional news reports have skimmed the surface of a complex story. The usual gloss depicts a conflict between top officials who want to protect classified information and a journalist who wants to protect confidential sources. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Sterling—a former undercover CIA officer now facing charges under the Espionage Act, whom the feds want Risen to identify as his source—is cast as a disgruntled ex-employee in trouble for allegedly spilling the classified beans.

But the standard media narratives about Risen and Sterling have skipped over deep patterns of government retaliation against recalcitrant journalists and whistleblowers. Those patterns are undermining press freedom, precluding the informed consent of the governed and hiding crucial aspects of US foreign policy. The recent announcement of Eric Holder’s resignation as attorney general has come after nearly five years of the Obama administration extending and intensifying the use of the Justice Department for retribution against investigative journalism and whistleblowing.

Official enmity toward Risen had simmered for years before the Bush administration sent him a subpoena on January 24, 2008. Shortly before the 2004 presidential election, Risen and his colleague Eric Lichtblau put together breakthrough reporting on a warrantless domestic-wiretap program. As it sometimes does with stories deemed sensitive for national security, the Times notified the government of its intent to publish. But under strong pressure from White House officials—including some later implicated in the legally suspect program—Times editors delayed the story’s publication for over a year, until December 2005. The coverage won Risen and Lichtblau a Pulitzer Prize for “carefully sourced stories on secret domestic eavesdropping that stirred a national debate.” It was the kind of debate that the people running the US surveillance state had been desperate to avoid.

The belated publication of those stories came just before Risen brought out a book that contained reporting on the wiretap program and several other sinister initiatives under categories like “counterterrorism” and “counterproliferation.” On January 13, 2006, the week after Risen’s book State of War reached the stores, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told a news conference that an investigation into the Times wiretap stories was under way and that “it’s too early to make decisions regarding whether or not reporters should go to jail.” Though not apparent at the time, facts later emerged to show that Gonzales was implicated in the illegal wiretapping that Risen exposed. (As White House counsel, Gonzales had authorized continued operation of the program after the Justice Department refused to do so.)

It turned out that the Justice Department was not able to prosecute any whistleblower or make legal trouble for any journalist in connection with the wiretap revelations. But as attorney general—an office he assumed in early 2005—Gonzales ran the department as it collected information that would not only jeopardize the confidentiality of Risen’s sources but also impede his ongoing reporting. Risen’s book, a bestseller, included a chapter that became the ostensible reason for the series of subpoenas and legal threats that have been aimed at Risen since George W. Bush began his final year in the Oval Office.

Under Attorney General Eric Holder, President Obama’s Justice Department took up where the Bush DOJ left off. Risen received a second subpoena for grand-jury testimony in late April 2010. As he noted in a mid-2011 affidavit, “It was my reporting, both in The New York Times and my book State of War, that revealed that the Bush Administration had, in all likelihood, violated the law and the United States Constitution by secretly conducting warrantless domestic wiretapping on American citizens.” At the White House and the Justice Department, he remained unforgiven.

Anger at Risen also endured at the CIA, where officials have loathed his way of flipping over their rocks. Former head CIA lawyer John Rizzo singles out Risen for condemnation in a memoir this year, writing that inside the agency “he has had a reputation for being irresponsible and sneaky.” State of War, which depicted the agency’s leadership as inept and dangerous, only stoked that antipathy.

Some high-ranking individuals have been mainstays in the continuation of policies that Risen exposed in his book. John Brennan—President Obama’s former counterterrorism czar and now CIA director—has been at notable cross-purposes with both Risen and Sterling for more than a decade. Brennan was a senior CIA official when the agency rolled out its torture program under Bush, which came under intense public scrutiny after the use of waterboarding was revealed in a May 13, 2004, front-page Times story with Risen as the lead reporter. And Brennan played a key role in the illegal wiretap program, overseeing the production of what personnel in the program called the “scary memos” intended to justify the domestic spying exposed by Risen. (Brennan has since admitted that he relied on intelligence from the CIA’s interrogation programs to develop such memos, and his tenure in that role spanned the period when the CIA used its most extreme torture.)

As for Sterling, Brennan played a role in his unhappy departure from the CIA a dozen years ago. In 2000, Sterling filed a discrimination complaint within the agency, asserting that he had been denied certain assignments because of his race. (Sterling was one of the CIA’s few African-American officers.) Brennan, as deputy executive director, was involved in rejecting Sterling’s claim. Sterling responded by suing the CIA; he was fired in 2002. The CIA rebuffed a number of settlement offers and then won dismissal of the entire lawsuit in 2004 after claiming that the litigation would expose state secrets.In early March 2003, Sterling met with two Senate Intelligence Committee staffers to report that Operation Merlin—the CIA’s ill-conceived and bungled effort in 2000 to use a former Russian scientist to pass flawed nuclear-weapons blueprints to Iran—may have helped Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The government concedes that Sterling went through proper channels when he “disclosed classified information” to committee staff. (In court documents, the prosecution has complained that Sterling was unfairly critical of that operation when he spoke to committee staffers.)

The New York Times was even more deferential to government pressure on the Operation Merlin story than it was with its fourteen-month delay of the warrantless wiretap scoop: it never published the Merlin story, which finally reached the public via Risen’s book after remaining bottled up at the paper of record for more than two years. Later, in an affidavit responding to his third subpoena, which was issued on May 23, 2011, Risen said that he included the exposé of Operation Merlin in his book to help prevent another trumped-up war: “I realized that U.S. intelligence on Iran’s supposed weapons of mass destruction was so flawed, and that the information I had was so important, that this was a story that the public had to know about before yet another war was launched.”

Alarm bells had gone off as soon as the National Security Council got a bootlegged copy of State of War before its publication. . .

Continue reading. It has important content.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2014 at 9:22 am

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