Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category
Elizabeth Warren, you done good: The feds are suing Sprint for charging Americans ‘hundreds of millions’ in bogus fees
Thanks to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for doing exactly what the GOP feared: protecting the finances of consumers. Read this joyous story, so appropriate to this (or at least to some) season.
Frances Robles reports in the NY Times on how corrupt the Obama Administration has become: it now sells government actions for cash contributions. How low can you go? I didn’t realize that “Hope” would lead to this sort of thing:
The Obama administration overturned a ban preventing a wealthy, politically connected Ecuadorean woman from entering the United States after her family gave tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic campaigns, according to finance records and government officials.
The woman, Estefanía Isaías, had been barred from coming to the United States after being caught fraudulently obtaining visas for her maids. But the ban was lifted at the request of the State Department under former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton so that Ms. Isaías could work for an Obama fund-raiser with close ties to the administration.
It was one of several favorable decisions the Obama administration made in recent years involving the Isaías family, which the government of Ecuadoraccuses of buying protection from Washington and living comfortably in Miami off the profits of a looted bank in Ecuador.
The family, which has been investigated by federal law enforcement agencies on suspicion of money laundering and immigration fraud, has made hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to American political campaigns in recent years. During that time, it has repeatedly received favorable treatment from the highest levels of the American government, including from New Jersey’s senior senator and the State Department.
The Obama administration has allowed the family’s patriarchs, Roberto and William Isaías, to remain in the United States, refusing to extradite them to Ecuador. The two brothers were sentenced in absentia in 2012 to eight years in prison, accused of running their bank into the ground and then presenting false balance sheets to profit from bailout funds. In a highly politicized case, Ecuador says the fraud cost the country $400 million.
The family’s affairs have rankled Ecuador and strained relations with the United States at a time when the two nations are also at odds over another international fugitive: Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, who has taken refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.
But while scrutiny has typically focused on whether the family’s generous campaign donations have helped its patriarchs avoid extradition, the unorthodox help given to Ms. Isaías, the daughter of Roberto, has received little attention.
In the spring of 2011, Ms. Isaías, a television executive, was in a difficult situation.
Her father and uncle were Ecuadorean fugitives living in Miami, but she was barred from entering the United States after she brought maids into the country under false visa pretenses and left them at her parents’ Miami home while she traveled.
“Alien smuggling” is what American consular officials in Ecuador called it.
American diplomats began enforcing the ban against Ms. Isaías, blocking her from coming to Miami for a job with a communications strategist who had raised up to $500,000 for President Obama.
What happened next illustrates the kind of access and influence available to people with vast amounts of money. . .
Continue reading. It just gets worse and worse: the corruption in this case is highly visible and quite overt. But no one gives a damn.
It would probably be helpful to everyone if the Obama Administration simply posted a price list: the amount of cash required for different types of favors—something along the lines of what Duke Cunningham did when he was in Congress:
The sentencing memorandum includes the California Republican’s “bribery menu” on one of his congressional note cards, “starkly framed” under the seal of the United States Congress.
The card shows an escalating scale for bribes, starting at $140,000 and a luxury yacht for a $16 million Defense Department contract. Each additional $1 million in contract value required a $50,000 bribe.
The rate dropped to $25,000 per additional million once the contract went above $20 million.
From a good Wikipedia article, here’s what Duke’s menu looked like:
I’m sure the Obama Administration can come up with a neater price list.
Obama has one thing going for him that the Dukester did not: The Obama Administration controls the Department of Justice, so the Administration can easily put the kibosh on any effort to enforce anti-corruption laws—not that the Obama DOJ seems at all interested in prosecuting well-connected people (cf. the lack of prosecution of bankers, of torturers, et al.).
UPDATE: The NY Times just published my comment to the story:
Does the Obama Administration publish a price list for favors, as Duke Cunningham did when he was in Congress? I think that would expedite cashing in on their position. Bribes—or, as they are tactfully called, “cash contributions to campaigns”—seem to work easiest if people know how much they have to pay for specific actions.
This is outright corruption, but of course the Obama Administration is not going to turn its own Justice Department on itself (not that the Obama DOJ is all that interested in prosecution anyway: not on torturers, not on bankers, not on anyone with any influence). This corruption in the Executive Branch is properly investigated by a (dysfunctional and rightly disrespected) Congress.
The US is not doing well these days.
The US and Cuba are going to open talks on normalizing relations. At long last! This is way overdue. Apparently they released our agent, who had been imprisoned for 5 years, and we released 3 of their agents, who had been imprisoned for 16 years:
In 1998, five Cuban men were arrested by the U.S. government and tried in Miami on charges of conspiring to commit espionage on the United States.
The five men’s mission was to stop terrorism, keeping watch on Miami’s ultra-right extremists to prevent their violent attacks against Cuba. “The Cuban Five,” as they are now known, were convicted after repeated denials by the judge to move the trial venue out of Miami. The U.S. government insisted that they be tried in Miami.
Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff for Colin Powell when he was Secretary State from 2001 to 2005, commented about the inability of the Cuban Five to receive a fair trial in Miami:
When the case came to trial, a change of venue was warranted and asked for because no Miami court was going to give the Cuban Five a fair trial, since the city is largely in the hands of some of the very Cuban-Americans and their supporters who’ve allegedly perpetrated these atrocities on the Cuban people and are prepared to invade the island. But the change of venue motion was denied. And of course the five were convicted.
The above is from an email sent by The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund.
My guess: The GOP will hate this, but then they hate anything Obama supports, which undercuts the significance of their opposition.
Peter Maass writes at The Intercept:
Have you heard the screams of a prisoner who is being tortured in America’s war on terror? I can’t forget them.
They pierced the walls of a detention center I visited in Samarra during an offensive by American and Iraqi forces in 2005. In a small room, I was interviewing a frightened detainee whose head was bandaged from an injury he unconvincingly attributed to a car accident during his capture. Bloodstains dripped down the side of a desk, and there was an American military adviser with us, as well as a portly officer of Iraq’s special police commandos.
Suddenly there was a chilling scream.
“Allah,” someone wailed. “Allah! Allah!”
As I wrote at the time, this wasn’t a cry of religious ecstasy. It was the sound of deep pain, coming from elsewhere in the town library, which had been turned into a detention center by Iraqi security forces who were advised by American soldiers and contractors. I was embedded with the Americans for a week, and I had already heard two of them, from the Wisconsin National Guard, talk about seeing their Iraqi partners trussing up prisoners like animals at a slaughter. During raids, I had seen these Iraqis beat their detainees — muggings as a form of questioning — while their American advisers watched.
The CIA’s violations of its detainees is the tip of the torture iceberg. We run the risk, in the necessary debate sparked by the Senate’s release of 500 pages on CIA interrogation abuses, of focusing too narrowly on what happened to 119 detainees held at the agency’s black sites from 2002-2006. The problem of American torture — how much occurred, what impact it had, who bears responsibility — is much larger. Across Iraq and Afghanistan, American soldiers and the indigenous forces they fought alongside committed a large number of abuses against a considerable number of people. It didn’t begin at Abu Ghraib and it didn’t end there. The evidence, which has emerged in a drip-drip way over the years, is abundant though less dramatic than the aforementioned 500-page executive summary of the Senate’s still-classified report on the CIA.
Continue reading. Keep reading—it makes a good point with an interesting anecdote.
The piece ends with a reading list:
Here’s a partial reading list of essential reporting on torture in Iraq and Afghanistan:
Senate Report on Abuses of Military Detainees (2008):http://media.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/nation/pdf/12112008_detaineeabuse.pdf
Haditha Killings by Tim McGirk:http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1174649,00.html
Taguba Report on Abuses at Abu Ghraib:https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/torturefoia/released/TR3.pdf
Abu Ghraib Abuses by Seymour Hersh:http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2004/05/10/torture-at-abu-ghraib
Special Forces in Afghanistan by Matt Aikens:http://www.rollingstone.com/feature/a-team-killings-afghanistan-special-forces
Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treament (See especially chapter 3): http://detaineetaskforce.org/report/
“The Dark Side” by Jane Mayer: http://www.amazon.com/The-Dark-Side-Inside-American/dp/0307456293
“None of Us Were Like This Before” by Joshua Phillips:http://www.amazon.com/None-Were-Like-This-Before/dp/1844678849
The Killing of Dilawar by Carlotta Gall:http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/04/international/asia/04AFGH.html
“Pay Any Price” by James Risen (See especially Chapter 7):http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/pay-any-price-james-risen/1117916812?ean=9780544341418
“Dirty Wars” by Jeremy Scahill (a founder of The Intercept):http://www.amazon.com/Dirty-Wars-The-World-Battlefield/dp/156858671X
“How to Break a Terrorist” by Matthew Alexander:http://www.amazon.com/How-Break-Terrorist-Interrogators-Brutality/dp/B0085S1S5K
“The Black Banners” by Ali Soufan: http://www.amazon.com/Black-Banners-Inside-Against-al-Qaeda/dp/0393079422
“Kandahar’s Mystery Executions” by Anand Gopal:http://harpers.org/archive/2014/09/kandahars-mystery-executions/
“No Good Men Among the Living” by Anand Gopal:http://www.amazon.com/No-Good-Men-Among-Living/dp/0805091793
Interesting point: We seeing many interviews of the authors of the US torture program, but no interviews of their victims
I wonder why that is. Some of them—including some of those who were absolutely innocent of any wrong-doing—have been destroyed by the experience, and so TV would shy away from that. But I think a panel discussion with (say) Dick Cheney and Khalid al Masri, the German citizen whom the CIA kidnapped and tortured for months, then discarded in a field in Macedonia. His life has been pretty much ruined. He has tried repeatedly to get some acknowledgement and apology from the US, but the US is the sort of nation that won’t do that—well, obviously, a nation that kidnaps innocent people and tortures them has a certain character revealed in what it does and what it refuses to do. The character of the US is plainly revealed in its actions.
Glenn Greenwald writes at The Intercept:
Ever since the torture report was released last week, U.S. television outlets have endlessly featured American torturers and torture proponents. But there was one group that was almost never heard from: the victims of their torture, not even the ones recognized by the U.S. Government itself as innocent, not even the family members of the ones they tortured to death. Whether by design (most likely) or effect, this inexcusable omission radically distorts coverage.
Whenever America is forced to confront its heinous acts, the central strategy is to disappear the victims, render them invisible. That’s what robs them of their humanity: it’s the process of dehumanization. That, in turns, is what enables American elites first to support atrocities, and then, when forced to reckon with them, tell themselves that – despite some isolated and well-intentioned bad acts – they are still really good, elevated, noble, admirable people. It’s hardly surprising, then, that a Washington Post/ABC News poll released this morning found that a large majority of Americans believe torture is justified even when you call it “torture.” Not having to think about actual human victims makes it easy to justify any sort of crime.
That’s the process by which the reliably repellent Tom Friedman seized on the torture report to celebrate America’s unique greatness. “We are a beacon of opportunity and freedom, and also  these foreigners know in their bones that we do things differently from other big powers in history,” the beloved-by-DC columnist wrote after reading about forced rectal feeding and freezing detainees to death. For the opinion-making class, even America’s savage torture is proof of its superiority and inherent Goodness: “this act of self-examination is not only what keeps our society as a whole healthy, it’s what keeps us a model that others want to emulate, partner with and immigrate to.” Friedman, who himself unleashed one of the most (literally) psychotic defenses of the Iraq War, ended his torture discussion by approvingly quoting John McCain on America’s enduring moral superiority: “Even in the worst of times, ‘we are always Americans, and different, stronger, and better than those who would destroy us.’”
This self-glorifying ritual can be sustained only by completely suppressing America’s victims. If you don’t hear from the human beings who are tortured, it’s easy to pretend nothing truly terrible happened. That’s how the War on Terror generally has been “reported” for 13 years and counting: by completely silencing those whose lives are destroyed or ended by U.S. crimes. That’s how the illusion gets sustained.
Thus, we sometimes hear about drones (usually to celebrate the Great Kills) but almost never hear from their victims: the surviving family members of innocents whom the U.S. kills or those forced to live under the traumatizing regime of permanently circling death robots. We periodically hear about the vile regimes the U.S. props up for decades, but almost never from the dissidents and activists imprisoned, tortured and killed by those allied tyrants. Most Americans have heard the words “rendition” and “Guantanamo” but could not name a single person victimized by them, let alone recount what happened to them, because they almost never appear on American television.
It would be incredibly easy, and incredibly effective, for U.S. television outlets to interview America’s torture victims. There is certainly no shortage of them. Groups such as the ACLU, Center for Constitutional Rights, Reprieve, and CAGE UK represent many of them. Many are incredibly smart and eloquent, and have spent years contemplating what happened to them and navigating the aftermath on their lives.
I’ve written previously about the transformative experience of
meeting and hearing directly from the victims of the abuses by your own government. That human interaction converts an injustice from an abstraction into a deeply felt rage and disgust. That’s precisely why the U.S. media doesn’t air those stories directly from the victims themselves: because it would make it impossible to maintain the pleasing fairy tales about “who we really are.”
When I was in Canada in October, I met Maher Arar (pictured above) for the second time, went to his home, had breakfast with his wife (also pictured above) and two children. In 2002, Maher, a Canadian citizen of Syrian descent who worked as an engineer, was traveling back home to Ottawa when he was abducted by the U.S. Government at JFK Airport, heldincommunicado and interrogated for weeks, then “rendered” to Syria where the U.S. arranged to have him brutally tortured by Assad’s regime. He was kept in a coffin-like cell for 10 months and savagely tortured until even his Syrian captors were convinced that he was completely innocent. He was then uncermoniously released back to his life in Canada as though nothing had happened.
When he sued the U.S. government, subservient U.S. courts refused even to hear his case, accepting the Obama DOJ’s claim that it was too secret to safely adjudicate. The Canadian government released the findings of its investigation, publicly apologized for its role, and paid him $9 million. He used some of the money to start a political newspaper, which has since closed. He became an eloquent opponent of both the U.S. War on Terror and the Assad regime which tortured him as part of it.
But all you have to do is spend five minutes talking to him to see that he has never really recovered from being snatched from his own life and savagely tortured at the behest of the U.S. Government that still holds itself out as the Leader of the Free World. Part of him is still back in the torture chamber in Syria, and likely always will be.
Nobody could listen to Maher Arar speak and feel anything but disgust and outrage toward the U.S. Government – not just the Bush administration which kidnapped him and sent him to be tortured, but the Obama administration which protected them and blocked him from receiving justice, and the American media that turned a blind eye toward it, and the majority of the American public that supports this. But that’s exactly why we don’t hear from him: he isn’t on CNN or Meet the Press or Morning Joe to make clear what Michael Hayden and John Yoo really did and what the U.S. government under a Democratic president continues to shield. . .
I think interviewing the victims of our torture program would be dynamite television—it certainly would bring a new dimension to Meet the Press. Indeed, given the competition for ratings, I’m surprised that TV interviews of victims has not happened already. Why not? <- good question. Why not?
Cheney himself cannot shed much light on the experience of being tortured, since he himself has never been tortured. Indeed, he took great pains even to avoid military service.
Carl Hulse reports in the NY Times:
To Senator Mark Udall, the Central Intelligence Agency’s effort to mislead the public about its brutal interrogation program is not a thing of the past.
Mr. Udall, a Colorado Democrat who pressed his case against the agency even as he packed up his office after his re-election defeat last month, sees the agency’s strong effort to rebut the findings of the Senate’s report on the torture of terrorism suspects as proof the intelligence community has not learned from its mistakes.
“We did all these things and had the opportunity over the last six years to come clean, and the C.I.A. just fought tooth and nail to prevent that from happening,” Mr. Udall said in an interview after the stinging attack he delivered on the Senate floor against the intelligence community and the White House. “Now we are doing the same thing today that we did six or eight or 10 years ago by denying this happened.”
Mr. Udall, 64, an avid outdoorsman more often associated with environmental, energy and fiscal issues during his congressional career, has become a fierce critic of the nation’s spy and antiterror apparatus, from the mass collection of telecommunications data to the expansion of drone strikes under the Obama administration. He said he was exploring ways to continue in that role after leaving Congress — to keep public attention fixed on intelligence operations he sees as in conflict with the nation’s character.
“There has to be accountability,” Mr. Udall said. “The longer you wait to address the question of accountability, the more it festers and there is more potential that people lose interest and we repeat these very acts at some point in the future.”
After one term in the Senate and five in the House, Mr. Udall had one of his biggest moments in the final days of his tenure. He took to the Senate floor on Wednesday to not only condemn the torture documented in the Senate Intelligence Committee report, but to denounce the response from John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director.
Mr. Brennan, like other intelligence community leaders from 2001 to 2009, conceded that some abuses occurred but argued that useful intelligence was obtained. He and others also dispute the findings that C.I.A. officials misled both the Bush administration and the public about the interrogation program, a key element of the Senate report.
Skirting close to disclosing classified information on the floor, Mr. Udall pointed to a still-secret internal review done by the C.I.A. under the former director Leon E. Panetta that was obtained by the Senate. He said the Panetta review showed the agency had determined for itself that much of the Senate report was true.
“Director Brennan and the C.I.A. today are continuing to willfully provide inaccurate information and misrepresent the efficacy of torture,” he said on the floor. “In other words, the C.I.A. is lying.”
Mr. Udall didn’t stop at the agency. He strongly criticized President Obama for failing to “rein in” the agency and its leadership and for not embracing the report’s findings. Instead, the White House has focused on the president’s decision to end the interrogation program instead of the issues of whether it provided valuable intelligence or whether those who conducted it should be prosecuted.
Mr. Udall also faulted the administration for keeping some of those responsible for the program in leadership positions.
“The president needs to purge his administration of high-level officials who were instrumental to the development and running of this program,” he said. “He needs to force a cultural change at the C.I.A.” . . .
And note this article: Does Torture Work? The C.I.A.’s Claims and What the Committee Found
Is the CIA capable of telling the truth? Or do they consider all true statements as classified, so that they can only tell lies?