Archive for the ‘Torture’ Category
A completely unimpressive and very belated realization by the NY Times. It’s hard to respect the integrity of that publication. The Times does have some good reporters, but the editors seem to live in another world.
As regular readers know, I have been astonished at the degree to which President Obama simply ignores the highest law of the land—and gets away with it. Here is a Daily Kos post on his malfeasance.
Tom Englehardt takes a somber look at where the US is headed:
As every schoolchild knows, there are three check-and-balance branches of the U.S. government: the executive, Congress, and the judiciary. That’s bedrock Americanism and the most basic high school civics material. Only one problem: it’s just not so.
During the Cold War years and far more strikingly in the twenty-first century, the U.S. government has evolved. It sprouted a fourth branch: the national security state, whose main characteristic may be an unquenchable urge to expand its power and reach. Admittedly, it still lacks certain formal prerogatives of governmental power. Nonetheless, at a time when Congress and the presidency are in a check-and-balance ballet of inactivity that would have been unimaginable to Americans of earlier eras, the Fourth Branch is an ever more unchecked and unbalanced power center in Washington. Curtained off from accountability by a penumbra of secrecy, its leaders increasingly are making nitty-gritty policy decisions and largely doing what they want, a situation illuminated by a recent controversy over the possible release of a Senate report on CIA rendition and torture practices.
All of this is or should be obvious, but remains surprisingly unacknowledged in our American world. The rise of the Fourth Branch began at a moment of mobilization for a global conflict, World War II. It gained heft and staying power in the Cold War of the second half of the twentieth century, when that other superpower, the Soviet Union, provided the excuse for expansion of every sort.
Its officials bided their time in the years after the fall of the Soviet Union, when “terrorism” had yet to claim the landscape and enemies were in short supply. In the post-9/11 era, in a phony “wartime” atmosphere, fed by trillions of taxpayer dollars, and under the banner of American “safety,” it has grown to unparalleled size and power. So much so that it sparked a building boom in and around the national capital (as well as elsewhere in the country). In their 2010 Washington Post series “Top Secret America,” Dana Priest and William Arkin offered this thumbnail summary of the extent of that boom for the U.S. Intelligence Community: “In Washington and the surrounding area,” they wrote, “33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings — about 17 million square feet of space.” And in 2014, the expansion is ongoing.
In this century, a full-scale second “Defense Department,” the Department of Homeland Security, was created. Around it has grown up a mini-version of the military-industrial complex, with the usual set of consultants, K Street lobbyists, political contributions, and power relations: just the sort of edifice that President Eisenhower warned Americans about in his famed farewell address in 1961. In the meantime, the original military-industrial complex has only gained strength and influence.
Increasingly, post-9/11, under the rubric of “privatization,” though it should more accurately have been called “corporatization,” the Pentagon took a series of crony companies off to war with it. In the process, it gave “capitalist war” a more literal meaning, thanks to its wholesale financial support of, and the shrugging off of previously military tasks onto, a series of warrior corporations.
Meanwhile, the 17 members of the U.S. Intelligence Community — yes, there are 17 major intelligence outfits in the national security state — have been growing, some at prodigious rates. A number of them have undergone their own versions of corporatization, outsourcing many of their operations to private contractors in staggering numbers, so that we now have “capitalist intelligence” as well. With the fears from 9/11 injected into society and the wind of terrorism at their backs, the Intelligence Community has had a remarkably free hand to develop surveillance systems that are now essentially “watching” everyone — including, it seems, other branches of the government.
Think of Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee who went over to the corporate side of the developing national security economy, as the first blowback figure from and on the world of “capitalist intelligence.” Thanks to him, we have an insider’s view of the magnitude of the ambitions and operations of the National Security Agency. The scope of that agency’s surveillance operations and the range of global and domestic communications it now collects have proven breathtaking — with more information on its reach still coming out. And keep in mind that it’s only one agency.
We know as well that the secret world has developed its own secret body of law and its own secret judiciary, largely on the principle of legalizing whatever it wanted to do. As the New York Times’s Eric Lichtblau has reported, it even has its own Supreme Court equivalent in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. And about all this, the other branches of government know only limited amounts and American citizens know next to nothing.
From the Pentagon to the Department of Homeland Security to the labyrinthine world of intelligence, the rise to power of the national security state has been a spectacle of our time. Whenever news of its secret operations begins to ooze out, threatening to unnerve the public, the White House and Congress discuss “reforms” which will, at best, modestly impede the expansive powers of that state within a state. Generally speaking, its powers and prerogatives remain beyond constraint by that third branch of government, the non-secret judiciary. It is deferred to with remarkable frequency by the executive branch and, with the rarest of exceptions, it has been supported handsomely with much obeisance and few doubts by Congress.
And also keep in mind that, of the four branches of government, only two of them — an activist Supreme Court and the national security state — seem capable of functioning in a genuine policymaking capacity at the moment.
In that light, let’s turn to a set of intertwined events in Washington that have largely been dealt with in the media as your typical tempest in a teapot, a catfight among the vested and powerful. I’m talking about the various charges and countercharges, anger, outrage, and irritation, as well as news of acts of seeming illegality now swirling around a 6,300-page CIA “torture report” produced but not yet made public by the Senate Intelligence Committee. This ongoing controversy reveals a great deal about the nature of the checks and balances on the Fourth Branch of government in 2014.
One of the duties of Congress is to keep an eye on the functioning of the government using its powers of investigation and oversight. In the case of the CIA’s program of Bush-era rendition, black sites (offshore prisons), and “enhanced interrogation techniques” (a.k.a. torture), the Senate Intelligence Committee launched an investigation in March 2009 into what exactly occurred when suspects in the war on terror were taken to those offshore prisons and brutally interrogated. “Millions” of CIA documents, handed over by the Agency, were analyzed by Intelligence Committee staffers at a “secure” CIA location in Northern Virginia.
Among them was a partial copy of a document known as the “Internal Panetta Review,” evidently a report for the previous CIA director on what the Senate committee might find among those documents being handed over to its investigators. It reportedly reached some fairly strong conclusions of its own about the nature of the CIA’s interrogation overreach in those years. According to Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, the committee head, this document was among the mass of documentation the CIA turned over — whether purposely, inadvertently, or thanks to a whistleblower no one knows. (The CIA, on the other hand, claimed, until recently, that committee staffers had essentially stolen it from its computer system.)
The Agency or its private contractors (intelligence capitalism strikes again!) reportedly worked in various ways to obstruct the committee’s investigation, including by secretly removing previously released documents from the committee’s “secure” computer system. Nonetheless, its report was completed in December 2012 and passed on to the White House “for comment” — and then the fun began.
Though relatively few details about its specific contents have leaked out, word has it that it will prove devastating. It will supposedly show, among other things, that those “enhanced interrogation techniques” the CIA used were significantly more brutal than what was described to Congressional overseers; that they went well beyond what the “torture memo” lawyers of the Bush administration had laid out (which, mind you, was brutal enough); that no plots were broken up thanks to torture; and that top figures in the Agency, assumedly under oath, “misled” Congress (a polite word for “lied to,” a potential criminal offense that goes by the name of perjury). Senators knowledgeable on the contents of the report have repeatedly insisted that when it goes public, Americans will be shocked by its contents.
Let’s keep in mind as well that committee head Feinstein was previously known as one of the most loyal and powerful supporters of the national security state and the CIA. Until recently, she has, in fact, essentially been the senator from the national security state. She and her colleagues, themselves shocked by what they had learned, understandably wanted their report declassified and released to the American people with all due speed. It naturally had to be vetted to ensure that it contained no names of active agents and the like. But two and a half years later, after endless reviews and a process of vetting by the CIA and the White House that gives the word “glacial” a bad name, it has yet to be released (though there are regular reports that this will — or will not — happen soon).
During this time, the CIA seemed to go to Def Con 2 and decided to turn its spying skills on the committee and its staffers. Claiming that those staffers had gotten the Panetta Internal Review by “hacking” the CIA’s computers, it essentially hacked the committee’s computers and searched them. In the meantime, its acting general counsel, Robert Eatinger, who had been the chief lawyer for the counterterrorism unit out of which the CIA interrogation programs were run, and who was mentioned 1,600 times in the Senate report, filed (to quote Feinstein) a “crimes report to the Department of Justice on the actions of congressional staff — the same congressional staff who researched and drafted a report that details how CIA officers — including the acting general counsel himself — provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice about the program.” (Back in 2005, Eatinger had also been one of two lawyers responsible for not stopping the destruction of CIA videotapes of the brutal interrogations of terror suspects in its secret prisons.)
In addition, according to Feinstein, CIA Director John Brennan met with her, lied to her, and essentially tried to intimidate her by telling her “that the CIA had searched a ‘walled-off committee network drive containing the committee’s own internal work product and communications’ and that he was going to ‘order further forensic evidence of the committee network to learn more about activities of the committee’s oversight staff.’” In other words, the overseen were spying upon and now out to get the overseers. And more than that, based on a single incident in which one of its greatest supporters in Congress stepped over the line, the Agency was specifically out to get the senator from the national security state.
There was a clear message here: oversight or not, don’t tread on us.
By the way, since the CIA is the injuring, not the injured, party, there is no reason to take seriously the self-interested words of its officials, past or present, on any of this, or any account they offer of events or charges they make. We’re talking, after all, about an outfit responsible for the initial brutal acts of interrogation, for false descriptions of them, for lying to Congress about them, for destroying evidence of the worst of what it had done, for spying on a Senate committee and its computer system, and for somehow obtaining “legally protected email and other unspecified communications between whistleblower officials and lawmakers this spring relating to the Agency and the committee’s report.” In addition, according to a recent front-page story in the New York Times, its former director from the Bush years, George Tenet, has been actively plotting “a counterattack against the Senate committee’s voluminous report” with the present director and various past Agency officials. (And keep in mind that “roughly 200 people under [Tenet’s] leadership [who] had at some point participated in the interrogation program” are still working at the Agency.)
The Age of Impunity in Washington
In December 2012, the report began to wend its way through a “review and declassification” process, which has yet to end. Once again, the CIA stepped in. The Senate was eager to declassify the report’s findings, conclusions, and its 600-page executive summary. The CIA, which had already done its damnedest to block the Senate investigation process, now ensured that the vetting would be interminable.
As a start, the White House vested the CIA as the lead agency in the review and vetting process, which meant that it was to be allowed to slow things to a crawl, stop them entirely, or alternatively remove crucial and damning material from the report via redaction. If you want a gauge of just how powerful the various outfits that make up the Fourth Branch have become in Washington (and what limits on them still remain), look no further.
Fourteen years into the twenty-first century, we’re so used to this sort of thing that we seldom think about what it means to let the CIA — accused of a variety of crimes — be the agency to decide what exactly can be known by the public, in conjunction with a deferential White House. . .
I’ve blogged about this before, and Obama’s unconditional support of the CIA in this struggle shows the direction the country is headed. There seems to be no effective pushback from the president against overreaching on the part of the Executive Branch intelligence/security power centers: they are currently more powerful than the president. And Congress is now rather feeble. And the media now have a corporate (profit-centered) focus and don’t really investigate things much any more. You see where this is going, right?
The formal institution of torture as part of US government policy by Bush/Cheney/CIA was not only illegal under US law and a war crime to boot, it’s not even effective. It seems to have come about because a bunch of paper-shufflers wanted to feel macho by ordering people to be tortured. Eric Horowitz has an interesting article in Pacific Standard that explains how interrogation is done effectively: with kindness.
The downed World War II fighter pilot had little reason to be wary. Thus far, his German interrogator had seemed uninterested in extracting military intelligence, and had acted with genuine kindness. He made friendly conversation, shared some of his wife’s delicious baked goods, and took the pilot out for a lovely stroll in the German countryside. So when the interrogator erroneously suggested that a chemical shortage was responsible for American tracer bullets leaving white rather than red smoke, the pilot quickly corrected him with the information German commanders sought. No, there was no chemical shortage; the white smoke was supposed to signal to pilots that they would soon be out of ammunition.
The man prying the information loose was Hanns Scharff, and as Raymond Tolliver chronicles in The Interrogator: The Story of Hanns Joachim Scharff, Master Interrogator of the Luftwaffe, Scharff’s unparalleled success did not come from confrontation or threats, but from simply being nice. With the morality and efficacy of interrogation practices coming under increasing scrutiny, Scharff’s techniques—and questions about the extent to which they work—are taking on greater significance.
The fact that Scharff is even mentioned in criminal justice circles is a historical anomaly. Not only was he never meant be an interrogator, he was never meant to be in the German military at all. In the decade leading up to the war Scharff worked as a businessman in Johannesburg, where he lived with his British wife and two kids. Not exactly a portrait of the threatening Axis enemy Captain America was created to battle.
War broke out while Scharff was vacationing in his native Germany. Unable to leave the country, he was eventually drafted into the army. He was destined for the front lines in Russia when his wife talked her way into a general’s office and managed to get Scharff transferred to a unit of interpreters. After a string of additional transfers and coincidences, the last of which was a plane crash that killed his two superiors, Scharff found himself as the lead interrogator for Allied fighter pilots who went down over France and Germany. As a lowly assistant Scharff once saw a prisoner being mistreated, and he vowed to do things differently if he were ever in charge. That core principle was the basis for a strategy so effective a prisoner once quipped that Scharff “could get a confession of infidelity from a Nun.”
There is strong anecdotal evidence of Scharff’s kindness and ability to get what he wanted—in one instance he may have saved the lives of a group of American pilots by persuading the SS to exonerate them from war crime accusations—but researchers have only recently begun systematically testing his techniques to determine whether they are actually more effective.
The bulk of the research on Scharff’s strategies comes from the lab of Pär Anders Granhag, a psychology professor at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. In a new study led by Simon Oleszkiewicz, a former student in Granhag’s lab, the “Scharff Technique” was compared with a method know as the “Direct Approach.”
Participants in the experiment were given a story that contained 35 specific pieces of information about a terrorist attack they helped plan—their interrogators knew only a dozen of them—and instructed to say as little as possible while also revealing enough to earn their freedom; they were told that their compensation for participating would reflect their ability to strike this balance. The interrogations were done by phone, and participants had all of the information in front of them during the call. Researchers measured the quantity and accuracy of information that was revealed, and participants were surveyed about the interrogation after the experiment.
The Scharff Technique was defined by four key components: . . .
Later in the article
Both are worth reading:
The Road From Abu Ghraib: A Torture Story Without a Hero or an Ending, by Karen Greenberg
I have occasionally remarked that “CIA” stands for “Criminals In Action,” and that certainly seems to be the case in their kidnapping and torture program, which also resulted in some homicides. Ali Watkins, Jonathan Landay, and Marisa Taylor have a report at McClatchy of some sections leaked from the Senate report. Well worth reading. The report begins:
A still-secret Senate Intelligence Committee report calls into question the legal foundation of the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, a finding that challenges the key defense on which the agency and the Bush administration relied in arguing that the methods didn’t constitute torture.
The report also found that the spy agency failed to keep an accurate account of the number of individuals it held, and that it issued erroneous claims about how many it detained and subjected to the controversial interrogation methods. The CIA has said that about 30 detainees underwent the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.
The CIA’s claim “is BS,” said a former U.S. official familiar with evidence underpinning the report, who asked not to be identified because the matter is still classified. “They are trying to minimize the damage. They are trying to say it was a very targeted program, but that’s not the case.”
The findings are among the report’s 20 main conclusions. Taken together, they paint a picture of an intelligence agency that seemed intent on evading or misleading nearly all of its oversight mechanisms throughout the program, which was launched under the Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and ran until 2006.
Some of the report’s other conclusions, which were obtained by McClatchy, include:
_ The CIA used interrogation methods that weren’t approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters.
_ The agency impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making regarding the program.
_ The CIA actively evaded or impeded congressional oversight of the program.
_ The agency hindered oversight of the program by its own Inspector General’s Office.
The 6,300-page report is . . .