Later On

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Archive for June 2016

CIA knew it had the wrong man, but kept him anyway

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Matthew Schofield reports for McClatchy about the incident:

By January of 2004, when German citizen Khaleed al Masri arrived at the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret prison in Afghanistan, agency officials were pretty sure he wasn’t a terrorist. They also knew he didn’t know any terrorists, or much about anything in the world of international terror.

In short, they suspected they’d nabbed the wrong man.

Still, the agency continued to imprison and interrogate him, according to a recently released internal CIA report on Masri’s arrest. The report claims that Masri suffered no physical abuse during his wrongful imprisonment, though it acknowledges that for months he was kept in a “small cell with some clothing, bedding and a bucket for his waste.” Masri says he was tortured, specifically that a medical examination against his will constituted sodomy.

The embarrassing, and horrifying, case of Masri is hardly new. It has been known for a decade as a colossal example of CIA error in the agency’s pursuit of terrorists during the administration of President George W. Bush.

But the recently released internal report makes it clear that the CIA’s failures in the Masri case were even more outrageous than previous accounts have suggested.

The report is heavily redacted – whole pages are blank – and the names of those involved have been removed. But enough is there to give a good understanding of what happened and what went wrong.

Adding to the sense of injustice: Even though the agency realized early on that Masri was the wrong man, it couldn’t figure out how to release him without having to acknowledge its mistake. [And, apparently, acknowledging that it made a mistake is one of the many things the agency cannot do. – LG] The agency eventually dumped him unceremoniously in Albania and essentially pretended his arrest and detention had never happened.

The release of the report, which is 90 pages long and was written in July 2007, came in June after a Freedom of Information Act suit by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Masri in his decade-long attempt to get an official apology from the United States.

Officials most responsible were promoted

Assembled by the CIA’s inspector general, the report provides the clearest official view to date into the dark, murky world of the Bush administration’s anti-terror rendition program. Beyond snatching an innocent man and holding him for five months, the report highlights a shocking lack of professionalism at America’s top spy agency. The Hollywood cliché of deeply devoted patriots doing their best to protect the United States appears, in this case, to have been replaced by a classic bureaucratic mess and individuals most intent on protecting their own careers.

The report notes that Masri was “questioned in English, which he spoke only poorly.”

None of the Americans involved in Masri’s detention has been held to account, notes Masri’s attorney, Jamil Dakwar, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program. Indeed, the two men most responsible for the errors were promoted [so they could continue to fuck things up. – LG]. Meanwhile, Dakwar said, Masri is haunted to this day by the psychological torture inflicted by his detention in the CIA’s secret Afghan holding center and by the stigma of having been snatched in a CIA anti-terror investigation.

The tale has important lessons for the country, where one of the two leading presidential candidates, Donald Trump, has promised to reinstate the use of torture against terrorism suspects and the Obama administration has declined to punish anyone for the excesses of the Bush-era rendition program.

“When you start a program shrouded in secrecy that pushes the line on human rights, nobody should be surprised that we see this result,” Dakwar said. He added that the presidential authority given for the program under which Masri was nabbed required the CIA “to satisfy a very low bar of proof. In this case, they admit they knew at the time that they didn’t reach even that bar.”

Detention due to ‘a series of breakdowns’

In the case of Masri, the inspector general’s report is sweeping in its condemnation of the failures that took place throughout the agency’s hierarchy, blaming the mishandling of his arrest and detention on “a series of breakdowns in tradecraft, process, management and oversight.”

The report lists the failures: “The lack of rigor in justifying action against an individual suspected of terrorist connections; the lack of understanding of the legal requirements of detention and rendition; the lack of guidance provided to officers making critical operations decisions with significant international implications; and the lack of management oversight.”

It offered a particularly harsh judgment of Alec Station, the CIA unit charged with tracking down Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States.

“ALEC Station exaggerated the nature of the data it possessed linking al Masri to terrorism. After the decision had been made to repatriate al Masri, implementation was marked by delay and bureaucratic infighting,” the report says.

The report notes that all agency attorneys interviewed agreed that Masri did not meet the legal standard for rendition and detention, which required that a suspect be deemed a threat. In Masri’s case, it was thought only that he “knows key information that could assist in the capture of other al Qaida operatives.”

Despite the fact that the CIA was unable to find any evidence tying Masri to an al Qaida operative in Sudan, which had been the initial suspicion, two agents “justified their commitment to his continued detention, despite the diminishing rationale, by insisting that they knew he was ‘bad.’ ” . . .

Continue reading.

It seems hard to have much respect for the CIA, particularly their ethics and morality, but also their competency.

Not to worry, though: the Obama Administration has been successful in denying Khaleed al Masri legal recourse (“state secrets” gets his case thrown out of court) and of course offers no apology for compensation. We’re the U.S.A. and we can do what we want!

This country has lost its way.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2016 at 5:54 pm

Prosecutors who love the death penalty (for others)

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Jordan Smith reports in The Intercept:

“Cowboy” Bob Macy was a legendary — and infamous — prosecutor in Oklahoma City. Elected the top law enforcer in his county five times, Macy, who died in 2011, was known for his wide-brimmed cowboy hat, his classic western bowtie, and carrying his gun in court. He was also known for his passionate advocacy in support of the death penalty. During his 21 years in office, Macy was personally responsible for sending 54 individuals to death row, an accomplishment that earned him the dubious distinction of deadliest prosecutor in America.

Also part of Macy’s legacy was the high rate of misconduct allegations levied against him — misconduct was alleged in 94 percent of the death cases he prosecuted and substantiated in one-third of them. Courts overturned nearly half of the death convictions Macy obtained; three of those defendants were ultimately exonerated.

The numbers paint a grim portrait of a prosecutor who once told members of a jury it was their “patriotic duty” to sentence a defendant to death. But Macy isn’t alone. He belongs to a small club of five so-called deadliest prosecutors identified in a new report released today by Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project. Together, the five prosecutors, only one of whom is still in office, secured 440 capital convictions — the equivalent of 15 percent of the nation’s current death row population.

In July 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gregg v. Georgia reauthorized the use of capital punishment, ushering in the modern death penalty era. The Gregg ruling offered a promise that the death penalty’s previously arbitrary and capricious nature, which contributed to the court’s 1972 decision in Furman v. Georgia to issue a moratorium on its use, could be reined in.

Forty years after Gregg, the FPP report demonstrates that the death penalty is largely driven by a small number of overzealous, often ethically tainted prosecutors in just a handful of jurisdictions across the United States — suggesting the ruling has failed to deliver on its promise.

Furman got rid of the death penalty because of the disparities [in its application], and one of the ostensible reasons for allowing reinstatement in 1976 was that states would make its use more routinized, or at least more objective,” Daniel Medwed, a professor at Northeastern University School of Law who studies the role prosecutors play in securing wrongful convictions, told The Intercept. “And what this report says is that the promise of Gregg is unfulfilled; that it was a failure.”

In addition to Macy, the FPP report examines two prosecutors who each personally secured more than 35 capital convictions, and two more whose offices secured a combined 309 death sentences under their leadership. All five had allegations of significant prosecutorial misconduct leveled against them in connection to these cases.

In Robeson County, North Carolina, Joe Britt obtained 38 death sentences from 1974 to 1988. Courts later determined that Britt had engaged in misconduct in 14 of those cases, and two defendants were eventually exonerated.

Donald Myers, the top prosecutor in Lexington, South Carolina, is the only sitting prosecutor among the five profiled in the report. Myers has won 39 capital convictions since he began serving in 1977; misconduct was uncovered in nearly half of those cases.

In the 19 years that Lynn Abraham, also known as “Queen Death,” oversaw the Philadelphia County district attorney’s office, prosecutors secured a staggering 108 death sentences — second only to the 201 obtained in Houston, Texas, under the 21-year leadership of Johnny Holmes. Harris County, where Houston is located, has long been the single largest supplier of inmates to Texas’s death row.

Taken together, the report states, the prosecutors’ records “demonstrate that the death penalty has been, and continues to be, a personality-driven system with very few safeguards against misconduct and frequent abuse of power, a fact that seriously undermines its legitimacy.” . . .

Continue reading.

And see also the Guardian article by Ed Pilkington, “America’s deadliest prosecutors: five lawyers, 440 death sentences.”

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2016 at 12:46 pm

Where Are The Drone Casualty Figures the White House Promised Months Ago?

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Alex Emmons reports in The Intercept:

Despite months of repeated promises, the White House has yet to release its estimate of civilian casualties from the administration’s drone program – a delayed disclosure the New York Times Editorial Board described as “too little, too late.”

In March, Lisa Monaco, President Barack Obama chief counterterrorism adviser, announced that the White House would “in the coming weeks” release an “assessment of combatant and non-combatant casualties” from U.S. drone strikes since 2009. Monaco doubled down on the commitment in a second speech a few weeks later.

The figures are likely to show aggregate numbers of people killed by country in nations not recognized as battlefields – like Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya – according to the Washington Post. Death tolls in Iraq and Afghanistan will not be included.

The President is also expected to sign an executive order requiring the release of annual casualty figures going forward.

The list of civilian casualties figures could be as low as 100 people – nearly one tenth of what reports on the ground estimate, according to The Daily Beast.

Documents released by The Intercept last year provide one possible explanation for the discrepancy. The military posthumously labels its unknown drone victims as “Enemies Killed In Action,” unless there is evidence that proves the victim was not a “combatant.”

A spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council told The Intercept he had “no update on timing to offer.”

In the past year, the Obama administration has also started to publicly acknowledge strikes from its covert program. In March, the U.S. military was quick to take credit for killing 150 people in an airstrike in Somalia – claiming that they were all fighters with the Somali insurgent group, Al Shabaab. U.S. Central Command has also started issuing press releases about its strikes in Yemen, often months after they take place.

These disclosures come after a decade of silence on the U.S. drone program overseas in countries where the United States is not officially fighting. Since the first strike in Yemen in 2002, through the dramatic escalation of the drone program under President Obama, the White House has refused to acknowledge its hundreds of strikes away from recognized battlefields.

After it was reported that the White House put U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki on its kill list, the ACLU sued the Obama administration, challenging the administration’s right to kill Awlaki without due process. The Department of Justice responded by invoking the state secrets privilege, and the lawsuit was dismissed in 2012.

Even after Attorney General Eric Holder acknowledged in 2013 that the U.S. had “specifically targeted and killed” Awlaki in a drone strike in Yemen, and had killed three other American citizens – including Awlaki’s 16 year old son – the CIA still refused to “confirm or deny” that it had basic information about the program.

In 2013, in order to “facilitate transparency and debate on this issue,” President Obama released new guidelines for the use of lethal force outside the of recognized zones of armed conflict. The guidelines require “near certainty that the terrorist target is present,” and “near certainty that non-combatants will not be injured or killed.” But a 2015 report from the Open Society Foundation documents numerous civilian deaths in Yemen after the guidelines were issued, raising questions about the implementation of the guidelines, which remain secret.

In February, as part of a year-and-a-half long ACLU lawsuit, a federal judge ordered the government to release redacted versions of six documents that outline the legal basis for the drone program. Jameel Jaffer, the deputy legal director for the ACLU, in a blog post Monday, speculated that White House might be waiting to release the casualty statistics alongside those documents.

Jaffer also pointed out that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2016 at 8:51 am

The Life of the Parties: The Influence of Influence in Washington

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Thomas Frank, author most recently of Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? and before that of What’s the Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, writes at

Although it’s difficult to remember those days eight years ago when Democrats seemed to represent something idealistic and hopeful and brave, let’s take a moment and try to recall the stand Barack Obama once took against lobbyists. Those were the days when the nation was learning that George W. Bush’s Washington was, essentially, just a big playground for those lobbyists and that every government operation had been opened to the power of money. Righteous disgust filled the air. “Special interests” were much denounced. And a certain inspiring senator from Illinois promised that, should he be elected president, his administration would contain no lobbyists at all. The revolving door between government and K Street, he assured us, would turn no more.

Instead, the nation got a lesson in all the other ways that “special interests” can get what they want — like simple class solidarity between the Ivy Leaguers who advise the president and the Ivy Leaguers who sell derivative securities to unsuspecting foreigners. As that inspiring young president filled his administration with Wall Street personnel, we learned that the revolving door still works, even if the people passing through it aren’t registered lobbyists.

But whatever became of lobbying itself, which once seemed to exemplify everything wrong with Washington, D.C.? Perhaps it won’t surprise you to learn that lobbying remains one of the nation’s persistently prosperous industries, and that, since 2011, it has been the focus of Influence, one of the daily email newsletters published by Politico, that great chronicler of the Obama years. Influence was to be, as its very first edition declared, “the must-read crib sheet for Washington’s influence class,” with news of developments on K Street done up in tones of sycophantic smugness. For my money, it is one of the quintessential journalistic artifacts of our time: the constantly unfolding tale of power-for-hire, told always with a discreet sympathy for the man on top.

Capitalizing on Influence

It is true that Americans are more cynical about Washington than ever. To gripe that “the system is rigged” is to utter the catchphrase of the year. But to read Influence every afternoon is to understand how little difference such attitudes make here in the nation’s capital. With each installment, the reader encounters a cast of contented and well-groomed knowledge workers, the sort of people for whom there are never enough suburban mansions or craft cocktails. One imagines them living together in a happy community of favors-for-hire where everyone knows everyone else, the restaurant greeters smile, the senators lie down with the contractors, and the sun shines brilliantly every day. This community’s labors in the influence trade have made the economy of the Washington metro area the envy of the world.

The newsletter describes every squeaking turn of the revolving door with a certain admiration.Influence is where you can read about all the smart former assistants to prominent members of Congress and the new K Street jobs they’ve landed. There are short but meaningful hiring notices — like the recent one announcing that the blue-ribbon lobby firm K&L Gates has snagged its fourth former congressional “member.” There are accounts of prizes that lobbyists give to one another and of rooftop parties for clients and ritual roll calls of Ivy League degrees to be acknowledged and respected. And wherever you look at Influence, it seems like people associated with this or that Podesta can be found registering new clients, holding fundraisers, and “bundling” cash for Hillary Clinton.

As with other entries in the Politico family of tip-sheets, Influence is itself sponsored from time to time — for one exciting week this month, by the Federation of American Hospitals (FAH), which announced to the newsletter’s readers that, for the last 50 years, the FAH “has had a seat at the table.” Appropriately enough for a publication whose beat is venality,Influence also took care to report on the FAH’s 50th anniversary party, thrown in an important room in the Capitol building, and carefully listed the many similarly important people who attended: the important lobbyists, the important members of Congress, and Nancy-Ann DeParle, the Obama administration’s important former healthcare czar and one of this city’s all-time revolving-door champions.

Describing parties like this is a standard theme in Influence, since the influence trade is by nature a happy one, a flattering one, a business eager to serve you up a bracing Negroni and encourage you to gorge yourself on fancy hors d’oeuvres. And so the newsletter tells us about the city’s many sponsored revelries — who gives them, who attends them, the establishment where the transaction takes place, and whose legislative agenda is advanced by the resulting exchange of booze and bonhomie.

The regular reader of Influence knows, for example, about the big reception scheduled to be hosted by Squire Patton Boggs, one of the most storied names in the influence-for-hire trade, at a certain office in Cleveland during the Republican Convention… about how current and former personnel of the Department of Homeland Security recently enjoyed a gathering thrown for them by a prestigious law firm… about a group called “PAC Pals” and the long list of staffers and lobbying types who attended their recent revelry… about how the Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the gang got together at a much-talked-about bar to sip artisanal cocktails.

There’s a poignant note to the story of former Congressional representative Melissa Bean — once the toast of New Democrats everywhere, now the “Midwest chair of JPMorgan” — who recently returned to D.C. to get together with her old staff. They had also moved on to boldface jobs in lobbying, television, and elsewhere. And there’s a note of the fabulous to the story of the Democratic member who has announced plans to throw a fundraiser at a Beyoncé concert. (“A pair of tickets go for $3,500 for PACs,” Influencenotes.)

Bittersweet is the flavor of the recent story about the closing of Johnny’s Half Shell, a Capitol Hill restaurant renowned for the countless fundraisers it has hosted over the years. On hearing the news of the restaurant’s imminent demise, Influence gave over its pixels to tales from Johnny’s glory days. One reader fondly recounted a tale in which Occupy protesters supposedly interrupted a Johnny’s fundraiser being enjoyed by Senator Lindsey Graham and a bunch of defense contractors. In classic D.C.-style, the story was meant to underscore the stouthearted stoicism of the men of power who reportedly did not flinch at the menacing antics of the lowly ones.

A Blissful Community of Money

Influence is typically written in an abbreviated, matter-of-fact style, but its brief items speak volumes about the realities of American politics. There is, for example, little here about the high-profile battle over how transgender Americans are to be granted access to public restrooms. However, the adventures of dark money in our capital are breathlessly recounted, as the eternal drama of plutocracy plays itself out and mysterious moneymen try to pass their desires off as bona fide democratic demands. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2016 at 8:33 am

Perfectly smooth with the RazoRock Old Type, and my Vie-Long badger+horse brush

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SOTD 2016-06-30

The Vie-Long brush is, I’m almost certain, a badger+horse mix. The slightly grey cast of the knot seems characteristic of such brushes that I’ve had. I do soak it for the horse content.

I got some samples of Route 66 soaps. I had thought they were small naked pucks, but the soap is packed into a small paper cup (which can be easily peeled off if you want). The Cavendish I tried this morning did not have much in the way of fragrance, at least not to my nose. The lather was reasonably good, but probably because of loading issues, I had to reload the brush for the third pass, and for that I used the tub of Mitchell’s Wool Fat soap that was on the counter.

The RazoRock Old Type seems to me an excellent razor, and the $15 price is a bargain. For me, this head shaves much better than (for example) the Edwin Jagger head, and EJ razors run around twice the price.

Three passes produced perfect smoothness with no nicks, and a splash of Phoenix Accoutrements Cavendish aftershave brought the fragrance I craved.


Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2016 at 8:01 am

Posted in Shaving

Man! What a column!

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Just read it. Cary Tennis. Advice column. Hard hitting. Well written.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2016 at 11:51 am

Posted in Daily life

Interesting choice of bank strategy

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Stay large and meet the requirements for systemically important banks, or go small and avoid those requirements (because if you do fail as a small player, no biggie).

Good post on this by Kevin Drum.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2016 at 11:10 am

Posted in Business, Government, Law

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