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Archive for the ‘Bush Administration’ Category

You’d think there would be fewer terrorists after the War on Terror killing 1.3 million people

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But perhaps large-scale killing increases rather than diminishes terrorist activity? The more who are enraged, the more turn to terrorism? It’s hard to know, but think of the US reaction (in terms of anger and violence) after just 3,000 were killed on 9/11, and think what would have been like if 430 times as man—1,300,000—had been killed. Democracy Now! has a video program with transcript. Their blurb:

As the United States begins bombing the Iraqi city of Tikrit and again delays a withdrawal from Afghanistan, a new report has found that the Iraq War has killed about one million people. The Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and other groups examined the toll from the so-called war on terror in three countries — Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The investigators found “the war has, directly or indirectly, killed around one million people in Iraq, 220,000 in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan. Not included in this figure are further war zones such as Yemen. The figure is approximately 10 times greater than that of which the public, experts and decision makers are aware. … And this is only a conservative estimate.” The true tally, they add, could be more than two million. We are joined by two guests who worked on the report: Hans von Sponeck, former U.N. assistant secretary-general and U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, who in 2000 resigned his post in protest of the U.S.-led sanctions regime; and Dr. Robert Gould, president of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

A headline in the NY Times this morning: 3 Shiite Militias Quit Iraqi Siege of ISIS Over U.S. Air Role

I think we in the US do not fully grasp the impact of our wars on the mood of the people in the country where we fight them and on their feelings toward the US.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2015 at 11:02 am

The Real American Exceptionalism

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Alfred McCoy writes at TomDispatch.com:

“The sovereign is he who decides on the exception,” said conservative thinker Carl Schmitt in 1922, meaning that a nation’s leader can defy the law to serve the greater good. Though Schmitt’s service as Nazi Germany’s chief jurist and his unwavering support for Hitler from the night of the long knives to Kristallnacht and beyond damaged his reputation for decades, today his ideas have achieved unimagined influence. They have, in fact, shaped the neo-conservative view of presidential power that has become broadly bipartisan since 9/11. Indeed, Schmitt has influenced American politics directly through his intellectual protégé Leo Strauss who, as an émigré professor at the University of Chicago, trained Bush administration architects of the Iraq war Paul Wolfowitz and Abram Shulsky.

All that should be impressive enough for a discredited, long dead authoritarian thinker. But Schmitt’s dictum also became a philosophical foundation for the exercise of American global power in the quarter century that followed the end of the Cold War. Washington, more than any other power, created the modern international community of laws and treaties, yet it now reserves the right to defy those same laws with impunity. A sovereign ruler should, said Schmitt, discard laws in times of national emergency. So the United States, as the planet’s last superpower or, in Schmitt’s terms, its global sovereign, has in these years repeatedly ignored international law, following instead its own unwritten rules of the road for the exercise of world power.

Just as Schmitt’s sovereign preferred to rule in a state of endless exception without a constitution for his Reich, so Washington is now well into the second decade of an endless War on Terror that seems the sum of its exceptions to international law: endless incarceration, extrajudicial killing, pervasive surveillance, drone strikes in defiance of national boundaries, torture on demand, and immunity for all of the above on the grounds of state secrecy. Yet these many American exceptions are just surface manifestations of the ever-expanding clandestine dimension of the American state. Created at the cost of more than a trillion dollars since 9/11, the purpose of this vast apparatus is to control a covert domain that is fast becoming the main arena for geopolitical contestation in the twenty-first century.

This should be (but seldom is considered) a jarring, disconcerting path for a country that, more than any other, nurtured the idea of, and wrote the rules for, an international community of nations governed by the rule of law. At the First Hague Peace Conference in 1899, the U.S. delegate, Andrew Dickson White, the founder of Cornell University, pushed for the creation of a Permanent Court of Arbitration and persuaded Andrew Carnegie to build the monumental Peace Palace at The Hague as its home. At the Second Hague Conference in 1907, Secretary of State Elihu Root urged that future international conflicts be resolved by a court of professional jurists, an idea realized when the Permanent Court of International Justice was established in 1920.

After World War II, the U.S. used its triumph to help create the United Nations, push for the adoption of its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and ratify the Geneva Conventions for humanitarian treatment in war. If you throw in other American-backed initiatives like the World Health Organization, the World Trade Organization, and the World Bank, you pretty much have the entire infrastructure of what we now casually call “the international community.”

Breaking the Rules

Not only did the U.S. play a crucial role in writing the new rules for that community, but it almost immediately began breaking them. After all, despite the rise of the other superpower, the Soviet Union, Washington was by then the world sovereign and so could decide which should be the exceptions to its own rules, particularly to the foundational principle for all this global governance: sovereignty. As it struggled to dominate the hundred new nations that started appearing right after the war, each one invested with an inviolable sovereignty, Washington needed a new means of projecting power beyond conventional diplomacy or military force. As a result, CIA covert operations became its way of intervening within a new world order where you couldn’t or at least shouldn’t intervene openly.

All of the exceptions that really matter spring from America’s decision to join what former spy John Le Carré called that “squalid procession of vain fools, traitors… sadists, and drunkards,” and embrace espionage in a big way after World War II. Until the creation of the CIA in 1947, the United States had been an innocent abroad in the world of intelligence. When General John J. Pershing led two million American troops to Europe during World War I, the U.S. had the only army on either side of the battle lines without an intelligence service. Even though Washington built a substantial security apparatus during that war, it was quickly scaled back by Republican conservatives during the 1920s. For decades, the impulse to cut or constrain such secret agencies remained robustly bipartisan, as when President Harry Truman abolished the CIA’s predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), right after World War II or when President Jimmy Carter fired 800 CIA covert operatives after the Vietnam War.

Yet by fits and starts, the covert domain inside the U.S. government has grown stealthily from the early twentieth century to this moment. It began with the formation of the FBI in 1908 and Military Intelligence in 1917. The Central Intelligence Agency followed after World War II along with most of the alphabet agencies that make up the present U.S. Intelligence Community, including the National Security Agency (NSA), the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and last but hardly least, in 2004, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Make no mistake: there is a clear correlation between state secrecy and the rule of law — as one grows, the other surely shrinks.

World Sovereign

America’s irrevocable entry into this covert netherworld came when . . .

Continue reading. About the author:

Alfred W. McCoy is professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A TomDispatch regular, he is the author of Torture & Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation, among other works.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 March 2015 at 4:15 pm

Torture: No One Said No

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David Cole has a good column in the NY Review of Books:

Who bears ultimate responsibility for the US torture program? The report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released in December, told us much about how the program was implemented and carried out: it was fundamentally ill-conceived, poorly managed, and led to grievous abuses of basic human rights with little or no accountability. Yet the Senate report focused almost exclusively on the CIA, and despite intense debate about it in Washington and in the press, remarkably little was said about the responsibility of the Bush administration itself. In this regard, a separate, largely overlooked trove of newly declassified documents, mostly internal CIA records of correspondence with White House officials and lawyers, is particularly revealing.

The documents, which were uploaded to a mysterious website by the name of ciasavedlives.com, provide dramatic new details about the direct involvement of senior Bush administration officials in the CIA’s wrongs. They were apparently declassified by the CIA at the request of former director George Tenet, who presumably hoped they would help defend his record as director during the agency’s descent into torture. But they hardly exculpate the agency. Rather, they show an extended conspiracy between the CIA and administration officials that played out for the duration of the program, in which the agency leadership repeatedly asked for approval for patently illegal interrogation methods, and repeatedly got “yes” for an answer. This is the record of an agency with a guilty conscience, and of multiple high-level officials and lawyers eager to enable it at every turn.

Even though the program had been approved at its outset by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in July 2002 and by Attorney General John Ashcroft in August 2002, the slightest hint that the Bush administration might actually be committed to avoiding torture or inhumane treatment caused the CIA to panic. Bush administration lawyers had determined that the methods the agency was using to induce detainees to talk—including waterboarding, extended sleep deprivation, slamming into walls, and painful stress positions—were not torture and did not violate the prohibition on cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. But the agency acted as if it couldn’t quite believe it. It kept returning to the White House and the DOJ asking them to say, yet again, that the agency could do what it had already been told it could do.

Again and again, the agency’s concerns were triggered by official statements by the Bush administration suggesting that the US does not mistreat its prisoners. The first concerns arose in late 2002, after the program had been fully approved. Scott Muller, then general counsel of the CIA, worried that the program might conflict with a February 2002 memo from President Bush entitled “Humane Treatment of al Qaeda and Taliban Detainees.” In that memo, Bush had proclaimed that the Geneva Conventions, which require humane treatment of all wartime detainees, did not apply to al-Qaeda or the Taliban, but stated that “as a matter of policy, the United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely.”

In December 2002, Muller twice asked John Bellinger, counsel to National Security Adviser Rice, whether this posed a problem for the CIA’s continuing program. Bellinger twice told Muller not to worry, assuring him that the CIA’s techniques were “consistent with the President’s direction as reflected in the February Memo,” and urging him to speak to Justice Department lawyer John Yoo about it. Yoo, who with Jay Bybee wrote the initial Justice Department memo approving of the CIA’s interrogation tactics in August 2002, concurred, and told Muller that the February memo “had been deliberately limited to be binding only on ‘the Armed Forces’ which did not include the CIA.”

Early the next year, in January 2003, Muller again raised the issue in a meeting with four top legal officials for the Bush administration—White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, Counsel to the Vice-President David Addington, Defense Department General Counsel Jim Haynes, and Yoo. Again, Addington and Gonzales reassured Muller, confirming that the commitment to humane treatment did not apply to the CIA. Tellingly, no one suggested that the CIA’s tactics were actually “humane”; rather, they insisted that only the Armed Forces, and not the CIA, were bound to treat detainees humanely.

All of these reassurances were not enough, however. The CIA came back for more in July 2003. This time its anxiety was the result of three events in the last week of June 2003. DOD General Counsel Haynes had written a letter to Senator Pat Leahy, stating that “United States policy is to treat all detainees and conduct all interrogations, wherever they may occur, in a manner consistent with” the US’s international treaty commitment to prevent “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” The administration had issued a press release on International Day in Support of Victims of Torture that condemned “cruel” treatment of detainees. And a White House press officer had said that US government detainees were being treated “humanely.” Tenet promptly wrote a memo to Rice asking the administration to reaffirm its commitment to the CIA interrogation program in light of, or more properly, in spite of, these statements.

The implicit predicate of Tenet’s request is that what the CIA was doing was in fact cruel and inhumane, and therefore not in keeping with the administration’s representations. But in a meeting on July 29, 2003, attended by Tenet, Muller, Vice President Cheney, Rice, Ashcroft, Gonzales, Bellinger, and Justice Department lawyer Patrick Philbin, the CIA was again told not to worry. Vice President Cheney was apparently aghast, not at the program, but at the press. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 March 2015 at 2:45 pm

Drawbacks of drone warfare

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One drawback is evident: when a US drone sends a missile to blow up a wedding party or a meeting of village elders, it creates great anger at the US among the survivors and the family members of those killed and maimed. But there are other drawbacks as well. Pratap Chatterjee writes at TomDispatch.com:

The U.S. drone war across much of the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa is in crisis and not because civilians are dying or the target list for that war or the right to wage it just about anywhere on the planet are in question in Washington. Something far more basic is at stake: drone pilots are quitting in record numbers.

There are roughly 1,000 such drone pilots, known in the trade as “18Xs,” working for the U.S. Air Force today. Another 180 pilots graduate annually from a training program that takes about a year to complete at Holloman and Randolph Air Force bases in, respectively, New Mexico and Texas. As it happens, in those same 12 months, about 240 trained pilots quit and the Air Force is at a loss to explain the phenomenon. (The better-known U.S. Central Intelligence Agency drone assassination program is also flown by Air Force pilots loaned out for the covert missions.)

On January 4, 2015, the Daily Beast revealed an undated internal memo to Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh from General Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle stating that pilot “outflow increases will damage the readiness and combat capability of the MQ-1/9 [Predator and Reaper] enterprise for years to come” and added that he was “extremely concerned.” Eleven days later, the issue got top billing at a special high-level briefing on the state of the Air Force. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James joined Welsh to address the matter. “This is a force that is under significant stress — significant stress from what is an unrelenting pace of operations,” she told the media.

In theory, drone pilots have a cushy life. Unlike soldiers on duty in “war zones,” they can continue to live with their families here in the United States. No muddy foxholes or sandstorm-swept desert barracks under threat of enemy attack for them. Instead, these new techno-warriors commute to worklike any office employees and sit in front of computer screens wielding joysticks, playing what most people would consider a glorified video game.

They typically “fly” missions over Afghanistan and Iraq where they are tasked with collecting photos and video feeds, as well as watching over U.S. soldiers on the ground. A select few are deputized to fly CIA assassination missions over Pakistan, Somalia, or Yemen where they are ordered to kill “high value targets” from the sky. In recent months, some of these pilots have also taken part in the new war in the Syrian and Iraqi borderlands, conductingdeadly strikes on militants of ISIL.

Each of these combat air patrols involves three to four drones, usually Hellfire-missile-armed Predators and Reapers built by southern California’s General Atomics, and each takes as many as 180 staff members to fly them. In addition to pilots, there are camera operators, intelligence and communications experts, and maintenance workers. (The newer Global Hawk surveillance patrols need as many as 400 support staff.)

The Air Force is currently under orders to staff 65 of these regular “combat air patrols” around the clock as well as to support a Global Response Force on call for emergency military and humanitarian missions. For all of this, there should ideally be 1,700 trained pilots. Instead, facing an accelerating dropout rate that recently drove this figure below 1,000, the Air Force has had to press regular cargo and jet pilots as well as reservists into becoming instant drone pilots in order to keep up with the Pentagon’s enormous appetite for real-time video feeds from around the world.

The Air Force explains the departure of these drone pilots in the simplest of terms. They are leaving because they are overworked. The pilots themselves say that it’s humiliating to be scorned by their Air Force colleagues as second-class citizens. Some have also come forward to claim that the horrors of war, seen up close on video screens, day in, day out, are inducing an unprecedented, long-distance version of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).

But is it possible that a brand-new form of war — by remote control — is also spawning a brand-new, as yet unlabeled, form of psychological strain? Some have called drone war a “coward’s war” (an opinion that, according to reports from among the drone-traumatized in places like Yemen and Pakistan, is seconded by its victims). Could it be that the feeling is even shared by drone pilots themselves, that a sense of dishonor in fighting from behind a screen thousands of miles from harm’s way is having an unexpected impact of a kind psychologists have never before witnessed?

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 March 2015 at 8:11 am

Bush White House’s repeated torture denials made CIA torturers very nervous

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Dan Froomkin reports in The Intercept:

The Bush administration was so adamant in its public statements against torture that CIA officials repeatedly sought reassurances that the White House officials who had given them permission to torture in the first place hadn’t changed their minds.

In a July 29, 2003, White House meeting that included Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, CIA Director George Tenet went so far as to ask the White House “to cease stating that US Government practices were ‘humane’.” He was assured they would.

The memo describing that meeting is one of several documents that were unclassified last year but apparently escaped widespread notice until now. Georgetown Law Professor David Cole called attention to the trove of documents on the Just Security blog.

The documents were apparently posted in December at ciasavedlives.com, a website formed by a group of former senior intelligence officials to rebut the newly released Senate report that documented the horrors that CIA officers inflicted upon detainees and the lies about those tactics’ effectiveness that they told their superiors, would-be overseers and the public.

The new documents don’t actually refute any of the Senate report’s conclusions – in fact, they include some whopper-filled slides that CIA officials showed at the White House. But they do call attention to the report’s central flaw: that it didn’t address who actually gave the CIA its orders.

As Cole writes:

The overall picture that the new documents paint is not of a rogue agency, but of a rogue administration. Yes, the CIA affirmatively proposed to use patently illegal tactics — waterboarding, sleep deprivation, physical assault, and painful stress positions. But at every turn, senior officials and lawyers in the White House and the Department of Justice reassured the agency that it could — and should — go forward. The documents reveal an agency that is extremely sensitive to whether the program is legally authorized and approved by higher-ups — no doubt because it understood that what it was doing was at a minimum controversial, and very possibly illegal. The documents show that the CIA repeatedly raised questions along these lines, and even suspended the program when the OLC was temporarily unwilling to say, without further review, whether the techniques would “shock the conscience” in violation of the Fifth Amendment. But at every point where the White House and the DOJ could have and should have said no to tactics that were patently illegal, they said yes.

The documents also illustrate how CIA officials, just like journalists and members of the public, had to decide whether to take the White House’s disavowals of torture at face value. Apparently the CIA, like many others, couldn’t believe the White House was flat-out lying.

Tenet, in a July 3, 2003, letter to Rice, requested that White House officials reaffirm that waterboarding and other so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” were being done on their orders. Tenet cited a June 2003 Washington Post story headlined U.S. Pledges Not to Torture Terror Suspects. . .

Continue reading.

Do read the whole thing. It is astonishing that they were able to get away with this, but that is thanks in large part to Obama’s own decision to facilitate the cover-up. Later in the article, the specific persons whom Obama should have prosecuted for war crimes are identified:

The July 3 letter from Tenet to Rice reminded her that the White House had been in on all this since the beginning: “The Vice President, National Security Advisor, Deputy National Security Advisor, Counsel to the President, Counsel to the National Security Adviser, and the Attorney General were consulted in August 2002 in advance of implementing use of the techniques with a particular detainee and concurred in its implementation as a matter of law and policy.”

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2015 at 3:46 pm

Six who said no to torture

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An interesting column at TomDispatch.com by Rebecca Gordon, describing six Americans who resisted the torture program that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney created—not because it was ineffective (not the issue) but because it was immoral and illegal and a war crime. The column begins:

Why was it again that, as President Obama said, “we tortured some folks” after the 9/11 attacks? Oh, right, because we were terrified. Because everyone knows that being afraid gives you moral license to do whatever you need to do to keep yourself safe. That’s why we don’t shame or punish those who were too scared to imagine doing anything else. We honor and revere them.

Back in August 2014, Obama explained the urge of the top figures in the Bush administration to torture “some folks” this way: “I understand why it happened. I think it’s important, when we look back, to recall how afraid people were when the twin towers fell.” So naturally, in those panicked days, the people in charge had little choice but to order the waterboarding, wall-slamming, and rectal rehydration of whatever possible terrorists (andinnocents) the CIA got their hands on. That’s what fear drives you to do and don’t forget, at the time even some mainstream liberal columnists werecalling for torture. And whatever you do, don’t forget as well that they were so, so afraid. That’s why, says the president, “It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious,” too quick to judge the people in the Bush administration, the CIA, and even the U.S. military who planned, implemented, and justified torture.

The president has vacillated about just how long this period of exculpatory fear was supposed to last. Sometimes he seems to suggest that it’s just the responses in the more or less immediate aftermath of those attacks we shouldn’t feel too sanctimonious about. Sometimes it’s all those “years after 9/11” during which America’s leaders had to face “legitimate fears of further attacks” and therefore kept on torturing people.

However long the panic lasted, the important point is that, as Obama insisted in 2009, and again at the end of 2014, no one should be prosecuted for torture, because everyone was scared.

Anyone in President George W. Bush’s position would have declared that the Geneva Conventions, which are supposed to protect prisoners of war from mistreatment, don’t cover prisoners taken in the “war on terror.” Anyone would have told the pundits on “Meet the Press,” as Vice President Dick Cheney did less than a week after 9/11, that the attacks meant we would now have to work “the dark side.” Anyone in CIA Director George Tenet’s shoes would have agreed with Cheney when he said that “a lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies.”

And any attorney in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel would naturally have written the “torture memos” that John Yoo and Jay Bybeecreated in 2002, in which they sought to provide legal cover for the CIA’s torture practices by redefining torture itself more or less out of existence. For some act to count as “severe physical suffering” and therefore as torture, they wrote, the pain inflicted would have to be of a sort “ordinarily associated with a… serious physical condition, such as death, organ failure, or serious impairment of bodily functions.”

Wouldn’t anyone do what these men did, if they, too, were frightened out of their wits? Actually, no. In fact, the sad, ugly story of the U.S. response to the criminal acts of 9/11 is brightened by a number of people who have displayed genuine courage in saying no to and turning their backs on torture. Their choices prove that Bush, Cheney, & Co. could have said no as well.

Though you’d never know it here, no level of fear in public officials makes acts of torture (or the support of such acts) any less criminal or more defensible before the law. It’s remarkably uncomplicated, actually. Torture violates U.S. and international law, and those responsible deserve to be prosecuted both for what they did and to prevent the same thing from happening the next time people in power are afraid.

Some of those who rejected torture, like CIA official John Kiriakou and an as-yet-unnamed Navy nurse, directly refused to practice it. Some risked reputations and careers to let the people of this country know what their government was doing. Sometimes an entire agency, like the FBI, refused to be involved in torture.

I’d like to introduce you to six of these heroes.

Sergeant Joseph M. Darby: If it hadn’t been for a 24-year-old soldier named Joe Darby, we might never have heard of the tortures and abuses committed at Abu Ghraib, 20 miles outside Baghdad. It had once beenSaddam Hussein’s most notorious prison and when the U.S. military arrived in 2003, they put it to similar use.

Early on, however, the Defense Department was unhappy with the quality of “intelligence” being produced there, so Major General Geoffrey Miller was dispatched from his post as commandant of the jewel in the crown of the Bush administration’s offshore system of injustice, Guantánamo, to Iraq with orders to “Gitmo-ize” Abu Ghraib.

Joe Darby was a member of the Military Police assigned to that prison. One day early in 2004, Army Specialist Charles Graner handed him a couple of CDs full of photographs, thinking perhaps that Darby would enjoy them as much as he did.

Graner was one of the people in charge of the Army Reservists responsible for “softening up” prisoners before they were handed over for interrogation to Military Intelligence and the “Other Government Agency” (a euphemism for the CIA and its private contractors). Prisoners being softened up were stacked in pyramids like cordwood, paraded like dogs on leashes, bitten by actual dogs, and in at least one case,raped in the anus “with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick.”

When Joe Darby saw the photographs, unlike Graner, he was not amused. He was horrified. He recognized them as evidence of crimes and, after three weeks of internal debate, handed them to Special Agent Tyler Pieron of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, who was working at Abu Ghraib. From there, the photos made their way up the chain of command, via a leak into the hands of New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh, and eventually into U.S. living rooms on 60 Minutes II one Tuesday evening at the end of April 2004.

Darby hoped to remain anonymous, but he soon gained international renownfor what he had done. With exposure came threats to him and to his family. In the immediate aftermath of the disclosures, while still stationed at Abu Ghraib, he feared — he told the BBC — that he might be murdered in his sleep. Still, he doesn’t consider what he did anything special. As he said, when accepting the Kennedy Library’s Profiles in Courage award, “It just seemed like the right thing to do at the time.” Joe Darby may have felt fear, but he didn’t go along with a torture regime.

Major General Antonio M. Taguba: . . .

Continue reading.

It’s important to recognize how severely punished were those who refused to torture, while those who were willing to torture suspects (some of whom were innocent) faced no reprisals and no accountability at all, thanks to President Obama and his Department of “Justice.”

Written by LeisureGuy

23 February 2015 at 4:56 pm

How the CIA avoids accountability and has become a rogue agency

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Scott Horton has an extract in Salon from his book Lords of Secrecy: The National Security Elite and America’s Stealth Warfare:

On March 11, 2014, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein stepped to the well of the Senate to deliver a speech exposing in stark terms a struggle between congressional investigators and their oversight subject: the Central Intelligence Agency. Feinstein was an unlikely critic of the practices of the intelligence community. The wife of investment banker Richard C. Blum, who managed enormous capital investments in corporations serving the American defense and intelligence communities, Feinstein had distinguished herself among Senate Democrats as a staunch CIA defender. In her long service on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which she had chaired since 2009, Feinstein established close personal ties with key senior agency figures—championing the candidacy of former deputy director Stephen Kappes to head the agency after Barack Obama was elected.

Patiently and meticulously, Feinstein unfolded the string of events that led her committee to launch the most exhaustive congressional probe of a single CIA program in the nation’s history. “On December 6, 2007, a New York Times article revealed the troubling fact that the CIA had destroyed video tapes of some of the CIA’s first interrogations using so-called enhanced techniques,” she stated.

CIA director Michael Hayden had assured congressional overseers that they had no reason to be concerned: routine written field reports, what Hayden called CIA operational cables, had been retained. These documents, Hayden said, described “the detention conditions” of prisoners held by the CIA before it decided to shut down the program as well as the “day-to-day CIA interrogations.” Hayden offered the senators access to these cables to prove to them that the destruction of the tapes was not a serious issue. Moreover, he reminded them that the CIA program was a historical relic: in the fall of 2006 the Bush administration ended the CIA’s role as a jailer and sharply curtailed its program of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs)—specifically eliminating techniques that most of the international community, including the United States in the period before and after the Bush presidency, had viewed as torture, such as waterboarding.

Nevertheless, the Senate committee had never looked deeply into this program, and Hayden’s decision to offer access to the cables opened the door to a careful study, which was accepted by then-chair Jay Rockefeller. Early in 2007, two Senate staffers spent many months reading the cables. By the time they had finished in early 2009, Feinstein had replaced Rockefeller as committee chair, and Barack Obama had replaced George W. Bush as president. Feinstein received the first staff report. It was “chilling,” she said. “The interrogations and the conditions of confinement at the CIA detention sites were far different and far more harsh than the way the CIA had described them to us.”

This first exploration of the dark side of CIA prisons and torture led committee members to recognize a serious failure in its oversight responsibilities. The committee resolved with near-unanimity (on a 14–1 vote) to launch a comprehensive investigation of the CIA program involving black sites and torture.

But the CIA was not simply going to acquiesce to a congressional probe into the single darkest and most controversial program in the organization’s history. Since it could not openly do battle with its congressional overseers, the agency turned to a series of tactics that it had honed over the difficult decades following the Church Committee inquiries of the mid-1970s. Throughout the subsequent decades, the CIA complained loudly about the burdens of oversight and accountability—while almost always getting its way.

Indeed, the dynamics had changed dramatically after the coordinated terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. In the ensuing years, the CIA’s budget ballooned to more than double its pre-2001 numbers. Moreover, it got the go-ahead to launch programs previously denied or sidetracked, and clearance to encroach on the Pentagon’s turf through extensive operations using armed predator drones. Washington, it seemed, had forgotten how to say no to Langley. Still, the operation of the black site and EIT program involves a strikingly different dynamic—because the spring that fed it came not out of Langley but from the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, inside the White House.

Senior figures in the CIA, including the agency’s senior career lawyer, John Rizzo, fully appreciated that the black sites and the EITs presented particularly dangerous territory. Exposure of these programs could damage some of the agency’s tightest points of collaboration with foreign intelligence services—authoritarian regimes such as Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Thailand, and Yemen, as well as among new democracies of Eastern Europe, like Lithuania, Poland, and Romania. British intelligence had been deeply involved and feared exposure, considering the domestic political opposition and the rigorous attitude of British courts.

CIA leadership was also focused on the high likelihood that the program, once exposed, would lead to a press for criminal prosecutions under various statutes, including the anti-torture act. It therefore moved preemptively, seeking assurances and an opinion from the Justice Department that would serve as a “get out of jail free” card for agents involved in the program. But when those opinions were disclosed, starting hard on the heels of photographic evidence of abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq—much of it eerily similar to techniques discussed in the Justice Department opinions—a political firestorm erupted around the world. The Justice Department was forced to withdraw most of the opinions even before George W. Bush left Washington.

Leon Panetta, arriving at the CIA in 2009, found top management preoccupied with concerns about fallout from this program.

The CIA chose to react to plans for a congressional probe cautiously, with a series of tactical maneuvers and skirmishes. Its strategy was apparent from the beginning: slow the review down while hoping for a change in the political winds that might end it. And from the outset it made use of one essential weapon against its congressional overseers—secrecy. For the agency, secrecy was not just a way of life; it was also a path to power. It wielded secrecy as a shield against embarrassing disclosures and as a sword to silence and threaten adversaries. It was an all-purpose tool.

*

The agency’s first line of defense was . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more, and it’s clear the CIA is seriously out of control.

The CIA gets away with this because Obama has protected the CIA and resisted the efforts of Congress to exercise oversight.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 February 2015 at 11:52 am

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