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The Iraq War evaluated from the British side

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In the NY Review of Books Goeffrey Wheatcroft has a very interesting review of three recent books on Britain’s part in the Iraq War failure, one of which is the Chilcot Report. The review is definitely worth reading. The review begins:

How did it happen? By now it is effortless to say that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by American and British forces was the most disastrous—and disgraceful—such intervention of our time. It’s also well-nigh pointless to say so: How many people reading this would disagree? For Americans, Iraq is their worst foreign calamity since Vietnam (although far more citizens of each country were killed than were Americans); for the British, it’s the worst at least since Suez sixty years ago this autumn, though really much worse on every score, from political dishonesty to damage to the national interest to sheer human suffering.

Although skeptics wondered how much more the very-long-awaited Report of the Iraq Inquiry by a committee chaired by Sir John Chilcot could tell us when it appeared at last in July, it proves to contain a wealth of evidence and acute criticism, the more weighty for its sober tone and for having the imprimatur of the official government publisher. In all, it is a further and devastating indictment not only of Tony Blair personally but of a whole apparatus of state and government, Cabinet, Parliament, armed forces, and, far from least, intelligence agencies.

Among its conclusions the report says that there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein; that the British “chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted”; that military action “was not a last resort”; that when the United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix said weeks before the invasion that he “had not found any weapons of mass destruction and the items that were not accounted for might not exist,” Blair wanted Blix “to harden up his findings.”

The report also found that deep sectarian divisions in Iraq “were exacerbated by…de Ba’athification and…demobilisation of the Iraqi army”; that Blair was warned by his diplomats and ministers of the “inadequacy of U.S. plans” for Iraq after the invasion, and of what they saw as his “inability to exert significant influence on U.S. planning”; and that “there was no collective discussion of the decision by senior Ministers,” who were regularly bypassed and ignored by Blair.

And of course claims about Iraqi WMDs were presented by Downing Street in a way that “conveyed certainty without acknowledging the limitations of the intelligence,” which is putting it generously. Chilcot stops short of saying directly that the invasion was illegal or that Blair lied to Parliament, but he is severe on the shameful collusion of the British intelligence agencies, and on the sinister way in which Blair’s attorney general changed his opinion about the legality of the invasion.

Planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam “were wholly inadequate,” Chilcot says, and “the people of Iraq have suffered greatly.” Those might seem like statements of the blindingly obvious, as does the solemn verdict that the invasion “failed to achieve the goals it had set for a new Iraq.” It did more than merely fail, and not only was every reason we were given for the war falsified; every one of them has been stood on its head. Extreme violence in Iraq precipitated by the invasion metastasized into the hideous conflict in neighboring Syria and the implosion of the wider region, the exact opposite of that birth of peaceable pro-Western democracy that proponents of the invasion had insisted would come about. While Blair at his most abject still says that all these horrors were unforeseeable, Chilcot makes clear that they were not only foreseeable, but widely foreseen.

Nor are those the only repercussions. Chilcot coyly says that “the widespread perception”—meaning the correct belief—that Downing Street distorted the intelligence about Saddam’s weaponry has left a “damaging legacy,” undermining trust and confidence in politicians. It is not fanciful to see the Brexit vote, the disruption of the Labour Party, and the rise of Donald Trump among those consequences, all part of the revulsion across the Western world against elites and establishments that were so discredited by Iraq. And so how could it have happened? . . .

Continue reading. There’s lots more.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 September 2016 at 10:59 am

Latest Estimate Pegs Cost of U.S. Wars at $4.8 Trillion Since 2001

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Are we really and truly getting our money’s worth? Had that money been spent on domestic programs (such as infrastructure repair and maintenance, improvements to railway service, and so on), what an enormous difference it would have made. Naomi LaChance reports in The Intercept:

THE TOTAL U.S. budgetary cost of war since 2001 is $4.79 trillion, according to a report released this week from Brown University’s Watson Institute. That’s the highest estimate yet.

Neta Crawford of Boston University, the author of the report, included interest on borrowing, future veterans needs, and the cost of homeland security in her calculations.

The amount of $4.79 trillion, “so large as to be almost incomprehensible,” she writes, adds up like this:

  • The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, and other overseas operations already cost $1.7 trillion between 2001 and August 2016 with $103 billion more requested for 2017
  • Homeland Security terrorism prevention costs from 2001 to 2016 were $548 billion.
  • The estimated DOD base budget was $733 billion and veterans spending was $213 billion.
  • Interest incurred on borrowing for wars was $453 billion.
  • Estimated future costs for veterans’ medical needs until the year 2053 is $1 trillion.
  • And the amounts the DOD, State Department, and Homeland Security have requested for 2017 ($103 billion).

Crawford carried out a similar study in June 2014 that estimated the cost of war at $4.4 trillion. Her methodology mirrors that of the 2008 book The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Costs of the Iraq Conflict by Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz.

There are even more costs of war that Crawford does not include, she writes. For instance, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 September 2016 at 12:40 pm

Email scandal at the Bush-Cheney White House

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Kevin Drum posts at Mother Jones:

I bookmarked this a couple of days ago, but haven’t gotten around to posting about it yet. Here is Nina Burleigh on how President Bush “lost” 22 million emails:

….Like Clinton, the Bush White House used a private email server—its was owned by the Republican National Committee. And the Bush administration failed to store its emails, as required by law, and then refused to comply with a congressional subpoena seeking some of those emails.

….Most troubling, researchers found a suspicious pattern in the White House email system blackouts, including periods when there were no emails available from the office of Vice President Dick Cheney.

….In 2003, a whistleblower told the National Security Archive [a private watchdog group] that the George W. Bush White House was no longer saving its emails. The Archive…refiled their original lawsuit. The plaintiffs soon discovered that Bush aides had simply shut down the Clinton automatic email archive,and they identified the start date of the lost emails as January 1, 2003.

….In court in May 2008, administration lawyers contended that the White House had lost three months’ worth of email backups from the initial days of the Iraq War. Bush aides thus evaded a court-ordered deadline to describe the contents of digital backup believed to contain emails deleted in 2003 between March—when the U.S. invaded Iraq—and September….Eventually, the Bush White House admitted it had lost 22 million emails, not 5 million. Then, in December 2009—well into Barack Obama’s administration—the White House said it found 22 million emails, dated between 2003 and 2005, that it claimed had been mislabeled.

This did not go unreported at the time. But it didn’t get much reporting, despite the fact that there’s far clearer evidence here of deliberate stonewalling and lawbreaking than anything that even the fever swamps suggest about Hillary Clinton’s emails.

So why is it that Clinton’s emails have gotten coverage of such titanic proportions? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 September 2016 at 12:19 pm

‘Terror’ and Everybody’s Rights

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In the NY Review of Books Jed Rakoff reviews an important book by Owen Fiss:

A War Like No Other: The Constitution in a Time of Terror
by Owen Fiss, edited and with a foreword by Trevor Sutton<
New Press, 330 pp., $27.95

Say the word “war” and the rule of law often implodes, with courts frequently employing sophistry to avoid any interference with governmental conduct. To take an obvious example, during World War II the Roosevelt administration interned thousands of American citizens of Japanese descent solely on the basis of their ancestry, and the Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Hugo Black, upheld this patently unconstitutional confinement by simply repeating the mantra that, in time of war, total deference (unchecked and unbalanced) is due the military.

During the same war, the US troops fighting Nazi racism were, without judicial interference, segregated by color. Even the 1940 draft law, which stated that “in the selection and training of men under this Act,…there shall be no discrimination against any person on account of race or color,” was held by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals not to prohibit separate draft quotas for whites and blacks, since “the Army executives are to decide the Army’s needs.”

The so-called “war on terror” declared by President George W. Bush soon after September 11, 2001, has already lasted more than three times as long as American involvement in World War II, with no end in sight. By its shapeless and secretive nature, it tends to generate amorphous fears and shrouded responses that compromise our freedoms in ways we may only dimly recognize but that create troubling precedents for the future. And so far, the federal courts have done precious little to challenge these incursions.

One of the voices decrying this judicial failure is that of Owen Fiss, a very distinguished Yale law professor, who over the past dozen years has written one essay after another analyzing, or one might say exposing, the shallowness of the judicial response to executive excesses committed in the name of national security. That Fiss would undertake this task was by no means inevitable. Now in his late seventies, he had focused much of his academic career (which had made him one of the most-cited legal scholars in the country) on such subjects as civil procedure, freedom of speech, and equal protection of the law. But his palpable disagreement with the way federal courts were, in the name of an uncertain and shifting war, largely avoiding judicial scrutiny of everything from manifest torture to far-reaching surveillance led him, beginning in 2003, to write the ten essays now collected by his former student Trevor Sutton in A War Like No Other.

A few of the most prominent examples that Fiss discusses will illustrate his concern. First, there is the CIA’s use of torture following September 11. One may assume for the sake of argument that torture may sometimes be effective in extracting information that cannot be obtained by ordinary interrogation—although most studies suggest that its main effect is to force the victim to tell his torturer what he believes the torturer wants to hear. Indeed, historically, one of torture’s most prominent uses has been to coerce false confessions, as in the “show trials” of the Stalinist period.

In any case, torture, regardless of any perceived benefits, has been condemned from the earliest days of the American republic. Most scholars agree that it was revulsion at the English kings’ use of torture that led to enactment of the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition against compelled self-incrimination and also played a part in the enactment of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Evidence of Americans’ continuing abhorrence of torture can also be found in numerous current statutes: for example, torturing a victim before murdering him is one of the “aggravating factors” that, under current federal law, warrants the death penalty.

Most directly applicable, in 1988 the United States signed and in 1994 ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which thereby became a binding part of our law. Article 1 of the convention defines torture to encompass, among other things, “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession.” Article 2 requires each signatory state to “take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction” (emphasis added). Article 2 also provides that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political stability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

Although the language in Article 2 italicized above might seem to permit a government agent operating abroad to make use of torture, in 1994, Congress, as part of the legislation implementing the convention, enacted section 2340A of the Federal Criminal Code, which, among other things, prohibits any US agent operating even “outside the United States” from inflicting torture on any person within his custody or physical control. Yet following September 11, CIA agents working abroad subjected suspected terrorists to waterboarding—a technique derived from the Spanish Inquisition in which water is forced into the nose and mouth of the subject so as to induce the perception of suffocating or drowning.

Waterboarding would thus clearly appear to be torture. Nonetheless, legal memoranda prepared by senior Justice Department officials shortly after September 11 purported to justify its use by arguing that the convention’s definition of torture covered only “the worst forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment,” and that “physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” As for mental suffering, it must, according to the memoranda, be of a kind that leads to psychological harm lasting “for months or even years” to constitute torture.

Since, however, it is up to the judiciary to make the final determination of what a law means, one might have imagined that once the CIA’s waterboarding was made public, a court would then have decided whether or not it constituted torture under section 2340A. But this did not occur, in part because the government also took the position that the CIA’s waterboarding, as an instrument in the war on terror, was exempt from judicial review.

After some uncertainty, this exemption from judicial review of any decision to waterboard became the Bush administration’s position at the highest levels and was effectively reiterated in 2005, after Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act, which, among other things, provided that “no person in the custody or under the effective control of the Department of Defense” shall be subjected to certain specified “technique[s] of interrogation” that included waterboarding. In addition to maintaining that the legislation did not apply to the CIA, President Bush, in signing the bill, asserted his power to interpret it “consistent with the constitutional limitations on judicial power”—a clear suggestion that his interpretations were exempt from judicial review. In effect he was saying, “if we decide to waterboard, no court can say us nay.”

As it happened, this supposed exemption was never put to the test as far as CIAwaterboarding was concerned. Rather, the issue was resolved politically. Specifically, President Obama, soon after taking office in 2009, banned the use of waterboarding even by the CIA, and Congress effectively codified this order in 2015. (Donald Trump has however announced his support for waterboarding.) Despite rumors, moreover, there have been no verified reports of CIA waterboarding since 2003. So at the moment, at least, there is nothing for a court to decide when it comes to waterboarding by US agents.

Regretfully, however, President Obama’s ban on waterboarding did not put an end to US involvement in the use of torture as part of the war on terror. Instead, within the past decade the US has repeatedly made use of the device known as extraordinary rendition, by which suspected terrorists detained by the US are turned over to police authorities in other countries that regularly employ torture as an interrogation technique.

Fiss, who views this practice, along with waterboarding, as “one of the most egregious of all abuses associated with the War on Terror,” gives as an example the case of Maher Arar, a dual citizen of Canada and Syria, who was thought by US authorities to be a supporter of al-Qaeda. While returning to Canada from a vacation in Tunisia, Arar had to change planes at JFK in New York. He was immediately taken into custody by US agents, who held him for twelve days and then, after their interrogation apparently did not lead to the desired results, shipped him to Syria, where (he alleges) they knew he would be tortured—as he was.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals, in a full court decision filed in late 2009, held, by a vote of 7–4, that these facts did not constitute a legitimate legal claim. Similarly, in a case involving five former detainees who alleged that the CIA arranged for them to be flown to other countries so that they could be interrogated by torture, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held in 2010, by a vote of 6–5, that the detainees’ lawsuit was barred by prohibitions against exposing state secrets.

Although the split votes in these cases suggest that judicial opinion is not uniform about whether extraordinary rendition is beyond judicial scrutiny, for the time being it remains a device by which US officials can effectively use the torture techniques of other countries to interrogate those suspected of aiding the war on terror. The majority view of the judiciary is not to interfere.

If the judiciary’s response to extraordinary rendition is an example of its hands-off approach to dubious practices associated with the war on terror, a different kind of judicial response, which might be described as “words without deeds,” is presented by another of Fiss’s examples, namely, detention without trial of persons alleged to be enemy combatants. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2016 at 10:22 am

Barbara Lee’s Lone Vote on Sept. 14, 2001, Was as Prescient as it was Brave and Heroic

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In The Intercept Glenn Greenwald looks back on how Congress responded to the terrorist attacks of 9/11:

Almost immediately after the 9/11 attack, while bodies were still buried in the rubble, George W. Bush demanded from Congress the legal authorization to use military force against those responsible for the attack, which everyone understood would start with an invasion of Afghanistan. The resulting resolution that was immediately cooked up was both vague and broad, providing that “the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”

Despite this broadness, or because of it, the House of Representatives on September 14 approved the Resolution by a vote of 420-1. The Senate approved it the same day by a vote of 98-0. The lone dissenting vote was Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California, who – three days after the 9/11 attack, in a climate of virtually full-scale homogeneity – not only voted “no” but stood up on the House floor to deliver this eloquent, unflinching and, as it turns out, extremely prescient explanation for her opposition:

In an op-ed she published in The San Francisco Chronicle 9 days later, she explained her vote by pointing out that the resolution “was a blank check to the president to attack anyone involved in the Sept. 11 events — anywhere, in any country, without regard to our nation’s long-term foreign policy, economic and national security interests, and without time limit.” She added: “A rush to launch precipitous military counterattacks runs too great a risk that more innocent men, women, children will be killed.”

For her lone stance, Lee was deluged with rancid insults and death threats to the point where she needed around-the-clock bodyguards. She was vilified as “anti-American” by numerous outlets including The Wall Street Journal. The Washington Timeseditorialized on September 18 that “Ms. Lee is a long-practicing supporter of America’s enemies — from Fidel Castro on down” and that “while most of the left-wing Democrats spent the week praising President Bush and trying to sound as moderate as possible, Barbara Lee continued to sail under her true colors.” Since then, she has been repeatedly rejected in her bids to join the House Democratic leadership, typically losing to candidates close to Wall Street and in support of militarism. I documented numerous other ugly attacks when I wrote about her for The Guardian in 2013.

But beyond the obvious bravery needed to take the stand she took, she has been completely vindicated on the merits. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 September 2016 at 10:07 am

For nine years, DEA withholds names of masked agents who violently raided two innocent women. Federal court shrugs.

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This seems to be the very definition of a police state. Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:

A few years ago, I wrote about the raid on Geraldine and Caroline Burleyfor the Huffington Post:

When Caroline Burley, now 51, first heard the boom around 5:30 on the evening of June 13, [2007] it sounded like it had come from outside her bedroom window. She rushed to investigate, and as she came out of the room, a man with a gun confronted her, threw her into a wall and then hurled her to the floor. A SWAT team had burst through her front door. Wearing only her nightgown, she asked for mercy. She recently had back surgery, she explained. Instead, one officer, then another kept her close to the floor by putting a boot in her back, according to court filings.

Caroline’s mother, Geraldine Burley, was sitting at her computer in the basement when she heard a loud thud overhead, followed by a scream from her daughter and a man’s voice ordering Caroline Burley to the floor. When she ascended the stairs, she too found a gun pointed at her head, and a man ordered her to get on the floor as well. She thought at first that she was being robbed.

Geraldine, now 70, pleaded with the man to let her move to the floor slowly, explaining to him that she’d had both of her knees replaced. Instead, another officer approached, grabbed her by the face, demanded that she “get the [f–––] on the floor,” then threw her into a table. She tumbled to the ground. At that point, she said later in a deposition, everything turned to “a fire, white and ringing in my ear.” Another officer came up from the basement with her grandson, stepping on her knees in the process. She cried out again in pain.

The officers searched the home but found no drugs, weapons or any other contraband. (They arrested Geraldine’s grandson on an unrelated misdemeanor warrant.)

This was part of Operation Eight Mile, a three-day period in 2007 in which drug cops from 21 federal, state and local police agencies conducted hundreds of raids on the famously crime-ridden road. (For all that manpower, the raids didn’t turn up much: 50 ounces of marijuana, 6.5 ounces of cocaine and 19 guns.)

The Burleys tried to get the officers’ names and badge numbers to file a complaint. This presented a problem:

According to the Burleys’ accounts, the officers who raided their home were clad in black. Some wore balaclava masks or face shields that hid all but their eyes. Others pulled their hats down low to shield their identities. They had also obscured their names and badge numbers. Once the Burleys’ house had been thoroughly searched, both women asked the officers for their names. After holding an impromptu meeting, the officers told the Burleys that they wouldn’t divulge any information that could identify them individually. Instead, they told the women that they had just been raided by “Team 11.” The women weren’t given a search warrant.

“Team 11″ didn’t actually exist. It was part of a Drug Enforcement Administration squad called “Team 6.” But for the Eight Mile operation, the team was partially split up and reorganized with members of state and local police agencies, then renamed just for that particular operation.

The entire operation was coordinated by the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office. When the Burleys asked the office for the names of the officers who raided their home, the office said it had no record of that raid, directing them instead to the DEA. The DEA told the Burleys that the agency was transitioning to a new administration and couldn’t respond, but that it would eventually get back to them. It never did. The Burleys finally filed a lawsuit in state court, which forced the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department to give them the records of the raid that the office previously said didn’t exist. Included in those records was a DEA report with the names of the agents who participated in the raid.

For their lawsuit, the Burleys sent the named agents questionnaires. The agents filled them out, denying that they ever violated the women’s civil rights. But notably, none of the agents denied that they had participated in the raid.

That all changed during depositions for the lawsuit. In what was a complete surprise to the Burleys’ attorneys, every agent named in the report denied participating in the raid. Instead, they claimed that “Team 11″ had actually been split into two on that particular day. One team raided the Burleys, while the other raided a home nearby. The agents claimed that the DEA report must have included the names of the wrong half of “Team 11″ by mistake. They were all in the other house.

So the Burleys’ attorneys did what you’d expect them to do: They deposed the other half of the team. You probably know where this is going. All of those agents also claimed to have been in the other house. No one denies that the Burleys were raided. No one denies that one half of “Team 11″ conducted that raid. But both halves of “Team 11″ insist it was the other half that was in in the Burleys’ home. Deputies from the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department were also on the raid, but apparently stood outside the home while the DEA agents did the dirty work. Yet none of the deputies on the Burley raid could remember which DEA agents were with them.

“It’s one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen,” Burley attorney Stanley Okoli told me a few years ago. “I asked, ‘which amongst you went to one address?’ and they said they couldn’t remember. So I asked, ‘which amongst you went to the other address?’ and they said they couldn’t remember.”

To file a civil rights lawsuit against law enforcement officers, you need to know the names of the actual officers. The courts won’t allow you to file a civil rights claim against a police or government agency in general. By the time the DEA agents sprang their surprise on the Burleys, the statute of limitations on their lawsuit had nearly run out.

The Burleys filed their lawsuit anyway, hoping they could persuade a court to compel the DEA to name the officers who participated in the raid. It just got worse from there:

In June 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Bernard Friedman first dismissed the Burleys’ claims against Wayne County, then preempted a jury verdict in the trial against the federal agents. He ruled that, given the evidence, no reasonable jury could find in the plaintiffs’ favor, and in addition ordered the Burleys to pay the DEA agents $5,000 to compensate them for court costs.

“These women are destitute,” Okoli told HuffPost. “That was completely discretionary. He didn’t have to do that.” Because the women couldn’t pay, the government moved to garnish their Social Security disability checks to cover the fine.

The following year, a panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld the dismissal of the sheriff’s deputies from the lawsuit, but reinstated the claims against the federal agents and vacated the order for the Burleys to pay court costs. The panel found that “the agents’ intent to conceal contributed to the plaintiffs’ impaired ability to identify them.”

The problem:  . . .

Continue reading.

This is where the US is headed: police operating as a paramilitary force with no accountability and no transparency. (Recall that the NYPD has just proclaimed that it will release no information about disciplinary proceedings against any officer. Their position is that the public has no right to know and that the public should simply trust the NYPD to discipline or terminate officers guilty of misconduct.

What happened in this raid seems to amount to little more than terrorism of citizens by government officials.

And do read the rest of the report. Kafka would be proud.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 August 2016 at 11:12 am

What does it mean when war hawks say “Never Trump”?

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Rebecca Gordon writes in Salon:

It’s not every day that Republicans publish an open letter announcing that their presidential candidate is unfit for office. But lately this sort of thing has beenhappening more and more frequently. The most recent example: we just heard from 50 representatives of the national security apparatus, men — and a few women — who served under Republican presidents from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush. All of them are very worried about Donald Trump.

They think we should be alerted to the fact that the Republican standard-bearer “lacks the character, values and experience to be president.”

That’s true of course, but it’s also pretty rich, coming from this bunch. The letter’s signers include, among others, the man who was Condoleezza Rice’s legal advisorwhen she ran the National Security Council (John Bellinger III); one of George W. Bush’s CIA directors who also ran the National Security Agency (Michael Hayden); a Bush administration ambassador to the United Nations and Iraq (John Negroponte); an architect of the neoconservative policy in the Middle East adopted by the Bush administration that led to the invasion of Iraq, who has since served as president of the World Bank (Robert Zoellick). In short, given the history of the “global war on terror,” this is your basic list of potential American war criminals.

Their letter continues, “He weakens U.S. moral authority as the leader of the free world.”

There’s a sentence that could use some unpacking.

What is the “free world”?

Let’s start with the last bit: “the leader of the free world.” That’s what journalists used to call the U.S. president, and occasionally the country as a whole, during the Cold War. Between the end of World War II and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the “free world” included all the English-speaking countries outside Africa, along with western Europe, North America, some South American dictatorships and nations like the Philippines that had a neocolonial relationship with the United States.

The U.S.S.R. led what, by this logic, was the un-free world, including the Warsaw Pactcountries in eastern Europe, the “captive” Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, the People’s Republic of China (for part of the period), North Korea and of course Cuba. Americans who grew up in these years knew that the people living behind the “Iron Curtain” were not free. We’d seen the bus ads and public service announcements on television requesting donations for Radio Free Europe, sometimes illustrated with footage of a pale adolescent man, his head crowned with chains.

I have absolutely no doubt that he and his eastern European countrymen were far from free. I do wonder, however, how free his counterparts in the American-backed Brazilian, Argentinian, Chilean and Philippine dictatorships felt.

The two great adversaries, together with the countries in their spheres of influence, were often called the First and Second Worlds. Their rulers treated the rest of the planet — the Third World — as a chessboard across which they moved their proxy armies and onto which they sometimes targeted their missiles. Some countries in the Third World refused to be pawns in the superpower game, and created a non-aligned movement, which sought to thread a way between the Scylla and Charybdis of the United States and the Soviet Union.

Among its founders were some of the great Third World nationalists: Sukarno of Indonesia, Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, along with Yugoslavia’s President Josip Broz Tito.

Other countries weren’t so lucky. When the United States took over from France the (unsuccessful) project of defeating Vietnam’s anti-colonial struggle, people in the United States were assured that the war that followed with its massive bombing, napalming and Agent-Oranging of a peasant society represented the advance of freedom against the forces of communist enslavement. Central America also served as a Cold War battlefield, with Washington fighting proxy wars during the 1980s in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, where poor campesinos had insisted on being treated as human beings and were often brutally murdered for their trouble. In addition, the United States funded, trained and armed a military dictatorship in Honduras, where John Negroponte — one of the anti-Trump letter signers — was the U.S. ambassador from 1981 to 1985.

The Soviet Union is, of course, long gone, but the “free world,” it seems, remains, and so American officials still sometimes refer to us as its leader — an expression that only makes sense, of course, in the context of dual (and dueling) worlds. On a post-Soviet planet, however, it’s hard to know just what national or geographic configuration constitutes today’s “un-free world.” Is it (as Donald Trump might have it) everyone living under Arab or Muslim rule? Or could it be that amorphous phenomenon we call “terrorism” or “Islamic terrorism” that can sometimes reach into the “free world” and slaughter innocents as in San Bernardino, California, Orlando, Florida or Nice, France? Or could it be the old Soviet Union reincarnated in Vladimir Putin’s Russia or even a rising capitalist China still controlled by a Communist Party?

Faced with the loss of a primary antagonist and the confusion on our planet, George W. Bush was forced to downsize the perennial enemy of freedom from Reagan’s old “evil empire” (the Soviet Union) to three “rogue states,” Iraq, Iran and North Korea, which in an address to Congress he so memorably labeled the “axis of evil.” The first of these lies in near ruins; the second we’ve recently signed a nuclear treaty with; and the third seems incapable of even feeding its own population. Fortunately for the free world, the Bush administration also had some second-string enemies to draw on. In 2002, John Bolton, then an undersecretary of state (and later ambassador to the U.N.), added another group “beyond the axis of evil” — Libya, Syria and Cuba. Of the three, only Cuba is still a functioning nation.

And by the way, the 50 Republican national security stars who denounced Donald Trump in Cold War terms turn out to be in remarkably good company — that of Donald Trump himself (who recently gave a speech invoking American Cold War practices as the basis for his future foreign policy).

“He weakens U.S. moral authority…”

After its twenty-first century wars, its “black sites,” and Guantánamo, among other developments of the age, it’s hard to imagine a much weaker “moral authority” than what’s presently left to the United States. First, we gave the world eight years of George W. Bush’s illegal invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as CIA torture sites, “enhanced interrogation techniques” and a program of quite illegal global kidnappings of terror suspects (some of whom proved innocent of anything). Under President Obama, it seems we’ve traded enhanced interrogation techniques for an “enhanced” use of assassination by drone (again outside any “law” of war, other than the legal documents that the Justice Department has produced to justify such acts).

When Barack Obama took office in January 2009 his first executive order outlawed the CIA’s torture program and closed those black sites. It then looked as if the country’s moral fiber might be stiffening. But when it came to holding the torturers accountable, Obama insisted that the country should “look forward as opposed to looking backwards” and the Justice Department declined to prosecute any of them. It’s hard for a country to maintain its moral authority in the world when it refuses to exert that authority at home.

Two of the letter signers who are so concerned about Trump’s effect on U.S. moral authority themselves played special roles in “weakening” U.S. moral authority through their involvement with the CIA torture program: John Bellinger III and Michael Hayden.

June 26th is the U.N.’s International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. To mark that day in 2003, President Bush issued a statement declaring, “Torture anywhere is an affront to human dignity everywhere. The United States is committed to the world-wide elimination of torture, and we are leading this fight by example.”

The Washington Post story on the president’s speech also carried a quote from Deputy White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan to the effect that all prisoners being held by the U.S. government were being treated “humanely.” John Rizzo, who was then the CIA’s deputy general counsel, called John Bellinger, Condoleezza Rice’s legal counsel at the National Security Council, to express his concern about what both the president and McClellan had said.

The problem was that — as Rizzo and his boss, CIA director George Tenet, well knew — many detainees then held by the CIA were not being treated humanely. They were being tortured or mistreated in various ways. The CIA wanted to be sure that they still had White House backing and approval for their “enhanced interrogation” program, because they didn’t want to be left holding the bag if the truth came out. They also wanted the White House to stop talking about the humane treatment of prisoners.

According to an internal CIA memo, George Tenet convened a July 29, 2003, meeting in Condoleezza Rice’s office to get the necessary reassurance that the CIA would be covered if the truth about torture came out. There, Bellinger reportedly apologized on behalf of the administration, explaining that the White House press secretary had “gone off script,” mistakenly reverting to “old talking points.” He also “undertook to [e]nsure that the White House press office ceases to make statements on the subject other than [to say] that the U.S. is complying with its obligations under U.S. law.”

At that same meeting, Tenet’s chief counsel, Scott Muller, passed out packets of printed PowerPoint slides detailing those enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, so that Bellinger and the others present, including Rice, would understand exactly what he was covering up.

So much for the “moral authority” of John Bellinger III.

As for Michael Hayden (who has held several offices in the national security apparatus), one of his signature acts as CIA Director was . . .

. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

27 August 2016 at 2:40 pm

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