Archive for the ‘Bush Administration’ Category
The Intercept has an intriguing report today by Micah Lee and Margot Williams:
In the early months of 2003, the National Security Agency saw demand for its services spike as a new war in Iraq, as well as ongoing and profound changes in how people used the internet, added to a torrent of new agency work related to the war on terror, according to a review of 166 articles from a restricted agency newsletter.
The Intercept today is releasing the first three months of SIDtoday, March 31 through the end of June 2003, using files provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. In addition, we are releasing any subsequent 2003 installments of SIDtoday series that began during this period. The files are available for download here.
We combed through these files with help from other writers and editors with an eye toward finding the most interesting stories, among other concerns.
SIDtoday was launched just 11 days into the U.S. invasion of Iraq by a team within the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate. SID is arguably the NSA’s most important division, responsible for spying on the agency’s targets, andSIDtoday became, as Peter Maass documents in an accompanying article, an invaluable primer on how the NSA breaks into and monitors communications systems around the world.
At the outset, SIDtoday declared that its mission was to “bring together communications from across the SIGINT Directorate in a single webpage” and that one of its key areas of focus would be providing “information on the Iraq Campaign and Campaign Against Terrorism.” And, indeed, the first issues of SIDtoday document how the agency paved the way for the Iraq War with diplomatic intelligence, supported the targeting of specific enemies in Iraq, and continued servicing existing “customers” like the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture, whose appetite for signals intelligence grew sharply after the Sept. 11 attacks.
While the agency was helping in Iraq, NSA personnel were also involved in interrogations at Guantánamo Bay, SIDtoday articles show, working alongside the military and CIA at a time when prisoners there were treated brutally.The Intercept’s Cora Currier describes the NSA’s involvement with the interrogations in a separate story, one that also documents how the agency helped with the capture and rendition to Guantánamo of a group of Algerian men in Bosnia.
Other highlights from this set of documents follow below, alongside links to the relevant originals. . .
The Intercept is running several stories based on information from the Snowden archive. Take a look.
Note this important explanation. From that link:
. . . Today, The Intercept is announcing two innovations in how we report on and publish these materials. Both measures are designed to ensure that reporting on the archive continues in as expeditious and informative a manner as possible, in accordance with the agreements we entered into with our source about how these materials would be disclosed, a framework that he, and we, have publicly described on numerous occasions.
The first measure involves the publication of large batches of documents. We are, beginning today, publishing in installments the NSA’s internalSIDtoday newsletters, which span more than a decade beginning after 9/11. We are starting with the oldest SIDtoday articles, from 2003, and working our way through the most recent in our archive, from 2012. Our first release today contains 166 documents, all from 2003, and we will periodically release batches until we have made public the entire set. The documents are available on a special section of The Intercept.
The SIDtoday documents run a wide gamut: from serious, detailed reports on top secret NSA surveillance programs to breezy, trivial meanderings of analysts’ trips and vacations, with much in between. Many are self-serving and boastful, designed to justify budgets or impress supervisors. Others contain obvious errors or mindless parroting of public source material. But some SIDtoday articles have been the basis of significant revelations from the archive.
Accompanying the release of these documents are summaries of the content of each, along with a story about NSA’s role in Guantánamo interrogations, a lengthy roundup of other intriguing information gleaned from these files, and a profile of SIDtoday. We encourage other journalists, researchers, and interested parties to comb through these documents, along with future published batches, to find additional material of interest. Others may well find stories, or clues that lead to stories, that we did not. (To contact us about such finds, see the instructions here.) A primary objective of these batch releases is to make that kind of exploration possible.
Consistent with the requirements of our agreement with our source, our editors and reporters have carefully examined each document, redacted names of low-level functionaries and other information that could impose serious harm on innocent individuals, and given the NSA an opportunity to comment on the documents to be published (the NSA’s comments resulted in no redactions other than two names of relatively low-level employees that we agreed, consistent with our long-standing policy, to redact). Further information about how we prepared the documents for publication is available in a separate article. We believe these releases will enhance public understanding of these extremely powerful and secretive surveillance agencies.
The other innovation is our ability to invite outside journalists, including from foreign media outlets, to work with us to explore the full Snowden archive. . .
Well, that explains why the FBI hustled all those Saudi nationals out of the US right after 9/11: it was to see that they were protected after their strike on the US. Ben Norton reports in Salon:
Saudi officials supported the Sept. 11, 2001 attackers, says a former member of the 9/11 commission.
“There was an awful lot of participation by Saudi individuals in supporting the hijackers, and some of those people worked in the Saudi government,” commission member John F. Lehman said in an interview with the Guardian.
He says at least five Saudi regime officials were strongly suspected of being involved in the al-Qaeda support network.
“Our report should never have been read as an exoneration of Saudi Arabia,” Lehman said, referring to the 9/11 commission’s 2004 final report that minimized the Saudi regime’s alleged role.
Although tepid, the 9/11 commission did criticize the closely U.S.-allied theocratic Saudi monarchy for sponsoring the fundamentalist Wahhabi interpretation of Islam embraced by extremists. It also acknowledged the Saudi royal family’s ties to charity groups that supported al-Qaeda before 9/11, but claimed there was no evidence of links to the Sept. 11 attacks.
Lehman, a Republican who served as secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration and is now an investment banker, says the report didn’t go far enough.
He has joined several other commission members in calling on the Obama administration to promptly declassify the secret 28 pages of a congressional report that detail foreign support for the 9/11 al-Qaeda attackers.
Former Sen. Bob Graham, who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee during and after the 9/11 attacks, has repeatedly said these pages show Saudi involvement.
This is the first sign of a public split among the 10 9/11 commissioners, reports the Guardian, in an explosive story written by Philip Shenon, the author of “The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation.”
In April, the former chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 commission praised oil-rich Saudi Arabia as a close “ally of the United States in combating terrorism” and asked the Obama administration to reconsider releasing the 28 pages, claiming they contain “raw, unvetted” information that could be misinterpreted.
In reality, the U.S. government’s own secret documents, released by whistleblowing journalism organization Wikileaks, admit that “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, LeT, and other terrorist groups”; and “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”
The European Parliament has said the same, reporting “Saudi Arabia has been a major source of financing to rebel and terrorist organisations since the 1970s.”
The Saudi regime also uses its vast oil wealth to buy influence. U.S. media outlets have recently devoted more and more attention to investigating the millions of dollars the Saudi monarchy spends on its vast network of public relations and lobby firms in D.C.
Of the 19 Sept. 11 attackers, 15 were citizens of Saudi Arabia. . .
Tom Englehardt of TomDispatch.com writes:
There are the news stories that genuinely surprise you, and then there are the ones that you could write in your sleep before they happen. Let me concoct an example for you:
Top American and European military leaders are weighing options to step up the fight against the Islamic State in the Mideast, including possibly sending more U.S. forces into Iraq, Syria, and Libya, just as Washington confirmed the second American combat casualty in Iraq in as many months.
Oh wait, that was actually the lead sentence in a May 3rd Washington Times piece by Carlo Muñoz. Honestly, though, it could have been written anytime in the last few months by just about anyone paying any attention whatsoever, and it surely will prove reusable in the months to come (with casualty figures altered, of course). The sad truth is that across the Greater Middle East and expanding parts of Africa, a similar set of lines could be written ahead of time about the use of Special Operations forces, drones, advisers, whatever, as could the sorry results of making such moves in [add the name of your country of choice here].
Put another way, in a Washington that seems incapable of doing anything but worshiping at the temple of the U.S. military, global policymaking has become a remarkably mindless military-first process of repetition. It’s as if, as problems built up in your life, you looked in the closet marked “solutions” and the only thing you could ever see was one hulking, over-armed soldier, whom you obsessively let loose, causing yet more damage.
How Much, How Many, How Often, and How Destructively
In Iraq and Syria, it’s been mission creep all the way. The B-52s barely made it to the battle zone for the first time and were almost instantaneously in the air, attacking Islamic State militants. U.S. firebases are built ever closer to the front lines. The number of special ops forces continues to edge up. American weapons flow in (ending up in god knows whosehands). American trainers and advisers follow in ever increasing numbers, and those numbers are repeatedly fiddled with to deemphasize how many of them are actually there. The private contractors begin to arrive in numbers never to be counted. The local forces being trained or retrained have their usual problems in battle. American troops and advisers who were never, never going to be “in combat” or “boots on the ground” themselves now have their boots distinctly on the ground in combat situations. The first American casualties are dribbling in. Meanwhile, conditions in tottering Iraq and the former nation of Syria grow ever murkier, more chaotic, and less amenable by the week to any solution American officials might care for.
And the response to all this in present-day Washington?
You know perfectly well what the sole imaginable response can be: sending in yet more weapons, boots, air power, special ops types, trainers, advisers, private contractors, drones, and funds to increasingly chaotic conflict zones across significant swaths of the planet. Above all, there can be no serious thought, discussion, or debate about how such a militarized approach to our world might have contributed to, and continues to contribute to, the very problems it was meant to solve. Not in our nation’s capital, anyway.
The only questions to be argued about are how much, how many, how often, and how destructively. In other words, the only “antiwar” position imaginable in Washington, where accusations of weakness or wimpishness are a dime a dozen and considered lethal to a political career, is how much less of more we can afford, militarily speaking, or how much more of somewhat less we can settle for when it comes to militarized death and destruction. Never, of course, is a genuine version of less or a none-at-all option really on that “table” where, it’s said, all policy options are kept.
Think of this as Washington’s military addiction in action. We’ve been watching it foralmost 15 years without drawing any of the obvious conclusions. And lest you imagine that “addiction” is just a figure of speech, it isn’t. Washington’s attachment — financial, tactical, and strategic — to the U.S. military and its supposed solutions to more or less all problems in what used to be called “foreign policy” should by now be categorized as addictive. Otherwise, how can you explain the last decade and a half in which no military action from Afghanistan to Iraq, Yemen to Libya worked out half-well in the long run (or even, often enough, in the short run), and yet the U.S. military remains the option of first, not last, resort in just about any imaginable situation? All this in a vast region in which failed states are piling up, nations are disintegrating, terror insurgencies are spreading, humongous population upheavals are becoming the norm, and there are refugee flows of a sort not seen since significant parts of the planet were destroyed during World War II.
Either we’re talking addictive behavior or failure is the new success.
Keep in mind, for instance, that . . .
Cora Currier reports in The Intercept:
AFTER WORKING AS an interrogator for a U.S. military contractor in Iraq, Eric Fair took a job as an analyst for the National Security Agency. When he went to the NSA, Fair was reckoning with the torture of Iraqi prisoners, torture he had witnessed and in which he had participated.
Fair would go on to write a memoir detailing his experiences in Iraq; the book, Consequence, was published last month to strong notices, including not one but two positive reviews in the New York Times. But Fair actually wrote about his time as an interrogator more than a decade earlier in an internal NSA publication.
One of the publication’s editors asked him to contribute a piece about “how my experience as an interrogator influences my work at the NSA,” as he put it in Consequence. Fair submitted an article in which “I question the efficacy of certain intelligence-gathering techniques and wonder whether, for the sake of morality, it might be best to sacrifice some level of tactical knowledge.”
“I was asked rewrite this section. I cut it completely. Instead, I wrote about how my experience in the interrogation booths had familiarized me with the overall intelligence cycle.”
Fair’s article for the NSA publication is among the files provided by former agency contractor Edward Snowden. It appeared in SIDtoday, a newsletter for the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate, or SID, and is being released by The Intercept. (Read Part 1 and Part 2.)
In the essay, dated March 2005, Fair examines the relationship between human intelligence, or HUMINT, which can be derived from interrogations, and signals intelligence, or SIGINT, which comes from electronic communications. Fair’s article is titled “From SIGINT to HUMINT to SIGINT (through HUMINT): How a SIGINTer became an interrogator in Iraq, and what he learned as a result.”
The article describes his deployment to Iraq in 2003 and 2004, when he worked as a contractor at Abu Ghraib and at a base in Fallujah. In his previous intelligence work, he had “been limited to gathering only the information a target would reveal in conversation, searching for clues and hints,” he wrote. In Iraq, he was “excited” by “the opportunity to get to know these targets, ask them questions about their personal lives, gain a better understanding of who they were.”
But Fair soon became overwhelmed by the number of prisoners being brought in, and “as the numbers grew, so too did the ominous feeling that things were going downhill.” Fair wrote that “detainees were scared and apprehensive, and it was all I could do to get them talking about basic biographical information let alone their knowledge of the insurgency. When the success stories would come, it was often because the detainee was tired and worn out from his ordeal and hoped to gain something by providing information.”
Back in the United States at the NSA, he was assigned to a team that sorted through interrogation reports from Iraq to develop leads for signals tracking. Most of the rest of the article consists of platitudes about making SIGINT and HUMINT “work more effectively together.”
The can-do tone of the SIDtoday article belies the true nature of the prisoners’ “ordeals,” which Fair would soon make public. In 2007, he published the first of many public articles about the brutality with which he and other U.S. personnel treated Iraqis. Abu Ghraib, he insisted, was not “an isolated incident in an otherwise well-run detention system.”
In Consequence, he recounts the daily work of manipulating and mistreating prisoners even as he became disillusioned with the idea that such interrogations produced any intelligence of value.
He writes about shoving detainees into walls and throwing chairs, seeing men naked in freezing temperatures and subjecting them to sleep deprivation. He sees detainees being struck by other interrogators. He describes a technique known as the “Palestinian chair,” rumored to have been taught to U.S. forces by Israeli interrogators. Fair describes the torture of one Iraqi detainee in the chair in excruciating detail. “His hands are tied to his ankles. The chair forces him to lean forward in a crouch, forcing all of his weight onto his thighs. … He is blindfolded. His head has collapsed into his chest. He wheezes and gasps for air. There is a pool of urine at his feet.” . . .
Continue reading. And do read the whole thing.
Charlie Savage in the NY Review of Books reviews Michael Hayden’s book Playing to the Edge. The entire review is worth reading. Michael Hayden made it a practice to lie to Congress, and he continues to mislead even in his book. Just a few paragraphs from the review:
. . . Moments like that are why Playing to the Edge can be rewarding—if readers come to it already informed about the factual background. But reading this book is something like watching a movie with a lot of dialogue and plot twists while the sound is muted: if you have not previously seen the film, you will not really understand what happened. Hayden is generally too shrewd to say things that are outright false—the distortions in his book take the form of omissions, half-truths, misleading framings, and ambiguities that are subject to multiple interpretations. As someone who has spent years researching and writing about post–September 11 national security legal and policy controversies, I can only hope that readers will be sufficiently immersed in the details of that era to be equipped to spot Hayden’s spin.
Here are two representative examples of subtly misleading passages. First, Hayden recounts how he pressured editors at TheNew York Times in late 2004 and 2005 (well before I joined the paper) not to run a story about the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping, which the paper’s reporters had discovered; we now know that it was just one of the components of the NSA’s Stellarwind program, other aspects of which remained still submerged. Hayden assured a Times editor at that time that there was no disagreement within the administration over what the NSA was doing. But it later emerged that senior Justice Department officials had threatened to resign in March 2004 because they had strong legal objections to Stellarwind.
In his book, Hayden maintains that his assurance to the Times editors had been “true as far as it went.” His reasoning was that the objections expressed in March had been “settled” by then and “in any event involved an aspect of the program that was not part of the Times’s story.” That is, the crisis had involved the legality of a component of Stellarwind that collected, in bulk, metadata about e-mails. But Hayden’s statement that the legal objections made in March involved an aspect of the Stellarwind program that was different from the warrantless wiretapping component, while literally true, is misleading.4
In fact, Justice Department officials had strongly challenged the White House about more than one thing in the program. Hayden does not explain that until March 2004, the legitimacy of Stellarwind was based on a sweeping claim that presidents can lawfully override statutes for national security reasons, which among other things meant that the NSA could use the entire program to search for any international terrorist threat. As part of the crisis, the Justice Department officials had also forced the Bush White House to limit the NSA’s bypassing of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to the sole purpose of pursuing al-Qaeda. By narrowing Stellarwind’s scope, the administration could put the program on a firmer legal footing by linking it to Congress’s authorization to use military force against the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks.5 So the crisis had in fact involved as well the warrantless wiretapping that the Times had uncovered.
The second example showing how Hayden’s account can be subtly tricky begins with a chapter about the summer of 2006, when he took over as CIA director and worked on developing a scaled-back version of the detention and interrogation program amid, he writes, “outrage…at home and abroad,” set off by press reports about it. That chapter reaches a climax with a “magnificent” speech in which Bush announced that the CIAhad transferred its remaining detainees to the military’s Guantánamo prison while he also defended interrogators’ use of an “alternative set of procedures” to elicit information that prevented attacks. Two chapters later, Hayden returns to the subject and writes that the Bush administration eventually approved keeping a narrower range of techniques available for interrogating future captives; he claims that Congress “hadno impact on the shape of the CIA interrogation program going forward” because lawmakers “lacked the courage or the consensus to stop it, endorse it, or amend it.”
Several things about this are misleading, too. The first chapter, discussing Hayden’s summer of preoccupation with the program leading up to Bush’s speech, omits legal background that is crucial to understanding what was really happening—information that also puts a darker cloud over the CIA’s conduct. In particular, what Hayden does not say is that the Supreme Court issued a ruling about the Geneva Conventions that put American interrogators who had abused terrorism detainees at risk of prosecution for war crimes. In the crucial passage of Bush’s speech, which Hayden also omits, the president asked Congress to amend the War Crimes Act in order to curtail that risk. In implying that Congress was simply too feckless to specify which techniques should be kept, Hayden omits the fact that Congress voted in 2008 to limit CIA interrogators to the army field manual—thereby banning “enhanced” tactics like waterboarding and sleep deprivation—but Bush vetoed the bill.
While Hayden does eventually mention both that there had been a Supreme Court ruling about the Geneva Conventions (though he still avoids the phrase “war crimes”) and a vetoed bill about the army field manual, he notes those facts about forty and 130 pages, respectively, after his primary discussion of the material whose interpretation they would have altered if read in conjunction with those details. And he never mentions that the Senate report later found—and the CIA partially conceded—that the list of counterterrorism successes in Bush’s speech had been riddled with misinformation, such as attributing the discovery of new facts to the interrogation programs when that information actually derived from other sources.
Playing to the Edge has many such slippery moments. As they accumulate, the impression of the world left by the book distorts the world as it actually was. . .
Hayden is not trustworthy. See also:
- Fact Check: Intelligence Committee Did Not Spend $40 Million on CIA Study
- Fact Check: Interviews Would Have Added Little to CIA Interrogation Study
- Fact Check: Intelligence Committee Insufficiently Briefed on Coercive Interrogation Techniques
- Fact Check: Coercive Interrogation Techniques Did Not Lead to bin Laden
- Fact Check: CIA’s Use of Rectal Rehydration, Feeding Not Medical Procedures
- Fact Check: Inaccurate assertions about the CIA Detention and Interrogation Program in Mike Morell/Bill Harlow Book
- Fact Check: Inaccurate assertions about the CIA Detention and Interrogation Program in Former CIA Officials’ Book
- Fact Check: Inaccurate statements about the Committee’s Detention and Interrogation Study by Professor Amy Zegart
- Fact Check: Inaccurate assertions about the CIA Detention and Interrogation Program in Michael Hayden Book
Tom Englehardt writes at TomDispatch.com:
Let’s take a moment to think about the ultimate strangeness of our American world. In recent months, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have offered a range of hair-raising suggestions: as president, one or the other of them might order the U.S. military and the CIA to commit acts that would include the waterboarding of terror suspects (or “a hell of a lot worse”), thekilling of the relatives of terrorists, and the carpet bombing of parts of Syria. All of these would, legally speaking, be war crimes. This has caused shock among many Americans in quite established quarters who have decried the possibility of such a president, suggesting that the two of them are calling for outright illegal acts, actual “war crimes,” and that the U.S. military and others would be justified in rejecting such orders. In this context, for instance, CIA Director John Brennan recently made it clear that no Agency operative under his command would ever waterboard a suspect in response to orders of such a nature from a future president. (“I will not agree to carry out some of these tactics and techniques I’ve heard bandied about because this institution needs to endure.”)
These acts, in other words, are considered beyond the pale when Donald Trump suggests them, but here’s the strangeness of it all: what The Donald is only mouthing off about, a perfectly real American president (and vice president and secretary of defense, and so on) actually did. Among other things, under the euphemistic term “enhanced interrogation techniques,” they ordered the CIA to use classic torture practices including waterboarding (which, in blunter times, had been known as “the water torture”). They also let the U.S. military loose to torture and abuse prisoners in their custody. They green-lighted the CIA tokidnap terror suspects (who sometimes turned out to be perfectly innocent people) off the streets of cities around the world, as well as from the backlands of the planet, and transported them to the prisons of some of the worst torture regimes or to secret detention centers (“black sites”) the CIA was allowed to set up in compliant countries. In other words, a perfectly real administration ordered and oversaw perfectly real crimes. (Its top officials even reportedly had torture techniques demonstrated to them in the White House.)
At the time, the CIA fulfilled its orders to a T and without complaint. A lone CIA officer spoke out publicly in opposition to such a program and was jailed for disclosing classified information to a journalist. (He would be the only CIA official to go to jail for the Agency’s acts of torture.) At places like Abu Ghraib, the military similarly carried out its orders without significant complaint or resistance. The mainstream media generally adopted the euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques” or “harsh techniques” in its reporting — no “torture” or “war crimes” for them then. And back in the post-2001 years, John Brennan, then deputy executive director of the CIA, didn’t offer a peep of protest about what he surely knew was going on in his own agency. In 2014, in fact, as its director he actually defendedsuch torture practices for producing “intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives.” In addition, none of those who ordered or oversaw torture and other criminal behavior (a number of whom would sell their memoirs for millions of dollars) suffered in the slightest for the acts that were performed on their watch and at their behest.
To sum up: when Donald Trump says such things it’s a future nightmare to be called by its rightful name and denounced, as well as rejected and resisted by military and intelligence officials. When an American president and his top officials actually did such things, however, it was another story entirely. Today, TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon catches the nightmarish quality of those years, now largely buried, in the grim case of a single mistreated human being. It should make Americans shudder. She has also just published a new book, American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes, that couldn’t be more relevant. It’s a must-read for a country conveniently without a memory. Tom
The Al-Qaeda Leader Who Wasn’t
The Shameful Ordeal of Abu Zubaydah
By Rebecca Gordon
The allegations against the man were serious indeed.
* Donald Rumsfeld said he was “if not the number two, very close to the number two person” in al-Qaeda.
* The Central Intelligence Agency informed Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee that he “served as Usama Bin Laden’s senior lieutenant. In that capacity, he has managed a network of training camps… He also acted as al-Qaeda’s coordinator of external contacts and foreign communications.”
* CIA Director Michael Hayden would tell the press in 2008 that 25% of all the information his agency had gathered about al-Qaeda from human sources “originated” with one other detainee and him.
* George W. Bush would use his case to justify the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program,” claiming that “he had run a terrorist camp in Afghanistan where some of the 9/11 hijackers trained” and that “he helped smuggle al-Qaeda leaders out of Afghanistan” so they would not be captured by U.S. military forces.
None of it was true.
And even if it had been true, what the CIA did to Abu Zubaydah — with the knowledge and approval of the highest government officials — is a prime example of the kind of still-unpunished crimes that officials like Dick Cheney, George Bush, and Donald Rumsfeld committed in the so-called Global War on Terror.
So who was this infamous figure, and where is he now? His name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, but he is better known by his Arabic nickname, Abu Zubaydah. And as far as we know, he is still in solitary detention in Guantánamo.
A Saudi national, in the 1980s Zubaydah helped run the Khaldan camp, a mujahedeen training facility set up in Afghanistan with CIA help during the Soviet occupation of that country. In other words, Zubaydah was then an American ally in the fight against the Soviets, one of President Ronald Reagan’s “freedom fighters.” (But then again, so in effect was Osama bin Laden.)
Zubaydah’s later fate in the hands of the CIA was of a far grimmer nature. He had the dubious luck to be the subject of a number of CIA “firsts”: the first post-9/11 prisoner to be waterboarded; the first to be experimented on by psychologists working as CIA contractors; one of the first of the Agency’s “ghost prisoners” (detainees hidden from the world, including the International Committee of the Red Cross which, under the Geneva Conventions, must be allowed access to every prisoner of war); and one of the first prisoners to be cited in a memo written by Jay Bybee for the Bush administration on what the CIA could “legally” do to a detainee without supposedly violating U.S. federal laws against torture.
Zubaydah’s story is — or at least should be — the iconic tale of the illegalextremes to which the Bush administration and the CIA went in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. And yet former officials, from CIA head Michael Hayden to Vice President Dick Cheney to George W. Bush himself, have presented it as a glowing example of the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” to extract desperately needed information from the “evildoers” of that time.
Zubaydah was an early experiment in post-9/11 CIA practices and here’s the remarkable thing (though it has yet to become part of the mainstream media accounts of his case): it was all a big lie. Zubaydah wasn’t involved with al-Qaeda; he was the ringleader of nothing; he never took part in planning for the 9/11 attacks. He was brutally mistreated and, in another kind of world, would be exhibit one in the war crimes trials of America’s top leaders and its major intelligence agency.
Yet notorious as he once was, he’s been forgotten by all but his lawyers and a few tenacious reporters. He shouldn’t have been. He was the test case for the kind of torture that Donald Trump now wants the U.S. government to bring back, presumably because it “worked” so well the first time. With Republican presidential hopefuls promising future war crimes, it’s worth reconsidering his case and thinking about how to prevent it from happening again. After all, it’s only because no one has been held to account for the years of Bush administration torture practices that Trump and others feel free to promise even more and “yuger” war crimes in the future.
Experiments in Torture
In August 2002, a group of FBI agents, CIA agents, and Pakistani forces captured Zubaydah (along with about 50 other men) in Faisalabad, Pakistan. In the process, he was severely injured — shot in the thigh, testicle, and stomach. He might well have died, had the CIA not flown in an American surgeon to patch him up. The Agency’s interest in his health was, however, anything but humanitarian. Its officials wanted to interrogate him and, even after he had recovered sufficiently to be questioned, his captors occasionally withheld pain medication as a means of torture.
When he “lost” his left eye under mysterious circumstances while in CIA custody, the agency’s concern again was not for his health. The December 2014 torture report produced by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (despite CIA opposition that included hacking into the committee’s computers) described the situation this way: with his left eye gone, “[i]n October 2002, DETENTION SITE GREEN [now known to be Thailand] recommended that the vision in his right eye be tested, noting that ‘[w]e have a lot riding upon his ability to see, read, and write.’ DETENTION SITE GREEN stressed that ‘this request is driven by our intelligence needs [not] humanitarian concern for AZ.’”
The CIA then set to work interrogating Zubaydah with the help of two contractors, thepsychologists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell. Zubaydah would be the first human subject on whom those two, who were former instructors at the Air Force’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) training center, could test their theories about using torture to induce what they called “learned helplessness,” meant to reduce a suspect’s resistance to interrogation. Their price? Only $81 million.
CIA records show that, using a plan drawn up by Jessen and Mitchell, Abu Zubaydah’s interrogators would waterboard him an almost unimaginable 83 times in the course of a single month; that is, they would strap him to a wooden board, place a cloth over his entire face, and gradually pour water through the cloth until he began to drown. At one point during this endlessly repeated ordeal, the Senate committee reported that Zubaydah became “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.”
Each of those 83 uses of what was called “the watering cycle” consisted of four steps:
1) demands for information interspersed with the application of the water just short of blocking his airway 2) escalation of the amount of water applied until it blocked his airway and he started to have involuntary spasms 3) raising the water-board to clear subject’s airway 4) lowering of the water-board and return to demands for information.
The CIA videotaped Zubaydah undergoing each of these “cycles,” only to destroy those tapes in 2005 when news of their existence surfaced and the embarrassment (and possible future culpability) of the Agency seemed increasingly to be at stake. CIA Director Michael Hayden would later assureCNN that the tapes had been destroyed only because “they no longer had ‘intelligence value’ and they posed a security risk.” Whose “security” was at risk if the tapes became public? Most likely, that of the Agency’s operatives and contractors who were breaking multiple national and international laws against torture, along with the high CIA and Bush administration officials who had directly approved their actions.
In addition to the waterboarding, . . .
Of course, the CIA torturers have been protected by Obama’s refusal to follow the law specified in the Convention Against Torture, which as a treaty signed and confirmed by the US, is the law of the land.
I hope Hillary Clinton reads this article by Roger Hodge in The Intercept:
THE CONVICTION that invasion, bombing, and special forces benefit large swaths of the globe, while remaining consonant with a Platonic ideal of the national interest, runs deep in the American psyche. Like the poet Stevie Smith’s cat, the United States “likes to gallop about doing good.” The cat attacks and misses, sometimes injuring itself, but does not give up. It asks, as the U.S. should,
What’s the good
Of galloping about doing good
When angels stand in the path
And do not do as they should
Nothing undermines the American belief in military force. No matter how often its galloping about results in resentment and mayhem, the U.S. gets up again to do good elsewhere. Failure to improve life in Vietnam, Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya stiffens the resolve to get it right next time. This notion prevails among politicized elements of the officer corps; much of the media, whether nominally liberal or conservative; the foreign policy elite recycled quadrennially between corporation-endowed think tanks and government; and most politicians on the national stage. For them and the public they influence, the question is less whether to deploy force than when, where, and how.
Since 1979, when the Iranians overthrew the Shah and the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, the U.S. has concentrated its firepower in what former U.S. Army colonel Andrew Bacevich calls the “Greater Middle East.” The region comprises most of what America’s imperial predecessors, the British, called the Near and Middle East, a vast zone from Pakistan west to Morocco. In his new book, America’s War for the Greater Middle East, Bacevich writes, “From the end of World War II until 1980, virtually no American soldiers were killed in action while serving in that region. Within a decade, a great shift occurred. Since 1990, virtually no American soldiers have been killed anywhere exceptthe Greater Middle East.” That observation alone might prompt a less propagandized electorate to rebel against leaders who perpetuate policies that, while killing and maiming American soldiers, devastate the societies they touch.
Bacevich describes a loyal cadre of intellectuals and pundits favoring war after war, laying the moral ground for invasions and excusing them when they go wrong. He notes that in 1975, when American imperium was collapsing in Indochina, the guardians of American exceptionalism renewed their case for preserving the U.S. as the exception to international law. An article by Robert Tucker in Commentary that year set the ball rolling with the proposition that “to insist that before using force one must exhaust all other remedies is little more than the functional equivalent of accepting chaos.” Another evangelist for military action, Miles Ignotus, wrote in Harper’s two months later that the U.S. with Israel’s help must prepare to seize Saudi Arabia’s oilfields. Miles Ignotus, Latin for “unknown soldier,” turned out to be the known civilian and Pentagon consultant Edward Luttwak. Luttwak urged a “revolution” in warfare doctrine toward “fast, light forces to penetrate the enemy’s vital centers” with Saudi Arabia a test case. The practical test would come, with results familiar to most of the world, 27 years later in Iraq.
The Pentagon, its pride and reputation wounded in Vietnam as surely as the bodies of 150,000 scarred American soldiers, was slow to take the hint. The end of compulsory military service robbed it of manpower for massive global intervention. Revelations of war crimes and political chicanery from the Senate’s Church Committee and the Pike Committee in the House added to public disenchantment with military adventures and intelligence meddling in other countries’ affairs. It would take years of effort to cure America of its “Vietnam Syndrome,” the preference for diplomatic before military solutions.
In the Middle East, President Gerald Ford saw no reason to rescind his predecessor’s policy, the Nixon Doctrine of reliance on local clients armed by the U.S. to protect Persian Gulf oil for America’s gas-hungry consumers. Nothing much happened, though, until one of the local gendarmes, the Shah of Iran, fell to a popular revolution and the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. . .
Read the whole thing: definitely worthwhile.