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War Without End: The Pentagon’s failed campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan left a generation of soldiers with little to fight for but one another.

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C.J. Chivers paints a grim but realistic picture:

Second Platoon did not hide its dark mood as its soldiers waded across the Korengal River in the bright light of afternoon. It was early in April 2009 and early in the Pentagon’s resumption in earnest of the Afghan war. The platoon’s mission was to ascend a mountain slope and try to ambush the Taliban at night. They were about 30 men in all, riflemen and machine-gunners reinforced with scouts, a mix of original platoon members and replacements who filled gaps left by the wounded and the dead. Many of them considered their plan foolish, a draining and dangerous waste of time, another example of a frustrated Army unit’s trying to show activity for the brass in a war low on focus and hope. They muttered foul words as they moved.

Specialist Robert Soto had been haunted by dread as the soldiers left their base, the Korengal Outpost. His platoon was part of an infantry unit that called itself Viper, the radio call sign for Bravo Company, First Battalion of the 26th Infantry. Viper had occupied the outpost for nine months, a period in which its soldiers were confined to a small stretch of lower valley and impoverished villages clinging to hillsides beneath towering peaks. Second Platoon had started its deployment with three squads but suffered so many casualties that on this day even with replacements it mustered at about two-thirds strength. With attrition came knowledge. Soto knew firsthand that the war did not resemble the carefully considered national project the generals discussed in the news. He had enlisted in the Army from the Bronx less than two years before, motivated by a desire to protect the United States from another terrorist attack. But his idealism had turned swiftly into realism, and the war had become a matter of him and his friends surviving each day as days cohered into a tour. He was doubtful about the rest, from the competence of the war’s organizers down to the merits of this ambush patrol. There’s no way this works, he thought. The valley felt like a network of watchers who set up American platoons, relaying word to those laying traps.

Soto sensed eyes following the patrol. Everybody can see us.

He was 19, but at 160 pounds and barely needing to shave, he could pass for two years younger. He was nobody’s archetype of a fighter. A high school drama student, he joined the Army at 17 and planned to become an actor if he survived the war. Often he went about his duties with an enormous smile, singing no matter what anyone else thought — R. & B., rap, rock, hip-hop, the blues. All of this made him popular in the platoon, even as he had become tenser than his former self and older than his years; even as his friends and sergeants he admired were killed, leaving him a burden of ghosts.

He faced the steep uphill climb, physically ready, emotionally spent. We’re just trying to get out of here in two months, he thought. He and his fellow soldiers had been in the valley long enough that they moved in the sinewy, late-deployment fitness of infantry squads seasoned by war. Sweat soaked his back. His quadriceps and calves drove him on, pushing him like a pack animal for the soldier beside him, Specialist Arturo Molano, who carried an M240 machine gun. The two fell into a rhythm. One soldier would get over a hard patch, turn around and extend a hand to the other. “Hey, man, you good?” Soto would ask. Molano would say he was fine. “You want me to carry the gun?” Soto would offer. Molano declined every time. Soto considered Molano to be selfless and tough, someone who routinely carried more than men of much larger size. He liked being partnered with someone like this.

After a few hours, Second Platoon reached the crest, high above the valley. The soldiers inhaled deeply, taking in the thin air. Away from the outpost’s burning trash, the air tasted clean.

A few soldiers went forward to check the trail before the rest of the platoon moved to the ambush site. With little more than whispers, the soldiers arranged themselves in a triangle astride a mountain footpath. Second Lt. Justin Smith, their platoon leader, put Molano at one corner and a second man with an M240 at another, with their machine guns angled back toward each other so their fire could create an interlocking zone of flying lead. Other soldiers set claymore mines on small stands.

Everything was ready before dark. The air was chilly and the ridge raked by gusts. Soto was shivering. He pulled a dry undershirt and socks from his pack, changed clothes, ate a protein bar and washed it down with water. He saw his company’s outpost below, across the open space, and realized this must be what it looked like to militants when they attacked. A distant call to prayer floated on the mountain air.

In early October, the Afghan war will be 17 years old, a milestone that has loomed with grim inevitability as the fighting has continued without a clear exit strategy across three presidential administrations. With this anniversary, prospective recruits born after the terrorist attacks of 2001 will be old enough to enlist. And Afghanistan is not the sole enduring American campaign. The war in Iraq, which started in 2003, has resumed and continues in a different form over the border in Syria, where the American military also has settled into a string of ground outposts without articulating a plan or schedule for a way out. The United States has at various times declared success in its many campaigns — in late 2001; in the spring of 2003; in 2008; in the short-lived withdrawal from Iraq late in 2011; and in its allies’ recapture more recently of the ruins of Ramadi, Falluja, Mosul and Raqqa from the Islamic State, a terrorist organization, formed in the crucible of occupied Iraq, that did not even exist when the wars to defeat terrorism started. And still the wars grind on, with the conflict in Afghanistan on track to be a destination for American soldiers born after it began.

More than three million Americans have served in uniform in these wars. Nearly 7,000 of them have died. Tens of thousands more have been wounded. More are killed or wounded each year, in smaller numbers but often in dreary circumstances, including the fatal attack in July on Cpl. Joseph Maciel by an Afghan soldier — a member of the very forces that the United States has underwritten, trained and equipped, and yet as a matter of necessity and practice now guards itself against.

On one matter there can be no argument: The policies that sent these men and women abroad, with their emphasis on military action and their visions of reordering nations and cultures, have not succeeded. It is beyond honest dispute that the wars did not achieve what their organizers promised, no matter the party in power or the generals in command. Astonishingly expensive, strategically incoherent, sold by a shifting slate of senior officers and politicians and editorial-page hawks, the wars have continued in varied forms and under different rationales each and every year since passenger jets struck the World Trade Center in 2001. They continue today without an end in sight, reauthorized in Pentagon budgets almost as if distant war is a presumed government action.

As the costs have grown — whether measured by dollars spent, stature lost or blood shed — the wars’ architects and the commentators supporting them have often been ready with optimistic or airbrushed predictions, each pitched to the latest project or newly appointed general’s plan. According to the bullhorns and depending on the year, America’s military campaigns abroad would satisfy justice, displace tyrants, keep violence away from Western soil, spread democracy, foster development, prevent sectarian war, protect populations, reduce corruption, bolster women’s rights, decrease the international heroin trade, check the influence of extreme religious ideology, create Iraqi and Afghan security forces that would be law-abiding and competent and finally build nations that might peacefully stand on their own in a global world, all while discouraging other would-be despots and terrorists.

Aside from displacing tyrants and leading to the eventual killing of Osama bin Laden, none of this turned out as pitched. Prominent successes were short-lived. New thugs rose where old thugs fell. Corruption and lawlessness remain endemic. An uncountable tally of civilians — many times the number of those who perished in the terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001 — were killed. Others were wounded or driven from their homes, first by American action and then by violent social forces American action helped unleash.

The governments of Afghanistan and Iraq, each of which the United States spent hundreds of billions of dollars to build and support, are fragile, brutal and uncertain. The nations they struggle to rule harbor large contingents of irregular fighters and terrorists who have been hardened and made savvy, trained by the experience of fighting the American military machine. Much of the infrastructure the United States built with its citizens’ treasure and its troops’ labor lies abandoned. Briefly schools or outposts, many are husks, looted and desolate monuments to forgotten plans. Hundreds of thousands of weapons provided to would-be allies have vanished; an innumerable quantity are on markets or in the hands of Washington’s enemies. Billions of dollars spent creating security partners also deputized pedophiles, torturers and thieves. National police or army units that the Pentagon proclaimed essential to their countries’ futures have disbanded. The Islamic State has sponsored or encouraged terrorist attacks across much of the world — exactly the species of crime the global “war on terror” was supposed to prevent.

Almost two decades after the White House cast American troops as liberators to be welcomed, large swaths of territory where the Pentagon deployed combat forces are under stubborn insurgent influence. Areas once touted as markers of counterinsurgency progress have become no-go zones, regions in which almost no Americans dare tread, save a few journalists and aid workers, or private military contractors or American military and C.I.A. teams.

Across these years, hundreds of thousands of young men and women signed on in good faith and served in the lower and middle ranks. They did not make policy. They lived within it. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. The US cannot afford this.

Denying reality is ultimately a losing strategy.

Nick Turse on a Grim Inheritance: The Legacy of Infinite War

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Tom Englehardt introduces a column by Nick Turse at TomDispatch.com:

It looks like TomDispatch may have a few less readers from now on. Perhaps it will surprise you, but judging by the mail I get, some members of the U.S. military do read TomDispatch — partially to check out the range of military and ex-military critics of America’s wars that this site publishes. Or rather they did read TomDispatch. No longer, it seems, if their computers are operating via Department of Defense (DoD) networks. The DoD, I’ve heard, has blocked the site. You now get this message, I’m told, when you try to go to it: “You have attempted to access a blocked website. Access to this website has been blocked for operational reasons by the DOD Enterprise-Level Protection System.” Oh, and the category that accounts for it being blocked? “Hate and racism.” Mind you, you can evidently still read both Breitbart and Infowars in a beautifully unblocked state via the same networks.

On consideration, however, I’ve concluded that the Department of Defense might have a point. Since this site was launched as a no-name listserv in October 2001 soon after the Afghan War started — you know, the war that the DoD is still pursuing so successfully almost 17 years later with its 17th commander now in the field, 15,000 American troops still fighting and advising there (and still dying there as well), and the enemy, the Taliban in particular, in control of yet more territory in that country — TomDispatch has always hated America’s never-ending, ever-spreading, refugee- and terror-producing wars that now extend from South Asia across the Middle East and deep into Africa. So perhaps this site is, after all, a must-block “hate” site.

And among the authors who have spread TomDispatch’s antiwar gospel of hatred — now so judiciously cut off by the Pentagon — Nick Turse, in particular, has long grimly tracked the growth and spread of Washington’s forever wars and of the Special Operations forces, the semi-secret military that has become, in these years, their heart and soul. He returns to this sorry tale again today, this time in a unique fashion — by tracing the careers of those in the military, commanders and commanded, dead and alive, who returned to America’s official and unofficial war zones again and again and yet again. Maybe someone should suggest to the Pentagon that there’s something else out there to block, so that another website, 17 years from now, won’t be writing about Washington’s 34th commander in the field in Afghanistan. Maybe it’s time to block those wars. Tom

The Legacy of Infinite War 
Special Ops, Generational Struggle, and the Cooperstown of Commandos
By Nick Turse

Raids by U.S. commandos in Afghanistan. (I could be talking about 2001 or 2018.)

A U.S. drone strike in Yemen. (I could be talking about 2002 or 2018.)

Missions by Green Berets in Iraq. (I could be talking about 2003 or 2018.)

While so much about the War on Terror turned Global War on Terrorismturned World War IV turned the Long War turned “generational struggle” turned “infinite war” seems repetitious, the troops most associated with this conflict — the U.S. Special Operations forces — have seen changes galore. As Representative Jim Saxton (R-NJ), chairman of the Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, pointed out in 2006, referring to Special Operations Command by its acronym: “For almost five years now, SOCOM has been leading the way in the war on terrorism: defeating the Taliban and eliminating a terrorist safe haven in Afghanistan, removing a truly vicious Iraqi dictator, and combating the terrorists who seek to destabilize the new, democratic Iraq.”

Much has changed since Saxton looked back on SOCOM’s role in the early years of the war on terror. For starters, Saxton retired almost a decade ago, but the Taliban, despite being “defeated” way back when, didn’t do the same. Today, they contest for or control about 44% of Afghanistan. That country also hosts many more terror groups — 20 in all — than it did 12 years ago. “Vicious Iraqi dictator” Saddam Hussein is, of course, still dead and gone, but in 2014, about a third of “the new, democratic Iraq” was overrun by Islamic State militants. The country was only re-liberated in late 2017 and the Islamic State is already making a comeback there this year. Meanwhile, Iraq is besetby anti-government protests and totters along as one of the most fragile stateson the planet, while the Iraqi and Afghan war zones bled together — with U.S. special operators now fighting an Islamic State terrorist franchise in Afghanistan, too.

In spite, or perhaps because, of these circumstances, SOCOM continues to thrive. Its budget, its personnel numbers, and just about any other measure you might choose (from missions to global reach) continue to rise. In 2006, for instance, 85% of Special Operations forces (SOF) deployed overseas — Army Green Berets and Rangers, Navy SEALs, and others — were concentrated in the Greater Middle East, with far smaller numbers spread thinly across the Pacific (7%), Europe (3%), and Latin America (3%). Only 1% of them were then conducting missions in Africa.

Today, the lion’s share — 56% — of those commandos still operate in the Greater Middle East, according to figures provided to TomDispatch by SOCOM, but all other foreign deployments have grown at that region’s expense. Africa Command has leapt from last to second place and now hosts 16.5% of America’s overseas commandos, European Command 13.9% of them, the newly renamed Indo-Pacific Command 8.6%, and Southern Command 4.5%.

In the Zone

As deployments have shifted geographically, the number of special operators overseas has risen dramatically. In any given week in 2001, an average of 2,900 commandos were deployed abroad. By 2014, that number had hit 7,200. Today, according to SOCOM spokesman Ken McGraw, it’s 8,300.

A generation of commandos have spent their careers fighting on the proliferating fronts of Washington’s forever wars, hopping from one conflict zone to another or sometimes returning to the same campaign again and again. Some have spent much of their adult lives at war and a number have lost their lives after multiple warzone tours, still without a victory in sight. “At this stage in the ongoing counter-violent extremist type of fight, it is not a rare exception for airmen to be on their 12th, 13th, or 14th deployment,” Lieutenant General Marshall Webb, the chief of Air Force Special Operations Command, told the Senate Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities earlier this year. And when it comes to serial deployments, special ops airmen are hardly unique.

Consider, for example, Green Beret Colonel Owen Ray who recently took command of the 1st Special Forces Group (1st SFG). His path to that post might be thought of as the military equivalent of working one’s way up from the mailroom. He has, in fact, held a command at every level of the 1st SFG. In 2003, he served as a detachment commander in Afghanistan. By 2011, he was back there as a company commander. In 2013, he returned as the chief of the 1st Special Forces Group’s 4th Battalion. Now, he heads a unit whose members have spent the last years deploying to hotspots across the planet. “I stand in absolute awe at the service rendered and the impact this unit had on multiple theaters,” said outgoing commander Colonel Guillaume Beaurpere at a July change of command ceremony in which he handed over the reins to Ray.

Beaurpere himself is a model of the long-war SOF experience in multi-theater warfighting. A French immigrant commissioned as an officer in 1994, he served in South Korea, Kosovo, and sub-Saharan Africa. In 2007, he commanded a Special Forces company in Iraq. In 2008, he was back in Iraq as the executive officer for a special operations task force in Baghdad. In 2010, he served as the deputy chief of staff of a SOCOM joint task force and the task force deputy operations officer during the lead-up to NATO’s war in Libya. In 2011, he took command of a special forces battalion and supervised its operations in West Africa. He also played a role in establishing a special ops presence in Central Africa to aid local proxies fighting Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. In 2012, he served as the chief of a special operations command and control element in the Horn of Africa. Beaurpere is now assigned to Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida, where he serves as executive officer to the commander.

This spring, President Trump tapped Lieutenant General Scott Howell to be the first Air Force officer to head Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), SOCOM’s secretive “hunter-killers,” which include the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy’s SEAL Team Six. A longtime special operator, Howell has hopped back and forth between combat zones and stateside posts while steadily climbing the special ops ladder. His assignments have included a 2005-2006 stint, when he was still a lieutenant colonel, as commander of the Joint Special Operations Aviation Detachment Arabian Peninsula at Joint Base Balad, Iraq; a 2008-2010 assignment, when he was a colonel, as commander of the Joint Special Operations Aviation Component, Special Operations Task Force, at Balad Air Base, Iraq, and Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan; a 2012-2013 stint, when he was a brigadier general, as deputy commanding general of Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan and NATO Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan; and then, a 2016-2017 position, when he was a major general, as the head of NATO Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan and Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan.

Or, for a grimmer look at the special ops experience in these years, consider the biographies of some of the commandos recently killed overseas. They offer a unique window on the operations tempo, scale, and scope of America’s never-ending wars. Take Chief Special Warfare Operator William “Ryan” Owens. He completed his Navy SEAL training in December 2002and then deployed 12 times, carrying out perhaps 1,000 missions or more, including assignments in Afghanistan and Somalia, before he was killed in Yemen last January. Similarly, Senior Chief Special Warfare Operator Kyle Milliken, who enlisted in the Navy in 2002 and joined the SEALs a short time later, survived tours in Iraq — in 2007 alone, he took part in 48 combat missions there — and Afghanistan only to be killed in Somalia last May.

Staff Sergeant Logan Melgar, a Green Beret who was reportedly strangled to death by two fellow special operators in Mali last June, was a veteran of two tours in Afghanistan. Staff Sergeant Dustin Wright, one of two Green Berets killed in an Islamic State ambush in Niger in October 2017, was reportedly on his second deployment to that West African nation. Army Sergeant 1st Class Mihail Golin — the victim of a New Year’s Day attack in Afghanistan — enlisted in the Army in 2005, a year after emigrating to the United States from Latvia, serving in Iraq in 2006-2007 and Afghanistan in 2009-2010, 2011-2012, and again in 2017. Staff Sergeant Alexander Conrad, a 26-year-old assigned to the Special Forces, served two tours in Afghanistan — in 2012-2013 and again in 2014 — before losing his life in a June 2018 attack in Jubaland, Somalia.

Hallowed Halls

Today, who remembers Dan Brouthers or the Troy Trojans and Buffalo Bisons, the professional baseball teams he played for? The same could be said of William “Judy” Johnson of the Hilldale Daisies, Mike “King” Kellyof the Boston Beaneaters, and Charlie “Old Hoss” Radbourn of the Providence Grays who, in 1884, pitched 73 complete games and won 59 of them. (Yes, you read that right!). Those men are nonetheless immortalized in bronze forever — or at least as long as the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum stands in Cooperstown, New York.

Philip CochranLeroy Manor, and Aaron Bank might be even less well known to the rest of us, although they’re enshrined in the equivalent institution for their line of work. They are among the 69 members of the Commando Hall of Honor at SOCOM headquarters, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. Cochran is best known for his service as . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 August 2018 at 2:36 pm

Lord save us. FEMA personnel chief harassed women, hired some as possible sexual partners for male employees, agency’s leader says

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Lisa Rein reports in the Washington Post:

The personnel chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency — who resigned just weeks ago — is under investigation after being accused of creating an atmosphere of widespread sexual harassment over years in which women were hired as possible sexual partners for male employees, the agency’s leader said Monday.

The alleged harassment and other misconduct, revealed through a preliminary seven-month internal investigation, was a “systemic problem going on for years,” said FEMA Administrator William “Brock” Long. Some of the behavior could rise to the level of criminal activity, he said.

Some of the claims about the agency’s former personnel chief are detailed in a written executive summary of the investigation provided to The Washington Post. FEMA officials provided other details and confirmed that the individual under investigation, whose name was redacted from the report, is Corey Coleman, who led the personnel department from 2011 until his resignation in June.

Coleman could not immediately be reached for comment, and no one answered the door at his Northeast Washington home when a Washington Post reporter visited Monday. Coleman resigned June 18, before a scheduled interview with investigators, and FEMA officials said they have not been able to question him since.

Online records show Coleman was a senior executive who was paid an annual salary of $177,150.

In an interview, Long described a “toxic” environment in the human resources department Coleman had led at FEMA headquarters, hiring dozens of men who were friends and college fraternity brothers and women he met at bars and on online dating sites — then promoting them to roles throughout the agency without going through proper federal hiring channels.

Coleman then transferred some of the women in and out of departments, some to regional offices, so his friends could try to have sexual relationships with them, according to statements and interviews with employees, said a FEMA official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

“What we uncovered was a systemic problem going back years,” Long said. He said he has referred several of the cases to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, who oversees FEMA, to investigate possible criminal sexual assault.

“The biggest problem I may solve here may be  . . .

Continue reading.

Is it just me, or are things getting really weird? This takes some sort of cake.

And you know this is just the tip of the iceberg. If this department — a government department, no less—is dong this, then it’s going on in a lot of other places. As we’re seeing at CBS.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2018 at 3:38 pm

How the EPA and the Pentagon Downplayed a Growing Toxic Threat

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Abrahm Lustgarten reports in ProPublica:

A family of chemicals — known as PFAS and responsible for marvels like Teflon and critical to the safety of American military bases — has now emerged as a far greater menace than previously disclosed.

The chemicals once seemed near magical, able to repel water, oil and stains.

By the 1970s, DuPont and 3M had used them to develop Teflon and Scotchgard, and they slipped into an array of everyday products, from gum wrappers to sofas to frying pans to carpets. Known as perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, they were a boon to the military, too, which used them in foam that snuffed out explosive oil and fuel fires.

It’s long been known that, in certain concentrations, the compounds could be dangerous if they got into water or if people breathed dust or ate food that contained them. Tests showed they accumulated in the blood of chemical factory workers and residents living nearby, and studies linked some of the chemicals to cancers and birth defects.

Now two new analyses of drinking water data and the science used to analyze it make clear the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Defense have downplayed the public threat posed by these chemicals. Far more people have likely been exposed to dangerous levels of them than has previously been reported because contamination from them is more widespread than has ever been officially acknowledged.

Moreover, ProPublica has found, the government’s understatement of the threat appears to be no accident.

The EPA and the Department of Defense calibrated water tests to exclude some harmful levels of contamination and only register especially high concentrations of chemicals, according to the vice president of one testing company. Several prominent scientists told ProPublica the DOD chose to use tests that would identify only a handful of chemicals rather than more advanced tests that the agencies’ own scientists had helped develop which could potentially identify the presence of hundreds of additional compounds.

The first analysis, contained in an EPA contractor’s PowerPoint presentation, shows that one chemical — the PFAS most understood to cause harm — is 24 times more prevalent in public drinking water than the EPA has reported. Based on this, the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization whose scientists have studied PFAS pollution, has estimated that as many as 110 million Americans are now at risk of being exposed to PFAS chemicals.

In the second analysis, ProPublica compared how the military checks for and measures PFAS-related contamination to what’s identified by more advanced tests. We found that the military relied on tests which are not capable of detecting all the PFAS chemicals it believed to be present. Even then, it underreported its results, sharing only a small part if its data. We also found that the military’s own research programs had retested several of those defense sites using more advanced testing technology and identified significantly more pollution than what the military reported to Congress.

Even before the troubling new information about PFAS chemicals emerged, the government had acknowledged problems relating to them were spreading. Past EPA water testing, however incomplete, identified drinking water contamination across 33 states that Harvard researchers estimated affected some 6 million people. The military suspected drinking water at more than 660 U.S. defense sites where firefighting foam was used could be contaminated; earlier this year, it announced it had confirmed contamination in 36 drinking water systems and in 90 groundwater sites on or near its facilities.

The new analyses suggest these findings likely represent just a fraction of the true number of people and drinking water systems affected.

In written responses to questions, the EPA did not directly address whether it had understated contamination from PFAS chemicals. The agency said it had confidence in its current testing procedures and had set detection limits at appropriate levels. It also stated that it is taking steps towards regulating some PFAS compounds and registering them as “hazardous substances,” a classification that triggers additional oversight under waste and pollution laws.

The agency will “take concrete actions to ensure PFAS is thoroughly addressed and all Americans have access to clean and safe drinking water,” then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who recently resigned, said in the written statement to ProPublica in May.

The Department of Defense also responded to questions in writing, defending its testing methods as the best available and calling it difficult to fully assess risks from PFAS because the EPA has not regulated these chemicals. A DOD spokeswoman said the Pentagon’s research group has a program underway aimed at enhancing the test methods and detecting more PFAS compounds, but suggested that no alternatives were ready for use. She did not answer questions about why the agency reported contamination levels for only two chemicals to Congress when it would have had data on many more, stating only that the Pentagon “is committed to protecting human health and the environment.”

Environmental experts aren’t convinced.

“Widespread contamination may be harming the health of millions or even tens of millions of Americans and the government is intentionally covering up some of the evidence,” said Erik Olson, a senior director for health, food and agriculture initiatives at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in an interview. The EPA and Defense Department “have done all they can to sort of drag their feet and avoid meaningful regulatory action in making significant investment in cleanups.”

In May, a Politico report revealed that . . .

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U.S. Navy Reserve Doctor on Gina Haspel Torture Victim: “One of ghe Most Severely Traumatized Individuals I Have Ever Seen”

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US politics seems to have mislaid the idea of accountability. Jeremy Scahill reports in the Intercept:

AN AMERICAN DOCTOR and Naval reserve officer who has done extensive medical evaluation of a high-profile prisoner who was tortured under the supervision of Gina Haspel privately urged Sen. Mark Warner, the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to oppose Haspel’s confirmation as CIA director, according to an email obtained by The Intercept.

“I have evaluated Mr. Abdal Rahim al-Nashiri, as well as close to 20 other men who were tortured” in U.S. custody, including several who were tortured “as part of the CIA’s RDI [Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation] program. I am one of the only health professionals he has ever talked to about his torture, its effects, and his ongoing suffering,” Dr. Sondra Crosby, a professor of public health at Boston University, wrote to Warner’s legislative director on Monday. “He is irreversibly damaged by torture that was unusually cruel and designed to break him. In my over 20 years of experience treating torture victims from around the world, including Syria, Iraq, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mr. al-Nashiri presents as one of the most severely traumatized individuals I have ever seen.”

Nashiri was snatched in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates in 2002 and “rendered” to Afghanistan by the CIA and eventually taken to the Cat’s Eye prison in Thailand that was run by Haspel from October to December 2002. He was suspected of involvement in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen. He is currently being held at Guantánamo Bay prison.

Despite Crosby’s pleas, Warner and five other Democratic senators have announced their support for Haspel. Warner backed Haspel after she sent him a carefully crafted letter designed to give the impression that she had changed her position on torture while simultaneously continuing to defend its efficacy. “While I won’t condemn those that made these hard calls, and I have noted the valuable intelligence collected, the program ultimately did damage to our officers and our standing in the world,” Haspel wrote. “With the benefit of hindsight and my experience as a senior agency leader, the enhanced interrogation program is not one the CIA should have undertaken.”

Haspel stated that she “would refuse to undertake any proposed activity that was contrary to my moral and ethical values.” But Haspel has refused to renounce torture, her role in its use or to condemn the practice of waterboarding. In fact, under questioning from Sen. Kamala Harris during her confirmation hearing, Haspel explicitly refused to say that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” she oversaw at a secret CIA prison in Thailand were immoral. That fact renders her pledge to Warner meaningless.

“It took her 16 years and the eve of a vote on her confirmation to get even this modest statement, and again, she didn’t say she had any regrets other than it offended some people,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a member of the Intelligence Committee.

“I urge Senator Warner to oppose Ms. Haspel, who did not have the courage or leadership to oppose the RDI program,” wrote Crosby. She stated that some of the techniques used against Nashiri are still classified. In her letter to Warner, Crosby stated that among the known acts of torture committed against Nashiri while he was in U.S. custody at several U.S. facilities, included:

  • suffocated with water (waterboarding)
  • subjected to mock execution with a drill and gun while standing naked and hooded
  • anal rape through rectal feeding
  • threatened that his mother would be sexually assaulted
  • lifted off ground by arms while they were bound behind his back (after which a medical officer opined that shoulders might be dislocated) . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2018 at 5:49 am

Gina Haspel would obey her broken moral compass

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Gina Haspel refused to answer Sen. Kamela Harris’s questions about whether the CIA/Bush torture program was “immoral.” So much for Ms. Haspel’s moral compass: it doesn’t provide her any direction. She also said that she believed that torture produced valuable intelligence (in stark contrast to the Senate investigation and also in contradiction to the findings of effective professional interrogators, who say that torture produces garbage—the person tortured will say anything s/he thinks her torturers want to hear—and the effective way to gain intelligence is through trust. And, of course, she cooperated in destroying the video evidence of the torture, thus obstructing justice.

Karoun Demirjian and Shane Harris report in the Washington Post:

Gina Haspel told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday that she “will not restart” a controversial CIA interrogation program if confirmed to lead the agency and that she would obey her moral compass, not President Trump, if she was ever instructed to carry out other questionable activities.
“We’re not getting back into that business,” Haspel said. “I would not restart, under any circumstances, an interrogation program at CIA.”
“My moral compass is strong,” Haspel said as the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), pressed her to define her “moral code.”
“I would not allow CIA to undertake activity that is immoral, even if it is technically legal. I would absolutely not permit it,” Haspel continued. “I believe CIA must undertake activities that are consistent with American values.”
Haspel resisted efforts by senators to get her to say whether she believed it was morally wrong for her agency to use “enhanced” interrogation techniques on terrorist suspects, including waterboarding, which many have said is a form of torture. [So much for her “moral compass”: it didn’t even provide enough direction to answer the question. And since she apparently doesn’t view the program as morally wrong, she apparently would indeed restart it, despite her protestations. – LG] She said that the techniques had been authorized at the time by the highest legal authorities in the U.S. government and by President George W. Bush. [Her defense in the destruction of video evidence amounted to much the same thing: “I was just following orders.” – LG]
Senators were visibly frustrated at Haspel’s unwillingness to say definitively whether she believed it was wrong at the time to waterboard terrorist suspects. Haspel defended the interrogation sessions.
“We got valuable information from debriefing of al-Qaeda detainees,” she told Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.). “I don’t think it’s knowable whether interrogation techniques played a role in that.”
Senators have asked several of Trump’s Cabinet nominees to commit to standing up to the president and informing Congress if he were to pressure them to do anything legally or morally questionable. But the pledge takes on extra significance with Haspel, whose hearing centered around the role she played in the CIA’s interrogation program — something Trump said on the campaign trail he wouldn’t mind bringing back into practice.
Haspel told senators that she doubted the president would ever ask her to waterboard a suspect [Trump has said he would do a lot worse than waterboarding – LG], stressing that experience had shown that the CIA “is not the right place to conduct interrogations,” as it does not have the proper expertise. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 May 2018 at 10:42 am

Haspel, Spies, and Videotapes

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Tim Golden has a lengthy and interesting report in ProPublica:

In November 2005, the CIA’s chief of undercover operations, Jose Rodriguez, turned to his closest aide for help in a crisis. Congress was threatening an investigation into the agency’s secret prisons overseas, and The Washington Post had just published new details of the so-called black sites on its front page. Rodriguez feared that the furor could pry loose videotapes that showed CIA officers brutally interrogating two terror suspects.

Rodriguez’s chief of staff, Gina Haspel, had directed the waterboarding of one suspect herself. Both Rodriguez and Haspel had been lobbying for years for permission to destroy the tapes, only to have the CIA’s requests rejected again and again by senior Bush administration officials.

Now, however, Rodriguez was determined to go ahead anyway. The tapes were locked in a CIA safe halfway across the world, but Rodriguez was not alone in thinking they were a ticking bomb that could threaten some of the interrogators and devastate the agency’s reputation.

“She — like everyone else around me — wanted the tapes destroyed,” Rodriguez said of Haspel in an interview. “It was something where we expected our agency to protect its people and do the right thing.”

As Haspel goes before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday as President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the CIA, her role in the tapes affair remains a central focus of controversy in a career that also included her supervision of a terror suspect’s interrogation using methods now widely seen as torture.

Although Rodriguez and Haspel were the primary subjects of a federal investigation into the destruction of the videotapes, prosecutors did not charge them with any crime. A subsequent disciplinary review by the CIA’s then-deputy director, Michael Morell, also found “no fault” with Haspel in the matter, saying she “acted appropriately.”

But a close examination of Haspel’s involvement in the episode, drawn from interviews and declassified documents, raises new questions about her actions and about the account of the episode she provided to federal investigators.

In a statement on Tuesday, the CIA acknowledged that Haspel wrote the cable that Rodriguez had sent ordering the destruction of the tapes. She did so, the agency said, in the mistaken belief that Rodriguez was actually planning to use the draft cable to “raise the issue” of destroying the tapes with Porter Goss, the CIA director. She only learned that Rodriguez had acted unilaterally after the fact, when she asked him whether Goss had approved the action and was told he had not.

In an interview with ProPublica several weeks ago, Rodriguez told the story differently. He said he was propelled into action after coming to the conclusion that neither Goss nor other senior administration officials would ever authorize the tapes’ destruction. He said he told Haspel that he was fed up with what he considered their political cowardice.

Rodriguez said he told Haspel directly that he was going to take matters into his own hands, and that she responded by saying she was worried about the consequences that he might face for such a brash act.

“She was concerned that I was taking this risk on my own — that I was putting myself in this situation,” Rodriguez recalled. “She didn’t say, ‘Don’t do it.’ She may have thought I was going to talk to more people about it before hitting ‘send,’ but I had made up my mind that I was going to follow through.”

To date, no document has surfaced that might resolve the contradiction. Rodriguez was already retired when Morell began his review, which ended with a letter of reprimand for his unilateral action. The review imposed no sanctions on Haspel, accepting what it described as her “claim” that she believed her boss would not release the cable ordering the tapes’ destruction without the approval of Goss.

The many former CIA officials who have championed Haspel’s candidacy describe her as a talented and experienced professional whose loyalty to the agency — and especially to the undercover officers who worked with her in its clandestine service — is paramount.

That loyalty to the institution, some of those former officials said, would make her a careful guardian of the agency under a president who has often suggested that he wants to use the covert powers of the national security apparatus aggressively.

But the protective instincts that guided both Haspel and others in the tapes episode have been sharply questioned by some Senate Democrats, who have sought a fuller account of the saga, including the full report of the special prosecutor who investigated the case.


Compared to Haspel’s still classified activities as an officer in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, her part in the destruction of the videotapes is almost an open book. But it is a book with substantial redactions.

What has become clearer from interviews and partially declassified agency documents is that Haspel became involved in the issue almost from the start of the long campaign by Rodriguez and others to have the tapes destroyed.

The origins of the taping remain somewhat mysterious. But, as a team of CIA officers prepared to question their first high-value prisoner at a secret prison in Thailand in the summer of 2002, officials of the agency’s Counterterrorism Center — it isn’t clear who — thought it would be wise to create a video record of the prisoner’s treatment.

The detainee, Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, known by his nom de guerre, Abu Zubaydah, had been shot in the groin during his capture in Pakistan a few months earlier. CIA officials thought the tapes would be a useful backup to their written record of the interrogations. The video recordings might also insure his captors against any allegations of mistreatment if he died in their custody.

But officials at the CTC, as the center is known, soon had second thoughts.

A senior CIA lawyer, John Rizzo, said that Rodriguez first came to him about destroying the tapes in mid-October of 2002. Zubaydah was still being questioned by CIA officers in Thailand. The “aggressive” phase of his interrogation was over, but among the roughly 100 hours of videotape that had been compiled, about 12 hours showed uncensored scenes of violent treatment.

That treatment included waterboarding, a method of simulated drowning in which, CIA records show, Zubaydah gagged, vomited and became hysterical while the interrogators poured water into his nostrils and throat as he lay strapped down on his back. The agency’s methods also included slapping him in the face and abdomen, slamming him into a plywood wall, depriving him of sleep and locking him into small “confinement boxes” for hours at a time.

The videotapes also showed the faces of some members of the interrogation team, Rodriguez told Rizzo.

“Jose was convinced that someday, somewhere, somehow, the tapes would become public and the identities of the interrogators inevitably ‘outed,’” Rizzo wrote in his 2014 memoir, “Company Man.” “‘“60 Minutes” will do slow-mo, stop-action pictures of their faces,’ Jose emotionally put it to me, ‘and they and their families will become targets for some Al Qaeda crazy wherever they are.’”

A canny lawyer known for his bespoke suits and colorful ties, Rizzo was sympathetic to Rodriguez’s concerns. But Rizzo had also seen his share of agency scandals up close, and he told Rodriguez firmly “not to do anything with those tapes” until he could discuss the issue and clear any action with more senior officials.

“I thought that destroying the tapes was fraught with enormous risk for the agency,” Rizzo wrote. “Someone does something like that when he has something to hide.”

Contacted by ProPublica, Rizzo declined to discuss the episode other than to say that he stood by what he had written about it in his book.

On Oct. 25, just as Haspel was arriving in Thailand to take over the black site as its new “chief of base,” an email from CIA headquarters informed officers there that they should observe a new procedure for videotaping: They were to continue recording to assist in checking their notes, but use the same tape each time so that they erased the previous day’s images.

The cable was emphatic about the reasons for the new policy. Officials had concluded that the CIA was not legally required to preserve the tapes. They represented “a serious security risk for [redacted] officers recorded on them,” and “a danger to all Americans should the tapes be compromised.” The cable promised that someone (their identity is redacted) would be sent to Thailand “at the earliest opportunity” to “assist in destroying the tapes completely.”

Haspel took over as “chief of base” at the Thai prison in late October, after the waterboarding of Zubaydah had ended. A new high-level prisoner, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, arrived on Nov. 15, and was almost immediately subjected to some of the same brutal treatment. How much videotaping was done during Haspel’s tenure at the black site is not clear, but only a few of the surviving tapes would show Nashiri. None of those, officials said, include any video of Haspel.

Nashiri’s interrogation in Thailand lasted a little more than two weeks. Then, the operation was thrown into turmoil when a New York Times journalist began asking the agency about reports that it was holding Qaida prisoners in Thailand. Haspel was ordered to shut down the secret prison immediately.

The two prisoners, Zubaydah and Nashiri, were sent to a new secret CIA prison in Poland on Dec. 4. But even before their departure, a flurry of cables between Thailand and CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, focused on what to do about the tapes.

On Nov. 27, a CIA officer in Thailand ­— possibly Haspel, or perhaps the agency’s station chief in Bangkok — sent a formal cable to headquarters. According to a summary of the message disclosed years later in response to a lawsuit, it sought “approval for the destruction” of the tapes.

Several cables on the subject came back from headquarters. They did not say yes.

The following month, at Rizzo’s urging, a new chief lawyer at the CIA, Scott Muller, presented the question of what to do with the 92 tapes to the agency’s then-director, George Tenet. The agency also sent a career attorney, John McPherson, to Thailand to review the stockpile of tapes and make sure that all the activities recorded on the tapes were also accurately described in the written records. . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

I sincerely hope Gina Haspel is not confirmed.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 May 2018 at 8:14 am

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