Archive for the ‘Bush Administration’ Category
Charles Ornstein and Mike Hixenbaugh have a scathing report that shows the government once more determined to screw over American vets. The blurb: “For decades, the military and the VA have repeatedly turned to one man to guide decisions on whether Agent Orange harmed vets in Vietnam and elsewhere. His reliable answer: No.”
And do read this illustrative report: “Eight Times Agent Orange’s Biggest Defender Has Been Wrong or Misleading.”
Just like corporations choosing arbitrators that have a history of deciding always in favor of the corporation, the government chooses experts who have a history of supporting the government position.
GOP demanded retraction of a DHS report on right-wing domestic terrorism—which we now are seeing more frequently
Under George W. Bush, the Department of Homeland Security wrote reports evaluating terrorism threats from various sources, including domestic left-wing terrorism and (in a separate report) domestic right-wing terrorism. The report was not finalized and released until Barack Obama took office, and the Republicans in Congress went berserk, though only about the report on the likelihood of right-wing domestic terrorists.
Conservatives are extremely tribal, much like the Taliban, and place an extremely high value on loyalty. They perceived the report an attack on members of their tribe—who unfortunately were involved in domestic terrorism, but still a member of the conservative tribe, to be defended at all costs, particularly since the report came out when a Democratic administration was in office (though the report had been initiated and completed under a Republican administration, that of George W. Bush).
Now the chickens so assiduously protected and ignored are coming home to roost. Curtis Tate reports at McClatchy:
In April 2009, Daryl Johnson found himself caught in a firestorm because of a report he’d authored at the Department of Homeland Security.
It warned of a surge in activity by right-wing groups, including militias, white supremacists, anti-government activists and others motivated by racial grievance toward the nation’s first black president and the consequences of a faltering economy.
Republicans in Congress slammed the report as an attack on conservatives. Then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano apologized for the report and it was withdrawn. Johnson’s unit was disbanded.
Nearly eight years later, Johnson’s warnings have proved prescient in a string of incidents from the murders of a Kansas abortion doctor and a security guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington to mass shootings at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and an African-American church in South Carolina.
And last week, a foiled alleged plot by three militiamen to attack an apartment complex inhabited by Muslim Somali immigrants in western Kansas further demonstrated that it isn’t just foreign terrorists or those sympathetic to them that Americans have to worry about.
“This is exactly the type of threat we were talking about,” said Johnson, who’s now a homeland security consultant. “It’s continued to grow over the past eight years.”
Three Kansas men – Curtis Allen, 49, Gavin Wright, 49, and Patrick Stein, 47 – were indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday with one count of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction. The three are accused of plotting to detonate truck bombs around the complex in Garden City, Kansas, where 120 people live and worship.
The FBI arrested the men last Friday in Liberal, Kansas, after an undercover investigation.
According to a complaint filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kansas, the men belonged to a militia group called the Crusaders, known for its anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-government views.
The group referred to the Somali immigrants, who work at a local meatpacking plant, as “cockroaches,” the complaint said.
The men had discussed using rocket-propelled grenades to attack the complex, proposed dipping bullets in pig’s blood and even considered something similar to the fertilizer-and-fuel-oil combination Timothy McVeigh used in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, according to the complaint.
“I’ll blow every goddamn building up right there,” Stein allegedly said.
The three even talked about attacking area churches that supported the Somali migrants, according to the complaint, and said they wouldn’t even spare the children any mercy.
“The only good Muslim is a dead Muslim,” Stein allegedly said.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks the activities of extremist groups, the number of anti-Muslim hate groups has increased 42 percent since 2014.
“This is just symptomatic of the really unprecedented rise in anti-Muslim bigotry in our society,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Hooper and others say the federal government’s focus on terrorism from abroad, or domestic terrorism carried out by people sympathetic to foreign terrorist groups, is diverting attention from threats against Muslims and where they live and worship.
“The attitude seems to be it cannot be terrorism unless a Muslim commits an act of violence,” he said.
Hooper said Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump had fueled anti-Muslim bias by calling for, among other things, a ban on Muslims entering the country and widespread surveillance of mosques.
“All of this stuff adds up,” he said.
The suspects in Kansas allegedly were planning to carry out their attack Nov. 9 – the day after Election Day. Trump’s campaign has struggled in recent weeks, and he’s fallen behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the polls.
“The militia and anti-government types are using the election to recruit more people and fuel more paranoia,” Johnson said. . .
More at the link, including video.
Barrett Brown writes in The Intercept:
I never really got a chance to play any pen-and-paper role-playing games growing up, so being thrown into a prison system in which such things as Dungeons and Dragons are relatively common constituted one of the silver linings of my 2012 arrest, along with not having to deal with an infestation of those little German roaches that had colonized my kitchen or having to see “World War Z.”
As it happens, I’d actually learned about the prevalence of tabletop games among inmates a few months before my own incarceration, in the days after the FBI first raided both my apartment and my mother’s home in March 2012 and seized laptops and papers without yet making an arrest. As they themselves noted in the search warrant, which the late Michael Hastings published at BuzzFeed, the focus of the investigation was my collaborative journalism outfit Project PM as well as echelon2.org, the online repository where we posted our ongoing findings on the still-mysterious “intelligence contracting” sector (which has since been moved here). The warrant listed HBGary Federal and Endgame Systems — two firms on which we’d focused particular attention — as topics for the FBI’s search. This was revealing. A year prior, a raid by Anonymous on the servers of HBGary had revealed, among other things, the firm’s leading role in a conspiracy by a consortium calling itself Team Themis to conduct an array of covert operations against WikiLeaks and even journalists like Glenn Greenwald, prompting a congressional inquiry that would ultimately be squashed by a Republican committee chairman.
It’s often been reported, incorrectly, that I was the one to reveal the Themis conspiracy, different aspects of which were in fact discovered more or less simultaneously by several parties shortly after HBGary’s emails were made public. My own initial role, which began when I was informed of the hack as it was being conducted, was merely to explain developments to the press. But as it became clear that the media was losing interest despite clear evidence there was much more to the story, I began working with a rotating team of volunteer researchers to determine further details of Themis and related programs by searching through the remaining 70,000 emails that the hackers had seized and following up on the various mysterious references found therein. Although we made a number of significant discoveries and managed to shed light on other matters, the press didn’t generally realize the significance of these things until later.
On the other hand, I did get to indirectly gum up the works at Endgame Systems, which, though one of the four firms involved in Themis’s proposed operations against journalists and activists, managed to avoid being mentioned in most of the press coverage that followed the original exposure of the plot. You see, Endgame’s execs had insisted in one particular email thread that its name never appear in any Themis operational materials, explaining that the nature of the firm’s central activities was such that any public scrutiny would lead to disaster, and that this was a particular concern of their partners. Other emails ended up working against it, though, as I was able to pique the interest of Bloomberg Businessweek by forwarding this hilariously sinister “NO ONE MUST EVER KNOW” exchange to a contact I had there. A few months later, the magazine ran a long feature on Endgame revealing its ability to seize control of computers across the world and that it was offering this service to unknown customers outside of the U.S. government. This in turn prompted sufficient discomfort that the firm had to stop doing this, or at least claim to have stopped. Perhaps that’s why Endgame Systems was listed on my search warrant — and never mentioned again in a single other filing by the government in my case.
But the chief enemy I’d made was apparently the Department of Justice — because when Team Themis was exposed, the emails revealed that the whole indefensible conspiracy had been set in motion by the DOJ itself, which had made the necessary introductions when Bank of America came to the agency looking for advice on how to go after WikiLeaks. There were no known consequences for anyone at the DOJ; a congressman’s calls for an official inquiry were shot down by Lamar Smith, the relevant committee chair, who proclaimed that the DOJ itself should handle any investigation. Whether the DOJ took Smith’s advice and investigated itself for secretly arranging a corporate black ops partnership is unknown. Rather, it was my head that was to roll, in retaliation for my efforts to keep the story alive in articles I continued to write for The Guardian as well as for my occasional successes in causing difficulties to Themis participants like Endgame and the intelligence contracting industry as a whole, which regularly hires ex-government officials at high salaries and thus has a working relationship with most federal agencies. And so when the FBI came for my laptops and left that search warrant listing the entirely legal journalism entity I’d been using to lead an investigation into the state-affiliated firms that the warrant also listed, I knew from the brazenness of this move that I’d eventually be arrested and charged. I didn’t know for what, exactly, but that was OK — the DOJ didn’t know yet either. Eventually they resorted to indicting me on charges related to another firm, Stratfor, that wasn’t even listed on my search warrant, which were so flimsy that they eventually had to be dropped in favor of a vague “accessory after the fact” count.
Anywho, after that first FBI raid I started reading those little guides on life in prison that one finds online and noticed several references to role-playing games. When I got to the jail unit at Federal Correctional Institution Fort Worth shortly after my arrest, then, I immediately started agitating in favor of a campaign of Dungeons and Dragons or whatever was available, to begin ASAP, with the wooden table in the little corner library to be requisitioned for our use. A huge black guy awaiting trial on complicated fraud charges happened to have the basic mechanics memorized; I drafted him to be the dungeon master. Soon enough I’d also managed to recruit a white meth dealer who was familiar enough with the game to help the rest of us create our characters, a large and bovine Hispanic gangland enforcer who wanted to try the game and was at any rate influential enough to help us secure control over the table, and a fey Southern white guy for atmosphere.
With unlimited paper and pencils provided by the federal government, we had everything we needed except for a set of variously sided dice. It turned out that this was generally handled by making a spinner out of cardboard, a paperclip, and the empty internal plastic tube from an ink pen. This latter item is impaled loosely on the paperclip, itself positioned in the center of the cardboard, on which has been drawn a diminishing series of concentric circles divided into 20, 12, 10, 8, 6, and 4 equal segments, respectively. As we attended to this chore at the wooden table, an inmate sitting nearby realized what we were making and proceeded to tell us about a cell mate he’d had during a previous bid who’d used something similar. . .
An unfortunate pattern can be seen in how having the power to act with impunity leads to the abuse of that power, using it in ways that are immoral, unethical, and/or illegal, with the expectation that there will be no accountability for the action. (Lord Acton’s dictum: Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.) Some examples of this pattern in recent reports:
- Law enforcement actions against hostages in Atticus uprising and against John F. Edland, reported here.
- US government in its drone warfare program in terms of killing civilians and bystanders.
- Wells Fargo scam of secretly opening multiple accounts for customers, which continued for years despite internal complaints and whistle-blowing. See also this report in the NY Times.
Each of the above exemplifies the idea that might makes right; additional examples are easy to find when you look at the actions of the powerful.
And note that he was held without charges, tortured, and then released because he was not a terrorist and posed no threat. The US has a lot to learn about winning hearts and minds. James Risen reports in the NY Times:
At first, the Americans seemed confused about Suleiman Abdullah Salim. They apparently had been expecting a light-skinned Arab, and instead at a small airport outside Mogadishu that day in March 2003, they had been handed a dark-skinned African.
“They said, ‘You changed your face,’” Mr. Salim, a Tanzanian, recalled the American men telling him when he arrived. “They said: ‘You are Yemeni. You changed your face.’”
That was the beginning of Mr. Salim’s strange ordeal in United States custody. It has been 13 years since he was tortured in a secret prison in Afghanistan run by the Central Intelligence Agency, a place he calls “The Darkness.” It has been eight years since he was released — no charges, no explanations — back into the world.
Even after so much time, Mr. Salim, 45, is struggling to move on. Suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress, according to a medical assessment, he is withdrawn and wary. He cannot talk about his experiences with his wife, who he says worries that the Americans will come back to snatch him. He is fearful of drawing too much attention at home in Stone Town in Zanzibar, Tanzania, concerned that his neighbors will think he is an American spy.
When he speaks, not in his native Swahili but in the English he learned from his jailers, Mr. Salim nearly whispers. “Many times now I feel like I have something heavy inside my body,” he said in an interview. “Sometimes I walk, and I walk, and I forget, I forget everything, I forget prison, The Darkness, everything. But it is always there. The Darkness comes.”
Mr. Salim was one of 39 men subjected to some of the C.I.A.’s most brutal techniques — beatings, hanging in chains, sleep deprivation and water dousing, which creates a sensation of drowning, even though interrogators had been denied permission to use that last tactic on him, according to a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into the agency’s classified interrogation program.
In a series of recent interviews in Dubai, Mr. Salim described his incarceration by the C.I.A. and the United States military as a terrorism suspect. His account closely parallels those provided by other detainees, witnesses and court documents, and confirms details in the Senate report about his treatment.
Today, back in Stone Town, Mr. Salim is trying to support his family, though some of his attempts at jobs have not worked out. He now breeds pigeons, raising them for a local market. They are both his livelihood and his solace.
They help him, Mr. Salim said. They quiet his mind.
Exactly why Mr. Salim fell into American hands remains murky; leaks to the press at the time of his capture suggested that intelligence officials suspected he had links to Al Qaeda, but the C.I.A. has never publicly disclosed the reasons. An agency spokesman declined to comment for this article.
Mr. Salim had been drifting into a nomadic life in one of the world’s poorest regions, where the C.I.A. after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks had promised allies cash rewards for terrorism suspects. Governments and warlords turned over hundreds of men to the United States, in many cases with little evidence of wrongdoing.
Mr. Salim grew up on Africa’s eastern edges, but from boy to man never quite found himself. One of eight children in a family in Stone Town, a historic district of Zanzibar City, he apprenticed on the local fishing piers, then joined the crews going out for kingfish and barracuda in the Indian Ocean.
He dropped out of school after ninth or 10th grade and headed for Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city, where he worked in a clothing shop. He moved a few years later to Mombasa, on Kenya’s coast, where he ferried cargos of dried fish, rice and oil with a crew of two. . .
What was done to this man is against the law and is fact a war crime. The Convention Against Torture was signed and ratified by the US, and it is the law of the land, but both the George W. Bush administration and the Obama administration simply ignore the law. The torturers are not held accountable in any way, and those who ordered torture are not held accountable. The innocent victims will not be given an apology, and they will not be allowed their day in court. The US actions look bad, but there will be nothing done. Nothing.
In the NY Times Matt Apuzzo, Sheri Fink, and James Risen report on the effects of US government torture of prisoners, some of whom had no connection to terrorism or attacks on the US.
Before the United States permitted a terrifying way of interrogating prisoners, government lawyers and intelligence officials assured themselves of one crucial outcome. They knew that the methods inflicted on terrorism suspects would be painful, shocking and far beyond what the country had ever accepted. But none of it, they concluded, would cause long lasting psychological harm.
Fifteen years later, it is clear they were wrong.
Today in Slovakia, Hussein al-Marfadi describes permanent headaches and disturbed sleep, plagued by memories of dogs inside a blackened jail. In Kazakhstan, Lutfi bin Ali is haunted by nightmares of suffocating at the bottom of a well. In Libya, the radio from a passing car spurs rage in Majid Mokhtar Sasy al-Maghrebi, reminding him of the C.I.A. prison where earsplitting music was just one assault to his senses.
And then there is the despair of men who say they are no longer themselves. “I am living this kind of depression,” said Younous Chekkouri, a Moroccan, who fears going outside because he sees faces in crowds as Guantánamo Bay guards. “I’m not normal anymore.”
Those subjected to the tactics included victims of mistaken identity or flimsy evidence that the United States later disavowed. Others were foot soldiers for the Taliban or Al Qaeda who were later deemed to pose little threat. Some were hardened terrorists, including those accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks or the 2000 bombing of the American destroyer Cole. In several cases, their mental status has complicated the nation’s long effort to bring them to justice.
Americans have long debated the legacy of post-Sept. 11 interrogation methods, asking whether they amounted to torture or succeeded in extracting intelligence. But even as President Obama continues transferring people from Guantánamo and Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, promises to bring back techniques, now banned, such as waterboarding, the human toll has gone largely uncalculated.
At least half of the 39 people who went through the C.I.A.’s “enhanced interrogation” program, which included depriving them of sleep, dousing them with ice water, slamming them into walls and locking them in coffin-like boxes, have since shown psychiatric problems, The New York Times found. Some have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, paranoia, depression or psychosis.
Hundreds more detainees moved through C.I.A. “black sites” or Guantánamo, where the military inflicted sensory deprivation, isolation, menacing with dogs and other tactics on men who now show serious damage. Nearly all have been released.
“There is no question that these tactics were entirely inconsistent with our values as Americans, and their consequences present lasting challenges for us as a country and for the individuals involved,” said Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser.
The United States government has never studied the long-term psychological effects of the extraordinary interrogation practices it embraced. A Defense Department spokeswoman, asked about long-term mental harm, responded that prisoners were treated humanely and had access to excellent care. A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment.
This article is based on a broad sampling of cases and an examination of hundreds of documents, including court records, military commission transcripts and medical assessments. The Times interviewed more than 100 people, including former detainees in a dozen countries. A full accounting is all but impossible because many former prisoners never had access to outside doctors or lawyers, and any records about their interrogation treatment and health status remain classified.
Researchers caution that it can be difficult to determine cause and effect with mental illness. Some prisoners of the C.I.A. and the military had underlying psychological problems that may have made them more susceptible to long-term difficulties; others appeared to have been remarkably resilient. Incarceration, particularly the indefinite detention without charges that the United States devised, is inherently stressful. Still, outside medical consultants and former government officials said they saw a pattern connecting the harsh practices to psychiatric issues.
Those treating prisoners at Guantánamo for mental health issues typically did not ask their patients what had happened during their questioning. Some physicians, though, saw evidence of mental harm almost immediately.
“My staff was dealing with the consequences of the interrogations without knowing what was going on,” said Albert J. Shimkus, a retired Navy captain who served as the commanding officer of the Guantánamo hospital in the prison’s early years. Back then, still reeling from the Sept. 11 attacks, the government was desperate to stave off more.
But Captain Shimkus now regrets not making more inquiries. “There was a conflict,” he said, “between our medical duty to our patients and our duty to the mission, as soldiers.”
After prisoners were released from American custody, some found neither help nor relief. Mohammed Abdullah Saleh al-Asad, a businessman in Tanzania, and others were snatched, interrogated and imprisoned, then sent home without explanation. They returned to their families deeply scarred from interrogations, isolation and the shame of sexual taunts, forced nudity, aggressive body cavity searches and being kept in diapers.
Mr. Asad, who died in May, was held for more than a year in several secret C.I.A. prisons. “Sometimes, between husband and wife, he would admit to how awful he felt,” his widow, Zahra Mohamed, wrote in a statement prepared for the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. “He was humiliated, and that feeling never went away.”
‘A Human Mop’
In a cold room once used for interrogations at Guantánamo, Stephen N. Xenakis, a former military psychiatrist, faced a onetime Qaeda child soldier, Omar Khadr. It was December 2008, and this evaluation had been two years in the making.
The doctor, a retired brigadier general who had overseen several military hospitals, had not sought the assignment. The son of an Air Force combat veteran, he debated even accepting it. “I’m still a soldier,” General Xenakis recalls thinking. Was this good for the country? When he finally agreed, he told Mr. Khadr’s lawyers that they were paying for an independent medical opinion, not a hired gun.
Mr. Khadr, a Canadian citizen, had been wounded and captured in a firefight at age 15 at a suspected terrorist compound in Afghanistan, where he said he had been sent to translate for foreign fighters by his father, a Qaeda member. Years later, he would plead guilty to war crimes, including throwing a grenade that killed an Army medic. At the time, though, he was the youngest prisoner at Guantánamo.
He told his lawyers that the American soldiers had kept him from sleeping, spit in his face and threatened him with rape. In one meeting with the psychiatrist, Mr. Khadr, then 22, began to sweat and fan himself, despite the air-conditioned chill. He tugged his shirt off, and General Xenakis realized that he was witnessing an anxiety attack.
When it happened again, Mr. Khadr explained that he had once urinated during an interrogation and soldiers had dragged him through the mess. “This is the room where they used me as a human mop,” he said.
General Xenakis had seen such anxiety before, decades earlier, as a young psychiatrist at Letterman Army Medical Center in California. It was often the first stop for American prisoners of war after they left Vietnam. The doctor recalled the men, who had endured horrific abuses, suffering panic attacks, headaches and psychotic episodes.
That session with Mr. Khadr was the beginning of General Xenakis’s immersion into the treatment of detainees. He has reviewed medical and interrogation records of about 50 current and former prisoners and examined about 15 of the detainees, more than any other outside psychiatrist, colleagues say.
General Xenakis found that Mr. Khadr had post-traumatic stress disorder, a conclusion the military contested. Many of General Xenakis’s diagnoses in other cases remain classified or sealed by court order, but he said he consistently found links between harsh American interrogation methods and psychiatric disorders.
Back home in Virginia, General Xenakis delved into research on the effects of abusive practices. He found decades of papers on the issue — science that had not been considered when the government began crafting new interrogation policies after Sept. 11.
At the end of the Vietnam War, military doctors noticed that former prisoners of war developed psychiatric disorders far more often than other soldiers, an observation also made of former P.O.W.s from World War II and the Korean War. The data could not be explained by imprisonment alone, researchers found. Former soldiers who suffered torture or mistreatment were more likely than others to develop long-term problems.
By the mid-1980s, the Veterans Administration had linked such treatment to memory loss, an exaggerated startle reflex, horrific nightmares, headaches and an inability to concentrate. Studies noted similar symptoms among torture survivors in South Africa, Turkey and Chile. Such research helped lay the groundwork for how American doctors now treat combat veterans.
“In hindsight, that should have come to the fore” in the post-Sept. 11 interrogation debate, said John Rizzo, the C.I.A.’s top lawyer at the time. “I don’t think the long-term effects were ever explored in any real depth.”
Instead, the government relied on data from a training program to resist enemy interrogators, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape. The military concluded there was little evidence that disrupted sleep, near-starvation, nudity and extreme temperatures harmed military trainees in controlled scenarios.
Two veteran SERE psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, worked with the C.I.A. and the Pentagon to help develop interrogation tactics. They based their strategies in part on the theory of “learned helplessness,” a phrase coined by the American psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman in the late 1960s. He gave electric shocks to dogs and discovered that they stopped resisting once they learned they could not stop the shocks. If the United States could make men helpless, the thinking went, they would give up their secrets.
In the end, Justice Department lawyers concluded that the methods did not constitute torture, which is illegal under American and international law. In a series of memos, they wrote that no evidence existed that “significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years” would result.
With fear of another terrorist attack, there was little incentive or time to find contrary evidence, Mr. Rizzo said. “The government wanted a solution,” he recalled. “It wanted a path to get these guys to talk.”
The question of what ultimately happened to Dr. Seligman’s dogs never arose in the legal debate. They were strays, and once the studies were over, they were euthanized. . .
I doubt that the US will ever apologize for its actions, not even against those who quite clearly had nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism (such as Khalid El-Masri).
Even now, the US is expressing anger and outrage that another nation (Russia, in this case) is attempting to influence the outcome of US elections, an anger and outrage that contrast with the US’s own record of overthrowing democratically elected governments (Chile, Iran) and supporting terrorist (death squads) who work against democratically elected governments (El Salvador, Honduras, and others).
Regarding the fate of those who ordered torture and those who tortured, the US has taken a benign view and has held no one accountable. This decision, to hold no one accountable, was made by President Obama. (“Look forward, not back,” and let the torturers go.)
UPDATE: See also The ‘guinea pig’ for U.S. torture is languishing at Guantanamo, by Amanda Jacobsen and Joseph Margulies. It begins:
The poster child of the American torture program sits in a Guantanamo Bay prison cell, where many U.S. officials hope he will simply be forgotten. But blood always leaves a stain, and the mark on our conscience and law will remain until we reckon with the case of Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, known to the world as Abu Zubaydah.
Zubaydah was the “guinea pig” of the CIA torture program. He was the first prisoner sent to a secret CIA “black site,” the first to have hisinterrogation “enhanced ” and the only prisoner subjected to all of the CIA’s approved techniques, as well as many that were not authorized. He is the man for whom the George W. Bush administration wrote the infamous torture memo in the summer of 2002.
The United States pressed Zubaydah into this indecent role because the Bush administration believed he was a senior member of al-Qaeda. Senior officials thought he had been personally involved in every major al-Qaeda operation, including 9/11. Today, the United States acknowledges that assessment was, to put it graciously, overblown. As much to the point, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee, his extended torture provided no actionable intelligence about al-Qaeda’s plans.
The chasm between myth and reality explains much about what has happened since his arrest in March 2002. The United States has cast him into limbo. He has never been charged with a violation of U.S. law, military or civilian, and apparently never will be formally charged. Instead, he languishes at Guantanamo. After years in secret prisons around the world, he remains incommunicado, with no prospect of trial.
We have been representing Zubaydah for nine years and have gotten to know him through numerous face-to-face meetings. Recently, the public got a brief glimpse of Zubaydah. For the first time since his arrest, he appeared for a few minutes on a video broadcast from Guantanamo. A dozen journalists and human rights advocates huddled in the District to watch as he appeared silently on the screen; no recording devices were permitted. The ostensible purpose of the appearance was a “hearing” to consider whether Zubaydah might finally be released. But this proceeding was mere political theater.
To begin with, Zubaydah had no counsel at the hearing. Although he has a team of lawyers who have volunteered to represent him, for free, the United States authorized only one of his counsel, Seton Hall law professor Mark Denbeaux, to appear on his behalf. Just before the hearing, Denbeaux had to cancel his flight, when he was informed that his wife of 51 years, Marcia, needed emergency surgery. No other attorney could substitute because Denbeaux alone had been authorized by the government to fly to the base.
Although Denbeaux made clear to the government that his wife was on her deathbed, the government refused to delay the proceeding, even for a few days. After imprisoning Zubaydah for years with no legal process, it was suddenly imperative that the hearing take place without delay, and therefore without counsel. Marcia Denbeaux died four days after the hearing.
Unable to appear on his behalf, his legal team asked the Periodic Review Board, composed of a cross-section of national security officials, to consider a summary of the report on the torture program prepared by the Senate Intelligence Committee. That summary, based on a review of more than 6 million pages from inside the CIA, provides the most detailed account of Zubaydah’s torture and the mistakes and misrepresentations made about him. The Review Board refused to read it. They said it was too long.
At the public portion of this hearing, Zubaydah was not merely silent, but silenced. The public did not hear Zubaydah speak because the government would not allow him to respond publicly to the allegations against him. Instead, Zubaydah was permitted to speak only in the closed session, and a government representative, who had met him only briefly a few weeks before the hearing, was assigned to read a half-page statement, which was prepared for Zubaydah and pre-approved by the government for the public session. . .
In the NY Review of Books Goeffrey Wheatcroft has a very interesting review of three recent books on Britain’s part in the Iraq War failure, one of which is the Chilcot Report. The review is definitely worth reading. The review begins:
How did it happen? By now it is effortless to say that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by American and British forces was the most disastrous—and disgraceful—such intervention of our time. It’s also well-nigh pointless to say so: How many people reading this would disagree? For Americans, Iraq is their worst foreign calamity since Vietnam (although far more citizens of each country were killed than were Americans); for the British, it’s the worst at least since Suez sixty years ago this autumn, though really much worse on every score, from political dishonesty to damage to the national interest to sheer human suffering.
Although skeptics wondered how much more the very-long-awaited Report of the Iraq Inquiry by a committee chaired by Sir John Chilcot could tell us when it appeared at last in July, it proves to contain a wealth of evidence and acute criticism, the more weighty for its sober tone and for having the imprimatur of the official government publisher. In all, it is a further and devastating indictment not only of Tony Blair personally but of a whole apparatus of state and government, Cabinet, Parliament, armed forces, and, far from least, intelligence agencies.
Among its conclusions the report says that there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein; that the British “chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted”; that military action “was not a last resort”; that when the United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix said weeks before the invasion that he “had not found any weapons of mass destruction and the items that were not accounted for might not exist,” Blair wanted Blix “to harden up his findings.”
The report also found that deep sectarian divisions in Iraq “were exacerbated by…de Ba’athification and…demobilisation of the Iraqi army”; that Blair was warned by his diplomats and ministers of the “inadequacy of U.S. plans” for Iraq after the invasion, and of what they saw as his “inability to exert significant influence on U.S. planning”; and that “there was no collective discussion of the decision by senior Ministers,” who were regularly bypassed and ignored by Blair.
And of course claims about Iraqi WMDs were presented by Downing Street in a way that “conveyed certainty without acknowledging the limitations of the intelligence,” which is putting it generously. Chilcot stops short of saying directly that the invasion was illegal or that Blair lied to Parliament, but he is severe on the shameful collusion of the British intelligence agencies, and on the sinister way in which Blair’s attorney general changed his opinion about the legality of the invasion.
Planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam “were wholly inadequate,” Chilcot says, and “the people of Iraq have suffered greatly.” Those might seem like statements of the blindingly obvious, as does the solemn verdict that the invasion “failed to achieve the goals it had set for a new Iraq.” It did more than merely fail, and not only was every reason we were given for the war falsified; every one of them has been stood on its head. Extreme violence in Iraq precipitated by the invasion metastasized into the hideous conflict in neighboring Syria and the implosion of the wider region, the exact opposite of that birth of peaceable pro-Western democracy that proponents of the invasion had insisted would come about. While Blair at his most abject still says that all these horrors were unforeseeable, Chilcot makes clear that they were not only foreseeable, but widely foreseen.
Nor are those the only repercussions. Chilcot coyly says that “the widespread perception”—meaning the correct belief—that Downing Street distorted the intelligence about Saddam’s weaponry has left a “damaging legacy,” undermining trust and confidence in politicians. It is not fanciful to see the Brexit vote, the disruption of the Labour Party, and the rise of Donald Trump among those consequences, all part of the revulsion across the Western world against elites and establishments that were so discredited by Iraq. And so how could it have happened? . . .
Continue reading. There’s lots more.