Archive for the ‘Torture’ Category
I often disagree strongly with Feinstein’s positions, but then she will surprise me by (for example) pushing through the publication of a slightly censored executive summary of an important report on the US program of systematic torture of prisoners and suspects. Connie Bruck profiles her in the New Yorker:
Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic senator from California, is making a late career of not quite pleasing anyone. After five decades in politics, Feinstein, at eighty-one, is the oldest sitting member of the Senate, where a late term is often less a valedictory than a chance for activism: think of Edward Kennedy or Mitch McConnell. With its elaborate rankings and deferential codes, the Senate rewards longevity; senior members have better committee seats, more loyal patrons, first choice of desk space in the chamber. As they near retirement age—whatever that means, in an institution where nearly a quarter of the members are over seventy—senators can hope to change a thing or two.
When Barack Obama took office, on January 20, 2009, the Democrats held the Senate, and Feinstein had just become chairman of the powerful Intelligence Committee. At Obama’s inaugural ceremony, she delivered the welcoming remarks, standing before an eager crowd and declaring, “Future generations will mark this morning as the turning point for real and necessary change in our nation.” Skeptics on the National Mall might have noted that this was not a novel sentiment in such speeches, but for Feinstein it was an earnest indicator of political engagement. As the Bush Administration came to an end, the country was reconsidering the decisions of the previous eight years, particularly the ethics of the War on Terror.
Feinstein is sometimes described as a centrist, but it is because her views are varied, not because they are mild; she thinks of herself, more accurately, as a pragmatist. Especially in recent years, on issues she cares deeply about, she will take positions that other senators do not. Feinstein has pursued a deal to prevent Iran from building nuclear arms more intently than any of her colleagues. In March, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress, in the hope of averting a possible deal, Feinstein appeared on “Meet the Press” and said, “What Prime Minister Netanyahu did here was something no ally of the United States would have done.” When I saw her the next day, she told me, “For Netanyahu to come here with a clear view of preventing an agreement was really inappropriate. Particularly because this President’s Administration has provided more than twenty-five billion dollars to Israel, far more than to any other country.”
Although Feinstein mostly votes with the Democrats, she is less predictable than many of her colleagues. As a member of the Judiciary Committee, she voted to confirm several of President George W. Bush’s nominees. In 2007, she endorsed Michael Mukasey for attorney general—even as he dodged the question of whether waterboarding is torture, saying only, “If it amounts to torture, then it is not constitutional.” A Democrat from hyper-liberal San Francisco, she has persistently defended government surveillance programs and targeted killings by drones, and she has been one of the C.I.A.’s most faithful supporters. Last year, after President Obama called to move authority for drone strikes from the C.I.A. to the Defense Department, Feinstein placed a classified amendment in a spending bill that helped keep the program where it was. When the activist Edward Snowden revealed that the N.S.A. had amassed the phone records of vast numbers of American citizens, he was hailed on the left as a whistle-blower. Feinstein said, “I don’t look at this as being a whistle-blower. I think it’s an act of treason.” Advocates for human rights and civil liberties responded with angry editorials. The journalist Glenn Greenwald has said that her “disgusting rhetoric recalls the worst of Dick Cheney.”
The former Secretary of State George Shultz, who has raised money for Feinstein’s campaigns from Republican friends in California, told me, “Dianne is not really bipartisan so much as nonpartisan.” Slightly formal in style, she adheres faithfully to procedure and protocol; she believes in settling disputes privately, and by argument rather than by force. Even in less than momentous situations, she is a dogged negotiator. William Luers, a former ambassador and the head of the Iran Project, recalled, “I don’t think anyone has a meeting with her where she says, ‘I’m with you all the way.’ Rather, she says, ‘I’m with you, but you have to understand under what terms.’ ”
In her office recently, she described how she broke with the C.I.A. over the detention and interrogation program that began in the days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. From the first time Feinstein was briefed about the program, she opposed it. On September 6, 2006, Michael Hayden, the C.I.A. director, appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee and described a network of “black sites”: secret facilities where C.I.A. interrogators subjected detainees to “enhanced interrogation techniques,” seeking information about possible terrorist attacks. Hayden, self-assured and pugnacious, insisted that the interrogations were carefully run and unassailably effective. Afterward, Feinstein wrote to him that his testimony was “extraordinarily problematic,” and that she was “unable to understand why the C.I.A. needs to maintain this program.” In November, when Hayden appeared before the committee again, Feinstein peppered him with questions. She wanted to know how the agency guarded against abuse, whether detainees were stripped of their clothes, whether they were fed during periods of sleep deprivation. Although she and several colleagues raised objections, Hayden, not long afterward, told a meeting of foreign diplomats, “This is not C.I.A.’s program. This is not the President’s program. This is America’s program.”
In December, 2007, the Times revealed that C.I.A. officers had secretly destroyed videotapes of interrogations, against the advice of White House officials. A few days later, Hayden, insisting to the Intelligence Committee that there had been no “destruction of evidence,” turned over cables related to those taped interrogations. For months, two committee staff members reviewed the cables, which described the interrogations of Abu Zubaydah, whom the C.I.A. suspected was a high-ranking Al Qaeda member, and of a detainee named Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
In February, 2009, the staff members appeared before the committee and described what they had found. Nearly twenty-four hours a day for twenty days, Abu Zubaydah was stripped naked and subjected to multiple “enhanced” techniques: slammed into a wall, slapped, deprived of sleep, confined in a coffin-size box, forced into painful postures. He was also waterboarded at least eighty-three times. Two psychologists, contracted by the C.I.A. to develop and run the interrogation program, reported that Abu Zubaydah was “ready to talk” during the first exposure, but “we chose to expose him over and over until we had a high degree of confidence he wouldn’t hold back.” After the first waterboarding sessions, a C.I.A. official wrote, “Several on the team profoundly affected . . . some to the point of tears.” By the seventh day, the C.I.A. team had informed headquarters that it was unlikely Abu Zubaydah had the threat information the agency was seeking, but the team was instructed to continue. During one waterboarding session, investigators found later, Abu Zubaydah “became completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.”
Nashiri was subjected to similar measures. Investigators determined that he was put in a “standing stress position,” with “his hands affixed over his head,” for at least two days. It was implied that his mother would be brought before him and sexually abused. He was waterboarded. After each session, his interrogators reported that he was coöperative, but officials told them to persist, because he had not provided information on imminent attacks. When the interrogators objected, they were replaced.
Feinstein described the interrogations as “ugly, visceral.” As the new chairman of the committee, she had the authority to try to effect change. “You set the table, so to speak,” she said recently. “You make the determinations, what will come up, what the committee will do.” She called for a full investigation of the C.I.A. program, and the committee voted in favor of it, 14–1. That was the genesis of what became known as the torture report, a sixty-seven-hundred-page tome, laden with footnotes. When the report was completed, in December, 2012, it included an appendix devoted to Hayden, detailing more than thirty misstatements in one session of his testimony. (Hayden argues that the Democrats misinterpreted the intent of his testimony, saying, “I described the norms—how things were supposed to work—and they found the exceptions.”)
Michael Schiffer, who was a member of Feinstein’s staff for a decade, told me that Feinstein retains a stubborn, perhaps naïve faith that the system is run by people who are trying to do the right thing for the country. “When that faith is shaken, she is really determined to do something about it,” he said. “It was that faith that caused her to be so enraged about torture.” A former intelligence officer, who knew Feinstein from her years on the Intelligence Committee, saw her determination a little differently: “The worst thing, from Dianne Feinstein’s perspective, is trying to keep her from doing her job of oversight. And if you lie to her that’s bad.”
When Obama took office, Feinstein assumed that he would be a strong ally. During the campaign, he had excoriated the Bush Administration for the C.I.A.’s interrogation program, forthrightly calling the interrogation tactics “torture.” On his second day in the White House, he issued an executive order that banned C.I.A. detention and effectively prohibited the use of waterboarding and other coercive techniques. In the end, though, what Feinstein’s group released was not the full report but a five-hundred-page executive summary, with a fraction of the meticulous, excruciating details. The summary’s release, last December, came after an eleven-month battle, in which Feinstein and several other Democrats on the committee fought strenuously against the C.I.A.—and, unexpectedly, the Obama White House. . .
Later in the profile:
In December, 2012, the committee approved the final report (eight Democrats and one Republican voted yes) and sent it to President Obama. The report concluded that the enhanced techniques were far more brutal than the agency had disclosed, and were an ineffective means of obtaining accurate information. The C.I.A. had justified them by enumerating terrorist plots that had been “thwarted.” The report examined twenty of these examples and found them “wrong in fundamental respects.”
The CIA is not very forthcoming about this. Dexter Filkins reports in the New Yorker:
’s been six months since the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released its report on the torture of Al Qaeda suspects, and I can’t stop thinking about Abu Zubaydah’s eye.
His left eye, to be precise, which he lost while being held in one of the C.I.A.’s secret prisons.
Abu Zubaydah, an alleged Al Qaeda operative captured in Pakistan in 2002, was suspected of being a senior member of the group and a plotter in the 9/11 attacks. A Saudi Arabian citizen, Abu Zubaydah was the first suspect who was officially subjected to the “enhanced interrogation techniques” approved by President Bush.
It’s hard to imagine that anyone could make you feel sorry for Abu Zubaydah, but his C.I.A. interrogators demonstrated a combination of brutality and incompetence that actually manages to achieve this. Even though Abu Zubaydah surrendered plenty of information to F.B.I. interrogators without coercion, and even though it wasn’t clear how much more he knew—it turns out that he wasn’t even a member of Al Qaeda—the C.I.A., convinced that he was harboring knowledge of future attacks, subjected him to twenty days of torture. (The F.B.I. refused to take part.) They stripped him, deprived him of sleep, slammed him into the prison wall, and played music at deafening volumes. They waterboarded him eighty-three times, driving him into fits of hysteria and involuntary spasms; at one point, they feared they might have killed him.
After several waterboarding sessions, Abu Zubaydah was so broken that, when a C.I.A. agent snapped his fingers twice, he would lie down on the waterboard, naked and dirty, to await his torture. As the Senate report makes clear, the C.I.A. interrogators knew that what they were doing was possibly illegal. In fact, they were so worried about being found out that they told their superiors that if Abu Zubaydah were to die during his interrogation, he would have to be cremated. In the event that he lived, they asked, in a cable, for “reasonable assurances that [Abu Zubaydah] will remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life.” They did, indeed, receive such assurance. (For a succinct, if gruelling, description of Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation, read pages 32 through 57 in the Senate report. It’s drawn from the C.I.A.’s own records. ) While the torture of Abu Zubaydah produced a number of intelligence reports, there’s no evidence that these brutal means were necessary to obtain them. After all that, Abu Zubaydah provided no actionable intelligence on future plots.
Still, I want to talk less about Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation than about his missing eye. When a team of American and Pakistani agents moved in to capture Abu Zubaydah, in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in 2002, he fled across a rooftop, where he was shot and wounded in the groin. A photo of Abu Zubaydah, apparently taken moments after his capture, and which his lawyers say is accurate, does not show any obvious problem in either of his eyes. His lawyers say that he had no eye condition. Ali Soufan, a former F.B.I. agent who helped capture Abu Zubaydah, told me that when Abu Zubaydah was apprehended he appeared to have some sort of eye condition, perhaps an infection. “His eye was pretty bad,’’ Soufan said. John Kiriakou, a former C.I.A. officer who participated in the capture, has also said that there appeared to be something wrong with one of his eyes.
In any case, the C.I.A. was so concerned that Abu Zubaydah was going to die from his gunshot wound that they flew in a doctor from Johns Hopkins University to treat him. He appears to have received excellent medical care, if only so that he could live in order to surrender information. “He got the best medical treatment anyone could have,’’ Soufan said.
In 2006, four years after he was captured, Abu Zubaydah was transferred out of C.I.A. custody to the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. A photo from that time, made available by WikiLeaks, shows Abu Zubaydah with a pirate-style patch over his left eye. His lawyers say that, by then, his eye was gone. That is, sometime between when he entered exclusive C.I.A. custody, in 2002, and when he left it, in 2006, he lost his left eye. In that four-year period, Abu Zubaydah was held in several C.I.A. secret prisons, also known as “black sites,” including those in Thailand, Lithuania, and Poland. . .
Barbara Myers writes at TomDispatch.com:
The witness reported men being hung by the feet or the thumbs, waterboarded, given electric shocks to the genitals, and suffering from extended solitary confinement in what he said were indescribably inhumane conditions. It’s the sort of description that might have come right out of the executive summary of the Senate torture report released last December. In this case, however, the testimony was not about a “black site” somewhere in the Greater Middle East, nor was it a description from Abu Ghraib, nor in fact from this century at all.
The testimony came from Vietnam; the year was 1968; the witness was Anthony J. Russo, one of the first Americans to report on the systematic torture of enemy combatants by CIA operatives and other U.S. agents in that long-gone war. The acts Russo described became commonplace in the news post-9/11 and he would prove to be an early example of what also became commonplace in our century: a whistleblower who found himself on the wrong side of the law and so was prosecuted for releasing the secret truth about the acts of our government.
Determined to shine a light on what he called “the truth held prisoner,” Russo blew the whistle on American torture policy in Vietnam and on an intelligence debacle at the center of Vietnam decision-making that helped turn that war into the nightmare it was. Neither of his revelations saw the light of day in his own time or ours and while Daniel Ellsberg, his compatriot and companion in revelation, remains a major figure for his role in releasing the Pentagon Papers, Russo is a forgotten man.
That’s too bad. He shouldn’t be forgotten. His is, unfortunately, a story of our times as well as his.
The CIA Interrogation Center, Saigon
Before him sat the enemy. VC. Vietcong. He was slender, a decade older than the 28-year-old American, and cautious in his initial responses. The American offered him a cigarette. “Smoke?”
Anthony Russo liked to befriend his subjects, finding that sharing a cigarette or a beer and congenial conversation could improve an interview’s results.
This man’s all right, Russo thought — unlike the one he had interviewed when he first arrived in Saigon. That prisoner had sat before him, quivering in fear, pleading for his life. “Are you going to kill me?” the distraught man had said repeatedly, his thumbs red and bulbous from being strung up.
Torture was not something Russo had anticipated when he took the job. A civilian with a rank equivalent to major working for the RAND Corporation, he had arrived in the South Vietnamese capital on February 22, 1965, and was briefed on his mission. Russo was to meet the enemy face-to-face and figure out what made them tick. On that first day, he could hear General Richard Stilwell, chief of staff of Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV), barking orders from the next room: “You get every goddamn plane in the air that you can!”
Russo thought the war would be over in a few weeks, months at worst.
Instead of the limited conflict he expected, years slipped by. Bombs fell, villages were decimated, the fabric of Vietnamese life assaulted. Russo persisted with his interviews of Vietcong prisoners, witnessing the after-effects of torture in nearly every instance.
It’s hard to pinpoint just when the shift occurred in the young man who came to Southeast Asia to “promote democracy.” But as one tour of duty extended to two, contact with the enemy changed not their hearts and minds, but his. On the eve of the 1968 Tet Offensive, he returned to the United States intent on challenging the war, a chance he would get, helping his friend and RAND co-worker Daniel Ellsberg with the Pentagon Papers.
That secret history of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam, a massive compilation of internal government memoranda and analyses, had been quietly commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in 1967 to assess what had gone wrong in Vietnam. Ellsberg leaked the Papers to the press in mid-1971, setting off a political firestorm and First Amendment crisis. He would be indicted on charges of espionage, conspiracy, and theft of government property, and would face a maximum penalty of 115 years in prison. Charges were also brought against Russo, who was suspected of complicity, after he refused to testify before a grand jury. He was jailed for 47 days for contempt and faced a possible sentence of 35 years in prison if convicted.
Ellsberg’s leak led to a Supreme Court decision on prior restraint, a landmark First Amendment case. Though all the charges were ultimately dropped, the leak and its aftermath had major political fallout, contributing to the demise of the presidency of Richard Nixon and forming a dramatic chapter on the path to U.S. defeat in Vietnam.
Ellsberg became a twentieth-century hero, applauded in print and film, his name nearly synonymous with the Pentagon Papers, but Russo, the young accomplice who goaded Ellsberg to go public, has been nearly forgotten. Yet he was, according to Ellsberg, the first person to document the systematic torture of enemy combatants in Vietnam. If no one knows this, it’s because his report on the subject remains buried in the vaults of the RAND Corporation, the think tank that did research for the Pentagon in Vietnam. Similarly, while the use of unprecedented airpower against the civilian populations of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia inspired international calls for war crimes trials in the 1970s, Russo’s exposure of the fabrication of data that propped up that air war remains but a footnote in Vietnam War historiography, unknown to all but a handful of academics. . . .
The most important reason for the tension that exists between the United States and most of the rest of the democratic world is that American claims about the threat of terrorism seem grossly exaggerated. The extravagance of its reaction seems disproportionate and unrealistic, even suggestive of the sweeping and utopian political fantasies that convulsed the mid-twentieth century, meant in their day to bring “an end to history.” America’s current utopian vision, global, free-market democracy under American leadership, is a very unlikely prospect.
American policy on Iraq is condemned abroad by most of the democracies, in part for the practical reason that this policy has manufactured terrorism and nationalist resistance to the United States and its allies inside Iraq and so far has succeeded only in escalating the crisis between the Western powers and Islamic society. [Intimations of ISIS. – LG[
The American insistence that September 11, 2001, was the defining event of the age, after which “nothing could be the same,” is regarded as simply untrue. The only thing that really changed was the United States. That it may never again be the same is profoundly depressing.
Foreign observers are disturbed that American elites seem unable to understand this. To them, and certainly to an American, the most dismaying aspect of the Bush Administration’s
conduct has been its installation of torture as integral to American military and clandestine operations, a part of the administration’s repudiation of those portions of international law and American treaty obligations that it considers irreconcilable with absolute U.S. national
sovereignty, or as obstacles to national policy. This was displayed from the beginning.
The administration’s hostility to the U.N. and to other international institutions, as well as to the constraints of international law, reflects a long tradition on the right wing of the Republican Party, going back to the Republican isolationism of the years between the two world wars. It may be deplorable, but it is no great surprise.
There are, however, few if any antecedents in American public policy and debate for the American government’s present commitment to torture. In recent years there was a hint of a break with accepted norms, in the Pentagon’s adamant hostility to proposals for an International Criminal Court, and to the 1998 Rome Statute that established such
a court, which, ratified by ninety-nine countries, has now come into being.
It was difficult at the time to understand the government’s position other than as an implicit declaration that existing military doctrine included options that could invite condemnation as war crimes. [This is similar to the outrage expressed that the 6 Baltimore police have been charged with crimes—in the view expressed, police should never be charged with crimes and never brought to trial. – LG] The Clinton Administration signed the International Criminal Court treaty despite Defense Department opposition, but President George W. Bush formally withdrew the American signature on May 6, 2002.
For many years the U.S. Army has been accused of running a “torture school” as part of its training of Latin American officers at its School of the Americas (lately renamed the “Western
Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation”), located first in Panama and later, after Panama’s full independence, at Fort Benning in Georgia. This accusation was denied, and most Americans, including this one, were inclined to doubt that it was really so. But the routine use during the war on terror of techniques that according to international law (and common-sense judgment, here and abroad) are clearly torture suggests that it may have
been true after all.
Following the terrorist attacks in September 2001, explicit proposals to authorize torture circulated in the administration and in the Pentagon and CIA, even though there was no one yet to torture. Memoranda soon were drafted by the Justice Department on how to protect
American military and intelligence officers from eventual prosecution under existing U.S. law for how they treated prisoners.
When the war in Afghanistan began, the Bush Administration shipped prisoners outside Afghanistan, mainly to the newly established prison facility at the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo, Cuba, a location technically (or at least arguably so) outside the jurisdiction of U.S. laws and courts. It did so without serious examination of the prisoners’ individual cases, again in disregard of Geneva Conventions concerning prisoners taken in war.
On January 9, 2002, a memorandum co-written by John Yoo of the University of California Law School, who was serving temporarily in the Justice Department, provided arguments to support a claim that with respect to prisoners taken in Afghanistan, the United States was not bound by the Geneva Conventions. The prisoners were to be declared “enemy combatants,” not prisoners of war, a legal distinction previously unrecognized but considered necessary to prevent American officials from being exposed to the U.S. federal War Crimes Act of 1996, which carries the death penalty.
There was early consideration of the legal consequences of what the President, members of his cabinet, and other high officials were doing. In effect, the question put to government
lawyers was how the President and the others could commit war crimes and not be held accountable.
The January 25, 2002, opinion Bush received from the White House legal counsel, Alberto R. Gonzales, now United States attorney general, held that the President was not bound by U.S. laws or by international engagements prohibiting torture, nor were Americans committing torture under his authority open to prosecution by the Justice Department.
This opinion rested on the argument that the nature of the war on terror made
existing laws and international agreements irrelevant. Gonzales called the Geneva Conventions “quaint” and “obsolete.”. . .
It should always be noted that some of those tortured were innocent of any crime, and that the Obama Administration has not allowed them to have their day in court, nor provided any apology or restitution, and that the Obama Administration has resolutely protected the torturers. That is the picture the US now presents to the world.
The CIA seems to have been corrupted by the toxic combination of great power and no accountability. Alex Pasternack reports at Motherboard:
With his broad smile and easygoing nature, John Kiriakou looks and sounds more like a high school baseball coach than a veteran CIA officer who was on the front lines in the early days of the war on terror. He also doesn’t seem like a person who’s just emerged from a federal penitentiary as punishment for disclosing classified information—an experience he says has turned him into “a dissident.”
Inside the prison at Loretto, Pennsylvania, where he spent nearly two years, Kiriakou says his training as a spy came in handy, helping him navigate a minefield of gang affiliations.
“The Italians took me in first,” he tells Kaj Larsen in a new video interview for Vice News. “I don’t mean people with Italian names. I mean the Italians. All five families were represented there.” As for Muslim gangs, a supportive statement from Louis Farrakhan “guaranteed no problems for me on that front.” And “because I was not a rat or a child molester, I was embraced by the Aryans.”
Kiriakou counts the current Secretary of State as one of his former employers, but now that he’s out of prison, he says half-jokingly, he might end up finding work at a Dunkin Donuts.
Like many details in the heavily-redacted story of the war on terror, this was not how things were supposed to go. After retiring from the CIA in 2004, Kiriakou became the first CIA official to acknowledge, in a 2007 ABC News interview, that the government had used waterboarding on a high-value detainee. That disclosure was one of thousands of leaks estimated to be made by government officials each year, but it earned Kiriakou special scrutiny by his former CIA superiors, and eventually the Justice Dept.
In 2012, Kiriakou would be charged with disclosing to a journalist the names of two CIA officers who had been involved in the torture program. After a plea deal to lessen his sentence, Kiriakou would be sent to prison for nearly two years, making him the first CIA agent to be imprisoned for disclosing classified information to a reporter.
The government contends that Kiriakou violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act; Kiriakou has called the government’s actions against him vindictive and unjust, a selective effort not only to punish those who expose its wrongdoings but to shield its agents from criminal probes.
“I’ve never believed my case was about a leak,” Kiriakou told Motherboard’s Tyler Bass after his sentencing. “I’ve always believed my case was about torture.”
How do you prove what you don’t know?
Kiriakou’s saga is intertwined with that of Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi Arabian citizen who was the US’s first “high value” detainee in the terror wars. Kiriakou was present in Pakistan for Zubaydah’s capture, in March 2002, and was later informed of his subsequent interrogations.
Zubaydah would become a central character in the Senate’s report on torture, with his name appearing over 1,000 times in 6,000 pages. (Many prominent figures in the early days of the war on terror have dismissed the report; Dick Cheney says it’s “full of crap.”)
Upon capture, Zubaydah’s FBI interrogators believed that traditional interrogation methods would be more productive than “enhanced interrogation techniques” like stress positions and waterboarding.
Their more traditional approach has been borne out by research, and it proved to be productive: Zubaydah revealed some useful information, including the fact that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks and that a man later revealed to be Jose Padilla was plotting a “dirty bomb” attack.
But Zubaydah was soon wrestled away by the CIA and, against the protestations of some in the CIA and FBI, moved to a “black site” in Thailand, where he spent 47 days in isolation, despite needing medical care for his wounds. There he would be waterboarded a total of 83 times. Despite vehement concerns by his captors, top officials in Washington insisted on continuing the waterboarding because they were certain he had more secrets to spill.
He didn’t: Zubaydah wasn’t as important as he was made out to be, CIA officials would acknowledge later—he allegedly helped manage a training camp for the group—and the information he provided to them was mostly provisional, and foiled no plots.
That he had no more secrets and that the CIA was convinced that he did points to an epistemological paradox that surrounds torture: You don’t know what your detainee does or doesn’t know, but to get closer to that theoretical unknown known, you could make them think they’re drowning as a way to get them to say something—provided of course you don’t completely incapacitate them. As the journalist Mark Danner saidafter the publication of the Senate report on torture,
How do you prove what you don’t know? And from this open question comes this anxiety-ridden conviction that he must know, he must know, he must know. So even though the interrogators are saying he’s compliant, he’s telling us everything he knows—even though the waterboarding is nearly killing him, rendering him “completely non-responsive,” as the report says—officials at headquarters [were] saying he has to be waterboarded again, and again, because he still hadn’t given up information about the attacks they were convinced had to be coming… It had nothing to do with him giving more information as he was waterboarded. The use of these techniques let them alleviate their own anxiety. And their anxiety was based on complete misinformation. Complete ignorance about who this man actually was.
Zubaydah’s harsh treatment would last through the summer of 2002, and like a number of detainees, would severely deteriorate in US captivity. So harsh was his “enhanced interrogation” that even his captors were appalled by his suffering, according to one official who spoke to the Times in 2009. He remains at Guantanamo, still not charged with a crime, unable to submit habeas corpus claims to US courts, and missing his left eye, which he lost, according to the Senate torture report, “in CIA custody.” . . .
What the CIA did is criminal, and yet they have been protected from any accountability for their criminal acts. President Obama is chiefly responsible for that decision, just as he has been responsible for the vicious persecution of whistleblowers. Later in the article:
But more generally, there are lessons to be drawn about the perils of speaking out. Like the Jeffrey Sterling and Thomas Drake cases before it and the Steven Kim case afterwards, Kiriakou’s prosecution demonstrates that the pressure on government employees and reporters seeking to expose wrongdoing through leaks has never been stronger.
This in spite of an administration that pledged transparency and reform of secret institutions, and that has declined to prosecute higher ranking officials suspected to have leaked even more sensitive information, like Generals James Cartwright and David Petreaus. (After Kiriakou’s sentencing, and weeks before his own leaking came to light, Petreaus, then CIA director, said in a statement, “Oaths do matter. And there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy.”)
“I think the Justice Dept. has been incredibly hypocritical in leak cases,” Kiriakou said in the Vice News interview. “Washington operates on leaks. The truth of the matter is that, if it’s a supporter of the president leaking, or your leak makes the government look good, you’re good to go. If the leak is critical of the government or if the government wants to prosecute you in some way, then they prosecute you.
“The last three directors of the CIA have leaked prolifically,” he continued. “Leon Panetta outed the Navy Seal that led the Bin Laden raid. But he said, ‘Oh, my bad. It was an accident.’ and he’s free to cash his 6 million dollar book advance while I’m prosecuted and go to prison and lose my pension and everything.”
The Obama Administration is responsible for some grievous wrongs, but they will skate.
The blundering interference of the US moves closer to home. From TomDistach.com:
One of the mysteries of our era is why there seems to be no learning curve in Washington. Over the last 13 years, American wars and conflicts have repeatedly helped create disaster zones, encouraging the fragmentation of whole countries and societies in the Greater Middle East and Northern Africa. In the process, such American wars, drone assassination campaigns, raids, and conflicts have acted as recruitment posters for and aided and abetted the growth of terror outfits. And here’s where the genuine strangeness begins to enter the picture: after all of this is absorbed and assessed in Washington, the response is regularly more of what hasn’t worked and a clamoring for yet more of it.
It turns out, as TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon reports today, that the same kind of process has been going on so much closer to home — right across the border in Mexico, in fact, resulting in the kind of blowback that Chalmers Johnson would have appreciated. Yet while hysteria and panic reign over the barbaric acts of the faraway Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, U.S. involvement in the “war on drugs” in a neighboring country gets just passing attention here. Curiouser and curiouser, hysteria and panic over Mexico only seem to rise when ISIS is reputed to be involved (at least in the fantasy worlds of various right-wingers). Consider it all part of the true mysteries of our strange American age of repetitive war. Tom
Can You Say “Blowback” in Spanish?
The Failed War on Drugs in Mexico (and the United States)
By Rebecca Gordon
They behead people by the hundreds. They heap headless, handless bodies along roadsides as warnings to those who would resist their power. They havepenetrated the local, state, and national governments and control entire sections of the country. They provide employment and services to an impoverished public, which distrusts their actual government with its bitter record of corruption, repression, and torture. They seduce young people from several countries, including the United States, into their murderous activities.
Is this a description of the heinous practices of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria? It could be, but as a matter of fact it’s not. These particular thugs exist a lot closer to home. They are part of the multi-billion-dollar industry known as the drug cartels of Mexico. Like the Islamic State, the cartels’ power has increased as the result of disastrous policies born in the U.S.A.
There are other parallels between IS and groups like Mexico’s Zetas and its Sinaloa cartel. Just as the U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya fertilizedthe field for IS, another U.S. war, the so-called War on Drugs, opened new horizons for the drug cartels. Just as Washington has worked hand-in-hand with and also behind the backs of corrupt rulers in Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, so it has done with the Mexican government. Both kinds of war have resulted in blowback — violent consequences felt in our own cities, whether at the finish line of the Boston Marathon or in communities of color across the country.
In Mexico, the U.S. military is directly involved in the War on Drugs. In this country, that “war” has provided the pretext for the militarization of local police forces and increased routine surveillance of ordinary people going about their ordinary lives.
And just as both the national security state and the right wing have used the specter of IS to create an atmosphere of panic and hysteria in this country, so both have used the drug cartels’ grotesque theater of violence to justify their demonization of immigrants from Latin America and the massive militarization of America’s borderlands.
The War in Mexico
If there was an official beginning to Mexico’s war on drugs, it would have to be considered the election of Felipe Calderón as the country’s president in 2006. The candidate of the right-wing Partido Acción Nacional, the National Action Party (PAN), Calderón was only the second Mexican president in 70 years who did not come from the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). His predecessor, Vicente Fox, had been the first.
It was Calderón who, with encouragement and assistance from the United States, changed Mexico’s war on drugs from a metaphor into the real thing, in which guns and grenades would fuel the deaths of more than 60,000 Mexicans through 2012.
The current president, Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI, admits that another 27,000 Mexicans were murdered in the first year of his presidency. At least another 25,000 have been disappeared since 2007. It was Calderón who brought the Mexican military fully into the fight against drugs, transforming an ineffective policing policy into a full-scale shooting war with the cartels. At least 50,000 military personnel have been deployed.
In addition to ordinary citizens, journalists and politicians have been particular targets in this war. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that murders of Mexican reporters have increased dramatically since 2006. Among those whose killers have been positively identified, 69% died at the hands of the drug cartels, and at least 22% were killed by government or military personnel.
Wikipedia lists over 100 politicians who have lost their lives in Mexico’s war on drugs. That list does not include a woman named Aide Nava González, whose headless body was dumped this month on a road in Guerrero state. Nava was contending for the Partido Revolución Democrática, the Democratic Revolution Party, slot on the ballot in the town of Ahuacuotzingo. Her husband, the former mayor, had been murdered there last year. A note from Los Rojos, a local drug gang, was left with Nava’s body. “This is what will happen,” it read, “to anyone who does not fall in line, fucking turncoats.”
Guerrero is the home of Ayotzinapa, a town where 43 teachers-in-training once attended a rural teachers college. All 43 “disappeared” last September during a demonstration in the neighboring town of Iguala. Their arrest by police, and apparent subsequent murder at the hands of a local drug gang, Guerreros Unidos, was one of the few stories of Mexican suffering to break into the U.S. mainstream media last year. The mayor of Iguala has since admitted that he instructed the police to hand the students over to the gang and has been arrested, along with his wife. The town’s police chief is still on the run.
Like the “war on terror” globally, Mexico’s war on drugs has created endless new pretexts for government repression, which has its own lengthy history in that country. That history includes the long-remembered police murders of some 300 students, among the thousands protesting in Mexico City’s Plaza de las Tres Culturas a couple of weeks before the Summer Olympics began in 1968. Juan Méndez, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Torture, wrote in his 2014 mission report on Mexico: . . .
Cora Currier reports in The Intercept:
In rare remarks about a sensitive issue, the director of the CIA confirmed today that the U.S. government works with foreign intelligence agencies to capture and jointly interrogate suspected terrorists.
“There are places throughout the world where CIA has worked with other intelligence services and has been able to bring people into custody and engage in the debriefings of these individuals…through our liaison partners, and sometimes there are joint debriefings that take place as well,” said John Brennan, the CIA director, speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
Brennan’s remarks confirm what journalists have long reported: that the Obama administration sometimes helps other countries do the dirty work of snatching and interrogating terror suspects–keeping the U.S. at arm’s length from operations that are ethically and legally dubious.
During a question-and-answer session, it was Fox News’ Megyn Kelley who questioned Brennan about “capturing terrorists.”
“Are we still doing that?” she asked. “And where are we keeping them and how are we interrogating them?”
Brennan responded that the U.S. is able to work with “partners” to “identify individuals and to have them captured… although there are not a lot of public pieces on Fox News about somebody that might be picked up in different parts of the world.”
In one of his first moves after taking office in 2009, President Obama famously shut down the CIA’s Black Site program, which was begun under President George W. Bush. After 9/11, more than 100 alleged terrorists were captured and sent to secret CIA-run detention centers where they were tortured and interrogated by agency operatives.
Although the Black Sites have been shut down and no new prisoners sent to Guantanamo Bay, detentions of terrorists—and attacks against them–remain a murky issue. The administration has brought several alleged terrorists to face trial in the United States, and it has killed thousands more in drone strikes, along with hundreds of civilians. Obama has alsomaintained the authority (as President Bill Clinton did in the 1990s) to render people to third countries, where laws are looser.
The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill and others have detailed cases during the Obama administration in which terror suspects were held in foreign custody at the behest of the U.S. In 2011, Scahill reported for The Nation on a secret prison in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. Though officially run by the Somali government, Scahill wrote, “US intelligence personnel pay the salaries of intelligence agents and also directly interrogate prisoners” at the facility.
Brennan’s comments today are a rare confirmation . . .