Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Posts Tagged ‘immunity

Extremely interesting explanatory post

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About why Democrats act so spineless in standing up to the Bush torture regime: because the leaders are themselves implicated. Glenn Greenwald:

Harper‘s Scott Horton yesterday interviewed Jane Mayer about her new book, The Dark Side. The first question he asked was about the Bush administration’s fear that they would be criminally prosecuted for implementing what the International Red Cross had categorically described as “torture.”

Mayer responded “that inside the White House there [had] been growing fear of criminal prosecution, particularly after the Supreme Court ruled in the Hamdan case that the Geneva Conventions applied to the treatment of the detainees,” and that it was this fear that led the White House to demand (and, of course, receive) immunity for past interrogation crimes as part of the Military Commissions Act of 2006. But Mayer noted one important political impediment to holding Bush officials accountable for their illegal torture program:

An additional complicating factor is that key members of Congress sanctioned this program, so many of those who might ordinarily be counted on to lead the charge are themselves compromised.

As we witness not just Republicans, but also Democrats in Congress, acting repeatedly to immunize executive branch lawbreaking and to obstruct investigations, it’s vital to keep that fact in mind. With regard to illegal Bush programs of torture and eavesdropping, key Congressional Democrats were contemporaneously briefed on what the administration was doing (albeit, in fairness, often in unspecific ways). The fact that they did nothing to stop that illegality, and often explicitly approved of it, obviously incentivizes them to block any investigations or judicial proceedings into those illegal programs.In December of last year, The Washington Post revealed:

Four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA’s overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said.

The article noted that other Democratic members who received briefings on the CIA’s interrogation program included Jay Rockefeller and Jane Harman. While Harman sent a letter to the CIA asking questions about the legality of the program, none ever took any steps to stop or even restrict the interrogation program in any way.

Identically, numerous key Democrats in Congress — including Rockefeller and Harman — were told …

Continue reading.

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15 July 2008 at 12:18 pm

Blackwater

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ThinkProgress:

Shortly after Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians on Sept. 16, the firm “repaired and repainted its trucks immediately,” essentially “destroy[ing] evidence that Justice Department investigators hoped to examine.” Blackwater responded that any repairs “would have been done at the government’s direction.” The State Department refused to comment.

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12 January 2008 at 3:25 pm

Accountability takes a nosedive

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Accountability, it seems, is for enlisted personnel, not for officers:

The US army has thrown out the conviction of the only officer court martialled in the Abu Ghraib scandal, ending the four-year investigation and drawing complaints from human rights activists of a Pentagon whitewash.

Barring any new information, the decision means no officers or civilian leaders will be held criminally responsible for the prisoner abuse — which included the photographing of Iraqi prisoners in painful and sexually humiliating positions — which embarrassed the military and inflamed the Muslim world.

Lieutenant Colonel Steven Jordan was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing by Major General Richard Rowe, the Washington military district chief. He was instead given an administrative reprimand. Jordan, 51, was acquitted at his court martial in August of charges that he failed to supervise the 11 lower-ranking soldiers convicted for their roles in the abuse.

But he was found guilty of disobeying an order not to talk about the investigation, and the jury recommended a criminal reprimand, the lightest possible punishment. Jordan told the Associated Press yesterday that he felt victimised by press coverage that seemed eager for an officer to be blamed for the abuse. He also said he agreed that there were both enlisted soldiers and officers responsible for the abuse who escaped prosecution.

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11 January 2008 at 8:29 am

Destroying the evidence

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It seems obvious that the CIA destroyed the tapes of those interrogations because they fear ed criminal prosecution for what they had done. The reason offered by the CIA (that they destroyed the tapes because they might be leaked) doesn’t hold water: the CIA has all sorts of secret material that might be leaked—yet somehow they don’t destroy all that. Here’s the story from Center for American Progress:

In 2002, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) videotaped its officials administering harsh interrogation tactics on two al Qaeda operatives, but three years later, destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the incidents. The New York Times reports that one of the interrogations captured on tape was that of Abu Zubaydah, a high-level al Qaeda militant who was subjected to waterboarding. The Times adds that the videos “were destroyed in part because officers were concerned that tapes documenting controversial interrogation methods could expose agency officials to greater risk of legal jeopardy.” The destruction of the tapes occurred in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal and “CIA officers became concerned about a possible leak of the videos and photos.” At the time, the CIA was led by Porter Goss. Current Director Michael Hayden defended the agency’s actions, arguing that keeping them “posed a security risk.” The revelation marks another legal and moral low for an administration that has rendered terrorism suspects to other countries to be tortured, argued for indefinite detention, signed off on secret torture memos, and committed potentially “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions.

DESTRUCTION OF EVIDENCE: “What matters here is that it was done in line with the law,” Hayden said of the agency’s tampering with evidence. Legal experts aren’t buying that argument. Jennifer Daskal, senior counsel with Human Rights Watch, said destroying the tapes was illegal. “Basically this is destruction of evidence,” she said. Daniel Marcus, a law professor at American University who served as general counsel for the 9/11 Commission, said if tapes were destroyed, “it’s a big deal, it’s a very big deal” because it could amount to obstruction of justice to withhold evidence being sought in criminal or fact-finding investigations. “The recordings were not provided to a federal court hearing the case of the terror suspect Zacarias Moussaoui,” which had made formal requests to the CIA for such documentary evidence. The U.S. District Judge in the case, Leonie Brinkema, said she can no longer trust the CIA and other government agencies on how they represent classified evidence in terror cases. The tapes also were not provided to the 9/11 Commission, whose members “demanded a wide array of material and relied heavily on classified interrogation transcripts in piecing together its narrative of events.” The ACLU “said the tapes were destroyed at a time when a federal court had ordered the CIA to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request.”

CONGRESS’ ROLE: In his agency’s defense, Hayden said, “The leaders of our oversight committees in Congress were informed of the videos years ago and of the Agency’s intention to dispose of the material. Our oversight committees also have been told that the videos were, in fact, destroyed.” Hayden’s statement didn’t suggest that the congressional leaders approved of the destruction, however. Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), who was ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee at the time, said, “I told the CIA that destroying videotapes of interrogations was a bad idea and urged them in writing not to do it.” Then-ranking member of Senate Intelligence Committee John Rockefeller (D-WV) said, “While we were provided with very limited information about the existence of the tapes, we were not consulted on their usage nor the decision to destroy the tapes.” Rockefeller does not deny, however, that he was informed of the agency’s intent to dispose of the tapes, and he acknowledged that he learned of the destruction one year ago, in Nov. 2006. An official with the House Intelligence Committee told the Times, “This is a matter that should have been briefed to the full Intelligence Committee at the time. This does not appear to have been done.”

CONGRESS TAKES KEY STEP TO END TORTURE: The startling disclosures of the CIA’s destruction of videotapes “came on the same day that House and Senate negotiators reached an agreement on legislation that would prohibit the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics by the CIA and bring intelligence agencies in line with rules followed by the U.S. military.” The measure, which needs approval from the full House and Senate, would require all American interrogators to abide by Army Field Manual. In doing so, the new law would “effectively set a government-wide standard for legal interrogations by explicitly outlawing the use of simulated drowning, forced nudity, hooding, military dogs and other harsh tactics against prisoners by any U.S. intelligence agency.” White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said such a provision “is something the president has opposed in the past and that we would have a veto threat on.”

Written by Leisureguy

7 December 2007 at 8:48 am

What the US has become

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ThinkProgress:

In 2005, while “in the midst of congressional and legal scrutiny” over its secret detention program, the CIA “destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two Al Qaeda operatives in the agency’s custody,” the agency admitted today. The videotapes, which contained footage of “severe interrogation techniques,” were “destroyed in part” out of concern that they could “could expose agency officials to greater risk of legal jeopardy.” The decision to destroy the tapes was made “within the C.I.A. itself.”

UPDATE: The AP reports that “House and Senate intelligence committee leaders were informed of the existence of the tapes and the CIA’s intention to destroy them.”

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6 December 2007 at 4:16 pm

If you want incompetence, you have to reward it

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And the Bush Administration does:

Spencer Ackerman reports that the State Department has quietly given bonuses for “outstanding performance” to two officials who had “direct oversight” over Blackwater:

On November 20, an internal cable, listed as State 158575, went out to State employees announcing the recipients of bonuses ranging from $10,000 to $15,000 for “outstanding performance.” Among them: Kevin Barry and Justine Sincavage. You can read the cable here. Barry’s name is listed on page 2, and Sincavage’s is on page 5. Both Barry and Sincavage already earn approximately $150,000 annually. Their bonuses are scheduled to take effect on December 20, in time for the holidays.

In October, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also promoted Barry and Sincavage.

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4 December 2007 at 3:09 pm

What has the US become?

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Look at this:

Of all the Bush Administration’s many perversions of the justice system, there is something particularly distressing about the case of Maher Arar. A Canadian software engineer, he was changing planes in JFK on his way home to Canada after a Mediterranean vacation when American law enforcement snatched him up. Arar had been fingered as a terrorism suspect by Canadian authorities. Within a brief period of time, he was interrogated, locked-up and then bundled off to Jordan with directions for transshipment to Syria, a nation known to use torture. Indeed, it was plain from the outset that he was shipped to Syria for purposes of being tortured, with a list of questions to be put to him passed along. Never mind that Syria is constantly reviled as a brutal dictatorship by some Bush Administration figures who openly dream of bombing or invading it… the Syrians, it seems, have a redeeming feature—their willingness to torture the occasional Canadian engineer as a gesture of friendship to the Americans.

In time, the Canadians launched a comprehensive inquiry into the matter, concluded that they were mistaken about Arar. He was cleared, the findings of the commission of inquiry were published, and Arar was given a roughly $10 million award in compensation for the role Canada played in his mistreatment.

Canada, in sum, behaved the way a democratic state is supposed to behave.

But what about the United States? Of course, the governing axiom of the Bush Administration is that it makes no mistakes. So, while intelligence community officials confirm, off the record, that the whole episode involving Arar was a gross mistake involving errors in judgment at every stage and a part-infantile rage, part-Savanarola zeal in the oversight, the official posture continues to be that Arar is a terrorist, so what happened was justified. Arar remains on the no-fly list and is denied entry to the United States.

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16 November 2007 at 12:24 pm

Excellent! Take that, Dianne Feinstein

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ThinkProgress:

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) will offer an amendment in the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow to “strike retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies alleged to have assisted with the President’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program.” From his statement:

Granting retroactive immunity for companies that allegedly went along with this illegal program is unjustified and undermines the rule of law. Not only would retroactive immunity set the terrible precedent that breaking the law is permissible and companies need not worry about the privacy of their customers, but it would likely prevent courts from ruling on the President’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program. This program was one of the worst abuses of executive power in our history, and the courts should be able to rule on it once and for all.

Read his recent letter to the editor responding to John Ashcroft on the issue in The New York Times HERE.

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14 November 2007 at 2:08 pm

Another who underwent waterboarding calls it torture

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It really seems pretty clear that waterboarding is torture—clear, that is, to all but a few: Cheney, Fox News, Bush, Judge Mukasey, …  From Dan Froomkin today:

Josh White writes in The Washington Post: “A former Navy survival instructor subjected to waterboarding as part of his military training told Congress yesterday that the controversial tactic should plainly be considered torture and that such a method was never intended for use by U.S. interrogators because it is a relic of abusive totalitarian governments.

“Malcolm Wrightson Nance, a counterterrorism specialist who taught at the Navy’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school in California, likened waterboarding to drowning and said those who experience it will say or do anything to make it stop, rendering the information they give nearly useless. . . .

“Unlike attorney general nominee Michael B. Mukasey, who called the technique repugnant but declined to say whether it is torture, Nance said unequivocally that waterboarding is a long-standing form of torture used by history’s most brutal governments, including those of Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, North Korea, Iraq, the Soviet Union and the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia.”

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9 November 2007 at 11:39 am

Try waterboarding yourself: you’ll see it’s torture

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It’s not a “dunk,” it’s not “swimming lessons,” and—most especially—it’s not a joke. Read this:

A senior Justice Department official, charged with reworking the administration’s legal position on torture in 2004 became so concerned about the controversial interrogation technique of waterboarding that he decided to experience it firsthand, sources told ABC News.

Daniel Levin, then acting assistant attorney general, went to a military base near Washington and underwent the procedure to inform his analysis of different interrogation techniques.

After the experience, Levin told White House officials that even though he knew he wouldn’t die, he found the experience terrifying and thought that it clearly simulated drowning.

Levin, who refused to comment for this story, concluded waterboarding could be illegal torture unless performed in a highly limited way and with close supervision. And, sources told ABC News, he believed the Bush Administration had failed to offer clear guidelines for its use.

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8 November 2007 at 12:29 pm

I think Joe Galloway sees it correctly

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This is a strong column, but I think he’s right. And don’t forget the one Dept of Justice lawyer who actually went to find out for himself what waterboarding was like: Daniel Levin went to a military base to experience waterboarding firsthand. He said that it definitely was torture. (See next post.)

Waterboarding

Did Bill Clinton have sex with that woman? Is Elvis Presley really dead? Is the Pope Catholic? Does a bear do his ablutions in the woods? Is waterboarding torture?

The answer to all of these questions, put simply, is yes.

All of Judge Michael Mukasey’s artful dodging and word play to avoid acknowledging the obvious to the august members of Senate Judiciary Committee does nothing to change the fact.

When you hog-tie a human being, tilt him head down, stuff a rag in his mouth and over his nostrils and pour water onto the rag slowly and steadily to the point where his lungs fill with water and he’s suffocating and drowning, that is torture.

Four decades ago in the field in Vietnam, I saw a suspected Viet Cong waterboarded by South Vietnamese Army troops. The American Army advisers who were attached to the Vietnamese unit turned their backs and walked away before the torture began. It was then a Vietnamese affair and something they couldn’t be associated with.

The victim was taken to the edge of death. His body was wracked with spasms as he fought for air. The soldier holding the five-gallon kerosene tin filled with muddy water from a nearby stream kept pouring it slowly onto the rag, and the victim desperately sucking for even a little air kept inhaling that water instead.

It seemed to go on forever. Did the suspect talk? I’m sure he did. I’m sure he told his torturers whatever he thought they wanted to hear, whether it was true or not. But I didn’t see the end of it because one of the American advisers came to me and told me I had to leave; that I couldn’t watch this interrogation, if that’s what it was, any longer.

That adviser knew that water torture was torture; he knew that it was outlawed by the Geneva Convention; he knew that he couldn’t be a part to it; and he knew that he didn’t want me to witness such brutality.

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8 November 2007 at 12:26 pm

How Condi’s State Dept investigates

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Condi Rice has been in charge of the State Department for 3 years. It’s hers. The policies are hers. She’s responsible. But she’s not accountable, obviously. She’ll keep her distance on this, and she’ll get away with it. And here’s how her State Department works:

 Last Feb. 7, a sniper employed by Blackwater USA, the private security company, opened fire from the roof of the Iraqi Justice Ministry. The bullet tore through the head of a 23-year-old guard for the state-funded Iraqi Media Network, who was standing on a balcony across an open traffic circle. Another guard rushed to his colleague’s side and was fatally shot in the neck. A third guard was found dead more than an hour later on the same balcony.

Eight people who responded to the shootings — including media network and Justice Ministry guards and an Iraqi army commander — and five network officials in the compound said none of the slain guards had fired on the Justice Ministry, where a U.S. diplomat was in a meeting. An Iraqi police report described the shootings as “an act of terrorism” and said Blackwater “caused the incident.” The media network concluded that the guards were killed “without any provocation.”

The U.S. government reached a different conclusion. Based on information from the Blackwater guards, who said they were fired upon, the State Department determined that the security team’s actions “fell within approved rules governing the use of force,” according to an official from the department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Neither U.S. Embassy officials nor Blackwater representatives interviewed witnesses or returned to the network, less than a quarter-mile from Baghdad’s Green Zone, to investigate.

The incident shows how American officials responsible for overseeing the security company conducted only a cursory investigation when Blackwater guards opened fire. The shooting occurred more than seven months before the Sept. 16 incident in which Blackwater guards killed 17 civilians at another Baghdad traffic circle.

The Feb. 7 shootings convulsed the Iraqi Media Network, one of the prominent symbols of the new Iraq, in anger and recrimination.

U.S. officials and the security company, now known as Blackwater Worldwide, offered no compensation or apology to the victims’ families, according to relatives of the guards and officials of the network, whose programming reaches 22 million Iraqis.

“It’s really surprising that Blackwater is still out there killing people,” Mohammed Jasim, the Iraqi Media Network’s deputy director, said in an interview. “This company came to Iraq and was supposed to provide security. They didn’t learn from their mistakes. They continued and continued. They continued killing.”

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8 November 2007 at 10:54 am

Murder 17 people, with immunity

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Nice. The Bush Administration has already promised Blackwater that the men who shot down the 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians will not face trial or punishment:

The State Department promised Blackwater USA bodyguards immunity from prosecution in its investigation of last month’s deadly shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians, The Associated Press has learned.

The immunity deal has delayed a criminal inquiry into the Sept. 16 killings and could undermine any effort to prosecute security contractors for their role in the incident that has infuriated the Iraqi government.

“Once you give immunity, you can’t take it away,” said a senior law enforcement official familiar with the investigation.

State Department officials declined to confirm or deny that immunity had been granted. One official, who refused to be quoted by name, said: “If, in fact, such a decision was made, it was done without any input or authorization from any senior State Department official in Washington.”

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29 October 2007 at 4:22 pm

The Bush style

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From Dan Froomkin today:

In the wake of last month’s shooting of 17 civilians by Blackwater gunmen in Baghdad, the Bush administration is finally acknowledging — more than four years late — that private security contractors in Iraq should operate under the law.

Last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admitted to Congress that the State Department had inadequately supervised those contractors. As Karen DeYoung wrote in Friday’s Washington Post, “Pressed to express regret for what Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) called “the failures of your department, your failures,” Rice said, “I certainly regret that we did not have the kind of oversight that I would have insisted upon.”

Rice agreed that “there is a hole” in U.S. law that has prevented prosecution of contractors.

But did we really need an apparent massacre to point out this giant loophole and its perils?

As it happens, President Bush has been aware of the hole for some time — and deserves some of the blame for not fixing it earlier. Confronted about it in public more than a year ago, Bush literally laughed off the question — and then, tellingly, described his response as a case study in how he does his job.

The setting was a question-and-answer session after Bush spoke at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in April of 2006. (Here’s a video clip.)

One student, a first-year in South Asia studies, told the president: “My question is in regards to private military contractors. Uniform Code of Military Justice does not apply to these contractors in Iraq. I asked your Secretary of Defense a couple months ago what law governs their actions.

Bush: “I was going to ask him. Go ahead. (Laughter.) Help. (Laughter.)”

Student: “I was hoping your answer might be a little more specific. (Laughter.) Mr. Rumsfeld answered that Iraq has its own domestic laws which he assumed applied to those private military contractors. However, Iraq is clearly not currently capable of enforcing its laws, much less against — over our American military contractors. I would submit to you that in this case, this is one case that privatization is not a solution. And, Mr. President, how do you propose to bring private military contractors under a system of law?”

Bush: “I appreciate that very much. I wasn’t kidding — (laughter.) I was going to — I pick up the phone and say, Mr. Secretary, I’ve got an interesting question. (Laughter.) This is what delegation — I don’t mean to be dodging the question, although it’s kind of convenient in this case, but never — (laughter.) I really will — I’m going to call the Secretary and say you brought up a very valid question, and what are we doing about it? That’s how I work. I’m — thanks. (Laughter.)”

He’s the Decider. That’s why he gets the big bucks.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2007 at 2:49 pm

State Dept cover-up

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This looks very bad indeed: the State Department as accessory to a crime. Exhibits at the link.

Even as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended her department’s oversight of private security contractors, new evidence surfaced Thursday that the U.S. sought to conceal details of Blackwater shootings of Iraqi civilians more than two years ago.

In one instance, internal e-mails show that State Department officials tried to deflect a 2005 Los Angeles Times inquiry into an alleged killing of an Iraqi civilian by Blackwater guards.

“Give [the Los Angeles Times] what we can and then dump the rest on Blackwater,” one State Department official wrote to another in the e-mails, which were obtained by ABC News. “We can’t win this one.”

One department official taking part in a chain of e-mails noted that the “findings of the investigation are to remain off-limits to the reporter.” Another recommended that there be no mention of the existence of a criminal investigation since such a reference would “raise questions and issues.”

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26 October 2007 at 9:35 am

Blackwater story from one who was there

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It’s a depressing story:

I know something about Blackwater USA. This opinion is both intellectually driven as well as moderately emotional. You see, during my own yearlong tour in Iraq, the bad boys of Blackwater twice came closer to killing me than did any of the insurgents or Al Qaeda types. That sort of thing sticks with you. One story will suffice to make my point.

The first time it happened was in the spring of 2005. For various reasons, none of which bear repeating, I was moving through downtown Baghdad in an unmarked civilian sedan. I was with two other men, but they had the native look, while I was in my uniform, hunched in the back seat and partially covered by a blanket, hoping that the curtains on the window were enough to conceal my incongruous presence, not to mention my weapons. It was not the normal manner in which an Army infantry major moved around the city, but it was what the situation called for, so there I was. We were in normal Baghdad traffic, with the flow such as it was, in the hubbub of confusion that is generated when you suddenly introduce more than 1 million extra vehicles in the course of two years into a city that previously had only a few hundred thousand vehicles, and no real licensing authority.

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23 October 2007 at 12:56 pm

Is Reid really going to ignore Senator Dodd’s hold?

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I can’t believe this. Reid—well, AT&T is one of the top 20 contributors to Read, so maybe he’s for sale after all. But Reid apparently is simply going to ignore Dodd’s hold on the terrible FISA bill (which, I admit, was supported by one of my own Senators, Dianne Feinstein, the Lieberman of the Democratic Party) and push the bill through. Obviously, the telecoms have spent a lot of money to get immunity for their crimes. This is not what I expected from the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party needs a thorough housecleaning.

Glenn Greenwald has more.

And this also is good:

Every now and then, a right-wing pundit says something that illustrates the underlying mentality of their movement so vividly that it is worth pausing and briefly examining. In responding to one of my posts on telecom amnesty, The Weekly Standard‘s Michael Goldfarb explains the obligations of patriotic corporate citizens in America:

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19 October 2007 at 1:00 pm

The Rule of Law

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Do we have it, or do we not? Glenn Greenwald sees many who want the US not to have the rule of law. Certainly Bush feels that way—that’s why he removed the prison time from Scooter Libby’s sentence (but did nothing about the guidelines that resulted in that prison time, so that everyone else convicted under the same circumstances will have to serve their prison time).

The Washington Post‘s Editorial Page, in the establishment-defending form of Fred Hiatt, today became but the latest Beltway appendage to urge the enactment of a special law providing amnesty to our nation’s poor, put-upon, lawbreaking telecoms:

There is one major area of disagreement between the administration and House Democrats where we think the administration has the better of the argument: the question of whether telecommunications companies that provided information to the government without court orders should be given retroactive immunity from being sued. House Democrats are understandably reluctant to grant that wholesale protection without understanding exactly what conduct they are shielding, and the administration has balked at providing such information. But the telecommunications providers seem to us to have been acting as patriotic corporate citizens in a difficult and uncharted environment.

Let’s leave to the side Hiatt’s inane claim that these telecoms, in actively enabling the Bush administration to spy on their customers in violation of the law, were motivated by the pure and upstanding desire to be “patriotic corporate citizens” — rather than, say, the desire to obtain extremely lucrative government contracts which would likely have been unavailable had they refused to break the law. Leave to the side the fact that actual “patriotism” would have led these telecoms to adhere to the surveillance and privacy laws enacted by the American people through their Congress in accordance with the U.S. Constitution — as a handful of actual patriotic telecoms apparently did — rather than submit to the illegal demands of the President. Further leave to the side that these telecoms did not merely allow warrantless surveillance on their customers in the hectic and “confused” days or weeks after 9/11, but for years. Further leave to the side the fact that, as Hiatt’s own newspaper just reported yesterday, the desire for warrantless eavesdropping capabilities seemed to be on the Bush agenda well before 9/11.

And finally ignore the fact that Hiatt is defending the telecom’s good faith even though, as he implicitly acknowledges, he has no idea what they actually did, because it is all still Top Secret and we are barred from knowing what happened here. For all those reasons, Hiatt’s claim on behalf of the telecoms that they broke the law for “patriotic” reasons is so frivolous as to insult the intelligence of his readers, but — more importantly — it is also completely irrelevant.

There is no such thing as a “patriotism exception” to the laws that we pass. It is not a defense to illegal behavior to say that one violated the law for “patriotic” reasons. That was Oliver North’s defense to Congress when he proudly admitted breaking multiple federal laws. And it is the same “defense” that people like North have been making to justify Bush’s violations of our surveillance laws — what we call “felonies” — in spying on Americans without warrants.

By definition, the “rule of law” does not exist if government officials and entities with influential Beltway lobbyists can run around breaking the law whenever they decide that there are good reasons for doing so. The bedrock principle of the “rule of law” is that the law applies equally to everyone, even to those who occupy Important Positions in Fred Hiatt’s social, economic and political circles and who therefore act with the most elevated of motives.

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14 October 2007 at 9:38 am

Telecom immunity: why it’s a bad idea

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13 October 2007 at 3:03 pm

Yet more on the Blackwater shootings

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From the NY Times:

Fresh accounts of the Blackwater shooting last month, given by three rooftop witnesses and by American soldiers who arrived shortly after the gunfire ended, cast new doubt Friday on statements by Blackwater guards that they were responding to armed insurgents when Iraqi investigators say 17 Iraqis were killed at a Baghdad intersection.

The three witnesses, Kurds on a rooftop overlooking the scene, said they had observed no gunfire that could have provoked the shooting by Blackwater guards. American soldiers who arrived minutes later found shell casings from guns used normally by American contractors, as well as by the American military.

The Kurdish witnesses are important because they had the advantage of an unobstructed view and because, collectively, they observed the shooting at Nisour Square from start to finish, free from the terror and confusion that might have clouded accounts of witnesses at street level. Moreover, because they are pro-American, their accounts have a credibility not always extended to Iraqi Arabs, who have been more hostile to the American presence.

Their statements, made in interviews with The New York Times, appeared to challenge a State Department account that a Blackwater vehicle had been disabled in the shooting and had to be towed away. Since those initial accounts, Blackwater and the State Department have consistently refused to comment on the substance of the case.

The Kurdish witnesses said that they saw no one firing at the guards at any time during the event, an observation corroborated by the forensic evidence of the shell casings. Two of the witnesses also said all the Blackwater vehicles involved in the shooting drove away under their own power.

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Written by Leisureguy

12 October 2007 at 8:06 pm

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