Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

Think at your own risk.
Friday, May 22, 2009
John Landay's Cheney smackdown. Look for the media to ignore it.
McClatchy News' national security reporter Jonathan Landay breaks down the Dick Cheney torture jeremiad, and finds it wanting...
Former Vice President Dick Cheney's defense Thursday of the Bush administration's policies for interrogating suspected terrorists contained omissions, exaggerations and misstatements.

In his address to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative policy organization in Washington, Cheney said that the techniques the Bush administration approved, including waterboarding — simulated drowning that's considered a form of torture — forced nakedness and sleep deprivation, were "legal" and produced information that "prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people."

He quoted the Director of National Intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair, as saying that the information gave U.S. officials a "deeper understanding of the al Qaida organization that was attacking this country."

In a statement April 21, however, Blair said the information "was valuable in some instances" but that "there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means. The bottom line is that these techniques hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security."

A top-secret 2004 CIA inspector general's investigation found no conclusive proof that information gained from aggressive interrogations helped thwart any "specific imminent attacks," according to one of four top-secret Bush-era memos that the Justice Department released last month.

FBI Director Robert Mueller told Vanity Fair magazine in December that he didn't think that the techniques disrupted any attacks.

There's much more, but don't expect the rest of the media to rally to Landay's factual cause. As Glenn Greenwald pointed out earlier this week, the mainstream media has long since moved the center to the right, and adopted the Cheney version of reality when it comes to war and national security, and relegated all other versions to the fringe:

What is, in my view, most noteworthy about all of this is how it gives the lie to the collective national claim that we learned our lesson and are now regretful about the Bush/Cheney approach to Terrorism. Republicans are right about the fact that while it was Bush officials who led the way in implementing these radical and lawless policies, most of the country's institutions -- particularly the Democratic Party leadership and the media -- acquiesced to it, endorsed it, and enabled it. And they still do.

Nothing has produced as much media praise for Obama as his embrace of what Goldsmith calls the "essential elements" of "the Bush approach to counterterrorism policy." That's because -- contrary to the ceremonial displays of regret and denouncements of Bush -- the dominant media view is this: the Bush/Cheney approach to Terrorism was right; those policies are "centrist"; Obama is acting commendably by embracing them; most of the country wants those policies; and only the Far Left opposes the Bush/Cheney approach.

Anyone who doubts that should consider this most extraordinary paragraph from Associated Press' Liz Sidoti:

Increasingly, President Barack Obama and Democrats who run Congress are being pulled between the competing interests of party liberals and the rest of the country on Bush-era wartime matters of torture, detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists.

When it comes to torture and Bush's Terrorism policies, it's the Far Left (which opposes those things) versus "the rest of the country" (which favors them). And she described Obama's embrace of Bush's policies as "governing from the center." Apparently, Bush/Cheney Terrorism policies are Centrist. Who knew?
BTW, if you caught MSNBC's "Morning Joe" this morning, you see Greenwald's point. The show, which increasingly is obsessed with rehabilitating the George W. Bush presidency, with Joe and Mika pulling the wagons and only Donny Deutsch and Lawrence O'Donnell running interference for the reality based community, has now become the new, unofficial home of that nasty piece of right wing work: Liz Cheney. Today, they gave her a full hour to bond with Mika and kvetch about Barack Obama not appreciating her dad.

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posted by JReid @ 10:34 AM  
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Unwinding torture, II
In case you missed it, the New York Times describes the unraveling of the Bush administration's torture program:

WASHINGTON — The proclamation that President George W. Bush issued on June 26, 2003, to mark the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture seemed innocuous, one of dozens of high-minded statements published and duly ignored each year.

The United States is “committed to the worldwide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example,” Mr. Bush declared, vowing to prosecute torture and to prevent “other cruel and unusual punishment.”

But inside the Central Intelligence Agency, the statement set off alarms. The agency’s top lawyer, Scott W. Muller, called the White House to complain. The statement by the president could unnerve the C.I.A. interrogators Mr. Bush had authorized to use brutal tactics on members of Al Qaeda, Mr. Muller said, raising fears that political winds could change and make them scapegoats.

White House officials reaffirmed their support for the C.I.A. methods. But the exchange was a harbinger of the conflict between the coercive interrogations and the United States’ historical stance against torture that would deeply divide the Bush administration and ultimately undo the program.

Meanwhile, the excuses for not prosecuting Bush administration officials for war crimes grow thinner and thinner. In fact, at this point, there are none.

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posted by JReid @ 12:23 AM  
Monday, May 04, 2009
Are you smarter than a fourth grader?
Condi Rice does battle with a grade schooler over torture, and declares that fear and terror inside the Bush administration led to the now infamous creation of an American torture program:



More on what the child REALLY wanted to ask Condi here.

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posted by JReid @ 10:37 PM  
Friday, May 01, 2009
Condi/Nixon: if the president authorizes it, it's not torture
Condi Rice was confronted by a Stanford student about U.S. policies on torture and indefinite detention, and got a little sassy with him while pulling a Nixon, saying that essentially, if the president authorizes it (torture) it's not illegal. (I rented "Frost, Nixon" for this weekend, and am now guessing it's going to seem very familiar...) Keith Olbermann breaks it down, and talks to John Dean, who says Rice may have just admitted to her part in a criminal conspiracy to commit war crimes. Watch the entire exchange, as recorded by the poster, who lives in the dorm where it took place. Condi's big admission comes at about 5:26.

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posted by JReid @ 11:40 AM  
Monday, April 27, 2009
Levin doesn't make the rounds
You'd think that given the serial bombshells that dropped from the Senate Arms Services Committee report, that the chair of that committee, whose name has become synonymous with the bombshells, would have been a prime booking for the Sunday chat shows. Instead, the debates over the "Levin Report" were confined mainly to the pundits, who were content to debate the vagueries of "politicizing policy," rather than the concrete lawbreaking and outrageous descent from civilization that torture represents.

Levin appeared on just one program: Fox News Sunday, and even there, what would seem to be the most relevant question of all was never asked. That question was framed by Frank Rich on Sunday:

The [Levin] report found that Maj. Paul Burney, a United States Army psychiatrist assigned to interrogations in Guantánamo Bay that summer of 2002, told Army investigators of another White House imperative: “A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful.” As higher-ups got more “frustrated” at the inability to prove this connection, the major said, “there was more and more pressure to resort to measures” that might produce that intelligence.

In other words, the ticking time bomb was not another potential Qaeda attack on America but the Bush administration’s ticking timetable for selling a war in Iraq; it wanted to pressure Congress to pass a war resolution before the 2002 midterm elections. Bybee’s memo was written the week after the then-secret (and subsequently leaked) “Downing Street memo,” in which the head of British intelligence informed Tony Blair that the Bush White House was so determined to go to war in Iraq that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” A month after Bybee’s memo, on Sept. 8, 2002, Cheney would make his infamous appearance on “Meet the Press,” hyping both Saddam’s W.M.D.s and the “number of contacts over the years” between Al Qaeda and Iraq. If only 9/11 could somehow be pinned on Iraq, the case for war would be a slamdunk.

But there were no links between 9/11 and Iraq, and the White House knew it. Torture may have been the last hope for coercing such bogus “intelligence” from detainees who would be tempted to say anything to stop the waterboarding.

In short, to a show, and to a reporter, the media have treated the Levin report as if its most important finding was that waterboarding took place. Well, we already knew that. What we didn't know, and what the media has to date, almost completely erased from the coverage, is that the waterboarding was confined to so-called "high value detainees" of a very specific sort: men who the Bush administration must have considered credible witnesses to a lie (if only they could torture them enough to get them to tell it) ... namely, that an invasion of Iraq would be justified because Saddam Hussein was somehow complicit in 9/11. As Rich, who was the only member of the media, to my knowledge, who even brought up this incredible set of facts (and by the way Levin, who told Rich plainly that the torture for false information scenario was accurate, didn't bring it up on his own, either...) sums up:

Five years after the Abu Ghraib revelations, we must acknowledge that our government methodically authorized torture and lied about it. But we also must contemplate the possibility that it did so not just out of a sincere, if criminally misguided, desire to “protect” us but also to promote an unnecessary and catastrophic war. Instead of saving us from “another 9/11,” torture was a tool in the campaign to falsify and exploit 9/11 so that fearful Americans would be bamboozled into a mission that had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. The lying about Iraq remains the original sin from which flows much of the Bush White House’s illegality.

And yet, that is the very possibility the media is, en masse, refusing to contemplate. You've really got to wonder why.

Cross-posted at TPMCafe.

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posted by JReid @ 11:31 AM  
The media's Iraq-torture blackout
Well, the Sunday shows were a wash. David Gregory had a rather dull interview with Jordan's King Abdullah, whose new book sounds like a keeper. The only interesting moment: Abdullah's obvious affection for his late father as he watched a clip of the late King Hussein. Meanwhile, in the panel afterwords, we learned from two Pulitzer Prize-winning historians that well, great presidents violate American values in wartime. It's just the way it is.

On "This Week," Stephanopoulos interviewed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmenidejad, and managed to asked him the same question about a dozen different times: would he accept Israel if the Palestinians go for a two-state solution? Will he accept them in a box? With a fox? On a train? In the rain? Will he, will he? Make it plain...! The extent to which the American media (not to mention American politics) is obsessed with Israel's point of view is striking. And the extent to which the Muslim and Arab world are resistant to the pressure to bow to Israel is equally striking; witness Abdullah's repetition over and over again to a resistant David Gregory that a Palestinian state is crucial to peace, and Ahmadinejad's repetition over and over again to a resistant Stephanopoulos that the Palestinian people have rights that should be respected by the international communty. Natch.

CNN managed to get through an entire Sunday without really questioning the absurd notion that somehow, torture is a necessary evil (but only when WE do it,) and without once bringing up the now-exposed Iraq-torture connection. In fact, none of the networks brought it up. Instead, each of the Sunday shows focused on the entirely irrelevant question of whether torture got us any good intel. For the hosts of America's Most Important News Programs, torture is just another policy choice in the grand war on terror, and the debate is over politics, not legality. It's a non-debate debate that is, in a word, shameful, as is the complete rub-out of the most important news to emerge last week: that the Bush administration began torture Abu Zubaydah AFTER he gave up whatever relevant information he had, and did so at the same time the Bush administration was looking for some link -- any link -- between al-qaida and Saddam Hussein. It's a point that has been entirely erased from television since it broke last week, and as of Sunday, has been repeated by only three media personalities: Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, and on Sunday, Frank Rich, who points out the following revelations from the Levin report:

The report found that Maj. Paul Burney, a United States Army psychiatrist assigned to interrogations in Guantánamo Bay that summer of 2002, told Army investigators of another White House imperative: “A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful.” As higher-ups got more “frustrated” at the inability to prove this connection, the major said, “there was more and more pressure to resort to measures” that might produce that intelligence.

In other words, the ticking time bomb was not another potential Qaeda attack on America but the Bush administration’s ticking timetable for selling a war in Iraq; it wanted to pressure Congress to pass a war resolution before the 2002 midterm elections. Bybee’s memo was written the week after the then-secret (and subsequently leaked) “Downing Street memo,” in which the head of British intelligence informed Tony Blair that the Bush White House was so determined to go to war in Iraq that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” A month after Bybee’s memo, on Sept. 8, 2002, Cheney would make his infamous appearance on “Meet the Press,” hyping both Saddam’s W.M.D.s and the “number of contacts over the years” between Al Qaeda and Iraq. If only 9/11 could somehow be pinned on Iraq, the case for war would be a slamdunk.

But there were no links between 9/11 and Iraq, and the White House knew it. Torture may have been the last hope for coercing such bogus “intelligence” from detainees who would be tempted to say anything to stop the waterboarding.
With this kind of bombshell laid at their feet, what explains the media's refusal to cover this story? Perhaps the newsies are simply ignorant of the relevant law (presented for them here in black and white...) on torture, and so they can't make the connection in their minds to Iraq ... or perhaps they, the Washington press corps in particular, were and continue to be wholly complicit in -- even cheerleaders for -- the whole "war on terror," Iraq war adventure thing, and thus can't bring themselves to question their own beliefs. Or worse, perhaps an editorial policy has been set at the top, at each of these networks, not to talk about the big, fat elephant in the room: the probability that the Bush administration tortured "high value detainees" Pol Pot style, in order to create false "evidence" that would allow them to sell the American people on going to war in Iraq.

In related news, Andrew Sullivan declares FBI interrogator Ali Soufan a national hero. Hear hear.

And the Washington Post publishes a lengthy he-a-culpa, essentially an excused absence letter to the school of public opinion from Judge Bybee's friends, saying he's a wonderful, thoughtful man after all, who rather regrets a certain memo legalizing torture. How sweet. Now, if the Post could just get up an article abouthow John Yoo loves to pet puppies... beautiful, fluffy puppies...

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posted by JReid @ 10:12 AM  
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Torture, secret detentions and Europe strikes back
On the radar today:

It's not just Spain. Other NATO allies are considering perusing torture prosecutions against CIA and Bush administration officials if the Obama administration doesn't.

Meanwhile, British officials have released new information about the Bush administration attempts to cover up their crimes on the way out the door. In short, military prosecutors tried to pressure a former Gitmo detainee, Binyam Muhammad, into signing a plea deal that would have imprisoned him for 10 years in addition to the 7 he'd already been held, and that they tried to get him to sign a statement claiming he was NOT tortured, when he was, to promise not to sue, and to not talk to the news media.

Meanwhile, a United Nations special rapporteur on international law is launching a probe into illegal U.S. rendition/black site programs that drew in other countries, including many from the old Soviet Union, and where torture likely took place.

In the Mideast, Hamas' diplomatic isolation appears to be melting.

... while Iraq continues to be a very violent place, where bombings killed scores yesterday/today, even as the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq (a group the Bush administration was kind enough to put there) is arrested.

What's going on at Apple? And who in their right mind would come up with a baby shaking game, anyway?

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posted by JReid @ 9:29 AM  
Is it time to pardon Lynndie England?
Lynndie England did time for Abu Ghraib while the architects walked

Given that we now know that the abuses at Abu Ghraib did indeed flow from Gitmo, and ultimately, from the Pentagon and White House (which many of us long suspected, and Gen. Janis Karpinski tried to tell us years ago, as she was being scapegoated for the Abu Ghraib outrages) should not the president now pardon the low level military personnel who took the fall for Bush administration torture policies? England, a nasty sort of gal who blamed the media for her plight, nonetheless got 3 years in prison for her part in the scandal; Army Spc. Charles Graner, England's superior at Abu Ghraib, is serving 10 years. Senior officers got relative slaps on the wrist, and Karpinski, who ran the facility, but not the interrogations, got demoted, all while the Bush administration continued to insist that it was these "bad apples" who did the dirty deeds, not them.

Now that we know better, is it time for pardons to be issued by the new president, and prosecution of the real criminals to commence? Watch Karpinski's impassioned appearance on "Countdown" last night:

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posted by JReid @ 9:14 AM  
The push to torture us into war
The debate over the Bush administration's torture policies just got ratcheted up about 1,000 notches yesterday, when reporters, digging through the incredibly important Levin Report, discovered the following bombshell: the torture program may not have been about preventing another terror attack at all. It may, in the end, have been about trying to elicit false confessions from high value detainees that would produce "evidence" of a (non-existent) link between al-Qaida and Iraq. From McClatchy:

A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue said that [Dick] Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that the interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration.

"There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used," the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity.

"The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there."

It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly — Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times in March 2003 — according to a newly released Justice Department document.

"There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people to push harder," he continued.

"Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people were told repeatedly, by CIA . . . and by others, that there wasn't any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam, and that no such ties were likely because the two were fundamentally enemies, not allies."

Senior administration officials, however, "blew that off and kept insisting that we'd overlooked something, that the interrogators weren't pushing hard enough, that there had to be something more we could do to get that information," he said.

The Red Chinese-style push (the Chinese used waterboarding to elicit false confessions from American G.I.'s during the Korean war, and then we adapted their techniques, using the military program that trained our soldiers to resist the communist interrogators) to get confessions out of Zubaida and Khalid Sheikh Muhammad was approved not just by Cheney and Rumsfeld, but also by Condoleezza Rice, then Bush's National Security Advisor. From NBC News:

Rice gave a key early green light when, as President George W. Bush's national security adviser, she met on July 17, 2002, with the CIA's then-director, George J. Tenet, and "advised that the CIA could proceed with its proposed interrogation of Abu Zubaida," subject to approval by the Justice Department, according to the timeline.

Still don't believe that we were using torture the same way the Maoists did? Salon reports:

Top Rumsfeld aides were already laying the groundwork for torture barely two months after the 9/11 attacks, and just weeks into the war in Afghanistan. The Pentagon's general counsel's office contacted the military agency that runs the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape programs -- schools where U.S. personnel and contractors are taught how to resist abuses that prisoners of war have been through before -- in December 2001 to find out how the SERE training could help interrogators break al-Qaida suspects. Military officials at the time told top Pentagon aides that the SERE techniques produced "less reliable" information.

By the spring of 2002, Cabinet-level Bush aides -- including Rumsfeld, then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, then-CIA Director George Tenet and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft -- began evaluating the CIA's plans to set up an interrogation program at Guantánamo using tactics developed by the SERE schools. The Justice Department's memos giving legal cover for the techniques were written that summer. In October 2002, military commanders at Guantánamo asked the Pentagon to okay the techniques. Uniformed military lawyers had decided they needed approval from Rumsfeld, because otherwise what was being proposed would be illegal. "It would be advisable to have permission or immunity in advance" before carrying out the interrogations, wrote a staff lawyer at the Guantánamo base, Lt. Col. Diane Beaver. Her analysis found the tactics would constitute a "per se violation" of military law, the report says.

Meanwhile, the SERE trainers who taught the CIA how to torture people (when they themselves had no experience in interrogation -- only in training soldiers to resist interrogation) wound up as contractors in Iraq, making money on the Iraq war that they were essentially hired to foment:

On April 16, 2003, Rumsfeld authorized 24 techniques at Guantánamo including sleep deprivation, messing with detainees' diets and pretending the interrogators were from a different country -- one where torture was even more acceptable -- in order to scare them into cooperating. And he told commanders to ask him for permission to use additional techniques.

From there, it was only a matter of time before the tactics spread. "The techniques -- and the fact that the Secretary had authorized them -- became known to interlocutors in Afghanistan," the Senate report says. Rumsfeld's memos authorizing dogs in Guantánamo quickly arrived at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. SERE school trainers, who had developed the interrogation techniques at Gitmo, started showing up in Afghanistan and Iraq. The techniques became standard operating procedure.

Meanwhile, we now have definitive proof that the grunts from West Virginia weren't "bad apples" who cooked up the dog leash and naked stacking policies on their own:

The report, the executive summary of which was released in November, found that Rumsfeld, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and other former senior Bush administration officials were responsible for the abusive interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo and in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld approved extreme interrogation techniques for Guantanamo in December 2002. He withdrew his authorization the following month amid protests by senior military lawyers that some techniques could amount to torture, violating U.S. and international laws.

Military interrogators, however, continued employing some techniques in Afghanistan and later in Iraq.

You begin to see why President Obama reversed course, surely knowing that now, he cannot just "look forward."

BTW, there's also a question of whether the SERE training was given to foreign nationals. A Spokane, Washington blogger who ordinarily focuses on crime posted this, back in 2007:

Fairchild AFB is home to a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) Program. SERE Programs train soldiers, seaman, airmen, CIA operatives, and others–including foreign nationals–in resistance techniques. However, they also provide military and other government torturers, trainers, foreign nationals, contractors (aka US government mercenaries employed by corporations such as Blackwater, CACI International, Titan Corp, and SAIC) and psychologists, among others, the opportunity to develop, refine, practice and polish their torture techniques.

In their must-read June 29, 2007 Spokesman-Review article, reporters Karen Dorn Steele and Bill Morlin reveal that “the SERE program is used by the Army at Fort Bragg, where Green Berets train, and at the U.S. Air Force Survival School near Spokane, where thousands of other trainees are instructed annually.” Using first-hand reporting and research as well as reporting from sources such as the New Yorker and Salon.com, Dorn Steele and Morlin reveal the role of Spokane area psychologists and businesses in the U.S. government’s reverse-engineering of torture resistance training.

These techniques of torture–witnessed at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and other U.S. facilities around the world–have been employed by the U.S. government, military, intelligence agencies, contractors and foreign agents with the express purpose of breaking human beings as part of the global U.S. “war on terror”. That so-called “war on terror” has produced worldwide denunciations of U.S. preemptive attacks, massacres of civilians, torture, disappearances, use of “depleted” uranium, and other actions which are illegal under international standards and laws.

Fairchild’s SERE Program — The premiere Air Force SERE program

In fact, not only is Fairchild home to a SERE program, it is home to an even more exclusive and secret program, SERE/JPRA (Joint Personnel Recovery Agency). This unclassified Department of Defense (DOD) memo shows that the SERE/JPRA site at the PRA White Bluff Site at 11604 W. NEWKIRK ROAD, SPOKANE, WA 99224 was the host in May 2007 of the DOD SERE Conference and the DOD SERE Psychology Conference.

As the memo shows, foreign government representatives from the U.S. government’s Iraq “coalition” partners participated in the two conferences as did three representatives from each of the FBI, DEA, and CIA. In point of fact, the facility has all the markings of a CIA facility such as those at Warrenton, VA and other locations in the U.S. (compare the similarity between the facility maps by clicking the respective links above).

On September 16, 2002, a prior SERE Psychologist Conference was hosted by the Army Special Operations Command and the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency at Fort Bragg for JTF-170 (the military component responsible for interrogations at Guantanamo) interrogation personnel. The Army’s Behavioral Science Consultation Team from Guantanamo Bay also attended the conference. Joint Personnel Recovery Agency personnel briefed JTF-170 representatives on the exploitation and methods used in resistance (to interrogation) training at SERE schools. The purpose was the reverse engineering of interrogation resistance to design more “effective” torture techniques. (See “Shrinks and the SERE Techniques at Guantanamo“)

The torture program was not about terrorism. It was about invading Iraq. This relentless neocon and Cheney/Halliburton obsession with toppling (and bumping off) former CIA asset Saddam Hussein, and turning his country into a cash cow.

Read the Levin report for yourself:

Senate report, part 1

Senate report, part 2

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posted by JReid @ 7:51 AM  
Sunday, April 19, 2009
President Obama is still wrong on torture
The reiterations of the Obama policy on the Sunday shows this morning do not convince. On this one, the administration is dead wrong. Well, let me back up a bit. I suppose I can understand the practical reasons for granting immunity to those in the CIA who carried out torture policies "under the color of law" due to the advice issued by the then- Justice Department. The Obama administration doesn't want to incite a wholesale rebellion at Langley, or make the CIA the scapegoat for what were clearly Bush administration -- not intelligence community -- policies. However, three points from the Sundays that slap down the argument that immunity should be anything more than immunity to testify against those higher officials who ARE being prosecuted:

1. As Katty Kay pointed out on the "CMS," the Nuremberg trials, conducted by American prosecutors, didn't distinguish between those who committed war crimes out of pure depravity, and those who did it under color of law. They said they were following the laws of Germany (or Japan); we prosecuted them anyway.

2. The U.S. doesn't have the right to supercede international law, or the treaties we have signed regarding human rights and torture. Just ask the international rapporteur on torture:

... in an interview with the Austrian newspaper Der Standard, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Manfred Nowak, explained that Obama’s grant of immunity is likely a violation of international law. As a party to the UN Convention Against Torture, the U.S. is obligated to investigate and prosecute U.S. citizens that are believed to have engaged in torture:
STANDARD: CIA torturers are according to U.S. President Obama not to be prosecuted. Is that decision supportable?

NOWAK: Absolutely not. The United States has, like all other Contracting Parties to the UN Convention Against Torture, committed itself to investigate instances of torture and to prosecute all cases in which credible evidence of torture is found.
Indeed, Article 2 of the convention on torture explains that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever” can be used to legally justify torture. Further, the convention states that an “order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.” [ThinkProgress]
3. Indeed, there is no legal argument that the administration can point to that would get them out of their obligation to pursue these torture allegations. Dick Cheney has admitted to authorizing torture, and many of the details of what was done during the Bush administration are already publicly known, as Rahm Emanuel pointed out on "This Week." The memos have people's names and signatures on them, including the name of Jay Bybee, who now occupies the dual role of probable war criminal and sitting federal judge (though hopefully, he's soon to be an impeached one, as the NYT called for in an editorial yesterday.) At a minimum, the lawyers who concocted the torture memos should be disbarred, and in the case of Bybee, "disbenched." And the people who put the policies in place, at the Pentagon, Justice Department and yes, the Bush White House, should, as Andrew Sullivan eloquently pointed out, be held to account.

As the Times points out in its editorial, the intent behind thememos makes what should be done clear enough:
These memos are not an honest attempt to set the legal limits on interrogations, which was the authors’ statutory obligation. They were written to provide legal immunity for acts that are clearly illegal, immoral and a violation of this country’s most basic values.
And as the Times further points out:
It sounds like the plot of a mob film, except the lawyers asking how much their clients can get away with are from the C.I.A. and the lawyers coaching them on how to commit the abuses are from the Justice Department. And it all played out with the blessing of the defense secretary, the attorney general, the intelligence director and, most likely, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Except that mobsters don't generally brag on television about the horse's heads they've laid to rest on victims' pillows.

The Bush administration went to great lengths to impose Soviet-style eavesdropping, gulags and torture on the American experiment. Shouldn't America repay them by imposing a little constitutional law on them?

What you can do:

To get more info and to get involved in the push to impeach Jay Bybee, click here.

For more on the push to have John Yoo removed from his professorship over his role in the torture memos, click here.

To sign the ACLU petition to call on the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate torture during the Bush administration, click here.

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posted by JReid @ 2:45 PM  
Friday, April 17, 2009
The torture turf war
Stipulating that the various, clackety strains of "conservatives," including the folks over at the Wall Street Journal op-ed desk (who published a piece by Bush's CIA director and second round A.G., decrying the Obama administration's release of the torture memos, and of course, the chickenhawk neocons) are very much in for torture. Non-conservatives, including the Washington Post editorial board, are against it, calling it what it is: a disgrace. But on the question of whether torture is even worth the shame, I came across this post, from the NYT's The Lede blog, back in January:

In the days after Saddam Hussein’s capture, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was tossing wisecracks on subjects serious and trivial. The cab that the former Iraqi leader hid inside? “He didn’t have the meter running.” Who’s going to be responsible for interrogation? “It was a three-minute decision, and the first two were for coffee.”

The job went to the Central Intelligence Agency, and Mr. Hussein was added to the network of secret detention facilities that stretched from Afghanistan to Guantánamo Bay.

But Mr. Hussein’s fate would be much different than Abu Zubaydeh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, two members of Al Qaeda who endured harsh interrogation techniques while in C.I.A. custody.

Mr. Rumsfeld and other senior officials quickly pledged that he would be treated as a prisoner of war, although it took a month to make it official. And the three-minute decision was reassessed within weeks as the Federal Bureau of Investigation took the interrogation reins for the reason described in a January 2004 article:

The F.B.I. involvement reflects C.I.A. reluctance to allow covert officers to take part in interrogations that could force them to appear as court witnesses. In contrast, F.B.I. agents are trained to interview suspects in preparation for prosecutions.

In 2008, the two themes expressed in those sentences — C.I.A. aversion to public spectacle and F.B.I. experience on interrogation matters — are still being reinforced as a long-running rivalry continues to play out.
What was the rivalry about? FBI agents were apparently shocked, and not happy, to discover that CIA agents were using torure, approved we now know, by the Justice Department and presumably the president and vice president/president's boss, on terrorism suspect Abu Zubayda, the low level jihadist we got all that false information from by illegal waterboarding. The then-FBI director, Robert Meuller, wound up pulling his agents, who were more skilled at interrogation, having been the ones to query Saddam Hussein himself, for example, out of the theater entirely, rather than allow them to continue to witness war crimes.
From The Washington Post:

A rift nonetheless swiftly developed between FBI agents, who were largely pleased with the progress of the questioning, and CIA officers, who felt Abu Zubaida was holding out on them and providing disinformation. Tensions came to a head after FBI agents witnessed the use of some harsh tactics on Abu Zubaida, including keeping him naked in his cell, subjecting him to extreme cold and bombarding him with loud rock music.

“They said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ ” said [Retired FBI agent Daniel Coleman], recalling accounts from FBI employees who were there. ” ‘This guy’s a Muslim. That’s not going to win his confidence. Are you trying to get information out of him or just belittle him?’ “

F.B.I. Director Robert S. Mueller III pulled his personnel over the disagreement, and former officials in the agency continue to make the case that Mr. Zubaydeh gave up his most important information before, not after, the harsh techniques commenced.

As David Johnston of The New York Times reported earlier this month, both agencies say the rivalry is over. Still, some officials said privately that the F.B.I. was looking for a payback moment in its investigation into the C.I.A. tape destruction.
Clearly, we've been operating with some sadists in our midst, at the CIA, in the Justice Department, in the neocon think tanks, and in the Bush White House. So why not prosecute them? Probably because the current president has decided that, as a political matter, it can't be done without a circus-like spectacle (and it might not be done in Spain, either...)

But it seems to me that there are people who should be prosecuted, starting with the men who wrote, authorized and approved the memos.

Related: Experts debate whether prosecutions should commence. Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights sums it up succintly:
Torture is torture and all the legal window dressing in the world cannot hide its essence: the infliction of pain and suffering on human beings. If legal advice can protect torturers, no official anywhere can ever be prosecuted. Legal advice then becomes a get out-of-jail free card and will be employed by every petty dictatorship to protect its abusers.
Amen.

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posted by JReid @ 8:30 AM  
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
For the prosecution: the torture interviews
From the New York Review of books comes a chilling account of U.S. torture of terror suspects, gleaned from interviews with the arbiter of whether or not war crimes have taken place in a given conflict: the International Committee of the Red Cross. A clip from their interviews with "high value detainee" Abu Zubaydah:
Two black wooden boxes were brought into the room outside my cell. One was tall, slightly higher than me and narrow. Measuring perhaps in area [3 1/2 by 2 1/2 feet by 6 1/2 feet high]. The other was shorter, perhaps only [3 1/2 feet] in height. I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck, they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room. I was also repeatedly slapped in the face....
I was then put into the tall black box for what I think was about one and a half to two hours. The box was totally black on the inside as well as the outside.... They put a cloth or cover over the outside of the box to cut out the light and restrict my air supply. It was difficult to breathe. When I was let out of the box I saw that one of the walls of the room had been covered with plywood sheeting. From now on it was against this wall that I was then smashed with the towel around my neck. I think that the plywood was put there to provide some absorption of the impact of my body. The interrogators realized that smashing me against the hard wall would probably quickly result in physical injury.
Read the whole thing here. The major scoop of this leaked report was done not by a journalist, but by a journalism professor at Berkley:
Mark Danner has scooped the NY Times, the Washington Post and other papers by publishing in the current New York Review of Books an essay quoting long excerpts of a leaked International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) report on "high-value" prisoners held in CIA black site prisons. The interviews took prior to their release in late 2006, and the report itself is dated February 2007, and likely was sent originally to then CIA Acting General Counsel, John Rizzo.

The prisoners interviewed by ICRC personnel included Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Walid Bin Attash, and eleven others, all of whom, the ICRC concluded, were submitted to torture.

As the poster at Axis of Logic points out, this is no bedtime reading.

Related: a British author says Zubaydah might not be the terror mastermind the Bush administration made him out to be. Meanwhile, it turns out that Zubaydah's rendition (initially to Thailand) was timed tantalizingly close to the Justice Department torture memos written by Jay Bybee and John Yoo.

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posted by JReid @ 8:54 AM  
Monday, March 02, 2009
Bush-era torture tapes, memos released

It's official. After September 11, 2001, George W. Bush was crowned Julius Caesar by his Justice Department. Proof? The current J.D. released two memos issued by the Bush Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and seven previously undisclosed opinions, all of which had been sought by civil libertarians including the ACLU. The subject? What John Yoo and company believed that the president could do, not on some foreign "battlefield" of the "war on terror," but here in America. From NBC:
WASHINGTON - The Justice Department on Monday released a long-secret legal document from 2001 in which the Bush administration claimed the military could search and seize terror suspects in the United States without warrants.

The legal memo was written about a month after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. It says constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure would not apply to terror suspects in the U.S., as long as the president or another high official authorized the action.

The memos can be found and read online here. The titles alone are frightening:

A sample of the truly frightening contents, from a June 27, 2002 memo signed by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Yoo:

Section 4001 of Title 18 states:

(a) No citizen shall be improsoned or otherwise detained by the United States except pursuant to an Act of Congres.

However, according to the Bush Office of Legal Counsel,

"...the President's authority to detain enemy combatants, including U.S. citizens, is based on his constitutional authority as Commander in Chief. We conclude that Section 4001(a) does not, and constitutionally could not, interfere with that authority."

Get it? And per AfterDowningStreet:

Another memo showed that, within two weeks of Sept. 11, the administration was contemplating ways to use wiretaps without getting warrants.

The author of the search and seizure memo, John Yoo, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

In that memo, Yoo wrote that the president could treat terrorist suspects in the United States like an invading foreign army. For instance, he said, the military would not have to get a warrant to storm a building to prevent terrorists from detonating a bomb.

Yoo also suggested that the government could put new restrictions on the press and speech, without spelling out what those might be.

"First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully," Yoo wrote, adding later: "The current campaign against terrorism may require even broader exercises of federal power domestically."

On their way out the door, Alberto Gonzales' follow-ons in the Justice Department issued memos of their own, trying to disavow the earlier memos (two of the disavowals are included in today's release) saying they should not be relied on, and that they were a "product of an extraordinary -- indeed, we hope, a unique -- period in the history of the Nation: the immediate aftermath of the attacks of 9/11."

But some of the memos were written later -- much later. The memo on detaining U.S. citizens without trial or warrants was written in June of 2002. Interestingly enough, the later memos came during a time when the Bush administration was contemplating going to war against Iraq. And Michael Issikoff just reminded us on "the Rachel Maddow show" that Steve Bradbury, the OLC chief who spearheaded the disavowal memos, was himself under investigation for the issuance of the clearly un-American, unconstitutional legal opinions.

In other torture news, the CIA finally announced the actual number of interrogation tapes (read torture tapes) were destroyed by the agency to prevent investigations into torture at Gitmo. The answer? 92. Natch.

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posted by JReid @ 9:01 PM  
Monday, February 23, 2009
Binyam goes home
The return of a Binyam Mohamed, a four-year Gitmo detainee, to Great Britain raises new questions about the Bush-era "war on terror," and the complicity of the U.K. in what are by all accounts illegal detentions in an American gulag. From the Guardian:

Senior MPs said they intended to pursue ministers and officials over what they knew of his ill-treatment and why Britain helped the CIA interrogate him.

In a statement released shortly after he arrived in a US Gulfstream jet at RAF Northolt in west London, Mohamed said: "For myself, the very worst moment came when I realised in Morocco that the people who were torturing me were receiving questions and materials from British intelligence."

Once inside the terminal building he met his sister for the fist time in more than seven years and in the most emotionally charged moment of the day they both cried and hugged.

Mohamed, a British resident, was released after several hours of questioning by police and immigration officials and was last night being looked after by his legal team.

Clive Stafford Smith, his lawyer, spoke of a "fantastic day" after the long campaign to free his client, who spent weeks on hunger strike being force-fed at Guantánamo and looked "incredibly skinny and very emaciated". Binyam was "extraordinarily grateful to be back in Britain", said Stafford Smith, who said he had "zero doubt" Britain was complicit in his client's ill-treatment.

"Britain knew he was being abused and left him," he said, referring to his secret abduction to Morocco where Mohamed says he was tortured. The lawyer also said his client was subjected to "very serious abuse" in Guantánamo.

Stafford Smith said that while his family was not vindictive they wanted the truth to be known. Mohamed hoped to be allowed to remain in the UK. "What we in Britain need to do is to make up for some of the things in the past and if the British government was, as I contend, deeply involved in the torture that Binyam had to go through, the least we can do is offer him his homeland," Stafford Smith said.

Meanwhile:

The Guardian Editorial team tackles the potential damage to U.S.-U.K. relations.

The Beeb reports on U.S. Defense Department plans to "ease conditions" at Gitmo.

And the Independent delves deeper into Binyam's claims that he was the victim of "Medieval torture" at Guantanamo.

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posted by JReid @ 11:26 PM  
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
The Brandan Neely reader
The former Gitmo guard tells all about his time at the gulag, and clears his conscience on the Rachel Maddow show. Read his testimony here.

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posted by JReid @ 11:09 PM  
Dubya to Dick: bug off!
More evidence that Dubya was dumb, but not that dumb...
In the waning days of the Bush administration, Vice President Dick Cheney launched a last-ditch campaign to persuade his boss to pardon Lewis (Scooter) Libby - and was furious when President George W. Bush wouldn't budge.

Sources close to Cheney told the Daily News the former vice president repeatedly pressed Bush to pardon Libby, arguing his ex-chief of staff and longtime alter ego deserved a full exoneration - even though Bush had already kept Libby out of jail by commuting his 30-month prison sentence.

"He tried to make it happen right up until the very end," one Cheney associate said.

In multiple conversations, both in person and over the telephone, Cheney tried to get Bush to change his mind. Libby was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the federal probe of who leaked covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity to the press.

Several sources confirmed Cheney refused to take no for an answer. "He went to the mat and came back and back and back at Bush," a Cheney defender said. "He was still trying the day before Obama was sworn in."

After repeatedly telling Cheney his mind was made up, Bush became so exasperated with Cheney's persistence he told aides he didn't want to discuss the matter any further.
And the NYDN's Tom DeFrank reports that the Bush-Cheney relationship became more "businesslike" than warm over time, after the WMD not turning up and the rosy Iraq scenarios not panning out and such. I suppose even George W. Bush could tell when his presidency was ruined, and who contributed most to ruining it.

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posted by JReid @ 10:17 PM  
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Poll: Most Americans say, 'investigate the bastard'
Dubya flipped off the Constitution, too...

A new poll shows that Americans want at least for there to be an investigation of torture under the Bush regime.
Even as Americans struggle with two wars and an economy in tatters, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds majorities in favor of investigating some of the thorniest unfinished business from the Bush administration: Whether its tactics in the "war on terror" broke the law.

Close to two-thirds of those surveyed said there should be investigations into allegations that the Bush team used torture to interrogate terrorism suspects and its program of wiretapping U.S. citizens without getting warrants. Almost four in 10 favor criminal investigations and about a quarter want investigations without criminal charges. One-third said they want nothing to be done.

The breakdown is as follows:

Regarding possible use of torture in terror interrogations:

Criminal investigation: 38%

Independent panel: 24%

Neither: 34%

Not sure: 2%

Meanwhile, when it comes to politicizing the Justice Department, even more of those polled want a probe:

Re possible attempts to use the Justice Department for political purposes:

Criminal investigation: 41%

Independent panel: 30%

Neither: 25%

And finally, regarding the "possible use of wiretaps without a warrant":

Criminal investigation: 438%

Independent panel: 25%

Neither: 34%

Read more of the Gallup poll here. Meanwhile, when it comes to torture prosecutions, civil libertarians like Jonathan Turley are not backing down:



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posted by JReid @ 1:38 PM  
Friday, November 07, 2008
The price of voting red
I wonder if the voters of Utah, who favored McCain-Palin nearly two-to-one over Obama-Biden, and who have voted Republican since time immemorial, cherish their parks and lands as much as they cherish the Grand Old Party...
Gale Norton has to be happy. In 2003, Ms. Norton, then President Bush’s secretary of the interior (and now a senior oil executive at Royal Dutch Shell), struck a deal with the governor of Utah that would open about 3 million pristine acres of federal land to oil and gas drilling.

Environmental groups and the courts managed to keep the drillers at bay. No longer. In the last few days, the Bureau of Land Management has completed six long-range management plans for Utah that will expose these acres (and as many as 6 million more) to some form of commercial exploitation.

On Tuesday, the bureau announced that it would soon begin selling oil and gas leases — essentially the right to drill — in some of the most beautiful and fragile areas.

Conservationists are aghast, and rightly so. Apparently without consulting the National Parks Service, one of its sister agencies at the Interior Department, the bureau plans to auction more than two dozen leases adjacent to Arches National Park and very close to Canyonlands National Park, risking the parks’ air and water.

Also on the auction block, among other rare and spectacular vistas, is Desolation Canyon, so named by the explorer John Wesley Powell in 1869 while he traveled down the Green River to the Grand Canyon.

This sort of pillage would be hard to justify even if Utah’s reserves were large enough to make a difference, which they are not. The Energy Information Administration says that Utah has 2.5 percent of the country’s known natural gas reserves and less than 1 percent of its known oil reserves. And even if those reserves were worth going after, it would still be essential to protect areas of special cultural, scenic and recreational value.

The Interior Department’s writ is to manage the public lands for “multiple uses,” a difficult and ambiguous task. The Clinton administration issued many leases but tried hard to balance the competing claims of commerce and nature; the Bush administration heard only the voice of Vice President Dick Cheney and his one-sided mantra of “drill now, drill everywhere.” ...

What would John McCain's supposed hero, Teddy Roosevelt, think?

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posted by JReid @ 6:49 PM  
Friday, November 02, 2007
Mukasey says
By now I'm sure you've figured out the simple reason Michael Mukasey cannot state the obvious fact that waterboarding -- something expressly outlawed under both U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions (we prosecuted foreign troops for doing just that during World War II and the U.S. was crucial to the process that declared waterboarding a crime against humanity) -- is torture.

Mukasey cannot state the obvious because should he do so and then become attorney general, he might have to prosecute members of the Bush administration for ordering the waterboarding torture of terrorism detainees, up to and possibly including the President of the United States. After all, Mukasey has stated during Senate hearings that the torture memo authored by former A.G. Alberto Gonzales authorizng the president to break U.S. law in that regard, was in error, meaning that Bush has no authority to go around the law and order "special detainees" to be treated with that particular kind of specialness.

So let Bushie whinge. Let him moan that the quite simple question put to Mr. Mukasey by his would-be confirmers in the Senate are unfair. Let him threaten to leave the spot vacant. He cannot thread this needle.

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posted by JReid @ 8:00 AM  
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
In case you missed it
HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson is under investigation by the FBI for allegedly steering HUD contractors to a golfing buddy.

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posted by JReid @ 9:48 PM  
Friday, April 27, 2007
Distractopia
No surprise, Barack Obama wins the South Carolina stream of consciousness poll, which is heavily weighted toward Black Carolnians. But Hilary still wins the day, having come off the most prepared and presidential in last night's debate. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Meanwhile, surprise! The day after the debates, the Bush administration announces a major terror arrest! ... and there are big, nasty terror plots afoot in Saudi Arabia!!! See the media pant like a trained puppy over this one, but sorry guys, I've seen this movie before.

And Senator Dick Durbin says he knew we were being lied into the Iraq war, but couldn't say anything about it because he was sworn to secrecy as a member of the intelligence committee...

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posted by JReid @ 4:29 PM  
ReidBlog: The Obama Interview
Listen now:


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"I am for enhanced interrogation. I don't believe waterboarding is torture... I'll do it. I'll do it for charity." -- Sean Hannity
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