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This article, by Greg Grant, was posted to Military.com, October 26, 2009
It was all things Afghanistan and Pakistan at the House Armed Services Committee with lawmakers weighing the viability of a counterterrorism approach versus population centric counterinsurgency and Afghan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s new strategy. An interesting aspect of this debate is the level of knowledge shown by some members of Congress on everything from the proper troop to civilian ratio called for in classic counterinsurgency doctrine to the intricacies of the Tajik versus Pashtun balance in Afghanistan.
The Obama administration has taken some serious heat in recent days for what former Vice President Dick Cheney called "dithering" over the decision to escalate in Afghanistan or not. The reliably hawkish Tom Donnelly of AEI, part of the escalate often and everywhere crowd, even provided an exhaustive timeline of the Obama administration’s "long road to indecision" that can be found here.
Two prominent retired generals Barry McCaffrey and David Barno, testifying before the HASC Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee on Thursday, both said it was important the administration take some time on this one. McCaffrey pointed to what he called one of the most "shameful" episodes in recent history when former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld claimed he was never asked for his viewpoint on invading Iraq before the war. It is important that the senior Obama administration officials take their time and think through the various options because once they decide, "they will own the decision."
While urging full deliberation, both generals were pretty clear how they want that decision to ultimately turn out. For his part, McCaffrey favors escalation and called the over-the-horizon counterterrorism approach a "silly option." He suggests sending 100,000 more troops, not just the 40,000 reportedly wanted by McChrystal. Promises have been made, he said, and not just at the national level when the Bush administration said the U.S. would lead an effort to rebuild Afghanistan. Young American troops on the ground in Afghanistan, waging a war for the will of the Afghan people, make promises every day that the U.S. will be there for them and protect them if they take sides against the Taliban.
McCaffrey said a tribal and ethnic war is underway for control of both Afghanistan and Pakistan and the security implications of Islamic extremists seizing power in either location are too serious not to escalate the U.S. military commitment to the region. Because of the inability of non-governmental and aid organizations to function in Afghanistan due to the security concerns, he recommended sending at least two engineering brigades and a slew of Army Corps of Engineer folks to work on large development projects.
If the military effort stumbles in Afghanistan and the U.S. were to seriously draw down there, it would likely spell the end of NATO as a military alliance, said Barno. To declare success and pull out now, would simply mean the U.S. military would be forced to re-invade the country at some future date when Islamic radicals take power in Kabul and re-establish a terrorist sanctuary there. Barno also favors an escalation of the troop commitment in Afghanistan along the lines of McChrystal’s rumored 40,000 troop request.
Many Afghans have been forced to choose a side in this war, and they have sided with the U.S. and NATO against the Taliban, said Beth Ellen Cole, of the United States Institute of Peace. A Taliban takeover could condemn many of them to a very bleak future, she said, "we have a lot of exposed people on the ground right now." She pointed to efforts at reconstruction and peacekeeping in both Rwanda and Sierra Leone as examples that the international community can in fact improve the lot of war torn countries.
This article, by William Fisher, was posted to ipsnews.net, October 26, 2009
NEW YORK, Oct 26 (IPS) - The fifteenth anniversary of the U.S. ratification of the United Nations Convention Against Torture passed last week with little fanfare and virtually no press attention from the mainstream media here.
But according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), "U.S. policy continues to fall short of ensuring full compliance with the treaty."
For example, the organisation said that an appendix to the Army Field Manual (AFM) can still facilitate cruel treatment of prisoners and detainees at home and abroad.
The Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (CAT) is the most comprehensive international human rights treaty dealing exclusively with the issues of torture and abuse. It came into effect in 1987, and has been ratified by 146 countries.
The treaty was initially signed by the Ronald Reagan administration in 1988 and was ratified by the Senate on Oct. 21, 1994, but with reservations, understandings and declarations (RUDs) that failed to make the treaty fully applicable.
The administration of former President George W. Bush exploited these RUDs to justify abusive interrogation policies, including the use of waterboarding, stress positions, extreme isolation and sleep deprivation.
In 2006, the Committee Against Torture, which reviews country compliance with CAT, criticised the U.S. for failure to uphold the treaty and called for full compliance.
After taking office, President Barack Obama issued an executive order prohibiting torture. But under an appendix to the 2006 revised U.S. Army Field Manual – the most recent edition – practices considered incompatible with CAT and international law are still allowed. These include force-feeding, psychological torture, sleep and sensory deprivation.
And under Appendix M to the AFM, detainees can be "separated" or held in isolation from other detainees for 30 days, or longer with authorisation, and allowed only four hours of continuous sleep per night over 30 days, which can be prolonged upon approval.
Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU Human Rights Programme, told IPS, "The president's first nine months in office have signaled a policy shift on human rights and commitment to the rule of law. Certainly his speech to the U.N. and his Nobel Peace Prize have raised the bar of expectation as to his commitment to advancing human rights at home and abroad."
But, he added, "There is still much more to do, including honouring and expanding U.S. human rights commitments and fully incorporating them into domestic policy. U.S. credibility abroad and commitment to human rights at home will be judged by deeds, not by words."
"What is needed now is taking concrete actions to translate these commitments to a robust human rights policy. A new presidential executive order to reconstitute the Inter-Agency Working on Human Rights would be an important step forward," Dakwar said.
"To fulfill its human rights requirements, the administration must also fully investigate crimes of torture committed in violation of U.S. and international law and withdraw the Army Field Manual's Appendix M," he added.
Since his inauguration, President Obama has helped restore U.S. standing on human rights by issuing executive orders to close the Guantánamo detention centre, prohibiting CIA prisons and enforcing the ban on torture, joining the U.N. Human Rights Council, signing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and prioritising the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
While welcoming these steps, the ACLU is calling for additional concrete measures to reassert U.S. leadership on human rights, including the full investigation of torture crimes, abandoning the Guantánamo military commissions and renouncing the practice of holding detainees indefinitely without charge or trial.
The ACLU's Dakwar told IPS that he "expected the administration to announce concrete plans to implement and enforce ratified human rights treaties and the resurrection of the Interagency Working Group on Human Rights - disbanded during the Bush administration - to coordinate and promote human rights within domestic policy."
He said, "There is hope and expectation within the human rights community that the president will make the announcement on resurrection of the Inter-Agency Working Group on Human Rights as soon as Dec. 10 – international human rights day and the day he will be receiving the Nobel Peace Prize."
He noted that shortly after the U.S. elections, the ACLU and more than 50 U.S.-based human rights, civil rights, civil liberties and social justice organisations launched the Campaign for a New Domestic Human Rights Agenda, which identified concrete goals for pushing the administration and Congress to strengthen the U.S.'s commitment to human rights at home.
The campaign have four primary objectives. First is re-creation of the Interagency Working Group on Human Rights, first initiated in 1998 by President Clinton through an executive order, but effectively disbanded by the Bush administration in 2001. The call is for a new executive order to be issued with an improved and strengthened mandate.
Second is transformation of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission into a U.S. Civil and Human Rights Commission. The current commission was created in the 1950s with the mandate of monitoring and enforcing compliance with U.S. civil rights law.
In recent years, it has grown dysfunctional and been largely discredited. Currently there is a push to re-form the commission. The Leadership Conference for Civil Rights has taken the lead on the reform effort, and, along with the Campaign, has called for a new commission with a mandate to monitor the U.S.'s compliance with its human rights (as well as civil rights) commitments.
Third is implementation of recommendations by the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and to create a plan of action to enforce them at the domestic level.
Lastly, the Campaign is calling for implementation and coordination of human rights on the state and local level, particularly in partnership with state and local human rights and civil rights commissions.
This article, by Richard Norton-Taylor, was published in The Guardian, October 16, 2009
David Miliband, the foreign secretary, acted in a way that was harmful to the rule of law by suppressing evidence about what the government knew of the illegal treatment of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident who was held in a secret prison in Pakistan, the high court has ruled.
In a devastating judgment, two senior judges roundly dismissed the foreign secretary's claims that disclosing the evidence would harm national security and threaten the UK's vital intelligence-sharing arrangements with the US.
In what they described as an "unprecedented" and "exceptional" case, to which the Guardian is a party, they ordered the release of a seven-paragraph summary of what the CIA told British officials – and maybe ministers – about Ethiopian-born Mohamed before he was secretly interrogated by an MI5 officer in 2002.
"The suppression of reports of wrongdoing by officials in circumstances which cannot in any way affect national security is inimical to the rule of law," Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones ruled. "Championing the rule of law, not subordinating it, is the cornerstone of democracy."
The summary is a CIA account given to British intelligence "whilst [Mohamed] was held in Pakistan ... prior to his interview by an officer of the Security Service", the judges said. The officer, known only as Witness B, is being investigated by the Metropolitan police for "possible criminal wrongdoing".
The seven-page document will not be released until the result of an appeal is known. However, the judges made clear their anger at the position adopted by Miliband, MI5, and MI6 in their hard-hitting judgment.
An explanation was needed, they said, about "what the United Kingdom government actually knew about what was alleged to be cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or torture, in particular what Witness B knew before he interviewed [Mohamed] ... in Pakistan". The judges added that it was important to explain what MI5 "and others knew when they provided further information to the United States to be used in the interrogation".
There was a "compelling public interest" to disclose what Miliband wanted to suppress, they said; there was nothing in the seven-paragraph summary that had anything remotely to do with "secret intelligence".
"In our view, as a court in the United Kingdom, a vital public interest requires, for reasons of democratic accountability and the rule of law in the United Kingdom, that a summary of the most important evidence relating to the involvement of the British security services in wrongdoing be placed in the public domain in the United Kingdom."
The judges sharply criticised the way Miliband and his lawyers tried to persuade the Obama administration to back the suppression of the CIA material. Lawyers acting for Mohamed, the Guardian and other media organisations pointed out that Obama had himself set up an inquiry into CIA practices and published details of their interrogation techniques.
In the end, Miliband had to rely for help on a CIA letter to MI6 claiming that disclosure of the document would harm the security of the US and UK.
The judges made it clear they did not believe the claim was credible. "The public interest in making the paragraphs public is overwhelming," they said.
The document would show what Witness B – an MI5 officer who interrogated Mohamed in Pakistan in 2002 – knew about Mohamed's condition before he questioned him incognito in a Pakistani jail, the judges said.
The CIA secretly flew Mohamed to Morocco, Afghanistan and then Guantánamo Bay, the court has heard. The judges criticised MI5 and MI6 for the belated disclosure of documents that revealed an MI5 officer was in Morocco when Mohamed was held there in a secret jail.
Miliband's lawyers continued to argue that a number of passages in the judges' ruling must be redacted as well as the seven-paragraph CIA document.
Jonathan Evans, the head of MI5, admitted in a speech at Bristol University on Thursday that the Security Service had been "slow to detect the emerging pattern of US practice in the period after 9/11".
"But it is important to recognise that we do not control what other countries do, that operational decisions have to be taken with the knowledge available, even if it is incomplete, and that when the emerging pattern of US policy was detected, necessary improvements were made."
He repeated the mantra that MI5 "does not torture people, nor do we collude in torture or solicit others to torture people on our behalf".
However, he said the situation posed a dilemma. "Given the pressing need to understand and uncover al-Qaida's plans, were we to deal, however circumspectly, with those security services who had experience of working against al-Qaida on their own territory, or were we to refuse to deal with them, accepting that in so doing we would be cutting off a potentially vital source of information that would prevent attacks in the west?
"In my view we would have been derelict in our duty if we had not worked, circumspectly, with overseas liaisons who were in a position to provide intelligence that could safeguard this country from attack. I have every confidence in the behaviour of my officers in what were difficult and, at times, dangerous circumstances".
This article, by Peter Bergen, was posted to Foriegn Policy, August 28, 2009
Since he left office, former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney has been waging a lonesome jihad to defend the practices of the Bush administration during the "war on terror," saying in an emblematic interview in February: "If it hadn't been for what we did -- with respect to the terrorist surveillance program, or enhanced interrogation techniques for high-value detainees, the Patriot Act, and so forth -- then we would have been attacked again. ... Those policies we put in place, in my opinion, were absolutely crucial to getting us through the last seven-plus years without a major-casualty attack on the U.S."
In a speech he gave three months later at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington, Cheney said, "In top secret meetings about enhanced interrogations, I made my own beliefs clear. I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program."
Cheney gave this speech at AEI the very same day that President Barack Obama, just a couple of miles away at the National Archives, was giving his own major speech on his administration's revamped detention and interrogation policies. Giving such a dueling policy speech was something of a first for a just-stepped-down vice president, a job that is generally supposed to entail a comfortably obscure retirement fly-fishing and attending rubber-chicken fundraisers.
But Cheney did not go gently into that vice presidential night. At AEI Cheney amped up his own sky-is-falling rhetoric, claiming that the coercive interrogations of al Qaeda detainees had "prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people." Holy smokes!
Cheney's AEI speech was essentially a remix of the arguments that he had made in the run-up to the Iraq war: that if only ordinary American citizens had seen the top secret information he had access to, they would be even more alarmed than he was. And the Bush administration had only prudently taken every measure necessary to keep Americans safe.
Hiding behind a wall of classification has been a quintessential Cheney trope. But that wall just crumbled.
On Monday Cheney released a statement -- first reported through the reliably unchallenging conduit of The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes, who was also the amanuensis of Cheney's authorized biography -- in which the former vice president once again defended the Bush administration's record on the coercive interrogations of al Qaeda members, stating that CIA documents declassified earlier this week "clearly demonstrate that the individuals subjected to Enhanced Interrogation Techniques provided the bulk of intelligence we gained about al Qaeda. This intelligence saved lives and prevented terrorist attacks."
Those documents include two CIA assessments from 2004 and 2005 of the information derived from what the U.S. government terms its "high-value detainees." Cheney had pressed the agency to release those assessments because he said that they would substantiate his claims that coercive measures on al Qaeda prisoners had kept the United States safe.
So what do the newly released CIA documents show, in combination with the other records on the matter that are already in the public domain?
The first al Qaeda member to be subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques" -- an Orwellian locution we can simplify to coercive interrogation -- was Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian al Qaeda logistician in his early 30s at the time. Abu Zubaydah was captured in March 2002 in a shootout in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in which he was shot three times and critically wounded. So grave was his condition that the CIA arranged for a leading surgeon from the Johns Hopkins medical center in Baltimore to fly to Pakistan to save his life.
Abu Zubaydah was the subject of intense interest from U.S. officials as they believed he was the first al Qaeda insider whom they could interrogate who might know what form the next terrorist attack could take. And so Abu Zubaydah was the first prisoner to be placed in a secret overseas CIA prison, this one located in Thailand.
There Abu Zubaydah was interrogated by Ali Soufan, one of the FBI's few Arabic-speaking agents. Abu Zubaydah described Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, al Qaeda's operational commander, as the mastermind of the September 11 terrorist attacks, and he confirmed that Mohammed's alias was "Mukhtar," an important clue in helping to track him down.
Abu Zubaydah's confirmation of Mohammed's role in the attacks on New York and Washington was arguably the single-most important piece of information uncovered about al Qaeda after 9/11, and it was discovered during the course of a standard interrogation without recourse to any form of coercion. Soufan told Newsweek, "We were able to get the information about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a couple of days."
Abu Zubaydah also described an al Qaeda wannabe whose physical description jibed with that of Jose Padilla, an American small-time hood who would be arrested at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport in May 2002 and who was supposedly planning to detonate a radiological "dirty bomb" in the United States. Again, the information about Padilla was provided by Abu Zubaydah without coercive measures being applied.
Later, over Soufan's vociferous objections, a CIA contractor stepped in to take over Abu Zubaydah's interrogations. The FBI's standard, noncoercive techniques were jettisoned, and Abu Zubaydah was stripped naked, deprived of sleep, subjected to loud noise and wide variations in temperature, and later waterboarded 83 times, a form of simulated drowning generally considered torture.
In the end, the multiple waterboardings of Abu Zubaydah provided no specific leads on any plots, according to the just-released CIA documents, though clearly his role as an al Qaeda logistician gave him insights into the organization and its personnel that were useful to the agency. There is no reason, however, to think that any of those insights could not have been garnered by standard interrogation techniques.
Following his March 2003 arrest in Pakistan, al Qaeda's chief of operations, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), was also subjected to intensive coercive measures. KSM was taken to a secret CIA prison in northern Poland where he initially proved resistant to interrogation. In the words of the 2004 CIA inspector general's report on detainees that was also released this week, "Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, an accomplished resistor, provided only a few intelligence reports prior to the use of the waterboard, and analysis of that information revealed that much of it was outdated, inaccurate, or incomplete."
Following his defiance, KSM was subjected to a number of coercive interrogation techniques including being waterboarded 183 times and being told that his children -- who were then being held in American and Pakistani custody -- would be killed. KSM then provided a wealth of information about al Qaeda's inner workings as well as details about past and future plots, much of which was detailed in the footnotes of the 9/11 Commission Report.
One such plot KSM offered up was a plan to attack London's Heathrow Airport in 2003 using hijacked commercial jets. But, as Peter Clarke, Britain's chief counterterrorism official at the time says, "It wasn't at an advanced stage in the sense that there were people here in the U.K. doing it. If they had been, I'd have arrested them." The "Heathrow plot" was, in other words, just talk.
The 2004 CIA report, titled "Khalid Shaykh Muhammad: Preeminent Source On Al-Qa'ida," stated that "reporting from KSM has greatly advanced our understanding of al-Qa'ida's anthrax program," in particular about the role of a Malaysian scientist named Yazid Sufaat who was recruited by al Qaeda to research biological weapons. Sufaat, a biochemistry graduate of California State University, Sacramento, set up Green Laboratory Medicine Company for al Qaeda in southern Afghanistan in 2001 as a front company through which it was hoped that the terrorist group would acquire anthrax and other biological agents that could be used as weapons.
But what the CIA did not say in its 2004 report is that Sufaat was never able to buy or produce the right strain of anthrax suitable for a weapon. And so though KSM might have helped the CIA understand something of al Qaeda's anthrax program, either he had little understanding of the science of biological weapons, and/or agency officials who wrote the report were also similarly handicapped. In fact, al Qaeda's anthrax program was a big dud that never produced anything remotely threatening, a point that the CIA report is silent on.
An important piece of information that KSM did divulge, according to the 2004 CIA assessment, was "the crucial first link in the chain that led us to the capture" of a man named Hambali, whose real name is Riduan Isamuddin and who was the interface between al Qaeda and its Southeast Asian affiliate, Jemaah Islamiyah. Hambali was the mastermind of the October 2002 bombings of two nightclubs in Bali, Indonesia, that killed about 200, many of them Western tourists. According to the CIA, Hambali's capture also led to the arrest of "more than a dozen Southeast Asian operatives slated for attacks against the US homeland."
A 2005 top secret memo by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel that was released by the Obama administration in April points out that KSM only gave up his plans for a "Second Wave" of attacks on the United States after he had been subjected to "enhanced techniques," i.e. waterboarding and the like.
But did KSM's coerced interrogations really lead to any substantive plots against the American homeland being averted? The short answer is no
A document that the U.S. government released back in 2006 around the same time that KSM was transferred out of his secret CIA prison to the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, offered details on the plots he had hatched against the United States:
KSM launched several plots targeting the US Homeland, including a plot in late 2001 to have ... suicide operatives hijack a plane over the Pacific and crash it into a skyscraper on the US West Coast; a plan in early 2002 to send al-Qa'ida operatives to conduct attacks in the U.S.; and a plot in early 2003 to employ a network of Pakistanis ... to smuggle explosives into New York and to target gas stations, railroad tracks, and a bridge in New York.
The newly released CIA documents merely rehash the range of anti-American plots cooked up by KSM that the government had already made public three years ago. And though this second wave of attacks all sounded very frightening, there is no indication that these plots, like the plan to attack Heathrow, were ever more than just talk.
The chances of success, for instance, of al Qaeda's plan to attack the skyscraper on the West Coast -- since identified as Los Angeles' 73-story Library Tower, now known as the U.S. Bank Tower -- were described by KSM in one court document to be "dismal." KSM also explained in the same document that the second wave of al Qaeda attacks on the United States was put on the "back burner" after 9/11.
The CIA inspector general's report on al Qaeda detainees also concluded that based on a review of KSM's plots aimed at the United States, it "did not uncover any evidence that these plots were imminent," but it did find that KSM "provided information that helped lead to the arrests of terrorists including Sayfullah Paracha and his son Uzair Paracha, businessmen who Khalid Shaykh Muhammad planned to use to smuggle explosives into the United States; Saleh Almari, a sleeper operative in New York; and Majid Khan, an operative who could enter the United States easily and was tasked to research attacks [redacted]. Khalid Shaykh Muhammad's information also led to the investigation and prosecution of Iyman Faris, the truck driver arrested in early 2003 in Ohio."
The man identified by the CIA inspector general as "Saleh Almari, a sleeper operative in New York" who KSM supposedly gave up to his interrogator appears, in fact, to be Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who was arrested on Dec. 12, 2001, in Peoria, Ill., a year and a half before KSM was captured.
The Parachas are a father-and-son team; the former, arrested in Thailand in the summer of 2003, is being held at Guantánamo and has yet to face trial, while his son was convicted in 2005 of providing "material support" to al Qaeda.
Majid Khan was arrested in Pakistan only four days after KSM was captured, suggesting that this lead came not from interrogations but from KSM's computers and cell phones that were picked up when he was captured.
Of the terrorists, alleged and otherwise, cited by the CIA inspector general as being fingered by KSM during his coercive interrogations, only Ohio truck driver Iyman Faris was an actual al Qaeda foot soldier living in the United States who had serious intention to wreak havoc. However, he was not much of a competent terrorist: In 2002 he researched the feasibility of bringing down the Brooklyn Bridge by using a blowtorch, an enterprise akin to demolishing the Empire State Building with a firecracker.
If that was the most threatening plot the United States could discover by waterboarding the most senior al Qaeda member in U.S. custody, it was thin stuff indeed. And when English journalist David Rose asked FBI Director Robert Mueller last year whether he was aware of any attacks on the United States that had been disrupted thanks to intelligence obtained through "enhanced techniques," Mueller replied: "I don't believe that has been the case."
The CIA inspector general also arrived at a similar conclusion when he judged that "it is difficult to determine conclusively whether interrogations have provided information critical to interdicting specific imminent attacks," which was the supposed standard necessary for the imposition of coercive measures on the al Qaeda prisoners in the first place.
Historians will likely judge that the putative intelligence gains made by abusive interrogation techniques were easily outweighed by the damage they caused to the United States' moral standing. That is certainly the view of Adm. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, who said in an April 2009 statement, "These techniques have 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." Quite.
This article by Mark Hosenball and Michael Isikoff , Augusrtn 21, 2009
A long-suppressed report by the Central Intelligence Agency's inspector general to be released next week reveals that CIA interrogators staged mock executions as part of the agency's post-9/11 program to detain and question terror suspects, NEWSWEEK has learned.
According to two sources—one who has read a draft of the paper and one who was briefed on it—the report describes how one detainee, suspected USS Cole bomber Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was threatened with a gun and a power drill during the course of CIA interrogation. According to the sources, who like others quoted in this article asked not to be named while discussing sensitive information, Nashiri's interrogators brandished the gun in an effort to convince him that he was going to be shot. Interrogators also turned on a power drill and held it near him. "The purpose was to scare him into giving [information] up," said one of the sources. A federal law banning the use of torture expressly forbids threatening a detainee with "imminent death."
The report also says, according to the sources, that a mock execution was staged in a room next to a detainee, during which a gunshot was fired in an effort to make the suspect believe that another prisoner had been killed. The inspector general's report alludes to more than one mock execution.
Before leaving office, Bush administration officials confirmed that Nashiri was one of three CIA detainees subjected to waterboarding. They also acknowledged that Nashiri was one of two Al Qaeda detainees whose detentions and interrogations were documented at length in CIA videotapes. But senior officials of the agency's undercover operations branch, the National Clandestine Service, ordered that the tapes be destroyed, an action that has been under investigation for more than a year by a federal prosecutor.
The new revelations are contained in a lengthy report on the CIA interrogation program completed by the agency's inspector general in May 2004, around the time that the initial, most intense phase of the CIA effort began to wind down. The purpose of the report was to examine how the CIA program had been conducted, and whether Justice Department guidelines governing the use of harsh "enhanced" interrogation techniques had been followed. According to the sources, the inspector general criticizes some agency interrogators for exceeding official guidelines in the use of extreme tactics on detainees.
Mock executions were not authorized in Justice Department memoranda that outlined the legal parameters that Bush administration lawyers believed should govern the use of "enhanced" interrogations. The Justice Department memoranda, once highly classified, were released earlier this year by the Obama administration in the face of strenuous objections from the CIA and former Bush White House officials.
The inspector general's report, commissioned by then CIA director George Tenet, was sent to the Justice Department and congressional intelligence committee leaders shortly after it was written. But it was not shown to all members of the intelligence committees until September 2006, around the time that President Bush publicly acknowledged the CIA detention-and-interrogation program and instructed the agency, which had been holding detainees in a network of secret overseas prisons, to transfer them to the U.S. military detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Top Bush CIA officials, including Tenet's successors as CIA director, Porter Goss and Gen. Michael Hayden, strongly lobbied for the IG report to be kept secret from the public. They argued that its release would damage America's reputation around the world, could damage CIA morale, and would tip off terrorists regarding American interrogation tactics. "Justice has had the complete document since 2004, and their career prosecutors have reviewed it carefully for legal accountability," said CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano. "That's already been done."
The inspector general's report is expected to fuel political debates over whether the tough interrogation methods used during the Bush administration actually worked. According to another source who has seen the document, the report says that the agency's interrogation program did produce usable intelligence.
At the same time the administration releases the inspector general's report, it is also expected to release other CIA documents that assert the agency collected valuable intelligence through the interrogation program. For months, former vice president Dick Cheney has called for these documents to be released. However, a person familiar with the contents of the documents says that they contain material that both opponents and supporters of Bush administration tactics can use to bolster their case. The Senate Committee on Intelligence is now conducting what is supposed to be a thorough investigation of the CIA's detention-and-interrogation program. The probe is intended not only to document everything that happened but also to assess whether on balance the program produced major breakthroughs or a deluge of false leads.
This article, by Juan Cole, was posted to Informed Comment, August 21, 2009
It was worse.
Back in the bad old days of Bush's corrupt gang, we on the left were pilloried for suggesting that the administration was manipulating terrorism-related news in order to win the 2004 elections. But when Tom Ridge says it . . .
In fact, I argued in summer, 2004, that when Ridge did raise the terrorism alert, it had the unfortunate effect of outing an al-Qaeda double agent who had been turned by the Pakistani government and was helping set a trap for al-Qaeda in the UK. In turn, that caused the British government to have to move against the people it had under surveillance prematurely, harming the case.
Ridge is alleging he was pressured on the eve of the election. But I still wonder about the circumstances of the summer announcement. He might have been being used then, too, and not known it.
And if any of us had said that Dick Cheney was setting up civilian mercenary assassination squads (at least 007 works for the British government), and set things up so that perhaps neither the CIA director nor the president even knew about it, we would have been branded moonbats. But well, that is today's story
You shudder to think what hasn't come out yet.
If Bush and his gang falsely put up the terror alert or even tried to, for partisan political gain, that is a sort of treason. If they thereby ruined a British surveillance operation, they recklessly endangered US and NATO security. If they were arranging for civilian mercenaries to murder people . . . well you'd have to say that they were at least planning to be murderers. (The wingnuts will say that Xe was only being contracted to kill al-Qaeda types; but the wingnuts wouldn't be able to tell a Barelvi from an al-Qaeda supporter if their lives depended on it, and I wouldn't exactly trust Mr. Prince to be fair to Muslims.)
The horrible thing is that Wolf Blitzer on CNN assembled David Frum and Frances Townsend, former members of the Bush administration, to sit around on his afternoon news and analysis program on Thursday afternoon and more or less either call Ridge a liar or pooh-pooh the significance of what he is saying. There wasn't a single centrist or left of center voice to show any outrage. I mean, I know that Time Warner is not made up of people who necessarily care about the little person or social justice or anything. But a little bit of shame?
It isn't enough that the corporate media lied to us for Bush for 8 years, they are continuing to do it. Give money to Amy Goodman.
This article, by Daniel Tencier, was posted to Raw Story, August 19, 2009
Nine Republican Senators are urging Attorney General Eric Holder to drop the idea of appointing a special prosecutor to investigate Bush-era torture practices, news reports indicated Wednesday.
The appointment of a special prosecutor would “have serious consequences, not just for the honorable members of the intelligence community, but also for the security of all Americans,” nine GOP senators told Holder in a letter, as reported at the Hill.
Among the nine are Kit Bond (R-MO), who is the ranking GOP member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The others are Christopher Bond (R-MO), Richard Burr (R-NC), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Tom Coburn (R-OK), John Cornyn (R-TX), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), John Kyl (R-AZ), and Jeff Sessions (R-AL).
Newsweek first reported that Holder may appoint a special prosecutor to look at the torture practices carried out during the Bush administration. That news came shortly after congressional Democrats revealed the existence of a secret CIA hit squad that the agency kept from Congress, perhaps in contravention of the law.
An article last week in the Los Angeles Times stated that the appointment was imminent, but that “Holder envisioned an inquiry that would be narrow in scope, focusing on ‘whether people went beyond the techniques that were authorized’ in Bush administration memos that liberally interpreted anti-torture laws.”
But that narrow scope is not narrow enough for the nine GOP senators.
“The country would be better served if the Justice Department refocuses its priorities and allocates its resources to pressing matters — such as prosecuting the terrorists responsible for the September 11 attacks — instead of contemplating legal action against the men and women who have dedicated their lives to protecting this country,” CQ Politics quoted the letter as saying.
Spencer Ackerman at the Washington Independent says it’s not a coincidence that the senators sent out their letter today, as Monday of next week is the court-ordered deadline for the US government to release a 2004 CIA inspector general’s report into torture practices during the Bush years.
“That document, which according to reports is filled with grisly tales of abuse, is reportedly prompting Attorney General Eric Holder to consider a special prosecutor,” Ackerman writes.
The Hill reports:
In their letter to Holder, the Republican senators are taking issue with reports that the special prosecutor would particularly be looking into how CIA interrogators treated Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, one of the masterminds of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The senators argue that the interrogation of Mohammed produced information that “was absolutely vital” to capturing other terrorists and preventing other attacks on the United States, such as a West Coast plot to destroy the Library Tower in Los Angeles.
On the other side of the political fence, supporters of an investigation into torture practices say the limited investigation Holder is allegedly preparing doesn’t go far enough, because it would limit itself only to prosecuting those who went outside of the guidelines that the Bush administration’s lawyers set out for torture. They say all instances of torture should be looked at.
Writes Ackerman: “Liberals have been pretty dissatisfied by the idea that the guy who waterboarded a detainee with — to steal a memorable phrase that Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) used at Netroots Nation on Saturday — eight ounces of water would be investigated but the lawyer or official who said it was OK to waterboard someone with three ounces of water has nothing to worry about.”
This article, by Jason Leopold, was posted toTruthOut, July 18, 2009.
The House Intelligence Committee formally announced Friday that it will probe whether the CIA broke the law by failing to inform Congress about a top secret assassination program reportedly aimed at targeting leaders of al-Qaeda.
Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes said the probe would be part of a wide-ranging investigation about the way in which the CIA informs Congress about its covert activities and other matters.
Reyes, in announcing the wide-ranging probe Friday, said he had consulted with the panel’s ranking Republican minority leader, Rep. Pete Hoekstra, and other committee members and concluded that an investigation into "possible violations of federal law, including the National Security Act of 1947" were warranted. Under that law, the CIA must keep Congress "fully and currently informed" via classified briefings about its intelligence activities.
"This investigation will focus on the core issue of how the congressional intelligence committees and Congress are kept fully and currently informed," Reyes said. "To this end, the investigation will examine several issues, including the program discussed during Director Panetta's June 24 notification and whether there was any past decision or direction to withhold information from the committee."
Rep. Jan Schakowsky said Friday that her subcommittee would handle some part of the investigation into the CIA's assassination program.
"Why was there such a high-level determination to keep it secret? And how may it have changed over all these years? And why was it immediately ended as soon as the current CIA director learned of it?" she asked, describing the areas of focus for her subcommittee.
Reyes's aides said the investigation will also delve into the use of torture by CIA interrogators and contractors against alleged "high-level" detainees, the agency’s destruction of 92 interrogation videotapes - 12 of which depict acts of torture against two prisoners - and the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance program.
These aides added that the probe will also look into claims made by former CIA official Mary O. McCarthy, who accused senior agency officials of lying to members of Congress during an intelligence briefing in 2005 when they said the agency did not violate treaties that bar, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of detainees during interrogations, according to a May 14, 2006, front-page story in The Washington Post.
"A CIA employee of two decades, McCarthy became convinced that 'CIA people had lied' in that briefing, as one of her friends said later, not only because the agency had conducted abusive interrogations but also because its policies authorized treatment that she considered cruel, inhumane or degrading," The Washington Post reported.
On the matter of domestic surveillance, Bob Graham, the committee’s former Democratic chairman, said in 2005 that Vice President Dick Cheney, CIA Director George Tenet and National Intelligence Director Michael Hayden (who later headed the CIA) lied to him about the extent of the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance and never provided him with a full and complete briefing.
In an interview with ABC's "Nightline" on December 15, 2005 – after The New York Times disclosed the existence of the warrantless wiretapping program – Graham said he attended meetings in Vice President Dick Cheney's office in 2001 and discussed surveillance activities. However, he said, neither Cheney nor then-National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden had spoken about a plan to spy on Americans. (CIA Director George Tenet also took part in the meeting.)
"The issue was whether we could intercept foreign communications when they transited through U.S. communication sites," Graham said. "The assumption was that if we did that, we would do it pursuant to the law, the law that regulates the surveillance of national security issues.
"There was no suggestion that we were going to begin eavesdropping on United States citizens without following the full law. There was no reference made to the fact that we were going to use that as the subterfuge to begin unwarranted, illegal — and, I think, unconstitutional — eavesdropping on American citizens."
Graham suggested that Cheney and the intelligence officials had lied to him and other members of congressional intelligence panels.
Cheney and other Bush administration officials, aided by Republican lawmakers, responded to Graham’s comments with a fierce counterattack. In another "Nightline" interview on December 18, 2005, Cheney said that Graham, as well as other members of Congress, knew that the administration intended to spy on the phone calls of some Americans.
"He knew," Cheney said. "I sat in my office with Gen. Hayden, who was then the head of NSA, who's now the deputy director of the National Intelligence Directorate, and he [Graham] was briefed as long as he was chairman of the committee, or ranking member of the committee."
Last week, an unclassified report prepared by inspectors general of five federal agencies said George W. Bush’s surveillance program was far more expansive than his administration had publicly revealed and that much of it was concealed from Congress.
The issue of the CIA’s use of torture and whether the agency fully informed top lawmakers on the Senate and House intelligence committees in 2002 and 2003 about techniques used against "high-level" detainees was called into question a few months back, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed she was never told that the CIA tortured prisoners at secret "black site" prisons using methods such as waterboarding.
But a CIA document turned over in May to Rep. Hoekstra, the House Intelligence Committee’s ranking minority member, contained the dates and a summary of the briefings given to a select group of congressional leaders, including Pelosi and Graham, about "enhanced interrogation techniques ... employed" against "high-value" detainees.
Republicans seized upon the document, claiming it proved that Democrats were complicit in the Bush administration’s torture program since they did not raise objections to the specific interrogation methods when briefed.
But the briefing document turned over to Hoekstra was rife with errors. Three of the four dates in which the CIA said it had briefed Graham do not match his records.
"When I asked the CIA when was I briefed, they gave me four dates, two in April and two in September of '02," Graham said. "On three of the four occasions, when I consulted my schedule and my notes, it was clear that no briefing had taken place, and the CIA eventually concurred in that. So their record-keeping is a little bit suspect."
One of the disputed dates for a briefing on interrogations – in April 2002 – fell in the same month as one of the supposed briefings on surveillance. In both cases, Graham said no briefings took place.
Moreover, Graham said he was not told about the CIA’s torture techniques, which the agency’s records claim were explained to Graham and Sen. Richard Shelby.
The CIA document also alleged that Pelosi was given a full accounting of the torture program, but Pelosi said in May that the CIA briefers obscured the fact that the agency already had begun subjecting prisoners to waterboarding and other torture techniques.
The CIA also erred in 2006 when a four-page memo from Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte was turned over to Congress. It contained the dates lawmakers were briefed about the surveillance program, beginning shortly after President George W. Bush signed a highly classified executive order that removed some legal restrictions against spying on US citizens.
The memo alleged that Graham – along with Pelosi, then ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and their Republican counterparts, Rep. Porter Goss and Sen. Richard Shelby – were briefed on October 25, 2001, November 14, 2001, April 10, 2002 and July 8, 2002. A cover letter accompanying Negroponte’s letter said the briefings took place at the White House.
But Graham, who famously keeps a detailed journal of his daily schedule, said he checked those dates against his own records, which revealed no briefings on Oct. 25, 2001 or April 10, 2002. The memo had claimed Graham was the only lawmaker briefed on April 10, 2002. On July 8, 2002, the document said Graham and Shelby were briefed.
"When I got those dates, I went back to my notebooks and checked and found that on most of the dates there were no meetings held," Graham said in September 2007. "In fact, in several of them, I wasn’t in Washington when the meetings were supposed to have taken place. So I stand by what I said."
Graham said he did attend briefings on the two other dates but he told The Washington Post that "there was no discussion of anything [about spying on Americans' telephone calls] in the meeting with Cheney."
"I came out of the room with the full sense that we were dealing with a change in technology but not policy," Graham said.
Briefing lawmakers last month about a covert CIA assassination program that was recently shut down, CIA Director Panetta said it was Cheney who ordered the agency not to inform Congress about the covert activity for eight years, according to several lawmakers and numerous media reports.
Last week, after attempts to get Panetta to change a statement he made in May in which he said it was not the CIA’s "policy or practice to mislead Congress" failed, Reyes and other Democrats on the intelligence committee publicly released a letter they sent to the CIA director, characterizing his briefing to them.
That letter followed one sent by Reyes to Hoekstra and other top lawmakers on the intelligence panel, which stated that CIA officials "affirmatively lied" to the panel, presumably about the assassination program, and misinformed the committee about on numerous occasions about other intelligence matters.
Republicans, including Hoekstra, said Democrats were trying to cover for Pelosi’s accusations that the CIA lied to her. On Friday, Hoekstra said neither he nor his Republican colleagues would support an investigation into the CIA.
"At no time will the Republicans of this committee agree to or take part in congressional Democrats efforts to tear down the CIA to provide cover for Speaker Pelosi," Hoekstra said in a statement Friday.
However, the committee will also probe accusations, revealed in an agency watchdog report, that the CIA lied to Congress about the shooting down of an airplane over Peru in 2001 carrying American missionaries. Hoekstra was the lawmaker who accused the CIA of lying to Congress about the incident, though he has since distanced himself from the allegations.
This article, by Sam Zarifi, was posted to e-ariana.com, July 17, 2009
General Abdul Rashid Dostum’s statement on allegations surrounding the deaths of Taliban prisoners who surrendered to Northern Alliance forces in November 2001 underscores the need for an urgent inquiry into those events.
More broadly, the renewed attention to this incident highlights the need for the Afghan government and its international supporters to follow through on their commitment to implement the Action Plan for Peace, Reconciliation, and Justice in Afghanistan, which aims to address the legacy of more than three decades of human rights abuses in Afghanistan. With presidential and local council elections approaching, such moves are crucial to demonstrating to the Afghan people that the rule of law will be respected in Afghanistan.
Dostum seems eager to head off an investigation into the events of November 2001 using a variety of arguments. One is that the U.S. military and the Northern Alliance have already looked at the allegations and rejected them. Of course, part of any proper probe would be an examination of whether any forces involved knowingly concealed information pertaining to a possible war crime, for doing so could be a violation of international law.
If, as Dostum asserts, there were investigations by the Afghan and U.S. governments, they should be made public. If their findings were accurate, Dostum should have nothing to fear from a reexamination of the facts. But the facts currently available indicate very strongly that many detainees -- possibly hundreds -- died while in the custody of Dostum's forces in November 2001 and their bodies were dumped in the nearby desert of Dasht-e Leili (adding to the numerous bodies unceremoniously deposited there by various warring factions over the past three decades).
Dostum asserts that “it is impossible that Taliban or Al-Qaeda prisoners could have been abused.” In fact, preliminary investigations carried out shortly after the alleged killings by highly experienced and respected forensic analysts from Physicians for Human Rights established the presence of recently deceased human remains at Dasht-e Leili and suggested that they were the victims of homicide.
I was a human rights investigator in northwestern Afghanistan in February 2002. At the time, numerous witnesses spoke of seeing several trucks dumping what appeared to be human remains in Dasht-e Leili, while others told of detainees being held for days in overcrowded shipping containers without food, water, or medical care, and, in some instances, being shot while inside the containers.
It was also clear that U.S. personnel were serving with and advising Dostum during this period, but preliminary investigations failed to reveal the identities of these personnel or their chain of command. Later journalistic efforts suggested that U.S. Special Forces troops and CIA operatives served alongside Dostum during this period. CIA operative Mike Spann was killing during a firefight at Dostum’s Qala-i Jangi fortress in November 2001.
Dostum claims that no foreign journalists highlighted this episode. On the contrary, in English-language media alone, several highly respected journalists have recounted the allegations and explored the possibility that U.S. forces -- military and intelligence agencies -- either knew or should have known about the events.In addition, as early as November 2001, and continually after that, several major international human rights organizations -- including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and most doggedly, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) – raised the alarm about the conditions of detainees held by Dostum’s forces.
Crucially, the International Committee of the Red Cross did not have access to the Taliban detainees at Sheberghan until December 10, 2001 -- and thus could not monitor their conditions during the period when the detainees died. This undermines Dostum’s claim that a massacre could not have occurred because the ICRC would have known about it. Need For Investigations
By June 2002, we were told that Dostum’s forces, which still constituted a serious military force in the area, had warned locals away from the site and would not allow any investigation. To my knowledge, this situation continues to this day, notwithstanding the expansion of NATO forces into northern Afghanistan.
On several occasions between 2002 and 2005, I personally raised the issue of the need for investigations into this and other possible serious human rights violations with high officials of the Afghan government, the United Nations mission to Afghanistan, and the U.S. government. The consistent call at these meetings was for (1) a public statement of political will to investigate and address the serious human rights violations that have occurred in Afghanistan over the past three decades, and (2) a demonstration of practical support for such an endeavor, for instance by deploying security around suspected mass-grave sites and facilitating the work of forensic investigators.
In each case, I was told quite plainly that such investigations would not be pursued because they were not politically expedient, and because the relevant actors would not and could not guarantee the security of any investigation. Thus, even when the UN agreed in principle to allow PHR to conduct investigations in the area, security conditions prevented them from doing so.
With U.S. President Barack Obama’s announcement about an investigation, this situation might improve.
Dostum is correct in one regard: There is a highly politicized atmosphere surrounding the timing of the increased attention to this incident, and that is linked to President Hamid Karzai’s reinstatement of Dostum as the army chief of staff after he had been removed in disgrace last year. Karzai has also nominated as his vice presidential candidate Marshal Fahim, another Northern Alliance commander facing widespread allegations of serious human rights violations and war crimes. Ongoing Impunity Many Afghans, who have repeatedly demanded truth and accountability for the three decades of atrocities they have endured, have told Amnesty International they are extremely disappointed by the presence of such figures in Karzai’s administration. The ongoing impunity of senior government officials has done much to erode public confidence in the Afghan government, something now readily acknowledged even by international militaries.
Obama’s call for an investigation of the November 2001 incidents should renew interest in the essential issue of accountability and transitional justice in Afghanistan. Fortunately, there already exists an excellent Action Plan for Peace, Reconciliation, and Justice in Afghanistan, formulated by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission after significant consultation with a cross-section of the Afghan people.
This plan provides for a multiyear process of gathering information, considering national reconciliation, and, finally, if possible, providing accountability for the crimes of the past. The international community and the Afghan government have explicitly endorsed this plan as part of the Afghanistan Compact. But it is disappointing to note that neither has done much to implement the Action Plan so far. The Action Plan seeks to do exactly what Dostum urges: “to present facts in a balanced way in order to promote understanding, good will, and confidence among the deprived people of different groups that are now far from their government.”
General Dostum has bemoaned the increasing operations of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda after seven years of international nation building. It is time to ask: After seven years of appeasing warlords and human rights violators, isn’t it time for the Afghan government and its international supporters to try truth and accountability?