Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
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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 Scott Shane, was published in the New York Times, September 29, 2009
WASHINGTON — To many Americans, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s February 2003 speech to the United Nations on Iraq’s unconventional weapons was powerfully persuasive. It was a dazzling performance, featuring satellite images and intercepts of Iraqi communications, delivered by one of the most trusted figures in public life.
Then a long and costly war began, and the country discovered that the assertions that Iraq possessed illicit weapons had been completely unfounded.
Now the United States’ confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program is heating up, with the disclosure last week that the Iranian government is building a second uranium enrichment complex it had not previously acknowledged.
The question is inevitable: Is the uproar over the secret plant near Qum another rush to judgment, based on ambiguous evidence, spurred on by a desire to appear tough toward a loathed regime? In other words, is the United States repeating the mistakes of 2002?
Antiwar activists, with a fool-me-once skepticism, watch the dispute over the Qum plant with an alarmed sense of déjà vu. And some specialists on arms control and Iran are asking for more evidence and warning against hasty conclusions.
But while the similarities between 2002, when the faulty intelligence estimates were produced, and 2009 are unmistakable, the differences are profound.
This time, by all accounts, there is no White House-led march toward war. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has said that military action would merely delay Iranian nuclear weapons for one to three years, and there is no evidence that President Obama wants to add a third war to his responsibilities.
This time, too, the dispute over facts is narrower. Iran has admitted the existence of nuclear enrichment facilities, and on Tuesday it acknowledged that it was building the plant underground, next to a military base, for its protection. Still, Iran disputes claims that the plant is part of a weapons program.
American intelligence officials say that they learned a traumatic lesson from the Iraqi weapons debacle, and that assessments of Iran’s nuclear program are hedged and not influenced by political or policy considerations.
“We’d let the country down, and we wanted to make sure it would never happen again,” said Thomas Fingar, who before the Iraq war led the State Department’s intelligence bureau, which dissented from the inaccurate claims about Iraq’s nuclear program. Dissent from majority views in intelligence assessments is now encouraged, and assumptions are spelled out, said Mr. Fingar, who is now at Stanford University.
“Now, it’s much more of a transparent tussle of ideas,” he said.
That tussle produced a surprising conclusion in a 2007 national intelligence assessment on Iran’s nuclear program: that Tehran’s work on designing a warhead was halted in 2003. Today, the American view is that the design work has still not resumed, a more conservative stance than that of some close allies, who say they believe the work has resumed or never stopped at all, including Germany, Israel and, according to a report Tuesday by The Financial Times, Britain.
In assessing the construction near Qum, the Central Intelligence Agency “formed its conclusions carefully and patiently over time, weighing and testing each piece of information that came in,” said Paul Gimigliano, an agency spokesman. “This was a major intelligence success.”
Not all are persuaded. Glenn Greenwald, an author and a left-leaning blogger for the online magazine Salon, called the parallels with the charges that Iraq had so-called weapons of mass destruction in 2002 “substantial and disturbing.”
“The administration is making inflammatory claims about another country’s W.M.D. program and intentions without providing any evidence,” he said.
Gary Sick, an expert on Iran at Columbia University, said that ever since 1992, American officials had claimed that Iran was just a few years away from a nuclear bomb. Like Saddam Hussein, the clerical government in Iran is “despised,” he said, leading to worst-case assumptions.
“In 2002, it seemed utterly naïve to believe Saddam didn’t have a program,” Mr. Sick said. Now, the notion that Iran is not racing to build a bomb is similarly excluded from serious discussion, he said.
Mr. Sick, like some in the intelligence community, said he believed that Iran might intend to stop short of building a weapon while creating “breakout capability” — the ability to make a bomb in a matter of months in the future. That chain of events might allow room for later intervention.
Without actually constructing a bomb, Iran could gain the influence of being an almost nuclear power, without facing the repercussions that would ensue if it finished the job.
Greg Thielmann, an intelligence analyst in the State Department before the Iraq war, said he believed that the Iran intelligence assessments were far more balanced, in part because there was not the urgent pressure from the White House to reach a particular conclusion, as there was in 2002. But he said he was bothered by what he said was an exaggerated sense of crisis over the Iranian nuclear issue.
“Some people are saying time’s running out and we have to act by the end of the year,” said Mr. Thielmann, now a senior fellow at the Arms Control Association. “I’ve been arguing that we have years, not months. The facts argue for a calmer approach.”
David Albright, a former nuclear arms inspector who is now the president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said Iran’s “well-documented history of undeclared nuclear programs” lent credibility to American suspicions.
Still, Mr. Albright said, the government must provide more information to back up its charges. On the Qum plant, for example, he asked, do intelligence agencies have evidence that it was intended to produce weapons-grade uranium, or merely that it could accommodate the equipment for such a purpose?
“They have to show their hand,” he said of American intelligence agencies. “Or we don’t have to believe them.”
In many dissections of the blunders before the Iraq war, the news media, including The New York Times, came in for a share of the criticism, for repeating Bush administration claims about Iraq without sufficient scrutiny or skepticism.
Mr. Greenwald, the Salon blogger, said he found in the coverage about the Qum plant little improvement in the performance of the press. “There is virtually no questioning of whether this facility could be used for civilian purposes, or whether Iran’s reporting it more than a year before operability demonstrates its good faith,” he said.
Greg Mitchell, whose 2008 book “So Wrong for So Long” analyzed the media’s failures on Iraq, said he would give the Iran coverage better marks. “I don’t see the same level of blindly accepting what the hawks are saying,” said Mr. Mitchell, editor of the trade publication Editor & Publisher. “I think the press has learned some lessons.”
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.
Accountability for torture
Although much has been revealed about the Bush administration's torture program, those in the upper echelons of the administration who conceived of, crafted, and approved the program have almost entirely escaped accountability. The graphic below diagrams the participation of these high-level officials in the torture program based upon publicly available documents.
The abuses committed as a result of the torture program are serious, and the publicly available evidence of senior involvement is considerable and still mounting. It is important to remember, however, that the full story has yet to be told. The government continues to suppress countless, important documents revealing even more about the genesis of the torture program. Uncovering the full extent of the program is paramount now as we, as a nation, move beyond the troubling past and reformulate interrogation policies for a more hopeful future.
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 John Byrne,was posted to Raw Story, August 19, 2009
A remarkable detail to be published in former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge's soon-to-be-released book asserts that the Bush Administration attempted to wield the color-coded terror alert system for political gain -- a charge often leveled by Democrats but not previously confirmed by a high-ranking Bush Administration official.
Ridge's publisher is pushing details from his book in advance of its release. Notable among them:
Tom Ridge, the first head of the 9/11-inspired Department of Homeland Security, wasn't keen on writing a tell-all. But in The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege...and How We Can Be Safe Again, out September 1, Ridge says he wants to shake "public complacency" over security.
And to do that, well, he needs to tell all. Especially about the infighting he saw that frustrated his attempts to build a smooth-running department. Among the headlines promoted by publisher Thomas Dunne Books: Ridge was never invited to sit in on National Security Council meetings; was "blindsided" by the FBI in morning Oval Office meetings because the agency withheld critical information from him; found his urgings to block Michael Brown from being named head of the emergency agency blamed for the Hurricane Katrina disaster ignored; and was pushed to raise the security alert on the eve of President Bush's re-election, something he saw as politically motivated and worth resigning over.
Liberal columnist and blogger Josh Marshall noted the striking timing of Bush terror alerts in 2006.
"The 18 months prior to the 2004 presidential election witnessed a barrage of those ridiculous color-coded terror alerts, quashed-plot headlines and breathless press conferences from Administration officials," Marshall wrote. "Warnings of terror attacks over the Christmas 2003 holidays, warnings over summer terror attacks at the 2004 political conventions, then a whole slew of warnings of terror attacks to disrupt the election itself. Even the timing of the alerts seemed to fall with odd regularity right on the heels of major political events. One of Department of Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge's terror warnings came two days after John Kerry picked John Edwards as his running mate; another came three days after the end of the Democratic convention."
A tape released by Osama bin Laden days before the 2004 election may have been the reasoning for the intended terror alert, but none was issued after August in 2004.
Ridge has broken with the Bush Administration before. In a May interview with CNN's "State of the Union," Ridge said he could not support the former Vice President Dick Cheney's charge that Obama had undermined US national security.
Asked if he believed the country was now less safe as a result of Obama's policies, Ridge said: "I do not."
The Republican said the discussion had become too politically charged with Cheney making a televised speech on Thursday immediately after an address by the sitting president.
Ridge also said he was disappointed with both Cheney and Obama, saying he regretted the bitter partisan tone about such an important issue.
"I disagree with Dick Cheney. But I also disagree with the approach both men are taking," said Ridge, in excerpts of an interview due to be broadcast in full on Sunday.