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.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Larry Ray, was published by the Rag Blog, October 4, 2009
Forty three years ago as a young civilian correspondent and documentary filmmaker, I stepped off the plane in Saigon knowing nothing about the history of that country or its people, and little or nothing about why Americans were fighting and dying there. I had come to see the war of my time.
As a U.S. Navy veteran and young news anchor for a South Texas regional TV station it seemed a given that we were there to fight godless communism and that we were the good guys.
It was 1966 and WWII had been over for 21 years and hostilities in Korea had ceased in 1953. But Americans still saw our military and patriotism as Johnny marching home again to ticker tape parades. We had whipped the Nazis and the Japs, and fought the North Koreans and commie Chinese to a draw. Clearly American might was not to be messed with.
But by 1966 America's claim of winning an honorable peace in South Vietnam was being seriously challenged by seasoned journalists in both Saigon and Washington D.C.. About the time I arrived, Morley Safer filed his story showing our Marines using a zippo lighter to set fire to thatch roofed homes in a rural village on a "search and destroy" mission. His was perhaps the first story that Americans saw that suggested America was facing bleak prospects of victory. We damn sure were not winning hearts and minds.
After a few months of sitting through bogus U.S. military press briefings which we called the "five o'clock follies," and working with seasoned reporters from around the world, my Boy Scout naiveté disappeared. After a year of the outright lies and misrepresentations in Pentagon and White House press releases about things I had seen with my own eyes, my naiveté turned to a frustrated, simmering anger. An anger that was ultimately taken to the streets across America just a few years later.
Since the Vietnam War, accredited correspondents have no longer been allowed to freely move about and report on our wars. Reporters are now "embedded" within military units under their control and influence.
The parallels between America's disastrous involvement in Southeast Asia and our costly and ill-advised involvement in the Middle East have fired up that frustration and anger anew. This time opposition by the average American to requests for more troops in Afghanistan is getting louder before the new call for 40,000 more troops has even been approved.
Our involvement in Vietnam started in 1950. General Eisenhower's decision to send military advisers to help the South Vietnamese army was the start of a massive buildup of American troop strength which reached a high of 543,482 in 1969. In the early years in Vietnam the Pentagon was still using a set-piece, WWII battle mentality, and Communism was our new political devil. And this was a hot, sweaty jungle war with no front lines.
Very few Americans spoke or understood the sing-songy monosyllabic Vietnamese language. The history and dynamics of a very old country that had been at war in some form or another for more than a thousand years was lost on those tasked with guiding America's efforts there.
The fiercest battles were being secretly waged between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Department of State. The State Department's political and diplomatic findings were muzzled and marginalized. We bombed Hanoi while increasing numbers of young draftees and regular American troops were being slaughtered as they fought fiercely in unforgiving conditions for a cause they did not understand. Almost twice as many Vietnamese, insurgents as well as civilians, died from our bombs and bullets.
America's strong belief in the efficacy of power reasoned that if bombing our way to peace was not working, there was no need to consider diplomacy or a new approach. Clearly we only needed to drop more bombs, send in more troops and the enemy would finally give up. And that is just what we did. The generals called for increasing the enemy body count to achieve peace and allow us to return home with honor. And our politicians went right along with that reasoning.
We failed to appreciate that we were in the middle of a very old private fight between North and South. Intelligence showed early on that a majority in the South was ready for peace, even a communist style of peace, and most of all wanted the "long noses" who they saw as raining destruction down upon them to be driven out of their country. In Vietnam there ultimately was no victory and no honor for America. Today Vietnam is peaceful and prosperous and an important trading partner with the USA, just like our top trading partner, communist China.
The military might mentality was challenged early on by president John F. Kennedy, who in 1961 bucked extreme pressure from the Pentagon and within his own White House, and refused to order combat troops into Vietnam, limiting our presence there to military advisers. JFK listened not only to his top military brass, but also to his State Department, particularly undersecretary George Ball who predicted pretty much what eventually happened, except reality was worse than what he envisioned. After JFK's death his order halting combat troops was reversed by President Johnson, driven more by domestic politics than military necessity.
In Vietnam 58,000 American troops were killed, 155,192 were wounded or missing. The touted "domino effect" where all Southeast Asia would topple country after country to communism if we didn't win in Vietnam now is easy to see as so much expedient political hysteria.
The story is, of course, much more complex than this, but the bare bones are that politicians and military leaders refused to listen to the State Department and other foreign service experts who laid bare the corrupt leadership of South Vietnam, and pointed out that this was a long simmering internal war of insurgency with strong nationalistic roots. The actual communist Chinese or Soviet Russian interest in and backing of the war was extremely limited.
Our desire to strike back after the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001, combined the totally inept leadership of the George W. Bush administration with, once again, expedient political hysteria. First we launched an inadequately planned and then insufficiently supported attack upon al Qaeda strongholds in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda top officials escaped to protective sheltering by tribal supporters who had seen their country invaded by the British, the Soviet union, and now American and NATO troops.
Then, with political misinformation, outright lies, a cowed press and a Congress that asked few questions, our government launched an unprovoked invasion of Iraq, which had nothing whatsoever to do with the 9-11 attacks on the USA. This mad neo-conservative misadventure has had a massively destabilizing effect upon the Middle East and has bred more hatred for the USA and our military in the Arab world.
It has also unnecessarily stressed our military's ready troop strength and equipment readiness with 4,300 U.S. troops killed and more than 30,000 wounded and injured as of September 2009. Cost of the Iraq war is expected to surpass the $686 billion present day dollar value cost of the Vietnam war by year's end.
One of President Obama's first actions after taking office was to make good on his promise to get us out of Iraq, and that is now underway. Though the dynamics, politics, religion and leadership are totally different from Vietnam, Iraq, like Vietnam, will ultimately reach its own destiny without the forceful imposition of American ideas and politics upon its ancient culture. We eliminated its despotic leader, but its people still must sort through complex religious and ideological differences on its own and they may or may not decide to remain some sort of democracy.
Afghanistan is an even older and thornier problem. And one that cannot be bombed into submission. Afghanistan was first invaded by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. The tribal warlords have never been successfully subdued. No "surge" of military troops will somehow completely overpower the zealotry of religious belief. Imagine foreign troops invading America trying to subdue and forcibly control ultra-orthodox elements of the Southern Baptist Convention or the Catholic Church, because they saw them as bad for the American people.
Afghanistan has never had organized, cohesive governance and is today just a fragile step away from becoming a failed state like Somalia. That is why it was an ideal location for Bin Laden to train his al Qaeda fighters. The American figurehead Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, has become a real problem for the U.S. as well as NATO. We had hoped, with our backing, he could somehow unify the disparate tribes flung through the mountains and badlands into a proud democracy.
But such dreams have been jarred by the reality of a Karzai-rigged national election with rampant vote tampering and voter intimidation. Karzai is no better than the warlords we want him to pull together. Karzai has now distanced himself from his American minders and has lost legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghan people.
Now we want to send in a massive number of new troops and equipment to somehow again "win hearts and minds" and drive out the Taliban with brute force.
While the Taliban have no designs upon terror against America or any of the other NATO nations now with troops in the country, they operate as brutal criminals in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. An increased armed American presence there is a daily irritant to Afghans, as well as neighboring rogue areas of Pakistan caught between foreign troops who often cannot tell the difference between peaceful civilians and the Taliban.
Once more we are fighting a war where troops do not speak the language or understand the people and are tasked with fighting often in 130º heat. The goal of preventing Afghanistan from again becoming an al Qaeda terrorist training ground cannot be accomplished by bombing the country into submission. This is a complicated political, diplomatic and sociological challenge.
President Obama, in office less than a year, just like JFK, must soon make a decision regarding the politically charged prospect of approving or disapproving more troops being called for by a top military general. I hope he is aware of the assessment of others who have tried to subdue this ragged country:
“Afghanistan taught us an invaluable lesson . . . It has been and always will be impossible to solve political problems using force. We should have helped the people of Afghanistan in improving their life, but it was a gross mistake to send troops into the country.”– Retired Red Army General Boris Gromov
This article, by John Prados,was published by Foreign Policy in Focus, October 03, 2009
Former CIA director Michael Hayden played a key role in organizing support among his predecessors for the letter a group of them sent last week demanding that President Barack Obama end or curtail the Justice Department investigation into abuses by CIA interrogators during the Bush years. This initiative comes on top of months of active campaigning during which Hayden pressed the same point from every soapbox he could find.
Attorney General Eric Holder would be justified in wondering why General Hayden is so determined to suppress this investigation. The public is entitled to ask the same question. Hayden effectively argues for secret government and against accountability. His arguments are a disturbing carryover from the Bush administration and its violation of domestic and international law. Tortuous Arguments Sent to the president on September 18, the letter was signed by General Hayden, his Bush-era predecessors Porter J. Goss and George J. Tenet, and former CIA bosses John M. Deutch, R. James Woolsey, William J. Webster, and James R. Schlesinger. They argue that the torture investigation currently undertaken by the Justice Department sets a bad precedent to reopen matters settled by a previous administration and that "zeal on the part of some to uncover every action taken" might incline our foreign allies not to share intelligence with the CIA because "they simply cannot rely upon our promises of secrecy."
Both arguments are significantly misleading. Both featured prominently in General Hayden’s earlier attempts to head off the investigation that Attorney General Holder ordered on August 24. And both seek to cloak CIA misdeeds behind fatuous appeals to national security.
The Hayden argument about foreign cooperation, for instance, is a favorite CIA smokescreen. Since the agency conducts 90% of its operations in cooperation with foreign services this is an all-purpose excuse. The other side of the coin is that the CIA frequently denies information to foreign services. The stories of the British, Australian, Israeli, French, and Danish reviews of pre-Iraq war intelligence are full of notes on all the data that the CIA withheld from them. Lack of CIA cooperation has brought legal prosecutions in Britain, Germany, Canada, and Italy to a halt. In short, CIA cooperation with allied intelligence services has been uneven and self-interested. Plain calculations of the advantage in collaborating with the CIA are far more important drivers of states’ propensity to work alongside us than simple issues of the protection of classified information. And the use of secrecy to hide illegal activity itself adds to the damage. In Great Britain both the foreign and domestic intelligence services (MI-6 and MI-5) are currently being investigated for collaborating with the CIA on "interrogations." The best way to limit the impact of scandal has long been to get the bad news out as quickly as possible — the cover-up is worse than the crime.
As for the Justice Department’s "zeal" to uncover this sordid record, the investigation so far is not the result of some rush to judgment but of patient digging by a host of reporters and commentators. Our honorable spymasters resisted this probe at every turn. For instance, the original revelation of the CIA’s "black prisons," Dana Priest’s story in the Washington Post on November 2, 2005, identified a facility in Afghanistan called the "Salt Pit" as the largest such prison in the country. Priest also reported the death of an inmate there at the hands of an inexperienced CIA officer. Agency officials probably began destroying the videotapes of the CIA interrogation sessions within days of the story’s publication. Porter Goss, the CIA director at the time, reportedly opposed this obstruction of justice (the tapes had been subpoenaed for the trial of alleged terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, and the CIA filed a written declaration that they did not exist). But Goss never appeared before the congressional intelligence committees to explain these circumstances. In fact, Goss briefed Congress only once on CIA interrogations — to say that the agency was awaiting new Department of Justice analyses of the legality of torture.
Under George Tenet, another signatory of the Hayden Letter, the black prisons and interrogation programs got started. Tenet issued directives for conducting these programs in January 2003, according to the recently declassified CIA Inspector General’s report on the interrogations. The documented cases of detainee deaths took place during Tenet’s tenure. Tales of "renditions, "ghost planes," and more were already becoming legion. A Muslim cleric was kidnapped off the street in Italy. But Tenet appeared at a congressional briefing only once, in September 2003.
As for Jim Woolsey, he was one of the neocon cheerleaders for war with Iraq and a primary booster of the fabrication that Saddam Hussein, in league with al-Qaeda, was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Iraq brought us Abu Ghraib.
There is also a glaring omission. Admiral Stansfield Turner, who tried to craft a regime of intelligence within the law after the Church-Pike era, is found nowhere on the Hayden Letter. Turner no doubt preserved a sense that intelligence scandals only fester until they are laid open to the light of day. Hayden’s Record From the beginning Michael Hayden strove to contain the torture scandal. He took over the CIA only three months before President George W. Bush, bowing to white-hot controversy in September 2006, acknowledged the black prisons, closed them, and sent the remaining detainees to Guantánamo Bay. Hayden went from a congressional appearance that July at which he anticipated reviving CIA interrogations, to a marathon day of half a dozen briefings of lawmakers when Bush brought down the ax. Hayden actually presided over 15 of the 22 CIA events he staged for Congress prior to the Obama presidency. He ordered a security investigation of the CIA Inspector General. He sought fresh Justice Department opinions on the legality of torture. Through it all, Hayden argued that there was nothing to investigate in the CIA interrogation program — and had the temerity to cite the Bush Justice Department as his authority. This department repeatedly pronounced torture legal during the Bush years. A Justice Department decision to investigate would have been tantamount to rejecting its own legal arguments — and these were the same people who fired federal prosecutors to enforce a certain political line. Those legal positions and political tendencies without question cloud the Bush Justice Department decisions against prosecuting any but the most egregious torture cases — as well as the prosecutors’ failure to pursue accountability up the chain of command.
The general has an awfully tin ear for the public. At a mid-September conference in Geneva sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Hayden argued that besides the usual technical and legal considerations, intelligence activities need to be "politically sustainable." The CIA interrogation program was inherently controversial because it went against the grain of traditional American values — it was never politically sustainable. The notion that refusing to investigate these excesses can make them go away would be laughable if it were not so disturbing.
Most people have a rule for when they get into a hole: stop digging. Evidently Michael Hayden’s rule is to dig deeper. The Hayden approach of hiding behind secrecy will virtually guarantee that this scandal deepens and becomes more sinister.
This article, by Tom Engelhardt, was posted to Alternet, September 26, 2009
Front and center in the debate over the Afghan War these days are General Stanley "Stan" McChrystal, Afghan war commander, whose "classified, pre-decisional" and devastating report -- almost eight years and at least $220 billion later, the war is a complete disaster -- was conveniently, not to say suspiciously, leaked to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post by we-know-not-who at a particularly embarrassing moment for Barack Obama; Admiral Michael "Mike" Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has been increasingly vocal about a "deteriorating" war and the need for more American boots on the ground; and the president himself, who blitzed every TV show in sight last Sunday and Monday for his health reform program, but spent significant time expressing doubts about sending more American troops to Afghanistan. ("I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan... or sending a message that America is here for the duration.")
On the other hand, here's someone you haven't seen front and center for a while: General David Petraeus. He was, of course, George W. Bush's pick to lead the president's last-ditch effort in Iraq. He was the poster boy for Bush's military policies in his last two years. He was the highly praised architect and symbol of "the surge." He appeared repeatedly, his chest a mass of medals and ribbons, for heavily publicized, widely televised congressional testimony, complete with charts and graphs, that was meant, at least in part, for the American public. He was the man who, to use an image from that period which has recently resurfaced, managed to synchronize the American and Baghdad "clocks," pacifying for a time both the home and war fronts.
He never met a journalist, as far as we can tell, he didn't want to woo. (And he clearly won over the influential Tom Ricks, then of the Washington Post, who wrote The Gamble, a bestselling paean to him and his sub-commanders.) From the look of it, he's the most political general to come down the pike since, in 1951 in the midst of the Korean War, General Douglas MacArthur said his goodbyes to Congress after being cashiered by President Truman for insubordination -- for, in effect, wanting to run his own war and the foreign policy that went with it. It was Petraeus who brought Vietnam-era counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN) back from the crypt, overseeing the writing of a new Army counterinsurgency manual that would make it central to both the ongoing wars and what are already being referred to as the "next" ones.
Before he left office, Bush advanced his favorite general to the head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the former president's Global War on Terror across the energy heartlands of the planet from Egypt to Pakistan. The command is, of course, especially focused on Bush's two full-scale wars: the Iraq War, now being pursued under Petraeus's former subordinate, General Ray Odierno, and the Afghan War, for which Petraeus seems to have personally handpicked a new commanding general, Stan McChrystal. From the military's dark side world of special ops and targeted assassinations, McChrystal had operated in Iraq and was also part of an Army promotion board headed by Petraeus that advanced the careers of officers committed to counterinsurgency. To install McChrystal in May, Obama abruptly sacked the then-Afghan war commander, General David McKiernan, in what was then considered, with some exaggeration, a new MacArthur moment.
On taking over, McChrystal, who had previously been a counterterrorism guy (and isn't about to give that up, either), swore fealty to counterinsurgency doctrine (that is, to Petraeus) by proclaiming that the American goal in Afghanistan must not be primarily to hunt down and kill Taliban insurgents, but to "protect the population." He also turned to a "team" of civilian experts, largely gathered from Washington think-tanks, a number of whom had been involved in planning out Petraeus's Iraq surge of 2007, to make an assessment of the state of the war and what needed to be done. Think of them as the Surgettes.
As in many official reassessments, the cast of characters essentially guaranteed the results before a single meeting was held. Based on past history and opinions, this team could only provide one Petraeus-approved answer to the war: more -- more troops, up to 40,000-45,000 of them, and other resources for an American counterinsurgency operation without end.
Hence, even if McChrystal's name is on it, the report slipped to Bob Woodward which just sandbagged the president has a distinctly Petraeusian shape to it. In a piece linked to Woodward's bombshell in the Washington Post, Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Karen DeYoung wrote of unnamed officials in Washington who claimed "the military has been trying to push Obama into a corner." The language in the coverage elsewhere has been similar.
There is, wrote DeYoung a day later, now a "rupture" between the military "pushing for an early decision to send more troops" and civilian policymakers "increasingly doubtful of an escalating nation-building effort." Nancy Youssef of McClatchy News wrote about how "mixed signals" from Washington were causing "increasing ire from U.S. commanders in Afghanistan"; a group of McClatchy reporters talked of military advocates of escalation feeling "frustration" over "White House dithering." David Sanger of the New York Times described "a split between an American military that says it needs more troops now and an American president clearly reluctant to leap into that abyss." "Impatient" is about the calmest word you'll see for the attitude of the military top command right now.
Buyer's Remorse, the Afghan War, and the President
In the midst of all this, between Admiral Mullen and General McChrystal is, it seems, a missing man. The most photogenic general in our recent history, the man who created the doctrine and oversees the war, the man who is now shaping the U.S. Army (and its future plans and career patterns), is somehow, at this crucial moment, out of the Washington spotlight. This last week General Petraeus was, in fact, in England, giving a speech and writing an article for the (London) Times laying out his basic "protect the population" version of counterinsurgency and praising our British allies by quoting one of their great imperial plunderers. ("If Cecil Rhodes was correct in his wonderful observation that 'being an Englishman is the greatest prize in the lottery of life,' and I'm inclined to think that he was, then the second greatest prize in the lottery of life must be to be a friend of an Englishman, and based on that, the more than 230,000 men and women in uniform who work with your country's finest day by day are very lucky indeed, as am I.")
Only at mid-week, with Washington aboil, did he arrive in the capital for a counterinsurgency conference at the National Press Club and quietly "endorse" "General McChrystal's assessment." Whatever the look of things, however, it's unlikely that Petraeus is actually on the sidelines at this moment of heightened tension. He is undoubtedly still The Man.
So much is, of course, happening just beyond the sightlines of those of us who are mere citizens of this country, which is why inference and guesswork are, unfortunately, the order of the day. Read any account in a major newspaper right now and it's guaranteed to be chock-a-block full of senior officials and top military officers who are never "authorized to speak," but nonetheless yak away from behind a scrim of anonymity. Petraeus may or may not be one of them, but the odds are reasonable that this is still a Petraeus Moment.
If so, Obama has only himself to blame. He took up Afghanistan ("the right war") in the presidential campaign as proof that, despite wanting to end the war in Iraq, he was tough. (Why is it that a Democratic candidate needs a war or threat of war to trash-talk about in order to prove his "strength," when doing so is obviously a sign of weakness?)
Once in office, Obama compounded the damage by doubling down his bet on the war. In March, he introduced a "comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan" in his first significant public statement on the subject, which had expansion written all over it. He also agreed to send in 21,000 more troops (which, by the way, Petraeus reportedly convinced him to do). In August, in another sign of weakness masquerading as strength, before an unenthusiastic audience at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, he unnecessarily declared: "This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity." All of this he will now pay for at the hands of Petraeus, or if not him, then a coterie of military men behind the latest push for a new kind of Afghan War.
As it happens, this was never Obama's "war of necessity." It was always Petraeus's. And the new report from McChrystal and the Surgettes is undoubtedly Petraeus's progeny as well. It seems, in fact, cleverly put together to catch a cautious president, who wasn't cautious enough about his war of choice, in a potentially devastating trap. The military insistence on quick action on a troop decision sets up a devastating choice for the president: "Failure to provide adequate resources also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure." Go against your chosen general and the failure that follows is yours alone. (Unnamed figures supposedly close to McChrystal are already launching test balloons, passed on by others, suggesting that the general might resign in protest if the president doesn't deliver -- a possibility he has denied even considering.) On the other hand, offer him somewhere between 15,000 and 45,000 more American troops as well as other resources, and the failure that follows will still be yours.
It's a basic lose-lose proposition and, as journalist Eric Schmitt wrote in a New York Times assessment of the situation, "it will be very hard to say no to General McChrystal." No wonder the president and some of his men are dragging their feet and looking elsewhere. As one typically anonymous "defense analyst" quoted in the Los Angeles Times said, the administration is suffering "buyer's remorse for this war... They never really thought about what was required, and now they have sticker shock."
Admittedly, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 51% of Americans are against sending in more troops. (Who knows how they would react to a president who went on TV to announce that he had genuinely reconsidered?) Official Washington is another matter. For General Petraeus, who claims to have no political ambitions but is periodically mentioned as the Eisenhower of 2012, how potentially peachy to launch your campaign against the president who lost you the war.
A Petraeus Moment?
In the present context, the media language being used to describe this military-civilian conflict of wills -- frustration, impatience, split, rupture, ire -- may fall short of capturing the import of a moment which has been brewing, institutionally speaking, for a long time. There have been increasing numbers of generals' "revolts" of various sorts in our recent past. Of course, George W. Bush was insistent on turning planning over to his generals (though only when he liked them), something Barack Obama criticized him for during the election campaign. ("The job of the commander in chief is to listen to the best counsel available and to listen even to people you don't agree with and then ultimately you make the final decision and you take responsibility for those actions.")
Now, it looks as if we are about to have a civilian-military encounter of the first order in which Obama will indeed need to take responsibility for difficult actions (or the lack thereof). If a genuine clash heats up, expect more discussion of "MacArthur moments," but this will not be Truman versus MacArthur redux, and not just because Petraeus seems to be a subtler political player than MacArthur ever was.
Over the nearly six decades that separate us from Truman's great moment, the Pentagon has become a far more overwhelming institution. In Afghanistan, as in Washington, it has swallowed up much of what once was intelligence, as it is swallowing up much of what once was diplomacy. It is linked to one of the two businesses, the Pentagon-subsidized weapons industry, which has proven an American success story even in the worst of economic times (the other remains Hollywood). It now holds a far different position in a society that seems to feed on war.
It's one thing for the leaders of a country to say that war should be left to the generals when suddenly embroiled in conflict, quite another when that country is eternally in a state of war. In such a case, if you turn crucial war decisions over to the military, you functionally turn foreign policy over to them as well. All of this is made more complicated, because the cast of "civilians" theoretically pitted against the military right now includes Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general who is the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Douglas Lute, a lieutenant general who is the president's special advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan (dubbed the "war czar" when he held the same position in the Bush administration), and James Jones, a retired Marine Corps general, who is national security advisor, not to speak of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The question is: will an already heavily militarized foreign policy geared to endless global war be surrendered to the generals? Depending on what Obama does, the answer to that question may not be fully, or even largely, clarified this time around. He may quietly give way, or they may, or compromises may be reached behind the scenes. After all, careers and political futures are at stake.
But consider us warned. This is a question that is not likely to go away and that may determine what this country becomes.
We know what a MacArthur moment was; we may find out soon enough what a Petraeus moment is.
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 Seumqs Milne, was originally published by the Associated Press, May 3, 2009
Politicians crave a whitewash – but Britain must hold a fully open public inquiry into the bloodbath it helped to create
It's hardly surprising that those responsible for the human and social catastrophe unleashed by the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, on both sides of the Atlantic, should be desperate to rewrite its history – or try to salvage the shattered reputation of those armies that carried it out. In Britain, as the bulk of its troops withdraw after a campaign that has already lasted longer than the second world war, that propaganda offensive has now reached fever pitch.
Gordon Brown claimed yesterday that the wreckage of blood-drenched Iraq was a "success story". The defence secretary John Hutton insisted Britain should be proud of its "legacy" in the devastated cities of the south. Hilary Benn, the environment secretary boasted of his support for the original aggression on BBC's Question Time yesterday, declaring that " we leave Iraq a better place" – a line repeated word for word by the Sun today and echoed across much of the media.
But the politicians' craving for a whitewash is no reason for anyone else to give house room to such an absurd travesty of the truth. The Iraq war has been a monstrous crime. Based on a false pretext, it has left hundreds of thousands dead, created more than four million refugees, unleashed an orgy of ethnic cleansing and laid waste to the broken infrastructure of a country already on its knees from 12 years of sanctions and a generation of war.
On the eve of the 2003 invasion, Tony Blair told parliament that while there would be civilian casualties, Saddam Hussein would be "responsible for many more deaths even in one year than we will be in any conflict". Amnesty International reckoned annual deaths in Iraq linked to repression at the time to be in the low hundreds. Civilian deaths alone in the six years since the US-British attack are now estimated anywhere between 150,000 (the Iraqi government's figure) and a million-plus.
But when paying tribute to the 179 British soldiers killed in Iraq, ministers could not bring themselves to honour the victims of the bloodbath they helped inflict – let alone to acknowledge the tens of thousands of prisoners held without trial, the massacres and rampant torture Britain shares responsibility for: the very crimes of the former regime used to justify the war.
Yet to this day only one Briton has been found guilty of a war crime in Iraq: Donald Payne, convicted of inhuman treatement of detainees in Basra. No wonder a majority in Iraq and Britain have long wanted all foreign troops withdrawn – or that Iraqis find claims of a "burgeoning democracy", Britain's "successful mission" and tales of "reconstruction" hard to take remotely seriously. From Basra to Baquba, basic services, power supplies, sewage treatment and clean water are in grimly short supply, while a corrupt sectarian carve-up by a tightly licensed political elite survives only with the protection of US firepower.
That's why the prominent Basra-based president of the Iraqi oil workers' federation Hassan Juma'a wrote this month that history would not look kindly on Britain for its role in Iraq and that its troops' retreat would be the occasion for a "festival".
Of course Britain's withdrawal is welcome in both countries. But the occupation continues. The British army is handing over control of Basra to the Americans, while 400 British troops are to stay on as "advisers" and "trainers" – a reprise of the role they had in Iraq before 1958. In an ominous marker for the future, Brown yesterday declared he was anxious for Britain to get involved in "protecting" Iraqi oil supplies – which of course lay behind the invasion in the first place.
The British refusal to let go reflects the continuing slippage on a much larger scale of Barack Obama's own staged withdrawal plans. Not only does it seem all US combat troops will not after all be pulling out of Iraqi cities by the end of June, but there are persistent US hints that "agreement" may be reached with the Iraqi government to stay on after the announced full withdrawal by the end of 2011. The aggressors are clearly not going to go quietly.
Meanwhile, all the extravagant claims about a post-surge transformation of Iraq's security are once again looking foolishly premature. The killing of three US soldiers in Anbar province on Thursday confirmed a rising trend of resistance attacks in April, combined with a string of horrific suicide bombings and increasing civilian deaths, now running at over 400 a month.
There can only be a durable stabilisation of Iraq once the occupation has ended and all representative political forces are brought into a negotiated settlement. In the meantime, a political accounting for what has been inflicted on Iraq – which must include a fully open public inquiry – has yet to begin in Britain. That is essential for Britain's own corroded political culture – but also because the same blunders and crimes are now being repeated in the escalation of another US-led war: in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This article, by Jason Leopold, was posted to the Public Record, March 27, 2009
While Congress has focused primarily on the country’s economic turmoil and the lavish bonuses paid to Wall Street executives, a Senate Armed Services Committee report currently in the process of being declassified will force lawmakers to shift gears.
The Armed Services Committee will release--possibly as early as next week—its voluminous report on the treatment of alleged terrorist detainees held in U.S. custody and the brutal interrogation techniques they were subjected to, according to Defense Department and intelligence sources who described the report as the most detailed account to date of the roles senior Bush administration and Defense Department officials played in implementing a policy of torture at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and other detention centers.
The full declassified version of the report is 200 pages, contains 2,000 footnotes, and will reveal a plethora of new information about the genesis of the Bush administration's interrogation policies. The investigation relied upon the testimony of 70 people, generated 38,000 pages of documents, and took 18 months to complete. The declassified version of his report will include a full account of the roles military psychologists played in assisting the Bush administration implement a policy of torture.
The committee released a 19-page summary of its investigation last year and voted last November to accept the full classified version of the report's findings. According to the executive summary, “efforts by administration officials to place responsibility for detainee abuses mostly on lower ranking military personnel as both inaccurate and misleading.”
The release of the full declassified version of the Armed Service's Committee report will also put additional pressure on the Obama administration to immediately launch a full-scale investigation into the Bush administration’s interrogation program. Last week, the ACLU called on Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to probe Bush administration officials who signed off on and approved the torture of prisoners.
But at his first prime-time news conference in February, Obama said in response to questions about the Bush administration's interrogation practices that no one is above the law but that he favored looking forward, not backward.
“What I have said is that my administration is going to operate in a way that leaves no doubt that we do not torture that we abide by the Geneva Conventions and that we observe our traditions of rule of law and due process as we are vigorously going after terrorists that can do us harm,” Obama said.
"My view is also that nobody is above the law, and if there are clear instances of wrongdoing then people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen. But generally speaking I am more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards.”
Levin has asked Holder to appoint someone to further probe his report’s findings and make a recommendation to Holder on how to proceed. The attorney general hasn't yet responded. Matthew Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, said Friday he was working on obtaining a response to Levin's recommendation to Holder but Miller was unable to provide The Public Record with a response by the time this story was published. We will, however, update this report with Miller's response when we receive it.
In January, at a progressive media summit, Levin said, “There needs to be, I believe, an accounting of torture in this country.”
“I suggested to Eric Holder, who will be the next Attorney General despite the delay that took place today, that he select some people or hire an outside person who's got real credibility, perhaps a retired federal judge, to take all the available information, and there’s reams of it,” Levin said Jan. 21. “Look, the Vice President, the former Vice President of the United States, acknowledged that they engaged in torture. He says that waterboarding’s not torture, he’s wrong. Waterboarding is torture, period.
“And this administration and Eric Holder has said so. It’s torture and there’s other forms that they engaged in, so what needs to be done, I believe, in addition to finishing the investigation, is for the Attorney General, the new Attorney General, to identify some people in his office to take the existing documentation. The acknowledgment, folks, this is not a very difficult — this is almost like a case in court with an agreed upon statement of facts, that the previous administration acknowledges that they engaged in waterboarding, period. . .”
The Armed Serivces Committee investigation has already concluded that “members of [Bush’s] Cabinet and other senior officials participated in meetings inside the White House in 2002 and 2003 where specific interrogation techniques were discussed. National Security Council Principals reviewed the CIA’s interrogation program during that period.”
But the declassified committee report contains detailed information about those secret meetings. John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, participated in several of these meetings prior to writing a legal opinion authorizing interrogators to subject detainees to waterboarding and other brutal techniques.
Last year, in response to questions by Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Condoleezza Rice, who was National Security Adviser when interrogation methods were discussed, said that beginning as early as the summer of 2002 Yoo provided legal advice at “several” meetings that she attended and that the Department of Justice’s advice on the interrogation program “was being coordinated by Counsel to the President Alberto Gonzales.”
Yoo met with Gonzales and David Addington, counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney, to discuss the subjects he intended to address in the August 2002 torture memos, according to a declassified summary of the Armed Services Committee report.
Those meetings and the legal opinions that followed have also been scrutinized in a separate report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), which spent four years reviewing the legal work of Yoo and other attorneys at the OLC. The OPR report, which is still classified, zeroed in on the meetings Yoo participated in and concluded that Yoo had breached “professional standards” by acting as an advocate for White House policy, according to Justice Department officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the report is still classified. SERE Techniques
The declassified report will include a full accounting of how the military’s Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training program, which was meant to prepare U.S. soldiers for abuse they might suffer if captured by an outlaw regime, was reverse engineered and used against detainees during interrogations. SERE training techniques include stress positions, forced nudity, use of fear, sleep deprivation and, until recently, the Navy SERE school used the waterboard.
Already, the committee has revealed that discussion surrounding the use of SERE techniques on detainees began in the spring of 2002 and inquiries about the use of SERE methods were made in December 2001, well before the issuance of a legal opinion authorizing the use of harsh interrogation methods.
“Resistance training (the “R” in SERE) was a subject of discussion,” Levin said in a statement last December accompanying an executive summary of his committee’s report. “We discovered that in July 2002, at the request of [Department of Defense] General Counsel Jim Haynes’s office, the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) - the DoD agency that oversees SERE training - provided Haynes’s office a list of techniques used in SERE school and an assessment of the psychological effect of using those techniques on students.
“In December 2002, Secretary of Defense [Donald] Rumsfeld authorized some of those same techniques for use against detainees at [Guantanamo]. We discovered that, in January 2003, SERE instructors traveled to [Guantanamo] and trained interrogators to hit detainees and put them in stress positions. And the investigation revealed that instructors from JPRA’s SERE school participated in at least one abusive interrogation and were present for others during a visit to Iraq in September 2003.
“Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there,” the Armed Services Committee report concluded.” Secretary Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 approval of Mr. Haynes’s recommendation that most of the techniques contained in [Guantanamo’s] October 11, 2002 request be authorized, influenced and contributed to the use of abusive techniques, including military working dogs, forced nudity, and stress positions, in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
The investigation found that the CIA’s interrogation program “included at least one SERE training technique, waterboarding.”
“Senior Administration lawyers, including Alberto Gonzales, Counsel to the President, and David Addington, Counsel to the Vice President, were consulted on the development of legal analysis of CIA interrogation techniques,” a declassified summary of the report said. “Legal opinions subsequently issued by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) interpreted legal obligations under U.S. anti-torture laws and determined the legality of CIA interrogation techniques.
“Those OLC opinions distorted the meaning and intent of anti-torture laws, rationalized the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody and influenced Department of Defense determinations as to what interrogation techniques were legal for use during interrogations conducted by U.S. military personnel.”
Last June, Levin said he sent Jay Bybee, the former assistant attorney general at OLC who signed the infamous Aug. 1, 2002 torture memo, a list of questions about the implementation of SERE methods.
“In his response to my questions, Jay Bybee said that, in July 2002 – just before those two OLC opinions were issued and about the same time Jim Haynes’s office requested a list of SERE training techniques and information on the psychological effects of SERE (including waterboarding), the CIA provided OLC with an assessment of the psychological effects of SERE resistance training,” Levin said last December. “Jay Bybee wrote me that the assessment provided by the CIA was used to “inform” the August 1, 2002 OLC legal opinion that has yet to be made public. (CIA officials, including George Tenet and acting General Counsel John Rizzo declined to answer questions relating to both that assessment and the CIA’s interrogation program.)
“Judge Bybee’s answers provide insight into how senior officials in the United States government sought information on aggressive techniques used in SERE training, twisted the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”
Bybee’s legal work in this area was also harshly criticized by OPR, according to sources familiar with the contents of the watchdog's report. Bybee is now a judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
The investigation Levin's committee conducted concluded that a Feb. 7, 2002, action memorandum signed by George W. Bush that excluded “war on terror” suspects from Geneva Convention protections was responsible for the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.
“Following the President’s determination, techniques such as waterboarding, nudity, and stress positions, used in SERE training to simulate tactics used by enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions, were authorized for use in interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody,” the committee’s report concluded.
“The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”
Rumsfeld and Chertoff
Rice told Levin in written responses to his committee’s queries last September that the CIA’s interrogation program was reviewed by National Security Council principals and that Rumsfeld participated in that review.
Rice said that when the CIA sought approval of the interrogation program she asked Tenet to brief the principals and asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to “personally advise NSC Principals whether the program was lawful.”
John Bellinger, Rice’s Legal Advisor, told Levin that he asked CIA lawyers to seek legal advice not only from the OLC, but also from the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, headed at the time by Michael Chertoff.
Chertoff reportedly advised the CIA General Counsel Scott Muller and his deputy, John Rizzo, that the August 1, 2002, legal opinion protected CIA interrogators from prosecution if they used waterboarding or other harsh tactics.
In February 2005, during his Senate confirmation hearing to become Homeland Security secretary, Chertoff said he provided the CIA broad guidance in response to its questions about interrogation methods, but never addressed the legality of specific techniques.
Abu Zubaydah’s Torture
The declassified report will also for the first time include a full account about the fierce objections the FBI had toward the CIA’s interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, an alleged “high-value” al-Qaeda detainee, and an in-depth accounting of the meetings and discussions that led to his torture..
According to documents Levin’s committee obtained from the Department of Justice, Daniel Levin, the former head of the agency’s Office of Legal Counsel, indicated that in 2002 "in the context of the Zubaydah interrogation, he attended a meeting at the National Security Council (NSC) at which CIA techniques were discussed.
Daniel “Levin stated that a DOJ Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) attorney gave advice at the meeting about the legality of CIA interrogation techniques. Levin stated that in connection with this meeting, or immediately after it, FBI Director Mueller decided that FBI agents would not participate in interrogations involving techniques the FBI did not normally use in the United States, even though OLC had determined such techniques were legal," according to questions directed to Rice by Sen. Levin.
Daniel Levin was forced to resign in 2004 when Alberto Gonzales became Attorney General because he objected to waterboarding.
The CIA videotaped Zubaydah’s interrogations and the tapes were destroyed. Two weeks ago, author Mark Danner disclosed a report prepared by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), concluding that the abuse of 14 “high-value” detainees, including Zubaydah, “constituted torture.”
“In addition, many other elements of the ill treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” according to the ICRC report. Since the ICRC’s responsibilities involve ensuring compliance with the Geneva Conventions and supervising the treatment of prisoners of war, the organization’s findings carry legal weight.
The ICRC report also found that there was a consistency in many details from the detainees who were interviewed separately and that the first “high-value” detainee to be captured, Abu Zubaydah, appeared to have been used as something of a test case by his interrogators. Zubaydah was one of the prisoners whose interrogations were videotaped by the CIA.
In her responses to Sen. Levin’s questions regarding Zubaydah’s interrogation, Rice said she had “general recollection that FBI had decided not to participate in the CIA interrogations but I do not recall any specific discussions about withdrawing FBI personnel from the Abu Zubaydah interrogation.”
In the book The One Percent Doctrine, author Ron Suskind said Zubaydah was not the “high-value detainee” the CIA had claimed. Rather, Zubaydah was a minor player in the al-Qaeda organization, handling travel for associates and their families, Suskind wrote.
However, “Bush was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth,” Suskind wrote. Bush asked one CIA briefer, “Do some of these harsh methods really work?”
Zubaydah was strapped to a waterboard and, fearing imminent death, he spoke about a wide range of plots against a number of U.S. targets, such as shopping malls, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. Yet, Suskind wrote, the information Zubaydah provided under duress was not credible.
According to Suskind, Zubaydah’s captors soon discovered that their prisoner was mentally ill and knew nothing about terrorist operations or impending plots. That realization was “echoed at the top of CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President,” Suskind wrote.
Still, in public statements, President Bush portrayed Zubaydah as “one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States” and added: “So, the CIA used an alternative set of procedures” to get Zubaydah to talk.
The President did not want to “lose face” because he had stated his importance publicly, Suskind wrote.
The final conclusion of Levin’s investigation was that the “abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own.”
“Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at [Guantanamo],” a declassified summary of his report said. “Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.”
This article, by Jason Leopold, was posted to the Public Record, March 31, 2009
Doug Feith, the former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, is best known for cooking up bogus prewar Iraq intelligence linking Iraq and al-Qaeda and 9/11.
But in addition to his duties to his duties stove piping phony intelligence directly to former Vice President Dick Cheney, Feith was also a key member of a small working group of Defense Department officials who oversaw the implementation of “enhanced interrogation techniques” at Guantanamo Bay that has been widely regarded as torture.
Last weekend, Spain’s investigating magistrate Baltasar Garzon, who issued an arrest warrant for former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, ordered prosecutors to investigate Feith and five other senior Bush administration officials for sanctioning torture at the prison facility.
On Sunday, Feith responded to the charges. He told the BBC he that "the charges as related to me make no sense.”
"They criticize me for promoting a controversial position that I never advocated," Feith claimed. But Feith’s denials ring hollow.
The allegations against Feith contained in the 98-page complaint filed in March 2008 by human rights lawyer Gonzalo Boye and the Association for the [Dignity] was largely gleaned from a lengthy interview Feith gave to international attorney and University College London professor Phillpe Sands. Sands is the author of “Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values.
The other Bush officials named in the complaint are: former Justice Department attorneys John Yoo and Jay Bybee, Alberto Gonzales, Cheney’s counsel David Addington, and former Pentagon general counsel William Haynes, II. The charges cited in the complaint against these officials was also largely based on material Sands cited in his book about the roles they played in sanctioning torture.
Last year, in response to questions by Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Condoleezza Rice, who, as National Security Adviser, was part of a working group that included Haynes, Yoo, Addington and Gonzales, said interrogation methods were discussed as early as the summer of 2002 and Yoo provided legal advice at “several” meetings that she attended. She said the DOJ’s advice on the interrogation program “was being coordinated by Counsel to the President Alberto Gonzales.”
Yoo met with Gonzales and Addington to discuss the subjects he intended to address in two August 2002 torture memos, according to a declassified summary of the Armed Services Committee report. Feith’s was also included in the discussions.
Sands wrote that as early as 2002, “Feith’s job was to provide advice across a wide range of issues, and the issues came to include advice on the Geneva Conventions and the conduct of military interrogations.”
Feith told Sands that he “played a major role in” George W. Bush’s decision to sign a Feb. 7, 2002 action memorandum suspending the Geneva Conventions for al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners who were imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay.
The memo did say that prisoners had to be treated “humanely,” but Feith told Sands the verbiage needed “to be fleshed out.” “But it’s a fine phrase—‘humane treatment,’” Feith added. Still, even with the phrase intact, the Common Article 3 restrictions against torture and “outrages upon personal dignity” were removed. Feith said 2002 was a special year for him.
“This year I was really a player,” Feith told Sands.
“I asked him whether, in the end, he was at all concerned that the Geneva decision might have diminished America’s moral authority,” Sands wrote. “He was not. ‘The problem with moral authority,’ [Feith] said, was ‘people who should know better, like yourself, siding with the assholes, to put it crudely.’”
“Douglas Feith had a long-standing intellectual interest in Geneva, and for many years had opposed legal protections for terrorists under international law” Sands wrote in his book. “He referred me to an article he had written in 1985, in The National Interest, setting out his basic view. Geneva provided incentives to play by the rules; those who chose not to follow the rules, he argued, shouldn’t be allowed to rely on them, or else the whole Geneva structure would collapse. The only way to protect Geneva, in other words, was sometimes to limit its scope. To uphold Geneva’s protections, you might have to cast them aside.”
In addition to Sands’ account, the Senate Armed Services Committee and the American Civil Liberties Union have released documents showing that Haynes regularly briefed Feith about a list of aggressive interrogation techniques for use against “high-value” Guantanamo detainees.
According to an executive summary of the Armed Services Committee report released last December, “techniques such as stress positions, removal of clothing, use of phobias (such as fear of dogs), and deprivation of light and auditory stimuli were all recommended for approval.”
In November 2002, Haynes sent Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld a memo stating that he “had discussed the issue [of enhanced interrogations] with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith, and General [Richard] Myers and that he believed they concurred in his recommendation.”
The Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to release a declassified version of its report that will include a full account of Feith’s role in implementing a policy of torture at Guantanamo. The report is 200 pages, contains 2,000 footnotes, and will reveal a wealth of new information about the genesis of the Bush administration's interrogation policies, according to these sources. The investigation relied upon the testimony of 70 people, generated 38,000 pages of documents, and took 18 months to complete.
Other documents released last year show that Feith worked closely with Pentagon general counsel William Haynes II in 2002 on an Army and Air Force survival-training program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE), which were meant to prepare U.S. soldiers for abuse they might suffer if captured by an outlaw regime, against detainees at Guantanamo. One of the SERE techniques used against detainees was waterboarding.
Moreover, Feith and Haynes were members of a Pentagon "working group" that met from January through March 2003 and prepared a report for Rumsfeld stating what methods military interrogators could use to extract information from a prisoner at Guantanamo. Yoo worked on the legal memo for the group.
Early drafts of the report advocated intimidating prisoners with dogs, removing prisoners' clothing, shaving their beards, slapping prisoners in the face and waterboarding.
Though some of the more extreme techniques were dropped as the list was winnowed down to 24 from 35, the final set of methods still included tactics for isolating and demeaning a detainee, known as "pride and ego down."
Such degrading tactics violated the Geneva Convention, which bars abusive or demeaning treatment of captives.
Rumsfeld signed the Feith’s and Haynes final report on April 2, 2003, two weeks after Bush ordered U.S. forces to invade Iraq.
One year later, photos depicting U.S. soldiers abusing and humiliating detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were publicly released.
According to a report by a panel headed by James Schlesinger on the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses in 2004, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez said Bush’s Feb. 7, 2002, memo suspending Geneva Conventions, which Feith had said he was principally responsible for, led him to implement "additional, tougher measures" against detainees.
This appeal, by Robin Long, was posted to Courage to Resist, March 2008
In 2004 when Jeremy Hinzman applied for refugee status in Canada the Conservative government stepped in at his Refugee Hearing and said that evidence challenging the legality of the war in Iraq can’t be used in this case. The U.N. Handbook for Refugees and the Nuremburg Principals say:
a soldier of an army that is involved in an illegal war of aggression has a higher international duty to refuse service. They also have the right to seek refugee protection in any country that is signatory to the Geneva Convention.
By refusing to allow him, and by precedent all other claimants, the right to use the argument that the war was illegal, the decision closed the door on that legal avenue for refugee protection.
The invasion of Iraq was clearly an illegal act of aggression. The U.S. was not under attack or the imminent threat of attack from the nation of Iraq. The action was also not approved by the U.N. Security Council. By taking this stance, the Conservative government is condoning the invasion and continuing occupation of Iraq. Is this what Canadians want? A majority of Americans want it to end and have also realized it to be a mistake. Canadians have long known it to be wrong. Why is the minority Conservative government still holding onto the idea and still deporting war resisters? Why are they separating families and being complicit in the incarceration of morally strong young men and women? What message is this sending?
Parliament voted to let war resisters remain
In June of 2007 Canada’s Parliament voted on a non-binding resolution to allow war resisters and their families permanent resident status. The vote passed. In agreement with the vote, a poll of Canadian opinion showed overwhelming support for the resolution. But I defiance of Parliament and the will of the people, the Conservative minority government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Immigration Minister Diane Finley ignored the bill. The government stated that all refugee claimants are give a fair chance to plead their case at the Refugee Board, and special treatment to these Iraq resisters wasn’t fair to the other claimants. The government has also stated in the past that we are not legitimate claimants because we are from the U.S. which they say has a fair and transparent justice system and we wouldn’t be singled out for being political.
On July 14th,2008 in my final attempt to stay in Canada, where my son and community are, Federal Judge Ann Mactavish stated that I didn’t prove I would be treated harshly by the U.S. military for being a politically outspoken opponent to the war in Iraq and the Bush administration policy. She predicted that my punishment would be minimal and I’d serve at most 30 days in the brig. (This is probably because less than 10% of AWOL cases are brought to court martial.) She then cleared the way for my deportation. Convicted of a felony Less than a month later I was tried in a court martial presided over by a judge who is a colonel in the Army, a person who has the President in her chain of command. (A person late appointed by Bush to Guantanamo Bay no doubt because of her credentials and political position.) The only aggravating evidence the prosecution presented was a 6 minute long video of me stating among other things that “I feel my president lied to me.” (A political statement.) The fact that this was found admissible in court for the crime of desertion is beyond me. There were no character witnesses brought against me. The only factor the prosecution wanted shown in determining a sentence was the fact that I was political and exercising my freedom of speech in criticizing the Commander in Chief. It seems like a conflict of interest to have a judge determine my fate when she has to ultimately answer to the President, while I was claiming the President was a domestic enemy. While I was openly saying in my defense that the Bush administration created reasons to go to Iraq, she had superiors to answer to who answer to the President.
The judge came back with a 30 month sentence; that’s two and a half years for not showing up for work I thought to be morally objectionable, by far the harshest sentence given to a deserter from the Iraq war. The only thing that saved me was a plea bargain for 15 months. I still received a dishonorable discharge. A dishonorable discharge will keep me from ever having a government job and be at a disadvantage in the civilian sector as well. I will have a hard time ever getting a loan for a house or a car. This conviction is also a felony! A felony will make it hard for me to return to Canada to be with my young family. Then again, Judge Ann Mactavish had already made sure I wouldn’t be allowed in for ten year.
People who committed far worse crimes have been getting off with lighter sentences than mine. I refused to participate in killing and got 15 months, but a First Infantry Division soldier, Spc. Belmor Ramos, was sentenced to only seven months after being convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in the case of four Iraqi men. In 2007, he stood guard while others blindfolded and shot in the head four unidentified Iraqi men, afterwards dumping their bodies in a Baghdad canal. During his court martial, Ramos admitted his guilt, stating, “I wanted them dead. I had no legal justification to do this” Where is the justice? The system is not fair and impartial. Can it really be transparent when you don’t know who is influencing the judge from up the chain of command? See how the military justice system works? It gives light sentences for killing, but God forbid someone should call the president a liar and war-monger. In a court martial, a person’s words and political opinions – if they are anti-war and critical of the president – seem be far more damaging to his case than someone’s illegal actions in an occupied foreign nation.
What about the contract I signed?
Often, people have argued that I signed a contract. I’d like to quote from a letter one of the Founding Fathers wrote to George Washington on his thoughts about contracts:
When performance, for instance, becomes impossible, non- performance is not immoral. So if performance becomes Self-destructive to the party, the law of self preservation Overrules the laws of obligations to others. For the reality of These principles I appeal to the true fountains of evidence, the head and heart of every rational man.--Thomas Jefferson, April 1793
For me to continue in my military contract would have been destructive to me as a person with my views, morals, and ideals. The contract I signed was to support and defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies foreign and domestic, and to obey the lawful orders of the President and those officers appointed over me. I did not sign to be the strong arm for corporate interests of oil. The so-called “liberation” of Iraq has turned into nothing more than a constant and protracted struggle for the people, against the forces that are trying to impose their will upon them for power and profit. True freedom is the ultimate expression and condition of a people to control their own destiny, not the manufactured, force-fed variety being offered to the people of Iraq. True democracy is not found at the end of the end of a gun barrel. It rises up from within the masses. The government manufactured pretenses for the war
The invasion of Iraq wasn’t about WMDs, or else we would have found some. It wasn’t about regime change, or else we would be in Darfur, or Indonesia. (Besides, regime change is not a legitimate reason to go to war.) It wasn’t about 9/11 terrorists because most of those were from Saudi Arabia. It didn’t say anywhere in my contract that I’d be going to foreign soil halfway around the world, to invade a country that was no threat to the U.S. It didn’t say in my contract that I would be called upon to risk my life, not defending the people or the Constitution of the United States, but creating more enemies for our country by being an occupier. The invasion of Iraq has made the world a much more dangerous place.
Iraq was never a real threat. And now the destabilized nation of Iraq has become a breeding ground, an awesome recruiting center, for al Qaeda. And it has exacted a great price from the American people. I’m not talking about the huge monetary price, but the human cost of war, the deaths of so many of our brave youth, the missing limbs, the PTSD, the suicides.
The order for me to go to Iraq was not a lawful one. It violated the Constitution. Article VI of the Constitution states that any treaty to which the U.S. is a signatory shall be the supreme law of the land. The last time I checked, the U.S. was a signing party to the Geneva Conventions. There are certain rules in that treaty for declaring war, and the last time I checked, regime change was not one of them. A country must be under attack or be under threat of imminent attack. Neither was true in the case of Iraq. Former President Bush had no right to interpret the Constitution or the Geneva Conventions simply as he saw fit, and the 107th Congress had no right to pass H.J. Res. 114 which “allowed” the president to invade Iraq. The Constitution was being ignored by the whole lot of them and they were derelict in their duty to uphold it.
The stand that the Conservative government of Canada has taken has separated a family – an act totally un-Canadian. I have a young son, a Canadian citizen. My partner, also a Canadian citizen, has multiple sclerosis and has been left to raise our son alone while I’m locked in the brig for refusing to participate in a war that Canada itself wouldn’t even send troops to. In 2003 the then Liberal government saw the holes in Bush’s intelligence and refused to participate in the invasion. The Canadian government not only deported me, but barred me from entering Canada again for ten years! My flesh and blood is there! Uphold Canada’s humanitarian tradition
The Conservatives are destroying Canada’s tradition of being a refuge from militarism and an asylum for those escaping injustice – a tradition that goes back to the times of slavery. Are they truly representing the people? Who are they working for really? The days of Bush have ended. This new Obama administration has a different view and different policies. It’s time for Mr. Stephen Harper to change his view. He should listen to what his Parliament and a majority of Canadians are saying.
Please support the movement to allow war resisters to stay in Canada and to pardon those in the U.S. Please help me to return to Canada to be with my son. I want only to live in peace and be in this life. Stop the war!
Robin Long, Prisoner L4830R35, NAVCON Brig Miramar
This was posted, by Adam Kokesh, to his blog, march 31, 2009
A message I received via YouTube:
Hello, I am not for nor against your beliefs..I respect everyone's, and every Marine's opinion. I was just curious, and if you don't want to answer I understand, but what event and such caused you to become "anti-war" (please don't take that the wrong way)? I'm not saying that I necessarily agree or disagree with the conflict in Iraq, but I volunteered to serve in the USMC and understood that it meant I could go to war and fight and possibly die, I never questioned it...But I don't know, I guess what I'm looking for is another prospective from someone who did. Again, I understand if you don't want to discuss it. Thank you for at least taking the time to read this and for volunteering for my beloved Corps. Semper Fidelis.
There was no one particular event and there was no regret for me in facing the hardships of war. I never questioned my duty, but I have since questioned the morality and Constitutionality of the war in Iraq. Remember, we swore an oath to the Constitution first, and obeying unconstitutional orders is contrary to that oath. Then there was Ronald Reagan, who said that resorting to war was essentially a sign of weakness. "Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means." My disillusionment about Iraq in particular began as a slow process with the "handover of power" on June 28th, 2004, when I was in Fallujah. There was no such handover, and there was no expected draw-down when I left. When the reality failed to meet the rhetoric, I started questioning.
Then there was the sinking feeling in my stomach when I realized (and was emotionally ready to accept) that we had been lied to. It didn't help when Allen Greenspan finally admitted, "the war was largely about oil," but it did help me to stop doubting myself.
We should all, as human beings, be "anti-war." What is war but the widespread, systematic destruction of human bodies by machinery? Who could be for that? Only those who are missing a part of their humanity. Sometimes the experience of war or the bloodlust of the military can take that away, but it is always ours to reclaim.
I am against this war because it is bad for America. It is bad for our security, it is bad for our military, it is bad for our economy, it is bad for our reputation abroad, and it is bad for our brothers and sisters who continue to loose their lives for lies. I am against war because I am a human being. I believe in the right to self-defense, and even collective self defense, but we should never take joy in even the most righteous acts of causing pain and suffering for fellow human beings.