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 Jon Soltz, was published by The Huffington Post, October 23, 2009
Yesterday, a coalition of US and international musicians, including Trent Reznor, R.E.M., Pearl Jam, Jackson Browne, Rise Against, Rosanne Cash, Billy Bragg and the Roots announced they were joining the National Campaign to Close Guantanamo, of which VoteVets.org is a part.
The musicians called for the close of the detention facility at Guantanamo, and issued a Freedom of Information Act request to find out how their own music was used in conjunction with torture.
Almost immediately, Liz Cheney and her neocon group "Keep America Safe" responded by calling the efforts "pathetic" and "laughable."
No, what's laughable is that Liz Cheney and her cronies think they can lecture a group that includes veterans on the harm that Gitmo has done to our troops and our own security. What's pathetic is that by lobbying to keep Gitmo open, Liz Cheney's group is helping keep alive one of the greatest recruiting posters that al Qaeda ever had, yet they dare call themselves "Keep America Safe." They might as well call it "Keep al Qaeda Recruiting."
In response to Cheney, Matthew Alexander, a former senior interrogator, said, "Guantanamo Bay remains an effective recruiting tool for Al Qaida to this day. The longer it remains open, the longer we'll fail to do all we can to protect ourselves from terrorist attacks. It is the epitome of everything we could have done wrong in the fight against Islamic extremism -- unlawful detentions without charge and torture and abuse. We can only defeat ourselves in this battle, and Guantanamo Bay was, and remains, a big step in that direction."
Hmmm... Liz Cheney who never performed an interrogation in her life, or a guy who did it for a living? Who has the cred here?
Matthew's position was echoed before, by VoteVets.org's Jay Bagwell, a former counterintelligence agent in Afghanistan. Bagwell, in a video recorded previously for VoteVets.org, "Torture makes our troops less safe. Torture creates terrorists. It's used so widely as a propaganda tool, now. In Afghanistan, all too often detainees had pamphlets on them depicting what happened at Guantanamo."
This one is tough. Liz Cheney or a guy who dealt with detainees in Afghanistan? Who do you trust more on what makes them tick?
The fact of the matter is that Guantanamo hurts our troops and makes America less safe. It has created enemies, some of whom surely went on to harm or kill American troops. It's time to stand up to the Cheneys, and close Guantanamo. You can help. Join Matthew, Jay, and the veterans at VoteVets.org by signing our petition to Congress, here.
This article, by James Whitaker, was published by Agence France Pressse, October 21, 2009
HAMILTON, Bermuda — Every morning Khalil Mamut rides to work through winding palm-lined lanes on his rental scooter.
He spends the day raking the bunkers and tending the greens of a majestic ocean side golf course. Some evenings he trains with his soccer team. Other nights he studies his English homework or simply relaxes watching a DVD, preferably something with Jackie Chan.
It is a simple existence. But it is a life he says he will never take for granted.
It has been four months since Mamut and three other Chinese Uighur Muslims were brought blinking into the Bermudian sunlight after a secret pre-dawn flight from Guantanamo Bay, where they had been imprisoned for seven years.
The unique resettlement project -- which will be mirrored soon when eight of their fellow Uighur detainees are given new homes in the Pacific island of Palau -- has worked out well for the Bermuda four.
The men say they are adapting to their new lives on this tiny paradise island, home to roughly 65,000 people, and spend much of their spare time swimming or fishing in the ocean.
"I would like to stay here forever -- to work, make money, hopefully get married, have kids and take them to the beach," Mamut said.
The men were among a larger group of Uighurs captured in Pakistan and Afghanistan and sold for bounty to US forces after fleeing the mountains in the wake of the US-led raids that followed the September 11, 2001 attacks.
They say they were living as refugees in Afghanistan, having faced religious persecution in China. Relations have long been tense between Uighurs and China's majority Han, with some 200 people dying in July in ethnic fighting.
But their captors claimed they had attended terror-training camps and they were flown to the US military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in June 2002.
After a series of military tribunals and court-room battles they were cleared of any links to global terrorism.
Unable to return to China where they would almost certainly be prosecuted, and with no country prepared to offer them asylum, they were trapped in legal limbo and spent seven years marooned at Guantanamo until the Bermuda government offered them a home.
President Barack Obama's administration has been asking nations to take in clear Guantanamo inmates as it struggles to shut down the camp, which for many around the world became a symbol of US "war on terror" excesses.
US lawmakers, alleging that the men still posed a risk, refused to let them come to the United States. And many nations dared not risk the wrath of China, which was infuriated when Albania accepted four of the Uighurs in 2006.
The resettlement in Bermuda has not been without hitches. Protesters marched on parliament and Premier Ewart Brown faced a vote of no-confidence for his pact with the Obama administration.
Britain also voiced frustration that it was not further consulted by the decision in Bermuda, a self-governing British overseas territory.
But on the streets the Uighurs have been warmly welcomed and are treated almost as minor celebrities.
They may have shaved their thick beards and swapped their prison fatigues for board shorts and sunglasses, but they are still instantly recognizable.
And it is not unusual for passers-by to stop, shake their hands and ask for a photograph.
"People are very peaceful, very friendly. Everywhere we go people recognize us and say, 'You are welcome, don't worry you can stay here'," Mamut said.
The reception in Bermuda has been a pleasant surprise for US-based advocates of the former inmates, who had voiced fear that they would have trouble adjusting to a nation with no Uighur community.
Until they arrived in Bermuda the four men -- Mamut, Abdulla Abdulqadir, Salahidin Abdulahat and Ablikim Turahu -- had never set foot on a golf course.
Their only experience of the sport was playing on a Wii games console at the low-security Iguana Camp in Guantanamo Bay, where they were transferred after being cleared of any wrongdoing.
Now they spend their days tending the manicured fairways of Bermuda's famous Port Royal course, which was hosting the PGA Grand Slam in October and draws a slew of famous visitors, recently including former US president Bill Clinton.
"It's beautiful," Mamut said. "It feels like we are working in a garden.
"Everywhere is so green, everywhere there are trees. We even have some ducks."
Outside of work Mamut and Abdulqadir spend much of their time playing soccer.
They train twice-a-week and play matches on Sundays for X-Roads, an amateur team managed by the imam of a local mosque.
They insist they are not bitter about the seven years they spent in Guantanamo and try not to think of the past.
"We have started a new life. What is done can't be undone," Mamut said.
"When we left Gitmo we left everything behind. I don't want to mention those suffering days," he aid.
"Praise be to Allah, we are in Bermuda now."
This editorial, by Clara Gutteridge, was published by The Guardian, September 11, 2009
The foreign secretary, David Miliband, today admitted that MI6 had referred "a case" to the attorney general, involving complicity in torture by one of its agents operating abroad. In a letter to the shadow foreign secretary, Miliband reveals little else, except that the torture happened in an undisclosed foreign country; and unlike the tranche of recent cases where MI5 agents have been accused of complicity in torture, the victim in this case was not a UK national, or a UK resident.
There are many instances of individuals known to have been held in US secret prisons where it would have been a grave dereliction of duty for the British intelligence services not to have been involved in questioning the prisoners.
One such example is Abu Zubayda, accused of being an al-Qaida facilitator, arranging travel for would-be jihadists from the UK, among other countries, to attend training camps in Afghanistan. We also know that Abu Zubaydah was tortured by the US – he was waterboarded 83 times – and that during his interrogation, he implicated people who have turned out to be innocent. He was saying what he thought his torturers wanted to hear. And herein lies the question: were UK agents involved in the interrogation of people such as Abu Zubaydah – in principle, they should have been – and if they were, what did they do about his torture?
My bet is that they were involved, and that they did nothing about the torture, and that information about their activities is starting to leak out as things start to open up in the US with the various inquiries into torture and abuse getting under way across the Atlantic. Just as the US military attempted to blame the systematic abuse at Abu Ghraib on a few "bad apples" acting beyond their orders, the British government appears to be trying to ringfence the rising tide of evidence of its complicity in torture abroad.
To refer an individual agent for investigation by the attorney general conveniently places the blame squarely on the shoulders of a subordinate, and keeps people higher up the chain, including government ministers, out of the picture.
If there is one thing we should have learned from the various official reports and documents that have been released since Obama took office, it is that the abuse that has taken place in the name of "counter-terror" in the past eight years was anything but the actions of a few rogue agents. Rather, in the US at least, the torture was institutionalised. We now know that techniques such as almost drowning people, slamming their heads against walls and staging mock executions were operational norms in US prisons abroad. We also know that the torture programme was systematic, ordered from the top, and that it involved professionals – doctors, psychologists and lawyers.
Against such a cultural backdrop – one that legitimised and bureaucratised torture – it is looking increasingly untenable that British government ministers were unaware of what was going on, or that UK agents colluding in this programme were acting beyond orders.
Thus, as the government has tried to do with the MI5 agent who was involved in interrogating Binyam Mohamed in Pakistan, this recent referral is likely just a last-ditch attempt by the those in command to avoid justice. It is about time the leaders of our country stopped attempting to scapegoat a few unfortunate field agents and started to answer some questions about exactly how the Britain became the sort of country that is involved in torture.
This presss release, by Jonathan Hutson, was published by Physicians for Human Rights, August 31, 2009
Cambridge, MA — The extent to which American physicians and psychologists violated human rights and betrayed the ethical standards of their professions by designing, implementing, and legitimizing a worldwide torture program is greater than previously known, according to a report by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).
A team of PHR doctors authored the new white paper, Aiding Torture: Health Professionals' Ethics and Human Rights Violations Demonstrated in the May 2004 Inspector General's Report. The report details how the CIA relied on medical expertise to rationalize and carry out abusive and unlawful interrogations. It also refers to aggregate collection of data on detainees' reaction to interrogation methods. PHR is concerned that this data collection and analysis may amount to human experimentation and calls for more investigation on this point. If confirmed, the development of a research protocol to assess and refine the use of the waterboard or other techniques would likely constitute a new, previously unknown category of ethical violations committed by CIA physicians and psychologists.
"Medical doctors and psychologists colluded with the CIA to keep observational records about waterboarding, which approaches unethical and unlawful human experimentation," says PHR Medical Advisor and lead report author Scott Allen, MD. For example, "Interrogators would place a cloth over a detainee's face to block breathing and induce feelings of fear, helplessness, and a loss of control. A doctor would stand by to monitor and calibrate this physically and psychologically harmful act, which amounts to torture. It is profoundly unsettling to learn of the central role of health professionals in laying a foundation for US government lawyers to rationalize the CIA's illegal torture program."
The Inspector General's report documents some practices — previously unknown or unconfirmed — that were used to bring about excruciating pain, terror, humiliation, and shame for months on end. These practices included:
Brandishing guns and power drills;
Threats to sexually assault family members and murder children;
"Walling" — repeatedly slamming an unresponsive detainee's head against a cell wall; and
Confinement in a box.
"These unlawful, unethical, and ineffective interrogation tactics cause significant bodily and mental harm," said co-author and PHR Senior Medical Advisor Vincent Iacopino, MD, PhD. "The CIA Inspector General's report confirms that torture escalates in severity and torturers frequently go beyond approved techniques."
"The required presence of health professionals did not make interrogation methods safer, but sanitized their use, escalated abuse, and placed doctors and psychologists in the untenable position of calibrating harm rather than serving as protectors and healers. The fact that psychologists went beyond monitoring, and actually designed and implemented these abuses – while simultaneously serving as 'safety monitors' – reveals the ethical bankruptcy of the entire program," stated co-author Steven Reisner, PhD, PHR's Psychological Ethics Advisor.
"That health professionals who swear to oaths of healing so abused the sacred trust society places in us by instigating, legitimizing and participating in torture, is an abomination," states co-author Allen Keller, MD, Director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture. "Health professionals who aided torture must be held accountable by professional associations, by state licensing boards, and by society. Accountability is essential to maintain trust in our professions and to end torture, which scars bodies and minds, leaving survivors to endure debilitating injuries, humiliating memories and haunting nightmares."
PHR has called for full investigation and remedies, including accountability for war crimes, and reparation, such as compensation, medical care and psycho-social services. PHR also calls for health professionals who have violated ethical standards or the law to be held accountable through criminal prosecution, loss of license and loss of professional society membership where appropriate.
To download PHR's Aiding Torture, visit http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/library/news-2009-08-31.html.
Since 2005, PHR has documented the systematic use of psychological and physical torture by US personnel against detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Bagram airbase, and elsewhere in its groundbreaking reports, Break Them Down, Leave No Marks, and Broken Laws, Broken Lives.
This article by Devlin Barrett andf Pamela Hess, was posted to Yahoo News, August 24, 2009
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration launched a criminal investigation Monday into harsh questioning of detainees during President George W. Bush's war on terrorism, revealing CIA interrogators' threats to kill one suspect's children and to force another to watch his mother sexually assaulted.
At the same time, President Barack Obama ordered changes in future interrogations, bringing in other agencies besides the CIA under the direction of the FBI and supervised by his own national security adviser. The administration pledged questioning would be controlled by the Army Field Manual, with strict rules on tactics, and said the White House would keep its hands off the professional investigators doing the work.
Despite the announcement of the criminal probe, several Obama spokesmen declared anew — as the president has repeatedly — that on the subject of detainee interrogation he "wants to look forward, not back" at Bush tactics. They took pains to say decisions on any prosecutions would be up to Attorney General Eric Holder, not the White House.
Monday's five-year-old report by the CIA's inspector general, newly declassified and released under a federal court's orders, described severe tactics used by interrogators on terror suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Seeking information about possible further attacks, interrogators threatened one detainee with a gun and a power drill and tried to frighten another with a mock execution of another prisoner.
Attorney General Holder said he had chosen a veteran prosecutor to determine whether any CIA officers or contractors should face criminal charges for crossing the line on rough but permissible tactics.
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden, appointed by President Bush in 2006, expressed dismay by the prospect of prosecutions for CIA officers. He noted that career prosecutors have already reviewed and declined to prosecute the alleged abuses.
Obama has said interrogators would not face charges if they followed legal guidelines, but the report by the CIA's inspector general said they went too far — even beyond what was authorized under Justice Department legal memos that have since been withdrawn and discredited. The report also suggested some questioners knew they were crossing a line.
"Ten years from now we're going to be sorry we're doing this (but) it has to be done," one unidentified CIA officer was quoted as saying, predicting the questioners would someday have to appear in court to answer for such tactics.
The report concluded the CIA used "unauthorized, improvised, inhumane" practices in questioning "high-value" terror suspects.
Monday's documents represent the largest single release of information about the Bush administration's once-secret system of capturing terrorism suspects and interrogating them in overseas prisons.
White House officials said they plan to continue the controversial practice of rendition of suspects to foreign countries, though they said that in future cases they would more carefully check to make sure such suspects are not tortured.
In one instance cited in the new documents, Abd al-Nashiri, the man accused of being behind the 2000 USS Cole bombing, was hooded, handcuffed and threatened with an unloaded gun and a power drill. The unidentified interrogator also threatened al-Nashiri's mother and family, implying they would be sexually abused in front of him, according to the report.
The interrogator denied making a direct threat.
Another interrogator told alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, "if anything else happens in the United States, 'We're going to kill your children,'" one veteran officer said in the report.
Death threats violate anti-torture laws.
In another instance, an interrogator pinched the carotid artery of a detainee until he started to pass out, then shook him awake. He did this three times. The interrogator, a CIA debriefer accustomed to questioning willing subjects, said he had only recently been trained to conduct interrogations.
Top Republican senators said they were troubled by the decision to begin a new investigation, which they said could weaken U.S. intelligence efforts. Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the revelations showed the Bush administration went down a "dark road of excusing torture."
Investigators credited the detention-and-interrogation program for developing intelligence that prevented multiple attacks against Americans. One CIA operative interviewed for the report said the program thwarted al-Qaida plots to attack the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, derail trains, blow up gas stations and cut the suspension line of a bridge.
"In this regard, there is no doubt that the program has been effective," investigators wrote, backing an argument by former Vice President Dick Cheney and others that the program saved lives.
But the inspector general said it was unclear whether so-called "enhanced interrogation" tactics contributed to that success. Those tactics include waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique that the Obama administration says is torture. Measuring the success of such interrogation is "a more subjective process and not without some concern," the report said.
The report describes at least one mock execution, which would also violate U.S. anti-torture laws. To terrify one detainee, interrogators pretended to execute the prisoner in a nearby room. A senior officer said it was a transparent ruse that yielded no benefit.
As the report was released, Attorney General Holder appointed prosecutor John Durham to open a preliminary investigation into the claims of abuse. Durham is already investigating the destruction of CIA interrogation videos and now will examine whether CIA officers or contractors broke laws in the handling of suspects.
The administration also announced Monday that all U.S. interrogators will follow the rules for detainees laid out by the Army Field Manual. The manual, last updated in September 2006, prohibits forcing detainees to be naked, threatening them with military dogs, exposing them to extreme heat or cold, conducting mock executions, depriving them of food, water, or medical care, and waterboarding.
Formation of the new interrogation unit for "high-value" detainees does not mean the CIA is out of the business of questioning terror suspects, deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton told reporters covering the vacationing president on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.
Burton said the unit will include "all these different elements under one group" and will be located at the FBI headquarters in Washington.
The structure of the new unit the White House is creating would be significantly broader than under the Bush administration, when the CIA had the lead and sometimes exclusive role in questioning al-Qaida suspects.
Obama campaigned vigorously against Bush administration interrogation practices in his successful run for the presidency. He has said more recently he didn't particularly favor prosecuting officials in connection with instances of prisoner abuse.
Burton said Holder "ultimately is going to make the decisions."
CIA Director Leon Panetta said in an e-mail message to agency employees Monday that he intended "to stand up for those officers who did what their country asked and who followed the legal guidance they were given. That is the president's position, too," he said.
Panetta said some CIA officers have been disciplined for going beyond the methods approved for interrogations by the Bush-era Justice Department. Just one CIA employee — contractor David Passaro_ has been prosecuted for detainee abuse.
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 Mark Mazzetti, was posted to Common Dreams, August 20, 2009
WASHINGTON - The Central Intelligence Agency in 2004 hired outside contractors from the private security contractor Blackwater USA as part of a secret program to locate and assassinate top operatives of Al Qaeda, according to current and former government officials.
Executives from Blackwater, which has generated controversy because of its aggressive tactics in Iraq, helped the spy agency with planning, training and surveillance. The C.I.A. spent several million dollars on the program, which did not successfully capture or kill any terrorist suspects.
The fact that the C.I.A. used an outside company for the program was a major reason that Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A.'s director, became alarmed and called an emergency meeting in June to tell Congress that the agency had withheld details of the program for seven years, the officials said.
It is unclear whether the C.I.A. had planned to use the contractors to actually capture or kill Qaeda operatives, or just to help with training and surveillance in the program. American spy agencies have in recent years outsourced some highly controversial work, including the interrogation of prisoners. But government officials said that bringing outsiders into a program with lethal authority raised deep concerns about accountability in covert operations.
Officials said the C.I.A. did not have a formal contract with Blackwater for this program but instead had individual agreements with top company officials, including the founder, Erik D. Prince, a politically connected former member of the Navy Seals and the heir to a family fortune. Blackwater's work on the program actually ended years before Mr. Panetta took over the agency, after senior C.I.A. officials themselves questioned the wisdom of using outsiders in a targeted killing program.
Blackwater, which has changed its name, most recently to Xe Services, and is based in North Carolina, in recent years has received millions of dollars in government contracts, growing so large that the Bush administration said it was a necessary part of its war operation in Iraq.
It has also drawn controversy. Blackwater employees hired to guard American diplomats in Iraq were accused of using excessive force on several occasions, including shootings in Baghdad in 2007 in which 17 civilians were killed. Iraqi officials have since refused to give the company an operating license.
Several current and former government officials interviewed for this article spoke only on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing details of a still classified program.
Paul Gimigliano, a C.I.A. spokesman, declined to provide details about the canceled program, but he said that Mr. Panetta's decision on the assassination program was "clear and straightforward."
"Director Panetta thought this effort should be briefed to Congress, and he did so," Mr. Gimigliano said. "He also knew it hadn't been successful, so he ended it."
A Xe spokeswoman did not return calls seeking comment.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee, also declined to give details of the program. But she praised Mr. Panetta for notifying Congress. "It is too easy to contract out work that you don't want to accept responsibility for," she said.
The C.I.A. this summer conducted an internal review of the assassination program that recently was presented to the White House and the Congressional intelligence committees. The officials said that the review stated that Mr. Panetta's predecessors did not believe that they needed to tell Congress because the program was not far enough developed.
The House Intelligence Committee is investigating why lawmakers were never told about the program. According to current and former government officials, former Vice President Dick Cheney told C.I.A. officers in 2002 that the spy agency did not need to inform Congress because the agency already had legal authority to kill Qaeda leaders.
One official familiar with the matter said that Mr. Panetta did not tell lawmakers that he believed that the C.I.A. had broken the law by withholding details about the program from Congress. Rather, the official said, Mr. Panetta said he believed that the program had moved beyond a planning stage and deserved Congressional scrutiny.
"It's wrong to think this counterterrorism program was confined to briefing slides or doodles on a cafeteria napkin," the official said. "It went well beyond that."
Current and former government officials said that the C.I.A.'s efforts to use paramilitary hit teams to kill Qaeda operatives ran into logistical, legal and diplomatic hurdles almost from the outset. These efforts had been run by the C.I.A.'s counterterrorism center, which runs operations against Al Qaeda and other terrorist networks.
In 2002, Blackwater won a classified contract to provide security for the C.I.A. station in Kabul, Afghanistan, and the company maintains other classified contracts with the C.I.A., current and former officials said.
Over the years, Blackwater has hired several former top C.I.A. officials, including Cofer Black, who ran the C.I.A. counterterrorism center immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks.
C.I.A. operatives also regularly use the company's training complex in North Carolina. The complex includes a shooting range used for sniper training.
An executive order signed by President Gerald R. Ford in 1976 barred the C.I.A. from carrying out assassinations, a direct response to revelations that the C.I.A. had initiated assassination plots against Fidel Castro of Cuba and other foreign politicians.
The Bush administration took the position that killing members of Al Qaeda, a terrorist group that attacked the United States and has pledged to attack it again, was no different from killing enemy soldiers in battle, and that therefore the agency was not constrained by the assassination ban.
But former intelligence officials said that employing private contractors to help hunt Qaeda operatives would pose significant legal and diplomatic risks, and they might not be protected in the same way government employees are.
Some Congressional Democrats have hinted that the program was just one of many that the Bush administration hid from Congressional scrutiny and have used the episode as a justification to delve deeper into other Bush-era counterterrorism programs.
But Republicans have criticized Mr. Panetta's decision to cancel the program, saying he created a tempest in a teapot.
"I think there was a little more drama and intrigue than was warranted," said Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.
Officials said that the C.I.A. program was devised partly as an alternative to missile strikes using drone aircraft, which have accidentally killed civilians and cannot be used in urban areas where some terrorists hide.
Yet with most top Qaeda operatives believed to be hiding in the remote mountains of Pakistan, the drones have remained the C.I.A.'s weapon of choice. Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration has embraced the drone campaign because it presents a less risky option than sending paramilitary teams into Pakistan.