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Profile: Bush administration (43)
a.k.a. George W. Bush administration
July 7, 2003
“There is other reporting to suggest that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Africa. However, the information is not detailed or specific enough for us to be certain that attempts were in fact made.”
[New York Times, 7/8/2003]
Bush administration (43) was a participant or observer in the following events:
Page 15 of 15 (1488 events)previous
Defense Secretary Robert Gates announces that the Army will phase out its controversial and unpopular “stop-loss” program, which forces soldiers to stay in the Army past their service obligations (see November 13, 2003 and June 2, 2004). The program will be phased out over the next two years. Until then, the Pentagon will offer $500 a month in extra pay to soldiers who continue to serve under the policy, Gates says. Around 13,000 soldiers are currently serving under the stop-loss policy. “We will be drawing down in Iraq, over the next 18 or 19 months, significantly more than we are building up in Afghanistan, in terms of the Army,” Gates says. “While these changes do carry some risk, I believe it is important that we do everything possible to see that soldiers are not unnecessarily forced to stay in the Army beyond their end-of-term-of-service date.” The goal is to bring that number down to approximately 6,500 by June 2010, and to virtually zero by March 2011. “I felt, particularly in these numbers, that it was breaking faith” to keep soldiers in the service after their end date comes up, Gates says. “To hold them against their will… is just not the right thing to do.” Beginning in August 2009, the Army Reserve will no longer mobilize units under the stop-loss policy (see November 2002). The Army National Guard will follow suit in September 2009, and the active duty Army by January 2010. The Army retains the option to reactivate the program under “extraordinary” circumstances, Gates acknowledges. But, he says, that should happen only in an “emergency situation where we absolutely had to have somebody’s skills for a specific, limited period of time.” [Washington Post, 3/19/2009] The Army is the only branch of service to use stop-loss. [CNN, 3/18/2009] In 2007, Gates broke with previous Bush administration and military policy by ordering the program “minimized” (see January 19, 2007).
Condoleezza Rice on the Charlie Rose show. [Source: PBS]Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tells PBS’s Charlie Rose that “no one” in the White House ever asserted that Saddam Hussein had any connections to 9/11. Rose says, “But you didn’t believe [the Hussein regime] had anything to do with 9/11.” Rice replies: “No. No one was arguing that Saddam Hussein somehow had something to do with 9/11.… I was certainly not. The president was certainly not.… That’s right. We were not arguing that.” Rice refuses to answer Rose’s question asking if former Vice President Dick Cheney ever tried to make the connection. In reality, former President Bush and his top officials, including Cheney and Rice, worked diligently to reinforce a connection between Iraq and 9/11 in the public mind before the March 2003 invasion (see (Between 10:30 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, Mid-September, 2001, September 17, 2001, September 19, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 28, 2001, November 6-8, 2001, December 9, 2001, 2002-March 2003, March 19, 2002, June 21, 2002, July 25, 2002, August 2002, August 20, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 16, 2002, September 21, 2002, September 25, 2002, September 26, 2002, September 27, 2002, September 28, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 15, 2002, December 2, 2002, December 12, 2002, January 26, 2003, January 28, 2003, Early February 2003, February 5, 2003, (2:30 a.m.-9:00 a.m.) February 5, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 6, 2003, February 11 or 12, 2003, and February 17, 2003). [Think Progress, 3/19/2009]
The Justice Department informs CIA Director Leon Panetta that, after due deliberation, it will recommend to the White House that it release four Bush-era “torture memos” almost uncensored (see April 16, 2009), in compliance with a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Panetta, who is about to leave for an overseas trip, tells Attorney General Eric Holder and White House officials that the administration needs to consider the possibility that the memos’ release might expose CIA officers to lawsuits on allegations of torture and abuse. He also demands more censorship of the memos. The Justice Department informs other senior CIA officials, and as a courtesy, former agency directors Michael Hayden, Porter Goss, George Tenet, and John Deutch. Senior CIA officials object, arguing that the memos’ release could damage the agency’s ability to interrogate prisoners in the future and would further besmirch CIA officers who had acted on the Bush administration’s legal guidance. They also warn that the release might harm foreign intelligence services’ trust in the CIA’s ability to protect national security secrets. The four former directors also raise objections, arguing that the release might compromise ongoing intelligence operations. The torture authorized by the Bush White House had been approved under Tenet’s directorship. On March 19, the Justice Department requests a two-week delay in releasing the memos; department officials tell the court handling the lawsuit that the administration is considering releasing the memos without waiting for a court verdict. Two weeks later, Justice Department officials tell the court that the memos would come out on or before April 16. President Obama becomes more and more involved in the matter, leading a National Security Council (NSC) session on the issue and holding high-level sessions with Holder and other Cabinet members. Obama also discusses the issue with lower-level officials, and with an unidentified NSC official from the Bush administration. Obama’s biggest worry is the possibility of endangering ongoing intelligence operations. The Justice Department argues that the ACLU lawsuit would in the end force the administration to release the documents anyway. Obama eventually agrees, and the White House decides it will be better to release the memos voluntarily and avoid the perception of only releasing them after being forced to do so by a court ruling. Obama also decides that very few redactions should be made in the documents. The only redactions in the memos are the names of US employees, foreign services, and items related to techniques still in use. To mollify CIA personnel concerns, Obama will send a personal letter to CIA employees reassuring them that he supports them, understands the clandestine nature of their operations, and has no intention of prosecuting CIA employees who followed the legal guidelines set forth in the memos. [Associated Press, 4/17/2009]
President Obama disagrees with recent statements from former Vice President Dick Cheney that his administration’s policies are endangering America (see February 4, 2009 and March 15, 2009). “I fundamentally disagree with Dick Cheney—not surprisingly,” Obama tells CBS reporter Steve Kroft. “I think that Vice President Cheney has been at the head of a movement whose notion is somehow that we can’t reconcile our core values, our Constitution, our belief that we don’t torture, with our national security interests. I think he’s drawing the wrong lesson from history. [CNN, 3/22/2009; CBS News, 3/22/2009] The facts don’t bear him out.” Cheney “is eager to defend a legacy that was unsustainable,” Obama says, and notes that Cheney’s politics reflect a mindset that “has done incredible damage to our image and position in the world.” [Raw Story, 3/22/2009; CBS News, 3/22/2009] In response to Cheney’s advocacy of extreme interrogation methods—torture—of suspected terrorists, Obama asks: “How many terrorists have actually been brought to justice under the philosophy that is being promoted by Vice President Cheney? It hasn’t made us safer. What it has been is a great advertisement for anti-American sentiment.” [Politico, 3/21/2009; CBS News, 3/22/2009] “The whole premise of Guantanamo promoted by Vice President Cheney was that, somehow, the American system of justice was not up to the task of dealing with these terrorists,” Obama continues. “This is the legacy that’s been left behind and, you know, I’m surprised that the vice president is eager to defend a legacy that was unsustainable. Let’s assume that we didn’t change these practices. How long are we going to go? Are we going to just keep on going until, you know, the entire Muslim world and Arab world despises us? Do we think that’s really going to make us safer? I don’t know a lot of thoughtful thinkers, liberal or conservative, who think that was the right approach.” [Raw Story, 3/22/2009; CBS News, 3/22/2009]
Baltasar Garzon. [Source: Presidency of Argentina]A Spanish court begins preliminary work towards opening a criminal investigation into allegations that six former top Bush administration officials may be guilty of war crimes related to torture of prisoners at Guantanamo. Spanish law allows the investigation and prosecution of people beyond its borders in the case of torture or war crimes. Investigative judge Baltasar Garzon, who ordered the arrest of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and has overseen the prosecution of numerous terrorists and human rights violators, wants to prosecute former US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee, former Defense Department officials William Haynes and Douglas Feith, and David Addington, the former chief of staff to then-Vice President Cheney. Many legal experts say that even if Garzon’s case results in warrants being issued, it is highly doubtful that the warrants would ever be served as long as the six potential defendants remain in the US. Spain has jurisdiction in the case because five Spanish citizens or residents have claimed to have been tortured at Guantanamo; the five faced charges in Spain, but were released after the Spanish Supreme Court ruled that evidence obtained through torture was inadmissible. Garzon’s complaint rests on alleged violations of the Geneva Conventions and the 1984 Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994). The complaint was prepared by Spanish lawyers with the assistance of experts in Europe and America, and filed by the Association for the Dignity of Prisoners, a Spanish human rights group. Lawyer Gonzalo Boye, who filed the complaint, says that Gonzales, Yoo, and the others have what he calls well-documented roles in approving illegal torture techniques, redefining torture, and ignoring the constraints set by the Convention Against Torture. “When you bring a case like this you can’t stop to make political judgments as to how it might affect bilateral relations between countries,” Boye says. “It’s too important for that.” Boye adds: “This is a case from lawyers against lawyers. Our profession does not allow us to misuse our legal knowledge to create a pseudo-legal frame to justify, stimulate, and cover up torture.” The US is expected to ignore any extradition requests occuring from the case. [New York Times, 3/28/2009; Associated Press, 3/28/2009]
Entity Tags: William J. Haynes, Jay S. Bybee, David S. Addington, John C. Yoo, Geneva Conventions, Convention Against Torture, Gonzalo Boye, Association for the Dignity of Prisoners, Alberto R. Gonzales, Baltasar Garzon, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The CIA’s torture of a supposed high-ranking al-Qaeda operative, Abu Zubaida, produced no information that helped foil any terrorist attacks or plots, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Zubaida was subjected to intensive waterboarding and other tortures (see April - June 2002), and provided information about a fantastic array of al-Qaeda plots that sent CIA agents all over the globe chasing down his leads. But none of his information panned out, according to the former officials. Almost everything Zubaida said under torture was false, and most of the reliable information gleaned from him—chiefly the names of al-Qaeda members and associates—was obtained before the CIA began torturing him. Moreover, the US’s characterization of Zubaida as “al-Qaeda’s chief of operations” and a “trusted associate” of Osama bin Laden turned out to be false as well. Several sources have challenged the government’s characterization of Zubaida as a “high-level al-Qaeda operative” before now (see Shortly After March 28, 2002 and April 9, 2002 and After).
'Fixer' for Islamists before 9/11 - Zubaida, a native Palestinian, never even joined al-Qaeda until after 9/11, according to information obtained from court documents and interviews with current and former intelligence, law enforcement, and military sources. Instead, he was a “fixer” for a number of radical Islamists, who regarded the US as an enemy primarily because of its support for Israel. Many describe Zubaida as a “travel agent” for al-Qaeda and other radical Islamists. He joined al-Qaeda because of the US’s preparations to invade Afghanistan. US officials are contemplating what, if any, charges they can use to bring him into court. Zubaida has alleged links with Ahmed Ressam, the so-called “Millennium Bomber” (see December 14, 1999), and allegedly took part in plans to retaliate against US forces after the overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001 (see December 17, 2001). But some US officials worry that bringing him into a courtroom would reveal the extent of his torture and abuse at the hands of the CIA, and that any evidence they might have against him is compromised because it was obtained in part through torture. Those officials want to send him to Jordan, where he faces allegations of conspiracy in terrorist attacks in that country.
Defending Zubaida's Information - Some in the US government still believe that Zubaida provided useful information. “It’s simply wrong to suggest that Abu Zubaida wasn’t intimately involved with al-Qaeda,” says a US counterterrorism official. “He was one of the terrorist organization’s key facilitators, offered new insights into how the organization operated, provided critical information on senior al-Qaeda figures… and identified hundreds of al-Qaeda members. How anyone can minimize that information—some of the best we had at the time on al-Qaeda—is beyond me.… Based on what he shared during his interrogations, he was certainly aware of many of al-Qaeda’s activities and operatives.” But the characterization of Zubaida as a well-connected errand runner was confirmed by Noor al-Deen, a Syrian teenager captured along with Zubaida at a Pakistani safe house (see March 28, 2002). Al-Deen readily answered questions, both in Pakistan and in a detention facility in Morocco. He described Zubaida as a well-known functionary with little knowledge of al-Qaeda operations. (Al-Deen was later transferred to Syria; his current whereabouts and status are unknown to the public.) A former Justice Department official closely involved in the early investigation of Zubaida says: “He was the above-ground support” for al-Qaeda and other radicals. “He was the guy keeping the safe house, and that’s not someone who gets to know the details of the plans. To make him the mastermind of anything is ridiculous.” A former intelligence officer says the US spent an inestimable amount of time and money chasing Zubaida’s “leads” to no effect: “We spent millions of dollars chasing false alarms.”
Connected to KSM - Zubaida knew radical Islamist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed for years. Mohammed, often dubbed “KSM” by US officials, approached Zubaida in the 1990s about finding financial backers for a plan he had concocted to fly a small plane into the World Trade Center. Zubaida declined involvement but recommended he talk to bin Laden. Zubaida quickly told FBI interrogators of Mohammed and other al-Qaeda figures such as alleged “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla (see May 8, 2002). He also revealed the plans of the low-level al-Qaeda operatives he fled Afghanistan with. Some wanted to strike US forces in Afghanistan with bombs, while others harbored ideas of further strikes on American soil. But he knew few details, and had no knowledge of plans by senior al-Qaeda operatives. At this point, the CIA took over the interrogations, and the torture began (see Mid-April-May 2002). As a result of the torture, Zubaida began alternating between obstinate silence and providing torrents of falsified and fanciful “intelligence”; when FBI “clean teams” attempted to re-interview some detainees who had been tortured in order to obtain evidence uncontaminated by abusive treatment, Zubaida refused to cooperate. Joseph Margulies, one of Zubaida’s attorneys, says: “The government doesn’t retreat from who KSM is, and neither does KSM. With Zubaida, it’s different. The government seems finally to understand he is not at all the person they thought he was. But he was tortured. And that’s just a profoundly embarrassing position for the government to be in.” Margulies and other lawyers want the US to send Zubaida to another country besides Jordan—Saudi Arabia, perhaps, where Zubaida has family. Military prosecutors have already deleted Zubaida’s name from the charge sheets of detainees who will soon stand trial, including several who were captured with Zubaida and are charged with crimes in which Zubaida’s involvement has been alleged.
Pressure from the White House - The pressure from the White House to get actionable information from Zubaida was intense (see Late March 2002), according to sources. One official recalls the pressure as “tremendous.” He says the push to force information from Zubaida mounted from one daily briefing to the next. “They couldn’t stand the idea that there wasn’t anything new. They’d say, ‘You aren’t working hard enough.’ There was both a disbelief in what he was saying and also a desire for retribution—a feeling that ‘He’s going to talk, and if he doesn’t talk, we’ll do whatever.’” [Washington Post, 3/29/2009]
Entity Tags: Jose Padilla, Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Ressam, Abu Zubaida, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, US Department of Justice, Joseph Margulies, Central Intelligence Agency, Noor al-Deen
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
President Obama signs legislation expanding and protecting US public parks and wilderness areas from oil and gas development, a dramatic reversal of Bush-era policy. The omnibus Public Land Management Act is described as the largest US conservation measure in 15 years. [CNN, 3/30/2009; Fox Business, 3/30/2009; Agence France-Presse, 3/31/2009]
Over 150 Measures - The bill is composed of over 150 individual measures passed by Congress. Among other initiatives, it creates 10 new National Heritage Areas, designates two million acres of federal lands in nine states as wilderness areas, sets out water conservation measures through the Bureau of Reclamation, alters several national park boundaries, and takes steps to drastically improve the quality of California’s San Joaquin River, potentially restoring salmon to that river and improving the quality of drinking water throughout the Bay Area. Scientist Monty Schmitt says of the San Joaquin reclamation project, “This is taking what many have said is a dead river, and bringing it back to life for over 150 miles.” Because of the bill, Obama says, the Navajo nation—over 80,000 Native Americans living in Arizona and New Mexico—will have “access to clean, running water for the very first time.” The legislation also includes the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act, named after the late Hollywood actor who was paralyzed from a riding accident, providing for paralysis research, rehabilitation, and care. Obama says that bill is “specifically aimed at addressing the challenges faced by Americans living with paralysis” and will work to improve their quality of life “no matter what the costs.” [CNN, 3/30/2009; Mercury News (San Jose), 3/30/2009; Agence France-Presse, 3/31/2009]
Bill Passed over Republican Opposition - The bill passed both the House and Senate by wide margins, but some Republicans oppose it, complaining that the bill imposed undue restrictions on oil drilling in rural areas. Some of the bill’s components had been blocked in recent years under the Bush administration. [Mercury News (San Jose), 3/30/2009]
CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer interviews investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, who recently alleged that an “executive assassination wing” operated out of the White House (see March 10, 2009). Blitzer notes that the entity Hersh cited, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), denies Hersh’s claim, and says, in Blitzer’s words, “their forces operate under established rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict.” The JSOC “has no command and control authorities over the US military,” the JSOC has told Blitzer. Additionally, former Bush national security expert Frances Townsend has denied Hersh’s claim.
Not New Reporting - Hersh tells Blitzer that though he has not written specifically about the “assassination wing,” he and others have written about the actions of the JSOC well before now. “[I]t’s a separately independent unit that does not report to Congress, at least in the years I know about.… It has been given executive authority by the president in as many as 12 countries to go in and kill we’re talking about high value targets. That’s absolutely correct.” He says that such actions are not only illegal, but have no basis in intelligence. “The idea that you’re telling a group of American combat soldiers,” he says, “[t]he idea that we have a unit set up who goes after high-value targets who up to a certain point I know for sure until very recently were clearing lists. That doesn’t mean Cheney has an assassination unit that he says I want to go get somebody. That’s how it sort of played out in the press. The idea that we have a unit that goes around and without reporting to Congress, Congress knows very little about this group, can’t get clearings, can’t get hearings, can’t get even a classified hearings on it. Congresspeople have told me this. Those are out and has authority for the president to go into a country without telling the CIA station chief or the ambassador and whack somebody and I’m sorry, Wolf, I have a lot of problems with that.”
Poor Choice of Phrase - Hersh says he regrets using the phrase “executive assassination wing,” because it is a “loaded phrase.” Word choice aside, Hersh says: “It comes down to the same thing, that you can—you’ve delegated authority to troops in the field to hit people on the basis of whatever intelligence they think is good and I can tell you it’s always not good and sometimes things get very bloody.… The bottom line is, it’s—if it were the way your little presentation set up, that everything was checked and cleared, in fact, it was an awful lot of delegation to this group, which does not brief the Congress. And this does raise profound questions of constitutional authority. It’s the same questions that have come up repeatedly in the Bush administration. That is a unitarian president, the notion that a president can do things without telling Congress and unilaterally. This is an extension of that issue.”
Implied Confirmation from Former Cheney Adviser - John Hannah, the former national security adviser to Vice President Cheney, says Hersh’s allegations are “not true,” but in his next statement, he seems to confirm Hersh’s allegations to an extent. Blitzer says: “Explain exactly what’s going on in terms of a list. Is there a list of terrorists, suspected terrorists, out there who can be assassinated?” Hannah replies: “There is—there’s clearly a group of people that go through a very extremely well-vetted process—interagency process, as I think was explained in your piece, that have committed acts of war against the United States, who are at war with the United States, or is suspected of planning operations of war against the United States, who authority is given, to our troops in the field in certain war theaters to capture or kill those individuals. That is certainly true.… Osama bin Laden and his number two are right at the top of the list. [The number of individuals to be assassinated] is a small group and the point is that it is very, very heavily vetted throughout the interagency process.” Hannah says that he has trouble believing that Congress was not aware of actions, presumably including possible assassinations, carried out by the JSOC: “I don’t know exactly what the consultations are with the Congress, but it’s hard for me to believe that those committee chairman and the leadership on the Hill involved in intelligence and armed services, if they want to know about these operations, cannot get that information through the Defense Department.” Asked if such assassinations are legal and Constitutional, Hannah says: “There is no question. And in a theater of war, when we are at war, and there’s no doubt, we are still at war against al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and on that Pakistani border, that our troops have the authority to go out after and capture and kill the enemy, including the leadership of the enemy.” [CNN, 3/30/2009; MinnPost (.com), 3/31/2009]
UN Human Rights Council logo. [Source: China Human Rights Net]The Obama administration announces that the US will seek a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. The Bush administration had chosen not to participate in the council, saying that it would not countenance the influence of nations who repress their populations. “Human rights are an essential element of American global foreign policy,” says Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “With others, we will engage in the work of improving the UN human rights system.… We believe every nation must live by and help shape global rules that ensure people enjoy the right to live freely and participate fully in their societies.” Elections for three seats on the 47-member council will take place in May. The other countries on the ballot are Belgium and Norway. New Zealand agreed to withdraw from the ballot in favor of the US candidacy; New Zealand’s Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, explained, “Frankly, by any objective measure, membership of the council by the US is more likely to create positive changes more quickly than we could have hoped to achieve them.” A human rights advocate tells the Washington Post: “This is a welcome step that gives the United States and other defenders of human rights a fighting chance to make the institution more effective. I think everybody is just desperate to have the United States and Barack Obama run for the human rights council, and countries are willing to bend over backward to make that happen.” Human rights activists have pressured the US to join the council since its inception in March 2006. The council took the place of the UN’s Human Rights Commission, which lost credibility when it allowed nations such as Sudan and Zimbabwe to join and thus thwart criticism of their treatment of their citizens. Bush officials had refused to join the new body, saying that they did not believe the new organization represented any improvement over its predecessor. Then-US ambassador to the UN John Bolton explained that the US would have more “leverage in terms of the performance of the new council” by not participating in it and thus signaling a rejection of “business as usual.” Bolton says of the Obama administration’s decision: “This is like getting on board the Titanic after it’s hit the iceberg. This is the theology of engagement at work. There is no concrete American interest served by this, and it legitimizes something that doesn’t deserve legitimacy.” Obama officials concede that the council has failed to do its job adequately, and focused too much on abuse allegations by Israel to the exclusion of allegations against nations such as Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Sri Lanka. US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice says: “Those who suffer from abuse and oppression around the world, as well as those who dedicate their lives to advancing human rights, need the council to be balanced and credible.” The US intends to join the council “because we believe that working from within, we can make the council a more effective forum to promote and protect human rights.” [Washington Post, 3/31/2009]
Former Bush defense official Douglas Feith claims he had nothing to do with the Bush administration’s torture policies. Feith makes his remarks in response to a recent announcement that a Spanish court would consider filing criminal charges against him and five other former Bush officials “over allegations they gave legal cover for torture at Guantanamo.” Appearing on Fox News, Feith says he never approved any torture policies: “I’m being criticized for a position that I never advocated. And so the facts are just wrong.” Feith says he merely gave President Bush “advice” and had no role in “directing” torture policy: “But there’s also a broader point of principle here, which is what the Spanish authorities are considering doing is indicting people, former US government officials for giving advice to the president. And the idea that a foreign official can disagree with advice given to the president, they’re not talking about action. And they’re not even talking about directing people to take action. They’re talking about people who were advising the president on policy and legal questions. This is an effort to intimidate US government officials.” [Think Progress, 3/31/2009] But Feith has bragged before of his influence on Bush administration torture policies, telling British author and law professor Phillippe Sands that he played a key role in ensuring that Geneva Convention policies did not apply to detainees (see Early 2006).
The CIA fires two contractors, psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, from their lucrative consulting contracts. Mitchell and Jessen designed the CIA’s torture program (see January 2002 and After, April 16, 2002, Mid-April 2002, and Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002), and earned $1,000 a day in doing so (see April 30, 2009). The CIA now believes that the two fundamentally misrepresented their knowledge of the safety and efficacy of particular torture techniques, particularly waterboarding. The firings are part of a larger “purge” by CIA Director Leon Panetta of all contractors involved in the Bush-era torture program. Panetta tells CIA employees that all contractors involved in the interrogation program and secret prisons are being “promptly terminated.” [ABC News, 6/16/2009]
Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who served during President Bush’s first term, says had he known that the Bush administration authorized torture while he was in office, the right thing to do would have been to resign. “I hope, had I known about it at the time I was serving, I would’ve had the courage to resign,” he tells an Al Jazeera television interviewer. During the interview, host Avi Lewis asks, “So when you knew that the administration of which you were a part was departing from the Geneva Conventions and sidelining them, why didn’t you quit?” Armitage responds: “In hindsight maybe I should’ve. But in those positions you see how many more battles you have. You maybe fool yourself. You say how much worse would X, Y, or Z be if I weren’t here trying to do it? So torture is a matter of principle as far as I’m concerned. I hope, had I known about it at the time I was serving, I would’ve had the courage to resign.” [Huffington Post, 4/15/2009]
As the Obama administration releases four new and controversial Bush-era torture memos (see April 16, 2009), both the White House and the CIA reassure agency personnel that they will not be prosecuted for carrying out the policies of the Bush administration. The White House statement is carefully worded to give no such reassurances to former Bush administration officials who helped codify and implement such policies. “It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department,” says Attorney General Eric Holder. White House officials say that any CIA agency employee subjected to international tribunals or Congressional inquiries would receive legal representation at no cost to themselves, and the government would indemnify agency workers against any financial judgments. In the weeks before the memos’ release, top CIA officials, including CIA Director Leon Panetta, argued that the memos should not be released because the graphic detail in them could lead to a demand for investigations and prosecutions of CIA interrogators and other personnel. Panetta tells CIA employees that since the torture policies were approved at the highest level of the Bush administration, they would not be prosecuted as long as they followed the legal guidelines laid down by the Justice Department. “You need to be fully confident that as you defend the nation, I will defend you,” Panetta says. Some civil rights organizations respond with a call for prosecutions. A statement from the Center for Constitutional Rights says, “Whether or not CIA operatives who conducted waterboarding are guaranteed immunity, it is the high level officials who conceived, justified, and ordered the torture program who bear the most responsibility for breaking domestic and international law, and it is they who must be prosecuted.” [Washington Post, 4/17/2009] The American Civil Liberties Union is calling for criminal investigations (see April 16, 2009).
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) welcomes the release of Bush-era Justice Department memos that detail the torture methods approved for use under that administration (see April 16, 2009), and calls for the prosecution of government officials responsible for the torture policies. ACLU executive director Anthony Romero says in a statement: “We have to look back before we can move forward as a nation. When crimes have been committed, the American legal system demands accountability. President Obama’s assertion that there should not be prosecutions of government officials who may have committed crimes before a thorough investigation has been carried out is simply untenable. Enforcing the nation’s laws should not be a political decision. These memos provide yet more incontrovertible evidence that Bush administration officials at the highest level of government authorized and gave legal blessings to acts of torture that violate domestic and international law. There can be no more excuses for putting off criminal investigations of officials who authorized torture, lawyers who justified it, and interrogators who broke the law. No one is above the law, and the law must be equally enforced. Accountability is necessary for any functioning democracy and for restoring America’s reputation at home and abroad.” ACLU official Jameel Jaffer adds: “Memos written by the Office of Legal Counsel, including the memos released today, provided the foundation for the Bush administration’s torture program. Through these memos, Justice Department lawyers authorized interrogators to use the most barbaric interrogation methods, including methods that the US once prosecuted as war crimes. The memos are based on legal reasoning that is spurious on its face, and in the end these aren’t legal memos at all—they are simply political documents that were meant to provide window dressing for war crimes. While the memos should never have been written, we welcome their release today. Transparency is a first step towards accountability.” And ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh concludes: “The documents released today provide further confirmation that lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel purposefully distorted the law to support the Bush administration’s torture program. Now that the memos have been made public, high-ranking officials in the Bush administration must be held accountable for authorizing torture. We are hopeful that by releasing these memos, the Obama administration has turned the page on an era in which the Justice Department became complicit in some of the most egregious crimes.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009]
Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley discusses the Bush-era Justice Department torture memos released by the Obama administration (see April 16, 2009). Turley is interviewed by MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, who notes that as the memos were being released, President Obama said, “This is a time for reflection, not retribution; nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” She wonders if Obama means he won’t prosecute CIA officers who carried out the orders to torture prisoners, or if he means he won’t prosecute the civilian officials who sanctioned torture. Turley is not sure. “But what is really disturbing is that President Obama’s obviously referring to criminal investigation and prosecution,” he says, “that somehow he’s equating the enforcement of federal laws that he took an oath to enforce, to uphold the Constitution and our laws—and he’s equating that with an act of retribution, and some sort of hissy fit or blame game. You know, it’s not retribution to enforce criminal laws. But it is obstruction to prevent that enforcement and that is exactly what he has done thus far. He is trying to lay the groundwork, to look principled when he’s doing an utterly unprincipled thing. There’s very few things worse for a president to do than to protect accused war criminals, and that’s what we’re talking about here. President Obama himself has said that waterboarding is torture. And torture violates at least four treaties and is considered a war crime. So, the refusal to let it be investigated is to try to obstruct a war crime investigation. That puts it in the same category as Serbia and other countries that have refused to allow investigations to occur.” It is not up to a president to decide who gets prosecuted for breaking a law and who does not, Turley notes, and adds: “[W]hat’s amazing is that we’ve gotten used to senators and our president and the attorney general talking about whether it’s a convenient time, whether this is a good time for us to investigate, whether we’ve got other things to do. There aren’t any convenient or inconvenient times to investigate war crimes. You don’t have a choice. You don’t wait for the perfect moment. You have an obligation to do it. And what I think the president is desperately trying to do is to sell this idea that somehow it’s a principled thing not to investigate war crimes because it’s going to really be painful. And, quite frankly, I think the motive is obvious. He knows that it will be politically unpopular, because an investigation will go directly to the doorstep of President Bush and he knows it. And there’s not going to be a lot of defenses that could be raised for ordering a torture program.” [MSNBC, 4/17/2009]
The White House releases four key Justice Department memos documenting the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation methods—torture—against suspected terrorists. The memos were released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The documents show that two high-level detainees were subjected to waterboarding at least 266 times between them. Al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida was waterboarded at least 83 times in August 2002, contradicting earlier CIA reports that he “broke” after a single waterboarding session (see December 10, 2007). Confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded at least 183 times in March 2003. The so-called “insect” technique—exposure to insects within an enclosed box—was approved for use on Zubaida, but apparently never used. Numerous prisoners were subjected to “walling” and “sleep deprivation,” with at least one detainee subjected to the technique for 180 hours (over seven days). Three of the memos were written by then-Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) chief Steven Bradbury in May 2005 (see May 10, 2005, May 10, 2005, and May 30, 2005), and the fourth by Bradbury’s predecessor, Jay Bybee, in August 2002 (see August 1, 2002). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009; BBC, 4/23/2009] Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says: “These legal memoranda demonstrate in alarming detail exactly what the Bush administration authorized for ‘high value detainees’ in US custody. The techniques are chilling. This was not an ‘abstract legal theory,’ as some former Bush administration officials have characterized it. These were specific techniques authorized to be used on real people.” [CNN, 4/17/2009] House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) agrees, saying: “This release, as well as the decision to ban the use of such techniques in the future, will strengthen both our national security and our commitment to the rule of law and help restore our country’s standing in the international community. The legal analysis and some of the techniques in these memos are truly shocking and mark a disturbing chapter in our nation’s history.” [Think Progress, 4/16/2009] Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), whose committee is conducting an investigation of abusive interrogation methods used during the Bush administration, says Bush officials “inaccurately interpreted” the Geneva Conventions prohibiting torture. “I find it difficult to understand how the opinions found these interrogation techniques to be legal,” she says. “For example, waterboarding and slamming detainees head-first into walls, as described in the OLC opinions, clearly fall outside what is legally permissible.” [United Press International, 4/16/2009]
White House Condemns Methods, Opposes Investigations - Attorney General Eric Holder says of the memos: “The president has halted the use of the interrogation techniques described in these opinions, and this administration has made clear from day one that it will not condone torture. We are disclosing these memos consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.” Holder adds that, according to a Justice Department statement, “intelligence community officials who acted reasonably and relied in good faith on authoritative legal advice from the Justice Department that their conduct was lawful, and conformed their conduct to that advice, would not face federal prosecutions for that conduct.” Holder states, “It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department.” [US Department of Justice, 4/16/2009] President Obama condemns what he calls a “dark and painful chapter in our history,” and promises that such torture techniques will never be used again. However, he restates his opposition to a lengthy investigation into the program, saying that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” In contrast, Leahy says that the memos illustrate the need for an independent investigation. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, points out that the memos were written at a time when the CIA was working to prevent a repeat of the 9/11 attacks. “Those methods, read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing,” he says. “But we will absolutely defend those who relied on these memos.” [New York Times, 4/19/2009] The ACLU demands criminal prosecution of Bush officials for their torture policies (see April 16, 2009). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009]
Techniques Include Waterboarding, Insect Exposure, 'Walling' - The memos show that several techniques were approved for use, including waterboarding, exposure to insects within a “confinement box,” being slammed into a wall, sleep deprivation, stress positions, forced nudity, and others. [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009; BBC, 4/23/2009]
Waterboarded Well beyond Allowed Procedures - Because the information about the waterboarding of Zubaida and Mohammed comes from the classified and heavily redacted CIA’s inspector general report, which has not yet been released to the public, the information is at least in part based on the videotapes of Zubaida’s interrogation sessions that were later destroyed by CIA officials (see March 6, 2009). The CIA memo explained that detainees could be waterboarded between 12 and 18 times in a single day, but only on five days during a single month—which mathematically only adds up to 90 times in a month, and thus does not explain how Mohammed could have been waterboarded 183 times in a month if these procedures were being followed. The memos also reveal that in practice, the waterboarding went far beyond the methodologies authorized by the Justice Department and used in SERE training (see December 2001 and July 2002).
Information Unearthed by Blogger - Initial media reports fail to divulge the extraordinary number of times Zubaida and Mohammed were waterboarded. It falls to a blogger, Marcy Wheeler, to unearth the information from the CIA memo and reveal it to the public (see April 18, 2009). [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009]
Entity Tags: Marcy Wheeler, Central Intelligence Agency, Dennis C. Blair, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Dianne Feinstein, Jay S. Bybee, Geneva Conventions, Eric Holder, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), John Conyers, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Steven Bradbury, Patrick J. Leahy, Abu Zubaida, Obama administration
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
The Obama administration sends mixed signals on whether or not to go forward with investigations and possible prosecutions of Bush administration officials who may have advocated or authorized the illegal torture of detainees in US custody, as detailed in two recent information releases (see April 16, 2009 and April 21, 2009). President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, says the White House does not favor investigations or prosecutions. But three days later, Obama contradicts Emanuel, saying he favors a Congressional investigation, and if his Attorney General, Eric Holder, believes criminal prosecutions are warranted, he would not block them. “With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions,” Obama says, “I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the parameters of various laws, and I don’t want to prejudge that.” [Scotsman, 4/23/2009]
Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) tells a Fox News interviewer that he opposed the release of four Bush-era Justice Department memos approving torture (see April 16, 2009). “I thought release of the memos was a bad idea,” he says. “It wasn’t necessary. It just helps our enemies. It doesn’t really help us.” Lieberman then says that one of the tactics considered the harshest, waterboarding, should always be available to US interrogators. Asked if he believes waterboarding is torture, Lieberman replies: “Well, I take a minority position on this. Most people think it’s definitely torture. The truth is, it has mostly a psychological impact on people. It’s a terrible thing to do.… I want the president of the United States in a given circumstance where we believe somebody we’ve got in our control may have information that could help us stop an attack, an imminent attack on the United States like 9/11 or, God forbid, worse, we ought to be able to use something like waterboarding.” Lieberman says he believes Bush officials’ claims that waterboarding worked to prevent terrorist attacks. [Think Progress, 4/21/2009] Two days later, Lieberman will write that he has always “strongly opposed” waterboarding (see April 22, 2009).
Former Vice President Dick Cheney says that since memos disclosing the opinions surrounding the Bush administration’s torture policies have been released (see April 16, 2009), he wants the Obama administration to release documents that he says show the critical information garnered through the use of torture—though he does not consider the methods used to be torture (see December 15, 2008). To release the documents would make for an “honest debate.” Cheney, interviewed by conservative pundit Sean Hannity, asks why the memos were released but not documents proving the efficacy of torture. “One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is they put out the legal memos, the memos that the CIA got from the [Justice Department’s] Office of Legal Counsel, but they didn’t put out the memos that showed the success of the effort,” he says. Cheney says he has requested that those documents also be declassified. “I haven’t talked about it, but I know specifically of reports that I read, that I saw, that lay out what we learned through the interrogation process and what the consequences were for the country,” he says. “I’ve now formally asked the CIA to take steps to declassify those memos so we can lay them out there and the American people have a chance to see what we obtained and what we learned and how good the intelligence was.” [Fox News, 4/20/2009] The CIA memos Cheney is referring to are released several months later (see August 24, 2009). Though Cheney will insist that the memos prove his point (see August 24, 2009), many, including a former CIA case officer, will disagree (see August 25, 2009).
The Senate Armed Services Committee releases a report showing that CIA and Pentagon officials explored ways to “break” Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees in early 2002, eight months before the Justice Department issued its “golden shield” memo (see August 1, 2002) approving the use of waterboarding and nine other methods of interrogation that most legal observers believe amount to torture. The report, under Pentagon review since before its release, focuses solely on military interrogations, and not on interrogations carried out by CIA officers and contractors; it rejects claims by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials that Pentagon policies played no role in the torture of prisoners in US custody. Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) says the report shows a direct link between early Bush administration policy decisions and the torture and abuse of detainees. “Senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques,” Levin says. “Those senior officials bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses. The paper trail on abuse leads to top civilian leaders, and our report connects the dots. This report, in great detail, shows a paper trail going from that authorization” by Rumsfeld “to Guantanamo to Afghanistan and to Iraq.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ; New York Times, 4/21/2009; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009; Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Torture Policies Driven from Top - One of the report’s findings is that top Bush administration officials, and not a “few bad apples” as many of that administration’s officials have claimed, are responsible for the use of torture against detainees in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. Levin says in a statement that the report proves that such claims “were simply false.” He adds that the report is “a condemnation of both the Bush administration’s interrogation policies and of senior administration officials who attempted to shift the blame for abuse—such as that seen at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and Afghanistan—to low-ranking soldiers.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ; Washington Post, 4/22/2009] The report adds details to the material already released that showed Bush officials, particularly those in the Offices of the Vice President and Defense Secretary, pushed for harsher and more brutal interrogation techniques to be used during the run-up to war with Iraq, in hopes that results might prove the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda that administration officials had long touted (see December 11, 2008). Levin says: “I think it’s obvious that the administration was scrambling then to try to find a connection, a link [between al-Qaeda and Iraq]. They made out links where they didn’t exist.” Senior Guantanamo interrogator David Becker confirmed that only “a couple of nebulous links” between al-Qaeda and Iraq were uncovered during interrogations of unidentified detainees. [McClatchy News, 4/21/2009]
Ignored Warnings that Torture Techniques Worthless, Illegal - The report, released in classified form in December 2008 (see December 11, 2008), also documents multiple warnings from legal sources and trained interrogation experts that the techniques could backfire, producing false and erroneous intelligence, and might violate US and international law. One Army lieutenant colonel warned in 2002 that coercion “usually decreases the reliability of the information because the person will say whatever he believes will stop the pain,” according to the Senate report. Another official, after being briefed on plans to use “extreme methods” on detainees, asked, “Wouldn’t that be illegal?” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009; Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Torture Methods Became Procedures at Detention Sites - Instead of being abandoned, the methods became the basis for harsh interrogations at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and other US detention facilities around the world, including the CIA’s so-called “black sites.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ; Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
White House Officials Ignorant of SERE Techniques - The report—261 pages long and with almost 1,800 footnotes—documents how techniques from a US military training program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) were adapted for use against detainees. SERE trains US soldiers to resist harsh interrogation methods if captured by an enemy that does not observe the Geneva Conventions’ ban on torture. The military’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JRPA) reverse-engineered SERE methods to use against detainees (see December 2001). Other tactics, such as waterboarding, were culled from methods used by Chinese Communists against US soldiers captured during the Korean War (see July 2002). [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009; Washington Post, 4/22/2009] According to the report, Bush White House officials seemed unaware of the Chinese Communist origins of the SERE tactics, and were apparently unaware that veteran SERE trainers insisted that the methods were useless for getting reliable information from a prisoner. Moreover, the former military psychologist who recommended that the CIA adopt SERE techniques “had never conducted a real interrogation.” One CIA official called the process “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm.” Bush administration officials also ignored concerns raised by military legal experts over the efficacy and legality of the techniques (see November 2002).
Torture Policies Directly Responsible for Abu Ghraib Scandal - The Armed Service Committee concludes that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were a direct result of the Bush torture policies. It writes: “The abuses of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own.… Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials (see December 2, 2002) conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in US custody.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ]
The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) begins an investigation of the department’s lawyers who signed off on the Bush administration’s torture policies, in particular John Yoo (see Late September 2001 and January 9, 2002), Jay Bybee (see August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2002), and Steven Bradbury (see May 10, 2005, June 23, 2005 and July 2007). The OPR investigation will determine whether these lawyers shirked their professional responsibilities in deciding that particular torture techniques were, in fact, legal; if that conclusion is reached, then prosecutors could make the case that the lawyers knowingly broke the law. Today, the press learns that the OPR has obtained archived e-mail messages from the time when the memorandums were being drafted. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) has urged President Obama “not to rule out prosecutions of those who implemented the program” until the OPR report, along with a long-awaited report by the Senate Intelligence Committee (see April 21, 2009), become available. Former Bush White House lawyer Bradford Berenson says he has seen a surge in “anxiety and anger” among his former colleagues, and says they should not be investigated. [New York Times, 4/22/2009] The Justice Department will refuse to bring sanctions against Yoo, Bybee, and Bradbury (see February 2010).
European scientists whose work was used by the CIA and Justice Department to help justify the legality of torture methods denounce the Bush administration for misusing their scientific findings. Bernd Kundermann, a sleep specialist and professor of psychiatry at the University of Marburg, says, “It is total nonsense to cite our study in this context.” Paris sleep specialist S. Hakki Onen says of his sleep research: “I’m disappointed, upset, consternated, and even hurt at seeing this. To see [the research] used in this manner is upsetting because [the CIA’s] goals run counter to the therapeutic intent of our effort.… In publishing clinical findings like this, you’re aware you lose control of them, because they can be read and even abused by people who may have other objectives in mind.” Studies by Kundermann and Onen were used by the CIA in its determination of sleep deprivation tactics to be used against prisoners. British sleep researcher James Horne calls the use of his work by the CIA to justify torture “nonsense.” A 2004 study by Kundermann, which demonstrated that people deprived of sleep for a night have an increased sensitivity to pain, was cited in two 2005 Justice Department memos (see May 10, 2005 and May 10, 2005) that concluded sleep deprivation up to 180 hours (seven and one-half days) would cause increased pain but not meet the legal standard of “severe physical pain,” even when used in conjunction with other techniques such as physical beatings and waterboarding. Kundermann says his work does not justify the Justice Department’s conclusion. “We were working with healthy volunteers and didn’t deprive them of sleep for more than one day without allowing them to recover,” he says. “Even under these circumstances, certain changes can occur, such as hallucinations, depending on the individual’s condition.” The methods employed by CIA interrogators could have much more severe effects, including induced psychosis. Onen says the CIA sleep deprivation techniques far exceeded “the maximum we set for ethical purposes.” Horne writes that the CIA’s use of his study to conclude that “even very extended sleep deprivation does not cause physical pain” is seriously flawed. “Prolonged stress with sleep deprivation will lead to a physiological exhaustion of the body’s defense mechanisms, physical collapse, and with the potential for various ensuing illnesses,” he notes. “We don’t know at what point this latter phase would be reached with ‘coercive techniques,’ but to claim that 180 hours is safe in these respects is nonsense.” [Time, 4/21/2009]
Carl Levin (D-MI), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, pens a lengthy op-ed for the Huffington Post to coincide with his committee’s release of a report documenting the abuse of prisoners under Bush administration policies (see April 21, 2009). Levin calls the report “a condemnation of both the Bush administration’s interrogation policies and of senior administration officials who attempted to shift the blame for abuse—such as that seen at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and Afghanistan—to low-ranking soldiers. Claims, such as that made by former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, that detainee abuses could be chalked up to the unauthorized acts of a ‘few bad apples,’ were simply false. The truth is that, early on, it was senior civilian leaders who set the tone.” Levin cites numerous statements and actions by President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, among others, but the ultimate responsibility for the torture program, he writes, must lie with Bush and Cheney. Levin writes that many high-ranking officials who must be counted as supporters of the administration, such as Iraq commander General David Petraeus, opposed the use of torture and abusive interrogation methods on detainees. Levin concludes: “If we are to retain our status as a leader in the world, we must acknowledge and confront the abuse of detainees in our custody. The committee’s report and investigation makes significant progress toward that goal. There is still the question, however, of whether high level officials who approved and authorized those policies should be held accountable.” Levin has recommended that Attorney General Eric Holder appoint a special investigator “to look at the volumes of evidence relating to treatment of detainees, including evidence in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s report, and to recommend what steps, if any, should be taken to establish accountability of high-level officials—including lawyers.” [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
Progressive reporter and pundit Spencer Ackerman, responding to former State Department official Philip Zelikow’s revelation of his opposition to the Bush administration’s torture policies (see April 21, 2009), calls Zelikow’s Zelikow’s article in which he explained why he opposed those policies “a delicate and thoughtful rejection of the Bush administration’s architecture of torture.” Ackerman then writes: “To ask an impolite question of Zelikow: why didn’t he resign? I know, resignations of senior officials are few and far between. But it seems like this is one of those issues—the entrenchment of a widespread system of abusive interrogations that are, you acknowledge, most likely illegal—that merits walking out the door. I’m not trying to play the critic, especially after he’s offered such a candid, honest view of his tenure. Nor do I mean to imply that resignation is an easy thing—particularly if you’re trying to change the system from within. But it still seems like a question worth asking.” [Washington Independent, 4/21/2009]
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow interviews former State Department official Philip Zelikow. [Source: Crooks and Liars (.com)]Former State Department adviser Philip Zelikow (see February 28, 2005) reveals that in June 2005, he wrote a secret memo challenging the Bush administration’s legal reasoning behind its decision to authorize torture (see June 2005). Zelikow writes that until now he has never publicly discussed the memo, but with the recent release of four Office of Legal Counsel memos (see April 16, 2009), he feels he can now do so without fear of breaking the law. [Foreign Policy, 4/21/2009] The memos were ordered destroyed by someone in the White House. Zelikow later says that while he has no proof, his “supposition at the time” was that the office of Vice President Dick Cheney was behind the suppression. Cheney’s office had no authority to request that his memo be suppressed or destroyed, Zelikow will say: “They didn’t run the interagency process. Such a request would more likely have come from the White House counsel’s office or from NSC [National Security Council] staff.” Zelikow will say he never saw any written order pertaining to his memo being suppressed, but he knew of it: “It was conveyed to me, and I ignored it,” he will say. Zelikow will call his memo “a more direct assault on [the Bush Justice Department’s] own interpretation of American law.” [Mother Jones, 5/6/2009] Discussing his memo with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Zelikow recalls that when he first read the memos, he was struck by how “deeply unsound” the legal reasoning in them was. “I wasn’t sure that the president and his advisers understood just how potentially questionable and unreasonable many lawyers and judges would find this reasoning.… They [the memos’ authors] were using an interpretation of how to comply with that standard that I didn’t think any judges or lawyers outside of the administration would find plausible, and I wasn’t sure other folks realized just how implausible it was.” Maddow asks if Zelikow believes, as she does, that the White House wanted “to erase any evidence of the existence of a dissenting view within the administration because it would undercut the legal authority of the advice in those memos, the advice that those techniques would be legal”; Zelikow responds: “That is what I thought at the time. I had the same reaction you did. But I don’t know why they wanted to do it.” [MSNBC, 4/21/2009]
Former Bush White House press secretary Ari Fleischer says he has no problem with certain methods of torture documented in recently released Bush administration memos (see April 16, 2009). “I don’t know what I think about waterboarding,” Fleischer says. “I think waterboarding is pretty close to the line. But I’m not an expert in it, and I think, when it comes to that, you really can’t go by what a layman has come to learn by reading newspapers.… [S]leep deprivation, I have no problem with. I think it’s all is how it’s conducted and to what extent things go (see April 21, 2009). [I]f you read those documents, it was conducted with medical people being present to make certain that it didn’t enter the area where you go from a harsh technique—and I think it’s appropriate to be harsh with people after September 11 who might be able to prevent the next attack.” Even so, Fleischer says he is not a proponent of torture. Asked by interviewer Anderson Cooper, “If it works, do you think, then, it’s justified?” Fleischer replies, “No, I don’t.” [CNN, 4/21/2009]
Democratic Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and John Conyers (D-MI) say they intend to push for the impeachment of federal judge Jay Bybee in response to the report on torture issued by the Senate Armed Services Committee (see April 21, 2009). As the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel under President Bush, Bybee signed off on two memos that justified the use of torture (see August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2002). Nadler says that the purpose of the Bybee memos was never to give an honest legal analysis, but to provide legal cover for patently illegal actions in order to encourage those actions. Nadler says the charge against Bybee would be something approaching “conspiracy to abet torture.” Conyers, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, says he intends to hold hearings to examine the role that Bybee and other Bush administration lawyers played in crafting Bush administration torture policies. “There are some who tried to do a get-out-of-jail-free card. Obviously, there are some that that’s all they were thinking,” he says, refusing to name anyone specifically. However, he says, “We’re coming after these guys.” [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009] Bybee will not be impeached, though he will be found to have exhibited “poor judgment” during his tenure in the Department of Justice (see February 2010).
A newly declassified Senate Intelligence Committee chronology discloses that the small group of Bush-era Justice Department lawyers who wrote memos authorizing the torture of enemy detainees (see April 16, 2009 and April 9, 2008) did not operate on their own, but were authorized by top White House officials such as then-Vice President Dick Cheney and then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see April 2002 and After). Other top officials, such as then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, were apparently left out of the decision-making process. Former committee chairman John Rockefeller (D-WV) says the task of declassifying interrogation and detention opinions “is not complete,” and urges the prompt declassification of other Bush-era documents that, he says, will show how the Bush administration interpreted the laws governing torture and war crimes. The committee report began in the summer of 2008, at Rockefeller’s behest, and was drafted by committee staffers with heavy input from Bush officials. The entire effort was coordinated through the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. President Bush’s National Security Council refused to declassify the report; President Obama’s National Security Adviser, James Jones, signed off on its release and the committee clears it for release today. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009; McClatchy News, 4/22/2009] The Intelligence Committee report dovetails with a report issued by the Senate Armed Forces Committee that showed Defense Department officials debated torture methods months before the Justice Department authorized such methods (see April 21, 2009). The report also shows:
The CIA thought al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida was withholding information about an imminent threat as early as April 2002 (see March 28-August 1, 2002), but did not receive authorization to torture him until three months later.
Some Senate Intelligence Committee members were briefed on the torture of Zubaida and 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in 2002 and 2003.
CIA Director George Tenet, in the spring of 2003, asked for a reaffirmation of the legality of torture methods (perhaps this memo—see June 1, 2003). Cheney, Rice, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, and then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales were among the participants at a meeting where it was decided that the torture policies would continue. Rumsfeld and Powell were not present.
The CIA briefed Rumsfeld and Powell on interrogation techniques in September 2003.
Administration officials had lasting concerns about the legality of waterboarding as they continued to justify its legitimacy.
Reactions among other senators is divided, with John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) asking Obama not to prosecute Bush officials who authorized or gave advice concerning torture, and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) reiterating his support for an independent “truth commission” to investigate the interrogations. [McClatchy News, 4/22/2009; Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 ] In 2008, Bush admitted approving of his administration’s authorization of torture (see April 11, 2008).
Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice, Colin Powell, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency, Abu Zubaida, Alberto R. Gonzales, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Patrick J. Leahy, Lindsey Graham, George W. Bush, James L. Jones, John Ashcroft, John D. Rockefeller, George J. Tenet, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Council, John McCain, Joseph Lieberman
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announces that, in line with a judge’s recent ruling, it will approve the sale of the so-called “morning-after” emergency contraception pill to 17-year olds without a doctor’s prescription. A judge recently ruled in favor of the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) in a lawsuit against the FDA (see January 21, 2005 and After). Under the Bush administration, the FDA ruled that the pill, called “Plan B,” could not be sold without a prescription (see May 6, 2004 and After), a decision partially reversed in 2006. Conservative groups say the decision will make it more difficult for parents to supervise their teens; women’s rights groups say the decision strengthens the rights of women. District Judge Edward Korman ruled that the FDA’s political appointees placed politics over science in its decision to restrict over-the-counter (OTC) sales of the drug; he wrote that evidence showed White House officials pressured the FDA to reject the drug’s OTC sales. His ruling orders the FDA to allow OTC sales to 17-year olds, and to evaluate whether all age restrictions should be lifted. CRR’s Nancy Northrup says, “It’s a good indication that the agency will move expeditiously to ensure its policy on Plan B is based solely on science.” Wendy Wright of the conservative action group Concerned Women for America says, “Parents should be furious at the FDA’s complete disregard of parental rights and the safety of minors.” In 2008, a judge ruled that conservative groups had failed to prove that the drug posed a risk to anyone (see March 4, 2008). Former FDA official Susan Wood, who resigned in 2005 over the issue, says the battle over Plan B came to symbolize just how politicized the agency became under President Bush. “The FDA got caught up in a saga, it got caught up in a drama,” she says. “This issue served as a clear example of the agency being taken off track, and it highlighted the problems FDA was facing in many other areas.” [Associated Press, 4/22/2009; Washington Post, 4/23/2009] “We need to have a very strong and science-based agency, and this is one of those steps that will help strengthen it,” Wood says. [USA Today, 3/23/2009]
Rachel Maddow and Ron Suskind during their MSNBC interview. [Source: Huffington Post]MSNBC host Rachel Maddow interviews author Ron Suskind, who has written several books documenting the clandestine activities of the Bush administration. Maddow is most interested in the recent release of the Senate Armed Services Committee report documenting the use of torture against prisoners in US custody (see April 16, 2009 and April 21, 2009). Suskind notes that there were two separate but parallel tracks being followed in the administration, authorizing both the military and the CIA to torture prisoners. He believes the administration’s underlying motive was to find, or create through false confessions, a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda that would justify the invasion of Iraq. Suskind tells Maddow: “What’s fascinating here is that if you run the timelines side by side, you see for the first time… that the key thing being sent down by the policymakers, by the White House, is ‘Find a link between Saddam [Hussein] and al-Qaeda, so that we can essentially link Saddam to the 9/11 attacks and then march into Iraq with the anger of 9/11 behind us.’ That was the goal and was being passed down as the directive.… It’s often called ‘the requirement’ inside the CIA, for both agents with their sources and interrogators with their captives: ‘Here’s what we’re interested in, here’s what we, the duly elected leaders want to hear about. Tell us what you can find.’ What’s fascinating, is in the Senate report, is finally, clear confirmation that that specific thing was driving many of the activities, and, mind you, the frustration inside of the White House… as frustration built inside of the White House that there was no link that was established, because the CIA told the White House from the very start that there is no Saddam to al-Qaeda link—‘We checked it out, we did it every which way, sorry’—the White House simply wouldn’t take no for an answer, and it went with another method: torture was the method. ‘Get me a confession, I don’t care how you do it.’ And that bled all the way through the government, both on the CIA side and the Army side.” Suskind notes that the “impetus was not to foil potential al-Qaeda attacks. The impetus here was largely political and diplomatic. The White House had a political/diplomatic problem. It wanted it solved in the run up to the war.” [Huffington Post, 4/22/2009; MSNBC, 4/22/2009]
Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, reacting to the recent revelations about Bush administration torture policies (see April 16, 2009 and April 21, 2009), writes: “Let’s say this slowly: the Bush administration wanted to use 9/11 as a pretext to invade Iraq, even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. So it tortured people to make them confess to the nonexistent link (see April 22, 2009). There’s a word for this: it’s evil.” [New York Times, 4/22/2009]
The former US commander of Iraq prisons in 2003, retired Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, tells CBS News interviewers that she and her fellow senior officials were scapegoated by the Bush administration for the crimes and abuses that took place at Abu Ghraib prison. She says that every order concerning prisoner interrogations came from the top down. “These soldiers didn’t design these techniques on their own… we were following orders,” Karpinski says. “We were bringing this to our chain of command and they were saying whatever the military intelligence tells you to do out there you are authorized to do.” Karpinski’s interview is in response to the report just released by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which found that the torture policies carried out by the military came directly from the highest reaches of the Bush administration as early as 2002 (see April 21, 2009). The report also concludes that the Abu Ghraib abuses were a direct result of Bush administration policies, as were widespread abuses at Guantanamo Bay. After the Abu Ghraib scandal became well known, Karpinski was demoted to colonel and later retired. She says: “The line is clear. It went from Washington, DC. From the very top of the administration with the legal opinions through Bagram to Guantanamo Bay and then to Iraq via the commander from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And the contractors who were hired to do those things.” Asked about her assertion that she and the soldiers prosecuted for crimes committed at Abu Ghraib (see May 19, 2004-March 22, 2006 and January 16, 2005) were “scapegoated” by Bush officials, Karpinski says: “Scapegoat is the perfect word and it’s an understatement. Right now, with the hard, fast facts in those memos, the black and white proof, the administration is suggesting that those operatives should be immune from any investigations or persecution.” [CBS News, 4/22/2009]
Liz Cheney, a former State Department official and the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, defends the Bush administration’s practices of torture by denying that anything authorized by the administration was, in fact, torture. Cheney, interviewed on MSNBC, is responding to the issues raised by the recent Senate Armed Services Committee report on Bush-era torture policies (see April 21, 2009). “The tactics are not torture, we did not torture,” she says. To bolster her denial, Cheney says that the tactics are not torture because they were derived from training methods employed in the SERE program (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, and July 2002). “Everything that was done in this program, as has been laid out and described before, are tactics that our own people go through in SERE training,” Cheney says. “We did not torture our own people. These techniques are not torture.” Progressive news Web site Think Progress notes that in the May 30, 2005 torture memo (see May 30, 2005), then-Justice Department official Steven Bradbury wrote, “Individuals undergoing SERE training are obviously in a very different situation from detainees undergoing interrogation; SERE trainees know it is part of a training program, not a real-life interrogation regime, they presumably know it will last only a short time, and they presumably have assurances that they will not be significantly harmed by the training.” [Think Progress, 4/23/2009]
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), a likely candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential candidacy, refuses to say whether waterboarding is or is not torture. Interviewed on Fox News, Gingrich calls the release of the four Bush-era Justice Department memos authorizing and defending torture (see April 16, 2009) “a big mistake,” but adds, “I want to see the United States run the risk, at times, of not learning certain things in order to establish a standard for civilization.” When asked if waterboarding is torture, Gingrich refuses to give a straight answer. “I think it’s something we shouldn’t do,” he says, but then adds: “Lawyers I respect a great deal say it is absolutely within the law. Other lawyers say it absolutely is not. I mean, this is a debatable area.” When asked if waterboarding violates the Geneva Conventions, Gingrich again demurs, saying, “I honestly don’t know.” He then says, “I think—I think that there—I am exactly where Senator [John] McCain was.” McCain has long opposed the use of torture (see July 24, 2005 and After, October 1, 2005, November 21, 2005, December 13, 2005, December 15, 2005, and April 20, 2009). [Think Progress, 4/26/2004]
As calls mount for the impeachment of Judge Jay Bybee (see April 21, 2009), who signed off on two key Bush-era torture memos as the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Counsel (see August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2002), some friends of Bybee’s say that he now regrets signing the memos. “I’ve heard him express regret at the contents of the memo,” says a fellow legal scholar who refuses to allow his name to be published. “I’ve heard him express regret that the memo was misused. I’ve heard him express regret at the lack of context—of the enormous pressure and the enormous time pressure that he was under. And anyone would have regrets simply because of the notoriety.” The scholar adds: “On the primary memo, that legitimated and defined torture, he just felt it got away from him. What I understand that to mean is, any lawyer, when he or she is writing about something very complicated, very layered, sometimes you can get it all out there and if you’re not careful, you end up in a place you never intended to go. I think for someone like Jay, who’s a formalist and a textualist, that’s a particular danger.” Democratic lawmakers complain that Bybee won quick Senate confirmation for his judgeship (see February 5, 2003) in part because he did not discuss the memos during his confirmation hearings. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says, “If the Bush administration and Mr. Bybee had told the truth, he never would have been confirmed.” Leahy says that now, “the decent and honorable thing for him to do would be to resign.” ACLU senior official Jameel Jaffer says that whatever regrets or caveats Bybee may be experiencing are moot. “I don’t think the August 2002 memos reflect serious attempts to grapple in good faith with the law,” Jaffer says. “These are documents that are meant to justify predetermined ends. They’re not objective legal memos at all.” [Washington Post, 4/25/2009; Think Progress, 4/25/2009]
The CIA tortured and brutalized prisoners for at least seven years without attempting to assess whether such tactics actually resulted in the acquisition of good intelligence, the press reports. Calls to conduct such an assessment of the agency’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” began as early as 2003, when the CIA’s inspector general began circulating drafts of a report that raised serious concerns about the various torture techniques being employed (see May 7, 2004). Neither the inspector general’s report or later studies examined the effectiveness of the interrogation tactics, or attempted to verify the assertions of CIA counterterrorism officials who insisted that the techniques were essential to the program’s results. “Nobody with expertise or experience in interrogation ever took a rigorous, systematic review of the various techniques—enhanced or otherwise—to see what resulted in the best information,” says a senior US intelligence official involved in overseeing the interrogation program. As a result, there was never a determination of “what you could do without the use of enhanced techniques,” the official says. Former Bush administration officials say the failure to conduct such an examination was part of a broader reluctance to reexamine decisions made shortly after the 9/11 attacks. The Defense Department, Justice Department, and CIA “all insisted on sticking with their original policies and were not open to revisiting them, even as the damage of these policies became apparent,” according to John Bellinger, then the legal advisor to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, referring to burgeoning international outrage. “We had gridlock,” Bellinger says, calling the failure to consider other approaches “the greatest tragedy of the Bush administration’s handling of detainee matters.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/25/2009]
Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ), a strong opponent of torture (see July 24, 2005 and After, October 1, 2005, November 21, 2005, December 13, 2005, December 15, 2005, and April 20, 2009), says that the US must “move on” from the Bush era of torture and not investigate the Bush administration’s torture policies. McCain refuses to support Democratic calls to impeach former Justice Department official Jay Bybee, who authored several of the torture memos (see August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2002), even as he acknowledges Bybee broke the law. McCain says: “He falls into the same category as everybody else as far as giving very bad advice and misinterpreting, fundamentally, what the United States is all about, much less things like the Geneva Conventions. Look, under President Reagan we signed an agreement against torture. We were in violation of that.” McCain says that “no one has alleged, quote, wrongdoing” on the part of Bush officials such as Bybee, saying only that they gave “bad advice” to Bush and other senior officials. [Think Progress, 4/26/2009]
Former prosecutor Mark McKeon, part of the international team of lawyers who prosecuted Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milosevic, writes that just as in 2001, when Milosevic was facing charges of war crimes for torturing and murdering Bosnian and Kosovar citizens, Bush administration officials must be investigated for war crimes in their advocacy and authorization of US torture of suspected terrorists. At the time, McKeon writes, “there was no doubt that Milosevic should be indicted for his responsibility for the torture and cruel treatment of prisoners. As the head of state at the time those crimes were committed, Milosevic bore ultimate responsibility for what happened under his watch.… And yet, seven years later, here we are debating whether we should hold senior Bush administration officials accountable for things they have done in the ‘war on terror.’” The evidence against Milosevic, as it was against senior officials in his government, was damning, McKeon writes. Now, he notes, the US “cannot expect to regain our position of leadership in the world unless we hold ourselves to the same standards that we expect of others. That means punishing the most senior government officials responsible for these crimes. We have demanded this from other countries that have returned from walking on the dark side; we should expect no less from ourselves.… We cannot expect the rest of humanity to live in a world that we ourselves are not willing to inhabit.” [Washington Post, 4/27/2009]
Former Bush National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has returned to Stanford University to teach political science and serve as a senior fellow at the university’s conservative Hoover Institute [Stanford University News, 1/28/2009] , refuses to take any responsibility for the Bush administration’s torture policies. All she ever did, she tells students, was “convey… the authorization of the administration” (see Late 2001-Early 2002, April 2002 and After, Mid-May, 2002, July 17, 2002, September or October 2002, Summer 2003, May 3, 2004, and April 9, 2008). However, Rice adds, since President Bush authorized the torture program, it was by definition legal, no matter what domestic law or international treaties stipulated. “The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations under the Convention Against Torture” (see October 21, 1994), she says. “So that’s—and by the way, I didn’t authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency, that they had policy authorization, subject to the Justice Department’s clearance. That’s what I did.” Asked if waterboarding constitutes torture, Rice responds: “I just said, the United States was told, we were told, nothing that violates our obligations under the Convention Against Torture. And so by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.” Ali Frick, a reporter with the progressive news Web site Think Progress, writes in response: “Rice is attempting to hide her central role in approving torture.… Rice’s opinion that a presidential authorization—‘by definition’—grants something legality is deeply disturbing. In fact, the United States—and its president—are bound by US statute and international treaties that ban the use of cruel, humiliating, degrading treatment, the infliction of suffering, and the attempt to extract coerced confessions. Memo to Rice: Bush may have been ‘the Decider,’ but he didn’t have the authority to make an illegal act magically legal.” [Think Progress, 4/30/2009] In the same conversation, Rice seems to say that al-Qaeda poses a greater threat to the US than did Nazi Germany, and again denies that the US ever tortured anyone. A student asks, “Even in World War II facing Nazi Germany, probably the greatest threat that America has ever faced—” and Rice interjects, “Uh, with all due respect, Nazi Germany never attacked the homeland of the United States.” “No, but they bombed our allies—” the student replies, and Rice once again interrupts: “No, just a second, just a second. Three thousand Americans died in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon [referring to the 9/11 attacks].” The student observes, “500,000 died in World War II—” to which Rice replies, “Fighting a war in Europe.” The student continues, ”—and yet we did not torture the prisoners of war.” Rice says, “We didn’t torture anybody here either.” [Think Progress, 4/30/2009]
The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reinstates the case of Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, overruling strong objections from the Obama administration (see February 9, 2009), which argued that the case risked revealing “state secrets.” The New York Times writes that the verdict “deal[s] a blow to efforts by both the Bush and Obama administrations to claim sweeping executive secrecy powers.” Five victims of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program are suing Jeppesen, a subsidiary of Boeing, for assisting the CIA with its transfer flights to and from secret overseas detention sites. The former detainees are joined in their suit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). A lower court had previously ruled in the government’s favor while President Bush was in office; the Obama administration supported the Bush administration’s position. The logic of the state secrets privilege, the appeals court panel writes, “simply cannot stretch to encompass cases brought by third-party plaintiffs against alleged government contractors for the contractors’ alleged involvement in tortious intelligence activities. Nothing the plaintiffs have done supports a conclusion that their ‘lips [are] to be for ever sealed respecting’ the claim on which they sue, such that filing this lawsuit would in itself defeat recovery.” The ACLU had argued that there was no compelling reason to prevent the victims from bringing suit against a government contractor who allegedly assisted in their torture. The pursuit of those claims would not necessarily endanger state secrets. [Washington Independent, 4/28/2009; New York Times, 4/28/2009]
Government Asked for Immunity from Oversight, Court Finds - Repudiating the state secrets claim in the case, the appeals court adds: “The [government’s position] has no logical limit—it would apply equally to suits by US citizens, not just foreign nationals; and to secret conduct committed on US soil, not just abroad. According to the government’s theory, the Judiciary should effectively cordon off all secret government activities from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the CIA and its partners from the demands and limits of the law.” [Salon, 4/28/2009]
Civil Liberties Advocates Celebrate Verdict - Civil liberties correspondent Daphne Eviatar calls the decision “a huge victory, not only for the five victims themselves, but also for many civil liberties advocates.” Former civil litigator and columnist Glenn Greenwald calls the government’s position a “radical secrecy theory” that should have been repudiated in its entirety. “Today’s decision is a major defeat for the Obama [Justice Department]‘s efforts to preserve for itself the radically expanded secrecy powers invented by the Bush [Justice Department] to shield itself from all judicial scrutiny,” he writes.
Further Actions Possible - The Obama administration has the option to ask for another appeals court hearing, ask that the Supreme Court review the decision, or accept the ruling. Greenwald is certain it will ask for another appeal. [Washington Independent, 4/28/2009; Salon, 4/28/2009]
Judge Jay Bybee, who authored or signed a number of memos authorizing torture while the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC—see August 1, 2002, August 1, 2002, and December 2003-June 2004), defends his actions to the New York Times. Bybee has been a federal judge for over five years (see February 5, 2003); many civil libertarians and critics of the Bush administration want him to either step down from the bench or face impeachment (see April 21, 2009), and the Justice Department is investigating his professional conduct (see Before April 22, 2009). In recent days, Bybee’s friends and colleagues have reported his “regrets” over the memos (see April 25, 2009). Now, Bybee says while in hindsight he would have done some things differently, like clarifying and sharpening the analysis of some of his answers to help the public better understand the basis for his conclusions, the memos represent “a good-faith analysis of the law” that properly defined the narrow divide between harsh treatment and torture. Bybee’s memos gave a legal framework for the use of illegal interrogation tactics such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and enforced isolation. In a statement, Bybee says: “The central question for lawyers was a narrow one; locate, under the statutory definition, the thin line between harsh treatment of a high-ranking al-Qaeda terrorist that is not torture and harsh treatment that is. I believed at the time, and continue to believe today, that the conclusions were legally correct.” He had the support of other administration lawyers, he says. “The legal question was and is difficult. And the stakes for the country were significant no matter what our opinion. In that context, we gave our best, honest advice, based on our good-faith analysis of the law.” Bybee’s former colleague, law professor Christopher Blakesley, says he challenged Bybee on one of the memos in 2004, shortly after it became public knowledge. “I asked him how he could sign such an awful thing,” Blakesley recalls. Bybee refused to discuss the matter, and the two men have not spoken since. Blakesley says Bybee “has some basic flaws including being very naïve about leaders. He has too much respect for authority and will avoid a confrontation no matter what.” Some law clerks who worked with Bybee after he left the OLC recall him speaking about his involvement in some matters “so awful, so terrible, so radioactive” that he doubted the administration would ever disclose them. One of the then-clerks, Nina Rabin, says she finds Bybee’s position disturbing because he suggests a lawyer can be divorced from the policies being pursued under his legal rubric. “He definitely offered a view that was sanitized,” she says, “and I thought that was disingenuous in that it removed any responsibility on the part of the lawyer for what was happening.” [New York Times, 4/28/2009]
Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean says that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may have unwittingly admitted to being part of a criminal conspiracy in regards to the Bush administration’s torture policies. Rice recently told students at Stanford University that she did not authorize any torture policies, she merely forwarded the authorization for them from higher up (see April 28, 2009). Dean tells MSNBC talk show host Keith Olbermann that she may have admitted to a criminal conspiracy. Dean calls Rice’s comments “surprising,” and says she has mired herself in the possibility of legal proceedings. “She tried to say she didn’t authorize anything, then proceeded to say she did pass orders along to the CIA to engage in torture if it was legal by the standard of the Department of Justice,” Dean says. “This really puts her right in the middle of a common plan, as it’s known in international law, or a conspiracy, as it’s known in American law, and this indeed is a crime. If it indeed happened the way we think it did happen.… These kinds of statements are going to come back and be interesting to any investigator.” Dean says that President Obama will stand in violation of the Geneva Conventions if he refuses to prosecute those found responsible for the torture policies. “He is indeed in violation if the United States does not undertake investigation of this, or ultimately prosecution, if that’s necessary,” Dean says. “It’s not only the Geneva Convention, the Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994) also requires this. There are no exceptions with torture. There are no real things like ‘torture light.’ The world community I think is going to hold the United States responsible, and if we don’t proceed, somebody is going to proceed.” [Raw Story, 5/1/2009; MSNBC, 5/1/2009]
Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari held without charge for seven years by the Bush administration on suspicion of being an al-Qaeda sleeper agent (see December 12, 2001 and June 23, 2003), pleads guilty to one felony count of providing material support to a terrorist organization. Al-Marri was released from the Naval Brig in Charleston on order of the Obama administration’s Justice Department and charged with multiple counts of supporting terrorism (see February 27, 2009). He faces up to 15 years in prison. Until accepting the plea, al-Marri has always denied any connection with al-Qaeda or with Islamist terrorism. Attorney General Eric Holder says of the al-Marri plea: “Without a doubt, this case is a grim reminder of the seriousness of the threat we as a nation still face. But it also reflects what we can achieve when we have faith in our criminal justice system and are unwavering in our commitment to the values upon which the nation was founded and the rule of law.” Lawrence Lustberg, one of al-Marri’s lawyers, says his client agreed to the plea bargain “because he wanted to go home,” and because of fears that a jury trial might end up with al-Marri serving 30 years and not a maximum of 15. (Holder rejected earlier plea deals, insisting that al-Marri serve at least 15 years in prison.) Court papers show that al-Marri was an al-Qaeda agent, with close ties to alleged 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Al-Marri admitted to attending al-Qaeda training camps between 1998 and 2001, and to coming to the US at Mohammed’s direction (see September 10, 2001). The plan was for al-Marri to stay in contact with Mohammed using code names—al-Marri was “Abdo” and Mohammed was “Muk,” apparently short for his nickname “Mukhtar” (see August 28, 2001)—and a Hotmail email account. Documents confirming this were found at an al-Qaeda safe house in Pakistan. Al-Marri’s attempts to contact both Mohammed and al-Qaeda financier Mustafa al-Hawsawi after the 9/11 attacks were unsuccessful. Al-Marri also conducted research on the effects of cyanide gas, and on potential targets for terrorist attacks, including waterways, dams, and tunnels. Al-Marri’s plea agreement says that he will be deported to Saudi Arabia or Qatar when his sentence is completed, or perhaps sooner. The judge in the case, Michael Mihm, has not yet ruled whether al-Marri will be given credit for the seven years he served in the Charleston brig. [Politico, 4/30/2009; New York Times, 4/30/2009; US Newswire, 4/30/2009]
Federal prosecutors drop all charges against two former lobbyists accused of passing classified information to Israel (see August 4, 2005). The lobbyists, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, worked for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) when they took classified information from former government official Larry Franklin and passed it to Israeli officials (see April 13, 1999-2004 and October 5, 2005). The case against Rosen and Weissman had the potential to criminalize the exchange of classified information among journalists, lobbyists, and ordinary citizens not bound by government restrictions. “Thank God we live in a country where you can defend yourself against an injustice like this,” says Rosen. He calls the case an example of government officials “who have an obsession with leaks (see May 21, 2006)… and an obsession with Israel and the theory that it spies on America.” The lawyers for the two former lobbyists believe that Obama administration officials had reservations about the case where their predecessors in the Bush administration did not, but former FBI counterintelligence official David Szady says that politics played no part in the decision to withdraw the charges. Prosecutors say that recent court rulings would make winning their case much more difficult than they had previously anticipated. Gary Wasserman, a Georgetown University professor who is writing a book about the case, says it is understandable that AIPAC welcomes the dismissal. A trial, he says, “would have provoked a lot of public discussion about how they worked.” [Washington Post, 5/2/2009]
Misha Lerner asks his question for Condoleezza Rice. [Source: Ron Sachs / Forward]Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is quizzed on the Bush administration’s use of torture as an interrogation method by a 10-year-old boy. Misha Lerner, a fourth grader at the Washington, DC, Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital, asks, “How do you feel about the things the Obama administration has said about the ways you got information from prisoners?” Rice responds: “Let me just say that President Bush was very clear that he wanted to do everything he could to protect the country. After September 11, we wanted to protect the country. But he was also very clear that we would do nothing, nothing, that was against the law or against our obligations internationally. So the president was only willing to authorize policies that were legal in order to protect the country.… I hope you understand that it was a very difficult time. We were all so terrified of another attack on the country. September 11 was the worst day of my life in government, watching 3,000 Americans die.… Even under those most difficult circumstances, the president was not prepared to do something illegal, and I hope people understand that we were trying to protect the country.” Lerner later tells a reporter that he asked the question because he thought it would “be interesting to see her answer on it.” He had originally planned to ask Rice, “If you would work for Obama’s administration, would you push for torture?” but he was persuaded to “make it a little softer.” [Washington Post, 5/4/2009; National Public Radio, 5/4/2009; Forward, 5/6/2009] School official David Zimand, who helped Lerner and the other students formulate their questions, says he found the original wording “mind-boggling,” and asked Lerner to soften the wording a bit. However, Zimand says: “We let him ask the question. Misha’s not this crusading political person. He’s a quiet, shy, sweet, thoughtful little boy. And nobody put him up to this, either.” Zimand adds: “I told him, ‘I really want you to have an opportunity to ask this question, but I want to make sure we ask it in a way that will give her a chance to answer and to feel respected, even if we’re pressing her.‘… We reframed the question together. I said: ‘Are you comfortable with this? Is this a question you want to ask? Is it your question?’ And he said yes.” Lerner later says he is not sure he understands Rice’s response. The Bush administration used torture, he says, which “is basically like robbing someone. Like you put a gun to someone’s head and say, ‘Gimme the money,’ but you’re doing it with torture and information, not a gun and money.” Rice’s answer is not good enough, he says. [Forward, 5/6/2009]
Ted Sorenson. [Source: Living Dialogues (.com)]Ted Sorenson, a former speechwriter and chief adviser to President John F. Kennedy, says that too many American lawyers stood idly by while the US conducted illegal torture and violated the Constitution. Sorenson, giving the commencement address at his alma mater, the University of Nebraska College of Law, urges the graduates to act with courage and integrity during their own careers. Sorenson says that the use of torture and other illegal tactics actually weakens US national security. “Yes, torture gets results,” he says. “It has resulted in easier, swifter, more successful recruitment for terrorist organizations among the millions of young Islamic fanatics who are willing to use the one weapon against which an open society such as ours has no sure defense—suicide bombing. It also resulted in a sharp decline in America’s standing among allies who might otherwise have provided intelligence and other forms of help. It has cost us the respect of other countries that we enjoyed, which protected us against attacks from abroad.” Few military leaders support torture, Sorenson says: “They know that the moral authority of the United States, its traditional ability to occupy the moral high ground in an international conflict, is an important part of our security. More important than the worthless statements extracted from torture’s victims who will cry out anything to halt it.” Sorenson is harshly critical of the lawyers who facilitated the Bush administration’s torture policies: “Intellectually and morally dishonest lawyers [in the Department of Justice] disgraced not only their country but their profession” in claiming that waterboarding and other forms of torture were legal, he says. “In a country based on the rule of law, in which no man is above the law, whatever his rank or title, no man can undertake, authorize, or immunize unlawful conduct.” He advocates investigation and prosecution for those who authorized and employed torture. “Our current wonderful president cannot promise the CIA practitioners of torture that they will not be prosecuted,” he says. “With all those now exposed of complicity in torture pointing fingers of blame at each other, it is clear that the guilty include political ideologues, cowardly bureaucrats, and inexperienced psychologists, all of whom plead ignorance of the law. But what about the lawyers?” [Lincoln Journal-Star, 5/9/2009]
The federal government sets a fuel efficiency standard of 35 miles per gallon or more for all cars and trucks sold in the US by 2016. The rationale is that raising the fuel efficiency standards will increase fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas pollution. The measure is projected to save 1.8 billion barrels of oil between 2012 and 2016, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 900 million metric tons. The measure goes into effect in 2012. President Obama says: “In the past, an agreement such as this would have been considered impossible. That is why this announcement is so important, for it represents not only a change in policy in Washington, but the harbinger of a change in the way business is done in Washington. As a result of this agreement, we will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the vehicles sold in the next five years. And at a time of historic crisis in our auto industry, this rule provides the clear certainty that will allow these companies to plan for a future in which they are building the cars of the 21st century.” The policy was developed in a collaboration between the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the nation’s major auto manufacturers, the United Auto Workers, environmental organizations, the State of California, and other state governments. EPA head Lisa P. Jackson says: “The president brought all stakeholders to the table and came up with a plan to help the auto industry, safeguard consumers, and protect human health and the environment for all Americans. A supposedly ‘unsolvable’ problem was solved by unprecedented partnerships. As a result, we will keep Americans healthier, cut tons of pollution from the air we breathe, and make a lasting down payment on cutting our greenhouse gas emissions.” Carol Browner, Obama’s assistant for energy and climate change, says: “A clear and uniform national policy is not only good news for consumers who will save money at the pump, but this policy is also good news for the auto industry which will no longer be subject to a costly patchwork of differing rules and regulations. This an incredible step forward for our country and another way for Americans to become more energy independent and reduce air pollution.” Daniel Becker of the Safe Climate Campaign, an organization which for two decades has advocated tougher mileage and emissions standards, says: “This is a very big deal. This is the single biggest step the American government has ever taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions.” The measure is based in part on a 2007 application by California to put its emissions standards in effect, an application rejected by the Bush administration. The measure complements fuel efficiency guidelines set by the Department of Energy in January 2009. [White House, 5/19/2009; New York Times, 5/19/2009; Adam Johnston, 7/2013]
Author and pro-choice advocate Cristina Page writes that the murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009) is anything but an isolated incident, and warns that more anti-abortion violence may well be forthcoming. “The pattern is clear and frightening,” she writes. Page notes that the tenure of President Clinton, who supported abortion rights, was marred by a large and ever-escalating number of violent protests and attacks on abortion providers, beginning with the murder of Dr. David Gunn in 1993 (see March 10, 1993); Gunn’s murder, Page writes, “was the beginning of what would become a five-fold increase in violence against abortion providers throughout the Clinton years.” During Clinton’s two terms, six abortion providers and clinical staff members were murdered, and 17 other attempted murders took place. There were 12 bombings or arsons during Clinton’s tenure. From 2001 through 2008, no abortion-related murders, nor attempted murders, occurred, while George W. Bush, an anti-abortion president, was in office. A single clinic bombing took place during Bush’s two terms. Since the election of President Obama, another pro-choice president, a steady escalation of anti-abortion violence has occurred (see February-May, 2009), culminating in the murder of Tiller. Page notes that in the eight years of the Bush administration, abortion and women’s health clinics registered 396 harassing phone calls. In the five months of the Obama administration, that number is at 1401 and rising. Page writes: “Battered women are at greatest danger of being killed by their abusers when they are most strong—that is, when they muster the courage to leave. The same phenomenon may be true in the abusive political abortion debate. The pro-choice movement, specifically our abortion providers, are in the greatest danger of violence when we take power. When the anti-abortion movement loses power, their most extreme elements appear to move to the fore and take control. The murder of Dr. Tiller suggests that violence against abortion providers may be far more linked to the power, or lack thereof, anti-abortion groups have politically than to laws designed to increase penalties against such acts.” She notes the violent rhetoric of numerous anti-abortion organization leaders since Obama’s election, many targeting Obama himself, with one official calling Obama a “radical pro-abortion president” and another saying that Obama will “force Americans to pay for the killing of innocents.” Elizabeth Barnes, executive director of the Philadelphia Women’s Center, says: “When the pendulum swung in the direction of protecting women’s rights, we expected something. The way the antis are reacting has changed, they’re taking more liberties, pressing the boundaries of legal, civil protest.” Page concludes: “Anti-abortion groups will put out carefully worded press statements condemning the murder of Dr. Tiller, as became routine for them during the Clinton years. But unless the rhetoric they choose from now on becomes careful too—they may be the enablers of murder and terror.” [Huffington Post, 5/31/2009]
Journalist Daphne Eviatar writes that during the eight years of the Bush presidency, prosecutions and enforcement of the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE—see May 1994) “cratered,” with Justice Department officials refusing to prosecute or sometimes even investigate complaints of vandalism, harassment, and assault. After the recent murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009), Eviatar and the Washington Independent obtained government data showing that enforcement of the FACE law, and other federal laws designed to protect abortion providers and clinics, declined by 75 percent during the Bush presidency. Between 1994 and 1999, when President Clinton was in office, the Justice Department filed 17 complaints under the FACE Act. Between 2001 and 2009, when President Bush was in office, the Justice Department only filed a single case. Tiller’s own clinic was vandalized numerous times, but complaints against the actions were ignored by the department. Statistics provided by the National Abortion Federation (NAF) show that over 3,200 acts of violence against abortion providers in the US and Canada were committed between 2000 and 2008, and the organization says the number of actual incidents was probably “much higher.” The number does not include threats, vandalism, and harassment. NAF statistics show that at least 17 cases of “extreme” violence against abortion providers in the US were reported, including arson, stabbings, bombings, and fake anthrax mailings. But the Bush Justice Department only prosecuted 11 individuals for these attacks. The two highest-profile anti-abortion prosecutions were those of anthrax mailer Clayton Waagner (see 1997-December 2001) and bomber Eric Rudolph (see April 14, 2005). However, none of Waagner’s or Rudolph’s associates in the extremist organization Army of God (see 1982) were ever prosecuted as accessories to the two activists’ crimes. Neither was the Army of God ever investigated as a potential domestic terrorist organization (see Early 1980s). [Washington Independent, 6/12/2009]
Betsy McCaughey, the chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, a former Republican lieutenant governor of New York, and a conservative opponent of health care reform, says that under the Obama administration’s reform proposal, elderly Americans would be encouraged to die earlier to save money (see February 9, 2009 and July 23-24, 2009). On conservative radio host Fred Thompson’s show, she says, “Congress would make it mandatory—absolutely require—that every five years people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner.” These sessions will help elderly patients learn how to “decline nutrition, how to decline being hydrated, how to go in to hospice care… all to do what’s in society’s best interest or in your family’s best interest and cut your life short.” [St. Petersburg Times, 7/23/2009] “These are such sacred issues of life and death. Government should have nothing to do with it.” Thompson calls McCaughey’s claim the “dirty little secret” of the health care reform proposal. [St. Petersburg Times, 7/23/2009; Politico, 7/28/2009] In August, progressive MSNBC host Rachel Maddow will tell her listeners: “That is not true at all, not a word of it. Not mandatory, not require, not every five years, not counseling, not tell them, not how to, not end their life. None of the words in that claim are true except maybe the two ‘that’s’ and the word ‘in.’ It’s not true, but it is convenient, and so it survives. And it is in fact being promoted more than ever. It’s convenient for the interests [that oppose] health care reform to scare old people about reform.” [MSNBC, 8/12/2009] The next day, McCaughey publishes an op-ed in the New York Post advancing the same arguments. “One troubling provision” of the bill, she writes, “compels seniors to submit to a counseling session every five years… about alternatives for end-of-life care.… [The] mandate invites abuse, and seniors could easily be pushed to refuse care.” [New York Post, 7/17/2009]
Availability of Discussions Mandated Since 1990 - The provision in question states that as part of an advanced care consultation, an individual and practitioner will have a consultation that includes “an explanation by the practitioner of the continuum of end-of-life services and supports available, including palliative care and hospice, and benefits for such services and supports that are available under this title.” Such explanations and consultations have been part of government-provided senior care since 1990; in 2003, the Bush administration issued guidelines for physicians’ discussion of end-of-life care with seniors.
Claims Contradicted - John Rother of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) counters with a statement: “This measure would not only help people make the best decisions for themselves but also better ensure that their wishes are followed. To suggest otherwise is a gross, and even cruel, distortion—especially for any family that has been forced to make the difficult decisions on care for loved ones approaching the end of their lives.” Jon Keyserling of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization adds: “I was surprised that any responsible legislative analyst would indicate this is a mandatory provision. That is just a misreading of the language and, certainly, of the intent.” McCaughey later responds to those statements by repeating her assertions, saying that doctors would “pressure” seniors to accept less costly services that would lead to quicker deaths. [St. Petersburg Times, 7/23/2009; Politico, 7/28/2009]
Debunked - McCaughey’s claims will soon be disproven (see July 23, 2009).
Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, Fred Thompson, Elizabeth (“Betsy”) McCaughey, American Association of Retired Persons, John Rother, Medicare, National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, New York Post, Obama administration, Rachel Maddow, Jon Keyserling
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
The New York Times reports that the ultra-secretive Continuity of Government program, which was activated and expanded by the Bush administration following the 9/11 attacks, is kept in tact by the new administration of Barrack Obama. According to the Times, White House officials draw “no distance between their own policies and those left behind by the Bush administration.” Officials refuse to discuss details of the continuity plans, but say the current policy is “settled.” [New York Times, 7/27/2009] Shortly before leaving office, Bush officials updated the plans and increased the role of the White House and the military (see January 2009).
Gregg Jarrett, guest host of Fox News’s “straight news” broadcast The Live Desk (see October 13, 2009), tells viewers that the Obama Justice Department “thinks it’s okay to intimidate white people, not okay to intimidate black people at the polls.” Jarrett and others are discussing the Justice Department’s decision to dismiss a case against the New Black Panthers, who had been accused of intimidating white voters during the November 2008 elections. Jarrett interviews Washington Times editor John Solomon, whose paper implied, without proof, that the decision to drop the case may have come from “senior elected or politically appointed” White House officials and not from career prosecutors who felt the case lacked merit, as the Justice Department says. Solomon says that during the Bush administration, Congressional Democrats “very strongly raised questions about the politicization of the Justice Department—political people, or career people answering to political people, overruling the front lines of the Justice Department, and this fits that debate right now in the Justice Department. And I think Congress, the Republicans and some Democrats, are asking questions now about whether career people got their say here and whether they were really listened to, or whether some other agenda had been carried out.” Jarrett then notes: “Well, the other message may be that this is a Department of Justice who thinks it’s okay to intimidate white people, not okay to intimidate black people at the polls. That could be one conclusion that people may reach here by their decision.” [Media Matters, 7/30/2009]
Representative Steve Buyer (R-IN), the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, issues a press release claiming that the proposed health care reform legislation would hurt veterans’ health care. In his statement, Buyer says, “The current Democrat bill harms veterans.” He claims that under the legislation some veterans would be subjected to “penalty” taxes for failing to have “acceptable” health coverage. The White House Director of Veterans and Wounded Warrior Policy, Matt Flavin, himself a veteran of Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, quickly counters with a statement contradicting Buyer’s claims: “I’m here to tell you quite simply that if you are eligible for VA [Veterans Adminstration] health care, you will remain eligible. There is no impact on VA health care. So veterans, please be comforted in the fact that your health care will not change under health reform efforts. There is no effect.” Representative Joe Sestak (D-PA), a former Navy rear admiral, confirms Flavin’s rebuttal, and goes further, noting that the Obama administration’s budget restores VA care for some 500,000 veterans kicked out of the system during the Bush administration. “President Obama’s budget is going to also restore what we call the Priority 8 veterans to the VA system,” he says. “Back in 2003, the Bush administration kicked out over 265,000 veterans out of the Veterans Administration who happened to earn a bit over $34,000 for a family of two. Now, it’s 500,000 that are denied. And President Obama’s budget in the next four years brings them all back in. Not only does it preserve the system for our veterans, it enhances the system for our veterans.” Sestak adds: “I can absolutely confirm and the exact words are that the VA healthcare plan meets the minimal, acceptable requirements, which means it’s exempt from that 2.5 percent tax that they’re talking about. It states it just like that.” [US House of Representatives, 8/14/2009; MSNBC, 8/17/2009]
Xe logo. Xe is the name for the firm that previously called itself Blackwater USA and later Blackwater Worldwide. [Source: Public domain]Both the New York Times and Washington Post report that in 2004, the CIA hired outside contractors from Blackwater USA, a private security firm, to take part in a secret program to find and kill top al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere (see 2004). Both stories highlight the fact that a program to assassinate or capture al-Qaeda leaders that began around September 2001 (see Shortly After September 17, 2001) was terminated and then revived and outsourced to Blackwater in 2004 (see 2004 and (2005-2006)). CIA Director Leon Panetta alerted Congress to the secret program in June 2009 (see June 24, 2009), but the public is just now learning of its existence. Government officials say that bringing contractors into a program that has the authority to kill raises serious concerns about accountability in covert operations. Blackwater’s role in the program ended years before Panetta took over the agency, but senior CIA officials have long questioned the propriety and the wisdom of using outside contractors—in essence, mercenaries—in a targeted killing program. [New York Times, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009; Washington Post, 8/20/2009] A retired intelligence officer described as “intimately familiar with the assassination program” says, “Outsourcing gave the agency more protection in case something went wrong.” [Nation, 8/20/2009] The assassination program is just one of a number of contracted services Blackwater provided for the CIA, and may still provide, including guarding CIA prisons and loading missiles on Predator drones. The agency “has always used contractors,” says a former CIA official familiar with the Predator operations. “You have to be an explosives expert,” and the CIA has never sought to use its own personnel for the highly specialized task. “We didn’t care who put on the munitions as long as it wasn’t CIA case officers.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/21/2009]
No Laws Broken? - Former CIA general counsel Jeffrey Smith says that Blackwater may not have broken any laws even by attempting to assassinate foreign nationals on the CIA’s orders. “The use of force has been traditionally thought of as inherently governmental,” he says. “The use of a contractor actually employing lethal force is clearly troublesome, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily illegal.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/21/2009]
Mixed Reactions from Congress - Some Congressional Democrats say that the secret assassination program is just one of many secret programs conducted by the Bush administration, and have called for more intensive investigations into Bush-era counterterrorism activities. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says: “I have believed for a long time that the intelligence community is over-reliant on contractors to carry out its work. This is especially a problem when contractors are used to carry out activities that are inherently governmental.” Conversely, some Congressional Republicans are critical of Panetta’s decision to terminate the program, with Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, accusing Panetta of indulging in too much “drama and intrigue than was warranted.” Officials say that the program was conceived as an alternative to the CIA’s primary assassination method of missile strikes using drone aircraft, which have killed many innocent civilians and cannot be used in heavily populated urban areas. [New York Times, 8/20/2009; Los Angeles Times, 8/21/2009] Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says that she cannot confirm or deny that Congress was informed of Blackwater’s involvement in the program before the New York Times broke the story. However, she notes: “What we know now, if this is true, is that Blackwater was part of the highest level, the innermost circle strategizing and exercising strategy within the Bush administration. [Blackwater CEO] Erik Prince operated at the highest and most secret level of the government. Clearly Prince was more trusted than the US Congress because Vice President Cheney made the decision not to brief Congress. This shows that there was absolutely no space whatsoever between the Bush administration and Blackwater.” Schakowsky says the House Intelligence Committee is investigating the CIA assassination program and will probe alleged links to Blackwater. Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern says: “The presidential memos (often referred to as ‘findings’) authorizing covert action like the lethal activities of the CIA and Blackwater have not yet surfaced. They will, in due course, if knowledgeable sources continue to put the Constitution and courage above secrecy oaths.” [Nation, 8/20/2009]
Blackwater Employs Many Former CIA Officials - Author and reporter Jeremy Scahill notes that many former Bush-era CIA officials now work at Blackwater, including former CIA executive director Alvin “Buzzy” Krongard; former CIA counterterrorism chief J. Cofer Black, who now operates Prince’s private intelligence company, Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS); the CEO of TIS, Robert Richer, the former associate deputy director of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations and second-ranking official in charge of clandestine operations; and Enrique “Ric” Prado, a former senior executive officer in the Directorate of Operations. [Nation, 8/20/2009]
Loss of Control, Deniability - Former CIA field agent Jack Rice, who worked on covert paramilitary operations for the agency, says, “What the agency was doing with Blackwater scares the hell out of me.” He explains: “When the agency actually cedes all oversight and power to a private organization, an organization like Blackwater, most importantly they lose control and don’t understand what’s going on. That makes it even worse is that you then can turn around and have deniability. They can say, ‘It wasn’t us, we weren’t the ones making the decisions.’ That’s the best of both worlds. It’s analogous to what we hear about torture that was being done in the name of Americans, when we simply handed somebody over to the Syrians or the Egyptians or others and then we turn around and say, ‘We’re not torturing people.’” [Nation, 8/20/2009]
Negative Publicity Led to Name Change, Prohibition from Operating in Iraq - Blackwater has since changed its name to Xe Services, in part because of a raft of negative publicity it has garnered surrounding allegations of its employees murdering Iraqi civilians; Iraq has denied the firm a license to operate within its borders. [New York Times, 8/20/2009] However, Blackwater continues to operate in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where it has contracts with the State Department and Defense Department. The CIA refuses to acknowledge whether it still contracts with Blackwater. [Nation, 8/20/2009]
Entity Tags: Obama administration, Total Intelligence Solutions, New York Times, Paul Gimigliano, Peter Hoekstra, Robert Richer, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of State, US Department of Defense, Leon Panetta, Ray McGovern, Jeremy Scahill, Senate Intelligence Committee, Jan Schakowsky, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Blackwater USA, A.B. (“Buzzy”) Krongard, Cofer Black, Enrique (“Ric”) Prado, Dianne Feinstein, Jack Rice, Erik Prince, Jeffrey H. Smith, House Intelligence Committee
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
The cover of the VA booklet ‘Your Life, Your Choices.’ The cover text reads: ‘Planning for Future Medical Decisions’ and ‘How to Prepare a Personalized Living Will.’ [Source: American Veteran Magazine]Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace tells his viewers that the Veterans Administration (VA) has a secret “death book” that urges veterans to “pull the plug” and commit suicide. The 51-page booklet is called “Your Life, Your Choices,” and, Wallace says, was pulled for rewriting and reissuance in 2007, yet the VA under President Obama is still using it. In his Fox News blog, Wallace writes: “What makes the book controversial is that—according to critics—it seems to push veterans in the direction of ‘pulling the plug.’ For instance—page 21 is a worksheet in which the veteran is asked to consider various situations and then check—whether in each case, life would be ‘difficult, but acceptable’—‘worth living, but just barely’—or ‘not worth living.’ You might think that the scenarios would involve irreversible comas and the like. But no—they include: ‘I can no longer walk but get around in a wheelchair’—‘I live in a nursing home’—‘I am a severe financial burden on my family’—and ‘I cannot seem to “shake the blues”’.” Wallace’s guest, Wall Street Journal columnist James Towey, whom Wallace describes as helping to “end use of the book under President Bush, and was shocked to see it has now been reinstated,” tells viewers that the message of the book is simple: “hurry up and die.” (Wallace notes that he learned of the VA’s “death book” from Towey’s August 18 Journal column.) And, Wallace writes, quoting Towey, “he says—when government can steer vulnerable individuals to conclude that life is not worth living—‘who needs death panels?’” Wallace briefly notes that he also interviewed VA’s Assistant Secretary, Tammy Duckworth, who noted that the book is “just one of many reference tools the VA makes available—and that it is currently being revised.” [Veterans Administration, 1997 ; Wall Street Journal, 8/18/2009; Fox News, 8/23/2009]
Debunking the Claim - The story of the “death book” is quickly debunked. Richard Allen Smith of the veterans’ organization VetVoice notes that the VA booklet is actually aimed at helping veterans choose not to commit suicide, and provides them with methods and resources to battle depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other conditions which lead veterans to consider prematurely ending their lives. [Richard Allen Smith, 8/23/2009] Progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters notes that the claim that the Bush administration “rescinded” the booklet in 2007 is false. While it was reviewed in 2007, the Bush administration actively promoted the use of the booklet throughout its tenure; an online document on the VA’s Web site labeled “Reviewed/Updated Date: December 29, 2008,” states, “To learn about a living will, read ‘Your Life, Your Choices.’” Wallace’s claim that the VA mandates all veterans receive the booklet is also false; it is considered an optional reference, not mandatory. [Media Matters, 8/24/2009]
Hidden Agenda? - Smith notes that Towey may have another reason for opposing the VA booklet. In 1996, Towey founded an organization called “Aging with Dignity.” In 1997, the organization released a 12-page pamphlet, “Five Wishes,” that it says does the same job as the VA’s booklet. It gives the ailing veteran a list of five questions that, it claims, when answered will guide your life decisions. For years, Towey has been trying to get the VA to stop distributing its own booklet and instead buy “Five Choices” to use with its veterans. In 2007, Towey did help force the VA to reassess and revise its booklet after complaining that it was biased against the anti-abortion viewpoint. Smith writes bluntly: “Astonishing. Jim Towey is one sick mother f_cker to argue that veterans should be presented with LESS information, not MORE, when it comes to making a living will, all so he can make a profit from peddling his end-of-life pamphlet that is shorter than the books my two-and-a-half-year-old reads.” [Huffington Post, 8/22/2009; Richard Allen Smith, 8/23/2009]
Claim Spread by Conservative Media - Even before Wallace’s August 23 broadcast, some conservative media outlets, having read Towey’s August 18 Wall Street Journal editorial, began spreading the story of the VA’s “death book.” The National Review printed editorials denouncing the booklet, and Fox News host Sean Hannity called it “the equivalent of a death panel.” Former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) used her Facebook blog to accuse the VA of “encourag[ing] veterans to forego care as they make end-of-life decisions.” And radio host Rush Limbaugh told his listeners: “This thing is obsessed with death. It’s obsessed with you deciding—or with some—maybe some influence—that your life isn’t worth living. It’s—there’s nothing positive in this.” [Media Matters, 8/24/2009]
Entity Tags: Chris Wallace, Media Matters, National Review, James Towey, Fox News, Obama administration, Bush administration (43), Tammy Duckworth, Richard Allen Smith, Rush Limbaugh, US Veterans Administration, Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity
Timeline Tags: US Health Care
Former Vice President Dick Cheney releases a statement that asserts the just-released CIA inspector general’s report (see August 24, 2009) proves that torture, which he refers to as “enhanced interrogation techniques,” works, and follows up with an attack on the Obama administration’s commitment to protecting the nation. Cheney writes: “The documents released Monday clearly demonstrate that the individuals subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques provided the bulk of intelligence we gained about al-Qaeda. This intelligence saved lives and prevented terrorist attacks. These detainees also, according to the documents, played a role in nearly every capture of al-Qaeda members and associates since 2002. The activities of the CIA in carrying out the policies of the Bush administration were directly responsible for defeating all efforts by al-Qaeda to launch further mass casualty attacks against the United States. The people involved deserve our gratitude. They do not deserve to be the targets of political investigations or prosecutions. President Obama’s decision to allow the Justice Department to investigate and possibly prosecute CIA personnel (see First Half of August 2009), and his decision to remove authority for interrogation from the CIA to the White House (see August 24, 2009), serves as a reminder, if any were needed, of why so many Americans have doubts about this administration’s ability to be responsible for our nation’s security.” [Weekly Standard, 8/24/2009; Washington Independent, 8/24/2009] Cheney’s statement is contemporaneous with a similar statement from the Republican National Committee (see August 24, 2009).
Disputing Cheney's Assessment - A Democratic official disputes the assertions, saying that the report provides no basis to conclude that torture was effective in eliciting actionable intelligence, and cites caveats in the body of the report. [Politico, 8/25/2009] And the New York Times notes that the memos “do not refer to any specific interrogation methods and do not assess their effectiveness.” [New York Times, 8/24/2009]
'Silly Semantic Game' - Reporter and columnist Spencer Ackerman notes that the memos seem to suggest that the most useful intelligence came from traditional intelligence techniques. He writes, “Cheney’s public account of these documents have conflated the difference between information acquired from detainees, which the documents present, and information acquired from detainees through the enhanced interrogation program, which they don’t.” Human rights organizations take a similar line. Gitanjali Gutierrez of the Center for Constitutional Rights says the documents “don’t make the case for torture, they only show that the CIA is able to tailor documents to justify its actions after the fact.” Tom Parker of Amnesty International notes that the memos “are hardly the slam dunk we had been led to expect. There is little or no supporting evidence in either memo to give substance to the specific claims about impending attacks made by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in highly coercive circumstances.” [Washington Independent, 8/24/2009; TPM Muckraker, 8/25/2009] Reporter Zachary Roth calls Cheney’s claim a “silly semantic game.” While it is true that the US gained actionable intelligence from detainees who were tortured, Roth observes, “it’s totally different from Cheney’s earlier claim—that the documents would show it was the EITs themselves that elicited the information.” [TPM Muckraker, 8/25/2009]
Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), Obama administration, Central Intelligence Agency, New York Times, Gitanjali Gutierrez, Al-Qaeda, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Zachary Roth, Republican National Committee, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Tom Parker, Spencer Ackerman
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Cover of CIA OIG report, with redactions. [Source: CIA / New York Times]A 2004 report by the CIA’s inspector general (IG) on torture (see May 7, 2004) is released to the public, after months of speculation as to its contents. The CIA opposed the release of the report for years, arguing that the release would demoralize its personnel and make it more difficult for the agency to do its job. The report’s release is triggered by a federal judge’s ruling in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The report, authored by former Inspector General John Helgerson, is heavily redacted, but the portions released to the public include a number of illegal and ethically questionable tactics used by US interrogators against detainees. Some of those tactics include the use of handguns, power drills, threats, smoke, and mock executions. Many of the techniques used against detainees were carried out without authorization from higher officials, and the Justice Department is reopening investigations into a number of the most serious allegations (see First Half of August 2009). The report says that the CIA’s efforts to provide “systematic, clear, and timely guidance” to interrogators were “inadequate at first” and that that failure largely coincided with the most significant incidents involving the unauthorized coercion of detainees, but as guidelines from the Justice Department accumulated over several years, oversight “improved considerably.” In the words of the Washington Post, “the report pointed to ongoing tensions between interrogators in the field and officials at the CIA Counterterrorism Center as to when detainees were compliant and when the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ was appropriate.” [MSNBC, 8/24/2009; Washington Post, 8/24/2009] In a statement, Helgerson says, “The most important findings of the review related to basic systemic issues: had management controls been established; were necessary laws, regulations, and guidelines in place and understood; had staff officers and contractors been adequately trained; and had they discharged their responsibilities properly?” [Washington Post, 8/24/2009] Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff says that the “report was generated at the beginning by agency officials within themselves who had deep concerns about what was going on. I was struck. One officer is quoted in this report saying that he’s concerned that he might one day—agency officers might one day end up on some ‘wanted list’ to appear before the world court for war crimes stemming from these activities. It was agents—it was the concerns about this came from within the agency. That’s what generated this report.”
Recommendations Redacted - Isikoff notes that at least half of the report is redacted, including the IG’s recommendations, and says, “I’m told the worst stuff is in those blacked out passages, which means we still don’t know the full story of this program.” [MSNBC, 8/25/2009] The report contains 10 recommendations for action on the CIA’s part, but all of them are redacted. [McClatchy, 8/24/2009] Helgerson states his regret that so much of the report is redacted. “The essence of the report is expressed in the Conclusions and Recommendations,” he says. “I am disappointed that the government did not release even a redacted version of the Recommendations, which described a number of corrective actions that needed to be taken.” [Washington Post, 8/24/2009] Isikoff’s Newsweek colleague, Mark Hosenball, says he believes much of the redacted information has to do with “renditions”: detainees transferred to foreign countries “and abused there.” [PBS, 8/24/2009]
Detailing 'Crime Scene[s]' - Author and reporter Jane Mayer says she believes the report, “in essence, [details] a crime scene. It’s very hard to get away from the fact that things like death threats and mock executions are specifically identified as torture under the Convention Against Torture and, therefore, are illegal, and they’re considered very major crimes. So the problem for the Obama administration, which inherited this report and the question about what to do about it, is that it’s a red flag to any prosecutor. It’s very hard to ignore this, when you’ve taken an oath of office that says you’re going to execute the laws and uphold the Constitution. So they’ve got to somehow do something with this. I was interviewing Larry [Laurence] Tribe, a law professor, who said, you know, it’s hard to do nothing about this when you see it.” Reporter David Ignatius notes that an earlier review by Justice Department prosecutors found that no one at the CIA could be prosecuted for crimes based on the findings of the report. However, that may no longer be true. “[I]t is interesting and troubling to people at the CIA that something that was already decided not prosecutable is now maybe prosecutable,” he says. Mayer notes that during the Bush administration, possible prosecutions were short-circuited by political appointees such as then-US Attorney Paul McNulty, “who was very much a political player, who actually wound up having to resign later in the Bush administration for other political problems.” [PBS, 8/24/2009]
Federal Prosecutor Appointed - In part as a result of reviewing the CIA report, Attorney General Eric Holder names a special prosecutor to determine if the CIA or its hired contractors broke any laws in interrogating detainees (see August 24, 2009).
Reactions - CIA Director Leon Panetta issues a statement that supports the agency’s efforts while avoiding defending torture or abuse. In his statement, Panetta writes that he is not “eager to enter the debate, already politicized, over the ultimate utility of the agency’s past detention and interrogation effort.” He says the program produced crucial intelligence but adds that use of the harsh methods “will remain a legitimate area of dispute.” Overall, Panetta says, the agency is committed to “moving forward” and not spending large amounts of time reflecting on past practices. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) calls the report, and the concurrent appointment of special prosecutor John Durham to investigate torture allegations (see August 24, 2009), “a great relief, a great moment for America as a country.” He continues: “We’ve finally seen the rule of law brought forward in a way that it is clear and direct on this situation, which has been so sort of poisoned with personalities and politics and propaganda. It’s a first kind of clear, bright light, and I couldn’t be happier, couldn’t be more relieved.” [New York Times, 8/24/2009; Central Intelligence Agency, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009] The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer says, “The report underscores the need for a comprehensive criminal investigation that reaches not just the interrogators who exceeded authority but the senior officials who authorized torture and the Justice Department lawyers who facilitated it.” [Washington Post, 8/24/2009] Joanne Mariner, the terrorism and counterterrorism program director at Human Rights Watch, says: “The CIA inspector general’s report provides compelling official confirmation that the CIA committed serious crimes. A full criminal investigation into these crimes, and who authorized them, is absolutely necessary.” [Human Rights Watch, 8/24/2009]
Entity Tags: Jane Mayer, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), John Durham, David Ignatius, Jameel Jaffer, Joanne Mariner, Eric Holder, US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Paul J. McNulty, Sheldon Whitehouse, Laurence Tribe, John Helgerson, Mark Hosenball, Leon Panetta, National Counterterrorism Center, Obama administration, Michael Isikoff
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Attorney General Eric Holder announces he has appointed a federal prosecutor from Connecticut, John Durham, as a special prosecutor to investigate whether CIA interrogators broke any federal laws. [US Department of Justice, 8/24/2009; Washington Post, 8/25/2009]
Decision Stems from CIA IG Report - The investigation is preliminary in nature, and will decide whether a full investigation is warranted. Holder bases his decision in part on a just-released 2004 report on torture by the CIA’s inspector general (see August 24, 2009) and a Justice Department recommendation that there should be an investigation of about a dozen cases of possible abuse and torture from Iraq and Afghanistan (see First Half of August 2009). According to the conclusion of the CIA report: “The enhanced interrogation techniques used by the agency under the CTC [Counterterrorist Center] program are inconsistent with the public policy positions that the United States has taken regarding human rights. Unauthorized, improvised, inhumane, and undocumented detention and interrogation techniques were used.” [New York Times, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009] The review is also prompted by a report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) into memoranda drafted by the department’s Office of Legal Counsel related to “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The OPR report recommends the department re-examine previous decisions not to prosecute in some cases related to the interrogation of certain detainees. The aim of the preliminary review is to find whether federal offenses were committed in some detainee interrogations. [US Department of Justice, 8/24/2009] According to the Washington Post, the review will focus on “a very small number of cases,” including one in which a CIA officer named Zirbel caused Afghan prisoner Gul Rahman to freeze to death at the Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan (see November 20, 2002) and the intimidation of al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri by a CIA officer named “Albert” using a handgun and drill (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003). These cases and the others were previously referred by the CIA inspector general to the Justice Department for examination, but the department decided not to prosecute (see (August 2004) and Mid-October 2005). [Washington Post, 9/19/2009; Associated Press, 9/7/2010]
Durham a Veteran Prosecutor - Durham has been investigating the CIA’s destruction of videotapes of interrogations that may have documented instances of torture (see January 2, 2008). Although Durham has a low public profile, he is a veteran of numerous high-level prosecutions, including cases against Boston-area organized crime figures, corrupt FBI agents, and former Governor John Rowland (R-CT). Durham is considered apolitical, and has worked closely with the Justice Department under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Connecticut defense lawyer Hugh Keefe calls him “the go-to guy for Justice whenever they get a hot case.” Former Connecticut prosecutor Mark Califano calls Durham’s approach to investigations “clinical,” and says he has “very rarely” concluded a case without bringing criminal charges. “He likes to make cases when there is evidence there,” Califano says. “You’ve got to balance whether that kind of information exists.… You can’t move forward if you don’t have the evidence.” [US Department of Justice, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009; Washington Post, 8/25/2009] Boston prosecutors and defense attorneys have characterized Durham as “honest” and “tenacious.” Warren Bamford, who heads Boston’s FBI office, said Durham “kind of has blinders on in the sense that he doesn’t worry about the politics and all the other stuff that might be swirling around, and I think that’s really what makes him so successful.” [Boston Globe, 1/7/2008] In a statement, Holder says, “Mr. Durham, who is a career prosecutor with the Department of Justice and who has assembled a strong investigative team of experienced professionals, will recommend to me whether there is sufficient predication for a full investigation into whether the law was violated in connection with the interrogation of certain detainees.” [Think Progress, 8/24/2009]
Senator: Durham a 'First-Rate' Choice - Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is enthusiastic about the choice of Durham. He says he has worked with Durham before, while Whitehouse was US Attorney for Rhode Island, and calls the prosecutor “very professional” and “a first-rate choice,” adding that Durham has “a very good grounding in this because he has been doing the investigation into the destruction of the torture tapes.” [MSNBC, 8/25/2009]
No Acknowledged 'Break' with White House - Holder notes that he will be criticized for undermining the CIA, and may be going against abjurations by President Obama to “move forward” instead of focusing on past transgressions, but says the facts left him little choice. “As attorney general, my duty is to examine the facts and to follow the law,” he says in a statement. “Given all of the information currently available, it is clear to me that this review is the only responsible course of action for me to take.… I have concluded that the information known to me warrants opening a preliminary review into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations.” White House officials say Holder’s decision does not mark a break between the White House and the Justice Department on their policies toward interrogations. Deputy press secretary Bill Burton tells reporters that “ultimately, the decisions on who is investigated and who is prosecuted are up to the attorney general.… The president thinks that Eric Holder, who he appointed as a very independent attorney general, should make those decisions.” [New York Times, 8/24/2009; Washington Post, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009] Justice Department spokespersons refuse to say who will, and who will not, be investigated. [TPM Muckraker, 8/25/2009]
Entity Tags: Mark Califano, John Durham, Warren Bamford, Office of Professional Responsibility, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Hugh Keefe, Obama administration, Eric Holder, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), Matthew Zirbel, Central Intelligence Agency, “Albert”, Bill Burton, US Department of Justice, Sheldon Whitehouse
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
The response by media and public officials to the announcement of a preliminary investigation by the Justice Department into whether crimes were committed in the course of a small number of detention and interrogation cases by the CIA (see August 24, 2009) is mixed. The investigation is headed by special prosecutor John Durham. Reporter Michael Isikoff says that it will be “difficult to bring cases against agency operatives when you have the [former] attorney general of the United States [John Ashcroft] saying repetitive use of waterboarding is okay with him. He has no problem with it. The Justice Department has no problem with it—which is why some people say if we’re not going to have criminal investigations at the very top, the leadership that authorized these programs, at least have full disclosure so the American public can know the full story of what happened.” Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) criticizes the potential focus on interrogators and says the inquiry should focus on former Bush administration officials and Justice Department lawyers; he says the investigation could echo the Abu Ghraib investigation, where “lower ranking troops who committed abuses were hung out to dry.” Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, says the Justice Department inquiry risks disrupting current counterterrorism operations, and claims that abuse charges have already been “exhaustively reviewed.” [New York Times, 8/24/2009; MSNBC, 8/25/2009]
Lack of Accountability? - Joanne Mariner, the terrorism and counterterrorism program director at Human Rights Watch, says: “It’s heartening that the attorney general has opened a preliminary investigation of these crimes, but it’s crucial that its scope include senior officials who authorized torture. Lower-level CIA operatives—even if using so-called ‘unauthorized’ techniques—may still have relied on the letter or the spirit of high-level authorizations.” Human Rights Watch warns that if the investigation focuses solely on so-called “rogue” interrogators who acted without official authorization, but fails to investigate senior officials with responsibility for the interrogation program, it will lack credibility. The organization writes, “Such an approach would validate the Bush-era Justice Department memoranda that authorized torture.” It calls the US’s record on accountability for detainee abuse “abysmal.” [Human Rights Watch, 8/24/2009]
Focusing on 'Low-Level Operatives'? - The American Civil Liberties Union’s Jameel Jaffer later says that Durham’s investigation seems to be far too narrow in scope, focusing solely on CIA interrogators and ignoring Bush administration officials who authorized torture and other abusive actions. [TPM Muckraker, 8/31/2009] This position is echoed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, which states: “Responsibility for the torture program cannot be laid at the feet of a few low-level operatives. Some agents in the field may have gone further than the limits so ghoulishly laid out by the lawyers who twisted the law to create legal cover for the program, but it is the lawyers and the officials who oversaw and approved the program who must be investigated.” The center demands the appointment of “an independent special prosecutor with a full mandate to investigate those responsible for torture and war crimes, especially the high ranking officials who designed, justified, and orchestrated the torture program.” Another organization, Physicians for Human Rights, says that it “urges the administration to pursue any investigation up the chain of command to those officials who authorized and supervised the use of illegal techniques.” [TPM Muckraker, 8/24/2009] Several Democrats, including Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and two members of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and John Conyers (D-MI), issue statements urging the investigation to go beyond looking into the actions of CIA interrogators, and investigate the officials who authorized those actions. [TPM Muckraker, 8/24/2009]
Entity Tags: Eric Holder, Ron Wyden, Russell D. Feingold, US Department of Justice, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Peter Hoekstra, Center for Constitutional Rights, Patrick J. Leahy, Michael Isikoff, Jameel Jaffer, Jerrold Nadler, Joanne Mariner, John Conyers, John Ashcroft, Obama administration, John Durham
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Tom Ridge and Rachel Maddow. [Source: Armchair Generalist]Former Homeland Security head Tom Ridge is interviewed by progressive television host Rachel Maddow. Ridge has authored a book, The Test of Our Times, a memoir of his tenure in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from October 2001 through the end of President Bush’s first term. Maddow notes that 22 federal agencies were incorporated under the leadership of DHS, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Border Patrol to the Coast Guard and the Secret Service, “the biggest change in what we pay federal tax dollars for since we got a unified Defense Department in 1947.” She goes on to note that one of the new agency’s biggest failures was its lackadaisical and incompetent response to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, though the Coast Guard, one of DHS’s daughter agencies, did eventually deliver what she calls “belated but frankly relatively competent aid,” and Ridge was not DHS secretary when Katrina struck.
Raising the Threat Level - Maddow’s primary focus during much of the interview is the Bush administration’s raising of the so-called “threat level” during 2004, as the presidential elections heated up (see July 8, 2004, for example). In his book, Ridge noted that he wasn’t sure events justified the raising of the threat level.
October 2004 Threat Level Escalation 'Not Political,' Ridge Says - In his book, Ridge wrote that the administration tried to raise the threat level to “orange” just days before the presidential election, on October 29, 2004 (see October 29, 2004). However, when pressed on the subject, Ridge backs away from the implications he raised in his book that politics, not national security, prompted the escalation. “Well, that’s not quite the argument that I put in here,” he tells Maddow. “That passage has generated a lot of heat, so I would like to generate a little light on it.… Further in the book, I remind everybody that the system we designed to raise the threat level could not be manipulated, could not be orchestrated, directed, or pressured by any single individual. Regardless of what anybody says, the system was designed by the president to include the homeland security cabinet group sitting around from time to time when the intelligence warranted that group discussion. If you had a YouTube video of it, you would see the secretary of defense, the attorney general, the secretary of state, and others, having a conversation as to whether the intelligence generates enough concern that we want to raise the threat level. That happened many, many times. This is a particularly dramatic moment, because it is the weekend before the election.… We don’t see anything in the department that generates it, and certainly other people agreed with us. But Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft, very strong in their opinions, as everybody had expressed opinions on any other occasions that you never heard about because we never—we never raised the threat level. At the end of the day, I am using in the book, is there more intelligence, is there something—that is new.… [A]t no time—at no time—at no time did politics enter in my judgment, anybody’s equation. These are tough judgment calls. We made them on a series of occasions throughout two years. Rarely did we make those decisions to go up. Politics was not involved.” Ridge says flatly, “I was not pressured” to raise the threat level. Maddow reads from the fly leaf of Ridge’s book, “He recounts episodes such as the pressure that the DHS received to raise the security alert on the eve of the ‘04 presidential election,” to which Ridge retorts: “Those aren’t my words.… It’s the dust jacket.”
Raising the Threat Level for Political Reasons - Maddow reminds Ridge that both in interviews and his book, he has frequently asked the question of whether the decision to raise the threat level during his tenure was made for political reasons, and notes: “I think that I am persuaded by the argument that I think you make in the book, and you may not have intended it from what you said earlier, that it is a pernicious thing for the American people to perceive that the parts of our government responsible for ensuring our security are actually making decisions that aren’t about our security at all. They’re telling us it’s about security and it’s not.” In 2005, she notes, “you said at a forum about the terror alert level, you said there were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, ‘for that?’ (see May 10, 2005) Were there times—were there times when you felt like people were wanting to raise it for reasons that weren’t about the country’s safety?” Ridge denies ever raising the question, and explains: “I do admit, there were some times when we took a look at the intelligence. Some of my colleagues said, ‘Yes, I think we better go up.’ But none of those colleagues had the responsibility of dealing with the consequences of taking the country to a higher level. And so we were always very modest.… I don’t doubt for a moment that any of my colleagues who were involved in those discussions felt the reason we should either go up or not go up, add more security or reduce the security, was based on what they thought was in the best interest of the security of the country, period.… When I said, ‘for what?’ I must tell you, a couple of times I would come back to the office and say, ‘I don’t get it.‘… I don’t think that’s enough to go up. And part of that is yours truly saying to his leadership team who has responsibilities to oversee what’s going to go on, there’s not enough here to tell the governors and the mayors and the security professionals, you have got to raise another level, you have got to increase expenses, you have got to call in personnel. In my judgment, it wasn’t enough. And by the way, at the time we made the right decision, I believe.” Maddow reminds Ridge that in his book he wrote: “[I]t seemed possible to me that something could be afoot. I wondered, is this about security or politics?” She asks, “You’re saying now that you wondered that and you shouldn’t have?” Ridge replies: “No. I mused at the time, ‘Is there something else here?’ I said, ‘Is it politics? Is it security?‘… But there wasn’t anything there.”
Praising the President in 2004 - After a brief discussion of DHS’s response to Hurricane Katrina, Maddow asks about an incident in August 2004, when Ridge praised President Bush’s leadership in the Middle East. As Maddow describes it, Ridge was asked to praise Bush’s leadership. During a subsequent press conference, Ridge said that Bush’s leadership “was causing us to better target our defensive measures here and away from home. And the implication was that going to war in Iraq was a defensive measure like homeland security stuff that we do here at home.” She asks if he regrets making that statement. Ridge says he agrees with his 2004 assessment, and says he merely “threw the sentence into the press conference.” He says his comment became a “sideshow” that “marginalized the process” and caused people to question his objectivity. Ridge tries to deny that he was specifically talking about the war effort in Iraq, though, as Maddow notes, “[W]hen you said ‘targeting our defensive measures away from home,’ this is August ‘04, so we are more than a year into the war in Iraq with the implication there was that you were talking about Iraq.” Ridge now says that he meant the general war against terrorism. “I should have never mentioned the president’s name,” he says, “because it, again, created a perception—we talked about this earlier—that somehow politics were involved, but and politics was not involved in that decision. It was driven by intelligence.”
Making the Case for War with Iraq - Maddow segues into a statement Ridge made in February 2003, when he said on ABC: “I agree that as the president has said, the world community has said this is a rogue regime that has chemical biological weapons, trying to develop nuclear weapons, has means of delivery. That’s the reason this individual needs to be disarmed. The point in fact is that the world community has known for 12 years he’s got chemical biological weapons, means of delivery, and that’s precisely the reason of the United States and its partners are trying to disarm Saddam Hussein. He’s a threat to his region, he’s a threat to our allies. He’s a threat to us.” Maddow notes: “You were a crucial authoritative part of making what turned out to be a false case to the American people about Iraq being a threat, and us needing to attack them.… You made that case on national television a month before we started invading. Do you regret that?” Ridge replies: “No.… At the time, I think [sic] it’s true, and subsequent to that, the president’s leadership and the things we have done have kept America safe.” Ridge goes on to note that “everyone” believed the intelligence showed Iraq was an imminent threat to the US at the time the invasion was being considered. “You believed it at the time,” Maddow confirms, and then asks, “You don’t still believe it, do you?” Ridge replies: “Well, it’s pretty clear that the intelligence communities of several countries who had assessed his—who claimed that he had weapons of mass destruction, we haven’t found them.… But there were other reasons to go in. That was the one that was—that everybody focused on, and everyone who has been critical of the president for going into Iraq said we never found them. But I think the president made the decisions based on the facts and the intelligence as he knew it at the time, and I think it was the right decision at the time.” He denies that anyone in the administration did anything to “skew” or politicize the intelligence on Iraq’s WMD programs. “There’s no way that anybody in that group—I just—they would commit our blood and our treasure to a cause if they didn’t think it was necessary to commit our blood and treasure to a cause to keep America safe. The intelligence may have proven to be false, but there was no doubt in my mind that they were motivated to keep America safe. In retrospect, we can say that the intelligence was faulty.”
Maddow: No Credibility on National Security until GOP Admits Fault - Maddow tells Ridge: “I think you making that argument right now is why Republicans after the Bush and Cheney administration are not going to get back the country’s trust on national security. To look back at that decision and say, we got it wrong but it was in good faith and not acknowledge the foregone conclusion that we are going to invade Iraq that pervaded every decision that was made about intelligence—looking back at that decision-making process, it sounds like you’re making the argument you would have made the same decision again. Americans need to believe that our government would not make that wrong a decision, that would not make such a foregone conclusion—take such a foregone conclusion to such an important issue, that the intelligence that proved the opposite point was all discounted, that the intelligence was combed through for any bit that would support the foregone conclusion of the policy makers. The system was broken. And if you don’t see that the system was broken and you think it was just that the intel was wrong, I think that you’re one of the most trusted voices on national security for the Republican Party, and I think that’s the elephant in the room. I don’t think you guys get back your credibility on national security until you realize that was a wrong decision made by policy makers. It wasn’t the spies’ fault.” Ridge says any suggestion that anyone would have deliberately skewed or misinterpreted the intelligence on Iraq is “radical.… Later on, it may have proven that some of the information was inaccurate, but there were plenty of reasons to go into Iraq at the time; the foremost was weapons of mass destruction. That obviously proven [sic] to be faulty. But the fact of the matter is, at that time, given what they knew—and they knew more than you and I did—it seemed to be the right thing to do, and the decision was made in what they considered to be the best interests of our country.” When democracy in Iraq is finally established, Ridge says, “the notion that we went in improperly will be obviously reversed, and the history has yet to be written.” Maddow replies: “If you can go back in time and sell the American people on the idea that 4,000 Americans ought to lose their lives and we ought to lose those trillions of dollars for democracy in Iraq, you have a wilder imagination than I do. We were sold that war because of 9/11. We were sold that war because of the threat of weapons of mass destruction from this guy who didn’t have them, and our government should have known it. And, frankly, a lot of people believe that our government did know it, and that it was a cynical decision. And maybe everybody wasn’t in on it, maybe that is a radical thing to conclude, but I think that…” Ridge interjects: “I don’t share that point of view. You do.” [MSNBC, 9/2/2009]
Reactions - Reactions to the interview are predictably split, with progressives noting how much Ridge backpedals on questions he himself raised, and conservatives declaring victory for Ridge. Talking Points Memo notes the irony in Ridge’s claim that while his words should be trusted, the words on the dust jacket of his book should not be. [TPM LiveWire, 9/2/2009] Posters on the conservative blog Free Republic write that Ridge “pwned” Maddow, video game slang for dominating or “owning” someone. [Free Republic, 9/1/2009]
Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Free Republic, Talking Points Memo, George W. Bush, US Secret Service, John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Republican Party, Tom Ridge, Rachel Maddow, US Border Patrol, US Department of Homeland Security, US Coast Guard
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales defends Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to investigate allegations of prisoner abuse by the CIA (see August 24, 2009). Referring to Holder’s decision going against the apparent wishes of President Obama, Gonzales says, “As chief prosecutor of the United States, he should make the decision on his own, based on the facts, then inform the White House.” The attorney general has a “great deal of discretion” in such matters, he says. Gonzales also says that since Bush administration lawyers clearly defined what interrogation techniques were legal, the interrogators who went beyond those defined boundaries should be investigated. “We worked very hard to establish ground rules and parameters about how to deal with terrorists,” he says. “And if people go beyond that, I think it is legitimate to question and examine that conduct to ensure people are held accountable for their actions, even if it’s action in prosecuting the war on terror.” Holder, Gonzales says, is only concerned about the “one percent of actors” who went beyond the guidelines of Justice Department lawyers, and is not conducting a witch hunt. The other 99 percent “are heroes and and should be treated like heroes for the most part, not criminals,” he says. [Washington Times, 9/1/2009] Two days later, Gonzales backs down from his position. He tells a Washington Times reporter, “Contrary to press reporting and based on the information that’s available to me, I don’t support the investigation by the department because this is a matter that has already been reviewed thoroughly and because I believe that another investigation is going to harm our intelligence gathering capabilities, and that’s a concern that’s shared by career intelligence officials, and so for those reasons I respectfully disagree with the decision.” [Washington Times, 9/3/2009]
Van Jones. [Source: Politico]White House official Van Jones, the Obama administration’s special advisor for environmental jobs, resigns after a barrage of criticism from conservative critics and Republican officials. Jones is an author, community organizer, and “green jobs” expert from the San Francisco area; before his resignation, he was in charge of a small White House program advocating for jobs in energy-efficient industries. Indications are that Jones was asked by White House officials to resign, in part because administration officials wanted to “move beyond” the criticism of him as Obama prepares to address Congress on the subject of health care reform (see September 9, 2009). In 2004, Jones signed a petition asking for an investigation into whether the Bush administration had allowed the 9/11 terrorist attacks in order to provide a pretext for war in the Middle East, though he has always said he does not support the so-called “truther” movement that features allegations of Bush officials’ involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Shortly before joining the administration, Jones used the term “_ssholes” to characterize Republicans. He is a public supporter of Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted of murdering a Philadelphia police officer. Conservatives have termed him a “radical Communist” for his affiliation with some left-wing protest movements. The New York Times calls the controversy around Jones a “significant distraction” to Obama’s health care agenda. Critics have attacked Jones specifically as well as administration officials such as him, sometimes called “czars,” who are appointed to positions of some influence in the White House without having to be approved by Congress. White House officials say that they were unaware of Jones’s more controversial statements and positions because his position was not considered senior enough to warrant complete vetting. Press secretary Robert Gibbs says that Obama does not endorse Jones’s views and did not hesitate to accept his resignation: “Well, what Van Jones decided was that the agenda of this president was bigger than any one individual. The president thanks Van Jones for his service in the first eight months, helping to coordinate renewable energy jobs and lay the foundation for our future economic growth.” [New York Times, 9/6/2009; Politico, 9/7/2009] The online news site Politico writes: “Jones’ departure from the position is the first real scalp claimed by the Republican right, which stoked much of the criticism of Jones.… Jones’ controversial statements fit snugly into the narrative woven by some conservative critics of Obama as a dangerous leftist, a critique that goes back to the campaign and was based as much on his past work as a community organizer and associations with the likes of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers as on his policies. Jones’ roots in radical politics, and a spate of newly surfaced links Saturday documenting his advocacy for convicted cop killer and former Black Panther Mumia Abu Jamal—a death row prisoner who many in the activist left view as an unjustly convicted political prisoner—threatened to play into that narrative.” [Politico, 9/7/2009] One of Jones’s loudest critics was Fox News’s Glenn Beck, who has repeatedly targeted Jones on his show since July 2009. Beck regularly calls Jones a “Communist-anarchist radical.” Some speculate that Beck began attacking Jones because an organization co-founded by Jones, Color of Change, began a movement to force Beck’s resignation after Beck called Obama a “racist” (see July 28-29, 2009). The influential conservative news blog World Net Daily (WND) has attacked Jones since at least April 2009, calling him “an admitted radical communist and black nationalist leader” who “sees [the] environment as [a] racial issue.” Beck has used much of WND’s rhetoric in his attacks on Jones. [WorldNetDaily, 4/12/2009; Washington Independent, 9/4/2009; New York Times, 9/6/2009] In recent days, Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) called on Jones to resign, and Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO) called for an investigation into Jones’s appointment, labeling Jones as “erratic and unstable” in a letter to Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the chairman of the Green Jobs and New Economy Subcommittee. Former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean defends Jones, saying he was being penalized for not realizing what the petition he signed in 2004 was: “This guy’s a Yale-educated lawyer. He’s a best-selling author about his specialty. I think he was brought down, and I think it’s too bad. Washington’s a tough place that way, and I think it’s a loss for the country.” In his resignation letter, Jones writes: “On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me. They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide.” However, he writes, though many have advised him to stay and fight for his position: “I cannot in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past. We need all hands on deck, fighting for our future.” [New York Times, 9/6/2009; Politico, 9/7/2009]
Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Glenn Beck, Bush administration (43), Howard Dean, New York Times, Mike Pence, WorldNetDaily, Obama administration, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Politico, Van Jones, Robert Gibbs, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Former Bush administration official Ellen Sauerbrey (see October 11, 2005) tells a group of Maryland Republicans that President Obama is advancing socialist and fascist policies. Sauerbrey addresses a group of local Republicans in Callaway, Maryland. According to Sauerbrey, Obama has surrounded himself with cult-like, fanatical followers much as Adolf Hitler or Argentina’s Juan Peron did when they ruled their countries. While she says she is not comparing Obama to either of those leaders, she says that conditions in America make the time ripe for Obama to usurp dictator-like powers. Obama is advancing “fascist, socialist ideals,” she says, and adds: “I’m really afraid for the future of our country. Our Constitution is indeed being dismantled.” In an interview shortly after her address, Sauerbrey says she had issues with some of the Bush administration’s economic policies as well: “[W]hen you start down this road of these kinds of policies, you are on the road to destroying what has made this a great country.” As for the comparisons to Hitler and Peron, she later tells an interviewer: “I never mentioned Hitler’s name other than when the reporter came up to me afterwards. And I said, look, I am not making a direct comparison Obama and Hitler. I’m making a comparison between policies in countries, and that history has a way of repeating itself.” To the interviewer, Sauerbrey denies accusing Obama of being a fascist, though in her address she did accuse him of advancing “fascist, socialist ideals.” Instead, she says: “I’m saying, if you said ideals—yes I do believe, when you look at the definition of fascism. Fascism is not government ownership of business, it is government control of business.… I think that the definition of what the Obama administration is doing, from an economic definition standpoint, is much more closely described as fascism than socialism, because the government is not owning, it is directing and controlling the elements of the economy. Would you disagree with it?” [TPMDC, 9/17/2009; Think Progress, 9/18/2009]
Law professor Benjamin Davis calls on former Bush administration officials to step forward and cooperate with the Justice Department investigation into torture, being led by prosecutor John Durham (see August 24, 2009). Davis makes his call after attending a debate called “After Guantanamo” at Case Western Reserve Law School. During that debate, he writes, “members of the former administration regaled the audience with stories about the mistakes made and the arrogance demonstrated by persons with whom they had worked on the issues of detention, interrogation, and military commissions.” Davis writes that “it would seem preferable for the former administration members to tell their stories to the federal prosecutor rather than to audiences at conferences.” He calls the stories “appalling,” citing incidents of “arrogant disdain for military lawyers” displayed by senior Bush officials, widespread ignorance of military law, “and the general indifference of those tasked with developing detention, interrogation, and military commission policy in the prior administration.” Davis calls on the former adminstration officials to go farther than they did at Case Western: “Names were not named in the conference, but names should be named to John Durham. He is permitted to ‘follow the facts wherever they lead,’ but if those lawyers, other civilians, and uniformed types who know where the dogs are buried refrain from coming forward, they will make the task more arduous than it needs to be. Everyone who has a story is a witness in piecing together what really went on. Every lawyer has also sworn an oath to be an officer of the court and is under an ethical duty to refrain from abetting crimes. Help John Durham find the facts.” He concludes by asking: “[B]eyond legal or ethical obligations, the real question is of what these architects of detention, interrogation, and military commission policy are made of. Are they made of the stuff that led Specialist Darby [Joseph Darby—see January 13, 2004] to clearly see what was wrong with detainee treatment in Abu Ghraib, thus prompting him to provide military investigators with the incriminating photos? Or are these persons made of the stuff of cowards that hope this will all go away if they do not say anything to anyone—posturing in public and cowering in private?” [Jurist, 9/18/2009]
Columnist John L. Perry, a newspaper editor and writer for the conservative news Web site Newsmax, publishes an article on that site that says the US military can, and should, execute a military coup to remove President Obama from office. Perry calls it a “remote [yet] gaining possibility” that “America’s military will intervene as a last resort to resolve the ‘Obama problem.’ Don’t dismiss it as unrealistic.” Perry writes that such a coup would not be the most “preferable” solution to the “Obama problem,” but it is preferable to Obama’s “radical ideal.” He writes that the American military would execute a “civilized” coup, claims that military officers are not sworn to obey the president in his role as commander in chief, and says that “top military officers” are becoming increasingly alarmed at the “trampl[ing]” of “the Constitution they are sworn to defend” by Obama and his administration. Those officers may well decide to execute a coup on behalf of the citizens who are becoming “increasingly alarmed that this nation, under President Barack Obama, may not even be recognizable as America by the 2012 election, in which he will surely seek continuation in office.” Perry goes on to accuse the Obama administration of making the nation “financially reliant on foreign lender governments,” says Obama is “waging undeclared war on the intelligence community… dismantling… defenses against missiles targeted at this nation by avowed enemies, even as America’s troop strength is allowed to sag,” and placing both the nation and the US military “in jeopardy as never before.” Perry writes that America’s “military professionals” have the choice to either let Obama allow the Middle East to explode in a nuclear holocaust, thusly “destabilizing or subjugating the Free World,” resign their commissions en masse, continue in the hopes that Republicans will win the 2010 election and “reverse the situation,” or take drastic action. Perry asks, “Will the day come when patriotic general and flag officers sit down with the president, or with those who control him, and work out the national equivalent of a ‘family intervention,’ with some form of limited, shared responsibility?” He then speculates: “Imagine a bloodless coup to restore and defend the Constitution through an interim administration that would do the serious business of governing and defending the nation. Skilled, military-trained nation-builders would replace accountability-challenged, radical-left commissars. Having bonded with his twin teleprompters, the president would be detailed for ceremonial speech-making.” If the military does not intervene, Perry writes, Obama’s “exponentially accelerating agenda for ‘fundamental change’ toward a Marxist state” is all but inevitable. “A coup is not an ideal option, but Obama’s radical ideal is not acceptable or reversible. Unthinkable? Then think up an alternative, non-violent solution to the Obama problem.” Perry concludes by saying that the American electorate in 2008 indulged in a “wistful, self-indulgent, indifferent reliance on abnegation of personal responsibility” and as a result, “sunk the nation into this morass.” [NewsMax, 9/29/2009] A day later, Newsmax removes the column from its Web site. The site posts no apology for Perry’s column nor explains its sudden disappearance, but does issue a statement that follows: “In a blog posting to Newsmax John Perry wrote about a coup scenario involving the US military. He clearly stated that he was not advocating such a scenario but simply describing one. After several reader complaints, Newsmax wanted to insure that this article was not misinterpreted. It was removed after a short period after being posted. Newsmax strongly believes in the principles of constitutional government and would never advocate or insinuate any suggestion of an activity that would undermine our democracy or democratic institutions. Mr. Perry served as a political appointee in the Carter administration in HUD and FEMA. He has no official relationship with Newsmax other than as an unpaid blogger.” Previously, Newsmax has identified Perry as a member of “two previous administrations,” not just the Carter administration, and has called him a “prize-winning newspaper editor” and a regular columnist for the site since 1999. Law professor Darren L. Hutchinson calls Perry a “rightwingnut” and accuses him of “fantasiz[ing]” about the possibility of a “military coup.” He calls Perry’s rationale for a coup a compilation of “horrible lies” and problems that began under the Bush administration, not under Obama’s leadership. [NewsMax, 9/29/2009; Media Matters, 9/30/2009; Darren L. Hutchinson, 9/30/2009] Libertarian blogger Tom Bowler speculates that, given Perry’s association with two Democratic presidential administrations and his former membership in a now-defunct Democratic think tank, Perry is “a lefty” who wrote the column in an attempt “to build the case for curbing talk radio. In the interest of national security, of course.” [Tom Bowler, 9/30/2009] However, liberal columnist Terry Krepel later notes that Perry has attacked liberals in general, and Obama in particular, since before Obama’s election, and has often accused both liberals and Obama of being “socialists.” Perry has also launched racially-motivated attacks against Obama, and speculated that his only real “power base” is “the blacks.” [Huffington Post, 10/1/2009]
Federal judge Emmet Sullivan rules that the FBI must publicly reveal information from its 2004 interview with then-Vice President Dick Cheney during the Valerie Plame Wilson leak investigation (see May 8, 2004). The information has been kept classified by both the Bush and Obama administrations, who have argued that future presidents, vice presidents, and their senior staff may not cooperate with criminal investigations if they know what they say could became public. Sullivan rules that there is no justification to withhold the FBI records of Cheney’s interview, since the leak investigation has long since concluded. Further, the idea that such a judgment may lead to future reluctance to cooperate with investigations is ‘incurably speculative’ and cannot affect his judgment. To rule in favor of the Bush and Obama administrations, Sullivan says, would be “breathtakingly broad” and “be in direct contravention of ‘the basic policy’ of” the Freedom of Information Act. He does allow some portions, affecting national security and private communications between Cheney and former President Bush, to be redacted. Those portions include details about Cheney’s talks with then-CIA Director George Tenet about Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), talks with then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, discussions about Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), discussions about how to respond to press inquiries about the leak of Plame Wilson’s identity, and Cheney’s involvement in declassification discussions. The Justice Department has previously indicated that it would appeal any ruling allowing the information of Cheney’s testimony to be made public. The declassification was sparked by a July 2008 lawsuit filed by the watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), who filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Justice Department seeking records related to Cheney’s interview in the investigation. In August, CREW sued for the records. CREW’s Melanie Sloan says the group hopes the Obama administration will reveal the entire record in the interest of transparency. “The American people deserve to know the truth about the role the vice president played in exposing Mrs. Wilson’s covert identity,” she says. “High-level government officials should not be permitted to hide their misconduct from public view.” [Associated Press, 10/1/2009; Politico, 10/1/2009]
A screenshot of the logo for Mike Huckabee’s Fox News show. [Source: Fox News]According to an analysis by the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, Fox News has become the place for eight former Bush administration officials and other Republican lawmakers, strategists, and future presidential candidates to espouse their views (see October 13, 2009). Media Matters says “[a] revolving door exists between the Republican Party and Fox News Channel… further demonstrating that Fox is effectively a conservative political organization and not a legitimate news outlet.” Media Matters analyzed Fox News broadcasts aired between September 1 and mid-October.
Karl Rove - The former deputy chief of staff of the Bush White House, Karl Rove, the Bush administration’s chief political adviser, is now labeled as a political adviser and commentator for Fox. He appears, on average, twice a week, usually on prime-time programs hosted by Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly.
Dana Perino - Formerly the White House press secretary, Dana Perino is now a frequent contributor and analyst for Fox, and writes a column for Fox Forum. Perino appears most often on Hannity’s show, though she has made several appearances on Fox Business Channel.
John Bolton - The former ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton is now a regular Fox contributor and analyst.
Mike Huckabee - Mike Huckabee, the ex-governor of Arkansas and dark-horse presidential candidate in 2008 has his own show, Huckabee, on Fox. Frequently, Huckabee directs viewers to “go to balancecutsave.com,” which redirects visitors to a Web page soliciting donations for his political action committee, which financially supports Republican candidates and also pays his daughter’s salary.
Newt Gingrich - Newt Gingrich is the former speaker of the House and a possible presidential candidate in 2012. He has been a regular on Fox since singing a contract with the network in 1999 after resigning from the House in disgrace.
John Kasich - Formerly a Republican House member from Ohio and now a candidate for governor of Ohio, John Kasich used to host a show on Fox, Heartland with John Kasich. He is a regular contributor and commentator on several Fox prime-time broadcasts.
Dick Morris - A Republican who once crossed party lines to advise then-President Clinton, Dick Morris is a frequent guest on Fox, appearing at least 20 times since September 1, usually on shows hosted by Hannity, O’Reilly, or Greta Van Susteren. During the 2008 election cycle, Morris repeatedly urged viewers to donate to an anti-Obama political action committee, without divulging that the PAC had paid a firm connected to him. Morris also uses his Fox appearances to raise funds for a conservative group of which he is chief strategist.
Frank Luntz - Frank Luntz, a GOP strategist and pollster, regularly appears on Fox shows hosted by Hannity, O’Reilly, and Glenn Beck, who asked Luntz to instruct his audience on the signs “the tea party people should be carrying.” [Media Matters, 10/26/2009]
Entity Tags: Media Matters, Sean Hannity, Karl C. Rove, Newt Gingrich, John R. Bolton, Republican Party, Greta Van Susteren, Dana Perino, Bush administration (43), Bill O’Reilly, Dick Morris, John Kasich, Mike Huckabee, Fox Business Channel, Fox News, Frank Luntz, Glenn Beck
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Former Bush administration press secretary Dana Perino tells a Fox News audience that no terrorist attacks took place on American soil during President Bush’s two terms. Perino is forgetting, or ignoring, the 9/11 attacks, the most lethal and costly attacks in US history. On Sean Hannity’s Fox show, Hannity asks Perino if President Obama “really understand[s]” that the US has a national security concern about terrorism. Perino begins by denying that her remarks are political, then says that the US recently suffered “a terrorist attack on our country,” obviously referring to the 9/11 attacks. The Obama administration is loath to call the US’s involvement a “war on terror,” Perino says, when it should be labeled as such “because we need to face up to it so we can prevent it from happening again.” She says she does not know what thinking is going on in the Obama administration, “but we did not have an attack on our country during President Bush’s term. I hope they’re not looking at this politically. I do think we owe it to the American people to call it what it is.” Neither Hannity nor his other guest, Fox Business personality Stuart Varney, correct Perino’s statement; instead Varney begins questioning Obama’s commitment to fighting terrorism. [Media Matters, 11/24/2009] Perino had not yet joined the Bush administration in 2001, but was working as a public relations representative for a high-tech firm in San Diego. [Austin Chronicle, 9/21/2007]
Mary Matalin, the former press adviser for then-Vice President Dick Cheney, makes two false statements on CNN: the Bush administration inherited both a failing economy and the 9/11 attacks from the Clinton administration. The US entered a period of steep recession three months after Bush’s first term began, and the 9/11 attacks occurred eight months after Bush took office. On CNN’s State of the Union, Matalin says, “I was there, we inherited a recession from President Clinton, and we inherited the most tragic attack on our own soil in our nation’s history.” A month ago, former Bush administration press secretary Dana Perino made a similar claim about the timing of the 9/11 attacks on Fox News (see November 24, 2009). Lee Fang of the progressive news Web site Think Progress writes of the two statements, “Former Bush administration officials seem intent on misrepresenting history to pretend that the country never suffered its worst terror attack in history under Bush’s watch.” [Media Matters, 12/27/2009; Think Progress, 12/27/2009]
Las Vegas Review-Journal publisher Sherman Frederick falsely claims that “the two cases of domestic terrorism since 9/11” have taken place “on Obama’s watch.” In recent months, two former Bush administration officials have denied that 9/11 took place during the Bush presidency (see November 24, 2009 and December 27, 2009). The progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters will write, “Frederick joins [the] list of conservatives denying existence of terrorist attacks under Bush.” Frederick writes: “If this is what it takes to wake up Obama to the evils of this world, then he learned an easy lesson. But tell that to the personnel who lost their lives to terrorism at Fort Hood [referring to the November 9, 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, perpetrated by a Muslim US Army psychiatrist with suspected ties to extremist groups]. Then, as now, the Obama administration fails to swiftly acknowledge the threat. They demur in describing our enemy as radical Muslims. They plan to close the offshore prison for terrorists at Guantanamo Bay and transfer the prisoners to the United States. They give the enemy combatants who killed more than 3,000 people on 9/11 the privilege of a civilian federal trial in New York City when a military tribunal is more appropriate. And for three days our president failed to address his people directly on Abdulmutallab’s failed effort to blow up a commercial flight over Detroit on Christmas Day [referring to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to detonate an explosive device carried in his underwear on a Northwest Airlines flight—see December 25, 2009]. All of this on top of President Obama’s noticeable refusal to characterize our struggle as a ‘war’ on ‘terror.’ In the wake of fierce criticism, Obama now talks tough about keeping America safe. But in the two cases of domestic terrorism since 9/11—both on Obama’s watch—red flags flew aplenty.” Frederick either forgets or ignores a string of domestic terrorist attacks on US targets during the Bush presidency, including the 2001 anthrax attacks (see September 17-18, 2001, October 5-November 21, 2001, October 6-9, 2001, and October 15, 2001); the attempt to blow up a transatlantic plane by “shoe bomber” Richard Reid, who has ties to al-Qaeda (see December 22, 2001); the 2002 attack on the El Al ticket counter at Los Angeles International Airport, designated by the Justice Department as an official “act of international terrorism”; the 2002 sniper shootings in the Washington, DC, area, carried out by John Allen Muhammed, who was convicted of terrorism charges; and the 2006 attack on the University of North Carolina campus, where a Muslim student struck nine pedestrians in his SUV because, he said, he wanted to “avenge the deaths or murders of Muslims around the world.” [Media Matters, 1/6/2010]
Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a 2008 contender for the Republican presidential nomination, tells an ABC audience that the US experienced “no domestic attacks” during the Bush administration. Giuliani is forgetting, or ignoring, the 9/11 attacks, the most lethal and costly terrorist attacks in US history, a curious omission considering Giuliani was mayor when two hijacked jetliners struck New York City’s World Trade Center buildings on September 11, 2001, eight months into the Bush administration. In recent months, two former Bush administration officials have also denied that 9/11 took place during the Bush presidency (see November 24, 2009 and December 27, 2009), as has a Nevada newspaper publisher just days ago (see January 3, 2010). Good Morning America host George Stephanopoulos begins by asking Giuliani about his opposition to trying suspected terrorists in civilian courts instead of in military tribunals (see November 13, 2001 and January 29, 2009). Giuliani asks “why stop” torturing suspects instead of putting them on trial, saying that the US may continue to get “good information” from them, presumably about plans for future terrorist attacks. Giuliani says that while Bush “didn’t do everything right” in the “war on terror,” what Obama “should be doing is following the right things [Bush] did. One of the right things he did was treat this as a war on terror, we had no domestic attacks under Bush, we had one under Obama.” Stephanopoulos notes that Obama has “stepped up” actions against terrorists, but does not correct Giuliani’s claim that the US “had no domestic attacks under Bush.” [Media Matters, 1/8/2010]
Federal judge Vaughn Walker dismisses Jewel v. NSA, a lawsuit brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) against the National Security Agency and senior Bush administration officials over the administration’s warrantless surveillance program (see September 18, 2008). Walker rules that the privacy harm to millions of Americans from the illegal spying dragnet was not a “particularized injury” but instead a “generalized grievance” because almost everyone in the United States has a phone and Internet service. EFF legal director Cindy Cohn says: “We’re deeply disappointed in the judge’s ruling. This ruling robs innocent telecom customers of their privacy rights without due process of law. Setting limits on executive power is one of the most important elements of America’s system of government, and judicial oversight is a critical part of that.” EFF attorney Kevin Bankston says: “The alarming upshot of the court’s decision is that so long as the government spies on all Americans, the courts have no power to review or halt such mass surveillance even when it is flatly illegal and unconstitutional. With new revelations of illegal spying being reported practically every other week… the need for judicial oversight when it comes to government surveillance has never been clearer.” The EFF indicates it will appeal Walker’s decision. [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 1/21/2010] The Obama administration echoed claims made in previous lawsuits by the Bush administration, invoking the “state secrets” privilege (see Late May, 2006) and supporting previous arguments by the Bush-era Justice Department. The administration even went a step further than its predecessor in arguing that under the Patriot Act, the government can never be sued for illegal wiretapping unless there is “willful disclosure” of the communications. [Klein, 2009, pp. 116-117]
The US Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility refuses to refer two former Bush administration officials to authorities for criminal or civil charges regarding their authorizations of the torture of suspected terrorists (see Before April 22, 2009). John C. Yoo and Jay S. Bybee, two senior officials in the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel, provided the legal groundwork that allowed American interrogators to use sleep deprivation, waterboarding, and other torture methods against terror suspects (see Late September 2001, January 9, 2002, and August 1, 2002). The report finds that Yoo and Bybee, along with former OLC head Steven Bradbury, exhibited “poor judgment” in their actions. The OPR refuses to make the report’s conclusions public. It is known that senior Justice Department official David Margolis made the decision not to refer Yoo and Bybee for legal sanctions. [Office of Professional Responsibility, US Department of Justice, 7/29/2009 ; Washington Post, 1/31/2010]
Logo of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tracks the activities of so-called ‘hate groups’ around the US. [Source: GuideStar]The number of extremist militia and “patriot” groups has expanded dramatically since the election of President Obama, according to a report issued by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a nonprofit organization that tracks “hate groups” and other, similar organizations. The number has expanded from 149 in 2008 to 512 in 2009—a 244 percent increase. “That is a lot of change in a short period of time,” says SPLC research director Heidi Beirich. The SPLC report says the number has “exploded in 2009 as militias and other groups steeped in wild, antigovernment conspiracy theories exploited populist anger across the country and infiltrated the mainstream.” While many of these groups do not espouse violence and are not considered a direct threat to government officials, government property, or citizens, some of them do advocate violent strikes against government organizations and/or “liberal” groups or individuals. The number dwindled during the eight years of the Bush presidency, the SPLC reports, but since the election of a black, Democratic president, along with a poorly performing economy and a female speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), as catalyzing factors, the number has increased, and continues to grow. “The country is becoming more diverse,” Beirich says. “Some people find it hard to handle.… These are extreme stressors for people.” Chip Berlet, an analyst for Political Research Associates, writes: “We are in the midst of one of the most significant right-wing populist rebellions in United States history. We see around us a series of overlapping social and political movements populated by people [who are] angry, resentful, and full of anxiety. They are raging against the machinery of the federal bureaucracy and liberal government programs and policies including health care, reform of immigration and labor laws, abortion, and gay marriage.” The SPLC tracked 42 armed and potentially violent militias in 2008; that number has grown by over 300 percent, to 127, since then. The SPLC writes: “Patriot groups have been fueled by anger over the changing demographics of the country, the soaring public debt, the troubled economy, and an array of initiatives by President Obama and the Democrats that have been branded ‘socialist’ or even ‘fascist’ by his political opponents (see August 1, 2008 and After, October 10, 2008, October 27, 2008, January 2009, March 4-6, 2009, March 17, 2009, March 25, 2009, March 29, 2009, April 1-2, 2009, April 3-7, 2009, April 9-22, 2009, May 13, 2009, May 28, 2009, July 24, 2009, Late July, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 18, 2009, September 1, 2009, September 12, 2009, September 17, 2009, November 5, 2009, January 27, 2010, May 7, 2010, May 19, 2010, May 25, 2010, July 3-4, 2010, September 13, 2010, September 18, 2010, September 21, 2010, September 29, 2010, September 29, 2010, October 3, 2010, October 14, 2010, October 26, 2010, November 16, 2010, and April 27, 2011). Report editor Mark Potok says: “This extraordinary growth is a cause for grave concern. The people associated with the Patriot movement during its 1990s heyday produced an enormous amount of violence, most dramatically the Oklahoma City bombing that left 168 people dead” (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Moreover, the report finds, the “patriot” movement has made common cause with the “tea party” political movement, and the two are becoming more and more entwined. The report finds, “The ‘tea parties’ and similar groups that have sprung up in recent months cannot fairly be considered extremist groups, but they are shot through with rich veins of radical ideas, conspiracy theories, and racism.” The “patriot” movement’s central ideas are being promoted by national figures, such as Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck and lawmakers such as House member Michele Bachmann (R-MN). The number of identified “racist hate groups” has not increased significantly from 2008 from 2009, the report finds, growing from 926 to 932. However, the growth rate would have been far higher if it were not for the collapse of the American National Socialist Workers Party, a key neo-Nazi network whose founder was arrested in October 2008 (see December 18, 2009). So-called “nativist extremist” groups, vigilante organizations that go beyond advocating strict immigration policy and actually confront or harass suspected immigrants, have also grown in number, from 173 in 2008 to 309 in 2009, a rise of nearly 80 percent. The SPLC reports: “These three strands of the radical right—the hate groups, the nativist extremist groups, and the Patriot organizations—are the most volatile elements on the American political landscape. Taken together, their numbers increased by more than 40 percent, rising from 1,248 groups in 2008 to 1,753 last year.” The report warns that the number and intensity of violence from these groups, and from “lone wolf” extremists perhaps triggered by these groups’ rhetoric and actions, is increasing. Since Obama took office in January 2009, six law enforcement officers have been murdered by right-wing extremists. There are large and increasing numbers of arrests of racist “skinheads” for plotting to assassinate Obama, and an increasing number of anti-government extremists have been arrested for fomenting bomb plots. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 3/2010; Southern Poverty Law Center, 3/2/2010; Detroit Free Press, 3/31/2010] A Detroit Free Press report will directly tie the Michigan Hutaree, a radical Christian group arrested for planning the murder of local police officers (see March 27-30, 2010), to the growing trend of militant activity documented in the SPLC report. Political science professor Michael Barkun, an expert on extremist religious groups, says of the Hutaree arrests: “I don’t think this is the last we’re going to see of these groups. The number of such groups has increased fairly dramatically in the last couple of years.” Beirich will note that the Hutaree were not isolated from other militias: “They were part of the broader militia movement,” she says. However, her conclusion is disputed by Michigan militia member Michael Lackomar. “They more closely fit the definition of a cult,” Lackomar will say. “They believe the world is about to end according to how it was written in the Bible, and their job is to stand up and clear the way for Jesus and fight alongside him against the forces of darkness.” While “[a] lot of people are upset at an ever-growing government that is overreaching,” Lackomar will say, most militias do not go to the Hutaree’s extremes. He will call the Hutaree’s plans to attack police officers “despicable.” [Detroit Free Press, 3/31/2010]
Entity Tags: Michael Barkun, Glenn Beck, Chip Berlet, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, American National Socialist Workers Party, Heidi Beirich, Hutaree, Mark Potok, Michele Bachmann, Nancy Pelosi, Southern Poverty Law Center, Michael Lackomar
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
Christian Science Monitor reporter Mark Guarino delves into some of the reasons why Michigan has such a high concentration of militia, anti-government, and other extremist groups within its borders. The analysis comes in the aftermath of the arrest of nine members of the Hutaree, a violent Christian group whom the FBI says were planning on murdering one or more police officers (see March 27-30, 2010). Michigan has 47 known militia or “patriot” groups, second in the nation behind Texas (which contains 57 such groups). These numbers come from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a nonprofit civil rights organization that tracks hate group activity. The SPLC says dozens of new militia and “patriot” groups have begun since the 2008 election of Barack Obama as president; between 2008 and 2009, the SPLC says, the number of groups throughout the country has grown from 149 to 512 (see March 2, 2010). The Michigan branch of the Hutaree is one of the most violent and far-right of these groups, the SPLC says, but Michigan and the entire Upper Midwest has become a hotbed of “patriot” activity. Chip Berlet, an analyst for Political Research Associates, says: “There are a number of regional factors that, over time and at various moments, helped the militia movement take hold in different parts of the country. It certainly has emerged strongly in the upper Midwest.” Indiana has 21 such groups, Wisconsin and Ohio 13 each, and Illnois 10, according to SPLC figures. Michigan has a long history of such activity, according to SPLC official Heidi Beirich. Many of Michigan’s most prominent militia groups, including the Michigan Militia, came into being during the term in office of the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton. The Michigan Militia gained notoriety when the media found ties between it and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see October 12, 1993 - January 1994, January 1995, 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995, and April 21, 1995). Militia activity in Michigan dwindled during the Bush presidency, but with Obama as president, has risen sharply. The Hutaree members were able to attract some members of less openly violent groups such as the Michigan Militia, though spokesmen for that group say that their organization rejects the Christian survivalist doctrine of the Hutaree. Beirich says, “The roots of militia activity are there [in Michigan], so if you want to organize something you know who to call.” Experts say a combination of factors contribute to the rise in militias: a troubled economy, changing roles within the traditional family structure, and shifts in the racial makeup of the country’s population. Berlet notes that shared anxiety among lower-to-middle-class people is often a catalyst for generating conspiracy theories, which have the potency to provoke people to take up arms and commit violence. “The candidacy of Obama—when it looked to become serious—prompted a lot of anxiety, and the anxiety continued to rise up to the inauguration,” says Berlet. “This is really getting out of hand,” Berlet says. “It’s a serious problem when people decide the solution to political problems lies in arming themselves and going underground.” He concludes: “While you can look at the Republicans and right wing and say, ‘You let things go too far,’ the Democrats use very demonizing language and aren’t interested in a policy debate, either. They’ve been interested in bashing the Republicans and right wing as crazy and ignorant. So it’s a mess.” [Christian Science Monitor, 3/30/2010] Former federal prosecutor Aitan Goelman, who helped convict McVeigh of the Oklahoma City bombing, suggests that the true danger of groups like the Hutaree and other militias is not from the groups themselves, but from the risk of these groups’ inflammatory declarations and actions sparking violence from so-called “lone wolves,” who like McVeigh are not necessarily active members of any such groups, but whose actions go farther than most groups ever intend. Goelman notes that in 1995, a Democrat was president, just as today; Clinton pushed through a controversial federal assault weapons ban (see September 13, 1994) and Obama has successfully implemented an equally controversial health care reform package; and, both then and now, extremists on the right are warning of an impending government takeover. “On the edges” of political discourse today, Goelman says, “you have rhetoric that carries over to extreme factions.” He continues, “Anytime you have group-think and this churning of ridiculous ideas back and forth, eventually you’ll get someone like McVeigh who’s going to say, ‘I’m going to take the mantle of leadership and fire the shot heard around the world and start the second American revolution.’” McVeigh considered the Michigan Militia “too moderate” and himself as a “man of action” who wanted to go farther than these groups. “I think [his associations with militias] put a battery in the pack,” Goelman says. “Some of this is fantasy. I think the idea that it is kind of fun to talk about a UN tank on your front lawn and the New World Order (see September 11, 1990)… but when someone blows up a building and kills 19 kids in a day-care center, it’s not so glamorous anymore,” he says, referring to the Oklahoma City incident. “The reality of murdering innocent people ends up far less glorious than striking the blow.” [Christian Science Monitor, 3/31/2010]
Entity Tags: Timothy James McVeigh, Chip Berlet, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Aitan Goelman, Christian Science Monitor, Michigan Militia, Clinton administration, Hutaree, Heidi Beirich, Southern Poverty Law Center, Mark Guarino
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
A New York Times/CBS News poll shows that the 18 percent of Americans identifying themselves as tea party supporters are wealthier and more well-educated than the general public. They tend to be Republican, white, male, married, and older than 45. They tend to be more conservative than “mainstream” Republicans, and describe themselves as “very conservative” and President Obama as “very liberal.” Most Republicans term themselves as “dissatisfied” with Washington, but tea party supporters tend to classify themselves as “angry.” Most tea partiers tend to describe their individual or household tax burden as “fair,” though they tend to dislike taxation in general. Most send their children to public schools. Most support Medicare and Social Security, though they support the idea of smaller government. Where they tend to diverge from the general public is in their deep pessimism about the direction of the country, and their conviction that the Obama administration is bent on helping the poor at the expense of the middle class and the wealthy. The vast majority of tea party supporters say Obama does not share American values and knows little about the problems of people like themselves. A quarter of the responding supporters say that Obama favors blacks over whites, as opposed to 11 percent of the general public, and they are more likely than the general public to believe that “too much has been made of the problems facing black people.” Three things primarily fuel their anger at Washington: health care reform, government spending, and their feeling that Washington lawmakers ignore their concerns. Retired Florida lawyer Elwin Thrasher says in an interview: “The only way they will stop the spending is to have a revolt on their hands. I’m sick and tired of them wasting money and doing what our founders never intended to be done with the federal government.” Over 90 percent of tea party supporters believe the country is heading down the wrong path, as contrasted with some 60 percent of the general population, and almost 90 percent say Obama is doing a poor job heading the country. That same percentage say he has mishandled health care, the economy, and the federal deficit. Ninety-two percent say Obama wants to make the US a socialist state. Retired medical transcriber Kathy Mayhugh says: “I just feel he’s getting away from what America is. He’s a socialist. And to tell you the truth, I think he’s a Muslim and trying to head us in that direction, I don’t care what he says” (see October 1, 2007, December 19, 2007, January 11, 2008, January 22-24, 2008, April 18, 2008, June 27, 2008, October 10-11, 2008, September 24, 2010, and April 27, 2011). While most Americans blame the Bush administration or Wall Street for the current economic status, a majority of tea party supporters blame Congress, focusing much of that blame on Congressional Democrats. They vote almost unanimously Republican. Fifty-seven percent of tea party supporters say they hold a favorable opinion of former President George W. Bush, while almost the same percentage of the general public see Bush unfavorably. Most tea party supporters say they want to focus on economic issues ahead of social issues such as gay rights and abortion restrictions, and say the movement should focus first on shrinking the federal government, ahead of reducing the deficit or lowering taxes. Almost 75 percent of tea party supporters say domestic program spending should be reduced, though most do not want Medicare or Social Security cut. California tea party supporter Jodine White, 62, says of her view on federal spending: “That’s a conundrum, isn’t it? I don’t know what to say. Maybe I don’t want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security.… I didn’t look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I’ve changed my mind.” [New York Times, 4/14/2010]
Dave Schwartz, the Maryland state director for the lobbying organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, and April 2009 and After), which funds and directs many tea party organizations, writes an op-ed for the Baltimore Sun praising the tea party movement for its successes and calling for it to eschew the conspiracy theories (see February 4-8, 2010, February 15, 2010, August 24, 2010, September 2010, October 19, 2010, and August 17, 2011) that have often characterized it up to this point. “We must distance ourselves from ‘birthers,’ ‘truthers,’ and those who wish to use our enthusiasm for unrelated causes,” he writes, referring to two popular theories: that President Obama is not an American citizen, and that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated by members of the Bush administration or others in the federal government. “President Barack Obama was born in the United States and was elected by a majority of voters. He is a father and a husband, and he has reached the pinnacle of his career through hard work and determination. We simply have a philosophical disagreement with him about the role of government in society. The tea party should fight the president’s and governor’s big-government policies with thoughtful solutions, not personal attacks.” He concludes by advising readers that “[f]or this movement to be a lasting political force, we must remain independent,” apparently referring to calls by Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich for the tea party movement to join the GOP (see February 16, 2010 and April 21, 2010). [Baltimore Sun, 4/15/2010]
US Commission on Civil Rights logo. [Source: US Commission on Civil Rights]The US Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) hosts its national conference in Washington. The conference is being boycotted by a number of civil rights organizations because, they say, the organization has become a “sham” operated by conservatives hostile to civil rights. “I’m not attending the conference. I think it’s a sham,” Wade Henderson, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said two days ago. The USSCR was created in 1957 to oppose racial discrimination against African-Americans and has traditionally been associated with a pro-civil rights record. However, the Bush administration stacked it with conservatives opposed to civil rights; in recent years, the organization has spent much of its time pursuing charges of “reverse racism,” defending racial profiling, and opposing measures designed to grant equal rights to gay and lesbian citizens. The conference hosts panel discussions on how family structure perpetuates racial and ethnic disparities; how education reform can address community issues; whether legal tactics for combating discrimination should be combined with other tactics; and whether the commission should continue operations after this year. Henderson says that since this is the last year for the Bush-era conservatives to dominate the organization, they, particularly Chairman Gerald Reynolds, are mounting a final attempt to implement their agenda. “This is Gerald Reynolds’ last ditch effort to give legitimacy and luster to his failed tenure,” Henderson says. [TPM Muckraker, 9/13/2010; TPM Muckraker, 9/14/2010] In the days before the conference, Reynolds said the federal government should cut back its efforts to combat discrimination, and leave such efforts to local governments and private organizations. [Washington Times, 9/10/2010; TPM Muckraker, 9/13/2010] The conference will be dominated by speakers from conservative organizations, many of which explicitly oppose civil rights. All of the panels will be hosted by commission conservatives; one Democratic commission nominee, Michael Yaki, issues a statement condemning the decision to disallow Democrats to host panels, and says the entire conference promises to be “woefully short on civil rights.” Yaki says, “The topics are extremely narrow and do not begin to address the issues raised in the 21st century—such as immigration backlash on our Hispanic community, Islamophobia since 9/11, gay and lesbian rights, just to name a few—much less those issues that still linger from the last 50 years since the commission’s inception.” [TPM Muckraker, 9/13/2010; TPM Muckraker, 9/14/2010]
US Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) says some of her constituents are so worried about the upcoming reinstatement of federal estate taxes—so-called “death taxes” that impose taxes on estates worth over $3.5 million—that they are planning to discontinue dialysis and other life-extending medical treatments so they can die before December 31. Loomis declines to name anyone who is making such plans. Instead, she says many ranchers and farmers in the state would rather pass along their businesses—“their life’s work,” she says—to their children and grandchildren than see the federal government take a large chunk. “If you have spent your whole life building a ranch, and you wanted to pass your estate on to your children, and you were 88-years-old and on dialysis, and the only thing that was keeping you alive was that dialysis, you might make that same decision,” she tells reporters. Congressional Republicans are fighting to renew the tax cuts on wealthy estates which were implemented during the Bush administration. The cuts exempt large inheritances as well as certain wage income, interest, dividends, and capital gains. In 2009, the tax’s top rate was 45 percent, but estates worth less than $3.5 million, or $7 million in the case of married couples, were exempt. That left less than 1 percent of all estates subject to the tax. Loomis and many Republicans have falsely characterized the tax as negatively impacting family farms and small businesses. The tax cuts are slated to expire in 2011. The exemption will shrink to $1 million and the top rate will rise to 55 percent. Lummis says the children of some people choosing death over taxes told her of their parents’ decision. She refuses to identify them and says it will be their decision to come forward. [Associated Press, 10/29/2010]
Actors Naomi Watts and Sean Penn as Valerie Plame Wilson and Joseph Wilson. [Source: credit Movieweb (.com)]The movie Fair Game, based on the memoir of the same name by outed CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see October 22, 2007), is released in American movie theaters. [MovieWeb (.com), 7/21/2010] Actors Naomi Watts and Sean Penn portray Plame Wilson and her husband, Joseph Wilson; the movie is directed by noted action movie creator Doug Liman. Reviews of the movie are generally positive, though CNN reviewer Tom Charity says it fails to generate the same level of excitement that Liman’s earlier movies created, possibly because of the lack of intense action sequences. Charity says Watts makes for a “distinctly passive heroine,” with Penn “tak[ing] a more dynamic role as Wilson, refusing to back down and taking on the administration in a battle waged over the airwaves and in the op-ed pages of the nation’s newspapers.” Reviewer Joe Tyrell is more positive, calling Watts and Penn “top-flight.” Chicago Sun-Times reviewer Roger Ebert writes that the film “is unusually bold for a fictionalization based on real events. Using real names and a good many facts, it argues: (1) Saddam Hussein had no WMD; (2) the CIA knew it; (3) the White House knew it; (4) the agenda of Cheney and his White House neocons required an invasion of Iraq no matter what, and (5) therefore, the evidence was ignored and we went to war because of phony claims. Well. That’s what the film says. There will no doubt be dissent. Few people are happy to be portrayed as liars and betrayers. What amazes me is that Fair Game doesn’t play the game of using fictional names. They’re all right there, including Cheney personally ordering the intelligence to be falsified.” Charity writes, “The movie becomes a portrait of a marriage splintering under extraordinary outside pressure, a study in self-righteous male pride running afoul of a mother’s anxiety for the safety and well-being of her children,” and chides the outspokenly progressive Penn for portraying a character “so close to [his] public persona.” The entire film, Charity writes, is “workmanlike, earnest but a little dry and predictable. Perhaps we’ve become inured to government corruption since the heyday of the conspiracy thrillers of the 1970s, but at this stage the film’s ‘revelations’ about the propaganda war that pre-sold the Iraq invasion will come as old news to anyone who’s been paying even the slightest attention. A more challenging and relevant movie might have focused on Scooter Libby and probed the convictions that drove him to obstruct justice and commit perjury.” Tyrell praises David Andrew’s portrayal of Libby, noting that he catches Libby’s persona “down to the last oily drop.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 11/3/2010; CNN, 11/5/2010; New Jersey Newsroom, 11/13/2010] Ebert concludes: “This isn’t a lathering, angry attack picture. Wilson and Plame are both seen as loyal government employees, not particularly political until they discover the wrong information. The implication is that if the Bush administration hadn’t suppressed their information and smeared them, there might have been no Iraq war, and untold thousands of lives would have been saved. This topic has been so poisoned by misinformation that a rational discussion seems impossible. I suppose the question becomes, how well does Fair Game work as a movie? I suspect it will work better the more you walk in agreeing with it.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 11/3/2010]
Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, David Andrew, Bush administration (43), Joe Tyrell, Valerie Plame Wilson, Sean Penn, Naomi Watts, Tom Charity, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Roger Ebert, Doug Liman
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
David Frum, a New York Times columnist who once wrote speeches for the Bush administration, writes on his personal blog “Frum Forum” that today’s release of President Obama’s “long form” birth certificate (see April 27, 2011) should bring to an end “the phony controversy” of “birtherism.” He calls the controversy “poisonous and not very subtly racist” (see January 24, 2007, September 22, 2008, October 8-10, 2008, November 10, 2008, September 14, 2009, March 2011, April 1, 2011, April 14-15, 2011, April 15, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 27, 2011, and April 27, 2011), and asks how the controversy acquired “such a grip on our conservative movement and our Republican party?” To deny that “birtherism” ever existed as a serious component of Republican rhetoric, Frum writes, is “just wrong.” He cites the recent surge in popularity of billionaire television host Donald Trump as a “serious” presidential contender among far-right and tea party voters, and adds: “[N]ot only did conservative media outlets from Fox to Drudge to the Breitbart sites indulge the birthers—but so also did every Republican candidate who said, ‘I take the president at his word.’ Birthers did not doubt the president’s ‘word.’ They were doubting the official records of the state of Hawaii. It’s like answering a 9/11 conspiracist by saying, ‘I take the 9/11 families at their word that they lost their loved ones.’” Still, Frum writes, the racially fueled allegations persist (see April 27, 2011). Trump is now questioning Obama’s acceptance into Harvard Law School (see April 26, 2011), recycling debunked allegations from 2009 that claimed Obama was “placed” in Harvard through the auspices of a black Islamist radical and a Saudi prince (see July 21, 2009). “The too-faint repudiation of birtherism by regular Republicans has shaped not only the Obama brand, but also the Republican brand,” Frum laments. “It was not only white people who heard the implied message about who counts and who does not count as a ‘real American.’” Frum restates his opposition to virtually every policy and initiative advanced by the Obama administration, and writes: “Republicans should be fighting this president on policy, not winking at those who use race as a weapon.… [T]hose who imagine that they somehow enhance the value of [their] citizenship by belittling the American-ness of their president (see March 2011)—they not only disgrace the politics they uphold, but they do damage that will not soon be forgotten by the voters a revived Republicanism must win.” [David Frum, 4/27/2011]
Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound in flames. Apparently, the fires are mainly due to a crashed US helicopter. The picture comes from a neighbor’s cell phone. [Source: Reuters] (click image to enlarge)Osama bin Laden is shot and killed inside a secured private residential compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, according to US government sources. The operation is carried out by US Navy SEAL Team Six, the “Naval Special Warfare Development Group.” The covert operation takes place at 1:00 a.m. local time (+4:30GMT). Two US helicopters from bases in Afghanistan fly low over the compound in Abbottabad, and 30 to 40 SEALs disembark and storm the compound. According to White House sources, bin Laden and at least four others are killed. The team is on the ground for only 40 minutes; most of that time is spent searching the compound for information about al-Qaeda and its plans. The helicopters are part of the 160th Special Ops Air Regiment, itself a detachment from the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). The CIA oversees the operation, but the operation is tasked to, and carried out by, Special Forces. When President Obama announces bin Laden’s death, he says: “His demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity. Justice has been done.” Of the soldiers that eliminated bin Laden, and the other military personnel deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere, Obama says: “We are reminded that we are fortunate to have Americans who dedicate their lives to protecting ours. We may not always know their names, we may not always know their stories, but they are there every day on the front lines of freedom and we are truly blessed.” The members of Team Six are never identified, and it is unlikely their names will ever be made public. [CNN News, 5/1/2011; ABC News, 5/2/2011] Bin Laden is said to have ordered the 9/11 attacks, among other al-Qaeda strikes against American and Western targets. In a 1997 CNN interview, he declared “jihad,” or “holy war,” against the US. He had been number one on American military and law enforcement “Most Wanted” lists well before the 9/11 attacks. [CNN News, 5/1/2011]
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, US Department of the Navy, Obama administration, Al-Qaeda, Leon Panetta, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), US Naval Special Warfare Development Group, Joint Special Operations Command, Central Intelligence Agency
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Osama bin Laden’s killing by US forces on May 2, 2011 (see May 2, 2011) reignites the debate about the usefulness of the torture techniques used by US intelligence. The debate centers on how US intelligence learned about bin Laden’s location and whether the torture of prisoners helped find him.
Courier Provides the Key Lead - According to Obama administration officials, bin Laden was located through US intelligence agencies’ “patient and detailed intelligence analysis” of “a mosaic of sources,” including evidence garnered from detained inmates at Guantanamo Bay. The first clue to bin Laden’s whereabouts came when US intelligence learned of an al-Qaeda courier that worked with bin Laden, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, who used the pseudonym “Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.” Ahmed is one of those killed during the Abbottabad raid. US intelligence had known of Ahmed since 2002, after a Kuwaiti detainee told interrogators about him, and it has taken this long for CIA and other intelligence officers to identify him, locate him, track his communications, and then follow him to the large and well fortified compound in Abbottabad.
Do Bush Administration Techniques Deserve Credit? - Some former Bush administration officials, such as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Justice Department legal adviser John Yoo, claim that the Bush administration and not the Obama administration deserves the credit for finding bin Laden. According to a report in the Christian Science Monitor, “the former director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, Jose Rodriguez, said the first important leads about Kuwaiti came from alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the third-ranking al-Qaeda leader at the time of his capture.” KSM was repeatedly waterboarded (see March 7 - Mid-April, 2003). [Christian Science Monitor, 5/5/2011] Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey states that the path to bin Laden “began with a disclosure from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who broke like a dam under the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding. He loosed a torrent of information—including eventually the nickname of a trusted courier of bin Laden.” [Wall Street Journal, 5/2/2011]
Rebuttal from CIA Director Panetta - However, according to information in a letter CIA Director Leon Panetta sends to Senator John McCain, these assertions are false or misleading. In the letter, Panetta says: “Nearly 10 years of intensive intelligence work led the CIA to conclude that bin Laden was likely hiding at the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. There was no one ‘essential and indispensible’ key piece of information that led us to this conclusion. Rather, the intelligence picture was developed via painstaking collection and analysis. Multiple streams of intelligence—including from detainees, but also from multiple other sources—led CIA analysts to conclude that bin Laden was at this compound. Some of the detainees who provided useful information about the facilitator/courier’s role had been subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques. Whether those techniques were the ‘only timely and effective way’ to obtain such information is a matter of debate and cannot be established definitively. What is definitive is that that information was only a part of multiple streams of intelligence that led us to bin Laden. Let me further point out that we first learned about the facilitator/courier’s nom de guerre from a detainee not in CIA custody in 2002. It is also important to note that some detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques attempted to provide false or misleading information about the facilitator/courier. These attempts to falsify the facilitator/courier’s role were alerting. In the end, no detainee in CIA custody revealed the facilitator/courier’s full true name or specific whereabouts. This information was discovered through other intelligence means.” [Washington Post, 5/16/2011]
Officials Says Torture Techinques Played No Role - Also, nine US military interrogators and intelligence officials state in an open letter: “The use of waterboarding and other so-called ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques almost certainly prolonged the hunt for bin Laden and complicated the jobs of professional US interrogators who were trying to develop useful information from unwilling sources like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Reports say that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Faraq al-Libi did not divulge the nom de guerre of a courier during torture, but rather several months later, when they were questioned by interrogators who did not use abusive techniques.” [Human Rights First, 5/4/2011]
Entity Tags: Jose Rodriguez, Jr., Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Obama administration, Osama bin Laden, Leon Panetta, John C. Yoo, Michael Mukasey, Central Intelligence Agency, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, Donald Rumsfeld, Barack Obama, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Mitch McConnell. [Source: Daily Political (.com)]Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) proposes an alternative to the Obama administration’s economic proposal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and avoid the US defaulting on its debt. Republicans in the House and Senate have repeatedly refused to consider raising the debt ceiling (see April 30, 2011, June 26, 2011 and July 13, 2011); some have welcomed the possibility of a default, simultaneously saying that the nation will suffer little real economic damage by defaulting on its debt and blaming the Obama administration for any such damage. Obama officials and an array of economists and financial leaders have warned that if the US defaults on its debt, such a default could trigger a national economic collapse and send the world’s economies into a downward spiral (see May 20, 2011). McConnell’s alternative would raise the debt ceiling in three short-term increments of up to $2.5 trillion in total over the next year, as long as President Obama matched the raises with equivalent spending cuts; House Republicans could vote for non-binding resolutions of disapproval. The London Daily Mail notes that McConnell’s proposal would put the onus of raising the debt ceiling, and the negative impact of draconian spending cuts, directly on Obama and the Democrats, absolving the Republicans of blame and giving Republican presidential candidates the opportunity to slam Obama’s economic policies during the height of the 2012 presidential campaign. McConnell has blamed what he calls the intransigence of the Obama administration for the nation’s deficit, which was largely inherited from the Bush administration, and has told the Senate, “After years of discussions and months of negotiations, I have little question that as long as this president is in the Oval Office, a real solution is probably unattainable.” Obama has said that if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling by August 2, Social Security recipients and veterans may not get the checks they are due to receive on August 3. Few Obama officials or Congressional Democrats have any positive remarks about McConnell’s plan, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) refuses to endorse it. [Daily Mail, 7/13/2011]
Fox News’s Eric Bolling, hosting The Five, says that he remembers no terrorist attacks on the US during the Bush presidency. Bolling is either ignoring or forgetting that the 9/11 attacks, the most lethal and costly terrorist attacks in US history, occurred eight months into the Bush presidency. Since late 2009, two former Bush administration officials have also denied that 9/11 took place during the Bush presidency (see November 24, 2009 and December 27, 2009), as has former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who was mayor when his city was stricken (see January 8, 2010). A Las Vegas newspaper publisher has claimed no terrorist attacks occured during the Bush administration after 9/11, another falsehood perpetrated by Bolling (see January 3, 2010). One of the “five” participants in the roundtable discussion on the show is former Bush administration press secretary Dana Perino, who is one of the former administration officials who denied that 9/11 took place during Bush’s presidency. Bolling and the other participants, save for the single “liberal” at the table, Bob Beckel, are criticizing the Obama administration’s economic policies. The topic goes into a quick repudiation of the fact that the Bush administration used false claims about WMDs to drive the US into a war with Iraq, and Bolling shouts over the crosstalk: “America was certainly safe between 2000 and 2008. I don’t remember any terrorist attacks on American soil during that period of time.” No one involved in the panel discussion corrects his misstatement. [Media Matters, 7/13/2011; Huffington Post, 7/14/2011] The Five is the newest Fox News offering, replacing the recently canceled show hosted by Glenn Beck. [Huffington Post, 7/14/2011] The next day, MSNBC talk show host Chris Matthews derides what he calls Bolling’s “revisionist history” regarding 9/11. He plays a brief clip of Bolling making the statement, then sarcastically invites Bolling to “think back to 2001.” While playing a clip from the coverage of the 9/11 attacks, Matthews asks, “Does that trigger your memory?” [Media Matters, 7/14/2011] Hours after Matthews’s correction, Bolling says on The Five: “Yesterday I misspoke when saying that there were no US terror attacks during the Bush years. Obviously I meant in the aftermath of 9/11.” Bolling then swings to the attack, saying: “That’s when the radical liberal left pounced on us and me. [The progressive media watchdog Web site] Media Matters posted my error, saying I forgot about 9/11. No, I haven’t forgotten.” (Bolling is referring to a Media Matters article with the title: “‘Have You Forgotten?’ Conservatives Erase 9/11 From Bush Record,” which cites Bolling’s error among other “misstatements” and omissions by conservatives, and cites the numerous terror attacks that took place on US soil after 9/11 during the Bush presidency.) Bolling continues by saying he was in New York during the attacks, lost friends during the attacks, and comforted the children of friends who were terrified by the attacks. He concludes by saying, “Thank you, liberals, for reminding me how petty you can be.” [Media Matters, 7/14/2009] Shortly after Bolling’s statement on Fox, Media Matters posts another article, again citing the numerous domestic terrorism attacks that took place after 9/11, under the headline, “Eric Bolling Is Still Wrong.” [Media Matters, 7/14/2011]
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich says that the federal government should fire employees who hold liberal views, a suggestion that directly contravenes federal law. Gingrich makes his suggestion during a Fox News forum hosted by Fox talk show host Mike Huckabee, a 2008 presidential candidate. “I think an intelligent conservative wants the right federal employees delivering the right services in a highly efficient way and then wants to get rid of those folks who are in fact wasteful, or those folks who are ideologically so far to the left, or those people who want to frankly dictate to the rest of us,” he says. TPM Muckraker reporter Ryan J. Reilly writes that such an idea comes “uncomfortably close to being in conflict with a federal law making it illegal to take any personnel action against an employee ‘based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicapping condition, marital status, or political affiliation.’ Accusations that political affiliation was taken into account would [usually] be investigated by the Office of Special Counsel.” Reilly goes on to note that similarly ideological-based discriminatory hiring practices were followed by the Bush administration. [TPM Muckraker, 1/14/2012]
Some sources believe Romney may consider John Bolton for Secretary of State if elected president. [Source: Getty Images / CNN]Journalist Ari Berman, of the liberal magazine The Nation, writes that presumptive Republican presidential Mitt Romney (R-MA) seems to be relying on a large number of neoconservatives to help him formulate his foreign policy stance for the election. Berman believes it is safe to assume that Romney will appoint many of his neoconservative advisors to powerful positions in his administration should he win the November election. Berman writes: “Given Romney’s well-established penchant for flip-flopping and opportunism, it’s difficult to know what he really believes on any issue, including foreign affairs (the campaign did not respond to a request for comment). But a comprehensive review of his statements during the primary and his choice of advisers suggests a return to the hawkish, unilateral interventionism of the George W. Bush administration should he win the White House in November.” Conservative Christian leader Richard Land has said that Romney could shore up his sagging credibility with conservatives by “pre-naming” some key Cabinet selections: former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) as Attorney General, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) as US ambassador to the United Nations, and former State Department official John Bolton as Secretary of State. Berman calls the prospect of those appointments “terrifying” and “more plausible than one might think.” Neoconservative blogger Jennifer Rubin recently wrote for the Washington Post that “[m]any conservatives hope” Bolton will accept “a senior national security post in a Romney administration.” For his point, Bolton has endorsed Romney, and has campaigned on his behalf. Romney is not well versed in foreign policy affairs, Berman writes, noting that in 2008 the presidential campaign of John McCain (R-AZ) found that at the time “Romney’s foreign affairs resume is extremely thin, leading to credibility problems.” Romney suffered the criticism of being “too liberal” in 2008, and in 2011-12 attempted to refute that criticism by publicly aligning himself with Bolton and other neoconservatives. Brian Katulis of the liberal Center for American Progress has said, “When you read the op-eds and listen to the speeches, it sounds like Romney’s listening to the John Bolton types more than anyone else.” [Washington Post, 3/13/2012; Nation, 5/21/2012]
The Project for the New American Century - Bolton and seven other Romney advisors are signers of a letter drafted by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), an influential neoconservative advocacy group (see June 3, 1997 and September 2000) that urged both the Clinton and Bush administrations to attack Iraq (see January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998 and May 29, 1998). (The PNAC is defunct, but was replaced by a similar advocacy group, the Foreign Policy Initiative, or FPI—see Before March 25, 2009). PNAC co-founder Eliot Cohen, who served as counsel for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from 2007-2009, wrote the foreward to Romney’s foreign policy white paper, entitled “An American Century.” Cohen has called the war on terror “World War IV” (see November 20, 2001), and helped push the Bush administration into going to war with Iraq after the 9/11 bombings. In 2009, Cohen reiterated his 2001 call for the US to overthrow the government of Iran (see November 20, 2001). Another PNAC co-founder, FPI’s Robert Kagan, a longtime advocate for widespread war in the Middle East (see October 29, 2001), helped Romney formulate his foreign policy. Romney’s foreign policy stance is based largely on negative attacks on the Obama administration, which it accuses of kowtowing to foreign governments, and a massive military buildup. [Washington Post, 10/9/2011; Nation, 5/21/2012]
Bush Administration Officials' Involvement - Many former Bush administration officials are involved with Romney’s foreign policy. Robert G. Joseph, a former National Security Council official who is primarily responsible for having then-President Bush claim that Iraq had tried to buy enriched uranium from Niger (see January 26 or 27, 2003), former Bush administration spokesman and FPI founder Dan Senor (see October 2, 2005), and former Defense Department official Eric Edelman (see July 16-20, 2007) are prominent members of Romney’s advisory team. Preble says of Romney’s foreign policy advisors: “I can’t name a single Romney foreign policy adviser who believes the Iraq War was a mistake. Two-thirds of the American people do believe the Iraq War was a mistake. So he has willingly chosen to align himself with that one-third of the population right out of the gate.” Edelman, like others on the Romney team, believes that the US should attack Iran, a position Romney himself apparently holds. Senor serves as a conduit between the Romney campaign and Israel’s far right, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Recently, Senor posted the following on Twitter: “Mitt-Bibi will be the new Reagan-Thatcher.” Lawrence Wilkerson, the chief of staff for then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, has said the Republican Party “has not a clue” how to extricate the US from its “state of interminable war,” and apparently little appetite for such extrication. “In fact, they want to deepen it, widen it and go further, on Chinese and Japanese dollars.” The influence of far-right neoconservatives “astonishe[s]” Wilkerson. Christopher Preble, a foreign policy expert for the Cato Institute, says that neoconservatives have remained influential even after the Iraq debacle because they have rewritten history. “They’ve crafted this narrative around the surge (see January 10, 2007), claiming Iraq was, in fact, a success. They’ve ridden that ever since.”
Huge Spending Increases for Defense, Possible Recession - If Romney follows his current statements, a Romney administration under the tutelage of his neoconservative advisors would usher in a new era of massive defense spending increases. He advocates spending a minimum of 4 percent of the nation’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to increase spending on defense, which would increase the Pentagon’s budget by over $200 billion in 2016. That is 38% more than the Obama administration plans to spend on defense. Romney would pay for that increase with severe cuts in domestic spending. Fiscal Times columnist Merrill Goozner has written: “Romney’s proposal to embark on a second straight decade of escalating military spending would be the first time in American history that war preparation and defense spending had increased as a share of overall economic activity for such an extended period. When coupled with the 20 percent cut in taxes he promises, it would require shrinking domestic spending to levels not seen since the Great Depression—before programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid began.” Goozner wrote that Romney’s spending plan “would likely throw the US economy back into recession.” The proposed huge spending increases are in part the product of the Defending Defense coalition, a joint project of the FPI, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and the Heritage Foundation. [Fiscal Times, 3/7/2012; Nation, 5/21/2012]
Cofer Black and Enhanced National Security - Romney’s counterterrorism advisor is J. Cofer Black, a former CIA operative and Bush-era security official. Black presented a plan to invade Afghanistan two days after the 9/11 attacks, and claimed that al-Qaeda could be defeated and the world made secure from terrorism in a matter of weeks (see September 13, 2001). Black was fired from the CIA in 2002 for publicly criticizing the Bush administration’s failure to capture or kill Osama bin Laden (see May 17, 2002). In 2005, Black became a senior official for the private mercenary firm Blackwater (see February 2005). He has been a Romney advisor since 2007 (see April 2007). Black advised Romney not to consider waterboarding as torture, and has touted his CIA experience with that agency’s illegal “extraordinary rendition” program, which sent prisoners to foreign countries for abuse and torture. Romney relies on Black for security assessments of security assessments of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt and Iran, including Iran’s nuclear program. Preble says, “Romney’s likely to be in the mold of George W. Bush when it comes to foreign policy if he were elected.” Berman writes that “[o]n some key issues, like Iran, Romney and his team are to the right of Bush.” Berman goes on to write that if Romney adheres to his statements on the campaign trail, “a Romney presidency would move toward war against Iran; closely align Washington with the Israeli right; leave troops in Afghanistan at least until 2014 and refuse to negotiate with the Taliban; reset the Obama administration’s ‘reset’ with Russia; and pursue a Reagan-like military buildup at home.”
Moderates Sidelined - The moderates on Romney’s team have been shunted aside in favor of the hardliners. Mitchell Reiss, Romney’s principal foreign policy advisor in 2008 and a former State Department official under Powell, no longer enjoys favored access to the candidate. In December 2011 Romney publicly contradicted Reiss’s advocacy of US negotiations with the Taliban, instead advocating the total military defeat of the Taliban and criticizing the Obama administration’s plan to “draw down” US troops from Afghanistan. Vice President Joseph Biden has said that Romney and his neoconservative advisors “see the world through a cold war prism that is totally out of touch with the realities of the twenty-first century.” Romney began tacking to the right during the early days of the Republican primaries, aligning himself with candidates such as Gingrich, Herman Cain (R-GA), and Michele Bachmann (R-MN), and away from moderate candidate Jon Huntsman (R-UT) and isolationist candidate Ron Paul (R-TX). Heather Hurlburt of the centrist National Security Network says: “The foreign policy experts who represent old-school, small-c conservatism and internationalism have been pushed out of the party. Who in the Republican Party still listens to Brent Scowcroft?” (see October 2004). Wilkerson says moderate conservatives such as Powell and Scowcroft are “very worried about their ability to restore moderation and sobriety to the party’s foreign and domestic policies.” Berman writes, “In 2012 Obama is running as Bush 41 and Romney as Bush 43.” [Nation, 5/21/2012]
Entity Tags: Cofer Black, Christopher Preble, Richard Land, Project for the New American Century, Obama administration, Bush administration (43), Robert G. Joseph, Robert Kagan, Ron Paul, Willard Mitt Romney, Ari Berman, Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu, Brent Scowcroft, Brian Katulis, Mitt Romney presidential campaign (2012), Mitchell Reiss, Rick Santorum, Merrill Goozner, Foreign Policy Initiative, Eric Edelman, Michele Bachmann, Eliot A. Cohen, Dan Senor, Colin Powell, Defending Defense, George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, John R. Bolton, Jennifer Rubin, John McCain presidential campaign (2008), Herman Cain, Heather Hurlburt, Jon Huntsman, Lawrence Wilkerson, Joseph Biden
Timeline Tags: 2012 Elections
Analyses by the New York Times and FactCheck.org show that presidential candidate Mitt Romney made some fundamental misstatements when he criticized the Obama administration’s green energy program (see February 2009). During the October 3 presidential debate, Romney claimed Obama had given $90 billion of federal money to clean energy programs, saying at one point: “Now, I like green energy as well, but that’s about 50 years’ worth of what oil and gas receives. Ninety billion—that—that would have—that would have hired two million teachers.” The Times reports that while the $90 billion is an accurate number drawn from the 2009 economic stimulus package, not all of it was spent on green energy, and much of the money that was spent on green energy programs was authorized during the Bush administration. Of the $90 billion authorized by the Obama administration, $29 billion went to energy efficiency programs; much of that was spent on retrofitting homes and apartments of low-income households to be more energy efficient and lower their energy costs. $18 billion was spent on fast, energy-efficient trains and $21 billion was spent on wind farms, solar panels, and other renewable energy. Much of these expenditures was matched by private investments. Romney claimed, “I think about half of them, of the ones have been invested in, they’ve gone out of business,” and cited the example of Solyndra, a maker of solar equipment that went bankrupt, costing the government some $528 million. The Times notes that Solyndra began receiving money during the Bush administration, and that the government has been able to recover some of its funds from other firms that went bankrupt. The Times writes, “The defaults were far less than Congress had allocated to cover losses, and far, far less than half of the ventures, although some others may yet fail.” FactCheck, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, goes further, noting, “In summary, Romney said a lot about the $90 billion in stimulus spending on clean energy—and very little of it was accurate.” FactCheck accuses Romney of making “numerous bogus claims” about the $90 billion energy funding. Only six percent of the firms loaned money by the government for clean energy technology have gone bankrupt, it notes, not “about half,” as Romney claimed. Romney also wrongly stated that the entire $90 billion was spent on “solar and wind” projects; in reality, less than a third was spent on those programs. His claim that the $90 billion was equivalent to “about 50 years’ worth of what oil and gas receives” in tax breaks was doubly wrong; by his own figures, it would have been 32 years’ worth, but real data shows it is closer to about 10 years’ worth of oil and gas subsidies. The claim that Obama could “have hired two million teachers” was wrong, since much of that $90 billion was in the form of loans, and, FactCheck notes, “the government can’t hire teachers with loans.” Even data provided by the Romney campaign to back up its claims disproves Romney’s assertions. [New York Times, 10/4/2012; FactCheck (.org), 10/4/2012]
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