t is official. During a Thursday morning Senate hearing, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Obama administration is deliberating whether or not it should utilize the US military in Syria. This means that President Barack Obama is considering using military force in Syria, and the Pentagon has prepared various scenarios for possible United States intervention.
Gen. Dempsey said the administration was considering using “kinetic strikes ” in Syria and said “the issue is under deliberation inside of our agencies of government ,” the Associated Press reported from Washington.
According to RT TV, a Russian news service:
Dempsey, 61, is the highest ranking officer in the US military and has been nominated by President Obama to serve a second term in that role. The Senate Armed Services Committee questioned him Thursday morning as part of the nominating process when Dempsey briefly discussed the situation in Syria.
Last month, the Obama administration concluded that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons during the ongoing battles. Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes said, “The intelligence community estimates that 100 to 150 people have died from detected chemical weapons attacks in Syria to date; however, casualty data is likely incomplete.”
President Obama said previously that the use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” and likely trigger American intervention. When the White House concluded Assad had relied on chemical warfare, Rhodes said, “both the political and the military opposition … is and will be receiving US assistance.”
This brings us to the question “Is this a setup where the reason given to start yet another war aimed at overthrowing yet another government of a foreign country that has been long planned in advance by the US?” Given our history, this is likely.
First of all, the evidence of chemical weapons use is itself sketchy. So far we only have a CIA report , which was described by an American official who declined to be identified, which states that the United States has acquired blood, urine and hair samples from two Syrian rebels–one dead and one wounded–who were in a firefight with Syrian government forces in mid-March northeast of Damascus. The samples showed that the rebels were exposed to sarin.
Secondly, although US intelligence reports are tentative, our media has been portraying them as definitive. The press is raring to go on this, just like they were on Feb. 5, 2003 when Colin Powell spoke before the United Nations, claiming there was absolute proof that Saddam Hussein’s regime was armed to the teeth with Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Syria’s WMDs came from Iraq
How did the Assad regime come by these chemical weapons? It was reported in the New York Sun on January 26, 2006 that Israel’s top general during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Moshe Yaalon, told the Sun that Saddam “transferred the chemical agents from Iraq to Syria. The Iraqi Revolutionary Guard moved weapons of mass destruction into Syria in advance of the U.S.-led action to eliminate Hussein’s WMD threat.”
Two Iraqi Airways Boeings were converted to cargo planes by removing the seats, and special Republican Guard units loaded the planes with chemical weapons materials. There were, all told, 56 flights disguised as a relief effort after a June 4, 2002 collapse of the Zeyzoun Dam wiped out a village just below the impoundment, killing 20 people and washing away houses, cattle, hospitals, schools, water pumps and vehicles in five villages, stopping only when the water hit and joined the Orontes River more than 8 miles away.
There were also truck convoys into Syria. Both Israeli and U.S. intelligence observed large truck convoys leaving Iraq and entering Syria in the weeks and months before Operation Iraqi Freedom, John Shaw, former deputy undersecretary of defense for international technology security, told a private conference of former weapons inspectors and intelligence experts held in Arlington, Va., in 2006.
It was reported in the Fall 2005 Middle East Quarte rly that Israel’s prime minister, Ariel Sharon, stated: “Chemical and biological weapons which Saddam is endeavoring to conceal have been moved from Iraq to Syria.”
The U.S.A. provided Iraq with chem and bio capability
And here we come full circle. This report is from Common Dreams (Sept. 8, 2002):
The US and Britain sold Saddam Hussein the technology and materials Iraq needed to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. Reports by the US Senate’s committee on banking, housing and urban affairs — which oversees American exports policy — reveal that the US, under the successive administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr, sold materials including anthrax, VX nerve gas, West Nile fever germs and botulism to Iraq right up until March 1992, as well as germs similar to tuberculosis and pneumonia. Other bacteria sold included brucella melitensis, which damages major organs, and clostridium perfringens, which causes gas gangrene.
UN inspectors had identified many United States manufactured items that had been exported from the United States to Iraq under licenses issued by the Department of Commerce, and established that these items were used to further Iraq’s chemical and nuclear weapons development and its missile delivery system development programs.
It is clear that the US government knows about everything that goes on everywhere, all of the time. It has mastered this technique since before President Truman established the CIA following World War 2. Furthermore, it is undeniable that we have planned a complete takeover of the Middle East and its petroleum reserves since then.
Going to war with Syria will complete our encirclement of Iran, the last bastion of Middle Eastern oil reserves that America covets.
That pesky “al Qaeda”
Once again, our excuse for an exercise in American use of real weapons of mass destruction will be laid at the feet of the terrorist boogeymen that we ourselves create. This is from USA Today of June 14:
A Syrian rebel group’s April pledge of allegiance to al-Qaeda’s replacement for Osama bin Laden suggests that the terrorist group’s influence is not waning and that it may take a greater role in the Western-backed fight to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The pledge of allegiance by Syrian Jabhat al Nusra Front chief Abou Mohamad al-Joulani to al-Qaeda leader Sheik Ayman al-Zawahri was coupled with an announcement by the al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq, that it would work with al Nusra as well.
The shadowy al Qaeda terrorist group that we attribute all of our woes to is a creature we devised to fight the Russians in Afghanistan back in the nether regions of public memory, when Osama bin Laden was our friend and hero. Why would we use them for our own ends to overthrow the Syrian government? For the same reason that we turned a blind eye when Israel attacked Lebanon a week ago, bombing southern Beiruit in the hopes of destroying the offices of Hezbollah.
It’s one more brick in the wall we’re building around Iran and its 150 billion barrels of oil, which make it second only to Saudi Arabia.
— 30 —
James R. Bailey is a 30 year veteran reporter, political activist, environmentalist, and homesteader in northern Wisconsin’s Chequamegon National Forest in the Town of Grand View. He was recently on the campaign staff of Wisconsin Secretary of State (more…)
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The Executive Branch fought for that ruling — and is now celebrating.”We agree with the decision,” said a Justice Department spokesman. “We are examining the next steps in the prosecution of this case.” The Risen case, and potentially many others, are now under the ominous shadow of the Appeals Court’s pronouncement: ” There is no First Amendment testimonial privilege, absolute or qualified, that protects a reporter from being compelled to testify ” in criminal proceedings.”
At the Freedom of the Press Foundation, co-founder Trevor Timm calls the court ruling “the most significant reporter’s privilege decision in decades” and asserts that the court “eviscerated that privilege.” He’s not exaggerating. Press freedom is at stake.
Journalists who can be compelled to violate the confidentiality of their sources, or otherwise go to prison, are reduced to doing little more than providing stenographic services to pass along the official story. That’s what the White House wants.
The federal Fourth Circuit covers the geographical area where most of the U.S. government’s intelligence, surveillance and top-level military agencies — including the NSA and CIA — are headquartered. The ruling “pretty much guts national security journalism in the states in which it matters,” Marcy Wheeler writes.
That court decision came seven days after the Justice Department released its “News Media Policies” report announcing “significant revisions to the Department’s policies regarding investigations that involve members of the news media.” The report offered assurances that “members of the news media will not be subject to prosecution based solely on newsgathering activities.” (Hey thanks!) But the document quickly added that the government will take such action “as a last resort” when seeking information that is “essential to a successful investigation or prosecution.”
Translation: We won’t prosecute journalists for doing their jobs unless we really want to.
Over the weekend, some news accounts described Friday’s court decision as bad timing for Attorney General Eric Holder, who has scrambled in recent weeks to soothe anger at the Justice Department’s surveillance of journalists. “The ruling was awkwardly timed for the Obama administration,” the New York Times reported. But the ruling wasn’t just “awkwardly timed” — it was revealing, and it underscored just how hostile the Obama White House has become toward freedom of the press.
News broke in May that the Justice Department had seized records of calls on more than 20 phone lines used by Associated Press reporters over a two-month period and had also done intensive surveillance of a Fox News reporter that included obtaining phone records and reading his emails. Since then, the Obama administration tried to defuse the explosive reaction without actually retreating from its offensive against press freedom.
At a news conference two months ago, when President Obama refused to say a critical word about his Justice Department’s targeted surveillance of reporters, he touted plans to reintroduce a bill for a federal shield law so journalists can protect their sources. But Obama didn’t mention that he has insisted on a “national security exception” that would make such a law approximately worthless for reporters doing the kind of reporting that has resulted in government surveillance — and has sometimes landed them in federal court.
Obama’s current notion of a potential shield law would leave his administration fully able to block protection of journalistic sources. In a mid-May article — headlined “White House Shield Bill Could Actually Make It Easier for the Government to Get Journalists’ Sources” — the Freedom of the Press Foundation shed light on the duplicity: As a supposed concession to press freedom, the president was calling for reintroduction of a 2009 Senate bill that “would not have helped the Associated Press in this case, and worse, it would actually make it easier for the Justice Department to subpoena journalists covering national security issues.”
Whether hyping a scenario for a shield law or citing new Justice Department guidelines for news media policies, the cranked-up spin from the administration’s PR machinery does not change the fact that Obama is doubling down on a commitment to routine surveillance of everyone, along with extreme measures specifically aimed at journalists — and whistleblowers.
The administration’s efforts to quash press freedom are in sync with its unrelenting persecution of whistleblowers. The purpose is to further choke off the flow of crucial information to the public, making informed “consent of the governed” impossible while imposing massive surveillance and other violations of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments. Behind the assault on civil liberties is maintenance of a warfare state with huge corporate military contracts and endless war. The whole agenda is repugnant and completely unacceptable.
Norman Solomon is the author of many books, including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death,” which has been adapted into a documentary film. For more information, go to: http://www.normansolomon.com
Barack Obama had been President for only one full day when, on Jan. 22, 2009, he acted on a central campaign promise. Arguing that the Founding Fathers would agree that America must “observe the core standards of conduct not just when it’s easy but also when it’s hard,” Obama signed an executive order to close the notorious military prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, where the Bush administration had detained hundreds of men captured in combat and counter terrorism operations since 2001. With dozens of men imprisoned for years without charges brought against them, and in many cases having actually been cleared for release, Obama said closing Guantánamo would return America to the “moral high ground” it had yielded in its ruthless pursuit of al-Qaeda during the Bush years. “I can tell you that the wrong answer is to pretend like this problem will go away,” Obama said in May 2009. “I refuse to pass it on to somebody else. It is my responsibility to solve the problem.”
Four years later, with Guantánamo still open–and the site of widespread hunger strikes and other acts of disobedience by many of its 166 inmates–Obama is again trying to fulfill that responsibility. In a May 23 address about a range of his counter-terrorism policies, including drone strikes, Obama declared the start of a new push against the political obstacles that thwarted his first attempt to close the most infamous symbol of the US’s post-9/11 war on terrorism. “[History] will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism and those of us who fail to end it,” Obama said.
But Obama will be hard pressed to live up to his grand rhetoric. Opposition still runs high to the idea of releasing or bringing into US prisons dozens of men widely considered dangerous terrorists even if many are not. Asked to gauge the probability that Obama can close Guantánamo before he leaves office, David Remes, a lawyer who represents 18 Guantánamo inmates replies, “Zero.” And even if Obama can shut down the site known colloquially as Gitmo, he hasn’t promised to end the practice of long-term incarceration without trial that along with interrogation techniques like waterboarding blighted the US’s track record for treating prisoners in the so-called global war on terrorism. The prison camp on Cuba’s southern tip may or may not be shuttered during Obama’s watch, but Gitmo, in the metaphorical sense, may never really close.
Nor is America’s long war on terrorism about to end. Obama’s speech revealed a man “haunted” by the deaths of innocents in drone strikes and wrestling with the balance between national security and the constitution’s integrity. But while he announced tighter standards for ordering drone strikes abroad (including an unspoken plan to partly shift the programme from the CIA to the theoretically more accountable Pentagon) and spoke of a day when the war might be declared over, Obama is retaining broad powers to detain or kill suspected terrorists, to conduct aggressive surveillance and to use military force in foreign nations. “To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties,” Obama said. “We must finish the work of defeating al-Qaeda and its associated forces.”
Hungry for Clarity
At last count, military medical personnel at Gitmo were force-feeding 35 of the more than 100 inmates who refuse to eat. Twice a day, those men are strapped into restraining chairs as tubes that run up their noses and down their throats fill their stomachs with a compound called Ensure, a supplement used by everyone from athletes to dieters. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called force-feeding a violation of international law, and the World Medical Association, of which the US is a member, declared in 1991 that the practice is “never ethically acceptable” unless a prisoner consents or is unable to make a rational choice. (The WMA calls it “ethical to allow a determined hunger striker to die.”)
Although Remes says he suspects the inmates at Gitmo are aware of the President’s speech and that some may even have watched it on television, he doubts that the hunger strikes will end anytime soon. “Obama has no credibility with the detainees,” he says. “I bet they didn’t even look up from their chessboards.” Then, recalling that after recent scuffles with their guards, inmates were barred from congregating, he adds, “No, they’re not playing chess. They’re not even allowed to be together.”
A lack of faith in Obama is one reason for the hunger strikes (although detainees have also alleged improper treatment by guards, including charges of mishandling Quran, that the military denies). Among the hunger strikers are 86 who have been declared safe for release–some of them by two different administrations–and who were crushed when Obama failed to deliver on his 2009 promise to close Gitmo.
Should They Stay or Should They Go?
Understanding why Gitmo hasn’t closed requires understanding who exactly is there. The camp holds three types of inmates, each posing different challenges. The first group consists of those 86 detainees deemed safe to release to their home countries or third nations, so long as they can be monitored and accounted for to ensure they don’t take up arms against the US The second group consists of suspected terrorists whom the administration is prosecuting or plans to charge with specific crimes. The third group consists of prisoners too dangerous to simply release–for reasons that could include a suspected organizational role in al-Qaeda, explosives training or in some cases an openly stated desire to kill Americans–but also impossible to put on trial, maybe because of evidence rendered inadmissible by torture; because the troops who captured them didn’t collect evidence; or because they supported al-Qaeda before the US made that a crime for foreigners overseas.
The first group is the easiest to deal with. Obama has the freedom to send the 86 men home on his own. Fifty-six of them are from Yemen–all of whom could be there by now had al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate, whose leaders included an ex–Gitmo detainee, not tried to bomb a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day 2009, leading Obama to halt detainee transfers back to the country. Obama now says improvements in the Yemeni government’s ability to monitor repatriated detainees allows him to lift his self-imposed moratorium on returning detainees there. He can likewise dispatch the rest of the cleared inmates to other countries unilaterally.
Republicans warn that even some of those detainees deemed safe for release will inevitably join forces with Islamic radicals–as did Saeed al-Shihri months after his 2007 release from Gitmo, eventually rising to the No. 2 spot in al-Qaeda’s Yemeni branch before being killed by a drone strike earlier this year. “I don’t trust the government” in Yemen, Republican Representative Peter King told ABC’s This Week on May 26. But they can’t prevent Obama from proceeding. How fast he’ll move is another question: Obama said each of the Yemenis must first undergo yet another review.
The second and third groups are considerably tougher cases. Obama would like to move the trials by military commissions now under way at Guantánamo to a location in the US and bring any new cases against prosecutable suspects on American soil, either in military or civilian courts. He also presumably intends to move to highly secure sites in the US the roughly 46 who can be neither released nor tried, until some solution can be found for them. But right now Obama can’t move any detainees into the US without Congress’s help. In 2009 he tried to resettle some low-risk prisoners in the US and also proposed trying alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other Gitmo inmates in federal court. A furious backlash from conservatives and even many Democrats who feared the soft-on-terrorists label prompted Congress to block inmate transfers into the US for any reason.
And while Obama’s May 23 speech may have stirred the hearts of some liberal supporters, it doesn’t seem to have moved the Republicans whose support he’ll need to move detainees into the US, particularly in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives. “I don’t get the sense that this pressure is having an impact” on House Republicans, says Representative Adam Smith, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. Many Republicans argue that the risk of detainees’ committing future acts of terrorism outweighs the damage Guantánamo does to the US’s image. And they have little interest in Obama’s appetite for moving more terrorism cases into civilian courts.
Lately Obama has tried speaking the language Republicans best understand–spending–by pointing out that each inmate at Gitmo costs $800,000 per year to house, for a total of about $150 million per year in operations. But when it comes to closing Gitmo, Smith says, many of the Republicans whose support Obama would need to approve transfers to US prisons have boxed themselves in politically. House Speaker John Boehner, for instance, has called the prison a “world-class facility” and in 2010 said he wouldn’t vote to close it “if you put a gun to my head.”
The broader themes of Obama’s speech may not have helped the Guantánamo cause either. Far from agreeing with the President’s talk of a severely weakened al-Qaeda and his aspiration to wind down the war on terrorism, some Republicans accused him of complacency and retreat. Newt Gingrich called Obama’s vision “breathtakingly, stunningly naive.” Such talk is hardly the groundwork for a new spirit of cooperation.
Some Problems Have No Solution
Even assuming that the president can close Gitmo by resettling some detainees in other countries and bringing the rest to trials and prisons in the US, a major problem will remain: What to do with the 48 detainees who can’t be tried or released for fear that they will return to the “battlefield” of the war on terrorism? After all, holding prisoners without charges would seem to violate the constitution’s fundamental habeas corpus guarantee. Obama doesn’t claim to have a clear answer, and his speech punted the question. He said only that “once we commit to a process of closing [Guantánamo], I am confident that this legacy problem can be resolved, consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.”
For now, Obama deals with this legal equivalent of radioactive waste by treating those inmates as prisoners of war. In March 2009, Obama’s lawyers filed a legal brief justifying detention of Gitmo detainees under the laws of war–in this case the war on al-Qaeda, made official by Congress’s September 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which allowed for the invasion of Afghanistan and other counter-terrorism efforts. Ironically, “while it decries Guantánamo as contrary to American values, the Obama administration has convinced courts of its legal validity,” says Matthew Waxman, a former Bush detainee policy official now at Columbia Law School.
Rather than see Obama stretch that validity in new directions, one prominent human rights lawyer has actually argued for keeping Gitmo open. Closing it now “would do more harm than good,” human rights lawyer and Georgetown law professor Jennifer Daskal wrote in a January New York Times op-ed, because it would mean simply opening up a similar camp in the US, thereby “setting a precedent and creating a facility readily available to future Presidents wanting to rid themselves of a range of potentially dangerous actors.”
According to this vision, Gitmo would close when the war on terrorism is finally considered over. Lawyers for detainees might argue that should happen once the US’s lead combat role in Afghanistan ends in late 2014, for instance. Obama also says he’d like Congress to revisit the AUMF, perhaps to narrow its scope or even to declare the war over. “Usually if you’re holding prisoners of war, you release them at the end of hostilities,” says C. Dixon Osburn of Human Rights First.
But at a recent Senate hearing on the AUMF, a top Pentagon official testified that the war on al-Qaeda could last 10 to 20 more years. Some Republicans, including Senator John McCain, have suggested that the law should be broadened, not narrowed or repealed.
Rhetoric about the founders aside, it’s hard to imagine Obama’s releasing trained al-Qaeda members who have not renounced terrorism into the wild, as it were. “The administration’s view seems to be that so long as it’s only a small number of very dangerous al-Qaeda terrorists, it is legitimate to hold them without trial,” Waxman says. Obama would prefer not to hold them in the prison that stains America’s international reputation. But he may find the moral high ground he seeks is simply out of his reach.
Did you hear the one about the pimp, the prostitute and the war criminal? It’s a national joke, according to left-wing TD Clare Daly.
Unlike the US in Guantanamo Bay, Ms Daly took no prisoners as she declared war on the G8 “fawn-fest” and everyone involved.
Fresh from being branded a “urinating clown” relieving himself on the Seanad by an irate Fianna Fáiler, Enda Kenny was down-graded to brothel-keeper-in-chief by Ms Daly as she laid into the “slobbering” over Michelle Obama and her husband — aka Mr “War Criminal”.
“It is difficult to decide which is worse, the outpourings of President Obama and his wife or the sycophantic fawning over them by the political establishment and sections of the media,” the United Left Alliance TD lamented.
In a lengthy leader’s questions broadside which the pimp — sorry, Taoiseach — branded a “rant”, Ms Daly let rip. Not even self-styled national saint Bono escaped her wrath.
Getting slightly confused about whether Enda was actually pimp or prostitute, Ms Daly declared: “Is it not the case that he has showcased us a nation of pimps prostituting ourselves in return for a pat on the head?
“We were speculating this morning about whether the Taoiseach would deck out the Cabinet in leprechaun hats decorated with stars and stripes to mark our abject humiliation.”
Though she didn’t mentioned the U2 star by name, he was clearly in her sights: “While we had separate and special news bulletins by the state broadcaster to tell us what Michelle Obama and her daughters had for lunch in Dublin, there was very little questioning of the fact that they were having lunch with Mr Tax Exile himself.”
A strange statement from someone who stood solidly by the Dáil’s very own tax cheat, Mick Wallace, to such an extent they could have their own mangled moniker — Click (Clare and Mick) — but Ms Daly was on a roll by this stage.
Turning céad mile fáilte into a hundred thousand digs, the Dublin TD, who describes herself as an internationalist, sounded oddly nationalistic as she took umbridge at Michelle daring to feel Irish: “The statement that Mrs Obama was glad to be home was barely challenged even though ‘home’ is a country she has been in for less than one week and to which her husband has only tenuous links.”
Go home Michelle, Clare does not want you or your husband here.
“Is the US president seeking the hypocrite of the century award?” Ms Daly asked in a question we suspect was rhetorical.
“The reality is that, by any serious examination, this man is a war criminal. This is the man who facilitated a 200% increase in the use of drones which have killed thousands, including hundreds of children,” the TD added in reference to Barack Obama’s call on youngsters in the North to seize the prize of peace.
Buried underneath all the name-calling, Ms Daly was actually trying to make a serious point about the use of Shannon by the US to arm Syrian rebels.
“The Taoiseach said no arms ever came through Shannon Airport. In 2012, some 548 US planes landed in Shannon Airport. How does he know what was on them if they were never examined?” she asked.
Mr Kenny branded the remarks “disgraceful”, but the image lingered of Enda slumped in a seedy Oirish doorway touting for trade with his little leprechaun hat on.
Many people have rallied in support of controversial Independent TD Clare Daly after her extraordinary attack on the visiting U.S. president Barack Obama and his family
Daly didn’t miss any punches on Wednesday morning in the Dail when she hit out at Obama, describing him as the “hypocrite of the century,” and “a war criminal.”
She pointed out while he was in Northern Ireland talking the merits of peace to teenagers there, his administration had increased drone attacks by 200%.
Daly said she was surprised Taoiseach Enda Kenny hadn’t asked his ministers to wear leprechaun hats and carry stars and stripes flags. She said Ireland’s government is “the lapdog of US imperialism.”
Six out of nine posters on The Independent’s forum page devoted to the outburst drew support for Clare.
“I never thought I’d see the day when I agreed with Clare Daly,” ‘Ewan’ wrote.
‘John B. Reid’ posted, “Fair play to Clare Daly for saying the unsayable regarding Ireland’s political and media prostitution of itself in the face of the Obamas. Not to mention the considerable amount of Irish taxpayer money spent (on An Garda Siochana, etc) chaperoning the Obamas’ ostentatious and grotesquely-sized entourage around Dublin and Wicklow.”
“I don’t believe that we should be discourteous to any well-known guests, but we need to maintain some self-respect,” he added.
‘Nuthatch 222’ said “she’s was right. spot on. i want to shake clare daly’s hand. stay in politics, clare, puhleeze.”
‘Stewie Griffin‘ provided the most extensive post. “It’s a sunny day in Ireland when a politician is telling the unvarnished truth in public about Ireland’s relationship with the United States,” he wrote. “It’s interesting to see how posters here criticize Clare Daly for being a “mouth”, ‘negative’ and ‘moaning’ because she refers to the fact that Barack Obama is a war criminal and the fact that he is a mammoth hypocrite.”
“Make no mistake: these are facts. Every Tuesday, Obama reviews and approves a list of names of people whom the US war machine has designated as a target for elimination,” wrote Griffin. “Those people, along with anyone in the immediate vicinity, are then destroyed by drones. Obama is therefore directly responsible for the slaughter of innocents. It would come as no surprise if he had signed off on another batch of people to be annihilated whilst staying in Fermanagh.”
“What is wrong with being negative in the face of such outrages? A negative stance with regard to imperial criminality and its facilitators is a positive stance with regard to justice, freedom and peace,” Griffin continued. “The real negativity comes from the slavish halfwits in Ireland who say you should keep your mouth shut in case the tourist industry takes a dive, or in case the Foreign Investment Fairy flits away somewhere else, and from the morons who lick up to Barack Obama and his family apparently because they transmit some sort of political glamour that means you can ignore his criminality and the fact he represents the interests of Wall Street and the military-industrial complex.”
|Spaniards hold anti–austerity demos
Deteriorating economic situation in Europe has created growing discontent among the European public, with many nations across the continent grappling with teetering economies. The European financial crisis began in early 2008. Insolvency now threatens …
Is there a Left in America today?
There is, of course, a Left ideology, a Left of the mind, a Left of theory and critique. But is there a Left movement?
Does the Left exist as an oppositional political, cultural or economic force? Is anyone intimidated or restrained by the Left? Is there a counterforce to the grinding machinery neoliberal capitalism and its political managers?
We can and do at CounterPunch and in similar publications, such as Monthly Review and the New Left Review, publish analyses of capitalism and its inherent vulnerabilities, catalogue its predations and wars of military conquest and imperial exploitation. But where is our capacity to confront the daily horrors of drone strikes, kill lists, mass layoffs, pension raids and the looming nightmare of climate change?
It is a bitter reality, brought into vivid focus by five years of Obama, that the Left is an immobilized and politically impotent force at the very moment when the economic inequalities engineered by our overlords at Goldman Sachs who manage the global economy, should have recharged a long-moribund resistance movement back to life.
Instead the Left seems powerless to co
alesce, to translate critique into practice, to mobilize against wars, to resist incursions against basic civil liberties, powerless to confront rule by the bondholders and hedgefunders, unable to meaningfully obstruct the cutting edge of a parasitical economic system that glorifies greed while preying on the weakest and most destitute, and incapable of confronting the true legacy of the man they put their trust in.
This is the politics of exhaustion. We have become a generation of leftovers. We have reached a moment of historical failure that would make even Nietzsche shudder.
We stand on the margins, political exiles in our own country, in a kind of mute darkness, a political occlusion, increasingly obsessed, as the radical art historian Tim Clark put it a few years ago in a disturbing essay in New Left Review, with the tragedy of our own defeat.
Consider this. Two-thirds of the American electorate oppose the ongoing war in Afghanistan. An equal amount objected to intervention in Libya. Even more recoil at the grim prospect of entering the Syrian theater.
Yet there is no antiwar movement to translate that seething disillusionment into action. There are no mass demonstrations. No systematic efforts to obstruct military recruiting. No nationwide strikes. No campus walkouts. No serious divestment campaigns against companies involved in drone technology.
Similar popular disgust is evident regarding the imposition of stern austerity measures during a prolonged and enervating recession. But once again this smoldering outrage has no political outlet in the current political climate, where both parties have fully embraced the savage bottom line math of neoliberalism.
Homelessness, rampant across America, is a verboten topic, unmentioned in the press, absent from political discourse. Hunger, a deepening crisis in rural and urban America, is a taboo subject, something left to religious pray-to-eat charities or the fickle whims of corporate write-offs.
What do they offer us, instead? Pious homilies about the work ethic, the sanctity of the family unit, the self-correcting laxative of market forces.
The economic immiseration of black America, brutal and unrelenting, is simply elided, erased from the political dialogue, even at jam sessions of the Congressional Black Caucus. Instead, whenever
Obama mentions the plight of black Americans (about once every two years by my count), as he did in his patronizing commencement addresses this spring, it is to chide blacks about cleaning up their acts, admonishing them to stop complaining about their circumstances and work harder at adopting the flight plan of white corporate culture.
The self-evident need for large-scale public works projects to green the economy and put people to work goes unmentioned, while the press and the politicians engage in a faux debate over the minutia of sequestration and sharpen each others knives to begin slashing Social Security and Medicare. Where’s the collective outrage? Where are the marches on the Capitol? The sit-ins in congressional offices?
A few weeks ago I wrote an essay on the Obama administration’s infamous memo justifying drone strikes inside countries like Pakistan and Yemen that the US is not officially at war against. In one revealing paragraph, a Justice Department lawyer cited Richard Nixon’s illegal bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War as a precedent for Obama’s killer drone strikes. Let’s recall that the bombing of Cambodia prompted several high-ranking officials in the Nixon cabinet to resign, including CounterPunch writer Roger Morris. It also sparked the student uprising at Kent State, which lead the Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes to declare a state of emergency, ordering the National Guard to rush the campus. The Guard troops promptly began firing at the protesters, killing four and wounding nine. The war had come home.
Where are those protests today?
The environment is unraveling, thread by thread, right before our eyes. Each day brings more dire news. Amphibians are in stark decline across North America. Storms of unimaginable ferocity are strafing the Great Plains week after week. The Arctic will soon be ice-free. The water table is plummeting in the world’s greatest aquifer. The air is carcinogenic in dozens of California cities. The spotted owl is still going extinct. Wolves are beginning gunned down by the hundreds across the Rocky Mountains. Bees, the great pollinators, are disappearing coast-to-coast, wiped out by chemical agriculture. Hurricane season now lasts from May to December. And about all the environmental movement can offer in resistance are a few designer protests against a pipeline which is already a fait accompli.
Our politics has gone sociopathic and liberals in America have been pliant to every abuse, marinated in the toxic silt of Obama’s mordant rhetoric. They eagerly swallow every placebo policy Obama serves them, dutifully defending every incursion against fundamental rights. And each betrayal only serves to make his adoring retinue crave his smile; his occasional glance and nod all the more urgently. Still others on the dogmatic Left circle endlessly, like characters consigned to their eternal roles by Dante, in the ideological cul-de-sac of identity politics.
How much will we stomach before rising up? A fabricated war, a looted economy, a scalded atmosphere, a despoiled gulf, the loss of habeas corpus, the assassination of American citizens…
One looks in vain across this vast landscape of despair for even the dimmest flickers of real rebellion and popular mutiny, as if surveying a nation of somnambulists.
We remain strangely impassive in the face of our own extinction.
Was he surprised, asked Bill Plante of CBS News, that the 100 or so prisoners who were participating in the protest preferred death over indefinite confinement?
Tapping his finger on the lectern and speaking in a clipped cadence, Obama did not mince words in response. “Guantanamo is not necessary to keep us safe,” he said. “It is expensive. It is inefficient… It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.”
He then pledged to rededicate himself to the challenge of shutting the prison. “I’m going to go back at this,” he bluntly resolved.
For anyone who has followed the saga of Guantanamo Bay over the past few years, Obama’s words were nothing short of shocking. It had been a long time since his efforts to close Gitmo had collapsed — done in by congressional obstruction, by political realities, and even, to an extent, by Obama himself.
During the intervening period, there had been little evidence that Obama cared to return to the issue. He hadn’t uttered the word Guantanamo in a State of the Union address since 2009. Nor was there even anybody in charge of driving the initiative. The prevailing attitude toward Gitmo within the White House administration seemed to be “out of sight, out of mind”.
Like the 166 prisoners languishing in the facility, the president’s policy seemed entirely stuck in limbo.
Now Obama, with no public warning, had suddenly committed himself to making another run at what had thus far proved to be the most Sisyphean of all his policy goals. Could he possibly have meant what he said? Was he really ready to restart this particular political fight?
In a word, yes. According to three administration sources, the president’s sudden rhetorical plunge back into the Guantanamo morass reflected a calculated, highly personal decision — one borne of both frustration at his team and a measure of personal regret about his failure to solve the problem sooner.
It all dates to March, when Obama started seeing disturbing reports about the hunger strike at the prison. Twice daily, detainees were being shackled at the wrists and ankles to restraint chairs and force-fed by Navy medics, a process that involved snaking long tubes through their nasal passages, down the backs of their throats, and into their stomachs to pump in cans of Ensure, a nutritional supplement. The painful procedure often provokes gagging and vomiting.
Meanwhile, John Kelly, the marine general overseeing Guantanamo, made a stunning admission before a congressional committee on Mar 20: He attributed the hunger strike directly to the perception that Obama, after promising to close the prison, had given up, effectively abandoning the detainees.
“They were devastated when the president backed off — at least their perception — of closing the facility,” he testified.
According to one presidential adviser, Obama, troubled by what he was hearing, began digging back into his policy to see where things stood and what else could be done. What followed was a flurry of activity. Shutting down the facility would likely entail freeing some prisoners, transferring some to jails in other countries, prosecuting some, and moving still others — those being held indefinitely — to US prisons.
To rally public support for this effort, Newsweek has learned, Obama plans to give a major speech partly devoted to the subject, possibly as soon as later this month. “Obama has no illusions about how hard this is,” says a former administration official. “But he also knows that he will own this bit of history just as much as George Bush does” — if, that is, he doesn’t make substantial progress toward fixing it.
Throughout his presidency, pleas for action on Guantanamo from civil libertarians, friends, and top advisers have reportedly tugged at Obama’s conscience. But politics and a weary fatalism subsumed action nearly every time.
One recent plea, two sources told Newsweek, came from Hillary Clinton, who, just before she left office in Jan 2013, sent a two-page confidential memo to Obama about Guantanamo. Clinton had, during her years in the administration, occasionally jumped into the fray to push the issue. One of those occasions was at a White House meeting of Obama’s national security principals in Aug t 2010. “We are throwing the president’s commitment to close Guantanamo into the trash bin,” she chastised White House aides.
“We are doing him a disservice by not working harder on this.”
But, at the end of the day, Clinton had little leverage to get the White House to act. Now, in one of her last moves as secretary of state, she was making a final effort to prod her boss to do more. Her memo was replete with practical suggestions for moving ahead.
Chief among them: Obama needed to appoint a high-level official to be in charge of the effort, someone who had clout and proximity to the Oval Office. Further, Clinton argued that Obama could start transferring the 86 detainees who had already been cleared for release.
The Clinton missive perturbed White House aides, who viewed it as an attempt to put them on the spot. It’s unclear how Obama himself reacted to the memo; there’s no evidence it spurred him to action. But the mere fact Clinton felt the need to write it was noteworthy, because it suggested the degree to which Guantanamo remained an irritant for her and many other high-level administration officials as well.
One of Obama’s very first tactical moves on Guantanamo backfired spectacularly. His plan to bring to the US a handful of detainees — Chinese Uighurs who were cleared by the courts — caused a political furore. Obama pulled the plug on the plan, and Congress soon began passing measures to restrict transfers out of Gitmo.
For Obama’s advisers, the episode demonstrated that the toxic politics of terrorism could overwhelm the administration’s domestic agenda; for civil libertarians, it was an ominous sign that Obama lacked the political will to aggressively engage Congress.
Even some of Obama’s top national-security aides were frustrated with the White House’s timid approach toward Congress. John Brennan — then Obama’s counter-terrorism czar, now his CIA chief — believed the administration needed to show more backbone in its dealings with Congress.
Brennan’s outrage was fuelled by the knowledge that many detainees, who were still at Guantanamo after years of detention, had no record of terrorism.
A few weeks after the Uighur debacle, Obama made his first attempt to save his faltering Guantanamo policy: in a sweeping address he laid out a detailed plan for closing the prison. But in the end, however eloquent, it was only a speech. It did not push the policy forward.
Things only got worse from there. On Christmas Day 2009, the so-called underwear bomber attempted to bring down a plane over Detroit — a plot directed by al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate. The near miss took a powerful psychic toll on the White House, still dogged by the perception that Democrats were weak on national security.
Obama became convinced that he could not send any of the nearly 100 Yemeni detainees at Gitmo back to their home country, for fear they would link up with extremists and begin plotting attacks against America. Suddenly, the fate of the Yemenis was another giant obstacle to closing the prison.
Then came the unravelling of Attorney General Eric Holder’s plans to try some Gitmo detainees, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in New York. Obama had initially backed Holder’s decision. But when it blew up in Congress, he seemed to equivocate.
His own chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, actually worked behind the scenes with Republican senators to undermine Holder’s initiative, according to multiple sources. Once the plan showed cracks, lawmakers smelled blood. They began passing ever more restrictive legislation tying the administration’s hands on Guantanamo.
For much of the past few years, without any signal that Obama was going to fight on Gitmo, the policy drifted.
Even the steps Obama took to move things forward were of a highly limited nature. One of those steps came in Mar 2011, when Obama issued an executive order designed to solve a thorny problem.
Forty-eight of the detainees could not be prosecuted, either for lack of evidence or because they had been tortured — yet were nonetheless considered too dangerous to release.
This meant they had to be held in indefinite detention, a prospect that troubled Obama. His compromise, issued via executive order, was to set up Periodic Review Boards — administrative bodies that would allow such prisoners to challenge their incarceration, including by presenting new evidence.
It was hardly ideal from a civil liberties perspective. And Obama was worried about the precedent he’d be setting by embracing a regime of detention without trial, likening it to leaving behind a “loaded weapon” for future presidents. But at least the review boards would give detainees some limited version of due process — and the possibility, however remote, of being transferred or released.
Fast forward to now. As Obama, concerned about the hunger strike, began looking into the issue, he found something that, according to officials, infuriated him: Two years after his Mar 2011 executive order, the Periodic Review Boards had not yet gotten off the ground, despite that the order had called for them to be up and running within a year.
Some Obama officials shifted blame to the CIA, which they said had slowed down the process.
One source directly involved in the controversy says CIA officials were balking at sharing any more information about the agency’s infamous detention and interrogation programme — a subject that would have likely come up during review-board hearings.
As word of Obama’s reaction filtered back though the national security agencies, a new effort was launched to resolve the interagency disputes over the review boards. And a frustrated Obama directed his staff to redouble its efforts to identify creative solutions to the Guantanamo conundrum, including measures he could take unilaterally.
Today, many of the options on the table are the ones spelled out in the Clinton memo several months ago.
But the reality, of course, is that Obama cannot close Gitmo by himself. He’s going to need Congress to sign off. And therein lies the central challenge. To date, the public’s emotional response to terrorism has made Gitmo a ripe target for political demagoguery on Capitol Hill.
So how to cajole self-interested lawmakers to take a major political risk on behalf of 166 men who have little or no constituency? Obama’s answer seems to be that he is going to make his case to the public.
In the coming days, Obama plans to address both Guantanamo and drones — another festering, controversial element of the administration’s national security agenda — in a broad “framing” speech that will try to knit together an overarching approach to counterterrorism. In the speech, Obama plans to lay out a legal framework for the administration’s evolving strategies on targeting, detention, and prosecution, according to two senior officials who have been briefed on its contents. The delicate process of putting together such a major presidential statement has apparently taken months and involved arduous interagency wrangling. It had been scheduled for last month but was then abruptly rescheduled. Sources say Obama wants to use the speech to take stock of the war on terror in the wake of such seminal events as the killing of bin Laden and the looming withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan.
The speech could serve as the White House’s opening shot in its campaign to solve the Guantanamo riddle. But Obama’s critics will be sceptical — likely branding it another attempt to bend the arc of history with mere eloquence.
It would fit a pattern on rule-of-law issues, they say, in which Obama’s lofty rhetoric is rarely followed by resolute action — especially when it comes to standing up to Congress. According to this narrative, Obama expresses righteous indignation, but then is persuaded by his political team that the time is not right to fight.
Or he threatens to veto legislation that shackles him on Guantanamo, but then fails to go through with the threat. The dynamic, critics say, creates a self-fulfilling cycle that emboldens congressional Republicans and weakens the president.
His supporters argue that instead of giving up, Obama has shifted to a long-road strategy, which sometimes requires backing down from epic confrontations in the hope that over time the politics will turn his way.
In at least one area — prosecuting suspected terrorists in civilian courts — that approach may be working. Though Obama caved to criticism and backed down on trying KSM in court back in 2011, he subsequently decided to have a string of captured terrorists tried in the civilian justice system, the latest being Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston bomber. Over time, the criticism has dwindled to barely a peep.
Will Obama stand up to Congress on Gitmo during his second term?
Even some civil libertarians — Obama’s fiercest critics on Guantanamo — are optimistic that he has built up the resolve to finally fix the situation. “I am more optimistic this time around, because he’s no longer naive about the politics,” says David Cole, a professor of constitutional law and national security at Georgetown.
“He’s lived through four years of stalemate on this, so the fact that he was nonetheless as strong and passionate about his concerns suggests to me that he really has made a renewed commitment to take it on.”
Whether or not Cole is right, Gitmo does appear for now at least to have Obama’s attention again. Indeed, if there’s a silver lining in the events of the past four years for civil libertarians, it’s that, while Obama hasn’t figured out a way to close Gitmo, he also hasn’t figured out a way, in his own mind, to let the issue go.
* Daniel Klaidman is the national political correspondent for Newsweek and The Daily Beast and the author of Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency.
The hunger strike by prisoners held at the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo, Cuba, is growing, as their fight against abusive conditions and open-ended detention gains international attention.
The number of prisoners reported on hunger strike increased sharply following an April 13 raid by U.S. soldiers that put nearly every detainee into solitary lockdown.
The hunger strike began Feb. 6 after guards went through prisoners’ Korans, supposedly in search of contraband. Soldiers also seized “comfort items” such as family pictures and mail.
By April 27 some 100 of the 166 remaining Guantánamo prisoners were refusing to eat, according to U.S. officials. Attorneys for some detainees say the figure is actually closer to 130. The military is currently force-feeding 23 prisoners through their nostrils. Five of them have been hospitalized.
American Medical Association President Dr. Jeremy Lazarus stated in an April 25 letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that “force feeding of detainees violates core ethical values of the medical profession,” according to the Miami Herald.
“There is a growing problem of more and more detainees on a hunger strike,” Dianne Feinstein, Democratic senator and chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote in an April 25 letter to President Barack Obama’s national security director. Feinstein requested the administration review the status of the 86 detainees cleared for release or transfer in the past, to find “suitable places to continue to hold or resettle these detainees either in their home countries or third countries.”
The International Red Cross also sent a delegation to the Guantánamo prison at the end of April for an “assessment visit.”
Some media coverage of the Guantánamo hunger strike has recalled the worldwide attention and political embarrassment for the U.K. created by the 1981 hunger strike by Bobby Sands and other Irish prisoners, 10 of whom died. Imprisoned in northern Ireland, they refused food to press their demand to be treated as political prisoners by the government of then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
At an April 30 White House news conference Obama said he thinks the Guantánamo prison should be closed. “It is expensive. It is inefficient. It hurts us in terms of our international standing,” he said. “I don’t want these people to die.”
A total of 779 detainees have spent time in Guantánamo since January 2002, when then President George W. Bush opened the prison camp following the Sept. 11, 2001, bombings of the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Some 613 of these have been released or transferred, most under the Bush administration, and nine have died.
Despite a January 2009 presidential executive order pledging to close the prison within a year, it has remained open. In May 2009, Obama ordered the resumption of military tribunals for some prisoners, after initially suspending their use, and affirmed that certain detainees would be held indefinitely without charges.
In November 2009 the administration made a short-lived attempt to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators in federal court for the Sept. 11 attacks. The five prisoners are now being tried by a military commission in Guantánamo, along with a sixth, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, charged in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen.
A month later Obama halted the transfer of further Guantánamo prisoners to Yemen, following an attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner that was traced to al-Qaeda’s branch in that country.
“There are 86 prisoners approved by Obama’s own task force for transfer. But until the hunger strike started, Obama was sitting back and doing nothing,” Andy Worthington, a British journalist who has written extensively on Guantánamo, said in a phone interview.
Supporters of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident still imprisoned in Guantánamo, demonstrated April 24 outside Parliament in London, to demand his release. More than 117,000 people signed an online petition calling on the British government to take “new initiatives to achieve the immediate transfer of Shaker Aamer to the U.K.,” which prompted a parliamentary debate on his detention. Families and other supporters of the Yemeni detainees have also held protests demanding their freedom.
Americans deserve to hear the dirty secrets of the CIA’s war on terror. We’ll all be better off with the truth.
In April 1975, Sen. Frank Church impaneled a special investigative committee to look into shocking accounts of CIA dirty tricks. The Church Committee ultimately published 14 reports over two years revealing a clandestine agency that was a law unto itself — plotting to assassinate heads of state (Castro, Diem, Lumumba, Trujillo), carrying out weird experiments with LSD, and suborning American journalists. As a result, President Gerald Ford issued an executive order banning the assassination of foreign leaders, the House and Senate established standing intelligence committees, and the United States set up the so-called FISA courts, which oversee request for surveillance warrants against suspected foreign agents.
But the war on terror unleashed the CIA once again to carry out dark deeds against America’s enemies — torture, secret detention, and “rendition” to “black sites” across the world. How have Americans reckoned, this time, with the immoral and illegal acts carried out in their name? They have not: the CIA has retained control over the narrative. As the Constitution Project’s Detainee Treatment report describes in great detail, the CIA falsely reported — to the White House as well as to the public — that torture “worked” in wresting crucial information from high-level detainees, and thus needed to be an instrument available to interrogators. Officials like Vice President Dick Cheney repeated ad nauseum that the CIA’s dark arts had saved thousands of lives. Is it any wonder that a plurality of Americans think the United States should torture terrorists?
I wrote last month about the detainee treatment report, but I find it incredibly frustrating — and all too telling — that the findings were overwhelmed by the tidal wave of coverage of the Boston bombing. Because we fear terrorism far more viscerally than we feared communism — certainly by 1975 — we are all too susceptible to the view that America cannot afford to live by its own professed values. But of course that’s what Chileans and Brazilians thought in the 1970s. That’s why Sri Lankans have granted themselves the right to slaughter homegrown terrorists wholesale, and react furiously to any hint of criticism.
People give themselves a pass unless and until they are forced to face the truth, which is why a public airing of history is so important — and so politically fraught. There’s always a compelling reason to avoid facing the ugly truth. In early 2009, Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called for an independent commission to investigate allegations of torture. But President Barack Obama’s spokesman said that the proposal would not be “workable.” We know what he meant: you can hardly blame the president for avoiding a colossal fight with Republicans over the past, especially, when he had so many fights he needed to wage over the future.
Obama probably thought that he could put the problem to rest by ending torture as well as the cult of secrecy surrounding CIA practices. He succeeded on the first count, but failed on the latter. In April 2009, he agreed to release the so-called “torture” memos written by President George W. Bush’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), as well as photos of prisoner abuse from Iraq and Afghanistan. But then, after a fierce debate inside the White House said to pit Obama’s military commanders against his counselor, Gregory Craig, among others, the administration reversed itself. The president later signed legislation allowing him to withhold the pictures if he determined that the release would harm national security.
Once adopted, the logic of national security carries all before it. The release of the OLC memos, the detainee treatment report notes, was the high-water mark of Obama-era transparency on torture. CIA reports on the death of three prisoners in custody as well as on broad policy towards detainees remain classified; so do the results of inquiries by the armed forces criminal investigation division. The agency’s ability to withhold information probably contributed to the Justice Department’s decision not to pursue indictments on any of the 100 or so cases of CIA mistreatment which it investigated. Defense lawyers in the military trial of the “9/11 defendants” held at Guantanamo have had to work around a “protection order” which classifies entire subject areas — including anything related to the defendants’ arrest or capture, the conditions in which they were held, or the interrogation techniques to which they were subjected. Whatever becomes of the defendants, Americans will learn nothing from the trials.
On matters of secrecy, Obama has been little better than Bush. This has become notorious in the case of the drone program, a centerpiece of Obama’s prosecution of the war on terror. In a recent speech at the Oxford Union, Harold Koh, the former chief counsel of the State Department, said that the administration has failed to be “transparent about legal standards and the decision-making process that it has been applying.”
I asked Koh why the White House has so regularly deferred to the CIA on issues of transparency and accountability. Koh pointed out that the CIA’s concern that exposing past bad acts could serve as a recruiting tool for al Qaeda was hardly trivial. But, he said of the White House: “They don’t have a good balancing mechanism on the value of disclosures. It’s almost like if nobody’s clamoring for it, the pressure can be resisted.” The pressure comes from the outside — from the press, from civil-liberties groups, and activists — but not from the inside. So the CIA carries the day.
And yet it’s not too late to expose, and learn from, the sorry history of the last decade. Last December, the Senate Intelligence Committee approved a 6,000-page report on the finding of its secret investigation into the treatment of detainees. The report, which has not been made public, describes the CIA’s detention program in minute detail. Among other things, it puts to rest the canard that torture works. In his confirmation hearings, CIA director John Brennan admitted that the report had led him to question “the information that I was given at the time” that so-called “enhanced techniques” had saved lives.
Brennan has learned this; other Americans may not have the chance. The CIA is likely to both dispute the findings and to try to keep them secret. In a letter to Obama, Sen. Mark Udall complained that Brennan had shown “little to no interest” in working with his staff, and had already missed the deadline for response by more than two months. A congressional aide said that there was no sign that the White House had even examined the report, much less prepared a response.
The good news is that the irrepressible Vice President Joe Biden recently advocated publishing the findings, saying that Americans needed to “excise the demons” through a full disclosure of past abuses. Biden even compared the redemptive value of facing the truth on torture to the effect of the war-crimes tribunals on Germany. Obama probably didn’t authorize the analogy, but he may well have signed off on the position — in which case the comment should be read as a pre-emptive shot across the CIA’s bow.
In the course of questioning Brennan during Senate hearings, Sen. Udall quoted Howard Baker, the widely admired Republican moderate from the bygone age of Republican moderates, to the effect that the Church Committee report may well have weakened the CIA in the short run, but strengthened it in the long run — by reminding the agency of what it should as well as shouldn’t do. Apparently even the CIA agrees, since its website carries an admiring description of the committee’s findings. If and when the Senate Intelligence Committee report is made public, in whole or in part, current and former CIA officials, conservative pundits, and Republican politicians will no doubt join as one to warn that America’s national security has been compromised, its enemies emboldened, its intelligence operatives compromised. That’s what they said in 1975. They were wrong then, and they will be wrong now.