Tortuous Debates

This op-ed by Frank Rich at NYT should put an end to them.  But won’t:

Five years after the Abu Ghraib revelations, we must acknowledge that our government methodically authorized torture and lied about it. But we also must contemplate the possibility that it did so not just out of a sincere, if criminally misguided, desire to “protect” us but also to promote an unnecessary and catastrophic war. Instead of saving us from “another 9/11,” torture was a tool in the campaign to falsify and exploit 9/11 so that fearful Americans would be bamboozled into a mission that had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. The lying about Iraq remains the original sin from which flows much of the Bush White House’s illegality.

Read the whole thing here

Time & Elections

From the article US Torture: Voices from the Black Sites by Mark Danner at NYRB on the report of the International Committee of the Red Cross on the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay [pdf]:

We think time and elections will cleanse our fallen world but they will not. Since November, George W. Bush and his administration have seemed to be rushing away from us at accelerating speed, a dark comet hurtling toward the ends of the universe. The phrase “War on Terror”—the signal slogan of that administration, so cherished by the man who took pride in proclaiming that he was “a wartime president”—has acquired in its pronouncement a permanent pair of quotation marks, suggesting something questionable, something mildly embarrassing: something past. And yet the decisions that that president made, especially the monumental decisions taken after the attacks of September 11, 2001—decisions about rendition, surveillance, interrogation—lie strewn about us still, unclaimed and unburied, like corpses freshly dead.

How should we begin to talk about this? Perhaps with a story. Stories come to us newborn, announcing their intent: Once upon a time… In the beginning… From such signs we learn how to listen to what will come. Consider:

I woke up, naked, strapped to a bed, in a very white room. The room measured approximately 4m x 4m [13 feet by 13 feet]. The room had three solid walls, with the fourth wall consisting of metal bars separating it from a larger room. I am not sure how long I remained in the bed….

A man, unnamed, naked, strapped to a bed, and for the rest, the elemental facts of space and of time, nothing but whiteness.

Obama Amazes Hysperia

She just wishes it wasn’t in this way, for this reason:

… the Obama administration — in the case brought by two American lawyers and their charity-client claiming that their conversations were illegally intercepted by the Bush administration — has announced that it intends to try to appeal, yet again, in order to prevent the court from hearing the lawsuit.  On Friday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Obama’s request to stay the District Judge’s Order, which had held that it will review a classified document that the plaintiffs claim proves they were subjected to the illegal eavesdropping (thus conferring standing on the plaintiffs to challenge the legality of Bush’s NSA program), and also ordered the Obama administration to provide security clearances to the plaintiffs’ lawyers so that they could review the document as well.  The Obama DOJ immediately announced they intend to try to appeal again — the third time, since Obama’s Inauguration, that the Obama DOJ will try to argue before a court that the case should not heard at all.

In the meantime, though, the Obama DOJ is now refusing to comply with the Judge’s order, actually arguing to the court that only the President can decide whether classified information can be used in a court proceeding, and that courts have no power to make such decisions.  Here is the remarkable description of Obama’s actions by The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Bob Egelko:

Read the rest and sigh with me here … gotta hope like hell that Obama doesn’t win this one.

UPDATE:  From Matt Browner Hamlin

The similarities between the Obama administration’s response to the 9th Circuit Court’s ruling in the Al-Haramain case, requiring the government to turn over classified information and the legal views espoused under the Bush-Cheney administration by the likes of John Yoo and David Addington are simply stunning.

Read the whole thing here

InConvenient Questions!

On Friday, the US Justice Department, Barack Obama’s Justice Department, told a federal court that it shouldn’t consider the legal challenges of prisoners held at Bagram Prison near Kabul and under US control:

In a short legal filing, Justice Department lawyers said they planned to maintain the Bush administration’s claim that the roughly 600 prisoners held in Afghaninstan have no right to contest their detention in the courts. “The Government adheres to its previously articulated position,” the attorneys said.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that war-on-terror prisoners at Guantanamo Bay have the right to file court petitions because the U.S. has “de facto sovereignty” over the base, located on land leased from Cuba.

However, the Justice Department has argued that prisoners in Afghanistan, held at the Bagram Airbase outside Kabul, lack recourse to the courts because the U.S. does not have similar control over that region.

“Bagram is in a theater of war where the United States is engaged in active hostilities,” so extending those legal rights to the prisoners would be “impracticable,” Justice Department lawyers argued in a brief filed last November. They also argued that the habeas petitions are barred by the Military Commissions Act of 2006, a law Obama vocally opposed.   [more]

How large does the area of de facto sovereignty have to be?  Big as Bagram?  Bigger?

How big is a “theater of war” that isn’t a war on a nation but on an activity, i.e. terrorism?  Very, very big?

How difficult would it be, or should I say “impracticable”, for the US to set up a system for holding hearings in or around Bagram?

How long can the US hold prisoners in places like Bagram without hearings?  Till the war on terror is over?

NB:  The US is now handing over thousands of its prisoners to Iraq according to a security agreement that took effect on January 1st.  Do they remember or care that Iraq is known to torture and mistreat its prisoners?

Articles 10 and 12 of  The Geneva Convention govern the “transferrability” of prisoners of Afghanistan and Iraq.  Prisoners can only be transferrred between countries that are both signatories of the Convention.  The Republic of Afghanistan is not a signatory.  Prisoners cannot be transferred by an occupying authority into the hands of the country it occupies.  Iraq is occupied.

Back to Afghanistan.  When Canadian forces take prisoners, should they turn them over to the US when it’s widely known the Americans torture their prisoners?

I remember watching a movie that began with an trip into an Morrocan prison where infidels had languished for so long the bony hands of skeletons were clamped to the mouldering walls.

Please write to me if you have answers.

UPDATE:

The word “Guantanamo” serves as shorthand among some Afghans for all the reasons they hate foreign troops, but the impending closing of the notorious prison has gotten surprisingly little attention in this country.

Nothing changed with last month’s U.S. presidential order to close Guantanamo, many people here say, because another prison inspires even greater fear: Bagram.

Even a man who could be expected to feel the most joy about Guantanamo closing, a former detainee who spent more than six years in the camp, quickly turns the conversation to the detention facility north of Kabul, inside the U.S. military base at Bagram.  [more]

Facist Bureaucrat

From “An Oral History of the Bush White House: Politics and Power” at Vanity Fair:

We had this confluence of characters—and I use that term very carefully—that included people like Powell, Dick Cheney, Condi Rice, and so forth, which allowed one perception to be “the dream team.” It allowed everybody to believe that this Sarah Palin–like president—because, let’s face it, that’s what he was—was going to be protected by this national-security elite, tested in the cauldrons of fire. What in effect happened was that a very astute, probably the most astute, bureaucratic entrepreneur I’ve ever run into in my life became the vice president of the United States.

He became vice president well before George Bush picked him. And he began to manipulate things from that point on, knowing that he was going to be able to convince this guy to pick him, knowing that he was then going to be able to wade into the vacuums that existed around George Bush—personality vacuum, character vacuum, details vacuum, experience vacuum.

Lawrence Wilkerson, top aide and later Chief of Staff to Colin Powell

And this:

That night, on 9/11, Rumsfeld came over and the others, and the president finally got back, and we had a meeting. And Rumsfeld said, You know, we’ve got to do Iraq, and everyone looked at him—at least I looked at him and Powell looked at him—like, What the hell are you talking about? And he said—I’ll never forget this—There just aren’t enough targets in Afghanistan. We need to bomb something else to prove that we’re, you know, big and strong and not going to be pushed around by these kind of attacks.

And I made the point certainly that night, and I think Powell acknowledged it, that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. That didn’t seem to faze Rumsfeld in the least.

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. It really didn’t, because from the first weeks of the administration they were talking about Iraq. I just found it a little disgusting that they were talking about it while the bodies were still burning in the Pentagon and at the World Trade Center.

Richard Clarke, chief White House counterterrorism adviser

And this:

October 7, 2001 American and British forces begin an aerial campaign against Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, where al-Qaeda has its base, followed weeks later by a ground invasion. The Taliban government falls and al-Qaeda is routed from some of its strongholds. One person captured is John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban. His handling proves to be a harbinger. The Defense Department’s general counsel, Jim Haynes, authorizes military intelligence to “take the gloves off.”

I was called with the specific question of whether or not the F.B.I. on the ground could interrogate [Lindh] without counsel. And I had been told unambiguously that Lindh’s parents had retained counsel for him. I gave that advice on a Friday, and the same attorney at Justice who inquired called back on Monday and said essentially, Oops, they did it anyway. They interrogated him anyway. What should we do now? My office was there to help correct mistakes. And I said, Well, this is an unethical interrogation, so you should seal it off and use it only for intelligence-gathering purposes or national security, but not for criminal prosecution.

A few weeks later, Attorney General Ashcroft held one of his dramatic press conferences, in which he announced a complaint being filed against Lindh. He was asked if Lindh had been permitted counsel. And he said, in effect, To our knowledge, the subject has not requested counsel. That was just completely false. About two weeks after that he held another press conference, because this was the first high-profile terrorism prosecution after 9/11. And in that press conference he was asked again about Lindh’s rights, and he said that Lindh’s rights had been carefully, scrupulously guarded, which, again, was contrary to the facts, and contrary to the picture that was circulating around the world of Lindh blindfolded, gagged, naked, bound to a board.

Jessalyn Radack, ethics adviser at the Department of Justice

And this:

When I arrived in New York, in July 1998, it was quite clear to me that all the members of the Security Council, including the United States, knew well that there was no current work being done on any kind of nuclear-weapons capability in Iraq.

It was, therefore, extraordinary to me that later on in this saga there should have been any kind of hint that Iraq had a current capability. Of course, there were worries that Iraq might try, if the opportunity presented itself, to reconstitute that capability. And therefore we kept a very close eye, as governments do in their various ways, on Iraq trying to get hold of nuclear base materials, such as uranium or uranium yellowcake, or trying to get the machinery that was necessary to develop nuclear-weapons-grade material.

We were watching this the whole time. There was never any proof, never any hard intelligence, that they had succeeded in doing that. And the American system was entirely aware of this.

Sir Jeremy Redstock, British Ambassador to the U.N. and later the British special representative in Iraq

[…]

November 4, 2002 Defying precedent, the Republicans make decisive gains in the midterm elections; the White House interprets the results as an across-the-board green light. In an interview with Esquire released in December, John J. Dilulio Jr., the former head of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, complains that the “compassionate conservative” agenda is dead and that politics alone drives the White House.

I happened to be in the stairwell of the West Wing when the president was walking down, and he goes, Hey! He goes, Dilulio piece. He goes, Is this true? Is this … I mean, is this stuff … is this, is he right? What the hell’s goin’ on?

And whoever was with him at the time—it was probably Andy Card, Andy and Karl—they were like, Oh, no, no, no, no, no, it’s fine. We’ll get back to it. That afternoon we get a call from Josh Bolten, who was at the time the head of domestic policy, saying, O.K., we need to have a “compassion” meeting.

I’ll never forget the discussion—we’re sitting around the table, and someone says, I know what we should do. We should tackle chronic homelessness. I hear there are like 15,000 homeless people in America.

What can you say to that?

David Kuo, deputy director to the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives [more]

I can think of a few things to say.  In all likelihood, I’ve said them all.

It’s not okay to let all of this go and move on, as Barack Obama has said.  The Bush administration needs to be held accountable before moving on can be healthy and wise and can lead to new restrictions on executive power that will make future administrations accountable.  It’s called democracy; it’s called the rule of law.

Afghanistan Plan?

Ann Jones at Tomdispatch on the “Afghanistan Boondoggle”:

The first of 20,000 to 30,000 additional U.S. troops are scheduled to arrive in Afghanistan next month to re-win the war George W. Bush neglected to finish in his eagerness to start another one. However, “winning” the military campaign against the Taliban is the lesser half of the story.

Going into Afghanistan, the Bush administration called for a political campaign to reconstruct the country and thereby establish the authority of a stable, democratic Afghan central government. It was understood that the two campaigns — military and political/economic — had to go forward together; the success of each depended on the other. But the vision of a reconstructed, peaceful, stable, democratically governed Afghanistan faded fast. Most Afghans now believe that it was nothing but a cover story for the Bush administration’s real goal — to set up permanent bases in Afghanistan and occupy the country forever.

Whatever the truth of the matter, in the long run, it’s not soldiers but services that count — electricity, water, food, health care, justice, and jobs. Had the U.S. delivered the promised services on time, while employing Afghans to rebuild their own country according to their own priorities and under the supervision of their own government — a mini-Marshall Plan — they would now be in charge of their own defense. The forces on the other side, which we loosely call the Taliban, would also have lost much of their grounds for complaint.

Instead, the Bush administration perpetrated a scam. It used the system it set up to dispense reconstruction aid to both the countries it “liberated,” Afghanistan and Iraq, to transfer American taxpayer dollars from the national treasury directly into the pockets of private war profiteers. Think of Halliburton, Bechtel, and Blackwater in Iraq; Louis Berger Group, Bearing Point, and DynCorp International in Afghanistan. They’re all in it together. So far, the Bush administration has bamboozled Americans about its shady aid program. Nobody talks about it. Yet the aid scam, which would be a scandal if it weren’t so profitable for so many, explains far more than does troop strength about why, today, we are on the verge of watching the whole Afghan enterprise go belly up.   [emphasis mine]

What’s worse, there’s no reason to expect that things will change significantly on Barack Obama’s watch. During the election campaign, he called repeatedly for more troops for “the right war” in Afghanistan (while pledging to draw-down U.S. forces in Iraq), but he has yet to say a significant word about the reconstruction mission. While many aid workers in that country remain full of good intentions, the delivery systems for and uses of U.S. aid have been so thoroughly corrupted that we can only expect more of the same — unless Obama cleans house fast. But given the monumental problems on his plate, how likely is that?    [more]

The deaths of Afghan civilians in this “boondoggle” break my heart.  The deaths of Canadian soldiers are rarely noted, outside this country.  That rather pisses me off.  The fact that all of them are dying to line the pockets of powerful American corporations outrages me.

QotD

From Glenn Greenwald:

What happened in the U.S. over the last eight years is about much, much more than what “the Bush administration” did.  It begins there, but responsibility in the post 9/11-era is much more diffuse and collective than that.  Shoveling it all off on the administration that is leaving, while exonerating our culpable media and political institutions that remain, isn’t merely historically inaccurate and unfair, though it is that.  Allowing that revisionism also ensures that the critical lessons that ought to be learned will instead be easily and quickly forgotten when similar episodes occur here in the future.

Bush Lied & America Believed

It’s a good thing Bush is nearly gone, because America’s tendency to believe what suits it seems to be unending:

So, Vladimir Putin was right: It was Georgia that started the war with Russia, and once again it was President Bush who got caught in a lie. As The New York Times reported last week, “Newly available accounts by independent military observers of the beginning of the war between Georgia and Russia this summer call into question the long-standing Georgian assertion that it was acting defensively against separatist and Russian aggression.”

The Bush White House knew—but kept from the American public—facts concerning provocation by Georgia’s U.S.-trained forces, which killed civilians in the capital of South Ossetia before Russian troops crossed the border. The provocation has also been documented in a BBC investigative report and by a growing consensus of other reliable sources. [the rest is here]

Just why would anyone believe Bush?

Dubya Today

I know everyone just wants to forget about him now.  I don’t.  I want him to be charged with the crimes he and his administration have committed.

Here’s Simon Shama at Another Point of View:

Where, O where are you, Dubya, as the action passes you by like a jet skirting dirty weather? Are you roaming the lonely corridors of the White House in search of a friendly shoulder around which to clap your affable arm? Are you sweating it out on the treadmill, hurt and confused as to why the man everyone wanted to have a beer (or Coke) with, who swept to re-election four years ago, has been downgraded to all-time loser in presidential history, stuck there in the bush leagues along with the likes of James Buchanan and Warren Harding? Or are you whacking brush in Crawford, where the locals now make a point of telling visitors that George W never really was from hereabouts anyroad.

Whatever else his legacy, the man who called himself “the decider” has left some gripping history. The last eight years have been so rich in epic imperial hubris that it would take a reborn Gibbon to do justice to the fall. It should be said right away that amid the landscape of smoking craters there are one or two sprigs of decency that have been planted: record amounts of financial help given to Aids-blighted countries of Africa; immigration reform that would have offered an amnesty to illegals and given them a secure path to citizenship, had not those efforts hit the reef of intransigence in Bush’s own party. And no one can argue with the fact that since 9/11 the United States has not been attacked on its home territory by jihadi terrorists; though whether or not that security is more illusory than real is, to put it mildly, open to debate.

Bet against that there is the matter of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilian casualties, more than 4,000 American troops dead, many times that gravely injured, not to mention the puncture wounds and mutilations inflicted on internationally agreed standards of humane conduct for prisoners – and on the protection of domestic liberties enshrined in the American constitution. If the Statue of Liberty were alive, she would be weeping tears of blood.

Read it here

McCain & Obama, Hawks & Doves

From the NYT:

… as the campaign has unfolded, both men [McCain and Obama] have been forced into surprising detours. They may have formed their worldviews in Hanoi and Jakarta, but they forged specific positions amid the realities of an election in post-Iraq, post-crash America — where judgment sometimes collides with political expediency.

The result has included contradictions that do not fit the neat hawk-and-dove images promoted by each campaign. As spelled out in presidential debates, in written answers provided by their campaigns, and in an interview with Mr. McCain in January, some of their views appear as messy and unpredictable as the troubles one of them will inherit.

For example, it is Mr. McCain — the man who amended the words of a Beach Boys song last year to joke about bombing Iran’s nuclear sites — who says he could imagine a situation in which Iran’s behavior changes so much that he would be willing “to consider” allowing Iran to enrich its own uranium, producing a fuel that could be used for nuclear power — but only under highly restrictive conditions that ensure it could never be used for weapons.

Mr. Obama, the candidate who has expressed far more willingness to sit down and negotiate with the Iranians, said in an e-mail message passed on by an aide that in any final deal he would not allow Iran to produce uranium on Iranian soil, the same hard-line view enunciated by the Bush administration.

Consider the delicate issue of Pakistan, where it is Mr. Obama who has been far more willing than Mr. McCain to threaten sending in American troops on ground raids. Mr. McCain, by contrast, argues that Pakistan must control its territory. “I don’t think the American people today are ready to commit troops to Waziristan,” he said, months before Mr. Bush signed secret orders this summer authorizing ground raids in Pakistan, including the violent sanctuaries of North and South Waziristan.

Read the whole thing here