Daily Archive: March 6, 2013

U.S. Implicated In Iraqi Police Torture

Revealed: Pentagon’s link to Iraqi torture centres

Mona Mahmood, Maggie O’Kane, Chavala Madlena and Teresa Smith, The Guardian

Wednesday 6 March 2013 11.13 EST

The Pentagon sent a US veteran of the “dirty wars” in Central America to oversee sectarian police commando units in Iraq, that set up secret detention and torture centres to get information from insurgents. These units conducted some of the worst acts of torture during the US occupation and accelerated the country’s descent into full-scale civil war.

Colonel James Steele, then 58, was a retired special forces veteran nominated by Donald Rumsfeld to help organise the paramilitaries in an attempt to quell a Sunni insurgency, according to an investigation by the Guardian and BBC Arabic. After the Pentagon lifted a ban on Shia militias joining the security forces, the membership of the Special police commandos was increasingly drawn from violent Shia groups like the Badr brigades.

A second special adviser, retired Colonel James H Coffman (now 59) worked alongside Steele in detention centres that were set up with millions of dollars of US funding. Coffman reported directly to General David Petraeus, sent to Iraq in June 2004 to organise and train the new Iraqi security forces. Steele, who was in Iraq between 2003 – 2005, and kept returning to the country through 2006, reported directly to Rumsfeld.



“They worked hand in hand,” said General Muntadher al-Samari, who worked with Steele and Coffman for a year while the commandos were being set up. “I never saw them apart in the 40 or 50 times I saw them inside the detention centres. They knew everything that was going on there … the torture, the most horrible kinds of torture.”

Additional reporting by the Guardian confirmed further details of how the interrogation system worked. “Every single detention centre would have its own interrogation committee,” claimed Samari, who has for the first time talked in detail about the US role in the brutal interrogation units. “Each one was made up of an intelligence officer and eight interrogators. This committee will use all means of torture to make the detainee confess like using electricity or hanging him upside down, pulling out their nails, and beating them on sensitive parts.”



The Guardian has learned that the Special police commandos unit’s involvement with torture entered the popular consciousness in Iraq when some of their victims were paraded in front of the television audience on a TV programme called “Terrorism In The Hands of Justice.” SPC detention centres bought Canon video cameras, funded by the US military, which they used to film detainees for the television show. When the show began to outrage the Iraqi public, Samari remembers being in the home of General Adnan Thabit – head of the special commandos – when a call came from Petraeus’s office demanding that they stop showing tortured men on television.



Thabit is dismissive of the idea that the Americans he dealt with were unaware of what the commandos were doing. “Until I left, the Americans knew about everything I did; they knew what was going on in the interrogations and they knew the detainees. And even some of the intelligence about the detainees came to us from them – they are lying.”

Just before Petraeus and Steele left Iraq in September 2005, Jabr al-Solagh was appointed as the new minister of the interior. Under Solagh, who was closely associated with the violent Badr Brigades militia, allegations of torture and brutality against the commandoes soared. It was also widely believed that the unit had evolved into death squads.

There is a 5 minute digest of a 50 minute video attached to this piece.  The 50 minute video is titled James Steele: America’s mystery man in Iraq and autoplays.

Who is this ‘good’ guy, Colonel James Steele?

From El Salvador to Iraq: Washington’s man behind brutal police squads

Mona Mahmood, Maggie O’Kane, Chavala Madlena, Teresa Smith, Ben Ferguson, Patrick Farrelly, Guy Grandjean, Josh Strauss, Roisin Glynn, Irene Baqué, Marcus Morgan, Jake Zervudachi and Joshua Boswell, The Guardian

Wednesday 6 March 2013 11.16 EST

On the 10th anniversary of the Iraq invasion the allegations of American links to the units that eventually accelerated Iraq’s descent into civil war cast the US occupation in a new and even more controversial light. The investigation was sparked over a year ago by millions of classified US military documents dumped onto the internet and their mysterious references to US soldiers ordered to ignore torture. Private Bradley Manning, 25, is facing a 20-year sentence, accused of leaking military secrets.

Steele’s contribution was pivotal. He was the covert US figure behind the intelligence gathering of the new commando units. The aim: to halt a nascent Sunni insurgency in its tracks by extracting information from detainees.

It was a role made for Steele. The veteran had made his name in El Salvador almost 20 years earlier as head of a US group of special forces advisers who were training and funding the Salvadoran military to fight the FNLM guerrilla insurgency. These government units developed a fearsome international reputation for their death squad activities. Steele’s own biography describes his work there as the “training of the best counterinsurgency force” in El Salvador.



But the arming of one side of the conflict by the US hastened the country’s descent into a civil war in which 75,000 people died and 1 million out of a population of 6 million became refugees.



It was in El Salvador that Steele first came in to close contact with the man who would eventually command US operations in Iraq: David Petraeus. Then a young major, Petraeus visited El Salvador in 1986 and reportedly even stayed with Steele at his house.

But while Petraeus headed for the top, Steele’s career hit an unexpected buffer when he was embroiled in the Iran-Contra affair. A helicopter pilot, who also had a licence to fly jets, he ran the airport from where the American advisers illegally ran guns to right-wing Contra guerrillas in Nicaragua. While the congressional inquiry that followed put an end to Steele’s military ambitions, it won him the admiration of then congressman Dick Cheney who sat on the committee and admired Steele’s efforts fighting leftists in both Nicaragua and El Salvador.



In June 2004 Petraeus arrived in Baghdad with the brief to train a new Iraqi police force with an emphasis on counterinsurgency. Steele and serving US colonel James Coffman introduced Petraeus to a small hardened group of police commandos, many of them among the toughest survivors of the old regime, including General Adnan Thabit, sentenced to death for a failed plot against Saddam but saved by the US invasion. Thabit, selected by the Americans to run the Special Police Commandos, developed a close relationship with the new advisers. “They became my friends. My advisers, James Steele and Colonel Coffman, were all from special forces, so I benefited from their experience … but the main person I used to contact was David Petraeus.”

With Steele and Coffman as his point men, Petraeus began pouring money from a multimillion dollar fund into what would become the Special Police Commandos. According to the US Government Accounts Office, they received a share of an $8.2bn (£5.4bn) fund paid for by the US taxpayer. The exact amount they received is classified.

With Petraeus’s almost unlimited access to money and weapons, and Steele’s field expertise in counterinsurgency the stage was set for the commandos to emerge as a terrifying force. One more element would complete the picture. The US had barred members of the violent Shia militias like the Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army from joining the security forces, but by the summer of 2004 they had lifted the ban.



The commandos used the most brutal methods to make detainees talk. There is no evidence that Steele or Coffman took part in these torture sessions, but General Muntadher al Samari, a former general in the Iraqi army, who worked after the invasion with the US to rebuild the police force, claims that they knew exactly what was going on and were supplying the commandos with lists of people they wanted brought in. He says he tried to stop the torture, but failed and fled the country.

“We were having lunch. Col Steele, Col Coffman, and the door opened and Captain Jabr was there torturing a prisoner. He [the victim] was hanging upside down and Steele got up and just closed the door, he didn’t say anything – it was just normal for him.”



General Muntadher fled after two close colleagues were killed after they were summoned to the ministry, their bodies found on a rubbish tip. He got out of Iraq and went to Jordan. In less than a month, he says, Steele contacted him. Steele was anxious to meet and suggested he come to the luxury Sheraton hotel in Amman where Steele was staying. They met in the lobby at 8pm and Steele kept him talking for nearly two hours.

“He was asking me about the prisons. I was surprised by the questions and I reminded him that these were the same prisons where we both used to work. I reminded him of the incident where he had opened the door and Colonel Jabr was torturing one of the prisoners and how he didn’t do anything. Steele said: ‘But I remember that I told the officer off’. So I said to him: ‘No, you didn’t – you didn’t tell the officer off. You didn’t even tell General Adnan Thabit that this officer was committing human rights abuses against these prisoners’. And he was silent. He didn’t comment or answer. I was surprised by this.”

According to General Muntadher: “He wanted to know specifically: did I have any information about him, James Steele? Did I have evidence against him? Photographs, documents: things which proved he committed things in Iraq; things he was worried I might reveal. This was the purpose of his visit.

“I am prepared to go to the international court and stand in front of them and swear that high-ranking officials such as James Steele witnessed crimes against human rights in Iraq. They didn’t stop it happening and they didn’t punish the perpetrators.”

Steele, the man, remains an enigma. He left Iraq in September 2005 and has since pursued energy interests, joining the group of companies of Texas oilman Robert Mosbacher. Until now he has stayed where he likes to be – far from the media spotlight. Were it not for Bradley Manning’s leaking of millions of US military logs to Wikileaks, which lifted the lid on alleged abuses by the US in Iraq, there he may well have remained. Footage and images of him are rare. One video clip just 12 seconds long features in the hour-long TV investigation into his work. It captures Steele, then a 58-year-old veteran in Iraq, hesitating, looking uncomfortable when he spots a passing camera.

Stuck in the Wrong Conversation

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Even though I’m an “only child,” I had a large extended family that we visited quite often, especially my maternal great grandmother and her two maiden sisters. They would gather in the dining room every afternoon for tea and exchange the “news of the day.” Since they were all profoundly hard of hearing, the disconnected conversations were quite amusing and memorable, as you can imagine, even for a five year old.

The conversation about sequester and the manufactured debt/deficit crisis reminded me of the three elderly ladies sitting around that table, talking to each other but not hearing a word the others are saying. The president, congressional leaders and the press are all talking but not hearing what they need to hear and ignoring what the American people want, jobs.

In the middle of the implementation of austere sequestration cuts, we’ve had the inane distraction of the Washington Post‘s columnist Bob Woodward’s “poutrage” which is just another example, as the Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent in the Plum Line puts it, of being stuck in the wrong conversation:

The Woodward flap is superficially an argument about the meaning of Gene Sperling’s email, but as Jonathan Cohn details this morning, this is just a distraction from the broader, far more consequential argument over who is to blame for the creation of sequestration. The answer, of course, is that both sides are to blame for creating it – though one side is far more to blame for the failure to avert it – thanks to the deficit mania that gripped Washington in 2011, at precisely the time we should have been focused on unemployment and economic growth.

Meanwhile, the fact that sequestration is set to hit is a concrete reminder that we’re still stuck with the consequences of that misguided 2011 mindset. Indeed, the continuing argument over how to avert sequestration – whether to replace it with a mix of spending cuts and new revenues, or with just spending cuts – is itself a sign of the continuing power of elite consensus deficit-obsession. After all, the battle is still being fought on deficit/austerity turf, at a time of near-zero growth and mass unemployment, rather than over what government should be doing to boost the economy and alleviate widespread economic suffering. As Atrios has put it, we’re not debating whether to implement more austerity; we’re debating over how much austerity to implement.

Nobel Prize winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman told Ed Shultz, host of MSNBC’s “Ed Show, “that sequestration was “designed to be stupid” and “this is exactly what the doctor did not order”.

While the spending cuts were conceived as a fix for the federal deficit, Krugman said, this was not the time to implement that kind of measure. Instead, he said, the government should be taking advantage of low interest rates and a high number of unemployed construction workers to invest in infrastructure and education.

“What kind of spending would it take to keep us on the track that we’re on right now?” Schultz asked, noting a continued pattern of private sector job growth despite Republican resistance to a new jobs bill since the stimulus package of 2009.

“If we would just stop cutting, the growth would probably keep going,” Krugman answered. “If spending had grown as fast in this recovery as it has in past recoveries, we’d be spending something like $200 billion a year – state, local and federal – more, maybe $300 billion a year more. Maybe $300 billion a year more. We’d have about a million and a half more public sector workers than we do right now, because we’ve been laying them off at [an] unprecedented pace. So, I think $300 billion a year of additional spending would be appropriate and would mean, if we did it, that we would be pretty close to full employment at this point.”

Talking Points Memo‘s Brian Beutler says that the president has done “excellent job” of “of flipping the politics of taxation to make the GOP’s once bulletproof position a vulnerability,” but the president is still not saying what the public needs to hear about jobs and the social safety net.

Congressional Game of Chicken: Government Shut Down

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Sequestration wasn’t going to happen according to Pres. Barack Obama, but it did. Mostly, because he was naive enough to think that the Republicans would cave because he dangled cuts to Social Security under there noses. Well, that didn’t work out so well. The Tea Party hard liners were adamant about no new taxes and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), eager to hold onto his gavel, stood his ground.

We now move to the next manufactured budget crisis on the agenda: the continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government lights on after March 27. If you think that is going to be smooth sailing then you aren’t paying attention. The fight over sequestration could very well lead to a government shutdown:

An aide to Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said GOP leaders haven’t yet settled on an approach to funding the government. And House Republicans are divided enough that it’s unclear whether they could pass a stripped-down appropriations measure to begin with. Many Republicans would like to use the appropriations process to mitigate sequestration’s defense cuts, or eliminate them by cutting more deeply into domestic spending – a non-starter for Democrats. [..]

“We have had a law that’s in effect; it’s called sequestration,” (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said. “Those cuts will go forward. They’re all cuts. I think we need some revenue to take the pressure off everybody. The American people agree with me. And until there’s some agreement on revenue, I believe we should just go ahead with the sequester.”

In other words, Democrats won’t allow Republicans to use a continuing resolution to enshrine sequestration’s lower overall spending requirement by apportioning the cuts in a less indiscriminate way.

Pres. Obama thinks a government shut down can be avoided believing that the Republicans will do the “right thing” and agree to a CR that “adhere to the spending levels they agreed to during the debt limit fight in 2011“:

If House Republicans can’t pass a government funding bill that sets overall spending at levels agreed to in the Budget Control Act – funding that would automatically be reduced because of sequestration – then the government will shutdown and the pressure Republicans feel to cut a deal that both averts sequestration and keeps the government running will intensify. [..]

Thus, if Republicans try to rejigger the sequestration cuts such that they make the lower overall spending levels permanent, but rescind its indiscriminate cutting mechanism and thus remove the pressure on Congress to pass a balanced alternative, they’ll set off a government shutdown fight.

But if Republicans can pass a government funding bill that adheres to spending levels agreed to and set in 2011, then the government will stay open and the fight over sequestration will continue indefinitely.

However the fight over ongoing funding of the government shakes out, Obama said he hopes public pressure convinces Republicans to relent on revenues so that he and Congress can replace sequestration with an alternative deficit reduction plan.

First, the Republicans don’t care about public pressure Second, if Pres. Obama isn’t aware of that then he hasn’t been paying attention and his prediction that the government won’t shut down is as premature as the one about sequestration not happening.

“We agreed to a certain amount of money that was going to be spent each year, and certain funding levels for our military, our education system, and so forth,” Obama said. “If we stick to that deal, then I will be supportive of us sticking to that deal.”

But the implementation of sequestration, particularly its indiscriminate cuts to defense programs, calls into question whether House Republicans will be able to honor the government funding deal without relying on a significant number of Democratic votes. Republicans want to restore some funding to defense programs to mitigate sequestration’s impact on GOP priorities. And that could leave Boehner to choose between keeping his conference united – and thus passing a continuing resolution that the Senate and White House reject – or ignoring internal GOP politics and teaming up with Democrats to keep the government open.

The Republicans in the House have other ideas and have already started planning their end run around the cuts in sequestration they didn’t like by eliminating them in the CR. According to The Hill, they’ve already introduced a funding bill that will “cushion the Pentagon and other agencies from the blow of $85 billion in sequester spending cuts

It would shift about $10.4 billion into the Pentagon’s operations and maintenance account by cutting other defense accounts, including a $3.6 billion reduction in personnel funds, $2.5 billion less in research and development, and $4.2 billion less in equipment procurement. [..]

In total, the bill includes $518 billion for defense, $2 billion more than President Obama requested this year but the same as in 2012. It assumes the 13 percent cut to non-exempt budget accounts called for by sequestration will occur.

The Republicans are trying to undo the cuts they don’t like while preserving the cuts that the Democrats don’t like and using the CR as an end run around the law.

The Democrats are still reviewing the proposal and have said that they would insist on the same “cushion” non-defense appropriations. There are two scenarios for how this “drama” will play out:

A fight ensues between the House and Senate over the cushions for the Republican’s pet cuts and the Democratic opposition without similar concessions leading to a government shutdown;

Harry Reid gets his orders from the White House, fearing the repercussions of a government shut down, and he puts the House bill up for a vote and it passes with minimum Democratic support.

I’m betting on the latter because Barack already said so.

Cartnoon

Sylvia’s

I don’t normally watch, but you’ll want to see this before it gets taken down.

I’ll have some motherfucking iced tea now.

On This Day In History March 6

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

March 6 is the 65th day of the year (66th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 300 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1857, the US Supreme Court hands down its decision on Sanford v. Dred Scott, a case that intensified national divisions over the issue of slavery.

Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857), was a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that people of African descent imported into the United States and held as slaves (or their descendants, whether or not they were slaves) were not protected by the Constitution and could never be U.S. citizens. The court also held that the U.S. Congress had no authority to prohibit slavery in federal territories and that, because slaves were not citizens, they could not sue in court. Furthermore, the Court ruled that slaves, as chattels or private property, could not be taken away from their owners without due process. The Supreme Court’s decision was written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney.

Although the Supreme Court has never overruled the Dred Scott case, the Court stated in the Slaughter-House Cases of 1873 that at least one part of it had already been overruled by the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868:

   The first observation we have to make on this clause is, that it puts at rest both the questions which we stated to have been the subject of differences of opinion. It declares that persons may be citizens of the United States without regard to their citizenship of a particular State, and it overturns the Dred Scott decision by making all persons born within the United States and subject to its jurisdiction citizens of the United States.

The Decision

The Supreme Court ruling was handed down on March 6, 1857, just two days after Buchanan’s inauguration. Chief Justice Taney delivered the opinion of the Court, with each of the concurring and dissenting Justices filing separate opinions. In total, six Justices agreed with the ruling; Samuel Nelson concurred with the ruling but not its reasoning, and Benjamin R. Curtis and John McLean dissented. The court misspelled Sanford’s name in the decision.

Opinion of the Court

The Court first had to decide whether it had jurisdiction. Article III, Section 2, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution provides that “the judicial Power shall extend… to Controversies… between Citizens of different States….” The Court held that Scott was not a “citizen of a state” within the meaning of the United States Constitution, as that term was understood at the time the Constitution was adopted, and therefore not able to bring suit in federal court. Furthermore, whether a person is a citizen of a state, for Article III purposes, was a question to be decided by the federal courts irrespective of any state’s definition of “citizen” under its own law.

Thus, whether Missouri recognized Scott as a citizen was irrelevant. Taney summed up,

   Consequently, no State, since the adoption of the Constitution, can by naturalizing an alien invest him with the rights and privileges secured to a citizen of a State under the Federal Government, although, so far as the State alone was concerned, he would undoubtedly be entitled to the rights of a citizen, and clothed with all the rights and immunities which the Constitution and laws of the State attached to that character.

This meant that

   no State can, by any act or law of its own, passed since the adoption of the Constitution, introduce a new member into the political community created by the Constitution of the United States.

The only relevant question, therefore, was whether, at the time the Constitution was ratified, Scott could have been considered a citizen of any state within the meaning of Article III. According to the Court, the authors of the Constitution had viewed all blacks as

   beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.

The Court also presented a parade of horribles argument as to the feared results of granting Mr. Scott’s petition:

   It would give to persons of the negro race, …the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased, …the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went.

Scott was not a citizen of Missouri, and the federal courts therefore lacked jurisdiction to hear the dispute.

Despite the conclusion that the Court lacked jurisdiction, however, it went on to hold (in what Republicans would label its “obiter dictum”) that Scott was not a free man, even though he had resided for a time in Minnesota (then called the Wisconsin Territory). The Court held that the provisions of the Missouri Compromise declaring it to be free territory were beyond Congress’s power to enact. The Court rested its decision on the grounds that Congress’s power to acquire territories and create governments within those territories was limited. They held that the Fifth Amendment barred any law that would deprive a slaveholder of his property, such as his slaves, because he had brought them into a free territory. The Court went on to state – although the issue was not before the Court – that the territorial legislatures had no power to ban slavery. The ruling also asserted that neither slaves “nor their descendants, were embraced in any of the other provisions of the Constitution” that protected non-citizens.

This was only the second time in United States history that the Supreme Court had found an act of Congress to be unconstitutional. (The first time was 54 years earlier in Marbury v. Madison).

Muse in the Morning

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Muse in the Morning


Triple 15

Late Night Karaoke

Well, this is not at all encouraging.

Ships to sail directly over the north pole by 2050, scientists say

John Vidal, The Guardian

Monday 4 March 2013 15.00 EST

(B)y 2050, say Laurence C. Smith and Scott R. Stephenson at the University of California in the journal PNAS on Monday, ordinary vessels should be able to travel easily along the northern sea route, and moderately ice-strengthened ships should be able to take the shortest possible route between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, passing over the pole itself. The easiest time would be in September, when annual sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean is at its lowest extent.



“The prospect of common open water ships, which comprise the vast majority of the global fleet, entering the Arctic Ocean in late summer, and even its remote central basin by moderately ice-strengthened vessels heightens the urgency for a mandatory International Maritime Organisation regulatory framework to ensure adequate environmental protections, vessel safety standards, and search-and-rescue capability,” it adds.

In Memoriam: Hugo Chavez 1954 – 2013

Hugo Chavez photo imagesqtbnANd9GcQKVr6bXWlFx7SxZgpgP_zps07654e05.jpg Popular Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez succumbed to cancer today in a hospital in Caracas ending his 14 years as the leader of the oil rich South American country.

The flamboyant 58-year-old had undergone four operations in Cuba for a cancer that was first detected in his pelvic region in mid-2011. His last surgery was on December 11 and he had not been seen in public since. [..]

Chavez easily won a new six-year term at an election in October and his death will devastate millions of supporters who adored his charismatic style, anti-U.S. rhetoric and oil-financed policies that brought subsidized food and free health clinics to long-neglected slums.

Pres. Chavez was certainly controversial but it was through his economic and social policies that Venezuela reduced the poverty level from a low of 55.44% in 1998 to 26 percent at the end of 2008. Extreme poverty fell by 72%. He increased access to health care and education. In 2003, he made food security a priority by opening a nation wide chain of supermarkets and setting price ceilings for basic staple foods.

Pres. Chavez’ human rights record was somewhat mixed:

In the 1999 Venezuelan constitution, 116 of 300 articles were concerned with human rights; these included increased protections for indigenous peoples and women, and established the rights of the public to education, housing, healthcare, and food. It called for dramatic democratic reforms such as ability to recall politicians from office by popular referendum, increased requirements for government transparency, and numerous other requirements to increase localized, participatory democracy, in favor of centralized administration. It gave citizens the right to timely and impartial information, community access to media, and a right to participate in acts of civil disobedience.

However, as recently as 2010, Amnesty International has criticized the Chávez administration for targeting critics following several politically motivated arrests. Freedom House lists Venezuela as being “partly free” in its 2011 Freedom in the World annual report, noting a recent decline in civil liberties. A 2010 Organization of American States report found concerns with freedom of expression, human rights abuses, authoritarianism, press freedom, threats to democracy, as well as erosion of separation of powers, the economic infrastructure and ability of the president to appoint judges to federal courts.

Born Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías into a working-class family in Sabaneta, Barinas, he is survived by two ex-wives, Nancy Colmenares and Marisabel Rodríguez, and four children – Hugo Rafael, María Gabriela and Rosa Virginia by his first wife and Rosinés by his second.

Blessed Be. The Wheel Turns