Tag: John Brennan

Jan 20

Why Do These Two Clowns Still Have Their Jobs?

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette.

Both CIA Director John Brennan and White House Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough should be fired for violating the constitutional separation of powers in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s investigation into the Central Intelligence Agency’s spying on congressional aids who were looking into the CIA’s roll in torture. Now The CIA’s internal panel, with all the members close allies of Brennan or CIA insiders, released its report that concluded its own innocence and accused the Senate staffers of stealing the documents. From Tim Cushing at Techdirt

Now that the long-delayed CIA Torture Report has been released, it’s time to find someone to blame. Not for the torture, of course. There will apparently be no punishments handed down for the abuse uncovered by the Senate Intelligence Committee. (Also, apparently, there will be no huge international fallout. Remember just a few short weeks ago when we were promised increased terrorist activity if the report was released? Still waiting…) But there will be some noise made about the Senate’s alleged impropriety.

One-man transparency army Jason Leopold reports at Vice that the Senate allegedly stole documents from the CIA — documents they weren’t supposed to have access to. But the credulity of this assertion really depends on how much you trust the source. [..]

So, the CIA took it upon itself to perform an investigation no one asked for in order to clear itself of allegations that it had spied on Senate staffers. Chalk that one up to active disinterest by the administration in pursuing any allegations of wrongdoing associated with the Torture Report. Several months ago, the Senate claimed the CIA had hacked its computers and accessed Torture Report work-in-progress but the DOJ declined the invitation to investigate further.

Now, the CIA is claiming it was blameless (you know, other than the torture), based on its own internal investigation. The OIG report alleging CIA abuse of Senate computers was reviewed by the CIA’s in-house Accountability Board and determined to be “riddled with errors.”

The CIA’s accusations against the Senate boil down to a bundle of classified internal CIA documents known as the “Panetta Review.” [..]

Now, let’s suppose that all of the CIA’s allegations are true. If so, should the Senate be held accountable for actions it took that resulted in the exposure of CIA wrongdoing? Obviously, the CIA feels it should. But the documents “improperly accessed” were internal CIA documents that showed the agency was lying to its overseers about its interrogation techniques. Without this “improper” access, it’s likely the Torture Report wouldn’t have been as devastating. Large amounts of CIA wrongdoing would have remained undisclosed.

What’s included in the Panetta Review is information the Senate Intelligence Committee should have had access to in the first place. But the CIA deliberately and wrongfully withheld information that contradicted the narrative it was feeding to its overseers. If the Senate is to be punished for its wrongful access, then it follows that the CIA should be held accountable for its deliberate misrepresentation of its torture programs. Instead, there’s now a chance the investigators will pay for their (mild in comparison) misconduct while the agency walks away clean.

That’s not all, it seems Brennan was in cahoots with the White House, specifically, his good buddy, McDonough.

White House Knew CIA Snooped On Senate, Report Says

By Ali Watkins, The Huffington Post

Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan consulted the White House before directing agency personnel to sift through a walled-off computer drive being used by the Senate Intelligence Committee to construct its investigation of the agency’s torture program, according to a recently released report (pdf) by the CIA’s Office of the Inspector General.

The Inspector General’s report, which was completed in July but only released by the agency on Wednesday, reveals that Brennan spoke with White House chief of staff Denis McDonough before ordering CIA employees to “use whatever means necessary” to determine how certain sensitive internal documents had wound up in Senate investigators’ hands.

Brennan’s consultation with McDonough also came before the CIA revealed the search to then-Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), whose staff was the target of the snooping.

The new information suggesting the White House was aware of — and did not stop — the CIA’s computer snooping is unlikely to improve the existing distrust between Senate committee members and the executive branch. Feinstein has said that the CIA’s computer search likely violated the constitutional separation of powers, an allegation the White House has declined to directly address.

John Brennan Exonerates Himself with Sham Investigation

By Dan Froomkin, The Intercept

The outrageous whitewash (pdf) issued yesterday by the CIA panel John Brennan hand-picked to lead the investigation into his agency’s spying on Senate staffers is being taken seriously by the elite Washington media, which is solemnly reporting that officials have been “cleared” of any “wrongdoing“.

But what the report really does is provide yet more evidence of Brennan’s extraordinary impunity.

The panel concluded that CIA officials acted reasonably by scouring Senate computer drives in early 2014 when faced with a “potential security breach”. (That “breach” had allowed Senate staffers investigating CIA torture to access, more than three years earlier, a handful of documents Brennan didn’t want them to see.) [..]

But the CIA yesterday also released a redacted version of the full report of an earlier investigation by the CIA’s somewhat more independent inspector general’s office (pdf). And between the two reports, it is now more clear than ever that Brennan was the prime mover behind a hugely inappropriate assault on the constitutional separation of powers, and continues to get away with it.

Most notably, the official who ran the CIA facility where the Senate staffers had been allowed to set up shop wrote in a memo to the inspector general that Brennan, after speaking with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough about the errant documents, called him and “emphasized that I was to use whatever means necessary to answer the question of how the documents arrived on the SSCI side of the system.” [..]

And it was Brennan who made the paramount error in judgement here, when he decided that finding out how a series of embarrassing, revelatory CIA documents found their way into the hands of congressional overseers – really not such a bad thing – was somehow more of a threat to national security than respecting the independence of a separate branch of government, recognizing whose job it is to provide oversight over who, or honoring the spirit of an agreement between the agency and the Senate.

The whitewash was very much by design. Brennan stocked the panel with three CIA staffers and two of the most easily manipulated, consummate Washington insiders you could possibly imagine: former senator Evan Bayh, whose reputation as an unprincipled opportunist is legend; and Bob Bauer, whose lifelong mission has been to raise money for Democrats, not take stands. Then, with in-your-face chutzpah, Brennan called it an “accountability board”.

Far from “clearing” anyone of anything, the panel’s report is just the latest element in a long string of cover-ups and deceptions orchestrated by Brennan.  [..]

The panel’s report can also be seen as Brennan’s total assault on David B. Buckley, the CIA inspector general who wrote the first, highly critical report on the incident – and who suddenly resigned a few days ago and is “out this week” according to his office. The report didn’t just bat down the inspector general’s conclusions as “unsupported”; it belittled them. In a recommendation that simply dripped with contempt, the panel concluded that “it would be better” if the inspector general’s office “kept more complete records of interviews.”

Meanwhile, the full (though redacted) inspector general’s report fleshes out a lot of the details of the previously-released executive summary, which generally concluded that the CIA had improperly accessed the Senate computers.

The CIA and NSA have become rogue agencies that need to be reigned in not just by congress but ny the executive branch, as well

Dec 23

War Crimes Charges Filed in Germany Against Bush Gang

In the wake of the release of the Senate’s Summary Report on the CIA torture program, a German human rights organization, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), has filed criminal charges in Germany against the architects of the program and the Bush administration.

17 December 2014 – The ECCHR has today lodged criminal complaints against former CIA head George Tenet, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other members of the administration of former US President George W. Bush. The ECCHR is accusing Tenet, Rumsfeld and a series of other persons of the war crime of torture under paragraph 8 section 1(3) of the German Code of Crimes against International Law (Völkerstrafgesetzbuch). The constituent elements of the crime of torture were most recently established in the case by the US Senate in its report on CIA interrogation methods. “The architects of the torture system – politicians, officials, secret service agents, lawyers and senior army officials – should be brought before the courts,” says ECCHR General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck, who is appearing today in connection with the issue in front of the German Parliamentary Committee on legal affairs. “By investigating members of the Bush administration, Germany can help to ensure that those responsible for abduction, abuse and illegal detention do not go unpunished.” [..]

ECCHR calls on Federal Prosecutor Harald Range to open investigations into the actions of Tenet, Rumsfeld and other perpetrators and to set up a monitoring process as soon as possible. This would allow the German authorities to act immediately in the event that one of the suspects enters European soil and not have to wait until such point before beginning the complex investigations and legal deliberations. [..]

While criminal complaints against those most responsible for the crimes have been discontinued by the authorities, investigatory proceedings are ongoing in Spain and France in the case of individuals who were detained in Guantánamo. ECCHR is representing German resident Murat Kurnaz in the Spanish proceedings. There is no indication that legal action will be taken by US authorities in relation to torture in Guantánamo and in Iraq. For this reason, recourse will be had to all available legal mechanisms in Europe in order to establish legal liability and to lend support to calls within the US for independent investigations into those responsible at the highest level.

Other criminal complaints have been filed in Spain, Switzerland and France. So far, the only person involved with the CIA torture program who has been charged with a crime is the man who exposed the war crimes, whistleblower John Kiriakou.

Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman and Juan González spoke with Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and chairman of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, and longtime defense attorney Martin Garbus about the charges.

Even the New York Times Editorial Board agreed and, in a scathing editorial, accused President Barack Obama of failing his duty to prosecute the tortures and their bosses.

He did allow his Justice Department to investigate the C.I.A.’s destruction of videotapes of torture sessions and those who may have gone beyond the torture techniques authorized by President George W. Bush. But the investigation did not lead to any charges being filed, or even any accounting of why they were not filed. [..]

These are, simply, crimes. They are prohibited by federal law, which defines torture as the intentional infliction of “severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” They are also banned by the Convention Against Torture, the international treaty that the United States ratified in 1994 and that requires prosecution of any acts of torture. [..]

No amount of legal pretzel logic can justify the behavior detailed in the report. Indeed, it is impossible to read it and conclude that no one can be held accountable. At the very least, Mr. Obama needs to authorize a full and independent criminal investigation. [..]

The question everyone will want answered, of course, is: Who should be held accountable? That will depend on what an investigation finds, and as hard as it is to imagine Mr. Obama having the political courage to order a new investigation, it is harder to imagine a criminal probe of the actions of a former president.

Actually, it’s not hard at all. Perhaps the president, after six years, has finely found the courage to do some of the things he promised when first elected, releasing the the innocent men tortured and held illegally at Guantanamo and normalizing diplomatic and some economic relations with Cuba, will find the courage to order his Attorney General to bring them up on charges and put this national disgrace to really behind us.

Aug 07

The CIA Still Trying to Cover Up That It Tortured

When the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) agreed to declassify and release the executive summary of the 6,000 page investigation into the CIA’s use of torture last April, it also agreed to allow the White House to review the 480 page document for review. The White House announced that the CIA would take the lead in that review, virtually leaving the decision on what if any incriminating evidence that they tortured in the hands of the accused.

The writers at Techdirt have been joking about the “buckets of black ink” that would be “dumped” on the report. After weeks of waiting, no one should be surprised that the heavily redacted document that was returned to the SSCI on August 1 was barely coherent.

Late Friday, Senator Dianne Feinstein announced that the White House had returned the executive summary, but she’s a bit overwhelmed by all the black ink and is holding off releasing the document until her staff can look into why there were so many redactions:

   “The committee this afternoon received the redacted executive summary of our study on the CIA detention and interrogation program.

   A preliminary review of the report indicates there have been significant redactions. We need additional time to understand the basis for these redactions and determine their justification.

   Therefore the report will be held until further notice and released when that process is completed.”

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper responded that Sen. Feinstein’s complaint was unfounded stating that there were “minimal redactions,”  claiming that 85% of the document was not blacked out. Techdirt‘s Mike Masnick thinks Clapper may have been counting the margins

Of course, as Marcy Wheeler has pointed out, this is just about the executive summary of the report — which was specifically written to be published. In other words, the really “secret” stuff is in the rest of the report, but the 408 page exec summary was written with public disclosure in mind — meaning that the Senate Intelligence Committee staffers certainly wrote it with the expectation that it would need few, if any, redactions. So the fact that large chunks of it were redacted immediately set off some alarms.

SSCI Chairperson Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) released this statement:

After further review of the redacted version of the executive summary, I have concluded that certain redactions eliminate or obscure key facts that support the report’s findings and conclusions. Until these redactions are addressed to the committee’s satisfaction, the report will not be made public.

I am sending a letter today to the president laying out a series of changes to the redactions that we believe are necessary prior to public release. The White House and the intelligence community have committed to working through these changes in good faith. This process will take some time, and the report will not be released until I am satisfied that all redactions are appropriate.

The bottom line is that the United States must never again make the mistakes documented in this report. I believe the best way to accomplish that is to make public our thorough documentary history of the CIA’s program. That is why I believe taking our time and getting it right is so important, and I will not rush this process.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), a member of the SSCI, also released a statement condemning the redactions as nothing more that a cover up of “embarrassing information:”

The redactions that CIA has proposed to the Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA interrogations are totally unacceptable. Classification should be used to protect sources and methods or the disclosure of information which could compromise national security, not to avoid disclosure of improper acts or embarrassing information. But in reviewing the CIA-proposed redactions, I saw multiple instances where CIA proposes to redact information that has already been publicly disclosed in the Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainee abuse that was reviewed by the administration and authorized for release in 2009. The White House needs to take hold of this process and ensure that all information that should be declassified is declassified.

Another committee member, Sen Mark Udall (D-C)) thought it was very clear that Director Clapper’s intentions were to distort the record

While Director Clapper may be technically correct that the document has been 85 percent declassified, it is also true that strategically placed redactions can make a narrative incomprehensible and can certainly make it more difficult to understand the basis for the findings and conclusions reached in the report. I agree wholeheartedly that redactions are necessary to protect intelligence sources and methods, but the White House must work closely with this committee to reach this goal in a way that makes it possible for the public to understand what happened.

According to a report in McClatchy, the summary carefully used pseudonyms of covert CIA agents and foreign countries that was much of what was blacked out:

Tom Mentzer, a spokesman for the committee’s chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told McClatchy on Monday that the blackouts _ officially known as redactions _ were made to pseudonyms used for both covert CIA officers and foreign countries.

“No covert CIA personnel or foreign countries are named in the report,” he said. “Only pseudonyms were used, precisely to protect this kind of information. Those pseudonyms were redacted (by the administration).”

All of the pseudonyms were excised from the version of the executive summary that the White House returned to the committee on Friday, a person familiar with the issue said.

Lawmakers seem willing to accept some redactions, but others made by the CIA and the White House would make it difficult or impossible to understand the subject being discussed, especially when a pseudonym appears in multiple references, said the knowledgeable person, who requested anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.

The Intercept‘s Jeremy Scahill joined MSNBC’s Alex Wagner on “NOW” to discuss the dispute over the redacted report

The CIA tortured and the US government approved it and still continues some forms of torture It is now actively engaged in the continued refusal to prosecute the crimes and still trying to make it sound like it was just a “mistake.” Waterboarding someone 183 times is not a mistake, it is a crime, a war crime. No amount of “awe shucks” statements by President Barack Obama that “we tortured some folks” or calling the perpetrators “patriots” will excuse the fact that they broke the law.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence should just release the executive report. The Justice Department should do its due diligence and prosecute the tortures and those who authorized it. Director Clapper and CIA Director John Brennan should be fired and prosecuted for lying to the Senate and their roles in the torture program. Pres. Obama should uphold his oath of office or be impeached.

Jul 31

“Torture Is Not a Public Relations Problem”

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Here is message to the Obama administration, as well as, past and present high ranking members of the CIA from David Cole, constitutional law, national security, and criminal justice professor at George Washington University, in his op-ed at the Washington Post:

Torture us not a public relations problem. It is a grave human rights abuse and a war crime.

Yet, once again the Obama administration has enable the torturers to manipulate the narrative to cover up their crimes.

Back in April, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence voted to declassify part of its 6300 page report that concluded torture to be an ineffective intelligence-gathering technique and the CIA lied about its value. The committee also agreed to allow the White House to review the document with the CIA’s participating in approving what would be released to the public. Talk about a serious conflict of interest. This is tantamount to allowing an accused murderer to decide what evidence will be presented to the jury at his trial.

Up until Friday, a dozen ex-CIA officials were going to be allowed to review the report in a secure room at an undisclosed Washington suburb after signing a secrecy agreement. That now will not happened.

Then, on Friday, CIA officials called them and told them that due to a miscommunication, only former CIA directors and deputy directors would be given that privilege. Former directors Michael Hayden, Porter Goss and George Tenet have been invited to read it, as have former acting directors John McLaughlin and Michael Morell.

Senate aides familiar with the matter say Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate intelligence committee, protested to the White House that it had no business allowing retired officials to read a Senate oversight report.

Apparently, the report is quite damning:

Several people who have read the full report, and who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss still-classified material, say it shows that the CIA interrogation programme was far more brutal than previously understood, and that CIA officials repeatedly misled Congress and the Justice Department about what was being done to al-Qaida detainees. The report asserts that no unique, life-saving intelligence was gleaned from the harsh techniques.

It’s long been known that the CIA used slapping, stress positions, sleep deprivation and other harsh tactics on several detainees and a near-drowning technique known as waterboarding on three of them. The CIA’s use of waterboarding has drawn particular scrutiny since it is considered the harshest technique on the list of those used, but the report asserts that the other tactics, as applied, were extremely harsh and brutal.

Torture is illegal under US law. CIA officials dispute that waterboarding amounted to torture.

To counter the negative press this report is bound to receive, former CIA Director George J. Tenet has quietly been working on a public relations response:

Over the past several months, Mr. Tenet has quietly engineered a counterattack against the Senate committee’s voluminous report, which could become public next month. The effort to discredit the report has set up a three-way showdown among former C.I.A. officials who believe history has been distorted, a White House carefully managing the process and politics of declassifying the document, and Senate Democrats convinced that the Obama administration is trying to protect the C.I.A. at all costs.

The report is expected to accuse a number of former C.I.A. officials of misleading Congress and the White House about the program and its effectiveness, but it is Mr. Tenet who might have the most at stake.

The detention and interrogation program was conceived on his watch and run by men and women he had put in senior positions.

It was Mr. Tenet who requested the former CIA Directors and officials be allowed to review the report.

There is also some frustration coming from Democratic committee members:

“If the redacted version of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s study that we receive appears to be an effort to obscure its narrative and findings – and if the White House is not amenable to working toward a set of mutually agreed-upon redactions – I believe the committee must seriously consider its other option,” Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat on the intelligence committee, told the Guardian on Monday.

It is believed that the White House will provide its completed redactions to sections of the Senate intelligence committee’s landmark torture report in the coming days. The committee will subsequently review the redactions as preparation for the report’s public release, something chairwoman Dianne Feinstein of California, a Democrat, had wanted to happen in early May. [..]

Fuelling congressional suspicions, the White House placed lead authority for reviewing the declassification in the hands of the CIA, which struck critics as a conflict of interest.

Udall joins Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat and civil libertarian on the committee with whom Udall often votes, in pointing to the parliamentary rule, Senate Resolution 400, as an additional tactic to force disclosure. Yet the never-before-used rule portends an uphill struggle: a majority of senators would need to vote for additional disclosure.

Author and investigative reporter for The Intercept, Jeremy Scahill and New York Times reporter, Mike Marzetti, joined MSNBC’s “NOW” host, Alex Wagner to discuss the release of the report and recent events,

One more word from Prof. Cole:

The CIA’s response is about 10 years too late. The time to respond to allegations of torture, cruelty and disappearances is when they occur, not a decade later, when an official report finds fault. And when you learn such conduct is occurring, there is only one proper response – order it to stop and hold the perpetrators accountable. Both the Geneva and the torture conventions absolutely prohibit torture and cruel treatment of wartime detainees; the world has proclaimed through these laws that there are no circumstances that justify such acts. [..]

So what will the public relations strategy look like now? We can probably make some educated guesses, based on past assertions by Bush administration officials. “We didn’t think it was torture because the lawyers told us it wasn’t.” That defense doesn’t work for Mafia dons and ought not to work for the CIA. The practices involved – waterboarding, excruciating stress positions, slamming suspects into walls and prolonged sleep deprivation – plainly qualify as torture and have long been treated as such by the United States when other nations employ them. Just last week, the European Court of Human Rights held Poland responsible for complicity in the CIA’s crimes, finding that the conduct was so clearly illegal that Poland had an obligation to stop permitting it on its territory.

Poland, in other words, was an accessory to the crime. But the United States was the ringleader.

Let’s be clear here, the Obama administration, while it may have stopped torture, is now complicit in covering up the Bush administrations war crimes and allowing the criminals, who should be sitting in prison cells, to continue the cover-up in the hopes that someday it will all go away. No amount of spin will negate these facts.

Apr 09

Part of Torture Report To Be Released, Someday

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

The Senate Intelligence Committee voted on Thursday. by 11 – 3, to declassify portions of a study into the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of torture on detainees suspected of being involved in terrorism.

CIA officers subjected some terrorism suspects the agency held after the Sept. 11 attacks to interrogation methods that were not approved by either the Justice Department or their own headquarters and illegally detained 26 of the 119 in CIA custody, the Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded in its still-secret report, McClatchy has learned.

The spy agency program’s reliance on brutal techniques _ much more abusive than previously known _ and its failure to gather valuable information from the detainees harmed the U.S.’s credibility, according to the committee’s findings in its scathing 6,300-page report on the CIA’s interrogation and detention program.

The agency also repeatedly misled the Justice Department while stymieing Congress’ and the White House’s efforts to oversee the secret and now-defunct program, McClatchy has learned.

In all, the committee came to 20 conclusions about the CIA’s harsh interrogation tactics after spending six years and $40 million evaluating the controversial program, which began during the Bush administration. [..]

The finding that 26 detainees were held without legal authorization and the confirmation that the CIA in some cases went beyond the techniques approved by the Justice Department might fuel legal challenges.

The committee may have approved the partial release but have deferred to the president to decide just what will be made public and when.

It’s unclear, however, precisely how the declassification process will unfold. The White House could directly oversee what should be released, given the tensions between the committee and the CIA over the report. Or the White House could cede even more control to the CIA, which could mean more details will be kept under wraps. [..]

Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said the administration’s position “remains that the executive summary and the findings and conclusions of the final RDI (Rendition Detention and Interrogation) report should be declassified, with any appropriate redactions necessary to protect national security.”

She said she wouldn’t speculate on a timeframe for declassifying something the White House hasn’t yet received. Some expect the process to take months. [..]

Last week, Brennan indicated the agency’s direct involvement, saying that the “CIA will carry out the review expeditiously” once the committee sends it to the executive branch. [..]

The White House has been more involved than publicly acknowledged, however. For five years, the White House has been withholding more than 9,000 top-secret documents sought by the committee for its investigation, even though Obama hasn’t exercised a claim of executive privilege, McClatchy has reported.

Let’s be very clear what this is report reveals and some of the facts.

These are not state secrets. The report is an extensive investigation into the illegal activities of the CIA post 9/11. These are crimes against the state and humanity that the current Justice Department has refused to prosecute. Torture is a war crime.

The Senate does not need the President of the United States to make them public.

These are the facts about the CIA’s torture program and the executive branch cover up that has done more to disgrace this country and undermine the credibility, integrity, the laws and Constitution. Do no forget that as the Senate and the President continue this macabre dance to cover up these crimes.  

While I agree with Marcy Wheeler and others that those who voted to release that portion of the report deserves credit and is a step in the right direction,I will be greatly surprised if any part of the 6300 pages sees the light of day. Nor will any of those who authorized, justified, ordered or committed the crimes of torturing countless prisoners ever be brought to justice. The days of courageous acts like Senator Mike Gravel are long gone. The cover up will continue. That will be one of the blackest marks on the country, ever.

Mar 14

Torture Cover-up: The CIA and Separation of Powers

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

The Central Intelligence Agency is an agency of the executive branch and is subject to congressional oversight as per the Constitution’s

The Senate-CIA Blowup Threatens a Constitutional Crisis

by David Corn, Mother Jones

The allegations of CIA snooping on congressional investigators isn’t just a scandal-the whole premise of secret government is in question.

The CIA’s infiltration of the Senate’s torture probe was a possible constitutional violation and perhaps a criminal one, too. The agency’s inspector general and the Justice Department have begun inquiries. And as the story recently broke, CIA sources-no names, please-told reporters that the real issue was whether the Senate investigators had hacked the CIA to obtain the internal review. Readers of the few newspaper stories on all this did not have to peer too far between the lines to discern a classic Washington battle was under way between Langley and Capitol Hill. [..]

The United States is a republic, and elected officials in all three branches are supposed to be held accountable by those famous checks and balances that school kids learn about in civics classes. When it comes to the clandestine activities of the US government-the operations of the CIA, the other intelligence outfits, and the covert arms of the military-the theory is straightforward: These activities are permitted only because there is congressional oversight. The citizenry is not told about such actions because doing so would endanger national security and render these activities moot. But such secret doings of the executive branch are permissible because elected representatives of the people in the legislative branch monitor these activities and are in a position to impose accountability.

That’s how it’s supposed to work. But since the founding of the national security state in the years after World War II, there have been numerous occasions when the spies, snoops, and secret warriors of the US government have not informed the busybodies on Capitol Hill about all of their actions. In the 1970s, after revelations of CIA assassination programs and other outrageous intelligence agency misdeeds, Congress created what was supposed to be a tighter system of congressional oversight. But following that, the CIA and other undercover government agencies still mounted operations without telling Congress. (See the Iran-Contra scandal.) Often the spies went to imaginative lengths to keep Congress in the dark. More recently, members of the intelligence community have said they were not fully in the know about the NSA’s extensive surveillance programs. Of course, there was a countervailing complaint from the spies. Often when a secret program becomes public knowledge, members of Congress proclaim their shock, even though they had been told about it.

Overall, the system of congressional oversight has hardly (as far as the public can tell) been stellar. And it has raised doubts about the ability of a democratic government to mount secret ops and wage secret wars in a manner consistent with the values of accountability and transparency. What was essential to decent governance on this front was the delicate relationship between congressional overseers and the intelligence agencies.

CIA, Senate and a Constitutional Crisis (if you’ll keep it)

By Peter Van Buren, Firedoglake

Beyond Torture

But we are past the question of torture. What is happening here is a Constitutional crisis. If Feinstein does not have CIA Director Brennan up before her Senate committee immediately, and if she does not call for his resignation and if the president remains silent (“We need to allow Justice to complete its investigation”) then we have witnessed the essential elements of a coup; at the very least, the collapse of the third of the government charged with oversight of the executive.

That oversight- those Constitutional checks and balances- are the difference between a democracy and a monarchy. They are what contains executive power and makes it responsible to the People. But like Jenga, pull out the important one and the whole thing falls.

A Last Question

The only question remaining then is whether the president is part of the coup, or another victim of it. Is he in charge, or are the intelligence agencies? We may have an answer soon. CIA Director Brennan said:

   If I did something wrong, I will go to the president and I will explain to him what I did and what the findings were. And he is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.

So far, the White House response has been to ignore the challenge:

   President Obama has “great confidence” in Brennan, Carney said during his daily briefing. He added that if there has been any “inappropriate activity,” the president “would want to get to the bottom of it.”

Brennan has challenged the president to act. What the president does will tell us much about the future of our democracy. As radio host Guillermo Jimenez has said, “On this Grand Chessboard, it is We the People who are now in check. It’s our move.”

In the words of Benjamin Franklin. “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

Mar 13

The Fight About Torture: Covering-up of the Cover-up

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Yesterday, the chairperson of the Senate Intelligence committee, Sen, Dianne Feinstein took to Senate floor for forty minutes to blast the CIA for spying on members of the Senate Intelligence Committee while they were reviewing documents at CIA headquarters. That wasn’t entirely what set her off her tirade. It was the CIA’s counter-charge, made through acting CIA general counsel Robert Eatinger, that her staff had illegally accessed and removed the document.

“Our staff involved in this matter have the appropriate clearances, handled this sensitive material according to established procedures and practice to protect classified information, and were provided access to the Panetta Review by the CIA itself,” she said.

“As a result, there is no legitimate reason to allege to the Justice Department that Senate staff may have committed a crime. I view the acting counsel general’s referral as a potential effort to intimidate this staff, and I am not taking this lightly.” [..]

Feinstein’s fighting words were in stark contrast to her role as a champion of NSA surveillance. In most cases, Feinstein has served as an example of how badly oversight over the intelligence community has failed, serving as an accessory to the very kind of excesses her committee was established, in the 1970s,  to prevent.

But torture has been the exception for Feinstein, who in stark contrast to President Obama has demanded an authoritative, official accounting of what happened during the Bush years.

Feinstein made it clear that she is eager for her committee’s report to become public. “If the Senate can declassify this report, we will be able to insure than an un-American, brutal program in interrogation and distension will never again be permitted.”

The CIA had apparently deleted access to documents that it had previously given the Senate Staffers

In May of 2010, the committee staff noticed that [certain] documents that had been provided for the committee’s review were no longer accessible. Staff approached the CIA personnel at the offsite location, who initially denied that documents had been removed. CIA personnel then blamed information technology personnel, who were almost all contractors, for removing the documents themselves without direction or authority. And then the CIA stated that the removal of the documents was ordered by the White House. When the committee approached the White House, the White House denied giving the CIA any such order.

After a series of meetings, I learned that on two occasions, CIA personnel electronically removed committee access to CIA documents after providing them to the committee. This included roughly 870 documents or pages of documents that were removed in February 2010, and secondly roughly another 50 were removed in mid-May 2010.

This was done without the knowledge or approval of committee members or staff, and in violation of our written agreements. Further, this type of behavior would not have been possible had the CIA allowed the committee to conduct the review of documents here in the Senate. In short, this was the exact sort of CIA interference in our investigation that we sought to avoid at the outset.

But what really got Sen. Feinstein fired up was the CIA’s lawyer Eatinger, himself, and his actions at the agency during the Bush administration:

I should note that for most if not all of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, the now-acting general counsel was a lawyer in the CIA’s counterterrorism center, the unit within which the CIA managed and carried out this program. From mid-2004 until the official termination of the detention and interrogation program in January 2009, he was the unit’s chief lawyer. He is mentioned by name more than 1,600 times in our study.

And now, this individual is sending a crimes report to the Department of Justice on the actions of Congressional staff – the same Congressional staff who researched and drafted a report that details how CIA officers, including the acting general counsel himself, provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice about the program.

Eatinger was the overseer of the CIA’s detention and torture program, who was implicated in the illegal destruction of the torture evidence, and is the focus of the committee’s investigation. He is now in charge of investigating himself and attempting to intimidate the Senate oversight committee and a United States Senator.

Feinstein described Eatinger’s key role as the Counterterrorism Center’s chief lawyer . . . Some things CTC lawyers did were:

   

  • Approved the use of sleep deprivation before DOJ considered the question
  • Altered the record of the original briefing to Nancy Pelosi and Porter Goss
  • Used a John Yoo freelanced memo as the basis of advice to CIA on torture
  • Collaborated with John Yoo to write a “Legal Principles” document that authorized otherwise unauthorized torture techniques

Lawyers probably associated with CTC also lied about the treatment of Hassan Ghul in 2004.

Eatinger also contributed to a CIA cover-up attempt in a key State Secrets case.

To add insult to injury, CIA Director John Brennan immediately went on the offensive:

   Well, first of all, we are not in any way, shape or form trying to thwart this report’s progression, release. As I said in my remarks, we want this behind us. We know that the committee has invested a lot of time, money and effort into this report, and I know that they’re determined to put it forward.

   We have engaged with them extensively over the last year. We have had officers sit down with them and go over their report and point out where we believe there are factual errors or errors in judgment or assessments. So we are not trying at all to prevent its release.

   As far as the allegations of, you know, CIA hacking into, you know, Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, we wouldn’t do that. I mean, that’s – that’s just beyond the – you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we would do.

   [snip]

   This review that was done by the committee was done at a facility where CIA had a responsibility to make sure that they had the computer wherewithal in order to carry out their responsibilities, and so if there was any inappropriate actions that were taken related to that review, either by CIA or by the SSCI staff, I’ll be the first one to say we need to get to the bottom of it.

   And if I did something wrong, I will go to the president, and I will explain to him exactly what I did, and what the findings were. And he is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.

The allegations of spying are a distraction. This is all about torture and covering up the war crimes.

What is it they say? It’s not the crime that gets them, it’s the cover-up.

Jun 08

Now They Tell Us They Didn’t Know Who They Were Killing

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

As if many of us didn’t know that the CIA didn’t always know who they were dropping hellfire missiles on from drones, NBC News’ Richard Engel and Robert Windrem revealed classified documents that confirmed it. The documents were from a 14 month period that began in 2010 listing 114 drone strikes that killed as many as 613 people. However, in some of those strikes, the CIA did not know the identity of the victims.

About one of every four of those killed by drones in Pakistan between Sept. 3, 2010, and Oct. 30, 2011, were classified as “other militants,” the documents detail. The “other militants” label was used when the CIA could not determine the affiliation of those killed, prompting questions about how the agency could conclude they were a threat to U.S. national security.

The uncertainty appears to arise from the use of so-called “signature” strikes to eliminate suspected terrorists — picking targets based in part on their behavior and associates. A former White House official said the U.S. sometimes executes people based on “circumstantial evidence.”

Three former senior Obama administration officials also told NBC News that some White House officials were worried that the CIA had painted too rosy a picture of its success and likely ignored or missed mistakes when tallying death totals.

Micah Zenko, a former State Department policy advisor who is now a drone expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said it was “incredible” to state that only one non-combatant was killed. “It’s just not believable,” he said. “Anyone who knows anything about how airpower is used and deployed, civilians die, and individuals who are engaged in the operations know this.”

Ret. Adm. Dennis Blair, who was Director of National Intelligence from Jan. 2009 to May 2010, declined to discuss the specifics of signature strikes, but said “to use lethal force there has to be a high degree of knowledge of an individual tied to activities, tied to connections.”

This article in McClatchy News, found that fewer of than 2% of those killed were Al Qaeda leaders, which is who the U.S. government says it targets.

Obama’s drone war kills ‘others,’ not just al Qaida leaders

by Jonathan S. Landay, McClatchy Newspapers,  April 9, 2013

“It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative,” President Barack Obama said in a Sept. 6, 2012, interview with CNN. “It has to be a situation in which we can’t capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States.”

Copies of the top-secret U.S. intelligence reports reviewed by McClatchy, however, show that drone strikes in Pakistan over a four-year period didn’t adhere to those standards.

The intelligence reports list killings of alleged Afghan insurgents whose organization wasn’t on the U.S. list of terrorist groups at the time of the 9/11 strikes; of suspected members of a Pakistani extremist group that didn’t exist at the time of 9/11; and of unidentified individuals described as “other militants” and “foreign fighters.” [..]

The documents also show that drone operators weren’t always certain who they were killing despite the administration’s guarantees of the accuracy of the CIA’s targeting intelligence and its assertions that civilian casualties have been “exceedingly rare.” [..]

McClatchy’s review found that:

– At least 265 of up to 482 people who the U.S. intelligence reports estimated the CIA killed during a 12-month period ending in September 2011 were not senior al Qaida leaders but instead were “assessed” as Afghan, Pakistani and unknown extremists. Drones killed only six top al Qaida leaders in those months, according to news media accounts.

Forty-three of 95 drone strikes reviewed for that period hit groups other than al Qaida, including the Haqqani network, several Pakistani Taliban factions and the unidentified individuals described only as “foreign fighters” and “other militants.”

Who’s the US Killing in Pakistan? Even the CIA Doesn’t Know

by Daphne Eviatar, Huffington Post, June 6, 2013

In his speech at the National Defense University in May, President Obama said that his administration “has worked vigorously to establish a framework that governs our use of force against terrorists — insisting upon clear guidelines, oversight and accountability that is now codified in Presidential Policy Guidance” that he had just signed.

Conveniently for the government, that policy guidance remains classified — which pretty much negates the claim about oversight and accountability.

The laws of war allow the United States to kill only members of declared enemy armed forces or civilians directly participating in hostilities. It’s hard to believe the U.S. government is actually following that law if it doesn’t even know who a quarter of the people it’s killing even are.

President Obama’s speech sounded pretty good when he made it, but the more facts trickle out about the drone program the more reason we all have to be skeptical.

What can be done? Human Rights First has set out exactly what steps (pdf) the United States can take to make sure its drone program complies with international law and doesn’t undermine human rights.

The president should start by making public that Presidential Policy Guidance he announced with such pride. Otherwise, neither the American public nor foreign allies or enemies have any reason to believe the U.S. government has reined in its clandestine killing operations at all.

Meanwhile, the White House and the Justice Department says that the assassinations of Americans is constitutional because they said so. At Huffington Post, Ryan J. Reilly reports on the lawsuit,  Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of the estates of Anwwar Al-Aulaqi and his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, and Samir Khan. The lawsuit claims that their deaths were unconstitutional because they were denied due process.

The administration’s court filing also claimed that the government deserved qualified immunity because the plaintiffs “failed to allege the violation of any clearly established constitutional rights.” The government maintained that neither Attorney General Eric Holder’s letter to members of Congress nor Obama’s speech on national security had any effect on its legal posture in the case even though it was the first time the government formally acknowledged it had killed the American citizens. The previously classified information disclosed by Obama and Holder is “wholly consistent with Defendants’ showing that Anwar Al-Aulaqi’s due process rights were not violated,” the government said.

The judicial branch, the Obama administration argued, “is ill-suited” to evaluate the myriad “military, intelligence, and foreign policy considerations” that went into the decision to kill the American citizens. The government also argued that because Khan and Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi were not specifically targeted by the government, they cannot claim they were subjected to an unconstitutional process.

So the Executive Branch is claiming to be judge, jury and executioner because the courts couldn’t possibly understand their reasoning now matter how illegal, unlawful or criminal the actions were because, omg, they were terrorists, maybe. Never mind, that we still don’t know who was targeted that resulted in the killing of Abdulrahman. Maybe if was the cafe owner, one of the other customers or the cousins. No other explanations has been given. That is not acceptable.

So long as the legal arguments for these drone strikes and “targeted” killings remain classified, it makes it damned difficult, if not impossible, to have an open debate in public on the effectiveness and legality of this program and other counter-terrorism programs. The vague statements, filled with nebulous claims are not going to placate the critics of these not so clandestine programs. We need to know what the government is doing in our names.

Time to come clean, Barack.

Apr 27

From Spies to Assassins: The CIA Since 9/11

Cross posted at The Stars Hollow Gazette

The original mission of the Central Intelligence Agency was to provide national security intelligence assessment to senior United States policymakers. The National Security Act of 1947 established the CIA, affording it “no police or law enforcement functions, either at home or abroad“.

The primary function of the CIA is to collect information about foreign governments, corporations, and individuals, and to advise public policymakers, but it does conduct emergency tactical operations and carries out covert operations, and exerts foreign political influence through its tactical divisions, such as the Special Activities Division.

There has been considerable criticism of the CIA relating to: security and counterintelligence failures, failures in intelligence analysis, human rights concerns, external investigations and document releases, influencing public opinion and law enforcement, drug trafficking, and lying to Congress.

The Way of the Knife: NYT’s Mark Mazzetti on the CIA’s Post-9/11 Move from Spying to Assassinations

In his new book, “The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth,” Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti tracks the transformation of the CIA and U.S. special operations forces into man-hunting and killing machines in the world’s dark spaces: the new American way of war. The book’s revelations include disclosing that the Pakistani government agreed to allow the drone attacks in return for the CIA’s assassination of Pakistani militant Nek Muhammad, who was not even a target of the United States. Mazzetti’s reporting on the violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan – and Washington’s response – won him a Pulitzer Prize in 2009. The year before, he was a Pulitzer finalist for his reporting on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. [includes rush transcript]

Mar 23

CIA Drones War Shift To Pentagon

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Earlier this week it was leaked to the press by those “anonymous White House sources” that the CIA’s drone program would be gradually transferred to the Pentagon supposedly making oversight by Congress more transparent and according to Daniel Klaidman, who first reported the shift at the Daily Beast it would also toughen the “criteria for drone” strikes and “strengthen the program’s accountability:”

Currently, the government maintains parallel drone programs, one housed in the CIA and the other run by the Department of Defense. The proposed plan would unify the command and control structure of targeted killings and create a uniform set of rules and procedures. The CIA would maintain a role, but the military would have operational control over targeting. Lethal missions would take place under Title 10 of the U.S. Code, which governs military operations, rather than Title 50, which sets out the legal authorities for intelligence activities and covert operations. [..]

Officials anticipate a phased-in transition in which the CIA’s drone operations would be gradually shifted over to the military, a process that could take as little as a year. Others say it might take longer but would occur during President Obama’s second term. [..]

uring that time, CIA and DOD operators would begin to work more closely together to ensure a smooth hand-off. The CIA would remain involved in lethal targeting, at least on the intelligence side, but would not actually control the unmanned aerial vehicles. Officials told The Daily Beast that a potential downside of the agency’s relinquishing control of the program was the loss of a decade of expertise that the CIA has developed since it has been prosecuting its war in Pakistan and beyond. At least for a period of transition, CIA operators would likely work alongside their military counterparts to target suspected terrorists.

Spencer Ackerman at The Wire, doesn’t think that this is much of a change. The CIA will still be involved telling military personnel what and who to target. Nor does Ackerman think that the program will be more transparent:

The congressional reporting requirements for so-called Title 50 programs (stuff CIA does, to be reductive) are more specific than those for Title 10 (stuff the military does, to be reductive). But the armed services committees tend to have unquestioned and broader oversight functions than the intelligence committees enjoy, not to mention better relationships with the committees: Witness the recent anger in the Senate intelligence committee that the CIA lied to it about its torture programs. The military is more likely than the CIA to openly testify about future drone operations, allow knowledgeable congressional staff into closed-door operational briefings and allow members of Congress to take tours of drone airbases.

As, Klaidman pointed out this could lead to even less transparency since there is nothing in the law that requires the military to account for its lethal operations while the CIA is obligated to report its activities.

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee which has oversight of the CIA, expressed her concerns

Feinstein told reporters her “mind, certainly, is not made up.” But she quickly added she has reservations about turning over to the military the CIA’s armed drone fleet and the missions they conduct.

   During the last few years, she said, “We’ve watched the intelligence aspect of the drone program: how they function. The quality of the intelligence. Watching the agency exercise patience and discretion,” Feinstein said.

   “The military [armed drone] program has not done that nearly as well,” she said. “That causes me concern. This is a discipline that is learned, that is carried out without infractions…. It’s not a hasty decision that’s made. And I would really have to be convinced that the military would carry it out that way.”

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) preferred the program be transferred to Defense bringing it under the House and Senate Armed Services Committees:

“I believe the majority of the responsibility for this should rest with the military,” McCain told reporters Tuesday. [..]

“The majority of it can be conducted by the Department of Defense,” McCain said. “It’s not the job of the Central Intelligence Agency. … It’s the military’s job.”

Transferring the program to the Pentagon — and under the auspices of the House and Senate Armed Services committees — would create more “openness” and “oversight” and public hearings about the program, he said.

In reality, the Obama administration would still be running a secretive and questionably legal program.

Rachel Maddow, host of MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show,” gives a a short history of the CIA and talks with former congressman and now MSNBC contributor, Patrick Murphy, who served on the House Armed Services Committee, about oversight of the drone program.

Mar 16

Court Rules for ACLU Against the CIA

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Apparently a federal court of appeals didn’t think that the Department of Justice’s argument that the CIA had no “intelligence interest” in drone strikes carried out by the United States government and the refusal to even admit in court that the program exists, was either believable or plausable. That nonsense ended today. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled today in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union request for information about the CIA’s drone program.

CIA Drone Strikes Case: Court Finds It Not ‘Plausible’ That Agency Has No Role

by Ryan J. Reilly, Huffington Post

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court has reversed a lower court’s decision (pdf) that dismissed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the CIA, ruling on Friday that it was neither “logical nor plausible” for the government to contend the agency had no interest in drone strikes.

“It is hard to see how the CIA Director could have made his Agency’s knowledge of — and therefore ‘interest’ in — drone strikes any clearer,” the ruling states. “And given these statements by the Director, the President, and the President’s counterterrorism advisor, the Agency’s declaration that ‘no authorized CIA or Executive Branch official has disclosed whether or not the CIA … has an interest in drone strikes,’ … is at this point neither logical nor plausible.”

Court Rejects CIA’s Drone Secrecy Arguments Because Obama, Brennan & Panetta Made Statements

by  Kevin Gosztola, FDL The Dissenter

Judge Merrick B. Garland wrote in the decision the question before the court was whether it was “logical or plausible” for the “CIA to contend that it would reveal something not already officially acknowledged to say that the Agency ‘at least has an intelligence interest’ in” drone strikes.

“Given the extent of the official statements on the subject, we conclude that the answer to that question is no.”

A statement by President Barack Obama, made during a Google+ Hangout in January 2012, statements from then-counterterrorism adviser John Brennan during a speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center on April 30, 2012, and remarks made by then-CIA director Leon Panetta at the Pacific Council on International Policy in 2009 were all cited as “official acknowledgments that the United States has participated in drone strikes.” The acknowledgments made it implausible and illogical for the CIA to maintain “that it would reveal anything not already in the public domain to say that the Agency ‘at least has an intelligence interest’ in such strikes.”

“The defendant is, after all, the Central Intelligence Agency,” wrote Garland.

As the judge noted, Obama has “publicly acknowledged that the United States uses drone strikes against al Qaeda.” Brennan made statements that left no doubt that “some agency” operates drones. “It strains credulity to suggest that an agency charged with gathering intelligence affecting the national security does not have an ‘intelligence interest’ in drone strikes, even if that agency does not operate the drones itself.”

This is the press release from the ACLU:

DC Appeals Court Rejects CIA’s Secrecy Claims in ACLU’s Targeted Killing FOIA Lawsuit

Court Rules that CIA Cannot Deny “Interest” in Drone Program



March 15, 2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court ruled today that the Central Intelligence Agency cannot deny its “intelligence interest” in the targeted killing program and refuse to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests about the program while officials continue to make public statements about it.

“This is an important victory. It requires the government to retire the absurd claim that the CIA’s interest in the targeted killing program is a secret, and it will make it more difficult for the government to deflect questions about the program’s scope and legal basis,” said ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer, who argued the case before a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Appeals Court in September. “It also means that the CIA will have to explain what records it is withholding, and on what grounds it is withholding them.”

The ACLU’s FOIA request, filed in January 2010, seeks to learn when, where, and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, and how and whether the U.S. ensures compliance with international law restricting extrajudicial killings. In September 2011, the district court granted the government’s request to dismiss the case, accepting the CIA’s argument that it could not release any documents because even acknowledging the existence of the program would harm national security. The ACLU filed its appeal brief in the case exactly one year ago, and today the appeals court reversed the lower court’s ruling in a 3-0 vote.

“We hope that this ruling will encourage the Obama administration to fundamentally reconsider the secrecy surrounding the targeted killing program,” Jaffer said. “The program has already been responsible for the deaths of more than 4,000 people in an unknown number of countries. The public surely has a right to know who the government is killing, and why, and in which countries, and on whose orders. The Obama administration, which has repeatedly acknowledged the importance of government transparency, should give the public the information it needs in order to fully evaluate the wisdom and lawfulness of the government’s policies.”

Today’s ruling is at: aclu.org/national-security/drone-foia-appeals-court-ruling

Mar 12

The Shame of the Democrats and Progressives

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

The shame of the Democrats and the so-called progressives is that it was a Tea Party Republican, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who stood up for civil liberties and the ever expanding executive power with his thirteen hour filibuster. In his article at The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald shreds the progressive Democratic myths and distortions about Sen. Paul’s filibuster and its importance.

In Glenn’s first point, he notes the lack of any empathy for the those whose rights are most abused and dismissed with an “it’s not me; it’s them” attitude.

(1) Progressives and their “empathy gap”

The US government’s continuous killing, due-process-free imprisonment, and other rights abuses under the War on Terror banner has affected one group far more than any other: Muslims and, increasingly, American Muslims. Politically, this has been the key fact enabling this to endure. Put simply, if you’re not Muslim, it’s very easy to dismiss, minimize or mock these issues because you can easily tell yourself that they don’t affect you or your family and therefore there is no reason to care. And since the vast, vast majority of Democratic politicians and progressive media commentators are not Muslim, one continuously sees this mentality shaping reaction to these issues. [..]

For a political faction that loves to depict itself as the champions of “empathy”, and which reflexively accuses others of having their political beliefs shaped by self-interest, this is an ironic fact indeed. It’s also the central dynamic driving the politics of these issues: the US government and media collaborate to keep the victims of these abuses largely invisible, so we rarely have to confront them, and on those rare occasions when we do, we can easily tell ourselves (false though the assurance is) that these abuses do not affect us and our families and it’s therefore only “paranoia” that can explain why someone might care so much about them.

Second, what Sen. Paul’s critics missed, or just blithely ignored, was that this was about the president’s claim to have the authority to assassinate an American citizen on American soil, or for that matter, anywhere else.

(2) Whether domestic assassinations are imminent is irrelevant to the debate

To focus on that attack is an absurd strawman, a deliberate distraction from the real issues, a total irrelevancy. That’s true for two primary reasons.

First, the reason this question matters so much – can the President target US citizens for assassination without due process on US soil? – is because it demonstrates just how radical the Obama administration’s theories of executive power are. Once you embrace the premises of everything they do in this area – we are a Nation at War; the entire globe is the battlefield; the president is vested with the unchecked power to use force against anyone he accuses of involvement with Terrorism – then there is no cogent, coherent way to say that the president lacks the power to assassinate even US citizens on US soil. That conclusion is the necessary, logical outcome of the premises that have been embraced. That’s why it is so vital to ask that. [..]

Second, presidents change, and so do circumstances. The belief that Barack Obama – despite his record – is too kind, too good, too magnanimous, too responsible to target US citizens for assassination on US soil is entirely irrelevant. At some point, there will be another president, even a Republican one, who will inherit the theories he embraces. Moreover, circumstances can change rapidly, so that – just as happened with 9/11 – what seems unthinkable quickly becomes not only possible but normalized.

In his third and final point, debunks the argument that this was over Holder’s first letter to Sen Paul, not that his second was any more satisfactory.

(3) Holder did not disclaim the power to assassinate on US soil

Indeed, the whole point of the Paul filibuster was to ask whether the Obama administration believes that it has the power to target a US citizen for assassination on US soil the way it did to Anwar Awlaki in Yemen. The Awlaki assassination was justified on the ground that Awlaki was a “combatant”, that he was “engaged in combat”, even though he was killed not while making bombs or shooting at anyone but after he had left a cafe where he had breakfast. If the Obama administration believes that Awlaki was “engaged in combat” at the time he was killed – and it clearly does – then Holder’s letter is meaningless at best, and menacing at worst, because that standard is so broad as to vest the president with exactly the power his supporters now insist he disclaimed.

The phrase “engaged in combat” has come to mean little more than: anyone the President accuses, in secrecy and with no due process, of supporting a Terrorist group. Indeed, radically broad definitions of “enemy combatant” have been at the heart of every War on Terror policy, from Guantanamo to CIA black sites to torture. [..]

At best, Holder’s letter begs the question: what do you mean when you accuse someone of being “engaged in combat”? And what are the exact limits of your power to target US citizens for execution without due process? That these questions even need to be asked underscores how urgently needed Paul’s filibuster was, and how much more serious pushback is still merited. But the primary obstacle to this effort has been, and remains, that the Democrats who spent all that time parading around as champions of these political values are now at the head of the line leading the war against them.

This is not a country of secret laws and courts. It is incumbent on the Congress to do its Constitutional duty to question the Executive Branch and hold it in check when it over steps its Constitutional authority.

That this president has expressed the belief that he has the authority to assassinate Americans without due process, and in fact has, should be abhorrent to every American no matter which side of the aisle you favor.  

Load more