Monday, March 31, 2014

War, War, War and Condi Rice



In Against All Enemies, Richard Clarke said aptly that Bush aggressing against Iraq would have been like FDR, after Pearl Harbor, deciding to attack Mexico. Condi Rice, my former student, now oil woman and major figure at Rand, advised Bush in this process. She would be much better off taking some time out to look at herself in the mirror and apologizing for what she has done.

***

Instead, she has doubled down. Having poisoned the Middle East and American soldiers with yet more depleted uranium, having led torture of prisoners, she thinks the US should not be "war weary." But as the upsurge against Obama's attempt to shoot missiles into Syria revealed, the American people are, fortunately, sick of war. Perhaps Condi was shielded from the great hostility to the elite before the Iraq war. But she might get the idea that her crowd of neo-cons, McCains and other barbaric fantasists are increasingly on the outs with most people (opinion in Congressional districts ran 9 to 1 against firing missiles at Syria as Tom Cole discovered in Oklahoma and Elijah Cummings in Maryland).

***

The following letters were sent to me by Coleen Rowley about Condi's upcoming visit to University of Minnesota on April 17. See here and here. They are personal because Condi is out of touch with the reality that people get killed, become maimed or sick, or are tortured or become torturers from these imperial enterprises.

In her stereotypical view,, "When America steps back and there is a vacuum, trouble will fill that vacuum." No, when America aggresses (and today fires off drones into countries killing civilians where the US has not even declared war), it produces more and more enemies with a just cause. Its long wars of occupation are counterproductive and harm many people, abroad and here...

***

So people look for a personal explanation for her being so out of touch. In some way, it is just that power has gone to her head, made her endorse things that no reasonable person should, and that she, like many others in the elite, then doubles down, foolishly, on viciousness. A sad case...

***

Colleen writes:

"U of M Professor Bill Messing sent me this Washington Post blog. If you were bummed out by the comments to the StarTribune article about Condoleezza Rice, maybe the comments here will raise your spirits.

Chuck

"Condoleezza Rice: U.S. can’t afford to be war-weary

By Aaron Blake

March 27 at 11:09 pm

Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice says that American leaders need to resist the temptation to become weary of war, according to a report of her remarks at a fundraiser.

'I fully understand the sense of weariness,' she told a GOP fundraiser Wednesday, according to reports. 'I fully understand that we must think: ‘Us, again?’ I know that we’ve been through two wars. I know that we’ve been vigilant against terrorism [If the Iraq and Afghanistan aggressions are "vigilant," what would be sleepwalking?]. I know that it’s hard. But leaders can’t afford to get tired. Leaders can’t afford to be weary [this is the opposite of leadership; Condi is the un-Martin Luther King...].”

President Obama has made clear in recent weeks that the Russian incursion into Ukraine's Crimean peninsula doesn't yet call for military intervention, and unlike the conflict in Syria, Obama hasn't broached the concept of using force in Ukraine.

As with the conflict in Syria, polls show the American people are highly resistant to military action in Ukraine -- especially after lengthy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rice said the United States has taken a step back in conflicts including Syria, Ukraine and others.

'When America steps back and there is a vacuum, trouble will fill that vacuum,' Rice said."

***

Coleen comments:

"Obviously she can't get enough of war! She's not weary of it because she doesn't have to live under drones and/or worry about some special covert teams busting down her door in the middle of the night. Her only role in war is to put on Gucci shoes and expensive designer suits and give speeches about mushroom clouds. And she's probably made some money off of war.

Just as she used her time at the podium to shill for war on Iran at Beth-El Synagogue in 2009, it won't be surprising if she fits more shilling for war on Ukraine, Syria or Iran into her speech how she struggled to bring civil rights to Iraq and the Mid-east just as blacks struggled for rights in the U.S. when she was growing up. In the American Faust: from Condi to Neo-Condi film, her professor recalls that Condi became most interested in Stalin's Machiavellian tactics [though a psychopath, Stalin was cleverer than Condi, and did lead a war of self-defense against the Nazis]. This 2008 book review also mentions Rice's connection to the warmongering neocons and it's a good summary overall:

http://oldbulllee.com/neocons.htm (it is, however, weak on Leo Strauss who was, oddly, a Jewish Nazi, a point that he hid in plain sight, about his early career - see here, here and here).

Coleen R."

***

Patty Guerrero added:

"She doesn’t also have to worry ab. any child of hers being tortured or going off to wars—"

***

The dissociation in the American elite about war is remarkable. Alone in Congress, former Senator Jim Webb had a son who served in Iraq (so did the writer/officer Andrew Bacevich whose fierce conservative writings on military decadence have received some elite attention; his son was killed there). Condi has no children and the others could not be bothered to serve themselves (Colin Powell excepted) and do not have children who serve.

***

I discovered at Liaoning University last summer that the Chinese one child policy means that children are comparatively well-nurtured, and that there is some reluctance, in a Confucian, family oriented culture, to go to war. The Chinese are very patriotic, but most of the tension is in the area that surrounds China (think of a "China" which was stirring trouble in Staten Island or Mexico or Quebec and you will see more clearly what aggressor "abhors a vacuum"...).

***

That this elite makes war frivolously as Kant once put it of kings, that it is careless of the lives of others and disengaged from the reality of war is illustrated, paradigmatically, by Condi Rice...

Friday, March 28, 2014

Capital punishment and Ray Jasper



"Dear Prof. Gilbert,

What a moving piece.[here] I often do not have time to read all your messages but this one caught my eye. After reading it, I learned that, in fact, Ray Jasper was executed today... executed at age 33, how symbolic. I hope and believe that he is in a better place with the other martyrs whom he mentions in his letter.

May God rest his soul - and thank you for your compassion in writing about him.

Yours Truly,
Lorraine Barlett"

***

Craig Williams sent around two thoughtful, occasionally eloquent notes underlining a serious complication in the case. Jasper apparently did plan and commit murder (see the brother's letter, who opposes capital punishment and grapples with this case here and the court summary here) and deluded himself about his responsibility. This is separate from the further, large issue of whether there should be capital punishment for anyone as opposed to life imprisonment.

***

In Craig's second letter, he points out that he would defend people he loves. Self-defense, or protection of the innocent, is no crime, even if it results in the death of an attacker (cf. Gandhi's response to a question from his son, "What should I do if someone tries to kill you?" "Stop him.") - though of course, as he imagines, the horror remains.

Given the time pressure in the case (the death penalty in 5 days), I did not investigate this more fully before sending it out: I apologize.

But thanks to Sarah for raising an important issue of justice - for many people on death row are in fact innocent which is why Al Gore, given DNA testing, came to oppose capital punishment during his presidential campaign; 49% are black; and so forth; see the Death Penalty Information Project's Innocence list of 144 prisoners freed from death row here - and to Craig for pursuing it.

***

Life in prison is a desolating punishment. It permits, however, the possibility of rehabilitation, or if new evidence (DNA, for example) acquittal. Ray Jasper had learned a lot in his time in prison (wrote eloquently about it). Serving out his sentence (and if serious mental help were available in prison), he might have ceased to deceive others and perhaps himself, and come to a different place.

The death penalty is cruelly carried out and an eye for an eye. It is beneath the dignity of a modern democratic states to do such things and most - 100 countries - have rightly abandoned it (the US joins Iran, China and Saudi Arabia among the few states which routinely execute...).

Despite some movement among Eric Holder, Rand Paul and others, the US also still has roughly 25% of the world's prisoners (more than Russia and China combined, for example). See the new Prison Policy Initiative report below. The bloodthirstiness of capital punishment and the singling out of blacks on death row is linked to a veiled police state which sweeps up many. Civilization is a long way up from here...

***

Craig wrote:

"The other side of the story... http://m.cjr.org/303546/show/1d6817420e9587c146987f322ec37ee0/?

I'm not, in any way, defending the justice system that so obviously broken. However, the picture painted by Mr. Jasper and the reality - that he admitted to in court - is quite different. If we're going to study the story, we need to study the entire story.

Craig Williams II"

***

"I’m sure this will make for a lively discussion tonight in class, but I will have to miss it. We have parent-teacher conferences tonight.

Since I won’t be there, I thought I’d draft a quick note to express a few of my thoughts.

I cannot - and do not want to - imagine what it must be like to spend seemingly endless days on death row awaiting a permanent punishment. I applaud Jasper for improving his literacy during that time and for being able to state his viewpoints so eloquently. And, it is not unlikely to think that someone facing the death penalty would look for - and find - any shred of evidence that might keep them alive.

Personally, I am conflicted about capital punishment. On the one hand, I don’t believe it is any person’s right to decide whether another person should live or die (or 12 people for that matter). On the other hand, I will defend the innocent and those I love and care about with no bounds. I hope I am never put in a position to decide.

The prison system is broken and that is obvious. I, personally, do not have the solution. I like the idea of having prisoners work, but Jasper makes a valid point about how this is slavery protected by the constitution. I like the fact that prisoners can get educated, but I find it wrong that a murderer can get a college-level education for free (albeit tainted by the felony conviction), and I, as a law-abiding citizen, have to pay for mine [probably we should restore democratic education and abolish debt-slavery for students]. As with many systems, there are positives and negatives. I don’t know that we will find a “perfect” system, but it would do us good to at least try.

To quote Gandhi, "The shreds of individuality cannot be sewed together with a bayonet; nor can democracy be restored according to the Biblical injunction of an “eye for an eye” which, in the end, would make everybody blind.

Any attempt to introduce democracy or to check totalitarianism must constantly emphasize the rehabilitation of personality. Freedom and responsibility help. Rigid authority hinders.
Craig Williams II"

***

Andrew Sullivan
Chart Of The Day
MAR 18 2014 @ 9:03AM
by Patrick Appel

The Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) sizes up the prison population:

See the very revealing chart here.

Jon Fasman adds important context:

PPI reckons the United States has roughly 2.4m people locked up, with most of those (1.36m) in state prisons. That is more than the International Centre for Prison Studies estimates, but it’s in the same ballpark.

Remember, though, that number is static: it does not capture the churn of people in and out of incarceration during a given year. For the population in local jails, PPI used the information in Table 1 of this report, which shows how many people were locked up in jails on June 30th 2012 (the last weekday in June), and came up with 721,654 in local jails, as well as another 22,870 immigration detainees housed in local jails under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Around 60.6% of jail inmates have been convicted; 39.4%, which includes the immigration detainees, have not been convicted, either because they had only recently been arrested or because they are awaiting trial and don’t have the money to make bail. Look one page earlier in the report, however, and you’ll see that local jails admitted a total of 11.6m people between July 1st 2011 and June 30th 2012.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Torturers on parade



In the cheshire cat mind of Donald Rumsfeld, President Obama is "worse than a trained ape." In Jung's terms, Rumsfeld projects on Obama. As Errol Morris's new film and interview below in the New York Times reveal, with this torturer, there is no there there.

***

In the American elite, we have a sorry spectrum from Obama, the cool manager of drones, force-feeding hunger strikers at Guantanamo (a form of torture), using mercenaries (privatization of the military) and a secret, tyrant's army - the Joint Special Operations Command - and now, accomplice to those officials in the Bush-Cheney regime who have been let walk for war crimes, ranging on to even more scary Republicans (endless new and unthought-out wars, torture and blithering bigotry). Oligarchy is, in foreign policy, an unchallenged force (i.e. no unions, no civil rights movements or mass movements except in cases of extreme outrage like Iraq or increasingly Palestine), and it is no wonder that Obama, once a community organizer and student of racism, is but the moderate wing (won't wage war in Iran, is avoiding big wars so far; has just proposed some serious limitation on NSA spying; and the like) of this, generally speaking, bizarrely arrogant aggressive grouping. Among politicians, if we continue to push from below, perhaps the Ron/Rand Paul skepticism of adventures abroad as a creator of hostility toward America may make some impact, along with Bernie Sanders and some others among Democrats.

***

But just think that such people - Rumsfeld, Cheney, Bush, Rice and the like held the fate of humanity and could again. Colin Powell apparently objected privately to purposeless aggression - aggression is always evil, but the Iraq invasion had no serious basis except yearnings for oil and military bases, and even these, fortunately, were squandered, though at immense cost to ordinary Americans, by this feckless crew - and torture, but went along. What we have is a lame spectacle of self-important torturers on parade. See here and here.

***

Here is Andrew Sullivan, a decent Tory Royalist as he partly describes himself (add Catholic, gay, the first to see the merits in Obama's candidacy and a critic of some major faults in his policies, especially about torture) on Errol Morris's new movie "The Unknown Known" (the title, one assumes, speaks to Rumsfeld's Cheshire cat impression).

***

"Rumsfeld: Obama Worse Than A “Trained Ape”
MAR 25 2014 @ 11:38AM

For a video interview with Morris, see here.

What’s truly striking and amazing about Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld is their persistent refusal/inability to reflect in any serious way on the immense moral, fiscal, and human costs of their failed wars. They are post-modern creatures – Rumsfeld never tackled an insurgency, he just “redefined” the word, just as he re-named torture – and you see this most graphically in Errol Morris’s small masterpiece, The Unknown Known. And so the very concept of personal accountability and responsibility is utterly absent. There was one flash of it: when Rumsfeld offered his resignation after the torture program’s reach and migration was revealed in the photos from Abu Ghraib. But even then, Rumsfeld was resigning because of the exposure – not because of the war crimes which he directly authorized.

And so it is fitting, perhaps, that after the massive misjudgment of the Iraq invasion and occupation, and after neglect in Afghanistan made that country even less safe from the Taliban, that Rumsfeld has the gall to attack the sitting president in a clear case of dealing with a foreign leader. Here is Rumsfeld, unable (unlike McNamara) to find a conscience within his massive, brittle ego, lashing out at the president yet again:

'This administration, the White House and the State Department, have failed to get a status of forces agreement. A trained ape could get a status of forces agreement. It does not take a genius.'

Here is the man who derided half of Europe and told the Brits they weren’t even needed on the eve of warfare talking about diplomacy:

'United States diplomacy has been so bad, so embarrassingly bad, that I’m not the least bit surprised that he felt cornered and is feeling he has to defend himself in some way or he’s not president of that country. We have so mismanaged that relationship … I personally sympathize with him to some extent. Nobody likes to hear a foreign leader side with Putin on the Crimea the way he has. But I really think it’s understandable, given the terrible, terrible diplomacy that the United States has conducted with Afghanistan over the last several years.'

So having described the first black president as inferior to a trained monkey, he actually sides with a current adversary of this country against his own commander-in-chief. There was a time when I would have been shocked by this. But Rumsfeld and Cheney can permanently reduce one’s ability to feel shock at anything.

A reader adds:

'Rumsfeld fails to give his audience any hint of the fact that this is a problem that he made. America used to have no problem concluding SOFAs with its allies. Those agreements addressed Americans in uniform and provided that owing to the need for military discipline and control, the soldiers, sailors and airmen (and women) would be subject to military justice rather than the criminal justice system of the host government. However, under Rumsfeld, the footprint of the American military changed dramatically, and contractors came to constitute a majority of the force the US deployed. At the same time, American military and civilian justice failed utterly to deal with the contractors (think of the Blackwater contractors who massacred 14 Iraqis and wounded 20 more at Nissour Square in Baghdad in September 2008, for instance). These circumstances led both the Iraqis and the Afghans to refuse to sign a SOFA in the form the US sought, because the US’s terrible record (Rumsfeld’s record) of non enforcement. Thus, Rumsfeld created the problem and has made it increasingly difficult for the US to get these agreements.'

The key problems, Iraq and Afghanistan, were problems under Bush as well as Obama, and were handled by the same professional team at the Pentagon. They really have next to nothing to do with the White House, under either Bush or Obama. But they have an awful lot to do with Rumsfeld and his scandalous mismanagement of the Pentagon."

***

"The Certainty of Donald Rumsfeld (Part 1)
By ERROL MORRIS New York Times MARCH 25, 2014,

For cartoon and photos, see here.

This is the first installment of a four-part series.

1.
THREE REPORTERS


Ted Bafaloukos
Four kinds of persons: zeal without knowledge; knowledge without zeal; neither knowledge nor zeal; both zeal and knowledge.

– Pascal, Pensées



When I first met Donald Rumsfeld in his offices in Washington, D.C., one of the things I said to him was that if we could provide an answer to the American public about why we went to war in Iraq, we would be rendering an important service. He agreed. Unfortunately, after having spent 33 hours over the course of a year interviewing Mr. Rumsfeld, I fear I know less about the origins of the Iraq war than when I started. A question presents itself: How could that be? How could I know less rather than more? Was he hiding something? Or was there really little more than met the eye?

Many people associate the phrases the known known, the known unknown and the unknown unknown with Rumsfeld, but few people are aware of how he first presented these ideas to the public. It was at a Pentagon news conference on Feb. 12, 2002. Reporters filed in to the Pentagon Briefing Room — five months after 9/11 and a year before the invasion of Iraq. The verbal exchanges that followed provide an excursion into a world no less irrational, no less absurd, than the worlds Lewis Carroll created in Alice in Wonderland.

Jack McWethy, the ABC Pentagon correspondent, asked Rumsfeld about the containment policies of the Clinton administration.[1]

The substance of Rumsfeld’s reply reiterated his previous condemnations of those policies — sanctions aren’t working, the no-fly zones produce little or no benefit, and Saddam is developing weapons of mass destruction.[2] It was also a warning:

DONALD RUMSFELD: Every year that goes by and the inspectors are not there, the development of their weapons of mass destruction proceed apace, bringing them closer to a time when they will have those weapons developed in a form that is more threatening than it had been the year before or the year before that.

Jim Miklaszewski, the NBC Pentagon correspondent, asked another question.

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI: In regard to Iraq weapons of mass destruction and terrorists, is there any evidence to indicate that Iraq has attempted to or is willing to supply terrorists with weapons of mass destruction? Because there are reports that there is no evidence of a direct link between Baghdad and some of these terrorist organizations.

DONALD RUMSFELD: Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones. And so people who have the omniscience that they can say with high certainty that something has not happened or is not being tried, have capabilities that are — what was the word you used, Pam, earlier?

PAM HESS: Free associate.[3] [The phrase “free associate” came earlier in the press conference in response to a question about drones.]

DONALD RUMSFELD: Yeah. They can do things I can’t do. (laughter)

Few people today remember that Rumsfeld was ostensibly responding to Miklaszewski’s request for evidence. What evidence do you have that Iraq is supplying terrorists with W.M.D.? Rumsfeld’s answer was a non-answer — not just an evasion or a misdirection. Many people believe Rumsfeld’s reply was brilliant. I think otherwise.

Miklaszewski was unsatisfied and was trying to pin him down. I sense his frustration. I share it. What is he saying? Miklaszewski continued:


C-SPAN Video Library
JIM MIKLASZEWSKI: Excuse me. But is this an unknown unknown?

DONALD RUMSFELD: I’m not —

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI: Because you said several unknowns, and I’m just wondering if this is an unknown unknown.

DONALD RUMSFELD: I’m not going to say which it is.

Jamie McIntyre, the senior Pentagon correspondent for CNN, returned to the real question — the question of evidence.

JAMIE McINTYRE: I just want to — because you so cleverly buried Jim Miklaszewski’s question by characterizing it as something that was unknowable. But he didn’t ask you [about] something that was unknowable. He asked you if you knew of evidence that Iraq was supplying — or willing to supply weapons of mass destruction to terrorists —

DONALD RUMSFELD: He cited reports where people said that was not the case.

JAMIE McINTYRE: Right. He’s done that and —

DONALD RUMSFELD: And my response was to that, and I thought it was good response.

But McIntyre did not give up. And Rumsfeld slipped into more gobbledygook.

JAMIE McINTYRE: But if we are to believe things —

DONALD RUMSFELD: I could have said that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, or vice versa.

JAMIE McINTYRE: But we just want to know, are you aware of any evidence? Because that would increase our level of belief from faith to something that would be based on evidence.

DONALD RUMSFELD: Yeah, I am aware of a lot of evidence involving Iraq on a lot of subjects. And it is not for me to make public judgments about my assessment or others’ assessment of that evidence. I’m going to make that the last question.

The power of dogma versus evidence. We have been transported back to 1633. To Galileo Galilei standing before the Inquisition disputing the geocentric versus the heliocentric solar system. For the Inquisition, Galileo’s calculations conflict with dogma. But for Galileo, his calculations reveal the true nature of the universe — the true nature of reality. (The scene is memorialized in a painting by Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury, Galileo Galilei Before Members of the Holy Office in the Vatican in 1633 — a painting of a painting with Raphael’s Disputation of the Holy Sacrament looming in the background.)

These 17th century debates remind us that if you have an unshakable belief in something, then no amount of evidence (or lack of evidence) can convince you otherwise. (There are always anti-rationalist objections to everything and anything. It is curious, however, to hear them in the 21st century rather than in the 17th.)


Robert-Fleury Joseph-Nicolas (1797-1890)/ Louvre, Paris, France/ Peter Willi/ The Bridgeman Art Library
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) before members of the Holy Office in the Vatican in 1633.
——–

Jim Miklaszewski (NBC Pentagon correspondent), Pam Hess (former U.P.I. Pentagon correspondent) and Jamie McIntyre (former CNN Pentagon correspondent, now at NPR) were three of the reporters who questioned Rumsfeld in that exchange on Feb. 12, and I decided to interview each one of them. They were hearing about the “known” and the “unknown” for the first time. What did they make of it? I wanted to interview people who may have shared my frustrations with the answers that Rumsfeld offered to questions about evidence.

Pam Hess was my favorite. She worked for U.P.I. and A.P. and is now the executive director of Arcadia, a center for sustainable food and agriculture.

ERROL MORRIS: Rumsfeld clearly liked you.

PAM HESS: Yes, I think that’s true. He liked Mik [Jim Miklaszewski] and Jamie [McIntyre], as well. He liked a lot of the reporters. That was my impression. As the Secretary of Defense, he had so much power, and was obviously so confident, which you could also characterize in other ways —

ERROL MORRIS: In what other ways would you characterize it?

PAM HESS: [Laughs] Some people would call him arrogant. I just found him to be his own version of “extremely confident.” And I think he appreciated reporters because we didn’t have to kowtow to him. He enjoyed that he was finally in a place where people were saying what they thought. My impression was that he enjoyed the press conferences because he sort of got to bare-knuckle it.

ERROL MORRIS: He also got to perform.

PAM HESS: And he loved it. He’s an eminently confident person and therefore does not shy away from being the center of attention.

ERROL MORRIS: He might have liked to be confronted, but it’s not at all clear to me that he was responsive to the questions. Before he gave the “known and unknown” speech, Jim Miklaszewski asked, pointedly, “What evidence do you have that Saddam Hussein is providing W.M.D. to Al Qaeda?”

PAM HESS: The problem you have as a reporter is that you need facts. To really chase that rabbit down the hole — to take it apart — you needed more information than we had. We didn’t know that there were no weapons of mass destruction.

ERROL MORRIS: But you certainly you had suspicions —

PAM HESS: [The administration] may well have all believed that there were W.M.D. But honestly, if they went there and found nothing, how do you make a case for war? When Rumsfeld was selected as Secretary of Defense, that group of people came in with him — Feith and Wolfowitz and all the rest. Reporters would just look at their résumés and where they were coming from — and this was well before 9/11 — we were like, “How long before this war with Iraq starts?”[4]

ERROL MORRIS: Did it seem like an inevitability?

PAM HESS: It was a difficult environment to report in. The anti-war crowd really wanted the reporters in that room to take up their fight. And that is something that we couldn’t do, professionally or ethically. We’re not there as antiwar protesters. We’re there as reporters, trying to assemble a public record. You had to have all your ducks in a row to ask a question and to be able to keep pursuing it, because he would find any weakness and take it apart. I thought of them as exit ramps. I tried not to give him exit ramps in my questions.

ERROL MORRIS: You were good at your job. You asked thought-provoking questions. You confronted him repeatedly.

PAM HESS: It was an intimidating room to be in sometimes.

ERROL MORRIS: You said that you were always looking for what would be his possible exit ramps? Could you give me an example?

PAM HESS: The “unknown unknown” is a perfect exit ramp. [Miklaszewski’s questions about evidence were never answered.] I remember a reporter asked a question that began, “It is said that … x.” And Rumsfeld pounced on the “It is said” part: “Who says that?” If there were any adjectives or adverbs that he could quarrel with, he would. Those were the exit ramps. I learned and others learned not to go in unprepared. You had to put together a question without exit ramps — that is, direct and short and getting exactly to what you want to know. And whether or not he answered it is another question. But at least you have a clear question on the record, and then you can judge his answer. I don’t mean this as an insult to him — but I think that there’s less there than people imagine. He’s who he is, and that’s it. That guy that you captured on film, that’s who he is exactly. And I think that freaks people out. Because he doesn’t have these layers of insecurity and self-doubt. He just doesn’t.

——–

In 2003, Jamie McIntyre was the senior Pentagon correspondent at CNN. Now, he is a familiar voice on NPR’s All Things Considered. When I called him, he compared Rumsfeld, the subject of my current film, The Unknown Known, and Robert S. McNamara, the subject of an earlier film, The Fog of War. He told me about a trip he had taken with Rumsfeld. Fog served as inflight entertainment. Did Rumsfeld watch? Was he struck by any similarities? Jamie McIntyre asked him, but his question was quickly dismissed: “No, no, I wasn’t watching … If I have time I’ll watch it.” The story resonated with me. On our first meeting, I’d asked Rumsfeld if he had ever seen The Fog of War — I had actually sent him a copy. But it was never clear to me whether he had watched it. Notwithstanding, he told me, “that man [McNamara] had nothing to apologize for.”

ERROL MORRIS: I hadn’t realized that Rumsfeld’s recitation of the known and unknown was a response to a question by Jim Miklaszewski about evidence. It was a very, very specific question. And the answer is this evasion —

JAMIE McINTYRE: Pentagon reporters don’t really expect to get much information from briefings. The real reporting at the Pentagon is based on sources and relationships that you have with people — digging out the things that the Pentagon doesn’t want to say. So the briefings are a place where you can get people to put stuff on the record, and you can be on record asking tough questions. Reporters are trying to demonstrate that they’re independent, that they’re asking the tough questions, that they’re not cowed or intimidated by these officials.

ERROL MORRIS: Still things do come out of press conferences. Do you remember that press conference? The known and the unknown?

JAMIE McINTYRE: When he said it, I remember thinking, “Yeah, that’s true. It’s sort of self-evident, but it’s true: the things that we know, and the things that we don’t know, and the things we don’t know we don’t know.” After that, I remember some people were portraying it as some sort of gaffe — some bit of nonsense he had said that was convoluted and didn’t make any sense. Bob Gates, who came after Rumsfeld, had his own version of this thing. He came from an intelligence background, and he used to talk about the difference between “secrets” and “mysteries” — secrets being things that were knowable but we just don’t know them, and mysteries being things that are basically unknowable — as the difficulty that policy-makers have in making decisions about things because of the information they don’t have, the imponderables.

ERROL MORRIS: I sometimes think of it as the epistemology from hell: the known known, the known unknown —

JAMIE McINTYRE: What you see in Rumsfeld is based on how you feel about him. I actually liked him a lot. There’s a tendency to really demonize him, or, for the few people that really love Rumsfeld, to lionize him.

ERROL MORRIS: I was often struck by the difference between Rumsfeld and Robert McNamara. McNamara said that he never answered the question he was asked but rather the question that he wanted to be asked. Rumsfeld, on the other hand, would never answer the question he was asked or any other question — Ask Rumsfeld a question, and all you get is evasions. But are they just evasions or do they reveal a lack of substance? And McNamara expressed regret —

JAMIE McINTYRE: I know Rumsfeld well enough at this point to know that he’s never going to have this kind of epiphany. He’s never going to have this introspective moment where he realizes, even though we had the best intentions, that many of his decisions turned out to be disasters. It was rare that he would ever admit that he was wrong about anything. Part of his defense was that he was very adept at putting caveats into everything that he said so that he could go back later and cite the caveat. “I never said how long the war would last.” “I never said how many troops would be needed.” “I never said how much it would cost.” He was very slippery. You couldn’t pin him down on things. And his favorite technique, of course, was to challenge the premise of your question and never actually answer it.[5]

——–

Jim Miklaszewski has been the chief Pentagon correspondent at NBC for over 20 years. He’s still there.

ERROL MORRIS: Everybody knows about the known known, the known unknown, etc. But the first time Rumsfeld publicly mentioned it was in response to a question you asked — “What evidence do you have that Saddam is giving W.M.D. to terrorist organizations?”

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI: There were many people within the U.S. military asking the same questions internally — “Have you seen or heard anything about the existence of W.M.D.s?” Which was a strong indication that many people within the senior military ranks were not convinced.

ERROL MORRIS: I think it’s amazing that people in the military were asking you for information about W.M.D. But you never really got a reply —

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI: I mean, what do you do at a press conference? I thought I had challenged him about as far as he was going to let me go. Not that I needed his permission. But it was clear that he was not going to answer it beyond that, at that point … Whenever we go to these briefings and we question anybody — and particularly the secretary of defense — we’re not looking for opinions, we’re not looking for political spin. We’re just looking for facts. That’s what drives this press corps, covering the military in particular: “Just give us the facts and let us report them.”

ERROL MORRIS: You have a look on your face — maybe this is just my interpreting it — a look of bemusement.

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI: Oh, no. Most good reporters are, in a sense, like lawyers — you ask a question, having a sense of what the answer, or at least part of the answer, is going to be. But with Rumsfeld, that really was never the case.

ERROL MORRIS: Could you see the war coming? Did it seem like the die was cast already in early 2002?

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI: Well, I think the die was cast not only concerning weapons of mass destruction, but concerning the invasion and the immediate aftermath. For months after the Iraq war began, many — not just in the Pentagon but in the administration — failed to recognize that while the invasion was a success, the steps that the U.S. had taken immediately following the invasion were crumbling before their eyes: the de-Baathification, the disarming and dissolution of the entire military. This was something that Rumsfeld used to talk about, too, in the days after Baghdad fell. He was very dismissive of the fact that the looting [in 2003] signified anything except a brief period of lawlessness. But, again, I harken back to some of the military leaders who saw that, and immediately recognized that there was no structure left there, which did not bode well for the immediate, if not the distant, future security of Baghdad or of the entire country.

ERROL MORRIS: Do you think that Rumsfeld was in denial? That even he couldn’t see his way to the facts through the layers of fantasy that he constructed in promoting the Iraq war?

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI: Well, not just him but the entire building was in denial. Doug Feith — don’t get me started on Doug Feith — told me that they had a Marshall Plan all set to go in terms of rebuilding Iraq. And he pointed to this stack of huge three-ringed binders, all of them black. There must have been about 10 of them stacked up on top of a cabinet. And I asked to see them, and he said, “No, you can’t. It’s classified.” And I said, “Well, O.K., I understand that, I guess.” But I raised it to somebody else within the next couple of weeks. I said, “Well, Doug Feith showed me the Marshall Plan for Iraq.” And this person laughed, and he said, “Mik, that was the Marshall Plan.” It was a copy of the original Marshall Plan, not a plan for Iraq.

ERROL MORRIS: Was Feith responsible for these, the two edicts that came out of Bremer — the de-Baathification edict, the disbanding of the military?[6]

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI: Well, no, because Rumsfeld would not have delegated that kind of authority or power to Feith, either. There were certain people that you could tell he would listen to intently, but it always looked to me, whenever Feith came around, it was, Rumsfeld was just very dismissive. He’d say, “O.K., well” — and then sort of shoo him away.

ERROL MORRIS: So who did Donald Rumsfeld listen to?

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI: Donald Rumsfeld.

——–

A couple of months after our discussion I received an email from Pam Hess. She had written down some notes, and finally decided to send them to me. She described these thoughts as “the mice running around in her brain opening up old doors.”

With regard to your central question: was it frustrating to cover Rumsfeld? The answer is no, mostly. I saw who he was pretty clearly and I didn’t expect to get much out of him — at least nothing he didn’t want to share — so I usually wasn’t frustrated. He met my expectations.

And to say it was frustrating would suggest that I thought I “knew” the truth and just couldn’t get him to admit it.

But the fact is, I didn’t know what was true regarding the intelligence — none of us did. So I tried to nibble around the edges of what was knowable. If I couldn’t see and judge the value of the intelligence for myself, I could at least try to figure out his decision process, what his thinking was, why he felt so clearly and strongly that war with Iraq was the right way to go — regardless of what the intel said — and try to capture that for the record. I was very curious about the narrative he was building. The “why” interested me more than the “what.”

A good way to describe the situation in that press room in the lead-up to the war was that the administration had this black box of intelligence, its contents known only to them. We were basically asking 20 questions about what was in the box. But without getting a peek at it ourselves, we were not in a strong position to challenge them factually — which is ultimately our only real power …

So I’d turn over everything he said in my head, try to square it up with everything we knew, and argue it out to myself from his perspective. And many times I’d hit a brick wall — I just couldn’t make sense of what I thought I knew to be true from what he said. And then my hand would shoot up involuntarily. I have seen tape of it actually happening. My brow gets knitted, I cock my head, then up goes the arm.


C-SPAN Video Library
His confrontational style encouraged me to have my facts down cold before I went in there. He’d destroy you if there was a weakness in your question, and you’d end up giving him the exit ramp he was looking for to get out of a difficult question while scoring points with his sizable fan base on TV.

I don’t think anyone could ever get him to admit regret or question his past actions. It’s not in his DNA, and I don’t think he feels regret for anything. This is a supremely self-assured person who believes he makes the best decisions possible given the information and the situation at hand, and then lets the chips fall where they may.

Critics attacked us because they thought they could do our job better — that if they had the opportunity to interrogate Rumsfeld, by golly they’d break him and get the truth!

Never gonna happen. He is, I believe, exactly who he presents to the world.

——–

[1] McWethy died in a skiing accident shortly after he retired from ABC News. This was his question:

JACK McWETHY: Previous administrations have adopted the policy of trying to contain Saddam Hussein. And it appears from what the president has said and what Colin Powell has said that containment no longer works in the view of this administration, that the threat has somehow changed, increased, that the dynamics are different, and therefore regime change has become a more substantial goal for this administration than previous ones. Is that true?

[2] These assessments appear in a Rumsfeld memo from July 27, 2001, over a month before 9/11. If Clinton’s policy was containment, the policy of the new administration was regime change.

[3] Pam Hess, earlier in the news conference, had asked Rumsfeld and Richard Myers (the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs) about drones and their use by the C.I.A.

PAM HESS: Could I just get the two of you [Rumsfeld and Myers] maybe to free associate a little bit more on that subject? We’re seeing a —

DONALD RUMSFELD: To do what? (laughter)

PAM HESS: Free associate. (laughs) It’s a sort of touchy-feely ’70s term. (laughter)

RICHARD MYERS: I don’t believe I can —

DONALD RUMSFELD: You got the — you got the wrong guys! (laughter)

RICHARD MYERS: I don’t think I can do that with you. It’s illegal. (laughter)

[4] Doug Feith got his start in government in 1981 working for the National Security Council under his college mentor Richard Pipes, who headed up the Team B study challenging C.I.A. estimates of Soviet missile deployment. The next year, he went to the Defense Department to serve as Special Counsel to assistant secretary Richard Perle, neoconservative godfather. In the following years, Feith was influential in blocking ratification of changes to the Geneva Conventions that grant non-state actors prisoner of war status even if they fail to distinguish themselves from the civilian population. Under the Bush administration, he was the number three man at the Pentagon, overseeing the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Unit, which sought and publicized links between terror organizations and state sponsors, and the Office of Special Plans, tasked with postwar planning in Iraq.

Paul Wolfowitz also rose to prominence through his involvement with Team B, though he previously got his start in Washington as an aide to influential Senator Henry M. Jackson. Under Reagan, Wolfowitz became Director of Policy Planning at the Department of State and began at this point denouncing Saddam Hussein. He served as Undersecretary of Defense for Policy from 1989 to 1993 under then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, and was the author of the policy that became known as the Wolfowitz Doctrine, promoting unilateralism and pre-emptive military action against potential threats. He repeatedly expressed his regret that Saddam Hussein was not ousted in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Prior to George W. Bush’s election in 2000, Wolfowitz was one of the first members of a group of political heavyweights called The Vulcans, who were assembled to advise and coach the future president.

[5] From the April 9, 2003, defense briefing (http://www.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=2339; video here: http://c-spanvideo.org/clip/4471808):

JAMIE McINTYRE: Mr. Secretary, here’s a single question that hopefully doesn’t lend itself to a one-word answer. (Scattered laughter.) What about Saddam Hussein? (Scattered laughter.)

DONALD RUMSFELD: (Sighs.) Exactly what is it about him that you’re interested in? (Laughter.) His health?

JAMIE McINTYRE: Where is he? Do you know where he is? Are you trying to get him? Is he likely to get away? Does it –

DONALD RUMSFELD: There’s no question but that — it is hard to find a single person. It is hard to find them when they’re alive and mobile, it’s hard to find them when they’re not well, and it’s hard to find them if they’re buried under rubble. We don’t know. And he’s not been around. He’s not active. Therefore, he’s either dead or he’s incapacitated, or he’s healthy and cowering in some tunnel someplace, trying to avoid being caught. What else can one say?

JAMIE McINTYRE: Will you get him?

DONALD RUMSFELD: Who knows? Who knows? Time will tell. The important things that needed to happen will happen. The regime will change, and the country will no longer have weapons of mass destruction. It will no longer threaten its neighbors. It will have an opportunity for the people of Iraq to participate in determining what kind of a government they want. And liberated people will be able to be free to say what they want and do what they want. They might even have a free press eventually there.

[6] L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer was installed as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority for Iraq in charge of reconstruction in May of 2003. In this role, Bremer was permitted to make rules by decree. Many people believe that his first two decrees, made in late May, were responsible for plunging Iraq into chaos and fueling the insurgency. Although there’s little disagreement about the effect of these decrees, there’s considerably more about whether they originated with Bremer, or, if not, where they came from. It seems unlikely that policy decisions of this magnitude would have been made without oversight from the Pentagon, the State Department or the White House."

Monday, March 24, 2014

Arapahoe High, Wind River and Sand Creek: a letter from Clint Stanovsky



h/t Joe Big Medicine and Clint Stanovsky

Claire Davis was murdered and other Arapahoe High School students shot for no reason, last December 13. The School is named for Arapahoes who are no longer in Colorado. The descendants are at Wind River Reservation in Wyoming as well as one shared by Shoshoni and Southern Arapahoe in Oklahoma.

***

Arapahoe high school students have a relation to Wind River (their nickname, the Warriors, is thus not simply a specter of genocide, with most users suffering from a founding amnesia, like that of the infamous Washington R...). During a bad winter many years ago, they raised clothing for students in Wyoming. The letter from Anna Sutterer on the January 10th school assembly from the Littleton Independent below mentions a little boy who got a new coat and gloves, and exclaimed "I'll never be cold again." (a story told by Phil Garhart, principal at Wyoming Indian High School). Perhaps dwelling in this story underestimates the distance still to be traveled. Nonetheless, healers from the Northern Arapahoe helped students deal with the shock and grief of the shooting.

***

Yet, as Clint Stanovsky suggests in a letter below, there is no awareness among Arapahoe students that the Sand Creek massacre,150 years ago this November 29th, murdered and mutilated Arapahoe and Cheyenne women and children as well as old men - Black Kettle had posted a huge American flag, with 38 stars, given to him by A.B. Greenwood, the Indian Commissioner in Washington, and a flag of truce over his tent and the "troops" betrayed them. That massacre drove the descendants to Montana, Wyoming and Oklahoma. That is why there are no Cheyennes and Arapahoes today in Colorado, no spiritual elders near Arapahoe High...

***

Clint wrote:

"Alan:

Our conversation yesterday reminds me that I need more practice articulating the scholarly weaving I do, beyond my books and profs and seminar cohort. Thanks for listening so receptively! I'll get better at it.

Attached is the Littleton Independent article we talked about yesterday -- by an Arapahoe High senior at the assembly on their first day back after the shootings. I'd love to hear your thoughts after you read it.

It seems that the link between Arapahoe High students --seeking healing from the shootings -- and Arapahoe descendants of Sand Creek -- seeking healing through observances of the 150th anniversary and the National Historical Monument -- is almost there, but has yet to be made...

Anyhow, I look forward to the next time our paths cross.

Best regards,

Clint Stanovsky"

***

The Sand Creek massacre was done by the US army using three month recruits (100 daystars) from Denver and surroundings (regular soldiers led by Silas Soule and Joseph Cramer, ordered not to fire a shot, except for those with Major Scott Anthony, did not participate; Soule and Cramer's eloquent and painful letters about the Massacre awakened national outrage - see here). The massacre was central to the founding of Denver and of the University of Denver (a Methodist institution, Chivington, the perpetrator and a Methodist Presiding Elder, and John Evans, an instigator and the Territorial Governor, on its Board).

***

American gun culture - the culture of pretty unrestrained violence, including mass shootings of children as at Sandy Hook - grows out of the "old West" and its fierce racism (the "anti-Indian sublime," as Peter Silver names it in his Our Savage Neighbors - 2012). That racism was ingredient to similar massacres in the East from the Pequot Massacre of 1638...

***

After the shooting of 6 year olds at Sandy Hook in December, 2012, Devon Pena sent me an article linking it and Sand Creek. See here and here. Victims of a Founding Amnesia (ignorance cultivated by the elite), some commentators had said: no such murders of children had occurred previously in the United States. That misses especially nonwhite children. Sand Creek and Ludlow are both places, among many others, where women and children were massacred. To break the spell of violence, this connection needs powerfully to be brought to the fore.

***

Some months back, Tink Tinker told me a story of a Shawnee soldier, standing with his helmet off, with two other privates at the border of Iraq, just before the invasion. An officer berated them (guess having their helmets on would have deflected the poison gas the Bush administration was warning about) and pointed to the territory they would attack: "Gentlemen, that's Indian country." See here.

***

America's rampant killing of nonwhite people, even to this moment with drones, as well as its militarism grows out of and is partly a consequence of ethnic cleansing at home. This is the secret of the silence, the founding Amnesia, at Arapahoe High. To become a decent, nonaggressive, and effective regime in the 21st century, America needs to recognize and separate itself now from this history.

***

At Arapahoe High, students mourn the loss of a friend, fear the sudden and inexplicable danger of an American environment where gun-toters, like mushrooms after a sudden rain, come every few months to a nearby school or movie.

The students can begin to heal by knowing this story. We all can.

***

"Littleton Independent
CENTENNIAL
Assembly empowers Arapahoe High School students

For the photograph, see here.

Anna Sutterer
Posted 1/15/14

Editor’s note: Anna Sutterer is a senior at Arapahoe High School and a student-journalist. She wrote this first-person account of the Jan. 10 assembly, which was closed to the public, for Colorado Community.

There was a time, I suppose, for the whole world to have its eyes on Arapahoe High School. For there to be questions, interviews, extra attention and special treatment and a general displaced feeling. But for the first time since Dec. 13, 2013, the entire Arapahoe student body, faculty and staff, assembled on Friday, Jan. 10, untormented by media vans and helicopters,reporters and cameras. It was a welcome change for the students and staff, simply coming home.
 At 7:25 a.m., more than 2,000 Warriors crowded onto the old Sitting Eagle Gymnasium bleachers as we had for the homecoming spirit assembly earlier this school year. But this time the proceedings had much more at stake.
The walls of the gym were lined with teachers and staff, each entrance filled with the presence of a beloved educator-turned-family-member. The room felt like a giant hug. In this moment we were reminded of the trust and love between the students and staff at Arapahoe, evident especially now. Each teacher’s expression was reassuring, softening the idea of getting back to work and offering the promise of overwhelming grace for each student’s individual grieving periods.

Principal Natalie Pramenko began with a reminder. “There will be time for outside speakers, but today is about our students, our faculty, our new start to our new semester.”

The goal was healing and dipping our toes into the reality of resuming normality and work. No need at the moment for media to report or to tell us how to resume what we do well and have done well in the past: being a school of great integrity and excellence.

Several Arapaho tribe members from the Wind River Reservation graciously trekked to their sister school for the assembly. They served as a reminder of how strong and unique Arapahoe High School is in its history, an aspect I believe unifies our student body deeply.

Phil Garhart, principal at Wyoming Indian High School, relayed a story about the connection between the two schools. Many years ago, when the kids up at Wind River were struggling with the winter cold, a coat drive was set up at Arapahoe High School to aid them. The outpour delighted so many, and one little boy in particular, who looked at his teacher in his new coat and large gloves and said with a grin, “I’ll never be cold again.”

That’s the kind of spirit Arapahoe brings to each of its students. This special school culture seeps into all parts of our lives, becoming an integral part of our whole community. Once you are a part of the family, the tradition, and the support, you’re never cold again.

Tribal elder Mark Soldier Wolf, assisted by his daughter, Cassie Soldier Wolf, led the entire gymnasium in a cleansing ceremony special to the Arapaho tribe. Fragrant incense was lit and, using an eagle’s wing, the smoke was rhythmically wafted toward each of the four student sections, freshman, sophomore, junior, then senior over and over again.

Mark Soldier Wolf encouraged the audience with the poetic language of a weathered native. He had a way of telling an intricate, nostalgic tale that seemed to go beyond comprehension, but ending with wisdom and poignant messages that felt personal. He reminded me so much of my grandfather.

He explained to us the meaning of “warrior.” It’s an investigation of your land, people, and community — a warrior watches over. He reminded us to “never fear your enemy, the darkness. There is always a flashlight or a switch.” I couldn’t help but be empowered by this man, standing as a witness to the strength of a true warrior, one who made it through the harsh times of his poverty-stricken people and now emboldens us to do the same.

Empowerment was the theme for the rest of the speakers that morning. Our student body president, Megan Moore, clarified a popular statement used after the tragedy, that “this event will not define us.” She asserted that experiences do in fact make up who we are, but we get to choose how we will be defined. She implored us to remember our original Arapahoe identity that stood strong in the midst of the event. We are, and will be, a school known for great achievement, spirit, and love.

One of Claire’s friends, Erica Blair, acknowledged our loss of innocence in the tragedy. In response, however, she invited us to balance the incredible maturity we’ve had to take on with a childlike attitude toward the rest of our lives. I’m assuming she asks us to be a bit more like Claire in that way, an influence for others through our laughter and silliness.

It’s a beautiful conundrum we face now: each of us being both “Warrior Strong” and needing to lean on each other more than ever. I saw this at work throughout the crowd as boxes of tissues were passed about. Among the little ordinary movements of a large gathering, adjusted sitting position and hair fixes, I witnessed barely perceivable hand-holding and light squeezes to a neighbor’s shoulder.

Mr. Davis, a man whose overwhelming grace and forgiveness enamors all of Arapahoe’s students and community, challenged us to continue those little expressions of love each and every day. He assured us, saying, “You’ll never be called in this life to do more than you can do in this life. You are always enough.”

With the weight of historical victories and the encouragement of each other at our backs, it’s time for Arapahoe to get back to work. That does mean resuming studies and preparing for our personal futures, but also taking on Mr. Davis’s challenge — to consciously and deliberately love each day."



Friday, March 21, 2014

Poem: Carlisle




If you are hosed down

if you are bathed in kerosene

if your clothes are burned

if you are dressed in soldier blue

if you no longer know your parents

if you are beaten

if you work long days

and are not fed


can you still

a plant grows even in

a wounded eagle



stretch talons?


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A torturer on the move: letters from Coleen Rowley and John Gaudette



Coleen Rowley, a powerful organizer against aggression and propaganda (an
FBI agent whose report from Minnesota that some Arabs wanted to fly jets with no interest in learning how to land, could not get the attention of the Bush administration; a leader of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity), sent a notice about the University of Minnesota sponsoring Condi as if her role in torture need not even be mentioned...

***

Sadly, Coleen suggests that the Korbel's School's invitation to Bush may be partly responsible for triggering the invitations at Rutgers and Minnesota. See "The CIA, Torture, Dianne Feinstein and Condi Rice" here. It may be, although Condi was on the move anyway. Our University fetes Condi as a graduate (Condi would deserve celebration had she not been a principal in a criminal administration...).

Universities officially - sadly, often agains the better inclinations of some of their leaders - play a role in legitimizing government policies, and when these are criminal, war crimes.

***

Below is a leaflet from Students for a Democratic Society at the University of Minnesota calling for a demonstration April 17. In addition, a faculty statement is circulating. Condi cannot go anywhere without massive protest from below.

***

And the former Secretary of State cannot go abroad...

***


Poem: Er in ye s


blackwoman among whites

Madame Secretary

cannot g o

Mr. President

boxedtheSuperbowl

can not g o

Mr. Pentagon


thickarethechainsofspirit

bighousein Marylan d

Mr. Cheney

can not g o



a b r o a d"

***

And from Dharmasala, John Gaudette sends the following insight of Darius Rajali on how war crimes abroad breed crimes at home (see my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?). Torture, indeed, knows no border...

"I hate to say this, but practically speaking, torture basically throws a 20-year shadow if you use it in a war. Domestic stuff goes out; war stuff comes back. ... Torture comes home. That's the really important point to recognize. Torture doesn't need a passport. It doesn't need to recognize the difference between domestic and international. ... we [the United States] are going to have a crisis because so many of our soldiers now are going to come back with this kind of history. And that's a really bad thing."

***

David Cole's "The CIA's Poisonous Tree" below amplifies this point.

***

Coleen commented:

"Additionally, the University of Minnesota is planning on honoring Condi Rice next month (April 17) describing her as:

"proven to be a significant leader during a time of unprecedented and tumultuous world affairs, recognized for her effort to foster freedom and democracy. Her great love of America and her faith in its core values are the foundational strength of her presentations regarding foreign policy, education and the empowerment of women."

http://northrop.umn.edu/events/condoleezza-rice (From this description no one would probably recall that Rice helped plan and give the orders for people to be tortured, huh? - CR)

We've learned that Eric Schwartz, Dean of the Humphrey Institute and Marilyn Carlson (probably along with her sister Barbara Carlson) were responsible for inviting her and apparently offering to pay Rice $150,000 (probably plus expenses) for her appearance. (Money coming from the Carlson Foundation.) If you know Schwartz, please ask him how he can say he supports human rights and at the same time invite and honor torture proponents such as Condi Rice.

I think the Korbel School's honoring of Rice must've opened the door. Coleen Rowley"

***

"Students for a Democratic Society at the U of MN
Solidarity and Resistance Through Struggle

See photograph. here

UMN Students for a Democratic Society Call to Protest War Crimes Collaborator, Condoleezza Rice

March 6, 2014 by umnsds

Students for a Democratic Society at the University of Minnesota is organizing a protest on Thursday, April 17th against former National Security Advisor and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Dr. Rice will be delivering a lecture on campus at the University of Minnesota sponsored by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. As a documented collaborator in leading the US into war in Iraq and an outspoken suborner of torture, it is imperative that we tell the University, the Humphrey School, and Dr. Rice that war criminals are not welcome on our campus. We are still organizing the action and want to invite you to be a part of the process. If your group is able to give an endorsement early, we will be sure to include you in all published materials. We look forward to working together for this action. Please email umnsds@gmail.com for endorsements. If your group already has plans in place, please let us know what you’re up to so that we can work together. Further info TBA.

Save the Date – Keep War Criminals off Campus"

***

And John Gaudette writes on what I call the anti-democratic feedback of international politics:

"Dear Alan,

Thanks for this. I am a bit behind the times when it comes to US news and was surprised when I heard that the CIA had started spying on Congress to undermine the investigations into torture. Most of my surprise was because it seems to be getting very little attention. Even some of the people I know on the left seem more focused on how Feinstein should have been this outraged about the NSA wiretapping rather than what has happened now. That may just reflect a general cynicism and decreased expectations, which may be more worrying.

Once I thought about it the CIA's spying on Congress was not that surprising. Professor Darius Rejali gave a very good interview to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs's Director of Public Affairs Programs (here) in 2008. In the interview he said, "I was the last person in the world to be surprised that the CIA destroyed its videotapes without any legal permission. That is what happens when you allow an organization to torture. It becomes very worried about its own security. It becomes much less responsive to the people at the top." It seems now that we are starting to see the unintended, but inevitable, consequences of allowing torture in the USA.

In the same interview Rejail had a more troubling statement about torture and prediction for what will happen in the US, "I hate to say this, but practically speaking, torture basically throws a 20-year shadow if you use it in a war. Domestic stuff goes out; war stuff comes back. ... Torture comes home. That's the really important point to recognize. Torture doesn't need a passport. It doesn't need to recognize the difference between domestic and international. ... we [the United States] are going to have a crisis because so many of our soldiers now are going to come back with this kind of history. And that's a really bad thing."

If you have not seen it, Tim Weiner has a very good article on Politico (here) about Feinstein and the need to reign in the CIA."

***

"New York Review of Books

The CIA’s Poisonous Tree
David Cole
http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2014/mar/15/cias-poisonous-tree/?insrc=wbll
David Levine

The old Washington adage that the cover-up is worse than the crime may not apply when it comes to the revelations this week that the Central Intelligence Agency interfered with a Senate torture investigation. It’s not that the cover-up isn’t serious. It is extremely serious—as Senator Dianne Feinstein said, the CIA may have violated the separation of powers, the Fourth Amendment, and a prohibition on spying inside the United States. It’s just that in this case, the underlying crimes are still worse: the dispute arises because the Senate Intelligence Committee, which Feinstein chairs, has written an as-yet-secret 6,300 page report on the CIA’s use of torture and disappearance—among the gravest crimes the world recognizes—against al-Qaeda suspects in the “war on terror.”

By Senator Feinstein’s account, the CIA has directly and repeatedly interfered with the committee’s investigation: it conducted covert unauthorized searches of the computers assigned to the Senate committee for its review of CIA files, and it secretly removed potentially incriminating documents from the computers the committee was using. That’s the stuff that often leads to resignations, independent counsels, and criminal charges; indeed, the CIA’s own Inspector General has referred the CIA’s conduct to the Justice Department for a potential criminal investigation.

But the crime that we must never lose sight of is the conduct that led to the investigation in the first place. To recall: in 2002, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration authorized the CIA to establish a series of secret prisons, or “black sites,” into which it disappeared “high-value” al-Qaeda suspects, often for years at a time, without any public acknowledgment, without charges, and cut off from any access to the outside world. The CIA was further authorized to use a range of coercive tactics—borrowed from those used by the Chinese to torture American soldiers during the Korean War—to try to break the suspects’ will. These included depriving suspects of sleep for up to ten days, slamming them against walls, forcing them into painful stress positions, and waterboarding them.

The program was approved by President Bush himself, as well as Vice-President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and CIA Director George Tenet. John Yoo and Jay Bybee, Justice Department lawyers, wrote memos to whitewash the program. These acts were war crimes under the laws of war and grave human rights abuses. Yet no one has yet been held accountable for any of them. And the investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee is until now the only comprehensive effort to review the extensive classified CIA records about the program.

Even before the investigation began, the CIA appears to have been aware that its interrogation practices might not withstand scrutiny. The intelligence committee’s investigation was itself sparked by a CIA agent’s destruction of ninety-two videotapes of the agency’s actual interrogations. According to accounts by former CIA officials, twelve of the tapes documented the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding. One tape showed al-Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah, apparently screaming and vomiting. In 2012, John Rizzo, who was the CIA’s acting general counsel at the time the tapes were made, told the BBC that a US intelligence official who reviewed the footage had found that “portions of the tapes, particularly those of Zubaydah being waterboarded, were extremely hard to watch.”

But we cannot know for certain what was on the tapes, because in November, 2005, Jose A. Rodriguez, Jr., the head of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, the agency’s clandestine service, ordered them destroyed. He did so over the stated objections of the White House Counsel and the Director of National Intelligence, and despite their obvious relevance to numerous possible criminal investigations—of the suspects interrogated and of the CIA itself.

In 2007, when the New York Times first reported that the CIA had destroyed interrogation tapes, the Senate Intelligence Committee launched an inquiry. The CIA assured the committee that the tapes’ destruction would not hinder review of its program, because it had many cables contemporaneously describing the interrogations in detail. (These would of course be the CIA’s descriptions of what was done, not an actual record of what was done.) The intelligence committee requested access to those documents. The CIA replied, in Senator Feinstein’s words, with a classic “document dump,” giving the committee literally millions of documents, entirely unorganized and unindexed, presumably hoping to overwhelm their limited resources.

The CIA refused to allow the Senate staff to use their own computers to review the documents, insisting that they be reviewed in a separate CIA-leased facility. According to an agreement worked out between the Committee and the CIA, the agency was to provide the committee with a ’stand-alone computer system’ with a ‘network drive’ ‘segregated from CIA networks’…that would only be accessed by information technology personnel at the CIA—who would ‘not be permitted to’ ‘share information from the system with other [CIA] personnel, except as otherwise authorized by the committee.’

It soon became clear, however, that the CIA had violated the agreement. In 2010, Feinstein explained,

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.

Feinstein took the matter to the White House, and the CIA was compelled to apologize and to reaffirm its commitment not to interfere with the investigation. But when the CIA later learned that one of the documents the committee had received was the agency’s own internal review of the cables, directed by then-director Leon Panetta, it covertly searched the committee’s files yet again.

Why the concern over the internal review? From Feinstein’s perspective, the CIA’s real worry is that this internal review corroborates her committee’s findings about the CIA’s own abuses—and contradicts a subsequently drafted official CIA response that tries to deny or minimize CIA abuses. As Feinstein put it, “What was unique and interesting about the internal documents was not their classification level, but rather their analysis and acknowledgement of significant CIA wrongdoing.” Apparently the CIA was willing to give the Senate committee access to all evidence except the smoking gun.
So blatant is this obstruction that the CIA’s own Inspector General referred the matter to the Justice Department for a potential criminal investigation of CIA staff. In what appears to be retaliation, the CIA’s acting general counsel, Robert Eatinger, in turn asked the Justice Department to investigate the Senate committee staff regarding their access to the internal review. Eatinger, Feinstein notes, was himself previously oversaw the CIA’s interrogation program, and is mentioned by name some 1,600 times in the Senate committee’s report. Evidently, however, he saw no conflict of interest in requesting a Justice Department investigation of those reviewing his own conduct.
How this controversy ultimately gets resolved, Feinstein rightly noted, “will show whether the Intelligence Committee can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation’s intelligence activities, or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee.”

But even more urgent than resolution of the inter-branch dispute, is the release of the intelligence committee’s 6,300-page report. Though the committee adopted the report in December 2012, not one word of it has yet seen the light of day. That the investigation has gone on so long, cost so much (reportedly $50 million), resulted in such an extensive report, and still not been seen by the public, reflects the gravity of what is at stake here. The nation’s highest officials coldly approved war crimes and human rights abuses—and to date, no one has been held accountable in any manner for doing so.
As I have argued before, accountability comes in many forms; there is little likelihood that former officials will be criminally prosecuted, even after the report is issued. But an official report can itself be a form of reckoning. In both Canada and the United Kingdom, official inquiries have served exactly that purpose, after the US rendition of Canadian Maher Arar to Syria, and after the UK’s detention and coercive interrogation of suspected IRA members. A secret report, however, is no accountability at all. In an encouraging sign, President Obama on Wednesday said that he favors making the report public so that the American people can judge for themselves the CIA’s conduct. You can bet the CIA will fight tooth and nail to frustrate that pledge. We must insist that President Obama keep this promise.

In law, we say that torture “taints” an investigation. The legal doctrine that precludes reliance on evidence obtained from torture is called the “fruit of the poisonous tree” rule. But as this latest saga reflects, torture does far more than merely “taint” evidence. It corrupts all who touch it. The CIA’s desperate efforts to hide the details of what the world already knows in general outline—that it subjected human beings to brutal treatment to which no human being should ever be subjected—are only the latest evidence of the poisonous consequences of a program euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation.”

March 15, 2014, 4:30 p.m.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Letter from a Livingston Jail



"Daily life on death row is like living in a black & white TV, while the rest of the world is [in] a full color high definition plasma TV. I've done my best to live above the circumstances by studying self-help and spiritual books. Ghandi once said that prison is not a punishment for an enlightened person, it only gives them more time to deepen their divinity. I agree. I was a teenager when I came to death row and over the last 15 years I've written several books & screenplays. I've turned a negative into a positive, while others around have lost their mind, dropped their appeals or committed suicide. I think who you are matters more than where you are." - Ray Jasper, prisoner 1536073598

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"Professor Gilbert,

I came across this article online and thought you'd be interested in it, particularly since we're currently studying MLK's Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

http://gawker.com/a-letter-from-ray-jasper-who-is-about-to-be-executed-1536073598

Can anything be done for this man? The only thing I can think of is trying to reach Gov. Rick Perry, who probably couldn't care less about one black inmate, or President Obama, who probably would not get a message in time (execution date is March 19) even if he does care about this one black inmate.

There is a heartbreaking irony in situations like Mr. Jasper's. Our judicial system, while trying to get justice for the victim of a murder, is committing the ultimate injustice against Mr. Jasper. His race plays a part in this injustice, but it's more than that; he's being put to death for being with the wrong people in the wrong place at the wrong time. He didn't murder anyone! This aspect of Mr. Jasper's situation makes me think of Socrates, who speaks the truth calmly and eloquently knowing he is most likely going to his death for a trumped-up crime.

(As a side note, I have been curious as to why we still read the writings of people like Plato and MLK. Now I understand.)

Do you have any other ideas for a way to help Mr. Jasper?

Sincerely,
Sarah"

***

Sarah Chlarson, a student of mine at Metro, wrote this powerful appeal for Ray Jasper. I urge everyone to write the Texas governor Rick Perry to stay this execution. What is plainly innocence - Jasper did not commit a murder - is met in Texas by the death penalty. Interestingly, Jasper sees the analogy of the pseudo-religious or those who believe in something corrupt like the ministers who attacked King; Ray's answer to question 4 below also speaks eloquently to the point Sarah raises about reading King's Letter. Sarah entitled her email "Letter from the Livingston Jail"...

***

Right now, Texas Senators Jon Cornyn and Ted Cruz are considering closing down prisons, being smart about sentencing (this is, in part, cost-motivated, but there is at last a turn in the US jailing 25% of the world's prisoners).

***

Yet here is an issue of a man's life to be unjustly taken this Wednesday (Jasper is one of the 49% of prisoners on death row who are black, a reflection not of who commits murders but of racism). That even with a conservative reforming impulse springing up in Texas, this execution may go forward is a horror.

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If you thought you were reading about a Tibetan in a Chinese prison, you would not be mistaken...

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Gawker
Letters From Death Row: Ray Jasper, Texas Inmate 999341
Hamilton Nolan

Texas death row inmate Ray Jasper is scheduled to be put to death on March 19. He has written us a letter that, he acknowledges, "could be my final statement on earth." It is well worth your time.

Ray Jasper was convicted of participating in the 1998 robbery and murder of recording studio owner David Alejandro. A teenager at the time of the crime, Jasper was sentenced to death. He wrote to us once before, as part of our Letters from Death Row series. That letter was remarkable for its calmness, clarity, and insight into life as a prisoner who will never see freedom. We wrote back and invited him to share any other thoughts he might have. Today, we received the letter below. Everyone should read it.

***

Jasper was 18 years old at the time. He has been in prison for the past 15 years.

The purpose of publishing these letters is to hear directly from people whose voices are not often heard. This is not a referendum on the guilt or innocence of any inmate. Ray Jasper responded to our questions numerically, so we will briefly list them here:

. What do you think the chances are of your execution occurring as scheduled?

2. Can you describe daily life on Death Row?

3. Can you talk a bit about your own past and upbringing?

4. Has your time in jail changed your political or religious beliefs?

5. Do you have any thoughts on how the media and the public view the death penalty?

6. What else would you like to say to the public about your life, your situation, and what you think it means for our country?"

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"Mr. Nolan,

I hope you're genuine in your endeavor and I hope you achieve your goal with your writing. I numbered your questions to match my answers. I'm sure you can take it from there. Can I receive a copy of how you publish this or the name of the website?

1) I think any execution has a 50/50 chance of taking place. It comes down to the legalities of the case. The controversial issue in my case has been narrowed down to racial discrimination concerning the State of Texas purposely striking Black people from the jury panel. Racial discrimination on trial juries has a long-standing history in Texas. It was really made known in the Thomas Miller-el case where Dallas had a guide for their prosecutors to strike all minorities from the jury panel. So it's about whether the Courts will consider the issue worth halting the execution.

2) Daily life on death row is like living in a black & white TV, while the rest of the world is [in] a full color high definition plasma TV. I've done my best to live above the circumstances by studying self-help and spiritual books. Ghandi once said that prison is not a punishment for an enlightened person, it only gives them more time to deepen their divinity. I agree. I was a teenager when I came to death row and over the last 15 years I've written several books & screenplays. I've turned a negative into a positive, while others around have lost their mind, dropped their appeals or committed suicide. I think who you are matters more than where you are.

3) I grew up like most young blacks at a disadvantage, susceptible to the street life out of the environment and a lack of education. For most young blacks we rebel out of subtle racism and being targeted by the police. For young blacks, cops are the enemies. I've been falsely arrested and beat by the police before the age of 18. It's like how can society expect young blacks to be [compliant] with the same law that poses a threat to their life. You never hear of black cops beating or killing young whites, but its so common to hear about white cops beating and killing young blacks.

4. My time in jail introduced me to politics. I was too young and uneducated to understand politics before I got locked up. Now, I see everyone has their own agenda and ideology of how society should function and those in political offices enforce their own agenda upon others. I think politics is a shark's pool. There's not much empathy involved.

I am a deeply religious person. I respect all religions, especially those who sacrifice for the service of God. I have a strong faith in Christ, but I do see
religion is often misused and Americans are too intellectual to be truly religious spiritually. Many people are only outwardly religious. I was religious people who wanted Christ to be executed. It was religious clergy who persecuted Martin Luther King as an extremist. One has to be careful of those who choose the letter of the Spirit. Paul said, "The letter kills, the Spirit gives life." Jesus said only those the Spirit understand the kingdom of God.

5) The way the media covers the death penalty depends of the agenda of that media outlet. The media is not neutral. I think whether a person is pro or anti-death penalty, we should all be against injustice. Those who do not see the death penalty as unjust should do their homework. Every major newspaper in Texas has taken a stance against the death penalty due to their investigative journalism. They know what's going on behind the scenes. The average person in Texas cannot explain the difference between murder and capital murder. The public is under the impression the people receive the death penalty for murder and murder, in Texas, is not punishable by the death penalty. There are thousands of people who committed murder and capital murder who are not on death row, but in regular prison. To say one person guilty of capital murder should live and another person guilty of capital murder should die is an injustice in [and] of itself.

I suggest reading the book TRIAL & ERROR: THE TEXAS DEATH PENALTY by Lisa Maxwell. It just came out this year and it highlights all the injustices of the Texas death penalty that many people never knew or forgot about over the years.

6) My life is a testament of what it is to be young & black in America. Black [people] are incarcerated at a higher rate than any other race because we are ignorant to the laws that govern society. As Nelson Mandela said, "Education is the most powerful weapon on which you can use to change the world." I gave up in school after a friend died when I was 11 years old. I didn't officially dropout until 16. By 18, I was facing the death penalty. I had no idea what capital murder was by definition or the law of parties. The Bible says that understanding makes a person depart from wrongdoing. People must be taught, even if its not in a school. We are all interdependent and we can educate each other. Adults need to have the courage to talk to teenagers and teach them how to make a smoother transition into adulthood. Over a million teenagers are arrested every year in America. 5 out of 6 black teenagers will drop out of high school. When you're young it's hard to see the road up ahead and many teens lack a long term vision for their life. They must be taught in the school of life by adults who cross their path.

Note: I apologize for all the mistakes, but I'm stuck in the 80's with a E-typewriter, not a laptop. Any other questions let me know. I wish you success on your endeavor. Enjoy the season.

Peacefully, Ray"

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The heart of the matter



In regard to the Constituoinal crisis unfolding with CIA spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee which supposedly oversees it - might oversee it if a shred of the rule of law remains - see here for part 1 - Marcy Wheeler has an impressive column below on the Obama's administration continuing cover-up of the Bush authorization of torture. Obama has allowed information about the CIA to come out, while protecting Tenet, Rodriguez and those who sent them from prosecution. But Wheeler speculates that the authorization includes killings and possibly by drones. Obama has used that "authorization" in criminal and counterproductive activity.

***

For murdering civilians with drones (or those "geolocated" possessing a suspect cell phone; h/t Edward Snowden) is likely to produce widespread hatred of the United States: all the relatives and friends of people killed in countries the US is formally not at war with as well as many decent people internationally, "the conscience of mankind", horrified by the use of drones by an undeclared aggressor - consider a Chinese drone hovering over, then taking out a coffee shop or college class or workplace near you....

***

The gist of Wheeler's point: Obama is much more deceptive actually, even, than he is seemingly. Since Obama is President of the Empire - 1280 military bases abroad, many alliances with reactionaries for reactionary purposes, arming dictators as in Egypt, clearing the way for financial speculation and corporate investments in cheap labor, and the like - one might expect corrupt and vicious conduct in foreign policy. I should note again that Obama has kept the US out of war with Iran, despite great pressure during the election to do so (Hillary would doubtfully have done so). This is a genuine accomplishment (headed off likely world war in the Middle East, something which over 10 or 15 years, might involve Israel, the one nuclear power there, feeling threatened, using nuclear weapons. The US and the world have narrowly missed a great disaster which the neocons are still baying for (and McCain and Graham are trotting around, plumping for conflict with the Russians, the neocons again, despite their wretched fecklessness and endangering of humanity, riding high...)

***

If one expects too much from a President, even a comparatively smart and decent person, one will inevitably be disappointed. The American President serves the elite; they respond only to fierce and longstanding movements from below (Roosevelt and the union movement, Johnson and the civil rights movement). It is ordinary Americans and not Presidents or politicians of either party with a few exceptions who fought against and were honorable about the Vietnam and Iraq aggressions by the United States. Presidents of both parties waged these aggressions and occupations (remember, Obama said the Iraq War was "dumb," not that it was unjust...).

***

On civil rights and in factories, it is citizens who stand up; many can have some influence on state bills or local politics from below and with a big movement and under unusual circumstances, federal legislation. But even though most are hurt by American wars and militarism (the money could go into jobs and education, for example), no organized group in America represents the people warred on by the US government. If one adds in cases like Egypt where the US arms military dictators like Mubarak, the notion of how the American government and American companies oppress and are, in an obvious sense, at war with ordinary people al over the world becomes clear.

***

Decency in foreign policy almost always comes from below (right now, the US is escalating hostilities with Russia over the Crimea, having intrigued to overthrow a corrupt elected President in the Ukraine (some sign of European democracies and the United States intriguing against white folks, contra the inter democratic peace hypothesis and the usual American interventions against nonwhite democracies).

***

Imagine some distant country threatening war with the United States over Puerto Rico or Quebec and some of the current American chauvinism, however nasty Putin is, may slip away...

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Once again, the anti-democratic activities, in this case torturing, of an imperial democracy abroad harms the citizens at home. The CIA now confronts the Senators who are supposed to oversee it. The President moves decision-making and discussion of murder and aggression farther and farther from the arena of public discourse. This is the theme of my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? with its theme of the anti-democratic feedback of international politics on citizens at home.

***

Wheeler's point, however, is that we need great efforts from below - and hearty thanks to Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, inter alia - to begin to expose and curtail the Empire. Many pople, including genuine conservatives (Ron Paul, in this respect), seek to oppose harmful American interventions abroad. That is, pretty much, all of them; Libya perhaps saved lives but "humanitarian interventions" further an Empire which is anything, including under Obama, but humanitarian.

***

Wheeler captures the shady behavior, to advance counterproductive crimes, of two Presidents...

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"The White House Has Been Covering Up the Presidency’s Role in Torture for Years
By Marcy Wheeler, Intercept, 13 Mar 2014, 4:18 PM EDT

On May 10, 2013, John Brennan presented CIA’s response to the Senate Intelligence Committee Torture Report to the President. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.
The fight between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee over the Committee’s Torture Report – which Dan Froomkin covered here – has now zeroed in on the White House.

Did the White House order the CIA to withdraw 920 documents from a server made available to Committee staffers, as Senator Dianne Feinstein says the agency claimed in 2010? Were those documents – perhaps thousands of them – pulled in deference to a White House claim of executive privilege, as Senator Mark Udall and then CIA General Counsel Stephen Preston suggested last fall? And is the White House continuing to withhold 9,000 pages of documents without invoking privilege, as McClatchy reported yesterday?

We can be sure about one thing: The Obama White House has covered up the Bush presidency’s role in the torture program for years. Specifically, from 2009 to 2012, the administration went to extraordinary lengths to keep a single short phrase, describing President Bush’s authorization of the torture program, secret.

Some time before October 29, 2009, then National Security Advisor Jim Jones filed an ex parte classified declaration with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, in response to a FOIA request by the ACLU seeking documents related to the torture program. In it, Jones argued that the CIA should not be forced to disclose the “source of the CIA’s authority,” as referenced in the title of a document providing “Guidelines for Interrogations” and signed by then CIA Director George Tenet. That document was cited in two Justice Department memos at issue in the FOIA. Jones claimed that “source of authority” constituted an intelligence method that needed to be protected.

As other documents and reporting have made clear, the source of authority was a September 17, 2001 Presidential declaration authorizing not just detention and interrogation, but a range of other counterterrorism activities, including targeted killings.

Both former CIA Director Michael Hayden and former CIA Acting General Counsel John Rizzo have made clear that the torture program began as a covert operation. “A few days after the [9/11] attacks, President Bush signed a top-secret directive to CIA authorizing an unprecedented array of covert actions against Al Qaeda and its leadership.” Rizzo explained in 2011. One of those actions, Rizzo went on, was “the capture, incommunicado detention and aggressive interrogation of senior Al Qaeda operatives.”

As Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy, noted in 2009 – shortly after Hayden revealed that torture started as a covert operation – this means there should be a paper trail implicating President Bush in the torture program. “[T]here should be a Presidential ‘finding’ authorizing the program,” he said, “and [] such a finding should have been provided to Congressional overseers.”

The National Security Act dictates that every covert operation must be supported by a written declaration finding that the action is necessary and important to the national security. The Congressional Intelligence committees – or at least the Chair and Ranking Member – should receive notice of the finding.

But there is evidence that those Congressional overseers were never told that the finding the president signed on September 17, 2001 authorized torture. For example, a letter from then ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman, to the CIA’s General Counsel following her first briefing on torture asked: “Have enhanced techniques been authorized and approved by the President?” The CIA’s response at the time was simply that “policy as well as legal matters have been addressed within the Executive Branch.”

Nevertheless, the finding does exist. The CIA even disclosed its existence in response to the ACLU FOIA, describing it as “a 14-page memorandum dated 17 September 2001 from President Bush to the Director of the CIA pertaining to the CIA’s authorization to detain terrorists.” In an order in the ACLU suit, Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein confirmed that the declaration was “intertwined with” the administration’s effort to keep the language in the Tenet document hidden. When the administration succeeded in keeping that short phrase secret, all effort to release the declaration also ended.

Enduring confusion about this particular finding surely exists because of its flexible nature. As Bob Woodward described in Bush at War, CIA Director Tenet asked President Bush to sign “a broad intelligence order permitting the CIA to conduct covert operations without having to come back for formal approval for each specific operation.” As Jane Mayer described in The Dark Side, such an order not only gave the CIA flexibility, it also protected the President. “To give the President deniability, and to keep him from getting his hands dirty, the finding called for the President to delegate blanket authority to Tenet to decide on a case-by-case basis whom to kill, whom to kidnap, whom to detain and interrogate, and how.”

When George Tenet signed written guidelines for the CIA’s torture program in 2003, however, he appeared to have deliberately deprived the President of that deniability by including the source of CIA’s authorization – presumably naming the President – in a document interrogators would see. You can’t blame the CIA Director, after all; Tenet signed the Guidelines just as CIA’s Inspector General and DOJ started to review the legality of the torture tactics used against detainees like Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who was threatened with a drill and a gun in violation of DOJ’s ban on mock executions.

Protecting the President?

The White House’s fight to keep the short phrase describing Bush’s authorization of the torture program hidden speaks to its apparent ambivalence over the torture program. Even after President Obama released the DOJ memos authorizing torture – along with a damning CIA Inspector General Report and a wide range of documents revealing bureaucratic discussions within the CIA about torture – the White House still fought the release of the phrase that would have made it clear that the CIA conducted this torture at the order of the president. And it did so with a classified declaration from Jones that would have remained secret had Judge Hellerstein not insisted it be made public.

As Aftergood noted, such White House intervention in a FOIA suit is rare. “The number of times that a national security advisor has filed a declaration in a FOIA lawsuit is vanishingly small,” he said. “It almost never happens.” But as ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer noted of the finding, “It was the original authority for the CIA’s secret prisons and for the agency’s rendition and torture program, and apparently it was the authority for the targeted killing program as well. It was the urtext. It’s remarkable that after all this time it’s still secret.”

President Obama’s willingness to go to such lengths to hide this short phrase may explain the White House’s curious treatment of potentially privileged documents with the Senate now – describing President Bush’s authorization of the torture program and its seemingly contradictory stance supporting publishing the Torture Report while thwarting its completion by withholding privileged documents. After all, the documents in question, like the reference to the presidential finding, may deprive the President of plausible deniability.

Furthermore, those documents may undermine one of the conclusions of the Torture Report. According to Senator Ron Wyden, the Senate Torture Report found that “the CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information about its interrogation program to the White House.” Perhaps the documents reportedly withheld by the White House undermine this conclusion, and instead show that the CIA operated with the full consent and knowledge of at least some people within the White House.

Finally, the White House’s sensitivity about documents involved in the torture program may stem from the structure of the finding. As John Rizzo made clear, the finding authorizes not just torturing, but killing, senior al Qaeda figures. Bob Woodward even reported that that CIA would carry out that killing using Predator drones, a program CIA still conducts. And in fact, when the Second Circuit ultimately ruled to let the White House to keep the authorization phrase secret, it did so because the phrase also
relates to “a highly classified, active intelligence activity” and “pertains to intelligence activities unrelated to the discontinued [torture] program.” Given what we know about the September 17, 2001 finding, that may well refer to President Obama’s still active drone program.

In any case, the White House’s seemingly contradictory statements about the Torture Report might best be understood by its past treatment of CIA documents. By releasing the DOJ memos and other materials, the White House provided what seemed to be unprecedented transparency about what the CIA had done. But all the while it was secretly hiding language describing what the White House has done."