Posts Tagged ‘Attorney General Eric Holder’

Ex-CIA chiefs urge Obama to drop abuse investigation

September 19, 2009

By Jeremy Pelofsky, Reuters, Sep 19, 2009

WASHINGTON, Sept 18 (Reuters) – Seven former heads of the CIA urged President Barack Obama on Friday to end the probe into allegations of abuse of prisoners held by the agency, arguing that it would hamper intelligence operations.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last month named a prosecutor to examine whether criminal charges should be filed against Central Intelligence Agency interrogators or contractors for going beyond approved interrogation methods, including using a power drill and death threats to scare detainees.

The former CIA chiefs countered that the cases had already been investigated during the Bush administration and lawyers had declined to prosecute all but one contractor.

“This approach will seriously damage the willingness of intelligence officers to take risks to protect the country,” they said in the letter. “In our judgment, such risk-taking is vital to success in the long and difficult fight against terrorists who continue to threaten us.”

The letter to Obama was signed by three CIA directors under President George W. Bush — Michael Hayden, Porter Goss and George Tenet — as well as by John Deutch, James Woolsey, William Webster and James Schlesinger, who dates to the Nixon administration.

Obama has said he wants to look forward beyond the Bush administration, which civil liberties groups have accused of using torture to coerce information from suspected militants in violation of U.S. and international law.

But Obama has also said the matter was up to Holder, who decided in late August to reopen the cases because “it is clear to me that this review is the only responsible course of action for me to take.”

The White House declined to comment.

The Washington Post, citing two sources briefed on the matter, reported on Friday night that the Justice Department review would focus on only a very small number of cases, including one in which an Afghan prisoner died at a secret CIA facility in Afghanistan seven years ago.


Bush administration officials, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, have repeatedly defended their actions and said the interrogations yielded valuable information.

The former CIA directors warned that Holder’s decision “creates an atmosphere of continuous jeopardy” for those involved and that there was no reason to believe the investigation would be narrowly focused.

They also warned that releasing more details about interrogation methods could help al Qaeda operatives elude U.S. intelligence efforts and plan operations.

“Disclosures about CIA collection operations have and will continue to make it harder for intelligence officers to maintain the momentum of operations that have saved lives and helped protect America from further attacks,” they said.

Cheney, who has called the investigation “political,” has made similar points about the interrogation tactics having saved lives and protected the country, although his critics say there is no proof of that.

A CIA’s inspector general’s report detailing the harsh interrogation techniques noted that they did not succeed.

A spokesman for Holder said, with the recommendation of the Justice Department’s ethics office and other information, the attorney general decided to name a prosecutor to investigate.

“The attorney general’s decision to order a preliminary review into this matter was made in line with his duty to examine the facts and to follow the law,” said spokesman Matt Miller.

“As he has made clear, the Department of Justice will not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel regarding the interrogation of detainees.” (Editing by John O’Callaghan and Peter Cooney)


CIA refuses to release torture probe documents

September 3, 2009

Middle East Online, Sep 3, 2009

Documents show ‘assistance provided by certain foreign governments’

US spy agency says further documents too sensitive to release amid public shock in America.

WASHINGTON – The CIA has refused to release further documents related to its controversial suspect rendition, detention and interrogation programs.

In a 33-page court statement made public on Tuesday, the Central Intelligence Agency said the documents contained sensitive information “that implicates intelligence activities, sources and methods, and information relating to the foreign relations and activities of the United States.”

Last month the Department of Justice revealed details of a report by a CIA inspector general that outlined methods used during interrogations of suspects  during the presidency of George W. Bush, including threats of rape of family members of detainees and murdering their children.

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Cheney Says He May Not Cooperate With Torture Probe if Asked

August 31, 2009

By Jason Leopold
The Public Record, Aug 30th, 2009

vice president dick cheney named in court suit by cia valarie plame 2007 News White House com

Dick Cheney, in a defiant half-hour interview Sunday on Fox New, launched into a blistering attack on the Obama administration, saying the decision by Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a federal prosecutor to conduct a “preliminary review” of about a dozen cases of torture “offends the hell out of me.”

Cheney added he may not cooperate with the investigation if asked to do so by Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham, a statement that underscored the former vice president’s deep disdain for the Obama administration and its overhaul of certain Bush era policies related to national security.

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Investigate Top Officials, not Just CIA Interrogators

August 31, 2009

Doug Bandow, The Huffington Post, Aug 24, 2009

Buzz up!

Attorney General Eric Holder is appointing a special prosecutor to review CIA interrogations of terrorist suspects. However, the investigation shouldn’t stop at the agency. No one should be above the law, especially top policymakers.

Investigating Bush administration policies and officials is bound to be controversial. President George W. Bush and his aides undoubtedly did what they thought was right. However, much of it was wrong. The Iraq war was foolish and unnecessary.

And there was no need to sacrifice the Constitution and civil liberties to protect the American people from terrorism. As Barack Obama observed in his inaugural address: “we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.”

Those ideals require an impartial investigation of any Bush administration officials who may have violated the law.

At issue are not policy disagreements, no matter how great. Liberal democracy requires that political conflict remain bounded. Arrest and prison are appropriate only when those in authority break the basic rules of the game.

Already under investigation as possible obstruction of justice is the destruction of the CIA interrogation session tapes. To this Holder has added the torture of prisoners.

The arguments against torture are obvious. First, many, if not most, interrogators believe other techniques are more effective and doubt torture yields accurate information. FBI Director Robert Mueller said that he didn’t “believe it to be the case” that any terrorist attacks had been thwarted by the Bush administration’s use of torture.

Torture has stained America’s reputation, undercutting Washington’s moral claims and discouraging cooperation by allied governments. Perhaps most important, torture undermines what it is to be America. Argued Charles Fried of Harvard Law School, President Ronald Reagan’s Solicitor General: “we cannot authorize indecency without jeopardizing our survival as a decent society.”

The Bush administration claimed that it did not torture, but the evidence is otherwise. Retired Lt. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba and Reagan White House attorney Robert Turner both spoke of “war crimes.” Susan Crawford, a retired (Republican) judge sent to Guantanamo Bay by the Defense Department, concluded that torture had occurred. As head of President Bush’s Office of Legal Counsel Jack Goldsmith revoked two legal opinions which had authorized torture.

Policymakers bear the principal responsibility. The issue was debated at the upper reaches of the White House. The Senate Armed Services Committee concluded that “senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”

An investigation also is needed into Bush administration violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The administration made a number of extravagant claims to justify ignoring FISA. First, the president had quasi-monarchical powers, at least in war-time. Second, the Authorization for Use of Military Force repealed every law thought by the president to impede his war powers. Third, as military commander-in-chief the president has authority to ignore an express congressional enactment.

Being commander-in-chief naturally gives the president extensive discretion when it comes to operational issues. However, the Constitution tasks Congress to create the broad legal and administrative frameworks within which military and intelligence operations occur.

Indeed, the Constitution gives Congress almost all war powers other than operational command. The legislature raises the military, declares war, and is to “To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations,” “make rules concerning captures on land and water,” “make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces,” and “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers.”

In the war-related surveillance area, constitutional authority appears to be concurrent. If Congress does not legislate, the president may act. However, if Congress chooses to require warrants before the executive is allowed to spy on Americans, the president has responsibility to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

If President Bush and those around him thought the Congressionally-prescribed procedures to be inadequate, they should have requested additional legal authority from Congress. The legislature consistently gave the president whatever he wanted when it came to fighting terrorism; even the Democratic Congress elected in 2006 acquiesced to administration pressure in amending FISA.

The Obama administration has been nervous about prosecuting Bush officials, lest it be accused of conducting a partisan witch hunt. But President Obama has a legal obligation to uphold the law, and that includes holding accountable government officials who broke the law.

At the very least executive law-breaking requires investigation. The people should know what was done in their name. Moreover, policies and procedures should be adopted to make it harder for future officials to follow suit. It is hard to develop safeguards that will work in the presence of a determined executive and pusillanimous legislature, but the effort must be made.

Finally, prosecution must be considered. If high government officials can violate the law simply by claiming to believe that their actions are legal, then the law is meaningless. The U.S. government has prosecuted foreign officials and soldiers for war crimes, including torture. It must hold its own citizens to the same standard. To survive a democratic republic requires public accountability.

In his opening address at Nuremberg Robert Jackson said that the law must “not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power.” So, too, must it do so in America today.

CIA hired Blackwater for assassin program

August 20, 2009
Middle East Online, First Published 2009-08-20

Blackwater changes its name to Xe after Iraq murders

Republicans ‘deeply concerned’ as US Attorney General poised to look into abuses by CIA interrogators.

WASHINGTON – The CIA hired the security firm Blackwater in 2004 as part of its secret program to find and kill suspected terrorists, US media said Thursday, citing current and former intelligence officials.

The program, on which the Central Intelligence Agency spent several million dollars, was cut before launching any missions and the hiring of an outside company was a major reason that CIA director Leon Panetta moved to cancel it, the New York Times said.

Shortly after learning about the effort in June, Panetta pulled the plug and briefed lawmakers on details of the program, of which they had not been informed since 2001.

Citing government officials, the Times said the CIA had separate agreements with top Blackwater executives for the outsourcing, as opposed to a formal contract with the whole firm.

The State Department cut ties with Blackwater following ongoing allegations of abuse in Iraq. The North Carolina-based company renamed itself Xe after the Iraq government banned it in January over killing civilians in Baghdad’s Nisur Square on September 16, 2007.

It had been given “operational responsibility” for the targeting program, according to the Washington Post, which noted the covert effort was canceled before any missions were conducted.

Before the program was cut, however, the private security firm had already been awarded “millions of dollars for training and weaponry,” according to the Post.

“Outsourcing gave the agency more protection in case something went wrong,” said an unnamed intelligence official close to program, quoted by daily.

Republicans denounce possible CIA interrogator probe

A group of Republican US senators sharply warned Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday against launching a formal probe into alleged abuses by CIA interrogators of suspected terrorists.

“Such an investigation could have a number of serious consequences, not just for the honorable members of the intelligence community, but also for the security of all Americans,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Holder.

Republican Senators Jon Kyl, the party’s number two in the Senate; Kit Bond, co-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee; and Jeff Sessions, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee were among the nine signers.

The lawmakers said they were “deeply concerned” by media reports that Holder was poised to name a special prosecutor to look into alleged abuses by CIA interrogators of suspected terrorists.

“There is little doubt that further investigations and potential prosecutions of CIA officials would chill future intelligence activities,” the senators warned.

“The intelligence community will be left to wonder whether actions taken today in the interest of national security will be subject to legal recriminations when the political winds shift,” the senators said.

Holder may be close to announcing a probe focused on whether interrogators went beyond torture – authorized by former president George W. Bush’s administration, according to news accounts.

Bush’s Republican allies and some Democrats have argued that rank-and-file interrogators acted in good faith and followed directives from higher ups in using techniques, like “waterboarding” suspects, and obtained valuable information.

Some former intelligence officials have challenged that claim, saying that harsh tactics elicited no better information than traditional approaches.

And human rights groups have called for formal investigations into charges of torture, which violates US law.

So far, US President Barack Obama has resisted calls from some congressional Democrats to establish a “truth and reconciliation” panel to look into alleged abuses.

Letting Cheney Off the Hook

August 14, 2009

A Low-Level Investigation

By Joanne Mariner, Counterpunch, Aug 13, 2009

Attorney General Eric Holder appears to be on the verge of appointing a federal prosecutor to investigate Bush-era interrogation abuses.

Citing current and former US officials, the Los Angeles Times said Holder was planning an inquiry that would be narrow in scope. The investigation, which would focus solely on CIA crimes, would examine “whether people went beyond the techniques that were authorized” in memos issued by Bush administration lawyers.

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Eric Holder’s Cover-Up

August 13, 2009

by Jacob G. Hornberger, The Future of Freedom Foundation, Aug 12, 2009

Attorney General Eric Holder is considering appointing a special prosecutor to investigate whether crimes relating to torture were committed by federal personnel during the Bush administration. There’s one big problem, however, with what Holder is proposing: His mandate to the special prosecutor would limit the investigation to underlings who committed acts outside the parameters set forth in the so-called torture memos and prohibit any investigation and prosecution of the higher-ups who designed the overall scheme or participated in its implementation. It also would prohibit prosecution of people who broke the law by committing acts that fell within the authorized parameters.

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Death squads and US democracy

July 16, 2009

Bill Van Auken,, 14 July 2009

The revelation that the CIA initiated a covert program, apparently involving assassinations, and kept it secret from the US Congress on the orders of Vice President Dick Cheney marks a deepening of the crisis in the American state apparatus and an indication of the degeneration of democratic processes within the US.

Last April, under the pressure of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama was compelled to make public a series of previously classified memos issued by the Bush Justice Department which authorized acts of torture in chilling detail. The administration attempted to portray the public airing of these documents exposing crimes of the Bush administration as a signal of the new “openness” and “transparency” of the Obama White House.

At the same time, the White House made it clear that it had no intention of holding anyone accountable for these crimes, with Obama making a visit to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia to reassure those who supervised and carried out much of the torture that he meant them no harm.

Burying the crimes of the Bush administration in the past, however, has proven impossible, not only because of their grave character, but also because much of what was done has yet to be fully exposed and many of the same methods are continuing under Obama.

The way in which this latest revelation has emerged is highly revealing. It has come to the surface as a result of Obama’s CIA director, Leon Panetta, briefing congressional intelligence committees on the matter. The CIA director went to Congress to give the briefings on June 23—the day after he himself became aware of the secret program and ordered it terminated.

The Obama appointee supposedly in charge of America’s spy agency became aware of this operation only four months after assuming his post.

The implications are clear. The CIA maintained the secrecy ordered by Cheney even after the latter had left office, and continued to conceal the existence and nature of the covert operation not only from Congress, but from the Obama administration itself.

The exact nature of the secret program has yet to be made public either by the CIA or those members of Congress briefed by Panetta.

A report published in the Wall Street Journal Monday, citing three unnamed “former intelligence officials,” suggests that it was aimed at organizing the “targeted assassinations” of individuals deemed enemies of the United States in the so-called “global war on terrorism.” In other words, the CIA appears to have been organizing death squads.

“Amid the high alert following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a small CIA unit examined the potential for targeted assassinations of Al Qaeda operatives, according to the three former officials,” the Journal reports.

The Journal quotes one of the officials as saying, “It was straight out of the movies. It was like: Let’s kill them all.”

The description of this operation corresponds to charges made by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh earlier this year that the Bush administration had created an “executive assassination ring.”

Hersh, who said that he was writing a book based on his findings, linked the operation to the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, which frequently works in tandem with the CIA. “They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office,” he said.

At the same time, there are suggestions that another facet of the program was the development of a spying program by the agency directed at American citizens and others within the United States itself. The CIA’s charter makes any such domestic operations illegal.

Hersh also pointed to this feature in a speech delivered at the University of Minnesota last March. He said, “After 9/11…the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it.”

The reaction of the Democratic administration and congressional leadership to these developments is predictably craven. The most vocal response was that of a group of House members who sought to twist Panetta’s words into an alibi for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who disingenuously claimed in May that she had been lied to in a 2002 briefing about the CIA’s use of water-boarding and other torture methods against detainees. (See: “The lies of the CIA and Nancy Pelosi”)

Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Diane Feinstein of California, issued a tepid response to the revelations of the CIA program kept secret on the orders of Cheney. “We were kept in the dark,” she said. “That’s something that should never, ever happen again… because the law is very clear.”

Should never happen again? Feinstein’s reaction dovetails neatly with Obama’s demand that Washington “look forward and not backward,” thereby continuing the cover-up of the crimes of the Bush administration. If the “law is very clear,” then it was clearly broken by Cheney and top-ranking officials in the CIA in what amounts to a conspiracy against the American people, who are themselves still “in the dark.” Yet there is no suggestion that these crimes should be prosecuted.

One indication that at least some investigation is being considered came from Attorney General Eric Holder, who spoke extensively to Newsweek magazine. In an article posted on the magazine’s web site Sunday, Holder is quoted as saying that he was “shocked and saddened” after reading the still secret 2004 CIA inspector general’s report on the torture of detainees at CIA “black sites.”

Given the continuous revelations over the past several years, from Abu Ghraib to recent reports leaked from the Red Cross, to the testimony of men who passed through the hellish abuse at Bagram Air Base and Guantánamo Bay, if Holder was genuinely “shocked,” that can only mean that crimes more heinous still have yet to be revealed.

Any “independent probe” organized by the Justice Department—if it is forced to mount such an effort—will be so narrowly circumscribed as to ensure that those most responsible for torture and war crimes are never touched.

The end result is that the power of the state-within-a-state constituted by the intelligence agencies and the military continues its unimpeded growth, aided and abetted by the Democrats and the Obama White House.

This poses grave dangers to the working class. All of the crimes for which the CIA was infamous in an earlier period, earning it the title Murder Inc., are being reprised on an even bigger scale under conditions of an immense crisis of American and world capitalism and unprecedented social polarization within the US itself.

The existence of a secret program involving assassination and domestic surveillance—concealed from Congress on Cheney’s orders even under the new administration—carries with it the threat that death squads and political repression will be employed against domestic opposition and, above all, any independent movement of workers against the rising unemployment and falling living standards created by the profit system.

The settling of accounts with the crimes of the Bush administration and the struggle to prevent even greater crimes being carried out both at home and abroad can be prosecuted only by an independent political movement of the working class based on a socialist and internationalist perspective. A key task of such a movement is the defense of democratic rights. That includes the prosecution of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and all those responsible for the crimes of torture and aggressive war.

Attorney General Holder: Hold Bush administration accountable

February 3, 2009

Washington Supreme Court Justice Richard B. Sanders urges new U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to make sure the full truth is known about the Bush administration’s past criminal conduct, and those individuals responsible are tried in a court of law.

Special to The Times

If the rule of law means anything, it must mean at least this: Those who act or are in positions of authority in our government are subject to the same laws as everyone else. This has been the American tradition, the crown jewel of a free society, a government of laws, not of men.

However, under the Bush administration, we learned we can no longer take the rule of law for granted.

If the top law-enforcement officer of the United States, our attorney general, chooses not to enforce the criminal law against government agents and officials committing crimes in the name of national security, the “rule of law” is rendered a quaint phrase shorn of substance. Unfortunately, our past attorney general, Michael Mukasey, and his predecessor, Alberto Gonzalez, did just that.

Mukasey even advised President Bush not to issue pardons since — Mukasey reasoned — no crimes were committed. He claimed that “national security” superseded other laws. This is the road to tyranny and a trap for the unwary

If no prosecutions are undertaken, Mukasey’s claim will have prevailed and history will imply no prosecution was possible because no crimes were committed.

Some take the position that we should forgive and forget or “look forward,” as President Obama ambiguously suggested. But “looking forward” without prosecution of past crimes brings the unsettling question of why prosecute future crimes of the same nature? After all, all criminal prosecutions are prosecutions for past acts, not future ones. And, make no mistake, these are real crimes: criminal prisoner abuse, criminal violations of the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act involving illegal wiretaps, as well as grave violations of numerous treaties and conventions, which are war crimes as defined by federal statute.

Inaction sets a troubling factual precedent, if not a legal one. And as the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson wrote in his dissent to the 1944 Korematsu opinion, which allowed the imprisonment of loyal Japanese Americans during World War II, the opinion may be discredited, but it is still lying about “like a loaded weapon ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim of an urgent need.”

Our new attorney general, Eric Holder Jr., is in the position not only to bring justice and accountability to past acts but to secure our future by making sure the full truth is known about past criminal conduct, and those individuals responsible are tried in a court of law. Truth and consequences are called for unless we are prepared to let history repeat itself. One could not say it better than Holder did in his address to the American Constitution Society last summer:

Although we did not respond to 9/11 by imprisoning Muslim Americans, our government authorized the use of torture, approved of secret electronic surveillance of American citizens, secretly detained American citizens without due process of law, denied the writ of habeas corpus to hundreds of accused enemy combatants and authorized the use of procedures that both violate international law and the U.S. Constitution.

Now, I do not question the motives or patriotism of those responsible for these policies. But this does nothing to mitigate the fact that these steps were wrong when they were initiated and they are wrong today. We owe the American people a reckoning.

Yes, Mr. Holder, you are right. Is it now time you stand by the words so well spoken in your confirmation hearing: “No one is above the law.”

Richard B. Sanders is a justice of the Washington Supreme Court.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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