Posts Tagged ‘President Bush’

Obama’s Record On Guantanamo Just As Shoddy As Bush’s

April 16, 2010

By Lt. Col. Barry Wingard,  The Public Record, April 14, 2010

During his 2008 campaign, President Obama promised the country “change we can believe in.” Yet, more than a year into his administration, he has delivered “more of the same” on issues pertaining to Guantanamo Bay. The island prison is still open, detainees still await trials, and officials have recommended the worst of George W. Bush’s policies — indefinite detention.

Continues >>

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Torture: America’s policy, Europe’s shame

June 18, 2009

Jan Egeland, Mariano Aguirre| openDemocracy, June 17, 2009

The degrading treatment meted out to prisoners of the United States-led “war on terror” over seven years has yet to be subject to proper legal scrutiny and accountability. But the responsibility is Europe’s too, say Jan Egeland & Mariano Aguirre.

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In the very heart of the western world, Europe’s major ally has tortured prisoners to death – in an operation that we Europeans too were involved in. The fourteen “techniques” authorised by the George W Bush administration include semi-drowning (“waterboarding’), confinement in cramped and dark boxes, psychological torture and deprivation of sleep for up to eleven days and nights (see  Mark Danner, US Torture: Voices from the Black Sites” [New York Review of Books, 9 April & 30 April 2009]).

An undefined number of prisoners have died or committed suicide as a result of mistreatment in interrogation chambers run by the United States and its allies (the last one was a Yemeni in Guantánamo). It may be recalled that Japanese military jailors who employed these techniques during the second world war were adjudged war criminals by the US’s own military-legal experts.

This, to emphasise the point, is not about the despicable actions of some far-away dictator, nor the atrocities committed by Nazis and communists in Europe in the years of totalitarianism and genocide. No, these acts were part of a larger operation involving our own western, liberal democracies. Europeans  were there – with troops, intelligence, logistics and funding – taking part in the “war on terror” that formed the backdrop to these war crimes. After the US secret services had been authorised to mistreat prisoners held in American custody, the CIA was allowed to undertake its “extraordinary renditions”: more than 1,000 flights, often with unnamed prisoners  (“unlawful combatants”) in a wide arc across European airspace – from Norway to Romania. Several countries (including Jordan and, again, Romania) granted permission for these prisoners to be interrogated and mistreated in local, US-administered prison camps.

In 2007, a majority of elected representative in the European parliament accused the governments of Europe of having concealed the details of what had happened in these cases. In fact, several countries did more than clandestinely transport and keep prisoners; they also delivered some of their own prisoners into the hands of the CIA. The transfer by the Swedish police in December 2001 of two Egyptian nationals, Ahmed Agiza and Mohammed El Zary – who later vanished into Egypt’s prison-camp system where torture flourishes – is but one example. Reports from both the European parliament and the Council of Europe have found that Europeans have accepted the perpetration of severe abuses in our own backyards that we were and are quick to condemn anywhere else.

When defenceless prisoners – some of them hardcore terrorists, others quite innocent men – were being beaten and humiliated by United States soldiers at Bagram air- base in Kabul, Europeans were close by: every day, our military and civilian forces in Afghanistan would drive past.

When the inner circles around President Bush were planning the torture – how to legitimise, explain and implement it in a network of prisons (some secret, others not) in Europe, the middle east and elsewhere – Europeans remained silent and loyal contributors to the “war against terror” in Afghanistan.

When clever American legal experts were arguing that the principles of international humanitarian law – the Geneva conventions, United Nations conventions, and of habeas corpus –were not applicable in this case of “our battle” against “our enemies”, Europe’s own parliamentarians and NGOS were urging international legal action against some leaders in the global south on the grounds that they had broken the very same principles.

The dark side

How could it be that these years of torture could unfold under Europeans’ very noses, in flagrant contradiction of our national constitutions, our penal codes, our international legal commitments – all without hearings being organised and investigative commissions appointed? Where were our legal experts, our auditors and our journalists? And where were we, the researchers and commentators who have written this? With the exception of rare voices in a few media and human-rights organisations, and a couple of politicians that denounced what had happened, Europe kept silent.

There are no excuses. What was being conceived, planned and perpetrated was hardly a secret, even before the New Yorker and other media published detailed descriptions of these war crimes and the deceit involved (see, for example, Jane Mayer, Outsourcing torture“, New Yorker, 14 February 2005), .After all, only days after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, Dick Cheney admitted that the US chief executive was willing to make the “war against terror” an ugly, dirty affair: in a primetime national broadcast, the US vice-president  announced that the secret services would be authorised to go over to the “dark side” (see Jane Mayer, The Dark Side [Vintage/Anchor, 2009]).

Such attitudes began around the same time to infect popular and even intellectual culture. The US television industry broadcast (from November 2001) the well-engineered TV drama series 24, about a federal agent who could not always afford to play by the rules. In episode after episode, the popular series indulged the lie that the torture of suspects was necessary in order to save the lives of innocents. The academic and pundit Michael Ignatieff– then director of the Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University, now the head of Canada’s main opposition party and the country’s likely next prime minister – was only the most high-profile of several intellectual who began to argue that torture is terrible but could in some circumstances be morally and politically justified (see Mariano Aguirre, “Exporting democracy, revising torture: the complex missions of Michael Ignatieff“, 15 July 2005).

So it was that the Bush-Cheney cabal could demolish the legacy of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  The United States’s first president banned all maltreatment of English prisoners during the during the war of independence (1775-83), forbidding his troops to “imitate the brutality of the British”. Its sixteenth president followed the same principle during the American civil war (1861-65). Both respected here the US’s declaration of independence (1776), based as it was and is on the prohibition of abuse of power, arbitrary arrest and torture.

The next step

Many political, military and administrative leaders were involved in the planning and execution of the “war on terror”; none has had to face legal prosecution for what went on in Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram and other sites of documented torture. Almost without exception, it is low-level operatives who have faced prosecution, even though their crimes were committed under a system that was organised in and controlled from the topmost echelons of power in the White House, the CIA and the Pentagon (see Philip Gourevitch & Errol Morris, The Ballad of Abu Ghraib [Penguin, 2008]).

President Barack Obama – whose election by US citizens in 2008 is a turning-pointin this story – declared his intention to close for ever this dark chapter in the history of the United States. For that to happen, he must ensure that the legal process focuses on those who bear political and administrative responsibility. Chile and Argentina are among the countries which investigated and prosecuted those who had  ordered torture – so why not the United States? In addition, it is clear that the Guantánamo prison-camp must be shut down; but military tribunals that fail to comply with international standards of jurisprudence should also be closed.

The first decade of the 21st century has witnessed the abuse and neglect of the highest principles of leadership nurtured by western civilisation over centuries. In this light, it is wrong to see the actions of Bush, Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and their coterie in isolation (see Philippe Sands, Lawless World: Making and Breaking Global Rules [ Penguin, 2006]). For this is also a tale of colossal hypocrisy and worse on the part of Europe, in accepting and being complicit in depredations that violate its own deepest values.

The experience was allowed to unfold year by grim year. During this long  period, the European allies of the US – aware of the absence of legal protection for those nameless prisoners being transported for interrogation and torture at destinations known and unknown – appear to have done very little. Why?

What will be the next steps in bringing to justice those responsible? Thomas Hammarberg, commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe, has called on the council’s forty-seven member-states to provide the complete facts on what actually took place from 2001 to 2008, so that the guilty may be held to account. It cannot happen soon enough. For until it does, the enormous damage Europe has inflicted in these terrible years – not least on itself – can never be repaired.

This article was translated from Norwegian by Susan Høivik


Straight to the Top

April 27, 2009

By Scott Horton | Harper’s Magazine, April 27, 2009

Correction, April 29, 2009:

This post requires correction in two respects. First, as already noted, Ed Whelan, former Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel, has categorically denied attending the July 2003 meeting mentioned there. Second, I wrongly described his writing at the National Review as “defenses of torture enablers.” This phrase is both vague and inaccurate, and I apologize for any misunderstanding it may have caused. Whelan has never written anything for the National Review in defense of torture or torture enablers.

The torture trail starts and ends in the White House. That is perhaps the most inescapable conclusion to be drawn from the flurry of documents released in the last week—first the OLC memoranda, then a newly declassified report of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and finally an amazing document that Attorney General Eric Holder released yesterday, which has still gained little attention. The Holder note presents a summary of CIA interaction with the White House in connection with the approval of the torture techniques that John Yoo calls the “Bush Program.” Holder’s memo refers to the participants by their job titles only, but John Sifton runs it through a decoder and gives us the actual names. Here’s a key passage:

“[The] CIA’s Office of General Counsel [this would include current Acting CIA General Counsel John Rizzo] met with the Attorney General [John Ashcroft], the National Security Adviser [Condoleezza Rice], the Deputy National Security Adviser [Stephen Hadley], the Legal Adviser to the National Security Council [John Bellinger], and the Counsel to the President [Alberto Gonzales] in mid-May 2002 to discuss the possible use of alternative interrogation methods [on Abu Zubaydah] that differed from the traditional methods used by the U.S. military and intelligence community. At this meeting, the CIA proposed particular alternative interrogation methods, including waterboarding.”

The report continues to implicate more Bush officials: “On July 13, 2002, according to CIA records, attorneys from the CIA’s Office of General Counsel [including Rizzo] met with the Legal Adviser to the National Security Council [Bellinger], a Deputy Assistant Attorney General from OLC [likely John Yoo], the head of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice [Michael Chertoff], the chief of staff to the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation [Kenneth Wainstein], and the Counsel to the President [Alberto Gonzales] to provide an overview of the proposed interrogation plan for Abu Zubaydah.”

It makes clear that sign-off for torture comes from Condoleezza Rice, acting with the advice of her ever-present lawyer, John Bellinger. Another figure making a key appearance is an Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel named M. Edward Whelan III–presumably the same Ed Whelan who is presently melting his keyboard with defenses of the torture-enablers (Update, April 29, 2009: See correction.) at National Review. (Update: Andrew Sullivan also reported on the appearance of Whelan in the memo, but Whelan responded with a categorical denial that he was involved. This suggests that the memo’s chronology is incorrect and requires some clarification.) The central role played by Rice and Bellinger helps explain the State Department’s abrupt about-face on international law issues related to torture immediately after Rice became Secretary of State and Bellinger became Legal Adviser. It also makes clear that Vice President Cheney and President Bush were fully informed of what has happened and approved.

Torture: Holding America to account

April 18, 2009

To read the four newly released Bush-era memos on America’s so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” for terror suspects is to enter a very dark moral world indeed. It is the Orwellian world of the concealed global detention network set up by the CIA on President Bush’s authority after 9/11 in which suspected terrorists – many of whom may have had a lot of blood on their hands – were secretly held in US bases from Afghanistan to Romania and systematically tortured. A world in which Britain is implicated too, do not forget.

The memos do not admit torture, of course. The United States, Mr Bush famously claimed in 2006, “does not torture”. The memos embody a cynical bureaucratic attempt to align what went on in the secret prisons with that claim. Yet no one who reads their argument that the threat of imminent drowning caused by waterboarding does not reach the level of “prolonged mental harm” which the Bush lawyers argue is necessary to constitute torture, can doubt that torture is precisely what the CIA had been permitted and encouraged to carry out. The truth, as the new US attorney general Eric Holder has said, is clear: “Waterboarding is torture.”

Jaw-dropping though they are, the memos are not the only evidence of the Bush administration’s embrace of torture. Two years ago, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was given access to 14 Guantánamo detainees who had been through the “alternative procedures”. Their experiences, retold in two recent essays by Mark Danner in the New York Review of Books (one of which we republish inside our own Review today), tell of the relentless abuse of detainees who were kept naked in low temperatures for weeks, forced to live in permanent bright light (or total darkness), required to wear nappies, deprived of solid food, blindfolded, shackled, forcibly shaved, and compelled to wear earphones through which loud music was repeatedly played.

The “procedures” discussed in the memos – grasping, slapping, holding, banging against walls, confinement in boxes (sometimes with insects), sleep deprivation, prolonged confinement in “stress positions” and waterboarding – were additional to these. The ICRC heard accounts of most of them from the detainees. These accounts are far more graphic (and even credible) than the cold lawyerish prose of the memos. The ICRC conclusion was emphatic: “The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA programme, either singly or in combination, constituted torture.”

America should hang its head at methods that Dick Cheney still defends (and which, importantly, may not have yielded much good intelligence). Barack Obama did the right thing by ending the abuses within hours of taking office. He did well to publish the legal memos too. In such ways Mr Obama makes clear that his administration is making a clean break with the discredited past, while at the same time graphically reminding the world why that past (and Britain’s role in it) was so disgraceful.

On balance Mr Obama may also be right to assure CIA personnel that they will not face prosecution if they carried out their work in good faith based on the old legal advice. But an essential part of the rule of law is that those who break it must be answerable for their actions. The Bush administration crossed a fateful threshold after 9/11. Its officials, including its lawyers, must be accountable for that. It is understandable that Mr Obama does not want his first term to be dominated by a reliving of the past. Yet America will only ensure it does not embrace torture again by getting to the bottom of why it did so this time. A full congressional inquiry is in order, as Speaker Pelosi has hinted. One way or another, those who ordered the abuses, from the president and vice-president down, must answer for them.

CIA destroyed 92 torture videos

March 3, 2009

By Jason Leopold | Consortiumnews.com, March 2, 2009

The CIA destroyed 92 videotapes – far more than previously known – to prevent disclosure of evidence revealing how the agency’s interrogators subjected “war on terror” detainees to waterboarding and other brutal methods, according to court documents filed by the Justice Department.

“The CIA can now identify the number of videotapes that were destroyed,” said a letter written by Acting U.S. Attorney Lev Dassin and filed in federal court in New York. “Ninety-two videotapes were destroyed.”

Previously, the CIA had disclosed that it had destroyed two videotapes and one audiotape of harsh interrogations of detainees. The tape destruction has been the subject of a year-long criminal investigation by John Durham, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia who was appointed special prosecutor last year by Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

In Monday’s filing, Dassin noted that a stay of a contempt motion filed by the ACLU seeking release of the tapes was allowed to expire on Feb. 28 without a request for a continuation – signaling that Durham’s investigation is now complete.

In January, Durham had indicated in a court filing that he expected to wrap up his probe by the end of February. The CIA has asked the court to give the agency until Friday to produce a list of all destroyed records, any memos relating to reconstruction of those records, and identification of witnesses who may have watched the videotapes before they were destroyed.

Dassin’s letter said some information sought by the ACLU may be classified or “protected from disclosure, such as the names of the CIA employees who viewed the videotapes.”

Dassin said the CIA “intends to produce all of the information requested to the court and to produce as much information as possible on the public record to the plaintiffs.”

Amrit Singh, a staff attorney with the ACLU, said the latest disclosure “provides further evidence for holding the CIA in contempt of court.”

“The large number of videotapes destroyed confirms that the agency engaged in a systemic attempt to hide evidence of its illegal interrogations and to evade the court’s order.” Singh said. “Our contempt motion has been pending in court for over a year now – it is time to hold the CIA accountable for its flagrant disregard for the rule of law.”

The videotaped interrogations, which were also withheld from the 9/11 Commission, were destroyed in November 2005 after The Washington Post published a story exposing the CIA’s use of so-called “black site” prisons overseas to interrogate terror suspects with techniques that were not legal on U.S. soil.

The Zubaydah Case

The Post’s story focused on alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah and the harsh methods that the CIA used on him and other detainees. Abu Zubaydah was captured in Pakistan on March 28, 2002, and reportedly was whisked to a secret prison site in Thailand for interrogation.

Initially, Zubaydah was somewhat cooperative but later became tight-lipped when asked about alleged terrorist plots against the United States and the whereabouts of high-level al-Qaeda operatives.

In July 2002, a meeting was convened at the White House, where former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, Justice Department attorney John Yoo, Vice President Dick Cheney, Cheney’s attorney David Addington, and unknown CIA officials discussed whether the CIA could interrogate Zubaydah more aggressively in order to get him to respond.

It was at this July 2002 meeting that Yoo, Gonzales and Addington gave the CIA the green light to use a wide variety of techniques, including waterboarding, on Zubaydah and other detainees at several secret prisons to “break” them and force them to cooperate with interrogators, according to an account published in Newsweek in late December 2003.

Less than a month after the meeting, on Aug. 1, 2002, Yoo drafted a memo to Gonzales that was signed by Jay Bybee, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel. That memo declared that President Bush had the legal authority to allow CIA interrogators to employ harsh tactics to extract information from detainees.

Yoo’s memo – often called the “torture meme” – said Congress “may no more regulate the President’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.”

Michael Chertoff, then head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, reportedly advised the CIA General Counsel Scott Muller and his deputy, John Rizzo, that the Aug.  1, 2002, legal opinion protected CIA interrogators from prosecution if they used waterboarding or other harsh tactics.

In February 2005, during his Senate confirmation hearing to become Homeland Security secretary, Chertoff said he provided the CIA broad guidance in response to its questions about interrogation methods but never addressed the legality of specific techniques.

Bush Fixated

In the book The One Percent Doctrine, author Ron Suskind said Zubaydah was not the “high-value detainee” the CIA had claimed. Rather, Zubaydah was a minor player in the al-Qaeda organization, handling travel for associates and their families, Suskind wrote.

However, “Bush was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth,” Suskind wrote. Bush asked one CIA briefer, “Do some of these harsh methods really work?”

Zubaydah was strapped to a waterboard and, fearing imminent death, he spoke about a wide range of plots against a number of U.S. targets, such as shopping malls, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. Yet, Suskind wrote, the information Zubaydah provided under duress was not credible.

According to Suskind, Zubaydah’s captors soon discovered that their prisoner was mentally ill and knew nothing about terrorist operations or impending plots. That realization was “echoed at the top of CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President,” Suskind wrote.

Still, in public statements, President Bush portrayed Zubaydah as “one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States” and added: “So, the CIA used an alternative set of procedures” to get Zubaydah to talk.

The President did not want to “lose face” because he had stated his importance publicly, Suskind wrote.

Last year, Mukasey appointed U.S. Attorney Durham as special counsel to investigate whether the destruction of the CIA videotapes violated any laws, but did not give Durham the authority to probe whether the interrogation techniques themselves violated anti-torture laws.

In December 2008, Bush and Cheney both admitted in exit interviews that they authorized the waterboarding of Zubaydah and two other detainees.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers in January proposed expanding the scope of Durham’s investigation to include a broader review of the Bush administration’s interrogation policies.

Conyers said he urged Attorney General Eric Holder to “appoint a Special Counsel or expand the scope of the present investigation into CIA tape destruction to determine whether there were criminal violations committed pursuant to Bush administration policies that were undertaken under unreviewable war powers, including enhanced interrogation, extraordinary rendition, and warrantless domestic surveillance.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee, chaired by Democrat Dianne Feinstein, will soon conduct a secret investigation into the CIA’s interrogation program to determine whether the methods used against detainees worked, according to published reports.

Jason Leopold has launched his own Web site, The Public Record, at www.pubrecord.org.

The Humiliation of America

January 14, 2009


Paul Craig Roberts | Information Clearing House, January  14, 2009


“Early Friday morning the secretary of state was considering bringing the cease-fire resolution to a UNSC vote and we didn’t want her to vote for it.” Olmert said. “I said ‘get President Bush on the phone.’ They tried and told me he was in the middle of a lecture in Philadelphia. I said ‘I’m not interested, I need to speak to him now.’ He got down from the podium, went out and took the phone call.”

“Let me see if I understand this,” wrote a friend in response to news reports that Israeli Prime Minister Olmert ordered President Bush from the podium where he was giving a speech to receive Israel’s instructions about how the United States had to vote on the UN resolution. “On September 11th, President Bush is interrupted while reading a story to school children and told the World Trade Center had been hit–and he went on reading. Now, Olmert calls about a UN resolution when Bush is giving a speech and Bush leaves the stage to take the call. There exists no greater example of a master-servant relationship.”

Olmert gloated as he told Israelis how he had shamed US Secretary of State Condi Rice by preventing the American Secretary of State from supporting a resolution that she had helped to craft. Olmert proudly related how he had interrupted President Bush’s speech in order to give Bush his marching orders on the UN vote.

Israeli politicians have been bragging for decades about the control they exercise over the US government. In his final press conference, President Bush, deluded to the very end, said that the whole world respects America. In fact, when the world looks at America, what it sees is an Israeli colony.

Responding to mounting reports from the Red Cross and human rights organizations of Israel’s massive war crimes in Gaza, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted 33-1 on January 12 to condemn Israel for grave offenses against human rights.

On January 13, the London Times reported that Israelis have gathered on a hillside overlooking Gaza to enjoy the slaughter of Palestinians in what the Times calls “the ultimate spectator sport.”

It is American supplied F-16 fighter jets, helicopter gunships, missiles, and bombs that are destroying the civilian infrastructure of Gaza and murdering the Palestinians who have been packed into the tiny strip of land. What is happening to the Palestinians herded into the Gaza Ghetto is happening because of American money and weapons. It is just as much an attack by the United States as an attack by Israel. The US government is complicit in the war crimes.

Yet in his farewell press conference on January 12, Bush said that the world respects America for its compassion.

The compassion of bombing a UN school for girls?

The compassion of herding 100 Palestinians into one house and then shelling it?

The compassion of bombing hospitals and mosques?

The compassion of depriving 1.5 million Palestinians of food, medicine, and energy?

The compassion of violently overthrowing the democratically elected Hamas government?

The compassion of blowing up the infrastructure of one of the poorest and most deprived people on earth?

The compassion of abstaining from a Security Council vote condemning these actions?

And this is a repeat of what the Israelis and Americans did to Lebanon in 2006, what the Americans did to Iraqis for six years and are continuing to do to Afghans after seven years. And still hope to do to the Iranians and Syrians.

In 2002 I designated George W. Bush “the White House Moron.” If there ever was any doubt about this designation, Bush’s final press conference dispelled it.

Bush talked about connecting the dots, but Bush has failed to connect any dots for eight solid years. “Our” president was a puppet for a cabal led by Dick Cheney and a handful of Jewish neoconservatives, who took control of the Pentagon, the State Department, the National Security Council, the CIA, and “Homeland Security.” From these power positions, the neocon cabal used lies and deception to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, pointless wars that have cost Americans $3 trillion, while millions of Americans lose their jobs, their pensions, and their access to health care.

“These obviously very difficult economic times,” Bush said in his press conference, “started before my presidency.”

Bush has plenty of liberal company in failing to connect a $3 trillion dollar war with hard times. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities blames Bush’s tax cut, not the wars, for “the fiscal deterioration.”

Bush told the White House Press Corps, a useless collection of non-journalists, that the two mistakes of his invasion of Iraq were: (1) Putting up the “mission accomplished” banner on the aircraft carrier, which, he said, “sent the wrong message,” and (2) the absence of the alleged weapons of mass destruction that he used to justify the invasion.

Although Bush now admits that there were not any such weapons in Iraq, Bush said that the invasion was still the right thing to do.

The deaths of 1.25 million Iraqis, the displacement of 4 million Iraqis, and the destruction of a country’s infrastructure and economy are merely the collateral damage associated with “bringing freedom and democracy” to the Middle East.

Unless George W. Bush is the best actor in human history, he truly believes what he told the White House Press Corps.

What Bush did not explain is how America is respected when its people put a moron in charge for eight years.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: They lied about Iraq in 2003, and they’re still lying now

December 23, 2008

Gordon Brown has been spinning his own fairy tale of Baghdad

The Independent, UK, Dec 22, 2008

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Triumphalists are getting off on Iraq again, intoning hallelujah songs as they did after staging the fall of Saddam’s statue then again and again, sweet lullabies to send us into blissful sleep and wake to a new dawn. The composers and orchestrators – Blair, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Straw, Hoon and Rice – still believe history is on their side.

Bush visited his troops at Camp Victory in Iraq this month and said: “Iraq had a record of supporting terror, of developing and using weapons of mass destruction, was routinely firing at American military personnel, systematically violating UN resolutions … Iraqis, once afraid to leave their homes are going back to school and shopping in malls … American troops are returning home because of success.” Only one shoe and one without a sharp stiletto was hurled at him by Muntadar al-Zaidi, an Iraqi who begged to differ.

Gordon Brown, also in Iraq, spun his own fairy tale of Baghdad, where everyone is living happily ever after and British soldiers come home proud heroes. The reality is that some of our soldiers are broken – physically and mentally – fighting this illegal and unpopular war and that too many did terrible things in the land of endless tears. General Sir Mike Jackson now blames the Americans for their “appalling” decisions. And yet he too insists the campaign was a success.

Even the choral backers of Bush and Blair, once oh-so-influential, sound tinny now, out of tune. In a new book, The Liberal Defence Of Murder, Richard Seymour names many usually enlightened individuals who cheered on the disgraceful crusade and have now gone silent. Others who supported the adventure have escaped through passages of ingenious exculpation. Most Tories, for example, now say they were hypnotised by the Government’s false dossiers.

Really? Even hard-of-hearing Mrs Kirkpatrick down the road – she’s 79 – understood that we were being deceived. The UN weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Scott Ritter both told us there were no WMDs. Ken Clarke said this weekend: “I opposed the Iraq war. I’m not sure whether anybody believed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction that were a threat to anybody. Most American spies didn’t believe that, most British spies didn’t believe that and most of the Foreign Office didn’t believe that”.

Nor did the Opposition but it still backed Blair because Conservatives love wars and one against a swarthy potentate was irresistible.

So to Iraqis, the beneficiaries of our noble “sacrifices”. This week Nahla Hussein, a left-wing, feminist Kurdish Iraqi, was shot and beheaded for her campaigning zeal. Fifty-seven Iraqis were blown up in Kirkuk. Christians in Mosul are being savagely persecuted and sharia law has replaced the 1959 codified entitlements given to women in family disputes. Women in Iraq have fewer rights today than under Saddam. Yes, there is some normality in parts but tensions between Shias and Sunnis are explosive. When troops are withdrawn next year, expect more bloodshed. The resources of Iraq, meanwhile, are being plundered.

For these blessings, one million Iraqis had to die and their children still suffer from illnesses caused by our weapons and our war. Five million Iraqis are displaced and, of these, the US took in 1,700. It is easier for an Iraqi cat or dog to gain entry to the land of the free. Try Baghdad Pups, which offers (for a hefty fee) to get the adopted pets of US soldiers into America. In 2007, 39,000 Iraqis sought refuge in the EU countries and we took in 300. Sweden, which has no responsibility for the havoc, gave refuge to 18,000.

I have been talking to exiled Iraqis in London. One young man has a child whose mother killed herself after giving birth during the war. He both loves and hates this country, as did Bilal Abdullah, the NHS doctor convicted for dreadful plans to blow up people in the UK. A beautiful Iraqi woman told me her nephew gave plastic flowers to our soldiers when first they went into Basra. Last year, they shot him dead, mistaking him for an enemy.

On Friday, I met an Iraqi artist, Yousif Nasser, whose studio has become a hub for other exiles, artists, musicians and the mentally ill seeking art therapy. A gentle, melancholic man, he showed me his series titled “Black Rain”, enormous works depicting the violence in Iraq: “There are no bodies, only pieces, bits, of a little bit of this and that. People don’t buy my pictures – they are too dark. How can I tell you what has happened to my country? I have no words, only these images.”

I have words, too weak and inadequate to carry the rage felt by millions at the renewed arrogance of the villains who first devastated Iraq and now garland themselves. Lies, lies and now delusion. There is no glory to be salvaged in this desert.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

You Cannot Pardon a Crime You Authorized

November 28, 2008

RINF.COM, Nov 28, 2008

Statement from the Steering Committee for the Prosecution for War Crimes of President Bush and His Subordinates

Never before has a president pardoned himself or his subordinates for crimes he authorized. The closest thing to this in U.S. history thus far has been Bush’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s sentence. Bush is widely expected to follow that commutation with a pardon. Not only did Libby work for the White House, but he was convicted of obstruction of justice in an investigation that was headed to the president. Evidence introduced in the trial, including a hand-written note by the vice president, implicated Bush, and former press secretary Scott McClellan has since testified that Bush authorized the exposure of an undercover agent, that being the crime that was under investigation.

There are widespread concerns that Bush might pardon other subordinates for various other crimes that he authorized, potentially including torture, warrantless spying, a variety of war crimes, taking the nation to war on fraudulent evidence, and the abuses of the politicized Justice Department. Voices in the media advising Bush to issue such pardons include: Stuart Taylor Jr. (Newsweek 7/12/08) and Alan Dershowitz (Wall St Journal 9/12/08), while many additional voices have urged Obama to commit to not prosecuting.

The idea that the pardon power constitutionally includes such pardons ignores a thousand year tradition in which no man can sit in judgment of himself, and the fact that James Madison and George Mason argued that the reason we needed the impeachment power was that a president might some day try to pardon someone for a crime that he himself was involved in. The problem is not preemptive pardons of people not yet tried and convicted. The problem is not blanket pardons of unnamed masses of people. Both of those types of pardons have been issued in the past and have their appropriate place. The problem is the complete elimination of any semblance of the rule of law if Bush pardons his subordinates for crimes he instructed or authorized them to commit.

If Bush attempts this, here are possible responses:

1. Immediate impeachment of Bush and Cheney and various pardonees, even if they are out of office. (Here are arguments for the permissibility of such impeachments: http://afterdowningstreet.org/node/37834 )

2. Overturning of the pardons by the new president or by Congress, as Bush’s lawyers told him he could do to Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich, which was a far more minor abuse of the pardon power.

3. Legislation banning self-pardons and pardons of crimes authorized by the president.

4. A Constitutional Amendment banning self-pardons and pardons of crimes authorized by the president.

5. Refusal by the courts to honor the supposed pardons.

6. Prosecution of Bush, Cheney, and their subordinates for their crimes.

With thanks to all who have aided over the past millennia in the establishment of the rule of law.

***

Lawrence Velvel, Dean of Massachusetts Law School, chairs the Steering Committee whose members include Ben Davis, Marjorie Cohn, Chris Pyle, Elaine Scarry, Peter Weiss, David Swanson, Kristina Borjesson, Colleen Costello, Valeria Gheorghiu, and Andy Worthington.

Waterboarding Got White House Nod

October 15, 2008

CIA Tactics Endorsed In Secret Memos

Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 15, 2008; Page A01

The Bush administration issued a pair of secret memos to the CIA in 2003 and 2004 that explicitly endorsed the agency’s use of interrogation techniques such as waterboarding against al-Qaeda suspects — documents prompted by worries among intelligence officials about a possible backlash if details of the program became public.

The classified memos, which have not been previously disclosed, were requested by then-CIA Director George J. Tenet more than a year after the start of the secret interrogations, according to four administration and intelligence officials familiar with the documents. Although Justice Department lawyers, beginning in 2002, had signed off on the agency’s interrogation methods, senior CIA officials were troubled that White House policymakers had never endorsed the program in writing.

The memos were the first — and, for years, the only — tangible expressions of the administration’s consent for the CIA’s use of harsh measures to extract information from captured al-Qaeda leaders, the sources said. As early as the spring of 2002, several White House officials, including then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Cheney, were given individual briefings by Tenet and his deputies, the officials said. Rice, in a statement to congressional investigators last month, confirmed the briefings and acknowledged that the CIA director had pressed the White House for “policy approval.”

The repeated requests for a paper trail reflected growing worries within the CIA that the administration might later distance itself from key decisions about the handling of captured al-Qaeda leaders, former intelligence officials said. The concerns grew more pronounced after the revelations of mistreatment of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and further still as tensions grew between the administration and its intelligence advisers over the conduct of the Iraq war.

Continued . . .

US announces Taiwan arms sale

October 4, 2008
Al Jazeera, Oct 4, 2008

The proposed arms sale is likely to anger
Beijing [File image, EPA]

The US government has announced plans to sell about $6.5bn of weaponry to Taiwan, a move likely to anger China, which claims sovereignty over the island.

The sale, announced on Friday, includes 30 Apache attack helicopters, 330 Patriot missiles and 32 Harpoon submarine-launched missiles.

The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency told members of the congress that the sale, which still needs to be approved by the politicians, would support Taiwan’s efforts to modernise its military.

“The proposed sale will help improve the security of the recipient and assist in maintaining political stability, military balance, and economic progress in the region,” the agency, which oversees major arms sales, said.

US legislators have 30 days to block the six separate arms deals, although such action is rare since any major arms agreements are carefully vetted before they are made public.

Pentagon proposal

Many of the weapons to be sold were part of a package announced by George Bush, the US president, shortly after he took office in 2001.

They were initially held up by partisan wrangling in Taiwan’s legislature over paying for them.

The Pentagon said the arms sales were consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act, which obliges Washington to help Taipei defend itself.

The deals were announced after what analysts had described as a freeze designed to ease tension between Beijing and Taipei, and were quickly praised by Taiwan.

Taiwan’s economic and cultural representative in the US said the decision marked the end of eight years of “turmoil and confusion” and heralded “the beginning of the new era of mutual trust between our two countries”.

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949, when the Communists, led by Mao Zedong, won the Chinese civil war and the defeated Nationalists fled to the island.

Beijing has vowed in the past to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.

The US switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, recognising “one China”, but remains Taiwan’s biggest ally.

Shopping list

The sales include 30 AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters built by Boeing, along with night vision sensors, radar, air-to-air missiles and Hellfire missiles. That deal alone is worth $2.5bn, if all options are exercised.

In addition to Boeing, major contractors will include General Electric for engines, Lockheed Martin Corp, Northrop Grumman Corp, Raytheon Co and Britain’s BAE Systems.

The Pentagon also approved the sale of Patriot advanced capability PAC-3 missiles, radar sets, ground stations and other equipment valued at up to $3.1bn. Raytheon would be the main contractor, along with Lockheed.

Omitted from the arms deal package were two items Taiwan had originally sought – diesel-powered submarines and 60 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the US-Taiwan business council, said.


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