Posts Tagged ‘VP Dick Cheney’

Death squads and US democracy

July 16, 2009

Bill Van Auken, wsws.org, 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.

Advertisements

Mr. President, War Crimes Must Be Investigated

April 19, 2009

by Ruth Rosen | CommonDreams.org, April 18, 2009

The memos about torture released by the Obama administration are horrifying to read. Nothing new, here, but they are like a punch in the stomach all over again. This is my country? This is the nation that stands for freedom and decency?

I understand why President Obama doesn’t want to prosecute those who believed they were acting under laws written by the Justice Department. But that is not the only policy he and other Democrats can pursue.

First, the men who wrote those memos should be investigated for disbarment. They acted in ways that are unconscionable and unprofessional, to put it mildly.

Second, neither the President nor Congress should investigate these crimes. They must be pursued by a special independent investigator who has no political ax to grind. Now you may well ask, who approves of torture? Well, hardly anyone, except those in the Bush administration who justified or directed these war crimes.

Third, how can we allow a sitting federal judge to remain on the bench–for life– when he provided legal justification for torture? I speak here, of course, of Stephen L. Bybee, who should resign or be impeached.

Why do I feel so strongly about this? Because the country I care so much about has breached some of the most important international conventions in modern history and yet no major leaders have been held accountable. If the investigation goes straight to Vice-President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush, then so be it.

Remember the date over whether President Ford should have pardoned President Nixon for his violations of the constitution? The best argument for that pardon was that Nixon HAD been held accountable and had to resign his office. He had, in short, received a serious punishment.

President Obama’s instincts are right to avoid a drawn-out partisan conflict over the past. But if we are truly a nation of laws, committed to the decency and morality we embrace, we cannot let people who justify or commit torture and other war crimes to escape prosecution. Those who agree should make their voices loud, joining Amnesty International, the ACLU and many thousands of other Americans who will allow war crimes to be committee in their name.

Ruth Rosen, a journalist and historian, is professor emerita of history at the University of California, Davis and a visiting professor of public policy and history at UC Berkeley. For 11 years, she wrote op-ed columns for the Los Angeles Times, and from 2000-2004 she worked full-time as a political columnist and editorial page writer at the San Francisco Chronicle.

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.


%d bloggers like this: