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Time to Look Back?

March 16, 2014 Leave a comment

difeinstein
[AP]

I’ve been quiet for months on a range of political issues that used to occupy a fair bit of space on Ron’s View. largely because I’ve run out of things to say that aren’t said better by many others. But today I’m going to devote a post to quoting one of my betters, in the context of Dianne Feinstein waking up to CIA abuse in its years-long coverup of torture.

Here are Mark Mazzetti and Jonathan Weisman, reporting last Tuesday in the NYT:

A festering conflict between the Central Intelligence Agency and its congressional overseers broke into the open Tuesday when Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee and one of the C.I.A.’s staunchest defenders, delivered an extraordinary denunciation of the agency, accusing it of withholding information about its treatment of prisoners and trying to intimidate committee staff members investigating the detention program.

In a New York Review of Books post yesterday, David Cole urges us not to lose sight of the more important story, the torture itself.

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.”

[snip]

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.

[snip]

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. … 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.”

Obama has been the national leader in allowing his predecessor and colleagues to duck accountability. (Recall that in January 2011, shortly before his inauguration, Obama stated his “belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”) Let us hope that he does insist on release of the report at long last.

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Categories: Politics, Torture

Integrity in Decision Making

October 20, 2013 Leave a comment

ricefootball

[Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press]

Above we see Bill Hancock, executive director of college football’s Bowl Championship Series, announcing Condoleezza Rice’s selection last Wednesday as a member of the College Football Playoff committee. From the AP article:

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne and College Football Hall of Fame quarterback Archie Manning are among the 13 people who will be part of the College Football Playoff selection committee in 2014.

The committee members were officially unveiled Wednesday, though the names had been reported last week by The Associated Press and other media outlets. Earlier this week, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long was announced as the chairman of the first selection committee for the new postseason system that replaces the Bowl Championship Series next year.

The committee will choose four teams to play in the national semifinals and seed them. The winners of those games, played on a rotating basis at six bowl sites, will meet a week later for the national championship.

Long and BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock, who will assume the same position in the new postseason format, announced the committee members at a news conference at the College Football Playoff offices in Irving, Texas. The panel is made up of current athletic directors, former players and coaches and college administrators, and a former member of the media.

“Our work will be difficult, but rewarding at the same time,” Long said. “We have important judgments to make during that process. We realize we represent all of college football.”

Word spread days earlier that Rice would be on the committee, prompting both criticism and praise—criticism that she isn’t a football expert, praise that, well, beats me. There’s this, from Sports Illustrated’s Michael Rosenberg, intent on fighting back against the sexism of the criticism. But he never does say what her virtues are.

And then there’s this glorifying piece by Greg Bishop to appear in tomorrow’s NYT. It reaches its low point near the end.

Larry Scott, the commissioner of the Pacific-12 Conference, first broached to Rice the idea of her fit on the selection committee. “Why me?” was her initial reaction. He told her that the conference commissioners wanted a variety of backgrounds, integrity in decision making, not just insiders but also others who understood the game.

“I thought it would be amazing to get someone of that caliber that is a really serious sports fan involved,” Scott said last week in an interview. “It takes the caliber of the committee to a whole different level.”

Rice plans to draw on her diplomatic background. She is, after all, familiar with the collaborative process: seek data, refine data, question data, argue data, come to some sort of consensus. She is pleased that strength of schedule will be heavily considered. Her father would have liked that.

So if you want integrity in decision making, you choose Condoleezza Rice? What am I missing here?

Let’s review. We can start with the report on torture released last April, about which NYT reporter. Scott Shane writes:

A nonpartisan, independent review of interrogation and detention programs in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks concludes that “it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture” and that the nation’s highest officials bore ultimate responsibility for it.

The sweeping, 600-page report says that while brutality has occurred in every American war, there never before had been “the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after 9/11 directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody.”

I do believe Ms. Rice was our country’s National Security Advisor at the time, a high official and top advisor. That’s all the review I need.

Why does she continue to be the subject of admiration and recipient of honors. She’s a simple war criminal.

Categories: Football, Torture

Change We Can Believe In, XXXVI

January 6, 2013 Leave a comment

changebelieve

Change We Can Believe In: Hear No Evil, See No Evil (And, Secrecy)

You may have missed news of the unanimous ruling last month by the European Court of Human Rights that the CIA tortured Khaled el-Masri. That he was wrongly arrested, imprisoned, and interrogated isn’t in doubt. The CIA admitted as much and released him. What’s new is that the CIA actions have now been found to be torture (not that that was really in doubt either).

From Richard Norton-Taylor’s report at The Guardian:

CIA agents tortured a German citizen, sodomising, shackling, and beating him, as Macedonian state police looked on, the European court of human rights said in a historic judgment released on Thursday.

In a unanimous ruling, it also found Macedonia guilty of torturing, abusing, and secretly imprisoning Khaled el-Masri, a German of Lebanese origin allegedly linked to terrorist organisations.

Masri was seized in Macedonia in December 2003 and handed over to a CIA “rendition team” at Skopje airport and secretly flown to Afghanistan.

It is the first time the court has described CIA treatment meted out to terror suspects as torture.

“The grand chamber of the European court of human rights unanimously found that Mr el-Masri was subjected to forced disappearance, unlawful detention, extraordinary rendition outside any judicial process, and inhuman and degrading treatment,” said James Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative.

He described the judgment as “an authoritative condemnation of some of the most objectionable tactics employed in the post-9/11 war on terror”. It should be a wake-up call for the Obama administration and US courts, he told the Guardian. For them to continue to avoid serious scrutiny of CIA activities was “simply unacceptable”, he said.

[snip]

Masri was released in April 2004. He was taken, blindfolded and handcuffed, by plane to Albania and subsequently to Germany, after the CIA admitted he was wrongly detained. The Macedonian government, which the court ordered must pay Masri €60,000 (£49,000) in compensation, has denied involvement in kidnapping.

UN special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Emmerson, described the ruling as “a key milestone in the long struggle to secure accountability of public officials implicated in human rights violations committed by the Bush administration CIA in its policy of secret detention, rendition and torture”.

He said the US government must issue an apology for its “central role in a web of systematic crimes and human rights violations by the Bush-era CIA, and to pay voluntary compensation to Mr el-Masri”.

President Obama and Attorney General Holder have already made clear their lack of interest in looking backward. Scott Horton wrote immediately after the European Court’s decision:

The El-Masri ruling is a watershed event principally because it reflects the first high-profile, binding judicial determination that the CIA used torture practices in connection with its renditions program. Thus far, litigation of the issue in the United States has failed as federal courts — deferring to the executive’s attempts to avoid scrutiny of well-documented and severe human rights abuses by invoking secrecy — have generally refused to allow cases to proceed to trial.

[snip]

… the perpetrators of El-Masri’s torture have not been held to account under criminal law. According to an investigation run by the Associated Press, CIA officer Alfreda Frances Bikowsky played a key role in El-Masri’s abusive treatment, ignoring his protests because her “gut told her” he was a terrorist. Bikowsky was quickly promoted following the El-Masri incident, and she now occupies a senior counterterrorism post, from which she exercises great influence on sensitive operations.

Recall too Holder’s announcement last August that he would not prosecute CIA interrogators.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced Thursday [August 30, 2012] that no one would be prosecuted for the deaths of a prisoner in Afghanistan in 2002 and another in Iraq in 2003, eliminating the last possibility that any criminal charges will be brought as a result of the brutal interrogations [i.e., torture, but the NYT doesn’t call it that; see next sentence though] carried out by the C.I.A.

Mr. Holder had already ruled out any charges related to the use of waterboarding and other methods that most human rights experts consider to be torture. His announcement closes a contentious three-year investigation by the Justice Department and brings to an end years of dispute over whether line intelligence or military personnel or their superiors would be held accountable for the abuse of prisoners in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The closing of the two cases means that the Obama administration’s limited effort to scrutinize the counterterrorism programs carried out under President George W. Bush has come to an end.

That’s moral leadership for you.

Categories: Law, Torture

The Good Life, War Criminal Division

August 23, 2012 Leave a comment

2012 Masters winner Bubba Watson receiving his green jacket from 2011 winner Charl Schwartzel

[AP]

I should have seen this one coming. What? I’ll get to it. Some background first.

Augusta National Golf Club is home to the most famous golf course in the country and host of The Masters, one of the four major men’s golf championships. It’s not your typical local golf club, with membership drawn primarily from the region around Augusta, Georgia. Rather, as the name suggests, it is a national club, with a membership including many CEOs and political leaders.

Membership is by invitation only. Asking to join is a good way to ensure that you won’t be invited, at least not for a while. Supposedly this happened to Bill Gates. That’s the story that got told a few years back anyway.

The lack of African-American members was a source of controversy a couple of decades ago, in the context of the PGA Tour having a policy of not holding tournaments at clubs without black members. The club soon admitted some. More recently, the absence of women among the membership had become national news, thanks especially to the attention Martha Burk, former chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, drew to this issue in 2002. She called for a boycott by the Masters tournament advertisers, to which the club’s long-time chair Hootie Johnson responded by preempting her, announcing that there would be no TV ads (and reducing whatever fee CBS pays for coverage of the tournament). The Masters exercises tight control over the broadcast as it is, with strictly limited advertising and no CBS promos of upcoming shows. It is far and away the best golf broadcast of the year.

This year, the spotlight fell once again on the absence of women among club members, for an entirely different reason. As Jason Gay explained in the WSJ:

Augusta National is again confronted with a question that gets elevated as a “cultural moment” but really just sounds absurd in 2012: Why aren’t there any women members?

The subject has been pushed to the forefront by the appointment of Virginia M. Rometty as the CEO of IBM. IBM is a prominent Masters sponsor, and Augusta National has a history of inviting the company’s top executive to join its club. Ms. Rometty is a golfer. She spent late Sunday afternoon at Augusta sitting in a second-row chair behind the 18th green. Her jacket was pink, not green [green being the color of jackets that members receive].

Hootie Johnson’s successor as club chair, Billy Payne — whom you may remember running the Atlanta Olympics in 1996; he did a good job, maybe he should run for president — insisted at the time that membership is a private issue, and they would invite women when they were ready.

As Gay points out, the club sounded absurd, if not worse. The betting was that they wouldn’t be caught in the same position come April 2013 and the next Masters tournament.

No surprise, then, that three days ago Augusta National finally announced two new female members. One is Darla Moore. On reading about her (here and here), I realized that she was always the “obvious” choice for first female member of Augusta National. She’s a long-time friend of Hootie, fellow graduate of the University of South Carolina, and fellow major USC donor (for whom the business school is named).

Which brings me, at last, to the point of this post — the conventional, predictable, but sickening choice of the other inaugural female member: Condi Rice. Ah, the rewards of directing a regime of torture.

Let’s see. This will do, from an article in 2009:

Condoleezza Rice approved ‘torture’ techniques:

Condoleezza Rice, President George W. Bush’s Secretary of State, personally approved a CIA request to use “waterboarding” and other harsh interrogation techniques.

She verbally agreed to allow the methods to be used on Abu Zubaydah, an al-Qaeda suspect, in July 2002, a Senate report has revealed.

Miss Rice’s role was outlined in a narrative released by the Senate Intelligence Committee as the controversy over alleged torture by the CIA continued to rage.

The information indicates that the programme was approved at the highest levels of the Bush administration.

The new timeline suggests Miss Rice played a more significant role than she acknowledged in written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee submitted in the autumn.

No matter. She’s now a member of the most exclusive golf club in the country.

And let’s not forget Obama telling us nine days before his inauguration that “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” Okay then. I’m good. Condi, enjoy.

Categories: Golf, Politics, Torture

Our Delusional War Criminals

October 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Don't buy this book!

I haven’t exactly kept my disdain for Condi Rice a secret. Nor the difficulty I have stomaching the parade of war criminal memoirs. Alas, it doesn’t get easier, with Condi’s heading our way a week from Tuesday. The NYT has a preview in today’s paper.

It’s good to know that our newest war criminal memoirist “offers several regrets. The way Mr. Bush rejected the Kyoto climate change treaty without promising to seek alternatives was a ‘self-inflicted wound,’ she concludes, while her New York shopping trip during Hurricane Katrina was ‘tone deaf’ for the nation’s highest-ranking African-American.” Yet, we learn in the next sentence that she “defends the most controversial decisions of the Bush era, including the invasion of Iraq.” No regrets about the intensive lying campaign to justify going to war? No regrets about the deaths of tens (hundreds) of thousands of civilians? No regrets about torture? How does this woman sleep at night?

But then there’s the next, and closing, sentence of the NYT article: “The wave of popular uprisings known as the Arab Spring this year, she writes, has vindicated Mr. Bush’s focus on spreading freedom and democracy.”

Oh, I see now. She’s delusional.

Categories: Books, Torture, War

Change We Can Believe In, XXII

September 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Change We Can Believe In: Institutionalize Bush civil liberty policies

Yes, I’ve touched on this theme before. But it’s time to circle back, thanks to George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley’s op-ed piece in today’s LA Times. The article should be read in full. Here’s a sample:

Historically, this country has tended to correct periods of heightened police powers with a pendulum swing back toward greater individual rights. Many were questioning the extreme measures taken by the Bush administration, especially after the disclosure of abuses and illegalities. Candidate Obama capitalized on this swing and portrayed himself as the champion of civil liberties.

However, President Obama not only retained the controversial Bush policies, he expanded on them. The earliest, and most startling, move came quickly. Soon after his election, various military and political figures reported that Obama reportedly promised Bush officials in private that no one would be investigated or prosecuted for torture. In his first year, Obama made good on that promise, announcing that no CIA employee would be prosecuted for torture. Later, his administration refused to prosecute any of the Bush officials responsible for ordering or justifying the program and embraced the “just following orders” defense for other officials, the very defense rejected by the United States at the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

Obama failed to close Guantanamo Bay as promised. He continued warrantless surveillance and military tribunals that denied defendants basic rights. He asserted the right to kill U.S. citizens he views as terrorists. His administration has fought to block dozens of public-interest lawsuits challenging privacy violations and presidential abuses.

I have nothing to add to Turley’s conclusion that “the election of Barack Obama may stand as one of the single most devastating events in our history for civil liberties.”

Categories: Law, Politics, Torture

More Books from War Criminals

September 1, 2011 Leave a comment

No, I’m not going to write about that guy. I’m not going to provide a link to his book that came out this week, or an image of it at the top of the post. I don’t promote the works of war criminals. But how about a link to this post two days ago by Dahlia Lithwick at Slate?

I want to quote her, but I don’t want to mention the author of the new book by name. Let’s call him Dr. Evil. I’ll replace appearances of his real name with that.

It’s currently fashionable to believe that political and ideological battles are “real,” and it is the law that is empty symbolism. But Dr. Evil stands as an illustration of the real-life, practical value of the law. Torture really did become legal after 9/11, and even after it was repudiated—again and again—it will always be legal with regard to Dr. Evil and the others who perpetrated it without consequence. The law wasn’t a hollow symbol after 9/11. It was the only fixed system we had. We can go on pretending that torture is no longer permissible in this country or under international law, but until there are legal consequences for those who order or engage in torture, we will only be pretending. Dr. Evil is the beneficiary of that artifice.

[snip]

Most of agree that we should not be a nation of torturers, and that torture has tarnished the reputation of the United States as a beacon of justice. Most of us do not want warrantless surveillance, secret prisons, or war against every dictator who looks at us funny. We may be bloodthirsty, but we aren’t morons. On his most combative and truly lawless positions, Dr. Evil still stands largely alone.

The tragedy is that it doesn’t matter if we are all Dr. Evils now. That there is even one Dr. Evil is enough. He understands and benefits from the fact that the law is still all on his side; that there is only heated rhetoric on ours. As John Adams famously put it, the United States was intended to be a government of laws, not of men. Dr. Evil is living proof that if we are not brave enough to enforce our laws, we will forever be at the mercy of a handful of men.

By the way, I’m not letting Obama off the hook on this. His decision to look forward, not backward is the reason the law is still on Dr. Evil’s side. It didn’t have to be this way.

Amy Davidson managed to slip in a good line about Dr. Evil in a post at the New Yorker blog, also two days ago. The subject was the imminent end of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. I’ll pick it up in mid paragraph:

These soldiers have already given quite enough, and still are — sixty-six servicemembers died in Afghanistan in August, the highest toll for any month yet. And, again, they gave up part of themselves by lying: an Air Force Captain said, “It’s a sanity issue…How many times can you lie before you go completely nuts?” (This would be a good week to ask that of Doctor Evil.)

Categories: Books, Politics, Torture