Timing is Everything?

by matttbastard

Wonder if the following has been cited elsewhere as a possible (partial) explanation for Obama’s recent 180 on releasing the torture photos?

Der Spiegel:

The president took his decision under the pressure of time. Had he not acted, the 44 photos would have been released next week as per an order from a New York court. It was a decision the White House had originally approved. But the timing of the release would have been problematic — the images of rape and torture would have conflicted with Obama’s travel plans. On June 4, Obama plans to give a keynote address in Cairo in which he intends to unveil a plan of reconciliation with the Muslim world. The legacy of the Bush era includes an us-versus-them mentality from which Obama seeks to distance himself, and which he has already begun to reverse.

Whether true or not, it certainly makes more sense than David Ignatius’ repulsive, straight-from-the-Beltway-cocktail-circuit speculation that the sudden reversal was  meant as a ‘Sister Souljah moment’ (though would still be no less inexcusable).

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The Damage Done

by matttbastard

Apparently The Dark Side was only the iceberg’s tip:

“President Obama’s plans to expeditiously determine the fates of about 245 terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and quickly close the military prison there were set back last week when incoming legal and national security officials — barred until the inauguration from examining classified material on the detainees — discovered that there were no comprehensive case files on many of them.

Let’s pause for a moment to let that sink in: “there were no comprehensive case files on many of them.”

Ok, moving on:

Instead, they found that information on individual prisoners is “scattered throughout the executive branch,” a senior administration official said. The executive order Obama signed Thursday orders the prison closed within one year, and a Cabinet-level panel named to review each case separately will have to spend its initial weeks and perhaps months scouring the corners of the federal government in search of relevant material.

Several former Bush administration officials agreed that the files are incomplete and that no single government entity was charged with pulling together all the facts and the range of options for each prisoner. They said that the CIA and other intelligence agencies were reluctant to share information, and that the Bush administration’s focus on detention and interrogation made preparation of viable prosecutions a far lower priority.

Rewind my selekta: “[T]he Bush administration’s focus on detention and interrogation made preparation of viable prosectutions a far lower priorty

A far lower priorty.

Of course, DeYoung and Finn wouldn’t be “objective” if they didn’t (falsely) balance things out with the requisite mealy-mouthed partisan broadsides from–wait for it, kiddies–some unnamed former Bush administration assbaskets who nostalgically break out their by-now-rusty bullshit shovels:

But other former officials took issue with the criticism and suggested that the new team has begun to appreciate the complexity and dangers of the issue and is looking for excuses.

After promising quick solutions, one former senior official said, the Obama administration is now “backpedaling and trying to buy time” by blaming its predecessor. Unless political appointees decide to overrule the recommendations of the career bureaucrats handling the issue under both administrations, he predicted, the new review will reach the same conclusion as the last: that most of the detainees can be neither released nor easily tried in this country.

“All but about 60 who have been approved for release,” assuming countries can be found to accept them, “are either high-level al-Qaeda people responsible for 9/11 or bombings, or were high-level Taliban or al-Qaeda facilitators or money people,” said the former official who, like others, insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters about such matters. He acknowledged that he relied on Pentagon assurances that the files were comprehensive and in order rather than reading them himself.”

Well, isn’t that cute!  He never read the (um, non-existent files) that the Pentagon claimed are comprehensive (and are, um, non-existent),  yet somehow still remains completely confident that all Gitmo detainees (apart from the 60 designated for release–oopsie!) are lawfully detained and cannot ever be released, because, um, well, because — hey, look! A Wookie from the planet Kashyyyk!

It does not. make. sense.

Ok, say what you want about the Nazis, but at least they had the *ahem* decency to keep oh-so-impeccable records on their detainees; would that the former administration have shown similar consideration.

Hilzoy (h/t) lays it out on the table:

It takes, well, a special kind of administration to detain people for years on end without bothering to assemble case files on them. I’m just glad they’re finally gone.

Yes, gone, but their tainted legacy, unfortunately, festers, like black mold spreading contamination throughout the structure of US and international law.

Steve Benen puts these latest revelations in context:

The previous administration a) tortured detainees, making it harder to prosecute dangerous terrorists; b) released bad guys while detaining good guys; and c) neglected to keep comprehensive files on possible terrorists who’ve been in U.S. custody for several years. As if the fiasco at Gitmo weren’t hard enough to clean up.

And in order to completely mitigate the rot that, over the past 8 years, has almost completely eaten away at the rule of law in the US, Sylvia/M believes that the Obama administration must subcontract the restoration of  justice to the Hague:

If Obama really wants to restore our standing in the international community and to reinstate the rule of law here in the United States, now is the time to bind ourselves to the Rome Statute, submit to international justice, and start cleaning up the deeply entrenched messes our previous partisan warhawk regime has wrought.  The damage is growing too deep and too great for our national court systems to fix alone.

At the very least, this latest postscript from The Dark Side further underscores how vital it is for the Obama administration to hold accountable those who, whether deliberately or by virture of willful indifference, chose–chose–to napalm all progress Western Civilization has made since the Magna Carta was signed.

Torching our value system, in order to save it.

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Woodward Speak, Village Listen

by matttbastard

TIME’s Michael Scherer illustrates the wide gap between what the Bush administration said it did with so-called “unlawful combatants” and what it did:

“We do not torture,” President Bush said, in November of 2005.

“This government does not torture people,” the president repeated, in October of 2007.

“On the question of so-called torture, we don’t do torture. We never have. It’s not something that this administration subscribes to,” added Vice President Dick Cheney, just last month.

As Spattackerman wryly quips, “One of the things I’ll miss the least about the Bush administration is being told not to believe my lying eyes and my common sense.” Indeed. Scherer contrasts these laughable statements with an excerpt from an article in today’s WaPo by longtime Village thought leader Bob Woodward:

The top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial has concluded that the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, interrogating him with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a “life-threatening condition.”

“We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani,” said Susan J. Crawford, in her first interview since being named convening authority of military commissions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February 2007. “His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution.

Gee, what a surprise. Welcome to the Reality-Based Community, circa 2005, kiddies. Back in 2006, Scherer, along with Mark Benjamin, first wrote about al-Qahtani at Salon.com, noting that

then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was closely monitoring the interrogation, according to Army investigator Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt. Rumsfeld was “talking weekly” with Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who was in charge at Guantanamo. “The secretary of defense is personally involved in the interrogation of one person [Qahtani], and the entire General Counsel system of all the departments of the military,” Schmidt said, in a statement that Benjamin and I obtained. Of Miller’s claim that he did not know all the grisly details of the Qahtani interrogation, Schmidt added, “There is just not a too-busy alibi there for that.”

Perhaps more of these twilight admissions and accusations of top-level culpability on the part of the Bush administration will counteract calls coming from within certain Serious circles for a mulligan on torture (scuttlebutt that may be having an impact on the President-elect). It’s up to us DFHs to stay shrill, because there’s already a concerted PR effort underway to scrub the Bush record and seize the narrative.

Digby, responding to the recent goalpost-shifting attempt by Stuart Taylor and Evan Thomas to frame conventional wisdom on “intense interrogation”, outlines what we–and the President-elect–are facing:

We are now engaged in a battle to persuade Obama that he must unequivocally and publicly disavow what those two jaded, decadent sadists just suggested was necessary lest he risk Americans being killed. Good luck to us on that. Considering Obama’s propensity for consensus, I would guess that he will find some way to appease them. (Maybe he’ll vow to make sure that the torturers don’t enjoy it, as a sop to the liberal freaks.)

But I would suggest that Obama contemplate one little thing before he decides to try to find “middle ground” on torture. It is a trap. If he continues to torture in any way or even tacitly agrees to allow it in certain circumstances, the intelligence community will make sure it is leaked. They want protection from both parties and there is no better way to do it than to implicate Obama. And the result of that will be to destroy his foreign policy.

Bottom line: closing Guantanamo, while a welcome and very necessary gesture on the part of the incoming administration, is not enough. The rule of law, bent to the point of unrecognizability during the Bush era, can only be reaffirmed if those responsible for deliberately undermining and circumventing it are held fully accountable for their actions and Obama, firmly and without equivocation, denounces and rejects what the previous administration to the day claims was necessary to protect the nation.

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Got Somethin’ Stickin’ In My Eye

by matttbastard

The Washington Post reports today that (forcedly) retired General Eric Shinseki has been tapped by President-elect Obama to lead Veterans Affairs:

Shinseki, a 38-year veteran, is best known for his four years as Army chief of staff, and in particular his response to congressional questioning in February 2003 about troop levels necessary to protect a presumed military victory in Iraq.

Shinseki told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers” could be necessary, an assessment that was at odds with the announced determination of Pentagon leaders.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld reacted by telling reporters that Shinseki’s estimate “will prove to be high,” and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz called the assessment “way off the mark.”

Three years later, Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command and the chief architect of U.S. military strategy in Iraq, told the same Senate committee, “General Shinseki was right.”

James Fallows calls the pick “karmic justice”, while Booman says that after frustrating Democratic partisans with his conciliatory gestures to the outgoing presidency, “Obama has finally delivered a finger-in-the-eye moment to the Bush administration.”  Regardless, Shinseki is an excellent choice.  As Jonathan Singer puts it:

If Shinseki brings the type of focus and willingness to speak truth to power to the Veterans Affairs that he did to the military, he is going to make a real positive difference in the lives of those who greatly deserve better treatment from our government and be a very solid addition to Barack Obama’s cabinet.

Indeed.  Plus, it’s nice to finally see someone in Washington getting rewarded for being, um, right about something–especially after getting forced out of his position as Army chief of staff for choosing integrity over short-term self interest.  And, as Fallows (who wrote about Shinseki extensively for both the article and subsequent book Blind into Baghdad) reveals, “[d]espite being unfairly treated, despite being 100% vindicated by subsequent events, Shinseki kept his grievances entirely to himself.”

A finger in the eye?

Maybe.

Karmic justice?

You betcha.

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George H.W. Bush at the CIA – Tim Weiner

by matttbastard

Journalist Tim Weiner discusses future President George H.W. Bush’s appointment to Director of Central Intelligence under Gerald Ford.

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Popcorn Sunday: No End In Sight

by matttbastard

Chronological look at the fiasco in Iraq, especially decisions made in the spring of 2003 – and the backgrounds of those making decisions – immediately following the overthrow of Saddam: no occupation plan, an inadequate team to run the country, insufficient troops to keep order, and three edicts from the White House announced by [Bremner] when he took over: no provisional Iraqi government, de-Ba’athification, and disbanding the Iraqi armed services. The film has chapters (from History to Consequences), and the talking heads are reporters, academics, soldiers, military brass, and former Bush-administration officials, including several who were in Baghdad in 2003.

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On Jack Bauer and US Interrogation Policy

by matttbastard

I know this has already been revealed by Philippe Sands in the April May issue of Vanity Fair. However, after reading this excerpt from Sands’ upcoming book, Torture Team: Deception, Cruelty And The Compromise Of Law, I still can’t fathom the callous indifference of the sick fucking bastards who drew up the blueprints for US torture policy:

[Major General Michael E Dunlavey, former head of military interrogations at Guantánamo] told me that at the end of September a group of the most senior Washington lawyers visited Guantánamo, including David Addington, the vice president’s lawyer, Gonzales and Haynes. “They brought ideas with them which had been given from sources in DC.” When the new techniques were more or less finalised, Dunlavey needed them to be approved by Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver, his staff judge advocate in Guantánamo. “We had talked and talked, brainstormed, then we drew up a list,” he said. The list was passed on to Diane Beaver.”

[…]

Beaver told me she arrived in Guantánamo in June 2002. In September that year there was a series of brainstorming meetings, some of which were led by Beaver, to gather possible new interrogation techniques. Ideas came from all over the place, she said. Discussion was wide-ranging. Beaver mentioned one source that I didn’t immediately follow up with her: “24 – Jack Bauer.”

It was only when I got home that I realised she was referring to the main character in Fox’s hugely popular TV series, 24. Bauer is a fictitious member of the Counter Terrorism Unit in LA who helped to prevent many terror attacks on the US; for him, torture and even killing are justifiable means to achieve the desired result. Just about every episode had a torture scene in which aggressive techniques of interrogations were used to obtain information.

Jack Bauer had many friends at Guantánamo Bay, Beaver said, “he gave people lots of ideas.” She believed the series contributed to an environment in which those at Guantánamo were encouraged to see themselves as being on the frontline – and to go further than they otherwise might.

Under Beaver’s guidance, a list of ideas slowly emerged. Potential techniques included taking the detainees out of their usual environment, so they didn’t know where they were or where they were going; the use of hoods and goggles; the use of sexual tension, which was “culturally taboo, disrespectful, humiliating and potentially unexpected”; creating psychological drama. Beaver recalled that smothering was thought to be particularly effective, and that Dunlavey, who’d been in Vietnam, was in favour because he knew it worked.

The younger men would get particularly agitated, excited even: “You could almost see their dicks getting hard as they got new ideas.” A wan smile crossed Beaver’s face. “And I said to myself, you know what, I don’t have a dick to get hard. I can stay detached.”

Beaver confirmed what Dunlavey had told me, that a delegation of senior lawyers came down to Guantánamo well before the list of techniques was sent up to Washington. They talked to the intelligence people, they even watched some interrogations. The message from the visitors was that they should do “whatever needed to be done”, meaning a green light from the very top – from the lawyers for Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the CIA.

“Jack Bauer had many friends at Guantánamo Bay, Beaver said, “he gave people lots of ideas. “”

“You could almost see their dicks getting hard as they got new ideas.”

“[W]hatever needed to be done”.

International law and years of precedent, casually tossed under the post-9/11 bus by junior sadists (after being given the “green light from the very top”) obsessed with a fictional fucking TV show; words fail me.

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