Cheney talks bombing Iran and GOP donors applaud

Andy Kroll and David Corn report: What do former Vice President Dick Cheney, billionaire mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, and Republican activists and funders talk about — and applaud — when they’re behind closed doors at a Las Vegas hotel? Bombing Iran.

This past weekend, the Republican Jewish Coalition held its spring leadership meeting at Adelson’s Venetian hotel, where several possible 2016 contenders, including ex-Governor Jeb Bush and current Governors Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and John Kasich, showed up to kiss the ring of the casino magnate, who’s looking to bankroll a viable Republican presidential candidate. Though the heavy-on-Israel speeches of the White House wannabes were open to the press, the keynote address delivered by Cheney on Saturday night was off-limits to reporters and the public. But Mother Jones has obtained a recording of Cheney’s talk, during which he once again derided President Barack Obama on foreign policy, blasted the isolationists within his own party, assailed critics of the National Security Agency, and seemingly endorsed the idea of an Israeli strike against Iran.

Speaking about the possibility of Iran developing a nuclear weapon, Cheney dismissed Obama’s negotiations with Tehran, and he recalled a dinner meeting he had in 2007 with Israeli General Amos Yadlin. Yadlin had flown in the Israeli Defense Force’s mission in 1981 that destroyed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor, and he was the country’s military intelligence chief in 2007 when the Israel Defense Forces obliterated Syria’s nuclear reactor in the Deir ez-Zor region. Recalling his conversation with Yadlin, Cheney said, “He looked across the table over dinner, and he said, ‘Two down, one to go.’ I knew exactly what he meant.”

“One to go” was an obvious reference to bombing Iran’s nuclear program. The crowd responded approvingly with laughter and applause. [Continue reading...]

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Cheney reveals he was right about everything

The New York Times reports:

Former Vice President Dick Cheney says in a new memoir that he urged President George W. Bush to bomb a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor site in June 2007. But, he wrote, Mr. Bush opted for a diplomatic approach after other advisers — still stinging over “the bad intelligence we had received about Iraq’s stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction” — expressed misgivings.

“I again made the case for U.S. military action against the reactor,” Mr. Cheney wrote about a meeting on the issue. “But I was a lone voice. After I finished, the president asked, ‘Does anyone here agree with the vice president?’ Not a single hand went up around the room.”

Mr. Bush chose to try diplomatic pressure to force the Syrians to abandon the secret program, but the Israelis bombed the site in September 2007. Mr. Cheney’s account of the discussion appears in his autobiography, “In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir,” which is to be published by Simon & Schuster next week. A copy was obtained by The New York Times.

Mr. Cheney’s book — which is often pugnacious in tone and in which he expresses little regret about many of the most controversial decisions of the Bush administration — casts him as something of an outlier among top advisers who increasingly took what he saw as a misguided course on national security issues. While he praises Mr. Bush as “an outstanding leader,” Mr. Cheney, who made guarding the secrecy of internal deliberations a hallmark of his time in office, divulges a number of conflicts with others in the inner circle.

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The American Surveillance State

Glenn Greenwald writes:

One of the hallmarks of an authoritarian government is its fixation on hiding everything it does behind a wall of secrecy while simultaneously monitoring, invading and collecting files on everything its citizenry does. Based on the Francis Bacon aphorism that “knowledge is power,” this is the extreme imbalance that renders the ruling class omnipotent and citizens powerless.

In the Washington Post today, Dana Priest and William Arkin continue their “Top Secret America” series by describing how America’s vast and growing Surveillance State now encompasses state and local law enforcement agencies, collecting and storing always-growing amounts of information about even the most innocuous activities undertaken by citizens suspected of no wrongdoing. As was true of the first several installments of their “Top Secret America,” there aren’t any particularly new revelations for those paying attention to such matters, but the picture it paints — and the fact that it is presented in an establishment organ such as the Washington Post — is nonetheless valuable.

Today, the Post reporters document how surveillance and enforcement methods pioneered in America’s foreign wars and occupations are being rapidly imported into domestic surveillance (wireless fingerprint scanners, military-grade infrared cameras, biometric face scanners, drones on the border).

In this respect — whose significance can hardly be overstated — Barack Obama is worse than George Bush: Bush’s excesses and the ideology he represented could be circumscribed by his administration and in theory America could purge itself of the effects through the ritual purification of an election. What Obama is doing is normalizing those excesses so that the Bush era can be perpetuated without being tainted by the names Bush and Cheney.

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Nigeria to charge Dick Cheney in pipeline bribery case

Bloomberg reports:

Nigeria will file charges against former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and officials from five foreign companies including Halliburton Co. over a $180 million bribery scandal, a prosecutor at the anti-graft agency said.

Indictments will be lodged in a Nigerian court “in the next three days,” Godwin Obla, prosecuting counsel at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, said in an interview today at his office in Abuja, the capital. An arrest warrant for Cheney “will be issued and transmitted through Interpol,” the world’s biggest international police organization, he said.

Peter Long, Cheney’s spokesman, said he couldn’t immediately comment when contacted today and said he would respond later to an e-mailed request for comment.

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Cheney says he was proponent for military action against Iran

Cheney says he was proponent for military action against Iran

Former Vice President Dick Cheney hinted that, in the waning days of the Bush administration, he had pushed for a military strike to destroy Iran’s nuclear-weapons program.

In an interview on Fox News Sunday, Mr. Cheney described himself as being isolated among advisers to then-President George W. Bush, who ultimately decided against direct military action.

“I was probably a bigger advocate of military action than any of my colleagues,” Mr. Cheney said in response to questions about whether the Bush administration should have launched a pre-emptive attack prior to handing over the White House to Barack Obama. [continued...]

Cheney offers sharp defense of CIA interrogation tactics

Mr. Cheney said he also supported officers who strayed outside Justice Department rules and used unauthorized interrogation techniques, saying they did so to keep Americans safe. And he warned that Mr. Holder’s investigation would demoralize intelligence officers and discourage them from working aggressively to protect the nation. [continued...]

Editor’s Comment — Will this become known as The Cheney Defense? “I broke the law to keep Americans safe.” Unlike the Nuremberg defense which was rejected by a panel of judges, The Cheney Defense would most likely seem compelling to the average American jury whose allegiance to the patriotic concept of defending America is no doubt far stronger than the constitutionally abstract notion of upholding the law.

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Cheney uncloaks his frustration with Bush

Cheney uncloaks his frustration with Bush

In his first few months after leaving office, former vice president Richard B. Cheney threw himself into public combat against the “far left” agenda of the new commander in chief. More private reflections, as his memoir takes shape in slashing longhand on legal pads, have opened a second front against Cheney’s White House partner of eight years, George W. Bush.

Cheney’s disappointment with the former president surfaced recently in one of the informal conversations he is holding to discuss the book with authors, diplomats, policy experts and past colleagues. By habit, he listens more than he talks, but Cheney broke form when asked about his regrets.

“In the second term, he felt Bush was moving away from him,” said a participant in the recent gathering, describing Cheney’s reply. “He said Bush was shackled by the public reaction and the criticism he took. Bush was more malleable to that. The implication was that Bush had gone soft on him, or rather Bush had hardened against Cheney’s advice. He’d showed an independence that Cheney didn’t see coming. It was clear that Cheney’s doctrine was cast-iron strength at all times — never apologize, never explain — and Bush moved toward the conciliatory.”

The two men maintain respectful ties, speaking on the telephone now and then, though aides to both said they were never quite friends. But there is a sting in Cheney’s critique, because he views concessions to public sentiment as moral weakness. After years of praising Bush as a man of resolve, Cheney now intimates that the former president turned out to be more like an ordinary politician in the end. [continued...]

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Cheney’s plans for a military coup

Cheney’s plans for a military coup

On Saturday, Mark Mazetti and David Johnston of the New York Times, quoting sources close to former President Bush, revealed that former Vice President Dick Cheney had advocated deploying the military for domestic policing purposes. Bush apparently declined to take Cheney’s advice. The discussions occurred against the backdrop of the so-called “Lackawanna Six” case, involving a group of six Yemeni-Americans from the Buffalo area who later pleaded guilty to charges of providing material support to Al Qaeda and received prison sentences.

The disclosures shed considerable light on two memoranda prepared in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel by John Yoo (with the help of Robert J. Delahunty on the second memo) at the request of then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The principal memo was part of a group published by the Obama Administration on May 16, provoking widespread public concern. In the memo, Yoo argued that the Fourth Amendment could be viewed as suspended in the event of domestic operations by the military in war time. The second memo, not yet released but discussed here by Prof. Kim Scheppele on the basis of references to it in other documents, apparently attempted to read the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which forbids the domestic deployment of the military for police functions, into oblivion. In “George W. Bush’s Disposable Constitution,” I argued that Yoo’s memo was the formula for a dictatorship. Yoo responded to this objection in the Wall Street Journal, arguing that the memo had been authored with a very narrow set of facts in mind, namely an invasion like the sort of attack that was launched on Mumbai on November 26, 2008. But the latest disclosures make clear, once more, that Yoo’s claims are dishonest. [continued...]

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Cheney’s bogus pragmatism on torture

Pressure grows to investigate interrogations

Pressure mounted on President Obama on Monday for more thorough investigation into harsh interrogations of terrorism suspects under the Bush administration, even as he tried to reassure the Central Intelligence Agency that it would not be blamed for following legal advice.

Mr. Obama said it was time to admit “mistakes” and “move forward.” But there were signs that he might not be able to avoid a protracted inquiry into the use of interrogation techniques that the president’s top aides and many critics say crossed the line into torture. [continued...]

Cheney wants CIA files for memoir

Researching his memoirs, former Vice President Dick Cheney is pushing the CIA to declassify files that he claims would vindicate the CIA’s use of coercive interrogation techniques that President Barack Obama has banned.

The request, which the CIA has not yet answered, sets up a showdown between the past and current administrations. Cheney can be expected to argue that the Obama administration’s publication of other files last week is a precedent for release of the reports he wants. Cheney contends that the information he seeks does not pose a threat to anyone, nor to intelligence sources and methods. [continued...]

The CIA’s questioning worked

In releasing highly classified documents on the CIA interrogation program last week, President Obama declared that the techniques used to question captured terrorists “did not make us safer.” This is patently false. The proof is in the memos Obama made public — in sections that have gone virtually unreported in the media.

Consider the Justice Department memo of May 30, 2005. It notes that “the CIA believes ‘the intelligence acquired from these interrogations has been a key reason why al Qaeda has failed to launch a spectacular attack in the West since 11 September 2001.’ . . . In particular, the CIA believes that it would have been unable to obtain critical information from numerous detainees, including [Khalid Sheik Mohammed] and Abu Zubaydah, without these enhanced techniques.” The memo continues: “Before the CIA used enhanced techniques . . . KSM resisted giving any answers to questions about future attacks, simply noting, ‘Soon you will find out.’ ” Once the techniques were applied, “interrogations have led to specific, actionable intelligence, as well as a general increase in the amount of intelligence regarding al Qaeda and its affiliates.” [continued...]

Editor’s Comment — Cheney’s interests — as always — are preeminently political, rather than legal or moral. He understands that the argument that the vast majority of Americans will buy without a second thought is that when it comes to counterterrorism, whatever can be demonstrated as having “worked” is demonstrably justifiable. If waterboarding yielded vital intelligence, it was warranted. Lives were saved. Cheney et al did the right thing.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that it provides an ironclad justification for torture. If the protection of American lives is a supreme good, it follows that success in extracting vital intelligence by torturing a terrorist suspect and thereby saving lives, would provide the necessary moral justification for torture — at least for those who subscribe to this ends-justifies-the-means line of reasoning.

Yet — and here’s the problem — the Bush administration cleaved assiduously to the line: “we do not torture.” Why? Simply because it was illegal? Laws can be changed. If the administration was unwilling to change the law then this either means the pragmatic argument didn’t hold — because torture is wrong even when if it saves lives — or, and this would be utterly contrived, the proponents of not-quite-torture believed that their “legal” torture techniques were more effective than illegal torture.

The question Cheney needs to answer is this: If torturing terrorist suspects can save American lives, do you support the use and thus the legalization of torture?

If his answer is “no,” then the documentary evidence of how CIA interrogations “made us safer” is irrelevant to the current debate. If his answer is “yes,” then this begs a further question: Why have you spent all these years arguing that the US does not torture, rather than arguing that the US needs the legal freedom to do whatever it takes — including using torture — to protect its citizens?

Of course, even if Cheney was to face such questions he would decline the debate since he knows perfectly well that torture is indefensible — unless it can be dressed up as something else. “We didn’t torture. We defended America.”

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FEATURE: Why Bush should reflect on Pinochet

The green light

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The abuse, rising to the level of torture, of those captured and detained in the war on terror is a defining feature of the presidency of George W. Bush. Its military beginnings, however, lie not in Abu Ghraib, as is commonly thought, or in the “rendition” of prisoners to other countries for questioning, but in the treatment of the very first prisoners at Guantanamo. Starting in late 2002 a detainee bearing the number 063 was tortured over a period of more than seven weeks. In his story lies the answer to a crucial question: How was the decision made to let the U.S. military start using coercive interrogations at Guantanamo?

The Bush administration has always taken refuge behind a “trickle up” explanation: that is, the decision was generated by military commanders and interrogators on the ground. This explanation is false. The origins lie in actions taken at the very highest levels of the administration—by some of the most senior personal advisers to the president, the vice president, and the secretary of defense. At the heart of the matter stand several political appointees—lawyers—who, it can be argued, broke their ethical codes of conduct and took themselves into a zone of international criminality, where formal investigation is now a very real option. This is the story of how the torture at Guantanamo began, and how it spread. [complete article]

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NEWS, OPINION & EDITOR’S COMMENT: The atrophy of conscience

Anybody’s guess

It’s been a banner week for water-boarding. This centuries-old practice of simulated drowning to extract false confessions and false testimony has really benefited of late from a good old legal reassessment and a smoking-hot PR campaign. In the course of a few short years, water-boarding has morphed from torture that unquestionably violates both federal and international law to an indispensable tool in the fight against terror. [complete article]

Waterboarding should be prosecuted as torture: U.N.

The controversial interrogation technique known as waterboarding and used by the United States qualifies as torture, the U.N. human rights chief said on Friday.

“I would have no problems with describing this practice as falling under the prohibition of torture,” the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, told a news conference in Mexico City. [complete article]

Cheney defends U.S. use of waterboarding

The debate over waterboarding flared Thursday on Capitol Hill, with the CIA director raising doubts about whether it’s currently legal and the attorney general refusing to investigate U.S. interrogators who have used the technique on terror detainees.

Vice President Dick Cheney, meanwhile, said “it’s a good thing” that top al Qaeda figures underwent the harsh interrogation tactic in 2002 and 2003, claiming they were forced to give up information that helped protect the country and saved “thousands” of American lives. [complete article]

Justice Dept. ‘cannot’ probe waterboarding, Mukasey says

The attorney general yesterday rejected growing congressional calls for a criminal investigation of the CIA’s use of simulated drownings to extract information from its detainees, as Vice President Cheney called it a “good thing” that the CIA was able to learn what it did from those subjected to the practice.

The remarks reflected a renewed effort by the Bush administration to defend its past approval of the interrogation tactic known as waterboarding, which some lawmakers, human rights experts and international lawyers have described as illegal torture. [complete article]

CIA chief doubts tactic to interrogate is still legal

Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, told a Congressional committee on Thursday that waterboarding may be illegal under current law, despite assertions this week from the director of national intelligence and the White House that the harsh interrogation method may be used in the future.

General Hayden said that while “all the techniques we’ve used have been deemed to be lawful,” laws have changed since waterboarding was last used nearly five years ago.

“It is not included in the current program, and in my own view, the view of my lawyers and the Department of Justice, it is not certain that the technique would be considered to be lawful under current statute,” General Hayden said before the House Intelligence Committee. [complete article]

Waterboarding: Two questions for Michael Hayden

My questions for Mr. Hayden are simple. Firstly, if it’s true that only three detainees were subjected to waterboarding, then why did a number of “former and current intelligence officers and supervisors” tell ABC News in November 2005 that “a dozen top al-Qaeda targets incarcerated in isolation at secret locations on military bases in regions from Asia to Eastern Europe” were subjected to six “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques,” instituted in mid-March 2002?

According to the ABC News account, the six techniques used by the CIA on the “dozen top al-Qaeda targets” were “The Attention Grab,” “Attention Slap,” “The Belly Slap” and three other techniques that are particularly worrying: “Long Time Standing,” “The Cold Cell,” and, of course, “Waterboarding.”

“Long Time Standing” was described as “among the most effective [techniques],” in which prisoners “are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours.” The ABC News report added, “Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.” In “The Cold Cell,” the prisoner “is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.”

The description of “Waterboarding” was as follows: “The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.” [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — There’s a simple reason why the simple-minded don’t think that waterboarding is torture. In “real” torture, the person being tortured is the innocent victim; the torturer is the evil party. When Cheney ventured over to the dark side it was in order to give good people the freedom to do bad things to bad people. If the person being tortured is bad, then it can’t be torture. It’s perverse logic but it explains how a vice president with a twisted mind can have a “clean” conscience.

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NEWS: Mosul “center of gravity for the insurgency”; Gates cautiously optimistic; Cheney irrationally exuberant

Pushed out of Baghdad, insurgents move north

Sunni insurgents pushed out of Baghdad and Anbar Provinces have migrated to this northern Iraqi city and have been trying to turn it into a major hub for their operations, according to American commanders.

A growing number of insurgents have relocated here and other places in northern Iraq as the additional forces sent by President Bush have mounted operations in the Iraqi capital and American commanders have made common cause with Sunni tribes in the western part of the country.

The insurgents who have ventured north include Abu Ayyub-al Masri, the leader of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a predominantly Iraqi group that American intelligence says has foreign leadership. American officials say the insurgent leader has twice slipped in and out of Mosul in Nineveh Province to try to rally fellow militants and put end to infighting. [complete article]

Gates cautiously upbeat on Iraq

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Wednesday that a stable and democratic Iraq is “within reach.” But he cautioned that threats remain, pointing to insurgent efforts to create a stronghold in northern Iraq as U.S. commanders seek more than 1,400 additional Iraqi and U.S. troops there.

Gates, who during Senate confirmation hearings a year ago stated that the United States was neither winning nor losing in Iraq, was unusually upbeat in his remarks. He said several recent trends have given him hope, including the lowest levels of violence since early 2006, a substantial increase in the number of displaced Iraqis returning to their homeland, rising international investments and the willingness of more than 70,000 Iraqis to volunteer to protect their neighborhoods.

“More than ever, I believe that the goal of a secure, stable and democratic Iraq is within reach,” Gates said at a news conference in the fortified Green Zone. “We need to be patient, but we also need to be absolutely resolved in our desire to see the nascent signs of hope across Iraq expand and flourish.” [complete article]

Top U.S. military brass in Iraq resist quick drawdown

The U.S. military’s internal debate over how fast to reduce its force in Iraq has intensified in recent weeks as commanders in Baghdad resist suggestions from Pentagon officials for a quicker drawdown.

Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the day-to-day military commander in Iraq, said he was worried that significant improvements in security conditions would sway policymakers to move too quickly to pull out troops next year.

“The most important thing to me is we cannot lose what we have gained,” Odierno said in an interview last week with The Times after he toured Nahrawan, a predominantly Shiite city of about 100,000 northeast of Baghdad with a market that is now showing signs of life. “We won’t do that.” [complete article]

Cheney: Iraq to be self-governing by 2009

Vice President Cheney today predicted Iraq will be a self-governing democracy by the time he leaves office, calling the current U.S. surge strategy “a remarkable success story” that will be studied for years to come.

In an interview with Politico, Cheney offered a remarkably upbeat view of Iraq, despite continued violence and political paralysis in the war-torn nation.

Cheney, who has been widely criticized for overly optimistic — and sometime flat wrong — projections in the past, sounded as confident as ever that the Bush administration will achieve its objectives in Iraq. [complete article]

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NEWS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Intelligence community puts Cheney in restraints

U.S. says Iran ended atomic arms work

A new assessment by American intelligence agencies concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains on hold, contradicting an assessment two years ago that Tehran was working inexorably toward building a bomb.

The conclusions of the new assessment are likely to be major factor in the tense international negotiations aimed at getting Iran to halt its nuclear energy program. Concerns about Iran were raised sharply after President Bush had suggested in October that a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to “World War III,” and Vice President Dick Cheney promised “serious consequences” if the government in Tehran did not abandon its nuclear program.

The findings also come in the middle of a presidential campaign during which a possible military strike against Iran’s nuclear program has been discussed.

The assessment, a National Intelligence Estimate that represents the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies, states that Tehran’s ultimate intentions about gaining a nuclear weapon remain unclear, but that Iran’s “decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs.” [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — This is a major defeat for Dick Cheney – perhaps even great enough to describe as a politically fatal blow. As Gareth Porter reported last month:

The US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran has been held up for more than a year in an effort to force the intelligence community to remove dissenting judgments on the Iranian nuclear program. The aim is to make the document more supportive of Vice President Dick Cheney’s militarily aggressive policy toward Iran, according to accounts provided by participants in the NIE process to two former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers.

But Cheney lost — big time. The White House’s response — peppered with phrases like “positive news,” “we have made progress,” the “estimate offers grounds for hope,” a solution can be found “without the use of force” — amounts to what Cheney and his neocon supporters should regard as a strategic defeat. The intelligence community (no doubt with strong support from defense secretary Gates and his allies) has effectively kneecapped the vice president.

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NEWS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Cheney meets resistance on Iran

Washington tells EU firms: quit Iran now

Multinational companies are coming under increasing pressure from the US to stop doing business with Iran because of its nuclear programme. European operators are facing threats from Washington that they could jeopardise their US interests by continuing to deal with Tehran, with increasing evidence that European governments, mainly France, Germany and Britain, are supporting the US campaign.

It emerged last night that Siemens, one of the world’s largest engineering groups and based in Germany, has pulled out of all new business dealings with Iran after pressure from the US and German governments. This follows the decision by Germany’s three biggest banks, Deutsche, Commerzbank, and Dresdner, to quit Iran after a warning from US vice-president Dick Cheney that if firms remain in Tehran, they are going to have problems doing business in the US. [complete article]

Iraqi sees thaw in U.S.-Iranian ties

An Iraqi official said Friday that he expected another round of talks this month including his government and those of Washington and Tehran, after the U.S. military freed nine Iranians it had detained in Iraq.

Two of the Iranians released early Friday by the U.S. were among five men detained in January in an American raid in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil. The U.S. had said they were members of Iran’s elite Quds Force, which Washington suspects of aiding Shiite Muslim militias in Iraq and smuggling armor-piercing bombs into the country. Tehran has said the five men are diplomatic staff at its Irbil consulate. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — It’s often said that the complexity of Iran’s power structure makes it difficult for foreign governments to decipher Iran’s intentions. Tehran may well view Washington in the same way. While President Bush warns about the risk of World War III and Cheney is pushing forward on the economic war path, Defense Department officials are interested in reducing US-Iranian tensions. Not only have Iranian hostages been released, but the Navy has quietly returned to a one-carrier presence in the Gulf. At the same time, the intelligence community has been unwilling to arm Cheney with a National Intelligence Estimate on Iran — already held up for more than a year because in its current form it is “unsatisfactory” as support for Cheney’s military objectives.

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OPINION: The terroriste-in-chief

Bush’s dangerous liaisons

Much as George W. Bush’s presidency was ineluctably shaped by Sept. 11, 2001, so the outbreak of the French Revolution was symbolized by the events of one fateful day, July 14, 1789. And though 18th-century France may seem impossibly distant to contemporary Americans, future historians examining Mr. Bush’s presidency within the longer sweep of political and intellectual history may find the French Revolution useful in understanding his curious brand of 21st- century conservatism.

Soon after the storming of the Bastille, pro-Revolutionary elements came together to form an association that would become known as the Jacobin Club, an umbrella group of politicians, journalists and citizens dedicated to advancing the principles of the Revolution.

The Jacobins shared a defining ideological feature. They divided the world between pro- and anti-Revolutionaries — the defenders of liberty versus its enemies. The French Revolution, as they understood it, was the great event that would determine whether liberty was to prevail on the planet or whether the world would fall back into tyranny and despotism. [complete article]

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OPINION: The invention of a global threat

Stalin, Mao and … Ahmadinejad?

At a meeting with reporters last week, President Bush said that “if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing [Iran] from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” These were not the barbs of some neoconservative crank or sidelined politician looking for publicity. This was the president of the United States, invoking the specter of World War III if Iran gained even the knowledge needed to make a nuclear weapon.

The American discussion about Iran has lost all connection to reality. Norman Podhoretz, the neoconservative ideologist whom Bush has consulted on this topic, has written that Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is “like Hitler … a revolutionary whose objective is to overturn the going international system and to replace it in the fullness of time with a new order dominated by Iran and ruled by the religio-political culture of Islamofascism.” For this staggering proposition Podhoretz provides not a scintilla of evidence.

Here is the reality. Iran has an economy the size of Finland’s and an annual defense budget of around $4.8 billion. It has not invaded a country since the late 18th century. The United States has a GDP that is 68 times larger and defense expenditures that are 110 times greater. Israel and every Arab country (except Syria and Iraq) are quietly or actively allied against Iran. And yet we are to believe that Tehran is about to overturn the international system and replace it with an Islamo-fascist order? What planet are we on? [complete article]

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NEWS & OPINION: Cheney’s effort to emulate Stalin

Cheney, like president, has a warning for Iran

“The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences,” Mr. Cheney said, without specifying what those might be. “The United States joins other nations in sending a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.”

Mr. Cheney delivered his warnings during a wide-ranging foreign policy speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a research organization. During the 35-minute talk, he also took aim at Syria, accusing Damascus of using “bribery and intimidation” to influence the coming elections in Lebanon, and he presented the case for the administration’s muscular approach to investigating suspected terrorists.

But Mr. Cheney reserved his harshest language for Iran. Calling it “the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism,” he said, “our country, and the entire international community, cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its most aggressive ambitions.” [complete article]

Serious consequences

As time passed, the terrorists believed they’d exposed a certain weakness and lack of confidence in the West, particularly in America. Dr. Bernard Lewis explained the terrorists’ reasoning this way: “During the Cold War,” Dr. Lewis wrote, “two things came to be known and generally recognized in the Middle East concerning the two rival superpowers. If you did anything to annoy the Russians, punishment would be swift and dire. If you said or did anything against the Americans, not only would there be no punishment; there might even be some possibility of reward, as the usual anxious procession of diplomats and politicians, journalists and scholars and miscellaneous others came with their usual pleading inquiries: ‘What have we done to offend you? What can we do to put it right?'” End quote.

It’s really an appallingly strange time in our country. We have a singularly powerful Vice-President (compared to any of his predecessors)–openly quite enamored by the tactics employed by the Soviet Union–our former arch-foe whose human rights standards we derided. Indeed, we fought a decades-long Cold War so that Western style constitutional freedoms would trump Soviet authoritarianism. But yes, from this Sovietophile posture, use of torture and black-sites and detention without habeas corpus protections makes all the sense in the world, doesn’t it? Because we have a Vice-President all but openly emulating and cheer-leading the tactics of the KGB, not in the wilds of Wyoming, but to a soi disant sophisticated audience in Washington DC. Put differently, he is very proud of his world-view, indeed eager to share it with Beltway ‘elites’. Who will clear this dangerous rot out of Washington and help us restore our good name? [complete article]

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PREVIEW: The Cheney coup

Cheney’s law

For three decades Vice President Dick Cheney conducted a secretive, behind-closed-doors campaign to give the president virtually unlimited wartime power. Finally, in the aftermath of 9/11, the Justice Department and the White House made a number of controversial legal decisions. Orchestrated by Cheney and his lawyer David Addington, the department interpreted executive power in an expansive and extraordinary way, granting President George W. Bush the power to detain, interrogate, torture, wiretap and spy — without congressional approval or judicial review.

Now, as the White House appears ready to ignore subpoenas in the wiretapping and U.S. attorneys’ cases, FRONTLINE’s season premiere, Cheney’s Law, airing Oct. 16, 2007, at 9 P.M. ET on PBS (check local listings), examines the battle over the power of the presidency and Cheney’s way of looking at the Constitution. [complete article]

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NEWS & EDITOR’S COMMENT: State-sanctioned torture

Secret U.S. endorsement of severe interrogations

The administration had always asserted that the C.I.A.’s pressure tactics did not amount to torture, which is banned by federal law and international treaty. But officials had privately decided the agency did not have to comply with another provision in the Convention Against Torture — the prohibition on “cruel, inhuman, or degrading” treatment.

Now that loophole was about to be closed. First Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, and then Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who had been tortured as a prisoner in North Vietnam, proposed legislation to ban such treatment.

At the administration’s request, Mr. Bradbury [head of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department] assessed whether the proposed legislation would outlaw any C.I.A. methods, a legal question that had never before been answered by the Justice Department.

At least a few administration officials argued that no reasonable interpretation of “cruel, inhuman or degrading” would permit the most extreme C.I.A. methods, like waterboarding. Mr. Bradbury was placed in a tough spot, said Mr. Zelikow, the State Department counselor, who was working at the time to rein in interrogation policy.

“If Justice says some practices are in violation of the C.I.D. standard,” Mr. Zelikow said, referring to cruel, inhuman or degrading, “then they are now saying that officials broke current law.”

In the end, Mr. Bradbury’s opinion delivered what the White House wanted: a statement that the standard imposed by Mr. McCain’s Detainee Treatment Act would not force any change in the C.I.A.’s practices, according to officials familiar with the memo.

Relying on a Supreme Court finding that only conduct that “shocks the conscience” was unconstitutional, the opinion found that in some circumstances not even waterboarding was necessarily cruel, inhuman or degrading, if, for example, a suspect was believed to possess crucial intelligence about a planned terrorist attack, the officials familiar with the legal finding said. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — The sociopathic nature of the Bush administration has always been evident in its shameless use of language as the means through which it can conceal its actions and obscure its intentions. The long-discarded signature phrase used to deflect criticism, doubt, and misgivings, was moral clarity. The president could be trusted because he and those around him were empowered by the strength of their moral convictions, or so we were meant to believe.

Thus, when Bush and Cheney were accused of having instituted an interrogation system that clearly sanctioned the use of torture, Bush was adamant that the United States does not permit nor condone the use of torture. And how could we know that? Because no treatment of a detainee would be permitted that “shocks the conscience.”

In parallel, yet in complete contradiction with this assertion, was the idea that everything possible would be done to protect American lives. Why is this a contradiction?

Because, if what is deemed acceptable or unacceptable treatment of a detainee is going to be determined by a factor other than the condition of the detainee — specifically, by whether or not the lives of others can be protected — then the condition of the detainee becomes irrelevant. “We pulled the detainee’s finger nails out because we knew that by so doing we would be able to locate and diffuse the bomb and save thousands of lives.” This is the spurious line of reasoning that gives the ticking time-bomb scenario its popular appeal.

The administration, however, has always wanted to be on both sides of the fence. It wants to assert that it applies a form of moral pragmatism that allows it to do whatever is necessary, yet it also wants to assert that it is morally absolute in prohibiting torture.

What it refuses to acknowledge is that there can be no meaningful definition of torture that allows for mitigating circumstances — a definition that would in effect claim that something which might otherwise be described as torture, ceases to be torture because a greater good is being served.

The decoy it came up with to obscure this contradiction, is the term, “shocks the conscience.” Skeptics would instantly question the use of such a notion since it is obvious that what might shock one person’s conscience might not shock another’s. Yet as a piece of political propaganda, the phrase is clearly intended to resonate well in the minds of those Americans who actually believe that this is a presidency that upholds moral principles. In other words, this is intended to reassure the faithful — not ward off the critics.

That said, if we deconstruct the language, we can quickly expose the lie.

The dictates of conscience are infinite, yet in every instance conscience reveals the directions of an internal moral compass. What would truly shock the conscience would do so, irrespective of the terms of a Justice Department legal opinion. What would shock the conscience would be any type of action that denied the humanity of the victim while diminishing the humanity of the perpetrator.

When we consider the various actors in the Bush-Cheney torture tragedy, it is significant that the advocates and enablers of this policy have by and large been people who display neither an interest nor ability to follow the dictates of their own moral compass — these are the servants of obedience and loyalty whose allegiance to presidential power is the very stuff upon which fascism thrives. In contrast, those who displayed real moral clarity knew that not even the president of the United States could be allowed to sway their conscience.

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