Jeremy Scahill reports: A top-secret U.S. intelligence document obtained by The Intercept confirms that the sprawling U.S. military base in Ramstein, Germany serves as the high-tech heart of America’s drone program. Ramstein is the site of a satellite relay station that enables drone operators in the American Southwest to communicate with their remote aircraft in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and other targeted countries. The top-secret slide deck, dated July 2012, provides the most detailed blueprint seen to date of the technical architecture used to conduct strikes with Predator and Reaper drones.
Amid fierce European criticism of America’s targeted killing program, U.S. and German government officials have long downplayed Ramstein’s role in lethal U.S. drone operations and have issued carefully phrased evasions when confronted with direct questions about the base. But the slides show that the facilities at Ramstein perform an essential function in lethal drone strikes conducted by the CIA and the U.S. military in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa.
The slides were provided by a source with knowledge of the U.S. government’s drone program who declined to be identified because of fears of retribution. According to the source, Ramstein’s importance to the U.S. drone war is difficult to overstate. “Ramstein carries the signal to tell the drone what to do and it returns the display of what the drone sees. Without Ramstein, drones could not function, at least not as they do now,” the source said. [Continue reading…]
Conor Friedersdorf writes: Some of the most powerful people in the U.S. government wanted to kill Mohanad Mahmoud Al Farekh. The military, the CIA, and an influential Republican member of Congress all argued that a drone should be sent to kill the American.
Now he is in custody.
And if convicted of all charges that he faces, he’ll get a maximum of 15 years in prison–the same sentence that a brother and sister in Missouri got for growing marijuana.
How can a person narrowly escape extrajudicial assassination, get extradited to the United States, appear inside our judicial system, and face just 15 years in prison? Powerful people were prepared to end his life, but the extent of what they’re willing to prove beyond a reasonable doubt wouldn’t even draw a life sentence. [Continue reading…]
Time: A landmark case may open the door for a possible multibillion-dollar class-action lawsuit launched by relatives of the alleged 960 civilian victims of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan
A senior judge in Pakistan has ordered police to formally investigate former CIA agents for allegedly authorizing a 2009 drone strike.
If the case moves forward, it may subject the U.S. embassy in Islamabad to sensitive police investigations and even result in U.S. citizens for the first time being charged with murder for covert drone strikes in the South Asian nation.
Last Tuesday, the Islamabad High Court ordered police to open a criminal case against former CIA Islamabad Station Chief Jonathan Bank and ex-CIA legal counsel John A. Rizzo for murder, conspiracy, terrorism and waging war against Pakistan.
In an open letter to President Obama on his 26th birthday, November 16, 2013, Mohamed Soltan wrote from a cell in Cairo’s infamous Tora Prison:
Dear President Obama,
Last week, I underwent a procedure to remove two 13” metal nails that were placed in my left arm to help support and repair the damage sustained from a gunshot wound I suffered at the hands of Egyptian security forces. The bullet that punctured my arm was paid for by our tax dollars. I was forced to undergo this procedure without any anesthesia or sterilization because the Egyptian authorities refused to transfer me to a hospital for proper surgical care.
After the nails penetrated the skin at my elbow from below, and ripped through my shoulder muscle from above. The doctor who performed this procedure is a cellmate. He used pliers and a straight razor in lieu of a scalpel. I laid on a dirty mat as my other cellmates held me down to ensure I did not jolt from the pain and risk permanent loss of feeling and function in that arm. The pain was so excruciating, it felt like my brain could explode at any given point. I was finally given two aspirin pills almost an hour later when the guards found my cellmates screams for help unbearable.
I share these details here because my mind drifted to 2007 as I stared at the ceiling of my cramped cell after surgery. During your first presidential campaign, I was moved by your message. I was so passionate about everything you represented. Finally, “change we can believe in.” I saw you, as many Americans did then, a true civil servant looking to put the disadvantaged first, and to pioneer a new model of governance. I felt I was part of the making of a great chapter in my country’s history. You were someone I wanted to stand behind, someone I wanted to support, so I volunteered and worked for your campaign in Ohio, a crucial swing state. As an O.S.U. student, I went door-to-door, made phone call after phone call, urged people to join the movement that would revolutionize American politics. It was time to go back to a government “for the people, of the people.”
Now as I sit in this crowded cell, I can’t help but ask myself, was I naïve to think you were a departure from the norm? As domestic and foreign policies I disagreed with passed during your terms, I chalked it up to the negative consequence of bipartisanship, but now after months of being held without cause in Egypt’s infamous prisons and so little [regard for] my Americanness, let alone humanity, shown, I am beginning to think I was just another silly, idealistic college kid who believed the world can look a whole lot different, with a leader such as yourself at the head of it.
Your abandonment of me, an American citizen who worked tirelessly towards your election, and a staunch supporter and defender of your presidency, has left a sting in me that is almost as intense as the sharp pain emanating from my recently sliced arm.
Last weekend Soltan was sentenced to life imprisonment:
An Egyptian court on Saturday sentenced an American citizen, Mohamed Soltan, to life imprisonment for supporting an Islamist protest against the military ouster of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in the summer of 2013.
The presiding judge, Mohammed Nagi Shehata, sentenced more than 35 other defendants in the case to the same penalty and also confirmed death sentences in the same case for about a dozen defendants, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s top spiritual guide, Mohamed Badie, 71, as well as Mr. Soltan’s father, Salah Soltan.
Gehad el-Haddad, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, was also sentenced to life in prison. Members of the Soltan family have said they will appeal the decision, and other defendants are expected to appeal as well.
The verdict is the latest in a long series of similarly harsh sentences handed down at mass trials of dozens or hundreds of defendants accused of participating in violent protests or riots in the aftermath of the military takeover, often based on only police testimony or cursory evidence. Thousands more remain imprisoned without convictions. The sweeping penalties have drawn outraged denunciations from rights groups and milder rebukes from Western diplomats.
But the case of the younger Mr. Soltan, 27, is exceptional because he is an American citizen.
The verdict comes just days after President Obama released hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid for Egypt that had previously been suspended in response to the military takeover and subsequent repression.
The White House released a brief statement:
The United States condemns the life sentence issued today in Egypt against American citizen Mohamed Soltan. We call for Mr. Soltan’s immediate release from prison. We remain deeply concerned about Mr. Soltan’s health, which has suffered during his 20 month-long incarceration. The President is deeply committed to the welfare of all U.S. citizens abroad and we will ensure that Mr. Soltan continues to receive consular support until he can return safely to the United States, per his wishes.
The New York Times reports: A Texas-born man suspected of being an operative for Al Qaeda stood before a federal judge in Brooklyn this month. Two years earlier, his government debated whether he should be killed by a drone strike in Pakistan.
The denouement in the hunt for the man, Mohanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, who was arrested last year in Pakistan based on intelligence provided by the United States, came after a yearslong debate inside the government about whether to kill an American citizen overseas without trial — an extraordinary step taken only once before, when the Central Intelligence Agency killed the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2011.
Mr. Farekh’s court appearance also came as the Obama administration was struggling to fashion new guidelines for targeted killings. The decision to use an allied intelligence service to arrest Mr. Farekh has bolstered a case made by some that capturing — rather than killing — militant suspects, even in some of the world’s most remote places, is more feasible than the orders for hundreds of drone strikes might indicate.
“This is an example that capturing can be done,” said Micah Zenko, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations who studies counterterrorism strikes.
The Obama administration’s discussions about the fate of Mr. Farekh, who used the nom de guerre Abdullah al-Shami, began in earnest in 2012, and in the months that followed the C.I.A. and the Pentagon ramped up surveillance of his movements around Pakistani tribal areas.
Drones spotted him several times in the early months of 2013, and spy agencies used a warrant issued by the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor his communications. The Pentagon nominated Mr. Farekh to be placed on a so-called kill list for terrorism suspects; C.I.A. officials also pushed for the White House to authorize his killing. [Continue reading…]
What is left out of this analysis is consideration of the basic premise that any individual suspected terrorist can pose a national security threat.
The hysteria surrounding terrorism that has become embedded in the American worldview, presupposes that anyone who can be labelled a terrorist is inherently dangerous.
If the same line of thinking was applied across criminal law, then someone could be accused of being a murderer without committing murder.
The task of law enforcement would be to track down individuals who supposedly had a proclivity to commit crimes and could thus be convicted of being murderers, thieves, frauds, and so forth, because criminality was seen to be invested in the person rather than their actions.
This is what makes trials for terrorism difficult: prosecutors often seem to have more conviction that the accused is a terrorist than they have evidence to back up that claim.
Another issue lurking behind the Obama administration’s debate on the expediency of assassination is that the U.S. government and apparently many Americans have far fewer qualms if the targets are non-Americans.
If President Obama was to sign an executive order prohibiting the assassination of American citizens, would the ACLU commend him for doing so?
Why should the assassination of Americans be treated as a graver issue than the practice of targeted killing itself?
Drones seemed to come out of nowhere, sexy as the latest iPhones and armed to kill. They were all-seeing eyes in the sky (“a constant stare,” as drone promoters liked to say) and surgically precise in their ability to deliver death to evildoers. Above all, without pilots in their cockpits, they were, in terms of the human price of war (at least when it came to the lives that mattered to us), cost free. They transformed battle into a video-game experience, leaving the “warriors” — from pilots to generals — staring at screens. What could possibly go wrong?
As it happened, so much went wrong. It often proved hard for the drone operators to tell what exactly they were seeing on those video feeds of theirs and mistakes were regularly made. In addition, drones turned out to kill with a remarkable lack of discrimination, while putting whole rural populations that fell under Washington’s robotic gaze into a state of what, if they had been American soldiers, we would have called PTSD. Worse yet, as recent events in Yemen indicate, drones proved remarkably effective weapons not in staunching terror outfits but in spreading terror, and so became powerful recruitment tools for extremist groups. In rural societies repeatedly attacked by the grimly named Predators and Reapers, the urge for revenge was apparent.
Drones were, that is, terror instigators. Everywhere they were sent by the last two administrations to pursue campaigns of “targeted killing” (i.e. assassination) and “signature strikes” (on suspicious patterns of “behavior” on the ground below, as judged by video from thousands of miles away), extremist groups have grown, societies have fragmented, and things have, from Washington’s point of view, gotten worse. In the process, they turned the White House with its secret “kill list” and its “terror Tuesday” meetings into a den of assassins, the CIA into assassination central, and the president into an assassin-in-chief. The drones even took an unexpected toll on their pilots waging a theoretically cost-free war.
From the point of view of drone proponents, one curious thing did go right, however — not in Pakistan or Afghanistan or Iraq or Yemen or Somalia, but here at home. Even though Americans in multiplexes had for years sided with human rebels against the inhuman gaze of robots on the prowl, they now backed the robots, as opinion polls showed, in part because their reputation here remained remarkably untarnished by their dismal and destructive track record in the distant backlands of the planet.
Now, another kind of “gaze,” another form of “constant stare,” has fallen on the drone and it comes from the least robotic of places. In his new book, A Theory of the Drone, French philosopher Grégoire Chamayou has taken a fresh look at the radically new form of warfare wreaking havoc on fundamental human categories, whether of war, legality, or sovereignty. It’s a fascinating effort to deal with a weapons and surveillance system that turns out not to have arrived out of the blue at all. Today, TomDispatch offers a taste of Chamayou’s original approach, presenting two early chapters from his book on how the drone entered our world and transformed the classic “duel” between warriors into a “hunt” in which an all-seeing, lidless eye-in-the-sky searches out distant humans below as its “prey.” In the meantime, the warriors of the past are, as Chamayou writes, morphing into the executioners of the twenty-first century. It couldn’t be a grimmer tale of post-modernity. Tom Engelhardt
How the Predator and extra-judicial execution became Washington’s calling cards
By Grégoire Chamayou
[The following is slightly adapted from chapters two and three of Grégoire Chamayou’s new book, A Theory of the Drone, with special thanks to his publisher, the New Press.]
Initially, the English word “drone” meant both an insect and a sound. It was not until the outbreak of World War II that it began to take on another meaning. At that time, American artillery apprentices used the expression “target drones” to designate the small remotely controlled planes at which they aimed in training. The metaphor did not refer solely to the size of those machines or the brm-brm of their motors. Drones are male bees, without stingers, and eventually the other bees kill them. Classical tradition regarded them as emblems of all that is nongenuine and dispensable. That was precisely what a target drone was: just a dummy, made to be shot down.
Mark P. Lagon and Alina Polyakova write: On March 18, 2014, the Kremlin followed its illegal invasion of Crimea by officially annexing the peninsula. Crimea then faded from the headlines once Russia began its war in eastern Ukraine. That’s unfortunate because Russia is perpetrating human-rights abuses in Crimea that go underreported in the West in no small part due to the Kremlin’s efforts to hide them.
The annexation of Crimea marked the first time since the end of World War II that borders in Europe were changed by unilateral military force. President Vladimir Putin initially justified this blatant violation of Russia’s legal commitments and international law by claiming that the people of Crimea wanted to join Russia and were subject to repression by the government that took power when Ukraine’s unpopular President Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev last February. More recently, in a forthcoming Russian TV documentary, Mr. Putin admitted ordering the annexation before a highly dubious referendum on the issue.
His claims about the desires of the citizenry and Ukraine’s repression are false. First, polls taken before the Russian invasion showed that only about 40% of Crimeans favored either independence from Kiev or joining Russia. Russian officials claimed that the “referendum” on March 16, 2014, conducted by the Kremlin and without independent international observers resulted in a 83% turnout, with 97% voting in favor of annexation. Yet the website of the President of Russia’s Council on Civil Society and Human Rights reported that turnout was only 30%-50%, with 50%-60% in favor of annexation.
Second, instead of improving human rights, Mr. Putin’s aggression has ramped up repression. Before the Kremlin’s invasion, the respect for political rights and civil liberties in Crimea and elsewhere in Ukraine was far from ideal. But there was an active civic life for ethnic Russians, Ukrainians and Tatars and adherents to all religions. The press was free and diverse. But a report this month by the Atlantic Council and Freedom House, “Human Rights Abuses in Russian-Occupied Crimea,” dissects a system designed to keep in check all groups that do not endorse Kremlin control.
The primary victims are the Tatars, a Turkic people who make up at least 12% of the population. Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev, a famed Soviet-era dissident, has been forced into exile, along with other Tatar leaders. Thanks to common Kremlin tools of control—intimidation, harassment and selective application of the law—activists, journalists and religious leaders have been routinely detained, illegally searched and physically abused by Russian authorities. [Continue reading…]
Amnesty: Saudi Arabia is well on track to far surpass its previous annual execution records, Amnesty International warned after three more men were put to death this morning, bringing the total number of executions in the country to 44 so far this year.
That is fully four times the number of people executed in the Gulf Kingdom during the same period last year – 11. Public beheading is the most common method of execution.
“This unprecedented spike in executions constitutes a chilling race to the bottom for a country that is already among the most prolific executioners on the planet,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.
“If this alarming execution rate continues, Saudi Arabia is well on track to surpass its previous records, putting it out of step with the vast majority of countries around the world that have now rejected the death penalty in law or practice.”
The three men executed this morning include a Saudi Arabian, a Yemeni and a Syrian national, all for drug-related offences.
“The fact that around half of the executions carried out so far this year were for drug-related offences contradicts the Saudi Arabian authorities’ claims at the United Nations Human Rights Council that the death penalty is imposed for only the most serious crimes and because it is sanctioned by Shari’a law. In the case of drug-related offences, both of these claims are far from the truth,” said Said Boumedouha. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: Sweden has torn up a decade-long arms agreement with Saudi Arabia after the Saudis blocked the Swedish foreign minister from speaking about human rights to a summit of Arab leaders.
Peter Hultqvist, Sweden’s defence minister, confirmed on Tuesday that the deal was off, removing a cause of division within the country’s left-leaning coalition but deepening a rift with business leaders who implored the government to prolong the agreement.
On Monday, foreign minister Margot Wallström complained at a meeting of the Arab League in Cairo that Saudi Arabia had objected to her planned speech on democracy and women’s rights. She had also condemned the sentencing of Saudi blogger Raef Badawi to a “medieval” punishment of 1,000 lashes.
But on Tuesday, Arab foreign ministers expressed “condemnation and astonishment” at Wallström’s remarks, which were “incompatible with the fact that the constitution of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based on sharia [law],” according to a statement issued at the end of their Arab League meeting and published by Gulf News.
“Sharia has guaranteed human rights and preserved people’s lives, possessions, honour and dignity. The ministers consider the comments as irresponsible and unacceptable,” the statement said.
Sweden first signed a “memorandum of understanding” with Saudi Arabia in 2005, setting out details of cooperation on intelligence, surveillance and weapons manufacture, and paving the way for the sale of Saab’s Erieye radar system to the Saudis in 2010. The agreement had to be ratified by each side every five years, and its renewal date was due in May. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: The US Department of Justice and embattled mayor Rahm Emanuel are under mounting pressure to investigate allegations of what one politician called “CIA or Gestapo tactics” at a secretive Chicago police facility exposed by the Guardian.
Politicians and civil-rights groups across the US expressed shock upon hearing descriptions of off-the-books interrogation at Homan Square, the Chicago warehouse that multiple lawyers and one shackled-up protester likened to a US counter-terrorist black site in a Guardian investigation published this week.
As a second person came forward to the Guardian detailing her own story of being “held hostage” inside Homan Square without access to an attorney or an official public record of her detention by Chicago police, officials and activists said the allegations merited further inquiry and risked aggravating wounds over community policing and race that have reached as high as the White House. [Continue reading…]
The post-9/11 moment offered them their main chance to transform their dreams into reality and they seized it by the throat. They wanted to “take the gloves off.” They were convinced that the presidency had been shackled by Congress in the Watergate era and that it was their destiny to remove the chains. They believed in a “unitary” presidency: an unchained executive with unfettered power to do whatever he wanted, preemptively and in any fashion he cared to. And in their own fashion, they were visionaries in their urge to establish a Pax Americana first in the Greater Middle East and then planet-wide.
Anything, they thought, was possible, given a nation shocked and terrified by the apocalyptic vision of those towers coming down, even if the damage had been done by just 19 hijackers armed with box cutters who belonged to a terror organization capable, at best, of mounting major operations every year or two. “[B]arely five hours after American Airlines Flight 77 plowed into the Pentagon… [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld was telling his aides to come up with plans for striking Iraq,” CBS News reported, even though he was already certain that al-Qaeda had launched the attack, not Saddam Hussein. (“‘Go massive,’ the notes quote him as saying. ‘Sweep it all up. Things related and not.'”)
And, of course, from Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond, they did “sweep it all up.” As a group, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and many other top figures in the administration were in love with the U.S. military. They were convinced that a force with no peer on the planet could bring various “rogue powers” instantly to heel and leave the U.S. dominant in a way that no power in all of history had ever been. Throw in control over the flow of oil on a global scale and their dreams couldn’t have been more expansive. But when you write the history of this particular disaster, don’t forget the fear, either.
As was said over and over again at that moment, 9/11 “changed everything.” That meant they felt themselves freed to do all the mad things we now know they did, from preemptive wars and occupations to massive programs of torture and kidnapping, as well as the setting up of a global penal system that was to be beyond the reach of any law or the oversight of anyone but those under their command. They green-lighted it all, but don’t for a second think that they weren’t afraid themselves. To touch that fear (bordering on paranoia), you only have to read Jane Mayer’s book The Dark Side where she describes Vice President Dick Cheney in that post-9/11 period being “chauffeured in an armored motorcade that varied its route to foil possible attackers.” In the backseat of his car (just in case), she added, “rested a duffel bag stocked with a gas mask and a biochemical survival suit.” And lest danger rear its head, “rarely did he travel without a medical doctor in tow.”
Yes, they were on top of the world and undoubtedly chilled to the bone with fear as well. And fear and impunity turned out to be an ugly combination indeed. Both the fear and the sense of license, of the freedom to act as they wished, drove them fiercely. Take Michael Hayden, then head of the NSA, later of the CIA. Of that moment, he recently said, “I actually started to do different things. And I didn’t need to ask ‘mother, may I’ from the Congress or the president or anyone else. It was within my charter, but in terms of the mature judgment about what’s reasonable and what’s not reasonable, the death of 3,000 countrymen kind of took me in a direction over here, perfectly within my authority, but a different place than the one in which I was located before the attacks took place.” In other words, on September 10, 2011, he was simply the director of the NSA. On September 11th, without ever leaving the NSA, he was the president, Congress, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court all rolled into one.
Given what, as Hayden (and others) suggest, they couldn’t help but do, it’s good to know that there were some people who could. It’s a point that TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon, author of Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States, makes in a particularly moving way today. Tom Engelhardt
Saying no to torture
A gallery of American heroes
By Rebecca Gordon
Why was it again that, as President Obama said, “we tortured some folks” after the 9/11 attacks? Oh, right, because we were terrified. Because everyone knows that being afraid gives you moral license to do whatever you need to do to keep yourself safe. That’s why we don’t shame or punish those who were too scared to imagine doing anything else. We honor and revere them.
Sayed Alwadaei writes: The barbaric killing of Muadh al-Kasasbeh by Isis will haunt us for a long time to come as an example of the cruelty of today’s Jihadi terrorists. Kasasbeh was burned alive in a cage a month ago, his murder hidden from the world as Jordan demanded his safe return, the truth only coming to light last week when a video of his murder appeared online.
As Jordan mourns its hero, we in Bahrain reflect in fear and disgust: the Bahraini government names human rights defenders, journalists and political activists terrorists, and in doing so they liken us to Kasasbeh’s killers. The prospect of what it means for us is utterly terrifying.
At the beginning of the month the ministry of interior published a list of 72 persons whose citizenship was to be revoked. No trial, no appeal, no legal process – if your name is on that list, you are no longer a Bahraini. Recent amendments to the nationality law allow the state to revoke citizenship for those guilty of terrorism. About 50 of the named persons, myself included, are human rights defenders, political activists, journalists, doctors, religious scholars – peaceful activists. Most of us are now stateless. Among the reasons given for revoking our citizenship: “defaming the image of the regime, inciting against the regime and spreading false news to hinder the rules of the constitution” and “defaming brotherly countries”. [Continue reading…]
Thalif Deen reports: The United Nations, which is the legal guardian of scores of human rights treaties banning torture, unlawful imprisonment, degrading treatment of prisoners of war and enforced disappearances, is troubled that an increasing number of countries are justifying violations of U.N. conventions on grounds of fighting terrorism in conflict zones.
Taking an implicit passing shot at big powers, the outspoken U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein of Jordan puts it more bluntly: “This logic is abundant around the world today: I torture because a war justifies it. I spy on my citizens because terrorism, repulsive as it is, requires it.
“I don’t want new immigrants, or I discriminate against minorities, because our communal identity or my way of life is being threatened as never before. I kill others, because others will kill me – and so it goes, on and on.”
Speaking Thursday at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., Zeid said the world needs “profound and inspiring leadership” driven by a concern for human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people. [Continue reading…]
CIA interrogations took place on British territory of Diego Garcia, senior Bush administration official says
Vice News reports: Interrogations of US prisoners took place at a CIA black site on the British overseas territory of Diego Garcia, a senior Bush administration official has told VICE News.
The island was used as a “transit location” for the US government’s “nefarious activities” post-9/11 when other places were too full, dangerous, insecure, or unavailable, according to Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff.
There was no permanent detention facility such as the CIA facility in Poland, he told VICE News in a wide-ranging interview. His intelligence sources indicated to him that the island was however home to “a transit site where people were temporarily housed, let us say, and interrogated from time to time.” [Continue reading…]
Dan Froomkin writes: Monday’s guilty verdict in the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling on espionage charges — for talking to a newspaper reporter — is the latest milepost on the dark and dismal path Barack Obama has traveled since his inaugural promises to usher in a “new era of openness.”
Far from rejecting the authoritarian bent of his presidential predecessor, Obama has simply adjusted it, adding his own personal touches, most notably an enthusiasm for criminally prosecuting the kinds of leaks that are essential to a free press.
The Sterling case – especially in light of Obama’s complicity in the cover-up of torture during the Bush administration – sends a clear message to people in government service: You won’t get in trouble as long as you do what you’re told (even torture people). But if you talk to a reporter and tell him something we want kept secret, we will spare no effort to destroy you.
There’s really no sign any more of the former community organizer who joyously declared on his first full day in office that “there’s been too much secrecy in this city… Starting today, every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information but those who seek to make it known.”
Instead, as author Scott Horton explained to me a few weeks ago, Obama’s thinking on these issues was swayed by John Brennan, the former senior adviser he eventually named CIA director. And for Brennan and his ilk, secrecy is a core value — partly for legitimate national security reasons and partly as an impregnable shield against embarrassment and accountability. [Continue reading…]
Christian Lorentzen reviews Guantánamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi: In the autumn of 2001 Mohamedou Ould Slahi was working in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, setting up computer networks. He was born in the hinterlands, son of a nomadic camel trader, and had picked up the trade in Germany; he went to the University of Duisberg on a scholarship in 1988, at the age of 17. He’d long been a fan of the German national football team. He was also devout and had memorised the Koran as a teenager. In 1991 he went to Afghanistan to train with the mujahedin and pledged an oath to al-Qaida. He made another trip the next year, but saw little action fighting Muhammad Najibullah’s communist government before it fell. When the fighting disintegrated into factional struggles, he went back to Germany. He tried once to join the war in Bosnia, but couldn’t get through Slovenia. He worked in Duisberg until 1999, when his visa expired and pressure was coming down from the immigration office. He applied for permanent residency in Canada and went to Montreal, where he led prayers at a mosque attended by an Algerian called Ahmed Ressam. On 14 December 1999, Ressam was arrested at the US border with explosives and timing devices in his rented car. This was the Millennium Plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport, and though Ressam was a stranger to him it was the start of Slahi’s troubles.
In Montreal he believed he was being watched, possibly through a small hole drilled through his bedroom wall from his neighbour’s flat. (He called the police about it and they told him to fill the hole with caulk.) He was questioned by Canadian intelligence, but let go. Still, he was spooked, and in January 2000 he set off to return to Mauritania, via Dakar; on landing he was picked up by Senegalese special forces. He was rendered to Nouakchott, held for weeks, threatened with torture, and interrogated by Mauritanian intelligence and the FBI. Here was the start of the American authorities’ four-year fixation on two words, ‘tea’ and ‘sugar’, picked up on a tapped phone conversation and presumed to be code. They released him to return to his family. On his way out, the director of Mauritanian intelligence told him: ‘Those guys have no evidence whatsoever.’ [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: The American Civil Liberties Union is turning to federal court to stop the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee from repossessing the secret copies of a landmark inquiry into CIA torture.
In an emergency motion filed late on Tuesday, the ACLU asked Judge James Boasberg of the District of Columbia federal district to prevent Senator Richard Burr’s “extraordinary post-hoc request” for all copies of the full, classified 6,900-page report currently held by the Obama administration.
It is part of a persistent effort from human rights groups to keep up pressure for disclosure over one of the most infamous episodes in CIA history, despite moves by both the committee and the CIA to move on.
“The full torture report is critical for meaningful public scrutiny of the CIA’s horrific acts, as well as its lies and evasions to Congress, the courts, and the American public,” said the ACLU attorney Hina Shamsi.
The battle highlights the partisan differences over CIA torture and the investigation of it. The report was produced when the committee was led by the California Democrat Dianne Feinstein. Once Burr, a North Carolina Republican, took over the committee, he moved almost immediately to keep the full report permanently under wraps. [Continue reading..]