[Tenet] called for initiating intelligence contact with some rogue states such as Libya and Syria that he said might be helpful in trying to destroy al Qaeda. For the CIA to obtain helpful information against the terrorists, they might have to get their hands dirty. — Bob Woodward, Bush at War
On September 15, 2001, George Tenet presented Cofer Black’s plan to respond to 9/11 to George Bush. It included rendering suspects to allied torturers including Egypt, partnering with rogue regimes including Bashar al-Assad’s, and ultimately capturing and torturing suspects ourselves.
On September 17, 2001, George Bush implemented that plan by signing a Memorandum of Notification reflecting vague outlines of it.
George Bush’s signature on that document led directly the torture of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi in Omar Suleiman’s hands and Binyam Mohammed’s torture in Pakistani custody, both before DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel gave its sanction to torture. In addition, it led to Maher Arar’s torture in Assad’s hands outside the terms permissible in our rendition program.
Yet as these details of George Bush’s personal implication in torture became clear, President Obama hid it, both with repeated state secrets invocations and by hiding official confirmation of the existence of that document with Bush’s signature on it. The Administration succeeded in hiding that official confirmation by arguing — just last year! — that it was still relying on that document that also endorsed partnering with Assad. (There’s reason to believe that that document which authorized partnering with Assad also served to authorize some of our drone assassinations, including at least the first attempt against Anwar al-Awlaki.)
Meanwhile, the most independent assessment of the August 21 chemical weapons strike — from Human Rights Watch — still has the same gap as every other case does: while it concludes the CW were launched by Assad’s regime, it provides no evidence that it was launched on his orders.
The evidence examined by Human Rights Watch strongly suggests that the August 21 chemical weapon attacks on Eastern and Western Ghouta were carried out by government forces. Our basis for this finding is:
- The large-scale nature of the attacks, involving at least a dozen surface-to-surface rockets affecting two different neighborhoods in Damascus countryside situated 16 kilometers apart, and surrounded by major Syrian government military positions.
- One of the types of rockets used in the attack, the 330mm rocket system – likely Syrian produced, which appear to be have been used in a number of alleged chemical weapon attacks, has been filmed in at least two instances in the hands of government forces. The second type of rocket, the Soviet-produced 140mm rocket, which can carry Sarin, is listed as a weapon known to be in Syrian government weapon stocks. Both rockets have never been reported to be in the possession of the opposition. Nor is there any footage or other evidence that the armed opposition has the vehicle-mounted launchers needed to fire these rockets.
- The August 21 attacks were a sophisticated military attack, requiring large amounts of nerve agent (each 330mm warhead is estimated to contain between 50 and 60 liters of agent), specialized procedures to load the warheads with the nerve agent, and specialized launchers to launch the rockets
Obviously Assad has not yet publicly named — much less condemned — anyone within his regime for doing this (but then, only about 14 Americans have ever paid a price the systematic torture authorized by that Bush signature). If this deal with the Russians actually happens, naming and prosecuting the persons responsible for the August 21 attack should be part of the agreement.
But there is a fundamental problem with America launching a war against Assad for the August CW attack based on chain of command arguments (or “common sense,” as its most recent incarnation has it). That’s because, with all the legal problems surrounding any intervention on our part (especially without UN sanction, which may change under the Russian deal), there are such clear and ongoing instances where, even with clear evidence of human rights violations done under nothing but Presidential authorization, the US doesn’t hold its own responsible.
There was a time when US violations of human rights norms weren’t so clearly documented (though the definitely existed). But now that they are, to claim we have the moral authority to hold Bashar al-Assad responsible based on a chain of command argument when we won’t even hold our own responsible for partnering with him in human rights crimes is particularly problematic.
As human rights hypocrites ourselves, that makes us not even global policemen, but rather simple enforcers when it serves our geopolitical interests.
I’ve been working on this timeline for almost nine months, trying to pull together the known dates about strikes against Americans, the evidence supporting the strike against Anwar al-Awlaki, the legal cases surrounding both targeted killing and torture, to which targeted killing is linked via the Memorandum of Notification, and Congressional efforts to exercise oversight.
September 17, 2001: George Bush signs Memorandum of Notification (henceforth, Gloves Come Off MON) authorizing a range of counterterrorism techniques, including torture and targeted killing.
September 18, 2001: Congress passes the Authorization to Use Military Force.
November 3, 2002: US citizen Kamal Derwish killed in drone purportedly targeting Abu Ali al-Harithi.
Late 2008: Ruben Shumpert reported killed in Somalia.
June 24, 2009: Leon Panetta gets briefed on assassination squad program.
June 26, 2009: HPSCI passes a funding authorization report expanding the Gang of Eight briefings.
July 8, 2009: The Administration responds with an insulting appeal to a “fundamental compact” between Congress and the President on intelligence matters.
July 8, 2009: Silvestre Reyes announces CIA lied to Congress.
October 26, 2009: British High Court first orders British government to release language on Binyam Mohamed’s treatment.
October 28, 2009: FBI kills Imam Luqman Asmeen Abdullah during Dearborn, MI arrest raid.
October 29, 2009: Hearing on declassifying mention of Gloves Come Off MON before Judge Alvin Hellerstein; in it, Hellerstein reveals NSA James Jones has submitted declaration to keep mention of MON secret.
November 5, 2009: Nidal Hasan attacks Fort Hood, killing 13.
December 24, 2009: JSOC tries but fails to hit Anwar al-Awlaki. On that day, the IC did not yet believe him to be operational.
December 25, 2009: With Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attack, FBI develops full understanding of Awlaki’s operational goals.
January 2, 2010: In conversation with David Petraeus, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh Continue reading
There’s one more tangential detail to the UndieBomb plot that deserves mention.
The involvement of a Saudi-handled infiltrator in the plot was revealed by May 8. The Brits knew then that it was not just the Saudis and CIA whose operation had been exposed, but MI6 and MI5, who had been involved in recruiting the guy.
The spy who helped Western intelligence agencies thwart a plot to bomb a U.S.-bound airliner was a British national of Middle Eastern origin, sources tell NBC News.
The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, also say that British intelligence was “heavily involved” in recruiting the spy, who has not yet been identified publicly, and penetrating the plot by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to detonate a new, more sophisticated underwear bomb aboard a U.S. jetliner.
Mind you, we didn’t learn that until May 11. But the British government? They already knew it.
Which means they knew it before the Queen gave new emphasis to the plan to expand the use of secret courts in counterterrorism matters.
My government will introduce legislation to strengthen oversight of the security and intelligence agencies. This will also allow courts, through the limited use of closed proceedings, to hear a greater range of evidence in national security cases.
Remember, British Justice Secretary Ken Clarke is ostensibly doing this primarily because the fact that the British told us Binyam Mohamed’s treatment might amount to torture was revealed in his suit against the British government.
Plans to expand secret hearings into civil courts have been accelerated by the government. Rather than moving to the preparatory white paper stage, a justice and security bill will be put through parliament this session.
The government has come under severe pressure from MI5 and MI6 to impose a system of secret hearings in courts ever since disclosures that the security and intelligence agencies had been involved in the brutal treatment, and knew of the torture, of UK residents and citizens detained by the CIA.
Ken Clarke, the justice secretary, has said the powers are needed to reassure other countries, particularly the United States, that they can continue to share intelligence without fear of it being exposed in British courts. Continue reading
One more diversionary post before I delve into why the Administration is so worried about releasing a short phrase that, I suspect, acknowledges that George Bush’s September 17, 2001 Memorandum of Notification authorized the torture program.
National Security Advisor Jim Jones submitted a declaration supporting Administration efforts to keep the authorization behind the torture program secret
I want to reflect on what it means that then-National Security Advisor Jim Jones submitted a declaration–sometime in Fall 2009–to keep this short phrase hidden. The government revealed that, though without hinting at what Jones had to say, in the October 29, 2009 closed hearing with Judge Alvin Hellerstein.
MR, LANE . We think the first Issue before we get to documents is your Honor had asked us to specifically identify the second declarant. There is a second declaration in this case. And we wanted to put that on the record that that declaration is from James L. Jones, Assistant to the President for National Security and National Security Advisor,
AUSA Sean Lane then goes on to make clear that Jones’ declaration argues why Hellerstein should withhold the few word acknowledgment that the Memorandum of Notification authorized the torture program.
THE COURT: Both [Jones’ declaration and a second sealed one from CIA Associate Information Review Office Wendy Hilton] support the argument for maintenance of the redactions.
MR. LANE: Correct, your Honor. They both address what the government ties been calling “the Intelligence method” withheld from the two OLC memos, and the Court has been referring to as “The source of the CIA’s authority.”
So it’s not just that–as I inaccurately suggested the other day–that the CIA is trying to keep this short phrase noting that the President authorized the torture program secret. The National Security Advisor–for all intents and purposes, the President himself–is going to some lengths to keep that phrase secret as well.
I’ve been blogging about British efforts to expands the use of closed material proceedings so it won’t reveal embarrassing details about its cooperation in American torture in the future.
Which makes it interesting that Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has ordered that the inquest into the death of GCHQ scientist Gareth Williams will be secret. Williams is the GCHQ-on-loan-to-MI6 sometimes-on-loan-to-NSA scientist whose body was found in a gym duffel in his flat a few years ago.
All sorts of cover stories have been leaked about his death: that it was some sort of gay bondage gone bad, that the Russian mafia took him out.
I’ve been most intrigued by the detail that Williams was working with NSA at the time when the US blew up the British planes investigation.
Whatever the reason, we’re not likely to find out, at least not immediately, because of the secrecy surrounding the inquest.
I’m not surprised the Brits don’t want their spy stories told in public, mind you.
I noted, when David Cameron was in town, that his Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, was pushing to expand “closed material proceedings” as a way to better protect secret information. The effort was a response, Clarke claimed, to courts forcing the government to release information about Binyam Mohamed’s torture, which ended up revealing the US was using some torture techniques before the Bybee Memo purportedly approved torture.
Now, Cameron’s government is ratcheting up the fear-mongering, claiming that the US withheld information about a terrorist threat 18 months ago because of the the Mohamed release.
The CIA warned MI6 that al-Qaeda was planning an attack 18 months ago, but withheld detailed information because of concerns it would be released by British courts.
British intelligence agencies were subsequently forced to carry out their own investigations, according to Whitehall sources.
Several potential terrorists were identified with links to a wider European plot, but it is still not known whether the British authorities have uncovered the full extent of the threat.
I flew through London 18 months ago during what I suspect was this terror threat. It was the kind of threat where one airline–American–had rolled out the full heightened security theater, but another–Delta–had nothing special, both on the same day.
That kind of terrorist threat.
If it is true the CIA is withholding such information (I’m not saying I buy that the US withheld information from a serious threat), then consider what this means. Back in August 2006, the US (specifically, Dick Cheney and Jose Rodriguez) betrayed the “Special Relationship” by asking the Pakistanis to arrest one of the plotters in the liquid planes plot, which in turn forced the Brits to roll up their own investigation before they had solidified the case against the plotters. Several of the plotters had to be tried two times to get a conviction. The Bush Administration did all this as an election stunt.
And yet we’re the ones purportedly complaining about information sharing?
David Cameron is in town.
Which means, amid much pomp and circumstance (and jokes about the Brits burning DC in 1812), the leader of Britain and the leader of the US will reaffirm the “special relationship.”
Meanwhile, across the pond, Cameron’s Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke is pushing to expand “closed material proceedings”–a system of secret trials–to civil trials involving national security information.
Effectively, he proposes to use secret hearings with separate lawyers in cases like those of Binyam Mohamed, so rather than settling with a man who had been tortured with British complicity, they can introduce hearsay in their effort to win the case.
And, of course, they’re proposing to do this because the US has threatened–but not acted on threats–to withhold intelligence from the UK because they let it be known that Mohamed was tortured at the hands of the Americans.
The lawyers who have worked CMPs in the past released a scathing indictment of the idea, noting that it sacrifices the foundations of British justice.
Closed material procedures (CMPs) represent a departure from the foundational principle of natural justice that all parties are entitled to see and challenge all the evidence relied upon before the court and to combat that evidence by calling evidence of their own. They also undermine the principle that public justice should be dispensed in public.
Contrary to the premise underlying the Green Paper, the contexts in which CMPs are already used have not proved that they are “capable of delivering procedural fairness”. The use of SAs may attenuate the procedural unfairness entailed by CMPs to a limited extent, but even with the involvement of SAs, CMPs remain fundamentally unfair. That is so even in those contexts where Article 6 of the ECHR requires open disclosure of some (but not all) of the closed case and/or evidence.
It is one thing to argue that, for reasons of national security, the unfairness and lack of transparency inherent in CMPs should be tolerated in specific areas – such as deportation appeals and control order proceedings. It is quite another to suggest that Government Ministers should be endowed with a discretionary power to extend that unfairness and lack of transparency to any civil proceedings, including proceedings to which they are themselves party.
The introduction of such a sweeping power could be justified only by the most compelling of reasons. No such reason has been identified in the Green Paper and, in our view, none exists.
I hoped when the British courts granted Yunus Rahmatullah’s habeas petition, that the Brits might remind us of all the good law they gave us. Sadly, rather than releasing Rahmatullah, the US has stalled.
It appears, then, that things are going in the wrong direction: because we refuse any accountability for the torture and other abuses committed in the name of counterterrorism, we’re trying to corrode not just our own legal system, but Britain’s as well.
Welcome to America, David Cameron. Let’s hope you remind Obama that one “special” part of our common heritage is the system of law we seem so intent on dismantling.
When they screw our tortured clients, they assert “National Security”, but when it is a matter of money, they don’t. — Reprieve’s Clive Smith
The British human rights organization Reprieve figured out that a NY state court case–a billing dispute between two aviation companies–pertained to rendition flights going back to 2002; it tipped off the press. The Guardian (which offers a separate story with links to some of the documents) lays out how the flight patterns tie to known renditions.
Gulfstream N85VM has already been identified as the aircraft that rendered Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, an Egyptian cleric known as Abu Omar, after CIA agents kidnapped him in broad daylight in Milan in February 2003 and took him to Cairo. Through close examination of the invoices it is possible to identify other rendition flights in which a number of high-profile al-Qaida suspects may have been rendered.
In August 2003, for example, Richmor submitted an invoice for $301,113 for eight flights over three days that took the Gulfstream to Bangkok, via Alaska and Japan, on to Kabul via Sri Lanka, and then home again via Dubai and Shannon (pdf). This operation appears to have been the rendition of Encep Nuraman, the leader of the Indonesian terrorist organisation Jemaah Islamiyah, better known as Hambali. He had been captured in Thailand shortly before the aircraft set off.
The court heard that in October 2004 the aircraft’s tail number was changed to N227SV after the US government discovered that its movements were being tracked. The following March the aircraft was publicly linked to the Abu Omar rendition. Phillip Morse, the aircraft’s ultimate owner, said he was stunned to discover how his plane was being used.
And it describes how the owners came to fear flying their own plane because it had been publicly linked to renditions.
By October 2006, Richards was writing to Moss to complain that his company was suffering negative publicity (pdf), losing business and receiving hate mail. The Gulfstream’s crews were afraid to leave the country. “In the future, whenever the name ‘Richmor’ is googled this will come up. N227SV will always be linked to renditions. No tail number change will ever erase that and our requests for government assistance in this matter have been ignored.”
The AP provides details on how the government provided bogus diplomatic notes
Every time the Gulfstream and other planes in Richmor’s fleet took to the air, they carried one-page transit documents on State Department letterhead. The notices, known as “letters of public convenience” were addressed “to whom it may concern,” stating that the jets should be treated as official flights and that “accompanying personnel are under contract with the U.S. government.”
In trial testimony, Moss said the documents were provided from the government to DynCorp, which furnished them to Richmor. Richards said the letters were given to flight crews before they left on each flight, but declined to explain their use.
The notes, signed by a State Department administrative assistant, Terry A. Hogan, described the planes’ travels as “global support for U.S. embassies worldwide.”
The AP could not locate Hogan. No official with that name is currently listed in State’s department-wide directory. A comprehensive 2004 State Department telephone directory contains no reference to Hogan, or variations of that name — despite records of four separate transit letters signed by Terry A. Hogan in January, March and April 2004. Several of the signatures on the diplomatic letters under Hogan’s name were noticeably different.
(Reprieve gave the story to the WaPo too, which did a thoroughly perfunctory job with it.)
All three stories note that the litigants expected the government to intervene–as they did in the Jeppesen suit–but did not.
Which, as Smith notes, sort of proves the lie behind the Jeppesen state secrets invocation. The government let all the details behind the KSM flights appear in unsealed court dockets. The only thing that separates what would have appeared in the Binyam Mohamed suit against Jeppesen and this suit is the explicit demand for compensation for a torture victim.
When the Brits announced a year ago they’d hold an inquiry into torture, I suggested it was an attempt to get torture victims like Binyam Mohamed to settle so the British government could conduct a sham investigation. In November, Mohamed and others agreed to a settlement.
And today we discover (shock!) that the investigation is a whitewash after all. (h/t fatster)
The government’s plans for an inquiry into the UK’s role in torture and rendition after 9/11 are in disarray after human rights groups queued up to denounce it as a sham and lawyers for the victims said they were boycotting the hearings.
Their anger was prompted by the publication of the detailed terms of references and protocols under which the inquiry will be run by Sir Peter Gibson, a retired judge. It showed that key hearings will be held in secret and the cabinet secretary will have the ultimate say over what the public will and will not learn.
Individuals subjected to rendition and torture during the so-called war on terror will not be permitted to ask questions of MI5 or MI6 officers and the inquiry will not seek any evidence from foreign intelligence agencies, such as the CIA, about British involvement in the torture and abuse of detainees.
The protocol states that the aim is to “establish a reliable account of what happened”, but critics point out that it also says the inquiry “will not request evidence from the authorities of other countries or their personnel”.
The Western democracies–Spain, Germany, the UK and, of course, the US (Poland has not yet thrown their inquiry)–are getting pretty good at this torture kabuki.
But I guess with all the practice they’ve had, that’s not surprising.
Here’s the main thrust of Judge Richard Mark Gergel’s decision to dismiss Jose Padilla’s Bivens suit against Donald Rumsfeld and other high level Bush officials who denied him his Constitutional rights.
The Court finds that “special factors” are present in this case which counsel hesitation in creating a right of action under Bivens in the absence of express Congressional authorization. These factors include the potential impact of a Bivens claim on the Nation’s military affairs, foreign affairs, intelligence, and national security and the likely burden of such litigation on the government’s resources in these essential areas. Therefore, the Court grants the Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. Entry 141) regarding all claims of Plaintiffs arising from the United States Constitution.
Basically, the “special factors” in this case mean Padilla can’t sue for having been tortured and denied counsel.
Now that’s not all that surprising. That’s been one of the favored ways of making Bivens claims go away.
But what’s particularly interesting is the implicit argument in Gergel’s opinion that Abu Zubaydah’s torture was one of those “special factors.” Between the long passage where Gergel lays out the “special factors” as the guideline governing his decision and where he argues that those special factors require dismissal of the case, he includes this passage:
In analyzing this substantial body of case law relating to Bivens claims, it is useful to soberly and deliberately evaluate the factual circumstances of Padilla’s arrival and the then-available intelligence regarding his background and plans on behalf of Al Qaeda. Padilla arrived in Chicago nearly eight months after September 11, 2001 with reports that he was an Al Qaeda operative with a possible mission that included the eventual discharge of a “dirty bomb” in the Nation’s capital. (Dkt. Entry 91-2 at 4) He also had reportedly engaged in discussions with Al Qaeda operatives about detonating explosives in hotels, gas stations and train stations. (Jd. at 5). He was also thought to possess significant knowledge regarding Al Qaeda plans, personnel and operations. (Dkt. Entry 91-23 at 8-9).
Based on the information available at the time, which reportedly included information from confidential informants previously affiliated with Al Qaeda, the President of the United States took the highly unusual step of designating Padilla, an American citizen arrested on American soil, an enemy combatant. (Dkt. Entry 91-3).
Note how the judge doesn’t cite a source here for the claim that Padilla’s designation “reportedly included information from confidential informants;” the source for that sentence is just Bush’s designation itself, which has the section on sources redacted. But earlier he referenced Michael Mobbs’ declaration which included the following footnote describing these sources.
Based on the information developed by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement activities, it is believed that the two detained confidential sources have been involved with the Al Qaeda terrorist network. One of the sources has been involved with Al Qaeda for several years and is believed to have been involved in the terrorist activities of Al Qaeda. The other sources is also believed to have been involved in planning and preparing for terrorist activities of Al Qaeda. It is believed that these confidential sources have not been completely candid about their association with Al Qaeda and their terrorist activities. Much of the information from these sources has, however, been corroborated and proven accurate and reliable. Some information provided by the sources remains uncorroborated and may be part of an effort to mislead or confuse U.S. officials. One of the sources, for example, in a subsequent interview with a U.S. law enforcement official recanted some of the information that he had provided, but most of the information has been independently corroborated by other sources. In addition, at the time of being interviewed by U.S. officials, one of the sources was being treated with various types of drugs to treat medical conditions.
Gergel doesn’t say it, but we all know that one of those “confidential informants” is Abu Zubaydah and the other is probably Binyam Mohamed. Presumably, Zubaydah was the one “being treated” with drugs. And given the reference to US law enforcement, he is also presumably the one who recanted his statements about Padilla.
But more importantly, Gergel doesn’t say, but we know, that both Zubaydah and Mohamed had been subjected to extreme sleep deprivation–and possibly a great deal more–by the time they made their statements tying Padilla to terrorism. Gergel also doesn’t say that other cases based on Mohamed’s torture-induced testimony had been dismissed.
Gergel also doesn’t acknowledge that the federal conspiracy charges of which Padilla was convicted have nothing to do with the charges laid out in these documents related to his designation as an enemy combatant; that doesn’t stop Gergel from emphasizing that Padilla is a “convicted terrorist.”
Nevertheless, his discussion of Padilla’s designation using torture-induced evidence, appearing as it does right between his establishment of “special factors” as the guiding principle and his dismissal of the suit betrays that this torture-induced evidence is a key part of these “special factors.”
That background, though, makes it clear why Gergel thought those special factors should trump Padilla’s constitutional rights.
Padilla’s counsel would likely seek information on intelligence methods and interrogations of other Al Qaeda operatives. All of this would likely raise numerous complicated state secret issues. A trial on the merits would be an international spectacle with Padilla, a convicted terrorist, summoning America’s present and former leaders to a federal courthouse to answer his charges. This massive litigation would have been authorized not by a Congressionally established statutory cause of action, but by a court implying an action from the face of the American Constitution.3
3 Plaintiffs’ counsel urged the Court at oral argument to delay consideration of the practical realities of allowing a Bivens claim to go forward under these facts and circumstances until after the motion to dismiss stage. This approach, however, would result in the Court failing to timely consider “special factors” counseling hesitation, which include here the potential disruption and burdening of national security, intelligence and military operations arising from discovery under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
You can’t have a “convicted terrorist” summon someone like Rummy to a federal courthouse to answer questions about the torture the government used to justify Padilla’s own designation as an enemy combatant so we could in turn torture him. That would be a “spectacle.”
It all makes so much sense!