[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.
A bit of a row has started between Jay Rosen and Will Saletan for the latter’s attempt to “see how [the torturers] saw what they did” in this post. Frankly, I think Rosen mischaracterizes the problem with Saletan’s post. It’s not so much that Saletan parrots the euphemisms of the torturers. It’s that he accepts what John Rizzo, Michael Hayden, Jose Rodriguez, and Marc Thiessen said – in a presentation with multiple internal contradictions even before you get to the outright demonstrable lies — as the truth.
I’m particularly troubled by the way Saletan takes this assertion (which is based on the pseudo science behind the torture):
EITs were used to break the will to resist, not to extract information directly. Hayden acknowledged that prisoners might say anything to stop their suffering. (Like the other panelists, he insisted EITs weren’t torture.) That’s why “we never asked anybody anything we didn’t know the answer to, while they were undergoing the enhanced interrogation techniques.
And concludes this, which I take to be Saletan’s belief, not the torturers’:
Fourth, the right question to ask about the EIT program isn’t whether people lie under torture but whether using torture to train human beings in obedience is wrong despite the payoffs.
In an effort to take the torturers’ comments — and very notable silences, which Saletan doesn’t discuss — in good faith, Saletan presumes we might treat obedience among detainees being exploited as one of its “payoffs.”
Doing so ignores how the Bush Administration used torture to get detainees to tell useful lies, the most important of those being that Iraq had ties to Al Qaeda, which is one of the key pieces of “intelligence” that was used to get us into the Iraq War. That lie from Ibn Sheikh al-Libi — extracted through the use of mock burial and waterboarding, the two main forms of torture discussed in the panel – contributed directly to the unnecessary deaths of 4,000 Americans, to say nothing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.
Hayden’s claim we always knew the answer to questions we asked under torture
Here’s the full exchange from which Saletan takes as truthful the assertion that torture is about “learned helplessness” (no one here uses Mitchell and Jessen’s term, but that’s what we know they called it).
MR. THIESSEN: Mike, one of the – one of the scenes, you have the interrogator throws the – whoever the detainee is down and starts pouring water over his face and starts shouting, when’s the last time you saw bin Laden? And I think that gets to a deep misunderstanding of how interrogation actually worked. And one of the things you explained to me when I was working on my book and on the president’s speech was that there’s a difference between interrogation and debriefing, and the purpose of interrogation was not – we actually didn’t ask questions that we didn’t know the answers to. It was to ascertain whether they were being truthful or not. (So if you ?) walk through that?
MR. HAYDEN: I’m almost willing to make an absolute statement that we never asked anybody anything we didn’t know the answer to while they were undergoing the enhanced interrogation techniques. The techniques were not designed to elicit truth in the moment – which is what was, you know, tell me this or I’ll hurt you more, I’m not your friend – for about a third of our detainees. By the way, for two thirds of our detainees, this wasn’t necessary. Now, I’m willing to admit that the existence of the option may have influenced the two-thirds who said, well, let’s talk, all right? I mean – I mean, let’s be candid with one another. But for about a third, techniques were used not to elicit, again, information in the moment, but to take someone who had come into our custody absolutely defiant and move them into a state or a zone of cooperation, whereby – and then you recall the scene in the movie after the detainee is cleaned up and they’re having this lengthy conversation – for the rest of the detention, and in some cases it’s years – it’s a conversation. It’s a debriefing. It’s going back and forth with the kind of dialogue that you saw in that scene about a – about a third of the way through the movie.
You know a lot of people kind of reflexively say – they’ll say anything to make you stop, which may actually be true. That’s why we didn’t ask them questions while this was going on. Again, as John said, I mean, you know – these things weren’t gentle or kind, but the impact – and I think Jose’s written very thoughtfully about this – the impact was psychological. The impact is you are no longer in control of your destiny, all right? You are in our hands, and therefore, that movement into the zone of cooperation as opposed to the zone of defiance. But Jose’s got more of the fine print on that. [my emphasis]
As I mentioned the other day, I still haven’t seen the movie, so I’m not sure. But Thiessen’s effort to dismiss the claim that we asked detainees where Osama bin Laden was while being waterboarding may be an effort to rebut Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s assertion that he lied about OBL’s location to get them to stop waterboarding him — all while hiding the importance of the courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, who would eventually lead to OBL.
Now, Hayden’s claim is so obviously false as to be almost pathetic.
The ticking timebomb that blows up Hayden’s claim
It’s a claim that Rodriguez — in the very same appearance — undermines, when he describes turning to torture out of sheer ignorance.
MR. THIESSEN: Follow-up, Jose. I mean, take us back to – since we’re pulling the broader picture – take us back to September 11 th , 2001. You know, we’ve just been hit – there’s smoke in the ground in New York, buildings have fallen, the Pentagon is broken. And what do we know about al-Qaida? I mean, did we know that KSM was the operational commander of al Qaida or that he had this – or that members of his network – or all this information that we take for granted that we know now?
MR. RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, we didn’t know that much. Continue reading
Three years ago, I rather sheepishly gave Dianne Feinstein kudos for the seriousness of the Senate Intelligence Committee inquiry into torture. I said then–and I maintain now–that reports of the investigation make it sound like a far more substantive investigation than I had at first worried it would be.
But I will say that the apparent timing of its release seems unfortunate. Because it is likely to come out in the wake of the Jose Rodriguez propaganda, the SSCI report is being portrayed as the other side of a two-sided debate rather than the result of the sustained, exhaustive inquiry it is.
A nearly three-year-long investigation by Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats is expected to find there is little evidence the harsh “enhanced interrogation techniques” the CIA used on high-value prisoners produced counter-terrorism breakthroughs.
President Barack Obama and his aides have largely sought to avoid revisiting Bush administration controversies. But the debate over the effectiveness of enhanced interrogations, which human rights advocates condemn as torture, is resurfacing, in part thanks to a new book by a former top CIA official.
In the book, “Hard Measures,” due to be published on Monday, April 30, the former chief of CIA clandestine operations Jose Rodriguez defends the use of interrogation practices including water-boarding, which involves pouring water on a subject’s face, which is covered with a cloth, to simulate drowning.
Whether the timing–coming out just as Mitt Romney and his torturer-advisors face off against Obama in the General Election–was planned or not, the effect will be to turn torture into a campaign issue with two sides treated as legitimate by a spineless press, rather than one side with self-preservation in mind and the other with exhaustive study.
And sadly, that will probably mean the most interesting (and politically explosive) result of the investigation gets lost, relegated to paragraph 26 of 27.
Critics also say that still-classified records are likely to demonstrate that harsh interrogation techniques produced far more information that proved false than true.
Dana Priest reveals that, when Jose Rodriguez tried to persuade her not to publish news of the black sites in 2005, he tried to argue torture “was producing real results and helping to keep the country safe.” We’re about to get validation that the example of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi was not unique (though his treatment was included in the scope of the SSCI study). If torture “was producing real results” those results were false confessions, not real intelligence.
If we’re going to have a debate about torture, the fact that Cheney and his torturers used it to create false stories to–among other things–get us into the Iraq War should be at the center of that debate.
Last week, Nick Baumann told the story of Yonas Fikre. While visiting family in Sudan, men purporting to be FBI (remember that CIA has repeatedly lied and said they were FBI since 9/11) pushed him to become an informant. When he refused, the Agents told him he had been put on the no-fly list. He then traveled to UAE, where he was detained (reportedly at the behest of the US, torture, and interrogated–in an effort, Fikre says, to elicit a false confession.
Meanwhile, the Telegraph tells of the process depicted by more of the documents liberated in Libya (I’m still wondering when the documents explaining how Ibn Sheikh al-Libi was suicided). In violation of laws prohibiting it, MI5 not only provided information to Libyans about Libyan refugees in the country, but set up meetings to try to coerce them to become informants. If offering them citizenship didn’t work, the story describes, then they would prosecute them for meeting with the Libyan agents whose meeting they had set up.
The minutes suggest that MI5 preferred to use the carrot, rather than the stick, in inducing the target to start giving up information about his associates: ‘We might allow him to visit his family in Libya, then return to Britain. We could offer to help clear his name with Libyan authorities. We could offer to help with citizenship or residency. This could open the door to his co-operation. We could enter his office frequently, do business with him and open the door to further conversations.’
But if that didn’t work, then they could resort to coercion: ‘Libyan operatives could ask him [the target asylum seeker] about problems at home in Libya or in Britain.
‘They offer to help in return for giving information we want
about other targets. If he refuses, British police will arrest him and accuse him of associating with Libyan secret agents. He will be told that as a non-resident of Britain he could be deported if found guilty.’
At some point this isn’t about collecting intelligence anymore (particularly in the case of Fikre’s mosque, the Imam from which the FBI has probably sent 10 informants against without ever being able to make a case against him). It’s about instilling turning Muslim men into the puppets of the governments claiming to wage counter-terrorism campaigns.
After earlier stating he would not run in the upcoming Egyptian Presidential race, Omar Suleiman announced on Friday he would file to run for President (with the Army’s help gathering the 30,000 signatures he would need to collect in just one day).
Omar Suleiman, one of the most powerful figures of Mubarak’s regime, had said earlier this week that he would not run. But he said he changed his mind after hundreds of people rallied in Cairo to support a bid.
Hundreds rallied Friday in Cairo to call for him to run for president.
Suleiman said that helped change his mind.
“I can only meet the call and run in the presidential race, despite the constraints and difficulties I made clear in my former statement,” he said in a statement carried by the official MENA news agency on Friday. He said he faces administrative obstacles, but did not elaborate.
The AJE piece above describes how the Presidential race has devolved into all sides responding to Islamists–who had a big win in Parliamentary elections–deciding to run. Suleiman’s decision seems to be just another step in that process.
Mr. Suleiman’s decision raises the possibility that, one year after an uprising that was spurred in part by the Mubarak regime’s brutality, torture, and oppression, one of the architects of that repression could become Egypt’s first post-Mubarak president.
Some see his candidacy as a response by Egypt’s military rulers to the Muslim Brotherhood’s recent decision to field a presidential candidate – a decision that broke a year-long promise to stay out of the race. Omar Ashour, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, says Suleiman’s candidacy raises the possibility that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which is currently ruling Egypt, may rig the elections to favor the former intelligence chief.
Some observers suggest Suleiman’s move is just be an effort to make Amr Moussa look credible by comparison.
But as Jeff Stein reviews, in many ways he’d be the most palatable candidate to the West, largely because of our long history of cooperating with him on things like torturing Ibn Shaikh al-Libi to generate propaganda with which to start the Iraq War. People predicted Suleiman might succeed Hosni Mubarak long before the Arab Uprising.
“An open question is whether he can count on help from his longtime friends in the CIA,” I wrote back in January 2011.
“Ask who they posit as a possible successor,” a State Department expert on the region told me then. “Bet you a beer, the name Omar Suleiman comes up more often than most.”
As we’ve all been reading tea leaves about whether and when Israel will attack Iran, I’ve come to suspect we’re ignoring an equally important story. That is, to what degree is our post-Arab Spring policy in the Middle East serving Saudi Arabia’s purposes of aiming to obliterate the Shia–Iranian–pole of influence and not just our typical responsiveness to Israeli demands? And to what degree is that a catastrophic mistake of a magnitude equal to our mistake in invading Iraq (and to what degree is the plan an effort to recover from our loss in Iraq)?
I hope to raise this question more fully in a series of posts, but first some caveats and hypotheses. First, the caveats. I’m obviously not an expert in this field. I speak none of the languages in question. I think current events in the Middle East are more obscure than even they normally are. And I’m not sure my hypotheses are right. For all those reasons, I readily welcome being told I’m an idiot on this front by those with more expertise.
My hypotheses? Dick Cheney invaded Iraq as a middle term strategy to sustain US hegemony as the world transitions into peak oil. The strategy failed, miserably. On top of that failure, we’re faced with the crumbling of our old strategy in the wake of the Arab Spring. As a result, we’re pursuing (either deliberately or through lack of reflection) a strategy of making the Sunni pole–Saudi Arabia–even more powerful. And yet we’re doing this, bizarrely, at the same time we claim to be fighting a war against mostly Sunni terrorism. As such, the strategy seems as stupid as–and in many ways a repeat of–withdrawing troops from Afghanistan to fight in Iraq.
My thoughts on this have really solidified as I read two Bruce Riedel pieces–this recent column and one from last August. The recent one is so breathtakingly logically faulty as to merit mapping out Riedel’s argument–that Iran and Al Qaeda are likely to ally for an attack this summer–closely (note that Riedel’s argument is a response to Israeli spin in European papers about the Iranian threat).
So despite their animosity, al Qaeda, Iran, and Hizbullah can probably also find new places to quietly cooperate, if only passively.
How stupid was Moammar Qaddafi, who reportedly hired the same mercenary firm that tried to take out Equatorial Guinea’s dictator in 2004?
A total of 50 private soldiers, including 19 South Africans, are reported to have travelled to Libya on instructions to smuggle the former dictator from his birthplace of Sirte over the border to Niger.
Among them were said to be members of the team led by former SAS officer Simon Mann on the “Wonga coup” to unseat Equatorial Guinea’s dictator.
In addition to Simon Mann, after all, those plotters also had ties to Mark Thatcher, Maggie’s kid. And in addition to Sir Mark’s involvement with that coup attempt, Thatcher was involved in the BAE kick-back scheme with Saudi Arabia. And that scheme reportedly funded covert operations … presumably things like the Wonga coup. Led by the same Saudi family the head of which Qaddafi allegedly tried to assassinate.
Perhaps, after Qaddafi’s “secret” deal with Britain on the Lockerbie bomber, he thought he could trust the same mercenaries tied to a very British coup. Or perhaps he was just in a pinch and couldn’t get any more reliable mercenaries to help him escape Libya.
But it appears Qaddafi shouldn’t have trusted these particular mercs.
It has been alleged that one of the security firms who provided mercenaries for the mission may have acted as a “double agent”, helping Nato to pinpoint Gaddafi’s convoy for attack, and that the dictator’s escape was “meant to fail”.
A source in the private security sector said it was “highly likely” that one of those involved deliberately recruited mercenaries who were ill-equipped to handle the mission.
“These guys did not have the experience to be successful,” he said. “The formation of the convoy, the way they tried to leave Sirte, it’s clear they were meant to fail.
“Someone got paid to protect him and at the same time to deliver him.”
Which makes it all the more interesting that Hillary was hanging out in Libya they day before Qaddafi was assassinated. I have noted how convenient it is that Qaddafi didn’t survive to testify at the ICC about how Ibn Sheikh al-Libi was suicided so conveniently; the same is true of his Lockerbie deal. I guess if you own the mercs “protecting” someone, it becomes a lot easier to arrange such convenient assassinations?
I guess dictators today can’t find mercenaries like they used to.
This post from Cannonfire reminded me how convenient for our country it is that Moammar Qaddafi was executed rather than captured alive and tried: he will not be able to tell anyone, now that he’s dead, how Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, who under torture provided one of the casus belli for the Iraq war, came to be suicided in a Libyan prison just as Americans started focusing on torture in 2009.
That, plus the death of the Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz al Saud, made me think of another plot Qaddafi brings to his grave: that he had purportedly arranged to assassinate then Crown Prince now King Abdullah. The evidence to support that plot mostly came from Abdulrahman Alamoudi, a prominent American Muslim who was arrested in 2003 on charges he violated trade sanctions against Libya.
Tell me if this sounds familiar. A naturalized American citizen is arrested upon re-entry to the country and charged with a bunch of crimes. After a period of no bail, he confesses to participation in the assassination plot of a top Saudi.
Court documents said the assassination plot arose from a March 2003 conference at which Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi and Prince Abdullah had a heated exchange. Angered at how Gaddafi was treated, Libyan officials recruited Alamoudi.
Even after he learned that the target was Abdullah, Alamoudi shuttled money and messages between Libyan officials and the two Saudi dissidents in London, the documents said. Although Gaddafi is not named as a planner, sources familiar with the case have said he appears in the documents as “Libyan government official #5,” who met personally with Alamoudi.
Mind you, though the judge considered the assassination plot in Alamoudi’s sentence, he plead guilty not to murder-for-hire, but to prohibited financial transactions with Libya (the kind of thing JPMC just got its wrist slapped for), unlawful procurement of naturalization, and tax evasion.
Anyway, thinking about the similarities between that case and the Scary Iran Plot led me to consult Alamoudi’s docket (most of which is not available online). What happens to a guy convicted in connection with plotting with a nasty African dictator as we launch the war to finally kill that dictator?
Well, it turns out that at about the time it was clear we’d stick around to ensure Qaddafi died in this kinetic action, a sealed document got filed in Alamoudi’s case. And, on July 20, 2011, Alamoudi got about 30% knocked off his sentence, from 276 months to 197.
Mind you, no one was hiding the fact that Alamoudi would continue to cooperate with authorities while in prison–so it’s no surprise his sentence got lowered. Nor does Alamoudi’s sentence reduction necessarily have anything to do with Alamoudi’s testimony in the assassination plot.
But I do expect, a decade from now, that’s what’s going to happen to Manssor Arbabsiar’s docket.
Journalists and human rights groups found a collection of damning–but not the most damning–records of Libya’s cooperation with the CIA and MI6, all wrapped up in binders with labels marking CIA and UK collaboration.
Documents found at the abandoned office of Libya’s former spymaster appear to provide new details of the close relations the Central Intelligence Agency shared with the Libyan intelligence service – most notably suggesting that the Americans sent terrorism suspects at least eight times for questioning in Libya despite that country’s reputation for torture.
Although it has been known that Western intelligence services began cooperating with Libya after it abandoned its program to build unconventional weapons in 2004, the files left behind as Tripoli fell to rebels show that the cooperation was much more extensive than generally known with both the C.I.A. and its British equivalent, MI-6.
Some documents indicate that the British agency was even willing to trace phone numbers for the Libyans, and another appears to be a proposed speech written by the Americans for Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi about renouncing unconventional weapons.
The documents were discovered Friday by journalists and Human Rights Watch. There were at least three binders of English-language documents, one marked C.I.A. and the other two marked MI-6, among a larger stash of documents in Arabic. [my emphasis]
And yet few people seem to have thought how curious it is that such a collection came to become accessible all wrapped up with a pretty bow.
As I said, it appears these binders don’t include what would be the most damning record of CIA collaboration–which would be a record of how it was that Ibn Sheik al-Libi came to be suicided in April or May 2009, just as records of the US torture program were released. Nor does it include what would be the most damning record of MI6 collaboration, negotiations trading release of the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, in August 2009 for BP drilling rights in Libya. The records reportedly stop short in 2007 (in spite of a similar “discovery” just last week of a letter al-Megrahi wrote from Scottish prison in late 2007 or early 2008, declaring his innocence), before any of those events.
The documents cover 2002 to 2007, with many of them concentrated in late 2003 and 2004, when Moussa Koussa was head of the External Security Organization. (Mr. Koussa was most recently Libya’s foreign minister.)
Note, too, the way the NYT ties these files to Moussa Koussa, the Michigan State-educated former Libyan spook in chief. Perhaps the timing and the English language of these makes that tie clear, but it seems … convenient, in ways I’ll return to.
Well, perhaps not quite. When Mona Eltahawy explicitly described what many of us learned from Jane Mayer–Hosni Mubarak’s appointed Vice President, Omar Suleiman, has a long history of cooperating with us in accepting and torturing people rendered to Egypt–and when Wolf asks whether this went on in the Bush Administration (it dates back to the Clinton Administration), Townsend explains the best known example is that of Maher Arar. Wolf corrects her that that involved Syria.
Perhaps Townsend was thinking of that other best known rendition, when we sent Ibn Sheikh al-Libi to Egypt to be tortured so he would tell his torturers–presumably people working for Suleiman–what they wanted to hear: that there were ties between al Qaeda and Iraq.
You gotta wonder whether the US would take some comfort in having the guy we outsourced torture to running Egypt.