Abu Zubaydah’s legal team just wrote the Convening Authority for the Military Commissions demanding that it charge Zubaydah.
This letter requests that the Convening Authority immediately commence proceedings against our client, Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn (abu Zubaydah), ISN # 10016. Failure to act would raise serious questions about the integrity and legitimacy of the Convening Authority and, indeed, of the whole process established to try or release Guantanamo detainees.
Nearly six years ago, President Bush announced that abu Zubaydah and thirteen other so-called high-value detainees were to be tried by a military commission:
So I’m announcing today that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, abu Zubaydah, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and 11 other terrorists in CIA custody have been transferred to the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. They are being held in the custody of the Department of Defense. As soon as Congress acts to authorize the military commissions I have proposed, the men our intelligence officials believe orchestrated the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans on September the 11th, 2001, can face justice. (Cheers, applause)….
With these prosecutions, we will send a clear message to those who kill Americans: No matter how long it takes, we will find you and we will bring you to justice. (Emphasis added)
It’s an interesting legal tactic. If the Convening Authority doesn’t charge AZ, it will surely present a Constitutional challenge on speedy trial grounds. But, as the letter makes clear, any charge would fall far short of the claims made about AZ over the last decade.
Furthermore, if the CA doesn’t respond here, then the letter’s predictions of a lost legitimacy may well bear out.
Abu Zubaydah has not been tried, has not been charged, and has not even had military commission counsel assigned to him. He has requested the appointment of military commission counsel repeatedly but has received no response. This overt failure to prosecute a supposed terrorist leader causes the world to wonder why. One possibility is that the claims, despite their number and decibel level, are simply untrue, so that the government cannot prove all (or any) of them. A second possibility is that the prosecution would be successful but only at the unacceptable cost of exposing the government to worldwide censure for the manner in which Zubaydah was treated and the evidence against him was obtained. The third possibility, worst of all, is both that the claims are not true and that his treatment is too shameful to be revealed to the world.
Curiously, the letter mentions the Bush Administration’s efforts to destroy Phillip Zelikow’s dissent on the OLC memos. It describes that as “spoilation of evidence. But it doesn’t describe the spoilation of the other big piece of evidence (and likely one of the main reasons the government can’t charge AZ, in addition to his mental stability): the torture tapes.
In any case, it’s a very interesting approach and one that, if successful, I’d expect more detainees (particularly Mohammed al-Qahtani) to try.
I’ve written recently about Obama’s refusal to appoint anyone to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which is supposed to ensure the government protects privacy while laying out a dragnet to catch terrorists, most recently when Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton issued their 10-year report card on the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations. And I wrote about Bush’s efforts to bypass the intelligence oversight that is supposed to be exercised by the Intelligence Oversight Board by simply eliminating the part of the Presidential Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board that did that oversight, the IOB.
But it seems Obama has ensured–as he has with PCLOB–that IOB can’t do its job. Or at least that’s the appearance from the government’s stone-walling on information about the board.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been trying to see whether Obama has fulfilled his promise to restore the IOB to functionality by FOIAing who is on it and what they’ve been doing (and whether they’ve been ignoring the National Security Letters the Army has been sending out).Thus far, the government has denied their FOIA.
The IOB is supposed to alert the president and attorney general when it spots behavior that is unlawful or contrary to executive order. However, in his nearly three years in office, President Obama has not yet announced any appointments to the IOB. EFF’s suit comes after the ODNI refused to respond to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for membership, vacancies, and other information about the IOB made earlier this year.
“The IOB has a critically important mission – civilian oversight of America’s intelligence activities. The board exists to make sure government agencies are not overstepping their authority and abusing citizens’ rights,” said EFF Open Government Legal Fellow Mark Rumold. “History has shown that intelligence agencies overseeing their own behavior is like the fox guarding the henhouse. If the IOB is ineffective, impaired, or short-staffed, that’s information Americans need to know.”
So now they’re suing to get that information.
But there’s something else weird about Obama’s stone-walling here. Here’s the list of people Obama has appointed to the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, the board that oversees the IOB.
You know, Lee Hamilton, the 9/11 Commission Chair who just weeks ago was nagging the Administration that, “there should be a board within the executive branch to oversee adherence to the [privacy] guidelines we recommend and the commitment the government makes to defend our civil liberties.” And Phillip Zelikow, who wasn’t involved in the anniversary nagging, but who was involved in the original recommendation? (FWIW, Chuck Hagel voted for PCLOB as part of the larger counterterrorism reform package of which it was a part.)
These men obviously think (or at least used to think) our intelligence community needs some oversight. I realize PCLOB isn’t the same thing as IOB (as originally conceived and even as statutorily defined PCLOB was supposed to be stronger in some ways than IOB, though it was targeted at privacy, not intelligence violations). So why not push for oversight designated to be a part of the board on which they serve?
Seven years ago, Hamilton and Zelikow signed off on the this language:
[W]hile protecting our homeland, Americans should be mindful of threats to vital personal and civil liberties. This balancing is no easy task, but we must constantly strive to keep it right.
This shift of power and authority to the government calls for an enhanced system of checks and balances to protect the precious liberties that are vital to our way of life.
Right now, even as Hamilton and Zelikow serve as Obama’s handpicked independent intelligence advisors, the checks and balances on our intelligence system are actually worse than when they signed off on those words. They may not be able to do anything about EFF’s FOIA to learn what has become of the IOB. But it’d be nice if they used their advisory position to implement checks and balances more generally on the intelligence community.
I’ve been meaning to return to this post for some time. But with the torture apologists teeing up for another attempt at self-justification and with Ali Soufan’s recent op-ed, now is as good a time as any.
As I suggested in that earlier post, in March 2003, the CIA subjected Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to brutal torture, including waterboarding him 183 times. Then, after that month of torture concluded, they did an assessment of what he had told him.
And the CIA itself, after torturing KSM for a month, concluded he had lied (this is from footnote 4, Chapter 7 of the 9/11 Report).
In an assessment of KSM’s reporting, the CIA concluded that protecting operatives in the United States appeared to be a "major part" of KSM’s resistance efforts. For example, in response to questions about U.S. zip codes found in his notebooks, KSM provided the less than satisfactory explanation that he was planning to use the zip code to open new email accounts. CIA report, Intelligence Community Terrorist Threat Assessment, "Khalid Shaykh Muhammed’s Threat Reporting–Precious Truths, Surrounded by a Bodyguard of Lies," April 3, 2003, pp 4-5.[my emphasis]
Compare that to what Cheney’s hagiographer’s source now claims:
"Almost all of the good information came from waterboarding and the other EITs," says a former senior U.S. intelligence official. "Once they broke, they broke for good. And then they talked forever."
Hayes’ article is (plausibly or not) entirely sourced to former and current CIA officials; presumably, they’ve seen this report. They know that as soon as CIA finished waterboarding KSM, they judged that he was lying particularly about anything that would expose US operations. Yet they are out still trying to claim information KSM gave them after that point–in July and September and the following years–was tied directly to the waterboarding they did before they concluded KSM was lying to them.
And while we’re on the subject of lying, let’s return to what KSM has said he lied about while being tortured during his 2007 Combatant Status Review Tribunal.
… I make up stories just location UBL. Where is he? I don’t know. Then he torture me. Then I said yes, he is in this area of this is al Qaida which I don’t him.
So in addition to the information about US operatives that CIA believed KSM was lying about while he was being tortured, KSM himself maintains he lied about where Osama bin Laden was.
If the CIA had destroyed its interrogation tapes during the pendency of the 9/11 Commission investigation, that almost surely would have constituted felony violations of 18 U.S.C. 1512(c)(1). So they retained the tapes during that investigation. However, as the New York Times reports tomorrow, the CIA very carefully avoided informing the 9/11 Commission of the existence of the interrogation tapes — which would have been extremely valuable information for the Commission to use. "A C.I.A. spokesman said that the agency had been prepared to give the Sept. 11 commission the interrogation videotapes" . . . but the Commission never said the magic words!: The Commission sought "documents," "reports" and "information" related to the interrogations from the CIA — but "staff members never specifically asked for interrogation videos."
Here’s the really amazing bit, however: "Because it was thought the commission could ask about the tapes at some point, they were not destroyed while the commission was active," said a CIA spokesperson.
Then, as soon as the Commission issued its report and closed up shop, the CIA quickly destroyed the evidence, precisely because there was no longer any proceeding pending (and arguably no foreseeable proceeding that would trigger 1512(c)(1) culpability, although that is far from certain). Continue reading