Cheney/Obama Justice: 3 Detainees + 1 Jailed Whistleblower = 19,000 Rich Tax Cheats

As a July 1, 2009 Wikileak cable released by Norway’s Aftenposten makes clear, the US and Switzerland included the acceptance of three Gitmo detainees and a settlement in a suit accusing UBS of harboring tax cheats–along with an effort to shut down a Swedish company’s business with Iran–in negotiations “resolving all issues between our countries.”

1. (S) Summary: Swiss Minister for Economics and Trade Doris Leuthard called CDA in to advise that the Swiss Federal Councilors had decided in a special session to shut down Swedish firm Colencos commercial activities in Iran. The Minister also reaffirmed the commitment of the Swiss government to accept several detainees from Guantanamo Bay for resettlement in Switzerland. Minister Leuthard made it clear that these two activities were linked to the achievement of a political settlement in the case of Swiss banking giant, UBS. The US court is scheduled to hear arguments in the civil case on July 13 and it is clear that the GOS hopes a settlement can be reached before the hearing date. End Summary.

2. (S) Minister Leuthard began the meeting by describing todays special session of the Federal Council which was focused on what steps the Swiss government could take to advance a political solution of the UBS case. The Council considered action on the Colenco case, long advocated by the USG and a major topic during the February meeting between Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Calmy Rey, was one proactive measure the Swiss government could take in this direction.


4. (S) Leuthard then turned the topic of discussion to Swiss willingness to accept several detainees from Guatanamo for resettlement and encouraged us to provide as much data as possible quickly so that the Swiss could move forward. CDA advised that more bio and medical data had been received today and was being delivered via a separate channel.

5. (S) At this point, Leuthard emphasized that these two actions were “elements showing that Switzerland is committed to resolving all issues between our countries.” To bring home the point, she reiterated that this resolve extended especially to finding a political solution to the UBS case. [my emphasis]

One of the recipients of the cable was Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bruce Swartz.

Mind you, the Swiss minister in question has denied there’s a “direct link.” So maybe not a direct quid pro quo–just Switzerland “indirectly” doing us two big favors in exchange for our DOJ limiting how many of the rich tax cheats we pursue in Switzerland. But the favors may go both ways: among those reportedly involved in the UBS scandal were American politicians.

It’s bad enough that we traded 3 detainees (two were some of the Uighurs not even the US government claims had anything to do with terrorism, so we should have been able to settle them in the US) for a deal that ended up shielding most of the tax cheats first targeted in the UBS probe.

But not long after the negotiations, we sentenced the whistleblower in the case, Bradley Birkenfeld, to 40 months in prison.I’m still wandering through the docket, but there’s a bunch of sealed documents in it starting the month before this Wikileak cable and continuing up to the point where the judge gave Birkenfeld more time in prison than prosecutors requested.

Birkenfeld’s imprisonment is considered one of the most egregious examples of the government prosecuting whistleblowers rather than the criminals they expose. Perhaps there’s more to Birkenfeld’s troubling imprisonment than it first appeared?

  1. Mary says:

    Obama&Holder have been flat out vicious towards whistleblowers – willing to destroy their lives and families just to re-emphasize that there is no place for someone who wants to do the right thing to turn; not when the criminals are lodged in the executive branch or in a corporate courtesan of the exec branch.

    On this story about the Swiss, though, I think it’s worth noting the identity of the detainees the Swiss took.

    In addition to the Uzbek detainee the Swiss took (one we apparently didn’t get around to handing over to be boiled alive), they also took the brothers Arkin Mahmud and Bahtiyar Mahnut. Their backstory was that Bahtiyar had wanted to escape China for a better life. He ended up at an Afghan camp with other Uighurs doing construction. With the US invasion, they fled to Pakistan and he was among detainees sold to the US by Pakistan.

    IIRC, he was the baby of the family or the baby boy at least. Apparently he talked to his family before fleeing to Pakistan and his mother was so worried about him that his older brother, Arkin Mahmud, was sent to bring him home. Searching for Bahtiyar in Afghanistan, Arkin was also taken by the US. Although the were both taken in 2001, they weren’t even allowed to see each other until up in 2003.

    Apparently Arkin had a very difficult time with being kidnapped and sold into abuse and disappeared from his family (again, IIRC, he was married and had children that he left behind to find his brother, but I may be misremembering that part). So despite being able to see Bahtiyar in 2003, his mental health took huge hits from his treatment and as a result he was not compliant enough for his guards, so – similar to the bipolar chef from London who also had significant mental health issues from being sold and disappeared into abuse – he was kept in isolation for much of his detainment at GITMO.

    So once Obamaco made its happytalk deal with Palu to take many of the Chinese Uighurs (and moot their appeal before the Supreme Court) they had a small problem. Bahtiyar was cleared for removal – because of the destruction of Arkin’s mental health at GITMO, Arkin was not. But Bahtiyar would not leave his brother in a black hole, completely bereft as his mental health dissipated. While some of the Chinese Uighurs fought being returned to China bc of concerns over torture, it’s very telling that Arkin did not:

    Arkin told Elizabeth Gibson, his habeas counsel, “I know I’ll die in here. In China, at least I would have a trial and sentence.”

    [On a happy note, Obama, over whom Arkin dispaired, has chastized China over its human rights record – everyone happy?]

    So while Obamaco promoted pictures of smiling Uighurs licking ice cream cones and getting golf course jobs in Palu, Arkin and Bahtiyar were in GITMO with a Obamian pronouncement that Arkin’s mental health was too mentally deteriorated to allow him to be released from GITMO.

    Imagine being that poor mother. First she is worried sick over her son, Bahtiyar. Then when she sends his older brother to look for him, they are both disappeared completely from her by the US and for all his family knows, they are dead. Then through the finagling of a lot of lawyers who just wouldn’t buy off (lawyers who, in large part, ended up supporting Obama in his election bid) some identities are released and maybe she finally finds out what has happened to her sons. And then, after so very long, at last they are going to be released. Except not her older son, the one she sent out. And what is she supposed to hope for – that her younger son will abandon his brother, but be freed? Or that they both rot in GITMO?

    So IMO, it’s worth knowing that this is who Obama cut his UBS deal over. He got the Swiss to agree to help him resolve what was nothing more than a PR problem to him (certainly not a personal tragedy – he’s actually convinced me that Bush IS the compassionate conservative next to him) and not only that, even though he had to finally turn loose of some men, he did get to have the always-fun times of destroying a whistleblowers life and sending him to jail for doing the right thing, while making sure all the UBS crew walked.

    He sent just the message he wanted to send and one that might have made even a Fredo blink. But not a HOlder. After all, Holder gets to spit out pr about his dutiful work in soup kitchens everytime he sells his soul.

    All of which is a very much too long lead up to explaining why the info on the bio and medical info that the Swiss wanted is so interesting. It would be nice if some Swiss journos were able to get hold of just what info the Swiss were given on that front.

    When you are telling the courts here that the formal record on someone is that they are a dangerous terrorist and that’s why you are holding them – – then what DO you put in the bio info that you hand over to the Swiss in order to talk them into taking them? Something different than you told the courts/commissions here? And if you have claimed over and over that you don’t torture, but you have someone with documented long term mental health damage incurred during your ‘treatment’ of them, which is pretty well spelled out in the legal definitions of torture – – – then what?

    On the one hand, you could come forward, have a sit down chat with the American people, explain the kinds of things that happen when you resort to bounties and disappearances and go from there – – or you can cut backroom deals to let mega corps that cater to the wealthies engage in massive tax frauds and walk, while you crucify the whistleblower who cam forward, all in exchange for the Swiss making your PR problem disappear for you, mooting the legal case while you’re at it (and especially until you can stack the court with a Kagan non-vote or vote for exec torture/disappearance powers)

    I’m guessing the Swiss were really and truly, very interested in getting that medical info. Not so much from the standpoint of wanting to know how to provide treatment, though.

  2. insider9 says:

    You are correct. There is much more to the story of why the Bush Department of Justice targeted the UBS whistleblower, Bradley Birkenfeld.

    In the summer of 2007, Birkenfeld’s voluntary revelations about UBS to the DOJ placed the presidential campaigns of both Rudy Guiliani and John McCain in great peril. They buried the information and attacked the whisteblower. Remember that Phil Gramm was, and still is, vice chair of UBS. He was then also McCain’s chief economics advisor and in line to be Treasury Secetary, had McCain won!

    Little known fact: The Bush DOJ gave immunity to the kingpin of the entire UBS operation, a Swiss citizen named Martin Liechti who they had in custody and dead to rights because Birkenfeld vontarily gave DOJ his name. Liechti pled the 5th before the Senate committee and the DOJ later let him go back to Switzerland, uncharged, never to return to the U.S.

    The lead Bush DOJ prosecutor (he’s still there), Kevin Downing, obstructed Birkenfeld from going to the Senate to testify. Downing shouted Birkenfeld down behind closed doors at the DOJ when Birkenfeld expressed his desire to keep his appointments with the U.S. Senate and SEC to testify. See 18 U.S.C. Section 1505. A formal complaint has been submitted to the DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility regarding Downing’s conduct.

  3. tjbs says:

    Let’s see obama can chastise China after hiding the Torture/ Murder/ Treason photos from the citizens , who have a right to know, understand and see with their own eyes, what the animals under obama’s command do to human beings for blood sport.

    He does have BALLS !

    • bobschacht says:

      Let’s see obama can chastise China after hiding the Torture/ Murder/ Treason photos from the citizens , who have a right to know, understand and see with their own eyes, what the animals under obama’s command do to human beings for blood sport.

      Ah, but there’s a difference! We don’t do it very often, but they do it all the time! See?!? We’re better! We’re just not evil as often as they are! W00t!

      Bob in AZ

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    But the favors may go both ways: among those reportedly involved in the UBS scandal were American politicians.

    Unsurprising. Congress contains mostly millionaires, some, like Issa, with a hundred million, or Feinstein, whose family controls considerably more than that. That much money is hard to put under the mattress; not even the most expensive houses, medically necessary procedures or frequent plastic surgery would exhaust it. Inevitably, it circles the globe looking for lucrative places to land.

    Putting money into Switzerland, or investing it through institutions there, is a time-honored way to make a lot of money with no questions asked. Former dictators do it all the time. For those less ethically-challenged or with a lower profile, putting even ten percent of one’s assets through there can generate a nice nest egg or sufficient FU money to start over elsewhere undetected.

  5. jdmckay0 says:

    BO needs to bring in Phil Gramm to brainstorm w/Immelt… I mean, if you’re going to kiss up to the biz community, why half-ass it?

    Hell, aren’t Fastow and Schilling available for service? Bring ’em on board I say, those guys know how to tidy up a balance sheet. They’ve paid their “debt” to society, right? From Fastow’s sentencing hearing:

    Judge Hoyt said he had to “examine the relationship between justice and mercy.” Although Mr. Fastow had “drunk the wine of greed,” the judge said, he had also been the “subject of great persecution,” including anti-Semitic slurs and personal threats.

    Where’s the compassion? I’m wiping tears for Andy just thinking about his hardships.

    Oh, while we’re at it, how about Gigot for press secretary?

    What I notice most, trying to maintain enough moving parts in big picture of things: the ground work established during Bush years, eg. to bankrupt the country’s average Joes while stashing a nice cache of cash for the donors… well, that progress continues unimpeded.

    As far back as I can recall, “conservative” business has cried for “access to capital”, the mothers milk of “creating wealth”. WS wanted to “manage” Soc. Security for as long as I subscribed to WSJ (25+ yrs).

    Bush tried to deliver. When that failed, plan B was dry up the fund.

    That, it seems, was too small a “vision”.

    With all the mis-informing headlines of Tea Partiers and incoming Congress’ fiscal sanity claims, the NET affect of what they’re actually doing is cutting a much wider swath. For those who’ve kept up w/new congress’ budget rules and Rep Paul Ryan’s “proposals”, all of it… ALL OF IT, is more tax breaks for their donor base (top +/- 1%), tax hike for middle class ($50-$75k p/yr), privatizing Soc Security, create bankruptcy “out” for states to get “out” from pension obligations, continued re-financing for Finance Sector (who’s more or less dedicated to “investing” in “emerging” economies: Brazil, China, India…)…

    Resources for middle class are drying up. Education, accurate gov. stats on just about anything, and recourse through biz packed Fed Court system…

    So, after WS made up fake AAA bonds that nearly bankrupted the world, what is the fix? After 401k’s lost avg. near 60% through this ripoff, after 3+ yrs now of -0- interest returns to public (while public finances Banking’s -0- interest carry trades), while these titans of finance have sucked just about every available $$ by back-dooring their “access to capital” nobody wanted them to have (eg: Bush’s failed SS privatization), while CountryWide and Co. were pounding their Congressional reps to get Fannie & Freddie to buy their bad loans so WS could blame the whole mess on F&F…

    Well, your house is now worth squat: they back-doored the value right out of it. Got to hand it to ’em (literally!!!), that’s quite a feat. And now, with any value from all those mortgage bonds going south while BushCo used cover or Iraq to export our economy, well… WS’s “access to capital” is US taxpayer, ’cause most of the rest of our “wealth” went poof in this “financial crisis.”

    So… think about it now, get real folks… we just can’t afford the “luxery” of Soc. Security anymore. I mean, this latest wave of finance wizards has told us so. Gon’a have to go the 401k route with that stuff, as Rep. Ryan has explained.

    And sorry ’bout no more piggy bank fund in your home… who could’ve seen it coming? That’s capitalism folks!!!

    So suck it up ya’ll and quit your “whining”. Things could be worse. You still have salmonella eggs & veggies to put on the table, the genetically engineered grains are making headway to no longer require Bee’s that they’re killing, and there’s plenty of bottled water for everyone so let’s stop whining about these drying up contaminated water supplies, ok?

    Be grateful… you are consumers. That is your lot in life, that is you’re economic duty, so just consume already, ok?

    Sheesh, this economics stuff ain’t’all that complicated if you stop not to think about it…

  6. onitgoes says:

    Thanks for the post and excellent and lengthy commentary. You guys’ve covered the bases. I’m getting depressed now. It’s Saturday (or Caturday, depending on your “orientation”). Think I’ll go for a bit of a walk in the sunshine to sort of cleanse my brain.

    Yeah, I know the Uzbeks can’t do that, so, for today, I guess I’ll genuflect and toady to the corporate hand that tosses a few crumbs in my general direction.

    What a world we live in… one final thought (have to say it): yeah, I had a good laugh/groan/cry when Obomba wagged his finger at Hu this week saying: naughty naughty boy! for all of your human rights violations!!

    UGH. I figured Obomba and Hu had that particular scene in the Kabuki show all worked out in advance. Behind Obama’s favorite closed door, no doubt the Great Pretender was grilling Hu on his favorite methods for human rights violations and how best to hide them from prying public eyes.

    What a load of crap that was. The crowing in the newspapers about how Barry Zero really gave ole Hu-ey-baby “what for” was beyond pathetically ridiculous. Show time!

  7. eCAHNomics says:

    On a serious note, thanks for this. I was wondering why Birkenfeld ended up in jail. I have the stomach for only a certain amount of this shit and the USB story is one I did not follow closely. So I do appreciate knowing about all the PTB toes he stepped on & why they did their worst to punish him.

    Always understood the chilling effect of silencing other leaker wannabes.

  8. Humanist says:

    It seems that egregious, outrageous suppression is commonplace in America today. Is every US citizen sufficiently intimidated by such blatant, vindictive attacks by a nation-state government that is coming to be seen as the biggest bully in the world?

    Brad Birkenfeld is an American banker who formerly worked for UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank. He is the first person ever to expose what has become a multi-billion dollar international tax fraud scandal over Swiss private banking. Despite his unprecedented, extensive and voluntary cooperation, and registering as an IRS whistleblower, Birkenfeld is the only U.S. citizen to be sentenced to jail as a result of the scandal.

    Although on at least one occasion Justice Department officials told Birkenfeld they were not looking to prosecute him,[11] they arrested him in 2008 and he promptly pleaded guilty to a single fraud conspiracy count. On August 21, 2009, he was sentenced to 40 months in jail (ratcheted up from the 30-month prison term prosecutors sought.

    The US establishment media did a good job of silencing this shockingly hypocritical, treacherous event.

  9. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Apropos of this post and the several on the demonstrations protesting the treatment of whistleblower Bradley Manning:

    We must expect far more demonstrations in the future and they must be seen as an integral part of political action in a democratic society. Without them, injustices would continue unchallenged and people would lose confidence in the democratic process by which such injustices are changed.

    From Protest is Vital to a Thriving Democracy, in the Independent.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      That’s the reason the First Amendment contains clauses protecting not just individual free speech (for humans, not legal fictions like corporations), but on freedom of assembly and the right to petition – present grievances to – those we elect to govern us all.

  10. mgloraine says:

    So the Holder DoJ is just and corrupt and politicized as the Gonzales DoJ. Why am I not surprised.

    Four More Years!! Four More Years!!

  11. mzchief says:

    OT– Speaking of deceptive dealings and rat mazes, with the way corporations and investors have been running to China, I am beginning to wonder if China hasn’t told all the FIRE insiders that they want to be their preferred biggest, “hottest” off-shore bank and tax shelter on the planet?

    China Secretly Buying US Treasuries Via UK Accounts? Trade Deficit Math; “Hot Money” Math,’ (Jan 21. 2011).

    Chinese bank ICBC signs deal to enter US market” (Jan. 22, 2011).

    How many of the world’s cities are faced with the fallout of the CDS/CDOs right now and who are they?

    JPMorgan, UBS Seek [and Bank pf America] to Bring Florence to the Thames in Lawsuits Over Swaps,” (Jan. 20, 2011)

    Just in case folks didn’t see these …

    Irish Government Collapses, Six Cabinet Members Resign, Election March 11; How To Negotiate Haircuts,” (Jan. 20, 2011)

    Embattled Irish PM steps down as party leader,” (Jan. 22, 2011).