Bin Laden Found By Trolling The Weeds, Not By Torture

Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo have a nice and fascinating article out today telling the story of a single CIA career analyst who was the critical cog in collating the information that led to Osama bin Laden’s capture and death:

He examined and re-examined every aspect of bin Laden’s life. How did he live while hiding in Sudan? With whom did he surround himself while living in Kandahar, Afghanistan? What would a bin Laden hideout look like today?

The CIA had a list of potential leads, associates and family members who might have access to bin Laden.

“Just keep working that list bit by bit,” one senior intelligence official recalls John telling his team. “He’s there somewhere. We’ll get there.”

Goldman and Apuzzo have done good work here; it is a great story, please read it in its entirety. But I want to play off their work to take it the step further that they did not. This is not just a feel good story about what worked and went right to capture bin Laden, it is an instructive primer on what didn’t work, to wit: torture.

So, while we congratulate CIA analyst “John”, let us also remember that years of effort, centuries of founding principles and an eternity of American morality was lost to the Bush/Cheney torture brigade. Ever since Osama bin Laden’s take down, the torture apologists have come out of their caves bleating at full voice in a vain attempt to justify their war crimes and save their face. Even yesterday, as the nation celebrated its founding, one of the most craven torture toadies of all, Marc Theissen, was back at it, saying the country owed the torture freaks an apology.

But torture is not what caught Osama bin Laden, good solid human intelligence and analysis were what did the trick.

That ability to spot the importance of seemingly insignificant details, to weave disparate strands of information into a meaningful story, gave him a particular knack for hunting terrorists.

Yes. Around here, we call that digging and trolling in the weeds. It is what works; not torture.

Obama War Powers Treachery and The Founders’ Remedies

Signing-constitutionAs most know by now, Charlie Savage at the New York Times let loose a stunning blockbuster of an expose of the conduct of Barack Obama and his inner circle in relation to the Libyan war vis a vis the War Powers Resolution:

President Obama rejected the views of top lawyers at the Pentagon and the Justice Department when he decided that he had the legal authority to continue American military participation in the air war in Libya without Congressional authorization, according to officials familiar with internal administration deliberations.

Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon general counsel, and Caroline D. Krass, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, had told the White House that they believed that the United States military’s activities in the NATO-led air war amounted to “hostilities.” Under the War Powers Resolution, that would have required Mr. Obama to terminate or scale back the mission after May 20.

But Mr. Obama decided instead to adopt the legal analysis of several other senior members of his legal team — including the White House counsel, Robert Bauer, and the State Department legal adviser, Harold H. Koh — who argued that the United States military’s activities fell short of “hostilities.” Under that view, Mr. Obama needed no permission from Congress to continue the mission unchanged.

Let’s be crystal clear as to what happened here: The Attorney General, Head of the Office of Legal Counsel and the General Counsel for the Pentagon/DOD all listened to Obama’s plan to flat out ignore the War Powers Resolution (50 U.S.C. 1541-1548), and the Article I power it represents, and they unanimously said it was untenable and illegal in the face of the War Powers Resolution.

Mr. Obama knows the War Powers Resolution exists, does not challenge its viability or Constitutionality and, against the direct opinion and advice of the three most germane attorneys in the United States Government, has just blithely and unilaterally blown it off. There are nine fairly short provisions in the statutory delineation of the “War Power Resolution” and, despite the yammering from the Administration and dithering by the press, they are actually remarkably clear in their intent and letter.

A criminal can nuance, excuse and rationalize himself around pretty much every statutory criminal provision, but society as a whole has no problem looking at the statute and seeing that there is offending conduct. And so it is here; Obama has thrown up sophistry, excuse and self indulgent rationalization. But any honest review of the WPR yields the unmistakable conclusion Obama is in direct violation, and has been from the outset. Congress has been crystal clear that they have NOT authorized Read more

Investigating Juan Cole Rather than Ahmed Chalabi

James Risen reports that Glen Carle, a former CIA officer, says the Bush Administration was looking for dirt on Juan Cole in 2005. In one incident, Carle’s supervisor asked whether the CIA had anything on Cole.

Mr. Carle said that sometime that year, he was approached by his supervisor, David Low, about Professor Cole. Mr. Low and Mr. Carle have starkly different recollections of what happened. According to Mr. Carle, Mr. Low returned from a White House meeting one day and inquired who Juan Cole was, making clear that he wanted Mr. Carle to gather information on him. Mr. Carle recalled his boss saying, “The White House wants to get him.”

“ ‘What do you think we might know about him, or could find out that could discredit him?’ ” Mr. Low continued, according to Mr. Carle.

Mr. Carle said that he warned that it would be illegal to spy on Americans and refused to get involved, but that Mr. Low seemed to ignore him.

“But what might we know about him?” he said Mr. Low asked. “Does he drink? What are his views? Is he married?”

Then, several months later, a CIA analyst sought information about Cole again.

Several months after the initial incident, Mr. Carle said, a colleague on the National Intelligence Council asked him to look at an e-mail he had just received from a C.I.A. analyst. The analyst was seeking advice about an assignment from the executive assistant to the spy agency’s deputy director for intelligence, John A. Kringen, directing the analyst to collect information on Professor Cole.

Now, Risen connects these two incidents with successful right wing attempts to persuade Yale not to offer Cole a prestigious position.

Cole’s critics — in The New York Sun, National Review, The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, several of whom are now praising Yale for not hiring him — have maintained that they aren’t using political tests, but object to Cole’s career on a variety of grounds. They point to numerous quotes he has made (generally in his blog) that they say show a willingness to blame the United States and Israel inappropriately (Cole has said that some of the quotes are taken out of context and that others represent legitimate opinion). Several have also criticized his scholarship, saying that he is spending too much time on blogging and questioning his output of serious scholarship. (His supporters point to a long publication list.) Campus Watch, a pro-Israel group, maintains a long list of articles about Cole, most of which it endorses for their criticism of him.

But the timing also happens to coincide with Juan Cole’s correct predictions that Ahmed Chalabi would not win the 2005 Iraqi elections. We know from AJ Rossmiller that the intelligence community made great efforts to ignore Cole’s predictions.

Chalabi won just .5% of the vote. Iyad Allawi, in whom the Administration also invested their hopes, won just 8% of the vote. And the Shiite coalition dominated by SCIRI and the Sadrists got 41% of the votes. In his book, Still Broken, AJ describes that he saw this coming.

After Iraq’s winter elections, the results validated the predictions contained in the paper I’d written in the fall. It created something of a stir because the paper turned out to be remarkably accurate, far more so than the forecasts of other agencies and departments. Before the election occurred, a high-ranking official requested a follow-up evaluation of our assessments, and I wrote a memo that described our precision. The memo made its way up through the chain, and a few days later the office got a note from Stephen Cambone, the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, praising both the prediction and the self-evaluation.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the last half of AJ’s book describes how such accurate predictions are generally weeded out by higher-ranking analysts worried that their office’s work product might piss off the Administration.

[snip]

When AJ was asked how he got the 2005 election right, one of the things he pointed to, half-seriously, was the open source work of Juan Cole.

I began to write the explanation of our methodology, and I tried to resist the temptation to criticize other agencies while explaining how and why we did things differently. State, in particular, was very sensitive about their screwup, and I didn’t want to piss anybody off.

“Sir, can’t I just say that I copied and pasted Juan Cole?”

Now, I’m not suggesting that the White House was digging dirt on Juan Cole because he correctly predicted Ahmed Chalabi would get smoked in a democratic election.

But it’s probably worth noting what opinions Cole expressed that generated this attention in the first place.

 

The Quiet Death of Habeas Corpus

Pow Wow left a comment, in response to me and Candace Gorman, on Marcy’s Gitmo Lawyers Information Gulag post that warrants highlighting and further comment. For convenience, here it is in full:

This is what bmaz and hcgorman @ 12 are referencing:

Two Guantanamo detainees, Fahmi Al-Assani and Suleiman Al-Nahdi, have moved the D.C. Circuit to dismiss their habeas appeals (Al-Assani’s motion is here, Al-Nahdi’s is here). Both men lost their district court habeas cases in decisions by Judge Gladys Kessler; the Al Assani decision is here, the Al-Nahdi decision is here. Both men appealed, and today, both men have given up their appeals as lost causes.

Their lawyer, Richard Murphy, explained in an email,

Judge Kessler denied our clients’ habeas petitions and we appealed to the D.C. Circuit, but then stayed the appeals pending the outcome of several [other Guantanamo habeas] cases in which [Supreme Court] cert petitions had been filed. Once cert [review] was denied [by the Supreme Court] in all of the relevant cases coming out of the D.C. Circuit it became clear that the appeals were futile. Under the detention standard that has been developed by the D.C. Circuit (which the Supreme Court has refused to review), it is clear that the courts provide no hope for the men remaining at Guantanamo.

This development strikes me as a big deal–albeit a quiet one that won’t get a lot of press attention. […] – Benjamin Wittes, June 2, 2011

That grim assessment of the current posture of Guantanamo habeas petitions, which, for years, have been pending before federal judges serving in the Judicial Branch of the United States Government, was further illuminated and reinforced by this June 8, 2011 Benjamin Wittes post:

Habeas lawyer David Remes sent in the following comments on recent developments in D.C. Circuit case law. He emphasizes that he has been counsel in several of the cases discussed below and that the following represents his own opinion only:

I agree with my colleague Richard Murphy (here) that for Guantánamo detainees, seeking habeas relief has proven to be an exercise in futility. The D.C. Circuit appears to be dead-set against letting them prevail. It has not affirmed a grant in any habeas case, and it has remanded any denial that it did not affirm.

Moreover, the Supreme Court, having declared in Boumediene that detainees have a constitutional right to seek habeas relief, appears to have washed its hands of the matter. It denied review in every case brought to it by detainees this Term, including one, Kiyemba III, which eliminated the habeas remedy itself.

The D.C. Circuit has decided twelve habeas appeals on the merits. In four, the detainee prevailed in the district court; in eight, the government prevailed. The D.C. Circuit erased all four detainee wins. It reversed two outright (Adahi, Uthman) and remanded the other two (Salahi, Hatim). By contrast, the court Read more

Scott Bloch Headed To Prison

[UPDATE: Bloch was sentenced to one month prison, one year probation and 200 hours of community service. His attorney indicated they will appeal, which could be interesting since the plea appears to, on its face, disallow appeal. And the saga of Scott the Blochhead rambles on…..]

Since mid-February an important, but little noticed, criminal case has been playing out in DC District court in which former Bush/Cheney administration Special Counsel Scott Bloch is charged with criminal contempt of Congress pursuant to 2 USC 192. As I summarized in an earlier post:

As you will recall, former former Bush/Cheney Administration Special Counsel Scott Bloch destroyed evidence by wiping government computers clean, lied to Congress about it and conspired with the DOJ to minimize the conduct and slough it off with a sweetheart plea deal. Then, outrageously, when the court indicated it was inclined to impose the mandatory minimum month in jail, which was mandated by the statute Bloch pled guilty to, Bloch and the DOJ conspired to get the plea, which had already been accepted and entered by the court, withdrawn.

When Bloch and DOJ both worked together to get the plea withdrawn, and frustrate justice, the egregious nature of the attempt was documented here in a fully argued and supported post published on Tuesday March 1, 2011. Subsequent to that post, the court also found questions with the attempt to withdraw the plea and ordered Bloch to file a reply supporting the attempt.

At the previous date set for sentencing, on March 14, the court gave Bloch one last shot to brief his way out of the hole he dug for himself and ordered a tight briefing schedule therefore. Bloch filed his Motion for Reconsideration on March 14, The government filed their response, again colluding with Bloch, on March 17, and Bloch filed his reply on March 23.

Late yesterday afternoon, Judge Deborah Robinson ruled on Bloch’s latest attempt to get out of the mandatory incarceration sentence he pled guilty to, and entered her order denying his motion. The court fairly well blasted Bloch’s whining attempt to withdraw and, by extension, the continued Read more

Court Denies Scott Bloch & DOJ Collusive Attempt To Withdraw Plea

As you will recall, former former Bush/Cheney Administration Special Counsel Scott Bloch destroyed evidence by wiping government computers clean, lied to Congress about it and conspired with the DOJ to minimize the conduct and slough it off with a sweetheart plea deal. Then, outrageously, when the court indicated it was inclined to impose the mandatory minimum month in jail, which was mandated by the statute Bloch pled guilty to, Bloch and the DOJ conspired to get the plea, which had already been accepted and entered by the court, withdrawn.

When Bloch and DOJ both worked together to get the plea withdrawn, and frustrate justice, the egregious nature of the attempt was documented here in a fully argued and supported post published on Tuesday March 1, 2011. Subsequent to that post, the court also found questions with the attempt to withdraw the plea and ordered Bloch to file a reply supporting the attempt.

Seeing the specious nature of Bloch’s reply filed on March 3, 2011, the Emptywheel blog got involved and initiated a formal filing with the court. We combined much of the material from the previous blog post on March 1 with new argument directly responsive to Bloch’s Reply, and additional general argument, into a formal sentencing recommendation and filed it with the court. The document was lodged on March 4.

Late last night, after consideration of the various pleadings related to the attempt to withdraw Bloch’s plea, the court filed its decision on PACER. Scott Bloch’s motion to withdraw from his plea, despite the collusive help from the DOJ, is DENIED!

For all of the foregoing reasons, the court finds that Defendant, at the time he pled guilty to a violation of 2 U.S.C. § 192, was well aware that he could have been sentenced to a period of incarceration of up to one year. His assertion, through his affidavit, that he would not have pled guilty had he “been informed” that he would not receive probation is, simply put, not entitled to credence. This court–like the Circuit, when confronted with a comparable contradiction between the defendant’s answers under oath during the Rule 11 colloquy and the affidavit in support of his motion – finds that “[Defendant’s] argument – if not his affidavit – amounts to a claim that the defect in the taking of the plea consisted of his committing perjury, when, under oath, he acknowledged the truth of the factual recitals in the plea agreement and in the government’s proffer. Lying to a court is not a ‘fair and just reason,’ Fed.R.Crim.P. 11(d)(2)(B), for allowing a plea to be withdrawn.” (emphasis added)

The entire ruling by the court is 20 pages long and takes apart every argument Bloch makes limb by limb. As it should have been. Perhaps the best line of Judge Robinson’s decision, and a point we argued strongly, is:

Confidence in the fair and orderly administration of justice is undermined by the suggestion that the court should participate in a process by which a sentence is first determined by Defendant and the government, and then an offense expected to guarantee such sentence is alleged.

Boy, the court sure got that right. Not to mention that confidence in fair and honest government is undermined when the DOJ is willing to not prosecute and/or minimize clear crimes committed by other Executive Branch officers. They tried to soft walk Scott Bloch out of this, and it is still awfully small punishment considering Bloch’s crimes, but at least they did not get away with further obfuscation and frustration of justice. Now let’s get the Obama DOJ to get some more prosecutions for all the other egregious Executive Branch crimes of the previous administration going. It is about time.

Bloch’s sentencing is set for this afternoon at 2:30 pm at the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse.

Court Should Deny DOJ & Scott Bloch Collusion to Avoid Accountability

As you will recall, Scott Bloch is the senior governmental attorney who formerly served as head of the United States Office of Special Counsel:

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) is an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency. Our basic authorities come from four federal statutes: the Civil Service Reform Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Hatch Act, and the Uniformed Services Employment & Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).

In short, it is an unique, but quite important, entity in the federal government, and is entrusted with protecting the sanctity of whistleblowers, who are one of the last checks on an increasingly imperious federal government, and especially the Executive Branch thereof. Mr. Bloch refused to do his job appropriately under the Bush/Cheney Administration and, when members of his own staff, including attorneys, attempted to blow the whistle on Bloch, the man entrusted with protecting whistleblowers unconscionably retaliated against them and blatantly destroyed governmental property and statutorily protected electronic files evidencing his acts.

Once informed of the questionable, inappropriate and/or patently illegal acts by Bloch, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Oversight Committee instigated a formal Congressional investigation of Bloch. On March 4, 2008, in the course of formal interviews with Oversight Committee staff, Bloch withheld critical information and lied. (See Bloch’s signed Stipulation of Facts dated 4/27/2010). Bloch entered into a plea agreement with the government and has been awaiting sentencing by Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson of the District of Columbia District Court.

As Marcy Wheeler and I previously explained, the Obama Department of Justice is furiously colluding with the defendant they are supposed to be prosecuting, Scott Bloch, to ensure that he never does a day in jail for his crimes, and there appears to be no credible reason they are doing so:

The Department of Justice has literally teamed up with Scott Bloch-who previously plead guilty to blowing off Congress–to try to help him avoid any jail time, at any cost to credibility, for that crime. The extent of this collusion first became apparent in a ruling dated February 2, 2011 by Federal Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson, who is handling the matter.

Now, there’s more than a chance that what is going on here is DOJ scrambling to prevent Bloch from doing jail time because they–part of the Executive Branch–like it that people like Alberto Gonzales, Monica Goodling and John Yoo have managed to avoid almost all Congressional oversight. And, now with Darrell Issa cranking up the not-so-way back investigatory machine, they really do not want a precedent made that executive branch officials who lie to Congress have to – gasp – actually serve jail time.

Then, the willingness of the government prosecutors to fight to keep the criminal Bloch from serving one lousy second in jail goes from the absurd to the ridiculous. A mere four days after having filed the whiny Motion to Reconsider, and before it was substantively ruled on, the government, by and through the ever ethical DOJ, suddenly files a pleading encaptioned “Governments Motion To Withdraw Its Motion To Reconsider The Court’s February 2, 2011 Memorandum Opinion“. In this pleading, the government suddenly, and literally, admits their February 2 Motion to Reconsider was without merit.

The foregoing is the background that brings us to where we are today, with a DOJ unconscionably, and with at least questionable ethics, literally fighting tooth and nail to help Scott Bloch get out of his pleas deal because he might actually have to serve 30 days in jail for his crimes. What, as the remainder of Read more

Our DOJ Refuses to Send Officials to Jail – Scott Bloch Edition

This is getting ridiculous.

The Department of Justice has literally teamed up with Scott Bloch-who previously plead guilty to blowing off Congress–to try to help him avoid any jail time, at any cost to credibility, for that crime. The extent of this collusion first became apparent in a ruling dated February 2, 2011 by Federal Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson, who is handling the matter.

In a nice touch, DOJ cited the case of Elliott Abrams–a quintessential example of lack of accountability–for their argument that lying to Congress didn’t require jail time. And why not? He’s among the many criminals Obama now regularly takes advice from.

Now, there’s more than a chance that what is going on here is DOJ scrambling to prevent Bloch from doing jail time because they–part of the Executive Branch–like it that people like Alberto Gonzales, Monica Goodling and John Yoo have managed to avoid almost all Congressional oversight. And, now with Darrell Issa cranking up the not-so-way back investigatory machine, they really do not want a precedent made that executive branch officials who lie to Congress have to – gasp – actually serve jail time. In spite of the fact that is exactly what the law clearly specifies on its face. Again, from Judge Robinson:

In 1857, Congress enacted a statutory criminal contempt procedure, largely in response to a proceeding in the House of Representatives that year. CRS Report RL34114, Congress’s Contempt Power: A Sketch, by Morton Rosenberg and Todd B. Tatelman at 7. In the enactment, Congress provided for trial of the contemnor before a court, rather than a trial at the bar of the House or Senate. Id. “It is clear from the floor debates and the subsequent practice of both Houses that the legislation was intended as an alternative to the inherent contempt procedure, not as a substitute for it.” Id. (emphasis supplied). In a discussion of the legislative history of the statute, the Supreme Court observed that “[t]his statute was passed . . . as a direct result of an incident which caused the Congress to feel that it needed more severe sanctions to compel disclosures than were available in the historical procedure of summoning the . . . witness before the bar of either House of Congress . . .” Watkins v. United States, 354 U.S. 178, 207 n.45 (1957) (emphasis supplied). Thus, Congress’s intent was to make the penalty for violating the statute punitive. See Russell v. United States, 369 U.S. 749, 755 (1962) (“In enacting the criminal statute . . . Congress invoked the aid of the federal judicial system in protecting itself against contumacious conduct.”) (quoting Watkins, 354 U.S. at 207). With respect to sentencing, the statute, as enacted in 1857, provided that “on conviction,” a person “shall” pay a fine and “suffer imprisonment in the common jail not less than one month nor more than twelve months.” Act of January 24, 1857, ch. 19, 11 Stat. 155 (emphasis

supplied).

But avoiding this crystal clear statutory mandate would be utterly consistent with one of the first things Read more

Rove and the (Escape) Hatch Act

When Michael Mukasey announced in 2008 no one would be charged for politicizing DOJ, I had this to say.

Understand: Mukasey has turned into a terrible shill for the Administration. But it has been clear for over a year that the Administration would escape criminal charges for having committed massive violations of the Hatch Act. But that has more to do with the Hatch Act than with Michael Mukasey. Even a Democratic AG would have a hard time charging this stuff, given the stated penalties for civil Hatch Act violations.

The Hatch Act gives citizens no real recourse for the politicization of our government. And the loyal Bushies know this. After all, by all appearances, they’re still committing Hatch Act violations.

And when Karl Rove resigned in 2007, I noted that it would make the ongoing Office of Special Counsel investigation into Hatch Act violations meaningless. And for good measure, here’s where I predicted that investigation would last into the next decade.

Welcome to the next decade, when we finally get the report telling us what we knew back in 2007 when this investigation started, that Rove politicized the government.

Note that footnote 3 of the report says what these reports almost always say (the one exception was Lurita Doan), that since everyone who violated the Hatch Act has moved on now, they cannot be punished for doing so.

Because all of the officials who were involved in Hatch Act violations described in this report are no longer employed by the federal government, OSC cannot bring disciplinary actions against these employees.

As I said last decade, no one will be held accountable for the abuses described in the report. So forgive me for being underwhelmed by the release of the report that does no more than catalog what we already knew.

Read more

Obama/Bush DOJ Update to OLC Christmas Carol

Earlier I linked to and posted the oh so hilarious (if you appreciate the humor in the supposed creme de la creme of government attorneys laughing about breaking the law and violating citizens’ rights) Christmas carol drafted by the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) all the way back during the Carter Administration. It seems to be making a comeback through a post at Volokh Conspiracy.

Well, through what can only be described as a Christmas miracle, our very own Mary has “discovered” the new version, as updated by the Obama/Bush OLC:

You’d better watch out,
look up in the sky,
You’d better not doubt;
Better say your good bye.
Santa Claus is droning
Your home.

He’s paying out bounties,
For kids he pays five,
He’s razoring genitals
And burying alive.
Santa Claus is beating
the prone

He hears you in your cages,
Videotapes your screams and moans,
After sharing with Senate pages,
Then he’ll freeze you all alone

So–you mustn’t believe
In Justice tonight.
On Christmas Eve
She’s lost more than her sight
The OLC will help with hiding
Your bones.

As Mary noted, “Those jokers at OLC. At least they enjoy their work”. Indeed. With “wise men” like John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Steve Bradbury, what could go wrong?

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