Eli Lake Defends the “Rectal Feeding” Consensus in DC

Democrats and Republicans do not agree that waterboarding to capture terrorists was a crime, but many do agree it was a blunder.

That’s the central wisdom offered by Eli Lake, in a piece arguing against a Human Rights Watch report calling on renewed accountability for torture based on the evidence presented in the Senate Torture Report.

It’s a bit of a muddle. Obviously, Lake’s reference to waterboarding invokes the understanding of torture prior to the SSCI Report, which revealed far more than waterboarding, including anal rape masquerading as rectal feeding. If there’s a consensus he’s defending, it’s a consensus about waterboarding and “rectal feeding.”

By the end of his piece, he argues both that his claimed consensus is breaking down, and that it still holds — though here, again, he’s focusing on waterboarding, not the anal rape that’s also at issue.

At the end of the Obama administration, that bipartisan consensus is beginning to erode. In 2008, both the Democratic (Obama) and Republican (Senator John McCain) candidates opposed torture and favored closing Guantanamo. In 2015 Donald Trump has come out enthusiastically for waterboarding, pledging to authorize its use again if elected president. Carly Fiorina has defended waterboarding, saying it yielded valuable intelligence, and Jeb Bush has said he is open to repealing the ban on torture imposed by Obama.

Nonetheless other Republicans have held a firmer line. Both Ted Cruz and Rand Paul voted for the anti-torture amendment this summer. Many progressives hope this bipartisan opposition to torture can hold together after Obama leaves office. But this consensus will break apart if a foreign court prosecutes George W. Bush for a crime Barack Obama has long considered a blunder.

Key to understanding Lake’s call to hold off on investigating the torturers, though, is that “anti-torture amendment” that Cruz and Paul support but Carly and Trump might not. Here’s how HRW describes the amendment — which is a call to adhere to the Army Field Manual — in its report.

On June 16, 2015, the US Senate passed an amendment proposed by senators John McCain and Dianne Feinstein to a defense spending bill (the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016) that if it becomes law, could codify much of what is in Obama’s executive order 13491.[549] The amendment passed in the Senate by a vote of 78-21.[550] The entire bill was then vetoed by Obama over other issues, but a similar provision remained in the compromised version bill which, as of this writing, was expected to be signed into law by the President.[551] It provides that any individual detained by the US in an armed conflict can only be interrogated in ways outlined by the US Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogations. It also requires review and updating of the manual within three years to ensure that it reflects current best practice and complies with all US legal obligations and requires that the International Committee of the Red Cross get “notification of, and prompt” access to, all prisoners held by the US in any armed conflict.[552] It is already clear under US law that torture and other ill-treatment is illegal but this requirement would help to more specifically restrain the physical action certain US interrogators could take.[553] However, it is also impossible to know for sure how future administrations will interpret its obligations under the provisions. Additionally, an exemption for the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and other federal “law enforcement entities” was added to the compromised version of the bill.

That is, the amendment actually defers the review of techniques in the AFM to the next Administration, potentially a Cruz or Paul one, and doesn’t apply to the FBI.

As I and–especially–Jeff Kaye have pointed out, however, so long as the AFM has Appendix M in it, it can’t be considered a reliable guard against torture. Here’s part of what Kaye had to say about the watered down form in which the amendment was passed.

In what Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein called a “minor” change to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a mandated review of the Army Field Manual (AFM) on interrogation was moved from one year to three years from now.

According to a “Q&A” at Human Rights First last June, the mandated review of the AFM was part of the McCain-Feinstein amendment to the NDAA, and was meant “to ensure that its interrogation approaches are lawful, humane, and based on the most up-to-date science.”

The fact there was any “review” at all was really a response to criticism from the United Nation’s Committee Against Torture, which demanded a review of the AFM’s Appendix M, which has been long criticized as allowing abusive interrogation techniques, including isolation, sleep deprivation, and sensory deprivation.

[snip]

While it is a good thing that waterboarding and other SERE-derived forms of torture are not to be allowed anymore — and they were part of an experimental program in any case — long-standing forms of torture are now protected by law because they are part of the Army Field Manual itself.

[snip]

When the pre-veto version of the NDAA was passed — the version that made the Army Field Manual on interrogation literally the law of the land — all the liberals and human rights groups stood up and applauded. None of them mentioned that only months before the UN had criticized the document for use of abusive techniques, and in particular the use of isolation, and sleep and sensory deprivation noted above. Not one.

So what we have now — what Lake would like to uphold — is a deferral of the issue to a potential Republican Administration. That’s not actually a consensus preventing torture at all .

Along the way to Lake’s conclusion showing any consensus against torture isn’t really a consensus against torture, he does cite to some people — Jack Goldsmith (prior to the report, though I suspect he’d still say the same, even though I’m not sure Americans would be as supportive of “rectal feeding” as of a whitewashed description of waterboarding), Glenn Carle, Raha Wala — who oppose reopening the torture question inside the United States. Yet along the way Lake keeps dodging DOJ’s approach to it.

Part of the problem for Human Rights Watch is that the Justice Department has already investigated cases where CIA officers went beyond the legal guidelines, and ended this probe in 2012 without pursuing prosecutions. Pitter pointed out that the federal prosecutor in this case, John Durham, has acknowledged that there were limitations on the evidence available to his team. Nonetheless, the Justice Department has not taken up the issue again.

DOJ has not taken up the issue again because it has refused to open the Torture Report. DOJ can’t very well consider the additional evidence (on top of talking to victims, which HRW did for its report) in the report so long as it doesn’t open it.

Which actually supports HRW’s point: there’s a conspiracy to cover up this torture, and given that it won’t be investigated here, other countries have an obligation to do so.

I actually think Lake misses a way to make his muddled argument much stronger. For one, I think there might be more consensus, blindly defending the US, if a foreign court started prosecuting the US for torture. If HRW gets its way — and foreign governments investigate torture — you’ll see a lot more agreement that the US shouldn’t have to submit to the review of other countries.

But I actually think the fact the anti-prosecution consensus is now defending anal rape and not just waterboarding is key. If we discussed the anal rape as such — as HRW does — it becomes a lot harder to defend (though there is admittedly far too much public tolerance of rape in criminal prisons in this country, to say nothing of Gitmo, to believe more candid discussion that this was really always about rape would sway the public).

The CIA also used “rectal rehydration” or “rectal feeding” which, as described in the Senate Summary, would amount to sexual assault, on at least five different detainees. The practice, not known to have been authorized by the OLC, involved inserting pureed food or liquid nutrients into the detainee’s rectum through a tube, presumably without his consent.[343]The CIA claims this was a medically necessary procedure and not an “enhanced interrogation technique.”[344] The Senate Summary, however, states the procedure was done “without evidence of medical necessity.”[345] Medical experts report that use of this type of procedure without evidence of medical necessity is “a form of sexual assault masquerading as medical treatment.”[346] At least three other detainees were threatened with “rectal rehydrations.” Allegations of excessive force used on two detainees during rectal exams to do not appear to have been properly investigated.[347] One of those two detainees, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, was later diagnosed with chronic hemorrhoids, an anal fissure, and symptomaticrectal prolapse.[348] Some CIA detainees have also reported having suppositories forced into their anus,[349] and other detainees have reported CIA operatives sticking fingers in their anus.[350]

But once you defend anal rape in the terms CIA and its supporters do — that obviously bogus claim that it served as feeding or rehydration — you quickly get to an ongoing practice that is often contraindicated by medical necessity but used for coercion: forced feeding at Gitmo. Excruciating nasal feeding, rather than excruciating rectal feeding.

Here’s what documents submitted in Abu Wa’el Dhiab’s bid lat year to halt his own forced-feeding revealed.

[T]hese documents reveal[] that back on May 7, one of the government’s primary rebuttals to claims about the conditions under which Dhiab was force fed last year was not to refute those claims, but rather to claim he had no standing to complain because he was not — at that point — being force fed.  Only 6 days later Gitmo cleared Dhiab to be force fed.

Underlying this discussion is Dhiab’s claim that the government has made the standards for force feeding arbitrary so as to be able to subject those detainees leading force feeding campaigns to painful treatment to get them to stop.

To substantiate that argument, the memorandum unsealed on Friday lays out the changes made to Gitmo’s force feeding protocol in November and December. Those changes include:

  • Deletion of limits on the speed at which detainees could be force fed
  • Elimination of guidelines on responding to complaints about speed of force feeding
  • Change of weight monitoring from daily to weekly
  • Deletion of chair restraint guidelines (DOD made a special SOP to cover restraint chair they have thus far refused to turn over)
  • Expansion of scenarios in which prisoners can be force fed, including those at 85% of ideal body weight (IBW)
  • Deletion of provisions against on-off force feeding
  • Discontinuation of use of Reglan (this has to do with potentially permanent side effects from the drug)
  • Replacement of phrase “hunger strike” with phrase “medical management of detainees with weight loss”

In response, the government argued (at a time Dhiab was not eating but before they put him on the force feeding list) that he didn’t have standing because he had not been force fed for 2 months.

That is, Dhiab argued compellingly that force-feeding as it sometimes occurs at Gitmo is about coercion through pain, not about medical necessity.

Particularly during periods of broad hunger striking in Gitmo, it hasn’t been (primarily) about feeding prisoners who don’t want to eat. It has been about breaking resistance.

Along with Appendix M, the force-feeding practices at Gitmo are another thing the UN objected to last year.

And while Dhiab has been released, the 75-pound Tariq Ba Odah remains on hunger strike, though the Obama Administration still claims the authority to detain him (Odah has been cleared for release since 2010) and force-feed him, even though years of the process have created severe medical problems with doing so.

On this issue — the use of torturous techniques to coerce submission — I absolutely agree with Lake there is consensus. While some — including Dianne Feinstein and Gladys Kessler (who has seen videos of the process) oppose it — we’re not seeing any legislation to stop the practice and the Executive continues to insist it has absolute discretion in treatment of detainees at Gitmo so long as it is willing to claim it’s doing so for their own good, however dubious those claims may appear. That’s true, in part, because Democrats don’t want to discomfit their president.

And so, in the end, I agree with Lake that there is a consensus in DC. I’d even argue it’s nowhere near as fragile as he suggests by the end of his piece.

But I’d also argue the consensus that it is okay to nasally or rectally “feed” human beings — in some cases, for years — so long as you can excuse the obviously coerced submission involved with a claim of medical necessity is precisely why others should intervene. Lake may be right that there’s a consensus saying “rectal feeding” shouldn’t be prosecuted, but that doesn’t mean that consensus is defensible.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Comey Sending Out His Allies as Ferguson Effect Truthers

When Chuck Rosenberg, the Acting EPA Chief, echoed Jim Comey’s suggestion that increased surveillance of cops had led to a chilling effect leading them to stop doing their jobs …

Chuck Rosenberg, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, said Wednesday that he agrees with FBI Director James Comey that police officers are reluctant to aggressively enforce laws in the post-Ferguson era of capturing police activity on smartphones and YouTube.

“I think there’s something to it,” Rosenberg said during a press briefing on drug statistics at DEA headquarters in Arlington. “I think he’s spot on. I’ve heard the same thing.”

… I reminded that Rosenberg is also Comey’s former Chief of Staff, from when Comey was Deputy Attorney General in the Bush Administration.

Which is why I find it interesting that the White House has suggested President Obama raised the issue with Comey in a meeting this week.

Asked whether Mr. Obama would call in the two men to discuss the issue privately, Mr. Earnest noted that Mr. Comey met with the president last week, and he strongly hinted that the president chided his F.B.I. director on the subject.

“The president is certainly counting on Director Comey to play a role in the ongoing debate about criminal justice reform,” Mr. Earnest said, suggesting that Mr. Obama expected Mr. Comey to uphold the president’s view on the matter.

While he was Comey’s CoS, remember, Comey made sure he was in the loop on torture discussions he otherwise wouldn’t be, as Comey made an effort to limit some of what got approved in the May 2005 torture memos. That was partly to make sure the torturers didn’t use his absence to push through the memo, but also partly (it seems clear now) to lay out his own record of events.

Given the timing (and the distinct possibility Rosenberg endorsed Comey’s Ferguson Effect views after Comey got chewed out by the President), this feels like a concerted bureaucratic stand. Of course, these two allies’ role atop aggressive law enforcement agencies, Comey just 2 years into a 10-year term, stubbornly repeating police claims, is a pretty powerful bureaucratic stand for cops who want to avoid oversight.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Throwing Umm Sayyaf to the Kurds

Today Ali Watkins had a long report on the problems with the High Value Interrogation Group, which Obama instituted in 2009 to try to standardize on scientific alternatives to torture. Among its problems: it has no institutional structure, agencies resist having FBI in charge and therefore withhold their best interrogators, and it’s not being checked for results.

But six years on, the Obama administration’s elite interrogation force is on shaky ground. U.S. officials and outside critics question the effectiveness of its interrogators, whether they’re following their own training, and whether they can continue to rely on psychological research to help break suspects. Congress and the White House, which once saw the group as a key to reinventing the nation’s counterterrorism strategy, aren’t paying attention. And those struggles illuminate a broader reality: Obama’s limited reforms to how American detains, interrogates and prosecutes suspected terrorists are ad-hoc and fragile

Given what I’ve seen of some of the interrogations conducted by HIG, I also suspect there are differing takes on what constitutes a “successful” interrogation.

Watkins points to the interrogation of Umm Sayyaf, the wife of a top ISIS commander tied to the kidnapping and rape of Kayla Mueller, as an example of how the conflicting agency equities play out.

Certain intelligence shops would prefer to keep their top interrogators to themselves, these sources argue, which means the HIG gets whoever’s left. U.S. intelligence agencies sometimes interrogate the same detainees the HIG questions — and claim better results. Military officials have told reporters that Umm Sayyaf, one of the people the HIG interrogated, provided invaluable information on ISIS before being turned overto Iraqi Kurdish authorities. But “the HIG hardly got anything out of her,” a second U.S. official told HuffPost. “It was all [non-HIG Defense Department interrogators].”

Also today, Daily Beast has an article on the fate of Umm Sayyaf. It emphasizes that the Iraqi woman couldn’t be turned over to American authorities because of Iraq’s justice system.

Umm Sayyaf, who is an Iraqi citizen, was captured by U.S. forces in Syria. She was interrogated in Iraq by an American unit that operates outside the traditional criminal justice system. But the decision on where to try her was based largely in deference to Iraqi law. And she will now be turned over not to the government of Iraq in Baghdad, but Iraq’s Kurdish regional government in Erbil, which is expected to “throw the book” at her, and perhaps do much more than that.

Iraq’s own legal system made extraditing Umm Sayyaf difficult if not impossible, said one senior administration official.

“We discussed the idea of her surrender and extradition to the U.S. with senior-level [government of Iraq] officials, but ultimately that option was not available as Iraq has a constitutional prohibition on surrendering Iraqi citizens to foreign authorities,” the official said.

But they also note that not enough of the evidence from the reportedly more effective interrogation of Umm Sayyaf would be admissible in a US court.

What’s more, even if Umm Sayyaf, whose real name is Nasrin As’ad Ibrahim, were brought back to an American courtroom, officials worried that they didn’t have enough evidence to build a case against her, at least not one that would persuade 12 jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that Umm Sayyaf was responsible for Mueller’s abduction and death, Defense Department officials told The Daily Beast.

Umm Sayyaf was interrogated by a special U.S. team outside the traditional legal protections afforded to people held inside the United States. While much of the information her questioners obtained was exceptionally valuable for intelligence purposes, and, Defense officials said, pointed to Mueller having been raped by the top ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the information might not be admissible as evidence in a U.S. criminal trial.

This was a key point of HIG: to be able to conduct interrogations that would not taint a case for a US criminal court. I’m not convinced all the evidence they submitted in trials should have been, but they’ve succeeded in working within the US justice system.

The implication is the HIG is in trouble because no one wants to do that.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Along with Outdated Toothpaste and Caitlin Jenner Covers, Manning in Trouble for Reading Torture Report

As you’ve likely heard the authorities at Leavenworth have put Chelsea Manning in indefinite solitary confinement for — among other things — having an expired tube of toothpaste (and also sweeping some crumbs onto the floor).

She just posted the list of materials the authorities confiscated from her. They include the Caitlyn Jenner Vanity Fair issue and what I assume is the Cosmopolitan issue on Jenner.

But in addition, the government also confiscated Manning’s copy of the SSCI torture report.

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 1.50.50 PM

Because it is the American way to subject someone to torturous solitary confinement because she tried to read about the torture done to others before she was subjected to the same kind of forced nudity described in the report?

 

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Was the White House Involved in the Decision to Unapologize to Dianne Feinstein?

A must-read Jason Leopold piece on the fight between the Senate Intelligence Committee and CIA over the torture report reveals that John Brennan apologized about hacking the SSCI website — before he unapologized .

John Brennan was about to say he was sorry.

On July 28, 2014, the CIA director wrote a letter to senators Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss — the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee (SSCI) and the panel’s ranking Republican, respectively. In it, he admitted that the CIA’s penetration of the computer network used by committee staffers reviewing the agency’s torture program — a breach for which Feinstein and Chambliss had long demanded accountability — was improper and violated agreements the Intelligence Committee had made with the CIA.

[snip]

“I recently received a briefing on the [OIG’s] findings, and want to inform you that the investigation found support for your concern that CIA staff had improperly accessed the [Intelligence Committee] shared drive on the RDINet [an acronym for rendition, detention, and interrogation] when conducting a limited search for CIA privileged documents,” Brennan wrote. “In particular, the [OIG] judged that Agency officers’ access to the… shared drive was inconsistent with the common understanding reached in 2009 between the Committee and the Agency regarding access to RDINet. Consequently, I apologize for the actions of CIA officers…. I am committed to correcting the shortcomings that this report has revealed.”

But Brennan didn’t sign or send the apology letter.

Instead, four days later, he sent Feinstein and Chambliss a different letter — one without an apology or admission that the search of their computer network was improper.

Leopold includes the letter as an image in his story (and also at page 299 in the SCRIBD embed). The letter he did send appears at page 11 of the embed.

In addition to the dramatically different content, the later letter does not include — as the earlier one did — notice that carbon copies of the letter were sent to DNI James Clapper, White House Counsel Neil Eggleston, and CIA’s Inspector General David Buckley.

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 1.55.19 PM

You can see the earlier letter (see page 298) was sent by some emoticon-wielding (presumed) Assistant who explained — at 4:32 that same day — “Sending anyway, Just in case you need it soft copy for any reason. :)”

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 2.29.35 PM

 

It’s as if by that point the CIA had already decided to pursue a different option (which, if we can believe the CIA’s currently operative story to Leopold, was to apologize to Senator Feinstein in person rather than memorialize such an apology in writing).

But I wonder … given that they were going to include Eggleston on the original but saw no need to include him (and Clapper and Buckley) on the finalized letter … was the White House in the loop in the decision to unapologize?

As Leopold reminds in his story, Brennan looped Chief of Staff Denis McDonough in before the January searches of SSCI’s network, implicating (though insulated by two degrees of separation, if we believe the CIA’s story) the White House in the decision to spy on SSCI. Was the White House included in the decision on whether to apologize to Dianne Feinstein?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

John Brennan Admits to Lying about Working with Human Rights Abusers

Back in May, I noted that in addition to an unclassified request that John Brennan correct his lies about CIA hacking the Senate Intelligence Committee torture investigators, Ron Wyden, Martin Heinrich, and Mazie Hirono also asked Brennan to correct a lie he told in March.

Additionally, we are attaching a separate classified letter regarding inaccurate public statements that you made on another topic in March 2015. We ask that you correct the public record regarding these statements immediately.

I suggested that Brennan probably lied in response to a request about working with human rights violators at a public speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.

QUESTION: I’m going to try to stand up. Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch. Two days ago, ABC News ran some video and images of psychopathic murderers, thugs in the Iraqi security forces, carrying out beheadings, executions of children, executions of civilians. Human Rights Watch has documented Iraqi militias carrying out ISIS-like atrocities, executions of hundreds of captives and so forth.

And some of the allies in the anti-ISIS coalition are themselves carrying out ISIS-like atrocities, like beheadings in Saudi Arabia, violent attacks on journalists in Saudi Arabia—how do you think Iraqi Sunni civilians should distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys in this circumstance?

BRENNAN: It’s tough sorting out good guys and bad guys in a lot of these areas, it is. And human rights abuses, whether they take place on the part of ISIL or of militias or individuals who are working as part of formal security services, needs to be exposed, needs to be stopped.

And in an area like Iraq and Syria, there has been some horrific, horrific human rights abuses. And this is something that I think we need to be able to address. And when we see it, we do bring it to the attention of authorities. And we will not work with entities that are engaged in such activities.

(I even noted in real time he was refusing to respond to the part of the question about the Saudis.)

Brennan has now responded (Ali Watkins first reported on the letter on Friday). As part of his response, he admits that, contrary to his claim at CFR that “we will not work with entities that are engaged” in human rights abuses, in fact the CIA does — “because of critical intelligence those services provide.”

I understand your concerns about my brief, extemporaneous remarks. While we neither condone nor participate in activities that violate human rights standards, we do maintain corporative liaison relationships with a variety of intelligence and security services around the world, some of whose constituent entities have engaged in human rights abuses. We strive to identify and, where possible, avoid working with individuals whom we believe to be responsible for such abuses. In some cases, we have decided to continue those relationships, despite unacceptable behavior, because of the critical intelligence those services provide, including information that allows us to disrupt terrorist plotting against the United States.

Mind you, his letter implies that his response pertains only to “Iraqi security forces,” and not — as was part of the original question, but not one Brennan even acknowledged in his response — our allies the head-chopping Saudis.

I would suggest, however, that the Saudis are far better described as a service that provides us critical intelligence, “including information that allows us to disrupt terrorist plotting against the US.” I’d frankly be shocked if Iraqi security forces even have that capability, not to mention that the terrorists in Iraq are pretty focused on setting up their caliphate in Iraq right now, not attacking the US.

So kudos to John Brennan for owning up to the general lie, that “we will not work with entities that are engaged in” human rights abuses, even if in owning up to it, the old Riyadh Station Chief is still protecting his buddies the Sauds.

Baby steps, I guess.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Did the Former Deputy Director of CTC Misinform Congress about Torture Report Costs?

Jason Leopold had an important update on the torture report that — because he’s doing rolling updates — hasn’t gotten sufficient attention.

Leopold obtained the contracting documents of the company, Centra, that drove up costs for the report by reviewing every document turned over to the Senate Intelligence Committee. But after he posted those documents, the CIA’s story about how much Centra got paid for those specific tasks changed. After 7 months of public claims that the then-unnamed contractor had gotten paid $40 million, the CIA all of a sudden changed its mind.

CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani disputed VICE News’ “interpretation” of the Centra contract.

“A significant portion of the contract cost pertained to services completely distinct from, and wholly unrelated to, the Senate Intelligence Committee review,” Trapani said, backtracking on the agency’s statement last year that the $40 million the agency spent was due entirely to “the committee’s demands of CIA in this investigation.” “In terms of the services performed in support of the committee review, CIA dedicated substantial resources to provide the committee unprecedented access to millions of pages of documents as expeditiously as possible, consistent with the security requirements for such highly classified, sensitive documents.”

That’s troubling because it runs counter to what everyone on SSCI believed, including then Chair Dianne Feinstein, who has been rebutting claims that the committee itself spent the money ever since it became public last year.

The overwhelming majority of the $40 million cost was incurred by the CIA and was caused by the CIA’s own unprecedented demands to keep documents away from the committee. Rather than provide documents for the committee to review in its own secure Senate office—as is standard practice—the CIA insisted on establishing a separate leased facility and a “stand-alone” computer network for committee use.

Which raises the question of where the claim that the entirety of that $40 million was spent on the torture report came from — which Leopold notes in an update came from this footnote in the Republican views on the report (and by association, a 2012 letter from CIA’s then number 3, Sue Bromley).

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Not only was Bromley CIA’s number 3 when she wrote the letter, but in the years in question, she cycled through as Deputy Director of the Counterterrorism Center.

V. Sue Bromley, an Agency veteran of 28 years, will become our new Associate Deputy Director. Sue has served as our Chief Financial Officer since June 2009. As a former OMB director, I can attest to her exceptional skill and diligence in managing one of the most complex budgets in government.

Before that, Sue helped lead our analytic effort for two years as Deputy Director for Intelligence. She has made vital contributions to the fight against al-Qa’ida and its violent allies, both as Deputy Director of the Counterterrorism Center and as Chief of the Operations and Management Staff in the National Clandestine Service, where she helped plan, justify, and distribute a large increase in funding for counterterrorism operations after the September 11th attacks.

Now, it’s possible that the Republicans just took her letter out of context and no one on the Democratic side checked their math. There are a lot of references in the minority report (heh) that don’t make sense.

But Bromley is a money gal. She shouldn’t be making mistakes about contracts, and certainly not to the scale that appears to have happened — all in such a way as to serve the pro-torture narrative which in turn serves to protect … the counterterrorism center.

At least according to the story the CIA is currently telling, everyone on the CIA’s oversight committee grossly misunderstood a $40 million expenditure.

Why?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

WikiLeaks Reveals Steinmeier Intercepts, 2 Years before Helping Condi Look Unconcerned by Kidnapping Liabilities

In its latest release on the individual intercepts the NSA collected on top German officials, WikiLeaks revealed that Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had been a priority 2 target in NSA’s monitoring of German political affairs.

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The actual intercept released with today’s list of targets pertains to Steinmeier’s first visit to DC as Foreign Minister in November 2005.

The intercept described how Steinmeier was pleased to have gotten a non-committal answer from Condi Rice when he asked her whether the CIA had run rendition flights through Germany.

(TS//SI//NF) New German Foreign Minister Pleased With First Official  Visit to Washington

(TS//SI//NF) Frank­-Walter Steinmeier seemed pleased on 29 November  with the results of his first visit to Washington as the new German Foreign Minister. Steinmeier described the mood during his talks with U.S. officials as very good, but feared that the most difficult part was still ahead. He seemed relieved that he had not received any  definitive response from the U.S. Secretary of State regarding press reports of CIA flights through Germany to secret prisons in eastern  Europe allegedly used for interrogating terrorism suspects. Steinmeier remarked that Washington is placing great hope in his  country’s new government. In this connection, he is looking for areas where bilateral cooperation can be strengthened and is considering  the southern Caucasus as one possible area.

This would have been of particular concern for Steinmeier as he was Chief of Staff in German’s Chancellery, in charge of intelligence. If German intelligence did know about the flights, he would be complicit. So he might be particularly happy to report that the US — that Condi Rice — was officially giving a non-answer to the question of whether or not the CIA was using Germany as a base for its kidnapping flights.

Better to officially not know.

Now, I actually am not at all troubled that NSA is wiretapping foreign officials. They’re surely doing the same to our equivalents. So while I’m interested in what these WikiLeak releases say about our NSA activities, I’m not critical of these activities.

But I am interested that Steinmeier was wiretapped for this reason.

As a State cable released by WikiLeaks back in 2010 showed, in 2007, Steinmeier and Condi met to discuss the recent arrest warrants issued by a German court. Steinmeier came out of the meeting and said publicly that Condi had told him she and the US would have no problem with the issue of arrest warrants for 13 US agents. After Steinmeier created that impression in the press, the Deputy Chief of the Mission to Germany corrected that impression, making it clear that the US had a very big problem with the planned arrest of its agents for kidnapping.

Just as the German prosecutor issued arrest warrants for 13 CIA personnel, Condi Rice and Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier met in DC for a discussion of Mideast peace efforts. After they met, Steinmeier told the German press that Condi had assured him that the arrest warrants wouldn’t affect German-US relations.

Steinmeier told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that he had raised the issue with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who “assured me there would be no negative impact on German-American relations.”

Steinmeier, whose remarks were released a day ahead of publication on Sunday, said he told Rice the warrants could only be served in Germany at present, but the government expected the court to issue international warrants at some stage.

The cable describes a February 6, 2007 meeting in which the Deputy Chief of Mission of the US Embassy in Germany, John Koenig, “corrected” the impression that Steinmeier had gotten from his meeting with Condi the week before.

In a February 6 discussion with German Deputy National Security Adviser Rolf Nikel, the DCM reiterated our strong concerns about the possible issuance of international arrest warrants in the al-Masri case. The DCM noted that the reports in the German media of the discussion on the issue between the Secretary and FM Steinmeier in Washington were not accurate, in that the media reports suggest the USG was not troubled by developments in the al-Masri case. The DCM emphasized that this was not the case and that issuance of international arrest warrants would have a negative impact on our bilateral relationship. He reminded Nikel of the repercussions to U.S.-Italian bilateral relations in the wake of a similar move by Italian authorities last year.

Koenig goes on to note that the government would have political problems in the US if the Germans issued the international arrest warrants.

The DCM pointed out that the USG would likewise have a difficult time in managing domestic political implications if international arrest warrants are issued.

[snip]

[T]his was obviously a hastily called meeting in response to Steinmeier’s quotation of Condi’s assurances the warrantswouldn’t cause a problem. Note the specific language Koenig uses:

The DCM noted that the reports in the German media of the discussion on the issue between the Secretary and FM Steinmeier in Washington were not accurate, in that the media reports suggest the USG was not troubled by developments in the al-Masri case.

He’s not telling the Germans that Steinmeier was wrong, that he mis-quoted Condi. Rather, Koenig’s simply saying that the content–what Condi had said–was wrong.

While the cable makes it clear that Koenig was emphasizing the stance of the USG, it’s still not clear whether Condi just lied to Steinmeier about USG concern, using that as cover for the kidnapping that she, who was National Security Advisor during the kidnapping, would have been implicated in, or whether Steinmeier knowingly put disinformation into the press that State subordinates could correct in secret. That is, it’s not clear how knowingly Steinmeier served as a stooge in US disinformation that ultimately protected Condi.

But I do find the continuity of Steinmeier’s happiness about pretending there was no kidnapping going on in Germany to be notable. I also find it notable that Condi and her friends would have had very detailed understanding of Steinmeier’s opinions and activities from the interim period.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Joel Brenner Reveals David Addington’s Sources and Methods

Several people (including Dan Froomkin) have pointed to the speech former NSA Inspector General Joel Brenner gave at NSA today for the confirmation of what was pretty clear from the joint IG Report on Stellar Wind — that David Addington ran the program out of OVP.

The seed of the problem was planted shortly after 9/11, when the White House determined to undertake certain collection outside the FISA regime under a highly classified, but now mostly declassified, program called STELLAR WIND. That program was not SAP’ed, because the creation of a new special access program requires Congressional notification, but it was run directly by the Office of the Vice President and put under the direct personal control of the Vice President’s counsel, David Addington.

But there’s another detail I find more interesting (aside from Brenner’s note that parts of the program remain classified, which people often forget).

Stellar Wind was not SAP’ed, Joel Brenner (who was, at least according to the IG Report, not read in himself until far later than he makes out in his speech).

Because if it were SAP’ed — if it were made a Special Access Program — then Congress would have had to be notified.

I’m interested in that for two reasons.

First (and most prosically), the Executive was messing around with the classification of Stellar Wind at least until January 2009, when they appear to have been making last minute adjustments to gain advantage in the al-Haramain suit.

More interestingly, because the Executive claims Congress was notified (even in that IG Report, though interestingly enough, some accountings of Congressional briefings got redacted in the underlying reports). Joel Brenner is here suggesting that they weren’t, really. Which is consistent with the fact that the briefing Congress got on March 10, 2004 was different in substance than what they had gotten before then.

Finally, because there are questions about when and who made the torture program a SAP. It appears not to have happened until early 2003 (and some of CIA’s own briefing records suggest that’s when the first torture briefings were, notwithstanding the September 2002 briefings for the Gang of Four).

Brenner’s suggestion makes it likely (as if it weren’t already) that that decision, too, was driven by Addington.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Wyden et al: Spot the Lie in Brennan’s CFR Speech Contest!

As the Daily Dot reported, Senators Wyden, Heinrich, and Hirono wrote John Brennan a letter trying to get him to admit that he lied about hacking the Senate Intelligence Committee.

But, as often happens with Wyden-authored letters, they also included this oblique paragraph at the end:

Additionally, we are attaching a separate classified letter regarding inaccurate public statements that you made on another topic in March 2015. We ask that you correct the public record regarding these statements immediately.

A game!!! Find the lies Brennan told in March!!!

The most likely place to look for Brennan lies comes in this appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations, where Brennan took questions from the audience.

While you might think Brennan lied about outsourcing torture to our allies, his answer on CIA involvement with interrogations conducted by our partners was largely truthful, even if he left out the part of detainees being tortured in custody.

But on a related issue, Brennan surely lied. He claimed — in response to a questions from an HRW staffer — not to partner with those who commit atrocities.

QUESTION: I’m going to try to stand up. Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch. Two days ago, ABC News ran some video and images of psychopathic murderers, thugs in the Iraqi security forces, carrying out beheadings, executions of children, executions of civilians. Human Rights Watch has documented Iraqi militias carrying out ISIS-like atrocities, executions of hundreds of captives and so forth.

And some of the allies in the anti-ISIS coalition are themselves carrying out ISIS-like atrocities, like beheadings in Saudi Arabia, violent attacks on journalists in Saudi Arabia—how do you think Iraqi Sunni civilians should distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys in this circumstance?

BRENNAN: It’s tough sorting out good guys and bad guys in a lot of these areas, it is. And human rights abuses, whether they take place on the part of ISIL or of militias or individuals who are working as part of formal security services, needs to be exposed, needs to be stopped.

And in an area like Iraq and Syria, there has been some horrific, horrific human rights abuses. And this is something that I think we need to be able to address. And when we see it, we do bring it to the attention of authorities. And when we see it, we do bring it to the attention of authorities. And we will not work with entities that are engaged in such activities.

As I noted at the time, Brennan totally dodged the question about Saudi atrocities. But it is also the case that many of the “moderates” we’ve partnered with in both Syria and Iraq have themselves engaged in atrocities.

So I suspect his claim that “we will not work with entities that are engaged in such activities” is one of the statements Wyden et al were pointing to.

A potentially related alternative candidate (the letter did say Brennan had made false statements, plural) is this exchange. When Brennan claimed, at the time, he has no ties to Qasim Soleimani, I assumed he was lying, not just because we’re actually fighting a way in IRGC’s vicinity but also because Brennan seemed to exhibit some of the “tells” he does when he lies.

QUESTION: James Sitrick, Baker & McKenzie. You spent a considerable amount of your opening remarks talking about the importance of liaison relationships. Charlie alluded to this in one of his references to you, on the adage—the old adage has it that the enemy of your enemy is your friend. Are we in any way quietly, diplomatically, indirectly, liaisoning with Mr. Soleimani and his group and his people in Iraq?

BRENNAN: I am not engaging with Mr. Qasem Soleimani, who is the head of the Quds Force of Iran. So no, I am not.

I am engaged, though, with a lot of different partners, some of close, allied countries as well as some that would be considered adversaries, engaged with the Russians on issues related to terrorism.

We did a great job working with the Russians on Sochi. They were very supportive on Boston Marathon. We’re also looking at the threat that ISIL poses both to the United States as well as to Russia.

So I try to take advantage of all the different partners that are out there, because there is a strong alignment on some issues—on proliferation as well as on terrorism and others as well.

I happen to think it an exaggeration that the Russians “were very supportive on Boston Marathon,” but maybe that’s because FSB was rolling up CIA spies who were investigating potentially related groups in Russia.

Finally, while less likely, I think this might be a candidate.

QUESTION: Thank you. Paula DiPerna, NTR Foundation. This is probably an unpopular suggestion, but is it feasible or how feasible would it be to do a little selective Internet disruption in the areas concerned, a la a blockade, digital blockade, and then an international fund to indemnify business loss?

BRENNAN: OK. First of all, as we all know, the worldwide web, the Internet, is a very large enterprise. And trying to stop things from coming out, there are political issues, there are legal issues here in the United States as far as freedom of speech is concerned. But even given that consideration, doing it technically and preventing some things from surfacing is really quite challenging.

And we see that a number of these organizations have been able to immediately post what they’re doing in Twitter. And the ability to stop some things from getting out is really quite challenging.

As far as, you know, indemnification of various companies on some of these issues, there has been unfortunately a very, very long, multi-year effort on the part of the Congress to try to pass some cybersecurity legislation that addressed some of these issues. There has been passage in the Senate.

I think it’s overdue. We need to update our legal structures as well as our policy structures to deal with the cyber threats we face.

Remember, Ron Wyden has been pointing to an OLC opinion on Common Commercial Services (which, however, CIA’s now General Counsel Carolyn Krass said publicly she wouldn’t rely on) for years. I suspect indemnity is one of the things it might cover.

Plus, I do think it likely that we’ve disrupted the Internet in various circumstances.

Who knows? Maybe Brennan just told a lot of lies.

It wouldn’t be the first time.

Update: NatSec sources are already dismissing this Sy Hersh piece on the real story behind the bin Laden killing. But if there’s truth to this detail, then it would suggest I was overly optimistic when I suggested Brennan was truthful about outsourcing our interrogation to allies.

The retired official told me that the CIA leadership had become experts in derailing serious threats from Congress: ‘They create something that is horrible but not that bad. Give them something that sounds terrible. “Oh my God, we were shoving food up a prisoner’s ass!” Meanwhile, they’re not telling the committee about murders, other war crimes, and secret prisons like we still have in Diego Garcia. The goal also was to stall it as long as possible, which they did.’

If we do still have a secret prison in Diego Garcia, then the claim that we outsource everything to allies would be the key lie here.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.