Floyd Abrams’ Abuse of Power

I promise I’m going to catch up on the WikiLeaks stuff in more detail soon, but I wanted to do a quick post pointing out the idiocy of Floyd Abrams’ attack on WikiLeaks. The logic of Abrams’ op-ed–which argues that WikiLeaks is different from the Pentagon Papers and therefore bad and also ohbytheway bad for journalists–is as follows:

Daniel Ellsberg chose not to release the last four volumes of the Pentagon Papers because he didn’t want to get in the way of diplomacy.

The diplomatic volumes were not published, even in part, for another dozen years. Mr. Ellsberg later explained his decision to keep them secret, according to Sanford Ungar’s 1972 book “The Papers & The Papers,” by saying, “I didn’t want to get in the way of the diplomacy.”

But Assange–because of what Abrams characterizes as WikiLeaks’ “general disdain for any secrecy at all”–did release diplomacy-damaging materials.

The recent release of a torrent of State Department documents is typical. Some, containing unflattering appraisals by American diplomats of foreign leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Libya and elsewhere, contain the very sort of diplomacy-destructive materials that Mr. Ellsberg withheld.

Abrams tries to draw a distinction between Ellsberg and Assange with what are apparently meant to be rhetorical questions.

Can anyone doubt that he would have made those four volumes public on WikiLeaks regardless of their sensitivity? Or that he would have paid not even the slightest heed to the possibility that they might seriously compromise efforts to bring a speedier end to the war?

From there, Abrams predicts that what he characterizes as WikiLeaks’ irresponsible actions will lead to legislation and legal cases restricting the First Amendment.

Mr. Assange is no boon to American journalists. His activities have already doomed proposed federal shield-law legislation protecting journalists’ use of confidential sources in the just-adjourned Congress. An indictment of him could be followed by the judicial articulation of far more speech-limiting legal principles than currently exist with respect to even the most responsible reporting about both diplomacy and defense. If he is not charged or is acquitted of whatever charges may be made, that may well lead to the adoption of new and dangerously restrictive legislation. In more than one way, Mr. Assange may yet have much to answer for.

In Abrams’ mind, Assange is responsible for the response the government is taking toward him, not the government actors themselves. Nor are those who misrepresent Assange’s and WikiLeaks’ actions–thereby making it easier for the government to curtail legal rights–responsible.

You know, people like Floyd Abrams.

Abrams’ purported rhetorical questions–can anyone doubt that WikiLeaks would have published the diplomatic volumes of the Pentagon Papers? can anyone doubt he wouldn’t have paid the slightest heed to efforts to end the war?–are one of two things that dismantle his entire argument laying the responsibility for the government’s overreaction to Assange with Assange. Because–as Digby has explained at length–we have every reason to doubt whether WikiLeaks would have published the diplomatic volumes of the Pentagon Papers. And we have solid evidence that WikiLeaks would shield really dangerous information.

Because they already have. And because they have now outsourced responsibility for choosing what is dangerous and newsworthy or not to a bunch of newspapers.

Indeed, back before WikiLeaks ceded that role to a bunch of newspapers, WikiLeaks was actually being more cautious with the publication of sensitive information than the NYT was.

So rather than blaming the government and the press for mischaracterizing what WikiLeaks has done here and then using that mischaracterization to justify an overreaction to that mischaracterization, Floyd Abrams just participates in it. WikiLeaks is responsible, Floyd Abrams says, and I’m going to misrepresent what they have done to prove that case.

Effectively, Abrams contributes to the myth that he says will result in new government action restricting the First Amendment.

Thanks Floyd.

But, as I said, there are two fundamental problems with Abrams’ argument.

Here’s the other one:

The Pentagon Papers revelations dealt with a discrete topic, the ever-increasing level of duplicity of our leaders over a score of years in increasing the nation’s involvement in Vietnam while denying it. It revealed official wrongdoing or, at the least, a pervasive lack of candor by the government to its people.

WikiLeaks is different. It revels in the revelation of “secrets” simply because they are secret. It assaults the very notion of diplomacy that is not presented live on C-Span. It has sometimes served the public by its revelations but it also offers, at considerable potential price, a vast amount of material that discloses no abuses of power at all.


Taken as a whole, however, a leak of this elephantine magnitude, which appears to demonstrate no misconduct by the U.S., is difficult to defend on any basis other than WikiLeaks’ general disdain for any secrecy at all. [my emphasis]

Floyd Abrams’ entire argument about WikiLeaks is premised on his claim that these diplomatic cables demonstrate no abuse of power at all. No misconduct by the US. Read more

When Did Adrian Lamo Start Working with Federal Investigators?

The first suspicious moment in the chats between Adrian Lamo and Bradley Manning occurred at 12:54 on May 22–ostensibly the second day of chat communication between them (though Manning had sent Lamo encrypted emails for an unspecified period of time before that point). The BoingBoing version of the logs shows that Manning had just referenced 260,000 cables that, he went on to say, would give Hillary Clinton and other diplomats a heart attack when they were released. The chat was seemingly plagued by 3 minute delays in message transmission, with Lamo’s side reporting resource issues. Lamo tells Manning he’s going for a cigarette–“brb”–but that he should “keep typing.”

(12:54:47 PM) Adrian: What sort of content?
(12:56:36 PM) Adrian: brb cigarette
(12:56:43 PM) Adrian: keep typing <3

It is over 45 minutes before Lamo returns from his “cigarette” at 1:43:51. In the meantime, Manning did as he was told, typing out agonized confessions about how isolated he was. After Lamo returned from his “cigarette,” all the resource issues appear to be fixed and the delay in transmission appears to be gone, with response time in the 9 to 20 second range. It seems likely that Lamo did something other than smoke a cigarette in those 45 minutes. It appears he altered something technical on his side of the chat, chats that Lamo had directed Manning to use instead of encrypted emails.

Upon returning, Lamo immediately reverts back to Manning’s comment just after he left for his “cigarette,” picking up on the reference to diplomatic scandals. Using that as a segue, Lamo asks Manning to prove his bona fides.

(1:43:51 PM) Lamo: back
(1:43:59 PM) Manning: im self medicating like crazy when im not toiling in the supply office (my new location, since im being discharged, im not offically intel anymore)
(1:44:11 PM) Manning: you missed a lot…
(1:45:00 PM) Lamo: what kind of scandal?
(1:45:16 PM) Manning: hundreds of them
(1:45:40 PM) Lamo: like what? I’m genuinely curious about details.
(1:46:01 PM) Manning: i dont know… theres so many… i dont have the original material anymore
(1:46:26 PM) Lamo: play it by ear
(1:46:29 PM) Manning: the broiling one in Germany
(1:47:36 PM) Manning: im sorry, there’s so many… its impossible for any one human to read all quarter-million… and not feel overwhelmed… and possibly desensitized
(1:48:20 PM) Manning: the scope is so broad… and yet the depth so rich
(1:48:50 PM) Lamo: give me some bona fides … yanno? any specifics.

So Manning mentions the cables, Lamo leaves and fixes technical issues on the chat, and Lamo returns to demand specifics about what the 260,000 cables include.

Over the course of that allegedly first substantial conversation, Lamo’s attitude towards Wikileaks varies. He first asks a generic question.

(12:46:17 PM) Adrian: how long have you helped WIkileaks?

He then makes what–from the context of the logs thus far released, at least–appears to be an unsupported insinuation (and one that, given current reports about the Administration’s prosecution strategy, is a critical issue): that Manning “answers to” Julian Assange.

(1:51:14 PM) Lamo: Anything unreleased?
(1:51:25 PM) Manning: i’d have to ask assange
(1:51:53 PM) Manning: i zerofilled the original
(1:51:54 PM) Lamo: why do you answer to him?
(1:52:29 PM) Manning: i dont… i just want the material out there… i dont want to be a part of it

So, in spite of the fact that just two days before this exchange, Lamo had solicited donations for Wikileaks, he still suggested it was a problem if Manning “answered to Julian Assange.”

Lamo then immediately presses a point he would return to numerous times in their chats–a probe about their operational security.

(1:52:54 PM) Adrian: i’ve been considering helping wikileaks with opsec
(1:53:13 PM) bradass87: they have decent opsec… im obviously violating it

Then there’s a gap of about 10 minutes in the published chat logs during which–from the context–further conversation about Assange personally appears to have taken place. Such content is suggested from the way the chat moves from Manning reporting he is a “total fucking wreck” to returning to Manning’s relationship with Assange, with Manning seemingly correcting what appears to have been a Lamo suggestion that he–Manning–is a “volunteer” (remember, Lamo was pretending he wanted to “volunteer” to help Wikileaks with operational security).

(2:04:29 PM) Manning: im a source, not quite a volunteer
(2:05:38 PM) Manning: i mean, im a high profile source… and i’ve developed a relationship with assange… but i dont know much more than what he tells me, which is very little

Again, note how this exchange–Manning’s apparent correction regarding his relationship with Assange–actually hurts the reported current prosecution strategy of painting the Assange-Manning relationship as something other than a journalistic one.

Now, one of the many narratives he would tell about his role in turning Manning in,  Lamo suggested he contacted the military when he heard that Manning had accessed the 260,000 cables (though Lamo’s story varies on what day he contacted the Feds). Which is why I find this sequence–which Wired summarized but did not publish in its own publication of the chat logs–so interesting. All of the narratives about how Lamo came to out Manning to investigators start a day or two after this curious day of activity.

Yet already on this first substantive day of chat logs, Lamo appears to be fixing technical issues in the chat, demanding specific evidence about the cables, and–most suspiciously–presenting seemingly contradictory opinions about Wikileaks and Assange that had the effect of eliciting information about operational specifics and details on Assange’s own role in Wikileaks’ operations.

How Does Frago 242 Relate to Our Collaboration with the Wolf Brigade?

The biggest headline from Friday’s Wikileaks dump (everywhere but the NYT, anyway) is that the “US ignored torture.” But the way in which an official policy ignoring torture was followed by collaboration with one of Iraq’s torture squads raises the question whether the US involvement in Iraqi torture was more direct.

Did the US “ignore” torture, or “encourage” it?

The basis for the claim that the US ignored torture comes from references to Frago 242, which officially instituted a policy of looking the other way in cases of Iraqi on Iraqi abuse.

This is the impact of Frago 242. A frago is a “fragmentary order” which summarises a complex requirement. This one, issued in June 2004, about a year after the invasion of Iraq, orders coalition troops not to investigate any breach of the laws of armed conflict, such as the abuse of detainees, unless it directly involves members of the coalition. Where the alleged abuse is committed by Iraqi on Iraqi, “only an initial report will be made … No further investigation will be required unless directed by HQ”.

While the Guardian ascribes the timing of this order–which they date to June 2004–to Iraqi sovereignty and the effort to get Iraqis to take over more of their own security, it also coincides with the time when Abu Ghraib made it politically difficult for the US to remain in the torture business.

By the end of 2004, according to the Wikileaks dump, the US was handing over detainees to a US trained group known to torture.

In Samarra, the series of log entries in 2004 and 2005 describe repeated raids by US infantry, who then handed their captives over to the Wolf Brigade for “further questioning”. Typical entries read: “All 5 detainees were turned over to Ministry of Interior for further questioning” (from 29 November 2004) and “The detainee was then turned over to the 2nd Ministry of Interior Commando Battalion for further questioning” (30 November 2004).

The field reports chime with allegations made by New York Times writer Peter Maass, who was in Samarra at the time. He told Guardian Films : “US soldiers, US advisers, were standing aside and doing nothing,” while members of the Wolf Brigade beat and tortured prisoners. The interior ministry commandos took over the public library in Samarra, and turned it into a detention centre, he said.


The Wolf Brigade was created and supported by the US in an attempt to re-employ elements of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard, this time to terrorise insurgents. Members typically wore red berets, sunglasses and balaclavas, and drove out on raids in convoys of Toyota Landcruisers. They were accused by Iraqis of beating prisoners, torturing them with electric drills and sometimes executing suspects. The then interior minister in charge of them was alleged to have been a former member of the Shia Badr militia.

Now, the timing of the two events–the formal policy of doing nothing about Iraqi on Iraqi torture and the collaboration with the Wolf Brigade–is not exact. Wolf Brigade was founded in October 2004, some time after Frago 242 was issued.

But given how adamant Rummy was in late 2005 that US soldiers were not required to physically stop any abuse they found,

Q    And General Pace, what guidance do you have for your military commanders over there as to what to do if — like when General Horst found this Interior Ministry jail?

GEN. PACE:  It is absolutely the responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene to stop it.  As an example of how to do it if you don’t see it happening but you’re told about it is exactly what happened a couple weeks ago.  There’s a report from an Iraqi to a U.S. commander that there was possibility of inhumane treatment in a particular facility.  That U.S. commander got together with his Iraqi counterparts.  They went together to the facility, found what they found, reported it to the Iraqi government, and the Iraqi government has taken ownership of that problem and is investigating it.  So they did exactly what they should have done.

SEC. RUMSFELD:  But I don’t think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it; it’s to report it.

GEN. PACE:  If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it.

It sure seems that the relationship between Frago 242 and the torture committed by the Wolf Brigade constitutes even more than just “ignoring” torture.