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“Notwithstanding”: How Congress Enabled Chuck Hagel and Ash Carter to Keep Child Rape and Torture from Disrupting Forever War

Back in September of 2015, the New York Times published sickening details on widespread child rape in the Afghan military. The Times’ investigation was centered in part on a victim of child rape who had served as a “tea boy” to Afghan officers and subsequently acquired a weapon. He opened fire inside a base, killing three US Marines.

I had noted at the time that one of the victims, Gregory Buckley, Jr. had told his father just before he was killed that reporting Afghan soldiers for child rape was discouraged because “it’s their culture”. This stood out to me because I had been reporting on the retroactive classification of a DoD report that stated many green on blue killings could be explained by cultural incompatibilities between US troops and the Afghans they were training.

The reports of child rape were so disgusting that Congress commissioned a study by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Recontruction to look into how such widespread abuses were allowed to happen. After all, the “Leahy laws” were aimed at preventing funding of foreign entities known to be committing gross violations of human rights. SIGAR finished their report in June of 2017, but it has only now been declassified and released.

While the report “found no evidence that US forces were told to ignore human rights abuses or child sexual assault”, the end result of actions by Secretaries of Defense Chuck Hagel and Ash Carter leading up to the September 2015 incident are damning in how they result in just that outcome, at least when it comes to using funding that Congress provided.

Here is how SIGAR places the investigation into perspective:

You are excused if, like me, you need to go off and curse a while over the outrageous sums of money we have “invested” in a security force that is failing at this very moment.

But now we have yet another outrage. Congress, in its infinite wisdom, decided in 2005 that no other law could be used to get in the way of the funding of our sacred war in Afghanistan. Recall that the torture memos were released in late 2004, so Congress rightly feared that much of what we were funding in Afghanistan was illegal and they didn’t want to let those measly laws get in the way of their war.

Just look what DoD had to go through to ignore what the Afghans were doing. Here is Chuck Hagel trying to provide cover in 2014:

This of course looks just fine. We all need a written protocol on how to report human rights abuses. But what happens when abuses are found? Oh, that’s bad. And even though DoD still redacts much of Hagel’s action, it’s clear he was told of abuses but he freed up funds anyway by relying on the “notwithstanding” clause:

It gets even worse. Ash Carter did the same thing, just a few short months before the tea boy attack that killed Buckley and two others:

Chuck Hagel and Ash Carter were fully aware of gross human rights abuses, including both child rape and torture, but elected to use the blunt tool that Congress had given them to ignore these human rights abuses and continue funding the same units within the Afghan military that carried out the abuses. So while official policy was that abuses are to be reported, they then are completely ignored at the Congressional and Cabinet level in order to continue a forever war that is forever failing.

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

Are Escaped Zoo Animals Autonomous?

Back when David Sanger revealed new details of how StuxNet broke free of Natanz, he used the metaphor of an escaped zoo animal actively unlocking its cage.

In the summer of 2010, shortly after a new variant of the worm had been sent into Natanz, it became clear that the worm, which was never supposed to leave the Natanz machines, had broken free, like a zoo animal that found the keys to the cage. It fell to Mr. Panetta and two other crucial players in Olympic Games — General Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Michael J. Morell, the deputy director of the C.I.A. — to break the news to Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden.

An error in the code, they said, had led it to spread to an engineer’s computer when it was hooked up to the centrifuges. When the engineer left Natanz and connected the computer to the Internet, the American- and Israeli-made bug failed to recognize that its environment had changed. It began replicating itself all around the world. [my emphasis]

This zoo animal found the keys to its cage, broke free, spread to an engineer’s computer, failed to recognize its new environment, and then began replicating itself all around the world.

That is, Sanger used the language of a cognizant being, acting as an agent to spread itself. That’s not inapt. After all, viruses do spread themselves (though they don’t actually go seek out keys to do so).

Which is why this detail, noted in Obama’s other pre-Thanksgiving document dump, is so stunning. (h/t Trevor Timm)

The Defense Department does not require developers of computer systems that launch cyber operations to implement the same safeguards required of traditional arms makers to prevent collateral damage.

[snip]

directive, released Nov. 21, mandated that automated and semi-autonomous weaponry — such as guided munitions that independently select targets — must have human machine interfaces and “be designed to allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force.” The mandate called for “rigorous hardware and software verification and validation” to ensure that engagements could be terminated if not completed in a designated time frame. The goal is to minimize “unintended engagements,” the document states.

The Pentagon is permitting less human control over systems that deploy malware, exploits and mitigation tools, highlighting Defense’s focus on agile responses to computer threats. The document, signed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, explicitly states that the directive “does not apply to autonomous or semi-autonomous cyberspace systems for cyberspace operations.”

We have already lost control of one our semi-autonomous cyberspace operations. The potential danger from its “escape” could be tremendous.

And yet DOD specifically exempts similar operations in the future? So we can commit the same error again?

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.

Gitmo’s Commanders and My 4-Year Old Niece Play Games

I enjoyed watching my 4-year old niece wallop Mr. EW in a game of “Matches” last week. She kept making up new rules every turn, ensuring Mr. EW didn’t know precisely what the rules of the game were.

It provided me an excellent opportunity to teach her what the word “shrewd” means–“A special kind of smart.”

I’m less amused by this: Gitmo’s second new set of Military Commission rules in as many years. Last year, they released the 2010 Manual for Military Commissions hours before Omar Khadr’s trial started. This year, they’re introducing the 2011 Regulation for Military trial days before the Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri death penalty case starts. But make no mistake, this “Regulation” amends last year’s Manual. As Carol Rosenberg reports:

The Defense Department released the document two days ahead of the arraignment of a Saudi-born captive charged with murder and terrorism for al Qaida’s suicide bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen.

[snip]

Almost simultaneously, the document appeared on the war court’s new nearly $500,000 website, numbering 202 pages and including some changes to procedures. For example, each case’s military judge now has the authority to approve the costs of a so-called “learned counsel,” typically a civilian defense attorney with extensive experience defending capital murder cases. It also outlined procedures through which observers could protest, through a chief clerk, a judge’s decision to declare an aspect of a trial as “protected.”

[snip]

The Pentagon’s new Deputy Secretary of Defense, Ashton B. Carter, signed the new document on Sunday. He said in a foreword that it provided guidance at times that differed from the way the U.S. military court martials its own troops. “That difference is necessitated by the unique circumstances of the conduct of military and intelligence operations during hostilities or by other practical need.”

Legal experts were poring over the document Monday night.

Meantime, Human Rights Watch attorney Andrea Prasow called the timing troubling.

“The very idea that new rules could be issued moments before someone is arraigned to face the death penalty offends any notion of due process,” said Prasow, who has worked on war court defense cases. “The stamp of illegitimacy has been firmly affixed to Nashiri’s case.”

To make it all the more pathetic, check out the image at the top of the page.

Nothing

That’s the top corner of these brand new rules. From DOD. The biggest bureaucracy in the world.

With no headers.

How the hell can DOD release new rules governing a capital case without even bothering to include headers or footers (the document has simple centered page numbers) to indicate these are actually the rules issued by the biggest bureaucracy in the world?

It’s like some sergeant somewhere who doesn’t know how to operate Microsoft Word was tweaking these until an hour ago.

Seriously, I haven’t even gotten into the contents of these new rules yet. But they look like a–very long–high school project, not the considered rules of  court of law.

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 Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, 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 in Grand Rapids, MI.