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Sy Hersh Writing about Politicized Intelligence Again, Syria Edition

Sy Hersh has a long piece in the London Review of Books accusing the Obama Administration of cherry-picking intelligence to present its case that Bashar al-Assad launched the chemical weapons attack on August 21.

To be clear, Hersh does not say that Assad did not launch the attack. Nor does he say al-Nusra carried out the attack. Rather, he shows that:

  • At some unidentified time since the beginning of the Civil War, Assad had discovered and neutralized wiretaps on his inner circle, leaving US intelligence blind to discussions happening among his top aides
  • Sensors planted to detect any movement of Assad’s CW immediately had not been triggered by the August 21 attack
  • By June, some intelligence entity had concluded that an Iraqi member of al-Nusra had the capability to manufacture sarin in quantity

A lot of the story serves to establish that two days after the attack, the US had yet to respond to it, presumably because it did not have any intelligence Syria had launched the attack, in part because nothing had triggered the sensors that had worked in the past. To develop its intelligence on the attack days afterwards, the NSA performed key word searches on already-collected radio communications of lower level Syrian military figures.

‘There are literally thousands of tactical radio frequencies used by field units in Syria for mundane routine communications,’ he said, ‘and it would take a huge number of NSA cryptological technicians to listen in – and the useful return would be zilch.’ But the ‘chatter’ is routinely stored on computers. Once the scale of events on 21 August was understood, the NSA mounted a comprehensive effort to search for any links to the attack, sorting through the full archive of stored communications. A keyword or two would be selected and a filter would be employed to find relevant conversations. ‘What happened here is that the NSA intelligence weenies started with an event – the use of sarin – and reached to find chatter that might relate,’ the former official said. ‘This does not lead to a high confidence assessment, unless you start with high confidence that Bashar Assad ordered it, and began looking for anything that supports that belief.’ The cherry-picking was similar to the process used to justify the Iraq war.

Ultimately, according to one of Hersh’s sources, they used intelligence collected in response to last December’s Syrian exercise on CW as the basis for what the Syrians would have been doing in case of an attack.

The former senior intelligence official explained that the hunt for relevant chatter went back to the exercise detected the previous December, in which, as Obama later said to the public, the Syrian army mobilised chemical weapons personnel and distributed gas masks to its troops. The White House’s government assessment and Obama’s speech were not descriptions of the specific events leading up to the 21 August attack, but an account of the sequence the Syrian military would have followed for any chemical attack. ‘They put together a back story,’ the former official said, ‘and there are lots of different pieces and parts. The template they used was the template that goes back to December.’

The White House presented this cherry-picked intelligence 9 days after the attack to a group of uncritical journalists (Hersh notes Jonathan Landay was excluded).

That’s the damning part of Hersh’s story on the intelligence used to support the Syrian warmongering (it is largely consistent with observations made at the time).

Hersh also describes how the NYT ignored the conclusions of MIT professor Theodore Postol, who determined at least some of the shells used in the attack were locally manufactured and had a much shorter range than publicly described.

Ultimately, though, Hersh’s biggest piece of news describes how someone — he doesn’t say who, but this part of his story relies on a senior intelligence consultant of unidentified nationality — sent Deputy DIA Director David Shedd a report on June 20 concluding that a former Iraqi CW expert with the capability of manufacturing sarin was operating in Eastern Ghouta.

An intelligence document issued in mid-summer dealt extensively with Ziyaad Tariq Ahmed, a chemical weapons expert formerly of the Iraqi military, who was said to have moved into Syria and to be operating in Eastern Ghouta. Read more

Like Obi Wan, Osama bin Laden Has Come Back More Powerful Than Ever Before

In a piece that serves only to claim we need even more invasive online surveillance because we’ve made al Qaeda more insidious than before Osama bin Laden died, Michael Hirsh tries to make Abu Musab al-Suri the new boogeyman (who, as J.M. Berger notes, may not even be alive!).

The truth is much grimmer. Intelligence officials and terrorism experts today believe that the death of bin Laden and the decimation of the Qaida “core” in Pakistan only set the stage for a rebirth of al-Qaida as a global threat. Its tactics have morphed into something more insidious and increasingly dangerous as safe havens multiply in war-torn or failed states—at exactly the moment we are talking about curtailing the National Security Agency’s monitoring capability. And the jihadist who many terrorism experts believe is al-Qaida’s new strategic mastermind, Abu Musab al-Suri (a nom de guerre that means “the Syrian”), has a diametrically different approach that emphasizes quantity over quality. The red-haired, blue-eyed former mechanical engineer was born in Aleppo in 1958 as Mustafa Setmariam Nasar; he has lived in France and Spain. Al-Suri is believed to have helped plan the 2004 train bombings in Madrid and the 2005 bombings in London—and has been called the “Clausewitz” of the new al-Qaida.

[snip]

But the agency’s opponents may not realize that the practice they most hope to stop—its seemingly indiscriminate scouring of phone data and emails—is precisely what intelligence officials say they need to detect the kinds of plots al-Suri favors.

[snip]

And the consensus of senior defense and intelligence officials in the U.S. government is that NSA surveillance may well be the only thing that can stop the next terrorist from blowing apart innocent Americans, as happened in Boston last April. “Al-Qaida is far more a problem a dozen years after 9/11 than it was back then,” [Navy Postgraduate School expert John] Arquilla says.

[snip]

Officials also say they need more intelligence than ever to determine which of the multifarious new jihadist groups is a true threat. “The really difficult strategic question for us is which one of these groups do we take on,” [Michael] Hayden says. “If you jump too quickly and you put too much of a generic American face on it, then you may make them mad at us when they weren’t before. So we are going to need a pretty nuanced and sophisticated understanding of where there these new groups are going and where we need to step up and intervene.”

Some officials suggest that to do that—to discriminate carefully between the terrorists who are directly targeting U.S. interests and those who aren’t—the United States needs to step up, not slow down, the NSA’s monitoring of potential targets. [my emphasis]

Hirsh doesn’t seem to notice it, but even while he quotes former and current architects of our counterterrorism strategy like Michael Hayden and Mike Rogers, if his tale is to be believed, you have to also believe those former and current counterterrorism leaders committed these grave counterterrorism failures:

  • Allowing no fewer than 25 failed states to flourish, especially in Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Libya, and Iraq
  • Failing to win or even establish governance in Afghanistan
  • Rendering al-Suri to Syria where he may or may not have been let free
  • Taking on Bashar al-Assad (who the article admits provided us counterterrorism support, including presumably proxy torturing al-Suri) even while not backing dictators who provide counterterrorism support during the Arab Spring
  • Abandoning Syrian rebels to Assad

Then Hirsh goes on to recite the debunked claims about how useful the Section 215 dragnet is (though curiously, he doesn’t mention Basaaly Moalin, perhaps because elsewhere Harold Koh admits that even most members of al-Shabaab aren’t members of al Qaeda, much less those who materially support al-Shabaab), how that would have (and, the implication is) and is the only thing that might have prevented 9/11.

Hirsh doesn’t even seem to notice that he repeats the claim that only NSA dragnets can prevent a Boston Marathon attack, yet NSA dragnets didn’t prevent the Boston Marathon attack.

Obviously, the whole thing is just as Mike Rogers/Michael Hayden sponsored advertisement to pass DiFi’s Fake FISA Fix (the article doesn’t address why she doesn’t just accept the status quo).

But in the process, Hirsh has instead laid out solid evidence we should never trust the people who’ve been running our war on terror for the last 12 years, because, if even a fraction of what he claims is true, they’ve actually made us far less safe.

If the Saudis Take Their Toys and Go Home, Have They Still Won the Arab Spring?

David Ignatius adds something to the reporting on the Saudis’ snit that has been missing: situating it in America’s decision in 2011 to let Hosni Mubarak fall.

The bad feeling that developed after Mubarak’s ouster deepened month by month: The U.S. supported Morsi’s election as president; opposed a crackdown by the monarchy in Bahrain against Shiites protesters; cut aid to the Egyptian military after it toppled Morsi and crushed the Brotherhood; promised covert aid to the Syrian rebels it never delivered; threatened to bomb Syria and then allied with Russia, instead; and finally embarked on a diplomatic opening to Iran, Saudi Arabia’s deadly rival in the Gulf.

Of course, Ignatius depicts the Saudi version here, not reality. US condemnation of Bahrain’s crackdown has been muted, and the US has started shipping arms again. This litany doesn’t mention the Saudi-favored policies the US supported: overthrowing long-time Saudi annoyance Muammar Qaddafi, resolving the Yemeni uprising in such a way that largely maintained the status quo. And it’s not the Brotherhood so much troubles the Saudis (indeed, they’re supporting Islamic extremists elsewhere), but the notion of popular legitimacy (which is not to say Morsi had that when he was overthrown).

But it does reflect what I think is genuinely behind Saudi disengagement. After some setbacks in 2011 — notably, Mubarak’s ouster, but also the need to increase its bribes to its own people to ensure stability — the Saudis found a way to use the rhetoric of popular uprising selectively to pursue their own hegemonic interests. They believed they were on their way to do so in Syria, as well.

With the coup in Egypt and Obama’s tepid response to it, however, the cost of popular legitimacy started to rise again. And with the US backing out of its efforts to use “rebels” (including foreign fighters) to oust Assad, Saudi’s feigned support for popular legitimacy disappeared. That notion reverted to being just another force that might endanger the throne. And as the US gets closer to a deal with Iran — a development that significantly threatens Saudi leverage in our “special relationship” in any case — I suspect the Saudis decided a temper tantrum was necessary. More importantly, I worry they disengaged from the UN because they are considering alternative means of pursuing their interests, means that would be loudly condemned in that body.

The Saudis are running out of money and oil to ensure their own stability, and asserting greater hegemony over the Middle East presented a way to retain it. I assume they intend to keep pursuing that greater hegemony with us or against us.

On that Acknowledged Covert Op in Syria

The NYT has a tick-tock of Obama’s Syria policy. I find it fascinating for two reasons.

Obama uses “covert” status as a legal fiction, nothing more

First, consider the coverage of the covert op — one acknowledged explicitly by Chuck Hagel in Senate testimony. NYT says President Obama actually signed the Finding authorizing arming the rebels in April, not June, as Hagel claimed, but Obama did not move to implement it right away.

President Obama had signed a secret order in April — months earlier than previously reported — authorizing a C.I.A. plan to begin arming the Syrian rebels.

Indeed, the story may have been driven by CIA types trying to blame Obama for indolence after first signing that finding.

As to the decision to do this as a covert op, NYT describes it arose — first of all — out of difficulties over using the Armed Forces to overthrow a sovereign government.

But debate had shifted from whether to arm Syrian rebels to how to do it. Discussions about putting the Pentagon in charge of the program — and publicly acknowledging the arming and training program — were eventually shelved when it was decided that too many legal hurdles stood in the way of the United States’ openly supporting the overthrow of a sovereign government.

Those difficulties, of course, were the same ones present that should have prevented Obama from considering bombing a sovereign government in August, which of course weren’t the ones that ultimately persuaded Obama not to bomb.

The big reason to do it as a covert op, however, came from the need to be able to deny we were arming al Qaeda-linked rebels.

Besides the legal worries, there were other concerns driving the decision to make the program a secret.

As one former senior administration official put it, “We needed plausible deniability in case the arms got into the hands of Al Nusra.”

Yet in spite of this explanation — one which you’d think would demand secrecy — the NYT notes that Ben Rhodes went and announced this policy publicly.

But, the NYT notes (perhaps in anticipation for the inevitable FOIA), the President didn’t say anything about it himself.

Where the hell was the IC getting its rosy scenario about Assad’s overthrow?

The other striking thing about the story is how it portrays Obama’s policies to have been driven by (unquestioned by the NYT) overly rosy assessments of Assad’s demise.

Read more

Syrian Government Off to Good Start With OPCW, But Why Is Peace Conference Six Weeks Away?

The Washington Post reports this morning that the Syrian government has been “businesslike and efficient” in its dealings with the OPCW and that things are on track for representatives from the OPCW to be inside Syria tomorrow to start working on the details of destroying Syria’s chemical weapon stockpile. Considering how rapidly the UN Security Council resolution passed unanimously on Friday evening was put together, though, it remains a mystery to me why the UN is waiting until mid-November for a peace conference to begin in Geneva.

The good news from OPCW:

Inspectors from the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said they would arrive in Damascus midday Tuesday and spend a week in the city before starting visits to chemical weapons facilities declared by the Syrian government. The OPCW officials said the details of the Syrian declaration appeared to line up with external intelligence assessments of what the government possesses, giving them optimism that the regime was being cooperative.

“It’s been good business so far,” said an OPCW official, speaking at a briefing for reporters under the condition of anonymity. “So far, our interactions with the Syrians have been very businesslike and efficient.”

The difficulties that the inspectors will face underline why I have been stating all along that a ceasefire is an important component of destroying the chemical weapons:

Another OPCW official said inspection teams may not even be able to reach every declared chemical weapons site because of security concerns. The inspectors will be working with unarmed U.N. security guards and under the protection of Syrian government forces, but significant portions of Syrian territory are not under the full control of Assad’s military.

“It may be that we are not in a position to go to some of these locations,” the official said. “We are not a military unit.”

It is difficult to tell from the phrasing here whether some of the sites where the inspection teams will work are under rebel control or whether the teams merely need to pass through rebel-held territory in order to reach sites still under government control. In either case, a ceasefire would make the work much more likely to be successful.

Even though it appears that the teams intend to destroy the equipment that Syria could use to do the final mixing of the two chemical precursors composing the bulk of Syria’s chemical weapons by November 1, much work will still be needed to destroy the chemicals themselves. Waiting until mid-November to start the peace conference seems a poor choice to me:

The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday urged the National Coalition for the Syrian opposition forces to reach out to other groups and forge an agreement on a united delegation for an upcoming peace conference in Geneva. Reports suggest that the peace conference will be held in mid-November. Hectic parleys are on in New York, to firm up the exact date, which is expected to be finalised this week. Meanwhile, it was known that Iran may also participate in the peace talks.

In his meeting with Ahmad al-Jarba, president of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, in New York on Saturday, the Secretary-General welcomed the opposition’s commitment to send a delegation to the upcoming peace conference.

Ban “urged the National Coalition to reach out to other opposition groups and agree on a representative and united delegation,” states the readout issued by the Secretary-General’s spokesperson.

If we break through all the noise about chemical weapons, the humanitarian crisis of the Syrian war is huge:

Since March 2011, the Syrian civil war has claimed over 100,000 lives. The civil war has displaced over 4 million people within Syria and sent more that 2 million people fleeing for safety to neighbouring countries.

Let’s hope that this peace conference is more successful than the last one:

A first Syria peace conference was held in Geneva in June 2012. The 2012 conference agreed that there should be a transitional government in Syria with full executive powers and called for a new conference to decide how to implement the accord.

The fact that Iran, a strong ally of the Assad government, is likely to take in part in this conference seems to bode well for it to make real progress on bringing hostilities to an end. I just wish the timing were more in concert with the planned actions on rounding up and disposing of the chemical weapon precursors.

US, Russia Agree on Syria Plan; UN Security Council Vote Could Come Later Today

In a continuation of Barack Obama’s pivot to diplomacy, it appears that the US and Russia, along with several other UN Security Council members, have come to an agreement on how to structure the UNSC resolution on the surrender and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. Further good news comes in the early analysis of the disclosure by Syria of its chemical weapon stockpile, as it appears that most of the material is composed of binary precursors. Because of this, Syria can be effectively disarmed quickly by destruction of the mixing equipment. Further, these sarin precursors can be destroyed more quickly and safely than sarin that has already been prepared. Finally, hints are now being dropped that the rapid progress on the diplomatic front may have been brought about by a realization that Assad may not be in full control of the use of Syria’s chemical weapons.

Talks between the US and Russia had been stalled for some time over the issue of how Chapter 7 of the UN Charter would be invoked in the UNSC resolution. The US has favored putting that language into the resolution currently under discussion, spelling out military action to be taken should Syria default in its responsibilities in the disarming process. Russia has resisted such an automatic process. It appears that the issue has been resolved by making it clear that if Syria should violate the initial agreement, the Security Council will meet again to vote on invocation of Chapter 7 and potential military action. Although war hawks will dismiss this approach as allowing Syria to delay and obfuscate, it also prevents manipulation by the US to blow a minor violation out of proportion and initiate military action without a full hearing before the Security Council.

Reuters emphasizes the current absence of Chapter 7 consequences in the draft resolution in the opening of its article on developments:

Ending weeks of diplomatic deadlock, the United States and Russia agreed on Thursday on a U.N. Security Council draft resolution that would demand Syria give up its chemical arms, but does not threaten military force if it fails to comply.

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said a deal was struck with Russia “legally obligating” Syria to give up its chemical stockpile and the measure went to the full Security Council in a closed-door meeting on Thursday night. U.N. diplomats said a vote could come within 24 hours.

The process which would be followed in the event of a violation of the agreement by Syria is described by the New York Times:

Western diplomats said the resolution would be legally binding and would stipulate that if Syria failed to abide by the terms, the Security Council would take measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the strongest form of a Council resolution. Such measures could include economic sanctions or even military action. But before any action could be taken, the issue would have to go back for further deliberations by the Security Council, on which Russia, like the other permanent members, holds a veto.

By making any Chapter 7 actions subject to a separate vote both the US and Russia will be forced to provide convincing evidence for the positions they take. The US won’t be able to move for military action on shaky grounds and Russia will be under a huge amount of pressure if they attempt to prevent a response to a clear violation. Gosh, such a process would put the UN into a position of functioning as it was intended. What a concept.

With all of the usual caveats that this is yet another transcription by Joby Warrick, there is very interesting and encouraging news coming from the initial disclosures on Syria’s chemical weapons: Read more

Speaking at UN, Obama Tries to Claim He Was Always For Diplomacy in Syria

I had seen several indications this morning that Obama planned to call for a diplomatic approach to the ongoing conflict in Syria despite the earlier indications that he intended to pursue a military strike even if the UK did not join and the UN did not provide a resolution authorizing force. I was hopeful that this new-found reliance on diplomacy would go all the way to calling for a ceasefire to provide safe conditions for the gathering and destruction of Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons.

Alas, my hopes were once again dashed as Obama fell far short of proposing a ceasefire and he wound up delivering very convoluted remarks as he tried to maintain the fiction that Bashar al-Assad’s forces have been proven to have carried out the August 21 chemical weapons attack and that he favors diplomacy over military action. The quotations I will use here are from the Washington Post’s transcript of his speech.

In a move that approaches Colin Powell’s historic spinning of lies before the invasion of Iraq, Obama stated that there is no dispute that Syrian forces are responsible for the August 21 attack:

The evidence is overwhelming that the Assad regime used such weapons on August 21st. U.N. inspectors gave a clear accounting that advanced rockets fired large quantities of sarin gas at civilians. These rockets were fired from a regime-controlled neighborhood and landed in opposition neighborhoods.

It’s an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.

As I stated shortly after the UN report came out, the report did not show that the rockets for which they determined trajectories carried sarin. That argument is strengthened further by the subsequent realization by others that not one of the environmental samples from the Moadamiyah site came back as positive for sarin. So now one of the famous lines that cross at a Syrian military installation has to be disregarded entirely because there is no evidence of sarin at the point of rocket impact. [Look for the website and reporters for the linked post to be attacked mercilessly. Both the Global Research site I linked to in one questioning post and the Mint Press site which suggested a Saudi false flag operation have been attacked savagely as to their credibility. Remarkably, I have yet to see any of those attacks actually contradict the questions that have been raised.*]

Let’s take a look at Obama’s logical gymnastics as he tried to justify both his initial intent to attack Syria and then his rediscovery that he prefers a diplomatic approach. Early in his Syria comments, he claimed ” A peace process is stillborn.” He gave no evidence of what, if any, role the US played in the peace process. In fact, his next sentence provides a partial clue to just how the peace process died: “America and others have worked to bolster the moderate opposition, but extremist groups have still taken root to exploit the crisis.”

You see, those moderate groups that we are arming are not able to defeat the extremists that others are arming. Sounds like a child caught fighting who says “he hit me back first”.

So that background of a stillborn peace process is why, even before the weak evidence from the UN that the US is misrepresenting came out, Obama insisted that he had to attack Assad. Obama’s ploy to support his actions approached a George W. Bush administration level of disdain for the UN itself as he supplied his rationalization: Read more

NYTimes Finally Finds Concern Over Impunity for War Crimes, But Only Assad’s War Crimes

Despite the fact that the US has never faced prosecution for its illegal invasion of Iraq or for the many documented acts of rendition and torture in the Great War on Terror, the New York Times this morning found it possible to rail against the injustice of impunity for war crimes. But only after jumping on the bandwagon to convict Bashar al-Assad’s government of a war crime for which definitive proof has not yet been developed. Here is their hand-wringing:

The repercussions have elevated the 30-month-old Syrian conflict into a global political crisis that is testing the limits of impunity over the use of chemical weapons.

The Times goes on to present the evidence from the UN analysis in the most unflattering light toward Assad. Nowhere in the report do we get discussion of the fact that the UN inspectors were not at the attack site until five to eight days after the attack. Even more importantly, the Times completely elides any reference to the cautionary note in the report that “potential evidence is being moved and possibly manipulated“.

The most damning accusations in the Times article rely on material outside the UN report (pdf). The report does not disclose any findings on the quality of the sarin found in the analysis, but that did not stop the “diplomats” who are eager to assign blame:

Both the British and American ambassadors to the United Nations also told reporters that the report’s lead author, Dr. Ake Sellstrom, a Swedish scientist who joined Mr. Ban in the Security Council briefing, had told members that quality of the sarin used in the attack was high.

“This was no cottage-industry use of chemical weapons,” said Britain’s ambassador, Sir Mark Lyall Grant. He said the type of munitions and trajectories had confirmed, “in our view, that there is no remaining doubt that it was the regime that used chemical weapons.”

Much attention has been given to the analysis of munitions found by the inspectors. The smaller of the two types described, the M14 or 140 mm rocket (which reportedly can carry about two liters of sarin), is typically launched by a towed launcher such as the one pictured here on Wikipedia. The larger type, a previously undescribed 330 mm rocket (which could carry over 50 liters of sarin) would be launched from a much larger vehicle, presumably the type usually seen mounted on the back of a large truck. Multiple sources state that the various Syrian rebel groups have not been documented to have launchers of these types.

Much also has been made of the triangulation of the two flight paths that the UN inspectors described, since the paths cross at a known Syrian military site. There is a huge problem, however, in using this information by itself to state conclusively that the flight paths prove that Syrian forces, under orders from Assad, fired the chemical weapons. From the way that the UN report is written, it is impossible to determine whether the two rockets for which these flight paths were determined actually tested positive for sarin, or if they even were tested at all. That is very important, since we know that Syrian forces continued to attack the Ghouta area during the time between the chemical attack and when the UN inspectors were allowed to do their work. In fact, we know that conventional shelling was carried out from the very base the ballistics analysis points to:

The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, also reported several air raids on the suburbs, and added that President Bashar Assad’s forces were shelling eastern Ghouta from the Qasioun mountain overlooking Damascus.

The analysis by Casual Observer, which he posted in this tweet and this close-up identifying Qasioun matches the information in the previously linked diagram from the Times and allows us to confirm that conventional artillery from the Qasioun base was known to have been fired at the chemical attack zone in the time between the chemical attack and the UN inspection.

At most, the ballistics analysis provides circumstantial evidence that supports the allegations that the Qasioun base was the source of at least some of the shelling where the chemical attack took place. The insecure nature of the site, coupled with the UN report being silent on whether there were positive sarin tests on the two rockets for which flight path analysis was carried out, prevents any conclusion that the sarin originated from the Syrian military base. And that’s before even getting to the question of whether Assad himself gave a command to fire chemical weapons.

Happy “Dirty Your Hands” by Partnering with Bashar al-Assad Day

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As I noted last week, 12 years ago today, President Bush signed the Memorandum of Notification that governed — and as of last year, at least, still governs — our war on terror.

Part of that MON, according to Bob Woodward’s Bush at War, includes partnering with “rogue regimes” like Syria on intelligence collection.

[Tenet] called for initiating intelligence contact with some rogue states such as Libya and Syria that he said might be helpful in trying to destroy al Qaeda. For the CIA to obtain helpful information against the terrorists, they might have to get their hands dirty.

After signing that MON, Bush’s own regime sent people like Maher Arar off to be tortured by Bashar al-Assad’s government.

The same guy we almost went to war against last week because he’s so barbaric, we partnered with, in a policy set by the President, outsourcing our torture.

As of May 25, 2012, the government was still relying on this MON (probably, at a minimum, to cover the drone and other method assassinations that aren’t covered by any AUMF).

I already noted all this; I wasn’t going to otherwise call out the anniversary of the day the “Gloves Came Off.”

But then I saw this clip of Philip Mudd on Colbert. About halfway through, Mudd says we have to fight Syria because Assad is,

a tyrant who has a reckless abandon when he murders innocents. At what point do you draw a line and say we are not just US citizens, we’re global citizens?

Mudd then goes on to answer a question about whether he tortured prisoners by saying he was Deputy Director of the Counterterrorism Center, which held and tortured prisoners.

He doesn’t regret that, he says.

He then goes on to admit he signed papers to render prisoners.

Mudd: If you’re asking if I’m responsible for some of that, the answer’s yes.

Colbert: Alright, you think that was the right thing to do.

Mudd: Yes.

Colbert: And we renditioned some of those people to Syria.

Mudd: Uh, I think the answer’s yes, I don’t [shakes head]

Colbert: OK

Mudd: We rendered a lot of people.

At what point do you draw a line, says this man, who can’t even remember that Syria was indeed one of the countries we outsourced our torture to, even the torture of an innocent man. We must be global citizens, not just American citizens, he says, and doing anything else is a sign of cowardice.

And yet, this intelligence expert can’t even figure out why Assad thinks he can get away with murdering his own people.

US Negotiating Position in Lavrov-Kerry Deal Depends on Expansive Commander-in-Chief Claims

Four weeks ago, our goal in Syria was regime change — to back the purportedly vetted rebels we’ve been training covertly in hopes they could defeat not only Bashar al-Assad, but also the more extreme (and better trained and more determined) Al Qaeda-tied fighters seeking to overthrow him.

Now, we are partners with Russia in ridding Syria of its chemical weapons. Congratulations to Putin on pulling this off (and to Obama for responding to a lifeline to at least get some positive benefit out of this, assuming Assad complies). May this save the lives of innocent Syrians.

While the framework that Sergei Lavrov and John Kerry just agreed to does allow the US to demand a UN resolution backing use of force in case Assad does balk,

The United States and the Russian Federation concur that this UN Security Council resolution should provide for review on a regular basis the implementation in Syria of the decision of the Executive Council of the OPCW, and in the event of non-compliance, including unauthorized transfer, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria, the UN Security Council should impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

The proposed joint US-Russian OPCW draft decision supports the application of Article VIII of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which provides for the referral of any cases of non-compliance to the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Security Council.

According to the AP the US does expect Russia would still veto such a resolution, and has instead made it clear it would act using Commander-in-Chief authority to protect “US interests.”

The resolution would come under Chapter 7 of the United Nations charter, which allows for military action, but U.S. officials acknowledge Russia would veto such a step and do not contemplate seeking authorization for the use of force. U.S. officials stress that President Barack Obama retains his right as U.S. commander-in-chief to conduct military strikes to defend American national security interests in the absence of U.N. authorization.

In other words, the US at least anticipates going to war unilaterally in any case. (For a laugh, read this John Bellinger piece which claims this makes this agreement just like Iraq because we went into Iraq because Saddam was insufficiently cooperative with inspectors looking for the WMD he didn’t have.)

Unlike Saddam, Assad has at least the hypothetical ability to comply with this agreement (though I expect Jim will have a lot to say in coming days about the practicality of the plan to move and destroy the weapons).

But as Marc Lynch made clear in a piece written before this agreement, we continue to be captive to the Gulf sheikhs’ demands.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s missile strikes against Syria may be off the table for now as diplomatic attention shifts to talks with Russia and the U.N. Security Council. But while negotiators from Moscow and Washington meet in Geneva, the increasing tempo of Washington’s public commitment to a strategy of arming parts of the Syrian opposition continues, with the aim of forcing President Bashar al-Assad to the bargaining table. Read more