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Lanny Breuer Covers Up Material Support for Terrorism

I noted last week how prosecutors were claiming they were being extra tough on HSBC for all its money laundering because of the seriousness of the charge they were going to defer: money laundering. Yesterday, with great fanfare, DOJ rolled out their deferred prosecution for money laundering, as if it were a good thing to ratchet up the charges you excuse.

But I was struck even more by how DOJ treated HSBC’s crimes they chose not to indict. Here’s how Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer described HSBC’s crimes:

HSBC is being held accountable for stunning failures of oversight – and worse – that led the bank to permit narcotics traffickers and others to launder hundreds of millions of dollars through HSBC subsidiaries, and to facilitate hundreds of millions more in transactions with sanctioned countries.

From 2006 to 2010, the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico, the Norte del Valle Cartel in Colombia, and other drug traffickers laundered at least $881 million in illegal narcotics trafficking proceeds through HSBC Bank USA.  These traffickers didn’t have to try very hard.  They would sometimes deposit hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, in a single day, into a single account, using boxes designed to fit the precise dimensions of the teller windows in HSBC Mexico’s branches.

In total, HSBC Bank USA failed to monitor over $670 billion in wire transfers from HSBC Mexico between 2006 and 2009, and failed to monitor over $9.4 billion in purchases of physical U.S. dollars from HSBC Mexico over that same period.

In addition to this egregious lack of oversight, from the mid-1990s through at least September 2006, HSBC knowingly allowed hundreds of millions of dollars to move through the U.S. financial system on behalf of banks located in countries subject to U.S. sanctions, including Cuba, Iran and Sudan.  On at least one occasion, HSBC instructed a bank in Iran on how to format payment messages so that the transactions would not be blocked or rejected by the United States.

That is, Breuer says HSBC 1) helped Mexican drug cartels launder money and 2) helped Cuban, Iranian, and Sudanese banks avoid US sanctions.

But that’s not all, according to the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, that HSBC did. The four main sections of the PSI report on HSBC’s Bank Secrecy Act and money laundering violations pertain to:

  1. Money laundering for Mexican cartels
  2. Helping banks evade sanctions
  3. Processing masses of travelers checks from Hokoriku bank in Japan which had suspicious ties to Russian “businessmen”
  4. Maintaining correspondent accounts with banks that had ties to terrorism, most notably the Al Rajhi bank

One of the things, according to Carl Levin, that HSBC did was help banks involved in terrorist financing get US dollars (that section takes up 53 pages of a 340 page report). And yet, Breuer’s speech did not once mention the word terrorism. The US Attorney’s release used the word “terror” once, though not in conjunction with HSBC. And the Statement of Facts mentions terrorism in conjunction with a description of the laws HSBC violated and in this one paragraph.

In addition to the cooperative steps listed above, HSBC Bank USA has assisted the Government in investigations of certain individuals suspected of money laundering and terrorist financing.

In short, Lanny Breuer and his prosecutors did not mention that this bank they were letting off without prosecution provided a terrorist-connected bank with US dollars for years.

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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.

Levin Brothers: Rick Snyder Doesn’t Understand How Unions Work

Michigan’s Democratic Senators and Congressmen met with Governor Snyder this morning to urge him either to veto the so-called Right to Work bill, defer its passage until next term, or take the appropriations out that would make the law referendum-proof.

On a conference call describing their meeting, their chief message served to rebut Snyder’s claimed reasons to pass RtW–that he wanted to “get beyond” this issue and that RtW would help jobs. Discussing this bill as a “right to work cliff,” Carl Levin said that if this passed, the Governor “will allow us to plunge into endless strife.” And it would do so, Senator Levin noted, after labor and corporations have achieved more cooperative relations of late (presumably a reference to the auto industry).

But the most interesting point that Senator Levin made–which his brother, Congressman Sander Levin elaborated on–is that Snyder doesn’t understand how unions work. “The Governor in his statement [last week] said it incorrectly” Sandy said, when he suggested workers would lose their job if they didn’t join a union. “And today I still don’t think he understands.” Sandy continued. Congressman Levin went on to remind that the principle that workers could not be forced to join a union has been enshrined since he and then-Governor George Romney negotiated collective bargaining law back in 1965.

Now, in accusing Snyder of not understanding how unions work, I guess the Democrats wanted to do two things: treat his obviously false excuse for passing this as a good faith statement, and then to correct the lies that false excuse was based on. But also to shift the blame for the labor unrest that will come as a result of this law onto the Governor; because he went along with what Carl Levin called a “parliamentary gimmick” that will push this through as referendum-proof, Snyder will be responsible for the negative effect this will have on Michigan’s economy.

I don’t know whether that will work or not. But one thing I didn’t hear is a criticism of Snyder’s vision for Michigan. Making MI a RtW state effectively embraces a vision of the state as Indiana or Mississippi or Bangladesh. Making MI a RtW state embraces the idea that we should be dumb labor, not innovative technology, just another entry in the race to be the cheapest, most desperate state.

I’m glad such key participants as Sandy Levin schooled Snyder on the last 50 years of MI history and what that history means for Snyder’s decision tomorrow. But ultimately we need to be calling Snyder out for his terrible vision for the future of MI.

Update: I’ve added an MSNBC appearance by State Rep Tim Greimel (from Auburn Hills, where Chrysler is located). It’s one of the better descriptions of what what RtW does I’ve seen.

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.

OCC Circles Back to JP Morgan’s Money Laundering

When I first read that the government was going to investigate JP Morgan Chase ∂for money laundering, I thought this was another case where the government continued to give wrist slaps–in the form of softball fines–to banks for behavior that never really changed. And to some degree that will be the case. After all, little more than a year ago Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control accused Jamie Dimon’s company of a whole slew of things, including sending Iran a ton (literally) of gold bullion. And in spite of the fact OFAC said JPMC substantially cooperated with their investigation so they could give it a softball fine, the settlement actually made it clear they had done anything but. (Though the softball fine may have also had something to do with what I suspect was cooperation on setting up the Scary Iran Plot.)

So here we are again, investigating JPMC for money laundering. Again.

But I wonder whether this doesn’t reflect an effort on the part of the Office of Comptroller and Currency, which the NYT says is leading the probe, to improve on its past willful neglect in this area.

Regulators, led by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, are close to taking action against JPMorgan Chase for insufficient safeguards, the officials said. The agency is also scrutinizing several other Wall Street giants, including Bank of America.

The comptroller’s office could issue a cease-and-desist order to JPMorgan in coming months, an action that would force the bank to plug any gaps in oversight, according to several people knowledgeable about the matter. But the agency, which oversees the nation’s biggest banks, has not yet completed its case. JPMorgan is in the spotlight partly because federal authorities accused the bank last year of transferring money in violation of United States sanctions against Cuba and Iran.

Since OFAC let JPMC off with a wrist slap last year, the OCC has gotten a new confirmed head, Thomas Curry, from FDIC, and gotten rid of a corrupt Chief Counsel, Julie Williams. OCC also got hammered in Carl Levin’s report on HSBC’s money laundering.

To carry out [its oversight] mission, in the words of the OCC, it conducts “regular examinations to ensure that institutions under our supervision operate safely and soundly and in compliance with laws and regulations,” including AML laws. However, the HSBC case history, like the Riggs Bank case history examined by this Subcommittee eight years ago, provides evidence that the current OCC examination system has tolerated severe AML deficiencies for years and given banks great leeway to address targeted AML problems without ensuring the effectiveness of their AML program as a whole. As a result, the current OCC examination process has allowed AML issues to accumulate into a massive problem before an OCC enforcement action is taken.

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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.

Mitt’s Election Would Just Mean Cofer Black Would Get His Kill List Back

Amidst all the partying and pandering, some actual journalism did take place in Charlotte. Gawker’s John Cook asked the following people about whether Americans could trust Mitt Romney to decide which American citizens to assassinate with drones (definitely click through for the video):

  • Kay Hagen, Armed Services Subcommittee Chair on Emerging Threats
  • Carl Levin, Armed Services Committee Chair and ex officio member of Senate Intelligence Committee
  • Cary Booker, Newark Mayor
  • Lanny Davis, Asshole
  • Brad Woodhouse, DNC Spokesperson
  • Chuck Schumer, Judiciary Committee Member
  • Gloria Allred, bane of bmaz’ existence
  • Bill Press, lefty radio personality
  • Unnamed Arizona delegate

Only Bill Press gives an answer that even recognizes the gravity of the answer.

It’s an interesting question, though, for another reason.

If Mitt were elected, then the Kill List’s rightful owner, Cofer Black, might well get it back. The Kill List–like so much else–goes back to the September 17, 2001 “Gloves Come Off” Memorandum of Notification that Black threw together as a wish list of expansive counterterrorism approaches. (Also on there, btw, was partnering with Libya on torture, which Human Rights Watch further exposed the other day and I plan to return to.) And remarkably, when Cofer Black was in charge of the Kill List, it was used more judiciously than Obama has used it (Black had moved out of the Counterterrorism role at CIA before Kamal Derwish became the first American killed in a drone strike on November 5, 2002). And who knows? If Black took responsibility for the Kill List back, he might choose to focus on torture like he did before.

Don’t get me wrong–I don’t want Cofer Black back in any official capacity. But it’s worth remembering that Obama’s Kill List is really just a hand me down from the guy who, along with the Kill List, also instituted torture and partnership with Moammar Qaddafi.

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.

You Don’t Suppose All These Dictators Have Been Looting with SCB’s and HSBC’s Help?

It happens every time. Around about the time it becomes clear a corrupt Middle Eastern dictator will fall, but before he has actually fallen, the press begins to report on the hunt for the money the dictator looted from his country. There was the “discovery” of Hosni Mubarak’s up-to $70 billion in February 2011. And reports, in March 2011, of the up to $200 billion that Moammar Qaddafi looted.

And today,

Even as the war in Syria rages and Bashar al-Assad clings to power, the race to find the regime’s vast—and mostly hidden—fortune is already underway. Experts say al-Assad and his associates have amassed as much as $25 billion through investments in banks, state industries and other concessions, and has stashed the money in offshore tax havens and in investments across the Middle East.

I don’t mean to slight Eli Lake (or any of the other journalists linked) for reporting this. It’s important the world remember that these dictators rule by and for the looting of their countries. Indeed, Lake’s report is particularly useful in the way he maps out the industry that charges big fees to help bring looted money back to its rightful owners.

Finding the money is of keen interest to the modern-day treasure hunters who specialize in recovering the wealth of fallen dictators. Sometimes called financial intelligence or forensic accounting, the industry comprises lawyers, accountants, ex-spies, former law enforcement investigators and even some retired journalists, all of whom look at the unrest in Syria as a business opportunity. Some firms charge several thousands of dollars per hour for the sleuth work of a team of six to eight investigators. Others get paid a “success fee,” a small percentage of the overall haul.

It’s just that few people ever want to talk about the looting that goes on–often with the assistance and for the profit of American and/or European banks–while it’s occurring.

Which is one of the reasons why the flap over Standard Chartered is so interesting. It revealed that most of the regulators overseeing our sanctions and money-laundering enforcement really wanted SCB to reach a settlement on transactions that SCB now admits represent just a fraction of a percent of the affected transactions. And that’s just the Iranian transactions; it doesn’t include the Libyan transactions that Benjamin Lawsky alluded to in a footnote of the report.

And while there’s no evidence in the DFS report that SCB was helping Assad loot his country, the Carl Levin-led investigation into HSBC describes several examples of HSBC evading sanctions so as to keep its Syrian business even after sanctions were imposed. In particular, there’s the way HSBC apparently decided it wouldn’t tell the Office of Foreign Asset Controls about the trust relationship its Cayman Island affiliate had with Rami Makhlouf, whom Lake singles out as a key Syrian target of the loot-hunters.

Another account involving an individual on the OFAC list was housed at HSBC Cayman Islands. On February 21, 2008, a Syrian businessman by the name of Rami Makhlouf was placed on the SDN list by OFAC. One week later, HSBC Cayman Compliance personnel contacted HBUS to report that HSBC Cayman Islands currently held a trust relationship with Mr. Makhlouf and to inquire as to “what actions if any HSBC Group has taken in relation to the above mentioned individual.” An HBUS Compliance officer asked the Cayman Compliance officer for more information about the Makhlouf accounts, and the head of HSBC Cayman Compliance responded: “The Trust is administered by HSBC Geneva. We raised concerns with this client in August 2007 however we were assured by David Ford that the relationship had been reviewed at a Group level and a decision had been taken to continue with the relationship.” Ultimately, HBUS determined that it did not have any connection to Mr. Makhlouf and did not need to report any information to OFAC.

Maybe the loot-hunters should ask HSBC and SCB where Qaddafi and Assad put their money? Maybe that’s what they bill out at such high rates to do?

The thing is, we can only point to these details because SCB and HSBC, because of Lawsky and Levin’s efforts, have undergone more transparency than all the other banks helping dictators strip their country’s wealth.  Regulators apparently want to keep us from knowing how much purportedly respectable banks help these dictators to shore up their own power and loot their countries. Moreover, they only want to penalize these banks for a tiny fraction of the business they do with these dictators even after they’ve been sanctioned.

It’s as if the regulators wanted to permit this kind of looting to happen, only to acted surprised at the sheer scope of the looting after the dictator’s demise.

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.

Feinstein and Levin: Hassan Ghul Revealed Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti’s Role, and Then We Tortured Him

Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin have released a statement that basically says Jose Rodriguez’ Big Boy Pants are on fire for the lies he has told about the torture program.

The statement is interesting for two reasons. First, it gets closer and closer to saying that the torture program was successful primarily in eliciting false confessions.

Further, it’s worth repeating, as discussed in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s 2008 report, the SERE techniques used in the CIA’s interrogation program were never intended to be used by U.S. interrogators. Rather, the techniques – which are based on Communist Chinese interrogation techniques used during the Korean War to elicit false confessions – were developed to expose U.S. soldiers to the abusive treatment they might be subjected to if captured by our enemies. An overwhelming number of experts agree, the SERE techniques are not an effective means to illicit accurate information. [my emphasis]

It’s really time for them to be as clear as their leaking aides are in saying, anonymously, that the torture program got–and was designed to get–false confessions.

Hopefully, as Jose Rodriguez’ torture tour continues, they’ll get over this reticence.

The statement also confirms what was described in this AP report: that the CIA detainee who provided the most important intelligence leading to Osama bin Laden–who has been reported as Hassan Ghul–did so before we tortured him.

The CIA detainee who provided the most significant information about the courier provided the information prior to being subjected to coercive interrogation techniques.

So we tortured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and he gave up invented locations for OBL (while hiding the courier). But we got key evidence from Ghul that might have led to OBL and … we tortured him anyway.

I wonder how many books Rodriguez is going to sell claiming that this program was effective?

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.

Lanny Breuer’s Theory of Chatting Accountability for CEOs

This whole video is worth watching. Eliot Spitzer, former US Attorney Mary Jo White, and Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer discuss financial crimes, with SIGTARP head Neil Barofsky moderating. I was fairly troubled, in general, of the hesitations White and Breuer expressed over actually prosecuting financial crime.

But I found the passage just after 46:00, where Lanny Breuer argues you don’t need prosecutions for deterrence among CEOs, to be stunning.

Look, I want to be clear, I don’t want to suggest for a moment that we don’t–and we will–aggressively pursue cases criminally but, I guess both as a defense lawyer, which I was for many years, a white collar defense lawyer and now as AAG, I don’t think we should completely discount the deterrent effect when we investigate cases even if we don’t bring them.

If a CEO or CFO of a major institution feels that he or she is subject to criminal liability, when we interview them or put them in the grand jury, they have lawyers and this is hanging over their head for years and years. It may be at the end we decide not to prosecute the company or the individual but I think it’s really inaccurate to suggest that that doesn’t have a very strong effect. I’m not sure CEOs on Wall Street right now feel as if they can do what they want and there’s no deterrence.

He returns to a discussion of “going in and out” between corporate representation and DOJ after 52:00 and he avoids talking about robo-signing at 1:00.

As you read that, think about what has happened with Lloyd Blankfein. He bullshitted Carl Levin’s investigatory committee back in April 2010. Levin released a report last year stating he had lied, and referred his investigation to DOJ.

And Lloyd Blankfein, who almost two years ago didn’t take Congress sufficiently seriously to tell the truth, is still running around free profiting off of European countries’ debts.

Does Breuer really think seeing Blankfein treat Congress and regulators with utter disdain served as a deterrent to anyone? On the contrary, what appears to have been Lanny’s Chatting Accountability for CEOs only serves to show that these MOTUs are above the 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.

to Inform You that You Inform Us We Killed Another Drone Target'>We Request to Inform You that You Inform Us We Killed Another Drone Target

I want to follow-up on Jim’s latest drone post–and go back to Greg Miller’s article on drones–to look at the the approval process. A lot of readers of Miller’s article noted this passage, revealing that JSOC continues to avoid the kind of (minimal) oversight that CIA gets.

There is no comparable requirement in Title 10, and the Senate Armed Services Committee can go days before learning the details of JSOC strikes.

But read the whole passage in context.

Within 24 hours of every CIA drone strike, a classified fax machine lights up in the secure spaces of the Senate Intelligence Committee, spitting out a report on the location, target and result.

The outdated procedure reflects the agency’s effort to comply with Title 50 requirements that Congress be provided with timely, written notification of covert action overseas. There is no comparable requirement in Title 10, and the Senate Armed Services Committee can go days before learning the details of JSOC strikes.

Neither panel is in position to compare the CIA and JSOC kill lists or even arrive at a comprehensive understanding of the rules by which each is assembled.

The senior administration official said the gap is inadvertent. “It’s certainly not something where the goal is to evade oversight,” the official said. A senior Senate aide involved in reviewing military drone strikes said that the blind spot reflects a failure by Congress to adapt but that “we will eventually catch up.”

The disclosure of these operations is generally limited to relevant committees in the House and Senate and sometimes only to their leaders. Those briefed must abide by restrictions that prevent them from discussing what they have learned with those who lack the requisite security clearances. The vast majority of lawmakers receives scant information about the administration’s drone program.

In addition to the long-standing problem of JSOC avoiding oversight (and, implicitly, that this notice apparently comes after the fact, when CIA sends a fax over, which is a little late for the Intelligence Committees to weigh in, IMO), Miller lays out the following:

  • No one–not the intelligence committees or even the Gang of Four–gets enough insight into the drone programs to understand how JSOC’s practices differ from CIA’s (this is consistent with what the Gang of Four said about Anwar al-Awlaki’s killing, given that they said they never saw the kill lists)
  • As is typical, the intelligence committee overseers can’t share information from briefings with their colleagues not read into the program (this is how the Bush Administration gutted intelligence committee oversight of the torture and illegal wiretap programs)

But don’t worry, a senior Administration official says, this time, this secrecy is not designed specifically to avoid oversight.

Apparently, this SAO’s interlocutors don’t agree, because the WSJ’s Adam Entous and Siobhan Gorman have a similar story out today, just three days after Miller’s, quoting “current and former administration, military and congressional officials” complaining about oversight gaps.

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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.

Obama Apologists Ignoring the Rotting Corpse of Anwar al-Awlaki

It’s been amusing to see how Obama apologists have taken Lawfare’s very helpful explainer on the NDAA’s detainee provisions to pretend that their president isn’t signing a bill that he believes authorizes the indefinite detention of American citizens.

Take this example from Karoli.

Here’s how she claims that Lawfare proves that the bill doesn’t authorize indefinite detention of American citizens.

Key point rebutting the contention that the indefinite detention provisions apply to United States citizens:

Section 1022 purports not merely to authorize but to require military custody for a subset of those who are subject to detention under Section 1021. In particular, it requires that the military hold “a covered person” pending disposition under the law of war if that person is “a member of, or part of, al-Qaeda or an associated force that acts in coordination with or pursuant to the direction of al-Qaeda” and is participating in an attack against the United States or its coalition partners. The president is allowed to waive this requirement for national security reasons. The provision exempts U.S. citizens entirely, and it applies to lawful permanent resident aliens for conduct within the United States to whatever extent the Constitution permits. It requires the administration to promulgate procedures to make sure its requirements do not interfere with basic law enforcement functions in counterterrorism cases. And it insists that “Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect the existing criminal enforcement and national security authorities of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or any other domestic law enforcement agency with regard to a covered person, regardless whether such covered person is held in military custody.” [emhasis original]

Of course, Karoli can only make this claim by pretending that section 1022–the section that makes military detention presumptive for non-citizens but doesn’t foreclose military detention of US citizens–is section 1021–the section that affirms the President’s authority to indefinitely detain people generally. And she can also make this claim only by ignoring the section where Lawfare answers her question directly.

Does the NDAA authorize the indefinite detention of citizens?

No, though it does not foreclose the possibility either.

The NDAA doesn’t do anything to exempt Americans from indefinite detention. And the reason it doesn’t–at least according to the unrebutted claims of Carl Levin that I reported on over a month ago–is because the Administration asked the Senate Armed Services Committee to take out language that would have specifically exempted Americans from indefinite detention.

The initial bill reported by the committee included language expressly precluding “the detention of citizens or lawful resident aliens of the United States on the basis of conduct taking place within the United States, except to the extent permitted by the Constitution of the United States.”  The Administration asked that this language be removed from the bill. [my emphasis]

So the effect is that (as Lawfare describes in detail) the bill remains unclear about whether Americans can be detained indefinitely and so we’re left arguing about what the law is until such time as a plaintiff gets beyond the Executive Branch’s state secrets invocations to actually decide the issue in court.

But what’s not unclear is what Obama believes about the bill he’s signing. That’s true not just because (again, according to the unrebutted statement of Carl Levin) the Administration specifically made sure that the detention provisions could include Americans, but because the Administration used a bunch of laws about detention to justify the killing of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki.

And, as Charlie Savage has reported, the legal justification the Administration invented for killing an American citizen in a premeditated drone strike consists of largely the same legal justification at issue in the NDAA detainee provisions.

  • The 2001 AUMF, which purportedly defined who our enemies are (though the NDAA more logically includes AQAP in its scope than the 2001 AUMF)
  • Hamdi, which held the President could hold an American citizen in military detention under the 2001 AUMF
  • Ex Parte Quirin, which held that an American citizen who had joined the enemy’s forces could be tried in a military commission
  • Scott v. Harris (and Tennesee v. Garner), which held that authorities could use deadly force in the course of attempting to detain American citizens if that person posed an imminent threat of injury or death to others

In other words, Obama relied on substantially the same legal argument supporters of the NDAA detainee provisions made to argue that indefinite detention of American citizens was legal, with the addition of Scott v. Harris to turn the use of deadly force into an unfortunate side-effect of attempted detention. [original typos corrected]

We don’t have to guess about what the Administration believes the law says about detention and its unfortunate premeditated side effect of death because we have the dead body of Anwar al-Awlaki to make it clear that the Administration thinks Hamdi gives the Executive expansive war powers that apply even to American citizens.

You don’t get to the targeted killing of American citizens (which, after all, doesn’t offer the possibility of a habeas corpus review) without first believing you’ve got the power to indefinitely detain Americans (with habeas review).

Now, to Obama’s, um, credit, I don’t think he actually wants to indefinitely detain Americans. He seems to have figured out that the civilian legal system is far more effective–and plenty flexible–for detaining terrorists for long (and usually life, in the case of actual terrorist attackers) sentences. He doesn’t necessarily want to use the power of indefinite detention he believes he has, but (as the unrebutted claims of Carl Levin make clear) he wants to be able to continue to claim he has it, probably because a bunch of other claimed authorities–demonstrably, targeted killing, and probably some kinds of domestic surveillance–depend on it.

But that doesn’t excuse what he will do by signing the bill into law. He’s signing a bill that grants the executive broad powers of detention that he believes to include American citizens. And while he may not want to detain Americans, that’s no guarantee that President Newt won’t want to.

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.

Lindsey Graham’s Independent Review for All Detainees in US Prisons

As I’ve said before, I think Carl Levin’s assurances that habeas corpus will prevent the Executive from holding people without cause under his new detainee provisions (and, frankly, under the status quo) is dangerously naive, because it ignores how badly the DC Circuit has gutted habeas.

That said, maybe this colloquy between Lindsey Graham and Carl Levin might help. (h/t to Lawfare for making transcripts available)

Mr. GRAHAM. If someone is picked up as a suspected enemy combatant under this narrow window, not only does the executive branch get to determine how best to do that–do you agree with me that, in this war, that every person picked up as an enemy combatant–citizen or not–here in the United States goes before a Federal judge, and our government has to prove to an independent judiciary outside the executive branch by a preponderance of the evidence that you are who we say you are and that you have fit in this narrow window? That if you are worried about some abuse of this, we have got a check and balance where the judiciary, under the law that we have created, has an independent review obligation to determine whether the executive branch has abused their power, and that decision can be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court?
Mr. LEVIN. That guarantee is called habeas corpus. It has been in our law. It is untouched by anything in this bill. Quite the opposite; we actually enhance the procedures here.

[snip]

Mr. GRAHAM. In this case where somebody is worried about being picked up by a rogue executive branch because they went to the wrong political rally, they don’t have to worry very long, because our Federal courts have the right and the obligation to make sure the government proves their case that you are a member of al-Qaida and didn’t go to a political rally. That has never happened in any other war. That is a check and balance here in this war. And let me tell you why it is necessary.
This is a war without end. There will never be a surrender ceremony signing on the USS Missouri. So what we have done, knowing that an enemy combatant determination could be a de facto life sentence, is we are requiring the courts to look over the military’s shoulder to create checks and balances. Quite frankly, I think that is a good accommodation.

[snip]

I want to be able to tell anybody who is interested that no person in an American prison–civilian or military–held as a suspected member of al-Qaida will be held without independent judicial review. We are not allowing the executive branch to make that decision unchecked. For the first time in the history of American warfare, every American combatant held by the executive branch will have their day in Federal court, and the government has to prove by a preponderance of the evidence you are in fact part of the enemy force. [my emphasis]

Not only does Graham insist the standard in habeas cases must be a “preponderance of the evidence” standard–something the DC Circuit has threatened to chip away at. But the language about courts having an obligation to make sure the government proves it case and courts looking over the shoulder sure implies a stronger review than Janice Rogers Brown understands it.

Furthermore, while Graham speaks explicitly at times about people caught in the US, his aspiration that “no person in an American prison … will be held without independent judicial review” would sure sound good the detainees in the American prison at Bagram, particularly taken in conjunction with Section 1036, which seems to suggest they get a review too.

Of course, passing a law stating that habeas corpus must consist of something more than a Circuit Court Judge rubber-stamping the government’s inaccurate intelligence files would be far better. But this language, showing legislative intent that habeas review remain real, is about all we get these days.

 

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.