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The Campaign in Afghanistan: Neutralizing Petraeus, Though Not the Taliban?

Rolling Stone just published an excerpt from Michael Hastings’ new book, The Operators.

Click through to read the whole thing (I expect Jim will weigh in as well). But for the moment, consider the irony of this passage, given all that has transpired.

I asked him about Petraeus. He said his relationship with Petraeus was “complex.” He’d replaced Dave three times in five years in jobs. “You know, I’ve been one step behind him.”

Petraeus had uncharacteristically kept a low profile over the past year. He didn’t seem to want to get publicly attached to the war in Afghani­stan. He’d had his triumph in Iraq, and military officials speculated that he knew there was no way the Afghanistan war was going to turn out well. That it was a loser, and he was happy enough to let McChrystal be left holding the bag.

“He couldn’t command this,” McChrystal said. “Plus, he’s one and ‘oh.’ This one is very questionable.”

Petraeus had been “wonderfully supportive,” though, despite the competition between the two. Within military circles, there was a long-standing debate over who should get more credit for what was considered the success in Iraq—McChrystal running JSOC in the shadows, or Pe­traeus for instituting the overall counterinsurgency strategy. After Obama took office, the White House had told Petraeus to stay out of the spot-light—they were worried about the general’s presidential ambitions and they were afraid he would overshadow the young president, McChrystal explained.

The White House told McChrystal, “‘We don’t want a man on horse­back.’ I said I don’t even have a horse. They are very worried about Pe­traeus. They certainly don’t have to be worried about me,” McChrystal said. “But Petraeus, if he wanted to run, he’s had a lot of offers. He says he doesn’t want to, and I believe him.”

“I think he seems like a smart enough guy that in 2012, as a journal­ist, as someone who covered the campaign—” I started to say.

“Do you think he could win?” McChrystal asked me.

“Not in 2012,” I said. “I think in 2016 it would be a no-brainer. But I’ve seen it happen to these guys who get built up, built up, built up . . . If he steps into it in 2012, the narrative is ‘Oh, he shouldn’t have done that. Is that a dishonorable thing to do for an honorable general?’ And that is the narrative. That’s the first cover of Time.” [my emphasis]

McChrystal speculates to Hastings about the Obama Administration’s insecurity regarding David Petraeus (a speculation I agree with). That’s why, McChrystal claims, the showboat Petraeus had gotten so quiet.

But McChrystal offered another reason for Petraeus’ silence: Petraeus wanted to stay away from the taint of Afghanistan, which everyone seemed sure wasn’t going to work out so well.

So after Hastings’ original article–revealing the frank comments of McChrystal’s staffers came out, what happens? Petraeus has to follow McChrystal, commanding the war that everyone seems anxious to blame someone else for. Obama gets rid of McChrystal, but also taints Petraeus with precisely the stinker war he seems to want to avoid.

Mind you, Petraeus has since moved on, now commanding the purportedly secret drone campaigns in other countries.

Still, read now, against the background of Administration attempts (partly negotiated by Petraeus, I wonder?) to get a face-saving peace with the Taliban, it seems all the more sordid.

Afghanistan–where a purportedly broke America continues to dump billions of dollars–seemed to be treated more as a battleground for arrogant men to fight their own political battles than a war anyone aspired to winning.

Bachmann Was Almost Right: The ACLU Is in Cahoots with the CIA

As I have puzzled over the civil liberties and human rights communities’ stance on the NDAA Detainee Provisions, I’ve come to the unfortunate conclusion that Michelle Bachmann was not far off when she claimed, “Barack Obama … has essentially handed over our interrogation of terrorists to the ACLU. He has outsourced it to them.”

After all, in the guise of “fixing” some of what I agree are problems with the Detainee Provisions–the laws regarding detention and interrogation of detainees–the ACLU is telling its members to lobby for the Udall Amendment to the NDAA.

But there is a way to stop this dangerous legislation. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) is offering the Udall Amendment that will delete the harmful provisions and replace them with a requirement for an orderly Congressional review of detention power. The Udall Amendment will make sure that the bill matches up with American values.

In support of this harmful bill, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) explained that the bill will “basically say in law for the first time that the homeland is part of the battlefield” and people can be imprisoned without charge or trial “American citizen or not.” Another supporter, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) also declared that the bill is needed because “America is part of the battlefield.”

The solution is the Udall Amendment; a way for the Senate to say no to indefinite detention without charge or trial anywhere in the world where any president decides to use the military. Instead of simply going along with a bill that was drafted in secret and is being jammed through the Senate, the Udall Amendment deletes the provisions and sets up an orderly review of detention power. It tries to take the politics out and put American values back in.

As a threshold matter, the ACLU’s  support of the Udall Amendment appears to put them on the same side of the debate as–among others–former CIA exec John Brennan and the former Director of the CIA, Leon Panetta. (Current CIA Director and outspoken detention authority while still at DOD, General David Petraeus, has been eerily quiet over the last several weeks.)

And I do agree with the ACLU that the Udall Amendment sets up an orderly review of detention power.

But, as I’ve noted, there’s one aspect of the Detainee Provisions that Udall doesn’t leave for orderly review: the scope of the language describing a “covered person.” Instead, Udall’s Amendment says covered people should be those “whose detention … is consistent with the laws of war and based on authority provided by” the 9/11 and Iraq AUMFs, as well as “any other statutory or constitutional authority.”

(b) Covered Persons.–A covered person under this section is any person, other than a member of the Armed Forces of the United States, whose detention or prosecution by the Armed Forces of the United States is consistent with the laws of war and based on authority provided by any of the following:

(1) The Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40).

(2) The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution 2002 (Public Law 107-243).

(3) Any other statutory or constitutional authority for use of military force.

Udall pretty much unilaterally reasserts the application of the AUMFs (plural) and other vaguely defined legal bases to detention (and, because that’s how OLC has built up Executive Power over the last decade, a bunch of other things), in an effort to defeat SASC’s language that limits such detention authority to those tied directly to 9/11 or “who [were] part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces.” Udall’s Amendment may give SSCI and SJC another shot at this law, but it dictates that detention authority apply to a far broader group of people than the SASC language describes.

Hey, Mark. See that calendar? We’re not going to pass and sign this bill before December 1. We’re due to pull our troops out of Iraq by the end of that month. Are you telling me we need to include that language for less than 31 days? Or just to provide a bubble during which the Administration can do whatever it wants with Ali Mussa Daqduq, the alleged Hezbollah agent in US custody presenting so many legal dilemmas for us in Iraq? Or are you instead applying the AUMF for a war that is effectively over to grant the President authority to hold a much broader category of “terrorist” than the 9/11 AUMF authorized? Why, at this late date, are you including the Iraq AUMF?

Given your “based on authority provided” language, I assume it is the latter, meaning this attempt to do an orderly review of detention authority also mandates that that detention authority be applied as if the Iraq war were not ending.

And all that’s before you consider the “any other statutory or constitutional authority for use of military force,” which seems to say that in any circumstance in which Congress has authorized some use of military force, Udall’s Amendment also piggybacks detention authority … and whatever else (like assassination and wiretap authority) gets built off of detention authority in secret by the OLC.

The Udall Amendment, while giving the Senate Intelligence and Senate Judiciary Committees an opportunity to weigh in on what the President must and can do with detainees, goes far beyond the language in the SASC version of 1031, which reaffirmed the war on terrorists, but only on terrorists who have anything directly to do with, or are associated with, 9/11.

I may be badly misreading this. But as I understand it, the ACLU is basically lobbying to codify a vastly-expanded AUMF that will serve to legitimize many of the intelligence community’s most egregious civil liberties abuses, not just on detention, but on a range of other “war powers,” like wiretapping and assassination.

And while that may not be the same as outsourcing interrogation to the ACLU–as Bachmann described it–it does amount to using the ACLU to give sanction to a broad expansion of Executive war and surveillance powers the likes of which the CIA loves to exploit.

Night Raids, Drones and Raymond Davis Still in Af-Pak News

A vitally important loya jirga, or grand gathering, is underway in Afghanistan with leaders from all over the country converging to share their views on the future of the Afghanistan-US relationship.  Afghan President Hamid Karzai has announced that a prerequisite for any deal with the US is an end to night raids.  Perhaps because of the importance of the meetings in Afghanistan, today saw a particularly large drone attack just across the border in Pakistan, with at least 15 killed in the attack.  Raymond Davis also makes a surprise re-appearance in today’s news, with former Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi providing more details on his resignation when he was under pressure for refusing to grant diplomatic immunity to Raymond Davis.

The loya jirga starts today and the Taliban has vowed to attack it:

 About 2,000 Afghan community and political leaders will gather on Wednesday in Kabul under tight security for four days of deliberations on the country’s most pressing issues, including ties with main ally the United States.

The meeting, known as a loya jirga, or grand assembly, cannot make laws, and whatever it decides has to be approved by parliament, but the subjects up for debate are among the most sensitive: the scope of a U.S. military presence after a 2014 deadline for foreign combat troops to leave and the idea of peace talks with the Taliban.

The Taliban, who have long fought to oust foreign forces, have dismissed the meeting as a ruse to cement what they see as foreign interference and have already tried to disrupt it. They have vowed to target participants and said they had a copy of the jirga security plan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is using the occasion to say that no agreement with the US is possible without an end to night raids: Read more

Afghanistan Exit Strategy: “Fight, Talk, Build” Working (for Fight, Anyway)

Training exercise in Kandahar using helicopter from Afghan Air Force, September 17, 2011. (Army photo)

As the US stumbles around, trying to find its way out of a country it has occupied for over ten years, the path “forward” remains as murky as ever.  Just under two weeks ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was chosen as the point person for introducing the new US catchphrase “fight, talk, build” that is meant to describe US strategy in the region.  As I noted at the time, the US seemed to completely miss the irony of using the country’s chief diplomat to introduce a new strategy that is based on the concept of shoot first and ask questions later.

We learn in this morning’s Washington Post that the US strategy of attacking the Haqqani network on both sides of the Pakistan border before starting serious efforts to hold talks with them has only increased the frequency of attacks from them.  As the remarkable passage from the Post below illustrates, the US had to endure no fewer than five large, high profile attacks from the Haqqani network before considering the possibility that the attacks could be a return of “fight” for “fight” and an attempt to improve the Haqqani position for later negotiations rather than the laughable early suggestion from the US that by resorting to more spectacular attacks, the Haqqanis were demonstrating that they had been weakened significantly:

This official and others acknowledged that the success of the strategy, which Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has described as “fight, talk and build,” depends on a positive outcome for several variables that currently appear headed in the wrong direction.

On Saturday, insurgents staged a suicide bomb attack in Kabul that killed at least 12 Americans, a Canadian and four Afghans. A similar truck bomb attack Monday left three United Nations employees dead in the southern city of Kandahar.

The attacks were the latest in a series of spectacular insurgent strikes that have made reconciliation seem remote. In September, the Pentagon blamed the Haqqani network for a truck bombing of a combat outpost west of Kabul that wounded 77 U.S. troops and for an assault by gunmen on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

A week after the embassy strike, a suicide bomber killed Burhanuddin Rabbani, the head of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, which is in charge of reconciliation negotiations for the government.

U.S. officials have said they were unsure whether the attacks were a reflection of insurgent military weakness, a rejection of talks or a burst of aggression designed to improve the militants’ negotiating position — similar to the escalation of U.S. attacks on the Haqqani network.

That bit at the beginning should not be overlooked: the success of the “fight, talk, build” strategy “depends on a positive outcome for several variables that currently appear headed in the wrong direction.”  Mechanisms for reversing the current direction of these variables are not presented in the article.

Meanwhile, the first in a series of “conferences” has gotten underway in Turkey, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai meeting directly with Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari. Parallel meetings between the two countries’ top military officers are also taking place. Clinton had been scheduled to join the conference tomorrow, but her trip was canceled yesterday, apparently because of her mother’s ill health (Update: there are reports on Twitter that Dorothy Rodham has died).  It looks as though the US feels talking can wait, as no replacement for Clinton at the conference has been announced.

While the Obama administration begins to think about preparing to maybe get the Pentagon perhaps to agree to withdraw a few more troops out of Afghanistan,  we see the terrain being softened a bit more for the eventual realization that all of the US efforts  and investments in “training” Afghan forces are destined for failure.  It appears from this article that David Petraeus, who is touted in the press as responsible for training when it is described as being successful, will escape blame for the failure in Afghanistan because William Caldwell is described in the article as having “overseen all NATO training in Afghanistan for the past two years”.  In true Petraeus fashion, the slate for the previous eight years is not just wiped clean, but ceases to exist.  Petreaus’ name does not appear in the article.

There is one truly refreshing bit of honesty that breaks through into the Reuters piece on training of Afghan troops:

But senior U.S. military officials admit that money has not always been spent in the wisest ways.

“We have received an awful lot of money from the U.S. government. We need to use it differently now,” said U.S. Army Major General Peter Fuller, deputy commander for programs and resources within the NATO training mission.

Another U.S. official in Kabul, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the mission was buying up high-tech equipment to satisfy Washington, while more basic needs were ignored.

Yup.  “Training” Afghan forces turns out to be nothing more than an exercise in further lining the pockets of military contractors and the lawmakers who benefit from their lobbying.  With that driving force in mind, efforts to achieve a true exit from Afghanistan will face fierce resistance in Washington.

JSOC Denial of Ignoring Torture in Afghan Prisons Not Credible–They Trained Afghan Military Police

Brig. Gen. Saffiullah, Afghan National Army Military Police Brigade commander, proudly displays his certificate from Robert Harward, left, on April 5, 2010. (Air Force photo)

Yesterday, the Washington Post finally caught up to where Marcy was over two weeks ago and discussed the UN report “Treatment of Conflict-Related Detainees in Afghan Custody” (pdf).  I’d like to move beyond the primary findings of the report, that torture is widespread in Afghan detention facilities and that the US continued bringing prisoners to these facilities long after other nations discontinued the practice due to concerns over reports of torture, and to examine US denials of knowledge regarding the torture.

First, to set the stage from the Post article:

Department 124 was long sealed off from the outside world; the ICRC, the United Nations and other organizations concerned with human rights were barred by Afghan officials from monitoring conditions there.

But American officials frequently went inside, according to Afghan officials and others familiar with the site. U.S. Special Operations troops brought detainees there, and CIA officials met with Department 124’s leadership on a weekly basis, reviewed their interrogation reports and used the intelligence gleaned from interrogations to inform their operations, the officials said.

And now the denial I’m most interested in:

One U.S. official in Kabul said the CIA officers and Special Operations troops would not have ignored torture. “Not in the post-Abu Ghraib era,” the official said. “All American entities out there are hyper-aware of these allegations and would report them up the chain.”

We will dismiss the CIA denial out of hand: documentation of CIA torture practices and the CIA’s attempts to have DOJ provide legal cover for them now fills many books. However, JSOC involvement in torture is less well-documented despite the fact that JSOC torture played a central, but under-reported, role in David Petraeus’ COIN strategy as implemented in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  Petraeus’ primary operative in implementing the torture strategy in both countries was Stanley McChrystal. Read more

Now That Training in Iraq is a Failure, Petraeus No Longer Mentioned

Screen grab of glorious General Petraeus from US Army recruiting video

A remarkable story in this morning’s Washington Post addresses a report released today from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.  The report details that the training of police forces in Iraq has been a failure:

Over the course of the eight-year-old war and military occupation, thousands of U.S. troops have spent considerable time and effort wooing and training police recruits, but Iraqi officials have often accused the United States of not providing much more than basic training.

In an August interview, Akeel Saeed, inspector general of the Iraqi Interior Ministry, said that in the past, the U.S. military was too often “implementing what they wanted, without acknowledging what the Iraqis wanted.”

The article discloses that despite all of this basic “training” that the US has provided over the years, now that the program has been handed over to the State Department, they will use the bulk of their $887 million budget this year on private security contractors.  That fact alone is all the proof we need that there is no confidence at all in Iraqi security forces, or there would be little to no need for the mercenaries:

But a government report set for release Monday found that the department is spending just 12 percent of money allocated for the program on advising Iraqi police officials, with the “vast preponderance” of funds going toward the security, transportation and medical support of the 115 police advisers hired for the program. When U.S. troops leave, thousands of private security guards are expected to provide protection for the thousands of diplomats and contractors set to stay behind. For security reasons, the State Department has declined to specify the cost and size of its anticipated security needs.

However, the SIGIR report (pdf) itself provides more background for understanding why such a large mercenary force is needed.  First, the report documents the handing over of responsibility for police training to DoD back in 2004 [INL is the Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs]: Read more

From US-Pakistan Meetings: No Pakistan Action in North Waziristan; Petraeus to Deliver Evidence Against ISI

The high level meetings in Islamabad between US and Pakistani officials head into their second day today, after a marathon four hour session late yesterday.  The line-ups of officials present for the two countries is remarkable and reflects the seriousness with which the two countries view the current situation.  Pakistan’s Express Tribune provides a partial list of those present at the meetings:

Clinton was accompanied by US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsy, Director Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) David Petraeus, US Special Envoy Marc Grossman and US Ambassador Cameron Munter, while Premier Gilani was assisted by Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, ISI chief Lt General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and other senior officials.

Despite the pomp surrounding the meetings and the seniority of those present, there seems to be little prospect that positions on the major issue will change.   As I described yesterday, Clinton is delivering the “new” catchphrase for the US of “fight, talk, build”, meaning that the US places the highest priority on fighting the Haqqani network, seen by the US as the biggest current threat and unlikely to participate in meaningful peace talks.  By contrast, Pakistan’s Prime Minister has implored the US to “give peace a chance”.  From the same Express Tribune article:

A statement issued by the Prime Minister’s press office also confirmed that Pakistan has no plans to initiate a military operation in North Waziristan.

“Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani called upon US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to give peace a chance, as envisaged in the All Parties Conference’s resolution,” said the statement.

We learn from today’s Washington Post that Clinton is warning Pakistan that they will pay a price for this refusal to attack the Haqqani network in their safe havens: Read more

Clinton, Petraeus Head to Pakistan for Talks While NATO Attacks Near Border

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shakes hands with Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker on arrival in Kabul on Wednesday. (State Department photo)

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and CIA Director David Petraeus will be in Islamabad today for talks amid somewhat calmer US-Pakistan relations and to set the stage for a possible negotiated end to hostilities in Afghanistan.  At the same time, NATO has been conducting raids for about a week on the Afghanistan side of the border with Pakistan, attempting to rid the area of members of the Haqqani network.

The previously escalated rhetorical battle between the US and Pakistan has been on a calming trajectory since reaching its highpoint when Joint Chiefs Chair Mullen claimed that the Haqqani network was a virtual arm of Pakistan’s ISI.  Amid these calming relations, Clinton arrives in Islamabad today after a visit to Kabul.

The visit to Afghanistan was aimed in part at boosting Afghanistan’s efforts to negotiate a settlement with the Taliban ahead of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.  Those negotiations were dealt a severe setback when Burhanuddin Rabbani, the chief negotiator for Afghanistan, was killed last month by a suicide bomber.  As the Washington Post points out, the US and Afghanistan have not always agreed on how to proceed in the negotiations:

Clinton, who traveled to Kabul after visits to Libya and Oman, was scheduled to meet Thursday with President Hamid Karzai and other government and parliamentary leaders. Her trip comes at a time of increased tensions between U.S. and Afghan officials over how to pursue peace with the radical Islamist Taliban movement after a decade-long insurgency.

/snip/

U.S. officials are pushing for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban as a crucial step toward ending the conflict and have engaged in secret parallel talks with Taliban leaders, so far without success.

Karzai, who has criticized the secret U.S. talks, has urged a greater role for Pakistan in the reconciliation process, noting that many of the key Taliban commanders use Pakistan’s lawless tribal region as a base. The State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic matters, said Clinton “agrees with President Karzai that Pakistani cooperation is critical.”

Note that while differing on their approaches to negotiating with the Taliban, both Afghanistan and the US agree that Pakistan must do more to control militants, especially the Haqqani network.  However, the accusations of providing safe havens for the Haqqanis now seem to flow both directions: Read more

Pakistan Issues New Warning to US; Mullen Accusations Softened

Joint Chiefs Chair Admiral Michael Mullen

There are new developments this morning in the latest war of words between the US and Pakistan.  Pakistan’s Express Tribune reports that an official familiar with what transpired claims that the head of Pakistan’s ISI informed CIA chief David Petraeus last week that should the US take unilateral military action against the Haqqani network in Pakistan, then Pakistan “will be forced to retaliate”.  At the same time, anonymous sources are telling the Washington Post that Joint Chiefs Chair Michael Mullen’s remarks last week to the Senate Armed Services Committee were “overstated”.  That is especially significant since the Express Tribune article notes that Mullen’s remarks played a role in the ISI getting to the point of issuing its warning to the CIA.

From the Express Tribune:

The effort to ensure that diplomacy and calmer heads prevail at a time of fragile relations between Pakistan and the United States is on. However, the effort notwithstanding, Islamabad has made it clear to Washington that, if it comes down to it, Pakistan will be forced to retaliate if American forces attempt to launch a unilateral strike on the country’s tribal belt.

The message was personally delivered by Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) Chief Lt General Ahmed Shuja Pasha to Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief General David Petraeus during his recent trip to Washington, said an official familiar with the development.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Express Tribune that Pasha had informed his counterpart that the Pakistani people will not tolerate any US misadventure and in that case the government will be left with no other option but to retaliate.

Senior ISI members, the official said, had felt ‘betrayed’ by the blunt assessment of the US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen that the spy agency had links with the Afghan Taliban-allied Haqqani network. In a stinging remark, Mullen accused ISI of supporting one of the most feared Afghan insurgent groups to target US forces stationed in Afghanistan.

The article goes on to point out that numerous high level meetings between US and Pakistani officials continue.

Meanwhile, back in the US:

Adm. Mike Mullen’s assertion last week that an anti-American insurgent group in Afghanistan is a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s spy service was overstated and contributed to overheated reactions in Pakistan and misperceptions in Washington, according to American officials involved in U.S. policy in the region.

The internal criticism by the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to challenge Mullen openly, reflects concern over the accuracy of Mullen’s characterizations at a time when Obama administration officials have been frustrated in their efforts to persuade Pakistan to break its ties to Afghan insurgent groups.

It turns out that the primary evidence linking the US Embassy attack and the Haqqani network is not as clear-cut as some in Washington were claiming. Although Mullen claims to have been unaware of the cell phone evidence when he made his remarks, cell phones found on some of the attackers are widely cited as evidence of close Haqqani network-ISI coordination in the attack:

One official said the phones were used to make repeated calls to numbers associated with the Haqqani network, as well as presumed “ISI operatives.” But the official declined to explain the basis for that conclusion.

The senior Pentagon official treated the assertion with skepticism, saying the term “operatives” covers a wide range of supposed associates of the ISI. “Does it mean the same Haqqani numbers [also found in the phones], or is it actually uniformed officers” of Pakistan’s spy service?

There will undoubtedly be several more twists and turns to this story over the next few weeks, but for now it appears that the US is making a small effort to walk back its most incendiary comments while Pakistan is digging in more firmly on its position.

Cover-up Specialist Mark Martins Chosen as Gitmo Chief Prosecutor

Brigadier General Mark Martins, CEO of Cover-ups R Us.

On Sunday, Carol Rosenberg informed us that there will be a new Chief Prosecutor in charge of military commissions at Guantanamo:

The Obama administration’s handpicked choice to run prosecutions at the Guantánamo war crimes court is pledging a new era of transparency from the remote base, complete with near simultaneous transmissions of the proceedings to victims and reporters on U.S. soil.

Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins made the disclosure in a profile published Sunday in the Weekly Standard that likened the West Point, Oxford and Harvard Law graduate to a James Bond-style problem solver. It also cast Martins as “The Rebrander” of the at-times denounced military commissions system, which Barack Obama scorned as a candidate and senator then reformed with Congress as president.

Despite the Weekly Standard’s fawning profile of Martins as some sort of savior to the system who will lend an air of legitimacy to the military commissions, Martins is in reality a hack who is dragged out periodically by the Pentagon to cover up its worst abuses. Martins was chosen by Obama to head the committee that attempted to re-brand indefinite detention as legal, has served as Commander and Deputy Commander of JTF 435, the notorious JSOC group charged with running detention programs in Afghanistan, has served as legal adviser to David Petraeus, and, in the most outrageously named position of all, now commands “the newly established Rule of Law Field Force-Afghanistan”.

Here is how Martins’ recent positions are spun in his official biography from which I took the quote on his current position:

Brigadier General Martins assumed command of the newly established Rule of Law Field Force-Afghanistan on 1 September 2010. During the previous year, he served as the first Commander of Joint Task Force 435 and then as its first Deputy Commander upon Senate Confirmation of Vice Admiral Robert Harward. In these roles, Brigadier General Martins led the effort to reform United States detention operations in Afghanistan. Immediately prior to his deployment to Afghanistan, Brigadier General Martins co-led the interagency Detention Policy Task Force created by the President in January 2009.

Martins’ career, then, consists of using his “West Point, Oxford and Harvard Law” degrees to cover up the blatantly illegal indefinite detention policy of the US, along with justifying torture and improper arrest of civilians in night raids in Afghanistan.

Back in April of 2010, I described how Martins had been chosen first to review detention policy and then to go to Afghanistan to implement the “new” policy he had designed. Here is how that description ended:

I fail to see how the process described above is any kind of improvement in achieving release of prisoners who have been improperly detained. This description of the process also serves to expose as a sham the entire Special Task Force’s charge of improving how the US handles prisoners. And right in the middle of this mess is Obama’s hand-picked (through Gates) architect of the process, who now is dutifully overseeing its implementation.

There is no getting around the fact that it would have been known that Martins would come up with a program designed to continue the efforts to cover up the imprisonment of innocent citizens. As I noted above, his previous assignments overlap with previous significant cover-ups. Also, as just one more example, Martins wrote an article (pdf) in 2004 that lovingly described the legal justification for the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP) in Iraq. This program was in reality so loosely set up that it has been the subject of significant attention for misuse of funds.

So while there is perhaps an improvement of conditions for reporters such as Rosenberg who will be covering the proceedings of the military commissions with the advent of near real-time broadcasts of the hearings, don’t expect any sudden changes in favor of the rule of law. Mark Martins has built his career around covering up the worst of Pentagon abuses and he now is in charge of covering up what can be considered its most prominent legal quagmire. Martins was chosen for this position precisely because the Pentagon knows it can count of him to promote the status quo while lending a false air of legitimacy.