Bipartisan Agreement: Garbage into Intel Oversight, Garbage Out

House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers made headlines on Monday by responding to a last ditch Dennis Kucinich call for more review of drone strikes by claiming that public reports on civilian casualties are “wildly wrong.”

“I think that you would be shocked and stunned how wrong those public reports are about civilian casualties,” Rogers said on the House floor.

“Those reports are wrong. They are not just wrong, they are wildly wrong. And I do believe that people use those reports for their own political purposes outside of the country to try to put pressure on the United States,” Rogers said.

And because House Intel Ranking Member Dutch Ruppersberger joined Rogers’ claims, some have taken this as magic bipartisan proof that the many indices that have done independent reviews of intelligence community claims about civilian drone casualties are wrong.

The ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), said he agreed with Rogers’s assessment, but also did not reveal anything more specific.

“Unfortunately, there are some casualties, very minor,” he said. “What you read in the media is usually not what the facts are.”

I have already noted what happens when Gang of Four members who purportedly serve as the foundation of our oversight over the intelligence community turn into talking heads defending it.

Ruppersberger’s inconsistency on this point reminded me that after the super secret drone killing of some American citizens last year, the Gang of Four all weighed in to assure Americans that Anwar al-Awlaki’s death was “legitimate” because there had been “a process.” The Gang’s loquacity contrasted sharply with the Administration’s silence on the very same issue, one reiterated since in the Administration’s Glomar claims about topics the Gang of Four feels welcome to discuss. That contrast is all the more troubling given that Ruppersberger admitted that the Gang of Four does not know who is on the Kill List (and therefore didn’t really know whether the killing of Samir Khan was “legitimate”).

It’s all very neat. Not only does the Gang of Four enjoy immunity from prosecution under the Speech or Debate Clause. But they were–and presumably are–serving as journalistic sources on topics about which they aren’t (though legally should be) fully informed.

Last week Julian Sanchez and Mike Masnick rehashed an earlier version of this, when the Bush Administration armed the Intelligence Committees with talking points that would reinforce their lies that the Terrorist Surveillance Program constituted the entirety of the illegal wiretap program.

Note what that does to the whole question of “legitimacy.” The Gang of Four only knows what Administration and agency officials tell them.  Yet, even in spite of potential and real limits to their knowledge of a program (and a history of deliberately misleading briefings on such topics), they will weigh in and declare something “legitimate.”

But this case is all the more interesting because Kucinich was specifically pushing his colleagues–these overseers–to question their knowledge on this front.

Look at the consequences of civilian casualties … raise questions about the information that’s being given to you,” Kucinich said.

That is, Kucinich was raising a process question–one that goes to the heart of the cognitive problem intelligence overseers have, which is that they rely exclusively on those they are purportedly overseeing for the knowledge they use to exercise that oversight.

And rather than telling us what the real tally was, or even explaining how he knew his knowledge was better than that of people who have sent independent journalists to double check tallies, Rogers simply insisted that he knows best.

Based, by all appearances, solely on the very narrow information those he oversees choose to give him.

First They Came for Russ Feingold, Then They Came for CATO

As I’ve followed all the really interesting commentary on the Koch Brothers’ efforts to take over Cato (Dave Weigel, Jonathan Adler, Jane Mayer, Brad DeLong) I keep thinking back to this Adam Serwer post last year, pointing out one of the most anti-libertarian moves they made: dumping $25,000 to beat the biggest defender of civil liberties in the Senate.

Another way to put this is that the Kochs will happily put their money behind candidates who agree with their economic agenda but disagree with their social agenda. They will never put their money behind candidates of whom the reverse is true.

The best example of this I can think of is the Senate’s lost liberaltarian Russ Feingold. Feingold was the only senator to vote against the PATRIOT Act. He was one of the first senators to endorse marriage equality. He voted against the war in Iraq, against TARP and financial reform, and has consistently sought to rein in the surveillance state. He was, however, also one of the architects of campaign-finance reform along with John McCain and a supporter of the health-care bill and the stimulus.

When Feingold’s candidacy was in danger, the Koch’s poured their money into the coffers of Feingold’s opponent, Ron Johnson. According to the FEC, the Koch brothers each gave him individual contributions of $2,400, while KochPAC gave him $10,000. Charles Koch’s son Chase Koch gave Johnson $5,800, while David’s* wife Julia Koch gave another $2,400. An Elizabeth Koch from the same zip code in Wichita as Charles and Julia gave an additional $2,400. All in all, the Koch family gave Johnson more than $25,000 to send Russ Feingold home. What type of candidate were they supporting?

Johnson is anti-marriage equality, anti-choice, has no problem with open-ended military engagements and he supports the PATRIOT Act with some caveats, but only because “you have Barack Obama in power versus George Bush. I wasn’t overly concerned with George Bush in power.”


In other words, faced with one candidate who shares their views on social issues and national security and another who shares their views on economic issues, the Kochs chose the latter.

Libertarianism, which was fostered to offer ideological cover for laissez faire capitalism, is now being actively replaced by its biggest patrons with a TeaParty ideology that has been co-opted over the last three years to offer populist cover for unrestrained capitalism.

So while I am fascinated by Corey Robin’s critique of Julian Sanchez’ presignation,

When the Kochs wield their money at Cato, that’s hegemony. But when they do it in Wisconsin, that’s democracy.

I think Robin’s comments on this year’s Ron Paul debate among the left is far more important.

Our problem—and again by “our” I mean a left that’s social democratic (or welfare state liberal or economically progressive or whatever the hell you want to call it) and anti-imperial—is that we don’t really have a vigorous national spokesperson for the issues of war and peace, an end to empire, a challenge to Israel, and so forth, that Paul has in fact been articulating.  The source of Paul’s positions on these issues are not the same as ours (again more reason not to give him our support).  But he is talking about these issues, often in surprisingly blunt and challenging terms. Would that we had someone on our side who could make the case against an American empire, or American supremacy, in such a pungent way.

This, it’s clear, is why people like Glenn Greenwald say that Paul’s voice needs to be heard.  Not, Greenwald makes clear, because he supports Paul, but because it is a terrible comment—a shanda for the left—that we don’t have anyone on our side of comparable visibility launching an attack on American imperialism and warfare. (Recalling what I said in the context of the death of Christopher Hitchens, I suspect this has something to do with our normalization and acceptance of war as a way of life.) In other words, we need to listen to Paul, not because he’s worthy of our support, and certainly not because the reasons that underlie his positions on foreign policy are ours, but because he reveals what’s not being said, or not being said enough, on our side.


Ron Paul is unacceptable, and it’s unacceptable that we don’t have someone on the left who is raising the issues of imperialism, war and peace, and civil liberties in as visible and forceful a way.

Russ Feingold is gone from the Senate. As of last night, Dennis Kucinich will be gone
from the House next year. For what it’s worth, Ron Paul, too, will be gone from the House. In my own neighborhood, we hope Justin Amash, who hopes to assume Paul’s mantle, is gone from the House too.

There are other voices stepping up. But even Ron Wyden, who is a lonely voice criticizing the Obama Administration’s most egregious civil liberties abuses, offered somewhat tempered criticism of Attorney General Holder’s speech on Monday.

Attorney General Holder’s speech today is a welcome step in the right direction, but further steps need to be taken, and they need to be taken soon.

The government–both Republican and Democratic–has spent billions to create a climate of fear. It has succeeded in leading people to accept the assault on civil liberties without even questioning efficacy, much less constitutionality or abuse.

Meanwhile, even more money is being dumped into a reframed ideology of unrestrained capitalism, one with a populist face unembarrassed by its own inconsistency.

So I’ll go even further than Alex Pareene, who lists all the reasons we should care about the Koch takeover attempt on Cato. There is a case to be made for the Constitution and for executive restraint. We on the left need to get more effective at making it. Because the capitalist case is in the process of being bought out.

US Willing to Bomb Libya to Maintain UN Credibility, But Not Allow an “Official” Visit to Bradley Manning

By my count, the OLC memo retroactively authorizing the bombing of Libya mentions the importance of UN or UN Security Council credibility nine times, including these two extended discussions.

In prior opinions, this Office has identified a variety of national interests that, alone or in combination, may justify use of military force by the President. In 2004, for example, we found adequate legal authority for the deployment of U.S. forces to Haiti based on national interests in protecting the lives and property of Americans in the country, preserving “regional stability,” and maintaining the credibility of United Nations Security Council mandates. Memorandum for Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President, from Jack L. Goldsmith III, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel, Re: Deployment of United States Armed Forces to Haiti at 3-4 (Mar. 17, 2004) (“2004 Haiti Opinion”), available at opinions.htm. In 1995, we similarly concluded that the President’s authority to deploy approximately 20,000 ground troops to Bosnia, for purposes of enforcing a peace agreement ending the civil war there, rested on national interests in completing a “pattern of inter-allied cooperation and assistance” established by prior U.S. participation in NATO air and naval support for peacekeeping efforts, “preserving peace in the region and forestalling the threat of a wider conflict,” and maintaining the credibility of the UNSC. Proposed Bosnia Deployment, 19 Op. O.L.C. at 332-33. And in 1992, we explained the President’s authority to deploy troops in Somalia in terms of national interests in providing security for American civilians and military personnel involved in UNSC-supported humanitarian relief efforts and (once again) enforcing UNSC mandates. Military Forces in Somalia, 16 Op. O.L.C. at 10-12.2


The second important national interest implicated here, which reinforces the first, is the longstanding U.S. commitment to maintaining the credibility of the United Nations Security Council and the effectiveness of its actions to promote international peace and security. Since at least the Korean War, the United States government has recognized that “‘[t]he continued existence of the United Nations as an effective international organization is a paramount United States interest.’” Military Forces in Somalia, 16 Op. O.L.C. at 11 (quoting Authority of the President to Repel the Attack in Korea, 23 Dep’t St. Bull. 173, 177 (1950)). Accordingly, although of course the President is not required to direct the use of military force simply because the UNSC has authorized it, this Office has recognized that “‘maintaining the credibility of United Nations Security Council decisions, protecting the security of United Nations and related relief efforts, and ensuring the effectiveness of United Nations peacekeeping operations can be considered a vital national interest’” on which the President may rely in determining that U.S. interests justify the use of military force. Proposed Bosnia Deployment, 19 Op. O.L.C. at 333 (quoting Military Forces in Somalia, 16 Op. O.L.C. at 11). Here, the UNSC’s credibility and effectiveness as an instrument of global peace and stability were at stake in Libya once the UNSC took action to impose a no-fly zone and ensure the safety of civilians—particularly after Qadhafi’s forces ignored the UNSC’s call for a cease fire and for the cessation of attacks on civilians. As President Obama noted, without military action to stop Qadhafi’s repression, “[t]he writ of the United Nations Security Council would have been shown to be little more than empty words, crippling that institution’s future credibility to uphold global peace and security.” Obama March 28, 2011 Address; see also Obama March 21, 2011 Report to Congress (“Qadhafi’s defiance of the Arab League, as well as the broader international community . . . represents a lawless challenge to the authority of the Security Council and its efforts to preserve stability in the region.”). We think the President could legitimately find that military action by the United States to assist the international coalition in giving effect to UNSC Resolution 1973 was needed to secure “a substantial national foreign policy objective.” Military Forces in Somalia, 16 Op. O.L.C. at 12. [my emphasis]

Never mind that the Administration felt no need to bomb Cote d’Ivoire to maintain the credibility of the resolutions regarding that country, the Obama Administration just bombed another country in the name of “credibility” of the UN. While the Administration’s stated concerns about credibility focus on the UNSC, it extends (according to this memo) to the UN’s effectiveness generally, the UN’s security, and its relief efforts.

That’s interesting, because the UNHCR explains that in order for its Special Rapporteur on Torture to retain credibility, he must have unmonitored access to detainees. (See the Guardian for more on this.)

“Since December 2010, I have been engaging the US Government on visiting Mr. Manning, at the invitation of his Counsel, to determine his current condition,” the human rights expert said. “Unfortunately, the US Government has not been receptive to a confidential meeting with Mr. Manning.”

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, as part of the methods of work for his mandate, requires unimpeded access to all places of detention, where he can hold private, confidential and unsupervised interviews with detainees. The requirement of a private, confidential and unsupervised interview is a standard practice of the Rapporteur’s mandate and ensures the credibility of any interviews that an independent expert holds with detainees or persons who allege that they have been subjected to torture and ill-treatment.

“I have since last year on several occasions raised serious concern about the conditions of detention of Mr. Manning, who since his arrest in May 2010, has been confined to his cell for twenty-three hours a day at the Marine Corps Brig, Quantico, Virginia. I have also urged the authorities to ensure his physical and mental integrity,” said Mr. Méndez.


“Even though I have not received an official answer from the Brig Commander, Mr. Manning’s counsel has learned that the request for an official visit has been denied,” Mr. Méndez said. “Presumably, the alternative is a ‘private visit’, the difference between the two is that the latter takes place in the presence of a guard, while an official visit may be unmonitored.”

On Friday, April 8, the Special Rapporteur held a conversation with high authorities in the Departments of Defense and State. Those officials confirmed that Manning could ask to see the Special Rapporteur if he so wished and in that case the US Government would have no objection to a ‘private visit,’ meaning a visit that is monitored by prison officials.

“I am deeply disappointed and frustrated by the prevarication of the US Government with regard to my attempts to visit Mr. Manning. I understand that Pfc Manning does not wish to waive his right to an unmonitored conversation with me,” the human rights expert said. “My request for a private, confidential and unsupervised interview with Manning is not onerous: for my part, a monitored conversation would not comply with the practices that my mandate applies in every country and detention center visited. In fact, such forms of interview have been used by the Special Rapporteur in, at least, 18 countries over the last 6 years.” [my emphasis]

But the Obama Administration has given Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez the same kind of run-around they gave Dennis Kucinich, and then ultimately refused to comply with the standard practice.

Apparently, our “national interest” in the credibility of the UN extends only so far as it allows us to bomb other countries, but not so far as it might expose our own treatment of detainees to independent evaluation.

Update: Title changed to get the type of visit correct.

DOD Continues to Stall on Kucinich’s Request to Visit Bradley Manning

Last we heard of Dennis Kucinich’s request to visit Bradley Manning, the Pentagon had spent a full month referring his request from one official to another rather than respond to his request.

On February 4, Dennis Kucinich asked DOD to allow him to visit Bradley Manning so he could assess his conditions of confinement. On February 8, Robert Gates wrote Kucinich a short note telling him we was referring his request to Secretary of the Army, John McHugh. In a letter dated February 24–but apparently not received in Kucinich’s office until March 1–McHugh told Kucinich he was referring his request to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs.

In short, a full month after the date when a member of Congress requested a visit with Manning, DOD is still stalling on a real response with bureaucratic buck-passing.

On Friday, Anti-War Radio’s Scott Horton did an interview with Kucinich. Here’s an update on his quest to visit an American citizen detained less than an hour from Kucinich’s congressional office.

That’s right. I put in a request to the Secretary of Defense who referred me to the Secretary of the Army who referred me to the Secretary of Navy who referred me to the Secretary of Defense and still not an answer on whether or not I can visit.

Kucinich goes on to note he’s a member of the Oversight Committee and that under the Constitution DOD ought to be subject to some accountability.

If these reports keep coming out and they do not permit third parties to come in and make an assessment, I don’t think we can take their word for it. We just can’t.

Obama says DOD has assured him everything they’re doing to Manning is standard. If so, then why are they fighting so hard to prevent a member of Congress from visiting him?

DOD Passes the Buck Rather than Let Kucinich Visit Bradley Manning

On February 4, Dennis Kucinich asked DOD to allow him to visit Bradley Manning so he could assess his conditions of confinement. On February 8, Robert Gates wrote Kucinich a short note telling him we was referring his request to Secretary of the Army, John McHugh. In a letter dated February 24–but apparently not received in Kucinich’s office until March 1–McHugh told Kucinich he was referring his request to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs.

In short, a full month after the date when a member of Congress requested a visit with Manning, DOD is still stalling on a real response with bureaucratic buck-passing.

As to the substantive response McHugh offered Kucinich? It matches all the disingenuous boilerplate responses the rest of DOD has offered–claiming that Manning is treated as any other “similarly situated” pretrial detainee at Quantico, without mentioning that there is at most one other Max prisoner, and none who have been held on Prevention of Injury watch for eight months.

PFC Manning experiences the same confinement conditions as other similarly situated pretrial prisoners at the MCBQ Pretrial Confinement Facility.

In addition, McHugh appeals to the same bogus privacy excuse that Quantico is now using to avoid explaining why they’re submitting Manning to the same treatment they used at Abu Ghraib.

PFC Manning’s custody and status classifications, like all pretrial prisoners at the MCBQ Pretrial Confinement Facility, are evaluated regularly by a board of corrections specialists pursuant to Department of Navy regulations. As United States laws prohibit the release of personal identification, including personal health information, I am not able to discuss PFC Manning’s specific custody and status classifications and other aspects of his care and treatment.

Effectively, they’re using “privacy” as their excuse not to admit that under POI, Manning is subject to some of the same degrading techniques we objected to in Gitmo and Abu Ghraib.

Kucinich isn’t missing that parallel, either. In his response today, he said,

My request to visit with Pfc. Manning must not be delayed further. Today we have new reports that Manning was stripped naked and left in his cell for seven hours. While refusing to explain the justification for the treatment, a marine spokesman confirmed the actions but claimed they were ‘not punitive.’

Is this Quantico or Abu Ghraib? Officials have confirmed the ‘non-punitive’ stripping of an American soldier who has not been found guilty of any crime. This ‘non-punitive’ action would be considered a violation of the Army Field Manual if used in an interrogation overseas. The justification for and purpose of this action certainly raises questions of ‘cruel and unusual punishment,’ and could constitute a potential violation of international law. [my emphasis]

As I said, it has been a full month since Kucinich made a legitimate request to visit with an American citizen who, thus far, must be assumed innocent. Yet DOD seems to be deploying the most transparent kind of bureaucratic stall to prevent Kucinich form visiting Manning.

Update: Corrected date of Gates note.

Kucinich or Cummings for Oversight

I said most of what I’m going to say about the Waxman-Dingell fight in this post (though I will reiterate my concern that Waxman–who will now be in charge of shepherding healthcare through the House–has said almost nothing about it thus far).

Except that, now that Waxman has won, I think it crucially important that we find someone very effective to replace Waxman at Oversight. Waxman leaves some important unfinished business at oversight, including his investigation into the White House emails, the Bush Administration’s lackadaisical policy towards leakers (including Scooter Libby), and recent oversight into the financial crash. Furthermore, Darrell Issa is by most accounts set to take over as Ranking Member on Oversight. Oversight is one committee where the Ranking Member has the means to be a real pain in the arse, and Issa is a bigger pain in the arse–and more effective–than most Republicans. Finally, I don’t want to make the mistake the Republicans made; I want someone to exercise real oversight over the Obama Administration. For all these reasons, we need a real leader replacing Waxman at Oversight.

I recommend either Dennis Kucinich or Elijah Cummings.

The senior member on Oversight, after Waxman, is Edolphous Towns. I don’t know all that much about Towns–though I find it telling that, as someone who watches a great deal of Oversight’s hearings, I’ve almost never seen him contribute substantively (for that matter, I rarely see him, at all, at full committee hearings). That, plus he’s the recipient of some big love from the Pharma/Health Care and Finance industries–two industies that must remain targets of oversight.

Kucinich and Cummings are both relatively senior members of the Committee. And both have proven to be the kinds of effective 

Kucinich currently serves (opposite Issa) as Chair of the Domestic Policy Subcommittee (and many of the most critical oversight issues in the next Congress will be domestic ones). And his work on impeachment shows that his staffers have the ability to do great work and Kucinich has the ability to deliver them. Plus, he’s the perfect kind of gadfly to keep our new President honest. I suspect that Kucinich would have a tough time getting the votes in a straight fight, but if there are multiple candidates, he’d have a shot.

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