Why Did the Torture Apologists Come Out of their Caves?

I don’t really have the heart to refute Michael Mukasey’s apology for torture. In it, he contradicts assertions made by torture apologists who were closer to the torture. He includes extraneous (and false) details to fluff up his case. He falsely pretends the torture described in the torture memos accurately described what happened to the detainees he claims led to OBL. And he doesn’t even have the amusing self-contradiction that Rummy had, which at least made Rummy’s psychological pretzel interesting to read.

In short, for Mukasey, the capture of OBL is not time to celebrate, but rather an opportunity to launch a hackish political attack on President Obama.

But the piece did lead me to reflect on why the torture apologists are so desperately trying to give torture the credit for finding OBL.

There’s the big reason, of course, hinted at by Jose Rodriguez. He stated that the most valuable piece of intelligence Abu Faraj al-Libi revealed under torture was that OBL’s courier only communicated with the outside world every two months. From that, Rodriguez concluded that OBL was only a figurehead, no longer the active head of al Qaeda (a conclusion that may have been proven false by the intelligence found at OBL’s compound). Later that year, CIA would shutter the group focusing on finding bin Laden because–they had concluded–al Qaeda was no longer the hierarchy that had made OBL such a key figure earlier.

In other words, it’s not just that the torture apologists’ claims about torture–that it would immediately yield the information that would lead to OBL, allowing them to bypass the years of intelligence gathering it ultimately took to find OBL–proved so wrong. It’s that one of the chief torturers seems aware that the best piece of intelligence they got under torture is intelligence that led him to stop searching for OBL.

Then there’s the laughable reason Mukasey seems to be animated by: because Obama’s being mean to the torturers.

Yet the Justice Department, revealing its priorities, had gotten around to reopening investigations into the conduct of a half-dozen CIA employees alleged to have used undue force against suspected terrorists. I say “reopening” advisedly because those investigations had all been formally closed by the end of 2007, with detailed memoranda prepared by career Justice Department prosecutors explaining why no charges were warranted. Attorney General Eric Holder conceded that he had ordered the investigations reopened in September 2009 without reading those memoranda. The investigations have now dragged on for years with prosecutors chasing allegations down rabbit holes, with the CIA along with the rest of the intelligence community left demoralized.


We also need to put an end to the ongoing investigations of CIA operatives that continue to undermine intelligence community morale.

Mukasey’s concern is laughable, of course, because no one really believes these ongoing investigations exist for any reason except to shield the US from torture investigations conducted by countries like Spain and Poland. After all, if you won’t charge Jose Rodriguez for destroying evidence that the torture conducted by his contractors exceeded the torture memos, you’re not going to file charges against anyone. Moreover, the statutes of limitation are expiring as we wait.

Though perhaps this is the real reason motivating Mukasey:

Immediately following the killing of bin Laden, the issue of interrogation techniques became in some quarters the “dirty little secret” of the event. But as disclosed in the declassified memos in 2009, the techniques are neither dirty nor, as noted by Director Hayden and others, were their results little. As the memoranda concluded—and as I concluded reading them at the beginning of my tenure as attorney general in 2007—the techniques were entirely lawful as the law stood at the time the memos were written, and the disclosures they elicited were enormously important. [my emphasis]

Mukasey sullied his reputation as a tough but fair judge when he agreed not to pursue torture in exchange for getting the Attorney General job. And since that time, the fiction he has been telling himself–that John Yoo’s analysis was even remotely serious, that the torturers didn’t exceed the guidelines of the memo, and that the torture proved valuable–has been exposed as a sordid lie. And ultimately, OBL’s death makes clear, it wasn’t worth it. The torture just impeded the real intelligence work that ultimately yielded OBL.

After all, ultimately the torture apologists staked their reputation on a certain approach to terrorism. That’s their legacy. It’s all they’ve got.

And, ultimately, I guess there’s one more reason the torture apologists came out of their caves. Either because of the media’s own complicity, or because the media has to sow controversy where celebration should suffice, the media is inviting them out of their caves; scheduling Condi Rice, Michael Chertoff, Michael Hayden, Rudy Giuliani, Rummy, and the pulse-less wonder himself for the Sunday shows. (The last time the Sunday shows featured a crowd like this, they were lying about mushroom clouds to gin up a war to distract us from beating al Qaeda.)

Liar Calls Access Journalist a Pot

Even before Tom Ricks handed his blog over to Bob Woodward to rip Donald Rumsfeld a new asshole, Ricks shared this quote from H.R. Haldeman about Rummy as a way to introduce Rummy’s dismissal of Ricks’ Fiasco and Woodward’s books.

So in my research on the Vietnam War I was paging through H.R. Haldeman’s diaries to see what he says about General Creighton Abrams and was surprised to come across his comment about a former defense secretary we all know: “typical Rumsfeld, rather slimy maneuver.” (657)

As Ricks said, pot, kettle.

But proving there is no honor among thieves (and that you can’t use too many cliches before noon), Rummy has now hit back at Woodward.

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s chief of staff accused Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward on Tuesday of practicing “access journalism,”  and said that Woodward has been repeatedly accused of “tilting the facts,”  “misleading remarks,” “disingenuous statements,” and placing “book sales above journalism.”

Keith Urbahn, who is also Rumsfeld’s official spokesperson, made the accusations in a statement to reporters in response to Woodward’s scathing critique of Rumsfeld’s recently released memoir, Known and Unknown.


Urbahn accused Woodward of favoring his sources and granting them anonymity in exchange for access, while pushing his own storyline ahead of the facts.

“The well known story about Bob Woodward is that he practices what is derided as ‘access journalism,’ whereby he favors those who provide him with information and gossip and leak against their colleagues,” he said in a statement, which was also posted on Rumsfeld’s Facebook page. “Those who refuse to play along, such as Donald Rumsfeld, then pay the price.”

Another cliche: “I’m rubber and you’re glue…”

Now, as I suggested yesterday, for all of Woodward’s faults, I was floored when I saw how meticulously Woodward kept his notes as exhibited at the Libby trial. Plus, his post yesterday was really well documented. Not to mention we all know Rummy’s a pathological liar.

So I’m really just sharing Rummy’s response because I am loving watching these crotchety old Nixon-era zombies go after each other.

Plus, I secretly have my fingers crossed that Cheney will join in any moment now.

Bob Woodward, Blogger

Let me just say, without qualification, that of the high profile journalists whose techniques were discussed or entered as evidence in the Scooter Libby trial, Bob Woodward had the best note taking. Judy Miller, Matt Cooper, Bob Novak, Andrea Mitchell (and, I’m sure, Marcy Wheeler)? They all were put to shame by Bob Woodward’s exactitude and organization in the way he recorded his interactions with government officials.

Which is why I find it so amusing to see Woodward take to Tom Ricks’ blog to rip Donald Rumsfeld’s memoir to pieces. Woodward knows he has the documentation to back up his critique and he cites the notes of his October 23, 2003 and July 7-8, 2006 interviews with Rummy in detail. Here’s the cattiest example:

Near the end of the Oct. 23, 2003 interview — page 39 of my transcript — this interchange took place, illustrating the worst and the best of him:

Rumsfeld: “And you lie, you told people I stuck a finger in your chest. I never stuck a finger in your chest.”

Woodward: “Yes, sir, yes, yes.”

Rumsfeld: “I never touched your chest.”

Woodward: “I swear you did.”

Rumsfeld: “Did I?”

Woodward: “Yeah, you did.”

Rumsfeld: “Physically?”

Woodward: “You did, physically, it wasn’t hostile you were illustrating a point.”

Rumsfeld: “Good.”

Woodward: “I explained that. I thought you scored a very good point.”

Rumsfeld: (laughter)

Woodward: “Which was about surprise and off balance.”

Rumsfeld: “Oh yes, I did. I remember that you’re right …Yeah, right, you are right …I said you got to get a little off balance — I’ve done that. He’s right, I’m wrong.”

He had moved from calling me a liar to acknowledging that my memory was correct and his wrong. He probably should have been more tentative at both the front end and the back end, but there it was, Rumsfeld in full.

Meanwhile, Woodward exposes Rummy’s own inconsistent claims about his notes.

“I don’t have notes,” Rumsfeld insisted. “I don’t have any notes.”  His memoir cites his personal handwritten notes dozens of time.

Sure, Woodward does this, in part, to ensure no one questions the accuracy of his own books as authoritative narratives of–among other things–the timeline leading up to the Iraq war. He also seems, in part, to be protecting Bush.

And sure, there are tidbits where the old Woodward shines through, even in his own self-reporting.

On January 9, 2002, four months after 9/11, Dan Balz of The Washington Post and I interviewed Rumsfeld for a newspaper series on the Bush administration’s response to 9/11. According to notes of the NSC, on September 12, the day after 9/11, Rumsfeld again raised Iraq saying, is there a need to address Iraq as well as bin Laden?

When Balz read this to Rumsfeld, he blew up. “I didn’t say that,” he said, maintaining that it was his aide Larry DiRita talking over his shoulder. His reaction was comic and we agreed to treat it as off the record. But Balz persisted and asked Rumsfeld what he was thinking. [bold original; underline emphasis mine]

But I gotta say, for a newbie blogger, Woodward sure took the medium.

Rummy Lawyers Up … To Defend Ordering Death Threats?

Josh Gerstein reports that the government has withdrawn from defending Donald Rumsfeld and others in the Jose Padilla suit Judge Richard Mark Gergel dismissed the other day. (h/t MD)

The Justice Department under President Barack Obama has quietly dropped its legal representation of more than a dozen Bush-era Pentagon and administration officials – including former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and aide Paul Wolfowitz – in a lawsuit by Al Qaeda operative Jose Padilla, who spent years behind bars without charges in conditions his lawyers compare to torture.

Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, confirmed Tuesday that the government has agreed to retain private lawyers for the officials, at a cost of up to $200 per hour. Miller said “conflicts concerns” prompted the decision. He did not elaborate.

One private attorney involved in the case, who asked not to be named, said the Obama administration apparently concluded “its duty to represent the defendants zealously, which includes the duty to argue any and all defenses, can’t be discharged for reasons of policy and other government interests.”

That’s mighty interesting. Because the last time DOJ withdrew from defending such a high profile defendant was John Yoo, in the partner lawsuit in this case, in which Padilla is suing Yoo for his horrible OLC memos. The DOJ withdrew from defending Yoo just two weeks before DOJ finished the OPR Report (on July 29, 2009) finding grave problems with the OLC memos John Yoo wrote authorizing torture. The very memos Padilla sued Yoo about.

Which makes this observation from Gerstein and Stephen Gillers all the more interesting.

Legal ethics experts said the Justice Department’s withdrawal could stem from qualms about a full-throated defense of Padilla’s treatment while in military custody. His lawyers claim that Padilla’s captors in the brig subjected him to abuse including sensory deprivation, prolonged isolation, imminent death threats, forced drugging and interference with his practice of Islam.

“Some of the [defendants] may have wanted to make more extreme arguments about the legality of their conduct than the Justice Department was willing to accept,” said Stephen Gillers, a professor of law at New York University. [my emphasis]

That same OPR Report would virtually prohibit DOJ from helping Rummy and others defend the claim that death threats used on Padilla were legal. After all, we know that mock burials–a kind of death threat–were just about the only thing that John Yoo said was illegal!

Now, as it happens, Judge Collyer, in the ACLU’s FOIA case, appears to have made a really ridiculous argument that DOJ’s declassification of that reference to mock burial does not amount to an acknowledgment that Yoo judged death threats, more generally, to be illegal. And the death threats used against Rahim al-Nashiri at least allegedly are still being investigated.

But it would be mighty interesting if this were all about death threats. Padilla’s lawyers are suing because–among other reasons–Rummy ordered up treatment that included death threats. And that’s the only thing our Department of Justice has deemed illegal.

Who Was–and Was Not–in on Rummy’s “Plan”

Gawker has liberated Iraq some of Rummy’s papers on Iraq and Afghanistan. (h/t Rosalind) And while I hope to return to the series on John Walker Lindh (79ff) and the memo, cc’ed to the public affairs people, in which Rummy ordered Jim Haynes to write a memo saying that the way DOD was detaining people was “perfectly legal,” (75ff)

But I just wanted to make a real minor point about the memo he sent on December 13, 2003 to Dick Cheney, cc’ed to Andrew Card and Condi Rice (3):

Attached are some remarks I have been making that talk about planning for post-war Iraq.

With opponents saying we had no “plan,” it is important that we keep referring to our “plan.”

This was the Secretary of Defense sending a messaging note to the Vice President, cc’ing the Chief of Staff and National Security Advisor. It might be the kind of thing that the public affairs office would generate, not the Secretary of Defense. And it’s certainly not the kind of thing you’d normally see the VP as primary recipient of.

And of course, note who’s missing? Colin Powell. Who of course knew Rummy didn’t have a plan.

Interestingly, page 39ff makes it clear that Rummy had not received a copy of the White House propaganda piece, “A Decade of Deception and Defiance,” before he read about it in the NYT (in either a Sanger/Bumiller or a Patrick Tyler piece).

Poppy Bush’s Virgin Born Intelligence Knowledge

Jack Goldsmith links to an interesting document from the RummyLeaks library: then Chief of Staff Donald Rumsfeld’s memo to President Ford reviewing possible candidates to replace William Colby as head of the CIA.

But Goldsmith doesn’t call out the most amusing part of the memo: the way that Rummy asserts that Poppy has the intelligence experience to do the job without pointing out where he got that experience.

Where Rummy thought someone had real experience with the CIA he laid that out: Harold Brown’s experience with the NRO and SALT,  his and John Foster’s experience with Defense Research and Engineering, Douglas Dillon’s membership on the Rockefeller Committee on the CIA, William Baker and Robert Galvin’s service on the Presidential Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, Melvin Laird’s service on the Appropriations and Armed Services Committees and Gale McGee’s service on Foreign Relations and Appropriations Committees, Stanley Resor’s service as Secretary of the Army and as member of the Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions delegation, Elliott Richardson’s service as Secretary of Defense. Every single member of the Council on Foreign Relations had that detail noted. For a number of these (particularly those with a research focus, Rummy explained precisely how the experience applied).

But Rummy doesn’t really explain how Bush acquired his general familiarity with intelligence.

This is perhaps most obvious when you compare Rummy’s description of Bob Dole’s qualifications with those of Bush.

Robert J. Dole: 52 years old (this month); U.S. Senator (R-Kansas); Past Chairman, RNC; Lawyer, WWII Service.

Pros: Strong “law and order” image. Confirmable.

Cons: No background in intelligence; no management experience; RNC post raises question over politicization potential.


George Bush: 51 years old; Member of Congress; US Ambassador to the UN and subsequently to USLO Peking; Oil producer; Politician.

Pros: Experience in government and diplomacy; generally familiar with the components of the intelligence community and their missions; management experience; high integrity and proven adaptability.

Cons: RNC post lends undesirable political cast.

After all, at this point of their life, these men shared many of the same resume points: they are nearly exact contemporaries, with World War II experience (though Rummy didn’t mention Poppy’s), time in Congress, and service at the head of the RNC. Yet according to Rummy, Bush had the intelligence experience to lead CIA and Dole did not.

Now, obviously, Bush’s service as Ambassador to the UN and–to an even greater degree–as Ambassador to China would clearly have put him in positions at the front line of the Cold War.

But of course Bush’s most direct experience to be Director of the CIA came from that innocuous other resume point: “oil producer.” Heck, Rummy doesn’t even note by name Bush’s leadership of Zapata Oil, which was reportedly a cover for Bay of Pigs preparation. Russ Baker even found a J. Edgar Hoover note indicating that “Mr. George Bush of the Central Intelligence Agency” was briefed on concerns that the Kennedy assassination would encourage anti-Castro groups to strike at Cuba.

Rummy doesn’t explain any of that background. But then, had he done so, he probably couldn’t have claimed (as he did) that “all 23” candidates “are outsiders to the CIA.”

Judge: Padilla Can’t Sue for Torture because Justification for His Torture Was Based on Torture

Here’s the main thrust of Judge Richard Mark Gergel’s decision to dismiss Jose Padilla’s Bivens suit against Donald Rumsfeld and other high level Bush officials who denied him his Constitutional rights.

The Court finds that “special factors” are present in this case which counsel hesitation in creating a right of action under Bivens in the absence of express Congressional authorization. These factors include the potential impact of a Bivens claim on the Nation’s military affairs, foreign affairs, intelligence, and national security and the likely burden of such litigation on the government’s resources in these essential areas. Therefore, the Court grants the Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. Entry 141) regarding all claims of Plaintiffs arising from the United States Constitution.

Basically, the “special factors” in this case mean Padilla can’t sue for having been tortured and denied counsel.

Now that’s not all that surprising. That’s been one of the favored ways of making Bivens claims go away.

But what’s particularly interesting is the implicit argument in Gergel’s opinion that Abu Zubaydah’s torture was one of those “special factors.” Between the long passage where Gergel lays out the “special factors” as the guideline governing his decision and where he argues that those special factors require dismissal of the case, he includes this passage:

In analyzing this substantial body of case law relating to Bivens claims, it is useful to soberly and deliberately evaluate the factual circumstances of Padilla’s arrival and the then-available intelligence regarding his background and plans on behalf of Al Qaeda. Padilla arrived in Chicago nearly eight months after September 11, 2001 with reports that he was an Al Qaeda operative with a possible mission that included the eventual discharge of a “dirty bomb” in the Nation’s capital. (Dkt. Entry 91-2 at 4) He also had reportedly engaged in discussions with Al Qaeda operatives about detonating explosives in hotels, gas stations and train stations. (Jd. at 5). He was also thought to possess significant knowledge regarding Al Qaeda plans, personnel and operations. (Dkt. Entry 91-23 at 8-9).

Based on the information available at the time, which reportedly included information from confidential informants previously affiliated with Al Qaeda, the President of the United States took the highly unusual step of designating Padilla, an American citizen arrested on American soil, an enemy combatant. (Dkt. Entry 91-3).

Note how the judge doesn’t cite a source here for the claim that Padilla’s designation “reportedly included information from confidential informants;” the source for that sentence is just Bush’s designation itself, which has the section on sources redacted. But earlier he referenced Michael Mobbs’ declaration which included the following footnote describing these sources.

Based on the information developed by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement activities, it is believed that the two detained confidential sources have been involved with the Al Qaeda terrorist network. One of the sources has been involved with Al Qaeda for several years and is believed to have been involved in the terrorist activities of Al Qaeda. The other sources is also believed to have been involved in planning and preparing for terrorist activities of Al Qaeda. It is believed that these confidential sources have not been completely candid about their association with Al Qaeda and their terrorist activities. Much of the information from these sources has, however, been corroborated and proven accurate and reliable. Some information provided by the sources remains uncorroborated and may be part of an effort to mislead or confuse U.S. officials. One of the sources, for example, in a subsequent interview with a U.S. law enforcement official recanted some of the information that he had provided, but most of the information has been independently corroborated by other sources. In addition, at the time of being interviewed by U.S. officials, one of the sources was being treated with various types of drugs to treat medical conditions.

Gergel doesn’t say it, but we all know that one of those “confidential informants” is Abu Zubaydah and the other is probably Binyam Mohamed. Presumably, Zubaydah was the one “being treated” with drugs. And given the reference to US law enforcement, he is also presumably the one who recanted his statements about Padilla.

But more importantly, Gergel doesn’t say, but we know, that both Zubaydah and Mohamed had been subjected to extreme sleep deprivation–and possibly a great deal more–by the time they made their statements tying Padilla to terrorism. Gergel also doesn’t say that other cases based on Mohamed’s torture-induced testimony had been dismissed.

Gergel also doesn’t acknowledge that the federal conspiracy charges of which Padilla was convicted have nothing to do with the charges laid out in these documents related to his designation as an enemy combatant; that doesn’t stop Gergel from emphasizing that Padilla is a “convicted terrorist.”

Nevertheless, his discussion of Padilla’s designation using torture-induced evidence, appearing as it does right between his establishment of “special factors” as the guiding principle and his dismissal of the suit betrays that this torture-induced evidence is a key part of these “special factors.”

That background, though, makes it clear why Gergel thought those special factors should trump Padilla’s constitutional rights.

Padilla’s counsel would likely seek information on intelligence methods and interrogations of other Al Qaeda operatives. All of this would likely raise numerous complicated state secret issues. A trial on the merits would be an international spectacle with Padilla, a convicted terrorist, summoning America’s present and former leaders to a federal courthouse to answer his charges. This massive litigation would have been authorized not by a Congressionally established statutory cause of action, but by a court implying an action from the face of the American Constitution.3

3 Plaintiffs’ counsel urged the Court at oral argument to delay consideration of the practical realities of allowing a Bivens claim to go forward under these facts and circumstances until after the motion to dismiss stage. This approach, however, would result in the Court failing to timely consider “special factors” counseling hesitation, which include here the potential disruption and burdening of national security, intelligence and military operations arising from discovery under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

You can’t have a “convicted terrorist” summon someone like Rummy to a federal courthouse to answer questions about the torture the government used to justify Padilla’s own designation as an enemy combatant so we could in turn torture him. That would be a “spectacle.”

It all makes so much sense!

Rummy’s Dump

Donald Rumsfeld, channeling Julian Assange, has now made the database of documents accompanying his book available.

As Spencer notes, making these documents available is largely self-serving; a way for Rummy to point to early moments of reflection that were followed by later moments of rash stupidity or lies.

To put it uncharitably: when you’ve got a rep for being less-than-honest and unwilling to debate, you might as well let the documents speak for themselves.

So take, for instance, one that Rumsfeld’s promoting on his website. It’s a September 9, 2002 summary from the Joint Staff’s top intelligence official confessing that U.S. assessments of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction “rely heavily on analytic assumptions and judgment rather than hard evidence.” Rumsfeld told the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to “take a look” at the memo, because “what we don’t know about WMD… is big.”

Aha! Rumsfeld was a voice for moderation on the Iraq WMD all along! He looks pretty good for bravely disclosing that, right? Not when you remember that after he received that summary, he continued to portray the evidence against Iraq as ironclad, up to and after the invasion. (“We know where [the WMD] are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.”)

Spencer points to similar examples relating to Afghanistan and interrogation.

But there are some fascinating documents in here. As Marc Ambinder noted yesterday, there’s Rummy’s memo to General Myers and Stephen Cambone supporting George Tenet’s recommendation that John Brennan head the Terrorist Threat Integration Center; in that position Brennan oversaw targeting for Cheney’s illegal wiretap program. But in news relevant to today, the memo also emphasizes Brennan’s experience as CIA’s Chief of Station in Cairo.

Then there’s this memo from retired General Wayne Downing to Rummy recommending some changes to Special Operations. Among other things, this memo recommends that special operations report directly to the Secretary of Defense:

To flatten the chain of command, JSOC should report directly to the SD for the immediate future. There is precedent for this new approach to the combat employment of SOF that will better position DoD for the future fight. JSOC reported directly to the CJCS prior to Goldwater-Nichols legislation and the Nunn-Cohen Amendment.

Read more

How Does Frago 242 Relate to Our Collaboration with the Wolf Brigade?

The biggest headline from Friday’s Wikileaks dump (everywhere but the NYT, anyway) is that the “US ignored torture.” But the way in which an official policy ignoring torture was followed by collaboration with one of Iraq’s torture squads raises the question whether the US involvement in Iraqi torture was more direct.

Did the US “ignore” torture, or “encourage” it?

The basis for the claim that the US ignored torture comes from references to Frago 242, which officially instituted a policy of looking the other way in cases of Iraqi on Iraqi abuse.

This is the impact of Frago 242. A frago is a “fragmentary order” which summarises a complex requirement. This one, issued in June 2004, about a year after the invasion of Iraq, orders coalition troops not to investigate any breach of the laws of armed conflict, such as the abuse of detainees, unless it directly involves members of the coalition. Where the alleged abuse is committed by Iraqi on Iraqi, “only an initial report will be made … No further investigation will be required unless directed by HQ”.

While the Guardian ascribes the timing of this order–which they date to June 2004–to Iraqi sovereignty and the effort to get Iraqis to take over more of their own security, it also coincides with the time when Abu Ghraib made it politically difficult for the US to remain in the torture business.

By the end of 2004, according to the Wikileaks dump, the US was handing over detainees to a US trained group known to torture.

In Samarra, the series of log entries in 2004 and 2005 describe repeated raids by US infantry, who then handed their captives over to the Wolf Brigade for “further questioning”. Typical entries read: “All 5 detainees were turned over to Ministry of Interior for further questioning” (from 29 November 2004) and “The detainee was then turned over to the 2nd Ministry of Interior Commando Battalion for further questioning” (30 November 2004).

The field reports chime with allegations made by New York Times writer Peter Maass, who was in Samarra at the time. He told Guardian Films : “US soldiers, US advisers, were standing aside and doing nothing,” while members of the Wolf Brigade beat and tortured prisoners. The interior ministry commandos took over the public library in Samarra, and turned it into a detention centre, he said.


The Wolf Brigade was created and supported by the US in an attempt to re-employ elements of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard, this time to terrorise insurgents. Members typically wore red berets, sunglasses and balaclavas, and drove out on raids in convoys of Toyota Landcruisers. They were accused by Iraqis of beating prisoners, torturing them with electric drills and sometimes executing suspects. The then interior minister in charge of them was alleged to have been a former member of the Shia Badr militia.

Now, the timing of the two events–the formal policy of doing nothing about Iraqi on Iraqi torture and the collaboration with the Wolf Brigade–is not exact. Wolf Brigade was founded in October 2004, some time after Frago 242 was issued.

But given how adamant Rummy was in late 2005 that US soldiers were not required to physically stop any abuse they found,

Q    And General Pace, what guidance do you have for your military commanders over there as to what to do if — like when General Horst found this Interior Ministry jail?

GEN. PACE:  It is absolutely the responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene to stop it.  As an example of how to do it if you don’t see it happening but you’re told about it is exactly what happened a couple weeks ago.  There’s a report from an Iraqi to a U.S. commander that there was possibility of inhumane treatment in a particular facility.  That U.S. commander got together with his Iraqi counterparts.  They went together to the facility, found what they found, reported it to the Iraqi government, and the Iraqi government has taken ownership of that problem and is investigating it.  So they did exactly what they should have done.

SEC. RUMSFELD:  But I don’t think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it; it’s to report it.

GEN. PACE:  If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it.

It sure seems that the relationship between Frago 242 and the torture committed by the Wolf Brigade constitutes even more than just “ignoring” torture.

The Illegal War on Latin American (!) Terrorism

I linked to this Jeremy Scahill post already, but I wanted to point out a few things about Scahill’s elaboration on the WaPo’s covert ops story of the other day.

First, Scahill provides a list of locations where Obama’s expanded special operations war has deployed:

The Nation has learned from well-placed special operations sources that among the countries where elite special forces teams working for the Joint Special Operations Command have been deployed under the Obama administration are: Iran, Georgia, Ukraine, Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Peru, Yemen, Pakistan (including in Balochistan) and the Philippines. These teams have also at times deployed in Turkey, Belgium, France and Spain. JSOC has also supported US Drug Enforcement Agency operations in Colombia and Mexico. The frontline for these forces at the moment, sources say, are Yemen and Somalia. “In both those places, there are ongoing unilateral actions,” said a special operations source. “JSOC does a lot in Pakistan too.”

I’m not sure about you, but I, for one, have never heard of “Al Qaeda in Ecuador” or “Al Qaeda in Belgium.” While some of these deployments likely do have ties to fighters just one step removed from al Qaeda (later in the article, Scahill describes JSOC partnering with Georgia to pursue Chechens), others might be more likely to have ties to terrorist financing (Belgium) or illicit trade (including drugs) that might fund terrorism. Or hell, maybe just oil and gas, since they’re pretty criminal and we’re addicted, so it’s practically the same thing.

Which brings me back to the UN report on targeted killings. When describing the target of these covert ops, the WaPo story said the ops are directed “against al Qaeda and other radical organizations.” As I highlighted from the WaPo story, John Bellinger believes many of those targeted have nothing to do with 9/11.

Many of those currently being targeted, Bellinger said, “particularly in places outside Afghanistan,” had nothing to do with the 2001 attacks.

Which is a concern the UN report expresses: that the US has declared itself to be in a non-international armed conflict that is sufficiently vaguely defined as to include many people whose targeting would be illegal under international humanitarian law.

53. Taken cumulatively, these factors make it problematic for the US to show that – outside the context of the armed conflicts in Afghanistan or Iraq – it is in a transnational non-international armed conflict against “al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other associated forces”107 without further explanation of how those entities constitute a “party” under the IHL of non-international armed conflict, and whether and how any violence by any such group rises to the level necessary for an armed conflict to exist.


55. With respect to the existence of a non-state group as a “party”, al-Qaeda and other alleged “associated” groups are often only loosely linked, if at all. Sometimes they appear to be not even groups, but a few individuals who take “inspiration” from al Qaeda. The idea that, instead, they are part of continuing hostilities that spread to new territories as new alliances form or are claimed may be superficially appealing but such “associates’ cannot constitute a “party” as required by IHL – although they can be criminals, if their conduct violates US law, or the law of the State in which they are located.

56. To ignore these minimum requirements, as well as the object and purpose of IHL, would be to undermine IHL safeguards against the use of violence against groups that are not the equivalent of an organized armed group capable of being a party to a conflict – whether because it lacks organization, the ability to engage in armed attacks, or because it does not have a connection or belligerent nexus to actual hostilities. It is also salutary to recognize that whatever rules the US seeks to invoke or apply to al Qaeda and any “affiliates” could be invoked by other States to apply to other non-state armed groups. To expand the notion of non-international armed conflict to groups that are essentially drug cartels, criminal gangs or other groups that should be dealt with under the law enforcement framework would be to do deep damage to the IHL and human rights frameworks. [my emphasis]

The UN reports that the US has admitted to using drones to take out Afghan drug lords; Scahill notes we’ve used these covert teams to target drug cartels in Mexico and Colombia. And the inclusion of so many Latin American countries on Scahill’s list suggests further possible drug ties (while the presence of Georgia and Ukraine on Scahill’s list suggest the possibility of organized crime targets).

In other words, precisely the concern the UN report lays out may be reflected in Scahill’s list.

Read more