Obama Hates The Truth On Binyan Mohamed

The news last week that President Obama had bought into and signed off on the full boat of shameful state secrets assertion in the case of Binyan Mohamed v Jeppesen Dataplan set off a wave of criticism. Obama came to the criticism the old fashioned way, he earned it by breaking his campaign promise and continuing the wretched excess of unitary secrecy. Obama’s about face, and turn to the dark side of Bush/Cheney secrecy shocked even Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Mary Schroeder when confronted with it at the Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan hearing.

That is the part of Obama’s war on Binyam Mohamed through Bush style secrecy that has been widely reported, but there is much more that is not as well known. It ought to be. From this morning’s Guardian:

A policy governing the interrogation of terrorism suspects in Pakistan that led to British citizens and residents being tortured was devised by MI5 lawyers and figures in government, according to evidence heard in court.

The existence of an official interrogation policy emerged during cross-examination in the high court in London of an MI5 officer who had questioned one of the detainees, Binyam Mohamed, the British resident currently held in Guantánamo Bay. The officer, who can be identified only as Witness B, admitted that although Mohamed had been in Pakistani custody for five weeks, and he knew the country to have a poor human rights record, he did not ask whether he had been tortured or mistreated, did not inquire why he had lost weight, and did not consider whether his detention without trial was illegal.

Mohamed was eventually able to tell lawyers that before being questioned by MI5 he had been hung from leather straps, beaten and threatened with a firearm by Pakistani intelligence officers. After the meeting with MI5 he was "rendered" to Morocco where he endured 18 months of even more brutal torture, including having his genitals slashed with a scalpel. Some of the questions put to him under torture in Morocco were based on information passed by MI5 to the US.

The Guardian has learned from other sources that the interrogation policy was directed at a high level within Whitehall and that it has been further developed since Mohamed’s detention in Pakistan. Evidence of this might emerge from 42 undisclosed US documents seen by the high court and sent to the MPs and peers on the intelligence and security Read more

The Push to Publish the OPR Report

I was wondering when this would come out. After all, one of the advantages of having an easily-used journalist like Mikey Isikoff around is that when someone needs to leak something to increase political pressure, they know whom to go to.

So, those who want to make sure the OPR report damning John Yoo and Steven Bradbury is published in its current "very harsh" form will go to Mikey to make sure the report’s conclusions become public.

According to two knowledgeable sources who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive matters, a draft of the report was submitted in the final weeks of the Bush administration. It sharply criticized the legal work of two former top officials—Jay Bybee and John Yoo—as well as that of Steven Bradbury, who was chief of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) at the time the report was submitted, the sources said. (Bybee, Yoo and Bradbury did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

But then–Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy, Mark Filip, strongly objected to the draft, according to the sources. Filip wanted the report to include responses from all three principals, said one of the sources, a former top Bush administration lawyer. (Mukasey could not be reached; his former chief of staff did not respond to requests for comment. Filip also did not return a phone message.) OPR is now seeking to include the responses before a final version is presented to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. "The matter is under review," said Justice spokesman Matthew Miller.

[snip]

OPR investigators focused on whether the memo’s authors deliberately slanted their legal advice to provide the White House with the conclusions it wanted, according to three former Bush lawyers who asked not to be identified discussing an ongoing probe. One of the lawyers said he was stunned to discover how much material the investigators had gathered, including internal e-mails and multiple drafts that allowed OPR to reconstruct how the memos were crafted.

And in addition to those pushing to make the report public, there are those–speaking in a voice that sounds remarkably like certain lawyers associated with Dick Cheney–attacking the legitimacy of the report.

"OPR is not competent to judge [the opinions by Justice attorneys]. They’re not constitutional scholars," said the former Bush lawyer. 

David! How’ve you been now that you’ve been separated from your man-sized safe?

Read more

BREAKING: Obama Continues Bush Policy On State Secrets

Earlier this morning, Looseheadprop wrote about the case of Binyam Mohamed, the British subject tortured at the hands of the United States at Gitmo, including having his genitals carved selectively with a scalpel. The Mohamed case is of critical significance for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that there was an oral argument in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco this morning that was to provide a crucial test of the new Obama Administration’s willingness to continue the Bush policy of concealing torture, wiretapping and other crimes by the assertion of the state secrets privilege.

From an excellent article by Daphne Eviatar at the Washington Independent at the end of January:

President Obama’s sweeping reversals of torture and state secret policies are about to face an early test.

The test of those commitments will come soon in key court cases involving CIA “black sites” and torture that the Bush administration had quashed by claiming they would reveal state secrets and endanger national security. Legal experts say that the Bush Department of Justice used whatʼs known as the “state secrets privilege” – created originally as a narrow evidentiary privilege for sensitive national security information — as a broad shield to protect the government from exposure of its own misconduct.

One such case, dealing with the gruesome realities of the CIAʼs so-called “extraordinary rendition” program, is scheduled for oral argument before a federal appeals court in early February. The position the Obama administration takes in this case may be the first major test of its new policies on transparency in government.

Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc. involves five victims of CIA rendition, or “torture by proxy,” as itʼs also known. Abducted abroad, the men were flown by the CIA to cooperating countries whose agents interrogated them under torture. Because federal officials are usually immune from lawsuits, the men later sued the private aviation data company, Jeppesen — a subsidiary of Boeing, one of the largest federal defense contractors — that
knowingly provided the flight plans and other assistance necessary for the CIA to carry out its clandestine operations.

Well, the news being reported out of Courtroom One in San Francisco is not good and indicates that the Obama Administration has continued the walk of the oppressive shoes of the Bush/Cheney regime and has formally continued the assertion of state secrets.

The best hope for transparency on Read more

What Explains Commander Lippold’s Newfound Impatience on the Cole Prosecutions?

Eight and a half years ago, Commander Kirk Lippold’s ship, the USS Cole, was attacked by Al Qaeda. As Richard Clarke explained it in Against All Enemies, the Cole should never have been in Yemen.

For over three years the CSG had been concerned with security at the ports in the region that were being used by the U.S. Navy. Steve Simon had written a scathing report on security he discovered at the Navy pier near Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Sandy Berger had sent the report to the Secretary of Defense. I had personally crawled around and climbed up into sniper positions at the U.S. Navy facility in Bahrain because of repeated reports that al Qaeda planned to attack there. The Defense Department had fixed the problems in Bahrain and the UAW, but bases weren’t the only points of vulnerability. When the USS Cole was attacked, we were shocked to learn that the Navy was even making port calls in Yemen.

Mike Sheehan, then the State Department representative on the CSG, had summed up our feelings: "Yemen is a viper’s nest of terrorists. What the fuck was the Cole doing there in the first place?"

By late November, the Yemenis provided information to the US that preliminarily tied the attack to Al Qaeda; by late December, the case became stronger. Yet Clinton held back from a response because, the 9/11 Commission reported, CIA and FBI never conclusively tied the attack to Al Qaeda and besides it didn’t seem like Clinton wanted to know anyway.

Clarke recalled that while the Pentagon and the State Department had reservations about retaliation, the issue never came to a head because the FBI and the CIA never reached a firm conclusion. He though they were "holding back." He said he did not know why, but his impression was that Tenet and Reno possibly thought the White House "didn’t really want to know" since the principals’ discussions by November suggested that there was not much WhiteHouse interest in conducting further military operations against Afghanistan in the administration’s last weeks.

The Clinton Administration refused to do what Clarke and Sheehan pushed to do: to retaliate militarily. Read more

Conyers Invokes the CIA Inspector General Report on Torture

In a HuffPo column arguing for a Commission to look into Bush era crimes, John Conyers mentions something people on the Hill rarely talk about: the 2004 CIA Inspector General report on torture.

Nor do I agree that the relevant facts are already known. While disparate investigations by Committees of congress, private organizations, and the press have uncovered many important facts, no single investigation has had access to the full range of information regarding the Bush administration’s interrelated programs on surveillance, detention, interrogation, and rendition. The existence of a substantially developed factual record will simplify the work to come, but cannot replace it. Furthermore, much of this information, such as the Central Intelligence Agency’s 2004 Inspector General report on interrogation, remains highly classified and hidden from the American people. An independent review is needed to determine the maximum information that can be publicly released.

Conyers links to this Jane Mayer interview about the report by way of explaining the significance of the report.

One of the lingering mysteries in Washington has been what happened to the CIA internal probe into homicides involving the program. You note that CIA Inspector General (IG) John Helgerson undertook a study and initially concluded, just as the Red Cross and most legal authorities in the United States and around the world, that the program was illegal and raised serious war crimes issues. Helgerson was summoned repeatedly to meet privately with Vice President Cheney, the man who provided the impetus for the program, and it appears as a result of these meetings the IG’s report was simply shut down. Would those probes have brought into question the Justice Department’s specific approval of torture techniques used by the CIA–approval that involved not just John Yoo, but much more specifically Michael Chertoff and Alice Fisher, the two figures who ran the criminal division?

The fact that John Helgerson—the inspector general at the CIA who is supposed to act as an independent watchdog—was called in by Cheney to discuss his tough report in 2004 is definitely surprising news. Asked for comment, Helgerson through the CIA spokesman denied he felt pressured in any way by Cheney. But others I interviewed have described the IG’s office to me as extremely politicized. They have also suggested it was very unusual that the Vice President interjected himself into the work of the IG. Fred Hitz, who had the same post in previous administrations, told me that no vice president had ever met with him. Read more

About those Missing OLC Opinions

(Note: I’m scheduled to be on Mark Levine’s Inside Scoop today at 5PM ET. You can listen in here.)

Okay okay already. Here’s your damn missing OLC opinion post.

As a number of you have pointed out, ProPublica did a very cool database of all the OLC opinions on executive power, torture, and warrantless wiretapping that we know of. The database collects in one place, in sortable form, the opinions that track Bush’s abuse of power. 

I had done a timeline mapping the warrantless wiretap opinions to known events associated with Bush’s illegal program (though it’s not sortable like the ProPublica one). And don’t forget that John Conyers gave us a very detailed description of that opinion eliminating the 4th Amendment.

The memorandum, which was directed to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and Defense Department General Counsel William J. Haynes, addresses whether the president has constitutional or statutory authority to use military force inside the United States in terrorism-related situations and, if so, whether such domestic military operations would be barredby either the Fourth Amendment or the federal Posse Comitatus statute. Examples of the type of force considered for purposes of the analysis include, but are not limited to: (1) destroying civilian aircraft that are believed to have been hijacked; (2) deploying troops to control traffic in and out of a major American city; (3) seizing or attacking civilian property, such as apartment buildings, office complexes, or ships, believed to contain terrorism suspects; and, (4) using military-level eavesdropping and surveillance technology on domestic targets.

Mr. Yoo and Mr. Delahunty concluded that both Article II of the Constitution and the 9/11 use of force resolution would authorize these types of domestic military operations (even though Congress had expressly rejected language proposed by the Administration for the AUMF that would have authorized domestic military operations).292 The memorandum also contains extended discussion of a hypothetical example which posits that a domestic military commander has received information, not rising to the level of probable cause, suggesting that a terrorist has hidden inside an apartment building and may possess weapons of mass destruction. According to the memorandum, not only does the Constitution permit the commander to seize the building, detain everyone found inside, and then interrogate them – all without obtaining any sort of warrant – but information gathered by military commanders in this way could used for criminal prosecution purposes as long as the primary reason for the seizure was the military fight against terrorism and not law enforcement. Read more

Did Holder Promise No Prosecutions?

As I posted, both Sheldon Whitehouse and Pat Leahy suggest that–even though John Cornyn and others made an inappropriate demand that Holder promise not to prosecute any Bushies–Holder did not make that promise.

But right as that came out, the Moonie Times came out with a Kit Bond interview claiming that Holder had made such promises. (h/t Wigwam)

President Obama’s choice to run the Justice Department has assured senior Republican senators that he won’t prosecute intelligence officers or political appointees who were involved in the Bush administration’s policy of "enhanced interrogations."

Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, a Republican from Missouri and the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in an interview with The Washington Times that he will support Eric H. Holder Jr.’s nomination for Attorney General because Mr. Holder assured him privately that Mr. Obama’s Justice Department will not prosecute former Bush officials involved in the interrogations program.

Mr. Holder’s promise apparently was key to moving his nomination forward. Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 17-2 to favorably recommend Holder for the post. He is likely to be confirmed by the Senate soon.

Sen. Bond also said that Mr. Holder told him in a private meeting Tuesday that he will not strip the telecommunications companies that cooperated with the National Security Agency after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks of retroactive legal immunity from civil lawsuits–removing another potential sticking point among GOP senators.

In the interview Wednesday, Mr. Bond said, "I made it clear that trying to prosecute political leaders would generate a political firestorm the Obama administration doesn’t need."[my empahsis]

Mind you, I’m not holding my breath for any big prosecutions from the Obama Administration, given his repeated calls to move forward.

That said, I suspect Kit Bond is spinning Holder’s clear statements with regards to those who implemented Bush’s policies into statements about those who crafted Bush’s policies.

Note how Holder answered this question in written RFQs:

Mr. Holder indicated that he would not prosecute any intelligence officers who participated in the interrogation program and who had followed Justice Department guidance.

Prosecutorial and investigative judgments must depend on the facts and no one is above the law, Mr. Holder wrote. Read more

Scottish Haggis Lives Up to the Name, Backs Holder

Say, are you the least bit surprised that Arlen "Scottish Haggis" Specter has lived up to his name? As in "offal" and "sheep"? Once again? (h/t BSL)

 After making a huge fuss questioning the independence of Eric Holder, Specter just caved and said he’ll support the attorney general nominee.

"I can say with some confidence that there won’t be a successful filibuster," Specter told reporters at a press conference gathered to share his thoughts on Holder in advance of tomorrow’s Judiciary panel vote on the nominee.

Specter added that the strong recommendations Holder received from former FBI director Louis Freeh and former DoJ No. 2 James Comey were influential in swaying his vote.

"At no time did I challenge Mr. Holder’s integrity," the Pennsylvania senator concluded. (But he sure came close, according to Holder himself.) "It was a question of judgment."

Speaking of judgment, Holder also has resolved — to Specter’s satisfaction, at least — the GOP demand that he promise not to prosecute Bush administration intelligence officials who engaged in brutal interrogations at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.

"The gist of" Holder’s stance on the issue, Specter told me, "is that if you have an authoritative legal opinion, that’s a defense in terms of mens rea, of intent. That’s a broad generalization. I don’t think you can go any further than that until you examine the specific facts of a case."]

So the kabuki is off, as of tomorrow.

Well, that was nice. NOW can we get back to the business of governing again, little GOP boys?

What Jane Mayer Tells Us about Warrantless Wiretapping

Jane Mayer’s excellent piece on Obama’s Executive Orders banning torture is about just that–the end of the torture regime. (Incidentally, kudos to Greg Craig, whom I beat up yesterday, for giving his first interview to Mayer.) But it offers some useful insight on a debate we’ve been having over the last couple of days–whether or not Obama could have intervened in the al-Haramain trial (and other pending litigation on warrantless wiretapping) in the same way he intervened in the pending habeas petitions.

First, off, Mayer confirms a point I made–that Obama was not about to take on the most politically charged legal decisions in his first day in office.

Moreover, Craig noted in his first White House interview that the reforms were not finished yet and that Obama had deliberately postponed several of the hardest legal questions. Craig said that, as he talked with the president before the signing ceremony, Obama was “very clear in his own mind about what he wanted to accomplish, and what he wanted to leave open for further consultation with experts.”

Obviously, one of those questions is how to approach legal consequences for those who ordered torture–or warrantless wiretapping. The EOs Obama signed last week don’t commit him to an approach on that score. Furthermore, he seems inclined to insulate himself from such decisions by putting them in the hands of Eric Holder, to make it a prosecutorial decision. Though Holder has intimated he’d hold both the architects of our torture regime and of our warrantless wiretapping responsible (lucky for him, he could do it all in a giant 2-for-1 deal), I’m not holding my breath on that score. But we won’t know what he’ll do until he becomes Attorney General.

That said, Mayer makes it clear just how much lobbying has gone into Obama’s evolving policy on torture.  She describes a meeting that must have taken place in December 2007 or January 2008 with a bunch of officers–including four star Generals–at which the officers lobbied Obama to end our torture regime. That high-level lobbying continued up until last month. Mayer specifically describes the role of retired Marine General Chuck Krulak who promised to "fly cover" for the Obama Administration after they pushed this through.

Who, might I ask, is doing similar lobbying to restore civil liberties for Americans?

Oh, I know there has been similar lobbying–on the part of civil liberties groups, high profile individuals, and DFH bloggers like you and me. Read more

Carl Levin on Torture Investigation

As I reported earlier, when Senator Reid spoke at Progressive Media Summit, he stated that he supported investigations of BushCo wrong-doing, even stating he was increasing the budget for such investigations. He specifically mentioned that Senator Levin would be doing some such investigation.

Here’s Senator Levin’s response. It sounds like Levin’s investigation is primarily his SASC investigation on torture. 

In good news, though, Levin’s committee should be releasing the full report in short order.

image_print