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UK’s role in rendition ‘scandal’ must be reinvestigated, demands Tory MP

A senior Tory MP is calling for an inquiry into the failure of government agencies...

Government attempts to avoid court hearing into UK complicity in rendition

By Mark Blackwood British government lawyers are seeking to suppress claims that former Labour Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the then director of MI6 counterterrorism, Sir...

UK complicit? US Senate report into CIA torture and rendition due

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UK records undermine Government’s claims over damaged CIA rendition documents

Claims by ministers that documents relating to the UK role in CIA ‘rendition’ flights were accidentally damaged have been cast into doubt by new...

UK ambassador ‘lobbied’ US senators to obscure Britain’s complicity in CIA rendition program

Records published under Britain’s Freedom of Information (FOI) Act have compounded concerns that the UK government lobbied US officials to keep Britain’s role in...

UK government attempts to conceal its involvement in rendition and torture

Robert Stevens The British government is seeking to cover up its role in the illegal “extraordinary rendition”–kidnappings and torture–programme run by the United States. Ahead of...

British Government Accused Of ‘Cover-up’ Over Rendition Files

RINF Alternative News A director at legal charity Reprieve, which is representing Libyan Abdel Hakim Belhadj who claims he was on a rendition flight through Diego...

Files on UK Government Involvement in CIA Rendition Program “Accidentally Destroyed”

The government's problems with missing files deepened dramatically when the Foreign Office claimed documents on the UK's role in the CIA's global abduction operation had...

Secret Snowden rendition plot revealed?

A US government jet used in CIA ‘rendition’ flights flew into Europe on the same day NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden arrived in Moscow from...

CIA Global Renditions: Abductions and Extrajudicial Transfers from one Country to Another

Extraordinary renditions include arbitrary abductions and extrajudicial transfers from one country to another. Targeted individuals are called terrorists.

Towards the Globalization of CIA Torture and Rendition

cia

by Jeff Lincoln

A report released in early February by the Open Society Justice Initiative titled “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition” establishes that the Central Intelligence Agency, acting under the direction of the highest levels of the US government, has utilized a global network of secret prisons, foreign intelligence agents, and interrogation and torture centers to send detainees to without any legal protections.

This arrangement is worldwide and includes the involvement of at least 54 different countries touching almost every continent.

There is enormous diversity among the countries involved. They include Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt, Pakistan, Syria and Jordan, which carried out the torture on suspects that the CIA rendered to them. Poland, Lithuania, Romania and Thailand hosted secret prisons operated by the CIA where detainees could be held clandestinely and have interrogations or torture conducted directly by American intelligence operatives.

European nations such as Macedonia, Georgia, and Sweden detained and delivered suspects to the CIA to be tortured. Larger countries such as Britain or Germany conducted some of the interrogations themselves while smaller countries such as Iceland, Denmark, Belgium, or Greece provided intelligence, logistical support, use of airspace, etc.

On the whole, the report stands as an indictment against all of Washington’s allies and client states in its self-proclaimed “war on terror.”

The Australian government stands implicated in the rendition of Mamdouh Habib, an Australian national, to Egypt where he was tortured and then later transferred to Guantanamo Bay where he was detained until he was released without charge in 2005.

Egypt stands as the country that has interrogated, tortured and abused the most people subject to extraordinary rendition. The relationship between the US and Egypt dates back to the Clinton administration that used the country almost exclusively for its rendition program, which was dramatically ramped up after September 11, 2001.

Italy’s secret services played a role in the abduction of Abu Omar, an Egyptian cleric who was previously given asylum in Italy but was abducted in Milan in 2003; he was then placed on a flight to Egypt. Italian authorities authorized some 46 stopovers by CIA operated aircraft at Italian airports.

The United Kingdom, the country that enjoys the closest relationship with US imperialism, has extensive involvement with America’s rendition program. In addition to providing airspace, MI6 and other British intelligence worked hand in glove with the CIA to abduct and interrogate suspects. Omar Deghayes, a Libyan national but a British resident was arrested in 2002 and transported by US and British intelligence agents to Bagram, where he was subjected to abuse. After interrogation by MI5 agents, he was sent to Guantanamo where he underwent further physical abuse, suffering a broken finger, a broken nose, and damage to his right eye.

In 2004, the British government arranged to have a former member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, Sami al-Saadi, rendered into Libyan custody by approaching him in China and convincing him to fly to the British embassy in Hong Kong where he would be allowed to return to the UK. Instead, his whole family was taken into custody in Hong Kong and flown over to Libya where Mr. al-Saadi remained for six years and was subjected to torture by physical beatings and electric shocks.

While the report sheds some light on what countries are involved, the numbers of individuals subjected to rendition remains unknown. By 2005, it is estimated that about 150 persons were rendered to foreign countries according to admissions made by then-president George W. Bush. The real number is likely much higher, as Egypt alone has had to acknowledge that it received sixty to seventy terror suspects since September 11, 2001. Human Rights Watch has attempted to compile a list of persons who have been held in CIA prisons, and they have identified almost forty people who have either gone missing or whose whereabouts are unknown.

There are dozens more countries detailed in the report than just the ones mentioned above. Still, the report is extremely limited in scope in that it does not document transfers or detentions by any agency other than the CIA. It does not include the detention practices of the Defense Department, for example, and its notorious facilities in Guantanamo Bay or Afghanistan. Moreover, what is known is only based on the experiences of 139 individuals who have been released from custody. Nevertheless, it is now clear that the US government has been running a detention and “enhanced interrogation” operation with tentacles that span the globe.

It appears likely that the United States intentionally sought out the widespread involvement of so many countries to ensure that those who might later nominally reject these practices would themselves be so implicated that they would be unwilling to publicly expose the details of Washington’s dirty deeds.

Indeed, none of the countries mentioned in the report, save one, has even admitted any culpability for their participation in gross human rights violations. The lone exception is Canada, which assisted in the rendition of Canadian citizen Maher Arar in 2002 to Syria where he was tortured. A hastily conducted commission placed blame on the Royal Mounted Police but absolved those higher up in government of any responsibility. Other nations, such as Britain, Sweden and Australia have quietly settled lawsuits alleging their participation but have made no admission of liability.

As a matter of fact, far from acknowledging their complicity in abduction, rendition, and torture, many of the countries in the report were publicly denouncing these practices by the US government at the same time they were secretly abetting them.

A number of liberal and human rights organizations have reacted to the revelations in the Open Society Justice Initiative report by calling for and supporting the efforts of international tribunals to hear cases brought against officials of some of the countries complicit in assisting in the rendition of persons by the US Government.

While there are some actions pending in the European Court of Human Rights and other high courts against some of the countries named in the report for their role in assisting in rendition, the cases will have no impact on the operations of the CIA.

Setting aside the obvious fact that cases can only be brought by individuals whom the CIA has already decided to release, the outcome of these actions hinge on the narrow issue of the extent to which the participating countries knew or should have known torture was likely to occur. This glosses over the more fundamental issue that, unlike extradition, extraordinary rendition is, by definition, a transfer without legal process. In fact, the whole CIA program is designed to place detainee interrogations completely beyond the reach of law. Moreover, the US government has refused to recognize the jurisdiction of international courts of human rights.

President Barack Obama for his part, despite making claims of reversing the Bush-era CIA policies, has further escalated the crimes committed by his predecessor.

In January 2009, Obama issued a series of executive orders that purported to close down then existing CIA detention facilities and also created a task force to examine rendition practices and make recommendations to ensure humane treatment. These orders were nothing more than a sham to conceal the fact that, rather than restricting the ability of the CIA to conduct extraordinary renditions, the orders were purposely crafted to preserve it.

While Obama has ordered the CIA to shut down certain detention facilities, the directive specifically exempts facilities designed to hold people on a temporary or transitory basis. In other words, the executive order essentially codifies the CIA’s authority to detain suspects and then to render them to other countries to face interrogation, trial, or worse. Furthermore, if the CIA wanted the detainees to remain in the custody of the United States, they could be sent to a facility operated by the Department of Defense or kept offshore on a Navy vessel.

The task force created by Obama’s order functions merely as a fig leaf for the continuation of Bush-era policies. The report, which was completed in 2009, has not been made public and is not binding on any agency. However, as an example of its toothlessness, a Justice Department press release disclosed that one of the recommended safeguards was relying on assurances from the receiving country that the detainees would be treated humanely.

The Justice Department under Obama appointee Eric Holder has closed inquiries into the treatment of over 100 detainees who were in CIA custody overseas, including several who died while in custody, stating that no criminal charges would be pursued.

Former MI6 agent to face ‘rendition’ questions

Police will seek to interview Sir Mark Allen, the former head of MI6's counterterrorism unit, in connection with allegations of British complicity in the...

UK torture collusion ‘widespread’

British involvement in the mistreatment of terrorism suspects abroad is wider than previously reported, a human rights group has claimed. Cageprisoners - which campaigns...

A Call to End All Renditions

By Marjorie Cohn, Jurist  Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian residing in Britain, said he was tortured after being sent to Morocco and Afghanistan in 2002 by...

Information on use of Shannon ‘rendition’ sought

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Diego Garcia: the UK’s shame

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Scandal of Diego Garcia Rendition Flights

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MPs accuse Washington of lying over rendition flights

By David Connett | MPs are to launch an investigation into US activities on Diego Garcia after accusing Washington of lying about extraordinary rendition...

UK lawmakers to launch new rendition probe

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Gov gags “extraordinary renditions” whistleblower

Marcus Morgan Last Friday, the Labour government took out a high court injunction to prevent a former member of the British Special Air Services, Ben...

UN rejects British denial on rendition

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Ukraine link to CIA secret prisons probed

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MI6 won’t be charged over kidnap, torture of Libyans

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US wanted Britain to build 2nd Guantanamo — report

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America: Where the “Good Guys” Torture

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RINFORMATION

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John Brennan’s Heavy Baggage

John Brennan brings heavy baggage to his new job as CIA Director – legal as well as moral – arguably making it risky for him to travel to more than 150 countries that are party to the United Nations Convention Against Torture.New CIA Director John Brennan addresses officials at the Agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia. (Photo credit: CIA)

It must be hard for Brennan to recognize that he cannot land in Europe, for example, without fear of being arrested and arraigned for kidnapping (also known as “extraordinary rendition”) and torture (now antiseptically called “EIT” for “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which, by the way, is a direct translation of verschaerfte Vernehmungright out of the Gestapo handbook).

For a freshly confirmed CIA Director it is de rigueur to pay an early call on European counterparts. I remember preparing a briefing book for that purpose just before a new CIA Director named George H. W. Bush took off for the UK, Germany and France in the early spring of 1976. Unfortunately for Brennan, there may be complications to enjoying April in Paris – like a possible knock on the door from a French prosecutor and the gendarmes.

Given Brennan’s role as a senior CIA official during President George W. Bush’s “dark side” days of waterboarding detainees, renditioning suspects to Mideast torture centers and making up intelligence to invade Iraq, Brennan’s advisers are sure to remind him that he may be in as much jeopardy of being arrested as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

After leaving the Pentagon in late 2006, Rumsfeld had his own close call with Lady Justice. In October 2007, Rumsfeld was in an auditorium in Paris preparing to deliver a lecture when he learned that the Paris Prosecutor was mulling over what to do after being served a formal complaint against Rumsfeld for ordering and authorizing torture.

The charges against Rumsfeld were brought under the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture (CAT), ratified by both the United States and France. The complaint was brought in France under the concept of universal jurisdiction.

The criminal complaint stated that because the authorities in the United States and Iraq had failed to launch any independent investigation into the responsibility of Rumsfeld and other high-level U.S. officials for torture – despite a documented paper trail and government memos implicating them in direct as well as command responsibility for torture – it was the legal obligation of states such as France to take up the case. The complaint also noted that the U.S. had refused to join the International Criminal Court, which might have had more routine jurisdiction.

In an attempt to avoid a major diplomatic headache, U.S. embassy officers advised: “Run, Rummy, Run,” before the Paris authorities decided what to do. Rumsfeld went out a side door, slipped into the embassy, and then got out of Dodge tout suite.

Rumsfeld’s skedaddle from Paris thus spared him the possible humiliation that befell Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who had been head of Chile’s military dictatorship from 1973 to 1990. While on a trip to the United Kingdom in 1998, Pinochet was arrested on a Spanish judicial warrant and was held under house arrest until 2000. The Spanish judge cited the same principle of universal jurisdiction. Pinochet was freed only after the intervention of high-powered friends, including former President George H.W. Bush and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

That was only the first of several times when European judges applied that principle, declaring themselves competent to judge crimes committed by former heads of state, despite local amnesty laws. If former heads of state are vulnerable, it seemed to follow that former defense secretaries and other senior subordinates must be as well.

If the Rumsfeld precedent were not enough to make Brennan think twice about travel to Europe, he has surely been told of the criminal complaints lodged in Switzerland (also a CAT signatory) against George W. Bush in early 2011. When the former president learned of it, he decided not to take any chances and abruptly nixed longstanding plans to address a Jewish charity dinner in Geneva on Feb. 12, 2011.

The Goods on Brennan

Brennan’s checkered past has been an open secret. On Dec. 5, 2005, after finishing a stint as acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Brennan told Margaret Warner of the NewsHour that “rendition” (also known as kidnapping) is “an absolutely vital tool … producing intelligence that has saved lives.” (In his Feb. 7, 2013, testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee on his nomination to be CIA Director, Brennan backed off the “saved lives” claim, since the committee had just completed its own comprehensive study disproving it.)

On the NewsHour, Brennan described rendition as “the practice or the process of rendering somebody from one place to another place. It is moving them, and the U.S. Government will frequently facilitate that movement from one country to another.”

Brennan’s co-panelist, another former CIA operations officer, objected to turning prisoners over to foreign intelligence services, insisting that, “It would be far better if the United States retained control of that terror suspect and did the interrogation itself.”

This drew a sharp rejoinder from Brennan: “Quite frankly I think it’s rather arrogant to think that we are the best in every case in terms of eliciting information from terror suspects.” Right. In the decades since World War II, many “friendly” intelligence services have acquired a lot more experience with verschaerfte Vernehmungthan the CIA, though it often served as the tutor.

(The term verschaerfte Vernehmung was not only coined by the Nazis, but the techniques were indistinguishable from those used during the presidency of George W. Bush, according to a 2007 article in the Atlantic. The major difference, so far, is that after WWII the torturers were punished as war crimes, with the penalty often death by hanging.)

NewsHour’s Warner asked Brennan if the U.S. employs rendition “because we want another country to do the dirty work?” Brennan replied: “It’s rather arrogant to think that we’re the only country that respects human rights.”

A comprehensive study just published by the Open Society Justice Initiative reveals that, under President George W. Bush, Brennan and his counter-terrorist team suborned the officials of 54 other countries to cooperate in the rendition program, providing help of various kinds, including transiting their land, airports or airspace, or accepting secret prisons in their countries.

It is no secret that the purpose of “rendition” is to move detainees secretly to countries with experience/expertise in “enhanced interrogation techniques” or to the infamous CIA “black sites” abroad where waterboarding and other abuses took place. Such activities violate the Convention Against Torture and, often, national laws.

Some Accountability

What is new is that some governments in both “old” and “new” Europe – a distinction that Donald Rumsfeld would make derisively against France and other parts of “old” Europe – are now showing a common commitment to justice by prosecuting former heads of their own intelligence services.

Italy’s former chief of military intelligence, Nicolo Pollari, just got ten years in prison for helping the CIA abduct Egyptian cleric Osama Hassan Mustafa Nasr (aka Abu Omar) from the streets of Milan in early 2003 and send him to Egypt for more “enhanced” interrogation.

More than two dozen Americans have been tried and convicted in absentia for this case of truly extraordinary rendition, in which they exhibited notoriously adolescent tradecraft. If any of them travel to Europe, they risk arrest. John Brennan should remember that highly embarrassing flap quite well, since it came on the eve of his appointment to head a newly created Terrorist Threat Integration Center.

And in “new” Europe, in January 2013, Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, former head of Poland’s secret service and former minister of internal affairs, was indicted for his role in cooperating with the CIA renditioners and torturers. Siemiatkowski facilitated CIA renditions and the establishment of a CIA “black prison” in Poland, where the U.S. arranged interrogation and torture of terrorist suspects snatched from their home countries.

It is no overstatement that for the first time since World War II, many foreign intelligence chiefs are likely to have very mixed reactions to being seen, even in Washington, with a freshly minted CIA Director with the heavy baggage that Brennan carries.

So where might these intelligence counterparts get together without too many risks. What about the Bahamas?  It has signed CAT but has not yet ratified it. So, with adequate security forces deployed, there may be a measure of safety there. For the time being at least, Bahamas could offer one of the few feasible ways that Brennan would be able to schmooze with key foreign counterparts – perhaps by offering as a bonus a timeshare week there. A short flight for travelers from Washington, DC, Bahamas would have another cost-saving advantage in saving on jet fuel.

Things to Do at Home, Like Iran

Besides worries about arrest, Brennan has other compelling reasons to stay at home for a while. Iran’s nuclear program remains on the front burner as it has since early 2008 when the Director of National Intelligence revealed the National Intelligence Estimate completed in November 2007 concluding, unanimously and “with high confidence,” that Iran had stopped working on nuclear weaponization in 2003 and had not resumed that work – a judgment revalidated every year since by the DNI.

That assessment has not prevented neocons and their favorite media personalities from trying to make Iran’s nuclear program seem more menacing. On “Meet the Press” on Feb. 3, for example, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was the subject of attempted mousetrapping by NBC’s Chuck Todd, who clearly was hoping Panetta could be maneuvered into contradicting the NIE.

It was awkward for Panetta, but – to his credit – rather than apologize when Todd pointed his finger accusing him of believing “the Iranians were not pursuing nuclear weapons,” Panetta held firm under the goading. Finally, after conferring with co-panelist Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Gen. Martin Dempsey, Panetta said, with some exasperation:  “I – no, I can’t tell you because – I can’t tell you they’re in fact pursuing a weapon because that’s not what intelligence says we – we – we’re – they’re doing right now. …” (emphasis added)

John Brennan, when appearing before his Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing on Feb. 7, chose to deviate from the 2007 NIE by including the following in his prepared written testimony: “And regimes in Tehran and Pyongyang remain bent on pursuing nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missile delivery systems.” (emphasis added)

Never mind Brennan’s disingenuousness in conflating Iran with North Korea. The question is how could he diverge so markedly both from what Panetta said just four days before, as well as from the unanimous assessment of the entire U.S. intelligence community that Iran stopped working on a nuclear weapon in 2003 and has not resumed that work. In no way does that continuing assessment support his claim that Tehran remains “bent on pursuing nuclear weapons” and ICBMs to deliver them.

There are, of course, reasonable grounds to suspect that Iran might be seeking a capability that eventually would allow it to rapidly break out of Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) constraints on building a nuclear weapon. That, of course, is why U.S. intelligence is riveted on monitoring related activity in Iran, as are the UN inspectors in Iran.

But “bent on pursuing” ICBMs? Really? Iran has not flight-tested a ballistic missile with ranges in excess of its 2200-kilometer-range Sajjil MRBM. Nor has it launched a space rocket that might conceivably be a suitable model for an ICBM. Has Brennan found someone – perhaps an analyst left over from the notorious 2002 NIE on WMD in Iraq – to tell him the Iranians are testing ICBMs in their hardened underground sites?

I doubt that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who observed at close hand the concocting of fraudulent “intelligence” on Iraq, will cave in to the likes of Brennan “fixing” the intelligence on Iran. However, there is no word yet this year on when the DNI will present the annual worldwide threat briefing – traditionally given in sworn testimony to Congress in January or February.

So the battle is joined. Assuming Congress, in its wisdom, does not altogether cancel the worldwide threat briefing this year, and assuming I’m right about Clapper, Brennan has his work cut out for him in squaring that circle about how “bent” Iran seems to be on “pursuing nuclear weapons.”

A version of this article also appeared on Consortium News.

Ray McGovern

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. During his career as a CIA analyst, he prepared and briefed the President's Daily Brief and chaired National Intelligence Estimates. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

At Least 20 CIA ‘Black Site’ Prisoners Still Missing

In one of President Barack Obama first acts in the White House, he ordered the closure of the CIA’s so-called “black-site” prisons, where terror suspects had been held and, sometimes, tortured.  The CIA says it is “out of the detention business,” as John Brennan, Obama’s pick to head the agency, recently put it.

(PHILIPPE MERLE/AFP/Getty Images) But the CIA’s prisons left some unfinished business.  In 2009, ProPublica’s Dafna Linzer listed more than thirty people who had been held in CIA prisons and were still missing.

Some of those prisoners have since resurfaced, but at least twenty are still unaccounted for.

Last week the Open Society Foundations’ Justice Initiative released a report pulling together the most current information available on the fates of the prisoners. A few emerged from foreign prisons after the turmoil of the Arab Spring. One has died. (The report relied exclusively on media accounts and information previously gathered by human rights groups. The Open Society Foundations also donate to ProPublica.)

The report counts 136 prisoners who were either held in a CIA black site or subject to so-called extraordinary rendition, in which detainees were secretly shipped to other countries for interrogation.

Many of the prisoners were tortured, either under the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” program or by other countries after their transfer. The report also lists 54 countries that assisted in some way with detention and rendition. The U.S. has not disclosed the countries it worked with, and few have acknowledged their participation.

The CIA declined our request to comment.

Here are the fates of a few of the prisoners we listed as missing back in 2009:

  1. Ayoub al-Libi, also known as Mustafa Jawda al-Mahdi, is a Libyan who was allegedly interrogated and detained by US personnel in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2004. The next year he was returned to Libya, where he was sentenced to death as member of LIFG, an Islamist anti-Gaddafi group (designated a terrorist organization by the U.S.) He was released when uprisings began against Gaddafi in February 2011. Human Rights Watch interviewed him in 2012.
  2. Hassan Rabai, also known as Mohamed Ahmad Mohamed Al Shoroieya, is a Libyan who was captured in Pakistan in 2003 and later transferred to Afghanistan – where he alleges that he was waterboarded by U.S. personnel. Bush administration officials have repeatedly said that only three terror suspects were ever subjected to waterboarding; Rabai would be the fourth.  He was eventually transferred to prison in Libya, where he remained until February 2011. Human Rights Watch interviewed him last year.
  3. Khaled al-Sharif, also known as Abu Hazam, was picked up with fellow Libyan and LIFG member Hassan Rabai and also held in Afghanistan. He remained in Libyan prison until March 2010, according to interviews he gave to Human Rights Watch.
  4. Mohammed Omar Abdel-Rahman is an Egyptian who was captured in Pakistan in 2003 and  considered a “senior Al-Qaeda operative.” He was transferred to prison in Egypt and was released in late 2010. He gave an interview in 2011 in which he admitted to running training camps in Afghanistan prior to 2001 but saying he had renounced violence.
  5. Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, also known as Abu Musab al-Suri, was tied to the bombings in Madrid and London in 2004 and 2005. Picked up by the CIA in 2005, he was transferred to prison in his native Syria. According to Syrian media, he was released by Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad in February 2012.
  6. Ali Abdul-Hamid al-Fakhiri, also known as Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, was a Libyan detained shortly after the 9/11 attacks. He was reportedly held in CIA as well as Egyptian custody over the next several years. According to a Senate Intelligence Committee report, he provided information about links between Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction and Al Qaeda – information he later said he had fabricated. He was transferred to Libyan prison in 2005 or 2006, and was found dead in his cell in May 2009.

The whereabouts (and in some cases identities) of many more remain unknown or uncertain.

In 2007, then-CIA director Michael Hayden said that “fewer than 100 people had been detained at CIA’s facilities.” But only 16 have been officially identified by the U.S. government. President George W. Bush acknowledged the CIA’s detention program in September 2006 and announced the transfer of 14 “high-value” detainees to Guantanamo Bay prison. Two other high-value detainees were subsequently acknowledged.

Much else about the CIA program is still unknown. President Barack Obama closed the black-site prisons on entering office, but preserved the ability to render and to hold people for the “short-term.”

Obama banned torture, but announced that no one would be prosecuted for previously sanctioned harsh interrogations. A Justice Department investigation into deaths of detainees in CIA custody ended without charges.

The Senate Intelligence Committee recently completed a 6,000-page report on the CIA’s detention program. At Brenan’s confirmation hearings, Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.), said the report shows the interrogation program was run by people “ignorant of the topic, executed by personnel without relevant experience, managed incompetently by senior officials who did not pay attention to detail, and corrupted by personnel with pecuniary conflicts of interest.” Rockefeller is one of the few to have read the report, which remains classified.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License

Italy’s Ex-Intelligence Chief Given 10-year Sentence for Role in CIA Kidnapping

A US State Department official on Monday "expressed concern" about what he called "a 'climate of impunity' over abuses by police and security forces" - in Egypt. The official, Michael Posner, warned that failure to investigate Egyptian state agents responsible for "cruel treatment of those in their custody" - including torture - creates "a lack of meaningful accountability for these actions". Last week, I wrote that "I've become somewhat of a connoisseur of US government statements that are so drowning in obvious, glaring irony that the officials uttering them simply must have been mischievously cackling to themselves when they created them," and this American denunciation of Egypt's "climate of impunity" almost certainly goes to the top of the list.Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was kidnapped in 2003 by the CIA from the streets Milan and sent to Egypt. (Photograph: EPA)

After all, Michael Posner works for the very same administration that not only refused to prosecute or even investigate US officials who tortured, kidnapped and illegally eavesdropped, but actively shielded them all from all forms of accountability: criminal, civil or investigative. Indeed, Posner works for the very same State Department that actively impeded efforts by countries whose citizens were subjected to those abuses - such as Spain and Germany - to investigate them. Being lectured by the US State Department about a "culture of impunity" is like being lectured by David Cameron about supporting Arab dictators.

To see just how extreme the US "culture of impunity" is, consider the extraordinary 2003 kidnapping by the CIA of the Muslim cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (Abu Omar), from the streets of Milan. Nasr, who in 2001 had been granted asylum by Italy from persecution in Egypt, was abducted by the CIA and then shipped back to Egypt where he was imprisoned for four years without charges and, he says, brutally tortured by America's long-standing ally, the Mubarak regime.

Der Spiegel described just what a standard kidnapping it was: Nasr "was seized in broad daylight on the open street, pushed into a white van, taken to the Aviano military airport and then flown to Egypt via the US Ramstein Air Base in Germany". Yesterday, an Italian appellate court sentenced the country's former intelligence chief, Niccolò Pollari, to ten years in prison "for complicity" in that kidnapping:

The appeals court, in Milan, sentenced the former chief, Niccolò Pollari, to 10 years and his former deputy Marco Mancini to nine years for their role in the kidnapping of the cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr . . . . Three Italian secret service officials were also sentenced to six years each.

Mr. Nasr was kidnapped under the practice of 'extraordinary rendition', in which people suspected of being Islamic militants were abducted in one country and then transferred to another, often one where torture was common.

While Mr. Nasr was initially charged with membership in an illegal organization, the charges were ultimately dropped. He has since been released.

In other words, not only did the CIA kidnap Nasr and deliberately send him to an allied regime notorious for torture - a serious crime no matter who he was - but, as it turns out, he was guilty of absolutely nothing. What made him a kidnapping target was that, according to the New York Times, his "anti-American speeches and calls to jihad were resonating with young Muslim men who were attending his Islamic center".

Despite being convicted of no crime (other than criticizing US aggression), he was imprisoned in Egypt without charges for four years until a Cairo court found his detention unfounded and ordered him released. Upon release, he said "he had been reduced to a 'human wreck' by torture he had undergone in a Cairo jail". Nasr detailed the truly horrific kidnapping and torture he endured in a 2008 interview with Peter Bergen for Mother Jones, who used Italian court documents to write a comprehensive report on the case:


"A little before noon on February 17, 2003, Abu Omar was headed to his mosque, incongruously located inside a garage. He strolled down Via Guerzoni, a quiet street mostly empty of businesses and lined with high, view-blocking walls. A red Fiat pulled up beside him and a man jumped out, shouting 'Polizia! Polizia!' Abu Omar produced his ID. 'Suddenly I was lifted in the air,' he recalled. He was dragged into a white van and beaten, he said, by wordless men wearing balaclavas. After trussing him with restraints and blindfolding him, they sped away.

"Hours later, when the van stopped, Abu Omar heard airplane noise. His clothes were cut off and something was stuffed in his anus, likely a tranquilizing suppository. His head was entirely covered in tape with only small holes for his mouth and nose, and he was placed on a plane. Hours later he was hustled off the jet. He heard someone speaking Arabic in a familiar cadence; in the distance, a muezzin was calling the dawn prayer. After more than a decade in exile, he was back in Egypt. . . .

"Spreading his arms in a crucifixion position, he demonstrates how he was tied to a metal door as shocks were administered to his nipples and genitals. His legs tremble as he describes how he was twice raped. He mentions, almost casually, the hearing loss in his left ear from the beatings, and how he still wakes up at night screaming, takes tranquilizers, finds it hard to concentrate, and has unspecified 'problems with my wife at home.' He is, in short, a broken man."

Yesterday's 10-year sentence was based on a 2010 finding by an Italian judge that "the Italian secret service was most likely aware of, 'and perhaps complicit in,' the operation". In 2009, an Italian criminal court found 23 individual CIA agents (including the Milan station chief, Robert Lady) guilty of kidnapping and other crimes, but was forced to try them in abstentia because the US (first under Bush and then Obama) pressured the Italian government to suppress extradition requests issued by Italian courts to compel those CIA agents to travel to Italy to stand trial.

This entire case reveals vital facts about the culture of impunity for high-level officials that prevails in the US even when they commit the most egregious crimes:

First, it is completely inconceivable that anything like what just happened in Italy could happen in the US. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the highest-level US officials had systematically committed felonies under the War on Terror rubric, both political parties, bolstered by a virtual consensus of the DC press, united to block all forms of accountability. A sacred rule in US political culture is that high-level state officials are to be shielded from all accountability, let alone criminal punishment, for how they abuse power.

In sum, US officials are not subject to the rule of law but reside above it. Neither party's establishment nor their Adversarial Press Corps would ever tolerate the CIA Director being prosecuted for his crimes the way Italy's just was. The defense offered to the press by Lady, the CIA's Milan station chief - I was just following orders - is exactly what resonates in US elite circles as an excuse for all crimes: if the US government does it, then it is, by definition, shielded from legal punishment.

Second, both Bush and Obama officials continuously attempted to apply coercive pressure on Italian magistrates to obstruct this investigation, and when that failed, applied the same pressure to the Berlusconi and Prodi governments. Indeed, numerous diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks detail those efforts, and the Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi of L'Espresso described that campaign of obstruction in her book "Dossier WikiLeaks. Segreti Italiani."

One 2006 cable describes a meeting between US Ambassador Ronald Spogli and Italy's new Undersecretary to the Prime Minister Enrico Letta in which the US made not-so-subtle threats about the need of the Italian government to suppress extradition requests for the CIA agents:

In the context of keeping our excellent bilateral relationship on sound footing, the Ambassador explained to Letta that nothing would damage relations faster or more seriously than a decision by the GOI to forward warrants for arrests of the alleged CIA agents named in connection with the Abu Omar case. This was absolutely critical. Letta took note of this and suggested the Ambassador discuss the matter personally with Justice Minister Mastella, who Letta suggested should be invited to Washington for an early meeting with the Attorney General.

A 2007 cable describes plotting between the US and Italian governments to thwart the judicial investigation. They agreed that the US should "send something in writing to [the Italian justice official] explaining that the US would not act on extradition requests in the Abu Omar case if tendered", which "could be used pre-emptively by the GOI to fend off action by Italian magistrates to seek the extradition of the implicated Americans". In response, "the [US] Ambassador agreed that we should work to avoid having extradition requests forwarded."

A 2010 cable details a meeting between Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Berlusconi in which Gates "asked Berlusconi for his assistance in affirming US jurisdiction" over one of the high-level CIA defendants." A 2011 cable noted that "Justice Minister Mastella has so far kept the lid on recurring judicial demands to extradite presumed CIA officers allegedly involved in a rendition of Muslim cleric Abu Omar."

This US pressure campaign succeeded in quashing the efforts of the Italian judiciary to hold these CIA agents criminally accountable for their crimes in Italy. Indeed, as Maurizi told me yesterday, "five different Italian ministers of Justice refused to forward extradition requests for CIA agents." After Italy's highest court upheld the convictions of the CIA agents last September, the Guardian noted: "successive Italian governments denied all knowledge of the case and consistently ruled out extradition."

Under serious pressure from two successive US administrations, the Italian justice ministers simply refused to forward their own courts' extradition demands. The Italian courts were thus left to imprison their own officials for the ancillary role they played in the kidnapping because the US government, as usual, draped its own officials with a full-scale shield of immunity.

Third, what allowed this accountability in Italy is exactly what the US so tragically lacks: a brave and independent judiciary willing to perform its core ostensible function of applying the law equally to everyone, including those who wield the greatest power. Indeed, a 2005 US diplomatic cable complained that "Italian magistrates [prosecutors] are fiercely independent and are not answerable to any government authority/entity, including the Minister of Justice" and that "consequently, it is nearly impossible to prevent them from undertaking action in Italy that they wish to carry out."

This prosecution was possible in the first instance only because a single Italian magistrate, Armando Spataro, insisted on pursuing it despite all sorts of attacks against him. This 2009 Der Spiegel article reports that, as a result of his pursuit of the case, "his communications were monitored, the Italian intelligence service placed him under observation and there were even investigations into whether he had betrayed state secrets. The government tried again and again to silence him." But the magistrates ignored those repressive efforts, eventually even seizing Lady's retirement villa in Italy to cover court costs.

Numerous cables show Italian officials, especially Berlusconi himself, attacking the Italian magistrates and assuring the US that Italian courts would eventually stop them. One 2005 US cable celebrates that Minister of Justice Roberto Castelli "took the unusual step of publicly criticizing a member of Italy's highly independent magistracy" over this case, specifically that he "called Armando Spataro a "militant'. meaning a communist" (ironically, Spataro previously "faced accusations of right-wing bias when he led prosecutions of the Red Brigade terrorist organization in the late 1970's and 1980's".) That public denunciation of the magistrate happened, recounted the US cable, after he "presented Castelli with requests for the provisional arrest in contemplation of extradition for 22 Americans involved in the alleged rendition of Egyptian Imam Abu Omar from Milan."

Assuring Washington that the prosecution of the CIA agents was politically motivated and would be stopped, this US cable claimed:


"In the 1960s and 1970s Italian communists made a concerted effort to 'infiltrate' the judiciary; today, many Italian judges are considered to be sympathetic to the left and some have made decisions that undermine our shared security objectives. . . .

"Berlusconi's government certainly believes that judicial treatment of the Abu Omar case is an example of a politically motivated action directed, not at the US, but at Berlusconi in an further attempt to embarrass the Prime Minister. Castelli's very public criticism of Spataro is a sign he is willing to risk criticizing the judiciary in order to avoid precipitous action in this case."

The 2010 cable describing the meeting between Gates and Berlusconi describes how "Berlusconi gave an extended rant about the Italian judicial system - which frequently targets him since it is 'dominated
by leftists' as the public prosecutor level." Moreover, "Berlusconi predicted that the 'courts will come down in our favor' upon appeal, noting that higher-level appellate courts are significantly less politicized than local courts."

But that did not happen. Indeed, the opposite happened: Italian appellate courts were even more aggressive and steadfast in demanding accountability than the lower courts. Just two weeks ago, an Italian appellate court vacated the acquittals of three CIA agents whom a lower court had protected on the ground of diplomatic immunity and then sentenced one of them - former CIA Rome station chief Jeffrey Castelli - to seven years in prison. Last September, it was Italy's highest court that upheld the convictions of the 23 CIA agents. And yesterday's 10-year sentence for Italy's ex-intelligence chief was also imposed by an appeals court.

So what Berlucsoni predicted never happened. Italian courts exercised great independence and courage in applying the law to both the American and Italian kidnappers without regard to their power and position.

The contrast with the US federal judiciary is stark. American federal judges have proven themselves indescribably servile to the US government. It is impossible to imagine American federal judges - except in the most aberrational and quickly-overturned instances - defying the wishes of the US government when it comes to claims of national security and secrecy.

Indeed, not a single victim of the abuses of the US War on Terror - not one - has even been allowed by the US federal judiciary to have a day in court, let alone obtain accountability for what was done to them. Federal judges have obediently slammed the courthouse doors shut in the faces of War on Terror victims even when everyone recognizes that the victims were treated savagely and were guilty of nothing. Indeed, US courts have refused even to hear cases brought by rendition (kidnapping) victims. Instead, US federal judges, over and over, have meekly submitted to the decrees of US national security state officials that the mandates of secrecy and national security shield them from any form of judicial review even when they kidnap and torture innocent people.

An independent judiciary, willing to apply the law even to the most powerful political officials, is a prerequisite to a healthy political system that functions under the rule of law. As this case vividly demonstrates, Italy has that and the US does not. Of all the US institutions that have shamefully abdicated their duties in the post-9/11 era, the federal judiciary is at the top of that list. That is why even the former head of Italy's intelligence service faces criminal punishment for kidnapping an innocent person while such accountability is inconceivable in the US. It is why the "rule of law" is a ludicrous joke when it comes to US elites.

We also see here, yet again, how monumentally important leaks are. Almost everything we know about the conduct of the US government in this case comes from diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks and allegedly disclosed by Bradley Manning. It is remarkable how often major media outlets rely on WikiLeaks documents to report to their readers what is happening in the world. For exactly that reason, it is no mystery why the US government is so eager to punish so severely those responsible for leaks generally and these disclosures specifically: precisely because nothing sheds light on their bad acts the way whistleblowing does.

Jeremy Scahill: Assassinations of US Citizens Largely Ignored at Brennan CIA Hearing

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: During his confirmation hearing Thursday, President Obama’s nominee to run the CIA, John Brennan, forcefully defended the president’s counterterrorism policies, including the increased use of armed drones and the targeted killings of American citizens. He also refused to say that waterboarding was a form of torture, and he admitted that he did not try to stop waterboarding while he was a top CIA official under President George W. Bush.

Four years ago, Brennan was a rumored pick for the CIA job when Obama was first elected, but he was forced to withdraw from consideration amid protests over his public support for the CIA’s policies of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" and extraordinary rendition program.

AMY GOODMAN: The start of Brennan’s confirmation hearing had to be temporarily halted following repeated interruptions by protesters. Members of the group CODEPINK began standing up one by one to condemn Brennan’s role in the drone war, much to the chagrin of Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein.

JOHN BRENNAN: Chairman Feinstein, Vice Chairman Chambliss, members of the committee, I am honored to appear—

ANN WRIGHT: [inaudible]

JOHN BRENNAN: —before you today as the—

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: All right.

JOHN BRENNAN: —president’s nominee to—

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Would you halt please? We’ll ask the police to please remove this woman.

ANN WRIGHT: ...no children, no women. We cannot—

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Thank you very much.

ANN WRIGHT: [inaudible] the sort of thing going on [inaudible]. But we cannot [inaudible]—

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Please remove—

ANN WRIGHT: —torture. It’s jeopardizing U.S. soldiers. It’s not defending them.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That CODEPINK protester interrupting John Brennan was retired Army colonel and former diplomat Ann Wright, who oversaw the reopening of the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan in 2001 as deputy chief of mission. When she interrupted Brennan, she was wearing a sign around her neck with the name of Tariq Aziz, a 16-year-old Pakistani boy who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011. The sign she held up read, "Brennan equals drone killing." Ann Wright and seven others were arrested. John Brennan later addressed the protesters as he defended the drone program.

JOHN BRENNAN: I think there is a misimpression on the part of some American people, who believe that we take strikes to punish terrorists for past transgressions. Nothing could be further from the truth. We only take such actions as a last resort to save lives when there’s no other alternative to taking an action that’s going to mitigate that threat. So, we need to make sure that there is understanding, and the people that were standing up here today, I think they really have a misunderstanding of what we do as a government and the care that we take and the agony that we go through to make sure that we do not have any collateral injuries or deaths. And as the chairman said earlier, the need to be able to go out and say that publicly and openly, I think, is critically important, because people are reacting to a lot of falsehoods that are out there.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined via Democracy Now! videostream by Jeremy Scahill, producer and writer of the documentary, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, which premiered last month at the Sundance Film Festival. His book, Dirty Wars, goes on sale in April. He’s national security correspondent for The Nation, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army and Democracy Now! correspondent.

Jeremy, welcome to Democracy Now! Your assessment of what it is that John Brennan said yesterday and the questions he was asked?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, you know, if you—if you look at what happened yesterday at the Senate Intelligence Committee, I mean, this is kabuki oversight. This was basically a show that was produced by the White House in conjunction with Senator Feinstein’s office. I mean, the reality was—is that none of the central questions that should have been asked of John Brennan were asked in an effective way. In the cases where people like Senator Angus King or Senator Ron Wyden would ask a real question, for instance, about whether or not the CIA asserts the right to kill U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, the questions were very good. Brennan would then offer up a non-answer.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s—

JEREMY SCAHILL: And then there’d be almost no follow-up.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy, let’s go to Democratic Senator Ron Wyden’s questioning of John Brennan Thursday. He has led the push for the White House to explain its rationale—Senator Wyden has—for targeting U.S. citizens.

SEN. RON WYDEN: Let me ask you several other questions with respect to the president’s authority to kill Americans. I’ve asked you how much evidence the president needs to decide that a particular American can be lawfully killed and whether the administration believes that the president can use this authority inside the United States. In my judgment, both the Congress and the public need to understand the answers to these kind of fundamental questions. What do you think needs to be done to ensure that members of the public understand more about when the government thinks it’s allowed to kill them, particularly with respect to those two issues, the question of evidence and the authority to use this power within the United States?

JOHN BRENNAN: I have been a strong proponent of trying to be as open as possible with these programs, as far as our explaining what we’re doing. What we need to do is optimize transparency on these issues, but at the same time optimize secrecy and the protection of our national security. I don’t think that it’s one or the other. It’s trying to optimize both of them. And so, what we need to do is make sure we explain to the American people what are the thresholds for action, what are the procedures, the practices, the processes, the approvals, the reviews. The Office of Legal Counsel advice establishes the legal boundaries within which we can operate. It doesn’t mean that we operate at those out of boundaries. And, in fact, I think the American people will be quite pleased to know that we’ve been very disciplined, very judicious, and we only use these authorities and these capabilities as a last resort.

AMY GOODMAN: That was John Brennan answering Senator Wyden’s question. He’s been the chief critic. President Obama, two days ago, called Senator Wyden, because a group of them had said they would stop the hearing if information wasn’t provided about the legal basis for drone strikes. When Wyden yesterday attempted to get that information, he raised in the hearing that he wasn’t able to. Jeremy Scahill?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, you know, if you listen to John Brennan, I mean, it’s like he’s talking about buying a used car and what, you know, sort of little gadgets and whistles it has on it. He used "optimize"? Ron Wyden was asking him about whether—about the extent of the CIA’s lethal authority against U.S. citizens, on U.S. soil and abroad. And, see, the problem is that while some questions were asked that are central questions, there was almost no follow-up. People wouldn’t push—senators wouldn’t push Brennan back when he would float things that were nonsensical or just gibberish, you know, or using terms like "we need to optimize this, we need to optimize that." There was no sense that—I mean, remember, this is a guy who is, for all practical purposes, President Obama’s hit man or assassination czar. This guy has been at the center of a secret process where the White House is deciding who lives and who dies around the world every day, and yet the conversation that took place was as though they were, you know, sort of talking about whether or not they’re going to add a wing onto a school in Idaho or something, when they were talking about life-and-death issues for people, not only U.S. citizens, but around the world.

There was no discussion at all of the so-called signature strikes—the idea that the U.S. is targeting people whose identities it doesn’t know, whose actual involvement in terror plots is actually unknown. There was no discussion of the fact that the Obama administration authorized operations that killed three U.S. citizens in a two-week period in 2011, one of whom was a 16-year-old boy who was sitting and having dinner with his cousins in Yemen. No discussion of the case of Samir Khan, a Pakistani American who was killed alongside Anwar Awlaki. His family had met with the FBI prior to his death. The FBI told his family that Samir Khan was not indicted, that Samir Khan was not accused of a crime, and yet you have three U.S. citizens being killed.

When Anwar Awlaki’s name was raised during the course of the hearing, it was one of the most disgusting displays of a show trial or a faux trial that I’ve ever seen. Dianne Feinstein and John Brennan set out to put Anwar Awlaki on trial, posthumously, without presenting any evidence and to issue a guilty verdict. The whole thing was a show. And I believe that—

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy, let’s go to Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein asking Brennan to talk about Anwar Awlaki, what you’re describing, the American citizen who was assassinated in Yemen in a drone strike in 2011.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Could I ask you some questions about him?

JOHN BRENNAN: You’re the chairman.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: You don’t have to answer. Did he have a connection to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who would attempt to explode a device on one of our planes over Detroit?

JOHN BRENNAN: Yes, he did.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Can you tell us what that connection was?

JOHN BRENNAN: I would prefer not to at this time, Senator. I’m not prepared to.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: OK. Did he have a connection to the Fort Hood attack?

JOHN BRENNAN: That is a—al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has a variety of means of communicating and inciting individuals, whether that be websites or emails or other types of things. And so, there are a number of occasions where individuals, including Mr. Awlaki, has been in touch with individuals. And so, Senator, again, I’m not prepared to address the specifics of these, but suffice it to say—

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Well, I’ll just ask you a couple of questions. You don’t—did Faisal Shahzad, who pled guilty to the 2010 Times Square car bombing attempt, tell interrogators in 2010 that he was inspired by al-Awlaki?

JOHN BRENNAN: I believe that’s correct, yes.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Last October, Awlaki, did he have a direct role in supervising and directing AQAP’s failed attempt, well, to bring down two United States cargo aircraft by detonating explosives concealed inside two packages, as a matter of fact, inside a computer printer cartridge?

JOHN BRENNAN: Mm-hmm. Mr. Awlaki—

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Dubai?

JOHN BRENNAN: —was involved in overseeing a number of these activities, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s John Brennan answering Senator Feinstein’s questions. Jeremy Scahill, continue.

JEREMY SCAHILL: All right. I mean, see, what you’re seeing there—first of all, let’s remember, the Obama administration never sought an indictment against Anwar Awlaki, that we know of. He was never charged with a crime, that we know of. And he was executed on orders from the president of the United States in September of 2011. The issue here is not who Anwar Awlaki was or what we think of Anwar Awlaki. The issue here is the Constitution. The issue here is due process.

And what we saw, I believe—I believe that Senator Feinstein’s office coordinated this moment with the White House to put on this show trial because of the deadly serious questions surrounding the killing of a U.S. citizen without due process. And what we saw play out there was absolute theater, where you had Anwar Awlaki being posthumously tried, with no evidence. And what came after the clip you just played is Feinstein and Brennan agreeing, quite happily, that Anwar Awlaki was a bad man and that it was justified to take him out and kill him. There was no question about the fact that two weeks later they killed Anwar Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, who no one has ever alleged had any ties whatsoever to terrorism or any militant organization. His only connection was his lineage, who his father was. So, you know, there was something really insidious that happened there, and I think it really is patronizing of the sensibility of the American people to engage in something like that, with one of the most powerful lawmakers on Capitol Hill essentially conspiring with the White House and its nominee to be the CIA to retroactively justify the killing of a U.S. citizen who was never charged with a crime.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Jeremy—

JEREMY SCAHILL: I’m not—go ahead.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Jeremy, I’d like to move to another aspect of the hearing, because in a few cases, some of the Republican members asked somewhat tougher questions of Brennan, and especially Saxby Chambliss, questioned him about the whole—the whole issue of high-value targets and how effective this program had been. Here’s a clip from that exchange.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: How many high-value targets have been captured during your service with the administration?

JOHN BRENNAN: There have been a number of individuals who have been captured, arrested, detained, interrogated, debriefed and put away by our partners overseas, which is, we have given them the capacity now, we have provided them the intelligence. And unlike in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, when a lot of these countries were both unwilling and unable to do it, we have given them that opportunity. And so, that’s where we’re working with our partners.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: How many high-value targets have been arrested and detained, interrogated by the United States during your four years with the administration?

JOHN BRENNAN: I’ll be happy to get that information to you, Senator, in terms of those high-value targets that have been captured with U.S. intelligence support.

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS: I submit to you the answer to that is one. And it’s Warsame, who was put on a ship for 60 days and interrogated.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Saxby Chambliss. However, Dianne Feinstein had a little different take in terms of what had happened in terms of the high-value targets. This is what she said at a certain point in the hearing.

SEN. ANGUS KING: Having the executive being the prosecutor, the judge, the jury and the executioner, all in one, is very contrary to the traditions and the laws of this country, and particularly in a situation where there is time. If—a soldier on a battlefield doesn’t have time to go to court. But if you’re planning a strike over a matter of days, weeks or months, there is an opportunity to at least go to some outside-of-the-executive-branch body, like the FISA court, in a confidential and top-secret way, make the case that this American citizen is an enemy combatant.

JOHN BRENNAN: Senator, I think it’s certainly worthy of discussion. Our tradition, our judicial tradition, is that a court of law is used to determine one’s guilt or innocence for past actions, which is very different from the decisions that are made on the battlefield as well as actions that are taken against terrorists, because none of those actions are to determine past guilt for those actions that they took. The decisions that are made are to take action so that we prevent a future action, so we protect American lives. That is an inherently executive branch function.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Angus King, Senator Angus King, questioning Brennan, not Dianne Feinstein. But, Jeremy, your response to those two clips?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah, I mean, first of all, Senator Angus King did a very good job of raising some of these issues. I mean, he’s new to the Senate and didn’t get the memo that you don’t talk to—to White House officials that way, so it was actually kind of a relief within the hearing when King started to ask these questions.

You know, Juan, though, you brought up the issue of the Republicans asking tougher questions. I mean, in general, what we saw the Republicans doing was engaging in a partisan theater of their own, where, you know, they made the whole issue about White House leaks, for the most part. They were talking about, you know, Benghazi, which is sort of the second coming of 9/11 to the—to a lot of the Republicans on Capitol Hill and this sort of Watergate-type scandal. But I think there’s something—while the Republicans did ask some good questions, there’s something that’s just fundamentally dishonest and full of hypocrisy with the GOP line on this. You know, they’ve been hammering, since the Department Justice white paper came out a couple of days ago, that sort of outlines some of the legal basis for—or, purported to outline the legal basis for targeting U.S. citizens—they’ve been hammering away on the Obama administration and saying, you know, "How is it that Obama is able to essentially conduct these killing operations around the world with very little protest?" The reality is that, you know, when George Bush was president, he was doing these very same actions and engaged in a widespread targeted killing operation, and he was running secret prisons around the world, and they were torturing people, and they were using waterboarding and other techniques, and the Republicans are sort of portraying it as though: "Well, in the good old days of the Bush administration, we would actually arrest people, and we would ask them questions, and now Obama is just running around the world bumping them off." Well, there’s some nugget of truth to the idea that the Obama administration seems to prefer to just kill people rather than take them into custody. But the idea that the Republicans have a moral ground to stand on with this is absolutely laughable. I mean, these guys were Murder Inc. for two straight administrations, where members of Congress just participated in rubber stamping these operations, particularly the Republican members of Congress. So, you know, I take what they say with a grain of salt.

But at the end of the day, I mean, I can’t say I was surprised at what happened on Capitol Hill, but it really was more or less a love fest between the most powerful senators, when it comes to intelligence operations in the U.S., and John Brennan, a man who could not get confirmed last time Obama tried to make him CIA director, because of very serious questions about his views on and role in the torture program under the Bush administration—has served for more than four years as the assassination czar, and it basically looked like they were discussing purchasing a used car on Capitol Hill. I mean, it was total kabuki oversight. And that’s a devastating commentary on where things stand right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Jeremy, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein, in her opening statement, asserting few civilians have died in U.S. drone strikes.

JEREMY SCAHILL: I would invite all—

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to—we’re going to play a clip.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: [I’ve ... been attempting to speak publicly] about the very low number of civilian casualties that result from such strikes; I have been limited in my ability to do so. But for the past several years, this committee has done significant oversight of the government’s conduct of targeted strikes, and the figures we have obtained from the executive branch, which we have done our utmost to verify, confirm that the number of civilian casualties that have resulted from such strikes each year has typically been in the single digits.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Scahill, your final comment?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah. I would invite Senator Feinstein and other members of the Intelligence Committee to travel to Abyan province in Yemen, where I was a few months ago, and meet with the Bedouin villagers of al-Majalah, where more than 40 people were killed, several dozen of them women and children, their bodies shredded into meat with U.S. cluster bombs, and then come back and go on national television and talk about single digits. There were over 40 people killed in one strike alone. And you know what? That wasn’t even a drone strike. That was a cruise missile strike. Everyone is talking about drones these days and obsessed with drones. The U.S. uses AC-130 gunships, night raids, Tomahawk cruise missile strikes. Some of the most devastating strikes were not even drone attacks.

So, you know, this Congress is totally asleep at the wheel when it comes to actually having any effective oversight. You know, they allowed John Brennan to say repeatedly, "Well, I’m not a lawyer," while simultaneously saying, "Everything we’ve done is perfectly legal." And then they say, "Well, what about torture?" And he goes, "Well, I’m not a lawyer, and that has legal implications." I mean, what kind of a show is this? I mean, what does this say about our society when this is the extent of the debate we can have when an administration in power has asserted the right to kill U.S. citizens and foreigners alike around the world without trial? I mean, it’s devastating. It should be a very sobering moment for all of us.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy, the last bit of news that we read in headlines today about the U.S. news outlets—you complained about the Democratic senators working with the White House. What about U.S. news outlets facing criticism for revealing they complied with an Obama administration request to hide the location of a U.S. drone base in Saudi Arabia that had already been publicly reported?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah, what’s new? What’s new? I mean, this has been going on—this has been going on forever in this country. I mean, look at how many times we had major powerful media outlets colluding with the Bush administration to either—you know, either facilitating administration propaganda, or as you’ve called it, sort of this conveyor belt of lies, or, on the other hand, concealing potentially illegal programs or actions that were being conducted by the Bush administration. I mean, this happened throughout the Bush era. And so, to have it right now with the Obama administration is just par for the course. I mean, this is how things are done in Washington.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy, we want to thank you for being with us. Jeremy Scahill, national security correspondent for The Nation magazine, he is also the narrator and subject of the new film, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, and is author of a forthcoming book by the same title.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the woman who has just returned from Pakistan who went to John Brennan’s house, knocked on the door, and he answered, invited her in, and they had a conversation. She’s the founder of CODEPINK, Medea Benjamin. Stay with us.

The Police State Is Real: It Has Happened Here

police_state
The Bush regime’s response to 9/11 and the Obama regime’s validation of this response have destroyed accountable democratic government in the United States. So much unaccountable power has been concentrated in the executive branch that the US Constitution is no longer an operable document.

Chilling legal memo from Obama DOJ justifies assassination of US citizens

The most extremist power any political leader can assert is the power to target his own citizens for execution without any charges or due (Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/ AP)process, far from any battlefield. The Obama administration has not only asserted exactly that power in theory, but has exercised it in practice. In September 2011, it killed US citizen Anwar Awlaki in a drone strike in Yemen, along with US citizen Samir Khan, and then, in circumstances that are still unexplained, two weeks later killed Awlaki's 16-year-old American son Abdulrahman with a separate drone strike in Yemen.

Since then, senior Obama officials including Attorney General Eric Holder and John Brennan, Obama's top terrorism adviser and his current nominee to lead the CIA, have explicitly argued that the president is and should be vested with this power. Meanwhile, a Washington Post article from October reported that the administration is formally institutionalizing this president's power to decide who dies under the Orwellian title "disposition matrix".

When the New York Times back in April, 2010 first confirmed the existence of Obama's hit list, it made clear just what an extremist power this is, noting: "It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing." The NYT quoted a Bush intelligence official as saying "he did not know of any American who was approved for targeted killing under the former president". When the existence of Obama's hit list was first reported several months earlier by the Washington Post's Dana Priest, she wrote that the "list includes three Americans".

What has made these actions all the more radical is the absolute secrecy with which Obama has draped all of this. Not only is the entire process carried out solely within the Executive branch - with no checks or oversight of any kind - but there is zero transparency and zero accountability. The president's underlings compile their proposed lists of who should be executed, and the president - at a charming weekly event dubbed by White House aides as "Terror Tuesday" - then chooses from "baseball cards" and decrees in total secrecy who should die. The power of accuser, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner are all consolidated in this one man, and those powers are exercised in the dark.

In fact, The Most Transparent Administration Ever™ has been so fixated on secrecy that they have refused even to disclose the legal memoranda prepared by Obama lawyers setting forth their legal rationale for why the president has this power. During the Bush years, when Bush refused to disclose the memoranda from his Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that legally authorized torture, rendition, warrantless eavesdropping and the like, leading Democratic lawyers such as Dawn Johnsen (Obama's first choice to lead the OLC) vehemently denounced this practice as a grave threat, warning that "the Bush Administration's excessive reliance on 'secret law' threatens the effective functioning of American democracy" and "the withholding from Congress and the public of legal interpretations by the [OLC] upsets the system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches of government."

But when it comes to Obama's assassination power, this is exactly what his administration has done. It has repeatedly refused to disclose the principal legal memoranda prepared by Obama OLC lawyers that justified his kill list. It is, right now, vigorously resisting lawsuits from the New York Times and the ACLU to obtain that OLC memorandum. In sum, Obama not only claims he has the power to order US citizens killed with no transparency, but that even the documents explaining the legal rationale for this power are to be concealed. He's maintaining secret law on the most extremist power he can assert.

Last night, NBC News' Michael Isikoff released a 16-page "white paper" prepared by the Obama DOJ that purports to justify Obama's power to target even Americans for assassination without due process (the memo is embedded in full below). This is not the primary OLC memo justifying Obama's kill list - that is still concealed - but it appears to track the reasoning of that memo as anonymously described to the New York Times in October 2011.

This new memo is entitled: "Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qa'ida or An Associated Force". It claims its conclusion is "reached with recognition of the extraordinary seriousness of a lethal operation by the United States against a US citizen". Yet it is every bit as chilling as the Bush OLC torture memos in how its clinical, legalistic tone completely sanitizes the radical and dangerous power it purports to authorize.

I've written many times at length about why the Obama assassination program is such an extreme and radical threat - see here for one of the most comprehensive discussions, with documentation of how completely all of this violates Obama and Holder's statements before obtaining power - and won't repeat those arguments here. Instead, there are numerous points that should be emphasized about the fundamentally misleading nature of this new memo:

1. Equating government accusations with guilt

The core distortion of the War on Terror under both Bush and Obama is the Orwellian practice of equating government accusations of terrorism with proof of guilt. One constantly hears US government defenders referring to "terrorists" when what they actually mean is: those accused by the government of terrorism. This entire memo is grounded in this deceit.

Time and again, it emphasizes that the authorized assassinations are carried out "against a senior operational leader of al-Qaida or its associated forces who poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States." Undoubtedly fearing that this document would one day be public, Obama lawyers made certain to incorporate this deceit into the title itself: "Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida or An Associated Force."

This ensures that huge numbers of citizens - those who spend little time thinking about such things and/or authoritarians who assume all government claims are true - will instinctively justify what is being done here on the ground that we must kill the Terrorists or joining al-Qaida means you should be killed. That's the "reasoning" process that has driven the War on Terror since it commenced: if the US government simply asserts without evidence or trial that someone is a terrorist, then they are assumed to be, and they can then be punished as such - with indefinite imprisonment or death.

But of course, when this memo refers to "a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida", what it actually means is this: someone whom the President - in total secrecy and with no due process - has accused of being that. Indeed, the memo itself makes this clear, as it baldly states that presidential assassinations are justified when "an informed, high-level official of the US government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US".

This is the crucial point: the memo isn't justifying the due-process-free execution of senior al-Qaida leaders who pose an imminent threat to the US. It is justifying the due-process-free execution of people secretly accused by the president and his underlings, with no due process, of being that. The distinction between (a) government accusations and (b) proof of guilt is central to every free society, by definition, yet this memo - and those who defend Obama's assassination power - willfully ignore it.

Those who justify all of this by arguing that Obama can and should kill al-Qaida leaders who are trying to kill Americans are engaged in supreme question-begging. Without any due process, transparency or oversight, there is no way to know who is a "senior al-Qaida leader" and who is posing an "imminent threat" to Americans. All that can be known is who Obama, in total secrecy, accuses of this.

(Indeed, membership in al-Qaida is not even required to be assassinated, as one can be a member of a group deemed to be an "associated force" of al-Qaida, whatever that might mean: a formulation so broad and ill-defined that, as Law Professor Kevin Jon Heller argues, it means the memo "authorizes the use of lethal force against individuals whose targeting is, without more, prohibited by international law".)

The definition of an extreme authoritarian is one who is willing blindly to assume that government accusations are true without any evidence presented or opportunity to contest those accusations. This memo - and the entire theory justifying Obama's kill list - centrally relies on this authoritarian conflation of government accusations and valid proof of guilt.

They are not the same and never have been. Political leaders who decree guilt in secret and with no oversight inevitably succumb to error and/or abuse of power. Such unchecked accusatory decrees are inherently untrustworthy (indeed, Yemen experts have vehemently contested the claim that Awlaki himself was a senior al-Qaida leader posing an imminent threat to the US). That's why due process is guaranteed in the Constitution and why judicial review of government accusations has been a staple of western justice since the Magna Carta: because leaders can't be trusted to decree guilt and punish citizens without evidence and an adversarial process. That is the age-old basic right on which this memo, and the Obama presidency, is waging war.

2. Creating a ceiling, not a floor

The most vital fact to note about this memorandum is that it is not purporting to impose requirements on the president's power to assassinate US citizens. When it concludes that the president has the authority to assassinate "a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida" who "poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US" where capture is "infeasible", it is not concluding that assassinations are permissible only in those circumstances. To the contrary, the memo expressly makes clear that presidential assassinations may be permitted even when none of those circumstances prevail: "This paper does not attempt to determine the minimum requirements necessary to render such an operation lawful." Instead, as the last line of the memo states: "it concludes only that the stated conditions would be sufficient to make lawful a lethal operation" - not that such conditions are necessary to find these assassinations legal. The memo explicitly leaves open the possibility that presidential assassinations of US citizens may be permissible even when the target is not a senior al-Qaida leader posing an imminent threat and/or when capture is feasible.

Critically, the rationale of the memo - that the US is engaged in a global war against al-Qaida and "associated forces" - can be easily used to justify presidential assassinations of US citizens in circumstances far beyond the ones described in this memo. If you believe the president has the power to execute US citizens based on the accusation that the citizen has joined al-Qaida, what possible limiting principle can you cite as to why that shouldn't apply to a low-level al-Qaida member, including ones found in places where capture may be feasible (including US soil)? The purported limitations on this power set forth in this memo, aside from being incredibly vague, can be easily discarded once the central theory of presidential power is embraced.

3. Relies on the core Bush/Cheney theory of a global battlefield

The primary theory embraced by the Bush administration to justify its War on Terror policies was that the "battlefield" is no longer confined to identifiable geographical areas, but instead, the entire globe is now one big, unlimited "battlefield". That theory is both radical and dangerous because a president's powers are basically omnipotent on a "battlefield". There, state power is shielded from law, from courts, from constitutional guarantees, from all forms of accountability: anyone on a battlefield can be killed or imprisoned without charges. Thus, to posit the world as a battlefield is, by definition, to create an imperial, omnipotent presidency. That is the radical theory that unleashed all the rest of the controversial and lawless Bush/Cheney policies.

This "world-is-a-battlefield" theory was once highly controversial among Democrats. John Kerry famously denounced it when running for president, arguing instead that the effort against terrorism is "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world".

But this global-war theory is exactly what lies at heart of the Obama approach to Terrorism generally and this memo specifically. It is impossible to defend Obama's assassination powers without embracing it (which is why key Obama officials have consistently done so). That's because these assassinations are taking place in countries far from any war zone, such as Yemen and Somalia. You can't defend the application of "war powers" in these countries without embracing the once-very-controversial Bush/Cheney view that the whole is now a "battlefield" and the president's war powers thus exist without geographic limits.

This new memo makes clear that this Bush/Cheney worldview is at the heart of the Obama presidency. The president, it claims, "retains authority to use force against al-Qaida and associated forces outside the area of active hostilities". In other words: there are, subject to the entirely optional "feasibility of capture" element, no geographic limits to the president's authority to kill anyone he wants. This power applies not only to war zones, but everywhere in the world that he claims a member of al-Qaida is found. This memo embraces and institutionalizes the core Bush/Cheney theory that justified the entire panoply of policies Democrats back then pretended to find so objectionable.

4. Expanding the concept of "imminence" beyond recognition

The memo claims that the president's assassination power applies to a senior al-Qaida member who "poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States". That is designed to convince citizens to accept this power by leading them to believe it's similar to common and familiar domestic uses of lethal force on US soil: if, for instance, an armed criminal is in the process of robbing a bank or is about to shoot hostages, then the "imminence" of the threat he poses justifies the use of lethal force against him by the police.

But this rhetorical tactic is totally misleading. The memo is authorizing assassinations against citizens in circumstances far beyond this understanding of "imminence". Indeed, the memo expressly states that it is inventing "a broader concept of imminence" than is typically used in domestic law. Specifically, the president's assassination power "does not require that the US have clear evidence that a specific attack . . . will take place in the immediate future". The US routinely assassinates its targets not when they are engaged in or plotting attacks but when they are at home, with family members, riding in a car, at work, at funerals, rescuing other drone victims, etc.

Many of the early objections to this new memo have focused on this warped and incredibly broad definition of "imminence". The ACLU's Jameel Jaffer told Isikoff that the memo "redefines the word imminence in a way that deprives the word of its ordinary meaning". Law Professor Kevin Jon Heller called Jaffer's objection "an understatement", noting that the memo's understanding of "imminence" is "wildly overbroad" under international law.

Crucially, Heller points out what I noted above: once you accept the memo's reasoning - that the US is engaged in a global war, that the world is a battlefield, and the president has the power to assassinate any member of al-Qaida or associated forces - then there is no way coherent way to limit this power to places where capture is infeasible or to persons posing an "imminent" threat. The legal framework adopted by the memo means the president can kill anyone he claims is a member of al-Qaida regardless of where they are found or what they are doing.

The only reason to add these limitations of "imminence" and "feasibility of capture" is, as Heller said, purely political: to make the theories more politically palatable. But the definitions for these terms are so vague and broad that they provide no real limits on the president's assassination power. As the ACLU's Jaffer says: "This is a chilling document" because "it argues that the government has the right to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen" and the purported limits "are elastic and vaguely defined, and it's easy to see how they could be manipulated."

5. Converting Obama underlings into objective courts

This memo is not a judicial opinion. It was not written by anyone independent of the president. To the contrary, it was written by life-long partisan lackeys: lawyers whose careerist interests depend upon staying in the good graces of Obama and the Democrats, almost certainly Marty Lederman and David Barron. Treating this document as though it confers any authority on Obama is like treating the statements of one's lawyer as a judicial finding or jury verdict.

Indeed, recall the primary excuse used to shield Bush officials from prosecution for their crimes of torture and illegal eavesdropping: namely, they got Bush-appointed lawyers in the DOJ to say that their conduct was legal, and therefore, it should be treated as such. This tactic - getting partisan lawyers and underlings of the president to say that the president's conduct is legal - was appropriately treated with scorn when invoked by Bush officials to justify their radical programs. As Digby wrote about Bush officials who pointed to the OLC memos it got its lawyers to issue about torture and eavesdropping, such a practice amounts to:

"validating the idea that obscure Justice Department officials can be granted the authority to essentially immunize officials at all levels of the government, from the president down to the lowest field officer, by issuing a secret memo. This is a very important new development in western jurisprudence and one that surely requires more study and consideration. If Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan had known about this, they could have saved themselves a lot of trouble."

Life-long Democratic Party lawyers are not going to oppose the terrorism policies of the president who appointed them. A president can always find underlings and political appointees to endorse whatever he wants to do. That's all this memo is: the by-product of obsequious lawyers telling their Party's leader that he is (of course) free to do exactly that which he wants to do, in exactly the same way that Bush got John Yoo to tell him that torture was not torture, and that even it if were, it was legal.

That's why courts, not the president's partisan lawyers, should be making these determinations. But when the ACLU tried to obtain a judicial determination as to whether Obama is actually authorized to assassinate US citizens, the Obama DOJ went to extreme lengths to block the court from ruling on that question. They didn't want independent judges to determine the law. They wanted their own lawyers to do so.

That's all this memo is: Obama-loyal appointees telling their leader that he has the authority to do what he wants. But in the warped world of US politics, this - secret memos from partisan lackeys - has replaced judicial review as the means to determine the legality of the president's conduct.

6. Making a mockery of "due process"

The core freedom most under attack by the War on Terror is the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process. It provides that "no person shall be . . . deprived of life . . . without due process of law". Like putting people in cages for life on island prisons with no trial, claiming that the president has the right to assassinate US citizens far from any battlefield without any charges or trial is the supreme evisceration of this right.

The memo pays lip service to the right it is destroying: "Under the traditional due process balancing analysis . . . . we recognize that there is no private interest more weighty than a person's interest in his life." But it nonetheless argues that a "balancing test" is necessary to determine the extent of the process that is due before the president can deprive someone of their life, and further argues that, as the New York Times put it when this theory was first unveiled: "while the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process applied, it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch."

Stephen Colbert perfectly mocked this theory when Eric Holder first unveiled it to defend the president's assassination program. At the time, Holder actually said: "due process and judicial process are not one and the same." Colbert interpreted that claim as follows:

"Trial by jury, trial by fire, rock, paper scissors, who cares? Due process just means that there is a process that you do. The current process is apparently, first the president meets with his advisers and decides who he can kill. Then he kills them."

It is fitting indeed that the memo expressly embraces two core Bush/Cheney theories to justify this view of what "due process" requires. First, it cites the Bush DOJ's core view, as enunciated by John Yoo, that courts have no role to play in what the president does in the War on Terror because judicial review constitutes "judicial encroachment" on the "judgments by the President and his national security advisers as to when and how to use force". And then it cites the Bush DOJ's mostly successful arguments in the 2004 Hamdi case that the president has the authority even to imprison US citizens without trial provided that he accuses them of being a terrorist.

The reason this is so fitting is because, as I've detailed many times, it was these same early Bush/Cheney theories that made me want to begin writing about politics, all driven by my perception that the US government was becoming extremist and dangerous. During the early Bush years, the very idea that the US government asserted the power to imprison US citizens without charges and due process (or to eavesdrop on them) was so radical that, at the time, I could hardly believe they were being asserted out in the open.

Yet here we are almost a full decade later. And we have the current president asserting the power not merely to imprison or eavesdrop on US citizens without charges or trial, but to order them executed - and to do so in total secrecy, with no checks or oversight. If you believe the president has the power to order US citizens executed far from any battlefield with no charges or trial, then it's truly hard to conceive of any asserted power you would find objectionable.

DOJ White Paper

Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al Q... by

© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited

Glenn Greenwald

Chilling Legal Memo From Obama DOJ Justifies Assassination of US Citizens

The most extremist power any political leader can assert is the power to target his own citizens for execution without any charges or due (Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/ AP)process, far from any battlefield. The Obama administration has not only asserted exactly that power in theory, but has exercised it in practice. In September 2011, it killed US citizen Anwar Awlaki in a drone strike in Yemen, along with US citizen Samir Khan, and then, in circumstances that are still unexplained, two weeks later killed Awlaki's 16-year-old American son Abdulrahman with a separate drone strike in Yemen.

Since then, senior Obama officials including Attorney General Eric Holder and John Brennan, Obama's top terrorism adviser and his current nominee to lead the CIA, have explicitly argued that the president is and should be vested with this power. Meanwhile, a Washington Post article from October reported that the administration is formally institutionalizing this president's power to decide who dies under the Orwellian title "disposition matrix".

When the New York Times back in April, 2010 first confirmed the existence of Obama's hit list, it made clear just what an extremist power this is, noting: "It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing." The NYT quoted a Bush intelligence official as saying "he did not know of any American who was approved for targeted killing under the former president". When the existence of Obama's hit list was first reported several months earlier by the Washington Post's Dana Priest, she wrote that the "list includes three Americans".

What has made these actions all the more radical is the absolute secrecy with which Obama has draped all of this. Not only is the entire process carried out solely within the Executive branch - with no checks or oversight of any kind - but there is zero transparency and zero accountability. The president's underlings compile their proposed lists of who should be executed, and the president - at a charming weekly event dubbed by White House aides as "Terror Tuesday" - then chooses from "baseball cards" and decrees in total secrecy who should die. The power of accuser, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner are all consolidated in this one man, and those powers are exercised in the dark.

In fact, The Most Transparent Administration Ever™ has been so fixated on secrecy that they have refused even to disclose the legal memoranda prepared by Obama lawyers setting forth their legal rationale for why the president has this power. During the Bush years, when Bush refused to disclose the memoranda from his Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that legally authorized torture, rendition, warrantless eavesdropping and the like, leading Democratic lawyers such as Dawn Johnsen (Obama's first choice to lead the OLC) vehemently denounced this practice as a grave threat, warning that "the Bush Administration's excessive reliance on 'secret law' threatens the effective functioning of American democracy" and "the withholding from Congress and the public of legal interpretations by the [OLC] upsets the system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches of government."

But when it comes to Obama's assassination power, this is exactly what his administration has done. It has repeatedly refused to disclose the principal legal memoranda prepared by Obama OLC lawyers that justified his kill list. It is, right now, vigorously resisting lawsuits from the New York Times and the ACLU to obtain that OLC memorandum. In sum, Obama not only claims he has the power to order US citizens killed with no transparency, but that even the documents explaining the legal rationale for this power are to be concealed. He's maintaining secret law on the most extremist power he can assert.

Last night, NBC News' Michael Isikoff released a 16-page "white paper" prepared by the Obama DOJ that purports to justify Obama's power to target even Americans for assassination without due process (the memo is embedded in full below). This is not the primary OLC memo justifying Obama's kill list - that is still concealed - but it appears to track the reasoning of that memo as anonymously described to the New York Times in October 2011.

This new memo is entitled: "Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qa'ida or An Associated Force". It claims its conclusion is "reached with recognition of the extraordinary seriousness of a lethal operation by the United States against a US citizen". Yet it is every bit as chilling as the Bush OLC torture memos in how its clinical, legalistic tone completely sanitizes the radical and dangerous power it purports to authorize.

I've written many times at length about why the Obama assassination program is such an extreme and radical threat - see here for one of the most comprehensive discussions, with documentation of how completely all of this violates Obama and Holder's statements before obtaining power - and won't repeat those arguments here. Instead, there are numerous points that should be emphasized about the fundamentally misleading nature of this new memo:

1. Equating government accusations with guilt

The core distortion of the War on Terror under both Bush and Obama is the Orwellian practice of equating government accusations of terrorism with proof of guilt. One constantly hears US government defenders referring to "terrorists" when what they actually mean is: those accused by the government of terrorism. This entire memo is grounded in this deceit.

Time and again, it emphasizes that the authorized assassinations are carried out "against a senior operational leader of al-Qaida or its associated forces who poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States." Undoubtedly fearing that this document would one day be public, Obama lawyers made certain to incorporate this deceit into the title itself: "Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida or An Associated Force."

This ensures that huge numbers of citizens - those who spend little time thinking about such things and/or authoritarians who assume all government claims are true - will instinctively justify what is being done here on the ground that we must kill the Terrorists or joining al-Qaida means you should be killed. That's the "reasoning" process that has driven the War on Terror since it commenced: if the US government simply asserts without evidence or trial that someone is a terrorist, then they are assumed to be, and they can then be punished as such - with indefinite imprisonment or death.

But of course, when this memo refers to "a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida", what it actually means is this: someone whom the President - in total secrecy and with no due process - has accused of being that. Indeed, the memo itself makes this clear, as it baldly states that presidential assassinations are justified when "an informed, high-level official of the US government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US".

This is the crucial point: the memo isn't justifying the due-process-free execution of senior al-Qaida leaders who pose an imminent threat to the US. It is justifying the due-process-free execution of people secretly accused by the president and his underlings, with no due process, of being that. The distinction between (a) government accusations and (b) proof of guilt is central to every free society, by definition, yet this memo - and those who defend Obama's assassination power - willfully ignore it.

Those who justify all of this by arguing that Obama can and should kill al-Qaida leaders who are trying to kill Americans are engaged in supreme question-begging. Without any due process, transparency or oversight, there is no way to know who is a "senior al-Qaida leader" and who is posing an "imminent threat" to Americans. All that can be known is who Obama, in total secrecy, accuses of this.

(Indeed, membership in al-Qaida is not even required to be assassinated, as one can be a member of a group deemed to be an "associated force" of al-Qaida, whatever that might mean: a formulation so broad and ill-defined that, as Law Professor Kevin Jon Heller argues, it means the memo "authorizes the use of lethal force against individuals whose targeting is, without more, prohibited by international law".)

The definition of an extreme authoritarian is one who is willing blindly to assume that government accusations are true without any evidence presented or opportunity to contest those accusations. This memo - and the entire theory justifying Obama's kill list - centrally relies on this authoritarian conflation of government accusations and valid proof of guilt.

They are not the same and never have been. Political leaders who decree guilt in secret and with no oversight inevitably succumb to error and/or abuse of power. Such unchecked accusatory decrees are inherently untrustworthy (indeed, Yemen experts have vehemently contested the claim that Awlaki himself was a senior al-Qaida leader posing an imminent threat to the US). That's why due process is guaranteed in the Constitution and why judicial review of government accusations has been a staple of western justice since the Magna Carta: because leaders can't be trusted to decree guilt and punish citizens without evidence and an adversarial process. That is the age-old basic right on which this memo, and the Obama presidency, is waging war.

2. Creating a ceiling, not a floor

The most vital fact to note about this memorandum is that it is not purporting to impose requirements on the president's power to assassinate US citizens. When it concludes that the president has the authority to assassinate "a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida" who "poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US" where capture is "infeasible", it is not concluding that assassinations are permissible only in those circumstances. To the contrary, the memo expressly makes clear that presidential assassinations may be permitted even when none of those circumstances prevail: "This paper does not attempt to determine the minimum requirements necessary to render such an operation lawful." Instead, as the last line of the memo states: "it concludes only that the stated conditions would be sufficient to make lawful a lethal operation" - not that such conditions are necessary to find these assassinations legal. The memo explicitly leaves open the possibility that presidential assassinations of US citizens may be permissible even when the target is not a senior al-Qaida leader posing an imminent threat and/or when capture is feasible.

Critically, the rationale of the memo - that the US is engaged in a global war against al-Qaida and "associated forces" - can be easily used to justify presidential assassinations of US citizens in circumstances far beyond the ones described in this memo. If you believe the president has the power to execute US citizens based on the accusation that the citizen has joined al-Qaida, what possible limiting principle can you cite as to why that shouldn't apply to a low-level al-Qaida member, including ones found in places where capture may be feasible (including US soil)? The purported limitations on this power set forth in this memo, aside from being incredibly vague, can be easily discarded once the central theory of presidential power is embraced.

3. Relies on the core Bush/Cheney theory of a global battlefield

The primary theory embraced by the Bush administration to justify its War on Terror policies was that the "battlefield" is no longer confined to identifiable geographical areas, but instead, the entire globe is now one big, unlimited "battlefield". That theory is both radical and dangerous because a president's powers are basically omnipotent on a "battlefield". There, state power is shielded from law, from courts, from constitutional guarantees, from all forms of accountability: anyone on a battlefield can be killed or imprisoned without charges. Thus, to posit the world as a battlefield is, by definition, to create an imperial, omnipotent presidency. That is the radical theory that unleashed all the rest of the controversial and lawless Bush/Cheney policies.

This "world-is-a-battlefield" theory was once highly controversial among Democrats. John Kerry famously denounced it when running for president, arguing instead that the effort against terrorism is "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world".

But this global-war theory is exactly what lies at heart of the Obama approach to Terrorism generally and this memo specifically. It is impossible to defend Obama's assassination powers without embracing it (which is why key Obama officials have consistently done so). That's because these assassinations are taking place in countries far from any war zone, such as Yemen and Somalia. You can't defend the application of "war powers" in these countries without embracing the once-very-controversial Bush/Cheney view that the whole is now a "battlefield" and the president's war powers thus exist without geographic limits.

This new memo makes clear that this Bush/Cheney worldview is at the heart of the Obama presidency. The president, it claims, "retains authority to use force against al-Qaida and associated forces outside the area of active hostilities". In other words: there are, subject to the entirely optional "feasibility of capture" element, no geographic limits to the president's authority to kill anyone he wants. This power applies not only to war zones, but everywhere in the world that he claims a member of al-Qaida is found. This memo embraces and institutionalizes the core Bush/Cheney theory that justified the entire panoply of policies Democrats back then pretended to find so objectionable.

4. Expanding the concept of "imminence" beyond recognition

The memo claims that the president's assassination power applies to a senior al-Qaida member who "poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States". That is designed to convince citizens to accept this power by leading them to believe it's similar to common and familiar domestic uses of lethal force on US soil: if, for instance, an armed criminal is in the process of robbing a bank or is about to shoot hostages, then the "imminence" of the threat he poses justifies the use of lethal force against him by the police.

But this rhetorical tactic is totally misleading. The memo is authorizing assassinations against citizens in circumstances far beyond this understanding of "imminence". Indeed, the memo expressly states that it is inventing "a broader concept of imminence" than is typically used in domestic law. Specifically, the president's assassination power "does not require that the US have clear evidence that a specific attack . . . will take place in the immediate future". The US routinely assassinates its targets not when they are engaged in or plotting attacks but when they are at home, with family members, riding in a car, at work, at funerals, rescuing other drone victims, etc.

Many of the early objections to this new memo have focused on this warped and incredibly broad definition of "imminence". The ACLU's Jameel Jaffer told Isikoff that the memo "redefines the word imminence in a way that deprives the word of its ordinary meaning". Law Professor Kevin Jon Heller called Jaffer's objection "an understatement", noting that the memo's understanding of "imminence" is "wildly overbroad" under international law.

Crucially, Heller points out what I noted above: once you accept the memo's reasoning - that the US is engaged in a global war, that the world is a battlefield, and the president has the power to assassinate any member of al-Qaida or associated forces - then there is no way coherent way to limit this power to places where capture is infeasible or to persons posing an "imminent" threat. The legal framework adopted by the memo means the president can kill anyone he claims is a member of al-Qaida regardless of where they are found or what they are doing.

The only reason to add these limitations of "imminence" and "feasibility of capture" is, as Heller said, purely political: to make the theories more politically palatable. But the definitions for these terms are so vague and broad that they provide no real limits on the president's assassination power. As the ACLU's Jaffer says: "This is a chilling document" because "it argues that the government has the right to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen" and the purported limits "are elastic and vaguely defined, and it's easy to see how they could be manipulated."

5. Converting Obama underlings into objective courts

This memo is not a judicial opinion. It was not written by anyone independent of the president. To the contrary, it was written by life-long partisan lackeys: lawyers whose careerist interests depend upon staying in the good graces of Obama and the Democrats, almost certainly Marty Lederman and David Barron. Treating this document as though it confers any authority on Obama is like treating the statements of one's lawyer as a judicial finding or jury verdict.

Indeed, recall the primary excuse used to shield Bush officials from prosecution for their crimes of torture and illegal eavesdropping: namely, they got Bush-appointed lawyers in the DOJ to say that their conduct was legal, and therefore, it should be treated as such. This tactic - getting partisan lawyers and underlings of the president to say that the president's conduct is legal - was appropriately treated with scorn when invoked by Bush officials to justify their radical programs. As Digby wrote about Bush officials who pointed to the OLC memos it got its lawyers to issue about torture and eavesdropping, such a practice amounts to:

"validating the idea that obscure Justice Department officials can be granted the authority to essentially immunize officials at all levels of the government, from the president down to the lowest field officer, by issuing a secret memo. This is a very important new development in western jurisprudence and one that surely requires more study and consideration. If Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan had known about this, they could have saved themselves a lot of trouble."

Life-long Democratic Party lawyers are not going to oppose the terrorism policies of the president who appointed them. A president can always find underlings and political appointees to endorse whatever he wants to do. That's all this memo is: the by-product of obsequious lawyers telling their Party's leader that he is (of course) free to do exactly that which he wants to do, in exactly the same way that Bush got John Yoo to tell him that torture was not torture, and that even it if were, it was legal.

That's why courts, not the president's partisan lawyers, should be making these determinations. But when the ACLU tried to obtain a judicial determination as to whether Obama is actually authorized to assassinate US citizens, the Obama DOJ went to extreme lengths to block the court from ruling on that question. They didn't want independent judges to determine the law. They wanted their own lawyers to do so.

That's all this memo is: Obama-loyal appointees telling their leader that he has the authority to do what he wants. But in the warped world of US politics, this - secret memos from partisan lackeys - has replaced judicial review as the means to determine the legality of the president's conduct.

6. Making a mockery of "due process"

The core freedom most under attack by the War on Terror is the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process. It provides that "no person shall be . . . deprived of life . . . without due process of law". Like putting people in cages for life on island prisons with no trial, claiming that the president has the right to assassinate US citizens far from any battlefield without any charges or trial is the supreme evisceration of this right.

The memo pays lip service to the right it is destroying: "Under the traditional due process balancing analysis . . . . we recognize that there is no private interest more weighty than a person's interest in his life." But it nonetheless argues that a "balancing test" is necessary to determine the extent of the process that is due before the president can deprive someone of their life, and further argues that, as the New York Times put it when this theory was first unveiled: "while the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process applied, it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch."

Stephen Colbert perfectly mocked this theory when Eric Holder first unveiled it to defend the president's assassination program. At the time, Holder actually said: "due process and judicial process are not one and the same." Colbert interpreted that claim as follows:

"Trial by jury, trial by fire, rock, paper scissors, who cares? Due process just means that there is a process that you do. The current process is apparently, first the president meets with his advisers and decides who he can kill. Then he kills them."

It is fitting indeed that the memo expressly embraces two core Bush/Cheney theories to justify this view of what "due process" requires. First, it cites the Bush DOJ's core view, as enunciated by John Yoo, that courts have no role to play in what the president does in the War on Terror because judicial review constitutes "judicial encroachment" on the "judgments by the President and his national security advisers as to when and how to use force". And then it cites the Bush DOJ's mostly successful arguments in the 2004 Hamdi case that the president has the authority even to imprison US citizens without trial provided that he accuses them of being a terrorist.

The reason this is so fitting is because, as I've detailed many times, it was these same early Bush/Cheney theories that made me want to begin writing about politics, all driven by my perception that the US government was becoming extremist and dangerous. During the early Bush years, the very idea that the US government asserted the power to imprison US citizens without charges and due process (or to eavesdrop on them) was so radical that, at the time, I could hardly believe they were being asserted out in the open.

Yet here we are almost a full decade later. And we have the current president asserting the power not merely to imprison or eavesdrop on US citizens without charges or trial, but to order them executed - and to do so in total secrecy, with no checks or oversight. If you believe the president has the power to order US citizens executed far from any battlefield with no charges or trial, then it's truly hard to conceive of any asserted power you would find objectionable.

DOJ White Paper

Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al Q... by

© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited

Glenn Greenwald

Over 50 Countries Complicit in US Worldwide Torture Campaign

A new report published Tuesday titled Globalizing Torture reveals the 136 people who were channeled through and the 54 countries that were complicit in the CIA's covert, worldwide kidnap, detention and torture operation.

A photo of the CIA secret prison where Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and other ghost detainees were tortured and interrogated; it's on a residential street in Bucharest. (Photo via Google Maps) Compiled by the human rights group Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), the 231-page report details in excruciating detail the practice, known as “extraordinary rendition,” of taking detainees to and from U.S. custody without legal process and, as Danger Room's Spencer Ackerman writes, often "handing detainees over to countries that practiced torture."

"There is no doubt that high-ranking Bush administration officials bear responsibility for authorising human rights violations associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition, and the impunity that they have enjoyed to date remains a matter of significant concern," said report author Amrit Singh. "But responsibility for these violations does not end with the United States. Secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations, designed to be conducted outside the United States under cover of secrecy, could not have been implemented without the active participation of foreign governments. These governments too must be held accountable."

The Guardian reports:

The states identified by the OSJI include those such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt and Jordan where the existence of secret prisons and the use of torture has been well documented for many years. But the OSJI's rendition list also includes states such as Ireland, Iceland and Cyprus, which are accused of granting covert support for the programme by permitting the use of airspace and airports by aircraft involved in rendition flights.

Canada not only permitted the use of its airspace but provided information that led to one of its own nationals being taken to Syria where he was held for a year and tortured, the report says.

Iran and Syria are identified by the OSJI as having participated in the rendition programme. Syria is said to have been one of the "most common destinations for rendered suspects", while Iran is said to have participated in the CIA's programme by handing over 15 individuals to Kabul shortly after the US invasion of Afghanistan, in the full knowledge that they would fall under US control.

The report does not presume that these practices have completely subsided under the Obama Administration. In 2009, after taking office, President Obama rejected calls for a national commission to investigate such practices, saying he wanted to "look forward and not back."

And, as Ackerman adds, "while Obama issued an executive order in 2009 to get the CIA out of the detentions business, the order 'did not apply to facilities used for short term, transitory detention.'"

Much of the information revealed is likely to also reside in a 6,000-page study recently completed by the Senate Intelligence Committee of the C.I.A. detention and interrogation program; however, that report remains classified.

"Despite the efforts of the United States and its partner governments to withhold the truth about past and ongoing abuses, information relating to these abuses will continue to find its way into the public domain," the report promises.

Critics suspect that the publication of the report was meant to coincide with Thursday's confirmation hearing of John Brennan, Barack Obama's choice to head the CIA.

Access Of Evil?

As US President George W Bush made his famous speech about the "axis of evil", and his administration named countries including Iran, Iraq, Syria and Libya as enemies of the US, his security forces were co-operating, directly and indirectly, with those same countries to kidnap, imprison and torture citizens.

A groundbreaking report published on Tuesday shows that more than 50 countries, a quarter of the world's nations, cooperated with the CIA's extraordinary rendition programme - many of them nations publicly hostile to the US.

Canadian citizen Maher Arar, who was tortured in Syria after his rendition, told HuffPost UK the report, by the Open Society Foundation, was further proof that the US government "cooperated with dictatorial regimes that they condemned publicly but cooperated with clandestinely."

iran

An Iranian cleric walks past a mural on the wall of the former US embassy


The Open Society Foundation found that Iran, Syria and Libya all directly or indirectly transferred individuals into American hands.

In March 2002, in his State of the Union address, Bush accused three governments of supporting terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction, the so-called Axis of Evil: Iran, Iraq and North Korea, which "threaten the peace of the world".

In May of that year, the list was expanded by Undersecretary of State John Bolton, who named Syria, Libya and Cuba as "beyond the Axis of Evil", an expansion of Bush's original claims.

But the report found that in the same month Bush named Iran as one-third of the Axis of Evil, Tehran, then under President Mohammad Khatami, was involved in capturing 15 individuals and transferring them to the Afghan government, 10 of which were later handed over the Americans.

At least six were later held in secret CIA detention.

The report's author Amrit Singh said: "Because the hand-over happened soon after the US invasion of Afghanistan, Iran was aware that the United States would have effective control over any detainees handed over to Afghan authorities."

Extraordinary Rendition Report Finds More Than 50 Nations Involved In Global Torture Scheme

Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi, a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, told The Huffington Post UK it was indicative of a "two-pronged approach" to fighting terror.

"Beneath the surface, the countries are all carrying out their own agendas.

"Iran may have been happy to help hand over members of the Taliban or al-Qaeda to the US, behind the scenes or indirectly. Iran is predominantly Shia and they are Sunnis.

"The attitude is 'my enemy's enemy is my friend.' If it's in the country's interest, they will deal with their enemies in private, while decrying them in public."

Reprieve investigator Dr Crofton Black told HuffPost UK: "We don't understand nearly enough about the collaboration of all of the countries surrounding Afghanistan, with what went on in the early days.

"The power politics in the region is something we do not talk about enough."

Syria, named as part of the axis of evil in May 2002 by Bolton, was one of the “most common destinations for rendered suspects," according to the report.

But the CIA extraordinarily rendered at least nine individuals to Syria, whose government was headed by the current beleaguered leader Bashar al-Assad, between December 2001 and October 2002.

maher arar

Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian who was tortured in Syria


One of the most well-known cases is Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian who was transferred to Damascus from New York by the CIA in 2002.

He received £7.3m in compensation from Canada, who issued an apology “inaccurate and unfairly prejudicial” intelligence provided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to the US.

Arar told HuffPost UK: "The US government has for long had double standards in matters related to foreign policy.

"There is no better example than that of the practice of extraordinary rendition where the current and previous administrations cooperated with dictatorial regimes that they condemned publicly but cooperated with clandestinely.

"The OSF report is not a surprise to me, as I have experienced the fruits of this cooperation first hand, but this revelation may be a surprise to people who still believe the US government still adheres to the rule of law in matters related to national security."

george bush

Many of the extraordinary renditions coincided with George Bush's Axis Of Evil speech


Arar was detained for more than 10 months in a tiny grave-like cell seven feet high, six feet long, and three feet wide, beaten with cables, and threatened with electric shocks, among other forms of torture.

Libya, which was also named as part of the axis of evil by Bolton, "detained, interrogated, and tortured extraordinarily rendered individuals, and also permitted use of its airspace and airports for the CIA’s extraordinary rendition operations."

Human Rights Watch found in 2012, after the fall of Colonel Gaddafi, that Western governments cooperated with a "forcible return and subsequent interrogation of Gaddafi opponents in Libya.”

Several of the cases appear to have intimately involved the UK government.

A leading Libyan opponent of Colonel Gaddafi, Sami al Saadi, was forcibly returned to the north African country in a joint operation with the UK and US, where he was tortured. In December 2012, he won a £2.23m settlement with the UK government.

Saadi was forced on board a plane in Hong Kong – having sought for years to avoid the agents of the Libyan dictator –with his wife and four young children, in an alleged joint UK-US-Libyan operation.

THE 54 COUNTRIES WHICH PARTICIPATED IN EXTRAORDINARY RENDITION

1. Afghanistan
2. Albania
3. Algeria,
4. Australia,
5. Austria,
6. Azerbaijan,
7. Belgium,
8. Bosnia-Herzegovina,
9. Canada,
10. Croatia,
11. Cyprus,
12. Czech Republic,
13. Denmark,
14. Djibouti,
15. Egypt,
16. Ethiopia,
17. Finland,
18. Gambia,
19. Georgia,
20. Germany,
21. Greece,
22. Hong Kong,
23. Iceland,
24. Indonesia,
25. Iran,
26. Ireland,
27. Italy,
28. Jordan,
29. Kenya,
30. Libya,
31. Lithuania,
32. Macedonia,
33. Malawi,
34. Malaysia,
35. Mauritania,
36. Morocco,
37. Pakistan,
38. Poland,
39. Portugal,
40. Romania,
41. Saudi Arabia,
42. Somalia,
43. South Africa,
44. Spain,
45. Sri Lanka,
46. Sweden,
47. Syria,
48. Thailand,
49. Turkey,
50. United Arab Emirates,
51. United Kingdom,
52. Uzbekistan,
53. Yemen,
54. Zimbabwe

Access Of Evil?

As US President George W Bush made his famous speech about the "axis of evil", and his administration named countries including Iran, Iraq, Syria and Libya as enemies of the US, his security forces were co-operating, directly and indirectly, with those same countries to kidnap, imprison and torture citizens.

A groundbreaking report published on Tuesday shows that more than 50 countries, a quarter of the world's nations, cooperated with the CIA's extraordinary rendition programme - many of them nations publicly hostile to the US.

Canadian citizen Maher Arar, who was tortured in Syria after his rendition, told HuffPost UK the report, by the Open Society Foundation, was further proof that the US government "cooperated with dictatorial regimes that they condemned publicly but cooperated with clandestinely."

iran

An Iranian cleric walks past a mural on the wall of the former US embassy


The Open Society Foundation found that Iran, Syria and Libya all directly or indirectly transferred individuals into American hands.

In March 2002, in his State of the Union address, Bush accused three governments of supporting terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction, the so-called Axis of Evil: Iran, Iraq and North Korea, which "threaten the peace of the world".

In May of that year, the list was expanded by Undersecretary of State John Bolton, who named Syria, Libya and Cuba as "beyond the Axis of Evil", an expansion of Bush's original claims.

But the report found that in the same month Bush named Iran as one-third of the Axis of Evil, Tehran, then under President Mohammad Khatami, was involved in capturing 15 individuals and transferring them to the Afghan government, 10 of which were later handed over the Americans.

At least six were later held in secret CIA detention.

The report's author Amrit Singh said: "Because the hand-over happened soon after the US invasion of Afghanistan, Iran was aware that the United States would have effective control over any detainees handed over to Afghan authorities."

Extraordinary Rendition Report Finds More Than 50 Nations Involved In Global Torture Scheme

Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi, a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, told The Huffington Post UK it was indicative of a "two-pronged approach" to fighting terror.

"Beneath the surface, the countries are all carrying out their own agendas.

"Iran may have been happy to help hand over members of the Taliban or al-Qaeda to the US, behind the scenes or indirectly. Iran is predominantly Shia and they are Sunnis.

"The attitude is 'my enemy's enemy is my friend.' If it's in the country's interest, they will deal with their enemies in private, while decrying them in public."

Reprieve investigator Dr Crofton Black told HuffPost UK: "We don't understand nearly enough about the collaboration of all of the countries surrounding Afghanistan, with what went on in the early days.

"The power politics in the region is something we do not talk about enough."

Syria, named as part of the axis of evil in May 2002 by Bolton, was one of the “most common destinations for rendered suspects," according to the report.

But the CIA extraordinarily rendered at least nine individuals to Syria, whose government was headed by the current beleaguered leader Bashar al-Assad, between December 2001 and October 2002.

maher arar

Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian who was tortured in Syria


One of the most well-known cases is Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian who was transferred to Damascus from New York by the CIA in 2002.

He received £7.3m in compensation from Canada, who issued an apology “inaccurate and unfairly prejudicial” intelligence provided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to the US.

Arar told HuffPost UK: "The US government has for long had double standards in matters related to foreign policy.

"There is no better example than that of the practice of extraordinary rendition where the current and previous administrations cooperated with dictatorial regimes that they condemned publicly but cooperated with clandestinely.

"The OSF report is not a surprise to me, as I have experienced the fruits of this cooperation first hand, but this revelation may be a surprise to people who still believe the US government still adheres to the rule of law in matters related to national security."

george bush

Many of the extraordinary renditions coincided with George Bush's Axis Of Evil speech


Arar was detained for more than 10 months in a tiny grave-like cell seven feet high, six feet long, and three feet wide, beaten with cables, and threatened with electric shocks, among other forms of torture.

Libya, which was also named as part of the axis of evil by Bolton, "detained, interrogated, and tortured extraordinarily rendered individuals, and also permitted use of its airspace and airports for the CIA’s extraordinary rendition operations."

Human Rights Watch found in 2012, after the fall of Colonel Gaddafi, that Western governments cooperated with a "forcible return and subsequent interrogation of Gaddafi opponents in Libya.”

Several of the cases appear to have intimately involved the UK government.

A leading Libyan opponent of Colonel Gaddafi, Sami al Saadi, was forcibly returned to the north African country in a joint operation with the UK and US, where he was tortured. In December 2012, he won a £2.23m settlement with the UK government.

Saadi was forced on board a plane in Hong Kong – having sought for years to avoid the agents of the Libyan dictator –with his wife and four young children, in an alleged joint UK-US-Libyan operation.

THE 54 COUNTRIES WHICH PARTICIPATED IN EXTRAORDINARY RENDITION

1. Afghanistan
2. Albania
3. Algeria,
4. Australia,
5. Austria,
6. Azerbaijan,
7. Belgium,
8. Bosnia-Herzegovina,
9. Canada,
10. Croatia,
11. Cyprus,
12. Czech Republic,
13. Denmark,
14. Djibouti,
15. Egypt,
16. Ethiopia,
17. Finland,
18. Gambia,
19. Georgia,
20. Germany,
21. Greece,
22. Hong Kong,
23. Iceland,
24. Indonesia,
25. Iran,
26. Ireland,
27. Italy,
28. Jordan,
29. Kenya,
30. Libya,
31. Lithuania,
32. Macedonia,
33. Malawi,
34. Malaysia,
35. Mauritania,
36. Morocco,
37. Pakistan,
38. Poland,
39. Portugal,
40. Romania,
41. Saudi Arabia,
42. Somalia,
43. South Africa,
44. Spain,
45. Sri Lanka,
46. Sweden,
47. Syria,
48. Thailand,
49. Turkey,
50. United Arab Emirates,
51. United Kingdom,
52. Uzbekistan,
53. Yemen,
54. Zimbabwe

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: Gay Wedding Day

The ten things you need to know on Tuesday 5 February 2013...

1) WEDDING DAY

Tory MPs opposed to gay marriage, speak now or forever hold your peace. Although what is more likely to happen is: Speak later on today, probably lose the vote, and then carry on chatting about how awful it is for a bit longer.

MPs will vote on gay marriage later today. The coalition will get its Bill passed second reading given it has the support of Labour. But David Cameron will be keen to convince at least half of his 303 MPs to follow him through the ‘aye’ lobby. Winning a vote despite, rather than because, of your own party is never a good look for a prime minister.

Maria Miller sat down with HuffPost UK yesterday ahead of today’s vote and denied reports pressure was being put on MPs to vote in favour of her Bill. The culture secretary also insisted she would not be backing down in the face of fierce opposition from within her own party. Miller, who pointed to the abolition of the slave trade as proof of her party’s progressive tradition, said it was not good enough to deny people the right to marry simply because they are gay. "Marriage is an important part of our society, it’s a vital way that people can publically state their relationships and I don’t think it’s for the state to stand in the way of that happening simply based on someone’s sexuality,” she said.

The Daily Mail reports this morning that Iain Duncan Smith, who famously backed Section 28 while Tory leader in 2003, will vote with Cameron in favour of gay marriage.

And William Hague, Theresa May and George Osborne have written a joint letter to the Daily Telegraph urging their colleagues to support same-sex marriage. The “big guns”, as the paper describes them, argue, “attitudes to gay people have changed”.

During the vote eyes will be on their cabinet colleagues, including environment secretary Owen Paterson and Welsh secretary David Jones, who are known to have concerns about gay marriage.

Speaking of Paterson. He does appear to have a habit of appointing ministerial aides who then shortly afterwards resign the post after rebelling against the government. His current PPS, David Burrowes, has told the Spectator that he intends to vote against the timetable of the bill, which is whipped, as well as the substantive intent of the legislation, which is not. This could lead to the leading anti-gay marriage MP losing his job.

Today’s Memo is edited by Ned Simons as Mehdi Hasan can’t be dragged away from YouTube clips of Beyonce’s Sunday night Super Bowel performance.

2) ‘GO FOR THE KILL’

A failed marriage is at the centre of today’s other big story. Yesterday former Lib Dem cabinet minister Chris Huhne shocked Westminster by pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice after asking his wife to accept speeding points on his behalf.

Tragically the evidence revealed as series of text messages between Huhne and his son, revealing the teenager’s anger at his father: "We all know that you were driving and you put pressure on mum. Accept it or face the consequences. You've told me that was the case. Or will this be another lie?"

Huhne will resign his seat in the Commons, trigging a by-election in his Eastleigh seat. The south coast constituency is a Lib Dem-Tory marginal and will be the first proper electoral fight between the coalition partners since 2010. The Daily Mail reports Cameron has told Tory campaign headquarters to “go for the kill” in the battle for the seat.

3) SUING THE SUN

If Huhne’s son is annoyed at him, then the former energy secretary’s one time cabinet colleague, Andrew Mitchell, is equally angry with The Sun.

In an interview with Channel 4’s Despatches last night, Mitchell revealed he intended to sue the paper for libel over its report that claimed he called police officers outside No.10 “plebs” during the now infamous argument at the gates.

Mitchell is also clearly a bit miffed at the prime minster for wanting to make the scandal go away. "I think Downing Street wanted this to go away. They really wanted me to lie low and let them get on with running the country but I couldn't do that - I couldn't wake up every morning for the rest of my life knowing that I had been stitched up," he Mitchell.

4) BIDEN BACK IN TOWN

Joe Biden is in town today to meet Cameron and Nick Clegg. He flew into Stanstead, lucky him, last night and will attend a meeting of the National Security Council later today. He is also likely to raise the issue of the European Union and Britain's place in it.

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR: Here is a gallery of photos showing Biden looking cool in aviators and fist bumping people.

5) DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER'S LIAISON

At 4pm the Liaison committee will grill, or rather gently warm, Nick Clegg on various areas of government policy. Usually the committee, made up of the select committee chairs, only convenes to question the prime minister. So parliamentary geeks, including your editor, are super excited and naturally assume this will be carried live on BBC and Sky. Although it does clash on TV with Antique’s Road Show – so you watch that, we’ll watch Clegg for you.

6) PLANE CRAZY

Let’s have jump jets. Wait, no lets have carrier jets. OK. No let’s have jump jets.

The Ministry of Defence was strongly criticised by MPs today over the "flawed" decision to switch fighter aircraft for the Royal Navy's new carriers - costing an extra £100m.

It was announced in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review that the Government would adopt the carrier variant of the US-built F35 Joint Strike Fighter rather than the "jump jet" version chosen by the previous Labour government.

Ministers argued that the carrier variant was a more capable aircraft and that it would increase "interoperability" with other navies - even though it meant mothballing one of the two carriers on grounds of affordability.

However last May, defence secretary Philip Hammond announced the MoD was reverting to the jump jet version amid fears the costs of fitting the necessary catapults and arrestor gear - "cats and traps" - were spiralling out of control.

7) INDEPENDENCE DAY

From the BBC: The Scottish government has drawn up a detailed paper outlining the possible transition to independence.

Under the plans, based on a "yes" vote in a 2014 referendum, independence day for Scotland would be in March 2016. The first elections to an independent parliament would follow in May.

8) ‘GLOBAL KIDNAP’

The U.S. counterterrorism practice known as extraordinary rendition, in which suspects were quietly moved to secret prisons abroad and often tortured, involved the participation of more than 50 nations, according to a new report to be released Tuesday by the Open Society Foundations.

The OSF report, which offers the first wholesale public accounting of the top-secret program, puts the number of governments that either hosted CIA "black sites," interrogated or tortured prisoners sent by the U.S., or otherwise collaborated in the program at 54. The report also identifies by name 136 prisoners who were at some point subjected to extraordinary rendition.

The number of nations and the names of those detained provide a stark tally of a program that was expanded widely -- critics say recklessly -- by the George W. Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and has been heavily condemned in the years since.

9) DRONE WARS

A report Monday night on the nature of the administration's drone program has the potential to dramatically revamp the debate over President Barack Obama's foreign policy and the confirmation process for his incoming cabinet.

The report, by Michael Isikoff of NBC News, reveals that the Obama administration believes that high-level administration officials -- not just the president -- may order the killing of “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaida or an associated force even without evidence they are actively plotting against the U.S.

“A lawful killing in self-defense is not an assassination,” states the Justice Department white paper quoted by Isikoff.

10) YES MINISTER

Cabinet ministers should be given the power formally to appoint their most senior civil servants to help end a culture of amateurism in Whitehall, according to an independent think tank.

Insiders, including ministers and key officials, have painted a bleak picture of the inner workings of government telling of a system that lacks expertise and deals with "appalling" members of staff by promoting them out.

They told Reform that the two biggest issues hampering success were the "relentless" rotation of officials and an unwillingness to challenge bad performance or reward the good.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@ChrisBryantMP Changing the law changes attitudes. Even MPs who voted against civil partnerships will vote for Same Sex Marriage today.

@janemerrick23 Today is a very good day to bury bad views #gaymarriage #equalmarriage

@jameschappers Angela Eagle just owned Charles Moore. Good courteous debate, though - don't expect it'll be same in Commons later #today

900 WORDS OR MORE

Rachel Sylvester in The Times: "Chris Huhne’s fall was personal, not political. But in today’s Westminster pressure cooker that counts for nothing."

Peter Oborne in the Daily Telegraph: "Could Chris Huhne take Nick Clegg or David Cameron with him?"

Steve Richards in the Independent: "Gay marriage: no one can stop this social revolution now."

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan ([email protected]) or Ned Simons ([email protected]). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: Gay Wedding Day

The ten things you need to know on Tuesday 5 February 2013...

1) WEDDING DAY

Tory MPs opposed to gay marriage, speak now or forever hold your peace. Although what is more likely to happen is: Speak later on today, probably lose the vote, and then carry on chatting about how awful it is for a bit longer.

MPs will vote on gay marriage later today. The coalition will get its Bill passed second reading given it has the support of Labour. But David Cameron will be keen to convince at least half of his 303 MPs to follow him through the ‘aye’ lobby. Winning a vote despite, rather than because, of your own party is never a good look for a prime minister.

Maria Miller sat down with HuffPost UK yesterday ahead of today’s vote and denied reports pressure was being put on MPs to vote in favour of her Bill. The culture secretary also insisted she would not be backing down in the face of fierce opposition from within her own party. Miller, who pointed to the abolition of the slave trade as proof of her party’s progressive tradition, said it was not good enough to deny people the right to marry simply because they are gay. "Marriage is an important part of our society, it’s a vital way that people can publically state their relationships and I don’t think it’s for the state to stand in the way of that happening simply based on someone’s sexuality,” she said.

The Daily Mail reports this morning that Iain Duncan Smith, who famously backed Section 28 while Tory leader in 2003, will vote with Cameron in favour of gay marriage.

And William Hague, Theresa May and George Osborne have written a joint letter to the Daily Telegraph urging their colleagues to support same-sex marriage. The “big guns”, as the paper describes them, argue, “attitudes to gay people have changed”.

During the vote eyes will be on their cabinet colleagues, including environment secretary Owen Paterson and Welsh secretary David Jones, who are known to have concerns about gay marriage.

Speaking of Paterson. He does appear to have a habit of appointing ministerial aides who then shortly afterwards resign the post after rebelling against the government. His current PPS, David Burrowes, has told the Spectator that he intends to vote against the timetable of the bill, which is whipped, as well as the substantive intent of the legislation, which is not. This could lead to the leading anti-gay marriage MP losing his job.

Today’s Memo is edited by Ned Simons as Mehdi Hasan can’t be dragged away from YouTube clips of Beyonce’s Sunday night Super Bowel performance.

2) ‘GO FOR THE KILL’

A failed marriage is at the centre of today’s other big story. Yesterday former Lib Dem cabinet minister Chris Huhne shocked Westminster by pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice after asking his wife to accept speeding points on his behalf.

Tragically the evidence revealed as series of text messages between Huhne and his son, revealing the teenager’s anger at his father: "We all know that you were driving and you put pressure on mum. Accept it or face the consequences. You've told me that was the case. Or will this be another lie?"

Huhne will resign his seat in the Commons, trigging a by-election in his Eastleigh seat. The south coast constituency is a Lib Dem-Tory marginal and will be the first proper electoral fight between the coalition partners since 2010. The Daily Mail reports Cameron has told Tory campaign headquarters to “go for the kill” in the battle for the seat.

3) SUING THE SUN

If Huhne’s son is annoyed at him, then the former energy secretary’s one time cabinet colleague, Andrew Mitchell, is equally angry with The Sun.

In an interview with Channel 4’s Despatches last night, Mitchell revealed he intended to sue the paper for libel over its report that claimed he called police officers outside No.10 “plebs” during the now infamous argument at the gates.

Mitchell is also clearly a bit miffed at the prime minster for wanting to make the scandal go away. "I think Downing Street wanted this to go away. They really wanted me to lie low and let them get on with running the country but I couldn't do that - I couldn't wake up every morning for the rest of my life knowing that I had been stitched up," he Mitchell.

4) BIDEN BACK IN TOWN

Joe Biden is in town today to meet Cameron and Nick Clegg. He flew into Stanstead, lucky him, last night and will attend a meeting of the National Security Council later today. He is also likely to raise the issue of the European Union and Britain's place in it.

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR: Here is a gallery of photos showing Biden looking cool in aviators and fist bumping people.

5) DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER'S LIAISON

At 4pm the Liaison committee will grill, or rather gently warm, Nick Clegg on various areas of government policy. Usually the committee, made up of the select committee chairs, only convenes to question the prime minister. So parliamentary geeks, including your editor, are super excited and naturally assume this will be carried live on BBC and Sky. Although it does clash on TV with Antique’s Road Show – so you watch that, we’ll watch Clegg for you.

6) PLANE CRAZY

Let’s have jump jets. Wait, no lets have carrier jets. OK. No let’s have jump jets.

The Ministry of Defence was strongly criticised by MPs today over the "flawed" decision to switch fighter aircraft for the Royal Navy's new carriers - costing an extra £100m.

It was announced in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review that the Government would adopt the carrier variant of the US-built F35 Joint Strike Fighter rather than the "jump jet" version chosen by the previous Labour government.

Ministers argued that the carrier variant was a more capable aircraft and that it would increase "interoperability" with other navies - even though it meant mothballing one of the two carriers on grounds of affordability.

However last May, defence secretary Philip Hammond announced the MoD was reverting to the jump jet version amid fears the costs of fitting the necessary catapults and arrestor gear - "cats and traps" - were spiralling out of control.

7) INDEPENDENCE DAY

From the BBC: The Scottish government has drawn up a detailed paper outlining the possible transition to independence.

Under the plans, based on a "yes" vote in a 2014 referendum, independence day for Scotland would be in March 2016. The first elections to an independent parliament would follow in May.

8) ‘GLOBAL KIDNAP’

The U.S. counterterrorism practice known as extraordinary rendition, in which suspects were quietly moved to secret prisons abroad and often tortured, involved the participation of more than 50 nations, according to a new report to be released Tuesday by the Open Society Foundations.

The OSF report, which offers the first wholesale public accounting of the top-secret program, puts the number of governments that either hosted CIA "black sites," interrogated or tortured prisoners sent by the U.S., or otherwise collaborated in the program at 54. The report also identifies by name 136 prisoners who were at some point subjected to extraordinary rendition.

The number of nations and the names of those detained provide a stark tally of a program that was expanded widely -- critics say recklessly -- by the George W. Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and has been heavily condemned in the years since.

9) DRONE WARS

A report Monday night on the nature of the administration's drone program has the potential to dramatically revamp the debate over President Barack Obama's foreign policy and the confirmation process for his incoming cabinet.

The report, by Michael Isikoff of NBC News, reveals that the Obama administration believes that high-level administration officials -- not just the president -- may order the killing of “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaida or an associated force even without evidence they are actively plotting against the U.S.

“A lawful killing in self-defense is not an assassination,” states the Justice Department white paper quoted by Isikoff.

10) YES MINISTER

Cabinet ministers should be given the power formally to appoint their most senior civil servants to help end a culture of amateurism in Whitehall, according to an independent think tank.

Insiders, including ministers and key officials, have painted a bleak picture of the inner workings of government telling of a system that lacks expertise and deals with "appalling" members of staff by promoting them out.

They told Reform that the two biggest issues hampering success were the "relentless" rotation of officials and an unwillingness to challenge bad performance or reward the good.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@ChrisBryantMP Changing the law changes attitudes. Even MPs who voted against civil partnerships will vote for Same Sex Marriage today.

@janemerrick23 Today is a very good day to bury bad views #gaymarriage #equalmarriage

@jameschappers Angela Eagle just owned Charles Moore. Good courteous debate, though - don't expect it'll be same in Commons later #today

900 WORDS OR MORE

Rachel Sylvester in The Times: "Chris Huhne’s fall was personal, not political. But in today’s Westminster pressure cooker that counts for nothing."

Peter Oborne in the Daily Telegraph: "Could Chris Huhne take Nick Clegg or David Cameron with him?"

Steve Richards in the Independent: "Gay marriage: no one can stop this social revolution now."

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan ([email protected]) or Ned Simons ([email protected]). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Supervisor of Intelligence Estimate Hailed for Preventing War With Iran

Transcript

Hassan Ghani

An award for integrity and honesty, for work that essentially prevented a war.Thomas Fingar, now a Professor at Stanford University, oversaw the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran in 2007, during a period when the Bush administration was beating the drums of war. Its conclusion, that all 16 US intelligence agencies judged with high confidence that Iran had given up its nuclear weapons programme in 2003, placed an insurmountable obstacle on the path to conflict.Critics of the report's conclusions say it was politicised. But speaking to us in Oxford, where he's currently teaching as part of an overseas programme, Thomas Fingar told us that unlike the flawed WMD report on Iraq in 2002, his assessment has withstood scrutiny over the years.Professor Thomas Fingar, Chairman of National Intelligence Council (2005-2008)“The assessment of our estimate has been reviewed many times. Many times before we issued it, many times in the years since, in the years since with additional information. Judging by the public statements, the annual threat testimony and the other statements of the administration, which must be consistent with the classified report, they haven’t changed it. It stood up as good analytic tradecraft. There are people who characterise it as if it was written in order to prevent war – that’s not why it was written, it was written to describe the situation as best we understood it.Hassan GhaniWhen asked what went wrong in 2002, Fingar says those authoring the NIE on Iraq caved in to pressure to produce a rushed report.Professor Thomas Fingar, Chairman of National Intelligence Council (2005-2008)“They produced an estimate in 17 days. That was the congressionally imposed deadline agreed to by George Tenet. So they produced something in 17 days, which had two weekends in there. It’s a classic case of you want something real bad, you get something real bad. Stuff pulled off the shelf not really re-evaluated, no ability to go back and really tear into this stuff. And we were not going to make that mistake again with the Iran estimate. So we took the heat and said ‘you don’t get it until we’re ready’.”Hassan GhaniBut he that ultimately politicians can choose to ignore the intelligence agencies, if they don't get the results they want.Professor Thomas Fingar, Chairman of National Intelligence Council (2005-2008)“The decision to go to war had clearly been made before that estimate was undertaken. Troops were moving, you could not have been in Washington and not known there was going to be war. For I&R we said there’s not evidence of a reconstituted nuclear programme – that was the only one that really mattered – and we said no, evidence isn’t there, the evidences can all be explained in other ways. That’s the third sentence of the estimate. So if you cared about this enough to read to the third sentence, you’d know that there was a dissent on the major justification for the conflict.”Hassan GhaniThe Sam Adams associates present their award each year for integrity in intelligence. Many previous awardees have been intelligence professionals and whistleblowers.2010 Sam Adams awardee, Julian Assange of Wikileaks, was piped into the ceremony by video link. He used the opportunity to tackle an upcoming Hollywood movie, which he says is an attack on Wikileaks, and renews the push for war with Iran.Julian Assange, Wikileaks“We have something here, which is a recent acquisition of Wikileaks. The script to a tens of millions of dollar budget Dreamworks movie. What is it about? It is about us, nominally. It is about Wikileaks the organisation. It is a mass propaganda attack against Wikileaks the organisation and the character of my staff and our activities and so on. But it is not just an attack against us, it fans the flames to start a war with Iran. It’s coming out in November, it’s being filmed now. So that’s the reality of where we’re at. Not merely a war of intelligence agencies, but a war of corrupt media, corrupt culture.”Hassan GhaniSam Adams himself was a CIA analyst in the Vietnam-era, tasked with estimating enemy strength in numbers. His conclusion that the Viet-cong numbered at least half a million, twice the official figure, was swept under the rug at the time, seen as politically unacceptable. He later did go public, but too late to have an impact on the war.Raymond McGovern, Former CIA Analyst“He went to an early death at age 55, with great remorse that he had not gone outside the system, that he had not said what he knew back in 1967, half way through the war. The way he explained it to me is, that Vietnam memorial, made of granite in a V, that whole left section wouldn’t be there, because there would be no names to carve into that granite. If he had spoken out, if I had spoken out, if we had spoken around 1967, when we had that cable from General Abrahams saying ‘we can’t go with the honest figures, because we’ve been projecting a view of progress’.”Hassan GhaniAnd so just as interesting as this year's award winner, are those presenting it to him. Former US Army Colonel Ann Wright resigned as a State department official in protest over the Iraq War. She argues that too many within government are carried along with political tides, often at the expense of what's best for the nation.Ann Wright, Former US State Dep. Official“There were so many people, that were a part of the decision to go ahead and invade and occupy Iraq, that knew better. That knew that the rationale for it was wrong, but they went along with the senior leadership of our country, who for whatever reason it was, whether it was for oil or for whatever it was, wanted to take out the Saddam Hussein regime.”Hassan GhaniLike other Sam Adams associates, she sees whistleblowers as an essential check to keep the system in balance.Ann Wright, Former US State Dep. Official“So many whistleblowers find that the system doesn’t want to hear what they have to say. Because usually it’s something that the government system is doing wrong and whistleblowers are saying ‘wait wait, this is going wrong’ or ‘maybe there’s even criminal acts that are happening that the government’s involved in and we’ve got to stop that and change it’. And we find that many times the government and senior officials in the government don’t want to hear that.”Hassan GhaniPrevious Sam Adams award winner, Coleen Rowley, blew the whistle after 9/11 on major intelligence sharing failures within the FBI in the run up to the attacks. Her 9/11 commission testimony helped re-organise the agency and the way information is shared.Coleen Rowley, Former FBI Agent, Whistleblower“They realised that 9/11 occurred because the agencies blocked information from each other, they blocked it vertically, horizontally, and they blocked it from the public. So the people who are in those environments, when information is blocked and there is lack of sharing, what is their choice? They almost have to either become a whistleblower or then live forever with the consequences of knowing that they could have done something. That’s why Wikileaks, or a method of sharing information, and of course I talked about sharing information between agencies, but it’s also with the public. The 9/11 commission said if the information even had been shared of Moussawi’s arrest, that would have probably prevented 9/11. So it’s an incredible situation, most people think that secrecy is protecting them, and it’s the exact opposite.”Hassan GhaniRowley believes much more information should be made public, whether or not it's politically embarrassing.Coleen Rowley, Former FBI Agent, Whistleblower“We’ve had some good inspector general investigations, for instance of torture in the CIA, to this day though it remains secret. And you see the opposite is Abu Ghraib, that report was made public, and so at least the public learned about it, and there was at the time an outcry about the fact that it was discovered that abuses were occurring in Abu Ghraib. But the CIA torture report, I think it’s probably a good investigation, but the public still doesn’t know, and so what’s happened? There’s a movie out there that’s using a false narrative – the public doesn’t know that it’s false, because how would they know? Because they’ve never seen the truth. It’s a pretty incredible situation, the truth really matters.”Hassan GhaniThe US government says it’s necessary to prosecute whistleblowers to protect national security. And for whistleblowers who do choose to go public, the consequences are increasingly dangerous.Coleen Rowley, Former FBI Agent, Whistleblower“Especially under Obama, there have been prosecutions, I think it’s 7 now, twice as many as all Presidents of all time, under the official espionage act. If you go back to deepthroat, and the FBI who knew that the highest level of President’s men were actually engaging wrongdoing – would that repeat today? I really wonder, especially now with the surveillance and the monitoring.”Hassan GhaniThomas Drake is the only whistleblower so far who's managed to fight espionage charges under Obama and win - there are six other cases. A former senior executive at the NSA, he blew the whistle to the media on a failed billion dollar surveillance programme which he believed violated the constitution.Thomas Drake, Former NSA Executive, Whistleblower“I would I eyewitness to massive fraud, waste and abuse on a multi-billion dollar program, a boondoggle programme called trailblazer, when there was actually a superior alternative, and was also a program that would have completely honoured the fourth amendment and the exclusive statute by which the US government, NSA, was authorised to violate the fourth amendment rights fo Americans. That was under FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. They wilfully broke the law, criminally. But what happened later, as all of this came out and I ended up going to a reporter, decriminalised the reporting of the government wrong doing. They criminalized the reporting of government criminal conduct.”Hassan GhaniDrake says he was careful not to reveal any classified information, and after reviewing laws on disclosure, thought that the worst that could happen is that he would lose his job. Instead, he faced espionage charges amounting to 35 years in prison.Thomas Drake, Former NSA Executive, Whistleblower“I was turned into enemy of the state, I mean I'm charged with the espionage act, I'm being put into the same category as historical spies in US history, the Alder Hiss’, the Robert Hanssens, the Alrdich Ames of the world. That the category of people you become associated with. So it's probably one of the worst things an american can be charged with, under the espionage act, because you are painted into a very dark corner, you have betrayed your country. I was put under investigation by the bush administration, but the Bush administration never actually indicted me, it took the Obama administration to actually indictment me. And when they indicted me, they threw everything they had at me.In 2008, his presidential campaign, he actually lauded whistleblowers, he called them out as patriots. Who better to call the government onto the carpet when they’re up to no good. And yet he’s presided over the most draconian crackdown on truth tellers and whistleblowers of any administration, actually all administrations combined. It truly is unprecedented.Hassan GhaniDespite immense pressure to plead out, Drake maintained his innocence, and on the eve of trial government prosecutors dropped the charges. But Thomas Drake has been left blacklisted, financially bankrupt, and disturbed at the path his country is following.Thomas Drake, Former NSA Executive, Whistleblower“I'm having great difficulty recognising my own country, in terms of the government, the form of government under which I took an oath to support and defend four times in my government career. Any yet I was criminalized, and was painted as an enemy of the state, for simply speaking truth to power, and it was clear they were going to make me an object lesson, and they threw everything they had at me.Hassan GhaniOf course, it's not just US administrations that face accusations of covering up fraud and criminal acts under the guise of national security. Annie Machon was an agent in the British spy agency MI5. She claims Britain is ahead of the US in terms of stifling whistleblowers from within the intelligence community.Annie Machon, Former MI5 Agent, Whistleblower“They a rethink about the official secrets act and launched a new in 1989, the 1989 official secrets act, which obviated, got rid of, the public interest defence. And the only reason that clause was put in was to stifle whistleblowing. There’s already that old law to stop treachery, so this is designed to stifle whistleblowers. And it has been used many times in the UK since, against David Shayler, Richard Tomlinson, Katherine Gun, and it has a very chilling effect on the idea that if you see crimes committed by the spy agencies, what do you do with that information? The only person that you can go to legally under the OSA of 1989 is the head of the agency you wish to make a complaint against. So you can imagine how many of those complaints are upheld.And I think it’s particularly pertinent at the moment, certainly in the last 10 years, where we’ve seen false information fed into the political process, where we’ve seen politicisation of intelligence in the run up to the Iraq war, with the Downing Street memo and the head of MI6 saying the intelligence facts had to be fitted around the policy. And also where we see torture and extraordinary rendition, where our British spies are being used to do that and they are protected under a lot of secrecy laws, and the government in fact wants to make greater protection for them by setting up secret courts, where the accused can’t even see what they’re accused of. It’s Kafkaesque.”Hassan GhaniAllegations against British intelligence services of complicity in torture do still make it through to the media when the alleged victims speak out. But with tight laws around disclosure in the UK, it's impossible to say whether or not what we hear is just a fraction of what's taking place.Annie Machon, Former MI5 Agent, Whistleblower“I worked in MI5 in the mid-1990s for six years. That I would say would be the only marginally ethical decade of its hundred year existence, because up until 1989 it did not officially exist - it could do whatever it wanted - and post 9/11 the gloves came off with the intelligence agencies. So in the 1990s peace was breaking out, they didn’t get involved in torture, they stopped looking at political activists, the whole shebang. So that was actually the more ethical era, and yet in those six years David Shayler and I saw so much going wrong that we felt compelled to blow the whistle. So how much worse is it now? That has to be the question. I think all we’re seeing now with extradition and torture cases is definitely very much the tip of the iceberg.Hassan GhaniIt’s clear that the act of whistleblowing, even in the public interest, is under serious threat. Some may consider this a positive development in terms of national security. Others see it as the end of public accountability for those in positions of power.Thomas Drake, Former NSA Executive, Whistleblower“If the government begins to exercise increasing influence, even if it’s self-censorship where people will not speak up because they’re afraid that they’re going to be noticed by the government, that means that critical information about government activities will never see the light of day. And especially the secret side of government, you would think that’s the part of government you want the most accountability with. Well, if they’re choking off the sources and they’re making it very clear, even though I was able to prevail and hold off the government and remained a free man, the message was still sent.”

Britain’s Moral Standing ‘At Risk’ Over Plans For Secret Court Hearings

Britain's moral standing in the world is at risk unless major changes are made to a controversial piece of legislation that will see a rise in secret court hearings, a joint report from a senior Tory and a human rights barrister has warned. The Justic...

How America Became a Global Kidnapper and Torturer

January 21, 2013  |  

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The following is an excerpt from  Cruel Britannia: A Secret History of Torture (Portobello Books, 2012). 

Two days after the 9/11 attacks, during a meeting of Bush’s closest advisers, Cofer Black declared the country’s enemies must be left with ‘flies walking across their eyeballs’. It was an image of death so striking that Black became known among the President’s inner circle as ‘the flies on the eyeballs guy’. Unlike its allies – the UK, France, Spain and Israel – the US had little experience of serious terrorist attacks on its own territory, nor any understanding of the need for a patient response. Bush was impressed by Black. Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, could see that the President wanted to kill somebody. The problem, as successive attorneys general had warned one president after another, was that they did not enjoy unfettered powers of life and death over the nation’s enemies. The CIA had been banned from carrying out assassinations since 1976.

The President turned to his Department of Defense and found that it had no cogent, off-the-shelf plan for responding to an attack of this nature on the United States. The CIA, on the other hand, did have something in its arsenal: it had the rendition program.

Since 1987, the CIA had been quietly apprehending terrorists and ‘rendering’ them to the US for prosecution, without any regard for lawful extradition processes. In 1995, President Bill Clinton – apparently with the full encouragement of his vice-president, Al Gore – agreed that a number of terrorists could be taken to a third country, including countries known to use torture, a process that would come to be known as extraordinary rendition.

Mike Scheuer, the CIA officer who started that programme, faced few objections from Clinton’s national security advisers when he began taking prisoners to Egypt, where they could be interrogated under torture. ‘They just didn’t want to know what we were doing,’ he says.

Before 9/11, however, there were limits. In 1998, for example, the CIA had drawn up a plan to kidnap Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and take him to Egypt. A shipping container was installed inside a Hercules aircraft and inside that was bolted a dentist’s chair fitted with restraints. The CIA were all ready to go when, at the last moment, the FBI persuaded Clinton’s attorney general, Janet Reno, that bin Laden’s inevitable death at the hands of the Egyptians would be an act of murder and that US officials would be responsible. Reno vetoed the plan.

By 13 September, with a still-unknown number of Americans dead and the President wanting action, all such legal squeamishness had vanished. President Bush and Dick Cheney both believed al-Qaida had succeeded because government lawyers had been expecting the CIA to do its job with one hand tied behind its back. Bush said as much to his attorney general, John Ashcroft, when he warned him: ‘Don’t ever let this happen again.’ So when the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, went to brief the President a few days after 9/11 and began to talk of the need to gather evidence for future prosecutions, he was promptly silenced by Ashcroft. Prosecutions were beside the point, Ashcroft said. All that mattered was stopping another attack.

That night, Cofer Black locked himself away at his office at Langley and within five days had drawn up plans for the CIA’s response. It would entail a vast expansion of the rendition pro-gramme. Hundreds of al-Qaida suspects would be tracked down and abducted from their homes and hiding places in eighty different countries. The agency would decide who was to be killed and who was to be kept alive in a network of secret prisons, outside the US, where they would be systematically tormented until every one of their secrets had been delivered up. The United States had been blindsided by al-Qaida on 9/11 and that situation would not be permitted to occur a second time.

Shocking Story of How the US Ignored International Law to Become to World’s Kidnapper...

January 21, 2013  |  

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The following is an excerpt from   A Secret History of Torture (Counterpoint Press, 2012). 

Two days after the 9/11 attacks, during a meeting of Bush’s closest advisers, Cofer Black declared the country’s enemies must be left with ‘flies walking across their eyeballs’. It was an image of death so striking that Black became known among the President’s inner circle as ‘the flies on the eyeballs guy’. Unlike its allies – the UK, France, Spain and Israel – the US had little experience of serious terrorist attacks on its own territory, nor any understanding of the need for a patient response. Bush was impressed by Black. Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, could see that the President wanted to kill somebody. The problem, as successive attorneys general had warned one president after another, was that they did not enjoy unfettered powers of life and death over the nation’s enemies. The CIA had been banned from carrying out assassinations since 1976.

The President turned to his Department of Defense and found that it had no cogent, off-the-shelf plan for responding to an attack of this nature on the United States. The CIA, on the other hand, did have something in its arsenal: it had the rendition program.

Since 1987, the CIA had been quietly apprehending terrorists and ‘rendering’ them to the US for prosecution, without any regard for lawful extradition processes. In 1995, President Bill Clinton – apparently with the full encouragement of his vice-president, Al Gore – agreed that a number of terrorists could be taken to a third country, including countries known to use torture, a process that would come to be known as extraordinary rendition.

Mike Scheuer, the CIA officer who started that programme, faced few objections from Clinton’s national security advisers when he began taking prisoners to Egypt, where they could be interrogated under torture. ‘They just didn’t want to know what we were doing,’ he says.

Before 9/11, however, there were limits. In 1998, for example, the CIA had drawn up a plan to kidnap Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and take him to Egypt. A shipping container was installed inside a Hercules aircraft and inside that was bolted a dentist’s chair fitted with restraints. The CIA were all ready to go when, at the last moment, the FBI persuaded Clinton’s attorney general, Janet Reno, that bin Laden’s inevitable death at the hands of the Egyptians would be an act of murder and that US officials would be responsible. Reno vetoed the plan.

By 13 September, with a still-unknown number of Americans dead and the President wanting action, all such legal squeamishness had vanished. President Bush and Dick Cheney both believed al-Qaida had succeeded because government lawyers had been expecting the CIA to do its job with one hand tied behind its back. Bush said as much to his attorney general, John Ashcroft, when he warned him: ‘Don’t ever let this happen again.’ So when the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, went to brief the President a few days after 9/11 and began to talk of the need to gather evidence for future prosecutions, he was promptly silenced by Ashcroft. Prosecutions were beside the point, Ashcroft said. All that mattered was stopping another attack.

That night, Cofer Black locked himself away at his office at Langley and within five days had drawn up plans for the CIA’s response. It would entail a vast expansion of the rendition pro-gramme. Hundreds of al-Qaida suspects would be tracked down and abducted from their homes and hiding places in eighty different countries. The agency would decide who was to be killed and who was to be kept alive in a network of secret prisons, outside the US, where they would be systematically tormented until every one of their secrets had been delivered up. The United States had been blindsided by al-Qaida on 9/11 and that situation would not be permitted to occur a second time.

Shocking Story of How the US Ignored International Law to Become World’s Kidnapper and...

January 21, 2013  |  

Like this article?

Join our email list:

Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.

The following is an excerpt from   A Secret History of Torture (Counterpoint Press, 2012). 

Two days after the 9/11 attacks, during a meeting of Bush’s closest advisers, Cofer Black declared the country’s enemies must be left with ‘flies walking across their eyeballs’. It was an image of death so striking that Black became known among the President’s inner circle as ‘the flies on the eyeballs guy’. Unlike its allies – the UK, France, Spain and Israel – the US had little experience of serious terrorist attacks on its own territory, nor any understanding of the need for a patient response. Bush was impressed by Black. Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, could see that the President wanted to kill somebody. The problem, as successive attorneys general had warned one president after another, was that they did not enjoy unfettered powers of life and death over the nation’s enemies. The CIA had been banned from carrying out assassinations since 1976.

The President turned to his Department of Defense and found that it had no cogent, off-the-shelf plan for responding to an attack of this nature on the United States. The CIA, on the other hand, did have something in its arsenal: it had the rendition program.

Since 1987, the CIA had been quietly apprehending terrorists and ‘rendering’ them to the US for prosecution, without any regard for lawful extradition processes. In 1995, President Bill Clinton – apparently with the full encouragement of his vice-president, Al Gore – agreed that a number of terrorists could be taken to a third country, including countries known to use torture, a process that would come to be known as extraordinary rendition.

Mike Scheuer, the CIA officer who started that programme, faced few objections from Clinton’s national security advisers when he began taking prisoners to Egypt, where they could be interrogated under torture. ‘They just didn’t want to know what we were doing,’ he says.

Before 9/11, however, there were limits. In 1998, for example, the CIA had drawn up a plan to kidnap Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and take him to Egypt. A shipping container was installed inside a Hercules aircraft and inside that was bolted a dentist’s chair fitted with restraints. The CIA were all ready to go when, at the last moment, the FBI persuaded Clinton’s attorney general, Janet Reno, that bin Laden’s inevitable death at the hands of the Egyptians would be an act of murder and that US officials would be responsible. Reno vetoed the plan.

By 13 September, with a still-unknown number of Americans dead and the President wanting action, all such legal squeamishness had vanished. President Bush and Dick Cheney both believed al-Qaida had succeeded because government lawyers had been expecting the CIA to do its job with one hand tied behind its back. Bush said as much to his attorney general, John Ashcroft, when he warned him: ‘Don’t ever let this happen again.’ So when the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, went to brief the President a few days after 9/11 and began to talk of the need to gather evidence for future prosecutions, he was promptly silenced by Ashcroft. Prosecutions were beside the point, Ashcroft said. All that mattered was stopping another attack.

That night, Cofer Black locked himself away at his office at Langley and within five days had drawn up plans for the CIA’s response. It would entail a vast expansion of the rendition pro-gramme. Hundreds of al-Qaida suspects would be tracked down and abducted from their homes and hiding places in eighty different countries. The agency would decide who was to be killed and who was to be kept alive in a network of secret prisons, outside the US, where they would be systematically tormented until every one of their secrets had been delivered up. The United States had been blindsided by al-Qaida on 9/11 and that situation would not be permitted to occur a second time.

The Grilling that Brennan Deserves

As Washington’s pundit class sees it, Defense Secretary-designee Chuck Hagel deserves a tough grilling over his hesitancy to go to war with Iran and his controversial detection of a pro-Israel lobby operating in the U.S. capital, but prospective CIA Director John Brennan should get only a few polite queries about his role helping to create and sustain Dick Cheney’s “dark side.”

During the upcoming confirmation hearings of these two nominees for President Barack Obama’s national security team, we all may get a revealing look into the upside-down world of Washington’s moral and geopolitical priorities, where too much skepticism about rushing to war is disqualifying and complicity in war crimes is okay, maybe even expected.

Still, there is at least a hope that Brennan’s confirmation hearing might provide an opening for the Senate Intelligence Committee to force out the secret legal justifications and the operational procedures for the lethal drone program that has expanded under Obama, including successfully targeting for death U.S. citizen and al-Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen.

Over the past few years, senior administration officials have praised the rigorous standards applied to these life-or-death decisions by Brennan and his counterterrorism team, but have refused to release the constitutional rationales for the President exerting these extraordinary powers or to explain exactly the methodology of selecting targets.

Presumably, some committee member will ask Brennan about such nitpicky things as constitutional due process and the Bill of Rights even if the panel will have to scurry into a classified session to hear the answers. But there is still a chance that Brennan or one of the senators will blurt something out, shedding light on one of the darkest corners of the ongoing war against al-Qaeda and other Islamic militants.

Yet, what hits closest to home for many of my Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) colleagues and me is Brennan’s earlier role, under President George W. Bush and CIA Director George Tenet, in corrupting the CIA’s analysis directorate into fabricating fraudulent intelligence to “justify” war on Iraq. From the perspective of CIA analysts who worked by a very different ethos, such treachery is truly unacceptable.

Brennan, as Tenet’s chief of staff and then the CIA’s Deputy Executive Director, had a front-row seat for all this. Former CIA colleagues who served with Brennan before and during the war with Iraq assert that there is absolutely no possibility that Brennan could have been unaware of the deliberate corruption of intelligence analysis.

Brennan’s confirmation hearing, with the nominee under oath, might be the best opportunity to hear his explanation of what he did when he faced two conflicting allegiances – his career advancement on one side and his duty to the nation as an intelligence officer on the other.

Phony Intelligence

After a five-year investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the pre-Iraq-war “intelligence” was described by committee chair Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, as “uncorroborated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”

Hagel, then a senator from Nebraska and a member of the committee, was one of two Republicans voting to approve the Senate report, making it bipartisan and presumably annoying some of his more partisan brethren who resisted admitting to the lies that President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney used to take the country to war.

Hagel also has co-chaired Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board, giving him even more insights into the challenges of rebuilding a professional intelligence service, one that puts a commitment to objective analysis over pleasing the boss. If only Brennan could show such a commitment.

A principal objection to Brennan’s return to the CIA is that he has rarely displayed any rigorous discipline in his approach to the truth. One of his most famous deviations from reality was his gilding-the-lily presentation of Seal Team 6’s killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011, in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Just hours after Osama bin Laden was killed, Brennan gave the press this rendition of what had happened and how bin Laden had died: “He was engaged in a firefight with those that entered the area of the house he was in. … Just thinking about that from a visual perspective: here is bin Laden … living in this million-dollar-plus compound … in an area that is far removed from the front …  hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield. I think it really just speaks to just, to how false his narrative has been over the years.”

Even giving Brennan the benefit of the doubt about the “fog of war” and such, his spin suggested not so much a lack of still-fuzzy details but an assembling of fake details, his own false narrative if you will. Brennan’s account was more agit-prop than an attempt to tell the story straight.

It was not enough to let the facts speak for themselves – Americans were surely not going to be sympathetic to the man they blame for the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 innocent people – but Brennan still chose to further belittle bin Laden as a coward hiding behind one of his wives while seeking to save himself.

Later, White House spokesman Jay Carney clarified some of Brennan’s inaccuracies. Bin Laden was not armed; he did not use one of his wives as a shield; and there was no firefight to speak of, only an initial exchange of gunfire between the U.S. commandos and one of bin Laden’s couriers in an adjacent building.

There were other details that came out subsequently, including that bin Laden’s 12-year-old daughter was in the room and watched as he was shot and killed, according to the London Guardian. Pakistani officials said bin Laden’s daughter had been hit in the ankle moments before the American assault team reached the room where they found and killed her father, and she then passed out.

Given the recent sorry history of CIA directors participating in what amount to propaganda and disinformation campaigns aimed as much at the American people as any foreign enemy, a nominee for CIA director should not have a record of making stuff up or misleading the public.

Ducking Hard Truth

Another Brennan example of ducking hard truths was his claim in June 2011 that during the previous year, “there has not been a single collateral death” from CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. Far more credible reporting shows that there have been hundreds of people killed simply for being in the vicinity of an al-Qaeda or Taliban suspect.

Yet, some administration officials are so touchy on this point that they suggest that dissenters might be terrorist sympathizers. On Feb. 5, 2012, the New York Times’ Scott Shane reported the following quote from an anonymous “senior American counterterrorism official”:

“One must wonder why an effort that has so carefully gone after terrorists … has been subjected to so much misinformation. Let’s be under no illusions – there are a number of elements who would like nothing more than to malign these efforts and help Al Qaeda succeed.” So, raising tough questions means you’re with the terrorists.

Brennan had similar problems with forthrightness when he was assigned to explain to a press conference on Jan. 8, 2010, how the infamous “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab almost downed an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

Clearly, Brennan did not expect to be asked a real question, like what motivates an upper-class Muslim youth from Nigeria to do such a thing, but a tenacious 89-year-old Helen Thomas was still in the White House press corps and was one of the very few journalists (as distinct from the stenographers) willing to pose such questions.

Thomas asked why Abdulmuttalab did what he did, a question of human motivation that is rarely part of the Washington conversation.

Thomas: “And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why.”

Brennan: “Al Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents. … They attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmuttalab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he’s (sic) able to attract these individuals. But al Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death.”

Thomas: “And you’re saying it’s because of religion?”

Brennan: “I’m saying it’s because of an al Qaeda organization that used the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.”

Thomas: “Why?”

Brennan: “I think this is a — long issue, but al Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.”

Thomas: “But you haven’t explained why.”

The why would be the sort of question you might wish a CIA director would want answered – and answered honestly – since enemy motivation is a crucial element in winning a war or, more importantly, avoiding one.

Just Boilerplate

But all the American public gets is boilerplate about how al-Qaeda evildoers are perverting a religion and exploiting impressionable young men. Or, as Brennan suggests, some “militants” are just hard-wired for things like knocking down aircraft over Detroit with themselves on board.

There is almost no discussion about why so many people in the Muslim world object to U.S. policies so strongly that they are inclined to resist violently and even resort to suicide attacks. Perhaps, the U.S. and Western proclivity toward intervening in their affairs over many decades – propping up corrupt dictators and favoring Israel over the Palestinians – has left some Muslims looking for any way to strike back, even self-destructive acts of terror.

Maybe today, one of the reasons for the number of “militants” willing to attack Americans might have something to do with drones buzzing over Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen,  Somalia and other locales – and with distant “pilots” getting clearance from Brennan and his associates to push some button and obliterate some unsuspecting target.

Despite the American people’s legitimate right to know what’s being done in their name, Brennan gets thin-skinned when criticized or asked tough questions. Four years ago, when President Obama was first considering Brennan to head the CIA, Brennan faced questions about what he did for the Bush/Cheney “dark side” and promptly withdrew his name. In a bitter letter, he blamed “strong criticism in some quarters, prompted by [his] previous service with the” CIA.

Yet, Brennan’s 25-year career at the CIA would seem to be fair game in evaluating whether he should run the place. His former managers in CIA’s analysis directorate tell me he was a bust as an analyst.

Instead, like former CIA Director (and more recently Defense Secretary) Robert Gates, Brennan’s career zoomed upwards after he caught the attention of key White House officials – in Brennan’s case, George Tenet who held the top intelligence advisory job under President Bill Clinton before he was made CIA deputy director and then director.

Of course, the tradeoff for that kind of advancement often is your integrity, both as an intelligence officer and as a public servant. Indeed, it’s hard to conceive how someone could have flourished in the corrupt world of U.S. intelligence, especially since its descent into the post-9/11 “dark side,” without selling out one’s professionalism and morality.

Those who stood their ground and demonstrated integrity found themselves out on the street or marginalized as “soft on terror” – or maybe they were considered suspiciously finicky when it came to “quaint and obsolete” notions like the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Geneva Conventions and the rule of law.

But don’t worry. Endorsing the nomination of Brennan on Wednesday, the editors of the Washington Post tell usthat, although “the administration’s current strategy of countering al-Qaeda in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia with drone strikes is unsustainable … the strikes are certainly legal under U.S. and international law … [even though they] are problematic, given the backlash they have caused in Pakistan.”

Still, it might be nice if the American people could see the secret legal justifications underpinning Brennan’s last four years as keeper of the “kill lists.”

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