Donald Rumsfeld has never had a reputation for being particularly tactful or articulate (let's all take a moment to remember how Saturday Night Live portrayed him, even before the invasion of Iraq), but he's demonstrated a habit of owning his mistakes -- in his own way. The former defense secretary took his infamous, convoluted, "There are known knowns" comment, made in a press conference in 2002, and appropriated it as the title of his 2011 memoir, Known and Unknown. And now he's doing it again as he promotes his new book, Rumsfeld's Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life, a collection of aphorisms and rules to live by -- if only Donald Rumsfeld took his own advice.
"You go to war with the Army you have" may have been a gaffe when Rumsfeld said it to a National Guard soldier asking about jerry-rigged armor on Humvees, but in Rumsfeld's Rules, it's a pearl of wisdom. And when he's not rehabilitating his own troublesome turns of phrase, he often cites the advice of others with little self-awareness. All of this has made for an incredibly awkward book tour.
There was the time, for instance, when Rumsfeld cited one of his rules at a book party in Washington on Tuesday: "Every government looking at the actions of another government and trying to explain them always exaggerates rationality and conspiracy and underestimates incompetence and fortuity," he observed. "I learned that from watching you!" Circuit Court Judge Laurence Silberman, who coined the rule, reportedly called out.
And when Rumsfeld spoke to Politico's Patrick Gavin, he wasted no time contradicting himself: "If you have rules, never have more than 10," he joked of his 380-rule book. Then again, he added, "All generalizations are wrong, even this one."
It's complicated, you see.
For example, when Rumsfeld said, "It's easier to get into something than it is to get out," he's not talking about the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In a conversation with Kai Ryssdal, the host of American Public Media's Marketplace, Rumsfeld clarified that he was thinking of a much smaller deployment of U.S. forces 20 years earlier:
I thought of that when I was President Reagan's Middle East envoy and we had 241 Marines killed at Beirut, at the airport. And I concluded then that the United States has to be careful about putting ground forces in because we're such a big target.
"I sorta can't believe these words are coming out of your mouth," an incredulous Ryssdal interjects. When Ryssdal asks if he's ever considered apologizing, Rumsfeld replies, "Well, my goodness, you know, as Napoleon said, 'I've been mistaken so many times I don't even blush for it anymore.' Sure, you see things that don't turn out the way you hope. You look at intelligence -- and of course, if intelligence were a fact, it wouldn't be intelligence."
Incidentally, "If intelligence were a fact, it wouldn't be intelligence" is not one of Rumsfeld's rules.
You can listen to Ryssdal's whole, cringe-inducing interview below. And if you're wondering how Rumsfeld is doing, he'd like you to know, he's "happy as a clam."
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When a former Obama administration legal advisor delivers a tough criticism of the president's prosecution of the war on terror, what do you see? Evidence of the manifest illegality of the White House's drone program? An example of Obama's lack of political will? An invocation of frightening Bush-era legal theories of presidential power?
Welcome to the Rorschach test that is Harold Koh's recent speech to the Oxford Union.
On Tuesday, Koh, until January the chief legal advisor at the State Department, criticized the White House's lack of transparency with regard to its drone program, which Koh said has resulted in "a growing perception that the program is not lawful and necessary, but illegal, unnecessary and out of control." That jab was part of a three-part plan laid out by Koh to extricate the United States from the "Forever War" (1. Disengage from Afghanistan; 2. Close Guantánamo; 3. Discipline drones).
Prior to joining the administration, Koh was an outspoken critic of the Bush administration. But once inside government, he served as one of the chief legal architects of the Obama administration's national security policies, many of which bore a striking resembling to Obama's predecessor's. Now, Koh is firing back -- if rather gently -- at his former employer. But beyond his rather straightforward policy recommendations, it's not entirely clear how to interpret Koh's speech. And the varied responses it provoked offer something of a primer on the current state of thinking about Obama's prosecution of the war on terror.
Over at the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf sees the secrecy surrounding the drone program and Koh's call for its dismantling as proof positive of the program's illegality. In order to "discipline drones," Koh called on Obama to make public the legal rationale for drone strikes and targeting American citizens overseas, clarify its method for counting civilian casualties, and release the threat assessments behind individual drones strikes. Additionally, Koh called on the White House to send its officials before Congress to testify about the program. All in all, sensible reforms aimed at transparency.
But, as Friedersdorf argues, the fact that none of these things -- moves all within Obama's power to carry out -- have happened reveals the drone program's shaky legal basis, if not its outright illegality:
If Koh believes all that is what should happen, then he believes the Obama Administration's current approach is deeply wrongheaded, and not just because of its indefensible dearth of transparency. It is not "consistent with due process" to target American citizens. The way Team Obama counts civilian casualties is not "consistent with international humanitarian law standards." Obama can't demonstrate that its strikes were all directed against imminent threats. Being more transparent about any of those things will in fact be discrediting, not redemptive.
Hence the secrecy.
And although he precedes everything with, "as President Obama has indicated he wants to do," Koh knows that Obama could do everything Koh endorses, but has in fact chosen not to do it.
Writing for her blog Emptywheel, Marcy Wheeler interprets Koh's argument about how to close Guantánamo as evidence of Obama's lack of political will to finally erase this stain on America's human rights record. In his speech, Koh urged Obama to designate a senior White House official with sufficient weight to close down the prison. But that plan, Wheeler contends, bears remarkable similarities to Obama's failed effort to close Gitmo early in his first term:
Now, I'm all in favor of closing Gitmo and this might be one way to do it. Koh actually improves on the prior plan by admitting the indefinite detainees will have to be released as the war is over, which is legally correct but misapprehends why they're not being released and why we have to have a Forever War to justify keeping them silent and imprisoned forever.
But Koh's map for closing Gitmo also misrepresents why appointing Greg Craig himself to carry out the Gitmo task didn't work. As I traced in real time (see, here, here, and here), to get Obama's ear, Craig had to fight through Rahm Emanuel. And Rahm preferred to sell out Obama's human rights promises in exchange for an eventually failed attempt to appease Lindsey Graham. Rahm won that fight. After Rahm won that battle, he scapegoated Craig. Ultimately, when asked why he left, Craig pointed to Rahm.
It wasn't enough to appoint Greg Craig. Closing Gitmo either required appointing someone with the bureaucratic chops to beat Rahm or someone like him in battle, or someone whom Obama actually entrusts such a battle with. And Holder's fate - where Obama continues to have trust in him even while he ultimately reversed his decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in NYC - shows that's not enough. Heck, Koh stayed on for almost four years, but even battles he presumably thought he had won, like drone rules, he now appears to have lost. Ultimately, then, it's going to take a really shrewd fighter or ... it's going to take the President wanting to invest political capital in these things more than he did three years ago.
Koh's emphasis on the need to close Guantánamo reflects the degree to which the Bush administration's shadow still hangs over the Obama White House -- a fact highlighted in the blog Lawfare commentary on Koh's conception of presidential power. "Look who has discovered inherent presidential powers," Benjamin Wittes observes sarcastically (elsewhere on Lawfare, Steve Vladeck defends Koh against the charge of hypocrisy).
What do you see in this ink blot of a speech?
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Well, I just watched John Yoo -- a member of the Office of Legal Counsel during the George W. Bush administration and the author of the infamous "torture memos" -- on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show. It was among the more excruciatingly awkward spectacles I've seen on television. (I've always admired Stewart's willingness to have his shows inform, not just entertain, no matter how strange it makes the viewing.) At the end of the show, with Yoo off the stage, Stewart made the point himself, recommending his viewers overseas play the tape if they catch any high-value detainees. It was one of, by my count, four jokes in the second half of the broadcast.
Why so awkward? The two never engaged. They questioned and parried. They talked past one another. Stewart couldn't catch Yoo in a lie, couldn't call his arguments what they were, and clearly seemed frustrated. He had brushed up on Yoo's infamous briefs. He wanted to engage Yoo. But the lawyer -- as brilliant a legal mind as there is in the United States, some insist, dressed in a gray wool suit, looking every bit the professor -- simply explained away.
The answers to the questions sound rote to my ears by now. (Before joining Foreign Policy, I worked at The New Yorker, and spent months researching for staff writer Jane Mayer's book The Dark Side, which is all about the extralegality of the Bush approach to the war on terror.) Concerns about the legality of harsh interrogation only come up during wartime, Yoo says. The White House asked him to define the legal limits of interrogation, and he defined them as best he could, he says. Nobody had ever addressed what interrogation is legal and what isn't, he says. We do not use law-enforcement standards during wartime, he says -- we don't read terrorists their Miranda rights when we arrest them in places like Pakistan.
Yoo established such arguments in his briefs from his tenure at OLC. Since then, the legal establishment, and the government, has cast them aside. The question of what the U.S. government can and cannot do to prisoners of war is clearly delineated in both U.S. and international legal codes. The U.S. government has confronted such questions every single time it has sent a soldier or a CIA operative overseas, anywhere from Vietnam to Kosovo, and detained suspected enemies. I was disheartened not to hear more push-back -- oh, to have, say, Harold Koh or Greg Craig in Stewart's seat! -- but not surprised.
But Yoo made a secondary argument, which I hadn't seen him make before -- one about partisan politics. When Stewart first welcomed Yoo onto the stage, he asked him how it felt to come on television knowing the animus against him. Yoo described it as the same animus Stewart, an avowed liberal, gets from hard-line conservatives. Later in the broadcast, Yoo said that some people cast aspersions on the Bush White House for the same reason that some people do on the Obama White House.
I fail to understand how despising the creative rewriting of U.S. law -- how massively, secretly expanding the powers of the executive to allow the government to torture -- is a partisan issue. Yoo and his associates, the Jay Bybees of the past administration, did the United States -- Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative, communist and libertarian, whatever political stripe -- a tremendous disservice with their irresponsible legal freelancing. They saw the limits of the law. Rather than delineating them in black and white, they rewrote them in vibrant, torturous color.
Take just one example. It's Yoo we have to thank for the short-lived classification of harsh interrogation methods as legal as long as they do not cause organ failure. He apparently culled the language for the description from a medical textbook and turned it into law without any precedent. There's nothing partisan about seeing that for what it is.
Today, Greg Craig, the White House's top legal advisor, stepped down from the post he once described as his dream job. The speculation over the much-respected lawyer's resignation has been swirling for months, reaching a fever pitch back in October, when the New York Times published a story on the controversy in the White House office of legal counsel.
Craig's resignation comes on the day the administration announced it will try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- among the tougher Guantanamo cases from a prosecutorial stance, given that he was tortured and that the government hopes to seek the death penalty -- in federal court a few blocks from Ground Zero.
The most obvious reason (Craig gave none specifically in his resignation note) is that he was the person charged with closing the facility at Guantanamo Bay, determining how to relocate and try all of the detainees. When Obama came into office, he promised it would be done by Jan. 22, 2010. It will not, likely costing Craig his job. The October Times story explained:
When an administration stumbles, whispers begin and fingers point in search of someone to blame. At a certain point, assumptions can become self-fulfilling, and an official in the cross hairs finds it harder to do the job. In Mr. Craig’s case, friends said he was unfairly being made a scapegoat for decisions supported across the administration.
It is, of course, not a good thing that the administration has stumbled in its goal of closing Guantanamo. But it is worth considering that it isn't really Craig's fault at all.
Gitmo, ultimately, isn't closed because Craig did not take any of the easy ways out. He could have moved all of the prisoners to Bagram or another overseas military facility. He could have tried all of them in military commissions, the legal process jerry-rigged by the Bush administration. Because, in part, of Craig's insistence on taking each case separately and at least trying to conform to U.S. law, Guantanamo remains open.
It is a much lesser sin than what came before it. Craig is stepping down less due to his own failures than due to the extralegal maneuvering of the Bush administration. Lawyers like John Yoo and David Addington made a mockery of due process back then, and their sins are now being revisited upon members of the Obama administration. If anyone should have to answer for Greg Craig's job, it is John Yoo.
Taking a break from the self-help circuit, former President George W. Bush traveled to Japan to throw out the first pitch at the Japan Series. The one-time Texas Rangers owner also took the time to talk to university students about running a successful sports franchise. While Bush steered well clear of politics, it's not to read his advice in the context of his presidency (my emphasis):
During his brief speech, Bush outlined key points for developing a successful franchise.
Make sure the stadium has a pleasant environment. Hire "good baseball people" to make key decisions about which players to select. Treat the media "as an ally, not an antagonist."
But the best marketing is winning, he said.
"Problem is, it's not that easy," the former two-term president said. Plenty of fans yelled at him when the Rangers were doing poorly, he said. "That's part of sports. I never took it personally."Bush also said it was important to take responsibility for decisions, including bad ones - and referred to what he has acknowledged was one of his biggest mistakes with the Rangers: approving the 1989 trade that sent future home-run slugger Sammy Sosa to the Chicago White Sox for designated hitter Harold Baines.
I get the feeling that Bush is going to go to his grave regretting the Sosa trade more than any other mistake he's ever made.
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A large contingent of American bands have joined the Close Gitmo Now campaign in direct protest of the use of their music during torture practices at Guantanamo Bay. The new campaign is led by two retired generals: Lieutenant General Robert Gard and Brigadier General John Johns. Robert Gard has spoken out in defense of the musicians, stating:
"The musicians' music 'was used without their knowledge as part of the Bush administration's misguided policies'."
artists such as REM, Pearl Jam, Bonnie Raitt, Tom Morello, Billy Bragg,
Michelle Branch, Jackson Browne, and The Roots have signed an open letter to Congress requesting the declassification of government records concerning how music was utilized during "futility" interrogation tactics - making the prisoner feel hopeless while exploiting his psychological, moral, and sociological weaknesses.
Tom Morellon of Rage Against the Machine fame has expressed his peronsal rage against Dick Cheney:
"Guantanamo is known around the world as one of the places where human beings have been tortured - from water boarding, to stripping, hooding and forcing detainees into humiliating sexual acts - playing music for 72 hours in a row at volumes just below that to shatter the eardrums. Guantanamo may be Dick Cheney's idea of America, but it's not mine. The fact that music I helped create was used in crimes against humanity sickens me - we need to end torture and close Guantanamo now."
But don't except every rock band to jump on board, some view the use of their music at Gitmo as an honor.
Above, Zach de la Rocha of Rage Against The Machine performs during the 2008 Republican National Convention (RNC) at the Target Center September 3, 2008 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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Recent U.S. military activity in Somalia is causing ripples throughout
the African community. AFP is reporting that Monday's closing of the
American embassy in Pretoria, South Africa was due to threats from an al-Qaeda
splinter group seeking revenge for Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan's death last week in Somalia.
Last week's raid in Somalia signifies a shift in US policy toward the region, and may be linked to the increasing militarization of AFRICOM since its inception in 2007. Officials continue to argue its role is as a "force for peace." However, the perception by others is increasing negative. Recently, the American National Conference on Black Lawyers petitioned Attorney General Eric Holder to dismantle the operation in an open letter blasting AFRICOM as:
"A military command that is designed to facilitate warfare. In the context of African politics, the mere presence of AFRICOM will be perceived as an act of aggression that will decrease, not increase, the likelihood of peaceful resolution of conflicts."
The embassy threat could be the beginnings of increased hostility toward U.S. interests in southern Africa, opening up a new counter-terrorism arena rather than pre-empting one.
Yesterday, the New York Times reported on a leaked Pentagon document showing that one in seven detainees released from Guantanamo has returned to terrorism.
An unreleased Pentagon report concludes that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners already transferred abroad from the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, are engaged in terrorism or militant activity, according to administration officials.
The conclusion could strengthen the arguments of critics who have warned against the transfer or release of any more detainees as part of President Obama's plan to shut down the prison by January. Past Pentagon reports on Guantánamo recidivism have been met with skepticism from civil liberties groups and criticized for their lack of detail.
The one-in-seven statistic is problematic. It might be too high. It might be too low. The category of "terrorism or militant activity" is broad; tracking released detainees and determining what they're doing -- that's not easy.
It's clear that the finding will put additional pressure on Obama administration officials to hold detainees, rather than release them.
More interesting will be the reaction of Bush administration defenders to this statistic. Does it mean we're minting terrorists in Guantanamo? Or does it mean these people were always too dangerous to release?
A D.C. fourth grader grilled former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on her approval for the waterboarding of detainees in Guantanamo, which, echoing Nixon, she described as "by definition" not illegal if approved by the president. Her response again checked September 11:
Let me just say that President Bush was very clear that he wanted to do everything he could to protect the country. After September 11, we wanted to protect the country," she said. "But he was also very clear that we would do nothing, nothing, that was against the law or against our obligations internationally. So the president was only willing to authorize policies that were legal in order to protect the country.
"I hope you understand that it was a very difficult time. We were all so terrified of another attack on the country. September 11 was the worst day of my life in government, watching 3,000 Americans die...Even under those most difficult circumstances, the president was not prepared to do something illegal, and I hope people understand that we were trying to protect the country."
She's going to be answering that same question for the rest of her life, I think. And it appears she has her answer down.
With a hat-tip to our incoming intern Michael Wilkerson, here's tape of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defending the Bush administration enhanced interrogation policies -- which she insists never led to torture -- speaking off-the-cuff at a Stanford University dorm. Here's a really quick transcript [updated] -- will correct for word-errors:
How are we supposed to continue promoting America as this guiding light of democracy and how are we supposed to win hearts and minds in the world as long as we continue with these actions?
Well, first of all, you do what's right. That's the most important thing -- that you make a judgment of what's right. And in terms of enhanced interrogation, and rendition, and all the issues around the detainees. Abu Ghraib is, and everyone said, Abu Ghraib was not policy. Abu Ghraib was wrong and nobody would argue with...
Except that information that's come out since then speaks against that.
No, no, no -- the information that's come out since then continues to say that Abu Ghraib was wrong. Abu Ghraib was. But in terms of the enhanced interrogation and so forth, anything that was legal and was going to make this country safer, the president wanted to do. Nothing that was illegal. And nothing that was going to make the country less safe.
And I'll tell you something. Unless you were there in a position of responsibility after September 11th, you cannot possibly imagine the dilemmas that you faced in trying to protect Americans. And I know a lot of people are second-guessing now, but let me tell you what the second-guessing that would really have hurt me -- if the second-guessing had been about 3,000 more Americans dying because we didn't do everything we could to protect them.
If you were there in a position of authority, and watched Americans jump out of 80-story buildings because these murderous tyrants went after innocent people, then you were determined to do anything that you could that was legal to prevent that from happening again. And so I think people do understand that.
Now, as to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and so forth -- I agree with you. We have tried to use the trafficking in persons and all of those measures, human rights reports and so forth, to put a spotlight on the kinds of problems that you have in places like Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or Oman or other places. But you can't -- you don't have the luxury in foreign policy of saying, alright, I won't deal with that country because I don't like its human rights record. You don't have that luxury. So if you need Saudi Arabia to fight al Qaeda internally -- which is by the way where al Qaeda came from -- or if you need Saudi Arabia to be part of a coalition that's going to help bring a Palestinian state, you can't decide not to deal with Saudi Arabia because of its problems with human rights. Or, if you need to make sure that the Gulf is safe from Iranian influence -- you want to talk about human rights abusers? -- Iran.
I'm well aware.
I'm well aware.
So, foreign policy is full of tough choices. Very tough choices. The world is not a bunch of easy choices in which you get to make ones that always feel good.
I'm aware, but...[I'm sorry, we have to move]
Let him finish, let him finish.
Even in World War II, as we faced Nazi Germany -- probably the greatest threat that America has ever faced -- even then...
With all due respect, Nazi Germany never attacked the homeland of the United States.
No, but they bombed our allies...
No. Just a second. Three thousand Americans died in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
500,000 died in World War II, and yet we did not torture the prisoners of war.
And we didn't torture anybody here either. Alright?
We tortured them in Guantanamo Bay.
No, no dear, you're wrong. Alright. You're wrong. We did not torture anyone. And Guantanamo Bay, by the way, was considered a model "medium security prison" by representatives of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe who went there to see it. Did you know that?
Were they present for the interrogations?
No. Did you know that the Organization -- just answer me -- did you know that the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe said Guantanamo was a model medium security prison?
No, but I feel that changes nothing...
No -- Did you know that?
I did not know that, but that changes absolutely nothing.
Alright, no -- if you didn't know that, maybe before you make allegations about Guantanamo you should read.
Now, the ICRC also had access to Guantanamo, and they made no allegations about interrogations at Guantanamo. What they did say is that they believe indefinite detention, where people didn't know whether they'd come up for trial, which is why we tried with the military commissions system to let people come up for trial. Those trials were stayed by whom? Who kept us from holding the trials?
I can't answer that question.
Do your homework first.
I have a question...
Yes. The Supreme Court.
I read a recent report, recently, that said that you did a memo, you were the one who authorized torture to the -- I'm sorry, not torture, waterboarding. Is waterboarding torture?
The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations, under the Convention Against torture. So that's -- and by the way, I didn't authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency. That they had policy authorization subject to the Justice Department's clearance. That's what I did.
Okay. Is waterboarding torture?
I just said -- the United States was told, we were told, nothing that violates our obligations under the Convention Against Torture. And so, by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Conventions Against Torture.
That's the most articulated defense of enhanced interrogation -- now, we call it torture -- we have from a high-ranking Bush official.
In 2007, Kiriakou famously went on television to describe waterboarding, and discussed the single incidence in which Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded. After just 30 or 35 seconds, Kiriakou said, Zubaydah started singing and never needed to be tortured again.
But Kiriakou wasn't there for the waterboarding -- he was half a world away, in Langley -- and Zubaydah was waterboarded more than 80 times. The New York Times first noted the difference in the two stories.
I remember wondering at the time why Kirkiakou was allowed to come forward and talk about interrogations so sensitive the Bush administration created a special "top secret" designation for them. Why didn't the CIA revoke his pension and prosecute him for leaking?
The New York Times writes:
The C.I.A., which considered legal action against Mr. Kiriakou for divulging classified information, said last week that he "was not - and is not - authorized to speak on behalf of the CIA."
Paul Gimigliano, a C.I.A. spokesman, said: "This agency did not publicly disclose the frequency with which the waterboard was used, noting only that it was employed with three detainees. If reporters got that wrong, they weren't misled from here."
The CIA didn't do much to repudiate or discredit Kiriakou at the time, despite the fact that he broke a central covenant of his profession. Here's the CIA response, as reported by ABC News:
The former CIA intelligence official who went public on ABC News about the agency's use of waterboarding in interrogations, John Kiriakou, apparently will not be the subject of a Justice Department investigation, even though some CIA officials believe he revealed classified information about the use of waterboarding.
"They were furious at the CIA this morning, but cooler heads have apparently prevailed for the time being," a senior Justice Department official told the Blotter on ABCNews.com.
Gen. Michael Hayden, the CIA director, did sent out a classified memo this morning warning all employees "of the importance of protecting classified information," a CIA spokesperson told ABCNews.com.
Had they wanted to silence or punish him, surely they could have. It all seems a bit strange to me, and leads to one obvious possibility: John Kiriakou -- telegenic and well-spoken John Kiriakou, who never went to jail for blasting state secrets on television -- was told the story to tell and released onto an unsuspecting public. It's an impression the CIA will have difficulty dulling now.
For, Kirkiakou went on to act as a "paid consultant" for ABC news after the interview, Laura reports.
Earlier today, I spoke with veteran Washington Post reporter Dana Priest. My question was simple: At what point did it become clear that the United States' treatment of detainees in overseas prisons was harsh, and possibly illegal? (For more FP torture coverage, see here.)
Allegations of detainee abuse first started trickling out in January 2002 -- in essence, as soon as detainees came into U.S. custody. But it wasn't until eleven months later that Priest and fellow Post reporter Barton Gellman wrote the first definitive account of such abuse. On the day after Christmas, 2002, the Post described "stress and duress" tactics, extraordinary rendition to countries like Syria, and the harsh treatment of al Qaeda operative Abu Zubayda. The article used the word torture -- saying that the United States harshly interrogated prisoners, and sent them to foreign prisons to gain the "fruits" of torture without having to do it themselves.
According to one official who has been directly involved in rendering captives into foreign hands, the understanding is, "We don't kick the [expletive] out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them."
Back then, the CIA was Priest's beat. She says her tip-off on the "stress and duress" story came when she noticed a separate, unmarked compound near the main Bagram holding facility. "It wasn't in the military compound," she says. "But it was surrounded with triple concertina wire," the type used in high-security prisons. "I thought -- they have a separate facility, so are they working under separate rules? I knew the CIA and military were working in teams together, but at what?"
She and a team of Post reporters, among them Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Barton Gellman, working in parallel and in competition to New York Times writers like Tim Golden and Carlotta Gall, started piecing the stories together. "Really, there were just a handful of reporters who could make inroads on the subject," she says.
The reporting was painstaking. "It was a very decentralized thing. You weren't even sure what the questions were," she says. "We couldn't connect it up. We couldn't see the big picture. And there was no past reporting to go on. Everyone was making it up. We'd follow these little reports from Afghanistan, about people disappearing. That was it."
Crucial to the success of the early reporting were the teams of lawyers at organizations like the Center for Constitutional Rights struggling to glean information on detainees. "We were all getting little teeny scraps and putting it together painstakingly," she says. "Nobody told you the whole story, or even a quarter of a story." One Post article on an extraordinary rendition came together because a someone happened to write down the number on the tail of an airplane. "You needed to keep those little scraps in your head," Priest notes.
Another big break -- for which she won a Pulitzer Prize -- came when she completed a story about the black sites, secret overseas prisons. The story took more than two years to report, and, she says, reporting on the subject still didn't get much easier -- it took years for Congress to devote as much attention to it as reporters and defense lawyers were.
"Congress did nothing," she says, "until political winds had changed, and the Democrats were feeling a little more at ease in the world. It's a new feeling for them. Because, before, there were Democrats in those meetings saying, ‘Do what you've got to do.'"
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Torture: it's a byzantine tale that unraveled over the course of eight years, and is only reaching its denouement this week. There are two strands, both vitally important, to follow. One's the story of what happened and when (for that, see FP's torture timeline). The other is the story of when we knew it.
Indeed, this week, it seems like the torture story's just breaking through. But, allegations of abuse and even prisoner death started emerging as soon as the United States had prisoners in custody. And reporters have doggedly covered it since then.
One of the first Washington Post stories on the treatment of detainees from the War on Terror arrived in January 2002, just months after 9/11 and the subsequent U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Already, there were 158 detainees from 25 different countries held in Guantanamo Bay, and two congressional delegations had traveled there to review conditions. The detainees were getting 2,400 calories a day, the Post story reported. "Some of them are getting medical attention for the first time in their lives," Senator Bill Nelson proudly noted.
There were also already allegations of prisoner abuse. Photos showing bound, blindfolded, and shackled detainees on their knees appeared as soon as prisoners arrived in Gitmo -- the International Committee of the Red Cross censured the U.S. for the photos, which violated the Geneva Conventions.
The following month, in February, President George W. Bush issued an executive order denying detainees the privileges and protections of the Geneva Conventions. The United States started down the road that culminated in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Bagram, and the black sites -- secret overseas prisons, in countries like Egypt, where prisoners were sent via "extraordinary rendition" and the worst detainee abuse may have happened.
Reports of U.S. soldiers abusing persons they detained in Afghanistan emerged that winter as well -- kicking and beating them after they'd already been shackled. The military went on the defensive. "I don't believe that any of the detainees...were subject to beatings or rough treatment after they were taken into custody," General Richard B. Myers told the New York Times. "All 27 detainees were medically screened upon arrival in Kandahar, and there were no issues of beatings or kickings or anything of that sort."
Over the next year, the trickle became a stream. The military admitted using harsh techniques on Abu Zubayda and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, high-ranking al Qaeda operatives we now know were repeatedly waterboarded.
At the time, officials told the New York Times "physical torture would not be used against Mr. Mohammed...They said his interrogation would rely on what they consider acceptable techniques like sleep and light deprivation and the temporary withholding of food, water, access to sunlight and medical attention."
It took the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, broken by veteran reporter Seymour Hersh and CBS News, to blow the door open -- that happened in April 2004.
It spawned a glut of media attention, as well as congressional hearings and a series of governmental reports: the Taguba report (on the Abu Ghraib scandal), the Schlesinger report (which described how harsh techniques from Afghanistan crept into Iraq), the Fay Jones report (on the Army personnel responsible for prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib), the Church report (71 cases of abuse, six deaths). Over the next years came the Schmidt report (which said treatment at Guantanamo was humane, in 2005, after the waterboarding of Abu Zubayda and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed), as well as the Senate Armed Services Committee Report released this week.
So, most of the foundational reporting on torture happened in late 2003, 2004, and 2005 -- by reporters like Dana Priest of the Washington Post and Jane Mayer of the New Yorker, describing extraordinary rendition and the black site prisons.
But it's crucial to remember that a small group of reporters -- at the New York Times, McClatchy, the Washington Post, Time magazine, Newsweek magazine, and the New Yorker -- had the story before it was a story. They worked with a slight and growing handful of congressional, White House, military, Justice Department, legal, and other sources. They used a list-serv started by lawyers working on detainee cases to learn information. And they opened the door for Abu Ghraib to open the door further.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
There's been a wealth of information released on the treatment and torture of detainees in U.S. custody in the past days. Here's a capsule of the new news:
I asked Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch and a former Clinton administration official, to work through some of the foreign policy implications of the newly released torture memos with me.
We discussed whether the Bush administration memos encouraged other countries to torture, or led to any global uptick in "enhanced interrogation" practices. "I've always tried to be careful not to suggest that countries like Egypt or China or Uzbekistan would be torturing more because the United States was setting a bad example. Obviously, dictatorships torture for their own reasons, and they didn't need [former U.S. President] George W. Bush to show them how," he says.
But, the Bush administration torture of detainees and disavowal of the Geneva Conventions did preclude diplomacy on many occasions, Malinowski says. He testified before the Helsinki Commission in 2007 to make the point:
A couple of years ago, Human Rights Watch was meeting with the Prime Minister of Egypt, and we raised a case in which hundreds of prisoners rounded up after a terrorist bombing were tortured by Egyptian security forces. The Prime Minister didn't deny the charge. He answered, "We're just doing what the United States does." We've had Guantanamo and the administration's interrogation policies thrown back in our face in meetings with officials from many other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and Lebanon. U.S. diplomats have told us they face the same problem. A U.S. ambassador to a leading Middle Eastern country, for example, has told us that he can no longer raise the issue of torture in that country as a result.
Malinowski says the detainee abuse made it difficult for the White House to negotiate any human rights provisions or issues, broadly. "Issues beyond torture were effected, because it enabled authoritarian governments to say, ‘You have no right to lecture us,'" he says. "They were delighted to tweak the United States on it."
The biggest offender? Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who Malinowski described as a "world champion" of chiding the United States via its own policies.
Nevertheless, Malinowski thinks that, despite the horrible details revealed by the Bush administration and International Committee of the Red Cross memos, ultimately their release is a very good thing for the Obama administration.
[Obama] can go to a country like Turkey or Indonesia or Egypt and say, "Look, I know what it's like to face real security threats, and we as Americans understand the temptation to give up some of our liberties and principles to defend ourselves against those threats. But what we've learned the hard way in the last eight years is that those liberties and principles actually make us stronger. You could learn from our example."
That's a much more effective way of arguing the point than going to those same countries and saying, look at our perfect system and our glorious morality, and maybe someday you can be as good as we are. So I think if he uses the experience as a cautionary tale, it will actually make our country a more effective and compelling champion of human rights around the world, ironically.
Here's to hoping so.
Photo: Entrance to Bagram Air Base by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
One of the most interesting things about the four newly released Bush administration memos on the “enhanced interrogation” of detainees in overseas secret CIA prisons has been what isn’t in there, rather than what is. The truly grotesque caterpillar revelation aside, the memos weren’t very revelatory. We already knew about the SERE techniques. We knew that medical professionals attended them -- and that Jay Bybee, then an administration lawyer, now a federal judge, felt the presence of medical professionals meant it wasn’t torture.
But Tom Malinowski, of Human Rights Watch, pointed me to one truly new detail, in a footnote in the May 2005 memo from Steven Bradbury to John Rizzo, a CIA lawyer. Here’s footnote 28:
“This is not to say that the interrogation program has worked perfectly. According to the IG Report, the CIA, at least initially, could not always distinguish detainees who had information but were successfully resisting interrogation from those who did not actually have the information….On at least one occasion, this may have resulted in what might be deemed in retrospect to have been the unnecessary use of enhanced techniques. On that occasion, although the on-scene interrogation team judged Zubaydah to be compliant, elements within CIA headquarters still believed he was withholding information. [REDACTED PORTION.] At the direction of CIA Headquarters, interrogators therefore used the waterboard one more time on Zubaydah.”
Which marks the first time a memo has admitted that waterboarding was “unnecessary.”
It's been a tense day for constitutional lawyers, national security reporters, and foreign policy wonks. Why? This afternoon, the Obama administration intends to release memos relating to the controversial "enhanced interrogation" policies of CIA officers in overseas prisons.
There have been careful negotiations between the CIA, Justice Department, and White House over the contents of the release, and it seems the officers involved have been granted immunity from prosecution as a result.
The full set of documents should be released here sometime within the hour.
Update: The only redactions are the officers' names.
Update: Read the memos here.
Scott Horton reports that Spanish prosecutors will indict high-ranking members of the Bush administration over allegations of detainee abuse and torture.
The six are: former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; former head of the Office of Legal Counsel Jay Bybee; former OLC lawyer John Yoo; former Defense Department lawyer William J. Haynes II; David Addington, a former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney; and former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith.
Horton explains the context of the case:
The case arises in the context of a pending proceeding before the court involving terrorism charges against five Spaniards formerly held at Guantánamo. A group of human-rights lawyers originally filed a criminal complaint asking the court to look at the possibility of charges against the six American lawyers. Baltasar Garzón Real, the investigating judge, accepted the complaint and referred it to Spanish prosecutors for a view as to whether they would accept the case and press it forward. [They found sufficient evidence.]
The case won't come before Judge Real, though; he also was involved in a terrorism case against the five Spaniards held in Guantanamo.
What does it all mean?
Well, John Yoo won't be vacationing on the Costa del Sol this summer. Were any of the Bush Six to step foot in Spain, they would be arrested.
More importantly: Spain has said that it would drop the cases if the United States would investigate the claim. Thus far, the U.S. Department of Justice and the White House haven't responded. But the indictment may force the administration's hand, spurring a response to the allegations.
For, ultimately, the issue may have more political potency than judicial importance. It's up to U.S. President Barack Obama to dictate whether and how the strong allegations of legal abuses in the Bush administration will be resolved.
In a wonderfully Onion-esque article, The Calgary Sun reports on former U.S. President George W. Bush's first public engagement since leaving office. Bush is in Canada to address the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, but first stopped off in a local Italian joint.
The story nabs some on-the-ground impressions from intrepid locals: Bush was a "funny and a down-to-Earth kind of guy. We even got some pictures with him." Another notes, "I tried pointing him out to my mom but she didn't get to see him."
And the article duly reports on what's really important up in Canada: "Bush wasn't the only high-profile guest there last night...Calgary Flames forward Olli Jokinen happened to walk in minutes before."
Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
In a press release, Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice announce the withdrawal of the "enemy combatant" definition of Gitmo detainees. The memo says that, under President Obama's orders, the department is reviewing detention policy:
In a filing today with the federal District Court for the District of Columbia, the Department of Justice submitted a new standard for the government’s authority to hold detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility. The definition does not rely on the President’s authority as Commander-in-Chief independent of Congress’s specific authorization. It draws on the international laws of war to inform the statutory authority conferred by Congress. It provides that individuals who supported al Qaeda or the Taliban are detainable only if the support was substantial. And it does not employ the phrase "enemy combatant."
The Department also submitted a declaration by Attorney General Eric Holder stating that, under executive orders issued by President Obama, the government is undertaking an interagency review of detention policy for individuals captured in armed conflicts or counterterrorism operations as well as a review of the status of each detainee held at Guantanamo. The outcome of those reviews may lead to further refinements of the government’s position as it develops a comprehensive policy.
The memo states that the government will no longer detain combatants who provided "insignificant or insubstantial" support to al Qaeda or the Taliban. (The Bush administration came under fierce criticism for holding persons with little or no connection to the terrorist organizations.) More than 200 remain incarcerated at Camp Delta; it's unclear if any -- or how many -- will be released under the new legal standards.
Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images
Don Kraus at the Global Solutions Blog and Mark Leon Goldberg at U.N. Dispatch report that Rep. Nita Lowey and Sen. Patrick Leahy managed to cut the Nethercutt Amendment out of the omnibus appropriations bill that Congress passed this week.
The Nethercutt Amendment -- named for former Rep. George Nethercutt and bundled in a 2004 appropriations bill -- cut economic support funds to nations that ratified the International Criminal Court without signing a Bilateral Immunity Agreement with the Bush administration.
Global Solutions says the law affected funding to more than 20 countries, including:
Latin American allies in the war on drugs, including Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay, Brazil, Venezuela, Costa Rica, and Uruguay.
The Balkan countries of Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro, which rely on U.S. military assistance to maintain stability and reform their armies.
Caribbean countries, whose hurricane disaster assistance is tied to the affected programs: Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
African allies with which the U.S. partners to help maintain regional security, including South Africa, Kenya, Mali and Tanzania.
Photo: Paul Vreeker/AFP/Getty Images
The Special Rapporteur remains deeply troubled that the United States has created a comprehensive system of extraordinary renditions, prolonged and secret detention, and practices that violate the prohibition against torture and other forms of ill-treatment. This system required an international web of exchange of information and has created a corrupted body of information which was shared systematically with partners in the war on terror through intelligence cooperation, thereby corrupting the institutional culture of the legal and institutional systems of recipient States.
While this system was devised and put in place by the United States, it was only possible through collaboration from many other States. There exist consistent, credible reports suggesting that at least until May 2007 a number of States facilitated extraordinary renditions in various ways. States such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Croatia, Georgia, Indonesia, Kenya, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Pakistan and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have provided intelligence or have conducted the initial seizure of an individual before he was transferred to (mostly unacknowledged) detention centres in Afghanistan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Thailand, Uzbekistan, or to one of the CIA covert detention centres, often referred to as “black sites”. In many cases, the receiving States reportedly engaged in torture and other forms of ill-treatment of these detainees.
The special rapporteur, Martin Scheinen, states that British intelligence officers interviewed detainees in "so-called safe houses where they were being tortured" and that they "conducted or witnessed just over 2,000 interviews in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and Iraq." He calls for whistle-blower protections and the revision of numerous policies to safe-guard human rights. The revelations aren't that revelatory, given past reports on the participation of European countries in rendition and "enhanced interrogation." But the tone's especially fire-and-brimstone in this iteration.
And, the report comes as concern over the Britain'ss collusion in the mistreatment of detainees comes to a fever pitch. Last month, Binyam Mohammed, a British national arrested in Pakistan, returned to the U.K. after seven years of detention. He told papers, "Mentally right now, the result of my experience is that I feel emotionally dead....When I realised that the British were co-operating with the people torturing me, I felt completely naked. They sold me out."
Additionally, members of parliament are calling for the government to release classified documents which detail its cooperation and participation with U.S. interrogators. And the country is considering accepting more prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, to hasten its closure.
All in all, it's an issue that's received an extraordinary amount of attention and garnered extraordinary public debate in Great Britain -- even more so than in the United States. And it isn't good news for poor Prime Minister Gordon Brown, just coming off the worst week ever.
Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Depending on where you stand, President Barack Obama's Friday decision to lift the Mexico City Policy, better known as the global gag rule, was either wonderful or appalling. For the last seven years, the gag rule stipulated that charities promoting and supporting abortion services could not recieve funding from the U.S. Government. Now, they can. I say: it's about time.
My position is not drawn from either side of the abortion debate. It's drawn from what I saw as a reporter and as a person living in Nigeria. HIV/AIDS is the open secret there -- a growing problem with a whispered name.
To put it politely, the gag rule created a rift -- at times gaping -- between U.S. government-funded projects and those of private NGOs trying to prevent HIV infection. The U.S. government brought the buck -- President Bush's PEPFAR program boasted $39 billion for HIV/AIDS work -- but it also brought rules about how to get the work done. The foundations brought less money and a sometimes different approach. Both sides fought to win the support of the local government for their strategies. From what I saw, that debate could get ugly. Friends working in the field were frustrated and saddened by the result: inertia and politics, instead of posters and condoms.
There was one particular problem that brought it home for me. In 2006, a Nigerian lawmaker announced that 55,000 women die in the country each year from unsafe illegal abortions. The evidence was everywhere -- from women that my colleagues and I met to Nigerian films on exactly that topic.
What was the best way to get that statistic down? Some will say abstinence. But sex is not always a choice. It's in those situations where women seek -- or are forced by their partners to seek -- unsafe abortions. Some counseling and a sterile doctor's office would go a long way.
That's just one example. The real "gag" was that you didn't hear a lot of stories about birth control or HIV prevention in Nigeria. So my few are only the beginning. Maybe now we'll start to hear a few more.
Photo: TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images
Past FP contributor Dmitri Trenin has an interesting piece in the Moscow Times sketching out some of the early Russia challenges President Obama will face. While he urges Obama to make a more serious effort to engage Russia on issues of mutual concern, he doesn't see a close relationship between leaders of the two countries as being all that important:
President George W. Bush's jovial camaraderie with then-President Vladimir Putin simulated -- rather than stimulated -- the relationship between the United States and Russia. The promise of a strategic partnership in the wake of Sept. 11 was mindlessly neglected because at the time preparing for the invasion of Iraq became the sole focus of the Bush White House. [...]
You will not need to aim for a close working relationship with your Russian counterpart. All too often, these attempts are treated suspiciously by the public and not adequately supported by the bureaucracy. You would do wise, however, to appoint an informal "Russia tsar" to direct U.S. relations with Russia.
Aside from the unfortunate title "Russia tsar," I think this is good advice. While world leaders should probably be able to work together constructively, it doesn't actually seem all that advantageous when they become personally close.
Bush always seemed frustrated that Putin, who he got along great with personally, was such a thorn on his side politically. On the other side, the close relationship between Bush and Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili seems to have given both leaders unrealistic expectations about how the other would behave in the run-up to last summer's war.
When Jon Stewart pressed Tony Blair about his continued support for Bush on the Daily Show, the former prime minister somewhat meekly responded, "I like him." In hindsight, many Britons would probably prefer that Blair hadn't gotten along so swimmingly with his American pal.
When leaders think a personal bond can be the basis of a bilateral alliance, they tend to wind up disappointed. Harry Truman's first impression of his Soviet counterpart at Potsdam was, "I think I can do business with Stalin. He's very honest, but he's also smart as hell."
Obama doesn't need to be friends with Putin. They don't even have to like each other. What the citizens of both countries should be hoping for is that they're clear with each other about national interests, especially when these interests are competing. And as Trenin points out, dialogue at the head of state level is of limited usefulness if its not backed by cooperation in the bureaucracy.
To my eyes at least, Obama's basketball-playing regular Joe act has always seemed a bit forced and at odds with the pricklier personality in his early writing. That's not necessarily a bad thing. After eight years of gregarious Texas charm which never led to particularly effective diplomacy, a bit of cerebral Chicago cool might be a welcome change.
Photo: Artyom Korotayev/Epsilon/Getty Images
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