The Army announced 22 additional charges on Wednesday against Pfc. Bradley Manning, the military intelligence analyst who is accused of leaking a trove of government files to WikiLeaks a year ago.
The new charges included “aiding the enemy”; wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet, knowing that it was accessible to the enemy; multiple counts of theft of public records, transmitting defense information and computer fraud. If he is convicted, Private Manning could be sentenced to life in prison.
“The new charges more accurately reflect the broad scope of the crimes that Private First Class Manning is accused of committing,” said Capt. John Haberland, an Army spokesman.
The charges provide new details about when prosecutors believe that Private Manning downloaded copies of particular files from a classified computer system in Iraq. For example, the charges say he copied a database of more than 250,000 diplomatic cables between March 28 and May 4, 2010.
Most of the charges add little to the ones already filed, but the most serious new charge is for “aiding the enemy,” a capital offense under Article 104 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Although military prosecutors stated that they intend to seek life imprisonment rather than the death penalty for this alleged crime, the military tribunal is still empowered to sentence Manning to death if convicted.
Article 104 — which, like all provisions of the UCMJ, applies only to members of the military — is incredibly broad. Under 104(b) — almost certainly the provision to be applied — a person is guilty if he “gives intelligence to or communicates or corresponds with or holds any intercourse with the enemy, either directly or indirectly” (emphasis added), and, if convicted, “shall suffer death or such other punishment as a court-martial or military commission may direct.” The charge sheet filed by the Army is quite vague and neither indicates what specifically Manning did to violate this provision nor the identity of the “enemy” to whom he is alleged to have given intelligence. There are, as international law professor Kevin Jon Heller notes, only two possibilities, and both are disturbing in their own way.
In light of the implicit allegation that Manning transmitted this material to WikiLeaks, it is quite possible that WikiLeaks is the “enemy” referenced by Article 104, i.e., that the U.S. military now openly decrees (as opposed to secretly declaring) that the whistle-blowing group is an “enemy” of the U.S. More likely, the Army will contend that by transmitting classified documents to WikiLeaks for intended publication, Manning “indirectly” furnished those documents to Al Qaeda and the Taliban by enabling those groups to learn their contents. That would mean that it is a capital offense not only to furnish intelligence specifically and intentionally to actual enemies — the way that, say, Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen were convicted of passing intelligence to the Soviet Union — but also to act as a whistle-blower by leaking classified information to a newspaper with the intent that it be published to the world. Logically, if one can “aid the enemy” even by leaking to WikiLeaks, then one can also be guilty of this crime by leaking to The New York Times.
The dangers of such a theory are obvious. Indeed, even the military itself recognizes those dangers, as the Military Judges’ Handbook specifically requires that if this theory is used — that one has “aided the enemy” through “indirect” transmission via leaks to a newspaper — then it must be proven that the “communication was intended to reach the enemy.” None of the other ways of violating this provision contain an intent element; recognizing how extreme it is to prosecute someone for “aiding the enemy” who does nothing more than leak to a media outlet, this is the only means of violating Article 104 that imposes an intent requirement.
But does anyone actually believe that Manning’s intent was to ensure receipt of this material by the Taliban, as opposed to exposing for the public what he believed to be serious American wrongdoing and to trigger reforms?
The “aiding the enemy” charge should come as no surprise to anyone, and in fact we had predicted it would come down to treason last winter. Despite the poo-pooing and endless protestations of some of Manning’s most vocal and frequently comical defenders, there is one object lesson here which can not be repeated often enough: the U.S. Military has zero sense of humor when it comes to things like this.
Assuming for the moment that this winds up in a conviction – and the Army is certainly acting like they’re playing a pretty solid hand at this point – the situation only becomes more explosive and holds the potential to be a huge thorn in the side of the Obama administration for months or years to come. Aiding the enemy during a time of war is generally considered one of the surest paths to a firing squad for obvious reasons, but it will leave the President in a sticky position.
If the military decides to drag Manning out back and shoot him – a distinct possibility – a significant portion of Barack Obama’s base will be in an uproar. They tend to be opposed to the death penalty in general, for starters. But Manning has also become something of a folk hero on the Left, allegedly helping – albeit indirectly – Julian Assange to “stick it to the man” and expose the various perceived evils of the American government. Allowing him to be executed would be a huge black eye for Obama with his base.
But if he steps in and commutes the sentence – assuming there is a legal mechanism for him to do so – then he will be seen as undercutting his own military establishment and substituting his judgment for their established practices and discipline. (Not to mention earning the tag of “going soft on traitors,” always a sure winner in an election year.)
Of course, the Army could let Obama off the hook and simply send Manning to Leavenworth for the rest of his natural life, but that’s not a great option either in terms of the political optics. Manning’s cheerleaders are already complaining about the “horrific” conditions he’s being held under and it’s only going to get worse after his conviction. (He might even lose his cable TV, library and newspaper privileges and private exercise yard.)
If convicted on the Big Count, Manning will never, ever be able to be transferred into the general military prison population and will, in all likelihood, spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement. Of all the scoundrels in legal history, traitors are probably the most unpopular with the enlisted rank and file. Dumped into a large crowd, Manning’s safety would be virtually impossible to assure. And that would leave the President with a “folk hero” of the Left locked up under the same – or worse – conditions than he’s in now for the rest of his time in office. This would be a burr under Obama’s saddle which would never go away.
It’s been a long and winding road, but it looks like we may be coming to the end of it. The Army moves at their own pace, as they should, but if they’ve filed charges now they probably feel like their case is just about ripe for presentation. Look for a court martial date to be announced in the coming weeks or months.
While we can’t be sure, I suspect the reference in Charge II, Specification 3 is to this information about the surveillance of Assange.
If I’m right about that, then it means the government is charging Manning with providing WikiLeaks with information about the surveillance being conducted, in real time, on WikiLeaks. And it would make it easy to prove both that “the enemy” got the information and that Manning intended the “enemy” to get it.
So if the government maintains that, by virtue of being an intelligence target, WikLeaks qualifies as an “enemy,” then they can also argue that Manning intentionally gave WikiLeaks information about how the government was targeting the organization. Which would make their aiding the enemy charge easy to prove.
But I also think that opens up the government to charges that it is criminalizing democracy.
As I noted above, the government’s own report on WikiLeaks describes its purpose to be increasing the accountability of democratic or corrupt governments. The government, by its own acknowledgment, knows that WikiLeaks’ intent is to support democracy. Furthermore, while the intelligence report reviews the debate about whether WikiLeaks constitutes protected free speech or criminal behavior (without taking a side in that debate), in a discussion of WikiLeaks’ efforts to verify an NGIC report on the battle of Fallujah, the report acknowledges that WikiLeaks did the kind of thing journalists do.
Wikileaks.org and some other news organizations did attempt to contact the NGIC personnel by e-mail or telephone to verify the information.
Given the high visibility and publicity associated with publishing this classified report by Wikileaks.org, however, attempts to verify the information were prudent and show journalist responsibility to the newsworthiness or fair use of the classified document if they are investigated or challenged in court.
So while the military, according to its own report, describes WikiLeaks as a threat to the armed forces, it also acknowledges that WikiLeaks has behaved, at times, as a journalistic organization.
Mind you, all of this is simply a wildarsed guess about what the government may mean with its invocation of the “enemy.” But if I’m right, it would mean the government was threatening Manning with life in prison because he leaked information about the government’s surveillance of what it admits is an entity that engages in journalistic behavior.
Personally, though, I don’t think it would be that difficult a position for the President. The number of people complaining about Manning’s treatment can basically be whittled down to the Glenn Greenwald segment of the President’s progressive base, and many of them don’t seem to understand that Manning’s rights as a military prisoner being prosecuted under the Uniform Code Of Military Justice are distinctly different from the rights he would be entitled to as a civilian defendant in a civilian court. Additionally, many of them don’t seem to think that he did anything wrong even if the charges against him are true. I dare to say that they do not represent a majority of the Democratic Party, and certainly not a majority of the country. If Bradley Manning is convicted of aiding the enemy, then I doubt many Americans are going to care what happens to him.
Pentagon and military officials also report that investigators have made no direct link between Manning and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
This has been the case for months, despite digging by federal investigators in all directions, and it makes the probability that any charges will ever be sustained against Wikileaks, Julian Assange, or any related individuals, seem very remote indeed.
On Wednesday March 2, 2011, PFC Manning was told that his Article 138 complaint requesting that he be removed from Maximum custody and Prevention of Injury (POI) Watch had been denied by the Quantico commander, Colonel Daniel J. Choike. Understandably frustrated by this decision after enduring over seven months of unduly harsh confinement conditions, PFC Manning inquired of the Brig operations officer what he needed to do in order to be downgraded from Maximum custody and POI. As even Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell has stated, PFC Manning has been nothing short of “exemplary” as a detainee. Additionally, Brig forensic psychiatrists have consistently maintained that there is no mental health justification for the POI Watch imposed on PFC Manning. In response to PFC Manning’s question, he was told that there was nothing he could do to downgrade his detainee status and that the Brig simply considered him a risk of self-harm. PFC Manning then remarked that the POI restrictions were “absurd” and sarcastically stated that if he wanted to harm himself, he could conceivably do so with the elastic waistband of his underwear or with his flip-flops.
Without consulting any Brig mental health provider, Chief Warrant Officer Denise Barnes used PFC’s Manning’s sarcastic quip as justification to increase the restrictions imposed upon him under the guise of being concerned that PFC Manning was a suicide risk. PFC Manning was not, however, placed under the designation of Suicide Risk Watch. This is because Suicide Risk Watch would have required a Brig mental health provider’s recommendation, which the Brig commander did not have. In response to this specific incident, the Brig psychiatrist assessed PFC Manning as “low risk and requiring only routine outpatient followup [with] no need for … closer clinical observation.” In particular, he indicated that PFC Manning’s statement about the waist band of his underwear was in no way prompted by “a psychiatric condition.”
While the commander needed the Brig psychiatrist’s recommendation to place PFC Manning on Suicide Risk Watch, no such recommendation was needed in order to increase his restrictions under POI Watch. The conditions of POI Watch require only psychiatric input, but ultimately remain the decision of the commander.
Given these circumstances, the decision to strip PFC Manning of his clothing every night for an indefinite period of time is clearly punitive in nature. There is no mental health justification for the decision. There is no basis in logic for this decision. PFC Manning is under 24 hour surveillance, with guards never being more than a few feet away from his cell. PFC Manning is permitted to have his underwear and clothing during the day, with no apparent concern that he will harm himself during this time period. Moreover, if Brig officials were genuinely concerned about PFC Manning using either his underwear or flip-flops to harm himself (despite the recommendation of the Brig’s psychiatrist) they could undoubtedly provide him with clothing that would not, in their view, present a risk of self-harm. Indeed, Brig officials have provided him other items such as tear-resistant blankets and a mattress with a built-in pillow due to their purported concerns.
This is just vile. The former brig commander, James Averhart, violated military rules by putting Manning on suicide watch as punishment, and was subsequently replaced by Denise Barnes. Now she’s stripping him naked to punish him for a sarcastic quip. Who is she, Nurse Ratched? Abusing someone’s mental health classification in order to subject them to torture “for their own good” is sick and sadistic, reminiscent of Soviet gulags.
First, Lt. Brian Villiard, a Marine spokesman, confirmed that Manning’s clothes were taken from him, though he didn’t give many details of the incident, except to say that it wasn’t done for punitive reasons.
“It would be inappropriate for me to explain it,” Villiard told the New York Times. “I can confirm that it did happen, but I can’t explain it to you without violating the detainee’s privacy.”
This isn’t the first time that Manning’s lawyer has asserted that the private suffered abuse in prison, and it likely won’t be the last. It’s typical of attorneys to claim that their clients are mistreated in prison, and in a case like Manning’s, these types of allegations will be eaten up by his supporters.
But based on Villiard’s statement, and the timeline of the incident, it sounds like Manning’s clothes may have been taken from him owing to suicide concerns. The Army private was previously put on suicide watch in prison. His reaction to the new charges against him could have military officials apprehensive about his mental state.
As Glenn Greenwald notes, there really only seems to be one purpose behind what Manning is being subjected to:
Let’s review Manning’s detention over the last nine straight months: 23-hour/day solitary confinement; barred even from exercising in his cell; one hour total outside his cell per day where he’s allowed to walk around in circles in a room alone while shackled, and is returned to his cell the minute he stops walking; forced to respond to guards’ inquiries literally every 5 minutes, all day, everyday; and awakened at night each time he is curled up in the corner of his bed or otherwise outside the guards’ full view. Is there anyone who doubts that these measures — and especially this prolonged forced nudity — are punitive and designed to further erode his mental health, physical health and will? As The Guardian reported last year, forced nudity is almost certainly a breach of the Geneva Conventions; the Conventions do not technically apply to Manning, as he is not a prisoner of war, but they certainly establish the minimal protections to which all detainees — let alone citizens convicted of nothing — are entitled.
Moreover, Greenwald points out, correctly I think, the media seems to be giving the Obama Administration a pass here:
I’ll say this again: just fathom the contrived, shrieking uproar from opportunistic Democratic politicians and their loyalists if it had been George Bush and Dick Cheney — on U.S. soil — subjecting a whistle-blowing member of the U.S. military to these repressive conditions without being convicted of anything, charging him with a capital offense that statutorily carries the death penalty, and then forcing him to remain nude every night and stand naked for inspection outside his cell. Feigning concern over detainee abuse for partisan gain is only slightly less repellent than the treatment to which Manning is being subjected.
Indeed. It’s understandable, to be honest, why the right wouldn’t care all that much about how Private Manning is being treated. If this were happening under a Republican, though, the left would be united in outrage. Now, their silence is telling
Make no mistake about it. I do not consider Bradley Manning a hero in any sense of the word. Even if it were the case that much of the material that Manning stole from military computers should not have been classified, or really wasn’t all that important (and much of it wasn’t in the end), that isn’t a decision that a Private in the Army has a right to make. If the charges against him are true, he violated orders, accessed systems he had no right to access, and stole information that he had no right to take off base. If he’s convicted of these charges, he deserves to be punished to the fullest extent of the law. While he’s awaiting trial, though, and even after he’s convicted, he still must be treated humanely and, at present, Manning is receiving worse treatment than a Prisoner Of War would, and the only purpose behind it seems to be to break him psychologically. That’s simply unacceptable.
But can this treatment really be justified? There are two points to address on this front.
First and most simply put, Manning made the comment about being able to kill himself with his underwear, sarcastic or not. Can you imagine what would be said if the brig commander did nothing and then he actually did turn up dead in his cell by his own waistband? It would be a movable feast for the media and several careers would come to an abrupt end. How does the commander ignore something like that?
The second point is a bit more complicated and far less clear, and one that we’ve touched on here in the past. It boils down to some of the fundamental differences between civilian society and the military community. Just as civilians, used to all their freedoms of free speech, etc. don’t understand the restrictions on military personnel, those familiar with the civilian justice system are frequently shocked by many of the “unofficial” aspects of the U.C.M.J. Lots of things like this go on all the time in the military, or at least they used to back in the day. But normally you don’t have the civilian press watching and reporting on it.
Does that make it right? I leave that to the judgment of the reader.
Also, life in the military in general is just a bit more physical and harsh than in the civilian world. A lot of things happen which would probably shock many of you who have never served. In the Navy, for example, there is an old tradition of an initiation rite of passage the first time a sailor crosses the equator on a war ship. It is the time when you graduate from being a “pollywog” (or just “wog” for short) to being a “shellback.” Trust me, it’s an ordeal, usually lasting 24 hours or more.
The third time I made the passage, two enlisted men wound up in sick bay with broken arms. Everyone got to experience the joys of crawling through plastic chutes filled with garbage, rotting food and bilge water, all the while being “herded” by shellbacks wielding foot long lengths of fire hose, loving called, “shillelaghs.” (During my own initiation it took more than a week before the bruises finally faded.) And this is all for your friends who have done nothing wrong.
I’ll leave it for one of the veteran submarine sailors to tell you about the grand old tradition of having your dolphins “tacked on” if they wish to do so in comments.
So I suppose our final question is, does any of this make it acceptable for Manning to be treated in this fashion, either to cover the brig commander’s butt or for the sake of teaching a lesson to somebody mouthing off to their superiors? I really don’t know. Maybe we do need to shine a light on this and review military procedures, both official and “under the covers.” But I do know that life in the military community is a lot different than in the civilian world, and having lived it for a number of years myself, this story honestly didn’t shock me at all.
There is only one word to describe the treatment of this model prisoner: sadism. Glenn Greenwald has been following the case closely and has two disturbing must-reads here and here. We all hoped that under Obama, brutal treatment of military prisoners and lies about it would end. In this case, they haven’t.
I understand that Bradley Manning has probably done something very wrong, for which, if guilty, he deserves a hefty jail sentence and the contempt of his fellow citizens. But this is not what a decent country does to its citizens.
The defector who convinced the White House that Iraq had a secret biological weapons programme has admitted for the first time that he lied about his story, then watched in shock as it was used to justify the war.
Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed Curveball by German and American intelligence officials who dealt with his claims, has told the Guardian that he fabricated tales of mobile bioweapons trucks and clandestine factories in an attempt to bring down the Saddam Hussein regime, from which he had fled in 1995.
“Maybe I was right, maybe I was not right,” he said. “They gave me this chance. I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime. I and my sons are proud of that and we are proud that we were the reason to give Iraq the margin of democracy.”
The admission comes just after the eighth anniversary of Colin Powell’s speech to the United Nations in which the then-US secretary of state relied heavily on lies that Janabi had told the German secret service, the BND. It also follows the release of former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s memoirs, in which he admitted Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction programme.
But I’m particularly interested in two new details he reveals. First, BND and British intelligence met with Curveball’s boss in mid-2000; the boss debunked Curveball’s claims.
Janabi claimed he was first exposed as a liar as early as mid-2000, when the BND travelled to a Gulf city, believed to be Dubai, to speak with his former boss at the Military Industries Commission in Iraq, Dr Bassil Latif.
The Guardian has learned separately that British intelligence officials were at that meeting, investigating a claim made by Janabi that Latif’s son, who was studying in Britain, was procuring weapons for Saddam.
That claim was proven false, and Latif strongly denied Janabi’s claim of mobile bioweapons trucks and another allegation that 12 people had died during an accident at a secret bioweapons facility in south-east Baghdad.
The German officials returned to confront him with Latif’s version. “He says, ‘There are no trucks,’ and I say, ‘OK, when [Latif says] there no trucks then [there are none],’” Janabi recalled.
So this is yet another well-placed Iraqi who warned western intelligence that the WMD evidence that would eventually lead to war was baseless (one George Tenet and others haven’t admitted in the past).
And Curveball describes how BND returned to his claims in 2002, then dropped it, then returned to it just before Colin Powell’s Feruary 5, 2003 speech at the UN.
We’ve known the outlines of these details before. But it sure adds to the picture of the US dialing up the intelligence it needed — however flimsy — to start a war.
Guardian reporters Martin Chulov and Helen Pidd tracked down Alwan in Karlsruhe, a medium-sized city along the French-German border. They speculate his admission “appeared to be partly a purge of conscience, partly an attempt to justify what he did,” or maybe just a last-ditch attempt “to resurrect his own reputation” in the hopes of moving back to Iraq. They acknowledge Curveball’s attempted “reinvention as a liberator and patriot is a tough sell to many in the CIA, the BND and in the Bush administration, whose careers were terminally wounded” by his fabrications.
Alwan’s motives, not surprisingly, were of little interest to pundits based in those countries that devoted seven years of blood and treasure to the fight in Iraq. “Yet another nail in the coffin of those who claim that the intelligence was clear about the alleged threat,” writes Guardian columnist Carnie Ross. “We should name this process for what it was: the manufacture of a lie.” Wonkette’s Ken Layne echoed the sentiment. “Tell whatever lies you want for whatever ends you desire. That is the lesson.”
Things move fast these days, and 2003 can seem like ancient history to some. But given that the run-up to the war in Iraq was the greatest media failure in decades, I thought this would be a good opportunity to remind ourselves of the tears of joy and gratitude that greeted Powell’s U.N. speech. What’s important to keep in mind is that a lot of Powell’s bogus claims were known at the time to be false or baseless, if reporters had bothered to ask around. But they didn’t, because they were so blinded by how awesome Powell was. Think I exaggerate? Let’s take a look back:
“Secretary of State Colin Powell’s strong, plain-spoken indictment of the Saddam Hussein regime before the UN Security Council Wednesday embodies something truly great about the United States. Those around the world who demanded proof must now be satisfied, or else admit that no satisfaction is possible for them.” — Chicago Sun-Times”In a brilliant presentation as riveting and as convincing as Adlai Stevenson’s 1962 unmasking of Soviet missiles in Cuba, Powell proved beyond any doubt that Iraq still possesses and continues to develop illegal weapons of mass destruction. The case for war has been made. And it’s irrefutable.” — New York Daily News
“Only those ready to believe Iraq and assume that the United States would manufacture false evidence against Saddam would not be persuaded by Powell’s case.” — San Antonio Express-News
“The evidence he presented to the United Nations — some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail — had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool — or possibly a Frenchman — could conclude otherwise.” — Richard Cohen, Washington Post
That’s just a small sample, but you see the pattern: Not only was Powell’s show presented as settling the matter of whether Iraq had this terrifying arsenal and would use it on us, but if you didn’t agree, you were either an Iraqi sympathizer or at the very least anti-American. At that point, the debate over whether we would invade was pretty much over — the only question was when the bombs would start falling. It may boggle the mind that so much of the case for war was based on the testimony of one absurdly unreliable guy. But that was what passed for “intelligence” during the Bush years.
The Germans returned to Janabi in May 2002, just when the propaganda run-up to the Iraq War was beginning. It doesn’t take too much to figure out that this likely occurred at the behest of the United States, which was eager for as much information proving that Saddam Hussein was pursuing a WMD program in violation of UN sanctions as it could find. Despite the fact that he had been previously established as a liar, he was apparently taken seriously and given incentives for sharing as much information as he could come up with. Which he obviously did.
At the same time, there’s no evidence that the United States knew about the problems with Janabi’s credibility, or even that they knew who he was other than “Curveball,” the code name assigned to him by German intelligence. So, absent additional information, this doesn’t strike me as implicating the Bush Administration in Janabi’s lies. What it does demonstrate, though, is the extent to which, during the period from late 2001 through early 2003, the United States was singularly focused on finding any evidence it could to justify war against Iraq to the exclusion of anything to the contrary. Obviously, the Germans, as our allies, picked up on this and provided us with the information we needed. The problem is that nobody in Berlin or Washington seems to have bothered to make any effort to independently verify what Janabi was saying before deciding to use it as the basis to go to war. And that’s a problem.
So far at least, this story seems to be be drawing very little attention in the blogsphere, and none at all among conservative bloggers. That’s too bad, because the fact that we fought a war based not only on bad intelligence, but on intelligence that was based on evidence provided by someone who was already a known liar strikes me as something that we ought to be concerned about.
I probably wouldn’t be on Colin Powell’s Christmas card list, nor he on mine – not for any particular enmity on my part, or (hypothetical) on his; we’re just not the same kind of Republicans – but I have to admit:
Colin Powell, the US secretary of state at the time of the Iraq invasion, has called on the CIA and Pentagon to explain why they failed to alert him to the unreliability of a key source behind claims of Saddam Hussein’s bio-weapons capability.
…I’d like to know the answer to this one myself. I mean, contrary to Lefty mythology, the liberation of Iraq did not hinge on the presence of WMDs (although I will admit that their proven past existence and use on civilian targets by the late, unlamented-by-civilized-people Hussein regime did make quite a few Democrats at least temporarily capable of being swayed by reason); but the failure to find any in significant amounts after the fact was definitely embarrassing to the Bush administration, and I join former Secretary Powell in wanting to hear the bureaucrats explain themselves. Because we’re still counting on these people to tell us what the heck is going on, and President Obama needs to be better served by them than former President Bush was.
After a tip from Crowdleaks.org, The Tech Herald has learned that HBGary Federal, as well as two other data intelligence firms, worked to develop a strategic plan of attack against WikiLeaks. The plan included pressing a journalist in order to disrupt his support of the organization, cyber attacks, disinformation, and other potential proactive tactics.
The Tech Herald was able to get in touch with Glenn Greenwald for his reaction to being singled out in the WikiLeaks proposal. He called the report creepy and disturbing. Moreover, he commented that the suggestions for dealing with WikiLeaks, along with the assumption that the organization could be undermined, were “hard to take seriously.”
The listed mitigations, such as disinformation or submitting false documents, have been discussed before. In 2008, the Pentagon had similar ideas, so that aspect of the document was nothing new.
Greenwald, as a journalist, is a prolific writer on media topics. He is a harsh critic of political figures and the mainstream media. The suggestion made by the proposal that he would pick career over cause is “completely against” what he is about, he told us.
“The only reason I do what I do is because im free to put cause before career,” he said.
Pointedly, he reminded us that his work includes taking aim at political figures, which could be a source of professional leverage with scoops or favors, as well as news organizations who could offer him gainful employment. None of these actions paints a picture of a man who would pick career over his passion.
WikiLeaks is hosting an official mirror of the sixth and final draft of the report. You can see a copyhere.
Palantir Technologies has severed all ties with HBGary Federal and issued an apology to reporter Glenn Greenwald. More details here.
According to a report in the Tech Herald, three security firms recently pitched the Bank of America with a plan to take down WikiLeaks. If the documents at the core of the story are legit — and as Andy Greenberg of Forbes notes, “their level of detail would require immense effort on the part of counterfeiters” — the companies come off as Keystone Kops.
The most interesting detail is that the firms involved — HBGary Federal, Palantir Technologies, and Berico Technologies — placed a lot of emphasis on the pro-WikiLeaks blogger Glenn Greenwald, arguing that “Without the support of people like Glenn wikileaks would fold,” so “It is this level of support that needs to be disrupted.” The firms are confident that this can be done, since “most of them if pushed will choose professional preservation over cause, such is the mentality of most business professionals.”
The source of the documents is a massive trove of HBGary emails that was seized and released by Anonymous. The backstory behind that is pretty fascinating in itself.
— Glenn was critical in the Amazon to OVH transition
— It is this level of support that needs to be disrupted
— These are established professionals that have a liberal bent, but ultimately most of them if pushed will choose professional preservation over cause, such is the mentality of most business professionals.
— Without the support of people like Glenn, Wikileaks would fold
A bizarre plan for an attack on the whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks and journalists construed as sympathetic to it — first reported by the Tech Herald — clearly targets Salon’s Glenn Greenwald, saying that his “level of support” for WikiLeaks “needs to be disrupted.” The report (you can download the purported final draft here) is listed as an “overview by Palantir Technologies, HBGary Federal and Berico Technologies,” and according to a string of e-mails also leaked, was developed following a request from Hunton and Williams, a law firm that represents, among others, Bank of America.
Bank of America is the presumed next target of WikiLeaks, and has reportedly been bracing for what’s to come.
The leaked report singles out other journalists, as well, and suggests that “these are established professionals that have a liberal bent, but ultimately most of them if pushed will choose professional preservation over cause …” And goes on: “Without the support of people like Glenn wikileaks would fold.”
Now aside from the predictable, but nevertheless rather shocking detail, that these security firms believed the best way to take WikiLeaks out was to push Glenn to stop supporting them, what the fuck are they thinking by claiming that Glenn weighs “professional preservation” against “cause”? Could they be more wrong, painting Glenn as a squeamish careerist whose loud support for WikiLeaks (which dates back far longer than these security firms seem to understand) is secondary to “professional preservation”? Do they know Glenn is a journalist? Do they know he left the stuffy world of law? Have they thought about why he might have done that? Are they familiar at all with who Glenn is? Do they really believe Glenn became a household name–to the extent that he did–just in December?
I hope Bank of America did buy the work of these firms. Aside from the knowledge that the money would be–to the extent that we keep bailing out Bank of America–taxpayer money, I’d be thrilled to think of BoA pissing away its money like that. The plan these firms are pushing is absolutely ignorant rubbish. They apparently know almost nothing about what they’re pitching, and have no ability to do very basic research.
Which is precisely the approach I’d love to see BoA use to combat whatever WikiLeaks has coming its way.
My initial reaction to all of this was to scoff at its absurdity. Not being familiar with the private-sector world of internet security, I hadn’t heard of these firms before and, based on the quality of the proposal, assumed they were just some self-promoting, fly-by-night entities of little significance. Moreover, for the reasons I detailed in my interview with The Tech Herald — and for reasons Digby elaborated on here — the very notion that I could be forced to choose “professional preservation over cause” is ludicrous on multiple levels. Obviously, I wouldn’t have spent the last year vehemently supporting WikiLeaks — to say nothing of aggressively criticizing virtually every large media outlet and many of their leading stars, as well as the most beloved political leaders of both parties — if I were willing to choose “career preservation over cause.”
But after learning a lot more over the last couple of days, I now take this more seriously — not in terms of my involvement but the broader implications this story highlights. For one thing, it turns out that the firms involved here are large, legitimate and serious, and do substantial amounts of work for both the U.S. Government and the nation’s largest private corporations (as but one example, see this email from a Stanford computer science student about Palantir). Moreover, these kinds of smear campaigns are far from unusual; in other leaked HB Gary emails, ThinkProgress discovered that similar proposals were prepared for the Chamber of Commerce to attack progressive groups and other activists (including ThinkProgress). And perhaps most disturbing of all, Hunton & Williams was recommended to Bank of America’s General Counsel by the Justice Department — meaning the U.S. Government is aiding Bank of America in its defense against/attacks on WikiLeaks.
That’s why this should be taken seriously, despite how ignorant, trite and laughably shallow is the specific leaked anti-WikiLeaks proposal. As creepy and odious as this is, there’s nothing unusual about these kinds of smear campaigns. The only unusual aspect here is that we happened to learn about it this time because of Anonymous’ hacking. That a similar scheme was quickly discovered by ThinkProgress demonstrates how common this behavior is. The very idea of trying to threaten the careers of journalists and activists to punish and deter their advocacy is self-evidently pernicious; that it’s being so freely and casually proposed to groups as powerful as the Bank of America, the Chamber of Commerce, and the DOJ-recommended Hunton & Williams demonstrates how common this is. These highly experienced firms included such proposals because they assumed those deep-pocket organizations would approve and it would make their hiring more likely.
That’s what this anti-WikiLeaks campaign is generally: it’s a concerted, unified effort between government and the most powerful entities in the private sector (Bank of America is the largest bank in the nation). The firms the Bank has hired (such as Booz Allen) are suffused with the highest level former defense and intelligence officials, while these other outside firms (including Hunton & Williams and Palantir) are extremely well-connected to the U.S. Government. The U.S. Government’s obsession with destroying WikiLeaks has been well-documented. And because the U.S. Government is free to break the law without any constraints, oversight or accountability, so, too, are its “private partners” able to act lawlessly. That was the lesson of the Congressional vesting of full retroactive immunity in lawbreaking telecoms, of the refusal to prosecute any of the important Wall Street criminals who caused the 2008 financial crisis, and of the instinctive efforts of the political class to protect defrauding mortgage banks.
A long-running federal investigation has found that White House political aides to President George W. Bush engaged in widespread violations of a federal law which limits partisan political activity by government employees during the 2006 midterm elections.
A 118-page report issued Monday by the little-known Office of Special Counsel cites numerous violations of the Hatch Act by the Bush-era White House Office of Political Affairs. The report concludes that federal taxpayers footed the bill for improper activities that were intended to advance Republican political candidates.
“The entire [Office of Political Affairs] staff was enlisted in pursuit of Republican success at the polls and many OPA employees believed that effort was part of their official job duties,” the report concludes. “Based on the extent of the activities described below, OSC concludes that the political activities of OPA employees were not incidental to their official functions, and thus U.S. Treasury funds were unlawfully used to finance efforts to pursue Republican victories at the polls in 2006.”
Those efforts, according to the report, included assigning staffers to track “the amount of money raised at fundraisers held by Republican candidates and national, state and local Republican groups.”
Citing a “a systematic misuse of federal resources,” the report also points to Bush administration cabinet members who traveled to White House-targeted Congressional districts in what was called the “final push.” The inquiry found that although many of the trips were primarily political, they had been designated as official business, and the expenses were paid by the government.
There were, for example, several dozen mandatory briefings for federal employees — during work hours and in federal office buildings — in which White House officials instructed public employees on how they could help Republican campaign efforts. Bushies later described the briefings as “informational discussions,” but all available evidence suggests that’s a lie.
There were also the extensive travel expenses. In order to give the impression that vulnerable Republican lawmakers were important and powerful, the Bush White House arranged for cabinet secretaries to visit key campaign battlegrounds to give GOP candidates a public-relations boost. The law prohibits officials from using our money this way, and taxpayers were never reimbursed. When asked, Bushies said the trips were official government business. Like the rest of the defense, this wasn’t true, either.
And in case that wasn’t quite enough, Republican National Committee officials literally just moved their operations into the White House, to coordinate campaign efforts. This is illegal, too.
All of the transgressions were coordinated by the Bush/Cheney Office of Political Affairs, which was overseen by Karl Rove, and which is prohibited from using public funds for partisan political purposes.
In the Bush era, Rove’s operation seemed to do nothing but use our money for partisan political purposes.
If you’re wondering about the potential legal fallout of these revelations, the Office of Special Counsel, which released its report yesterday, said it no longer has any jurisdiction now that the Bush administration has left office. The Justice Department could conceivably pursue this, but it’s given no indication that it intends to do so.
The report comes just a few days after the Obama White House announced it would shutter its Office of Political Affairs altogether, so as to avoid any misuse of public funds.
Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-Calif.) recent claim — he called President Obama’s team “one of the most corrupt administrations” in recent memory — is looking increasingly ridiculous all the time.
As I said last decade, no one will be held accountable for the abuses described in the report. So forgive me for being underwhelmed by the release of the report that does no more than catalog what we already knew.
The report shows that under Bush, agency heads required agency political appointees to attend briefings at which they’d get an overview (40-60% of the content) of the Republican prospects for the next election.It described how these briefings explained the importance of the Republican 72-hour plan to get out turnout. And it described how at least some agencies tracked the participation of employees in GOTV activities.
One Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff at the Peace Corps testified that she maintained a spreadsheet showing the agency’s political appointees and when and where they were deploying to be campaign volunteers. The witness explained that OPA wanted to know the level of participation by political appointees as a group, and that she believed OPA expected all appointees to volunteer. She also understood that supervisors were expected to permit political appointees to take leave so they could “go off and do 72-hour campaigns.”
The most interesting finding of the report–though again, we knew this–is that the Office of Public Affairs became a mere extension of the RNC leading up to the 2006 election.
Specifically, OSC’s investigation revealed that OPA was essentially an extension of the RNC in the White House. Thus, OPA:
Worked with the RNC to develop a “target list” consisting of those Republican candidates involved in close races.
Encouraged high-level agency political appointees to attend events with targeted Republican candidates in order to attract positive media attention to their campaigns, a practice called “asset deployment.”
Utilized the services of several RNC Desk Coordinators – who worked inside the White House – to help coordinate high-level political appointees’ travel to both political and official events with Republican candidates.
Kept track of Republican candidates’ fundraising efforts as well as high-level agency political appointees’ attendance at events with targeted candidates.
Encouraged political appointees, on behalf of the RNC, to participate in 72-hour deployment efforts.
As explained below, OSC has concluded that all of these activities constituted “political activity” because they were directed at the electoral success of Republican candidates and the Republican Party as a whole. These activities took place in federal buildings and during normal business hours in violation of the Hatch Act. And although the OPA Director and Deputy Director, at whose direction these activities occurred, were exempt from the Hatch Act’s prohibition against engaging in political activity while on duty or in a federal workplace, the regulations require that the costs associated with the political activity of exempt employees be reimbursed to the U.S. Treasury when the activity is more than incidental. Here, the entire OPA staff was enlisted in pursuit of Republican success at the polls and many OPA employees believed that effort was part of their official job duties. Based on the extent of the activities described below, OSC concludes that the political activities of OPA employees were not incidental to their official functions, and thus U.S. Treasury funds were unlawfully used to finance efforts to pursue Republican victories at the polls in 2006.[my emphasis]
In short, taxpayers paid for a big chunk of the Republican 2006 campaign.
Hey! That was the campaign where we took back both houses and Rove’s math was proven to be faulty, right? Suckers!!
Even if there aren’t criminal prosecutions, it would seem clear that the RNC, the NRCC, the NRSC, or the individual campaigns should reimburse the Federal Government for the costs the taxpayers paid that they shouldn’t have.
GOPers will likely not mention it or find a way to try and downplay or discredit it. Some Democrats may not press it too aggressively since it does refer to an administration out of power and some Dems may have aspirations to cut the same corners in the future.
On the other hand, there could be some big surprise and it could lead to some repercussions or reforms.
American taxpayers (China) paid for Bush administration officials to conduct political campaign activities for the 2006 midterm elections, which violated federal law and is information that, perhaps, we could have used somewhat earlier than a half decade after the fact. This is not surprising, nor is it surprising Karl Rove directed this stuff. What’s really awful is the sheer incompetence of the federal officials using these taxpayer funds, seeing as the 2006 midterms were a total blowout for the GOP. If you’re going to spend our money on elections, at least win some of them. So, are any of these Bush people going to be prosecuted for breaking the law? LOL.
President Obama has asked me to chair his new President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. I have served for the past two years on the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, and I look forward to leading the next phase of this effort as we transition from recovery to long-term growth. The president and I are committed to a candid and full dialogue among business, labor and government to help ensure that the United States has the most competitive and innovative economy in the world.
Business leaders should provide expertise in service of our country. My predecessors at GE have done so, as have leaders of many other great American companies. There is always a healthy tension between the public and private sectors. However, we all share a responsibility to drive national competitiveness, particularly during economic unrest. This is one of those times.
The new CJC will help Obama politically in a couple of ways. First, the new board will showcase a new priority on jobs, a “pivot” Obama began promising in December 2009 and the lack of which contributed to the midterm beating Democrats took two years ago. Second, membership on the board will apparently include a number of CEOs in a more high-profile advisory capacity than earlier outreach efforts.
The White House has to hope that the increased reliance on private-sector executives will improve Obama’s relationship with the business community as well as answer critics who have blasted the administration for its dearth of real-world business experience. But it also comes as a rather large coincidence. The White House just announced the start of its re-election campaign efforts, which will be run out of Chicago, and which will be tasked with beating the $700 million in contributions Obama raised in the 2008 campaign. He will want businesses to get involved in that effort; his sudden interest in what CEOs think at least has the appearance of self-interest more than a change in economic philosophy.
Hopefully, Obama actually takes their advice and puts pro-growth economic policies in place while pulling back hard on regulatory innovation. I suspect, however, that this is more intended as window dressing while Obama pursues the same economic policies that have led to stagnation and persistently high unemployment.
Gotta admit I’m not too pleased by the departure of Paul Volcker from Barack Obama’s circle of adviser. He was one of the few, along with Elizabeth Warren, in the current administration who had a proper perspective on the outrageous behavior that the financial community considers business as usual. And while the appointment of his replacement Jeffrey Immelt, of General Electric, signals a desire to snuggle up to the business community–at least Immelt comes from the manufacturing sector. He has experience actually making products, a skill notably lacking among every one of Obama’s other economic advisers.
Again, I’ll repeat: the important distinction here is between the business community, which should be encouraged to create more jobs, and the financial community, which should be shamed for its casino-gaming shenanigans and kept away from the inner circles of economic policy-making.
Let the 2012 Re-Elect begin. Obama is now monomaniacally promoting non-enforceable rhetoric about jobs’: a WSJ editorial trumpeting a non-enforceable executive order to look back at olds regs, fogging the mirror so we can’t focus so well on the orgy of new regs which is actually what threatens the economy; and today’s gesture, another executive order establishing a new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness led by none other than General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, of “We’re all Democrats now” and “The government has moved in next door, and it ain’t leaving. You could fight it if you want, but society wants change. And government is not going away” fame.
So he’s focusing on gummint jobs, direct or indirect, regardless, they’re the looming boomlet will be of jobs paid for by political dictate and out of your pockets. Not quite markets at work. Which is really the kind he promised the Obama economy would be built around. In a word: bubbles. Great.
I noted the other day that GE had signed a big deal with China that will involve us sharing our jet technology with China, which will ultimately help China compete with both GE and — China has said explicitly — Boeing. Then there’s the fact that, even as Immelt has been calling for manufacturing in the U.S., his company has been shutting U.S. plants to move the work to China.
While Immelt was calling for manufacturing to stay in the U.S., his company was at the same time shipping manufacturing jobs overseas by canceling an order with an American-based wind turbine maker, ATI Casting Service in LaPorte, Ind., so that GE could instead buy the parts from a factory in China.
Recently, ATI made $30 million worth of investments to buy, convert, and modernize a shuttered factory in economically ravaged Michigan so the company could provide more parts to GE as the green economy expands with federal stimulus funding. But a Chinese firm underbid ATI, and the factory faced having to lay off 302 union workers and shutter the plant.
In an aggressive bid to keep the factory open, ATI offered to match the price of the Chinese producers. GE once again said they would prefer to buy from China. The ATI plant is now closed, the jobs gone.
Then there is Immelt’s call for Free — not Fair — Trade in his op-ed announcing the Kabuki Council.
Free trade: America cannot expand its manufacturing base without greatly increasing the volume of goods it sells overseas. That is why I applaud the free-trade agreement recently concluded between the United States and South Korea, which will eliminate barriers to U.S. exports and support export-oriented jobs. We should seek to conclude trade and investment agreements with other fast-growing markets and modernize our systems for export finance and trade control. Those who advocate increasing domestic manufacturing jobs by erecting trade barriers have it exactly wrong.
In short, no matter how many times Immelt gets up on a podium or in an op-ed and feigns an interest in American jobs, his actions make him the poster child for everything wrong with the U.S. economy right now.
And that’s what Obama is rolling out, as he moves into campaign mode, to convince Americans he’s going to do a damn thing about jobs.
This morning the president will sign an executive order creating a new “Council on Jobs and Competitiveness” that will be led by General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt. The new panel will replace the President’s “Economic Recovery Advisory Board” and White House economic czar Paul Volcker is out. Politicoblandly says Volcker is leaving “as its mission ends.”
Why does this sound like something out of 1984? Or something that Pravda might have penned? Just substitute the term Kremlin for White House.
So…the creation of a new bureaucratic body to generate jobs is the president’s latest exciting BIG IDEA.
Does this council have any power, or is it just something to titillate the villagers like the SS commission? Who is this Immelt (other than a GE exec)? How do they expect to put people back to work without a jobs program, which no one will pay for in our new ages of austerity? Is this just another wet kiss on the lips for our corporate overlords? Did the DNC need some GE donations? What gives…
This morning, The New York Timesrevealed the impending departure of White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. “Robert, on the podium, has been extraordinary,” the president told the Times. “Off the podium, he has been one of my closet advisers. He is going to continue to have my ear for as long as I’m in this job.” Gibbs, whose saucy, churlish manner has been resented on both sides of the aisle, will likely leave in February, possibly for purposes of opening a consulting firm.
Obama called the New York Times Wednesday morning to share his appreciation for Gibbs service. Said Obama, “He’s had a six-year stretch now where basically he’s been going 24/7 with relatively modest pay. I think it’s natural for someone like Robert to want to step back for a second to reflect, retool and that, as a consequence, brings about both challenges and opportunities for the White House.”
…in order to pursue an exciting career as left center on Hollywood Squares – actually, is that program even still on? No, just kidding: outgoing White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs is going to have some nebulous job defending whatever dumb idea the President comes up with that day, just like before – only now Gibbs will be doing it in places where people can actually interrupt him when he says something particularly egregious. In other words, he’s still going to be a dolt, but one who won’t get the same deference that Gibbs is used to getting, thanks to his (soon-to-be-former) position of trust and authority. Something to look forward to*: in the meantime, here’s all the send-off the fellow needs.
Robert Gibbs is leaving the White House to become an outside political operative. As he prepares to do that, a free tip: Don’t be so dismissive of the opposition. The Gibbs moment I remember the most was his response to Rick Santelli’s CNBC rant about mortgage bailouts.
In the rearview mirror, the Democratic/White House/liberal activist decision to ridicule the conservative backlash to Obama, and to elevate its “craziest” members, looks like an historic blunder. Granted, the ridicule might have worked if the economy picked up faster and Republicans were left with a bunch pf bad faith and bad predictions. But this early response to the Tea Party, which started with facts and ended in a fairly silly diss (“Coffee. Decaf.”), demonstrates how Obama and his allies got it wrong at the start.
Nine years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the United States is assembling a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators.
The system, by far the largest and most technologically sophisticated in the nation’s history, collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.
The government’s goal is to have every state and local law enforcement agency in the country feed information to Washington to buttress the work of the FBI, which is in charge of terrorism investigations in the United States.
Other democracies – Britain and Israel, to name two – are well acquainted with such domestic security measures. But for the United States, the sum of these new activities represents a new level of governmental scrutiny.
This localized intelligence apparatus is part of a larger Top Secret America created since the attacks. In July, The Washington Post described an alternative geography of the United States, one that has grown so large, unwieldy and secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs or how many programs exist within it.
Today’s story, along with related material on The Post’s Web site, examines how Top Secret America plays out at the local level. It describes a web of 4,058 federal, state and local organizations, each with its own counterterrorism responsibilities and jurisdictions. At least 935 of these organizations have been created since the 2001 attacks or became involved in counterterrorism for the first time after 9/11.
In The Washington Post today, Dana Priest and William Arkin continue their “Top Secret America” series by describing how America’s vast and growing Surveillance State now encompasses state and local law enforcement agencies, collecting and storing always-growing amounts of information about even the most innocuous activities undertaken by citizens suspected of no wrongdoing. As was true of the first several installments of their “Top Secret America,” there aren’t any particularly new revelations for those paying attention to such matters, but the picture it paints — and the fact that it is presented in an establishment organ such as The Washington Post — is nonetheless valuable.
Today, the Post reporters document how surveillance and enforcement methods pioneered in America’s foreign wars and occupations are being rapidly imported into domestic surveillance (wireless fingerprint scanners, military-grade infrared cameras, biometric face scanners, drones on the border). In sum:
The special operations units deployed overseas to kill the al-Qaeda leadership drove technological advances that are now expanding in use across the United States. On the front lines, those advances allowed the rapid fusing of biometric identification, captured computer records and cellphone numbers so troops could launch the next surprise raid. Here at home, it’s the DHS that is enamored with collecting photos, video images and other personal information about U.S. residents in the hopes of teasing out terrorists.
Meanwhile, the Obama Department of Homeland Security has rapidly expanded the scope and invasiveness of domestic surveillance programs — justified, needless to say, in the name of Terrorism:
[DHS Secretary Janet] Napolitano has taken her “See Something, Say Something” campaign far beyond the traffic signs that ask drivers coming into the nation’s capital for “Terror Tips” and to “Report Suspicious Activity.”
She recently enlisted the help of Wal-Mart, Amtrak, major sports leagues, hotel chains and metro riders. In her speeches, she compares the undertaking to the Cold War fight against communists.
“This represents a shift for our country,” she told New York City police officers and firefighters on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary this fall. “In a sense, this harkens back to when we drew on the tradition of civil defense and preparedness that predated today’s concerns.”
The results are predictable. Huge amounts of post/9-11 anti-Terrorism money flooded state and local agencies that confront virtually no Terrorism threats, and they thus use these funds to purchase technologies — bought from the private-sector industry that controls and operates government surveillance programs — for vastly increased monitoring and file-keeping on ordinary citizens suspected of no wrongdoing. The always-increasing cooperation between federal, state and local agencies — and among and within federal agencies — has spawned massive data bases of information containing the activities of millions of American citizens. “There are 96 million sets of fingerprints” in the FBI’s data base, the Post reports. Moreover, the FBI uses its “suspicious activities record” program (SAR) to collect and store endless amounts of information about innocent Americans:
At the same time that the FBI is expanding its West Virginia database, it is building a vast repository controlled by people who work in a top-secret vault on the fourth floor of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington. This one stores the profiles of tens of thousands of Americans and legal residents who are not accused of any crime. What they have done is appear to be acting suspiciously to a town sheriff, a traffic cop or even a neighbor.
To get a sense for what kind of information ends up being stored — based on the most innocuous conduct — read this page from their article describing Suspicious Activity Report No3821. Even the FBI admits the huge waste all of this is — “‘Ninety-nine percent doesn’t pan out or lead to anything’ said Richard Lambert Jr., the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Knoxville office” — but, as history conclusively proves, data collected on citizens will be put to some use even if it reveals no criminality.
Again, none of this is particularly surprising. Battlefield technologies almost always “migrate” to use at home, depending on its application and the cost. The city of LA had halftracks used in combating drug trafficking more than two decades ago, for one example, parodied in the movie Die Hard. The FBI collects data from many people and always has, which is one of the reasons why releasing the raw FBI files on political figures to the Clinton White House was such an egregious act. What they do with the data is, of course, the greater consideration. Picking the wrong imams isn’t just limited to “some law enforcement agencies,” as the Pentagon’s relationship with Anwar al-Awlaki demonstrated. The problem of government agencies acting with less than optimal efficiency at working across boundaries is hardly new, either.
It’s still valuable to have journalists dig into these problems on a regular basis so that we can demand better performance from security groups and Congress, rather than just shrug at inefficiency, waste, and abuses of power. But Liz Goodwin’s “5 most surprising revelations” from the WaPo entry today at Yahoo read as though Goodwin has never before reviewed governmental performance:
The FBI has 161,948 suspicious activity files on “tens of thousands” of Americans – The FBI set up hotlines and websites for tips on terrorism immediately after 9/11. Each tip presumably opens up a file. In nine years, the effort has produced less than 20,000 tips per year and (assuming the maximum range of tens of thousands) about 10,000 suspects a year. That doesn’t seem very surprising to me. That they haven’t arrested anywhere near that many people is a function of what an investigation produces. Maintaining files on dead probes doesn’t mean anything, unless they get leaked.
DHS has no idea how much it’s spending on liaison efforts to local agencies – I’d guess that many agencies don’t really know how much they spend on any one aspect of their operations. DHS is a huge federal agency, employing 216,000 people with an overall budget of about $52 billion with varied and overlapping jurisdictions.
Local officials in these “fusion centers” get little or no training – Surprise! Government bureaucracies are notoriously inefficient. That’s why it’s a good idea to limit them to tasks that only government can and should do — although it’s worth pointing out that this happens to be one of those tasks.
Local agencies are “left without guidance” from DHS – This is really the same thing as #3, isn’t it, or at least the same root problem? She points out that among those groups suspected of potential terrorist activity by state and local authorities were Tea Party activists, historically black colleges, and a group that campaigned for human rights and bike lanes. Again, that might have been based on tips received and followed up by the agencies, but also again, it’s part of a lack of competence and accountability endemic in bureaucracies.
State and local agencies are taking counterterrorist funding and using it to support regular law-enforcement efforts instead – Who couldn’t have seen that coming? These funds are usually given in bloc grants, which means the recipient can use the money for whatever purpose they desire. All they need is a tenuous link to the original purpose of the funds to make it pass muster, and it’s certainly arguable that by enforcing the state and local law more vigorously, local law enforcement might be able to flush out terrorists. However, this is a problem because it makes local law enforcement dependent on federal funding, which is a bad idea in principle. Communities should pay for their own law enforcement needs and let the feds concentrate on actual federal crimes.
These aren’t surprises at all. They are, however, issues that need to be corrected — and it appears that the first item on correction should be a rethink of DHS and its top-heavy bureaucracy.
Military technology has a tendency to trickle down to civilian applications, as evidenced by the fact that you’re reading this story on the internet that Darpa helped create. Usually that takes time, but police departments across the country are fielding tools that the military developed to keep tabs on insurgents are now in place to see if you’ve got any outstanding arrest warrants. That’s what the Washington Post found for the latest installment of its series on the expanding surveillance state: Arizona’s Maricopa County, for instance, keeps a database sized at “9,000 biometric digital mug shots a month.”
Here’s how the proliferation of biometrics works, as the Post discovers. The Department of Homeland Security wants more data points on potential homegrown terrorists. Through Federal-state law enforcement “fusion centers,” federal grants help finance law enforcement’s acquisition of ID tools like HIIDE, as well as powerful surveillance cameras and sensors. Police incorporate them into their regular law-enforcement duties, picking up information on suspects and using them to cut down on the time it takes to figure out who’s evading arrest.
As the military learned, positive identification depends on having a large data set of known insurgents. Cops and the feds are going just as broad. Fingerprint information from crime records gets sent to a FBI datafarm in West Virginia, where they “mingle” with prints from detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Military and Homeland Security officials can search through the FBI database for possible connections to terrorists.
It’s unclear if there are minimization procedures in place to void someone’s fingerprints in the datafarm after a distinct period of time, or how serious a crime has to be to merit a bioscan getting sent to West Virginia. And in many cases, the technology at use here just accelerates the speed at which, say, prints from a police station get sent to the FBI, rather than making the difference between inclusion at the datafarm and remaining at the police station. But it certainly looks like there’s not such a lag time between tech developed for a complex insurgency finding applications for crime-fighting at home.
Luckily, this stuff is only creepy when there’s a Republican President. Otherwise I’d be worried. But as we all know, to worry about this when there’s a Democrat in the White House is merely a sign of the “paranoid strain” in American politics.
Prosecutors here once said that the conduct of Rod R. Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois, was so despicable it would make Abraham Lincoln “roll over in his grave,” but 12 jurors in the federal corruption case against him were apparently not all so certain.
After deliberating for 14 days, the jury found Mr. Blagojevich guilty of a single criminal count — making false statements to the F.B.I., which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, one of the least severe penalties in the charges against him.
The jurors also said they could not reach a unanimous verdict on 23 of the 24 counts against him, including an accusation that he had tried to sell an appointment to fill the Senate seat once held by President Obama. On that count, one juror said, the group was split 11 to 1 in favor of convicting him.
Prosecutors immediately announced plans for a retrial, but the outcome was seen as something of a victory, at least for now, for Mr. Blagojevich, a Democrat and lifelong politician from this city, who had always proclaimed his innocence and did so again as he left court.
Reminder of the issues in addition to the Senate seat-trading scam that the jury has been charged with tackling:
– a shady, Tony Rezko-connected state pension bond sale;
– attempted extortion of then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel, whose brother Blago wanted to host a fund-raiser in exchange for a $2 million football field grant sought by a school in Emanuel’s congressional district;
– attempted extortion and bribery of Children’s Memorial Hospital;
– conspiracy to extort and bribe a race-track owner in exchange for horse-racing industry tax subsidies;
– and attempted bribery and extortion of a road construction executive, whom Blago wanted to hold a fund-raiser in exchange for $6 billion in government tollway projects.
Gabe Malor notes on Twitter that that was one of the counts Martha Stewart was convicted on. Question: What now? Is the U.S. Attorney going to re-try him or do we sentence him to parole on the lying charge so that he can jump into the Kirk/Giannoulias race and fulfill his destiny?
Update: The case is too high-profile for the feds to walk away, so as expected, Patrick Fitzgerald says it’s on to a retrial.
Update: Ace e-mails with a new theory: What if the jury was split 11-1 to convict on the remaining counts? That might explain why they wanted a copy of the oath — to confront the holdout with his duty to render an honest verdict. It also raises the disturbing question of what kind of juror would be so invested in seeing Blagojevich walk that he’d hold out for two weeks against 11 increasingly frustrated colleagues.
All you Californians ought to be getting awfully nervous about Senate-Select Carly Fiorina about now. Because the lesson I take from the Rod Blagojevich verdict–he was found guilty of just one charge of lying to the FBI, while the jury remained deadlocked on 23 other charges–is that it’s okay to sell a Senate seat, so long as you don’t lie about it.
Basically, Blagojevich was convicted on the same “lying to an FBI agent” charge that got Martha Stewart and Scooter Libbey in trouble in their cases although, to be honest, the “lie” in Blago’s case could arguably be considered boasting rather than a material misrepresentation.
In any case, while the U.S. Attorney is saying they will re-try on the 23 counts that the jury was unable to reach a verdict on, there’s no denying that Blagojevich won big today. Prosecutors rarely lose in Federal Court and while this isn’t an outright acquittal, it’s close enough considering the high-profile nature of the case and the fact that Blagojevich’s attorneys didn’t even put on a defense case (meaning that the jury wasn’t even able to convict based solely on the prosecutions evidence). They’ll get another bite at the apple, but, for now, one of America’s oddest politicians remains a free man.
IN May 1980, during the height of the movement to add an Equal Rights Amendment for women to the Constitution, an activist named Wanda Brandstetter delivered a note to Nord Swanstrom, an Illinois state representative. “Mr. Swanstrom,” it said, “the offer to help in your election and $1,000 for your campaign for pro-E.R.A. vote.” Things did not go as Ms. Brandstetter hoped. The measure was never ratified by the Legislature, while her offer of $1,000 lead directly to her conviction for bribery in the Illinois courts.
Since Ms. Brandstetter’s case, it has been clear in Illinois (and eventually in the federal courts too) that, notwithstanding the First Amendment protections the Supreme Court has applied to political contributions, prosecutions for bribery and extortion may be brought when a donation is tied directly to a specific act by an elected official.
So, people are right to wonder how the jury in the trial of Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois, could possibly be unable to come up with a verdict on any bribery-related charges, finding Mr. Blagojevich guilty only of lying to federal agents when he characterized himself in 2005 as uninvolved in political fundraising.
After all, government wiretaps revealed Mr. Blagojevich threatening not to sign legislation beneficial to the harness racing industry unless he received a $100,000 campaign donation from one race track executive. He even threatened to hold up an increase in state Medicaid reimbursements for pediatric cases until the chief executive of Illinois’s leading children’s hospital contributed $50,000.
Yet the unwillingness of one or more jurors to convict Mr. Blagojevich of anything but bare-faced lying makes some sense. I suspect the jury’s indecision might have been a reaction at some level to the hypocritical mess our campaign financing system has become, especially in light of recent Supreme Court jurisprudence about political donations.
For example, in June 2009, the court decided a case involving Massey Coal and its chief executive, Joe Blankenship. (Coincidentally, Massey was the operator of a coal mine in West Virginia that exploded in April, killing 29 miners.) In 2004, after Massey had lost a $50-million fraud verdict to a rival coal company, Mr. Blankenship spent $3 million supporting the successful candidacy of Brent Benjamin to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, where Massey’s challenge of the fraud verdict was going to be heard.
Although Mr. Blankenship’s spending eclipsed the contributions of all of Judge Benjamin’s other donors put together, the judge subsequently refused to remove himself from Massey’s appeal. Unsurprisingly, the court voted to overturn the verdict against Massey, with Judge Benjamin providing the deciding vote.
The case eventually came to the United States Supreme Court, which by a 5-to-4 vote decided Justice Benjamin should have recused himself because of the “disproportionate” influence Mr. Blankenship’s money had in the election. Nonetheless, the court pointedly refused to require the same from other judges who received less grandiose campaign assistance from lawyers and litigants with cases before them.
Moreover, the court appeared persuaded that nothing criminal had occurred, even though its ruling concluded that it was “reasonably foreseeable” at the time that Mr. Benjamin would decide the Massey case and that Mr. Blankenship had a “vested interest” when he spent the money. Given that logic, who can blame Mr. Blagojevich — or Wanda Brandstetter — for asking, “Why me?”
This blog, along with others, compiled some anecdotes and research to show how the New York Times had always called “waterboarding” torture – until the Bush-Cheney administration came along. Instead of challenging this government lie, the NYT simply echoed it, with Bill Keller taking instructions from John Yoo on a key, legally salient etymology. Now, we have the first truly comprehensive study of how Bill Keller, and the editors of most newspapers, along with NPR, simply rolled over and became mouthpieces for war criminals, rather than telling the unvarnished truth to their readers and listeners in plain English:
Examining the four newspapers with the highest daily circulation in the country, we found a significant and sudden shift in how newspapers characterized waterboarding. From the early 1930s until the modern story broke in 2004, the newspapers that covered waterboarding almost uniformly called the practice torture or implied it was torture: The New York Times characterized it thus in 81.5% (44 of 54) of articles on the subject and The Los Angeles Times did so in 96.3% of articles (26 of 27).
By contrast, from 2002‐2008, the studied newspapers almost never referred to waterboarding as torture. The New York Times called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture in just 2 of 143 articles (1.4%). The Los Angeles Times did so in 4.8% of articles (3 of 63). The Wall Street Journal characterized the practice as torture in just 1 of 63 articles (1.6%). USA Today never called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture.
In addition, the newspapers are much more likely to call waterboarding torture if a country other than the United States is the perpetrator. In The New York Times, 85.8% of articles (28 of 33) that dealt with a country other than the United States using waterboarding called it torture or implied it was torture while only 7.69% (16 of 208) did so when the United States was responsible. The Los Angeles Times characterized the practice as torture in 91.3% of articles (21 of 23) when another country was the violator, but in only 11.4% of articles (9 of 79) when the United States was the perpetrator.
So the NYT went from calling waterboarding torture 81.5 percent of the time to calling it such 1.4 percent of the time. Had the technique changed? No. Only the government implementing torture and committing war crimes changed. If the US does it, it’s not torture.
Wow. So, not long ago, America’s major newspapers basically decided that waterboarding was somehow okay. American waterboarding, that is! In the same time frame, the same newspapers made it clear that if any other country practiced waterboarding, it was torture.
One of the most telling details from the study is the description of how newspapers admitted that waterboarding is torture without their omniscient editorial voice describing it as such: they quoted other people.
All four papers frequently balanced their use of softer treatment by quoting others calling waterboarding torture. Except for a brief spate of articles in 1902‐1903 in the NY Times which quoted mostly military officials and senators, almost all of the articles that quote others calling it torture appeared in 2007 and 2008.
More telling still, newspapers barely began to do that until 2007, three years after they started talking about torture, and they most often relied on John McCain to state what–before it became clear the US engaged in such torture–their own pages had stated fairly consistently beforehand.
When quoting others who call waterboarding torture, there is a shift in who the LA Times and the NY Times quoted over time.
Before 2007, the NY Times had only scattered articles quoting others. However, beginning in 2007, there is a marked increase in articles quoting others, primarily human rights groups and lawmakers. Human rights representatives predominate during the first half of the year. However, beginning in October, politicians were cited more frequently labeling waterboarding torture. Senator John McCain is the most common source, but other lawmakers also begin to be cited. By 2008, the articles’ references are more general such as “by many,” or “many legal authorities.” Stronger phrases such as “most of the civilized world” also begin to appear.
The dead tree press, apparently, couldn’t find an expert they believed could adequately voice the long-standing consensus that waterboarding is torture–a consensus recorded in their own pages (at least those of LAT and NYT)–until after McCain started speaking out on the topic.
One more point. The study only examined the four papers with the greatest circulation: NYT, LAT (both of which had extensive archives the study measured for previous uses of torture), USA Today, and WSJ (which didn’t have the same range of archives). So it did not include the WaPo in its study–the paper notorious for torture apology from both the newsroom and Fred Hiatt’s editorial page. So the numbers could be even worse!
What a remarkable measure of the cowardice of our press. And what a remarkable measure of how it happened that torture became acceptable. It’s not just that the press failed in their job, but it’s clear that’s a big part of it.
As always, the American establishment media is simply following in the path of the U.S. Government (which is why it’s the “establishment media”): the U.S. itself long condemned waterboarding as “torture” and even prosecuted it as such, only to suddenly turn around and declare it not to be so once it began using the tactic. That’s exactly when there occurred, as the study puts it, “a significant and sudden shift in how newspapers characterized waterboading.” As the U.S. Government goes, so goes our establishment media.
We don’t need a state-run media because our media outlets volunteer for the task: once the U.S. Government decrees that a technique is no longer torture, U.S. media outlets dutifully cease using the term. That compliant behavior makes overtly state-controlled media unnecessary.
Greenwald says this proves the media’s “servitude to government,” but I think it’s actually the conventions of journalism that are at fault here. As soon as Republicans started quibbling over the definition of torture, traditional media outlets felt compelled to treat the issue as a “controversial” matter, and in order to appear as though they weren’t taking a side, media outlets treated the issue as unsettled, rather than confronting a blatant falsehood. To borrow John Holbo‘s formulation, the media, confronted with the group think of two sides of an argument, decided to eliminate the “think” part of the equation so they could be “fair” to both groups.
Of course, this attempt at “neutrality” was, in and of itself, taking a side, if inadvertently. It was taking the side of people who supported torture, opposed investigating it as a crime, and wanted to protect those who implemented the policy from any kind of legal accountability. Most important, it reinforced the moral relativism of torture apologists, who argued that even if from an objective point of view, waterboarding was torture, it wasn’t torture when being done by the United States to a villain like Khalid Sheik Mohammed, but rather only when done by say, a dictator like Kim Jong Il to a captured American soldier.
Like they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In this case, journalistic conventions helped pave the way for an unaccountable national-security apparatus.That doesn’t mean that some journalists have skewed perceptions of whom they actually work for, but I think that’s the lesser issue here.
The fact of the matter is that the United States Government was engaged in this policy against Very Bad People for reasons the American people enthusiastically supported. Most Americans were nonplussed when news broke that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times because, after all, KSM was a Very Bad Man who did Unspeakably Horrible Things.
This puts the decisionmakers of the American press, whether they agreed or not, in a very difficult situation. To have insisted that the U.S. Government was engaged in torture when the leaders of said Government adamantly denied that what they were doing constituted torture and most citizens supported the “enhanced interrogation techniques” and dismissed as buffoons those worried about poor widdle Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would have not only been taking sides in an ongoing debate but taking a very unpopular stand.
Additionally, the use of the word “torture” has legal and propaganda implications. To have matter-of-factly stated that the U.S. Government was engaged in torture was to say that those carrying it out are criminals. The press doesn’t do that with accused criminals, even when there’s incontrovertible video evidence. And, of course, saying that the U.S. Government is engaged in “torture” is a propaganda victory for the enemy. That’s a tough thing to do in wartime.
Further, while the press doubtless came to despise some members of the Bush Administration, they naturally had close relationships with the team and saw most of its members as good people trying earnestly to protect the country from another 9/11 type attack. It’s psychologically and professionally difficult to dismiss their insistence that they’re not committing torture as simply untrue. Simultaneously, it’s easy to believe that waterboarding done under the auspices of a despotic regime for the sole purpose of maintaining tyranny is something inherently different and thus worthy of a different name.
Does this amount to “servitude” to the government and “cowardice”? Maybe. But I think it’s more complicated than that.
But the New York Times doesn’t completely buy the study’s conclusions. A spokesman told Yahoo! News that the paper “has written so much about the waterboarding issue that we believe the Kennedy School study is misleading.”
However, the Times acknowledged that political circumstances did play a role in the paper’s usage calls. “As the debate over interrogation of terror suspects grew post-9/11, defenders of the practice (including senior officials of the Bush administration) insisted that it did not constitute torture,” a Times spokesman said in a statement. “When using a word amounts to taking sides in a political dispute, our general practice is to supply the readers with the information to decide for themselves. Thus we describe the practice vividly, and we point out that it is denounced by international covenants and in American tradition as a form of torture.”
The Times spokesman added that outside of the news pages, editorials and columnists “regard waterboarding as torture and believe that it fits all of the moral and legal definitions of torture.” He continued: “So that’s what we call it, which is appropriate for the opinion pages.”
Clearly, the Times doesn’t want to be perceived as putting its thumb on the scale on either side in the torture debate. That’s understandable, given traditional journalistic values aiming for neutrality and balance. But by not calling waterboarding torture — even though it is, and the paper itself defined it that way in the past — the Times created a factual contradiction between its newer work and its own archives.
But it is not an opinion that waterboarding is torture; it is a fact, recognized by everyone on the planet as such – and by the NYT in its news pages as such – for centuries. What we have here is an admission that the NYT did change its own established position to accommodate the Cheneyite right.
So their journalism is dictated by whatever any government says. In any dispute, their view is not: what is true? But: how can we preserve our access to the political right and not lose pro-torture readers? If you want a locus classicus for why the legacy media has collapsed, look no further.
So if anyone wants to get the NYT to use a different word in order to obfuscate the truth, all they need to do is make enough noise so there is a political dispute about a question. If there’s a political dispute, the NYT will retreat. And so we now know that its core ethos is ceding the meaning of words to others, rather than actually deciding for itself how to call torture torture. Orwell wrote about this in his classic “Politics and the English Language.” If newspapers will not defend the English language from the propaganda of war criminals, who will? And it is not as if they haven’t made this call before – when they routinely called waterboarding torture. They already had a view. They changed it so as not to offend. In so doing, they knowingly printed newspeak in their paper – not because they believed in it, but because someone else might.
This is not editing. It is surrender. It is not journalism; it is acquiescence to propaganda. It strikes me as much more egregious a failing than, say, the Jayson Blair scandal. Because it reaches to the very top, was a conscious decision and reveals the empty moral center in the most important newspaper in the country.
Representatives for The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times and USA Today said their newspapers declined to comment.
Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, said the newspaper has written so much about the issue of waterboarding that, “I think this Kennedy School study — by focusing on whether we have embraced the politically correct term of art in our news stories — is somewhat misleading and tendentious.”
In an e-mail message on Thursday, Mr. Keller said that defenders of the practice of waterboarding, “including senior officials of the Bush administration,” insisted that it did not constitute torture.
“When using a word amounts to taking sides in a political dispute, our general practice is to supply the readers with the information to decide for themselves,” Mr. Keller wrote. “Thus we describe the practice vividly, and we point out that it is denounced by international covenants and human rights advocates as a form of torture. Nobody reading The Times’ coverage could be ignorant of the extent of the practice (much of that from information we broke) or mistake it for something benign (we usually use the word ‘brutal.’)”
The Times does not have an “official, written rule on when or how to use the word “torture,” Phil Corbett, the newspaper’s standards editor, wrote in an e-mail message. “In general, when writing about disputed, contentious and politically loaded topics, we try to be precise, accurate and as neutral as possible; factual descriptions are often better than shorthand labels.”
“The decision to refrain from calling waterboarding ‘torture’ is tantamount to siding with the Bush administration’s claim that the act it acknowledged doing is not illegal under any statute,” Mr. Sargent wrote Thursday. “No one is saying the Times should have adopted the role of judge and jury and proclaimed the Bush administration officially guilty. Rather, the point is that by dropping use of the word ‘torture,’ it took the Bush position — against those who argued that the act Bush officials sanctioned is already agreed upon as illegal under the law.”
The Times and other newspapers have also written about the is-waterboarding-torture debate at length, and many columnists and editorial writers have called the practice a form of torture.
Although the study assessed only the four newspapers identified above, other major newspapers reached similar conclusions about the use of the word after waterboarding re-entered the national lexicon in 2004.
Asked for comment on Thursday, Cameron W. Barr, the national security editor for The Washington Post, wrote in an e-mail message, “After the use of the term ‘torture’ became contentious, we decided that we wouldn’t use it in our voice to describe waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques authorized by the Bush administration.
“But we often cited others describing waterboarding as torture in stories that mentioned the technique,” Mr. Barr wrote. “We gave prominence to stories reporting official determinations that waterboarding or other techniques constituted torture.”
The Harvard study made no claims about the reason for the change in depiction of waterboarding, but concluded that “the current debate cannot be so divorced from its historical roots.”
“The status quo ante was that waterboarding is torture, in American law, international law, and in the newspapers’ own words,” the students wrote. “Had the papers not changed their coverage, it would still have been called torture. By straying from that established norm, the newspapers imply disagreement with it, despite their claims to the contrary. In the context of their decades-long practice, the newspapers’ sudden equivocation on waterboarding can hardly be termed neutral.”
Whether an interrogation technique constitutes “torture” is what determines whether it is prohibited by long-standing international treaties, subject to mandatory prosecution, criminalized under American law, and scorned by all civilized people as one of the few remaining absolute taboos. But to The New York Times‘ Executive Editor, the demand that torture be so described, and the complaint that the NYT ceased using the term the minute the Bush administration commanded it to, is just tendentious political correctness: nothing more than trivial semantic fixations on a “term of art” by effete leftists. Rather obviously, it is the NYT itself which is guilty of extreme “political correctness” by referring to torture not as “torture” but with cleansing, normalizing, obfuscating euphemisms such as “the harsh techniques used since the 2001 terrorist attacks” and “intense interrogations.” Intense. As Rosen puts it: “So, Bill Keller, ‘the harsh techniques used since the 2001 terrorist attacks’ is plainspeak and ‘torture’ is PC? Got it.“
Worse, to justify his paper’s conduct, Keller adds “that defenders of the practice of water-boarding, ‘including senior officials of the Bush administration,’ insisted that it did not constitute torture.” Kudos to Keller for admitting who dictates what his newspaper says and does not say (redolent of how Bush’s summoning of NYT officials to the Oval Office caused the paper to refrain from reporting his illegal NSA program for a full year until after Bush was safely re-elected). Senior Bush officials said it wasn’t torture; therefore, we had to stop telling our readers that it is.
And then there’s this, from Cameron Barr, National Security Editor of The Washington Post, which also ceased using “torture” on command: “After the use of the term ‘torture’ became contentious, we decided that we wouldn’t use it in our voice to describe waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques authorized by the Bush administration.” Could you imagine going into “journalism” with this cowardly attitude: once an issue becomes “contentious” and one side begins contesting facts, I’m staying out of it, even if it means abandoning what we’ve recognized as fact for decades. And note how even today, in an interview rather than an article, Barr continues to use the government-subservient euphemism: “waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques authorized by the Bush administration.” Just contemplate what it means, as Keller and Barr openly admit, that our government officials have veto power over the language which our “independent media” uses to describe what they do.
I’m not one who wishes for the death of newspapers, as they still perform valuable functions and employ some good journalists. But I confess that episodes like this one tempt me towards that sentiment. This isn’t a case where the NYT failed to rebut destructive government propaganda; it’s one where they affirmatively amplified and bolstered it, and are now demonizing their critics by invoking the most deranged rationale to justify what they did: political correctness? And whatever else is true, there is no doubt the NYT played an active and vital role in enabling the two greatest American crimes of the last decade: the attack on Iraq and the institutionalizing of a torture regime. As usual, those who pompously prance around as watchdogs over political elites are their most devoted and useful servants.
Medical professionals who were involved in the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogations of terrorism suspects engaged in forms of human research and experimentation in violation of medical ethics and domestic and international law, according to a new report from a human rights organization.
Doctors, psychologists and other professionals assigned to monitor the C.I.A.’s use of waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other “enhanced” interrogation techniques gathered and collected data on the impact of the interrogations on the detainees in order to refine those techniques and ensure that they stayed within the limits established by the Bush administration’s lawyers, the report found. But, by doing so, the medical professionals turned the detainees into research subjects, according to the report, which is scheduled to be published on Monday by Physicians for Human Rights.
The data collected by medical professionals from the interrogations of detainees allowed the C.I.A. to judge the emotional and physical impact of the techniques, helping the agency to “calibrate the level of pain experienced by detainees during interrogation, ostensibly to keep it from crossing the administration’s legal threshold of what it claimed constituted torture,” the report said. That meant that the medical professionals crossed the line from treating the detainees as patients to treating them as research subjects, the report asserted.
According to the report, which draws on numerous declassified government documents, “medical professionals working for and on behalf of the CIA” frequently monitored detainee interrogations, gathering data on the effectiveness of various interrogation techniques and the pain threshholds of detainees. This information was then used to “enhance” future interrogations, PHR contends.
By monitoring post-9/11 interrogations and keeping records on the effectiveness of various techniques, medical professionals could also provide Bush administration lawyers with the information they needed to set guidelines for the use of so-called “enhanced” interrogation tactics. For instance, attorneys in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) who were devising the legal rationale for the interrogation program could use the research to determine how many times a detainee could be waterboarded. Or, based on the observations of the medical personnel monitoring the interrogation sessions, they could assess whether it was legally justifiable to administer techniques like stress positions or water dousing in combination or whether these methods needed to be applied separately.
Physicians for Human Rights makes the case that since human subject research is defined as the “systematic collection of data and/or identifiable personal information for the purpose of drawing generalizable inferences,” what the Bush administration was doing amounted to human experimentation:
Human experimentation without the consent of the subject is a violation of international human rights law to which the United States is subject; federal statutes; the Common Rule, which comprises the federal regulations for research on human subjects and applies to 17 federal agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense; and universally accepted health professional ethics, including the Nuremberg Code… Human experimentation on detainees also can constitute a war crime and a crime against humanity in certain circumstances.
Ironically, one goal of the “experimentation” seems to have been to immunize Bush administration officials and CIA interrogators from potential prosecution for torture. In the series of legal papers that are now popularly known as the “torture memos,” Justice Department lawyers argued that medical monitoring would demonstrate that interrogators didn’t intend to harm detainees; that “lack of intent to cause harm” could then serve as the cornerstone of a legal defense should an interrogator be targeted for prosecution. In 2003, in an internal CIA memo cited in the PHR report, the CIA’s general counsel, Scott Muller, argued that medical monitoring of interrogations and “reviewing evidence gained from past experience where available (including experience gained in the course of U.S. interrogations of detainees)” would allow interrogators to inoculate themselves against claims of torture because it “established” they didn’t intend to cause harm to the detainees.
“The report is just wrong,” said Paul Gimigliano, an agency spokesman. “The C.I.A. did not, as part of its past detention program, conduct human subject research on any detainee or group of detainees. The entire detention effort has been the subject of multiple, comprehensive reviews within our government, including by the Department of Justice.”
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture emailed reporters a statement on the report: ”These revelations are profoundly disturbing and raise for us the question of what more remains hidden. The spiritual health of our nation will continue to suffer until the full truth opens a path to the justice and healing that our nation so desperately needs.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights calls on the Obama administration to certify that its new interrogation team, known as the HIG, does not engage in any similar human experimentation:
CCR also demands that the new intra-agency interrogation unit that was disclosed in February 2010 explain the nature of the “scientific research” it is conducting to improve the questioning of suspects. The current government may attempt to take advantage of ambiguity in Appendix M of the Army Field Manual, added by the Bush administration and left in place by the Obama administration, to justify the ongoing use of some “enhanced” interrogation techniques such as sleep deprivation in the new interrogation guidelines. Any ongoing unlawful human experimentation to “perfect” such techniques must immediately cease.
According to PHR, these practices violate domestic and international prohibitions against involuntary human experimentation, most ominously the Nuremberg Code, which was put in place after the Holocaust. PHR also contends that the experimentation exposes interrogators and Bush-era officials to additional legal liability because unlike the techniques themselves, the Office of Legal Counsel does not seem to have sanctioned the experimentation as legal.
That doesn’t mean the Bush administration was completely unaware of the possibility that they were breaking the law with their torture experiments. The 2006 Detainee Treatment Act retroactively weakened the definition of involuntary experimentation under the law, criminalizing only those involuntary acts committed “without a legitimate medical or dental purpose, and in so doing endanger[ing] the body or health of such person or persons.”
If the allegations are true, such experimentation would certainly violate the Nuremberg Code, the Geneva conventions, and the War Crimes Act of 1996.
Among other things, the Nuremberg Code prohibits experimentation conducted without the voluntary consent of the subject. Voluntary consent means:
The person involved should have legal capacity to give consent; should be so situated as to be able to exercise free power of choice, without the intervention of any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, over-reaching, or other ulterior form of constraint or coercion; and should have sufficient knowledge and comprehension of the elements of the subject matter involved as to enable him to make an understanding and enlightened decision. This latter element requires that before the acceptance of an affirmative decision by the experimental subject there should be made known to him the nature, duration, and purpose of the experiment; the method and means by which it is to be conducted; all inconveniences and hazards reasonable to be expected; and the effects upon his health or person which may possibly come from his participation in the experiment.
Moreover, the Code requires that the subject be allowed to stop the experiment at any time “if he has reached the physical or mental state where continuation of the experiment seems to him to be impossible.”
The Code also requires that “the experiment should be so conducted as to avoid all unnecessary physical and mental suffering and injury.”
Here, the experimentation did not seek consent at any point. And – rather than limiting pain – the experimentation was specifically conducted as a way to determine how to maximize the pain the subject would experience.
Geneva Convention and War Crimes Act
The Geneva Convention Against Torture provides that “no one may be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
The Continued Case Of Bradley Manning
Charlie Savage at NYT:
Emptywheel at Firedoglake:
Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake:
Alana Goodman at Commentary:
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Tagged as Alana Goodman, Andrew Sullivan, Charlie Savage, Commentary, Crime, Doug Mataconis, Emptywheel, Firedoglake, Glenn Greenwald, Jane Hamsher, Jazz Shaw, Megan McArdle, Military Issues, New York Times, Technology, Torture