Speaking to a small group at MIT, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said that accused WikiLeaker Bradley Manning is “in the right place” in federal custody, but the way he has been treated is “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.” Just now, ABC News’ Jake Tapper asked President Obama about the comments in the White House Briefing Room. “With respect to Private Manning, I have actually asked the Pentagon whether the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting basic standards,” Obama replied. “They assured me that they are. I can’t go into details about some of their concerns, but some of that has to do with Private Manning’s safety as well.” In other news, apparently Manning’s no longer sleeping naked: Now he gets to have a “suicide-proof” sleeping smock.
Resignation of Philip J. Crowley as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
March 13, 2011
It is with regret that I have accepted the resignation of Philip J. Crowley as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. PJ has served our nation with distinction for more than three decades, in uniform and as a civilian. His service to country is motivated by a deep devotion to public policy and public diplomacy, and I wish him the very best. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) Michael Hammer will serve as Acting Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs.
STATEMENT BY PHILIP J. CROWLEY
The unauthorized disclosure of classified information is a serious crime under U.S. law. My recent comments regarding the conditions of the pre-trial detention of Private First Class Bradley Manning were intended to highlight the broader, even strategic impact of discrete actions undertaken by national security agencies every day and their impact on our global standing and leadership. The exercise of power in today’s challenging times and relentless media environment must be prudent and consistent with our laws and values.
Given the impact of my remarks, for which I take full responsibility, I have submitted my resignation as Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs and Spokesman for the Department of State.
I am enormously grateful to President Obama and Secretary Clinton for the high honor of once again serving the American people. I leave with great admiration and affection for my State colleagues, who promote our national interest both on the front lines and in the quiet corners of the world. It was a privilege to help communicate their many and vital contributions to our national security. And I leave with deep respect for the journalists who report on foreign policy and global developments every day, in many cases under dangerous conditions and subject to serious threats. Their efforts help make governments more responsible, accountable and transparent.
Crowley’s Twitter personality mirrored his real-life personality — affable, edgy, sometimes sarcastic, and occasionally a little off-message. Crowley’s energy and willingness to take measured risks by going beyond the Obama administration’s standard talking points is what endeared him to the reporters he worked with each day. It was that same openness that cost him his job, after he admitted that he believed the Marine Corps’ treatment of alleged WikiLeaks source Private Bradley Manning was “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.”
Crowley’s last tweet before resigning was a gem, but he deleted it. “We’ve been watching hopeful #tsunami sweep across #MiddleEast. Now seeing a tsunami of a different kind sweep across Japan,” read the March 11 tweet.
Of the remaining 400-plus tweets he sent out to his 24,000-plus followers, here are The Cable‘s top 10, in reverse chronological order:
This argument is the liberal argument. This is what distinguishes liberals from conservatives in this space. The liberal argument isn’t that we have an extensive, unaccountable security state and feel really bad about it (while the conservative argument is that we cheerlead it), it’s that this kind of state is a bad deal. The machine Cheney et al were operating in the dark, away from any oversight gave us no useful intelligence, corrupted offices, people and practices, and left us less safe than had we not done anything. This is the argument I find convincing. That Obama campaigned as the constitutional law professor from Chicago who could push back on the 8-year power grab was one reason I found him so compelling as a candidate.
Three related: 1. Kudos to the people who cover this material. Glenn Greenwald, FDL, Adam Serwer, etc. I can link to an unemployment number to tell you what you already know – things are bad in the economy. That Obama has an aggressive war on whistleblowers when he campaigned to expand their protections is a tough narrative to establish, especially since everyone has wanted to believe otherwise in the liberal space.
2. Emptywheel has a post about the Brothers Daley and torture, relating Bill Daley’s comment – “he’s done” – to the sordid history of Richard Daley’s time as a prosecutor and Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge’s torture of African-American residents of Chicago during interrogations. I’ve talked with people who know the Burge situation well from Chicago, and when I ask how could it happen I always get some variety of “that’s how things were done back then.” I worry that a “that’s how things are done” is taking to the surveillance state now that Obama hasn’t broke it but instead established and, in some cases, expanded it.
3. Robert Chlala at Jadaliyya has a post – Of Predators and Radicals: King’s Hearings and the Political Economy of Criminalization – that gives a disturbing look at where all this can go. Discussing “From Super Predator to Predator Drone” Chlala argues that the current work done on Muslim so-called radicalization in America looks very similar to the African-American “youth gang” hysteria of the 1990s, an argument that lead to a massive expansion of the incarceration state along with a political ideology of making “state violence the only solution to social questions…while nurturing a broader racialized political economy of fear that entwines media, police, military, prisons, urban “entrepreneurs,” and security/crime “experts” towards the solidification of the neoliberal punitive state.” We’ve seen where this hysteria leads. Serious leadership and mechanisms for accountability when it fails is needed.
It sounds even stranger when you type it out: the spokesman for the Secretary of State resigned over comments he made at a seminar of around 20 people at MIT. It sounds so strange that the Guardian muddled it a bit in one of the first stories on the matter.
Not really; it was a non-reported, non-televised talk to a small group that happened to be blogged. He wasn’t saying he spoke for the administration, much less that he knew the facts of the case. It was a comment in confidence; that was enough to embarrass the administration and boost him out.
Reflexive leftism is pretty common at State, and I suppose this was a classic gaffe, i.e., Crowley said what he actually believed. Still, it is hard to understand how Crowley could have thought it would be OK to slam the Defense Department. Isn’t the State Department supposed to be all about diplomacy? Isn’t it a bit weird that they can’t come up with a spokesman who is diplomatic enough not to insult the guys on his own side?
The military says that Manning is on suicide watch which necessitates his being stripped to make sure he can’t harm himself. If Crowley thinks that’s “ridiculous” he also thinks the Defense Department are violating the law by enforcing common sense procedures to make sure we have a live suspect to stand trial and not a dead martyr.
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.
Jane Hamsher is with David House who is trying to visit Pvt. Bradley Manning at Quantico today while carrying a petition with 42,000 signatures requesting humane treatment for Manning. The military isn’t making it easy at all and detained Jane and David for two hours. We’re publishing her tweets as well as David House’s tweets here as a post in case you haven’t been able to follow them on Twitter (@JaneHamsher and @DavidMHouse
UPDATE: At 2:50pm the military released Jane and David, and told David he could go off base and come back on to visit Bradley. But visiting hours end at 3pm, so Bradley won’t get a visit. We’ll have more soon.
I don’t think any of this had anything to do with me, or frankly the 42,000 petition signatures. The only thing I did was provide housing and transportation to David House, because he’s just out of college and Glenn Greenwald told him he could stay with me when he comes to visit Manning.
Everyone but David has stopped coming to see Bradley, and it takes a lot of courage to do what David is doing. It’s a very intimidating situation. So I try to support him by giving him a place to stay and driving him to the base when he comes to town. That’s really my only involvement.
There is no doubt in my mind that the primary objective of everything that happened today was to keep Bradley Manning from having the company of his only remaining visitor. The MPs told us they were ordered to do this, the brass showed up to make sure that they did, and they held us until 2:50 by repeatedly asking for information they already had whenever we asked to leave.
Visiting hours at the brig end at 3pm, and don’t begin again until the next weekend. It’s a half hour walk from the front gate to the brig, and although they have allowed David to walk before, they wouldn’t let him do it this time. They said he’d have to catch a cab and come back on the base, but they wouldn’t release him to do that until 2:50.
This was all about detaining David, not me. I would not be surprised to learn they were also punishing him for speaking out about Manning’s conditions. The State Department, the FBI and just about every three-letter government agency has been investigating David and the other Boston hackers since they began organizing support for Bradley Manning last summer, with one witch hunt after another attempting to implicate them in one of Adrian Lamo’s fabulist tales of a physical disk hand-off from Manning to Wikileaks. The New York Times keeps printing that one, over and over again, with the Justice Department whispering in their ear and nothing but the word of the inconsistent Lamo for evidence.
David has been detained at the airport, his computer seized and held for months with no explanation. The McCarthy-esque actions of the security agencies has terrified all of these idealistic young people. It is exceptionally admirable that David and others persist in supporting Bradley Manning despite it all.
The net effect of the MP’s actions today was to escalate the climate of threats and intimidation around David, a 23 year-old who just graduated from college, and cut Manning off from any personal contact with the one person who is still showing up to visit him after the government consciously scared everyone else off.
I am very happy that I went, and could be there to support David, because one of the first things the MPs said to us when we arrived — long before they asked for driver’s license, social security numbers, registration, phone numbers, quizzed us about the addresses on our licenses, etc, etc, was that they had orders to do all of this. Which means they were planning to detain us long before we got there. They were going to use any excuse to keep David from visiting Manning, and try to intimidate him from coming back.
A spokesman for the base told the AP that the two were never detained. He said Hamsher’s car was towed after she failed to show proof of insurance, and after MPs determined her car’s license plates were expired.
Manning, who is 23, has been charged with eight crimes related to illegally leaking classified information. Manning is accused of leaking 250,000 diplomatic cables, tens of thousands of military dispatches from the war in Afghanistan and a video that shows U.S. forces opening fire on civilians in Iraq, including two Reuters journalists.
Here’s a free tip for those who are obviously not terribly familiar with the military. You don’t give the military a courtesy call to tell them you are coming. You ask their permission. It’s a military base, not a theme park. And when you tell them in advance that you’re coming to their turf to pull off a media stunt intended to make them look bad and challenge their authority, they’re going to mess with you. Further, even if one of you is on the approved visitor list, (Hamsher is not) when you arrive at a United States Military facility, you are there as their guest. They may choose to suffer your presence, but from the moment you pass through those gates you’re playing by their rules.
Nobody knows why Marines are holding Bradley Manning who is in the Army anyway. Manning attorney unable to get an answer.
If there’s any truth to that, Manning needs to fire his attorney. The Marines handle security duty at numerous military facilities around the world, including the brigs on larger Navy ships. Quantico’s brig, which is staffed by both Marine and Navy personnel, is famous as a secure destination for suspects and convicts in transition, particularly in high profile cases. It has housed a variety of notorious figures ranging from wannabe presidential assassin John Hinkley to convicted traitor and spy Clayton J. Lonetree. There is absolutely nothing unusual about a suspect like Manning winding up there.
In the end, this stunt was just the next phase in Hamsher’s relentless campaign to lionize both Bradley Manning and Julian Assange as some sort of heroes. It’s an effort which has been regularly abetted by Glenn Greenwald, who jumped into the brewing Twitter storm almost immediately. At one point I asked him if he thought Manning might actually be guilty of releasing all those documents and if that made him some sort of hero in Glenn’s eyes. His response was refreshingly honest.
I have no idea – we wait until what’s called a “verdict” before imposing punishment on people. And yeah, I think it’s heroic.
I’m sure we’re all anxious to find out where this story goes next. Will more visitors take on the U.S. Marines? Will Private Manning have his cable TV access reduced to even more barbaric levels less than six hours per day? Will Jane get her car back and find her insurance card? Tune in next time on, As the World of Manning Turns.
The claim is that Hamsher has only electronic rather than printed proof of car insurance — the same proof she’s had every other time she brought House there, though without a petition — and they have thus impounded her car. They also, though, are refusing — without any explanation — to let House visit Manning despite his being on the approved visitor list. So much for Manning’s once-a-week reprieve from solitary confinement.
Bradley Manning, the 22-year-old U.S. Army Private accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, has never been convicted of that crime, nor of any other crime. Despite that, he has been detained at the U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia for five months — and for two months before that in a military jail in Kuwait — under conditions that constitute cruel and inhumane treatment and, by the standards of many nations, even torture. Interviews with several people directly familiar with the conditions of Manning’s detention, ultimately including a Quantico brig official (Lt. Brian Villiard) who confirmed much of what they conveyed, establishes that the accused leaker is subjected to detention conditions likely to create long-term psychological injuries.
Since his arrest in May, Manning has been a model detainee, without any episodes of violence or disciplinary problems. He nonetheless was declared from the start to be a “Maximum Custody Detainee,” the highest and most repressive level of military detention, which then became the basis for the series of inhumane measures imposed on him.
From the beginning of his detention, Manning has been held in intensive solitary confinement. For 23 out of 24 hours every day — for seven straight months and counting — he sits completely alone in his cell. Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he’s barred even from exercising and is under constant surveillance to enforce those restrictions. For reasons that appear completely punitive, he’s being denied many of the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, including even a pillow or sheets for his bed (he is not and never has been on suicide watch). For the one hour per day when he is freed from this isolation, he is barred from accessing any news or current events programs. Lt. Villiard protested that the conditions are not “like jail movies where someone gets thrown into the hole,” but confirmed that he is in solitary confinement, entirely alone in his cell except for the one hour per day he is taken out.
In sum, Manning has been subjected for many months without pause to inhumane, personality-erasing, soul-destroying, insanity-inducing conditions of isolation similar to those perfected at America’s Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado: all without so much as having been convicted of anything. And as is true of many prisoners subjected to warped treatment of this sort, the brig’s medical personnel now administer regular doses of anti-depressants to Manning to prevent his brain from snapping from the effects of this isolation.
Just by itself, the type of prolonged solitary confinement to which Manning has been subjected for many months is widely viewed around the world as highly injurious, inhumane, punitive, and arguably even a form of torture. In his widely praised March, 2009 New Yorker article — entitled “Is Long-Term Solitary Confinement Torture?” — the surgeon and journalist Atul Gawande assembled expert opinion and personal anecdotes to demonstrate that, as he put it, “all human beings experience isolation as torture.” By itself, prolonged solitary confinement routinely destroys a person’s mind and drives them into insanity. A March, 2010 article in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Lawexplains that “solitary confinement is recognized as difficult to withstand; indeed, psychological stressors such as isolation can be as clinically distressing as physical torture.”
For that reason, many Western nations — and even some non-Western nations notorious for human rights abuses — refuse to employ prolonged solitary confinement except in the most extreme cases of prisoner violence. “It’s an awful thing, solitary,” John McCain wrote of his experience in isolated confinement in Vietnam. “It crushes your spirit.” As Gawande documented: “A U.S. military study of almost a hundred and fifty naval aviators returned from imprisonment in Vietnam . . . reported that they found social isolation to be as torturous and agonizing as any physical abuse they suffered.” Gawande explained that America’s application of this form of torture to its own citizens is what spawned the torture regime which President Obama vowed to end:
This past year, both the Republican and the Democratic Presidential candidates came out firmly for banning torture and closing the facility in Guantánamo Bay, where hundreds of prisoners have been held in years-long isolation. Neither Barack Obama nor John McCain, however, addressed the question of whether prolonged solitary confinement is torture. . . .
This is the dark side of American exceptionalism. . . . Our willingness to discard these standards for American prisoners made it easy to discard the Geneva Conventions prohibiting similar treatment of foreign prisoners of war, to the detriment of America’s moral stature in the world. In much the same way that a previous generation of Americans countenanced legalized segregation, ours has countenanced legalized torture. And there is no clearer manifestation of this than our routine use of solitary confinement . . . .
It’s one thing to impose such punitive, barbaric measures on convicts who have proven to be violent when around other prisoners; at the Supermax in Florence, inmates convicted of the most heinous crimes and who pose a threat to prison order and the safety of others are subjected to worse treatment than what Manning experiences. But it’s another thing entirely to impose such conditions on individuals, like Manning, who have been convicted of nothing and have never demonstrated an iota of physical threat or disorder.
Appropriately, Glenn links to this truly harrowing New Yorker piece on long-term solitary confinement. I don’t really see any argument for keeping Manning in these conditions, except a punitive one. But since he hasn’t been convicted of anything, I don’t see that argument either.
I think the worse part, is that very few people care what kind of condition the incarcerated endure. We have essentially accepted prison-rape. The New Yorker piece asks is solitary confinement torture? I’d ask, even if it is torture, whether we even care?
There is absolutely no reason for this whatsoever, other than the fact that the United States has morphed into a brutal and repressive regime that is terrified of dissent. The only difference between this treatment and what we imagine third world nations do is that we have cleaner and more modern facilities. Hell, at this point Manning would probably welcome physical torture- it would be a welcome diversion.
And yet, this goes on every day in the greatest nation in the world, the home of the free and the land of the brave. Brought to our collective knees in terror of a rosy-cheeked private who had the balls to allow our lies to be published. And for that, we must emulate those great men who have gone before us- Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, and other great human rights leader, and publicly make a show of our ability to crush one man. Because that is what this is- a message to every one else. There is no other reason to be subjecting Manning to this behavior, as he could be safely secured at any county jailhouse in this nation. Hell, he could be returned to his unit and confined to quarters, and nothing would happen.
We’re basically scum these days. It’s really sad. And I do not know how Lt. Villard and those like them live with themselves or sleep at night. I really don’t. Spare me the “they’re just following orders” crap. But we’ll go on spouting bullshit about Human Rights in every international forum we can find. American exceptionalism!
*** Update ***
For Christ’s sake, people. I simply am astounded at the lengths some of you will go to excuse this. “But I don’t like or trust Glenn Greenwald!” Who gives a shit if you don’t like him or trust him, try looking at the damned links he provides? What the hell is wrong with your cognitive skills? At the bottom of the page, there is an update which states a minor correction from THE OFFICIAL IN CHARGE OF MANNING’S DETENTION. That means they have read what Glenn said, and found one error, and corrected it. That would suggest to most people with at least one functioning synapse that, horror of horrors, Glenn’s piece is ACCURATE.
And yes manic progressives in the comments, this is on Obama. If we know about his, so does he, and he could stop it. It’s a goddamned disgrace. I didn’t realize I need to point this out explicitly, because Obama is, after all, the President and Commander-in-Chief. I sort of assumed you dullards knew this.
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 pre-trial hearing for a 23-year old Canadian citizen tried before a military commission is likely to host some of the most dramatic testimony of the post-9/11 era this week. That is, if the government and defense attorneys don’t reach a plea deal to settle the case of Omar Khadr, who has been held in detention for nearly eight years and charged with the murder of a U.S. Special Forces soldier.
Khadr’s attorneys plan to call someone known only as “Interrogator #1″ to testify this week. According to attorneys Barry Coburn and Kobie Flowers, Interrogator #1 will testify to having personally threatened Khadr in 2002 with sending the then-15 year old son of an Osama bin Laden associate to Egypt to be raped if he did not cooperate with interrogators at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan.
Additionally, during cross-examination during the first four days of the hearing — in which Khadr’s attorneys are asking a military judge to exclude all of their client’s statements to his interrogators from the government’s case against him, arguing that they occurred under coercion and even torture — Khadr’s attorneys have asserted that the first person to have ever interrogated Khadr at Bagram was court-martialed from the military for participating in the abuse of detainees.
As the government continues to pursue the case of Omar Khadr, it’s becoming clear why the administration chose to try this case in a military commission rather than a regular civilian federal court: a civilian federal court judge would likely throw the case out.
The reason isn’t only that Khadr was, at worst, a child soldier – he was 15 when he was captured in a compound of al Qaeda associates who were friends of his father’s. It’s that his statements recounting what he did before his capture would almost certainly be ruled inadmissible.
Khadr is accused of throwing a grenade in a firefight with U.S. forces in Afghanistan that killed an American soldier. He’s also accused of assisting al Qaeda operatives – all friends of his father’s – in making and laying explosives.
Although almost killed in the firefight, Khadr eventually regained consciousness at the US air base in Bagram, where he was immediately interrogated. Among other things, he provided valuable information about al Qaeda operatives.
Four of his interrogators took the stand last week in a pretrial hearing in Khadr’s war crimes case now pending in the military commission at Guantanamo Bay.
So far, two military interrogators and two FBI agents have described how they ingratiated themselves to the young teenager by bringing him M&M’s, McDonald’s sandwiches and video games. One, an attractive young woman identified only as “Number 11,” says she was chosen to question him in the hopes that he would open up to her as “a mother figure.” Whether he saw the lithe twenty-something brunette as motherly or something else is questionable. (Journalists at Gitmo last week took to calling this witness “the honeypot.”)
Setting aside the ethics of using an attractive young woman to lure an adolescent boy, there’s a striking problem raised by all of the interrogators’ testimony so far: not one read Khadr his rights. That was U.S. policy at the time, because the government’s goal was to obtain military intelligence, not to prosecute crimes.
These days, critics mock the idea that terror suspects should be read Miranda rights – a Supreme Court rule created to ensure the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination. But what’s become clear in the military commission proceedings last week is the critical role that rule plays: to ensure that confessions are voluntary, and that the suspect knows that his statements could be used against him later.
The back and forth this week may determine what evidence is admitted at his trial that is set to begin in July, unless the defendant and government come to an agreement, which is allegedly in the works.
The contrasts strike me in politics as well. Representative McKeon this week said he plans to introduce a series of amendments to the House Defense Appropriations Bill, one of which would force all trials of 9/11 defendants into military commissions. Why would anyone do that other than to delay justice?
The federal civilian courts have tried more than 400 terrorism cases since 9/11; the military commissions have tried only three. The federal civilian courts follow a Constitution that has stood us in good stead for more than 200 years; the military tribunals just received yet another set of rules last week, rules which will face years of constitutional challenges to sort out.
Senator Lindsey Graham argues that suspected terrorists do not deserve the same rights as someone who robbed a 7/11, rights like due process. Yet, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, said recently that President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld knew that the vast majority of detainees at Guantanamo were innocent. Senator Graham, doesn’t due process help us sort out the good from the bad? Neither Guantanamo nor military commissions have delivered justice that is swift or sure.
I look forward to the hearing. I take seriously the allegations of wrongdoing, just as I take seriously our obligations as a country to live by our values and provide a fair, transparent and just adjudication. I am sure the contrasts will continue to strike me, as I do jumping jacks to stay fit while downing the local fried KFC offered to visiting observers.
Omar Khadr is accused of throwing a grenade that killed Sgt. First Class Christopher J. Speer during a battle in Afghanistan in 2002. Khadr was 15 at the time, and his lawyers claim that Khadr underwent abusive treatment and torture after being captured, including stress positions, rape threats, and being used as a “human mop” after he urinated in his cell.
Military commissions proceedings are currently under way at Guantanamo to determine the admissibility of evidence the defense says was gained through coercion. The stakes are high, because as Spencer Ackermanreports, a loss for the government could imperil an indefinite number of future military commissions cases, while successful admission of such evidence will call into question the fairness of the proceedings. The other option the government is considering is a plea deal, which would allow the government to avoid dealing with such questions at all.
The plea deal reportedly offered would keep Khadr in jail for five more years, and the defense rejected it. That makes sense. Of the previous three military commissions cases that ended in convictions, two got fairly light sentences. Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden‘s limo driver and bodyguard, got five months plus time served, and is already back home in Yemen. David Hicks, an Australian who fought on behalf of the Taliban in Afghanistan, got a plea deal and served nine months. Are Khadr’s alleged offenses, especially given his age at the time, that much more serious than the prior two convicts?
Canadian Omar Khadr has not shown up for his military commission. Complaining of pain in the eye he lost while being captured, he refuses to be transported because he won’t wear the absurd and disgusting Padilla-style ear-muffs and eye-goggles to keep him blind and deaf in transit (see above). The truck that would transport him has no windows anyway, but he is still required to wear the total sensory deprivation gear. His quote:
“The only purpose is to humiliate me.”
Who can doubt him? The Cheney sadism endures. To Obama’s shame.
GUANTANAMO BAY — Late-breaking disappointment for Omar Khadr’s defense: the judge in his military commission has ordered that Khadr must submit to a government psychological exam before the defense can present its mental-health experts. Long story short, because of the judge’s provision to allow for four weeks for the exam, that means it’s going to be early June before the defense presents its case in the pre-trial suppression hearing. Read all about it in my brand-new Washington Independent piece. I was thisclose to beating Reuters‘ Jane Sutton. But no one beats Reuters’ Jane Sutton.
So this means I’m going to try to catch a commercial flight off this island on Wednesday if that’s at all possible. Don’t know whether it will be. But I miss Attackerlady like a motherfucker. And yes, Joey, I am still trying to catch the Converge show at the 930 on Wednesday night, and thereby floorpunch for justice.
The leader of the bloc that received the most votes in last month’s elections called Wednesday for the creation of an internationally backed caretaker authority to prevent what he said were unlawful attempts by Iraq’s government to overturn the results.
The move escalated a standoff between the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, which won the most seats in the March 7 parliamentary elections, and a bloc led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which came in a close second. Former prime minister Ayad Allawi, the leader of Iraqiya, also proposed extending the mandate of the outgoing parliament until a new one is in place, “for the purpose of monitoring the executive branch.”
Adding to the political tension, Human Rights Watch released a report late Tuesday saying that members of a military unit under the command of Maliki, a Shiite, systemically tortured and sexually abused hundreds of Sunni Arab prisoners.
“The horror we found suggests torture was a norm in [al-Muthanna],” Joe Stork, the group’s Middle East director, said in a statement, referring to a secret detention facility at a military airport in Baghdad. “The government needs to prosecute all of those responsible for this systemic brutality.”
In recent days, U.S. officials have expressed concern about the post-election wrangling, which has prevented Iraq’s electoral commission from certifying the results and has indefinitely delayed formation of a new Iraqi government.
Standing in the way are a manual recount of votes cast in Baghdad and efforts by a commission run by Shiite politicians to disqualify winning candidates for alleged ties to Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath Party. At the same time, the U.S. military intends to withdraw about half of its current force by the end of August, leaving 50,000 troops.
Allawi said Wednesday that the Justice and Accountability Commission is carrying out “malicious disqualifications.”
Part of me thinks that we’ve entered into a period similar to 2004-2005, where brewing trouble inside Iraq is either dismissed or ignored. Just as conservatives and the Bush administration pooh-poohed the insurgency right up until the point that it exploded, now (if they’re even paying attention) they’re dismissing the political violence and declaring President Bush a world-historical figure for the Surge. Liberals, who had an incentive during the Bush years to sound the alarm, have mostly fallen silent (except for Robert Dreyfuss, who thinks Iran has already won). I sure hope I’m wrong. But sectarian torture camps don’t bode well for the future of a democratic Iraq.
Detainees in a secret Baghdad detention facility were hung upside-down, deprived of air, kicked, whipped, beaten, given electric shocks, and sodomized, Human Rights Watch said today. Iraq should thoroughly investigate and prosecute all government and security officials responsible, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch interviewed 42 of the men in the Al Rusafa Detention Center on April 26, 2010. They were among about 300 detainees transferred from the secret facility in the old Muthanna airport in West Baghdad to Al Rusafa into a special block of 19 cage-type cells over the past several weeks, after the existence of the secret prison was revealed.
The men’s stories were credible and consistent. Most of the 300 displayed fresh scars and injuries they said were a result of routine and systematic torture they had experienced at the hands of interrogators at Muthanna. All were accused of aiding and abetting terrorism, and many said they were forced to sign false confessions.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki disputed reports charging that Iraq is torturing and abusing people in a secret prison.
“There are no secret prisons in Iraq at all,” the prime minister said in a Monday interview with state-run Al-Iraqiya TV.
Allegations of torture and abuse at the prison, named Muthanna, were first reported by The Los Angeles Times April 19. Amnesty International has urged Iraqi officials to investigate the claims.
Human Rights Watch released a report on the issue Tuesday, saying the detainees are routinely beaten, shocked and sodomized by their interrogators.
Al-Maliki continued to deny that there was a secret prison and called the reports “a smear campaign in which embassies and media organizations took part and it was perpetuated by Iraqi politicians because it serves their interests to say that there are secret prisons.”
The torture of Iraqi detainees at a secret prison in Baghdad was far more systematic and brutal than initially reported, Human Rights Watch reported on Tuesday.The Washington Post:
Adding to the political tension, Human Rights Watch released a report late Tuesday saying that members of a military unit under the command of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, systemically tortured and sexually abused hundreds of Sunni Arab prisoners.NPR:
Iraqi men held for months at a secret prison outside Baghdad were systematically tortured and forced to sign confession statements that in at least some cases they were forbidden to read, according to a new report by a human rights group released Wednesday.When OTHER people do it, HRW is a legitimate, credible source, and it is not “allegations of torture” or “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
On the politics of Iraq, it’s pretty clear from the article and other coverage that at least some Republicans are preparing to attack the president on Iraq, on the grounds that he’s (1) insufficiently focused on it, (2) stubbornly sticking to an inflexible deadline, and so therefore (3) he will have “lost” Iraq. (Not to mention (4) The Terrorists!). Obama would be wise, on narrow political grounds, to continue to ignore such criticisms. This is, in a sense, a curious case where the usual myopia of the American mass media is going to help Obama even if the policy goes wrong. Basically, as long as Americans aren’t dying in Iraq, there are going to be very few news stories about that nation. That’s going to be true if there’s a low-level civil war, and it’s certainly going to be true if democracy doesn’t, in the end, triumph. Sure, if there’s a coup, CNN will cover it briefly, but after that it’ll be back to weather, murders, shark attacks, and whatever else CNN fills its days with. If there’s no coup, but just increasingly rigged elections, or Iraq falling further into Iran’s camp, it’ll get even less coverage (were you aware of this anti-American rally in Iraq last week? Didn’t think so). No one is ever going to base their vote against Barack Obama or the Democrats primarily on Iraq becoming a basket case, if that’s what happens, in large part because the media aren’t going to cover it.
He thinks Obama will continue to draw down troops even if all hell breaks loose. That seems to be the message from the White House. But I’m not so sanguine about the reaction in the US if all those deaths and all that cost and all that damage ends up empowering a Shiite pseudo-strongman, with torture prisons and rigged elections. Anarchy is on the march.
A CIA document released Thursday [April 15] shows that Porter Goss, former director of the CIA, approved a decision to destroy tapes of two detainees’ “brutal interrogation,” as The New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti reports.
“You’re a pistol, you’re really funny…” the wannabe mobster Henry Hill says to Tommy DeVito in the famous “Goodfellas” scene.
“What do you mean I’m funny?…Funny how?” retorts DeVito, played by Joe Pesci in the 1990 gangster flick.
“What do you mean, you mean the way I talk? What?”
Hill (Ray Liotta) swallows. Pesci isn’t joking.
Likewise, CIA Director Porter Goss’s “laugh” at a remark by his chief of operations, Jose Rodriguez, about destroying videotapes of CIA interrogations is gaining an instant notoriety.
According to e-mails made pubic Thursday, Goss “laughed” in 2005 when Rodriguez offered to “take the heat” over the destruction of the recordings.
“PG” — Goss — “laughed and said that actually, it would be he, PG, who would take the heat,” according to an internal spy agency e-mail message, one in a series obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union.
In some reports, Goss’s laugh is interpreted as going along with Rodriquez.
Not so, says a former intelligence official who knows Goss well.
“He laughed, but not in a jocular way,” the former official said. In fact, Goss was “very angry” at Rodriguez, “because he didn’t give advance approval for the tapes’ destruction, and didn’t think it was a very good idea.”
But “Porter is a Connecticut gentleman,” the former official said of Goss, CIA director during 2004 -2006. “He doesn’t show his anger by blowing his top.”
A deputy to Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, then the CIA’s number three official, wrote to Foggo that Foggo’s deputy wrote that Rodriguez had destroyed the tapes because “the heat from destroying is nothing compared to what it would be if the tapes ever got into public domain — he said that out of context they would make us look terrible; it would be ‘devastating’ to us.”
Foggo is currently serving a prison sentence after being convicted of bribery in a case connected to that of former congressman Randy Cunningham.
And, then-White House counsel Harriet Miers was “livid” after being told that the tapes had been destroyed, according to one email.
The Washington Postnotes, intriguingly, that the cable ordering the destruction of the tapes was first drafted by someone who remains undercover, “and has been one of the subjects of Durham’s investigation.”
The Post also grants anonymity to an unnamed government official who downplays the whole saga — and uses the quote in the third paragraph of its story.
“There may have been some people who thought precise procedure wasn’t followed, but I haven’t heard of anyone who believed at the time that any law had been broken. That’s quite a different thing,” says the official.
Lots of reading to do, and lots of hints about horrible things. Here’s a particularly interesting end passage from an e-mail by a not-known person to Dusty Foggo, the CIA’s number three about the destruction of interrogation videotapes (Jose is Jose Rodriquez, the deputy director for operations, and Rizzo is the CIA’s general counsel):
Either [REDACTED] lied to Jose about clearing it with [REDACTED] and IG (my bet), or or Jose misstated the facts. (It is not without relevance that [REDACTED] figured prominently in the tapes, as [REDACTED] was in charge of the [REDACTED] at the time and clearly would want the tapes destroyed.
“Rizzo Is clearly upset, because he was on the hook to notify Harriet Miers of the status of the tapes because It was she who had asked to be advised before any action was taken Apparently, Rizzo notified Harriet this afternoon and she was livid which he said was actually unusual for her. Rizzo does not think this Is likely to Just go away.”
I’ve long wondered whether one of the reasons the CIA destroyed the torture tapes is because a review of the tapes would have revealed that the torturers altered the tapes to avoid capturing certain activities on video. The latest dump appears to confirm this happened before December 2002.
On January 9, 2003, McPherson did a report on his review of the tapes (PDF 24-28). Though it is heavily redacted, it appears that he reviewed the log book and the video, claimed to have watched every minute of the video, and declared that the video accurately reflected what had been recorded in the logbook.
Note, it is not clear from the unredacted materials whether he reviewed the guidance to the interrogators as to what they were supposed to be doing–even though that was purportedly one of the reasons he conducted the review.
It appears that PDF 33-37 is the interview report the Inspector General did with McPherson on June 17, 2003, after they had reviewed the torture tapes themselves in May 2003. This report appears to show McPherson admitting that he saw some of the tapes were partially blank, or had snow on them.
[Redacted] for many of the tapes one 1/2 or 3/4 of the tape “there was nothing.” [Redacted] on some tapes it was apparent that the VCR had been turned off and then turned back on right away. [Redacted] on other tapes the video quality was poor and on others the tape had been reused (taped over) or not recorded at all. [Redacted] The label on some tapes read “interrogation session,” but when viewed there was just snow. [Redaction] did not make note of this in [redaction] report. [Redaction] estimated that “half a dozen” videotapes had been taped over or were “snowy.”
Though he claims not to have noticed that two of the tapes were broken (though perhaps they were broken later). When asked why he had not reported the blank tapes in his report, McPherson said he didn’t find that “noteworthy.”
Furthermore, it appears to indicate that McPherson had not reviewed the guidelines given to the interrogators when he did his review.
When asked if it was consistent with guidance [redacted] would have to check guidance before answering.
In other words, his review did not do what it was purported to do. It did not review whether the interrogators were following guidelines.
After the initial December 2002 review, CIA gave clear instructions to the interrogators not to destroy or edit the tapes. However, it appears that the review–inasmuch as it didn’t reveal glaring concerns with the tapes and didn’t actually review whether the interrogators were following instructions–was largely a whitewash of the original tapes in an effort to green light their destruction.
I won’t have anything as insightful to say about the new batch of ACLU-forced disclosures on the CIA torture-tape-destruction as Marcy will, so I will do the smart thing and defer. I just note that the CIA was not using digital video in 2002. You would think the billions spent on the agency would at least lead someone to use better technology to record evidence of felonious behavior.
On September 11, 2006, the fifth anniversary of Al Qaeda’s attacks on America, another devastating terrorist plot was meant to unfold. Radical Islamists had set in motion a conspiracy to hijack seven passenger planes departing from Heathrow Airport, in London, and blow them up in midair. “Courting Disaster” (Regnery; $29.95), by Marc A. Thiessen, a former speechwriter in the Bush Administration, begins by imagining the horror that would have resulted had the plot succeeded. He conjures fifteen hundred dead airline passengers, televised “images of debris floating in the ocean,” and gleeful jihadis issuing fresh threats: “We will rain upon you such terror and destruction that you will never know peace.”
The plot, of course, was thwarted—an outcome that has been credited to smart detective work. But Thiessen writes that there is a more important reason that his dreadful scenario never came to pass: the Central Intelligence Agency provided the United Kingdom with pivotal intelligence, using “enhanced interrogation techniques” approved by the Bush Administration. According to Thiessen, British authorities were given crucial assistance by a detainee at Guantánamo Bay who spoke of “plans for the use of liquid explosive,” which can easily be made with products bought at beauty shops. Thiessen also claims that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the primary architect of the 9/11 attacks, divulged key intelligence after being waterboarded by the C.I.A. a hundred and eighty-three times. Mohammed spoke about a 1995 plot, based in the Philippines, to blow up planes with liquid explosives. Thiessen writes that, in early 2006, “an observant C.I.A. officer” informed “skeptical” British authorities that radicals under surveillance in England appeared to be pursuing a similar scheme.
Thiessen’s book, whose subtitle is “How the C.I.A. Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack,” offers a relentless defense of the Bush Administration’s interrogation policies, which, according to many critics, sanctioned torture and yielded no appreciable intelligence benefit. In addition, Thiessen attacks the Obama Administration for having banned techniques such as waterboarding. “Americans could die as a result,” he writes.
Yet Thiessen is better at conveying fear than at relaying the facts. His account of the foiled Heathrow plot, for example, is “completely and utterly wrong,” according to Peter Clarke, who was the head of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorism branch in 2006. “The deduction that what was being planned was an attack against airliners was entirely based upon intelligence gathered in the U.K.,” Clarke said, adding that Thiessen’s “version of events is simply not recognized by those who were intimately involved in the airlines investigation in 2006.” Nor did Scotland Yard need to be told about the perils of terrorists using liquid explosives. The bombers who attacked London’s public-transportation system in 2005, Clarke pointed out, “used exactly the same materials.”
Thiessen’s claim about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed looks equally shaky. The Bush interrogation program hardly discovered the Philippine airlines plot: in 1995, police in Manila stopped it from proceeding and, later, confiscated a computer filled with incriminating details. By 2003, when Mohammed was detained, hundreds of news reports about the plot had been published. If Mohammed provided the C.I.A. with critical new clues—details unknown to the Philippine police, or anyone else—Thiessen doesn’t supply the evidence.
Thiessen makes no bones about the fact that his aim is to show the central role played by the CIA and its use of torture techniques in keeping the country safe during the Bush stewardship. He says he was introduced to the subject when he got the task of drafting a speech that Bush ultimately delivered in September 2006, closing down the black site system and acknowledging use of what the Bush team called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” but offering a robust swan-song defense of what had been done. Thiessen says he relied heavily on information furnished by Michael McConnell—Bush’s national intelligence tsar. But Mayer quickly zeroes in on the information gap that this sets up:
Courting Disaster has a scholarly feel, and hundreds of footnotes, but it is based on a series of slipshod premises. Thiessen, citing McConnell, claims that before the C.I.A. began interrogating detainees the U.S. knew “virtually nothing” about Al Qaeda. But McConnell was not in the government in the years immediately before 9/11. He retired as the director of the National Security Agency in 1996, and did not rejoin the government until 2007. Evidently, he missed a few developments during his time in the private sector, such as the C.I.A.’s founding, in 1996, of its bin Laden unit—the only unit devoted to a single figure. There was also bin Laden’s declaration of war on America, in 1996, and his 1998 indictment in New York, after Al Qaeda’s bombing of two U.S. embassies in East Africa. The subsequent federal trial of the bombing suspects, in New York, produced thousands of pages of documents exposing the internal workings of Al Qaeda. A state’s witness at the trial, a former Al Qaeda member named Jamal al-Fadl, supplied the F.B.I. with invaluable information about the group, including its attempts to obtain nuclear weapons.
Thiessen insists that techniques that have been viewed as torture since the time of the Inquisition—such as waterboarding, the strapado, and hypothermia—are miraculously transformed into something milder and less offensive in the hands of the CIA. And he struggles to present the CIA’s use of torture techniques as an unqualified success. For instance, he insists that the CIA’s practices had nothing to do with the disaster at Abu Ghraib, but Mayer catches him up in another falsehood:
Courting Disaster downplays the C.I.A.’s brutality under the Bush Administration to the point of falsification. Thiessen argues that “the C.I.A. interrogation program did not inflict torture by any reasonable standard,” and that there was “only one single case” in which “inhumane” techniques were used. That case, he writes, involved the detainee Abd al-Rahim Nashiri, whom a C.I.A. interrogator threatened with a handgun to the head, and with an electric drill. He claims that no detainee “deaths in custody took place in the C.I.A. interrogation program,” failing to mention the case of a detainee who was left to freeze to death at a C.I.A.-run prison in Afghanistan. Referring to the Abu Ghraib scandal, Thiessen writes that “what happened in those photos had nothing to do with C.I.A. interrogations, military interrogations, or interrogations of any sort.” The statement is hard to square with the infamous photograph of Manadel al-Jamadi; his body was placed on ice after he died of asphyxiation during a C.I.A. interrogation at the prison. The homicide became so notorious that the C.I.A.’s inspector general, John Helgerson, forwarded the case to the Justice Department for potential criminal prosecution. Thiessen simply ignores the incident.
Thiessen makes the usual – totally untrue – statements: that the methods seen at Abu Ghraib had nothing to do with the actions authorized by Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld (the Senate Committee begs to differ; that only one victim was subject to “inhumane” treatment – a fact denied by both the Red Cross, by countless witnesses, by photographs that were somehow not destroyed by the government, and by Bush’s own prosecutor at Gitmo. The 2004 CIA report on the torture program described it as a failure, not a success; that’s why it was largely ended in the last years of Bush. So was Bush endangering the nation as well?
Read the whole thing. Thiessen’s book sounds like rationalization of the irrational, like the work of a criminal unable to confess or even recognize his crime, of a political hack who cannot endure a self-image as someone who really did betray the core values of his own country and the entire West – out of fear, panic, and ignorance. Well, he may need his own alternate reality to sleep at night.
But this subject is too serious not to see in the light of reality.
The C.I.A. killed Manadel al-Jamadi at Abu Ghraib. There was torture at Guantanamo. The Heathrow plot was foiled by the Brits and the Pakistanis, and not through C.I.A. torture. Al-Qaeda has carried out numerous attacks against “American interests abroad” since the C.I.A. began torturing people. Those are all very well-documented things that Marc Thiessen gets wrong (or lies about) in his book about how much he loves torturing people.
Marc Theissen, who put all those lies in that book and who probably drinks from a coffee mug that says “World’s Best Defender of Doing Things That We Prosecuted Nazis For Doing,” was recently hired to be an op-ed columnist for the Washington Post.He has a column today, in fact! It’s about how earmarks are bad and how Republicans who hate earmarks are good and fiscally responsible but they used to not be fiscally responsible and independent voters who are concerned about government spending will reward Republicans for banning earmarks.
It is inane and boring. It reads like a robot was told to split the difference between David Brooks and Bill Kristol.
So not only does he hold a morally reprehensible position on torture (one that has been completely normalized because of people like the editors of the Washington Post), and not only is he either ignorant of the facts or simply lying to support his morally reprehensible position, but he is also a boring and predictable writer with boring and predictable thoughts on boring and predictable subjects.
Nothing beats an on-the record response from those involved. The line I am getting from Theissen’s defenders is that, Well, he criticized her, too, in his book. Let’s see: One person is a reporter who worked alongside me the Wall Street Journal. The other was a flack for Jesse Helms and Rumsfeld. Who am I more likely to trust? It puzzles me that my old newspaper, The Washington Post, would hire Theissen to write for its op-ed page. How many former Bush speechwriters does one newspaper need?
UPDATE: Theissen responds to Mayer, at National Review
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