The Washington Post reports:
Four months after he was sworn in, CIA Director Leon E. Panetta learned of an intelligence program that had been hidden from Congress since 2001, a revelation that prompted him to immediately cancel the initiative and schedule a pair of closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill.
The next day, June 24, Panetta informed the House and Senate intelligence committees of the program and the action he had taken, according to Democratic and Republican members of the panels.
“Instructions were given not to brief Congress,” Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said in an interview.
CIA officials brought the program to Panetta’s attention, and when he realized it potentially conflicted with what the committees had been told, he immediately went to Capitol Hill, according to officials who discussed classified material on the condition of anonymity.
Reactions to the Panetta briefing split along partisan lines.
Wow… split along party lines. Shocking…
Read all about it here.
And for some excellent commentary on this story, read John Nichols’ article in The Nation. Excerpt:
Pelosi said the Central Intelligence Agency had failed to inform her about the character and extent of the harsh interrogations.
Pelosi accused the CIA of “misleading the Congress of the United States.”
Republican senators screamed.
No matter what anyone thinks of Pelosi or waterboarding, there is a clear case for dramatically expanding congressional oversight of the CIA. Of course, more House and Senate members should have access to briefings — and should have the authority to hold CIA officials (and their White House overseers) to account for deliberate deceptions. But that ought not be the first response to the latest news.
Step one must be to get to the bottom of exactly what the CIA was lying about.
That would be nice, but I think it’s going to be a while before we uncover all the misdeeds of Bush’s only successful endeavor: Mendacity, Inc.
Today’s New York Times reports on the Torture Memos that the A.C.L.U. was able to obtain through a successful lawsuit against the U. S. Government. The NYT story confirms what we knew all along: “Torture” was defined in memos written by lawyers in Bush’s Justice Department and signed by Jay S. Bybee, Steven G. Bradbury, and John Yoo. The Bush Administration relied on the legal opinions expressed in the memos to authorize torture, or what they called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
Excerpts from the article:
The Justice Department on Thursday made public detailed memos describing brutal interrogation techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency, as President Obama sought to reassure the agency that the C.I.A. operatives involved would not be prosecuted.
In dozens of pages of dispassionate legal prose, the methods approved by the Bush administration for extracting information from senior operatives of Al Qaeda are spelled out in careful detail — like keeping detainees awake for up to 11 straight days, placing them in a dark, cramped box or putting insects into the box to exploit their fears.
The interrogation methods were authorized beginning in 2002, and some were used as late as 2005 in the C.I.A.’s secret overseas prisons. The techniques were among the Bush administration’s most closely guarded secrets, and the documents released Thursday afternoon were the most comprehensive public accounting to date of the program.
Some senior Obama administration officials, including Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., have labeled one of the 14 approved techniques, waterboarding, illegal torture. The United States prosecuted some Japanese interrogators at war crimes trials after World War II for waterboarding and other methods detailed in the memos.
Passages describing forced nudity, the slamming of detainees into walls, prolonged sleep deprivation and the dousing of detainees with water as cold as 41 degrees alternate with elaborate legal arguments concerning the international Convention Against Torture.
The documents were released with minimal redactions, indicating that President Obama sided against current and former C.I.A. officials who for weeks had pressed the White House to withhold details about specific interrogation techniques.
Mr. Obama condemned what he called a “dark and painful chapter in our history” and said that the interrogation techniques would never be used again. But he also repeated his opposition to a lengthy inquiry into the program, saying that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”
Mr. Obama said that C.I.A. officers who were acting on the Justice Department’s legal advice would not be prosecuted, but he left open the possibility that anyone who acted without legal authorization could still face criminal penalties. He did not address whether lawyers who authorized the use of the interrogation techniques should face some kind of penalty.
The A.C.L.U. said the memos clearly describe criminal conduct and underscore the need to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate who authorized and carried out torture.
This article very clearly places blame not on “a few bad apples” but on high ranking government officials in the Bush Administration. In order to put this nasty episode behind us, we must “spend our time and energy” to identify those who are to blame. And we must prosecute them even if they turn out to be the former President and Vice President of the United States of America.
So I say President Obama is wrong and the A.C.L.U. is right. If we don’t hold those responsible for the “dark and painful chapter in our history,” what is to stop anyone in the future from doing the same thing?
There has been much discussion lately about Obama’s surprising pick of Leon Panetta to head the Central Intelligence Agency. I don’t know that much about him, but based on this quote from a column he wrote for The Washington Monthly a year ago, he appears to be a man with high moral standards – something we aren’t used to seeing in a presidential administration.
“Those who support torture may believe that we can abuse captives in certain select circumstances and still be true to our values, but that is a false compromise. We either believe in the dignity of the individual, the rule of law, and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, or we don’t. There is no middle ground. We cannot and we must not use torture under any circumstances. We are better than that.”
Obama had to have picked him because he is not tainted by the egregious abuse of power and brazen lawlessness that has infected the CIA for the past eight years. If Panetta stands by his words, and he proves to be an effective director, then I expect the CIA will once again follow the rule of law and slowly regain respect at home and abroad.
Can land you in jail.
The Rocky Mountain News reported on Tuesday that:
…Steve Howards was walking his 7-year-old son to a piano practice, when he saw Cheney surrounded by a group of people in an outdoor mall area, shaking hands and posing for pictures with several people.
According to the lawsuit filed at U.S. District Court in Denver, Howards and his son walked to about two-to-three feet from where Cheney was standing, and said to the vice president, “I think your policies in Iraq are reprehensible,” or words to that effect, then walked on.
Ten minutes later, according to Howards’ lawsuit, he and his son were walking back through the same area, when they were approached by Secret Service agent Virgil D. “Gus” Reichle Jr., who asked Howards if he had “assaulted” the vice president. Howards denied doing so, but was nonetheless placed in handcuffs and taken to the Eagle County Jail.
The Vail Daily News reported in June that Secret Service Spokesman Eric Zahren said of Howards:
“[He] wasn’t acting like the other folks in the area.”
“His behavior and demeanor wasn’t quite right,” Zahren said. “The agents tried to question him, and he was argumentative and combative”
You’d expect the Secret Service to exaggerate a bit when describing his behavior. They had to make the arrest appear justified.
But the way I see it is that Cheney and his entourage aren’t used to seeing dissenters. They are more accustomed to groups of gleeful, flag waving supporters that respectfully approach him and then bow down before him with their offerings of flowers. So when they encountered a man standing around waiting for the right moment to state his feelings about Cheney’s Iraqi War policies, he appeared out of place and threatening.
It’s actually pretty normal for most politicians to encounter dissenters, just not for members of the Bush Administration.
Sounds to me like the Bush screeners were a little lapse that day and let a dissenter slip through the defense lines into the inner circle of Bush/Cheney worshippers.
In any event, the charges were dismissed and, as Tuesday’s article reports, Mr. Howards filed a lawsuit against the Secret Service for violating his right to free speech and his right to be free from unlawful seizure.
That’s good, but if I were Mr. Howards, I’d be worried about being swept away by the CIA some day. I’d be concerned about being labeled an “enemy combatant,” being held prisoner without charges at an undisclosed location, and getting tortured until I acknowledged Cheney as the omnipotent savior of the free world.
Either that or getting shot in the face.
A few days ago I put up a post about how Richard Armitage said he “inadvertently” blew Valerie Plame’s cover when he mentioned to Robert Novak that she worked for the CIA. Novak then told the world.
Novak wrote today that his meeting with Armitage was not casual at all. The Washington Post reports:
Columnist Robert D. Novak, who first revealed Valerie Plame’s employment by the CIA and touched off a lengthy federal leak investigation, is accusing his primary source of misrepresenting their conversation to make the source’s role in the disclosure seem more casual than it was.
First, Armitage did not, as he now indicates, merely pass on something he had heard and that he “thought” might be so. Rather, he identified to me the CIA division where Mrs. Wilson worked and said flatly that she recommended the mission to Niger by her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. Second, Armitage did not slip me this information as idle chitchat, as he now suggests. He made clear that he considered it especially suited for my column.
As Jon Stewart says, Bob Novak is a huge douche bag, but why would he make that up? It’s not like he needs any more publicity from this case. His recollection is probably accurate, and Armitage probably understated his involvement.
So is there any chance that Fitzgerald will go after Armitage? Not likely… the Post story ends with:
Fitzgerald has not declared his probe of the leak finished, 2 1/2 years after it began, although he told Armitage in a Feb. 24 letter that “absent unexpected developments, I do not anticipate seeking any criminal charges against you.”
The story also reports that Valerie Plame sued Armitage yesterday, accusing him of violating her privacy rights. Good luck with that lawsuit Valerie. You must know by now that Mr. Armitage said he felt really bad and embarrassed by it. What more do you want?
This story about the Senate Intelligence Committee’s agreement with the White House that allows President Bush to continue his domestic spying program “with oversight” instead of demanding that he comply with existing law only proves that we no longer live in a democracy. “We the people” have been hosed.
And just how craven are the Republicans in the House?
The House Intelligence Committee said last week that it would seek limited briefings for some panel members so that they could weigh changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but the Republican leaders of the House committee stopped far short of proposing the kind of continuing oversight and rules changes that the Senate committee has settled on. A spokeswoman for the White House, Dana Perino, called the Republican senators’ proposal “a generally sound approach.”
“We’re eager to work with Congress on legislation that would further codify the president’s authority,” Ms. Perino said. “We remain committed to our principle, that we will not do anything that undermines the program’s capabilities or the president’s authority.”
We are doomed.
Time to post that 1941 quote from Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis: “We can have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we can’t have both.”
From The Los Angeles Times:
The German intelligence officials responsible for one of the most important informants on Saddam Hussein’s suspected weapons of mass destruction say that the Bush administration and the CIA repeatedly exaggerated his claims during the run-up to the war in Iraq.
Five senior officials from Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, or BND, said in interviews with The Times that they warned U.S. intelligence authorities that the source, an Iraqi defector code-named Curveball, never claimed to produce germ weapons and never saw anyone else do so.
For an in-depth report of the CIA’s bungling and the Administrations shameless use of intelligence they had to know was extremely questionable, read the whole article.
Over at This Modern World, you’ll find a lengthy excerpt of an article from Rolling Stone by James Bamford that goes into great detail about the Bush Administration’s covert propaganda campaign. The article is centered around a story about a former Iraqi civil engineer, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, who desperately wanted to help the U.S. bring down Saddam Hussein. Al-Haideri told the CIA how he “had helped Saddam’s men to secretly bury tons of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.” He told them this tale while strapped to a lie detector.
There was only one problem: It was all a lie. After a review of the sharp peaks and deep valleys on the polygraph chart, the intelligence officer concluded that al-Haideri had made up the entire story, apparently in the hopes of securing a visa.
The fabrication might have ended there, the tale of another political refugee trying to scheme his way to a better life. But just because the story wasn’t true didn’t mean it couldn’t be put to good use. Al-Haideri, in fact, was the product of a clandestine operation — part espionage, part PR campaign — that had been set up and funded by the CIA and the Pentagon for the express purpose of selling the world a war. And the man who had long been in charge of the marketing was a secretive and mysterious creature of the Washington establishment named John Rendon.
From there, the article goes on for several pages about Rendon’s special skills in “perception management” and his ties to the Bush Administration. It’s something you really ought to read.
The article comes back around to the Administration’s use of al-Haideri’s allegations during the runup to the Iraq War.
…as President Bush was about to argue his case for war before the U.N., the White House had given prominent billing to al-Haideri’s fabricated charges. In a report ironically titled “Iraq: Denial and Deception,” the administration referred to al-Haideri by name and detailed his allegations — even though the CIA had already determined them to be lies. The report was placed on the White House Web site on September 12th, 2002, and remains there today.
Finally, in early 2004, more than two years after he made the dramatic allegations to Miller and Moran about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, al-Haideri was taken back to Iraq by the CIA’s Iraq Survey Group. On a wide-ranging trip through Baghdad and other key locations, al-Haideri was given the opportunity to point out exactly where Saddam’s stockpiles were hidden, confirming the charges that had helped to start a war.
In the end, he could not identify a single site where illegal weapons were buried.
It’s just so “dishonest and reprehensible” of James Bamford to report this. How unpatriotic of Rolling Stone to publish it. What a “corrupt and shameless” person I am for even telling you about it.
Yesterday, Scott McClellan was asked a simple question about whether or not President Bush supports Dick Cheney’s efforts to exempt the CIA from the ban on torture. A simple “Yes” or “No” was all that was required to answer the question, but…
Q I’d like you to clear up, once and for all, the ambiguity about torture. Can we get a straight answer? The President says we don’t do torture, but Cheney —
MR. McCLELLAN: That’s about as straight as it can be.
Q Yes, but Cheney has gone to the Senate and asked for an exemption on —
MR. McCLELLAN: No, he has not. Are you claiming he’s asked for an exemption on torture? No, that’s —
Q He did not ask for that?
MR. McCLELLAN: — that is inaccurate.
What?!!!!!!!!!!! How can a spokesperson get up in front of the press and tell an outright lie like that and get away with it? See the post below for a report on Cheney’s
Q Are you denying everything that came from the Hill, in terms of torture?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, you’re mischaracterizing things. And I’m not going to get into discussions we have —
Q Can you give me a straight answer for once?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me give it to you, just like the President has. We do not torture. He does not condone torture and he would never —
Q I’m asking about exemptions.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me respond. And he would never authorize the use of torture. We have an obligation to do all that we can to protect the American people. We are engaged —
Q That’s not the answer I’m asking for —
MR. McCLELLAN: It is an answer — because the American people want to know that we are doing all within our power to prevent terrorist attacks from happening. …
Blah blah blah blah blah… must find terrorists. Must do whatever is necessary… but we don’t TORTURE!
The reporters kept pressing for an answer:
Q What is the Vice President — what is the Vice President asking for?
MR. McCLELLAN: It’s spelled out in our statement of administration policy in terms of what our views are. That’s very public information. In terms of our discussions with members of Congress —
Q — no, it’s not —
MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of our members — like I said, there are already laws on the books that we have to adhere to and abide by, and we do. And we believe that those laws and those obligations address these issues.
Q So then why is the Vice President continuing to lobby on this issue? If you’re very happy with the laws on the books, what needs change?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you asked me — you want to ask questions of the Vice President’s office, feel free to do that. We’ve made our position very clear, and it’s spelled out on our website for everybody to see.
Q We don’t need a website, we need you from the podium.
MR. McCLELLAN: And what I just told you is what our view is.
Q But Scott, do you see the contradiction —
MR. McCLELLAN: Jessica, go ahead.
Q Will the President pledge not to pardon Lewis Libby?
Uh… yeah… He was tired of lying and decided to change the subject.
See below for comments about Cheney’s Senate visit.