|Daily Impeachment News:
March 22, 2009
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball — NEWSWEEK
Over objections from the U.S. intelligence community, the White House is moving to declassify “and publicly release” three internal memos that will lay out, for the first time, details of the “enhanced” interrogation techniques approved by the Bush administration for use against “high value” Qaeda detainees. The memos, written by Justice Department lawyers in May 2005, provide the legal rationale for waterboarding, head slapping and other rough tactics used by the CIA. One senior Obama official, who like others interviewed for this story requested anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity, said the memos were “ugly” and could embarrass the CIA. Other officials predicted they would fuel demands for a “truth commission” on torture.
Because of an executive order signed by President Obama on Jan. 22 banning such aggressive tactics, deputies to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. concluded there was no longer any reason to keep the interrogation memos classified. But current and former intel officials pushed back, arguing that any public release might still compromise “sources and methods.” According to the administration official, ex-CIA director Michael Hayden was “furious” about the prospect of disclosure and tried to intervene directly with Obama officials. But the White House has sided with Holder. Faced with a court deadline in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit regarding the memos filed by the ACLU, Justice lawyers asked for a two-week extension “because the memoranda are being reviewed for possible release.” (White House, Justice and CIA spokesmen all declined to comment.)
The debate about torture ramped up again last week with an account in the New York Review of Books about a secret International Red Cross report that was delivered to the CIA in February 2007. The report, according to journalist Mark Danner, quotes detainees describing, often in gruesome detail, how they were locked in coffin-size boxes; swung by towels around their necks into plywood walls; and forced to stand naked for days while their arms were shackled above their heads.
“I now know we were not fully and completely briefed on the CIA program,” Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein told NEWSWEEK. A U.S. official disputed the charge, claiming that members of Congress received more than 30 briefings over the life of the CIA program and that Congressional intel panels had seen the Red Cross report. But the CIA insisted that the report be treated as if it had higher than top-secret classification, precluding any public discussion of its contents. That’s why declassification of the memos is significant, administration officials say: it would remove, at long last, the veil of secrecy about how detainees in the war on terror were actually treated.
March 4, 2009
The New York Times
By CHARLIE SAVAGE and NEIL A. LEWIS
WASHINGTON – A day after releasing a set of Bush administration opinions that claimed sweeping presidential powers in fighting terrorism, the Obama administration faced new pressure on Tuesday to support a broad inquiry into interrogation, detention, surveillance and other practices under President George W. Bush.
Justice Department officials said they might soon release additional opinions on those subjects. But the disclosure of the nine formerly secret documents fueled calls by lawmakers for an independent commission to investigate and make public what the Bush administration did in the global campaign against terrorism.
The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, said the revelations, together with the release of new information about the Central Intelligence Agency’s destruction of 92 interrogation videotapes, had underscored the need for a commission that would have the power to subpoena documents and testimony.
Officials who discussed the process spoke on the condition of anonymity because memorandums still under review might involve classified information. Among those that have not been disclosed but are believed to exist are a memorandum from the fall of 2001 justifying the National Security Agency’s program of domestic surveillance without warrants and one from the summer of 2002 that listed specific harsh interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, that the C.I.A. was authorized to use.
The Justice Department officials said the decision to release the nine memorandums on Monday came after some of the opinions were sought in a civil lawsuit in California. They said department lawyers had determined that the opinions did not contain classified information.
The lawsuit was filed by Jose Padilla, a United States citizen who was arrested in Chicago in 2002 and detained for years as an enemy combatant before eventually being tried and convicted in a civilian criminal procedure. Mr. Padilla is suing John C. Yoo, a former Bush administration lawyer who was the author of many of the opinions justifying detention and interrogation policies.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on Wednesday on whether to create a commission to look into the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policy. The committee chairman, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, has already called for a commission, and another Democrat on the panel said Tuesday that he would support such an approach.
But David B. Rivkin Jr., an associate White House counsel under the first President Bush who is scheduled to testify at the hearing on Wednesday, said he planned to urge Congress not to move forward with that proposal, which he said would violate the rights of Bush administration officials and set them up for prosecutions by foreign courts.
“They want to pillory people,” Mr. Rivkin said. “They want to destroy their reputation. They want to drag them through the mud and single them out for foreign prosecutions. And if you get someone in a perjury trap, so much the better.”
President Obama has signaled a reluctance to open a wide-ranging investigation into his predecessor’s policies, saying he preferred to fix the policies and move on. In his first days in office, he issued executive orders requiring strict adherence to rules against torture. As a senator, he voted for legislation that brought surveillance efforts into alignment with federal statutes.
The increased calls for a greater public accounting come as the Justice Department’s internal ethics office is preparing to release a report that is expected to criticize sharply members of the Bush legal team who wrote memorandums purporting to provide legal justification for the use of harsh interrogation methods on detainees despite anti-torture laws and treaties, according to department and Congressional officials.
The Office of Professional Responsibility at the Justice Department is examining whether certain political appointees in the department knowingly signed off on an unreasonable interpretation of the law to provide legal cover for a program sought by Bush White House officials.
The report is expected to focus on three former officials of the Office of Legal Counsel: Mr. Yoo, a Berkeley law professor, now on leave at Chapman University, who was the principal author of opinions on national security matters from 2001 to 2003; Jay S. Bybee, who oversaw the counsel’s office during that period and is now a federal appeals court judge; and Steven G. Bradbury, who oversaw the counsel’s office in Mr. Bush’s second term.
Mr. Bradbury wrote two of the opinions released on Monday. Written last October and this January, they broadly repudiated the aggressive theory of virtually unlimited commander-in-chief power at the heart of Mr. Yoo’s memorandums.
Although he was a critic of Mr. Yoo’s work, Mr. Bradbury himself wrote three memorandums on the use of harsh interrogation techniques in 2005. Those documents are believed to be part of the Office of Professional Responsibility’s investigation.
In a footnote to Mr. Bradbury’s January memorandum that sharply criticized Mr. Yoo’s work, Mr. Bradbury signaled that he did not want a repudiation of Mr. Yoo’s legal reasoning to be used against him as part of the ethics inquiry.
Mr. Bradbury wrote that his retractions were not “intended to suggest in any way that the attorneys involved in the preparation of the opinions in question” violated any “applicable standards of professional responsibility.”
Scott Shane contributed reporting.
February 14, 2009
Former Gitmo guard recalls abuse, climate of fear
By MIKE MELIA
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) – Army Pvt. Brandon Neely was scared when he took Guantanamo’s first shackled detainees off a bus. Told to expect vicious terrorists, he grabbed a trembling, elderly detainee and ground his face into the cement – the first of a range of humiliations he says he participated in and witnessed as the prison was opening for business.
Neely has now come forward in this final year of the detention center’s existence, saying he wants to publicly air his feelings of guilt and shame about how some soldiers behaved as the military scrambled to handle the first alleged al-Qaida and Taliban members arriving at the isolated U.S. Navy base.
His account, one of the first by a former guard describing abuses at Guantanamo, describes a chaotic time when soldiers lacked clear rules for dealing with detainees who were denied many basic comforts. He says the circumstances changed quickly once monitors from the International Committee of the Red Cross arrived.
The military says it has gone to great lengths in the seven years since then to ensure the prisoners’ safe treatment. “Our policy is to treat detainees humanely,” said Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman.
After the Sept. 11 attacks and the swift U.S. military response in Afghanistan, the Bush administration had little time to prepare for the hundreds of prisoners being swept up on the battlefield. The U.S. Southern Command was given only a few weeks notice before they began arriving at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba – a locale thought to be beyond the reach of U.S. and Cuban law. The first arrivals were housed in cages that had been used for Haitian migrants almost a decade earlier.
Now President Barack Obama is committed to closing the prison and finding new ways of handling the remaining 245 detainees as well as any future terror suspects. Human rights groups say his pledge to adhere to long established laws and treaties governing prisoner treatment is essential if the United States hopes to prevent abuses in the future.
“If Guantanamo has taught us anything, it’s the importance of abiding by the rule of law,” said Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel for Human Rights Watch.
Or as Neely put it in an interview with The Associated Press this week, “The stuff I did and the stuff I saw was just wrong.”
Neely, a burly Texan who served for a year in Iraq after his six months at Guantanamo, received an honorable discharge last year, with the rank of specialist, and now works as a law enforcement officer in the Houston area. He is also president of the local chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
An urge to tell his story led him to the University of California at Davis’ Guantanamo Testimonials Project, an effort to document accounts of prisoner abuse. It includes public statements from three other former guards, but Neely was the first to grant researchers an interview. He also spoke extensively with the AP.
Testimony from the other guards echoes some of Neely’s concerns. One of the other guards, Sean Baker, described in an interview with CBS’”60 Minutes” how he was beaten and hospitalized by fellow soldiers in a January 2003 training drill in which he wore an orange jumpsuit to play the role of a detainee.
Terry C. Holdbrooks Jr. told the Web site cageprisoners.com in an interview this month that he saw several abuses during his service at Guantanamo in 2003, including detainees subjected to cold temperatures and loud music, and he later converted to Islam.
Neely, 28, describes a litany of cruel treatment by his fellow soldiers, including beatings and humiliations he said were intended only to deliver physical or psychological pain.
A spokeswoman for the detention center, Navy Cmdr. Pauline Storum, said she could not comment on “what one individual may recall” from seven years ago. “Thousands of service members have honorably carried out their duties here in what is an arduous and scrutinized environment,” she said.
Neely’s account sheds new light on the early days of Guantanamo, where guards were hastily deployed in January 2002 and were soon confronted by men stumbling out of planes, shackled and wearing blackout goggles. They were held in chain-link cages and moved to more permanent structures three months later.
The soldiers, many of them still in their teens, had no detailed standard operating procedures and were taught hardly anything about the Geneva Conventions, which provide guidelines for humane treatment of prisoners of war, Neely said, though some learned about them on their own initiative.
“Most of us who had everyday contact with the detainees were really young,” he said in the AP telephone interview.
Army Col. Bill Costello acknowledged that Guantanamo-specific procedures developed over time, but insisted that the guards had strict direction from the start. “This was a professional guard force,” said Costello, who served as a Guantanamo spokesman during its first months and now speaks for the U.S. Southern Command in Miami, which oversees the base.
Only months had passed since the Sept. 11 attacks, and Neely said many of the guards wanted revenge. Especially before the first Red Cross visit, he said guards were seizing on any apparent infractions to “get some” by hurting the detainees. The soldiers’ behavior seemed justified at the time, he said, because they were told “these are the worst terrorists in the world.”
He said one medic punched a handcuffed prisoner in the face for refusing to swallow a liquid nutritional supplement, and another bragged about cruelly stretching a prisoner’s torn muscles during what was supposed to be physical therapy treatments.
He said detainees were forced to submit to take showers and defecate into buckets in full view of female soldiers, against Islamic customs. When a detainee yelled an expletive at a female guard, he said a crew of soldiers beat the man up and held him down so that the woman could repeatedly strike him in the face.
Neely says he feels personally ashamed for how he treated that elderly detainee the first day. As he recalls it, the man made a movement to resist on his way to his cage, and he responded by shoving the shackled man headfirst to the ground, bruising and scraping his face. Other soldiers hog-tied him and left him in the sun for hours.
Only later did Neely learn – from another detainee – that the man had jerked away thinking he was about to be executed.
“I just felt horrible,” Neely recalled.
Neely grew up in a military family in Huntsville, Texas, and said he initially saw the Army as a career. He says his experiences led him to see the treatment of detainees and the Iraq invasion as “morally wrong.” He refused to return to active duty when called up from the Inactive Ready Reserves in 2007 and ignored repeated letters threatening penalties.
Neely acknowledged that by talking about his experiences, he also has broken the nondisclosure pledge he signed before leaving Guantanamo. He also says a lawyer told him the document he signed could not be enforced.
Storum said guards receive “operational security debriefings” on their way out of Guantanamo “so that personnel are mindful of their responsibilities and are made aware of what can be openly discussed in a public forum.”
Interviews with former guards are rare. The military allows journalists visiting Guantanamo to interview active-duty guards at the base, but they are hand-picked by the military and speak in the presence of public affairs officers.
Neely said discussing his experience now has helped put it behind him. “Speaking out is a good way to deal with this,” he said.
On the Net: The Guantanamo Testimonials Project
Rumsfeld Knew His Guys Were Torturing People to Death, Which Is a Serious Crime
By Stephen Pizzo, News for Real
71% of Americans want to see Bush investigated, and it’s about time Obama’s team hightailed their way over to court to start doing it.
During the Bush years Americans the boogeyman used to keep Americans cowed was the real or imagined threat of imminent terrorist attack.
Now we have a new president – and we have a new boogeyman – the economic meltdown.
Now don’t get me wrong. Anyone who’s read this column over the past few years knows I’ve been Chicken Littling about the financial house of cards for a long time. And, now that it’s finally collapsed, it’s even worse than I predicted, and getting worse by the day.
Which is why Obama and his team are on the tube night and day talking about nothing else — as if Americans are concerned about nothing, which isn’t true.
71% of Americans want to see Bush administration investigated
71% of Americans are in favor of an investigation into the possible misuse of the Department of Justice by the Bush administration according to a Gallup poll released yesterday. (Full Story)
That’s a pretty startling number, even for those of us who’ve been arguing for investigations for some time now. After all, Obama didn’t get 71% of the vote, which means that a lot of folks who voted for McCain also want equal justice applied equally.
One reason for this surprisingly robust groundswell for investigations may be that each day, formerly secret Bush-era documents surface that truly shock the conscience.
Just yesterday the ACLU got it’s hands on a truly smoking gun memo written for then Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. This document informed Rumsfeld that those he’d tasked with beating information out of suspected terrorists had not just tortured them, but tortured some of them, to death. In other words, they murdered them.
No, I’m not kidding. Here read the original document yourself.
If Rumsfeld had been, say, some local police captain in charge of these guys, this document would make him ““ at very least ““ accessory-after-the-fact to murder. He not only conspired to keep this evidence secret, but did not report this as the crime it is, nor order the perpetrators arrested, charged and put on trial.
There’s a legal name for this crime: “Misprison of a Felony.” Defined here as:
“The failure to perform a public duty…Misprision is a versatile word that can denote a number of offenses. It can refer to the improper performance of an official duty…The most familiar and popular use of the term misprision describes the failure to report a crime….The first Congress passed a misprision of felony statute in 1789. The statute holds, “Whoever, having knowledge of the actual commission of a felony “¦ conceals and does not as soon as possible make known the same to some judge or other person in civil or military authority under the United States” is guilty of misprision of felony and can be punished with up to three years in prison.
Under the federal statute, the prosecution must prove the following elements to obtain a misprision of felony conviction:
(1)another person actually committed a felony;
(2)the defendant knew that the felony was committed;
(3)the defendant did not notify any law enforcement or judicial officer; and
(4)the defendant took affirmative steps to conceal the felony.”
As for Rumsfeld, this document, the crimes it describes, and the available evidence indicate that, were he charged for misprison of a felony, he would be found; guilty on each count.
(An aside: Chances are very good that other high-placed officials in the Bush administration saw this document as well. A prosecutor and grand jury can find out just who else’s chestnuts are in this particular fire.)
I am completely sympathetic to the extraordinary economic burden Obama and his team shouldered on January 21. But during the campaign it was Obama himself who posited the notion that a president had to be capable of do “more than one important thing at a time.”
The economic meltdown ““ likely the worst since the Great Depression ““ demands immediate and intense attention. But the economy is not the only thing that melted down during the Bush years. Core American values melted down as well, and require equally urgent attention from this new administration.
Because America’s strength and moral authority in the world don’t flow solely from a robust US economy, but also by an unswerving adherence to a unique and lofty set of moral values. Both the economy and our moral authority need urgent and immediate repair. Obama needs to work night and day to return health and stability to our economy. He also needs to work night and day to restore our moral authority. And that can only be accomplished by holding those who so despoiled our national soul accountable for their (well-documented) crimes.
But so far I’ve not seen a glimmer that Obama or his Attorney General, Eric Holder, have the stomach for real investigations that could lead to real crimes and real prosecutions. For example, even though Obama has repeatedly promised to lift the many lids of secrecy the Bush administration slammed down on the public’s right to know, he hasn’t. It’s currently just as hard to get information and documents about the Bush years out of the Obama administration as it was to get the same out of the Bush folks themselves.
Obama administration goes to bat for secrecy
sfgate.com — For the second time this week, the Obama administration has gone to court in San Francisco to argue for secrecy in defending a terrorism policy crafted under George W. Bush – in this case, wiretapping that President Obama denounced as a candidate. (Full Story)
They need to be told to keep their promise and loosen up, to release the kind of hard evidence we need to fully know what crimes were committed, by whom, where, when and how many.
To help get this message through to them please sign this petition.
The must. Who says so? Just 71% of the people they represent. That’s who.
One more thing. Now that the Obama folks have those documents, they also have constructive knowledge of felonies committed. Which means if they don’t investigate and prosecute, they may be the next ones found guilty of misprision of a felony. Ya know?
(For more Bush administration documents see the Document Drawer at –
Stephen Pizzo is the author of numerous books, including Inside Job: The Looting of America’s Savings and Loans, which was nominated for a Pulitzer.
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February 6, 2009
Panetta Hedges on Rendition Remarks
By Tim Starks, CQ Staff
Leon E. Panetta, the Obama administration’s pick to lead the CIA, backed away Friday from earlier remarks that he suspected the United States had transferred terror suspects to other countries so that they could be tortured.
The vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Christopher S. Bond , R-Mo., pressed Panetta on remarks he made on the first day of his confirmation hearing Thursday, with Bond saying “it’s news to me” that the Bush administration did so. He noted that the U.S. government “sought and received” assurances that any suspects transferred to other countries would not be tortured.
Panetta said he knew the United States sought and received those assurances, although there have been claims that suspects were mistreated nonetheless. But on Bond’s question about “deliberative intent” to transfer subjects for the purposes of being tortured, Panetta said “to that extent, I retract it.”
Panetta had said Thursday the extraordinary renditions of the Bush administration would not be allowed under a new executive order: “No, we will not, because, under the executive order issued by the president, that kind of extraordinary rendition, where we send someone for the purposes of torture or for actions by another country that violate our human values, that has been forbidden by the executive order.”
But Panetta also said he had not been fully briefed, and based his remarks on press accounts.
After Panetta retracted his statement, Bond said, “In your position, you cannot be making assumptions or judgments based on rumor or news stories,” noting the intelligence failures of the past. He asked Panetta to affirm he would “not make rash judgment on hearsay.”
“You have my assurance,” Panetta said. “My approach is going to be to seek the truth” in all cases, he answered.
Panetta said the Obama administration would prohibit a form of rendition where terrorist suspects are transferred to “black sites.” But other kinds of rendition could be permitted.
“Using renditions, we may very well direct individuals to third countries,” he said. “I will seek the same kind of assurances that they will be not treated inhumanely. I intend to use the State Department to assure that those assurances are, in fact, implemented and stood by by those countries.”
Bond said after the hearing he had not decided yet whether to support Panetta’s nomination.
Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein , D-Calif., said she intended to schedule a vote on Panetta’s nomination next week.
"I just want you to know that,
when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace."
-Bush, June 18, 2002
"War is Peace"
-Big Brother in George Orwell's 1984