Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

A Little Torture

Posted in Barack Obama, law, politics, prison, torture, War on Drugs by allisonkilkenny on April 17, 2009

justice“There is no such thing as a little torture.” — Alfred M. McCoy, author of A Question of Torture

The Bush administration is really an impressive force of nature. Whenever I was absolutely certain that their dastardly deeds couldn’t possibly get any more nefarious, Dick Cheney shot a family friend in the face, or George W. Bush ordered the U.S. military to invade another country. When they finally left office, I assumed they couldn’t harm America’s reputation ever again.

I was wrong. The Justice Department finally made the infamous memos that sanctioned torture public this week. The details are horrific. Not only are barbaric measures like “walling” (slamming a person into a wall,) and stress positions deemed acceptable by legal experts, but also more inventive interrogation methods like placing live bugs in a confinement box (and telling the prisoner they’ll sting him). 

Politicians repeatedly regurgitate the fairy tale that America is a Nation of Laws. Except, the laws get broken all the time, and the archetypes of anarchy usually aren’t held accountable. Barack Obama has sought to reassure CIA operates, who participated in torture, that they can use the same defense Nazis could not use during Nuremberg. Namely, that they were just “following orders.”

This doesn’t bode well for justice enthusiasts, who hoped that maybe (just maybe) the Big Guys would be help accountable this time. That maybe John Yoo, Douglas Feith, Jay Bybee, Dick Cheney, David Addington, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and William Haynes would have to stand before the American people and explain why they thought sanctioning torture was acceptable.

That maybe they would finally have to explain why a little torture was okay.

We are a nation of laws only if the people in charge get to benefit from the rulings. We are a nation of laws only up until Lynndie England, but justice stops short of Donald Rumsfeld. We are a nation of laws for thieves and crooks, but justice can’t touch Goldman Sachs CEOs. The hypocrisy is rampant. It infests every facet of the justice system, and has left us with a broken two-tier system of justice.

The debate over torture is frequently aimed at Guantanamo. However, the problem is also domestic, although the victims are still the unprivileged. While the United States is home to just five percent of the world’s population, it contains 25% of the world’s prisoners. More than one in 100 adults are in prison. Most of those prisoners aren’t homicidal sociopaths. They’re nonviolent drug offenders. America is the only western industrialized country to still use the death penalty, but apparently injecting someone will a chemical that paralyzes their organs doesn’t constitute torture, even though the Nazis used the same method. Those that live inside our prison-industrial complex experience a form of torture every day. Prisoners face the threat of rape and are more likely to contract H.I.V., hepatitis and tuberculosis. 

This kind of domestic torture is frequently overlooked because it’s the “right people” suffering. Bad guys. Bottom-tier justice types: poor people, immigrants, people of color. And after all, it’s only a little torture. Terrorists and criminals deserve whatever happens to them. Waterboarding doesn’t even count as torture! It’s just a light spritz in the face! (Of course, even Bush’s own legal team knew it was torture and expressed their concern in footnote form.)

This cartoonish, simplified scope of reality would be laughable had it not been the ideologies held by the Bush administration for eight years. Innocent people are accused of crimes all the time. That’s why our smart ancestors put in place that whole “justice system” in the first place. Ya’ know, that thing about being able to face one’s accusers and present evidence to defend one’s self.

If justice is to come to Guantanamo (and it should,) it must also come to the United State’s domestic prisons where draconian drug laws continue case overcrowding and strain stark resources, which then breeds inhumane conditions. If justice is to come to torture victims, it must mean than the archetypes of the torture memos will stand beside the CIA agents that carried out the orders.

The American two-tier justice system must end, and a good start would be for the Obama administration to recognize that a little torture is never okay, no matter who is doing it.

Seymour Hersh: ‘Executive Assassination Ring’ Reported Directly to Cheney Office

Posted in CIA by allisonkilkenny on March 11, 2009

Alternet (h/t Jeremy Scahill)

dick-cheney-heart-ailmentThe following is part of a talk delivered by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh at the University of Minnesota last night. For a full report, go here.

“After 9/11, I haven’t written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet. That does happen.

“Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command — JSOC it’s called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him. …

“Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths.

“Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.

“It’s complicated because the guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they are committing what we would normally call murder. It’s a very complicated issue. Because they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you’ve heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized.

“In many cases, they were the best and the brightest. Really, no exaggerations. Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find themselves torturing people.

“I’ve had people say to me — five years ago, I had one say: ‘What do you call it when you interrogate somebody and you leave them bleeding and they don’t get any medical committee and two days later he dies. Is that murder? What happens if I get before a committee.?’

“But they’re not gonna get before a committee.”

 

Obama’s Efforts to Block a Judicial Ruling on Bush’s Illegal Eavesdropping

Posted in Barack Obama, law, politics by allisonkilkenny on February 28, 2009

Glenn Greenwald

wiretaps3(updated below)

The Obama DOJ’s embrace of Bush’s state secrets privilege in the Jeppesen(torture/rendition) case generated substantial outrage, and rightly so.  But it’s now safe to say that far worse is the Obama DOJ’s conduct in the Al-Haramaincase — the only remaining case against the Government with any real chance of resulting in a judicial ruling on the legality of Bush’s NSA warrantless eavesdropping program.  Here’s the first paragraph from the Wired report on Friday’s appellate ruling, which refused the Obama DOJ’s request to block a federal court from considering key evidence when deciding whether Bush broke the law in how he spied on Americans:

A federal appeals court dealt a blow to the Obama administration Friday when it refused to block a judge from admitting top secret evidence in a lawsuit weighing whether a U.S. president may bypass Congress, as President George W. Bush did, and establish a program of eavesdropping on Americans without warrants.

And here are the two paragraphs from the AP report:

The Obama administration has lost its argument that a potential threat to national security should stop a lawsuit challenging the government’s warrantless wiretapping program. . . .

The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, claimed national security would be compromised if a lawsuit brought by the Oregon chapter of the charity, Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, was allowed to proceed.

Let’s just pause for a moment to consider how remarkable those statements are.  One of the worst abuses of the Bush administration was its endless reliance on vast claims of secrecy to ensure that no court could ever rule on the legality of the President’s actions.  They would insist that “secrecy” prevented a judicial ruling even when the President’s actions were (a) already publicly disclosed in detail and (b) were blatantly criminal — as is the case with the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program, which The New York Times described on its front page more than three years ago and which a federal statute explicitly criminalized.  Secrecy claims of that sort — to block judicial review of the President’s conduct, i.e., to immunize the President from the rule of law — provoked endless howls of outrage from Bush critics.

Yet now, the Obama administration is doing exactly the same thing.  Hence, it is accurately deemed “a blow to the Obama administration” that a court might rule on whether George Bush broke the law when eavesdropping on Americans without warrants.  Why is the Obama administration so vested in preventing that from happening, and — worse still — in ensuring that Presidents continue to have the power to invoke extremely broad secrecy claims in order to block courts from ruling on allegations that a President has violated the law?

Obama defenders take note:   this is not a case where the Obama DOJ claims more time is needed to decide what to do, nor is it even a case where the Obama DOJ merely passively adopted the Bush DOJ’s already filed arguments.  Here, they have done much, much more than that.  Obama lawyers have been running around for weeks attempting one desperate, extreme measure after the next to prevent this case from proceeding — emergency appealsrequests for stays, and every time they lose, threats of still further appeals, this time to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

During the controversy in the Jeppesen/rendition case, there were actually “defend-Obama-at-all-costs” advocates in the comment section offering the painfully ludicrous excuse that Obama only embraced Bush’s State Secrets theory because Obama secretly hoped and expected to lose the case and thus create good judicial precedent.  But in the Al-Haramin case, the Obama DOJ has now lost — twice — in their attempts to invoke secrecy to stop this case from proceeding, but they just keep searching for a court to accept their claims:

Yet government lawyers signaled they would continue fighting to keep the information secret, setting up a new showdown between the courts and the White House over national security. . . .

[H]ours after the appeals court made its decision, government lawyers filed new papers insisting they still did not have to turn over any sensitive information.

”The government respectfully requests that the court refrain from further actions to provide plaintiffs with access to classified information,” said the filing, suggesting the Obama administration may appeal the matter again to keep the information secret and block the case from going forward.

Manifestly, the Obama DOJ has one goal and one goal only here:  to prevent any judicial ruling as to whether the Bush NSA warrantless eavesdropping program was illegal.  And they’re engaging in extraordinary efforts to ensure that occurs.

To explain why this behavior is so pernicious, so lawless and so dangerous, I’m going to turn the floor over to a long-time, eloquent critic of Bush’s secrecy theories — who just so happens also to be Obama’s soon-to-be-confirmedappointee for Chief of the Office of Legal Counsel, Dawn Johnsen.  In March of 2008 — less than a year ago — this is what she said about the Bush administration’s efforts to conceal its FISA-violating eavesdropping activities:

NYT? What’s Bush’s Excuse for Keeping Law Violations Secret?

But I think we do have to name the even more fundamental question: whether the Bush administration itself acted responsibly in keeping secret that same story. What was its legitimate justification in the first place for misleading the NYT into keeping that information secret for more than a year?

I’m afraid we are growing immune to just how outrageous and destructive it is, in a democracy, for the President to violate federal statutes in secret.Remember that much of what we know about the Bush administration’s violations of statutes (and yes, I realize they claim not to be violating statutes) came first only because of leaks and news coverage. Incredibly, we still don’t know the full extent of our government’s illegal surveillanceor illegal interrogations (and who knows what else) — despite Congress’s failed efforts to get to the bottom of it. Congress instead resorted to enacting new legislation on both issues largely in the dark.

Yet here we have the Obama DOJ doing exactly this — not merely trying desperately to keep the Bush administration’s spying activities secret, and not merely devoting itself with full force to preventing disclosure of relevant documents concerning this illegal program, but far worse, doing everything in its power even to prevent any judicial adjudication as to whether the Bush administration broke the law by spying on Americans without warrants.  As Obama’s hand-picked OLC chief put it:  “I’m afraid we are growing immune to just how outrageous and destructive it is, in a democracy, for the President to violate federal statutes in secret.”

The details of this case (which I’ve recounted in full here) highlight even further how indefensible is the Obama DOJ’s conduct.  The Bush administration succeeded in blocking all other judicial challenges to its illegal NSA eavesdropping with the Kafkaesque argument that because (a) nobody knows on whom the Bush administration spied without warrants (precisely because eavesdropping without warrants ensures that the targets are concealed from everyone, including even a court) and (b) that information cannot be disclosed to anyone (including courts) because it’s a “State Secret,” no individual party has “standing” to sue because nobody can prove that they were actually subjected to the illegal eavesdropping (because it was done in the dark). 

But this case, from the start, was different.  As part of a criminal investigation against the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, an Oregon-based charity, the Bush DOJ accidentally turned over to the charity’s lawyers a documentshowing that the Bush NSA eavesdropped without warrants on conversations between the charity and its two lawyers, both U.S. citizens.  The charity and its lawyers then sued the Bush administration for illegally eavesdropping on their communications.  That document is what distinguished this case from all other NSA cases, because it enables the plaintiffs (the charity and its lawyers) to prove that they were subjected to Bush’s illegal spying program and they therefore have standing to sue. 

It is that document — which has been described publicly and which the plaintiffs’ lawyers have already seen — which the Obama DOJ is now desperately attempting to block the court from considering on the grounds that allowing the case to proceed will — somehow — harm America’s national security.  Everyone knows the Bush administration spied on Americans without warrants and in violation of the law.  Everyone knows that this document reflects that these plaintiffs were among those who were illegally spied on.  

Still, there’s the Obama administration — just like the Bush administration — claiming that we’ll all be slaughtered if a court rules on whether the President broke the law.  And, as Marcy Wheeler astutely notes, the lawbreaking here is particularly egregious (and certainly criminal) since some of the warrantless eavesdropping here appears to have occurred in March, 2004 — during the exact period when even the Bush DOJ expressly concluded that the NSA program was so illegal that it refused to certify its legality and top DOJ officials (including John Ashcroft) threatened to resign in protest of its continuation (here’s more from Marcy on some key details in this case, andfrom EFF as well).

Our nation’s most transparent administration in history won’t bother to explainwhy they’re doing any of this: “A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.”  We’ll probably have to wait for one of them to gather up enough courage to anonymously whisper their alleged reasons into Marc Ambinder’s faithful ear.  In the meantime, while we wait for that, what is clear is that the Obama DOJ has undertaken exactly the same mission as the Bush DOJ for years so successfully carried out:  namely, ensuring that Presidents remain above the law by invoking patently absurd claims of secrecy to argue that our National Security cannot withstand judicial rulings on whether the President’s actions were, in fact, illegal.

* * * * * 

On a related note:  last week, I interviewed the ACLU’s Jonathan Hafetz about the Obama administration’s March 23 deadline to file a Supreme Court brief in the Al-Marri case, brought by the last person still being held on U.S. soil as an “enemy combatant.”  In 2003, Al-Marri (Hafetz’s client), who was in the U.S. legally on a student visa, was about to be tried on various criminal charges when, at the last minute, Bush declared him an “enemy combatant” and ordered him transferred to a military brig, where he has remained ever since with no charges and no trial.  In his case, the Fourth Circuit’s Court of Appeals last year largely upheld the power of the President to imprison legal residents (and even U.S. citizens) on U.S. soil in military prison with no criminal charges, and the U.S. Supreme Court had agreed to review that decision.

This week, the Obama DOJ filed criminal charges against Al-Marri, so he will now be transferred back to the civilian court system and have what the U.S. Constitution clearly mandates:  a full trial and due process.  For Al-Marri, that is a positive step:  now, he’ll only remain in prison if he’s convicted of a crime in a real court and (presumably) will be freed if he’s acquitted.  That’s how our system is supposed to work.

But whether this is a positive step in a general sense is a different question.  In the Jose Padilla case, the Bush administration kept a U.S. citizen in a cage for many years without charges of any kind, and then suddenly filed criminal charges against him right as the Supreme Court was set to rule on the constitutionality of imprisoning U.S. citizens as “enemy combatants” with no trial.  Once they finally indicted Padilla, the Bush administration ran and argued that the indictment rendered the questions before the Court moot.  The Supreme Court, in essence, agreed and refused to hear the appeal, thus leaving in place the Fourth Circuit’s affirmation that the President has this power. 

If that is what the Obama DOJ does here — namely, if it succeeds in its efforts to convince the Supreme Court not to rule on this critical matter because, yet again, the individual who has been encaged for years without charges was, at the last minute, transferred to a civilian court (thus leaving standing the Fourth Circuit’s horrendous ruling) — that will be destructive for all the reasons that Bush critics cited when the same thing was done in the Padilla case.

The Obama DOJ deserves some limited credit for indicting Al-Marri and thus refusing to continue to imprison him with no charges.  It’s certainly not Obama’s fault that Al-Marri was imprisoned for years with no charges, and the only fair option was to do what they did:  give him a real trial.  But if this indictment results in the preservation of the President’s power in the future to similarly detain people without charges — because of the Obama DOJ’s efforts to block the Supreme Court from ruling on this question — then it is worthy of criticisms for the same reasons it was in the Padilla case.  

Ultimately, the real question is not whether you think Obama will use these powers the same way Bush did (nobody can know that), but rather:   do you want the secrecy and detention architecture built by George Bush, Dick Cheney and David Addington to remain in place so that — even if it remains dormant now — Obama or some future President can decide at any time to revitalize and use it at will?  Thus far, Obama’s answer to that question seems to be a resounding “yes.”

UPDATE:   I spoke to the annual conference of the ACLU of Massachusetts last month regarding impediments to the restoration of civil liberties under the Obama administration.  I posted the link at the end of yesterday’s post, but since that was at the end of the day, and since the speech relates directly to the topic here, I’ll post it again for those interested:  the 30-minute speech can be heard on MP3 here and is also available on ITunes here (the video of the speech may or may not be posted at some point in the future).

Scores of Legal Experts Demand Bush Prosecution

Posted in Barack Obama, politics by allisonkilkenny on February 26, 2009

Brad Blog

Sign on to demand non-partisan special counsel, immediate prosecution of Bush, Cheney and other former senior administration officials…

Guest Blogged by David Swanson of After Downing Street

Only in America can elected officials go on TV and confess to felonies (including torture and warrantless spying, not to mention aggressive war) and the resulting debate focus around the question of whether investigating the “possibility” of wrong-doing would be too radical. This week a coalition of dozens of human rights groups including the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild, and the Society of American Law Teachers released a statement, as drafted by The Robert Jackson Steering Committee, cutting to the chase.

It reads in its entirety:

We urge Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a non-partisan independent Special Counsel to immediately commence a prosecutorial investigation into the most serious alleged crimes of former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Richard B. Cheney, the attorneys formerly employed by the Department of Justice whose memos sought to justify torture, and other former top officials of the Bush Administration.  Our laws, and treaties that under Article VI of our Constitution are the supreme law of the land, require the prosecution of crimes that strong evidence suggests these individuals have committed. Both the former president and the former vice president have confessed to authorizing a torture procedure that is illegal under our law and treaty obligations. The former president has confessed to violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

We see no need for these prosecutions to be extraordinarily lengthy or costly, and no need to wait for the recommendations of a panel or “truth” commission when substantial evidence of the crimes is already in the public domain. We believe the most effective investigation can be conducted by a prosecutor, and we believe such an investigation should begin immediately.

I wrote this statement with some helpful tweaks from colleagues and have been screaming the same basic message for about three years, but I sense more than ever right now that more ears are open to it.

While actually enforcing laws and “getting tough on crime” is now considered the radical leftist position and a “truth” commission the reasonable compromise, it is clear that a bipartisan commission would create the bipartisan bickering our elected officials are so eager to avoid. It would also, in Senator Patrick Leahy’s view, investigate the complicity of Democrats as well as Republicans in the crimes of the past 8 years, thus guaranteeing that neither Democrats nor Republicans will support it.

If Congress can’t take the heat and won’t even enforce its own subpoenas, it should leave well enough alone. Statutes of limitations are running out fast, and we don’t have time for another commission. If President Obama wants to distance himself from enforcing the law, he can do what he is supposed to do and leave the matter in the hands of Eric Holder. And if Attorney General Holder wants distance he can do what is required and appoint a truly independent prosecutor. Doing so would please the following organizations. More are signing on every hour, and both organizations and individuals can sign on at ProsecuteBushCheney.org.

Signatorees, as of 2/25/09, include…

To Investigate or Not: Four Ways to Look Back at Bush

Posted in Barack Obama, politics, torture, war crimes by allisonkilkenny on February 22, 2009

New York Times

POISON DARTS Senator Frank Church, whose committee looked into intelligence abuses, shows a dart gun from a C.I.A. lab in 1975. (Henry Griffin/AP)

POISON DARTS Senator Frank Church, whose committee looked into intelligence abuses, shows a dart gun from a C.I.A. lab in 1975. (Henry Griffin/AP)

WASHINGTON — Two days after his re-election in 1864, with Union victory in the Civil War assured, Abraham Lincoln stood at a White House window to address a boisterous crowd of supporters. He spoke of the lessons of the nation’s calamitous recent history.

“In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak and as strong; as silly and as wise; as bad and as good,” Lincoln said. “Let us, therefore, study the incidents of this as philosophy to learn wisdom from, and none of them as wrongs to be revenged.”

Today there are new calls for such study, not universal but certainly loud enough, directed this time at the Bush administration’s campaign against terrorism. Interrogation techniques that the United States had long condemned as torture, secret prisons beyond the reach of American law and eavesdropping on American soil without court warrants are at the top of a lot of lists.

But as Lincoln knew, one man’s wisdom is another’s vengeance. Repeatedly in American history, and in “truth commissions” in some two dozen countries from Argentina to Zimbabwe since the 1980s, it has turned out to be a tricky business to turn the ferocious politics of recent events into the dispassionate stuff of justice and the rule of law.

A USA Today/Gallup poll this month found that 62 percent of Americans favor either a criminal investigation or an independent panel to look into allegations of torture. Still, many people, primarily Republicans, insist the Bush policies were vital to protect the country, and the Obama administration is treading gingerly. When Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee, proposed a commission to investigate torture and eavesdropping, President Obama didn’t embrace the idea.

Already grappling with two wars and an economic meltdown, Mr. Obama said he was “more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards.” But the door was ajar; he also declared that “nobody is above the law.”

Mr. Leahy is undeterred. In an interview, he laughed and described the president’s remarks as “an enthusiastic endorsement.” He said he would work to build support for the idea in Congress.

As a senator under seven presidents, Mr. Leahy said, he has learned that the temptation to abuse powers in a crisis is bipartisan, and the commission’s review should include the role of Democrats in Congress in approving the Bush policies. The work should be done in one year, he added, to avert accusations that it was being dragged out for political gain.

Mr. Obama’s most enthusiastic supporters remain passionate about “looking backwards,” arguing that the Bush policies darkened the United States’ reputation, to Al Qaeda’s benefit. They include Representative John Conyers of Michigan, the House Judiciary chairman, who has sponsored a bill to set up an investigative panel.

Many Republicans, however, say the lofty appeals to justice and history mask an unseemly and dangerous drive to pillory the Bush administration and hamstring the intelligence agencies.

That was precisely the view of an aide in Gerald Ford’s White House named Dick Cheney when a Senate committee led by Frank Church of Idaho looked into intelligence abuses in the mid-1970s. A quarter-century later, as vice president, Mr. Cheney would effectively wreak vengeance on that committee’s legacy, encouraging the National Security Agency to bypass the warrant requirement the committee had proposed and unleashing the Central Intelligence Agency he felt the committee had shackled.

If advocates of looking back have their way, what are the options? Some past inquiries offer models, each with different potential winners and losers.

A CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION (IRAN-CONTRA)

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said at his confirmation hearing that he, like Mr. Obama, did not want to “criminalize policy differences” by punishing officials for acts they believed were legal. The same language was used in 1992 by President George H. W. Bush when he pardoned six officials charged in the Iran-contra investigation. Mr. Bush called the charges “a profoundly troubling development in the history of our country: the criminalization of policy differences.”

The Iran-contra case illustrates the obstacles to any prosecution that unfolds in a polarized political atmosphere. An independent prosecutor, Lawrence E. Walsh, worked for six years to untangle shady arms deals, defiance of Congress and a cover-up. But because of the pardons and court rulings, the key figures escaped all punishment except large legal fees and damaged reputations.

The sharpest critics of the Bush programs insist that only prosecution can restore the law to its proper place. They note that some 100 terrorism suspects have died in American custody and say a prosecution for conspiracy to torture could target both the high-level officials who approved the likes of waterboarding and lawyers who justified it.

But many legal experts believe that the Justice Department would be hard pressed to prosecute as torture methods that the department itself declared in 2002 not to be torture. And if an important goal is to determine who devised the policies, a push to prosecute might only persuade past officials to lawyer up and clam up.

A CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATION (CHURCH)

If there is a close precedent for the investigation now being debated, it is the inquiry led by Senator Church in 1975-76, which recorded in stunning detail some of the darkest chapters in American history. Its reports chronicled the C.I.A.’s bumbling attempts to assassinate foreign leaders; the N.S.A.’s watchlisting of civil rights and antiwar activists; and the F.B.I.’s campaign to drive the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to suicide.

The reports led directly to a series of reforms, including President Ford’s ban on assassinations, the creation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to approve national-security eavesdropping and the establishment of Congressional oversight of the intelligence agencies.

But some Republicans saw Mr. Church as a showboat and his committee as overreaching. To Mr. Cheney, the Church legacy was a regrettable pruning of the president’s powers to protect the country — powers he and Bush administration lawyers reasserted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

A BLUE-RIBBON PANEL (9/11 COMMISSION)

Though Mr. Leahy praised the Church Committee, his own proposal would take the investigation away from Congress in favor of “a group of people universally recommended as fair minded.” He also suggested subpoena power and, perhaps most important, a South Africa-style trade-off: immunity for officials who testify truthfully.

Investigative commissions date at least to 1794, when George Washington used one to negotiate a settlement of the Whiskey Rebellion. The 9/11 commission, a recent example, largely overcame partisanship and drew generally positive reviews.

A commission would free Congress to focus on current problems, including the economic crisis. And promises of immunity might answer concerns expressed last month by the departing C.I.A. director, Michael V. Hayden — that any investigation would discourage intelligence officers from acting boldly for fear of later second-guessing.

DOING NOTHING

Or more accurately, finishing up and rolling out the inquiries already under way. Even if the push for a broad investigation loses momentum, the Bush programs will not soon be forgotten. Among major inquiries expected to conclude soon: a report from the Justice Department’s ethics office on legal opinions justifying harsh interrogations; the criminal investigation of the C.I.A.’s destruction of interrogation videotapes; and a report by the Justice Department inspector general on the N.S.A.’s warrantless eavesdropping.

Meanwhile, thousands of documents relating to secrets of the Bush years are being sought by journalists and advocates. Mr. Obama has directed agencies to lean strongly toward disclosure.

Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr., who served as chief counsel for the Church Committee and has called for a new commission, said there is no telling what a thorough investigation may turn up. He recalled his shock as he sat in a secure room at the C.I.A. in 1975 and read that the agency had recruited the Mafia in a scheme to kill Fidel Castro.

“It may seem that we already know a lot,” Mr. Schwarz said. “But based on my experience, I’m certain there’s a lot that went on the last eight years that we still don’t know.”

Drunken Politics: the FINAL “fuck you!” to former President Bush

Posted in Barack Obama, politics by allisonkilkenny on January 21, 2009

Every Wednesday on BTR

Every Wednesday on BTR

Drunken Politics Radio

Drunken Politics says their final “fuck-you!” to former President Bush and discuss shiny, brand new President Obama.

Listen here: http://www.breakthruradio.com/index.php?show=5921

Tell your friends about the EPIC AWESOMENESS.

Hold Bush and Cheney Accountable

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on December 31, 2008

VOTE FOR THE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR QUESTION NOW ON THE OBAMA SITE

bush_to_cheneyWe all understand the historical urgency and imperative of holding Bush and Cheney accountable for their grave crimes against our own country and all of humanity.

And we haven’t got alot of time to move on the particular action in this alert so please go to the Obama change site TODAY (voting closes 12/31 at midnight), where there is already a question calling for a special prosecutor, and

1.  Sign in at http://change.gov/openforquestions

2.  Search for “Fitzgerald”

3.  This will display several similar questions, so look carefully for “Bob Fertik” (who started the question)

4.  Look right for the checkbox, mouseover it so it goes from white to dark, then click to cast your vote

And let’s all vote for the SAME question (don’t start another new one) and demonstrate to our new incoming administration that letting the crimes of the past slide without retribution is NOT an option.

THEN GET YOUR NEW CONVICT DICK & W CAP TO DEMONSTRATE WITH

As we in the White House accountability movement look forward, whether it’s impeachment, federal prosecution, or state by state prosecutions as a last resort, the key work is “convict”.  And that is why we are introducing a new cap to wear to continue to carry the ball with that says “CONVICT DICK & W” in red, white and blue.  If you want to be one of the first to get one of these new caps please submit the page below.

New Convict Dick & W Cap:  http://www.usalone.com/convict_cap.php

We are not setting a price for these.  You can have one for a contribution of any amount.  We just want to put as many out there as possible.  And we will have much more news for you soon about planned actions to pressure prosecutors at all levels to step up to the plate and do their duty.

We are in this thing for the long haul, folks.  The criminal dictators of the future can only be constrained by pursuing prosecution NOW of the criminal dictators of the present and past.  In some cases it has taken many years of work by dedicated activists to bring criminal former heads of state to justice.

We the people will never forget the crimes of the Bush/Cheney administration.  How can we?  Their willful disasters will cripple our economy, our military, every aspect of our government and our own personal lives for many years to come.  But if we just continue to speak out, someday soon enough there WILL be prosecutors at some level who will have the integrity, backbone and determination to do what Congress to their eternal shame did not.

Please take action NOW, so we can win all victories that are supposed to be ours, and forward this alert as widely as possible.

If you would like to get alerts like these, you can do so at http://www.usalone.com/in.htm

Or if you want to cease receiving our messages, just use the function at http://www.usalone.com/out.htm

Cheney: Top Congressional Democrats Complicit in Spying

Posted in politics by allisonkilkenny on December 23, 2008

Glenn Greenwald

474px-dick_cheney(updated below – Update II – Update III)

Dick Cheney’s interview yesterday with Fox’s Chris Wallace was filled with significant claims, but certainly among the most significant was his detailed narration of how the administration, and Cheney personally, told numerous Democratic Congressional leaders — repeatedly and in detail — about the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program.  And, according to Cheney, every one of those Democrats — every last one — not only urged its continuation, but insisted that it be kept secret: 

WALLACE: Let’s drill down into some of the specific measures that you pushed — first of all, the warrantless surveillance on a massive scale, without telling the appropriate court, without seeking legislation from Congress.

Why not, in the aftermath of 9/11 and the spirit of national unity, get approval, support, bring in the other branches of government?

CHENEY: Well, let me tell you a story about the terror surveillance program. We did brief the Congress. And we brought in…

WALLACE: Well, you briefed a few members.

CHENEY: We brought in the chairman and the ranking member, House and Senate, and briefed them a number of times up until — this was — be from late ’01 up until ’04 when there was additional controversy concerning the program.

At that point, we brought in what I describe as the big nine — not only the intel people but also the speaker, the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate, and brought them into the situation room in the basement of the White House.

I presided over the meeting. We briefed them on the program, and what we’d achieved, and how it worked, and asked them, “Should we continue the program?” They were unanimous, Republican and Democrat alike. All agreed — absolutely essential to continue the program.

I then said, “Do we need to come to the Congress and get additional legislative authorization to continue what we’re doing?” They said, “Absolutely not. Don’t do it, because it will reveal to the enemy how it is we’re reading their mail.”

That happened. We did consult. We did keep them involved. We ultimately ended up having to go to the Congress after the New York Times decided they were going to make the judge to review all of — or make all of this available, obviously, when they reacted to a specific leak.

But it was a program that we briefed on repeatedly. We did these briefings in my office. I presided over them. We went to the key people in the House and Senate intel committees and ultimately the entirely leadership and sought their advice and counsel, and they agreed we should not come back to the Congress.

Cheney’s reference to the “additional controversy concerning the program” that arose after 2004 and that led to additional Congressional briefings is ambiguous and creates a somewhat unclear time line:  is he referring to late 2004, when the White House learned that The New York Times knew about the NSA program and was considering writing about it (only to then obey the President’s orders to keep it a secret), or is he referring to the time when,more than a full year later, in December 2005, the NYT finally got around to writing about it, once Bush was safely re-elected?  

Either way, Cheney’s general claim is as clear as it is incriminating.  According to him, key Congressional Democrats were told about the illegal NSA spying program in detail, and they not only actively approved of it, but far beyond that, they insisted that no Congressional authorization should even be sought, based on what was always the patently inane claim that to discuss the fact that the administration was eavesdropping on our conversations without warrants (rather than with warrants, as the law required) would be to reveal our secrets — “our playbook” — to Al Qaeda.

It is certainly true that Dick Cheney is not exactly the most scrupulously honest public servant around.  In fact, he’s almost certainly the opposite.  Still, what he said yesterday was merely an expanded and more detailed version of what has previously been publicly reported and, to some degree, confirmed about the knowledge and support of Democratic leaders for the NSA program.  Cheney’s claims encompasses the following key Democrats:

  • Nancy Pelosi (Ranking Member, House Intelligence Committee, House Minority Leader);
  •  
  • Jane Harman (Ranking Member, House Intelligence Committee);
  •  
  • Jay Rockefeller (Ranking Member, Senate Intelligence Committee);
  •  
  • Harry Reid Tom Daschle (Senate Minority Leader).

Unsurprisingly, Pelosi, Harman and Rockefeller all voted last July to legalize warrantless eavesdropping and to immunize telecoms from liability, thereby ensuring an end to the ongoing investigations into these programs.  And though he ultimately cast a meaningless vote against final passage, it was Reid’s decisions as Majority Leader which played an instrumental role in ensuring passage of that bill.

One would think that these Democratic leaders would, on their own, want to respond to Cheney’s claims about them and deny the truth of those claims.   After all, Cheney’s statement is nothing less than an accusation that they not only enthusiastically approved, but actively insisted upon the continuation and ongoing secrecy, of a blatantly illegal domestic spying program (one that several of them would, once it was made public, pretend to protest).  As Armando says, “The Democratic members who participated in this meeting have two choices in my mind – refute Cheney’s statements or admit their complicity in the illegal activity perpetrated by the Bush Administration.”

I’m going to spend the day calling these members and trying to get some response to Cheney’s claim.  If I’m unable to obtain any responses, I’ll post their numbers and encourage everyone to make similar calls.  As I wrote on Saturday — and documented before:  “As a practical reality, the largest barrier to any route to prosecution — including this one — is that the Congressional Democratic leadership was complicit, to varying degrees, in the illegal programs.”  That’s true not only of the NSA program, but also the Bush/Cheney torture program.

One last point:  there is much consternation over Dick Cheney’s “Nixon/Frost moment” yesterday, where he expressly endorsed the idea that, as a “general proposition,” a “wartime” President can do anything he wants — even if it violates duly enacted statutes — as long as it’s justified in the name of national security.  In one sense, Cheney was being so explicit yesterday about his belief in Bush’s lawbreaking powers in part because he’s taking pride in being so defiant on his way out the door — daring a meek and impotent political class to do anything about his lawlessness — and also because Chris Wallace conducted one of the best interviews (and, revealingly, one of the only interviews) about the Bush/Cheney view of executive power.

But that this was the Bush administration’s central operating principle is something that — as was true for Cheney’s involvement in America’s torture regime — was long known.  As I wrote all the way back in December, 2005, days after the NSA scandal was first revealed:

These are not academic questions. Quite the contrary, it is hard to imagine questions more pressing. We are at a moment in time when not just fringe ideologues, but core, mainstream supporters of the President — not to mention senior officials in the Administration itself – are openly embracing the theory that the President can use the power and military force of the United States to do whatever he wants, including to and against U.S. citizens, as long as he claims that it is connected to America’s “war” against terrorists – a war which is undeclared, ever-expanding, and without any visible or definable end.

While Bush advocates have long been toying with this theory in the shadows, the disclosure that Bush ordered warrantless eavesdropping on American citizens in undeniable violation of a Congressional statute has finally forced them to articulate their lawless power theories out in the open. Bush got caught red-handed violating the law, and once it became apparent that no argument could be made that he complied with the law, the only way to defend him was to come right out and say that he has the right to break the law. So that debate — over the claimed limitlessness of George Bush’s power — can’t be put off any longer.

By itself, the long-disclosed September 25, 2001 Yoo Memorandum left no doubt that our Government had formally and explicitly adopted an ideology of lawlessness.  As a country, we just chose to ignore all of that, chose to do nothing about it.  The absues and extremism of the last eight years began as a Bush administration initiative, but it culminated as something for which both political parties, our leading political and media institutions, and our citizenry generally bear collective responsibility.

* * * * *
On a somewhat related note, this creepy little post inserted onto Matt Yglesias’ Center for American Progress blog by Jennifer Palmieri, the CEO of CAP’s “Action Fund”, is a vivid exhibit illustrating how Washington works, for reasons which Matt StollerMarkos Moulitsas, and Brendan Nyhan all describe.  Matt very well may not consider it to constitute interference with his editorial autonomy, but it nonetheless illustrates the potential constraints that can come from writing for an organization like that.

When I first joined Salon, the commitment they made, which for me was non-negotiatiable, was absolute editorial independence.  Though that’s an unusual commitment for a magazine to make, they did make it, and they never once — in almost two years of my being here — even came close to violating it.  Even as I’ve waged quite acrimonious mini-wars with friends and former colleagues of top editors and officers here, and even as I’ve aggressively advocated views that were, at times, the opposite of the ones top editors here were advocating, there’s never been a hint of interference or even pressure, and I couldn’t even fathom their doing anything like sticking a note onto my blog of the type Palmieri just inserted onto Matt’s blog. 

Editorial independence is quite rare and quite valuable.  It’s still one of the key distinguishing features between blogs/alternative media outlets and establishment media.  As Atrios suggests:   “contemplate the issue of editorial independence, and the various revenue models which make it possible or not.”  It’s worth supporting the bloggers who practice it and the media venues that allow and encourage it.

 

UPDATE:  As I said, Cheney’s time line is unclear, and it’s possible, when he references an “additional controversy,” he’s referring to the DOJ’s objections to the NSA program in March, 2004 — not anything having to do with the New York Times.  That would mean the detailed, expanded briefings he’s describing would have included then-Minority Leader Tom Daschle, but not Harry Reid (who only became Minority Leader in 2005, once Daschle lost).  If Cheney is describing 2005 briefings, they would have included Reid.  That’s all the more reason why responses from leading Democrats here is required.

That key Democrats were briefed on the NSA program is anything but new.  USA Today reported in 2006 that Democratic leaders including Pelosi were repeatedly briefed on the program.   There is some marginal dispute about what they were and weren’t told, but no dispute about the existence of the briefings and the complete lack of any real efforts by Democrats to stop it or even object.

UPDATE II:  Via email, several very knowledgeable bloggers — including Marcy Wheeler and Christy Hardin Smith — are arguing, persuasively, that Cheney did not really disclose any specific new facts yesterday about Democratic complicity, that while he may have emphasized more clearly than ever before the approval he claims Democrats gave, all of the facts, in one venue or another, have been previously disclosed. Cheney yesterday was almost certainly talking about the March, 2004 White House briefing (that would have included Pelosi, Harman and Rockefeller — but not Reid), which has been reported.

Re-examining what Cheney said, they’re probably right. But none of that, as Spencer Ackerman points out, undermines at all the need for Congressional Democrats finally to give a full accounting of what they knew, what they were told, and what they said about these programs.  Particularly given how publicly Cheney is taunting them for having approved of the NSA program, they should respond specifically to Cheney’s claims — confirm the parts that are true and deny the parts, if any, that aren’t.

The reason the law requires that Congressional leaders be briefed on intelligence programs is not because it’s nice in the abstract for someone to know. It’s because Congressional leaders have the right and the obligation to take action to stop illegal intelligence programs — something all briefed Democrats clearly failed to do. Cheney, on his way out the door, is answering questions about what he knew and approved. It’s way past time for Pelosi, Harman and Rockefeller, at the very least, to do the same.

UPDATE III:  Last week, I was interviewed by Fox News’ Jim Angle regarding the John Brennan controversy.  For those interested:  his story will air tonight on Brit Hume’s Fox News broadcast, at 6:00 p.m. EST.