Friday, May 15, 2009

The Politics of Excusing Torture In The Name of National Security: John Dean, Dick Cheney, Nancy Pelosi, Torture, Torture And Torture.


The Politics of Excusing Torture In The Name of National Security: John Dean, Dick Cheney, Nancy Pelosi, Torture, Torture And Torture. 


There Is A Valuable Perspective Offered Here By John Dean, and may I add that the justified attacks on Speaker Pelosi for her lack of veracity and integrity are well-earned, but more importantly; buried in calls for her investigation and calls for resignation, is a lethal trap for the right wing.

The left wing and many Democrats would welcome Pelosi’s demise and the right is chomping at the bit for her blood.  I’m ready to give her to them as the investigation will only serve to take the pealing top completely off the proverbial can of worms!  If they are going to investigate and go after Pelosi there will be one helluva a debris field of collateral damage before is all said and done.

Steny Hoyer as a replacement would be no prize, but I’d be very surprised if the Speaker’s Chair was handed to him.  The Democrats and The White House will want competence in the chair. Keep your eye on this issue with the perspectives offered here!

The Politics of Excusing Torture In The Name of National Security

from FindLaw | By JOHN W. DEAN 

Allow me to share some analysis about the way things work in Washington. President Obama's flip-flop on his agreement to turn over photographs of detainees being tortured by American soldiers is a message with broad and clear implications. Those who believe that the Obama Administration should expose and prosecute persons who committed war crimes should understand that it is not going to happen the way they would like, or as quickly, because Obama is having internal battles as well. His pullback is not occurring because he fears that Republicans will attack him (he knows they will); rather it is occurring because he needs the national security community behind him, and they fear they will be further embarrassed and humiliated if more information is revealed.

According to The Washington Post, President Obama told White House lawyers he does not "feel comfortable" releasing the photos because of the reaction they could cause against U.S. troops, and because "he believes that the national security implications of such a release have not been fully presented to the court," in responding to the ACLU's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. [Emphasis added.]

Even before looking closely at Obama's change of mind, I understood immediately what had taken place, as soon as I heard the report on the radio. President Obama was, in fact, speaking for the national security bureaucracy in announcing his change of mind. I knew it would happen at some point. Although his first instinct had been to release the pictures, as he had released the new Justice Department torture memos, it was clear he had been turned around, and I was certain it was the work of the national security bureaucracy.

My hunch was confirmed by the AP report, which explained, "American commanders in the war zones expressed deep concern about fresh damage the photos might do, especially as the U.S. tries to wind down the Iraq war and step up operations against the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan." How do the commanders know this to be the case? How do they know that it is the not the case that, to the contrary, more people around the world might admire us for openly correcting past mistakes? In fact, you can be certain "the commanders" do not truly know that the photos will harm America's image, but they do know how to protect the national security bureaucracy, after having risen to its top ranks. This is exactly what is going on here, and the explanation was pure bureaucratic excuse-making.

The National Security Bureaucracy

On average, it takes about 100 days for the great Executive Branch bureaucracy to begin to work its way and will on the new officials, and that threshold has now been crossed. If anyone believes a rookie president and his new team can take over the executive branch, and actually run it without the cooperation of the permanent people, those who remain in place as presidents and their appointees come and go, he or she does not understand how Washington really works. Political appointees come and go, but the folks who actually run the government have an ongoing agenda of trying not to let these part-time political people screw it up too badly. Nowhere are there more of these permanent career professionals than in the departments and agencies that constitute the national security community.

Few presidents have true national security experience before arriving at the White House. For example, of the last twelve presidents – Truman, Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and Obama – only Eisenhower, Nixon, and Poppy Bush truly understood national security operations when they arrived in the Oval Office. President Obama, like all the others, is getting on-the-job training. Who is doing that training? While his appointees with national security experience are playing a role, they themselves were all trained by the national security bureaucracy, and since the Democrats have been out of power for eight years, Obama's national security team is still relying heavily on the career people. It takes about 18 to 24 months for a new presidential team to get control of the national security behemoth.

I have never tried to catalogue the parts of this dominant segment of our national government, but any off-the-top-of-one's-head list would have to include the Cabinet departments with the largest budgets, like the Department of Defense (with the Army, Navy, and Air Force), Department of State (with its Foreign Service and Embassies throughout the world), Department of Homeland Security (which united some 22 agencies including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Customs Service, the U.S. Secret Service, and the Transportation Security Administration.) In addition, virtually every Cabinet department has national security responsibilities -- from the Department of Commerce to the Department of the Treasury to the Department of Justice, with its Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). And, of course, there are the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) – all are involved in national security.

In fact, since the passage of the National Security Act of 1947, the president has had a National Security Council, which fills much of the Executive Office Building beside the White House, and sits atop this huge apparatus with its reach throughout the federal structure, and the entire world. Suffice it to say that the national security bureaucracy is massive. David Halberstam, in his classic chronicle of the Kennedy era's national security establishment, The Best and the Brightest, viewed it as a great and powerful elephant, which meant that it is not easily troubled by others in the government jungle. Were David with us today, he might describe this Goliath as being very angry, which is a problem for President Obama. But he would also explain that the influence of the bureaucrats ebbs and flows.

Anger in the National Security Ranks, Stemming from the Bush Years

From generals and admirals at the Pentagon to Foreign Service officers in Foggy Bottom, along with untold thousands of the nameless and unknown career civil servants who soldier on to protect our national security, there is anger and resentment. Most of these people are not political in the partisan sense; rather, they work in and for our government to keep the nation safe, and take pride in their work.

For the past eight years, the Bush Administration has marginalized them, manipulated them, and beaten them down. Dick Cheney, in particular, worked to keep the national security professionals submissive, and to ignore their good advice. In a move that was unheard of for a Vice President, Cheney created his own National Security Council, which initially was better staffed and more knowledgeable than the statutory NSC. Cheney placed personal emissaries throughout the national security structure, not only to control it but to be certain that he was always aware of what it was doing, so he could operate accordingly. Dick Cheney had his own agenda, and it proved a disaster. Cheney cost the nation blood and treasure with his preemptive Iraq war. He embarrassed the United States the world over by demanding (and continuing to demand) that we use torture.

Our national security professionals have been humiliated. President Obama is a president who listens, and he has been told that airing the dirty linen that the Bush folks left behind will cause more harm than good. No doubt his top national security advisers – all products of the national security bureaucracy – started giving him serious heads-up talks when it appeared he was going to win the election, for that is when he began saying that he was more interested in looking forward than looking back, and that to investigate torture would only be looking back.

When President Obama hinted that he might prosecute those engaged in torture, he was forced to run out to the CIA for a stroking session to placate these national security professionals, assuring them that he was not going to prosecute any of them for following orders of the Bush/Cheney White House. The national security bureaucracy is testing its influence with the new president – and like all presidents, he will take some of its advice and reject other advice it gives. Right now, he is trying to figure out what to do.

Obama's Being Tested From the Inside And Outside

It is not likely that Barack Obama had widespread political support in the national security community, which would have had a natural affinity for one of their own like John McCain. But Obama needs to win their hearts and minds. He cannot effectively lead and protect the country without their support, and since so many are recovering from battered-by-the-White-House syndrome stemming from the Bush/Cheney years, he is dealing with their very bad mood. Rather than risk alienation, Obama has given in to them, at the expense of his natural constituency, the political progressives who find it appalling that the Bush/Cheney torture is not being fully exposed (and prosecuted) to prevent it from happening again -- and sooner, rather than later.

I would encourage those who are demanding exposure and prosecution to keep pounding their drums. Clearly, they are on the right side of this issue, and Obama knows it. While he is going to placate the national security bureaucrats from time to time in order to lead them effectively, hopefully the pressure for him to deal with the atrocious behavior of Bush and Cheney is only just getting started.


Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney On Use Of Torture To Invade Iraq by Andy Worthington

Posted on May 15, 2009 by dandelionsalad

by Andy Worthington
Featured Writer
Dandelion Salad
15 May 2009

The reawakening of the biggest scandal in the whole of the Bush administration’s bleak and brutal tenure — the fact that prisoners in the “War on Terror” were tortured not to protect America, but to find excuses to justify the invasion of Iraq — began three weeks ago, with a surprising revelation in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s report into detainee abuse (PDF), and a McClatchy Newspapers report by Jonathan Landay, but yesterday it stepped up after Lawrence Wilkerson, the chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show.

In a blog post for the Washington Note, Wilkerson explained that he had been so appalled by recent tapes of former Vice President Dick Cheney “extolling the virtues of harsh interrogation, torture, and his leadership,” which had been played in the run-up to his interview, that when he got home, reflecting on how everything he had heard had been “stunningly inaccurate,” he “thought long and hard about what I knew at this point in my investigations with respect to the former VP’s office.”

His conclusions were stark. All Cheney’s talk about keeping America safe, and claiming that President Obama is endangering the US by abandoning the use of “the Cheney method of interrogation and torture” is nonsense, Wilkerson wrote, for a variety of generally sound reasons that can be gleaned from the post.

These, however, were the crucial passages:

[W]hat I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002 — well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion — its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the US but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qaeda.

So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney’s office that their detainee “was compliant” (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP’s office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qaeda-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, “revealed” such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.

As Bob Fertik noted on, this is extraordinarily important for three particular reasons: firstly, because of Wilkerson’s credibility — and his access to certain privileged information during the Bush years; secondly, because he states that “the desire to manufacture an Iraq-al-Qaeda link was the principal priority — not secondary to preventing another attack,” and thirdly because, reinforcing conclusions I reached in two recent articles, Who Authorized The Torture of Abu Zubaydah? andEven In Cheney’s Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low, Wilkerson stated that “the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002 — well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion” — specifically, the memos purporting to redefine torture and authorize its use by the CIA, which were issued by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel on August 1, 2002.

To recap, while I wait to see what impact Wilkerson’s revelations will have, these are the steps that led us to the reawakening of the Iraq-al-Qaeda torture story:

In the Senate report, released on April 21, Maj. Paul Burney, a psychiatrist with the Army’s 85th Medical Detachment’s Combat Stress Control Team, who said that, with two colleagues, he was “hijacked” into providing an advisory role to the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo, stated that “a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link … there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.”

The day after, Jonathan Landay picked up on Burney’s comments, and talked to a “former senior US intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue,” who told him that Vice President Dick Cheney and defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld “demanded that the interrogators find evidence of al-Qaeda-Iraq collaboration.”

“There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used,” the official explained. “The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al-Qaeda and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there. There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s people to push harder. Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s people were told repeatedly, by CIA … and by others, that there wasn’t any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam, and that no such ties were likely because the two were fundamentally enemies, not allies.”

He added, however, that senior officials in the administration “blew that off and kept insisting that we’d overlooked something, that the interrogators weren’t pushing hard enough, that there had to be something more we could do to get that information.”

Since April 22, numerous commentators, myself included, have probed the story further, establishing that torture clearly began before August 1, 2002, for example, and recalling that, last December, former Pentagon analysts told Vanity Fair’s David Rose that Abu Zubaydah, the supposed “senior al-Qaeda operative,” whose torture (as Wilkerson confirmed) began in April 2002, was also tortured to produce information about connections between al-Qaeda and Iraq.

However, an even more significant story concerned another “high-value detainee” mentioned by Wilkerson: Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the emir of the Khaldan training camp, who was seized in December 2001 and sent to be tortured in Egypt in February 2002. It was there that al-Libi made the false confession about al-Qaeda operatives receiving information about chemical and biological weapons from Saddam Hussein that was used by Colin Powell in February 2003, in an attempt to encourage the UN to approve the forthcoming invasion of Iraq, and it was al-Libi’s death last Sunday in a Libyan prison that brought the full horror of this story back to life.

Unlike 14 other “high-value detainees” — including Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — who were transferred to Guantánamo from secret CIA prisons in September 2006, al-Libi never made it to Guantánamo, and was, instead, rendered back to Libya by an administration that not only had no further use for him, but also wanted to make sure that his secrets would remain hidden forever.

His death, two weeks after representatives of Human Rights Watch tried — and failed — to talk to him in Tripoli’s Abu Salim jail, and as Abu Zubaydah’s US attorney, Brent Mickum, had begun to make tentative attempts to communicate with him, is therefore remarkably suspicious. The Libyan authorities claimed that he committed suicide, but as I explained in two previous articles, The “Suicide” Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: Why The Media Silence? and Two Experts Cast Doubt On Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s “Suicide”, this is highly unlikely, and it is far more probable that Colonel Gaddafi had him killed because he too was threatened by what al-Libi could have revealed about his long years of torture, the relationship between the US and Libyan governments, and the lies he told in prisons around the world.

Whatever the truth about al-Libi’s death, it should not blind us to the fact that, as far as America is concerned — and as Lawrence Wilkerson has just reiterated so forcefully — the most urgent response to his death must be to confront Dick Cheney — and, it should be noted, Donald Rumsfeld — with the evidence of their extraordinary and unprecedented betrayal, not only of America’s values, but of the American people themselves.

As Paul Krugman explained in the New York Times on April 22, in an opinion piece that should really have been emblazoned on the front page,

Let’s say this slowly: the Bush administration wanted to use 9/11 as a pretext to invade Iraq, even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. So it tortured people to make them confess to the nonexistent link.

There’s a word for this: it’s evil.

POSTSCRIPT: So Marcy’s all over this story at Empty Wheel, picking up on the fact that Lawrence Wilkerson noted that al-Libi was waterboarded in Egypt, and proposing that “Wilkerson is stating, clearly, that in early 2002, Dick Cheney ordered Ibn Shaykh al-Libi to be tortured even after the interrogation team reported that al-Libi was compliant.”

I’m not entirely sure that it’s correct to infer that Cheney had any direct contact with al-Libi’s Egyptian torturers, and I also agree with several readers who have noted that it’s unclear who the “compliant” detainee was whose further torture was ordered by Cheney — but it seems apparent to me that this other detainee is not al-Libi.

I’m also struggling to understand the timeline. Al-Libi’s lies about Iraq were first noted by the Defense Intelligence Agency on February 22, but Wilkerson confidently stated that “the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002.” I’m inclined to think that al-Libi’s torture regarding Iraq actually continued for many months in Egypt, before someone — Cheney, I presume — was happy with it, and that therefore the “compliant” detainee, sometime in April or May 2002, was Zubaydah.

For another article about Lawrence Wilkerson, see: Lawrence Wilkerson Tells The Truth About Guantánamo.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the USand the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009. Visit his website at:

See Also:

Lawrence Wilkerson destroys Dick Cheney + GOP Meet The Briar Patch!

Countdown: What Was The Motivation To Torture?

Dennis Kucinich: The Truth Is!

Two Experts Cast Doubt On Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s “Suicide” by Andy Worthington

The “Suicide” Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: Why The Media Silence? by Andy Worthington

Dick Cheney And The Death Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi by Andy Worthington

Even In Cheney’s Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low by Andy Worthington



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