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The Obama administration has declassified and released opinions of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) given in 2005 and earlier that analyze the legality of interrogation techniques authorized for use by the CIA. Those techniques were applied only when expressly permitted by the director, and are described in these opinions in detail, along with their limits and the safeguards applied to them.
The release of these opinions was unnecessary as a legal matter, and is unsound as a matter of policy. Its effect will be to invite the kind of institutional timidity and fear of recrimination that weakened intelligence gathering in the past, and that we came sorely to regret on Sept. 11, 2001.
Proponents of the release have argued that the techniques have been abandoned and thus there is no point in keeping them secret any longer; that they were in any event ineffective; that their disclosure was somehow legally compelled; and that they cost us more in the coin of world opinion than they were worth. None of these claims survives scrutiny.
The significance of Obama's decision to release the torture memos
By Glenn Greenwald | Salon (updated below)
In the overblown, self-regarding prose that has become his trademark, Obama lauds himself and his administration for their fealty to the "rule of law" in releasing the memos. But of course, the "rule of law" also dictates that those who have planned, ordered and committed torture be prosecuted. The law has no special dispensation for crimes that might be "too disturbing" to prosecute. And so his ringing conclusion -- "we have taken steps to ensure that the actions described within them never take place again" -- rings completely hollow. How will failing to prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes deter any future perpetrator in high office? The latter will know that their crimes will be "too disturbing" to prosecute -- in much that same way that the biggest fraudsters on Wall Street today are "too big to fail," and must be allowed to escape the consequences of their actions.
I have little to say at the moment on the details of the Bush torture memos released by the Obama Administration, beyond what I have been writing for many years now about these sickening practices, and what they say about America's bipartisan, imperial elite, which countenanced them, and often openly championed them. (I think my first piece on America's torture system was written in early spring 2002 -- a column printed in the Moscow Times, drawn from readily available stories in the mainstream press. America's willing practice of torture as an official policy has been open knowledge for almost the entire decade. But I will admit the bit about using putting insects into the torture box of a wounded, deranged captive was new.)
Barack Obama is being given great credit for releasing the memos, although as the president himself points out in his statement, their release was actually required by law. I suppose it's true that the United States government has become so degraded that we must be surprised and glad when a president actually obeys the law when it suits him, but I must say that I can't find any great cause for rejoicing -- especially as Obama's statement immediately and definitely ruled out prosecuting any of the direct perpetrators of these criminal actions.
CIA interrogators were given legal authorization to slam an alleged "high-value" detainee's head against a wall, place insects inside a “confinement box” to induce fear, and force him to remain awake for 11 consecutive days, according to a closely guarded Aug. 1, 2002 legal memo released publicly by the Justice Department for the first time Thursday.
Under pressure for questionable industry practices, top executives of 14 of the nation's largest credit card companies are heading to the White House on Thursday for a meeting with senior administration officials.
The executives plan to talk about their efforts to increase transparency and help the economy, according to an industry official and a Capitol Hill aide, both of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting has not been announced.
In a direct challenge to President Barack Obama's commitment to rejuvenate moribund Mideast peace talks, Israel on Thursday dismissed American-led efforts to establish a Palestinian state and laid out new conditions for renewed negotiations.
Leaders of Israel's hawkish new government told former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, the special U.S. envoy, that they aren't going to rush into peace talks with their Palestinian neighbors.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he would require Palestinians to accept Israel as a Jewish state in any future negotiations - a demand that Palestinians have up to now rejected, Israeli government officials said.
From the office of Sen. Russ Feingold, a suggestion that the administration is open to future prosecution. Do know that Feingold and other key members of Congress have been formally briefed on this, so he presumably is not thinking wishfully here:
It didn't take long. Only 11 days after Barack Obama entered the Oval Office, a Newsweek cover story proclaimed the Afghan War "Obama's Vietnam." And there wasn't even a question mark. As John Barry and Evan Thomas wrote grimly in that January piece, "[T]here is this stark similarity: in Afghanistan, as in Vietnam, we may now be facing a situation where we can win every battle and still not win the war -- at least not within a time frame and at a cost that is acceptable to the American people." In the two and a half months since that piece appeared, the President and his advisors have, in fact, doubled-down on what is increasingly the Af-Pak War -- with the expanding fighting in Pakistan's tribal borderlands helping to destabilize that regional nuclear power. As a result, it would hardly be surprising if "Obama's Vietnam" became an ever more common refrain in the year ahead.
In a number of ways, however, the Af-Pak War couldn't bear less of a relationship to the Vietnam one. After all, this time around there is no superpower enemy like the Soviet Union or regional power like China supporting and arming the Taliban (or, for that matter, like the United States, which supported and armed the mujahideen to give the Soviets their own "Vietnam" in Afghanistan in the 1980s). In Vietnam, the U.S. faced a North Vietnamese professional army, well-trained, superbly disciplined, and supplied with the best the Soviets and Chinese could produce, including heavy weapons; while the guerrilla organization we fought in South Vietnam, which Americans knew as "the Vietcong," had widespread popular support, was unified, dedicated, well structured, and highly regimented.
By Dave Lindorff
Back in 1965, as a 15-year-old kid, I had a chance to spend half a year as a student at a boy’s gymnasium (high school) in Darmstadt, the cultural capital of the German state of Hesse, which had the distinction of having been one of a handful of cities in Germany (Dresden was another) that were selected by the Allies to test out the terror tactic of firebombing. The town was chosen for incendiary bombardment precisely because it had no military value and thus, no air defenses (and because it consisted mostly of wooden structures). With Germany still wreaking horrific damage on the Allied bomber fleet, this made it an inviting target.
Justice Department Releases Bush Administration Torture Memos | ACLU Press Release
Bradbury And Bybee Memos Are Released In Response To Long-Running ACLU Lawsuits
In response to litigation filed by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Justice Department today released four secret memos used by the Bush administration to justify torture. The memos, produced by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), provided the legal framework for the CIA's use of waterboarding and other illegal interrogation methods that violate domestic and international law.
The Obama administration released four Bush-era memos on terror interrogations Thursday.
Also on Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder said that CIA officials will not be prosecuted for waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics that had been sanctioned during the Bush administration.
The memos, written by a top Justice Department lawyer, provided legal guidance to the entire executive branch, including the intelligence agencies, on permissible "enhanced interrogation techniques" that could be used against suspected terrorists taken into custody.
"My judgment on the content of these memos is a matter of record," President Obama said Thursday.
No Charges Against CIA Officials for Waterboarding
Attorney General Eric Holder Won't Prosecute CIA Officials for Harsh Interrogations, Waterboarding
By Jennifer Loven and Devlin Barrett | ABCNews
Seeking to move beyond what he calls a "a dark and painful chapter in our history," President Barack Obama said Thursday that CIA officials who used harsh interrogation tactics during the Bush administration will not be prosecuted.
The government released four memos in which Bush-era lawyers approved in often graphic detail tough interrogation methods used against 28 terror suspects. The rough tactics range from waterboarding — simulated drowning — to keeping suspects naked and withholding solid food.Even as they exposed new details of the interrogation program, Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, offered the first definitive assurance that those CIA officials are in the clear, as long as their actions were in line with the legal advice at the time.
Obama said the nation must protect the identity of CIA contractors and employees "as vigilantly as they protect our security."
"We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history," the president said. "But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past."
Holder told the CIA that the government would provide free legal representation to CIA employees in any legal proceeding or congressional investigation related to the program and would repay any financial judgment.
"It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department," Holder said.
US Iraq Casualties Rise to 71,575
Compiled by Michael Munk | www.MichaelMunk.com
US military occupation forces in Iraq under Commander-in-Chief Obama suffered 31 combat casualties in the week ending April 14, 2009 as the official total rose to at least 71,575. The total includes 34,625 dead and wounded from what the Pentagon classifies as "hostile" causes and more than 36,950 dead and medically evacuated (as of Feb. 28, 2009) from "non-hostile" causes.*
The actual total is over 100,000 because the Pentagon chooses not to count as "Iraq casualties" the more than 30,000 veterans whose injuries-mainly brain trauma from explosions and PTSD - diagnosed only after they had left Iraq.**
By Dave Lindorff
As you’re mailing out that tax return again this year, it’s time to remember once again how much of your hard-earned bucks are being devoted to destruction, imperialist domination, slaughter and war, to funding ridiculous programs like the failed anti-missile system, and also to supporting a massively bureaucratic and overstaffed military.
Even with the current US budget predicted to hit a record $3.5 trillion, thanks to a whopping $800 billion, two-year economic stimulus package, and with several hundred billion being poured into a group of banks and the bottomless pit called AIG, the $800 billion budgeted for the military to date (a figure that includes an $85 billion “supplemental” request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) represents 22% of total US spending.
Leon Panetta, the CIA director, has been described by some officials as initially favoring release, then later pulling back from that view. Other officials say Mr. Panetta always favored releasing only legal outlines. Making those details public, one official said, would make CIA officials disinclined to take any risks in the future.
Editorial note: Gee whiz, does that mean that the CIA is worried that it would have to abide by international treaties to which the US is a signatory, and therefore, the treaties are part of our Constitution, in the future? Just asking...
By David Swanson
If you missed Tuesday's press conference at the White House, press secretary Robert Gibbs got himself into some trouble, and it all started with those two little syllables:
Upon which Helen Thomas one again abandoned propriety and asked an actual question:
"Why is the President blocking habeas corpus from prisoners at Bagram? I thought he taught constitutional law. And these prisoners have been there --"
Here's where Gibbs stepped in with a brilliant defense of his boss's unconstitutional behavior.
"You're incorrect that he taught on constitutional law."
Ouch. Nailed that one. But Helen kept talking as if Gibbs had missed the point.
"-- for many years with no due process."
Anatomy of Bush's Torture 'Paradigm'
By Ray McGovern
The prose of the recently leaked report of the International Committee of the Red Cross on torture seems colorless. It is at the same time obscene — almost pornographic.
The 41-page ICRC report depicts scenes of prisoners forced to remain naked for long periods, sometimes in the presence of women, often with their hands shackled over their heads in "stress positions" as they are left to soil themselves.
The report's images of sadism also include prisoners slammed against walls, locked in tiny boxes, and strapped to a bench and subjected to the drowning sensation of waterboarding.
How could it be that we Americans tolerate the kind of leaders who would subject others to systematic torture — yes, that’s what the official report of the international body charged with monitoring the Geneva agreements on the treatment of prisoners concludes — torture.
What if Barack Obama had picked the Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel or Democracy Now! anchor Amy Goodman to advise him at the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago this week? Unlikely, to say the least, but 75 years ago President Franklin Delano Roosevelt did something just like that, tapping a former Nation editor and fierce critic of U.S. militarism to advise his administration on Latin American policy. As a result -- consider this your curious, yet little known, fact of the day -- anti-imperialism saved the American empire.
FDR took office in 1933 looking not just to stabilize the U.S. economy, but to calm a world inflamed: Japan had invaded Manchuria the year before; the Nazis had seized power in Germany; European imperialists were tightening their holds over their colonies; and the Soviet Union had declared its militant "third period" strategy, imagining that global capitalism, plunged into the Great Depression, was in its last throes.
As many as 1m people have fled their homes in the Tribal Areas to escape attacks by the unmanned spy planes as well as bombings by the Pakistani army. In Bajaur agency entire villages have been flattened by Pakistani troops under growing American pressure to act against Al-Qaeda militants, who have made the area their base....Jamil Amjad, the commissioner in charge of the refugees, says the government is running short of resources to feed and shelter such large numbers....Pakistani officials say drone attacks have been stepped up since President Barack Obama took office in Washington, killing at least 81 people.
American drone attacks on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan are causing a massive humanitarian emergency, Pakistani officials claimed after a new attack yesterday killed 13 people.
To follow up on my recent posting, “Obama’s Surveillance State Targets PCs, Laptops and Media Devices,” Computerworld reported on March 15th, in “Obama administration says treaty text is state secret”:
The Office of U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), part of President Barack Obama’s office, has denied a company’s request for information about a secretive anticounterfeiting trade agreement being negotiated, citing national security concerns. . . .
The USTR under Obama seems to be taking the same position about the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which New Zealand and a number of other countries are negotiating, as it did under former President George Bush, that the treaty documents are not open to the public. One of Obama’s campaign promises was to make government more open and responsive to the public.
In the Wake of Sen. Ted Stevens, Will AG Holder Compassionately Release Paul Minor, Convicted Without Quid Pro Quo Proof?
In the Wake of Sen. Ted Stevens, Will AG Holder Compassionately Release Paul Minor, Convicted Without Quid Pro Quo Proof, to be with his dying wife of 41 years? He is, after all, the Democrat who was bagged in seemly circumstances, as Scott Horton described in his Harper's article, A Minor Injustice.
So it's a question of compassion that Paul Minor's attorney raises in the letter below to AG Eric Holder.
Hiram Eastland, Attorney for Paul Minor, wrote:
Attached please find an emergency furlough request I sent Attorney General Holder late yesterday. The Justice Department acknowledged receipt of the letter Friday evening. The letter requests the Department for an emergency furlough in light of the Fifth Circuit's recent Order. (See attached Order).
As recognized by the Fifth Circuit, Paul Minor is entitled to a furlough to be with his wife Sylvia in her last days.
The Department should provide its full support for this request first of because it's the right, decent and compassionate thing to do.
But the Department should also provide its support in light of the controversial conviction that allowed the jury to convict Paul Minor for
bribery without requiring quid pro quo proof.
I look forward to the Fifth Circuit tearing down the walls the Bush Justice Department built around Paul Minor's life by convicting him without the requirement of quid pro quo proof.
On the evening of March 19, 2009, Lawrence Korb spoke at the University of Pittsburgh (video at the end of this article).
Korb was the Vice President of the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) from 1998-2002. He was also the CFR’s director of National Security Studies during that same period. From 1985-1986 he was Vice President of Corporate Operations at Raytheon. He was Assistant Secretary of Defense from 1981-1985 during the Reagan Administration. He was an advisor to Barack Obama when Obama was campaigning for president. He currently is a Senior Fellow at American Progress and a Senior Advisor to the Center for Defense Information.
Transforming the U.S. Strategic Posture and Weapons Complex For Transition to a Nuclear Weapons-Free World
WASHINGTON (April 8, 2009) -- The Nuclear Weapons Complex Consolidation Policy (NWCC) Network, a collaboration of six national and regional groups, released a study today that provides the roadmap for a large and swift reduction in the nation’s nuclear weapons and the sprawling government complex that develops and produces them. The study outlines the case for a tenfold reduction in the nation’s active nuclear weapons stockpile, to 500 deployed nuclear warheads by 2015, supported by a weapons complex reduced from the current eight sites in seven states to just three sites in two states, Texas and New Mexico.
Some of the healthier banks want to pay back their bailout loans to avoid executive pay and other restrictions that come with the money. But the banks are balking at the hefty premium they agreed to pay when they took the money....there is increasing anxiety in the industry that the administration could use the stress tests of the 19 biggest banks, due to be completed in the next three weeks, to insist on management changes...Both large and small banks have pressed the Obama administration to make it less costly for them to exit the bailout program by waiving the right to exercise stock warrants the banks had to grant the government in exchange for the loans.
Assessing Treasury’s Strategy: Six Months of TARP
The April oversight report for COP is entitled Assessing Treasury’s Strategy: Six Months of TARP. In this report, COP offers a preliminary look at Treasury’s strategy and offers a comparative analysis of previous efforts to combat banking crises in the past. Over the last six months, Treasury has spent or committed $590.4 billion of the TARP funds. Treasury has also relied heavily on the use of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet which has expanded by more than $1.5 trillion (not including expected TALF loans) in conjunction with the financial stabilization activities it has undertaken beyond its monetary policy operations. This has allowed Treasury to leverage TARP funds well beyond the funds appropriated by Congress.
The total value of all direct spending, loans and guarantees provided to date in conjunction with the financial stability efforts (including those of the FDIC as well as the Treasury and the Federal Reserve) now exceeds $4 trillion. This report reviews in considerable detail specific criteria for evaluating the impact of these programs on financial markets. (Bolding mine).
The New Yorker's Jane Mayer discusses the fallout from the Red Cross' shocking report on CIA torture and its serious legal implications.
On the night of April 6, a long-secret document was published -- in its entirety for the first time -- that provided a clear, stark look at the CIA torture program carried out by the Bush administration.
A stunning story about 26-year-old reporter David Schultz of local NPR station WAMU-FM and a graduate of the University of Arizona.
Schultz was working on a story about a veteran alleging bad treatment at the hands of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Tommie Canady, a 56-year-old veteran with a terminal pancreatic disease, says he gets horrible care.
MORE men at the expense of machines; more drones rather than top-end fighter jets and future bombers; more helicopters for combat troops rather than a replacement for the presidential chopper; more coastal vessels and fewer aircraft-carriers; better cyberdefences, but scaled-back missile defences and laser weapons. In short, the new American defence budget would spend more on today’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and less to stave off future threats from China or Russia.