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“Holding The Boston Bomber As An Enemy Combatant?”: Would Tsarnaev Be Convicted Under President McCain?

That was justice at work. It took a week less than two years, an impressively brisk time window, for federal prosecutors in Massachusetts to deliver justice to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and the jury needed just 11 hours to deliberate. We didn’t waterboard him or send him to Gitmo, his jailers didn’t make him strip naked and get down on all fours while they led him around on a leash; and still, miraculously, despite these failures of our resolve, the people of the United States got a conviction.

I say “failures” above, obviously, in an ironical kind of way. But I wrote it like that because it strikes me that this is a day more than most other days to take stock of such matters and to remember that in this case, if John McCain and Lindsey Graham had had their way, some of those things could conceivably have happened to Tsarnaev. You might be tempted to say, so what, he’s a mass murderer. And that he is. But he’s a citizen of the United States, and citizens of the United States, no matter how despicable, have rights.

But in April 2013, right after the bombing, when the demagogue needle was way over in the red, McCain and Graham were leading the call for Tsarnaev to be detained as an enemy combatant. Not to be tried as one—even they understood that that would be crossing the line when it came to a U.S. citizen. But they wanted him held and questioned as an enemy combatant—thrown in a military brig and then questioned by military and CIA personnel rather than the FBI, a process that would have stripped him of his right to legal counsel and other basic rights to which any citizen is entitled.

McCain and Graham were joined by their usual compatriots in these crusades, New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte and New York Congressman Peter King. Their argument was that holding Tsarnaev as a combatant for a certain period of time would allow the government to ascertain things like whether he had any al Qaeda connections. Graham said at the time that being able to question Tsarnaev without a defense lawyer present was his whole point. That might sound reasonable, if it weren’t for, you know, the Constitution.

I don’t doubt that there was some measure of sincerity in McCain’s and Graham’s belief at the time, but even if it was quasi-sincere, it was just the worst kind of demagoguery. This did not happen in a vacuum, of course, but was yet another instance in a long chain of McCain-Graham demagoguery that went back to the very beginning of the Obama administration, when the new president was trying to close Gitmo, and Republicans—Graham was particularly noxious, as I recall—were running around charging that Obama was trying to release Gitmo prisoners onto the American mainland so they could live among us.

The reality, of course, is that the Gitmo detainees would by and large have been transferred only to the most secure Supermax prisons in the continental 48. But the reality didn’t matter, see, because what was important was to establish the narrative that this new president, with his suspicious name and questionable provenance and terrorist-palling-around and so on, didn’t want to defend America the way you and I did.

Then came the uproar over the administration’s plan to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian New York court. Now to be sure, the administration botched that one in p.r. terms, by not reaching out in advance to then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg and to Senator Chuck Schumer to make sure they’d both be on board. It wasn’t the first time or the last that the administration has aimed the revolver at its own foot.

But where are we now on that front? KSM still sits down in Guantanamo Bay, awaiting trial. He’s been ping-ponged from the military court system to the civilian and back again. He purports in more recent years to have had a change of heart, bless him, regarding the whole wholesale slaughter of innocents business. Whatever the case on that front, the core fact remains that the families who lost loves ones on 9/11 have not seen any resolution with regard to the legal fate of the mastermind of those attacks.

The families of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, on the other hand, got justice in two short years. And this civilian-court efficiency is no aberration. Up through 2011, according to Human Rights First, federal civilian criminal courts had convicted around 500 terrorism suspects. Military courts had convicted eight, and three of those were overturned completely and one partially. It’s hard to find more recent precise numbers, but it’s not exactly as if military tribunals have caught up since then. The bottom line is clear. Civilian prosecutions work, and they live up to (well, more or less—Tsarnaev was questioned before being read his Miranda rights) constitutional standards.

And yet the snarling from McCain and Graham and their amen corner never ends. Obama/Democrats soft on terror is too tantalizing a story line, a toothsome steak that they can’t help but bite into. One of Obama’s more admirable attributes, in fact, is the way he has stood up to this bullying. He’s tried (without always succeeding) to bring our terrorism policies more in line with our stated values while at the same time still prosecuting actual terrorists. If you lament Obama’s shortcomings, just stop today and ask yourself where you think we’d be on these fronts if President McCain had been elected in 2008. His fomentations tell us all we need to know.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, April 10, 2015

April 11, 2015 Posted by | Boston Marathon Bombings, GITMO, John McCain | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Of All The Ridiculous Arguments”: Republicans Remain Terrified That President Obama Will Close Gitmo

Ever since President Obama took office in 2009, Republicans have done everything in their power to stop him from closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Given his recent successes at repatriating detainees and the looming assistance Pope Francis has offered, they are upping those efforts.

Key Senate Republicans on Tuesday unveiled legislation that would effectively block President Barack Obama from fulfilling his pledge to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, before he leaves office in two years.

The legislation from Sens. Kelly Ayotte, John McCain, Richard Burr and Lindsey Graham would prohibit for two years the transfer to the United States of detainees designated medium- or high-risk. It would also ban transfers to Yemen, where dozens of the 127 remaining Guantánamo detainees are from.

Of all the ridiculous arguments they’ve made over the years for keeping the prison open, this one takes the cake.

At a news conference on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Ayotte argued the administration’s increased clip of transfers was dangerous because it could allow detainees to re-enter the terrorism fight, citing the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.

Given that none of those who have been reported to have been involved in the Paris attack had ever even spent a night at Gitmo, this is nothing but absurd fear-mongering.

Besides, here are the facts about the recidivism of Gitmo detainees who have been released from a report issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

According to the report, the percentage of freed detainees “reengaging” during the Bush administration was 19 percent, while another 14.3 percent were “suspected of reengaging.” Since Obama took office, however, just 6.8 percent of detainees are confirmed as reengaging, while just 1.1 percent are suspected of returning to the battlefield.

“Nearly half of the former detainees confirmed of reengaging are either dead or in custody, and more than one-third of the former detainees suspected of re-engaging are either dead or in custody,” the official said.

I have no idea what has Senators Ayotte, McCain, Burr and Graham so terrified. But it looks to me like it mostly has to do with witnessing President Obama succeed on a campaign promise while he protects our national security.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 18, 2015

January 20, 2015 Posted by | Congress, GITMO, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Word On Obamabot-ism”: The Republican Party Is A Radical Oppositionist Party

I don’t mind being called an Obamabot. I mean, I’ve written a few columns about the guy that were brutal, tougher than anything Dowd’s written, especially at the time of the debt ceiling fiasco. But I understand the game, and it doesn’t bother me.

I have something I wish to make crystal clear, however. If it seems to you (I mean you, pumpkinface!) that I’m always excusing Obama, you’re misreading me. I am instead seeking to cast blame where it properly belongs. And that is almost always the Republican Party. I’ve said all this a jillion times before, but it is simply not a mainstream political party in the traditional American sense. It is a radical oppositionalist faction, way beyond the normal American parameters both in terms of ideology and tactics. And that needs to be pointed out, unfortunately, again and again and again.

Just today, Pat Toomey said of the background-check bill:

“In the end it didn’t pass because we’re so politicized. There were some on my side who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.”

A helpful admission on his part, and a rare piece of Republican candor. But this is the case time after time after time. It’s not normal. It’s not–and I mean not remotely–“the same thing” the Democrats did under Bush. Today’s GOP is a complete historical outlier.

Yes, I’m sure there were many Democrats who didn’t want to hand Reagan or either Bush a political victory. But historically, that is one of a handful of legislative considerations, and not even the first. Probably more like the fourth, after votes and money and what’s right for the country. But today’s GOP has turned it into iron law. It is relentlessly destructive.

On the subject of Gitmo, which I wrote about yesterday: In normal America, when a presidential candidate says he wants to do X once in office and then wins the election by a significant margin, Congress usually does X. The opposition party always attaches strings and conditions and so forth, but they obey the will of the people. Democrats, enough of them, led by Tip O’Neill, put Reagan’s programs through. Same thing with Bush’s tax cuts. (Republicans did not grant Clinton the same courtesy, but as bad as they were then, they’re worse now.)

So in normal America, a deal would have been worked out whereby Gitmo would close. After all, remember, the Republican candidate in 2008 supported closing Gitmo too. It was the GOP’s position! And yet, once Obama as president wanted to do it, they killed it cold in 2009.

They have been blocking it ever since. Here’s a vote on the question of use of funds to transfer Gitmo detainees from last November, after Obama had been handily reelected. Every Republican present voted no. Every one.

That was on an amendment to the defense reauthorization. That passed, and Obama signed it. But he issued a statement to accompany the signing explaining that he was dead-set against the provisions I referred to in this morning’s post. Under the Constitution, of course, there is no line-item veto; a president either signs or vetoes an entire bill. This was a defense authorization, so he signed. But he made his position crystal clear. Here’s the letter for you to see.

I’m sure there’s more he could have done or could now be doing. But wouldn’t you get a little discouraged? Oh, fucking hell, he thinks to himself at 3 am. Yes, I want to keep this promise I made. But why should I bang my head against that particular wall again? If I’m for it, they’re against it. I won’t get one Republican vote.

He is, obviously, a flawed human being; aloof, a little superior, not especially warm (so it seems), and no, he doesn’t scare anybody. He has all of these flaws and more. Maybe a different human being could get Susan Collins or Rob Portman or Lamar Alexander to vote his way once in a while.

But I don’t really think so. Collins and Portman and Alexander and others are, I’m certain, a little ashamed of their party today, and of themselves. But they are afraid of the right-wing agitprop media and their hard-shell base (and of course the threat of a primary from the right). So they don’t have the guts to the right thing, and they likely never will.

So it’s not that I’m always straining to defend Obama, although I can understand how it ends up looking that way. I am trying to tell as many people as I can that this Republican Party is extreme and wholly against American norms and traditions. And I think any opinion writer who isn’t saying this over and over is, in ascending order of likelihood, lying, dense, or deceiving him or herself.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 1, 2013

May 3, 2013 Posted by | GITMO, Politics | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Torture Wasn’t The Key To Finding Osama bin Laden

It wasn’t torture that revealed Osama bin Laden’s hiding place.Finding and killing the world’s most-wanted terrorist took years of patient intelligence-gathering and dogged detective work, plus a little luck.

Once again, it appears, we’re supposed to be having a “debate” about torture — excuse me, I mean the “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding, that were authorized and practiced during the Bush administration. In fact, there’s nothing debatable about torture. It’s wrong, it’s illegal, and there’s no way to prove that the evidence it yields could not be obtained through conventional methods.

President Obama ended these practices. Torture remained a stain on our national honor, but one that was beginning to fade — until details of the hunt for bin Laden began to emerge.

According to widespread reports, the first important clue in the long chain leading to bin Laden’s lair came in 2004 from a Pakistani-born detainee named Hassan Ghul, who was held in one of the CIA’s secret “black site” prisons and subjected to coercive interrogation. Ghul was not waterboarded but may have been offered other items on the menu, including sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme temperatures and being placed in painful “stress positions” for hours at a time.

Ghul reportedly disclosed the nom de guerre of an al-Qaeda courier — Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti — who appeared to have access to the terrorist organization’s inner circle. The CIA was able to deduce that Ghul was referring to a man they had heard of before, a trusted aide who might know where bin Laden was hiding.

Two of the highest-ranking al-Qaeda leaders who were taken into U.S. custody — operations chief Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded repeatedly, and Abu Faraj al-Libi, who was not waterboarded but was subjected to other harsh interrogation techniques — pointedly declined to talk about al-Kuwaiti. Ghul, however, described al-Kuwaiti as a close associate and protege of both Mohammed and al-Libi. CIA analysts believed they might be on the right track.

It was, of course, just one of many tracks that might have led to bin Laden. This and other trails went hot and cold until last summer, when al-Kuwaiti made a phone call to someone being monitored by U.S. intelligence, who then watched his movements until he led them in August to the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where bin Laden was cornered and killed.

Torture apologists are saying, “See, it worked.” But the truth is that there’s no proof — and not even any legitimate evidence — that torture cracked the case.

It’s true, apparently, that Ghul opened up to interrogators after being roughed up in some fashion. It’s not clear that he was ever subjected to techniques that amount to torture, but let’s assume he was. The question is whether such treatment was necessary to get Ghul to talk.

And there’s no way to prove it was. Many experienced interrogators believe that torture is counterproductive — that it produces so much unreliable information that it’s hard to tell what’s true and what’s not. These experts believe that noncoercive techniques are far more effective because when the subject does begin to talk, more truth than falsehood comes out.

Torture apologists often concoct hypothetical “ticking bomb” scenarios to validate coercion, including the infliction of pain. But this was a real-world scenario of slowly collecting names, dates, addresses, phone numbers and other disconnected bits of information, over seven years, before finally being able to put them all together.

Would al-Kuwaiti’s name and role have been extracted anyway, from Ghul or some other detainee, without coercive interrogation? If the two al-Qaeda higher-ups hadn’t been subjected to harsh techniques, could they still have been led to cooperate with their questioners? Would they still have dissembled, tellingly, when asked about the courier who eventually led us to bin Laden?

I believe the odds are quite good that the CIA would have gotten onto al-Kuwaiti’s trail somehow or other. But I can’t be certain — just as those who defend torture and coercive interrogation can’t be sure that these odious methods made the daring and successful raid possible.

What I do know is that torture is a violation of U.S. and international law — and a betrayal of everything this country stands for. The killing of bin Laden resulted from brilliant intelligence work, for which both the Bush and Obama administrations deserve our thanks and praise.

There’s plenty of credit to go around — but not for torture. We should celebrate the victory of cherished American values, not their temporary abandonment.

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 5, 2011

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May 6, 2011 Posted by | 911, Dick Cheney, Foreign Policy, GITMO, Homeland Security, Ideology, National Security, Neo-Cons, Politics, President Obama, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Tortured Logic Of Enhanced Interrogation

Did torture work? This is the question everyone is asking after Osama bin Laden’s death and the revelation that his fate was sealed by the identification of a courier whose nom de guerre emerged from the interrogation of top al Qaeda operatives who were known to have been subjected to waterboarding and similar techniques. “Did brutal interrogations produce the intelligence that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden?” a May 3 New York Timesstory asked.

This is hardly the first time we’ve had this debate. In 2006, my team of interrogators in Iraq located local al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi by identifying and following one of his spiritual advisors, Abu Abd al-Rahman. Eric Maddox, a U.S. Army interrogator, found Saddam Husseinby similar means, identifying his former bodyguards. It’s these little pieces of information that form the mosaic that gradually leads to a breakthrough. But how best to get those little pieces?

Current and former U.S. officials and their supporters have been quick to argue that “enhanced interrogation techniques” and waterboarding led to the identification of the courier’s alias, which started U.S. intelligence down the road to bin Laden. The day after the al Qaeda leader’s death was announced, U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the House Homeland Security Committee chair, told Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly that “For those who say that waterboarding doesn’t work, who say it should be stopped and never used again, we got vital information [from waterboarding] that directly led us to bin Laden.” John Yoo, the former U.S. Justice Department official who drafted the George W. Bush administration’s legal rationales for officially sanctioned torture, repeated the claim and praised“Bush’s interrogation and warrantless surveillance programs that produced this week’s actionable intelligence.” The torture bandwagon has started to kick into high gear. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

In fact, the information about the existence of a courier working for bin Laden was provided by several detainees, not just waterboarded al Qaeda operatives Kalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libi — we had one detainee in Iraq who provided information about a courier in 2006. The key pieces of information, however, were the courier’s real name and location. His family name was first uncovered by CIA assets in Pakistan through other sources. The NSA subsequently figured out his full real name and location from an intercepted phone call. Waterboarding had nothing to do with it.

Moreover, common sense dictates that all high-ranking leaders have couriers — and their nicknames do little to lead us to them. This is because many members of al Qaeda change names or take on a nom de guerre after joining for both operational security and cultural reasons. The names are often historically relevant figures in the history of Islam, like the Prophet Mohamed’s first follower, Abu Bakr. Think of it as the equivalent of a boxer taking on a nickname like “The Bruiser.”

Understanding these cultural nuances is just one critical skill interrogators must have to be effective. The other is an understanding of the social science behind interrogations, which tells us that torture has an extremely negative effect on memory. An interrogator needs timely and accurate intelligence information, not just made-up babble.

What torture has proven is exactly what experienced interrogators have said all along: First, when tortured, detainees will give only the minimum amount of information necessary to stop the pain. No interrogator should ever be hoping to extract the least amount of information. Second, under coercion, detainees give misleading information that wastes time and resources — a false nickname, for example. Finally, it’s impossible to know what information the detainee would have disclosed under non-coercive interrogations.

But to understand the question “Does torture work?” one must also define “work.” If we include all the long-term negative consequences of torture, that answer becomes very clear. Those consequences include the fact that torture handed al Qaeda its No. 1 recruiting tool, a fact confirmed by the U.S. Department of Defense’s interrogators in Iraq who questioned foreign fighters about why they had come there to fight. (I have first-hand knowledge of this information because I oversaw many of these interrogations and was briefed on the aggregate results.) In addition, future detainees will be unwilling to cooperate from the onset of an interrogation because they view all Americans as torturers. I heard this repeatedly in Iraq, where some detainees accused us of being the same as the guards at Abu Ghraib.

The more you think about, the less sense torture makes. U.S. allies will become unwilling to conduct joint operations if they are concerned about how detainees will be treated in U.S. custody (an argument made by the 9/11 Commission, among others). And future enemies will use our actions as justification to torture American captives. Torture also lowers our ethical standards to those of our enemies, an ugly shift that spreads like a virus throughout the Armed Services; witness the abuses of Abu Ghraib or the recent murders of civilians in Afghanistan.

Most importantly, we should be talking about the morality of torture, not its efficacy. When the U.S. infantry becomes bogged down in a tough battle, they don’t turn to chemical weapons even though they are extremely effective. The reason they don’t is because such weapons are illegal and immoral.

During the Revolutionary War, one top general made the point that torture was inconsistent with the fundamental beliefs of our founding fathers. “Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to insure any [prisoner] … I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require,” he wrote to his troops in the Northern Expeditionary Force in the first year of the war. The general in question was George Washington. There’s a reason we pledge to believe in “liberty and justice for all” and not “liberty and security for all”: It’s because we place our values and principles higher than we place our security. When we cease to do so, we forfeit our right to be called Americans.

We cannot become our enemy in trying to defeat him. American interrogators safely guided us through World War II without the use of torture, fighting an enemy and interrogating prisoners every bit as brutal and dedicated as the members of al Qaeda. Our interrogators continue to prove time and time again that they are smart enough to outwit al Qaeda’s best and brightest. No one should ever doubt that we have the mental and ethical fortitude to win this war — and to do it without lowering ourselves to the level of our foes.

By: Matthew Alexander, Foreign Policy, May 4, 2011

May 6, 2011 Posted by | 911, Democracy, Foreign Policy, GITMO, Government, Ground Zero, Homeland Security, Ideology, Middle East, Military Intervention, National Security, Neo-Cons, Pentagon, Politics, President Obama, Right Wing, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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