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“Contemptible Congeries Of Con Men”: Ambassador Chris Stevens’s Friends Are Tired Of This Benghazi Nonsense

My friend Sid Blumenthal was deposed yesterday by the House Benghazi committee. Yep, my friend. For 20 years or so, since before he joined the Clinton White House. You have a right to know that as I say that he had no business whatsoever being dragooned before that contemptible congeries of con men, because he was a private citizen who had absolutely nothing to do with the events that led to the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and the three other Americans who died in that consular attack, the investigation of which is—or, as we’ll see, was—the ostensible reason the body was empanelled.

I know what much of Washington thinks of Sid. But I don’t go around dumping friends of longstanding because they get thrown headlong into the news cycle, so yes, you bet I will defend him. He had no “business interests” in Libya, and all he did was pass on intelligence assessments—not just about Libya, but about all kinds of places—from a friend of his who once ran the CIA’s European operations to another friend of his who happened to be the secretary of state.

But here’s the thing: You don’t have to like Blumenthal. In fact for all I care you can think he’s Rasputin and Albert Bacon Fall (look him up) and Bobby Baker (look him up too) all rolled into one. But the fact is he went before that committee for one reason and one reason only: because its real job is not to investigate those four deaths, which in any case have been investigated eight times by seven congressional committees and once by a State Department review board, none of which found any wrongdoing on Hillary Clinton’s part.

No, this committee’s real job is to get Clinton.

Let’s mention high up what is the main point here. This “investigation” now constitutes openly and defiantly urinating on the grave of Amb. Stevens. Many diplomats and friends of Stevens’s are aghast at this. “It’s a desecration of Chris’s memory,” says his old friend Daniel Seidemann, the American-born and Jerusalem-based peace activist who got to know Stevens during the latter’s time in Israel. “That this should be the ‘reward’ for the finest American public servant I ever met is a sad commentary on the decay of political culture in the United States. Shameless.”

Robert Ford, the courageous former ambassador to Syria, told me: “Chris Stevens cared deeply about the people of the Middle East and North Africa, and about helping them build better futures for themselves and their families and about building better relations between them and the United States. Those goals weren’t Republican or Democratic. Using his tragic death, and the deaths of his dedicated colleagues, for partisan, tear-down political gain minimizes the importance of their deaths and the issues with which they were grappling. It’s really an insult to demean them this way.”

Daniel Serwer, who was a special envoy to Bosnia in the 1990s, didn’t even know Stevens but feels similarly. “There really isn’t anything to be investigated about the incident itself until they get someone who was personally responsible for the attack on the U.S. facilities,” Serwer says. “In the meanwhile, they are going after Hillary Clinton. Does anyone think they would be doing that if she were not a candidate for president?”

The committee’s motivation has always been obvious, but it became undeniably so on Monday, when Politico ran a piece  headlined “Beyond Benghazi.” The gist of it was that committee chairman Trey Gowdy has now expanded the scope of the probe to include “the administration’s entire policy toward Libya, not just the brief period before and after the Benghazi attacks of September 11, 2012.” Why would Gowdy be doing this? Gowdy told Politico, referring to the White House and State Department: “They believe we’re supposed to be Benghazi-centered, looking at a couple of days on either side of the Benghazi attacks. But the language of the [House] resolution is pretty clear: We’re to examine all policies and decisions that led to the attacks.” “All policies” can include virtually anything—the decision under NATO’s banner to intervene in Libya in the first place, and everything that happened thereafter.

In other words—Gowdy’s investigators have come up empty on the consular attack itself, but their assignment, undoubtedly never spoken but equally undoubtedly always understood, is to find something that will keep Clinton out of the White House. And so the net will now be cast far more widely.

It wasn’t so long ago that Gowdy was singing from a very different songbook. Here is an April 15, 2015, letter, made public by the committee’s Democrats, from an assistant secretary at State to Gowdy. Click on it and jump to page seven. There, you will see that the letter quotes from a letter Gowdy had written to Clinton attorney David Kendall on December 2, 2014, in which Gowdy wrote that the “Committee has no interest in any emails, documents, or other tangible things not related to Benghazi.”

More recently, in March of this year, Gowdy said on Face the Nation: “We’re not entitled to everything. I don’t want everything…There are three tranches [of what we need to know]…Why did we have a facility that didn’t meet any security specification whatsoever?…Our military response, where were our assets located?…And then, thirdly, the aftermath. I continue to naively believe that people have a right to expect their government to tell them the truth in the aftermath of a tragedy.”

As I said above, and as Serwer noted, those three questions have already been answered many times over. We know exactly where our military assets were, and everything else. But the answers to these questions have not been to Republicans’ liking, so Gowdy wants different answers. And now, fearing that he’s not going to get them, he’s changed the whole basis of the probe.

Now, all of Libya policy is fair game. Did Clinton make a policy recommendation—even one—that turns out to have been bad in retrospect, thus proving her utter lack of foreign policy clairvoyance? Did she make any misjudgments? Why, this of course would be unforgiveable; after all, Libya is a very easy country to apprehend and master, so there’s no excuse for misjudgments of any sort! The thinking now is clearly this: Well, if we can’t nail her to the wall on the attacks, at least we can raise questions about her foreign policy judgment.

Which returns us to Blumenthal. He spent nine hours—nine hours—being deposed yesterday. About half an hour was spent on the Benghazi attack. He wasn’t even asked by Republicans about the attacks until around 6 p.m., seven-and-a-half hours after he sat down in the chair.

The Republicans didn’t even seem to know that Blumenthal didn’t write these intelligence assessments, that they were written by the former CIA operative, Tyler Drumheller, not Blumenthal, who was just passing them along. At one point, Darrell Issa—not a member of the committee—sauntered in, but not being a member of the committee was escorted out by Gowdy himself. “It seems obvious that my appearance before this committee was for one reason and one reason only,” Blumenthal told me Tuesday night. “And that was politics.”

The point of all this was obvious: It was to see if they could lure Blumenthal into saying one thing that might in some way contradict anything Clinton has said publicly or will say to the committee. The committee’s staff knows very well that the media will pounce on any inconsistency, happily keeping the grassy-knoll narrative about Blumenthal as the Clinton whisperer bouncing along, without pausing for a moment to examine Gowdy and the committee’s actions and motivations, or God forbid to demand that these people stop spending taxpayer money—$3.5 million so far, with an estimate that it could run up to $6 million—on this obviously political hunt for scalps, or one particular scalp.

There’s a scandal going on here all right. It’s just not the one the press thinks.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June 17, 2015

June 20, 2015 Posted by | Benghazi, Hillary Clinton, Trey Gowdy | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Benghazi Committee Sinks Deeper Into Absurdity”: Can’t Pretend Any Longer That They’re Trying To Figure Out What Happened

Sidney Blumenthal has now been deposed by the select committee investigating the deaths of four Americans at the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya in September of 2012. While Blumenthal is an interesting Washington character and one who is particularly despised by Republicans, the fact that he was there at all shows just what a joke the Republicans’ Benghazi enterprise has become (if it was ever anything else).

When Rep. Trey Gowdy was first appointed to lead this committee a year ago, Republicans fell all over themselves to extol him as the perfect choice to lead the committee, because he’s such a serious, sober investigator who would stick to the facts and get to the truth. We’d finally learn why those Americans died, and who was to blame! But by now, Gowdy has become nothing more than a glorified RNC researcher, casting about desperately for something, anything that will reflect poorly on Hillary Clinton and damage her presidential campaign.

To explain briefly what this deposition was about: Sid Blumenthal is a longtime friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton who worked in the White House while Bill was president (if you want to remind yourself about who Blumenthal is and the details of his relationship to the Clintons, read this exhaustive article by Dylan Matthews). While Clinton was secretary of state, he was in communication with her, often sending her emails with his perspective on various issues. He sent her some memos on Libya that were actually written by Tyler Drumheller, a former CIA official then pursuing business interests there. Some of Drumheller’s analysis was accurate, some of it wasn’t. Clinton forwarded some of these emails to other people within the State Department.

If you’re an aficionado of the internal workings of government agencies and how information circulates within them, you might find this fascinating. But it’s hard to see what exactly is the scandal or crime here, or what it has to do with the events in Benghazi. Let’s look at what Trey Gowdy had to say:

“You can determine for yourself whether someone who has a pecuniary interest in a country, how that might impact the accuracy of the information that was passed on,” Gowdy said…

Gowdy framed Clinton as irresponsible for welcoming and forwarding the Blumenthal memos since the government never vetted their author or the sources behind his information.

“You have an intelligence apparatus at your disposal. We have a CIA. Why would you not rely on your own vetted, sourced intelligence agency?” he said.

First of all, the fact that Clinton read Drumheller’s memos doesn’t mean she or anybody else was ignoring what the CIA and officials within the State Department were saying — that’s just silly. Maybe secretaries of state should refuse to listen to outside sources like Drumheller, or maybe they shouldn’t; you could make a case either way. But more to the point, who cares? What does this have to do with the events in Benghazi?

I suppose if Drumheller had written, “Benghazi is quiescent and will remain so; our government shouldn’t worry about security there,” and then Clinton had forwarded the memo along with an order to remove all the guards from the consulate, Gowdy might really have something. But that’s not what happened, and he knew it before he ever got Blumenthal before his committee.

So what, precisely, is Trey Gowdy now doing? He doesn’t seem to be investigating the deaths of those four Americans anymore, that’s for sure.

Let’s be clear: Congress has every right to look into Benghazi as much as they like. They’re supposed to engage in oversight of the executive branch, and if they want to explore American policy toward Libya then they should go right ahead. But they can’t pretend any longer that they’re trying to figure out what happened on that night in 2012. They set up this special committee for that purpose, but it seems clear they figured out pretty quickly that they wouldn’t be uncovering anything new about that topic. Which isn’t surprising, since the matter had already been investigated by multiple committees controlled by Republicans, all of which were unable to find the wrongdoing they hoped for.

So now, instead of a committee to investigate the Benghazi deaths, they’re running a Select Committee to Make the Case That Hillary Clinton Was a Bad Secretary of State. It’s another reminder that the Clintons have always been blessed by the incompetence of their adversaries.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributing Writer, The Plum Line Blog, June 17, 2015

June 18, 2015 Posted by | Benghazi, Hillary Clinton, Trey Gowdy | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Acknowledging Our History In Negotiations With Iran”: Avoiding Repeats Of The Past, A Stunningly “BFD”

This was a pretty stunning statement coming from the President of the United States.

Clearly, he added, “part of the psychology of Iran is rooted in past experiences, the sense that their country was undermined, that the United States or the West meddled in first their democracy and then in supporting the Shah and then in supporting Iraq and Saddam during that extremely brutal war. So part of what I’ve told my team is we have to distinguish between the ideologically driven, offensive Iran and the defensive Iran that feels vulnerable and sometimes may be reacting because they perceive that as the only way that they can avoid repeats of the past.”

In case you don’t know what he’s talking about, in 1953 the United States and Britain coordinated a coup against Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh after their parliament voted to nationalize Iran’s oil industry. Mohammad-Reza Shah Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, was set up to effectively rule the country as an absolute monarch. It was the brutality of the Shah, supported every step of the way by the United States, that led to the 1979 Iranian Revolution and set up the theocratic Islamic State.

The involvement of the United States in the 1953 coup is not simply the stuff of leftist conspiracy theorists. Less than two years ago, the documents describing what happened were declassified.

On the 60th anniversary of an event often invoked by Iranians as evidence of western meddling, the US national security archive at George Washington University published a series of declassified CIA documents.

“The military coup that overthrew Mosaddeq and his National Front cabinet was carried out under CIA direction as an act of US foreign policy, conceived and approved at the highest levels of government,” reads a previously excised section of an internal CIA history titled The Battle for Iran.

None of this is meant to justify the behavior of Iran’s current leadership. But do you think that perhaps when the West comes marching in talking about nuclear programs this time instead of oil – maybe they’d have reason to be a bit cautious?

For President Obama to not only talk openly about these events and Iran’s reaction to them (as he did previously in his 2009 speech in Cairo) – but to instruct his negotiating team to keep those concerns in mind strikes me as a stunningly BFD. Therefore, I’ve been surprised that at this point I can find no one who has commented on it.

It is the contention of many of us on the left that this kind of covert meddling in other countries around the globe contributed to much of the unrest we’re witnessing today. Now we have a President who is not only acknowledging those mistakes, he is doing so publicly as he attempts to heal some of those wounds. I’d suggest that it’s time we noticed.

 

By: Nancy LeTournea, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 11, 2015

April 13, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iran, Middle East | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Law Unto Themselves”: Turning “Law And Order” Into An Idol That Justifies Defiance Of The Law

Being by nature a bit of a communitarian, my civil libertarian muscles are often under-exercised. I’m still having trouble regarding Edward Snowden as my hero. But there is something about men in uniform with guns deciding they do not need supervision that scares even me. Charlie Pierce connects the dots between two recent examples of such insubordination, and its relationship with the principles of the Founders so often cited by Oath-Keeper types who appeal to Higher Laws:

Here’s something interesting about the Declaration of Independence, which we all revere because, you know, freedom. In the long bill of particulars on which the Continental Congress arraigned King George III — and there are 27 counts on that indictment — there’s only one mention of taxes. Rather, every one of the charges, especially the one quoted above, has to do with the illegitimate use by the king, and by his agents in the American colonies, of existing political institutions against the people themselves, either directly (by quartering troops, for example), or by rigging those institutions so they functioned for his benefit and not for the benefit of the people of the colonies. The men who signed the Declaration had long experience with what happens when the legal and political institutions of a state, and the people charged with their operation, suddenly consider themselves above the civil power they are supposed to serve — which, or so said Mr. Jefferson of Virginia, derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. That, they saw, was the true danger to their liberties posed by the government of the colonies at that time.

For the past two weeks, on two different fronts, we have been confronted with the unpleasant fact that there are people working in the institutions of our self-government who believe themselves not only beyond the control and sanctions of the civil power, but also beyond the control and sanctions of their direct superiors. We also have been confronted with the fact that there are too many people in our political elite who are encouraging this behavior for their own purposes, most of which are cheap and dangerous. In Washington, John Brennan, the head of the CIA, came right up to the edge of insubordination against the president who hired him in the wake of the Senate report on American torture. Meanwhile, in New York, in the aftermath of weeks of protests against the strangulation of Eric Garner by members of the New York Police Department, two patrolmen, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, were murdered in their squad car by a career criminal and apparent maniac named Ismaaiyl Brinsley. In response, and at the encouragement of television hucksters like Joe Scarborough, police union blowhards like Patrick Lynch, political zombies like George Pataki, and comical fascists like Rudolph Giuliani, the NYPD is acting in open rebellion against Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, and the civil power he represents over them. This is an incredibly perilous time for democracy at the most basic levels.

Just as it is obviously dangerous to allow people beyond the reach of democratic institutions to determine national security needs and the measures taken to address them, it should be obviously reckless to turn “law and order” into an idol that justifies defiance of the law and an anarchic disregard for lines of authority. That way lies Governments of National Salvation and all sorts of despotism in the name of Higher Purposes. It’s bad enough that there are so many Americans who presume their Second Amendment rights include a right of revolution if the government’s policies don’t suit them. It’s worse when you have to wonder if some of the Forces of Order are going to join them.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 23, 2014

December 23, 2014 Posted by | Law Enforcement, NYPD, Police Brutality | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Whose Values Did The Torture Program Uphold?”: We Can Press For Those Responsible To Be Held Accountable

Who are we?

That’s one question begged by the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s torture of detainees after Sept. 11. There are other questions, but this may be the key one. And it is getting harder to answer.

“That’s not who we are,” President Barack Obama declared of the abusive pressure tactics used by American interrogators on detainees in foreign holding tanks, supposedly to extract information about terror plots. But some of those seem so gratuitously abhorrent, it’s a stretch to even call them interrogations. Where is the interrogation component of force-feeding people their meals rectally? How much valid information could you get on the 17th day of one long, round-the-clock interrogation? What investigatory purpose is served by leaving a prisoner naked until he dies of hypothermia?

Politicians may quibble over the semantics of the practices and the politics of the report’s release, just before Democrats lose control of the Senate. Apologists for the program, both from the Bush administration and the CIA, reject the word “torture.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney goes so far as to call the 6,300-page report “full of c–p,” even as he acknowledges no authorization was given for rectal force-feeding. Call it what you want, but when the purpose is to terrify, degrade, in some cases bring people convicted of no crime to the brink of death, and leave them emotionally and physically broken down, one can only hope those tactics would be anathema to most Americans.

Elected leaders, including Obama, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, whose committee brought out the report, and Republican Sen. John McCain, who knows torture first-hand, believe its release will show the world, as Feinstein said, “that we are in fact a just and lawful society.” McCain said Americans need to know “when the values that define our nation are intentionally disregarded by our security policies.”

Whose values did the program uphold — The CIA’s? The Bush administration’s? That’s hard to answer since the report doesn’t look at individual culpability. Cheney’s justifications aside, the CIA did not inform the administration or get approval for some measures. On the other hand, secret legal memos sent by the Bush administration set forth a covert CIA program abroad to conduct such interrogations. Officials claimed an anti-torture treaty only applied inside the U.S. And though one of Obama’s first acts in office was to ban those practices, even Obama officials reportedly considered upholding the interpretation.

So, who are we? Are there two different sets of American values to employ selectively, according to circumstances? Was the CIA satisfying itself that the ends justify the means, even though those harsh techniques were of little ultimate value in capturing Osama bin Laden? Did agents grow oblivious to the boundary lines and become dehumanized like the Abu Ghraib captors, rogue elements with enough power to abuse? Or were they opportunists like James Mitchell, the Florida psychologist who designed and implemented the program with his partner for a cool $80 million, though never schooled in the mindset or tactics of al-Qaida?

Now that this has happened, can we still claim to have those shared values in the rule of law? Can we still claim the moral authority to condemn human rights violations in Yemen or North Korea? Even though we braced for global fallout from the report, knowledge of our abhorrent interrogation practices have already contributed to terrorist recruitment efforts, even of U.S. citizens.

Americans are not unique. Like everyone, whether we do bad or good depends largely on the cues we get from our environments. Those who lack faith that the system treats everyone equally might not see a need to play by the rules. Much has been made, for instance, of the looting and rioting in the wake of a Ferguson grand jury’s failure to indict a white police officer for the fatal shooting of an unarmed young black man. Without revisiting the merits of that case or justifying the behavior, there was clearly an element of nihilism that didn’t spring from bad upbringings, as some people have claimed. It reflected a lack of belief that justice is for all. So hold the looters responsible but in the long run, let’s make sure our police forces, prosecutors and courts model the rules of fair play.

We Americans can’t change what took place in our names in secret faraway holding pens, but we can press for those responsible to be held accountable. We can vow not to let it happen again on our watch. We can use our votes and our voices to assert our common values when our leaders sometimes seem to have lost their way.

Who are we? We are the voters and the taxpayers, the office-seekers and marchers and peaceful protesters, guided by an enlightened Constitution, a belief in doing what is right and a democracy that demands our engagement.

 

By: Rekha Basu, Columnist for the Des Moines Register; The National Memo, December 17, 2014

December 18, 2014 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Rule of Law, Torture | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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