Sunday, September 20, 2009

Our Afghan Policy

I am confused. Our policy makers tell us that we must pursue the war in Afghanistan lest that country become a nest of terrorists bound and determined to strike the United States. They also tell us that another reason for pursuing the war is to prevent Islamic extremists (i.e., terrorists) from taking control of the Pakistani government and thereby obtain access to their nuclear capability. This makes absolutely no sense to me at all.

There is no evidence that the Taliban, a purely Afghan movement, poses any threat to the United States. If the Taliban obtained control in Afghanistan, there is no evidence it would automatically cede authority to al Qaeda. Prior to our Iraq invasion, Vice President Chaney assured us that Saddam was harboring al Qaeda, offering them both sanctuary as well as support. We now know there never was any intelligence supporting this claim (other than the two fabricators, CURVEBALL and Chalabi, beloved by the V.P.). Where is either CIA or military intelligence suggesting a similar arrangement would exist between the Taliban and al Qaeda? Why would home-grown Afghani nationalists cede authority to a foreign Arab element? Makes no sense.

Our troops carry on military operations in Afghanistan against the Taliban. We are having only limited success, our military command tells us, because the Taliban and al Qaeda leadership have taken refuge in Pakistan. Now I understand. We are fighting Taliban and al Qaeda insurgents in Afghanistan to keep them from gaining political control in Pakistan. At the same time, our military commanders admit that our operations are driving them out of Afghanistan into Pakistan. Why, for heaven’s sakes, aren’t we basing our operations in Pakistan, driving the insurgents into Afghanistan, a country that poses no real threat against the United States?

To restate my first sentence, I am confused.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

IG Report on Interrogations

If anyone is interested in the CIA Inspector General's Special Review of the CIA's Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities from September 2001 to October 2003 (heavily redacted), check it out at the following URL

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Orders Are Orders - Befehl ist Befehl

Now, where have we seen this defense before? I remember. It was in Nuremberg, Germany, right after WW-II. This was the defense of the Nazis accused of the most ghastly crimes imaginable. "Orders are orders," they claimed, one after the other.

That was Germany under the Nazi regime. Those crimes could not possibly happen here in the U.S. We Americans respect individual rights. There is no way a Nazi-like nightmare could occur anywhere in the world at the hands of U.S. employees—civilian or military.

The Bush administration declared certain interrogation techniques to be legal. The U.S. Justice Department did not consider such "enhanced" techniques torture under U.S. law. So, CIA employees—staffers and contractors—who participated in such interrogation techniques were not engaged in torture.

That is, until the U.S. Congress and the Justice Department retroactively did declare such techniques to be torture. How is this possible? Doesn't our constitution protect U.S. citizens from ex-post-facto legislation? Apparently not—at any point in the future, the U.S. Congress could declare illegitimate any currently legitimate orders issued by our executive branch.

We saw this many years ago during the Iran-Contra crisis. CIA chiefs of station received orders from CIA Headquarters to conduct certain operations. These operations supported the Executive Branch's policy of covertly aiding the Nicaraguan Contras. Not one CIA chief believed for a moment that these orders were anything but legal. The CIA does not select its chiefs of station on the basis of their ability to engage in legal parsing. The CIA expects its chiefs of station to manage the conduct of espionage operations.

I know of Latin America-based chiefs of station called to Washington. They went, expecting to receive applause for their operational successes. Upon arrival, CIA lawyers told them to prepare to hire legal defense; they were likely to be indicted for violating U.S. law—Congress had passed legislation making it illegal to support the Nicaraguan Contras. And this was precisely what CIA Headquarters had required of its Latin America stations. CIA chiefs of station lost all their savings; they lost everything they had saved for their kids' college education, for their retirement. They lost it all. That the Justice Department did not indict any of these chiefs of station was little satisfaction. These CIA employees were completely broke. They learned a lesson the hard way. CIA lawyers existed for one purpose only, to defend the Agency, not its employees.

The CIA Director recently announced that the Agency lawyers will defend any CIA employees charged for having employed enhanced interrogation techniques against al Qaeda terrorists. Let's hope this will cause our attorney general to rethink his effort to indict CIA employees. How can we have one agency of the U.S. government defending its employees against accusations brought by another U.S. government agency?

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Monday, September 7, 2009

Bread and (CIA) Circuses

Bread and (CIA) Circuses

The ancient Romans had a term for it: panem et circenses. This referred to the ancient tradition of party politicians mollifying the populace while stealing their wealth and rights. Bread and circuses—that'll keep them happy. Today, panem et circenses has a totally new application. The Obama administration is using bread and circuses to misdirect the American people.

After vowing to look forward and not back at the Bush administration, Obama has unleashed his attorney general to declare war on the CIA for activities undertaken during the Bush years. Officers who had been assured by the attorney general their interrogation techniques did not constitute torture now risk being charged with crimes and sentenced to prison. Yes, these officers who risked death every day while working in Afghanistan and Iraq are now being pilloried as common criminals. Look at these pitiful people, America; do not look at rising taxes, socialized medicine, 'death panels', unvetted White House czars and counselors, government takeover of private banking instuitutions and corporations. No, focus instead on these men and women, working in the most dangerous parts of the world seeking to learn the secret plans and intentions of our enemies. Only by knowing what our enemies are up to can we hope to keep the Homeland safe. Yes, these men and women, toiling on behalf of the American people, we now label criminals.

Leon Panetta, the CIA Director, is offering to pay for the costs of legal counsel in the event CIA officers are charged. But, only up to a point. These days lawyers charge by the clock. They earn in one hour what many Americans earn in a week. Accused CIA officers risk losing all their savings for retirement for their kids' college education, for family emergencies. I guess our president believes this is their just reward for government service.

You can't have it both ways. You can't castigate the CIA for being risk-averse and, at the same time, prosecute as criminals those officers who had been aggressive in their operational pursuits. You want operations officers to stick their necks out, to take calculated risks? Why should they, when this possibly can result in being brought up on criminal charges at a later date? And all this just to direct the minds and the eyes of the American people away from legislation the administration hopes to sneak past them.

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