When did America, the Home of the Brave, become a cowardly third-world kleptocracy run thuggishly by a despotic group of village idiots? Under George W. Bush, that's when. The crowning achievment of "Movement Conservatism".
The fact that Dubya's Torture Lawyers remain unsanctioned, and, for that matter, large portions of the Bush administration remain unjailed, is a testement to the damage already done, and the cultural decay caused by "Movement Conservatives" and the American Republican Party.
Here's what I mean:
The Torture Lawyers
New York Times, February 24, 2010
Is this really the state of ethics in the American legal profession? Government lawyers who abused their offices to give the president license to get away with torture did nothing that merits a review by the bar?
A five-year inquiry by the Justice Department’s ethics watchdogs recommended a disciplinary review for the two lawyers who produced the infamous torture memos for former President George W. Bush, but they were overruled by a more senior Justice Department official.
The original investigation found that the lawyers, John Yoo and Jay Bybee, had committed “professional misconduct” in a series of memos starting in August 2002. First, they defined torture so narrowly as to make it almost impossible to accuse a jailer of torturing a prisoner, and they finally concluded that President Bush was free to ignore any law on the conduct of war.
The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility said appropriate bar associations should be asked to look at the actions of Mr. Yoo, who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, and Mr. Bybee, who was rewarded for his political loyalty with a lifetime appointment to the federal bench. It was a credible accounting, especially since some former officials, like Attorney General John Ashcroft, refused to cooperate and e-mails from Mr. Yoo were mysteriously missing.
But the more senior official, David Margolis, decided that Mr. Yoo and Mr. Bybee only had shown “poor judgment” and should not be disciplined. Mr. Margolis did not dispute that Mr. Yoo and Mr. Bybee mangled legal reasoning and produced work that ultimately was repudiated by the Bush administration itself. He criticized the professional responsibility office’s investigation on procedural grounds and excused Mr. Yoo and Mr. Bybee by noting that everyone was frightened after Sept. 11, 2001, and that they were in a hurry.
Americans were indeed frightened after Sept. 11, and the Bush administration was in a great rush to torture prisoners. Responsible lawyers would have responded with extra vigilance, especially if, like Mr. Yoo and Mr. Bybee, they worked in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. When that office renders an opinion, it has the force of law within the executive branch. Poor judgment is an absurdly dismissive way to describe giving the green light to policies that have badly soiled America’s reputation and made it less safe.
As the dealings outlined in the original report underscore, the lawyers did not offer what most people think of as “legal advice.” Mr. Yoo and Mr. Bybee were not acting as fair-minded analysts of the law but as facilitators of a scheme to evade it. The White House decision to brutalize detainees already had been made. Mr. Yoo and Mr. Bybee provided legal cover.
We were glad that the leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, Representative John Conyers Jr. and Senator Patrick Leahy, committed to holding hearings after the release of the Justice Department documents.
The attorney general, Eric Holder Jr., should expand the investigation into “rogue” interrogators he initiated last year to include officials responsible for facilitating torture. While he is at it, Mr. Holder should assign someone to look into the disappearance of Mr. Yoo’s e-mails.
The American Bar Association should decide whether its rules are adequate for deterring and punishing ethical failures by government lawyers.
The quest for real accountability must continue. The alternative is to leave torture open as a policy option for future administrations.
Republicans have no viable Public Policy solutions for abortion, and in reality, they know outright ban on abortion would cause more problems than it would solve.
In fact, the status quo for abortion; a regulated legal medical procedure with the locus of responsibility placed at the level of the individual involved, is probably the most enlightened and just public policy we can have.
The only thing that should be added are government social programs aimed at the conditions and environments that produce the most abortions in order to reduce the numbers. Ideas alien to modern Republican Political and Economic philosophy, which the Church now finds itself worshiping.
The key to this, of course, is keeping the procedures, controls and statistics visible so factors can be acted upon; not drive the world of abortions underground as it was before creating a black market in the criminal realm. Given that, draconian bans are in fact counterproductive, and, as I said, would not necessarily prevent a single abortion.
The Catholic Church should be morally against abortions. And, actually, the Catholic Church has every right to comment on Public Policy. But why does it think statutory bans on abortion are going to suppress the practice in any way?
Why does it not, instead, tap into its vast Social Teachings and preach enlightened governance that addresses the societal and economic factors making abortion appear to be a viable solution for the women seeking them?
The Church has the tools. The Church once had the wisdom. But what has happened?
The answer to the "why" is the Church itself is suffering the wages of its own sins against God's flock, and has been blinded to everything other than its own self preservation.
The Catholic Church has compromised its own principles and teachings in many ways, favoring the mindless bumper-sticker Christianity of politicized Evangelical Fundamentalists.... the "Televangelist" movement.
It sacrificed Wisdom for the quick and easy platitudes of modern day Pharisees; the religious political rightists associated with the Republican Party and movement conservatism. This it did for the expedience of popularity. Politically "conservative" converts were looking for "absolutes" in a God-given existence of ambiguity. The Church commercialized and joined the Evangelicals; cheapened the message.
However, the greatest sacrifice on the altar of institutional preservation was the blatant sacrifice of their own moral authority as they systematically sought to cover-up widespread child abuse and pedophilia within its Priesthood.
A good Editorial in the New York Times captures the attitude of the Catholic Leadership on the issue of pedophilia in its Priesthood, and suggests why the Catholic Church should return to its own Social Teachings, and redeem itself, allowing the return of Wisdom to its pronouncements on Public Policy.
The Roman Catholic Church currently has lost moral authority on matters of Public Policy.
A Bishop’s Words
Published: New York Times, December 6, 2009
In the end it was not the power of repentance or compassion that compelled the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., to release more than 12,000 pages of documents relating to lawsuits alleging decades of sexual abuse of children by its priests.
It was a court order. The diocese had spent seven years fighting a lawsuit brought by The New York Times and three other newspapers to unseal the records in 23 lawsuits involving accusations against seven priests. The diocese, which settled those cases in 2002, was ready to battle all the way to the United States Supreme Court to keep the archive secret. It lost in October, when the justices declined to hear its appeal.
Much about those cases was known, and the documents do not greatly revise our knowledge about the scandal that engulfed the entire church after erupting in Boston in 2002. The accounts of priests preying on children, being moved among parishes and shielded by their bishops while their accusers were ignored or bullied into silence, are a familiar, awful story.
But still it is hard not to feel a chill reading the testimony from two depositions given in 1997 and 1999 by Edward Egan, who was then bishop of Bridgeport and later named a cardinal and archbishop of New York. As he skirmishes with lawyers, he betrays a distressing tendency to disbelieve accusers and to shuck off blame.
He responds to accounts of abuse not with shame but skepticism, and exhibits the keen instinct for fraternal self-protection that reliably put shepherds ahead of the traumatized flock.
Referring to the Rev. Raymond Pcolka, whom 12 former parishioners accused of abuses involving oral and anal sex and beatings, Bishop Egan said: “I am not aware of those things. I am aware of the claims of those things, the allegations of those things. I am aware that there are a number of people who know one another, some are related to one another, have the same lawyers and so forth.”
Absent in those pages is a sense of understanding of the true scope of the tragedy. Compare Bishop Egan’s words with those of the archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, who, after the release of a recent report detailing years of abuse and cover-ups in Ireland, said:
“The sexual abuse of a child is and always was a crime in civil law; it is and always was a crime in canon law; it is and always was grievously sinful. One of the most heartbreaking aspects of the report is that while church leaders — bishops and religious superiors — failed, almost every parent who came to the diocese to report abuse clearly understood the awfulness of what was involved.”
Bishop Egan, with institutional pride, looks at the relatively low rate of proven abuse cases as a sort of perverse accomplishment.
“It’s marvelous,” he said, “when you think of the hundreds and hundreds of priests and how very few have even been accused, and how very few have even come close to having anyone prove anything.”
Many Americans continue to believe the Republican Party is just a political Party like the Democratic Party. This, unfortunately, is no longer so. I would challenge anyone to simply go on You Tube and take a look at speeches by General Dwight D. Eisenhower and compare what that fine Republican was saying compared to the Republican rhetoric today. In fact, to find a closer parallel to modern Republicanism, one really has to look at videos and read the words of individuals like Strom Thurmond during the Civil Rights movement. Oh yes. "Conservatism" of the rightist brand is not new. Strom and the Dixiecrats are the roots of the modern Republican Party. Those who know history know they defected from the Democratic Party when it began to back civil rights for Black people in America.
I've pointed out in earlier posts my belief that modern Republicanism is (maybe was) centered on rich powerful people who didn't want to pay their taxes. These people are too few to win elections, so they focused on southern white males (the "southern strategy") who felt disenfranchised after civil rights gains in the 60's and 70's, and more importantly the Party exploited what are euphemistically called "social conservatives", who are essentially single-issue voters easily captured in a net of wedge issues that in themselves produce no effective public policy, but around which those who felt "left behind" by progress could rally and cast their votes.
Of course the so called "social issues" were throw-away..... they really didn't matter to the Party bosses. Who really thinks that a rich person is not going to get an abortion if she wants one just because there are laws against it? The single issue voters were essentially chumps including the Libertarians who thought Republicans would deliver "smaller government" however misguided that basic concept was to begin with..... a sad joke.
However an interesting thing may be transpiring in a kind of "wag-the-dog" sort of way. My favorite economist and political commentator Paul Krugman has written an article that highlights, in my opinion, the ironic answer to the question; "Who controls the Republican Party?", and more importantly just how dangerous the Republican Party has become to the health of this great Nation.
Paranoia Strikes Deep
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: November 9, 2009
New York Times
Last Thursday there was a rally outside the U.S. Capitol to protest pending health care legislation, featuring the kinds of things we’ve grown accustomed to, including large signs showing piles of bodies at Dachau with the caption “National Socialist Healthcare.” It was grotesque — and it was also ominous. For what we may be seeing is America starting to be Californiafied.The key thing to understand about that rally is that it wasn’t a fringe event. It was sponsored by the House Republican leadership — in fact, it was officially billed as a G.O.P. press conference. Senior lawmakers were in attendance, and apparently had no problem with the tone of the proceedings.
True, Eric Cantor, the second-ranking House Republican, offered some mild criticism after the fact. But the operative word is “mild.” The signs were “inappropriate,” said his spokesman, and the use of Hitler comparisons by such people as Rush Limbaugh, said Mr. Cantor, “conjures up images that frankly are not, I think, very helpful.”
What all this shows is that the G.O.P. has been taken over by the people it used to exploit.
The state of mind visible at recent right-wing demonstrations is nothing new. Back in 1964 the historian Richard Hofstadter published an essay titled, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” which reads as if it were based on today’s headlines: Americans on the far right, he wrote, feel that “America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion.” Sound familiar?
But while the paranoid style isn’t new, its role within the G.O.P. is.
When Hofstadter wrote, the right wing felt dispossessed because it was rejected by both major parties. That changed with the rise of Ronald Reagan: Republican politicians began to win elections in part by catering to the passions of the angry right.
Until recently, however, that catering mostly took the form of empty symbolism. Once elections were won, the issues that fired up the base almost always took a back seat to the economic concerns of the elite. Thus in 2004 George W. Bush ran on antiterrorism and “values,” only to announce, as soon as the election was behind him, that his first priority was changing Social Security.
But something snapped last year. Conservatives had long believed that history was on their side, so the G.O.P. establishment could, in effect, urge hard-right activists to wait just a little longer: once the party consolidated its hold on power, they’d get what they wanted. After the Democratic sweep, however, extremists could no longer be fobbed off with promises of future glory.
Furthermore, the loss of both Congress and the White House left a power vacuum in a party accustomed to top-down management. At this point Newt Gingrich is what passes for a sober, reasonable elder statesman of the G.O.P. And he has no authority: Republican voters ignored his call to support a relatively moderate, electable candidate in New York’s special Congressional election.
Real power in the party rests, instead, with the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin (who at this point is more a media figure than a conventional politician). Because these people aren’t interested in actually governing, they feed the base’s frenzy instead of trying to curb or channel it. So all the old restraints are gone.
In the short run, this may help Democrats, as it did in that New York race. But maybe not: elections aren’t necessarily won by the candidate with the most rational argument. They’re often determined, instead, by events and economic conditions.
In fact, the party of Limbaugh and Beck could well make major gains in the midterm elections. The Obama administration’s job-creation efforts have fallen short, so that unemployment is likely to stay disastrously high through next year and beyond. The banker-friendly bailout of Wall Street has angered voters, and might even let Republicans claim the mantle of economic populism. Conservatives may not have better ideas, but voters might support them out of sheer frustration.
And if Tea Party Republicans do win big next year, what has already happened in California could happen at the national level. In California, the G.O.P. has essentially shrunk down to a rump party with no interest in actually governing — but that rump remains big enough to prevent anyone else from dealing with the state’s fiscal crisis. If this happens to America as a whole, as it all too easily could, the country could become effectively ungovernable in the midst of an ongoing economic disaster.
The point is that the takeover of the Republican Party by the irrational right is no laughing matter. Something unprecedented is happening here — and it’s very bad for America.
Boy, Oh, Boy
New York Times
The normally nonchalant Barack Obama looked nonplussed, as Nancy Pelosi glowered behind.
Surrounded by middle-aged white guys — a sepia snapshot of the days when such pols ran Washington like their own men’s club — Joe Wilson yelled “You lie!” at a president who didn’t.
But, fair or not, what I heard was an unspoken word in the air: You lie, boy!
The outburst was unexpected from a milquetoast Republican backbencher from South Carolina who had attracted little media attention. Now it has made him an overnight right-wing hero, inspiring “You lie!” bumper stickers and T-shirts.
The congressman, we learned, belonged to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, led a 2000 campaign to keep the Confederate flag waving above South Carolina’s state Capitol and denounced as a “smear” the true claim of a black woman that she was the daughter of Strom Thurmond, the ’48 segregationist candidate for president. Wilson clearly did not like being lectured and even rebuked by the brainy black president presiding over the majestic chamber.
I’ve been loath to admit that the shrieking lunacy of the summer — the frantic efforts to paint our first black president as the Other, a foreigner, socialist, fascist, Marxist, racist, Commie, Nazi; a cad who would snuff old people; a snake who would indoctrinate kids — had much to do with race.
I tended to agree with some Obama advisers that Democratic presidents typically have provoked a frothing response from paranoids — from Father Coughlin against F.D.R. to Joe McCarthy against Truman to the John Birchers against J.F.K. and the vast right-wing conspiracy against Bill Clinton.
But Wilson’s shocking disrespect for the office of the president — no Democrat ever shouted “liar” at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq — convinced me: Some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it.
“A lot of these outbursts have to do with delegitimizing him as a president,” said Congressman Jim Clyburn, a senior member of the South Carolina delegation. Clyburn, the man who called out Bill Clinton on his racially tinged attacks on Obama in the primary, pushed Pelosi to pursue a formal resolution chastising Wilson.
“In South Carolina politics, I learned that the olive branch works very seldom,” he said. “You have to come at these things from a position of strength. My father used to say, ‘Son, always remember that silence gives consent.’ ”
Barry Obama of the post-’60s Hawaiian ’hood did not live through the major racial struggles in American history. Maybe he had a problem relating to his white basketball coach or catching a cab in New York, but he never got beaten up for being black.
Now he’s at the center of a period of racial turbulence sparked by his ascension. Even if he and the coterie of white male advisers around him don’t choose to openly acknowledge it, this president is the ultimate civil rights figure — a black man whose legitimacy is constantly challenged by a loco fringe.
For two centuries, the South has feared a takeover by blacks or the feds. In Obama, they have both.
The state that fired the first shot of the Civil War has now given us this: Senator Jim DeMint exhorted conservatives to “break” the president by upending his health care plan. Rusty DePass, a G.O.P. activist, said that a gorilla that escaped from a zoo was “just one of Michelle’s ancestors.” Lovelorn Mark Sanford tried to refuse the president’s stimulus money. And now Joe Wilson.
“A good many people in South Carolina really reject the notion that we’re part of the union,” said Don Fowler, the former Democratic Party chief who teaches politics at the University of South Carolina. He observed that when slavery was destroyed by outside forces and segregation was undone by civil rights leaders and Congress, it bred xenophobia.
“We have a lot of people who really think that the world’s against us,” Fowler said, “so when things don’t happen the way we like them to, we blame outsiders.” He said a state legislator not long ago tried to pass a bill to nullify any federal legislation with which South Carolinians didn’t agree. Shades of John C. Calhoun!
It may be President Obama’s very air of elegance and erudition that raises hackles in some. “My father used to say to me, ‘Boy, don’t get above your raising,’ ” Fowler said. “Some people are prejudiced anyway, and then they look at his education and mannerisms and get more angry at him.”
Clyburn had a warning for Obama advisers who want to forgive Wilson, ignore the ignorant outbursts and move on: “They’re going to have to develop ways in this White House to deal with things and not let them fester out there. Otherwise, they’ll see numbers moving in the wrong direction.
Joseph J. Ellis
The Capital Times, Madison Wisconson
Our two founding documents embody the tension in its classical form. The Declaration of Independence locates sovereignty in the individual citizen, who possesses the rights of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," as Thomas Jefferson so lyrically put it, and the power of government is described as an alien force that must be put on the permanent defensive.
The Constitution enshrines "the people" as the sovereign agent, with a Bill of Rights that defines a protected region where government cannot intrude, but otherwise identifies a collective interest best managed by a federal government empowered to make decisions for the society as a whole.
All of U.S. political history can be understood as a perpetual debate between these two competing perspectives, symbolized at the start in the clash between Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.
The Jeffersonian position, with its emphasis on a minimalist government, prevailed throughout the 19th century and imprinted itself on the DNA of American culture as a quasi-sacred political creed.
By the start of the 20th century, as the United States became a more densely populated, ethnically diverse society with an industrial economy dominated by large corporations, the Jeffersonian perspective grew increasingly anachronistic. It became abundantly clear that government power was necessary to regulate the swoonish swings of the marketplace, provide a safety net for poor and elderly citizens, and protect the environment. Thus the Federal Reserve Board, Social Security, Medicare and the Environmental Protection Agency.
But despite these projections of the Hamiltonian ethos, which presumes that there is a collective public interest that only government can serve, the Jeffersonian ethos remains a potent force and not just in the right wing of the Republican Party. It colors the conversation about all the major domestic problems facing the Obama administration in ways that stigmatize as socialistic what we might ironically describe as the self-evident solutions.
In the health care debate, for example, there is a national consensus that we have a broken and bloated system. But instead of replacing it with the kind of single-payer government-run system adopted by most of the developed countries on the planet, that option is ruled out of order at the start of the debate. As a result, the best we can hope for is modest reform of an inherently flawed and expensive system.
To take another example, in the ongoing banking crisis, the removal of government regulations permitted major banks to assume unconscionable amounts of debt, much of it in the form of toxic investments that still remain on the books. It has been obvious that the banks needed to be temporarily nationalized to force them to purge bad debts from their portfolios.
But fear that the stock market would interpret this course as creeping socialism has prevented such straightforward action. So we are still waiting for many of the same self-described financial wizards who created our fiscal mess to get us the rest of the way out of it.
Our response to global warming is likely to meet the same fate. If there was ever a problem that demanded a coherent public response by government in the "us" mode, the threat to life on Earth as we know it would seem to be it. But "cap-and-trade" legislation, designed to reduce carbon in the atmosphere through government-created emission "allowances" that can be traded for money, is currently on life support in Congress, another victim of the deep-seated aversion to Washington's intrusion in the marketplace.
For much of our history, the Jeffersonian hostility to an energetic federal government served us well. But with the end of the frontier and the shift from an agrarian to an industrial economy, the expanding role of government in protecting and assuring our "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness" has become utterly essential.
All the major problems now befuddling us -- the destructive excesses of finance capitalism, a profit-based health-care system, an increasingly contaminated atmosphere -- are only soluble if we regard government as the chosen representative of our collective interests as a people and a nation.
No less an American hero than George Washington put it rather defiantly in 1785: "We are either a united people, or we are not. If the former, let us, in all matters of general concern act as a nation. ... If we are not, let us no longer act a farce by pretending it."
And even Jefferson acknowledged that his anti-government vision would become irrelevant once we ceased being an agricultural society and that future generations -- meaning us -- would at some point need to throw off what he called "the dead hand of the past."
Joseph Ellis is the author of "American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies in the Founding of the Republic." This column appeared first in the Los Angeles Times.
For the more one looks into the origins of the current disaster, the clearer it becomes that the key wrong turn — the turn that made crisis inevitable — took place in the early 1980s, during the Reagan years.
Attacks on Reaganomics usually focus on rising inequality and fiscal irresponsibility. Indeed, Reagan ushered in an era in which a small minority grew vastly rich, while working families saw only meager gains. He also broke with longstanding rules of fiscal prudence.
On the latter point: traditionally, the U.S. government ran significant budget deficits only in times of war or economic emergency. Federal debt as a percentage of G.D.P. fell steadily from the end of World War II until 1980. But indebtedness began rising under Reagan; it fell again in the Clinton years, but resumed its rise under the Bush administration, leaving us ill prepared for the emergency now upon us.
The increase in public debt was, however, dwarfed by the rise in private debt, made possible by financial deregulation. The change in America’s financial rules was Reagan’s biggest legacy. And it’s the gift that keeps on taking.
The immediate effect of Garn-St. Germain, as I said, was to turn the thrifts from a problem into a catastrophe. The S.& L. crisis has been written out of the Reagan hagiography, but the fact is that deregulation in effect gave the industry — whose deposits were federally insured — a license to gamble with taxpayers’ money, at best, or simply to loot it, at worst. By the time the government closed the books on the affair, taxpayers had lost $130 billion, back when that was a lot of money.
But there was also a longer-term effect. Reagan-era legislative changes essentially ended New Deal restrictions on mortgage lending — restrictions that, in particular, limited the ability of families to buy homes without putting a significant amount of money down.
These restrictions were put in place in the 1930s by political leaders who had just experienced a terrible financial crisis, and were trying to prevent another. But by 1980 the memory of the Depression had faded. Government, declared Reagan, is the problem, not the solution; the magic of the marketplace must be set free. And so the precautionary rules were scrapped.
Together with looser lending standards for other kinds of consumer credit, this led to a radical change in American behavior.
We weren’t always a nation of big debts and low savings: in the 1970s Americans saved almost 10 percent of their income, slightly more than in the 1960s. It was only after the Reagan deregulation that thrift gradually disappeared from the American way of life, culminating in the near-zero savings rate that prevailed on the eve of the great crisis. Household debt was only 60 percent of income when Reagan took office, about the same as it was during the Kennedy administration. By 2007 it was up to 119 percent.
All this, we were assured, was a good thing: sure, Americans were piling up debt, and they weren’t putting aside any of their income, but their finances looked fine once you took into account the rising values of their houses and their stock portfolios. Oops.
Now, the proximate causes of today’s economic crisis lie in events that took place long after Reagan left office — in the global savings glut created by surpluses in China and elsewhere, and in the giant housing bubble that savings glut helped inflate.
But it was the explosion of debt over the previous quarter-century that made the U.S. economy so vulnerable. Overstretched borrowers were bound to start defaulting in large numbers once the housing bubble burst and unemployment began to rise.
These defaults in turn wreaked havoc with a financial system that — also mainly thanks to Reagan-era deregulation — took on too much risk with too little capital.
There’s plenty of blame to go around these days. But the prime villains behind the mess we’re in were Reagan and his circle of advisers — men who forgot the lessons of America’s last great financial crisis, and condemned the rest of us to repeat it.
How Bush's Torture Helped Al-Qaeda
by Robert Parry
Captured al-Qaeda operatives, facing the threat or reality of torture, appear to have fed the Bush administration's obsession about Iraq, buying Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders time to rebuild their organization inside nuclear-armed Pakistan.
Even now, as al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies expand their power ever closer to Pakistan's capital of Islamabad, ex-Bush administration officials continue to insist they protected U.S. security by repeatedly waterboarding the likes of 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and terrifying others, such as Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, with "extraordinary renditions" to foreign countries known to torture.
However, the emerging evidence, including recently released Justice Department memos, suggests that the "high-value detainees" may have helped divert U.S. focus away from their al-Qaeda colleagues by providing tantalizing misinformation about Saddam Hussein's Iraq and dropping tidbits about Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who operated inside Iraq.
The May 30, 2005, memo by Steven Bradbury, then acting head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, also appears to have exaggerated the value of intelligence extracted from detainee Abu Zubaydah through harsh interrogations - references that Bush administration defenders have cited as justification for abusive tactics, including the near-drowning of waterboarding.
The May 30 memo states: "Interrogations of Zubaydah - again, once enhanced techniques were employed - furnished detailed information regarding al Qaeda's ‘organizational structure, key operatives, and modus operandi' and identified KSM [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] as the mastermind of the September 11 attacks. ...
"You [CIA officials] have informed us that Zubaydah also ‘provided significant information on two operatives, [including] Jose Padilla [,] who planned to build and detonate a ‘dirty bomb' in Washington DC area."
However, that last claim conflicts with known evidence about Zubaydah's interrogations and with the time elements of Padilla's arrest. Zubaydah was captured on March 28, 2002, after a gunfight that left him wounded. Padilla, an American citizen who converted to Islam, was arrested on May 8, 2002.
Yet, Bush administration lawyers did not give clearance for the "enhanced interrogation techniques" until late July, verbally, and on Aug. 1, 2002, in writing.
In addition, Zubaydah's information about Padilla and KSM was provided to FBI interrogators who had employed rapport-building techniques with Zubaydah, not the harsh tactics that CIA interrogators insisted upon later, according to published accounts.
For instance, author Jane Mayer in her book The Dark Side writes that the two FBI agents, Ali Soufan and Steve Gaudin, "sent back early cables describing Zubayda as revealing inside details of the [9/11] attacks on New York and Washington, including the nickname of its central planner, ‘Mukhtar,' who was identified as Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. ...
"During this period, Zubayda also described an Al Qaeda associate whose physical description matched that of Jose Padilla. The information led to the arrest of the slow-witted American gang member in May 2002, at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. ...
"Abu Zubayda disclosed Padilla's role accidentally, apparently. While making small talk, he described an Al Qaeda associate he said had just visited the U.S. embassy in Pakistan. That scrap was enough for authorities to find and arrest Padilla.
"These early revelations were greeted with excitement by [CIA Director George] Tenet, until he was told they were extracted not by his officers but by the rival team at the FBI."
Soon, a CIA team arrived at the secret CIA detention center in Thailand where Zubaydah was being held and took command, adopting more aggressive interrogations tactics. However, the Bush administration did not approve the full battery of harsh tactics, including waterboarding, until mid-summer 2002.
Mayer's account was backed up Thursday by one of the FBI agents, Ali Soufan, who broke his long silence on the topic in an op-ed in the New York Times, citing Zubaydah's cooperation in providing information about Padilla and KSM before the CIA began the harsh tactics.
"It is inaccurate ... to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative," Soufan wrote. "Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence." [NYT, April 23, 2009]
Nevertheless, Bush administration defenders cite the information wrested from Zubaydah -- who was waterboarded at least 83 times in August 2002.-- as justification for the interrogation tactics that have been widely denounced as torture. For instance, former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen has credited the CIA's harsh interrogation techniques for the arrest of Padilla.
Thiessen also was given space in the Washington Post's neoconservative editorial section to cite a claim in the May 30 memo that "in particular, the CIA believes that it would have been unable to obtain critical information from numerous detainees, including [Khalid Sheik Mohammed] and Abu Zubaydah, without these enhanced techniques." (KSM was waterboarded 183 times after his capture in March 2003.)
Thiessen also said the harsh tactics extracted information from Zubaydah and KSM about Zarqawi's operation in Iraq that "helped our operations against al-Qaeda in that country."
However, the timetable again works against these assertions by the CIA and Bush apologists. Zubaydah was captured in March 2002 at a time when Zarqawi was an obscure terrorist holed up in a section of Iraq protected by the U.S.-British no-fly zone, which prevented Saddam Hussein's military from attacking Zarqawi's stronghold.
KSM was captured on March 1, 2003, 18 days before President Bush launched the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. It was not until after the invasion had given way to a U.S. occupation that Zarqawi tapped into a wellspring of anti-Americanism throughout the Middle East and began recruiting young jihadists from across the region to mount suicide and other attacks against U.S. forces.
Zarqawi also built alliances with disgruntled Sunnis as the insurgency grew.
Whatever information Zubaydah and KSM might have provided about Zarqawi would have been dated and - to the degree they built up his importance - could have played into President Bush's desire to view the Iraq War as "the central front in the war on terror."
The problem of false intelligence had already been demonstrated by the handling of another al-Qaeda captive, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who had responded to threats of torture by claiming an operational link between Hussein's government and al-Qaeda. It was exactly the kind of information that the Bush administration had been seeking.
A June 2002 CIA report, which was dubbed the "Murky" paper, cited claims by al-Libi that Iraq had "provided" unspecified chemical and biological weapons training for two al-Qaeda operatives. Al-Libi's information also was inserted into a November 2002 National Intelligence Estimate.
In January 2003, another CIA paper expanded on al-Libi's claims of an Iraqi-al-Qaeda connection, saying that "Iraq - acting on the request of al-Qa'ida militant Abu Abdullah, who was Muhammad Atif's emissary - agreed to provide unspecified chemical or biological weapons training for two al-Qa'ida associates beginning in December 2000."
By Feb. 11, 2003, as the countdown to the U.S. invasion progressed, CIA Director Tenet began treating al-Libi's assertions as fact. At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Tenet said Iraq "has also provided training in poisons and gases to two al-Qa'ida associates. One of these associates characterized the relationship he forged with Iraqi officials as successful."
But the CIA's confidence about al-Libi's information went against the suspicions voiced by the Defense Intelligence Agency. "He lacks specific details" about the supposed training, the DIA observed. "It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers."
The DIA's doubts proved prescient. In January 2004, al-Libi recanted his statements and claimed that he had lied because of both actual and anticipated abuse, including threats that he would be sent to an intelligence service where he expected to be tortured.
Al-Libi said he fabricated "all information regarding al-Qa'ida's sending representatives to Iraq to try to obtain WMD assistance," according to a Feb. 4, 2004, CIA operational cable. "Once al-Libi started fabricating information, [he claimed] his treatment improved and he experienced no further physical pressures from the Americans."
Despite his cooperation, al-Libi said he was transferred to another country that subjected him to beatings and confinement in a "small box" for about 17 hours. He said he then made up another story about three al-Qaeda operatives going to Iraq "to learn about nuclear weapons." Afterwards, he said his treatment improved.
In September 2006, the Senate Intelligence Committee criticized the CIA for accepting al-Libi's claims as credible. "No postwar information has been found that indicates CBW training occurred and the detainee who provided the key prewar reporting about this training recanted his claims after the war," the committee report said.
The Senate Intelligence Committee skirted making a conclusion about how al-Libi's statements were extracted. But the al-Libi case demonstrated one of the practical risks of coercing a witness to talk. To avoid pain, people often make stuff up.
Though al-Libi's motivation appeared to be simply his desperation to avoid more pain, there is also the risk that al-Qaeda operatives intentionally "surrendered" intelligence that was designed to divert U.S. attentions away from the crucial terrorist base camps and safe houses along the Afghan-Pakistani border and toward Iraq.
In that sense, the interests of Bush's neocon foreign policy team and al-Qaeda were symbiotic. The Bush administration was determined to force regime change in Iraq while al-Qaeda was desperate for a respite from U.S. and NATO assaults in late 2001 and 2002. So, diverting U.S. military and intelligence resources toward Iraq bought al-Qaeda leaders valuable time.
As the U.S. military got bogged down in the Iraq War, al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies strengthened their safe havens inside Pakistan and began expanding their areas of control, threatening to destabilize the fragile government of Pakistan, the only Islamic country that has a nuclear bomb.
There has been other evidence that al-Qaeda's leaders understood the value of tying down the U.S. military in an open-ended war in Iraq, so they could reorganize and emerge as a more deadly threat in the future, especially if Pakistan's nuclear arsenal falls into their hands.
Osama bin Laden even intervened in Election 2004 by releasing a rare videotape on Oct. 29, 2004, railing against President Bush. Bush's supporters immediately dubbed the video tape "Osama's endorsement of John Kerry."
But inside the CIA, analysts concluded that the video was intended as a backdoor way to help Bush gain a second term, according to Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine, which draws heavily from CIA insiders.
According to Suskind's book, CIA analysts had spent years "parsing each expressed word of the al-Qaeda leader and his deputy, [Ayman] Zawahiri. What they'd learned over nearly a decade is that bin Laden speaks only for strategic reasons. ...
"Their [the CIA's] assessments, at day's end, are a distillate of the kind of secret, internal conversations that the American public [was] not sanctioned to hear: strategic analysis. Today's conclusion: bin Laden's message was clearly designed to assist the President's reelection.
"At the five o'clock meeting, [Deputy CIA Director] John McLaughlin opened the issue with the consensus view: ‘Bin Laden certainly did a nice favor today for the President.'"
McLaughlin's comment drew nods from CIA officers at the table. The CIA analysts felt that bin Laden might have recognized how Bush's policies - including the Guantanamo prison camp, the Abu Ghraib scandal and the endless bloodshed in Iraq - were serving al-Qaeda's strategic goals for recruiting a new generation of jihadists.
"Certainly," CIA's deputy associate director for intelligence Jami Miscik said, "he would want Bush to keep doing what he's doing for a few more years," according to Suskind's account.
As their internal assessment sank in, the CIA analysts drifted into silence, troubled by the implications of their own conclusions. "An ocean of hard truths before them - such as what did it say about U.S. policies that bin Laden would want Bush reelected - remained untouched," Suskind wrote.
One consequence of bin Laden breaking nearly a year of silence to issue the videotape the weekend before the U.S. presidential election was to give the Bush campaign a much needed boost. From a virtual dead heat, Bush opened up a six-point lead, according to one poll.
Bush himself said later he considered the bin Laden tape an important turning point in the election. [For details, see our book, Neck Deep.]
Prolonging the War
Al-Qaeda's strategic interest in bogging the United States down in Iraq also was disclosed in a late 2005 letter to Zarqawi from a top aide to bin Laden known as "Atiyah," who upbraided Zarqawi for his reckless, hasty actions inside Iraq.
The message from Atiyah, who is believed to be a Libyan named Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, emphasized the need for Zarqawi to operate more deliberately in order to build political strength and drag out the U.S. occupation. "Prolonging the war is in our interest," Atiyah told Zarqawi.
[To view this excerpt in a translation published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, click here. To read the entire letter, click here. ]
Besides the value that al-Qaeda saw in dragging out the Iraq War, the harsh interrogations also had severe consequences for American troops.
As former Navy general counsel Alberto Mora told the Senate Armed Services Committee in June 2008, "there are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq - as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat - are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo."
Zarqawi was killed in June 2006, but only after a new team of military intelligence interrogators arrived in Iraq and rejected the brutal interrogation strategies that had survived the Abu Ghraib scandal two years earlier.
Instead, the team employed FBI-style "rapport-building" techniques and won the confidence of captured Sunni insurgents who gave up Zarqawi's location, which was destroyed by a U.S. aerial attack. [For details, see Washington Post, Nov. 30, 2008, or Consortiumnews.com's "Connecting CIA Torture to Abu Ghraib."]
So, the "enhanced interrogations techniques" may have had two deadly consequences: eliciting misinformation that helped lead the United States into the quicksand of Iraq (while al-Qaeda and its Islamic fundamentalist allies strengthened their position in nuclear-armed Pakistan) and contributing significantly to the deaths of more than 4,200 American soldiers in Iraq.
© 2009 Consortium News
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat. His two previous books are Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth'.