The Watering Hole, Monday, March 4th, 2013: Monday Medley

First, let’s start with: HAPPY NATIONAL GRAMMAR DAY! Look out, the grammar police will be out in force, so mind your adverbs, adjectives, and parenthetical phrases!

Next, from Foreign Policy Magazine: I suppose it’s nice to know that the CIA has nothing on Noam Chomsky:

“This month, a two-year-long investigation into CIA records on Noam Chomsky concluded with a surprising result: Despite a half-century of brazen anti-war activism and countless overseas speaking engagements, the Central Intelligence Agency has no file on the legendary MIT professor.”

However, Mr. Chomsky himself seems somewhat ambivalent about this fact:

“Interestingly, Chomsky, a man forever mistrustful of U.S. government statements, actually believes the CIA’s denial. But it’s not because he’s warming to the agency as he grows older: It’s because he’s convinced of its incompetence.”

A couple of commenters on that FP thread provided a bit more information: According to Propublica.org,

“A proposed rule to the Freedom of Information Act would allow federal agencies to tell people requesting certain law-enforcement or national security documents that records don’t exist – even when they do. Under current FOIA practice, the government may withhold information and issue what’s known as a Glomar denial that says it can neither confirm nor deny the existence of records. The new proposal – part of a lengthy rule revision by the Department of Justice – would direct government agencies to “respond to the request as if the excluded records did not exist.””

- and -

Per the CIA website:

“Does the CIA spy on Americans? Does it keep a file on you?
By law, the CIA is specifically prohibited from collecting foreign intelligence concerning the domestic activities of US citizens. Its mission is to collect information related to foreign intelligence and foreign counterintelligence. By direction of the president in Executive Order 12333 of 1981 and in accordance with procedures approved by the Attorney General, the CIA is restricted in the collection of intelligence information directed against US citizens. Collection is allowed only for an authorized intelligence purpose; for example, if there is a reason to believe that an individual is involved in espionage or international terrorist activities. The CIA’s procedures require senior approval for any such collection that is allowed, and, depending on the collection technique employed, the sanction of the Director of National Intelligence and Attorney General may be required. These restrictions on the CIA have been in effect since the 1970s.”

Last, let’s look at pictures. I ran across an environmental website called Take Part, where I found a slideshow of some beautiful, some amazing, and some just plain horrifying photos from around the world. From the same website, here’s another slideshow of some of Mother Nature’s wonderful creations in the animal world. And finally, from The Weather Channel, we have eight cute baby animals.

This is our Open thread, what’s on your minds?

The Watering Hole, Saturday, February 9, 2013: The Right Frame of Mind

As usually happens when a re-elected president begins a second term (and this is the first time since Jefferson-Madison-Monroe that we’ve had three consecutive two-term presidents) many of the people who served during the first term leave and new people get picked to replace them. Many of these replacements need to get confirmed by the US Senate, and it was during one of these recent Senate confirmation hearings that the subject of our nation’s use of unmanned drones was discussed, specifically their use against American citizens. It’s a very controversial subject. [NOTE: In the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. I have never taken a law class nor attended a law school (though I used to fix copiers in one.) But none of those things should matter because, well, you'll see where I'm going with this.]

The nominee in question, John Brennan, appointed to replace Leon Panetta as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (or NAMBLA), was being asked about a report by NBC’s Michael Isikoff regarding a Department of Justice White Paper that laid out the legal reasoning behind why it was felt the president had the legal and constitutional authority to order the assassination of a US citizen in another part of the world. Not just any citizen. The person in question had to be “a senior operational leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force of al-Qa’ida.” According to a footnote, “An associated force of al-Qa’ida includes a group that would qualify as a co-belligerent under the laws of war.” And by “senior operational leader” they mean “an al-Qa’ida leader actively engaged in planning operations to kill Americans.” You’ve been hearing a lot about this White Paper in the news lately, and that’s primarily because John Brennan was involved in the crafting of that policy. What you haven’t heard very much about is that none of this is really news. It turns out Attorney General Eric Holder pretty much laid out the same rationale in a speech given at Northwestern University back on March 5, 2012. But what is even less widely reported is the Attorney General’s stretching of the truth in making that case.

In his speech, AG Holder said

Let me be clear: an operation using lethal force in a foreign country, targeted against a U.S. citizen who is a senior operational leader of al Qaeda or associated forces, and who is actively engaged in planning to kill Americans, would be lawful at least in the following circumstances: First, the U.S. government has determined, after a thorough and careful review, that the individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States; second, capture is not feasible; and third, the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.

He then goes on to discuss what constitutes “imminent threat” and whether a capture is “feasible.” I’m not particularly impressed with his justifications for their definitions, and I’m not the only one, but my main problem goes even deeper. All of this discussion is based on one overarching concept with which I fundamentally disagree: That this is a “war.”

A lot of the discussions frame the conflict with al-Qa’ida (I’ll use the same spelling consistently in this post even though I have used other spellings in other posts) as a “war” and the justifications of how we use lethal force against Americans all speak of what we’re allowed to do in a “wartime situation.” This is very dangerous thinking because once you decide that you are engaged in a “war,” the door opens to do all kinds of things you would not ordinarily be allowed to do if you were not at “war.” In the same sense that if the only thing you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail, if you decide you are engaged in a war, everyone can look like an enemy soldier.

After long and careful thought, it is my very considered opinion that we should never have responded to the attacks of September 11, 2001, as if they were Acts of War, even though the perpetrators of those attacks considered them as such. I feel it was wrong of Congress to pass the Authorization for Use of Military Force, especially one so minimally but broadly stated. Under that AUMF, a president would have the authority to go after practically anyone because the decision on who to go after would be made solely by the president (as opposed to Congress or the Courts.). It says

the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

Anwar al-Awlaki, the American killed under the program discussed earlier, was not part of al-Qa’ida on September 11, nor did the al-Qa’ida in Yemen (or the Arabian Peninsula) exist at the time of the attacks. How they can be considered “co-belligerents” or even persons who aided the terrorist attacks confuses me. (This AUMF, BTW, was used as a justification for authority to invade Iraq even though they had nothing whatsoever to do with the 9/11 attacks, but let’s not even go there. The Congress foolishly left the determination of who we would attack to the president, and this authority was severely abused in the case of Iraq.) And yet the alleged authority to carry out these drone attacks against persons in Yemen supposedly stems from the AUMF. How can it? We have already strayed way too far in our excuses for why we are allowed to do what we’re doing, and it’s all because we have decided “we are a nation at war.” And we shouldn’t be.

Tragic and horrific though the 9/11 attacks may have been (and believe me, living about an hour and a half north of New York City, and knowing someone who lost relatives and friends in the attacks, and having personally witnessed the smoke rising from the rubble of the fallen Twin Towers, I know the horror of that day), they were still crimes, not Acts of War. And our nation’s response to them should have been appropriate to crimes. And you don’t send the full force of your military after people who broke the law. (After all, we are not a military police state.) Even in his speech, the Attorney General admitted that “we are not in a conventional war.” Do we have the right to defend ourselves against those who wish to do us harm? To a certain extent, yes, but that does not mean we can decide that we can send in our military to any country in the world and conduct war operations there. As much as some people would like to think it, we do not have the moral or legal authority to do whatever we want anywhere in world. I do not feel that terrorists should be treated like a nation state’s army. I believe that terrorists are criminals, guilty of committing, or planning to commit, horrible crimes, but they are not soldiers, and no matter how many guns they carry, they are not an army, and we shouldn’t wrap all our justifications for how we deal with them in the framework of a war. Because then there’s almost no end to what we feel justified in doing.

Usama bin Laden is dead. The hijackers who took over the planes that long ago day are dead. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the plots, is in custody. Why are we still “at war”? It cannot be because there are still terrorists in the world. There will always be terrorists and it’s impossible to kill or capture them all. The very fact that we keep sending unmanned drones in to kill alleged terrorists almost guarantees that more frustrated people will decide to join a terrorist organization near them in retaliation. Violence begets more violence. Something that never ceases to amaze me is the willingness of our citizens to use such deadly force and tactics, despite the fact that so many of these same people profess to be Christians. Didn’t Jesus say that if someone should slap our cheek we should offer him the other? How can so many people call themselves Christians and yet defy one of the main tenets of their religion?

There will always be people wanting to do harm to our nation and its citizens. We can’t just decide to call them all “terrorists” and convince ourselves the AUMF applies. The use of terrorism has always been a problem, and with advances in technology the danger has always increased over time. You’re never going to be able to kill everyone who wishes to conduct acts of terrorism, so when do we stop sending our military all over the world to kill them? When does it all end?

This is our daily open thread. The opinions expressed in this post reflect those of the author and not necessarily those of other members of The Zoo. Feel free to discuss this topic or any other.

Hippocrates weeps..

From Hippocrates’ Oath:

Into whatever houses I enter, I will go into them for the benefit of the sick, and will abstain from every voluntary act of mischief and corruption; and, further from the seduction of females or males, of freemen and slaves.

The non-profit organization Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) has issued a report on the extent that medical professionals were involved in the torture programs at Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantanamo.

The version of the 2004 CIA Inspector General’s report released on August 24, 2009 provides greater detail on the central role that health professionals played in the CIA’s torture program and reveals a level of ethical misconduct that had not previously come to light.
The report confirms that the CIA inflicted torture on detainees interrogated while in US custody as part of the agency’s counterterrorism activities and exposes additional interrogation techniques that had not yet been reported. It also demonstrates that health professionals were involved at every stage in the development, implementation and legitimization of this torture program.
The doctors and psychologists who laid the foundation upon which attorneys rationalized an illegal program of torture also actively participated in abusive and illegal interrogations, thus betraying the ethical standards of their professions by contributing to physical and mental suffering and anguish. The very premise of health professional involvement in abusive interrogations — that they have a role in safeguarding detainees — is an unconscionable affront to the profession of medicine. (read full report)

So how will this fit into the ethics every doctor swears to uphold? PHR likens the involvement of doctors onto the torture program to illegal medical experimentation on humans as forbidden by the Nuremberg Code.

Torture is vile and inexcusable in any instance. The licence to practice medicine must be taken away from everybody who takes part in it.

HT: The Guardian

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Cheney ordered CIA program kept secret (Updated)

According to the New York Times, former Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the CIA to keep a counter-terrorism program secret from Congress — for eight years.  CIA Director Leon Panetta informed the House and Senate Intelligence committees about the program after he learned of it on June 23,

Dick Cheney

Dick Cheney

and shut down the program immediately.  The purpose and activities of the program remain secret.

The law requires the president to make sure the intelligence committees “are kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States, including any significant anticipated intelligence activity.” But the language of the statute, the amended National Security Act of 1947, leaves some leeway for judgment, saying such briefings should be done “to the extent consistent with due regard for the protection from unauthorized disclosure of classified information relating to sensitive intelligence sources and methods or other exceptionally sensitive matters.”

In addition, for covert action programs, a particularly secret category in which the role of the United States is hidden, the law says that briefings can be limited to the so-called Gang of Eight, consisting of the Republican and Democratic leaders of both houses of Congress and of their intelligence committees.

Cheney’s involvement in the secret counter-terrorism program came to light through the inspector general’s report, which featured the former vice president’s primary role in keeping secret the NSA’s eavesdropping activities from all but a small number of government officials.

Intelligence and Congressional officials have said the unidentified program did not involve the C.I.A. interrogation program and did not involve domestic intelligence activities. They have said the program was started by the counterterrorism center at the C.I.A. shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but never became fully operational, involving planning and some training that took place off and on from 2001 until this year.

The secret program, begun just days after September 11, 2001, was so secret, so closely held to the vest by the Bush administration, that it’s effectiveness was questionable at best.

A report released on Friday by the inspectors general of five agencies about the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program makes clear that Mr. Cheney’s legal adviser, David S. Addington, had to approve personally every government official who was told about the program. The report said “the exceptionally compartmented nature of the program” frustrated F.B.I. agents who were assigned to follow up on tips it had turned up.

House Rep Jan Schakowsky has written to the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Rep Silvestre Reyes, demanding an investigation, and Rep Pete Hoekstra doesn’t want to be too “harsh” in his judgment of the agency.

In Newsweek, there’s a statement by the CIA spokesman, Paul Gimigliano, regarding the demand of seven House members that Director Panetta correct his previous testimony to the Intelligence Committee, in the light of this newly-discovered secret program:

Paul Gimigliano, a CIA spokesman, said Panetta has nothing to correct: “Director Panetta took the initiative to raise the issue with the Hill. He did so promptly and clearly, as the oversight committees themselves recognize. He stands by his statement that it is neither the policy nor the practice of the CIA to mislead Congress. He believes, as his actions show, in the importance of a candid dialogue with Congress.”  (Emphasis added)

Well, of course it’s not the official policy of the CIA to lie to Congress.  No one is going to put that kind of thing in writing, right?  Continue reading

CIA Director Leon Panetta Admits Agency Misled Congress

Hmm.  I’m thinking this is going to make some waves.  Huffington Post has the story:

CIA Director Leon Panetta told lawmakers in a recent briefing that the intelligence agency he heads misled Congress on “significant actions” for a “number of years,” a group of Democrats revealed on Wednesday.

In a letter written to Panetta on June 26 by seven Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee, the CIA chief is urged to “publicly correct” an earlier statement he made in which he insisted that it was not agency policy to mislead Congress.

As the letter details, Panetta apparently acknowledged in an earlier briefing that this statement was not, in fact, true.

Not that this comes as a surprise or anything.  I love — in the most horrible sense of the word — the final sentence: this statement was not, in fact, true.  But I guess publishing the word horse shit might come across as less than objective.