Tuesday, September 30, 2008

“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. …

“Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men. True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.

“The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.

“Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men. … [T]here must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. …

“[T]here must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments; there must be an end to speculation with other people’s money… If I read the temper of our people correctly, we now realize as we have never realized before our interdependence on each other; that we cannot merely take but we must give as well; that if we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline… I assume unhesitatingly the leadership of this great army of our people dedicated to a disciplined attack upon our common problems.…

“We face the arduous days that lie before us in the warm courage of national unity; with the clear consciousness of seeking old and precious moral values; with the clean satisfaction that comes from the stern performance of duty of old and young alike. … We do not distrust the future of essential democracy. The people of the United States have not failed. … They have asked for discipline and direction under leadership. They have made me the present instrument of their wishes. … In this dedication of a Nation we humbly ask the blessing of God. May He protect each and every one of us.”

—President Franklin Roosevelt, First Inaugural Address (March 4, 1933)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Update #2: “Senior White House officials played a central role in deliberations in the spring of 2002 about whether the Central Intelligence Agency could legally use harsh interrogation techniques while questioning an operative of Al Qaeda, Abu Zubaydah, according to newly released documents,” reported the New York Times on Sept. 25 (Mark Mazzetti, “Bush Aides Linked to Talks on Interrogations”). “Current and former officials have said that the C.I.A. began using harsh interrogation methods on Mr. Zubaydah in Thailand weeks before the Justice Department formally authorized the interrogation program in a secret memo dated Aug. 1, 2002. ... A fierce dispute erupted between the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. during the spring and summer of 2002, as F.B.I. officials objected to the harsh treatment and ultimately withdrew from Mr. Zubaydah’s interrogation.” The papers, given to the paper by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), have not been posted on the NYT website. In related news, William Glaberson, Times correspondent at Gitmo, reported that prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld stepped down:

The defense lawyer in the case, Maj. David J. R. Frakt of the Air Force Reserve, said Colonel Vandeveld ‘could no longer continue to serve ethically as a prosecutor.’ He said Colonel Vandeveld had had disputes with his superiors about whether to give him information that might help the defense. The chief prosecutor, Col. Lawrence J. Morris of the Army, said Colonel Vandeveld had asked to leave the prosecutor’s office for personal reasons and said, ‘there are no grounds for his ethical qualms.’ The dispute is the latest to stir up the war crimes system here, which has been plagued with prior defections from the prosecution office, judicial rulings that there was unlawful command influence over some cases and assertions of political influence from a former chief prosecutor.”

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sunday, September 21, 2008

As you can plainly see, Barack Obama wants to raise your taxes. Not.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Zubayda story update: the American Psychological Association, in an 8,792 to 6,157 vote (59 to 41 percent), decided Sept. 17 “to prohibit consultation in the interrogations of detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, or so-called black sites operated by the Central Intelligence Agency overseas” (Benedict Carey, New York Times, A23). The decision “may help to settle a long debate within the profession” over the fact that APA-affiliated psychologists, such as Mitchell and Jessen, “have helped military and C.I.A. interrogators evaluate detainees, plan questioning strategy and judge its psychological costs.”

The APA’s “ethics code, while condemning a list of coercive techniques adopted in the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism campaign,” Carey adds—adopting their terminology, if I may add, such as coercive and anti-terrorism, “has allowed some consultation ‘for national security-related purposes.’” What are these purposes related to national security? We never find out. But, again, one must ask: What could conceivably be considered to be related to national security by this administration, in any possible, law-bending and law-breaking way? Everything.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Senator Joe Biden (D-Del.) exits after a rousing speech at The College of Wooster, Sept. 17, 2008; out of a town of 26,000 (Wooster, Ohio, the seat of Wayne County, which has voted Republican in every election since 1964) about 4,500 people were in attendance. (Photo courtesy Heather Hunt)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Yes we can.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Come on, Ohio.

Monday, September 15, 2008

It is a strange serendipity to have Senator Biden come to your campus (Sept. 17, Wooster, Ohio, my college town—hopefully it will get media play) and, on the randomizer, hearing this:

“Now the senator came down here
Showing ev’ryone his gun,
Handing out free tickets
To the wedding of his son.
An’ me, I nearly got busted
An’ wouldn't it be my luck
To get caught without a ticket
And be discovered beneath a truck.
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck inside of Mobile
With the Memphis blues again.”

As it happens, the College Dems distributed free tickets. No word yet on any wedding ceremonies (unless we’re talking about Bristol and Levi Johnston).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

On this date almost 3,000 of our countrymen were murdered in the name of God by a fanatical organization that persists, spread like a cancer because we reacted to those attacks by wielding a sledgehammer against a nest of hornets. Where do we go from here? Several facts must be put forward at the outset: (1) much of the Islamic world has seen our actions as a war against their religion, (2) our actions around the world have made us less safe and have failed to destroy the Qaeda threat, and (3) there has thankfully not been an attack on American soil in seven years. The second and third seem to contradict, but both are true.

It may be worth recalling the words of Jean-Marie Colombani, who wrote an editorial entitled “Nous sommes tous Américains” (“We are all Americans”) in the Sept. 13, 2001, issue of Le Monde. “How can we not feel … deep solidarity with this people and this country, the United States, which we are so close and to whom we owe our freedom, and thus our solidarity.” My apologies for the translation, which is entirely the result of plugging the French into a Web applet, with the help of my own reading. “In the eyes of the American public and its leaders, Islamism, in all its forms, may be appointed as the new enemy.” The hijackers had “a barbaric logic of a new nihilism” that the “grand majority of Muslim believers” abhor and reject, Colombani added. The “madness” of the extremists “is never a force that can remake the world.”

By December 7, 1948, the attack on Pearl Harbor had been avenged; the hole in the ground remains in so many symbolic ways an open wound yet to heal, its perpetrator yet to be brought to the light of justice. To the memory of the living and the dead: Never forgive, never forget.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Here we go again. (Ike is now a Category 3 storm.)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

“In truth, I wanted to be president because it had become my ambition to be president.”

— Sen. John McCain

Country First™!

Monday, September 01, 2008

As the first military commission trial at Guantanamo began this past July, after years of simmering intramural feuds and administration stonewalling, I was privileged to speak with one of the attorneys for Abu Zubaydah, allegedly al Qaeda’s “number three” official. I wanted to know how the case was going, who Zubaydah is, and about the military tribunals that the responsible men and women in Washington have set up before the world. The attorney, a gruff-sounding but amicable fellow named George Brent Mickum, spoke with me by telephone.

“The security classification is top secret,” Mickum said. “Anything that I’ve learned through my client I can’t tell you.” Apparently, I had asked about some of the specifics of the case, specifically what Mickum knew about the CIA’s involvement. Late last year, a controversy erupted over an incident in late 2003, when staffers at our Central Intelligence Agency destroyed several incriminating videotaped interrogations of Zubaydah. But if it were really true that our G-men were waterboarding him, it wouldn’t have been the first time Zubaydah knew brute force at the hands of mysterious captors. Much is also mysterious about him. In his testimony before a Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) in March 2007, of which I obtained an unclassified transcript, Zubaydah drew a distinction between military and civilian targets and claimed to oppose Bin Laden’s tactics, which he viewed as reactionary.

Abu Zubaydah, an alias for Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn Tariq among 35 others, “was severely injured in 1992 when he was fighting Afghan communists,” Mickum said, “hit with a mortar shell.” This is confirmed by several other sources, including the transcript of the CSRT hearing; in various accounts, he was greviously wounded by gunfire and shelling in Faisalabad, Pakistan. It is also alleged that Zubaydah is mentally ill. It almost approaches the absurd to extract actionable intelligence from a physically and mentally compromised figure such as Zubaydah, but the Kafkaesque nature of Gitmo and the entire extralegal superstructure of the “war on terror” defies empirical minds. “None of this makes any sense,” Mickum said with some exasperation. “The government does what it does and justifies it after the fact.”

A lot of information is already on the public record. Much of the supporting material in Mickum’s petition to get his client the writ of habeas corpus overlaps with mine, including Katherine Eban’s illuminating report in Vanity Fair. In it, Eban describes how, like the subjects in Stanley Milgram’s famous experiments, interrogators thought they had the imprimatur of respected scientific authority on their side.

Eban tells the story of how the CIA took over from the FBI’s successful “rapport-building” and substituted terror and domination for actual intelligence. This was done by using a program called SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) that trains soldiers to withstand torture at the enemy’s hands, and “reverse-engineering” these torture techniques—lifted wholesale from the Communist Chinese—to be used on detainees captured by the US military. Referring to the Chinese torture tactics manual, Mickum explained: “We have adopted it lock, stock and barrel. All we did was translate it into English and change the title.”

Zubaydah was the first Qaeda suspect to be captured and became the test case for an international system of CIA-run “black site” dungeons and the attendant methodology of medieval cruelty masked by 21st-century rhetoric of a “new kind” of war against barbarians plotting against us from caves. “Torture was the modus operandi,” said Mickum. “There were no limits.” Indeed, throughout the copious literature spelling out in macabre detail all of the legalistic wrangling, it is apparent that — scared witness of an impending terror attack — interrogators around the world in the archipelago of CIA detention camps (“black sites”) were intent on getting whoever they could capture to say anything. According to Mickum, “They were desperately afraid that there would be another attack, [and] desperately felt they needed to get intel.” The operative rule was to “extract pieces of information from the lowliest guy and then fill in the picture of who our enemy is.” Geneva protections were obstacles to the approach, therefore ignored.

In Jane Mayer’s much-acclaimed book, “The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals” (2008), the reader is treated with the sheer scale of depravity and lawlessness that has characterized every major aspect of this administration’s approach to fighting terrorism. Zubaydah “would set the precedent for the abuse of U.S.-held prisoners, transforming U.S. practices starting with the CIA, but eventually spreading through the U.S. military, too” (p. 140). Abu Zubaydah himself “had left fingerprints all over Al Qaeda operations for years.” According to the 9/11 Commission report and other sources, Zubaydah ran two training camps for his “defensive jihad” and had conflicts with Bin Laden, whose agenda was more fanatical.

What is most noteworthy about all of the escapades is the role of the medical profession, chiefly psychologists, in helping legitimate torture and other coercion — even methods known to produce nothing but bullshit — to extract valuable and actionable intelligence, ostensibly to save lives. As Eban records, “Psychologists, working in secrecy, had actually designed the tactics and trained interrogators in them while on contract to the C.I.A.,” adding that the “central role” belonged to James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. Both had been versed in the SERE methods. “We are proud of the work we have done for our country,” Eban quotes them as saying in a joint press release. Eban quotes Steve Kleinman, described as “an Air Force Reserve colonel and [an] expert in human-intelligence operations,” as declaring somberly that Mitchell-Jessen “have caused more harm to American national security than they’ll ever understand.”

In a serious attempt to find out the identity of Zubaydah and his actual role, I spent long hours amassing information and putting together the pieces. The end-result seems to be a study in contradictory claims, but more or less a clear picture emerges. According to a BBC News profile, Abu Zubaydah “had used at least 37 aliases” — another one of which was Abd Al-Hadi Al-Wahab — “and was considered a master of disguise.” His shape-shifting repute is repeated elsewhere. The top source for Zubaydah’s notoriety as a world-class terrorist is Ahmed Ressam, “an Algerian witness,” who alleged that Zubaydah was the “chief recruiter” for al Qa’ida, and that he was behind “a thwarted plot to bomb hotels [in Jordan] during millennium celebrations” (hereafter “the millennium plot”).

An Associated Press dispatch also relied upon Ressam’s testimony, which again alluded to Zubaydah’s role as a recruiter and middle-management operative. We also read of Zubaydah’s “combat skills and organizational talent that pushed him to the top ranks” of Osama bin Laden’s global criminal enterprise. Born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on March 12, 1971, he “developed a unique talent in mortars and other heavy weaponry” and “was apparently named bin Laden’s second deputy in 1995, responsible for screening recruits and devising terrorist plans” on a logistical basis. He was not a policy-maker; he was simply tasked to carry out the wishes of Bin Laden and his second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. Yet, for some reason, Zubaydah “doesn’t appear on the FBI’s list of top wanted terrorists.” “Jordanian military documents” also allege that Zubaydah “recruited Raed Hijazi,” who was himself “named as a recruiter of suspects in plots to bomb U.S. Embasses in Paris and Sarajevo.”

Also, the AP reported that Zubaydah “is believed to have been a field commander for the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, in which 17 U.S. sailors were killed”; his co-operative was a man named Khader Abu-Hosher, another Palestinian. Along with Jordanian tourist hotels, other targets of the foiled millennium plot were Israeli draws like the “site on the Jordan River where Jesus Christ was believed to have been baptized.” “In September 2000,” Zubaydah “was found guilty of conspiracy to carry out terror attacks in Jordan” and “sentenced in absentia to 15 years of hard labor.”

A lengthy report in Time magazine put forward a rap sheet connecting Zubaydah with someone named Omar al-Faruq, a Kuwaiti who, after “three months of psychological interrogation tactics … finally broke down” and, “according to a secret CIA summary of the interview, al-Faruq confessed that he was, in fact, al-Qaeda’s senior representative in Southeast Asia.” The Time report breathlessly continues, “Then came an even more shocking confession: according to the CIA document, al-Faruq said two senior al-Qaeda officials, Abu Zubaydah and Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, had ordered him to ‘plan large-scale attacks against U.S. interests in Indonesia, Malaysia, (the) Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam and Cambodia.’ … Fearing an attack could come at any moment, al-Faruq’s interrogators relayed his revelations to the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center [hereafter “CTC”] in Langley, Va. … Al-Faruq’s threatened attacks never occurred.”

Abu Zubaydah was captured almost by accident, with the crucial aid of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency — for a price. “On the outskirts of Pakistan’s militant tribal area” in a city called Faisalabad, Mayer wrote that ISI “officers had noticed had noticed a caravan carrying several exceptionally tall burka-clad women who turned out to be male Islamic extremists in disguise. … For a bribe, their driver gave away their destination. This enabled the U.S. government to mount a major surveillance operation on their neighborhood. In the NSA’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, translators and analysts among the agency’s 38,000 employees pored over every fragment of electronic information vacuumed by enormously powerful eavesdropping equipment trained on the spot, until they could pinpoint what they believed was a nest of top Al Qaeda suspects” (p. 140).

“In the predawn hours [around 4 AM] of March 28,” Mayer continued, “dozens of armed CIA, FBI, and Pakistani law-enforcement and intelligence officers raided a shambling compound on the suburban outskirts of Faisalabad, taking Zubayda by surprise along with some twenty-five other suspected Al Qaeda followers, including one with a valid Arizona driver’s license. In an attempt to escape, Zubayda leapt from the roof to that of a neighboring house, where a gun battle ensued before he dropped twenty-five feet to the ground. By the time it was over, Zubayda had been shot in the thigh, stomach, and groin. A Pakistani doctor told [novice CIA officer John] Kiriakou that he’d never seen anyone with such egregious injuries survive. In truth, Zubayda had nearly slipped into sepsis in the back of a pickup truck where, unrecognized, he had been piled with several other wounded suspects after the gunfight. An agent with a flashlight identified him just in time to rush him to the hospital for resuscitation” (pp. 140-41).

“Zubayda left behind computers, cell phones, computer disks, phone books, and two Western-style bank cards for accounts in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. He also left behind a voluminous personal diary—in all, there were nearly 10,000 pages of potentially invaluable intelligence. Adding urgency, according to Kiriakou, were the remnants of a bomb that he and two other men had been building on a table, along with plans for what appeared to be an attack on a British school in Lahore. … What put Zubayda in CIA custody was not toughness, it was money. The Pakistani intelligence service bought the original tip leading to his whereabouts with a small bribe to the taxi driver. Afterward, the CIA bought Pakistan’s help for a much larger sum. A CIA source involved at the time disclosed, ‘We paid $10 million for Abu Zubayda.’ [$25 million, according to Mickum] He said the money went to the ISI” (p. 141).

“The FBI took him first to Faisalabad’s Allied Hospital and then to Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, 170 miles to the north,” wrote al Qaeda expert Jason Burke, in the Observer. From there “he was whisked by the CIA to Thailand where he was housed in a small, disused warehouse on an active airbase,” according to ABC News investigators Brian Ross and Richard Esposito.

After a few days of FBI interrogations in which “phenomenal” information was divulged (Mayer, p. 156), CIA-contracted military psychologists John Elmer Mitchell and Bruce Jessen arrived with their SERE program, angered and frightened the FBI agents and completely destroyed any chance of getting at valuable information. Zubaydah was stripped naked, put in a cage, waterboarded repeatedly. “Once healthy,” Ross-Esposito wrote, Zubaydah “was slapped, grabbed, made to stand long hours in a cold cell, and finally handcuffed and strapped feet up to a water board under after 0.31 seconds he begged for mercy and began to cooperate.” His insanity worsened; he remains in prison without charge. On the bright side, he ID’d Jose Padilla, the suspected “dirty bomber,” gangbanger and U.S. citizen (ibid, p. 155).

Burke described Zubaydah as Bin Laden’s “most influential henchman,” “an apparently mild-mannered … bespectacled, slim-shouldered Arab” who “is trained in every weapon from kalashnikovs to heavy mortars to truck bombs” and possessed “a reputation for efficiency and ruthlessness.” In Burke’s account, Zubaydah was indeed a dangerous terrorist, “linked to British Islamists accused of being al-Qaeda operatives” and, from 1996, “was appointed ‘chief of operations’ … [of] the camps where thousands of volunteers flocking to bin Laden’s [jihadi] banner from across the Islamic world were to be trained.” Burke also cited Ressam, the captured Algerian terrorist. The 9/11 Commission report also leans heavily on Ressam’s testimony, perhaps coerced.

“The government has tried to suggest that all Islamic militants are al Qaeda,” Mickum said. “That’s ludicrous. Most of the camps were for defensive jihad, defense of Afghanistan and Kashmir.” In his testimony, Zubaydah concurred: “…if an aggressor or invader invades Muslim lands, no matter where, then it is every Muslim’s duty to defend the land against the invader.” He referred to Russia and Serbia as examples of aggressors against Muslims (Verbatim Transcript of CSRT Hearing for ISN 10016, Oral Statement, p. 9).

The story of Abu Zubaydah, a thirty-something schizoid who acted as a go-to intermediary and middle-man for logistics but not proven to have done operational planning on a terrorist attack, is in reality a story about ourselves and how we have acted around the world in the name of fighting barbarism. “I think we oversold [Zubaydah’s] value — the administration did — to the American public,” commented Ron Suskind, the author of “The One-Percent Doctrine” and “The Way of the World,” his latest. Abu Zubaydah is “psychologically imbalanced, he has multiple personalities. And he was not involved in various events that we thought he was involved in. During various bombings in the late ‘90s, he was not where we thought he would be.”

“Ultimately, we tortured an insane man and ran screaming at every word he uttered,” Suskind said.