November 08, 2005

Bush's Moral Bankruptcy

You know something is seriously wrong with our government when the President of the United States says that "we do not torture", but still says that in order to "keep America safe", he refuses to "tie the hands" of the CIA by supporting a prohibition on torture. In fact, he has loudly declared that he will veto any bill that contains McCain's prohibition on torture.

Was it all that long ago when the major question roiling the country was about whether the President could be seen as a moral leader because he lied about sex? When the President was lambasted for parsing the word "is"?

Sometimes it feels like we are living in the Twilight Zone because it seems that the weird arguments about morality and whether the words one used really meant what was said have come back to haunt the country in a much darker and more frightening way. In the 90's the events that shook the country were titilating as people fretted about what could they say to their children (especially after Ken Starr loosed his pornographic report on the internet). Today the crisis is not just how do we explain the horror to our kids, but how do we face the world while we have such moral deviants in the White House? What will it take for the government of the United States to restore its sense of honor?

Bush says we don't do torture and that we follow the law. Yet, we know that Bush's legal team decided that while we are at war, Bush is the law. He decides what is legal or not. And we know that the definition of "torture" is exceeding broad. Too bad some of the detainees died, because otherwise what they experienced couldn't be claimed to be torture. Because Bush has the full authority granted to him by his legal department to authorize anything he sees fit without anyone else having any say at all. It might look like torture, smell like torture and even feel like torture, but because Bush, the omnificent, is in charge, it isn't torture.

And another thing that has been bugging me the past couple of days is the number of times I've heard reports accusing the al Qaeda prisoner, al-Libi, of being a liar. How does anyone condemn him of being a liar when the reason he "lied" was because he was being tortured?

Reading Douglas Jehl's piece it was clear that al-Libi had been tortured.

The document, an intelligence report from February 2002, said it was probable that the prisoner, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, "was intentionally misleading the debriefers" in making claims about Iraqi support for Al Qaeda's work with illicit weapons.

Intentionally misleading the debriefers.... do you think that was before or after they shipped him off to Egypt?

And when do you think they started to question his reliability?

In outlining reasons for its skepticism, the D.I.A. report noted that Mr. Libi's claims lacked specific details about the Iraqis involved, the illicit weapons used and the location where the training was to have taken place.

"It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers," the February 2002 report said. "Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest."

Do you think he might have been trying to figure out what his "debriefers" wanted to hear? Perhaps that might explain the reason he wasn't too good on the details?

Something is seriously wrong when we blame the detainee for the lie he produces and forgive the decisions of the people in charge that create the situation leading to the lie.

Laura Rozen points to Jason Vest's piece this last summer that shows how using torture is the way to get garbage.

By contrast, Cloonan says, there was the case of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a case he thinks adequately illustrates how uninformed and counterproductive notions have come to dominate the post–9-11 environment. The story had only a happy beginning: At first, Cloonan says, Army debriefers at Bagram were enthusiastically deferential to FBI personnel. Though FBI agents were technically subordinate to the Army chain of command, many of the military-intelligence interrogators were keenly aware of how little they know about counterterrorism in general and all things Islamic in particular. “The general in charge of the base loved our guys -- he actually asked them to start training the [military-intelligence] guys on how to do proper debriefings, and it went really well,” Cloonan recalled with a touch of pride. “He even called the director personally to say thank you for these guys and what they did.”

Among the military’s captives in December 2001 was al-Libi, who disclosed early on that he had been the emir of the training camp that had produced both Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui. Fully appreciative of al-Libi’s import as both a window into understanding al-Qaeda’s 9-11 operations and as a potential witness in the Moussaoui case, the FBI agent and NYPD detective assigned to al-Libi called their mentor, Cloonan, in New York as they waited to interview him.

Says Cloonan: “I told them, ‘When you get access, don’t say anything at first. Sit; say hello after awhile; offer him tea, dates, figs. Point out where Mecca is; ask him if he wants to pray. And sit. And when he starts to look a little inquisitive, tell him who you are, and that he has rights and privileges, and that you’re going to give him his rights. Just like any other interview.’ So they do all this. And they start building rapport. And he starts talking about Reid and Moussaoui. They’re getting good stuff, and everyone’s getting the raw 302s [interview summaries] -- the agency, the military, the director. But for some reason, the CIA chief of station in Kabul is taking issue with our approach.”

In Cloonan’s view, what happened next was a result of the politics of post–9-11, both generally and within the national-security community. While 9-11 had not been a proud day for the CIA, at least the same, if not more so, was true for the FBI. Unlike the CIA director, the FBI director lacks cabinet rank. And, unlike the CIA director, whose comments about getting boots on the ground and taking the gloves off both appealed to the president’s sensibilities and could be quickly actualized by virtue of the CIA’s black budget, the FBI director had no such budget nor any real desire to enable practices of dubious efficacy. A series of conference calls ensued among military, CIA, and FBI officials; in the end, over both the military and Mueller’s objections, the CIA’s prerogative carried the day -- which meant al-Libi would be rendered to Cairo for interrogation by Egypt’s intelligence service (this was discussed by Jane Mayer in her article on renditions in The New Yorker this past February).

What Cloonan’s agents told him happened next blew his mind. “My guys told me that a Toyota Tundra with a box in the back pulls up to the building,” he recalls. “CIA officers come in, start shackling al-Libi up. Right before they duct tape his mouth, he tells our guys, ‘I know this isn’t your fault.’ And as he’s standing there, chained and gagged, this CIA guy gets up in his face and tells al-Libi he’s going to fuck his mother. And then off he apparently goes to Cairo, in a box.”

Cloonan says CIA officials he later spoke with furiously denied al-Libi was actually put in the box. But he seems to consider this at best a matter of hairsplitting, as there was no question as to what kind of situation al-Libi was being delivered to in Egypt.

Which brings us to renditions. The first time Cloonan had heard of renditions was 1998, when Albanian and CIA officials broke up an al-Qaeda cell in Tirana. Cloonan’s CIA counterparts said they would be happy to see that anything of utility found its way to the bureau, but neither Cloonan nor his colleagues were particularly comfortable with the CIA’s description of how that process was going to work. “When we were told that the way this was going to go was, a plane flies in from Egypt and these guys get put on a plane with a one-way ticket to the Egyptian GIS, we weren’t thrilled on a number of levels,” he recalled. “The agency people were, to their credit, very adamant that they didn’t want people tortured. But I never quite understood how any agency officer, however diligent they might be, could be with someone 24 hours a day to make sure that they weren’t tortured.”

* * *

Not long after the al-Libi rendering, Mueller paid a visit to the Counterterrorism Division in the New York field office. In a question-and-answer session in the auditorium adjacent to the counterterrorism offices, Cloonan raised his hand. “Have you had the opportunity to give some thought as to what you would advise agents to do if they find themselves in the following position?” Cloonan says he asked. “You have a subject being interviewed who has been advised of his rights, is not a U.S. citizen, and is outside the U.S., but that person has agreed to cooperate, but that person is being forcibly removed from your custody and rendered to a third country where his due process is being denied?

“I wasn’t that far from him -- I could see on his face how this pained him, because this was only a short while after the al-Libi rendering. But the director basically blew me off. He had no advice. His response was, ‘Well, I’m not sure it’s an issue, as it’s a non–U.S. citizen outside the U.S.’”

At that point, Cloonan began to see a truly bleak long-term future. “At the end of the day,” he says, “you have to ask: Was it worth it? It’s no more complicated than that. Pictures have been broadcast all over the world; eventually the stuff all leaks out. Have we gotten enough information out of [Guantanamo Bay] or anywhere else to justify the negative? I think the answer from the authorities will be, ‘We’ve gotten great information.’ I’m less and less inclined to believe that. There’s a certain naïveté in thinking that any schmuck taken off the battlefield on any given day -- or taken of a street somewhere and flown halfway around the world and being held incommunicado with no rights and no charges -- will know where bin Laden is or what’s going to be planned in Iraq or Afghanistan. And when those people start to get repatriated and go back, what are they going to tell people about America? That it was a great three or four years in a stockade or in some other security services’ cell? Maybe one or two people will say we’re a great country. But we’ve probably created 450 new terrorists.”

Do read the whole thing to understand what we gave up for the thrill of seeking revenge.

We Americans are morally accountable for the ghouls in charge. I wonder if I will ever sleep peacefully again.

Posted by Mary at November 8, 2005 01:20 AM | Human Rights | Technorati links |

So if Monica had applied electrodes to Clinton's genitals instead of her lips Republican's would have been cool with it?

Posted by: Ryan at November 8, 2005 11:57 AM

Mendacious warmongers and those who prosecute torture are desecrating the spirit of our nation and its founders. Our Senate declares 90-9,"No Torture"; Vice President Cheney dissents, while the "Mission Accomplished/War President" oils the media with semantics and doublethink. Once again it's business as usual from Gitmo to Abu Ghraib with several of the new franchises doing infamously. "We do not torture, but sure do ask some tough questions."

Wonder who'll lead prayers at the next meeting of the White House Iraq Group?

Let's hear it for Vice President Cheney.

Posted by: FuzzFlash at November 9, 2005 01:27 AM

It is now official. The country is run by a sadistic dictator: Cheney.

Posted by: Evil Progressive at November 9, 2005 04:57 AM

No Ryan, they would have freaked out over his sexual fetish and called him morally corrupt.

There is no scenario involving Clinton & his penis where Clinton could have won.

Posted by: Sum Guy at November 9, 2005 05:58 AM