FBI agents created “war crimes file” documenting US torture

Dandelion Salad

By Joe Kay
http://www.wsws.org
22 May 2008

FBI agents who witnessed the torture of detainees at the US prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba created what they called a “war crimes” file documenting what they had seen, according to a report released Tuesday by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

The file, initiated in 2002, was ordered shut down by higher-ups in 2003 and agents were told to stop keeping records of the illegal acts that they had seen. Nonetheless, the use of the term “war crimes” by the US government’s main domestic intelligence arm, an agency with its own long record of political repression, is an extraordinary confirmation of charges that have long been leveled by opponents of the Bush administration and the criminal practices it has carried out in the so-called “global war on terror.”

According to the OIG report, FBI agents objected to the use by the CIA and the US military of techniques that one FBI official called “borderline torture.” Some agents raised concerns within the agency, but these concerns were ignored or squelched by the White House.

…continued

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Snakes and Superdelegates By Lori Price

Bush administration moves to exploit Burma cyclone disaster

Dandelion Salad

by Joe Kay
Global Research, May 9, 2008
wsws.org

The Bush administration lost no time in seeking to exploit the devastating tragedy in Burma (Myanmar). It has seized upon the cyclone that struck the country over the weekend, killed at least 20,000 and likely many more, to aggressively push its foreign policy agenda in Asia.

On Tuesday, Bush held a special ceremony at the White House to sign a bill giving Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi a Congressional Gold Medal. He used the occasion to place deliberately provocative conditions on any disbursement of aid to the ravaged country, beyond an initial token sum.

“The United States has made an initial aid contribution, but we want to do a lot more,” Bush declared. “We’re prepared to move US Navy assets to help find those who’ve lost their lives, to help find the missing, to help stabilize the situation. But in order to do so, the military junta must allow our disaster assessment teams into the country.”

So far, the US embassy has authorized the release of a paltry $250,000—less than half the cost of a single Tomahawk cruse missile of the type used by the US Navy to kill a Somali rebel last week. Later Tuesday, the administration pledged an additional $3 million to be allocated by a USAID disaster response team.

The very fact that the US is making aid to Burma conditional upon the satisfaction of certain demands is itself an outrage. Bush did not say why it was necessary for the US to carry out its own assessment in order to release more aid, nor did he elaborate on what was meant by promises that the US military would help “stabilize the situation.” US Navy ships are standing by off the coast of Thailand to intervene.

These pledges are certainly not intended as selfless humanitarian gestures. The Bush administration has been seeking to undermine the Burmese military regime for years and seized on protests last year by Buddhist monks to slap economic sanctions on the country and its rulers. There is no doubt that the United States would be happy to exploit the current tragedy to get a military foothold in the country.

The World Socialist Web Site holds no brief for the Burmese military junta, a brutal regime that has exercised dictatorial control over a largely impoverished country. However, US and European machinations, including the promotion of Suu Kyi, have nothing to do with concern for the democratic rights or economic well-being of the population. As always, the humanitarian pretensions of the US government are carefully calibrated to coincide with the interests of the American ruling class.

In the case of Burma, the US is interested in countering the influence of China, which has closer ties with the military regime and sees the country as a critical point of access into the Indian Ocean. As far as the Bush administration is concerned, the population of the country is only a bargaining chip in the pursuit of geo-strategic objectives.

US energy giants, including the Chevron oil corporation, also have interests in Burma. While the Bush administration has placed economic sanctions on the country, these have not affected Chevron’s multibillion-dollar investments through its subsidiary Unocal. Human rights groups have accused Chevron of complicity in abuses in Burma intended to protect its pipeline routes.

The statements by the Bush administration must also be seen in the context of its treatment of populations around the world, including in the United States itself. On Monday, US First Lady Laura Bush was the first from the White House to respond to the cyclone, using the opportunity to chastise the government for failing to warn the population and adequately prepare for the consequences.

“Although they were aware of the threat,” she said, “Burma’s state-run media failed to issue a timely warning to citizens in the storm’s path. The response to the cyclone is just the most recent example of the junta’s failure to meet its people’s basic needs.”

The hypocrisy and cynicism of this statement are so glaring that one wonders if it is not intentionally provocative. This August 29 will mark the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the massive storm that struck Louisiana and Mississippi, killing at least 1,800 people. The hurricane destroyed and flooded New Orleans, a major American city.

The US and local governments had been aware for decades of the potential for a deadly flood in New Orleans, but there was no evacuation plan in place, and no plan to meet the needs of those trapped or displaced. Tens of thousands remained trapped for days in the Louisiana Superdome. Many thousands who lost their homes were placed in temporary FEMA trailers, and in 2007 it was revealed that these trailers contained extremely high levels of formaldehyde, a toxic chemical.

The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina was largely preventable, but due to gross governmental indifference and negligence, the levee systems of New Orleans were denied necessary investments and allowed to decay—only one of many examples of the American government’s “failure to meet its people’s basic needs.”

The CRG grants permission to cross-post original Global Research articles on community internet sites as long as the text & title are not modified. The source and the author’s copyright must be displayed. For publication of Global Research articles in print or other forms including commercial internet sites, contact: crgeditor@yahoo.com

www.globalresearch.ca contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available to our readers under the provisions of “fair use” in an effort to advance a better understanding of political, economic and social issues. The material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving it for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material for purposes other than “fair use” you must request permission from the copyright owner.

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Why the propaganda campaign for international intervention in Burma?

Cyclone-hit Myanmar town struggles to rebuild (video)

Organizations to Donate for Aid Relief for Myanmar

U.S. death toll in Iraq reaches 4,000 + 8 US soldiers & dozens of Iraqis killed in weekend violence

Dandelion Salad

msnbc.msn.com
Mar. 23, 2008

Grim milestone reached when IED kills 4 U.S. soldiers in Baghdad

BAGHDAD – A roadside bomb killed four U.S. soldiers in Baghdad on Sunday, the military said, pushing the overall American death toll in the five-year war to at least 4,000.

The grim milestone came on the same day that rockets and mortars pounded the U.S.-protected Green Zone, underscoring the fragile security situation and the resilience of both Sunni and Shiite extremist groups despite an overall lull in violence.

A Multi-National Division — Baghdad soldier also was wounded in the roadside bombing, which struck the soldiers’ patrol vehicle about 10 p.m. in southern Baghdad, according to a statement.

…continued

h/t: CLG

***

US military deaths in Iraq reach 4,000
Eight US soldiers and dozens of Iraqis killed in weekend violence

By Joe Kay
wsws.org
24 March 2008

At least eight US soldiers were killed in Iraq over the weekend, amid a resurgence of violence underscoring the instability of the US-led military occupation. The number of US soldiers who have died in Iraq now stands at 4,000.

Seven soldiers were killed in two separate roadside bombs in Baghdad, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. The eighth was killed by “indirect fire”—mortar shells or rockets—on Friday south of Baghdad, according to the US military. So far, 27 US soldiers have been killed in the month of March.

Dozens of Iraqis were killed over the weekend in suicide bombings, and in raids carried out by the US.

The US military stated that it killed 17 and captured another 30 in operations centered in Baquba, about 30 miles northeast of Baghdad. According to the Associated Press, “Iraqi police reported a dozen civilians killed in an airstrike” in Baquba, but the military said that all those killed were “insurgents.”

Again according to the military, five Iraqis with alleged ties to Al Qaeda were killed near the border with Iran. None of the claims of affiliation can be taken at face value, however. The US government has renewed efforts in recent weeks to fabricate ties between Iran and Al Qaeda, which could be used as a pretext for some form of military operation against Iran.

In another incident near Samarra on Saturday, the US killed six Iraqis who were apparently members of the “Sons of Iraq,” also known as the Awakening Councils. These are Sunni groups that have made an alliance with the US occupation. US military forces said that they fired on the Iraqis after they were found “conducting suspicious terrorist activity in an area historically known for improvised explosive device emplacement.”

…continued

***

More Iraq news:

ICH

Iraq: Sunday: At least 63 killed in another bloody day of US occupation: In other news, the death toll in a suicide attack in Mosul, some 400 kilometres north of Baghdad, rose to 13 Iraqi soldiers, while the number of wounded reached 30, including 12 civilians, VOI said.

Six killed by US friendly fire: A US airstrike struck checkpoints manned by US-allied Sunni fighters north of Baghdad on Saturday, killing six guards and wounding two, Iraqi police said.

In Iraq, jailed women tell of abuse: Some don’t know why they were arrested, and many are held for months without seeing a judge. Justice officials deny the accusations, but evidence points to deep-rooted problems.

Schoolgirl in Baghdad : Noor Salman is 16-year-old Iraqi girl living in Baghdad. She writes about her experiences of life in the five years since the US-led invasion.

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It’s March 19 and Blogswarm Day! Posts on Iraq War by Lo

Dick Cheney tour sparks Iran war rumors (video)

Bush vetoes bill outlawing torture techniques By Joe Kay

Dandelion Salad

By Joe Kay
wsws.org
10 March 2008

On Saturday, US President George W. Bush vetoed a law that would have banned the CIA from using certain torture techniques. In doing so, he affirmed once again the utter criminality of his administration.

Bush’s veto sends back to Congress an intelligence authorization bill that would require the CIA to use only those techniques approved by the Army Field Manual. The effect of the bill would be to ban waterboarding, which involves the induced drowning of the prisoner, and other forms of torture.

In a radio address on Saturday, Bush defended his decision with the standard mix of lies and fear mongering. He said that the bill “would take away one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror—the CIA program to detain and question key terrorist leaders and operatives.” Without providing evidence, he claimed that the CIA interrogation program had stopped several terrorist attacks.

Bush went on to claim that the “specialized interrogation procedures” used by the CIA—that is, waterboarding and other forms of torture—are all “safe and lawful techniques.”

This is in fact a lie. These measures are all illegal under international and US law. UN special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak insisted last month that waterboarding “is absolutely unacceptable under international human rights law.” As for the notion that it is safe, even US director of national intelligence Mike McConnell has acknowledged that “taken to its extreme, [the consequences of waterboarding] could be death; you could drown someone.”

…continued

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Congress moves toward expanding government spying, with immunity for telecoms

Dandelion Salad

By Joe Kay
http://www.wsws.org
14 February 2008

The US Congress has taken steps this week toward passing a bill that would expand government spying powers while granting immunity to telecommunications companies that participated in violations of the law.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted to permanently extend the so-called Protect America Act, originally passed in August 2007. The bill passed by the Senate includes everything demanded by the Bush administration, including immunity for companies that participated in the National Security Agency’s illegal warrantless domestic spying program.

The Bush administration is seeking to place the NSA program on a firmer legal footing by pushing through changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which requires the government to obtain a warrant whenever it intercepts communications involving US residents.

The Protect America Act includes these changes, but the bill is set to expire on February 15. For this reason, the White House, and leading figures in both the Democratic and Republican parties, are pushing for a permanent extension.

…continued

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Senate Approves Surveillance Bill, Preserves Telecom Immunity

Keith Olbermann Special Comment: Mr Bush You Are A Fascist!

Declassified letter exposes Democratic Party complicity in CIA torture By Joe Kay

Dandelion Salad

By Joe Kay
WSWS
8 January 2008

Last week, the CIA declassified a February 2003 letter from Democratic Representative Jane Harman of California discussing the planned destruction of videotapes depicting the interrogation and torture of prisoners held by the CIA.

Harman requested that the CIA release the letter in order to show her supposed criticism of the agency’s plans to destroy the evidence. In a statement on the letter, Harman said that it “makes clear my concern about possible destruction of any tapes.” In fact, the letter only underscores the fact that the Democratic Party was aware of and supported the CIA’s secret policy of torture.

Democrats knew of plans to destroy evidence of interrogations, but made no serious attempt to stop it or inform the American people. Indeed, Harman’s “concern” was in effect an indication to the CIA that the Democrats would not challenge a decision to destroy the tapes and would not expose the agency if it did so.

The videotapes, involving hundreds of hours of interrogation of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, were secretly destroyed in November 2005. Their destruction was only publicly disclosed last month, though several Democrats had been made aware of the action at least a year ago.

continued…

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CIA destroyed torture tapes by Joe Kay

Dandelion Salad

by Joe Kay
Global Research, December 9, 2007
WSWS.ORG

The revelation that the Central Intelligence Agency destroyed at least two video tapes depicting the torture of prisoners held by the United States underscores the brazen criminality of the Bush administration. Aside from the torture itself, the elimination of evidence of brutal interrogation exposes top CIA and government officials to obstruction of justice charges.

In an article published on Friday, the New York Times cites several unnamed current and former government officials in reporting that “at least two videotapes” were destroyed. The tapes showed the 2002 interrogation of two prisoners, one of whom was Abu Zubaydah, considered a top member of Al Qaeda. The other individual was not named.

Although the government has never officially acknowledged it, Zubaydah, captured by the CIA in March 2002, was subjected to water-boarding, a form of torture involving the near drowning and suffocation of the prisoner. One can only assume that the tapes depict water-boarding or worse forms of torture.

The existence and destruction of the tapes was first revealed on Thursday by CIA Director Michael Hayden in a letter to CIA employees. Hayden issued the letter only after the government was informed by the New York Times Wednesday that the newspaper planned to publish an article on the topic.

Hayden’s letter attempts to create a rationale for what was clearly a move to hide the government’s actions from American and world public opinion and destroy evidence of criminal activity by CIA operatives and government officials, up to and including President Bush.

As the CIA well knew, if the tapes had become public—especially in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib revelations—they would have evoked a wave of shock and revulsion in the United States and around the world, and confirmed that Abu Ghraib, far from an aberration, was the outcome of US government policy.

Hayden made the improbable claim that the tapes were destroyed to protect CIA interrogators from retaliation by Al Qaeda. He wrote in his letter that the CIA halted the practice of taping interrogations in 2002, after only a few recordings had been made.

The Times reported that the tapes were destroyed “in part because officers were concerned that video showing harsh interrogation methods could expose agency officials to legal risks, several officials said.”

If this statement is true, it is clear evidence of obstruction of justice. The officials also “said that CIA officers had judged that the release of photos or videos depicting his interrogation would provoke a strong reaction.” That is, the destruction involved a conspiracy to prevent the population from learning of the actions of the American government.

The tapes were destroyed in late 2005, as the extent of the CIA program of abusive interrogations was first coming to public light. On November 2, 2005, the Washington Post published the first report on the CIA interrogation program overseas. Subsequent reports detailed the techniques used, and on November 18, ABC News reported that one of these techniques was water-boarding. ABC reported on December 5, 2005 that one of the prisoners involved in the program was Zubaydah, and that he had been held in a CIA prison in Thailand.

The destruction of the tapes also took place in the context of the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, accused of conspiring in the September 11 attacks. Moussaoui’s lawyers wanted to review any videotapes of interrogations of Al Qaeda members in order to demonstrate that Moussaoui was not involved in plans for the attacks.

In 2003 and again in 2005, US District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema ordered the prosecutors to disclose whether any interrogations had been recorded, but the government refused to comply. On November 3, 2005, Brinkema asked about videotapes of specific interrogations. On November 14, the government reported that it did not have any tapes of these interrogations.

It is not clear exactly when the tapes were destroyed. According to the Washington Post, however, the destruction came after the November 14 response to Brinkema. According a CIA spokesman, the videotapes destroyed were not among those specifically requested by Brinkema.

Last month, the government acknowledged that it had in its possession two videotapes and one audiotape that it had failed to report in 2005, but again did not mention the video tapes that it had destroyed. The revelation of the destroyed tapes is only the latest in a pattern of government misconduct in the prosecution of Moussaoui.

There were several other investigations and lawsuits ongoing at the time the tapes were destroyed. Among these was a Freedom of Information request brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. In August 2004, a judge ordered the government to turn over all records relating to interrogation or explain why the records could not be released.

Before being destroyed, the tapes were also withheld from the commission established by Bush administration and Congress to investigate the attacks of September 11. The 9/11 Commission issued its final report in 2004, one year before the tapes were destroyed, but it was never informed of their existence.

The Times quotes Philip Zelikow, who served as executive director of the commission, as saying, “The commission did formally request material of this kind from all relevant agencies, and the commission was assured that we had received all the material responsive to our request. No tapes were acknowledged or turned over, nor was the commission provided with any transcript prepared for recordings.”

The Times goes on to report, “Daniel Marcus, a law professor at American University who served as general counsel for the Sept. 11 commission and was involved in the discussion about interviews with Qaeda leaders, said he had heard nothing about any tapes being destroyed. If the tapes were destroyed, he said, ‘it’s a big deal, it’s a very big deal,’ because it could amount to obstruction of justice to withhold evidence being sought in a criminal or fact-finding investigation.”

The 9/11 Commission was from the beginning intended as a whitewash of government inaction and likely foreknowledge of the terrorist attacks. The fact that the commission was denied access to interviews of an individual who was purportedly a close associate of Osama bin Laden only underscores the fraudulence of its findings.

In addition to depicting torture, it is possible that the interrogation of Zubaydah included information contradicting the official story of September 11. This would explain why no transcript of the interrogation was provided to the commission.

In his letter to CIA employees, Hayden wrote: “Beyond their lack of intelligence value—as interrogation sessions had already been exhaustively detailed in written channels—and the absence of any legal or internal reasons to kept them, the tapes posed a serious security risk. Were they ever to leak, they would permit identification of your CIA colleagues who had served in the program, exposing them and their families to retaliation from Al Qaeda and its sympathizers.”

These are flat-out lies. The suggestion that there was no reason to keep the tapes is absurd, as Zubaydah was at the time under US custody and potentially faced some form of trial or military judicial proceeding. He has since been transferred to Guantánamo Bay and may be brought before a military commission. Videotapes of his interrogation would obviously be one of the most critical pieces of evidence in such proceedings.

As for the question of security, it would be a simple matter to obscure the identity of the interrogators in any videotape, if this were really the government’s concern. According to Hayden’s logic, the CIA would have to destroy any document in its possession identifying CIA interrogators, to prevent them from being leaked.

The threadbare character of Hayden’s attempt to justify the tapes’ destruction only serves to highlight the criminal intentions of the government.

Complicity of the Democratic Party

A central question emerges from these revelations: Who knew about the tapes and their destruction, and when did they know it? The answer to this question points to the complicity of the entire political establishment in the cover-up of torture.

In his letter, Hayden declared, “The decision to destroy the tapes was made within CIA itself.” Hayden’s claim that the decision to eliminate the evidence was entirely internal to the CIA is almost certainly a lie. It is highly unlikely that the tapes were destroyed without the knowledge and approval of top administration officials.

According to the New York Times, the decision was made by Jose Rodriguez—a long-time CIA operative who at the time occupied the high-ranking position of head of the Directorate of Operations, in charge of clandestine and covert actions. Until shortly before his retirement in September, Rodriguez’s identity was classified.

The Times report quotes “two former intelligence officials” as saying that then-CIA director Porter Goss—Rodriguez’s direct superior—was not told of the decision and was angered when he learned of the tapes’ destruction.

For his part, Bush was quick to issue a carefully hedged denial of knowledge. White House spokesman Dana Perino said on Friday that Bush “has no recollection of being made aware of the tapes or their destruction before yesterday.”

The CIA has said that it received direct authorization to use the methods employed in the videos, though the form of this authorization has never been released to the public. This position was reiterated by Hayden on Wednesday, when he wrote in his letter, “Before [the interrogation procedures] were used, they were reviewed and approved by the Department of Justice and by other elements of the Executive Branch.”

This means that ultimate responsibility for any actions depicted in the videos lies with Bush, Cheney, former Attorney General John Ashcroft and others in the administration. In this sense, the videos are more damaging even than the photographs of torture at Abu Ghraib, which the government could claim was the unauthorized behavior of a few individuals.

Bush has repeatedly declared that the US does not “torture,” but the tapes would provide incontrovertible proof that it does.

Hayden also insisted, “The leaders of our oversight committees in Congress were informed of the videos years ago and of the Agency’s intention to dispose of the material.” This would include the ranking members of the Senate and House intelligence committees at the time, Democratic Representative Jane Harman and Senator Jay Rockefeller, and the Republican chairmen, Representative Pete Hokestra and Senator Pat Roberts.

A spokesman Hoekstra denied any knowledge of the tapes, but remarks from Harman and Rockefeller confirm Hayden’s account.

The Associated Press reported that Harman was “one of only four members of Congress informed of the tapes’ existence,” and cited her as saying she “objected to the destruction when informed of it in 2003.”

“I told the CIA that destroying videotapes of interrogations was a bad idea and urged them in writing not to do it,” Harman said.

This is a dodge. Harman, and therefore the Democratic Party, knew of the tapes in 2003, but decided not to inform the American people or do anything to expose the government’s policy of torture. This knowledge was withheld from the American people throughout the Abu Ghraib scandal, which began in 2004. The tapes’ existence was known by leading Democrats two years before the American people were first made aware that the US government had used water-boarding.

The AP goes on to report, “While key lawmakers were briefed on the CIA’s intention to destroy the tapes, they were not notified two years later when the spy agency went through with the plan.” It reports that Rockefeller “only learned of the tapes’ destruction in November 2006.”

Even if one were to accept this account as true, it means that the Democrats have known for over a year that these tapes were destroyed but decided to say nothing about it.

In September 2006, Rockefeller voted, along with 11 other Democrats in the Senate, for the Military Commissions Act. Both that act and the Detainee Treatment Act, passed in December 2005, included provisions shielding CIA operatives and Bush administration officials from prosecution for torture and other war crimes.

From the beginning of the Bush administration, the Democratic Party has played a critical role in facilitating the massive attack on democratic rights and legal constraints. It has helped confirm the nomination of all the administration officials who have spearheaded a policy of torture—including Hayden and, most recently, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who was approved by a Democratic-controlled Senate despite his refusal to denounce water-boarding as torture.

The complicity of the Democrats in covering up the existence and destruction of the videotapes means that any investigation will be a whitewash. On Friday, Rockefeller said the Senate Intelligence Committee would “review the full history and chronology of the tapes, how they were used and the reasons for destroying them, and any communication about them that was provided to the courts and Congress.” Senator Edward Kennedy called on the Justice Department—headed by Mukasey—to open an investigation.

The Democrats are now pushing for a bill that would bar the CIA from using “enhanced interrogation techniques,” knowing full well that if passed—which appears unlikely—it will simply be vetoed by Bush.

By itself, the destruction of the CIA torture tapes constitutes a sufficient basis for impeachment of top government officials. It comes on top of revelations of massive domestic spying and illegality. It was done by a government that routinely violates and ignores laws, launches illegal wars of aggression, and conspires against the democratic rights of the American people.

But the Democratic leadership has resolutely, since winning control of both houses of Congress over a year ago, ruled out any impeachment investigation. No serious hearings or investigations have been carried out into the Bush administration’s torture program and other brazen violations of American and international law under the Democratic Congress.

There may be fall-out from the destruction of the videos. Some lower-level individuals may be made fall guys for the White House and the CIA. But the Bush administration is counting with good reason on the Democrats to keep things under control.

This new revelation underscores the lawless character of the clique around Bush and the immense dangers it represents to the democratic rights of the people. It also highlights the Democratic Party’s lack of any serious commitment to the defense of democratic rights. These rights can be defended only through the independent political mobilization of the working population against the two-party political establishment and the US ruling elite whose interests it serves.


Joe Kay is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by Joe Kay

www.globalresearch.ca contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available to our readers under the provisions of “fair use” in an effort to advance a better understanding of political, economic and social issues. The material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving it for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material for purposes other than “fair use” you must request permission from the copyright owner.

For media inquiries: crgeditor@yahoo.com
© Copyright Joe Kay, WSWS.ORG, 2007
The url address of this article is: www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=7579

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CIA photos; Guantanamo Bay; Torture cover-up; Director to Testify and more (links) + Biden (video)

US Congress moves toward passage of domestic spy bill by Joe Kay

Dandelion Salad

by Joe Kay
Global Research, November 18, 2007
wsws.org

The US House of Representatives and two different Senate committees have approved competing versions of a bill that would modify a law governing spying on domestic and international communications.

All versions of the bill would expand government spying powers by modifying the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires a warrant for electronic surveillance of US citizens. The bills differ on whether or not to grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that participated in the Bush administration’s National Security Agency (NSA) warrantless wiretapping program.

Congressional Democrats are split on whether or not to include the immunity provision, while the administration has pledged to veto any bill that does not include it.

The new bill is intended to replace one passed by a Democratic-controlled Congress in August, which granted the Bush administration all the spying powers it requested. The bill allowed for warrantless domestic wiretapping as long as one of the persons involved in the communication was “reasonably believed to be located outside the Untied States.” That bill is set to expire in February.

In October, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman John Rockefeller IV, a Democrat, forged a compromise with the Bush administration that included an immunity clause and expanded domestic spying powers. The bill, which would essentially extend the legislation passed in August, was overwhelmingly approved by the intelligence committee by a 13-2 vote.

The vote demonstrated that there is broad support within the Democratic Party beyond Rockefeller for the expanded powers and immunity clause. This year, Rockefeller received $42,000 in political donations from Verizon and AT&T, the two main companies targeted by lawsuits for their role in the NSA domestic spying program.

Following Senate procedures, the bill also had to be approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee before coming to a vote in the full Senate. Approval of the same bill that went through the intelligence committee was expected after Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who also sits on the intelligence committee, indicated her support for the immunity clause. On Thursday, a vote was taken on the committee supporting the inclusion of retroactive immunity, and passed 11-8 with Feinstein and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island joining Republicans to support the provision.

Shortly after that vote, however, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy called a vote on the bill without the immunity clause. It passed with a party-line 10-9 vote. The Democratic leadership engineered the maneuver after some members threatened to absent themselves from a final vote, denying sufficient numbers to approve the bill.

Also on Thursday, the full House of Representatives passed a parallel bill weakening the provisions of FISA but containing slightly more restrictive requirements than the version passed in August and the one currently supported by the Senate committees. It also does not include immunity for telecommunications companies. The House bill would require “umbrella warrants” for wiretapping involving people in the United States—allowing the government to obtain broad authority for domestic spying. The bill passed 227-189, largely along party lines.

The Bush administration declared the House measure to be unacceptable. A White House statement released Thursday said that it would “dangerously weaken our ability to protect the nation from foreign threats.”

There are still several steps before a final bill is passed by Congress. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid now has the option of choosing either the Intelligence Committee or the Judiciary Committee version to put before the full Senate. If the version without immunity is presented, supporters of immunity will still have the option of putting forward an amendment, which would almost certainly garner majority support in the Senate.

Once the Senate passes a bill, it would have to be reconciled with the House version, and both the House and Senate would have to re-approve the compromise. It would then have to be signed by Bush. The Senate is not expected to vote on a version of the bill until some time in December.

During that period, there is ample room for a rotten compromise of some sort. Given the substantial support within the Democratic Party leadership for an immunity clause, it is likely that a bill including the measure will be included in any final bill that is passed, whether this is done before or after a veto from Bush.

According to a report in the Associated Press, “House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers [Democrat—Michigan] left the door open to an immunity deal but said the White House must first give Congress access to classified documents specifying what the companies did that requires legal immunity.”

Meanwhile, Republican Senator Arlen Specter is pushing for an amendment that would immunize the companies, while calling for current lawsuits to list the government as the defendant instead of the companies. The Bush administration, however, has attempted to cite “national security” to have thrown out any cases involving the domestic spying program.

The question of immunity is significant, both on the specific program of warrantless wiretapping and as a precedent for future collaboration of big business in the illegal activities of the government. There are presently about 40 lawsuits against the telecommunications companies. In one case, a former AT&T employee has testified that the company set up a special room that routed all communications and Internet traffic directly to the NSA.

Democratic and Republican supporters of immunity have cited the potential financial damages to the companies to justify their position. Feinstein declared that companies should not be “held hostage to costly litigation in what is essentially a complaint about administration activities.”

The financial interests of a powerful section of big business are no doubt an important factor. However, the immunity would also be aimed at closing off one of the few remaining avenues for challenging the administration’s illegal actions. The immunity clause approved by the Senate Intelligence Community would not only throw out the civil suits seeking financial damage, but also the suits seeking public disclosure and a court injunction on future spying.

Whatever the divisions over immunity, both political parties accept the premises of the debate—that increased powers are necessary as part of the “war on terror.” Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday, in justifying the House version, “I understand full well the threats to our national security. I understand full well the need for us to have legislation that strikes the proper balance between liberty and security.”

The action on the new spying bill takes place as the Bush administration’s new attorney general, Michael Mukasey, takes over at the Justice Department. Mukasey was approved by the Democratic-controlled Senate earlier this month, despite his refusal to declare waterboarding torture and his support for other antidemocratic policies.

One of Mukasey’s first tasks will be to handle the controversy over domestic spying, and his first classified briefing was on FISA. The White House also moved to grant Justice Department investigators clearance to conduct an inquiry into the spying program, reversing a decision it made earlier this year to deny security clearance.

The decision, which was hailed by Democrats, is intended to contain the controversy by organizing an investigation that will be a whitewash. The New York Times, citing Justice Department officials, reported earlier this week that it is “unlikely” that the investigation “would address directly the question of the legality of the N.S.A. program itself: whether eavesdropping on American soil without court warrants violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.”

The intention of both the new legislation and the Justice Department investigation is to place the administration’s domestic spying program on a firmer foundation.

Joe Kay is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by Joe Kay

The CRG grants permission to cross-post original Global Research articles on community internet sites as long as the text & title are not modified. The source and the author’s copyright must be displayed. For publication of Global Research articles in print or other forms including commercial internet sites, contact: crgeditor@yahoo.com

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© Copyright Joe Kay, wsws.org, 2007
The url address of this article is: www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=7364

 

see

Interview: Naomi Wolf: The End of America (video)

Report details secret Bush administration memos authorizing torture by Joe Kay

Dandelion Salad

by Joe Kay
Global Research, October 7, 2007
wsws.org

Since 2005, the Bush administration has produced at least three secret orders and memoranda justifying extreme interrogation methods banned under international law as forms of torture, according to a newspaper report published on Thursday.

Continue reading

Bush’s assertion of executive power: The logic of presidential-military dictatorship by Joe Kay

Dandelion Salad

by Joe Kay

Global Research, July 17, 2007

World Socialist Web Site – 2007-07-16

At President Bush’s July 11 press conference a significant exchange took place that has received very little media attention. Edwin Chen, who writes for Bloomberg.com, asked Bush, “How hard is it for you to conduct the war without popular support? Do you ever have trouble balancing between doing what you think is the right thing and following the will of the majority of the public, which is the essence of democracy?”

Bush’s response was to emphasize the role of the military as a counterweight to public opinion. He outlined a concept of presidential power that upholds the military as a critical “constituency” rising above, and placed in opposition to, the American people. On this basis, Bush sought to justify a policy that has been clearly repudiated by the general population—not only in opinion polls, but also in the November 2006 midterm elections.

Bush began by attributing public opposition to the war to concerns that the US cannot succeed. “I can fully understand why people are tired of the war,” he said. “The question they have is, can we win it? And, of course, I’m concerned about whether or not the American people are in this fight.”

This was an attempt to dismiss and delegitimize the widespread opposition to the militarism, aggression and wanton destruction of human life that define not only the war in Iraq, but US foreign policy more broadly. There are millions of Americans who hate the war not because it has been mismanaged and may not “succeed,” but because it is a barbaric and criminal enterprise.

He then declared that the occupation of Iraq will continue regardless, and attempted to defend this policy by appealing to the military as against the general population. “If our troops thought that I was taking a poll to decide how to conduct this war, they would be very concerned about the mission,” he said. “If our troops said, well, here we are in combat, and we’ve got a commander-in-chief who is running a focus group—in other words, politics is more important to him than our safety and/or our strategy—that would dispirit our troops.”

To underline the point, Bush then declared that there are “a lot of constituencies in this fight.” In the list that followed, the American people figured as only one constituency. A strategy of withdrawing troops “may sound simple, and it may affect polls,” Bush said, “but it would have long-term, serious security consequences for the United States.”

He continued with the assertion that “sometimes you just have to make the decisions based on what you think is right. My most important job is to help secure this country, and therefore the decisions in Iraq are all aimed at helping do that job.”

Plainly put, this means that the “security” interests of the US take precedence over the will of the American people, which Bush disparagingly and contemptuously equates with a “focus group.”

When Bush speaks about the security interests of the US, he is not speaking about the safety and well being of the American people. He is speaking of the geo-strategic interests of the American ruling elite, which considers the establishment of a hegemonic position in the oil-rich Middle East to be central to those interests.

Moreover, every would-be dictator claims that his authoritarian measures are taken to ensure national security. Everything else must be sacrificed, including democratic rights. This is the basic line that has been utilized by the government since 9/11 to lay siege to constitutionally protected democratic rights, in the name of the “war on terror.”

Having thus dealt with the “constituency” of the American people, which he acknowledged was broadly opposed to his war policy, Bush moved on to that constituency on which he would rely to continue the policy. “A second constituency is the military,” he said, adding, “I’m pretty confident our military do not want their commander-in-chief making political decisions about their future.”

The “third constituency” Bush cited was “military families,” in regard to whom he said, “I don’t think they want their commander-in-chief making decisions based upon popularity.”

Thus, Bush advanced a conception that defines the “military” as a separate constituency which is more important than the American people as a whole.

When Bush speaks of the military, he is not referring to ordinary soldiers or their families, who are seen as little more than cannon fodder by the ruling establishment. In fact, US soldiers are generally no more supportive of the war in Iraq than the American population as a whole.

It is worth recalling one of the central grievances against King George III set down by the leaders of the American Revolution in the Declaration of Independence: “He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to the civil power.” Indeed, in the political and constitutional debates that ensued, figures such as Thomas Jefferson issued strong warnings of the dangers of a standing army, declaring that a permanent military presence that would pose a constant danger to the democratic rights of the American people.

Bush’s invocation of the military as a force to be invoked against the will of the American people was quite deliberate, and it should be taken very seriously. He made essentially the same argument at several other points in the course of the press conference.

He insisted, for example, that it was not possible to “let the Gallup poll or whatever polls there are decide the fate of the country.” After refusing to rule out the possibility of a further troop escalation, he said, “I just ask the American people to understand that the commander-in-chief must rely upon the wisdom and judgment of the military thinkers and planners.”

The content of this statement is a threat that the president will use his control over the military to impose the policies of the faction of the ruling elite that the administration represents—potentially including a further escalation of the war or its spread to other countries such as Iran—in the face of whatever popular opposition may arise.

Bush is explicit in declaring as a fundamental principle that politicians cannot be allowed to determine military policy—only generals can. This argument is as absurd as it is reactionary. First, Bush himself is a politician, and the top generals in charge of the military have been selected to carry out administration policy. Bush has repeatedly replaced or dismissed military officials when they came into conflict with certain aspects of administration policy.

Second, the argument overturns the basic principle of civilian control of the military. According to Bush, the president is “their [that is, the military’s] commander-in-chief,” in the sense that he must do what the military wants. If the president determines, therefore, that the military does not want to obey the results of an election, then there is nothing that can be done.

It is remarkable, though not surprising, that Bush’s statements elicited hardly a word of opposition from the Democratic Party or the media. The major newspapers did not report this portion of the press conference, and no prominent politician denounced the extraordinary attack on basic constitutional principles embodied in Bush’s remarks.

The silence of the political establishment in the face of the Bush administration’s appeals to the military as an independent force in American politics is hardly new. In fact, Bush came to power in 2000 based upon a stolen election in which the counting of invalid military ballots played an important role. Democratic Party candidate Al Gore responded at the time by saying he could not become president without the support of the military.

Since that time, the military has played an ever more prominent role in American political life. The Bush administration has asserted the right to hold US citizens and non-citizens in military custody indefinitely and without charges. It has created the Northern Command (Northcom), which, for the first time, coordinates military actions within the United States.

The administration has systematically sought to expand the power of the military to intervene in domestic affairs. In the National Defense Authorization Act passed last year to provide military funding, the administration had a section inserted that amends the Posse Comitatus Act to allow for the domestic use of the military in case of natural disaster, terrorist attack, or “other conditions in which the president determines that domestic violence has occurred to the extent that state officials cannot maintain public order.”

Top Bush administration officials only rarely speak before civilian audiences. Almost every major speech given by Bush or Cheney is before a military audience.

The silence of the nominal political opposition to these dangers is all the more remarkable given the fact that the threat is directed not only against public opinion, but also against the administration’s critics within the political establishment. There are escalating policy differences within the ruling elite, and support for the administration is hemorrhaging within Congress itself. No faction in the official debate in Washington opposes the war, but there are deep divisions over the policy required to uphold the interests of American imperialism.

All of the factions within the political establishment, whatever their tactical differences, are, in fact, united in their fear of the “constituency” of American public opinion. Under these conditions, the threat of a more open turn toward presidential-military dictatorship is very real.

If an election can have no effect on policy, and the power of the military is raised as a counterweight to any attempt to shift government policy, what alternative presents itself to the population? Here it is worth citing another passage from the Declaration of Independence:

“Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these [the rights of the population], it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness… [W]hen a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”

See Also:
White House press conference
Bush rejects any US military pullback in Iraq

Global Research Articles by Joe Kay

 

see:

Bush Press Conference (if you can stomach it) (5 videos; propaganda)

 


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The CRG grants permission to cross-post original Global Research articles on community internet sites as long as the text & title are not modified. The source and the author’s copyright must be displayed. For publication of Global Research articles in print or other forms including commercial internet sites, contact: crgeditor@yahoo.com

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© Copyright Joe Kay, World Socialist Web Site , 2007

The url address of this article is: www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=6345