Fat Steve's Blatherings

Monday, November 07, 2005

Some Questions Which I Hope One of You Can Answer


        Last Wednesday, the Washington Post committed what looks like an act of treason to me, by publishing their story on secret CIA prisons.

At Length:

        During the time last week when I was too lazy to blog, I was also too lazy to read the news.  So I missed the story on the 'secret CIA prisons' till last night.  The story's availavle online here, if you've registered for the Washington Post.  If you're not, you can find it here.

        So, some excerpts, with comments interspersed, and especially, the questions I mentioned in the post title.

        The headline and subhead read:

CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons

Debate Is Growing Within Agency About Legality and Morality of Overseas System Set Up After 9/11

        Question one: Why are these people referred to as "suspects?"  Is there some serious doubt that they are in fact terrorist murderers?

        Question two: Just who in the CIA thinks that it's legally and morally dubious to hold terrorists in secret?  What are their grounds for these reservations?

        Question three: Why is the Washington Post revealing this secret?

        The first three paragraphs read:
        The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.

        The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.

        The hidden global internment network is a central element in the CIA's unconventional war on terrorism.  It depends on the cooperation of foreign intelligence services, and on keeping even basic information about the system secret from the public, foreign officials and nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the CIA's covert actions.

        Question four: If the "hidden global internment network" really is a "central element" in the CIA's part of the "war on terrorism," then won't revealing it on the front page of the Post hinder the war on terrorism?  Assuming that is true, or even that there is a substantial possibility of hindering the war, why did they publish the story?  Are they trying to hinder the war?  If so, isn't that treason ("adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort" Constitution of the United States, Article III, Section 3)?

        Question five: Even if this isn't treason, doesn't this involve revealing classified information, a felony?

        Although the CIA will not acknowledge details of its system, intelligence officials defend the agency's approach, arguing that the successful defense of the country requires that the agency be empowered to hold and interrogate suspected terrorists for as long as necessary and without restrictions imposed by the U.S. legal system or even by the military tribunals established for prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.

        The Washington Post is not publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program, at the request of senior U.S. officials.  They argued that the disclosure might disrupt counterterrorism efforts in those countries and elsewhere and could make them targets of possible terrorist retaliation.

        The only sensible reading of those two paragraphs I can make is that the Post knows the names of those "Eastern European countries involved in the covert program."

        Question six: Given that the Post was able to obtain them, does anyone really think that other reporters won't soon find out the names of said countries?  Isn't it inevitable that they will come out?

        Question seven: Won't the questions about which 'Eastern European countries' are hosting these prisons, and their subsequent revelation in the media, merely serve to keep the story going longer, exacerbating any damage to U.S. interests?

        Question eight: Does anyone serously think the Post wasn't aware of this when they printed the story?

        Question nine: Does anyone seriously think the Post didn't intend for precisely this result, i.e., revelation of the countries hosting the secret prison facilities, and subsequent damage to U.S. interests, while they coyly say that heck, it wasn't the Post that revealed the damaging information?

        Question ten: Since the publication of this story makes the eventual revelation of the names of the host countries inevitable, wouldn't it be honorable and courageous thing for the Post to have just gone ahead and published the names, assuming open responsibility for its acts?

        (Man, I guess I'm more tired than I thought.  I was almost done with the above paragraph before I realized how inane it was to expect any MSM institution to act with honor, courage, or responsibility.  I'll try not to do anything that stupid again in this post, but if I do so act, please let me know in a comment.)

        The secret detention system was conceived in the chaotic and anxious first months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when the working assumption was that a second strike was imminent.

        Since then, the arrangement has been increasingly debated within the CIA, where considerable concern lingers about the legality, morality and practicality of holding even unrepentant terrorists in such isolation and secrecy, perhaps for the duration of their lives.  Mid-level and senior CIA officers began arguing two years ago that the system was unsustainable and diverted the agency from its unique espionage mission.

        Question ten: Who are these CIA officers who think it is immoral to hold terrorist mass murderers in "such isolation and secrecy" for the rest of their lives?

        Question eleven: What would the recommend doing with the terrorists instead?

        Unless the Post is making up all the stuff about debate within the CIA (which I doubt is the case, but I can't rule the idea out), the Post has sources within the CIA who revealed classified information to them.

        Question twelve: Isn't this the kind of leak that started Plamegate?

        Question thirteen: Do you think the CIA will be forwarding an inquiry to the Justice Department, asking for an investigation?

        Question fourteen: Do you think the MSM outlets that were so upset about Novak's column will call for a special prosecutor?

        Question fifteen: If there is an investigation, do you think the Post specifically, or the MSM generally, will support it?

        It is absolutely inevitable that the publication of this story will cause someone to publicly question the loyalty patriotism of the Washington Post's editors and reporters (Just for the record, I do NOT question their loyalty and patriotism.  I consider said loyalty and patriotism to be non-existent).

        Question sixteen: Do you think the Post, or the MSM generally, will consider such questioning seriously?  (Gee, the fatigue got to me again).

        The top 30 al Qaeda prisoners exist in complete isolation from the outside world.  Kept in dark, sometimes underground cells, they have no recognized legal rights, and no one outside the CIA is allowed to talk with or even see them, or to otherwise verify their well-being, said current and former and U.S. and foreign government and intelligence officials.

        Most of the facilities were built and are maintained with congressionally appropriated funds, but the White House has refused to allow the CIA to brief anyone except the House and Senate intelligence committees' chairmen and vice chairmen on the program's generalities.

        The Eastern European countries that the CIA has persuaded to hide al Qaeda captives are democracies that have embraced the rule of law and individual rights after decades of Soviet domination.  Each has been trying to cleanse its intelligence services of operatives who have worked on behalf of others -- mainly Russia and organized crime.

        Question seventeen: Can you see any reasonable interpretation of those three paragraphs that doesn't boil down to 'The U.S. government is behaving just like the late Soviet Union used to?'

        Question eighteen: Do you think it thrills the any reporter or editor at the Post to remember that there once was a Soviet Union, that we were in a war with it lasting seven decades, and that we won and annihilated it?  (For the record, it thrills the Hell out of me to remember that.  OOH, OOH!  We won!)

        On the day of the attacks, the CIA already had a list of what it called High-Value Targets from the al Qaeda structure, and as the World Trade Center and Pentagon attack plots were unraveled, more names were added to the list.  The question of what to do with these people surfaced quickly.

        The CTC's chief of operations argued for creating hit teams of case officers and CIA paramilitaries that would covertly infiltrate countries in the Middle East, Africa and even Europe to assassinate people on the list, one by one.

        But many CIA officers believed that the al Qaeda leaders would be worth keeping alive to interrogate about their network and other plots.

        As you may remember, the Senate voted to require terrorist prisoners known to be held by the U.S. to be granted the legal rights enjoyed by U.S. citizens (while not, of course, holding them liable for breaking U.S. law in making war on us).  Such rights expansion is likely to interfere with the interrogations of terrorists.  The existence of the secret prisons might have allowed more effective interrogation techniques — assuming they'd stayed secret, of course.  Now, the CIA's interrogation efforts have most likely been hamstrung.

        Question nineteen: What do you think the odds are that the timing of this article was a coincedence?

        Question twenty: Anyone care to contribute to a fund to hire an arsonist to torch the Post's headquarters?

        Technorati tags: .



  • "Question one: Why are these people referred to as "suspects?" Is there some serious doubt that they are in fact terrorist murderers?"

    The answer to the above question is "yes", there is more than serious doubt. In fact many of these people seem to be innocent. Many of them, were picked up because they have similar names as people who are suspected of other crimes. Many of them maintain that they were never involved in terrorist activities and were in fact not in the places where the U.S.G. claims that they were. Some were kidnapped off the streets of their home countries, where they were nowhere near terrorist activities, and shipped to these secret prisons.

    But how are we to know if they are terrorist murderers or not? They have never been accused of a crime, they have never had a hearing, they never had a mere mite of due process. They have simply been kidnapped. The estimate by Amnesty International is that 4,000 people are in jail in these conditions.

    A question for you: If they are guilty of terrorist activities or of conspiracy to commit terrorism, then why not give them a trial?

    By Anonymous Jerry Monaco, at 3:08 PM  

  • Jerry:

            You say many of these people seem to be innocent, but provide no evidence for this. But if people held as terrorists are indeed saying the things you claim they are saying, then obviously they are in communication with someone, which rather contradicts the story's statement that "The top 30 al Qaeda prisoners exist in complete isolation from the outside world."

            But that's more or less a side issue. We are fighting a war, not a crime wave. Trying to treat terrorism as a crime problem is a large part of what led to September 11th.

            "A question for you: If they are guilty of terrorist activities or of conspiracy to commit terrorism, then why not give them a trial?"

            Give a foreigner detained overseas a trial for violating U.S. law, when apparently many of them were never in the U.S.?  I see some problems there.  For instance, are people who plotted terrorist acts against the U.S. in foreign countries to be tried under our law, since we were the victims, or the law of the country where they were plotting?  Is it a crime under the laws of country X to plot the murder of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil?  Who has jurisdiction?  You might remember that the Nazis claimed that there acts were all legal under German law, and presumably Islamic terrorists would claim that there acts were legal under Sharia law.  And if we are to try people for conspiracy to commit murder, well, they may end up convicted, and sentenced to death.  But many foreign countries have decided that they will not extradite suspects in capital crimes to the U.S.  Now what?

            In short, I think we're in a war, and that it's absurd to try to shoehorn war into domestic legal categories.

            I do agree that those who claim to be victims of mistaken identity should be given a chance to establish that they're not who we thought they were, but saying "you've got the wrong guy" is not sufficient. But aside from that, those who claim we have no right to run our society our way, or make our own laws, have in turn no claim to the protections of those laws.

    By Blogger Stephen M. St. Onge, at 7:13 AM  

  • What we know about these prisoners is from the families and friends of people who have been disappeared and are assumed by best evidence to be inside secret prisons.

    A number of human rights organizations have investigated the disappearances and have gathered names of prisoners that they believed are being held. There are several cases that I know of through communications with lawyers who have been hired by families of prisoners.

    The case that I can refer you to is the one that has been made public.

    Wrongful Imprisonment: Anatomy of a CIA Mistake
    German Citizen Released After Months in 'Rendition'
    By Dana Priest
    Washington Post Staff Writer

    Sunday, December 4, 2005; A01


    There are at least 300 cases like this or at least the lawyers I know claim. But how are we to know? If they are guilty they should be prosecuted. Or at least that is the old fashion conservative idea that comes from a belief in the rule of law. On the other hand if they are simply prisoners of war then keeping them in secret prisons is a war crime.

    What prevents you or me from being kidnapped and being put into a secret prison except for respect of the niceties of the rule of law?

    In fact there are no problems giving such people trials. Such trials take place all of the time. They have taken place in Germany, Spain, Ireland, Denmark, England and France. The fact is that the Bush administration does not want to be constrained by the rule of law because they believe that it will interfere with the strong point of U.S. posture which is the military. This is the basic belief stated over and over again of a section of the Bush administration.

    Yes, U.S. criminal statutes say that those who plot to commit acts of violence against U.S. interests can be tried in U.S. criminal courts. Many people have been extradited under these laws and such trials have taken place quite a few times over the last forty years.

    There is no "gap" in the law. Either these people are criminals and can be tried as such or they are prisoners of war and should be treated as such until the war is over then they should be released. But that is the problem isn't it? If we accept the perspective of the Bush Administration then the war will never be over.

    It is rather ironic that you refer to the Nuremberg trials because the basic rules I have laid out derive from the international norms that were ratified in treaties in order to allow for the Nuremberg trials. It is the Bush Administration that is now violating the laws that derive from those treaties.

    Jerry Monaco
    New York
    Dec. 2005

    By Anonymous Jerry Monaco, at 4:41 PM  

  • Just a postscript.

    We also know of many incidents of extraordinary rendition where the people were first tortured and then found to have been victims of mistaken identity. You can find some of these cases discussed in a New Yorker article

    The secret history of America’s “extraordinary rendition” program.
    Issue of 2005-02-14

    The famous case is briefed by Mayer as follows...

    "Arar, a thirty-four-year-old graduate of McGill University whose family emigrated to Canada when he was a teen-ager, was arrested on September 26, 2002, at John F. Kennedy Airport. He was changing planes; he had been on vacation with his family in Tunisia, and was returning to Canada. Arar was detained because his name had been placed on the United States Watch List of terrorist suspects. He was held for the next thirteen days, as American officials questioned him about possible links to another suspected terrorist. Arar said that he barely knew the suspect, although he had worked with the man’s brother. Arar, who was not formally charged, was placed in handcuffs and leg irons by plainclothes officials and transferred to an executive jet. The plane flew to Washington, continued to Portland, Maine, stopped in Rome, Italy, then landed in Amman, Jordan.

    "During the flight, Arar said, he heard the pilots and crew identify themselves in radio communications as members of “the Special Removal Unit.” The Americans, he learned, planned to take him next to Syria. Having been told by his parents about the barbaric practices of the police in Syria, Arar begged crew members not to send him there, arguing that he would surely be tortured. His captors did not respond to his request; instead, they invited him to watch a spy thriller that was aired on board.

    "Ten hours after landing in Jordan, Arar said, he was driven to Syria, where interrogators, after a day of threats, “just began beating on me.” They whipped his hands repeatedly with two-inch-thick electrical cables, and kept him in a windowless underground cell that he likened to a grave. “Not even animals could withstand it,” he said. Although he initially tried to assert his innocence, he eventually confessed to anything his tormentors wanted him to say. “You just give up,” he said. “You become like an animal.”

    "A year later, in October, 2003, Arar was released without charges, after the Canadian government took up his cause. Imad Moustapha, the Syrian Ambassador in Washington, announced that his country had found no links between Arar and terrorism. Arar, it turned out, had been sent to Syria on orders from the U.S. government, under a secretive program known as “extraordinary rendition.” This program had been devised as a means of extraditing terrorism suspects from one foreign state to another for interrogation and prosecution. Critics contend that the unstated purpose of such renditions is to subject the suspects to aggressive methods of persuasion that are illegal in America—including torture."

    But I want to emphasize that this is a gentle version of these types of cases. Amnesty International estimates that there are thousands of these cases of extraordinary rendition (kidnapping is what the non-Orwellian term would be). And most of these cases are simply people targeted and kidnapped off of the streets in the country where they lived.

    I have no way to prove this but I think that a large amount of these kidnappings are result of snitches who have named names under torture. This is true of the few cases that have come to light. In other words the U.S. is torturing people (though the U.S. defines this torture as "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" - another Orwellianism) and the names gathered through torture lead to other people who can be "arrested." If you are at all familiar with similar situations in Brazil, Chile and Argentina in the 1970s then you will know that names given under torture are completely unreliable.

    None of what I say is under dispute. The only question is to what extent is the U.S.G. is violating U.S. and international law through kidnapping and torturing people and holding them in secret prisons.

    Is this really the kind of thing that we want our country to be doing?

    Jerry Monaco

    By Anonymous Jerry Monaco, at 5:06 PM  

  • Jerry:

            First, thanks for the thoughtful, interesting comments.

            Second, I've decided to respond at some length, so I'll do it in a seperate post, entitled "A Response to Jerry Monaco," rather than jamming it into comments.

    The House of Saud Must Be Destroyed!

    By Blogger Stephen M. St. Onge, at 10:43 PM  

  • The reply mentioned above is now up, here.

    By Blogger Stephen M. St. Onge, at 3:11 AM  

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