Monday, March 30, 2009

Everything old is new again....and again....

First, here's the clear statement on what "Abu Zabaida" (nee Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein) provided in the way of "intelligence":
When CIA officials subjected their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaida, to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, they were convinced that they had in their custody an al-Qaeda leader who knew details of operations yet to be unleashed, and they were facing increasing pressure from the White House to get those secrets out of him.

The methods succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads.

In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida's tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida -- chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates -- was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.

Moreover, within weeks of his capture, U.S. officials had gained evidence that made clear they had misjudged Abu Zubaida. President George W. Bush had publicly described him as "al-Qaeda's chief of operations," and other top officials called him a "trusted associate" of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and a major figure in the planning of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. None of that was accurate, the new evidence showed.

Abu Zubaida was not even an official member of al-Qaeda, according to a portrait of the man that emerges from court documents and interviews with current and former intelligence, law enforcement and military sources. Rather, he was a "fixer" for radical Muslim ideologues, and he ended up working directly with al-Qaeda only after Sept. 11 -- and that was because the United States stood ready to invade Afghanistan.
That's the nutshell version, the first four paragraphs of the Washington Post story which confirms what Ron Suskind told us two years ago. By the way, the idea that Suskind's reporting couldn't be confirmed, so no one else touched this, is, well, bogus. Barton Gellman interviewed Suskind and reported on his books allegations in the Washington Post in 2006. What has changed is as much the willingness of the press to report as it is, per Suskind last night, the willingness of Administration officials to talk.

We knew torture didn't work. ABC reported it two years ago, independent of Suskind's work.
One argument in favor of their use: time. In the early days of al Qaeda captures, it was hoped that speeding confessions would result in the development of important operational knowledge in a timely fashion.

However, ABC News was told that at least three CIA officers declined to be trained in the techniques before a cadre of 14 were selected to use them on a dozen top al Qaeda suspects in order to obtain critical information. In at least one instance, ABC News was told that the techniques led to questionable information aimed at pleasing the interrogators and that this information had a significant impact on U.S. actions in Iraq.

According to CIA sources, Ibn al Shaykh al Libbi, after two weeks of enhanced interrogation, made statements that were designed to tell the interrogators what they wanted to hear. Sources say Al Libbi had been subjected to each of the progressively harsher techniques in turn and finally broke after being water boarded and then left to stand naked in his cold cell overnight where he was doused with cold water at regular intervals.

His statements became part of the basis for the Bush administration claims that Iraq trained al Qaeda members to use biochemical weapons. Sources tell ABC that it was later established that al Libbi had no knowledge of such training or weapons and fabricated the statements because he was terrified of further harsh treatment.
We knew it and, collectively, we ignored it. Now, Dan Froomkin points out the dead rat in the punch bowl:

Indeed, the Post article raises the even further disquieting possibility that intentional cruelty was part of the White House's motive.
This, of course, shouldn't surprise anyone either. Torture is by definition the intentional infliction of cruelty upon another person. It's hardly an accidental condition of detention or interrogation, an unforeseen by-product that "just happens." Still, like calling a public figure a liar, we can't seem to bring our public discourse to the level of complete honesty.

"And when justice is gone, there's always force/And when force is gone, there's always Mom"--Laurie Anderson

Cheney was convinced justice is gone from the world, which left only force. He's made that point clear since he left the White House: Obama is dangerous for America because Obama won't put all his trust in American force. Except force is no what got us into this mess. And who can hale the US into a court of law? Well, Spain may try. If they succeed, it will be only if the six under investigation travel outside the US and, in an ironic twist on those who depended on "extraordinary rendition," they can be seized and brought to Spain. Again, as Rachel pointed out last night, this is how the same judge obtained jurisdiction over Pinochet. Success in convictions would also mean Cheney and Bush were vulnerable to such arrests; but I'm dubious about any foreign power going up against US Secret Service agents in order to forcibly detain a former US President of Vice President. When justice is gone, there's always force.

And when force is gone, there's always Mom. Jonathan Turley maintained on "Countdown" that it's an "open secret" Obama is protecting Bush and Cheney from prosecution, which means no one in Europe, not even Spain, will attempt to try them as war criminals. I don't know how true that is, but the fact that Obama wants Dawn Johnson in his Office of Legal Counsel would seem to belie Turley's concern. Which, ironically, brings us back to where we started:

Far from firing anyone, President Bush asked for this kind of distorted legal advice. Remember, from day one the President sent his lawyers the express message that they were NOT to interpret the law impartially and straight up. Instead they were to further his and Vice President Cheney's agenda of expanding presidential power, of restoring it to its pre-Watergate condition, and leaving the presidency stronger than when Bush took office. And that was before 9/11. After the terrorist attacks, "Legally, the watchword became "forward-leaning," by which everybody meant: ‘We want to be aggressive. We want to take risks.'" (For support for all this, and more, read the excellent recent books by Jack Goldsmith and Charlie Savage.)
That's Dawn Johnson writing in April, 2008. The immorality, the injustice, the unethical behavior, has been apparent from the beginning. Only now are we apparently willing to look at it. "Intentional cruelty was part of the White House's motive." Well, of course it was. Justice was gone; there was only force. Cruelty is all about force. It's about my ability to inflict suffering on you, because I can, and you can't stop me.

And it's not like there isn't a narrative for this, one grounded in the very roots of Western civilization, one as important to understanding where we are today, and why, as the Theban plays of Sophocles or the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle or the Republic of Plato:

Jump ahead about 400 years, to the impending Babylonian Exile. Now comes Jeremiah, descended from a long line of priests, from that very village where Solomon exiled the priest who had supported his brother. And now Jeremiah tells the reigning king:

Let not the wise boast of their wisdom,
nor the valiant of their valour;
let not the wealthy boast of their wealth;
but if anyone must boast, let him boast of this:
that he understands and acknowledges me.
For I am the LORD, I show unfailing love,
I do justice and right on the earth;
for in these I take pleasure.
This is the word of the LORD.

There is a direct rebuke of the descendants of Solomon there. Solomon who purchased his wisdom and his palace and his power and even the Temple, with his central concern for Solomon, and what Solomon could obtain, and own, and control. Solomon who used his control of horses and chariots to exact tribute (read: taxes) from others; who used the location of Israel along the trade routes to exact a toll for what passed through the land, and made sure the money went to Solomon, not to the community. Solomon cared about Solomon, not about:

How good and pleasant it is to live together as brothers in unity!
It is like fragrant oil poured on the head
and falling over the beard,
Aaron's beard, when the oil runs down
over the collar of his vestments.
Is is as if the dew of Hermon were falling
on the mountains of Zion.
There the LORD bestows his blessing,
life for evermore (Psalm 133)

The LORD bestows the blessing freely. Solomon makes sure the blessing is recovered and rewarded to Solomon. Solomon, like the Pharoah, says there isn't enough to go around: not enough money, not enough power, not enough wisdom, and I, Solomon, must control it all, must deal in it, must buy and sell in all the marketplaces, of arms, of ideas, of palaces, even of religion. Because of this, says Jeremiah, comes the Exile.
It can't be said too often: the Exile that shattered Israeli history like a brick through a window, that set Western civilization on the course to expect an apocalypse and an eschaton and a Messiah (from Christianity to Star Wars to the Matrix), did not come about because of the apostasy of Israel, but because of the injustice of Israel. Solomon wanted to preserve Israel by military force, too. That way, however, is always the path to injustice and failure. Ezekiel gives us the picture of God's spirit leaving the Temple because of the abominations performed there, because it is no longer holy. But Jeremiah speaks for all the prophets when he says to the king:

Woe to him who says,
"I shall build myself a spacious palace
with airy roof chambers and
windows set in it.
It will be paneled with cedar
and painted with vermilion."
Though your cedar is so splendid,
does that prove you a king?
Think of your father: he ate and drank,
dealt justly and fairly; all went well with him.
He upheld the cause of the lowly and poor;
then all was well.
Did not this show he knew me? says the Lord.
But your eyes and your heart are set on naught but gain, set only on the innocent blood you can shed,
on the cruel acts of tyranny you perpetrate.

Jeremiah 22: 14-17 (REB)

Set, need it be emphasized, on injustice. On cruelty simply because we can be cruel. The cure, of course, is not to stop the cruelty. The cure is to enact justice. Justice is not merely the absence of further cruelty. It is the presence of right, and righteousness.

It is worth adding this last grain to the pile of sand on the scales. Jeremiah Wright, speaking of the Bible and who wrote it:

In biblical history, there’s not one word written in the Bible between Genesis and Revelations that was not written under one of six different kinds of oppression, Egyptian oppression, Assyrian oppression, Persian oppression, Greek oppression, Roman oppression, Babylonian oppression.

The Roman oppression is the period in which Jesus is born. And comparing imperialism that was going on in Luke, imperialism was going on when Caesar Augustus sent out a decree that the whole world should be taxed. They weren’t in charge of the world. It sounds like some other governments I know.

That, yes, I can compare that. We have troops stationed all over the world, just like Rome had troops stationed all over the world, because we run the world. That notion of imperialism is not the message of the gospel of the prince of peace, nor of God, who loves the world.
Oppression, of course, is just another kind of injustice.

Justice is gone; Bush and Cheney dispensed with that. Force is gone: the inauguration of a new President transferred that obligation, and responsibility, and even duty, to another.

Hi, Mom?

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