Mullah Omar Dead

Afghan Intelligence is reporting and the Taliban are confirming that Mullah Omar is dead, having perished two years ago in a Pakistani hospital.

I have no idea how this will affect the situation in Afghanistan. I suspect the impact will be small since Omar was largely a symbolic figure. Still … at least the man who crafted the vile Taliban state can’t do any more harm.

A Small Victory

Well, it’s not the complete repeal I’d prefer, but it’s an improvement:

In a significant scaling back of national security policy formed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Senate on Tuesday approved legislation curtailing the federal government’s sweeping surveillance of American phone records, and President Obama signed the measure hours later.

The legislation signaled a cultural turning point for the nation, almost 14 years after the Sept. 11 attacks heralded the construction of a powerful national security apparatus. The shift against the security state began with the revelation by Edward J. Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, about the bulk collection of phone records. The backlash was aided by the growth of interconnected communication networks run by companies that have felt manhandled by government prying.

The storage of those records now shifts to the phone companies, and the government must petition a special federal court for permission to search them.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, for the first time, will be required to declassify some of its most significant decisions, and outside voices will be allowed to argue for privacy rights before the court in certain cases.

So a little more transparency, a small speedbump between the government and our meta-data. By itself, it’s a very tiny win against the gigantic surveillance state President Obama controls.

But the bigger win could be the political victory. The pro-police-state forces threw out their usual apocalyptic rhetoric while they tried to force the Senate to reauthorize the Patriot Act without even a debate. And, for the first time, it didn’t work. Rand Paul, many Democrats and enough Republicans weathered the storm and got some small changes. For the first time, someone in Congress had enough of a spine to call bullshit on their bullshit. And that could pay off down the road:

Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, and Senator Leahy made it clear after passage that curtailing the phone sweeps might be only the beginning. The two are collaborating on legislation to undo a provision in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 that allows the government to read the contents of email over six months old. House members and senators from both parties are already eyeing a section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that they say has also been abused by the government.

Let’s hope they keep pushing. The surveillance state has legions of supporters. The pushback has begun. It won’t end until we have our basic civil liberties back. And that might take decades.

Rand Stands Again

So today, Rand Paul engaged in his second filibuster, this time against the Patriot Act, talking for ten hours. Specifically, he was filibustering against Section 215, which supposedly enables the NSA meta-data collection program.

This has been building for several weeks now. The Second Circuit, in fact, ruled that the Patriot Act doesn’t authorize the data collection program and the NSA has said they will not change anything until Congress acts. Following this, the lying sack of shit that leads the NSA claimed that he lied to Congress about the program because … and I’m not making this up … he forgot the program existed. Defenders of the program are demanding Congress reauthorizing it, making dubious and sometimes outright false statements about the success of the program. And last week, the House voted to reign in the NSA’s power, albeit in water-down version. The ball is currently in the Senate’s court.

I don’t think the Patriot Act should be renewed. This has been primarily used as a smokescreen for prosecutions on drug and other non-terrorism charges. It was passed in the first place on false claims that 9/11 happened because the government didn’t have the powers within the Patriot Act. If it must be passed however, it should only pass after the USA FREEDOM Act directly curtails the NSA’s power.

I have my disagreements with Paul, but this is another occasion on which he has made me proud. Let’s hope other Senators will stand not just with Rand, but with us.

Bin Laden Coverup

Seymour Hersh, source of some big — although not necessarily accurate — stories, is alleging that the bin Laden raid did not go down as we were told:

The principal claims that Hersh’s article makes, which largely rely on the assertions of a single, unnamed, retired senior U.S. intelligence official, are:

• That the 2011 U.S. Navy SEAL raid on the Abbottabad compound where bin Laden was hiding in northern Pakistan was not a firefight in which SEALs went into a dangerous and unknown situation, but a setup in which Pakistan’s military had been holding bin Laden prisoner in Abbottabad for five years and simply made him available to the SEALs who flew in helicopters to the compound on the night of the raid.

• An officer from Pakistan’s powerful military intelligence agency ISI accompanied the SEALs on the raid and showed them around the Abbottabad compound, and the only shots fired that night were the ones that the SEALs fired to kill bin Laden.

• A “walk in” to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad tipped off the CIA that bin Laden was living in the Abbottabad compound, and it was not true — despite the statements of multiple U.S. officials after the raid — that the CIA had traced back one of bin Laden’s couriers to the Abbottabad compound and built a circumstantial case that bin Laden was living there.

• Saudi Arabia was financing bin Laden’s upkeep in his Abbottabad compound.

• A Pakistani army doctor obtained DNA from bin Laden that proved he was in Abbottabad, proof that was provided to the States so that all the supposed uncertainty — cited by Obama administration officials after the raid — about whether bin Laden was actually living in the compound was a lie.

• The “most blatant lie,” according to Hersh, was that “Pakistan’s two most senior military leaders — General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the army staff, and General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director general of the ISI — were never informed” in advance of the U.S. raid on the bin Laden compound.

In short, according to Hersh’s account, President Barack Obama and many of his top advisers lied about pretty much everything concerning what is considered one of the President’s signal accomplishments: authorizing the raid in which bin Laden was killed.

In some way, I’m disposed to believe this story. It always did seem suspicious that bin Laden was right near a Pakistani military headquarters. And I wouldn’t put it past Obama to lie to us about it. The Administration has been milking the raid for propaganda since before it happened, including giving classified information to filmmakers for Zero Dark Thirty.

But after thinking about it, I have to say, like Peter Bergen, I am deeply skeptical of this. Part of this is Hersh. Yes, he broke My Lai story. But he also claimed that Bush intended to use nuclear weapons on Iran. So he’s not always in Earth orbit. Part of this is my general suspicions of conspiracy theories. Part of this is that it smells badly of a Killian Memo.

But mostly it because it contradicts well-established facts. You can read the details in Bergen’s piece. Notably, multiple witnesses, including Bergen, can attest to a bullet-riddled compound and multiple bodies. And there’s this:

Common sense would also tell you that if the Pakistanis were holding bin Laden and the U.S. government had found out this fact, the easiest path for both countries would not be to launch a U.S. military raid into Pakistan but would have been to hand bin Laden over quietly to the Americans.

Indeed, the Pakistanis have done this on several occasions with a number of other al Qaeda leaders such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the operational commander of 9/11, who was handed over to U.S. custody after a raid in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi in 2003. So too was Abu Faraj al-Libi, another key al Qaeda leader who was similarly handed over by the Pakistanis to U.S. custody two years later.

Ed Morrissey is suspicious of the story for similar reasons.

We’ll see what comes out. But I highly suspect Hersh is full of it. ISI may have known more than they were saying about bin Laden’s whereabouts. But a cover-up of this magnitude would also involve Seal Team 6 and multiple intelligence agencies. I find it highly unlikely a lid could be kept on such a conspiracy only to be blown by the likes of Hersh.

The Torture Report

The Senate has release their report on the CIA torture program:

The CIA’s harsh interrogations of terrorist detainees during the Bush era didn’t work, were more brutal than previously revealed and delivered no “ticking time bomb” information that prevented an attack, according to an explosive Senate report released Tuesday.

The majority report issued by the Senate Intelligence Committee is a damning condemnation of the tactics — branded by critics as torture — the George W. Bush administration deployed in the fear-laden days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The techniques, according to the report, were “deeply flawed” and often resulted in “fabricated” information.

The CIA immediately hit back at the report, saying in a statement that the program was “effective” and substantially helped its understanding of Al Qaeda’s tactical operations and goals.

I am disinclined to believe the CIA on this, given their desperate attempts to cover it up, which included the destruction of video tapes of interrogations and attempts to spy on members of Congress. The report was trimmed down from more than 6000 pages to the current 480 and large parts were redacted at the behest of the CIA. And it’s still pretty damning. The initial reporting is that it included weeks of waterboarding and sleep deprivation, usually used almost immediately after capture.

I’ll post more as commentary comes in and I get a chance to read some of the report. The report itself is here.

Update: NYT:

Detainees were deprived of sleep for as long as a week, and were sometimes told that they would be killed while in American custody. With the approval of the C.I.A.’s medical staff, some C.I.A. prisoners were subjected to medically unnecessary “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration” — a technique that the C.I.A.’s chief of interrogations described as a way to exert “total control over the detainee.” C.I.A. medical staff members described the waterboarding of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, as a “series of near drownings.”

The report also suggests that more prisoners were subjected to waterboarding than the three the C.I.A. has acknowledged in the past. The committee obtained a photograph of a waterboard surrounded by buckets of water at the prison in Afghanistan commonly known as the Salt Pit — a facility where the C.I.A. had claimed that waterboarding was never used. One clandestine officer described the prison as a “dungeon,” and another said that some prisoners there “literally looked like a dog that had been kenneled.”

The report also addresses the CIA’s list of terror attacks they claim were prevented by torture, noting that in most cases the torture information was either inaccurate or confirmed information they already had.

You can read the response of ex-CIA directors here.

Update: A look at claims made by the CIA that torture worked. None of them stand up to scrutiny … according to the CIA’s own documents.