Tag: War on Terror

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.

A Quick Thought on the Bergdahl Deal

Events are moving quickly on the Bergdahl deal. Congress is going to have hearings about whether Obama broke the law (when even noted liberal hack Jeffrey Toobin says that Obama “clearly broke the law”, I would say that Obama probably broke the law). The army is now going to investigate his disappearance. Homecoming parades have been cancelled. And the Obama people are, once again, bumfuzzled that not everyone is baking is their gloriousness.

But I wanted to peel off a question here. When discussing this case with my father-in-law today, he was puzzled that Obama would make this deal since he thought it would encourage more abductions. I said that the Obama people saw this as a straight-forward POW exchange. And then it hit me. This deal isn’t about Bergdahl. It isn’t about leaving no man behind. It isn’t about the Gitmo 5. And it’s not about distracting from the VA scandal (the lapdog media will take care of that).

This deal is about legitimizing the Taliban.

OK, that’s a bit harsh. It’s more accurate to say that this about setting the stage for post-war Afghanistan. Karzai is a lame duck and will soon be replaced. His successor may not last long after we leave. Either the Taliban will take over or they will be part of a power-sharing agreement. The United States has been negotiating directly with the Taliban for a while, trying to bring more moderate elements to the fore (the Taliban is not a monolithic organization, but is a coalition of powers ranging from somewhat moderate to absurdly extreme).

I think this is aimed directly at building a relationship with the Taliban. It is not a coincidence that this happened just after we announced the timetable for leaving Afghanistan. The Obama Administration has seen the writing on the wall — the Taliban will rule Afghanistan again. And they’re trying to establish a relationship with Afghanistan’s future government.

Whether that’s a good or a bad thing only history will tell. I don’t think we have much of a choice. We can’t stay and nation-build in Afghanistan forever. The only force that will rid Afghanistan of fundamentalism is the Afghan people deciding they don’t want it anymore. Our main priority has to be making sure that terrorist organizations are not allowed to flourish in postwar Afghanistan.

Will this prisoner swap with the Taliban help? I’m very dubious. But I think that’s what’s going on here.

Because this is a lot better than GITMO! and NOT BOOSH!

Boosh was evil for finding the least ugly solution to a horrible problem and giving us GITMO, while Clinton’s rendition policies never caused consternation until they could blame Boosh for them too. So I wonder how soon they will be blaming Boosh for Obama now using NAVY vessels to circumvent the faux-angst the left had about questioning & detaining terrorist prisoners. From the article.

WASHINGTON (AP) – Instead of sending suspected terrorists to Guantanamo Bay or secret CIA “black” sites for interrogation, the Obama administration is questioning terrorists for as long as it takes aboard U.S. naval vessels. And it’s doing it in a way that preserves the government’s ability to ultimately prosecute the suspects in civilian courts. That’s the pattern emerging with the recent capture of Abu Anas al-Libi, one of the FBI’s most wanted terrorists, long-sought for his alleged role in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa. He was captured in a raid Saturday and is being held aboard the USS San Antonio, an amphibious warship mainly used to transport troops.

Questioning suspected terrorists aboard U.S. warships in international waters is President Barack Obama’s answer to the Bush administration detention policies that candidate Obama promised to end. The strategy also makes good on Obama’s pledge to prosecute terrorists in U.S. civilian courts, which many Republicans have argued against. But it also raises questions about using “law of war” powers to circumvent the safeguards of the U.S. criminal justice system.

By holding people in secret prisons, known as black sites, the CIA was able to question them over long periods, using the harshest interrogation tactics, without giving them access to lawyers. Obama came to office without a ready replacement for those secret prisons. The concern was that if a terrorist was sent directly to court, the government might never know what intelligence he had. With the black sites closed and Obama refusing to send more people to the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, it wasn’t obvious where the U.S. would hold people for interrogation.

And that’s where the warships came in.

Well, I see a silver lining: not everyone is getting drone-striked to death if they are capturing some of them. Of course, one has to wonder how many are being “buried at see” so they can keep the program under wraps. Rush Limbaugh and other enemies of the state better watch it or they could end up feeding the fish…

Three More Arrests

I’m slammed today at work, but here’s a thread to discuss the arrests today in Boston that are apparently related to the marathon attack. Right now the charge is lying to investigators. That sounds less like something they’ll be prosecuted for than it a is a charge to take them into custody while the feds figure out what to really charge them with. Reports are that they helped destroy evidence. But it’s not clear that they knew what they were doing (Tsarnaev called them when he became a suspect and asked them to throw out stuff). I suspect that Dershowitz is right and what the feds are really after is getting these guys to talk about what they may or may not know about a larger terror connection.

Updates as events warrant.

Ken from Popehat is on it:

Very briefly, the affidavit alleges that Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov saw emptied-out fireworks in accused bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s room, concluded that he was one of the Boston Marathon bombers, and decided to dispose of the container of hollowed-out fireworks, apparently to protect Tsarnaev. Phillipos, the FBI alleges, gave multiple statements and initially lied about what he knew of actions by Dias Kadyrbayev and Azamat Tazhayakov.

Sounds serious.

The Stabby Skies

Last week, TSA, in its never-ending quest to make air travel more complicated and arbitrary, decided to allow small knives back on planes. Apparently, this is controversial. But as I see it, the only real controversy is why they are only lifting the ban on small knives.

I realize that talking sensibly about terror threats is considered insensitive. We’re all supposed to be in a constant mindset of PANIC!! But let’s be honest: the big security loophole that was exploited on 9/11 was not knives. The security loophole was the policy of cooperating with hijackers, a policy the passengers of United 93 ended heroically and permanently. With a locked cabin and a policy of never cooperating with hijackers, the chance of another 9/11 is low whether the hijackers show up with small knives, big knives, Swiss Army Knives, machetes or nothing but their small swinging dicks. A hijacker armed with a knife could kill some folk (before likely being beaten to death by the passengers). But I think our efforts would be better directed toward keeping hijackers off planes rather than knives. The focus on knives is just an extension of our national dementia on weapons as evil talismans that cause death and destruction all by themselves.

Of course, even this baby step toward sensibile screening policy has to come with a passel of TSA bullshit. Knives are limited to 6 cm in length. Knives with molded grips or locking blades — assault knives, I guess — are still banned. Moreover, they are continuing a ban on boxcutters and razors for “emotional” reasons since obviously the sight of a razor blade would reduce the American passenger — the passenger who, you may remember, actually fought back on 9/11 — to weeping hysteria. So stand by for TSA lines to get longer as they puzzle out whether a blade is allowed or not.

Rand Filibusters

It is midnight right now and Rand Paul is still filibustering John Brennan’s nomination over the issue of domestic use of drones. And good Lord, it is beautiful.

Some choice quotes:

When I asked the president, can you kill an American on American soil, it should have been an easy answer. It’s an easy question. It should have been a resounding, an unequivocal, ‘No.’ The president’s response? He hasn’t killed anyone yet. We’re supposed to be comforted by that.

If there were an ounce of courage in this body I would be joined by other senators… saying they will not tolerate this.”

So should we trust the President when he says, ‘I would never use the power wrongly, so why shouldn’t I have the power?’

I’m not saying that anyone is Hitler, don’t misunderstand me. But what I am saying that is…when a democracy gets it wrong, you want the law to be in place.”

Holder earlier said that they had no plans to use drones for domestic killing but reserved the right to use them in “extraordinary circumstances” which could mean anything. Paul is absolutely right to demand that the Administration answer questions on this.

Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Jerry Moran, Ron Wyden, Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey, Saxby Chambliss, John Cornyn, John Barrasso, John Thune, and Mitch McConnell have given their support in the form of long questions that give him a break. Other senators are actually engaging him in debate. And really, it should be all 100 senators up there demanding answers from this Administration.

It’s rare that a politicians makes me proud. Rand Paul is making me proud right now.