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November 6, 2005 - Prisons That Don't Exist for Those Who Don't Exist

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Okay, the weekend of October 29-30 was bad for the administration - people buzzing about the new polling that showed now more than half the country felt all this business about the Bush team restoring "honor and integrity" to the White House was a load of crap, and this was a failed presidency, and a calls for an apology about what had happened with Libby and for Karl Rove to be fired. Change of topic Monday - the nomination for the Supreme Court of the mild-mannered, well-educated, experienced judge from New Jersey, who seemed to support all the all of what the right wanted. Rev up the base and outrage the lefties. And then, Tuesday, announce a multi-billion dollar effort to head off a disaster for a change, rather than just react (which didn't go well with the hurricanes) - so we have a plan to deal with the dreaded by hypothetical Bird Flu. And four hours later the Democrats force the senate into a closed, secret session, demanding some action on what was promised, a report on how we got into the war. Were we being jerked around? And the senate Republicans were forced to form a bipartisan panel to get that back on track.

One could get whiplash trying to keep up with just what was the big issue of the day. You want to be on top of the news and know what's hot? Good luck.

Wednesday morning, November 2, we heard of four more service deaths in Iraq - a downed helicopter and the usual roadside bombs. So the day started at 2,032 dead.

Could the administration keep Supreme Court nomination hot, saying the guy was great and those who oppose him fools?


The Gallup polling folks came out with this


If it becomes clear Alito would vote to reverse Roe v. Wade, Americans would not want the Senate to confirm him, by 53% to 37%.

If most Senate Democrats oppose the nomination and decide to filibuster against Alito, 50% of Americans believe they would be justified, while 40% say they would not.

If the Republicans then decide to eliminate the filibuster on judicial nominations, to ensure an "up-or-down vote" on the nomination, Americans would be evenly divided as to whether that tactic was justified - 45% say it would be, 47% say it would not.


And someone in the White House probably mutters, "Oh CRAP!"

And the president stand by Karl Rove and key folks are walking away


[Trent] Lott of Mississippi and William Niskanen of the libertarian Cato Institute both echoed Democratic calls for a White House shake-up.

"He (Rove) has been very successful, very effective in the political arena. The question is, should he be the deputy chief of staff for policy under the current circumstances?" Lott told MSNBC's "Hardball."

"Most presidents in recent years have a political adviser in the White House. The question is, should they be, you know, making policy decisions. That's the question you've got to evaluate," the former Senate Republican leader added.

Lott went further than he did on Sunday, when he urged Bush to be on the lookout for "new blood, new energy, qualified staff."

Niskanen, who served as a top economic adviser to former President Ronald Reagan, said, "Bush is going to have to sacrifice people who have worked with him to regain some initiative."

Niskanen said any White House shake-up should "start" with Rove because of his association with the leak case.


And someone in the White House probably mutters, "Oh CRAP!" - but louder.

Well, it's payback. Rove is widely thought to have arranged for Lott to be removed as senate majority leader in favor of Bill Frist - who now whines about all this lack of civility while the Justice Department and SEC investigate him for some stock trading that seems mighty fishy. Trent is smiling.

And Wednesday morning whoever tracks such things in the White House probably saw this item from Steve Clemons in the Washington Note regarding who was scheduled to say what on national television –


There will be a devastating critique of Vice President Cheney and his key staff regarding the Plame Affair and the decision to invade Iraq tonight on Chris Matthews' Hardball. TWN has learned that David Shuster has a hard-charging report tonight that will set the VP's office on edge and add a lot to our understanding of Cheney's role.


Well, the Shuster report just reviewed the facts established in the Libby indictment - what Cheney knew and when he knew it, how Cheney himself gave the Wilson woman's name to Libby, how there was a discussion of how to handle the press with Libby and Cheney a few hours before Libby gave her name to Miller of the New York Times, and all the rest. It was just laying all that out, and then saying Cheney would be forced to testify in court about all this - there was no way for him to get out of that. He sure seems neck-deep in this.

What to do? He could claim the facts are biased. It just looks bad, but the facts are biased. Well, perhaps. Perhaps he should buy the bumper sticker for his car.

But Wednesday, November 2nd gave us another new issue for consideration.

We all remember when the senator from Illinois, Richard Durbin, argued that what happened at Guantánamo Bay, and elsewhere, sounded too much like "Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime - Pol Pot or others -- that had no concern for human beings." We should be better.

That did not go well. (Discussion on the matter in these pages here from mid-June and what Durbin actually said on Flag Day here.) Durbin was raked over the coals and forced to apologize.

We're not like that. What an insult!

So Wednesday, November 2nd the Washington Post reveals we are - we're currently hiding and "interrogating" key al-Qaeda bad guys at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe. The Post found out where it is, but is withholding the actual location, at the request of government officials. It seems to be part of a "covert prison system set up by the CIA" after 9/11 - and they have all this from "current and former intelligence officials and diplomats." The Post says that specific information about these so-called "black sites" is known by only a "handful" of officials in the United States and in the host countries. What else? The CIA has "dissuaded" Congress from asking questions - "Virtually nothing is known about who is kept in the facilities, what interrogation methods are employed with them, or how decisions are made about whether they should be detained or for how long."

This of course, is grim news. What are we doing with our own gulag where people just disappear and torture is allowed?

But there's more. The same morning, also on the front page, the New York Times reports arguments in the White House, the question being whether a new set of Defense Department standards for the treatment of terror suspects should include language from the Geneva Conventions prohibiting "cruel," "humiliating" and "degrading" treatment. Should we get in line with international law and win back some allies, or do what we want?

Context. As you recall, Senator John McCain forced the issue in the senate and got a vote, ninety to eight, the affirms we follow the military rules we already have for how to treat prisoners (first discussed in these pages here), and Cheney lobbies against it. Cheney says the president will veto any bill to which this is attached. But this is veto-proof at 90-8, so he's now arguing the CIA should be exempt from the rules. And the Times now reports that David Addington - the fellow Cheney named to replace the indicted Libby - saw a draft of the idea for at least the military to follow the rules, particularly Geneva Conventions Article 3, and went ballistic. Addington "verbally assailed a Pentagon aide who was called to brief him and Mr. Libby on the draft" of the new Pentagon standards. The aide was left "bruised and bloody" after his confrontation with Addington, one Defense Department official said.

Well, tempers are short. Cheney doesn't want our hands tied, so to speak. (Yes, there's an irony in that.)

Add to the mix reports like these - the new head of the CIA, Porter Goss, is with Cheney on this, and the old-line employees, and some top career officials, are just quitting. They want no part of it. Those who stay are demoralized. They're traditionalists who like to build networks and get information quietly. Rounding up everyone you can, "disappearing" them, torturing them for information, they say, doesn't work very well. You don't get good information.

Well, "the realists" are in charge now. Or the "grown-ups" we were promised back in 1999 when we were asked to vote for who runs things.

This is a plan. Or is it?

The Post notes this:


"We never sat down, as far as I know, and came up with a grand strategy," said one former senior intelligence officer who is familiar with the program but not the location of the prisons. "Everything was very reactive. That's how you get to a situation where you pick people up, send them into a netherworld and don't say, 'What are we going to do with them afterwards?'"

... [A]s the volume of leads pouring into the CTC from abroad increased, and the capacity of its paramilitary group to seize suspects grew, the CIA began apprehending more people whose intelligence value and links to terrorism were less certain, according to four current and former officials. The original standard for consigning suspects to the invisible universe was lowered or ignored, they said. "They've got many, many more who don't reach any threshold," one intelligence official said.


That's a plan?

And what goes on at these places? "Enhanced Interrogation" –


Host countries have signed the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as has the United States. Yet CIA interrogators in the overseas sites are permitted to use the CIA's approved "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques," some of which are prohibited by the U.N. convention and by U.S. military law. They include tactics such as "waterboarding," in which a prisoner is made to believe he or she is drowning... 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 chairman and vice chairman of the House and Senate intelligence committees on the program's generalities.


Yep, you don't want to explain what's going on when you're making it up as you go along - a breaking signed treaties.

And there's more context here from Andrew Sullivan.

Sullivan notes two items in the Post story.

First this –


It is illegal for the government to hold prisoners in such isolation in secret prisons in the United States, which is why the CIA placed them overseas, according to several former and current intelligence officials and other U.S. government officials. Legal experts and intelligence officials said that the CIA's internment practices also would be considered illegal under the laws of several host countries, where detainees have rights to have a lawyer or to mount a defense against allegations of wrongdoing.


Then this - the whole matter was achieved by the president signing a "finding" on September 17, 2001 –


Under U.S. law, only the president can authorize a covert action, by signing a document called a presidential finding. Findings must not break U.S. law and are reviewed and approved by CIA, Justice Department and White House legal advisers.


Must not break US law? Sullivan: "The assumption is that the president has authority to set up prisons that would be illegal in the U.S. and illegal in foreign countries, but legal ... according to what?"

Good question. This idea is this is why Bush wants Roberts and Alito on the court.

Maybe so.

And the fallout from all this?

AFP reports all the "no comment" comments from our government.

The Post says our "black sites" - these prisons that don't exist for those who don't exist - are located in eight countries including Thailand, Afghanistan and "several democracies in Eastern Europe." AFP notes Thailand denied there was a prison there. And Czech Interior Minister Frantisek Bublan was quoted by the on-line news outlet Aktualne.cz as saying that the Czech Republic recently turned down a US request to set up a detention center on its territory. "The negotiations took place around a month ago," he was quoted as saying. The Americans "made an effort to install some of the sort here, but they did not succeed." Hungary's intelligence chief, Andras Toth, told AFP that Budapest had not been approached. "The mere suggestion of this is absurd," Toth said, adding "I know of no such request."

Mums the word.

CNN also reports that in Iraq a "top al Qaeda operative" escaped before he could testify to "abuse" by an American soldier. Now people might wonder where he might be.

Oh well. Sunday it was the polls, Monday the nomination to the Supreme Court, Tuesday the Bird Flu effort followed a few hours later by the Democrats shutting down the senate, Wednesday our string of secret torture prisons is revealed, Thursday Libby is arraigned.




Here is the text of Geneva's Common Article Three (mentioned above):


In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, at a minimum, the following provisions:

1. Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:

(a) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
(b) Taking of hostages;
(c) Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment;
(d) The passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.


Clear enough. We don't want to do this.

Bill Montgomery here


Not long after 9/11 - a few days maybe - I was thinking about where the "war on terrorism" might take America and the world, and it seemed to me at the time that there were three broad paths it might follow.

One would have been the path of recognition, in which the American people woke up and started asking the hard questions about how we got into this mess, and demanding answers that didn't consist entirely of inane slogans about how the terrorists "hate our freedoms."

That path would have still led to the war in Afghanistan - it was inevitable - but we might at least have come to some glimmer of public understanding that the real war was a war of ideas and influence in which America would need all the allies it could get, both inside and outside the Islamic world. Who knows? Maybe the rest of the story would have developed very differently.

But I understood even then how unlikely that scenario was, given our history and our culture.

... It seems to me that the Cheney administration has been trapped - both by its ostentatious rejection of the "law enforcement" model of counterterrorism, and by its complete, willful failure to understand the limits of hard power and the steadily rising importance of soft power in a struggle that will last years, if not decades. Policies based on the adrenaline rush of war fever (circa 2002) were never likely to be sustainable. They also haven't brought us any closer to capturing Osama or prevented the transformation of Al Qaeda from an organization to a movement, one that is much more difficult to fight with dirty war tactics.

The rational conclusion, which I guess will be resisted until all else has failed, is that the first path I mentioned, the path of recognition, isn't optional. Until the American people understand (I'm not sure the elites will ever get it) that terrorism can't be fought, much less defeated, without a sea change in U.S. attitudes - not just towards the Middle East but towards the world - it looks like we're going to be stuck in the worst of both worlds: too brutal to be respected; not nearly brutal enough to be feared, in the way an empire based entirely on hard power must be feared.

That leaves the third path - the path of endless escalation. Given their druthers, I have no doubt that's the one the Dick Cheneys and the Donald Rumsfelds and the Doug Feiths and the John Yoos would prefer. But a pretty sizable majority of the American people appear to have tired of the clash of civilizations. If the neocons really are going to attack Syria and/or Iran, I think they'd better be prepared for something resembling a rebellion, both at the polls and in the ranks.

This is just another way of saying that we seem to have run out of paths, which in my strategic dictionary, at least, is the definition of a stalemate.


And that is from a writer who originally supported the war.

See also:

Superiority Complex
Why is the vice president deciding how the U.S. treats foreign detainees?
Tim Naftali - Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2005, at 7:03 PM ET - SLATE.COM

That's a good question.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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