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Is The CIA Drone Program A Threat To Democracy?

4:54 am in Uncategorized by Bill Egnor

drone predator

drone predator by RG1033

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? This literally translates to “Who will guard the guards themselves? Or more commonly “Who watches the watchmen?” it is an important question for any democratic government. Force of arms is generally reserved to the State, to a greater or lesser degree, and it is the responsibility of the State as a whole to maintain control of its various armed forces.

One of the things that differentiate a democracy from a dictatorship is the civilian control of its intelligence and armed forces. Anytime these forces become a power onto themselves there is a danger to the idea of democracy.

Which is why today’s article in the Washington Post about the growing Counter Terrorism Center at the CIA is so troubling. Since the 9/11 attacks the CTC has increased 7 fold, from 300 in 2001 to over 2000 today.

If this new “agency within an agency” was merely performing the traditional intelligence gathering of the CIA in a counter terrorism role, it would not be so troubling. However this group is in charge the CIA’s drone program as well as working very closely with the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

Last year the CIA was in command of 118 drone strikes on suspected terrorist targets. Or at least that is the number we think as the CIA never officially acknowledges its drone program, consisting of 30 or so Predator and Reaper drones. Whatever the number of strikes and drones this is a major change in mission for the CIA which is an agency that was created for intelligence gathering rather than operations.

The functions of intelligence analysts have begun to change at the CIA. Now there is a new career path there called “targeters”. While they are still intelligence analysts at the core their primary job is to develop information that allows the CIA to recruit weak links, find meeting places and, of course, find and target so called High Value targets for drone strikes.

While there will be many who don’t have a problem with “killing the bad guys” this is a very troubling development to me. Leaving aside for a moment the legality of assassinating people in other countries who have not been convicted of a crime, even American citizens, the issue for me is one of control.
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President Obama Plans CIA/DOD Two Step, But No One Seems To Notice

12:39 pm in Executive Branch, Foreign Policy, Government by Bill Egnor

Amidst the explosion of Orly Taitz head (with her hair how can you tell?) and Donald Trump being puffed up by the media like Rush Limbaugh after a truckload of Cialis over the President releasing his “long form” birth certificate there was some actual news which is mostly being overshadowed in by this silly season stuff.

Namely that it is expected that tomorrow the President will announce that CIA Director Leon Panetta will be moving to the position of Sec. Defense and, wait for it, General David Petraeus will be moving in to the CIA Directors job. Now whose heads are exploding?

I hate this announcement for a million different reasons. First off I don’t think that Panetta has done a stellar job as Director of CIA. While I understand that a clandestine service is not going to talk about what it does, as in almost never without a subpoena and a threat of contempt of Congress, but my impression is that he has not changed that much at the Spy agency since taking over there. I could be wrong, but that is my impression. Let’s all hope I am wrong.

The real problem is more with good ol’ General Dave. Ya’ll correct me if I am wrong but I thought that the reason we put him in command in Afghanistan was that he was the only one that could win it. Does that sound familiar to anyone? I am sure I read something like that half a million times from Right Wing sources. Maybe it was just a nightmare…

Now for those of you who are “glass half full” kind of folks, like myself, there is some good news. If we are pulling Gen. Dave out of Afghanistan, that pretty much means that the White House has figured out that there is not a whole hell of a lot they can do there anymore and it is time to fold our tents and get out of there. That is really crappy news for the Afghans, it will leave them with a totally corrupt government and an insurgent ex-government that is really licking its chops to get back into power. Still we have pretty much showed that at this late date there is nothing left to do in this war but leave.

On to more bad news; I have a real problem with the on going conflation of military and intelligence gathering. The two groups should be able to work together but putting military leaders into positions in the clandestine services just feel a little too much like “Seven Days in May” (if you haven’t seen it, rent it! Really).

We have already had too many examples of what can happen when the military is not properly constrained and is involved in a long war. The remarks of General McCrhystal and the revolution of psy-ops against Senators visiting our longest running war are just a couple of examples of what can happen. When you put folks like that behind the security wall of the CIA there has to be reason to be concerned.
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Obama Administration Planning To Restart Gitmo Tribunals

6:01 am in Terrorism by Bill Egnor

Wrong way, go back

Graphic courtesy of lazyevaluator via Flickr

File it under going down the wrong damned path, again. The New York Times is reporting that the Obama administration is preparing to lift the ban on new military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay. Shortly after he was inaugurated President Obama directed Defense Secretary Gates to order a freeze on new indictments for detainees at our national shame of a prison camp. The intent was two fold, one to review the incredibly slipshod cases against the men held there and to allow for the planning to begin closing the prison camp.

Nearly two years have gone by and while the review of cases has been done, we are no closer to closing the camp than when President Bush was in office. It is not completely the fault of the President that the camp has not closed. There has to be funding to move and house the detainees (they aren’t prisoners because they have not been convicted of anything) somewhere else and the Congress has shown just how lily-livered they are by consistently voting against funding to do exactly that.

Which is not to say that the Executive Branch is doing the right thing either. It seems that one of the first people to be charged, perhaps within weeks of ending the ban is one
Abu al-Rahim al Nashiri who is accused in planning the bombing of the U.S. Cole in 2000. If that name sounds vaguely familiar it is because Mr. Nashiri is the third known person to have been tortured by use of waterboarding by the United States government.

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Torture Accountability Letter 2 – Sen. Feinstein, Where Is That Report?

9:00 am in Uncategorized by Bill Egnor

Happy Monday and welcome to my on-going letter writing campaign for torture accountability under the law. For those who have not seen this series before, the way it works is as follows; every Monday I write a letter to the decision makers urging them to follow through on accountability for the apparent Bush Administration torture program. You get involved by either using the letter as the starting place for one of your own, or cutting and pasting it over your signature and sending it off.

Most weeks the letter heads to the Attorney General, but the quest for accountability does not begin and end at the DOJ. Congress has a constitutional role of oversight which is also required if we are to make sure the United States does not drift to and fro on the issue of state sponsored torture. To this end, we will be writing Sen. Dianne Feinstein Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence this week. There will copies to the President, the AG, Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Reid, Judiciary Chairs Conyers and Leahy and Rep. Jerry Nadler a senior member of the House Judiciary.

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AG Holder Gives Us Half a Loaf on Accountablity

7:15 am in Uncategorized by Bill Egnor

Well, it looks as though we will be getting half a loaf today in regards to torture accountability. The Washington Post is reporting that Attorney General Eric Holder is going to appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate about 12 instances where intelligence agents and contractors appear to have exceeded the guidance of the spurious Bybee and Yoo Torture Memo’s. While this is a good thing in and of itself, it is not really a good thing for long term torture accountability. Come on below the flip and the Dog will lay out why we should not get too excited about this.

First off there is the fact this appointment will be a Special Prosecutor, not a Independent Prosecutor. What is the difference? The SP still reports up the chain at the DOJ. He is tasked with investigating crimes which do not include the DOJ itself. This is a big deal as much of the criminality in this case appears to have been aided and abetted by the DOJ Office of Legal Counsel.

There will be problems with proving Judge Bybee and Professor Yoo were legally complicit when they wrote the justifying memos, but there is more than enough reason to investigate. At the Nuremburg trials, we tried several judges who were working within the legal framework of the Third Reich when they enforced laws which allowed torture. We made this kind of complicity an international crime. In fact one of those Judges was executed for his role. This means we should be looking at the role the DOJ itself played in torture. No inside Prosecutor is going to be able to do this effectively.

There is also issue of the chain of command. The Nuremburg trails and the International Conventions Against Torture made following orders in regards to torture a null defense. This means that just having a legal memo from the DOJ and having orders from the Executive Branch does not get anyone off the hook for ordering or committing torture. We should be looking at the entirety of the torture program, not just a few people who exceeded illegal and immoral orders.

The other reason to have concern is who the Special Prosecutor is rumored to be. John Durham is a career prosecutor with the DOJ not an United States Attorney. He has a pretty good record, but he is not the kind of powerhouse who could take this investigation wherever it leads. He is the currently the prosecutor investigating the destruction of the CIA interrogation tapes.

He has been making some progress on this, and he is involved with dealing with the prevarications of the CIA already. This may or may not help. In any case the appointment of someone at this middle level shows pretty clearly that AG Holder is not looking to fully meet his legal obligations. He is trying to give the people calling for accountability half a loaf and hoping they will be satisfied with that.

The fact this story has leaked on the day when the CIA IG report from 2004 is going to be released is a clear attempt to have something, anything, to point to when the cries for accountability to the law are raised again latter this week. It is a mildly good first start, but we should not kid ourselves at all that this is going to be even close to enough. We must keep the pressure on AG Holder to appoint someone with the mandate and the horse power to investigate not just the Bush White Houses role in this, but the role of the DOJ. When you are starving for justice, half a loaf is certainly better than none, but is it not enough by half when we are talking about the rule of law in a nation of laws!

Until we have someone with the stature of USA Fitzgerald and the full authority to follow the criminality in regards to torture and the abuse of prisoners wherever it takes him, we can not be satisfied with half measures.

You can read the entire Washington Post article here.

The floor is yours.

Mr. President, The Dead Cry Out For Justice

7:37 am in Uncategorized by Bill Egnor

The Dog usually writes in the 3rd person, but this is too serious a topic for that. That bit will be back tomorrow.

Dear Mr. President;

I write you on Torture Accountability day to ask in the names of those whose voices have been silenced for justice. I write today in the names of the men in the CIA Inspector Generals report who died while in our custody and under interrogation. This report was prepared five years ago now, and in this report the IG forwarded eight cases for criminal investigation to the Department of Justice. Since that time no action has been taken on deaths of these men. Mr. President, this can not be allowed to continue.

"Originally posted at"

It is no surprise the former administration did not move to act; I do not need to detail to you their cavalier attitude to the rule of law. However the continued failure to investigate what could very well be war crimes is no longer their responsibility; it is your administrations now. Mr. President, the dead cry out for justice. They can not act, they have passed beyond this vale of tears, but the need for justice for them is Read the rest of this entry →

Weekly Torture Action Letter 14 – CIA IG Report

8:14 am in Uncategorized by Bill Egnor

Happy Monday and welcome all to the Dog’s ongoing letter writing campaign. The basic idea it to write to decision and opinion makers every Monday to keep the issue of accountability for torture through respect for the rule of law alive and in front of the busy people who run our country. For those who are stopping by for the first time, it works like this, the Dog writes a letter and provides the links. You can either cut and paste the letter or use it as inspiration for your own. The big deal is to get as many people as possible sending letters (or e-mails) on a consistent basis. To the Dog this provides a low level but constant reminder this issue is out important to the people of this nation.

"Originally posted at"

This week we are writing to the President with carbon copies to the AG, Speaker Pelosi, House Judiciary Chair Conyers, Senate Majority Leader Reid and Senate Judiciary Chair Leahy.

Dear Mr. President;

I write you today to urge you to courage on the issue of torture accountability. As this is a big issue, I will be specific in what I am asking you to stand Read the rest of this entry →

More Evidence CIA Briefing Timetable Is Worthless Lies

10:18 am in Uncategorized by Bill Egnor

Well it seems like there is more evidence that Speaker Pelosi for all her failings is not actually complicit in the Bush era State Sponsored Torture program. Zach Roth of the Talking Points Memo Muckraker section has found a former Intel official who points out that the Orwellian euphemism of “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” was only coined in 2006 when the Bush administration started to get worried (sensibly) that their war crimes would come back to haunt them. You can find the whole article here.

Why is this news for Speaker Pelosi’s credibility? Because the CIA document the Republicans are seizing on to try to make the case she was complicit uses that term all over the place. This makes it seem as though they were using this term back then and the State Sponsored Torture program was more controlled and measured than it really was. From the TMP article:

The former intel professional said that by using the term in the recently compiled document, the CIA was being "disingenuous," trying to make it appear that the use of such techniques was part of a "formal and mechanical program." In fact, said the former intel pro, it wasn’t until 2006 that Read the rest of this entry →