Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar
Italy’s President Giorgio Napolitano has pardoned, without presenting a justifiable reason, a US Air Force colonel, who has been convicted in absentia of the abduction and illegal imprisonment of an Egyptian Muslim cleric.
Napolitano’s office said in a statement on Friday that the president had granted the pardon “in hopes of giving a solution to a situation to an affair considered by the United States to be without precedent because of the aspect of convicting a US military officer of Nato for deeds committed on Italian soil.”
Napolitano said he had pardoned Joseph Romano because the US and Italy are close allies and share the ‘common goal of promoting democracy.’ This is while the move to pardon the US convict is believed to be unjustifiable in concrete terms.
Romano was one of the 23 Americans tried and sentenced by Italian courts over the operation to kidnap Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, in 2003.
Italian courts convicted 22 CIA personnel in the Abu Omar case. The CIA agents are believed to be living in the United States. They are unlikely to serve their sentences.
Romano was the only American convicted who was not a CIA employee.
Abu Omar, who was abducted in a joint operation by the CIA and the Italian military intelligence agency SISMI, enjoyed political asylum in Italy at the time.
He was allegedly taken to a US air base in northeastern Italy and then transferred to a US base in Germany and subsequently to Cairo.
Romano was the security chief of northern Italy’s Aviano airbase, where Abu Omar was taken to.
The Muslim cleric, who was released in 2007, says he was tortured in prison by his kidnappers.
- Italy Imprisons Military Intelligence Chief for Helping CIA Kidnap Egyptian Cleric (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Hundreds of prisoners of the US War of Terror languish in prisons around the world, in Guantanamo and on the US mainland. Some have been there as long as 12 years, some have sentences that extend beyond the span of their life; many have never been charged with a crime and more than half the prisoners who remain in Guantanamo have had their original charges dropped or have served their full sentence, but are barred by US law from being repatriated to their homeland and therefore can not be released. Even the few prisoners in Guantanamo who are considered ‘high value’ are mostly charged with thought crimes, plans that were never carried out in any significant detail. In many cases, the leads that initially brought them to the attention of the FBI or CIA have proved to be inaccurate.
Amina Masood Janjua is a Pakistani woman whose husband was abducted from the streets of Rawalpindi by Pakistani President Musharraf’s thugs shortly after 9/11. Masood Janjua was an honest citizen going about his business, and his wife has been looking for him ever since. He wasn’t the only one picked up this way, but his wife Amina was the one who started an organization to advocate for the hundreds of men disappeared in Pakistan after 911. In the early days of the War on Terror, hundreds of men were pulled from the streets and countryside of Pakistan to feed the US government’s insatiable appetite for Terrorists. Some were sent directly to Guantanamo; some were moved here and there before being sent to Guantanamo; some were deposited more or less permanently in one of several prisons at the US base in Bagram, in a secret prison in Pakistan or somewhere else in Libya, Syria, Thailand elsewhere into a secret array of American prisons. Teenagers have been picked up on the Afghan border and sold to ‘the Americans’ as terrorists, who must have figured out it wasn’t true in some cases because 50 of them remain in the Bagram prison though after 5-10 years they have never been charged with a crime.
And then there are the residents of the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) in Pakistan, subject to ongoing surveillance, missile strikes and bombings by U.S. Predator drones. The FATA is something like a combination of Pine Ridge Reservation with Gaza. Indigenous peoples who live there have, since the British Raj, been allowed to keep their tribal culture and their ‘sovereignty’ in exchange for giving up their rights as citizens of Pakistan. They are governed by a Federal Agent who makes final decisions on the distribution of social resources, food, medicine and guns, and who oversees the tribal justice system with the power to intervene at any time, pass judgement on any individual and determine a sentence. Currently, due to the ongoing violence that has spilled over from the Afghan war (Taliban on the ground and drone strikes from above), citizens of Pakistan from outside the region are not permitted to enter the FATA region, and those who live there cannot leave without passing through government checkpoints. Not surprisingly, they are generally apprehended by their fellow countrymen with fear and loathing, and pity.
One hundred and sixty six men remain in Guantanamo. There are a handful of so called ‘high value’ prisoners whose cases are deemed to be related to actual terrorist attacks. But all were severely tortured at secret prisons when first detained, and a number of them have cases based on crimes that were nothing more than loose talk, association with the wrong people and/or claims that are clearly contradicted by the evidence that has unfolded while they were in custody. Eighty Six of them have been cleared for release, but are retained in detention for political reasons. At least 28, but possibly over 100 of the prisoners are on a life threatening hunger strike. They are choosing death over spending the rest of their lives in torment. At this time, 11 are being force-fed. Even death is denied them. Their lawyers, who complained on their behalf, have been denied access to them. Non-military flights to Guantanamo have been canceled. The office created by Obama in the early days of his presidency to close Guantanamo has itself been closed, and new monies have been allocated to expand the Guantanamo Prison facilities.
In the US ‘homeland’, Muslims, including immigrants and African Americans from impoverished neighborhoods; people who are naive, ignorant, immature, along with recent immigrants whose cultural habits and political stances do not fit a jingoistic standard of normalcy and patriotism, are accused of thought crimes or manipulated into participating in fake crimes after being targeted for sting operations that resemble the cons used to part old people, the disabled or other potentially needy or naive people from their money, then incarcerated with lengthy sentences made possible by a so called ‘terrorism enhancement’ to whatever ‘crime’ they are alleged to have committed.
Men like Yassin Aref, a Kurdish refugee from Northern Iraq, have been targeted due to possible social contacts made in their home countries and imprisoned for long periods of time despite having committed no crime. Yassin’s name and phone number were found in a private phone book picked up in ‘terrorist hideout’ near his home town after it was bombed by American forces during the Iraq War. Could someone there have known him? Of course, this is a land of small villages where everyone is connected one way or the other. Like many college students, Yassin worked for a political organization which promised sovereignty for his Kurdish homeland, a popular stance in Kurdistan, particularly after the scorched earth policies of Saddam Hussein in the region. Yassin gave rides once or twice to a man who was later designated a ‘terrorist’ by the US government.
Meanwhile dozens of immigrants and poor African Americans, who constitute the majority of indigenous Muslims in this country, have been targeted, manipulated into committing or attempting to commit a crime, then imprisoned as terrorists. Men desperate or naive enough to take the provocateur’s bait, are conned and confused and recorded for the convenience of the courts by provocateurs who profit handsomely from their work. The provocateurs, often petty criminals, are bankrolled by the FBI, moved from job to job when they are successful and absolved of any prior or concurrent crimes they may commit. Not a bad deal for a sociopath with a criminal record and a taste for good living.
In one unusual case, a Pakistani National named Aafia Siddiqui, a woman who had lived in the US for more than 10 years during which she earned a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience (the physical underpinnings of learning), was abducted in Pakistan near her parents home, where she had been staying, and incarcerated somewhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan, later released in the Afghan city of Ghazni, only to be immediately rearrested, was later convicted of a crime that she may or may not have committed in attempting to escape after the second arrest. I say ‘may or may not have committed’ because the testimony against her is not corroborated by a single iota of material evidence. The original charges against her, which date back to a time shortly preceding her arrest in Pakistan, seem to be based on the testimony of one or more high profile 9/11 suspects who may have met her at some point or may have been told her name by their interrogators, and the testimony of an abusive ex-husband.
Saturday, March 30th, was the anniversary of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui’s initial abduction. There is a lot of mystery around this event, and the American Government persists in denying they held her for the 5 years that she was missing. However, Aafia Siddiqui had her 3 young children with her at the time of their abduction. When the middle child, Miriam, who was 4 years old at the time of her abduction, was dropped off near her mother’s family home in Karachi shortly after the time of her trial, she spoke only American English. The older boy, 6 or 7 at the time of his abduction, was with her Dr. Siddiqui when she was arrested the 2nd time in Ghazni, but she did not appear to recognize him. He too is now living with his Grandmother and Aunt in Karachi. He has required special support to deal with with traumatic memories of years in prisons, and has needed surgeries to realign his hips, dislocated and misaligned due to long periods in restraints during a time of rapid growth. The baby, less than a few months old at the time of their disappearance in March 2003, has not been seen since.
The U.S. authorities adamantly deny having held Dr. Siddiqui prior to her arrest in Ghazni in 2008. However, they also contend that, after being shot and mortally wounded by U.S. soldiers (in self defense), she unleashed a verbal torrent off vulgar anti-American expletives in English, wherein the word “F*#!” appeared more than once. This, admittedly unseemly, behavior would seem very odd if she really had not been in the company of Americans for the previous 5 years. Had she been in hiding in a remote Baloch village with the womenfolk, or dealing daily with conservative Islamist clerics, plotting the ruin of the United States, a country where she had lived for most of her adult life, and where, if not a citizen, she was engaged in numerous good works and charitable projects, where, in fact, she is accused of wanting to convert as many people as possible to her beloved Islam, would she have the habit of expressing outrage in the common vernacular of the United States?
There were a number of psychological analyses prior to Dr. Siddiqui’s trial because of her paranoia and inability to relate appropriately to her surroundings. Initially, she was declared incompetent to stand trial but later, based on new testimony and the reversal of the state psychologist’s initial report the decision was set aside. The psychologist who changed his mind testified that, after he saw the government denial that they had ever held her, he came to the conclusion that she was a malingerer rather than a person suffering severe PTSD, as in his initial conclusion. Dr. Siddiqui’s family and her lawyers all firmly believe her story. Evidence, including the return of her daughter and and some memories that her son has, along with testimony by the Pakistani government official responsible for her initial abduction, has emerged to support her claims.
Dr. Siddiqui was convicted by a jury on all counts but without premeditation. And yet, the judge sentenced her with the ‘terrorism enhancement’ to 86 years, more than the future length of her life for crimes that would normally entail a 10-12 year sentence. The chain of accusations on which the terrorism enhancement was based were not clearly articulated in court as charges, and therefore could not be challenged. Dr. Siddiqui is currently incarcerated in Carswell Medical Center in Texas, a hospital prison with a record of patient abuse. Letters sent to her are returned. Calls are not received.
The prison says that she refuses all of her mail and her phone calls. Given her state of despair at the time of her conviction, it is possible this is true. However, it would seem questionable in light of the way the mental health issues were handled at her trial. A healthy person would not refuse all mail and phone calls. If she is psychologically disturbed enough to be doing that, then she should not have been deemed competent to stand trial at that time as she was not malingering. Even if she were disturbed at the time of her trial, a retreat from all outside contact would indicate a deterioration in her condition and an environment not conducive to the restoration of her mental health. I suppose a sentence in a mental hospital that lasts as long as twice your remaining lifespan would fit that description, but is it not a cruel and unusual punishment? And then again, maybe they are stretching the truth to hide a different kind of cruel and unusual treatment.
Nearly twelve years have passed since 9/11/01 when the US began building the myth of a fanatical gang of international terrorists targeting the United States with mayhem and murder. After seven years of fear and loathing, a new president came into office on a wave of hope. Yet, Guantanamo is still open for business and the remaining residents are farther than ever from release, as are most of the CIA Black Sites. Rendering of prisoners is rare, but the program still exists. U.S. Drone attacks in the FATA have increased exponentially, while only a handful of the ‘disappeared’ have been returned to their families. When Bagram is returned to the Afghans, the unindicted Pakistani youth will remain in the custody of their American jailers. New cases based on FBI sting operations are regularly heard in the Federal Courts resulting in convictions and unusually lengthy sentences, often in Communication Management Units where the prisoners are held in virtual solitary confinement at locations far removed from their families. The Obama White House has released formal justifications for executing American citizens without trial.
Dr. Aafia Siddiqui remains in Carswell FMC where she has been joined by Lynne Stewart, a 73 year old America lawyer who has selflessly defended the poor and the disenfranchised and those who have been fodder for the FBI terrorist franchise throughout her career. Lynne Stewart, convicted of a technical legal violation in her defense of one of her clients, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison. Currently, she is suffering from stage 4 cancer, but the authorities say she cannot have a ‘compassionate release’ for treatment. It will only be available when they are sure she is going to die within a few months. I guess it is an equal opportunity victory that at least 2 women have joined the thousands of men tortured and persecuted in this War of Terror.
But here in the land of democracy and freedom, where we preach about opportunity for all, where we righteously condemn other countries for unequal treatment of women, where we talk endlessly about freedom and justice, it’s time we take a look at what is really going on and who we really are. Perhaps then we will set aside ‘hope’ and start thinking about active change. Until then we are all prisoners of The War on Terror.
Judy Bello is active with the Upstate (NY) Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars. She traveled to Pakistan with the CodePink Peace Delegation last Fall. The Coalition is planning, Resisting Drones, Global War and Empire, a weekend of networking, education and action in Syracuse, NY April 26-28. You can learn more about the weekend events at http://upstatedroneaction.org
A March 15 piece in the Washington Post tells us that the UN’s special human rights envoy found that the CIA’s drone strikes in Pakistan violate that country’s sovereignty. It also told readers that the drones had “resulted in far more civilian casualties than the U.S. government has recognized.”
Unfortunately, that message was muddled by reporter Richard Leiby‘s he said/she said approach to the question of civilian deaths:
Estimates of total militant deaths and civilian casualties vary widely. Independent confirmation is difficult in part because the strikes often occur in remote, dangerous tribal areas where Taliban insurgents and Al-Qaeda and its allied militants are active.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London has estimated that at least 411 civilians–or as many as 884–were among some 2,536 to 3,577 people killed in the CIA strikes in Pakistan. But Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D), who chaired the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearings last month that confirmed new CIA Director John O. Brennan, put the number of civilian deaths considerably lower.
“The figures we have obtained from the executive branch, which we have done our utmost to verify, confirm that the number of civilian casualties that have resulted from such strikes each year has typically been in the single digits,” she said.
So, on the one hand, the Bureau has done extensive work documenting drone strikes. But then again you have a senator who heard from the government that it’s much lower.
There is, of course, a way to report the difference between Feinstein’s claim and other estimates. Conor Friesdorf did so in the Atlantic (2/11/13), contrasting the Bureau‘s totals with those of the New America Foundation and other researchers. None of these projects supports Feinstein’s claim. His conclusion:
There is no reason to treat Feinstein’s claim about civilians killed as if it is credible. All the publicly available evidence is arrayed against her position.
Yet she’s treated by the Post as one of two sides of the drone deaths debate.
- Dianne Feinstein’s shocking lies about the number of civilians killed by U.S. drone program (poorrichards-blog.blogspot.com)
With American drug use levels essentially the same as — and levels of drug-related violence either the same as or lower than — those in countries like the Netherlands with liberal drug laws, public support for the War on Drugs appears to be faltering. This was most recently evidenced in the victory of major drug decriminalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington. Some misguided commentators go so far as to say the Drug War is “a failure.” Here, to set the record straight, are fifteen ways in which it is a resounding success:
1. It has surrounded the Fourth Amendment’s “search and seizure” restrictions, and similar provisions in state constitutions, with so many “good faith,” “reasonable suspicion” and “reasonable expectation of privacy” loopholes as to turn them into toilet paper for all intents and purposes.
2. In so doing, it has set precedents that can be applied to a wide range of other missions, like the War on Terror.
3. It has turned drug stores and banks into arms of the state that constantly inform on their customers.
4. Via programs like DARE, it has turned kids into drug informants who monitor their parents for the authorities.
5. As a result of the way DARE interacts with other things like Zero Tolerance policies and warrantless inspections by drug-sniffing dogs, the Drug War has conditioned children to believe “the policeman is their friend,” and to view snitching as admirable behavior, and to instinctively look for an authority figure to report to the second they see anything the least bit eccentric or anomalous.
6. Via civil forfeiture, it has enabled the state to create a lucrative racket in property stolen from citizens never charged, let alone convicted, of a crime. Best of all, even possessing large amounts of cash, while technically not a crime, can be treated as evidence of intent to commit a crime — saving the state the trouble of having to convert all that stolen tangible property into liquid form.
7. It has enabled local police forces to undergo military training, create paramilitary SWAT teams that operate just like the U.S. military in an occupied enemy country, get billions of dollars worth of surplus military weaponry, and wear really cool black uniforms just like the SS.
8. Between the wars on the urban drug trade and rural meth labs, it has brought under constant harassment and surveillance two of the demographic groups in our country — inner city blacks and rural poor whites — least socialized to accept orders from authority either in the workplace or political system, and vital components of any potential movement for freedom and social justice.
9.In addition, it brings those who actually fall into the clutches of the criminal justice system into a years-long cycle of direct control through imprisonment and parole.
10. By disenfranchising convicted felons, it restricts participation in the state’s “democratic” processes to only citizens who are predisposed to respect the state’s authority.
11. In conjunction with shows like Law and Order and COPS, it conditions the middle class citizenry to accept police authoritarianism and lawlessness as necessary to protect them against the terrifying threat of people voluntarily ingesting substances into their own bodies.
12. Through “if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear” rhetoric, it conditions the public to assume the surveillance state means well and that only evildoers object to ubiquitous surveillance.
13. In conjunction with endless military adventures overseas and “soldiers defend our freedoms” rhetoric, it conditions the public to worship authority figures in uniform, and predisposes them to cheerfully accept future augmentations of military and police authority without a peep of protest.
14. It creates enormously lucrative opportunities for the large banks — one of the most important real constituencies of the American government — to launder money from drug trafficking.
15. Thanks to major drug production centers like the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia, the opium industry in Afghanistan, and the cocaine industry in South America, it enables the CIA — the world’s largest narcotrafficking gang — to obtain enormous revenues for funding black ops and death squads around the world. This network of clandestine intelligence agencies, narcotraffickers and death squads, by the way, is the other major real constituency of the American government.
The Drug War would indeed be a failure if its real function was to reduce drug consumption or drug-related violence. But the success or failure of state policies is rightly judged by the extent to which they promote the interests served by the state. The Drug War is a failure only if the state exists to serve you.
Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory. He is a mutualist and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online. Carson has also written for such print publications as The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty and a variety of internet-based journals and blogs, including Just Things, The Art of the Possible, the P2P Foundation, and his own Mutualist Blog.
WASHINGTON – In a win for congressional oversight over the government’s vast killing program, the Obama administration has shown an additional but undisclosed number of Office of Legal Counsel memos justifying the program to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, but has continued to withhold some of its legal opinions from the Intelligence Committees and has not provided any of the legal opinions to the rest of Congress or to the American public. The legal opinions focused on non-citizens continue to be hidden from the Intelligence Committees.
“This is an important first baby step towards restoring the checks and balances between Congress and the president, but it isn’t enough. Amazingly, the Obama administration continues to hide at least some of its legal opinions, even from the intelligence committees. The intelligence committees should have been given all of the legal opinions years ago, particularly when the Obama administration has claimed broad authority to kill people, including American citizens, far from any battlefield,” said Senior Legislative Counsel Christopher Anders. “The legal opinions also shouldn’t stay hidden with the few dozen members of the intelligence committees, but should be available to all members of Congress and minimally redacted copies should be made public. It makes a mockery of the rule of law when the government hides the rules, or makes them up as they go along. It is time to come clean with Congress and the American people.”
Previously, only four memos were briefly shown to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, which prompted some Senate committee members to stall the confirmation of John Brennan—the architect of the targeted-killing program and President Obama’s choice to run the Central Intelligence Agency. In response, the government sent additional materials to the Intelligence Committees, but has not shown the committees all 11 legal opinions sought by several committee members, and also has not provided the legal opinions to other senators or made them public. This afternoon, the Senate Intelligence Committee will vote on whether to send John Brennan’s nomination to the full Senate.
More information on the ACLU’s work on targeted killing can be found here: www.aclu.org/national-security/targeted-killings
One year ago, after his breathtakingly beautiful Iranian drama, “A Separation,” won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, writer/director Asghar Farhadi delivered the best acceptance speech of the night.
“[A]t the time when talk of war, intimidation, and aggression is exchanged between politicians,” he said, Iran was finally being honored for “her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics.” Farhadi dedicated the Oscar “to the people of my country, a people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment.”
Such grace and eloquence will surely not be on display this Sunday, when Ben Affleck, flanked by his co-producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov, takes home the evening’s top prize, the Best Picture Oscar, for his critically-acclaimed and heavily decorated paean to the CIA and American innocence, “Argo.”
Over the past 12 months, rarely a week – let alone month – went by without new predictions of an ever-imminent Iranian nuclear weapon and ever-looming threats of an American or Israeli military attack. Come October 2012, into the fray marched “Argo,” a decontextualized, ahistorical “true story” of Orientalist proportion, subjecting audiences to two hours of American victimization and bearded barbarians, culminating in popped champagne corks and rippling stars-and-stripes celebrating our heroism and triumph and their frustration and defeat. Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir aptly described the film as “a propaganda fable,” explaining as others have that essentially none of its edge-of-your-seat thrills or most memorable moments ever happened. O’Hehir sums up:
The Americans never resisted the idea of playing a film crew, which is the source of much agitation in the movie. (In fact, the “house guests” chose that cover story themselves, from a group of three options the CIA had prepared.) They were not almost lynched by a mob of crazy Iranians in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, because they never went there. There was no last-minute cancellation, and then un-cancellation, of the group’s tickets by the Carter administration. (The wife of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor had personally gone to the airport and purchased tickets ahead of time, for three different outbound flights.) The group underwent no interrogation at the airport about their imaginary movie, nor were they detained at the gate while a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard telephoned their phony office back in Burbank. There was no last-second chase on the runway of Mehrabad Airport, with wild-eyed, bearded militants with Kalashnikovs trying to shoot out the tires of a Swissair jet.
One of the actual diplomats, Mark Lijek, noted that the CIA’s fake movie “cover story was never tested and in some ways proved irrelevant to the escape.” The departure of the six Americans from Tehran was actually mundane and uneventful. “If asked, we were going to say we were leaving Iran to return when it was safer,” Lijek recalled, “But no one ever asked!…The truth is the immigration officers barely looked at us and we were processed out in the regular way. We got on the flight to Zurich and then we were taken to the US ambassador’s residence in Berne. It was that straightforward.”
Furthermore, Jimmy Carter has even acknowledged that “90% of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian [while] the movie gives almost full credit to the American CIA… Ben Affleck’s character in the film was only in Tehran a day and a half and the real hero in my opinion was Ken Taylor, who was the Canadian ambassador who orchestrated the entire process.”
O’Hehir perfectly articulates the film’s true crime, its deliberate exploitation of “its basis in history and its mode of detailed realism to create something that is entirely mythological.” Not only is it “a trite cavalcade of action-movie clichés and expository dialogue,” but “[i]t’s also a propaganda movie in the truest sense, one that claims to be innocent of all ideology.”
Such an assessment is confirmed by Ben Affleck’s own comments about the film. In describing “Argo” to Bill O’Reilly, Affleck boasted, “You know, it was such a great story. For one thing, it’s a thriller. It’s actually comedy with the Hollywood satire. It’s a complicated CIA movie, it’s a political movie. And it’s all true.” He told Rolling Stone that, when conceiving his directorial approach, he knew he “absolutely had to preserve the central integrity and truth of the story.”
“It’s OK to embellish, it’s OK to compress, as long as you don’t fundamentally change the nature of the story and of what happened,” Affleck has remarked, even going so far as to tell reporters at Argo’s BFI London Film Festival premier, “This movie is about this story that took place, and it’s true, and I go to pains to contextualize it and to try to be even-handed in a way that just means we’re taking a cold, hard look at the facts.”
In an interview with The Huffington Post, Affleck went so far as to say, “I tried to make a movie that is absolutely just factual. And that’s another reason why I tried to be as true to the story as possible — because I didn’t want it to be used by either side. I didn’t want it to be politicized internationally or domestically in a partisan way. I just wanted to tell a story that was about the facts as I understood them.”
For Affleck, these facts apparently don’t include understanding why the American Embassy in Tehran was overrun and occupied on November 4, 1979. “There was no rhyme or reason to this action,” Affleck has insisted, claiming that the takeover “wasn’t about us,” that is, the American government (despite the fact that his own film is introduced by a fleeting – though frequently inaccurate1 – review of American complicity in the Shah’s dictatorship).
Wrong, Ben. One reason was the fear of another CIA-engineered coup d’etat like the one perpetrated in 1953 from the very same Embassy. Another reason was the admission of the deposed Shah into the United States for medical treatment and asylum rather than extradition to Iran to face charge and trial for his quarter century of crimes against the Iranian people, bankrolled and supported by the U.S. government. One doesn’t have to agree with the reasons, of course, but they certainly existed.
Just as George H.W. Bush once bellowed after a U.S. Navy warship blew an Iranian passenger airliner out of the sky over the Persian Gulf, killing 290 Iranian civilians, “I’ll never apologize for the United States of America. Ever. I don’t care what the facts are.” Affleck appears inclined to agree.
If nothing else, “Argo” is an exercise in American exceptionalism – perhaps the most dangerous fiction that permeates our entire society and sense of identity. It reinvents history in order to mine a tale of triumph from an unmitigated defeat. The hostage crisis, which lasted 444 days and destroyed an American presidency, was a failure and an embarrassment for Americans. The United States government and media has spent the last three decades tirelessly exacting revenge on Iran for what happened.
“Argo” recasts revolutionary Iranians as the hapless victims of American cunning and deception. White Americans are hunted, harried and, ultimately courageous and free. Iranians are maniacal, menacing and, in the end, infantile and foolish. The fanatical fundamentalists fail while America wins. USA -1, Iran – 0. Yet, “Argo” obscures the unfortunate truth that, as those six diplomats were boarding a plane bound for Switzerland on January 28, 1980, their 52 compatriots would have to wait an entire year before making it home, not as the result of a daring rescue attempt, but after a diplomatic agreement was reached.
Reflecting on the most troubled episodes in American history is a time-honored cinematic tradition. There’s a reason why the best Vietnam movies are full of pain, anger, anguish and war crimes. By contrast, “Argo” is American catharsis porn; pure Hollywood hubris. It is pro-American propaganda devoid of introspection, pathos or humility and meant to assuage our hurt feelings. In “Argo,” no lessons are learned by revisiting the consequences of America’s support for the Pahlavi monarchy or its creation and training of SAVAK, the Shah’s vicious secret police.
On June 11, 1979, months before the hostage crisis began, the New York Times published an article by writer and historian A.J. Langguth which recounted revelations relayed by a former American intelligence official regarding the CIA’s close relationship with SAVAK. The agency had “sent an operative to teach interrogation methods to SAVAK” including “instructions in torture, and the techniques were copied from the Nazis.” Langguth wrestled with the news, trying to figure out why this had not been widely reported. He came to the following conclusion:
We – and I mean we as Americans – don’t believe it. We can read the accusations, even examine the evidence and find it irrefutable. But, in our hearts, we cannot believe that Americans have gone abroad to spread the use of torture.
We can believe that public officials with reputations for brilliance can be arrogant, blind or stupid. Anything but evil. And when the cumulative proof becomes overwhelming that our representatives in the C.I.A. or the Agency for International Development police program did in fact teach torture, we excuse ourselves by vilifying the individual men.
Similarly, at a time when the CIA is waging an illegal, immoral, unregulated and always expanding drone execution program, the previous administration’s CIA kidnappers and torturers are protected from prosecution by the current administration, and leaked State Department cables reveal orders for U.S. diplomats to spy on United Nations officials, it is surreal that such homage is being paid to that very same organization by the so-called liberals of the Tinsel Town elite.
Upon winning his Best Director Golden Globe last month, Ben Affleck obsequiously praised the “clandestine service as well as the foreign service that is making sacrifices on behalf of the American people everyday [and] our troops serving over seas, I want to thank them very much,” a statement echoed almost identically by co-producer Grant Heslov when “Argo” later won Best Drama.
This comes as no surprise, considering Affleck had previously described “Argo” as “a tribute” to the “extraordinary, honorable people at the CIA” during an interview on Fox News.
The relationship between Hollywood and the military and intelligence arms of the U.S. government have long been cozy. “When the CIA or the Pentagon says, ‘We’ll help you, if you play ball with us,’ that’s favoring one form of speech over another. It becomes propaganda,” David Robb, author of “Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies” told The Los Angeles Times. “The danger for filmmakers is that their product — entertainment and information — ends up being government spin.”
Awarding “Argo” the Best Picture Oscar is like Barack Obama winning a Nobel Peace Prize: an undeserved accolade fawningly bestowed upon a dubious recipient based on a transparent fiction; an award for what never was and never would be and a decision so willfully naïve and grotesque it discredits whatever relevance and prestige the proceedings might still have had.*
So this Sunday night, when “Argo” has won that coveted golden statuette, it will be clear that we have yet again been blinded by the heavy dust of politics and our American mantra of hostility and resentment will continue to inform our decisions, dragging us closer and closer to the abyss.
***** ***** *****
* Yes, in this analogy, the equivalent of Henry Kissinger is obviously 2004′s dismal “Crash.”
1 The introduction of “Argo” is a dazzingly sloppy few minutes of caricatured history of Iran, full of Orientalist images of violent ancient Persians (harems and all), which gets many basic facts wrong. In fact, it is shocking this intro made it to release as written and recorded.
Here are some of the problems:
1. The voiceover narration says, “In 1950, the people of Iran elected Mohammad Mossadegh, the secular democrat, Prime Minister. He nationalized British and U.S. petroleum holdings, returning Iran’s oil to its people.”
Mossadegh was elected to the Majlis (Iranian Parliament) in 1944. He did not become Prime Minister until April 1951 and was not “elected by the people of Iran.” Rather, he was appointed to the position by the representatives of the Majlis.
Also, the United States did not have petroleum interests in Iran at the time.
2. After briefly describing the 1953 coup, the narrator says Britain and the United States “installed Reza Pahlavi as Shah.”
Wow. First, the Shah’s name was not Reza Pahlavi. That is his father’s (and son’s) name. Furthermore, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was not installed as Shah since he had already been Shah of Iran since September 1941, after Britain and the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Iran and forced the abdication of his father, Reza Shah Pahlavi.
During the coup in 1953, the Shah fled to Baghdad, then Rome. After Mossadegh had been forced out, the Shah returned to the Peacock Throne.
This is not difficult information to come by, and yet the screenwriter and director of “Argo” didn’t bother looking it up. And guess what? Ben Affleck actually majored in Middle East Studies in college. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t graduate.
The rest of the brief intro, while mentioning the torture of SAVAK, glosses over the causes of the revolution, but lingers on the violence that followed. As it ends, the words “Based on a True Story” appear on the screen. The first live action moment we see in “Argo” is of an American flag being burned.
Such is Affleck’s insistence that “Argo” is “not a political movie.”
Still, as Kevin B. Lee wrote in Slate last month, “This opening may very well be the reason why critics have given the film credit for being insightful and progressive—because nothing that follows comes close, and the rest of the movie actually undoes what this opening achieves.”
Instead of keeping its eye on the big picture of revolutionary Iran, the film settles into a retrograde “white Americans in peril” storyline. It recasts those oppressed Iranians as a raging, zombie-like horde, the same dark-faced demons from countless other movies— still a surefire dramatic device for instilling fear in an American audience. After the opening makes a big fuss about how Iranians were victimized for decades, the film marginalizes them from their own story, shunting them into the role of villains. Yet this irony is overshadowed by a larger one: The heroes of the film, the CIA, helped create this mess in the first place. And their triumph is executed through one more ruse at the expense of the ever-dupable Iranians to cap off three decades of deception and manipulation.
And brilliantly concludes,
Looking at the runaway success of this film, it seems as if critics and audiences alike lack the historical knowledge to recognize a self-serving perversion of an unflattering past, or the cultural acumen to see the utterly ersatz nature of the enterprise: A cast of stock characters and situations, and a series of increasingly contrived narrow escapes from third world mobs who, predictably, are never quite smart enough to catch up with the Americans. We can delight all we like in this cinematic recycling act, but the fact remains that we are no longer living in a world where we can get away with films like this—not if we want to be in a position to deal with a world that is rising to meet us. The movies we endorse need to rise to the occasion of reflecting a new global reality, using a newer set of storytelling tools than this reheated excuse for a historical geopolitical thriller.
Hollywood likes to pretend that things aren’t political when they are. It’s that bi-partisan nationalist myth that if both corporate parties agree to cheer for the empire, then everyone cheers for the empire. It’s gotten so bad now that races like the Oscars and the Writer’s Guild screenwriting award are tight contests between one CIA propaganda film and another CIA propaganda film. The first one helps to demonize Iranians and set up the next World War scenario, while the second film fraudulently promotes the effectiveness of state-sanctioned torture crimes.
If there ever was a time for loud disgust and rejection of the Hollywood / Military-Industrial-Complex, this would seem to be it (firstname.lastname@example.org). Naomi Wolf made a comparison of Zero Dark Thirty’s creators Bigelow and Boal to Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (Triumph of the Will). That, to me, seems inappropriately offensive to Leni Riefenstahl. The good German filmmaker never promoted torture through deception. Nor was Triumph a call to war. The film was simply an expression of German patriotism and strength, rebirth from the ashes of World War I. The current insidious crop of propaganda, as in the CIA’s leaking of fictional scenes about locating Osama Bin Laden through torture extraction, are arguably more damaging and less defensible than Riefenstahl’s upfront and blatant homage to Hitler’s leadership.
The Zero Dark Thirty scandal should be common knowledge by now, but here is what the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence wrote to Sony Pictures about it:
“We believe the film is grossly inaccurate and misleading in its suggestion that torture resulted in information that led to the location of Usama bin Laden… Instead, the CIA learned of the existence of the courier, his true name and location through means unrelated to the CIA detention and interrogation program.”
The filmmakers had every opportunity to explore the issue more fully, instead of relying on the “firsthand accounts” of the torturers themselves, and/or their allies within the Central Intelligence Agency. Notably, torturers are felons and war criminals. Those who know about their crimes and help cover them up are guilty of conspiracy to torture. Thus, these self-serving fairy tales that illegal torture led to the desired results (bin Laden) are tangled up with the motivation to protect war criminals from prosecution. Not only does this claim of successful torture help insulate the guilty from legal prosecution, it also helps to promote further criminal acts of torture in the future.
Once this red flag issue was raised by the Senate, the filmmakers could have taken a second look at what they had put up on screens and reassessed the veracity of their material and the way it was being sold to the world. Instead they doubled down. Bigelow and Boal want it both ways, extraordinary access to CIA storytellers for a documentary-like “factual” telling of the bin Laden execution, but they also want license to claim that it’s just a movie and can therefore take all the liberties they please.
Jessica Chastain, who plays a state-employed torturer/murderer, who also allegedly located Osama bin Laden, said:
“I’m afraid to get called in front of a Senate committee… In my opinion, this is a very accurate film… I think it’s important to note the film is not a documentary.”
In a nutshell, that’s the Zero Dark Thirty defense. It’s a highly sourced “very accurate film,” but we can take all the liberties we like because it’s not a documentary, and so if we made up a case for torture based on the lies of professional liars in the CIA, then oops.
Mark Boal went so far as to mock the Senate Intelligence Committee, at the NY Film Critic’s Circle:
“In case anyone is asking, we stand by the film… Apparently, the French government will be investigating Les Mis.”
Any controversy over the picture seems to help its box office, as more uninformed people hear about it. The filmmakers themselves suffer no penalty as a result of misleading a large number of people on torture, to accept torture, to accept a secretive criminal state that tortures with impunity.
Kathryn Bigelow’s wrapped-in-the-flag defense of the film:
“Bin Laden… was defeated by ordinary Americans who fought bravely even as they sometimes crossed moral lines, who labored greatly and intently, who gave all of themselves in both victory and defeat, in life and in death, for the defense of this nation.” (emphasis in original)
Nice propaganda trick at the end equating those who “gave all of themselves” and “death” with the individuals who “sometimes crossed moral lines.” Everyone’s dirty; you see. All heroes are torturers; so it’s okay.
Bigelow’s half-assed response to getting called out by the Senate for putting false torture results into her film, is to say:
“Torture was, however, as we all know, employed in the early years of the hunt. That doesn’t mean it was the key to finding Bin Laden. It means it is a part of the story we couldn’t ignore. War, obviously, isn’t pretty, and we were not interested in portraying this military action as free of moral consequences.” (emphasis added)
Ignore? By her reasoning, because the Central Intelligence Agency tortured people, she was required to fit it into the plot somehow, whether it was relevant to the investigation or not. That’s her excuse. No matter that the scenes are fabrications, and the actual clues about bin Laden’s courier came from elsewhere (electronic surveillance, human intelligence, foreign services).
Bigelow told Charlie Rose, when asked the same question about the torture: “Well I think it’s important to tell a true story.” Unfortunately, when confronted with the Senate investigation, truth quickly takes a back seat.
The truth Bigelow now clings to is that, “Experts disagree sharply on the facts and particulars of the intelligence hunt, and doubtlessly that debate will continue.” To Kathryn Bigelow, the fact that the so-called “experts” she has sided with are torturer criminals with a vested interest in her portrayal of their crimes never occurs to her. She can dismiss the entire matter as a “debate.” Perhaps she no longer finds it “important to tell a true story?”
Kathryn Bigelow, America’s Leni Riefenstahl, claims that Zero Dark Thirty tells “a true story,” even when confronted by evidence that it is a lie. She is unapologetic and completely divorced from the real world damage her propaganda encourages. If this film takes home the Best Picture Oscar, it should serve as the cherry on top of a brutal, deceptive, decrepit and immoral empire, and signal this reality to the rest of the world. If this is allegedly the “best” of America, then we are truly finished.
As for Ben Affleck’s Argo, its sins aren’t so readily apparent. Both films show wonderful Central Intelligence “heroes” acting to further US interests and take care of imperial problems. The Argo scenario is a rescue, however, instead of a hit. The problem is that Iran, a country thrown into a bloodthirsty dictatorship after its nascent democracy was murdered by the very same CIA in 1953, is now the bad guy. There are clearly two sides, and the film takes sides with the people who destroyed democracy in Iran and propped up an illegitimate monarch in order to control its oil and its refineries. When this despotic monarch whose secret police disappeared, tortured and murdered the political opposition – with the help and training of the CIA – is overthrown, we are supposed to overlook all that, because America is always good. We rescue our people. We risk our lives, and we come up with elaborate creative plans to help our people. We are heroic and triumphant vs. the inferior wild-eyed Persians and Arabs of the world.
Now I do believe there’s a real story there, and the situation is ripe for telling, but an extreme sensitivity to the political context would be required.
“… [T]he Iran we see in the [Argo] news clips and the Iran we see dramatized are all on the same superficial level: incomprehensible, out-of-control hordes with nary an individual or rational thought expressed.
… But we never go behind-the-scenes at this revolution. (Instead, Affleck and screenwriter Chris Terrio’s tempering historical introduction is soon outweighed by the visceral power of mobs storming walls, chador-clad women toting rifles, and banshees screaming into news cameras.)
… The problem is that viewers … aren’t going to walk out of [Argo] muttering “gee, it’s more complicated than I thought.” Instead, they’ll leave with their fears and prejudices reaffirmed: that Middle Easterners create terror, that Americans must be the world’s policemen, and that Iranians cannot be trusted because they hate America.
… Argo almost completely ignores individual Iranians; its portrait of an entire culture is neither refined nor sophisticated; and it does reinforce a simplistic, Manichean perspective.”
So why are Argo and Zero Dark Thirty receiving all these awards? Are the awarding bodies so full of hyper-patriots who believe pro-American films can deceive and demonize with impunity, that they want to send an unequivocal message of support for these practices?
Is hyper-nationalist propaganda in vogue now?
With the ascendancy of Barack Obama, there is no longer a moral anti-war voice of any significant size in America. Obama, the smooth talker, has soothed away morality, ethics, law and rights. The empire is beyond reproach because Obama runs it. So the liberal center/left says nothing. Nothing but empty blather and ignorant praise of the Democrats. Murder is being codified in secret as we speak. Bush’s wars are being publicly scaled down, only to ramp up new covert wars of conquest across Africa. Nothing substantial has changed since George W., only the style.
There was a time when no one trusted the CIA. Far from heroes, they were the prime suspects in the assassination of president John F. Kennedy, and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy. CIA support of terrorists was well known, if not loudly opposed. This agency has sponsored Cuban exiles to commit acts of terrorism inside Cuba. Its Phoenix Program kidnapped and murdered Vietnamese villagers by the thousands, torturing and killing them for alleged communist sympathies. The CIA overthrew democracies from Iran to Gutemala to Chile, and was instrumental in waging a terror war against Nicaragua by employing drug-running mercenary terrorists called “Contras.” When the Church Committee investigated the agency in the mid-70s, lots of dirty laundry was aired. The agency was reined in for a time. Assassination was made technically illegal.
In the 1980s, the CIA fought a proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan by funneling money and arms to radical Islamic Jihadists – like Osama bin Laden – and creating an intelligence/military monster in Pakistan, known as the ISI. With untold billions of dollars of US tax money, plus Saudi oil money, the Pakistanis were propped up as a central hub for militant groups to operate throughout the region. Pakistan is where Osama bin Laden allegedly ended up living for the last decade of his life, half a mile from the Pakistani military academy.
The CIA today is instrumental in the blitzkrieg of terror across Syria. It funnels arms and money to radical Islamic Jihadists, exactly as it did in Afghanistan in the 1980s. In 2011 it participated in the Libyan Crime Against the Peace doing much the same type of activity on behalf of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a group that helped take over that nation despite being included on the US State Department’s Terrorist List! The LIFG has sent its fighters over to Syria, after the fall of Qadaffi, to assist in the genocidal guerrilla war against the Syrian state, as well as civilians. The CIA assists in these activities.
But of course those victims aren’t Americans. So none of that counts.
“…Is it healthy for us to hold up images of Cold War CIA agents as selfless do-gooders?” –Jennifer Epps
- Academy Awards for the Promotion of Torture?
- Oscar-nominated Palestinian director detained at LAX
- Abe Lincoln, Racist Fascist?
- Hollywood myths harming the whole world: Ken O’Keefe
- Pictures Speak Volumes in Oscar-nominated Israeli Films
- Oscar Prints the Legend: Argo’s Upcoming Academy Award and the Failure of Truth
Unable to imprison the Americans behind the kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric, Italy has successfully jailed five Italians who took part in the 2003 controversy, including the government’s former military intelligence chief.
Niccolò Pollari was sentenced to 10 years in prison for complicity in the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) abduction of Abu Omar (Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr). His former deputy, Marco Mancini, received nine years, and three Italian secret service officials were sentenced to six years each.
In November 2009, an Italian court tried 23 Americans (all but one of whom worked for the CIA) in absentia for the Abu Omar kidnapping. All of the convicted received jail sentences of seven years, except for Robert Seldon Lady, the former Milan CIA station chief, who had his sentence increased to nine years after appealing. During the original trial, Lady told an Italian newspaper he was not guilty—but also indicated he may have been involved in the abduction. “I’m only responsible for carrying out orders that I received from my superiors,” he told Il Giornale. The U.S. government has refused to turn over any of those convicted.
After being abducted, Abu Omar was transferred to U.S. military bases in Italy and Germany and eventually shipped to Egypt, where he says he was tortured. “You cannot imagine,” he told Human Rights Watch. “I was hung up like a slaughtered sheep and given electric shocks…. I could hear the screams of others who were tortured too.”
The CIA later allowed him to be released after determining that he was not actually a part of a terrorist organization.
To Learn More:
Italy’s Ex-Intelligence Chief Given 10-Year Sentence For Role In CIA Kidnapping (by Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian)
In the New York Times, veteran intelligence writers Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane described Thursday’s confirmation hearing for John Brennan as “notably aggressive” and that it produced “intense questioning” for the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The Washington Post’s Greg Miller, another intelligence veteran, said that there were “heated exchanges” as Brennan was “challenged in often blunt terms”
Nothing could be further from the truth as the feckless Senate Intelligence Committee and its chairman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, led Brennan on a virtual walk in the park on the way to confirmation next week.
Keep in mind that Brennan could not be nominated for CIA director four years ago because of the intense opposition to his approval of the agency’s policy of extraordinary renditions, which permitted the CIA to take people off the streets of Europe and the Middle East and transfer them to foreign intelligence services that routinely engaged in the most sadistic kinds of torture.
Also, keep in mind that Brennan is the architect of the U.S. policy of “targeted killings” that have made assassinations a routine part of U.S. foreign policy. And in a shocking statement that was never addressed by the committee, Brennan admitted that, after reading the summary of the committee’s secret report on torture and abuse, he could no longer maintain that torture actually saved American lives.
If Brennan was truly unaware of the sadistic nature of U.S. torture and its lack of favorable results, then this is the most significant case of willful ignorance since Robert Gates told the Senate Intelligence Committee 22 years ago that he was unaware of the true nature of Iran-Contra.
Sherlock Holmes maintained that the dog that doesn’t bark often provides the real clues. Well, the questions that were never asked pointed to a committee that did not want to engage in a genuine confirmation process of a controversial nominee. There were no questions about Brennan’s various press conferences that provided inaccurate information on the killing of Osama bin Laden, the capture of the Nigerian underwear bomber, and the number of innocent lives that are being taken in Drone attacks.
Conversely, there was no discussion of press appearances that Brennan should have given in the wake of the attack on the Benghazi consulate that was oddly placed in the hands of UN Ambassador Susan Rice. All of these interviews were designed in part to put the best possible face on the national security policies of the Obama administration, hardly a standard for judging a future director of the CIA (or a Secretary of State).
The long list of uncovered topics included Iran, which has been the target of intense covert action; renditions that continue in the Obama administration; the huge number of foreign countries that participated in the program of extraordinary renditions; the virtual demise of the CIA’s Office of the Inspector General, which is the only serious oversight entity within the intelligence community; the placing of responsibility for targeted assassinations of American citizens in the hands of “informed, high-level” officials (whatever that may mean); or the CIA’s double standard that allows the operations officer who destroyed the torture tapes to write for the Washington Post while a CIA critic of torture and abuse goes to jail.
Since the end of the Cold War, the CIA has increasingly become a paramilitary organization, but there was no questioning of Brennan on what he will do to return the agency to its central role of collecting and analyzing intelligence.
As a result of this hearing, the American people have no idea of Brennan’s plans for an intelligence agency that has registered a series of regular intelligence and operational failures over the past two decades. Brennan merely explained that his job at CIA will involve “optimizing transparency and optimizing secrecy,” again whatever that means. He blithely assured the committee that he would do his best to share documents with its members, which was similar to Gates’s assurances to the committee in 1991 that were observed in the breach.
Brennan would not even call waterboarding an act of torture even though former CIA Director Leon Panetta and Attorney General Eric Holder have done so. Brennan had no idea that, under his stewardship as counter-terrorism adviser, only one high-value target had been captured.
The Bush administration at least tried to capture these targets and elicit intelligence; the Obama administration has resorted primarily to drone operations to kill them (although Brennan said some suspects end up in the hands of U.S. regional allies with Americans sometimes attending the interrogations or putting in their own questions).
No one on the committee appeared to understand that it was foreign intelligence liaison that produced the intelligence for past captures of “high-value” targets, but CIA practices of torture, renditions and secret prisons made liaison more difficult. And no one on the committee pursued the long-term consequences of Brennan’s “targeted killings,” which retired General Stanley McChrystal believes has increased the number of terrorists and the intensity of anti-Americanism.
Nevertheless, an editorial in the New York Times recommended the confirmation of Brennan, while expressing the hope that he would not “forget that heightened danger does not free the executive branch from oversight or the normal system of checks and balances.”
There was nothing in Thursday’s hearings that suggested the Senate Intelligence Committee is devoted to genuine oversight or that Brennan has a genuine understanding of checks and balances. In fact, in one of the most disturbing remarks of the day, Brennan closed out the session by actually asking the committee to be an “advocate” for the CIA. He doesn’t even understand that the committee was created three decades ago to be an advocate for the American people.
Melvin A. Goodman, a former CIA analyst, is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University. His latest book is National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism. Goodman’s recent speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco will be on CSPAN Sunday, Feb. 10, at 8 p.m. EST.
Today the Washington Post (2/6/13) reported some news that it’s known for years, but had decided not tell us until now: The CIA has a drone base in Saudi Arabia.
Their rationale for withholding this information was simple: The government didn’t want them to. And from what the Post is telling us today, they weren’t the only ones.
After explaining that Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by an attack “carried out in part by CIA drones flown from a secret base in Saudi Arabia,” the paper explains:
The Washington Post had refrained from disclosing the location at the request of the administration, which cited concern that exposing the facility would undermine operations against an Al-Qaeda affiliate regarded as the network’s most potent threat to the United States, as well as potentially damage counterterrorism collaboration with Saudi Arabia.
So why did the Post finally report this news today?
The Post learned Tuesday night that another news organization was planning to reveal the location of the base, effectively ending an informal arrangement among several news organizations that had been aware of the location for more than a year.
So there was an “informal arrangement among several news organizations” not to report important news because the government felt that it could make things difficult for them.
It would appear that “another news organization” is the New York Times, which reported today:
The first strike in Yemen ordered by the Obama administration, in December 2009, was by all accounts a disaster. American cruise missiles carrying cluster munitions killed dozens of civilians, including many women and children. Another strike, six months later, killed a popular deputy governor, inciting angry demonstrations and an attack that shut down a critical oil pipeline.
Not long afterward, the CIA began quietly building a drone base in Saudi Arabia to carry out strikes in Yemen. American officials said that the first time the CIA used the Saudi base was to kill Mr. Awlaki in September 2011.
The fact that the Post was keeping something secret was known in 2011, as FAIR noted (FAIR Blog, 7/27/11), quoting the paper:
The agency is building a desert airstrip so that it can begin flying armed drones over Yemen. The facility, which is scheduled to be completed in September, is designed to shield the CIA’s aircraft, and their sophisticated surveillance equipment, from observers at busier regional military hubs such as Djibouti, where the JSOC drones are based.
The Washington Post is withholding the specific location of the CIA facility at the administration’s request.
As FAIR also pointed out then, this was reminiscent of another decision by the Post to withhold news. In 2005, the paper delivered an explosive story about “black sites” where CIA was interrogating suspects–places where, in many cases, the agency could reasonably expect the prisoners to be tortured. The Post’s valuable expose was undercut by its decision not to name the countries involved. As the paper explained:
The Washington Post is not publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program, at the request of senior U.S. officials. They argued that the disclosure might disrupt counterterrorism efforts in those countries and elsewhere and could make them targets of possible terrorist retaliation.
This week, a new report from the Open Society Institute documented that more than 50 countries were involved in the CIA “extraordinary rendition” program. It’s certainly possible that some countries might have stopped helping the U.S. government torture people if it had been made known that they were doing so.
Likewise, it’s possible that Saudi Arabia will stop allowing the CIA to use its territory to conduct a secret drone war against a third country now that the secret is out. But the possibility that news might affect the world is not a reason to stop doing journalism. Indeed, it’s the best reason to do journalism.
UPDATE: The Times’ public editor Margaret Sullivan has weighed in on her blog (2/6/13), and what’s most notable is the opinion of the paper’s managing editor Dean Baquet, since it basically confirms the point we were making above:
The government’s rationale for asking that the location be withheld was this: Revealing it might jeopardize the existence of the base and harm counterterrorism efforts. ”The Saudis might shut it down because the citizenry would be very upset,” he said.
Mr. Baquet added, “We have to balance that concern with reporting the news.”
So the Times believes that it should refrain from reporting news that people in Saudi Arabia might object to–especially if it wound up complicating our government’s plans to launch military attacks from their country.
Fifty-four countries were said to have co-operated with the United States in the the illegal kidnapping, detention, torture, and abuse of “suspected terrorists” after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
A 213-page report titled “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition” was published in February by the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), a New York-based human rights organization.
After 2001, the United States had authorized the establishment of “black sites” outside of their territories, where “enhanced interrogation techniques” were used, under the “secret detention program.”
The CIA also began engaging in the transfer of foreign government detainees, without legal process, for detention and interrogation. This is known as “extraordinary rendition.”
Torture and abuse were signature characteristics of both the detention program and of the extraordinary rendition program.
Methods included “insult slaps,” confining the individual to a box, sleep deprivation, dousing the prisoner in water, and forced nudity while their arms were held extended and chained above their heads.
Waterboarding is a technique that was authorized by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) where the individual was made to feel like he/she was drowning. In this “enhanced interrogation technique,” water is poured over an immobilized individual’s face, blocking breathing passages.
Egypt was said to be “the country to which the greatest numbers of rendered suspects have been sent [by the U.S.],” according to OSJI.
Egyptians detained, interrogated, tortured, and abused several people and assisted in transferring individuals under the program, allowing the CIA to use their airspace and airports.
Jordan was involved in a similar manner.
Saudi Arabia detained individuals prior to and after they were subjected to extraordinary rendition or to the secret CIA detention. Further investigation has not been possible.
The Iranian government was said to have transferred fifteen individuals to the government of Afghanistan, ten of which were then transferred to the United States.
“Today, more than a decade after September 11, there is no doubt that highranking Bush administration officials bear responsibility for authorizing human rights violations associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition,” according to OSJI.
Responsibility does not end there however, the report said, as more than a quarter of the world’s nations offered covert support, thus facilitating such human rights abuses.
OSJI insisted that the Obama administration did not end extraordinary rendition, but instead chose to rely on “anti-torture diplomatic assurances from recipient countries and post-transfer monitoring of detainee treatment.”
Several outed incidents have shown that these measures were not effective.
The report lists the 54 countries involved in the programs by torturing, detaining, interrogating, and abusing individuals; hosting “black sites” on their territories; permitting the secret flights transporting captives to use their airspace and airports; providing information that lead to the extraordinary rendition or secret detention of individuals; and by interrogating individuals secretly held captive by other other governments.
Countries in the Middle East and North African region that were involved with the CIA in their post-9/11 activities include: Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
The other countries listed include: Afghanistan, Albania, Australia, Austria,Morocco, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Finland, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malawi, Malaysia, Mauritania, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, and Zimbabwe.
“Torture is not only illegal and immoral, but also ineffective for producing reliable intelligence,” the report said.
“Indeed, numerous professional U.S. interrogators have confirmed that torture does not produce reliable intelligence, and that rapport-building techniques are far more effective at eliciting such intelligence,” said OSJI.
Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition
Open Society Justice Initiative, Feb 2013
Download the 216-page report (1.08 MB pdf)
Ten years ago, the idea of the US government spying on its citizens, intercepting their emails or killing them with drones was unthinkable. But now it’s business as usual, says John Kiriakou, a former CIA agent and torture whistleblower.
Kiriakou is now awaiting a summons to start a prison sentence. One of the first to confirm the existence of Washington’s waterboarding program, he was sentenced last week to two-and-a-half years in jail for revealing the name of an undercover agent. But even if he had another chance, he would have done the same thing again, Kiriakou told RT.
RT: The judge, and your critics all seem to believe you got off lightly. Would you say you got off lightly?
JK: No, I would not say I got off lightly for a couple of very specific reasons. First of all, my case was not about leaking, my case was about torture. When I blew the whistle on torture in December 2007 the justice department here in the US began investigating me and never stopped investigating me until they were able to patch together a charge and force me into taking a plea agreement. And I’ll add another thing too, when I took the plea in October of last year, the judge said that she thought the plea was fair and appropriate. But once the courtroom was packed full of reporters last Friday she decided that it was not long enough and if she had had the ability to she would have given me ten years.
RT: And why did you, a decorated CIA officer, take such a strong stance against an agency policy? Did you not consider that there might be some come-back?
JK: I did. I took a strong stance and a very public one and that’s what got me into trouble. But honestly the only thing I would do differently is I would have hired an attorney before blowing the whistle. Otherwise I believe firmly even to this day I did the right thing.
RT: You have called it ironic that the first person to be convicted with regards to the torture program is the man who shed light on it. Do you believe the others, who put the program together, will ever face justice?
JK: I don’t actually. I think that president Obama just like president Bush has made a conscious decision to allow the torturers, to allow the people who conceived of the tortures and implemented the policy, to allow the people who destroyed the evidence of the torture and the attorneys who used specious legal analysis to approve of the torture to walk free. And I think that once this decision has been made – that’s the end of it and nobody will be prosecuted, except me.
RT: When you initially came out against torture, you said it was impractical and inefficient. Did you consider it immoral initially?
JK: I said in 2002 that it was immoral. When I returned from Pakistan to CIA headquarters early in the summer 2002, I was asked by a senior officer in the CIA’s counter-terrorist center if I wanted to be trained in the use of torture techniques, and I told him that I had a moral problem with these techniques. I believed that they were wrong and I didn’t want to have anything to do with the torture program.
RT: It’s no secret that Obama’s administration has been especially harsh on whistleblowers. But can the US afford leniency, in these security-sensitive times?
JK: I think this is exactly what the problem is. In this post 9/11 atmosphere that we find ourselves in we have been losing our civil liberties incrementally over the last decade to the point where we don’t even realize how much of a police state the United States has become.
Ten years ago the thought of the National Security Agency spying on American citizens and intercepting their emails would have been anathema to Americans and now it’s just a part of normal business.
The idea that our government would be using drone aircraft to assassinate American citizens who have never seen the inside of a courtroom, who have never been charged with a crime and have not had due process which is their constitutional right would have been unthinkable. And it is something now that happens every year, every so often, every few weeks, every few months and there is no public outrage. I think this is a very dangerous development.
RT: Obama’s tough stance, and harsh punishments for whistleblowers, has sent a message. Is he winning his fight against those who speak out?
JK: I don’t think he is winning this fight against whistleblowers, at least not over the long term, and I’ll tell you why.
President Obama has now charged seven people with violations of the Espionage Act. All previous presidents in American history combined only charged three people with violating the Espionage Act. And the Espionage Act is a WWI-era act that was meant to deter German saboteurs during that First World War. And now it is being used to silence critics of the government.
But so far all seven of these cases that have made their way into a courtroom have either collapsed of have been dismissed, including mine. All of the three espionage charges against me were dropped.
So, I think frankly the Obama administration is cheapening the Espionage Act. The Espionage Act should be used to prosecute spies and traitors, not to prosecute whistleblowers or people who are exercising their first amendment right to free speech.
RT: Do we still need whistleblowers? Are we going to see more of them coming out?
JK: I think we will see more whistleblowers and I think we need whistleblowers now more than ever before. Whether it’s in national security or whether it is in the banking industry, the American people have a right to know when there is evidence of waste, fraud, abuse, or illegality. If the Justice Department is not going to prosecute these cases, at the very least the American people need to know.