Posts Tagged ‘Barton Gellman’

Cheney Didn’t Panic

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

Maxalt bestellen [digg-reddit-me]Andrew Sullivan begins to explain Dick Cheney’s recent odd agreement with anti-torture journalist Mark Danner – as both call for the release of memos which demonstrate the efficacy of torture with this typically insightful observation:

The one thing you saw most plainly in the Plame affair is how obsessed Dick Cheney is with public image, the chattering classes and spinning stories that might reflect poorly on him. The act is the elder statesman, authoritatively reviewing the world scene, soberly making judgments, calmly explaining it later to those pesky people who are required to elect you every four years.

This seems obviously true now that I’ve read it – although I cannot remember this point being discussed before. Cheney demonstrated that he cared a great deal for his public image – even if he was not concerned with that other related quality which we can call popularity. Where I think Andrew goes wrong is in how he explains Cheney’s support for torture in the next sentence:

The reality is a man who lost it on 9/11, leapt immediately to apocalyptic conclusions, and then, as the dust cleared, was unable to go back on the war crimes he had authorized and so dug in ever more deeply to justify them.

I cannot know what precisely motivated Cheney in the aftermath of September 11. But my impression is not that he lost it – but that he saw it as an opportunity to do what needed to be done. Certainly Andrew would agree with this assessment as to Cheney’s motivation regarding executive power and the unitary executive and even the invasion of Iraq. Cheney wanted to do all of these things beforehand and saw September 11 as a justification for each of his preconceived policy prescriptions. Andrew is now trying to account for why Cheney authorized torture – starting with the presumption that he did not plan on doing so beforehand. I too doubt that Cheney intended to institute a policy of torture before he came into the White House. But I believe that given his beliefs, it was inevitable that he would support it, whether September 11 happened or not. Without September 11, he may never have been given the chance to support it – but he would have done so if he had been given such a chance.

There is little evidence of Cheney’s thinking about torture before September 11 – although Barton Gellman in The Angler describes Cheney’s beliefs about torture in the context of the kidnapping and torture of William Buckley by Hezbollah in Beirut in 1984:

Cheney had been thinking about the power of cruelty since at least 1984. In March of that year, the CIA’s chief of station in Beirut, William Buckley, fell into the hands of Hezbollah. “He has kidnapped and tortured,” recalled Tom Smeeton, a former CIA officer who served then as minority staff director of the House Intelligence Committee. Cheney, a committee member, followed the Buckley case closely, reviewing a secretly obtained videotape of the station chief’s decline. Cheney “was quite concerned about the implications of his torture and what that could mean in terms of revelations of various intelligence operations going on in the Middle East,” Smeeton said. The presumption they shared, with foreboding, was that torture worked.

I’m sure Cheney – like many who watch action movies – believed that torture was effective. At the same time, Cheney seemed to have a romantic notion of doing the hard, unpopular thing – of living in moral gray areas – of the dark but necessary arts. This of course was evident in his infamous Meet the Press appearance on September 16, 2001. You can see this attitude in his opinion of the crimes of the Richard Nixon and Iran-Contra scandals. This romanticization of the Dark Side of power – the necessary evils done by rough men in the night to protect the rest of us made torture was inevitable. Of course, torture is not normally considered a “gray” area – so a legalistic distinction had to be made:

After September 11, Cheney and his allies pioneered a distinction that the U.S. government had not claimed before. “Torture,” narrowly defined, would remain out of bounds. But violent, cruel, or degrading methods, the terms of art in Geneva, were perfectly lawful.

But the main reason I don’t buy the idea that Cheney’s decision to torture was a product of panic was his apparent composure on September 11 – and the coherence of his response. Back to Barton Gellman in The Angler again:

If a mandarinate ruled America, the recruiting committee on September 11 would have had to find someone like Cheney. “I don’t want to get too poetic about this, but it’s almost as if his whole life had been a preparation for this moment in history,” said Jack Kemp, who used to be a future vice president himself. Scooter Libby quoted that line, too, giving credit to Winston Churchill. Cheney professed no knowledge of fate. He had some acquaintance, though, with force and counterforce. Al Qaeda having struck on his watch, Cheney made clear by word and deed that he would take a leading role in the nation’s reply. So, too, did Libby and Addington. The three of them simply knew what had to be done, a considerable advantage in the debate that would soon follow.

By my reading, the Bush administration approved torture because in the aftermath of September 11, every one panicked – except Dick Cheney – who calmly applied his governing philosophy to the crisis. Cheney himself fomented and controlled the panic with such things as the One Percent Doctrine. His romantic attitude is best demonstrated by the character of Jack Bauer:

Except apparently for the fact that Bauer is humanized by his guilt over what he has done and believes it is necessary for the system to bring him to justice.

Cheney has exhibited no such guilt for his actions – and in fact has demonstrated pride.

Cheney didn’t panic on September 11 – and I don’t think he is panicking now. He does not believe he did anything wrong – and he does believe that no matter what the press says today, history will support him in the end. This is part of his romantic self-image – of a master of the Dark Side. He knows that if torture is held to be not only evil, but an ineffective (and indeed counterproductive) tactic, his legacy will be forever blackened. He’s fighting for his legacy – part of which is the endorsement of torture. He truly believes torture works – and he seems to feel no shame about having authorized it.

Pakistan: The Nexus

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

Barton Gellman on page 229 of his book, The Angler:

By his own declared measurements of danger, Iraq should not have been the center of the spiderweb for Cheney. The nexus, if it was anywhere, was in Pakistan – a nuclear state whose national hero sold parts to the highest bidder, whose intelligence service backed the Taliban, and whose North-West Frontier Province became a refugre for al Qaeda. Saudi Arabia, too, had a lot more links to bin Laden than Iraq did. As Cheney saw it, there was nothing decisive to be done about those countries. Washington needed whatever help the Saudis and Pakistanis were willing to provide, and if either government fell, the successor was almost sure to be worse.

The Bush administration’s failure to deal with Pakistan may be it’s most profound misstep. Of course, the lack of appropriate information and pressure on the part of the CIA and the Clinton administration also contributed to the problem. Regardless, it is clear that when we refer to the fight against terrorism, the nexus of our concerns and our war is Pakistan. Christoper Hitchens wrote a column entitled, “Pakistan is the problem” back in September in which he discusses the role the ISI, Pakistan’s security service, plays in sponsoring terrorism against India and Afghanistan – about how the Taliban and al Qaeda were both financed, supported, and to some extent created by Pakistan to encourage their strategic depth – and how A. Q. Khan created a global bazaar in nuclear weaponry, seemingly with the consent and support of the Pakistani military:

[W]e were too incurious to take note of the fact that Pakistan’s chief nuclear operative, A.Q. Khan, had opened a private-enterprise “Nukes ‘R’ Us” market and was selling his apocalyptic wares to regimes as disparate as Libya and North Korea, sometimes using Pakistani air force planes to make the deliveries.

At the same time, Pakistan is – whether intentionally or not – furthering the chaos in Afghanistan. American national security types have expressed their frustration about this in various ways:

It’s tough to fight a war in Afghanistan when the opposing team decides to fight the war in Pakistan.

Alternately, David Sanger explains the boozy hypothetical question asked by one of his friends involved with Pakistan and national security:

How can you invade an ally?

The situation, as complicated and fraught as it already is, is growing more unstable. The New York Times editorial board sums it up:

Almost no one wants to say it out loud. But…Pakistan is edging ever closer to the abyss.

The Story That Tells You Everything You Need To Know About US-Pakistan Relations

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]

This excerpt is of David Sanger speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, discussing “Obama’s Foreign Policy Inbox.”

The nexus of all of our fears and worries about terrorism and Islamic extremism is in Pakistan today – as Barton Gellman explained in The Angler:

The nexus, if it was anywhere, was in Pakistan – a nuclear state whose national hero sold parts to the highest bidder, whose intelligence service backed the Taliban, and whose North-West Frontier Province became a refugre for al Qaeda.

WMD proliferation, al Qaeda, assorted other religious extremists – all these combine in the unstable nation of Pakistan which the New York Times explained is “edging ever closer to the abyss.” Pakistan’s military and intelligence services are not clearly on America’s side – perhaps hoping to outlast our interest in the region. Niall Ferguson reports that Pakistan’s stabilizing middle class has been hit hard by this financial crisis; the religious extremists have fought the central government almost to a standstill in the frontier regions of Pakistan – and a truce is now being negotiated. Pakistan’s civil society movement which drove General Musharaff from power is now rising up against the civilian government thanks to political shenanigans to marginalize opposition parties. Corruption seems endemic. The military and intelligence services seem to be implicated in some way in the recent Mumbai attacks – as well as numerous other terrorist incidents and A. Q. Khan’s  nuclear black market.

All of this helps explain why America likely has special ops troops stationed over the border in Afghanistan ready to secure it’s nuclear sites in the event the nation suffers “a rapid and sudden collapse” – which the Pentagon’s Joint Operating Environment determined was a not insignificant possibility

(more…)

Iran’s Strategic Realignment

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

[digg-reddit-me]Hillary Mann Leverett in Foreign Policy tries to explain one of the biggest foreign policy blunders in the past half-century, how America at the height of it’s post-September 11 influence declined to respond to Iran’s request for comprehensive discussions with the United States on a number of high-profile issues, with the goal of becoming a strategic ally of America in the region:

When I served as director for Iran and Afghanistan affairs at the National Security Council from 2001 to 2003, national security advisor Condoleezza Rice dismissed then President Khatami as a potential diplomatic partner for the United States. Indeed, the erstwhile Sovietologist compared Khatami to Mikhail Gorbachev, arguing that by engaging Khatami, the United States would risk missing the opportunity to find the Islamic Republic’s Boris Yeltsin.

I suppose it’s not fair to lay the blame entirely on Rice – as Barton Gellman also described Cheney as having a role in rebuffing any talks

As America became mired in Iraq (due in part to Iranian meddling and support of Shiia extremists there), Iran has gained regional influence. Iran has been commonly described as the biggest beneficiary of Bush’s War on Terror. Interestingly though, it was only with Iran’s tacit support that the surge was able to succeed – as Iran exerted its influence to hold back the Shiia militias.

As someone directly involved in negotiations with Iran during this period after September 11, Leverett’s analysis is extremely relevant. Leverett also points to Iran’s attempts to capture members of Al Qaeda who fled Afghanistan in the aftermath of our invasion – and to turn them over to the United States:

In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Tehran detained literally hundreds of suspected al Qaeda operatives seeking to flee Afghanistan into Iran. Iran repatriated at least 200 of these individuals to the then new government of Hamid Karzai, to Saudi Arabia, and to other countries. The Iranian government documented these actions to the United Nations and the United States in February 2002, including providing copies of each repatriated individual’s passport…

Regrettably, instead of working to establish a framework within which Tehran could have made al Qaeda operatives detained in Iran available to the United States or some international body – buy provigil online as our Iranian interlocutors requested – the Bush administration insisted that Iran detain and deport all al Qaeda figures the United States believed might be in Iran, without any assistance from or reciprocal understandings with the United States

This ham-handed attempt to force our way demonstrates the tragic misunderstanding of the extent of American power of the Bush administration. Leverett points out that:

[I]t was the Bush administration, not Iran, that rebuffed a deal that would have given the United States access to important al Qaeda operatives -including, possibly, Saad bin Laden, Osama’s son.

Blunder upon blunder – all based on the same premise – that America has the power to unilaterally force it’s will and achieve all of our objectives. While America’s power is certainly sufficient to accomplish any number of our objectives – it is not enough to accomplish all of them.

But now opportunity is upon us – and as Leverett suggests, we should:

explicitly posit strategic realignment between Washington and Tehran as the talks’ end goal.

This strategic realignment would re-shape the region – and America’s Wars Against Terrorism. That a high level negotiator believes it is within the realm of possibility (and in this she is far from alone) is yet another reason for hope.

The Judgment of History

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Patrick Radden Keefe mentioned, in an offhand manner, one of the great questions about the transition:

Even the legal opinions governing the program are still squirreled away in a safe in Vice President Dick Cheney’s office. In recent months, the Senate Judiciary Committee and a Washington district judge have ordered them turned over, and the next attorney general should do so immediately.

He was referring here to the wiretapping program specifically – but it applies to many of the legal rationales in the War on Terror. Dick Cheney and his lieutenants David Addington and Scooter Libby perfected the art of bureaucratic warfare during the first years of the Bush administration. According to Jack Goldsmith as quoted by Barton Gellman:

They were geniuses at this. They could divide up all these problems in the bureaucracy, ask different people to decide things in their lanes, control the facts they gave them, and then put the answers together to get the result they want.

In addition – as Keefe mentioned – and as Gellman reported in his book The Angler – Addington kept certain legal documents exclusively in the safe in his office. Not just copies – but the originals, with no copying permitted, and with access to the documents severely limited. (For example, even the attorneys in the National Security Agency responsible for making sure the NSA was following legal guidelines were not permitted to see the legal rationale for their wiretapping program.) As members of the incoming administration attempt to decide what is the best means to deal with the abuses of power during the Bush administration – Nuremberg-style trials? a truth commission offering clemency? the normal legal system? – you have to wonder what steps Cheney and Addington will take. There has been much discussion of whether or not George W. Bush will offer a preemptive pardon to anyone involved in the War on Terror – but less discussed is what Cheney and Addington might be able to do to entirely obfuscate attempts to find out what happened.

Based on my understanding of Cheney’s personality as described by Barton Gellman – and on his recent interview with ABC News – I think Cheney might want to just get it all out there. He virtually admitted – though not necessarily to the point of taking legal responsibility – that he authorized war crimes:

He was also asked whether he authorized the tactics used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

“I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn’t do,” Cheney said. “And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.

It seems that Cheney – at least on some issues – is now, and finally, willing to come forward and admit his role. He isn’t willing to admit fault – but seems proud of what he did, and willing to accept the judgment of history.

Still given the extreme secrecy surrounding even the legal rationale of many aspects of the War on Terror, we may never know if documents are destroyed.

Why do we care about international standards?

Monday, December 1st, 2008

Why do we care about international standards? Because for more than one hundred years, beginning after our own Civil War, the United States has been at the forefront of setting international standards for the conduct of warfare….These are not simply “diplomatic” or”foreign policy” issues; the US military and our Defense Department were at the forefront of developing these standards….Surely one of the most basic rights is the right to be treated humanely and in accordance with legal rules.

John Bellinger, legal advisor to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, in a memo to policy-makers in the Bush administration on July 17, 2005, according to Barton Gellman in The Angler.

Yesterday’s American Heroes, Not Tomorrow’s Leaders

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

The Washington Post excerpted Barton Gellman’s new book on the Cheney Vice Presidency. Gellman includes the following scene which helps to fill in the gaps in the story that culminated in the infamous showdown in Attorney General Ashcroft’s hospital room. After Ashcroft, Comey, Goldsmith, and Philbin had determined that the Bush administration was breaking the law, they began to take steps to push the administration into compliance, leading to this meeting:

Comey, Goldsmith and Philbin found the titans of the intelligence establishment lined up, a bunch of grave-faced analysts behind them for added mass. The spy chiefs brought no lawyers. The law was not the point. This meeting, described by officials with access to two sets of contemporaneous notes, was about telling Justice to set its qualms aside.

The staging had been arranged for maximum impact. Cheney sat at the head of Card’s rectangular table, pivoting left to face the acting attorney general. The two men were close enough to touch. Card sat grimly at Cheney’s right, directly across from Comey. There was plenty of eye contact all around.

This program, Cheney said, was vital. Turning it off would leave us blind. Hayden, the NSA chief, pitched in: Even if the program had yet to produce blockbuster results, it was the only real hope of discovering sleeper agents before they could act.

“How can you possibly be reversing course on something of this importance after all this time?” Cheney asked.

Comey held his ground. The program had to operate within the law. The Justice Department knew a lot more now than it had before, and Ashcroft and Comey had reached this decision together.

“I will accept for purposes of discussion that it is as valuable as you say it is,” Comey said. “That only makes this more painful. It doesn’t change the analysis. If I can’t find a lawful basis for something, your telling me you really, really need to do it doesn’t help me.”

“Others see it differently,” Cheney said.

There was only one of those, really. John Yoo had been out of the picture for nearly a year. It was all Addington.

“The analysis is flawed, in fact facially flawed,” Comey said. “No lawyer reading that could reasonably rely on it.”

Gonzales said nothing. Addington stood by the window, over Cheney’s shoulder. He had heard a bellyful.

“Well, I’m a lawyer and I did,” Addington said, glaring at Comey.

“No good lawyer,” Comey said.

This story reminds me of something that gets lost in the day-to-day campaign: Attorney General John Ashcroft, Deputy Attorney General James Comey, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Patrick Philbin, Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Air Force Colonel Morris Davis, Army Captain Ian Fishback, General Eric Shinseki, and yes, Senator Chuck Hagel, Senator John McCain, Senator Lindsay Graham, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates – all of these men, and other unnamed men and women stood against and were able to moderate the Bush administration’s worst impules. Some stood up and insisted that the rule of law applied to all citizens; others stood against and exposed torture and inhuman treatment; others stood against the hubris and arrogance of the Bush administration. Many Democrats were co-opted by the Bush adminisrtation, but more opposed it. But these Democrats never were let on the inside, and so never had the opportunity, never had to face the difficult choice of whether to risk their career and turn against their party for a moral or political principle. These individuals demonstrated courage, and they deserve credit and praise. These individuals, more than anyone, are responsible for preserving what is left of our republic.

But still, especially in this election year, we must remember that these men were Republicans for a reason – and most have remained Republicans. Jack Goldsmith forced the Justice Department to re-write the torture memos – but he still believes in a unitary executive, with many of its extreme implications. John McCain may have criticized Donald Rumsfeld, but he was always a strong supporter of the Iraq war as well as any other necessary military interventions in the Middle East. John Ashcroft may have heroicly refused to give in to executive pressure on wiretapping while hospitalized, but he also routinely authorized gross violations of civil liberties.

These individuals deserve great credit for keeping their heads about them while the Bush administration sought to seize near unlimited power, but we need more than a more moderate version of George W. Bush from out next president.

Which is why, as much as we should honor these individuals, they do not represent the future, the next step.

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