The US Press Sell-out on Iraq War

As President George W. Bush rushed the nation to war in early 2003, some Americans took personal risks to warn the country about the misleading evidence on Iraq, but most U.S. news outlets turned a deaf ear, sometimes leaving the whistleblowers out in the cold, as former FBI agent Coleen Rowley recalls.

By Coleen Rowley

By late January-early February 2003, Americans were witnessing the Bush administration’s final and intense push to launch a pre-emptive war on Iraq, based largely on (what are now well known as) two completely false pretexts: Iraq’s possession of WMD and its connections to Al Qaeda terrorists.

My knowledge that Iraq’s WMD was being exaggerated was merely what anyone could gain from close reading of public sources, including some in the mainstream press: the McClatchy news articles by Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel (who later won Pulitzers for their reporting) as well as a few buried articles in the Washington Post and Newsweek debunking the “evidence” being presented by Bush-Cheney-Powell-Rice-Rumsfeld et al.

However, due to the Minneapolis FBI’s pre 9/11 investigation of an Al Qaeda operative, I was in a better position to know more than J.Q. Average Citizen about the non-existence of ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Still, Bush administration officials knew how important it was to cleverly fabricate this connection.

So, Vice President Dick Cheney would lie about 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta meeting with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague while FBI Director Robert Mueller would look down at his shoes, knowing the FBI had documentary proof that Atta was in the U.S. at the time (and not meeting Iraqi agents in Prague).

I also knew the FBI director was under enormous pressure to keep his mouth shut and go along with whatever senior administration officials wanted, to keep them from splitting the FBI in half. The FBI’s pre-9/11 lapses were becoming well-known and its round-up of a thousand immigrants after 9/11 touted for PR purposes had turned into a fiasco. They were not terrorists, while other actions that would have made sense, like interviewing terror suspects already in custody about second-wave plots, were declined.

The incompetence and dissembling from these prior failures and mistakes had first shocked me but then I grew desensitized. Still, the false info being sold to the American public that the 9/11 attacks were connected to Iraq was a whopper with potentially grave consequences. By February 2003, the Bush administration had succeeded in misleading 76 percent of Americans to believe Saddam Hussein provided assistance to Al Qaeda.

Media Turning Point 

Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation at the U.N. on Feb. 5, 2003, seemed to mark the point where the mainstream media fully succumbed to war fever and rallied behind Bush’s invasion plans. What few knew was that, in addition to Powell’s PR home-run, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s assistant Victoria Clarke had leaked her 300-page plan of “Embedding the Media in Iraq” to U.S. media chieftains. The Pentagon Pundit Program was also established to insert retired pro-war military officers as talking heads on the TV News programs.

I learned how badly biased the media already was when I tried to submit an Op-Ed to Time magazine, which had just featured me as one of its Persons of the Year for whistleblowing about the FBI’s 9/11 failures.

However, in early February 2003, I quickly became persona non grata when I questioned the Bush administration’s stated urgency for going to war. The word soon came back from the magazine’s brass that the Iraq War was essentially a done deal. They had no interest in my Op-Ed.

A couple weeks later, I remembered a comment from the FBI director who expressed a willingness to accept critical information from me about problems and dangers. So on Feb. 26, 2003, I took a deep breath and sent an e-mail to FBI Director Robert Mueller. It contained all the points I could think of that the FBI director ought to be warning the President about. In a nutshell, I pointed out how wrong and counterproductive the launching of war on Iraq would be to our efforts to reduce terrorism.

A week passed without any response from Director Mueller. I was starting to panic as, according to news reports that first week of March, American troops were already in place, just waiting for orders from Bush to commence the attack.

I could not watch another calamity unfold without trying to do something. So, I called up reporters at two newspapers, Philip Shenon at the New York Times and Greg Gordon at the Minneapolis Star Tribune (who now writes for McClatchy). They were interested and both newspapers subsequently published front-page stories about my warning to the FBI director on March 6, 2003.

Although I had technically broken FBI policy by not seeking FBI “pre-publication review” and approval for sharing my letter with news outlets, nothing in my letter was classified or secret by law. It certainly was the kind of thing more suitable for a letter of resignation and way over my lowly (GS-14) pay grade but no one at the higher ranks was doing anything! They all seemed muzzled.

The morning the articles were published, the FBI’s “Office of Professional Responsibility” (the internal discipline unit) as well as Headquarters Legal Counsel and Press Office quickly engaged with my field office boss (the “Special Agent in Charge”) to let me know I’d be facing disciplinary action for the unapproved media contact and publication.

Of course, the reason I had not sought “pre-publication review” was due to time sensitivity. I was aware of the FBI using its “prepublication review” policy to delay releasing other agents’ writings for years not due to legal reasons (secrecy of the info) but just as a way of controlling employees’ speech when it could prove embarrassing to the FBI.

All of my colleagues in the Minneapolis FBI office were shocked at the news articles on March 6 and at what they thought was a totally crazy action on my part. Given the war fever and sense of futility, even the few who were against the Iraq War disapproved of my attempt to engage the media. Some agents joined pundits in publicly denouncing me.

Those in my office said they could no longer trust me and called on my boss to relieve me of my division legal counsel duties. (Only one, however, had the integrity to confront me directly and question me on the substantive facts and issues, the lack of justification for launching the new war on a country that had nothing to do with 9/11.)

Enter CBS 60 Minutes  

Among the media calls that ensued from my published warnings was a request for an exclusive interview from the celebrated CBS’s 60 Minutes investigative news show. One of correspondent Scott Pelley’s producers at the time had worked on prior news reports exposing the Moussaoui investigation and I had previously met him a couple times.

Pelley and his producer flew in to the Twin Cities the next day. By then, the FBI had reviewed my e-mail letter to Mueller (which had resulted in the articles) and they knew there was nothing in it that was secret or legally protected. The FBI had initiated a potential disciplinary action against me, however, for failure to seek “pre-publication review.”

At that point, I asked for the FBI’s approval to accommodate the 60 Minutes request. After taking an additional day to respond, FBI officials ended up saying they couldn’t stop me from repeating the points in my letter but also basically read me the riot act in terms of warning me not to do it.

Before that happened, Pelley and his producer already tried to convince me to do the interview without worrying about FBI approval. On the morning of March 7, while their cameras were being set up and I was trading phone calls with my boss and FBI Headquarters, Pelley tried to convince me to just go ahead.

It was then that he divulged how Colin Powell’s speech had been the thing that convinced him of the need for this new war on Iraq. He said he’d been very skeptical prior to hearing Powell but that Powell was persuasive and seemed to have swayed the bulk of the media. But Pelley continued if there were solid arguments and information that weighed against precipitously launching this new war the people of the country needed to hear it.

The FBI hadn’t responded to my request by 11 a.m. and so I told the 60 Minutes crew I couldn’t do the interview. The camera team took down and packed the equipment up and put our living room furniture back in place. It was almost noon and Pelley and his producer had given up and left when the FBI finally provided their weird response, half approval and half warning.

Pelley had already returned to the airport but when I called and said I could do the interview, they turned around and had their camera crew come back and set up again. I had a prior commitment to give a two-hour talk on “legal and law enforcement ethics” at a Twin Cities law school that afternoon but when I got home around 4 p.m., 60 Minutes started filming the interview.

Interview from Hell

It was an interview from hell, quickly turning into an excruciatingly difficult and painful affair for everyone involved. Pelley asked the same or similar questions over and over, I suppose in an effort to get better or stronger responses. I was trying to be careful and not stray from the FBI’s “permission,” which was limited to what I’d already said in the letter to Mueller.

Canister after canister of film was loaded, used and wasted, capturing the repeated questioning which continued to almost midnight. With only a few short breaks, that made for almost eight hours worth of (thoroughly repetitive) interview tape! By the end, judging from their faces going out the door, it was obvious that most if not all of the tape was destined for the cutting-room floor.

Nothing aired that Sunday, March 9. Pelley’s producer may have been in hot water over how much time and effort was wasted in the hours and hours of the interview, especially since it occurred on a Friday night, less than 48 hours before Sunday night’s show time. I never heard from anyone at 60 Minutes again.

Not surprisingly, my career at the FBI was destroyed as a result of my speaking out against the war. It’s a much longer story but the group of agents with the worst case of war fever pressured my boss to make me step down from the GS-14 legal position I’d had for 13 years.

In a way they were right, since the attorney-client legal representation aspect of my division legal counsel position required the trust of all the employees. I made a quick decision that the better part of valor would be to give them their pound of flesh.

My stepping down — along with volunteering for various shifts, out-of-town and holiday assignments, all-night surveillances and odd jobs that no one wantedlike “informant coordinator” — got me through the next 22 months to retirement eligibility albeit with a pension accordingly reduced for having given up one GS-level.

Nearly a decade later, I find it’s still painful to remember and recount. I’ve blocked a lot of it out. In all fairness, there were probably many reasons that nothing from the canisters and canisters of film produced from that painful interview ever aired on 60 Minutes at the start of that war-fevered week (which was about 10 days before Bush ordered the attacks to begin).

But there are also lots of unanswered questions for me. The significant investment of time and resources that Scott Pelley ended up wasting on my warnings about launching war on Iraq less than 48 hours from their Sunday night show time was itself evidence of the bit of open-mindedness the show’s producers obviously retained even at that late date.

It would be interesting, if the tapes of the interview still exist somewhere at 60 Minutes, to listen to them now. Maybe I just didn’t sound authoritative enough. A guy like Cheney not only had all the power but he always spoke in the most authoritative way as if he knew everything for sure.

How much was due to the fact I was “a GS-14 nobody” on a straight path to “GS-13 nobody”? But credibility isn’t exactly the same thing as status and power. I had been proven correct about the mistakes leading to 9/11 and the fact that 9/11 might have been prevented. My concerns about invading Iraq would all prove pretty much correct too (unfortunately).

It’s impossible to overstate how powerful the deceptions by those in control of the government could be. Certainly much of what I observed and disclosed was available for many others to see and say but almost nobody did.

The 9/11 Experience  

I probably wouldn’t have gone to these lengths either had I not witnessed and suffered through what happened on 9/11. I reproached myself for not having done more then, even if it meant acting above my pay grade. Did the effort at “perception management” by those in power simply trump reality and substance?

The Iraq War lead-up presented an unusual situation because most of the mainstream media was duped, self-censoring or actively helping the Bush administration to sell the deception. The media had most of the facts or access to most of the facts themselves. But only a small segment, a really small segment of reporters, was reporting the facts.

Bill Moyers has since interviewed a number of national journalists involved, including the late Tim Russert, longtime anchor of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” for a program called “Buying the War.” The stories by the small handful of news reporters who got it right were either buried or did not get wide circulation.

Only a few people with the credibility and the ability to get a bit of air time and/or get an Op-Ed published were speaking out, like former weapons inspector Scott Ritter, former U.S. Ambassador Joe Wilson and ex-President Jimmy Carter.

It was a classic “Emperor Has No Clothes” situation, but there was just no little boy who could yell loud enough. The 9/11 lapses  had  allowed Bush to wield more power over his government including the FBI, CIA and other national security agencies so they too were forced to applaud their naked emperor’s march.

What’s worse is that the trends toward perception dominating substance did not end with Bush (and Karl Rove’s) departure. Powerful neoconservative columnists, like William Kristol at the Weekly Standard (and formerly at the New York Times) and Charles Krauthammer at the Washington Post never looked back. The neocons still frame most of the leading national news coverage despite having been wrong on just about everything. In other words, they are still selling their invisible garments.

I think it would be good for 60 Minutes to save the tapes of my interview (if they still exist) and give them to historians who may try at some future point to figure out how such a naked emperor was able to continue into a disastrous war despite some of us who tried to yell.

[Scott Pelley is now the anchor and managing editor of “CBS Evening News,” a seat formerly held by Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather.]

Coleen Rowley, a FBI special agent for almost 24 years, was legal counsel to the FBI Field Office in Minneapolis from 1990 to 2003. She wrote a “whistleblower” memo in May 2002 and testified to the Senate Judiciary on some of the FBI’s pre 9/11 failures. She retired at the end of 2004, and now writes and speaks on ethical decision-making and balancing civil liberties with the need for effective investigation.

Danger of Hyping Foreign Dangers

Propaganda often involves taking the words of an adversary out of context and making them seem far worse or more dangerous than they are. When the news media joins in the distortion, the public can easily be stampeded into confrontation or war, a dilemma that ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar addresses.

By Paul R. Pillar

The predations of unattractive foreign rulers have long been a favorite subject of hyperbole. More recently a particular variation of that form of exaggeration has been in vogue: the assertion that a particular ruler intends “to wipe” somebody “off the map,” or sometimes “off the face of the Earth.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy indulged in such phraseology recently when he hosted a meeting of the “Friends of Syria” coalition and urged more support for the Syrian opposition. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said Sarkozy, “wants to wipe Homs from the map like Gaddafi wanted to wipe Benghazi from the map.” Sarkozy is in the midst of a tough re-election fight, and hyperbole about a topic on which he has asserted a leading role is perhaps not surprising.

One can debate to what length massacre-wise Bashar al-Assad would be willing to go, and whether his ruthlessness would match the level of his father Hafez when in 1982 forces under the father’s regime flattened most of the town of Hama, a center of anti-regime resistance. In any event, Sarkozy’s statement did not appear to be based on any statement of intent from the current Syrian regime; it was at best an inference and projection based partly on tactics Syrian government forces already have employed.

The most questionable aspect of Sarkozy’s comment was the part about Libya. The now-widespread notion that Gaddafi wanted to wipe Benghazi off the map, with associated comments about would-be bloodbaths and massacres, appears to have originated with a comment from the late Libyan dictator in which he really said something different.

What he did say was that “we will have no mercy on them,” with the rest of his comments making it clear he was referring to armed rebels and not to the general population of Benghazi. Qaddafi went on to say that anyone who “stays at home without any weapons, whatever he did previously, he will be pardoned, protected.”

But the idea of averting a massacre had powerful appeal as the selling point for an armed intervention, for which Sarkozy and the British government of David Cameron were the prime promoters, that quickly revealed itself actually to be a regime-change operation. The notion about Gaddafi’s supposed map-wiping intentions was picked up by others, including the Obama administration, and now has become one of those myths that, simply because it has been repeated so often by so many, is widely accepted as true.

Something similar has occurred with the idea that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has threatened to “wipe Israel off the map.” The origin of this notion was a speech Ahmadinejad gave at a “World Without Zionism” conference in 2005.

As the Israeli minister of intelligence and atomic energy, Dan Meridor, recently acknowledged, Ahmadinejad did not say anything about map-wiping. He instead said something, in which the exact translation from Persian to English is uncertain, about how “the regime that is occupying Jerusalem must be eliminated from the pages of history.”

In the same speech Ahmadinejad went on to explain that even though the end of Israeli rule over Jerusalem may seem hard to imagine, the end of the shah’s rule in Iran and the collapse of the Soviet Union show that changes that big are possible. In this case, the myth about map-wiping has served different purposes for different parties, with the exaggerations on each side playing off one another.

Hooman Majd, an Iranian-American writer who once served as interpreter for a speech by Ahmadinejad at the United Nations, suggests that Ahmadinejad has never tried to correct the mistake about his 2005 speech because he sees political advantage in being an outspoken adversary of Israel and would not want to be seen as backing away from a bellicose statement about the Jewish state.

Leaders of the current Israeli government have repeated the wiping-out theme with gusto as part of their campaign to portray Iran as a dire threat. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, for example, earlier this year described Iran as “a nation whose leaders have set themselves a strategic goal of wiping Israel off the map.”

Anti-Iran hawks in the United States have followed suit amid debate about the Iranian nuclear program. Former presidential hopeful Michelle Bachmann went ever farther with the false assertion that Ahmadinejad “has said that if he has a nuclear weapon he will use it to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth.” [This fabrication also has popped up in comments by American pundits and journalists, including Mark Landler, White House correspondent for the New York Times.]

Even if Ahmadinejad ever said such things, to infer Iranian intentions or future actions from such rhetoric would be a serious mistake. One, because Ahmadinejad is not the principal decision-maker on how Iran uses armed force. Two, because rhetorical bombast is quite different from policy.

Ahmadinejad’s confident comments in his 2005 speech are most reminiscent of Nikita Khrushchev’s pronouncement to the capitalist West in 1956 that “we will bury you.” Fortunately, Western statesmen of the time properly interpreted Khrushchev’s comment as a boast about history being on the communists’ side, not as a statement of his government’s intention to do something horrible to the West.

Any exaggerated portrayal of a foreign problem is an impediment to well-reasoned construction of policy for dealing with the problem. The appeal of the map-wiping or Earth-face-wiping imagery seems to make such exaggeration all the more likely to catch on and harder to correct. We ought to wipe such terms out of our vocabulary except in the extremely rare instances in which intentions of outright extermination really are involved.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

Poland Probes CIA ‘Black Site’ Prison

Even as the Obama administration continues to ignore the worst crimes of George W. Bush’s presidency including torture and aggressive war authorities in Poland are investigating its alleged hosting of a CIA “black site” prison. An inquiry that may be the best hope for some measure of truth, writes Nat Parry.

By Nat Parry

A probe by Polish prosecutors into the CIA’s use of a secret prison in Poland offers a grim reminder of one of the Global War on Terror’s darkest chapters America’s use of Eastern European allies to assist in illegal extraordinary renditions and torture of suspected terrorists.

But the fact that the probe is being carried out by Polish authorities, with no comparable investigation by the U.S. government, offers perhaps an even starker reminder that democratic accountability is in some ways stronger in the former Soviet Bloc than it is in the United States of America.

Despite some feeble attempts from Congress to ensure greater oversight of the CIA’s program of clandestine prisons, there have been no investigations of possible violations of anti-torture laws.

An amendment to require reports on clandestine detention facilities was attached to the 2006 supplemental military spending bill, but as this amendment only required that classified reports be submitted to relevant congressional committees, it did little to raise general public awareness of the issue.

A 2009 Senate review of the program promised to “assess lessons learned” but assured the CIA that employees who participated in the program would not be held to account. Then-CIA Director Leon Panetta vowed to block “an inquiry designed to punish those who acted in accord with guidance from the Department of Justice.”

First revealed in November 2005 by the Washington Post, the clandestine network of CIA prisons was acknowledged by President George W. Bush in September 2006. At the time, Bush claimed that torture was not part of the program. Investigations by the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, however, revealed that torture had been used extensively in the prisons.

While deploring “the concepts of state secrecy or national security” invoked by the United States to obstruct the investigation into “grave allegations of human rights violations,” the Council of Europe nevertheless ascertained that detainees in the prisons “were subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, sometimes protracted.”

“Certain ‘enhanced’ interrogation methods used fulfill the definition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment in Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the United Nations Convention against Torture,” said the report. A subsequent investigation by the European Parliament further confirmed the use of torture in the secret prisons.

Following its investigation, the EP adopted a strongly worded resolution condemning the U.S. policies and the European governments that participated in the program.

“Extraordinary rendition and secret detention involve numerous violations of human rights in particular violations of the right to liberty and security, the freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, the right to an effective remedy, and, in extreme cases, the right to life; whereas, in some cases, where rendition leads to secret detention, it constitutes enforced disappearance,” the resolution stated.

The EP reminded its member states that “the prohibition of torture is a peremptory norm of international law (jus cogens) from which no derogation is possible,” and criticized “European countries [that] may have received, knowingly or unknowingly, information obtained under torture.”

First Derided

In Poland, the notion that the former Communist country would tolerate a secret CIA prison in which torture was being used was for years derided by the country’s politicians, journalists and the public as a crackpot conspiracy theory. Polish officials consistently denied the existence of any such prison.

But a string of recent revelations and political statements by Polish leaders appear to acknowledge for the first time that the United States did indeed run a secret interrogation facility for terror suspects in 2002 and 2003 in a remote region of the country.

As the AP reports, the debate within Poland is marked by a streak of disappointment that Washington had led the young democracy astray both ethically and legally, and then abandoned the Polish government to deal with the fallout.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on March 29 that Poland has been the “political victim” of leaks from U.S. officials that brought to light aspects of the secret rendition program. He said that an ongoing investigation into the case demonstrates Poland’s democratic credentials and that Poland will not be used in the future for such clandestine enterprises.

“Poland will no longer be a country where politicians, even if they are working arm-in-arm with the world’s greatest superpower, could make some deal somewhere under the table and then it would never see daylight,” said Tusk, who took office four years after the prison was shuttered.

The Polish frustration with the United States follows a long-established feeling of disillusionment that first emerged in 2004 during the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq and the height of the Iraqi insurgency. As David Ost reported in The Nation magazine on Sept. 16, 2004,

“George W. Bush has managed to do what forty-five years of Communist rule could not: puncture the image of essential American goodness that has always been the United States’ key selling point. Polish journalists now ask questions like, ‘How can we explain America’s transformation from a country that introduced international law to one that intervenes militarily wherever it likes?’ Or, more plaintively: ‘Does it really pay to be America’s friend?’ It is an astonishing turnabout: In more than twenty-five years of traveling to Poland I have never heard these kinds of criticisms.”

Poland committed 2,400 troops to the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, but Polish supporters of the war, such as Marek Beylin, chief of the editorial section of Gazeta Wyborcza, began wondering whether they were duped into cooperating with the United States.

“It seems we were naive,” Beylin said in 2004. “It turns out they had no idea what to do with the Shiites, the Kurds, the resistance, the infrastructure. A superpower should be able to do this! That it can’t do it this changes all our calculations.”

It appears now that Poland is following through on the recalculations it began making eight years ago,  and choosing the rule of law over its alliance with the world’s lawless superpower.

“Poland is a democracy where national and international law must be observed,” Tusk said on March 29. “This issue must be explained. Let there be no doubt about it either in Poland or on the other side of the ocean.”

Tusk also pledged that Polish official involvement in activities by the CIA would be thoroughly scrutinized and prosecuted. He indirectly confirmed that his country’s former spy chief, Zbigniew SiemiÄ…tkowski, is facing criminal charges in connection with a probe by state prosecutors into the Polish role in CIA’s secret prison.

Poland’s prime minister at the time of the prison’s operation, Leszek Miller, has denied any knowledge of the CIA program in Poland.

Although many sordid details of the program have been public for years, the U.S. continues to not only fail to investigate those responsible, but also stonewall investigations by others, including Poland. The future of the investigation of SiemiÄ…tkowski is in some doubt, with the U.S. authorities refusing to cooperate with the investigation, reports the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.

The refusal to cooperate with the investigation follows a well-established pattern by the administration of Barack Obama. As President-elect in January 2009, Obama said there should be prosecutions if “somebody has blatantly broken the law” but that CIA employees who participated in questionable policies of “extraordinary rendition” and “enhanced interrogation” should not be overly concerned.

“Part of my job,” he said, “is to make sure that, for example, at the CIA, you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got spend their all their time looking over their shoulders.”

Upon taking office, Obama promised to “look forward as opposed to looking backwards” regarding crimes committed by the previous administration.

Upside-Down Accountability

In the three-plus years since then, it has become abundantly clear that those who may have engaged in unlawful interrogation or extrajudicial detention during the Bush years have nothing to worry about. In fact, the only CIA employees who have been prosecuted under the Obama administration are those who have attempted to blow the whistle on abuses at the agency.

The most recent example is that of John C. Kiriakou, a CIA agent made famous by his public opposition to waterboarding. He was indicted by a grand jury for leaking government secrets to reporters. Kiriakou is accused of giving journalists the name of another CIA operative and his role in the capture of al-Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah shortly after 9/11.

Abu Zubaydah is said to have been tortured in the CIA’s secret prison in Poland and is one of two individuals granted “victim status” by prosecutors in Warsaw. This will allow their lawyers to review evidence and question witnesses as part of the prosecutors’ investigation.

The indictment of Kiriakou is part of an aggressive Justice Department crackdown on leakers and is one of a half-dozen such cases opened during the Obama administration. Coupled with the administration’s refusal to cooperate with the Polish authorities in its investigation of secret CIA prisons, it appears to be part of a concerted effort to prevent any more details about this program from seeing the light of day.

Still, human rights activists and lawyers are coming to view Poland and its courts as one of the best chances to uncover the truth about U.S. rendition and torture in Eastern Europe.

“In Poland, the democratic system has turned out to be much more mature than in other countries,” said Adam Bodnar of the Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. “There’s a group of people, judges, prosecutors, journalists, some politicians, who take the constitution seriously.”

Considering the lack of any such seriousness on the other side of the Atlantic, the Polish investigation may also be Americans’ best hope for learning the truth about the CIA’s secret prisons, as well as its broader rendition and torture program.

Nat Parry is co-author of Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush. [Reposted from Compliancecampaignwith author’s permission.]

Iran’s Distrusted Fatwa Against Nukes

In a pre-Super Bowl interview, President Obama urged Iranian leaders to renounce nuclear weapons, which Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei did, labeling them a “grave sin.” But Khamenei’s fatwa against nukes was not new, just widely ignored by Official Washington, as Gareth Porter explains in this Inter Press Service analysis.

By Gareth Porter

The Obama administration’s new interest in the 2004 religious verdict, or “fatwa,” by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei banning the possession of nuclear weapons, long dismissed by national security officials, has prompted the New York Times to review the significance of the fatwa for the first time in several years.

Senior Obama administration officials have decided to cite the fatwa as an Iranian claim to be tested in negotiations, posing a new challenge to the news media to report accurately on the background to the issue. But the April 13 New York Times article by James Risen rehashed old arguments by Iran’s adversaries and even added some new ones.

President Barack Obama’s former White House Iran policy coordinator, Dennis B. Ross, known for his close ties with Israel and hard-line views on Iran, was quoted as suggesting that Khamenei may not be committed to nuclear weapons after all. But Ross implies that the reason is U.S. sanctions and perhaps the threat of war rather than that the 2004 fatwa was a genuine expression of policy.

The Times report repeated a familiar allegation, attributed to unnamed “analysts,” that the fatwa is merely a conscious deception justified by the traditional Shi’a legal principle called “Taqiyyah.” But a quick fact check would have shown that “Taqiyyah” is specifically limited to hiding one’s Shi’a faith to avoid being killed or otherwise seriously harmed if it were acknowledged.

Risen also cited unnamed “analysts” who argued that Khamenei’s recent statements that Iran had not and would not develop nuclear weapons were contradicted by remarks he had made last year “that it was a mistake for Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya to give up his nuclear weapons program.”

But the quote from Khamenei complained that “this gentleman wrapped up all his nuclear facilities, packed them on a ship and delivered them to the West and said, ‘Take them!'” Khamenei then added, “Look where we are, and in what position they are now.”

Khamenei’s references to “all his nuclear facilities” – not to his nuclear weapons program, as claimed by Risen – and to the contrast between the ultimate fate of the Gaddafi regime and the Islamic Republic’s survival appear to have been suggesting that merely having a nuclear program without nuclear weapons can be a deterrent to attack. That same point has been made by other Iranian officials who cite the Japanese model as one for Iran to emulate.

In another effort to discredit the fatwa, Risen wrote that Khamenei’s predecessor, Ayatollah Khomeini, reversed his initial opposition to the Shah’s nuclear program as inconsistent with Islam in 1984, and “secretly decided to restart the nuclear weapons program.”

Risen cited no source for that statement, but it is apparently based on an article by David Albright in the Tehran Bureau’s “Iran Primer.” Albright wrote, “A 2009 internal IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) working document reports that in April 1984, then President Ali Khamenei announced to top Iranian officials that Khomeini had decided to reactivate the nuclear program as the only way to secure the Islamic Revolution from the schemes of its enemies, especially the United States and Israel.”

Even if that report, coming from an unidentified IAEA member country, was accurate, Risen misreported it, again substituting “nuclear weapons program” for “nuclear program.” But the claim cited in the IAEA working document is also demonstrably false, because it is well documented that the Islamic Republic had decided to continue Iran’s nuclear program in 1981 and even made a formal request in 1983 for the IAEA to help it convert yellowcake into reactor fuel.

Missing from the Times article was any reference to Iran’s refusal to retaliate with chemical weapons for Iraq’s repeated chemical weapons attacks on Iranian cities, based on U.S. intelligence on Iranian troop concentrations, killing 7,000 immediately and severely injuring at least 100,000.

Although U.S. military officers disseminated reports during the war alleging Iranian use of chemical weapons against Iraq, the most authoritative study of the issue, Joost Hilterman’s 2007 book A Poisonous Affair, shows those reports represented U.S. disinformation. Hilterman concludes that no reliable evidence ever surfaced that Iran used such weapons during the war.

In a dispatch from Qom on Oct. 31, 2003, Robert Collier of the San Francisco Chronicle quoted Grand Ayatollah Yusef Saanei, one of the highest-ranking clerics in Iran, as saying in an interview that Iran never retaliated against Iraqi chemical attacks with its own chemical weapons because of the strong opposition of Iranian clerical authorities to the development of WMD.

“You cannot deliberately kill innocent people,” Saanei said.

The only reference in the Times report to Khamenei’s role in the 2003 nuclear policy turning point was the statement that Khamenei “ordered a suspension of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.” In fact, however, Khamenei did far more than “suspend” nuclear weapons work. He invoked the illicit nature of such weapons in Islam in order to enforce a policy decision to ban nuclear weapons work.

There is evidence that there was a long-simmering debate within the Islamic Republic behind the scenes over whether Iran should leave the door open to a nuclear weapons program or not. Both Khamenei and then-President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani had publicly opposed the idea of possessing nuclear weapons in the mid-1990s, but pressure for reconsideration of the issue had risen, especially after the aggressive posture of George W. Bush’s administration toward Iran.

In 2003, the debate came to a head, because Iran was reaching the stage where it would either have to cooperate fully with the IAEA or be accused of violating its commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, provoking serious international consequences.

Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, which had gotten much more freedom from bureaucratic control in 1999-2000, was dragging its feet on cooperation with the IAEA, and some scientists, engineers and military men did not want to give up the option to develop a nuclear weapons program.

Under those circumstances, in a March 21, 2003, speech in Mashad, Khamenei began speaking out again on Islam’s opposition to weapons of mass destruction. “We are not interested in an atomic bomb. We are opposed to chemical weapons,” he said, adding, “These things are against our principles.” In July, he repeated his renunciation of all weapons of mass destruction.

When the IAEA passed a resolution demanding that Iran suspend enrichment and adopt an intrusive monitoring system in September, the Atomic Energy Organization and its bureaucratic and political allies were arguing that there was no danger of being taken to the U.N. Security Council because Russia and China would protect Iran’s interests. And hardliners were arguing publicly that Iran should withdraw from the NPT rather than make any effort to convince the West that Iran did not intend to make nuclear weapons.

Sometime in September and October, Khamenei ordered the designation of the Secretary of Supreme National Security Council Hassan Rohani, who reported directly to him, as the single individual responsible for coordinating all aspects of nuclear policy. A key task for Rohani was to enforce Khamenei’s ban on nuclear weapons.

Later, Rohani recalled telling then-President Mohammed Khatemi that he wasn’t sure all agencies “were willing to cooperate 100 percent” and predicted “both disharmony and sabotage.” It was Rohani himself who announced on Oct. 25, 2003, that Khamenei believed that nuclear weapons were illegal under Islam.

A few days later, one of Khamenei’s advisers, Hussein Shariatmadari, president of Kayhan newspapers, told Collier, “Those in Iran who clandestinely believed they could develop nuclear weapons have now been forced to admit that it is forbidden under Islam.” Ever since then, Iranian officials have often referred to Khamenei’s fatwa against nuclear weapons.

Skeptics have questioned whether such a fatwa exists, arguing that no published text of the fatwa can be found. But even Mehdi Khalaji of the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy acknowledged in an essay published last September that Khamenei’s oral statements are considered fatwas and are binding on believers.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006. [This article was originally published by Inter Press Service.]

Iran’s Phantom Menace

Exclusive: For years, a propaganda drumbeat has been rising to justify a war to stop Iran from building a nuclear bomb, though U.S. intelligence agencies say Iran isn’t building one and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has decried nukes as a “great sin.” But nothing has stopped the drumbeat, ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern notes.

By Ray McGovern

Last Thursday, I took part in a panel discussion on “Targeting Iran: Sanctions and War” at California State University, Fresno. The panel discussion took place against the backdrop of all-too-familiar warnings to Iran that it has one “last chance” to stop doing what the CIA and pretty much all serious intelligence agencies say it is not doing, namely, working on a nuclear weapon.

That’s right; one “last chance” to stop doing what it is NOT doing. This unconscionably surreal, and transparently provocative, demand threatened to cast an unrelenting pall over the event, so I made a lame attempt to inject some light humor in order to head off confusion and despair.

Since the West’s rhetoric about Iran virtually cries out for parody, not to mention correction, I decided to begin my short presentation with an adaptation of “It Ain’t Necessarily So” from Porgy and Bess.

First, I needed to expose non-Gershwin fans to the song’s tune and cadence, so I began with one of the original verses and asked the audience to sing along. (You may wish to do likewise):

Oh Jonah he lived in de whale,

Oh Jonah he lived in de whale.

Fo’ he made his home in

Dat fish’s abdomen,

Oh Jonah he lived in de whale.

Well, it ain’t necessarily so;

Well, it ain’t necessarily so.

Fo’ he made his home in          

Dat fish’s abdomen,

But that ain’t necessarily so.

After that warm-up came the unveiling of three Iran-related verses composed earlier that day during the long drive from the Bay area to Fresno. (Please do sing along):

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

To claim he is mad is the fad.

He said he would zap

Israel right off the map;

Mahmoud is a cad of a lad.

Well, it ain’t necessarily so;

Well, it ain’t necessarily so.

He said he would zap

Israel right off the map;

But that ain’t necessarily so.

Israelis they sound the alarm,

The Persians are building the bomb.

But they ain’t the kooks

That do lust after nukes,

So sit back, and try to be calm.

Well, it ain’t necessarily so;

Well, it ain’t necessarily so.

Persians ain’t the kooks

That do lust after nukes.

No, that ain’t necessarily so.

Now Obama he tries to seem tough;

He huff and he puff; he don’t bluff,

In hopes Netanyahu

Will stop and shout Yahoo!

And turn all his threats into fluff.

Well, it ain’t necessarily so;

Well, it ain’t necessarily so.

In hopes Netanyahu

Will stop and shout Yahoo!

That ain’t in the cards, Barry O.

Readers are invited to submit additional verses using the abundant supply of rhetoric eminently susceptible of parody (and/or of straight-out, factual contradiction).

And by all means keep smiling, at least for the time being; it looks as if Israel and its neocon cheerleaders in the United States are likely to put off the next war of aggression, at least until after the next round of negotiations between the West and Iran scheduled for May 23 in Baghdad. Who knows? Sanity may yet prevail.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an intelligence analyst for the Army and CIA for 30 years. He is now making extraordinary steps to maintain his sanity as he watches the U.S.-Israel-Iran imbroglio unfold, as though from a script by George Orwell.

Biased Reporting on Iran Dispute

For months, major U.S. news outlets failed to note the consensus among intelligence agencies that Iran was NOT building a nuclear bomb. Now, Big Media is misleading the public about why previous talks failed and the value of Iran’s promises, as Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett wrote at

By Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett

In the run-up to this past weekend’s P5+1 negotiations with the Islamic Republic, two of America’s leading newspapers published stories reflecting deep-seated myths about the Islamic Republic rather than reporting on real facts.

First, Farnaz Fassihi of The Wall Street Journal  “reported” on the perennial myth that internal divisions had “seeped” into the nuclear file and could derail any talks with Iran. She then asserts that “Iran suspended the talks in 2009 after massive demonstrations against the government for alleged voter fraud in the presidential elections.” This is blatantly misleading.

Fassihi was in Iran in 2009; she must know that there were no talks going on at the time of the Islamic Republic’s presidential contest in June of that year, so there was nothing to suspend. The United States had deliberately delayed going into negotiations so as not to give incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a “boost” before the election.

She must also know that, after talks finally got going after the election, it was the P5+1 that suspended them in January 2010 because Tehran would not accede to its demands.

But Fassihi does not let her disregard for simple facts stop there. According to her, “many ordinary Iranians” say “that ‘Mr. Khamenei should drink the jar of poison and compromise with the West.’” This is also highly misleading: at best, Fassihi is taking what a few people might have told her over the phone and presenting it as if it were the result of a scientific poll.

Since Fassihi does not report from the Islamic Republic, there is no way that she could know whether “many ordinary Iranians” liken the situation today with the West over their nuclear program to the time when Khomenei decided to accept a cease-fire ending the Iran-Iraq War, after 300,000 Iranians had been killed, the United States had shot down an Iranian civilian airliner, and the Islamic Republic had won back all its territory.

As we have discussed in many posts, polls and other indicators show that most Iranians strongly oppose what they would consider surrendering their nuclear program something that Fassihi completely neglects to tell her readers.

Second, we were struck by the crude attempt to analyze Ayatollah Khamenei’s statements about nuclear weapons and the Iranian nuclear program by James Risen of The New York Times.

Risen starts off well enough, noting that “C.I.A. analysts studying the geopolitical gamesmanship now at play over Iran’s nuclear program have expensive and highly classified tools at their disposal, but one of their best sources is free and readily available: the public utterances of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.”

We ourselves have frequently commented on how rich and important Ayatollah Khamenei’s statements on these subjects are.

But then, Risen indulges the unsubstantiated boilerplate that constitutes so much of America’s conventional wisdom about the Islamic Republic: “Like much of the information about Iran’s secretive and enigmatic government, Ayatollah Khamenei’s remarks are sometimes contradictory, and always subject to widely different interpretations.”

Risen notes that, in February, Khamenei said, “Iran is not seeking to have the atomic bomb, possession of which is pointless, dangerous and is a great sin from an intellectual and a religious point of view.”

Risen duly reports that, in March, Khamenei said, “We do not possess a nuclear weapon, and we will not build one.” He further recounts that “Ayatollah Khamenei has also issued a fatwa, an Islamic edict, against the acquisition of a nuclear bomb by Iran.”

OK, so what’s the problem? According to Risen, “those comments are at odds with some of Iran’s behavior.” Although Risen never tells us what that behavior might be, the context would lead an educated reader to conclude that this behavior must be an actual Iranian effort to build nuclear weapons.

That is flat-out unsubstantiated innuendo. There is no evidence, from the International Atomic Energy Agency, from U.S. intelligence agencies, or from anywhere else, that the Islamic Republic is trying to or has even taken a decision to try to build nuclear weapons.

In addition, Risen asserts that Ayatollah Khamenei’s condemnation of nuclear weapons as a violation of Islam are “at odds” with what he “has said in the past.” Risen’s one example of such a contradictory statement?

Remarks that “Khamenei made last year that it was a mistake for Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya to give up his nuclear weapons program. Referring to Col. Qaddafi, Ayatollah Khamenei said that ‘this gentleman wrapped up all his nuclear facilities, packed them on a ship and delivered them to the West and said, “Take them” Look where we are and in what position they are now,’ he added.”

At no point in the passage quoted by Risen, or anywhere else in the address from which it is extracted, does Ayatollah Khamenei say, as Risen characterizes it, that “it was a mistake for [Qaddafi] to give up his nuclear weapons program.” Rather, Khamenei points out what happened after Qaddafi surrendered “all his nuclear facilities” and trusted his government’s security to the United States.

As far as we can tell, Khamenei’s point is entirely accurate. It helps explain why he and other Iranian leaders are determined not to surrender the Islamic Republic’s civil nuclear program, because, if they did, it would mean the end of the Islamic Republic’s strategic independence.

This in no way contradicts Khamenei’s multiple statements that the Islamic Republic does not want nuclear weapons, not least because they are haraam , forbidden by God.

But the worst part of Risen’s article comes when he resorts to blatantly false stereotypes about Shi’a Islam: “Complicating matters further, some analysts”, he names not a single one, “say that Ayatollah Khamenei’s denial of Iranian nuclear ambitions has to be seen as part of a Shiite historical concept called taqiyya, or religious dissembling.”

While Risen does not embrace this utter misreading of taqiyya as his own, his uncritical presentation of it circulates, in The New York Times, a bigoted misreading of Shi’a doctrine as justifying lying.

Taqiyya is a religious teaching, rooted in the Qur’an, which instructs Muslims (under specific conditions) that they may disguise their religious identity to save themselves and other believers. It has parallels in other Abrahamic traditions. Consider, for example, the following passage from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.”

Taqiyya is not a license for hypocrisy; it neither condones lying nor relieves Muslims of the obligation to live up to their commitments, in contracts, treaties, or otherwise. It certainly does not justify a religious leader lying to his fellow Muslims about matters on which he is offering moral guidance and instruction, which is what one has to think in order to argue that Ayatollah Khamenei’s multiple statements over several years about the immorality of nuclear weapons are an exercise in taqiyya.

It is truly bizarre that Risen and The New York Times cited “analysts” anonymously in order to make such a loaded and factually inaccurate point.

Flynt Leverett served as a Middle East expert on George W. Bush’s National Security Council staff until the Iraq War and worked previously at the State Department and at the Central Intelligence Agency. Hillary Mann Leverett was the NSC expert on Iran and from 2001 to 2003  was one of only a few U.S. diplomats authorized to negotiate with the Iranians over Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and Iraq. [This article was originally published at]

Render to Caesar, Extraordinarily

Exclusive: On Good Friday, Christians observe the brutal torture and crucifixion of Jesus at the hands of Roman occupiers, but many modern Christians don’t mind when it’s “their” side doing the extraordinary renditions of alleged subversives to be tortured and sometimes killed, ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern notes.

By Ray McGovern

Some of us pause on Good Friday to mark the torture and death of a high-value detainee rendered, extraordinarily, to Roman occupiers.

Although the charges against Jesus of Nazareth were trumped up, the Romans decided to err on the safe side by going to the “dark side.” They applied enhanced torture techniques with the ultimate hanging.

I try my best to follow the example set by that fellow from Nazareth. I do get beat up on occasion for “knowing where I stand and standing there,” as Dan Berrigan has told us. But I don’t expect to be tortured, much less hung up to die. Those things just happen to folks who don’t look like me.

In my worst nightmares I never dreamed that my country of birth, the country I love, would resort to torturing prisoners. Still less, did I expect my alma mater, Fordham University, to honor a person known to have championed kidnapping and torture (as well as illegal eavesdropping on Americans), by inviting him to give the commencement address.

What’s the big deal? I have been asked. Aren’t you proud to have a fellow Fordham alumnus at the right hand of the President as deputy national security adviser? When I answer, “Not proud, but shamed,” I am met with a quizzical look.

When the shock wears off, I realize this should come as no surprise. The findings of a Pew poll conducted three years ago should have accustomed me to the shame. Those polled were white non-Hispanic Catholics, white Evangelicals, and white mainline Protestants. A majority of those who attend church regularly (54 percent) said torture could be “justified,” while a majority of those not attending church regularly responded that torture was rarely or never justified.

I let myself wonder whether similar results might obtain, if a similar poll were conducted today at Fordham. And then I remembered that most of the college students at Fordham had not yet reached their teens, when President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney decided to resort to techniques developed for the Spanish Inquisition and honed by the Nazis, “enhanced” methods to use on suspected terrorists.

Here’s some background for those just coming of age, and a refresher for others, with particular attention to what you should know about John Brennan (College, 1977).

Brennan’s Role in Torture

John Brennan had been CIA Director George Tenet’s chief of staff for two years when Tenet promoted him to be CIA’s Deputy Executive Director in March 2001. In that post he continued to function as one of Tenet’s closest aides after the 9/11 attacks as President Bush and Vice President Cheney ordered the CIA onto what Cheney (and later Brennan himself) came to call the “dark side.”

A Bush Executive Order of Feb. 7, 2002, made the highly dubious claim that al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees were not covered by Geneva Convention protections. And the order had consequences.

On Dec. 11, 2008, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Carl Levin released the summary of a Senate Armed Services Committee report, issued without dissent, indicating that Bush’s Feb. 7, 2002, Memorandum, had “opened the way to considering aggressive techniques.” And a report of the International Committee of the Red Cross, published in the spring of 2009, recounted in gory detail the torture of so-called “high-value” detainees.

However, back in the early days of the “war on terror,” Bush had to choose between rivals for “jurisdiction” and interrogation of such detainees. Tenet was able to use his daily sessions with Bush to win the battle over whether the CIA or the FBI should control the “dark-side” handling of “high-value” detainees. (To be absolutely clear, Tenet wanted it; he got it.)

Recently released documents provide chapter and verse about White House meetings in spring 2002 on the “high-value” detainees, including discussion of a “Guidebook to False Confessions.” The main objective was to determine which harsh interrogation techniques would be approved.

Last week, Philip Zelikow openly branded much of what was approved “torture.” This was something of a surprise, since Zelikow had been a very close confidant of Bush’s national security adviser (and later Secretary of State) Condoleezza Rice and is very protective of her.

Chairing the White House meetings on torture techniques, Rice famously sent off the malleable, affable, can-do Tenet with: “This is your baby, go do it.” And so he did.

Zelikow later worked for Rice as Counselor of the State Department, where in early 2006 he wrote a memo, the text of which has just been released, which identified several of the CIA interrogation techniques as illegal. Not surprisingly, all copies of that memo were ordered destroyed. But, alas, one was squirreled away, reportedly at State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. It is now available.

Brennan’s very close working relationship with then-CIA Director George Tenet on torture issues landed him in the room as Tenet’s aide when the “Principals” met in the White House on torture techniques. (It was not until 2003 that Tenet appointed Brennan to head the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, a unit also very much involved with the issue of interrogation.)

The “Principals” included Rice, Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and Tenet.

The evidence is overwhelming that Brennan was deeply involved not only in the discussion of various “enhanced interrogation techniques,” but also in the planning of the faux-legal memoranda from Ashcroft’s Justice Department.

Those “legal opinions” made it possible for George W. Bush to tell NBC’s Matt Lauer in November 2010 that waterboarding is legal “because the lawyer said it was legal. I’m not a lawyer, but you gotta trust the judgment of people around you and I do.”

Reports this week that the Polish government is going after Polish officials who allowed the CIA to establish a black site in Poland for “high-value” detainees brings to mind what Jane Mayer wrote in the New Yorker in 2007 about black sites:

“Among the few C.I.A. officials who knew the details of the detention and interrogation program, there was a tense debate about where to draw the line in terms of treatment. John Brennan, Tenet’s former chief of staff, said, ‘It all comes down to individual moral barometers.’

“Setting aside the moral, ethical, and legal issues, even supporters, such as John Brennan, acknowledge that much of the information that coercion produces is unreliable. As he put it, ‘All these methods produced useful information, but there was also a lot that was bogus.’”

Brennan In His Own Words

Perhaps the most damning evidence on Brennan’s role in torture, rendition (aka kidnapping), black prisons and such comes from his own mouth. Here are excerpts from the PBS “NewsHour” with Margaret Warner on Dec. 5, 2005:

MARGARET WARNER: This issue [rendition of terrorist suspects to third countries] and the separate one of reported secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe is expected to come up during her [Condoleezza Rice’s] five-day European tour. So are renditions necessary and effective in fighting terrorism?

JOHN BRENNAN: I think it’s an absolutely vital tool. I have been intimately familiar now over the past decade with the cases of rendition that the U.S. Government has been involved in. And I can say without a doubt that it has been very successful as far as producing intelligence that has saved lives.

WARNER: So is it — are you saying both in two ways — both in getting terrorists off the streets and also in the interrogation?

BRENNAN: Yes. The rendition is the practice or the process of rendering somebody from one place to another place. It is moving them and the U.S. Government will frequently facilitate that movement from one country to another.

Quite frankly I think it’s rather arrogant to think that we are the best in every case in terms of eliciting information from terror suspects. So other countries and other services have a long experience in dealing with this challenge because they are confronting terrorism on a day-to-day basis.


Brennan later tried to square the circle in defending his role in this “dark side” business, in an interview with PBS’s Frontline in 2006 in which he spoke directly of CIA Director Tenet’s concern to have explicit legal approval for what Zelikow and many others now concede was torture. In fact, Brennan came close to making an “act of contrition,” saying:

“Hopefully, that ‘dark side’ is not going to be something that’s going to forever tarnish the image of the United States abroad, and that we’re going to look back on this time and regret some of the things that we did, because it is not in keeping with our values.”

After Obama assumed office, Brennan was one of those most fiercely opposed to Obama’s release of the “torture memos,” lest they expose his own guilty knowledge and activist role. The Senate Intelligence Committee started looking into all this several years ago and, reportedly, is still doing so.

All this may be a large part of the reason that President-Elect Barack Obama was told that the Committee already had enough on Brennan to make any confirmation process very painful, should Obama follow through with his original plan to nominate Brennan to be CIA Director.

Audacity of Hope

Some of you may recall that I was privileged to be a passenger on the Audacity of Hope, the U.S. Boat to Gaza, last June. It was a tense time. Stuffing my backpack before flying to Athens, I got a familiar call from a puzzled friend, who said as gently as the words allow, “You know you can get killed, don’t you?”

This was not the first such expression of concern. From some others, who have zero interest in the plight of Gazans, and/or did not wish us passengers well similar words carried an edge: “Aren’t you just asking for it?”

Before I left the U.S., I was pointedly disabused of any notion that the U.S. government would do something to protect us American citizens sailing on an American-flagged boat from the kind of violence used by the Israelis against a similar flotilla led by a Turkish boat in May 2010. As reported to me, the warning came from a source with access to senior officials at the National Security Council.

I was told that the Obama administration planned to do absolutely nothing to protect our boat from Israeli attack or illegal boarding, and that White House officials “would be happy if something happened to us.” They were, I was told, “perfectly willing to have the cold corpses of activists shown on American TV.”

Can you guess who was the ultimate source? Last week, I went back to my original source and asked if the source could tell me who uttered those words.  The answer: John Brennan,

I included mention of that warning in an article I wrote before boarding the boat. The warning stretched credulity to the breaking point for a good friend, former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who blogged:

“While I know Ray to be an extremely honest man, I thought it was possible that his source was exaggerating. I therefore set my own diplomatic sources to work in Washington, without giving them any indication of Ray’s information.

“They came back with an independent report from a different source close to Hillary Clinton rather than the White House with exactly the same result of which Ray was warned. Fatalities would be ‘not a problem’ for Obama.”

That the macho, Israeli-friendly Brennan, turns out to be the White House policy official behind the official bluster surprises me not in the least, though it is nice, I suppose, to have confirmation.

As things turned out, Obama had the presence of mind to seek out and heed some adult advice. After trying unsuccessfully to extract a promise from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to shoot us up, Obama decided to pressure the Greeks to deny us permission to sail for Gaza, which they did, holding their noses.

Blockade Legal or Illegal?

Were we within our rights? Was/is Israel’s sea blockade of Gaza legal under international law? No. And that’s why, to its credit, the legal section of our Department of State will not prostitute itself by calling it legal.

On June 24, while we were stranded, literally, in Athens, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland danced around the question at one of the most bizarre press conferences in memory.

AP reporter Matt Lee and some of his colleagues decided to be more matter-of-fact than diplomatic with Nuland, a former national security adviser to Vice President Cheney (from 2003 to 2005) and the wife of neoconservative writer Robert Kagan.

Asked directly, three times, whether the U.S. government considers the Israeli blockade of Gaza legal, Ms. Nuland would give no answer.

“I am not a Law of the Sea expert,” she insisted (four times). Her talking points were that the U.S. Boat to Gaza should not be a “repeat of what happened last year” (four times).  It was as though last year’s flotilla was responsible for the attacks by Israeli naval commandos and this year’s flotilla would be considered responsible as well.

Audacity of Hope organizer/leader Ann Wright and I asked Craig Murray for a straightforward opinion on the legality issue, since he is an expert. We knew he had worked on preparing the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and, more to the point, that he had become an internationally recognized authority on maritime jurisdiction and naval boarding issues.

When he was Head of the Maritime Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, he was responsible for giving real-time political and legal clearance to Royal Navy boarding operations in the Persian Gulf following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, in enforcement of the UN-authorized blockade against Iraqi weapons shipments.

On June 20, 2011, he wrote the following one-paragraph comment and then gave his considered appreciation of the legal situation:

“The boarding of a U.S. flagged ship on the High Seas is something which, in any other circumstances, the U.S. would never tolerate, and I am hoping that it will give (Secretary) Clinton a headache now. What is for certain, is that a U.S. court would have jurisdiction over any incidents that happen on board, and I cannot imagine any U.S. judge would renounce that jurisdiction.”

Murray then added: “The legal position is plain. A vessel outwith the territorial waters (12-mile limit) of a coastal state is on the high seas under the sole jurisdiction of the flag state of the vessel. The ship has a positive right of passage on the high seas. The vessel is entitled to free passage.

“This right of free passage is guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas, to which the United States is a full party. Any incident that takes place upon a U.S. flagged ship on the High Seas is subject to United States legal jurisdiction. A ship is entitled to look to its flag state for protection from attack on the High Seas.”

Law Quaint; Humans – Real

I don’t think Brennan was in the White House bunker with top national security officials on the evening of 9/11, when President Bush set the tone by declaring, “I don’t care what the international lawyers say.” But, clearly, Brennan caught the drift. And, saddest of all, that tone persists today, with respect to rendition, as well as on legal niceties like the Law of the Sea.

Granted, now that drones have come into their own, it is much easier to kill folks rather than to capture and “render” them, like Jesus was rendered to the Romans by the corrupt religious authorities.

Good Friday is a day for pondering such things. While I believe what happened to Jesus gives those of us of Judeo-Christian heritage an additional, highly poignant reason to do so, my atheist friends have warned me against attitudes boarding on snobbery.

One said, “You don’t have to be a Christian, Ray, to know instinctively that human beings simply must not torture other human beings.” He is right, of course.

And my friend’s caution reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from Kurt Vonnegut who, at one point named himself Honorary President of the American Humanist Association:

“How do humanists feel about Jesus? I say of Jesus, as all humanists do, ‘If what he said is good, and so much of it is absolutely beautiful, what does it matter if he was God or not?’

“But if Christ hadn’t delivered the Sermon on the Mount, with its message of mercy and pity, I wouldn’t want to be a human being.

“I’d just as soon be a rattlesnake.”

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an intelligence analyst for the Army and the CIA for a total of 30 years, and now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Doubts about a Mideast Arms Race

Iran says it doesn’t want a nuclear bomb and Western intelligence agencies say it isn’t building one, but Israeli leaders and their U.S. supporters say a preemptive strike may still be necessary. A key argument is the threat of a regional arms race, a claim that ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar finds dubious.

By Paul R. Pillar

There are two main pieces of conventional wisdom, widely held but almost never examined, about the regional effects of an Iranian nuclear weapon.

One is that possession of a nuke would make Iran significantly more aggressive and troublesome in the Middle East, a notion that does not stand up to scrutinyof Iran’s calculations and motivations or those of its neighbors.

The other is that the advent of an Iranian weapon would trigger a wave of further nuclear proliferation in the region. Steven Cook has provided a good corrective to this second bit conventional wisdom.

Cook examines the capabilities and likely intentions of the most probable proliferators, Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and finds none of them are plausible candidates to be the next proud owner of a nuclear weapon, regardless of any concerns about Iran.

None of them has the technology and infrastructure to make a nuclear-weapons program feasible in the foreseeable future, and each would have to worry about reactions of the international community and especially of the United States.

The idea of a near-certain spread of nuclear weapons has partly been talked up by those having other reasons to agitate about the dangers of an Iranian nuke. But the notion also is grounded in a habitual American way of looking at foreign threats (and foreign opportunities), which is to apply spatial imagery and assume the geographic spread of a phenomenon from one neighboring country to another.

This outlook was a basis for different domino theories, including the one that according to neoconservatives would see democracy spread from a Saddam-less Iraq to other Arab states.

Another famous domino theory undergirded U.S. military intervention in Vietnam in the 1960s: the idea that the fall of South Vietnam to communism would lead a succession of Asian neighbors to fall as well.

That earlier domino theory was consistent with an alternative Cold War visual imagery of red paint oozing over the globe, which also happened to look like the well-known logo of a major paint company. The idea of a rapid proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East is just the latest manifestation of the Sherwin-Williams theory of international relations.

If the leaders of would-be proliferator states were to carefully consider what nuclear weapons could and could not do for them, they would have other reasons, in addition to those Cook discusses, for not attempting to acquire such weapons even if a beleaguered Iran decided to do so. There simply are not a lot of useful things you can do with nukes.

As Zeev Maoz argued in an article several years ago, nuclear weapons may not even have enhanced the security of the sole Middle Eastern state, Israel, that has had the weapons and had them for decades.

If we can get away from narrow, scared-chicken fixation on the supposed threat from any one possible bit of nuclear proliferation and instead let more sober calculations prevail, the long-discussed concept of a Middle East nuclear-weapons-free zone would become feasible.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

Bin Laden’s Personal Debt to Bush

Exclusive: President George W. Bush not only botched the Afghan and Iraq wars but he bungled his “dead or alive” pursuit of Osama bin Laden, assuring al-Qaeda’s leader nine more years of life and the opportunity to father four more children with his 20-something third wife, Robert Parry writes.

By Robert Parry

Recent disclosures about Osama bin Laden’s life after he slipped through George W. Bush’s fingers in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks put into a more personal light why the terrorist leader so appreciated Bush’s decision to divert U.S. military attention to Iraq: Bin Laden spent his last nine years living with his three wives and fathering four more children.

Bin Laden especially got to enjoy the pleasures of his youngest wife who was in her 20s — and who bore him the four children — as the fugitive family skipped across Pakistan from safe house to safe house before settling down at a compound in Abbottabad. Bin Laden was finally tracked down there and killed in May 2011 on President Barack Obama’s orders.

Bin Laden’s youngest wife, Amal Ahmad Abdul Fateh, said the family moved into the Abbottabad compound, near Pakistan’s national military academy, in mid-2005, according to her account to Pakistani authorities. At the time, the war in Iraq was descending into ever more hellish violence.

But a decisive end to the U.S. war in Iraq either victory or withdrawal was not in the interests of bin Laden and his inner circle holed up in Pakistan. If not preoccupied with the Iraqi occupation, the U.S. military might remember who it was after in the first place.

After bin Laden settled into his Abbottabad compound and got to fathering two more children with his 20-something bride, it was clear to him that his security and his domestic bliss were tied to dragging out the U.S. military debacle in Iraq, which Bush had deemed the “central front in the war on terror,” though bin Laden was about 1,500 miles away in Pakistan.

In a letter, dated Dec. 11, 2005, bin Laden’s closest lieutenant, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, conveyed bin Laden’s concerns to the then-leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Atiyah criticized Zarqawi’s excessive violence, especially toward Shiite Muslims, and urged a more measured pace for the war.

“Prolonging the war is in our interest,” Atiyah explained to Zarqawi.

The “Atiyah letter” was discovered by U.S. authorities at the time of Zarqawi’s death on June 7, 2006, and was translated by the U.S. military’s Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. Atiyah himself was killed by a U.S. drone strike in August 2011. [To view the “prolonging the war” excerpt, click here. To read the entire Atiyah letter, click here.]

By 2005, Bush and bin Laden shared a common goal in Iraq. They both wanted U.S. forces to “stay the course.” It was only after the Obama administration drew down U.S. forces in Iraq and expanded counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda headquarters that the leads were developed that located bin Laden’s possible hideout in central Pakistan.

A raid by a helicopter-borne Special Forces team swooped in on bin Laden’s compound in the early hours of May 2, 2011. Bin Laden and four others were killed and his youngest wife, Fateh, was wounded in the leg. Later, Pakistani authorities arrived to take the survivors into custody and began the process of debriefing them about bin Laden’s life as a fugitive.

Strange Symbiosis

While criticism fell on Pakistani authorities as either complicit or incompetent for allowing bin Laden to live so long in their country, bin Laden’s belated demise also spotlighted the curious symbiotic relationship that had existed since 9/11 between bin Laden and Bush and even longer between the bin Laden family and the Bush family.

At nearly every turn, President George W. Bush acted presumably with incompetence, not complicity in ways that enabled bin Laden to remain free, and the terrorist leader repaid the favor by surfacing at key political moments to scare the American people back into Bush’s arms.

Although Bush talked tough about getting bin Laden “dead or alive,” he consistently failed to follow through. In November 2001, when bin Laden and his top lieutenants were cornered at the Tora Bora mountain range in eastern Afghanistan, Bush ordered the U.S. military to prematurely pivot toward planning the next war with Iraq.

According to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee report, Bush’s order to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to freshen up the plans for an Iraq invasion literally pulled Gen. Tommy Franks, head of the Central Command, away from planning the assault on Tora Bora.

The White House also rebuffed CIA appeals for the dispatch of 1,000 Marines to cut off bin Laden’s escape routes, the report said. Denied the extra troops to catch bin Laden, U.S. Special Forces couldn’t nab the terrorist leader before he made his getaway to Pakistan. [See’s “Finishing a Job: Obama Gets Osama.”]

The hunt for bin Laden was soon put on the back burner. As the Washington Post reported in a retrospective on the hunt for bin Laden, “A few months after Tora Bora, as part of the preparation for war in Iraq, the Bush administration pulled out many of the Special Operations and CIA forces that had been searching for bin Laden in Afghanistan, according to several U.S officials who served at the time.”

Just six months after 9/11 and three months after bin Laden evaded capture at Tora Bora, Bush personally began downplaying the importance of capturing al-Qaeda’s leader. “I don’t know where he is,” Bush told a news conference. “I really just don’t spend that much time on him, to be honest with you.”

Yet, with bin Laden at large, Bush enjoyed an advantage. He could use the specter of bin Laden as an all-purpose bogeyman to scare the American people. A living bin Laden allowed Bush to create a plausible scenario for additional al-Qaeda attacks inside the United States and thus the justification for Bush to assert unprecedented powers as Commander in Chief.

Bush also cited the continued threat from bin Laden to stampede the American people and Congress into supporting the invasion of Iraq. One of Bush’s key arguments was that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein might share weapons of mass destruction with bin Laden’s operatives. Most Americans weren’t aware that Hussein, a secularist, and bin Laden, a fundamentalist, were mortal enemies in the Islamic world.

Bush kept the American people in line as his administration touched off periodic panics over terrorism by pushing the color-coded warnings up the threat spectrum.

‘Winning’ in Iraq

In 2003, the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Hussein further enhanced Bush’s reputation as the heroic, self-proclaimed “war president.” As Bush declared a premature “mission accomplished,” he also consolidated his extraordinary claims of presidential powers.

But bin Laden was another winner. His escape from Tora Bora in 2001 not only burnished his reputation as an Islamic folk hero who had defied the Americans, but Bush’s invasion of Iraq enabled bin Laden to begin rebuilding his tattered organization by recruiting new terrorist cadre angered over the Iraq War.

The new revelations from bin Laden’s youngest widow indicate that he was adding to his ranks in another way, by fathering children with her. A thankful bin Laden then gave Bush a big assist in the tense final days of Campaign 2004.

Since no WMD stockpiles had been found in Iraq and with the war going badly, Bush’s reelection campaign was staggering toward Election Day with Democrat John Kerry within reach of victory. It was then that bin Laden ended nearly a year of silence by taking the risky step of releasing a new video on Oct. 29, 2004.

Bin Laden’s rant attacking Bush was spun by Bush’s supporters as bin Laden’s “endorsement” of Kerry, but some observers noted that bin Laden’s reappearance was having the predictable result of giving Bush an October Surprise boost. Senior CIA analysts reached just that conclusion about bin Laden’s intent.

“Bin Laden certainly did a nice favor today for the President,” said deputy CIA director John McLaughlin in opening a meeting to review secret “strategic analysis” of the videotape, according to Ron Suskind’s The One Percent Doctrine, which drew heavily from CIA insiders.

Suskind wrote that CIA analysts had spent years “parsing each expressed word of the al-Qaeda leader and his deputy, [Ayman] Zawahiri. What they’d learned over nearly a decade is that bin Laden speaks only for strategic reasons. Today’s conclusion: bin Laden’s message was clearly designed to assist the President’s reelection.”

Jami Miscik, CIA deputy associate director for intelligence, expressed the consensus view that bin Laden recognized how Bush’s heavy-handed policies such as the Guantanamo prison camp, the Abu Ghraib torture scandal and the war in Iraq were serving al-Qaeda’s strategic goals for recruiting a new generation of jihadists.

“Certainly,” Miscik said, “he would want Bush to keep doing what he’s doing for a few more years,” according to Suskind’s account.

As their internal assessment sank in, the CIA analysts were troubled by the implications of their own conclusions. “An ocean of hard truths before them such as what did it say about U.S. policies that bin Laden would want Bush reelected remained untouched,” Suskind wrote.

Cheering Bush

Bush enthusiasts, however, took bin Laden’s videotape at face value, calling it proof the terrorist leader feared Bush and favored Kerry. In a pro-Bush book, Strategery, right-wing journalist Bill Sammon portrayed bin Laden’s videotape as an attempt by the terrorist leader to persuade Americans to vote for Kerry.

But Bush himself recognized the real impact of bin Laden’s rant. “I thought it was going to help,” Bush told Sammon after the election. “I thought it would help remind people that if bin Laden doesn’t want Bush to be the President, something must be right with Bush.”

In Strategery, Sammon also quoted Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman as agreeing that bin Laden’s videotape helped Bush. “It reminded people of the stakes,” Mehlman said. “It reinforced an issue on which Bush had a big lead over Kerry.”

Indeed, two polls taken during and after the videotape’s release showed exactly that. Bush experienced a bump of several percentage points, from a virtual tie with Kerry to a five or six percentage point lead. Tracking polls by TIPP and Newsweek detected a surge in Bush support from a statistically insignificant two-point lead to five and six points, respectively.

On Election Day, Nov. 2, the official results showed Bush winning by a margin of less than three percentage points. So, arguably the intervention by bin Laden urging Americans to reject Bush and thus having the predictable effect of boosting Bush may have tipped the election and given Bush a second term.

How hard would it have been for bin Laden a longtime student of American politics to have figured that out?

We now know that bin Laden saw Bush’s second term as a time to feel more confident and to find a more permanent homestead. In 2005, as Bush closed down the special CIA unit assigned to track bin Laden’s whereabouts folding its responsibilities into the broader counter-terrorism office bin Laden and his three wives settled into their new home in Abbottabad.

Meanwhile, back in the United States, the Republicans continued using the specter of bin Laden to undermine Democrats, sometimes juxtaposing a photo of bin Laden next to the image of a Democratic candidate who was being smeared as “soft on terror.”

Even during Campaign 2006, when the American voters were finally catching on to this ruse, the Republican National Committee released a campaign ad to rally voters to the GOP banner by showing threatening quotes from bin Laden followed by the pitch: “These are the stakes.”

Desperate to hold onto a Republican congressional majority, President Bush flogged the same theme in lashing Democrats who favored a military withdrawal from Iraq.

“If we were to follow the Democrats’ prescriptions and withdraw from Iraq, we would be fulfilling Osama bin Laden’s highest aspirations,” Bush said at an Oct. 19, 2006, campaign speech in Pennsylvania. “We should at least be able to agree that the path to victory is not to do precisely what the terrorists want.”

But we now know that what al-Qaeda’s leaders really wanted was for the United States to stay stuck in Iraq, all the better not to have the resources to track down bin Laden at his compound in Abbottabad, nor to have enough troops in Afghanistan to thwart a comeback by the Taliban.

The Historic Ties

Perhaps even more curious about this Bush/bin Laden symbiosis is that it predated the 9/11 attacks and involved other family members and friends.

In 1979, Bush’s former Texas Air National Guard buddy James Bath was the sole U.S. business representative for Salem bin Laden, scion of the wealthy Saudi bin Laden family and Osama’s half-brother. While fronting for Salem bin Laden, Bath helped bankroll Bush’s first company, Arbusto Energy, by investing $50,000 for a five percent stake. [For details, see Neck Deep.]

In the 1980s, the fortunes of the Bush and bin Laden families crossed paths again. George H.W. Bush as vice president and president supported a CIA program to aid Islamic mujahedeen in their anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan. It was during that conflict against the Soviet army that Osama bin Laden traveled to Afghanistan and established himself as a legendary Islamic fighter.

In early 1989, President George H.W. Bush spurned Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s proposal for a political settlement in Afghanistan and chose to continue the CIA war, even after the Soviets withdrew. That decision contributed to the rise of the Taliban in the mid-1990s and the formation of al-Qaeda out of veterans of the anti-Soviet jihad. [See’s “Why Afghanistan Really Fell Apart.”]

By the late 1990s, the Clinton administration recognized Osama bin Laden and his new al-Qaeda organization as a major terrorist threat to the United States. However, once in the White House, President George W. Bush let down the nation’s guard.

When the CIA warned him on Aug. 6, 2001, that bin Laden was determined “to strike inside the U.S.,” Bush brushed off the warning and went fishing. Rather than rallying the government to examine available clues and tighten security, he continued a month-long vacation.

A little more than a month after the CIA warning, on the morning of Sept. 11, George H.W. Bush and members of the bin Laden family were participating in a Carlyle Group investment meeting in Washington. It was disrupted by the machinations of another branch of the bin Laden family, when Osama’s al-Qaeda operatives hijacked planes and crashed them into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

According to one source, a bin Laden family member at the Carlyle meeting immediately sensed who was behind the terror attacks and removed his name tag.

In the following days, as the Justice Department jailed hundreds of Arab cab drivers and other “usual suspects,” George W. Bush cleared the bin Ladens to fly out of the United States, after only cursory interrogations by the FBI, by letting them board some of the first planes that were allowed back into U.S. air space. [For details, see Craig Unger’s House of Bush, House of Saud.]

Going After Osama

It was not until George W. Bush finally was out of office in 2009 that the U.S. government refocused its attention on getting bin Laden. President Obama said he ordered CIA Director Leon Panetta to make the killing or capturing of bin Laden the agency’s top priority.

Obama also drew down U.S. forces in Iraq and bolstered the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. Further, the new president authorized more aggressive use of Predator drones to attack suspected Taliban militants and al-Qaeda operatives inside Pakistan.

The pressure was building on bin Laden. But the terrorist leader apparently had grown accustomed to his relative security at his compound in Abbottabad. He was careful not to use electronic communications or to step outside into the open, but the 54-year-old Saudi exile stayed put with his young wife and his growing family.

When CIA analysts concluded that the preponderance of evidence indicated that bin Laden was in the compound, President Obama ordered the May 2 nighttime raid by U.S. Special Forces without telling the Pakistani government.

Members of SEAL Team-6 and other personnel quickly secured bin Laden’s compound, killing four of his associates, including one 20-year-old son. Upon spotting bin Laden on the third floor, the commandos shot and killed him. They then carried bin Laden’s corpse to a helicopter and spirited the body away. U.S. authorities said it was later taken to a U.S. aircraft carrier and buried at sea.

One might have thought that given the strange history of the Bush/bin Laden symbiosis, the American Right would have simply given Obama credit for the successful operation and tried not to mention Bush at all. But that isn’t how the Right and its media machinery work.

Almost immediately, Republicans and right-wing media figures began claiming that George W. Bush deserved substantial credit for bin Laden’s death because one or two shards of information about the identity of bin Laden’s top courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, had been extracted from al-Qaeda operatives subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques” at CIA black sites.

Ironically, however, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged operational mastermind of the 9/11 attacks who was waterboarded 183 times, continued to lie about al-Kuwaiti’s significance as did another al-Qaeda leader, Abu Faraj al-Libi who also was subjected to harsh treatment.

Bush defenders have spun those facts to claim that the failure to elicit the truth from these individuals paradoxically revealed the value of the torture techniques because supposedly the continued lying by the two men after being tortured indicated how important al-Kuwaiti must have been.

However, as CIA Director Panetta and FBI interrogators have noted, it’s impossible to say whether the captives would have revealed as much or more information if they had been subjected to professional questioning using traditional interrogation methods.

The Scourge of Torture

There’s also the legal and moral issue of whether torture is ever justified. The Inquisition extracted many confessions some of them surely valid but most civilized people thought those methods had been consigned to the shameful trash heap of the Dark Ages and more modern barbaric regimes like the Nazis.

Yet, what is perhaps most audacious about the Right’s demand that Bush be given substantial credit for the elimination of bin Laden is that Bush had nearly eight years to make good on his “dead or alive” threat and failed. More than two years after Bush left office, Obama’s administration finally finished the job, but Bush’s acolytes still couldn’t bring themselves to admit Bush’s failure or Obama’s success.

Similarly, after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the Right tried to palm off blame on President Bill Clinton, although Bush had been in office almost eight months and had ignored the CIA’s terror warnings. Blaming Clinton had been the main point of the 2006 docu-drama “The Path to 9/11,” produced by Disney’s ABC-TV which assigned pro-Bush operatives to be the directors.

The program, which ABC touted as a public service shown “with no commercial interruptions,” mixed real and fabricated events to put Democrats in the worst possible light and portray Bush as the hero who finally set things right.

In other words, when Bush failed to prevent 9/11, the blame had to be shifted to his predecessor, and when his successor finally got bin Laden, the credit was assigned to Bush. The power of the right-wing news media and the influence of the neoconservatives ensured that many gullible Americans accepted this narrative.

But the real history presents a more troubling picture, one in which Bush failed to protect the nation from al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks and then exploited the public’s fear to justify an expansion of his own powers and an aggressive war against Iraq, a country innocent of 9/11.

All the while, Bush pursued at best a feckless strategy for tracking down al-Qaeda’s top leader and even chuckled to a conservative author about how bin Laden helped assure his reelection victory in 2004. Relatively safe in Pakistan, bin Laden pursued his own domestic pleasures.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

Is Bibi Bluffing on Iran?

In Israel, the debate over bombing Iran has been tamped down by the belief in national security circles that Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu may be bluffing about going to war but that the bluff requires the world to think he may do it, Gareth Porter reports from Tel Aviv for Inter Press Service.

By Gareth Porter

A striking feature of the Israeli political landscape in recent months has been the absence of a serious debate on the issue of the threat of war with Iran led by national security figures.

It is well known that many prominent former military and intelligence officials believe an attack on Iran would be disastrous for Israel. However, last year, after two former high-ranking officials delivered an initial blast at the idea of striking Iran, very little has been heard from such national security figures.

The reason for this silence on the part of the national security sector, just as the Israeli threat of war was escalating sharply, appears to be a widespread view among Israeli national security analysts that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s threat to attack is a highly successful bluff.

Still, some critics of Netanyahu’s threat to go war against Iran have expressed concern about the failure of national security figures to speak out publicly against the policy. Former Jerusalem Post columnist Larry Derfner, who now blogs for the independent web-based magazine 972, wrote last month that there are “crowds” of former military and intelligence officials who privately oppose an attack on Iran and could slow the “march to war” by speaking to the news media. But he complained that “Israelis aren’t hearing their voices.”

Yossi Alpher, a former Mossad analyst and later head of the Jaffee Center for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, has noted the same problem. “Plenty of people are calling for public debate on the issue of striking Iran,” he told IPS in an interview. “But it isn’t happening.”

Former Mossad director Meir Dagan launched the first attack on Netanyahu’s policy by a former national security official last June, asserting that an attack on Iran would provoke a regional war and would ensure that Iran would acquire nuclear weapons.

Maj. Gen. Shlomo Gazit, who was chief of military intelligence in the 1970s, also disassociated himself from the policy, declaring, “An Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear reactor will lead to the liquidation of Israel.” Like Dagan, Gazit warned that it would cause Iran to immediately decide to become a nuclear power and he added that it would increase international pressures for the abandonment of “the territories.”

Those shots across Netanyahu’s bow have not been followed, however, by similar criticisms by other former military and intelligence figures. In fact, Gazit himself appeared to backtrack from his earlier harsh verdict on the option of attacking Iran in a recent television interview.

On Russia Today on March 12, Gazit did not voice any of his previous objections to the threatened Israeli strike against Iran. Instead he emphasized the readiness of Israel to carry out a strike, even without U.S. approval if necessary, played down the cost to Israel of an Iranian response, and said an Israeli strike would result in delaying the Iranian nuclear program by “two or three years at least”.

Gazit reaffirmed to IPS, however, that he has not changed his mind about the dangers to Israel attending a strike against Iran he had raised last June.

The publicly discussed reason for the absence of dissent from the national security sector is lack of information. Nathan Sharony, who heads the Council of Peace, with over 1,000 former high-ranking security officials with dovish views, told Derfner the reason ex-national security officials were not speaking up was that they lack the “solid information” necessary to do so.

Gazit gave IPS the same explanation for the failure of former officials to oppose a strike against Iran publicly. But the main reasons for opposing war with Iran do not require access to inside information. The more compelling explanation for the silence of former military and intelligence officers is that they, like journalists and other policy analysts, think that Netanyahu is probably bluffing and that they perceive the bluff as working.

Retired Brig. Gen. Uzi Rubin, the former head of Israel’s missile defense program, recalls being on a television program a few months ago with Ari Shavit, senior correspondent at Haaretz, on which Shavit declared, “Netanyahu is playing poker for all of us. We shouldn’t call out his cards.”

Shavit was suggesting that the success of the prime minister in the high stakes poker game requires that influential Israelis not question his claims about Israel’s willingness and capability to attack Iran’s nuclear sites. That struck a Rubin as a significant factor in the politics surrounding Netanyahu’s policy.

“People who think we shouldn’t attack Iran believe Netanyahu is playing poker,” said Rubin in an interview with IPS. “So they think they shouldn’t speak up.”

“Netanyahu speaks like he’s very convinced Iran has to be stopped by force,” said the former missile defense chief. “Does he mean it?” Rubin said he doesn’t know the answer.

Alpher, the former Mossad analyst, agrees. He told IPS the reason high-profile expressions of dissent by Dagan and a few others have not provoked more lively debate on Iran policy among national security figures is that “they don’t want to spoil Bibi’s successful bluster.”

Netanyahu’s bluffing on Iran has “kept the international community on edge,” Alpher suggested, and thus achieved the latest round of sanctions and heavier pressure on Iran. Both the poker game metaphor and the view that he has been successful at it have been central elements in media coverage of Netanyahu’s policy in recent weeks.

While the prime minister was in Washington last month, Aluf Benn, the editor-in-chief of Haaretz, wrote that Netanayhu had “managed to convince the world that Israel is on the verge of a preemptive war” and that he is “playing poker and hiding his most important card – the IDF’s true capabilities to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations.”

Just last week, Benn’s colleague, Ari Shavit, referred to the threat to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities before the end of 2012 that he and a handful of other journalists had heard from senior officials. Shavit acknowledged, however, that “we cannot exclude the possibility that senior Israeli officials briefing us are bluffing,” noting that the officials had a “vested interest” in exploiting such a threat.

One factor that may have fed the reluctance of some former military and intelligence officials to go public with criticism of the option of war against Iran is that Netanyahu has a reputation for being far less aggressive on Iran in practice than his rhetoric would indicate. Benn told IPS there is a perception of Netanyahu as a “hesitant politician who would not dare to attack without American permission.”

A former national security official, who did not wish to be identified, told IPS some people who have worked with Netanyahu have said he is less decisive than former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Iran, although he personally disagrees with that assessment.

The widespread impression among the Israeli national security elite and press corps that Netanyahu’s threat of war against Iran is a bluff does not guarantee that Netanyahu will not attack Iran. But it does help explain why there has not been a much bigger outcry against a war option that is widely regarded as irrational for Israel.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006.