The ‘Exceptionalism’ of US Torture

Americans like to think of themselves as the ultimate “good guys” and anyone who gets in their way as a “bad guy.” Under this theory of U.S. “exceptionalism,” whatever “we” do must be moral or at least morally defensible, from sponsoring coups around the world to torture, as William Blum describes.

By William Blum

In 1964, the Brazilian military, in a U.S.-designed coup, overthrew a liberal (not more to the left than that) government and proceeded to rule with an iron fist for the next 21 years. In 1979 the military regime passed an amnesty law blocking the prosecution of its members for torture and other crimes. The amnesty still holds.

That’s how they handle such matters in what used to be called The Third World. In the First World, however, they have no need for such legal niceties. In the United States, military torturers and their political godfathers are granted amnesty automatically, simply for being American, solely for belonging to the “Good Guys Club.”

So now, with the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture, we have further depressing revelations about U.S. foreign policy. But do Americans and the world need yet another reminder that the United States is a leading practitioner of torture? Yes. The message cannot be broadcast too often because the indoctrination of the American people and Americophiles all around the world is so deeply embedded that it takes repeated shocks to the system to dislodge it.

No one does brainwashing like the good ol’ Yankee inventors of advertising and public relations. And there is always a new generation just coming of age with stars (and stripes) in their eyes.

The public also has to be reminded yet again that contrary to what most of the media and Barack Obama would have us all believe the President has never actually banned torture per se, despite saying recently that he had “unequivocally banned torture” after taking office.

Shortly after Obama’s first inauguration, both he and Leon Panetta, the new Director of the CIA, explicitly stated that “rendition” was not being ended. As the Los Angeles Times reported at the time: “Under executive orders issued by Obama recently, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States.”

The English translation of “cooperate” is “torture.” Rendition is simply outsourcing torture. There was no other reason to take prisoners to Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Egypt, Jordan, Kenya, Somalia, Kosovo, or the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, amongst other torture centers employed by the United States. Kosovo and Diego Garcia both of which house large and very secretive American military bases if not some of the other locations, may well still be open for torture business, as is the Guantánamo Base in Cuba.

Moreover, the key Executive Order referred to, number 13491, issued Jan. 22, 2009, “Ensuring Lawful Interrogations,” leaves a major loophole. It states repeatedly that humane treatment, including the absence of torture, is applicable only to prisoners detained in an “armed conflict.” Thus, torture by Americans outside an environment of “armed conflict” is not explicitly prohibited. But what about torture within an environment of “counter-terrorism”?

The Executive Order required the CIA to use only the interrogation methods outlined in a revised Army Field Manual. However, using the Army Field Manual as a guide to prisoner treatment and interrogation still allows solitary confinement, perceptual or sensory deprivation, sensory overload, sleep deprivation, the induction of fear and hopelessness, mind-altering drugs, environmental manipulation such as temperature and noise, and stress positions, amongst other charming examples of American Exceptionalism.

After Panetta was questioned by a Senate panel, the New York Times wrote that he had “left open the possibility that the agency could seek permission to use interrogation methods more aggressive than the limited menu that President Obama authorized under new rules Mr. Panetta also said the agency would continue the Bush administration practice of ‘rendition’ But he said the agency would refuse to deliver a suspect into the hands of a country known for torture or other actions ‘that violate our human values’.”

The last sentence is of course childishly absurd. The countries chosen to receive rendition prisoners were chosen precisely and solely because they were willing and able to torture them. Four months after Obama and Panetta took office, the New York Times could report that renditions had reached new heights.

The present news reports indicate that Washington’s obsession with torture stems from 9/11, to prevent a repetition. The President speaks of “the fearful excesses of the post-9/11 era.” There’s something to that idea, but not a great deal. Torture in America is actually as old as the country.

What government has been intimately involved with that horror more than the United States? Teaching it, supplying the manuals, supplying the equipment, creation of international torture centers, kidnapping people to these places, solitary confinement, forced feeding, Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Chicago Lord forgive us!

In 2011, Brazil instituted a National Truth Commission to officially investigate the crimes of the military government, which came to an end in 1985. But Mr. Obama has in fact rejected calls for a truth commission concerning CIA torture.

On June 17 of this year, however, when Vice President Joseph Biden was in Brazil, he gave the Truth Commission 43 State Department cables and reports concerning the Brazilian military regime, including one entitled “Widespread Arrests and Psychophysical Interrogation of Suspected Subversives.”

Thus it is that once again the United States of America will not be subjected to any accountability for having broken U.S. laws, international laws, and the fundamental laws of human decency. Obama can expect the same kindness from his successor as he has extended to George W.

“One of the strengths that makes America exceptional is our willingness to openly confront our past, face our imperfections, make changes and do better.” Barack Obama, written statement issued moments after the Senate report was made public.

And if that pile of hypocrisy is not big enough or smelly enough, try adding to it Biden’s remark regard his visit to Brazil: “I hope that in taking steps to come to grips with our past we can find a way to focus on the immense promise of the future.”

If the torturers of the Bush and Obama administrations are not held accountable in the United States they must be pursued internationally under the principles of universal jurisdiction.

In 1984, an historic step was taken by the United Nations with the drafting of the “Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” (came into force in 1987, ratified by the United States in 1994). Article 2, section 2 of the Convention states: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

Such marvelously clear, unequivocal and principled language, to set a single standard for a world that makes it increasingly difficult for one to feel proud of humanity. We cannot slide back. If today it’s deemed acceptable to torture the person who supposedly has the vital “ticking-bomb” information needed to save lives, tomorrow it will be acceptable to torture him to learn the identities of his alleged co-conspirators. Would we allow slavery to resume for just a short while to serve some “national emergency” or some other “higher purpose”?

If you open the window of torture, even just a crack, the cold air of the Dark Ages will fill the whole room.

William Blum is an author, historian, and renowned critic of U.S. foreign policy. He is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II and Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, among others. [This article originally appeared at the Anti-Empire Report,  http://williamblum.org/ .]




Is Torture a ‘Conservative’ Value?

Conservatives who usually hail individual liberties are leading the televised defense of the U.S. government’s torture of terror suspects, including many who were completely innocent. But some conservatives are troubled by this knee-jerk defense of the Bush administration, as Independent Institute’s Ivan Eland explains.

By Ivan Eland

On the news talk shows, everyone is talking about torture — mostly defending the Bush administration’s hysterical actions after the 9/11 attacks. Granted, 9/11 was a searing experience for the general public, which wanted action in retaliation. However, it is the duty of wise political leaders to reason with the public to dampen the desire for any rash, counterproductive actions.

Instead, Bush administration officials used such public fear and anger from 9/11 to fuel public support for their own unrelated policy agenda that made the Islamist terrorism problem worse. Torture was one aspect of that policy agenda.

Even after 9/11, terrorism was a rare event, as it was before, and government terrorism experts should have known that the resources of a small group, such as al Qaeda, were not great enough to necessitate excesses in response, such as torture and other government usurpation of American constitutionally-guaranteed civil liberties.

When prisoner abuse and torture at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were exposed, guerrilla violence following in the wake of Bush’s trumped-up post-9/11 invasion and occupation of Iraq worsened. Now torture at CIA secret prisons around the world after 9/11, already well-known but highlighted and detailed by the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, could similarly fan the flames of anti-American Islamism.

Yet news programs gave more air time to the defenders of Bush’s clearly illegal and counterproductive policy than they did to opponents of torture — such as committee members and human rights organizations. The reason is that the media is in the habit of focusing in on Executive Branch officials as authoritative sources on policy (because the Executive Branch, contrary to the country’s Founders’ vision, now is by far the most powerful arm of government).

Also, the media likes to fan controversy and ex-officials defending lurid, outrageous, and frankly “un-American” policy is well … great television. I say un-American because secret imprisonment and torture clearly violate U.S. law, official U.S. policy prior to the Bush administration, the international convention on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment signed by Ronald Reagan and ratified by Congress, and long-standing international standards of human rights.

Finally, Obama administration officials, who discontinued torture when Barack Obama came into office, have been ducking the issue, because they don’t want to adversely affect the morale of the CIA bureaucracy.

However, maybe if some CIA personnel who tortured people or destroyed videos of it were prosecuted, the agency would learn to avoid such illegalities in the future. People going to jail would have a more searing effect than apparently the Church Committee hearings in the mid-1970s had on illegal and unconstitutional practices by intelligence agencies.

In fact, perhaps Congress should pass a law that prohibits the CIA (and the NSA) from doing any activities other than lawful intelligence collecting on foreigners. Both agencies would be much better off and have better morale in the long-term if they stuck to this vital mission.

Yet, since its inception, the CIA has been distracted by more glamorous missions than the drudgery of painstaking intelligence collection — first covert action against unfriendly countries and more recently the management of the secret prisons where the torture occurred.

As well as being un-American — we should be better than our adversaries, such as ISIS or al Qaeda, who kidnap people and mistreat and gruesomely kill prisoners, but were not — torture theretofore had been clearly regarded as counterproductive, even by the U.S. government itself. The FBI and U.S. military initially blanched at the idea of U.S. personnel torturing people, because bad information is usually produced by the victim just to get the pain to stop.

The CIA during the Bush administration forgot its own report concluding the same in 1989. Moreover, the U.S. military — especially its lawyers — has never been keen on the practice because it gives future enemies an excuse to torture American service personnel in retaliation and makes it more likely that any enemy will fight to the death rather than be taken prisoner by the Americans. Both effects can result in more deaths to U.S. military personnel in any war.

But in the wake of 9/11, did Bush and Cheney listen to the experts in the military and the FBI on the counterproductivity of torture? No, instead these avoiders of combat during the Vietnam era had to pose as macho and pretend to do something to vanquish evil everywhere in lieu of focusing on capturing al Qaeda members that perpetrated the 9/11 attacks (not on overthrowing and capturing Saddam Hussein), interrogating them with FBI and military interrogators using legal tried-and-true methods, and trying them as criminals in perfectly capable civilian courts.

Instead, Bush and Cheney thought it would be really cool to let the CIA hire bozo contractors, who had no interrogation experience, to run a keystone cops program to kidnap and manhandle captives in CIA secret prisons. According to CIA admission, either implicitly or explicitly in CIA documents, this policy led to a shocking outcome: Almost a quarter (at least) of detainees in CIA prisons weren’t guilty of anything at all, were held for years in dungeon-style prisons, and some were tortured.

It is amazing that in an America that is becoming politically correct on everything else, so many defenders of a heinous and clearly illegal practice can be found. They are mostly Republicans defending what was an outlaw Bush administration — the exception being John McCain, who represents the military’s view on the subject.

Since Dick Cheney, the most dangerous American politician in recent times, has publicly declared that he would support torture if he had it to do over again, maybe this blatant in-your-face attitude will cause some country overseas that has signed the torture convention, or has had American torture done on its territory, will prosecute him; certainly the Obama administration, which overall has not been that much better than the Bush administration in safeguarding American civil liberties, will not.

At minimum, maybe former Bush administration officials will fear to travel overseas for fear of being shanghaied for prosecution and jailing. Alberto Gonzalez, Bush’s Attorney General, recently expressed some personal fear of this outcome on a news program.

Since Bush started all of the U.S. government torture rolling by his “wink and nudge” declaration in February 2002 that al Qaeda fighters would not be held under the safeguards of the Geneva Conventions and has crowed about the necessity of using torture during his tenure, maybe he should just stay at home on the Texas ranch too.

Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland has spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. His books include The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy. [This story originally was published as a blog post at HuffingtonPost.]




Torture’s Time for Accountability

Exclusive: America’s reputation for cognitive dissonance is being tested by the Senate report documenting the U.S. government’s torture of detainees and the fact that nothing is happening to those responsible. Ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern says the nation must choose between crossing the Delaware or the Rubicon.

By Ray McGovern

I trust I was not alone in seeing irony in President Barack Obama’s public chiding of Sony on Friday for caving in to hacker demands to cancel distribution of its comedy “The Interview” about a fictional CIA plot to assassinate North Korea’s real-life leader Kim Jong-Un after a retaliatory cyber attack blamed on North Korea.

Rather than questioning Sony’s wisdom in producing a film that jokes about something as serious as assassinating a nation’s leader, Obama upbraided Sony’s producers for the decision to pull the movie from theaters. “I wish they had spoken to me first,” said Obama, warning them not to ”get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated.”

The irony that I saw was in Obama’s “tough-guy” advice just after he had been so intimidated by the real-life CIA that he could not muster the courage to fire those who managed and carried out a quite-unfunny policy of torture on an industrial scale much less try to find some way to hold senior officials of the Bush/Cheney administration accountable. However great the financial loss to Sony’s bottom line, the costs attributable to Obama’s timidity are incalculably more damaging to the United States.

Of course, the common thread between assassinations and torture is Official Washington’s disdain for international law at least as it pertains to the “exceptional” U.S. government. I suppose it might have been even more ironic if President Obama, who has overseen an actual targeted assassination program for six years, would have voiced concern about a movie making light of a made-up assassination plot.

(There was a time, especially after the 1960s, when Americans didn’t find the notion of murdering political leaders very amusing.)

Anyway, veteran UPI editor Arnaud de Borchgrave had it right on Friday when he noted that the CIA torture abuses revealed in the report released by Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein on Dec. 9 have “given the U.S. a geopolitical black eye of worldwide dimensions. For the average Russian, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, African, Arab, Iranian, or any other race or nationality, America is now no better or worse than any other global scoundrel.”

Not amused by the U.S. government’s we’re-above-the-law arrogance, North Korea’s U.N. ambassador has called on the world body to investigate the CIA for subjecting captured al-Qaeda operatives to “brutal, medieval” forms of torture. (No, that is not a joke. North Korea is lecturing Washington on barbaric behavior.) It seems clear that the damage done by the CIA’s officially sanctioned torture and equally important Obama’s decision to hold the torturers harmless, leave an incalculably large, indelible stain on the U.S. reputation for defending human rights.

Crossing Our Delaware

So what happens next, after America now acknowledges having crossed the Rubicon into the practice of torture a decade ago? What to do after these abhorrent “techniques,” such as waterboarding and “rectal rehydration,” have been exposed in a redacted Senate Intelligence Committee report based on CIA cables, emails and other original documents?  (I find myself wondering whether even more sadistic outrages would be detailed in the un-redacted text of the Senate report.)

The question remains: Will the top torture criminals and their obedient lackeys from George W. Bush and Dick Cheney down to those CIA personnel and contractors “just following orders” in the CIA’s secret prisons continue to escape accountability? As things now stand, the sad answer seems to be, “Yes, unless.”

At this point, those responsible will continue to enjoy de facto immunity unless (1) they travel abroad and are apprehended and brought to justice under the principle of “universal jurisdiction” by governments more committed to enforcing international law than our own; or (2) unless we citizens summon the kind of courage shown by the “winter soldiers” of George Washington’s army who crossed the Delaware and turned the tide of battle at Christmastime 1776, leading four cold Christmases later to American freedom from British rule.

Worth noting in this connection is that Gen. George Washington imposed strong strictures against abuse of captured British and Hessian prisoners, strictures not observed by the English forces who deemed the American soldiers “traitors” and often confined them to appalling conditions aboard prison ships and in other unsanitary locations where more than 10,000 died of neglect.

Thomas Paine, one of the stalwart soldiers in Washington’s army, famously wrote during that difficult winter of 1776-77: “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of all men and women.”

It might well be said of us that “Now is the winter of our discontent,” a time when rock-ribbed American ideals have been trampled beneath the boot of thuggish behavior and all that seems left is a swaggering haughtiness more fitting the British officer corps than our courageous “rabble in arms.”

Today’s question is whether we will be discontented enough to expose ourselves to the elements, as those “winter soldiers” were exposed, albeit “elements” of a different kind, risks to our reputations, impositions on our time, commitment of our talents and resources. But it may be our turn to repay the debt to those soldiers who overcame great odds and great hardships to create a nation based on the rule of law, not the whim of men.

Though the Founders were flawed individuals themselves and the early United States should not be idealized as a place without grave injustices there was wisdom in many of their principles, including a prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishments” in the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

They also made wise observations about America’s proper place in the world as a beacon of liberty, not as the world’s policeman. Recognizing the dangers and corruption that could come from excessive involvement in foreign conflicts, the first three presidents George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson all warned against “entangling alliances.” And years later, President John Quincy Adams, who had watched the new nation from its birth, warned that America “goes not abroad seeking monsters to destroy.”

In my view, we dishonor the memory of those courageous patriots if we leave it to other countries to do our justice for us regarding the torturers so vividly depicted in the CIA cables revealed by the Senate report. Rather, our generation is being called on to rise up against the practice of torture and other abuses drone killings, for example in such a way as to force a timid President to stop calling felons “patriots” and, instead, do his duty in holding them accountable. Stern enforcement of both U.S. and international law is the only deterrent against this kind of unconscionable abuse happening again.

During the Watergate scandal, senior officials went to jail for lying and obstructing justice. Many other politicians have faced stiff prison time for relatively petty corruption. So why should government leaders and their subordinates get a walk on such a severe crime of state as torture?

Presidential Timidity

Left to his own devices, President Obama is likely to keep putting the White House stamp on the stay-out-of-jail-free cards that he issued to the torturers when he came into office six years ago, wanting to “look forward, not backward.”

I believed then as I do now that it was because he feared for his own hide (physically as well as politically) that he carved out an exemption for the torturers. So much for discharging his Constitutional duty to “take care that the laws are faithfully executed.”

Righting this wrong will require the kind of moral courage Obama seems to lack. True, his politically risky rapprochement with Cuba announced earlier this week provided a glimmer of hope that he can finally be his own man. But let’s take him at his word that his brand of leadership comes into play only when we citizens light a fire under him. Let us gather the kindling, start the fire, and respond to his challenge to make him do the right thing.

As is painfully obvious by this stage, the battle will be uphill, largely because our supine media provide such thin gruel that, as a result, most Americans are malnourished on the truth. I suppose one can get used to virtually any indignity. Nonetheless, for me it remains highly disturbing to watch “mainstream media” give the lion’s share of air time to charlatans like Dick Cheney who, 13 years after 9/11, continue to play on the trauma of that fateful day to elicit the kind of vengeful spirit that can in far too many minds justify the unspeakable.

No matter that ethicists have traditionally placed torture, like rape or slavery, in the moral category of intrinsic evil always wrong a premise embedded in the UN Convention Against Torture to which the United States is a signatory. No matter that torture does not yield reliable intelligence. No matter that CIA documents show how CIA directors Michael Hayden and Leon Panetta lied when they told us that information from “enhanced interrogation techniques” led to the finding and killing of Osama bin Laden. [See Gareth Porter’s “How the CIA Covered Up Its Lie on Torture and bin Laden.”]

The first (and, so far as I know, the last) time Obama showed any spine dealing with the CIA was just before he became president in January 2009, when he demonstrably dissed then-CIA Director Michael Hayden. Hayden had been going around town telling folks that he warned the president-elect “personally and forcefully” that if Obama authorized an investigation into controversial activities like waterboarding, “no one in Langley will ever take a risk again.” (My source for this is what we former intelligence officers used to call an “A-1 source” completely reliable with excellent access to the information).

Consequently, Hayden did not merit a mention on Jan. 9, 2009, when President-elect Obama formally introduced Leon Panetta as his choice to replace Hayden as CIA director and Dennis Blair as director of national intelligence. Obama did announce that Mike McConnell, whom Blair replaced, had been given a sinecure/consolation prize, a seat on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. McConnell got the obligatory thank you; but not Hayden.

It was not only cheeky, but more than a little disingenuous that Hayden should think to advise Obama “personally and forcefully” against investigating the illegal activities authorized by President George W. Bush, since Hayden’s role in torture was already clear from publicly available information.

Hayden had loudly defended what he liked to call “high-end” interrogation techniques like waterboarding. (And last week, just three days after the Senate report was released, Georgetown law professor David Cole drew from it to recount “just three examples” of false and unsupported testimony” by Hayden.)

It was for services rendered that Bush and Cheney picked Hayden to head the CIA. As Director of NSA (1999 to 2005) he saluted sharply when Cheney told him to redact the words “probable cause” from the Fourth Amendment.

In sum, Hayden’s transgressions are book-length, but as with Professor Cole’s article space limitations prevent anything close to a complete rendering, so to speak. Apparently fearful of going beyond sending Hayden to the showers, Obama hired Leon Panetta to replace Hayden to be nominally CIA director but, in actuality, its well-connected protector.

Initially, with Panetta there seemed to be reason to expect hope and change; that expectation was short-lived. A year before Obama picked him, Panetta had written:

“We cannot simply suspend [American ideals of human rights] in the name of national security. Those who support torture may believe that we can abuse captives in certain select circumstances and still be true to our values. But that is a false compromise.

“We either believe in the dignity of the individual, the rule of law, and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, or we don’t. There is no middle ground. We cannot and we must not use torture under any circumstances. We are better than that.”

Sadly, it turns out we were not, in fact, “better than that” and neither was Panetta. For his part, Panetta discharged his assigned role to defend CIA torturers with enthusiasm even overreaching in making false claims about the efficacy of “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

On that key issue, CIA Director John Brennan, speaking on Dec. 11, 2014, was more cautious, claiming the effectiveness of “enhanced interrogation techniques” was “unknowable.” At which point Sen. Feinstein moved immediately to set the record straight, tweeting that, on the contrary, it was well known that the useful intelligence from interrogation was gained from traditional interrogation approaches, well BEFORE “enhancements” were applied.

On the day after the Senate Intelligence Community report was released, lame-duck committee member Mark Udall sharply criticized Brennan for “lying” about the efficacy of torture. Udall’s parting shot was to decry the President for his permissive attitude toward Brennan and the CIA and for “making no effort at all to rein it in.”

This appraisal has been seconded by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, who openly complained last Saturday that “Brennan has gotten away with frustrating congressional oversight. He shouldn’t have gotten away with it, but so far he has.”

Obama Agonistes

Will the President continue to do his best to hold harmless those involved in torture? I expect he will out of the fear for the consequences if he tried to “rein in” the CIA. In other words, although Obama came into office determined not to allow himself to be intimidated by Hayden, he nonetheless seem to have taken Hayden’s threat seriously.

Whether Obama’s fateful decision only to “look forward” on the issue of torture was the result of simple cowardice or a naive calculation that shoving torture under the rug would help him work out a modus vivendi with Republican leaders is, at this point, academic.

The reality is that Obama blew his chance to deal with this profoundly moral, as well as legal, issue of torture at a time when this was widely expected of him. As for the Republicans whose cooperation he so patently craved, they appear to have seen in his unmistakable reluctance to expose and pursue the major crimes of Bush and Cheney a welcome sign of weakness.

Now, despite his transparent attempts to keep his distance from the horrid disclosures in the Senate committee report, Obama is enmeshed in a wide web of consequential lies. He is, ipso facto, part of a cover-up that is poisoning the minds of too-trusting Americans, while putting a big hole in what’s left of America’s reputation as a force for good in the world. He could not do this without the help of an enabling media.

What are we to make of the media? Decades ago, in an unusual moment of candor, former CIA Director William Colby was quoted as saying the CIA “owns everyone of any significance in the major media.” How much truth continues to lie beneath Colby’s hyperbole? Why is it so easy to simply mention 9/11 to evoke an attitude of vengeance? Why does that include acquiescence in horrid torture techniques, and a predisposition to believe Cheney’s lies, rather than accept the reality that our leaders ordered and conducted heinous crimes?

In my view, the polls show an acceptance on the part of most Americans for torture mostly because so many Americans simply do not read. And this is precisely why Sen. Feinstein and Sen. John McCain both appealed plaintively for us to “just read the report.”

In her trademark perceptive way, the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer laments that, when the awful facts about CIA torture came out last week, President Obama shied away from the chance given him to set the record straight. She explained it this way:

“It appeared that Obama and Brennan had a single purpose, which was to not ‘lose Langley,’ … meaning that they didn’t want to alienate those still working at the C.I.A. This calculation that C.I.A. officers … are too fragile for criticism, too valuable to fire, and too patriotic to prosecute somehow tied the Obama Administration in knots.” Mayer might have added that CIA operatives seem to be, in Obama’s ken, “too dangerous to get crosswise with.”

Similar insights jump out of a Dec. 15 article by Peter Baker and Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times. They write that when Brennan was working at the White House, neither Obama nor Brennan was eager to take on the C.I.A. very often. “The C.I.A. gets what it needs,” Obama declared at one early meeting, according to people there. “He didn’t want them to feel like he was an enemy,” said a former aide.

Brennan, for his part, was protective of CIA interests. When Panetta negotiated an agreement with the Senate Intelligence Committee for an inquiry into torture, Brennan erupted. “It did not take long to get ugly,” Panetta recalled in his memoir. “Brennan and I even exchanged sharp words.”

Brennan recognized at once that such an inquiry could well become a very large fly in the ointment. He was right about that, but he was unable to renege on the deal. After becoming CIA director last year, though, Brennan fought constantly with Democrats on the committee over the torture report and attempted to redact it to a fare-thee-well.

Relations worsened when senators accused the CIA of penetrating a computer network designated for the committee’s use, a charge that Brennan initially denied. In the end, though, the CIA inspector general admonished five agency officers and Brennan apologized. Relations remained raw; Obama stayed above the fray.

On Saturday, the New York Times reported that the panel appointed by Brennan to investigate the CIA’s search of a computer network used by the Senate staffers investigating CIA’s use of torture will (surprise, surprise) return a verdict of not guilty. Brennan’s panel reportedly has decided to defend the CIA searchers’ actions as lawful and, in some cases, done at Brennan’s behest, in effect reversing the most significant conclusions of an earlier investigation by CIA’s own inspector general.

On the issue of torture’s effectiveness, according to Baker and Mazzetti, the President’s advisers doubt that he believes the interrogation program yielded useful intelligence, but that he was unwilling to contradict Brennan.

A Natural Ally in McCain

Does the fact that Sen. John McCain was tortured as a POW, after his aircraft was downed over North Vietnam, give him unusual credibility on the issue of torture? You bet it does. Breaking ranks with fellow Republicans, defensive CIA directors and a media (including Hollywood) enamored of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” McCain followed Sen. Feinstein to the Senate floor after she introduced and distributed the report on CIA torture. He was very supportive.

More in sorrow than in anger, he conceded, “The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow. It sometimes causes us difficulties at home and abroad. … But the American people are entitled to it, nonetheless. …

“There was considerable misinformation … about what was and wasn’t achieved using these [enhanced interrogation] methods … There was a good amount of misinformation used in 2011 to credit the use of these methods with the death of Osama bin Laden. And there is, I fear, misinformation being used today to prevent the release of this report, disputing its findings and warning about the security consequences of their public disclosure. …

“What might come as a surprise … is how little these practices did to aid our efforts to bring 9/11 culprits to justice and to find and prevent terrorist attacks today and tomorrow. That could be a real surprise, since it contradicts the many assurances provided by intelligence officials on the record and in private that enhanced interrogation techniques were indispensable in the war against terrorism. And I suspect the objection of those same officials to the release of this report is really focused on that disclosure torture’s ineffectiveness because we gave up much in the expectation that torture would make us safer. Too much.

“Obviously, we need intelligence to defeat our enemies, but we need reliable intelligence. Torture produces more misleading information than actionable intelligence. And what the advocates of harsh and cruel interrogation methods have never established is that we couldn’t have gathered as good or more reliable intelligence from using humane methods.

“The most important lead we got in the search for bin Laden came from using conventional interrogation methods. I think it is an insult to the many intelligence officers who have acquired good intelligence without hurting or degrading prisoners to assert we can’t win this war without such methods. Yes, we can and we will.”

Thus, Obama would not be without powerful allies were he to summon the courage to bring CIA torturers to account. It appears, however, that the President still lives in fear of the shady characters at Langley.

Hence, it is up to us to mobilize the kind of action needed to change Obama’s mind. Op-eds, speeches, interviews are fine, but without action, nothing is going to happen. We need to figure out how best to confront this issue and what action(s) seem appropriate. And then we must act like winter soldiers.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. His experience, both as an Army Infantry/Intelligence officer and as a CIA analyst spanned 27 years. He now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).




Torture’s Fallacies — and Criminality

In America’s fascination with fictional entertainment, torture has been a popular plot device as some tough-guy “hero” extracts a clue from a hardened “bad guy,” most famously with Jack Bauer in “24.” But real-world torture elicits false information and is a grave crime of state, as Lawrence Davidson explains.

By Lawrence Davidson

It has long been known that torture does not work. One can go back to the Age of Enlightenment. In 1764, Cesare Beccaria published his groundbreaking work, On Crimes and Punishments, in which he examined all the evidence available at that time and concluded that individuals under torture will tell their interrogators anything they want to hear, true or not, just to get the pain to stop. Beccaria’s book led to a temporary waning of the state-ordered torture.

Nonetheless, the United States has used torture repeatedly. Indeed, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s release of its report (five years in the making) on the George W. Bush administration’s use of torture testifies to only the most recent in a long line of such incidents.

For instance, torture was used against prisoners during and immediately following the Spanish-American War, particularly in the Philippines. More recently, the U.S. (and its adversary) used torture during the Vietnam War. Confirming Beccaria’s judgment, the consensus among U.S. military personnel, who examined the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (the latest euphemism for torture) against Viet Cong and North Vietnamese prisoners, was that it did not work.

This conclusion has been supported by Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for over five years. He has repeatedly said that he knows, from personal experience, that “victims of torture will offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it.”

Who in the Executive Branch of the U.S. government remembers, or even cares, about this history? President Barack Obama gave his blessings to the Dec. 11 television appearance of CIA Director John O. Brennan so that Brennan could tell the nation that, following the 9/11 tragedy, tortured prisoners provided “useful and valuable” information. The Senate Intelligence Committee report calls such claims “exaggerated if not utterly false.” Based on the evidence from Beccaria’s time to the present, the committee report’s position in this regard is the one to go with.

Illegality of Torture

Torture was made illegal in 1950 under the Third Geneva Convention, and this was reaffirmed in 1985 by the United Nations Convention against Torture. Both of these conventions were signed and ratified by the United States, making them the law of the land. Torture is also illegal under U.S. domestic laws such as the War Crimes Act of 1996.

Unfortunately, these laws and treaty obligations were called into question in 2002 by the Bush administration. To create a counter-position to them, the Bush’s Justice Department produced what are now known as the “torture memos.” These postulated that the war against terrorism that followed 9/11 was a unique situation that nullified all the standing laws preventing torture.

These memos were self-serving interpretations of the president’s powers during war and time of emergency. Contrived as they were, they served as Bush’s legal justification for his administration’s policy of waterboarding, “rectal rehydration,” sleep deprivation, and other forms of physical abuse. As Dick Cheney, Bush’s pugnacious vice president, recently said, this was no rogue operation. “This program was authorized” by the memos, Cheney said.

The question of how one legitimately “authorizes” what has already been determined to be illegal, immoral and degrading seems never to have occurred to Cheney.

When we weigh the authority of the “torture memos” against international law, treaty obligations, and indeed U.S. domestic law, we must conclude that Bush’s policy of torture was illegal. Let me put the consequences of that reasonable conclusion in plain English: President George W. Bush and everyone else in his administration involved in formulating, justifying and carrying out the policy of torture are criminals. So why hasn’t Mr. Bush (to say nothing of the rest of this gang) been brought to trial for his crimes?

One possible reason harkens back to 1972-73, when the infamous Watergate scandal was revealing President Richard Nixon’s criminality. At that time the main line of argument was that you don’t want an American president going to jail. This would constitute just too much of a national embarrassment. Therefore, the pardon that Nixon received was the best solution to a messy problem. Being of a contrary nature even back then, this writer went about saying that it was precisely because Nixon was the president that you wanted him on trial and, when convicted, put in jail. You wanted that precedent set because it would shape, for the better, the behavior of future presidents.

Of course, this course of action was never followed, and so when it came to George W. Bush, there was no such precedent to provoke any second thoughts. Perhaps he would not have hesitated in any case. We will never know.

The Present Debate

At present, the debate within the Beltway is not over the Bush administration’s culpability for illegal acts, but rather over the wisdom of releasing the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report detailing the CIA use of torture on the president’s orders. In other words, the wisdom of making public the evidence of Bush’s criminality. Many feel that the report will make some foreigners so angry that they will attack Americans abroad. But then those folks already knew about U.S. torture and don’t need the details to make them angry.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, the present chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is the one who decided to release the report on torture. She did so because she is determined to “foreclose any prospect that the United States might contemplate such tactics again.” She did not believe arguing about the morality of torture would achieve that goal and so she “set out to prove [through the released report] that they [techniques of torture] did not work.” There are two things wrong with Feinstein’s reasoning in this regard:

First, Feinstein, too, appears ignorant of the fact that the futility of torture has been established for hundreds of years. And, just because torture has long been demonstrated not to work, what is the probability that a restatement of this fact will prevent the U.S. from using it again in the future?

As was the case in the Philippines, Vietnam, and in the war on terror, future American leaders will remain ignorant of or just forget about torture’s futility. The groundwork for this is already being laid. The incoming Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, says he will not hold hearings on what the report reveals or follow up on it in any way.

“Put this report down to a footnote in history,” he said. Burr also dismisses the torture revelations as an attempt to “smear the Bush administration” – as if the facts of the matter were just contrived by political enemies to provoke a scandal.

Second, as former CIA analyst Ray McGovern suggests, it is quite possible that most in the Bush administration did not care whether torture really worked or not. McGovern tells us that what the White House wanted was a justification for an invasion of Iraq. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “What’s the Next Step to Stop Torture.”]

“Evidence” suggesting a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda would do just fine here. The pressure was on the CIA to produce that link and so they tortured al-Qaeda prisoners until they told them what President Bush wanted to hear. This seems a tempting gambit for use by future presidents who might share George W. Bush’s character.

Thus, if Dianne Feinstein wants to make sure that the U.S. government will not use torture in the future, just demonstrating (once more) that it does not work won’t do. The only thing that has a chance of achieving her goal is the strict enforcement the law against torture – take Bush and his accomplices and put them on trial for the crimes we all know they committed. Then, put the whole gang in jail for long enough to make a deep impression. With that precedent set, you have a shot at preventing U.S.-sanctioned torture in the future.

President Obama actually had an opportunity to set this precedent but, as we all know, he has declined to do so. One can imagine his advisers telling him that all presidents break the law in one way or another and to charge Bush with a crime would open Pandora’s Box – from that point on it would be open season on every future president. Yet, is it necessarily true that all presidents must go around breaking the law? And, if so, why should any of us find this acceptable?

Despite the revelations of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, the chances are pretty good that Bush and his operatives will get away with their crimes. And that means that chances are just as good that it will all happen again. The public’s awareness of the facts is at best unreliable.

According to a Pew poll reported on Dec. 15, half of the American public even now believes that the use of torture was both justified and provided worthwhile intelligence. It is probable that the opinion of most elected officials is no different.

No one has yet been able to secure a meaningful place for relevant and accurate historical knowledge either in the mind of the general public or in the deliberations of policy makers. However, in both cases, ignorance and false assumptions seem secure in their positions of influence.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.




Obama’s Belated Realism on Cuba

President Obama has been what you might call a “closet realist,” favoring pragmatic approaches to world problems but afraid to buck Official Washington’s dominant “tough-guy-ism.” But he came out of the closet at least briefly in ending the Cuban embargo, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar writes.

By Paul R. Pillar

China wasn’t available to open up to, because Richard Nixon already did that over four decades ago, in a process that was completed when full diplomatic relations were established with the People’s Republic during Jimmy Carter’s presidency. Neither was the old enemy Vietnam available, given that full and even cordial relations with Hanoi came about through diplomacy during the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton.

And Cuba pales in importance, of course, compared with China in particular. But President Obama’s move toward a more normal relationship with Cuba is a significant blow in favor of good sense, reality as well as realism, and rational pursuit of U.S. interests.

Having a normal relationship with the Caribbean nation is significant and newsworthy, and this week’s step is a major accomplishment for Mr. Obama, only because of the major tendency in American politics, readily evident in the Congress and responsible for much that has been misguided in U.S. foreign policy, that sees foreign policy not as the calculated pursuit of national interests but instead as a series of postures in which we pronounce on what we like and what we don’t like.

The postures do not have to be consistent in what standards are applied to different countries, and there need not be more than the slightest pretense that our posture will make what we don’t like any better. Much of this tendency is a reflection of domestic politics and the influence of particularly vocal constituencies. But for the politicians who exhibit it, there often seems to be something more emotional and reflexive that takes hold of them, beyond a careful counting of votes.

Cuba has long been one of the prime targets for this kind of reflexive and unproductive animosity among American politicians. Iran has been another major target in recent years. And there are worthwhile comparisons to be made between such cases; just as ostracism and rejection of the normal give-and-take of diplomacy has been utterly unproductive in the case of Cuba, so too has been the case with Iran, with positive results having been obtained only when real diplomacy began under the current U.S. administration.

There has been some similar atavistic animosity, harking back to the Cold War, in attitudes toward Russia since the Ukraine crisis heated up this year, but at least in that case, amid a more dynamic situation and a crisis in the oil-driven Russian economy, there is a genuine basis for talking about possible prospects for sanctions helping to achieve some worthwhile changes.

What most distinguishes the case of Cuba is the sheer length of time during which the futile posture of attempted isolation and embargo has been sustained. We long, long ago passed the point where we can say with finality and high confidence that the policy does not work.

It is hard to come up with a better example of how the longevity of futility has made such a conclusive case that a course of action is an unmitigated failure. Even if there were no basis for expecting that a different course would yield improvement, in fact, there is considerable basis for expecting it would, along lines the president mentioned in his statement, it would make sense to try a different course even just on the off-chance it would get some results.

Against this background, some of the quick criticism of the President’s action is astounding. The lead editorial in the Washington Post closes by saying that the action gives the Cuban regime, a regime that has lasted more than half a century and has demonstrated its ability to endure the end of the Cold War and loss of its Soviet patron, the debility and resignation of its founder, and many other challenges, a “new lease on life.” It is hard to believe that whoever on the Post‘s editorial staff wrote that sentence did so with a straight face.

Or take the statement of former Florida governor and current presidential hopeful Jeb Bush that Mr. Obama’s actions “undermine America’s credibility.” Credibility with respect to what, exactly? The President is making good on his earlier statements and campaign promises on the subject. The most serious lack of credibility involved is what has inhered in the inconsistencies involved in the policy of isolation and punishment.

This has been conspicuously true of keeping Cuba on the official U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, even though the Cuban regime hasn’t come close to sponsoring international terrorism for many years. The people at the State Department who have the job of preparing the annual country reports on terrorism have to say something to try to justify the continued listing of Cuba, and so they mention, and they must also have trouble keeping a straight face as they write, that a few retirees from the Basque group ETA and the Colombian group known as the FARC have lived in Cuba.

Half of the very short write-up on Cuba is about how the Cuban government has worked in cooperation with the government of Colombia to facilitate the latter government’s peace negotiations with the FARC. That’s not sponsoring terrorism; that’s helping to reduce it. Given how much the United States government talks about states sponsoring terrorism, it is a credibility-destroying joke to have Cuba still on the U.S. list on the subject.

Most of the other instant critics have been just stumbling for words, bereft of any real arguments. As Robert Golan-Vilella points out, Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham were reduced to reciting anti-Obama buzzwords with no reference at all to Cuba. Sen. Marco Rubio was reduced to emotional blithering.

Rubio and other habitual critics no doubt were thrown off-balance by the President acting decisively with real effect, carrying through on earlier statements and commitments, and in a direction welcomed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which runs counter to the anti-Obama script that depicts the President as weak, indecisive and reactive. That and the usual reflexive response of opposing anything that would count as an achievement for Mr. Obama underlay Rubio’s threats to try to use any Congressional tools available to kill the move to full diplomatic relations.

If Congress in the next session does that, and if it sustains the embargo that gets condemned annually at the United Nations by votes of laughingstock proportions, we ought to think about (although it probably is too much to expect those who sustain such policies to think about it) how the rest of the world is going to interpret that.

A common pattern in much of the world with respect to many different issues is to like and admire America but to dislike U.S. policies. But now we would have a policy from the White House that has received universal praise from abroad for a long-overdue step, but which might get stymied by the U.S. Congress.

Foreigners will be left to wonder what it is about the United States that lets some Little Havana small-mindedness take over U.S. foreign policy to the extent of persisting in a half-century of failure.

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.)




The Crazy US ‘Group Think’ on Russia

Exclusive: Congress has voted to up the ante in the showdown with Russia over Ukraine, embracing a new Cold War and the neocon scheme for “regime change” in Moscow. But amid the tough-guy-ism there was little consideration of the risks from destabilizing nuclear-armed Russia, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Has anyone in Official Washington thought through the latest foreign policy “group think,” the plan to destabilize nuclear-armed Russia? All the “smart” people, including the New York Times editors, are rubbing their hands with glee over the financial crisis being imposed on Russia because of the Ukraine crisis, but no one, it seems, is looking down the road.

This reckless strategy appears to be another neocon-driven “regime change” scheme, this time focused on Moscow with the goal to take down Russian President Vladimir Putin and presumably replace him with some U.S. puppet, a Russian-speaking Ahmed Chalabi perhaps. Since the neocons have never faced accountability for the Iraq disaster when the conniving Chalabi was their man they are still free to dream about a replay in Russia.

However, as catastrophic as the Iraq War was especially for Iraqis, the new neocon goal of Russian “regime change” is far more dangerous. If one looks at the chaos that has followed neocon (and “liberal interventionist”) schemes to overthrow governments in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Ukraine and elsewhere, what might the risks be if such political disorder was created in Russia?

Since the neocon plans don’t always work out precisely as they dream them up at Washington think tanks or at the Washington Post’s editorial board, what are the chances that some radical Russian nationalist might emerge from the chaos and take command of the nuclear launch codes? As much fun as the Washington tough guys and gals are having today, the prospects for thermo-nuclear war might not be as pleasing.

And, does anyone really think that cooler heads in Official Washington would prevail in such a crisis? From what we have seen over the past year regarding Ukraine not to mention other international hot spots it seems that the only game in town is to swagger around, as pumped up as Hans and Franz, just not as amusing.

You see, the Russians have already experienced what it is like to comply with U.S. economic edicts. That was tried during the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union when experts from Harvard University descended on Moscow with “shock therapy” for the post-communist society. What happened was that a handful of well-connected thieves plundered the nation’s resources, making themselves into billionaire oligarchs while President Boris Yeltsin stayed drunk much of the time and many average Russians faced starvation.

A key reason why Putin and his autocratic style have such a strong political base is that he took on some of the oligarchs and restructured the economy to improve the lives of many Russians. The neocons may think that they can oust Putin through a combination of economic pain and information warfare but there is a deep understanding among many Russians what a repeat of the Yeltsin years would mean.

So, even a “successful regime change” could end up with a more radical figure in charge of Russia and its nuclear arsenal than Putin. But that is the course that Official Washington has chosen to take, with Congress almost unanimously approving a package of harsher sanctions and $350 million in arms and military equipment for Ukraine to wage its “anti-terrorism operation” against ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine.

Cuba Example

There is some irony here in that just as President Barack Obama finally begins to lift the ineffective, half-century-old U.S. embargo against Cuba, the U.S. Congress and the entire mainstream U.S. news media have jumped on another high horse to charge off against Russia, imposing new economic sanctions and dreaming of another “regime change.”

The promiscuous use of sanctions as part of “regime change” strategies has become almost an addiction in Washington. One can envision some tough-talking U.S. diplomat confronting the leaders of a troublesome nation by going around the room and saying, “we sanction you, we sanction you, we sanction you.”

Beyond the trouble that this pathology creates for American businesses, not sure whether they’re stumbling over one of these sanctions, there is the backlash among countries increasingly trying to circumvent the United States in order to deny Washington that leverage over them. The long-run effect is surely to be a weakening of the U.S. dollar and the U.S. economy.

However, in the meantime, U.S. politicians can’t seem to get enough of this feel-good approach to foreign disputes. They can act like they’re “doing something” by punishing the people of some wayward country, but sanctions are still short of outright war, so the politicians don’t have to attend funerals and face distraught mothers and fathers, at least not the mothers and fathers of American soldiers.

In the past, sanctions, such as those imposed on Iraq in the 1990s, took a fearsome toll, killing some half million Iraqi children, according to United Nations estimates.

Another example of how the sanctioning impulse can run amok has been U.S. policy toward Sudan, where leaders were sanctioned over the violence in Darfur. The United States also supported the secession of oil-rich South Sudan as a further penalty to Sudan.

But the U.S. sanctions on Sudan prevented South Sudan from shipping its oil through pipelines that ran through Sudan, creating a political crisis in South Sudan, which led to tribal violence. The U.S. government responded with, you guessed it, sanctions against leaders of South Sudan.

So, now, the U.S. government is back on that high horse and charging off to sanction Russia and its leaders over Ukraine, a crisis that has been thoroughly misrepresented in the mainstream U.S. news media and in the halls of government.

A False Narrative

Official Washington’s “group think” on the crisis has been driven by a completely phony narrative of what has happened in Ukraine over the past year. It has become the near-monolithic view of insiders that the crisis was instigated by Putin as part of some diabolical scheme to recreate the Russian Empire by seizing Ukraine, the Baltic states and maybe Poland.

But the reality is that the crisis was initiated by the West, particularly by Official Washington’s neocons, to pry Ukraine away from the Russian sphere of influence and into Europe’s, a ploy that was outlined by a leading neocon paymaster, Carl Gershman, the longtime president of the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy.

On Sept. 26, 2013, Gershman took to the op-ed page of the Washington Post and pronounced Ukraine “the biggest prize” and an important interim step toward toppling Putin and putting down the resurgent and willful Russia that he represents.

Gershman, whose NED is financed by the U.S. Congress to the tune of about $100 million a year, wrote: “Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents.   Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”

In other words, from the start, Putin was the target of the Ukraine initiative, not the instigator. Beyond Gershman’s rhetoric was the fact that NED was funding scores of projects inside Ukraine, training activists, supporting “journalists,” funding business groups.

Then, in November 2013, Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych balked at an association agreement with the European Union after learning that it would cost Ukraine some $160 billion to separate from Russia. Plus, the International Monetary Fund was demanding economic “reforms” that would hurt average Ukrainians.

Yanukovych’s decision touched off mass demonstrations from western Ukrainians who favored closer ties to Europe. That, in turn, opened the way for the machinations by neocons inside the U.S. government, particularly the scheming of Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, the wife of arch-neocon Robert Kagan.

Before long, Nuland was handpicking the new leadership for Ukraine that would be in charge once Yanukovych was out of the way, a process that was ultimately executed by tightly organized 100-man units of neo-Nazi storm troopers bused in from the western city of Lviv. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Discovers Ukraine’s Neo-Nazis at War.”]

Worsening Crisis

The violent overthrow of President Yanukovych led to resistance from south and east Ukraine where Yanukovych got most of his votes. Crimea, a largely ethnic Russian province, voted overwhelmingly to secede from the failed Ukrainian state and rejoin Russia, which had been Crimea’s home since the 1700s.

When Putin accepted Crimea back into Russia recognizing its historical connections and its strategic importance he was excoriated by Western leaders and the mainstream U.S. media. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton likened him to Hitler, as the narrative took shape that Putin was on a premeditated mission to conquer states of the former Soviet Union.

That narrative was always fake but it became Official Washington’s conventional wisdom, much like the existence of Iraq’s WMD became what “everyone knew to be true.” The “group think” was again so strong that not even someone as important to the establishment as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger could shake it.

In an interview last month with Der Spiegel magazine, Kissinger said that “The annexation of Crimea was not a move toward global conquest. It was not Hitler moving into Czechoslovakia.”

The 91-year-old Kissinger added that President Putin had no intention of instigating a crisis in Ukraine: “Putin spent tens of billions of dollars on the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The theme of the Olympics was that Russia is a progressive state tied to the West through its culture and, therefore, it presumably wants to be part of it. So it doesn’t make any sense that a week after the close of the Olympics, Putin would take Crimea and start a war over Ukraine.”

Instead Kissinger argued that the West with its strategy of pulling Ukraine into the orbit of the European Union was responsible for the crisis by failing to understand Russian sensitivity over Ukraine and making the grave mistake of quickly pushing the confrontation beyond dialogue.

Kissinger’s remarks though undeniably true were largely ignored by the mainstream U.S. media and had little or no impact on the U.S. Congress which pressed ahead with its legislation to expand the anti-Russia sanctions, which  along with declining energy prices were contributing to a severe economic downturn in Russia.

The New York Times’ editors spoke for many in their celebration over the pain being inflicted on Russia. In an editorial entitled “The Ruble’s Fall and Mr. Putin’s Reckoning,” the Times wrote:

“The blame for this [economic calamity] rests largely with the disastrous policies of President Vladimir Putin, who has consistently put his ego, his territorial ambitions and the financial interests of his cronies ahead of the needs of his country. The ruble fell as much as 19 percent on Monday after the Central Bank of Russia sharply raised its benchmark interest rate to 17 percent in the middle of the night in a desperate attempt to keep capital from fleeing the country.

“Since June, the Russian currency has fallen about 50 percent against the dollar. Because Russia relies heavily on imported food and other goods, the decline in its currency is fueling inflation. Consumer prices jumped 9.1 percent last month compared with a year earlier and also increased 8.3 percent in October.

“Russia’s immediate problems were caused by the recent collapse of global crude oil prices and the financial sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe in an effort to get Mr. Putin to stop stirring conflict in Ukraine. But the rot goes far deeper.

“Mr. Putin has taken great relish in poking the West. Now that he is in trouble, the rest of the world is unlikely to rush to his aid. On Tuesday, a White House spokesman said that President Obama intends to sign a bill that would authorize additional sanctions on Russia’s energy and defense industries. That bill would also authorize the administration to supply arms to Ukraine’s government.

“The sensible thing for Mr. Putin to do would be to withdraw from Ukraine. This would bring immediate relief from sanctions, and that would ease the current crisis and give officials room to start fixing the country’s economic problems. The question is whether this reckless leader has been sufficiently chastened to change course.”

But the reality has been that Putin has tried to keep his distance from the ethnic Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, even urging them to postpone a referendum that revealed strong support for the region’s secession from Ukraine. But he has faced a hard choice because the Kiev regime launched an “anti-terrorist operation” against the eastern region, an offensive that took on the look of ethnic cleansing.

The Ukrainian government’s strategy was to pound eastern cities and towns with artillery fire and then dispatch neo-Nazi and other extremist “volunteer battalions” to do the dirty work of street-to-street fighting. Amnesty International and other human rights groups took note of the brutality inflicted by these anti-Russian extremists. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Seeing No Neo-Nazi Militias in Ukraine.”]

Faced with thousands of ethnic Russians being killed and hundreds of thousands fleeing into Russia, Putin had little political choice but to provide help to the embattled people of Donetsk and Luhansk. But Official Washington’s narrative holds that all the trouble in Ukraine is simply the result of Putin’s “aggression” and that everything would be just peachy if Putin let the Kiev regime and its neo-Nazi affiliates do whatever they wanted to the ethnic Russians.

But that’s not something Putin can really do politically. So, what we’re seeing here is the usual step-by-step progress toward a neocon “regime change” scenario, as the targeted foreign demon fails to take the “reasonable” steps dictated by Washington and thus must be confronted with endless escalations, all the more severe to force the demon to submit or until ultimately the suffering of his people creates openings for “regime change.”

We have seen this pattern with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, for instance, and even with Ukraine’s Yanukovych, but the risks in this new neocon game are much greater the future of the planet is being put into play.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




How Torture Puts Americans at Risk

Exclusive: Polls show that most Americans and an overwhelming majority of “conservatives” view post-9/11 torture as justified, presumably because it made them feel safer. But torture may actually have made them less safe, as retired JAG Major Todd E. Pierce explains.

By Todd E. Pierce

Torture, what is it good for? Apparently, as the words to the old anti-war song say, “absolutely nothing.” Behind all the obfuscation (lying) by the defenders of torture is the claim that it “works.” In fact, it doesn’t work if by “work” you mean providing for the overall safety of Americans.

The sad truth is that adoption of torture by the United States actually increased the danger to the American people, as we will realize as time goes by and we look back. Here’s why. A key point that the counter-insurgency (COIN) theorists make (but clearly don’t understand) is that a government requires “legitimacy” in the eyes of the population, both internally and externally. Legitimacy is what ultimately provides safety to a nation’s people as seen from the highest level of strategic thinking.

Unfortunately, the CIA and most military generals, as well as militaristic-minded civilians like Dick Cheney, can never get above the lower-level thinking of short-term expediency (although even there torture has been shown not to work).

Legitimacy only comes when people accept that a government is acting morally, fairly and within the “rule of law” in its true meaning. The United States, as what American politicians and pundits like to call “the world’s superpower,” is not only dependent on being seen as legitimate by its own people, whose eyes often have the wool pulled over, but also must be seen as legitimate globally.

Legitimacy is what the United States has been losing since its misguided response to 9/11 with a series of unending wars. While the last two presidents have used these wars as a pretext for exercising extra-constitutional powers, one of the most disturbing of those powers has been the asserted right to torture if they so choose, maintaining that no law can stop them or hold them accountable.

Advertising Torture

Torture became the worst kept secret that the government had, probably because while some officials, especially in the FBI, were opposed to the practice, others in the CIA and the military may have wanted the world to know. After all, what good is a tool meant to intimidate if no one knows about it? There was also the swagger of being the tough guys, the worst of the worst at least among so-called democratic regimes.

With their various semantic and legalistic defenses, George W. Bush and Barack Obama taunted the world even when everyone knew the truth and losing credibility can be a crucial factor in losing legitimacy.

And, losing legitimacy can mean creating more enemies and spinning downward in a dangerous cycle where each hostile act prompts a greater reliance on repression of “offending” or “offended” populations. Suffice it to say that a series of wars (what could be called the highest level of torture on a people) resulting in millions of Moslems killed and persistent drone attacks on civilians and surveillance over foreign populations, along with prisons constituting torture in themselves with their indefinite detentions, have cost the United States legitimacy which will never be restored in our lifetimes, if ever.

In addition to the mass killings that we’re responsible for is the enormous economic costs that we’ve inflicted on ourselves the price of maintaining and operating this global apparatus of repression to the detriment of the long-term interests of the United States, i.e., the need to invest in domestic infrastructure, education, health care, etc..

All of this has made us one of the most hated countries in the world and some Americans still have the effrontery to say: “they hate us for our freedoms.” Has there ever been a more benighted people than what currently populates the United States?

After all, these tough-guy “tactics” have been sold to us as keeping us safe as they chipped away at our legitimacy and made us less safe, while generating sympathy for some of America’s most brutal enemies. The consequence is that we now even have some U.S. citizens emotionally bonding with some level of empathy for extremist groups like ISIS because the U.S. government tactics against radical Moslems, including torture, have been so offensive.

And, using these “interrogation” tactics solely on Moslems can logically be seen as the West waging a war on Islam, exactly the image that fuels more violence against Americans. That’s what our repression through war and torture has brought us, a dangerous consequence that militaristic policy minds don’t understand. They just urge greater repression.

A Sensible Step

Contrary to claims by CIA Director John Brennan and many Republicans in Congress, coming clean with the Senate’s torture report actually may enhance “safety” in the long term by being a small step toward returning us to a “rule of law” state which could bolster our legitimacy.

Unfortunately with the last election’s results strengthening the hand of conservative Republicans we no doubt will have a doubling down with evermore repressive policies. A recent poll showed that 82 percent of conservative Republicans considered the CIA’s interrogation tactics justified (compared to 38 percent of liberal Democrats).

So, on whether torture works (i.e., saves lives), the foregoing would seem to be an answer in the negative. But the CIA as well as the Israelis, the Egyptian military and others who practice torture at home and/or in militarily occupied territory will point to someone they’ve tortured who “might” have given some information up as “proof” that these tactics “work.”

Setting aside the lying that typically surrounds illegal acts, this point could actually be true in a sense, but only because there are so many variables in the victim’s decision: their will to resist, the value (or lack of value) in the information they decide to give up to stop the pain, their skill in detecting what an interrogator wants to hear and confirming it, etc. So it may seem that is an unwinnable argument; you’ll always get the Nicolle Wallace types, devoid of any genuine morality, who will be satisfied that it “might” keep us safe so let’s do it just to be sure.

But torture is supposed to be practiced only by states which rule by terror and repression. For such states, the primary purpose is not to gather information; it is to intimidate others and/or get false confessions to be used in a war effort or other political purposes.

To practice torture is to self-identify as a repressive police state, even if the practice is reserved only for conduct outside one’s own borders. But it’s just a matter of time before it spills back into domestic territory. Historically, it always has.

A former Guantanamo detainee who hadn’t been “tortured” in the severest sense pointed out to me that all Guantanamo detainees did not got treated with the same degree of severity because torturing some was sufficient to intimidate the rest. The practice wasn’t about gathering information. That was only a pretext to use torture for instilling fear.

The bottom line is that the torturers along with the Justice Department lawyers who wrote the enabling opinions and the military and intelligence infrastructure which supported it all (including the media) all gave legitimacy to the torturers and took it away from the United States.

In doing so, the torturers and their accomplices became the greatest “combat multipliers” that al-Qaeda and now ISIS could have ever wished for. If al-Qaeda has a pantheon of heroes those who have done the most for the cause I have no doubt that Dick Cheney would have a place near that of Osama bin Laden, if not above him.

Todd E. Pierce retired as a Major in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps in November 2012. His most recent assignment was defense counsel in the Office of Chief Defense Counsel, Office of Military Commissions. 




Addressing the Cuban Five Injustice

America’s hypocrisy on terrorism included the U.S. government prosecuting and imprisoning five Cuban agents who were actually trying to thwart terrorist operations in Miami. President Obama’s prisoner swap with Cuba finally addressed that upside-down justice, as Marjorie Cohn reports.

By Marjorie Cohn

In the course of delivering his historic speech dramatically altering U.S.-Cuba policy, President Barack Obama briefly mentioned that the United States released three Cuban agents. These men are members of the “Cuban Five,” who were imprisoned for gathering information on U.S.-based Cuban exile groups planning terrorist actions against Cuba.

Without their release, Cuba would never have freed Alan Gross. And Obama could not have undertaken what ten presidents before him refused to do: normalize relations between the United States and Cuba.

On June 8, 2001, Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labanino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez were convicted of criminal charges, including conspiracy to commit espionage, and conspiracy to commit murder, in a trial in U.S. District Court in Miami. They were sentenced to four life terms and 75 years collectively.

In a 93-page decision, a three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit US Court of Appeals unanimously reversed their convictions in 2005, because the anti-Cuba atmosphere in Miami, extensive publicity, and prosecutorial misconduct denied them the right to a fair trial. The decision of the three-judge panel was later overturned by a decision of all the Eleventh Circuit Judges, sitting en banc, so the convictions stood.

But the Cuban Five have steadfastly maintained their innocence and there has been a worldwide campaign to free them. In Cuba, the five men are considered national heroes.

Since the Cuban revolution in 1959, anti-Cuba terrorist organizations based in Miami have engaged in countless terrorist activities against Cuba and anyone who advocated normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba. Terrorist groups including Alpha 66, Commandos F4, Cuban American National Foundation, Independent and Democratic Cuba, and Brothers to the Rescue, have operated with impunity in the United States with the knowledge and support of the FBI and CIA.

One witness at the trial testified that Ruben Dario Lopez-Castro, who was associated with several anti-Castro organizations, and Orlando Bosch, who planted a bomb on a Cubana airliner in 1976, killing all 73 persons aboard, “planned to ship weapons into Cuba for an assassination attempt on [Fidel] Castro.”

The three-judge appellate panel noted, “Bosch has a long history of terrorist acts against Cuba, and prosecutions and convictions for terrorist-related activities in the United States and in other countries.” Luis Posada Carriles, the other man responsible for downing the Cuban airliner, has never been criminally prosecuted in the United States. Declassified FBI and CIA documents at the National Security Archive show that Posada Carriles was the mastermind of the airplane bombing.

Several terrorist acts in Havana were documented in the panel’s decision, including explosions at eight hotels and the Cuban airport. An Italian tourist was killed and people were injured. Posada Carriles has twice publicly admitted responsibility for these bombings.

In the face of this terrorism, the Cuban Five were gathering intelligence in Miami in order to prevent future terrorist acts against Cuba. The men peacefully infiltrated criminal exile groups. The Five turned over the results of their investigation to the FBI. But instead of working with Cuba to fight terrorism, the U.S. government arrested the five men.

Former high-ranking U.S. military and security officials testified that Cuba posed no military threat to the Unites States. Although none of the five men had any classified material in their possession or engaged in any acts to injure the United States, and there was no evidence linking any of them to Cuba’s shooting down of two small aircraft flown by Cuban exiles, the Cuban Five were nonetheless convicted of all charges.

A poll of Miami Cuban-Americans reflected “an attitude of a state of war . . . against Cuba” which had a “substantial impact on the rest of the Miami-Dade community” where the trial was held. Dr. Lisandro Perez, Director of the Cuban Research Institute, concluded, “the possibility of selecting twelve citizens of Miami-Dade County who can be impartial in a case involving acknowledged agents of the Cuban government is virtually zero.”

The appellate panel concluded: “Here, a new trial was mandated by the perfect storm created when the surge of pervasive community sentiment, and extensive publicity both before and during the trial, merged with the improper prosecutorial references.” Nevertheless, the five men never received a new trial.

Fernando Gonzales and Rene Gonzales were released and returned to Cuba after serving most of their 15-year sentences. Hernandez was serving two life sentences. Labanino and Guerrero had a few years left on their sentences. The latter three men were released as part of the historic deal.

The Door Is Now Open

In his speech, Obama mentioned the hypocrisy of the U.S. refusal to recognize Cuba while we enjoy normalized relations with Communist China and Vietnam. He announced several other new measures designed to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba. But Obama did not lift the U.S. blockade of Cuba, which consists of economic sanctions against Cuba and restrictions on Cuban travel and commerce.

Every year for 23 consecutive years, the United Nations General Assembly has called on the United States to lift the blockade, which has cost Cuba in excess of $ 1 trillion.

The U.S. trade embargo of Cuba was initiated during the Cold War by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in response to a 1960 memo written by a senior State Department official. The memo proposed “a line of action that makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the [Castro] government.” As Obama stated, that strategy has been a failure.

During the Clinton administration, Congress passed the Helms-Burton Act, which tightened the blockade. Obama promised to try to work with Congress to repeal this legislation.

Because of the significance of the Cuban exile community in Miami, and the strategic importance of Florida in U.S. elections, no U.S. president has dared to normalize relations with Cuba. As Alice Walker wrote in The Sweet Abyss, “Many of our leaders seem to view Florida’s Cuban conservatives, including the assassins and terrorists among them, as People Who Vote.” Obama has taken a courageous step in shifting U.S. policy toward Cuba.

In their simultaneous speeches on Wednesday, both Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro thanked Pope Francis for his efforts in helping to engineer the historic deal. CNN reported that bells were ringing in churches all over Havana. This is a wonderful day indeed.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and a former president of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG). In 2000, she joined 250 members of the NLG in a million-person march in Havana against the US blockade of Cuba.




Letting a Cuban Terrorist Go Free

From the Archive: As much as U.S. officials have decried “terrorism” even equating harboring a terrorist with the actual deed they have applied a completely different standard to “our” terrorists who are protected from extradition and treated with kid gloves, as Robert Parry reported in 2011.

By Robert Parry (Originally published on April 9, 2011)

The acquittal of right-wing Cuban militant Luis Posada Carriles on charges of lying to immigration officials in 2011 underscored the U.S. double standard on terrorists, applying delicate legal rules to “ours” and a rough-and-tumble approach to “theirs.”

In the Posada case, federal prosecutors sought to prove that Posada lied at an immigration hearing when he denied a role in a lethal bombing campaign inside Cuba in the 1990s. The perjury case rested heavily on taped admissions that Posada made in an interview with a New York Times reporter, although he later recanted those statements.

More notoriously, however, Posada was implicated in the mid-air bombing of a Cubana Airliner in 1976, killing 73 people onboard including the country’s youth fencing team. Though the evidence of Posada’s role in that attack is strong, U.S. authorities have ruled out turning him over to Venezuela or Cuba to face prosecution for mass murder.

As the acquittal on April 8, 2011, showed, Posada continued to earn lots of sympathy because the former CIA operative was viewed by some as a Cold War hero who has battled Fidel Castro for many years. At Posada’s perjury trial in El Paso, Texas, his lawyers appealed to the jury to let him live out his life in Miami. The jury apparently agreed, acquitting the 83-year-old after only three hours of deliberation.

In its totality — from prosecutors to judges to juries — the U.S. legal system appears to have adopted a de facto immunity for acts of terrorism by Posada and other right-wing Cubans. Yet, different standards of prosecutorial determination are demonstrated in Islamic terror cases.

While it doesn’t seem to matter how much evidence exists connecting Posada to the Cubana Airlines terror bombing, alleged Muslim “terrorists” have found themselves locked away on the flimsiest of suspicions. Some were “renditioned” to countries that are infamous for torture chambers and some were tortured by U.S. interrogators directly.

Some of these Muslim detainees turned out to be victims of mistaken identity. Others were eventually released without being charged with any crime. Some died in custody, including cases that were ruled homicides. However, Posada and his cohorts have mostly enjoyed comfortable lives in Miami where the Cuban-American community harbors them. They have had a long history of protection, too, under the wing of the Bush Family and other powerful U.S. politicians.

Indeed, Posada came to personify the hypocrisy of George W. Bush’s famous declaration that harboring a terrorist was no better than being a terrorist. On May 2, 2008, for example, Posada was feted at a gala fundraising dinner in Miami. Some 500 supporters chipped in to his legal defense fund and Posada arrived to thundering applause.

In a bristling speech against the Castro regime, Posada told his supporters, “We ask God to sharpen our machetes.”

Venezuelan Ambassador Bernardo Alvarez protested the Bush administration’s tolerance of the dinner. “This is outrageous, particularly because he kept talking about [more] violence,” Alvarez said.

Bosch’s Rant

Similarly, his alleged co-conspirator in the Cubana Airlines bombing, Orlando Bosch, showed no remorse for his violent past. In a TV interview, reporter Manuel Cao on Miami’s Channel 41 asked Bosch to comment on the civilians who died when the Cubana plane crashed off the coast of Barbados.

Bosch responded, “In a war such as us Cubans who love liberty wage against the tyrant [Fidel Castro], you have to down planes, you have to sink ships, you have to be prepared to attack anything that is within your reach.”

“But don’t you feel a little bit for those who were killed there, for their families?” Cao asked.

“Who was on board that plane?” Bosch responded. “Four members of the Communist Party, five North Koreans, five Guyanese.” [Officials tallies actually put the Guyanese dead at 11.]

Bosch added, “Four members of the Communist Party, chico! Who was there? Our enemies”

“And the fencers?” Cao asked about Cuba’s amateur fencing team that had just won gold, silver and bronze medals at a youth fencing competition in Caracas. “The young people onboard?”

Bosch replied, “I was in Caracas. I saw the young girls on television. There were six of them. After the end of the competition, the leader of the six dedicated their triumph to the tyrant. She gave a speech filled with praise for the tyrant. We had already agreed in Santo Domingo, that everyone who comes from Cuba to glorify the tyrant had to run the same risks as those men and women that fight alongside the tyranny.”

[The comment about Santo Domingo was an apparent reference to a meeting by a right-wing terrorist organization, CORU, which took place in the Dominican Republic in 1976 and which involved a CIA  undercover asset.]

“If you ran into the family members who were killed in that plane, wouldn’t you think it difficult?” Cao asked.

“No, because in the end those who were there had to know that they were cooperating with the tyranny in Cuba,” Bosch answered.

Though Bosch and Posada have formally denied masterminding the Cubana Airlines bombing, Bosch’s incriminating statements and other evidence in U.S. government files make the case of his and Posada’s guilt overwhelming.

Declassified U.S. documents show that soon after the Cubana plane was blown out of the sky on Oct. 6, 1976, the CIA, then under the direction of George H.W. Bush, identified Posada and Bosch as the masterminds of the bombing.

But in fall 1976, Bush’s boss, President Gerald Ford, was in a tight election battle with Democrat Jimmy Carter and the Ford administration wanted to keep intelligence scandals out of the newspapers. So Bush and other officials kept the lid on the investigations. [See Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

Secret Cables

Still, inside the U.S. government, the facts were well known. According to a secret CIA cable dated Oct. 14, 1976, intelligence sources in Venezuela relayed information about the Cubana Airlines bombing that tied in Bosch, who had been visiting Venezuela, and Posada, who then served as a senior officer in Venezuela’s intelligence agency, DISIP.

The Oct. 14 cable said Bosch arrived in Venezuela in late September 1976 under the protection of Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez, a close Washington ally who assigned his intelligence adviser Orlando Garcia “to protect and assist Bosch during his stay in Venezuela.”

On his arrival, Bosch was met by Garcia and Posada, according to the report. Later, a fundraising dinner was held in Bosch’s honor. “A few days following the fund-raising dinner, Posada was overheard to say that, ‘we are going to hit a Cuban airplane,’ and that ‘Orlando has the details,’” the CIA report said.

“Following the 6 October [1976] Cubana Airline crash off the coast of Barbados, Bosch, Garcia and Posada agreed that it would be best for Bosch to leave Venezuela. Therefore, on 9 October, Posada and Garcia escorted Bosch to the Colombian border, where he crossed into Colombian territory.”

In South America, police began rounding up suspects. Two Cuban exiles, Hernan Ricardo and Freddy Lugo, who got off the Cubana plane in Barbados, confessed that they had planted the bomb. They named Bosch and Posada as the architects of the attack. A search of Posada’s apartment in Venezuela turned up Cubana Airlines timetables and other incriminating documents.

Posada and Bosch were charged in Venezuela for the Cubana Airlines bombing, but the case soon became a political tug-of-war, since the suspects were in possession of sensitive Venezuelan government secrets that could embarrass President Andres Perez.

After President Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush took power in Washington in 1981, the momentum for fully unraveling the mysteries of anti-communist terrorist plots dissipated. Reagan’s ramped-up Cold War trumped any concern about right-wing terrorism.

In 1985, Posada escaped from a Venezuelan prison where he was awaiting trial. In his autobiography, Posada thanked Miami-based Cuban activist Jorge Mas Canosa for the $25,000 that was used to bribe guards who allowed Posada to walk out of prison.

Another Cuban exile who aided Posada was former CIA officer Felix Rodriguez, who was close to then-Vice President Bush. At the time, Rodriguez was handling secret supply shipments to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels, a pet project of President Reagan.

After fleeing Venezuela, Posada joined Rodriguez in Central America and began using the code name “Ramon Medina.” Posada was assigned the job of paymaster for pilots in the White House-run Contra-supply operation.

Jeb Bush Intervenes

By the late 1980s, Orlando Bosch also was out of Venezuela’s jails and back in Miami. But Bosch, who had been implicated in about 30 violent attacks, was facing possible deportation by U.S. officials who warned that Washington couldn’t credibly lecture other countries about terrorism while protecting a terrorist like Bosch.

But Bosch got lucky. Jeb Bush, then an aspiring Florida politician, led a lobbying drive to prevent the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service from expelling Bosch. In 1990, the lobbying paid dividends when Jeb’s dad, President George H.W. Bush, blocked proceedings against Bosch, letting the unapologetic terrorist stay in the United States.

In 1992, also during the Bush-41 presidency, the FBI interviewed Posada about the Iran-Contra scandal for 6 ½ hours at the U.S. Embassy in Honduras. Posada filled in some blanks about the role of Bush’s vice presidential office in the secret contra operation.

According to a 31-page summary of the FBI interview, Posada said Bush’s national security adviser, former CIA officer Donald Gregg, was in frequent contact with Felix Rodriguez. “Posada recalls that Rodriguez was always calling Gregg,” the FBI summary said. “Posada knows this because he’s the one who paid Rodriguez’ phone bill.” After the interview, the FBI agents let Posada walk out of the embassy unmolested. [For details, see Parry’s Lost History.]

In 2005, when Posada sneaked into Miami, then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush made little effort to capture him. Posada was detained only after he held a news conference. Then, instead of extraditing Posada to Venezuela to stand trial for a terrorist mass murder, George W. Bush’s administration engaged in a lackadaisical effort to have him deported somewhere else for lying on an immigration form.

During a 2007 court hearing in Texas, Bush administration lawyers allowed to go unchallenged testimony from a Posada friend that Posada would face torture if he were returned to Venezuela. The judge, therefore, barred Posada from being deported there.

After that ruling, Venezuelan Ambassador Alvarez accused the administration of “a cynical double standard” in the “war on terror.” As for the claim that Venezuela practices torture, Alvarez said, “There isn’t a shred of evidence that Posada would be tortured in Venezuela.”

The Obama administration’s Justice Department did prosecute Posada on perjury charges (the case that was lost on April 8, 2011) but has shown no interest in seeking justice for the Cubana Airlines victims. To do so would surely have had political repercussions in the swing state of Florida.

The U.S. news media remains similarly blasé about Posada walking free in El Paso, in contrast to their dudgeon over Libya’s supposed role in the mid-air bombing of Pan Am 103, which killed 270 people in 1988. The widely presumed guilt of Muammar Gaddafi’s government is often cited as part of the justification for seeking violent “regime change” in Libya.

At leading news outlets, such as the New York Times, Libyan guilt for the Pan Am 103 bombing is stated as flat fact, even though the evidence is much weaker indeed threadbare compared to what exists against Posada and Bosch on the Cubana Airlines case. [For more on the Pan Am 103 case against Libya, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Through the US Media Lens Darkly.”]

Still, the Times and other top U.S. news organizations cite one act of terrorism (Pam Am 103) in demanding U.S. air attacks to slaughter Libyan army troops and pave the way for a rebel conquest of Tripoli. In the parallel (Cubana) case, the U.S. news media and government officials shrug as Luis Posada Carriles escapes accountability and retires in Miami.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.




Sabotaging an Iran Nuke Deal

Tough-guy-ism remains a dominant ideology of Official Washington, even when it does no good for genuine U.S. interests. A case in point is the unending sabotage of a possible negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear issue, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar describes.

By Paul R. Pillar

U.S. and Iranian negotiators are in Geneva resuming work on an agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program. Whether the negotiations succeed in producing a deal is still very much in doubt, but not because it is doubtful that there is a deal to be had. The outlines of an agreement that meets the needs and objectives of both sides have been clear for some time and are largely embodied in the preliminary agreement reached over a year ago.

Iran’s acceptance of restrictions and inspection arrangements that go beyond what has been placed on any other country has made possible what both sides say they seek, which is integration of Iran in the community of nations with high assurance that there will not be an Iranian nuclear weapon.

The main impediments to such an agreement continue to come from those who don’t want a deal and don’t want any integration of Iran in the community of nations regardless of any terms of an agreement relating to nuclear weapons. The saboteurs of a deal continue their sabotage efforts on multiple fronts, including accusing Iran of violations of the interim deal that it has in fact observed, and throwing up on the wall anything negative about Iran and seeing what will stick, no matter how far removed it is from the nuclear issues under negotiation.

The sabotage could either prevent implementation of an agreement or sow enough doubt about implementation to prevent a deal from being reached at all. Much of the hardline talk in Congress about imposing additional sanctions on Iran probably has already made the negotiations more difficult by increasing Iranian doubts about the willingness or political ability of the United States to fulfill its part of a deal.

Meanwhile the dishonesty of those who claim that such talk is aimed at facilitating negotiations by inducing more Iranian concessions becomes ever more apparent, as with a recent comment by Senator-elect Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, who let it slip that the reason he wants more sanctions is that this would be a good way “to put an end to these negotiations.”

Besides the sabotage of those who don’t want any agreement, however, another reason that conclusion of an agreement is uncertain is the belief among many who really do want an agreement that the United States does not need to make more concessions to get one.

There is a view among many pro-agreement people on Capitol Hill that the United States has put a reasonable deal on the table and that it is up to Iran to make whatever additional concessions are needed to finalize the agreement. If that view prevails and characterizes the U.S. negotiating position, the talks probably will fail.

It is hard to determine to what extent this Congressional view also prevails in the Obama administration; it is still a favorable sign that both sides in this negotiation have kept as many things behind the closed doors of the negotiating room as they have. But in any event, the Congressional view just described will help to determine the political space, or lack of it, that the administration has for cutting a deal.

The administration has to think about not just cutting a deal with the Iranians but about defending it at home, and defending it among many of its customary supporters as well as beating back the efforts of the die-hard saboteurs.

The we-don’t-need-to-make-concessions mindset is partly a manifestation of the unfortunate American habit of viewing diplomacy not as give-and-take bargaining and a process of reconciling interests that are partly convergent and partly conflicting, but instead of the United States making demands and getting other countries to accept them. The habit is especially unfortunate in this instance given that Iran clearly made more of the concessions to get to the preliminary agreement a year ago.

The mindset in this instance also exemplifies how people can get so heavily committed to something that is at best a means to an end that they start treating it as an end even though it isn’t. This has been true of a commitment to sanctions against Iran, which figures into one of the reported continued areas of disagreement at the negotiating table, involving a schedule for relief from sanctions.

People across the political spectrum in the United States have gotten into the habit of talking about anti-Iranian sanctions as if the sanctions themselves are a positive good for the United States. They aren’t. Economically they are a negative for the United States. The only good that comes from sanctions is if they induce the Iranians to agree to a deal that is in fact in U.S. interests. Once they have achieved that purpose, the sanctions are useless to us.

An even greater inhibiting aspect of the mindset is the fixation on “breakout” times. Longer times rather than shorter times are treated as if they are a positive good for U.S. interests, when they are not. The U.S. interest is in not having any Iranian nuclear weapon at all.

The difference between one breakout time versus another matters only if the response to a hypothetical Iranian abandonment of an agreement could be mustered within one time frame but not another. But the difference between, say, six months and a year is meaningless when any conceivable response, including military attack as well as enactment of the most debilitating possible sanctions, could be accomplished within a couple of weeks.

And that does not even get into the question of why Iran would ever have any incentive to throw away all the results of an agreement it has worked so hard to achieve, to try to get one weapon (or even a few) it would have no practical way to use anyway. The fixation on breakout is badly misplaced; it simply does not matter.

It would be bad enough if the saboteurs get their way and because of that we lose the restrictions and monitoring of an agreement that provides assurance that the Iranian program stays peaceful, and the breakdown of the diplomatic process leads to heightened tension and conflict in the Persian Gulf and maybe even war.

It would be just as tragic if the diplomatic process fails because even those with honest and good intentions regarding an agreement stick to the notion that the United States does not have to show more flexibility to get an agreement. Such flexibility is needed to close the deal, and it can be exercised with no damage to true U.S. interests at all.

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.)