United States News Digest
Former DOJ Lawyer Disputes Cheney on NSA Spying
A former top Justice Department official who oversaw national security issues from 2000 to 2003, has challenged the Bush Administration's legal justification for its NSA domestic surveillance program, according to various media accounts March 9. David Kris, a former Associate Deputy Attorney General, wrote to a former colleague at DOJ on Dec. 22 that the argument advanced by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales "maybe reflects the VP's philosophy that the best defense is a good offense (I don't expect you to comment on that)."
Kris was referring to the DOJ making Cheney's favorite Article II "inherent-powers-of-the-President" argument, as its leading argument to try to justify the wiretaps. Kris says that the "inherent powers" argument seems "relatively weak," and that the DOJ arguments "have a slightly after-the-fact quality" to them.
Rumsfeld Placing Special Forces in U.S. Embassies
The Pentagon is putting small teams of Special Operations Forces troops in embassies in an increasing number of countries, for the alleged purpose of gathering intelligence on terrorists, and preparing for missions to kill or capture them. This was reported in the March 8 New York Times, and discussed in a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) budget, the same day.
The placement of these "hunter-killer" units, called Military Liaison Elements, in embassies, is provoking opposition from the CIA and other traditional intelligence agencies who view this as a Pentagon intrusion. One former CIA official says that "the current militarization of many of the nation's intelligence functions and responsibilities will be viewed as a major mistake in the very near future." And, he added, "if the planned SOCOM presence in U.S. embassies abroad is an effort to pave the way for unilateral U.S. military operations, or to enable defense elements to engage in covert action activities separate from the CIA, U.S. problems abroad will be certain to increase significantly."
Senators Demand Abu Ghraib General Not Be Allowed To Retire
Senators John Warner (R-Va) and Carl Levin (D-Mich), the two senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, have sent a letter to the Secretary of the Army demanding that Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller's planned retirement "be held in abeyance" until two courts-martial of dog-handlers at Abu Ghraib are completed, Salon reported March 7. The Army has reportedly agreed.
Keeping Miller, the former commander at Guantanamo, who went on to "Gitmo-ize" prison operations in Iraq, on active-duty status, makes it easier for the Senate Armed Services Committee to compel Miller's testimony, should they decide to hold more hearings. It is also easier to prosecute someone on active duty, than one who has retired.
Miller denies telling former Abu Ghraib commander Col. Thomas Pappas that he could use dogs in interrogations, and has taken the military equivalent of the 5th Amendment privilege not to testify on grounds he might incriminate himself, in the dog-handlers' courts-martial. Pappas, who has been granted immunity, will testify at the courts-martial.
"We've got two conflicting stories out there that cannot be reconciled," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), also a member of the Armed Services Committee. "Shame on us if we'll allow a story to go forward that is not true, and the two dog-handlers are paying the price."
Dubai Ports Deal Is Off
Dubai Ports World announced that it will turn over all operations at U.S. ports to a U.S. entity. This was announced in a floor statement read by Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John Warner (R-Va) on March 9. Warner said, "The reason is to preserve the strong relationship between the United States and the United Arab Emirates."
Warner's announcement followed by one day, the repudiation by both Republicans and Democrats, of President Bush's demands that the deal go through, including threats to veto any bill prohibiting the sale, as the House Appropriations Committee voted 62 to 2 to block the deal.
Rockefeller Denounces Shutdown of NSA Investigation
Under heavy pressure from the White Houseled personally by Dick Cheney, according to the New York Times March 8Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee voted on March 7 to block any investigation of the NSA domestic spying program, instead setting up an impotent seven-member subcommittee to "oversee" the wiretapping program.
Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WVa), the senior Democrat on the committee, came out of the session and angrily charged that the committee's chairman, Pat Roberts (R-Kan), was under control of the White House, and that the committee's Republicans were acting at the direction of the White House in voting against an investigation. "It's an unprecedented bout of pressure from the White House," Rockefeller said. He also said that the committee can't "legislate in darkness and ignorance," since the White House won't answer questions about the NSA program. "The worst mistake we could make at this juncture," he said, would be to amend the FISA law without knowing all the facts.
Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is threatening to write legislation to limit funding for the NSA surveillance program if he can't get more information about it. "If we cannot find some political solution to the disagreement with the Executive branch," Specter said, "our ultimate power is the power of the purse."
'20th Hijacker' Repudiates What He Calls Torture-Induced Confessions
Mohammed al-Qahtani, the so-called "20th hijacker," whom the Pentagon claimed had provided vital intelligence during interrogations at Guantanamo, has now repudiated all of his "confessions," which he says were made under brutal torture. His lawyer, from the Center for Constitutional Rights, after spending more than 30 hours talking with him through an interpreter, told the March 13 Time magazine that al-Qahtani appears to be a broken man, fearful and at times disoriented; he says he could not take the months of isolation, torture, and abuse, during which he was nearly killed, and therefore he made false statements to please his interrogators.
Al-Qahtani gave information about 30 his fellow Guantanamo prisoners, and his statements were used by the Pentagon before special military tribunals to justify their indefinite detention as "enemy combatants". A number of these detainees are now challenging the government, claiming that al-Qahtani's information was extracted under torture, and is therefore unreliable and inadmissible in court. This will come up in a number of pending court cases, which the DOJ is trying to get thrown out.
Defense Department Unions Vote No Confidence in Rumsfeld
The leadership of the American Federation of Government Employees, joined by AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, announced March 7 that AFGE's Defense Conference, representing union members employed by the Department of Defense, voted unanimously for a resolution expressing no confidence in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, which amounts to a call for his resignation. The call comes in the aftermath of a Federal court decision, the week before, dumping Rumsfeld's National Security Personnel System because it "eviscerates" the collective bargaining rights of union members.
AFGE president John Gage declared that the decision means that the DoD has no credibility on civilian employee issues, and that Rumsfeld has proven that what he says and what he does are two different things. "The bond of trust between Department of Defense employees and Rumsfeld is now broken," he said. The union will be using the resolution as an organizing tool to tell Congress to "pull the plug on this thing," as Gage put it, and to increase pressure for Rumsfeld's departure.
The March 7 Wall Street Journal editorialized for Rumsfeld to stick to his guns, and denounced Republican Senators Susan Collins (Maine) and George Voinovich (Ohio) for adding language to the Senate legislation that retained the right to collective bargaining. This legislation was then cited by the judge in the Federal court decision, to overthrow the Pentagon's union-busting plan.
Administration Targets Journalists and Sources on Leaks
The Bush Administration is targetting journalists and their government sources over leaks of classified information. Dozens of employees at the CIA, the NSA, and other intelligence agencies have been interviewed by FBI agents, who are particularly investigating the leaks about secret CIA prisons and the NSA's domestic spying program. Numerous employees at the CIA, FBI, Justice Department, and other agencies also have received letters from the DOJ prohibiting them from discussing even unclassified issues related to the NSA program, and CIA employees have been polygraphed. The DOJ is also warning that reporters could be prosecuted under espionage laws.
The sticky wicket for the Administration in this, is that is itself notorious for leaking classified information favorable to its policies, to "kept" reporters such as Bob Woodward and Judith Miller, or, as EIR has documented, to Washington Times reporter Rowan Scarborough, who wrote a puff-piece book on Donald Rumsfeld full of classified information that he was given by the Pentagon. Not to mention the Valerie Plame disclosure. Maybe Dick Cheney will claim that he was authorized to declassify all of this!