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Posts Tagged ‘Obama

Guantanamo and the Executive Branch

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When Kennedy, who serves on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, ruled in February that Uthman was being improperly detained, his 27-page opinion was turned over to a court security officer for classification review.

The judges themselves have very little insight into the process and no sway over what is redacted. Government security officials review filings in the habeas litigation and other cases involving classified evidence and remove sensitive information.

In the Uthman case, that clearance process took three weeks. Kennedy’s decision was stamped “Redacted,” by the court’s security officer and returned to his chambers on March 16. The deletions were minimal. For the first 16 pages, the only word blacked out was “secret,” stamped at the top and bottom of each page.

Kennedy’s clerk added the document to the electronic court file late in the day. Twenty-five hours later, the security office sent out urgent notices to attorneys and the judge that the opinion had not been ready for release and needed additional deletions. The decision was promptly removed from the public docket.

In a closed hearing in his courtroom four days later, Kennedy lashed out at the government for releasing classified information. He and Justice Department attorneys then argued over what to do, according to three sources familiar with the discussion.

Kennedy insisted that the reasoning behind his first habeas ruling be made public. But the Justice Department resisted releasing it in redacted form, arguing that blacked out portions would call attention to the exact material the government wanted to conceal.

This is an excellent report by Pro Publica (not a surprise, they’re the best around at that). But beyond what Pro Publica reports, we as a society can often be in a rush to make everything a political decision, but sometimes it’s just as simple as a bureaucratic error. While the detention involved presidential decisions, the redaction decisions are of a much lower pay grade. One of them got screwed up, with no easy way to make it right. Regardless of whether detention at Guantanamo or elsewhere was done correctly, poorly, or somewhere in the middle, this situation could still exist.

It’s also hard to jump to conclusions about the impact on the judge when the judge will not say what it was:

Kennedy’s original opinion noted that Uthman was seized in Parachinar; that he reached the town after an eight-day trek from the Afghan town of Khost, nowhere near Tora Bora; and that his journey to Pakistan began around Dec. 8, 2001. Those facts make it difficult to portray Uthman as a fighter in a battle that took place between Dec. 12 and Dec. 17 at Tora Bora. Two footnotes in the original opinion note that the government does not contest that Uthman was taken into custody in Parachinar.

Both were removed in the second opinion and Kennedy substituted wording to write instead that Uthman admitted he was seized “in late 2001 in the general vicinity of Tora Bora, Afghanistan.”

The intent of this editing may have been to conceal the role of the Pakistanis in capturing al-Qaida fighters although those details were long ago declassified. But the effect was to link Uthman more closely to the retreat of bin Laden and his inner circle through Tora Bora.

It is unclear precisely what restrictions or classification requests guided Kennedy’s alterations. Neither the judge nor the Justice Department would say.

Gillers said such editing has an effect on public opinion, even when it doesn’t change the outcome of the case.

There are two competing interests in government redacting: protecting national security and protecting the prosecution. Not surprisingly, both of these institutional interests are alleged:

Officials at other agencies said they had a fairly free hand in removing information supplied for the government’s case. “Whenever a court security officer identifies a document slated for posting on the court’s public docket as potentially containing classified information, the officer refers that document to appropriate agencies for classification review,” Maj. Tanya Bradsher, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon, said.

One government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity acknowledged that the classification process has been plagued with inconsistencies and that no one is coordinating the effort. In most declassified habeas filings, the names of all detainee-witnesses are removed; in others, a name or two slips past the redaction process.

Some government-ordered deletions clearly appear designed to conceal names of confidential informants, associations with foreign intelligence services and the identities of certain federal agents. But the Uthman case shows that many of the deletions go further.

“This censorship has nothing to do with protecting ‘national security’ and everything to do with covering up government mistakes and malfeasance,” said Jonathan Hafetz, a professor at Seton Hall University School of Law who has represented a number of detainees in habeas litigation. The practice, he said, allows the government to “mislead the American public on issues of profound importance to the country by skewing the perception of who really is at Guantánamo.”

The question is not if both of these interests exist; even if one or both did not, there would at least be a perception of both. The question is how to address them. And the only way to do that is from outside the executive: Congress, the Supreme Court, or ideally both somehow would act in a way to ensure fair procedural safeguards.

The problem is that both institutions have essentially abdicated any responsibilities related to war whatsoever. This has long been the case with the Supreme Court. The laissez-faire attitude peaked in the Korematsu decision that refused to condemn the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two. The series of detainment decisions culminating in Boumediene were meaningful but the impacts, as we have seen, have been basically to give far outside limits. And the Congressional action, from the AUMF on, has been absolutely shameful.

My main problem is that for some reason people expect the executive to change this unilaterally. That will never happen. There are four reasons why this won’t happen:

1) No executive is going to be able to completely rid bureaucrats of a desire to protect prosecutors.

2) No president will unilaterally get prosecutors to be more forthcoming on issues of national security, especially when pushing for trust of the national security apparatus is the first thing any new President must do (particularly those with a history of perceived antipathy).

3) Add to this the overwhelming pressure to protect America. No President wants to release the guy who ends up creating the next 9/11 or Cole bombing. Voters would punish that proportionally far more than they would reward a President for releasing someone who the president thinks may just be a mild risk.

4) Presidential leadership on Guantanamo is not the most important variable in change. I thought Jamelle Bouie’s post on this was on the mark:

Yes, Guantanamo closure was a core issue for President Obama, and yes, it was a core issue for his liberal supporters, but it wasn’t a core issue for the Democratic Party, and it needed to be for any chance at success. Given unanimous and vocal Republican opposition to the administration agenda writ large, Guantanamo closure was virtually certain to become a bitter partisan fight. For success, Obama needed a certain level of pro-closure consensus among congressional Democrats. Absent that consensus (and combined with public pressure to the contrary), it was no real surprise to see the White House avoid confrontation: Given limited resources, limited power, and the choice between a hard fight with a small chance of success, and a hard fight with a moderate one, the administration felt best served by investing its resources in the hard fight with moderate chance of success, i.e., health-care reform.

In other words, like Bill Clinton and gays in the military, Guantanamo closure was a high-profile fight that lacked strong support within and outside the party. Obama could have invested further resources in closing the base, but he would have lost ground with health-care reform, stimulus, and other competing priorities. This isn’t to minimize Obama’s failures or the extent to which he has simply embraced large elements of Bush national-security policy, but you can think of an issue like Guantanamo as the price of presidential ambition. When there are many things on the executive plate, some of them have to go by the wayside. This, unfortunately, was one of them.

You can add to this that every electable politician on Guantanamo had the same position as Obama or was much further right (see Romney offering to double Guantanamo). This is why it frustrates me that so many on the left expend all pressure on the matter at Obama, and not on Congress, who is actually 1) pliable and 2) can be changed without massive collateral damage elsewhere.

Obama signed an executive order to close Guantanamo. What happened? The Senate foreclosed any such action by a 90-6 vote. That’s right. Ninety to six.

Until and unless Congress is pushed to engage more on detainee action, the executive will be on an island alone; the Supreme Court will determine the boundaries of that island but little more.

**Edited this post to make clear that the Pro Publica report was -not- politicized.


Written by John Whitehouse

April 25, 2011 at 9:22 pm

The Supreme Court Cannot Solve Everything

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President Obama made a signing statement refusing to let Congress dictate who he can and cannot hire. In the words of Kevin Drum, Obama “thinks that Congress has no right to tell him who he can and can’t consult in the Office of the President. So he signed the bill but added a signing statement telling Congress to piss off.”

Drum adds that:

Actually, I’m curious about something here. When Congress and the President disagree about something like this, it’s up to the Supreme Court to adjudicate. But how does that usually work? Does the president abide by the law but sue in federal court to have it overturned? Or does he break the law and wait for someone to sue him? What’s the usual historical precedent?

Well, there’s not a lot of historical precedent, because first, the Supreme Court from the very beginning of the country refused to offer advisory opinions. Here’s what the Jay Court said:

The lines of Separation drawn by the Constitution between the three Departments of Government, their being in certain Respects checks on each other, and our being judges of a court in the last Resort, are Considerations which afford strong arguments against the Propriety of our extrajudicially deciding the questions alluded to; especially as the Power given by the Constitution to the President of calling on the Heads of Departments for opinions, seems to have been purposely as well as expressly limited to executive Departments.

This is especially relevant to this particular issue: the Courts only get involved when there is an actual issue, but moreover, the Constitution really does give the President all the executive power, including consulting who he may.

But this also means the Courts can’t just solve this generally: there needs to be an actual court case of someone suing for something. It’s unclear who would or could do that here.

The one example of when the Court did step in is in Marbury v. Madison, which is probably the most important case in the history of our country, so I can’t sum it all up succinctly. But here goes: Marbury did involve is a specific person – the eponymous Marbury, who was given a judicial appointment by Adams; that appointment was rescinded by Jefferson before the actual appointment was delivered. And even in that case, John Marshall found that while Marbury had a right to the appointment, the judiciary had no right to enforce it, because the mandamus statute was unconstitutional. But a part of that decision was also the birth of the political doctrine which is very relevant here:

By the constitution of the United States, the President is invested with certain important political powers, in the exercise of which he is to use his own discretion, and is accountable only to his country in his political character, and to his own conscience. To aid him in the performance of these duties, he is authorized to appoint certain officers, who act by his authority and in conformity with his orders.

In such cases, their acts are his acts; and whatever opinion may be entertained of the manner in which executive discretion may be used, still there exists, and can exist, no power to control that discretion. The subjects are political. They respect the nation, not individual rights, and being entrusted to the executive, the decision of the executive is conclusive. The application of this remark will be perceived by adverting to the act of congress for establishing the department of foreign affairs. This office, as his duties were prescribed by that act, is to conform precisely to the will of the President. He is the mere organ by whom that will is communicated. The acts of such an officer, as an officer, can never be examinable by the courts.

But when the legislature proceeds to impose on that officer other duties; when he is directed peremptorily to perform certain acts; when the rights of individuals are dependent on the performance of those acts; he is so far the officer of the law; is amenable to the laws for his conduct; and cannot at his discretion sport away the vested rights of others.

Here, the czars have not had any other duties imposed on them by Congress. Not one. They solely provide advice and guidance to the President and his/her staff on areas of expertise. The Republican fetish of eliminating the czars is directly and clearly against the most fundamental court decision in the history of our country. This is exactly the sort of gross Congressional overstepping that calls for a signing statement. Neither party in Congress has the Constitutional ability to limit the advice the President receives.

The entirety of history of Congressional right to confirm people refers to officers who have official duty. What we have here is a hypothetical that not even Marshall thought Congress would resort to: limiting who the President can merely look to for policy advice without any additional responsibility. It’s not the Constitution’s fault that the czars annoy Republicans.

What’s important to realize (and I think Drum does) about the czars is that they do not give the President any additional power. Van Jones or whoever is just an outside advisor, that the President feels better to keep in house rather than call regularly. But the Constitution gives the executive carte blanche authority on whom he can consult with.

But it’s important to realize is that under no realistic scenario is this going to go to the courts, short of someone actually depriving the czars from receiving a paycheck which they then sue for. This is not a problem for the court system. This is for Congress and the executive to work out alone.

UPDATE: Via a Balloon Juice commenter, Barack Obama also said, “No one doubts that it is appropriate to use signing statements to protect a president’s constitutional prerogatives; unfortunately, the Bush Administration has gone much further than that.” It’s patently obvious to me this falls in the former category of valid signing statements. This signing statement does not expand executive power, it just protects the ability to hire advice as he sees fit. That’s been a protected Presidential ability as long as the office has existed.

Written by John Whitehouse

April 16, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Afternoon / Early Evening (4/2) Cote D’Ivoire Running Thread (Complete)

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Refugee Camp, courtesy the Department for International Development

Picture from here, used under a creative commons license. It depicts a refugee camp in Liberia.

This is the new thread, from about 2:00 EDT to it becomes too full.

2:20 EDT: Gbagbo forces retook the strategic bridge surrounding his palace:

The fierce standoff between fighters loyal to Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent president of Cote d’Ivoire, and Alassane Ouattara, the country”s internationally recognised leader, intensified on Saturday.  Gbagbo’s force retook the bridge leading to his presidential palace on Saturday, after the opposition had appeared poised to topple the controversial leader.

[. . .]

Pro-Ouattara forces had marched easily into the country’s largest city, where they encircled the presidential palace and Gbagbo’s home on Thursday and Friday. They intend to battle Gbagbo’s forces in their stronghold, Kouakou Leon Alla, a spokesperson for the defence minister and the prime minister, said.

[. . .]

In the Cocody neighbourhood where the presidential mansion is located, families slept in bathrooms and on the floor as successive blasts punctuated an all-night assault, continuing into Saturday morning. Machine-gun fire could be heard at either end of the waterside highway leading to the palace.  In the Rivera neighbourhood armed members of the “young patriots,” the youth wing of Gbagbo’s camp, patrolled areas and organised checkpoints.

“At the cost of our blood, we are going to die so that the republic survives, for our children, because this is an unjust war,” an armed young patriot, calling himself General La Poudriere or Minefield, said.  Military officials loyal to Ivory Coast’s entrenched leader on Saturday called on their forces to resist rebels who are trying to depose him after he has refused to cede power.

It seems that a siege is inevitable given that Ouattara controls so much land and the airport (with UN assistance there).

2:20 EDT: A Red Cross Spokesman confirmed to the BBC that they’ve identified 800 dead in Duekoue:

We came on spot on Thursday, our teams were there and the sight that presented itself was obviously shocking and horrific. Up to now, at the beginning it was impossible to say how many people were actually killed there. But with the figures we have up to now, with different sources and also our own people, several hundred people. So we have a confirmation of about up to at least 800 people having been killed.

2:30 EDT: Here’s a Cote D’Ivoire map where you can see where Abidjan is (on the coast towards the east) and where Duekoue is (western part of the country.

(Taken from this website under a Creative Commons License.)

2:35 EDT: There are some calls for the UN or State Department to use force under the Right to Protect that’s been cited in Libya. One, I don’t think there are enough UN forces in the country right now (1,400 French troops is the highest I’ve seen) Two, it would require close, urban combat with a lot casualties. No one is willing to do that in Libya or anywhere else short of Afghanistan or Iraq.

There may be something the UN or State Department could do, but they’re not willing to send the cavalry in on the ground. The African Union hasn’t even been willing to go that far.

The UN, State Department, France, and the AU have called for Gbagbo to leave. He’s rather incite nationalism and fight until his supporters desert him or are dead. That’s the biggest problem and it’s not something outside forces have many ways left to effect in the short term.

2:45 EDT: More perspective from this New York Times report by Adam Nossiter:

Throughout most of the crisis, civilian deaths have largely come at the hands of Mr. Gbagbo’s forces, eliciting threats of criminal charges from international prosecutors. Human rights groups have also accused forces loyal to Mr. Ouattara of some extrajudicial killings, but neither side has been implicated in a massacre even close to this scale. The total death toll previously estimated by the United Nations was about 500, over four months of tensions and sporadic violence.

Many of Mr. Ouattara’s fighters are former rebels from a 2002 uprising that divided the country in half, and they have come under his banner only recently. The rebels have a history of human rights abuses and had largely stayed on the sidelines of the political crisis.

Duékoué is one of the strategic towns in the country’s cocoa-growing region they seized last week. A team from the International Committee of the Red Cross “saw a very large number of bodies” there, said a spokeswoman, Dorothea Krimitsas.

“They were shocked by the scale of it,” she said. “We don’t have exact information as to who is behind this. There were at least 800.”

The conflict between Mr. Ouattara and Mr. Gbagbo has unleashed longstanding ethnic rivalries, particularly in the lawless western regions of the country. The Red Cross said the large number of dead it saw in the town on Thursday and Friday were apparently victims of “intercommunal violence.” But it did not assign responsibility for the killings.

The rebels also dismiss control of the radio station:

“What is preoccupying us is the liberation of the people of Abidjan,” said Capt. Léon Alla. “Not the R.T.I., which is nothing but propaganda,” he said, referring to Radio Télévision Ivorienne.

Patience and discipline from Ouattara’s forces/allies would be useful now, but it remains to be seen if they’re capable of that.

2:50 EDT: Ghana would seriously consider a request for Asylum if Gbagbo made one:

. . . Foreign Affairs Minister, Alhaji Mohammed Mumuni told Citi News that although no such request has been made, government will consider granting Laurent Gbagbo amnesty if he requests for it.

“I can tell you on authority that there has not been anything of that sort. There has been nothing like President Gbagbo has written to President Mills to request for political asylum”.

“Of course as we know President Mills and his sense of compassion and he being a unifier, I have no doubt that if President Gbagbo finds it fit to make such a request President Mills will consider it very well.”

3:15 EDT: Video of (what I presume to be) the communique from Gbagbo’s government on state TV is posted here. I don’t speak French so I can’t translate. Anyone available? (Also, linked on that page, footage of Gbagbo drinking tea. Apparently he wants to upstage Nero.)

Here is the Al Jazeera report:

3:30 EDT: AFP is reporting 4 UN workers were “seriously injured” by Gbagbo’s forces. It’s not clear which skirmish this is regarding, but I’ve seen reports of a couple such times when the UN has had to return fire. They might all be from one single event, or a number of them, I don’t know.

Update: the BBC says the four were on a humanitarian mission in Abidjan, so this seems like a separate incident.

Additionally, British Foreign Minister William Hague commented on ths situation. (translated):

William Hague said on Saturday he was “extremely worried” about violence in Côte d’Ivoire and urged “all parties to exercise restraint” , while the fighting raged in the capital Abidjan and NGOs reported numerous abuses. “All the abuses of human rights that could occur in the city and elsewhere in Ivory Coast have been investigated and those responsible must be prosecuted,” said Hague.

3:45 EDT: The BBC reports that communities in the west of the country are arming themselves, so this has the potential to spiral out of control all over again, even if Gbagbo gave up right now.

3:50 EDT: The Guardian reports from a Liberian refugee camp:

At the Toe Town transit camp, the shock and fear is palpable. Terrified and traumatised, more people flood into the camp by the day. There are constant reports of savage attacks on villages by rebels armed with guns and machetes. Their orders, according to the refugees, are “to kill everyone and anyone”. There are even reports of cannibalism by rebel forces.

Rosalie Ziminin, also from Toulépleu, grabbed every member of her family that she could when the pro-Ouattara rebels came. Fifteen of them made it to the transit camp, but two of her children – aged two and five – were lost in the chaos as they escaped the attack. She still has no idea where they are. Ziminin, like many Ivorians, has not forgotten the devastation from Ivory Coast’s last civil war in 2002. She lost everything during the fighting which claimed the lives of both her mother and father. “I’ve only just rebuilt my life,” she said yesterday. “I’ve lost everything again and I don’t want to go back.”

More than 100,000 Ivorians have sought refuge in Liberia as the rebels have moved south towards Abidjan. Most are being housed and fed by Liberian families. In some of the smaller, more remote villages the number of fleeing Ivorians outnumbers Liberians by 20 to 1.


3:55 EDT: Latest reports seem to indicate that those four UN workers seriously injured were from another separate incident. I can’t tell for certain.

4:15 EDT: Elizabeth Dickinson’s post from this week was sent to me again on Twitter, and it’s worth re-reading because it lays out clearly the limits of western action possible in Cote D’Ivoire. (And Russia will veto a lot of things that France and the U.S. are willing to do.)

4:20 EDT: HIV drugs in Abidjan may be running out.

Relief groups have also warned that fighting could mean a disruption in the supply of anti-retroviral treatment for people living with HIV. Ivory Coast has an estimated 480,000 people living with HIV and is one of the countries worst affected by the AIDS epidemic in West Africa.

“We are very worried that although some HIV treatment is available, supplies will run out in the next two to three weeks if the current import embargo on goods is not lifted,” said Sosthene Dougrou, executive director of Alliance Cote d’Ivoire, a national charity which provides support to people living with HIV.

“Our office has had to close because of the fighting; we are unable to access money from the banks as they too have been shut and we can’t get the programme funds so money is running out,” Dougorou said in a statement.

4:30 EDT: Save the Children, who Glenn Beck thinks is part of a liberal conspiracy (or is it the caliphate conspiracy?), tweets: “Children fleeing Cote d’Ivoire scared, vulnerable and often alone, say#savethechildren staff working in refugee camps on Liberian border.”

BBC’s live coverage is done for the day. We’re going to keep going, though there doesn’t seem to be any imminent developments about to happen.

4:45 EDT: Some testimony from the Duekoue region about what happened. The Google translation from the original French seems dodgy, so I won’t quote it, but it sounds harrowing and with troops completely out of control.

5:30 EDT: Gbagbo’s strategy is becoming clear: use trained soldiers for his last line of defense and use civilians, such as the Young Patriots, offensively; the problem with this (among many, many problems) is that it’s going to lead to massive slaughter and looting since those civilians are prone to violence.

Laurent Gbagbo has now implemented a dual strategy of defense. Soldiers loyal to him were known to congregate in different military bases in Abidjan while the civilians were, themselves, were invited to take action to protect several strategic points in the Ivorian economic capital.

This afternoon, we could well see groups of young patriots converge on the presidential palace in the Plateau and the residence of the outgoing head of state in Cocody. Leaders in this war for control of power is inevitably the people who suffer the most. Abidjan many trapped in their homes including start running out of food.

Until and unless resources run out, I’m not sure what can be done. Clearly, that’s not going to happen overnight.

5:40 EDT: Good sign, if my translation of this is accurate, Ouattara’s government is pledging to try anyone for atrocities committed (while still denying they were forces loyal to him). I’m skeptical because that’s what the west wants to hear, but on the other hand, it is what we want to hear. That’s not nothing. The proof will be in the pudding of course.

You can read a poorly translated version here.

5:45 EDT: A pro-Gbagbo site (so beware, since it’s likely rank propaganda) says that Gbagbo forces took the hotel that Ouattara had been staying at with UNOCI. There had previously been reports that the hotel had been evacuated (the only reason I’m even including this update).

7:00 EDT: The curfew is extended until Sunday, per Ouattara’s government

This is how bad the refugee situation is in Guiglo:

Bishop Gneba said more than 30,000 refugees had flooded the town of about 50,000 since January. Many are being sheltered at the Salesian priests’ Mission of St. Theresa of the Baby Jesus. They are among more than 1 million people displaced by the violence since January.

“There’s a traumatic humanitarian situation there,” Bishop Gneba said. “They need everything: food, medicine, water, sanitation. People have lost everything, houses, clothes, they do not even have a mat to sleep on.”

UN Col. Rais said there are nearly 400 peacekeepers based at Guiglo who were doing what they could to help with water and food.

The town almost doubles in size and 400 peacekeepers are there to help. Note that current estimates have it at a million refugees total, so this is just 3% of the story.

That wraps up this particular liveblog. A new one will go up shortly for late night and overnight. Thanks for reading and getting the word out. A reminder to donate to Oxfam too.


This Is What the CIA Does and Should Do

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The CIA is in Libya and this has some people very upset.

Spencer Ackerman describes what they are doing:

[A]ccording to the Times, the CIA role in Libya is more furtive. The agency isn’t giving guns to the rebels. It’s finding out precisely who they are — important, since the U.S. has “flickers” of intel that they include some al-Qaeda members. And along with British spies, the CIA teams are learning “the location of Colonel Qaddafi’s munitions depots [and] the clusters of government troops inside Libyan towns.” And figure they probably have some tasking to get Gadhafi’s inner circle to abandon him.

Dave von Ebers gives historical context:

Anyway, here’s the thing. This, unfortunately, is exactly what every president has done with the CIA, since its inception in the late 1940s.The CIA was on the ground in Vietnam long before the United States was at war there; meddled in the affairs of Guatemala dating back to the 1950s; was neck deep in the 1953 Iranian coup d’état that secured the brutal reign of Shah Mohammad-Reza Pahlavi; aided the Chilean military in the coup that brought Augusto Pinochet to power; worked with El Salvadoran death squads for decades; established secret prisons in Eastern Europe to detain and interrogate detainees in the “war on terror” … and on and on and on. I’m not suggesting that any of that was right – it most definitely wasn’t – but note that for decades the CIA was, in almost every instance, on the side of brutal dictators who were oppressing their own people.

And don’t forget that with or without the CIA’s assistance, past American presidents tacitly supported Pol Pot in Cambodia after Vietnam overthrew him in 1978 (later Pres. Reagan doubled down on America’s covert support for Pol Pot, leading to years of civil war there); supported the Shah throughout his dictatorial reign despite hishorrific record of human rights abuses; supported the Contra rebelsin Nicaragua, many, if not most, of whom formerly worked under the dictator Somoza; and only grudgingly (and ineffectively) came to oppose Apartheid in South Africa in the 198os.

Dave concludes that here, at least, the CIA is on the right side. (BTW: follow Dave on Twitter.) But even more broadly speaking, it makes sense to have some sort of communication with these rebels and to find out who they are, what their factions are, etc. We shouldn’t have to just wonder.

And it makes sense to give them basic intelligence of what we know about Gaddafi’s approaching forces. I don’t think warning them that they’re about to be outflanked works so well when you say it from inside the cockpit of an F-15.

And I’m really at a loss as to how the CIA being on the ground means there’s boots on the ground. We’ve had numerous memoirs such as this one written from CIA agents about how they were on the ground in places the US was not at war with. I remember a lot of stories when Anna Chapman, alleged Russian spy, was captured. None of which were: “OMG, Russia is invading the United States! Wolverines!” I’d certainly have hoped the CIA or Mi6 or some similar agency was on the ground making contacts in Libya, Algeria, Bahrain, Yemen, etc. That information is crucial for policymakers to actually make the right choices.

What’s doubly surprising about the leak is that we’ve known about MI6 being on the ground in Libya for weeks now. In fact, this defense of human intelligence ought be read by anyone confused about the role of intelligence services (putting aside the role of SAS support):

First, much is made of the notion that the British could have simply put in a phone call. Such an assertion is naive in the extreme, and conveniently forgets the fact that telecommunications in Libya are vulnerable – as the British ambassador to Libya knows all too well.

As any intelligence officer would tell you, signals intelligence is vital, but it needs to be supplemented by human intelligence. When business people broker deals, they like to see each other first, check out the cut of their jibs, have a drink, build up a rapport – in short, build trust. Gathering secret intelligence is no different, and it is essential for agencies such as MI6 to build personal relationships with parties such as the Libyan rebels. A mere phone call will not do. [. . .]

Some have also speculated that all the British needed to have done was to have popped into Benghazi to see the rebel leadership, rather than head off into the desert. This is another naive assertion, and supposes that the rebel forces are a unified bunch under a centralised command structure. As we shall see, there are numerous groups of rebels, and it is possible that Tom had made contact with a group that was not represented in Benghazi. Besides, it is just as possible that Tom and his team had in fact received some sort of blessing from Benghazi. We don’t know, but what we do know is that the lives of two MI6 officers, six SAS men and a helicopter crew are not risked on a mere jaunt.

Why people thought MI6 was running around Libya then and not the CIA boggles the mind (not everyone was so dense). The risk in early March was that the rebellion would not look endemic; by now it’s clear that there is no reason for that particular concern – which is one reason why it seems the Administration intentionally leaked this news now.

Indeed, members of the administration are even pointing to this Atlantic article that came to the same conclusion:

Perhaps two of the organizations least known for leaking, the CIA and the Obama White House, the latter of which has made a special habit of prosecuting leakers, appear to have both leaked the same story at the same time to the New York Times and to Reuters, the latter of which cites four separate sources. Together, they report that President Obama signed a secret finding authorizing the clandestine operations in support of Libya’s rebels, including Central Intelligence Agency agents on the ground but not including arms for the rebels.  . . .

. . . [I]t’s also possible that the leak was planned, as so many U.S. government leaks are. [. . .] Such a leak makes appear Obama more bullish on Libya without requiring him to explain the plan for this new secret authority. It wards off domestic pressure without actually engaging those pressuring him. It also prepares the American people for the possibility of clandestine actions without actually carrying them out or even promising to consider carrying them out. After all, though the finding’s approval may be broad, very little appears to have actually been done with it. Arming the rebels, the first logical step in a serious clandestine commitment, doesn’t have the necessary congressional approval.

Perhaps most significant of all, leaking news of the finding would send a clear and no doubt chilling message to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi and the remainders of his regime: if you allow this war to continue, you could go up against the CIA . . .

With the rebel advance stalled, and the war appearing to head for either Qaddafi’s victory or a costly stalemate that could consume Libya for years, Obama faces a dauntingly hard choice: escalate U.S. involvement and risk entangling the country in another Afghanistan or, by refusing to escalate, put make the U.S. culpable for the rebels’ failure and Qaddafi’s sure-to-be bloody victory. The best possible way forward, then, could be to coerce Qaddafi into stepping down voluntarily, as both Egypt’s Mubarak and Tunisia’s Ben Ali did. These hints of greater U.S. involvement could be Obama’s way of showing Qaddafi the door. Also on Wednesday, a senior official with the government of Uganda, a close U.S. ally, suddenly announced to Al Arabiya, a pan-Arabic TV network, that his country would consider an asylum request from the Libyan leader.

The whole article is worth reading.

There’s no evidence that ground troops would be welcome by regional partners in the coalition. But liaising with the rebels, getting on the ground intelligence to match with satellite overlays, and maybe looking for creative ways to push Gaddafi out? That’s just prudent.

There are ways the Libya conflict could potentially escalate in ways I would not support. This is not one of them.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 31, 2011 at 9:16 am

BREAKING: I Oppose Both Arpaio and Gaddafi

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This is kind of a weird Nation article:

Could Obama and his supporters take a break from celebrating so-called no-fly zones—and take a look at what’s happening in Arizona?

Qaddafi, after all, isn’t the only one using military technology against his own people. Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, has launched “Operation Desert Sky” to round up “illegal drugs and human cargo”—read: men, women, human, immigrants.

If that name sounds familiar, perhaps you’re remembering Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in Iraq under the first President Bush. That’s right, the sheriff of a US county is deliberately evoking the names of military operations in his war on migrants.

THIRTY aircraft will be used in the operation, and, according to the Cypress Times, will be furnished and flown largely by the sheriff’s armed volunteer posse—in other words, vigilantes. They’ll be armed with M-16s and a 50 caliber machine gun.

Isn’t it time for a no-fly zone in Arizona? . . .

Former GRITtv guest Salvador Reza, an Arizona immigration activist, says it’s unconscionable for Obama and the Justice Department to be part of Arpaio’s coalition of the willing. But beyond that, isn’t it time for us to put a stop to Arpaio’s violence once and for all?

I mean, even progressives are arguing that intervention in Libya was justified on humanitarian grounds. How big a humanitarian disaster must we see on our own soil before we act?

Before we go any further, while I support the action in Libya, I do oppose this action and the Department of Justice and Homeland Security should prevent it from happening. There’s obvious jurisdictional questions, as well as issues regarding armed vigilantes without the necessary training.

And while it’s easy to blithely accuse the Obama Administration of being complicit, just days ago Sec. Janet Napolitano said that the border security was as good as it ever had been – which does not sound much like she’s agreeing to a massive air invasion. Second, I had to find a Spanish language version of this story to confirm Arpaio is, in fact under federal investigation for human and civil rights abuses. Per the Great Orange Satan, they’re looking into: “the funding of SCA; the bogus filing of charges against County Supervisor Don Stapley, meant to intimidate one of Arpaio’s opponents; racial profiling and abuse of powers; the misuse of restricted funds; and a corrupt land deal for one of the Sheriff’s headquarters.” Also, the feds have permission to look into anything else that may arise.

That makes the Obama Administration complicit!?

Moreover, I don’t see why Arpaio and Gaddafi are even connected… unless you’re looking for a hook for anti-interventionists and wanted to get page hits. That couldn’t be it, could it? Gin up controversy against Obama from the left to get attention and sell magazines, even if the criticism isn’t entirely based in reality?

Lastly, Arpaio just announced this. Let’s give Napolitano and/or Holder a chance to respond before we accuse every Obama supporter of killing people with machine guns, ok?


Written by John Whitehouse

March 30, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Andrew Sullivan Can’t Read

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Deciding that calling Samantha Power the new version of Bill Kristol (I eagerly await Kristol’s version of this article) and glossing over all the differences between the two (Power opposed the war in Iraq and wanted to get out quickly)

Juan Cole gets at the silliness of this sort of comparison:

Allowing the Neoconservatives to brand humanitarian intervention as always their sort of project does a grave disservice to international law and institutions, and gives them credit that they do not deserve, for things in which they do not actually believe.

Sullivan quotes two objections from OTB: first that there is inconsistency in when responsibility to protect is applied (well no shit, Sherlock); secondly, that “there is an absolute sense of certainty that causes people to ignore the facts on the ground.” Regarding Libya, this is because “it’s absolutely certainty that merely being guided by the desire to “help” people is sufficient to accomplish their goals, meaning that there’s no need to worry about the fact that the rebels you’re protecting are allied with a terrorist group.”

Well of course both those facts are true. No one says that they are not.

There is not a single person in the world claiming the United States is being perfectly consistent. Not one. But there are other facts: that Gaddafi’s actions were reasonably threatening to be worse than just about anywhere; that there was a regional buy in for action, and third that it was easy to do. There’s certainly terrorist elements among the rebels. And there’s terrorist elements among Gaddafi’s forces too (I think the history speaks for itself, or maybe his behavior at least does). But we can quantify who that is, not just speculate wildly.

Secondly, there’s people out there saying (re: this) that this might fail, but it’s a worthwhile chance to take. Obama wants to give the rebels a chance to take Gaddafi down, not to guarantee he will. To quote Tom Ricks from Sunday’s Meet the Press: Give war a chance. There are real costs to inaction on Libya. Sullivan ignores them all.

What Sullivan is doing is trolling for any anti-intervention article, no matter how poorly written, excerpting whatever he first sees that he emotionally agrees with, and then running it along side outrageous accusations in headlines; he augments that with poorly researched screeds calling supporters glib when he doesn’t even mention the rationales for this intervention. If someone had made this poor a case against the Iraq war, 2003 Andrew Sullivan would take it apart instead of resorting to cheap parlor tricks of calling the writer a fifth columnist.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 30, 2011 at 3:13 pm

A Cuban, A Jew, and A Peanut Farmer Walk Into A Bar…

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Jimmy Carter is in Havana for talks, with many of the headlines concerning Alan Gross:

Carter may only try to lay the groundwork for Gross’ release because Cuban officials reportedly have told him not to expect to take Gross home with him when he leaves on Wednesday.  Gross, jailed since his arrest in Havana on December 3, 2009, was working under a U.S. program promoting political change on the island, which Cuba views as subversive.  The case has angered the U.S. government, which contends Gross was in Cuba only to provide Internet access to Jewish groups and committed no crime.  Many think Cuba may be open to freeing Gross soon because it has made its point about the U.S. pro-democracy programs and because of humanitarian concerns.  Gross’ 26-year-old daughter and 88-year-old mother are both suffering from cancer.

But more importantly in the big picture, the relationship with Cuba is still going nowhere fast:

The Castros complain regularly that Obama has done little to help relations, despite his stated desire to seek a “new beginning” with Cuba.

Obama has eased U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba, allowed a free flow of remittances to the cash-strapped island and initiated new talks on migration and postal service issues.

Cuba has released most of its political prisoners and is modernizing its economy, but Obama has said it must do more, including the release of Gross, if it wants better relations.

But the story is deeper than just trying to get some Cuban Jews online access:

The United States has portrayed the contractor, Alan P. Gross, 61, as a suburban Washington humanitarian who was merely bringing satellite telephone equipment, which could be used to bypass heavy Internet restrictions in Cuba, to the small community of Cuban Jews when he was detained in December 2009.  But Cuban authorities said American officials, who eventually acknowledged that Mr. Gross lacked a proper visa and was working on a secretive United States Agency for International Development, or Usaid, program to expand Internet access, must have known such equipment was barred in Cuba without a permit.

They accused Mr. Gross of being a spy, tried him and convicted him of taking part in “a subversive project of the U.S. government that aimed to destroy the revolution through the use of communications systems out of the control of authorities.”  The Obama administration has called Mr. Gross’s case a sticking point in improving relations with Cuba.  “We deplore this ruling,” said Philip J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman. “Alan Gross is a dedicated international development worker who has devoted his life to helping people in more than 50 countries. He was in Cuba to help the Cuban people connect with the rest of the world.”

Josh Rogin in November looked at the state of American-Cuban relations:

The Obama administration has been quietly but steadily moving to loosen travel and trade restrictions on Cuba in advance of what rapprochement advocates would hope to be an eventual repeal the comprehensive sanctions on Havana that have been in place since the 1950s. On this matter, don’t expect the GOP to budge much. Ros-Lehtinen, the incoming House Foreign Affairs Commitee chairwoman, is a hard-line Cuba hawk and is set to thwart any additional moves to ease Cuba sanctions or travel restrictions. A Cuban-American from Miami, she even once called for the assassination of former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

I wish Jimmy Carter well. The embargo is a really stupid idea – opening Cuba up to trade and investment would gradually enrich the country and make internet restrictions harder to maintain (I doubt Cuba could duplicate the Great Firewall of China). Alan Grant will probably be allowed to return at some point in the near future, but it’s unlikely that this trip will substantially change anything.

But there’s a reason the embargo is still in existence and a reason that Ros-Lehtinen feels this way: it’s based on emotional truths, if not policy ones. Residual hatred for Castro is a powerful; it’s learned over a lifetime and involves a longing for a simple conflict: Castro is the bad guy, therefore we can’t do anything to enable him. It’s an utterly destructive philosophy not based in reality, but the emotions are real. Perhaps when both Castros are gone there will be political will for change on this end, but I’m not betting on it. Unless the Cuban version of Rick Scott seizes power at some point, any rapprochement will be extremely gradual. It’s too bad – the Cuban people deserve better.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 29, 2011 at 10:30 pm