Hard Measures: Ex-CIA Head Defends Post-9/11 Tactics

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For February 6th (since Feb 13th is Ash Wednesday and our policy is to avoid holidays such as Yom Kippur and Valentine's Day), we will focus on the pending nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA. John Brennan spent a 25-year career at the CIA during which time he embraced “enhanced interrogation techniques.” He has spent the last 4 years as President Obama’s Counter-Terrorism Chief in which capacity his primary responsibilities were to maintain President Obama’s “Kill List” and supervise the drone assassinations which have vastly increased in number under President Obama and, for the first time, included American citizens as targets.

Our suggested reading is “Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives” by Jose A. Rodriguez, Jr., head of the CIA’s Clandestine (“Dark Side”) Services following 9/11 until his retirement in January 2008 to work on this book (Hardcover 4/30/2012 by Simon & Shuster – $15.16 from Amazon.com + shipping – 261 pages)

Everyone is also encouraged to see the movie “Zero Dark Thirty” which opened in first-run movie theatres throughout Salt Lake County 1/11/2013 and which was intended by President Obama to be Hollywood’s homage to his assassination of Osama bin Laden. [It has received an Oscar “Best Picture” nomination and Jessica Chastain, who is nominated for the "Best Actress" Oscar, has already won the Golden Globe for "Best Actress."]

Indeed, the Obama Administration was accused of leaking zillions of items of classified information to the movie’s producers to facilitate the homage. However, the movie’s producers added information obtained from the C.I.A. about how Osama’s assassination would not have been possible without information obtained by “water boarding” and the Justice Department has announced an investigation of the C.I.A. to ascertain who leaked this information. [In addition, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Diane Feinstein and Sen. John McCain have written to the CIA’s acting director demanding to know how this information was leaked.]

For movie buffs, another highly-entertaining but purely fictional movie which poses extremely well the “ticking time bomb” question whether to use water-boarding to save American lives (which, per Tim Russert when he moderated the first 2008-cycle Presidential debate at Dartmouth College on 9/28/2007, was the official policy of the Clinton Administration) is “Unthinkable” starring Samuel L. Jackson and released in 2010. Samuel L. Jackson is a “black ops” interrogator/torturer whose handlers (all the way to the White House) are “Holier Than Thou” except during frequent periods when it looks like substantial numbers of Americans might get nuked.

Please click on the title of this section to see the original proposal which included, inter alia, the CBS "60 Minutes" transcript of a 4/29/2012 interview of our author and the lengthy 5/29/2012 NY Times Article on President Obama's "Kill List."

We hope to see all of you on Wed evening Feb 6th!!!
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johnkarls
Posts: 1712
Joined: Fri Jun 29, 2007 8:43 pm

Hard Measures: Ex-CIA Head Defends Post-9/11 Tactics

Post by johnkarls »

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Originally Proposed by johnkarls Mon Apr 30, 2012 8:40 pm - 342 views before being transplanted here.
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I propose that we read “Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives” (Hardcover 4/30/2012 by Simon & Shuster – $16.20 from Amazon.com + shipping – 288 pages).

The author is Jose A. Rodriguez, Jr., who headed the CIA’s Clandestine (“Dark Side”) Services following 9/11 until his retirement in January 2008 to work on this book.

The “60 Minutes” transcript of Lesley Stahl’s interview of Jose Rodriguez regarding his book follows –


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CBS “60 Minutes” 4/29/2012 Transcript

Hard Measures: Ex-CIA head defends post-9/11 tactics
Lesley Stahl is the correspondent. Richard Bonin, producer.

After the attacks of 9/11, the CIA sought and was granted unprecedented authority to capture al Qaeda suspects, whisk them off to secret sites and interrogate them with harsh techniques, including waterboarding.

The man who ran the interrogation program was Jose Rodriguez, a CIA spy in Latin America, who rose to become head of the Clandestine Service, the CIA's dark side.

When the agency's secret program was revealed, it was widely criticized but the blunt-spoken, Puerto Rican-born Rodriguez is fighting back. He's written a book, a defense of the interrogations, called "Hard Measures" -- and tonight you will hear his side of the story.

It's the first time someone this close to the program, this accountable has gone public explaining why techniques that had long been condemned by the U.S. as torture were employed.

Jose Rodriguez: For the first time in our history, we had an enemy come into our homeland and kill 3,000 people. I mean, that was a huge deal. People jumping from the towers to their death. The people running away from the cloud of dust, terrified out of their mind. This was a threat. And we had to throw everything at it.

Which is why Jose Rodriguez says that when he ran the CIA's Counterterrorist Center, he came up with the idea of employing harsh interrogation techniques. And10 years later, he feels he still has to justify their use.

Lesley Stahl: You had no qualms? We used to consider some of them war crimes.

Jose Rodriguez: We made some al Qaeda terrorists with American blood on their hands uncomfortable for a few days. But we did the right thing for the right reason. And the right reason was to protect the homeland and to protect American lives. So yes, I had no qualms.

Rodriguez spent 31 years in the CIA's Clandestine Service where spies are revered as "fighter jocks". He rose thru the ranks, eventually running covert operations as head of the Latin America division. When al Qaeda struck on 9/11, he'd had no experience in counterterrorism or the Middle East. But he wanted "in" on the war on terror, and went to the CIA's Counterterrorist Center, where the main objective was to stop another attack on the U.S. homeland.

Jose Rodriguez: We were flooded with intelligence about an imminent attack. That al Qaeda had an anthrax program, and that they were planning to use it against us. And that they were seeking nuclear materials to use in some type of nuclear weapon. So we were facing a ticking, time bomb situation and we were very concerned.

Lesley Stahl: So you were getting pressure from Congress and the White House to take the gloves off. Did you go to the dark side?

Jose Rodriguez: Well, the dark side, that's what we do.

Lesley Stahl: You are the dark side.

Jose Rodriguez: We are the dark side.

Editorial Comment: His first big operation came after the capture of a Palestinian, thought then to have high level al Qaeda connections, named Abu Zubaydah when he was taken prisoner in Pakistan in the spring of 2002, Abu Zubaydah was badly injured in a firefight.

Jose Rodriguez: He actually was on the verge of dying. So we brought in a surgeon from the U.S. to help him out.

Lesley Stahl: You brought in a top-rate surgeon from Johns Hopkins?

Jose Rodriguez: Yes, the best that we could find.

Lesley Stahl: You save him so you can squeeze everything out of his brain that you can?

Jose Rodriguez: So we could elicit intelligence that would allow us to keep our country safe. So we took him to a black site. It was the first of several secret interrogation centers around the world. Abu Zubaydah was still recovering from his gunshot wounds when the interrogation began.

Lesley Stahl: When you start the interrogation, it's both the CIA and the FBI, right?

Jose Rodriguez: Correct. This was our prisoner, our site, our show -

Lesley Stahl: Meaning the CIA?

Jose Rodriguez: The CIA, but we had invited the FBI to come along.

Editorial Comment: Now there's a big dispute over which agency got more information and more valuable information. At first, FBI interrogators used their standard interviewing techniques with no coercion, and Abu Zubaydah cooperated, giving tips and leads but--

Jose Rodriguez: After he regains his strength he stopped talking.

Lesley Stahl: And then he just shuts down. Is that what happens?

Jose Rodriguez: He shuts down.

Lesley Stahl: But the FBI's lead interrogator said he didn't shut down, and that they should continue with their traditional methods of questioning. Jose Rodriguez, though heard the ticking time bomb and felt a sense of urgency.

Jose Rodriguez: If there was going to be another attack against the U.S., we would have blood on our hands because we would not have been able to extract that information from him. So we started to talk about an alternative set of interrogation procedures.

Lesley Stahl: So you're the one who went looking for something to break this guy.

Jose Rodriguez: Yes. And let me tell you something, you know, because years later the 9/11 Commission accused, or said that 9/11 was a failure of imagination. Well, there was no lack of imagination on the part of the CIA in June 2002. We were looking for different ways of doing this.

Editorial Comment: His search led him to a former military psychologist who had helped train American soldiers in how to resist torture if they were captured. The psychologist adapted the brutal tactics of our Cold War adversaries into what the CIA called "enhanced interrogation techniques." A team of interrogators -- about six of them -- was given a two-week training course and while Jose Rodriguez himself never engaged in any of the sessions with detainees, he supervised the program.

Lesley Stahl: Did the psychologist, did he tell you how long it was going to take, if you use these techniques, to break Abu Zubaydah and anybody else that you might capture?

Jose Rodriguez: You know, he had speculated that within 30 days we would probably be able to get the information that we wanted, yes.

Editorial Comment: But before moving forward, Jose Rodriguez got his superiors, right up to the president - to sign off on a set of those techniques, including waterboarding.

Jose Rodriguez: We needed to get everybody in government to put their big boy pants on and provide the authorities that we needed.

Lesley Stahl: Their big boy pants on--

Jose Rodriguez: Big boy pants. Let me tell you, I had had a lot of experience in the agency where we had been left to hold the bag. And I was not about to let that happen for the people that work for me.

Lesley Stahl: There wasn't gonna be any deniability on this one?

Jose Rodriguez: There was not gonna be any deniability. And I tell you something. In August of 2002, I felt I had all the authorities that I needed, all the approvals that I needed. The atmosphere in the country was different. Everybody wanted us to save American lives. The authorities came from the Justice Department in an opinion, later dubbed one of "the torture memos" - that detailed what was permissible.

Jose Rodriguez: We went to the border of legality. We went to the border, but that was within legal bounds.

Lesley Stahl: Even after you got the Justice Department legal office to give you this okay, you kept going back and back, with each thing you did. Over and over.

Jose Rodriguez: We wanted to make sure that the rest of government was with us.

Lesley Stahl: How does the water boarding that you engaged in, how did that work?

Jose Rodriguez: The detainee was strapped to an inclined board with his feet up so that no water would go--

Lesley Stahl: So his head was back.

Jose Rodriguez: So his head was back. And a cloth was placed over the mouth and nose. And water was applied to it.

Lesley Stahl: Oh he couldn't breathe through his nose.

Jose Rodriguez: So when he was saturated, then the air flow would be stopped.

Lesley Stahl: And he'd have the sensation of drowning.

Jose Rodriguez: And he would have the sensation.

Lesley Stahl: And was he naked?

Jose Rodriguez: In many cases, nudity was used extensively. And it worked well.

Lesley Stahl: Why is nudity effective?

Jose Rodriguez: It is effective because a lot of people feel very vulnerable when they're nude. And also because of the culture. Nudity, it is not something that is common. Each step they took was specifically spelled out in the Justice Department memo. For instance, uncooperative detainees could be put in a small, dark: "cramped confinement box with an insect" in it. As for waterboarding, the interrogators were allowed to pour water for up to 40 seconds at a time... quote applied "from a height of 12 to 24 inches"... using about a liter of water per session.

Lesley Stahl: Oh, you had rules for each thing?

Jose Rodriguez: Yes, we had rules. And not only that, but every time we did any of this, we had to ask permission. The field had to ask permission of headquarters.

Lesley Stahl: Each time.

Jose Rodriguez: Each time.

Lesley Stahl: Each single time... After Abu Zubaydah was subjected to the CIA's menu of interrogation techniques, Jose Rodriguez says he became compliant in less than three weeks.

Lesley Stahl: Was it waterboarding that broke the dam with Abu Zubaydah?

Jose Rodriguez: I think he was more taken aback by the insult slap.

Lesley Stahl: Oh, what's the insult slap?

Jose Rodriguez: It's just slapping somebody with an open hand so that you don't hurt 'em.

Lesley Stahl: By "hurt," you mean you don't break his jaw?

Jose Rodriguez: We don't break his jaw. And the objective is not to inflict pain. The objective is to let him know there's a new sheriff in town, and he better pay attention.

Lesley Stahl: You also employed stress techniques?

Jose Rodriguez: Uh-huh. There was a technique where the detainee would sit on the floor and would raise his hands over his head.

Lesley Stahl: In other words, he had to hold his hands up there forever and ever, right?

Jose Rodriguez: Forever & ever? I was thinkin' about this the other day. The objective was to induce muscle fatigue, and most people who work out do a lot more fatiguing of the muscles.

Lesley Stahl: Are you saying this was like going to the gym? Come on.

Jose Rodriguez: A little different.

Lesley Stahl: Yeah. Central to the interrogation was sleep deprivation. Abu Zubaydah was also kept awake for three straight days.

Jose Rodriguez: Sleep deprivation works. I'm sure, Lesley, with all the traveling that you do, that you have suffered from jet lag. And you know, when you don't get a good night's sleep for two, three days, it's very hard.

Lesley Stahl: Now, you don't really mean to suggest that it's like jet lag. I mean, you make it sound like it's benign when you say stuff like that.

Jose Rodriguez: Well, I mean, the feeling--

Lesley Stahl: And you go into the gym and jet lag--

Jose Rodriguez: Well, the feeling that you get when you don't sleep.

Lesley Stahl: But I mean, these were enhanced interrogation techniques. Other people call it torture.This was-- this wasn't benign in any-- any sense of the word.

Jose Rodriguez: I'm not trying to say that they were benign. But the problem is here is that people don't understand that this program was not about hurting anybody. This program was about instilling a sense of hopelessness and despair on the terrorist, on the detainee, so that he would conclude on his own that he was better off cooperating with us. Once Abu Zubaydah became compliant, the harsh treatment stopped and he became a fountain of information. But the FBI interrogators remember it differently.

Lesley Stahl: In fact, what they say is everything important that he gave up, he gave up to them before the harsher interrogation techniques kicked in.

Jose Rodriguez: Well, that is just not true. It's not true.

Lesley Stahl: Well, now they say that. And you say, "It's not true." What am I supposed to think? I don't know. The FBI and CIA disagree and it's impossible for us to resolve the argument because details of the interrogations remain classified. But what about the fact that detainees will say anything to stop the pain.

Lesley Stahl: Here's something that was told to me. Abu Zubaydah's stories sent the CIA around the globe. Not a single plot was foiled. We spent millions chasing phantoms.

Jose Rodriguez: Bullshit. He gave us a road map that allowed us to capture a bunch of Al Qaeda senior leaders.

Editorial Comment: Among those leaders: Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Details of his interrogation and what he told the CIA. About Osama bin Laden, next. The CIA had the use of a fleet of special aircraft to spirit detainees to its web of black sites across the globe. They were knocked out with sedatives during the flights and upon arrival had their heads and beards shaved and they were placed in sterile underground cells, with only an arrow painted on the floor pointing to Mecca. In total, the CIA picked up about 100 detainees, subjected 75 of them to harsh interrogation techniques - three of them to waterboarding, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed - or KSM, the mastermind of 9/11. When KSM was first captured in 2003, he was in no mood to talk.

Jose Rodriguez: Oh, he was not going to talk. I mean, Khalid Sheik Mohammed is one of the toughest killers out there.

Lesley Stahl: I heard he was brilliant.

Jose Rodriguez: He was brilliant. He was scary smart. But he's also evil. And he will use that intelligence to define different ways of coming after us. In the beginning, KSM would respond to questions by reciting verses from the Koran.

Jose Rodriguez: He eventually told us, "Well look, I will talk once I get to New York and I get my lawyer." He knew that if he got into the criminal process in the U.S. that he would get a lawyer and he would use that forum.

Lesley Stahl: He'd use it as a platform for his ideology.

Jose Rodriguez: He would use it as a platform. Faced with KSM's obstinance, CIA interrogators began ratcheting up the severity of the questioning step-by-step.

Lesley Stahl: Did you make him wear diapers?

Jose Rodriguez: Diapers? I don't recall specifically to him. But diapers is something that is approved.

Lesley Stahl: It's so humiliating.

Jose Rodriguez: It's standard. Standard. Yeah.

Editorial Comment: According to an internal investigation by the CIA's own inspector general - this is a heavily redacted declassified copy. KSM was denied sleep for 180 hours in a row or about seven and a half days. And still he didn't break.

Jose Rodriguez: He was the toughest detainee that we had. No doubt.

Editorial Comment: So he was subjected to waterboarding, specifically 183 "pourings" of water in about half a dozen separate sessions. Jose Rodriguez said the average pour lasted10 seconds.

Jose Rodriguez: Can I say something about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? He's the one that was responsible for the death of Danny Pearl, the Wall Street reporter. He slit his throat in front of a camera. I don't know what type of man it takes to cut the throat of someone in front of you like that, but I can tell you that this is an individual who probably didn't give a rat's ass about having water poured on his face.

Lesley Stahl: He never believed for one second you were going to kill him.

Jose Rodriguez: No. And let me just tell you. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would use his fingers to count the number of seconds, because he knew that in all likelihood, we would stop at 10. So this doesn't sound like a person who is afraid of dying.

Lesley Stahl: If he's sitting there counting off, he knows you're not going to kill him. He knows he's not going to drown. Then why do it? What's the point?

Jose Rodriguez: Well, I think that the cumulative effect of waterboarding and sleep deprivation and everything else that was done eventually got to him.

Lesley Stahl: So what happens? Does he break down? Does he weep? Does he fall apart?

Jose Rodriguez: No. He gets a good night's sleep. He gets his Ensure. By the way, he was very heavy when he came to us and he lost 50 pounds. So--

Lesley Stahl: What his Ensure? You mean like people in the hospital who drink that stuff?

Jose Rodriguez: Yes. Dietary manipulation was part of these-- our techniques.

Lesley Stahl: So sleep deprivation, dietary manipulation. I mean, this is Orwellian stuff. The United States doesn't do that.

Jose Rodriguez: Well, we do.

Editorial Comment: The question is whether the information they got from KSM was truthful and helpful. In his report, the CIA's inspector general says that the CIA's office of medical services concluded that when it came to the waterboarding--

Lesley Stahl: There was no reason to think that it had been effective or that it was safe. This is your inspector general.

Jose Rodriguez: Well our own inspector general in many cases did very sloppy work. That report is flawed in many different ways.

Lesley Stahl: Why would they make it up?

Jose Rodriguez: I don't know if it's made up. I don't know if they were advocates. You know, the inspector general himself, he was opposed to this. I mean, but this was the policy. So he was wrong.

Editorial Comment: But many of the tips from detainees reportedly led to blind alleys and expensive wild goose chases. Jose Rodriguez maintains the information from KSM and the other detainees enabled the CIA to disrupt at least 10 large scale terrorist plots.

Lesley Stahl: Would the plots have been stopped without the harsh interrogation techniques? In other words, could it have happened without waterboarding?

Jose Rodriguez: I can't answer that question. Perhaps. But the issue here was timing. We needed information and we needed it right away to protect the homeland.

Lesley Stahl: You told us that the whole rationale, justification for the whole interrogation program was to stop an imminent attack. The inspector general says it didn't stop any imminent attack.

Jose Rodriguez: I submit to you that we don't know. We don't know if, for example, al Qaeda would have been able to continue on with their anthrax program or nuclear program or the second wave of attacks or the sleeper agents that they had inside the United States that were working with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to take down the Brooklyn Bridge, for example. So, it's easy, years later, to say, "Well, you know, no ticking time bomb-- nothing was stopped."

Lesley Stahl: But the truth is about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, you really didn't break him.

Jose Rodriguez: Why? Why do you say that?

Lesley Stahl: Well, he didn't tell you about Osama bin Laden. He didn't tell you how to get him. He didn't tell you how to find him.

Jose Rodriguez: Some of these people were not going to tell us everything.

Lesley Stahl: So you don't break 'em.

Jose Rodriguez: There is a limit, there is a limit to what they will tell us. Actually KSM lied about the courier - whose identity finally led to the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where the terrorist leader he calls Sheikh bin Laden was hiding.

Lesley Stahl: Now, here's what I heard: that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told you the courier had retired and threw you off the scent for a while.

Jose Rodriguez: That was the one secret he was going to take to the grave, and that was the protection of the Sheikh. He was not going to tell us.

Editorial Comment: One of the secrets Jose Rodriguez had hoped to take to his grave was exposed in 2007: the CIA had videotaped the interrogation of two of its detainees, including Abu Zubaydah.

Jose Rodriguez: The reason why we taped Abu Zubaydah was because we-- he was very wounded when he was captured. And we feared that he was gonna die in captivity. So we wanted to show the world that we actually had nothing to do with his death. That you know, he died on his own.

Lesley Stahl: Well, that's ironic. You wanted to have a video record that he was being well treated, but in the end they became-- a video record that he had been subjected to these harsh techniques.

Jose Rodriguez: Yeah, we weren't hiding anything.

Lesley Stahl: But you then ordered these tapes destroyed.

Jose Rodriguez: Correct. Ninety-two tapes.

Lesley Stahl: Ninety-two tapes. Why did you order that they be destroyed?

Jose Rodriguez: To protect the people who worked for me and who were at those black sites and whose faces were shown on the tape.

Lesley Stahl: Protect them from what?

Jose Rodriguez: Protect them from al Qaeda ever getting their hands on these tapes and using them to go after them and their families.

Editorial Comment: He was also worried about the very survival of the CIA's dark side, the Clandestine Service because of the so-called Abu Ghraib effect.

Jose Rodriguez: I was concerned that the distinction between a legally-authorized program as our enhanced interrogation program was, and illegal activity by a bunch of psychopaths would not be made. He says that CIA lawyers repeatedly asked the White House, Justice Department and Vice President Cheney's office for permission to shred the tapes. But--

Jose Rodriguez: Nobody was making a decision to proceed.

Lesley Stahl: So one day you just said, "The hell with it. I have this authority. I'm going to do it."

Jose Rodriguez: One day I finally called in my advisers and lawyers and say: "Tell me, ok. Tell me again that this is legal. And tell me that I have the authority to do this." When the answer I received was "yes" and "yes," then I said, "Well, I am going to make this decision, and do it myself."

Lesley Stahl: Boom! They were destroyed.

Jose Rodriguez: Yes. They were destroyed in an industrial-strength shredder.

Lesley Stahl: Here's what you write in your book. You took the president's, the vice president's silence on this to mean they were really relieved that you had taken this on yourself and had done it. That's what you write.

Jose Rodriguez: Correct.

Lesley Stahl: There are people who feel what you did it as a coverup.

Jose Rodriguez: Everything that was on those tapes were authorized activities by the U.S. government. So there was nothing to cover up. Yet after the story broke in the newspapers, the Justice Department launched a criminal investigation. Ultimately, Jose Rodriguez was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing. By then the CIA's inspector general's report was partly declassified, detailing some of the program's excesses.

Lesley Stahl: Mock executions. People threatened with power drills.

Jose Rodriguez: Yes.

Lesley Stahl: People told that, that you were gonna go and hurt their children, rape their wives.

Jose Rodriguez: Stupid things that were done by people who had no authority to do that.

Lesley Stahl: And they just took it on themselves.

Jose Rodriguez: Correct. And we found out about it and we self-reported, and actually called in the I.G. and said, "You better take a look at what these people did and do what you need to do."

Lesley Stahl: You have some people out there who were taken to black sites. They were subjected to terrible treatment. And they hadn't done anything. I mean they were taken mistakenly. They disappeared. What about them?

Jose Rodriguez: No doubt when you are involved in complicated covert action programs like this one, that some mistakes will be made.

Editorial Comment: Jose Rodriguez retired from the CIA in January 2008. He has spent the last year writing his book, published by the CBS company Simon and Schuster. In the book he says that by cancelling the interrogation program, President Obama has tied the government's hands in the war on terror.]

Jose Rodriguez: We don't capture anybody any more, Lesley.// 13:31:32 You know their default option of this Administration has been to kill all prisoners. Take no prisoners.

Lesley Stahl: The drones.

Jose Rodriguez: The drones. How could it be more ethical to kill people rather than capture them. I never understood that one.

Lesley Stahl: President Obama has said that what we did was torture.

Jose Rodriguez: Well, President Obama is entitled to his opinion. When President Obama condemns the covert action activities of a previous government, he is breaking the covenant that exists between intelligence officers who are at the pointy end of the spear, hanging way out there, and the government that authorized them and directed them to go there.

Lesley Stahl: John McCain. A huge critic of this program. He had been tortured, so we know where he's coming from. Here's what he said: "It's killing us that America will sink to the level of its worst enemies. We forfeited our values," he said. And I guess what I wanna ask is, didn't it actually change who we are? What we think we're about? I mean, we think we-- we're the country that doesn't do that. Right?

Jose Rodriguez: I am very secure in, in what we did and I am very confident that what we did saved American lives.

johnkarls
Posts: 1712
Joined: Fri Jun 29, 2007 8:43 pm

President Obama's "Kill List"

Post by johnkarls »

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Originally Posted by johnkarls Tue Jun 05, 2012 4:38 am
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As we have studied in the past, "water boarding" was the official policy of the Clinton Administration per Tim Russert's question to, and ensuing comments with, candidate Hillary Clinton during the first Democratic Presidential Candidate Debate at Dartmouth College on 9/28/2007.

As we have also studied in the past, all of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" employed by the CIA during the Bush Administration EXCEPT WATER BOARDING had been approved as NOT comprising “torture” in a 1/28/1978 decision by The European Court of Human Rights (which was established in 1952 and has jurisdiction over 47 European countries) in litigation between the Irish Republican Army and Great Britain. Details concerning that decision are available on this Bulletin Board under "Reference Materials" for our 5/14/2008 meeting.

[NB: The International Criminal Court at the Hague was established in 2002 by the so-called Rome Statute and has jurisdiction over 121 nations including most of the 47 European countries – 32 additional nations have signed but NOT ratified the Rome Statute and 41 nations (including the United States) have rejected it. The ICC has substantive jurisdiction over four crimes = genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression. The definitions of “crimes against humanity” and “war crimes” both include “torture” but torture is not defined further. However, the Rome Statute specifies that the basis for its substantive jurisdiction is “The Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949” so, despite the extremely-limited number of cases that the ICC has handled since its founding in 2002, the ICC would presumably be limited in interpreting “torture” by the IRA/British decision of The European Court of Human Rights which was established in 1952 after promulgation of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and which reached its decision in 1978 also, of course, after promulgation of the Geneva Conventions.]

Water boarding was not at issue in the IRA/British case, so the European Court of Human Rights has NEVER expressed an opinion on whether water boarding comprises "torture." And, indeed, as we have also studied, the Obama Administration has gone to great lengths in all of its prosecutions of terrorists to avoid having any court define "terrorism"!!! [Even risking acquittals on all 285 criminal charges in the prosecution in NYC of Ahmed Ghailani for, inter alia, the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania which killed 224 people -- because of the refusal of the Obama Administration to permit the court to define “terrorism,” on 11/17/2010 Ghailani was acquitted on 284 of the 285 counts and convicted on only one.]

In comparing/contrasting the "enhanced interrogation techniques" described in "Hard Measures," we should also compare President Obama's "Kill List" since, as we have also studied in the past, killing is certainly "torture" (particularly when attempts to kill result only in maiming) and perhaps also "cruel and unusual punishment." [NB: our 12/15/2010 meeting focused solely on this issue when our topic was "The US Gov's 'Kill List' to Assassinate US Citizens in Yemen."]

Here is the 5/29/2012 NY Times article on President Obama's Kill List –

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New York Times – 5/29/2012

Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will
By Jo Becker and Scott Shane

WASHINGTON — This was the enemy, served up in the latest chart from the intelligence agencies: 15 Qaeda suspects in Yemen with Western ties. The mug shots and brief biographies resembled a high school yearbook layout. Several were Americans. Two were teenagers, including a girl who looked even younger than her 17 years.

President Obama, overseeing the regular Tuesday counterterrorism meeting of two dozen security officials in the White House Situation Room, took a moment to study the faces. It was Jan. 19, 2010, the end of a first year in office punctuated by terrorist plots and culminating in a brush with catastrophe over Detroit on Christmas Day, a reminder that a successful attack could derail his presidency. Yet he faced adversaries without uniforms, often indistinguishable from the civilians around them.

“How old are these people?” he asked, according to two officials present. “If they are starting to use children,” he said of Al Qaeda, “we are moving into a whole different phase.”

It was not a theoretical question: Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret “nominations” process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical. He had vowed to align the fight against Al Qaeda with American values; the chart, introducing people whose deaths he might soon be asked to order, underscored just what a moral and legal conundrum this could be.

Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.

“He is determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these operations will go,” said Thomas E. Donilon, his national security adviser. “His view is that he’s responsible for the position of the United States in the world.” He added, “He’s determined to keep the tether pretty short.”

Nothing else in Mr. Obama’s first term has baffled liberal supporters and confounded conservative critics alike as his aggressive counterterrorism record. His actions have often remained inscrutable, obscured by awkward secrecy rules, polarized political commentary and the president’s own deep reserve.

In interviews with The New York Times, three dozen of his current and former advisers described Mr. Obama’s evolution since taking on the role, without precedent in presidential history, of personally overseeing the shadow war with Al Qaeda.

They describe a paradoxical leader who shunned the legislative deal-making required to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, but approves lethal action without hand-wringing. While he was adamant about narrowing the fight and improving relations with the Muslim world, he has followed the metastasizing enemy into new and dangerous lands. When he applies his lawyering skills to counterterrorism, it is usually to enable, not constrain, his ferocious campaign against Al Qaeda — even when it comes to killing an American cleric in Yemen, a decision that Mr. Obama told colleagues was “an easy one.”

His first term has seen private warnings from top officials about a “Whac-A-Mole” approach to counterterrorism; the invention of a new category of aerial attack following complaints of careless targeting; and presidential acquiescence in a formula for counting civilian deaths that some officials think is skewed to produce low numbers.

The administration’s failure to forge a clear detention policy has created the impression among some members of Congress of a take-no-prisoners policy. And Mr. Obama’s ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron P. Munter, has complained to colleagues that the C.I.A.’s strikes drive American policy there, saying “he didn’t realize his main job was to kill people,” a colleague said.

Beside the president at every step is his counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, who is variously compared by colleagues to a dogged police detective, tracking terrorists from his cavelike office in the White House basement, or a priest whose blessing has become indispensable to Mr. Obama, echoing the president’s attempt to apply the “just war” theories of Christian philosophers to a brutal modern conflict.

But the strikes that have eviscerated Al Qaeda — just since April, there have been 14 in Yemen, and 6 in Pakistan — have also tested both men’s commitment to the principles they have repeatedly said are necessary to defeat the enemy in the long term. Drones have replaced Guantánamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants; in his 2010 guilty plea, Faisal Shahzad, who had tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square, justified targeting civilians by telling the judge, “When the drones hit, they don’t see children.”

Dennis C. Blair, director of national intelligence until he was fired in May 2010, said that discussions inside the White House of long-term strategy against Al Qaeda were sidelined by the intense focus on strikes. “The steady refrain in the White House was, ‘This is the only game in town’ — reminded me of body counts in Vietnam,” said Mr. Blair, a retired admiral who began his Navy service during that war.

Mr. Blair’s criticism, dismissed by White House officials as personal pique, nonetheless resonates inside the government.

William M. Daley, Mr. Obama’s chief of staff in 2011, said the president and his advisers understood that they could not keep adding new names to a kill list, from ever lower on the Qaeda totem pole. What remains unanswered is how much killing will be enough.

“One guy gets knocked off, and the guy’s driver, who’s No. 21, becomes 20?” Mr. Daley said, describing the internal discussion. “At what point are you just filling the bucket with numbers?”

********************
‘Maintain My Options’

A phalanx of retired generals and admirals stood behind Mr. Obama on the second day of his presidency, providing martial cover as he signed several executive orders to make good on campaign pledges. Brutal interrogation techniques were banned, he declared. And the prison at Guantánamo Bay would be closed.

What the new president did not say was that the orders contained a few subtle loopholes. They reflected a still unfamiliar Barack Obama, a realist who, unlike some of his fervent supporters, was never carried away by his own rhetoric. Instead, he was already putting his lawyerly mind to carving out the maximum amount of maneuvering room to fight terrorism as he saw fit.

It was a pattern that would be seen repeatedly, from his response to Republican complaints that he wanted to read terrorists their rights, to his acceptance of the C.I.A.’s method for counting civilian casualties in drone strikes.

The day before the executive orders were issued, the C.I.A.’s top lawyer, John A. Rizzo, had called the White House in a panic. The order prohibited the agency from operating detention facilities, closing once and for all the secret overseas “black sites” where interrogators had brutalized terrorist suspects.

“The way this is written, you are going to take us out of the rendition business,” Mr. Rizzo told Gregory B. Craig, Mr. Obama’s White House counsel, referring to the much-criticized practice of grabbing a terrorist suspect abroad and delivering him to another country for interrogation or trial. The problem, Mr. Rizzo explained, was that the C.I.A. sometimes held such suspects for a day or two while awaiting a flight. The order appeared to outlaw that.

Mr. Craig assured him that the new president had no intention of ending rendition — only its abuse, which could lead to American complicity in torture abroad. So a new definition of “detention facility” was inserted, excluding places used to hold people “on a short-term, transitory basis.” Problem solved — and no messy public explanation damped Mr. Obama’s celebration.

“Pragmatism over ideology,” his campaign national security team had advised in a memo in March 2008. It was counsel that only reinforced the president’s instincts.

Even before he was sworn in, Mr. Obama’s advisers had warned him against taking a categorical position on what would be done with Guantánamo detainees. The deft insertion of some wiggle words in the president’s order showed that the advice was followed.

Some detainees would be transferred to prisons in other countries, or released, it said. Some would be prosecuted — if “feasible” — in criminal courts. Military commissions, which Mr. Obama had criticized, were not mentioned — and thus not ruled out.

As for those who could not be transferred or tried but were judged too dangerous for release? Their “disposition” would be handled by “lawful means, consistent with the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice.”

A few sharp-eyed observers inside and outside the government understood what the public did not. Without showing his hand, Mr. Obama had preserved three major policies — rendition, military commissions and indefinite detention — that have been targets of human rights groups since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

But a year later, with Congress trying to force him to try all terrorism suspects using revamped military commissions, he deployed his legal skills differently — to preserve trials in civilian courts.

It was shortly after Dec. 25, 2009, following a close call in which a Qaeda-trained operative named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had boarded a Detroit-bound airliner with a bomb sewn into his underwear.

Mr. Obama was taking a drubbing from Republicans over the government’s decision to read the suspect his rights, a prerequisite for bringing criminal charges against him in civilian court.

The president “seems to think that if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won’t be at war,” former Vice President Dick Cheney charged.

Sensing vulnerability on both a practical and political level, the president summoned his attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., to the White House.

F.B.I. agents had questioned Mr. Abdulmutallab for 50 minutes and gained valuable intelligence before giving him the warning. They had relied on a 1984 case called New York v. Quarles, in which the Supreme Court ruled that statements made by a suspect in response to urgent public safety questions — the case involved the location of a gun — could be introduced into evidence even if the suspect had not been advised of the right to remain silent.

Mr. Obama, who Mr. Holder said misses the legal profession, got into a colloquy with the attorney general. How far, he asked, could Quarles be stretched? Mr. Holder felt that in terrorism cases, the court would allow indefinite questioning on a fairly broad range of subjects.

Satisfied with the edgy new interpretation, Mr. Obama gave his blessing, Mr. Holder recalled.

“Barack Obama believes in options: ‘Maintain my options,’ “ said Jeh C. Johnson, a campaign adviser and now general counsel of the Defense Department.

********************
‘They Must All Be Militants’

That same mind-set would be brought to bear as the president intensified what would become a withering campaign to use unmanned aircraft to kill Qaeda terrorists.

Just days after taking office, the president got word that the first strike under his administration had killed a number of innocent Pakistanis. “The president was very sharp on the thing, and said, ‘I want to know how this happened,’ “ a top White House adviser recounted.

In response to his concern, the C.I.A. downsized its munitions for more pinpoint strikes. In addition, the president tightened standards, aides say: If the agency did not have a “near certainty” that a strike would result in zero civilian deaths, Mr. Obama wanted to decide personally whether to go ahead.

The president’s directive reinforced the need for caution, counterterrorism officials said, but did not significantly change the program. In part, that is because “the protection of innocent life was always a critical consideration,” said Michael V. Hayden, the last C.I.A. director under President George W. Bush.

It is also because Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.

Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good. “Al Qaeda is an insular, paranoid organization — innocent neighbors don’t hitchhike rides in the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs,” said one official, who requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program.

This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths. In a speech last year Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s trusted adviser, said that not a single noncombatant had been killed in a year of strikes. And in a recent interview, a senior administration official said that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under Mr. Obama was in the “single digits” — and that independent counts of scores or hundreds of civilian deaths unwittingly draw on false propaganda claims by militants.

But in interviews, three former senior intelligence officials expressed disbelief that the number could be so low. The C.I.A. accounting has so troubled some administration officials outside the agency that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it “guilt by association” that has led to “deceptive” estimates of civilian casualties.

“It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants,” the official said. “They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.”

********************
‘A No-Brainer’

About four months into his presidency, as Republicans accused him of reckless naïveté on terrorism, Mr. Obama quickly pulled together a speech defending his policies. Standing before the Constitution at the National Archives in Washington, he mentioned Guantánamo 28 times, repeating his campaign pledge to close the prison.

But it was too late, and his defensive tone suggested that Mr. Obama knew it. Though President George W. Bush and Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican candidate, had supported closing the Guantánamo prison, Republicans in Congress had reversed course and discovered they could use the issue to portray Mr. Obama as soft on terrorism.

Walking out of the Archives, the president turned to his national security adviser at the time, Gen. James L. Jones, and admitted that he had never devised a plan to persuade Congress to shut down the prison.

“We’re never going to make that mistake again,” Mr. Obama told the retired Marine general.

General Jones said the president and his aides had assumed that closing the prison was “a no-brainer — the United States will look good around the world.” The trouble was, he added, “nobody asked, ‘O.K., let’s assume it’s a good idea, how are you going to do this?’ “

It was not only Mr. Obama’s distaste for legislative backslapping and arm-twisting, but also part of a deeper pattern, said an administration official who has watched him closely: the president seemed to have “a sense that if he sketches a vision, it will happen — without his really having thought through the mechanism by which it will happen.”

In fact, both Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the attorney general, Mr. Holder, had warned that the plan to close the Guantánamo prison was in peril, and they volunteered to fight for it on Capitol Hill, according to officials. But with Mr. Obama’s backing, his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, blocked them, saying health care reform had to go first.

When the administration floated a plan to transfer from Guantánamo to Northern Virginia two Uighurs, members of a largely Muslim ethnic minority from China who are considered no threat to the United States, Virginia Republicans led by Representative Frank R. Wolf denounced the idea. The administration backed down.

That show of weakness doomed the effort to close Guantánamo, the same administration official said. “Lyndon Johnson would have steamrolled the guy,” he said. “That’s not what happened. It’s like a boxing match where a cut opens over a guy’s eye.”

********************
The Use of Force

It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals: Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die.

This secret “nominations” process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia’s Shabab militia.

The video conferences are run by the Pentagon, which oversees strikes in those countries, and participants do not hesitate to call out a challenge, pressing for the evidence behind accusations of ties to Al Qaeda.

“What’s a Qaeda facilitator?” asked one participant, illustrating the spirit of the exchanges. “If I open a gate and you drive through it, am I a facilitator?” Given the contentious discussions, it can take five or six sessions for a name to be approved, and names go off the list if a suspect no longer appears to pose an imminent threat, the official said. A parallel, more cloistered selection process at the C.I.A. focuses largely on Pakistan, where that agency conducts strikes.

The nominations go to the White House, where by his own insistence and guided by Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama must approve any name. He signs off on every strike in Yemen and Somalia and also on the more complex and risky strikes in Pakistan — about a third of the total.

Aides say Mr. Obama has several reasons for becoming so immersed in lethal counterterrorism operations. A student of writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, he believes that he should take moral responsibility for such actions. And he knows that bad strikes can tarnish America’s image and derail diplomacy.

“He realizes this isn’t science, this is judgments made off of, most of the time, human intelligence,” said Mr. Daley, the former chief of staff. “The president accepts as a fact that a certain amount of screw-ups are going to happen, and to him, that calls for a more judicious process.”

But the control he exercises also appears to reflect Mr. Obama’s striking self-confidence: he believes, according to several people who have worked closely with him, that his own judgment should be brought to bear on strikes.

Asked what surprised him most about Mr. Obama, Mr. Donilon, the national security adviser, answered immediately: “He’s a president who is quite comfortable with the use of force on behalf of the United States.”

In fact, in a 2007 campaign speech in which he vowed to pull the United States out of Iraq and refocus on Al Qaeda, Mr. Obama had trumpeted his plan to go after terrorist bases in Pakistan — even if Pakistani leaders objected. His rivals at the time, including Mitt Romney, Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Mrs. Clinton, had all pounced on what they considered a greenhorn’s campaign bluster. (Mr. Romney said Mr. Obama had become “Dr. Strangelove.”)

In office, however, Mr. Obama has done exactly what he had promised, coming quickly to rely on the judgment of Mr. Brennan.

Mr. Brennan, a son of Irish immigrants, is a grizzled 25-year veteran of the C.I.A. whose work as a top agency official during the brutal interrogations of the Bush administration made him a target of fierce criticism from the left. He had been forced, under fire, to withdraw his name from consideration to lead the C.I.A. under Mr. Obama, becoming counterterrorism chief instead.

Some critics of the drone strategy still vilify Mr. Brennan, suggesting that he is the C.I.A.’s agent in the White House, steering Mr. Obama to a targeted killing strategy. But in office, Mr. Brennan has surprised many former detractors by speaking forcefully for closing Guantánamo and respecting civil liberties.

Harold H. Koh, for instance, as dean of Yale Law School was a leading liberal critic of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies. But since becoming the State Department’s top lawyer, Mr. Koh said, he has found in Mr. Brennan a principled ally.

“If John Brennan is the last guy in the room with the president, I’m comfortable, because Brennan is a person of genuine moral rectitude,” Mr. Koh said. “It’s as though you had a priest with extremely strong moral values who was suddenly charged with leading a war.”

The president values Mr. Brennan’s experience in assessing intelligence, from his own agency or others, and for the sobriety with which he approaches lethal operations, other aides say.

“The purpose of these actions is to mitigate threats to U.S. persons’ lives,” Mr. Brennan said in an interview. “It is the option of last recourse. So the president, and I think all of us here, don’t like the fact that people have to die. And so he wants to make sure that we go through a rigorous checklist: The infeasibility of capture, the certainty of the intelligence base, the imminence of the threat, all of these things.”

Yet the administration’s very success at killing terrorism suspects has been shadowed by a suspicion: that Mr. Obama has avoided the complications of detention by deciding, in effect, to take no prisoners alive. While scores of suspects have been killed under Mr. Obama, only one has been taken into American custody, and the president has balked at adding new prisoners to Guantánamo.

“Their policy is to take out high-value targets, versus capturing high-value targets,” said Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the intelligence committee. “They are not going to advertise that, but that’s what they are doing.”

Mr. Obama’s aides deny such a policy, arguing that capture is often impossible in the rugged tribal areas of Pakistan and Yemen and that many terrorist suspects are in foreign prisons because of American tips. Still, senior officials at the Justice Department and the Pentagon acknowledge that they worry about the public perception.

“We have to be vigilant to avoid a no-quarter, or take-no-prisoners policy,” said Mr. Johnson, the Pentagon’s chief lawyer.

********************
Trade-Offs

The care that Mr. Obama and his counterterrorism chief take in choosing targets, and their reliance on a precision weapon, the drone, reflect his pledge at the outset of his presidency to reject what he called the Bush administration’s “false choice between our safety and our ideals.”

But he has found that war is a messy business, and his actions show that pursuing an enemy unbound by rules has required moral, legal and practical trade-offs that his speeches did not envision.

One early test involved Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban. The case was problematic on two fronts, according to interviews with both administration and Pakistani sources.

The C.I.A. worried that Mr. Mehsud, whose group then mainly targeted the Pakistan government, did not meet the Obama administration’s criteria for targeted killing: he was not an imminent threat to the United States. But Pakistani officials wanted him dead, and the American drone program rested on their tacit approval. The issue was resolved after the president and his advisers found that he represented a threat, if not to the homeland, to American personnel in Pakistan.

Then, in August 2009, the C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, told Mr. Brennan that the agency had Mr. Mehsud in its sights. But taking out the Pakistani Taliban leader, Mr. Panetta warned, did not meet Mr. Obama’s standard of “near certainty” of no innocents being killed. In fact, a strike would certainly result in such deaths: he was with his wife at his in-laws’ home.

“Many times,” General Jones said, in similar circumstances, “at the 11th hour we waved off a mission simply because the target had people around them and we were able to loiter on station until they didn’t.”

But not this time. Mr. Obama, through Mr. Brennan, told the C.I.A. to take the shot, and Mr. Mehsud was killed, along with his wife and, by some reports, other family members as well, said a senior intelligence official.

The attempted bombing of an airliner a few months later, on Dec. 25, stiffened the president’s resolve, aides say. It was the culmination of a series of plots, including the killing of 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex. by an Army psychiatrist who had embraced radical Islam.

Mr. Obama is a good poker player, but he has a tell when he is angry. His questions become rapid-fire, said his attorney general, Mr. Holder. “He’ll inject the phrase, ‘I just want to make sure you understand that.’ “ And it was clear to everyone, Mr. Holder said, that he was simmering about how a 23-year-old bomber had penetrated billions of dollars worth of American security measures.

When a few officials tentatively offered a defense, noting that the attack had failed because the terrorists were forced to rely on a novice bomber and an untested formula because of stepped-up airport security, Mr. Obama cut them short.

“Well, he could have gotten it right and we’d all be sitting here with an airplane that blew up and killed over a hundred people,” he said, according to a participant. He asked them to use the close call to imagine in detail the consequences if the bomb had detonated. In characteristic fashion, he went around the room, asking each official to explain what had gone wrong and what needed to be done about it.

“After that, as president, it seemed like he felt in his gut the threat to the United States,” said Michael E. Leiter, then director of the National Counterterrorism Center. “Even John Brennan, someone who was already a hardened veteran of counterterrorism, tightened the straps on his rucksack after that.”

David Axelrod, the president’s closest political adviser, began showing up at the “Terror Tuesday” meetings, his unspeaking presence a visible reminder of what everyone understood: a successful attack would overwhelm the president’s other aspirations and achievements.

In the most dramatic possible way, the Fort Hood shootings in November and the attempted Christmas Day bombing had shown the new danger from Yemen. Mr. Obama, who had rejected the Bush-era concept of a global war on terrorism and had promised to narrow the American focus to Al Qaeda’s core, suddenly found himself directing strikes in another complicated Muslim country.

The very first strike under his watch in Yemen, on Dec. 17, 2009, offered a stark example of the difficulties of operating in what General Jones described as an “embryonic theater that we weren’t really familiar with.”

It killed not only its intended target, but also two neighboring families, and left behind a trail of cluster bombs that subsequently killed more innocents. It was hardly the kind of precise operation that Mr. Obama favored. Videos of children’s bodies and angry tribesmen holding up American missile parts flooded You Tube, fueling a ferocious backlash that Yemeni officials said bolstered Al Qaeda.

The sloppy strike shook Mr. Obama and Mr. Brennan, officials said, and once again they tried to impose some discipline.

In Pakistan, Mr. Obama had approved not only “personality” strikes aimed at named, high-value terrorists, but “signature” strikes that targeted training camps and suspicious compounds in areas controlled by militants.

But some State Department officials have complained to the White House that the criteria used by the C.I.A. for identifying a terrorist “signature” were too lax. The joke was that when the C.I.A. sees “three guys doing jumping jacks,” the agency thinks it is a terrorist training camp, said one senior official. Men loading a truck with fertilizer could be bombmakers — but they might also be farmers, skeptics argued.

Now, in the wake of the bad first strike in Yemen, Mr. Obama overruled military and intelligence commanders who were pushing to use signature strikes there as well.

“We are not going to war with Yemen,” he admonished in one meeting, according to participants.

His guidance was formalized in a memo by General Jones, who called it a “governor, if you will, on the throttle,” intended to remind everyone that “one should not assume that it’s just O.K. to do these things because we spot a bad guy somewhere in the world.”

Mr. Obama had drawn a line. But within two years, he stepped across it. Signature strikes in Pakistan were killing a large number of terrorist suspects, even when C.I.A. analysts were not certain beforehand of their presence. And in Yemen, roiled by the Arab Spring unrest, the Qaeda affiliate was seizing territory.

Today, the Defense Department can target suspects in Yemen whose names they do not know. Officials say the criteria are tighter than those for signature strikes, requiring evidence of a threat to the United States, and they have even given them a new name — TADS, for Terrorist Attack Disruption Strikes. But the details are a closely guarded secret — part of a pattern for a president who came into office promising transparency.

********************
The Ultimate Test

On that front, perhaps no case would test Mr. Obama’s principles as starkly as that of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric and Qaeda propagandist hiding in Yemen, who had recently risen to prominence and had taunted the president by name in some of his online screeds.

The president “was very interested in obviously trying to understand how a guy like Awlaki developed,” said General Jones. The cleric’s fiery sermons had helped inspire a dozen plots, including the shootings at Fort Hood. Then he had gone “operational,” plotting with Mr. Abdulmutallab and coaching him to ignite his explosives only after the airliner was over the United States.

That record, and Mr. Awlaki’s calls for more attacks, presented Mr. Obama with an urgent question: Could he order the targeted killing of an American citizen, in a country with which the United States was not at war, in secret and without the benefit of a trial?

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel prepared a lengthy memo justifying that extraordinary step, asserting that while the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process applied, it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.

Mr. Obama gave his approval, and Mr. Awlaki was killed in September 2011, along with a fellow propagandist, Samir Khan, an American citizen who was not on the target list but was traveling with him.

If the president had qualms about this momentous step, aides said he did not share them. Mr. Obama focused instead on the weight of the evidence showing that the cleric had joined the enemy and was plotting more terrorist attacks.

“This is an easy one,” Mr. Daley recalled him saying, though the president warned that in future cases, the evidence might well not be so clear.

In the wake of Mr. Awlaki’s death, some administration officials, including the attorney general, argued that the Justice Department’s legal memo should be made public. In 2009, after all, Mr. Obama had released Bush administration legal opinions on interrogation over the vociferous objections of six former C.I.A. directors.

This time, contemplating his own secrets, he chose to keep the Awlaki opinion secret.

“Once it’s your pop stand, you look at things a little differently,” said Mr. Rizzo, the C.I.A.’s former general counsel.

Mr. Hayden, the former C.I.A. director and now an adviser to Mr. Obama’s Republican challenger, Mr. Romney, commended the president’s aggressive counterterrorism record, which he said had a “Nixon to China” quality. But, he said, “secrecy has its costs” and Mr. Obama should open the strike strategy up to public scrutiny.

“This program rests on the personal legitimacy of the president, and that’s not sustainable,” Mr. Hayden said. “I have lived the life of someone taking action on the basis of secret O.L.C. memos, and it ain’t a good life. Democracies do not make war on the basis of legal memos locked in a D.O.J. safe.”

********************
Tactics Over Strategy

In his June 2009 speech in Cairo, aimed at resetting relations with the Muslim world, Mr. Obama had spoken eloquently of his childhood years in Indonesia, hearing the call to prayer “at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk.”

“The United States is not — and never will be — at war with Islam,” he declared.

But in the months that followed, some officials felt the urgency of counterterrorism strikes was crowding out consideration of a broader strategy against radicalization. Though Mrs. Clinton strongly supported the strikes, she complained to colleagues about the drones-only approach at Situation Room meetings, in which discussion would focus exclusively on the pros, cons and timing of particular strikes.

At their weekly lunch, Mrs. Clinton told the president she thought there should be more attention paid to the root causes of radicalization, and Mr. Obama agreed. But it was September 2011 before he issued an executive order setting up a sophisticated, interagency war room at the State Department to counter the jihadi narrative on an hour-by-hour basis, posting messages and video online and providing talking points to embassies.

Mr. Obama was heartened, aides say, by a letter discovered in the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. It complained that the American president had undermined Al Qaeda’s support by repeatedly declaring that the United States was at war not with Islam, but with the terrorist network. “We must be doing a good job,” Mr. Obama told his secretary of state.

Moreover, Mr. Obama’s record has not drawn anything like the sweeping criticism from allies that his predecessor faced. John B. Bellinger III, a top national security lawyer under the Bush administration, said that was because Mr. Obama’s liberal reputation and “softer packaging” have protected him. “After the global outrage over Guantánamo, it’s remarkable that the rest of the world has looked the other way while the Obama administration has conducted hundreds of drone strikes in several different countries, including killing at least some civilians,” said Mr. Bellinger, who supports the strikes.

By withdrawing from Iraq and preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan, Mr. Obama has refocused the fight on Al Qaeda and hugely reduced the death toll both of American soldiers and Muslim civilians. But in moments of reflection, Mr. Obama may have reason to wonder about unfinished business and unintended consequences.

His focus on strikes has made it impossible to forge, for now, the new relationship with the Muslim world that he had envisioned. Both Pakistan and Yemen are arguably less stable and more hostile to the United States than when Mr. Obama became president.

Justly or not, drones have become a provocative symbol of American power, running roughshod over national sovereignty and killing innocents. With China and Russia watching, the United States has set an international precedent for sending drones over borders to kill enemies.

Mr. Blair, the former director of national intelligence, said the strike campaign was dangerously seductive. “It is the politically advantageous thing to do — low cost, no U.S. casualties, gives the appearance of toughness,” he said. “It plays well domestically, and it is unpopular only in other countries. Any damage it does to the national interest only shows up over the long term.”

But Mr. Blair’s dissent puts him in a small minority of security experts. Mr. Obama’s record has eroded the political perception that Democrats are weak on national security. No one would have imagined four years ago that his counterterrorism policies would come under far more fierce attack from the American Civil Liberties Union than from Mr. Romney.

Aides say that Mr. Obama’s choices, though, are not surprising. The president’s reliance on strikes, said Mr. Leiter, the former head of the National Counterterrorism Center, “is far from a lurid fascination with covert action and special forces. It’s much more practical. He’s the president. He faces a post-Abdulmutallab situation, where he’s being told people might attack the United States tomorrow.”

“You can pass a lot of laws,” Mr. Leiter said, “Those laws are not going to get Bin Laden dead.”

Pat
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Samuel L. Jackson = CIA Torturer in “Unthinkable”

Post by Pat »

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Originally Posted by Pat » Tue Jun 05, 2012 6:38 pm
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I propose we should also consider the feasibility of viewing as a group (or at least encouraging our members to view individually before our meeting if this topic is selected) the 2010 movie “Unthinkable” starring Samuel L. Jackson as a CIA torturer.

“Unthinkable” involves a terrorist who has planted nuclear weapons in three American cities and the moral struggles of a DOJ attorney and FBI agent, both of whom oppose torture on principle but are forced to change their minds in the face of millions of American casualties.

Samuel L. Jackson also disposes of the myth that information obtained by torture is undependable since, of course, such information can be compared to other sources and, indeed, in the case at hand could be compared with the physical reality of the nuclear weapons located and disarmed.

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