Democracy Arsenal

April 22, 2008

Human Rights, Intelligence, Terrorism

What the heck is going on down there?
Posted by Ken Gude

I fail to understand how the Bush administration could have screwed up its detainee policy so badly. Yes, their record is a long catalog of catastrophic failures, from the grossly flawed strategy in Iraq to the complete indifference during Katrina. But the issue of detaining and interrogating suspected al Qaeda terrorists is different--they cared as much or more about it as they did getting rid of Saddam Hussein, but they gave the job to a whole bunch of Brownies, and they sure have been doin' a heck uva job.

The latest evidence comes from a story in today's Washington Post and a book excerpt that ran in the Guardian last Saturday. The Post story details allegations from Guantanamo detainees that they were forcibly drugged during interrogations, transfers, and to restrain them in their cells. While it seems unlikely (though not impossible) that there was widespread use of drugs during interrogations, the most plausible explanations for the consistent accounts from detainees is that they were given chemical restraints to subdue them and those administering the drugs had no idea what they were doing.

Philippe Sands, in his new book Torture Team, portions of which were re-printed in the Guardian over the weekend, uncovered more stories of mind boggling inexperience and incompetence. Topping the list was the revelation that the source of greatest inspiration during the development of interrogations techniques at Guantanamo was none other than Jack Bauer. Yes, the guy from 24, and no, I am not kidding. The junior staff lawyer responsible for approving the list of techniques told Sands that Bauer "gave people lots of ideas."

The Bush administration believed that interrogating terrorist suspects was so important that bedrock principles which formed the basis of our military culture for decades were "obsolete". The reason why they thought it was so important was that they feared we were all going to die in another al Qaeda attack and information gained from interrogations was in some cases our first and only line of defense. But instead of bringing in experienced interrogators and knowledgeable regional and al Qaeda experts, we got Dr. Quinn and Jack Bauer. This is the nature of my confusion.

January 28, 2008


Un-tortured past at root of CIA's interrogation problems?
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Newly minted national-security correspondent for the newly minted Washington Independent, Spencer Ackerman, has an insightful piece on the CIA’s role in interrogating detainees since 9/11. He examines how the agency’s lack of institutional knowledge on interrogations has, in-part, led to the flaunting of international law and dubious interrogation methods that have been exposed over the past several years. Ackerman also points to how the Bush Administration’s insistence that the CIA take a lead role on interrogations—historically outside the CIA’s purview—has been central to why unlawful and unreliable methods such as waterboarding have been utilized:

Yet, until 9/11, the agency had limited experience with interrogation, and had few people on staff who had even conducted one. Most of the CIA’s experience had involved consulting with partner intelligence agencies on how to torture, …But 9/11 changed all that. Despite having nearly no off-the-shelf experience, the CIA was tasked by President Bush to come up with a     robust interrogation program for the most important al-Qaeda captives. So the agency turned to its partners for assistance in designing its interrogation regimen: Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia—all countries cited by the State Department for using torture—among others. Additionally, as Mark Benjamin has reported for Salon, two psychologists named Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, who worked as contractors for CIA, helped the agency "reverse-engineer" the military and CIA training on resisting torture for use on detainees. Suddenly, waterboarding, an illegal practice of simulating or in some cases inducing drowning, became an American-administered practice.

Now the big question is why did the Administration direct the CIA to lead interrogations when they had neither the capabilities nor personnel nor experience to do so. Perhaps the fact the agency doesn't fall under the auspices of the Army Field Manual provides at least a partial explanation.

October 18, 2007


Military and Academe: the Anthropology Question
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

There is an important new debate raging right now between academic anthropologists and "in the field" anthropologists who are working to bring more cultural knowledge to the federal government--and to the forces fighting in the field. There are some really great blogs out there discussing this issue. Kings of War is one of is a group out of Kings College in London. Some of the links on this peacebuilding blog and this civil-military blog, too. are really worth bookmarking....

BTW the Reserve Officers Association and the Foreign Policy Research Institute convened a conference on Monday on the state of American civil-military relations---amidst two ongoing wars. The whole webcast will be posted here soon. I watched as much as possible on a broken down old modem at my mom's farm, but look forward to listening to the whole thing soon.

Why is this stuff important for DA readers? Because if we don't assert the need for a long term beneficial policy discussion now, and keep our eyes on the prize of a new strategy for security and a government reformation to deal with it--all the important lessons of the Iraq and Afghanistan war will drown in election 08 rhetoric (Just watch Giuliani ratched up the insanity barometer on national security, I listened to POTUS 08 satellite radio on the long drives in New Mexico this week...and heard one too many of his rants. He seems to insist genuinely on knowing nothing. And I rarely say that about anyone who tries to engage)

That small group of people who work in between politics and policy take note: the civil-military relationship is the cornerstone of US democracy---wither this relationship is wither our governing system. That is why it will benefit all of us who care about both, who sit at this intersection, to get really, really good on these issues. The center-right is already on top of it. So we'll miss out if we don't grab it for ourselves soon.

February 05, 2007

Defense, Intelligence, Iraq, Middle East, Potpourri, Terrorism

Counterinsurgency warfare as military malpractice
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Edward Luttwak of CSIS has a piece in this month's Harper's called "Counterinsurgency warfare as military malpractice." Luttwak begins with a critical analysis of the Army's new counterinsurgency field manual, FM 3-24 DRAFT, written by David Petraeus, among others, then moves on apply this to Iraq. He concludes that the new counterinsrgency manual's "prescriptions are in the end of little or no use and amount to a kind of malpractice. All its best methods, all its clever tactics, all the treasure and blood that the United States has been willing to expend, cannot overcome the crippling ambivalence of occupiers who refuse to govern, and their principles and inevitable refusal to out-terrorize the insurgents...."

Read it (it's not available online-- you'll have to buy the magazine! Sorry).

January 04, 2007

Intelligence, State Dept.

Negroponte: Benched, or Deep Relief?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

I was waiting for The Washington Note to weigh in on what to think about John Negroponte stepping down as Director of National Intelligence to go be Rice's deputy at State.  But Steve Clemons seems to be trapped at some garden spot without a hard drive -- so let's think for ourselves:

Two-word comment:  Systemic Failure.  There's some amusing gossip/inside baseball/Kremlinology on this move, some of which I note below.  But fundamentally, the idea that a holder of the intelligence position could even consider leaving it for a lower-ranking government job suggests to me that the effort to reform how we manage intelligence has, ummm, not yet succeeded.  Something is very wrong if our senior intelligence job is less attractive than being the waterboy for ANY Secretary of State.

Three word comment:  Staying the Course:  Last May, Steve seemed to see Negroponte in his intel position as a key opponent of then-Secretary Rumsfeld.  Interesting that Rumsfeld's departure didn't make Negroponte want to stay/able to stay.  One should conclude, as if there wasn't enough evidence pouring in from other quarters, that this Administration is not planning to change in any fundamental way.   

Gossipy question: Jumped or Pushed?  That's how NPR framed it this morning. Negroponte told C-SPAN just last month that he was in it through this Administration.  I thought I heard someone on NPR say that Negroponte had also clashed with Rice in the past, but perhaps I hallucinated that in a pre-caffeine haze. 

I'll even leave you with a Thursday morning conspiracy theory:  what if this were a preliminary move because Rice is planning to leave State?  I don't expect that myself, but one could see Negroponte, a career foreign service officer, hoping to do a Lawrence Eagleburger and become Secretary briefly at the end of this Administration.   

September 15, 2006


Tortured Metaphors
Posted by Michael Signer

You know that old PR saw about you're losing when you're repeating your opponent's message?  (e.g. "Congressman X defended himself today against allegations that...")  You'd think Tony Snow would know better, but then, really, what's he supposed to do?  This is what he actually said in a press conference yesterday:

"Somehow I think there's this construct in people's minds that we want to restore the rack and start getting people screaming, having their bones crunching," Snow said. "And that's not at all what this is about."

Yes, that's exactly what was in my mind -- "having their bones crunching."  More likely, it's that the Administration is so haunted by how desperately, crazily wrong their whole approach is on torture and the Geneva Conventions, and how utterly they've lost touch with Congress, not to mention mainstream America, that it feels like torture.  Hence the ready metaphors.

This was a big deal yesterday.  Senator McCain has gone out of his way to cozy up to the President, yet he led a very principled charge, along with Senators Warner and Graham, to buck the Administration on their attempt to eviscerate (sorry, to interpret) Article III of the Geneva Conventions.  Amazing.  Even in an election year -- even from the Party that showed no hestitation about staging the original vote three weeks before the 2002 midterm elections -- the Senate leadership saw certain things as beyond the pale.

Continue reading "Tortured Metaphors" »

May 05, 2006


Answer: in the Watergate
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Question:  Where are the weapons of mass destruction?

This blog is far too high-tone to get into the down and dirty of what seems to have pushed Porter Goss out of the CIA in a big hurry.  But Laura Rozen over at warandpiece has great reporting on the first ripples of implications across the rest of the national security community.  And if you must have the juicy stuff, start with this primer from thinkprogress.

After you've stopped laughing, think about how hard the Iranians are laughing.  That's a real buzz-kill, isn't it? 

March 28, 2006


Fixing What Isn't Broken
Posted by Morton H. Halperin

This week the Senate Judiciary Committee is conducting another round of hearings on the NSA warrantless surveillance program.  I appeared before the committee today (you can read my testimony here) and I applaud Chairman Specter for conducting this series of hearings.

But the very fact that these hearings are required is disturbing.  As I have mentioned in earlier posts, this warrantless program is a clear violation of the law and all surveillance that is needed to protect national security can be effectively pursued under FISA.  It is even more mind-boggling that Congress is discussing granting far reaching new powers to the President in bills drafted by Specter and Senator DeWine.  Until the Bush Administration publicly makes its case as to why it needs additional powers to conduct surveillance, there is little reason to change FISA.  Instead of stretching FISA to accommodate vague power usurpation by the President, the actions of the President and the NSA must be brought within the law.

Continue reading "Fixing What Isn't Broken" »

February 28, 2006


What NSA Program?
Posted by Morton H. Halperin

The Senate Judiciary Committee today held its second hearing on the NSA warrantless surveillance activity.  There is increasing evidence that there is more than one NSA program and that the program(s) not yet discussed publicly are far more extensive than the "terrorist surveillance program" described by the President and the Attorney General.

On the eve of the hearing Senator Specter released a draft of his proposed bill to give the FISA court a role in the process.  Rather than just trying to find a way to have the court rule on the existing program, the proposed bill would authorize a sweeping surveillance program under a general warrant to be issued by the court. NSA would be permitted to intercept millions of phone conversations and other communications of people who came into contact with any foreign power, including even a friendly government.

One can only assume that whoever drafted this text is aware of what is really going on and is seeking to have Congress authorize all of the new NSA programs without the administration ever describing and defending what it is doing. This underscores the need for a full inquiry by the Congress. Congress must also insist that it would not provide any additional authority unless the President agrees to conduct all surveillance under the amended FISA rules.

Continue reading "What NSA Program?" »

February 16, 2006


Answers on Spying? Talk to the Hand...
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

VICE CHAIRMAN Rockefeller’s STATEMENT on the SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE’s failure to vote on whether to AUTHORIZE an investigation into the NSA surveillance program  Washington, DC -- Feb 16

Today, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence was scheduled to debate and vote on whether to authorize a committee investigation into the legal and operational aspects of the NSA warrantless surveillance program.  Unfortunately, using a procedural maneuver, the Chairman prevented the Vice Chairman from offering and voting on his proposal which outlined key questions before the Committee.   Prior to today’s meeting, all Committee members had an opportunity to review the Vice Chairman’s proposal and the Chairman had assured the Vice Chairman his proposal would be voted on. (Committee Investigation Proposal Attached.) The following is Senator Rockefeller’s statement:

Continue reading "Answers on Spying? Talk to the Hand..." »

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