Various items

Dick Cheney's ongoing fear-mongering. The media's befuddlement over Tom Daschle. More on Obama and renditions.

By Glenn Greenwald

Published February 4, 2009 6:24PM (EST)

(updated below - Update II - Update III)

Today is an extensive travel day, so posting time will likely be limited.  Several brief items to note:

(1) Dick Cheney gave a 90-minute interview to The Politico's John Harris, Mike Allen and Jim Vandhei that provides probably the most explicit expression of the warped mentality that drove the country over the last eight years.  The fear-mongering and false claims are far too numerous to chronicle here. 

I'll be on The Rachel Maddow Show tonight to discuss this interview and related issues. I believe my segment will begin roughly at 9:30 p.m.

In writing the article about the interview, Harris, Allen and Vandehei included a cursory paragraph noting that Democrats view Cheney as a "man who became unhinged by his fears, responsible for major misjudgments in Iraq and Afghanistan, willing to bend or break legal precedents and constitutional principles to advance his aims," but otherwise did nothing other than mindlessly repeat what Cheney said without a word of skepticism about it -- like the good stenographers they are -- thereby demonstrating why Cheney wisely chose them for his first post-White-House interview.  Harris was just on MSNBC talking to David Shuster about the interview and did nothing but recite what Cheney claimed; neither uttered a word of challenge to any of it.  It was all:  Cheney warns that we may suffer an WMD attack if Obama changes Bush's counter-terrorism policies!


(2) Due to traveling, I've been subjected to far more cable news over the last 24 hours than I typically endure in an entire month.  The consensus regarding Tom Daschle seems to be that his withdrawal was necessitated due to (a) Obama's incessant nattering about ethical reform during the election; (b) the poor political imagery from having someone fail to pay his taxes on his chauffered car in a time of such economic turmoil; and (c) the unlucky confluence of similar scandals surrounding Obama nominees with tax problems.

The notion that Daschle would make a poor HHS Secretary because he has so hungrily fed on the legalized sleaze and corruption that drives Washington literally doesn't seem to occur to them (with some exceptions).  As usual, the last idea that ever occurs to media stars is that there is anything remotely wrong with the establishment of which they are such integral parts (and which they still claim with a straight face to scrutinize).  This Friday night at 9:00 p.m., I'll be on Bill Moyers' Journal, along with NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen, talking about how our political press functions and its relationship with (i.e., servitude to) political elites.

And, just as a general note:  if you watch cable television news during the daytime, you can actually physiclly feel your brain shrinking.


(3) Shortly after I wrote yesterday about The Los Angeles Times article on Obama's plans concerning "rendition" (the article claimed "President Obama left intact an equally controversial counter-terrorism tool"), the journalist who wrote the article, National Security Correspondent Greg Miller, wrote me an email responding to some of my criticisms, which led to a lengthy and (what I thought was) an illuminating series of emails.  I asked Miller to consent to their publication, but he insisted he wanted to keep it off-the-record.  Instead, he sent me this statement and asked that I post it (my emphasis added):

A little background on the renditions story.

 The story made clear that Obama intends to administer the rendition program in a very different way. I quote an Obama administration official saying so, language from the executive order saying so, and a human rights advocate saying so. In the first paragraph, I point out that the secret prisons are gone, and torture is banned. This is not a story saying it's business as usual under Obama.

Nevertheless, the rendition program is controversial. Even if administered in the most enlightened manner, it is a program that involves the use of the CIA in secret abductions and prisoner transfers.

Perhaps Obama will decide that prisoners can only be rendered to U.S. courts. But the executive orders don't say that. If prisoners are taken to third countries -- as they were during the Clinton years, and are likely to be under Obama -- safeguarding their well-being is a serious challenge. If that were not the case, there would be no controversy. The CIA has always maintained that it obtains assurances that prisoners will not be tortured.

Obama's decisions to close Guantanamo Bay and the CIA's secret prisons were legitimate news stories. His decision to extend the renditions program is too.

The article came from reading Obama's executive orders and speaking with officials in the Obama administration and the U.S. intelligence community about what they mean.

Greg Miller

I'll leave it to others to determine whether Miller's article was written to convey that Obama had decided to continue the Bush rendition program.  My initial response to him, explaining what I believe was inaccurate about his article, is here.


(4) In a different post yesterday, I linked to this article reporting that Sen. Dianne Feinstein used her position as Chair of a military construction sub-committee to steer defense contracts to companies owned by her husband.  After a reader pointed it out, I added an Update linking to this post from the Sunlight Foundation disputing many of the claims in that article.  Last night, I received an email from Sen. Feinstein's office also disputing that article.  The email is here.  There were clearly problematic aspects to her serving in that position in light of her husband's very substantial interests in defense contracts, but many of the claims in that Metro story seem to be overstated, at times inaccurate, in light of the available evidence.


(5) Andrew Sullivan notes this article from the BBC, reporting on threats made by the U.S. to punish Britain if British courts disclose what was done to one of its citizens, Binyam Mohamed, a former Guantanamo detainee who is suing the British Government for its complicity in his torture.  British judges "said they wanted the full details of the alleged torture to be published in the interests of safeguarding the rule of law, free speech and democratic accountability" -- what are those strange things? -- but decided not to do so because it was "persuaded that it was not in the public interest to publish those details as the US government could then inflict on the citizens of the United Kingdom a very considerable increase in the dangers they face at a time when a serious terrorist threat still pertains."

So not only has our own Government erected an impenetrable wall of secrecy around what it has done, but is demanding that other countries do the same, upon threat of being punished.  As Sullivan said: "Torture is a cancer. It spreads through the legal system until it destroys the integrity of all of it. It will also destroy alliances if allowed to spread. The scale of that destruction has yet to be measured or understood. Obama has now drawn a line under it. But that is only the start of a process of recovery."



(6)  Relating to the last item, the Obama administration just actually praised Britain for succumbing to pressure and continuing to conceal details of what happened to Binyam Mohamed at the hands of the U.S. Government.  The administration issued this self-evidently disturbing statement (h/t Pedinska):

In a statement, the White House said it "thanked the UK government for its continued commitment to protect sensitive national security information".

It added that this would "preserve the long-standing intelligence sharing relationship that enables both countries to protect their citizens".

The British Government is denying the judges' assertion that the U.S. Government threatened to cut off intelligence sharing with Britain if it disclosed these facts, but the Obama administration's statement -- that Britain's willingness to conceal these facts would "preserve the long-standing intelligence sharing relationship that enables both countries to protect their citizens" -- strongly suggests that this is exactly what the U.S. was threatening to do.

The ACLU's Executive Director, Anthony Romero, wrote a letter to Hillary Clinton (.pdf) requesting clarification of the Obama administration's position and, in that letter, he quoted the scathing language from the British court regarding the U.S.'s demand that these facts be kept concealed:

Romero then issued this statement:

Hope is flickering. The Obama administration's position is not change. It is more of the same. This represents a complete turn-around and undermining of the restoration of the rule of law. The new American administration shouldn't be complicit in hiding the abuses of its predecessors.

I'd like to hear the Obama administration's rationale for this behavior, but it's very difficult to think of anything that could possibly justify it.


UPDATE II:  The Maddow segment I did tonight is here:



UPDATE III:  In The Boston Globe, Richard Clarke has a short Op-Ed well worth reading on the legality of renditions, highly relevant to the discussion prompted here on Monday by the The Los Angeles Times report regarding Obama's rendition order.

Initial mail response to The Los Angeles' Times Greg Miler

Hi Greg -- I think this was plainly inaccurate: "But even while dismantling these programs, President Obama left intact an equally controversial counter-terrorism tool" --

If even Human Rights Watch is endorsing the policy, in what sense is this "tool" controversial -- let alone "equally controversial" -- to CIA, black sites and torture? You're implying there -- this is how you sold the story -- that Obama is continuing the Bush rendition program that created such controversy.  He clearly isn't. I think it's clearly inaccurate to state that what he's doing is "equally controversial."

This is also clearly inaccurate: "But the Obama administration appears to have determined that the rendition program was one component of the Bush administration's war on terrorism that it could not afford to discard."

The Bush rendition program allowed (a) shipment of abducted individuals to countries known to torture and (b) abductions for the purpose for transferring them to CIA black sites. The Obama administration is NOT continuing that. It is explicitly prohibiting it. So it's inaccurate to say that they're continuing it.

The problem with your story is that it was so subject to misinterpretation or deliberate distortion. I think you had a newsworthy and worthwhile story, but in what appeared to be your zeal to hype it into something that would be more controversial than warranted (Obama doing what Bush did with renditions!), I think you ended up including inaccuracies in your story. 

One other point: I'd add the word "secret" in this sentence: "Under executive orders issued by Obama recently, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States." 

The EO signed by Obama requires that the ICRC have access to all detainees in any facility operated or controlled by the US, and the 'short-term or transitory' exemption does not apply to this. 

Glenn Greenwald

Email from Gil Duran, Communications Director to Sen. Dianne Feinstein:

Mr. Greenwald:

Today’s posting, as it concerns Senator Feinstein, contains false accusations and factual errors. Your post relies on a story that was based on inaccuracy and innuendo, and which was denied publication by the magazine which funded the reporter’s investigation.

In addition, a team of Pulitzer Prize winning reporters looked into these allegations and found no evidence to support the libelous claims you are making. 

Senator Feinstein, on her own initiative, checked with the Senate Ethics Committee to ensure that there were no conflicts. The Ethics Committee provided guidance which confirmed that, given the facts, Senator Feinstein could fully consider, debate, and vote on broad appropriations bills and serve in her role on the Military Construction Appropriations Subcommittee. 

Senator Feinstein has been in public life for more than 30 years, and she is known for her integrity. She takes her responsibilities in the Senate very seriously. When you launch these baseless attacks on her character, you do a great disservice to your readers. 

You make two assertions based on the Metro story. Here are the facts:


1) You falsely charge that Senator Feinstein “resigned” as the Chair of the Military Construction Appropriations Sub-Committee as a response to the Metro story.


FACT: This is simply not true.


In January 2007, Senator Feinstein had the opportunity to become the Chairman of the Interior Appropriations Sub-Committee, and she took it. The spot on this important sub-committee was made available by other chair shifts in the Senate, and she took it because it is better positioned to help California. This was part of regular shifting of committee assignments that occurs at the beginning of every Congress.


2) You suggest that Senator Feinstein played a role in awarding construction contracts to military defense contractors.


FACT: Senator Feinstein has never played a role in awarding any contracts.


Congress plays no role in determining which entities are awarded these contracts. And neither Senator Feinstein nor her staff played any role in determining which entities received contracts.

 In her role on the Military Appropriations Construction Subcommittee, Senator Feinstein voted on large appropriations bills, which fund family housing, facilities construction on bases around the world, environmental remediation of closed military bases as well as other projects.

Military construction projects, on the other hand, must be independently authorized, in the Defense Authorization Act, by the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, and signed into law.

Projects not authorized by the Defense Authorization Act are not funded by the Defense Department.

 The Military Construction Bill that the Senate acts upon involves lump-sum appropriations – not contracts. It is only after this process has run its course that contracts for individual projects are awarded by the Defense Department. This is totally separate from the legislative process.

Glenn Greenwald

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