Archive for the ‘U.N. Torture Convention’ Category

The definition of “torture”

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Before and after the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released its Report on Torture under the Bush administration, on December 9, 2014, a well-orchestrated publicity campaign was carried out by U.S. “apologists of torture” or “friends of torture”.

To understand their arguments, and those contained in the Senate Torture Report, it is essential to understand the precise legal meaning of the term “torture” as it is defined in the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

The first two articles of the Convention define in unequivocal terms what is meant by torture, and Article 16 describes the prohibition of other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment which do not rise to the level of “torture” as defined in Article 1.

These provisions establish the following:

Article 1

1. For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

2. This article is without prejudice to any international instrument or national legislation which does or may contain provisions of wider application.

Article 2

1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.

2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

Article 16

1. Each State Party shall undertake to prevent in any territory under its jurisdiction other acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture as defined in article 1, when such acts are committed by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. In particular, the obligations contained in articles 10, 11, 12 and 13 shall apply with the substitution for references to torture or references to other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

2. The provisions of this Convention are without prejudice to the provisions of any other international instrument or national law which prohibit cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment or which relate to extradition or expulsion.

For the text of Article 3-7 of the Convention, and an analysis of the obligation to prosecute those likely to have participated in planning or carrying out acts of torture, see

“Background Reading for the Nobel Acceptance Speech in Oslo: The U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,” The Trenchant Observer, December 4, 2009.

The United States was a party to the Convention on Torture during the Bush administration, and remains a party bound by the Convention’s provisions today.

The Trenchant Observer

Brazil publishes Truth Commission Report; U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture Released; U.S. officials debate whether torture “worked”

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Developing — preliminary draft

See

(1) “Comissão Nacional da Verdade entrega a Dilma relatório final das investigawções; Presidente recebeu em audiência no Palácio do Planalto, às 9h, os seis integrantes da CNV,” O GLOBO, 10 dezembro 2014 8:28 ( ATUALIZADO 10/12/2014 10:03 h)i

(2) Comissão da Verdade, “Relatorio Final,” O Estado de Sao Paulo, 1d0 Dezembro 2014.

(3) (Brasilia / Sao Paulo)”CRIMES DA DITADURA: Comissão pede punição para 377 pelos crimes da ditadura; LISTA INCLUI PRESIDENTES; GRUPO DIZ QUE LEI DA ANISTIA NÃO SE APLICA; FORÇAS ARMADAS SILENCIAM SOBRE RELATÓRIO,” Folha de Sao Paulo, 10 Dezembro 2014.

(4) “The Senate Committee’s Report on the C.I.A.’s Use of Torture,” New York Times, DEC. 9, 2014.

It will take a few days to process all that is being said about the Senate Torture Report and its contents. The report was released on December 9, 2014.

Today, on December 10, 2014, Human Rights Day, the Brazilian Truth Commission released its report on the crimes committed under military rule from 1964 to 1985.

The two documents should perhaps be read together, so Americans can learn a thing or two from the Brazilian experience.

The U.S. Senate report is narrowly focused on acts of torture and other cruel and inhuman punishment committed by the CIA from September 11, 2001 through the end of the Bush presidency in January, 2009. Subjects excluded are acts of torture committed by the military, and procedures followed after January 2009, when Barack Obama became president.

The Brazilian report, while delayed for 30 years, is much more comprehensive. It is not heavily redacted like the Executive Summary of the U.S. Senate Report, is published in full and not just as an Executive Summary, and lists names, dates, victims, and the individuals responsible for the crimes that were committed.

One other difference stands out: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has not given free reign to those in the government to defend in public the commission of what constitute grave international crimes.

In the U.S., the former architects and implementers of torture have launched an all-out public relations campaign aimed at persuading the public that the actions they carried out were necessary, legal, morally justified, and produced critically important imformation that saved innocent lives.

On the legal issue, it is worth stressing that the crimes they committed were felonies under U.S. law as well as international crimes under the U.N. Torture Convention, other Human Rights conventions, and humanitarian law (the Law of War), including the 1949 Geneva Conventions and subsequent Protocols.

They argue that they were carrying out orders from top government officials, under legal guidance from the Department of Justice.

But they ignore the fact that “due obedience” to a superior order, or even under purported legal cover from the Department of Justice, is no defense to the charges of international crimes for which they may still one day have to answer.

The president does not have the authority to legally authorize the commission of torture or other international crimes.

No court can order torture, or approve of its use.

However loud their cries of self-justification may be today, they would be well advised to make their future travel plans abroad with meticulous care.

For while Barack Obama has refused to prosecute them, under the Convention Against Tortue other countries may some day bring them to justice.

There is a hidden benefit to the public relations campaign now underway by those who would defend and justify the use of torture. They are identifying themselves publicly as “friends of torture”.

A list should be made of those making these arguments, which could be helpful to future prosecutors looking for officials or former officials who may be suspected of committing torture, or who might serve as material witnesses in other cases.

The list should also be useful in identifying present or former government officials who are releasing, apparently without authorization, classified information which they seek to marshal in the defense of torture.

There is one further aspect which is worth reflecting on. While the “friends of torture” are arguing loudly and vociferously that torture was justified, and they were justified in adopting policies or committing acts of torture, they at the same time have argued that release of the Senate report would pose risks to Americans and American interests abroad.

But think about it for a minute. Won’t the declarations that torture was justified, and “produced results”, simply confirm the beliefs of jihaddists and others who they seek to recruit or win over, that the U,S. remains a country that believes in torture, and whatever Obama’s Executive Order may state, is a country that will resort to torture in the future whenever it believes that it will be effective in securing useful information?

In short, the “friends of torture” are undermining America’s statement of its commitment to the world that it will never commit torture again.

Of course, the real issues that should be considered are whether it is morally or legally permissible to commit felonies or international crimes against the physical integrity of another human being, however effective it might be in securing some immediate objective.

The argument is no different from an argument that it is morally permissible to kill another human being without a valid legal excuse, merely in order to achieve some important private or public goal. Certainly no civilized country could allow a private individual to commit such crimes, and even less so can we permit a government official, acting with the authority and power of the state, to take a human life or violate the physical integrity of another human being.

Finally, the “friends of torture” argue that torture works.

It may, in some cases, which did not prevent the Romans from banning the use of torture against Roman citizens, or Europe and America beginning in the 18th century from banning the tortue of any human being.

Our experience with Japan and Germany in World War II confirmed the absolute necessity of protecting human beings from torture by government officials, under any circumstances.

It is remarkable that during Workd War II the United States did not adopt a policy of using torture, despite the exigencies of those times. Indeed, until 2001 the U.S. upheld the prohibition of torture, while prosecuting those responsible for its commission.

Obama has violated and continues to violate the peremptory obligation under the Torture Convention to prosecute those who are suspected of planning or participating in acts of torture.

The United States must now move to follow the Brazilian example, or one like it, by publishing all of the facts on U.S. acts and policies of torture, with names and dates of perpetrators as well as victims, in unredacted form.

Those responsible for torture should then be prosecuted–there is no statute of limitations for international crimes–or required to go through a peace and reconciliation process in which they admit their crimes as a condition for leniency or even pardon.

if Obama wants to limit the risks to Americans and damage to U.S. interests, he should start by ordering John Brennan and other intelligence operatives in the U.S. government to shut up, to stop trying to publicly justify their acts of torture, which were contrary to  current U.S. policy and  legal obligations, both international and domestic.

He should also prosecute those “friends if torture” who are releasing without authorization classified information in their defense of torture.

Finally, he should fire John Brennan, who clearly is not equipped or willing to reform the CIA so as to ensure it never commits torture in the future,

Trenchant Observer

Human rights abuses by Putin’s puppets: The seventh report of the OHCHR on the human rights situation in the Ukraine (with link to full report)

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Draft

By launching a war of aggression in the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine, in flagrant violation of Article 2 paragraph 4 of the United Nations Charter, Russian President Vladimir Putin is directly responsible for the deaths, both military and civilian, that have occurred in the Ukraine.

The latest (Seventh) report by the U.N. OHCHR on the human rights situation in the Ukraine (see below) makes for chilling reading.

Behind all the lies and distortions of Putin and his war propaganda machine, lie the grisly facts regarding what has been happening in the Donbass and the Crimea following the Russian invasions of these regions.

The so-called “separatists” in the Donbas were led by Russian special forces and intelligence agents from the very beginning, when they lauched a highly sophisticated and coordinated campaign to seize government buildings and then to organize the establishment of so-called “People’s Republics” in the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk. When the Ukrainian government sought to put down this “rebellion”, as permitted by domestic and international law, regular Russian military forces intervened directly, engaged them, and pushed them back.

On September 5, 2014, in an effort to forestall the imposition of harsher “stage 3″ sectoral sanctions by the EU and the U.S., Russia and the leaders of the two “People’s Republics” signed an agreement with the Ukrainian government to implement an immediate ceasefire and follow a 12-step process for the restoration of peace and stability in the region.

The resulting Minsk Protocol of September 5 and the ceasefire and other measures it provided for, including a withdrawal of foreign fighters and a sealing of the frontier with Russia, has broken down.

Full compliance with its provisions remains, however, the best hope for ending the war and reestablishing peace in the Donbas.

For insights into the atrocities and other violations of fundamental human right committed by the so-called “separatists” in the Donbas and in the Crimea, see

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Serious human rights violations persist in eastern Ukraine despite tenuous ceasefire – UN report,” November 20, 2014.

For the full text of the 49-page Report, wich is summarized below, see

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Report on the human rights situation in Ukraine,” 15 November 2014. The text is found here.

See also “U.N. report describes widespread violations of human rights in areas of Ukraine under Russian or Russian puppet control,” The Trenchant Observer, October 9, 2014.

The OHCHR summary of the Report states the following:

GENEVA (20 November 2014) – Civilians have continued to be killed, unlawfully detained, tortured and disappeared in eastern Ukraine, and the number of internally displaced people has risen considerably despite the announcement of a ceasefire on 5 September, according to a new UN human rights monitoring report released Thursday.

“Violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law persist,” the report states. “The situation in the conflict-affected area is becoming increasingly entrenched, with the total breakdown of law and order and the emergence of parallel governance systems in the territories under the control of the [self-proclaimed] ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and the [self-proclaimed] ‘Luhansk people’s republic’.”

“The continuing presence of a large amount of sophisticated weaponry, as well as foreign fighters that include servicemen from the Russian Federation, directly affects the human rights situation in the east of Ukraine,” the report adds. “Guaranteeing the protection of those who live within the conflict-affected area must be of the highest priority. A peaceful solution must be found to end the fighting and violence, to save lives and to prevent further hardship for those people living in the eastern regions.”

According to the UN Human Rights Office, from mid-April to 18 November, at least 4,317 people were killed and 9,921 wounded in the conflict-affected area of eastern Ukraine. Since the ceasefire began, from 6 September up to 18 November, 957 fatalities were recorded – 838 men and 119 women, although some may have been killed prior to the ceasefire, with the data only recorded later. The number of internally displaced people (IDPs) has also sharply increased from 275,489 as of 18 September to 466,829 on 19 November, according to the State Emergency Service of Ukraine.*

The report itself, the seventh produced by the 35-strong UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, covers the period between 17 September and 31 October 2014. The report states that serious human rights abuses by the armed groups continued to be reported, including torture, arbitrary and incommunicado detention, summary executions, forced labour and sexual violence as well as the destruction and illegal seizure of property.

The report itself, the seventh produced by the 35-strong UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, covers the period between 17 September and 31 October 2014.
The report states that serious human rights abuses by the armed groups continued to be reported, including torture, arbitrary and incommunicado detention, summary executions, forced labour and sexual violence as well as the destruction and illegal seizure of property.

Reports on the use of cluster munitions in both urban and rural areas must be urgently and thoroughly investigated, the report states, as must all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law and violations of international humanitarian law.

“Accountability and an end to impunity are at the core of ensuring peace, reconciliation and long term recovery,” the report stresses, adding that crimes must be promptly investigated, perpetrators held accountable and victims provided with an effective remedy, as well as with the required help and support.

It notes that secret and illegal places of detention continue to be in operation, with individuals detained incommunicado and allegations of torture and ill-treatment. Thousands of individuals remain missing. Ad hoc graves continue to be found and exhumed to establish the identities of those buried in them and to allow their bodies to be handed over to relatives.

There were also worrying accounts of the conduct of prisoner exchange processes, including reports that individuals were actually deprived of their liberty for the purpose of the exchange, the report says.

Severe curtailment of the economic, social and cultural rights of people in Ukraine is also of grave concern. One particularly pressing concern is the threat of interrupted treatment of nearly 60,000 HIV-positive and around 11,600 multi-drug resistant tuberculosis patients in all regions, due to non-completed tenders for the purchase of essential life-saving medicine.

“Discontinuation of treatment is life-threatening for more than 70,000 patients and may lead to the uncontrolled spread of epidemics,” the report warns. “Provision of essential medicines is one of the core obligations of the State to ensure the satisfaction of the minimum essential level of the right to health.”

The situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea is marked by reports of increasing human rights violations and protection challenges, especially for vulnerable minority and indigenous groups, and most notably for the Crimean Tatars.

issioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein welcomed the decree, which he hoped would place a greater, sustained emphasis on the promotion and protection of human rights in the country. However, he stressed that good laws and policies need to be accompanied by a genuine political commitment to implement them.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein … Zeid expressed deep dismay at the lack of significant progress on accountability for violations and abuses perpetrated so far, and for continued violations of the ceasefire.

“The list of victims keeps growing. Civilians, including women, children, minorities and a range of vulnerable individuals and groups continue to suffer the consequences of the political stalemate in Ukraine,” Zeid said.

“Respect for the ceasefire has been sporadic at best, with continued outbreaks of fighting and shelling resulting in an average of 13 people a day being killed during the first eight weeks of the ceasefire,” he added. “All parties need to make a far more whole-hearted effort to resolve this protracted crisis peacefully and in line with international human rights laws and standards.”

* Figures contained in this paragraph have been updated beyond the period covered by the report. The casualty figures are estimated by OHCHR and WHO; and the figures for displacement by the State Emergency Service of Ukraine.

The Trenchant Observer

Order in the World: Things fall apart

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

One of the wisest and most-experieced journalists reporting on foreign policy, Roger Cohen, who writes an Op-Ed column for the New York Times, has published a thoughtful and deeply pessimistic article on the current state of world affairs.

See Roger Cohen, “The Great Unraveling,” September 15, 2014.

It was the time of unraveling. Long afterward, in the ruins, people asked: How could it happen?

It was a time of beheadings…

It was a time of aggression. The leader of the largest nation on earth pronounced his country encircled, even humiliated. He annexed part of a neighboring country, the first such act in Europe since 1945, and stirred up a war on further land he coveted. His surrogates shot down a civilian passenger plane. The victims, many of them Europeans, were left to rot in the sun for days. He denied any part in the violence, like a puppeteer denying that his puppets’ movements have any connection to his. He invoked the law the better to trample on it. He invoked history the better to turn it into farce. He reminded humankind that the idiom fascism knows best is untruth so grotesque it begets unreason.

It was a time of weakness. The most powerful nation on earth was tired of far-flung wars, its will and treasury depleted by absence of victory…. The nation’s leader…set objectives for which he had no plan. He made commitments he did not keep. In the way of the world these things were noticed. Enemies probed. Allies were neglected.. Words like “strength” and “resolve” returned to the leader’s vocabulary. But the world was already adrift, unmoored by the retreat of its ordering power. The rule book had been ripped up.

It was a time of disorientation. Nobody connected the dots…

Until it was too late and people could see the Great Unraveling for what it was and what it had wrought.

Regarding the weakening of international order, see

“Imagine: The Collapse of International Order: Syria, and Berlin in 1945,” The Trenchant Observer, February 20, 2013.

In this article, we observed,

There is nothing inevitable about international order.

The lessons of two world wars which informed the creation of the United Nations in 1945, and the maintenance of international peace and security for some 60 years, can be forgotten.

It is entirely conceivable that without decisive leadership from either Europe or the United States, the international order that has existed for many decades could start to wobble and even collapse.

And it is nearly impossible to conceive of such leadership emerging any time soon.

The rubble in Syria resembles the rubble in Berlin and the destruction in Germany in 1945, which occurred the last time the international order collapsed.

How bad could it get?

You could have wars like the one in Syria devastating countries in Africa, a nuclear attack on Los Angeles from North Korea, Iran with nuclear weapons and delivery systems within 5-10 years, and Israel surrounded by hostile Islamist states.

Things could fall apart.

Imagine a world without law, without international law governing the use of force which is generally observed and which states seek to uphold when it is violated.

Imagine a  world in which states use force without acknowledging they have acted, and without any obligation to publicly justify the legitimacy of their actions by reference to international law.

That is the direction in which we are heading.

See also,

“A weak American president fails to lead, and anarchy is unleashed upon the world,” The Trenchant Observer, April 29, 2014.

“International Law and the Use of Force: Drones and Real Anarchy Unleashed Upon the World, The Trenchant Observer, July 17, 2011.

The only path that might lead us out of the present downward spiral of events, the Observer submits, is one that embraces the fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter, including

(1) the prohibition of “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”(Article 2 paragraph 4),

(2) except in exercise of “the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense” in the case of an “armed attack” (Article 51),

(3) and the international protection of human rights (Preamble and Aricle 55 (c) of the U.N. Charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, U.N. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and many other human rights treaties).

That is the best starting point for halting and reversing the current process of a collapsing world order. If anyone has a better idea, let him or her come forth and state it.

Without a renewed dedication to upholding these cornerstone principles of the United Nations Charter, and international law, international order becomes increasingly difficult to conceive.

The world’s citizens, and their governments, must rededicate themselves to upholding these bedrock principles of international law, if international order is to endure.

The Trenchant Observer

Obama: “We tortured some folks…It’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks (our law enforcement and our national security teams) were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.” (full transcript)

Friday, August 1st, 2014

Developing

Excerpt from President Barack Obama’s press conference today, Fiday, August 1, 2014:

Q What about John Brennan?

THE PRESIDENT:

On Brennan and the CIA, the RDI report has been transmitted, the declassified version that will be released at the pleasure of the Senate committee.

I have full confidence in John Brennan. I think he has acknowledged and directly apologized to Senator Feinstein that CIA personnel did not properly handle an investigation as to how certain documents that were not authorized to be released to the Senate staff got somehow into the hands of the Senate staff. And it’s clear from the IG report that some very poor judgment was shown in terms of how that was handled. Keep in mind, though, that John Brennan was the person who called for the IG report, and he’s already stood up a task force to make sure that lessons are learned and mistakes are resolved.

With respect to the larger point of the RDI report itself, even before I came into office I was very clear that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values.

I understand why it happened. I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent, and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this. And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.

But having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that’s what that report reflects. And that’s the reason why, after I took office, one of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.

And my hope is, is that this report reminds us once again that the character of our country has to be measured in part not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard. And when we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques, techniques that I believe and I think any fair-minded person would believe were torture, we crossed a line. And that needs to be — that needs to be understood and accepted. And we have to, as a country, take responsibility for that so that, hopefully, we don’t do it again in the future.

–Transcript, Press Conference by the President, White House, James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, August 1, 2014 (2:45 P.M. EDT). The text of the transcipt is found here.

It’s hard to know what is more shocking: 1) the casual language the President used in admitting torture; 2) what he actually said (calling torturers “real patriots”; or 3) the fact that he seemed totally oblivious to the import and impact of what he was saying.

The Trenchant Observer

The qualities that are needed in a new CIA Director, Part I (with video links to Feinstein Senate speech and Brennan rebuttal)

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

(Developing story–check back for updates over the next few days)

John Brennan’s battle with the Senate Intelligence Committee over the Torture Report

Given his past associations with Bush’s torture and other scandalous programs, and his role in overseeing White House targeted killing lists and ensuing drone strikes with the president’s approval and/or participation, John Brennan should never have been confirmed as Director of the CIA.

Now he has become both the symbol of a rogue CIA and the primary obstacle to getting control of the agency and bringing it back under the supervision and control of a democratic state governed by law. Under the Constitution’s separation of powers, that supervision is the responsibility of both the president and the congress, including in particular the Senate Intelligence Committee which is chaired by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-California).

She has now delivered an extraordinary speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate in which she lays out in detail the obstruction her committee has encountered in dealing with the CIA, particularly in connection with the drafting, declassification, and publication of a 6,000 word report on the CIA’s involvement in George W. Bush’s torture program, euphemistically referred to as one of “enhanced interrogation techniques”, or as Brennan referred to them in his Senate confirmation hearings, “EIT’s”.

For background on Brennan and his confirmation hearings, see the following article and the articles cited in it:

“Torture and torture memos pose serious obstacle to confirmation of Carolyn Krass as CIA General Counsel,” The Trenchant Observer, December 20, 2013.

As noted below, the Krass nomination was approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee on March 4, 2014.

It is difficult to imagine how John Brennan can continue to lead the CIA, now that he is involved in a very public and bitter dispute with the Senate Intelligence Committee and its Chair, Senator Feinstein–over matters that go to the very heart of what constitutes democratic government under the rule law.

Brennan’s hubris was once again revealed as he immediately gave a TV interview in which he contradicted Senator Feinstein.

Despite his extraordinarily close relationship with President Obama, to whom he served in many respects as a mentor and guide to the secret world of intelligence operations, Brennan should begin looking for a new job.

Russia’s aggression against the Ukraine and military seizure of the Crimea has been a wake-up call for Washington, demonstrating again how international law is important after all, particularly in terms of setting precedents, and of mobilizing coalitions and generating international support for collective action.

Russian intervention in the Ukraine has underlines the fact that unsanctioned violations of international law weaken its authority, and even its most important provisions including the prohibition of the illegal threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of another state.

It is now time for the United States to put its rogue actions behind it, and to bring its policies and actions into compliance with international law.

Brennan is a symbol and defender of these rogue policies from the past, and doesn’t fit the new requirements of the job. To cite but one example, at his confirmation hearings, he was unable to bring himself to admit that “waterboarding” constitutes torture.

A new kind of leader is needed at the CIA.

Links to Videos and Transcripts

For links to the video and transcripts of Senator Feinstein’s speech on the Senate floor, and Brennan’s response, see:

(1) “Sen. Feinstein Accuses CIA of Searching Congressional Computers,” C-SPAN, March 11, 2014. (CLIP FROM MARCH 11, 2014, Senate Session, Part 1, with informal transcript).

The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee says the CIA improperly searched a stand-alone computer network established for Congress as part of its investigation into allegations of CIA abuse in a Bush-era detention and interrogation program. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California defended her committee’s work and challenged the CIA on Tuesday as she sought to set the record straight amid various reports of disputes between Congress and the agency.

For the YouTube video, click here.

(2) “CIA Director Denies Spying on Senate Intel Committee” NBC News, March 11, 2014 (with video link).

(3) The Senate Intelligence Committee approved the nomination of Carolyn Krass to be General Counsel of the CIA on March 4, it was announced on March 6, 2014, by a vote of 13-2. If approved by the full Senate, she will replace acting General Counsel Robert Eatinger, who has been at the center of a number of controversial issues and decisions related to the torture program.

The Qualities Needed in a New CIA Director

(To be continued)

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Obervateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

On floor of Senate, Senator Feinstein speaks of grave constitutional violations by CIA (with video link)

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

(Developing)

See:

Corine Lesnes (Washington), “Menacée par un rapport sur la torture, la CIA soupçonnée de piratage du Sénat américain, Le Monde, 12 mars 2012 (12.03.2014 (Mis à jour à 07h19).

Scott Wilson, “CIA feud with Senate panel puts lack of post-9/11 accountability in spotlight,” Washington Post, March 11, 2014.

Video: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) spoke Tuesday on the Senate floor for almost 40 minutes about a controversy between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA. Here are the highlights.

“Key moments from Senator Feinstein’s soeech,” Washington Post, March 12, 2014 (video).

Mark Mazzetti and Jonathan Weisman, “Conflict Erupts in Public Rebuke on C.I.A. Inquiry,” New York Times, March 11, 2014.

For background, see also the following article and articles cited therein:

“Torture and torture memos pose serious obstacle to confirmation of Carolyn Krass as CIA General Counsel,” The Trenchant Observer, December 20, 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

Western diplomats stumble in the Ukraine—-Stop telephone diplomacy, let Germany lead, and publish serious international law memoranda

Friday, March 7th, 2014

Updated March 7, 2014

Western leaders have made three major blunders since the Russian military takeover of the Crimea first began on or around February 25.

Telephone Calls to Putin

First, they have engaged in a series of telephone calls to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. Obama’s calls to Putin, who is reliably reported to detest him, have had no positive effect and may well have stiffened his resistance to the conciliatory proposals from the West. Even Angela Merkel’s calls directly to Putin have probably been ill-advised.

Such calls may in some circumstances be useful if their occurrence and content is kept private. While they may satisfy a hunger for instant gratification in the age of the Internet, decisions to deploy tanks and military ships are not likely to be reversed by e-mails or telephone calls, which between heads of government are probably heavily scripted, and further distorted by the use of interpreters.

Moreover, formal written communications have the advantage of permitting a wider range of officials with different perspectives to participate in their review and offering suggestions for response. Both with Putin and with Obama, and probably other government leaders as well, the quality of the exchange is likely to be improved by wider internal review and additional time to formulate policy and decisions.

On the Charlie Rose show on March 5, Henry Kissinger provided a powerful explanation of why direct communications between heads of government is usually a poor idea. This seems to be all the more true in a crisis like the one in the Ukraine, folllowing Russian military intervention in the Crimea, which remains under Russian military control and occupation.

Today, again, we learn that Obama called Putin and during a substantive call made no progress.

See “Ukraine-Krise: Putin bleibt hart in Telefonat mit Obama; Eine Stunde lang haben Putin und Obama die Lage auf der Krim beredet. Doch an dem Kurs des russischen Präsidenten hat das nichts geändert – er sagt: Russland dürfe die Hilferufe aus der Ukraine nicht ignorieren,” Der Spiegel, 7. Marz 2014 (6:45)

Generally, particularly in the case of Obama, such telephone calls and background briefings on their content are used as part of a campaign to show others Obama is doing something and Putin is being unreasonable.

Urgent Advice: Take the telephone away from Obama. He has not charmed or persuaded Putin, and he isn’t going to.

(Quote from Kissinger)

Trying to Force the Russians to meet with Ukrainian Officials

The second mistake Western diplomats have made in recent days is to try to force the Russians to sit down at the same table and talk to representatives from the new government in Kiev. This has been a huge blunder, confusing the goals of process with those of substance. The substantive but secondary goal is to get Russia to recognize the government in Kiev. The primary goal should be to persuade the Russians to cease and desist from further provocative actions in the Crimea and in the Eastern Ukraine, whether executed directly by Russians or Russian-speaking supporters. Such actions could–whether by design or inadvertence–ignite the flames of war.

In short, the highest substantive goal in the next few days should be to halt the Russians’ provocations and inflamation of passions. The second substantive goal should be to obtain formal Russian acceptance of OSCE and other observers, and to provide formal guarantees of their physical safety.

The ill-advised efforts to force the Russians to talk to the Ukranians before the stage is set, and the Russians want to, only aggravates the circumstances in which substantive diplomatic activity can take place.

These attempts to force the Russians to talk to the Ukranians reflect the same demented logic according to which simply getting the al-Assad goverment to meet with the opposition at the Geneva II Conference in June would somehow produce a miraculous breakthrough. It didn’t, and it was foolish to think that it could.

American Efforts to Assert its Leadership in Rsponding to Russia

The third development, unfortunate in the extreme, is that the United States is now seeking the mantle of leadership of the West in relations with Russia in connection with the crisis.

American policy in the Ukraine has not been an unqualified success, with Victoria Nuland’s “F… the EU” cell phone call revealing both deep American involvement with the opposition and disdain for EU leaders and their efforts to resolve the Ukrainian crisis.

And it hasn’t stopped. Only days sgo, a high U.S. official (a woman) was quoted on background in the German press as being highly critical of Angela Merkel, who was far too slow and deliberative in this official’s view. Such American officials do not understand the requirements of diplomacy, and should be immediately removed from the policy making process.

On March 7, 2014, on the Charlie Rose show, Tom Donilon, the former National Security adviser, stressed the importance now of the United States’ reasserting its leadership of the West.

The problem here is that Obama and his foreign policy team have been largely incompetent in dealing with the most urgent foreign policy questions of the last five years. While John Kerry has his strengths (and weaknesses), and Samantha Power provides capable and clear-eyed leadership as Ambassador to the U.N., Obama continues to maintain tight White House control over the making and execution of foreign policy. We and the world, looking at the cumulative evidence, know he is not very good at it. For example, Angela Merkel shared with Obama her perception from talking to Vladimir Putin on the phone that he was “in another world”. Obama promptly leaked this quote to the world, which was probably not helpful in terms of influencing Putin.

With respect to the Ukraine, Obama’s “reset” of relations with Russia undid the measures George W. Bush had implemented to punish Russia for its military intervention in Georgia–without any change in Russian behavior or resolution of the issues in Georgia, where Russian troops remain in enclaves in what amounts to de facto recognition of the fruits of Russian aggression.

Moreover, if Obama had not blinked at the moment of truth when he needed to pull the trigger to launch missiles against Syria, following the use of chemical weapons by Syria at Ghouta on August 21, 2014, Putin in his calculations might have taken the U.S. more seriously and never launched his military takeover of the Crimea.

The Observer’s advice is, “If you’re going to drive from behind (or slumber in the back seat), stay in the back seat and let others who know how to drive drive the car.”

Only two and a half weeks ago, the German, Polish and French foreign ministers hammered out a transition agreement whereby Yanukovych would yield partial power to a transitional government. To be sure, the deal fell apart when the Ukrainian negotiators could not deliver the crowd at the Maidan, the regime collapsed, the parliament relieved the president of his office, and the latter fled first Kiev and then the country. Still, the agreement was a brilliant piece of statecraft.

In the present situation, Obama is in no position to give Vladimir Putin lectures on international law, a concept which the president has only recently introduced into his discourse. Obama’s failure to prosecute officials responsible for torture as required by the U.N. Convention against Torture, his continuing use of drone strikes frequently in apparent violation of international law (particularly outside the war theater of Afghanistan and Pakistan), the continued detention without trial of prisoners at Guantanamo, and NSA’s massive surveillance around the world in violation of constitutions and international law, all strongly suggest Obama is not the best leader to take the lead in the media in making the legal case against Russia.

The U.S. also has a troubled record of its own interventions, including those in the Dominican Republic (1965) and Grenada (1983) which were justified, at least in part, under the rubric of “intervention to protect nationals”.

Germany is a better choice. The U.S. can take the lead with France and Britain in the Security Council.

That is not to say the U.S. in the U.N. and elsewhere should not make the strongest possible legal arguments against the Russian military intervention, in writing. It only means that the U.S. should carefully coordinate its efforts with the Europeans, and avoid undercutting Angela Merkel’s leadership, in the media.

This is not a time for a lot of wordsmithing and speeches and statements by Barack Obama and his administration. The focus, instead, should be on presenting serious and detailed legal memoranda in relevant forums, and on taking concrete actions such as imposing sanctions with real teeth on Russia and Russians.

Consideration should also be given to imposing EU and U.S. travel bans, and more, on individuals in the Crimea who have actively collaborated with Moscow in its military takeover, and who have joined efforts to provoke a secession from Ukraine and annexation of the peninsula by Russia.

The U.S. should work to coordinate its actions with the EU, and to persuade EU leaders behind closed doors, but should let Angela Merkel lead and coordinate the European response to Vladimir Putin’s military intervention in the Ukraine. The Germans and the Poles know the Ukraine, and Putin, far better than does the U.S., and should be allowed to lead. Merkel is the most powerful and respected leader in Europe, has an important relationship with Putin, and also has the experience and insights gained from having grown up in East Germany when it was a police state under Soviet domination.

As suggested above, even as Merkel leads, the U.S can push hard on implementing sanctions while still setting forth its international law arguments in written form, presenting them to the Security Council and also publshing them elsewhere.

Summary of Recommendations

In sum, the Observer’s advice is:

1. Stop the telephone diplomacy with Putin.

2. Don’t try to force the Russians to talk to the Ukrainians before the stage is set, and the Russians have assumed a more conciliatory posture as a result of pressure from the EU and the U.S. The Ukraine’s fate will be decided by the major powers, though the actions of the Ukrainian government will have great import. The biggest challenge for the West is to forge unity behind strong positions, avoiding disarray which can only work to Russia’s advantage.

3. Obama should let Germany, and France and Poland, lead. Obama has important cards to play, but he should keep them close to his vest, and not go channeling his thought processes to the press on background or on TV, through Ben Rhodes or other government officials. He should speak instead with actions, as he did today with the announcement of the first sanctions against Russia and Russians, to take immediate effect.

Among the most important of these actions would be to publish serious and detailed legal memoranda rebutting Russian legal justifications and setting out clealy how its military intervention in the Ukraine has violated international law’s most important prohibitions, as well as treaties and agreements such as the 1994 Budapest Memorandum guaranteeing the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and political independence of the Ukraine.

The Trenchant Observer

(Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter)
(L’Obervateur Incisif)
(El Observador Incisivio)

Michael Young of The Daily Star (Beirut): “Give Syria’s dead a chance to speak out.”

Friday, January 31st, 2014

More details of the atrocities in Syria continue to emerge. See:

Michael Young, “Give Syria’s dead a chance to speak out,” The Daily Star, January 23, 2014 12:25 AM.

Mark Landler and Ben Hubbard, “State Dept. Learned in November of Photos Said to Show Torture in Syria,” New York Times, January 22, 2014.

ian Black (Middle East editor), “Syrian regime document trove shows evidence of ‘industrial scale’ killing of detainees; Senior war crimes prosecutors say photographs and documents provide ‘clear evidence’ of systematic killing of 11,000 detainees,” The Guardian, January 20, 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

Torture and torture memos pose serious obstacle to confirmation of Carolyn Krass as CIA General Counsel

Friday, December 20th, 2013

The Trenchant Observer noted, quite some time ago, that torture will not be done with Obama, or with us, until we are all done with torture.

See The Trenchant Observer, “The Clock is Ticking: U.S. Application of the Torture Convention,” February 10, 2010.

That is because torture is an international crime, and there is no way it can be simply forgotten without first going through a process involving publication and admission of the facts and a judicial process or transitional justice process under judicial oversight.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the Senate Intelligence Committee is now demanding public release of a 6,000 page classified report containing the details of the Bush Adninistration’s torture policy and its implementation, and release of the legal memoranda prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department purporting to uphold the legality of the use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques”.

It is of course not inevitable that this step in the justice process take place at this precise time, but rather only that–in a democracy–it will take place sooner or later.

What is going on in the Carolyn Krass confirmation hearings to be the top lawyer at the CIA is that the Senate Intelligence Committee is — finally — insisting that the secret legal memoranda that were used to justify the use of torture as an official policy of the United States be turned over to the Committee.

Those who apparently had knowledge of the program–CIA Director John Brennan first and foremost among them–are fighting tooth and nail to prevent the public release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report.

See “Editorial: Release the Torture Reports,” New York Times, December 19, 2013.

Much is at stake, including the core priniples of a democratic state governed by law, which require public legal justification of state actions, including those that are carried out in secret.

See

Spencer Ackerman (Washington), “Senate intelligence committee presses CIA to release torture report; Secret 6,300-page report details ‘enhanced interrogation'; “Lawyer nomination brings contention into public view,” The Guardian, December 20, 2013 (11.40 EST).

“The Carolyn Krass nomination to be General Counsel at the CIA, secret legal justifications and memos, and democratic government under the rule of law,” The Trenchant Observer, December 18, 2013 (updated December 19, 2013).

“Senate confirms John Brennan as CIA Director—with tally and breakdown of vote,” The Trenchant Observer, March 8, 2013.

“Brennan’s wristbands, McCain’s hold, and assertions of legality under international law based on secret operations and secret legal memoranda (with links to Brennan confirmation hearing video, transcript, and written questions and answers),”The Trenchant Observer, February 25, 2013.

“Secret Laws, the John Brennan vote, and the rule of law,” The Trenchant Observer, February 24, 2013.

The Senate Intelligence Committee now has an opportunity to take a major step toward restoration of the full rule of law in the United States.

The Trenchant Observer