Posts Tagged ‘Eric Schmitt’

French continue bombing insurgent positions in Mali; Where is the U.S.?

Monday, January 14th, 2013

Another day of fighting in northern Mali, with French aerial bombardments of insurgent positions; U.S. appears disinterested.

See

Afua Hirsch in Bamako and Kim Willsher in Paris, “Mali conflict: France has opened gates of hell, say rebels;Islamist militant leader warns French government as fighter jets continue assault on rebel camps and convoys in central Mali, The Guardian, January 14, 2013 (16.34 EST).

Le Monde.fr avec AFP et Reuters,”Paris agit au Mali avec le soutien de l’ONU’” Le Monde, 15 janvier 2013 (Mis à jour le 15.01.2013 à 07h43).

Pierre Prier, “Mali : les islamistes lancent une contre-offensive,” Le Figaro, 14 janvier 2013 (Mis à jour à 23:46).

Adam Nossiter, Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti ( Bamako),”French Strikes in Mali Supplant Caution of U.S.,” New York Times, January 13, 2013

The Trenchant Observer

Possible motives for forcing Petraeus resignation

Monday, November 19th, 2012

Among the most significant articles to be published in recent days regarding Benghazi and the Petraeus resignation is a Wall Street Journal article posted late Thursday evening on their site.

See Adam Entous and Siobhan Gorman, “In Final Days, Petraeus Hurt by Libya Clash, Then Affair,” Wall Street Journal, November 14, 2012 (updated 10:32 p.m.).

In looking for a possible motive for forcing the ouster of one of the president’s key foreign policy advisers, without a fight, it is interesting to note that Petraeus had significant tensions with other intelligence officials in the weeks leading up to his resignation.

Entous and Gorman report,

WASHINGTON—In David Petraeus’s final days at the helm of the Central Intelligence Agency, his relations with chiefs of other U.S. agencies, including his boss, National Intelligence Director James Clapper, took a contentious turn.

At issue was whether the CIA should break its silence about its role in Benghazi, Libya, to counter criticism that increasingly was being leveled at the agency and Mr. Petraeus, said senior officials involved in the discussions.

Mr. Petraeus wanted his aides to push back hard and release their own timeline of the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi and a nearby CIA safe house, seeking to set the record straight and paint the CIA’s role in a more favorable light. Mr. Clapper and agencies including the Pentagon objected, but Mr. Petraeus told his aides to proceed, said the senior officials.

Specific tensions over the talking points prepared for Susan Rice for her Sunday talk show appearances on September 16 became a matter of varying accounts by officials on background.

Criticism of Mr. Petraeus within the administration rose after the Benghazi attacks. Some senior administration officials at the time described Mr. Petraeus as disengaged in the attacks’ aftermath.

The CIA decided to keep secret its extensive security and intelligence-collection role in Benghazi, and Mr. Petraeus didn’t attend ceremonies for two CIA security contractors killed in the attacks.

Officials close to Mr. Petraeus said he was fully engaged, reviewing intelligence reports and taking part in meetings about the attacks.

Some administration officials felt they took the blame for using the CIA’s shifting accounts of what happened in Benghazi. Initially, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice and other top policy makers used CIA talking points to make the case that the attacks were preceded by a spontaneous protest over an anti-Islam video created in the U.S.—an assessment the agency later abandoned. Critics said the attacks had the markings of an organized strike by al Qaeda-linked militants but the White House was initially more cautious about making such links.

The release on November 2 of the CIA timeline of events in Benghazi did not please James Clapper and other intelligence officials outside of the CIA.

As questions mounted, a Fox News report Oct. 26 alleged that the CIA delayed sending a security force to protect U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and others who were under attack. Mr. Stevens and three other Americans died.

The CIA denied the report, then began pulling together its own timeline of events.

The Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies objected to Mr. Petraeus’s decision to mount a solo defense. “We conveyed our objections. Multiple agencies did,” a senior military official said.

Mr. Petraeus’s decision to release the CIA’s timeline to the press didn’t sit well with Mr. Clapper, who was unaware it would be made public, officials said. Other agencies saw Mr. Petraeus’s decision as a step aimed at presenting the CIA and Mr. Petraeus in the best light and forcing them to accept the brunt of the criticism.

James Clapper’s spokesman, Shawn Turner, stated Clapper did not talk to the White House before strongly suggesting to Petraeus that he resign, after receiving a call from the FBI on November 6 informing him of Petraeus’ affair with Paula Broadwell. The resignation climax swiftly followed:

Meanwhile, one week after the turf fight over the CIA’s release of its Benghazi timeline, the FBI told Mr. Clapper about Mr. Petraeus’s extramarital affair, said officials familiar with the timeline.

Mr. Turner said Mr. Clapper had no doubt when he spoke to Mr. Petraeus on Nov. 7 that “resigning was the honorable thing for Petraeus to do,” describing the discussion as “difficult” and “painful.” He didn’t consult with the White House first. Mr. Clapper informed the White House that day that Mr. Petraeus was considering resigning, these officials said. The next morning, Mr. Petraeus called Tom Donilon, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, to request a meeting with the president, the officials said.

Mr. Donilon then briefed Mr. Obama. The president met Nov. 8 with Mr. Petraeus, who offered to resign. Mr. Obama told Mr. Petraeus he would think about it overnight, the officials said.

Officials said Mr. Obama didn’t try to talk Mr. Petraeus out of leaving. On Nov. 9, Mr. Obama called Mr. Petraeus and accepted the resignation.

As the authors observed earlier in the article,

By all accounts, the driving force behind Mr. Petraeus’s departure last Friday was the revelation about his extramarital affair with his biographer. But new details about Mr. Petraeus’s last days at the CIA show the extent to which the Benghazi attacks created a climate of interagency finger-pointing. That undercut the retired four-star general’s backing within the Obama administration as he struggled with the decision to resign.

Conclusions

1. David Petraeus pushed back against other intelligence officials who appeared to be blaming the CIA for failing to respond quickly to the initial attack.

2. One of the reasons Petraeus was initially coy was that he (perhaps with others) had decided to try to keep the CIA black operation in Benghazi a secret. This is why news reports from American sources took so long to report on what the black operation in Benghazi was doing.

It now appears that they were trying to collect heavy weapons which had become available to militants after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi, were monitoring some jihadist groups, and may have been supplying weapons to militant groups in Syria, through militant groups in Libya. This latter point is the most controversial aspect, whose details remain clouded in secrecy.

David Ignatius reports the following:

The CIA had a substantial base in Benghazi, with at least a half-dozen former military special forces assigned there as part of the “Global Response Staff.” These were the muscle-bound security guys known to flippant earlier generations of CIA case officers as “knuckle-draggers.” They were in Benghazi in such numbers in part because the CIA was supporting the State Department’s programto collect the shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles that had gone loose after the fall of Col. Moammar Gaddafi. Agency officers may also have been working with Libyan militias to help them become effective security forces.

–David Ignatius, “Charting a post-Petraeus era,” Washington Post, November 13, 2012.

The New York Times has added the following details:

The C.I.A.’s surveillance targets in Benghazi and eastern Libya include Ansar al-Sharia, a militia that some have blamed for the attack, as well as suspected members of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in North Africa, known as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

American intelligence operatives also assisted State Department contractors and Libyan officials in tracking shoulder-fired missiles taken from the former arsenals of the former Libyan Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces; they aided in efforts to secure Libya’s chemical weapons stockpiles; and they helped train Libya’s new intelligence service, officials said.

–Eric Schmitt, Helene Cooper and Michael S. Schmidt, “Deadly Attack in Libya Was Major Blow to C.I.A. Efforts,” New York Times, September 23, 2012.

The more explosive question is whether Benghazi was a major CIA center in Africa, where heavy and other weapons were being purchased from militants in Libya, and then some of them were being shipped on to the rebels in Syria. If true, the facts remain highly classified, and may be among those which the governmnet asked news organizations to withhold in the early days after 9/11/12.

See

Michael Kelley, “There’s A Reason Why All Of The Reports About Benghazi Are So Confusing,” Business Insider (Military and Defense), November 3, 2012 (10:28 PM).

3. Petraeus upset Clapper and other intelligence officials when he released the CIA timeline of events in Benghazi on November 2, over their objections.

4. Clapper pushed Petraeus toward immediate resignation by strongly suggesting that he resign in one or both of their conversations on Tuesday night and Wednesday, November 6 and 7.

5. Petraeus called Tom Donilon on Wednesday, and arranged a meeting with the president on Thursday.

6. Obama did not immediately accept Petraeus’ resignation when then met on Thursday, November 8. Nor, according to the reports that have come out, did he strongly urge Petraeus not to resign, or offer assurances that he would fight to keep him in office if his affair with Broadwell became public.

7. Intelligence officials were concerned that Petraeus might publicly state positions at variance with their own on Benghazi, as in fact he did on November 2 with the release of the CIA timeline on events in Benghazi.

8. The announcement of a continuing inquiry into Petraeus by the CIA on Thursday, November 15, gave the appearance that the administration might be trying to influence his testimony to Congress on Friday, November 16.

9. Petraeus testified on November 16 that the original draft CIA talking points included the names of the al-Qaeda related organizations that were behind the attack, and the fact that there had been changes to eliminate those references before they were given to Susan Rice for Sunday talk show appearances on September 16.

10.  At this point it is difficult to know for sure whether the credibility crisis the Obama administration has created for itself in relation to Benghazi has been the result of incredible ineptness by Obama’s foreign policy team, “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight”, a deliberate downplaying of the known al Qaeda connections of those behind the attacks on the U.S. mission and CIA annex in Benghazi, for political purposes, or a combination of the two. At the moment, it looks like a combination of the two.

11.  The familiar Watergate dynamic continues to unfold:  stonewalling, drip-by-drip revelations, and rapidly increasing loss of trust and credibility.

12.  The president has a first-class crisis on his hands.  He needs to get out in front of it as quickly as he can if he is to govern effectively in his second term.  The arrogance and hubris of the president and his team may be the greatest obstacles he faces in terms of understanding clearly how perilous his situation currently is.  They represent formidable personal challenges to Obama, particularly coming as they do precisely at this moment of electoral triumph (at least in the White House and the Senate).

Obama needs Democrats to stop making this a partisan issue, and to break through his bubble and make it clear to him that drastic action is required.  As suggested earlier, the president needs to bring in someone with recognized experience, prestige, and credibility, someone like David Gergen, to manage his communications strategy with respect to Petraeus and Benghazi, and more.  His current strategy of ”I am right, and I was right” has failed.  

Spectacularly. 

The Trenchant Observer

No time for cowboys: U.S. preparation for reprisals against Libyan targets

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

News report

WASHINGTON — The United States is laying the groundwork for operations to kill or capture militants implicated in the deadly attack on a diplomatic mission in Libya, senior military and counterterrorism officials said Tuesday, as the weak Libyan government appears unable to arrest or even question fighters involved in the assault.

The top-secret Joint Special Operations Command is compiling so-called target packages of detailed information about the suspects, the officials said. Working with the Pentagon and the C.I.A., the command is preparing the dossiers as the first step in anticipation of possible orders from President Obama to take action against those determined to have played a role in the attack on a diplomatic mission in the eastern city of Benghazi that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three colleagues three weeks ago.

–Eric Schmitt and David D. Kirkpatrick, “U.S. Is Tracking Killers in Attack on Libya Mission,” New York Times, October 2, 2012 (October 3, 2012 print edition).

Several facts have now become clear regarding the attacks on the U.S. consulate and other buildings in Benghazi on September 11-12, which resulted in the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.  They include:

1.  The Ambassador, and the consulate in Benghazi, were woefully unprotected in terms of security.  The State Department had refused numerous requests for more robust security arrangements in view of the changing risk environment in eastern Libya.

2.  The CIA and/or other U.S. government agencies were conducting a major “black” or secret  operation in Benghazi, without the knowledge of ranking Libyan officials.

3.   The lack of any warning of the imminence or possibility of the attacks on September 11-12 against the consulate, and a second compound at some remove from the consulate (often referred to as a “safe house”), constituted an enormous intelligence failure on the part of the Obama administration.

4.  The failure of the “black ops” group to anticipate the attacks reveals a stunning lack of effectiveness of intelligence operatives whose precise task was to track activities among anti-American and extremist groups.

5.  As one official told the New York Times, the attacks in Benghazi and the withdrawal of the U.S. intelligence operatives meant that the U.S. had had its “eyes poked out”  in Libya, or at least in eastern Libya.

Among the more than two dozen American personnel evacuated from the city after the assault on the American mission and a nearby annex were about a dozen C.I.A. operatives and contractors, who played a crucial role in conducting surveillance and collecting information on an array of armed militant groups in and around the city.

“It’s a catastrophic intelligence loss,” said one American official who has served in Libya and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the F.B.I. is still investigating the attack. “We got our eyes poked out.”

The C.I.A.’s surveillance targets in Benghazi and eastern Libya include Ansar al-Sharia, a militia that some have blamed for the attack, as well as suspected members of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in North Africa, known as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

–Eric Schmitt, Helene Cooper and Michael S. Schmidt, “Deadly Attack in Libya Was Major Blow to C.I.A. Efforts,” New York Times, September 23, 2012.

6.  Obama administration officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, provided misleading information about who was responsible for the attack on the consulate, in a series of constantly-changing stories over a period of weeks.  In particular, these officials pushed a narrative that the attacks were the result of demonstrations in front of the consulate that were a reaction to the movie trailer for “The Innocence of Muslims,” which gave rise to demonstrations throughout a number of Muslim countries, when the known facts strongly suggested this was not the case.

7.  Obama administration officials have apparently leaked information regarding the preparation of target options or “packages”, to be executed against those responsible for the attacks in Benghazi, if President Obama gives the go-ahead. 

8.  The last two points continue a pattern in which leaks by government officials seek to portray President Obama as a “macho” president who is extremely tough on national defense and national security.

Two extremely dangerous factors seem to be converging that could lead the president to undertake disastrous actions against targets in Libya.

The first is the dominance within Obama’s national security councils of CIA and military advocates of using force against targets in other countries without regard for their sovereignty, including a special attachment to drone stikes and special operations attacks conducted outside the framework of international law.

International law establishes with great clarity that the conduct of ireprisals within the territory of another state is a violation of bedrock principles of international law prohibiting the use of force (e.g., Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter), and are not permissible under international law as lawful exercises of the right to self-defense under Article 51 of the Charter.

The second factor is the presidential election to be held on November 6, and the ongoing campaign including the first debate between  Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to be held tonight, October 3, 2012.  Romney has criticized Obama sharply for some of the failures mentioned in the points above.

Obama’s argument throughout the campaign has been that he has effectively reduced the threat of Al Queda and terrorists against the United States.  The Libyan failures do not fit well within this narrative.

Washington’s misleading statements about what happened in Benghazi suggest, to this observer at least, that the CIA and other intelligence agencies have been very keen to distract attention from what the black operations group was doing in Libya, without the permission of the Libyan government.  The administration’s objectives in making these misleading statements seem to have been to avoid discussion of this sensitive issue, and to keep the whole Libyan mess out of the presidential campaign.

This tactic of issuing misleading statements has now backfired.

The great risk at the moment is that President Obama, in order to shift the conversation away from his administration’s failures in Libya, will resort to the direct use of force against those believed to be responsible for the death of Ambassador Stevens and the other Americans in Benghazi, without the consent and cooperation of the Libyan authorities.

The electoral logic is powerful, but the risk is that such actions could inflict enourmous damage on U.S. foreign policy and public attitudes toward the United States not only in Libya, but also throughout the Middle East and in other Muslim countries.

The United States should not react to the attacks in Benghazi like a tribe which demands immediate blood vengeance for the killing of one of its members. Rather, it should act as a great democracy and example to the world, dedicated to the rule of law, and proceed to identify those responsible for the attacks, and then over time seek to bring them to justice through cooperation with the governments of the countries in which they may be found. This is the example which will have a real and lasting impact in the Middle East, and beyond.

The cowboys who have grown accustomed to conducting drone attacks in other countries without regard for international law, or for the reactions of the peoples and governments in the territories where they direct their strikes, should be sent back to the corral.

They should not be allowed to call the shots on this one.  Nor should the Obama campaign operation be allowed to undermine U.S. foreign policy in the region for the sake of electoral politics.

Above all, if President Obama is wearing a cowboy hat, he should take it off.

The Trenchant Observer

Holder’s Investigations into Torture and Covert Operations Leaks–An Obama Cover-up?

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Barack Obama thinks he’s always “the smartest person in the room”, and that he is a lot smarter than we are. Or maybe, accustomed as he is to a sycophantic press, he just thinks he is more clever than we are, and that he can sneak things by us and we won’t notice.

Obama, the Torture Convention, and Holder’s Investigations into Cases of Torture

An early example of the foregoing was the way President Obama dealt with the issue of potential prosecution of past and present officials for their involvement in the torture policy of the Bush administration.

First, Attorney General Eric Holder initiated an investigation into cases of alleged use of harsh interrogation techniques by the CIA, on August 24, 2009. At the same time he exempted from eventual prosecution all those who had acted pursuant to legal advice from the Justice Department, stating:

On January 2, 2008, Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed Assistant United States Attorney John Durham of the District of Connecticut to conduct a criminal investigation into the destruction of interrogation videotapes by the Central Intelligence Agency. On August 24, 2009, based on information the Department received pertaining to alleged CIA mistreatment of detainees, I announced that I had expanded Mr. Durham’s mandate to conduct a preliminary review into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations. I made clear at that time that the Department would not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel regarding the interrogation of detainees. Accordingly, Mr. Durham’s review examined primarily whether any unauthorized interrogation techniques were used by CIA interrogators, and if so, whether such techniques could constitute violations of the torture statute or any other applicable statute.

Second, the Justice Department concluded in a report on February 19, 2010, that the legal guidance drafted by Justice Department officials authorizing the full range of “harsh interrogation techniques” did not constitute professional misconduct.

Third, Holder announced on June 30, 2011 that the review of cases was complete and that only two cases, which involved the death in custody of detainees, would be prosecuted. None of the other cases warranted prosecution, he concluded, stating:

Mr. Durham has advised me of the results of his investigation, and I have accepted his recommendation to conduct a full criminal investigation regarding the death in custody of two individuals. Those investigations are ongoing. The Department has determined that an expanded criminal investigation of the remaining matters is not warranted.
–”Statement of the Attorney General Regarding Investigation into the interrogation of certain detainees, National Journal, June 30, 2011 (full text of statement),

See Eric Lichtblau and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Widens Inquiries Into 2 Jail Deaths,” New York Times, July 1, 2011

The authors of the legal guidance authorizing torture (as it is defined in the Convention on Torture) were exonerated from “professional misconduct”. In other words, the Justice Department concluded that their drafting and approvals of legal memoranda authorizing torture did not constitute misconduct–i.e., that what appear to be clear violations of the torture convention do not constitute “misconduct”.  This is a rather extraordinary conclusion. 

The due obedience defense adopted by Holder protected all the individuals directly involved in executing acts of torture against detainees, with the two exceptions mentioned above. The policymakers at higher levels were never investigated for potential violations of the Torture Convention.

Obama and Holder thus avoided their legal duty, under both U.S. law and the Convention on Torture, to prosecute those responsible for the torture policy and its implementation. By June 30, 2011, the press and the media had long since turned their attention away from torture.  No one really cared about, even if they noticed, Obama’s and Holder’s legerdemain in excluding from the investigation both the principal policymakers involved in the formulation of the policy and those who actually carried it out.

The price paid by America in proceeding in this manner, in terms of international law, was high. The United States adopted the “due obedience” defense in cases involving torture (and by implication other international crimes), despite the fact that the “due obedience defense” was explicitly rejected in the Nuremberg Principles and at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals following World War II, and by the U.N. Convention Against Torture, to which the United States is a party. The Convention on Torture provides the following:

Article 2 (3). An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

In addition, the Defense Department acted to remove the issue of torture from public debate through an order on November 11, 2009, which prohibited the release of any photographs depicting torture from September 11, 2001 through January 22, 2009.

See also Alexander Abdo, “The White House’s blemished record of disclosure on Bush-era torture; Since publishing the ‘torture memos’, the Obama adminstration has obfuscated far too much about CIA interrogation techniques,” The Guardian, June 26, 2012.

Nonetheless, under the Torture Convention other countries which are parties to the treaty have a continuing obligation to assume jurisdiction over individuals responsible for torture, including its planning and coordination, when such individuals are found within their territory. The second state must then inquire of the United States whether it wishes to prosecute the individual, and if it receives a negative reply, it is under a continuing obligation to prosecute the individual concerned.

At some point in the future, this requirement could complicate travel plans for U.S. officials from the Bush administration–including some still in the the government, such as John Brennan, the president’s counter-terrorism adviser.

See The Trenchant Observer, “The Clock is Ticking: U.S. Application of the Torture Convention,” February 20, 2010.

If one can draw one overriding lesson from the way the torture investigations were handled, it would have to be that Obama and Holder were using sleight of hand to give the impression they were investigating those potentially responsible for violating the Torture Convention, when they were not. They are clever lawyers, who need to be watched very carefully in order to fully understand what they are actually doing, and not just what they give the appearance of doing.

Obama’s Coverup of the White House Leaks?

Now, President Obama appears to be engaged in a similar act of legerdemain.

First, following a number of news stories in recent weeks and months which are obviously based on classified information, at a press conference on June 8, 2012, the president was asked by David Jackson of USA Today the following question:

Q Thank you, sir. There are a couple of books out with, essentially, details about national security issues. There are reports of terrorist kill lists that you supervise and there are reports of cyber-attacks on the Iranian nuclear program that you ordered. Two things. First of all, what’s your reaction of this information getting out in public? And secondly, what’s your reaction to lawmakers who accuse your team of leaking these details in order to promote your reelection bid?

In a lengthy (four minutes) but opague response, the president seemed to say that he would not tolerate such leaks, that mechanisms were in place to find and punish anyone guilty of leaking such classified information, which in some cases is even illegal, and that he would act to identify the source of the leaks.

For videos of his response, see White House Press Office, video, June 8, 2012.

The video also follows below:

Or see the C-Span video here.

The question and answer on this issue begins at minute 23:00 of the video.

A transcript of the question and answer regarding leaks follows:

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. I just want to say a few words about the economy, and then I will take some of your questions.

All right. David Jackson.

Q Thank you, sir. There are a couple of books out with, essentially, details about national security issues. There are reports of terrorist kill lists that you supervise and there are reports of cyber-attacks on the Iranian nuclear program that you ordered. Two things. First of all, what’s your reaction of this information getting out in public? And secondly, what’s your reaction to lawmakers who accuse your team of leaking these details in order to promote your reelection bid?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I’m not going to comment on the details of what are supposed to be classified items. Second, as Commander-in-Chief, the issues that you have mentioned touch on our national security, touch on critical issues of war and peace, and they’re classified for a reason — because they’re sensitive and because the people involved may, in some cases, be in danger if they’re carrying out some of these missions. And when this information, or reports, whether true or false, surface on the front page of newspapers, that makes the job of folks on the front lines tougher and it makes my job tougher — which is why since I’ve been in office, my attitude has been zero tolerance for these kinds of leaks and speculation.

Now, we have mechanisms in place where if we can root out folks who have leaked, they will suffer consequences. In some cases, it’s criminal — these are criminal acts when they release information like this. And we will conduct thorough investigations, as we have in the past.

The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive. It’s wrong. And people I think need to have a better sense of how I approach this office and how the people around me here approach this office.

We’re dealing with issues that can touch on the safety and security of the American people, our families, or our military personnel, or our allies. And so we don’t play with that. And it is a source of consistent frustration, not just for my administration but for previous administrations, when this stuff happens. And we will continue to let everybody know in government, or after they leave government, that they have certain obligations that they should carry out.

But as I think has been indicated from these articles, whether or not the information they’ve received is true, the writers of these articles have all stated unequivocally that they didn’t come from this White House. And that’s not how we operate.

Q Are there leak investigations going on now — is that what you’re saying?

THE PRESIDENT: What I’m saying is, is that we consistently, whenever there is classified information that is put out into the public, we try to find out where that came from.

Okay? Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.

–Remarks by the President, June 8, 2012.

Subsequently, also on June 8, Attorney General Holder announced that he had appointed two Justice Department prosecutors (in the chain of command) to conduct investigations into at least some of the leaks. Republicans, meanwhile, have been calling for the appointment of an Independent Prosecutor.

Significantly, leaks relating to procedures employed and the president’s role in conducting “targeted killings” may not have been referred to Attorney General Holder for investigation, at least according to some reports.

See “White House adviser rebuffs questions on leak probe, amid warnings of security risk,” FoxNews.com, June 17, 2012. According to Fox News,

“Recent leaks on sensitive programs have contributed to two New York Times stories, one on the campaign of cyberwarfare against Iran and one on the president’s involvement in approving the “kill list” of terror targets for U.S. drone strikes — as well as the Associated Press newsbreak on a foiled bomb plot out of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

“Fox News has confirmed that investigations are currently looking into the leaks on the anti-Iran campaign and the bomb plot — it’s unclear whether any probe will examine leaks on the drone program.”

If true, this would appear to be a clear departure from what President Obama said he would do at the press conference on June 8, and to constitute either an admission that those leaks came from the White House or a coverup to hide the identities of the leakers.

In the meantime, judging from the time taken to conduct investigations into cases of individuals involved in torture, and the results, we are likely to be well past the presidential elections in November before any results of the investigations are announced. One can only speculate on what prosecutions, if any, might be undertaken, and when the corresponding individuals might be brought to trial.

The significant point here is not that the individuals who leaked this information must be tried, though certainly in the case of the cyber warfare against Iran a very strong case might be made.

It must be acknowledged that we as citizens depend on probing investigative reporting on covert and classified actions by our government, in order to have some sense of the policies the government is carrying out in our name. In general, journalists should not be prosecuted for gathering and reporting such information, or for maintaining the confidentiality of their sources.

The point is that Obama’s White House appeared to be leaking highly classfied information for political purposes, to portray the president as a strong and decisive leader on foreign policy. If this is true, it reflects the hubris and unprincipled partisanship of President Obama and his “foreign policy juggernaut”, as well as the incompetence of “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight”.

We deserve to know, soon, if that was the case and who the leakers were.

We also deserve to know if the president, at the June 8 news conference, was telling the truth in responding to the reporter’s question, in general, and in particular with respect to leaks regarding “targeted killings”.

If he wasn’t, as we noted on June 10, we may be witnessing a “Watergate moment”. 

The Trenchant Observer

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For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer, click on the title at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then use the “Search” Box or consult the information in the bottom right hand corner of the home page. The Articles on Syria page can also be found here. The Articles on Targeted Killings page can also be found here.

Assassination of Syed Saleem Shahzad: Pakistan is the problem

Saturday, July 9th, 2011

Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan Bureau Chief for Asia Times Online, was assassinated in Pakistan at the time of or shortly after his disappearance on May 29, reportedly on the orders of top-level officials of the Pakistan intelligence agency.

See Editorial, “A Pakistani Journalist’s Murder,” The New York Times, July 7, 2011

Jane Perlez and Eric Schmitt, “Pakistan’s Spies Tied to Slaying of a Journalist,” New York Times, July 4, 2011

“Pakistan ‘sanctioned’ killing of journalist, says US commander: Islamabad hits back at claim by Admiral Mike Mullen over murder of Syed Saleem Shahzad, The Guardian, July 8, 2011

The Observer has previously referred to Shahzad’s reports on alleged behind-the-scenes deals between the Obama administration and the Pakistan military. The first was for the U.S. to withdraw its support of Abdullah Abdullah in negotiations for a unity government or at least the holding of a second-round election, in the stand-off that resulted from the massive fraud in the Afghanistan presidential elections held on August 20, 2009. The U.S. basically cast Abdullah aside, and backed Karzai as the legitimate winner in the elections, reportedly in exchange for Pakistani support in facilitating negotiations with the Taliban.

The second and related move by Hamid Karzai, believed to be at the insistence of Pakistan, was to fire the intelligence chief, Amrullah Saleh, and the interior minister, Hanif Atmar, who were viewed as too close to India and therefore hostile to Pakistan. Both were fomer members of the Northern Alliance, the force which with the United States toppled the Taliban government in 2001.

See The Trenchant Observer, “Intelligence Matters: In Afghanistan, Karzai Ousts Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and Intelligence Chief Amrullah Saleh,” June 6, 2010

Now, perhaps partly as an unintended consequence of the humiliation of the Pakistani military and intelligence agencies by President Obama, who loudly touted the fact that the United States took out Bin Laden without the foreknowledge or participation of Pakistani officials, a leading reporter on the inner workings of the Pakistan military and intelligence agencies has been murdered. According to American officials, the assassination was approved at very high levels of the Pakistan military and security agencies.

The Observer must observe, in passing, that Obama’s public humiliation of Pakistani military and intelligence officials was utterly unnecessary, and represented a novice’s mistake for a practitioner of foreign policy. In international affairs, it is important to allow your enemies, as well as your (questionable) allies and friends, to save face, and not to push them too hard into a corner. Doing so subjects them to intense internal political and other pressures and sharply limits their freedom of action in adopting policies that you may want them to follow.

Obama, in effect, stressed that the operation against Bin Laden violated the sovereignty of Pakistan, when he might easily have left that issue shrouded in ambiguity. His mistake was to publicly declaim that the Bin Laden operation was carried out without Pakistani knowldge. That wasn’t necessary. On the other hand, it was entirely appropriate to raise the issue of how Bin Laden had lived near Islamabad in Abbottabad, the very same town where the Pakistani “West Point” is located, without being detected. These were legitimate questions. The public humiliation was a grave mistake.

Since the Bin Laden killing, U.S.-Pakistan military and intelligence relations have taken a sharp turn for the worse.

We are left with a situation where we are faced with a nuclear-weapons state, which continues to support Taliban and other insurgent forces operating in Afghanistan, while our own ability to conduct anti-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations from within and against targets in Pakistan territory has been greatly curtailed.

The assassination of Shazad closed one of the few windows open to the world to follow and understand the machinations underway within Pakistani military and intelligence circles.

It also serves as a useful reminder that the United States has gained very little from its apparent deal with Pakistan by withdrawing its support for Abdullah in 2009, and acquiescing in the firing of Saleh and Atmar.

The much-touted negotiations with the Taliban have come to nothing, and hold very little promoise of ever producing tangible results. We are no further along in this regard, in fact, than we were two years ago. The illusions fed by the flawed assumption of the possibility of a political settlement with the Taliban remain as far from the reality on the ground and the realm of real-world possibilities as they were then. The difference is that now President Obama, with his recent speech on the the path forward in Afghanistan, has adopted a posture of publicly relying on those illusions.

The consequences in Afghanistan are likely to be harsh. Moreover, we now face a much larger problem in Pakistan than even that faced in Afghanistan itself, which we have yet to devise a successful strategy to address.

The effects of the loss of Special Ambassador to Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador, Richard Holbrooke, who died suddenly in December, 2010, have been devastating.

On July 9, 2011, the United States faces a one-time ally in Pakistan which looks much more like a hostile state that 1) will block a peaceful resolution of the war in Afghanistan on terms acceptable to the West and the international community; 2) itself has become a great center of Islamic radicalism and the spawning of terrorist behavior; and 3) poses an ultiimate risk to the United States and other nations due to its possession of nuclear weapons.

If a country like Pakistan can decide, at the highest military and intelligence levels, to assassinate a journalist whose reports reveal messy facts they would prefer to remain hidden, how can the United States continue to proceed as if it were an ally?

The Trenchant Observer

www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

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Links to some of the Observer’s articles dealing with Syed Saleem Shahzad and the issues he raised, and excerpts from these articles, are reporduced below.

NEWS TO NOTE: Pakistani sources report progress in back-channel talks with Taliban, September 18, 2010

See Syed Saleem Shahzad, “Taliban soften as talks gain speed,” Asia Times On-Line (www.atimes.com), September 15, 2010.

“Pakistan Desire to “Mediate” with Taliban Consistent with Earlier Reports of Deal to Support Karzai in Election Settlement,”
February 10th, 2010

NEWS TO NOTE Deal by U.S. with Pakistan Military to Undercut Abdullah in Final Discussions?
November 11th, 2009

Update: Torture, The STL in Lebanon, and Obama’s “Way Forward” in Afghanistan

Friday, July 1st, 2011

Today we introduce a new feature in The Trenchant Observer, an occasional column commenting on some of the more important events of the previous weeks in international affairs, as seen by the Observer.

This week’s stories include U.S. policy toward torture prosecutions, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, and President Obama’s speech on “the way forward” in Afghanistan.

The United States’ Adoption of the “Due Obedience” Defense in Cases of Torture

This week the Justice Department announced that it would pursue investigations into two cases involving the deaths of detainees who were preseumably subjected to “harsh interrogation techniques” that went beyond the types of torture (as defined in the U.N. Convention Against Torture) that were permitted under the George W. Bush Administration’s “legal guidance”on “harsh interrogation technicques”.

See Eric Lichtblau and Eric Schmitt, “iU.S. Widens Inquiries Into 2 Jail Deaths,” New York Times, July 1, 2011

With that, the Justice department has ended its investigation into the broad class of cases that appear to qualify as cases involving the commission of torture under the terms of the Torture Convention, to which–it must always be stressed–the United States is a party.

By taking the position that it will not prosecute individuals for acts of torture if they were permitted under the legal guidance provided by their superiors in the Bush Administration, the United States has in effect accepted the “due obedience” argument rejected by the Nuremburg Tribunal in its trials of Nazi war criminals following World War II. This rejection of the “due obedience” defense is universally accepted in international law. It is expressly confirmed in the Torture Convention in Article 2 paragraph 3, which provides:

Article 2 (3). An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

Other countries parties to the Torture Convention may now proceed to prosecute individuals suspected of committing torture found within their territory, without much concern that the U.S. will rquest their extradition for trial in the U.S., given the Justice Department’s position.

This signals a clear and final decision by the Obama administration not to pursue other cases of torture committed during the Bush administration.

It is significant for two reasons. First, it represents a final decision not to prosecute cases of torture by the state with primary jurisdiction, in violation of U.S. international legal obligations under the Torture Convention.

Second, it further opens the way for other states that are parties to the Torture Convention to prosecute U.S. officials for acts of torture they may have committed.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon has now issued arrest warrants and delivered the same to the Government of Lebanon for it to carry out the arrests.

In an earlier article, published on March 3, 2011, The Observer wrote:

In Lebanon, Hezbollah withdrew in January from the unity government of Sa’ad Hariri, among thinly-veiled threats of civil war, if the government of Lebanon does not break ties with the U.N. International Tribunal for Lebanon, established by the Security Council to investigate and try those responsible for the assassination of Hariri’s father, Rafiq Hariri, in 2005. Hezbollah is militating against the United Nations Security Council, international law, and the tribunal established by the Security Council because, according to reports, it fears the Tribunal will issue indictments against Hezbollah members in the coming days or weeks.

The Tribunal itself has a statute which establishes due process of law for the hearing of the charges which may be brought by the Prosecutor of the Court. Hezbollah is arguing, if effect, that the Court is biased before any judicial proceedings against its members are initiated, and without regard to the fact that they will have a chance for a fair hearing, the questioning of evidence and of witnesses, in any proceedings that might be brought. With black shirts menacing and threatening to take physical control of West Beirut and large parts of the country, Hezbollah has positioned itself as an anti-democratic force opposed to the struggle for the rule of law within Lebanon, and one opposed to the United Nations, the Security Council and international law.

Outside parties have rushed to mediate. A Saudi-Syrian initiative has now been replaced by a Qatari-Turkish mediation effort. Democracy is in the balance.

What is at stake is the authority of the U.N. Security Council, the United Nations Charter, and international law. If Hezbollah can halt the cooperation of the government of Lebanon with the STL by threats of civil war and dividing the country in two, its success would not bode well for the future of the International Criminal Court or other international tribunals that might be established in the future to deal with issues such as the Hariri assassination or issues of transitional justice.

We will now see whether Hezbollah has changed it position, and is willing to turn away from its opposition to international law, the United Nations, and the authority of the Special Tribunan for Lebanon established by the Security Council.

Democracy and the rule of law in Lebanon hang in the balance.

Obama’s “Way Forward” in Afghanistan

Recently Ambassador Carl Eikenberry completed his term as U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan. He is being replaced by an extraordinarily skilled deplomat with deep experience in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, Ryan Crocker, the former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq.

Eikenberry’s departure should not go unnoticed, however. A former head of the coalition forces in Afghanistan before becoming Ambassador in 2009, Eikenberry headed an able diplomatic team. In 2009, toward the conclusion of President Barack Obama’s much-touted review of Afghanistan policy, cables written by Eikenberry in November, 2009 were leaked to the press.

In those cables, Ekenberry, who had a deep knowledge of Afghanistan before assuming his post as Ambassador, set forth his thinking about President Hamid Karzai’s government, the narrow limitations of the Afghanistan policy review, and his own cautionary words about the risks of proceeding with the “surge” of over 30,000 U.S. troops without a broader review.

Today, his words seem prophetic, and read more like the history of the last two years than the risk assessment they were originally intended to be.

See The Observer’s previous columns on this subject:

Eikenberry Memos Place Spotlight on U.S. Dilemmas in Afghanistan
January 27th, 2010

Commentary on Eikenberry Cables, Intelligence on Afghanistan
January 28th, 2010

On June 22, 2011, President Obama delivered an important speech to the nation setting forth his thoughts and policies on “the way forward in Afghanistan.”

Adminral Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated publicly that Obama’s new strategy of withdrawal represented more risk than he had originally been propared to accept. The military, including Petraeus, did not agree with what in all likelihood will represent an abandonment of the modified and limited counter-insurgency or COIN strategy Petraeus had led. Toby Harnden of The Telegraph reported, for example,

Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, said: “Petraeus loses, Biden wins. And I respect the vice president, but I think that we have undercut a strategy that was working. I think the 10,000 troops leaving year is going to make this more difficult.”

The Pentagon fought a rearguard action to prevent the surge force ordered into Afghanistan by Mr Obama in December 2009 from being pulled out by early spring next year but the withdrawal plan announced by Mr Obama, which had initially been tabled as a “compromise” by Robert Gates, the defence secretary, was not supported by Gen Petraeus.

There were reports of heated discussions during the month before Mr Obama’s prime-time speech on Wednesday night.

White House officials, aware of the soaring costs of the war and its questionable progress could be a political liability in the 2012 election, are said to have clashed with Gen Petraeus, who argued that with more time he could repeat his success in Iraq.

Harnden reported further that Obama had rejected Petraeus’ proposal to move thousands of troops from the south to the east “in order to build a counter-insurgency campaign there.” Obama also overrode Petraeus’ request to keep some of the 33,000 troops to be withdrawn by this spring until 2013.

Two military officers with close ties to Petraeus told “National Journal” that Gen Petraeus disagreed with Mr Gates’s compromise proposal and had not endorsed Mr Obama’s drawdown plan.

–Toby Harnden, “Admiral Mike Mullen says withdrawal plan is a risk,” The Telegraph, June 23, 2010

To those who have followed developments in Afghanistan over the last five to eight years, including readers of The Trenchant Observer, there was nothing new in his speech.

Rather, the Observer’s appraisal of Obama’s approach to international affairs, offered in an analysis of his failed leadership in Libya, seems to describe his Afghan policy as well:

When one looks hard at the decisions he has made, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the president’s primary objective is “to manage” international conflicts and affairs, as domestic affairs, in a manner that will enable him to be reelected in 2012.

Reelection is probably a goal of almost all politicians. Certainly there are exceptions. Winston Churchill comes to mind. But with Presdent Obama, it appears to be the primary and overriding goal.

It is perhaps the prism through which the president’s actions can best be understood. In this sense, Obama’s current policy towards Libya seems to be succeeding.

For commentary on the president’s speech, see

Jennifer Rubin, “Liberals give thumbs down on Obama’s speech,” Washington Post, June 23, 2011

A “conditions based” withdrawal of 10,000 troops is meaningless. The “conditions based” withdrawal of additional troops from the surge will meet its test if and when one or more provinces fall to the Taliban.

A collapse of the Afghan government is not to be ruled out. It could come at a most unexpected moment. If it were to come before the presidential elections in 2012, it could have a decisive impact on their outcome.

The folly of following a strategy in foreign policy that is decisively determined by domestic political considerations is likely to have hard lessons to teach its authors.

The Trenchant Observer

www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

Urgent Note to Obama and Petraeus: Reread the Eikenberry Cables, Avoid Reasoning from Conclusions, and Adjust Course

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

The replacement of General Stanley McChrystal by General David Petraeus signals an important change in the military leadership in Afghanistan. However, with commentators suggesting that Petraeus will be the new American “proconsul” in Afghanistan, it is far from clear that President Obama is moving to redress the serious imbalance in his team’s combined civilian and military approach and strategy in Afghanistan.

To date, undue weight has been given to military solutions and military considerations. Comments from White House officials on background suggest problems on the civilian side of the equation, with thought being given to replacing Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

It is a disservice to President Obama and to these men, who have given years of distinguished service to the nation, to paint them as clinging to their jobs.

That aside, why Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has not defended the State Department, and her own perogative to choose State’s team for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is an open question.

She appears to be out of the White House loop on Afghanistan policy. Whenever she does become visibly involved, as she did during last year’s reexamination of our Afghanistan strategy, she seems to agree not with her ambassadors but with the Pentagon, every step of the way.

It is a serious miskake for White House officials, themselves lacking deep foreign policy expertise or experience on the ground in Afghanistan, to personalize differences of policy by referring to “Eikenberry” or “Holbrooke”. The latter represent the expertise of the State Department, including the views of senior diplomats stationed in or with experience in the region.

It is their views, the views of the professional diplomats in the State Department, which require a new and fresh hearing.

In particular, Ambassador Eikenberry’s cables last November laid out the stark realities in Afghanistan. These realities have been forcefully confirmed since then by developments on the ground.

With the confirmation of Petraeus, it is more urgent than ever that the policies that have failed in the last nine months be reexamined with a fresh eye. In particular, the military’s current penchant for reasoning from conclusions (e.g., because a competent government, military and national police force must come into existence for our strategy to succeed, they will…) must be corrected and avoided.

Eikenberry’s cables are worth rereading now. The following article contains links to them.

***

“Eikenberry Memos Place Spotlight on U.S. Dilemmas in Afghanistan,” The Trenchant Observer, March 27, 2010

On January 25 in a story by Eric Schmitt, the New York Times reported on and published the full text of memos written by Ambassador Karl Eikenberry on November 6 and November 9, 2009, detailing his reasons for opposing the counterinsurgency strategy and “surge” proposed by Gen. Stanley McChrystal and the latter’s boss, CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petreus.

The cables strongly suggest that President Obama’s much-touted and drawn-out Afghanistan policy review in the fall did not fully address the validity of key assumptions upon which the McChrystal proposals were based, including 1) the assumption that Karzai and his government could become the kind of government partner needed for the strategy to succeed; and 2) the assumption that the Afghan army and police could be trained and built up quickly to take over and hold areas cleared by U.S. and NATO forces (including the additional 40,000 troops requested by McChrystal).

The fact that the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, himself a former commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, felt the policy review had been too narrowly focused on counterinsurgency doctrine and strategy, is in itself quite amazing.

Perhaps sensing that his views were on the verge of being eclipsed by the recommendations of Mr. Obama’s military advisors, Eikenberry in the second cable urged further study by a broader group to fully weigh considerations such as those raised in his cables–which he obviously felt were not being given due weight in the current review.

The memos confirm that the U.S. has a capable ambassador and diplomatic team in Kabul, who understand the broader picture of what is going on in Afghanistan.

But in the end, Mr. Obama did not follow the main thrust of Eikenberry’s arguments and advice. The President has gained time, perhaps, in domestic political terms, and perhaps also to see if the new strategy of protecting populations can reverse the momentum of the Taliban.

Reading these cables, however, and Eikenberry’s cogent descriptions of what sound like insuperable obstacles to be overcome, it is difficult to discern grounds for optimism regarding the success of the current strategy.

See also The Trenchant Observer, “Commentary on Eikenberry Cables, Intelligence on Afghanistan,”
January 28th, 2010

The Trenchant Observer

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E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com

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