Posts Tagged ‘Senator’

Brennan unclear in confirmation hearing as to whether “waterboarding” constitutes “torture” (with transcript)—The John Brennan File #2

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

The transcript of John Brennan’s confirmation hearing, before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on February 7, 2012, deserves a very close examination by the Senators and the public before the nominee to be Director of Central Intelligence (CIA Director) is confirmed.

See United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, “Open Hearing on the Nomination of of John O. Brennan to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency,” Washington, D.C., February 7, 2013.

(Members Present: Senators Feinstein, Chambliss, Rockefeller, Burr, Wyden, Risch, Mikulski, Coats, Udall, Rubio, Warner, Collins, Heinrich, King, & Levin)

The following exchange, in a hearing to confirm an official whose job will require that he prevent those under him from engaging in or being complicit in acts of torture, is particularly revealing:

SENATOR LEVIN: Thank you.

Thank you for your willingness to serve here, Mr. Brennan.

You’ve said publicly that you believe waterboarding is inconsistent with American values; it’s something that should be prohibited, and it goes beyond the bounds of what a civilized society should employ.

My question is this: in your opinion, does waterboarding constitute torture?

MR. BRENNAN: The attorney general has referred to waterboarding as torture. Many people have referred to it as torture. The attorney general, premiere of law enforcement officer and lawyer of this country. And as you well know, and as we’ve had the discussion, Senator, the term “torture” has a lot of legal and political implications. It is something that should have been banned long ago. It never should have taken place in my view. And, therefore, if I were to go to CIA, it would never, in fact, be brought back.

SENATOR LEVIN: Do you have a personal opinion as to whether boarding is torture?

MR. BRENNAN: I have a personal opinion that waterboarding is reprehensible, and it’s something that should not be done. And, again, I am not a lawyer, Senator, and I can’t address that question.

SENATOR LEVIN: Well, you’ve read opinions as to whether or not waterboarding is torture. And I’m just — do you accept those opinions of the attorney general? That’s my question.

MR. BRENNAN: Senator, you know, I’ve read a lot of legal opinions. I’ve read an Office of Legal Counsel opinion in the previous administration that said in fact waterboarding could be used. So, from the standpoint of that, you know, I cannot point to a single legal document on this issue.

But, as far as I’m concerned, waterboarding is something that never should have been employed, and, as far as I’m concerned, never will be, if I have anything to do with it.

SENATOR LEVIN: Is waterboarding banned by the Geneva Conventions?

MR. BRENNAN: I believe the attorney general also has said that it’s contrary, in contravention, of the Geneva Convention.

Again, I am not a lawyer, or a legal scholar, to make a determination about what is in violation of an international convention.

–Transcipt, pp. 73-74.

The Trenchant Observer can point to a single document on the issue of waterboarding and torture.

Under the U.N. Convention Against Torture and and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Punishment or Treatment, the United States, which is a party to the treaty, is obligated to prosecute or extradite individuals found within its jurisdiction who evidence suggests are guillty of torture.

Torture is defined in Art. 1(1) of the Convention as:

…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.

There are no exceptions to the prohibition against torture, and superior orders are no excuse. Art. 2(2) and Art. 2(3) provide:

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.

Mr. Brennan’s responses to Senator Levin’s question suggest that the nominee to be CIA Director still has a big problem saying the word “torture”.

The euphemistic term “enhanced interrogation techniques”, referred to by Brennan and some Senators in the hearing as “EITs”– in an Orwellian formulation that surpasses even the original– does not wholly occlude the terror involved in waterboarding.

Waterboarding, beyond any scintilla of a doubt, constitutes “torture” under both U.S. and international law. The reservations the U.S. entered upon depositing its ratification of the U.N. convention in no way dilute this statement of fact.

The Convention Against Torture, the Geneva Conventions, and other international law, as well as U.S. law, prohibit the commission of acts of torture by any individual, not just lawyers, with or without the illusory protection of a twisted legal opinion.

If John Brennan doesn’t know that waterboarding constitutes torture and is an international crime, how can he lead the CIA and its employees in a manner that ensures that no acts of torture will be committed or tolerated?

The Trenchant Observer

See also the following previous articles by The Trenchant Observer:

Drone Killings, the Constitution, International Law, and the John Brennan File, February 7, 2013.

Key CIA official involved in Bush torture program criticizes “Zero Dark Thirty” for inaccurate depiction of “enhanced interrogation techniques”
Monday, January 7, 2013

REPRISE: “A time to break silence”: Dr. King on the Vietnam war, and President Carter on America’s human rights violations, January 6, 2013

REPRISE: Consorting with the Devil? The Debate over the Efficacy of Torture, May 15, 2011

Republican Senator John McCain Urges U.S. Military Attacks to Halt Atrocities in Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #3 (March 5)

Monday, March 5th, 2012

For earlier articles on Syria by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page.

***

“Therefore, at the request of the Syrian National Council, the Free Syrian Army, and Local Coordinating Committees inside the country, the United States should lead an international effort to protect key population centers in Syria, especially in the north, through airstrikes on Assad’s forces. To be clear: This will require the United States to suppress enemy air defenses in at least part of the country.”

Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), Speech on the floor of the Senate, March 5, 2012. The full text of the speech is found here.

Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican candidate for the presidency of the U.S., called today in a forceful speech for U.S. bombing of Syria to halt the commission of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other grave violations of fundamental human rights.

“What opposition groups in Syria need most urgently is relief from Assad’s tank and artillery sieges in the many cities that are still contested. Homs is lost for now, but Idlib, and Hama, and Qusayr, and Deraa, and other cities in Syria could still be saved. But time is running out. Assad’s forces are on the march. Providing military assistance to the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups is necessary, but at this late hour, that alone will not be sufficient to stop the slaughter and save innocent lives. The only realistic way to do so is with foreign airpower.

“Therefore, at the request of the Syrian National Council, the Free Syrian Army, and Local Coordinating Committees inside the country, the United States should lead an international effort to protect key population centers in Syria, especially in the north, through airstrikes on Assad’s forces. To be clear: This will require the United States to suppress enemy air defenses in at least part of the country.

“The ultimate goal of airstrikes should be to establish and defend safe havens in Syria, especially in the north, in which opposition forces can organize and plan their political and military activities against Assad. These safe havens could serve as platforms for the delivery of humanitarian and military assistance – including weapons and ammunition, body armor and other personal protective equipment, tactical intelligence, secure communications equipment, food and water, and medical supplies. These safe havens could also help the Free Syrian Army and other armed groups in Syria to train and organize themselves into more cohesive and effective military forces, likely with the assistance of foreign partners.

Noting that the U.S. and many other countries appear to be hedging their bets on Syria, unsure whether Al-Assad will prevail, McCain criticized the utter passivity and lack of contingency planning in NATO and other countries, in the folllowing terms:

“The rhetoric out of NATO has been much more self-defeating. Far from making it clear to Assad that all options are on the table, key alliance leaders are going out of their way to publicly take options off the table. Last week, the Secretary-General of NATO, Mr. Rasmussen, said that the alliance has not even discussed the possibility of NATO action in Syria – saying, quote, ‘I don’t envision such a role for the alliance.’ The following day, the Supreme Allied Commander, Admiral James Stavridis, testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that NATO has done no contingency planning – none – for potential military operations in Syria.

“That is not how NATO approached Bosnia. Or Kosovo. Or Libya. Is it now the policy of NATO – or the United States, for that matter – to tell the perpetrators of mass atrocities, in Syria or elsewhere, that they can go on killing innocent civilians by the hundreds or thousands, and the greatest alliance in history will not even bother to conduct any planning about how we might stop them? Is that NATO’s policy now? Is that our policy? Because that is the practical effect of this kind of rhetoric. It gives Assad and his foreign allies a green light for greater brutality.

“Not surprisingly, many countries, especially Syria’s neighbors, are also hedging their bets on the outcome in Syria. They think Assad will go, but they are not yet prepared to put all of their chips on that bet – even less so now that Assad’s forces have broken Homs and seem to be gaining momentum. There is only one nation that can alter this dynamic, and that is us. The President must state unequivocally that under no circumstances will Assad be allowed to finish what he has started, that there is no future in which Assad and his lieutenants will remain in control of Syria, and that the United States is prepared to use the full weight of our airpower to make it so (emphasis added).  It is only when we have clearly and completely committed ourselves that we can expect other countries to do the same. Only then would we see what is really possible in winning international support to stop the killing in Syria .”

Obama’s debacle in Syria has entered the 2012 presidential campaign.

Obama appears vulnerable on foreign policy issues. His bet that he could keep Afghanistan out of the election is looking increasingly dubious, as more and more Afghan military and police turn their guns on their U.S. and ISAF partners, and kill them. The assumptions on which the Afghan strategy are based–that we can hand over the military battle with the Taliban and other insurgent groups to the Afghan military and police, and that these will perform effectively and in a loyal manner under central government control–seems fatally flawed.

Obama, to some extent at least, has also left himself open to charges from the Republicans that through his inept diplomacy and failure to secure a status of forces agreement and other transitional arrangements with the government of Iraq, U.S. military forces were driven into a precipitous departure, leaving the future of Iraq very much in doubt, with the Shiite dominated government in Bagdad very much in danger of falling under the influence of the Shiite regime in Iran.

Meanwhile, Obama’s famous “reset” of the U.S.-Russian relationship has failed, spectacularly, as Moscow provides arms and ammunition, and most probably intelligence and other support, to al-Assad, enabling the continuing and wanton commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes thoughout Syria.

Unforeseen events, such as an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, could trigger events that cause the Middle East to spin out of control. It is entirely conceivable that Obama could lose the presidency in significant part because of his foreign policy failures.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
twitter.com/trenchantobserv

Senator Kerry’s Conflict of Interest in Afghanistan

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Senator John Kerry (D-MA) traveled to Kabul on August 17 to deliver the Obama administration’s warning to Hamid Karzai that he must clean up corruption in his government if he wants the United States to continue sending its treasure and troops to Afghanistan.

News reports recall that Kerry traveled to Kabul in November, 2009 to urge him to respect the findings of the Electoral Complaints Commission that Karzai had not won a majority of the votes in the first-round elections for president on August 20, and that consequently a second-round election should be held.

Karzai acceded to this immediate request. However he refused to respond to the demand of his rival in the presidential runoff, Abdullah Abdullah, that the Independent Electoral Commission’s members be replaced in order for there to be a real chance for a fair second-round election. The Independent Electoral Commission had been deeply involved in the massive fraud in Karzai’s favor in the first-round elections, and had officially sanctioned that fraud. Only the Electoral Complaints Commission, which at that time had a majority of “international” members, prevented that fraud from being directly consummated, by ruling that Karzai had not achieved a majority of the votes.

In view of Karzai’s failure to replace members of the Independent Electoral Commission who had sanctioned the fraud, Abdullah withdrew from the second-round elections before they could be scheduled to be held. Under the electoral law, the candidate who finished third should have advanced to the second-round runoff. This did not occur.

From these facts, news organizations began to repeat the canard that Senator Kerry had, through his personal “rapport” with Karzai, succeeded in persuading the Afghan president to honor the official results of the first-round election, accepting that a second round would have to be held.

In an apparent bow to the demands of Pakistan’s military and as part of the price of a deal for their help in negotiating with the Taliban, the U.S. stopped pressuring Karzai to enter a national unity government in talks with Abdullah, effectively pulling the rug out from under the latter.

Given Karzai’s failure to respond to his demands and the likelihood of massive fraud in the second-round elections, Abdullah withdrew from the elections. The United States immediately accepted this outcome, and began trumpeting to the world that Karzai was the legitimate and democratically-elected president of Afghanistan.

Senator Kerry’s Fundamental Conflict of Interest

Senator Kerry, as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has a duty to oversee the actions of the executive branch in conducting the foreign policy of the United States. He and his Committee are responsible for advising the Senate as to the wisdom and coherence of that foreign policy, and whether to approve legislation to finance its implementation.

Yet by acting in an executive branch capacity to directly assist the President in his achievement of foreign policy objectives, Kerry has entered—perhaps unintentionally and with the best of motives—into a realm where his efforts on behalf of the executive involve a direct conflict of interest with his responsibilities as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. For he cannot be expected to exercise the independent judgment required in conducting Senate oversight responsibilities of foreign policy actions in which he himself has directly taken part.

Senator Kerry may indeed have important diplomatic skills that might be employed in service to the nation. If Hillary Clinton were to resign, he would certainly be a strong candidate to become Secretary of State.

But he cannot undertake executive functions and responsibilities without entering into a fundamental conflict of interest with his legislative mandate and duties as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Only the Executive, under our constitution, can conduct the foreign policy of the United States. Statements by Senator Kerry that he is in Kabul in his capacity as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee should be dismissed as the fig leaf that they are. It appears beyond doubt that, as a result of Karzai’s interference with the work of anti-corruption bodies established in Afghanistan, the Obama administration found itself in an impasse with Karzai and called upon Kerry to help break it.

This is implementing foreign policy, not gathering information that might be useful in making legislative judgments. However well-intentioned such conduct may be, it is constitutionally inappropriate.

We need Senator Kerry in his constitutional role as Senator and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivering absolutely independent, objective, and critical judgments on the wisdom and conduct of U.S. foreign policy in Afghanistan.

Given the importance of the position he holds in the Senate, his judgment must at all times avoid even the appearance of impropriety. In the ninth year of the war in Afghanistan, we need his independent and critical judgment more than ever.

The Trenchant Observer

www.trenchantobserver.com
E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

Comments are invited.