Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Cody M. Poplin, Benjamin Bissell
Thursday, December 11, 2014, 1:40 PM

Today, the New York Times brings us news that when the CIA first received detention and interrogation authorities in 2001, the Agency initially planned to create a system of worldwide jails that would abide by the standards of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. The conditions were to mirror those as maximum security prisons around the United States and interrogations would proceed in accordance with the U.S. Army Field Manual. The report suggests that then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld scrapped a plan that would have established the jails on U.S. military bases, which forced the CIA to begin planning “black sites.”

The Times also brings us news that the Department of Justice has told a court that documents from an earlier DOJ investigation into the torture and detention of detainees by the CIA, which includes summaries of interviews with about 100 witnesses, should remain secret. The Obama administration claims that releasing the documents may affect the candor of law enforcement deliberations about whether or not to bring criminal charges in other cases in the future.

The Washington Post reports that lawyers for 9/11 suspects held at Guantanamo believe that the release of the Senate’s CIA interrogation report could help their cases, providing new leverage to demand the release of classified material. The attorneys have suggested that the “fact that these men were tortured...precludes the imposition of the death penalty.”

One day after the SSCI report, the United States also announced that it has closed Bagram prison, its last detention facility in Afghanistan. At its peak, Bagram held hundreds of detainees, with a U.S. court finding that two detainees had been beaten to death in 2002.

That news comes as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani expressed shock at the torture revelations in the Senate’s Study. In a public statement, Ghani assured Afghans that recent security agreements with the United States would not allow Americans to maintain prisons or make arrests in Afghanistan, noting that “we are entering an era of national sovereignty where we will be the only legitimate authority.” The New York Times has more on Ghani’s statement.

Dick Cheney continues to defend the CIA’s interrogation tactics, calling the Senate’s report “full of crap,” and asking “what are you prepared to do to get the truth against future attacks against the United States?” Fox News reports that the former Vice President also refuted claims that President George W. Bush was kept in the dark, noting that “he knew everything he wanted to know and needed to know.” Cheney admitted that he had not read the report. (We’ll just leave that last line there to linger.)

In the White House, President Obama has found himself caught in the middle of a dispute between managing the Central Intelligence Agency and pleasing his fellow Democrats, putting the president on the defensive, writes the New York Times. Senator Mark Udall has called on Mr. Obama to “purge” the agency.

In the Daily Beast, Shane Harris and Tim Mak discuss what the torture report kept hidden, highlighting how a lack of detail regarding the role of dictatorships in Syria and Libya, as well as the lack of information about who really gave the torture authority, undercuts critical issues the report doesn’t address.

Bloomberg covers an important story: emails from CIA officers reveal that many of the balked at the harsh interrogation techniques, with one email about the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah reading, “several on the team profoundly affected...some to the point of ears and choking up.”

Back in the Daily Beast, Kimberly Dozier reports that Jose Rodriguez, the head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center at the time of the program, said that he was unaware of some of the Agency’s worst abuses until the release of the Senate’s report. According to Rodriguez, he had “no knowledge of people forces to stand with broken bones” and that he was not aware that detainees were subjected to rectal feedings.

Bloomberg notes that CIA officials linked to torture could face possible prosecution and a future stuck in US should international courts seek to charge them. And while the New York Times reports that such cases are unlikely to materialize, they are certainly within the realm of possibility. Bloomberg highlights a November 2009 conviction in absentia of 23 Americans in an Italian court. The court seized the CIA station chief’s retirement home, selling it to pay a damages award to a rendered detainee and his wife.

The New York Times also carries a story on the architects of the CIA’s interrogation program and how they drew on the lessons of psychology to induce “learned helplessness.” The two contract psychologists attempted to create techniques that would cause a detainee to lose his “sense of control and predictability.” Another psychiatrist, Dr. Charles A. Morgan, who works at the University of New Haven is quoted saying, “they misread the theory.” DefenseOne has more on what your brain looks like on torture. Vice News carries an interview with one of the architect’s, James Mitchell. And Foreign Policy describes how after 9/11, the CIA ignored its own lessons in turning to torture.

Conor Friedersdorf comments on the “graywashing” of CIA torture and how its far less defensible than moderate critics seem to realize. In the Washington Post, David Ignatius tells us that the torture report’s most glaring weakness is that it ignores Congress’s own failure to oversee the CIA.

DefenseOne tells us that Senator Carl Levin is leaving Congress disappointed the NDAA doesn’t do more.

Moscow seized on the release of the CIA report and demanded that those responsible for the Agency’s interrogation and detention program be “brought to justice.” The New York Times, which notes that the Kremlin is “often castigated” by Washington over its human rights record, has more on the statement.

Zacarias Moussaoui, who is known as the “20th hijacker” in the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, has asked a Florida federal judge to transfer him to Guantanamo Bay. According to Al Arabiya, Moussaoui is requesting the transfer because he says he has been assaulted by guards and other inmates at the Florence “Supermax” prison he is currently jailed in.

Speaking of Guantanamo, the Miami Herald reports that a Yemeni, Abdel Malik Wahab al Rahabi, has been cleared for release from the prison facility. Rahabi was one of the first 20 detainees to arrive at the facility, but was never charged.

In a grim assessment of the Syrian Civil War, Brett McGurk, a senior State Department official, said yesterday that the Syrian rebels are never going to militarily defeat Bashar al Assad. Foreign Policy carries his comments.

Relatedly, the Wall Street Journal has details on a recurring fissure in the anti-ISIS coalition; namely, whether the al Assad regime should be directly targeted.

At DefenseOne, Bernard Gwertzman reports on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent state of the nation address. He quotes CFR’s Stephen Sestanovich, who said that it was an “eclectic, even incoherent, speech” that did not adequately address “some of the big economic problems that the country faces.”

Reuters carries comments made recently by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who said that Russia will remain India’s top defense partner in the coming years. The two countries recently reached an agreement wherein state-owned Rosatom will build 12 nuclear reactors for New Delhi; major oil company Rosneft also signed a 10-year crude oil supply deal with Essar Oil in the past few weeks.

The Star in Canada reports that the Canadian Supreme Court just released a potentially-controversial ruling that will allow police to search cell phones upon arrest.

The Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, will travel to Iran on December 17th at the behest of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, Hurriyet confirms. The talks take place as Ankara and Tehran find themselves on “opposite pages” over the Syrian Civil War and other regional issues.

Add hip-hop to the list of weapons the US has tried to use against Cuba’s government. In an article published yesterday, the Associated Press asserts that for more than two years, a US agency “secretly infiltrated” Cuba’s underground music scene and attempted to use unwitting rappers to spark a youth-based movement against the regime in Havana.

Israeli website Ynetnews reports that party strongman and former Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar will not challenge Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for the Likud’s helm. Sa’ar’s statement comes after PM Netanyahu successfully lobbied the party bureaucracy to push up internal elections from January 6th to December 31st. The move was largely seen as a way of blunting Sa’ar’s election chances by curtailing his ability to drum up party support.

Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian pathologists have offered conflicting reports as to how a high-ranking Palestinian Authority Minister died recently at a West Bank demonstration. While Israeli doctors concluded that Ziad Abu Ein died of a heart attack, with stress as a possible contributor, Palestinian and Jordanian doctors say that the PA Minister for the Settlements/Wall died of violent causes, and not natural ones. The New York Times has more on the event, which could have serious ramifications for Israel-PA security cooperation.

Additionally, the Times features an interactive map on the other ISIS: Nigerian militant Islamist group Boko Haram.

The Times also notes that the city government of Urumqi, capital of China’s restive Xinjiang province, has officially banned wearing Islamic veils in public.

DefenseOne is out with a list of the top 10 cybersecurity threats China faced this year.

Defense News reports that DARPA sees a future in “transparent computing.” The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is trying to mitigate the “sneakiest” and “most persistent” cyber threats and is offering up to $60 million to develop ways of doing so.

Drones beware. DefenseOne provides an update on the Navy’s Scary New Death Ray: the system is doing better than predicted.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Wells Bennett, Cody Poplin, and Ben Bissell shared part 3 in Lawfare’s review of the findings, conclusions, and areas of dispute in the SSCI Study, Minority and CIA comments.

Jack Goldsmith offered his reactions to Secretary Kerry’s testimony in front of the SFRC on the need for a new AUMF.

Ben Wittes also brought us a few thoughts on the SFRC AUMF hearing.

Paul Rosenzweig shares news of Congress’s attempt to stop the IANA transition and how it will most likely fail.

Well Bennett provided video of Senator Mark Udall’s (D-CO) remarks on the SSCI Study of CIA Interrogation and Detention.

Stewart Baker linked us the this week’s Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, which features an interview with Shane Harris.

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