Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Litany Of Wikileaks Evidence That US Behaves Like Rogue State And The Spanish Case Against American War Criminals Is Alive And Well.

A Litany Of Wikileaks Evidence That US Behaves Like Rogue State

And The Spanish Case Against American War Criminals Is Alive And Well.

Call Quantico prison and insist on fair treatment without isolaion
torture for Bradley Manning. Call 703-784-6870 and address the
Commandant of the Base for message.

Last week Glenn Greenwald wrote this article for Salon. On Tuesday, Bradley Manning's lawyer David Coombs wrote, "The defense has raised the conditions of confinement...on multiple occasions with the Quantico confinement facility and the Army Staff Judge Advocate’s (SJA) Office assigned to handle this case. Our efforts, unfortunately, have not resulted any in positive results."

Coombs also added details to Greenwald's original article, including...

...Manning's one-hour-a-day so-called "exercise" time (he's "taken to an empty room and only allowed to walk," "normally just walks figure eights in the room," "if he indicates that he no long feels like walking, he is immediately returned to his cell"); the bizarre requirement that, despite not being on suicide watch, Manning respond to guards all day, every day, by saying "yes" every 5 minutes (even though guards cannot and "do not engage in conversation with" him); and various sleep-disruptive measures (he is barred from sleeping at any time from 5:00 am - 8:00 pm, and, during the night, "if the guards cannot see PFC Manning clearly, because he has a blanket over his head or is curled up towards the wall, they will wake him").

On Wednesday, the office of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, confirmed that the case is being investigated.

Wikileaks: How U.S. Tried To Stop Spain's Torture Probe

 By Carol Rosenberg | Miami Herald

MIAMI — It was three months into Barack Obama's presidency, and the administration -- under pressure to do something about alleged abuses in Bush-era interrogation policies -- turned to a Florida senator to deliver a sensitive message to Spain:

Don't indict former President George W. Bush's legal brain trust for alleged torture in the treatment of war on terror detainees, warned Mel Martinez on one of his frequent trips to Madrid. Doing so would chill U.S.-Spanish relations.

Rather than a resolution, though, a senior Spanish diplomat gave the former GOP chairman and housing secretary a lesson in Spain's separation of powers. "The independence of the judiciary and the process must be respected,'' then-acting Foreign Minister Angel Lossada replied on April 15, 2009. Then for emphasis, "Lossada reiterated to Martinez that the executive branch of government could not close any judicial investigation and urged that this case not affect the overall relationship.''

A World-wide group of experts and advocates have been privately planning and organizing in support of that case with the full intention of driving it to the Hague with much more supporting argumentation and evidence. (Ed.)

But the episode, revealed in a raft of WikiLeaks cables, was part of a secret concerted U.S. effort to stop a crusading Spanish judge from investigating a torture complaint against former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and five other senior Bush lawyers.

It also reveals a covert troubleshooting role played by Martinez. Now a banker, he won't discuss it.

John Yoo's November 2001 legal justification for a secret wiretapping program was a hit with George W. Bush's White House but got bad reviews from other quarters, including Yoo's successors in the Justice Department and the department's inspector general.

Add another critic to the list: Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco, who awarded more than $40,000 in damages and $2.5 million in attorneys' fees this week to a target of Bush-era wiretapping.

"Wholly apart from the apparent weakness of Yoo's legal analysis, it is disquieting that for more than a year and a half, sole responsibility for determining the legality of the (program) was reposed in a single official," Walker wrote.

He said that because Bush administration officials had relied on Yoo's flawed advice in authorizing surveillance, the White House did not deliberately violate the rights of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation during more than seven months of warrantless wiretapping in 2004.

That means there is no basis for punitive damages against the government, Walker said. But he awarded more than $20,000 each in compensation to two Al-Haramain lawyers whose calls were intercepted.

Ruled illegal

Walker ruled the wiretapping illegal in March, rejecting arguments - based on Yoo's 2001 Justice Department memo - that the president has constitutional authority to override a 1978 law requiring court approval for electronic surveillance in national security cases.

Tuesday's decision on damages may have been Walker's last major ruling. A judge since 1989, he is retiring in February and is scheduled to teach a course in the spring at UC Berkeley Law School, where Yoo is a tenured professor.
Walker was "giving the government a fall guy (by saying) it's John Yoo's fault," said attorney Jon Eisenberg, who has represented Al-Haramain in the nation's only successful challenge to the wiretap program. "This is quite an indictment of John Yoo."

Yoo has not responded to requests for comment. But he defended himself last year after the Justice Department's inspector general, joined by auditors from four other agencies, criticized his work on the surveillance program.

The auditors "were responding to the media-stoked politics of recrimination," Yoo wrote in a July 2009 column in the Wall Street Journal. He said the 1978 statute requiring judicial warrants for security-related wiretapping was "an obsolete law not written with live war with an international terrorist organization in mind."

In fact, however - as Yoo's Justice Department successors pointed out when they repudiated his opinion - the 1978 law contained wartime provisions that gave the president 15 days to wiretap before seeking court approval.

How it happened

Yoo was a lawyer in the department's Office of Legal Counsel, which analyzes legal issues for the president, in October 2001 when Bush authorized federal agents to intercept phone and e-mail messages between Americans and foreign terror suspects without a warrant.

Several weeks later, Yoo - the only attorney in the office to be told about the program - wrote a still-classified opinion finding that the surveillance was legal.
Bush's power

His memo, quoted in last year's audit, said the 1978 law did not restrict Bush's authority to order surveillance - and that any such limitation would violate the president's "inherent constitutional powers" to protect the nation.
Bush relied on Yoo's advice in reauthorizing the program every 45 days. After Yoo left the department in May 2003, his successor and the office's new director rejected Yoo's analysis, saying he had ignored key provisions of the 1978 law and a 1952 Supreme Court ruling limiting the president's power to defy Congress.

The two took their concerns to Attorney General John Ashcroft, who refused to reauthorize the program from his hospital bed in March 2004 in a confrontation with Bush's chief of staff, Andrew Card, and legal counsel Alberto Gonzales.

After FBI Director Robert Mueller and several Justice Department officials threatened to resign, Bush agreed to make still-undisclosed changes in the program and renewed it with department approval. Congress authorized a modified surveillance program in 2007.

The inspector general's July 2009 report found that Yoo, in his November 2001 memo and later documents, misrepresented the scope of the surveillance program and caused a "serious impediment to recertification."
E-mail Bob Egelko at

This article appeared on page A - 10 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) is preparing for the worst as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has stated that he has the bank firmly in his sights. Assange plans to release documents that are reported to be devastating to Bank of America’s reputation.

Nobody knows what is in the documents but Bank of America, to its credit, is trying to prepare. One of the things they are doing is buying up all the domain names involving their bank and their CEO Brian Moynihan in an effort to keep individuals from creating websites with obscene names or that are damaging to BOA.

In full disclosure Bank of America is a client of mine and I have worked with them on media training but I am not working with them currently. Buying domain names is a good first step but I certainly hope that their crisis communication strategy is more involved than just that.

Here is what needs to happen once the documents are released. Within the hour Bank Of Americas needs to come out with a statement from their CEO. It can’t just be a standard press release, it needs to be a live video streamed on their website. Moynihan needs to start with the facts, then offer the BOA perspective on what was released, address any improprieties, state how BOA is investigating the charges and finally, how they are going to communicate with the public to provide updates.

The worst thing that Bank of America can do is to be defensive. In the long run that will hurt them more than it will help them. When this story hits it will come with massive scrutiny from regulators, the media, lawmakers and investors. Unless this is a giant smoke screen by Wikileaks, the world will be focused on Bank of America.

My recommendation to BOA is to have your team in place to read these documents in order to process the information into a clear, clean and comprehensive message that tells people what your three keys points are on the issues raised.

Bank of America should focus on what the facts are and explain what they are going to do about the issues raised in the documents. In order to get out in front of this story they need to be proactive, accessible and most important, they need to take questions.

If they are successfully able to do this Bank of America could end up not being punished as harshly by investors, regulators and the public. They may even be able to escape with an enhanced reputation.

7:05  Wow, hard-hitting NYT editorial hitting crackdown on WikiLeaks by "financial industry," now especially Bank of America.  Adds, closer to home: "What would happen if a clutch of big banks decided that a particularly irksome blogger or other organization was 'too risky'”? What if they decided — one by one — to shut down financial access to a newspaper that was about to reveal irksome truths about their operations? This decision should not be left solely up to business-as-usual among the banks"

6:15 I noted below plans for cyber attack on B of A.  It may, or may not, be underway now, according to this thread.  My guess: limited so far.

6:05  NYT with story on Berkeley group backing Bradley Manning.  "The lack of clarity surrounding Private Manning’s involvement [with WikiLeaks] has made building public support a challenge, even in friendly forums like the Berkeley City Council, which last week declined to back a measure calling Private Manning a hero."

4:45  NYT finally returns to the WIki wars with new top piece on the DEA and its global reach.  "The Drug Enforcement Administration has been transformed into a global intelligence organization with a reach that extends far beyond narcotics, and an eavesdropping operation so expansive it has to fend off foreign politicians who want to use it against their political enemies, according to secret diplomatic cables."

4:30  Is El Pais the only one of the original news outlets still reporting on new cables? 

2:30  Reuters: Egypt denies any nuclear weapon ambitions.

1:30  Full report by the great Carol Rosenberg of McClatchy on how U.S. tried to stop Spain's probe of torture of "war on terror" detainees. "The case is still open, on the desk of a Spanish magistrate, awaiting a reply from the Obama administration on whether it will pursue a probe of its own. But the episode, revealed in a raft of WikiLeaks cables, was part of a secret concerted U.S. effort to stop a crusading Spanish judge from investigating a torture complaint against former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and five other senior Bush lawyers. 

12:25  Quip from Life of Brian may make some think of Assange.  Mother of Brian of Nazareth: "He's not the Messiah. He's a very naughty boy!"

11:05  New  Twitter feed announces alleged Bank of Amerca take down effort (when it reaches critical mass). 

10:50  Turkey with all the trimmings: Newly-relesed cable suggests U.S. has, or had, 90 nuclear bombs in Turkey. 

10:40  How much interest in WikiLeaks on the left in the USA? This live-blog has been the most popular entry on The Nation's site nearly every day for the past four weeks.   Thanks for all your interest and support and tips.

10:30  Report from Google:  WikiLeaks tops gambling for web search hits, and Obama only beats out Assange, 70 million to 68 million.

10:00  Once again yesterday, for third day, not a single report on new cables at The Guardian, which had been feverish on the subject for so long.  One wonders.

9:00   And a Merry Christmas to you all.  Now the secret  is out.  Beethoven, perhaps the leading evidence for the existence of God,  greets the day.    And a quite different anthem from Woody Guthrie on the birthday boy.


11:00  Yes, I will be doing some blogging here on Christmas Day as events warrant, or don't.

9:35  Whoville elects Assange mayor after WIkiLeak doc leads to arrest of Grinch in Christmas stealing plot.

8:10  Steve Jobs kicks Julian Assange out of an Apple app store:

 6:20  Bianca Jagger at Huff Post hits "trial by newspaper," meaning The Guardian's decision to use leaked details on sex case against Assange.

3:50  Lawyer for woman accusing Assange speaks to AP, claims women didn't even know they could appeal until he informed them.  "He has said all men bear a collective responsibility for the fact that some men abuse women. In 2006, he even proposed that Sweden withdraw from soccer's World Cup because of an expected surge in the sex trade in host nation Germany, where prostitution is legal."

3:00 Glenn Greenwald tweets on the Manning case: "Wired Magazine (and the WashPost) possess key evidence on 1 of the year's most important news stories but have concealed it for months." That would be the original chat logs. 

2:50  Hot wiki on wiki action, as Evgeny Morozov tweets:  "Wikipedia's entry on Cablegate is so detail-oriented that it even unpacks the real meaning of WTF" 

12:30  You're on your own with this one: El Pais guy claims Assange considering political asylum in...Brazil.  Paging Terry Gilliam!
  11:00 Major Wall Street Journal piece today on WikiLeaks financing and decision to spend more to "professionalize" itself, including after a long debate, pay staff salaries, modeling itself on Greenpeace.   "The Wau Holland Foundation provides key back-office services for WikiLeaks' operations by collecting donations and paying its bills."

10:25  AFP: Israeli daily publishes new cable with U.S. reporting that Israel destroyed secret Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007 raid. Syria denies it was nuke facility and Bush in his memoirs said he resisted Israel's pressure to bomb it.

9:50  Big NYT story today on how Swiss now ready to prosecute three moles who helped CIA in tracking nuclear dealer A.Q.  Khan -- maybe helped too much -- and fears that key U.S. secrets will emerge.  Not WikiLeaks-related on the surface, but the much-awaited Frantz and Collins book on the case is due to come out next month with reportedly many secrets of its own to tell.  So: Will they be halted or prosecuted in the new anti-secrets craze?  Don't bet on it.

9:15  Assange attorney Mark Stephens, revealing puckish side,  tweets @markslarks  "This just in... Dear Kids,  Santa is Mum & Dad.  Love, Wikileaks."

9:05  A couple days back we linked to a lengthy take by "cyberpunk" author Bruce Sterling, which has since gained wide play, and some criticism from both Wiki friend and Wiki foe..  Here's The Economist  weighing in.

8:40  New from Glenn Greenwald, as he reviews the year in WikiLeaks and what was revealed.  "It's unsurprising that political leaders would want to convince people that the true criminals are those who expose acts of high-level political corruption and criminality, rather than those who perpetrate them.  Every political leader would love for that self-serving piety to take hold.  But what's startling is how many citizens and, especially, 'journalists' now vehemently believe that as well."

8:35  Bradley Manning has sent out a brief holiday message: "I greatly appreciate everyone's support and well wishes during this time. I am also thankful for everything that has been done to aid in my defense. I ask that everyone takes the time to remember those who are separated from their loved ones at this time due to deployment and important missions. Specifically, I am thinking of those that I deployed with and have not seen for the last seven months, and of the staff here at the Quantico Confinement Facility who will be spending their Christmas without their family."

8:20  BBC:  Cuba to publish WikiLeak cables relating to Cuba, said to be over 2000, with only 62 appearing so far.  "It says the documents prove links between Cuba's "so-called internal dissidence" and the US government. They also reveal the continuing "terrorist actions" against Cuba from the US, as well as "complicity" between the CIA and Cuban exile groups, it says."

From late yesterday:

McClatchy: Military opens full probe into how Manning allegedly stole files -- those this headline leaves out the "allegedly."  Going GaGa.....  MSNBC interview today with David House, the friend of Bradley Manning who has visited him several times and wrote him for FDL.  House calls him an "ethical giant" and says they have not talked at all about case or Assange. And now Glenn Greenwald tweets: "It still amazes me that both Wired and The Washington Post - 'news outlets' - have the full Manning / Lamo chats but won't publish them.".....

It seems Moe Tkacik wrote a story on the Assange sex case last night for the Washington City Paper without overseer editing, it named the two women in the case, was taken down and redacted, then put back up with an editor's note.  Now here's Fishbowl DC with another note noting that the names are all over the web -- and then a choice of reading the original story on the edited one!

Is What WikiLeaks Does Journalism? Good Question

At the risk of sounding somewhat flippant; if what passes for journalism on our TVs, and not just the FOX Editorial Network, is journalism; then WikiLeaks passes the test! (Ed)

While the U.S. government tries to determine whether what WikiLeaks and front-man Julian Assange have done qualifies as espionage, media theorists and critics alike continue to debate whether releasing those classified diplomatic cables qualifies as journalism. It’s more than just an academic question — if it is journalism in some sense, then Assange and WikiLeaks should be protected by the First Amendment and freedom of the press. The fact that no one can seem to agree on this question emphasizes just how deeply the media and journalism have been disrupted, to the point where we aren’t even sure what they are any more.

The debate flared up again on the Thursday just before Christmas, with a back-and-forth Twitter discussion involving a number of media critics and journalists, including MIT Technology Review editor and author Jason Pontin, New York University professor Jay Rosen, PhD student Aaron Bady, freelance writer and author Tim Carmody and several other occasional contributors. Pontin seems to have started the debate by saying — in a comment about a piece Bruce Sterling wrote on WikiLeaks and Assange — that the WikiLeaks founder was clearly a hacker, and therefore not a journalist.

Pontin’s point, which he elaborated on in subsequent tweets, seemed to be that because Assange’s primary intent is to destabilize a secretive state or government apparatus through technological means, then what he is doing isn’t journalism. Not everyone was buying this, however. Aaron Bady — who wrote a well-regarded post on Assange and WikiLeaks’ motives — asked why he couldn’t be a hacker and a journalist at the same time, and argued that perhaps society needs to have laws that protect the act of journalism, regardless of who practices it or what they call themselves.

Rosen, meanwhile, was adamant that WikiLeaks is a journalistic entity, period, and journalism prof and author Jeff Jarvis also echoed this point. Tim Carmody argued that the principle of freedom of the press enshrined in the First Amendment was designed to protect individuals who published pamphlets and handed them out in the street just as much as it was to protect large media entities, and Aaron Bady made a point that I have tried to make as well, which is that it’s difficult to criminalize what WikiLeaks has done without also making a criminal out of the New York Times.

This debate has been going on since before the diplomatic cables were released, ever since Julian Assange first made headlines with leaked video footage of American soliders firing on unarmed civilians in Iraq. At the time, Rosen — who runs an experimental journalism lab at NYU — called WikiLeaks “the first stateless news organization,” and described where he saw it fitting into a new ecosystem of news. Not everyone agreed, however: critics of this idea said that journalism had to have some civic function and/or had to involve journalists analyzing and sorting through the information.

Like Rosen and others, I’ve tried to argue that in the current era, media — a broad term that includes what we think of as journalism — has been dis-aggregated or atomized; in other words, split into its component parts, parts that include what WikiLeaks does. In some cases, these may be things that we didn’t even realize were separate parts of the process to begin with, because they have always been joined together. And in some cases they merge different parts that were previously separate, such as the distinction between a source and a publisher. WikiLeaks, for example, can be seen as both.

And while it is clearly not run by journalists — and to a great extent relies on journalists at the New York Times, The Guardian and other news outlets to do the heavy lifting in terms of analysis of the documents it holds and distributes — I think an argument can be made that WikiLeaks is at least an instrument of journalism. In other words, it is a part of the larger ecosystem of news media that has been developing with the advent of blogs, wikis, Twitter and all the other publishing tools we have now, which Twitter founder Ev Williams I think correctly argued are important ways of getting us closer to the truth.

Among those taking part in the Twitter debate on Thursday was Chris Anderson, a professor of media culture in New York who also writes for the Nieman Journalism Lab, and someone who has tried to clarify what journalism as an ecosystem really means and how we can distinguish between the different parts of this new process. In one post at the Nieman Lab blog, for example, he plotted the new pieces of this ecosystem on a graph with two axes: one going from “institutionalized” to “de-institutionalized” and the other going from “pure commentary” to “fact-gathering.” While WikiLeaks doesn’t appear on Anderson’s graph, it is clearly part of that process.

Regardless of what we think about Julian Assange or WikiLeaks — or any of the other WikiLeaks-style organizations that seem to be emerging — this is the new reality of media. It may be confusing, but we had better start getting used to it.

WikiLeaks Set To Reveal US-UFO War In Southern Ocean

(I’ll Take A Wait See On This One…)
Rumors continue that Wikileaks will release cables about "war" on UFOs
By Annalee Newitz
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange told the Guardian about "references to UFOs" in some of the cables that his organization hasn't released. Now rumors are swirling that these cables are about an underwater UFO base in the Southern Ocean.
io9 -

There has long been advocacy of the idea that judges in national courts could help strengthen the implementation of global norms by extending the reach of national law, especially for serious crimes that cannot be otherwise prosecuted. 

The authority to use national courts against piracy on the high seas was widely endorsed, and constitutes the jurisprudential basis for what has come to be known as 'universal jurisdiction,' that is, regardless of where a crime was committed or the national identity of the alleged perpetrator or victim, a national court has the authority to attach its law. 

This reliance on universal jurisdiction received a strong shot in the arm as a result of the war crimes trials at the end of War War II against surviving German and Japanese political and military leaders, a legal framework institutionalised internationally in 2002 as a result of the establishment of the International Criminal Court. 

Collective justice

The underlying rationale is that aggressive war, crimes against humanity, and severe violations of the law of war and international humanitarian law are crimes against the whole of humanity, and not just the victim state or people. Although the Nuremberg Judgment was flawed, 'victors’ justice,' it generated global norms in the form of the Nuremberg Principles that are considered by international law consensus to be universally binding. 

These ideas underlie the recent prosecution of geopolitical pariahs such as Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic, and several African tyrannical figures. But when it comes to the lead political actors, as understood by the American-led hegemonic hierarchy, the leadership of the rest of the world enjoys impunity, in effect, an exemption from accountability to international criminal law.

It is a prime instance of double standards that pervades current world order, perhaps, most prominently illustrated in relation to the veto power given permanent members of the UN Security Council or the Nonproliferation Regime Governing Nuclear Weaponry. Double standards severs any link between law as administered by the state system on a world level and pretensions of global justice. The challenge for those seeking global justice based on international law that treats equals equally is to overcome in every substantive setting double standards and impunity. 

The world of sovereign states and the United Nations have not been able to mount such a challenge. Into this vacuum has moved a surging global civil society movement that got its start in the global fight against colonialism, especially, the Vietnam War, and moved forward dramatically as a result of the Anti-Apartheid Campaign. 

The power of solidarity

Various instruments have been relied upon, including boycott, divestment, and sanctions solidarity movements, informally constituted citizens’ war crimes tribunals (starting with the Russell Tribunal during the Vietnam War, and extended by the Permanent Peoples Tribunal in Rome, and in 2005 by the Iraq War Tribunal that held 20 sessions around the world, culminating in a final session in Istanbul), civil disobedience in various forms, especially refusals to serve in military operations that violate international law. 

It was a coalition of civil society actors that created the political climate that somewhat surprisingly allowed the International Criminal Court to come into being in 2002, although unsurprisingly without the participants of the United States, Israel, and most of the senior members of the geopolitical first echelon. 

 It is against this background, that two contradictory developments are to be found that will be discussed in more detail in subsequent articles: the waging of an all out Legitimacy War against Israel on behalf of the Palestinian struggle for a just peace and a backlash campaign against what is called 'Lawfare' by Israeli hardliners. A Legitimacy War strategy seeks popular mobilization on the basis of nonviolent coercion to achieve political goals, relying on the relevance of international law and the accountability of those that act on behalf of states in the commission of crimes of state. 

Legitimacy vs. Lawfare

The Goldstone Report illustrates this interface between a Legitimacy War and Lawfare, reinforcing Palestinian contentions of victimization as a result of Israel’s use of force as in the notorious Operation Cast Lead (2008-09) and driving Israel’s top leaders to venomous fury in their effort to discredit the distinguished jurist, Richard Goldstone, who headed the UN mission responsible for the report, and the findings so convincingly reached. 

With Israeli impunity under growing threat there has been a special pressures placed on the United States to use its geopolitical muscle within the UN to maintain the mantle of impunity over the documented record of Israeli criminality, and to make sure that the UN remains a selective sanctuary for such outrageous grants of impunity. These issues of criminal accountability are on the front lines of the Legitimacy War, and provide the foundation for efforts throughout the world in relation to the growing BDS Campaign (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions). 

The Lawfare counterattack at one level acknowledges the strength of civil society efforts, but it is also cynically and polemically undertaken to discredit reliance on international law by those who are victimized by abusive and oppressive uses of military and police power. 

The Palestinians have been victimized in these respects for more than 62 years, and their efforts to end this intolerable set of realities by an innovative reliance on nonviolent resistance and self-defense deserves the support of persons of conscience throughout the world. 

Whether this reliance on a Legitimacy War can finally achieve justice for the Palestinian people and peace for both peoples, only the future can tell, but there is no doubt that this struggle is the best contemporary instance of 'a just war'.

Richard Falk is Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and Visiting Distinguished Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has authored and edited numerous publications spanning a period of five decades, most recently editing the volume International Law and the Third World: Reshaping Justice (Routledge, 2008).

He is currently serving his third year of a six year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights. 

The (Not So) Secret U.S. War in Pakistan

Jeremy Scahill: Secret Cables Confirm Actions by Elite U.S. Special Operations Forces in Pakistan

Despite sustained denials by US officials spanning more than a year, U.S. military Special Operations Forces have been conducting offensive operations inside Pakistan, helping direct US drone strikes and conducting joint operations with Pakistani forces against Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in north and south Waziristan and elsewhere in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, according to secret cables released as part of the Wikileaks document dump. 

According to an October 9, 2009 cable classified by Anne Patterson, the US ambassador to Pakistan, the operations were "almost certainly [conducted] with the personal consent of [Pakistan's] Chief of Army Staff General Kayani." The operations were coordinated with the US Office of the Defense Representative in Pakistan. A US special operations source toldThe Nation that the US forces described in the cable as "SOC(FWD)-PAK" were "forward operating troops" from the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the most elite force within the US military made up of Navy SEALs, Delta Force and Army Rangers. 

The cables also confirm aspects of a Nation story from November 2009, The Secret US War in Pakistan, which detailed offensive combat operations by JSOC in Pakistan. In response to theNation story, Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell called it"conspiratorial" and explicitly denied that US special operations forces were doing anything other than "training" in Pakistan. More than a month after the October 2009 cable from the US embassy in Pakistan confirming JSOC combat missions, Morrell told reporters: "We have basically, I think, a few dozen forces on the ground in Pakistan who are involved in a train-the-trainer mission 

These are Special Operations Forces.  We've been very candid about this.  They are-they have been for months, if not years now, training Pakistani forces so that they can in turn train other Pakistani military on how to-on certain skills and operational techniques.  And that's the extent of our-our, you know, military boots on the ground in Pakistan." According to the October 2009 cable, Morrell's statement was false. 

In one operation in September 2009, four US special operations forces personnel "embedded with the [Pakistani] Frontier Corps (FC)…in the FATA," where the Americans are described as providing "ISR": intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The support from the US forces, according to the cable, "was highly successful, enabling the FC to execute a precise and effective artillery strike on an enemy location." A month later, according to the cable, the Pakistan Army again "approved deployment of US special operation elements to support Pakistani military operations." To the embassy staff, this was documented in the cable as a "sea change" in Pakistan's military leaders' thinking, saying they had previously been "adamantly opposed [to] letting us embed" US special ops forces with Pakistani forces. According to the cable, "US special operation elements have been in Pakistan for more than a year, but were largely limited to a training role," adding that the Pakistani units that received training from US special operations forces "appear to have recognized the potential benefits of bringing US SOF personnel into the field with them." 

In another operation cited in the cables, the US teams, led by JSOC, were described as providing support to the Pakistani Army's 11th Corp and included "a live downlink of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) full motion video." Whether the drones were used for surveillance or as part of a joint offensive is unclear from the documents. While the US government will not confirm US drone strikes inside the country and Pakistani officials regularly deride the strikes, the issue of the drones was discussed in another cable from August 2008. That cable describes a meeting between Ambassador Patterson and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani. When the issue of US drone strikes came up, according to the cable, Gillani said, "I don't care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We'll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it." 

The ability of US special operations forces to operate in Pakistan is clearly viewed as a major development by the US embassy. "Patient relationship-building with the military is the key factor that has brought us to this point," according to the October 2009 cable. It also notes the potential consequences of the activities leaking: "These deployments are highly politically sensitive because of widely-held concerns among the public about Pakistani sovereignty and opposition to allowing foreign military forces to operate in any fashion on Pakistani soil. Should these developments and/or related matters receive any coverage in the Pakistani or US media, the Pakistani military will likely stop making requests for such assistance." 

Such statements might help explain why Ambassador Richard Holbrooke lied to the world when he said bluntly in July 2010: "People think that the US has troops in Pakistan, well, we don't." 

A US special operations veteran who worked on Pakistan issues in 2009 reviewed the Wikileaks cables for The Nation. He said he was taken aback that the cable was not classified higher than "SECRET" given that it confirms the active involvement of US soldiers from the highly-secretive, elite Joint Special Operations Command engaging in combat-not just training-in Pakistan. And offensive combat at that. JSOC operations are compartmentalized and highly classified. 

Pentagon spokespeople have repeatedly insisted that the US military's activities in Pakistan are restricted to training operations. Even after the October 2009 cable and multiple JSOC operations in Pakistan, US and Pakistani officials continued to hold official meetings to discuss "potential" joint operations. In January 2010 in Washington DC, US and Pakistani military officials gathered under the umbrella of the "US-Pakistan Land Forces Military Consultative Committee." According to notes from the meeting, they discussed US military operations in Pakistan aiming to "enhance both US and Pakistan Army COIN [counterinsurgency] capabilities" and "potential US COIN Center/Pakistan Army interactions." Among the participants were representatives of the Special Operations Command, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs' Pakistan-Afghanistan Coordination Cell, the Office of Defense representative-Pakistan and a Pakistan delegation led by Brigadier General Muhammad Azam Agha, Pakistan's director of military training. 

A special operations veteran and a former CIA operative with direct experience in Pakistan have told The Nation that JSOC has long engaged in combat in Pakistan-which raises a question: How in-the-loop is the US embassy about the activities of JSOC in Pakistan? Just because Ambassador Anne Patterson approves a cable saying that US special ops forces have only done two operations with Pakistani forces and plays this up as a major-league development doesn't make it true. JSOC has conducted operations across the globe without the direct knowledge of the US ambassador. In 2006, the US military and Pakistan struck a deal that authorized JSOC to enter Pakistan to hunt Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders with the understanding that Pakistan would deny it had given permission. JSOC has struck multiple times inside Pakistan over the years, regardless of what Ambassador Patterson's cables may say. 

In 2006, twelve "tactical action operatives" from Blackwater were recruited for a secret JSOC raid inside Pakistan, targeting an Al Qaeda facility. The operation was code-named "Vibrant Fury." Which raises another issue: the activities described in the October 2009 cable very closely align with what a US military intelligence source, a US special forces source and a former Blackwater executive told The Nation in November 2009, namely that JSOC was running an operation in Pakistan where "members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, 'snatch and grabs' of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan.… The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering intelligence and help direct a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes." The arrangement, which involved a web of subcontractors, allowed the Pakistani Frontier Corps-the force cited in the cable-to work with JSOC operators while simultaneously denying that Americans were involved. From the Nation article, The Secret US War in Pakistan, in November 2009: 

A former senior executive at Blackwater confirmed the military intelligence source's claim that the company is
working in Pakistan for the CIA and JSOC, the premier counterterrorism and covert operations force within the military. He said that Blackwater is also working for the Pakistani government on a subcontract with an Islamabad-based security firm that puts US Blackwater operatives on the ground with Pakistani forces in counter-terrorism operations, including house raids and border interdictions, in the North-West Frontier Province and elsewhere in Pakistan. This arrangement, the former executive said, allows the Pakistani government to utilize former US Special Operations forces who now work for Blackwater while denying an official US military presence in the country. He also confirmed that Blackwater has a facility in Karachi and has personnel deployed elsewhere in Pakistan. The former executive spoke on condition of anonymity. 

According to the executive, Blackwater works on a subcontract for Kestral Logistics, a powerful Pakistani firm, which specializes in military logistical support, private security and intelligence consulting. It is staffed with former high-ranking Pakistani army and government officials. While Kestral's main offices are in Pakistan, it also has branches in several other countries. 

Blackwater operatives also integrate with Kestral's forces in sensitive counterterrorism operations in the North-West Frontier Province, where they work in conjunction with the Pakistani Interior Ministry's paramilitary force, known as the Frontier Corps (alternately referred to as "frontier scouts"). The Blackwater personnel are technically advisers, but the former executive said that the line often gets blurred in the field. Blackwater "is providing the actual guidance on how to do [counterterrorism operations] and Kestral's folks are carrying a lot of them out, but they're having the guidance and the overwatch from some BW guys that will actually go out with the teams when they're executing the job," he said. "You can see how that can lead to other things in the border areas." He said that when Blackwater personnel are out with the Pakistani teams, sometimes its men engage in operations against suspected terrorists. "You've got BW guys that are assisting...and they're all going to want to go on the jobs-so they're going to go with them," he said. "So, the things that you're seeing in the news about how this Pakistani military group came in and raided this house or did this or did that-in some of those cases, you're going to have Western folks that are right there at the house, if not in the house." 

Blackwater, he said, is paid by the Pakistani government through Kestral for consulting services. "That gives the Pakistani government the cover to say, 'Hey, no, we don't have any Westerners doing this. It's all local and our people are doing it.' But it gets them the expertise that Westerners provide for [counterterrorism]-related work." 

The military intelligence source confirmed Blackwater works with the Frontier Corps, saying, "There's no real oversight. It's not really on people's radar screen." 

In November 2009, Capt. John Kirby, the spokesperson for Adm. Michael Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Nation, "We do not discuss current operations one way or the other, regardless of their nature." A defense official, on background, specifically denied that Blackwater performs work on drone strikes or intelligence for JSOC in Pakistan. Captain Kirby told The Nation if it published the story it would "be on thin ice." The US embassy and Pakistan's interior Minister Rehman Malik both denied Blackwater was operating in Pakistan. 

In January 2010, on a visit to Pakistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, appeared to contradict that line, telling a Pakistani TV station, "They [Blackwater and another private security firm, DynCorp] are operating as individual companies here in Pakistan," according to a DoD transcript of the interview. As Gates's comments began to make huge news in Pakistan, US defense officials tried to retract his statement. As the Wall Street Journal reported, "Defense officials tried to clarify the comment…telling reporters that Mr. Gates had been speaking about contractor oversight more generally and that the Pentagon didn't employ [Blackwater] in Pakistan." The next day, Pakistan's senior minister for the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), Bashir Bilour, said that Blackwater was operating in Pakistan's frontier areas. Bilour told Pakistan's Express News TV that Blackwater's activities were taking place with the "consent and permission" of the Pakistani government, saying he had discussed the issue with officials at the US Consulate in Peshawar, who told him that Blackwater was training Pakistani forces. 

Since the Nation story originally ran, Blackwater has continued to work under the Obama administration. In June, the company won a $100 million global contract with the CIA and continues to operate in Afghanistan, where it protects senior US officials and trains Afghan forces. Earlier this year, Blackwater's owner, Erik Prince, put the company up for sale and moved to the Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Whether Blackwater or former Blackwater operatives continue to work in Pakistan is not known. What is clear is that there is great reason to believe that the October 2009 cable from Ambassador Anne Patterson describing US special operations forces activities in Pakistan represents only a tiny glimpse into one of the darkest corners of current US policy in Pakistan. 

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. 


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