Friday, December 7, 2007

Behind the CIA's Black Site Wall, Reporters Discover Another Cockroach

The CIA denied Congress and the 9/11 Commission access to a video of Abu Zubaydah and another unnamed detainee's "enhanced" interrogation - which, for each of them, might have involved a round of water-boarding or time in a tiny wooden crate called the "dog box." Today, the New York Times reported that the CIA destroyed these videos in 2005.

After the Times alerted the CIA that they were running an article on the subject, Gen. Michael Hayden justified erasing this evidence by crying "national security." If the video-tapes had been leaked to the public, he said, CIA officers and their families would've been exposed to "retailiation from Al Qaeda and its sympathizers."

Come on, Hayden, we all know what you really mean. The statement should be re-edited to say "retaliation from Congress, the Supreme Court and their sympathizers."

New School President Bob Kerrey, who served on the 9/11 Commission panel, wrote me a brief but dire assessment over email: "They (CIA) lied to Congress, the Court and the 9-11 Commission. They admit they lied after a journalist uncovered the fact that they had destroyed the evidence. Finally, because they used illegal interrogation techniques, they compromised the legal case against Zubayda and Khalid Sheikh Muhammed. No good news here."

But at the very least, he noted, there is something to be said for the Times coverage. "The story this AM is another terrific example of something that can only happen in (relatively) open democracies."

The "enhanced interrogation" debate is pretty unnerving, if you consider the fact that Ramzi Yousef, who executed the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, told two FBI agents everything they needed to know during a conversation on an airplane flight. I don't think our administration's desire to torture has anything to do with intelligence gathering. If you ask me, using the CIA to do the work of prisoner holding and interrogation (which case officers have never been trained to do in the past), is merely the outgrowth of post-9/11 hatred of Arabs/Muslims, who of course are seen as one and the same, and an insatiable hunger for revenge.

Now, about 80 out of 300 Guantanamo detainees are facing military tribunals at a portable tent city called Camp Justice in Guantanamo Bay. Presumably, this military commissions court is too embarrassing a sight to be located on American soil. None of the detainees have been charged with a crime, but the prosecution is able to deny them access to lawyers inside the courtroom and use hearsay as evidence against them. So in a hi-tech and institutionalized mass-lynching, it looks like most of these "terrorists" will go to jail forever. Or, some Americans hope, they will go to Hell. Finally, America will have its tasty revenge.

George W. Bush will step out of office in January 2009, returning to his Texas ranch and a steaming plate of Huevos Rancheros. He and his cronies will leave the rest of America to rebuild our decimated legal system. Deeply embarassing and tragic discoveries about what happened at Guantanamo and in the CIA's "black sites" will eventually abound, no doubt. And only then will the Bush Administration establish a legacy that will persevere through the ages. I am not one to miss a historic moment, so I will be at the Hague when it happens.

Einstein in Carnegie Hall

Phillip Glass and the Phillip Glass Ensemble's performance of "Einstein on the Beach" last night was a sonic boa constrictor that ate Carnegie Hall whole, demanding that we examine every nuance of its innards.

The opera is composed of fast-paced arpeggios on three electric keyboards, clarinet, saxophone and violin, spoken word sections and a chorus' repeated intonation of "One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight," along with other phrases. For three hours, all of this went through subtle changes in time-signature and syncopation and drastic dynamic shifts. Intermittently, violinist Tim Fain would step out from backstage and tear through an awe-inspiring set of 16th notes. Fain's strings, the opera's serpent tongue, left my mouth agape long after he bowed and returned backstage.

Master Glass wrote the opera in the late 1970s, while he plumbed toilets and drove a taxi for a living. This was an abridged performance--the original lasted about 5 hours.

Like a dream, every last detail of last night's performance is sure to fade from memory--to be replaced, eventually, by some vague recollection. But I'm expecting that this arpeggiating Einstein, full of intoned phrases, will show up in one of my nightmares some day. Or return to me suddenly, like a visceral LSD flashback.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Former C.I.A. Agents Discuss Politics, Disrepute and Torture at the New School

Two former CIA agents joined New School President Bob Kerrey in a panel discussion at 55 West 13th Street earlier today, saying that the Bush Administration disregarded tried-and-true spying techniques to justify the invasion of Iraq, that Congressional oversight is good for the CIA, and that "enhanced interrogation" techniques are ineffective and legally questionable when adopted by the CIA.

The event could not have come at a more appropriate time. Today, the front pages of U.S. newspapers bore articles about a National Intelligence Estimate released the day before, which said Iran had halted its efforts to build nuclear weapons in 2003. The report, an assessment compiled by America's 16 intelligence agencies, stood in marked contrast to George W. Bush's comments in October that Iran is currently working to enrich uranium for nuclear bombs and propelling the United States towards "World War III."

Tyler Drumheller, the former director of covert operations for the CIA's division in Europe, who retired from the CIA in 2005, said that the Bush Administration has shirked the intelligence community's normal methods of "agent work, reporting and data collection."

"Intelligence is a story, a never-ending story," Drumheller said. Agents, analysts and policy experts constantly need to reassess their conclusions, he said, because their subjects of inquiry--for instance, states like Iran--are naturally given to making changes in their interests and policies.

But the Bush administration, Drumheller said, pursues "the magic bullet."

"This is the truth, the way it's gotta be," he said, elaborating.

In the run-up to the Iraq War, Drumheller worked with other agents to investigate whether Iraq was hoarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. He later wrote On the Brink, an insider's account of how the Bush Administration relied on an unreliable Iraqi defector nicknamed "Curveball" to justify the war in Iraq, which hit bookstores in 2006.

He said that another Iraqi source kept "telling us that there were no weapons of mass destruction."

"If they could do it," the source told them, "they would do it."

He said that this source did not find a way into a National Intelligence Estimate released in 2002, which concluded that Iraq was manufacturing chemical and biological weapons and planned to revive its nuclear weapons program. After the United States invaded Iraq, it turned out that the NIE's conclusions were erroneously flawed.

There is a simple message this new intelligence report intends to send, Kerrey said: "We can be nonpartisan. You can trust us again."

A few moments after Drumheller started speaking, Lang sophomore Alex Cline and two students wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods entered the room.

"We're the people you torture," Cline announced. The mock prisoners posted themselves to the left of the panel speakers, facing the audience, and stood in silence for the rest of the hour-and-fifteen minute long discussion.

Drumheller continued speaking, seemingly unfazed. Eventually the subject turned to the CIA's reputation in America. Margaret Henoch, who worked as an agent in Washington D.C. and across the world for twenty years, and who retired in early 2007, said that ever since the days of George Washington, Americans have felt a sense of "ambivalence, dislike, distrust" for their spy agencies.

"Americans like to know what their government is doing," Drumheller added, gesturing towards the two mock detainees in the room—who held signs saying things like, "Abolish the CIA," "We All Live in a Racist Police State," and "Close Guantanamo."

Kerrey said that, in some ways, the United States has never had a reliable intelligence agency—in part, because Congressional oversight limits the work of intelligence agencies here. Regardless, the two former agents and Kerrey agreed that they would not like to have it any other way.

Congressional oversight can make being a spy a "frightening, terrifying experience," Drumheller said, "but it makes you sharper."

During the question and answer session, asked if he thought the term "enhanced interrogation" justified the use of torture in interrogations, Drumheller said that he did not believe such techniques—which include water-boarding, stripping prisoners, threatening detainees with dogs, and putting them in rooms that are brightly lit or extremely cold for long periods of time—constitute acts of torture.

Using torture during civil and international conflicts violates the Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which bans, "Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture," as well as, "Outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment."

Drumheller said "enhanced interrogation" techniques are ineffective, since they usually yield unreliable information. He added that holding prisoners is not the "province of the CIA"—and Henoch nodded emphatically in agreement—since the FBI and the military are trained to interrogate prisoners and maintain prisons.

"The minute you get an intelligence service into prisoner, holding, interrogation, you're in a very murky, dangerous world," he said.

"Who should be held responsible? I don't know," he continued. "I could give you a list of people. But that would just be my personal prejudice."

The audience laughed.

Photo: New School President Bob Kerrey with former CIA agents Margaret Henoch and Tyler Drumheller. By them stand two mock detainees and Lang sophomore Alex Cline. By Sam Lewis.

Baby Eater

Sorting through my email, this is what I find:

On Dec 4, 2007 8:27 PM, Hannah Rappleye wrote:

peter, peter
baby eater
liked to eat baby pie
but one day
he ate too much
and got baby
in his eye!