Saturday, September 17, 2011

"O Man! Take Heed!"

O Man! Take heed!
What says the deep midnight?
"I slept, I slept—,
from a deep dream have I awoken:—
the world is deep,
and deeper than the day has thought.
Deep is its pain—,
joy—deeper still than heartache.
Pain says: Pass away!
But all joy
seeks eternity—,
—seeks deep, deep eternity!"

O Mensch! Gib Acht!
Was spricht die tiefe Mitternacht?
"Ich schlief, ich schlief—,
aus tiefem Traum bin ich erwacht:—
Die Welt ist tief,
und tiefer als der Tag gedacht.
Tief ist ihr Weh—,
Lust—tiefer noch als Herzeleid.
Weh spricht: Vergeh!
Doch all' Lust will Ewigkeit—,
—will tiefe, tiefe Ewigkeit!"
-- "Midnight Song," from Friedrich Nietzsche's Also sprach Zarathustra, as sung in the 4th Movement of Gustav Mahler's Third Symphony

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

9/11 Documentary Delayed Due to CIA Threats

The following press statement was released today by the documentarians who have produced a film on former CIA Alec Station chief, Richard Blee. To see their full statement, click here.
AUSTIN, Texas (September 12, 2011) – On Thursday, the CIA threatened the journalists behind Who Is Rich Blee? with possible federal prosecution if their investigative podcast reveals the names of two CIA analysts at the center of a pattern of obstruction and mishandling of intelligence that many feel would have stopped the 9/11 attacks.
Like FBI agent Ali Soufan and Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer before them, the podcast team, including John Duffy and Ray Nowosielski, are being subjected to intimidation and censorship by government officials over blowing the whistle on the true story surrounding two alleged 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar.
The podcast originally scheduled for September 11th release presents a narrative of how three CIA analysts working under Richard Blee, the long unknown former head of CIA’s Bin Laden Station, deliberately misled their colleagues and withheld key intelligence from FBI and the White House regarding the presence of two known Al-Qaeda operatives in the U.S.
Four government investigations into CIA handling of pre-911 intelligence included personal details of the two CIA analysts and their actions. Nowosielski and Duffy deduced the identities of the two as yet unnamed CIA employees from internet research based on details provided from these and other open sources. When the producers used their full names in interviews, interviewees offered no correction. The CIA response provided the final confirmation.
In project updates at the producers announced the delay of the podcast and posted background of a complicated case involving dozens of violations of protocol, intimidation, and incidents of obstruction by the CIA, with the two yet named CIA analysts at the center of many of them.
Author and expert on the subject, Kevin Fenton, documents 35 such incidents between January 2000 and September 11th in his book, Disconnecting the Dots.
Pulitzer-prize winner Lawrence Wright, interviewed for the podcast, told producers the actions of one of the unnamed CIA analysts still employed at CIA amounts to obstruction of justice in the FBI’s criminal investigation of the deaths of 19 seaman aboard the USS Cole.
The producers are not the first subject to government censorship over this case. Last month New York Times reported on CIA efforts to censor an autobiography by Ali Soufan, a front-line FBI counter-terrorism specialist. Prior to 9/11, Soufan was interested in Mihdhar and Hazmi because of links to the bombing of the USS Cole. The CIA redacted references to a passport photo of Mihdhar the CIA had withheld from Soufan, despite his repeated requests.
Lt. Colonel Anthony Shaffer, interviewed for the podcast, was himself intimidated, demoted and smeared by the Pentagon after he came forward to the 9/11 Commission with details of how, on three occasions, unnamed DoD officials prevented his Able Danger operation from meeting with the FBI prior the attacks.
In 2000 the Able Danger program placed Mohammed Atta in a Brooklyn terrorist cell but had also placed Hazmi and Mihdhar in a San Diego cell, the epicenter of intrigue around Alec Station’s Rich Blee, Tom Wilshere and the two as yet unnamed subordinates who themselves repeatedly withheld intelligence from the FBI. Though Shaffer was interviewed by 9/11 Commission’s Director Philip Zelikow and staffer Dieter Snell, the Commission left any mention of Able Danger from its final report.
In the planned podcast, 9/11 Commission Chair Tom Kean is asked about a scant footnote to Chapter 6 of the 9/11 Report referring to an intelligence cable, seen by 50 at the CIA, but prevented from reaching the FBI. For Kean the incident was not a case of bungling or intel ‘stovepiping’: “Oh, it wasn’t careless oversight. It was purposeful. No question about that in mind. It was purposeful.”
Whereas Kean explains it as a penchant for secrecy, Richard Clarke, the former head of counter-terrorism at the Bush White House, goes farther suggesting malfeasance and the possibility of illegal CIA-led domestic spying activity. Comments by Clarke released in a video in August led to a formal statement from George Tenet, Cofer Black and Richard Blee, and a response from the producers.
“This was perhaps the closest U.S. intelligence got to foiling the 9/11 plot,” explains Producer Ray Nowosielski, “but instead of stopping the attack, the CIA stopped intel on two high-value targets from getting to the right people, repeatedly. And still the CIA protects the individuals responsible by intimidating those who simply want to know the truth behind a shocking and possibly criminal pattern of obstruction.”
In an email Thursday the CIA warned Nowosielski he could be subject to prosecution under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, a law intended to apply to government employees who violate their security clearance and never used to convict journalists.
The producer’s online response: “The Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics states that ‘journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know’ and should ‘be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.’ The day that journalists’ exposés of wrongdoing within government agencies require the approval of those government agencies before release, that is the day that transparency and accountability are lost.”
John Duffy and Ray Nowosielski, both graduates of Chicago’s Columbia College Film School, produced the critically acclaimed 2006 documentary 9/11: Press for Truth.

NYT: Soufan Book Adds to Charges CIA Kept 9/11 Terrorist Info from FBI

Ali Soufan's long-awaited new book, The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda, was released the other day, meriting a story on some of its more explosive material in an article by Scott Shane at the New York Times. According to Shane, "Mr. Soufan accuses C.I.A. officials of deliberately withholding crucial documents and photographs of Qaeda operatives from the F.B.I. before Sept. 11, 2001, despite three written requests, and then later lying about it to the 9/11 Commission."

The book made headlines last month when it was revealed the CIA had demanded "scores" of cuts to the book, for purposes of "national security."

According to Soufan, in a special introduction to the new book:
"... the FBI informed me that the manuscript had been sent to the CIA for review. This was strange, as I have never reported to the CIA or had any contractual agreement with them. While I understood that the FBI might feel the need to consult with others in the intelligence community about certain material in the book, there was absolutely no reason to subject me to a second full-blown prepublication review."
Soufan, a long-time special agent working with the FBI, worked on some of the more notorious terrorist cases post-9/11, including the interrogation of Mohamed Al-Qahtani and Abu Zubaydah. According to Soufan, he was pulled off these interrogations when the CIA or military officials wanted to use torture on the detainees. In these cases, and it turns out others, Soufan and his colleagues were pulled out of interrogations at the behest of the Bush administration or the CIA. Soufan was also the lead investigator on the bombing of the USS Cole.

In at least one other case, crucial information was kept from Soufan and other investigators by CIA officials, information that would have helped break the Cole case, and, crucially, have led FBI investigators to identify Al Qaeda operatives who had entered the United States more than eighteen months before 9/11. These two operatives, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, died on the plane that rammed into the Pentagon.

The controversies surrounding the CIA's withholding of information about these two hijackers was told in Lawrence Wright's 2006 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, and was further explored in Kevin Fenton's recent book, Disconnecting the Dots: How 9/11 Was Allowed to Happen.

Here's how Shane described the moment when Soufan realized he'd been had. For some strange reason, the NYT refrains from actually giving al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi's names.
[Soufan] recounts a scene at the American Embassy in Yemen, where, a few hours after the attacks on New York and Washington, a C.I.A. official finally turned over the material the bureau requested months earlier [from the CIA], including photographs of two of the hijackers.

“For about a minute I stared at the pictures and the report, not quite believing what I had in my hands,” Mr. Soufan writes. Then he ran to a bathroom and vomited. “My whole body was shaking,” he writes. He believed the material, documenting a Qaeda meeting in Malaysia in January 2000, combined with information from the Cole investigation, might have helped unravel the airliner plot.
According to Shane's report, CIA spokesman Preston Golson called "baseless" the idea that the CIA “purposely refused to share critical lead information on the 9/11 plots."

How Al Qaeda Terrorists Were Allowed to Enter the U.S.

What briefly reportedly occurred was this:

In January 2000, the CIA got information from the National Security Agency that al-Mihdhar and an associate were headed to a seeming summit of top terrorists in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. According to Fenton, "the CIA realized that the summit was so important that information about it was briefed to CIA and FBI leaders, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and other top officials at the start of 2000." The CIA discovered a visa for al-Mihdhar showing he was planning to come to the United States. Al-Mihdhar's father-in-law was the owner of a house in Yemen that NSA, CIA, and likely others were surveilling electronically -- the so-called Al Qaeda Yemen "hub."

In any case, according to Wright, the CIA already knew from Saudi intelligence that al-Mihdhar was Al Qaeda. Meanwhile, the CIA had obtained al-Mihdhar's passport, along with the visa, photographed it and sent it on to the CIA's Bin Laden desk, known as "Alec Station." When an FBI agent assigned to Alec Station, Doug Miller saw the cable, he drafted a memo requesting permission to alert his FBI superiors of the terrorists' intentions to come to the U.S. But permission was denied. We know that this was upon the authority of Alec Station deputy chief Tom Wilshire.

Even worse, another CIA agent at Alec Station, informed others who inquired that the information was passed on to the FBI. Except it never was.

Obstructions Continue

In an article about these matters by Jason Leopold at Truthout, Washington Post reporter Joby Warrick's new book, Triple Agent, about the suicide bomber who killed seven CIA agents at Khost, reports that the CIA Inspector General said "as many as sixty CIA employees" had seen "a series of cabled warnings in 2000 about" al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar "who later became part of the September 11 plot.... yet the two operatives' names were never passed along to the FBI, which might have assigned agents to track them down or shared with the State Department, which could have flagged their named on its watch list. In theory, the arrest of the either man could have led investigators to the other hijackers and the eventual unraveling of the 9/11 plot."

This was the beginning of numerous instances of lying and obstruction of an investigation by CIA, and on occasion, FBI officials, related to these two Al Qaeda personnel in particular. As you can see, far from the 9/11 terrorists begin "lucky," it appears there was a concerted effort to keep FBI criminal investigators from tracking key Al Qaeda operatives in the months, even weeks or days, leading up to 9/11. As Fenton points out, the latter possibly was achieved by detailing Wilshire, the agent who had blocked the first evidence of al-Mihdhar and al-Hawsi entering the U.S., to work with the FBI's counterterrorism unit in early 2001.

Soufan relates a much later instance of obstruction, this time only weeks before 9/11 itself. In late August, the FBI was finally figuring out what the CIA had known over a year before. When one reads this, one should remember that al-Mihdhar was certainly involved in the Cole terrorist plot, and both he and the very existence of the Malaysia Al Qaeda "summit" were kept from Soufan and his investigators for months, only finally told them when they had pretty much figured it out for themselves.

The following exchange took place in late August 2001, after FBI agent Dina Corsi had accidentally copied a criminal FBI investigator on an email about al-Mihdhar:
“Dina, you’ve got to be kidding me. Mihdhar is in the country?” [FBI agent Steve Bongardt] could hardly contain his anger....

“Steve, you’ve got to delete that,” Dina replied nervously. “We’ll have a conference call about it tomorrow.”

Dina called the next day, with a senior CIA official also on the line. Steve was told by the senior official that he had to “stand down” regarding Mihdhar. He was furious to hear—again—that this was intelligence that couldn’t be shared with criminal agents.

“If this guy is in the country, it’s not because he’s going to fucking Disneyland,” Steve retorted.

“Stand down,” the senior official replied.
The "stand down" ordered by the CIA was not the first "stand down" surrounding intelligence agencies in the months before 9/11. As I wrote the other day, both here and, with Jason Leopold, at Truthout, according to the former Deputy Chief of a Pentagon intelligence unit, which was hunting Bin Laden, and concerned with the scenarios about when and how and where Al Qaeda would attack, his group was pulled off that work in early 2001. This story is in addition to the controversial news reports about the Army's Able Danger data mining operation, shut down after it had identified some of the Al Qaeda terrorists, and more than one case of FBI reports of possible terrorists training to be pilots that were ignored by higher-ups.

Last month, two investigators released a partial video interview of former counter-terrorism "czar" Richard Clarke talking about the CIA and the withholding of information from the FBI and his office on movements of al-Mihdhar and al-Hawsi. (See video at end of story.) Clarke said George Tenet never told him about the two U.S.-bound terrorists. He also believed that Tenet, and Alec Station chief Rich Blee, "whose true identity was revealed for the first time two years ago, were responsible for the failure to capture al-Mihdhar and al-Hawsi.

The investigators' documentary on all this, "Who is Rich Blee?", was supposed to be released yesterday. But at their website we see the following message, "On Thursday, the CIA threatened the journalists behind Who Is Rich Blee? with possible federal prosecution if the investigative podcast is released in its current form.

"We are delaying that release while we consult with others and weigh our options. A press statement with a more complete explanation will be made available at this site soon."

Silence and the Legacy of 9/11

I haven't yet finished Soufan's book, so this essay is by no means meant to be a review. In the past, I have been critical, for instance, of how Soufan has played around with what he felt were non-coercive interrogations, which I believe meant it was okay to use isolation, for instance. I will be very curious to read his narrative about the Al Qahtani and Zubaydah interrogations, for instance. But for the purposes of this article, I'm concentrating only on the obstruction of justice aspects of his charges.

Whether it was a deliberate attempt to let terrorists operate in this country (as Kevin Fenton maintains), or a terrible combination of over-caution, inertia, lack of imagination, bad judgement, institutional hubris, and bad luck, as others would suggest, remains to be seen. What is clear is that we need a new investigation of the activities of the intelligence groups and the military leading up to 9/11, the earlier investigations being hog-tied by lies, information coerced from tortured detainees, and repeated efforts (mostly successful) to hide or withhold crucial information from investigators.

Only our silence will guarantee that we will never know the truth. Given that 9/11 and the threat of terrorism is used to justify trillions spent on wars, a major crackdown on civil liberties, and the use of torture and other abuses upon detainees, I don't see silence as an option.

Originally posted at FDL/The Dissenter

Sunday, September 11, 2011

"I'll never be the same"

Billie Holiday, recorded with Teddy Wilson and Lester Young, 1937.

IG Report Cover-up: Top Military Officials Hid Evidence of Pre-9/11 Al Qaeda Intelligence

Originally posted at FDL/The Dissenter

Between the fight between differing camps of 9/11 Truthers, the incredulity, if not laziness, of many mainstream bloggers and the MSM press itself, and the apparent disinterest (if not collusion) of Congress, actual evidence of an important government cover-up must struggle to gain notice and credibility.

Such is the case with the story of how top military intelligence officials working at U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) lied to Congressional investigators about the work of one of its top secret intelligence components, which included tracking of Osama bin Laden, and identification of the World Trade Center and Pentagon as top targets of Al Qaeda, including briefings to military and intelligence figures in summer 2002 that such attacks could come from hijacked civilian aircraft.

As reported in a new story at Truthout, by myself and Jason Leopold, these top military officials censored the answers Joint Forces Intelligence Command (JFIC) gave to a questionnaire from the 2002 Joint Intelligence Inquiry of the U.S. Congress, meant to investigate the details behind how the different intelligence agencies performed prior to 9/11, what they knew, what might have went wrong, and what really happened.

The falsification was meant in particular to hide the work of the 9-person unit within JFIC, known as the Asymmetrical Threats Division, or DO5 in military lingo. DO5 had analysts with expertise in all areas of intelligence, including signals intel, humint (human intelligence), and geospatial mapping. They received reports from NSA and CIA, and had access to NSA databases. According to "Iron Man," the government's own cover name for the former deputy chief of DO5, his unit had been hunting Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda from late 1999 until early 2001, until it was shut down by higher ups in the months leading up to 9/11. This aspect of the story was reported in earlier articles.

As covered in continuing coverage of the story, particularly at Truthout and at Firedoglake, the former Deputy Chief (and later Acting Chief) of DO5 protested the suppression of his organization's work, and tried to provide documentary evidence directly to the Defense Intelligence Agency Congressional Affairs Office. It's not known if it ever reached Congress.

In any case, neither the Congressional Joint Inquiry into 9/11 or the later official 9/11 Commission ever published a word about JFIC/DO5's work. In general, the entire story relating to military intelligence activities relating to Al Qaeda, Bin Laden, and tracking the 9/11 terrorists has totally been suppressed, with no other reporting on this... until Iron Man's protest to DoD's Inspector General (he also complained to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) when the IG started dragging their feet) produced an investigation, and then a report by the Inspector General of Intelligence at DoD, finished in 2008, but not made public until last year.

The news briefly caught the attention of Steven Aftergood at Secrecy News, and Electronic Frontier Foundation, who posted a FOIA-released copy of the DNI letter to DoD's Inspector General about Iron Man's complaint. EFF noted that "High-level Pentagon officials gave false information (PDF) to Congress about al-Qa'ida and the 9/11 attacks."

Interestingly, the story also surfaced in a Charlie Savage, Scott Shane article in the New York Times in December 2009, commenting on the DNI letter released to EFF.
Another memorandum disclosed that a Defense Intelligence Agency employee said that in May 2002, in response to a Congressional inquiry, the Joint Forces Intelligence Command provided false information about its activities related to Al Qaeda and the Sept. 11 attacks. The document offered few details.
The NYT never mentioned the subject again.

In the latest installment at Truthout of our investigation, Leopold and I released new documents that directly contradicted the assertions the Inspector General made about DO5's activities. For instance, the IG report claimed, "The JFIC did not have the mission to track Usama Bin Ladin or predict imminent US targets."

But a NCIS slide briefing in approximately 2000 stated, ""JFIC routinely supplements national agencies with original intelligence on UBL [Usama Bin Ladin] and Afghanistan." (Emphasis added.)

The Truthout story continues:
The slide presentation further notes that the Asymmetrical Threats Division has "primary division focus" on both counterterrorism and military "force protection." Moreover, the briefing slides state that JFIC's "Primary CT/force protection concerns" as "UBL [Usama Bin Ladin] and associated terrorist groups," adding that its goal was to determine when Bin Laden and other terrorists would strike, "How they will strike" and "Where they will strike"....

Another document Iron Man turned over to Truthout is a January 2001 confidential "Point Paper" that describes the Asymmetrical Threats Division as having "prepared numerous assessments of those cities most likely to be targeted by international and domestic terrorists," confirming Iron Man's claims that part of his unit's work did consist of producing intelligence on domestic targets by terrorists.
The Inspector General report is probably one of the most ridiculous government documents I've ever read. It's short, as if they didn't take the investigation seriously. For one thing, it totally misrepresents the point at issue, i.e., withholding of information from Congressional investigators, and keeps referring to the 9/11 Commission, which was not even an entity until about the time the Congressional inquiry was winding up (late 2002).

Doctoring Documents

This negligent, or deliberate, confusion continues in other important aspects, not least in the representation of the documents finally sent to Congress themselves. In the appendices of the report, two scanned copies of the answers from JFIC to Congress about its operations are reproduced. One is the original set of answers, one is the actual copy that was sent to Congress after "review" by the Director for Intelligence at JFCOM. While the IG report never notes there were any differences between the original and the "reviewed" answers, in fact, the "review" copy sent to Congress had 4 of its 13 items deleted, and many other items were cut dramatically.

As the Truthout report describes it:
The missing portions largely relate to aspects of JFIC's mission that had to do with the breadth and depth of its anti-terrorism work. For instance, in item one, JFCOM deleted the original JFIC reply that it conducted "in depth discussions about potential terrorist attacks since Dec. 00"....

One of the missing items in the version of the JFIC answers sent to Congress concerned the names and positions of JFIC counterterror personnel. This was not redacted for classification purposes, as they appear in the IG report, Appendix B. Instead, back in 2002, the lack of any such names meant there was no one identifiable from JFIC to call as a witness.

At other points in the edited version of the JFIC responses, descriptions of the unit's analytic work, in particular aspects that seem pertinent to Asymmetrical Threats Division's work, are left out.
The information that yet another intelligence component was pulled off of the tracking of the 9/11 terrorists in the months leading up to 9/11 -- joining the controversies over the Army's Able Danger program, the refusal of the CIA to notify the FBI of two key terrorists entering the U.S. in early 2002, the failure of the FBI to respond to field office reports about possible hijackers and terrorist pilots -- makes it very unlikely that the drawdown of intelligence over Al Qaeda's activities in the U.S. just at the time 9/11 was being planned was a matter of "luck."

It is in fact the confluence of four different agencies having higher ups obstruct their investigations, all in these crucial lead-up months to 9/11, and the cover-ups and lies pertaining to these matters, that marks this issue for further investigation.

And we need that investigation more than ever, as both 9/11 and the "war on terror" are prime propaganda points used to fuel one of the greatest attacks on civil liberties this country has ever seen, in addition to militarist and spy program activity that even the mainstream media has begun to realize is out of control.

So like it or not, the drone wars, the assassinations and black-site prisons, the torture and renditions are all the bastard children of 9/11. Yes, U.S. militarist policy and CIA perfidy was plenty evident before 9/11, but the escalation of U.S. activity in this area is now back to Vietnam-era levels, or even higher.

I don't know the "truth" about 9/11. But I know a lie when I see one. But unless the public speaks out -- and that includes the couple dozen political bloggers who see themselves as a counterweight to the Establishment's near-monopoly on "legitimate" political discourse -- then we will all have to live with the bogus narrative around 9/11, and the consequences of these lies. I'd think that the 3,000 or so who died that day deserved a better fate than that.

What follows is an interview I recently did with The Real News's Paul Jay on the Iron Man story:

DoD Persecutes Guantanamo Guard Who Talked About the Torture

Originally posted at FDL's The Dissenter

In the hurly-burly world of political journalism, with its weighty arguments about great principles of civil liberties and human rights, and its campaigns waged over the few recognizable victims of the State, it is easy to forget that day in and day out numerous individuals, common folk with no particular political ax to grind, put their decency on the line only to be hammered down by government bureaucrats.

They are lucky if their fate is ever known, and if known, luckier still if their names stick around longer than a normal news cycle, before they sink back into the bleak anonymity of their social insignificance, to return to broken lives, ruined relationships, destroyed careers, left to nurse their bitterness with the knowledge they did the right thing, wondering, perhaps, whether that's enough, and how will they pay their bills.

One of these decent people is Pfc. Albert Melise, who had enlisted in the Army Reserve almost nineteen years ago, who found himself ordered to Guantanamo in 2003, and ended up chaining detainees to the floor in Camp Delta interrogation rooms and being suborned into their torture. My friend and occasional collaborator Jason Leopold interviewed Albert last November.

Melise had been one of the very few guards who were willing to speak about what he had experienced at Guantanamo. Moreover, he had frequent contact with former detainee David Hicks, while Hicks was incarcerated in isolation at Guantanamo's feared Camp Echo. Leopold was writing an article on Hicks, based on an interview he had secured with the former Australian detainee.

(Hicks is embroiled in controversy himself, as an Australian court is going after any assets he may receive for his memoir, Guantanamo: My Journey.)

Leopold told Melise's story in an article August 25 at Truthout. He explained that the military approached Melise last April, told him he had leaked "classified information" when he spoke to Truthout, and was barring his re-enlistment in the Army Reserve.
"In accordance with your security clearance agreement during 2003-2004, you are not authorized to freely talk to the press about your duties at GITMO or what you might think have occurred there to the press," states an April 2 [2011] "developmental counseling form" presented to Pfc. Albert Melise that was signed by Alphonso Holt, a lieutenant colonel in the US Army reserves and the battalion commander of Melise's reserve unit. "I have reported your actions to the security manager and I am initiating a bar to re-enlist"....

"On 16 Feb 2011, you conducted a SKYPE interview with a news source and leaked classified information," the form signed by Lieutenant Colonel Holt charged, without identifying the substance of the classified information. "During the interview, you claimed detainees were tortured even though you never witnesses [sic] torture. Your hearsay has negatively impacted the United States Army and violated the conditions of your security clearance"....

The counseling form went on to state that if Melise continued to speak with the media he could face a dishonorable discharge and lose all of the benefits he had earned during his nearly two decades of service, including the GI Bill funding he depends upon to pay for nursing school.
Melise later said he felt under duress when he signed the form agreeing with what the government said, and waived his right to appeal. Subsequent attempts to challenge the government's action have been unsuccessful. The action was clearly punitive, and Melise was threatened that there could be more serious steps taken if he didn't sign the form.

Tortured by Torture

What did Melise tell Truthout that got the military so incensed? According to Leopold's interview with Melise, while at Guantanamo he had witnessed detainees tortured in their interrogation rooms, where he often stood observing prisoners kept in stress positions. The prisoners were slapped, made to endure strobe lights, excessive cold, and "excruciatingly loud" music. He saw prisoners bribed with prostitutes, and spoke about "fake detainees" who were sent into the camp to gather intelligence.

He also knew that prisoners were locked away in total isolation. One of the prisoners was David Hicks. Moved by the plight of Hicks and other prisoners, and so tormented by the torture he'd witnessed that he turned to serious alcohol abuse, Melise told Leopold why he tried to help Hicks and the others.
"I let [the detainees] out of their cells and just let them talk and hang out," he said. "I knew it would help them mentally. I knew it would help them cope with many things they had gone through. I also gave up what I had. I gave them normal food from my lunch to eat, cigarettes, protein bars, whatever was mine was theirs. I could have gone to prison myself for doing that, believe me. But I know I did the right thing."

"Why did you do that?" I asked.

"For sympathetic reasons," he said. "Because I sat in on interrogations. I wanted to give them a sense of humanity. Nobody deserves to be treated like that. They were not the 'worst of the worst,'" a description placed upon the detainees by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. "I'm an ex-cop and I can tell whose a criminal and who isn't and a lot of these detainees I met were not terrorists."
What did Melise get for his troubles? Nightmares, a drinking problem, and what appears to have been a case of PTSD. He went AWOL in January 2009, unable to take his problems anymore. The recruiters wanted him back, and over a year later he returned, busted from Sargent to private for his AWOL status, almost the only disciplinary mark in his many years of military service.

When he got the chance, he spoke to the press, glad to get the torments he witnessed and the pains he suffered off his chest. Melise was one of only a small handful of former guards to have spoken out about what they saw at Guantanamo. According to another guard who's spoken out, Brandon Neely, other guards he knows "won't speak publicly because they are in fear of being prosecuted due to the nondisclosure agreement they signed." He added that he when he left Guantanamo he was told he had to sign the nondisclosure agreement or he wouldn't be allowed to return home.

"I was also told I could never speak with the media, write a book, or make a movie or I could face prosecution," Neely said. "I am seriously considering legal action against the United States government. The truth has the right to be told and should not be suppressed because of this document."

"We wait for light, but behold obscurity"

I'm embarrassed, but also angered, to say that while the story of the government's actions against Melise was published at Truthout, not one human rights or civil liberties group or notable individual has come forward to offer him support. Not one human rights or progressive blogger has even mentioned his case (except Kevin Gostzola here at the Dissenter, who noted Leopold's story when it first came out), despite the fact he was punished for speaking to the press about Guantanamo.

I'm very much at a loss. Melise is a regular guy, not one of the activists, not a hacker celebrity, not a military officer, but a reservist, a man trying to make a mid-life career change and become a nurse to help people, a man whose bravery was expressed as kindness. He came forward to say what he saw in the hell to which he was assigned, and the government shot him down, made an example out of him.

But the issue was torture. The place was Guantanamo, which America has pretty much decided to forget, thanks to Barack Obama's policy of indefinite detention and a Congress overly beholden to a national security state apparatus, and the campaign financing dollars from the companies that feed that apparatus, who have decided Guantanamo should stay there forever, a monument to America's colossal stupidity and mind-numbing cruelty.

Presumably the blogging world and the press had better things to write about. (We do need another article about Michelle Bachman, don't we? Or how bad the GOP really is?) Maybe his punishment wasn't dramatic enough (though possibly enough to scare off any other military whistleblowers). There just wasn't room for Albert's story. But if you ask me, it's shameful.

So Albert Melise sinks back into obscurity, and something good, something noble in our society is switched off.

Peter B. Collins interviewed both Melise and former Guantanamo guard Brandon Neely last February. Click here to hear the podcast.

More about the David Hicks case can be found at The Justice Campaign website.

Disclosure statement: While I have co-authored a number of stories with Jason Leopold, I was not involved in any of the interviews with either Albert Melise or David Hicks, or the writing of the stories based on those interviews.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

"It is sweet and right to die for your country"

The upcoming anniversary of 9/11 looks like it will entail an explosion of patriotism and jingoism, the likes we have endured all too often in the United States. As the country spreads its militaristic aims ever wider, let's look back to what one famous English soldier wrote (quoted, with notes, from

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares(2) we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest(3) began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots(4)
Of tired, outstripped(5) Five-Nines(6) that dropped behind.
Gas!(7) Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets(8) just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime(9) . . .
Dim, through the misty panes(10) and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering,(11) choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud(12)
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest(13)
To children ardent(14) for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.(15)

Wilfred Owen
8 October 1917 - March, 1918

Notes on Dulce et Decorum Est

1. DULCE ET DECORUM EST - the first words of a Latin saying (taken from an ode by Horace). The words were widely understood and often quoted at the start of the First World War. They mean "It is sweet and right." The full saying ends the poem: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori - it is sweet and right to die for your country. In other words, it is a wonderful and great honour to fight and die for your country.

2. Flares - rockets which were sent up to burn with a brilliant glare to light up men and other targets in the area between the front lines (See illustration, page 118 of Out in the Dark.)

3. Distant rest - a camp away from the front line where exhausted soldiers might rest for a few days, or longer

4. Hoots - the noise made by the shells rushing through the air

5. Outstripped - outpaced, the soldiers have struggled beyond the reach of these shells which are now falling behind them as they struggle away from the scene of battle

6. Five-Nines - 5.9 calibre explosive shells

7. Gas! - poison gas. From the symptoms it would appear to be chlorine or phosgene gas. The filling of the lungs with fluid had the same effects as when a person drowned

8. Helmets - the early name for gas masks

9. Lime - a white chalky substance which can burn live tissue

10. Panes - the glass in the eyepieces of the gas masks

11. Guttering - Owen probably meant flickering out like a candle or gurgling like water draining down a gutter, referring to the sounds in the throat of the choking man, or it might be a sound partly like stuttering and partly like gurgling

12. Cud - normally the regurgitated grass that cows chew usually green and bubbling. Here a similar looking material was issuing from the soldier's mouth

13. High zest - idealistic enthusiasm, keenly believing in the rightness of the idea

14. ardent - keen

15. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori - see note 1 above.

To see the source of Wilfred Owen's ideas about muddy conditions see his letter in Wilfred Owen's First Encounter with the Reality of War.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

83 Died in U.S.-Guatemala Syphilis Experiments: "We’re talking about intentional deception."

It made headlines when historian Susan M. Reverby of Wellesley College discovered a decades-old program run from by the U.S. Public Health Service’s studies in Guatemala from 1946 to 1948. That's because the researchers deliberately inoculated subjects with syphilis in order to study sexually transmitted disease, and they did so without informed consent for the procedure.

Subjects were "not told what the purpose of the research was nor were they warned of its potentially fatal consequences." Furthermore, "U.S. government researchers must have known they were contravening ethical standards by deliberately infecting mental patients with syphilis."

The researchers, led by U.S. doctor John Cutler, who had also been involved in the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiments on African-American men that ran from 1932 to 1972, utilized mental patients, prostitutes, prisoners and soldiers as their guinea pigs. Today, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues issued their findings of a study undertaken in the aftermath of the scandal.

According to news reports, at least 83 Guatemalans died after being infected with both spyhilis and gonorrhea. Over 1,300 were exposed to the venereal diseases.

AFP reports:
Commission president Amy Gutmann called it an "historic injustice," and said the inquiry aimed to "honor the victims and make sure it never happens again."

"It was not an accident that this happened in Guatemala," Gutmann said. "Some of the people involved said we could not do this in our own country."

The U.S. researchers "systematically failed to act in accordance with minimal respect for human rights and morality in the conduct of research," she said, citing "substantial evidence" of an attempted cover-up.
John Donnelly at the official blog for the Presidential Commission, tells the story of one of these victims, a Guatemalan woman.
Berta, said Dr. John Arras, the Porterfield Professor of Biomedical Ethics and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Virginia, was a patient on a psychiatric ward who was injected with syphilis and not given treatment for three months after her initial exposure.

Arras noted the observations of the principal investigator for the study, Dr. John Charles Cutler, of Berta on one summer’s day. Arras said that Cutler wrote that it appeared Berta “was going to die. He did not specify why.”

That same day, Arras said that Dr. Cutler “put gonorrhea puss [sic] on her eyes, urethra and rectrum.”

Soon after, Berta died....

Arras said he brought up this single case because he was wrestling with the “distinction between blame and wrongdoing for some time...."

“I, for one, have been extremely reluctant to bring the moral hammer down with full force on the question of moral blame,” he said. “However, the issue of informed consent is not the only question. I’m not talking about just the failure to inform. We’re talking about intentional deception. … I really do believe that a very rigorous judgment of moral blame can be lodged against some of these people.”

“The most powerful argument,’’ he said, “is to repeat a story."
As I wrote on this subject last October, "These revelations are only the latest in an ongoing series of scandals regarding government illegal and unethical experimentation.... There are plenty of other underreported and important stories out there on the terrible scandal that has been U.S. illegal experimentation."

The list of such illegal experiments is quite long (government radiation experiments, Navy experiments with chemical agents on sailors, the Edgewood Arsenal experiments with LSD and other drugs (with the help literally of ex-Nazi scientists), the MKULTRA experiments, and allegedly, but awaiting fuller documentation, CIA and DoD experiments on "enemy combatants" in the "war on terror." I don't know if the current commission intends to discuss this history, giving context to the Guatemala atrocity, or not. But if not, they should be.

Only total transparency and an end to secrecy on these issue will bring an end to this kind of illegal experimentation and the human tragedies that result. "National security" for too long has been a shibboleth to justify the worst violations of human rights. If that finally hits home as a result of the Guatemalan scandal, then those people will not have died in vain. But I'm afraid it will take much more before we get to where we need to be.

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