As we come to the end of 3rd qtr. '07, time to step back a moment and get all "meta-" as we come to a number of milestones... for the first time since the end of the Ford Administration, the Canadian dollar, known affectionately in the Great White North as "the loonie" (there is a picture of a loon on the dollar coin) is now trading at more than the Yankee dollar, and Billionaire Tom Friedman now tells us-- now-- some 12 Friedman units past 9-11 and 9 Friedman units into the Iraq thing that Tom and his newspaper were so hellbent on us getting into (and telling us how strongly it was supported and how non-existently it was opposed)... now, Tom tells us that lotsa people-- including hisself-- kinda acted, you know-- dumb, after 9-11, and did all sortsa stupid stuff... and while Tom won't tell us which Republican he'll vote for, it won't be one "running on 9-11" (I suppose he means St. Rudy).
Where does one even start? Let me start this way. Our declining dollar (the Canadian dollar is but one of the many currencies the greenback is collapsing against) would ordinarily be a pretty good thing for our economy: it would make our exports rather attractive abroad, because our debased currency would make them cheaper, so demand would rise, and hence, more people would be put to work, business would be up, etc. BTW, even in the service sector (which our "post-industrial" economy has been largely reduced to thanks to decades of
downsizing right-sizing de-industrialization-- bi-partisan, btw), things like consultancies and even tourism would still be attractive abroad on a price basis. Of course, as even Billionaire Tom observes, our national-security-state paranoia has deterred a lot of people from visiting, which ends up costing us money, as well as good-will.
These are not "ordinary" times. The thing is, we keep running trade deficits not merely because we import so much oil and so many cheap tzotzkelas from China; by and large, we also don't produce very much of value to anyone else anymore (including, btw, ourselves). This is the case because, in part, stupid, venal people like Tom Friedman (and his newspaper) are now considered "intellectuals," and get all the benefits of a social welfare state (as if a billionaire even needs them!) while publicly doing all in their power to dismantle the few aspects of a social welfare state we have for other people, while selling his "intellectual" books... even though... let me quote him... he just said
"This: 9/11 has made us stupid. I honor, and weep for, all those murdered on that day. But our reaction to 9/11 — mine included — has knocked America completely out of balance, and it is time to get things right again."
Well, Billionaire Tom, 9-11 didn't make me stupid. Unlike you, besides "angry", what 9-11 made me was unemployed (fortunately, only temporarily, though many, many others suffered lengthy periods, and thousands of course made the supreme sacrifice, though their families are now by and large millionaires-- though I don't believe billionaires like you.) But I'm glad you've just told us that you're stupid, which of course means that we shouldn't listen to you anymore (not that I personally ever really did.)
And that's what Tom and the rest of the Marie Antoinette/Beltway Mega-bucks Class-whose-stock-options-have-absorbed-everything and their Courtiers (the latter now called "the media") don't get: we know you are in your positions of extreme power and money not from being smart or talented, or even from being descended from the smart or talented. You are often there largely because you are dishonest, conniving, connected (nice marriage, there, Tom)... possibly because of dumb luck. Meanwhile, people in my socio-econ class (the mid- to upper- bourgeoisie, btw) have to deal with planning for raising children and 30 year mortgages and retirement and our own and our parents' declining healths in an environment where we may be unemployed at any moment-- an era where our "intellectuals" support a regimen of replacing the New Deal with the Raw Deal... not even our expensive, debt-laden graduate degrees and allegedly valuable service to the economy will protect us from having to have our resumes perennially at the ready... [Yes... it took until well into my 30's to realize that my interests were aligned almost identically with "lowly" industrial workers and unionized tradesmen and women-- to the extent we even have all that many left...]
George W. Bush and Dick Cheney really are both the micro- and macro- of this country. And part of how they and their undeserving and unworthy friends-- manage to achieve positions of dominance in this country-- is by keeping the rest of us in fear. I remember one of my (post-9-11!) employers once telling me-- with a smile on his face-- that I should "watch myself" because "it was a tight job market out there." The post 9-11 political environment, up to and including the current presidential sweepstakes (at least on the Republican side) is still devoted to telling us that swarthy furrin' terrrrorists are coming to kill our children (and, perhaps, Mexicans are coming to steal our jobs)... in other words, all fear, all the time.
And that's just it: fearful people behave very differently from people free from fear... indeed, we'll call the latter "free people" (which those who have been watching the FISA-dismantling and sell-out, Guantanamo, Padilla (and al-Mari), the USA Patriot Act, Iraq, now the assault on MoveOn realize is a group that no longer includes the American people)...
Oh what has happened to us! FDR told us that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. GW Bush told us that the only thing we have is fear itself. Under one kind of thinking, we won World War II and then the Cold War and then built the world's mightiest economy, WENT TO THE MOON, and, although tremendously flawed, we nonetheless built the strongest force for good the world had ever seen. Under the other... four and a half years after the fall of Baghdad, our mighty military is bogged down against irregulars amidst an untenable and endless occupation [a great bumper sticker reported to me says "The endlessness justifies the meaningless"], over two years after Katrina, much of New Orleans by and large remains in ruins... and coming full circle to Ground Zero... Ground Zero-- six years plus later-- remains mostly a large hole. Why, if a World War II hero like Bob Dole were still alive, he'd... well, never mind that.
When we allow stupidity and fear to rule us, the results are not pretty: they look like what now passes for White House press conferences, they look like Baghdad, they look like the Lower Ninth Ward, they look like lower Manhattan as bordered by Vesey, West and Liberty Streets and Trinity Place...
Oops... did I say all that out loud?
Today marks 16 years of happily wedded bliss for Mrs. TD and I (though some in the Bush Administration question the validity of our marriage based on its venue of origin).
And a hearty Mazel Tov and happy B'nai Mitzvot to TD Niece and Nephew.
In "Operation Deja Vu All Over Again", misguided American forces mistakenly believed that the no longer relevant (if they ever were) Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri (didn't we get him back in Iraq?) were having a big pre-Ramadan Qaeda-con-fab at... wait for it... the Tora Bora caves in Afghanistan.
Unbelievably, our military ordered an attack! Fortunately, the misguided plan to remove the number one excuse for why we are in Iraq (and let's face it, as Rush would say, any service member who questions our mission or particularly wishes it to ever end is a "phony soldier"-- and probably gay)... fell apart, and OBL was permitted to escape again, this around a month ago, fortunately, still in time for Congressional Democrats to sh*t in their pants in time for their Labor Day recess.
Just think how close we were to the unthinkable: the Republicans would lose the one issue really holding them together as they head headlong off the same cliff that proved so successful in the '06 mid-terms (that Iraq thing, and of course, individual implosions of a scale not seen since the Democrats pulled off the same trick in '94 with a tremendous assist from Our SaviorTM Hillary Clinton)... Worse still, the Democrats (and St. Hillary of Bentonville) would take Iraq off the table, and actually have to campaign on something (such as their non-existent record of accomplishment while "in Congressional majority").
No, no. Unthinkable. Bipartisan comity has to be preserved. Thankfully, luck was on the side of our fighting men at Tora Bora... again... and OBL managed to not get killed, and the War on TerrorTM will live another day... if not another Congress or two... or three...
I was actually kind of proud of dear old alma mater for having more cojones than Mike Bloomberg (himself a Hopkins grad and Hahvahd MBA); the Lord Mayor decided to invoke bullsh*t "security concerns" to deny Iranian wildman president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad an opportunity to lay a wreath at Ground Zero... I mean, let's face it... the last thing this country, or this city needs, is even the remote possibility of coming to understanding and reconciliation with people we disagree with, especially when our political overlords and the punditocracy need bogeymen. I guess we saw how well that sort of thing worked with Iraq, and want to keep doing it. (I was kind of hoping Ahmadinejad would order his motorcade past ground zero and flip a wreath out the window in a drive-by wreathing... but it didn't happen either...) To his credit, at least, the Lord Mayor was a lot cooler about the Iranian wildman speaking at Columbia than was our intolerant lesbian City Council Speaker. (BTW, even the President... the one from the US of A... said he had no problem with Columbia inviting the Iranian president to speak... of course, he's no longer running for anything...)
Still, in a move that will surprise no one, that dip-sh*t twit Neanderthal moron from California, Congressman Duncan "Rice Pilaf and Lemon Chicken" Hunter, proudly announces his intent to punish Columbia University by introducing legislation to cut off its federal funding in retaliation for its promotion of free speech and permitting the Iranian president to speak there. (h/t Bruce the Veep). Coming the same week that another dip-sh*t Neanderthal moron, Tom "DipSh*t" Davis, him from Virginia, demands a Congressional hearing on Move-On.Org's purchase of advertising from the Grey Lady. [No word on where my alleged classmate at Columbia, Sen. Obama stands on either issue...]
Last I looked, this was, you know, a free country. It seemed that our nation's long post-9-11 stupor had evaporated, and the invocation of swarthy furrin' lookin' bogeymen hellbent on doing bad things to us was no longer sufficient to drive most people off of all semblance of reason. Then again, Hunter proudly raised his hand to tell us he doesn't believe in evolution, or that the Earth is round, or that our Constitution precludes assholes like himself from punishing others for exercise of free speech. Ditto Davis, who is vying with ex-VA governor Gilmore to get throttled by Mark Warner in next year's VA senate race, and thinks pandering to closed-minded bigoted people will help him. I admit, it's usually a winning strategy in American politics to be sure, but still...
Things wasn't always as cushy as they are now: real people did real jail time as recently as during World War I (still in the living memories of a few people left, I suppose) just for saying "I don't think it's a good idea that the President is getting us into that war thing." And we don't exactly look back at that era as happy times, now do we? The closest recent analog, the McCarthy era, isn't exactly thought of as happy times either. And yet, why is it that the entire Republican establishment seems to think that treating our Constitution as toilet paper is sound policy?
Yes, that was a rhetorical question; no need to answer. Free speech, boys and girls, is ultimately a use it or lose it proposition. That Move-On may be offensive to some of us, or the Iranian President to most, if not nearly all of us, is not relevant: we either believe in free speech, or we do not. I personally do.
I seem to be ever more lonely in that belief.
Colonel Randall Larsen, USAF (Ret) is the Founding Director of The Institute for Homeland Security, the National Security Advisor to the Center for Biosecurity, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and the co-host of Public Radio's Homeland Security: Inside and Out. He previously served as the Chairman of the Department of Military Strategy and Operations at the National War College. Colonel Larsen served for 32 years in both the Army and Air Force. He served as a 19-year old Cobra pilot in the 101st Airborne Division in 1968-69 and flew 400 combat missions in Vietnam. He also served as military attaché at the US Embassy in Bangkok, the chief of legislative liaison at the US Transportation Command, and the commander of America's fleet of VIP aircraft at Andrews AFB MD. He is the author of Our Own Worst Enemy: Asking the Right Questions About Security to Protect You, Your Family, and America. On September 11, 2007, I had the privilege of interviewing Col. Larsen. What follows are my interview notes, corrected as appropriate by Col. Larsen.
The Talking Dog: As I find you in New York on September 11, 2007, where were you on September 11, 2001?
Randall Larsen: I was the director of the Institute for Homeland Security in Arlington, Virginia, and was in the office, about 3 miles South West of the Pentagon. Colleagues in the office told me an airplane had struck the World Trade Center. I assumed it was a small plane. When I walked into the conference room to look at the large plasma screen television I saw a large plane hit one of the twin towers. I asked, “Is that a replay?” They said, "No." Look, the other tower is burning.” I had begun studying homeland security issues in 1994; at that moment I saw United 175 hit the tower, I knew that the time had finally come.
However, my most frightening moment was actually not 9-11 itself. I was doing a "pre-interview" with the ABC program "20-20", when Howard Rosenberg, one of the producers, said "Tommy Thompson, then the Secretary of Health and Human Services, has just announced a confirmed case of inhalation anthrax in Florida. At that moment, I was more frightened than I was during any of my 400 missions flown in Viet Nam... I didn't know whether the casualties were going to be in the thousands, tens or hundreds of thousands, or worse... For me, anthrax was the more emotional and disturbing event, for me, than 9-11 itself.
The Talking Dog: You devote a section of your book to discussing the post 9-11 anthrax attacks, or "Amerithrax" as you termed it, which our law enforcement officials have never solved. While the government focused its efforts on an apparent scapegoat (your book doesn't identify him; I'll just call him "Dr. H.") reminiscent of the late Richard Jewell, it seems you have presented a wealth of compelling evidence linking these attacks to a far more likely and not unexpected source... the 9-11 plotters themselves. As far as you can tell, why isn't this more widely known? Also, if you would, talk about how you smuggled a vial of a bacillus into a White House meeting with the Vice-President, and after that, to the extent not classified, what if anything was done vis a vis security measures.
Randall Larsen: The FBI got far off course. The press actually missed the real story, as I saw it, with "the person of interest", insofar as that "Dr. H" had spent two years working in a bio-safe level 4 facility-- working with some of the most dangerous pathogens in the world-- with a bogus resume!
I travel all over the country giving speeches on homeland security. I just talked to the top 340 Senior Executive Service employees of the EPA, and asked them, using state of the art instant voting equipment, how many of them were aware that Mohammad Atta's roommate had cutaneous anthrax... not one of the 340 knew.
Five times a year, I brief top officers of the government and military, and only 1 or 2, if that, ever know! When you take all of the facts I have presented, I'm not suggesting that there would be no reasonable doubt possible, but the anthrax case and 9-11 case were the largest investigation in history! And yet, the FBI has turned up nothing on the anthrax case-- because they went in the wrong direction.
And had one young field agent not faxed that memo about Atta's roomate to my colleague Tom Inglesby, we wouldn't have known either! But you add this to the Robb-Silverman Commission's findings, that Al Qaeda was in the early stages of experimentation with these kind of bio-agents-- and you can see how they could have made at least a small quantity.
This, by the way, is the test tube I showed to the Vice President. It contains a harmless bacillis globigii, though this would be far more anthrax than was contained in the envelope sent to Daschle. I did, indeed, bring this vial into the White House, and showed it to the Vice President in answer to his question "what does bio-weapon look like"? The whole point is that you cannot alter the security procedure to catch this.
Later on, I brought this to the CIA... and while waiting to enter, I made sure the guard (holding the machine gun) saw it as I moved it from one pocket into another. I made sure that it was seen... and the fact is, it doesn't look like a weapon.
On September 20th, when the Secret Service searched my brief case prior to meeting with the VP, one compartment had an N-95 mask (similar to a surgical mask) and the test tube. The agent asked why I was carrying a mask. He asked the wrong question. He should have asked about the test tube. That story has become the metaphor for the entire book. Too many people are asking the wrong questions.
My friend Bill Patrick, who used to work in the offensive germ warfare programs during the Cold War... likes to go into Congressional hearings with a rose sprayer! He has even sprayed the bacillus (it is non-toxic, though frankly, not a good idea, as the particles can nonetheless be inhaled).
The Talking Dog: Also on the subject of the anthrax attacks, I recall how, in October 2001, the office manager of a law firm I was then working in (in strategically meaningless White Plains, NY-- the job I took after my previous office across the street from the WTC was displaced) donned rubber gloves and a surgical mask, to open mail... as you point out, the threat of a bio-attack could occur anywhere, and in 2001, the delivery vehicles were U.S. Postal Service trucks... unlike a spectacular 9-11 attack, or even a nuclear attack, which would likely be targeted at visible media, political or business centers. Why has so remarkably little been done, or even publicly discussed, in the area of preventing (or more importantly, preparing for and mitigating the damage from) bio-attacks, given just how much fear (if not outright paranoia) the anthrax attacks caused in the wake of 9-11 (and that, an attack that caused deaths in the single-digits, when you point out that an effective bio-attack that we are poorly prepared for might kill thousands, or worse)? Does this come down to the one dirty word "politics", or perhaps worse, that there is just less money to be made for what you have termed "the homeland security industrial complex", or is something else going on?
Randall Larsen: One of the points I made about Cantor Fitzgerald is that the only thing that would have been worse than having lost so many of their colleagues that day would have been for them to have lost so many colleagues and then to have had to stand in the unemployment line!
As to the anthrax issue, by late November 2001, audiences I was encountering around the country outside of New York or Washington reacted to 9-11 as if it were a movie. The whole thing was surreal to them. Now, one of the points I try to make is that in the great scheme of things, compared to the vast population of the United States, the ultimate human cost-- as horrible as nearly 3,000 lives lost is-- is relatively small. But the economic impact was huge and devastating. And the same is especially the case with bio-weapons.
At the moment, we have no plan for anthrax, let alone other pathogens. That we are not ready is not just Randy Larsen's opinion... Dr. D.A. Henderson, former Dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health says that we are not prepared. And anthrax is the easiest and most likely pathogen we'd have to deal with!
We have serious problems with a pandemic flu "plan". I was at a conference where we were talking to business executives and the chief of a public health service in a major city-- I won't name the city-- said he would order 90% of the people to stay at home. That would be turning a crisis into a catastrophe! I noted that there were 400 people in the room... while we don't like to think about it, if we had a similar pattern to the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic-- the worst ever recorded-- around a quarter of the 400 in the room would get the flu, and it would take around a month to recover 2 or 3 would, unfortunately, die of it. The pandemic would be disruptive, but not near as much as the gross overreaction of directing 90 percent of the people to stray at home... this is what I mean by "our own worst enemy.” We could do far more damage to our economy than either Mother Nature or the terrorists.
The most likely bio- event is some kind of a flu pandemic, but the threat of a bio-terrorism attack becomes more likely every year. But, if we take measures such as telling everyone to stay home, think of a flu pandemic with the economic impact of the example I give in the book: a blizzard that lasts for 3 or 4 months!
The Talking Dog: Let's follow that theme in the area of preventing terrorists from threatening us with nuclear weapons. I take it I have phrased the issue correctly-- the issue is not so much a terrorist actually detonating such a weapon in an American city, but a terrorist group with such a weapon in its possession could detonate it anywhere in the world, and pretty much achieve its ends by blackmail without delivering it. And yet, everytime I see Chuck Schumer open his mouth (I pick on him because he's my own senator!), it's invariably harping about inadequacies of port security, which as you point out, is "the last one minute and ten meters", i.e., trying to detect a nuclear weapon that had already reached New York harbor would probably be a little late-- the priority has to be preventing terrorist groups from acquiring fissionable material in the first place. Part of this is sound-bite politics-- one can always say "more should be done" to inspect container cargo... but some very sensible programs,-- such as the Nunn-Lugar program to acquire and dismantle former Soviet nuclear weapons, which has not only been cost-effective security-wise, but has even helped provide material to power our own nuclear power plants-- languish underfunded or worse. As with bio-weapons, let me again ask if this comes down to the one dirty word "politics", or that there is just less money to be made for what you have termed "the homeland security industrial complex" (say, manufacturers of radiological detectors have pull on the Hill)... or is something else going on?
Randall Larsen: Well, as with bio-terrorism, the answer to who is in charge of preventing terrorists from getting fissionable material to make nuclear weapons is... no one. By the way-- the budget for the Nunn-Lugar program is being cut again! The entire program's annual cost is what we spend every 4 days in Iraq!
The Robb-Silbermann Commission's report has put it succinctly: in the nuclear and bio-terror areas, we are simply not prepared. The solutions and approaches we need are bipartisan... I take great pride in the fact that many tell me "Randy, we can't figure out if you're a Republican or a Democrat!"
Case in point: most people have no idea how easy it is these days to manufacture one Hiroshima size and type bomb. And it doesn't have to go off in New York City either-- a detonation of such a weapon by a terrorist group anywhere in the world would change the world forever.
Bio-terrorism, by contrast, is harder to understand. Nuclear weapons are hard enough. But as to bio-weapons, think about the fact that the United Nations inspectors actually found bio-weapons and faciilities in Iraq in 1995! If the UN team in 2003 had said, as if it were even possible, that they could find absolutely no evidence of bio-weapons in Iraq... the fact is, just two weeks later, Iraq would have been able to produce them again, if the facililties were maintained. Of course politically this was very hard to sell to the public as a reason to go to war-- so nuclear weapons, of which there was much less eivdnece-- were a much easier sell to the public! But in fact, privately, many in the Bush Administration were much more worried about bio-weapons, though they knew it would be harder politically to justify the war.
At this point, our approaches to nuclear-terror and bio-terror seem to have both backwards.
One example cited is that it is feared that one way to bring such weapons in here from abroad is via private airplanes, or general aviation, as there is somewhat relaxed security in this area; so a priority becomes stepping up general aviation security. This will work fine as long as terrorists are willing to follow the new rules!
In the end, you can be very intelligent, but without sufficient effective knowledge, you will go in circles. One of the big failings of our nation and its homeland security approach currently is in the area of education... in 1900, there was no discipline called international relations, but our great universities created it. In 1950, there was no such thing as security studies... but again, our top universities took it on. Indeed, the great strategies of the Cold War, came from our top universities. And so we need a similar approach to homeland security, and yet at the moment the field has been left to community colleges... But they are not training strategic policy thinkers, they are training first responders. Some universities, of course, insist that they are doing it-- but they prove my point! They are studying new gadgets-- technology is driving the policy, which is the exact opposite of what has to happen. At the moment, no major university is doing this (besides Texas A&M and its Bush School). Dr. Dave McIntyre of Texas A&M understands strategy... he has a new Masters and Ph.D. program up and running training strategic thinkers, and not just first responders.
Because the big picture perspective is lacking, many otherwise competent officials just don't get it. I recall taking 28 Members of the House Homeland Security Committee on a retreat to the Wye River resort for two days. We spent one day on nuclear issues and one day on bio-terror issues; and it seemed to me we were getting somewhere. The primary focus of the bio day was to convince them that the biotechnical revolution has made it impossible to prevent a bio attack. The focus of our defensive efforts must be on rapid detection, response and recovery. However, when they returned to Capitol Hill, they went back to their pre-conceived approaches, and wrote up a summary called "preventing nuclear and bio-terror attacks!"
In my view, this lack of education, at the graduate school level, is a huge contributor to the "ready fire aim" approach to homeland security we see in Congress. Another contributing factor, of course, is our culture of sound-bite politics. Another factor is our "homeland security industrial complex" with an incentive to sell the most expensive gadgets available. Of course, such factors militate against something as simple or effective as the Nunn-Lugar program! Just something more to tell us how smart Ike was in telling us to beware of such a military industrial complex.
The Talking Dog: You indicate that you are non-partisan, and most of your positions are certainly that; indeed, I am not sure whether, or to what extent, I agree with you or not, for example, on your view that publishing-- not merely leaking, but publicly disseminating-- classified data should be a crime for the publisher (calling Robert Novak!), particularly given how abusive the current Administration has been of classifying information that will embarrass it, rather than necessarily as a "security" matter, or that we need "new rules" beyond law enforcement or military engagement to combat terrorism. That said, my question is that you have nonetheless singled out two officials for rather harsh treatment in your book (and on this, I wholly agree with you), Karl Rove draws your ire for blocking appointment of a highly qualified and critically important security official solely on political grounds, and more significantly perhaps, former Attorney General John Ashcroft for apparently misleading the 9-11 Commission on the extent that former Deputy A.G. Jamie Gorelick was responsible for erecting "the wall" between law enforcement and intelligence gathering that he found so convenient to blame for the pre-9-11 intelligence failures (conveniently omitting his own role in upholding "the wall"). I take it that you noted them because these particular officials happen to be in office at the relevant time... or do you have a further comment on why their actions are particularly egregious, and what lessons can we draw vis a vis future public officials and their conduct?
Randall Larsen: I certainly do take on Democrats-- I took on the current Speaker of the House first! But yes, Ashcroft has a laser pointer aimed at his head! His testimony, and distortion of the facts, has fueled endless right-wing diatribes against an honorable public servant, Jamie Gorelick. 9-11 Commission chairs Lee Hamilton and Tom Kean summed it up best regarding Ashcroft: his testimony was misleading.
In the same day, I often listen to both NPR and Rush Limbaugh. I like to stay up-to-date on both sides of debates. I recall one instance where a 14 year old girl called in to Rush and asked about how Democrats could protect us from anything given how clueless they are, and the usual you'd expect...
Rush responded with "the wall" that Jamie Gorelick built:. Well, I have liberal friends and Republican friends... but it makes me mad when radical Republicans harp on "the wall" that they contend was constructed by Ms. Gorelick, when, if anything, she helped lower it! And yet, I hear this continually as a right wing talking point, besmirching an outstanding public servant.
The Talking Dog: With the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the government accomplished one of the biggest bureaucratic reapportionments in decades, incorporating a number of services, like the Coast Guard, the Immigration Service, and FEMA that were in a variety of different agencies and structures (INS in Justice, USCG in Transportation, FEMA... somewhere) in one place, that at least seemed to make sense. On the whole, has this exercise, in your view, by and large been a success, or has it mostly played out as political musical chairs, and key functions (such as public health, disaster coordination, preventing nuclear proliferation/bioterror etc.) are still largely not that well organized? Do you have any suggestions for improvement in this area of organizing the bureaucracy... or is this "asking the wrong question"?
Randall Larsen: No, it's certainly the right question... best phrased as "Has the Department of Homeland Security made our nation and its people more secure?" and the answer to that is a resounding "No".
The method of secrecy about how this government has operated and how it created things like the Department of Homeland Security is troubling. I talked to both Senator Hart and Senator Rudman, who studied homeland security for three years, and they made a number of recommendations, the first 50 of which were unanimous-- regardless of party. Their first recommednation was not to make the department too large! One priority iwas to try to take back security of our borders, such as with the border patrol, customs and immigration services... but don't do what they did- bring in 26 different agencies each with its own system for everything! What happened? The people in the White House who created this didn't talk to the Hart-Rudman people... or seemingly anyone!
I happen to like our current Secretary of DHS, Michael Chertoff, a great deal. I meet him every 6 weeks or so... he has a very good big picture sense. Indeed, he wrote much of the recent immigration bill... a bill that ideological opponents like John Kyl and Ted Kennedy could both support (although a vocal minority eventually killed that bill). I wrote a recent op ed, where I pointed out that we have two very good officials-- Secretary Chertoff and Kip Holly, head of the Transportation Security Agency...
But the problem is, their agency is unmanageable... and it's not them, no one can run it. It is a disaster. There are 5 times as many political appointees than the Defense Department, in an agency only 1/5 the size! There are an incredible number of contractors-- my book points to an example of one unit with 122 people and only 3 government employees! A contractor's main job is to keep the contract!
So,... DHS is a disaster. I gave the agency a D+ in terms of value provided to us as taxpayers... in my own career, I never graded on a curve but Chertoff gets a C on a curve, because there are so many things that are beyond his control—and I am not talking about al Qaeda.
And Congress itself presents a huge problem-- with 88 separate committees and subcommittees of oversight over this area. The 9-11 Commission recommended that Congress itself needed to be reorganized... but it isn't happening.
The Talking Dog: You suggest that someone in the government be in charge of, on a full-time basis, respectively, preventing and mitigating bio-terror attacks, and preventing nuclear terror attacks. Given the troubled history our government has had with "czars" in the past, be they "energy czar", "war on drugs czar" or more recently "intelligence czar", could you explain why you think this would be more successful approach than, say, placing these specific portfolios in existing officials (such as, for example, making these the only two duties of the Homeland Security Secretary, and devolving the rest of his or her portfolio to other agencies, just to throw one out there)?
Randall Larsen: That's a very good question. Certainly, our "czar system" is all wrong. I recall our former Drug Czar William Bennett saying that he couldn't get an assisstant secretary of defense to get him on his calendar... if the czar has no money to appropriate or control, the assistant secretary has no time! A bureaucrat's concerns are who can promote me, fire me, or give me money... it's not a czar!
A more likely model for this is our new National Intelligence Director: he can, at least in theory and by design, hire and fire people and he controls an intelligence budget-- supposedly ahead of OMB controlling it.
Richard Falkenrath, now New York City's man in charge of counter-terror, has said that as to bio-defense, the issue is far too complex to have one person in charge. This is like telling Ike that Operation Overlord at D-Day was too complicated to have one man in charge! This is just not the case.
It is absolutely critical that someone of real authority is in charge of the bio-security issue and bio-terror threat... especially given the revolution in bio-technology. My editor suggested I remove this story-- and I'm sorry I did. When I was a small boy growing up on a farm in Indiana, I was having difficulty understanding he concept of God. My father picked up a kernel of corn and said, “Those folks up at Purdue could make something that looks just like this. They could probably even make something that tastes like this, but if they put it in the ground, it wouldn’t grow. Only God can do that.”
That story worked in the mid 1950s, but not today. A team of scientists at the State University of New York at Stony Brook created a virus in a test tube from non-living material that can grow and multiply-- the polio virus. It took three years to make the first virus, but after they figured out the process, it only took two weeks to make the next one. Most people outside the field of biology have no clue about the amazing revolution that is taking place. It will have great benefits to the human race, but it also has a very dark side.
Bio security is now so frightening that the hacker problem could kill us all-- a malevolent grad student or two could develop a virus that could literally threaten the human race. There are so many issues out there on this...
We have two people in charge of our national missile defense... but bio-security has no one.
As to your examples (such as reducing the Secretary of Homeland Security to just this portfolio)... there are any number of ways to get there. But the people in charge need the authority, the responsibility and the accountability... money is part of the authority, and as an effective military commander, I always had the authority I needed to get my job done.
As to possible models, the White House isn't so good... it's not set up for operations. The current Director of National Intelligence model may well be the best way to go.
The Talking Dog: Before I forget to ask, your book highlights the simple fact that whether because the federal government is just not logistically going to be able to help that much in a real emergency, when push comes to shove, "if it's going to be it's up to me", and that much or most of our preparedness for worst-case terrorist attacks (or for that matter, hurricanes, blackouts and other periodic occurrences that require some kind of emergency response), can and should be done locally, or more likely still, on our own, such as keeping comfortable shoes and a ready supply of water in your office (having hiked home from the events of 9-11 and the 2003 blackout, I fully concur), or keeping a couple of days supply of water and non-perishable food and some medical supplies at home... and a plan to either evacuate, or "shelter in place". What would you give as the three or four most critical suggestions you would make to people to prepare themselves and their families, now, before a crisis, for the likeliest disaster (terrorist or otherwise) scenarios? Same question, for say, a small business looking to protect itself and its employees from the likeliest emergencies?
Randall Larsen: For you and your family, issue number 1-- number 1-- is prescription medication. A plastic baggy with 4 or 5 or however many pill bottles, including bottles with the prescriptions visible. Also, e-mail copies of the prescriptions to relatives, or xerox them and store them with relatives or somewhere besides yourself. My mother in Pueblo, CO has my banking data, will medical power of attorney and investment account data. The chance of a simultaneous disaster in both Virginia and Colorado is extraordinarily remote.
I don't believe in stockpiling food; my rule of 2 applies-- you can go 2 minutes of breathing without oxygen, 2 hours without shelter in harsh climates, 2 days without water, 2 weeks without food... keeping a supply of water is important-- the N-95 mask is very, very important (you can get a box of 20 for around $19.95 in Home Depot). A Rand Corporation study noted that if we have a SARS outbreak here, the mask will be widely used-- mostly to prevent contagion from people coughing, by the way. Dr. Eric Toner, chief of the bio-team of the Center for Bio Security has said that his family will be wearing N-95 masks in the event of any outbreaks.
Number 2, is to understand a few rules... in a hurricane, run from water, but hide from wind; get out of a storm surge, but shelter in place for high winds... this will reduce clogged roadways in the event of such a storm, during which people are trapped outside. Also- keep comfort items in your emergency stores... cookies for the kids, and I keep a bottle of scotch!
As to small businessess (the big guys already have their plans in place), go to www.prep4disaster.com-- a free website that I and collegues have developed for small businesses, that cuts through a lot of excess; Homeland Security has a lot of web pages, but some are good, some bad... we give the Readers Digest version of what's out there, and what you need to know.
The Talking Dog: You point out that one of the most asked "wrong questions" (or, as I prefer, "stupid questions") is "how can we win the war on terror", the answer of course, being that that's a stupid question-- terror is just a method of warfare that has always been around, always will, and can no more be "won" than a "war on hurricanes", and the real question is "how can we prevent and/or mitigate and/or prepare ourselves for potentially catastrophic attacks from state and/or non-state actors and possibly move the decimal point over to the left (rather than the right) in terms of potential casualties (on this, your book notes a hero of 9-11, the late Rick Rescorla, who with this staff, three of whom died as well, may well have singlehandedly prevented the 9-11 death toll from doubling by evacuating over 2700 employees of Morgan Stanley from the South WTC Tower even as announcements were made to stay put... because he prepared and drilled for just such an event, and Morgan Stanley, at least, was prepared to protect its people, and of course, the pasengers and crew of Flight 93, who probably saved hundreds if not thousands of lives by overpowering the highjackers.) The problem with this is "it doesn't sound good in 15 second sound-bites"... I could just picture John Kerry being excoriated had he answered such a question in the 2004 presidential debates or on the campaign trail, or indeed, if any of the current candidates tried to answer it in such a way. Do you envision a solution to this mess-- really the inability even to have a rational public debate about this, where we have a poisoned political climate and a lazy press corps, with everyone out to nail any candidate as "soft on terror" for not giving a stock "tough sounding" answer?
Randall Larsen: Certainly, political courage is always at a premium. But I have heard Joe Lieberman, for example, publicly say that "we cannot win the war on terror". I might have heard John McCain say it as well. It is an absurd phrase-- it is like a war on blitzkrieg, or as I heard it even better, a war on kamikazes-- simply a type of warfare.
As an aside about McCain and courage... I spent a year in a war-- I have great respect for courage-- what I did didn't take that much courage-- you're running, shooting, or being shot at and shooting back-- whereas McCain was seriously injured in the Hanoi Hilton, and refused to be sent home when they offered it to him ahead of others... that kind of courage is off the chart. Of course, supporting the Iraq war was not good for his campaign, but he believes in it (rightly or wrongly, but sincerely) as in the best interest of the country, and believes that it is more important to support what he believes in, even if it will ultimately cost him politically. I don't know if I agree or not on Iraq, but I will just say that we need more politicians who put courage before their own political advancement. Remember what happened to the men who signed the Declaration of Independence... the courage it took for them to do that?
At this point, an awful lot of people don't realize right now that we could lose this "war on terror"... there are things that coulod happen that could change the United States forever. People don't like to look at this... and its certainly especially hard if you're running for office.
The Talking Dog: Indeed, your book notes that the terrorist threat should be kept in perspective... while 3,000 have died from terrorist attacks, far more have died from auto accidents or medical mistakes, for example, and yet, the same degree of fear or concern isn't there... but given how politically powerful the "fear card" has been so far... how do you see putting this in perspective in a reasoned public debate?
Randall Larsen: Let me put this in personal perspective. I recall the first time the nation was placed on "orange alert". I was traveling out in Illinois-- staying at a Holiday Inn in Mt. Vernon, IL, really in the middle of nowhere. CBS called me to appear on its Early Show, and they sent out a satellite truck. Hanna Storm asked me how I was reacting to the orange alert ,given that my own 19 year old daughter was back I Washington, DC, which I acknowledged was the likeliest terrorist target. I asked her to repeat the question with about 40 seconds to go in the interview.
I said that I worry about drunk drivers, ordinary criminals and street thugs, 19 year old boys, and then terrorists, and in that order... perhaps we should add the threat of bio-terror specifically, but that list reflects the perspective we should have.
I'm optimistic that if we ask the right questions and demand the appropriate policies to respond to those questions, and place the right priorities in taking the right actions to prevent or limit the impact of nuclear and bio-terror, I am convinced that we can keep the threat below that of drunk drivers and others. If we do not have the right priorities, ask the right questions and take the right steps, the threat will grow ever greater and greater.
The ultimate goal, as the scholars of the Cold War phrased it, is containment. Keeping terrorism in its appropriate place on our list of worries.
The Talking Dog: Your book gives a number of examples of "posse-ing up", to wit, using existing resources, such as well-trained, organized volunteers, at minimal government cost, to expand governmental capabilities to respond to emergencies... can you give one or two of what you think are really good examples of this, and since "if it's going to be, it's up to me", what steps individuals can take to help make this sort of thing a reality in their own communities?
Randall Larsen: From the book, I rather liked the example of Lockheed Martin and its employee's participation in distributing the antibiotic "push-packs. It's win-win-- not only are they helping the community, but the volunteers get themselves vaccinated and treated first.
As Diane Lapson said in the book, she wishes she was better prepared for 9-11-- or any other emergency. .
What I suggest, first and foremost, for you and your family is to get CPR and First Aid training-- anyone over 12. Even things like the Heimlich Manuever and basic CPR methods are now different... you need the latest, most effective training. And remember "911" will always be a local call; first responders will invariably be from the local community.
The Talking Dog: Is there anything else I should have asked you but didn't, or anything else that you believe that the public needs to know on these critically important subjects?
Randall Larsen: I think the quote I gave you earlier sums it up-- if we ask the right questions and establish the right priorities, then we can keep the terrorist threat in its proper place in the list of worries-- behind drunk drivers, crime, and natural disasters... and then terrorists. If we follow that stragegy, then I think we can contain the threat. We cannot let it rise to number 1. Given the advances in 21st century technology, that would be, to put it mildly, bad. But I am optimistic that we will be able to keep terrorism in its proper place in our list of worries, and to be prepared for the coming challenges.
The Talking Dog: On behalf of all of my readers, I thank Col. Larsen for that thorough and enlightening interview, and commend interested readers to take a look at Our Own Worst Enemy: Asking the Right Questions About Security to Protect You, Your Family, and America.
Taking time out from its busy schedule of not providing leave or relief for overtaxed troops, not cutting funding for the Iraq war, not providing health insurance for children, not addressing the sub-prime mortgage crisis, and so forth, etc., etc. the Senate took some time yesterday to address the most burning and important issue of our day: condemning Moveon.Org. The 72-25 vote meant that around half the Democrats joined in the ritual jumping-on-board-with-Bush-and-Cheney's-talking-points. (To use "feckless" to describe these "Democratic" senators, some of whom owe their jobs to MoveOn's help, would be a disservice to feckless people; but I digress... Obama apparently missed the vote-- to his credit.)
It seems obvious that MoveOn's "General Petraeus or Betray Us" ad was intended as part of the... dare I say it... "rough and tumble of a hotly contested political debate". And, though arguably unfair, it is, nonetheless, heavily rooted in fact: to put it politely, Gen. Petraeus is trying to "accentuate the positive" amidst a sea of rather alarming negative coming out of Iraq. To be fair to him, that sort of thing is arguably his job (even if no less than Petraeus's direct superior, CENTCOM chief Adm. Fallon, regards Petraeus as an "ass kissing little chicken shit" [and Adm. Fallon hates people like that]).
Oops. Now those hard working senators will have to take time from their busy schedule to condemn Adm. Fallon... and me. Mybad...
The talking dog commenced posting exactly six years ago today, making it one of the oldest still extant blogs. Indeed, it is so old that the term "blog" was not in vogue at its commencement.
Andy Worthington is a London based historian, who has written three books on civil rights issues, including most recently, "The Guantanamo Files:the Stories of the 774 Detainees in America's Illegal Prison", scheduled for release in October, which is the most detailed and specific account to date of the capture and provenance of the over 700 men and boys that the United States has held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba pursuant to the so-called "war on terror". On September 6, 2007, I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Worthington by telephone; what follows are my interview notes, corrected as appropriate by Mr. Worthington.
The Talking Dog: Where were you on 11 September 2001? Where were you on 7 July 2005?
Andy Worthington: On 11 September, I was in my home in south London, at my computer. My wife was not working that day, and ran to get me and told me to come to the television, and I watched at the time that the second plane hit the World Trade Center. On 7 July, I was also in London, though not in the center of the city. I heard about the events from news reports.
The Talking Dog: You have, of course, compiled the most detailed provenance of the Guantanamo prisoners that I am aware has ever been assembled. I'm wondering if, at this point, you can tell us some overall statistics, i.e., as far as you know, how many men have we held at Guantanamo, how many have we released, how many men have engaged in no acts against the United States or its allies, and how many men, at least based on accepting the government's actual stated evidence (assuming it’s true), could properly be called "terrorists"?
Andy Worthington: The total number of those officially held at Guantanamo is 778. The subtitle of my book began as “759 Detainees”, and then the 14 “high-value” detainees --including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah -- arrived at Guantanamo in September 2006, and then another alleged terrorist arrived from Kenya in March 2007, making 774 detainees in total. After I completed the manuscript, I made a conscious decision not to try to constantly update it, which is why the book does not include the four new detainees who were transferred after the manuscript was completed. That That four more men have been transferred to Guantanamo amidst the current climate of controversy is somewhat shocking. Not only is the United States not closing Guantanamo, it is adding more detainees!
The total released is 430; that is to say, released or, in rather fewer cases, transferred to continuing custody in their home countries.
The figures that the Denbeauxs came up with in the Seton Hall studies are interesting as a starting point. Their report showed that 86% of detainees were not captured by the United States, 55% committed no hostile acts, and only 8% had any affiliation whatsoever with Al Qaeda. Their analysis reflected a review of the 550 or so detainees in custody at the time they obtained their data. By that time, 200 detainees -- mainly Afghans and Pakistanis, but also a small spread of detainees from dozens of other countries -- had already been released, so overall, we're looking at even higher percentages of those who committed no hostile acts and a lower percentage of likely terrorists. This is not just because of the additional 200 freed detainees, but also because the government’s own allegations are not necessarily credible.
The overall story that I tell in the book is based on trying to judge between the allegations of the government and (to the extent available) the detainees' own stories, and to assess the overall context for bases of reliability. The reason for the difficulty is the unique circumstance of Guantanamo. In an ordinary legal process, we can accept the results, even recognizing that errors will be made, because the process is regarded as fair and transparent. In the case of Guantanamo, all we have are allegations and counter-allegations, which makes things much harder, particularly where the government's allegations are often so vague as to be barely recognizable.
That said, the 8% figure of detainees with any association with Al Qaeda found by the Denbeauxs is certainly in the right sort of range. My research indicates that it is perhaps more like 3 or 4% -- a couple of dozen detainees at most -- not counting the so-called 14 "high value" detainees.
What I discovered was that substantial numbers of the men held were humanitarian aid workers, teachers of the Koran, or economic migrants -- and so many of the men released have fallen into this category, particularly those from the Gulf countries and north Africa. The Afghans -- and there were nearly 220 Afghans at one point -- are another, separate issue, that I will address later on. But while some Arabs were indeed fighting with the Taliban (possibly as many as hundreds were), they were not, in most cases, associated with Al Qaeda. They were mostly following fatwas to help the Taliban establish a “pure Islamic state’ by defeating the Northern Alliance (who are also Muslims) in a civil war that began long before 9/11, and most of these men arrived in Afghanistan long before 11 September, and were not fighting the United States or its allies. They were following a historical tradition of aiding the Mujahadeen, who were, of course, first organized by none other than the CIA. So there were certainly large numbers of foot soldiers, though they had no knowledge whatsoever of terrorism, or the broader issues or intelligence that they have been accused of having.
The Talking Dog: In the course of your research, can you tell me which former detainees you have met, which families of detainees, which attorneys, and others, and can you tell me who made particular impressions on you? Other than such meetings and interviews, can you briefly describe your methodology?
Andy Worthington: This was largely an internet-based project. The United States government had not even released the names and nationalities of the detainees until the Spring of 2006, when the Associated Press took the government to court and won and the government was ordered to release various data including 8,000 pages of transcripts of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, which were convened, two and a half years after Guantanamo opened, to assess whether the detainees had been correctly designated as “enemy combatants”, and their successors, the annual Administrative Review Boards, which were convened to assess whether the detainees still constituted a threat to the US, or if they had ongoing “intelligence value”. With the release of these documents, the jigsaw pieces were then in place to go through as I did, in an effort to figure out who was captured when and under what circumstances. That is the major part of the methodology, and it was quite a task; so much so that nobody else seems to have attempted it.
I also spoke to a number of lawyers to find out additional stories, and these included many helpful individuals, including Marc Falkoff, Candace Gorman, Clive Stafford-Smith, Zachary Katznelson and Anant Raut and many others.
I also investigated as many interviews with released detainees as I could locate. I then googled variations on people's names and events and tried to piece together the sequence of events that followed the US-led invasion in October 2001. Many of the 200 detainees who were released before the tribunal process began, for example, returned to their towns and villages without their stories being reported at all, although I managed to piece together what information I could from news reports. Of the 90-odd Afghans released between 2002 and 2004, no one knows who or where many of them are, even if the United States military was coherent enough to know who it was holding!
In the early days, numerous reporters were in Kabul to greet the various waves of released Afghan detainees, but as time went on they lost interest, and there has been so little interest in the last few years that it’s not even possible to know exactly which Afghans have been released in the last eighteen months. The administration never releases the names of those it releases, and often it’s only those with lawyers (who have to be informed by the government) whose stories get reported.
The Talking Dog: Have American (or British) government or military officials been willing to talk to you? If so, can you briefly tell us who, and what they told you?
Andy Worthington: I did not even try for the obligatory "no comment". I did call the Pentagon's Freedom of Information office to try to fill in a few gaps with the ISN numbers (detainees are, to this day, identified by numbers -- Internment Serial Numbers -- rather than by name). For example, in the numbering system, there is an almost unbroken chain of numbers up to ISN 372, from the first, crucial few months of the transfer process when almost everyone who came to be in US custody was sent to Guantanamo, but there are a few numbers missing, including, most noticeably, ISN "1". ISN "2" was the Australian David Hicks, and I am convinced that ISN "1" was John Walker Lindh, as he was the prime prisoner, until they realized that he was a U.S. citizen and, under the scheme they set up, they couldn't send him to Guantanamo. The Pentagon insisted that any missing numbers reflected detainees that simply never existed, or that the number was never assigned to an individual, but I’m not convinced by that explanation.
The Talking Dog: Can you briefly describe the basic history of how we acquired so many guests from Afghanistan, and how that correlates with the escape of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and most of Al Qaeda's leadership? As far as you know, why isn't this more widely known?
Andy Worthington: My impression is that when the Bush administration decided to topple the Taliban and then topple or preferably kill the Al Qaeda leadership, by making alliances with warlords and sending in a few hundred special forces operatives -- that the intent was simply not to deal with prisoners at all, but simply to kill the Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership. No one expected to encounter significant numbers of prisoners, or the sequence of events as they happened, such as the fall of previously Taliban controlled cities in the north of Afghanistan, which fell like dominos in November 2001. After this collapse, there ended up being a large number of rump Taliban fighters and assorted others like shopkeepers and farmers, and the first large group converged on the city of Kunduz, where a peaceful surrender was negotiated, and where the first large group of prisoners had to be dealt with. Initially, they were dealt with by the Afghan warlord General Dostum, who famously was a military leader aligned with the Russians in the 1980s! After the prisoners began to accumulate, it dawned on the American military that some of the prisoners might have useful intelligence. First, these prisoners were kept in prisons established at US bases in Kandahar and Bagram, and then later they were sent to Guantanamo.
The second group after Kunduz accumulated after the disastrous Tora Bora campaign, the campaign during which Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and numerous other senior Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders made their escape to Pakistan. Basically, the American forces bombed the Al Qaeda and Taliban positions in the mountains, but failed to guard the Pakistani border, and the Pakistanis had to negotiate with the semi-autonomous border tribes to gain access to the border on their side. It was only after almost everyone of significance had escaped that the United States forces and their allies managed to sweep up every Arab in sight, most of whom were fleeing the devastation of the war unleashed, whether combatants or not. The largest group of detainees in Guantanamo -- several hundred men in total -- were captured at this time.
Quite a few others were captured in Pakistan -- at least 120, actually. Of course, at this time, the Americans were offering "a lifetime's worth" of money as bounties. Needless to say, there were numerous random arrests of any Arab men in Pakistan at this time.
As to why more people don't know these facts, I don't really know why this isn't more widely known. In large part, the history of that time was not revisited as everyone moved on to Iraq and it became ancient history. It was quite strange piecing together the story into a coherent sequence of events from various news accounts, which made clear what was going on at that time, knowing that few others seemed to be interested, even though, as I pointed out before, the scope of the internet is such that it’s possible to gain access to a vast number of documents without leaving your home or office.
The Talking Dog: From the stories of the men you encountered in compiling The Guantanamo Files, can you give me one or two of the most compelling examples in terms of the capture and holding of innocent people, examples of abuse you are aware of, and perhaps any other stories that strike you as worthy of note?
Andy Worthington: There are many, many more stories than just the few examples I can provide now, but I’ll try to pick out a few. Some are quite telling. One story that always struck me, and that concerned the sheer number of those captured who were simply humanitarian workers, is that of three Saudi school teachers, who tried to help out Afghan refugees on the border with Iran. They gave out money in refugee camps in Afghanistan, but then they were not allowed back into Iran (which was common practice by Iran, a Shiite nation, particularly with respect to Sunnis). These men stewed in Afghanistan, and kept trying, for a month, to get back into Iran. When it became apparent that they were not going to be let back in, they tried to get into Pakistan, where the police asked for bribes, and when they refused to pay (they contended they were law abiding people and didn't need to and shouldn't pay such bribes) they were promptly arrested and sold to the Americans, based on utterly baseless made-up allegations.
It is telling that one of them --Wasim al-Omar -- commented on how he felt about being sold, and said that it is a hard truth when human beings are bought and sold, which takes us back to the days when human beings had no value, and indeed, had no human rights at all.
To give you another example, which deals with the treatment of the detainees, there are countless examples of people being treated with appalling brutality, but one that stands out in particular is the story of Mohammed al Qatani, an alleged “20th hijacker” for 9/11, who was tortured on the close advice of Donald Rumsfeld in late 2002. This treatment was so brutal that it prompted the FBI to complain, and it illustrates the divide between the various groups of interrogators who were working at Guantanamo: on the one hand, those from the CIA and the Department of Defense, who implemented the “enhanced interrogation techniques” favored by the White House and the Pentagon, and, on the other hand, those from agencies such as the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and the FBI, who were resolutely "old school" -- they believed interrogations were based on building relationships, and were carried out by skilled people. No matter how despicable or guilty the suspect was or was believed to be, trust building techniques were required to obtain proper intelligence.
Unfortunately, Vice President Dick Cheney, his chief counsel David Addington, John Yoo, Donald Rumsfeld and others were driving the “War on Terror” policy and were responsible for implementing these policies of brutal interrogation, and they have not yet been held accountable. There was a good Washington Post series on Cheney a few months back, which highlighted the role played by the Vice President and Addington, although neither of them agreed to speak about it. To his credit, John Yoo at least spoke out and tried to defend the government’s position. You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned Alberto Gonzales, the outgoing Attorney General. For all of the damage Gonzales caused, putting his name to the January 2002 memo that dismissed the Geneva Conventions as “quaint”, all the evidence suggests that he was little more than a patsy, and that the memo, like the infamous “Torture Memo” of August 2002 (which attempted to redefine torture, claiming that the only actions that counted as torture were those that resulted in serious organ failure or death) was actually the work of Addington, Yoo and Cheney.
The Talking Dog: I must confess that although I try to be well-informed on these matters, there was a wealth of new information I was not aware of in your book. What do you consider to be the most significant not-widely-known revelation in your book?
Andy Worthington: My genuine hope is that the whole book will function as a significant revelation in its own right. What is new in terms of information -- besides elucidating the specific stories of how so many innocent men were swept up in all of this -- is information I uncovered concerning the ghost prisoners, that, as far as I know, has not been reported anywhere else. This whole area of the ghost prisoners will likely be the next big story coming out of all of this.
The Talking Dog: You, of course, are in Britain; can you tell me why, in your view, the British media and the British public seem more interested in Guantanamo issues than does the American office, and do you feel this will change once
the remaining UK residents are returned home, as new PM Brown has requested?
Andy Worthington: Historically, the British were very interested in Guantanamo from the inception of the so-called "war on terror", because nine British nationals were held at Guantanamo (they were all brought home in 2004 and 2005). Tony Blair's attitude was that he wanted these people returned so that public opinion would get "off his case". Arguably, Guantanamo is actually less significant here now, since their release, and might be less still if the British resident non-nationals are returned.
In the United States, there has been a very long, slow process of awakening. Unfortunately, it has been painfully long and slow, but there are encouraging signs -- throughout much of the media, for example, in “close Guantanamo” editorials that appear in the most unlikely places -- that the tide is turning. I certainly hope so, and I hope that my book will provide a convenient “one-stop shop” for those wondering what has been done in their name.
Additionally, in the UK, the issue of Guantanamo became tied directly into the motives of "the US-led coalition" of which Britain is an integral part, which, of course, includes the invasion of Iraq, which made many people very suspicious of anything connected to it. At this point, the new administration led by Gordon Brown has asked for five remaining UK residents to be returned, although interestingly, not a sixth, the Algerian national Ahmed Belbacha, who fled to Britain in 1999 after being threatened by militants while he was working for a state-owned oil company. Like many other detainees, Mr. Belbacha was captured in Pakistan while on holiday, but although all the allegations against him have been proven ludicrous and he was cleared for release earlier this year the British government refused to accept him back, because he was not technically a British resident at the time of his capture. He had applied for asylum before he took his ill-fated holiday in 2001, and had actually been in Guantanamo for a year when his application was turned down, but he was granted leave to remain instead. So, on a technicality, the British have refused to accept him back, and the Americans therefore want to send him back to Algeria, even though he doesn't want to be returned to Algeria for fear of torture or worse. So while the Brown administration looks like it is "more caring" than Blair's, as it has requested the five residents returned, it is remarkably callous regarding Mr. Belbacha's fate, on that technicality. I certainly hope that the five are returned, but this all does smack of Brown's announcement being a PR stunt to a certain extent. I understand that negotiations for the return of the men have not yet begun in earnest, and the Bush administration also makes things much harder for everyone by continuing to assert that these men are the world's most hardened terrorists, even as it prepares to release them!
When the full story of Guantanamo comes out (and I hope that my book is at least an important staging post in this story), it will be shown just how shameful and how badly the whole thing has been dealt with overall; not merely the abuses and injustices (and the unforgiveable torture), but how absolutely stupid so much of this has been.
To further illustrate this, and to discuss one group of detainees that I’ve barely touched upon, I’d like to mention the stories of the Afghans, so many of whom were simply betrayed by rivals or hostile neighbors, and nearly all of whom were handed over for bounties, with the Americans completely oblivious of who they were. Many of them were actually on the Americans' side, working with US special forces, or working for the new government of Hamid Karzai, and were handed over by rivals who had got the Americans to trust them, secure in the knowledge that they would not investigate the backgrounds of the stories they were told, and that the different groups of Americans in Afghanistan were not talking to each other. And I’m not talking about isolated incidents here -- there are dozens of pro-US Afghans who were ensnared by lies and sent to Guantanamo, and many, many more who were picked up in raids based on spurious “intelligence”.
The Talking Dog: What do you see, from your research and trends thus far, as an "end game" or "exit strategy" from Guantanamo? Do you have any optimism for a political settlement or a legal resolution... or public opinion to change... or something else? Do you anticipate any of the likely candidates to be the next American president (i.e., the Democrats) to continue Guantanamo, Bagram, etc. in their current form?
Andy Worthington: To some degree, this mess will simply be dumped on the next President, whoever that is. This is actually a very difficult question to answer. The Supreme Court, reversing itself for the first time in decades, has agreed to take the Al-Odah and Boumediene cases, and it will likely end up ruling against the government. In the meantime, ahead of this, the government has been trying to empty the place. The United States has, as a result, been sending men to countries where they will likely be tortured -- Tunisia, for example -- and they will keep trying to do so based on worthless "diplomatic assurance" letters and similarly meaningless "agreements". It’s really difficult to fathom how they’re going to empty Guantanamo given the status of some of these individuals -- for example, many economic migrants or refugees. What do you do with a Sudanese who has been in Pakistan for 20 years? Must they go back to a country they have fled, because Pakistan won't reach an agreement to take them? Or, is it not a better answer that, as the United States has created this mess, the United States has a moral, if not a legal duty, to offer them asylum inside the United States?
And then, of course, we get to the 80 or so "hard core" terrorists (the government asserts this number), the worst of the worst of the worst, etc. What is to be done? Supposedly a tent city for military trials is being built at Guantanamo, and six simultaneous trials are anticipated starting in the Spring. But there is presently no functioning military commission system! The military has ruled against itself on this! And further, how does one create a second-tier legal system that conveniently excludes allegations of torture?
As the Padilla case has shown us, for these men, juries might still convict even in an apparently proper looking trial... but at some point, the issue of torture must rear its ugly head. It is absolutely crucial that it be addressed, and the new administration that takes over in 2009 needs to end this, for the sake of every level -- moral, political, legal... these practices must just end.
The Talking Dog: Is there anything else I should have asked you but didn't, or anything else on these subjects that my readers, your readers and the world public need to know?
Andy Worthington: I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but the United States needs to return to the rule of law. The world needs to know that the abandonment of American and international law by the Bush administration has been an absolute disaster, and that, under the guise of protecting American security, the President has granted himself dictatorial powers, which were crafted by Cheney and Addington, who continue to believe that the Executive should be beyond the accountability of anyone -- any other branch, the legislature, the courts, or even the electorate. Cheney and Addington have believed this a long time -- Cheney since his days in the Nixon administration, and Addington from at least the time of Ronald Reagan, when he worked with Cheney to protect Reagan from scrutiny during the Iran-Contra scandal. Your Founding Fathers tried to limit the Executive branch's power very carefully. It is time to reassert those limits.
The Talking Dog: I join all my readers in thanking Andy Worthington for that fascinating interview, and commend anyone interested in this subject to take a look at The Guantanamo Files.
Readers interested in legal issues and related matters associated with the "war on terror" may also find talking dog blog interviews with attorneys Gaillard Hunt, Robert Rachlin, Tina Foster, Brent Mickum, Marc Falkoff H. Candace Gorman, Eric Freedman, Michael Ratner, Thomas Wilner, Jonathan Hafetz, Joshua Denbeaux, Rick Wilson,
Neal Katyal, Joshua Colangelo Bryan, Baher Azmy, and Joshua Dratel (representing Guantanamo detainees and others held in "the war on terror"), with attorneys Donna Newman and Andrew Patel (representing "unlawful combatant" Jose Padilila), with Dr. David Nicholl, who spearheaded an effort among international physicians protesting force-feeding of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, with physician and bioethicist Dr. Steven Miles on medical complicity in torture, with law professor and former Clinton Administration Ambassador-at-large for war crimes matters David Scheffer, with former Guantanamo detainees Moazzam Begg and Shafiq Rasul , with former Guantanamo Bay Chaplain James Yee, with former Guantanamo Army Arabic linguist Erik Saar, with law professor and former Army J.A.G. officer Jeffrey Addicott, with law professor and Coast Guard officer Glenn Sulmasy, with author and geographer Trevor Paglen and with author and journalist Stephen Grey on the subject of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, with journalist and author David Rose on Guantanamo and with journalist Michael Otterman on the subject of American torture, and related issues to be of interest.
The only reaction that I find even remotely appropriate to the news that O.J. Simpson has been arrested in connection with armed robberies in Las Vegas is, in internet parlance, to LMAO. Simpson, as you will recall acquitted for the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron
Goldman, though found civilly liable for them by a different jury, is already in the news these days because of his "hypothetical" tell-all book ("If I did it" to which the Goldman family has acceded by judgment of a bankruptcy judge and to which they have called it "If I did it: Confessions of the killer")... a book whose manuscript has fallen into the hands of his creditors, the Goldman and Brown families.
It's been over ten years since O.J. proved that getting the best justice you can buy isn't just for White men... but now it seems that there might be limits to this (or not), particularly as Simpson's personal fortune is... less than it once was.
In some sense, Simpson benefited from a lot of things... the Rodney King riots that rocked LA not too long before his trial... not to mention from being famous, from having great defense counsel and lousy prosecution counsel and a judge who left a good deal to be desired, and a distinctly racially unbalanced jury (in his favor). Although... rich guys seem to always get breaks like this. Compare and contrast the fortunes of the now convicted felon former North Carolina prosecutor Mike Nifong in the Duke Lacrosse case (who was, though convicted, sentenced to one day in jail, which he served... a day longer than Scooter). Nifong made the fatal mistake of bringing an erroneous prosecution against affluent and well-connected White boys, at the urging of a Black complainant.
All I'm saying is that even if O.J. is found to be utterly devoid of culpability here-- indeed, initial accounts make him seem more the vic than the perp-- there will be no sort of backlash against the prosecutor or the police, now will there?
Well, while O.J. still, by and large, lives a life of affluence few of us can dream of, taking full advantage of bankruptcy exemptions other affluent people use such as the Florida homestead unlimited exemption and the exemption for all federally qualified pensions (in his case, from the National Football league)... his means are presumably a tad more modest than they once were. I doubt O.J. could afford another legal dream team... perhaps now he'll need to buy his reasonable doubt for a more reasonable fee?
"WTF" Update: It seems the Juice is facing around six robbery and assault counts; stay tuned for more news on that. And in an arguably related story (well, not really; it's related only in the sense that both are affluent African American males), Alan Keyes will be seeking the Republican Presidential nomination, including participation in debates.
You can't make this stuff up, sometimes.
TTD goes Drudge now... let me repeat a rumor fed to me by a credible source that in turn relies on another credible source, which tells me that a certain GOP Presidential frontrunner not currently married to his first wife... (let's see who that might be... oh wait... it's any one of them except Romney!)... is cheating on his current wife with a new 32 year old girlfriend.
As Drudge himself might say... developing.
And so we come to the 6th anniversary of 11 September 2001, now called "Patriot Day" on some calendars, a day in which every level of our government let us down, and many of us managed to save ourselves. While some whose loved ones paid the ultimate price for our government letting us down became millionaires by accepting the government's (and airline industry's) hush money, and went on to sing the praises of their perverse new benefactors (such as St. Rudy of Giuliani, or of course, the President), others were somewhat outspoken in their outrage... and drew the wrath of Ann of Coulter for it. Others, like me, were rewarded for their proximity to the events of 9-11 by being sacked from their displaced jobs. Needless to say, the event was played, and played, and played... and we're still in Iraq, and if we believe our generals, will be for decades, because we allowed the events of that day to prevent us from thinking enough to prevent our "leaders" from leading us over a cliff (that they personally benefited from... of course!)
As is my custom, I will pay my own little tribute to real heroes of 9-11, most of whom will be sadly forgotten thanks to the grandstanding of St. Rudy of Giuliani (and other feckless bastards). The police and fire department personnel who gave their lives that day, and who assisted in the rescue, were truly heroic, and what else can we say?
As I have before, I will start with Richard Pearlman, who was then only 18, an Eagle Scout who trained as an emergency medical technician, and, unlike many other 9-11 heroes who gave their lives, wasn't paid to be a hero or risk his life... but was making a delivery for his job as a lawyer's messenger to police headquarters, heard the alarm, and just ran to the WTC... and gave his life trying to help others. As good as it get, folks, and I still cry whenever I read his story (and dare you to read it without crying).
This year, I'll also add four men whose job it was to help others, the security team from Morgan Stanley led by Rick Rescorla, who literally saved 2,700 people at Morgan Stanley on the 50th to 70th floors of the South Tower who would be dead had Rick not decided to override Port Authority directions to stay put and get them the hell out after the first plane hit... think about that-- the death toll would have doubled. Rick actually made it down, but learned that three employees were missing, and went back in, making the ultimate sacrifice; he was joined in this heroic effort by Wesley Mercer, Jorge Velazquez, and Godwin Forde.
Gentlemen, rest in peace. Some of us will not forget you, or your actions.
I was kind of amused to pick up a calendar in my office and see that, on successive days next week, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the holidays listed were [the Madison Avenue moniker for 9-11] "Patriot Day" followed by Ramadan and Rosh Hashanah... but that string of big religious holidays will be preceded by an even bigger faith-based initiative, the formal "Reading of Karl Rove's Talking Points by General David Petraeus" on Monday. Bruce the Veep sends us this incredible polling data showing that the American people already expect Gen. Petraeus to lie, by a 53-39 margin.
And yet, the kabuki will go on. Speaker Pelosi and Leader Reid will go on handing blank check after blank check to the Bush Administration, as the hundreds more American lives, countless Iraqi lives, and hundreds of billions of dollars to be sacrificed will continue to take a back seat to Nancy and Harry (1) not being called bad things by Broder, Russert, et al. and (2) keeping Iraq front and center as an election issue for St. Hillary (even though by rights she should be disqualified because of her "Yea" vote in 2002 to authorize the discretionary carnage).
Hassan bar Sinister suggested to me that a lot of bloggers had given up the blogging ghost recently out of total disillusionment and frustration; I haven't seen the stats, but I certainly understand the sentiment. The FISA sell-out was like a hard kick in the solar-plexus... to find out that you were betrayed by your dotty Grandmother Pelosi and your batty Uncle Reid... and that they were really working for the interests of President Whiplash and Vice-President Voldemort all along... yeah. It's disillusioning, and it hurts. So, since one is numb already, and knows what they are going to do re: Iraq... one would think it wouldn't hurt as much.
If only it worked liked that.
I'll let Josh Marshall's comments on the fact that Bush's invasion to Iraq (and indeed, his whole gestalt) have pretty much given OBL a new lease on life, serve as the appropriate comment on the "new" OBL tape that has emerged, in which OBL pontificates incoherently on everything from global warming to sub-prime lending and the "low tax" structure of Islam.
You've read before (perhaps even here) why it is most unlikely that OBL's own group will strike us here in"Das Homeland" (as opposed to say, a copycat or knockoff AQ group)... that reason being, of course, that OBL's principal demand, that the United States quit
India the Holy Peninsula of Saudi Arabia, was met (or at least, announced and met a short time later) just a few days before the President declared "Mission Accomplished" on that aircraft carrier.
Insofar as OBL has seemingly learned that since he can get the same bang for his buck by issuing an inexpensive absolutely no-risk incoherent video or audio tape... why bother with a costly-- and risky-- attack? Again, there may well be AQ offshoots and affiliates that do this sort of thing... but OBL's own group... well, who knows? Then again... OBL might well attack us tomorrow, or, say, next Tuesday (just to spoil Rudy's party!) Someone such as I who works now (as he did on that other September morning) within a football field or two of the WTC site shouldn't be too flip about the threat OBL presents... and I'm not. Nor am I flip about the infinitely greater threat to my life and liberty that George Walker Bush and Richard Bruce Cheney present to my life and liberty, in deliberately overreacting to anything OBL does and (magically) usurping hitherto undreamed of power for themselves. As I often say... that's just me.
You really do have to hand it to Bush, though (and his old family friend OBL, with whom he has a perverse symbiotic relationship): not even the mid-term Congressional elections were worth trotting out OBL himself (then again, one is hard-pressed to see what possible difference "Democratic leadership" under Pelosi and Reid has made... honestly beyond a rather pathetic minimum wage increase, I got nothin'). And yet, now, it seems, for the big sixth anniversary celebration, and for the Fred Thompson campaign kick-off, and of course, ahead of General Petraeus's "report" that Karl Rove wrote... for this OBL himself reemerges.
All I can say is that someone must be making an awful lot of money on keeping the Iraq war going. An awful lot.
The courage refers to a group of Justice Department attorneys in the Civil Division's appellate section who have refused to abide by the government's legally and morally indefensible positions vis a vis its litigation against Guantanamo detainees. The liar, of course, which rhymes with fire (instead we got a resignation), refers to their soon to be former boss Alberto the G., who joins John Ashcroft, John Mitchell and possibly Mitchell Palmer (we really should never forget just how horrible Woodrow Wilson and many in his Administration actually were in their day) in the first ranks of "America's worst attorneys general ever." (Sentimental reasons, and because I don't actually that believe he belongs in that peculiar top rank, preclude me from adding Ed Meese--the Attorney General and hence my ultimate boss during my own foray with the Department-- to that group.)
What can I say? One would think that Monica Goodling was around long enough to be sure that there were enough Justice Department attorneys devoid of integrity to continue answering the call of the Emperor... but why have so many simply taken on the mantle of refusenik? My guess is that these are kind of visible, yet thankless jobs that are long on boring writing and research and short on dramatic deal or policy-making, and it was felt that the Christian-soldier-bots that Monica and Alberto were packing the place with would be better placed elsewhere... that, and arguably there were enough of the refuseniks that it might be politically embarrassing to sack their asses, but that seems far less likely than the first explanation.
Unclear what will happen next. Solicitor General Paul Clement, who has had no personal drothers whatsoever about arguing the most outrageously unConstitutional and unAmerican positions in support of the Emperor's detention policy, is now designated as the "Acting Attorney General of the United States". Given that the President has not filled 24 of 93 United States Attorney positions, it does not seem that inconceivable that he will not simply be content to send up crazed wing-nut extremist after crazed wing-nut extremist, forcing Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy to do what Harry Reid lacks the courage to do in any other context, i.e. tell Bush to go Cheney himself, by refusing to allow the maniacs out of, or possibly even into, committee. This would end up resulting in the office remaining vacant, possibly for the remaining 505 days of the President's term. Or he could wait for a chance to make a wing-nut recess appointment.
Then again, since, as Digby tells us here, the President's supporters, who now include pretty much all of our major media outlets, view him as a cross between Abraham Lincoln and Jesus Christ (and I would throw in William McKinley, Karl Rove's favorite president), or they are at least willing to report that he is a cross between Lincoln and Jesus, which is tantamount to their buying it themselves... we should get out of the President's way! Let's face it: any decision the President makes is ex cathedra anyway, and we should support it on that basis alone.
You really do have to admire the courage of the Gitmo-refuseniks under these circumstances... I mean... who could say no to Jesus McLincoln (just because he is ordering them to take positions inconsistent with American constitutional principles)? What is that "man's law" stuff, compared to the Holy Will of Jesus McLincoln? These people aren't just risking their jobs... they appear to be risking their eternal salvations.
My, my, my, my. What to say about the President's unscheduled stop in al-Anbar Province in Iraq (on the way to an Asia-Pacific Summit in Australia). He'll be meeting with Crocker and Petraeus, doubtless to give them pointers on how to read the words Karl has put on their teleprompters for their "big speech" next week (coinciding with 9-11+6.0 TM, a/k/a "Rudy's Big Show"). Well, a photo op is a photo op. And given that the President can count on Nancy and Harry's proven continuing support in his warmongering (up to and including our next war with Iran)... well, why shouldn't the President pull stunts like this?
I just happen to love the picture below, which is why I'm posting it; note the reference to [one of my former employers] the GAO, now called the "Government Accountability Office":
I inadvertently deleted the August 25th post of the same name, so I am re-posting it, below. It, of course, anticipates the Washington, DC kabuki known as "the mid-September Iraq progress report", by law, to be written by the White House, and in fact, to be written by the White House, but in (foolish) common parlance and conventional wisdom, foolishly (I can't say that enough) believed to be the work of General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.
Ah, but assuming for the same of argument that Gen. Petraeus did write it... why should we listen to anything he says? Why don't you'all read (hat tip to Brent Budowski and Make them Accountable") this "progress report" he posted in WaPo in September, 2004. Petraeus cites the hundreds of thousands of new Iraqi recruits, new Iraqi divisions and batallions, the progress being made in rounding up insurgents, etc., etc.... In short, he was consistently wrong, wrong, wrong... just something to consider. Now back to your regular Petraeus worship, and last week's (8-25-07) post, below...
From our friends at WaPo, we give you this analysis of why exactly nothing is going to change once General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker deliver their mid-September report (written by the White House) telling us that The SurgeTM is working beautifully.
In that light, let me suggest that the best thing we can all do vis a vis Iraq is to continue extending the President's blank check to spend American blood and treasure at least until he leaves office. True, it looks like
all of a few of the political "benchmarks" associated with a stable Iraqi political situation and accommodation aren't going to be met... nonetheless, given that some Sunnis have decided that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" and have made a short-term deal against Al Qaeda in IraqTM (we arm them today so that they can battle our Shiite Iraqi Army allies tomorrow)... and that Private Beauchamp is a damned liar... all means that, voila, the blank check must continue until (at least) next April, when we can comfortably reassess everything!
Because we know that given the immense courage shown by Madam Speaker Pelosi and Mr. Majority Leader Reid, if things don't just turn out jolly well better by
September April, then we just know we can count on the good faith of the President and the political courage of the Democratic leadership to do the right thing, and help extricate us from Iraq in such a way as to preserve the integrity of our American fighting forces, stability in Iraq, our national and the Middle East's regional interests.
(After the FISA sell-out-- and yes, you will both rot in hell for it, Madam Speaker and Majority Leader Reid-- all I got left is snark.)