U.S. Officials Privately Admit They Overstated Damage Inflicted By WikiLeaks
Reuters is reporting that Internal U.S. government reviews confirm what many of us had cynically assumed all along: that the US government was intentionally embellishing the damage done to US interests abroad by WikiLeaks documents:
A congressional official briefed on the reviews said the administration felt compelled to say publicly that the revelations had seriously damaged American interests in order to bolster legal efforts to shut down the WikiLeaks website and bring charges against the leakers.
“I think they just want to present the toughest front they can muster,” the official said.
But State Department officials have privately told Congress they expect overall damage to U.S. foreign policy to be containable, said the official, one of two congressional aides familiar with the briefings who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.
“We were told (the impact of WikiLeaks revelations) was embarrassing but not damaging,” said the official, who attended a briefing given in late 2010 by State Department officials.
Ironically, it is precisely attempts like these — by government officials to mislead the American public — that has made whistleblower groups like WikiLeaks all the more essential to the viability of our democracy.
I suspect this Administration is most concerned about the leaks exposing its own, or its predecessor’s, wrongdoings. This Administration has gone to great lengths to cover-up and to squash any investigation — any judicial proceeding — against the Bush Administration for its alleged criminal activities.
They have got to be worried that the leaked documents could end up incriminating government officials in such a way as to push the entire topic of government accountability back into the public discourse.
For instance, it has been long reported that WikiLeaks is holding potentially incriminating military documents on Guantanamo Bay, where detainees were allegedly subjected to torture. What if these documents were to provide an iron-clad case against the highest-levels of the Bush Administration?
The US is a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture — a binding agreement ratified under President Ronald Reagan. The Obama Administration therefore has very clear legal obligations that it has long been evading. Whenever there are indications or allegations of torture, it is incumbent on the Administration to investigate. It is NOT merely an option to mull over for its potential political ramifications. It is the RULE-OF-LAW.
Here are those legal obligations:
A State Party’s Undertakings
Most of the provisions of the Torture Convention deal with the obligations of the States parties. These obligations may be summarized as follows:
(i) Each State party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture. The prohibition against torture shall be absolute and shall be upheld also in a state of war and in other exceptional circumstances (article 2);
(ii) No State party may expel or extradite a person to a State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture (article 3);
(iii) Each State party shall ensure that acts of torture are serious criminal offences within its legal system (article 4);
(iv) Each State party shall, on certain conditions, take a person suspected of the offence of torture into custody and make a preliminary inquiry into the facts (article 6);
(v) Each State party shall either extradite a person suspected of the offence of torture or submit the case to its own authorities for prosecution (article 7);
(vi) Each State party shall ensure that its authorities make investigations when there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed (article 12);
(vii) Each State party shall ensure that an individual who alleges that he has been subjected to torture will have his case examined by the competent authorities (article 13);
(viii) Each State party shall ensure to victims of torture an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation (article 14).
By not only evading their required responsibility to investigate torture, but by aggressively threatening other nations to end their investigations and criminal proceedings, President Obama and his Attorney General are themselves violating international law.
After George W. Bush boasted, during his recent memoir tour, that he authorized water boarding, Amnesty International’s Senior Director Claudio Cordone issued a pointed statement saying:
“Under international law, the former President’s admission to having authorized acts that amount to torture are enough to trigger the USA’s obligations to investigate his admissions and if substantiated, to prosecute him,”
“His admissions also highlight once again the absence of accountability for the crimes under international law of torture and enforced disappearance committed by the USA.” […]
“Under international law, anyone involved in torture must be brought to justice, and that does not exclude former President George W Bush. In the absence of a US investigation, other states must step in and carry out such an investigation themselves.”
The Obama Administration and the DOJ would obviously prefer to aid and abet the Bush Administration in evading justice in complete secrecy — hidden away from all public scrutiny.
The last thing they want is for WikiLeaks to publish documents that so undeniably incriminate upper level administration officials — either Bush’s, or Obama’s — that they in turn feel public pressure to actually do the unthinkable: to hold the political class accountable to the rule-of-law.
George W. Bush’s Cover-Up Is Now Obama’s Cover-Up
The New York Times Editorial blasted President Obama yesterday for breaking his campaign promise to end George W. Bush’s “abuses of power, denials of justice to the victims of wayward government policies, and the shielding of officials from accountability.”
The Times outlines how Obama has aggressively — from the get-go — taken George W’s torch and run with it, never looking back at his thoughtful campaign promises. Take for instance, Binyam Mohamed, an innocent British national, who was wrongly taken into custody and transported against his will — under the US extraordinary rendition program — to secret prisons in multiple middle eastern countries, and eventually to Guantánamo Bay. He’d been repeatedly tortured, and held without trial for seven years. Once released, he sued to recover for his damages due to the illegal rendition and torture. The U.S. Government quickly intervened into British Judicial Proceedings to keep torture evidence from being released, and the New York Times recounts the court’s recent ruling on the matter:
In Britain earlier this month, a two-judge High Court panel rejected arguments made first by the Bush team and now by the Obama team and decided to make public seven redacted paragraphs in American intelligence documents relating to torture allegations by a former prisoner at Guantánamo Bay. The prisoner, Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born British national, says he was tortured in Pakistan, Morocco and at a C.I.A.-run prison outside Kabul before being transferred to Guantánamo. He was freed in February.
To block the release of those paragraphs, the Bush administration threatened to cut its intelligence-sharing with Britain, an inappropriate threat that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton repeated. But the court concluded that the actual risk of harm to intelligence-sharing was minimal, given the close relationship between the two countries. The court also found a “compelling public interest” in disclosure, and said that nothing in the disputed seven paragraphs — a summary of evidence relating to the involvement of the British security services in Mr. Mohamed’s ordeal — had anything to do with “secret intelligence.”
So, according to these two justices — who’ve seen the evidence — the U.S. attempt to block its release has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with “secret intelligence”. Just as the Bush Administration did before him, Obama is damaging U.S. standing in the world by falsely asserting the ‘national security’ claim in an obvious attempt to shield former U.S. officials from being charged with possible war crimes.
And it’s not just an isolated case in Great Britain, President Obama is doing the exact same thing here in this country:
In the United States, the Obama administration is in the process of appealing a sound federal appellate court ruling last April in a civil lawsuit by Mr. Mohamed and four others. All were victims of the government’s extraordinary rendition program, under which foreigners were kidnapped and flown to other countries for interrogation and torture.
In that case, the Obama administration has repeated a disreputable Bush-era argument that the executive branch is entitled to have lawsuits shut down whenever it makes a blanket claim of national security. The ruling rejected that argument and noted that the government’s theory would “effectively cordon off all secret actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the C.I.A. and its partners from the demands and limits of the law.”
When Bush pulled this crap it was expected. The Bush Administration felt themselves to be — and they still do — above the rule of law. They lied us into an unnecessary war, they tortured suspects — and boastfully gloated about it, they outed a CIA operative whose spouse whistle-blew on their lies to sell the Iraq war to the American public. It was clear who these neo-cons were and what they were capable of.
But for President Obama — a Constitutional Lawyer who understands these issues better than anyone — to continue down this path? ‘Candidate’ Obama so eloquently and passionately explained the importance of ending these policies, and yet from day one, he has done the exact opposite.
As his Presidency unfolds, I can’t help but to feel like we’ve all been duped — that perhaps ‘candidate’ Obama was a complete sham. We now know, for instance, that all along he was quietly trying to undermine the public option (by pushing for a trigger) behind closed doors. Each month of his candidacy he continues to expose himself as someone who either has no core principles, or no fortitude to champion a single one of them.