Monday, July 13, 2009

Spooky Politics

When I heard Leon Panetta had canceled a CIA program that hadn’t been briefed to Congress, I assumed the program must have involved torture, renditions, domestic spying or worse.

Turns out the program, hidden from the Congress on Vice President Cheney’s orders, was aimed at finding and killing or capturing al-Qaida leaders at close range rather than targeting them with air strikes.

Now, I have often been critical of Mr. Cheney. I’ve even accused him of not being man enough to waterboard prisoners personally, and I’ve wondered what might have happened if Cheney and Bush had given that a try.

But I can’t fault Cheney for wanting to kill al-Qaida leaders at close range instead of with missiles. While we might avoid American casualties by using missiles, I doubt impersonal and indiscriminate killing does a lot for our reputation in the Muslim world.

I do have two questions, though. Why keep the program secret from Congress?

And why did Panetta kill the program? Why not brief the Congress and go ahead with it?


Decidere said...

Because, Billy, we've proved beyond a doubt that these people are way too stupid to distinguish between a terrorist and an ally and an innocent bystander. One of the guys held at Gitmo had come to a military base to brief a US commander on what could be done to counteract Taliban popularity, how we could make people like us better. On the way out, he was questioned at the gate, held with 8 people, and tossed in jail for 6 years. Now he's back advising the Afghan government on how they can combat Taliban. We are idiots. We shouldn't be allowed guns. We have advisors and foreign policy experts who give us excellent advice like, "hey, maybe if we stopped dropping bombs on civilians people will like us better." Go figure, think it'll work? Really, you're acting like these folks are sane, like they really know what they're doing. In an alternate universe where grownups live, maybe the idea of targeting Al Qaeda close up makes sense, but these guys see Al Qaeda in every shadow, in every puddle. "That lady over there? Looks like Al Qaeda to me..." Uyghurs wanting to fight the repressive Chinese for God's sake, and we're holding them for 7 years and acting like they hate *us*. Well they didn't. Maybe they do now, but I don't even think that.

Read Glenn Greenwald, read Marcie Wheeler. Every day they're digging out more details about how these guys lied, built up their secrecy and lied about it, ignored everything that proved them wrong and just went ahead with what they wanted. The telecom spying operation was hatched long before 9/11. They just needed a scary event to justify it. They had their plans to invade Iraq and Afghanistan long before 9/11 - this isn't paranoia or conspiracy, this is documented fact. And every step of the way the last 8 years has been filled with so many lies, so much manipulation, so much short-circuiting the Constitution. Count me as 2 thumbs down.

Billy Glad said...

And you know you're not being played by Panetta now? Exactly how do you know that? Did Glen and Marcie tell you? Amusing.

Decidere said...

Hmmmm... must not have hit post on my 2nd comment.

Thanks, Greenwald and Wheeler in general are primarily commenting on newly revealed documents or covering public events and I can read the originals and transcripts, thanks, so I'm not being "played".

However, perhaps they're playing you, Billy, by leaking out a few details at a time to get your emotional buy-in, and even though the details come out decidedly worse, you're already supporting them in your heart of hearts for protecting America's freedom.

Well, let's see, is this assassination squad so reasonable to you if it's to assassinate these Al Qaeda leaders around the world? If it's not just "leaders" but people who aid and abet Al Qaeda? Maybe it extends to Hezbollah and Hamas, maybe to Fatah? Maybe we'll make the Chinese happy be extending it to Uyghur independence leaders and Falun Gong and help out Putin with those pesky Chechnyans?

Remember their "everybody does it" firing of attorneys, and then as the details dribbled out, we got to see politicized job interviews of loads of non-political positions? Or how Gitmo torture became a question of "waterboarding" rather than that hundereds died/were killed/were murdered/wer tortured to death (choose your euphemism). Of course we never got too far in depth with these or other investigations, because they stonewalled investigations, refused to show up for subpoenas. But somewhere, even the most Bush-supporting insiders balked on this private program.

Still, they understand one important PR rule - you only get one chance to make a good first impression, and that's the one that tends to stick with us subliminally, psychologically, whatever the facts say later.

Billy Glad said...

I love it when people just beg to be insulted.

Read the questions in my post. Do they sound like I'm being played, or are they the relevant questions to ask in a situation where only a knee-jerk expat would trust either side? You're not stupid enough to believe in "objective" reporting, are you? I doubt it. So don't peddle that bullshit around here.

Here are the questions again. Read them standing up and they won't go over your head. Maybe.

1. If all there is to the program is figuring out how to kill al Qaeda at close range instead of bombing them -- on its face a good idea -- why did Cheney try to cover it up?

2. If all there is to the program is figuring out how to kill al Qaeda at close range, why would Panetta immediately kill the program?

Now pay close attention, because I am going to give you some info the people who are feeding you your "facts" and attitudes won't give you.

Panetta is an experienced Washington hand. When he acts like a neophyte who discovered a hand grenade under the bed and ran to Congress with it in a panic -- omg we didn't tell you about this, omg, I think CHENEY was involved, omg -- he knows exactly what he's doing and the conclusions people like you are going to jump to.

It's on Panetta and his stringers now to make something more than killing al Qaeda out of this story. My money is on Sy Hersh. He can do entire New Yorker articles without using even one on-the-record source.

If you want to hang around here, don't lump me in with Cheney again.

GirlfromtheBronx said...

I come back from my visit from the “Bronx Bombers” to shells and torpedoes at the Hive. I was so pissed off that my brother couldn't get one measley bleacher ticket for the season because they built this new stadium to keep out the regular guy and enshrine the Donald Trumps of the world. Now if you guys could turn your talents to that issue, I'd be very grateful.

Billy Glad said...

I guess I can't score by inviting you to join me in my air conditioned box. Damn. I was this close to asking, too. Did you count your Eddies? The Hive lost one today. It's sad, but when they get confused, the only thing to do is send them to the vats. Nobody has asked the judge the question. I'm glued to the screen just in case. I think maybe "open minded" was code for yes.

Decidere said...

Well, I think I misread the gist of your piece. And I think you likely misread Greenwald & Wheeler. They're also busy trying to divine, "Now why would Panetta say that?" and reconcile it with what Hersh has been saying and other sources. As a 2nd example, there was some comfy leak/confessional about how Holder's going to investigate torture. It looked like bullshit, like a trial balloon in a puff piece. But the question of "how wide & extensive might this be", and after a few feel-good moments, the consensus seems to be, "yeah, they're tossing us a meager sop". We're played all the time. No, I don't trust Panetta more than any other, and so yes, reading your questions, those are pertinent followups. For one, the way the article you referenced was written, that kind of "assassination" was already approved under the AUMF - not even controversial. If it were in the war zone.

Billy Glad said...

I think you may be right that the plan is to slowly uncover the project, not to mitigate it, but to hoist Cheney up to twist in the wind.

My worst case is the death squad scenario, if you think of death squads as circumventing or nullifying the legal system. So you capture somebody and they work their way through the legal system and for one reason or another, innocent or guilty, they get set free. They're out on the streets. I would really hate to learn that the project was created to address that situation, because then all of your reservations about how stupid we can be come into play.

Julian Smith said...

Frankly, I'm hoping Billy is wrong. I 'm hoping he's just been thinking about this death squad shit as a plot element in Flutterby so much that it jumped out at him in this situation. I hope he's just imagining it. But there's so much of it out there. Magnum Force and Death Wish vigilante shit in the culture. Maybe it's my culture, too. But I'm sick of it. What if he has me kill some innocent person? And what the fuck does innocent mean when you get down to it. Isn't anybody who's not guilty under the law for whatever reason innocent? And you, Reader, think you're part of something called the "real" world?

quinn the eskimo said...

I just found myself sortof baffled by how stupid the Panetta announcement seemed. Maybe it's me, but if we're able to do kidnapping/renditions to countries where we know they'll be tortured... then I just assumed that if the target was really high value, we'd either question/torture ourselves, or, at a minimum, roll them out of plane windows. You know, what's the functional difference between that and a drone? Killers on foot = bad; killers in the air = ok?

So the ops Panetta describes - which never got off the ground?? - always looked like the first sniff of something that had to be larger. On it's own, wasn't much there.

And the thing for me was, what could be worse that we could be doing overseas? I thought McChrystal's guys were already doing unnamed, unannounced assassinations, so what's worse? Poisoning the water supply?

I guess I was just waiting for what would come next, and assume that whatever we were being told was at a minimum being tilted, and maybe an attempt to get us off a trail entirely.

As for whether these things are aimed at Cheney or at avoiding McChrystal and co., I have no idea.

By the way, what temperature are the vats this Summer? The Beach here in Toronto is great, but still a bit messy and cool for swimming.

quinn the eskimo said...

Or did I misread the stories about McChrystal? I thought his guys were doing special ops whereby they would take key enemies "out." Wasn't that the deal?

Decidere said...

I think the Hive after some initial swarming is coming to agreement that this "event" is some deceptive trial-ballon bullshit to soften or possibly avert the blow of what they've actually been up to. We killed over 100 people in our custody, many through torture, some possibly through sick, dumb, negligent "accidents" up close, so at this point a professional assassination squad might almost seems like a healthy improvement on the status quo. Looking forward to the devil in those details, if we ever see them. Like those unreleased Abu Ghraib photos, too toxic, might make us angry.

Billy Glad said...

I agree that Panetta is letting the info out slowly, but I don't agree that "they" are trying to soften the blow, because I don't know in this case who "they" are. It's not in Obama's or Pelosi's interest to soften a blow to Cheney's reputation. Maybe it will turn out that Panetta is a nervous Nelly and somebody in Congress thought it was a good idea to try to get Cheney on a technicality. Oh. He didn't do it, but he thought about it and technically if he spent money for lunch or anything and talked about it he should have told us. That will be disastrous for the Democratic Party. The neocons will shove that up their asses and break it off.

Decidere said...

By Occam's razor, I have a simpler explanation - Obama just likes the executive power and the accoutrements such as this program that go with it. I don't think they're defending him per se, but they're certainly not in a hurry to give these powers back.