Release of Senate Torture Report Insufficient, Say Rights Groups

Tuesday’s release by the Senate Intelligence Committee of its long-awaited report on the torture by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of detainees in the so-called “war on terror” does not go far enough, according to major U.S. human rights groups.

While welcoming the report’s release, the subject of months of intensive negotiations and sometimes furious negotiations between the Senate Committee’s majority and both the CIA and the administration of President Barack Obama, the groups said additional steps were needed to ensure that US officials never again engage in the kind of torture detailed in the report.

“This should be the beginning of a process, not the end,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “The report should shock President Obama and Congress into action, to make sure that torture and cruelty are never used again.”

He called, among other steps, for the appointment of a special prosecutor to hold the “architects and perpetrators” of what the George W. Bush administration called “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs) accountable and for Congress to assert its control over the CIA, “which in this report sounds more like a rogue paramilitary group than the intelligence gathering agency that it’s supposed to be.”

He was joined by London-based Amnesty International which noted that the declassified information provided in the report constituted “a reminder to the world of the utter failure of the USA to end the impunity enjoyed by those who authorized and used torture and other ill-treatment.

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Jim Lobe: Blackballed by AIPAC?

Originally published at LobeLog, reprinted with permission.

In my 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service, only one institution has denied me admission to their press or public events. That was the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) shortly after the broadcast in 2003 of a BBC Panorama program (its equivalent, more or less, of our “60 Minutes”) on neoconservatives and their promotion of the Iraq war. The segment was entitled “The War Party” and I was interviewed at several intervals during the program. In that case, I was told forthrightly (and somewhat apologetically) by the think tank’s then-communications chief, Veronique Rodman, that “someone from above” had objected strongly to the show (I had my own reservations about it) and my role in it and had demanded that I be banned from attending future AEI events. My status as persona non grata there was reaffirmed about five years later when LobeLog alumnus Eli Clifton went there for an event and was taken aside by an unidentified staffer and told that he could attend, but that he should remind me that I was still unwelcome.

Now it seems I’ve been blackballed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, although, unlike AEI, AIPAC has so far declined to give me a reason for denying me accreditation for its annual policy conference, which runs Sunday through Tuesday. All I’ve received thus far is this email that arrived in my inbox Thursday morning from someone named Emily Helpern from Scott Circle, a public relations firm here in DC.

Thank you for your interest in attending this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference as a member of the press. However, press credentials for the conference will not be issued to you. We regret any inconvenience this may have caused.

I emailed Emily back as soon as I received it to ask for an explanation and pointed out that this is the first time in a decade that I’ve been denied credentials to cover the AIPAC conference. When no reply was forthcoming, I sent a second email to her and to Marshall Wittmann, AIPAC’s communications director, seeking an explanation, but, alas, it seems I’ve become a non-person.

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The False Flag Story and Provocations

By now, I’m sure most readers of this blog are informed about Mark Perry’s blockbuster story Friday on that describes how Israeli Mossad agents posed as U.S. spies to recruit and use members of the Jundallah group to carry out what the State Department and others have called a campaign of terror against Iran focused in particular on the largely Sunni province of Sistan va Balochistan. If you haven’t read it, you definitely should.

This story naturally raises a host of questions, among them, why Jundallah was not put on the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list before November 20, 2010; how much control the Mossad has exercised over Jundallah and its operations; whether Mossad may be operating another “false-flag” operation with PJAK, the Iraqi Kurdistan-based Iranian branch of Turkey’s PKK. (PJAK was designated an FTO 15 days after Obama’s inauguration, reportedly as a gesture to both Ankara and Tehran, and, as Mark reminded me Friday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman reportedly recommended last summer that Israel begin providing assistance to the PKK in retaliation for Ankara’s decision to downgrade relations with Tel Aviv.) And hanging over all this is the big question of why, if Washington knew of Israel’s sponsorship of one or more FTOs, particularly one as bloody-minded as Jundallah, did it not do more to discourage that relationship? Deliberately averting one’s eyes to terrorist activity is, after all, a form of complicity, particularly if you know that this terrorist activity is being done in your name.

Meanwhile, a remarkably and unusually candid discussion (for a mainstream medium) of Israel’s strategy of provocation took place yesterday with an interview by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews of former CIA officer Robert Baer and can be seen here. It runs about five minutes. Baer makes clear his view that these assassinations, about which I hope to write more later, have little to do with setting back Iran’s nuclear program in any meaningful way, but are rather designed to provoke an armed response that would increase the likelihood of a U.S. or U.S./Israeli attack.

I think that these two forms of terrorism — support for Jundallah and possibly other terrorist groups, and the assassination of scientists associated with Iran’s nuclear program — share the same goal. (Killing a handful of scientists will not stop Iran’s nuclear program, and Jundallah is essentially a ragtag group with no hope of seriously destabilizing the regime.) The primary aim of these programs, therefore, appears to be provocation. And, so long as the U.S. is seen as supportive of or at least complicit with these efforts (as Israel clearly wishes the U.S. to be seen), hard-line forces in the Iranian regime will always have a leg up in internal discussions about whether Washington can be trusted in any negotiation. That’s why it seems to me that it’s incumbent on the Obama administration, if indeed it wishes to avoid war, to make as clear as it possibly can that it has absolutely nothing to do with these covert programs. In that respect, public denials, no matter how categorical, by Clinton, Panetta, and the White House to that effect are not nearly sufficient.

In that connection, one wonders whether Obama addressed this issue in his conversation with Netanyahu on Thursday; that is, two days after the assassination in Tehran and on the eve of the publication of Perry’s article of which the White House and other agencies were no doubt aware because of the author’s last-minute efforts to get them to comment.

The two leaders also discussed recent Iran-related developments, including the international community’s efforts to hold Iran accountable for its failures to meet its international obligations. The President reiterated his unshakable commitment to Israel’s security, and the President and the Prime Minister promised to stay in touch in the coming weeks on these and other issues of mutual concern.

While it focuses on the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran, today’s piece in the Wall Street Journal is suggestive, particularly the last paragraph:

Some American intelligence officials complain that Israel represents a blind spot in U.S. intelligence, which devotes little resources to Israel. Some officials have long argued that, given the potential for Israel to drag the U.S. into potentially explosive situations, the U.S. should devote more resources to divining Israel’s true intentions.

Read the update at

Can We Hear the Recording Please?

In his zeal to defend Israel, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies’ (FDD) Cliff May cites a colleague’s contentions that the activists taking part in the “Freedom Flotilla” were obviously Islamic radicals bent on massacring Jews. From his weekly round-up of the very best in Likudnik commentary:

FDD’s Ben Weinthal notes:

According to media reports, activists invoked on their way to Gaza the Islamic battle cry, “Jews, remember Khyabar [sic], the army of Mohammed is returning.” The reference is to a Muslim massacre and expulsion of Jews in seventh-century Arabia.

The reader is then encouraged to “Read more” with a link that goes to a May 30 Jerusalem Post article which quotes Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and the Foreign Ministry as the basis for this assertion:

Also Sunday, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon criticized the effort, saying anti-Semitic chants voiced by the activists on board earlier in the day showed the ‘real motivation’ for the campaign, which he termed an ‘armada of hate.’

According to a Foreign Ministry press release, participants on the flotilla were recorded shouting ‘Khaybar Khaybar ya yahud, Jaish Muhammad saya’ud,’ which means ‘Jews, remember Khyabar [sic], the army of Mohammed is returning.’ This cry relates to an event in the seventh century when Muslims massacred and expelled Jews from the town of Khaybar, in modern-day Saudi Arabia.

‘Israel condemns the anti-Semitic chants that were publicized this morning,’ Ayalon said. ‘This amply demonstrates that many are not against a particular policy of the Israeli government, but have very real and dangerous hatred for Jews and the Jewish State.’

So, from FDD, we get “media reports” that are based entirely on assertions by a government ministry without the slightest effort to confirm those assertions from any independent source. This, of course, begs many questions, such as of the source of the recording, how it was obtained by the Foreign Ministry, and how many of the flotilla’s participants allegedly took part in the chants, if indeed that’s what took place.

As a former reporter for the New York Times, May should be a bit more conscientious about what he and his colleagues assert as fact. Especially when Khaybar is spelled “Khyabar,” twice.

Dennis Ross Talks Up Petraeus Linkage

From Josh Rogin’s excellent “Cable” blog at today:

Dennis Ross links Middle East peace to Iran
Posted By Josh Rogin Wednesday, May 5, 2010 – 6:16 PM

The National Security Council’s Dennis Ross is the latest U.S. official to link the Obama administration’s drive to secure peace between Israelis and Arabs to the overall goal of bringing greater stability to the region and combating the threat from Iran.

“In this region, pursuing peace is instrumental to shaping a new regional context,” Ross said in remarks Monday evening. “Pursuing peace is not a substitute for dealing with the other challenges … It is also not a panacea. But especially as it relates to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, if one could do that, it would deny state and non-state actors a tool they use to exploit anger and grievances.”

Ross was speaking at the closing dinner for the Anti-Defamation League annual conference, where attendees also heard from the NSC’s Daniel Shapiro, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin, special envoy for monitoring anti-Semitism Hannah Rosenthal, Israeli Amb. Michael Oren, and others.

Ross, whose exact portfolio at the NSC has been the subject of much speculation outside the administration, noted that “the greatest challenge for peace, for security in the Middle East, lies in Iran” and tied the Israeli-Arab conflict to the Islamic Republic.

“Clearly one way that Iran is increasing its influence in the region is by exploiting the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians,” Ross said, echoing statements made by U.S. Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus in a report (pdf) submitted to Congress back in March.

“The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests,” Petraeus wrote. “The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas.”

Conservative hard-liners ripped Petraeus for the statement, linking the report to a story on Foreign Policy’s Middle East Channel (some elements of which are in dispute). The National Review’s Andrew McCarthy even accused the general of “echoing the narrative peddled incessantly by leftists in the government he serves and by Islamists in the countries where he works.”

But Ross, who is not often accused of being too hard on Israel, made similar comments Monday. “The continuation of the conflict strengthens Iran’s rejectionist partners and also Hezbollah. Iran deliberately uses the conflict to expose even the moderates in the region by stoking the fears of its populations and playing the worst most anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist prejudices,” he said.

This is quite a remarkable statement and should no doubt create some consternation at AIPAC, among other right-wing Israel Lobby institutions.

The Incredible Lightness of Being Thomas Friedman

I don’t want this blog to get obsessed with any one individual, and I fear that we’re moving in that direction with Tom Friedman, the main foreign-policy columnist at the New York Times and named by an insiders’ poll at the National Journal last year as Washington’s most influential media personality.

It’s just that, for someone who exercises such influence, he so often seems to be so completely at sea — no rudder, no anchor, no compass even — just kind of drifting from wave to wave (or, in the case of globalization, from CEO to CEO). Apart from a generally liberal (with some important exceptions) and interventionist orientation, Friedman is erratic, to say the least, and often incoherent, as many more diligent critics, notably Matt Taibi, have long observed.

But the erratic and incoherent nature of his thinking struck me hard this week while reading his column, “Hobby or Necessity?” published in the Sunday Times, Mar 28. His basic argument is that Palestinian-Israeli peace was a mere “post-cold-war hobby” for the U.S. while it was a “necessity” for Israel in the 1990’s, but that recent events, especially since U.S. troops began fighting wars in the region after 9/11, have resulted in a 180-degree shift for both countries. While Israel now sees peace as a hobby, it has become a “necessity” for Washington. Citing Biden’s and Gen. Petraeus’ recent statements about the link between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Washington’s own security issues throughout the Arab world and beyond — a link that, of course, is anathema to Netanyahu, AIPAC, Abe Foxman, etc. — Friedman writes:

“Now, in the same time period, America went from having only a small symbolic number of soldiers in the Middle East to running two wars there — in Iraq and Afghanistan — as well as a global struggle against violent Muslim extremists. With U.S. soldiers literally walking the Arab street — and, therefore, more in need than ever of Muslim good will to protect themselves and defeat Muslim extremists — Israeli-Palestinian peace has gone from being a post-cold-war hobby of U.S. diplomats to being a necessity.

He goes on:

“At a time when the U.S. is trying to galvanize a global coalition to confront Iran, at a time when Iran uses the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict to embarrass pro-U.S. Arabs and extend its influence across the Muslim world, peace would be a strategic asset for America and Israel.”

Now, as readers of this blog know, I don’t disagree with any of this and think it’s highly useful that a columnist as influential as Tom Friedman is putting this message out to his readers. Rather, my problem is simply this: if Israeli-Palestinian peace is a “necessity” for Washington now, why didn’t he consider it a “necessity” back last November when he was arguing for essentially abandoning mediation efforts and “Tak[ing] down our ‘Peace-Processing-Is-Us’ sign and just go home.” What precisely has changed about the fundamental situation in the last six months?

This is what Friedman wrote Nov 8 in a column entitled “Call White House, Ask for Barack”:

“Let’s just get out of the picture. Let all these leaders stand in front of their own people and tell them the truth: ‘My fellow citizens: Nothing is happening; nothing is going to happen. It’s just you and me and the problem we own.’

“Indeed, it’s time for us to dust off James Baker’s line: ‘When you’re serious, give us a call: 202-456-1414. Ask for Barack. Otherwise, stay out of our lives. We have our own country to fix.’”

Again, the question arises: what has changed between the publication of that column when Friedman clearly did not think an Israeli-Palestinian peace a “necessity” and today? And if the underlying situation — wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, “a global struggle against violent Muslim extremists,” “more in need than ever of Muslim good will to protect ourselves” — is the same as six months ago, why wasn’t Friedman calling for a more aggressive U.S. stance back then?

As I said, it’s like he drifts from wave to wave.