In solid accountability news, the Supreme Court agreed yesterday to hear a case to determine whether former Attorney General John Ashcroft can be held personally liable for his actions (while in that position) in overseeing the arrest of a “U.S. citizen who claims he was illegally detained and treated as a terrorist.”
The case revolves around actions the government took in 2003 against an muslim-American named Abdullah al-Kidd, who was arrested trying to board a plane to Saudi Arabia. From the Washington Post:
He was held for 15 nights in three states under the federal material-witness statute, which allows prosecutors to take custody of key witnesses to ensure that they testify at trial. But al-Kidd alleges that was simply a pretext for a larger plan approved by Ashcroft to sweep up Muslim men the government could not prove had any ties to terrorism.
The government had convinced a federal judge to issue a warrant for al-Kidd's arrest by saying he was necessary to the investigation of Sami Omar al-Hussayen, who was eventually indicted on charges of supporting terrorism.
Of course, al-Kidd wasn’t charged with anything at all. Nor was he ever called to testify against al-Hussayen. Who, as it turns out, was “acquitted of the most serious charges against him.” (WaPo)
Oh, and there’s more. al-Kidd had actually been cooperating with the FBI before this, and the FBI ‘misinformed’ the judge about the circumstances of the case – information which led to the judge’s ordering of the arrest itself. From the LA Times):
[al-Kidd] had cooperated with the FBI after the Sept. 11 attacks and answered questions about another Muslim man in Idaho who was under investigation in connection with his website.
Several months had elapsed since Kidd had heard from the FBI, but when he bought a round-trip ticket to travel to Saudi Arabia, where he had a scholarship to study, the FBI moved to have him arrested.
An FBI agent wrongly told a magistrate that Kidd had bought a one-way, first-class ticket. The magistrate ordered Kidd arrested and held as a witness. A few days later, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III testified in Congress and mentioned Kidd's arrest as one of the bureau's successes.
The goal was simple and sick: U.S. soldiers wanted to kill an Afghan civilian and get away with it.
In December, members of a unit (3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment) began concocting the idea of putting together a "kill team" to murder an Afghan civilian and get away with it by creating a ruse that they were under attack. When Staff Sgt. Calvin R. Gibbs, described as the ringleader, began his second tour in Afghanistan, he bragged that it had been easy for him to get away with "stuff" (a.k.a. murder) when he served in Iraq in 2004.
On January 15, 2010, in Kandahar province, a solitary Afghan villager named Gul Mudin began walking toward some soldiers in the village of La Mohammed Kalay. The "kill team" activated the plan. As Mudin approached, Cpl. Jeremy N. Morlock tossed a fragmentary grenade on the ground to create the illusion that they were under attack. Pfc. Andrew H. Holmes saw the grenade and fired at Mudin. The grenade exploded, prompting the others to open fire on the villager, killing him.
On February 22, 2010, again in Kandahar province, Afghan civilian Marach Agha was killed by rifle fire near where the 3rd Platoon was stationed. Gibbs, Morlock and Spec. Michael S. Wagnon II are charged with the murder. Wagnon (who, like Gibbs, was on his second tour in Afghanistan and also served in Iraq) was additionally charged with taking "a skull from an Afghan person's corpse" as a souvenir, but it's unclear whether it is Agha's head.
Sometime in March, Gibbs, Wagnon, Staff Sgt. Robert G. Stevens, Sgt. Darren N. Jones and Pfc. Ashton A. Moore opened fire on three Afghan men, according to charging documents. Few details are provided.
On May 2, 2010, Gibbs, Morlock and Adam Winfield - whose father tried to alert the Army after his son told him about the disturbing first murder - are accused of tossing a grenade and fatally shooting an Afghan cleric, Mullah Adahdad.
If this macabre behavior was not bad enough, members of the platoon also have been charged with dismembering and taking trophy photos of corpses, as well as hoarding various human bones.
And the whistleblowers in all this? There are actually at least two. After the first murder, Winfield confided in his father, a former Marine. Winfield's father, with his son's approval, called the Army inspector general's 24-hour hotline, the office of Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), a sergeant at his son's base, the Army's criminal investigation division, and the Fort Lewis command center--all to no avail. After word leaked that one soldier (presumably Winfield) had spoken to military police, several platoon members retaliated. They confronted the informant and beat him severely - punching, kicking and choking him, then dragging him across the ground. As a last warning, Gibbs menacingly waved finger bones he had collected from Afghan corpses.
These slayings are arguably worse than the slaughter depicted in the Wikileaks video, which appears to be an isolated incident of rogue soldiers killing unarmed Iraqi civilians and high-fiving each other as if it were a video game. (Not that there's a competition over who carries the American Express gold card for war crimes.) These serial killings were premeditated, done for sport, and occurred on at least three occasions.
Instead of psychoanalyzing the motives of the private who blew the whistle, as happened with Bradley Manning and Wikileaks, maybe this time we can focus on the barbarity of the war crimes committed and the retaliation against the whistleblower soldier who brought it to light.
If you're interested in finding out more about the Manning/Wikileaks case, here's a five-minute interview with me on the subject:
Jesselyn Radack is Homeland Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower advocacy organization. This post originally appeared in her Daily Kos column.
Today's Washington Post has a piece examining the potential mental health problems of Bradley Manning, the Army private accused of leaking the "Collateral Murder" video to Wikileaks.
Whatever the reality of Mr. Manning's mental health, or any whistleblower, it should not diminish the validity of the disclosures. Our country has studiously avoided having any meaningful conversation about why the soldiers in a U.S. Army Apache helicopter gunned down unarmed Iraquis, including children, while high-fiving each other as if they were playing "Call of Duty." Or, why the Army found no wrongdoing in this incident and tried to bury it. Manning's mental health gives us no insight there.
With the Obama administration cracking down on whistleblowers more than any past President, we must remember a whistleblowers' mental health does not reduce the significance of their disclosures.
I've chronicled the Obama administration's campaign against whistleblowers on Kos, including the latest prosecution of Stephen Jin-Woo Kim and:
While the Washington Post says, “Judges should not be in the business of second-guessing or micromanaging the executive's battlefield decisions.”
I submit that the Washington Post should not be in the business of second-guessing judicial decisions.
The Post implies there are other avenues available to hold high-level officials accountable, and the plaintiffs “should have availed themselves of processes within the military justice system to ferret out and punish miscreants.”
Prosecuting the Charles Graner's and Lynndie England’s of the torture universe is a band-aid on a bullet wound. The real responsibility lies at the top of the heap with the lawyers and officials who conceived the policies, none of whom have been held accountable for the use of coercive interrogation techniques (a.k.a. torture).
While it's not clear from the editorial, the American citizen plaintiffs were not taken captive, blindfolded, strip-searched, held incommunicado almost entirely in solitary confinement often with blaring music, denied food and water, and subjected to sensory deprivation and harsh interrogation tactics for their own protection. They were taken captive because the powers that be feared the plaintiffs' potential whistleblowing.
The plaintiffs' kidnapping had nothing had nothing to do with the battlefield. They were kidnapped in 2006, three years after the invasion and occupation of Iraq. They were held at Camp Cropper, not in some temporary battlefield tent.
I've been blogging here, to mixed reception, about the alarming increase of "leak" investigations and prosecutions under President Obama.
Yesterday, the L.A. Times had a lead editorial on "The Obama Administration's Attacks on the Media."
[T]his administration has pursued a quiet but malicious campaign against the news media and their sources, more aggressively attacking those who ferret out confidential information than even the George W. Bush administration did.
It specifically mentions the cases of James Risen, one of the New York Times reporters who broke the warrantless wiretapping story, and Thomas Drake, a former NSA official indicted for supposedly leaking details of NSA secret surveillance programs to the Baltimore Sun.
Risen and Drake are bookends of a disturbing trend of the "Transparency President": keeping information from the public.
The indictment of Tom Drake under the Espionage Act weaves a sordid tale of intrigue about how Drake committed dastardly deeds by leaking classified information to a Baltimore Sun reporter. But Drake never gave classified information to a reporter. Upon a close read of the indictment, he is not charged with "leaking" (there is no such crime) anything at all. Rather, he is charged with retention of classified documents for the purposes of distribution (there is no such crime).
The L.A. Times nails what this is prosecution is really about:
The [Baltimore Sun] reported extensively on technical problems with an NSA program that Drake was involved with; that reporting embarrassed the government, which indicted the individual it says brought about that embarrassment. That smacks of retaliation, not legitimate protection of sensitive information.
Tom Drake is a whistleblower we would have applauded during the Bush years, but now he is facing 35 years in jail.
In the latest turn in the WikiLeaks saga, the Pentagon is now “demanding” that the organizationtake down the trove of documents it posted related to the Afghan War, so that the website might redeem itself to “do the right thing.”
The “right thing?” Let’s recap for a sec.
Two weeks ago, WikiLeaks spawned a media sensation by posting privy, classified information about the Afghan War. It did this in conjunction with three of the most reputable media outlets in the world – The New York Times, The U.K. Guardian, and Der Spiegel. Granted, these outlets did not post anywhere close to a sizable percentage of the documents that WikiLeaks did. Therefore, each can’t vouch for all of the documents and its relative worth (we’ll get to that more in a minute). But each organization independently determined that the information contained therein had inherent value to the public interest. Each chose to write not a few simple stories, but dedicated multimedia presentations to their own releases. Their stories did not focus on WikiLeaks, but the information. To remind, some of the more interesting/shocking details of the online materials included:
Last night, Wikileaks released more than 91,000 classified documents related to the Afghan war, which reveal in excruciating detail the uphill battle American troops have faced in battling the Taliban and in working with Pakistani "allies" who are also helping the Afghan insurgency.
Our country needs to have a serious conversation about supposedly classified documents (under classification laws, you can't classify something to hide its illegality or to avoid embarrassment) vs. the public's right to know.
Because the Obama administration can't catch Wikileaks.org (its founder is the target of a worldwide manhunt launched by the Pentagon), it is bound and determined to make an example out of Thomas Drake, James Risen and other whistleblowers who supposedly "leaked."