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Posted by on Apr 22, 2009 in At TMV | 10 comments

We Must Be the Voices of the Mothers for These Disappeared

Dafna Linzer, writing at ProPublica, reports that about 36 detainees whom the Bush administration had in custody inside secret CIA detention and interrogation centers in Eastern Europe and elsewhere around the globe are still unaccounted for, almost three years after Pres. Bush acknowledged the existence of the black site prisons:

Former President George W. Bush publicly acknowledged the CIA program in September 2006, and transferred 14 prisoners from the secret jails to Guantanamo. Many other prisoners, who had “little or no additional intelligence value,” Bush said, “have been returned to their home countries for prosecution or detention by their governments.”

Bush did not reveal their identities or whereabouts — information that would have allowed the International Committee for the Red Cross [5] to find them — or the terms under which the prisoners were handed over to foreign jailers. The U.S. government has never released information describing the threat that any of them posed.

Some of those prisoners have since been released by third countries holding them. But it is still unclear what has happened to dozens of others.

“Making the Justice Department memos on the CIA’s secret prison program public was an important first step, but the Obama administration needs to reveal the fate and whereabouts of every person who was held in CIA custody,” said Joanne Mariner, director of the Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program at Human Rights Watch. “If these men are now rotting in some Egyptian dungeon, the administration can’t pretend that it’s closed the door on the CIA program.”

Says Steve Hynd, “If former CIA director Michael Hayden was telling the truth when he said only about 100 detainees were ever held at CIA black sites, then over a third have been simply disappeared without trace.”

Steve also suggests that Sen. Patrick Leahy might want to add the fate of these three dozen human beings to the list of questions to be asked at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings he plans to convene.

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  • Janjanjan

    There is something so frustrating about this whole thing. We confront some very serious issues in our current backyard, and we finally seem to have some political will and political capital to expend in trying to solve them. Unfortunately, we have this huge anchor we’re carrying around. It’s called “the legacies of the Bush years.” And that anchor may be heavy enough to prevent any forward progress on health care, energy policy, and education.

    It’s been obvious for a long time that much energy would be required to fix the dreadful economic situation Obama inherited. That was bad enough. But, now it seems that we could spend the next 4 years investigating, debating, and facing up to the results of the torture decisions of the Bush administration. Talk about a political quagmire. Either of these issues is enough to consume all the energy, time, and political capital of the Obama administration. Both together may be just too much to overcome. I am so saddened to think that we could spend the next 4 years accomplishing nothing on pressing domestic issues because we have to deal with all this. Even worse, the political rhetoric stirred up as we work through this dreadful past could sink Obama’s chances for a second term.

  • TerryOtt

    Janjanjan, you are right in my opinion to worry about the “cost” in time, emotion, energy, and focus we might expend by “-gating”: investigating and castigating and incarcerating (or trying to do so). Personally, I am ready to move on, even if MoveOn is not.

    In an free country, with electoral politics, we execute our feckless leaders by repudiating them after they stand trial on the campaign trail, and toss out many others on their coattails. We did that. It was done in 2008, rather than 2004, but there is nothing we can do about THAT except to learn from it. History then starts judging them, and will do so with a vengeance for decades to come in the case of Bush&Co.

    I believe one key reason Barack Obama was elected is that he spoke (and apparently thought) a “different language” than we have heard about the politics of animosity and the philosophy of divisiveness as a key to gaining power. One would hope that whomever is tugging on his sleeve on this stuff would be told to sit down, get to work, and give every effort to the rejuvenation of “Brand USA”. That is no part-time job.

    • StockBoySF


      We do have a lot of issues to work on, the economy, torture, trashing of the US Constitution, etc. But if we are to move forward we need to repair our foundation as a country.

      What good does it do to have a solid economy if we as a country are willing to forgive and forget leaders who not only trample the rights of citizens they are supposed to protect, but break international and domestic laws?

      If we don’t prosecute law breakers then the terrorists have won. The terrorists wanted to destroy our country. If we don’t follow the rule of law and act as any other civilized country would they the terrorists will have destroyed us, by turning making us become another tin pot banana republic where the rich and connected can literally get away with murder while the poor are left to suffer and have no (or few) constitutional rights. Where values don’t mean anything if you have enough money or power to go free, even if you commit the most horrendous crimes against humanity and your fellow humans.

      So tell me why you want us to become that. Surely you don’t want the terrorists to win. No one ever said it was going to be easy and if we do have values then we need to stand up and fight for them. What’s the use of having values if we don’t believe in them?

      • TerryOtt

        I understand your point, StockBoy, and sympathize with it somewhat. In a perfect world, we could focus attention on many things and not drop the ball on any of them by virtue of being distracted and running out of energy and time …. for environment, for energy policy, for education, for immigration policy, for economic recovery, for health care reform, for tax simplication and fairness, for veterans’ assistance, for retooling our work force, and on and on. In the real world, it doesn’t work that way.

        My assessment is that our elected officials, given the opportunity, would kick some of those things down the road (again) if they could instead get their mugs on TV via hearings and press conferences and network sound bites/interviews about the evils of the Bush years. I don’t think Obama is exactly working with some enlightened “all-star team” of Senators and Representatives. I think a great many of them would LOVE to bask in the glory of emotionally charged political combat — leading to everlasting controversy and heightened bitterness. Moreover, some of the public would be entranced by the drama, and some of the public would simply tune out because they are tired of it all. The networks would play to those who are enthusiastic about the bruising tirades and counterpunching. “And in other news, as we close out the broadcast, real progress is being reported on cancer cures; we’ll try to find some time to talk about that tomorrow. And it is being reported that the number of single-parent families has increased by 30% in the past two years. Good night from all of us here at Bush Hearings Central. Stay tuned for a half hour of interviews with attorneys representing both Bush and his Congressional detractors.”

        My “resolution” is the knowledge that those who crafted policies that flew in the face of our values are out of power. The People of the land spoke, at last, and we changed direction — which is not what happens in a tin pot banana republic. The “terrorists” lost when we got over our fear of them and came to the realization that we need not live in a police state created as a response to their actions and threats. And the terrorists now should know, as they must by virtue of our clumsy but tough reaction to them throughout the Bush years, that their chaos will not be tolerated insofar as we can use moral and legal ways to diminish its attraction for potential practitioners of it. We need to make some gestures of sincere regret for mistakes we made, we need to demonstrate that the tide has turned, and then we need to get about making the nation as great as it can be considering it is run by actual human beings. I think that’s what the “world out there” expects of us and what our friends in the world are counting on us to do.

        One more train of thought here. “We”, and most especially our political class, are prone to acting (often boldly and with zest) and not particularly good at envisioning unintended consequences. Let me mention one such thing. Perhaps the SF in your nickname refers to San Francisco. If so, I imagine a large majority of those around you are confirmed Bush-haters, and assume that if charges were to brought the criminal case against his administration would be a slam dunk. Maybe in the end it would be in terms of the verdict, although then there would be disappointment about the consequences, the light sentencing if you will. But I live some months in the South, and in my urban community it’s about half Right-leaning/Red and about half Left-Leaning/Blue. There would be some sympathy for a defense that called up the memories of what went on under several other Presidents, by way of building the case that Bush was mild by comparison. For example:

        When the Supreme Court stepped in during the “Indian Wars” and said Georgia could not expel thousands of Indians to Oklahoma (Worcester v. Georgia, 1832), President Andrew Jackson completely ignored the Supreme Court and expelled them anyway.

        During the Civil War, President Lincoln unilaterally suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus on his own authority. He tried US civilians in military courts, even when civilian courts were up and running. He instituted a draft without authority. He imposed an income tax in direct conflict with Constitutional law.

        During WWI, President Wilson pushed for and passed the Sedition Act of 1918 which forbade Americans to use “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” towards the United States. The law also contained said that any employee or official of the United States Government who commits any disloyal act or utters any unpatriotic or disloyal language, or who, in an abusive and violent manner criticizes the Army or Navy or the flag of the United States shall be at once dismissed from the service.” IN fact, the Sedition Act made it illegal to criticize the US form of government, stating, “whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States or the Constitution of the United States…” is guilty under the Act. Eugene Debbs was sentenced to 20 years for his “anti-war activities.”

        President Roosevelt literally imprisoned thousands of American citizens of Japanese decent simply because of their ancestry. Less well-know is the fact that Roosevelt also used military tribunals to try and execute American citizens (See Ex Parte Quirin, 1942).

        Truman tried to seize America’s steel mills in the name of fighting the Korean War, even though there was no direct threat of North Korean attacks on US soil.

        Maybe you could stomach Bush being lumped in with Jackson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Truman, Wilson by his apologists. I think my head would explode, personally. Are you ready for THAT stuff to come at you over your TV?

        In closing I take issue with your characterization that we’d “forgive and forget”. We didn’t “forgive” in the 2008 elections. And thanks to historians more astute than me, we won’t soon “forget”, either, when the scholarly texts are penned about the period 2000-2008.

        • StockBoySF


          That’s quite a bit you have to say there and some good points for all to consider. But I think overall we just have to “agree to disagree” on this.

          Thanks for the comment.

  • Don Quijote

    Unfortunately, we have this huge anchor we’re carrying around. It’s called “the legacies of the Bush years.”

    It’s not the legacy of the Bush Years, it’s the legacy of the Reagan years. When the Dems took power in 92, they let the Republicans sweep Iran/Contra and all of our Central American policy under the rug. In 2000 the people involved in Iran/Contra & Central America came back to power.

    In that connection, what follows is a partial list of some of the more prominent individuals who were either directly a part of the Iran-Contra events or figured in some other way during the affair or its aftermath:

    * Elliott Abrams – currently deputy assistant to President Bush and deputy national security advisor for global democracy strategy, Abrams was one of the Reagan administration’s most controversial figures as the senior State Department official for Latin America in the mid-1980s. He entered into a plea bargain in federal court after being indicted for providing false testimony about his fund-raising activities on behalf of the Contras, although he later accused the independent counsel’s office of forcing him to accept guilt on two counts. President George H. W. Bush later pardoned him.

    * David Addington – now Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, and by numerous press accounts a stanch advocate of expanded presidential power, Addington was a congressional staffer during the joint select committee hearings in 1986 who worked closely with Cheney.

    * John Bolton – the controversial U.N. ambassador whose recess appointment by President Bush is now in jeopardy was a senior Justice Department official who participated in meetings with Attorney General Edwin Meese on how to handle the burgeoning Iran-Contra political and legal scandal in late November 1986. There is little indication of his precise role at the time.

    * Richard Cheney – now the vice president, he played a prominent part as a member of the joint congressional Iran-Contra inquiry of 1986, taking the position that Congress deserved major blame for asserting itself unjustifiably onto presidential turf. He later pointed to the committees’ Minority Report as an important statement on the proper roles of the Executive and Legislative branches of government.

    * Robert M. Gates – President Bush’s nominee to succeed Donald Rumsfeld, Gates nearly saw his career go up in flames over charges that he knew more about Iran-Contra while it was underway than he admitted once the scandal broke. He was forced to give up his bid to head the CIA in early 1987 because of suspicions about his role but managed to attain the position when he was re-nominated in 1991. (See previous Electronic Briefing Book)

    * Manuchehr Ghorbanifar – the quintessential middleman, who helped broker the arms deals involving the United States, Israel and Iran ostensibly to bring about the release of American hostages being held in Lebanon, Ghorbanifar was almost universally discredited for misrepresenting all sides’ goals and interests. Even before the Iran deals got underway, the CIA had ruled Ghorbanifar off-limits for purveying bad information to U.S. intelligence. Yet, in 2006 his name has resurfaced as an important source for the Pentagon on current Iranian affairs, again over CIA objections.

    * Michael Ledeen – a neo-conservative who is vocal on the subject of regime change in Iran, Ledeen helped bring together the main players in what developed into the Iran arms-for-hostages deals in 1985 before being relegated to a bit part. He reportedly reprised his role shortly after 9/11, introducing Ghorbanifar to Pentagon officials interested in exploring contacts inside Iran.

    * Edwin Meese – currently a member of the blue-ribbon Iraq Study Group headed by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, he was Ronald Reagan’s controversial attorney general who spearheaded an internal administration probe into the Iran-Contra connection in November 1986 that was widely criticized as a political exercise in protecting the president rather than a genuine inquiry by the nation’s top law enforcement officer.

    * John Negroponte – the career diplomat who worked quietly to boost the U.S. military and intelligence presence in Central America as ambassador to Honduras, he also participated in efforts to get the Honduran government to support the Contras after Congress banned direct U.S. aid to the rebels. Negroponte’s profile has risen spectacularly with his appointments as ambassador to Iraq in 2004 and director of national intelligence in 2005. (See previous Electronic Briefing Book)

    * Oliver L. North – now a radio talk show host and columnist, he was at the center of the Iran-Contra spotlight as the point man for both covert activities. A Marine serving on the NSC staff, he steadfastly maintained that he received high-level approval for everything he did, and that “the diversion was a diversion.” He was found guilty on three counts at a criminal trial but had those verdicts overturned on the grounds that his protected congressional testimony might have influenced his trial. He ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate from Virginia in 1996. (See previous Electronic Briefing Book)

    * Daniel Ortega – the newly elected president of Nicaragua was the principal target of several years of covert warfare by the United States in the 1980s as the leader of the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front. His democratic election in November 2006 was not the only irony — it’s been suggested by one of Oliver North’s former colleagues in the Reagan administration that North’s public statements in Nicaragua in late October 2006 may have taken votes away from the candidate preferred by the Bush administration and thus helped Ortega at the polls.

    * John Poindexter – who found a niche deep in the U.S. government’s post-9/11 security bureaucracy as head of the Pentagon’s Total Information Awareness program (formally disbanded by Congress in 2003), was Oliver North’s superior during the Iran-Contra period and personally approved or directed many of his activities. His assertion that he never told President Reagan about the diversion of Iranian funds to the Contras ensured Reagan would not face impeachment.

    * Otto Reich – President George W. Bush’s one-time assistant secretary of state for Latin America, Reich ran a covert public diplomacy operation designed to build support for Ronald Reagan’s Contra policies. A U.S. comptroller-general investigation concluded the program amounted to “prohibited, covert propaganda activities,” although no charges were ever filed against him. Reich paid a price in terms of congressional opposition to his nomination to run Latin America policy, resulting in a recess appointment in 2002 that lasted less than a year. (See previous Electronic Briefing Book)

  • AustinRoth

    I actually find this issue, and the detention of citizens and US nationals incommunicado, for extended periods of time much more troubling than the torture issue.

    • StockBoySF

      AR, “I actually find this issue, and the detention of citizens and US nationals incommunicado, for extended periods of time much more troubling than the torture issue.”

      Well that’s a valid point and I agree that they are separate issues. I actually tend to lump them all together… and quite honestly I’m not sure which I find worse. I think it’s because whatever issue it is it is still against the law. Policemen don’t just arrest people who kill people, policemen also arrest people for shoplifting $10 bric-a-brac or food to go on the table (if you want a moral debate thrown in!) Naturally (hopefully) a convicted murderer would receive more time in prison than someone who stole costume jewelry at the five and dime.

      I guess since I lump these offenses together (that the perpetrator should be tried for all) the best question I can ask myself is which of these crimes (torture, the detention of citizens for long periods of time, etc.) deserve the harshest punishment. And I can’t answer that right away because I think they’re all such horrible crimes that go against what the US believes in… well, up until now the US has been against this behavior, but the jury is still out on that 🙂

  • rudi

    AR – These aren’t US nationals, they’re “supposed terrorists” from other countries. But look at the list of our “friends” who we used to dump these detainees down black holes.

  • Don Quijote

    My “resolution” is the knowledge that those who crafted policies that flew in the face of our values are out of power. The People of the land spoke, at last, and we changed direction — which is not what happens in a tin pot banana republic.

    And 12, 16 years from now the people who organized, authorized or just plain did the Torturing, the international renditions will be back in power with the knowledge that once you are in power you can do whatever you damn well please since there are no legal consequences, so might as well start with the spying, the phone tapping, the international renditions, the torture and the death squads.

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