“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Monday, December 10, 2007

War is for Hard Men not Lawyers

Cutler sent this gem to us with the note that:
"The bluntness demonstrates why I like Michael Scheuer. Even when he's wrong, he's a patriot, first and foremost, not an ass coverer.
I too have grown to like Michael Scheuer. I wish there were more men like him; not timid about doing the job they were given to do. On the other hand, I can understand how in a day and age when these men are forced to carry Legal Insurance why they are hesitant when they should be bold. Instead of hard men, we get lawyers. I guess we'll have to let the lawyers defeat the terrorists.
US Congressional Hearing:

Note Scheuer's testimony. Then read the Q&A for gems like this:

Mr. SCHEUER. I think absolutely, sir; and probably not from any
altruistic reason at all but simply because we knew we would get
to the point where we are today, where you and some Members of
this Congress behave as if CIA is a rogue organization, rather than
a service organization servicing the President and the Congress
and all branches of the United States Government."


Mr. SCHEUER. And if you can prove that there was not due diligence in designing the target package or assembling the information that caused that operation to go forward, then you have a case against someone. Otherwise, it is a mistake.

It is just a mistake.

Yes, sir. They are not Americans. I really don’t care.

And if they were not Americans you don’t care. That is very interesting.

I never got paid, sir, to be a citizen of the world. Maybe you do.

Main Testimony:

Mr. SCHEUER. All right. The CIA’s Rendition Program began in late summer, 1995. I authored it and then ran and managed it against al-Qaeda leaders and other Sunni Islamists from August, 1995, until June, 1999.

There were only two goals for the program: First, to take men off the street who were planning or had been involved in attacks on the United States or its allies; second, to seize hard copy or electronic documents in their possession when arrested. Americans were never expected to read those, and they could provide options
for follow-on operations.

I would like to add interrogation was never a goal under President Clinton. Why? Because it would be a foreign intelligence or security service without CIA being present or in control who would conduct the interrogation, because the take from the interrogation would be filtered by that service holding the individual and we never knew if it was complete or distorted, and because torture might be used and the information might be simply what an individual thought we wanted to hear.

The Rendition Program was initiated because President Clinton and Messrs. Lake, Berger and Clarke requested that the CIA begin to attack and dismantle al-Qaeda. These men made it clear from the first that they did not want to bring those captured to the United States or to hold them in U.S. custody.

President Clinton and his national security team directed the CIA to take each captured al-Qaeda leader to the country which had an outstanding legal process for him. This was a hard-and-fast rule which greatly restricted CIA’s ability to confront al-Qaeda because we could only focus on al-Qaeda leaders who were wanted somewhere for a legal process. As a result, many al-Qaeda fighters we knew of and who were dangerous to America could not be captured.

CIA warned the President and his National Security Council that the U.S. State Department had and would identify the countries to which the captured fighters were being delivered as human rights abusers.

In response, President Clinton and his team asked if CIA could get each receiving country to guarantee that it would treat a person according to its own laws. This was no problem, and we did so.

I have read and been told that Mr. Clinton, Mr. Berger and Mr. Clarke have said, since 9/11, that they insisted that each receiving country treat the rendered person it received according to U.S. legal standards. To the best of my memory, that is a lie.

After 9/11 and under President Bush, rendered al-Qaeda operatives have been most often kept in U.S. custody. The goals of the program remain the same, although Mr. Bush’s national security team wanted to use U.S. officers to interrogate captured al-
Qaeda fighters.

This decision by the Bush administration allowed CIA to capture al-Qaeda fighters we knew were a threat to the United States without on all occasions being dependent on the availability of another country’s outstanding legal process. The decision made the already successful Rendition Program even more effective.

The following particulars about the Rendition Program may be of interest to you.

First, from its start until today, the program was focused on senior al-Qaeda leaders and not aimed at the rank-and-file members. With only limited manpower to conduct the Rendition Program, CIA wanted to inflict as much damage on al-Qaeda as possible and therefore focused on senior leaders, financiers, terrorist operators,
field commanders, strategists and logisticians.

Second, to the best of my knowledge, not a single target of rendition has ever been kidnapped by CIA officers. The claims to the contrary by the Swedish Government regarding Mr. Aghiza and his associate and those by the Italian Government regarding Abu Omar are either misstatements or lies by those governments.

Indeed, it is passing strange that European leaders are here today to complain about a very successful and security enhancing U.S. Government counterterrorist operation when their European Union presides over the earth’s single largest terrorist safe haven, and has done so for a quarter century. The EU’s policy of easily obtainable political asylum and its prohibition against deporting wanted or convicted terrorists to a country with a death penalty have made Europe a major, consistent and invulnerable source of terrorist threat to the United States.

Third, each and every target of a rendition was vetted by a battery of lawyers at CIA and not infrequently by lawyers at the National Security Council and the Department of Justice. For each rendition target, I, and then my successors as the chief of bin Laden/al-Qaeda operations, had to prepare and present a written brief citing and explaining the intelligence information that made the rendition target a threat to the United States and/or its allies. If the brief was insufficient, the lawyers disapproved and no operation was conducted until that target—against that target rather until additional reliable evidence was collected.

Let me be very explicit and precise on this point. Not one single al-Qaeda leader has ever been rendered on the basis of any CIA officer’s hunch, guess, or caprice. These are scurrilous accusations that became fashionable after the Washington Post correspondent, Dana Priest, revealed information that damaged U.S. national security and, as a result, won a journalism prize for abetting America’s enemies and when such lamentable politicians as Senators McCain, Rockefeller, Graham and Levin followed Ms. Priest’s lead and began to attack the men and women of CIA who had risked their lives to protect America under the direct orders of two U.S. Presidents and with the full knowledge of the intelligence committees of the United States Congress. Both Ms. Priest and the gentlemen just mentioned have behaved disgracefully and ought to publicly apologize to the CIA’s men and women who have executed their government’s Rendition Program.

To proceed, the Rendition Program has been the single most effective counterterrorism operation ever conducted by the United States Government. Americans are safer today because of the program. But that degree of safety will ebb as the senators just mentioned slowly but surely destroy the program.

If there are those in this Congress, in the media or in this country or in Europe who believe that we would be safer if Khalid Shaykh Muhammed, Abu Zubaydah, Mr. Hambali, Ibn Shaykh al-Libi, Khalid bid Attash and several other senior al-Qaeda leaders were still free and on the street, then the educational systems and the reservoirs of common sense on both sides of the Atlantic are in a much more dilapidated shape than I thought.

Fifth, on the issue of how rendered al-Qaeda leaders have been treated in prison, I am unable to speak with authority about the conditions these men found in the Middle Eastern prisons they were delivered to at President Clinton’s direction. I would not, however, be surprised if their treatment was not up to U.S. standards.

This is a matter of no concern as the Rendition Program’s goal was to protect America, and the rendered fighters delivered to Middle Eastern governments are now either dead or in places from which they cannot harm America. Mission accomplished, as the saying goes.

Under President Bush, the rendered al-Qaeda fighters held in U.S. custody have been treated according to guidelines that were crafted by U.S. Government lawyers, approved by the executive branch and briefed to and permitted by at least the four senior members of the two congressional intelligence oversight committees.

Sixth, finally, I will close by saying that mistakes may well have been made during my tenure as the chief of CIA’s bin Laden’s operations; and if they were, they are my responsibility. Intelligence information is not the equivalent of courtroom quality evidence, and it never will be. But I will again stress that no rendition target was ever approved or captured without a written brief composed of intelligence information that persuaded competent U.S. Government legal authorities. If mistakes were made, I can only say that that is tough, but war is a tough and confusing business and a well-supportedchance to take action and protect Americans should always trump other considerations, especially pedantic worries about whether or not the intelligence data is airtight.

To destroy the Rendition Program because of a mistake or two or more would be to sacrifice the protection of Americans to venal and prize-hungry reporters like Ms. Priest, grandstanding politicians like those mentioned above and sanctimonious Europeans who take every bit of American protection offered them while publicly
damning and seeking jail time for those who risk their lives to provide that protection. If the Rendition Program is halted, we will truly be able to say, by paraphrasing the late John Wayne, that war is tough, and it is a lot tougher if you are deliberately stupid.


  1. If they're not US citizens, they just do not matter.

    Mr Scheuer not a "We are the World" kind of a guy.

  2. Whit...good stuff. Best I have read on the EB in a while. No offense, but a good many of us lurkers get really tired of the "Bush is a pussy" dialog that gets hashed and re-hashed here.

  3. This ain't beanbag:

    There is an area in Southern Thailand called the Red Zone where over there have been over 1,200 bombings since January 1, 2004.

    Over 2,200 people have died in the violence of a three-province area - comprising Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala - since January 2004, and another 3,654 people have been injured.

    That's just in one little country.

  4. A good place not to go on vacation, then.

    As Mr Scheuer said, not our problem, those in Thailand not a threat to the US, but a threat to Thailand.

    As he said in reference to Iran:

    "The Iranians are no threat to the United States unless we provoke them. They may be a threat to the Israelis. They�re not a threat to the United States. The threat to the United States, inside the United States, comes from al Qaeda. ...

    Unless of course "We are the World"

    The "World" not something I ever swore an oath to defend against all enemies, foreign or domestic.

    If we are going to take on the Jihadi, everywhere and anywhere, the Congress needs to act and declare rar on Islamic Jihad, which they have not done, and are not doing.

    There is not even debate on the subject of an International War against the Jihadi. The US is just engaged in a series of local conflicts, per the Supremes in the Hamdan decision and the Executive & Congress's response to that decision.

    Wish the authorities in Thailand well.

  5. As we do those in the Phillipines.

  6. Under President Bush, the rendered al-Qaeda fighters held in U.S. custody have been treated according to guidelines that were crafted by U.S. Government lawyers, approved by the executive branch and briefed to and permitted by at least the four senior members of the two congressional intelligence oversight committees.

    If Extraordinary Rendition is so legal and wonderful for National Security why did they destroy the video tapes?

  7. Because of the lawyers.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Those taped did not particpate in the Rendition process described.

    They were initially held by the US and remain in US custody, to this day. Now those that were interrogated are going to trial, per the Geneva Convention, Article 3, and the Supremes decision that Article 3 is germaine to the terrorists, captured in a local conflict.

  10. Desert Rat: Now those that were interrogated are going to trial, per the Geneva Convention, Article 3, and the Supremes decision that Article 3 is germaine to the terrorists, captured in a local conflict.

    Attorneys for Zacarias Moussaoui sought videotapes of interrogations they believed might help their client. In November 2005 a federal judge ordered the government to disclose whether it had video or audio tapes of specific interrogations. Eleven days later, the government denied it had them. Now it turns out the reason they didn't have them is because sometime in those eleven days they were destroyed. If I was the attourney for Moussaoui I would ask the judge to throw the case out of court, under the same principle that a DUI case gets thrown out when the lab loses the blood sample.

  11. Third, each and every target of a rendition was vetted by a battery of lawyers at CIA and not infrequently by lawyers at the National Security Council and the Department of Justice.

    Can't get away from the lawyers. I wonder how often those CIA lawyers say no.

  12. I wonder what a born again guy like Huckabee would do about rendition, etc. The Gospels don't seem to give a lot of guidance in the area, at least overtly.

  13. Huckabee recalled the five occasions he's had to sit by the phone on the eve of an execution.
    "It's the greatest sense of helplessness and despair you can imagine to know we've exhausted all help and hope here on earth for that person."

    from an older article about Huckabee.

  14. Here's a woman with her head screwed on straight.

  15. Bobal: I wonder what a born again guy like Huckabee would do about rendition, etc. The Gospels don't seem to give a lot of guidance in the area, at least overtly.

    Jesus said to visit the folks in prison. He didn't say to visit them with a tub of water and some Saran Wrap.

  16. The Christians of old Europe weren't exactly squimish a lot of the time. Maybe they used Luke 19:27 in support.

  17. Bobal, some say the Muslims, who are 1,400 years along from the time of the founder of their religion, behave very much like the Christians did when we were 1,400 years along from the time of the founder of our religion.

  18. Newsweek says Chavez lost the referendum by a bunch, and wanted to steal the election, but was prevented from doing so by the military, which makes sense, as with so close a margin he didn't ask for a recount or contest.

  19. Damn, cutler, but you made my night.

  20. "At a time when Congress and the courts are conducting important hearings on the critical question of extreme interrogation, and at a time when accusations of outright torture are helping to besmirch and discredit the United States all around the world, a senior official of the CIA takes the unilateral decision to destroy the crucial evidence."

    - Hitchens

    I can tell you what the inquiry is going to find. He had the full legal authority to destroy those tapes.

    And on every other count as well, Hitchens can bite me.

  21. "One of the most bizarre spots in the Cabinet War Rooms is the little alcove behind a toilet door. This was not Churchill's personal WC, but the terminus of the top secret telephone line with which Churchill and President Roosevelt could--with the aid of incredibly advanced scramblers and more than seventy radio frequencies--consult directly. Here, from this cubicle that everyone thought was Churchill's private loo, the world was governed between 1943-1945."

    from In Europe, Travels Through The Twentieth Century


  22. Gag Reflex,

    Michael Scheuer, on a c-span interview was asked about how the War in Iraq affected the war against Al-Qaeda. He stated that the war in Iraq was a disaster. That Saddam had kept the cork on the bottle and was our best ally against the Islamists.

    He further criticizes Bush for not getting Bin Laden at Tora Bora. He also criticizes Clinton who missed bin Laden ten times. I have suggested that we had an historic opportunity to use two tactical nuclear weapons to snuff out Bin laden at Tora Bora.

    Scheuer states that al-Qaeda has never been stronger or had more influence. He also states that AQ has never been more than 3000 strong. It has been argued here that the WOT was absurdly fought in an irrational and disproportionate fashion and in many ways has been counter-productive, if the mission is to wipe out AQ

    I am not sure that sentiment is far from mine and some others who frequently post here.

    Scheuer said that Bush is not serious about controlling our borders, a sentiment often expressed at the Elephant.

    Scheuer says our real enemies are the Saudis. Agreed again and argued so on this blog.

    Scheuer believes that the Pakis and the Anglo-shere are our only real allies in the WOT. He is very critical of the EU on rendition. I can think of no post at the Elephant the was critical of CIA treatment of prisoners.

    The fact is. there is no Elephant point of view. It is open for argument, debate and discussion. That is the way it should be kept and we certainly welcome your opinion and point of view.

    I cannot link the c-span video, but here is the information on the clip. I highly recommend that you watch and listen to this interview.

    Michael Scheuer, Former Head of CIA's Bin Laden Unit (1996-99), describes Al-Qaeda's Worldwide Influence. Michael Scheuer talks about Al-Qaeda's worldwide influence. Topics include the scope, influence and potential danger from Al-Qaeda. During the past week, two bombings in Iraq's parliament building and in Algeria have been linked to groups claiming connection to Al-Qaeda. Mr. Scheuer was the head of the Central Intelligence Agency's Bin Laden unit from 1996-1999. He is currently a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation.
    4/15/2007: WASHINGTON, DC: 28 min C-span

  23. According to this, perhaps dubious,report, the CIA could use a new postal service, maybe FedEx would work out better.

    In "Legacy of Ashes," Tim Weiner explains that as of 1989 the CIA "maintained a network of more than 40 Iranian agents, including midlevel military officers." The Iranians shut down the network, however, when "a CIA clerk mailed letters to all of the agents, all at the same time, all from the same mailbox, all in the same handwriting, all to the same address." This yielded a predictable result: "Every one of the CIA's Iranian spies was imprisoned, and many were executed for treason."

    The CIA managed to reconstitute a human spy network inside Iran after this fiasco, but that too was lost. According to James Risen, Weiner's colleague at the Times, a well-intending CIA agent inadvertently e-mailed a list of all of the CIA's spies inside Iran to a double agent, who was merely posing as our ally, in 2004.

    Risen explains in his book, "State of War," that "several of the Iranian agents were arrested and jailed," and we do not know what happened to others. "It left the CIA virtually blind in Iran," Risen explains, and "unable to provide any significant intelligence on one of the most critical issues facing the United States — whether Tehran was about to go nuclear."

  24. DIAs happier than hell to be under the radar, believe me you. (Oh, the irony.)

  25. This Article says the lawyers signed off on destroying the tapes.

  26. The Soviet leader had systematically ignored every signal indicating an approaching German invasion: the warnings of his ambassador Ivan Mayski in London, the reports from his own intelligence services, the secret messages from Churchill. In May 1941, Russia's top agent in Tokyo, the German correspondent Richard Sorge, had predicted Operation Barbarossa almost down to the day. At the time, Stalin had shouted: "Tell him to stick it up his arse."

    Twenty-five years later, when asked what had got into Stalin, Ivan Mayski replied: "Stalin was suspicious of everyone. The only person he trusted was Hitler."

    from In Europe

  27. If I was advising Mr Olmert, my advice would be to incinerate all Jihadi oil facilities in the Middle East.

  28. If I was advising Mr Olmert, my advice would be to incinerate all Jihadi oil facilities in the Middle East.

    What a waste. Why not just re-assign them to more western-friendly oil companies?