History Commons Groups

April 23, 2011

16 new posts…


Most on the “birther” issue in Domestic Propaganda, but some new football entries in Miscellaneous (new project for European Football coming soon!), a few in Domestic Terrorism, and one in Torture and Prisoner Abuse.

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October 19, 2010

Reasoning Behind the CIA’s Italian Job

Filed under: Torture and Abuse — kevinfenton @ 2:00 am
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Scott Horton recently interviewed Steve Hendricks, who has just published a book about the CIA’s rendition of Abu Omar from Milan to Egypt in 2003. The thing that strikes me as most intriguing about the case is the reasoning for Abu Omar’s kidnap. This is Hendricks’ take:

Abu Omar was almost certainly a terrorist but, as you say, of middling or even lowish rank and without imminent plans to attack. Because the Italians had him under thorough surveillance, they almost certainly would have been able to arrest him if his plans changed, and in any case they were going to arrest him in a month or two when they had gotten all the intelligence they could from his cell. In other words, there was no reason at all to render him, even by the CIA’s own criteria, which amounted to getting the “worst of the worst” off the streets before they could do serious harm.

The most convincing theory to explain why the CIA snatched Abu Omar is that the agency’s chief of station in Italy, Jeff Castelli, wanted a promotion. After September 11, renditions were all the rage in the CIA. Station chiefs around the world were collecting scalps. Several Italians and Americans who worked with Castelli believe he convinced Langley to approve the rendition by exaggerating the threat Abu Omar posed and denigrating the Italians’ monitoring of him. Castelli had boosters at Langley who were grooming him for a higher post, and at least one or two of them were among those who weigh the merits of proposed renditions and approved or denied them. Probably Castelli’s boosters were overly eager to help their man get his scalp.

A lesson here is that although we think of the CIA as a spy agency, it is also—I might even argue it is foremost—a bureaucracy, and its bureaucrats have most of the motivations of bureaucrats elsewhere. Sure, they work for the good of their country as they perceive it, but they’re also looking out for themselves, and career often trumps country. The opportunity for mischief is all the greater because the CIA has very successfully fought off outside oversight and hidden its sins under the opaque cloak of national security.

I have to say that I don’t buy this for a second, but I can’t really come up with something that is much better. Here’s a simple question that bugs me: why pick Abu Omar? If any old low-to-middle-ranking militant would do, why did Castelli pick Abu Omar?

September 8, 2010

What ‘Albert’ Did First

Filed under: Torture and Abuse — kevinfenton @ 3:31 pm
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The AP today published a story identifying the CIA officer who tried to scare al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri with a gun and power drill by the alias “Albert.” It also mentions that “Albert” had previously worked for the FBI as a translator in New York, as well as other nuggets of information such as the fact he later left the agency and returned as a (presumably better paid) contractor.

Upon reading this, I could not help but recall that we may have come across this guy before in another, similar context. From Jane Mayer’s Dark Side, regarding the CIA taking militant training camp manager Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi away from the FBI:

… Several days into what the FBI regarded as winning al-Libi’s trust, a young Arabic-speaking CIA officer named “Albert,” who had previously worked for [FBI agent Jack Cloonan] Cloonan at the FBI as a junior language specialist, burst into the cell where [FBI agent Russell] Fincher was questioning al-Libi and started shouting at the prisoner. “You’re going to Egypt!” he yelled. “And while you’re there, I’m going to find your mother and f*ck her!”

Mayer says that “Albert” is “young,” whereas the AP story gives his age as 60 (meaning he would have been 51 in 2001), so that’s not right, but the fact that the aliases are identical–and the AP story hints that “Albert” might be his real first name–and the fact that both Alberts were previously FBI translators in New York lead me to believe that both Alberts may be the same guy (and let’s not forget both of them had a penchant for methods that some might describe as overly aggressive).

I had previously speculated that the Albert who threatened al-Libi was Andrew Warren (a young and, apparently, also crazy CIA officer in Afghanistan at that time), but this speculation now appears to be completely wrong. Nevertheless, I am gratified that two of the people we have been writing about have turned out to be not two people, but one person. I suspect that as we learn more about what has being going on, there will be more and more of this.

February 5, 2010

Abu Zubaida Was Not Waterboarded 83 Times

Filed under: Torture and Abuse — kevinfenton @ 10:02 am
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There is a story going round the press and the internet that militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida was waterboarded 83 times by the CIA in August 2002. However, this story is not true, as I will show.

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January 18, 2010

One Lie from KSM’s Confessions


One feeling I have always had from reading KSM’s confessions, or rather the information that has slipped through to the media from them, is not only that he was lying, but that he was lying in specific ways. First, he seems to me to have been lying for the usual reason of telling his torturers what he thought they wanted to hear to get them to stop torturing him. Second, he seems to have been lying for the specific purpose of benefiting his associates.

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January 8, 2010

Can’t Help Wondering Who She Was

Filed under: Complete 911 Timeline,Torture and Abuse — kevinfenton @ 3:55 pm
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There is some interesting information coming out of the attack on the CIA drone intelligence base in Afghanistan at the end of last year. The most important figure there seems to have been the base chief.

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January 7, 2010

Name that Contractor

Filed under: Complete 911 Timeline,Torture and Abuse — kevinfenton @ 4:05 pm
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As I continue to digest the recent Vanity Fair piece on Blackwater owner Erik Prince by estranged CIA lawyer Adam Ciralsky, I cannot but help recall the Imam Rapito affair. A while back there was a great article about the case in GQ by Matthew Cole. Maybe this is significant, about the behaviour of the CIA team in Milan:

At least two others decided to use the trip for romantic encounters in rooms at some of Milan’s swankier hotels, like the Sheraton Diana Majestic and the Principe di Savoia, on the CIA’s dime. One team member, believed to be a freelance contractor, used his real name when checking in to hotels.

It says “believed to be a freelance contractor.” However, it is clear from the Vanity Fair piece that Prince was helping with the programme  even before it was formally outsourced to Blackwater in 2004. For example, he kindly let the relevant officers hone their assassination techniques at his house.

I can’t help wondering whether the contractor really was freelance, or whether he was from Blackwater. Cole is said to be writing a book about the case, so maybe he will now find out more for that.

November 14, 2009

The Real Reason Only Five Detainees Are Coming to New York?


US Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced that five detainees would be moved from Guantanamo Bay to New York, where they would stand trial for carrying out the 9/11 attacks. However, five other detainees will continue to be tried before military commissions, which have lower standards of evidence. The five detainees coming to New York have previously indicated they intend to plead guilty, although the five to be tried before military commissions have not.

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The Very Evident Guilt of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri


The US Justice Department yesterday announced that five Guantanamo detainees would finally be moved to New York to face a normal trial, while others, including alleged USS Cole bombing mastermind Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, would face not ordinary trials, but military commissions.

Reading between the lines of the officials statements and taking comment pieces into account, it seems that the reason for this is that prosecutors are confident of convicting the five to be sent to New York (who will very probably plead guilty, so there won’t be a trial), but not so sure they could convict al-Nashiri.

I was pretty surprised by this decision, and would simply like to highlight some evidence indicating al-Nashiri’s guilt that, in my opinion, is very strong and would very probably be admissible in a normal court. Primarily, this is the statement al-Nashiri made at his military commission hearing in spring 2007 (and presumably similar statements he would have made to FBI investigators in Guantanamo Bay).

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November 10, 2009

The New York Times Drops Stephen Kappes in It

Filed under: Torture and Abuse — kevinfenton @ 1:31 am
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The New York Times had a long article yesterday about the “Italian job” rendition of an Islamist extremist known as Abu Omar. I liked the last two paragraphs best:

Most of the top C.I.A. officers said to have planned the Abu Omar rendition have left the agency, with the exception of Stephen R. Kappes, who at the time was the assistant director of the C.I.A.’s clandestine branch.

He is now the C.I.A.’s second ranking official.

This is the first mention of Kappes’ involvement I know of. Nice of the NYT to wait until the last two paragraphs to drop him in it. I’m sure it was read with interest at the prosecutor’s office in Milan.

Hattip: Scott Horton.

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