“In the past, presidents set up buffers to distance themselves from covert action,” said A. John Radsan, assistant general counsel at the CIA from 2002 to 2004. “But this president, who is breaking down the boundaries between covert action and conventional war, seems to relish the secret findings and the dirty details of operations.”
It’s sooo much fun pretending to be president. Oh, wait …
The paragraph above is from an article by Dana Priest in today’s Washington Post, “Covert CIA Program Withstands New Furor: Anti-Terror Effort Continues to Grow.” Priest describes a CIA program called “GTS,” which has “grown into the largest CIA covert action program since the height of the Cold War.”
GST includes programs allowing the CIA to capture al Qaeda suspects with help from foreign intelligence services, to maintain secret prisons abroad, to use interrogation techniques that some lawyers say violate international treaties, and to maintain a fleet of aircraft to move detainees around the globe. Other compartments within GST give the CIA enhanced ability to mine international financial records and eavesdrop on suspects anywhere in the world.
Over the past two years, as aspects of this umbrella effort have burst into public view, the revelations have prompted protests and official investigations in countries that work with the United States, as well as condemnation by international human rights activists and criticism by members of Congress.
Still, virtually all the programs continue to operate largely as they were set up, according to current and former officials. These sources say Bush’s personal commitment to maintaining the GST program and his belief in its legality have been key to resisting any pressure to change course.
Covert torture programs are even more fun than executions! Our president seems to relish the secret findings and the dirty details of operations! No buffers! But you know what this means? This means …
The administration contends it is still acting in self-defense after the Sept. 11 attacks, that the battlefield is worldwide, and that everything it has approved is consistent with the demands made by Congress on Sept. 14, 2001, when it passed a resolution authorizing “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks.”
“Everything is done in the name of self-defense, so they can do anything because nothing is forbidden in the war powers act,” said one official who was briefed on the CIA’s original cover program and who is skeptical of its legal underpinnings. “It’s an amazing legal justification that allows them to do anything,” said the official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issues.
Extreme times call for extreme lawyering:
“The Bush administration did not seek a broad debate on whether commander-in-chief powers can trump international conventions and domestic statutes in our struggle against terrorism,” said Radsan,[*] the former CIA lawyer, who is a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minn. “They could have separated the big question from classified details to operations and had an open debate. Instead, an inner circle of lawyers and advisers worked around the dissenters in the administration and one-upped each other with extreme arguments.”
* A. John Radsan, assistant general counsel at the CIA from 2002 to 2004.
One way the White House limited debate over its program was to virtually shut out Congress during the early years. Congress, for its part, raised only weak and sporadic protests. The administration sometimes refused to give the committees charged with overseeing intelligence agencies the details they requested. It also cut the number of members of Congress routinely briefed on these matters, usually to four members — the chairmen and ranking Democratic members of the House and Senate intelligence panels.
So, the CIA has been free to develop new procedures, such as:
The CIA has stuck with its overall approaches, defending and in some cases refining them. The agency is working to establish procedures in the event a prisoner dies in custody. One proposal circulating among mid-level officers calls for rushing in a CIA pathologist to perform an autopsy and then quickly burning the body, according to two sources.
Nasty stuff. But Bush has forgotten the Michael Corleone buffer rule, as explained in Godfather II:
Senator Pat Geary: Mr. Cici, was there always a buffer involved?
Willi Cici: A what?
Senator Pat Geary: A buffer. Someone in between you and your possible superiors who passed on to you the actual order to kill someone.
Willi Cici: Oh yeah, a buffer. The family had a lot of buffers!
This will make the eventual prosecution at The Hague soooo much easier.