John Durham and the Ghosts of Abu Ghraib
The Trump Justice Department has decided to open a criminal investigation into the origins into the FBI’s investigation into the links between the Trump campaign and Russia. Leading this investigation is a veteran federal prosecutor named John Durham.
The New York Times reports that Durham wants to interview former officials who ran the CIA in 2016. Some CIA officials have retained criminal lawyers in anticipation of being questioned.
Durham has investigated the CIA before in a case that I know very well. And the outcome of that investigation tells us a lot about what justice means when it comes to the actions of the U.S. intelligence community.
In 2009, Durham was tapped to investigate the homicide of an Iraqi prisoner named Manadel al-Jamadi. Al-Jamadi’s corpse appears in the gruesome photos taken by U.S. soldiers in Abu Ghraib prison. Grinning soldiers flash thumbs up over his decomposing body.
Al-Jamadi was a “high-value target,” suspecting of supplying explosives in the October 2003 bombing of a Red Cross facility in Baghdad that killed 12 and a group of Navy SEALs was sent out to go and get him. The SEALs captured al-Jamadi in his home the following month in a nighttime raid. They had returned to their base. There, the SEAL and CIA team that captured ai-Jamadi took turns punching, kicking and striking him with their rifles after he was detained in a small area in the Navy camp at Baghdad International Airport known as the “Romper Room.”
A CIA interrogator threatened him, saying: “I’m going to barbecue you if you don’t tell me the information.” A government report states that another CIA security guard recalled al-Jamadi saying he was dying. “You’ll be wishing you were dying,” the interrogator replied.
Al-Jamadi was handed over to the CIA. The next day, he was dead.
A group of Navy SEALs was being prosecuted for abusing al-Jamadi – but, critically, not for killing him. Exactly how al-Jamadi died was shrouded in mystery and the CIA was working very hard to keep it that way. A team of young CIA lawyers sat with us journalists during the courtroom proceedings in a San Diego Navy base. When one of the SEALs’ defense lawyers asked a curious question – “what position was al-Jamadi in when he died?” – a CIA lawyer stood up and objected. “That’s classified,” he said.
Back then, when I working for The Associated Press, I found out that al-Jamadi had died in the shower room at Abu Ghraib a position known as a “Palestinian hanging” – a position that human rights groups condemn as torture.
His arms, which were handcuffed behind his back, were attached by a chain to the wall behind him. If he tried to sit or lie down his arms would be wrenched up painfully behind his back. And that’s how he died, with his arms wrenched behind his back. One Army guard, Sgt. Jeffery Frost, told investigators he was surprised al-Jamadi’s arms “didn’t pop out of their sockets.”
This was a crucifixion. “Asphyxia is what he died from — as in a crucifixion,” said the military pathologist who ruled the case a homicide.
There were only two people in the room with al-Jamadi when he died, a CIA interrogator and a translator. The interrogator’s name, I found out later, was Mark B. Swanner.
Swanner told guards that al-Jamadi was “playing possum” — faking it — and then watched as guards struggled to get him on his feet. But the guards realized it was useless.
“After we found out he was dead, they were nervous,” Spc. Dennis E. Stevanus said of the CIA interrogator and translator. “They didn’t know what the hell to do.” Blood was cleaned up. Evidence was disposed of and al-Jamadi was spirited out of the prison with an IV attached to his lifeless arm to make it appear that he was still alive.
But years later, all that had come of it was that a bunch of Navy SEALs were spending their life savings hiring defense attorneys. Of the 10 who were accused, nine ended up with nonjudicial punishment. A SEAL officer was acquitted at trial.
As for Swanner, nothing was happening to him. The CIA’s Inspector General referred the case to the Justice Department, but nothing happened. Jane Mayer of The New Yorker wrote a big story about Swanner. Still nothing.
In August 2009, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder directed Durham to review roughly a dozen cases of alleged abuse against “war on terror” suspects that had gone dormant. He narrowed the cases down to two: Al-Jamadi and an Afghani named Gul Rahman.
Durham convened a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia and began calling witnesses. TIME magazine obtained a subpoena signed by Durham that stated “the grand jury is conducting an investigation of possible violations of federal criminal laws involving War Crimes (18 USC/2441), Torture (18 USC 243OA) and related federal offenses.”
Once again, the Navy SEALs who captured al-Jamadi were called up to testify. One SEAL called me after he received a subpoena. He was angry and upset that he had to go through the whole ordeal all over again. I put him in touch with a DC attorney I knew who agreed to help him out.
Three years went by. In 2012, Holder announced that “based on the fully developed factual record concerning the two deaths, the department has declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The word “admissible” is doing a lot of work in that sentence.
Durham had looked at whether Swanner had used “unauthorized” interrogation techniques. “The approach taken in the inquiry was not to prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the justice department’s Office of Legal Counsel regarding the interrogation of detainees,” the Guardian wrote.
In other words, CIA officers were immune from prosecution as long as they stayed within the guidelines of the dubious “Torture Memo” drafted in 2002 by John Yoo that was withdrawn, reinstated, and ultimately rescinded by President Obama. Although Yoo’s memo only applied to one high-level al Qaida suspect, the CIA treated it as a generalized authorization to use the “enhanced” techniques on detainees held at black sites.
According to Yoo’s memo, placing a prisoner on the floor with legs extended and arms raised above his head was authorized as a “stress position.” Yoo said such a position “falls far below the threshold of severe physical pain” that would constitute torture.
The legal reasoning here, as applied to Swanner, appears to have been equally tortured, for it implies that although al-Jamadi was crucified to death he didn’t experience severe physical pain.
When Durham’s decision was announced, the CIA breathed a sigh of relief; human rights advocates called it a scandal. “Continuing impunity threatens to undermine the universally recognized prohibition on torture and other abusive treatment,” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The question is whether John Durham will find a way to do what he failed to in the al-Jamadi case: prosecute CIA officials for daring to investigate a presidential campaign that, as the Muller Report found, welcomed offers of Russian assistance.
It may be that investigating a presidential candidate carries greater risks than crucifying a man to death.
Some Useful Trump/Russia Definitions
The Trump/Russia scandal has filled our heads with a lot of intelligence jargon. Unwitting asset. Agent. Active measures. But what do these words actually mean?
Someone pointed me to the CIA’s own Glossary of Intelligence Terms, created in 1989. Granted it’s a bit outdated, but it’s also quite helpful. (I am indebted to The Black Vault, an online repository of declassified documents for the glossary.)
Here’s how the CIA defines active measures:
Active measures: A literal translation of a Russian phrase that is used to describe overt and covert techniques and intelligence operations designed to advance Soviet foreign policy objectives and to influence events in foreign countries by altering people’s perceptions. Active measures should not be confused with legitimate diplomatic activities.
We often hear Trump described as a possible asset, unwitting or otherwise, of Russia. But according to the CIA’s glossary this isn’t the right use of the word.
Agent (1) A person who engages in clandestine intelligence activity under the direction of an intelligence organization but who is not an officer, employee, or co-opted worker of that organization. (2) An individual who acts under the direction of an intelligence agency or security service to obtain, or assist in obtaining, information for intelligence or counterintelligence purposes. (3) One who is authorized or instructed to obtain or to assist in obtaining information for intelligence or counterintelligence purposes.
A better word is asset.
Asset: (1) Any resource — a person, group, relationship, instrument installation, supply — at the disposition of an intelligence agency for use in an operational or support role. (2) A person who contributes to a clandestine mission but is not a fully controlled agent. (Also see intelligence asset, national intelligence asset, and tactical intelligence asset.)
We recently learned that the FBI had opened a counterintelligence investigation into Trump after his firing of James Comey. Here’s how the CIA defines it.
Counterintelligence: Information gathered and activities conducted to protect against espionage, other intelligence activities, sabotage, or assassinations conducted for or on behalf of foreign powers, organizations, persons, or terrorist activities, but not including personnel, physical, document, or communications security programs. (Also see foreign counterintelligence, security countermeasures, and technical surveillance countermeasures.)
It’s interesting to view propaganda from an intelligence perspective.
Propaganda: Any form of communication in support of national objectives designed to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, or behavior of any group in order to benefit the sponsor, either directly or indirectly.
The dossier compiled by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele is often described as raw intelligence.
Raw intelligence: A colloquial term meaning collected intelligence information that has not yet been converted into finished intelligence. (Also see intelligence information.)
That takes us to another definition.
Finished intelligence: (1) The product resulting from the collection, processing, integration, analysis, evaluation, and interpretation of available information concerning foreign countries or areas. (2) The final result of the production step of the intelligence cycle; the intelligence product. (Also see intelligence cycle and end product.)
Let me know if this is helpful or there are any other terms you’d like to see explained.
San Diego Island to Become ‘Battle Lab’
Via Defense News:
The HALO Corp., San Diego-based organization founded by former Special Operations, National Security, and Intelligence personnel, which is hosting its sixth annual Counter-Terrorism Summit at the end of October at the Paradise Point Resort & Spa in San Diego.
Strategic Operations of San Diego, will help conduct tactical training exercises on the island. This should include a recreated Middle Eastern village, battlefield effects, combat wounds and medical simulations. Participants can also expect a simulated Somali pirate invasion to grace the resort’s shores. Unmanned aerial vehicles are likely to be floating overhead as well.
Keynote speakers include former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden; Alejandro Romero, Mexico’s interior secretary and Michael Downing, the director of LAPD’s counter-terrorism and special ops bureau. Cool classes will be offered like Social Engineering: The Art of Human Hacking by Chris Hadnagy. (Highly recommend his book).
I’d love to go, but it’s $1000 a person.
A Goldline History: Glenn Beck, Spooks, Drugs
Following my recent post on Goldline, a precious metals coin dealer and sponsor of conservative gasbag Glenn Beck, I decided to poke around a bit in the company’s history, which is pretty fascinating.
As I wrote earlier, Goldline is drawing heat from its bait-and-switch pratices of selling rare gold coins like the 20 Swiss Franc. Beck is definitely taking notice of the attention he is bringing to Goldline following reports by ABC News and Media Matters:
It turns out that the company known today as Goldline has been a source of intrigue and controversy for years.
It was founded a half-century ago by Nicholas Deak, a spy-turned-banker, whom Time magazine called “the James Bond of the world of money.”
Born to a family of Transylvanian bankers, Deak joined the U.S. Army as a paratrooper and later became a senior intelligence officer in the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA. After the war, he helped launch an exchange firm that grew to 70 offices worldwide. By the late 1970s, Deak & Co. was handling 20 percent of all U.S. retail gold sales.
But there were persistent rumors that Deak’s work had a more sinister aspect. In his study of the infamous Nugan Hand bank of Australia, The Crimes of Patriots, journalist Jonathan Kwitny wrote:
For years, it was whispered that Deak had a close working relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency. Certainly the CIA would have been derelict not to try to keep tabs on Deak. And there would have been a lot for Deak to gain by trading off with the world’s biggest spy agency, because much of the company’s business involved speculation about the relative future value of the world’s currencies.
Deak & Co. had a hand in shady deals with shadowy figures, including its role as the conduit of Lockheed Corporation’s bribes to Japanese officials.
Federal prosecutors charged Deak & Co. of California with Bank Secrecy Act violations in 1977 for failing to report $11 million two Filipinos sent to the United States.
Ron Pulger-Frame, a courier who worked for both Deak and Nugan Hand, told the official bankruptcy receiver’s office in Hong Kong in 1981, “Deak’s had a system which was devised by me to circumvent Australian exchange regulations.”
President Reagan’s Commission on Organized Crime charged in 1984 that Deak & Co. had been involved in a multi-million dollar laundering operation for Colombian cocaine traffickers. Nearly $100 million was laundered through Deak by a single criminal. The company filed for bankruptcy before the year ended.
In 1985, a homeless woman from Seattle entered Deak’s Wall Street offices and opened fire with a .38-caliber revolver, killing the 80-year-old financier and a receptionist. (Time magazine on Deak’s slaying )
The Thomas Cook Group, best known for its brand of traveler’s checks, bought the company in 1988 and sold it three years later to A-Mark Precious Metals of Santa Monica, the largest private precious metals dealer in the United States and one of only a handful of companies authorized to purchase gold bullion coins directly from the U.S. Mint.
A-Mark was started in the 1960s by a California teenage coin buff named Steven C. Markoff, whose politics are the polar opposite of Glenn Beck’s. Markoff is a supporter of the ACLU, an avowed critic of U.S. marijuana policy, and a movie producer (all of which would make him a Hollywood leftist, in Beck’s view).
In 2005, Markoff sold A-Mark Precious Metals to its current owner, Irvine, California-based Spectrum Group International for $20 million cash.
The corporate history then gets very murky. In 2006, H.I.G. Capital in Miami, bought Goldline’s parent company, Goldline Holdings Inc., according to this Federal Trade Commission filing. This deal, as far as I can tell, received no other public announcement.
Goldline changed hands again in January 2009 when management and CIVC Partners, a Chicago-based private equity firm, acquired the firm in a transaction worth over $50 million. At the time, Goldline’s revenues were in excess of $300 million.
It’s the infusion of capital from CIVC that has apparently helped Goldline expand its presence through endorsements from conservative commentators and personalities like Glenn Beck and others.
Anwar Awlaki Justifies the Killing of Innocents
Former San Diego imam Anwar Awlaki — who once called Islam a religion of peace — has given an interview to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and justified the killing of American civilians in no uncertain terms:
Interviewer: Do you support such operations, even though they target what the media calls ‘innocent civilians?’
Anwar Al-Awlaki: Yes. With regard to the issue of ‘civilians,’ this term has become prevalent these days, but I prefer to use the terms employed by our jurisprudents. They classify people as either combatants or non-combatants. A combatant is someone who bears arms – even if this is a woman. Non-combatants are people who do not take part in the war. The American people in its entirety takes part in the war, because they elected this administration, and they finance this war. In the recent elections, and in the previous ones, the American people had other options, and could have elected people who did not want war. Nevertheless, these candidates got nothing but a handful of votes. We should examine this issue from the perspective of Islamic law, and this settles the issue – is it permitted or forbidden? If the heroic mujahid brother Umar Farouk could have targeted hundreds of soldiers, that would have been wonderful. But we are talking about the realities of war. (Via MEMRI.)
He calls Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day “underwear bomber” as his “students” and urges Muslims to follow in their footsteps.
Our unsettled account with America includes, at the very least, one million women and children. I’m not even talking about the men. Our unsettled account with America, in women and children alone, has exceeded one million. Those who would have been killed in the [attempted Christmas Day bombing] are a drop in the ocean.
Former San Diego imam Anwar Awlaki is no longer the man he once was a few years ago. After the Sept. 11 attacks, the US-born Awlaki categorically rejected violent jihad against American civilians. Trace his (de)evolution via my Anwar Awlaki Timeline.
It’s interesting to contrast this with Awlaki’s own words after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks when he gave numerous interviews to the press
About killing, the greatest sin in Islam after associating other gods besides Allah is killing an innocent soul. Source
As he has in the past, Awlaki makes repeated references to the propaganda war he says the US is waging against Islam. He recites a phrase from an anonymous CIA official quoted in a 2005 US News & World Report article and makes reference to a 2004 report by the RAND Corporation titled “Civil Democratic Islam.”
This is the undercurrent of the discussion about Awlaki among his fans, as filmmaker Kamran Pasha, writes in The Huffington Post:
When I have publicly criticized al-Awlaki, I have received emails from his devotees saying that he is being “set up” by the US government. And yet when I ask them what they mean by this, there is always pin-drop silence. His followers seem to want to believe that the good, charismatic man that they adore is somehow being falsely portrayed in the media as a villain as part of some PSY/OPS manipulation game. And yet when I ask if someone else is posting his increasingly radical and extremist sermons through his website (a CIA agent posing as al-Awlaki, let’s say), there is more silence. It is as if his followers want to keep clinging to the man he once was and selectively ignore his recent calls for the murder of civilians in the name of Islam.
There have been so many twists and turns in the Awlaki story that it’s difficult to keep track of them all.
Back in his San Diego days, Awlaki was himself accused by another imam of being part of a CIA plot, as Brian Fishman noted on Jihadica.