Saturday, April 11, 2009 By 3 Comments
Thursday, January 22, 2009 By Leave a Comment
- guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 17 December 2008 01.19 GMT
The outgoing US vice-president, Dick Cheney, last night gave an unapologetic assessment of his eight years in office, defending the invasion of Iraq, the US prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, secret wiretapping and the extreme interrogation method known as waterboarding.
In his first television interview since the presidential election in November, Cheney displayed no regrets and gave no ground to his many critics within America and around the world. He summed up his record by saying: “I think, given the circumstances we’ve had to deal with, we’ve done pretty well.”
He told ABC News he stood by the most controversial policies of the Bush administration, and urged president-elect Barack Obama to think hard before undoing them. Asked about the use of torture on terror suspects, he replied: “We don’t do torture. We never have. It’s not something this administration subscribes to.”
Later in the same interview, Cheney was asked whether the use of waterboarding in the interrogation of the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, had been appropriate. He replied: “I do.”
Waterboarding is a technique that induces the sensation of drowning, and is widely regarded as a form of torture. It was used on three high-level al-Qaida suspects, including Mohammed, but has since been banned by the US.
Cheney was chosen in 2000 by George Bush to be his vice-president; he did not put his own name forward for the job. He has since turned into one of the most divisive and reviled vice-presidents in US history, amassing to his office enormous powers and devising a stream of controversial policies.
Despite the vitriol he has attracted, and Bush’s historically low approval rating of just 29%, Cheney was still able to joke about his term in the White House.
He referred to a comment from Hillary Clinton likening him to the Star Wars character Darth Vader. “I asked my wife about that, if that didn’t bother her. She said, no, it humanises you.”
But his lack of any introspection over the decisions made under his watch – in contrast to Bush who recently said he had been sorry about the false intelligence over Iraq – will renew Cheney’s reputation as a combatant and uncompromising vice-president.
Though no weapons of mass destruction were ever found, he insisted that Saddam Hussein had had the capability to produce them.
“He had the technology, he had the people. This was a bad actor and the country’s better off, the world’s better off with Saddam gone. We made the right decision,” he said.
On Guantánamo, he challenged the incoming Obama administration to think hard about what he claimed were the “hardcore” detainees still being held at the Cuban base.
“What are you going to do with those prisoners?” he said, adding: “I don’t know any other nation in the world that would do what we’ve done in terms of taking care of people who are avowed enemies.”
He also defended the use of secret wiretapping of suspects that was carried out without court warrant.
“It’s worked. It’s been successful. It was legal from the very beginning.”
Given the role of hate-figure that Cheney has acquired over the years among the American left, many US liberals will be dismayed to hear him say that he largely approves of the cabinet put together by the president-elect.
He praised the decision to keep Robert Gates as defence secretary as “excellent” and predicted that General Jim Jones would be “very, very effective” as national security adviser.
He even complimented his old adversary, Hillary Clinton, Obama’s choice as secretary of state, saying “she’s tough, she’s smart, she works very hard and she may turn out to be just what President Obama needs.”
Cheney has 34 days left in office. This will be his fourth transition out of government and back to private life. He said he was not ready to retire yet, but did want to spend more time with his family. “Got some rivers I want to face. Maybe write a book. I haven’t decided yet.”
Sunday, January 11, 2009 By Leave a Comment
Issue dated Dec 22, 2008
Thomas M. Tamm was entrusted with some of the government’s most important secrets. He had a Sensitive Compartmented Information security clearance, a level above Top Secret. Government agents had probed Tamm’s background, his friends and associates, and determined him trustworthy.
It’s easy to see why: he comes from a family of high-ranking FBI officials. During his childhood, he played under the desk of J. Edgar Hoover, and as an adult, he enjoyed a long and successful career as a prosecutor. Now gray-haired, 56 and fighting a paunch, Tamm prides himself on his personal rectitude. He has what his 23-year-old son, Terry, calls a “passion for justice.” For that reason, there was one secret he says he felt duty-bound to reveal.
In the spring of 2004, Tamm had just finished a yearlong stint at a Justice Department unit handling wiretaps of suspected terrorists and spies—a unit so sensitive that employees are required to put their hands through a biometric scanner to check their fingerprints upon entering. While there, Tamm stumbled upon the existence of a highly classified National Security Agency program that seemed to be eavesdropping on U.S. citizens. The unit had special rules that appeared to be hiding the NSA activities from a panel of federal judges who are required to approve such surveillance. When Tamm started asking questions, his supervisors told him to drop the subject. He says one volunteered that “the program” (as it was commonly called within the office) was “probably illegal.”
Tamm agonized over what to do. He tried to raise the issue with a former colleague working for the Senate Judiciary Committee. But the friend, wary of discussing what sounded like government secrets, shut down their conversation. For weeks, Tamm couldn’t sleep. The idea of lawlessness at the Justice Department angered him. Finally, one day during his lunch hour, Tamm ducked into a subway station near the U.S. District Courthouse on Pennsylvania Avenue. He headed for a pair of adjoining pay phones partially concealed by large, illuminated Metro maps. Tamm had been eyeing the phone booths on his way to work in the morning. Now, as he slipped through the parade of midday subway riders, his heart was pounding, his body trembling. Tamm felt like a spy. After looking around to make sure nobody was watching, he picked up a phone and called The New York Times.
That one call began a series of events that would engulf Washington—and upend Tamm’s life. Eighteen months after he first disclosed what he knew, the Times reported that President George W. Bush had secretly authorized the NSA to intercept phone calls and e-mails of individuals inside the United States without judicial warrants. The drama followed a quiet, separate rebellion within the highest ranks of the Justice Department concerning the same program. (James Comey, then the deputy attorney general, together with FBI head Robert Mueller and several other senior Justice officials, threatened to resign.) President Bush condemned the leak to the Times as a “shameful act.” Federal agents launched a criminal investigation to determine the identity of the culprit.
The story of Tamm’s phone call is an untold chapter in the history of the secret wars inside the Bush administration. The New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for its story. The two reporters who worked on it each published books. Congress, after extensive debate, last summer passed a major new law to govern the way such surveillance is conducted. But Tamm—who was not the Times’s only source, but played the key role in tipping off the paper—has not fared so well. The FBI has pursued him relentlessly for the past two and a half years. Agents have raided his house, hauled away personal possessions and grilled his wife, a teenage daughter and a grown son. More recently, they’ve been questioning Tamm’s friends and associates about nearly every aspect of his life. Tamm has resisted pressure to plead to a felony for divulging classified information. But he is living under a pall, never sure if or when federal agents might arrest him.
Exhausted by the uncertainty clouding his life, Tamm now is telling his story publicly for the first time. “I thought this [secret program] was something the other branches of the government—and the public—ought to know about. So they could decide: do they want this massive spying program to be taking place?” Tamm told NEWSWEEK, in one of a series of recent interviews that he granted against the advice of his lawyers. “If somebody were to say, who am I to do that? I would say, ‘I had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution.’ It’s stunning that somebody higher up the chain of command didn’t speak up.”