ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
At the Supreme Court today, an unexpectedly tense argument over CIA torture at black sites after the 9/11 attacks. The question before the court was whether the government - first under Obama, then Trump, and now the Biden administration - could block testimony from the government contractors who supervised the torture. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports.
NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: At the center of the case is Abu Zubaydah, a Guantanamo detainee who's never been charged with a crime, though he's been in U.S. custody for 20 years. He was the first prisoner held by the CIA to undergo extensive torture, reportedly at black sites in Thailand and Poland, before being transferred to Guantanamo in 2006. A Senate Intelligence Committee report subsequently documented that he was subjected to years of horrific treatment, including being waterboarded 83 times in just 20 days. Though eventually it turned out that he was not the top al-Qaida operative that the CIA thought he was.
Now Zubaydah has subpoenaed the government contractors who supervised his questioning. They've testified twice before in other litigation, and one wrote a book about it. But this time, the government is seeking to block their testimony on grounds of national security. The problem today was that this national security secret is no secret at all. In fact, the justices and lawyers mentioned Poland 103 times during the 70-minute argument in connection with torture. And many of the justices seem torn between deferring to the executive branch to protect state secrets on the one hand and on the other aiding an absurd fiction.
Acting Solicitor General Brian Fletcher rejected the idea of using code words to conceal the location of the black sites. After all, he noted, Zubaydah's subpoenas are aimed at providing further information for a Polish prosecutor who's reopened an inquiry into the matter. Lawyer David Klein, representing Zubaydah, initially had a harder time. Here, for instance, is an exchange with Justice Barrett.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
AMY CONEY BARRETT: The fact that he was tortured by these contractors in Poland - that's not a state secret.
DAVID KLEIN: That's correct, because the very fact of torture - the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques - are not a secret. They are declassified by the government. The fact that the site is in Poland and that he was taken there was found by a court of law and also acknowledged by Poland's president, who said that he approved it. So no, we don't think that those facts are state secrets.
TOTENBERG: Chief Justice Roberts didn't seem to buy that argument.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JOHN ROBERTS: But you don't have the United States government acknowledging that. And the United States government says this is critically important because our friends, allies, intelligence sources around the world have to believe that we keep our word. And our word was, this is secret.
TOTENBERG: Justice Breyer interjected to ask why lawyer Klein didn't just have his client testify. After all, he knows what happened to him.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
KLEIN: Abu Zubaydah cannot testify. He is...
STEPHEN BREYER: Why not?
KLEIN: Because he is being held incommunicado.
TOTENBERG: The argument took a dramatic turn when Klein sat down and the government's Fletcher rose to make a rebuttal argument. But he got just five words out of his mouth when Justice Gorsuch launched a grenade.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
NEIL GORSUCH: Why not make the witness available? What is the government's objection to the witness testifying to his own treatment and not requiring any admission from the government of any kind?
Check out the full report. And now this is the latest from Richard Medhurst.
This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:
Wednesday, October 6, 2021. Why the reluctance on the part of the press to cover John Chilcot's death? One of many questions we ponder.
Starting with the death of John Chilcot. We noted this passing in yesterday's snapshot. A number of e-mails came in regarding the passing and some complaining that we didn't offer more on it. We offered three Tweets. We offered two Tweets and we could have offered more Tweets. We quoted from Hilary Meredith (Solicitors Limited) piece. And we noted WIKIPEdIA. Some of you are complaining to the public account that more wasn't offered. WIKIPEIDA was citing the only UK report on Chilcot's death -- and that was behind a paywall. I have no idea why this death didn't produce more British coverage.
13 hours ago, THE DAILY MAIL published an unsigned piece which includes:
The senior civil servant was chairman of the probe into the failings in the conflict, which killed 179 British personnel and tens of thousands of Iraqis.
Sir John died of kidney disease on Sunday. He is survived by wife Rosalind.
Two hours ago, Ralph Hewitt's piece went up at THE BELFAST TELEGRAPH:
Search John Chilcot at the UK's INDEPENDENT and right now there's still no news that he died. I find no coverage at the BBC. If you look at the sidebar of this site where the links are, right now, you'll see (pay attention the second to the last one):
So 19 hours ago, THE GUARDIAN published a piece. We'll quote from that in a second. But all that I'm mentioning about the October 3rd death came after yesterday's snapshot. Today's the sixth. John Chilcot died the third. Yesterday morning was the 5th, two days after and there was one news report. And even now, major UK outlets haven't noted it.
Seems strange how they've downplayed the death
He was selected to head the inquiry because of his past history. The inquiry was well covered in the British press. He had been bestowed the title "sir." Many, many factors lead one to believe that his passing would be worthy of news attention.
Yesterday's snapshot, at the bottom, includes this: "I can remember a time when the ICR used to flood the public e-mail account with various items and we'd ignore them because I don't approve of the ICR. That was years and years ago, when we had many outlets we could highlight. As more and more have WalkedOn.org from Iraq, we can't be so picky sadly."
So the failure to note what should be a historical passing may be little more than the fatigue the press has long had over the Iraq War. They were so eager to promote it before it started but almost immediately they began whining and finding other things to cover. Remember when NBC and other networks had daily reports on the news? Those had stopped by May of 2003. By 2008, they were rushing to get out of Iraq and using the election of Barack Obama to justify it, the war is over they falsely chirped.
ABC-DISNEY-MARVEL-FOX-LIQUID PLUMBER (I'm sure shortly) may be a huge conglomeration -- that anti-trust legislation should have broken up long ago -- but they apparently were cash strapped and poor. That would explain their end of the year 2008 announcement, right? Where they announced that they would be shutting down their news desk -- don't call it a news bureau -- in Iraq. But, they rushed to reassure, they'd still cover Iraq . . . by using reports from the BBC. The BBC gets their money from a public tax in the UK. And yet the world's biggest media conglomeration couldn't afford to cover the Iraq War on their own, they were instead going to steal from the BBC and UK taxpayers.
It's not that there is no news out of Iraq today but you don't see it in the papers. In some cases, that's not the fault of reporters. I've been getting a ton of e-mails in the last two months from journalists who had a story they wanted to cover -- often on the reality of Moqtada al-Sadr -- but their outlets shot it down.
So John Chilcot's passing might have been ignored because those in charge of what gets covered were long ago exhausted by Iraq.
They should be embarrassed by the Iraq War because they all worked to sell it. The only US corporate outlet that didn't work to sell it was KNIGHT-RIDDER and that news chain ceased publication in the summer of 2006. In the UK, the papers against the war were papers with a Conservative bent (for example, THE TIMES OF LONDON -- which was the UK outlet that immediately published the obituary on Chilcot and the one that is behind the paywall). THE GUARDIAN wasn't against the Iraq War -- even after the war started, they refused to cover The Downing Street Memos. Remember those? In the US, we hectored our corporate outlets for not covering them. THE TIMES OF LONDON covered it -- extensively. But in the UK, others weren't so vocal and THE GUARDIAN has never bothered to cover them, all this time later.
THE GUARDIAN is a party organ of Labour. When the Labour Party actually stood for something and had members keen on public debate, that made for a lively newspaper. Tony Blair ushered in New Labour -- a watered down left that merged with the corporations and ceded control to the corporations. At that point, THE GUARDIAN began to be an embarrassment. It largely remains that today.
So it is surprising that they chose to publish an obituary. David Hencke (GUARDIAN) writes:
Sir John Chilcot, who has died aged 82 of kidney disease, was the quietly spoken mandarin famous for his excoriating verdict on the conduct of the Iraq war, begun in 2003. It changed the perception of one of the most traumatic episodes of recent times.
His seven-year-long inquiry into the conflict ruined the reputation of Tony Blair, Labour’s most successful leader since Clement Attlee, by exposing his subservient relationship with the US president, George W Bush, and confirming that the UK and the US had not exhausted the peace process when they went to war to topple the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
That decision cost 179 British lives, and the death of around 150,000 Iraqis. The wrecked country subsequently saw the rise, and later fall, of the terrorist group Islamic State, and is still suffering from the impact of the war today.
The embarrassment for Tony Blair? Did that impact coverage -- or the lack of it? Most UK outlets still will not hold Tony accountable. What of the US outlets? Put a prominent Brit with a title and it's practically a one-on-one sit-down with a royal. But they're silent on Chilcot. Maybe because they're hands are dirty on the Iraq War? Maybe because they were long ago bored with the tragedy that is Iraq today? Maybe because the US had nothing like the Iraq Inquiry and they don't want to dwell on that sad reality?
MIDDLE EAST MATTERS? If only the US outlets felt the same.
Pay attention to their interview with Qassam al-Temimi who was attacked by security forces while protesting in August -- last month. Not 2019. Last month. Look at his scars from the shooting.
Grasp that this was done last August. Grasp that it was done in public. Grasp that the US press has ignored it. It's one of those stories -- there are many -- that I keep hearing about in e-mails from journalists frustrated that their own outlets won't let them cover these acts of violence. Qasam also talks about an earlier attack carried out by Moqtada al-Sadr's goons.
Sinan Mahmoud (THE NATIONAL) counts 3,249 people in all seeking seats in Parliament BROOKINGS notes this is a huge drop from 2018 when 7,178 candidates ran for office. RUDAW is among those noting perceived voter apathy, "Turnout for Iraq’s October 10 parliamentary election is expected to be a record low, with a recent poll predicting just 29 percent of eligible voters will cast ballots." Human Rights Watch has identified another factor which may impact voter turnout, "People with disabilities in Iraq are facing significant obstacles to participating in upcoming parliamentary elections on October 10, 2021, due to discriminatory legislation and inaccessible polling places, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Without urgent changes, hundreds of thousands of people may not be able to vote. The 36-page report, “‘No One Represents Us’: Lack of Access to Political Participation for People with Disabilities in Iraq,” documents that Iraqi authorities have failed to secure electoral rights for Iraqis with disabilities. People with disabilities are often effectively denied their right to vote due to discriminatory legislation and inaccessible polling places and significant legislative and political obstacles to running for office." And Human Rights Watch Tweets:
The Assyrian Policy Institute Tweets, "Electoral reforms in Iraq instituted following the Iraqi protests did not involve minority stakeholders and failed to address the exploitation of the minority quota system. Assyrians will largely be deterred from voting on Oct. 10 as a result."
Another obstacle is getting the word out on a campaign. Political posters are being torn down throughout Iraq. Halgurd Sherwani (KURDiSTAN 24) observes, "Under Article 35 of the election law, anyone caught ripping apart or vandalizing an electoral candidate's billboard could be punished with imprisonment for at least a month but no longer than a year, Joumana Ghalad, the spokesperson for the Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), told a press conference on Wednesday." And there's also the battles in getting out word of your campaign online. THE NEW ARAB reported weeks ago, "Facebook is restricting advertisements for Iraqi political parties and candidates in the run-up to the country's parliamentary elections, an official has told The New Arab's Arabic-language sister site."
THE WASHINGTON POST's Louisa Loveluck Tweeted: of how "chromic mistrust in [the] country's political class" might also lower voter turnout. Mina Aldroubi (THE NATIONAL) also notes, "Experts are predicting low turnout in October due to distrust of the country’s electoral system and believe that it will not deliver the much needed changes they were promised since 2003." Mistrust would describe the feelings of some members of The October Revolution. Mustafa Saadoun (AL-MONITOR) notes some of their leaders, at the recent Opposition Forces Gathering conference announced their intent to boycott the elections because they "lack integrity, fairness and equal opportunities." Distrust is all around. The President of Iraq has identified corruption as one of the biggest issues in Iraq. Halkawt Aziz (RUDAW) reported on how, " In Sadr City, people are disheartened after nearly two decades of empty promises from politicians." Karwan Faidhi Dri (RUDAW) explains, "People in Basra are not hopeful that the parliamentary election will bring about meaningful change and reform. The southern Iraqi province has seen several large anti-government protests in recent years." AFP notes, "But the ballot has generated little enthusiasm among Iraq’s 25 million voters, while the activists and parties behind the uprising have largely decided to boycott the ballot."
How to address apathy? Ignore it and redo how you'll count voter turnout. RUDAW reports, "raq’s election commission announced on Sunday that turnout for the election will be calculated based on the number of people who have biometric voter cards, not the number of eligible voters. The move will likely inflate turnout figures that are predicted to hit a record low." As for the apathy, John Davison and Ahmed Rasheed (REUTERS) convey this image:
Iraq’s tortured politics are graphically illustrated in a town square in
the south, where weathered portraits displayed on large hoardings honor
those killed fighting for causes they hoped would help their country.
The images of thousands of militiamen whose paramilitary factions battled ISIS hang beside those of hundreds of young men killed two years later protesting against the same paramilitaries.
KURDISTAN 24 quotes political leader Ayad Allawi stating, "Corruption, illegal weapons in the hands of militias, armed groups, political money, and regional interference are the reasons for having no suitable election environment in Iraq." While Chatham House's Renad Masnour notes Iraq's current system is "unable to . . . provide sufficient jobs or services." ANEWS Tweets:
After the election, there will be a scramble for who has dibs on the post of prime minister. Murat Sofuoglu (TRT) observes, "The walls of Baghdad are covered with posters of Iraq’s former leaders, especially Nouri al Maliki and Haidar al Abadi, as the country moves toward its early elections on October 10. Both men however were forced out of power for their incompetence, and yet they are leading in the country’s two powerful Shia blocks." Outside of Baghdad? THE NEW ARAB explains, "However, in the provinces of Anbar, Saladin, Diyala, Nineveh, Kirkuk, Babel and the Baghdad belt, candidates have focussed on the issue of the disappeared and promised to attempt to find out what happened to them."
Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has 90 candidates in his bloc running for seats in the Parliament and one of those, Hassan Faleh, has insisted to RUDAW, "The position of the next prime minister is the least that the Sadrist movement deserves, and we are certain that we will be the largest and strongest coalition in the next stage." Others are also claiming the post should go to their bloc such as the al-Fatah Alliance -- the political wing of the Badr Organization (sometimes considered a militia, sometimes considered a terrorist group). ARAB WEEKLY reported, "Al-Fateh Alliance parliament member Naim Al-Aboudi said that Hadi al-Amiri is a frontrunner to head the next government, a position that can only be held by a Shia, according to Iraq’s power-sharing agreement." Some also insist the prime minister should be the head of the State of Law bloc, two-time prime minister and forever thug Nouri al-Maliki. Moqtada al-Sadr's supporters do not agree and have the feeling/consensus that, "Nouri al-Maliki has reached the age of political menopause and we do not consider him to be our rival because he has lost the luster that he once had so it is time for him to retire."
In one surprising development, Dilan Sirwan (RUDAW) has reported: "Iraq’s electoral commission aims to announce the results of the upcoming parliamentary elections on October 10 within 24 hours, they announced on Thursday following a voting simulation."
On the upcoming elections, AFP reports:
When Iraqis go to the polls Sunday, they will vote for individual candidates rather than parties for the first time under a new electoral law meant to appease a youth-led protest movement fed up with the country's old-style politics.
In theory, the changes will strengthen local voices as candidates can now run at the district level and as independents, allowing new hopefuls such as tribal leaders, business people and civil society activists to join the race.
But the shadow of Iraq's traditional political blocs, which are mostly defined by religious sect or ethnic group, still hovers over many of the candidates who claim to be non-aligned, raising questions about the impact of the reform.
Iraq’s next parliamentary election will take place on 10 October, months before the constitutionally mandated date, to fulfil Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s promise to hold an early vote. Kadhimi made the pledge when he assumed office in May 2020, after widespread demonstrations prompted the collapse of the previous government. Although he has met the protesters’ demands for an early election and the reform of Iraq’s electoral law, the contest will not produce the thoroughgoing reform of the Iraqi political system that they sought. Large swathes of Iraqi society are disillusioned with the system and will boycott the vote. The election is likely to be followed by a long period of negotiations over the formation of the government, after which one can expect to see established political parties come to a power-sharing arrangement similar to the one Iraq has now. The next government is likely to pronounce its commitment to economic and security sector reforms, but the barriers to implementing such measures will remain firmly in place.
Europe and the broader international community have tried to enable free and fair elections in Iraq by supporting the country’s electoral commission and by providing it with election monitoring missions. However, they must recognise that many Iraqis view the entire political system as illegitimate. European states would welcome a second term for Kadhimi, whose reform-focused rhetoric and prominent outreach to other Middle Eastern countries have bolstered his international reputation. But it is important for them to be realistic about his ability to enact reforms. As the next governing coalition will include many deeply reactionary groups, Iraq will continue to struggle to address the long-standing challenges that create domestic instability.
Kadhimi has worked hard to produce an early election, despite efforts to derail the polls. The vote was originally slated for June 2021, but the government had to postpone it because of parliament’s failure to make the necessary preparations. In July 2021, key political leader Muqtada al-Sadr’s dramatic withdrawal from the political process raised fears within the prime minister’s team that the election would be further delayed. A significant part of the political establishment was uneasy with the idea that the influential Sadrist movement would operate outside the political process. And, if Sadr had persisted with his boycott, the election would likely have been delayed again. Analysts speculated that Sadr was seeking to deflect criticism of his political movement following several incidents that threatened to undermine his popularity, including the outbreak of deadly fires in hospitals under the control of people he appointed. Painstaking political negotiations, however, led the Sadrists to re-enter the electoral race – allowing October’s vote to go ahead.
As with the early election, Iraq’s new electoral law will not produce the overhaul of the political system that demonstrators sought. The law was supposed to enable constituents to elect well-respected individuals in their local communities by dividing the country into smaller electoral districts. But the process of drawing up new constituencies was heavily politicised, leading to significant gerrymandering that will largely benefit established political parties. New parties and independent candidates have faced intense targeted violence perpetrated by armed groups that are affiliated with the political establishment. Moderate voters are increasingly likely to boycott the vote, citing their anger at violence against activists, their expectation that the election will be fraudulent, and their lack of confidence in the ability of the political system to enact critical reforms. According to recent polls, turnout will be substantially lower than the 44 per cent in the 2018 parliamentary election – although Iraq’s Electoral Commission may change the way it measures turnout, which could lead to false assertions of a rise in electoral participation.
Strange that US outlets find little to nothing to cover regarding Iraq with so much that is happening.