Among the reporter-columnists whose bylines I never miss, Pulitzer Prize winner Charlie Savage of The New York Times is at the top of the list. He is penetratingly factual and stays on stories that are often surprising.
At the bottom of page 12 of the March 14 Times — in what should have been on the front page, garnering Savage another Pulitzer — was this: “U.S., Rebuffing U.N., Maintains Stance That Rights Treaty Does Not Apply Abroad.”
This treaty, signed by our Senate in 1992, is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which, Savage notes, “bans arbitrary killings, torture, unfair trials and imprisonments without judicial review” (The New York Times, March 14).
This treaty jumped into the news, thanks to Savage, because, as he states in his opening paragraph: “The Obama administration declared … that a global Bill of Rights-style treaty imposes no human rights obligations on American military and intelligence forces when they operate abroad.”
Speaking in our country’s name, the “administration affirmed that stance in a meeting in Geneva of the United Nations Human Rights Committee …”
Savage makes clear that Obama’s administration has not been the only one to take that position: “The United States first expressed the stance in 1995 after the Clinton administration was criticized for its policy of intercepting Haitian refugees at sea, and the Bush administration later amplified it to defend its treatment of terrorism suspects in overseas prisons.”
George W. Bush and Dick Cheney sure did amplify it. Remember the CIA secret prisons, waterboarding and other U.S. “enhanced interrogations” that were as far from human rights as the agency could malignantly manage?
Other reporters and I have documented scores of Obama continuations of Bush-Cheney atrocities abroad. It was hardly surprising, as I wrote back in 2010, that “there were hundreds more photographs of American torture practices in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq that President Obama commanded … must not be released, despite a previous court order to the contrary. He said they would have a ‘chilling effect’ on further investigations of abuses of detainees” (my column, “Torture Under Obama,” Feb. 17, 2010).
How sensitive of him to consider possible U.S. torturers!
Savage quotes Mary McLeod, Obama’s acting legal adviser at the State Department:
“The United States continues to believe that its interpretation — that the covenant applies only to individuals both within its territory and within its jurisdiction — is the most consistent with the covenant’s language and negotiating history.”
So, in other words, Obama doesn’t believe he is violating the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Really? The CIA isn’t within the United States’ jurisdiction? And when CIA “renditions” captured suspects from the streets of their countries to be tortured in other countries in agreement with the agency, that isn’t a wholesale violation of the treaty we signed in 1992?
Moreover, as I keep reporting, U.S. renditions continue, but in secret, so we don’t know who — or where —- the victims are.
Meanwhile, Americans and the rest of the world have been hearing from longtime stalwart Obama administration supporter Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. She has called hero “leaker” Edward Snowden a traitor, but has also spoken of the “horrible details of a CIA program that never, never, never should have existed.”
As The Guardian recently reported, Feinstein “accused the Central Intelligence Agency of a catalogue of cover-ups, intimidation and smears aimed at investigators probing its role in an ‘un-American and brutal’ programme of post-9/11 detention and interrogation” (“Feinstein accuses CIA of ‘intimidating’ Senate staff over torture report,” Dan Roberts and Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian, March 11).
According to Roberts and Ackerman, the senator, “normally an administration loyalist, accused the CIA of potentially violating the U.S. Constitution and of criminal activity in its attempts to obstruct her committee’s investigation into the agency’s use of torture.
“She described the crisis as a ‘defining moment’ for political oversight of the U.S. intelligence service.”
Moreover, Feinstein “revealed that CIA officials had also been reported to the Department of Justice for alleged violations of the Fourth Amendment and laws preventing them from domestic spying.”
This time the agency is accused of spying on the Senate’s intelligence committee.
There will surely be more on this startlingly revealing historic civil war within the Obama administration, but the most vital immediate action, as Feinstein says, is for “the White House to declassify” her Senate Intelligence Committee’s “major findings” on the CIA, “which the president has the power to order.”
As for President Obama’s reaction?
“The president has great confidence in (CIA Director) John Brennan and confidence in our intelligence community and in professionals at the CIA,” says White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
But meanwhile, the CIA, buoyed by our president’s glowing support of its leader, continues to be its own rule of law within the administration’s disintegrating rule of law over us.
In a month or more, how much media coverage, even analysis, will there be of this “defining moment” in the prohibition of our Constitution’s separation of powers?