Saturday, December 31, 2005

Spy Court Judge Quits In Protest of Bush's Secret Authorization of Domestic Spying Program

Jurist Concerned Bush Order Tainted Work of Secret Panel
By Carol D. Leonnig and Dafna Linzer

Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 21, 2005; Page A01

A federal judge has resigned from the court that oversees government surveillance in intelligence cases in protest of President Bush's secret authorization of a domestic spying program, according to two sources.
U.S. District Judge James Robertson, one of 11 members of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, sent a letter to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. late Monday notifying him of his resignation without providing an explanation.

Two associates familiar with his decision said yesterday that Robertson privately expressed deep concern that the warrantless surveillance program authorized by the president in 2001 was legally questionable and may have tainted the FISA court's work.

Robertson, who was appointed to the federal bench in Washington by President Bill Clinton in 1994 and was later selected by then-Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist to serve on the FISA court, declined to comment when reached at his office late yesterday.

Word of Robertson's resignation came as two Senate Republicans joined the call for congressional investigations into the National Security Agency's warrantless interception of telephone calls and e-mails to overseas locations by U.S. citizens suspected of links to terrorist groups. They questioned the legality of the operation and the extent to which the White House kept Congress informed.

Sens. Chuck Hagel (Neb.) and Olympia J. Snowe (Maine) echoed concerns raised by Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who has promised hearings in the new year.
Hagel and Snowe joined Democrats Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Carl M. Levin (Mich.) and Ron Wyden (Ore.) in calling for a joint investigation by the Senate judiciary and intelligence panels into the classified program.
The hearings would occur at the start of a midterm election year during which the prosecution of the Iraq war could figure prominently in House and Senate races.

Not all Republicans agreed with the need for hearings and backed White House assertions that the program is a vital tool in the war against al Qaeda.
"I am personally comfortable with everything I know about it," Acting House Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said in a phone interview.

At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan was asked to explain why Bush last year said, "Any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so." McClellan said the quote referred only to the USA Patriot Act.

Revelation of the program last week by the New York Times also spurred considerable debate among federal judges, including some who serve on the secret FISA court. For more than a quarter-century, that court had been seen as the only body that could legally authorize secret surveillance of espionage and terrorism suspects, and only when the Justice Department could show probable cause that its targets were foreign governments or their agents.
Robertson indicated privately to colleagues in recent conversations that he was concerned that information gained from warrantless NSA surveillance could have then been used to obtain FISA warrants. FISA court Presiding Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who had been briefed on the spying program by the administration, raised the same concern in 2004 and insisted that the Justice Department certify in writing that it was not occurring.

"They just don't know if the product of wiretaps were used for FISA warrants -- to kind of cleanse the information," said one source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the classified nature of the FISA warrants. "What I've heard some of the judges say is they feel they've participated in a Potemkin court."

Robertson is considered a liberal judge who has often ruled against the Bush administration's assertions of broad powers in the terrorism fight, most notably in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld . Robertson held in that case that the Pentagon's military commissions for prosecuting terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were illegal and stacked against the detainees.

Some FISA judges said they were saddened by the news of Robertson's resignation and want to hear more about the president's program.
"I guess that's a decision he's made and I respect him," said Judge George P. Kazen, another FISA judge. "But it's just too quick for me to say I've got it all figured out."

Bush said Monday that the White House briefed Congress more than a dozen times. But those briefings were conducted with only a handful of lawmakers who were sworn to secrecy and prevented from discussing the matter with anyone or from seeking outside legal opinions.

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) revealed Monday that he had written to Vice President Cheney the day he was first briefed on the program in July 2003, raising serious concerns about the surveillance effort. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she also expressed concerns in a letter to Cheney, which she did not make public.

The chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), issued a public rebuke of Rockefeller for making his letter public.
In response to a question about the letter, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) suggested that Rockefeller should have done more if he was seriously concerned. "If I thought someone was breaking the law, I don't care if it was classified or unclassified, I would stand up and say 'the law's being broken here.' "

But Rockefeller said the secrecy surrounding the briefings left him with no other choice. "I made my concerns known to the vice president and to others who were briefed," Rockefeller said. "The White House never addressed my concerns."

Staff writers Jonathan Weisman and Charles Babington and researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

Enron's Ken Lay 1997 Letter to George W. Bush Re: Energy Policy in Uzbekistan

Craig Murray: As Britain’s outspoken Ambassador to the Central Asian Republic of Uzbekistan, Craig Murray helped expose vicious human rights abuses by the US-funded regime of Islam Karimov. He is now a prominent critic of Western policy in the region.

December 30, 2005
More old news

From the chatter on the web, it's clear that there are still a few diehard Bush/Blair supporters out there who believe this is about democracy and security.
I hate to disillusion such people, but everyone should be aware of this document:

(This was released with other Enron court documents. To anyone covering the Enron story, it meant very little. Now, however....)

...and here's the full text:

Kenneth L. Lay
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Enron Corp.

P.O. Box 1188
Houston, TX 77251-1188
Fax 713-853-5313
April 3, 1997
Via Fax: 512/463-1849

The Honorable George W. Bush
Governor of the State of Texas
PO Box 12428
Austin, Texas

Dear George,

You will be meeting with Ambassador Sadyq Safaev, Uzbekistan's Ambassador to the United States, on April 8th. Ambassador Safaev has been Foreign Minister and the senior advisor to President Karimov before assuming his nation's most significant foreign responsibility.

Enron has established an office in Tashkent and we are negotiating a $2 billion joint venture with Neftegas of Uzbekistan and Gazprom of Russia to develop Uzbekistan's natural gas and transport it to markets in Europe, Kazakhstan, and Turkey. This project can bring significant economic opportunities to Texas, as well as Uzbekistan. The political benefits to the United States and to Uzbekistan are important to that entire region.
Ambassador Safaev is one of the most effective of the Washington Corps of Ambassadors, a man who has the attention of his president, and a person who works daily to bring our countries together. For all these reasons, I am delighted that the two of you are meeting.

I know you and Ambassador Safaev will have a productive meeting which will result in a friendship between Texas and Uzbekistan.

Natural gas. Electricity. Endless possibilities.

Diplomat Says Britain Used Data Gotten by Torture

Published: December 31, 2005

LONDON, Dec. 30 - Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, has published documents on the Internet that he says prove that the British knowingly received information obtained through torture.
Mr. Murray, who was forced to quit the Foreign Office last year after publicly condemning the Uzbek authorities, criticized the British and American governments in reports from Uzbekistan that he posted on the site,

On the site is a diplomatic cable Mr. Murray says he wrote, dated July 2004. It states that Britain received "intelligence obtained under torture from the Uzbek intelligence services, via the U.S."

"We should stop," the document goes on to say. "It is bad information anyway. Tortured dupes are forced to sign up to confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the U.S. and UK to believe, that they and we are fighting the same war against terror."

Mr. Murray also said in one document that at a meeting in London on March 8, 2003, "I was told specifically that it was perfectly legal for us to obtain and to use intelligence from the Uzbek torture chambers."

He said that at the meeting, a British government legal adviser, Michael Wood, "gave his legal opinion that it was not illegal to obtain and to use intelligence acquired by torture."

"He said the only legal limitation on its use was that it could not be used in legal proceedings, under Article 15 of the U.N. Convention on Torture," Mr. Murray said.
In a telephone interview on Friday, Mr. Murray said he believed that the legal opinion meant that the information could not be used as evidence in court but could be used for intelligence purposes.

The disclosures, which repeat some earlier claims by Mr. Murray, play into a fierce debate in the United States and Europe over the transfer of terror suspects to countries that practice torture. Earlier this week, Britain and Greece denied allegations in Greece that their intelligence agents had interrogated 28 Pakistani suspects using torture after the July 7 bombings in London.

In a landmark ruling earlier this month, Britain's Law Lords, sitting as the country's highest court, said evidence obtained by torture, no matter by whom, was inadmissible in British courts.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office, who spoke in return for anonymity under department rules, declined to comment directly on Mr. Murray's claims. "There is nothing new here," he said.

He also declined to comment on British news reports that the Foreign Office had blocked publication of a nonfiction book by Mr. Murray, "Murder in Samarkand," until he edited out sensitive material.

In the telephone interview, Mr. Murray, who was ambassador from 2002 to 2004, said that the material on the Web site was authentic and that he was the source. He said it included the documents that the Foreign Office had wanted him to excise from his book.

The Foreign Office spokesman said Britain condemned the use of torture and did not practice it. But the spokesman said British intelligence agents routinely assessed the likely source of information they received and "took into account" the reliability of information that might have been extracted under torture from suspects in detention.

Mr. Murray assailed the human rights record of Uzbekistan at a time when, he said, the United States was playing down reports of human rights abuses there.

In a confidential letter he sent to the Foreign Office on Sept. 16, 2002, a summary said: "U.S. plays down human rights situation in Uzbekistan. A dangerous policy: increasing repression combined with poverty will promote Islamic terrorism."

Mr. Murray said American policy toward President Islam A. Karimov was dictated by the availability of strategic air bases. The State Department gave Uzbekistan a favorable human rights assessment to free up hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, Mr. Murray said.

A second letter, dated March 18, 2003, said in its summary: "As seen from Tashkent, U.S. policy is not much focused on democracy or freedom. It is about oil, gas and hegemony. In Uzbekistan the U.S. pursues those ends through supporting a ruthless dictatorship."

According to Mr. Murray, the letter said: "Last year the U.S. gave half a billion dollars in aid to Uzbekistan, about a quarter of it military aid. Bush and Powell repeatedly hail Karimov as a friend and ally. Yet this regime has at least seven thousand prisoners of conscience; it is a one-party state without freedom of speech, without freedom of media, without freedom of movement, without freedom of assembly, without freedom of religion. It practices, systematically, the most hideous tortures on thousands. Most of the population live in conditions precisely analogous with medieval serfdom."