too big to jail why kidnapping torture assassination and perjury are no longer crimes in washington

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This story first showed up on the website TomDispatch.

How the powerful have sunk. James Cartwright was once called “Obama’s favourite general,” but thanks to a plea deal, he will soon be wearing a prison uniform and spending 13 months in jail. Cartwright helped set up the first military cyberforce within the US Strategic Command, which he led from 2004 to 2007. He was also involved in the first cyberwar in history, when the Stuxnet virus was used to attack Iran’s nuclear programme. A Justice Department investigation found that in 2012, he told David Sanger of the New York Times about how that virus was being made. The result was a story on the front page that told the American public about it and, by extension, about the cyber-campaign against Iran being run by the United States. People thought it was a serious threat to national security. On Thursday, a US district judge told the retired four-star general that his “criminal act” was “very serious” and that it was done by a “national security expert who lost his moral compass.” It was a strange end for a man who was almost the most powerful person in the Pentagon, who was almost named chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and who had the ear of the president.
In fact, Gen. James Cartwright has not gone to jail, and the above paragraph is still a grim Washington fairy tale for now. The Justice Department is looking into whether or not the president’s “favourite general” gave information about that virus to the New York Times, but that’s all. Bob Woodward, a well-known Washington journalist, once called him the president’s “favourite general.” He is still very busy in his private life. He holds the Harold Brown Chair in Defense Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, works as a consultant for ABC News, and is on the board of Raytheon, among other things. So far, he has only been punished once. His security clearance was taken away.


The 13-month jail sentence was actually agreed to by a different leaker. Stephen E. Kim, who used to work as an intelligence analyst for the State Department, pleaded guilty to “an unauthorised disclosure of national defence information” about three weeks ago. He stood in front of US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who said those harsh words, and admitted that in 2009, he gave Fox News reporter James Rosen classified information about North Korea’s nuclear programme.

Still, Cartwright might one day be the only important Washington figure in the Obama era to go to jail for a crime of state. This would make him a unique case in the history of Obama-era law. No matter what happens to him, his case shows one thing: there is only one crime for which anyone in America’s national security state can be held accountable in a court of law, and that is leaking information that might put them in a bad light or just let the American people know more about what their government is really doing.

If this wasn’t Washington, D.C., in 2014, but George Orwell’s book 1984, the sign on the front of the Ministry of Truth would say “Knowledge is Crime” instead of “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength.”

The National Security State Gets Seven Free Passes

The people in the national security state, with the possible exception of Cartwright, live in a different kind of America than the rest of us. This kind of America could be called “post-legal.” They know that they will never be punished for anything they do, no matter how bad it is. There are a lot of things that could be serious crimes, but no one has ever been held accountable for them in court. This list has never been put together in one place. So, here is a quick list of seven of the most obvious crimes and misdemeanours of this time period for which no one has been punished.

1. Kidnapping.

After 9/11, the CIA did a lot of kidnapping. At least 136 “terror suspects” and possibly many more, including completely innocent people, were taken from the streets of global cities and from the countryside, often with the help of local police or intelligence agencies. There were 54 other countries that joined the project. The prisoners were either sent to the Bush administration’s secret global prison system, also called “black sites,” where they were held and mistreated, or they were “rendered” directly to torturers in countries like Egypt and Uzbekistan. No American has been taken to court for these illegal actions, and the US government has never apologised or paid back anyone it kidnapped, even if they turned out not to be “terror suspects.” In Italy, however, one group of CIA agents was charged with kidnapping and sending a person to Egypt. One of them was Robert Seldon Lady, who was in charge of the Agency’s station in Milan. He was famous for a short time because he oversaw a version of rendition that was like the movie “The Good Life.” He then left the country for the United States. Last year, he was briefly arrested in Panama, but the US government quickly got him out of there and back to safety.

2. Punishment (and other abuses).

In the same way, no one will be surprised to hear that the infamous “torture memos” from the Bush Justice Department told CIA interrogators in the Global War on Terror to “take off the gloves” and use “enhanced interrogation techniques” on offshore prisoners. One of these “techniques” was waterboarding, which was once called “the water torture” and has been known as a form of torture even in this country for a long time. When he took office, President Obama said he didn’t agree with these things, but he didn’t go after the people who did them. No CIA agent or private contractor involved was ever charged, let alone put on trial. Neither was anyone in the Bush Justice Department or the rest of an administration that approved these practises and whose top officials reportedly saw them demonstrated in the White House.

To be exact, the CIA’s torture programme has not sent a single member of the national security state to prison. That was John Kiriakou, a former CIA agent who never tortured anyone but angered the Obama administration by telling the public about Agency torture and turning whistleblower. He is now in prison for 30 months because he told a reporter the name of a secret agent. In other words, the only crime that could be prosecuted in connection with the Agency’s torture campaign was one that threatened to tell the American public more about it.

Now, however, we know that the CIA “used interrogation methods that were not approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters” because of leaks from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,300-page report on the CIA’s interrogation and torture programme. In other words, its agents did things that went beyond what was allowed in the torture memos. This means that they broke the law even by Bush administration standards. This should be a clear sign that prosecutions are about to start, but, not surprisingly, it looks like the only person who might be prosecuted soon is the person who gave McClatchy News parts of the Senate report that hadn’t been made public yet.

3. Getting rid of proof of a crime.

It is, of course, a crime to destroy evidence on purpose to make it harder to look into possible crimes in the future. We know that this really did happen. Jose Rodriguez, Jr., who was in charge of CIA clandestine operations, destroyed 92 videotapes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who planned the 9/11 attacks, and alleged al-Qaeda member Abu Zubaydah being waterboarded multiple times. He was told to keep these tapes for an official investigation, but he destroyed them anyway. The Justice Department looked into what he did, but he was never charged. He has since written a book, Hard Measures, in which he explains why he did what he did. In essence, he says that he was “tired of waiting for Washington’s bureaucracy to make a decision that protected American lives.” He is still free and defends the interrogation programme whose tapes he destroyed in opinion pieces for the Washington Post.

4. Making plans for a prison system that goes against the law.

As everyone knows now, the highest officials in the Bush administration set up a global network of illegal prisons, called “black sites,” where torture and other kinds of abuse could happen. This system was made so that terror suspects wouldn’t have to go through the US legal system. In that way, it was illegal or at least outside the law. It was, in other words, a concerted effort to avoid any rules or checks that US law or US courts might have put on how detainees were treated. This was a well-planned crime that was done not as part of a war against a certain power, but as part of a global war that will never end against al-Qaeda and other groups with similar goals.

5. The killing of prisoners in that system that was not legal.

When CIA prisoners in overseas (or borrowed) prisons died from harsh treatment ordered by their handlers, it was not seen as a crime. The Justice Department looked into these deaths in two places: the “Salt Pit” in Afghanistan and the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. However, no one was ever charged. The Washington Post says that in the case of Gul Rahman, the prisoner in the Salt Pit, a CIA officer told Afghan guards in November 2002 to strip Rahman and chain him to the concrete floor of his cell. Overnight, the temperature dropped, and Rahman died because he was too cold. The cause of Rahman’s death was listed as hypothermia, and he was buried in a grave with no sign. In a rare case brought before a military court, a low-level Army interrogator was found guilty of killing an Iraqi general by putting him face-first into a sleeping bag. He was ordered to give up $6,000 of his salary over the next four months, get a formal reprimand, and spend 60 days confined to his home, office, and church.


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