Monday, October 23, 2006
Speaking Truth To Power: An Interview with Ray McGovern Pt. 1
You may not know the name of the bearded, soft-spoken man right off the bat. You might look upon him as a kindly husband, father, or grandfather. True enough, you may not recognize him, but you might have heard, or even seen what he did on a normal day in the Southeastern part of the United States during a question and answer period with one of the most powerful men in the World.
On May 4th, 2006 in Atlanta, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had just concluded a speech, a brief question and answer session followed. A mild-mannered gentleman walked up to the microphone and asked Rumsfeld, in a respectful, but strong voice; “Why did you lie to get us into a war that was not necessary and that has caused these kinds of casualties? Why?”
All major broadcasts, CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, and CNN showed the confrontation of Rumsfeld, bumbling over the questions presented by Ray McGovern; an ex-CIA analyst with 27 years of experience with the agency under his belt.
I received the opportunity to speak with McGovern, the co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) via phone as he drove to a speech he was giving in Washington D.C.
This is part one of a two-part interview that I conducted. In this section Mr. McGovern talks of that fateful day when he questioned Rumsfeld and about President Bush signing into law The Military Commission Act.
Christopher Brown: Could you speak about the moment, on national television, when you confronted Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on his claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; what motivated you to decide to challenge him on that day?
Ray McGovern: I was giving a talk that evening in Atlanta and I heard from a friend in Atlanta that he was giving an early afternoon talk and you can come and listen to what he says. And I thought that was good idea. So, I looked up the website of this Southern Center for Public Affairs, and it was very fancy website, very lovely, but no mention that Donald Rumsfeld was coming and I thought that was rather odd.
So I called some friends in Atlanta and said; “what’s really going on here?” and they said they’d look into it, and a very enterprising woman from The World Can’t Wait got in touch with me and said; “we can figure out how to get you a ticket if you really want one but it’s going to cost you forty bucks.” Well, forty bucks to go and listen to Donald Rumsfeld was little bit of a challenge for me, but I figured in Washington they’d never let me near him. So, I used the website, got myself a ticket, and appeared there about an hour before, and low and behold there were two microphones in the aisles towards the center. I saw that there were likely to be questions and answers, so I sat two feet from the microphone on the left.
I didn’t know exactly what I would do because I was preparing my own speech for that evening, and I came across a report from the previous day, an interview given by a colleague of mine called Paul Pillar who recently retired from the agency after having been the senior substantive policy analyst for Iraq and the whole Middle East. He’d given an interview to the Spanish newspaper El Paiz the day before and he let himself say, the most unconscionable vetting of the evidence, in his view, was the calculated manipulation of evidence to indicate that al Qaeda had something to do with 9/11, or in the short hand that Sadaam Hussein had something to do with 9/11; that al Qaeda was very close to Iraq.
Now, Don Rumsfeld had said, in Atlanta in September 2003 that the evidence for that was bulletproof, his word; bulletproof. And that was very strange too me because, I knew, at that time, that all my former colleagues from the Central Intelligence Agency were saying there was no evidence. It was completely contrived of people conjuring up this image. Which after all is the most unconscionable playing on the very real trauma of all us Americans who saw what happened on 9/11. Playing on that trauma and dishonestly associating a country and a leader, namely Iraq and Sadaam Hussein who, as best intelligence, and there was plenty of it, proved had nothing to do with it. Nevertheless, 69% of the American people believe that Sadaam Hussein had something to do with 9/11, and 85% of the military believe that. So, this is a consequential misleading of the American public.
In any case, here was Donald Rumsfeld saying in the same town, Atlanta, that the evidence of a tie between al Qaeda and Iraq was bulletproof. So I said; you know maybe I’ll ask him about that. Why was he saying it’s bulletproof at a time when the agency is saying its not, there’s no evidence at all. And when General Scowcroft, Brent Scowcroft, the National Security Advisor (NSA) for the first President Bush was saying: “the evidence of such is scarce”?
So there was a really flagrant playing with the truth here, and I thought I’d ask him to explain why he was saying ‘bulletproof,’ Scowcroft was saying ‘scarce’, and the CIA was saying ‘no evidence at all.’ And so that’s how I lead off I said; “Mr. Rumsfeld, my colleague Paul Pillar said that there was a very deliberate modification to the evidence to show that this tie didn’t exist and you said that tie was bulletproof can you explain that?”
And the chair of the very establishment center where we were had interrupted me and I could see that I was going to be cut off, and so I spoke over him and got my main sentence in which was simply to say: “Why did you lie to mislead the American people into a war that was unnecessary and that had already had so many casualties?”
That’s why I said that upfront, I had intended to say that more indirectly later. Well, Rumsfeld changed the subject from bulletproof evidence, and talked about: “apparently there were no weapons of mass destruction.”
At which point, I couldn’t resist interrupting him saying; “You said you knew where they were.”
“No no I didn’t!” said Rumsfeld; “I said there was some suspect sites.”
And I said no you said; “We know where they are in the area around Tikrit, Baghdad, and North, South, East, and West of there. Those were your words!”
Well at that point, a very burly young man with a black hat on, comes down the aisle and ducks in behind me, so that he cannot be seen by the camera, puts his left elbow in my solarplexs and starts moving me very aggressively away from the microphone. At which point Rumsfeld realizes this is on live TV and he makes a calculated decision that to have me carried out after asking him two questions to which he had responded disingenuously, that would probably be a worse PR disaster than if he continued the debate. And I could almost see him thinking; “Hey I’m a champion person debater, let me at this little kid!”
So he says to the goon who’s got his elbow in my solarplexs, “No no no, let him stay a second!” So the goon doesn’t go away but comes on my side and then he is visible to the camera, and he lurks there for the entire next two minutes, and Rumsfeld changed the subject and says; “Well, you can’t say that we deliberately lied.” And of curse he blamed it all on Colin Powell and the head of the CIA saying; “I don’t have anything to do with intelligence.” Which is not true because he controls 80% of the intelligence budget, the defense and intelligence agency reports to him. I guess no one in Atlanta knew how stupid that was but it was caught later on TV.
And then he says; “You know, look these people in uniform” Rumsfeld always arranges to have people in uniform in the first row, so that they can be used. He refers to them and one of them stands up and he says; “These people believe that there were weapons of mass destruction there. You think they put on these protective suits, which are very uncomfortable, do you think they put those on because they like the fashion?” And the whole audience laughed. And I said; “Mr. Rumsfeld that’s a non-sequitor. It doesn’t matter what the troops were told it matters what you believe.” And at that moment the head of the Center interrupts us and says; “Well that’s enough for this debate lets go on to the next question. In fairness to the next question.”
And I simply went back to the seat where I was sitting and became the skunk at the picnic and could not make eye contact with any, not one, member of the audience as we filed out. It was a very interesting experience. It reminded me being at similar rallies in the Soviet Union when I served there.
CB: President Bush signed into law, The Military Commission Act, what does this mean for an enemy combatant's rights in a court of law; what are the broader affects of such a law for the American judicial system?
RM: Ordinary people like you and I, we have no rights anymore to speak of. After you and I are finished with this interview, Donald Rumsfeld, who were just talking about, can send the same folks who almost threw me out of that hall, this time he can send them, quite legally, to arrest us, put us in Guantanamo or some other black hole, without telling our wives, children, parents, and keep us there forever without any appeal on our part in Federal court.
In 1215, the year the Magna Carta was signed, which wrested from the English king, the right for people who were arrested to have some sort of redress in court. After 791 years of Habeas Corpus which not only the English common law tradition served, but other countries as well.
And the amazing thing is this, as usual, passed in the middle of the night, it’s was doctored in the middle of the night by the conference committee. And in some earlier text they had aliens or foreign enemy combatants, and somehow or other, it must have been a typo, they left out foreign, they left out alien. And so this deprivation of habeas corpus right can apply to you and can apply too me.
Not only that, the President is free to do, what he was legally bound not to do before this act. Now what do I mean by that? Well, two things; The President signed an executive order on the 7th of February, 2002 which authorizes the army and the CIA to disregard the Geneva Conventions, namely Common Article 3 and also the War Crimes Act, U.S. criminal law, U.S. code 2441 1996. Why do I say 1996 so slowly? Simply to recall this passed by the Newt Gingrich dominated Republican majority Congress in 1996.
That law made the Geneva Convention, Common Article 3 inexplicably entwined with the U.S. common law. In other words, you violate Geneva you no longer have an international law problem it’s a domestic criminal law problem.
So anyhow, the president authorized that. Now, people will be reading this and say: “Oh now, show us where he authorized that McGovern!”
Well, if you have a computer go to your URL line and type in George W. Bush hyphen February 7th 2002, type in executive order hyphen interrogation or al Qaeda, Taliban and you’ll see the memo it’s right there you can download it in PDF form you can see the President’s signature just behind it. It says; that we don’t have to observe the Geneva protections for the Taliban and al Qaeda; and not only that: “We will treat them humanely as appropriate and as consistent with military necessity.” That is a direct quote.
That is the loophole through which Don Rumsfeld and George Tenet, the head of the CIA, drove the Mack truck officially sanctioning torture. It was legal then in their view. The Supreme Court as we know, about three months ago, ruled that it was not legal. That it was not only illegal under international law, but that it violated the War Crimes Act of 1996 and that’s why they insisted that it be stopped.
When the Supreme Court said that this was unconstitutional and unlawful, then the interrogators began to think twice about subjecting themselves to the vulnerability of prosecution under these laws. So here’s the President of the United States on the 6th of September getting up at a press conference, bragging about how successful extraordinary measures enhanced interrogation techniques, he didn’t say torture, but everybody knows what he’s talking about, how successful they have been. He’s bragging about this and says we need to change the law because CIA interrogators were just doing a full and professional job don’t want to subject themselves to liability for prosecution under the War Crimes Act.
And then he said, I could see it in his face, “Sotto Niche” neither do I.
And neither does Donald Rumsfeld, and neither does Alberto Gonzales, neither does Dick Cheney wants to subject themselves under prosecution of the War Crimes Act of 1996. Why? Because they are all liable folks, they are all liable. Until this past Tuesday, when the Congress, to my amazement acted just like the German Parliament when Hitler engaged the enabling acts in March of 1933.
They caved in, some said; well its unconstitutional anyway so we’ll just go with the flow here. In a fear of being soft against terrorism the Congress, both Senate and House, approved this law and made it retroactive!
Is this a great country or what? The President cannot be held liable for the torture that he authorized beginning with that memo on February 7th 2002.
Let me mention the other aspect. Clearly there is the wiretapping on Americans. Now, this needs to be mentioned because in similar fashion this new law, euphemistically called, The Military Commission Act, but really should be called the Enabling Act, because it is an exact duplicate act passed by the German Parliament in March of 1933 to give Hitler dictatorial powers. This law also absolves the president retroactively.
I’ve asked lawyers if Congress can pass a law saying that violation of an old law can be forgiven? And, unfortunately, the lawyers said yes. So this is a great country.
What this new law does, this Military Commission Act as it is so called, it says even though the Federal judge in Detroit has ruled that your wiretapping of Americans is both unlawful because of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA), which outlaws eavesdropping on Americans without a court order, even though it’s unlawful, and unconstitutional, because there is a Fourth Amendment that protects us from unlawful search and seizures, or is at least suppose to, or at least did protect us until last Tuesday, Judge Taylor in Detroit said; Eavesdropping on Americans without a court warrant is illegal and its unconstitutional.
This new law supercedes the old FISA, and supercedes, I guess, the Fourth Amendment, because what this Congress has done is the President is free to order that at will. So, we have a President who now, as of last Tuesday, can order eavesdropping on Americans without a court warrant which was usually required under the old law. And the President can, at will, by defining his own terms, torture.
So it’s all these things; habeas corpus is one thing, torture is another, what has been, up until now, illegal wiretapping is a third. And let me just add a couple of things to the illegal wiretapping.
This is demonstrably an impeachable offense. Why do I say that? I say that because Richard Nixon when he was about to be fully impeached, the House Judiciary Committee which has purvey over the initial stages voted an article of impeachment against Richard Nixon for eavesdropping on Americans illegally. So the President has already admitted to having authorized this illegal eavesdropping on Americans more than 30 times.
There’s another aspect of this eavesdropping, which is pretty sinister. I go around the country speaking about these things and I ask people; “Does it not bother you than your telephone calls are monitored, email and so forth?” And I have to say, to my great distress, that 80% of the people say, no.
So I ask them another question; “Does it bother you that Senator Arlen Specter’s can be eavesdropped on, can be monitored? And they say; “Why do you ask me about Sen. Arlen Specter? Who’s he?” And I tell them he’s head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has purview over these things (Purview over U.S. laws.) He was incensed, and learned last December that the President had deliberately violated the FISA law. And he promised to hold committee hearings to look into this. He talked about this being clearly extra-legal. By August, surprisingly, Arlen Specter Senator from Pennsylvania now Senate Judiciary Committee Chair, changed his tune 180 degrees. Not only that but he drafted legislation, which now has been passed, that allows the President to eavesdrop on us at will without any court warrant.
Now what accounts for this 180-degree turn of view? Well let me offer a hypothetical. I stress this is a hypothetical; two FBI agents visited Sen. Specter two moths ago. They sat down with him and said:
“Now Senator. Specter we’ve just been in Cleveland. We spent the weekend there interviewing Mary Crawford. What a wonderful woman she is. We just had a wonderful interview with her and of course we knew that your travel records show that you go to Cleveland every weekend. And we just had a really informative session with her. And we don’t think that anybody else needs to know about this and so we have some draft legislation that the President would like you to sign. It’s a little intrusive on civil liberties but it’s going to protect us against terrorists. And if you sponsor this, nobody has to know about Mary Crawford.”
Now I know a lot of your readers will say; “Oh McGovern has gone off the deep end!” This kind of activity is precisely why the FISA act was drafted and passed in 1978. J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI and other organs of our government were not only eavesdropping on Representatives and Senators but on Presidents of The United States. And that’s why that law was primarily was passed. And I will add that the law was made flexible enough so that this very convenient tool whereby you can get information that nobody know you are getting can be used to prevent foreign espionage. And so that law was written with the flexibility to eavesdrop on any foreign intelligence asset without consulting the court for three whole days. And then if the President wanted to continue this kind of wiretapping, all he needed to do was go to the judge to get approval.
Was that a big hurdle? Well, out of the first five thousand FISA court warrants that were applied for 4,995 were approved. So it really was a formality. So what is the implication? The implication is that the President of the United Sates has decided that after 9/11, some people suggested even earlier, that he couldn’t be bothered by observing this law. And he commissioned the development of a program run by the NSA that is so intrusive, so all encompassing, that not even the immediate aftermath of 9/11 did he feel confident that he could go to the Congress and say; Look we need to change the law here. I need more flexibility.
Now when Attorney General Gonzales was asked about this back in January of this year, when Sen. Specter held his first hearings, he let the cat out of the bag. Actually, Gonzales let the cat out of the bag at a press conference on the 19th of December just before he got to the Specter hearings. What he told the press was this; the question asked by an enterprising journalist was; “Attorney General we’d like to know why you did and end run around the FISA. If you thought it was too stringent and didn’t give you enough flexibility to do what you need, why did you not go to Congress and do this the right way?”
And you know what Gonzales said? This was completely missed by the mainstream press. This is what he said; well we went to Congress and they told us that this was very unlikely, neigh impossible that legislation like this would be approved by Congress. And so, we took the attitude that we didn’t need the bill.
Now, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to deduce that if Gonzales was told by the Congress, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, that they would never approve of this program, they went blindly ahead and approved it any way, even though, as I said, a judge declared it unconstitutional and illegal.
So now is this a great country or what? It is completely legal under the enabling acts, the so-called Military Commission Act signed by the President last Tuesday.
In part two of my interview with Ray McGovern, he talks about the Israel/Lebanon war and its possible implications for war with Iran; co-founding Veteran intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS); and concrete steps to stop the overreaching hand of the Bush administration.