Monday, May 25, 2020

Remembering Major Andrew Olmsted, 12 years later....


"Only the dead have seen the end of war." 

  This is not a political post.  This is an American post.  About an American soldier.  An outstanding milblogger who some of you may have followed.   Respected and mourned from both sides of the political aisle.   A Babylon 5 fan.   Patriot.   Son.   Father.   Husband.   For this Memorial Day, I'd like to bring attention back to a friend of BlackFive's, Major Andrew Olmsted.  He was the first U.S. soldier killed during the Troop Surge, Jan 3, 2008.  Shot by a sniper in As-Sadiyah, Iraq, while pleading with 3 insurgents to surrender so that his team wouldn't have to kill them.  Olmsted's second in command, CPT Tom Casey, tried to save him and was also killed. The Associated Press, via MilitaryTimes:
37, of Colorado Springs, Colo.; assigned to the Military Transition Team, 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan.; died Jan. 3 in As Sadiyah, Iraq, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit using small-arms fire during combat operations. Also killed was Capt. Thomas J. Casey
As reported by hilzoy:  
I meant to include this comment from one of the men in Andy's unit, who was with him on his final mission:
"Major Olmsted died while attempting to get the enemy to surrender so we would not have to kill them.Captain Casey could not leave his commander on the ground. They are the bravest men I have known. They are both heroes. We will carry their example and continue the mission."
  He gained some level of attention in more mainstream outlets because of the blogpost he penned to be published posthumously in the event of his death while serving in theater.   Unfortunately, all the links to Rocky Mountain News (from which he also blogged) seem to have gone dark (perhaps in the Denver Public Library archives?).  Even using the Wayback Machine, nothing came up for me.
The 37-year-old wrote about his unit providing the Iraqi Army with gifts and toys to pass out during a Muslim holiday, in the hopes of creating good will among local residents. "Handing out gifts is great fun, but in Iraq you always have to be alert for the possibility that the enemy will take advantage of the opportunity to turn such an event to their advantage," Olmsted wrote Dec. 26. Eight days later, Olmsted, a 1992 graduate of Clark University in Worcester and a 1987 graduate of St. John's High School in Shrewsbury, died from wounds suffered when his unit was hit with small arms fire in As Sadiyah, Iraq, according to the Department of Defense. Olmsted, of Colorado Springs, and another soldier from his unit were among the first soldiers killed in Iraq in the new year.
An account of the funeral services at Amygdala:  
The wall of men dressed in pressed green uniforms - men responsible for the nation's defense - sobbed and crumbled in the presence of the rectangular box draped in an American flag. The burly men in leather jackets and bushy beards standing along the sides of the chapel wiped away tears as well. The parents of the man in the casket sat in the front row and held each other. And the dead soldier's wife simply dropped her head and cried. "Staff Sergeant Salas," 1st Sgt. William Schroeter barked, standing erect in the center aisle. Salas stood up amid the hundreds in attendance and answered. "Sergeant 1st Class Parish," Schroeter said. Parish bolted up and answered as well. "Sergeant 1st Class Merriman," Schroeter said. "Here," Merriman answered, standing tall. "Major Olmsted," Schroeter called out. Silence. "Major Andrew Olmsted," Schroeter called again. No answer. "Major Andrew James Olmsted," he said, each name echoing throughout the Soldiers' Memorial Chapel. Olmsted's widow, Amanda Wilson, trembled. She would have given anything to hear him answer. One word would do. But that would be to wish for the impossible. In front of her, Olmsted's portrait looked back. Above the photo, there was a lone rifle with a helmet on top, emblazoned with the major's last name. His dog tags hung limply around the rifle. Emptiness filled the Fort Carson chapel. Wilson let out a small, mournful cry. Her husband was less than five feet away from her, separated by a flag, a casket and an eternity.
News of the 37-year-old's death swept through the blogsphere, where the soldier was an active writer at several sites, including one for the Rocky and one for Obsidian Wings. He asked Hilary Bok, who runs Obsidian Wings, to post something he wrote in the event of his death. When Bok put it up on the site, it stirred so much interest that Olmsted's father, Wes Olmsted, said it has since been translated into several languages, including Hebrew, Farsi and Russian. "He touched a lot of people around the world," Wes Olmsted said while stirring, not eating, his soup just prior to the funeral. He and his wife, Nancy, had flown to Colorado on Saturday to be at Fort Carson for the service and were barely able to eat Tuesday. Maj. Olmsted's younger brother, Eric Olmsted, tried to string together some happy memories of the two of them growing up. He chuckled quietly at a comment his brother made last year while training at Fort Riley, Kan. Andy, talking about the intellectual heft of his family - father and brother with doctorates, mother and wife with master's degrees - had said he was the "intellectual runt of the family." "I think we all know that wasn't true," Eric Olmsted said. "He could read before my parents even knew he could read." The major ("We always just called him Andy," his mom said) was somewhat of a Renaissance man, with interests ranging from philosophy, writing, economics and '80s music to a passionate love for the Boston Red Sox. "He lived life to the fullest every day," longtime friend Maj. David Willis said. "There was never a challenge he did not meet head- on. There was never anything he saw that was too hard for him to take on." That included Iraq. While Olmsted would entertain discussions about the reasons for America's involvement in Iraq, he was fully committed to trying to fix things there. In his blog postings, he talked optimistically about the impact his unit was having and his belief in doing the job well. In his final posting, he asked everyone to not politicize his death. 'We're all going to die' "We're all going to die of something," he wrote. "I died doing a job I loved. When your time comes, I hope you are as fortunate as I was." But Olmsted's wish didn't stave off grief and regret at the chapel.
The final post:
This is an entry I would have preferred not to have published, but there are limits to what we can control in life, and apparently I have passed one of those limits. And so, like G'Kar, I must say here what I would much prefer to say in person. I want to thank hilzoy for putting it up for me. It's not easy asking anyone to do something for you in the event of your death, and it is a testament to her quality that she didn't hesitate to accept the charge. As with many bloggers, I have a disgustingly large ego, and so I just couldn't bear the thought of not being able to have the last word if the need arose. Perhaps I take that further than most, I don't know. I hope so. It's frightening to think there are many people as neurotic as I am in the world. In any case, since I won't get another chance to say what I think, I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity. Such as it is. "When some people die, it's time to be sad. But when other people die, like really evil people, or the Irish, it's time to celebrate." Jimmy Bender, "Greg the Bunny" "And maybe now it's your turn To die kicking some ass." Freedom Isn't Free, Team America What I don't want this to be is a chance for me, or anyone else, to be maudlin. I'm dead. That sucks, at least for me and my family and friends. But all the tears in the world aren't going to bring me back, so I would prefer that people remember the good things about me rather than mourning my loss. (If it turns out a specific number of tears will, in fact, bring me back to life, then by all means, break out the onions.) I had a pretty good life, as I noted above. Sure, all things being equal I would have preferred to have more time, but I have no business complaining with all the good fortune I've enjoyed in my life. So if you're up for that, put on a little 80s music (preferably vintage 1980-1984), grab a Coke and have a drink with me. If you have it, throw 'Freedom Isn't Free' from the Team America soundtrack in; if you can't laugh at that song, I think you need to lighten up a little. I'm dead, but if you're reading this, you're not, so take a moment to enjoy that happy fact. "Our thoughts form the universe. They always matter." Citizen G'Kar, Babylon 5 Believe it or not, one of the things I will miss most is not being able to blog any longer. The ability to put my thoughts on (virtual) paper and put them where people can read and respond to them has been marvelous, even if most people who have read my writings haven't agreed with them. If there is any hope for the long term success of democracy, it will be if people agree to listen to and try to understand their political opponents rather than simply seeking to crush them. While the blogosphere has its share of partisans, there are some awfully smart people making excellent arguments out there as well, and I know I have learned quite a bit since I began blogging. I flatter myself I may have made a good argument or two as well; if I didn't, please don't tell me. It has been a great five-plus years. I got to meet a lot of people who are way smarter than me, including such luminaries as Virginia Postrel and her husband Stephen (speaking strictly from a 'improving the species' perspective, it's tragic those two don't have kids, because they're both scary smart.), the estimable hilzoy and Sebastian of Obsidian Wings, Jeff Goldstein and Stephen Green, the men who consistently frustrated me with their mix of wit and wisdom I could never match, and I've no doubt left out a number of people to whom I apologize. Bottom line: if I got the chance to meet you through blogging, I enjoyed it. I'm only sorry I couldn't meet more of you. In particular I'd like to thank Jim Henley, who while we've never met has been a true comrade, whose words have taught me and whose support has been of great personal value to me. I would very much have enjoyed meeting Jim. Blogging put me in touch with an inordinate number of smart people, an exhilarating if humbling experience. When I was young, I was smart, but the older I got, the more I realized just how dumb I was in comparison to truly smart people. But, to my credit, I think, I was at least smart enough to pay attention to the people with real brains and even occasionally learn something from them. It has been joy and a pleasure having the opportunity to do this. "It's not fair." "No. It's not. Death never is." Captain John Sheridan and Dr. Stephen Franklin, Babylon 5 "They didn't even dig him a decent grave." "Well, it's not how you're buried. It's how you're remembered." Cimarron and Wil Andersen, The Cowboys I suppose I should speak to the circumstances of my death. It would be nice to believe that I died leading men in battle, preferably saving their lives at the cost of my own. More likely I was caught by a marksman or an IED. But if there is an afterlife, I'm telling anyone who asks that I went down surrounded by hundreds of insurgents defending a village composed solely of innocent women and children. It'll be our little secret, ok?
From what I've read, Maj Olmsted wasn't in favor of OIF; nor the Surge.  The mission that took his life. However:
I do ask (not that I'm in a position to enforce this) that no one try to use my death to further their political purposes. I went to Iraq and did what I did for my reasons, not yours. My life isn't a chit to be used to bludgeon people to silence on either side. If you think the U.S. should stay in Iraq, don't drag me into it by claiming that somehow my death demands us staying in Iraq. If you think the U.S. ought to get out tomorrow, don't cite my name as an example of someone's life who was wasted by our mission in Iraq. I have my own opinions about what we should do about Iraq, but since I'm not around to expound on them I'd prefer others not try and use me as some kind of moral capital to support a position I probably didn't support. Further, this is tough enough on my family without their having to see my picture being used in some rally or my name being cited for some political purpose. You can fight political battles without hurting my family, and I'd prefer that you did so. On a similar note, while you're free to think whatever you like about my life and death, if you think I wasted my life, I'll tell you you're wrong. We're all going to die of something. I died doing a job I loved. When your time comes, I hope you are as fortunate as I was.
FA is an unapologetically partisan conservative, right-wing blog.  However, amidst all the political din, mudslinging, and venomous stabs at the other side, today is Memorial Day.  And to honor Olmsted's memory and his final wishes, I hope anyone leaving comments will pay respects while refraining from engaging in political points.  
Those who know me through my writings on the Internet over the past five-plus years probably have wondered at times about my chosen profession. While I am not a Libertarian, I certainly hold strongly individualistic beliefs. Yet I have spent my life in a profession that is not generally known for rugged individualism. Worse, I volunteered to return to active duty knowing that the choice would almost certainly lead me to Iraq. The simple explanation might be that I was simply stupid, and certainly I make no bones about having done some dumb things in my life, but I don't think this can be chalked up to stupidity. Maybe I was inconsistent in my beliefs; there are few people who adhere religiously to the doctrines of their chosen philosophy, whatever that may be. But I don't think that was the case in this instance either. As passionate as I am about personal freedom, I don't buy the claims of anarchists that humanity would be just fine without any government at all. There are too many people in the world who believe that they know best how people should live their lives, and many of them are more than willing to use force to impose those beliefs on others. A world without government simply wouldn't last very long; as soon as it was established, strongmen would immediately spring up to establish their fiefdoms. So there is a need for government to protect the people's rights. And one of the fundamental tools to do that is an army that can prevent outside agencies from imposing their rules on a society. A lot of people will protest that argument by noting that the people we are fighting in Iraq are unlikely to threaten the rights of the average American. That's certainly true; while our enemies would certainly like to wreak great levels of havoc on our society, the fact is they're not likely to succeed. But that doesn't mean there isn't still a need for an army (setting aside debates regarding whether ours is the right size at the moment). Americans are fortunate that we don't have to worry too much about people coming to try and overthrow us, but part of the reason we don't have to worry about that is because we have an army that is stopping anyone who would try. Soldiers cannot have the option of opting out of missions because they don't agree with them: that violates the social contract. The duly-elected American government decided to go to war in Iraq. (Even if you maintain President Bush was not properly elected, Congress voted for war as well.) As a soldier, I have a duty to obey the orders of the President of the United States as long as they are Constitutional. I can no more opt out of missions I disagree with than I can ignore laws I think are improper. I do not consider it a violation of my individual rights to have gone to Iraq on orders because I raised my right hand and volunteered to join the army. Whether or not this mission was a good one, my participation in it was an affirmation of something I consider quite necessary to society. So if nothing else, I gave my life for a pretty important principle; I can (if you'll pardon the pun) live with that. "It's all so brief, isn't it? A typical human lifespan is almost a hundred years. But it's barely a second compared to what's out there. It wouldn't be so bad if life didn't take so long to figure out. Seems you just start to get it right, and's over." Dr. Stephen Franklin, Babylon 5  
I write this in part, admittedly, because I would like to think that there's at least a little something out there to remember me by. Granted, this site will eventually vanish, being ephemeral in a very real sense of the word, but at least for a time it can serve as a tiny record of my contributions to the world. But on a larger scale, for those who knew me well enough to be saddened by my death, especially for those who haven't known anyone else lost to this war, perhaps my death can serve as a small reminder of the costs of war. Regardless of the merits of this war, or of any war, I think that many of us in America have forgotten that war means death and suffering in wholesale lots. A decision that for most of us in America was academic, whether or not to go to war in Iraq, had very real consequences for hundreds of thousands of people. Yet I was as guilty as anyone of minimizing those very real consequences in lieu of a cold discussion of theoretical merits of war and peace. Now I'm facing some very real consequences of that decision; who says life doesn't have a sense of humor? But for those who knew me and feel this pain, I think it's a good thing to realize that this pain has been felt by thousands and thousands (probably millions, actually) of other people all over the world. That is part of the cost of war, any war, no matter how justified. If everyone who feels this pain keeps that in mind the next time we have to decide whether or not war is a good idea, perhaps it will help us to make a more informed decision. Because it is pretty clear that the average American would not have supported the Iraq War had they known the costs going in. I am far too cynical to believe that any future debate over war will be any less vitriolic or emotional, but perhaps a few more people will realize just what those costs can be the next time. This may be a contradiction of my above call to keep politics out of my death, but I hope not. Sometimes going to war is the right idea. I think we've drawn that line too far in the direction of war rather than peace, but I'm a soldier and I know that sometimes you have to fight if you're to hold onto what you hold dear. But in making that decision, I believe we understate the costs of war; when we make the decision to fight, we make the decision to kill, and that means lives and families destroyed. Mine now falls into that category; the next time the question of war or peace comes up, if you knew me at least you can understand a bit more just what it is you're deciding to do, and whether or not those costs are worth it.
Major Olmsted's closing words, his final thoughts, he reserved for his beloved wife:  
This is the hardest part. While I certainly have no desire to die, at this point I no longer have any worries. That is not true of the woman who made my life something to enjoy rather than something merely to survive. She put up with all of my faults, and they are myriad, she endured separations again and again...I cannot imagine being more fortunate in love than I have been with Amanda. Now she has to go on without me, and while a cynic might observe she's better off, I know that this is a terrible burden I have placed on her, and I would give almost anything if she would not have to bear it. It seems that is not an option. I cannot imagine anything more painful than that, and if there is an afterlife, this is a pain I'll bear forever. I wasn't the greatest husband. I could have done so much more, a realization that, as it so often does, comes too late to matter. But I cherished every day I was married to Amanda. When everything else in my life seemed dark, she was always there to light the darkness. It is difficult to imagine my life being worth living without her having been in it. I hope and pray that she goes on without me and enjoys her life as much as she deserves. I can think of no one more deserving of happiness than her. "I will see you again, in the place where no shadows fall." Ambassador Delenn, Babylon 5 I don't know if there is an afterlife; I tend to doubt it, to be perfectly honest. But if there is any way possible, Amanda, then I will live up to Delenn's words, somehow, some way. I love you.
His friend, Lt. Col. Matthew Goodman, remembered his last meal with Olmsted before he shipped off. Goodman could barely tell the story at the funeral without his voice hitching. "As we were leaving, I asked if he was good to go and if he needed anything," Goodman said. "And I'll never forget, as he put on his jacket and his signature fedora hat, he said the only thing he was going to worry about was missing his wife, Amanda." A widow's struggle Wilson dropped her head again, shoulders hunched forward as if they carried a giant weight. All week, the widow had been struggling with the loss. Her mother had come last week to help, but by Tuesday, Wilson still looked ashen and shell-shocked. As everyone in the chapel stood as a row of soldiers outside fired a volley of shots and a bugler played Taps, the finality of what was happening settled hard. The flag was lifted from the casket and was folded slowly, carefully and precisely - never to be unfolded again. Maj. Gen. Mark Graham got on one knee and whispered words meant only for Wilson. He saluted her slowly. He then did the same for Olmsted's mother. Neither held her composure. Only the sobbing of uniformed men broke the stillness. Gov. Bill Ritter watched from a pew, stone-faced. Then, it was time to say goodbye. Wilson walked up to the casket and, clutching the flag, draped herself over it. She wept openly. She was unsteady on her feet, and a casualty assistance officer helped her exit the chapel - her departure followed by silence.
Over twelve years have since past.   Maj Olmsted's final post should be read in its entirety.  Please take a look, for yourself.  

 There are many links on Obsidian Wings if you wish to read more articles, blogposts, and comments about Andrew Olmsted.

 Have a reflective Memorial Day.  

Cross-posted at Flopping Aces.

 Related posts:
  "God must have a special place for soldiers" 
  Mark Daily's memory continues to inspire hearts and minds
  Remember me with laughter      

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Monday, May 30, 2016

A Solemn Memorial Day

Sorry about the dust and cobwebs, here.  Yes, I still blog on occasion.

"Wednesday night, sitting in a pizza joint in the Bronx, watching the world go by, I was upset and couldn’t put my finger on why.

A friend said “Hey! Do you want to go to Fleet Week? It’s this weekend here in the city.”
What? No? Absolutely not. I don’t want to be in the midst of tens of thousands of people clamoring for a chance to look at a static display of Marine Corps and Navy equipment. I don’t want to see Marines and sailors dressed up, paraded around for community relations and recruiting purposes. I don’t want to watch any parades.

As I said it (barked it, really), my friend’s eyes widened and I recognized the frustration in my tone. I didn’t know why I was upset, at first. I paused, and while I was sitting there contemplating my outburst, I heard a commercial on the radio screaming through the tinny speakers.
“Beaches, beats and BBQs!” it said. “We’re your Memorial Day station with everything you need to kick off the summer in style!”

That’s when it hit me. I’m angry. I’ve come to realize people think Memorial Day is the official start of summer. It’s grilled meat, super-duper discounts, a day (or two) off work, beer, potato salad and porches draped in bunting.


A friend reminded me that plenty of people use the weekend the way it was designed: to pause and remember the men and women who paid the price of our freedom, and then go on about enjoying those freedoms.

But I argue not enough people use it that way. Not enough people pause. Not enough people remember.

I’m frustrated by people all over the country who view the day as anything but a day to remember our WAR DEAD. I hate hearing “Happy Memorial Day.”

It’s not Veterans Day. It’s not military appreciation day. Don’t thank me for my service. Please don’t thank me for my service. It’s take the time to pay homage to the men and women who died while wearing the cloth of this nation you’re so freely enjoying today, day."

-Marine veteran, Jennie Haskamp, May 22, 2015

My Flopping Aces post is up.

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Friday, September 11, 2015

Today is Tuesday...


Remembering David, Ron, Daniel....


Video description:
Uploaded on Sep 5, 2008 These tiles were put up on the fence across the street from St. Vincent's, the hospital in the Village where they waited to take care of the survivors who never came. In case you can't read it, the name on the tile I walked up to at the end is David Reed Gamboa Brandhorst, who was only three years old. His fathers Daniel R. Brandhorst and Ronald Gamboa died with him. I didn't know any of them. I just walked up at a certain point and pointed at the first tile that caught my eye. RIP.

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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

There’s an old story about a fellow who went to a small town in Missouri with the thought of possibly moving his family there. “What kind of people live around here?” he asked the attendant at the local filling station.

“Well,” the attendant replied as he checked the oil, “what kind of people live back where you’re from?”

The visitor took a swallow of his cherry soda and replied, “They’re ornery, mean, and racist.”

The attendant looked up and answered, “Mister, you’ll find them about like that around here, too.”
A few weeks later, another gentleman stopped by the gas station on a muggy July afternoon with the same question. “Excuse me,” he said as he mopped off his brow. “I’m thinking of moving to your town with my family. What kind of people live around these parts?”

Again the attendant asked, “Well, what kind of people live back where you’re from?”

The stranger thought for a moment and replied, “I find them to be kind, decent, and tolerant folks.”
The gas station attendant looked up and said, “Mister, you’ll find them about like that around here, too.”

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Friday, November 21, 2014

CIA Interrogator Breaks His Silence

Dianne Feinstein's so-called 6,300 page "torture report" (executive summary is 500 pages "only")- after 5 years and $40 million in taxpayer money- is slated to be released very soon. Perhaps this weekend; maybe next week, after Thanksgiving. But what will be missing from the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's majority (re: Democrat) report? Participation by Republicans in the investigative process and input (when the report is released, Republicans plan to release the minority view, at the same time). And even more critically, the interviews and opinions of those directly involved in the CIA Detention and Interrogation program itself- you know, those who were actually there- the CIA interrogators, the debriefers, the officials in charge:
Current and former intelligence officials told The Washington Times they are furious that the Senate panel, headed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, did not interview the senior managers of the interrogation program launched after the Sept. 11 attacks or the CIA directors who oversaw it. “The truth is they had their foregone conclusions with what they wanted to say in this report, and they did not want the facts to get into the way,” said Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., one of the CIA’s most respected retired officers and who, as head of the Agency’s clandestine service, oversaw the enhanced interrogation program that used sleep deprivation, waterboarding, uncomfortable positioning and other tactics to extract information from high-value al Qaeda operatives. “The process has been political. It has been ideological. And it is just wrong,” said Mr. Rodriguez, who retired in fall 2007 and later wrote a best-selling book entitled “Hard Measures” that argued that the tactics, which critics have denounced as torture, saved American lives. U.S. intelligence officials and Senate aides confirm that the Senate Intelligence Committee did not interview former CIA directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Mike Hayden, nor did the committee staff interview the program’s direct day-to-day managers, like Mr. Rodriguez. Some of those officials told The Times they were told by Senate aides they weren’t interviewed because they once had been under possible criminal investigation. But that investigation by a special Justice Department prosecutor was closed out more than two years ago, with no charges filed against any supervisor of the program. “It is astonishing nobody ever reached out to us to interview us,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “Especially those people who were directors and program managers during that period of time.”
It is hard to believe that this Report isn't politically, ideologically-driven. Leaks of the report have gone to journalists, already shaping the battle space, as they have always done since the beginning when leaks about the CIA program surfaced over a decade ago:
Mr. Hayden, who ran the CIA from 2006 to 2009, wrote in his regular column Tuesday in The Times that he is disappointed that journalists, op-ed writers and human rights groups got leaks from the report and appeared to have “more access than all but a very few former CIA senior officers whose actions are cataloged there but who have been denied access.” Mr. Hayden said he, Mr. Tenet, and Mr. Goss, though never interviewed, were offered belated access to the report in late July, but only if they signed a nondisclosure agreement with the Senate committee.
For over a decade, journalists and human rights groups, anti-American enemies of the U.S., partisan political opponents, and so-called "experts" who operated on assumptions and half-experiences and not actual first-hand knowledge of the secretive CIA program, were able to shape the "torture" narrative, shaping public perception (or rather, distorting it). CIA interrogators have been unable to fight back the tide of opinion and defend themselves. They have not been at liberty to do so. It wasn't until President Obama released the OLC "How not to torture" memos in April 2009, effectively neutering the EITs listed within the memo (their power was smoke-and-mirrors; once revealed, the techniques can be trained against. The reason why "enhanced interrogations" were even created was because some of the HVTs had received interrogation resistance training against standard techniques, like the "rapport-building" ones that the FBI favor in obtaining confessions and achieving criminal prosecutions).
On the flip side, Ms. Feinstein is upset that the Obama administration blacked out about 15 percent of the passages in the report for security reasons, redactions that she declared earlier this month undercut the report’s findings.
This comes as the UN expressed skepticism on the current administration's "seriousness" and commitment on the torture issue:
A U.S. delegation, in a first appearance before the U.N. Committee Against Torture since 2006, told the panel in Geneva this week that it rejects Bush administration interpretations of torture statutes and affirms U.S. commitment to closing the dark chapter of the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation program. Those assertions, though, didn’t convince the U.N. panel, which hadn’t seen the U.S. crew since abuses of the Bush-era program were publicly revealed. Despite its seeming reversal on Bush-era policies, the U.S. delegation was slammed for touting its 2009 Justice Department Investigation into the CIA’s torture program -- which resulted in no charges -- as proof of its commitment. “We are not fully satisfied with that answer,” said torture committee Chairman George Tugushi. “In our view, any investigation into possible ill treatment by public officials must comply with the criteria of thoroughness. And actually to be considered credible, it must be capable of leading to a determination of whether force or other methods used were or were not justified under the circumstances, and to the identification of the appropriate punishment of those concerned.” The Justice Department probe was supervised by John Durham, an assistant U.S. attorney in Connecticut. After the U.N. panel pressured the U.S. delegation for details, the Americans disclosed that the inquiry questioned more than 90 witnesses. Despite repeated questions, delegation members declined, however, to say whether those witnesses included any prisoners subjected to the CIA methods. One member of the U.N. committee suggested the investigation was a whitewash. The Durham investigation "found that there was not sufficient evidence,” said Jens Modvig. “Well ... you won’t find what you’re not looking for.” CIA detainees who have said they were not interviewed in the Justice Department investigation have described being waterboarded, locked in small boxes and otherwise tortured. The Justice Department inquiry, which lasted from 2009 to 2012, found insufficient evidence to open a criminal probe into abuses. Obama himself said in 2008 before he took office that he wanted to move on from the era and “look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” “By failing to hold the perpetrators of torture accountable, the Obama administration undermined the prohibition on torture and abuse, and it certainly falls short of what’s required by the treaty,” said Jamil Dakwar, director of the Human Rights Program at the American Civil Liberties Union, following Thursday’s meeting of the U.N. panel. “We have no assurance that there has ever been a top-to-bottom criminal investigation that has included an investigation of any possible criminal conduct by government officials who authorized or ordered the use of torture and abuse.” The Obama administration has reportedly used the Durham investigation in pressuring international courts to drop investigations into the Bush-era program, which employed the help of several foreign governments. The focus by the U.N. panel on the Durham investigation underscores a lingering question that remains eight years after America’s torture chapter concluded: Why was no one held accountable? That lack of closure has inspired new questions as the public awaits the release of the executive summary of a Senate Intelligence Committee review of the CIA’s operation. The five-year, $40 million Senate study has been touted as an authoritative accounting of the torture program. But it doesn’t examine the culpability of high-level Bush administration officials, McClatchy Newspapers revealed last month. Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has stressed that the 6,300-page document is meant to be a comprehensive record, not an indictment. The public may never know, at least officially, who in the Bush administration was responsible for a program that, as Feinstein said, was “un-American, brutal” and “never, never, never should have existed.” That reality, the U.N. panel suggested, dents U.S. credibility on torture, and draws into question the Obama administration's dedication to closing the Bush chapter. The Obama administration’s delegation also was asked by the U.N. group on Wednesday if it agreed with a Bush-era interpretation of the panel’s international torture convention, which outlaws harsh treatment of prisoners. Secret Bush legal memos argued that the anti-torture treaty did not apply outside U.S. borders, creating the basis for a covert CIA program that shipped suspected terrorists to secret overseas prisons for harsh interrogation. The Obama delegation had reportedly considered affirming that legal interpretation, which sent the international community into an uproar this month. The U.S. delegation this week appeared to reject the Bush legal reasoning. But its careful parsing of words leaves room for interpretation.
The ideologically-partisan Senator Obama and 1st-day-in-office President is sympathetic to the UN and Feinstein-view in regards to the issue of "torture" and the CIA program. But like on Gitmo, on the NSA, on droning, on the GWoT or "Overseas Contingency Operations", President Obama has found it more difficult to responsibly manage those ideological and political hot potatoes than he was in criticizing them from the outside as a JV senator. The delay in the Report's release is due to on-going disputes between Feinstein's committee, the CIA, and the White House over the redactions (apparently they are negotiating on one last redacted item).
The key issue has been the pseudonyms used in the report to identify CIA personnel involved in the controversial interrogation program. The panel insists that identities are adequately shielded, but the Oval Office and the spy agency have fought tooth and nail against releasing the report with the pseudonyms intact. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday that the CIA’s arguments are “ludicrous.” Wyden has been joined by several of his fellow committee Democrats, who have said the White House’s proposed blackouts would completely dilute the narrative that the report constructs. “Redactions are supposed to remove names or anything that could compromise sources and methods, not to undermine the source material so that it is impossible to understand,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said after the White House originally suggested redactions in August. “Try reading a novel with 15 percent of the words blacked out -- it can't be done properly.” The White House originally suggested that 15 percent of the document had to be blacked out. Negotiations reportedly progressed so that roughly 5 percent was blacked out as of last month. On Tuesday, Feinstein also sought to stifle concerns over what the Republicans' imminent Senate takeover could mean for the future of her report. When asked what might happen if the declassification review isn’t done by January, Feinstein smiled. “It is gonna get done, so don't worry about it,” she said.
Back to the Washington Times read:
current and former senior intelligence personnel are working on their own rebuttals to dispute many of the report’s findings on factual grounds. The CIA produced its own official rebuttal to the report back in June 2013 that is in the process of being declassified. The brewing storm between the CIA and its Democratic intelligence overseers in the Senate comes at an awkward time. The Obama administration is pressing the intelligence community to step up its efforts to uncover possible new threats associated with terrorist groups like the Islamic State, which last week beheaded an American reporter who had been captured in Syria, and Boko Haram, which garnered worldwide attention by kidnapping more than 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria this spring. “We want our operations people focused on thwarting the next terror attack from very real and imminent threats like IS, and instead they’re looking over their shoulders worried about blind criticism about tactics from a decade ago that were authorized by the president and cleared by the Justice Department and briefed to Congress,” said one senior intelligence official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because the official wasn’t authorized to speak to the media. “It’s not the optimum circumstance for the intelligence community. They’re professionals and will do their job. But you never want them distracted at a critical time like this with leaks from a partisan report,” the official said. Mr. Rodriguez, likewise, said he has heard from his former colleagues about the weight the impending report is having on them as they do their jobs each day. He declined to discuss the actual findings of the report, citing the nondisclosure agreement he signed. “These people have mothers, fathers, neighbors and friends, and they have been slandered, been called torturers by the president. And I don’t think the government thinks stuff like this through for the consequences. They are throwing the Agency under the bus right at a time when they need it [the Agency] most,” he said. Current CIA Director John Brennan has held calls and meetings with current staff and former high-level officials likely to be affected by the report. Concerns inside the Agency include that some current or former officers will have their safety placed in jeopardy if outed, that methods and sources will be improperly revealed, that information in the report will be used by foreign governments to try to prosecute CIA officers and that the tenor of the report could create a backlash in the Muslim world, resulting in retaliatory protests and attacks against U.S. agencies and personnel. Mr. Brennan’s message, according to those who have personally heard it, is that he agrees the government early on could have handled the enhanced interrogation program better in some circumstances. But he also has promised to aggressively rebut any disputed information in the report and to defend any individuals from unfair personal attacks. The CIA’s official rebuttal, completed more than a year ago, contains many of the sentiments that Mr. Brennan has expressed privately to concerned Agency employees. Specifically, while acknowledging shortcomings, it challenges strongly the argument in Ms. Feinstein’s committee report that no valuable intelligence was derived from the enhanced interrogation program, according to sources directly familiar with it.
As I had written previously:
So much of what we’ve learned about al Qaeda, so many of the operations that have since been carried out in killing and capturing operatives, subsequently leading to more info and more kills and captures, can all be traced back to what we began learning about the al Qaeda network from CIA interrogations of HVTs. Waterboarding Zubaydah and KSM had a cascading effect, unlocking intell information that did not require more wateboardings, but which can trace their intell lineage back to the CIA program. By 2006, over half of what we knew about al Qaeda had come out of the CIA program.
I believe I had gotten that last information from Thiessen's book. Also in the Washington Times article:
One of its primary conclusions — reported in a recent New York Times article — is that CIA torture was more common in the period right after Sept. 11, 2001, than previously acknowledged and that the CIA misled Bush administration officials about how widely enhanced interrogations were used and why they were necessary.
In the early days on the heels of 9/11, in the chaotic aftermath to create new programs and prevent the next attack, mistakes were undoubtedly made. Stephen Hayes:
There are certainly parts of the program that deserve criticism. There were major problems with the way it was conceived, approved, and carried out. There were troubling abuses in the early years, and later some misleading briefings about the enhanced interrogation techniques used. There were conflicts of interest and questionable accounting practices. Some of the public claims about the intelligence derived from enhanced techniques were clearly exaggerated, and at least one of those claims was patently false. Such matters should be subject to tough, dispassionate, fact-based investigation. Actual failings should be condemned by both Republicans and Democrats, by supporters of the program as well as opponents. That’s not what happened here. Instead, the report was produced by the Democratic staff of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, chaired by Dianne Feinstein. Republicans declined to participate.
Anyone who decides to read the Feinstein "torture" Report and who is more interested in the truth than in partisan-blame and bias confirmation, should also balance it out with the Minority view, Republican rebuttal, as well as the CIA rebuttal. That also works the other way, as well. It is why I've read the works of so many of the critics. I still consider Ali Soufan's Black Banner a good read; and the former FBI agent a great patriot. But his book, and that of Matthew Alexander (pseudonym for Anthony Camerino), should be balanced out with Jose Redriguez' Hard Measures and Marc Thiessen's Courting Disaster. Even though "Beale" doesn't name them, Ali Soufan and- I believe- Steven Kleinman- are the two interrogators "Beale" is calling out. President Obama had made it clear we should move forward and not look backward. Senator Feinstein claims this isn't about criminally prosecuting anyone. Then what's the point? How did abu Ghraib's revelations help our war efforts? It didn't. It exacerbated and inflamed. It was a recruitment bonanza for the insurgents and jihad fighters joining up with Zarqawi and al Qaeda in Iraq. It didn't make us any safer, or Iraqis any safer, because we Americans 'fessed and owned up to our sins in the middle of a war. Former CIA Director Hayden also warns how, in a time like this where we are still fighting a global jihad movement, along with Islamists in Iraq and Syria, the timing of this release will only help America's enemies. Jihadis have become well-versed in the promotion of jihadi propaganda over social media and the internet. The Feinstein Report is guaranteed to provide them with more fodder to feed their potential recruitment:
WASHINGTON -- As the nation’s intelligence communities brace for the Senate’s explosive report on the CIA’s now-defunct torture program to be made public, officials are warning that its release in the midst of the Islamic State fight could put American lives at risk, according to former CIA Director Michael Hayden. “American embassies and other installations around the world have been warned to take defensive action in anticipation of this report being released,” Hayden cautioned Monday on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe." “That is somewhat troubling.” Hayden's concerns follow public reports of other officials pointing to risks for overseas U.S. personnel since the Senate Intelligence Committee first voted in April to publicly release parts of its behemoth study on the post-9/11 program. The committee voted 11-3 to make public the 500-page executive summary of its five-year, $40 million study.
Any chance of the Report not seeing the light of day in the middle of an ideological war? Nada:
On Tuesday, Feinstein also sought to stifle concerns over what the Republicans' imminent Senate takeover could mean for the future of her report. When asked what might happen if the declassification review isn’t done by January, Feinstein smiled. “It is gonna get done, so don't worry about it,” she said.
I have a hard time believing that Feinstein isn't ideologically and politically driven on this. I believe the accusations of the CIA "snooping" was also politically-charged, distorting what had actually happened. This past week, a very important piece was made available at the Weekly Standard. As Stephen Hayes reports:
Now, for the first time, one of the lead interrogators is attempting to tell the other side of the story. Writing under the pseudonym Jason Beale, he has produced a provocative 39-page document in an effort to counter the narrative pushed by Democrats and amplified by journalists eager to discredit the program. The document—which Beale says was reviewed, redacted, and cleared by a U.S. government agency—does not reveal Beale’s precise role in the program. A spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency would not confirm that the CIA was the agency that reviewed Beale’s document. And in an email interview, Beale refused even to acknowledge that he conducted interrogations in the CIA program. “The opinions I expressed on interrogations in the document I sent you,” he wrote, “are representative of the insight I’ve gained during my career as an interrogator. While I am aware that you and others may draw some inference from the approved portion of the text as to the basis of my arguments regarding enhanced techniques, I am not presently in a position to elaborate on how I formed those opinions.” Sources familiar with the program independently confirm that Beale served as a senior interrogator beginning in 2004. Beale’s document covers many aspects of the debate over enhanced interrogation—the morality of enhanced interrogation techniques, the use of EITs on U.S. servicemen and women during their survival training, the hypocrisy of public officials who approved the program and later pretended that they opposed it, the unearned authority of several top critics of the program, and, most important, the effectiveness of the techniques.
"Beale" challenges the Feinstein claim that EITs didn't work. Marc Thiessen's book made it known that CIA interrogators underwent waterboarding themselves, so that they knew intimately, firsthand, the seriousness and severity of what they may be doing to HVTs, should the need arise. That neutralizes the critic challenge, "If waterboarding isn't torture, then try it yourself". The interrogators themselves had. "Beale" himself underwent waterboarding:
Beale participated in the course first as a student, then as an interrogator.
As a student, I learned that I could resist, and occasionally manipulate, a talented interrogator during my numerous “soft-sell” interrogations—the rapport-building, we-know-all, pride-and-ego up/down, do-the-right-thing approaches. I had my story relatively straight, and I simply stuck to it, regardless of how ridiculous or implausible the interrogator made it sound. He wasn’t doing anything to me—there was no consequence to my lies, no matter how transparent. I then learned the difference between “soft-sell” and “hard-sell” by way of a large interrogator who applied enhanced techniques promptly upon the uttering of my first lie. I learned that it was infinitely more difficult for me to remember my lies and keep my story straight under pressure. I learned that it became difficult to repeat a lie if I received immediate and uncomfortable consequences for each iteration. It made me have to make snap decisions under intense pressure in real time—and fumble and stumble through rapid-fire follow-up questions designed to poke massive holes in my story. I learned that I needed to practically live my lie if I were to be questioned under duress, as the unrehearsed details are the wild-cards that bite you in the ass. I learned that I would rather sit across from the most talented interrogator on earth doing a soft-sell than any interrogator on earth doing a hard-sell—the information I had would be safer because the only consequences to my lies come in the form of words. I could handle words. Anyone could. Ask any SERE Level C graduate which method was more effective on him or her—their answer should tell you something about the effectiveness of enhanced techniques, whether you agree with them or not. In my case, I learned that enhanced techniques made me want to tell the truth to make it stop—not to compound my situation with more lies. The only thing that kept me from telling the truth was the knowledge that at some point it had to end—that there were more students to interrogate and only so many hours in a day. Absent that knowledge, I would have caved. As a TDY [temporary duty] interrogator in the SERE course, I learned that the toughest, meanest, most professional special operations soldiers on earth had a breaking point. Every one of them. And of all the soldiers I interrogated, all of the “breaks” came during hard-sell interrogations—using as many enhanced techniques as necessary to convince the soldier that continuing to lie would result in immediate consequences. It worked—time and again, it worked.
The techniques were effective, Beale claims, not only with U.S. soldiers being prepared for what they might encounter if captured by an enemy, but also with senior al Qaeda prisoners. Defenders of EITs point to the extraction of important information on al Qaeda’s couriers to make their case. The information on one courier in particular—Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti—led to the location of Osama bin Laden’s safe house in Abbottabad, Pakistan. In a heavily redacted section of his document, Beale writes that the EITs were essential to obtaining that information. Others have reported that two high-value detainees subject to enhanced interrogation—Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libi—went to great lengths to conceal information about the courier. That they did so after providing a steady stream of accurate and valuable information suggested to interrogators and analysts that the information about al-Kuwaiti was important. Beale writes:
That high-level detainee would no more have voluntarily sat down across from a debriefer and provided his list of Al Qaeda couriers without having been conditioned to do so than he would have walked ■■■■■■■■■■■■■■ and asked to speak to the CIA debriefer. It simply would not have happened without incentive, and his incentive was to not go back to enhanced techniques. Period. Love it or hate it, that’s the way it worked.
I know that we couldn’t have collected the same information using standard techniques because I was an expert in using standard techniques — I used them thousands of times over two decades — and the notion that I could have convinced the detainees. . .to provide closely-held information (or any information at all) without the use of enhanced interrogation techniques is laughable. There is zero chance. Zero.
Hayes also points out how Beale makes mention of the change in President Obama's language when speaking publicly about the efficacy of CIA "torture". Essentially, it appears that President Obama, in being privy to the classified information, realizes that EITs had worked; but still disagrees with the methods and considers them to be "torture". One more item which is in Hayes' article but not in Beale's document:
In an interview, I pointed out that much of the coming debate will be about the effectiveness of the techniques and asked Beale directly: Were they effective? He made a simple point that he hadn’t made in his document. He noted that those subject to enhanced interrogation haven’t boasted about their ability to withstand the techniques and to withhold valuable information.
That is probably a question best asked of the former detainees—did Abu Zubaydah, Abu Faraj al-Libi, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramsi bin al-Shib, Hambali, Nashiri, or any of their brethren give up protected information during their time in the custody of CIA? If they didn’t they should be proud of their ability to withstand such torturous tactics—I would think they would mock the feeble and misguided efforts of the CIA interrogators to get them to talk, or to make a mistake, rather than claim that such treatment made them say things they later regret. That’s the point of enhanced interrogation—at least from my perspective as a former TDY SERE interrogator—you hope that they say things they will later regret.
Beale wrote his document “to remind the American public that there are two sides to every story” and to make clear “that the upcoming [Senate] report should be read with an understanding that the outcome was predetermined by the political and ideological leanings of the majority, which produced the report.” He is concerned that the documentation included in the summary report was selected to make the argument that Senate Democrats wanted to make and that information complicating that narrative was deliberately excluded.
Read the entire 40-page document. It is well worth the time. A blogpost I am proud of from 2011, "Torture doesn't work..., ok, so where's the disagreement?" has a link that no longer seems to work. In light of that, here is a reprint-copy of the post. I may try and restore the 40+ comments later on by embedding them into the copy.

Cross-posted at Flopping Aces

Further recent articles of interest:

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

It has been said, "time heals all wounds." I do not agree.
The wounds remain. In time,
the mind, (protecting its sanity), covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But, it is never gone.

-Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy

Ron, Dan,.......David.

“Just five more minutes, Daddy…”

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Thursday, April 03, 2014

Fighting to Restore a Free Society

Charles Koch responds to critics like Harry Reid in today's WSJ:

A truly free society is based on a vision of respect for people and what they value. In a truly free society, any business that disrespects its customers will fail, and deserves to do so. The same should be true of any government that disrespects its citizens. The central belief and fatal conceit of the current administration is that you are incapable of running your own life, but those in power are capable of running it for you. This is the essence of big government and collectivism.
More than 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson warned that this could happen. "The natural progress of things," Jefferson wrote, "is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground." He knew that no government could possibly run citizens' lives for the better. The more government tries to control, the greater the disaster, as shown by the current health-care debacle. Collectivists (those who stand for government control of the means of production and how people live their lives) promise heaven but deliver hell. For them, the promised end justifies the means.
Instead of encouraging free and open debate, collectivists strive to discredit and intimidate opponents. They engage in character assassination. (I should know, as the almost daily target of their attacks.) This is the approach that Arthur Schopenhauer described in the 19th century, that Saul Alinsky famously advocated in the 20th, and that so many despots have infamously practiced. Such tactics are the antithesis of what is required for a free society—and a telltale sign that the collectivists do not have good answers.
Rather than try to understand my vision for a free society or accurately report the facts about Koch Industries, our critics would have you believe we're "un-American" and trying to "rig the system," that we're against "environmental protection" or eager to "end workplace safety standards." These falsehoods remind me of the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's observation, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts." Here are some facts about my philosophy and our company:

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