Six days of testimony at the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling have proven the agency’s obsession with proclaiming its competence. Many of the two-dozen witnesses from the Central Intelligence Agency conveyed smoldering resentment that a whistleblower or journalist might depict the institution as a bungling outfit unworthy of its middle name.

Some witnesses seemed to put Sterling and journalist James Risen roughly in the same nefarious category – Sterling for allegedly leaking classified information that put the CIA in a bad light, and Risen for reporting it. Muffled CIA anger was audible, coming from the witness stand, a seat filled by people claiming to view any aspersions on the CIA to be baseless calumnies.

Other than court employees, attorneys and jurors, only a few people sat through virtually the entire trial. As one of them, I can say that the transcript of USA v. Jeffrey Alexander Sterling should be mined for countless slick and clumsy maneuvers by government witnesses to obscure an emerging picture of CIA recklessness, dishonesty and ineptitude.

Consider, for example, the testimony of David Shedd, who was chief of operations for the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division when Sterling was a case officer at the turn of the century. On the stand, Shedd presented himself as superbly savvy about Operation Merlin. He’d met with the head prosecutor three times to prepare for testifying. Yet, as a witness, Shedd turned out to be stunningly ignorant about the only CIA operation at issue in the trial.

Continue

Francois Hollande is not a popular president. No matter how hard the "socialist" leader tries to impress, there never seems to be a no solid constituency that backs him. He attempted to mask his initial lack of experience in foreign affairs with a war in Mali, after his country enthusiastically took on Libya. While he succeeded at launching wars, he failed at managing their consequences as the latest attacks in Paris have demonstrated.

Following the attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, he is now attempting to ride a wave of popularity among his countrymen. On January 11, an estimated 3.5 million people took to the streets of France in support of free speech – as if that were truly the crux of the problem. Nearly forty world leaders and top officials, many of whom are themselves unrelenting violators of human rights and free speech, walked arm in arm throughout the streets of Paris. It was a photo-op to show that the world was "united against terrorism."

In the midst of it all, the embattled Hollande was at center stage, ready to act as a statesman, decisive leader, and father of a nation. And as his nation tried to come to terms with the tragedy, Hollande made his annual new year’s address, promising to escalate the exact same policies that engendered violence and what many western pundits readily refer to as "Islamic terrorism."

Continue

Last October, Saudi Arabia’s Special Criminal Court sentenced Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr – a popular Shi’ite cleric and outspoken political dissident – to death.

This was not an ordinary criminal trial, even considering Saudi Arabia’s liberal use of capital punishment. Among other charges, the prosecutor sought to convict al-Nimr of “waging war on God” and “aiding terrorists,” even calling for the cleric to be publicly executed by “crucifixion.” In Saudi Arabia, this rare method of execution entails beheading the individual before publicly displaying his decapitated body.

The widely revered Shi’ite cleric was ultimately convicted of “disobeying” the king, waging violence against the state, inviting “foreign meddling” in the kingdom, inciting vandalism and sectarian violence, and insulting the Prophet Muhammad’s relatives. However, al-Nimr’s family and supporters claim that the ruling was politically driven and insist that the cleric led a non-violent movement committed to promoting Shi’ite rights, women’s rights, and democratic reform in Saudi Arabia.

Continue

After a week of ominous language about the dangers of leaking classified documents, the 14 jurors in the Jeffrey Sterling trial Tuesday got their first look at purportedly classified documents.

Martha Lutz, the CIA’s Chief of Litigation Support and the bane of anyone who has FOIAed the CIA in the last decade, was on the stand, a tiny woman with a beehive hairdo and a remarkably robust voice. After having Lutz lay out the Executive Orders that have governed classified information in the last two decades and what various designations mean, the government introduced four documents into evidence – three under the silent witness rule – and showed them to Lutz.

“When originally classified were these documents properly classified as secret,” the prosecution asked of the three documents.

“They weren’t,” Lutz responded.

“But they are now properly classified secret?”

“Yes,” Lutz answered.

A court officer handed out a packet of these same documents with bright red SECRET markings on the front to each juror (the government had tried to include such a warning on the binders of other exhibits, but the defense pointed out that nothing in them was actually classified at all). Judge Leonie Brinkema, apparently responding to the confused look on jurors’ faces, explained these were still-classified documents intended for their eyes only. “You’ll get the context,” Judge Brinkema added. “The content is not really anything you have to worry about.” The government then explained these documents were seized from Jeffrey Sterling’s house in Missouri in 2006. Then the court officer collected the documents back up again, having introduced the jurors to the exclusive world of CIA’s secrets for just a few moments.

Continue

From January 4-12, 2015, Witness Against Torture (WAT) activists assembled in Washington D.C. for an annual time of fasting and public witness to end the United States’ use of torture and indefinite detention and to demand the closure, with immediate freedom for those long cleared for release, of the illegal U.S. prison at Guantanamo.

Participants in our eight day fast started each day with a time of reflection. This year, asked to briefly describe who or what we had left behind and yet might still carry in our thoughts that morning, I said that I’d left behind an imagined WWI soldier, Leonce Boudreau.

I was thinking of Nicole de’Entremont’s story of World War I, A Generation of Leaves, which I had just finished reading.  Initial chapters focus on a Canadian family of Acadian descent. Their beloved oldest son, Leonce, enlists with Canada’s military because he wants to experience life beyond the confines of a small town and he feels stirred by a call to defend innocent European people from advancing "Hun" warriors. He soon finds himself mired in the horrid slaughter of trench warfare near Ypres, Belgium.

I often thought of Leonce during the week of fasting with WAT campaign members.  We focused, each day, on the experiences and writing of a Yemeni prisoner in Guantanamo, Fahed Ghazi who, like Leonce, left his family and village to train as a fighter for what he believed to be a noble cause.  He wanted to defend his family, faith and culture from hostile forces.  Pakistani forces captured Fahed and turned him over to US forces after he had spent two weeks in a military training camp in Afghanistan.  At the time he was 17, a juvenile.  He was cleared for release from Guantanamo in 2007.

Continue

It’s not really “news” at this point, but every couple of weeks a new IAEA report comes out confirming that Iran is abiding by the terms of the interim nuclear agreement. It’s a good reminder, because after a couple weeks of not hearing about it the hawks start beating the drums.

For the AP, however, it’s just more fuel for scaremongering, as the inimitable George Jahn describes the exact same program as a “nuke program” centering on weapons.

Which, of course, it’s not. The interim deal centers on Iran’s civilian program, limiting enrichment that was already at levels far too low for an atomic weapon. The AP ignores the facts, once again, and keeps insinuating there are weapons being made.