How a US Army ‘Gator Gets Info in Less Than 10 Minutes

The first time I taught a one-hour class at the US Military Academy at West Point, a 20-year-old student made it very clear that while he might be studying ethics, law and morality in school, it was practicalities that really concerned him.

"If we are kicking in doors in Iraq," the third year student – known in West Point parlance as a "Cow" – said, "and I find a guy who has a load of materials that could be used to build an IED in his home and explosive residue on his hands, I don't have time to do a by-the-book interview do I? I mean, lives are at stake and we will have minutes, not hours or days, to get the info we need."

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Wikileaks Cables: Evidence in Hand Points to “Masterminds” Behind Assassination of Prominent Indonesian Rights Activist

Among the handful of bombshells one can find in the cables that went back and forth between the U.S. State Department and embassy staff in Jakarta is this: the U.S. is apparently aware of evidence linking a high level Indonesian security official to the assassination of Munir Said Thalib, one of Indonesia’s most outspoken human rights activists.

Munir was poisoned in 2004 as he flew from Jakarta to Amsterdam.While a handful of people thought to be responsible for the murder have been charged in his death, the “masterminds” – as the cables refer to them – of the assassination are not in prison.

According to reports about the cables, recently released by Wikileaks, Indonesian police have a witness who claims that, “former [Indonesian Intelligence] chief Hendropriyono chaired two meetings at which Munir's assassination was planned.”

A witness at those meetings told Indonesian police that “only the time and method of the murder changed from the plans he heard discussed; original plans were to kill Munir in his office.”

But as the cables make clear, the witness – like others with first-hand knowledge of the killing – is unwilling to testify in the case because he fears for his safety. ''

A breakthrough on who ordered the murder would presumably require someone with inside information to take an extraordinary risk in testifying, and would require protection,” the cables say. “Nonetheless, the police seem to have been given orders to show progress on the case, likely due to international attention.''

Separate cables also detail the backroom discussions that led to the recent resumption of U.S. military assistance to Kopassus, the Indonesian special forces who are alleged to have committed serious human rights violations in Aceh, Papua, East Timor, Jakarta and elsewhere.

The cables lay out an argument for re-engaging with the special ops community despite their rights record, by suggesting that closer military ties would encourage further reform of Indonesia's military. The cables also report that Indonesian officials threatened to derail President Obama’s November, 2010 visit to Indonesia if the ties to Kopassus were not renewed. (Indonesian officials vehemently deny that this threat was ever made.)

But taken as a complete body of work, the cables make clear that Washington is keen to make more friends than enemies in Jakarta. State Department officials devote the majority of their key strokes to considerations such as:  “U.S. economic interests” in a country that has grown the largest economy in Southeast Asia; “counter-terrorism cooperation” in a country where Islamic extremists have found refuge and carried out attacks; and the relationship between Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the Chinese, who are also investing heavily in their ties to Indonesia.

All this suggests that activists who want to see accountability for Munir’s death are going to have to continue to pressure officials in Jakarta and Washington for further action on the case. Now that there is public evidence that the Indonesians (and the Americans) are aware of evidence against Hendropriyono, it has become even harder for officials to close the books on this tragic killing.

Bush Speech Writer Makes Jack Bauer Look Reasonable

A new book from a former political speech writer for President George Bush makes a number of wild claims in an effort to "correct the record" about the CIA enhanced interrogation program that featured the use of such "techniques" as waterboarding and slamming detainees heads into walls. The book, Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack, by Mark Thiessen, hit book stores today. An excerpt which ran on The National Review web site calls the CIA interrogators who used these abusive techniques the "real Jack Bauers" but explains that their work was nowhere near as violent as the interrogation scenes depicted on the hit FOX TV program.

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What Do We Lose by Mirandizing Nigerian Who Sought to Blow Up Plane on Christmas Day?

An army of political pundits is crying foul over the transfer of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to the federal criminal court system.

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If You Believe Guantanamo Makes Us Safer You Should Have Been Here Today

Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, 11/18/09 - Legal proceedings, such as they are, rumbled to life again today at Guantanamo Bay. Pre-trial issues in the case of Mohammed Kamin, an Afghan man who was captured by the U.S. in Afghanistan in 2003, were heard in a military commission courtroom on a small hill a few miles away from where the more than 200 detainees left at Guantanamo are housed.

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Khadr Case Goes Nowhere at Gitmo (Again)

Choosing a Court

More than seven years after U.S. forces picked up a 15-year-old boy in a remote Afghan town and accused him of throwing a grenade at a U.S. soldier, the U.S. government appears to be on the verge of deciding where to give him his day in court.

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Two Retired Generals Denounce Former Vice President Cheney

It’s not every day that retired generals denounce a Vice President. But two distinguished military leaders felt compelled to speak out against Mr. Cheney’s support of torture, in an op-ed in today’s Miami Herald.

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Did the Washington Post's Richard Cohen Scare the "*#*!#!" out of you?

Have you heard of Ishmael? He is the bogeyman of Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen.

In his column today, Cohen says that Ishmael, a fictionalized "terrorist or a suicide bomber or anything you want" who the U.S. will capture one day, won't talk because the Obama administration has outlawed the use of waterboarding and other abusive "enhanced" interrogation techniques.

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Gitmo Trials: Being All They Can Be

Earlier this month I sat in the observer box in an air-conditioned court room in Guantánamo Bay, wondering what it would be like if commission proceedings designed to try suspected terrorists lived up to the old U.S. Army recruiting slogan, "Be all you can be."

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What would you do if you were a defense attorney at Gitmo?

David Danzig is at Guantanamo Bay this week observing military commissions.

Guantánamo Bay, July 15, 2009 --- Imagine for a moment that you are Richard Federico, the Navy Lieutenant charged with defending Mohammed Kamin, a man that the U.S. government has reportedly held at Guantánamo Bay since 2004 under charges that he provided "material support" to terrorists.

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