Rudman: Deus ex Machina on Torture
The announcement in mid-March that CIA Director Leon Panetta had picked former Sen. Warren Rudman to act as CIA "liaison" with the Senate Intelligence Committee during its "review" of interrogation and detention practices has drawn virtually no criticism from the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM).
Yet, it is a dead give-away as to how congressional leaders plan to go through the motions for a year or so, and then let everyone off the hook.
Why let everyone off the hook? Because congressional leaders, Republican and Democratic alike, were informed of the Bush/Cheney administration plans for torture - perhaps not chapter and verse, but enough to be complicit in their silence. Both parties have amply soiled the dirty linen that could be hung out.
So here's the plan. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, looking toward reelection in 2010, calculates that the last thing he needs is a bonafide investigation that would make him vulnerable to Cheneyesque charges of being weak in the "war" on terrorism. These days, if you take a hard line against torture, you can be made to appear soft on terrorism.
Worse still, other prominent Democrats like Sen. Jay Rockefeller and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were given intelligence briefings on interrogation, warrantless eavesdropping, and God knows what else. And they let Bush and Cheney run right over them with nary a whimper.
Surely, the Washington power structure concurs that what is needed is the kind of "thorough investigation" which President Richard Nixon loudly called for, with tongue in check, on Watergate. So, Senate team managers Reid and Rockefeller have gone to their bench for an ace utility infielder - quintessential practitioner of "thorough" investigations, Warren Rudman. They are eager to bring Rudman on as liaison with the Senate Intelligence Committee led by Dianne Feinstein with Rockefeller sitting at her right hand, so to speak.
The FCM, whether from indolence or timidity, have completely missed the boat on Rudman, calling him a "respected" veteran of investigations of national security issues. Does no one do due diligence - or simple homework - anymore?
Are the FCM journalists determined to make it easy for Attorney General Eric Holder to shirk his duty to see that the law is faithfully enforced, by giving him the out of saying, "Well, let's first see what the Senate Intelligence Committee comes up with."
It's been seven weeks since word got out that Rudman is back in service; yet hardly a word about Rudman's reputation as designated fixer par excellence. Rudman has been wildly successful in covering up past national security crimes.
It is troubling that it should have to fall to the likes of us - far from the comfortable environs of the FCM - to point this out.
The FCM has been quite busy applying the sobriquet "respected politician" to Rudman, though in his case it is truly an oxymoron.
In the 1980s, Rudman earned his spurs by working hand in glove with then-Rep. Dick Cheney to limit the scope of the Iran-Contra investigation. Rudman was essentially the good cop to Cheney's bad.
Rudman was one of three "moderate" Republican senators who collaborated with "moderate" Democratic co-chairman Lee Hamilton in soft-peddling the roles of President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush in authorizing and overseeing the Iran-Contra law violations.
While Hamilton and Rudman laid most of the blame on Oliver North and other low-level "men of zeal," Cheney led the rear-guard Republican defense, insisting that the Reagan administration had committed no crimes and instead blaming Democrats in Congress for daring to pass laws interfering with the President's powers.
In the end, Hamilton got what he wanted, a veneer of "bipartisanship" with the signatures of Rudman and two other GOP senators (William Cohen and Paul Trible); Rudman got a watered-down "majority report"; and Cheney went ahead with his in-your-face "minority report" that he later proclaimed had laid the foundation for George W. Bush's views on expansive presidential powers.
In the end, none of the White House folks or other senior officials who played fast and loose with the law during the Iran-Contra affair were held to account.
A noxious precedent was set. This kind of experience, one might say, has a way of emboldening lawbreakers to try again - and again.
Dissing Gulf War Veterans
In this next example, I am having difficulty controlling my anger. For I remain outraged by Rudman's willingness to do the Pentagon's bidding in refusing to acknowledge that the illnesses of over 200,000 U.S. Gulf War veterans were related to exposure to several toxic chemicals - pesticides, experimental pills and vaccines, depleted uranium, oil-well fire pollution, and nerve gas - for starters.
Dual-use technologies needed to make nerve agents were sold to Iraq during the Reagan and Bush I administrations (when Saddam Hussein was something of a secret ally) and the stockpiles of nerve agents were then blown up by U.S. Army engineers in 1991 oblivious to the fact that 145,000 U.S. troops were downwind. After a decade of denials, the Pentagon fessed up and notified those 145,000 Gulf War veterans they may have been exposed to low levels of chemical warfare agents.
Patrick and Robin Eddington, former colleagues of mine at CIA, had been appalled at the cover-up of Gulf War illnesses orchestrated by the Pentagon and by then-CIA Director John Deutch. I watched closely as the Eddingtons tried, in vain, to do the right thing by Gulf War veterans who had served in the Iraq Theater. (When the couple saw no alternative to quitting and exposing the continuing injustices by writing a book, "Gassed in the Gulf," I was honored to be asked to write the Foreword.)
But U.S. government bureaucrats and politicians had other priorities, such as deflecting attention from - and cost of - the Gulf War illnesses.
So, in May 1997, Warren Rudman was appointed the Pentagon's special adviser on Gulf War syndrome by his old Senate colleague William Cohen, who had moved on to be President Bill Clinton's bipartisan choice as Defense Secretary.
In this advisory post, Rudman dismissed all evidence that challenged the Pentagon's conclusion that Gulf War illnesses were not caused by multiple toxic exposures. Rudman succeeded in sparing the Pentagon embarrassment, but at the price of denying over 200,000 Gulf War veterans the medical care they needed to cope with a wide array of neurological and other maladies. The result was to delay for over a decade medical research, treatment and disability benefits for Gulf War veterans.
That's right, over 200,000 of the 700,000 U.S. troops remain ill 18 years after the March 1991 cease-fire.
For readers with strong stomachs and a yearning for more detail, we include below the gist of a short piece I wrote at the time to chronicle Rudman's role in this unconscionable cover-up from May 1997 until January 2001, when Clinton awarded him the Presidential Citizens Medal for services performed.
Taking no credit away from Rudman for his effective hatchet-man role, it is only fair to point out that it was Clinton who chose to cave in to the Pentagon. Rudman was merely a willing functionary - a hired gun doing his best to protect his client in The Pentagon v. Gulf War Veterans.
That Clinton would single out Rudman for a special award, however, was a gratuitous slap in the face of tens of thousands of ill veterans without a voice in the high councils of our government.
The findings of the panel led by Rudman from 1997 to 2001 have now been thoroughly discredited.
Late last year, after reviewing hundreds of peer-reviewed research studies, an independent Research Advisory Committee (RAC) mandated by Congress, concluded that prior investigations were biased against veterans, slanted in favor of the military and VA leadership, and woefully incomplete.
The November 2008 RAC report found that scientific research has determined a conclusive link between Gulf War illnesses and toxic exposures during deployment. The RAC also called pointedly for a reduction in government interference in the scientific process.
When I mentioned the re-emergence of Rudman to shepherd yet another "investigation" - this one on torture, Paul Sullivan, a former project manager for the Veterans Administration and now executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, expressed outrage. I asked Sullivan why the Pentagon was so stubbornly resisting the reality that over 200,000 troops needed proper care - many of them for the long term.
"Previous administrations fought against our veterans because the government wanted to save money and preserve the myth of an easy, cheap Gulf War victory," said Sullivan. "Healthcare and disability benefits for life might well cost over a million dollars for each of the 200,000 Gulf War veterans who are ill - a total price tag in the billions of dollars per year.
"This means the inexpensive, "casualty-light" Gulf War portrayed by the Pentagon and FCM was actually a very expensive, high-casualty conflict," said Sullivan, who served as a Cavalry Scout during Desert Storm.
Speaking on behalf of Veterans for Common Sense, Sullivan indicated that VCS strongly opposes the involvement of Warren Rudman in investigating torture, given his role in covering up the Gulf War scandal of the 1990s. Sullivan noted that at least one active duty Army soldier committed suicide rather than follow orders to torture detainees.
Veterans for Common Sense is co-plaintiff in the ACLU lawsuit that is forcing President Obama to release torture documents and photos.
Covering up President Bush's torture policies is more about avoiding liability to prosecution - or, at least, acute political embarrassment. But the tools of cover-up are the same; and, again, what is needed is an experienced hand.
CIA Director Panetta seems confident that he has that kind of person in Rudman. It was while Panetta was White House chief of staff under President Clinton that Rudman became head of the prestigious President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), after the previous chairman, Les Aspin, died in May 1995. Rudman, the consummate insider, was officially named chair of PFIAB in 1997 and served in that capacity until 2001.
He is now 79, but can be assumed to be well rested and no doubt has been warming up for his new job with Panetta and CIA operatives-some of whom were involved in implementing the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld torture policy. It is becoming clearer and clearer what Panetta meant when, at his confirmation hearings in early February he tried to reassure members of the Senate Intelligence Committee they should expect little trouble from him. "I am a creature of Congress," he said with a broad smile, which was returned by smiles of equal width from members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Rudman, another "creature of Congress," can be expected over the coming months to exhibit his characteristic exuberance in coming off the bench to play the role of designated hitter. If all goes as our distinguished Senators expect, the torture thing will be fixed by this time next year, when Rudman reaches 80.
We shall have to wait to see if the FCM will wake up and take some interest so that the American body politic has an opportunity to be informed and perhaps even to summon the courage to prevent a Rudman Redux - this time on torture.
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Chronicling Rudman Role on Gulf War Illness
May 1997: Rudman is retained by his close friend, Defense Secretary William Cohen, to act as special adviser on Gulf War illnesses. The announcement coincides with a report of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses criticizing the Pentagon for being too slow to investigate possible chemical incidents and for obstructing the Committee's work.
November 1997: The final Presidential Advisory Committee report covering the months since May 1997 finds that "public mistrust about the government's handling of Gulf War veterans' illness has not only endured, it has expanded." The Committee charges that the Pentagon-run battlefield surveys and research and analysis had hopelessly biased conclusions against the possibility that low-level exposures to chemical agents were a factor.
This stinging critique notes that many U.S. alarm and detection systems could not detect lower levels of chemicals that might have delayed effects, and that the Pentagon had summarily dismissed virtually all other reported detections - by British, French, and Czech forces, for example - as unproven. President Bill Clinton names Rudman to head an "independent panel" (The Presidential Special Oversight Board) to ensure that the Pentagon's inquiry into Gulf War illnesses "meets the highest standards."
In view of the Committee's findings and Rudman's close relationship with Cohen, then-Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Connecticut, and others immediately question how independent such a panel could be. How could Rudman be expected to perform an unbiased investigation of the behavior of a major client on an issue on which Rudman had been advising that client for the preceding half-year?
October 2000: The Pentagon announces that 30,000 additional Gulf War servicemen and women are to be told they have been exposed to Iraqi nerve gas. In 1997, 99,000 were informed they might have been exposed. At a public meeting convened to announce the new notifications, Rudman interrupts to ask (and answer) rhetorically, "Does this (the additional 30,000) mean any more people are ill? So far, there is no evidence of this."
The Pentagon briefer explains that 30,000 of those who earlier were told they had been exposed would now be told they were not, leaving the overall total for exposures at 99,000. [Since then, the total has risen to 145,000.]
November-December 2001: Dr. William H. Taylor and Dr. Vinh Cam, members of the Rudman-led Presidential Special Oversight Board, object strongly to his attempts to steer it toward findings favorable to the Pentagon. Vinh charged that under Rudman, the Board has acted as a mere extension of the Pentagon.
In a letter to Rudman, Taylor wrote:
"OSAGWI (the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses) selectively ignored evidence that it did uncover, and repeatedly showed an unwillingness to investigate leads that suggested a conclusion contrary to its assessment. In short, OSAGWI's investigations are biased, and the conclusions and assessments that OSAGWI states in its reports cannot be considered credible."
Dr. Taylor went on to decry efforts by the Board's executive director to "depejoratize" (sic) Board members' reports, "particularly concerning the presence of chemical warfare agents," and sharply criticized Rudman's expressed wish to give the Office of Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses "an ‘A' for effort."
The correspondence makes it abundantly clear that Drs. Taylor and Cam would not give Rudman's Pentagon client a passing grade, and that they have little but disdain for Rudman's (successful) attempt to manipulate the Board's findings.