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Far Beyond Torture: The Long, Dark History of an Imperial Factotum

Chris Floyd

May 7, 2009

I.
The intrepid David Swanson digs up another damning memo written by that eager factotum of evil, Jay Bybee. This particular sinister scribbling did not involve the brutal torture of gulag captives, however. No, in this case, Jay had much bigger fish to fry for his masters: the murder of more than a million people in a Hitlerian act of military agresson. As Swanson notes:

Jay Bybee wrote another memo that nobody has noticed, one purporting to authorize crimes far worse than torture, the same crimes the torture was itself intended to create false justifications for. On October 23, 2002, Assistant Attorney General Bybee signed a 48-page memo to the "counsel to the president" (Alberto Gonzales) titled "Authority of the President Under Domestic and International Law to Use Military Force Against Iraq." This was another secret law, but instead of authorizing particular uses of torture (which in reality were far exceeded, engaged in prior to the memos, etc.), this one authorized any president to single-handedly commit what Nuremberg called "the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."

After noting how the Bush Regime brazenly shredded even this tiny legal fig leaf -- which purported to restrict the atack to a "proportionate" action sufficient only to remove the "threat" of Iraq's non-existent WMD program -- Swanson notes the sickening results:

The result was guaranteed to be massive death, no matter how "proportional" to the nonexistent threat. But the permission was also guaranteed to be wildly exceeded by anybody's definition. The result has been 1.2 - 1.3 million deaths according to Just Foreign Policy's updated figure based on the Johns Hopkins / Lancet report, and according to the British polling company Opinion Research Business's estimate as of August 2007.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of Iraqis who have fled their homes has reached 4.7 million. If these estimates are accurate, a total of nearly 6 million human beings have been displaced from their homes or killed. Many times that many have certainly been injured, traumatized, impoverished, and deprived of clean water and other basic needs, including the need to have parents.

And what has accumulated in the evil of the whole? The current occupation of Iraq has seen the United States target civilians, journalists, hospitals, and ambulances; use antipersonnel weapons including cluster bombs in densely settled urban areas; use white phosphorous as a weapon; use depleted uranium weapons; employ a new version of napalm found in Mark 77 firebombs; engage in collective punishment of Iraqi civilian populations; including by blocking roads, cutting electricity and water, destroying fuel stations, planting bombs in farm fields, demolishing houses, and plowing down orchards; detain people without charge or legal process without the rights of prisoners of war; imprison children; torture; and murder.


Swanson has much more to say on the pernicious implications and outcomes of the Bybee memo, so by all means scoot on over to Counterpunch and read the whole thing.

II.
But we might also note that the recent controversy surrounding Bybee -- who is evidently going to escape censure for his complicity in war crimes, thanks to the infinite compassion and understanding that Barack Obama displays towards torturers and mass murderers -- has obscured the fact that the good judge has a long history in the backroom greasing of dirty deals.

Bybee played a key role in the still-murky moves by which the first President Bush deep-sixed any meaningful investigation into the workings of one of the largest, most extensive criminal organizations in history: BCCI, the "Bank of Credit and Commercial International," a supposed financial group that a U.S. Senate investigation called "one of the largest criminal enterprises in history."

I have written on this subject many times over the years; below are some excerpts from a piece that summarized much of that research: "The Bomb in the Shadows." [See the original for links.]

(Continued after the jump.)

BCCI was a prime vehicle for clandestine nuclear proliferation, among many other illegal activities, and was also used by the CIA and the White House for various covert operations, including secret military and financial support for Saddam Hussein. It also paid numerous grandees of the Democratic and Republican parties to front its operations – and gave George W. Bush $25 million to rescue one of his many business failures.

Although BCCI as a "bank" eventually failed, spectacularly, costing its unsuspecting customers more than $10 billion, almost no one was punished for its myriad crimes, and the full extent of the organization's activities continue to be shielded by the many national governments that became entangled in its operations, including the United States and Great Britain...

The details of BCCI's origins and activities – and its bipartisan corruption of American politics – can be found in the 1992 Senate report of its investigation [led by John Kerry], which is available in full at the website of the Federation of American Scientists. It is a long report, but repays reading. The extent of the criminality and moral corruption it documents is truly mind-boggling. Below is a very brief précis of the Senate's findings.

BCCI was founded by Pakistan tycoon Agha Hasan Abedi, who used what Senate investigators called his "extraordinary personal charisma" to charm his way into friendships with the world's global elite, including U.S. President Jimmy Carter and, more crucially for the operation's development, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahayan, the illiterate ruler of Abu Dhabi, who had been installed as leader of the oil-rich state in 1966, after the British engineered a coup against his brother. Abedi became in effect the personal manager of Sheik Zayed's money – and the vast wealth of Abu Dhabi – which he used to fund the creation of BCCI.

As described by the Senate, BCCI's organization set-up sounds remarkably like the one set up later by Bush Family paymaster Ken Lay with his Enron Corporation:

"BCCI was from its earliest days made up of multiplying layers of entities, related to one another through an impenetrable series of holding companies, affiliates, subsidiaries, banks-within-banks, insider dealings and nominee relationships. By fracturing corporate structure, record keeping, regulatory review, and audits, the complex BCCI family of entities created by Abedi was able to evade ordinary legal restrictions on the movement of capital and goods as a matter of daily practice and routine. In creating BCCI as a vehicle fundamentally free of government control, Abedi developed in BCCI an ideal mechanism for facilitating illicit activity by others, including such activity by officials of many of the governments whose laws BCCI was breaking."

And what were the illicit activities that BCCI facilitated for its entangled crime gangs and government agents? The Senate reports:

"BCCI's criminality included fraud by BCCI and BCCI customers involving billions of dollars; money laundering in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas; BCCI's bribery of officials in most of those locations; support of terrorism, arms trafficking, and the sale of nuclear technologies; management of prostitution; the commission and facilitation of income tax evasion, smuggling, and illegal immigration; illicit purchases of banks and real estate; and a panoply of financial crimes limited only by the imagination of its officers and customers."

The Senate investigators found that the CIA lied about its extensive, long-term contacts with BCCI, although the Kerry panel often couched this flagrant falsehood in more decorous tones, e.g., "the CIA inadvertently failed" to tell the proper federal officials about BCCI's criminal activities (emphasis added). Still, much of the findings are straightforward on this point: "After the CIA knew that BCCI was as an institution a fundamentally corrupt criminal enterprise, it continued to use both BCCI and First American, BCCI's secretly held U.S. subsidiary, for CIA operations."

The criminals of BCCI were intimately involved in the execution of U.S. foreign policy during the Reagan-Bush administrations, including the Iran-Contra scandal, in which Reagan officials shipped weapons to American hostage-takers in Iran in exchange for clandestine cash for the terrorist army it was using to wage proxy war against Nicaragua. When George Bush Sr. became president, BCCI became a primary conduit for funneling secret aid to Saddam Hussein. The organization also received extraordinary protection from the White House when lower-level federal prosecutors began indicting BCCI associates for laundering drug cartel money and running guns and money to Iraq.

And now we come to little Jay:

...the Italian bank BNL was one of BCCI's main tentacles. BNL's Atlanta branch was the primary conduit used to send millions of secret dollars to Saddam for arms purchases, including deadly chemicals and other WMD materials supplied by the Chilean arms dealer Cardoen and various politically-connected operators in the United States such as weapons merchant Matrix Churchill.

When three BNL officials were indicted in 1991 for a fraud scam used to mask payments to Saddam, Bush I moved to throttle the investigation. He appointed lawyers from both Cardoen and Matrix to top Justice Department posts – where they supervised the officials investigating their old companies. The overall probe was directed by Justice Department investigator Robert Mueller. Meanwhile, White House aides applied heavy pressure on other prosecutors to restrict the range of the probe – especially the fact that Bush cabinet officials Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Eagleburger had served as consultants for BNL during their pre-White House days as partners in Henry Kissinger's lobbying outfit, Kissinger Associates.....

The Kerry report found that the 1991 BNL probe had been unaccountably "botched" – witnesses went missing, CIA records got "lost," all sorts of bad luck. Most of the big BCCI players went unpunished or got off with wrist-slap fines and sanctions.

One of the White House aides who unlawfully intervened in the BNL prosecution was a certain factotum named Jay S. ByBee. In 2004, ByBee was appointed by George W. Bush to a place on the federal appeals court – a lifetime sinecure of perks and power. Mueller, meanwhile wound up as head of the FBI, appointed to the post in by George W. in July 2001, where directed the FBI's response – or lack of response – to the torrent of terrorism alerts during that fateful summer.

So there was more to Bush's bestowal of a federal judgeship on Bybee beyond the latter's craven complicity in Terror War torture and aggression. As we noted in the earlier piece:

Bush II had good reason to reward those who helped his father provide cover for BCCI. In addition to the continuing "shadowland" relationships between U.S. intelligence and key players in BCCI operations (especially the ISI connections which had used BCCI to fund Pakistan's secret nuclear arms program), George Walker Bush had benefited materially from his own connection to BCCI. As Kevin Phillips points out in his devastating – and woefully ignored – book on the Bushes, American Dynasty, Bush II's first large-scale business enterprise, the Arbusto oil company, was almost certainly financed in part with investments from American frontmen for BCCI-connected Saudi grandees Salem bin Laden, older brother of Osama bin Laden and then the head of the family, and Khalid bin Mahfouz, a major stockholder in BCCI.

The failing Arbusto was later bought out by Harken Energy in a sweetheart deal that landed business failure Bush a plum spot on the Harken board and plenty of stock to play with. Bush soon worked his magic touch on Harken: the company began to tank. It was saved by an unusual infusion of $25 million from the Union Bank of Switzerland, one of BCCI's associates. The deal was brokered by long-time Bush family contributor Jackson Stephens – who, curiously enough, was also a major paymaster for Bill Clinton's political rise. In fact, in 1992, Stephens was the largest individual contributor to both Bush I and Clinton in their presidential contest.

And so we come back full-circle in the filthy, bloodsoaked incestuous nest of American power politics. Bill Clinton is now regarded as a Bush Family "son," his wife is overseeing the "continuity" of a militarized Terror War foreign policy, and Bybee and his fellow war criminals are being protected by the new imperial manager, who has surrounded himself with cuthroats, courtiers and toadies from both the Bush and Clinton administrations: a veritable army of servile little Bybees -- scurrying, scraping, bowing, and nodding assent to whatever Power demands.


:: Article nr. 54061 sent on 08-may-2009 01:29 ECT

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