Monday, September 12, 2011

When Secrets Aren’t

By William Fisher

It’s been a bad week for keepers of government secrets. A very bad week.

First came a 2006 Wikileaks cable containing a letter from a UN Rapporteur to the U.S. Mission in Geneva revealing that in a raid by multinational troops on an Iraqi village called Ishaqi, 10 people were handcuffed and shot in the head - a farmer, his wife, family members and children ranging in age from five months to five years old. The incident was followed the by-now familiar cover up, which contended that weapons were being fired from the family house, so multinational forces called in an airstrike. The aircraft dropped a 2000 lb. bomb on the house to obliterate signs of the executions.

Then came the revelation from CNN that UK and US intelligence agencies had built very cozy links with Muammar Gaddafi since the King of Kings gave up his nuclear ambitions. According to documents found in secret files in Libyan government offices, and turned over to CNN by Human Rights Watch, the intelligence agencies allegedly handed over detailed information to assist his regime. The documents claim that the British MI6 supplied its counterparts in Libya with details on exiled opponents living in the UK, and chart how the CIA abducted several suspected militants before handing them over to Tripoli.

They also contain communications between British and Libyan security officials ahead of Tony Blair's visit in 2004, and show that British officials helped write a draft speech for Gaddafi when he was being encouraged to give up his weapons program.

Then, Yahoo News’s Laura Rozen revealed that details of the CIA's “extraordinary rendition” program – kidnapping terrorist suspects and jetting them to CIA black sites for interrogation--have been further exposed in a mundane court case upstate New York. The case involves a billing dispute between two charter flight companies that provided airplanes to the CIA.

The CIA has been fighting to keep cases of this type and all of its details out of courts for years, contesting that if any case were allowed to go forward it would inevitably lead to the disclosure of highly secret information. So the government has consistently invoked the “state secrets” privilege to persuade judges to throw the cases out. The bottom line is that not a single victim of “extraordinary rendition” has had his day in court. That includes the publisher of this journal.

The flight logs for a Gulfstream IV plane leased by a one-man Long Island firm are among the 1,500 pages of documentation in court records filed in conjunction with a 2009 breach-of-contract suit filed in Columbia County, New York. The records show, among other things, a curious itinerary for the plane over a four-day period in August 2003 -- northern Virginia's Dulles airport, Bangkok, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, the United Arab Emirates, Tripoli, Ireland.

And the Washington Post's Peter Finn and Julie Tate report that, "The
Gulfstream IV's itinerary, as well as the $339,228.05 price tag for the journey, are among the details about shadowy CIA flights that have emerged….” from the case.

Despite the rhetoric of the leaders of both the US and UK pledging transparency, it is clear that these secrets might have remained secrets forever, save for some lucky coincidences and some very dedicated truth-tellers.

The Libyan rebels rummaging through old files in one of Gaddafi’s abandoned offices weren’t looking for CIA and MI5 files. Their discovery just happened, and it’s doubtful that they would have understood what they found without a CIA or similar presence. The UN rapporteur and the journalists who made the other violations public were simply doing their jobs.

We should be grateful to all of them.