December 20, 2014 archive

Naming the Torturers, Part Two

So Leni Riefenstahl Kathryn Bigelow, how do you feel about Maya now that she’s been exposed not only as a bloodthirsty sadist, but a lying incompetent as well?

Meet Alfreda Bikowsky, the Senior Officer at the Center of the CIA’s Torture Scandals

By Glenn Greenwald and Peter Maass


NBC News yesterday called her a “key apologist” for the CIA’s torture program. A follow-up New Yorker article dubbed her “The Unidentified Queen of Torture” and in part “the model for the lead character in ‘Zero Dark Thirty.'” Yet in both articles she was anonymous.

The person described by both NBC and The New Yorker is senior CIA officer Alfreda Frances Bikowsky. Multiple news outlets have reported that as the result of a long string of significant errors and malfeasance, her competence and integrity are doubted – even by some within the agency.

The executive summary of the torture report released by the Senate last week provides abundant documentation that the CIA repeatedly and deliberately misled Congress about multiple aspects of its interrogation program. Yesterday, NBC News reported that one senior CIA officer in particular was responsible for many of those false claims, describing her as “a top al Qaeda expert who remains in a senior position at the CIA.”

NBC, while withholding her identity, noted that the same unnamed officer “also participated in ‘enhanced interrogations’ of self-professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, witnessed the waterboarding of terror suspect Abu Zubaydah and ordered the detention of a suspected terrorist who turned out to be unconnected to al Qaeda, according to the report.”

The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, writing yesterday about the NBC article, added that the officer “is still in a position of high authority over counterterrorism at the C.I.A.” This officer, Mayer noted, is the same one who “dropped the ball when the C.I.A. was given information that might very well have prevented the 9/11 attacks; she gleefully participated in torture sessions afterward; she misinterpreted intelligence in such a way that it sent the C.I.A. on an absurd chase for Al Qaeda sleeper cells in Montana. And then she falsely told congressional overseers that the torture worked.” Mayer also wrote that the officer is “the same woman” identified in the Senate report who oversaw “the months-long rendition and gruesome interrogation of another detainee whose detention was a case of mistaken identity.”

The Washington Post identified Bikowsky by name, describing her as a CIA analyst “who was tied to a critical intelligence-sharing failure before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the botched 2003 ‘rendition’ of an innocent German citizen thought to be an al-Qaeda operative.” That Post report led to both McClatchy and independent journalist Marcy Wheeler raising questions about the propriety of Bikowsky’s former personal lawyer, Robert Litt, playing a key role in his current capacity as a top government lawyer in deciding which parts of the torture report should be released.

The McClatchy article identified Bikowsky by name as the officer who “played a central role in the bungled rendition of Khaled el-Masri. El-Masri, who was revealed to be innocent, claimed to have been tortured by the agency.” El-Masri, a German citizen who was kidnapped from Macedonia and tortured by the CIA in Afghanistan, was released in 2003 after it was revealed he was not involved in al Qaeda.

Back in 2011, John Cook, the outgoing editor of The Intercept, wrote an article at Gawker, based on the reporting of Ray Nowosielski and John Duffy, naming Bikowsky and pointing to extensive evidence showing that she “has a long (if pseudonymous) history of being associated with some of the agency’s most disastrous boondoggles,” including a key role in the CIA’s pre-9/11 failure to notify the FBI that two known al Qaeda operatives had entered the country.

Earlier that year, the Associated Press reported that a “hard-charging CIA analyst [who] had pushed the agency into one of the biggest diplomatic embarrassments of the U.S. war on terrorism” (the rendering for torture of the innocent El-Masri) was repeatedly promoted. Despite internal recommendations that she be punished, the AP reported that she instead “has risen to one of the premier jobs in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center.”

Good German.  Now roll over.  Fetch.  Good German.


On This Day In History December 20

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

December 20 is the 354th day of the year (355th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 11 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1803, the French hand over New Orleans and Lower Louisiana to the United States.

In April 1803, the United States purchased from France the 828,000 square miles that had formerly been French Louisiana. The area was divided into two territories: the northern half was Louisiana Territory, the largely unsettled (though home to many Indians) frontier section that was later explored by Lewis and Clark; and the southern Orleans Territory, which was populated by Europeans.

Unlike the sprawling and largely unexplored northern territory (which eventually encompassed a dozen large states), Orleans Territory was a small, densely populated region that was like a little slice of France in the New World. With borders that roughly corresponded to the modern state of Louisiana, Orleans Territory was home to about 50,000 people, a primarily French population that had been living under the direction of a Spanish administration.

The Louisiana Purchase (French: Vente de la Louisiane “Sale of Louisiana”) was the acquisition by the United States of America of 828,800 square miles (2,147,000 km2) of France’s claim to the territory of Louisiana in 1803. The U.S. paid 60 million francs ($11,250,000) plus cancellation of debts worth 18 million francs ($3,750,000), for a total sum of 15 million dollars for the Louisiana territory ($219 million in today’s currency).

The Louisiana Purchase encompassed all or part of 14 current U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. The land purchased contained all of present-day Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, parts of Minnesota that were west of the Mississippi River, most of North Dakota, nearly all of South Dakota, northeastern New Mexico, the portions of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado east of the Continental Divide, and Louisiana west of the Mississippi River, including the city of New Orleans. (The Oklahoma Panhandle and southwestern portions of Kansas and Louisiana were still claimed by Spain at the time of the Purchase.) In addition, the Purchase contained small portions of land that would eventually become part of the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The purchase, which doubled the size of the United States, comprises around 23% of current U.S. territory. The population of European immigrants was estimated to be 92,345 as of the 1810 census.

The purchase was a vital moment in the presidency of Thomas Jefferson. At the time, it faced domestic opposition as being possibly unconstitutional. Although he felt that the U.S. Constitution did not contain any provisions for acquiring territory, Jefferson decided to purchase Louisiana because he felt uneasy about France and Spain having the power to block American trade access to the port of New Orleans.

Napoleon Bonaparte, upon completion of the agreement, stated, “This accession of territory affirms forever the power of the United States, and I have given England a maritime rival who sooner or later will humble her pride.”

The Breakfast Club (Nutcracking)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgWelcome to my childhood trauma.  I have to be the only person in the world who doesn’t like The Nutcracker Suite.

When I was quite young my Mom and Dad took my sister and I to New York to see The Nutcracker Suite, I think they thought it would be ‘cultural’.

I do love the City and it was, overall, a quite enjoyable experience.  We saw all the animated windows on 5th Av., went to F.A.O. Schwarz, looked at the big tree (always feel kinda sad for those trees) and watched the skating (Mom and Dad wanted to do it, but I put my foot down because I had no desire to wait in a cold Disneyesque line for 5 minutes of skating I could easily do on a pond or rink at home).  We had an early Haunukka dinner with my Aunt and Uncle (the Bank VP with the carrel from which you could see the window if you gave it a good squint) and headed off for the show.

Now my Dad thinks that the reason I had a bad experience is our nosebleed seats and I’ll admit I have Acrophobia (no, it’s not crippling, I can stand heights if I need to but I’d much prefer otherwise and you daredevils who like to dance on the edge of a long fall and a short stop both make me nervous and annoy me because I might feel impelled to do something really stupid on the spur of the moment to save your sorry ass- I’d be much happier if I were just willing to mop up after).

Alas the real reason is more fundamental and does me less credit.  I’m not very graceful.

Rhythm has nothing to do with it.  I have a poor sense of kinesthesia, or more properly proprioception since my vestibular system works just fine thank you, even at height.

Even aesthetically the Terpsichorean muse and I hardly get along at all.

I have an intellectual appreciation of the athleticism and drill that goes into it, but the subtleties and symbolism are lost on me.  Now this may seem strange since my favorite interpreter of me is Gene Kelly who was known to cut quite a rug, but the choreography of Musical Theater is intended to appeal to low brow philistines like I am.

Ballet is too much.  The outlandish costumes, exaggerated gestures, difficult to follow plots with no dialog (I hate mimes too).  I can understand why some people like it (athletic men in codpiece tights!  women in revealing catsuits!) but I’d rather spend a day watching Noh (confused by most people with Kabuki which is actually more free form and Avant Garde), than an hour watching ballet.

But if you like that sort of thing and the cliched music of what even Pyotr Ilyich admitted was not his best work (he liked Sleeping Beauty better) here’s an interesting and high quality production by the Kirov (Mariinsky) Ballet-

Obligatories, News and Blogs below.

Late Night Karaoke

Random Japan

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Darth Vader to be featured in large-scale snow sculpture at the 2015 Sapporo Snow Festival

 Michelle Lynn Dinh

The annual Sapporo Snow Festival held in Japan’s northernmost prefecture has been delighting tourists and locals for over six decades. Each year, artists from around the world are invited to show off their talents constructing enormous structures out of ice and snow.

To commemorate the release of the seventh installment of the Star Wars series, The Walt Disney Company has collaborated with festival officials to design what looks to be the most epic large-scale snow sculpture yet, featuring enormous snow versions of Darth Vader, three Storm Troopers, a TIE fighter, and the Death Star.

Sapporo Snow Festival officials recently announced the collaboration, marking the first large-scale snow sculpture licensed by Lucasfilm. The design will be made a reality in time for the 66th anniversary of the festival, scheduled to take place from February 5 to February 11, 2015.

Health & Fitness News

Welcome to the Health and Fitness News, a weekly diary which is cross-posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette. It is open for discussion about health related issues including diet, exercise, health and health care issues, as well as, tips on what you can do when there is a medical emergency. Also an opportunity to share and exchange your favorite healthy recipes.

Questions are encouraged and I will answer to the best of my ability. If I can’t, I will try to steer you in the right direction. Naturally, I cannot give individual medical advice for personal health issues. I can give you information about medical conditions and the current treatments available.

You can now find past Health and Fitness News diaries here and on the right hand side of the Front Page.

Pâté from the Sea

Pâté from the Sea photo 11recipehealth-articleLarge_zps184f407e.jpg

When I lived in France I used to love watching people discover rillettes, a rustic pâté that is traditionally made by cooking pork belly or shoulder slowly in abundant fat, allowing it to cool in the fat, then raking the mixture into a spreadable paste. [..]

Rillettes are also made with other meats – most often game birds or rabbit, and also with fish, particularly fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies and tuna, which are high in omega-3s. The fish isn’t slow-cooked in fat the way meat is, but it is mixed with fat – in France that would be softened butter – and shredded in the same way. The key is a smooth, rich-tasting, spreadable mixture, which is easy to achieve with a number of types of seafood. On my last trip to Paris I saw fish rillettes on menus all over town. They were usually served from crocks or wide canning jars, the way meat rillettes are traditionally stored, to be eaten with bread. But at Buvette, a little restaurant in the 9th Arrondissment (also in New York’s Greenwich Village), a rich mound of smoked trout rillettes topped a warm plate of lentils, to great effect.

~Martha Rose Shulman~

Lentils With Smoked Trout Rilletes

A new take on surf and turf, with simply cooked lentils topped with smoked trout.

Endive Leaves With Crab Rillettes

Canned lump crabmeat is transformed in these light, slightly spicy rillettes.

Salmon Rillettes

A light but rich tasting spread made with fresh and smoked salmon.

Mini Peppers Stuffed With Tuna and Olive Rillettes

A Provençal-inspired tuna and olive spread with bold flavors.

Smoked Sardines Rillettes

Canned smoked sardines offer high omega-3 values and work well in this dish.

Holder places government support behind transgender people

With Congressional action on the Employment NonDiscrimination Act distinctly absent for the past two legislative sessions, outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder provided employment protection for gender nonconforming people through another means yesterday.

Holder issued aa memo informing all Department of Justice component heads and United States attorneys that the department will no longer assert that Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination based on sex excludes discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender discrimination.  This reverses an earlier Department of Justice position.

Title VII makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate in the employment of an individual “because of the individual’s…sex. ” among other protected characteristics.

I have determined that the best reading of Title VII’ s prohibition of sex discrimination is that it encompasses discrimination based on gender identity, including transgender status

This important shift will ensure that the protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are extended to those who suffer discrimination based on gender identity, including transgender status.

This will help to foster fair and consistent treatment for all claimants.  And it reaffirms the Justice Department’s commitment to protecting the civil rights of all Americans.

–Attorney General Holder