WikiLeaks Cables Recount How US Pressured Allies

March 7th, 2011 - by admin

Bob Egelko / San Francisco Chronicle & Antony Loewenstein / – 2011-03-07 00:34:11

WikiLeaks Cables Recount How US Pressured Allies
Bob Egelko / San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO (March 6, 2011) — They have received little attention in the United States, but a set of WikiLeaks disclosures of confidential documents has caused an uproar in Europe by showing that US officials pressured Germany and Spain to derail criminal investigations of Americans.

The more than 2,500 State Department cables that the anti-secrecy group has provided to news organizations since November include accounts of three cases that shed new light on US responses to allegations of wrongdoing by its agents abroad:

The case of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen seized in Macedonia in 2003 by officers who mistook him for an al Qaeda agent with a similar name. He said they turned him over to US authorities, who flew him in shackles, a blindfold and a diaper to a prison in Afghanistan, where they beat him, injected him with drugs and interrogated him. Five months later, he said, he was flown to Albania and dumped on a remote hillside without explanation or apology.

After German prosecutors issued arrest warrants for 13 CIA agents allegedly involved in el-Masri’s abduction, a February 2007 cable quoted the deputy US chief of mission in Berlin as advising a German diplomat to “weigh carefully at every step of the way the implications for relations with the US” if the agents were prosecuted.

The German government withdrew the warrants five months later.

The case of four Spanish residents who said they were tortured by US interrogators at Guantanamo Bay before being released without charges and returned to Spain.

A Spanish judge announced a criminal investigation in January 2009 into whether six lawyers in President George W. Bush’s administration had approved torture. They included former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and John Yoo, the UC Berkeley law professor whose memos as a Justice Department attorney authorized the near-drowning technique called waterboarding.

WikiLeaks cables from April and May 2009 said Spanish officials were being warned about the case by diplomats from the Obama administration and by a visiting US senator, Mel Martinez, R-Fla., who allegedly told Spain’s foreign minister that the prosecution would have “an enormous impact on the bilateral relationship.” The Miami Herald has reported that Martinez was carrying that message for the Obama administration.

The documents also quoted US diplomats as urging Spain to transfer the case from Judge Baltasar Garzón, known for far-reaching investigations of suspected international law violations and for criticism of US policies. The cables described Garzón as a “publicity-loving” jurist with an “anti-American streak” and said Spain’s chief prosecutor was trying to remove him.

Spain’s government has since suspended Garzón for allegedly exceeding his authority in another case. Another judge has taken up the case of the Bush administration lawyers but has not decided whether to reopen it.

The case of Jose Couso, a Spanish cameraman who was one of two journalists killed in April 2003 by a US artillery shell at a hotel in Baghdad.

A US military investigation concluded that troops were responding to reports of rocket attacks from the building, but journalists on the scene have said the hotel was a well-known media headquarters and was not the source of any hostile fire. Spanish courts have authorized criminal charges against three American soldiers, but Spanish prosecutors have moved to scuttle the case.

A May 2007 WikiLeaks cable quoted then-US Ambassador Eduardo Aguirre as saying that “behind the scenes we have fought tooth and nail to make the charges disappear.”

The Obama administration has refused to discuss the content of the State Department documents or of previous WikiLeaks disclosures about Iraq and Afghanistan. Administration officials have focused instead on the illegality of the leaks and the harm they allegedly caused.

Asked for comment about the cables on Germany and Spain, the State Department referred a reporter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s statements at a November press briefing, in which she called the release of confidential department materials “an attack on the international community.”

“There is nothing brave about sabotaging the peaceful relations between nations on which our common security depends,” Clinton said.

The documents have drawn extensive news coverage abroad, centering on their accounts of US political power and foreign acquiescence. A Dec. 9 article in the influential German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, for example, was headlined “Cables Show Germany Caved to Pressure From Washington.” Several independent legal analysts saw nothing unlawful in the US actions but were divided about whether they had violated the norms of diplomacy.

All countries understand that “they have a political and diplomatic price to pay” for taking on another nation’s officials, said Diane Amann, a UC Davis law professor and vice president of the American Society of International Law.

It’s neither surprising nor illegal that the United States would try to discourage such foreign prosecutions, Amann said. But she criticized the “failure of the United States itself to conduct any apparent investigation or efforts at accountability” in cases like el-Masri’s.

Federal courts have dismissed el-Masri’s suit against the US government, accepting arguments by both the Bush and Obama administrations that secrets about the CIA’s rendition program could be exposed if the case proceeded.

Last month, the Associated Press reported that the CIA analyst who advocated el-Masri’s abduction and argued against releasing him even after colleagues reported the mistaken identity has been promoted to run the agency’s al Qaeda unit and regularly briefs CIA Director Leon Panetta.

Ben Wizner, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who represents el-Masri, said the cables show US officials using “diplomatic muscle and subtle threats to try to prevent accountability abroad, just as they had prevented it at home.” But a Stanford law instructor and former State Department lawyer said governments commonly urge one another to consider the foreign policy implications of pursuing a criminal case against foreign nationals working for their countries.

“We often ask countries to do things that are good for the United States of America,” said Allen Weiner, co-director of Stanford’s international law program. “That may be hard for those countries to explain if it were on the front page,” which justifies keeping the discussions confidential, he said.

Another international law analyst, Scott Horton of Columbia Law School, said laws against interfering with criminal investigations — normally considered obstruction of justice — don’t apply to a diplomat’s inquiries to a foreign government.

“They have a right, as a diplomat, to seek information,” Horton said. But he said diplomats “go off track when they start talking about removing and replacing judges,” as US officials apparently did with Spain’s Garzón. “Imagine if that happened in the US.”

Garzón’s probe into whether Gonzales, Yoo and other Bush administration lawyers authorized torture is on hold but could resurface. The new judge, Eloy Velasco, has repeatedly asked the Obama administration whether it was conducting its own inquiry, which would make a Spanish investigation unnecessary.

According to the latest court filing, Velasco has not yet received a reply.

E-mail Bob Egelko at
© 2011 Hearst Communications Inc. |

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

A Litany of Wikileaks Evidence that
US Behaves Like Rogue State

Antony Loewenstein /

(December 26, 2010) — The Wikileaks stories keep on coming.

One [1]:
The Drug Enforcement Administration [2] has been transformed into a global intelligence organization with a reach that extends far beyond narcotics, and an eavesdropping operation so expansive it has to fend off foreign politicians who want to use it against their political enemies, according to secret diplomatic cables.

In far greater detail than previously seen, the cables, from the cache obtained by WikiLeaks [3] and made available to some news organizations, offer glimpses of drug agents balancing diplomacy and law enforcement in places where it can be hard to tell the politicians from the traffickers, and where drug rings are themselves mini-states whose wealth and violence permit them to run roughshod over struggling governments.

Diplomats recorded unforgettable vignettes from the largely unseen war on drugs:

• In Panama, an urgent BlackBerry message from the president to the American ambassador demanded that the DEA go after his political enemies: “I need help with tapping phones.”

• In Sierra Leone, a major cocaine-trafficking prosecution was almost upended by the attorney general’s attempt to solicit $2.5 million in bribes.

• In Guinea, the country’s biggest narcotics kingpin turned out to be the president’s son, and diplomats discovered that before the police destroyed a huge narcotics seizure, the drugs had been replaced by flour.

• Leaders of Mexico’s beleaguered military issued private pleas for closer collaboration with the drug agency, confessing that they had little faith in their own country’s police forces.

• Cables from Myanmar, the target of strict United States sanctions, describe the drug agency informants’ reporting both on how the military junta enriches itself with drug money and on the political activities of the junta’s opponents.

Officials of the DEA and the State Department declined to discuss what they said was information that should never have been made public.

Like many of the cables made public in recent weeks, those describing the drug war [4] do not offer large disclosures. Rather, it is the details that add up to a clearer picture of the corrupting influence of big traffickers, the tricky game of figuring out which foreign officials are actually controlled by drug lords, and the story of how an entrepreneurial agency operating in the shadows of the Federal Bureau of Investigation [5] has become something more than a drug agency.

The DEA now has 87 offices in 63 countries and close partnerships with governments that keep the Central Intelligence Agency [6] at arm’s length.

Because of the ubiquity of the drug scourge, today’s DEA has access to foreign governments, including those, like Nicaragua’s and Venezuela’s, that have strained diplomatic relations with the United States. Many are eager to take advantage of the agency’s drug detection and wiretapping technologies.

In some countries, the collaboration appears to work well, with the drug agency providing intelligence that has helped bring down traffickers, and even entire cartels. But the victories can come at a high price, according to the cables, which describe scores of DEA informants and a handful of agents who have been killed in Mexico and Afghanistan.

In Venezuela, the local intelligence service turned the tables on the DEA, infiltrating its operations, sabotaging equipment and hiring a computer hacker to intercept American Embassy e-mails, the cables report.

And as the drug agency has expanded its eavesdropping operations to keep up with cartels, it has faced repeated pressure to redirect its counternarcotics surveillance to local concerns, provoking tensions with some of Washington’s closest allies.

Two [7]:
It was three months into Barack Obama’s presidency, and the administration — under pressure to do something about alleged abuses in Bush-era interrogation policies — turned to a Florida senator to deliver a sensitive message to Spain:

Don’t indict former President George W. Bush’s legal brain trust for alleged torture in the treatment of war on terror detainees, warned Mel Martinez on one of his frequent trips to Madrid. Doing so would chill US-Spanish relations.

Rather than a resolution, though, a senior Spanish diplomat gave the former GOP chairman and housing secretary a lesson in Spain’s separation of powers. “The independence of the judiciary and the process must be respected,” then-acting Foreign Minister Angel Lossada replied on April 15, 2009. Then for emphasis, “Lossada reiterated to Martinez that the executive branch of government could not close any judicial investigation and urged that this case not affect the overall relationship.”

The case is still open, on the desk of a Spanish magistrate, awaiting a reply from the Obama administration on whether it will pursue a probe of its own.

But the episode, revealed in a raft of WikiLeaks cables, was part of a secret concerted US effort to stop a crusading Spanish judge from investigating a torture complaint against former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and five other senior Bush lawyers.

The cause for alarm at the US Embassy was what a US diplomat called a “well documented” 12-inch-tall dossier compiled by a Spanish human rights group. In the name of five Guantánamo captives with ties to Spain, it accused the Bush legal insiders of laying the foundation for abuse of detainees in the months following the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Of particular concern was that a swashbuckling Spanish magistrate, Baltasar Garzón, might get the probe under Spain’s system, which gave judges extraordinary investigative powers.

Garzón had earlier made headlines by swearing out arrest warrants for Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet while he was getting medical attention in London, and Osama bin Laden. US ambassador Eduardo Aguirre Jr. cast him as a publicity hound with an “anti-American streak” in one confidential cable.

If those efforts are any guide, a Spanish prosecution of the so-called Bush Six seems unlikely. Britain never turned Pinochet over to Spain for a war crimes trial, and bin Laden is still at large.

Rather, indictments would undermine US diplomatic credibility on human rights and likely ground the six Bush lawyers in the United States, for fear of arrest overseas.

Another, April 1, 2009, cable shows the US Embassy’s political officer and legal advisor discussing Garzón with his boss, chief prosecutor Javier Zaragoza, who expresses his displeasure with the case. Separately, a third US diplomat told a senior Spanish Justice Ministry official “for international judicial cooperation” that the US government considered the potential for a prosecution “a very serious matter.”

Civil rights attorney Michael Ratner, whose Center for Constitutional Rights has championed Guantánamo detainee rights, called the cables taken together “quite dramatic.”

“The US prides itself on our own independent judiciary,” Ratner said. “But here you have the hypocrisy of the US government trying to influence an independent judicial system to bend its laws and own rules.”

“And it’s the Obama administration doing it to protect Bush people,” he said.

The Christmas Day New York Times editorial [8] takes a strong stand against any moves to silence publications that may reveal embarrassing or critical information about major financial institutions:

The whistle-blowing Web site WikiLeaks has not been convicted of a crime. The Justice Department has not even pressed charges over its disclosure of confidential State Department communications. Nonetheless, the financial industry is trying to shut it down.

Visa, MasterCard and PayPal announced in the past few weeks that they would not process any transaction intended for WikiLeaks. Earlier this month, Bank of America decided to join the group, arguing that WikiLeaks may be doing things that are “inconsistent with our internal policies for processing payments.”

The Federal Reserve, the banking regulator, allows this. Like other companies, banks can choose whom they do business with. Refusing to open an account for some undesirable entity is seen as reasonable risk management. The government even requires banks to keep an eye out for some shady businesses — like drug dealing and money laundering — and refuse to do business with those who engage in them.

But a bank’s ability to block payments to a legal entity raises a troubling prospect. A handful of big banks could potentially bar any organization they disliked from the payments system, essentially cutting them off from the world economy.

The fact of the matter is that banks are not like any other business. They run the payments system. That is one of the main reasons that governments protect them from failure with explicit and implicit guarantees. This makes them look not too unlike other public utilities. A telecommunications company, for example, may not refuse phone or broadband service to an organization it dislikes, arguing that it amounts to risky business.

Our concern is not specifically about payments to WikiLeaks. This isn’t the first time a bank shunned a business on similar risk-management grounds. Banks in Colorado, for instance, have refused to open bank accounts for legal dispensaries of medical marijuana.

Still, there are troubling questions. The decisions to bar the organization came after its founder, Julian Assange, said that next year it will release data revealing corruption in the financial industry. In 2009, Mr. Assange said that WikiLeaks had the hard drive of a Bank of America executive.

What would happen if a clutch of big banks decided that a particularly irksome blogger or other organization was “too risky”? What if they decided — one by one — to shut down financial access to a newspaper that was about to reveal irksome truths about their operations? This decision should not be left solely up to business-as-usual among the banks.

URLs in this post:
[1] One:

[2] Drug Enforcement Administration:

[3] WikiLeaks:

[4] drug war:

[5] Federal Bureau of Investigation:

[6] Central Intelligence Agency:

[7] Two:

[8] The Christmas Day New York Times editorial:

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.