Debra Burlingame

Obama’s DOJ: Gina Haspel’s CIA and Enhanced Interrogation Program ‘Saved Lives’

“I was crushed by the South Tower — my chest was caved in. I was buried, almost suffocated and drowned in my own blood. Then the ambulance that I was in was nearly crushed by the collapsing North Tower. Once in the hospital, my chest was cut open while I was wide awake and I watched the burn victim on the next gurney screaming as the doctors attempted to treat her horrifying injuries. I thought 9/11 might be a cure for American amnesia. I was mistaken.” — Robert Reeg, former FDNY, Engine 44

Gina Haspel’s nomination to lead the Central Intelligence Agency as its first female director has hit a stumbling block because of reports that she played some role in the Rendition, Detention, Interrogation (RDI) program at a so-called CIA black site. After news that some members of the Senate are unhappy that she might have been involved in the harsh but then legal interrogation program, Robert Reeg expressed his anger on Facebook, noting that he was about to undergo his sixth surgery for the injuries he sustained 16 years ago responding to the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Those most personally affected by 9/11 have maintained the perspective and moral clarity that the entire country once shared. The permanence of their losses, the vivid memories of the horrors they witnessed, prevent them from forgetting the ultimate cause of our government’s inability to protect its citizens from the most deadly attack on America in our nation’s history. The 9/11 Commission declared it a “failure of imagination.” But that was a gloss over of the real problem — the refusal of vast government bureaucracies to put aside turf wars, careerism, and more attention to partisan politics than the real threats that face us.

Now we are seeing it again. Politicians are attacking the very people who have done the most to keep America safe for some of the same reasons, and this is a grave danger.

The RDI program has been unfairly branded a rogue operation and Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs) “torture.” Real torture can be seen in videos made by Al Qaeda and ISIS — Daniel Pearl, Nick Berg, humanitarian aid workers and Christian martyrs lined up for beheading, a caged Jordanian pilot burned alive — which testify to the savage inhumanity of the enemy we, and our troops, continue to face. Worse, contradicting hard evidence, critics of the program are advancing the narrative that it didn’t work.

A succession of CIA directors has declared that the RDI program have netted more actionable intelligence than every other source combined. We don’t have to take their word for it, we can turn to the sworn statement of former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for verification. Appointed by President Barack Obama to head the New York Southern District, he was the lead prosecutor in the 2009 trial of Al Qaeda bomb maker Ahmed Ghailani, captured in Pakistan after a 14-hour gun battle, and charged in a 286 count indictment for his role in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya that killed 224 people and injured 4,000.

In a 132-page legal brief explaining why holding Ghailani for two years in the CIA’s Enhanced Interrogation program hadn’t violated his right to a speedy trial, Bharara described how Ghailani’s status as a senior member of Al Qaeda with knowledge of the organization made him suitable for the program. “[T]he defendant was believed to have, and did have, actionable intelligence about al-Qaeda, by virtue of his longstanding position in al-Qaeda; his assistance to known al-Qaeda terrorists; and his close relationship to long-standing al-Qaeda leaders, including Usama Bin Laden.”

The brief continues, “[T]he United States justifiably treated the defendant as an intelligence asset — to obtain from him whatever information it could concerning terrorists and terrorist plots. This was done, simply put, to save lives. And when significant intelligence had been collected from the defendant, the U.S. made the decision to continue holding him as an alien enemy combatant pursuant to the laws of war….” [Emphasis added.]

The brief added a citation to a 4th Circuit Court ruling in the 2004 Zacarias Moussaoui case (charged for his role in the Al Qaeda plan for a “2nd wave” of aviation attacks) which stated that “the value of the detainees in the CIA’s interrogation program ‘can hardly be overstated.’” This was followed by pages of classified information elicited from Ghailani, further stating that “the results of the CIA’s efforts show that the defendant’s value as an intelligence source was not just speculative.” [Emphasis added.]

Ruling in the government’s favor, presiding judge Lewis A. Kaplan, stated that the government had offered credible evidence not only that it was reasonable to believe Ghailani had valuable information essential to combating al-Qaeda and protecting national security, but that this valuable information “could not have been obtained except by putting him in that program….” [Emphasis added.]

It is important to note that all four Office of Legal Counsel memos describing the Rendition, Detention (RDI), and Interrogation program, detailing EIT methods, as well as two Inspector General reports were part of discovery in the case. Thus, the defense was unable to make the kind of egregious accusations and outright falsehoods which have characterized much of the media’s reporting about the program over the last ten years.

Judge Kaplan further said that the government provided credible evidence that Ghailani continued to provide valuable evidence which didn’t diminish over time. This suggests that the CIA repeatedly went back to him after he began cooperating, as new intelligence was acquired. Indeed, to reduce his sentence, Ghailani’s lead defense attorney actually described his client as a “hero” for providing so much valuable intelligence.

Here we have the Obama Justice Department and two federal courts crediting the work done at CIA black sites and the life-saving intelligence gained in the process. Now we have United States Senators condemning Gina Haspel because she was a part of that process.

The record in the Ghailani case is an important rebuttal to the shameful slander of the men and women of the CIA as they scrambled to defend our county after the devastating attack of September 11. At great personal cost, they did everything asked of them by their government. They repeatedly sought legal confirmation that the RDI/EIT program conformed to policy and law. They repeatedly fulfilled their obligation to inform the legislative branch of government as to the details of the program, even inviting members of Congress to help them shape it. Those members stood silent.

How can Congress ask dedicated CIA officers to fulfill their responsibility to protect the country from future attacks knowing that their careers might be in jeopardy or that they might be subject to prosecution, depending on shifting political winds? Gina Haspel has accumulated an exemplary record of achievement in her 33 years with the agency. The rank and file of the agency and 53 former CIA senior officials who cumulatively served seven presidents endorse her. Senators must show that they respect, support and understand the mission of our defenders.

Gina Haspel answered the call on 9/11. Confirm her, senators.

Debra Burlingame, a former attorney, is the sister of Charles F. Burlingame, III, pilot of American Airlines flight 77, Pentagon attack, September 11, 2001.

Debra Burlingame to Paul Ryan: Why are you paling around with FALN terror apologist Luis Gutierrez?

Office of Cong. Paul Ryan
FAX: (202) 225-3393

April 23, 2013

Dear Congressman Ryan,

This message is to let you know how disappointing it was to see the news story dismissing the Boston bombings relevance to an effort to push through immigration reform without due consideration of the contents of the legislation. This dismissal was especially chilling given the fact that your immigration reform partner, Luis Gutierrez, was the chief spokesman for the political wing of the FALN terrorist organization, which carried out 146 bombings in a 25 year period, killing nine people and injuring and maiming dozens. [Ed. —See pdf file listing attacks, injuries, and damages.]

As I outlined in a lengthy piece for the Wall Street Journal, [Ed. — No pay wall.] Rep. Gutierrez was the chief advocate for the pardoning of 16 convicted FALN members, whose sentences ranged up to 90 years. These men and women were so dangerous, they were shackled for their trial and the presiding judge wore a gun under his robes because they had threatened to kill him in open court.

Rep. Gutierrez, against all evidence (including FBI undercover videotape of these people making bombs), called them “political prisoners” and threatened to marshal the Puerto Rican community against the Clintons, and Vice President Al Gore, then preparing a presidential run.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Mr. Gutierrez would not be alarmed by the fact that a wannabe terrorist under scrutiny by the FBI would be a candidate for U.S. citizenship. Terrorists have a history of defrauding the U.S. immigration system, gaming the political asylum process, and using the guest worker program to gain temporary access to the U.S., only to disappear into the population. Our overburdened system doesn’t bother to look for them. Several of the 1993 bombers came in through the Ag Jobs program. The 9/11 hijackers overstayed tourist visas. The Millennium bomber gamed the immigration system in Canada, and tried to enter the U.S. through Port Washington. He was only stopped because of an astute border agent.

Please be warned that Luis Gutierrez is NOT a good faith partner in this effort, and his history with the FALN is proof of that. The record is replete with his letters, and threats. I am including the piece I wrote for the Journal. All of my source documents were found in the Congressional investigation that took place in the wake of these pardons. Among the people I interviewed was the chief FBI agent, Rick Hahn, who hunted the FALN for years, as well as the NYC bomb squad officers who were permanently disabled in the bombings.

I have informed Joseph Connor, whose father was killed in the FALN Fraunces Tavern bombing in New York City, of your partnership with Mr. Gutierrez and your joint affirmation that the Boston bombings have no relevance to immigration legislation.

Very truly yours,

Debra Burlingame
Co-founder, 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America

9/11 Families: Thomson Prison Purchase First Step to Bring Gitmo Detainees to U.S. Soil (Updated with DOJ filing)

Updated 6:05 PM EDT, Oct 2, 2012: The Department of Justice filed a notice of condemnation in U.S. District Court today to take possession of Thomson Prison. In part, the purpose of the acquisition reads as follows:

“… as well as to provide humane and secure confinement of individuals held under authority of any Act of Congress, and such other persons as in the opinion of the Attorney General of the United States are proper subjects for confinement in such institutions.”

The detainees at Guantanamo are being held under an Act of Congress, the Authorization to Use Military Force of 2001.

9/11 Families: Thomson Prison Purchase First Step to Bring Gitmo Detainees to U.S. Soil

Oct. 2, 2012
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact:
9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America
Debra Burlingame media@911familiesforamerica.org

New York, NY, October, 2, 2012 — 9/11 families strongly object to the Obama administration’s plan to purchase Thomson Correctional Facility in Thomson, Illinois without Congressional approval. As stated in our July 27 letter, signed by more than 100 family members, to House Speaker John Boehner, 9/11 families believe this purchase is a back door effort to circumvent Congress and the will of the American people. Though Senator Dick Durbin and Attorney General Eric Holder have denied that the prison would be retrofitted to receive Guantanamo detainees, this would not be the first time the Department of Justice defied Congress in an effort to bring terrorists inside the Homeland.

Recent news that the terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi was led by a former Guantanamo detainee has underscored the dangerous profile of current detainees. They continue to pose a serious national security threat to the U.S., and should not be viewed as political pawns which can be moved from a safe, secure off-shore military installation to the heart of America in order to satisfy a small, left-wing political constituency. This is the same constituency that agitated for the release of prior detainees who have returned to the battlefield and who engage in anti-U.S. propaganda and terrorist recruiting.

Mr. Durbin admitted in today’s announcement that the purchase, made in open defiance of the House subcommittee which overseas federal prisons, was unprecedented. Coupled with President Obama’s 2011 signing statement on legislation barring funds to transfer Gitmo detainees to the U.S. — calling the legislation “an extreme and risky encroachment on the authority of the executive branch” — we have no confidence that the Obama administration will defer to the wishes of the American people and their elected representatives on the matter of Guantanamo.

This misappropriation of funds and flouting of Congressional authority goes to the very heart of the public’s distrust of the Obama administration and the ever-widening gap between what it says and what it does.

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9/11 Families to Govs. Cuomo and Christie: the Port Authority’s conduct is a betrayal of those who died on 9/11

Click on the image.

The Honorable Chris Christie
Governor of New Jersey

The Honorable Andrew Cuomo
Governor of New York

June 27, 2012

Dear Governor Christie and Governor Cuomo:

Over the past several months, we have watched with growing concern as the National September 11 Memorial Museum has become the focus of a public dispute over funding. We are deeply disappointed that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the government agency over which you are jointly charged with oversight and control, has brought this important historic project to a standstill. As 9/11 family members who have been personally involved in the development of the Memorial and Museum, we refuse to stand by while the individuals you appointed — and whose actions you have the power to veto — allow this vital project to founder.

It is bitterly ironic and cynical in the extreme for the governors of New York and New Jersey — states which lost the most people on 9/11 — to express concern for the “long-term stability” of the 9/11 Memorial Foundation even as your appointees at the Port Authority seek to raid the foundation’s charitable coffers, essentially nullifying by several times over the amount of federal assistance for which you recently voiced your support.

The Memorial and Museum Foundation has raised more than $435 million in private donations from 900,000 mostly small donors. To date, the Foundation has achieved every fund raising goal, has met every contractual obligation, and has diligently worked in good faith to fulfill its dual obligations to the memory of our loved ones and to the public trust.

We believe that the Port Authority is now engaged in a dishonest and dishonorable effort to exploit the Foundation’s successful and disciplined efforts in order to offset its own reckless and irresponsible fiscal mismanagement. In short, the PA is seeking to use the public’s heart-felt support of the 9/11 memorial and museum as an easy source of revenue to help pay for its own oversized, under-budgeted, poorly-managed capital projects (see the $3.5 billion PATH station lobby, serving a mere 50,000 commuters, originally estimated to cost $1.8 billion; see also, the PA’s $25 billion capital plans — scaled back from $33 billion after public outrage.) That is despicable.

The Memorial Foundation has repeatedly refuted the Port Authority’s bald assertion that it is owed $157 million (the PA has inexplicably doubled the amount to $300 million in some press reports). Equally troubling are unsupported reports that the cost of the Memorial and Museum has soared to $1.4 billion. According to the foundation, none of this is true. It maintains that the Memorial and Museum costs owed to Port Authority were capped at $530 million in a properly executed 2006 contract. In that agreement, the Port Authority promised to deliver both the memorial and museum in 2009. It is the Port Authority which has delayed, dissembled and now disrupted this vitally important historic project.

Ten years ago, we witnessed devoted recovery workers clear 1.8 billion tons of twisted steel and concrete, putting their lives on hold, focusing only on what they perceived was their solemn duty to their fellow human beings. It took these honorable men and women nine months to bring order out of chaos.

It has now been nine months since the Port Authority sent workers off the site, creating new chaos out of order. The museum opening, slated for this September, has been indefinitely delayed. It will not open before 2013. Every month of Port Authority delay ensures that costs continue to rise.

Governor Christie and Governor Cuomo, the Port Authority’s conduct is a betrayal of those who died on 9/11. It is a betrayal of the thousands who risked everything to honor them, and it is a betrayal of the growing number of children for whom “9/11” is not a first-hand memory.

We ask that you direct the Port Authority to honor their contract with the Foundation, immediately restart construction of the National September 11 Memorial Museum, and finish the job.

Respectfully submitted,
[signatures after the jump]

Debra Burlingame: The 9/11 Memorial Museum Held Hostage

This is my op-ed as it appeared today in the Wall Street Journal, with additional photos and links added.

Debra Burlingame: The 9/11 Memorial Museum Held Hostage
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey demands more money from a charitable foundation before it will finish construction.
By DEBRA BURLINGAME

Wednesday, May 30 marks 10 years since the recovery operation at the World Trade Center site officially ended. On that day, the “Last Column,” a 37-foot, 58-ton section of structural steel, was draped with an American flag and escorted from the site by an honor guard in a solemn ceremony that left grown men weeping.

The beam had become a sacred totem after the remains of three New York City firefighters from Squad 41 were found near its base. Recovery workers covered it with memorials to the dead: photographs, decals and hand-scrawled tributes: “FDNY 343,” “PAPD 37,” “NYPD 23,” the numbers of those killed from the city’s first responder departments.

During the recovery operation, ironworkers, heavy-equipment operators and others in the construction trades removed 1.8 million tons of twisted steel and concrete, heaped seven stories high; the Last Column’s silent, enduring presence was a solemn tribute to the best of humanity. It was brought back to the World Trade Center site in August 2009, where it will be viewed by millions when the National September 11 Memorial Museum opens.


The ‘Last Column’ is removed from Ground Zero in a ceremony on May 2002. AP/Navy photo

Yet the museum opening, which was on track for Sept. 11, 2012, has now been delayed indefinitely. The final phase of construction ground to a halt last year in a public dispute over funding between the builder, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the nonprofit foundation that raised the money for the project. Lamentably, the two governors involved in this drama, New Jersey’s Chris Christie and New York’s Andrew Cuomo, have done nothing to stop the Port Authority’s shameless gambit to squeeze more money out of a charity to which 900,000 mostly small donors have contributed.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is the bi-state agency that owns the land and lobbied heavily for the federally funded, multibillion-dollar job of rebuilding the 16-acre site. It claims that the National September 11 Memorial & Museum Foundation owes the agency $157 million more than the $530 million cost cap the agency itself agreed to in 2006. The Port Authority has not publicly stated any basis as to why it is owed additional money.

The Port Authority, run by a powerful group of politically connected bureaucrats, has long been accused of cronyism, mismanagement and waste. Last December, Gov. Christie announced that he was initiating a $2 million independent audit of the agency’s accounting. This came in the wake of a public outcry over the PA’s unilateral decision in August 2011 to raise bridge and tunnel tolls by 50%.

As Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.) said, “There is something wrong when it costs $12 to cross a bridge in America.” He has joined Rep. Michael Grimm (R., N.Y.) in calling for federal oversight of the Authority “to make sure toll revenue is being used appropriately, and not going to fund excessive salaries or political patronage jobs.”

There are grounds for the charge. In November 2011, the Record newspaper in Bergen County, N.J., reported on the basis of public records that the Port Authority was giving 100 of its highest-paid employees secret bonuses totaling $2 million a year, beginning in 2008, at the height of the recession.

And in July, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli issued a scathing report revealing that the Port Authority paid $85 million in overtime costs to 5,360 of its 6,900 employees in 2010. Three hundred and forty-seven employees received more than 50% of their base salary in overtime. According to the report, in 2009 the agency spent $52 million on overtime, and the basis for the top overtime earners could not be supported with written records.

Mr. DiNapoli also noted that the Port Authority authorized $4.38 billion in service contracts from 2006 to 2009. In a random sample of 75 of those contracts valued at $1.3 billion, according to the report, the agency lacked written support for 57 of them, valued at $1.18 billion. The Port Authority’s in-your-face response to Mr. DiNapoli’s report was that the overtime business model works just fine.

Perhaps the most trenchant description of the Port Authority’s method of doing business was outlined in an Oct. 19, 2011, op-ed in the New York Post by the PA’s former executive director (1995-97), George J. Marlin. In an open letter of advice to Gov. Cuomo’s newly appointed executive director, Patrick Foye, Mr. Marlin urged Mr. Foye to reject Port Authority bureaucrats’ cost estimates and construction timetables on new projects. He said they are deliberately lowballed to get approval.

Once construction starts and millions are spent, Mr. Marlin said, subsequent cost “overruns” are the norm. He called the PATH train terminal at Ground Zero a “perfect example of PA staff conniving.” Originally estimated to cost $1.8 billion in federal money, the 800,000 square foot terminal has ballooned to an astronomical $3.4 billion and rising.

In January of this year, Gov. Cuomo raised the specter of a lawsuit by the Port Authority against the Memorial & Museum Foundation regarding its $157 million claim. The governor surely knows that litigating the dispute in court could entail years of delay, jacking up construction costs in excess of the amount that the agency is demanding.

In the meantime, millions of Americans would have to wait while a government agency pursued its extortionate demand through the courts. And this from the same governor who issued a commemorative “We Remember” flag to be flown statewide for the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

Yet this is the Port Authority way: Abrogate the contract, shut down work, then make an offer the other side can’t refuse. The foundation’s CEO, Joe Daniels, wants to resolve the dispute in a manner that moves the project forward. The 2006 contract provides for fast-track mediation. But Mr. Daniels told me that a Port Authority board member warned him in a heated telephone conversation last October, “Go ahead and do it [request mediation] that way and we’ll see how long it takes to get your museum built.”

The Port Authority should be reminded that this isn’t Mr. Daniels’s museum. It belongs to the public, funded in part by federal tax dollars appropriated by Congress to show the world that America isn’t beaten. It belongs to private donors who have supported the project because they believe that future generations should be taught about this attack on the country, and how it changed the world.

Govs. Christie and Cuomo have made significant strides confronting fiscal challenges in their respective states. It is time for them to exert leadership and direct their political appointees to fulfill the PA’s contractual obligations, restore the public trust and complete the construction of this vital national treasure.

Ms. Burlingame is a member of the board of directors of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum Foundation. Her brother, Charles F. Burlingame III, was the pilot of American Airlines flight 77, which was hijacked and crashed at the Pentagon on 9/11.