“By definition killing somebody is a violation of their human rights, and so people that we might be in a position to recruit and penetrate terrorist organizations we could not due to those strictures.” U.S. Congressman Rob Simmons, R-CT 2nd district.The instant Rob Simmons said he had used his CIA training to analyze secret documents proving Iraq was an “imminent threat to Israel and the continental United States,” peace activists in his district began organizing, according to Father Emmett Jarrett. It was only January of 2002 but Jarrett and other members of the anti-war group, “We the Undersigned,” were convinced Simmons would be instrumental in helping the President and Vice President make a case for a war against Iraq.
On October 9, 2002, as he outlined his reasons for voting to give Bush authority under the War Power’s Act, Simmons claimed Iraq represented, “a grave and gathering threat—We cannot wait for the smoking gun. A gun smokes only after it has been fired. And that may be too late for an American city, our troops abroad, a NATO ally, or Israel.” Reporters nevertheless saw him as the GOP’s leading “moderate” on the question of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program. It was yet another example of the way Simmons has been able to express two opposing viewpoints simultaneously, then steer members of the media to whatever view fitted his need at a given time. He had questioned the exactness of the “imminent” threat. Would it be days, months or years before Hussein targeted America? To reporter Susan Crabtree, that made Simmons a skeptic. In her September 30, 2002, story in Roll Call, she described an emotional interview with Simmons, who she said paused to point to the dog tags around his neck, making sure she saw the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial etched onto them. Simmons then declared, “I wear this every day as a reminder that we should never again get involved in a conflict without the public’s clear understanding and support.” By then members of “We the Undersigned” were even more determined to get Rob Simmons to be clear with voters. They were able to get a meeting at the Congressman’s office, and Simmons agreed to join them for a forum on Iraq, “Where Do We Go from Here?” By the time the forum was held on May 12, 2003, voter cynicism about Iraq’s WMD program had set in. Simmons showered the audience with references to the CIA’s satellite imaging work, assuring them that the documents then Secretary of State Colin Powell brought to the United Nations on Iraq would be proven within the year. The truth was not yet out that the documents Powell had been using to determine a link between Al-Qaida and Iraq were worthless. They were based on fraudulent intelligence obtained when a high profile “enemy combatant” named Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi provided his “testimony” under torture.Much of the audience was unimpressed by what Simmons said. There were jeers and rumbles of the phrase, “tell the truth.” And when the moderator read a question she had been handed there was sustained laughter and then applause. The question was: “Is the CIA incompetent or is George Bush a liar?” At that point the Congressman’s cool rhetoric broke down. Hesitating, he said he could understand their doubts. “When it comes to human sources of intelligence we are not so good, and you can trace the degrading of those human sources of intelligence to a couple of critical events over the last 25 years.” The “events” he was referring to were Congressional efforts at restraining the CIA on the hiring of murderers and other kinds of criminals. As late as 1996,” he said, “the US intelligence community had a restriction on recruiting anybody for intelligence purposes who was engaged in human rights violations. By definition killing somebody is a violation of their human rights, and so people that we might be in a position to recruit and penetrate terrorist organizations we could not due to those strictures,” said Simmons.Simmons again blamed Congressional oversight, specifically Senator’s Frank Church and Otis Pike, at a September 6th fundraising breakfast attended by former President and CIA Director, George H. W. Bush. The two men reasoned that the CIA’s critics must bear some responsibility for the CIA’s failures, and the 1970s press, in their opinion, was also responsible. The national news media was there but failed to report anything but sound bites about the President’s support for Simmons. “The agency was under attack,” Simmons told the audience. “The Pike and Church Committee had engaged in a series of devastating investigations. Our senior officers were being raked over the coals. People were leaving in droves, and those of us serving on difficult and dangerous missions overseas were demoralized by the headlines that we were reading every day.“The senior Bush agreed. “You have to deal sometimes with bad guys. Gentlemen do read other people’s mail,” he said. “As Rob said the CIA had been criticized, properly for a hand full of things but improperly and unfairly for so many things. And what happened out of that period was that many of our human intelligence sources dried up. Who wants to be out there under cover in clandestine services only to read his name in the Washington Post or the New Haven Register or any paper? –You don’t want that, so protection of sources and methods was very important and that was not being done by a lot of untutored staffers that were unleashed on Capital Hill, I mean up in Langley.“During an interview about the comments on September 18th in New London, Connecticut, Rob Simmons called the findings of the Church and Pike Committees “hogwash.” He specifically denied assassination, torture, and a domestic spy program, and despite the generic nature of the questions he grew visibly angry. “I felt as a person on the front line in a foreign country under cover trying to collect information for my leadership, for me to be characterized the way we were characterized during that committee, those committee hearings, I felt was unfair,” he said. “I’m a Vietnam Veteran, but that doesn’t mean I’m Lieutenant Calley.” A staff member whisked Simmons away. No one had accused Rob Simmons of being William Calley. Calley was convicted of murder in the deaths of hundreds of men, women, children, and even infants, at the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. The U.S. Marines had lined people up in a ditch in Vietnam and shot them. Yet, Calley served only 3 and a half years after former President Richard Nixon shortened his sentence. Ironically, former CIA agent Ralph McGehee, who served in Southeast Asia, noted in his documentation of the Phoenix Program that there was some evidence to suggest that the My Lai massacre was related to the CIA’s Phoenix Program. Seventy eight percent of Americans polled after Calley’s trial indicated that they disagreed with his sentence and thought higher ups should have been prosecuted for the massacre. According to what Simmons told the Hartford Courant, the Geneva Conventions clearly applied to the peasants shot by Lt. Calley and the people he interrogated in Vietnam. He was simply arguing that they didn’t apply to individuals picked up in the Bush administration’s “war on terror” because—9/11 made them different. In his September 28th story David Lightman explained, “Unlike the war in Southeast Asia, the war on terror is not a war against sovereign nations or organized liberation movements. The rules of prisoner engagement are different – and, Simmons and others contend, ill-defined and even non-existent.” It was a distinction that placed Rob Simmons at odds with the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Federal Court, leading human rights organizations, some Military leaders and even members of the legal team assigned to defend “enemy combatants” at U.S. Military commissions. According to Attorney Wells Dixon, “The Congressman is correct that the war on terror presents unique challenges that are unlike many of the conventional wars that we have fought in the past, however, he is wrong to state that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to the detainees or to those involved in combat.”“The Third Geneva Conventions apply to prisoners of war,” Dixon told listeners, “the 4th Geneva Conventions apply to all other persons who may be captured during times of armed conflict, and Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions also apply to that exception to individuals who are captured during times of armed conflict; the Supreme Court said this in the Hamdan case in June, and the Geneva Conventions and Common Article 3 are also part of U.S. Military Law and Military training.“The goal of the Military Commissions Act is to remove access from the press and U.S. judicial system and push detainees further into the shadows. As Simmons himself put it during the interview with Lightman, “We’re not sure of the rules dealing with the status of detainees. But with this bill, we can have a national security court.” Former New York Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman pointed out in her September 23, 2006 OPED to the Chicago Sun Times, that the Military Commissions Act would “gut the War Crimes Act of 1996, a federal law that makes it a crime, in some cases punishable by death, to mistreat detainees in violation of the Geneva Conventions and makes the new, weaker terms of the War Crimes Act retroactive to 9/11.” The changes are brought about by a provision that amounts to a “pardon” for any U.S. national, from a CIA interrogator to the president, she said. Military defense attorney Lt. Col. Sharon Shaffer, a Military judge, said during a George Washington Law School symposium on the implications of Hamdan versus Rumsfeld, October 20th, that she is “deeply troubled” by statements of members of the House, Senate and media, which condemn Guantanamo prisoners and others before they have been tried. Where members of U.S. Congress have called detainees “evil people,” she pointed out, they are exerting an “unlawful command influence” over legal proceedings the detainees may undergo in military courts. Even the Republican head of the Senate Arlen Specter, admitted that some provisions of the Act are unconstitutional. The removal of the right to Habeas Corpus, for example, means that detainees will lose the right to learn the exact nature of charges against them. Specter said he intends to reverse that provision, according to the Washington Post but for rights groups the bigger problem is that the bill wipes out access to detainees as well as any semblance of oversight. Who will protect the rights of the innocent? Who will stop the CIA and Military from using grotesque forms of torture?“In its consideration of covert action, the Committee was struck by the basic tension—if not incompatibility—of covert operations and the demands of a constitutional system. Secrecy is essential to covert operations; secrecy can, however, become a source of power, a barrier to serious policy debate within the government, and a means of circumventing the established checks and procedures of government. The Committee found that secrecy and compartmentation contributed to a temptation on the part of the Executive to resort to covert operations in order to avoid bureaucratic, congressional, and public debate.” Final report of the Church Committee investigating CIA and FBI abuses during the 1970s. The Military Commissions Act reverses the decisions made by Congress in the 1970s which Rob Simmons found troubling. Those decisions were made in order to prevent the CIA and FBI from misusing their authority, to set forth rules that would at least encourage a more democratic and humane process. In landmark hearings on July 20, 1973, as William E. Colby, underwent Congressional review for the job of Director of Central Intelligence, members of Congress touched on the problem of the lack of due process as they talked about their investigations into the Phoenix Program. Colby had run Phoenix, and Massachusetts Representative Robert P. Drinan testified about what the program had meant for civilians: “These people who were being swept into prison by the U.S. forces didn’t have a hearing, didn’t even know the charges against them. And he (Colby) admits himself — and this is in my testimony — I didn’t read it — he admits himself that it was not until 1971 that every Vietnamese person accused of being with the Vietcong, it was not until 2 years after that that they had the basic right to be presented with the testimony against them or the charges against them and to be present personally at a hearing. So I do insist that despite the orders that he had, he was responsible for the sweeping injustices done to thousands of individuals who were South Vietnamese.“During 1970 and 1972, the time in question, Rob Simmons’ would have been running the CIA’s Phu Yen interrogation center under the Phoenix Program. Rather than admit that members of U.S. Congress were concerned about preventing abuses, Simmons has instead displayed a prejudicial loyalty to the CIA and to Colby, in particular. During the September 18, 2006 interview he said, “I served for three and a half years in Vietnam and again there was a lot of propaganda, a lot of disinformation about the agencies’ various programs. Bill Colby was in charge of the Phoenix program. He went on to become the Director of Central Intelligence. He was an honest and decent man. He would not engage in those activities.” The argument was not a denial so much as a complaint about those members of U.S. Congress, the media, and the general public, who would presume that they could criticize the CIA. To Douglas Valentine, the nation’s leading expert on the Phoenix Program, such comments raise concerns about conflict of interest. What might happen if Rob Simmons were to serve on a Congressional committee investigating Abu Ghraib? Dori Smith is an independent radio producer and host of “Talk Nation Radio” airing weekly at the University of Connecticut, in Storrs, Connecticut. She can be reached at her web site at firstname.lastname@example.org.David Morse is an independent journalist and political analyst and author of the historical novel, “The Iron Bridge”, [Harcourt Brace, 1998.] His articles have appeared in Progressive Populist, Salon, the New York Times Magazine, Dissent, the Nation, Friends Journal, and Esquire. His most recent article, “War of the Future, Oil Drives the Genocide in Darfur,” appeared in TomDispatch. He can be reached at his website at email@example.com