Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Saturday, June 03, 2006

  Is David Laufman really qualified to become Inspector General of the Defense Department?

George Bush announced yesterday that he is nominating David H. Laufman to be Inspector General of the Department of Defense. It is a major job even in small times, and for the DoD these are colossal times. So who is this man? The White House provides little more than a skeletal CV:

Mr. Laufman currently serves as Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. Prior to this, he served as Chief of Staff for the Office of the Deputy Attorney General at the Department of Justice. Earlier in his career, he served as Investigative Counsel for the House Ethics Committee. Mr. Laufman received his bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania and his JD from Georgetown University.

You will search in vain for any connection to the military, or any service in an Inspector General's office. Laufman's career as an attorney is neither very long nor particularly distinguished; he has no apparent expertise in contract or military law. Why, then, is he the nominee? I'm puzzled, and not in a good way.

Robert Parry states in passing the David Laufman is a "former CIA official". I've found no official documentation of that; it would be remarkable for the White House to omit such a salient detail from its description of his career. But the WH suppresses so much awkward information these days that it would not be surprising to find they've done it in this instance.

It appears that Laufman served as CoS for Larry D. Thompson before he stepped down as Deputy Attorney General in late 2003. While there, he pressured the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons to keep a group of prisoners from communicating with family or lawyers, as far as possible within the outmost limits of the law. These prisoners were swept up almost willy nilly, in the hundreds, after September 11. A later study of the conditions of their detention, conducted by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice, reported that the Director said...

she had conversations with David Laufman and Christopher Wray from the Office of the Deputy Attorney General, in which she was told to "not be in a hurry" to provide the September 11 detainees with access to communications - including legal and social calls or visits - as long as the BOP remained within the reasonable bounds of its lawful discretion. Hawk Sawyer emphasized that Department officials never instructed her to violate BOP policies, but rather to take the policies to their legal limit in order to give officials investigating the detainees time to "do their job."

In other words, Laufman was behind the policy of keeping these unfortunate detainees incommunicado. It was a policy that became apparant within days of the al-Qaeda attack, and was one of the first signs I noticed that Bush Co. had declared war on civil liberties.

So, if Laufman has any principles, they're malleable ones. On the whole, however, I doubt that Laufman's work as Chief of Staff to Thompson contributed very directly to his current nomination to become the chief watchdog of the DoD.

However from the perspective of Bush Co., Laufman has distinguished himself since late 2003 as Assistant U.S. Attorney for Eastern Virginia. For one thing, he served in that capacity under Paul McNulty, who subsequently was appointed Deputy U.S. Attorney General. Never underestimate the force of cronyism in this White House.

Also, Laufman prosecuted a series of cases against members of a putative eastern-Virginia terrorist ring. And in doing so, he proved to be a heavy-handed prosecutor.

Laufman was one of the prosecutors of Randall Royer and Ibrahim Al-Hamdi. These were the feared network of "paintball" terrorists. As Tim Davis has said, in prosecuting actual terrorists

the government's record is less than stellar. Any successful prosecution is welcome.

Royer and Hamdi were sentenced to 20 years and 15 years in prison.

And it's not just that Laufman helped to get convictions and heavy sentences in cases where the grounds for prosecution were ambiguous. More significantly for his stock value in Bush Co., I think, was that he gave no quarter to the accused. He also prosecuted Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, convicted of plotting to assasinate Bush. This was the recent graduate of an Islamic high-school who was picked up and held in Saudi Arabia for nearly two years. The evidence for the rather improbable sounding plot was Abu Ali's confession, allegedly extracted under torture before he was shipped back to the U.S.

In an effort to document his torture allegations which have been strongly denied by government lawyers -- attorney Ashraf Nubani filed a motion yesterday asking that Abu Ali be examined by a physician and a psychologist. Court papers said witnesses have seen scars on Abu Ali's back that are consistent with whippings.

Nubani criticized prosecution efforts to delay the trial until October. Assistant U.S. Attorney David H. Laufman argued the extra time is needed because the case is complex and might require testimony from witnesses who live overseas.

But Nubani said the FBI has had plenty of time to compile its case. FBI agents had full access to Abu Ali during the 20 months he was in Saudi custody, he said.

"The government has not had a case," Nubani said. "They want time to concoct a case."

While in jail in the U.S., Abu Ali was prevented from talking to his family except in the presence of FBI agents. He was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in jail.

The heavy sentences Laufman obtained were based on federal sentencing guidelines. The true brilliance of Laufman, from the perspective of Bush Co., is demonstrated by his willingness to argue one day for heavy penalties under sentencing guidelines, and the next day to argue for heavy penalties against the sentencing guidelines.

A federal judge in Alexandria yesterday rejected the government's second attempt to obtain a long prison sentence for a local financier tied to a terrorist leader, sentencing the man instead to 13 months and one day in prison.

Soliman S. Biheiri, 52, is one of two people convicted as a result of a three-year federal investigation into local financing of terrorism. Prosecutors indicted him twice on charges tangentially related to terrorism. Both times, they asked U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III to impose sentences of at least five to 10 years. Each time, Ellis refused....

Prosecutors argued that Biheiri's lie obstructed their probe of Islamic groups in Northern Virginia being investigated for links to terror. They wanted a five-year term rather than a sentence of eight to 14 months for lying.

On the witness stand, though, Internal Revenue Service agent Mary Balberchak acknowledged that she and Customs agent David Kane already had information about Biheiri's links to Marzook when they interviewed Biheiri -- but that they had forgotten it. Because the government knew about the financial tie between Biheiri and Marzook, "it is not able to carry its burden that there was an actual obstruction of justice," Ellis said.

At the start of his trial in October, Biheiri pleaded guilty to one count of passport fraud. That count -- like the count of lying to a federal agent, on which a jury convicted him -- calls for jail time of eight to 14 months, according to federal sentencing guidelines.

But the passport charge carried a possible maximum sentence of 10 years. And after Wednesday's landmark Supreme Court ruling declaring that sentencing guidelines no longer were mandatory, Assistant U.S. Attorney David H. Laufman invited Ellis to ignore the guidelines, saying, "The shackles are off this court."

But Ellis declined, saying that the Supreme Court suggested that the sentencing guidelines still should be considered in devising sentences and that he thought they were appropriate in Biheiri's case.

So here on display are the qualities that perhaps impressed George Bush. Laufman tried to railroad the defendant on a charge of obstruction of justice, though the government already had known the very thing it tried to get the defendant to admit. And the moment the opportunity presented itself, Laufman tried to convince the judge to ignore federal sentencing guidelines so as to hammer the defendant over a relatively minor offense.

Disingenous and ruthless; qualities that investors in Bush Co. look for. But competence, qualification, and principle? Maybe not so much. I've poked around a good deal in David Laufman's career, and for the life of me I cannot imagine how he might possibly be qualified to serve as Inspector General of the Department of Defense. Or does the Office of the IG plan to devote its attention to overseeing the interrogation techniques employed on prisoners? In that sense alone, perhaps, Laufman can claim to be an expert in "national security matters."

Well, if Laufman is unqualified by the normal expectations of what the job ought to entail, maybe the White House based its judgment instead upon the standards upheld, or not, by recent Inspectors General of the Defense Department. Aha, here we may find the investigation productive.

The acting Inspector General of DoD, Thomas F. Gimble, has been notoriously unhelpful in regards to one of the biggest of recent DoD scandals--the warrantless surveillance of Americans. Since December 2005, a number of Representatives led by Zoe Lofgren have been trying to get Gimble to initiate an investigation of the NSA scandal. Instead, he responded that the NSA was already investigating itself; he refused to get involved. Here is a letter from Lofgren to the White House in February, which explains why Gimble's refusal to investigate is outlandish:

The Department of Defense’s Acting Inspector General, Mr. Thomas F. Gimble, has refused requests by members of Congress that he investigate this program. Mr. Gimble referred those requests to the Inspector General of the NSA, who he claimed was already actively reviewing this program.[xvi] Yet, in subsequent news reports, it was revealed that the NSA review to which Mr. Gimble so swiftly deferred was not a new review but a long-standing audit, which would not review the legality of NSA’s activities.[xvii] Furthermore, you yourself have indicated that the Inspector General of the NSA has long known of this program without apparently questioning its legality.[xviii] We fail to see how the Inspector General of NSA can review potential deficiencies in his own advice. Despite these deficiencies, Mr. Gimble has steadfastly refused to begin any investigation of his own. Moreover, we have received no response from the Inspector General of NSA, to whom Mr. Gimble referred our request for investigation.

My presumption is that Bush Co. is banking on Mr. Laufman to keep the DoD Office of IG out of the business of investigating the NSA scandal, given his hard-line approach to anything that can be linked at all plausibly to national security.

It's not as if Gimble's predecessor set a high standard that either he or Laufman may be held up against. As Peraspera pointed out to me, the last regularly appointed Inspector General, Joseph Schmitz, resigned in 2005 while he was under investigation for corruption and for blocking investigations in his office. Here is T. Christian Miller of the LA Times:

The Pentagon's top investigator has resigned amid accusations that he stonewalled inquiries into senior Bush administration officials suspected of wrongdoing.

Defense Department Inspector General Joseph E. Schmitz told staffers this week that he intended to resign as of Sept. 9 to take a job with the parent company of Blackwater USA, a defense contractor.

The resignation comes after Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) sent Schmitz several letters this summer informing him that he was the focus of a congressional inquiry into whether he had blocked two criminal investigations last year.

The two investigations Schmitz quashed involved corruption in DoD contracting and much else. In one, Schmitz allegedly used his office to abet bid rigging by a former deputy undersecretary in DoD; then over internal protests he handed over his office's nearly complete investigation to the FBI; then he composed a news release that denied that his office had ever investigated the matter; then he denied he was involved in the press release. In the second case, the Air Force general counsel was accused of perjury; this involved either contracting corruption, or the rape allegations at the AF Academy. To escape his own impending doom, Schmitz fled to the golden embrace of Blackwater USA.

In short, Schmitz, the first DoD Inspector General under Bush Co., was an unmitigated disaster. His successor, Gimble, has outlandishly refused to look into a DoD program that stands accused of violating constitutional rights. By these standards, then, Bush may well suppose that David Laufman will be deemed acceptable.

And that is the true secret of this administration's success, such as it is: Lowering standards to the degree that there is no longer any basis to resist the next outrage.

Never the less, the historians among us remember when qualified officials took seriously the essential job of government oversight. I don't think I'm going beyond the evidence to say that David Laufman cannot be trusted to do this critical job well and in good faith.


  • Great post which I took and ran with. You didn't quite dig deep enough. Far from being unqualified, Laufman is a GOP "cleaner" of impeccable history - he is incredibly well qualified to make sure that halliburton, Boeing, Blackwater et al never have to be embarassed by investigations on Dubya's watch again.

    Regards, Cernig @ Newshog

    By Blogger Cernig, at 4:32 PM  

  • Excellent post Cernig. When I wrote my own piece on Laufman, I had discovered that he'd been on the October Surprise task force. But I did not know what to make of that information because I had no other record of his involvement in coverups.

    For some reason, my search of documents did not turn up that Parry piece on Clinton, which is really key. Outstanding work.

    One aspect of my argument may have escaped your notice, though, because I approached it in a roundabout fashion. I say:

    My presumption is that Bush Co. is banking on Mr. Laufman to keep the DoD Office of IG out of the business of investigating the NSA scandal, given his hard-line approach to anything that can be linked at all plausibly to national security.

    I think part of the idea behind Laufman's appointment is that some really dangerous investigations could potentially be launched inside the DoD. Laufman has shown that he accepts the 'national-security-trumps-everything' argument. Therefore I presume his instinct will be to quash any investigation before it gets started.

    But your argument that he's a "cleaner" for the Republicans dovetails nicely with that point.

    Glad you found my piece useful.

    By Blogger : smintheus ::, at 8:09 PM  

  • Excellent work, which I am referencing and linking on my site Laufman's name was just announced by the WH as withdrawn.

    By Anonymous Wendy, at 11:52 AM  

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