Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

Think at your own risk.
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
Cheney's dark arts
The Wapo details Dick Cheney's vigorous defense of torture ... not in his recent raft of media availabilities and speeches, but rather back in 2005, when he seemed to be scrambling to prevent Congress from either stopping, or investigating, his torture and domestic wiretapping program. According to the Post, Cheney personally led briefings of members of Congress, including John McCain:
One of the most critical Cheney-led briefings came in late October 2005, when the vice president and Porter J. Goss, then director of the CIA, read Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) into the program on the interrogation methods, according to congressional and intelligence sources.

One knowledgeable official described the meeting as contentious. Cheney and Goss, with other CIA officials present, tried to persuade the former Vietnam POW to back off an anti-torture amendment that had already won the support of 90 senators.

The McCain amendment would have ended practices such as waterboarding by forbidding "cruel, degrading and inhumane" treatment of detainees. The CIA had not used waterboarding since 2003, but the White House sought to maintain the ability to employ it.
Meanwhile, the story also offers insight into why Cheney seems to believe there is exculpatory evidence inside certain CIA memos:
Lawmakers at times challenged Cheney and CIA officials about the legality of the program and pressed for specific results that would show whether the techniques worked. In response, the CIA briefers said that half of the agency's knowledge about al-Qaeda's plans and structure had been obtained through the interrogations.
And the other interesting point: the timing and effectiveness of Cheney's efforts?
Cheney's briefings on interrogations began in the winter of 2005 as the top Democrats on the Senate and House intelligence committees, Sen. John D. Rockefeller III (W.Va.) and Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), publicly advocated a full-scale investigation of the tactics used against top al-Qaeda suspects.

On March 8, 2005 -- two days after a detailed report in the New York Times about interrogations -- Cheney gathered Rockefeller, Harman and the chairmen of the intelligence panels, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), according to current and former intelligence officials. Weeks earlier, Roberts had given public statements suggesting possible support for the investigation sought by Rockefeller. But by early March 2005, Roberts announced that he opposed a separate probe, and the matter soon died.

And last but certainly not least, there was the arrogance of the Cheney team:
Cheney's efforts to sway Congress toward supporting waterboarding went beyond secret meetings in Washington. In July 2005, he sent David S. Addington, his chief counsel at the time, to travel with five senators -- four of them opponents of the CIA interrogation methods -- to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. On the trip, Sen. Graham urged Addington to put the interrogations at secret prisons and the use of military tribunals into a stronger constitutional position by pushing legislation through Congress, rather than relying on executive orders and secret rulings from Justice Department lawyers.

Subsequent court rulings would challenge the legality of the system, and Justice Department lawyers were privately drafting new rules on interrogations. Addington dismissed the views of Graham, who had been a military lawyer.

"I've got all the authority I need right here," Addington said, pulling from his coat a pocket-size copy of the Constitution, according to the senator, suggesting there was no doubt about the system's legal footing.
And what's scary, is that the neocons actually believe that.

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posted by JReid @ 11:03 AM  
The Wednesday funnies: The Cheney Bunch
**Bump** Dick Cheney's newly public, chatty persona (and his daughter's) just begs for a parody. Here it is:

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posted by JReid @ 10:41 AM  
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
The limits of Powell's rethinking
Colin Powell is probably the most articulate current voice of the small, sane wing of the Republican Party. And he has successfully put distance between himself and the Bush administration in terms of the public's esteem, even managing to maintain the respect of those of us who deeply disagreed with him on Iraq. But there are some things he just can't seem to do. Involving himself in the question of torture for war is apparently one of them. From journalist Sam Husseini:

Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, recently wrote:

“What I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002 — well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion — its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa’ida.

But Powell isn't ready to go there:

Sam Husseini: General, can you talk about the al-Libi case and the link between torture and the production of tortured evidence for war?

Colin Powell: I don’t have any details on the al-Libi case.

SH: Can you tell us when you learned that some of the evidence that you used in front of the UN was based on torture? When did you learn that?

CP: I don’t know that. I don’t know what information you’re referring to. So I can’t answer.

SH: Your chief of staff, Wilkerson, has written about this.

CP: So what? [inaudible]

SH: So you’d think you’d know about it.

CP: The information I presented to the UN was vetted by the CIA. Every word came from the CIA and they stood behind all that information. I don’t know that any of them believe that torture was involved. I don’t know that in fact. A lot of speculation, particularly by people who never attended any of these meetings, but I’m not aware of it.

Powell seems to be somehow at odds with himself over his involvement in the former administration's policies: sorry he made the case for war at the U.N. without better facts, but somewhat defensive on the idea that he tried to make sure the facts were good before he made it. Perhaps the old soldier in him just can't go where Wilkerson is able to. Maybe he really does believe that the Iraq war was the right thing to do. Or maybe he's learning, along with the rest of us, the lengths his former colleague Dick Cheney and his band of neocons were willing to go to (including expending Powell's reputation for their cause) in order to have their war. Either that, or he's in deep denial.

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posted by JReid @ 11:03 AM  
Thursday, May 21, 2009
What Dick Cheney didn't say
When Dick Cheney mounted his full-throated defense of the previous administration's national security state at the curiously named American Enterprise Institute this afternoon, he made his core argument (that the Bush-Cheney torture and surveillance programs should be praised by a grateful nation, not shunned and despised by phony moralists who don't seem to mind when Jack Bauer does it...) based on a set of facts that are no longer operative. [Illustration at left by Rex Lameray]

Cheney continued to make the case that he ... I mean President Bush ... did what had to be done after 9/11 in order to thwart another -- imminent -- attack on America. They had to waterboard the bad guys you see -- and make no mistake, these weren't balerinas they were near-drowning -- because no one at the time knew when or where the next attack was coming. And it was coming. It's always coming... a few hundred turns on the waterboard and a mock burial or two later, the attack never came. See how well that worked?

The problem is: we now have at least a strong circumstantial case suggesting that the administration escalated the waterboarding in 2002 and 2003, long after the imminence of 9/11 had passed them by, but conveniently, right around the time they were building the case for invading Iraq. They waterboarded Abu Zubaydah 83 times in 30 days in August of 2002, the same month Bush's chief of staff, Andrew Card, formed White House Iraq Group to try and "market" the war. They waterboarded Khalid Sheik Muhammad 183 times in March 2003, the same month we invaded Iraq. And we learned on May 13 from former NBC News investigative producer Bob Windrem (who gave the bombshell story to The Daily Beast since I'm presuming the New York Times and Washington Post couldn't be bothered...) that they even tried to get the Iraq Survey Group to waterboard an Iraqi general in April 2003 -- not to thwart an "imminent" attack, but in order to produce false confessions to justify the invasion of Iraq.

But Dick Cheney didn't mention that today, nor did he bother to defend it. He didn't have to. The media has so thoroughly set aside the stunning revelations in the previous paragraph, that Cheney doesn't even feel the need to bring it up. He is free to continue arguing his case on pre-May 13 thinking, and he knows he'll get away with it. After all, who's going to stop him ... the "media?" The vast majority of the Washington press corps has long since lost interest in the subject of how, and why, we got into Iraq. And as NBC's Mark Murray all-but admitted today, the mainstream press spends more time helping the GOP out with their media strategy than rethinking their credulous assent on the Iraq war. ... The Obama administration? They're all about "moving forward." ... Congress? Don't make me laugh. They're too scared of the vanishing right's mysterious power to cow them on national security issues even to vote for the money to close Guantanamo, and they can't even build up the spinal fluid to move forward on a truth commission. The American people??? I'm sure Dick, who was too scared to fight in Vietnam but is clearly not afraid of YOU, would simply say, "good luck with that."

Related: The media's collective yawn over torture for war

Cross-posted at Open Salon.

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posted by JReid @ 2:47 PM  
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
For the prosecution: Don Rumsfeld and the Bush Bible briefings
More news from the Dr. Strangelove era in American politics. GQ nails the Pentagon's Jesus briefers, and paints Don Rumsfeld as perhaps the worst Defense Secretary EVER.

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posted by JReid @ 12:46 PM  
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Five of the Liberty City Seven convicted
The end of the Bush era is proceeding slowly, and painfully. Five members of the "Liberty City Seven" -- seven strange black guys who practiced karate outdoors wearing black ski masks and believed in an offbeat religious philosophy, were put on trial not once, but three times (six of them were, anyway. One was acquitted outright during the last trial, and then promptly deported to Haiti by the Bush administration, while the jury hung on the others.) Now, a second member has been acquitted. His friends? Not so much. They're facing up to 30 years in prison for a made-up plot so silly, and so clearly dreamed up by the FBI informant who infiltrated their group, that it seemed assured that an intelligent jury would laugh the case out of court.

Well? That didn't happen.

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posted by JReid @ 5:16 PM  
Friday, April 24, 2009
Unwinding torture
The Washington Post yesterday went inside the debate within the Obama administration over whether to release the torture memos. A salient clip starts with remarks from former Democratic Senator David Boren of Oklahoma:
Boren, who chaired the Senate intelligence committee from 1987 to 1993 and is now president of the University of Oklahoma, said that attending the briefings was "one of the most deeply disturbing experiences I have had" and that "I wanted to take a bath when I heard it. I was ashamed of it." He said he concluded that "fear was used to justify the use of techniques that violate our values and weaken our intelligence" and that the agency did not prove those methods "are particularly effective at getting the truth."

One of those present said that when asked, the CIA officers acknowledged that some foreign intelligence agencies had refused, for example, to share information about the location of terrorism suspects for fear of becoming implicated in any eventual torture of those suspects. Sources said that Jones shared these concerns and that, as a former military officer, he worried that any use of harsh interrogations by the United States could make it more likely that American soldiers in captivity would be subjected to similar tactics.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration will release more information, in the form of photos of widespread torture and abuse of detainees, not just at Abu Ghraib, but at U.S.-run detention facilities around the world. From Reuters:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pentagon said on Friday it will release hundreds of photographs from investigations into prisoner abuse but insisted they did not reveal a policy of mistreatment.

The Obama administration's commitment to release the pictures by May 28 could fan the flames of a political firestorm over the treatment of terrorism suspects and other detainees during George W. Bush's presidency.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates voiced concern this week that publicizing details of U.S. interrogation practices and photographs of prisoner treatment could trigger a backlash against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The American Civil Liberties Union has spent years suing the government for the release of the pictures, which came from military investigations. The group said they showed prisoner abuse went far beyond well-known cases in Iraq and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, yet another pro-torture GOP straw man falls, as the former FBI agent who interrogated Abu Zubaydah before the CIA took over and began torturing him up to 83 times in one month, says the salient information he provided to the U.S. came during HIS interrogations, before the torture began. NPR catches Michael Hayden in a lie as he claims Zubaydah gave up Khalid Shaikh Muhammad after we started torturing him, when in fact, Zubaydah was tortured AFTER giving up the most important information he had:
one of Zubaydah's FBI interrogators, Ali Soufan, remembers it differently. Soufan wrote in The New York Times that Zubaydah talked without being coerced.

Two high-ranking former FBI sources remember it that way, too. They say that intelligence breakthroughs came before Zubaydah was subjected to harsh techniques, not after. Another person close to the interrogation, Rohan Gunaratna, has similar recollections. He is an al-Qaida expert who has worked with U.S. government agencies on terrorism issues.

"Gen. Hayden is dead wrong" about harsh techniques getting information from Zubaydah, he says. "I have tremendous respect for Gen. Hayden, but he is wrong in this case."

Tending To The Prisoner

Gunaratna and FBI agents familiar with the Zubaydah case say he was shot and near death when he was captured. FBI agents, including Soufan, tended to Zubaydah during his convalescence. The idea was partly to bond with him.

When he was well enough, the agents began showing Zubaydah pictures of suspected members of al-Qaida. When he saw a photograph of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Zubaydah apparently asked, "How do you know about Muktar?"

"We know all about Muktar," the agent said, without missing a beat. He flipped through several other photos and then went back to the picture of Mohammed.

Zubaydah looked up and added, "How did you know he was the mastermind of 9/11?"

Gunaratna says that was a critical revelation — and there were others. "In fact, most of the information that was exceptionally useful to the fight against al-Qaida came from Abu Zubaydah," he says, "and it came before the U.S. government decided to use enhanced techniques."
Read Soufan's op-ed on the same subject here.

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posted by JReid @ 7:09 PM  
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Torture: when Americans do it, it's not illegal
That would seem to be the last remaining justification for the use of torture by our CIA. A New York Times story this morning reveals that the torture tactics were adopted without even a cursory examination of the history of the methods, or their usefulness.
The program began with Central Intelligence Agency leaders in the grip of an alluring idea: They could get tough in terrorist interrogations without risking legal trouble by adopting a set of methods used on Americans during military training. How could that be torture?

In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.

This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved — not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees — investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.

According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.

Even George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director who insisted that the agency had thoroughly researched its proposal and pressed it on other officials, did not examine the history of the most shocking method, the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.

The top officials he briefed did not learn that waterboarding had been prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II and was a well-documented favorite of despotic governments since the Spanish Inquisition; one waterboard used under Pol Pot was even on display at the genocide museum in Cambodia.

They did not know that some veteran trainers from the SERE program itself had warned in internal memorandums that, morality aside, the methods were ineffective. Nor were most of the officials aware that the former military psychologist who played a central role in persuading C.I.A. officials to use the harsh methods had never conducted a real interrogation, or that the Justice Department lawyer most responsible for declaring the methods legal had idiosyncratic ideas that even the Bush Justice Department would later renounce.

The process was “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm,” a former C.I.A. official said.
Read the Senate Arms Services committee report here.

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posted by JReid @ 10:07 AM  
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
A presidential shift on torture?
CNN is reporting that President Obama today signaled a shift toward investigating former Bush administration officials on torture, saying now that he's open to an investigation, so long as it's done "in a bipartisan way." So my question is, what happened in the last 24 hours to change the president's mind? Could it be Dick Cheney's braying? And could the media stop saying that the only people seeking accountability are "supporters on the left?" Last time I checked, those seeking to hold the torturers to account include Libertarians like professor Jonathan Turley and Republicans like John Dean (also on the record re Bybee...)

UPDATE: Full story from the NYTimes.

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posted by JReid @ 12:46 PM  
Would Dick Cheney just shut up already?
I realize that he's a private citizen with a perfect right to speak his mind, criticize the current president, or do whatever he feels will help beat back the demons of total public repudiation that dog his every, lurching step... but could somebody please muzzle the felonious former vice president, like, for a couple of days, so we can all recover from the migraines?

Meanwhile, a friendly reminder from George Lucas: Dick Cheney is not Darth Vader ... he's too evil to be Darth Vader. (Though I'm not sure the GWB as Vader comparison works either, since at no point in his history could you call Dubya a "promising young man..."

More Cheney blathering from ThinkP.

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posted by JReid @ 9:16 AM  
The torture judge: Bybee lawyers up
Jay Bybee, the sitting federal judge whose previous occupation was crafting crude legal arguments that would allow CIA personnel to torture, including waterboarding two terrorism suspects up to 6 times a day ... has hired a lawyer. And while we in the blog world would like to think it's our (or Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann's) doing, the real reason is that the Justice Department is not in any way obligated to go along with President Obama in eschewing prosecution of those who committed or attempted to sanction war crimes. (Despite the twisting of the job by Al "Torquemada" Gonzales, the A.G. is NOT the president's lawyer. He's OUR lawyer.) From Michael Isikoff at Newsweek (nowadays looking into things much more important than stained dresses...)
... the Obama administration is not off the hook. Though administration officials declared that CIA interrogators who followed Justice's legal guidance on torture would not be prosecuted, that does not mean the inquiries are over. Senior Justice Department lawyers and other advisers, who declined to be identified discussing a sensitive subject, say Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has discussed naming a senior prosecutor or outside counsel to review whether CIA interrogators exceeded legal boundaries--and whether Bush administration officials broke the law by giving the CIA permission to torture in the first place. Some Justice officials are deeply troubled by reports of detainee treatment and believe they may suggest criminal misconduct, these sources say. Even if prosecutions prove too difficult to bring, an outside counsel's report could be made public. For his part, Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is still pushing for a "truth commission." In a democracy, the wheels of justice grind on--and the president, for good reason under the rule of law, does not have the power to stop them.
Bybee does have legal counsel, for free, even. But the notion that he might be off the hook in Spain is a non-starter. A judge there has overruled that country's attorney general on the prosecution of the so-called Bush Six, Bybee included. Meanwhile, Isikoff also uncovered this interesting piece of data:
After several intense cabinet meetings, Obama appeared to back down and go along with a Panetta proposal to heavily "redact"—black out—all references to specific interrogation techniques, say the administration sources. But this would make the release meaningless, argued others, and Obama began to swing back again. Panetta had one ally, John Brennan, a former agency official who is now Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser. But Adm. Dennis Blair, the national intelligence director, backed a more complete release, and so did Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a Bush holdover (and former CIA director).
Gates + Blair = wow. Apparently, members of the CIA's clandestine service are pissed about the document release, but really, what did they expect? To be able to break the law with impunity, and with presidential cover? Oh, that's right ... that's what they ARE getting, at least, as long as they followed the ridiculously detailed torture guidelines:
"As a practical matter, it's over—nobody is going to get prosecuted," says Robert Bennett, the Washington lawyer whose clients include Jose Rodriguez, the former chief of the CIA's clandestine service, who has been under investigation for his November 2005 decision to destroy 92 videotapes showing the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. But what if evidence emerges that CIA officials (or contractors, who actually conducted most of the interrogations) went beyond the boundaries that the Justice Department erected? The CIA has consistently denied wrongdoing, but an intriguing footnote to one of the memos says that an internal CIA investigation found that there might have been "unnecessary use of enhanced techniques" against one Qaeda suspect.
There are other inquiries to come, in Congress, and inside the Justice Department's ethics division:
Three Bush administration lawyers who signed memos, John C. Yoo, Jay S. Bybee and Steven G. Bradbury, are the subjects of a coming report by the Justice Department’s ethics office that officials say is sharply critical of their work. The ethics office has the power to recommend disbarment or other professional penalties or, less likely, to refer cases for criminal prosecution.
On a side note, Jason and I were discussing last night whether President Obama might be more clever in this regard than he's being given credit for -- pushing the notion of prosecutions away from himself as a political matter, knowing that he can't stop Congress, Justice or the international community from acting. Not the most principled use of power, I'd argue, but perhaps a clever way to keep the politics at arms length, while ultimately having those who broke the law held to account. We'll see what happens.

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posted by JReid @ 8:43 AM  
Friday, April 17, 2009
Waterboarding is torture (again) and really always was
From the New York Times summaries of one of the newly released torture memos:
Waterboarding

Aug. 2002, May 2005

“This effort plus the cloth produces the perception of ‘suffocation and incipient panic,’ i.e., the perception of drowning. The individual does not breathe any water into his lungs. During those 20 to 40 seconds, water is continuously applied from a height of 12 to 24 inches. ... The sensation of drowning is immediately relieved by the removal of the cloth. The procedure may then be repeated.”
And from a WaPo article dated October 5, 2006:

On Jan. 21, 1968, The Washington Post published a front-page photograph of a U.S. soldier supervising the questioning of a captured North Vietnamese soldier who is being held down as water was poured on his face while his nose and mouth were covered by a cloth. The picture, taken four days earlier near Da Nang, had a caption that said the technique induced "a flooding sense of suffocation and drowning, meant to make him talk."

The article said the practice was "fairly common" in part because "those who practice it say it combines the advantages of being unpleasant enough to make people talk while still not causing permanent injury."

The picture reportedly led to an Army investigation.

Twenty-one years earlier, in 1947, the United States charged a Japanese officer, Yukio Asano, with war crimes for carrying out another form of waterboarding on a U.S. civilian. The subject was strapped on a stretcher that was tilted so that his feet were in the air and head near the floor, and small amounts of water were poured over his face, leaving him gasping for air until he agreed to talk.

"Asano was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) told his colleagues last Thursday during the debate on military commissions legislation. "We punished people with 15 years of hard labor when waterboarding was used against Americans in World War II," he said.

We also hanged them, according to John McCain. And next, the unbelievable justification for waterboarding U.S. detainees:

“Although the subject may experience the fear or panic associated with the feeling of drowning, the waterboard does not inflict physical pain. ... Although the waterboard constitutes a threat of imminent death, prolonged mental harm must nonetheless result to violate the statutory prohibition infliction of severe mental pain or suffering. ... Indeed, you have advised us that the relief is almost immediate when the cloth is removed from the nose and mouth. In the absence of prolonged mental harm, no severe mental pain or suffering would have been inflicted, and the use of these procedures would not constitute torture within the meaning of the statute.”
And then there's the admission, by the DOJ officials who wrote the torture memos, of what they were authorizing, as caught by the HuffPo's Sam Stein and Stuart Whatley:

The May 10, 2005, memorandum from the attorney general's office to the CIA defines torture as -- among other things -- activity where a subject suffers prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from "the threat of imminent death." From there, waterboarding was justified as a technique that, while possibly qualifying as a "threat of imminent death," had "safeguards" in place "that make actual harm quite unlikely." The qualifier seemed to clear the Bush White House of illegality.

But in a footnote at the bottom of page 43 of that same memo, the authors dropped the formalities. "For purposes of our analysis," the footnote reads, "we will assume that the physiological sensation of drowning associated with the use of the waterboard may constitute a 'threat of imminent death' within the meaning of sections 2340-2340A."

For purposes of analysys??? Those on the right justify all of this because in their mind, it doesn't rise to the level of what, say, Saddam Hussein was up to. But what's truly scary, if you read the various winger commentaries floating around the blog world, they are entirely comfortable with the barbarism described in the memos, and some even seem to feel that our techniques should be more like Saddam's, not less. And their biggest beef is that Americans are too pansified to embrace the violent treatment of prisoners under Bush's "leadership."


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posted by JReid @ 11:09 AM  
Do as we say...
As President Obama heads to the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, his administration finally releases the last (we hope) of the torture memos. (Curious that the wingers have no problem with things like torture, secret detentions, sneak and peak searches, forcing librarians to divulge customer reading habits, infiltration of Quaker peace groups etc., but they're all a-teabaggin' over a 4 percent increase in rich people's taxes... but I digress...)

Meanwhile, here in Florida, Cuban-Americans are needled by the fact that several Latin American presidents, including Lula of Brazil, Hugo of Venezuela and Evo of Bolivia, among others, will likely push for an end to Cuba's exclusion from the Organization of American States, which forms the attendance base of the summit. Writes the Miami Herald's Myriam Marquez:

Cuba's not invited to the big party in Trinidad and Tobago, but it will crash it anyway.

It'll be the pesky ghost at the table, pushing, shoving and booing -- all in an effort to derail President Barack Obama's first foray Friday into Latin America's often messy love-hate relationship with the United States.

With the help of Hugo, Lula, Evo, Daniel, Michelle, Cristina and many other Latin American presidents who learned how to play leftie politics -- and win -- virtually at Fidel Castro's knee, the ghost is demanding a clean slate and collective amnesia.

Forget 50 years of an atrocious human-rights record. Never mind that there are no property rights, labor unions or free speech.

Forget multiparty elections, the ghost thunders, it's tiny Cuba vs. the bad Imperialist Goliath.

Obama would rather forget, too, but he's not ready to deliver more freebies like the end of the U.S. embargo or the tourist ban -- yet. But as first steps, he has opened the door wide for Cuban-American travel and unlimited remittances to Cuba.

He figures that's enough to get the ghost off his back at the summit, where Brazil's Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has vowed to press for the island's membership in the Organization of American States.

OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza told Herald reporter Frances Robles at the summit Thursday that he agrees. Obama counters that Cuba needs to first show it belongs back in the organization that kicked it out in 1962.

Fidel Castro rails against any such inclusion in the OAS, calling it a tool of U.S. will. One reason he won't give: Cuba doesn't begin to meet the principle of the OAS charter -- democracy.

Ironically enough, the "Inter-American Democracy Charter"was adopted by the OAS on September 11, 2001 during a special session in Peru, hours after the 9/11 attacks in New York. The charter lays out the essentials of regional cooperation, democracy, the need to fight poverty and improve education and the environment, and of course human rights -- which brings us back to Cuba, which has got some issues on that front. And yet, as Marquez points out, over the last eight years the U.S. hasn't exactly been a champion of human rights, either (see "torture memos" above...) So Obama goes into the summit borne on the winds of change, but still refusing, as of yesterday, to hold the previous administration accountable for the human rights abuses that, if we were, say, applying for membership to the OAS today, would likely make us as ineligible as Fidel's Cuba.

Related: Raul says he's willing to talk to the U.S., including about human rights.

Cuban President Raul Castro has said he is willing to talk to Washington about everything, including human rights, political prisoners and press freedom.

His comments came hours after US President Barack Obama said Cuba needed to make the next move if there was to be further improvement in relations.

Mr Castro was speaking in Venezuela ahead of a Summit of the Americas.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he will veto any final declaration as Cuba is excluded from the meeting.

The summit, due to start in Trinidad, includes 34 Latin American and Caribbean countries.

The US has said the gathering is reserved for democratic nations.

Which brings us back to our checkered recent past:

Speaking to Latin American leaders in Venezuela, President Castro said he had sent word to the US government "in private and in public" that he is open to negotiations as long as it is "on equal terms".

Alas, amigos, we're pretty much already on equal terms. More on the potential thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations here.

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posted by JReid @ 7:46 AM  
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Left Behind: the Cheney chronicles
Sy Hersh says Dick Cheney left "stay behinds" inside the NSA and Pentagon, and perhaps elsewhere in government, to inform him, and possibly undermine President Obama, on matters Cheney deems important. Per ThinkP:
In an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday, host Terry Gross asked investigative journalist Seymour Hersh if, as he continues to investigate the Bush administration, “more people” were “coming forward” to talk to him now that “the president and vice president are no longer in power.” Hersh replied that though “a lot of people that had told me in the last year of Bush, ‘call me next, next February,’ not many people had talked to him. He implied that they were still scared of Cheney.

“Are you saying that you think Vice President Cheney is still having a chilling effect on people who might otherwise be coming forward,” asked Gross. “I’ll make it worse,” answered Hersh, adding that he believes Cheney “put people back” in government to “stay behind” in order to “tell him what’s going on” and perhaps even “do sabotage...”

Cheney, who we already know held unprecedented power in the Baby Bush administration, apparently is also strangely unafraid of being indicted for war crimes, or even investigated by the Obama Justice Department. One wonders why...

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posted by JReid @ 3:48 PM  
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
GOP to Cheney: 'back to your hidey hole!'
Republicans on Capitol Hill have enough on their plates just pleasing Rush Limbaugh every day. The last thing they want is Dick Cheney running around without his shock collar on... From The Hill, word that Congressional GOPers feel they'd have a better shot at reinventing the party without the Man from Hopeless (hat tip to ThinkProgress):
Rep. John Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.) said, “He became so unpopular while he was in the White House that it would probably be better for us politically if he wouldn’t be so public...But he has the right to speak out since he’s a private citizen.”

Another House Republican lawmaker who requested anonymity said he wasn’t surprised that Cheney has strongly criticized Obama early in his term, but argued that it’s not helping the GOP cause.

The legislator said Cheney, whose approval ratings were lower than President Bush’s during the last Congress, didn’t think through the political implications of going after Obama.

Cheney did “House Republicans no favors,” the lawmaker said, adding, “I could never understand him anyway."

Cheney responded to requests for comment with the following statement: "GRRRRRRRRR...."

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posted by JReid @ 12:44 PM  
Friday, March 20, 2009
Six years later...
The Iraq war is officially six years old. Not exactly a joyous birthday. Over at IAVA, veterans reflect, as does this veteran, who now calls the war an "organized armed robbery":



In New York and elsewhere: protests. In the media, print and television? Not much coverage. And Bush and company are still walking around free, spinning away. So there you go. Happy anniversary.

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posted by JReid @ 3:50 PM  
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
I heart Hagel: Rachel Maddow edition
On Rachel's show last night, Chuck Hagel slammed Dick Cheney's accusations about the Obama administration as "ridiculous," and paddled his Republican Party for its conduct over the previous eight years.

RACHEL: What do you make of Vice President Dick Cheney's allegation that President Obama has made the U.S. less safe? He's been rather bellicose about that recently.

HAGEL: Well, that's ridiculous. It has no merit on fact, or by any measurement. Come on, this guy hasn't even been in office two months!

The mess that the Bush Administration left the Obama Administration....I'm a Republican! We ran up more than a third of the nation's national debt under a Republican President and a Republican Congress six out of the last eight years. We got America into two wars. We've done great damage to our economy, to our force structure, to our standing in the world. And for a Vice President who participated in that, who LED in that, to come on and say that this new administration has really put America in danger is just folly.

Now, maybe in four years that will be the case. I don't know, we'll see. But to say that now makes no sense and I'm sorry the Vice President said that.

How do you not love this guy? He also discussed the new threats from Russia, which appears to be preparing to see our missile shields in their backyard, and raise it some bombers in ours.

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posted by JReid @ 8:28 AM  
Monday, March 16, 2009
The Robert Gibbs funnies: Rush wasn't available
Gibbsy hits Rush and Darth Cheney (whose outrageous "stuff happens" interview on CNN ruined my otherwise pleasant weekend) all in one snark:



Bravo!

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posted by JReid @ 4:18 PM  
Thursday, March 12, 2009
For your viewing pleasure: the Chris Matthews Ari smackdown
Ari Fleischer (who apprently really is a douchebag, Jon Stewart!) and a charter member of the hilarious Bush Legacy Project, defends the Bush years, and declares it "shameful" to place 9/11 within the Bush years, when clearly he wasn't president until immediately afterward. Enjoy!



BTW the one thing Matthews didn't do, was point out to Ari that 1) the recession that Bush "inherited" began in the second quarter of 2001 -- after I'm pretty sure he was president. And the so-called "record job creation" Ari touted during Bush's term, which he said were the best EVER! ... were actually the third worst job creation numbers of all the presidents dating back to Harry Truman. Only Bush's father and Gerald Ford saw fewer jobs created on their watch. Payrolls expanded by about 3 million during Bush's two terms, or about 375,000 per year, which puts him DEAD LAST in the per year number versus all the presidents since Harry gave 'em hell. Here are the totals:

Truman - 8.4 million
Eisenhower - 3.5
JFK - 3.6
LBJ - 11.9
Nixon - 9.4
Carter - 10.5
Reagan - 16.0
Bush I - 2.5
Clinton - 23.1
Dubya - 3.0

Source: Wall Street Journal

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posted by JReid @ 8:21 AM  
Friday, January 30, 2009
Mining the Huffpo: the Bush blotter
Two must-read articles on the HuffPo, both having to do with the legal twists and turns of the former president.

First up: Bush's last minute end run around accountability, in the form of letters issued to memebers of his now defunct administration, attempting to immunize them against probes by Congress:
Michael Isikoff reported for Newsweek that while many of us were fomenting about Bush preemptively pardoning at-risk members of his administration, he and his lawyer Fred Fielding (White House Counsel) were concocting one last expansion of executive privilege. Four days before he left office, Mr. Bush authorized Fielding to write letters to Harriet Miers and Karl Rove giving them "absolute immunity" from Congressional inquiry and prosecution. Preemptively. In perpetuity. Absolute and irrevocable.

The letters set the stage for what is likely to be a highly contentious legal and political battle over an unresolved issue: whether a former president can assert "executive privilege" -- and therefore prevent his aides from testifying before Congress -- even after his term has expired.

These letters were delivered before Congress or any prosecutor had initiated action against Miers and Rove. Clearly Bush sought to inoculate Rove and Miers from all attempts to prosecute them for their actions during his administration. Only when John Conyers (Chairman, House Judiciary Committee) subpoenaed Mr. Rove did the letters come to light. Waving his letter in the air, Karl Rove refused to appear before the committee.

Read the full Isikoff piece here. Meanwhile, Dick Cheney gave his own set of interviews, all but daring the new administration to charge him with a war crime for ordering torture, he says, at Bush's behest. Wonder if he has a letter, too...

Next up: Slate uncovers a college thesis by none other than Liz Cheney (the non-gay Cheney offspring, who apparently was an inspiration to her father in more ways that one. The thesis was called "The Evolution of Presidential War Powers 1988." ...
In 1988, while Dick Cheney was Wyoming's sole representative in the House of Representatives, his daughter's senior thesis was quietly published in Colorado Springs. The 125-page treatise argued that, constitutionally and historically, presidents have virtually unchecked powers in war. Thirteen years before her father became vice president, she had symbolically authored the first legal memorandum of the Bush administration, laying out the same arguments that would eventually justify Guantanamo and extraordinary rendition, wiretapping of American citizens, and, broadly, the unitary theory of the executive that shaped the Bush presidency.

Elizabeth's thesis contains such gems as the justifiable fabrication of enemy attacks to launch pre-emptive wars, and other nuggets of the founding father's hidden intent:
Elizabeth Cheney begins her survey at the Constitutional Convention. Contrary to today's middle-school mythology, she tells us, fear of enabling a tyrannical monarch was not foremost in the Founding Fathers' minds. Rather, they did not want to repeat the failure of the Continental Congress' attempts to manage the war for independence. Our constitutional architects, she argues, believed they could not "foresee every possible future use of American armed forces" and, as a result, wanted a commander in chief endowed with great latitude in wartime.

For Cheney, Thomas Jefferson established the path presidents would and should take when dealing with Congress. In engaging American warships against Barbary pirates, Jefferson "chose to inform Congress of his actions at his own convenience." When he did, he fabricated an attack on an American ship to secure their support.

Scary stuff. Read the full story here.

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posted by JReid @ 11:07 PM  
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
CIA station chief in Algeria accused of rape
And there are tapes. ABC has the exclusive:
The CIA's station chief at its sensitive post in Algeria is under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for allegedly raping at least two Muslim women who claim he laced their drinks with a knock-out drug, U.S. law enforcement sources tell ABC News.

Officials say the 41-year old CIA officer, a convert to Islam, was ordered home by the U.S. Ambassador, David Pearce, in October after the women came forward with their rape allegations in September.

The discovery of more than a dozen videotapes showing the CIA officer engaged in sex acts with other women has led the Justice Department to broaden its investigation to include at least one other Arab country, Egypt, where the CIA officer had been posted earlier in his career, according to law enforcement officials.
Great. Another Bush-era mess for Obama to clean up while trying to restore normal relations with the Muslim world.

Not that everything that happens everywhere is George W. Bush's fault, but the permissive atmosphere created by the Bush administration for both military and intelligence personnel, whether in interrogations that morphed into torture sessions, or the indiscriminate shelling and shooting of Iraqi civilians by CACI and other contractors, clearly the previous commander in chief failed to set the necessary conditions for conduct becoming of the United States. During the high points of the war, American troops were routinely accused of raping Iraqi women on various Arab and Muslim websites (often using faked photos,) and the very real, sexualized abuse and torture of Iraqi men, possibly by both military intelligence and CIA operatives, at Abu Ghraib (not to mention the alleged rape of child prisoners at the facility,) is now infamous in the annals of American history. This sorry situation can only add to the damage.

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posted by JReid @ 5:05 PM  
Will work for pardons
If you're among the 11.1 million Americans who are out of work today, don't feel bad. Members of the Bush administration are with you (and I'm not just talking about Dubya)...
The revolving door has been a lucrative business for many former Bush administration officials, who've landed plum jobs in the private sector. But there are a few notable ones who haven't yet: former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alfonso Jackson.

The problem? Both still face criminal investigations into conduct during their respective tenures as head of their government agencies.

Gonzales, who resigned in September 2007 amid increasing questions about his oversight during the U.S. Attorney scandal, remains under scrutiny in connection with that probe.

Likewise, Jackson resigned in March 2008 over allegations that he lied to Congress when he vowed he never intervened in contracting awards at his department.

On the plus side, they're extremely hard workers who aren't afraid to commit a crime or two on behalf of the boss! Meanwhile:

That contrasts a pattern documented in a recent report by Citizens for Ethics & Responsibility in Washington, which found that numerous Bush administration officials leveraged their government service for lucrative jobs in the private sector. Gonzales' predecessor, John Ashcroft, founded his own lobbying group, The Ashcroft Group. Former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card joined the public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard and the board of Union Pacific Railroad. Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson became a consultant with Deloitte & Touche and lobbyist for Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld for numerous health companies.
Oh, and Gonzo's spokesman? It's Robert Bork Jr. Priceless.

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posted by JReid @ 4:57 PM  
Why not start with Rumsfeld?


Though Dick Cheney would seem to have been at the epicenter of America's totalitarian torture, detention and domestic spying regimes, one man stands front and center as probably the most easily prosecutable "first case" in what should be a series of U.S. war crimes trials: Donald Rumsfeld. RawStory reports:
Monday, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak told CNN's Rick Sanchez that the US has an "obligation" to investigate whether Bush administration officials ordered torture, adding that he believes that there is already enough evidence to prosecute former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

"We have clear evidence," he said. "In our report that we sent to the United Nations, we made it clear that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld clearly authorized torture methods and he was told at that time by Alberto Mora, the legal council of the Navy, 'Mr. Secretary, what you are actual ordering here amounts to torture.' So, there we have the clear evidence that Mr. Rumsfeld knew what he was doing but, nevertheless, he ordered torture."

Asked during an interview with Germany's ZDF television on Jan. 20, Nowak said: "I think the evidence is on the table."

At issue, however, is whether "American law will recognize these forms of torture."
Mr. Obama: the ball is in your court. As Jonathan Turley points out, the rest of the world holds no ambiguity about whether or not our former president, just like Agusto Pinochet, is a torturer. The ambiguity is all on this side of the pond, and the Obama administration would do well to be rid of it.

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posted by JReid @ 3:58 PM  
The other 'Gitmo'
With all the excitement on my side of the aisle over President Obama's order to close the Byzantine Guantanamo Bay prison camp, the American public, thanks to the media, has completely overlooked another American gulag operating at the behest of the former henchman of the Bush administration, which could be just as problematic.
ASHINGTON — For months, a national debate has raged over the fate of the 245 detainees at the United States military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

But what may be an equally difficult problem now confronts the Obama administration in the 600 prisoners packed into a cavernous, makeshift prison on the American air base at Bagram in Afghanistan.

Military personnel who know Bagram and Guantánamo describe the Afghan site as tougher and more spartan. The prisoners have fewer privileges and virtually no access to lawyers. The Bush administration never allowed journalists or human rights advocates inside.

Problems have also developed with efforts to rehabilitate former jihadists, some of whom had been imprisoned at Guantánamo. Nine graduates of a Saudi program have been arrested for rejoining terrorist groups, Saudi officials said Monday.

President Obama must now decide whether and how to continue holding the men at Bagram, most of them suspected of being Taliban fighters. Under the laws of war, they are being held indefinitely and without charge. He must also determine whether to go forward with the construction of a $60 million prison complex at Bagram that, while offering better conditions for the detainees, would also signal a longer-term commitment to the American detention mission.

Mr. Obama tried last week to buy some time in addressing the challenges Bagram poses even as he ordered Guantánamo closed. By a separate executive order, Mr. Obama directed a task force led by the attorney general and the defense secretary to study the government’s overall policy on detainees and to report to him in six months.

But human rights advocates and former government officials say that several factors — including expanding combat operations against the Taliban, the scheduled opening of the new prison at Bagram in the fall and a recent federal court order — will probably force the administration to deal with the vexing choices much sooner. ...
The truth of the matter is the Obama team are acting with as much "deliberate speed" as they probably can, but even the temptation to continue the most horrific policies of the Bush administration, given the difficult task of fighting an on-going 'war' with al-Qaida, which is based in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, must be something else.

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posted by JReid @ 3:52 PM  
Monday, January 26, 2009
Conyers tries again
John Conyers discovers his gavel, now that the Bushies have left town.

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posted by JReid @ 11:10 PM  
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Bush panned on the right for leaving Libby hanging
Add the neocon defenders of outing CIA agents to the list of people who can't stand former President Bush:
Former Vice President Dick Cheney disagreed publicly with his boss just four times in the eight years they served together. Yesterday, however, on the first day after the official end of the Bush administration, Cheney disagreed with George W. Bush once more.

Cheney told THE WEEKLY STANDARD that his former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, whom he described as a "victim of a serious miscarriage of justice," deserved a presidential pardon.

Asked for his reaction to Bush's decision Cheney said: "Scooter Libby is one of the most capable and honorable men I've ever known. He's been an outstanding public servant throughout his career. He was the victim of a serious miscarriage of justice, and I strongly believe that he deserved a presidential pardon. Obviously, I disagree with President Bush's decision."

Bush's decision not to pardon Libby has angered many of the president's strongest defenders. One Libby sympathizer, a longtime defender of Bush, told friends she was "disgusted" by the president. Another described Bush as "dishonorable" and a third suggested that refusing to pardon Libby was akin to leaving a soldier on the battlefield. ...

Sure hate it.

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posted by JReid @ 3:44 PM  
Target: Media. Extent of Bush spying revealed
An NSA whistleblower reveals what some of us suspected all along: the Bush administration was eavesdropping on members of the media. And they were doing it 24-7, 365 days a year, sweeping up all of their converstions, emails, texts and faxes, both professional and personal. Watch this Countdown exclusive:


NBC has been quietly (if trepidatiously) following the story for years, starting in 2006 when the news organization apparently probed whether the Bush administration had used the NSA to spy on CNN foreign correspondent Christiane Amanpour. From TV Newser in a post dated January 4, 2006:
Yesterday, MSNBC.com published a transcript of Andrea Mitchell's interview with author James Risen about the CIA's domestic spying program. In it, Mitchell asked Risen if he had uncovered evidence that CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour was eavesdropped upon. It was a specific and pointed question that led AMERICAblog to ask if the veteran journalist had been spied on by the Bush administration. This afternoon, MSNBC.com removed the portion of the transcript that referred to Amanpour. (Here's what it originally said.) In a statement to TVNewser tonight, NBC explained why:

"Unfortunately this transcript was released prematurely. It was a topic on which we had not completed our reporting, and it was not broadcast on 'NBC Nightly News' nor on any other NBC News program. We removed that section of the transcript so that we may further continue our inquiry."

And from the Americablog archives:
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
NBC confirms it's investigating whether Bush spied on CNN's Christiane Amanpour

That is the only way to read NBC's just-issued statement on why they deleted key portions of Andrea Mitchell's interview after we reported on it here earlier today.[Background: We reported earlier today that NBC's Andrea Mitchell, while interviewing New York Times' reporter James Risen (the man who broke the domestic spying scandal) asked Risen if there was any evidence to suggest Bush was spying on US journalists. When Risen said none that he knew of, Mitchell then pressed the issue again and asked if there was any evidence that Bush was spying on CNN's Christiane Amanpour. We reported on the fact that Mitchell seemed to know something, and shortly thereafter NBC deleted the section of the transcript dealing with Amanpour.]

Indeed the extent of the Bush spying regime, as it was slowly revealed by brave members of the print press, was covered on this blog, and many others. From Reidblog, also in 2006:
Now you may recall that Ms. Amanpour, probably CNN's best overseas journalist, had been critical of the news media's conduct during the Iraq war, including her own cable outfit. Amanpour claimed about a year ago that the press succumbed to a "climate of "fear and self-censorship" fostered by the Bush administration and its self-appointed mouthpiece, Fox News, in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.If she was wiretapped, which again, we can't know because the administration conducted its surveillance without even informing the FISA court, it would give more credence to the Wayne Madsen scenario described in this previous post, whereby several journalists including Risen and Sy Hersh (not to mention menbers of Congress and even employees at the NSA) were targeted by administration espionage programs. Tin foil hattery? Maybe. But remember that this crowd even felt the need to spy on Quakers, Catholic relief workers and vegans...

Before long, I assume we'll learn of other targets including the aforementioned members of Congress, anti-war activists, and maybe even prominent bloggers.

It certainly makes you wonder why so much of the Bush agenda passed through that body so easily, doesn't it, and why the media was so pliant throughout Bush's two terms. But you also have to question why NBC, if it had information this dramatic three years ago, didn't do what Risen and the New York Times did: report it.

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posted by JReid @ 12:51 PM  
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Report card: under Bush, U.S. influence has nosedived ... but Iraq's got Christmas!

Photo credit: Caricatures by Lisa

A damning retrospective on the Bush years in today's Los Angeles Times:
In the 1990s, America exerted leadership in all the remote corners of the globe, from the southern cone of South America to Central Asia. Now, the United States has largely left the field in many regions, leaving others to step forward.

Bush has been blamed widely for the erosion of American prestige. And the decline in U.S. influence is partly the result of the reaction to his invasion of Iraq, his campaign against Islamic militants and his early disdain for treaties and international bodies.

But the shift is also a result of independent forces, though hastened by an aversion to Bush. These include the steady ascent of China, India and other developing countries that throughout the last decade have seen their economies grow, amassing wealth and quietly extending their reach.

As smaller countries have built economic and political ties to these rising powers, they have worked to free themselves from exclusive dependence on the United States.

"There is no return to the time when the United States was the 'indispensable power,' " said Stewart M. Patrick, a former State Department official at the Council on Foreign Relations. "The world has moved on."
According to the author, part of the problem is Bush unilateralism in Iraq, on climate change, and on Russia. Another factor in the decline is Bush's benign neglect of whole regions, including both Asia and South America:
The U.S. National Intelligence Council issued a report this year, "Global Trends 2025," that notes a shift of economic power from the West to the East that is "without precedent." In 2025, the United States will "remain the single most powerful country, but will be less dominant," it predicts.

Since World War II, the United States has led by its power of persuasion, as well as its economic might. But other countries' unhappiness with the Iraq war and the conduct of the Bush administration's "global war on terror," means that the "American brand is less legitimate and its persuasive powers are compromised," said Charles Kupchan of Georgetown University and the Council on Foreign Relations.

There also has been a dwindling of U.S. influence as the administration has focused most of its energy and resources on the Middle East and Southwest Asia, leaving much less for Central and Southeast Asia, Latin America and other regions. Many are going their own way, developing new ties among neighbors.

Latin American countries, for example, are building an organization called the Union of South American Nations and a NATO-like defense alliance called the South American Defense Council. The United States, long dominant in the hemisphere, is pointedly excluded from both.

An 8-year-old group called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, with Russia, China, and four Central Asian states, has been slowly developing, in part because some members want a bulwark against U.S. involvement in the region.

So is there any good news for the Bushies? Well ... Iraq does have Christmas now ...
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's Christians, a scant minority in this overwhelmingly Muslim country, quietly celebrated Christmas on Thursday with a present from the government, which declared it an official holiday for the first time.

But security worries overshadowed the day for many, particularly in the north where thousands of Christians have fled to escape religious attacks.

Overall security in Iraq has improved markedly in the past year, but a fatal car bombing in Baghdad on Christmas morning was a gruesome reminder that serious problems remain.

The bombing outside a restaurant frequented by police killed four people and wounded 25 others in the Shiite neighborhood of Shula, said a police officer on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give information to news media. The U.S. military later announced that one person was killed and 21 wounded. There was no way to immediately reconcile the differing numbers.

An American soldier was killed in a rocket or mortar attack near the northern city of Mosul, the military announced.
Well ... I didn't say it was a merry Christmas...

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posted by JReid @ 9:51 PM  
Saturday, December 20, 2008
The bonership society
The Bush administration 1.0

The New York Times digs into the housing mess, and finds a Bush in there. A clip:

The president’s first chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission promised a “kinder, gentler” agency. The second was pushed out amid industry complaints that he was too aggressive. Under its current leader, the agency failed to police the catastrophic decisions that toppled the investment bank Bear Stearns and contributed to the current crisis, according to a recent inspector general’s report.

As for Mr. Bush’s banking regulators, they once brandished a chain saw over a 9,000-page pile of regulations as they promised to ease burdens on the industry. When states tried to use consumer protection laws to crack down on predatory lending, the comptroller of the currency blocked the effort, asserting that states had no authority over national banks.

The administration won that fight at the Supreme Court. But Roy Cooper, North Carolina’s attorney general, said, “They took 50 sheriffs off the beat at a time when lending was becoming the Wild West.”

The president did push rules aimed at forcing lenders to more clearly explain loan terms. But the White House shelved them in 2004, after industry-friendly members of Congress threatened to block confirmation of his new housing secretary.

In the 2004 election cycle, mortgage bankers and brokers poured nearly $847,000 into Mr. Bush’s re-election campaign, more than triple their contributions in 2000, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. The administration did not finalize the new rules until last month.

Among the Republican Party’s top 10 donors in 2004 was Roland Arnall. He founded Ameriquest, then the nation’s largest lender in the subprime market, which focuses on less creditworthy borrowers. In July 2005, the company agreed to set aside $325 million to settle allegations in 30 states that it had preyed on borrowers with hidden fees and ballooning payments. It was an early signal that deceptive lending practices, which would later set off a wave of foreclosures, were widespread.

Andrew H. Card Jr., Mr. Bush’s former chief of staff, said White House aides discussed Ameriquest’s troubles, though not what they might portend for the economy. Mr. Bush had just nominated Mr. Arnall as his ambassador to the Netherlands, and the White House was primarily concerned with making sure he would be confirmed.

“Maybe I was asleep at the switch,” Mr. Card said in an interview.
Ya think??? Sheesh ... It's a long article. Read it from the top, here. I do think the Times puts too much focus on lower income borrowers in this piece, rather than also focusing on all of the middle class buyers who "traded up" to homes they couldn't afford, and those who saw the easy money loans as an opportunity to "flip and grow rich." But the article does lay out the main culprit: a shredding of federal regulations; something the GOP continues to see as the Holy Grail of "governing."

Flashback: Who's to blame for the housing crisis?



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posted by JReid @ 11:17 PM  
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Now that Dick Cheney has admitted to war crimes...
Can we prosecute the bastard at long last? I mean, he admitted to approving torture on television, without even being ... waterboarded... Meanwhile, is terrorism training from the Bush administration a good thing, or a bad thing, for the incoming Obama team to have? I'm going with "bad." Meanwile, the Atlantic's Russ Douthat ponders the ramifications of America becoming a nation of torture, even as Barack Obama promises to turn that around. BTW if you caught "Hardball" today, you saw a perfect example of the GOP's ability to condone the unthinkable, in the person of the normally reasonable Michael Smerconish. Watch:

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posted by JReid @ 12:59 AM  
Friday, December 12, 2008
The torture report
A little light holiday reading for in-coming Attorney General Eric Holder:
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other members of the Bush administration "conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees," claims a Senate Armed Services Committee report issued Thursday.

According to the committee, prisoners were tortured in the Iraqi prison Abu Ghraib, the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and other US military installations. Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ) were responsible for the content of the Senate's findings.

The report determined that placing the blame on "a few bad apples," as Bush administration officials attempted to do in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal, is inappropriate.

The policies were adopted after government assessments determined waterboarding and other torture techniques were "100 percent effective" at breaking the wills of US officers who underwent the military's Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape program.

What's more:
General Richard Myers, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is also singled out for approving inhumane interrogation techniques, which the former general counsel of the navy, Alberto Mora, said had led to attacks on US troops in Iraq.

"There are serving US flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of US combat deaths in Iraq — as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat — are, respectively, the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo," Mr Mora said.

The report, which took 18 months to compile, was issued jointly by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the Democratic chairman of the panel, and Senator John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican.

It said the techniques used were "based, in part, on Chinese communist techniques used during the Korean War to elicit false confessions" from captured US prisoners.

Instructors from the Pentagon agency that trains soldiers in resisting such treatment were sent to Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Iraq to assist in adapting the methods, it said. The report said senior Defence Department officials approached that agency about techniques as early as December 2001. The head of the agency responded that his officials "stand ready to assist" Pentagon efforts at prisoner "exploitation".

See, we do get too much stuff from China. So when do the trials start?

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posted by JReid @ 9:27 PM  
Bush's final 'F you': nukes for everybody!
You really have to read this one to believe it. Apparently, George W. Bush and his administration believe that the best way to stop Iran from developing nuclear technology, is to spread nuclear technology all over the Middle East...

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration plans to sign its first nuclear-cooperation agreement with a Middle Eastern nation within the next few weeks, according to a senior U.S. official, raising concerns among congressional critics who say the deal could fuel nuclear proliferation in the region.

The proposed deal with the United Arab Emirates has attracted attention because the U.A.E.'s largest trading partner is Iran. The U.A.E. has served in the past as a transshipment point for technology with military applications headed to Iran.

The move could place President-elect Barack Obama in a political tight spot with a Middle East ally by forcing him to decide whether to push Congress to ratify the agreement. He hasn't taken an official position on the deal. An Obama spokesman declined to comment. The Bush administration has championed the nuclear agreement with the U.A.E. as a model for promoting peaceful nuclear energy while guarding against weapons proliferation.

But wait, there's more!

In recent months, the U.A.E. signed agreements with two American engineering companies -- Thorium Power Ltd. of Virginia and CH2M Hill of Colorado -- to oversee the development of its nuclear-power program. The U.A.E. has also hired a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, William Travers, to help run the U.A.E.'s nuclear regulatory body.

"This is a real counterexample to what Iran is doing," said the senior U.S. official Thursday. "We're seeking commitments from nations within the Middle East that they're going to rely on the markets for nuclear fuel."

The Bush administration also is working on nuclear-cooperation agreements with the governments of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Bahrain. The pacts require Washington to share nuclear fuels, technologies and know-how on the condition that the countries commit to abiding by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and IAEA safeguards.

So let me get this straight... Iran is not allowed to develop nuclear reactors for its energy needs, but the U.A.E., whom most Americans didn't trust to run our ports, can? And not only that ... they're going to do so with American help and technology? And this helps reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation, and the possibility that the very wealthy Emirates will also develop weapons on the side, to counter Iran, how? Or maybe ... just maybe ... the Bushies WANT the Sunni Arabs to develop a bomb, the better to win an arms race in the Persian Gulf...


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posted by JReid @ 8:26 AM  
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
How stupid (and weak) are the Democrats, exactly?
Just a thought: why would Congressional Democrats consent to the creation of a "car czar" who serves at the pleasure of, and reports to, President Bush? Are they not setting Bush up perfectly to appoint an uber union-buster who will, from the moment he or she takes office until they leave in 40 odd days, be a lame duck on a pop up timer, with the game being, "break the UAW before you go?" Sayeth the WaPo:

Under the plan, unveiled by Democratic leaders, the Treasury Department would cut checks for the car companies as soon as next week. The proposal also calls for President Bush to name a "car czar" to manage a vast restructuring of the firms and restore them to profitability.

Democrats bent to the will of the president on several key demands, most notably in agreeing that the emergency funding would be drawn from an existing loan program aimed at promoting fuel-efficient technologies.

Still, the White House objected yesterday to several elements of the Democratic proposal, congressional aides said, including requirements that the car companies notify Washington of any transaction of more than $25 million and that they pull out of lawsuits against states seeking to enforce tougher tailpipe-emissions standards.

Under the proposal, the car companies would be required to submit detailed plans for restructuring by March 31, when they would be eligible for additional government assistance. The Bush administration was pressing to strengthen those provisions to make clear that only companies that were either financially viable or taking steps to achieve viability could receive more federal cash.
Wow. Giving in to Bush demands. That's a new one for Congressional Dems ... (yeesh)...

Aside from the distastefullness of Pelosi and Company's hapbit of ALWAYS giving in to a weakened president, it seems to me that the proposed $15 billion "mini-bailout" does three things:

1) Ties President-Elect Obama's hands, by making all deals binding through March, thus giving a Bush appointee, who if history is any guide, will be a union-busting Kleptocrat, authority that reaches into the next administration.

2) Jeopardizes the UAW, by creating conditions that can likely only be met by eviscerating the current, slimmed down union contract, and/or by laying off thousands more workers, to meet Wall Street's standards of "profitability."

3) Puts suppliers in jeopardy, but potentialy forcing the Big Three to break contracts with these, typically smaller, companies in order to meet the bailout requirements.

Instead of such a deal, can't Congress simply appropriate money for the automakers, within their constitutional authority, and dare the lame duck president to veto? The bottom line is that the auto companies are practically worthless, particularly GM and Chrysler, and as Michael Moore says, they could be bought outright for a fraction of the cost of bailing them out. The Congress holds the whip hand, but as usual, they are too timid to use it. Nancy Pelosi can talk about "haircuts" all she wants, but the fact remains that this is a big give to the outgoing president.

It's a shame when ordinary Americans, like the workers at Republic Windows and Doors, are ballsier than the people who supposedly represent us in Congress.

UPDATE: Even Ben Bernanke has the Dems' number, saying today that:
“The Federal Reserve would be extremely reluctant to extend credit where Congress has actively considered providing assistance, but after due consideration, has decided not to act,” Bernanke wrote Dodd. The letter was dated Dec. 5 and released Tuesday.
And...
... lending directly to an auto company would represent a “marked departure” in the use of the Fed’s emergency program, which is aimed at promoting financial stability, a crucial underpinning for the broader U.S. economy, the Fed chief wrote.

“It would raise the question as to whether the Federal Reserve should be involved in industrial policy, which has traditionally been outside the range of our responsibilities,” Bernanke wrote. “Our view is that questions of industrial policy are best resolved by Congress.”
Duh.

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posted by JReid @ 7:47 PM  
Monday, December 01, 2008
What they knew
Bush meets with his economic team on March 17, 2008. To Bush's
right are Treasury Secretary Henry Paulsen (center) and National
Economic Council Director Keith Hennessey. Photo: Getty Images


An AP headline this morning shows that, surprise! ...okay, no surprise ... the Bush administration was forewarned about the mortgage meltdown, and backed off regulating non-bank and bank profligates anyway. The bottoom line:

WASHINGTON – The Bush administration backed off proposed crackdowns on no-money-down, interest-only mortgages years before the economy collapsed, buckling to pressure from some of the same banks that have now failed. It ignored remarkably prescient warnings that foretold the financial meltdown, according to an Associated Press review of regulatory documents.

"Expect fallout, expect foreclosures, expect horror stories," California mortgage lender Paris Welch wrote to U.S. regulators in January 2006, about one year before the housing implosion cost her a job.

Bowing to aggressive lobbying — along with assurances from banks that the troubled mortgages were OK — regulators delayed action for nearly one year. By the time new rules were released late in 2006, the toughest of the proposed provisions were gone and the meltdown was under way.

"These mortgages have been considered more safe and sound for portfolio lenders than many fixed rate mortgages," David Schneider, home loan president of Washington Mutual, told federal regulators in early 2006. Two years later, WaMu became the largest bank failure in U.S. history.

The warnings were contained in a 2005 set of proposals from banking industry regulators. The recommendations were promptly ignored. A bit more from the AP story:

Many of the banks that fought to undermine the proposals by some regulators are now either out of business or accepting billions in federal aid to recover from a mortgage crisis they insisted would never come. Many executives remain in high-paying jobs, even after their assurances were proved false.

In 2005, faced with ominous signs the housing market was in jeopardy, bank regulators proposed new guidelines for banks writing risky loans. Today, in the midst of the worst housing recession in a generation, the proposal reads like a list of what-ifs:

_Regulators told bankers exotic mortgages were often inappropriate for buyers with bad credit.

_Banks would have been required to increase efforts to verify that buyers actually had jobs and could afford houses.

_Regulators proposed a cap on risky mortgages so a string of defaults wouldn't be crippling.

_Banks that bundled and sold mortgages were told to be sure investors knew exactly what they were buying.

_Regulators urged banks to help buyers make responsible decisions and clearly advise them that interest rates might skyrocket and huge payments might be due sooner than expected.

Those proposals all were stripped from the final rules. None required congressional approval or the president's signature.

"In hindsight, it was spot on," said Jeffrey Brown, a former top official at the Office of Comptroller of the Currency, one of the first agencies to raise concerns about risky lending.
So, who will be held accountable for this disaster? Not the banks. They're being paid off for their malfeasance. And not anybody in the Bush administration, either. Democrats in Congress simply don't have the stomach for it, even after the big November win. And I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for the incoming A.G. to start racking up the prosecutions, either. The Obama administration will come into office feeling that it has bigger fish to fry than the old fish stinking from the previous administration. And that's a shame.

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posted by JReid @ 8:50 AM  
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Why not just give US the money?
Lame Duck Teasury Secretary Henry Paulsen insisted on talking again today, as did his boss, sending the markets south, as happens every time either of these clods drops jaw. Meanwhile, the latest brand new proposal out of George Bush's Washington sounds as lame as the first two three ten. And as usual, it's focused on handouts to Paulsen's friends in the banking industry. The idea is artfully cloaked in the pretense of "helping Main Street":
The Federal Reserve and Treasury moved today to boost consumer spending and lower home mortgage rates, committing up to $800 billion to make it easier for households to borrow money for cars, tuition bills and new homes as part of a broad effort to rekindle economic growth.

The new program puts the balance sheet of the country's central bank behind two critical but troubled parts of the economy -- consumer spending and housing. It is largely separate from the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, administered by the Treasury Department and focused on shoring up the country's financial system.
Ah, that sounds lovely. But what this really is, is a bailout of wealthy investors:
A Treasury news release noted that in 2007, about $240 billion in car, student and other consumer loans had been packaged by the companies that issued them into larger securities and sold to investors, who then benefit from the flow of payments from borrowers. That system of packaging and reselling loans keeps money flowing to banks and other lenders, allowing them to make even more money available to consumers.

However it all but stopped over the past two months, leading to rising interest rates, a downturn in lending -- and a risk that economic growth could be dragged down even further.

The Fed said it would provide up to $200 billion to investors who put the money toward consumer loans in the form of credit cards, auto loans and student loans, as well as some forms of small business lending.
In other words, Uncle Sam is about to write a big, fat check to erase the risk that big investors took when they bought junk credit card and mortgage debt. Then, magically relieved of the burden of that bad paper, banks will suddenly decide to start lending packagable money again. Tada! But wait, there's more:
The Fed's consumer lending program is partially backed by $20 billion from the TARP, which will be used to absorb losses on the program up to that amount. The Fed loans to investors will earn interest and also a fee from those who take advantage of it.

Paulson said the initial $200 billion "is a starting point" and could grow over time.

In addition to consumer spending, the Fed announced it would buy up to $100 billion in mortgages held by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Bank in an effort increase the flow of money into the housing markets and lower interest rates. The Fed will also buy another $500 billion in bundles of mortgage-backed securities issued by the agencies.
The fact that TARP money is wrapped up in this is just one problem. The federal government is clearly going to have to become the spender of last resort, given that consumers aren't secure enough in our jobs to start buying things (or gassing up) any time soon. But for the government to use tax money to eliminate investment risk, and to bail out big investors, is criminal. Oh, and the banks that have been getting these shovels full of your money? They've been using them to bail out THEIR investors too, by paying dividends (something they plan to keep doing for the next three years), and they've been using their TARP money to pay bonuses to their executives, and even (hello, Citibank and Wells Fargo,) to buy other banks. I'd like to see the Big Three automakers even think about doing anything like that.

Meanwhile, the administration continues to reject a reasonable proposal from the head of the FDIC, which would directly help struggling homeowners stay out of foreclosure, while protecting taxpayers, all at a cost of just $40 billion -- a fraction of the $7 trillion estimated cost of all these serial bailouts of the rich.

The Paulsen regime's eagerness to hand out taxpayer cash to the investor class on their way out the door is so brazen, it's like a bank robbery in broad daylight, with the police holding open the vault door. And Paulsen and Bush used alarmism, and threats of a "Great Depression II" to scare Americans into going along with the $700 billion (and climbing) bank bailout. Meanwhile, the U.S. auto industry, with 3 million "regular folks' jobs" in the balance, isn't worthy of help. Fancy that.

From the Iraq money pit to the Bush tax cuts for the top 1 percent income earners to the Wall Street bailout, the Bush administration has been one, eight year long mugging; a reverse Robin Hood spree in which we, the middle class working people, are being robbed blind, right before our eyes, in order to give to the rich.

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posted by JReid @ 1:07 PM  
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Boumediene beats Bush
A federal judge orders Lakhdar Boumediene and four of five other Algerians released from the American gulag after seven long years:

The decision came in the case of six Algerians who were detained in Bosnia after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and have been held at the military prison in Cuba for nearly seven years. U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon, a Bush appointee, ruled that five of the men must be released "forthwith" and ordered the government to engage in diplomatic efforts to find them new homes.

In an unusual move, Leon also urged the government not to appeal his ruling, saying "seven years of waiting for our legal system to give them an answer" was long enough.

In the case of the sixth Algerian, Belkacem Bensayah, Leon found that the government had met its evidentiary burden and could continue to hold him. Bensayah's lawyers said he would appeal.

The landmark ruling is the first by a federal judge who has weighed the government's evidence in lawsuits brought by scores of detainees who are challenging their detentions. In June, the Supreme Court ruled in a case brought by the Algerians, that Guantanamo Bay detainees have the right to challenge their detentions in federal court under the legal doctrine of habeas corpus.

To review, Boumediene and his cohorts were picked up in Sarajevo on the tip of a single, anonymous person, and accused of plotting to blow up the U.S. enemy, and planning to go to Afghanistan to fight the Americans. Boumediene's case ultimately went to the Supreme Court, causing various right wing heads to 'splode:

Scalia got the ball rolling in his shrieky dissent yesterday, adopting almost word for word, the Fox News/right wing talk show formulation that "Americans will die" if our eternal detainees are allowed to challenge their endless detention in court.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board weighs in with its hysterical reaction today, directing their ire at Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Ronald Reagan appointee wrote the decision in the case of Boumediene v. Bush:
Justice Kennedy's opinion is remarkable in its sweeping disregard for the decisions of both political branches. In a pair of 2006 laws – the Detainee Treatment Act and the Military Commissions Act – Congress and the President had worked out painstaking and good-faith rules for handling enemy combatants during wartime. These rules came in response to previous Supreme Court decisions demanding such procedural care, and they are the most extensive ever granted to prisoners of war.

Yet as Justice Antonin Scalia notes in dissent, "Turns out" the same Justices "were just kidding." Mr. Kennedy now deems those efforts inadequate, based on only the most cursory analysis. As Chief Justice John Roberts makes clear in his dissent, the majority seems to dislike these procedures merely because a judge did not sanctify them. In their place, Justice Kennedy decrees that district court judges should derive their own ad hoc standards for judging habeas petitions. Make it up as you go!

Or not... More on Boumediene himself:


Lakhdar Boumediene, now 41, travelled to Bosnia with five other Algerian men during the civil war in the 1990s, and may have fought with Bosnian forces against the Serbs.

The six stayed in Bosnia, married Bosnian women, were granted citizenship and took jobs working with orphans for various Muslim charities.

In October 2001, the US embassy in Sarajevo asked the Bosnian government to arrest them because of a suspicion they had been involved in a plot to bomb the embassy.

The six men were duly arrested. But after a three-month investigation, in which the Bosnian police searched their apartments, their computers and their documents, there was - according to a report by the New-York-based Center for Constitutional Rights - still no evidence to justify the arrests.

Bosnia's Supreme Court ordered their release, and the Bosnian Human Rights Chamber ruled they had the right to remain in the country and were not to be deported.

However, on the night of 17 January 2002, after they were freed from Bosnian custody, they were seized and rendered to Guantanamo.

Since arriving in Guantanamo, the men have faced repeated allegations of links to al-Qaeda - but the embassy plot has never been mentioned.
Now, all that's left is for the Bush administration to defy the federal judge and continue to hold them anyway, until President Obama is sworn in and the U.S. finally does the right thing. Either way, these men's ordeal is almost over. Let's hope it's not too late, and that they have not become so embittered that they really do become combatants against the United States.

Previous:

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posted by JReid @ 3:16 PM  
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
The 'keep the air and water dirty forever' gambit
The Wapo reports, the Bush administration is trying electioneering by other means:
Just weeks before leaving office, the Interior Department's top lawyer has shifted half a dozen key deputies -- including two former political appointees who have been involved in controversial environmental decisions -- into senior civil service posts.

The transfer of political appointees into permanent federal positions, called "burrowing" by career officials, creates federal sinecures for those employees, and at least initially will deprive the incoming Obama administration of the chance to install its preferred appointees in some key jobs.

Similar efforts are taking place at other agencies. Two political hires at the Labor Department have already secured career posts there, and one at the Department of Housing and Urban Development is trying to make the switch.

Between March 1 and Nov. 3, according to the federal Office of Personnel Management, the Bush administration allowed 20 political appointees to become career civil servants. Six political appointees to the Senior Executive Service, the government's most prestigious and highly paid employees, have received approval to take career jobs at the same level. Fourteen other political, or "Schedule C," appointees have also been approved to take career jobs. One was turned down by OPM and two were withdrawn by the submitting agency.
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The personnel moves come as Bush administration officials are scrambling to cement in place policy and regulatory initiatives that touch on issues such as federal drinking-water standards, air quality at national parks, mountaintop mining and fisheries limits.

Why do such things? Because federal employees with civil service protections -- something conservatives purportedly dislike -- are harder to fire (you know, like pesky union workers.) and keeping them around can mean locking in bad policies for years to come:
Most of the personnel shifts have been done on a case-by-case basis, but Interior Solicitor David L. Bernhardt moved to place six deputies in senior agency positions with one stroke, including two who have repeatedly attracted controversy. Robert D. Comer, who was Rocky Mountain regional solicitor, was named to the civil service post of associate solicitor for mineral resources. Matthew McKeown, who served as deputy associate solicitor for mineral resources, will take Comer's place in what is also a career post. Both had been converted from political appointees to civil service status.

In a report dated Oct. 13, 2004, Interior's inspector general singled out Comer in criticizing a grazing agreement that the Bureau of Land Management had struck with a Wyoming rancher, saying Comer used "pressure and intimidation" to produce the settlement and pushed it through "with total disregard for the concerns raised by career field personnel." McKeown -- who as Idaho's deputy attorney general had sued to overturn a Clinton administration rule barring road-building in certain national forests -- has been criticized by environmentalists for promoting the cause of private property owners over the public interest on issues such as grazing and logging.

One career Interior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize his position, said McKeown will "have a huge impact on a broad swath of the West" in his new position, advising the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service on "all the programs they implement." Comer, the official added, will help shape mining policy in his new assignment.

"It is an attempt by the outgoing administration to limit as much as possible [the incoming administration's] ability to put its policy imprint on the Department of Interior," the official said.

So, why does the Bush administration hate America?

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posted by JReid @ 6:13 PM  
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Bush's price for helping Detroit: more free trade
From the NYT this morning, a leak the president did not approve of:
The struggling auto industry was thrust into the middle of a political standoff between the White House and Democrats on Monday as President-elect Barack Obama urged President Bush in a meeting at the White House to support immediate emergency aid.

Mr. Bush indicated at the meeting that he might support some aid and a broader economic stimulus package if Mr. Obama and Congressional Democrats dropped their opposition to a free-trade agreement with Colombia, a measure for which Mr. Bush has long fought, people familiar with the discussion said.

The Bush administration, which has presided over a major intervention in the financial industry, has balked at allowing the automakers to tap into the $700 billion bailout fund, despite warnings last week that General Motors might not survive the year.

... Mr. Obama went into his post-election meeting with Mr. Bush on Monday primed to urge him to support emergency aid to the auto industry, advisers to Mr. Obama said. But Democrats also indicate that neither Mr. Obama nor Congressional leaders are inclined to concede the Colombia pact to Mr. Bush, and may decide to wait until Mr. Obama assumes power on Jan. 20.Separate from his differences with Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama has signaled to the automakers and the unions that his support for short-term aid now, and long-term assistance once he takes office, is contingent on their willingness to agree to transform their industry to make cleaner, more energy-efficient vehicles.
The question remains whether Detroit, which made its own bed, let's not forget, but which employs nearly 3 million Americans, can wait that long. General Motors stock price is wading into Radio One territory (well, it's not quite that bad, but shares did fall below $3...) and there's a good chance the shares might actually become worthless. And the ripple effect from auto industry layoffs is kicking retailers in the gut.

Meanwhile, back to that presidential pique: Drudge reports that Dubya ain't happy with the leaks about his meeting with the Big O (no word yet on how Laura did with his "good bride...")
Bush advisers view the leaks as an effort to undermine the president's remaining days in office.

"Senator Obama may not be familiar with a long-standing tradition of presidents holding their private conversations, private," a senior adviser explained to the DRUDGE REPORT.

Developing...
Developing indeed. But it's not as if the White House didn't release its own information about the meeting, even if it was entirely benign and fluffy. And Bush's continued hawking of the Colombia free trade deal seems entirely out of step, while the nation's homeowners, employers and employees are facing an immediate crisis, which importing more coffee and bananas at low, low prices can't possibly solve. Kind of lets you know how we got here.

UPDATE: The princess of presidential cute denies a Colombia quid pro quo. Riiiight...

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posted by JReid @ 11:28 AM  
Friday, October 10, 2008
Support spy on the troops!
It shouldn't come as a surprise that the U.S. eavesdropped on American citizens. You know that by now, I'm sure. It might, however, be surprising to you that we spied on our own troops, in their most private moments, and then our troop supporting intelligence services stored the ill-gotten recordings on their computers like iTunes. Brian Ross reports:
Despite pledges by President George W. Bush and American intelligence officials to the contrary, hundreds of US citizens overseas have been eavesdropped on as they called friends and family back home, according to two former military intercept operators who worked at the giant National Security Agency (NSA) center in Fort Gordon, Georgia.

... "These were just really everyday, average, ordinary Americans who happened to be in the Middle East, in our area of intercept and happened to be making these phone calls on satellite phones," said Adrienne Kinne, a 31-year old US Army Reserves Arab linguist assigned to a special military program at the NSA's Back Hall at Fort Gordon from November 2001 to 2003.

Kinne described the contents of the calls as "personal, private things with Americans who are not in any way, shape or form associated with anything to do with terrorism."

She said US military officers, American journalists and American aid workers were routinely intercepted and "collected on" as they called their offices or homes in the United States.

Another intercept operator, former Navy Arab linguist, David Murfee Faulk, 39, said he and his fellow intercept operators listened into hundreds of Americans picked up using phones in Baghdad's Green Zone from late 2003 to November 2007.

"Calling home to the United States, talking to their spouses, sometimes their girlfriends, sometimes one phone call following another," said Faulk.

So ... what'd they hear?

Faulk says he and others in his section of the NSA facility at Fort Gordon routinely shared salacious or tantalizing phone calls that had been intercepted, alerting office mates to certain time codes of "cuts" that were available on each operator's computer.

"Hey, check this out," Faulk says he would be told, "there's good phone sex or there's some pillow talk, pull up this call, it's really funny, go check it out. It would be some colonel making pillow talk and we would say, 'Wow, this was crazy'," Faulk told ABC News.

Faulk said he joined in to listen, and talk about it during breaks in Back Hall's "smoke pit," but ended up feeling badly about his actions.

"I feel that it was something that the people should not have done. Including me," he said.

Feel any safer yet?



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posted by JReid @ 12:17 AM  
Sunday, October 05, 2008
The Bush Panic of 2008?
The Guardian's Dean Baker accuses George W. Bush of scaring up a panic. Could it be the last bank robbery on the way out the door?

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posted by JReid @ 12:40 AM  
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Prophetic words: Elliot Spitzer
Just one of the reasons why I love Thom Hartmann's show. Today, he read from an op-ed piece published in the Washington Post on February 14 -- Valentine's Day -- and written by then- New York Governor Elliot Spitzer, about the origins of the mortgage crisis. I'll reprint the entire piece, since it's important that you take in the entire thing:
Predatory Lenders' Partner in Crime
How the Bush Administration Stopped the States From Stepping In to Help Consumers

By Eliot Spitzer
Thursday, February 14, 2008; A25

Several years ago, state attorneys general and others involved in consumer protection began to notice a marked increase in a range of predatory lending practices by mortgage lenders. Some were misrepresenting the terms of loans, making loans without regard to consumers' ability to repay, making loans with deceptive "teaser" rates that later ballooned astronomically, packing loans with undisclosed charges and fees, or even paying illegal kickbacks. These and other practices, we noticed, were having a devastating effect on home buyers. In addition, the widespread nature of these practices, if left unchecked, threatened our financial markets.

Even though predatory lending was becoming a national problem, the Bush administration looked the other way and did nothing to protect American homeowners. In fact, the government chose instead to align itself with the banks that were victimizing consumers.

Predatory lending was widely understood to present a looming national crisis. This threat was so clear that as New York attorney general, I joined with colleagues in the other 49 states in attempting to fill the void left by the federal government. Individually, and together, state attorneys general of both parties brought litigation or entered into settlements with many subprime lenders that were engaged in predatory lending practices. Several state legislatures, including New York's, enacted laws aimed at curbing such practices.

What did the Bush administration do in response? Did it reverse course and decide to take action to halt this burgeoning scourge? As Americans are now painfully aware, with hundreds of thousands of homeowners facing foreclosure and our markets reeling, the answer is a resounding no.

Not only did the Bush administration do nothing to protect consumers, it embarked on an aggressive and unprecedented campaign to prevent states from protecting their residents from the very problems to which the federal government was turning a blind eye.

Let me explain: The administration accomplished this feat through an obscure federal agency called the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). The OCC has been in existence since the Civil War. Its mission is to ensure the fiscal soundness of national banks. For 140 years, the OCC examined the books of national banks to make sure they were balanced, an important but uncontroversial function. But a few years ago, for the first time in its history, the OCC was used as a tool against consumers.

In 2003, during the height of the predatory lending crisis, the OCC invoked a clause from the 1863 National Bank Act to issue formal opinions preempting all state predatory lending laws, thereby rendering them inoperative. The OCC also promulgated new rules that prevented states from enforcing any of their own consumer protection laws against national banks. The federal government's actions were so egregious and so unprecedented that all 50 state attorneys general, and all 50 state banking superintendents, actively fought the new rules.

But the unanimous opposition of the 50 states did not deter, or even slow, the Bush administration in its goal of protecting the banks. In fact, when my office opened an investigation of possible discrimination in mortgage lending by a number of banks, the OCC filed a federal lawsuit to stop the investigation.

Throughout our battles with the OCC and the banks, the mantra of the banks and their defenders was that efforts to curb predatory lending would deny access to credit to the very consumers the states were trying to protect. But the curbs we sought on predatory and unfair lending would have in no way jeopardized access to the legitimate credit market for appropriately priced loans. Instead, they would have stopped the scourge of predatory lending practices that have resulted in countless thousands of consumers losing their homes and put our economy in a precarious position.

When history tells the story of the subprime lending crisis and recounts its devastating effects on the lives of so many innocent homeowners, the Bush administration will not be judged favorably. The tale is still unfolding, but when the dust settles, it will be judged as a willing accomplice to the lenders who went to any lengths in their quest for profits. So willing, in fact, that it used the power of the federal government in an unprecedented assault on state legislatures, as well as on state attorneys general and anyone else on the side of consumers.
One month later, Spitzer was splashed across the tabloids as "Client 9" in the now notorious prostitution scandal. A sealed affidavit concerning his illicit activities was leaked on March 10. He resigned his governorship on March 12. Even at the time, more than a few people wondered whether Spitzer was being paid back for something he had said or done as governor, or as attorney general of New York. As the Chicago Tribune's "The Swamp" blog surmised:
Is it just me or does the complaint implicating New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer in a frolic with a call girl read like it was written by people with a very large axe to grind with the now former rising star of the Democratic Party?

Charging documents like this one typically contain the absolute minimum necessary to sustain the accusations.

Prosecutors act as though they'd rather be waterboarded than give up anything beyond what they like to call "the four corners of the complaint."

Not to worry. There was journalistic catnip larded throughout the complaint, enough to stoke the media frenzy for days. Of particular note is the heavy involvement of "Kristen", Spitzer' Valentine eve tryst partner. (Helpfully described as "American, petite, very pretty brunette, 5
feet 5 inches, and 105 pounds.)

...Yeah, conceivably there's some value in broadly hinting at kinky predilections in case Spitzer wants to claim that the financial transactions were unconnected to sex. Maybe it's a warning to him that if he struggles too much, the contents of the sock drawer where the sex toys are stored will be strewn on the carpet.

But it also has the feel of a pile-on -- some payback, a come-uppance for a guy who made a lot of enemies in prosecutions of Wall Street crooks and was seen by some to overplay his hand, to needlessly embarrass his quarry.

Another indicator of an "I'll fix your wagon" flavor to L'Affaire Spitzer is the speed at which the whole thing has unfolded.

The charging affidavit which, remember, doesn't refer to Spitzer by time or other even vague identifier like 'prominent government official', was unsealed last Thursday and by 2 p.m. or so on Monday, when the New York Times posted its first story on the scandal and the governor effectively was toast.

And who turned Spitzer in to the feds? Why, his bank. Greg Palast noticed something fishy:

While New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was paying an ‘escort’ $4,300 in a hotel room in Washington, just down the road, George Bush’s new Federal Reserve Board Chairman, Ben Bernanke, was secretly handing over $200 billion in a tryst with mortgage bank industry speculators.

Both acts were wanton, wicked and lewd. But there’s a BIG difference. The Governor was using his own checkbook. Bush’s man Bernanke was using ours.

This week, Bernanke’s Fed, for the first time in its history, loaned a selected coterie of banks one-fifth of a trillion dollars to guarantee these banks’ mortgage-backed junk bonds. The deluge of public loot was an eye-popping windfall to the very banking predators who have brought two million families to the brink of foreclosure.

Up until Wednesday, there was one single, lonely politician who stood in the way of this creepy little assignation at the bankers’ bordello: Eliot Spitzer.

Who are they kidding? Spitzer’s lynching and the bankers’ enriching are intimately tied.

Spitzer was, by the way, taken down by the very domestic surveillance powers grabbed by President Bush after 9/11. Coincidence? Maybe.

Hartmann also reminded listeners about President Bush's push in 2002 for the "ownership society" -- and his grandiloquent desire for every American to own their home, their health insurance policy, and on and on. At the time, Bush said that just because a person is low income doesn't mean they shouldn't own a home that's "just as nice as anybody else's." Far from the moves by Andrew Cuomo's HUD agency to reverse redlining, Bush's HUD allowed banks to stretch the boundaries of lending propriety to their limits, and Bush's scandalized HUD secretary, Alphonso Jackson, was one of the administration officials who pushed back against attempts to reign in the industry. Here's how the administration described the home ownership plank of the "ownership society" on the White House website in 2004:
  • Expanding Homeownership. The President believes that homeownership is the cornerstone of America's vibrant communities and benefits individual families by building stability and long-term financial security. In June 2002, President Bush issued America's Homeownership Challenge to the real estate and mortgage finance industries to encourage them to join the effort to close the gap that exists between the homeownership rates of minorities and non-minorities. The President also announced the goal of increasing the number of minority homeowners by at least 5.5 million families before the end of the decade. Under his leadership, the overall U.S. homeownership rate in the second quarter of 2004 was at an all time high of 69.2 percent. Minority homeownership set a new record of 51 percent in the second quarter, up 0.2 percentage point from the first quarter and up 2.1 percentage points from a year ago. President Bush's initiative to dismantle the barriers to homeownership includes:
    • American Dream Downpayment Initiative, which provides down payment assistance to approximately 40,000 low-income families;
    • Affordable Housing. The President has proposed the Single-Family Affordable Housing Tax Credit, which would increase the supply of affordable homes;
    • Helping Families Help Themselves. The President has proposed increasing support for the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunities Program; and
    • Simplifying Homebuying and Increasing Education. The President and HUD want to empower homebuyers by simplifying the home buying process so consumers can better understand and benefit from cost savings. The President also wants to expand financial education efforts so that families can understand what they need to do to become homeowners.
First of all, that doesn't sound much different than the right wing's snide accusations about the "affirmative action lending" programs of the Clinton administration. But it also fails to describe the Bushies' preferred method of achieving success: relaxed lending standards that pushed more "entrepreneurs" into the lending and brokerage market, with ever riskier "financial products" that wound up sold off as securities on Wall Street. Hence, our current problem.

Meanwhile, few would recall that Bush's push for relaxed lending standards was actually fought by the very builders who were profiting from the real estate boom. From CNN Money, back in June 2004:

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Home builders, realtors and others are preparing to fight a Bush administration plan that would require Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to increase financing of homes for low-income people, a home builder group said Thursday.

The National Association of Home Builders, along with the National Association of Realtors and the Mortgage Bankers Association, are drafting a letter to Alphonso Jackson, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), arguing that middle-income home buyers are the ones that will get hurt by the proposed plan, the NAHB told CNN/Money.

In April, the HUD proposed new rules that would raise the percentage of loans bought by the two government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) that finance borrowers whose incomes are at or below the median for their area, according to the Wall Street Journal .

But the groups will warn in the letter that the proposed rules requiring the two GSEs to finance more "affordable housing" may have "unintended consequences," hurting some poor and middle-income people struggling to afford houses, the Journal said.

Fannie and Freddie, which use their ability to borrow cheaply in the government agency bond market to help middle-to-low income people buy homes, would be compelled to provide more funds to low-income home buyers by slashing their financing of middle-income home buyers, David Crowe of the NAHB told the paper.

The points being raised by the groups have also mirrored objections raised by Fannie and Freddie. Both GSEs said they favor more efforts to promote affordable housing, but say HUD has made some unrealistic assumptions about how much more the GSEs can do over the next few years, the Journal said.

The Limbaugh crowd seeking to blame the Clinton administration for the current crisis must be made to answer for the "ownership society," Bush's HUD, and the administration's further relaxation of lending standards (and their promotion of predatory lending) long before we start blaming minorities and the poor for our troubles.

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posted by JReid @ 12:48 PM  
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Why we fight
While you were hunting wolf pups from an airplane ... Sarah Palin ... the Bush administration was seeking to recertify the "unitary executive"...
WASHINGTON — Tucked deep into a recent proposal from the Bush administration is a provision that has received almost no public attention, yet in many ways captures one of President Bush’s defining legacies: an affirmation that the United States is still at war with Al Qaeda.

Seven years after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Bush’s advisers assert that many Americans may have forgotten that. So they want Congress to say so and “acknowledge again and explicitly that this nation remains engaged in an armed conflict with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated organizations, who have already proclaimed themselves at war with us and who are dedicated to the slaughter of Americans.”

The language, part of a proposal for hearing legal appeals from detainees at the United States naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, goes beyond political symbolism. Echoing a measure that Congress passed just days after the Sept. 11 attacks, it carries significant legal and public policy implications for Mr. Bush, and potentially his successor, to claim the imprimatur of Congress to use the tools of war, including detention, interrogation and surveillance, against the enemy, legal and political analysts say.

Some lawmakers are concerned that the administration’s effort to declare anew a war footing is an 11th-hour maneuver to re-establish its broad interpretation of the president’s wartime powers, even in the face of challenges from the Supreme Court and Congress.

The proposal is also the latest step that the administration, in its waning months, has taken to make permanent important aspects of its “long war” against terrorism. From a new wiretapping law approved by Congress to a rewriting of intelligence procedures and F.B.I. investigative techniques, the administration is moving to institutionalize by law, regulation or order a wide variety of antiterrorism tactics.

“This seems like a final push by the administration before they go out the door,” said Suzanne Spaulding, a former lawyer for the Central Intelligence Agency and an expert on national security law. The cumulative effect of the actions, Ms. Spaulding said, is to “put the onus on the next administration” — particularly a Barack Obama administration — to justify undoing what Mr. Bush has done. ..
So what would the new language mean, precisely?
Mr. Mukasey laid out the administration’s thinking in a July 21 speech to a conservative Washington policy institute in response to yet another rebuke on presidential powers by the Supreme Court: its ruling that prisoners at Guantánamo Bay , were entitled to habeas corpus rights to contest their detentions in court.

The administration wants Congress to set out a narrow framework for those prisoner appeals. But the administration’s six-point proposal goes further. It includes not only the broad proclamation of a continued “armed conflict with Al Qaeda,” but also the desire for Congress to “reaffirm that for the duration of the conflict the United States may detain as enemy combatants those who have engaged in hostilities or purposefully supported Al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated organizations.”

That broad language hints at why Democrats, and some Republicans, worry about the consequences. It could, they say, provide the legal framework for Mr. Bush and his successor to assert once again the president’s broad interpretation of the commander in chief’s wartime powers, powers that Justice Department lawyers secretly used to justify the indefinite detention of terrorist suspects and the National Security Agency’s wiretapping of Americans without court orders. ...

Hopefully, even Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid's accommodating Congress won't fall for it. Fool me once ...

And by the way, in case you missed this in the Times on June 8th:
WASHINGTON — A top adviser to Senator John McCain says Mr. McCain believes that President Bush’s program of wiretapping without warrants was lawful, a position that appears to bring him into closer alignment with the sweeping theories of executive authority pushed by the Bush administration legal team.

In a letter posted online by National Review this week, the adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, said Mr. McCain believed that the Constitution gave Mr. Bush the power to authorize the National Security Agency to monitor Americans’ international phone calls and e-mail without warrants, despite a 1978 federal statute that required court oversight of surveillance.

Mr. McCain believes that “neither the administration nor the telecoms need apologize for actions that most people, except for the A.C.L.U. and trial lawyers, understand were constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001,” Mr. Holtz-Eakin wrote.

And if Mr. McCain is elected president, Mr. Holtz-Eakin added, he would do everything he could to prevent terrorist attacks, “including asking the telecoms for appropriate assistance to collect intelligence against foreign threats to the United States as authorized by Article II of the Constitution.”

Although a spokesman for Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, denied that the senator’s views on surveillance and executive power had shifted, legal specialists said the letter contrasted with statements Mr. McCain previously made about the limits of presidential power. ...
A question that should be put to McCain in the debates: do you believe the president of the United States has the authority to supersede the law and wiretap Americans on U.S. soil? I'd love to hear his answer to that.

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posted by JReid @ 8:33 AM  
Friday, August 22, 2008
It's a date! ... and a timetable...
The U.S. has agreed to withdraw its combat forces from Iraq by 2011, roughly the timetable laid out by Barack Obama. The Washington Post reports:
Iraqi and U.S. officials said several difficult issues remain, including whether U.S. troops will be subject to Iraqi law if accused of committing crimes. But the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were unauthorized to discuss the agreement publicly, said key elements of a timetable for troop withdrawal once resisted by President Bush had been reached.

"We have a text," Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said after a day-long visit Thursday by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Rice and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki spent nearly three hours here discussing key undecided issues. The accord must be completed and approved by both governments before a United Nations mandate expires at the end of the year.

The question of immunity for U.S. troops and Defense Department personnel from Iraqi legal jurisdiction -- demanded by Washington and rejected by Baghdad -- remained unresolved. Troop immunity, one U.S. official said, "is the red line for us." Officials said they were still discussing language that would make the distinction between on- and off-duty activities, with provisions allowing for some measure of Iraqi legal jurisdiction over soldiers accused of committing crimes while off-duty.

But negotiators made progress on a specific timetable outlining the departure of U.S. forces from Iraq, something Maliki is under considerable domestic political pressure to secure. In the past, Rice and other U.S. officials have spoken of an "aspirational time horizon" that would make withdrawals contingent on the continuation of improved security conditions and the capabilities of Iraqi security forces.

Officials on both sides have said they hope to split the difference, setting next year as the goal for Iraqi forces to take the lead in security operations in all 18 provinces, including Baghdad.

U.S. and Iraqi negotiators have now also agreed to a conditions-based withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by the end of 2011, a date further in the future than the Iraqis initially wanted. The deal would leave tens of thousands of U.S. troops inside Iraq in supporting roles, such as military trainers, for an unspecified time. According to the U.S. military, there are 144,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, most of whom are playing a combat role.
The U.S. has lost 4,137 troops in Iraq, and 573 in Afghanistan. Another 32,940 have been wounded in action. 


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posted by JReid @ 5:58 PM  
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Look, over there! A timetable!
The U.S. and Iraqi governments are negotiating ... somebody hold John McCain down for a minute, will you? Thanks ... a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. But the Guardian reports the U.S. may not be getting their way in the negotiations.
American negotiators have not yet succeeded in getting Iraqi officials to agree to keep US troops well into the next president's first term, the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, confirmed yesterday.

On a surprise visit to Baghdad, Rice denied earlier reports this week that the two sides had ironed out the last disputes in a heavily contested draft agreement that is due to replace the UN mandate covering the US-led occupation.

President George Bush wants the pact to authorise a troop presence at least until 2011 so that he can trumpet it as proof of his policy's success. But the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has adopted the rise in nationalist feeling in the Iraqi parliament and among the public and is insisting on a clear timetable for withdrawal, the lifting of judicial immunity for US troops who commit abuses, and a veto on US military operations, including the arrest of Iraqis.

The pact has been downgraded into a "memorandum of understanding" to avoid the need for the US Senate to approve it. In Iraq, it has to clear several hurdles. "Once a breakthrough has really been achieved, the draft will be presented to the council of ministers", Raid Fahmi Jahid, the science and technology minister told the Guardian yesterday.

If the government approves the draft, the parliament will have the last word.

The Iraqi side has been pressing for a withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraqi cities by the end of June, and for all troops to leave a year or so later. But after her talks yesterday, Rice said only "aspirational timetables" were worth having in the agreement.

The Bush administration was angered last month when Maliki gave broad support to Senator Barack Obama's pledge to pull all combat troops out of Iraq by June 2010. This undermined his Republican rival, Senator John McCain, who insisted along with the Bush administration, that withdrawals be linked to achieving various political and security goals, the so-called "conditions-based approach" as opposed to "artificial timetables".
Sorry, John.

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posted by JReid @ 9:46 PM  
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Condi Rice's April Glaspie moment?
Meanwhile in the, "even Gregory couldn't screw this one up" category, Stretch did manage to have an interesting exchange with "Russia expert" (ahem) Condi Rice on this week's "Meet the Press." The exchange revealed a bit more about what the administration knew, what it didn't, and what it might have done to bring on the Georgia-Russia crisis:
MR. GREGORY: Let's talk about how we got here and what precipitated this crisis. This is how The New York Times reported it this week about a visit to Georgia back in July by you. "During a private dinner [in Tbilisi]" "Ms. Rice's aides say she warned President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia not to get into a military conflict with" Georgia--with "Russia," rather--"that Georgia could not win. `She told him, in no uncertain terms, that he had to put a non-use of force pledge on the table,' according to a senior administration official who accompanied Ms. Rice to the Georgia capital. ...

"In the days since the simmering conflict between Russia and Georgia erupted into war, Bush administration officials have been adamant in asserting that they warned the government in Tbilisi not to let Moscow provoke it into a fight - and that they were surprised when their advice went unheeded."

Well who wouldn't be?
MR. GREGORY: Did Georgia provoke this crisis?

SEC'Y RICE: This crisis has been going on for, as I said, more than a decade. It has been a hot zone and a volatile zone where there have been skirmishes over a significant period of time. It is absolutely the case that we have cautioned all parties against the use of force. In fact, I also talked to the Russians repeatedly in this period about the railway troops that they were bringing in, about reinforcing their peacekeepers, about overflying Georgian territory. So this had been a zone of conflict. We were trying to resolve it peacefully.

Oh, just answer the question, woman!
... SEC'Y RICE: David, as I've said, this--you can't just start with, "we told the Georgian's this." We also told the Russians not to engage in certain activities that they were engaging in. This was a zone of conflict, we were trying to do it peacefully. But whatever happened before this, once this broke out in South Ossetia, it could have been confined to South Ossetia. Rather than confine it to that and deal with the facts on the ground there, the Russians decided to go deeper into Georgia, to bomb Georgian ports, to bomb Georgian military installations, to go into the city of Gori. And so it was that escalation that got us to the point that where we're at now. And that...

MR. GREGORY: And give--but given...

SEC'Y RICE: ...fully has been...

MR. GREGORY: ...that escalation, Secretary Rice, do you understand why there are some within the Georgian leadership who feel betrayed by the U.S.? Do they have an unreasonable expectation that the U.S. would come in guns blazing, as it were, to protect them?

SEC'Y RICE: I don't think anybody...

...could have imagined planes flying into buildings??? Oh ... sorry ... go on Secretary Rice...
... had an expectation that the United States was going to use military force in this conflict. But we need to keep the focus on the culprit here, and the culprit here is that Russia over-reached, used disproportionate force against a small neighbor and is now paying the price for that, because Russia's reputation as a potential partner in international institutions, diplomatic, political, security, economic, is frankly in tatters.

Kind of reminds you of when a certain Bush I administration State Department official told Saddam Hussein back in 1991 that the U.S. would have no opinion about his adventures in Kuwait... et tu, April Glaspie...?

Meanwhile, the NYT reports that far from backing down, Russia is moving ballistic missile launchers into South Ossetia, solidifying its hold on the province, while at the same time threatening Poland with possible nuclear attack over the "missile shield" system we're putting there.

Great work Dr. Rice! You taught our Dubha well...

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posted by JReid @ 10:35 PM  
Friday, August 15, 2008
Irony alert: Bush scolds Russians on 'bullying and intimidation'
Offering further proof that Republicans now believe the U.S. invasion of Iraq happened in the 20th century, President Bush today slammed Russia for invading a sovereign country that didn't threaten it:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Friday chided Russia for Cold War-style behavior, saying, "Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century."
Really??? Remember this?
[Feb. 23, 2003] Bush Threatens Economic Retaliation If Other Countries Do not Support Invasion - [Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria] Aznar pleads for patience from Bush, and says that a UN resolution is vital. Aznar notes that public opinion in Spain is heavily against the war. Bush retorts that should certain countries not support the war in the UN, they could face retaliation from the US: “Countries like Mexico, Chile, Angola, and Cameroon should know that what’s at stake is the security of the United States.” Bush mentions negative votes could endanger a free trade agreement with Chile and financial support for Angola. [Agence France-Presse, 9/26/2007]
Back to today's events...

Bush said the United States stands "with the people of Georgia and their democratically elected government." He said the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity "must be respected."

"We will not cast them aside," he said.

Bush said Russia's invasion of Georgia in recent days has "damaged its credibility."

Russia must respect the freedom of its neighbors," Bush said, calling Georgia a "courageous democracy."

Sovereignty ... damaged credibility ... where have I heard those phrases before... oh, I remember!
The way the Iraq war was conducted was a "tragedy" that has seriously damaged the credibility of the US and the UK on the international stage, according to former British Ambassador to the UN, Sir Jeremy Greenstock.

Greenstock blamed the architects of the 2003 joint invasion, in particular the US, of "woefully inadequate planning." Years of potential progress were wasted in the first few days in April 2003 after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime, he said.

... Greenstock served as UK Ambassador in New York during the countdown to the war and subsequently as Prime Minister Tony Blair's special envoy to Iraq. His own memoirs have reportedly been blocked by the UK Foreign Office.

"We cannot just put these mistakes behind us and move on, because the consequences have seriously affected, at least for a while, the credibility of the US and the UK in the international arena," he warned.

Yes, that's the ticket.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condi Rice is headed to Georgia carrying a peace treaty that would essentially allow Russia to have the two break-away Georgian provinces it already occupies, by letting Russian troops remain there, something Moscow apparently concurs with, since Vlad Putin has already told Georgia to forget about getting them back.

I think it's proper to ask whether the U.S. invasion of a sovereign Iraq and its aggressive, "bullying" tactics in the run-up to that invasion emboldened the Russians, both by setting a dangerous precedent for pre-emptive war, and by neutering the U.S.' ability to respond militarily to an actual crisis. Russia knows that any consequences it suffers from the U.S. will be minor, since the Iraq war also enriched Russia as a major oil producer (those inflated prices went right into their pockets.) So Putin is probably laughing at the man he duped into believing he was his friend, while asking Dubya, in regard to "consequences": you and what army.

Oh, and that Poland missile shield deal? That's not going to back Russia down. It will probably make things worse.




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posted by JReid @ 8:41 AM  
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Bush gets bad reviews on Georgia
The reviews are in, and from the Wall Street Journal to papers not owned by Rupert Murdoch, George W. Bush's handling of the Russia-Georgia situation is getting panned. This is why they only watch Fox News...

Meanwhile, at the WaPo, former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev says the conflict is Georgia's fault.
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posted by JReid @ 10:03 AM  
The end of American influence? Plus, the neocons new, old crusade
George Bush at the Olympics, says he and Vlad Putin have a "good relationship" and
he was "firm with him"
on Georgia. Perhaps someone should have been firm with
Dubya about the proper direction of the American flag...


According to BBC News, Russia has ended its military operations in Georgia. (Background on the conflict here.) However, the current situation in Georgia is as clear a demonstration as any in recent history of America's waning influence in the world. Watching George W. Bush cavorting around Beijing with U.S. Olympic athletes was kind of funny for a while, but against the backdrop of Russia's invasion of Georgia, and Bush's absolute impotence in the face of it, it's actually downright embarassing. UPDATE: Georgian officials are disputing that Russian military attacks have ended in South Ossetia. And there are charges of ethnic cleansing being thrown around.

I haven't posted much about the Georgia situation because I wanted to dig into it first on my own, and know what's actually going on. The political back and forth in the U.S., the silly spectacle of John McCain pretending to give ultimatums to Russia that a) he has no authority to deliver because hello? he isn't president ... (where's Dana Milbank with a "hubris" column when you need him) and b) the U.S. doesn't have the available troops to do anything to Russia even if we wanted to (leading to the possibility of the Russians throwing down the perennial classic, "you and what Army?" Besides, the fact that McCain's neocon chief foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, was up until recently a paid lobbyist for the Georgian government puts his comments in a less than glowing context. (Not to mention his inability to accept the notion of context coming out of the mouth of one Barack Obama.)

So much about the Russia-Georgia mess speaks of America's inability to influence events:

1) Where is Condi? Condoleezza Rice is our resident Russian expert, in addition to being secretary of state. She has proved less than deft at either one. As even the National Review's Claudia Rossett points out:
If Washington’s diplomacy with Russia should have had one thing going for it, it is that Bush has an expert on the job. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is a Soviet (a.k.a. Russia) specialist from way back. But so busy has Rice been with global diplomacy that she appears to have dropped the ball entirely on Georgia. Or so one might infer from the past few days in which President Bush appeared caught by surprise, tied up watching Olympic basketball and swimming in Beijing, while Russia got down to the business of bombing and shooting its way into Georgia — a U.S. ally which not so long ago Bush was praising for its Rose Revolution, thanking for its troop contributions in Iraq, and trying to usher into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
2) Bush: all hat, no cattle. While I hate to agree with the neocon nutjobs, the sight of Dubya hanging with his good friend, Prime Minister Putin on the Olympic sidelines looked downright silly while back in Washington, his government was issuing stern sounding warnings to Putin's hand-picked president, Mr. Medvedev, while Putin did all the big talking. (Bush is finally back from his Beijing vacation, and is issuing even sterner sounding warnings. And reportedly, while at the opening ceremonies, he gave Putie-Put a good talking to. Well, that should do it...) The fact is, Bush hasn't got any leverage over Russia, and can't do anything more than he is doing: talking. His own policies, including in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, are partly to blame. Russia is richer than it was when he arrived, thanks to the skyrocketing oil prices that he and Cheney helped engineer, and Putin feels freer to act, knowing that the U.S. is as bogged down in Mesopotamia as the Soviets once were in Afghanistan.

3) The U.S. seemed so taken aback by the events in Georgia, you've got to wonder what they're smoking. The U.S. has been pouring military aid into the former Soviet satellite (much of it through GOP-patented privatization) ever since they agreed to join the "coalition of the willing" in Iraq. They had the third largest troop contingent still remaining there, but Georgian troops now face being airlifted out of Iraq by the U.S. military, so they can return to their own war zone. That airlift coming at U.S. taxpayer expense. By flexing military muscle right on Russia's doorstep, you've got to believe that the U.S. and Georgia should have expected a response from the likes of Putin ... sorry, Medvedev, who's really "in charge" nowadays ... and if you believe that... As Dmitri Simes, president of The Nixon Center, guest posts on TWN, the Bushies aren't the only ones who were caught flat footed. Count the Georgian government in, too:

It is remarkable, but probably inevitable, that so many in Washington have reacted with surprise and outrage to Russia's response to President Mikheil Saakashvili's attempt to reestablish Georgian control over South Ossetia by force.

Some of the angriest statements come from those inside and outside the Bush administration who contributed, I assume unwittingly, to making this crisis happen. And like post-WMD justifications for the invasion of Iraq, the people demanding the toughest action against Russia are focused on Russia's lack of democracy and heavy-handed conduct, particularly in its own neighborhood, and away from how the confrontation actually unfolded. Likewise, just as in the case of Saddam Hussein, these same people accuse anyone who points out that things are not exactly black and white, and that the U.S. government may have its own share of responsibility for the crisis, of siding with aggressive tyrants - in this case, in the Kremlin.

Yet many both outside and even inside the Bush administration predicted that the U.S. decision to champion Kosovo independence without Serbian consent would lead Moscow to become more assertive in establishing its presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The Kremlin made abundantly clear that it would view Kosovo's independence without Serbian consent and a U.N. Security Council mandate as a precedent for the two Georgian de facto independent enclaves. Furthermore, while President Saakashvili was making obvious his ambition to reconquer Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Moscow was both publicly and privately warning that Georgia's use of force to reestablish control of the two regions would meet a tough Russian reaction, including, if needed, air strikes against Georgia proper.

So it would be interesting to know what President Saakashvili was thinking when, on Thursday night, after days of relatively low-level shelling around the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali (which both South Ossetians and Georgians blamed on each other), and literally hours after he announced on state-controlled TV the cessation of hostilities, he ordered a full-scale assault on Tskhinvali. And mind you, the assault could only succeed if the Georgian units went right through the battalion of Russian troops serving as international peacekeepers according to agreements signed by Tbilisi itself in the 1990s.

Under the circumstances, the Russian forces had three choices: to surrender, to run away, or to fight. And fight they did - particularly because many of the Russian soldiers were in fact South Ossetians with families and friends in Tskhinvali under Georgian air, tank, and artillery attacks. Saakashvili was reckless to count on proceeding with a blitzkrieg in South Ossetia without a Russian counterattack.

4) The Georgian situation proves, if there remained any doubt, that the neoconservative movement is a cult of insane people. They would dearly love to revive their Reagan-era drive for a U.S. war against the former Soviet bad guys. (In fact, it was Ronald Reagan's refusal to fire up the nukes and take the Soviets out that ultimately drove the neocons away from him. and into their PNAC think tanks.) No sooner did the guns start blazing in Georgia than the Hitler analogies and calls for war started streaming from the keyboards of war cultists like Bill Kristol and the aforementioned Mr. Kagan. But as Rossett's column goes on to lament, the cons have lost control of their White House cowboy to the evil one world government of the U.N.

For the democratic world, there will be no easy recovery from the chilling spectacle of Georgia’s 2,000 or so troops pulling out of Iraq to go join their own country’s desperate defense. The message so far is that America will ferry them home, but while Georgia rallied to the defense of freedom in Iraq, none of Georgia’s erstwhile allies will risk taking up arms to help the Georgians against a Russian onslaught.

The damage in many dimensions is already enormous. As historian and former State Department official Robert Kagan wrote in an incisive article in Monday’s Washington Post, “Historians will come to view August 8, 2008, as a turning point no less significant than Nov. 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell” — though for far less promising reasons. Kagan notes, correctly, that the issue is not how, exactly, this war in Georgia began, but that the true mistake of Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili, “was to be president of a small, mostly democratic and adamantly pro-Western nation on the border of Putin’s Russia.”

China’s Communist rulers, while basking in the glow of their Olympics bash, are surely checking the tea leaves for what this might presage about U.S. support for another U.S. ally: the democratic Republic of China on Taiwan. If the U.S. will not stand up to North Korea, will not stand up to Iran, will not stand up to Russia, then where will the U.S. stand up? What are the real rules of this New World Order?

And Rossett reveals, if anyone had remaining doubt, that the neocons have gone home, quitting their second choice, Mr. Bush, for their first love, John McCain:
Apart from Afghanistan and Iraq, the main rule right now seems to be that while anti-democratic bullies do the shooting, everyone else does a lot of talking and resolving. The UN Security Council meets, repeatedly. The European parliament ponders. Presumptive Republic nominee John McCain at least has the gumption and insight to point out that Russia’s actions threaten not only Georgia, but some of Russia’s other neighbors, such as Ukraine, “for choosing to associate with the West and adhering to Western political and economic values.” Presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama calls for more diplomacy, aid, and not just a U.N. resolution but also a U.N. mediator — despite the massive evidence that U.N. mediators can’t even protect the dissident monks of Burma or the opposition in Zimbabwe, let alone a small country trying to fight off single-handed an invasion by the Russian army.
Ironically, the neocons cheered when Condi Rice succeeded the hated Colin Powell at State. Now, color the cons disappointed:
President Bush, lapsed cowboy and former global top cop, dispatches his envoys to talk, and talk — and talk about talking some more. America’s ambassador to the U.N., Zalmay Khalilzad told the U.N. Security Council on Sunday that Russia’s Ambassador Vitaly Churkin had told Secretary of State Rice that Georgia’s elected President Mikhail Saakasvhivili “must go.” Khalilzad informed the Security Council that this is “unacceptable” and “this Council must act decisively to reaffirm the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia.” This is a phrase that satisfies the U.N. brand of etiquette, but it stops no bombs or bullets.

Bush, upon his return from Beijing to Washington, having failed to stop the Russian invasion of Georgia by declaring himself “deeply concerned,” issued a tougher statement in the Rose Garden: That by invading a neighboring state and threatening to overthrow its elected government, Russia has committed an action that is “unacceptable in the 21st century.”

Oh really? While declaring this invasion “unacceptable,” the global community of the 21st century seems prepared to accept it in spades. While Russian guns close in on Tbilisi, even the basic diplomatic penalties are not yet fully on the table, for whatever they might be worth. By all means, let’s see the G-8 expel Russia, if the will can be found to do even that much. By all means, let the U.N. Security Council engage in the farce of discussing reprimands and maybe even sanctions for Russia — which happens to be both a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, and one of the world’s most adept and experienced sanctions violators.

5) It's the oil, stupid. A clip from John McCain's bellicose statement yesterday tell us what McCain thinks this is really all about:
"The implications of Russian actions go beyond their threat to the territorial integrity and independence of a democratic Georgia. Russia is using violence against Georgia, in part, to intimidate other neighbors such as Ukraine for choosing to associate with the West and adhering to Western political and economic values. As such, the fate of Georgia should be of grave concern to Americans and all people who welcomed the end of a divided of Europe, and the independence of former Soviet republics. The international response to this crisis will determine how Russia manages its relationships with other neighbors. We have other important strategic interests at stake in Georgia, especially the continued flow of oil through the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which Russia attempted to bomb in recent days; the operation of a critical communication and trade route from Georgia through Azerbaijan and Central Asia; and the integrity an d influence of NATO, whose members reaffirmed last April the territorial integrity, independence, and sovereignty of Georgia.
Well, that and giving McCain's neocon friends another war. ... As Joe Klein points out:
With Word War IV--Norman Podhoretz's ridiculous oversell of the struggle against jihadi extremism--on a slow burn for the moment, Kagan et al are showing renewed interest in the golden oldies of enemies, Russia and China. This larval neo-crusade has influenced the campaign of John McCain, with his comic book proposal for a League of Democracies and his untenable proposal to kick the Russians out of the G8.

To be sure, Russia's assault on Georgia is an outrage. We should use all the diplomatic leverage we have (not all that much, truthfully) to end this invasion, and--as Richard Holbrooke and Ronald Asmus argue in this more reasonable take--help Georgia to recover when it's over. And, to be sure, neither Russia nor China are going to be our good buddies, as many of us hoped in the afterglow of the fall of communism. They will be a significant diplomat challenge.

But it is important, yet again, to call out the endless neoconservative search for new enemies, mini-Hitlers. It is the product of an abstract over-intellectualizing of the world, the classic defect of ideologues. It is, as we have seen the last eight years, a dangerous way to behave internationally. And it has severely damaged our moral authority in the world...I mean, after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, after Abu Ghraib, after our blithe rubbishing of the Geneva Accords, why should anyone listen to us when we criticize the Russians for their aggression in the Caucasus?

Indeed. Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias calls out more neocon alarmists on the warpath here.


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posted by JReid @ 7:55 AM  
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
Suskind nails Bush on impeachable offense #1,939
Okay, maybe I'm making the number of impeachable offenses up, but this? This you can't make up:
President Bush committed an impeachable offense by ordering the CIA to to manufacture a false pretense for the Iraq war in the form of a backdated, handwritten document linking Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, an explosive new book claims.

The charge is made in “The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism” by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind, released today.

Suskind says he spoke on the record with U.S. intelligence officials who stated that Bush was informed unequivocally in January 2003 that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction. Nonetheless, his book relates, Bush decided to invade Iraq three months later — with the forged letter from the head of Iraqi intelligence to Saddam bolstering the U.S. rationale to go into war.

Suskind talked to CIA agents who agree that former CIA director George "Slam Dunk" Tenet was in on the scam:
“It was a dark day for the CIA,” Suskind told TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira on Tuesday. “It was the kind of thing where [the CIA] said, ‘Look, this is not our charge. We’re not here to carry forth a political mandate — which is clearly what this was — to solve a political problem in America.’ And it was a cause of great grievance inside of the agency.”

The author writes that Bush’s action is “one of the greatest lies in modern American political history” and suggests it is a crime of greater impact than Watergate. But the White House is denying the allegations, calling the book “absurd” and charging that Suskind practices “gutter journalism.”

Former CIA director George Tenet also released a statement in which he ridicules the credibility of Suskind’s sources and calls the White House’s supposed directive to forge the document as “a complete fabrication.”

But Suskind stands by his work. “It’s not off the record,” he says. “It’s on the record. It’s in the book and people can read it for themselves.”

A bit more from the interview:
Suskind reports that the head of Iraqi intelligence, Tahir Jalil Habbush, met secretly with British intelligence in Jordan in the early days of 2003. In weekly meetings with Michael Shipster, the British director of Iraqi operations, Habbush conveyed that Iraq had no active nuclear, chemical or biological weapons programs and no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.

When Tenet was informed of the findings in early February, he said, “They’re not going to like this downtown,” Suskind wrote, meaning the White House. Suskind says that Bush’s reaction to the report was: “Why don’t they ask him to give us something we can use to help make our case?”

Suskind quotes Rob Richer, the CIA’s Near East division head, as saying that the White House simply ignored the Habbush report and informed British intelligence that they no longer wanted Habbush as an informant.

“Bush wanted to go to war in Iraq from the very first days he was in office. Nothing was going to stop that,” Richer is quoted in the book.

Suskind also writes that Habbush was “resettled” in Jordan with help from the CIA and was paid $5 million in hush money.

Suskind is a more than credible journalist, including his possession of Pullitzer prize. If he is correct, than Bush and Tenet committed a crime equivalent to mass homicide, committing more than 4,000 American lives to a task based on lies to Congress and the American people, and killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis (and forcing more than 2 million into refugee status.) By the way, the charges in Suskind's book are of a piece with those in other books, including Vincent Bugliosi's "The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder" (which I'm reading now.)

This case is becoming harder and harder to disprove, and it makes Nancy Pelosi and company's refusal to act on the evidence before them all the more ahameful.


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posted by JReid @ 3:32 PM  
Sunday, August 03, 2008
The war for Iraqi oil
Check out this "secret history of the war over oil in Iraq." It's a fascinating presentation of the tug of war between the neocons who used to run George W. Bush's government, and the James Baker-led "realists" who literally represented the interests of Big Oil in U.S. foreign policy, and who attended those secret energy policy meetings organized by Dick Cheney (who apparently has favored both sides at different points in history, according to the author, investigative journalist Greg Palast.)

The bottom line: the Bush administration sought the invasion of Iraq from the time they stepped into office, and initially drafted a plan, in secret meetings with oil industry giants, and including "the late" Ken Lay, which included staging a coup to replace the inconvenient dictator of Iraq with an oil industry favorite, and maintaining the nationalized Iraqi oil industry under the control of U.S. and European firms. After 9/11, the neocons rolled out their own, alternative plan: to privatize Iraqi oil and use direct control over oil output to cut the throat of OPEC. The "secret history" outlines how the "realists" eventually came roaring back, scuttling the neocons plans and maintaining Iraq's state-run oil system, under American control, of course, including direct viceroyship by former U.S. oil executives, who were tapped to run Iraq's oil ministries, and boosting oil prices through the roof in the process. In the end, the U.S. sided with OPEC, including the Saudis and the Iranians, to let everyone get fat off U.S. leverage over Iraqi oil.

Meanwhile, Palast wrote this back in May:
In a hotel room in Brussels, the chief executives of the world’s top oil companies unrolled a huge map of the Middle East, drew a fat, red line around Iraq and signed their names to it.

The map, the red line, the secret signatures. It explains this war. It explains this week’s rocketing of the price of oil to $134 a barrel.

It happened on July 31, 1928, but the bill came due now.

Barack Obama knows this. Or, just as important, those crafting his policies seem to know this. Same for Hillary Clinton’s team. There could be no more vital difference between the Republican and Democratic candidacies. And you won’t learn a thing about it on the news from the Fox-holes.

Let me explain.

In 1928, oil company chieftains (from Anglo-Persian Oil, now British Petroleum, from Standard Oil, now Exxon, and their Continental counterparts) were faced with a crisis: falling prices due to rising supplies of oil; the same crisis faced by their successors during the Clinton years, when oil traded at $22 a barrel.

The solution then, as now: stop the flow of oil, squeeze the market, raise the price. The method: put a red line around Iraq and declare that virtually all the oil under its sands would remain there, untapped. Their plan: choke supply, raise prices rise, boost profits. That was the program for 1928. For 2003. For 2008.

Again and again, year after year, the world price of oil has been boosted artificially by keeping a tight limit on Iraq’s oil output. Methods varied. The 1928 “Redline” agreement held, in various forms, for over three decades. It was replaced in 1959 by quotas imposed by President Eisenhower. Then Saudi Arabia and OPEC kept Iraq, capable of producing over 6 million barrels a day, capped at half that, given an export quota equal to Iran’s lower output.

In 1991, output was again limited, this time by a new red line: B-52 bombings by Bush Senior’s air force. Then came the Oil Embargo followed by the “Food for Oil” program. Not much food for them, not much oil for us.

In 2002, after Bush Junior took power, the top ten oil companies took in a nice $31 billion in profits. But then, a miracle fell from the sky. Or, more precisely, the 101st Airborne landed. Bush declared, “Bring’m on!” and, as the dogs of war chewed up the world’s second largest source of oil, crude doubled in two years to an astonishing $40 a barrel and those same oil companies saw their profits triple to $87 billion.

In response, Senators Obama and Clinton propose something wrongly called a “windfall” profits tax on oil. But oil industry profits didn’t blow in on a breeze. It is war, not wind, that fills their coffers. The beastly leap in prices is nothing but war profiteering, hiking prices to take cruel advantage of oil fields shut by bullets and blood.

I wish to hell the Democrats would call their plan what it is: A war profiteering tax. War is profitable business – if you’re an oil man. But somehow, the public pays the price, at the pump and at the funerals, and the oil companies reap the benefits.

Indeed, the recent engorgement in oil prices and profits goes right back to the Bush-McCain “surge.” The Iraq government attack on a Basra militia was really nothing more than Baghdad’s leaping into a gang war over control of Iraq’s Southern oil fields and oil-loading docks. Moqtada al-Sadr’s gangsters and the government-sponsored greedsters of SCIRI (the Supreme Council For Islamic Revolution In Iraq) are battling over an estimated $5 billion a year in oil shipment kickbacks, theft and protection fees.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the surge-backed civil warring has cut Iraq’s exports by up to a million barrels a day. And that translates to slashing OPEC excess crude capacity by nearly half.

Result: ka-BOOM in oil prices and ka-ZOOM in oil profits. For 2007, Exxon recorded the highest annual profit, $40.6 billion, of any enterprise since the building of the pyramids. And that was BEFORE the war surge and price surge to over $100 a barrel.
Actually, during the second quarter of 2008, the profits swelled to an even higher $51,5 billion for the six biggest OilCos -- the highest EVER. Meanwhile, John McCain's flip-flop on oil drilling, and his almost obsessive promotion of "the surge," which again, is keeping oil profits high, has paid huge dividends for him:
Campaign contributions from oil industry executives to Sen. John McCain rose dramatically in the last half of June, after the senator from Arizona made a high-profile split with environmentalists and reversed his position on the federal ban on offshore drilling.

Oil and gas industry executives and employees donated $1.1 million to McCain last month - three-quarters of which came after his June 16 speech calling for an end to the ban - compared with $116,000 in March, $283,000 in April and $208,000 in May.

McCain delivered the speech before heading to Texas for a series of fund-raisers with energy industry executives, and the day after the speech he raised $1.3 million at a private luncheon and reception at the San Antonio Country Club, according to local news accounts.

"The timing was significant," said David Donnelly, the national campaigns director of the Public Campaign Action Fund, a nonpartisan campaign finance reform group that conducted the analysis of McCain's oil industry contributions. "This is a case study of how a candidate can change a policy position in the interest of raising money."
What's interesting, is that McCain has surrounded himself with the neocons, including Joe Lieberman, whose oil policy lost out in Bush and Cheney's Iraq. Does that mean that as president, he would return to their "Plan A" for the country: privatizing its oil fields and attempting to cut OPEC out of the picture? With McCain's belligerence toward OPEC-member Iran, and the neocons' hatred for all things Arab, it's an important question, which the media unfortunately will never ask.

SIDEBAR: I think it's clear to most people who are not aparatchiks of the GOP that what we're seeing in Iraq is the future of global resource wars -- a push for direct corporate control over entire governments, whether it's Dole in Latin America or Big Oil in LatAm, Africa and the Middle East, complete with private or government armies to maintain corporate interests. It may sound far fetched, but that's what's happening today, in Iraq, Colombia and elsewhere (the Bushies tried to make it happen in Venezuela, too, and would love to do so in Iran.) Americans aren't vigilant enough to ask questions, and the national security state is growing so quickly here, without much opposition from a public that's become accustomed to the existence of cameras and "reality show" surreal lives, that perhaps in the near future, many, if not most, will be unable -- or afraid -- to do so. (Those who do pay attention are frequently written off as paranoids or kooks, or even "un-American" by those on the right.)
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posted by JReid @ 2:25 PM  
The FBI's anthrax problem
Demands for the FBI to show what it's got on the supposed, and now deceased, anthrax suspect, are growing:
(New York Daily News) WASHINGTON - FBI officials had been ready to "completely overwhelm" anthrax suspect Bruce Ivins with the evidence against him when he killed himself, but his former boss is dubious that agents really had a case.

After years of bungled leads and investigative missteps - including the $5.8 million it cost feds to settle a lawsuit with an earlier target of suspicion, Ivins' colleague Steven Hatfill - the FBI and federal prosecutors took their time to build a damning file on the anthrax vaccine specialist.

"The agents kept this close-held," a U.S. counterterrorism official briefed on details of the Ivins probe told the Daily News on Saturday. "They took their time until they had enough evidence to completely overwhelm Ivins, and they expected him to plead guilty."

After Ivins committed suicide, the Justice Department acknowledged "developments" in the "Amerithrax" attacks that killed five people in the months after 9/11. It did not mention Ivins.

Former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle, whose office received a poisoned letter in 2001, said Saturday that it was time for answers.

"It's been seven years; there's a lot of unanswered questions, and I think the American people deserve to know more than they do today," he said.

The former head of the Fort Detrick lab where Ivins worked also says it's time for the FBI to lay its evidence on the table.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Jeffrey Adamovicz told The News that the FBI's probe into the 2001 anthrax killings had upended the work of the lab by turning scientists into suspects - and pushed his pal over the edge.

"I just cannot see that Bruce would in any way, shape or form be responsible for something like that," he said. "I'd like to see these charges substantiated, because just like [with] Dr. Hatfill, there could be nothing to these allegations."

He said the FBI has created a psychologically toxic atmosphere for scientists at Fort Detrick.

"We were there processing information for agents and then one day they turned around and treated us all like suspects," he said. The agents' criteria for additional suspicion was "who's working the most overtime," said Adamovicz, who also was questioned by the feds.
Meanwhile, the Daily News also has reports on an allegation that then-FBI Director Robert Mueller was pressured by the White House to pin the anthrax attacks on al-Qaeda:
After the Oct. 5, 2001, death from anthrax exposure of Sun photo editor Robert Stevens, Mueller was "beaten up" during President Bush's morning intelligence briefings for not producing proof the killer spores were the handiwork of terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden, according to a former aide.

"They really wanted to blame somebody in the Middle East," the retired senior FBI official told The News.

On October 15, 2001, President Bush said, "There may be some possible link" to Bin Laden, adding, "I wouldn't put it past him." Vice President Cheney also said Bin Laden's henchmen were trained "how to deploy and use these kinds of substances, so you start to piece it all together."

But by then the FBI already knew anthrax spilling out of letters addressed to media outlets and to a U.S. senator was a military strain of the bioweapon. "Very quickly [Fort Detrick, Md., experts] told us this was not something some guy in a cave could come up with," the ex-FBI official said. "They couldn't go from box cutters one week to weapons-grade anthrax the next."
No word in the piece about whether the White House also pushed the FBI to pin the attacks on Saddam Hussein.

ABC News doesn't comment on that either, or on their own role in pushing the anthrax-Iraq line, but they do play up Daschle's doubts about the investigation:
Daschle said the FBI has not given him any new updates. He also raised questions about the quality of the investigation, noting that the government recently paid out almost $6 million to a former Army scientist, Steven Hatfill, who accused authorities of unfairly targeting him in the anthrax case.

"From the very beginning I've had real concerns about the quality of the investigation," Daschle said in a broadcast interview. "Given the fact that they already paid somebody else $5 million for the mistakes they must have made gives you some indication of the overall caliber and quality of the investigation."

As for the death of Bruce Ivins, the government scientists now accused posthumously in the case:
"Unfortunately, it doesn't bring anything to closure," Daschle said. "This probably further complicates their ability to get to the facts."

He said he did not know if the investigation involving Ivins "is just another false track and a real diversion of where they need to be. We don't know and they aren't telling us."

And last but not least, Bloomberg reports that the California medical examiner did not plan to do an autopsy on Ivins' body.

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posted by JReid @ 11:49 AM  
Friday, August 01, 2008
Death by Anthrax
If you believe the Federal Bureau of Investigation, this is the anthrax killer, the man who, a month after 9/11, mailed anthrax-laced letters, first to the building that houses the Sun and National Enquirer tabloids in Boca Raton, then to Democrat Tom Daschle, the then Senate Majority Leader and and Democrat Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and to both NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw and ABC News, killing five people including postal workers and a Sun photo editor, causing widespread fear of the mail, and nearly shutting down the U.S. Postal service in several cities. The anthrax attacks spooked a country already rattled by the terror attacks, and were used by the Bush administration and their allies to push for "the next phase" -- a war with Iraq. "Countdown" tonight played some interesting video of a certain Senator from Arizona, who was a close ally of Ahmad Chalabi and a leading promoter of an Iraq invasion dating back to the 1990s. More on that later.

Back to the anthrax killer, who the FBI has now identified as 62-year-old Bruce E. Ivins, a government scientist who worked for an "elite" biodefense facility at Fort Detrick, Maryland, and who actually had been called on to analyze the anthrax samples from the attack. Oh, and he's also dead:
(Los Angeles Times) Detrick, Md., had been informed of his impending prosecution, said people familiar with Ivins, his suspicious death and the FBI investigation.

Ivins, whose name had not been disclosed publicly as a suspect in the case, played a central role in research to improve anthrax vaccines by preparing anthrax formulations used in experiments on animals.

Regarded as a skilled microbiologist, Ivins also helped the FBI analyze the powdery material recovered from one of the anthrax-tainted envelopes sent to a U.S. senator's office in Washinghttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifton.

Ivins died Tuesday at Frederick Memorial Hospital after ingesting a massive dose of prescription Tylenol mixed with codeine, said a friend and colleague, who declined to be identified out of concern that he would be harassed by the FBI.
Curiously, the death comes two months after the government settled with the previous anthrax suspect, former government scientist Steven Hatfill, for $5.82 million for wrongly accusing him.

The FBI is claiming that the breakthrough came because of ... science!
The FBI's new top investigators -- Vincent B. Lisi and Edward W. Montooth -- instructed agents to reexamine leads or potential suspects that may have received insufficient attention. Moreover, significant progress was made in analyzing genetic properties of the anthrax powder recovered from letters addressed to two senators.

The renewed efforts led the FBI back to USAMRIID, where agents first questioned scientists in December 2001, a few weeks after the fatal mailings.

By spring of this year, FBI agents were still contacting Ivins' present and former colleagues. At USAMRIID and elsewhere, scientists acquainted with Ivins were asked to sign confidentiality agreements in order to prevent leaks of new investigative details.

Ivins, employed as a civilian at Ft. Detrick, earlier had attracted the attention of Army officials because of anthrax contaminations that Ivins failed to report for five months. In sworn oral and written statements to an Army investigator, Ivins said that he had erred by keeping the episodes secret -- from December 2001 to late April 2002. He said he had swabbed and bleached more than 20 areas that he suspected were contaminated by a sloppy lab technician.
The whole thing is just odd. Suddenly, the FBI has a suspect, and on the same day we hear his name, he's DOA.

Ivins had apparently been depressed ever since the Hatfill settlement, was running out of money for his defense, and was contemplating suicidal, and was even committed to a mental facility for a time. He was described by his own brother as considering himself to be "omnipotent," and on "Countdown" tonight, the LAT reporter who broke the story said Ivins' former therapist thought him to be homicidal, and so dangerous that she took out a restraining order against him.certainly the kind of guy you could see secreting some anthrax from the lab and mailing it out to people he perceived as political enemies (another winger on a bender...)

But ...

There is that settlement, and the question of why the government wasted so much time and effort on Hatfill. And there is the timing of the attacks themselves, and the targets: Democratic Senators, a member of the "liberal media," and for some reason, a tabloid. And there's the timeline, compiled from various sources including the Baltimore Sun, Palm Beach Post, Los Angeles Times and Salon.com.

2001 -

Sept. 19: National Enquirer photo editor Robert Stevens opens a mysterious letter that came through the mail. He begins feeling ill Sept. 27.

Oct. 2: Stevens is admitted to JFK Hospital, five days after first feeling ill. He is diagnosed with anthrax Oct. 4 and dies Oct. 5.

Oct. 7-10: Investigators discover anthrax spores on Robert Stevens' work keyboard. The Boca Raton building is sealed. Mailroom worker Ernesto Blanco, and a third employee are diagnosed.

Oct. 15: The U.S. Congress, ABC News and NBC all find evidence they've been mailed anthrax:

The letter to Daschle was dated "09-11-01."

"We have this anthrax. You die now," it said. "Allah is great."

President Bush said the letters might have been sent by accomplices of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born terrorist who launched the Sept. 11 attacks, although he admitted that he had no direct evidence.

Glenn Greenwald reveals the contents of the others, including a pic of the Brokaw letter, which read: "This is next. Take penacilin now. Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is great." Clearly, the perpetrator wanted the public to believe the attacks originated among foreign Muslims, maybe even Muslims in Iraq. Which brings us to this:

Oct. 18 - Sen. John McCain appears on "The David Letterman Show" and drops this interesting non-sequitor:

LETTERMAN: How are things going in Afghanistan now?

MCCAIN: I think we’re doing fine …. I think we’ll do fine. The second phase — if I could just make one, very quickly — the second phase is Iraq. There is some indication, and I don’t have the conclusions, but some of this anthrax may — and I emphasize may — have come from Iraq.

LETTERMAN: Oh is that right?

MCCAIN: If that should be the case, that’s when some tough decisions are gonna have to be made. (video here)

This was a ful year before the Congressional authorization for war, and well before Bush was even admitting that the administration was considering invading Iraq. Why did McCain go there so soon after 9/11 if it wasn't in discussion on Capitol Hill?

Oct. 21: The Mac and Joe show... John McCain and Joe Lieberman appear on "Meet the Press" and McCain has a very interesting verbal slip ... again...

RUSSERT: Senator McCain, let me pick up on your point about a post-Taliban regime in Afghanistan. There is a lot of discussion, concern on the ground whether that's feasible. And some are suggesting our military campaign is being limited until we get a post-Taliban regime in place. How do you see it?

MCCAIN: I think that might be partially the case from the reports that we have that there has not been the kind of air attacks in the areas where the Northern Alliance are fighting the Taliban forces.

I'd be a little reluctant to not to pursue this conflict as vigorously as possible.

MCCAIN: We were worried about the departure of Saddam Hussein that there might be chaos might ensue. I think most of us, in retrospect, would have liked to have seen Saddam Hussein gone. So I think we ought to overthrow them as quickly as possible.

I don't believe there's any such thing as a moderate Taliban, although I would be interested to hear from one.

Them? Recall that the question was about Afghanistan, and the prior discussion was about Osama bin Laden. Unbelievably, Russert didn't pick up on the switch from Afghanistan to Iraq. Later in the discussion, the Senators get right to the point, calling for an invasion of Iraq:

RUSSERT: Senator Lieberman, should we include Iraq as a military target in this war against terrorism?

LIEBERMAN: Well, of course, I feel that so long as Saddam Hussein is in power in Iraq, the United States is in danger. And I think if you look at the words of the president's statement to Congress, again, the war against terrorism, it says, we're not going to be safe until we rid the world of people who have the capacity and the intention to strike at civilians to achieve political ends.

There is some evidence to suggest that Saddam Hussein may have had contact with bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network, perhaps even involved in the September 11 attack. That raises my suspicions.

But the more important point is, we know that Saddam would like to do us the worst kind of ill. We know that he has worked on chemical and biological weapons and, in fact, has used them against his own people and against the Iranians. In my opinion, therefore, Saddam is a terrorist.

And, therefore, we should--it should be a centerpiece of our policy after we finish the business in Afghanistan and bin Laden to end that regime. It begins for me by supporting the Iraqi opposition, the people within Iraq that want to get rid of him. But then, ultimately there has to be an American and, I hope, allied military component to that. Because as long as Saddam is there, our lives are threatened.

RUSSERT: Would you have any problem expanding President Bush's orders to the CIA to go after Osama bin Laden to include Saddam Hussein?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I leave that to the president. But as a matter of principle and morality, of course not.

RUSSERT: Senator McCain?

MCCAIN: I think Joe's right.

And a bit later:

RUSSERT: But after Afghanistan, you'd have no problem going after Saddam Hussein?

MCCAIN: If Saddam Hussein continues to develop weapons of mass destruction, the means to deliver them, there are ties to terrorist organizations, then we have to give him his choice. We have to give the Syrians a choice. We have to give other countries a choice. Because we've got to--if anyone thinks that, just by taking care of bin Laden, we've taken care of the problem, they obviously are not aware of the extent of the challenge we have.

RUSSERT: If Saddam refuses to allow inspectors into his country, is that enough for us to say, either give us inspectors or face military action?

MCCAIN: I can't know those kind of details, and there are other ways, diplomatic, economic, many other ways, we can put pressure on the Iraqis. So it would depend on the situation and the time. But I think we're going to be steadfast.

You start to see why Lieberman is backing McCain for the presidency. The two have been partners in the neocon cause for a long, long time... Back to the timeline, which picks up on the same Sunday...

Oct. 21-22: Two postal workers die and two others are hospitalized from anthrax exposure. Thirty are exposed in Florida, New Jersey, New York and Washington, DC. The anthrax-laced mail targeted then-Senate President Tom Daschle; D-S.D. and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt. as well as the New York Post, NBC, ABC and American Media.

The following week, a reporter at one of those victimized news outlets, ABC, gets some "hot tips" on the anthrax case, which Glenn Greenwald recalls today:

By design, those attacks put the American population into a state of intense fear of Islamic terrorism, far more than the 9/11 attacks alone could have accomplished.

Much more important than the general attempt to link the anthrax to Islamic terrorists, there was a specific intent -- indispensably aided by ABC News -- to link the anthrax attacks to Iraq and Saddam Hussein. In my view, and I've written about this several times and in great detail to no avail, the role played by ABC News in this episode is the single greatest, unresolved media scandal of this decade. News of Ivins' suicide, which means (presumably) that the anthrax attacks originated from Ft. Detrick, adds critical new facts and heightens how scandalous ABC News' conduct continues to be in this matter.

During the last week of October, 2001, ABC News, led by Brian Ross, continuously trumpeted the claim as their top news story that government tests conducted on the anthrax -- tests conducted at Ft. Detrick -- revealed that the anthrax sent to Daschele contained the chemical additive known as bentonite. ABC News, including Peter Jennings, repeatedly claimed that the presence of bentonite in the anthrax was compelling evidence that Iraq was responsible for the attacks, since -- as ABC variously claimed -- bentonite "is a trademark of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's biological weapons program" and "only one country, Iraq, has used bentonite to produce biological weapons."

ABC News' claim -- which they said came at first from "three well-placed but separate sources," followed by "four well-placed and separate sources" -- was completely false from the beginning. There never was any bentonite detected in the anthrax (a fact ABC News acknowledged for the first time in 2007 only as a result of my badgering them about this issue). It's critical to note that it isn't the case that preliminary tests really did detect bentonite and then subsequent tests found there was none. No tests ever found or even suggested the presence of bentonite. The claim was just concocted from the start. It just never happened.

That means that ABC News' "four well-placed and separate sources" fed them information that was completely false -- false information that created a very significant link in the public mind between the anthrax attacks and Saddam Hussein. And look where -- according to Brian Ross' report on October 28, 2001 -- these tests were conducted:

And despite continued White House denials, four well-placed and separate sources have told ABC News that initial tests on the anthrax by the US Army at Fort Detrick, Maryland, have detected trace amounts of the chemical additives bentonite and silica.

In other words, Ross' "well placed sources" may well have had intimate knowledge of the investigation into the attacks. Hell, one of them may well have been Ivins. And the perpetrator clearly shared with those "sources" the goal of making Americans believe the attacks were perpetrated by foreign Muslims, and specifically, by Iraq. This after President Bush initially told the public that the attacks could have been a continuation of Bin Laden's attack. He quickly discarded that line, and by mid October...

Oct. 29: ABC News runs this story (h/t to Atrios)

MORE INVESTIGATIVE NEWS: • Atta Met Iraqi Official in Prague

Four well-placed and separate sources told ABCNEWS that initial tests detected bentonite, though the White House initially said the chemical was not found.

The first battery of tests, conducted at Ft. Detrick, Md., and elsewhere, discovered the anthrax spores were treated with the substance, which keeps the tiny particles floating in the air by preventing them from sticking together — making it more likely that they could be inhaled.

The inhaled form on anthrax is far more deadly than the skin form.

As far as is known, only one country, Iraq, has used bentonite to produce biological weapons, but officials caution that the presence of the chemical alone does not constitute firm evidence of Iraqi involvement.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer had denied that bentonite was found on the letters, but another senior White House official backed off Fleischer's comments, saying "at this point" there does not appear to be bentonite.

The official said the Ft. Detrick findings represented an "opinionated analysis," that three other labs are conducting tests, and that one of those labs had contradicted the bentonite finding. But, the official added, "tests continue."

Fleischer added that no test or analysis has concluded that bentonite is present in the Daschle anthrax, and "no other finding contradicts or calls into question" that conclusion.

Reading from what he said was a sentence from the report prepared by scientists at Fort Detrick, he told ABCNEWS, "It is interesting to note there is no evidence of aluminum in the sample." Aluminum, Fleischer said, would also be present if bentonite was.

Oct. 31: Kathy T. Nguyen dies of inhalational anthrax three days after falling ill.

Nov. 21: Ottilie W. Lundgren dies from inhalational anthrax.

Dec. 9: Dick Cheney appears on "Meet the Press," and says this:

Russert: Do you still believe there's no evidence that Iraq was involved in September 11?

Cheney: Well, what we now have that's developed since you and I last talked, Tim, of course, was that report that--it's been pretty well confirmed that he [Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack. Now, what the purpose of that was, what transpired between them, we simply don't know at this point, but that's clearly an avenue that we want to pursue.

Cheney would repeat that allegation again, and again, in the lead up to the Iraq war. And the ABC report became the basis of repeated neoconservative rants goading America to attack Iraq, as Greenwald also points out:

The Weekly Standard published two lengthy articles attacking the FBI for focusing on a domestic culprit and -- relying almost exclusively on the ABC/Ross report -- insisted that Saddam was one of the most likely sources for those attacks. In November, 2001, they published an article (via Lexis) which began:

On the critical issue of who sent the anthrax, it's time to give credit to the ABC website, ABCNews.com, for reporting rings around most other news organizations. Here's a bit from a comprehensive story filed late last week by Gary Matsumoto, lending further credence to the commonsensical theory (resisted by the White House) that al Qaeda or Iraq -- and not some domestic Ted Kaczynski type -- is behind the germ warfare.

2002 -

January: Hart Senate Office Building reopens after the federal government spends $27 million to decontaminate the building.

Jan. 2: President Bush gives his state of the union speech, declaring Iraq, Iran and North Korea to be part of an "axis of evil," and mentioning the following about Iraq:

The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade.

Bush made no other references to the anthrax attacks that had happened just months before.

July 23: The Downing Street Memo is written, in which British intelligence said "C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD."

August: Law enforcement officials and Attorney General John Ashcroft call Steven J. Hatfill, a biowarfare expert, a "person of interest" in the investigation. The White House Iraq Group formed.

June: FBI is scrutinizing 20 to 30 scientists who might have had the knowledge and opportunity to send the anthrax letters, a U.S. official says.

August: Law enforcement officials and Attorney General John Ashcroft call Steven J. Hatfill, a biowarfare expert, a "person of interest" in the investigation.

September: The WHIG strategy shifts from scaring Americans with bioweapons claims to nuclear threats. From Wikipedia:

  • September 7-8: Bush and nearly all his top advisers blanketed the airways, talking about the dangers posed by Iraq:
    • On NBC's "Meet the Press," Vice President Dick Cheney accused Saddam of moving aggressively to develop nuclear weapons over the past 14 months to add to his stockpile of chemical and biological arms.
    • On CNN, Condoleezza Rice acknowledged that "there will always be some uncertainty" in determining how close Iraq may be to obtaining a nuclear weapon but said, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."
    • On CBS, Bush said U.N. weapons inspectors, before they were denied access to Iraq in 1998, concluded that Saddam was "six months away from developing a weapon." He also cited satellite photos released by a U.N. agency Friday that show unexplained construction at Iraq sites that weapons inspectors once visited to search for evidence Saddam was trying to develop nuclear arms. "I don't know what more evidence we need," Bush said.
  • September 7, 2002: Judith Miller of The New York Times reports Bush administration officials said "In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium."

October 2: Congress passes a joint resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. The resolution is authored by Joe Lieberman.

October 14: Bush says of Saddam "This is a man that we know has had connections with al Qaeda. This is a man who, in my judgment, would like to use al Qaeda as a forward army."

2003

Jan. 21: Bush says of Saddam "He has weapons of mass destruction -- the world's deadliest weapons -- which pose a direct threat to the United States, our citizens and our friends and allies."

Feb 5: Colin Powell addresses the United Nations, asserting that there was "no doubt in my mind" that Saddam was working to obtain key components to produce nuclear weapons.

March 20: The US invades Iraq

June: FBI drains pond in Frederick, Md., in search of anthrax-related evidence. Frederick is the home of the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, one of the nation's main anthrax research centers. Nothing suspicious is found.

August: Hatfill sues Ashcroft and other government officials, accusing them of using him as a scapegoat and demanding that they clear his name.

December: Postal workers begin moving back into Washington's main mail center, almost two years after anthrax-laced letters killed two employees. The Brentwood facility underwent more than $130 million worth of decontamination and renovation.

2004

February: A white powder determined to be the deadly poison ricin is found in an office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. No one is hurt and no arrests are made.

August: FBI searches homes of Dr. Kenneth M. Berry, who founded a group to train medical staff to respond to biological disasters, as part of anthrax investigation. No charges are filed.

July 11: BioONE, a company founded by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, begins fumigating the former headquarters of The Sun, the Florida supermarket tabloid that was the first target in the anthrax attacks.

July 12: Testing determines The Sun's former headquarters is free of anthrax.

July 13: Hatfill sues The New York Times for defamation, claiming the newspaper ruined his reputation after it published a series of columns pointing to him as the culprit.

And fast forward:

2008

June 27: The federal government awards Hatfill $5.8 million to settle his violation of privacy lawsuit against the Justice Department.

July 31: Bruce E. Ivins, 62, dies of an apparent suicide at a hospital in Frederick, Md., the Los Angeles Times reported, after being informed by the FBI that charges likely were being brought against him in connection with the 2001 anthrax attacks.

Greenwald, who I think has the definitive piece on this story today, comes to some damning conclusions, including about ABC:

We now know -- we knew even before news of Ivins' suicide last night, and know especially in light of it -- that the anthrax attacks didn't come from Iraq or any foreign government at all. It came from our own Government's scientist, from the top Army bioweapons research laboratory. More significantly, the false reports linking anthrax to Iraq also came from the U.S. Government -- from people with some type of significant links to the same facility responsible for the attacks themselves.

Surely the question of who generated those false Iraq-anthrax reports is one of the most significant and explosive stories of the last decade. The motive to fabricate reports of bentonite and a link to Saddam is glaring. Those fabrications played some significant role -- I'd argue a very major role -- in propagandizing the American public to perceive of Saddam as a threat, and further, propagandized the public to believe that our country was sufficiently threatened by foreign elements that a whole series of radical policies that the neoconservatives both within and outside of the Bush administration wanted to pursue -- including an attack an Iraq and a whole array of assaults on our basic constitutional framework -- were justified and even necessary in order to survive.

ABC News already knows the answers to these questions. They know who concocted the false bentonite story and who passed it on to them with the specific intent of having them broadcast those false claims to the world, in order to link Saddam to the anthrax attacks and -- as importantly -- to conceal the real culprit(s) (apparently within the U.S. government) who were behind the attacks. And yet, unbelievably, they are keeping the story to themselves, refusing to disclose who did all of this. They're allegedly a news organization, in possession of one of the most significant news stories of the last decade, and they are concealing it from the public, even years later.

He's right, and ABC has some explaining to do, as do four "highly placed sources" in the Bush administration.

One last piece of the time line, which I left out above but which is, in light of Greenwald's reporting, and ABC News' curious dealings, more than a little relevant:

2006

March 27: The Supreme Court declines to block Hatfill's suit against the Times.

April 11: It's reported that Hatfill's lawyers have questioned at least two journalists and are subpoenaeing other reporters, seeking the identities of their confidential government sources.

Oct. 23: A federal judge orders The New York Times to disclose a columnist's confidential sources as part of a libel lawsuit filed over the newspaper's coverage of the 2001 anthrax attacks.

Dec. 2: The New York Times asks a federal judge to dismiss Hatfill's lawsuit.

2007

Jan. 12: A federal judge dismisses libel lawsuit filed against The New York Times by Hatfill.

Feb. 2: Explaining his ruling, the judge says a New York Times columnist did not act with malice when writing about whether a Hatfill was responsible for the 2001 anthrax attacks.

Aug. 13: A federal judge says five journalists must identify the government officials who leaked them details about Hatfill.

Oct. 2: Hatfill asks a federal judge to hold two journalists in contempt for refusing to identify the government officials who leaked details about the investigation into the attacks.

2008

March 7: A federal judge holds a former USA Today reporter in contempt and orders her to pay up to $5,000 a day if she refuses to identify her sources for stories about Hatfill.

March 11: A federal appeals court blocks the fines.

June 27: The federal government awards Hatfill $5.8 million to settle his violation of privacy lawsuit against the Justice Department.

That payoff looks a lot more interesting now, no?


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posted by JReid @ 9:26 PM  
Thursday, July 31, 2008
Yes we can (make Bushies respond to subpoenas)
A federal judge puts the ixnay on otnay owingshay upyay in ongresscay... if you know what I mean...
WASHINGTON - President Bush’s top advisers are not immune from congressional subpoenas, a federal judge ruled Thursday in an unprecedented dispute between the two political branches.

House Democrats called the ruling a ringing endorsement of the principle that nobody is above the law.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge John Bates said there’s no legal basis for Bush’s argument and that his former legal counsel, Harriet Miers, must appear before Congress. If she wants to refuse to testify, he said, she must do so in person. The committee also has sought to force testimony from White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten.

Oh boy... Judge Bates: meet "terrorist watch list..."
“Harriet Miers is not immune from compelled congressional process; she is legally required to testify pursuant to a duly issued congressional subpoena,” Bates wrote. He said that both Bolten and Miers must give Congress all non-privileged documents related to the firings.

The ruling is a blow to the Bush administration’s efforts to bolster the power of the executive branch at the expense of the legislative branch. The Bush administration argued it was immune from such subpoenas, arguing that Congress can't force them to testify or turn over documents.

The report goes on to quote Nancy Pelosi as saying Dems plan to "act quickly and call Miers and Bolton to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, where they can claim executive privilege in person.
“We look forward to the White House complying with this ruling and to scheduling future hearings with Ms. Miers and other witnesses who have relied on such claims,” Conyers said in a statement. “We hope that the defendants will accept this decision and expect that we will receive relevant documents and call Ms. Miers to testify in September.”

Bates, who was appointed to the bench by Bush, issued a 93-page opinion that strongly rejected the administration’s legal arguments. He noted that the executive branch could not point to a single case in which courts held that White House aides were immune from congressional subpoenas.

“That simple yet critical fact bears repeating: the asserted absolute immunity claim here is entirely unsupported by existing case law,” Bates wrote.

Unless of course it gets to the Supreme Court, where Tony Scalia will find a way, and if Justice Kennedy is having a bad day? Zappo!

So of course now the question everyone is asking is, what does this mean for our good friend Karl Rove? Some thoughts on that here.

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posted by JReid @ 4:30 PM  
Monday, July 28, 2008
Stupid is as stupid does
From David Kilcullen, a "former Australian Army officer who is now an adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice," and the guy who helped design the current U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq with David Petraeus:
Kilcullen, who helped Petraeus design his 2007 counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq, called the decision to invade Iraq "stupid" -- in fact, he said "fucking stupid" -- and suggested that if policy-makers apply the manual's lessons, similar wars can be avoided in the future.

"The biggest stupid idea," Kilcullen said, "was to invade Iraq in the first place."

I guess he cares more about pointing out stupidity than he does about the security of the American people... right John McCain? Sadly, Kilcullen's assessment is far from a unique one:
David Rothkopf, a former Clinton administration official and now with the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, said: "Declaring this to be a success based on recent improvements is like saying that a person badly disabled by gunshots has seen his wounds heal. The damage has been done.

"Bush's foreign policy has been a failure and it will be judged on Iraq. He will bear responsibility for an unnecessary and costly war that violated international law, alienated allies and distracted us from the core issues of terrorism, Afghanistan and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.

"This has to be the worst managed foreign policy of any president since the Second World War. Even if in the medium term Iraq becomes comparatively peaceful, would it be worth the cost? I do not think so."

As for America's standing around the world, the war alienated some major American allies, France and Germany most notably. Others did send troops after the invasion - Spain and Italy among them - but then left as public opinions at home turned hostile.

On the other hand, a number of smaller countries, many of them from the former Soviet block, saw an opportunity to show their loyalty to the US and sent contingents - the Czech Republic, Poland, Georgia and others. For them, a strong and active United States bodes well for their future security.

In turn, Britain's support for the United States has led to further divisions within Europe. These had an impact in the Lisbon treaty talks about a future foreign policy for the EU, strengthening the British determination to keep it firmly in the hands of individual governments.

The invasion of Iraq also caused alarm bells to ring in Russia. There, a new mood of hostility to the West has developed and the Russians have become wary of American power.

Nor has Iraq sparked the democratic revolution in the Middle East that Mr Bush hoped for. And the Israeli/Palestinian conflict remains unresolved.

Ironically it is Iran, with which the US shares a mutual hostility, that has emerged with greater strength, to the concern of the Gulf Arab states.

Ah yes, but at least we've got "the surge.."



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posted by JReid @ 5:40 PM  
Quick take headlines: hacks, red ink and redrum
A Justice Department report confirms that two former underlings of America's worst Attorney General EVER, Alberto Gonzales, broke the law by taking political persuasion into account in JD hiring. The perps: Regent University "Law School" grad Monica Goodling, and fellow traveler D. Kyle Sampson. Alberto wasn't faulted in the report... why? The only remaining question: how quickly does Michael Mukasey announce that he will do nothing?

Meanwhile, how big of a budget deficit will George W. Bush leave to the next president? Try $490 billion:

The next president will inherit a record budget deficit approaching $490 billion, a Bush administration official said Monday.

The official said the deficit was being driven to an all-time high by the sagging economy and the stimulus payments being made to 130 million households in an effort to keep the country from falling into a deep recession. A deficit approaching $490 billion would easily surpass the record deficit of $413 billion set in 2004.

The administration official spoke on condition of anonymity because the new estimate had not been formally released. Administration officials were scheduled to do that at a news conference later Monday.

The new figure actually underestimates the deficit, since it leaves out about $80 billion in war costs. In a break from tradition — and in violation of new mandates from Congress — the White House did not include its full estimate of war costs.

White House press secretary Dana Perino had no comment on the $490 billion figure. But she told reporters that the White House and lawmakers acknowledged months ago that they were going to increase the deficit by approving a short-term boost for the slumping economy.

"Both parties recognized that the deficit would increase, and that that was going to be the price that we pay," Perino said.

The White House had earlier predicted next year's deficit at $407 billion. Figures for the 2008 budget year ending Sept. 30 may also set a record.

When Dubya took office in 2001, the CBO estimated the U.S. had a ten-year budget surplus of $5.6 trillion. Bush even trumpeted the surplus in a campaign ad back in 2000:

Bush for President, Inc.
"Surplus"

30 sec. TV spot run in NH latter part of Jan. 2000.
Maverick Media

Male Announcer [music]: George W. Bush's tax plan is called an economic agenda worthy of a new president.

The Bush plan reserves $2 trillion of the surplus to protect and strengthen Social Security and pay down the national debt. The rest is dedicated to priorities--education, rebuilding our military, and providing a real tax cut for every taxpayer.

Some Washington politicians say it's better to keep the money in Washington. Governor Bush believes we can meet priorities and still give families back more of what they earn.

Ah, history...

Over to Iraq (a/k/a "Surgistan,") where two apparent female suicide bombers killed more than 50 people and injured some 240 others in Baghdad and Kirkuk. The Guardian puts the death and injured toll even higher, at 55 and 300.



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posted by JReid @ 12:04 PM  
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Operation Ignore Mukasey
Michael Mukasey has proved to be only slightly less detrimental to the Constitution than his idiotic predecessor, Alberto Gonzales. Mukasey's refusal to do his job, when that job would have anything to do with enforcing laws broken by the Bush administration, has so frustrated Congress, that even the Bushwhacked, spineless, impeachment-wary Democrats are ignoring him. I guess they figure that insulating the telcoms and the president from prosecution and impeachment are enough dirty work to keep the anonymous Bush staffers from mailing the contents of the wiretaps on their homes and offices to pre-jail Robert Novak and Matt Drudge...

So what is Mukasey asking for that he ain't getting? Try a declaration of war ... perpetual war ... against al-Qaida ... forever:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congress should explicitly declare a state of armed conflict with al Qaeda to make clear the United States can detain suspected members as long as the war on terrorism lasts, U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey said on Monday.

Mukasey urged Congress to make the declaration in a package of legislative proposals to establish a legal process for terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo, in response to a Supreme Court ruling last month that detainees had a constitutional right to challenge their detention.

"Any legislation should acknowledge again and explicitly that this nation remains engaged in an armed conflict with al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated organizations, who have already proclaimed themselves at war with us," Mukasey said in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute.

"Congress should reaffirm that for the duration of the conflict the United States may detain as enemy combatants those who have engaged in hostilities or purposefully supported al Qaeda, the Taliban and associated organizations," he said.

Mukasey was not asking for a formal declaration of war, which would trigger certain emergency powers under the Constitution and international law, a Justice Department spokesman said. U.S. President George W. Bush has on numerous occasions said the United States was "at war" against terrorists and cited that as a basis for his powers.

New legislation should also prohibit courts from ordering a detainee to be released within the United States. It should protect secrets in court hearings, ensure that soldiers are not taken from the battlefield to testify and prevent challenges from delaying detainee trials, he said.
In other words, anyone the president decided was a terrorist could be held by the U.S. in secret detention forever. With no legal recourse. Forever. To Newsweek's Michael Isikoff and Mark "The Mustache" Hosenball:
Mukasey's plea for quick passage of a significant new counterterrorism measure essentially fell on deaf ears—at least from the Democrats who control Congress. "Zero," snapped one key lawmaker, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, when asked the likelihood that Congress will rush to pass the kind of law Mukasey and the Bush administration are seeking. "We don't have to pass anything," said Nadler, who chairs the House subcommittee that has primary jurisdiction over the issue, in a brief hallway interview with NEWSWEEK. "Let the courts deal with it."

The derisive comments from the feisty New York liberal—just moments after Mukasey issued his strong appeal in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee—underscores the huge and poisonous gulf that now exists between the White House and Congress on virtually every issue related to the War on Terror. No Democrats on the judiciary panel endorsed Mukasey's call Wednesday for new counterterrorism legislation. None of them even bothered to ask him any questions about it. Instead, they essentially ignored what the attorney general portrayed as the Justice Department's top priority for his final six months in office.
Not that the Democrats really intend to stand up to Bush ... that's simply not done in the House that Nancy built. In fact, fellow House Diva Jane Harman proposed a law, H.R. 1955, the "Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007," which would open up all of our Internet communications to administration scrutiny, and it sailed through the House, bringing Traitor Joe Lieberman closer to his dream of excising all Muslim traffic from Youtube. It's just that the Dems have finally figured out that it's summer: they don't have to do the White House's bidding until AFTER the Democratic convention, when the RNC ads about them being "soft on terror" start running.


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posted by JReid @ 12:18 AM  
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
An unqualified success
George W. Bush's presidency certainly benefited some Americans. Courtesy of ThinkProgress:
According to IRS data, “the richest 1% of Americans in 2006 garnered the highest share of the nation’s adjusted gross income for two decades” and “possibly the highest since 1929.” Meanwhile, “the average tax rate of the wealthiest 1% fell to its lowest level in at least 18 years.”
Other big winners from the Bush years: Big Oil, Iraq contractors, and of course, Dick Cheney, who kind of counts as "all of the above."

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posted by JReid @ 9:19 AM  
Friday, July 18, 2008
A timetable by any other name
Want more proof that Barack Obama is already the president of the United States? The guy warming his chair just implemented yet another Obama foreign policy plank: a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
President Bush and Iraq's prime minister have agreed to set a "time horizon" for the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq as security conditions in the war-ravaged nation continue to improve, White House officials said here Friday.

The agreement, reached during a video conference Thursday between Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, marks a dramatic shift for the Bush administration, which for years has condemned any talk of timetables for withdrawal.

But Maliki and other Iraqi leaders in recent weeks have begun demanding firm withdrawal deadlines from the United States. Bush said earlier this week that he opposes "arbitrary" timetables but was open to setting an "aspirational goal" for moving U.S. troops to a support role.

Aspirational my foot. That's a timetable! Cue the dissembling White House statement:

"In the area of security cooperation, the president and the prime minister agreed that improving conditions should allow for the agreements now under negotiation to include a general time horizon for meeting aspirational goals," the statement said. It said those goals include turning over more control to Iraqi security forces and "the further reduction of U.S. combat forces from Iraq."

The statement continued: "The president and prime minister agreed that the goals would be based on continued improving conditions on the ground and not an arbitrary date for withdrawal."

Blah blah blah blah TIMETABLE!

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel denied that the agreement with Maliki represents a concession by the Bush administration.

"I think it's important to remember that the discussions about timeline issues previously were from Democrats in Congress who wanted to arbitrarily retreat from Iraq -- without consideration for conditions on the ground," Stanzel told reporters in Tucson.

"These are aspirational goals, not arbitrary timetables based on political expediency," Stanzel said.

Uh huh ... Just like how I've set a non-arbitrary, aspirational goal of leaving my house in 15 minutes to take my kids to a 3:30 movie, and will move depending on conditions on the ground, such as what time "Kung Fu Panda" starts, and how long it takes to get to Muvico by .... 3:30.

I literally cannot wait to hear the McCain response to this one. My god, what next? A Bush book on the audacity of hope? (It would, of course, have to be a children's book...) Perhaps we could call it, "The Audacity of Aspirational Goals"...

You GO George. Way to warm up that seat.

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posted by JReid @ 2:33 PM  
How Condi stole Iran
Through it all, Condi still has George's ear.

A fascinating piece in the Independent explores how Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice snatched the Bush administration's Iran policy from the hands of Dick Cheney and the neocons, and how her heist could possible avert another war:

The Secretary of State, who is one of the few people with the President's ear, has shown the door to Vice-President Dick Cheney's cabal of war-hungry advisers. Ms Rice was able to declare yesterday that the administration's decision to break with past policy proves that there is international unity in opposing Iran's nuclear programme. "The point that we're making is the United States is firmly behind this diplomacy, firmly behind and unified with our allies and hopefully the Iranians will take that message," Ms Rice said.

Mr Bush's decision to send the number three in the State Department, William Burns, to attend talks with Iran in Geneva at the weekend caused howls of outrage that were heard all the way from the State Department's sanctuary of Foggy Bottom to the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. A parallel initiative to reopen the interest's section of the American embassy in Tehran, which would be the first return of a diplomatic presence on Iranian territory since 1979, has also received a cool response from neo-conservatives.

"This is a complete capitulation on the whole idea of suspending enrichment," said Mr Bush's former UN envoy, John Bolton. "Just when the administration has no more U-turns to pull, it does another."

Ms. Rice is described in the article as a "prime mover" behind the disastrous Iraq invasion, but her change of direction has pushed her man Bush in a new direction, one in which she appears to be steering the ship:

The breakthrough, if that is what it turns out to be, that persuaded Mr Bush that it was time to end the 30-year boycott of high-level diplomatic contacts with Iran, came from the simple act of Ms Rice signing her name to a joint letter offering sweeter terms to Tehran than it had seen before.

The very act of putting her name to a package of incentives presented in Tehran last month persuaded the Iranian authorities that there was movement that would allow them to proclaim victory over the US, while ending their nuclear programme.

When he saw Ms Rice's signature on the document, Iran's Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, was visibly stunned, according to those present at the meeting. He formally responded to the offer with a letter addressed to Ms Rice and the EU's foreign policy envoy, Javier Solana, as well as foreign ministers of the five other countries at the talks.

His letter skirted around the hot-button issue of Iran's uranium enrichment programme, but it contained an olive branch of an offer to "find common ground through logical and constructive actions", according to reports.

But the piece also makes it clear who the real ship's captain in the Bush administration is:

Before approaching the President with a plan to avoid war in the last six months of his presidency, Ms Rice had to persuade Mr Cheney, chief among those described as the "Vulcans" of his administration. She made her pitch at a meeting that included Mr Cheney, Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, Joshua Bolton, the White House Chief of Staff, and Mr Burns, who is heading to Geneva at the weekend to take part in the "one time only deal".
Scary. Read the entire article for a nice recounting of Condi's greatest hits, including her assertion that "no one could have anticipated planes flying into buildings..."

Flashback: Being Condoleezza Rice means never having to say you're sorry

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posted by JReid @ 2:18 PM  
Greenwald and co say: send Karl Rove to jail
Watch the video, sign the petition.
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posted by JReid @ 1:08 PM  
Thursday, July 17, 2008
In contempt
President Bush's latest executive privilege claim, this time over FBI interviews of Dick Cheney and his staff regarding the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, drew contempt threats directed at the derelict Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, from Henry Waxman yesterday. Not only should Waxman follow through, Congress should junk the absurd handshake deal that's keeping them from exercising their right as a co-equal branch of government, to have their subpoenas honored (not only by Cheney and Bush, but also by Karl Rove,) or to file inherent contempt of congress charges against the intransigent. Mukasey should go first, as he has refused to carry out his duty as A.G., no less than did his predecessor, the squirlish Alberto Gonzales.

Last night, GOP hack Brad Blakeman asserted on Dan Abrams' show "Verdict" that Mukasey was, by refusing to enforce congressional subpoenas, simply serving his client, the president of the United States. Read the Constitution, Brad. The attorney general's client is the American people. It's the White House counsel who serves the POTUS. I'm surprised Abrams, a lawyer, failed to call Blakeman on that one.

Meanwhile:
(The Politico) Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) has introduced legislation calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor to handle criminal contempt of Congress charges when Justice will not cooperate.

The Miller bill grows out of the dispute between House Democrats and the White House over subpoenas issued to White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers.

The committee issued the subpoenas as part of its probe ino the 2006 firing of nine U.S. attorneys. Bolten and Miers, relying on an assertion of executive privilege by President Bush, refused to comply with the subpoenas. The House passed both criminal and civil contempt resolutions against Bolten and Miers, but the Justice Department, citing earlier legal opinions, declined to allow a federal prosecutor to bring the case before a grand jury. The Judiciary Committee has filed a civil lawsuit against the Justice Dept. seeking to enforce the subpoenas.

According to Miller's office, his new bill would allow a federal judge to "appoint an independent ;Special Advocate' to investigate and prosecute alleged Contempt of Congress charges passed by the House of Representatives against current and former executive branch employees, when the Justice Department fails to do so." The special prosecutor would technically work for attorney general, but in reality, would be "largely independent from both the executive and legislative branches and not subject to undue political influences."

“The law explicitly requires the Justice Department to present Contempt of Congress charges to the grand jury, but the Bush Administration claims Congress can not compel a U.S. attorney to prosecute contempt cases where the White House claims executive privilege,” Miller said in a statement. “Other presidents have made bodacious claims about their powers, but always compromised in the end. No president, not even Nixon, has gone this far before.”
Good idea, Congressman. And while you're at it, how about proposing legislation requiring Nancy Pelosi and the other Bush cuckolds running the House of Representatives to use their constitutional authority, rather than ducking and running from the president, including -- no especially -- on the subject of impeachment, about which Miss Nancy is allowing only Potemkin hearings. As Johnathan Turley (who yesterday called such hearings little more than a "fancy dress ball") has said repeatedly (echoed by John Dean) there is more than enough reason to believe that crimes have been committed by this White House, such that impeachment is the only constitutional option. If the House won't even consider it, than divided government is dead, and the 110th Congress risks going down in ignominy, just like the 109th.
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posted by JReid @ 2:58 PM  
The morning read: welcome to Tehran
Hey, did you hear the one about the government-chartered mortgage giants who spent $200 million to buy influence in Washington? About 20 McCain advisers have...

Forget all that talk about "appeasement" and the "Axis of evil..." The Guardian reports the Bush administration is preparing to establish an "interests section" in Iran, similar to the one we have in Cuba. The move is a half-step away from setting up an embassy, and comes on the heels of news the U.S. will send the third in command at the State Department to silently observe European talks with Tehran. Et tu, Bushie? In other news, the neocons will be wearing black today as a sign of mourning. Dick Cheney will be wearing an ankle monitor.

There are two ways to look at this news. Either GWB has turned his foreign policy over to Condi Rice, taking the portfolio away from Dick Cheney and his band of neocon nutjobs, in order to salvage some semblance of a legacy in the final months of his administration ... or, Bush hopes to undermine Barack Obama's foreign policy stances one by one, by preempting him on engagement with Iran, troop drawdowns in Iraq, etc. Either way, it will be interesting to see whether John McCain is swift enough to pick up the ball, or whether he will keep blustering on about staying in Iraq forever and ever and blowing Iran to hell.

Also in the Guardian, a new report says the U.S. ranks 42nd in life expectancy -- lower than any developed nation and on par with Croatia ... and Canada is taken to task for refusing to seek the repatriation of a 15-year-old kid the Bush administration has locked up in Gitmo, and who is seen pleading for help during a videotaped interrogation released this week. From the story:
Toronto-born Omar Khadr's US military lawyer called on Harper to "stand up and act like a prime minister of Canada" and demand the teenager's return.

... Khadr's military lawyer, Lieutenant Commander Bill Kuebler, along with his criticism of Harper, said yesterday that the military tribunals at Guantánamo "aren't designed to be fair" and designed "to produce convictions".

He said anyone who watched Khadr whimpering for his mother and still believed he had vowed to die fighting with a bunch of hardened al-Qaida terrorists is "crazy".

"The tape shows Omar Khadr not as a hardened terrorist but as a frightened boy."

"It just shows how unreliable anything that they extracted from this kid is would be at trial."

Khadr, who was shown in the video aged 16 and questioned after severe sleep deprivation, will have to remain at Guantánamo until he is prosecuted for war crimes in front of a special US military tribunal, later this year.

The liberal Canadian senator and ex-general Romeo Dallaire told Canada Television's (CTV) Newsnet programme that Khadr is a child solider and should be treated and given the same rehabilitation that Canada devotes to other child soldiers around the world.

"We're getting stabbed in the back," Dallaire told the cable channel. "We have worked for years to assist other nations in eradicating the use of children in conflict. But our own country doesn't even want to recognise that our own citizen (is a child soldier). No matter what his politics are, it's totally irrelevant.

Canada's conservative P.M., Stephen Harper, remains unmoved, and Canadian experts are casting doubt on chances for the boy to return to his home country. [Omar Khadr photo, showing him at age 15, from the Canadian Broadcasting Co.]

Meanwhile in the Middle East, Hezbollah supporters are gleeful at the return of five of their members to Beirut, along with the bodies of some 200 fighters, who were exchanged for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers. In Israel, no celebration, just funerals for the two Israelis, whose capture led to Israel's disastrous 2006 war with Lebanon. In the Independent UK, Robert Fisk writes of Israel's folly, and Hezbollah's hubris. On the exchange, Hezbollah got:

Samir Kuntar – 28 years in an Israeli jail for the 1979 murder of an Israeli, his young daughter and a policeman. He arrived from Israel very much alive, clean shaven but sporting a neat moustache, overawed by the hundreds of Hizbollah supporters, a man used to solitary confinement who suddenly found himself idolised by a people he had not seen in almost three decades. His eyes moved around him, the eyes of a prisoner watching for trouble. He was Israel's longest-held Lebanese prisoner; Hizbollah's leader, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, had promised his release. And he had kept his word.

... But it was also a day of humiliation. Humiliation most of all for the Israelis. After launching their 2006 war to retrieve two of their captured soldiers, they killed more than a thousand Lebanese civilians, devastated Lebanon, lost 160 of their own – most of them soldiers – and ended up yesterday handing over 200 Arab corpses and five prisoners in return for the remains of the two missing soldiers and a box of body parts.

Read the whole thing. Trust me.

Back to the states, where the New York Times' Caucus blog reports Barack Obama raised $52 million in June (though Chuck Todd pooh-poohed the number this morning on "Morning Joe," saying Obama had better raise that amount since he's not taking public financing. Geez, the media is STILL sore about that?)

Meanwhile, the paper proper reports on how much Iraqis seem to like Obama, quoting one Iraqi general as saying the candidate is "very young, very active" and "we would be very happy if he was elected president." Look for the McCain camp to deride Obama as "the candidate of the Iraqi people" today ... before they have to dial back once the candidate remembers that Iraq is no longer in the Axis of Evil. The same story attempts to throw cold water on Obama's withdrawal plans, however, calling them "complicated" for Iraqis:

... mention Mr. Obama’s plan for withdrawing American soldiers, and the general stiffens.

“Very difficult,” he said, shaking his head. “Any army would love to work without any help, but let me be honest: for now, we don’t have that ability.”

... There was, as Mr. Obama prepared to visit here, excitement over a man who is the anti-Bush in almost every way: a Democrat who opposed a war that many Iraqis feel devastated their nation. And many in the political elite recognize that Mr. Obama shares their hope for a more rapid withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.

But his support for troop withdrawal cuts both ways, reflecting a deep internal quandary in Iraq: for many middle-class Iraqis, affection for Mr. Obama is tempered by worry that his proposal could lead to chaos in a nation already devastated by war. Many Iraqis also acknowledge that security gains in recent months were achieved partly by the buildup of American troops, which Mr. Obama opposed and his presumptive Republican opponent, Senator John McCain, supported.

“In no way do I favor the occupation of my country,” said Abu Ibrahim, a Western-educated businessman in Baghdad, “but there is a moral obligation on the Americans at this point.”

Like many Iraqis, Mr. Ibrahim sees Mr. Obama favorably, describing him as “much more humane than Bush or McCain.”

“He seems like a nice guy,” Mr. Ibrahim said. But he hoped that Mr. Obama’s statements about a relatively fast pullout were mere campaign talk.

“It’s a very big assumption that just because he wants to pull troops out, he’ll be able to do it,” he said. “The American strategy in the region requires troops to remain in Iraq for a long time.”

Why do I not quite trust the Times not to put neocon words into Iraqis mouths? Maybe it's just me ... and Judy Miller... Meanwhile, the paper also reports on the phalanx of media stars and actual anchor people who will chase Barack around the Middle East and Europe when he travels there, as opposed to the "in other news" treatment that McCain's overseas trip received.

The WaPo has three interesting stories today: one on the slowing global economy, and how it's helping the little guys outpace the giant economies of rich, Western nations, like ours. Why?

The U.S. economy and financial system are more closely linked to those in other wealthy nations, particularly in Europe, where rising inflation and the weak dollar are adding to growing trouble. The United States and Europe have "similar economies and share the potential problems of industrialized nations in terms of property price fluctuations and financials," said Simon Johnson, chief economist at the International Monetary Fund. "And they find themselves sharing variable degrees of vulnerability."

As global wealth has shifted during the past decade, emerging markets have become not only increasingly stable but they have also been claiming a larger portion of the world's riches than ever before. If Californians are rushing to withdraw money from banks there, the situation in Kenya is just the opposite: People are flocking to banks to open accounts. The Nairobi exchange, which lists mostly Kenyan companies and a handful of multinational firms, posted 10 percent gains in the three months ended in June as local and foreign investors flocked to the initial public offering of the cellphone giant Safaricom.

Damn.

The WaPo also tries to even out the mortgage crisis exposure of the two presidential candidates, attempting to make former Obama advisers and of all things, Clinton advisers, the equivalent of John McCain's bevy of current lobbyist pals and campaign shot callers who are steeped in Freddie and Fannie lobbying cash. So much for the liberal media.

And the paper reports that the Obama campaign is creating a heavy presence in Virginia, suggesting they are serious about winning the state.

The Los Angeles Times reports on newly minted FBI investigatee Indymac's latest problem: rival banks are refusing to accept its cashier's checks, adding a new headache for depositors who have been lining up to get their money.

And the paper reports that a stunning 1 in 4 California high school students -- and 1 in 3 Los Angeles high schoolers, dropped out of school since the fall of 2006. Wow. The head count was made possible by a new ID system in the state that was meant to track students leaving one school and enrolling at another. Unfortunately, the second part of that equation didn't happen 25-33% of the time.

Soaring oil prices are making Russia, Venezuela and Iran bolder, and more defiant of the U.S. .. surprise, surprise...

The most viewed stories at LAT? Andy Dick's dumb ass arrested on drug and sexual battery charges, ya think??? ... and bargain homes in Cali as prices deflate.

And last but not least ... who had the highest number of job losses this year? Florida! Sorry, Charlie!








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posted by JReid @ 8:45 AM  
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
That 70s Show: Inflation nation
Does it sometimes seem like we're living though a looking glass version of the 1970s? Trouble with Iran (whom the Bush administration is now not quite but sort of talking to) an economy in turmoil, and skyrocketing inflation (which in May and June saw the largest jump since 1982, two years after Ronald Reagan took over management of the country from Jimmy Carter) coupled with stagnant growth, producing the very 1970s-like phenomenon called "stagflation."

Just like the 1970s, oil and gas are at the root of the problem. High gas and diesel prices are being passed on to consumers by every company whose goods are delivered by truck, including food, furniture, hell, everything. And wages have fallen behind inflation, and Americans are being forced to drain their savings and 401K plans just to keep up. Even with rising prices, companies are struggling to stay in the black, and often failing (take the airline industry for instance. It's headed down the drain.) Consumer confidence is way down, even as the right continues to shill for the oil companies and pooh-pooh the problems of ordinary Americans.

And there's a new communal spirit growing in America. It's called borders!

Meanwhile, Congressman Dennis Kucinich uncovers thousands of military veterans who have been denied disability and pension benefits by the Bush administration.

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posted by JReid @ 1:55 PM  
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Bush to Americans: stop that stinkin' thinkin'
President Bush climbed on board the Phil Gramm psychology express today, saying that in fact, to paraphrase Mary J Blige, the economy is just fine fine fine fine fine fine (whoooo!) ...
President Bush sought to reassure shaky markets and frightened consumers about worsening economic conditions today, asserting that the U.S. economy is fundamentally sound and urging Congress to quickly pass legislation to shore up mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac....

...The president also played down predictions that large numbers of banks may be on the verge of failure and spoke at length about the federal insurance system that guarantees deposits up to $100,000. Federal regulators last week took over IndyMac Bancorp of California amid a run on the bank's reserves.

"My hope is that people take a deep breath and realize their deposits are safe. I think the system is basically sound," Bush said.

"I'm not an economist, but I do believe we're growing," he said later, adding that the economy is "not growing the way it should."
Maybe Dubya should have bypassed the presser and given his speech directly to his Fed chairman...
The twin problems of slow growth and rising prices are making it difficult for federal policymakers to chart a course for the economy, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said today, as he outlined a raft of problems facing the country -- including "ongoing strains" at banks and finance companies and a string of recent job losses and declining home prices.
... or to Wall Street...
Wall Street was lower again today, with major U.S. indexes initially off as much as 1.5 percent. Shares, however, rebounded to near even by midday as news came oil prices fell by more than $8 a barrel, to around $136, as investors weighed the degree to which a global slowdown will undercut demand. Asian and European markets fell overnight.
Or struggling businesses ...
Bernanke described worry about the run-up in the price of oil and other commodities, and said that it may lead businesses to raise prices for goods other than food and energy in the future.

"With businesses facing persistently higher input prices, they may attempt to pass through such costs into prices . . . more aggressively than they have so far," Bernanke said.
Or General Motors...
DETROIT (AP) — General Motors Corp. said Tuesday it will lay off salaried workers, cut truck production, suspend its dividend and borrow $2 billion to $3 billion to weather a severe downturn in the U.S. market.
GM said the moves will raise $15 billion to help cover losses and turn around its North American operations, including $10 billion from internal cost-cutting and $5 billion from selling some assets and borrowing against others.
"In short, our plan is not a plan to survive. It is a plan to win," GM Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner said in a broadcast to employees.

GM's shares fell as much as 6 percent to a new 54-year low of $8.81, then rebounded to $9.94 in midday trading, up 56 cents from Monday's close.

Chief Operating Officer Fritz Henderson said GM wants to reduce its total salaried costs in the U.S. and Canada by more than 20 percent.
A large chunk of the reduction, he said, would come from cutting health care benefits for salaried retirees. Those people would get a pension increase from the company's overfunded pension fund to help compensate for Medicare and supplemental insurance, the company said.

Several thousand jobs will be cut through normal attrition and retirements, and through early retirement and buyout offers, Henderson said. The company could resort to involuntary layoffs but does not want to, he said.

Or the U.S. dollar...
(Bloomberg) -- The dollar declined to a record low against the euro on speculation Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson will say credit- market losses are hurting U.S. economic growth.

The currency dropped the most versus the yen since the March collapse of Bear Stearns Cos. and fell to a 25-year low versus the Australian dollar on concern confidence in the debt of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will diminish even after the U.S. government pledged support for the firms. The pound surpassed $2 for the first time since July 1 as inflation accelerated.

Or Mr. Inflation...
The economy showed the depth of its twin problems on Tuesday, slow growth and rising inflation, as the nation wrestled with a teetering financial system, a slumping dollar and rising prices for food and fuel.

The Labor Department reported that soaring costs for gasoline and food pushed inflation at the wholesale level up by a bigger-than-expected 1.8 percent in June, leaving inflation rising over the past year at the fastest pace in more than a quarter-century.

Over the past 12 months, wholesale prices are up 9.2 percent, the largest year-over-year surge since June 1981, another period when soaring energy costs were giving the country inflation pains.

Core inflation, which excludes energy and food, was better behaved in June, rising by just 0.2 percent, slightly lower than expectations.

A separate report from the Commerce Department showed that all the economy's problems were weighing on the consumer. Retail sales edged up by a tiny 0.1 percent in June, weaker than had been expected, as consumer spending was held back by a sharp plunge in sales at auto dealerships.

Or these banks...
While the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) is keeping secret its official list of 90 troubled banks, ABC News has obtained other lists prepared by several research groups and financial analysts.

The lists use versions of the so-called "Texas ratio" which compare a bank's assets and reserves to its non-performing loans, based on financial data made public by the FDIC in March.

Analysts say banks with a ratio over 100 per cent would be the most likely to fail, based on what happened to Texas savings and loans during the 1980's.


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posted by JReid @ 2:59 PM  
Monday, July 14, 2008
Love for sale
I first heard this on Stephanie Miller's show this morning, and it's a doozy, courtesy of the Times of London:

The images on the tiny screen of Stephen Payne’s personal organiser told a clear story: this was a man with connections at the highest level.

One showed Payne uprooting dead trees side by side with George W Bush on the US president’s Texas ranch. Another depicted him skeet shooting next to Dick Cheney, the vice-president, and a third grinning for the camera alongside Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state.

The man on the other side of the table from Payne at the Lanesborough hotel in central London last week appeared impressed by the contents of the BlackBerry. He was a familiar figure, a Kazakh politician Payne knew as Eric Dos.

Dos, whose full name is Yerzhan Dosmukhamedov, told Payne that he was representing another foreign political figure who was looking to meet the top people in the US government.

Dos had good reason for believing that Payne could make it happen. Payne has accompanied Bush and Cheney on foreign trips to the Middle East and Asia, and he sits on the influential advisory council to the Department of Homeland Security. Payne is also president of a lobbying company, Worldwide Strategic Partners (WSP), which specialises in connecting business and political interests with the US government.

Dos told Payne that the politician needing help was Askar Akayev, the former president of the central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan.

Akayev, who is in exile in Moscow after being ousted from power three years ago in a people’s revolt, was seeking an endorsement from senior US figures in order to help rehabilitate himself in the eyes of the world, Dos told Payne.

“Who does he want to meet with in Washington?” asked the American. Dos replied: “Well of course, maybe the president of the United States, vice-president Cheney, to speak maybe directly to explain the situation in central Asia . . . To give his side of the story. These kind of things.”

“I think that some things could be done,” said Payne, adding that seeing Bush himself might be more difficult. With barely a pause, he continued:

“I think that the family, children, whatever [of Akayev], should probably look at making a contribution to the Bush library.

“It would be like, maybe a couple of hundred thousand dollars, or something like that, not a huge amount but enough to show that they’re serious.”

... What Payne did not know was that the third person at the Lanesborough meeting last Monday was an undercover Sunday Times reporter. Nor did he know that the meeting was being recorded.

How to say ... "uh-oh..." Payne then went on to offer confabs with Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, or maybe Condi Rice.

So who is Dos? He's an exile from Khazakhstan! Yes, Khazhakstan... (is nice!) He had run afoul of that country's government when he deigned to set up his own political party. ... (is not nice...) The Times goes on:

Before that happened, however, he acted as an adviser to Timur Kulibayev, the billionaire son-in-law of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the Kazakh president, and a man of considerable influence within the country.

Dos said that in the autumn of 2005 he had been asked by the Kazakh government, via Kulibayev, to arrange a visit by Cheney. The intention was to improve the country’s international standing.

Dos had spent several days negotiating with Payne. A deal was eventually agreed, he said, and he understood that a payment of $2m was passed, via a Kazakh oil and gas company, to Payne’s firm.

The following May, Cheney made a brief trip to Kazakhstan. His visit was remarked upon in the media at the time, both for the lavish praise which he publicly heaped on Nazarbayev and for the stark contrast between this and a speech he had made just a day earlier at a conference in Lithuania in which he had lambasted Russia for being insufficiently democratic. Now he was lauding Nazarbayev, who has effectively made himself president for life and in whose country it is an offence to criticise him.

“Why did Cheney castigate Russia’s imperfect democracy while saying not a word about Kazakhstan’s shameless travesty of the democratic system?” said one newspaper following the visit. “Cheney’s flattery of the Kazakh regime was sickening,” said another.

Dos believes some of the money paid to WSP may have found its way to “entities” connected to the Bush administration.

In order to test which channels might be available to foreigners seeking influence within the US, Dos agreed to approach Payne, at The Sunday Times’s request, with a fabricated story about Akayev wanting to rehabilitate himself in the eyes of the world. Akayev was not aware of the approach to Payne.

And that's "uh-oh" number two. So just what is the going price of the "honor and integrity" of the Bush White House? Which leads us to a very telling quote by Mr. Payne:

Following e-mail questioning from Dos about how Payne might pass on money paid to him by foreigners, Payne became increasingly cagey.

He said: “Anyone that tells you ‘I can deliver a US government action in exchange for specific funds’ is someone you will soon visit in prison . . . as that would be bribery in this country.”

Clink-clink. The Democrats in Congress, as is their wont to do, are "investigating." Add it to the list.



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posted by JReid @ 10:15 PM  
When the crime is worse than the cover-up
Once again, Frank Rich lets the Bushies have it:

WE know what a criminal White House looks like from “The Final Days,” Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s classic account of Richard Nixon’s unraveling. The cauldron of lies, paranoia and illegal surveillance boiled over, until it was finally every man for himself as desperate courtiers scrambled to save their reputations and, in a few patriotic instances, their country.

“The Final Days” was published in 1976, two years after Nixon abdicated in disgrace. With the Bush presidency, no journalist (or turncoat White House memoirist) is waiting for the corpse to be carted away. The latest and perhaps most chilling example arrives this week from Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, long a relentless journalist on the war-on-terror torture beat. Her book “The Dark Side” connects the dots of her own past reporting and that of her top-tier colleagues (including James Risen and Scott Shane of The New York Times) to portray a White House that, like its prototype, savaged its enemies within almost as ferociously as it did the Constitution.

Some of “The Dark Side” seems right out of “The Final Days,” minus Nixon’s operatic boozing and weeping. We learn, for instance, that in 2004 two conservative Republican Justice Department officials had become “so paranoid” that “they actually thought they might be in physical danger.” The fear of being wiretapped by their own peers drove them to speak in code.

The men were John Ashcroft’s deputy attorney general, James Comey, and an assistant attorney general, Jack Goldsmith. Their sin was to challenge the White House’s don, Dick Cheney, and his consigliere, his chief of staff David Addington, when they circumvented the Geneva Conventions to make torture the covert law of the land. Mr. Comey and Mr. Goldsmith failed to stop the “torture memos” and are long gone from the White House. But Vice President Cheney and Mr. Addington remain enabled by a president, attorney general (Michael Mukasey) and C.I.A. director (Michael Hayden) who won’t shut the door firmly on torture even now.

Nixon parallels take us only so far, however. “The Dark Side” is scarier than “The Final Days” because these final days aren’t over yet and because the stakes are much higher. Watergate was all about a paranoid president’s narcissistic determination to cling to power at any cost. In Ms. Mayer’s portrayal of the Bush White House, the president is a secondary, even passive, figure, and the motives invoked by Mr. Cheney to restore Nixon-style executive powers are theoretically selfless. Possessed by the ticking-bomb scenarios of television’s “24,” all they want to do is protect America from further terrorist strikes.

Meanwhile, members of the administration appear not to be completely oblivious to the perils they find themselves in. Former U.N. ambassadorial temp John Bolton got a nice scare in Europe this spring, when a citizen attempted to arrest him for war crimes. Baron von Rumsfeld has had to be fleet footed in France after narrowly escaping a war crimes indictment (Bush has even sought to immunize his defense team from indictment in the International Criminal Court. No consciousness of guilt there... and failing to get blanket immunity, has forced bilateral agreements on about 100 countries to ensure that U.S. officials won't be handed over.) And no less an insider than retired Gen. Antonio Taguba, who probed the infamous abuses at abu-Ghraib, has definitively stated that key members of the Bush administration committed war crimes by ordering and devising the torture of detainees

The remarks by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who's now retired, came in a new report that found that U.S. personnel tortured and abused detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, using beatings, electrical shocks, sexual humiliation and other cruel practices.

"After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes," Taguba wrote. "The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."

(The Red Cross, the lead organization in such matters, concurs.) And ccording to Rich:

Top Bush hands are starting to get sweaty about where they left their fingerprints. Scapegoating the rotten apples at the bottom of the military’s barrel may not be a slam-dunk escape route from accountability anymore.

No wonder the former Rumsfeld capo, Douglas Feith, is trying to discredit a damaging interview he gave to the British lawyer Philippe Sands for another recent and essential book on what happened, “Torture Team.” After Mr. Sands previewed his findings in the May issue of Vanity Fair, Mr. Feith protested he had been misquoted — apparently forgetting that Mr. Sands had taped the interview. Mr. Feith and Mr. Sands are scheduled to square off in a House hearing this Tuesday.

So hot is the speculation that war-crimes trials will eventually follow in foreign or international courts that Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, has publicly advised Mr. Feith, Mr. Addington and Alberto Gonzales, among others, to “never travel outside the U.S., except perhaps to Saudi Arabia and Israel.” But while we wait for the wheels of justice to grind slowly, there are immediate fears to tend. Ms. Mayer’s book helps cement the case that America’s use of torture has betrayed not just American values but our national security, right to the present day.

Worse, the Mayer book makes it clear that for all the descent into Communist Chinese military tactics, the Cheney-led torture mania hasn't helped U.S. national security. Instead, the lies that torture has elicited have been principle causes leading us into the Iraq quagmire:

In her telling, a major incentive for Mr. Cheney’s descent into the dark side was to cover up for the Bush White House’s failure to heed the Qaeda threat in 2001. Jack Cloonan, a special agent for the F.B.I.’s Osama bin Laden unit until 2002, told Ms. Mayer that Sept. 11 was “all preventable.” By March 2000, according to the C.I.A.’s inspector general, “50 or 60 individuals” in the agency knew that two Al Qaeda suspects — soon to be hijackers — were in America. But there was no urgency at the top. Thomas Pickard, the acting F.B.I. director that summer, told Ms. Mayer that when he expressed his fears about the Qaeda threat to Mr. Ashcroft, the attorney general snapped, “I don’t want to hear about that anymore!”

After 9/11, our government emphasized “interrogation over due process,” Ms. Mayer writes, “to pre-empt future attacks before they materialized.” But in reality torture may well be enabling future attacks. This is not just because Abu Ghraib snapshots have been used as recruitment tools by jihadists. No less destructive are the false confessions inevitably elicited from tortured detainees. The avalanche of misinformation since 9/11 has compromised prosecutions, allowed other culprits to escape and sent the American military on wild-goose chases. The coerced “confession” to the murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to take one horrific example, may have been invented to protect the real murderer.

The biggest torture-fueled wild-goose chase, of course, is the war in Iraq. Exhibit A, revisited in “The Dark Side,” is Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an accused Qaeda commander whose torture was outsourced by the C.I.A. to Egypt. His fabricated tales of Saddam’s biological and chemical W.M.D. — and of nonexistent links between Iraq and Al Qaeda — were cited by President Bush in his fateful Oct. 7, 2002, Cincinnati speech ginning up the war and by Mr. Powell in his subsequent United Nations presentation on Iraqi weaponry. Two F.B.I. officials told Ms. Mayer that Mr. al-Libi later explained his lies by saying: “They were killing me. I had to tell them something.”

That “something” was crucial in sending us into the quagmire that, five years later, has empowered Iran and compromised our ability to counter the very terrorists that torture was supposed to thwart. As The Times reported two weeks ago, Iraq has monopolized our military and intelligence resources to the point where we don’t have enough predator drones or expert C.I.A. field agents to survey the tribal areas where terrorists are amassing in Pakistan. Meanwhile, the threat to America from Al Qaeda is “comparable to what it faced on Sept. 11, 2001,” said Seth Jones, a RAND Corporation terrorism expert and Pentagon consultant. The difference between now and then is simply that the base of operations has moved, “roughly the difference from New York to Philadelphia.”

Meanwhile, in Rich's telling, we're back where we were in the summer before 9/11. Hell, even Chandra Levy is making a comeback, courtesy of a 12-part "investigative" series by the Washington Post... (BTW that summer, Chandra consumed about 90 percent of my time as editor of an NBC News website. Here we go again...)

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posted by JReid @ 12:15 PM  
Thursday, July 10, 2008
ACLU will sue over FISA, plus: Feingold goes off
From the American Civil Liberties Union yesterday:
Once again, Congress blinked and succumbed to the president’s fear-mongering. With today’s vote, the government has been given a green light to expand its power to spy on Americans and run roughshod over the Constitution,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “This legislation will give the government unfettered and unchecked access to innocent Americans’ international communications without a warrant. This is not only unconstitutional, but absolutely un-American.”

The FISA Amendments Act nearly eviscerates oversight of government surveillance by allowing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to review only general procedures for spying rather than individual warrants. The FISC will not be told any specifics about who will actually be wiretapped, thereby undercutting any meaningful role for the court and violating the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

The bill further trivializes court review by authorizing the government to continue a surveillance program even after the government’s general spying procedures are found insufficient or unconstitutional by the FISC. The government has the authority to wiretap through the entire appeals process, and then keep and use whatever information was gathered in the meantime. A provision touted as a major “concession” by proponents of the bill calls for investigations by the inspectors general of four agencies overseeing spying activities. But members of Congress who do not sit on the Judiciary or Intelligence committees will not be guaranteed access to the agencies’ reports.

The bill essentially grants absolute retroactive immunity to telecommunication companies that facilitated the president’s warrantless wiretapping program over the last seven years by ensuring the dismissal of court cases pending against those companies. The test for the companies’ right to immunity is not whether the government certifications they acted on were actually legal – only whether they were issued. Because it is public knowledge that certifications were issued, all of the pending cases will be summarily dismissed. This means Americans may never learn the truth about what the companies and the government did with our private communications.

“With one vote, Congress has strengthened the executive branch, weakened the judiciary and rendered itself irrelevant,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “This bill – soon to be law – is a constitutional nightmare. Americans should know that if this legislation is enacted and upheld, what they say on international phone calls or emails is no longer private. The government can listen in without having a specific reason to do so. Our rights as Americans have been curtailed and our privacy can no longer be assumed.”
And the ACLU says it plans to do something about it:
“This fight is not over. We intend to challenge this bill as soon as President Bush signs it into law,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. “
The bill signing is scheduled for today.

If you're still not concerned about this bill, you'll want to read the statement from Senator Russ Feingold yesterday. Feingold tried in vain, with Chris Dodd, to stop the bill, and in his statement on the floor he hits the Congress and White House square in the face on the illegality of the program in which the White House claimed for itself, the right to wiretap Americans without a warrant:
Here is the part of the story that some seem to have forgotten. In January 2005, eleven months before the New York Times broke the story of the illegal wiretapping program, I asked then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales at his confirmation hearing to be Attorney General whether the President had the power to authorize warrantless wiretaps in violation of the criminal law. Neither I nor the vast majority of my colleagues knew it then, but the President had authorized the NSA program three years before, and Mr. Gonzales was directly involved in that issue as White House Counsel. At his confirmation hearing, he first tried to dismiss my question as “hypothetical.” He then testified that “it’s not the policy or the agenda of this President to authorize actions that would be in contravention of our criminal statutes.”

Well, Mr. President, the President’s wiretapping program was in direct contravention of our criminal statutes. Mr. Gonzales knew that, but he wanted the Senate and the American people to think that the President had not acted on the extreme legal theory that the President has the power as Commander in Chief to disobey the criminal laws of this country.

The President, too, misled Congress and the American public. In 2004 and 2005, when Congress was considering the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act, the President went out of his way to assure us that his administration was getting court orders for wiretaps, all the while knowing full well that his warrantless wiretapping program was ongoing.

Here’s what the President said on April 20, 2004: “Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires – a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so.”

And again, on July 14, 2004: “The government can’t move on wiretaps or roving wiretaps without getting a court order.”

And listen to what the President said on June 9, 2005: “Law enforcement officers need a federal judge’s permission to wiretap a foreign terrorist’s phone, a federal judge’s permission to track his calls, or a federal judge’s permission to search his property. Officers must meet strict standards to use any of these tools. And these standards are fully consistent with the Constitution of the U.S.”

So please, let’s not pretend that the highly classified notification to the Gang of Eight, delivered while the President himself was repeatedly presenting a completely different picture to the public, suggests that Congress somehow acquiesced to this program. As the members of this body well know, several members of the Gang of Eight at the time raised concerns when they were told about this, and several have since said they were not told the full story. And of course all of them were instructed not to share what they had learned with a single other person.
Feingold points out that no court, even the most right wing courts in the country, have ever affirmed a presidential right to violate the Fourth Amendment by wiretapping Americans, under color of "commander in chief" authority or any other provision. He then outlines a number of problems with the bill that's about to become law:
First, the FISA Amendments Act would authorize the government to collect all communications between the U.S. and the rest of the world. That could mean millions upon millions of communications between innocent Americans and their friends, families, or business associates overseas could legally be collected. Parents calling their kids studying abroad, emails to friends serving in Iraq – all of these communications could be collected, with absolutely no suspicion of any wrongdoing, under this legislation.

Second, like the earlier Senate version, this bill fails to effectively prohibit the practice of reverse targeting – namely, wiretapping a person overseas when what the government is really interested in is listening to an American here at home with whom the foreigner is communicating. The bill does have a provision that purports to address this issue. It prohibits intentionally targeting a person outside the U.S. without an individualized court order if, quote, “the purpose” is to target someone reasonably believed to be in the U.S. At best, this prevents the government from targeting a person overseas as a complete pretext for getting information on someone in the U.S. But this language would permit intentional and possibly unconstitutional warrantless surveillance of an American so long as the government has any interest, no matter how small, in the person overseas with whom the American is communicating. The bill does not include language that had the support of the House and the vast majority of the Senate’s Democratic caucus, to require the government to obtain a court order whenever a significant purpose of the surveillance is to acquire the communications of an American in the U.S. The administration’s refusal to accept that reasonable restriction on its power is telling.

Third, the bill before us imposes no meaningful consequences if the government initiates surveillance using procedures that have not been approved by the FISA Court, and the FISA Court later finds that those procedures were unlawful. Say, for example, the FISA Court determines that the procedures were not even reasonably designed to wiretap foreigners outside the U.S., rather than Americans here at home. Under the bill, all that illegally obtained information on Americans can be retained and used. Once again, there are no consequences for illegal behavior.

... Fourth, this bill doesn’t protect the privacy of Americans whose communications will be collected in vast new quantities. The Administration’s mantra has been: “don’t worry, we have minimization procedures.” But, Mr. President, minimization procedures are nothing more than unchecked executive branch decisions about what information on Americans constitutes “foreign intelligence.” That is why on the Senate floor, I joined with Senator Webb and Senator Tester earlier this year to offer an amendment to provide real protections for the privacy of Americans, while also giving the government the flexibility it needs to wiretap terrorists overseas. This bill relies solely on inadequate minimization procedures to protect innocent Americans. They are simply not enough.

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posted by JReid @ 1:36 PM  
Arrest this man

The 110th Congress has already disgraced itself in any number of ways, by bowing and scraping to a lame duck president who nobody but them takes seriously anymore (the latest instance being the FISA bill.) If the Judiciary Committee, led by the incredibly underwhelming John Conyers (who talked tough on impeachment until he got the gavel,) fails to respond to the naked affront to its authority by Karl Rove, who blew off the committee today by refusing to respond to a lawful subpoena regarding his role in the politicization of the Justice Department and the political prosecution of the former governor of Alabama, then they aren't worthy of holding their offices. Either the Judiciary Committee enforces that subpoena, or they admit that, just like Dick Cheney planned it, the Congress is no longer a co-equal branch of the U.S. government, confirming that we are indeed living in a post-Constitutional age.

The outrageous behavior of the arrogant Bushies, including Rove, is made worse by the new attorney general, Michael Mukasey, who replaced the boob from Texas, Alberto Gonzales. Back in May, Joseph Palermo wrote the following about the timid Mr. Mukasey:
Not since the time of Richard Nixon's Attorney General, John Mitchell, who was the only Attorney General in American history to go to prison, has the head of the Justice Department behaved so abominably. Attorney General Michael Mukasey has chosen to obstruct Congress's subpoenas of executive branch employees despite evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Senators Charles Schumer and Diane Feinstein were the deciding votes that confirmed Mukasey. What were they thinking? Now Mukasey bucks normal procedure and refuses to begin grand jury investigations of Karl Rove's role in transforming the Justice Department into a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Republican National Committee.

Karl Rove is free to "analyze" American politics for us on Fox News, and in the pages of The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek; he appears on discussion panels and charges $40,000 a pop for speaking gigs; he signed a book deal estimated to be worth $8 to $12 million; and now he thumbs his nose at the Congress, defying its subpoenas. It's as if he thinks he's above the law and above his fellow citizens. And to top it off Rove's enabler and co-conspirator is the Attorney General himself.

Mukasey's refusal to do his job shows he is a willing accomplice in undermining the Constitutional powers of the House of Representatives as a co-equal branch of government. Can anyone think of an action more "un-American" than dismantling the "checks and balances" that James Madison and other founders so carefully put in place in 1787?
Palermo added that:
It is fitting that our current Constitutional crisis finds Karl Rove as its centerpiece. No human being has done more damage to our republic in the last hundred years than Karl Rove. He masterminded three of the slimiest, rottenest, most dishonest and divisive elections in American history; elections that brought to power a craven gang of white collar criminals who proceeded to destroy the ability of the government to function (except as a conveyor belt of cash for cronies), lied us into an illegal war in Iraq, collapsed the economy, and made torture and the suspension of habeas corpus synonymous with American "ideals." Karl Rove thinks he can tell Congress to go fuck itself. He must not be allowed to walk away Scot free from his crimes and misdeeds.
... he then went on to suggest Congress hire Dog the Bounty Hunter. Um ... yeah...

Dog aside, the committee can do a number of things, and should probably do them all, sooner rather than later.
  • They can file a lawsuit against Rove, as was done with Harriet Myers
  • They can find him in contempt of Congress
  • And having found him in contempt, they can have the Sergeant at Amrs arrest his roly-poly behind. 
As an editorial in the Concord Monitor put it:
If lawmakers fail to do so promptly, the law itself will lose its meaning and Congress will lose what little respect the public has for it. ...

...Rove is now a private citizen. In his role as a political wag, he has said that he never discussed the Siegelman matter with the White House. That makes his assertion of executive privilege all the more ludicrous. Rove has offered to testify by e-mail, or if he can do so not under oath and with no recorded transcript. But it is Congress that makes the rules, not Rove, his lawyer or the president.

Many Americans choose which laws to obey and which to flout. When caught, they can claim all they want that the law doesn't apply to them or plead that their boss told them not to talk. Those people generally wind up behind bars. If he continues to thumb his nose at Congress and the rule of law, that's what should happen to Rove.
Amen.

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posted by JReid @ 1:00 PM  
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Death of the Fourth Amendment: 6304
After failing to pass amendments that at least would have taken immunity for the telecoms off the table, or suspended the pending lawsuits against them for a year, rather than dismissing them, the 110th Congress, controlled by the Democratic Party, sold the Constitution down the river, voting to give the lame duck president, who illegally turned the instruments of foreign surveillance on the American people -- just like Richard Nixon did -- but who unlike Nixon was balanced by a belly-crawling, puerile, flaccid Congress that chose to drive the getaway car, rather than stand up for the Constitution they all took a sworn oath to uphold. To be fair, the Act does add some oversight provisions to the spying activities of the federal government, bringing certain aspects of surveillance under review.  And there is this paragraph:
(2) PROBABLE CAUSE- In determining whether or not probable cause exists for purposes of paragraph (1)(B), a judge having jurisdiction under subsection (a)(1) may consider past activities of the target and facts and circumstances relating to current or future activities of the target. No United States person may be considered a foreign power, agent of a foreign power, or officer or employee of a foreign power solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
And yet, civil libertarians are very worried about our democracy tonight, myself included. 

Barack Obama voted for the amendments, to his credit, but for a lot of reasons, most of them political, he ultimately supported the bill. I've always said that anyone seeking the presidency will never vote to weaken the authority of the office while they have a chance at getting it. Obama lived up to that today (or down to it.) I disagree with him, though I respect his reasons for doing what he did, and more than that, his willingness to take the criticism from his supporters (myself included), and from the left wing of his base, rather than ejecting them from the building a-la Bush and McCain. I think at the end of the day, most Americans, sadly, won't care about this vote. Americans are breathtakingly cavalier about their constitutional rights (except the right to carry guns. That one they care about...) and most assume the government is spying anyway, so they don't quite care. That saddens me, because I don't think most people in this country realize just how fragile our rights are, and how easily a president, with the help of a weak-willed Congress, can take on dictatorial, autocratic powers.

ThinkProgress has the details on the amendments:
Just under a third of the Senate, including presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, supported an amendment proposed by Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., that would have stripped immunity from the bill. It was defeated on a 32-66 vote. Presumptive Republican nominee John McCain did not vote.

Specter proposed an amendment to require a district court judge to assess the legality of warrantless wiretapping before granting immunity. It failed on a 37-61 vote.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., proposed that immunity be delayed until after a yearlong government investigation into warrantless wiretapping is completed. His amendment failed on a vote of 42-56.

The final roll call on the bill, which retroactively legalizes the warrantless surveillance of perhaps millions of Americans, was 69-28. So where are we now?
Forty-six lawsuits now stand to be dismissed because of the new law, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. All are pending before a single U.S. District Court in California. But the fight has not ended. Civil rights groups are already preparing lawsuits challenging the bill's constitutionality, and four suits, filed against government officials, will not be dismissed.

Numerous lawmakers had spoken out strongly against the no-warrants eavesdropping on Americans, but the Senate voted its approval after rejecting amendments that would have watered down, delayed or stripped away the immunity provision.

The lawsuits center on allegations that the White House circumvented U.S. law by going around the FISA court, which was created 30 years ago to prevent the government from abusing its surveillance powers for political purposes, as was done in the Vietnam War and Watergate eras. The court is meant to approve all wiretaps placed inside the U.S. for intelligence-gathering purposes. The law has been interpreted to include international e-mail records stored on servers inside the U.S.

"This president broke the law," declared Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis.

The Bush administration brought the wiretapping back under the FISA court's authority only after The New York Times revealed the existence of the secret program. A handful of members of Congress knew about the program from top secret briefings. Most members are still forbidden to know the details of the classified effort, and some objected that they were being asked to grant immunity to the telecoms without first knowing what they did.
The bill is H.R. 6304. The full roll call is here. I think the "no" votes deserve applause by name. Russ Feingold and Chris Dodd heroically tried to filibuster the bill, but their colleagues let them down. Here are the "Nays":

Akaka (D-HI)
Biden (D-DE)
Bingaman (D-NM)
Boxer (D-CA)
Brown (D-OH)
Byrd (D-WV)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Cardin (D-MD)
Clinton (D-NY)
Dodd (D-CT)
Dorgan (D-ND)
Durbin (D-IL)
Feingold (D-WI)
Harkin (D-IA)
Kerry (D-MA)
Klobuchar (D-MN)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Leahy (D-VT)
Levin (D-MI)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Murray (D-WA)
Reed (D-RI)
Reid (D-NV)
Sanders (I-VT)
Schumer (D-NY)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Tester (D-MT)
Wyden (D-OR)

Note that Hillary Clinton got herself right with the base on this vote, a shrewd move on her part. 

As for John McCain? He played the real hero today. He didn't even show up to vote.

Perhaps the worst thing Obama did today was to vote against cloture (in other words, he did not support the fillibuster.) As Glenn Greenwald points out, THAT is a contradiction of his stance during the primaries. Greenwald goes on to say what many of us are scratching our heads and thinking tonight:
What is most striking is that when the Congress was controlled by the GOP -- when the Senate was run by Bill Frist and the House by Denny Hastert -- the Bush administration attempted to have a bill passed very similar to the one that just passed today. But they were unable to do so. The administration had to wait until Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats took over Congress before being able to put a corrupt end to the scandal that began when, in December of 2005, the New York Times revealed that the President had been breaking the law for years by spying on Americans without the warrants required by law.

Yet again, the Democratic Congress ignored the views of their own supporters in order to comply with the orders and wishes of the Bush administration. It is therefore hardly a surprise that, yesterday, Rasmussen Reports revealed this rather humiliating finding:
Congressional Approval Falls to Single Digits for First Time Ever

For the record, the single digit is 9 percent.

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posted by JReid @ 8:45 PM  
Maybe now the Bushies will talk to them
Iranian television shows the test firing of a Shahab 3 missile. Source: New York Times

Iran tests new long range missiles that can reach Tel Aviv, not to mention U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Isn't that the kind of thing that got the Bushies to the table with North Korea? Just sayin...
(BBC) Iran has test-fired nine missiles, including a new version of the Shahab-3, which is capable of reaching its main regional enemy Israel.

The Shahab-3, with a range of 2,000km (1,240 miles), was armed with a conventional warhead, state media said. Iran has tested the missile before, but the latest launch comes amid rising tensions with the US and Israel over the country's nuclear programme.

The early morning launch at a remote desert site sent oil prices climbing.
White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe called on Iran to "refrain from further missile tests if they truly seek to gain the trust of the world".

Two other types of missile with shorter ranges were also fired as part of the Great Prophet III war games being staged by Iran's military.
And from the New York Times:
PARIS — One day after threatening to strike Tel Aviv and United States interests if attacked, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were reported on Wednesday to have test-fired nine missiles, including one which the government in Tehran says has the range to reach Israel.

State-run media said the missiles were long- and medium-range weapons, among them a new version of the Shahab-3, which Tehran maintains is able to hit targets 1,250 miles away from its firing position. Parts of western Iran are within 650 miles of Tel Aviv.

The reported tests coincide with increasingly tense negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program, which Iran says is for civilian purposes but which many Western governments suspect is aimed at building nuclear weapons. At the same time, United States and British warships have been conducting naval maneuvers in the Persian Gulf — apparently within range of the launching site of the missiles tested on Wednesday. Israel insisted it did not want war with Iran.

“Israel has no desire for conflict or hostilities with Iran,” Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said. “But the Iranian nuclear program and the Iranian ballistic missile program must be of grave concern to the entire international community.”

The missile tests drew a sharp response from the United States. Gordon D. Johndroe, the deputy White House press secretary, said in a statement at the Group of 8 meeting in Japan that Iran’s development of ballistic missiles was a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

“The Iranian regime only furthers the isolation of the Iranian people from the international community when it engages in this sort of activity,” Mr. Johndroe said.

He urged Iran to “refrain from further missile tests if they truly seek to gain the trust of the world. The Iranians should stop the development of ballistic missiles which could be used as a delivery vehicle for a potential nuclear weapon immediately.”

Iran's Shahab 3 missile range. Source: The Guardian

As you might expect, the news shot the price of oil up, yet again.

The tests appear to be a reaction to Israel's "dress rehearsals" last month for an attack on ... somebody ... which coincide with increased diplomacy by Israel with enemies like Hezbollah and Hamas, which some Mideast analysts see as a way to soften the blow in the Arab world should the Jewish state attack Iran.

The news drew quick reactions from the U.S. presidential candidates:
... "Working with our European and regional allies is the best way to meet the threat posed by Iran, not unilateral concessions that undermine multilateral diplomacy," McCain said in a statement.

Obama has been criticized by Republicans for being too eager to engage enemies of the U.S. in talks. Asked how he would respond to the missile tests if he were president, Obama said he would confer with his national security team to find out whether "this indicates any new capabilities on Iran's part."

"At this point, the report is unclear, it's still early," Obama said on "The Early Show" on CBS. "What this underscores is the need for ... a clear policy that is putting the burden on Iran to change behavior. And frankly, we just have not been able to do that the last several years, partly because we're not engaged in direct diplomacy."

Obama said he continued to favor an incentive package that is aimed at getting Iran to drop its nuclear ambitions.
And:
McCain said Iran's missile tests "demonstrate again the dangers it poses to its neighbors and to the wider region, especially Israel."

"Ballistic missile testing coupled with Iran's continued refusal to cease its nuclear activities should unite the international community in efforts to counter Iran's dangerous ambitions," McCain said.

Obama, while calling Iran a threat, criticized the Bush administration for using bellicose language against the Iranian government while increasing exports to the country.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that U.S. exports to Iran grew more than tenfold under President Bush in spite of his criticism of its government as a sponsor of terrorism and warnings against any efforts to develop a nuclear weapon.

"It's that kind of mixed signal that has led to the kind of situation that we're in right now," Obama said on ABC's "Good Morning America."
More on Bush's checkbook diplomacy, from Newsweek:
(WASHINGTON) Nuclear weapons? No way. But there are plenty of items on Iran's shopping list the United States is more than happy to supply: cigarettes, brassieres, bull semen and more.

U.S. exports to Iran grew more than tenfold during President Bush's years in office even as he accused it of nuclear ambitions and sponsoring terrorists. America sent more cigarettes to Iran — at least $158 million worth under Bush — than any other product.

Other surprising shipments during the Bush administration: fur clothing, sculptures, perfume, musical instruments and military apparel. Top states shipping goods to Iran include California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of seven years of U.S. governmenttrade data.

Despite increasingly tough rhetoric toward Iran, which Bush has called part of an "axis of evil," U.S. trade in a range of goods survives on-again, off-again sanctions originally imposed nearly three decades ago. The rules allow sales of agricultural commodities, medicine and a few other categories of goods. The exemptions are designed to help Iranian families even as the United States pressures Iran's leaders.

"I understand that these exports have increased. However, we believe that they are increasing to a segment of the population that we want to reach out to, we want to know and understand that the U.S. government, the U.S. people want to be friends with them, want to work with them to integrate them into the world economy and become partners in the future," Gonzalo Gallegos, a State Department spokesman, said Tuesday when asked by reporters about AP's findings.
So ... we want them to get hooked on our cigarettes and be our friends before we ... blow them away...? And remember, while we're increasing exports to Iran (and don't think Dick Cheney's Halliburton isn't still doing business there, too...) we're also conducting covert operations which may be designed to provoke Iran into a war...

The Guardian drills deeper into the candidate reactions, and finds Barack Obama talking tough diplomacy (he also gets the headline, while Mac gets the mid-article crumbs...) and McCain sealing himself into the Bush glass coffin once again with a call for a halo of missile defense over Europe:
"Iran is a great threat. We have to make sure we are working with our allies to apply tightened pressure on Iran," the Illinois senator said.

Iran demonstrated its military force with the test-flight of nine long and medium-range missiles in the strategic Strait of Hormouz, through which 40% of the world's oil passes.

Tehran said the exercise was in retaliation to threats from the US and Israel over its disputed nuclear projects, which it claims are civilian.

Obama said if he were to be elected president, he would combine more direct diplomacy with the threat of much tougher economic sanctions.

"I think what this underscores is the need for us to create a kind of policy that is putting the burden on Iran to change behaviour, and frankly we just have not been able to do that over the last several years," Obama said.

He cited reports that US exports to Iran have increased under George Bush, even as the administration has toughened its rhetoric.

Earlier, the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, said the "war games" justified America's defence plans with bases in eastern Europe. She said the tests were "evidence that the missile threat is not an imaginary one."

"Those who say there is no Iranian missile threat against which we should build a missile defence system perhaps ought to talk to the Iranians about their claims."

Her comments were backed by the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain. He said the tests "demonstrate the need for effective missile defence now and in the future, and this includes missile defence in Europe as is planned with the Czech Republic and Poland". These plans are strongly opposed by Russia.
Four more years ... indeed ...

The Iran news comes on the same day as word of an attack that killed three policemen near the U.S. embassy in Istanbul, Turkey. The Washington Post has details:
Gunmen attacked a police guard post this morning outside the heavily fortified U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, killing three Turkish police officers in what Ambassador Ross Wilson called "an obvious act of terrorism."

Three of the assailants were shot to death during the gun battle, authorities said, and a fourth person was taken into custody a short time later, according to Turkey's Dogan News Agency.

No Americans or consular employees were injured.

"This was an attack on the American diplomatic establishment here," Wilson said in an appearance before reporters in Ankara, the Turkish capital. " . . . Our countries will stand together and confront this, as we have in the past."

Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Istanbul Gov. Muammer Guler also labeled the incident a terrorist attack. Gul referred to the slain police officers as martyrs and said Turkey "will fight against those who masterminded such acts and the mentality behind it till the end."
The world just 



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posted by JReid @ 10:18 AM  
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
What part of 'timetable' don't you understand?
Don't know if you caught Family Research Council fellow Pete Hegseth of the GOP/McCain surrogate organization Vets for Freedom talk-o-babbling his way through a 'Hardball' interview today opposite John Soltz of VoteVets.org, but he apparently cannot accept the rather plain fact that the prime minister of the supposedly sovereign country of Iraq wants a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces -- that means us -- from their country. Chris Matthews repeatedly tried, and repeatedly failed, to get the V4F guy to explain how we can propose to stay in Iraq for 100 years if they want us out, like, now. To review:
BAGHDAD, July 8 -- Iraq's national security adviser said Tuesday that his government would not sign an agreement governing the future role of U.S. troops in Iraq unless it includes a timetable for their withdrawal.

The statement was the strongest yet by an Iraqi official regarding the politically controversial negotiations between Iraq and the United States over the U.S. military role in Iraq. A United Nations mandate that sanctions the presence of U.S. troops in the country expires in December.

Speaking to reporters in the holy Shiite city of Najaf, national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie declined to provide specific dates, but said his government is "impatiently waiting" for the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops.

"There should not be any permanent bases in Iraq unless these bases are under Iraqi control," Rubaie said. "We would not accept any memorandum of understanding with [the U.S.] side that has no obvious and specific dates for the foreign troops' withdrawal from Iraq."

On Monday Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued a statement saying his government was inclined to sign a memorandum of understanding with the United States that included a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Rubaie spoke to reporters after briefing Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite religious leader.
That last bit is important, because Iraq is now a Shiite-dominated country, much like ... um ... Iran. And Sistani is it's Ayatollah. Sistani is also the guy who has basically kept Shiites from an all-out uprising against American troops, even staying the hand of young firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. I think his "briefing" with Maliki pretty much makes it a done deal. They want us to go.

Meanwhile, in Washington, President Bush and the neocons are pretending they didn't hear a thing:
Asked about the prime minister’s comments today, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman hedged on whether the administration would follow the Iraqi government’s request, criticizing timelines as “artificial“:

WHITMAN: [I]t is dependent on conditions on the ground. … But timelines tend to be artificial in nature. In a situation where things are as dynamic as they are in Iraq, I would just tell you, it’s usually best to look at these things based on conditions on the ground.

The State Department also hedged on whether the Bush administration would listen to Maliki. In a briefing today, spokesperson Sean McCormack said the remark may have been a transcription error:

McCORMACK: Well, that’s really the part — the point at which I would seek greater clarification in terms of remarks. I’ve seen the same press reports that you have, but I haven’t yet had an opportunity to get greater clarify as to exactly to what Mr. Maliki was referring or if, in fact, that’s an accurate reporting of what he said.


Apparently, it all depends on what the meaning of "withdrawal" is.

True to his strategy of distancing himself from President Bush, John McCain today ... said exactly what the administration is saying:
McCain was silent on the comments Monday. But today, his top foreign policy adviser declined to criticize Maliki or distance McCain from him. And they sought to portray Maliki's comments as consistent with the Republican nominee's long-standing position.

"Senator McCain has always said that conditions on the ground -- including the security threats posed by extremists and terrorists, and the ability of Iraqi forces to meet those threats -- would be key determinants in U.S. force levels," said adviser Randy Scheunemann, who criticized Sen. Barack Obama's "constantly shifting positions" on Iraq.
WaPo's The Swamp and other analysts have pointed out that McCain has had many, many positions on a timetable for withdrawal, and on whether the Iraqi government has some say in the matter. He has been against timetables, slamming Mitt Romney during the campaign and calling even the notion of a timeline "the ultimate act of betrayal" of our troops. But he has also said that he would have all the troops home by the very timetable-esque 2013, and that they would remain in Iraq for 100 years. Poor McCain is becoming the Sybill of foreign policy:

... In speeches, town hall meetings, interviews and campaign commercials, McCain has said a timetable would provide terrorists the knowledge of how long they have to wait until American troops are gone. He has repeatedly said that setting a date for withdrawal would lead to "chaos, genocide and we will be back with greater sacrifice."

His rhetoric has been withering and aimed at both Democrats and Republicans. During the waning days of the GOP primary, he eviscerated former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for a comment that McCain said amounted to support for a timetable.

Romney disputed that, but the damage to his candidacy was unmistakable. Later, McCain turned his fire on Democrats, including Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton, accusing them of endangering Americans by advocating a specific timetable for withdrawal.

"It would be an unconscionable act of betrayal, a stain on our character as a great nation, if we were to walk away from the Iraqi people and consign them to the horrendous violence, ethnic cleansing and possibly genocide that would follow a reckless, irresponsible and premature withdrawal," he said in a California speech.

In that speech, McCain offered his "vision" for 2013, by which time he said most of the troops would be gone from Iraq. That was quickly seen by many observers as a timetable for withdrawal by that date.

But immediately after the speech, McCain disputed the idea that he was setting a firm date for withdrawal of troops from Iraq, telling reporters that he is "promising that we will succeed in Iraq" but not promising that troops will come home if that success has not materialized.

"I'm not putting a date on it. It could be next month. It could be next year," he told reporters on the Straight Talk Express bus. "I said by the end of my first term we will have succeeded in Iraq.... This is what I want to achieve. This is what I believe is achievable."
Four years ago, McCain even said that if the Iraqis asked us to leave, we ought to do just that (during an interview at the Council on Foreign Relations)....

Question: "What would or should we do if, in the post-June 30th period, a so-called sovereign Iraqi government asks us to leave, even if we are unhappy about the security situation there?"

McCain's Answer: "Well, if that scenario evolves than I think it's obvious that we would have to leave because -- if it was an elected government of Iraq, and we've been asked to leave other places in the world. If it were an extremist government then I think we would have other challenges, but I don't see how we could stay when our whole emphasis and policy has been based on turning the Iraqi government over to the Iraqi people."

Is your head spinning yet?

By the way, a quick check of the winger blogs finds no appetite on that side of the aisle to address the issue of the Iraq government's desire for timelines. Their fingers are firmly in their ears, and they've dissolved into an echo-chamber about last week's pretend story about Obama changing his tune on Iraq. I literally could not find a single post on the subject, including on the neocon sites like NRO. Interesting...



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posted by JReid @ 8:06 PM  
What wouldn't Dick do for Big Oil?

The short answer: nothing. From the Washington Post:

Members of Vice President Cheney's staff censored congressional testimony by a top federal official on the health threats posed by global warming, a former Environmental Protection Agency official said today.

In a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, former EPA deputy associate administrator Jason K. Burnett said an official from Cheney's office edited out six pages from the testimony of Julie L. Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last October.

Several media outlets, including The Washington Post, reported at the time that Gerberding had planned to say that "CDC considers climate change a serious public health concern," among other passages.

Boxer said the administration feared that Gerberding's testimony would force it to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels. The White House has opposed mandatory limits and insisted that voluntary measures and increased research are the best way to address the problem.

By the way, the Post went out of its way to point out that the whistleblower is a Democrat. And that's important, because...? The Post did not, however, point out Cheney's ongoing ties to a company with major oil interests, but I guess that's not germain ... By the way, was there anything going on in the White House that Cheney wasn't the boss of?



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posted by JReid @ 7:58 PM  
These guys run the country?
The Bush advance team insults the Italian P.M.:

The White House has apologised to Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi for a briefing describing him as a political "amateur" who is "hated by many".

The "insulting" biography was included in a press kit distributed to reporters travelling with President George W Bush to a meeting of world leaders in Japan.

He was "one of the most controversial leaders" of a country "known for governmental corruption and vice".

Only last month, Mr Bush visited his old ally, calling him a "good friend".

The four-page description of Mr Berlusconi had been taken from the Encyclopedia of World Biography.

It refers to the Italian prime minister as a man "hated by many but respected by all at least for his bella figura (personal style) and the sheer force of his will".

It says Mr Berlusconi was said to be "regarded by many as a political dilettante (amateur) who gained his high office only through use of his considerable influence on the national media".

Acknowledging the error, White House spokesman Tony Fratto issued an apology.

Mamma mia!


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posted by JReid @ 5:10 PM  
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Joint Chiefs Chair: the forgotten war needs more troops
The latest in the "Iraq stole our war" saga, courtesy of the Washington Post:


The nation's top military officer said today that more U.S. troops are needed in Afghanistan to help tamp down an increasingly violent insurgency but does not have sufficient forces to send because of the war in Iraq.

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said insurgent Taliban and extremist forces in Afghanistan have become "a very complex problem" that is tied to the extensive drug trade, a faltering economy and the porous border region with Pakistan. Violence in Afghanistan has increased markedly over recent weeks, and June was the deadliest month for U.S. troops since the war began in 2001, with 28 combat fatalities.

"I am and have been deeply troubled by the increasing violence there," Mullen said, adding that he has made no secret of wanting to send more forces into the country. "The Taliban and their supporters have become more effective in recent weeks. ... We all need to be patient. As we have seen in Iraq, counterinsurgency warfare takes time and commitment."

Mullen said military commanders are looking at the prospects for sending additional troops to Afghanistan in 2009, but conditions in Iraq would have to continue to improve for that to happen. The war in Iraq has occupied as many as 20 military brigades during the troop buildup over the past year. The military is reducing that force to 15 brigades this year.

"I don't have troops I can reach for, brigades I can reach to send into Afghanistan until I have a reduced requirement in Iraq," Mullen said. "Afghanistan remains an economy of force campaign, which by definition means we need more forces there. We have the ability in almost every single case to win from the combat standpoint, but we don't have enough troops there to hold. That is key to the future of being able to succeed in Afghanistan." ...

And as for the neocons' plans for the next war?

Mullen said plainly that he opposes the U.S. or Israel engaging Iran with a military strike.

"My strong preference is to handle all of this diplomatically with the other powers of government, as opposed to any kind of strike occurring," Mullen said. "This is a very unstable part of the world and I don't need it to be more unstable."
Shhh! Don't tell Lieberman and McCain!


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posted by JReid @ 6:08 PM  
The morning read

To the New York Times, where we learn one of the places the Pentagon got their ideas for how to torture prisoners:
The military trainers who came to Guantánamo Bay in December 2002 based an entire interrogation class on a chart showing the effects of “coercive management techniques” for possible use on prisoners, including “sleep deprivation,” “prolonged constraint,” and “exposure.”

What the trainers did not say, and may not have known, was that their chart had been copied verbatim from a 1957 Air Force study of Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to obtain confessions, many of them false, from American prisoners.

The recycled chart is the latest and most vivid evidence of the way Communist interrogation methods that the United States long described as torture became the basis for interrogations both by the military at the base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Some methods were used against a small number of prisoners at Guantánamo before 2005, when Congress banned the use of coercion by the military. The C.I.A. is still authorized by President Bush to use a number of secret “alternative” interrogation methods.

Look for the right wing crazysphere to begin calling for the heads of the reporter and New York Times editor shortly...

The Times also reports on a factual error in the recent Supreme Court ruling on executions for child rape. And who uncovered the mistake? Why, your friendly neighborhood milblogger:
When the Supreme Court ruled last week that the death penalty for raping a child was unconstitutional, the majority noted that a child rapist could face the ultimate penalty in only six states — not in any of the 30 other states that have the death penalty, and not under the jurisdiction of the federal government either.

This inventory of jurisdictions was a central part of the court’s analysis, the foundation for Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s conclusion in his majority opinion that capital punishment for child rape was contrary to the “evolving standards of decency” by which the court judges how the death penalty is applied.

It turns out that Justice Kennedy’s confident assertion about the absence of federal law was wrong.

A military law blog pointed out over the weekend that Congress, in fact, revised the sex crimes section of the Uniform Code of Military Justice in 2006 to add child rape to the military death penalty. The revisions were in the National Defense Authorization Act that year. President Bush signed that bill into law and then, last September, carried the changes forward by issuing Executive Order 13447, which put the provisions into the 2008 edition of the Manual for Courts-Martial.

Anyone in the federal government — or anywhere else, for that matter — who knew about these developments did not tell the court. Not one of the 10 briefs filed in the case, Kennedy v. Louisiana, mentioned it. The Office of the Solicitor General, which represents the federal government in the Supreme Court, did not even file a brief, evidently having concluded that the federal government had no stake in whether Louisiana’s death penalty for child rape was constitutional.

The provision was the subject of a post over the weekend on the blog run by Dwight Sullivan, a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve who now works for the Air Force as a civilian defense lawyer handling death penalty appeals.

Mr. Sullivan was reading the Supreme Court’s decision on a plane and was surprised to see no mention of the military statute. “We’re not talking about ancient history,” he said in an interview. “This happened in 2006.”

His titled his blog post “The Supremes Dis the Military Justice System.”

This morning, CAAFlog takes his bows, as well he should. Good catch!

Over to the Washington Post, where the top story is the deadly upsurge in U.S. combat deaths, with June being the deadliest month for American troops since the war began in late 2001. 

Meanwhile, the Post attempts to do a "gotcha" on Barack Obama, reporting that ... shock of all shocks ...!!! a well-to-do elected official got a great mortgage loan deal! No... NOOOOOOO!!!!!! Memo to the reporterati, most Americans get that borrowers with more money in the bank, better credit, larger down payments, and who are seeking higher loans, get better mortgage deals. The Post reports the Obama discount saved him and his wife a whopping $300 a month. What's that, 1/1000th of the cost of just one out of eight Cindy McCain homes? 


One more: the Post also reports on the double-dilemma faced by some SUV owners:
With $4-a-gallon gas coming between drivers and their very large vehicles, consumers are dropping their once-beloved rides, fast. But not fast enough, it seems. As the price of gas has gone up, the value of sport-utility vehicles has gone down.

In the past six months, the price of a used Chevrolet Suburban has dropped as much as $8,000, said Mike Parker, manager of used-car sales at Lustine Toyota/Dodge in Woodbridge.

For those determined to swap their fuel-thirsty behemoths for gas-sipping subcompacts, the glut increasingly means taking a financial hit. In the worst cases, declining SUV values leave owners owing more money to the bank than their vehicle is worth.

The question they face is: Which is worse for the wallet -- the cost of gas or the money lost selling the vehicle?


The Moonie paper has a swanky new, pimped out website, and their big stories today: a bulldozer vs. bus attack in Jerusalem, and a report that the Clinton campaign has scrubbed all the anti-Obama stuff from Hillary's web-site. No! Really?

Over to the left coast, where the L.A. Times' Greg Miller reports that the U.S. is so confident in the Iraqi Army we're training, we spy on them.
WASHINGTON -- Caught off guard by recent Iraqi military operations, the United States is using spy satellites that ordinarily are trained on adversaries to monitor the movements of the American-backed Iraqi army, current and former U.S. officials say.

The stepped-up surveillance reflects breakdowns in trust and coordination between the two forces. Officials said it was part of an expanded intelligence effort launched after American commanders were surprised by the timing of the Iraqi army's violent push into Basra three months ago.

The use of the satellites puts the United States in the unusual position of employing some of its most sophisticated espionage technology to track an allied army that American forces helped create, continue to advise, and often fight alongside.

The satellites are "imaging military installations that the Iraqi army occupies," said a former U.S. military official, who said slides from the images had been used in recent closed briefings at U.S. facilities in the Middle East. "They're imaging training areas that the Iraqi army utilizes. They're imaging roads that Iraqi armored vehicles and large convoys transit."

Military officials and experts said the move showed concern by U.S. commanders about whether their Iraqi counterparts would follow U.S. guidance or keep their coalition partners fully informed.

"It suggests that we don't have complete confidence in their chain of command, or in their willingness to tell us what they're going to do because they may fear that we may try to get them not to do it," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a website about intelligence and military issues.

And in a story that's sure to get a lot of play on cable news today, the LAT has scored video of staffers at ironically named Martin Luther King Hospital literally ignoring a patient to death.:
Edith Isabel Rodriguez writhed for 45 minutes on the floor of the emergency room lobby at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital as staffers walked past and a janitor mopped around her. Her boyfriend called 911 from a pay phone outside the hospital, pleading futilely for help.
The infamous incident in May 2007 was captured by a security camera, but the tape was actually seen by very few people. Los Angeles County has insisted for more than a year that the tape is "confidential, official information," refusing to release it to Rodriguez's family or to The Times.

This week, however, excerpts of the grainy video were sent anonymously to the newspaper and are available on The Times' website.

The public airing of the tape comes the same week as an eerily similar -- but much clearer -- surveillance tape was released showing a woman collapsing and writhing on the floor of a Brooklyn, N.Y., hospital's waiting room last month. She lay there more than an hour, as patients and security guards looked on.

According to published reports, Esmin Green had been waiting in the psychiatric emergency room of Kings County Hospital for nearly 24 hours when she fell from her seat June 19. An hour and three minutes later, a staffer who had been alerted by someone in the waiting room went up to Green, tapped her with her foot and tried to awaken her.

Finally, the Guardian reports that the opposition in Zimbabwe is in no mood for talks with Mugabe.

And the Guardian reports on a BBC radio execs take on the media's pornographic coverae of Amy Winehouse, which the exec said has contributed to her troubles. Hear hear.

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posted by JReid @ 9:17 AM  
Monday, June 30, 2008
The (non) hunt for Osama bin Laden
The New York Times reports the U.S. military's effort to find Osama bin Laden is tripping all over the Bush administration.

Intelligence reports for more than a year had been streaming in about Osama bin Laden’s terrorism network rebuilding in the Pakistani tribal areas, a problem that had been exacerbated by years of missteps in Washington and the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, sharp policy disagreements, and turf battles between American counterterrorism agencies.

The new plan, outlined in a highly classified Pentagon order, was intended to eliminate some of those battles. And it was meant to pave a smoother path into the tribal areas for American commandos, who for years have bristled at what they see as Washington’s risk-averse attitude toward Special Operations missions inside Pakistan. They also argue that catching Mr. bin Laden will come only by capturing some of his senior lieutenants alive.

But more than six months later, the Special Operations forces are still waiting for the green light. The plan has been held up in Washington by the very disagreements it was meant to eliminate. A senior Defense Department official said there was “mounting frustration” in the Pentagon at the continued delay.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush committed the nation to a “war on terrorism” and made the destruction of Mr. bin Laden’s network the top priority of his presidency. But it is increasingly clear that the Bush administration will leave office with Al Qaeda having successfully relocated its base from Afghanistan to Pakistan’s tribal areas, where it has rebuilt much of its ability to attack from the region and broadcast its messages to militants across the world.

And:

The story of how Al Qaeda, whose name is Arabic for “the base,” has gained a new haven is in part a story of American accommodation to President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, whose advisers played down the terrorist threat. It is also a story of how the White House shifted its sights, beginning in 2002, from counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan to preparations for the war in Iraq.

Just as it had on the day before 9/11, Al Qaeda now has a band of terrorist camps from which to plan and train for attacks against Western targets, including the United States. Officials say the new camps are smaller than the ones the group used prior to 2001. However, despite dozens of American missile strikes in Pakistan since 2002, one retired C.I.A. officer estimated that the makeshift training compounds now have as many as 2,000 local and foreign militants, up from several hundred three years ago.

Heck of a job, Bushie. The piece goes on to describe bitter turf battles between the White House and CIA over how to conduct the hunt for bin Laden, and the supposedly cowboy-led Bush administration's reticence to launch actual raids, which would logically yield the best results. It's almost as if they don't want to a) offend Pervez Musharraf, or worse, b) find Osama bin Laden...




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posted by JReid @ 8:07 AM  
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Sunday best
My four must-reads for today:

Sy Hersh has a new article about the Bush administration's stepped-up covert operations against Iran:

L ate last year, Congress agreed to a request from President Bush to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran, according to current and former military, intelligence, and congressional sources. These operations, for which the President sought up to four hundred million dollars, were described in a Presidential Finding signed by Bush, and are designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations. They also include gathering intelligence about Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program.

Clandestine operations against Iran are not new. United States Special Operations Forces have been conducting cross-border operations from southern Iraq, with Presidential authorization, since last year. These have included seizing members of Al Quds, the commando arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and taking them to Iraq for interrogation, and the pursuit of “high-value targets” in the President’s war on terror, who may be captured or killed. But the scale and the scope of the operations in Iran, which involve the Central Intelligence Agency and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), have now been significantly expanded, according to the current and former officials. Many of these activities are not specified in the new Finding, and some congressional leaders have had serious questions about their nature.

Under federal law, a Presidential Finding, which is highly classified, must be issued when a covert intelligence operation gets under way and, at a minimum, must be made known to Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and the Senate and to the ranking members of their respective intelligence committees—the so-called Gang of Eight. Money for the operation can then be reprogrammed from previous appropriations, as needed, by the relevant congressional committees, which also can be briefed.

The Washington Post takes a fascinating look at the economic up-trends and down-trends for two states; Virginia and West Virginia, and plumbs the ramifications for Democrats and Republicans:

... "Democratic areas are sopping up people with BA degrees; Republican areas are sopping up white people without degrees. Church membership is declining in Democratic areas and increasing in red counties," said Bill Bishop, author of "The Big Sort." "There are all these things telling people they should be around people like themselves. And every four years, this has political consequences."

Overall, the most wealthy are still more likely to vote for GOP candidates, particularly in red states, where it is the rich, not the working class, who are most reliably Republican. The split is more evident in education and vocation, with professionals and voters with post-graduate degrees trending Democratic.

But in general, where economic dynamism is concentrated, Democrats are gaining. Bishop found that Gore and Kerry did much better in the 21 metro areas that produced the most new patents than in less tech-oriented cities. Virginia Tech demographer Robert E. Lang found that Kerry did better in the 20 metro areas most linked to the global economy -- based on business networks, shipping and airport activity -- than in metro areas as a whole.

Thomas Franks' next book could well be called, "What's the matter with West Virginia..." Also, Frank Rich of the New York Times, wonders who really would benefit if a terror attack were to occur before the election, starting with a deconstruction of McCain's top strategist, Charlie "a terror attack would help us out" Black:
In private, he is surely gaming this out further, George Carlin-style. What would be the optimum timing, from the campaign’s perspective, for this terrorist attack — before or after the convention? Would the attack be most useful if it took place in a red state, blue state or swing state? How much would it “help” if the next assassinated foreign leader had a higher name recognition in American households than Benazir Bhutto?
Rich goes on to critique the "terror = M-c-win" strategery of Karl Rove, saying that should the unthinkable occur:
... voters might take a hard look at the antiterrorism warriors of the McCain campaign (and of a potential McCain administration). This is the band of advisers and surrogates that surfaced to attack Mr. Obama two weeks ago for being “naïve” and “delusional” and guilty of a “Sept. 10th mind-set” after he had the gall to agree with the Supreme Court decision on Gitmo detainees. The McCain team’s track record is hardly sterling. It might make America more vulnerable to terrorist attack, not less, were it in power.

Take — please! — the McCain foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann. He was the executive director of the so-called Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, formed in 2002 (with Mr. McCain on board) to gin up the war that diverted American resources from fighting those who attacked us on 9/11 to invading a nation that did not. Thanks to that strategic blunder, a 2008 Qaeda attack could well originate from Pakistan or Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden’s progeny, liberated by our liberation of Iraq, have been regrouping ever since. On Friday the Pentagon declared that the Taliban has once more “coalesced into a resilient insurgency.” Attacks in eastern Afghanistan are up 40 percent from this time last year, according to the American commander of NATO forces in the region.

Another dubious McCain terror expert is the former C.I.A. director James Woolsey. He (like Charles Black) was a cheerleader for Ahmad Chalabi, the exiled Iraqi leader who helped promote phony Iraqi W.M.D. intelligence in 2002 and who is persona non grata to American officials in Iraq today because of his ties to Iran. Mr. Woolsey, who accuses Mr. Obama of harboring “extremely dangerous” views on terrorism, has demonstrated his own expertise by supporting crackpot theories linking Iraq to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and 1993 World Trade Center bombing. On 9/11 and 9/12 he circulated on the three major networks to float the idea that Saddam rather than bin Laden might have ordered the attacks.

Then there is the McCain camp’s star fearmonger, Rudy Giuliani, who has lately taken to railing about Mr. Obama’s supposed failure to learn the lessons of the first twin towers bombing. The lesson America’s Mayor took away from that 1993 attack was to insist that New York City’s emergency command center be located in the World Trade Center. No less an authority than John Lehman, a 9/11 commission member who also serves on the McCain team, has mocked New York’s pre-9/11 emergency plans as “not worthy of the Boy Scouts.”

If there’s another 9/11, it’s hard to argue that this gang could have prevented it.
"The company you keep" will be a theme this year, and not just for Barack Obama... Back at the WaPo, an article that breaks no news, but which states an obvious conclusion that will have major implications for the campaign: a McCain win could push the Supreme Court to the right. Say it isn't so!

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posted by JReid @ 4:39 PM  
Thursday, June 26, 2008
The six parties go MIA on Japan
Besides the fact that North Korea gets to put off detailing its nuclear weapons holdings, today's agreement, which is largely drawing muted cheers, also leaves Japan in the lurch. The Asia Times' Ralph Cossa explained the Japanese dilemma just yesterday:
Intertwined in all the above is the North Korea-Japan normalization process, which both are committed to making "sincere efforts" to address. A dispute over "full accounting" regarding Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s has resulted in a bilateral stalemate.

Pyongyang acknowledged the kidnappings in 2002 but then claimed the issue was "settled" (with the return of five abductees and the announcement that eight others had died). Tokyo disagrees: it refutes both the accounting of how the eight died and believes there are more abductees still not acknowledged or accounted for. More importantly for Washington, Tokyo believes it has a commitment from Bush that the US will not remove North Korea from the terrorist sponsors list until there has been "progress" in resolving this dispute. Suspicions in Japan about Washington's perceived over-eagerness to accommodate Pyongyang continue to make this a sensitive alliance issue.

As a result, the agreement in early June 2008 by Pyongyang to "reinvestigate the abduction issue" is seen as a major step forward (and a diplomatic victory of sorts for Hill), even if it comes with no promise of actually providing more information, much less more abductees.

The mere fact that Pyongyang has reopened discussions constitutes some form of "progress", thus allowing Japan to begrudgingly endorse the removal of Pyongyang from the state sponsors list, provided there really is a "complete and correct declaration".

Of course, the reporter underestimated the desperation of the Bushies to get a deal, and the power of China to force one. Thus, as the New York Times explains today:
Japanese politicians like former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe complained this week that the United States should not remove North Korea from the terrorism list until there is a full accounting of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea in the 1970’s. Doing so would harm relations between Tokyo and Washington, Mr. Abe warned.

On Wednesday, President Bush talked to Japan’s Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda by telephone and assured him that he had not forgotten about the abductees. And in a nod to Japan in his comments Thursday, Mr. Bush said the United States would “never forget” the abductions of Japanese citizens.

On Thursday, Mr. Fukuda, a moderate, rejected criticism inside Japan that Tokyo now had little leverage over Pyongyang because of its removal from the terrorism list. He said working with the United States “will be really necessary to realize the denuclearization and, at the same time, pave the way for solving the abduction issue, which is a major task for our country.”

And Mr. Bush said in his brief presser today:
The other thing I want to assure our friends in Japan is that this process will not leave behind -- leave them behind on the abduction issue. The United States takes the abduction issue very seriously. We expect the North Koreans to solve this issue in a positive way for the Japanese. There's a lot of folks in Japan that are deeply concerned about what took place. I remember meeting a mother of a child who was abducted by the North Koreans right here in the Oval Office. It was a heart-wrenching moment to listen to the mother talk about what it was like to lose her daughter. And it is important for the Japanese people to know that the United States will not abandon our strong ally and friend when it comes to helping resolve that issue.

in other words, the U.S. and Japan both caved on key issues in order to get a deal, which is of questionable value from the standpoint of what's supposedly the most important issue: nuclear weapons. Confused yet?

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posted by JReid @ 12:04 PM  
George Bush explains it all
Deb had my back during Bush's press conference today:
Deb.

Q Mr. President, what do you say to critics who claim that you've accepted a watered-down declaration just to get something done before you leave office? I mean, you said that it doesn't address the uranium enrichment issue, and, of course, it doesn't address what North Korea might have done to help Syria build its reactor.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first, let me review where we have been. In the past, we would provide benefits to the North Koreans in the hope that they would fulfill a vague promise. In other words, that's the way it was before I came into office.

Everybody was concerned about North Korea possessing a nuclear weapon; everybody was concerned about the proliferation activities. And yet the policy in the past was, here are some benefits for you, and we hope that you respond. And, of course, we found they weren't responding. And so our policy has changed, that says, in return for positive action, in return for verifiable steps, we will reduce penalties. And there are plenty of restrictions still on North Korea.

And so my point is this, is that -- we'll see. They said they're going to destroy parts of their plant in Yongbyon. That's a very positive step -- after all, it's the plant that made plutonium. They have said in their declarations, if you read their declarations of September last year, they have said specifically what they will do. And our policy, and the statement today, makes it clear we will hold them to account for their promises. And when they fulfill their promises, more restrictions will be eased. If they don't fulfill their promises, more restrictions will be placed on them. This is action for action. This is we will trust you only to the extent that you fulfill your promises.

So I'm pleased with the progress. I'm under no illusions that this is the first step; this isn't the end of the process, this is the beginning of the process of action for action. And the point I want to make to our fellow citizens is that we have worked hard to put multilateral diplomacy in place, because the United States sitting down with Kim Jong-il didn't work in the past. Sitting alone at the table just didn't work.

Now, as I mentioned in my statement, there's a lot more verification that needs to be done. I mentioned our concerns about enrichment. We expect the North Korean regime to be forthcoming about their programs. We talked about proliferation. We expect them to be forthcoming about their proliferation activities and cease such activities. I mentioned the fact that we're beginning to take inventory, because of our access to the Yongbyon plant, about what they have produced, and we expect them to be forthcoming with what they have produced and the material itself.

Uh-huh... you expect them to be forthcoming... or what?

So far, no comment from the RedStaters.

Previous:

Happy, happy Jong Jong


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posted by JReid @ 11:20 AM  
Happy happy Jong Jong
North Korea could soon exit the Axis of Evil
without having to admit to much of anything

The WaPo's top story has the Bush administration preparing to give North Korea a "get out of the Axis of Evil free" card as the "six party talks" regarding its nuclear programs bear limited fruit. Note the lead country in making the deal: China.
KYOTO, Japan, June 26 -- Nearly seven years after President Bush described it as part of "an axis of evil" and less than two years after it stunned the world by exploding a small nuclear device, Kim Jong Il's Stalinist dictatorship in North Korea appears on the brink of emerging from decades of diplomatic isolation.

North Korea on Thursday handed over to Chinese diplomats here a long-awaited declaration detailing its rogue nuclear program, clearing the way for an increase in international aid and removal of the country from a U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism. The Bush administration has announced that when the declaration is handed over, it will start a process of removing North Korea from the list.

The president is scheduled to speak about North Korea this morning.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei said that following receipt of the document "the United States will implement its obligations to remove the designation of (North Korea) as a state sponsor of terrorism and to terminate applications of the Trading with the Enemy Act."
NoKo's declaration will not even be "complete." The Bush administration is in such a rush to wring at least one success out of the last eight, miserable years, its willing to pull the plug on NOKO's terror designation without actually finding out what nuclear weapons it has, or whether it has transferred nuclear technology to other countries, including Syria. Huh??? The announcement left poor Condi Rice explaining that what the Six Parties will get -- an accounting of how much plutonium North Korea has produced over the years -- will give us "the upper hand" in understanding Kim's nuke program. Whatever helps you sleep at night, mama. As the Asia Times' Donald Kirk points out:
The declaration contains no clues about the caves and redoubts, the laboratories and production facilities where North Korean scientists are believed to have begun to learn how to fabricate a warhead from highly enriched uranium. It does not admit acquisition of centrifuges from the disgraced Pakistan physicist Abdul Qadeer Khan, and it says nothing about acquiring from his network the technology if not the materiel or the training and experience needed to go the final steps to production of a uranium bomb.

Nor does the declaration reveal anything about proliferation of North Korea's nuclear materiel, technology, training and expertise to other countries, notably to Syria, where the Israelis bombed a facility to oblivion in September. Similarly, it maintains silence on North Korea's history of nuclear exchanges with other Middle Eastern countries, notably Iran, which has long boasted of using highly enriched uranium for electrical power while denying any military purposes.

Equally important, the declaration leaves out the question of what North Korea has done with all the plutonium produced for warheads at its nuclear complex at Yongbyon, 100 kilometers north of Pyongyang. There's no word on how many warheads it has there, leaving intelligence analysts to repeat longstanding estimates of anywhere from six to a dozen.

After having insisted repeatedly that North Korea had to "come clean" on its uranium program and proliferation, and also account for all the plutonium warheads, the US decided to forsake that approach in the interests of advancing the protracted process of getting North Korea finally to abandon the entire program.

Which is kind of strange, since the U.S. insisted -- to the point of invasion -- that Saddam Hussein "come clean" and bear his complete soul regarding his nuclear "programs." Bush was not satisfied with Saddam's declaration of how much nuclear material it had, and what it destroyed. But with North Korea, lack of detail is no impediment to making a deal. Meanwhile, we await a similar softening when it comes to Iran, which has repeatedly insisted (with back-up from the IAEA,) that it has no nuclear weapons program. Ironic, ain't it?

But hey, today's momentous announcement won't be all for naught. There will be "good explosion video!" 
(Washington Post) -- North Korea has said it will follow up on the release of the declaration by blowing up, as early as Friday, the cooling tower of its Yongbyon nuclear facility. It has invited some Western media to televise the largely symbolic event at the plant, which U.S. inspectors say has been substantially dismantled over the past year.
Alright!!!

Meanwhile, Steve Clemons is much less cynical than I am, and he makes a good point about the dissymmetry between the U.S. postures on North Korea and Iran:
This is huge news -- and is a giant step in putting US-North Korea relations on a new and more constructive track. This is a success for the Bush administration -- and more importantly for Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian & Pacfic Affairs Christopher Hill who has been a punching bag for former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton who has been spitting on Hill's deal-making for the last year.

There are still a lot of questions ranging from the interesting issue of North Korea cooperation with Syria's alleged nuclear facility that was destroyed by Israel and other issues -- but when President Bush gave Colin Powell the positive nod in the first week of April 2003 to proceed with the Six Party Talks, Bush and Cheney ignored Iran's offer of a structure for normalized US-Iran relations the very same week in 2003.

The contrast in circumstances between where America is today with North Korea and where we are with Iran is vital to note. We 'engaged' North Korea and blew it with Iran.
Clemons also makes the point that the agreement could not have been reached without China, which was the lead negotiator in the talks that finally brought Kim around. And he says there's good news in the deal for Barack Obama:
Barack Obama's inclination towards engagement with problematic leaders around the world now is now buttressed by an experience of the George W. Bush administration.
We await John McCain's statement about how we didn't so much "talk" to North Korea as we invaded them psychologically ... for 100 years... oh my damn...

Meanwhile, an interesting op-ed in the WaPo this morning raises the question of whether the same "pressure principles" -- talking and not threatening to invade -- might apply to the arguably wicked Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Swaminathan S. Anklesaria, an editor at the Economic Times, (and who also writes a terrifically titled column in the Times of India called "Swaminomics," gotta love that... argues there is no moral ground to oust Mugabe, despite his sins.

UPDATE: Bush's North Korea remarks are online.

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posted by JReid @ 9:04 AM  
The morning read
Good morning, North Korea! So what's in the papers?

The Axis of Evil is down to one member this morning, as George W. Bush rushes North Korea out the door (more on that in this post.)

Also in the Post, something for the bitter gun clingers: the Supreme Court will rule on the D.C. gun ban today. (Politico's Ben Smith says the Obama camp is bracing for the ruling, too, and getting their politics in order.)

On the Hill, a GOP Senator holds up housing reform, demanding that Democrats put more money into renewable energy! ... is it just me, or is that kind of counterintuitive... this guy must be in one hell of a tight re-election race...

And the paper covers the White House's attempts to silence the EPA on automobile emissions. The Post is a couple of days behind the New York Times, which on Monday covered the case of the unopened email.

Staying with the Times, when it comes to unity talks, it's just Barack, Hillary and their lawyers...

The Times also covers the Supco, with the editorial board mounted a defense for yesterday's death penalty/child rape ruling, and the news side covering the SupCo's decision to slash the damage awards in the Exxon Valdez case.

On a local level, the Times reports that officials in the Bronx are looking to have every single citizen tested for H.I.V.

The Los Angeles Times reveals more bad news for the GOP from its poll with Bloomberg. According to the poll, 75% of Americans blame President Bush for the lousy economic times:
Nine percent of respondents said the country's economic condition had improved since Bush became president, compared with 75% who said conditions had worsened. Among Republicans, 42% said the country was worse off, while 26% said it was about the same, and 22% thought economic conditions had improved.

Phillip Thies, a registered Republican and clothing-store owner in Cedar, Mich., who was one of those polled, said the president was doing an able job through the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks but "right after that, it was steadily, steadily downhill."

"There has been a lack of leadership and a lack of timeliness of leadership, of not being conscious of the magnitude of the problems," Thies said of Bush in a follow-up interview. "He's always a day late and a dollar short."

And McCain wants to continue Bush's policies? Not smart, John. Not smart.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Free Press has a sort of pathetic story about President Bush and his McCain-sized crowd of 300 fans, who helped him raise a whopping $500,000 for Republican candidates -- a lot of money, to be sure, but rather puny for a sitting president, don't you think?

And leave it to the Miami Herald to come up with a story that tracks the nexxus of anthrax, the National Enquirer, and Elvis.

Across the pond, the Guardian reports on Nelson Mandela's criticism of Mugabe (Bill Clinton is in the U.K. attending Mandela's birthday party...) and Mugabe's push-back. And if you think race relations are sticky here in the U.S., check out this story about a BBC executive's big complaint: "too many black faces on TV." Seriously.

And the Independent doesn't disappoint with three intriguing stories on its website:

First, the U.S. isn't the only place where the defense industry has invaded government. In the UK, the paper tells of the arms dealer who used what amounts to a ringer, to gain access to MPs.

The paper also reports on Palestine's richest man, and his drive to see a state for his people before he dies.

And last, but not least, the perils of affirmative action, UK style.

Okay, before I go, here's a quick round of "questions I personally don't need the answer to, but will have to endure hearing on cable news":

1. Is Bill Clinton still mad at Barack Obama?
2. Why did Don Imus say something inflammatory again?
3. Will the netroots stay mad at Barack? (The answer is either "no," or "yes, but they'll vote for him in huge numbers anyway.")

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posted by JReid @ 8:48 AM  
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Scott McClellan ... Democrat?
The San Francisco Chronicle reports, former Bush spokesguy Scott McClellan is considering jumping off the GOP ship:
Scott McClellan - the longtime supporter of President Bush who served as his White House press secretary for nearly three years - said Tuesday he hasn't ruled out registering as a Democrat or voting Democratic for president this year.

"I haven't made any long-term decisions," McClellan said after an address to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, where he received a warm reception from an audience numbering in the hundreds at the Fairmont Hotel.

Hey, you go where it's friendly. Meanwhile, Scotty reveals a serious lack of love for Dick Cheney:
McClellan pointedly warned both campaigns to be particularly attuned to a crucial decision, one that had a huge impact in his former boss' administration: picking a vice presidential candidate. Vice President Dick Cheney, he said, "had a terribly negative influence over this president ... and was shown too much deference" on major decisions, including Iraq. ...

... McClellan who is clear that he has no great admiration for Cheney, joked to the audience that his national book tour has given him some ideas for book titles Cheney might consider: "The Lies I Told," or "I Upped Halliburton's Income - So Up Yours."
He also said that during his two terms, Cheney has increased the power of the vice presidency, which was "one of the vice president's pet projects."

McClellan painted a painful portrait of Bush, whom it's clear he still has affection for, as a man surrounded by sharks (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Condi Rice,) who would have gone into Iraq even knowing what we all know now. The president, he thinks, would not, if he could have foreseen the casualties and calamities (somehow, given his animal- and pledge-torturing history, I doubt that, but Scott's entitled to his affections...)

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posted by JReid @ 9:35 AM  
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Hanging up on the telcos
The FISA/telecom immunity debate going on right now in the U.S. Senate is in many ways a classic Democrat-Republican argument. On one side, you have a vigorous defense of corporations (in this case, the phone companies who complied with the Bush administration's requests to pass along the private communications of Americans) by Republicans, and a repudiation of "trial lawyers" who would damage their businesses and ruin their profits with "excessive lawsuits." On the other, Democrats defend the trial system, arguing that people's right to sue should be preserved. Of course, there's more to it than that. As Sen. Chris Dodd is very effectively arguing right now, there is also the issue of standing up to the Bush administration (at last,) and "standing up for the rule of law," and for the premise that no man, no president, and no company is above it, versus the continuing Republican push to emasculate the courts,and so to make the executive branch practically untouchable, even if it breaks the law (so long as the executive is a Republican.) But underlying the arguments, are those age-old tensions between the two parties and two of their leading interest groups: corporations for the GOP and attorneys for the Dems.

That said, Sen. Barack Obama could, in my opinion, vigorously oppose, even fillibuster, the FISA bill so long as it contains immunity for the telecoms, with very little downside. The most obvious downside would be that right wing groups would accuse him of caving to Moveon.org, which apparently doesn't understand the concept of letting the candidate control the message (hence, that baby ad, and the present FISA demands.) Obama could make a very strong argument beyond the civil liberties issues, which sadly, many Americans are willing to look past in the quest for security. He could argue, very simply, that "in securing America, the Congress of the United States should not be in the business of protecting big business from ordinary Americans."

If accused of trying to weaken national security by taking away the incentive for "good, patriotic corporations" to help the government monitor "the terrorists," he could simply reply, "I don't think the Republican Party, which misdirected us into a war with Iraq, and which can't seem to locate Osama bin Laden even with wiretaps on every phone and email account in America and abroad, is in a position to lecture me."

If accused again, he could simply state that "besides, my goal is to do what's right for good, patriotic Americans. Republicans have been helping out the corporatioons long enough."

Or as Chris Dodd just put it, "the world is not going to collapse, the sky is not gonna fall, if a few companies have to explain to their customers why they vacuumed up their personal information."

Dodd could have been one hell of a communications guy.

UPDATE: Chris Dodd may have just made some news. It sounded like he just said he would fillibuster the FISA bill tomorrow, or prevent other legislation, on housing, from coming to the floor.

If and when the vote happens, you've got to wonder whether close proximity to the telecom industry will affect individual Senators' votes. And guess who is, by far, the leading recipient of telecom industry money? According to OpenSecrets.org, it's John McCain. (Logically, since they were the presidential front runners, McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama form the top three, with Obama lagging well behind the other two...) Dodd is showing some courage tonight, given that he also makes the top 20 (rounding it out at number 20.)

Top 20 Senators (donatons from telephone utilities)
Rank Candidate Amount

1 McCain, John (R) $332,795
2 Clinton, Hillary (D) $223,092
3 Obama, Barack (D) $185,898
4 Rockefeller, Jay (D-WV) $48,000
5 Stevens, Ted (R-AK) $33,450
6 Graham, Lindsey (R-SC) $31,100
7 Pryor, Mark (D-AR) $29,950
8 Collins, Susan M (R-ME) $29,850
9 Baucus, Max (D-MT) $28,000
10 Lautenberg, Frank R (D-NJ) $23,800
11 Sununu, John E (R-NH) $22,600
12 Durbin, Dick (D-IL) $20,850
13 McConnell, Mitch (R-KY) $18,750
14 Wicker, Roger (R-MS) $18,000
15 Smith, Gordon H (R-OR) $16,750
16 Brownback, Sam (R-KS) $14,200
17 Landrieu, Mary L (D-LA) $13,750
18 Roberts, Pat (R-KS) $13,250
18 Dorgan, Byron L (D-ND) $13,250
20 Dodd, Christopher J (D-CT) $13,000

That's important information, since the stench of campaign cash is already hanging over Democrats in the House.







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posted by JReid @ 9:38 PM  
Thursday, June 19, 2008
What Fourth Amendment?
Why did the Democrats capitulate on FISA? Was it cowardice? Election year politics? Or as Keith Olberman puts it, not FISA but CYSA?

Back in 2001, with 9/11 fresh in the minds of Americans, many Congressional Democrats decided it was better to switch than to fight the administration of George W. Bush. Karl Rove did his job, frightening both the country and the Congress into handing over to Mr. Bush extraordinary powers the likes of which this country hasn't seen since it divorced George III. 

Now, seven years later, Democrats control the Congress, even if barely in the Senate. Bush is a lame duck and by almost everyone's calculation, a failure as president. One of his many illegal acts and outrages upon the Constitution -- the warrantless wiretapping of Americans -- comes before the Congress, mainly because they choose to bring it t the floor, and rather than allow the Constitution to prevail, House Democrats cave to a president they no longer have to fear, by retroactively legalizing the wiretapping, and granting immunity to the telecom companies who participated, illegally, in it.
The U.S. House of Representatives has approved legislation that would continue a controversial surveillance program at the U.S. National Security Agency with limited court oversight, while likely ending lawsuits against telecommunications carriers that participated in the program.

The House on Friday voted 293 to 129 to approve a bill that was a compromise between congressional Democrats and U.S. President George Bush.

The bill would extend the NSA surveillance of phone calls and e-mail messages going in and out of the U.S., while giving the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) an opportunity to review Bush administration requests for wide-ranging surveillance powers. The bill, called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act, allows the NSA to receive blanket surveillance orders covering multiple suspects of terrorism and other crimes.

The compromise also sends the dozens of outstanding lawsuits against telecom carriers for their alleged participation in the NSA program to a district court, which will review whether they should be dismissed. The lawsuits would be thrown out if telecom companies can show that the U.S. government issued them orders for the surveillance that were presented as lawful.

U.S. President George Bush has pushed for the legislation, saying it's needed to protect U.S. residents from terrorism. For nearly a year, the Bush administration has called on Congress to pass long-term changes to the nation's surveillance laws. Congress passed temporary surveillance legislation, called the Protect America Act, in August 2007, but its provisions expired in February.

February ... and what was the urgency of passing hurry-up protection for the administration today? Nancy Pelosi pushed for this bill -- the same Nancy Pelosi who was "read into" the spying program, along with other intelligence chairs and ranking members, including Senator Diane Feinstein. (Pelosi's number two, Steny Hoyer, crafted the compromise bill, and is now being derided as "the new Joe Lieberman.") Could it be that Pelosi and other Dems are exercising the art of self protection?

Senator Russ Feingold called today's vote what it is:
“The proposed FISA deal is not a compromise; it is a capitulation. The House and Senate should not be taking up this bill, which effectively guarantees immunity for telecom companies alleged to have participated in the President’s illegal program, and which fails to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans at home. Allowing courts to review the question of immunity is meaningless when the same legislation essentially requires the court to grant immunity. And under this bill, the government can still sweep up and keep the international communications of innocent Americans in the U.S. with no connection to suspected terrorists, with very few safeguards to protect against abuse of this power. Instead of cutting bad deals on both FISA and funding for the war in Iraq, Democrats should be standing up to the flawed and dangerous policies of this administration.”


Let's hope he's ready with a Senate fillibuster.

The big loser today was the Fourth Amendment, which is essentially gone now. The winners: the telcos:
"Congress seems to be on the verge of negotiating away our basic constitutional protections," Caroline Fredrickson, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington, D.C., legislative office, said during a press conference on Wednesday.

The compromise will give Bush "pretty much unfettered authority to engage in surveillance of Americans," Fredrickson added. "The bill still allows mass, untargeted surveillance of Americans by permitting the government to gather all calls and e-mails coming into and out of the country."

The compromise provides little additional oversight of the surveillance program, Fredrickson said. If there's any delay in the FISA court's approval of a government surveillance request, the NSA can move ahead of surveillance without court oversight, she said.

There are 47 outstanding lawsuits related to the surveillance program and 35 lawsuits with telecoms including AT&T, Verizon Communications and Sprint Nextel as defendants, Kevin Bankston, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said at the same press conference.

"Congress appears poised to needlessly toss the rule of law out the window and deprive millions of ordinary Americans their day in court," said Bankston, one of the lead attorneys in a class-action lawsuit against AT&T for its alleged participation in the NSA program.

You can find out how your member of Congress voted by clicking here.
On "Elevating the Dialogue" this morning, Congressman Alcee Hastings (FL) told us that he was leaning toward voting yes because Barack Obama was for the bill, and House Democrats "needed to give him some political cover." I'm not sure that's true. Politico reported today that Harry Reid is looking to strip the telecom immunity out of the bill to give cover to Senators who, like Obama, could support the FISA updates, but "loathe the telecom immunity." That's a bit vague, and its not at all clear that Republicans wouldn't stand squarely in the way of separating the bill in two.

While we were on the air, Hastings voted for the bill, which is unfortunate in my opinion. To their credit, Kendrick Meek, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Robert Wexler voted no. Maybe Wexler can convince Obama to reject it when it reaches the Senate.


Democrats including Hoyer sought to put the best spin on the vote today, with Hoyer calling it the best bill they could get. What an endorsement. No wonder Americans' confidence in Congress is at an all-time low... Best quote of the day, courtesy of Politico:
“Let me remind you, that July 4, 1776 was pre 9/11,” said Rep Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) who indicated he would not support the bill because it infringed on Americans civil liberties.

“Heaven help us if those values were shucked aside in fear.”

Amen.


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posted by JReid @ 3:13 PM  
The Big Oil payoff continues
Four oil giants are set to sign no-bid contracts with the Iraqi government, returning them to Iraq's oil ... I mean to the country ... after a 36 year absence.
Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company — along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq’s Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq’s largest fields, according to ministry officials, oil company officials and an American diplomat.

The deals, expected to be announced on June 30, will lay the foundation for the first commercial work for the major companies in Iraq since the American invasion, and open a new and potentially lucrative country for their operations.

The no-bid contracts are unusual for the industry, and the offers prevailed over others by more than 40 companies, including companies in Russia, China and India. The contracts, which would run for one to two years and are relatively small by industry standards, would nonetheless give the companies an advantage in bidding on future contracts in a country that many experts consider to be the best hope for a large-scale increase in oil production.

There was suspicion among many in the Arab world and among parts of the American public that the United States had gone to war in Iraq precisely to secure the oil wealth these contracts seek to extract. The Bush administration has said that the war was necessary to combat terrorism. It is not clear what role the United States played in awarding the contracts; there are still American advisers to Iraq’s Oil Ministry.

Sensitive to the appearance that they were profiting from the war and already under pressure because of record high oil prices, senior officials of two of the companies, speaking only on the condition that they not be identified, said they were helping Iraq rebuild its decrepit oil industry.

For an industry being frozen out of new ventures in the world’s dominant oil-producing countries, from Russia to Venezuela, Iraq offers a rare and prized opportunity.

Indeed.

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posted by JReid @ 9:17 AM  
Monday, June 16, 2008
Right wing hysterics overlook the obvious
Newt Gingrich, the gang at Fox News and the neoconservative wack-jobs who brought us the Iraq war are still going bat-crap crazy over the Supreme Courts "welcome back, habeas corpus" ruling. They're spewing irrationalities every where you turn, and even suggesting that Bush simply ignore the ruling. Yeah. That's not unconstitutional... Even poor old John McCain is doing his part, railing against the Court as only a man who must cast a bewitching spell over the hard right of his own party in order to secure their cooperation in November can. Of course, there's always more to the story, which CBS News' Andrew Cohen spells out nicely:
Following the last Supreme Court ruling on this topic, which also struck down stubborn Administration detainee policies, the Senator (a Vietnam torture victim himself) invested no small amount of his own treasured (and well-earned) historical capital to try to broker a deal on the detainees.

And, in late 2006, he did.

It’s called the Military Commissions Act. It was a terrible idea from the very beginning, and it was one of two federal statutes undercut by the Justices last Thursday. It’s no wonder the nominee is taking the defeat personally.

After first insisting that federal law clearly and unambiguously outlaw “torture,” McCain suddenly caved to White House pressure on the MCA, allowing the Administration to insert into the law a clause that effectively allows (and, indeed, legally buttresses the efforts of) the executive branch to implement torture as a means of interrogation.

Without McCain’s pander, there would have been no bad law for the Court to strike down last week. Without McCain’s grandiloquent appeal to Democrats and moderates during that lame-duck session, there quite possibly might have been a better law that just might have passed its constitutional test this term.

McCain’s sell-out on the torture language is not the reason the Justices declared the MCA unconstitutional. It is not the reason why the detainees now have more access to federal courts than they did before. But it is emblematic of the larger and much more destructive, seven-year-long sell-out of the legislative branch in the legal fight against terrorism.

And that emblem, thanks to the Supreme Court, now has John McCain’s face on it just in time for the run-up to the general election.
Nice work, John.

I suppose it wouldn't move this crowd to find out that some of the people being detained indefinitely by the U.S. aren't actually terrorists...
GARDEZ, Afghanistan — The militants crept up behind Mohammed Akhtiar as he squatted at the spigot to wash his hands before evening prayers at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

They shouted "Allahu Akbar" — God is great — as one of them hefted a metal mop squeezer into the air, slammed it into Akhtiar's head and sent thick streams of blood running down his face.

Akhtiar was among the more than 770 terrorism suspects imprisoned at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. They are the men the Bush administration described as "the worst of the worst."

But Akhtiar was no terrorist. American troops had dragged him out of his Afghanistan home in 2003 and held him in Guantanamo for three years in the belief that he was an insurgent involved in rocket attacks on U.S. forces. The Islamic radicals in Guantanamo's Camp Four who hissed "infidel" and spat at Akhtiar, however, knew something his captors didn't: The U.S. government had the wrong guy.

"He was not an enemy of the government, he was a friend of the government," a senior Afghan intelligence officer told McClatchy. Akhtiar was imprisoned at Guantanamo on the basis of false information that local anti-government insurgents fed to U.S. troops, he said.

An eight-month McClatchy investigation in 11 countries on three continents has found that Akhtiar was one of dozens of men — and, according to several officials, perhaps hundreds — whom the U.S. has wrongfully imprisoned in Afghanistan, Cuba and elsewhere on the basis of flimsy or fabricated evidence, old personal scores or bounty payments.

McClatchy interviewed 66 released detainees, more than a dozen local officials — primarily in Afghanistan — and U.S. officials with intimate knowledge of the detention program. The investigation also reviewed thousands of pages of U.S. military tribunal documents and other records.

This unprecedented compilation shows that most of the 66 were low-level Taliban grunts, innocent Afghan villagers or ordinary criminals. At least seven had been working for the U.S.-backed Afghan government and had no ties to militants, according to Afghan local officials. In effect, many of the detainees posed no danger to the United States or its allies.

The investigation also found that despite the uncertainty about whom they were holding, U.S. soldiers beat and abused many prisoners.

Prisoner mistreatment became a regular feature in cellblocks and interrogation rooms at Bagram and Kandahar air bases, the two main way stations in Afghanistan en route to Guantanamo.

While he was held at Afghanistan's Bagram Air Base, Akhtiar said, "When I had a dispute with the interrogator, when I asked, 'What is my crime?' the soldiers who took me back to my cell would throw me down the stairs."

The McClatchy reporting also documented how U.S. detention policies fueled support for extremist Islamist groups. For some detainees who went home far more militant than when they arrived, Guantanamo became a school for jihad, or Islamic holy war.
Hm. ... and as for these frightening "terrorists" who are now going to take out an American city (from behind those cage bars in Cuba):

The McClatchy investigation found that top Bush administration officials knew within months of opening the Guantanamo detention center that many of the prisoners there weren't "the worst of the worst." From the moment that Guantanamo opened in early 2002, former Secretary of the Army Thomas White said, it was obvious that at least a third of the population didn't belong there.

Of the 66 detainees whom McClatchy interviewed, the evidence indicates that 34 of them, about 52 percent, had connections with militant groups or activities. At least 23 of those 34, however, were Taliban foot soldiers, conscripts, low-level volunteers or adventure-seekers who knew nothing about global terrorism.

Only seven of the 66 were in positions to have had any ties to al Qaida's leadership, and it isn't clear that any of them knew any terrorists of consequence.

If the former detainees whom McClatchy interviewed are any indication — and several former high-ranking U.S. administration and defense officials said in interviews that they are — most of the prisoners at Guantanamo weren't terrorist masterminds but men who were of no intelligence value in the war on terrorism.

Feeling safe yet? The truly sad thing about this whole sorry business is that few wingers are likely to care whether the people we're holding at Gitmo, including the children, are terrorists or not. For many on the right, it's enough that they are Muslims, and their president (so long as he is a Republican) should, in the estimation of many of the craziest right wingers (and their talk radio listening robots) be able to grab any Muslim, anywhere, anytime, and hold them forever, "as long as the war on terror goes on." And by the way, it will always "go on."

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posted by JReid @ 4:48 PM  
Friday, June 13, 2008
A blow against tyranny
The WaPo's Dan Froomkin quotes from Justice Kennedy's opinion to declare the SUPCO ruling "a blow against tyranny":
In yesterday's landmark Supreme Court decision that President Bush cannot deny prisoners at Guantanamo Bay the right to challenge their detentions in federal court, there's a key passage about protecting people from despotism.

The passage comes as Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is relating the history and origins of the great writ of habeas corpus. Kennedy quotes from Alexander Hamilton's Federalist No. 84, which in turn quotes English jurist William Blackstone: "[T]he practice of arbitrary imprisonments, have been, in all ages, the favorite and most formidable instruments of tyranny. The observations of the judicious Blackstone . . . are well worthy of recital: 'To bereave a man of life. . . or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole nation; but confinement of the person, by secretly hurrying him to jail, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten, is a less public, a less striking, and therefore a more dangerous engine of arbitrary government.'"
Amen.

The majority took aim at the Bushies' argument that the Constitution stops at the water's edge:
The Government's sovereignty-based test raises troubling separation-of-powers concerns, which are illustrated by Guantanamo's political history. Although the United States has maintained complete and uninterrupted control of Guantanamo for over 100 years, the Government's view is that the Constitution has no effect there, at least as to noncitizens, because the United States disclaimed formal sovereignty in its 1903 lease with Cuba. The Nation's basic charter cannot be contracted away like this. The Constitution grants Congress and the President the power to acquire, dispose of, and govern territory, not the power to decide when and where its terms apply. To hold that the political branches may switch the Constitution on or off at will would lead to a regime in which they, not this Court, say "what the law is." Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177. These concerns have particular bearing upon the Suspension Clause question here, for the habeas writ is itself an indispensable mechanism for monitoring the separation of powers
Double amen.

One more clip from the ruling, in which Kennedy and the other four members of the majority lay out the glaring deficiencies in the flimsy rules Congress set up to supposedly give the detainees some semblance of judicial review:
It is uncontroversial, however, that the habeas privilege entitles the prisoner to a meaningful opportunity to demonstrate that he is being held pursuant to "the erroneous application or interpretation" of relevant law, INS v. St. Cyr, 533 U. S. 289, 302, and the habeas court must have the power to order the conditional release of an individual unlawfully detained. But more may be required depending on the circumstances. Petitioners identify what they see as myriad deficiencies in the CSRTs, the most relevant being the constraints upon the detainee's ability to rebut the factual basis for the Government's assertion that he is an enemy combatant. At the CSRT stage the detainee has limited means to find or present evidence to challenge the Government's case, does not have the assistance of counsel, and may not be aware of the most critical allegations that the Government relied upon to order his detention. His opportunity to confront witnesses is likely to be more theoretical than real, given that there are no limits on the admission of hearsay. The Court therefore agrees with petitioners that there is considerable risk of error in the tribunal's findings of fact. And given that the consequence of error may be detention for the duration of hostilities that may last a generation or more, the risk is too significant to ignore. Accordingly, for the habeas writ, or its substitute, to function as an effective and meaningful remedy in this context, the court conducting the collateral proceeding must have some ability to correct any errors, to assess the sufficiency of the Government's evidence, and to admit and consider relevant exculpatory evidence that was not introduced during the earlier proceeding.
Amen squared. So what's so controversial about the ruling? For the right, it's the fact that finally, someone, in this case, five justices, have stood up and said that the president of the United States should not have godlike power. His actions must be subject to review. He cannot, like George III, simply spirit people off into the night and hold them indefinitely, giving the detained no recourse, no chance to ask "why are you holding me?" and to say "I'm not guilty." And, equally important, the court has said that the Congress cannot grant the president godlike power, even if in its political cowardice, it is determined to do so.

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posted by JReid @ 3:46 PM  
You can't do that: Keeping Iraq forever edition
Iraqi lawmakers "just say no" to a Bush administration-crafted "security agreement" that meant a permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq.
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posted by JReid @ 3:27 PM  
Habeas hysteria
"The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times." -- Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in Boumediene v. Bush

The authoritarian right has joined Crazy Tony Scalia in going absolutely ape-crap crazy over the Supreme Court's ruling yesterday granting the right of habeas corpus, which had been stripped from the constitution by our current presidential administration and his lackeys in the 109th Congress, to detainees held on the de facto U.S. soil called Guantanamo Bay. Scotusblog publishes one rollicking dissent today from a guy from a right-wing ... er ... "free market"... outfit called the Washington Legal Foundation.

Scalia got the ball rolling in his shrieky dissent yesterday, adopting almost word for word, the Fox News/right wing talk show formulation that "Americans will die" if our eternal detainees are allowed to challenge their endless detention in court.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board weighs in with its hysterical reaction today, directing their ire at Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Ronald Reagan appointee wrote the decision in the case of Boumediene v. Bush:
Justice Kennedy's opinion is remarkable in its sweeping disregard for the decisions of both political branches. In a pair of 2006 laws – the Detainee Treatment Act and the Military Commissions Act – Congress and the President had worked out painstaking and good-faith rules for handling enemy combatants during wartime. These rules came in response to previous Supreme Court decisions demanding such procedural care, and they are the most extensive ever granted to prisoners of war.

Yet as Justice Antonin Scalia notes in dissent, "Turns out" the same Justices "were just kidding." Mr. Kennedy now deems those efforts inadequate, based on only the most cursory analysis. As Chief Justice John Roberts makes clear in his dissent, the majority seems to dislike these procedures merely because a judge did not sanctify them. In their place, Justice Kennedy decrees that district court judges should derive their own ad hoc standards for judging habeas petitions. Make it up as you go!

Justice Kennedy declines even to consider what those standards should be, or how they would protect national security over classified information or the sources and methods that led to the detentions. Eventually, as the lower courts work their will amid endless litigation, perhaps President Kennedy will vouchsafe more details in some future case. In the meantime, the likelihood grows that our soldiers will prematurely release combatants who will kill more Americans.
I'm quivering just thinking about it.

To arrive at their predictions of doom, the Journal board cites the cases of German soldiers tried (and executed) by military commissions shortly after World War II, and, wait for it, the detention of 400,000 Japanese Americans who were interred in their own country, by their own country, during that conflict. Correct me if I'm wrong, but citing one of this country's most shameful moments as justification for deleting habeas from the Constitution -- a right that goes back to the freaking Magna Carta, and giving one man -- the president -- the power to detain at will, anyone, anywhere, for as long as he sees fit (and to torture them, at that,) doesn't strike me as very persuasive.

The Boumediene case itself is troubling, involving Lakhdar Boumediene, a man detained by U.S. troops in Bosnia way back in 2002. He has been held in Gitmo ever since -- not charged with a crime, just held in extralegal limbo at the president's discretion. His case was filed along with those of 11 other men, also in limbo in America's gulag by the sea. In December, the BBC reported of Boumediene:
Lakhdar Boumediene, now 41, travelled to Bosnia with five other Algerian men during the civil war in the 1990s, and may have fought with Bosnian forces against the Serbs.

The six stayed in Bosnia, married Bosnian women, were granted citizenship and took jobs working with orphans for various Muslim charities.

In October 2001, the US embassy in Sarajevo asked the Bosnian government to arrest them because of a suspicion they had been involved in a plot to bomb the embassy.

The six men were duly arrested. But after a three-month investigation, in which the Bosnian police searched their apartments, their computers and their documents, there was - according to a report by the New-York-based Center for Constitutional Rights - still no evidence to justify the arrests.

Bosnia's Supreme Court ordered their release, and the Bosnian Human Rights Chamber ruled they had the right to remain in the country and were not to be deported.

However, on the night of 17 January 2002, after they were freed from Bosnian custody, they were seized and rendered to Guantanamo.

Since arriving in Guantanamo, the men have faced repeated allegations of links to al-Qaeda - but the embassy plot has never been mentioned.

It was alleged in a tribunal hearing that an unidentified source had said Mr Boumediene "was known to be one of the closest associates of an al-Qaeda member in Europe".

The men have persistently denied the allegations.

Their lawyers say the source of the bomb-plot allegations was the embittered former brother-in-law of one of the men, who ran a smear campaign against him.

The UN special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Novak, has said: "It's implausible to say that they are enemy combatants.

"They were fighters during the Bosnian war, but that ended in 1995.

"They may be radical Islamists, but they have definitely not committed any crime."

Families of the Algerians seized in Bosnia protest in Sarajevo
Families of the Algerians seized in Bosnia have protested in Sarajevo
According to the Washington Post, they were formally exonerated by Bosnian prosecutors in 2004.

The Journal's hysteria board fails to mention any of this, including the exoneration, and the absolute lack of evidence that Mr. Boumediene is an al-Qaida terrorist. And yet:
In March 2005, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice responded to a request for their release from the Bosnian prime minister by saying it was not possible because "they still possess important intelligence data".

All six men have said they have been treated brutally in Guantanamo, subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques" involving prolonged isolation, forced nudity and sleep deprivation.
To what purpose? Are we now to believe that anyone who is Muslim, who has participated in any armed conflict, even the Bosnian conflict in which we fought essentially ON HIS SIDE, is an al-Qaida terrorist or associate? And on that basis, we can detain that person indefinitely, without charges, and torture him?

This, apparently, is the America that the right -- more pointedly, the authoritarian right -- desires. It's an America that is remarkably similar to the Iraq of Saddam Hussein, or the old Soviet Union.

The Journal goes on to warn that the SUPCO ruling could lead to the release of people like Mr. Boumediene, who will then turn around and kill Americans. Well let's see ... rendered thousands of miles from home and locked in a cage ... tortured ... interrogated repeatedly about things he says he knows nothing about ... tortured ... held incommunicado without so much as a hearing to explain WHY he's being held ... tortured ... yep. He probably IS likely to want to kill Americans now.

Does the ruling make life complicated for the Bushies? You bet it does:

The court rejected Bush administration arguments that Guantánamo's location put it outside U.S. constitutional protections.

"The United States, by virtue of its complete jurisdiction and control over the base, maintains de facto sovereignty over this territory," Kennedy noted.

Kennedy and the four other justices further concluded that the detainees deserved full habeas corpus access to federal courts, despite congressional efforts to curtail it.

In a sense, the court told the administration that its time had run out. For more than four years, government lawyers have struggled to satisfy the court that some sort of process was in place in Guantánamo to separate those detainees who may pose a threat to the United States from those who were innocently caught up in the dragnet cast after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Thursday marked the third time the justices have rejected those efforts as being insufficient. And this time, there won't be a chance for another shot. It was clear from the tenor of the decision that the justices' patience had been exhausted. "Some of these petitioners have been in custody for six years with no definitive judicial determination as to the legality of their detention," Kennedy wrote.

The bulk of the detainees remaining at Guantánamo — about 260 — will have their cases heard individually by U.S. District Court judges in Washington in what's known as a habeas corpus proceeding. In these cases, the government will have the burden of showing why a prisoner should continue to be held without charges. "We think it's unlikely in most of the cases the government will be able to do that," Ratner said.

Compounding the problem will be that any evidence obtained through torture or coercion at Guantánamo is likely to be inadmissible in federal court. The inmate will also have the opportunity to offer exculpatory evidence.

The judge can then order his continued detention without a charge being filed against him; that the government charge the detainee or release him; or that he be released and transferred to another country.

The judge will also have the authority to block a transfer of a prisoner by the Pentagon on the grounds that he may be re-incarcerated or tortured if shipped to his home country, and perhaps order him transferred to a different country.

One of the next big questions — or embarrassments — could focus on what happens to detainees who win their freedom at habeas corpus hearings but have no place to go.

"The brutally frank answer is that we're stuck," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said recently. "And we're stuck in several ways: Either their home government won't accept them or we are concerned that the home government will let them loose once we return them home."

And yet, the United States, at least the America that existed before 9/11 gave the neocons a green light to build a fascist paradise for themselves and their corporate friends where we used to have a constitutional government, doesn't render, indefinitely hold, and torture people. What the Journal, right wing talk hosts and bloggers, and the rest of the right wing nut-jobs, who are driven by fear, and plied by greed, want, is so profoundly un-American, that these people should not, to coin a phrase, be heard in polite company. The ruling doesn't mean that anyone will be released immediately, but if any are, whatever happens next is squarely the fault of the Bush administration, and the Congress that let them run wild for so long.

Kudos to Anthony Kennedy and the other four members of the sane wing of the Court -- which should from now on be known as the American wing.

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posted by JReid @ 2:38 PM  
Thursday, June 12, 2008
SUPCO upholds pre-Bush American values
Score one for 232 years of pre-Bush American values. By a 5-4 margin, the Supreme Court rules that George Bush's black site detainees can challenge their indefinite detention in U.S. courts:
In its third rebuke of the Bush administration's treatment of prisoners, the court ruled 5-4 that the government is violating the rights of prisoners being held indefinitely and without charges at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. The court's liberal justices were in the majority.
This is the third straight court loss for the Bushies, and their Soviet detention tactics.
It was not immediately clear whether this ruling, unlike the first two, would lead to prompt hearings for the detainees, some of whom have been held more than 6 years. Roughly 270 men remain at the island prison, classified as enemy combatants and held on suspicion of terrorism or links to al-Qaida and the Taliban. ...

...The court said not only that the detainees have rights under the Constitution, but that the system the administration has put in place to classify them as enemy combatants and review those decisions is inadequate.

The administration had argued first that the detainees have no rights. But it also contended that the classification and review process was a sufficient substitute for the civilian court hearings that the detainees seek.
Just try and guess what sides the justices were on. Go on, I double dare ya...
In dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts criticized his colleagues for striking down what he called "the most generous set of procedural protections ever afforded aliens detained by this country as enemy combatants."

Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas also dissented.

Scalia said the nation is "at war with radical Islamists" and that the court's decision "will make the war harder on us. It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed."

Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter and John Paul Stevens joined Kennedy to form the majority.

Meanwhile, among the justices who don't sound like fill-in hosts for Sean Hannity:

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said, “The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times.” I
Keep in mind, John McCain has promised to replicate Scalia, Alito and Roberts, perhaps four times over, if he becomes president... If that happens, we will have left George Bush's post-constitutional age, and entered the Soviet Union full stop, circa 1973.

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posted by JReid @ 11:05 AM  
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Mr. Kucinich's opus
As Ed said, Dennis Kucinich read his 35 Articles of Impeachment into the Congressional record
yesterday evening, and now awaits a brave majority of House members to come forward so that hearings on the Bush administration's possible high crimes and misdemeanors can begin. Bob Wexler wants hearings, but few other members, including Democrats, seem eager to rehash the administration's crimes, none of which could have been committed without the obsequious obeisance of Congress...

Impeachment is the sole remedy provided by the Constitution to check the presidency when it gets out of control. For Democrats, including Mother Nancy, to take it off the table without digging into the facts is unpardonable.

The articles (to be found here) are as follows:
ARTICLE I.--CREATING A SECRET PROPAGANDA CAMPAIGN TO MANUFACTURE A FALSE CASE...
Page: H5089
ARTICLE II.--FALSELY, SYSTEMATICALLY, AND WITH CRIMINAL INTENT CONFLATING THE...
Page: H5090
ARTICLE III.--MISLEADING THE AMERICAN PEOPLE AND MEMBERS OF CONGRESS TO BELIEVE...
Page: H5091
ARTICLE IV.--MISLEADING THE AMERICAN PEOPLE AND MEMBERS OF CONGRESS TO BELIEVE...
Page: H5092
ARTICLE V.--ILLEGALLY MISSPENDING FUNDS TO SECRETLY BEGIN A WAR OF AGGRESSION
ARTICLE VI.--INVADING IRAQ IN VIOLATION OF THE REQUIREMENTS OF H.J. RES. 114.
Page: H5093
(A) Information provided with Article I, II, III, IV and V.
ARTICLE VII.--INVADING IRAQ ABSENT A DECLARATION OF WAR
ARTICLE VIII.--INVADING IRAQ, A SOVEREIGN NATION, IN VIOLATION OF THE UN...
ARTICLE IX.--FAILING TO PROVIDE TROOPS WITH BODY ARMOR AND VEHICLE ARMOR
ARTICLE X.--FALSIFYING ACCOUNTS OF U.S. TROOP DEATHS AND INJURIES FOR POLITICAL...
ARTICLE XI.--ESTABLISHMENT OF PERMANENT U.S. MILITARY BASES IN IRAQ
ARTICLE XII.--INITIATING A WAR AGAINST IRAQ FOR CONTROL OF THAT NATION'S...
Page: H5095
ARTICLE XIII.--CREATING A SECRET TASK FORCE TO DEVELOP ENERGY AND MILITARY...
ARTICLE XIV.--MISPRISION OF A FELONY, MISUSE AND EXPOSURE OF CLASSIFIED...
ARTICLE XV.--PROVIDING IMMUNITY FROM PROSECUTION FOR CRIMINAL CONTRACTORS IN...
Page: H5096
ARTICLE XVI.--RECKLESS MISSPENDING AND WASTE OF US TAX DOLLARS IN CONNECTION...
Page: H5097
ARTICLE XVII.--ILLEGAL DETENTION: DETAINING INDEFINITELY AND WITHOUT CHARGE...
ARTICLE XVIII.--TORTURE: SECRETLY AUTHORIZING, AND ENCOURAGING THE USE OF...
Page: H5098
ARTICLE XIX.--RENDITION: KIDNAPPING PEOPLE AND TAKING THEM AGAINST THEIR WILL...
ARTICLE XX.--IMPRISONING CHILDREN
Page: H5099
ARTICLE XXI.--MISLEADING CONGRESS AND THE AMERICAN PEOPLE ABOUT THREATS FROM...
ARTICLE XXII--CREATING SECRET LAWS
Page: H5100
ARTICLE XXIII--VIOLATION OF THE POSSE COMITATUS ACT
ARTICLE XXIV.--SPYING ON AMERICAN CITIZENS, WITHOUT A COURT-ORDERED WARRANT, IN...
Page: H5101
ARTICLE XXV.--DIRECTING TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMPANIES TO CREATE AN ILLEGAL AND...
Page: H5102
ARTICLE XXVI.--ANNOUNCING THE INTENT TO VIOLATE LAWS WITH SIGNING STATEMENTS,...
ARTICLE XXVII.--FAILING TO COMPLY WITH CONGRESSIONAL SUBPOENAS AND INSTRUCTING...
ARTICLE XXVIII.--TAMPERING WITH FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS, CORRUPTION OF THE...
Page: H5103
ARTICLE XXIX.--CONSPIRACY TO VIOLATE THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT OF 1965
Page: H5104
ARTICLE XXX.--MISLEADING CONGRESS AND THE AMERICAN PEOPLE IN AN ATTEMPT TO...
ARTICLE XXXI.--KATRINA: FAILURE TO PLAN FOR THE PREDICTED DISASTER OF HURRICANE...
Page: H5105
ARTICLE XXXII.--MISLEADING CONGRESS AND THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, SYSTEMATICALLY...
Page: H5106
ARTICLE XXXIII.--REPEATEDLY IGNORED AND FAILED TO RESPOND TO HIGH LEVEL...
ARTICLE XXXIV.--OBSTRUCTION OF INVESTIGATION INTO THE ATTACKS OF SEPTEMBER 11,...
Page: H5107
ARTICLE XXXV.--ENDANGERING THE HEALTH OF 9/11 FIRST RESPONDERS

Email your member of Congress by clicking here.



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posted by JReid @ 5:30 PM  
On the reading list:
Ed the World Famous blogs Dennis Kucinich and the 35 articles of impeachment... Also, check out Ed's MySpace (World Famous Radio), here.

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posted by JReid @ 1:22 PM  
Monday, June 09, 2008
The Bush hangover
I'm writing a lot about Bush lately... not sure why, since I'm so over the bum.

And yet, there's always more slime to uncover. This one is old slime that happens to be lapping back up on our shores:
(GUARDIAN, UK) -- The lobbyist and convicted fraudster Jack Abramoff had a direct pipeline to the Bush White House and influenced several key decisions, according to a bipartisan draft report released in Congress today.

The draft report found Abramoff associates using expensive gifts to curry favour with White House aides and orchestrating the sacking of a US state department negotiator who disagreed with them.

In addition, the congressional report uncovered six one-on-one encounters between Abramoff and George Bush — four more than the White House has acknowledged previously in its denials of any significant ties to the lobbyist.

"This evidence suggests that the White House failed to conduct even the most basic internal investigation of the White House relationship with Mr Abramoff before making public statements characterising the connection," the report states.

Abramoff's corrupt courtship of Republican congressmen played a central role in the Democrats' sweeping victory in the 2006 election.

Though his case has largely faded from public view since then, today's report sheds a new and unwelcome spotlight on the Bush administration's role in the scandal.

Three former White House officials contacted by the House of Representatives oversight committee, which produced the report, invoked their constitutional right to avoid self-incrimination in refusing to answer questions about their relationship with Abramoff.

E-mails uncovered by the oversight committee show that White House aides eliminated the job of a state department negotiator in 2001 after Abramoff associates complained about his support for labour reform in the Mariana Islands, the Pacific manufacturing hotspot.

"I'm trying to figure out what is the best way to go about [sacking the negotiator]," one White House official wrote at the time. "I don't want a firing scandal on our hands." ...
Total contacts between Bad Jack and the White House from 2001 to 2004: 485. Number of months Abe is serving in prison on tax evasion, fraud and bribery charges? 70. ("He has admitted to stealing $23m from US banks via a fake wire transfer, among other crimes," the Guardian says.)

The full committee votes on whether to make the draft report final this week.

More Bush items for the first steps of your recovery:

Apparently, Dubya chose the church as the right place to fire the Devil:
That, according to a new book – “Machiavelli’s Shadow” – by former Time magazine reporter Paul Alexander, is where President George W. Bush informed trusted advisor Karl Rove in 2007 that his services would no longer be needed at the White House.

“On a Sunday in midsummer, George W. Bush accompanied Karl Rove to the Episcopalian Church Rove sometimes attended,” writes Alexander. “They made their way to the front of the congregation. Then, during their time in the church, Bush gave Rove some stunning news. ‘Karl,’ Bush said, ‘there’s too much heat on you. It’s time for you to go.’”
The same article states that Republican strategists have joined everyone else in the free world (with the exception of the RedStaters and the really recalcitrant neocons) in turning on the Bushies:
"Machiavelli's Shadow" doesn't portray Rove in a favorable light and Alexander includes plenty of interviews with GOP notables unsatisfied with Rove's influence during the Bush administration.

"Every Republican I know looks at the Bush administration as a total failure," said Matt Towery, chairman of Newt Gingrich's political organization.

“To do what he did politically to us is unforgivable," Rep. Tom Tancredo told Alexander. "It will take generations to recover. I don't know how long; maybe never."

"I think the legacy is that Karl Rove will be a name that'll be used for a long, long time as an example of how not to do it," said long-time GOP strategist Ed Rollins.
Ouch...!

And finally, guess who's going to testify on Capitol Hill about the CIA leak case?
WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush's former spokesman, Scott McClellan, will testify before a House committee next week about whether Vice President Dick Cheney ordered him to make misleading public statements about the leaking of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity.

McClellan will testify publicly and under oath before the House Judiciary Committee on June 20 about the White House's role in the leak and its response, his attorneys, Michael and Jane Tigar, said on Monday.

Uh-oh... better set the Tivo...




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posted by JReid @ 5:00 PM  
Friday, June 06, 2008
George W. McCain - I Spy
John McCain was against the warrantless wiretapping of Americans ... until he was for it:
The New York Times’ Charlie Savage reports that in a recent letter, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, top adviser to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), said McCain believes that the Constitution gave President Bush the authority to wiretap Americans “without warrants,” bringing him “into closer alignment” with the Bush administration’s views of executive power.
More from Think Progress here. At the rate that McCain is selling his soul to the Bush-bots in exchange for the keys to the White House, Cindy's family jewels can't be far behind...

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posted by JReid @ 8:36 PM  
Thursday, June 05, 2008
Bush is finally right: this really IS like World War II !!!
For the first time since the 1940s, Americans' net equity in our homes is negative.
NEW YORK - The equity Americans have in their most important asset — their homes — has dropped to its lowest level since the end of World War II.

Homeowners’ portion of equity slipped to 46.2 percent in the first quarter from a revised 47.5 percent in the previous quarter. That was the fifth quarter in a row below the 50 percent mark, the Federal Reserve said Thursday.

The total dollar value of equity also fell for the fourth straight quarter to $9.12 trillion from $9.52 trillion in the fourth quarter, while Americans’ total mortgage debt rose to $10.6 trillion from $10.53 trillion.

You're starting to see the abandoned homes strewn around even this very suburban, once booming neighborhood, meaning that people have mailed the keys to the bank and walked away, leaving an overgrown lawn, and sometimes a purposefully damaged property. Thanks for everything, George.

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posted by JReid @ 11:58 PM  
Bush's secret plan to 'keep' Iraq
A story in the UK Independent reveals a secret plan by the Bush administration to lash the next U.S. president to his Iraq policy, and maybe the president after that, too...
A secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad would perpetuate the American military occupation of Iraq indefinitely, regardless of the outcome of the US presidential election in November.

The terms of the impending deal, details of which have been leaked to The Independent, are likely to have an explosive political effect in Iraq. Iraqi officials fear that the accord, under which US troops would occupy permanent bases, conduct military operations, arrest Iraqis and enjoy immunity from Iraqi law, will destabilise Iraq's position in the Middle East and lay the basis for unending conflict in their country.

But the accord also threatens to provoke a political crisis in the US. President Bush wants to push it through by the end of next month so he can declare a military victory and claim his 2003 invasion has been vindicated. But by perpetuating the US presence in Iraq, the long-term settlement would undercut pledges by the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, to withdraw US troops if he is elected president in November.

The timing of the agreement would also boost the Republican candidate, John McCain, who has claimed the United States is on the verge of victory in Iraq – a victory that he says Mr Obama would throw away by a premature military withdrawal.

The Independent digs into the details of the "deal":
The precise nature of the American demands has been kept secret until now. The leaks are certain to generate an angry backlash in Iraq. "It is a terrible breach of our sovereignty," said one Iraqi politician, adding that if the security deal was signed it would delegitimise the government in Baghdad which will be seen as an American pawn.

The US has repeatedly denied it wants permanent bases in Iraq but one Iraqi source said: "This is just a tactical subterfuge." Washington also wants control of Iraqi airspace below 29,000ft and the right to pursue its "war on terror" in Iraq, giving it the authority to arrest anybody it wants and to launch military campaigns without consultation.

Mr Bush is determined to force the Iraqi government to sign the so-called "strategic alliance" without modifications, by the end of next month. But it is already being condemned by the Iranians and many Arabs as a continuing American attempt to dominate the region. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful and usually moderate Iranian leader, said yesterday that such a deal would create "a permanent occupation". He added: "The essence of this agreement is to turn the Iraqis into slaves of the Americans."

Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is believed to be personally opposed to the terms of the new pact but feels his coalition government cannot stay in power without US backing.

The deal also risks exacerbating the proxy war being fought between Iran and the United States over who should be more influential in Iraq.

Although Iraqi ministers have said they will reject any agreement limiting Iraqi sovereignty, political observers in Baghdad suspect they will sign in the end and simply want to establish their credentials as defenders of Iraqi independence by a show of defiance now. The one Iraqi with the authority to stop deal is the majority Shia spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. In 2003, he forced the US to agree to a referendum on the new Iraqi constitution and the election of a parliament. But he is said to believe that loss of US support would drastically weaken the Iraqi Shia, who won a majority in parliament in elections in 2005.

This is a breathtaking step by a brazen administration. What does Congress plan to do about it?

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posted by JReid @ 4:17 PM  
Monday, June 02, 2008
Ghost ships of the 'war on terror'
Even as the U.S. military struggles to make improvements in the way we treat detainees in Iraq, the Bush administration continues to stain America's honor with its brutal, ugly so-called "war on terror." First, the military effort:
BAGHDAD — Once a byword for torture and disgrace, the American-run detention system in Iraq has improved, even its critics say, as the military has incorporated it into a larger counterinsurgency strategy that seeks to avoid mistreatment that could create new enemies.

But these gains may soon be at risk. Thousands of detainees are to be turned over to the Iraqi government, some perhaps as early as the end of the year, a further step toward Iraqi sovereignty. Yet however tarnished America’s reputation may be for its treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay, the reputation of many Iraqi prisons is worse.

“The Americans are better than Ministry of Interior prisons,” said Mahmoud Abu Dumour, a former detainee from Falluja, the Sunni stronghold west of Baghdad. “They will torture you. Maybe you will die. With the Americans, if you enter Abu Ghraib, they will only wage psychological war on you.”

Already, Human Rights Watch has criticized the military for transferring some convicted juveniles to Iraqi custody, where they are kept in what the group said are abusive conditions.

Criticism also remains high that the American military detains too many people, deprives them of due process and holds them too long, even if innocent. Many are taken in only because they were near an insurgent attack.

While nearly all of the more than 21,000 detainees in Iraq are in American custody, Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, who runs detainee operations countrywide, is proceeding with a broad experiment to restructure it. His goal is to use the system of detention centers as another front in the counterinsurgency war, trying to reduce the likelihood that they become a recruiting ground for militants.

“The extremists owned the battlefield of the mind,” said General Stone, a Marine Reserve counterinsurgency expert who took responsibility for the detention system last spring. Before he arrived, moderate and extremist detainees were usually mixed, turning the American-run detention facilities into what he called a “jihadi university.”

General Stone’s goal now is to isolate those he believes are extremists, who are a minority of detainees, and persuade the other detainees that they will have better lives if they keep away from those who preach jihad. It is part of the effort to bring detention policy here in line with American military strategy that seeks to separate insurgents from civilians, mentally and physically.

General Stone’s goal is to move detainees, particularly more moderate ones, through the system faster by instituting review boards to hear each detainee’s case. So far, these boards have released at least 8,400 people. He has also pushed to expand paid work programs, like carpentry shops, brick factories and laundries, as well as educational programs, especially for juvenile detainees and the many illiterate adults.

It is difficult to assess this drive toward improvement. Outsiders are forbidden to interview detainees. The International Committee of the Red Cross has regular access to the facilities, but the United Nations and human rights groups say they have not been permitted to enter. ...
And then there's this, not-so-minor issue, that has to do with the wind-down of the Bush administration's stewardship, if you can call it that, of Iraq:
Looming on the horizon is the end of the United Nations authorization of the American involvement in Iraq, including the detention system. The authorization expires Dec. 31 and the United Nations is not expected to take up the issue again, leaving it to negotiations between the United States and Iraq. But the outlook for such a deal, which involves sweeping issues of troop withdrawal, as well as detention and other aspects of an American presence in Iraq, is in doubt.

On Sunday, for instance, the Iraqi government said it would not accept an American draft proposal on the issues.

The detention issues at play cover difficult legal and ethical ground, so much so that no American official interviewed for this article was willing to speak on the record about the discussions.

At the heart of the problem are all the so-called security detainees, who make up an overwhelming majority of the 21,000 people in American custody. They are the people who have been arrested because, in the judgment of the United States military, they could present some threat, even if they are not accused of extremist activity.

It is expected that Iraqi officials, who are now completing new prisons, will seek to take more control of detention operations, including taking custody of at least some of the current Iraqi detainees. That prompts the question characterized by one American military lawyer as “What do we do with the red population?” or those detainees the Americans consider to be extremists — the 8,000 detainees that General Stone referred to as a continuing threat.

Even as the Americans try to overcome their reputation for past mistreatment, serious allegations of torture and substandard conditions in some Iraqi prisons persist. Iraq’s Interior Ministry detention centers, which hold the largest numbers of pretrial detainees, have been run primarily by Shiites and have a record of overcrowding and abuse against the predominantly Sunni detainee population.

There have also been many allegations of torture. In cases in 2005 and 2006, it was American and British soldiers who rescued beaten and starved prisoners.

“If the coalition is going to turn over detainees, there are real Convention Against Torture issues,” said Kevin Lanigan, a former Army Reserve judge advocate in Iraq who is director of the law and security program at Human Rights First, a rights organization.

He was referring to the international Convention Against Torture, which among other things prohibits nations that have signed it from turning detainees over to countries where there are “substantial grounds” to believe that they would be tortured. Iraq has also signed the convention.

And speaking of "Convention Against Torture issues," the Guardian reports on "ghost ships" rendering detainees to ports unknown, where they may indeed, pose those issues.
The United States is operating "floating prisons" to house those arrested in its war on terror, according to human rights lawyers, who claim there has been an attempt to conceal the numbers and whereabouts of detainees.

Details of ships where detainees have been held and sites allegedly being used in countries across the world have been compiled as the debate over detention without trial intensifies on both sides of the Atlantic. The US government was yesterday urged to list the names and whereabouts of all those detained.

Information about the operation of prison ships has emerged through a number of sources, including statements from the US military, the Council of Europe and related parliamentary bodies, and the testimonies of prisoners.

The analysis, due to be published this year by the human rights organisation Reprieve, also claims there have been more than 200 new cases of rendition since 2006, when President George Bush declared that the practice had stopped.

It is the use of ships to detain prisoners, however, that is raising fresh concern and demands for inquiries in Britain and the US.

According to research carried out by Reprieve, the US may have used as many as 17 ships as "floating prisons" since 2001. Detainees are interrogated aboard the vessels and then rendered to other, often undisclosed, locations, it is claimed.

Ships that are understood to have held prisoners include the USS Bataan and USS Peleliu. A further 15 ships are suspected of having operated around the British territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, which has been used as a military base by the UK and the Americans.

Reprieve will raise particular concerns over the activities of the USS Ashland and the time it spent off Somalia in early 2007 conducting maritime security operations in an effort to capture al-Qaida terrorists.

At this time many people were abducted by Somali, Kenyan and Ethiopian forces in a systematic operation involving regular interrogations by individuals believed to be members of the FBI and CIA. Ultimately more than 100 individuals were "disappeared" to prisons in locations including Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Guantánamo Bay.

Reprieve believes prisoners may have also been held for interrogation on the USS Ashland and other ships in the Gulf of Aden during this time. ...

So let's get this straight. The Bush administration is concerned about turning over Iraqi prisoners to the Iraqi government because of concerns they might be tortured, but we continue to ferry prisoners secretly on American military vessels, where we might be torturing them ... I mean "interrogating" them ... and where we very well might be rendering them to rogue governments so that THEY can torture them?

And right wingers want to keep this outrage going with four years of John McCain?

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posted by JReid @ 11:01 AM  
Friday, May 30, 2008
Dole gone wild
Oh, my god, Bob Dole is a scary old geezer, too??? There's TWO of them???

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posted by JReid @ 8:53 PM  
So ... they saw the book beforehand?
If the White House got an advanced look at the Scott McClellan manuscript, is "he's not the Scott we knew" the best coordinated response they could come up with, given a full month's lead time? Wow, these guys are really missing Karl Rove.


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posted by JReid @ 8:31 PM  
The value of Scott McClellan
I plan to read Scott McClellan's book, "What Happened" (it's at the top of my summer reading list, along with Vincent Bugliosi's "The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder.") And I think that he may be the unlikliest, but also among the most important, truth-tellers to emerge from the nightmare era known as the Bush administration. McClellan is important, not because he was a policy insider, but because he was a personal one. He and the president went back all the way to Texas, and he was the first of the Texas inner circle to break publicly with George W. Bush. Yes, he left disgruntled, but it's why he was disgruntled that is important: he was angry because Karl Rove (another of the Texans) and Scooter Libby, principally, but also Dick Cheney and Bush himself, repeatedly lied to him about important matters. They lied about the outing of Velerie Plame, and then sent him out to lie. They lied to him about the war he was selling. And he had a front row seat to the lies that they were telling us, about Iraq.

So while his former colleagues may not like it, none of their synchronized, personal attacks has touched the fundamental premises of his book. None have even tried to refute his facts. And so his story stands basically unrefuted, even if he is now an enemy.

And yes, it's unprecedented for a press secretary to spill his guts while the boss is still in place (I was a press secretary, so I have some sympathy for McClellan's position,) precedent was thrown out the window long ago by the Bush team. They threw out 200 years of precedent on America's non-aggression foreign policy, 200 years of precedent of America as the "good guy," not torturing our captives, for instance. And in setting up a truly Soviet domestic spying regime, they took the J. Edgar Hoover playbook and super-sized it.

So keep your head up, Scott. You've turned out to be a more articulate, more honest, and more substantial a figure than I certainly ever gave you credit for. And don't worry about the "snitching" rap. We have a lot of that same pathology in the black community when it comes to reporting crimes and turning in criminals. At the end of the day, "snitching" is ghetto-ese for "doing the right thing." I think it's a safe bet that history will judge you a hell of a lot more kindly than it will your former boss.

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posted by JReid @ 8:29 AM  
ReidBlog: The Obama Interview
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"I am for enhanced interrogation. I don't believe waterboarding is torture... I'll do it. I'll do it for charity." -- Sean Hannity
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