Profile: George W. Bush
Positions that George W. Bush has held:
September 20, 2001
“Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”
[US President, 9/24/2001]
March 20, 2002
“Remember these are—the ones in Guantanamo Bay are killers. They don’t share the same values we share.”
[US President, 3/25/2002; Human Rights Watch, 1/9/2004]
June 10, 2002
“This guy, Padilla, is a bad guy. And he is where he needs to be—detained,” along with many other “would-be killers”
July 10, 2002
“Some worry that a change of leadership in Iraq could create instability and make the situation worse. The situation could hardly get worse, for world security and for the people of Iraq.”
[US President, 10/14/2002]
August 22, 2002
“The American people know my position. And that is that regime change is in the interest of the world.”
[Agence France-Presse, 8/22/2002; CNN, 8/25/2002; CNN, 9/30/2002]
September 7, 2002
“I would remind you that when the inspectors first went into Iraq and were denied—finally denied access [in 1998], a report came out of the Atomic—the IAEA that they were six months away from developing a weapon. I don’t know what more evidence we need.”
[Washington Times, 9/27/2002]
September 12, 2002
“Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons.”
[Executive Office of the President, 9/12/2002 ; PBS, 9/12/2002; Age (Melbourne), 6/7/2003]
September 16, 2002
Saddam’s offer is “his latest ploy, his latest attempt not to be held accountable for defying the United Nations…. He’s not going to fool anybody. We’ve seen him before…. We’ll remind the world that, by defying resolutions, he’s become more and more of a threat to world peace. [The world] must rise up and deal with this threat, and that’s what we expect the Security Council to do.”
[Agence France-Presse, 9/19/2002]
September 25, 2002
“… the danger is, is that they work in concert. The danger is, is that al-Qaeda becomes an extension of Saddam’s madness and his hatred and his capacity to extend weapons of mass destruction around the world. Both of them need to be dealt with. The war on terror, you can’t distinguish between al-Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror. And so it’s a comparison that is—I can’t make because I can’t distinguish between the two, because they’re both equally as bad, and equally as evil, and equally as destructive.”
[US President, 9/30/2002]
October 1, 2002
“The UN must show some backbone. We’ll work with members of the Security Council to put a little calcium there, put calcium in the backbone.”
[London Times, 10/2/2003]
October 7, 2002
“The threat comes from Iraq. It arises directly from the Iraqi regime’s own actions—its history of aggression, and its drive toward an arsenal of terror. Eleven years ago, as a condition for ending the Persian Gulf War, the Iraqi regime was required to destroy its weapons of mass destruction, to cease all development of such weapons, and to stop all support for terrorist groups. The Iraqi regime has violated all of those obligations. It possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons. It has given shelter and support to terrorism, and practices terror against its own people. The entire world has witnessed Iraq’s eleven-year history of defiance, deception and bad faith…. We know that the regime has produced thousands of tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, sarin nerve gas, VX nerve gas… And surveillance photos reveal that the regime is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons.”
[US President, 10/14/2002]
October 21, 2002
“The stated policy of the United States is regime change because, for 11 years, Saddam Hussein has ignored the United Nations and the free world. For 11 years, he has—he said, look, you passed all these resolutions; I could care less what you passed. And that’s why the stated policy of our government, the previous administration and this administration, is regime change—because we don’t believe he is going to change.”
[US President, 10/28/2002]
October 22, 2002
“For the sake of having an international body which is effective, the UN… must be resolved to deal with this person, must resolve itself to be something more than a League of Nations, must resolve itself to be more than just a debating society, must resolve itself to help keep international peace. It’s an important time in our history to determine whether or not we’re going to be a nation which is willing to work with other nations to keep the peace. The answer is ‘you bet’ but if they won’t, if the UN can’t make its mind up, if Saddam Hussein won’t disarm, we will lead a coalition to disarm him for the sake of peace.”
[CNN, 10/22/2002; Associated Press, 10/21/2002]
November 7, 2002
“Hopefully, we can do this peacefully ’ don’t get me wrong. And if the world were to collectively come together to do so, and to put pressure on Saddam Hussein and convince him to disarm, there’s a chance he may decide too o that. And war is not my first choice, don’t ’ it’s my last choice.”
[US President, 11/11/2002]
November 8, 2002
Saddam’s “cooperation must be prompt and unconditional or he will face severest consequences”
[US President, 11/11/2002]
November 9, 2002
“The world has now come together to say that the outlaw regime in Iraq will not be permitted to build or possess chemical, biological or nuclear weapons… [a]nd my administration will see to it that the world’s judgment is enforced”
[US President, 11/15/2002]
November 20, 2002
“Saddam Hussein has been given a very short time to declare completely and truthfully his arsenal of terror. Should he again deny that this arsenal exists, he will have entered his final stage with a lie. And deception this time will not be tolerated. Delay and defiance will invite the severest of consequences. America’s goal, the world’s goal, is more than the return of inspectors to Iraq. Our goal is to secure the peace through the comprehensive and verified disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Voluntary or by force, that goal will be achieved.”
[New York Times, 11/21/2002; US President, 11/25/2002]
December 2, 2002
“In the inspections process, the United States will be making one judgment: Has Saddam Hussein changed his behavior of the last 11 years? Has he decided to cooperate willingly and comply completely, or has he not? So far the signs are not encouraging…. That declaration must be credible and complete, or the Iraqi dictator will have demonstrated to the world once again that he has chosen not to change his behavior. Any act of delay, deception, or defiance will prove that Saddam Hussein has not adopted the path of compliance and has rejected the path of peace.”
[US President, 12/9/2002; Washington Post, 12/3/2002]
December 4, 2002
“This is our attempt to work with the world community to create peace. And the best way for peace is for Mr. Saddam Hussein to disarm. It?s up to him to make his decision.”
[US President, 12/9/2002]
December 31, 2002
“I hope this Iraq situation will be resolved peacefully. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to work to deal with these situations in a way so that they’re resolved peacefully.… You said we’re headed to war in Iraq ? I don’t know why you say that. I hope we’re not headed to war in Iraq. I’m the person who gets to decide, not you. I hope this can be done peacefully.”
[US President, 1/6/2003]
January 2, 2003
“First of all, you know, I’m hopeful we won’t have to go war, and let’s leave it at that.”
[White House, 1/2/2003]
January 28, 2003
Iraq has enough material “to produce over 25,000 liters of anthrax—enough doses to kill several million people… more than 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin—enough to subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure… as much as 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent.”
[Washington Post, 1/28/2003]
February 7, 2003
“But Saddam Hussein is—he’s treated the demands of the world as a joke up to now, and it was his choice to make. He’s the person who gets to decide war and peace.”
[US President, 2/10/2003]
March 6, 2003
“I’ve not made up our mind about military action. Hopefully, this can be done peacefully.… I want to remind you that it’s his choice to make as to whether or not we go to war. It’s Saddam’s choice. He’s the person that can make the choice of war and peace.”
[US President, 3/10/2003]
March 8, 2003
“[I]t is clear that Saddam Hussein is still violating the demands of the United Nations by refusing to disarm.… We are doing everything we can to avoid war in Iraq. But if Saddam Hussein does not disarm peacefully, he will be disarmed by force.”
[US President, 3/17/2003]
March 17, 2003
“Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.”
[US President, 3/24/2003]
March 26, 2003
“We will help the Iraqi people to find the benefits and assume the duties of self-government. The form of those institutions will arise from Iraq’s own culture and its own choices.”
[US President, 3/31/2003]
April 28, 2003
“As freedom takes hold in Iraq, the Iraqi people will choose their own leaders and their own government. America has no intention of imposing our form of government or our culture. Yet, we will ensure that all Iraqis have a voice in the new government…”
[US President, 5/5/2003]
May 9, 2003
“Soon, Iraqis from every ethnic group will choose members of an interim authority. The people of Iraq are building a free society from the ground up, and they are able to do so because the dictator and his regime are no more.”
[US President, 5/12/2003]
July 2, 2003
“There are some who feel that, you know, the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, bring ‘em on. We have the force necessary to deal with the situation.”
[New York Times, 7/2/2003]
July 30, 2003
“Yes, I think, first of all, remember I just said we’ve been there for 90 days since the cessation of major military operations. Now, I know in our world where news comes and goes and there’s this kind of instant-instant news and you must have done this, you must do that yesterday, that there’s a level of frustration by some in the media. I’m not suggesting you’re frustrated. You don’t look frustrated to me at all. But it’s going to take time for us to gather the evidence and analyze the mounds of evidence, literally, the miles of documents that we have uncovered.”
October 18, 2003
“We don’t torture people in America. And people who make that claim just don’t know anything about our country.”
[Amnesty International, 10/20/2003]
May 5, 2004
“People in Iraq must understand that I view those practices as abhorrent.…must also understand that what took place in that prison does not represent the America that I know.… The America that I know has sent troops to Iraq to promote freedom.”
[CBS News, 5/5/2004]
May 11, 2004
“I’m probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment.… These prisoners, they’re murderers, they’re terrorists, they’re insurgents. Many of them probably have American blood on their hands. And here we’re so concerned about the treatment of those individuals. I am also outraged that we have so many humanitarian do-gooders right now crawling all over these prisons, looking for human rights violations while our troops, our heroes, are fighting and dying.”
[New York Times, 5/11/2004]
June 10, 2004
“Listen, I’ll say it one more time.… The instructions that were given were to comply with the law. That should reassure you. We are a nation of laws. We follow the law. We have laws on our books. You could go look at those laws and that should reassure you.”
[US President, 6/21/2004]
June 24, 2004
“The United States is committed to the worldwide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example.”
[Amnesty International, 5/7/2004]
September 1, 2005
“I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did anticipate a serious storm. But these levees got breached. And as a result, much of New Orleans is flooded. And now we are having to deal with it and will.”
[Reuters, 9/2/2005; Washington Post, 9/1/2005]
George W. Bush was a participant or observer in the following events:
Page 15 of 16 (1587 events)previous
In a press briefing, President Bush says, “The fight in Iraq is part of a broader struggle that’s unfolding across the region. The same region in Iran—the same regime in Iran that is pursuing nuclear weapons and threatening to wipe Israel off the map is also providing sophisticated IEDs to extremists in Iraq who are using them to kill American soldiers.” [White House, 7/12/2007]
George W. Bush, defying calls to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, says, “The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th, and that’s why what happens in Iraq matters to the security here at home.” Critics say Bush is grossly oversimplifying the nature of the Iraq insurgency and its putative, unproven links with al-Qaeda, and is attempting to exploit the same kinds of post-9/11 emotions that helped him win support for the invasion in the months preceding the Iraqi offensive. The al-Qaeda affiliate group in Iraq called al-Qaeda in Iraq (or al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia) did not exist at all before the March 2003 invasion, and since then, it has thrived as a magnet for recruiting and for violence largely because of the invasion. While US military and intelligence agencies contend that al-Qaeda in Iraq is responsible for a disproportionately large share of the suicide car bomb attacks that have stoked sectarian violence, the organization is uniquely Iraqi in origin and makeup, with few operational ties to the overall terrorist group. Bruce Riedel, a Middle East expert and former CIA official, says, “The president wants to play on al-Qaeda because he thinks Americans understand the threat al-Qaeda poses. But what I don’t think he demonstrates is that fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq precludes al-Qaeda from attacking America here tomorrow. Al-Qaeda, both in Iraq and globally, thrives on the American occupation.” Counterterrorism expert Bruce Hoffman says that if US forces were to withdraw from Iraq, the indigeneous al-Qaeda fighters would focus much more on battling Shi’ite militias in the struggle for dominance in Iraq than on trying to follow US troops home. Al-Qaeda in Iraq “may have more grandiose expectations, but that does not mean [it] could turn al-Qaeda of Iraq into a transnational terrorist entity,” he says. [International Herald Tribune, 7/13/2007]
President Bush tells a gathering of US soldiers and their families, “It is time to rise above partisanship, stand behind our troops in the field, and give them everything they need to succeed. In February I submitted to Congress a Defense Department spending bill for the upcoming fiscal year that will provide funds to upgrade our equipment for our troops in Iraq and provides a pay raise for our military—a comprehensive spending request—that Congress has failed to act on.” [Speaker of the House, 7/20/2007] But on May 16, 2007, Bush came out strongly against an addition to his proposed pay raise (see May 16, 2007), opposing a proposed 0.5% pay raise in addition to the 3% raise he proposed for the February 2008 budget as “unnecessary.” [Army Times, 5/17/2007]
President Bush signs Executive Order 13440, which authorizes the CIA to continue using so-called “harsh” interrogation methods against anyone in US custody suspected of being a terrorist, or having knowledge of terrorist activities. The order relies on, and reaffirms, Bush’s classification of “al-Qaeda, Taliban, and associated forces” as “unlawful enemy combatants” who are not covered under the Geneva Conventions. The order also emphasizes that the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) “reaffirms and reinforces the authority of the president to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions.” The order does not include “murder, torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, mutilation or maiming, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, rape, sexual assault or abuse, taking of hostages, or performing of biological experiments… other acts of violence serious enough to be considered comparable to murder, torture, mutilation, and cruel or inhuman treatment… any other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment prohibited” by law. It also precludes acts of extreme humiliation “that any reasonable person, considering the circumstances, would deem the acts to be beyond the bounds of human decency, such as sexual or sexually indecent acts undertaken for the purpose of humiliation, forcing the individual to perform sexual acts or to pose sexually, [or] threatening the individual with sexual mutilation, or using the individual as a human shield.” The order also excludes acts that denigrate a detainee’s religion or religious practices. [White House, 7/20/2007] The order does not apply to the Army, which has numerous interrogators operating at Guantanamo and other US detention facilities. [Social Science Research Network, 3/18/2008] CIA Director Michael Hayden says, “We can now focus on our vital work, confident that our mission and authorities are clearly defined.” Administration officials say that because of the order, suspects now in US custody can be moved immediately into the “enhanced interrogation” program. Civil libertarians and human rights advocates are much less enamored of the new order. Human Rights Watch official Tom Malinowski says, “All the order really does is to have the president say, ‘Everything in that other document that I’m not showing you is legal—trust me.’” [Washington Post, 7/21/2007] In January 2009, President Obama will withdraw the order. [Washington Independent, 4/21/2009]
Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, Tom Malinowski, Taliban, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, Al-Qaeda, Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency, Military Commissions Act, Michael Hayden
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
A Rapid City Journal article uses interviews with the families of three soldiers to illustrate the harm and suffering inflicted on military personnel and their families by the Army’s controversial stop-loss program (see November 2002 and November 13, 2003). One of the three soldiers is Sergeant Mason Lockey, who has been forced to redeploy to Iraq due to stop-loss. Lockey saw his daughter Brianna for the first time about three weeks after her birth, in November 2006; he took part in her delivery via cell phone from Iraq. He had planned on returning home on July 19, 2007, a year after his deployment, in time to help her learn to speak and walk. Instead, under stop-loss, Lockey is forced to remain in Iraq until at least October 15, and perhaps longer.
Three Sons in Service - Deb Halen-Boyd, whose two sons served in Iraq as Army troops, calls the stop-loss program an example of the government breaking faith with its soldiers. “You fulfill your obligation, you should be done,” she says. “They’ve done what they’ve signed up to do.” One of Halen-Boyd’s sons has had to remain in Iraq due to stop-loss. She had a third son in the Army who died in a truck accident in Minnesota; her fourth son has now enlisted in the National Guard, with the government’s promise that he wouldn’t be deployed. But Halen-Boyd doesn’t believe the government will keep its word. “Nothing with the Army is a guarantee,” she says.
Missing Daughter's First Three Years - Barb Pierce, whose son Ryan served in Kosovo and twice in Iraq as a member of his Army unit, agrees. “It should be fair.… They’ve done their part. Let them come home.” Sergeant Ryan Pierce has been forced to remain in Iraq due to the stop-loss policy until at least January 2008. Pierce missed the birth of his daughter and the death of his wife’s grandmother and aunt. He was unable to attend his grandmother’s funeral. He has missed every wedding anniversary. He has missed two of his daughter’s three birthdays.
No Re-enlistments, Anger at Government - None of the soldiers cited in the Rapid City Journal article plan on rejoining the Army after they are finally allowed to come home. Vanessa Lockey, whose husband has six more years to go on his re-enlistment, says, “Mason and I are strong Republicans, but it is hard to support a government that is willing to do this to a family. How is it fair?… Mason’s very supportive of the military. We grew up military, we love the military lifestyle, and we were very pro-Bush and that, but the more you see them acting like these soldiers are nothing but a game to them… it’s just hard to support that and know that’s who you’re defending.… It really does feel like they forgot about us.… I’ll support [President] Bush when he sends his daughters to Iraq.” Barb Pierce echoes Halen-Boyd’s sentiments. She is proud of her son’s service as she is of other soldiers’ service. She is proud to be an American, she says. But, “I want to be proud of my country, too. And right now I’m not.” Halen-Boyd wears a bumper sticker on her car that reads, “‘We Love Our Troops. Bring Them Home.” [Rapid City Journal, 7/24/2007]
In a letter to Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell acknowledges that President Bush “authorized the National Security Agency to undertake various intelligence activities designed to protect the United States from further terrorist attack.” Many of these “intelligence activities,” the nature of which has never been made public, were authorized under the same secret executive order Bush used to authorize the NSA’s domestic warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002). McConnell says that the only aspects of the variety of programs that can be acknowledged or discussed are those already revealed by the New York Times in its expose of the NSA warrantless surveillance program (see December 15, 2005). McConnell adds, “It remains the case that the operational details even of the activity acknowledged and described by the President have not been made public and cannot be disclosed without harming national security.” McConnell also acknowledges that the marketing moniker “Terrorist Surveillance Program” was adopted in early 2006, after the revelations of the NSA program hit the media. [Mike McConnell, 7/31/2007 ]
Vice President Dick Cheney reignites the controversy over a request by Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) that the Pentagon begin planning for withdrawal from Iraq (see May 23, 2007). On July 16, Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman sent Clinton a response that accused her of reinforcing “enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies” (see July 16-20, 2007). Edelman contradicted the stance of his boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who recently said that Congressional debates on withdrawal were useful and positive (see March 30, 2007). But on July 31, Cheney tells CNN talk show host Larry King that Edelman, his former foreign policy adviser, had written Clinton a “good letter.” Cheney implies that Clinton had asked for operational plans from the Pentagon, a suggestion that Clinton dismisses in a letter to Cheney. “Your comments, agreeing with Under Secretary Edelman, not Secretary Gates, have left me wondering about the true position of the administration,” Clinton writes, adding she will write to President George Bush to ask he “set the record straight” about the administration’s position regarding Congressional oversight of the war. It is unclear whether Bush ever replies to Clinton’s letter. [Washington Post, 8/1/2007]
Representative Nick Rahall. [Source: Nick Rahall]The House Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing to investigate the role that Vice President Dick Cheney and other Bush administration officials played in the decision that led to the largest fish kill in modern Western United States history (see Mid-2001 - Early 2002 and June 27-28, 2007). The committee is unable to find conclusive proof that Cheney directly gave the orders that led to the fish kill. A former Interior Department official, Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall, testifies that Cheney pressured the department to release water in the Klamath River in Northern California, even though the water release would threaten the life cycle of tens of thousands of salmon who live and breed in the river. The water release was to benefit drought-stricken farmers and ranchers in the area. The decision went against the provisions of the Endangered Species Act as well as an overwhelming majority of scientific opinion and the tribal water rights of local Native Americans. Former fisheries biologist Michael Kelly, who worked on the Klamath issue, testifies that he cannot be sure whether Cheney interfered in the situation. “I was aware that President Bush had declared he’d do everything he could to get water to the farms,” Kelly says, and adds that he knew his own superiors were being pressured to speed up assessments and tilt the science to favor the farmers. “I was essentially asked to support a conclusion that made as much sense as 1+1=3,” Kelly says. The biological opinion underlying the plan was “completely bogus and illegal,” he adds. Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV) calls the Klamath fish kill “a fiasco” and lambasts Cheney and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne for refusing to testify before the committee. “I will not pretend to be surprised [Cheney] declined our invitation,” Rahall says. “But I am obliged to express disappointment at the difficulty we have had in trying to learn the truth and conduct basic oversight over an agency and an administration that have made secrecy and lack of accountability hallmarks of their tenure.” Rahall notes that “[w]hen it comes to political interference and ethical lapses at the department, the Klamath River is just the tip of the iceberg.… I find it difficult to see how we can trust any decision made in an agency that has, time and again, betrayed its own career scientists, repeatedly failed to hold its appointees to ethical standards and so callously disregarded its mission for the sake of political gain.” [Environmental News Service, 8/1/2007]
FBI agents raid the home of former Justice Department prosecutor Thomas Tamm, who is suspected of leaking information to the New York Times regarding the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). Tamm previously worked in the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), which oversees surveillance of terrorist and espionage suspects. The FBI agents seize Tamm’s computer as well as those of his three children and a store of personal files. They also take some of his books (including one on famed Watergate whistleblower “Deep Throat” (see May 31, 2005), and even the family’s Christmas card list. Tamm is not home when the raid is staged, so the agents sit his wife and children around the kitchen table and grill them about Tamm’s activities. His oldest son, Terry, will later recall: “They asked me questions like ‘Are there any secret rooms or compartments in the house’? Or did we have a safe? They asked us if any New York Times reporters had been to the house. We had no idea why any of this was happening.” The raid is part of a leak probe ordered by President Bush (see December 30, 2005). James X. Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology calls the decision to stage the raid “amazing,” and says it shows the administration’s misplaced priorities: using FBI agents to track down leakers instead of processing intel warrants to close the gaps. [Newsweek, 8/2007; Newsweek, 12/22/2008] In late 2008, Tamm will reveal to Newsweek that he is one source for the Times articles (see December 22, 2008). At the time of the raid, his family has no idea that he knows anything about the wiretapping program, or that he has spoken to reporters. [Newsweek, 12/22/2008]
Congressional Democrats attempt to short-circuit the Protect America Act (see August 5, 2007) currently under debate. They introduce their own bill, the Improving Foreign Intelligence Surveillance to Defend the Nation and the Constitution Act, that would address the administration’s concerns that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act imposed unwieldy limitations on the NSA’s ability to electronically monitor foreign communications that were transmitted through communications networks inside the US. The Democrats’ bill redefines “electronic surveillance” to allow the NSA to monitor such communications without a FISA warrant if it “reasonably believes” the targets of those communications to be outside the US. This would give the NSA new surveillance powers, so the Democrats’ bill provides for oversight by the FISA Court, audits by the Justice Department’s Inspector General, and restrictions on domestic surveillance. However, the Bush administration does not want the bill to become law. President Bush announces that he opposes the bill, and threatens to hold Congress in session past its August adjournment date until he can get the Protect America Act passed. The Democrats’ bill dies before ever coming up for a full vote in Congress. [US House of Representatives, 8/3/2007 ; Slate, 8/6/2007]
Mitch McConnell. [Source: US Senate]President Bush signs the controversial Protect America Act (PAA) into law. The bill, which drastically modifies the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 (see 1978), was sponsored by two Senate Republicans, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Christopher Bond (R-MO), but written by the Bush administration’s intelligence advisers. [US Senate, 8/5/2007; Washington Post, 8/5/2007] It passed both houses of Congress with little debate and no hearings (see August 1-4, 2007). “This more or less legalizes the NSA [domestic surveillance] program,” says Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies. [New York Times, 8/6/2007] Slate’s Patrick Radden Keefe adds ominously, “The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is now dead, and it’s never coming back.” [Slate, 8/6/2007] The PAA expires in six months, the only real concession Congressional Democrats were able to secure. Though the Bush administration and its allies in Congress insist that the law gives the government “the essential tools it needs” to conduct necessary surveillance of foreign-based terrorists while protecting Americans’ civil liberties, many Democrats and civil liberties organizations say the bill allows the government to wiretap US residents in communication with overseas parties without judiciary or Congressional oversight. Bush calls the bill “a temporary, narrowly focused statute to deal with the most immediate shortcomings in the law” that needs to be expanded and made permanent by subsequent legislation. The administration says that the lack of judiciary oversight in the new law will be adequately covered by “internal bureaucratic controls” at the National Security Agency. [Associated Press, 8/5/2007; Washington Post, 8/5/2007]
Reining in FISA - The PAA allows FISA to return “to its original focus on protecting the rights of Americans, while not acting as an obstacle to conducting foreign intelligence surveillance on foreign targets located overseas.” Before the PAA, the White House says, FISA created unnecessary obstacles in allowing US intelligence to “gain real-time information about the intent of our enemies overseas,” and “diverted scarce resources that would be better spent safeguarding the civil liberties of people in the United States, not foreign terrorists who wish to do us harm.” The PAA no longer requires the government to obtain FISA warrants to monitor “foreign intelligence targets located in foreign countries” who are contacting, or being contacted by, US citizens inside US borders. FISA will continue to review the procedures used by US intelligence officials in monitoring US citizens and foreign contacts by having the attorney general inform the FISA Court of the procedures used by the intelligence community to determine surveillance targets are outside the United States.”
Allows Third Parties to Assist in Surveillance, Grants Immunity - The PAA also allows the director of national intelligence and the attorney general to secure the cooperation of “third parties,” particularly telecommunications firms and phone carriers, to “provide the information, facilities, and assistance necessary to conduct surveillance of foreign intelligence targets located overseas.” It provides these firms with immunity from any civil lawsuits engendered by such cooperation.
Short Term Legislation - The White House says that Congress must pass further legislation to give telecommunications firms permanent and retroactive immunity against civil lawsuits arising from their cooperation with the government’s domestic surveillance program. [White House, 8/6/2006]
Temporary Suspension of the Constitution? - Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says: “I’m not comfortable suspending the Constitution even temporarily. The countries we detest around the world are the ones that spy on their own people. Usually they say they do it for the sake of public safety and security.” [Washington Post, 8/5/2007]
Entity Tags: Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, National Security Agency, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Mitch McConnell, Al-Qaeda, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Kate Martin, Patrick Radden Keefe, Rush Holt, Protect America Act
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
President Bush says, “[I]t’s up to Iran to prove to the world that they’re a stabilizing force as opposed to a destabilizing force. After all, this is a government that has proclaimed its desire to build a nuclear weapon. This is a government that is in defiance of international accord, a government that seems to be willing to thumb its nose at the international community… [T]he burden of proof is on the Iranian government to show us that they’re a positive force. And I must tell you that this current leadership there is a big disappointment to the people of Iran. The people of Iran could be doing a lot better than they are today. But because of the actions of this government, this country is isolated. And we will continue to work to isolate it, because they’re not a force for good, as far as we can see. They’re a destabilizing influence wherever they are.” [White House, 8/6/2007]
Ron Wyden. [Source: Public domain / US Congress]Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) writes to the Justice Department’s acting head of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Steven Bradbury, asking for clarification of the Bush administration’s stance on the Geneva Conventions as they apply to the interrogation of detainees. Wyden notes that President Bush has recently affirmed that the US would observe the conventions’ standards on humane treatment of all prisoners, and asks precisely how the OLC defines the concept of “humane treatment.” Wyden wants to know what circumstances definitions of that term might vary under, and asks the same questions of the term “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” The principal deputy assistant attorney general, Brian Benczkowski, will answer Wyden’s letter on September 27, 2007 (see September 27, 2007). [US Senate, 8/8/2007 ]
President Bush’s rhetoric towards Iran’s supposed nuclear program shifts from flat assertions that Iran is definitely working for a nuclear bomb (see January 26, 2007, March 31, 2007, June 19, 2007, July 12, 2007, and August 6, 2007) to a more nuanced approach. In a press briefing, Bush now asserts that Iran is taking measures to have a nuclear weapons program: “They have expressed their desire to be able to enrich uranium, which we believe is a step toward having a nuclear weapons program. That, in itself, coupled with their stated foreign policy, is very dangerous for world stability.… It’s a very troubling nation right now.” [White House, 8/9/2007] Journalist Dan Froomkin, and others, later believe that Bush was informed a day or two before he made this comment that the US intelligence community has found that Iran stopped work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003. But instead of reversing course, Froomkin will write, Bush merely adjusts his rhetoric and continues to insist that Iran is a danger to the Middle East because of its nuclear ambitions (see December 5, 2007). “[I]t certainly didn’t tame the overall message,” Froomkin will observe. [Washington Post, 12/5/2007]
Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean considers the newly passed Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) a dire threat to American civil liberties. Dean writes that the ire of rank-and-file Democrats with their Congressional leadership is well earned, that the Democrats meekly lined up and voted it into law after some pro forma protestations. Dean notes that editorialists from around the country, and organizations as politically disparate as the ACLU (see August 6, 2007), the Cato Institute, and the John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011) all agree that the new law is a serious threat to civil liberties. They all agree that the law violates the Fourth Amendment while at the same time hides its operations under the rubric of national security secrecy. Dean notes, “Congress was not even certain about the full extent of what it has authorized because President Bush and Vice President Cheney refused to reveal it.”
Executive Power Grab - Dean writes that as much of a threat as the PAA is to citizens’ privacy, it is more threatening because it is another step in the Bush administration’s push for enhancing the powers of the executive branch at the expense of the legislative and judiciary branches, a move towards a so-called “unitary executive.” Bush and Cheney have worked relentlessly “to weaken or eliminate all checks and balances constraining the executive,” Dean writes, pointing to “countless laws enacted by the Republican-controlled Congresses during the first six years of the administration, and in countless signing statements added by the president interpreting away any constraints on the Executive.” The new law “utterly fails to maintain any real check on the president’s power to undertake electronic surveillance of literally millions of Americans. This is an invitation to abuse, especially for a president like the current incumbent.”
Repairing the Damage - Dean is guardedly optimistic about the Democrats’ stated intentions to craft a new law that will supersede the PAA, which expires in February 2008, and restore some of the protections the PAA voids. Any such legislation may be quickly challenged by the Bush administration, which wants retroactive legislative immunity from prosecution for both US telecommunications firms cooperating with the government in monitoring Americans’ communications, and for government officials who may have violated the law in implementing domestic surveillance. Dean writes: “[B]efore Congress caved and gave Bush power to conduct this surveillance, he and telecommunication companies simply opted to do so illegally. Now, Bush will claim, with some justification, that because Congress has now made legal actions that were previously illegal, it should retroactively clear up this nasty problem facing all those who broke the law at his command.” Dean writes that Democrats need only do one thing to “fix [this] dangerous law: [add] meaningful accountability.” He continues: “They must do so, or face the consequences. No one wants to deny the intelligence community all the tools it needs. But regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, no Congress should trust any president with unbridled powers of surveillance over Americans. It is not the way our system is supposed to work.” [FindLaw, 8/10/2007]
In an op-ed, the New York Times calls the idea that the US has “the best health care system in the world,” as recently stated by President Bush, or provides “the best medical care in the world,” as recently stated by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giulani, a “delusion.” “That may be true at many top medical centers,” the Times writes. “But the disturbing truth is that this country lags well behind other advanced nations in delivering timely and effective care.” The Times notes that in 2000, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked the health care systems of 191 nations. France and Italy were first and second; the US came in 37th. The Times notes a more recent study by “the highly regarded Commonwealth Fund,” which “has pioneered in comparing the United States with other advanced nations through surveys of patients and doctors and analysis of other data”; the latest Commonwealth Fund study put the US last among six highly developed nations (see May 15, 2007). “Other comparative studies also put the United States in a relatively bad light,” the Times notes.
Lack of Universal Coverage - Unlike every other major industrialized nation, the US does not provide universal health coverage. In the US, some 45 million people have no health insurance whatsoever, and millions more suffer with poor coverage. The Times writes, “Although the president has blithely said that these people can always get treatment in an emergency room, many studies have shown that people without insurance postpone treatment until a minor illness becomes worse, harming their own health and imposing greater costs.”
Lack of Access - While citizens of foreign nations often face longer waits before they can see specialists or undergo elective surgery than do Americans in comparable situations, “[t]he real barriers here are the costs facing low-income people without insurance or with skimpy coverage.” However, “even Americans with above-average incomes find it more difficult than their counterparts abroad to get care on nights or weekends without going to an emergency room, and many report having to wait six days or more for an appointment with their own doctors.”
Unfair Disparities - The dichotomy between the care provided to economically well-off Americans and their more economically challenged fellows is worse than in any other industrialized nation. “Americans with below-average incomes are much less likely than their counterparts in other industrialized nations to see a doctor when sick, to fill prescriptions, or to get needed tests and follow-up care.”
Unhealthy Living - The US ranks last among 23 nations in its infant mortality rate—more American children die in infancy than in 22 other countries. “But the problem is much broader,” the Times continues. “We rank near the bottom in healthy life expectancy at age 60, and 15th among 19 countries in deaths from a wide range of illnesses that would not have been fatal if treated with timely and effective care. The good news is that we have done a better job than other industrialized nations in reducing smoking. The bad news is that our obesity epidemic is the worst in the world.”
Varying Quality - The Commonwealth Fund study notes that the US ranks first in providing the correct care for a given condition, and does very well in providing preventative care to its citizens. But it does much worse in coordinating the care of chronically ill patients, in protecting the safety of patients, and in meeting the needs and preferences of patients. Overall, the quality of health care in the US is the lowest among the six nations profiled by the study.
Varying Survival Rates - US citizens live longer than their foreign counterparts with breast cancer, and second-longest with cervical cancer and childhood leukemia. But US citizens rank last or next-to-last in life expectancy for patients with kidney transplants, liver transplants, colorectal cancer, circulatory diseases, respiratory diseases, diabetes, bronchitis, asthma, and emphysema.
Poor Patient Satisfaction - Only 40 percent of Americans are satisfied with the nation’s health care system. Of 17 countries surveyed, the US comes in 14th. The US ranks first in negative public perceptions, with a third of Americans calling for a system-wide revamp of American health care.
Poor Use of Information Technology - American health care providers are years behind their foreign counterparts in their use of information technology, electronic medical records, electronic prescriptions, and more. “This makes it harder to coordinate care, spot errors, and adhere to standard clinical guidelines,” the Times writes.
Conclusion - “With health care emerging as a major issue in the presidential campaign and in Congress, it will be important to get beyond empty boasts that this country has ‘the best health care system in the world’ and turn instead to fixing its very real defects,” the Times concludes. “The main goal should be to reduce the huge number of uninsured, who are a major reason for our poor standing globally.… The world’s most powerful economy should be able to provide a health care system that really is the best.” [New York Times, 8/12/2007]
Notes made by FBI Director Robert Mueller about the 2004 attempt by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and then-chief of staff Andrew Card to pressure ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft to reauthorize the secret NSA warrantless wiretapping program contradict Gonzales’s July testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the events of that evening (see March 10-12, 2004 and July 24, 2007). Gonzales’s testimony was already at odds with previous testimony by former deputy attorney general James Comey (see May 15, 2007). Gonzales testified that Ashcroft was lucid and articulate, even though Ashcroft had had emergency surgery just hours before (see March 10-12, 2004), and he and Card had merely gone to Ashcroft’s hospital room to inform Ashcroft of Comey’s refusal to authorize the program (see May 15, 2007). But Mueller’s notes of the impromptu hospital room meeting, turned over to the House Judiciary Committee today, portray Ashcroft as “feeble,” “barely articulate,” and “stressed” during and after the confrontation with Gonzales and Card. [US Department of Justice, 8/16/2007; Washington Post, 8/17/2007; Associated Press, 8/17/2007] Mueller wrote that Ashcroft was “in no condition to see them, much less make decision [sic] to authorize continuation of the program.” Mueller’s notes confirm Comey’s testimony that Comey requested Mueller’s presence at the hospital to “witness” Ashcroft’s condition. [National Journal, 8/16/2007]
Mueller Directed FBI Agents to Protect Comey - The notes, five pages from Mueller’s daily log, also confirm Comey’s contention that Mueller had directed FBI agents providing security for Ashcroft at the hospital to ensure that Card and Gonzales not be allowed to throw Comey out of the meeting. Gonzales testified that he had no knowledge of such a directive. Mueller’s notes also confirm Comey’s testimony, which held that Ashcroft had refused to overrule Comey’s decision because he was too sick to resume his authority as Attorney General; Ashcroft had delegated that authority to Comey for the duration of his hospital stay. Gonzales replaced Ashcroft as attorney general for President Bush’s second term. Representative John Conyers (D-MI), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, says that Mueller’s notes “confirm an attempt to goad a sick and heavily medicated Ashcroft to approve the warrantless surveillance program. Particularly disconcerting is the new revelation that the White House sought Mr. Ashcroft’s authorization for the surveillance program, yet refused to let him seek the advice he needed on the program.” (Ashcroft had previously complained that the White House’s insistence on absolute secrecy for the program had precluded him from receiving legal advice from his senior staffers, who were not allowed to know about the program.)
Notes Contradict Other Testimony - Mueller’s notes also contradict later Senate testimony by Gonzales, which he later “clarified,” that held that there was no specific dispute among White House officials about the domestic surveillance program, but that there was merely a difference of opinion about “other intelligence activities.” [New York Times, 8/16/2007; Washington Post, 8/17/2007] In his earlier Congressional testimony (see July 26, 2007), which came the day after Gonzales’s testimony, Mueller said he spoke with Ashcroft shortly after Gonzales left the hospital, and Ashcroft told him the meeting dealt with “an NSA program that has been much discussed….” [CNN, 7/25/2007] Mueller did not go into nearly as much detail during that session, declining to give particulars of the meeting in Ashcroft’s hospital room and merely describing the visit as “out of the ordinary.” [House Judiciary Committee, 7/26/2007; New York Times, 8/16/2007] Mueller’s notes show that White House and Justice Department officials were often at odds over the NSA program, which Bush has lately taken to call the “Terrorist Surveillance Program.” Other information in the notes, including details of several high-level meetings concerning the NSA program before and after the hospital meeting, are redacted.
Call for Inquiry - In light of Mueller’s notes, Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has asked the Justice Department’s inspector general, Glenn Fine, to investigate whether Gonzales has misled lawmakers—in essence, committed perjury—in his testimony about the NSA program as well as in other testimony, particularly statements related to last year’s controversial firings of nine US attorneys. Other Democrats have asked for a full perjury investigation (see July 26, 2007). [Washington Post, 8/17/2007] Leahy writes to Fine, “Consistent with your jurisdiction, please do not limit your inquiry to whether or not the attorney general has committed any criminal violations. Rather, I ask that you look into whether the attorney general, in the course of his testimony, engaged in any misconduct, engaged in conduct inappropriate for a Cabinet officer and the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, or violated any duty.” [Associated Press, 8/17/2007]
Entity Tags: John Conyers, John Ashcroft, Robert S. Mueller III, James B. Comey Jr., US Department of Justice, Patrick J. Leahy, House Judiciary Committee, Senate Judiciary Committee, George W. Bush, Glenn Fine, Alberto R. Gonzales, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Andrew Card
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh asserts that the only reason Democrats are interested in stopping the genocide in Darfur is to secure the African-American vote. Democrats, Limbaugh says, “want to get us out of Iraq, but they can’t wait to get us into Darfur.… There are two reasons. What color is the skin of the people in Darfur? It’s black. And who do the Democrats really need to keep voting for them? If they lose a significant percentage of this voting bloc, they’re in trouble.” Limbaugh, in a conversation with a caller, continues: “So you go into Darfur and you go into South Africa, you get rid of the white government there. You put sanctions on them. You stand behind Nelson Mandela—who was bankrolled by communists for a time, had the support of certain communist leaders. You go to Ethiopia. You do the same thing.… The liberals will use the military as a ‘meals on wheels’ program. They’ll send them out to help with tsunami victims. But you put the military—you put the military in a position of defending US national interest, and that’s when Democrats and the liberals oppose it.” The progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters will note that Congress has exhibited overwhelming bipartisan support for US intervention in Darfur; Republicans sponsored legislation sanctioning Sudan, which contains the Darfur region. The House passed the bill on a 416-3 vote, the Senate passed it unanimously, and President Bush signed it into law shortly thereafter. [Media Matters, 8/23/2007]
The Pentagon has drawn up plans for massive air strikes against 1,200 targets in Iran, with the goal of annihilating Iran’s military capabilities in three days, according to Alexis Debat, the director of terrorism and national security at the conservative Nixon Center. Unfortunately, Debat’s credentials as a reporter and a reliable source of information have been seriously discredited (see September 12, 2007), so it is hard to tell how much credence to give Debat’s warnings. Debat, an ardent neoconservative, says the US military has concluded, “Whether you go for pinprick strikes or all-out military action, the reaction from the Iranians will be the same.” Therefore, he says, such massive air strikes make up “very legitimate strategic calculus.” Debat’s statements come on the heels of George W. Bush’s assertion that Iran is forcing the Middle East to live “under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.” Bush said that the US and its allies will confront Iran “before it is too late.” (The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says that Iran is cooperating with the agency over its nuclear program.) A Washington source says the “temperature [is] rising” inside the administration. Bush is “sending a message to a number of audiences,” he says—to the Iranians and to members of the UN Security Council who are trying to weaken a proposed third resolution on sanctions against Iran for flouting a UN ban on uranium enrichment. If Bush’s present commitment to diplomacy with Iran flags, his administration believes it would be prudent to use rapid, devastating force against Iran. [London Times, 9/2/2007] Three weeks later, the British media reports on “Project Checkmate,” an Air Force strategic planning group that is developing plans for a crushing air strike against Iran’s military capabilities (see June 2007).
President Bush has abused his prerogative to issue “signing statements” that state the White House’s interpretion of Congressionally passed laws (see Early 2005), according to former White House counsel John Dean and constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe.
History - Signing statements have no weight in law, but presidents have traditionally used them to state their belief that a particular legislative provision is unconstitutional, and on rare occasion (before the current president) to state their refusal to enforce that provision. Since Jimmy Carter’s administration, various Justice Department officials have said presidents can refuse to enforce a particular provision of signed, legally binding legislation. [Dean, 2007, pp. 112-116] A group of young conservative lawyers in the Reagan administration decided that signing statements were a powerful, and stealthy, way to expand presidential power.
Dean: Bush's Use of Signing Statements 'Extraordinary' - However, Dean says that Bush has used signing statements far more extensively than any president before him. Dean notes that, while presidential signing statements themselves are not illegal or inherently wrong, “[i]t is Bush’s abuse of them that is extraordinary.” Dean writes there has been no concerted effort to find out if Bush is just saying he will not comply with the inordinate number of legislative provisions he has objected to, or if he is refusing to comply with them in practice. If the latter is the case, Dean writes, “he should be impeached immediately… because it would be an extraordinary breach of his oath” of office.
Tribe: Bush's Signing Statements 'Bizarre,' 'Reckless' - Dean cites Tribe, who said in 2006, “[W]hat is new and distressing [about Bush’s use of signing statements] is the bizarre, frighteningly self-serving, and constitutionally reckless character of those views—and the suspicion that the president either intends actually to act on them with some regularity, often in a manner that won’t be publicly visible at the time, or intends them as declarations of hegemony and contempt for the coordinate branches—declarations that he hopes will gradually come to be accepted in the constitutional culture as descriptions of the legal and political landscape properly conceived and as precedents for later action either by his own or by future administrations.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 112-116; Joyce Green, 2007] Political science professor Christopher Kelley agrees. Kelley, who studied the Bush administration’s use of signing statements, says: “What we haven’t seen until this administration is the sheer number of objections that are being raised on every bill passed through the White House. That is what is staggering. The numbers are well out of the norm from any previous administration.”
Signing Statements Supplanting Vetoes - In another disturbing trend, according to author and reporter Charlie Savage, Bush is using signing statements to supplant the traditional presidential veto. By mid-2007, Bush had vetoed just two bills. In contrast, Bush’s predecessor, Bill Clinton, vetoed 37 bills. George H. W. Bush vetoed 44, and Ronald Reagan vetoed 78. Legal experts studying Bush’s signing statements conclude that Bush and his legal team are using signing statements to function almost as line-item vetoes, a power the president does not have. The Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that the Founding Fathers wanted the president to either accept a Congressional bill or reject it entirely, and if Congress overrode the veto, then the president had no other recourse than to follow the new law. But now, Savage writes, “the Bush-Cheney administration had figured out that if a president signed a bill and then instructed the government to consider selected provisions null (see December 30, 2005), he could accomplish much the same thing. Moreover, it was an absolute power because, unlike when there is a regular veto, Congress had no opportunity to override his legal judgments.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 230-231]
Jack Goldsmith’s ‘The Terror Presidency.’ [Source: Barnes and Noble.com]Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) from October 2003 through June 2004, is publishing a new book, The Terror Presidency, in which he details many of the controversies in which he found himself mired during his brief and stormy tenure. Goldsmith was viewed, along with his friend and fellow law professor John Yoo, as two of the department’s newest and brightest conservative stars; the two were called the “New Sovereigntists” by the prestigious political journal Foreign Affairs. But instead of adding his voice to others in the Bush administration who supported the expanding powers of the presidency at the cost of civil liberties, Goldsmith found himself at odds with Yoo, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and other White House and Justice Department officials. The OLC advises the president on the limits of executive power (and finds legal justifications for its actions as well), and Goldsmith became embattled in disputes with the White House over the Bush administration’s systematic attempts to push the boundaries of executive power almost from the onset of his term as OLC chief, especially in light of the administration’s responses to 9/11 and the threat of Islamist terrorism (see October 6, 2003). Goldsmith disagreed with the White House over issues surrounding the use of torture against terrorist suspects (see December 2003-June 2004), the NSA’s secret domestic wiretapping program (see June 17, 2004), the extra-constitutional detention and trial of enemy combatants (see January-June 2004), and other issues.
'Behind-the-Scenes Revolt' - After nine contentious months leading a small group of administration lawyers in what New York Times Magazine reporter Jeffrey Rosen calls a “behind-the-scenes revolt against what [Goldsmith] considered the constitutional excesses of the legal policies embraced by his White House superiors in the war on terror,” Goldsmith resigned. He says of his mindset at the end of his term, “I was disgusted with the whole process and fed up and exhausted.” Goldsmith chose to remain quiet about his resignation, and as a result, his silence was widely misinterpreted by media, legal, and administration observers. Some even felt that Goldsmith should be investigated for his supposed role in drafting the torture memos he had actually opposed. “It was a nightmare,” Goldsmith recalls. “I didn’t say anything to defend myself, except that I didn’t do the things I was accused of.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
Not a Whistleblower - Goldsmith, who now teaches law at Harvard, does not regard himself as a whistleblower. “This book is not about whistle blowing,” he says. “It’s about trying to explain to the public the enormous pressures and tensions inside the executive branch to keep Americans safe and about how that pressure bumps into the wall, and about the difficulties that everyone in the administration has and the pressure to do everything possible to keep Americans safe, and the intense pressure to comply with the law. And it’s an attempt to give a fair-minded and deeply sympathetic description of that tension, and I actually think there’s a structural problem in the presidency because of this, and I’m trying to explain the pressure the administration is under and why it did the things it did, and why it did things correctly in some circumstances and why it made mistakes.” He says he has learned some difficult lessons from his tenure in Washington: “I came away from my time in government thinking, as many people do, that there’s too much secrecy. Both too much secrecy inside the executive branch and between the executive branch and Congress. There’s obviously a trade-off and it’s hard to know when to draw the line. If issues and debates are too tightly drawn, and there’s too much secrecy, then two pathologies occur and we saw them occur in this administration. One is you don’t have the wide-range debate needed to help you avoid errors. Two is, it’s pretty well known that excessive secrecy leaves other people in the government to question what is going on when they get wind of it, and to leak it.” [Newsweek, 9/8/2007]
Bush, Administration Officials Going Too Far in Placing Politics Above Law - Goldsmith believes that Bush and his officials are their own worst enemies in their attempts to expand presidential power. Goldsmith, like his heroes Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, regards the law as secondary to political leadership. Bush’s indifference and even contempt for the political process has weakened his abilities as a wartime leader, in direct contrast to Lincoln and Roosevelt. “I don’t know if President Bush understood how extreme some of the arguments were about executive power that some people in his administration were making,” Goldsmith says. Since Bush is not a lawyer, “[i]t’s hard to know how he would know.” Bush’s refusal to work with Congress is in direct contradiction to Lincoln’s and Roosevelt’s approaches, and that refusal has damaged his administration’s ability to combat terrorism and achieve its agenda. Goldsmith writes that Bush has willfully ignored the axiom that the strongest presidential power is the power to persuade. “The Bush administration has operated on an entirely different concept of power that relies on minimal deliberation, unilateral action and legalistic defense,” Goldsmith writes. “This approach largely eschews politics: the need to explain, to justify, to convince, to get people on board, to compromise.” While Goldsmith agrees with the administration that the terrorist threat is extremely serious, and that the US must counter it aggressively, he quotes his conservative Harvard colleague Charles Fried that Bush “badly overplayed a winning hand.” Bush “could have achieved all that he wanted to achieve, and put it on a firmer foundation, if he had been willing to reach out to other institutions of government.” Instead, he says, Bush weakened the presidency he was so determined to strengthen. “I don’t think any president in the near future can have the same attitude toward executive power, because the other institutions of government won’t allow it. The Bush administration has borrowed its power against future presidents.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
Adding to Presidential Power - He adds, “Basically, the administration has the conception of executive power that suggests they clearly have a public agenda item of wanting to leave the presidency more powerful than they found it. Vice President Cheney was in the Ford White House at the dawn of the resurgent Congress after Watergate and Vietnam and he believed then that the 1970s restrictions put on the executive branch by Congress related to war and intelligence harm the presidency. So one of their agenda items before 9/11 was to keep the power of presidency and expand the power of the presidency to put it back to its rightful place.… They’ve certainly lost a lot of trust of Congress. And the Supreme Court really, I think, cut back on certain presidential prerogatives.… Future presidencies will face a culture of distrust and worry, I believe, because of the actions taken by the Bush administration. A lot of it was unnecessary.… So when you have those pressures [to battle terrorism and keep the nation safe] and then you run into laws that don’t allow you to do what you need to do, I think the prescription is that going it alone unilaterally with executive power is not as good as getting the other institutions on board through consensus and consultation.” [Newsweek, 9/8/2007]
Entity Tags: Charles Fried, Bush administration (43), Abraham Lincoln, US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Jeffrey Rosen, Alberto R. Gonzales, George W. Bush, Jack Goldsmith, John C. Yoo, Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Former ABC News source and sometime reporter Alexis Debat, whose career as a media commentator and information source is in shambles due to his exposure as a fabricator of numerous interviews with US political and business figures (see September 12, 2007), has a number of close ties with US neoconservatives, according to research by Philadelphia Daily News reporter Will Bunch. Debat has had a strong influence on the US media’s slant on both the Iraq occupation and the envisioned war with Iran, particularly with his frequent contributions to ABC News reports and commentary. Debat has also provided sensational, and often unconfirmed, “information” about the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Several “scoops” from Debat and published by ABC News about Pakistan had to be either corrected or suffered contradiction by Pakistani officials. Debat also has close, if murky, ties with a number of prominent neoconservatives and right-wing Middle East figures. Iranian-born Amir Taheri was listed as an editor of Debat’s primary European press outlet, Politique Internationale, from 2001 through 2006. Taheri’s work has been promoted by a New York public-relations firm, Benador Associates, which specializes in Middle Eastern affairs and boasts a number of neoconservatives on its website, including former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle and former CIA director James Woolsey. Taheri is often published in newspapers owned by conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch. And, like Debat, Taheri’s work has been called into question in recent years. A May 2006 column printed in a Canadian newspaper that alleged Iran was forcing Jews and other religious minorities to wear colored badges was proven false. And a 1988 book by Taheri, Nest of Spies, purporting to give inside details about Islamic terrorism, has been shown to contain a raft of inaccuracies and misstatements. Taheri’s connections with Benador gives him prime entry to conservative media outlets, which seem to sometimes ignore the rampant problems with his reporting. [Attytood, 9/14/2007]
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Amir Taheri, Alexis Debat, ABC News, Benador Associates, James Woolsey, Politique Internationale, Will Bunch, Philadelphia Daily News, George W. Bush, Rupert Murdoch, Richard Perle
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Neoconservative Influence, Domestic Propaganda
Alan Greenspan, the former head of the US Federal Reserve, charges in his newly published memoir that the US invasion of Iraq was largely driven by the Bush administration’s desire to control Iraq’s oil reserves. Greenspan says in his book The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World, that he is “saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows—the Iraq war is largely about oil.” [Agence France-Presse, 9/16/2007; Sunday Times (London), 9/16/2007] In subsequent interviews with the press, though, Greenspan has backed off of his assertion a bit. Iraq’s oil was “not the administration’s motive,” he now says, and goes on to say that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was essential for the US’s economic stability. “I’m just saying that if somebody asked me, ‘Are we fortunate in taking out Saddam?’ I would say it was essential.” He adds, “I have never heard them basically say, ‘We’ve got to protect the oil supplies of the world,’ but that would have been my motive.” He says he made that argument to White House officials, and one of them told him, “Well, unfortunately, we can’t talk about oil.” [Washington Post, 9/17/2007] Greenspan says he advocated the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, not because of weapons of mass destruction, but because he was convinced Hussein wanted to control the Strait of Hormuz, through which much of the world’s oil passes. That would enable Hussein to threaten the US and its allies, a situation Greenspan found untenable. [Columbia Journalism Review, 9/17/2007] “Iraq was a far greater threat than Iran to the world scene,” he says. [New York Times, 9/17/2007] Greenspan says he believed Hussein should go, but not necessarily through military action. “I wasn’t arguing for war per se. [But] to take [Hussein] out, in my judgment, it was something important for the West to do and essential, but I never saw Plan B”—an alternative to war. In August 2002, seven months before the invasion of Iraq, a National Security Presidential Directive signed by Bush stated as one of the objectives of the invasion was “to minimize disruption in international oil markets.” Greenspan says, “If Saddam Hussein had been head of Iraq and there was no oil under those sands, our response to him would not have been as strong as it was in the first Gulf War. And the second Gulf War is an extension of the first. My view is that Saddam, looking over his 30-year history, very clearly was giving evidence of moving towards controlling the Straits of Hormuz, where there are 17, 18, 19 million barrels a day” passing through. Disruption of even 3 to 4 million barrels a day could have translated into oil prices as high as $120 a barrel, Greenspan now says, and that would have triggered “chaos” in the global economy. Ousting Hussein achieved the purpose of “making certain that the existing system [of oil markets] continues to work, frankly, until we find other [energy supplies], which ultimately we will.” [Washington Post, 9/17/2007]
In his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003), says that he believes President Bush sent White House aides Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card to pressure then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to reauthorize the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program while Ashcroft was recuperating from surgery (see March 10-12, 2004). When asked whom he believed had sent Gonzales and Card to the hospital, Goldsmith says he “recall[s] it was the President.” [ABC News, 10/2/2007]
Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003), testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee about his former department’s involvement in approving the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002). [Washington Post, 10/20/2007] There were aspects of the Terrorist Surveillance Program “that I could not find the legal support for,” he says, but because the program is classified, he refuses to give specific details about which aspects violate the law. Goldsmith says he assumes the White House does not want the legality of the program scrutinized, and therefore, “the extreme secrecy—not getting feedback from experts, not showing it to experts—led to a lot of mistakes.” [Associated Press, 10/2/2007]
Testimony About Hospital Visit - Goldsmith testifies about the failed attempt by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card to pressure then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to declare the program legal over the objections of Goldsmith and Ashcroft’s deputy, James Comey (see March 10-12, 2004). Goldsmith, who accompanied Comey to Ashcroft’s hospital room to counter Gonzales and Card, calls their visit “inappropriate and baffling,” and testifies that Ashcroft “didn’t appreciate being visited in the hospital under these circumstances.” Goldsmith’s testimony further refutes the previous testimony of Gonzales, who insisted that there had been little or no dissension within the department over the wiretapping program (see July 24, 2007). Goldsmith tells the committee, “There were enormous disagreements” about the program, though Gonzales’s explanations could be construed as technically accurate given the varying terminology used for the program. [Washington Post, 10/20/2007] Goldsmith adds that Comey’s account of the events of that visit is accurate, becoming another former administration official to contradict Gonzales’s own testimony about the incident. Goldsmith also contradicts Gonzales’ insistence that there was very little real dissension among Justice Department and White House officials over the legality of the NSA wiretapping program. [Associated Press, 10/2/2007]
Bush Sent Gonzales, Card to Pressure Ashcroft - Goldsmith also testifies that President Bush personally dispatched Gonzales and Card to Ashcroft’s hospital room (see October 2, 2007).
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, US Department of Justice, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), National Security Agency, James B. Comey Jr., John Ashcroft, Andrew Card, Jack Goldsmith
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
In light of new disclosures that the Justice Department endorsed torture in 2005 (see October 4, 2007), President Bush says the CIA broke no laws in its interrogations of prisoners, and reiterates his oft-stated assertion that the US “does not torture people.” In a brief appearance at the White House, Bush says, “We stick to US law and our international obligations.” But when the US finds a terrorism suspect: “You bet we’re going to detain them, and you bet we’re going to question them—because the American people expect us to find out information, actionable intelligence so we can help protect them. That’s our job.” Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says in response: “The administration can’t have it both ways. I’m tired of these games. They can’t say that Congress has been fully briefed while refusing to turn over key documents used to justify the legality of the program.” Rockefeller is referring to attempts by the White House and its defenders to assert that Congress knew as much about the CIA’s torture policies as did the White House, and its simultaneous refusal to turn over to Congress Justice Department and other documents used in the Bush administration’s assertions of legality. [Los Angeles Times, 10/6/2007]
Three top Senate Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Russell Feingold (D-WI) send a letter to President Bush urging him to withdraw acting Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) head Steven Bradbury from consideration for the position. Since Bradbury’s ascension to the post on an acting basis over two years ago (see June 23, 2005), Democrats have blocked him from being given confirmation hearings and formally becoming the head of the office. The senators write that they are troubled by Bradbury’s support for the administration’s position on aggressive interrogation of terror suspects and the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. They note that Bradbury was involved in the denial of security clearances to members from the Office of Professional Responsibility who attempted to investigate the program (see Late April 2006). “With Alberto Gonzales’s resignation,” the letter reads, “there may be an opportunity to undo some of the damage done during his tenure. It is doubtful that progress will be possible without new leadership at OLC.” Durbin says in a press conference, “I think we need new leadership at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.… OLC is a small office, but it really has a lot of power, especially in this administration.” [Senate Judiciary Committee, 10/16/2007 ; Think Progress, 10/16/2007]
George W. Bush warns that world leaders are risking World War III unless they work to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Bush makes his remarks at the White House, remarks timed to coincide with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tehran. Russia has in recent weeks warned the US about moving too quickly towards a violent confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program; Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and other Bush officials have responded by escalating their rhetoric towards Iran (see October 21, 2007) and requesting funding for weapons that could be used against Iran’s nuclear facilities (see Mid-October, 2007). “We’ve got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel,” Bush says. “So I’ve told people that, if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” In fact, Putin and Russian officials have repeatedly said that Iran is not building nuclear weapons, Russia has pledged to continue helping Iran develop its nuclear power technology, and Russia has led a coalition of Caspian nations who vow to prevent the US from using that region to launch any attacks against Iran. [Daily Telegraph, 10/20/2007]
In some of his most challenging and belligerent statements yet on Iran, Vice President Dick Cheney says flatly that Iran will not be allowed to pursue its nuclear program. He dismisses Iran’s claims that its nuclear program is intended for peaceful use only, and accuses Iranian leaders of pursuing a practice of “delay and deception in an obvious effort to buy time.… Our country, and the entire international community, cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its grandest ambitions. The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences.” Cheney does not specify what those “serious consequences” are, but many inside and outside the government believe that Cheney is signaling the administration’s intent to use military force against Iran before Cheney and President Bush leave office in January 2009. Michael O’Hanlon of the centrist Brookings Institution says, “That’s pretty firm, clear language. And it raises more clearly the specter of military action. That is much more than saying this isn’t just an option that we’ve taken off the table.” Cheney’s office says that his statements are in line with earlier statements that warn of possible military confrontations with Iran. In March 2006, he said, “We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.” In May 2007, he said, “We’ll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region.” However, analysts say that the rhetoric from Cheney and Bush has recently escalated to a point where military action seems more likely than ever before. [ABC News, 10/21/2007]
Bob Drogin. [Source: CBS News]Reporter Bob Drogin, discussing his new book Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, reflects on the opposing views surrounding the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq based on misinformed and sometimes fraudulent information about Iraq’s supposed WMD programs. The Bush administration has repeatedly blamed its erroneous claims of Iraqi WMDs on “bad intelligence,” and administration critics have stated that Bush officials “manipulated” and “cherry-picked” the intelligence they wanted to justify their push for war, and ignored the rest. Drogin says that both descriptions are accurate. “I don’t see that as an either-or proposition. Both happened,” he says. “The White House clearly manipulated information to make its case for war. It exaggerated the supposed link between Saddam [Hussein] and 9/11, for example, going far beyond what the CIA believed.… [T]he White House didn’t need to ‘cherry pick’ intelligence on Saddam’s WMD because the CIA stuff was all wrong. And it flowed into the White House by the truckload. Go back and read [Colin] Powell’s 2003 UN speech, or the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, the so-called gold standard of the US intelligence community. Virtually every sentence is wrong. That was the official view. It gave them the pretext for war.… I wanted to understand how an intelligence system that spends about $50 billion a year could produce the worst intelligence disaster in our history. The cascade of mistakes in the Curveball case is a big part of the answer.” He continues, “It was like witchcraft—the failure to find proof [of WMDs] was considered proof itself. So it became ‘not only does he have them, but look at how good he is at hiding them.’ So the threat was even greater. Our fears blinded us, I think—and the politicians used that to engender a state of national concern.” Drogin puts much of the blame, not on the media for conflating the story into a “crisis,” but on Congress for not standing up and demanding real answers and real proof. “I mean, I was in Washington and there was no debate. Democrats were running absolutely scared, running with their tails between their legs and the Republicans all lined up behind Bush. And the press can only do so much—in the end, I’m a reporter and I can’t prove a negative. I’m not going to go out and say he doesn’t have weapons, I don’t see the intelligence, I don’t know… [I]f members of Congress had fought that battle then it would have been covered and the debate would have been there. There’s only so much you can do as a reporter to create a debate.” [Alternet, 10/22/2007]
Administration of Torture book cover. [Source: Public domain]American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyers Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh publish the book Administration of Torture: A Documentary Record from Washington to Abu Ghraib and Beyond. In their book, Jaffer and Singh use over 100,000 pages of government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act to detail the sometimes-horrific conditions under which suspected terrorists are detained by the US government. The book spans detention facilities in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay. The book’s central thesis is, according to the ACLU’s press release for the book, “that the torture and abuse of prisoners was systemic and resulted from decisions made by senior US officials, both military and civilian,” including President Bush himself. [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/22/2007] “[T]he documents show unambiguously that the administration has adopted some of the methods of the most tyrannical regimes,” write Jaffer and Singh. Some of the prisoners “abused, tortured, and killed” were not even terror suspects, the authors show. [Raw Story, 10/22/2007] The book grew out of a long, difficult battle by the ACLU and several other such organizations to secure records pertaining to detainees held by the US in other countries (see October 7, 2003). The book shows a starkly different reality than the picture painted by the Bush administration’s repeated disavowals of torture, a reality established by the government’s own documentation. The administration has repeatedly claimed, for instance, that the torture and abuse so well documented at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison was an isolated, unusual set of incidents that was not repeated at other US detention facilities. The documentation compiled by Jaffer and Singh prove that claim to be a lie: “This claim was completely false, and senior officials almost certainly knew it to be so.” Beatings, kickings, and all manner of abuses have routinely occurred at other detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq, the book states. Autopsy reports show that numerous prisoners in US custody have died due to strangulation, suffocation, or blunt-force trauma. Documents from Guantanamo, a facility where Bush officials have repeatedly claimed that the “excesses” of Abu Ghraib were never implemented, show that Guantanamo detainees were regularly “shackled in excruciating ‘stress positions,’ held in freezing-cold cells, forcibly stripped, hooded, terrorized with military dogs, and deprived of human contact for months.” And, perhaps most damningly for the administration, government documents show that top White House and Pentagon officials were not only well aware of the scope of the abuse months before the first pictures from Abu Ghraib were broadcast to the public, but that torture and abuse are part of the administration’s policy towards detainees. “[T]he maltreatment of prisoners resulted in large part from decisions made by senior officials, both military and civilian,” Jaffer and Singh write. “These decisions… were reaffirmed repeatedly, even in the face of complaints from law enforcement and military personnel that the policies were illegal and ineffective, and even after countless prisoners… were abused, tortured, or killed in custody.… The documents show that senior officials endorsed the abuse of prisoners as a matter of policy—sometimes by tolerating it, sometimes by encouraging it, and sometimes by expressly authorizing it.”
The book presents a number of damning claims, all backed by extensive documentation, including the following: [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/22/2007]
General Michael Dunlavey, who oversaw prisoner interrogations at Guantanamo and considered former camp commander Brigadier General Rick Baccus too soft on the detainees [BBC, 10/16/2002] , and who asked the Pentagon to approve more aggressive interrogation methods for the camp, claimed that he received his “marching orders” from Bush.
Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was “personally involved” in overseeing the interrogation of a Guantanamo prisoner named Mohammed al-Khatani, the alleged would-be 20th 9/11 hijacker (see July 2002). Al-Khatani was “stripped naked, paraded in front of female interrogators, made to wear women’s underwear on his head, led around on a leash, and forced to perform dog tricks.” It is not clear just what being “personally involved” entails. Rumsfeld did not himself authorize such methods, but according to the investigator who documented the al-Khatani abuse session, Rumsfeld “failed to place a ‘throttle’ over abusive ‘applications’ of the ‘broad techniques’ that he did authorize….”
Interrogators who used abusive ‘SERE’ (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) methods at Guantanamo did so because the Pentagon had endorsed those methods and required interrogators to be trained in the use of those methods (see December 2001).
FBI personnel complained of abuses at Guantanamo; these instances of abuse were authorized by the chain of command within the Defense Department.
Some of the most disturbing interrogation methodologies displayed in photos from Abu Ghraib were used at Guantanamo, with the endorsement of Rumsfeld, and that Major General Geoffrey Miller’s aggressive plan to “Gitmoize” Abu Ghraib was endorsed by senior Defense officials.
Bush and his senior officials have always insisted that abuse and torture was limited to a few unauthorized soldiers at Abu Ghraib. Yet a Defense Department “Information Paper” shows that, three weeks before the Abu Ghraib photos appeared in the press, the US Army knew of at least 62 allegations of prisoner abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq, most of which had no relation to Abu Ghraib.
The Defense Department held prisoners as young as 12 years old.
The Defense Department approved holding prisoners in cells as small as 3 feet wide, 4 feet long, and 18 inches high. Special Forces units held prisoners in cells only slightly larger than that. [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/22/2007]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Rick Baccus, Mohamed al-Khatani, Michael E. Dunlavey, Geoffrey D. Miller, George W. Bush, American Civil Liberties Union, Jameel Jaffer, Amrit Singh, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Neoconservative founder Norman Podhoretz, a senior foreign adviser to Republican presidential frontrunner Rudolph Giuliani, says the US has no other choice than to bomb Iran. Podhoretz says heavy and immediate strikes against Iran are necessary to prevent that country from developing nuclear weapons. “None of the alternatives to military action—negotiations, sanctions, provoking an internal insurrection—can possibly work,” Podhoretz says. “They’re all ways of evading the terrible choice we have to make which is to either let them get the bomb or to bomb them.” Podhoretz says that such strikes would be effective: “People I’ve talked to have no doubt we could set [Iran’s nuclear program] five or 10 years. There are those who believe we can get the underground facilities as well with these highly sophisticated bunker-busting munitions.” (Podhoretz does not identify the people he has “talked to.”) “I would say it would take five minutes. You’d wake up one morning and the strikes would have been ordered and carried out during the night. All the president has to do is say go.” Giuliani has echoed Podhoretz’s belligerence towards Iran; last month, Giuliani told a London audience that Iran should be given “an absolute assurance that, if they get to the point that they are going to become a nuclear power, we will prevent them or we will set them back five or 10 years.” Podhoretz says he was pleasantly surprised to hear Giuliani make such assertions: “I was even surprised he went that far. I’m sure some of his political people were telling him to go slow…. I wouldn’t advise any candidate to come out and say we have to bomb—it’s not a prudent thing to say at this stage of the campaign.” Podhoretz has given President Bush much the same advice (see Spring 2007).
'Irrational' 'Insanity' - Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel blasts the “immorality and illegality” of Podhoretz’s “death wish,” and notes that such “military action would be irrational for both sides. The US military is already stretched to the breaking point. We’d witness unprecedented pandemonium in oil markets. Our troops in Iraq would be endangered.” Vanden Heuvel cites the failure to destroy Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles during six weeks of bombings in 1991 (see January 16, 1991 and After), and the failure of the Israeli bombing of Iraq’s Osirak reactor (see June 7, 1981) to curb “regional [nuclear] proliferation.” She concludes, “Podhoretz and his insanity will embolden Iranian hardliners, plunge the region into even greater and darker instability and undermine our security.” [Nation, 10/28/2007]
Giuliani's Stable of Neocons - Since July 2007, Giuliani has surrounded himself with a group of outspoken hardline and neoconservative foreign policy advisers (see Mid-July 2007).
While the Bush administration claims that Iran is risking “World War III” by continuing to pursue nuclear weapons (see October 20, 2007), an array of experts inside and outside the government quoted in a McClatchy News article say that there is no conclusive evidence that Iran is actively pursuing such weapons. The story, and the alleged facts, change depending on which administration official is doing the speaking. President Bush and Vice President Cheney use harsh, bellicose rhetoric reminiscent of the rhetoric used in the run-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, but others, such as Bush’s “point man” on Iran, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, is attempting to tone down the rhetoric. Burns recently told reporters, “Iran is seeking a nuclear capability… that some people fear might lead to a nuclear-weapons capability.” Another US official says more directly, “I don’t think that anyone right today thinks [Iran is] working on a bomb.” Iran has the capability to continue working on producing a nuclear weapon, experts note, and could transform its current uranium-enrichment program into a weapons program if it so desired. But as of now, US experts have an amalgamation of circumstantial evidence and supposition, and no real proof; reporter Jonathan Landay observes, “Bush’s rhetoric seems hyperbolic compared with the measured statements by his senior aides and outside experts.” The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency agrees. With four years of inspections of Iran’s nuclear energy program behind it, the IAEA says it has no information that would show Iran has an active nuclear weapons program. The circumstantial evidence that leads some to assert the reality of Iran’s active nuclear weapons program is extensive, but not always solid. In 2006, the CIA gave the IAEA thousands of pages of computer simulations and documents that it claimed it took from a defector’s laptop; those documents showed that Iranian experts were working on mounting a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile, and working on developing nuclear “triggers,” or detonators. The CIA calls all of this Project 111. The Iranians denounced the materials as “politically motivated and baseless,” and have promised to cooperate with an IAEA investigation into the matter. Many Western intelligence officials and outside experts believe the materials are genuine—“I wouldn’t go to war over this, but it’s reason for suspicion,” says one—but Dr. Muhammad Sahimi, an Iranian defector who has closely monitored Iran’s nuclear program for decades, dismisses the materials as “totally not believable,” observing, “If the laptop did exist, I find it hard to believe that its absence wasn’t noticed for so long that somebody could take it out of Iran.” The IAEA has other questions as well, including a document from the nuclear black-market program of Dr. A. Q. Khan that shows how to form uranium into explosive cores, Iran’s experiments with radioactive materials used primarily in nuclear warheads, Iranian involvement with a uranium mine, and Iran’s claim that it needs large amounts of nuclear energy to feed its energy needs when it sits on such large reserves of oil and gas. Sahimi answers this last point by noting Iran would, in his opinion, do better to sell its petroleum on the global market and rely on nuclear energy for its own needs. [McClatchy News, 11/4/2007] A month after this article is published, the administration will release an intelligence report that concludes Iran stopped work on nuclear weapons in 2003 (see December 3, 2007).
Michael Mukasey. [Source: US Department of Justice]After two months of controversy, and a round of sporadically contentious Senate confirmation hearings, former judge Michael Mukasey narrowly wins the Senate’s approval to become the next attorney general, by an almost-party line 53-40 vote. Musakey replaces Alberto Gonzales, who resigned under fire in September 2007. Many Democrats vote against Mukasey because of his refusal to categorize the interrogation technique of waterboarding as torture, and his refusal to say that he would oppose President Bush’s insistence on eavesdropping on US citizens. Some Democrats took comfort in Mukasey’s characterization of waterboarding as “repugnant,” but others were not pleased by his refusal to say that the practice constitutes torture. Two key Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) refused to block Mukasey from going to the Senate for a confirmation vote. Both indicated that they reluctantly supported Mukasey’s nomination because the Justice Department needs an immediate infusion of leadership—Schumer called the department “adrift and rudderless” and in need of “a strong and independent leader”—and they feared if Mukasey was not confirmed, President Bush would put someone worse in the position as an interim appointment. [CNN, 11/8/2007] Schumer says he eventually decided to vote for Mukasey after the judge said “if Congress passed further legislation in this area, the president would have no legal authority to ignore it and Judge Mukasey would enforce it.” But Schumer’s colleague, Ted Kennedy (D-MA), is unimpressed. “Enforcing the law is the job of the attorney general,” Kennedy says. “It’s a prerequisite—not a virtue that enhances a nominee’s qualifications.” Ben Cardin (D-MD) wonders just how far, and how specifically, Congress will have to go to outlaw torture. He asks, “Are we going to have to outlaw the rack because there’s a question whether the rack is torture in this country?” [National Public Radio, 11/7/2007] Arlen Specter (R-PA), the committee’s ranking Republican, calls Mukasey “ethical, honest [and] not an intimate of the president.” [CNN, 11/8/2007] Mukasey is quietly sworn in only hours after winning the Senate vote. [National Public Radio, 11/9/2007] All four Democratic senators running for president—Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Barack Obama (D-IL), Joseph Biden (D-DE), and Christopher Dodd (D-CT)—have said they oppose Mukasey’s nomination. Obama calls Mukasey’s refusal to label waterboarding as torture “appalling,” and notes that Mukasey’s belief that the president “enjoys an unwritten right to secretly ignore any law or abridge our constitutional freedoms simply by invoking national security” disqualify him for the position. The other candidates make similar statements. [Fox News, 10/30/2007] However, none of them actually show up to cast their vote for or against Mukasey. John McCain (R-AZ), another senator running for president, also does not vote. [Associated Press, 11/8/2007] Three days after Mukasey’s confirmation, the New York Times writes a blistering editorial excoriating both the Bush administration and the compliant Senate Democrats for allowing Mukasey to become attorney general (see November 11, 2007).
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Senate Judiciary Committee, Michael Mukasey, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Dianne Feinstein, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Alberto R. Gonzales, Geneva Conventions, Arlen Specter, Charles Schumer, Ben Cardin, New York Times
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
In a blistering editorial, the New York Times lambasts both the Bush administration and the Democratic leadership in the Senate for allowing Michael Mukasey, the new attorney general, to slide through the confirmation process with so little challenge (see November 8, 2007). The only thing left in the Senate’s traditional responsibility of “advice and consent” is the “consent” part, the editors write. The editorial continues: “Once upon a time, the confirmation of major presidential appointments played out on several levels—starting, of course, with politics. It was assumed that a president would choose like-minded people as cabinet members and for other jobs requiring Senate approval. There was a presumption that he should be allowed his choices, all other things being equal. Before George W. Bush’s presidency, those other things actually counted. Was the nominee truly qualified, with a professional background worthy of the job? Would he discharge his duties fairly and honorably, upholding his oath to protect the Constitution? Even though [he or] she answers to the president, would the nominee represent all Americans? Would he or she respect the power of Congress to supervise the executive branch, and the power of the courts to enforce the rule of law? In less than seven years, Mr. Bush has managed to boil that list down to its least common denominator: the president should get his choices.” The Times observes that in the first six years of Bush’s rule, he had an enthusiastically compliant set of Republican allies in Congress, but during that time, minority Democrats “did almost nothing… to demand better nominees than Mr. Bush was sending up. And now that they have attained the majority, they are not doing any better.” The editors focus particularly on two issues: Mukasey’s refusal to answer straightforward questions on whether waterboarding is torture, and the Democrats’ refusal to filibuster the Senate vote. The Times notes that Mukasey passed confirmation with a 53-40 vote. Democrats have made what the Times calls “excuses for their sorry record” on a host of issues, and first and foremost is the justification that it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster. “So why did Mr. Mukasey get by with only 53 votes?” the Times asks. “Given the success the Republicans have had in blocking action when the Democrats cannot muster 60 votes, the main culprit appears to be the Democratic leadership, which seems uninterested in or incapable of standing up to Mr. Bush.” The editors do not accept the rationale of Mukasey supporters like Charles Schumer (D-NY), who argued that by not confirming Mukasey, the path would be clear for Bush to make an interim appointment of someone far more extreme. The Times calls this line of argument “cozy rationalization,” and by Mukasey’s refusal to answer questions about his position on waterboarding, he has already aligned himself with the extremist wing of the administration. For the record, the Times notes, “Waterboarding is specifically banned by the Army Field Manual, and it is plainly illegal under the federal Anti-Torture Act, federal assault statutes, the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 30, 2005), the Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994), and the Geneva Conventions.” Therefore, “[i]t is hard to see how any nominee worthy of the position of attorney general could fail to answer ‘yes.’” The Times speculates that Mukasey was not permitted to answer the question by the White House because a “no” answer “might subject federal officials who carried out Mr. Bush’s orders to abuse and torture prisoners after the 9/11 attacks: the right answer could have exposed them to criminal sanctions.” All in all, the Times is appalled by “the Senate giving the job of attorney general, chief law enforcement officer in the world’s oldest democracy, to a man who does not even have the integrity to take a stand against torture.” [New York Times, 11/11/2007]
Former British prime minister Tony Blair admits that he brushed off pleas from his ministers and advisers to try to prevent President Bush from going to war with Iraq, and that he turned down an eleventh-hour offer from Bush to pull Britain out of the conflict. Blair says he was convinced that Bush was doing the right thing in invading Iraq. He also says he wished he had published the full reports from the Joint Intelligence Committee instead of the cherry-picked “September dossier” that made false accusations about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction—a dossier that Blair says was one of the main factors in his losing the leadership of his country (see September 24, 2002). Blair, speaking as part of a BBC documentary, confirms what many people already believe: that he never used his influence as the leader of America’s strongest ally to try to force Bush away from military confrontation with Iraq. Instead, the invasion “was what I believed in, and I still do believe it.” The documentary shows that many of Blair’s closest advisers in and out of government, including foreign policy adviser David Manning, UN ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, foreign secretary Jack Straw, and even the US’s Secretary of State, Colin Powell, all had serious doubts about the rush to war. But Blair says of his position, “In my view, if it wasn’t clear that the whole nature of the way Saddam was dealing with this issue had changed, I was in favor of military action.” Blair says he and Bush affirmed their intentions to invade Iraq in September 2002, during meetings at Camp David (see September 7, 2002). Bush promised to try to get a second resolution against Iraq in the UN; in return, Blair promised to support Bush in his planned invasion should the UN resolution not pass. Blair also says that, just before the House of Commons voted to authorize Britain to use military force against Iraq (see March 18, 2003), Bush called Blair to offer him the opportunity to withdraw. Blair declined. “He was always very cognizant of the difficulty I had,” Blair recalls. “He was determined we should not end up with the regime change being in Britain and he was saying to me, ‘Look I understand this is very difficult and America can do this militarily on its own and if you want to stick out of it, stick out of it,’ and I was equally emphatic we should not do that.” [London Times, 11/17/2007]
Journalist Seymour Hersh says that a new CIA assessment concludes, in his words, that “there’s no evidence Iran is doing anything that puts them close to a bomb. There’s no secret program of significant bomb making.” However, the White House is ignoring that assessment and still moving forward with plans to launch a military strike against Iran.
'Stovepiping' - Hersh says that President Bush and Vice President Cheney are “stovepiping” intelligence [funnelling selected intelligence directly to top officials] and keeping information provided by the Israelis hidden from the CIA. According to Hersh, the Israelis have informed White House officials that Israel has a reliable agent inside Iraq, and that agent reports that Iran is working on a trigger for a nuclear device (see November 2005). “[T]he CIA isn’t getting a good look at the Israeli intelligence. It’s the old word, stovepiping. It’s the President and the Vice President, it’s pretty much being kept in the White House. Of course the people in the CIA want to know who [the agent] is, obviously,” Hersh tells a reporter. “They certainly want to know what other evidence he has of actual making of a warhead. This is the internecine fight that’s going on—the same fight, by the way, that we had before Iraq.” The CIA has no way of verifying the Israeli intelligence claims, but in light of recent events with unverifiable evidence such as the “Curveball” debacle (see November 1999), that agency is understandably wary of such dramatic claims that contradict their own findings. [CNN, 11/19/2007]
Israeli Claims Unverifiable - A former senior intelligence official says of the Israeli’s claim: “The problem is that no one can verify it. We don’t know who the Israeli source is. The briefing says the Iranians are testing trigger mechanisms,” simulating a zero-yield nuclear explosion without any weapons-grade materials, “but there are no diagrams, no significant facts. Where is the test site? How often have they done it? How big is the warhead—a breadbox or a refrigerator? They don’t have that.” But the report is being used by the White House to “prove the White House’s theory that the Iranians are on track. And tests leave no radioactive track, which is why we can’t find it.” Another problem that evokes the “stovepiping” of pre-war Iraq intelligence is the fact that White House officials have asked the Israelis for the raw intelligence, the original, unanalyzed, and unvetted material. Similar requests were used to draw false conclusions about Iraq’s WMD program before the US invasion of that country. A Pentagon consultant says, “Many presidents in the past have done the same thing, but intelligence professionals are always aghast when presidents ask for stuff in the raw. They see it as asking a second grader to read Ulysses.” [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]
Similar to Iraq Intelligence Problems - Former State Department intelligence expert Greg Thielmann noted in October 2003 that before the Iraq war, “garbage was being shoved straight to the President.” [New Yorker, 10/27/2003] Hersh suggests the same effect is happening now. [CNN, 11/19/2007]
White House Hostile to CIA Analysis - According to a current senior intelligence official, the White House is actively hostile to the CIA analysis, which is based on satellite imagery and other empirical evidence such as measurement of the radioactivity of water samples and highly classified radiation-detection devices surreptitiously placed near the Iranian nuclear facilities. Empirical data or not, the CIA analysis does not fit the White House’s needs, the intelligence official says. In its analysis, the CIA specifically warns that it would be a mistake to conclude that the failure to find a secret nuclear-weapons program in Iran is evidence that the Iranians are hiding it well. According to a former senior intelligence official, at the height of the Cold War, the Soviets were quite effective at deception and misdirection, but the US intelligence community was readily able to discern the details of their nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs. But, the former official says, many in the White House, particularly in Cheney’s office, are making just such an assumption: “the lack of evidence means they must have it.” [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]
Scott McClellan. [Source: White House]Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan says he “passed along false information” at the behest of five top Bush administration officials—George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Lewis Libby, and Andrew Card—about the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson during his time in the White House. McClellan is preparing to publish a book about his time in Washington, to be titled What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and What’s Wrong With Washington and available in April 2008. [Editor & Publisher, 11/20/2007] According to McClellan’s publisher Peter Osnos, McClellan doesn’t believe that Bush deliberately lied to him about Libby’s and Rove’s involvement in the leak. “He told him something that wasn’t true, but the president didn’t know it wasn’t true,” Osnos says. “The president told him what he thought to be the case.” [Bloomberg, 1/20/2007] Early in 2007, McClellan told reporters that everything he said at the time was based on information he and Bush “believed to be true at the time based on assurances that we were both given.” [Associated Press, 11/21/2007] In his book, McClellan writes: “Andy Card once remarked that he viewed the Washington media as just another ‘special interest’ that the White House had to deal with, much like the lobbyists or the trade associations. I found the remark stunning and telling.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 155]
White House Denials; Outrage from Plame, Democrats - White House press secretary Dana Perino says it isn’t clear what McClellan is alleging, and says, “The president has not and would not ask his spokespeople to pass on false information,” adding that McClellan’s book excerpt is being taken “out of context.” Plame has a different view. “I am outraged to learn that former White House press secretary Scott McClellan confirms that he was sent out to lie to the press corps,” she says. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) adds, “If the Bush administration won’t even tell the truth to its official spokesman, how can the American people expect to be told the truth either?” [Bloomberg, 1/20/2007; Associated Press, 11/21/2007] Senator and presidential candidate Christopher Dodd (D-CT) calls for a Justice Department investigation into Bush’s role in the Plame outing, and for the new attorney general, Michael Mukasey, to lead the investigation. [Raw Story, 11/21/2007]
Alleged Criminal Conspiracy - Investigative reporter Robert Parry writes: “George W. Bush joined in what appears to have been a criminal cover-up to conceal the role of his White House in exposing the classified identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson. That is the logical conclusion one would draw from [McClellan’s book excerpt] when it is put into a mosaic with previously known evidence.” [Consortium News, 11/21/2007] Author and columnist John Nichols asks if McClellan will become the “John Dean of the Bush administration,” referring to the Nixon White House counsel who revealed the details of the crimes behind the Watergate scandal. Nichols writes: “It was Dean’s willingness to reveal the details of what [was] described as ‘a cancer’ on the Nixon presidency that served as a critical turning point in the struggle by a previous Congress to hold the 37th president to account. Now, McClellan has offered what any honest observer must recognize as the stuff of a similarly significant breakthrough.” Former Common Cause President Chellie Pingree says: “The president promised, way back in 2003, that anyone in his administration who took part in the leak of Plame’s name would be fired. He neglected to mention that, according to McClellan, he was one of those people. And needless to say, he didn’t fire himself. Instead, he fired no one, stonewalled the press and the federal prosecutor in charge of the case, and lied through his teeth.” [Nation, 1/21/2007]
Entity Tags: Peter Osnos, Public Affairs, Michael Mukasey, Scott McClellan, Robert Parry, Richard M. Nixon, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Nichols, Central Intelligence Agency, Andrew Card, Bush administration (43), Charles Schumer, Joseph C. Wilson, Christopher Dodd, George W. Bush, Dana Perino, Chellie Pingree
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Joseph Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, jointly respond to former White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s revelation that he had unknowingly misled the public as part of a White House campaign of deception surrounding the “outing” of Plame Wilson, then an undercover CIA agent (see November 20, 2007). The Wilsons quote the words of former President George H. W. Bush in labeling the Bush administration officials they believe betrayed Plame’s identity—Lewis Libby, Karl Rove, Richard Armitage, and Ari Fleischer—as “the most insidious of traitors” (see April 26, 1999). McClellan’s naming of George W. Bush as being “involved” in orchestrating the campaign of deception makes Bush, they write, a “party to a conspiracy by senior administration officials to defraud the public.” The two continue: “If that isn’t a high crime and misdemeanor then we don’t know what is. And if the president was merely an unwitting accomplice, then who lied to him? What is he doing to punish the person who misled the president to abuse his office? And why is that person still working in the executive branch?”
Criticism of Mainstream Media - The Wilsons are particularly irate at the general failure of the mainstream media, with the exception of several MSNBC pundits and reporters, to pay much attention to McClellan, instead dismissing it as “old news.” The Wilsons write: “The Washington press corps, whose pretension is to report and interpret events objectively, has been compromised in this matter as evidence presented in the courtroom demonstrated. Prominent journalists acted as witting agents of Rove, Libby and Armitage and covered up this serious breach of US national security rather than doing their duty as journalists to report it to the public.” They quote one reporter asking if McClellan’s statement was not anything more than “another Wilson publicity stunt.” The Wilsons respond: “Try following this tortuous logic: Dick Cheney runs an operation involving senior White House officials designed to betray the identity of a covert CIA officer and the press responds by trying to prove that the Wilsons are publicity seekers. What ever happened to reporting the news? Welcome to Through the Looking Glass.” They conclude with the question, again using the elder Bush’s words: “Where is the outrage? Where is the ‘contempt and anger?’” [Huffington Post, 11/22/2007]
Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard Armitage, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Ari Fleischer, MSNBC, George Herbert Walker Bush, Joseph C. Wilson, George W. Bush, Karl C. Rove
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
President Bush signs the ‘Declaration of Principles’ as part of a teleconference with Prime Minister al-Maliki. [Source: White House]The White House issues a “Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America.” The “Declaration of Principles” is signed by both President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. According to the White House press release, the declaration will affirm the “long-term relationship [of] two fully sovereign and independent states with common interests… based on the heroic sacrifices made by the Iraqi people and the American people for the sake of a free, democratic, pluralistic, federal, and unified Iraq.” The principles, as enumerated by the White House, include the following:
Supporting the Republic of Iraq in defending its democratic system against internal and external threats;
Defending of the Iraqi constitution;
“Providing security assurances and commitments to the Republic of Iraq to deter foreign aggression against Iraq that violates its sovereignty and integrity of its territories, waters, or airspace”;
Helping Iraq combat “all terrorist groups, at the forefront of which is al-Qaeda, Saddamists, and all other outlaw groups regardless of affiliation, and destroy[ing] their logistical networks and their sources of finance, and defeat[ing] and uproot[ing] them from Iraq”;
Supporting and training the Iraq Security Force;
Supporting efforts to achieve national reconciliation;
Supporting Iraq’s attempts to “enhance its position in regional and international organizations and institutions so that it may play a positive and constructive role in the region and the world,” as well as assisting it in joining the World Trade Organization and achieving “most favored” trading status with the US;
Helping Iraq achieve peaceful relations with its neighboring countries;
Promoting “cultural, educational, and scientific exchanges between” Iraq and the US;
Helping Iraq in its “transition to a market economy”;
Building Iraq’s economic infrastructure and institutions;
Encouraging foreign investment, “especially American investments, to contribute to the reconstruction and rebuilding of Iraq”;
Helping Iraq recover funds and properties illegally hidden away by the family and associates of former dictator Saddam Hussein, “as well as antiquities and items of cultural heritage, smuggled before and after April 9, 2003” (see April 9, 2003);
Helping Iraq secure “forgiveness of its debts and compensation for the wars waged by the former regime.”
The declaration states that Iraq will request a final extension of the UN-mandated Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I); after that extension expires, Iraq’s UN status will revert to the levels enjoyed before August 1990’s UN Resolution 661 that determined the country was “a threat to international peace and security.” Iraq will, in the eyes of the UN, then enjoy “the full sovereignty of Iraq over its territories, waters, and airspace, and its control over its forces and the administration of its affairs.” The White House wants a formal agreement to this end signed by July 31, 2008. [White House, 11/26/2007]
According to national security director Stephen Hadley (see December 3, 2007) and President Bush himself (see December 3-4, 2007), Bush will not be informed about the findings of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) showing that Iran stopped work on its nuclear program until November 28. But that may be false. On December 4, journalist Seymour Hersh will tell a CNN reporter, “Israel objects to this report. I’m told that [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert had a private discussion with Bush about it during Annapolis—before Annapolis [where Israel and the US engaged in preliminary peace talks over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict]. Bush briefed him about it. The Israelis were very upset about the report. They think we’re naive, they don’t think we get it right. And so they have a different point of view.” If Hersh is correct, then Bush discussed the NIE’s findings with Israel’s Olmert on November 26, two days before he supposedly learns of them. [CNN, 12/4/2007] According to the Israeli news outlet Ha’aretz, “Israel has known about the report for more than a month. The first information on it was passed on to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and to Shaul Mofaz, who is the minister responsible for the strategic dialog with the Americans. The issue was also discussed at the Annapolis summit by Barak and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and it seems also between Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.” [Ha'aretz, 12/5/2007]
Following the release of an intelligence estimate showing Iran shut down its nuclear program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley defends President George Bush’s recent statements about a possible “World War III” (see October 20, 2007). Hadley says that Bush was not told to tone down his rhetoric about Iran’s nuclear program after he was advised that the intelligence community was in the process of revising its estimate and that Bush would have made his “World War III” remarks anyway. “It was making a point that the president and we have been making for two or three years—that the international community has to exert more pressure, because Iran needs to suspend [its] enrichment program,” Hadley says. “That continues to be our policy after this latest National Intelligence Estimate.” [CNN, 12/5/2007]
Stephen Hadley briefing reporters on the new NIE. [Source: New York Times]Following the release of the the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran that concludes Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley portrays the NIE as reflective of the Bush administration’s views. Hadley says that it “offers some positive news,” adding that the NIE “confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons.” Perhaps the most illuminating portion of Hadley’s interpretation reads: “The estimate offers grounds for hope that the problem can be solved diplomatically—without the use of force—as the administration has been trying to do. And it suggests that the president has the right strategy: intensified international pressure along with a willingness to negotiate a solution that serves Iranian interests while ensuring that the world will never have to face a nuclear armed Iran.” [New York Times, 12/3/2007] President Bush has apparently not changed his views because of the NIE. He says: “Iran was dangerous. Iran is dangerous. And Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.… I view this report as a warning signal that they had the program, they halted the program. The reason why it’s a warning signal is they could restart it.… To me, the NIE provides an opportunity for us to rally the international community—to continue to rally the community—to pressure the Iranian regime to suspend its program. What’s to say they couldn’t start another covert nuclear weapons program.” When asked if he had been “hyping” the threat from Iran in view of the NIE’s findings, Bush claims that he was only made aware of the NIE’s conclusions last week, a claim that does not stand up to examination (see December 3-4, 2007). [Associated Press, 12/4/2007; Guardian, 12/4/2007]
Author and Hoover Institute fellow Victor Davis Hanson takes a different tack in his contribution to the neoconservative attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (see December 3, 2007). Hanson says the NIE is a victory for the Bush administration and a conundrum for Democrats, who, Hanson asserts, must now accept that Bush has successfully headed off two separate nuclear threats to the US: “The latest news from Iran about the supposed abandonment in 2003 of the effort to produce a bomb—if even remotely accurate—presents somewhat of a dilemma for liberal Democrats. Are they now to suggest that Republicans have been warmongering over a nonexistent threat for partisan purposes?… After all, what critic would wish now to grant that one result of the 2003 war—aside from the real chance that Iraq can stabilize and function under the only consensual government in the region—might have been the elimination, for some time, of two growing and potentially nuclear threats to American security, quite apart from Saddam Hussein?” [National Review, 12/3/2007]
Neoconservative eminence grise Norman Podhoretz, who recently advocated an all-out military strike against Iran (see October 28, 2007), claims that the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (see December 3, 2007) is an attempt by the US intelligence community to avoid making the same mistakes with weapons of mass destruction that it made in Iraq. Podhoretz rightly notes that in May 2005, the intelligence community assured the administration in an NIE that Iraq was pushing towards developing a nuclear weapon. Podhoretz writes that he suspects the intelligence community, “having been excoriated for supporting the then universal belief that Saddam [Hussein] had weapons of mass destruction, is now bending over backward to counter what has up to now been a similarly universal view… that Iran is hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons.” Podhoretz then presents what he calls “an even darker suspicion… that the intelligence community, which has for some years now been leaking material calculated to undermine George W. Bush, is doing it again.” [Commentary, 12/3/2007]
The White House refuses to allow special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to turn over key documents from his investigation into the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak to Congress, as requested by House Oversight Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) since June 2007 and revealed by Waxman today. Waxman has repeatedly requested reports of interviews by President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and five top White House aides—White House political strategist Karl Rove, former press secretary Scott McClellan, former chief of staff Andrew Card, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and former communications director Dan Bartlett. Waxman has also requested transcripts and other documents relevant to these officials’ testimony. According to Waxman, Fitzgerald is willing to turn over the documents to the committee, but cannot gain White House permission to do so. Waxman appeals to newly appointed Attorney General Michael Mukasey to overrule the White House and release the documents. “I hope you will not accede to the White House objections,” Waxman writes to Mukasey. “During the Clinton administration, your predecessor, Janet Reno, made an independent judgment and provided numerous FBI interview reports to the committee, including reports of interviews with President Clinton, Vice President Gore, and three White House chiefs of staff. I have been informed that Attorney General Reno neither sought nor obtained White House consent before providing these interview records to the committee. I believe the Justice Department should exercise the same independence in this case.… There is no legitimate basis for the withholding of these documents. Mr. Fitzgerald has apparently determined that these documents can be produced to the committee without infringing on his prosecutorial independence or violating the rules of grand jury secrecy. As records of statements made by White House officials to federal investigators, outside the framework of presidential decision-making, the documents could not be subject to a valid claim of executive privilege.” Mukasey will not accede to Waxman’s request. Many believe that even though Fitzgerald only managed to convict one White House official as a result of his investigation (see March 6, 2007), he compiled evidence that indicates others, including Cheney, were involved in leaking Plame Wilson’s CIA status. Fitzgerald has indicated that his investigation into other White House officials was drastically hindered by Libby’s repeated lies under oath (see 9:00 a.m. February 20, 2007 and May 25, 2007). Fitzgerald has declined to testify before Waxman’s committee, citing rules that prohibit him from revealing grand jury proceedings, and noting that prosecutors “traditionally refrain from commenting outside of the judicial process on the actions of persons not charged with criminal offenses.” [Washington Post, 12/3/2007] Waxman will continue, without success, to request the information (see June 3, 2008), though the White House will release heavily redacted transcripts of Libby’s grand jury testimony in the summer of 2008. [Murray Waas, 12/23/2008]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Stephen J. Hadley, Valerie Plame Wilson, Andrew Card, Dan Bartlett, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Scott McClellan, Michael Mukasey, Henry A. Waxman, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Janet Reno, Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
George W. Bush, apparently taken somewhat aback by the US intelligence community’s findings released on December 3, 2007, that Iran halted its work on a nuclear bomb four years ago (see December 3, 2007), claims that he only learned about the findings on November 28. The intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) has been in production for some 18 months. According to National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were first given initial briefings in either August or September. [White House, 11/28/2007; Washington Post, 12/4/2007] Bush tells reporters he wasn’t even aware of the evidence showing Iran had halted its nuclear program, “I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was [Director of National Intelligence] Mike McConnell [who] came in and said, ‘We have some new information.’ He didn’t tell me what the information was. He did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze.… And it wasn’t until last week that I was briefed on the NIE that is now public.” A clearly incredulous reporter follows up by asking, “I understand what you’re saying about when you were informed about the NIE. Are you saying at no point while the rhetoric was escalating, as World War III was making it into conversation—at no point, nobody from your intelligence team or your administration was saying, ‘Maybe you want to back it down a little bit?’” Bush answers, “No—I’ve never—nobody ever told me that.” [CNN, 12/4/2007] From Hadley’s words, the date that Bush knew of the NIE findings may be much earlier. Hadley tells reporters attempting to pin him down on the exact date when Bush was told of the findings, “[W]hen was the president notified that there was new information available? We’ll try and get you a precise answer. As I say, it was, in my recollection, is in the last few months. Whether that’s October—August-September, we’ll try and get you an answer for that.” All told, Hadley says that Bush was told of the findings within “the last few months” five different times during the press conference. [Think Progress, 12/3/2007] By December 5, the White House will begin refusing to answer the question at all. White House spokesman Tony Fratto will tell reporters, “I don’t have anything on that.… I can’t give you more detail on what Director McConnell said to the President.” [White House, 12/5/2007]
Bush Either 'Lying' or 'Stupid' - Many find Bush’s claim hard to accept. Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) notes that he and ranking committee member Kit Bond (R-MO) received a briefing on the NIE’s intelligence “several months ago,” and says, “I was really struck when the president said that he only got the final judgments on Tuesday.” He cannot imagine that he and Bond received information months in advance of Bush. Rockefeller says he “can’t believe” that McConnell’s indication of new information didn’t prevent Bush from “talking about a nuclear holocaust.” [PBS, 12/4/2007] Former National Security Council official Flynt Leverett says the White House is probably being dishonest about what Bush knew and when he knew it. “I can’t imagine that McConnell… would tell the president about this and not tell him what the information actually said,” Leverett observes. [CNN, 12/5/2007] Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) says, “What’s shocking today is that apparently he knew about this estimate a month or more before he made those statements. I don’t think that shows a responsible use of intelligence.” [Reuters, 12/5/2007] And MSNBC talk show host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican Congressman, says flatly, “We are left with only two options here. Either the President of the United States is lying to the American people about what happened during that meeting, or the President of the United States is stupid.” [MSNBC, 12/5/2007]
Cheney Not Hampered by Lack of Intelligence - If Bush was indeed ignorant of the intelligence findings, as he asserts, it is not likely that his vice president labored under the same lack of information, judging from the fact that Cheney’s office has been involved in trying to suppress the NIE for over a year (see October 2006).
Entity Tags: Mike McConnell, Joseph Scarborough, Stephen J. Hadley, John D. Rockefeller, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jack Reed, Bush administration (43), Flynt Leverett, George W. Bush, Senate Intelligence Committee, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, Tony Fratto
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
While President Bush takes something of the high road (see December 5, 2007) in reacting to the newly released National Intelligence Estimate saying that Iran shut down its nuclear program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), neoconservatives and other right-wing figures throw an entire array of accusations—some directed at Democrats, some at the State Department officials who compiled the report, and some at the US intelligence community itself, in an attempt to discredit the report (see December 3, 2007, December 3, 2007, December 4, 2007, December 4, 2007, December 4, 2007, December 4-6, 2007, December 5, 2007, and December 6, 2007). [Los Angeles Times, 12/4/2007]
Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), a presidential candidate and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says that President Bush deliberately misled the American people over the danger posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and that if Bush initiates an attack on Iran without the approval of Congress, he will call for Bush’s impeachment. Biden tells reporters, “After all we’ve been through, for this president to knowingly disregard or once again misrepresent intelligence about an issue of war and peace, I find outrageous.” Biden is referring to the faulty and deceptive intelligence presented by the Bush administration to justify invading Iraq. The US intelligence community recently released a National Intelligence Estimate (see December 3, 2007) that concluded Iran shut down its nuclear program in 2003, and Bush has asserted that he himself only learned about the shutdown in late November (see December 3-4, 2007). Biden doesn’t believe Bush’s tale of ignorance: “Are you telling me a president who’s briefed every single morning, who’s fixated on Iran, is not told back in August that the tentative conclusion of 16 intelligence agencies of the United States government said [Iran] had abandoned their effort for nuclear weapons in 2003?” Biden says if Bush’s assertion of ignorance is true, then he and his staff are thoroughly incompetent. “You cannot trust this president,” Biden states. [ABC News, 12/4/2007] Biden is joined by other Democratic presidential candidates, although they use less “heated rhetoric” than Biden. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) says, “I think we do know that pressure on Iran does have an effect. I think that is an important lesson. But we’re not going to reach the kind of resolution that we should seek unless we put that into the context of a diplomatic process.” And Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) notes that Bush “continues to not let facts get in the way of his ideology.… They should have stopped the saber rattling; should have never started it. And they need, now, to aggressively move on the diplomatic front.” [CNN, 12/5/2007]
Eleven US veterans who served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan demand that Congress open hearings on the pro-war rhetoric of the Bush administration in light of the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran that concluded Iran stopped work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007). The veterans, leaders and members of the antiwar group VoteVets, write a letter to the chairmen of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Silvestre Reyes (D-TX). The letter reads in part, “[W]e are extremely concerned about news that has emerged over the past few days regarding the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, what it says, and when the President knew about it. We believe the mass confusion over when the President knew of the report’s findings, and whether he continued to ramp up Iran war rhetoric anyway, warrants an immediate investigation by your committees. Our concern, primarily, is that such rhetoric only serves to stoke hostility towards our troops currently in Iraq, and that, if military action against Iran is launched, it has serious repercussions on the lives of our troops and our very military.… Despite the White House having [the information behind the NIE] administration officials continued to use rhetoric designed to sell the American public on the idea of taking military action against Iran.” The veterans note that President Bush apparently lied about when he became aware of the intelligence behind the NIE (see December 3-4, 2007). The veterans ask that the two committees find out the truth behind what Bush knew and when he knew it, and if Bush was aware that the rhetoric from himself and his officials could increase the danger faced by US troops in Iraq. “These questions must be examined and a determination must be made as to why comments such as the ones above were made. If not for legitimate security reasons, did the administration put our troops at increased risk for domestic political reasons?” [VetVoice, 12/4/2007]
As part of the neoconservative attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (see December 3, 2007), American Enterprise Institute fellow and former Pentagon adviser Michael Rubin tries to pin the blame for the previous uncertainty about Iran’s nuclear program on the Clinton administration. Rubin writes: “If Iran was working on a nuclear weapons program until 2003, what does this say about US policy in the late Clinton period…? Is it fair to say that while Iran spoke of dialogue of civilizations, it was working on a nuclear weapons program?” [National Review, 12/4/2007]
The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin puts together what he calls a “pattern of deception” in President Bush’s response to the recently released National Intelligence Estimate about Iran (see December 3, 2007). Froomkin writes that, contrary to Bush’s assertions that he knew nothing about the report’s conclusions until late November (see December 3-4, 2007 and December 5-6, 2007), it is evident Bush was told something concrete in August. At that time Bush began to change his rhetoric about Iran, going from explicit assertions about Iran’s nuclear weapons to more vague, yet just as alarming, assertions about Iran’s desire to obtain the knowledge and technology required for building a nuclear weapon. Froomkin writes, “Bush left his listeners with what he likely knew was a fundamentally false impression. And he did so in the pursuit of a more muscular and possibly even military approach to a Middle Eastern country. It’s an oddly familiar pattern of deception.”
Timeline of Deception - Froomkin provides a timeline of Bush’s statements against Iran, from early January 2007, where Bush said Iran “want[s] to have a nuclear weapon” (see January 26, 2007), to late March, when he asserted Iran was actively working on a nuclear bomb (see March 31, 2007). In mid-June, Bush warned that there would be “consequences” towards Iran if it continued working on a nuclear bomb (see June 19, 2007). A month later, Bush tied the Iranian nuclear program into what he called a “broader struggle” in the Middle East (see July 12, 2007). On August 6, Bush said that Iran’s nuclear ambitions were a “destabilizing” force in the Middle East (see August 6, 2007). But on August 9, Bush’s rhetoric shifted: while not backing down from his threats and warnings about Iran’s nuclear program, he began talking about Iran’s enrichment of uranium and its “step[s] toward having a nuclear weapons program” (see August 9, 2007). Bush continued with that particular parsing until the NIE was made public in early December. [Washington Post, 12/5/2007]
Olbermann Denounces Bush's Rhetorical Shift - MSNBC host Keith Olbermann uses Froomkin’s carefully constructed timeline of presidential pronouncements about Iran to launch a fiery denunciation of Bush’s deceptions. Olbermann says, “We have either a president who is too dishonest to restrain himself from invoking World War III about Iran at least six weeks after he had to have known that the analogy would be fantastic, irresponsible hyperbole, or we have a president too transcendently stupid not to have asked, at what now appears to have been a series of opportunities to do so, whether the fairy tales he either created or was fed were still even remotely plausible. A pathological presidential liar, or an idiot-in-chief.” Bush’s parsing might be technically true, Olbermann notes: “Legally, it might save you from some war crimes trial, but ethically it is a lie. It is indefensible.… You, Mr. Bush, are a bald-faced liar.… You not only knew all of this about Iran in early August, but you also knew it was accurate. And instead of sharing this good news with the people you have obviously forgotten you represent, you merely fine-tuned your terrorizing of those people, to legally cover your own backside.” [MSNBC, 12/6/2007]
President George W. Bush demands that Iran “come clean” about its nuclear weapons program or face diplomatic isolation. The director of national intelligence recently released a sweeping National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that concluded Iran shut down its nuclear weapons research program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), and since then the administration has attempted various responses to the document. Bush is now demanding that Iran produce details about its nuclear weapons programs which it “has yet to acknowledge.” Bush says: “The Iranians have a strategic choice to make. They can come clean with the international community about the scope of their nuclear activities, and fully accept the long-standing offer to suspend their enrichment program and come to the table and negotiate, or they can continue on a path of isolation.” According to analysts, Bush may be worried the US is losing leverage over Iran, as well as credibility around the world.
Response to NIE and US intelligence community - Bush does not directly criticize the US intelligence community, but says he appreciates its work in helping his officials understand past and present activities in Iran, and helping his administration develop a sound policy towards Iran. Of the NIE, Bush continues to portray it as in line with his own policies and suspicions, saying, “It is clear from the latest NIE that the Iranian government has more to explain about its nuclear intentions and past actions.” Bush says that his administration will continue to push for tougher UN sanctions against Iran. Deputy White House Press Secretary Tony Fratto says that Iran continues to hide information, remains in violation of two UN Security Council resolutions, tests ballistic missiles and is enriching uranium. “Anyone who thinks that the threat from Iran has receded or diminished is naive and is not paying attention to the facts,” Fratto says. [Associated Press, 12/5/2007]
The White House confirms that President Bush was told in August 2007 that Iran’s nuclear weapons program “may be suspended,” the conclusion of the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) (see December 3, 2007). The White House’s admission is a direct contradiction of Bush’s assertion that he only learned of the NIE in late November (see December 3-4, 2007 and November 26-28, 2007). Press secretary Dana Perino says Bush was not told in August of the specifics behind the information about Iran’s nuclear program. Perino says that Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Mike McConnell told Bush in August that the new information might cause the intelligence community to revise its assessment of the Iranian program, but analysts still needed to complete their review before making a final judgment. However, Perino says there is no conflict between her statement and Bush’s insistence that he knew nothing about the substance of the intelligence assessment until late November, because Bush “wasn’t given the specific details” of the revised estimate. Perino’s account raises questions about why, if Bush knew the intelligence community believed Iran’s nuclear weapons program was in abeyance, two months later, he was still giving dire warnings about Iran being a threat to cause “World War III” if not halted (see October 20, 2007). Perino offers an explanation of those warnings, saying, “The president didn’t say we’re going to cause World War III. He was saying he wanted to avoid World War III.” Perino says it is unfair to question Bush’s veracity: “If anyone wants to call the president a liar, they are misreading the situation for their own political purposes. The liar is [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad [the president of Iran], and he has a lot of explaining to do.”
Reaction - Joseph Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calls Bush’s explanation unbelievable. “I refuse to believe that,” Biden says. “If that’s true, he has the most incompetent staff in modern American history, and he’s one of the most incompetent presidents in modern American history.” [CNN, 12/5/2007] Four former CIA officials call Bush’s claim of ignorance about the Iran intelligence “preposterous.” Melvin Goodman, a 24-year CIA veteran, calls Bush’s claim “unbelievable.” He is joined by Ray McGovern, another CIA veteran who routinely briefed George H. W. Bush during his two terms as vice president; Larry Johnson, the former deputy of the State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism; and Bruce Riedel, a former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asian offices. McGovern is almost contemptuous of Bush’s claim: “The notion that the head of National Intelligence whispered in Bush’s ear, ‘I’ve got a surprise for you and it’s really important, but I’m not going to tell you about it until we check it out’—the whole thing is preposterous.” Riedel says that Bush “either chose to ignore what he heard or his director of national intelligence is not doing his job.” He doubts McConnell failed to do his part. “To me it is almost mind boggling that the president is told by the DNI that we have new important information on Iran and he doesn’t ask ‘what is that information?’” Riedel adds. It is not McConnell’s responsibility to tell Bush to “stop hyperventilating about the Iranian threat,” he says, but instead the job of National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and Bush’s other policy advisers to keep “their eye on the intelligence and to take into account new information as it comes along.” Johnson says that the information used in the NIE would have been available months before it was released to the public, and would have automatically been included in the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB). Bush would have been told of the intelligence findings, as would Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Goodman and McGovern agree with Johnson’s statement. [Huffington Post, 12/5/2007] A deconstruction of Bush’s own statements over the last several months indicates that Bush changed his wording in early August, most likely because he was informed about the intelligence findings over Iran (see December 5, 2007).
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Dana Perino, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Bruce Riedel, Stephen J. Hadley, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mike McConnell, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Larry C. Johnson, Joseph Biden, Condoleezza Rice, Ray McGovern, Robert M. Gates, Melvin A. Goodman
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
Thomas Fingar. [Source: Office of Personnel Management]Some Bush administration members and supporters accuse three former State Department officials of deliberately writing the recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (NIE) (see December 3, 2007) in an inaccurate and partisan manner. The three former State Department officials are Thomas Fingar, deputy director of national intelligence for analysis; Vann Van Diepen, national intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction and proliferation; and Kenneth Brill, director of the national counterproliferation center. All three currently work at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Fingar, Van Diepen, and Brill helped compile the information in the NIE, and helped write the final draft, but none of them actually produced or analyzed the intelligence used in the report. A spokesman for Senator John Ensign (R-NV) says that intelligence reports such as the recent Iran NIE are “becoming very politicized.” David Wurmser, the former chief Middle East adviser to Vice President Cheney, says, “One has to look at the agendas of the primary movers of this report, to judge how much it can really be banked on.” The officials say that when the three DNI officials worked in the State Department under then-Secretary Colin Powell, they supported Powell’s belief that diplomacy, not confrontation and belligerence, would best address the threat from Iran’s nuclear program. On the other side was then-Undersecretary John Bolton, who, like his fellow neoconservatives in the White House, believed that the only way to handle Iran’s nuclear threat was by confrontation. Unnamed officials accuse Fingar, Van Diepen, and Brill of trying to “torpedo the threat that this administration would pose to their desired policy outcomes on Iran, which is some kind of accommodation with an Iranian nuclear program.” The officials accuse Fingar, Van Diepen, and Brill of working to block economic and military sanctions against Iran and “sabotag[ing]” the administration’s attempt to pressure foreign allies to impose sanctions. The three former State officials were brought to the DNI by then-director John Negroponte, considered a strong Powell ally. Van Diepen is particular criticized and accused of having a personal animosity towards Bolton, and of opposing anything towards Iran except what they call “tea-cup diplomacy.” Brill is accused of being “extremely close” to Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, an agency which these officials view as an Iran apologist. [Washington Times, 12/7/2007] The anonymous officials’ charges are refuted by, among others, Vice President Dick Cheney (see December 6, 2007).
Entity Tags: John Negroponte, George W. Bush, David Wurmser, Colin Powell, Bush administration (43), John Ensign, Vann Van Diepen, Mohamed ElBaradei, Thomas Fingar, John R. Bolton, Kenneth Brill, International Atomic Energy Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of State
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
Eric Margolis. [Source: Eric Margolis]Toronto Sun columnist Eric Margolis calls the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran the “revenge” of a “fifth column [of] America’s spooks” for being forced in 2002 and 2003 “to concoct a farrago of lies about Iraq, and then take the blame for the ensuing fiasco there.” While Margolis’s conclusions about the motives of the US intelligence community may be a bit hyperbolic, it is apparent that the NIE is, as Margolis writes, “a devastating, humiliating blow to Bush, Dick Cheney, and the neocons who have been fulminating for war against Iran.” The irony that “Iran’s leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was telling the truth all along when he said Iran was not working on nuclear arms, while Bush and Company were lying through their teeth, just as they have over Iraq and Afghanistan,” must be particularly galling in certain quarters of the White House.
Turning to Israel - Margolis also notes that part of the underlying message of the NIE is that the White House should rely on its own intelligence community, and not other sources, for proper information. When the White House first learned over a year ago that the US intelligence community wasn’t going to give it the conclusions it wanted on Iran, it turned instead to Israel’s Mossad, which gave Bush officials the answers they wanted. (The Mossad still says Iran will have a nuclear weapon by 2008.) Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has called the NIE report a “blow to the groin.” Israel has worked tirelessly, Margolis writes, to convince the US to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. It is less clear whether Israel will now consider performing that task on its own.
Impeachment Doubtful - Margolis writes, “This is the final disgrace for Bush and Cheney. Their war propaganda and efforts to suppress the new NIE should constitute grounds for immediate impeachment.” His argument is one that many find compelling: “If Bill Clinton could be impeached for lying about oral sex, shouldn’t Bush and Cheney face trial for attempting to lie and deceive Americans into yet another war of aggression?” Yet, he notes sourly, Congress “lacks the guts for such action.” [Toronto Sun, 12/9/2007]
Convicted felon Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see March 6, 2007), formerly the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, decides to drop his appeal of his convictions. [Washington Post, 7/3/2007] Libby’s lawyer, Theodore Wells, says Libby is dropping the appeal mainly because of the burden the legal maneuvering has placed on his family. “We remain firmly convinced of Mr. Libby’s innocence,” he says. “However, the realities were that after five years of government service by Mr. Libby and several years of defending against this case, the burden on Mr. Libby and his young family of continuing to pursue his complete vindication are too great to ask them to bear.… The appeal would lead only to a retrial, a process that would last even beyond the two years of supervised release, cost millions of dollars more than the fine he has already paid (see July 5, 2007), and entail many more hundreds of hours preparing for an all-consuming appeal and retrial.” Wells also says no one has discussed a pardon with President Bush. [CBS News, 1/25/2007; Associated Press, 12/10/2007] Libby’s conviction was commuted by Bush months before (see July 2, 2007).
President George Bush says he was unaware that the CIA had videotaped detainee interrogations. The CIA had videotaped some interrogations in 2002 (see Spring-Late 2002), but the tapes were destroyed in late 2005 (see November 2005), and this was disclosed five days previously (see December 6, 2007). Bush says, “My first recollection of whether the tapes existed or whether they were destroyed was when [CIA Director] Michael Hayden briefed me.” [ABC News, 12/11/2007] Bush took an interest in information coming from one of the detainees who was videotaped, Abu Zubaida (see Late March 2002), and normally a president would be informed about activities like the detainee interrogations. However, there appears to have been a long-standing deliberate policy of keeping Bush out of the loop regarding aggressive interrogation methods to protect him from any adverse consequences that might arise (see April 2002 and After).
J. William Leonard, resigning his post as the director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) at the National Archives after 34 years of government service, says his battles with the Office of the Vice President (OVP) are a contributing factor in his decision to resign. Leonard’s office challenged Dick Cheney’s attempt to declare his office exempt from federal rules governing classified information, and in return Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington, attempted to have ISOO abolished (see 2003 and May 29, 2007-June 7, 2007). Leonard is described by Archivist Allen Weinstein as “the gold standard of information specialists in the federal government.” Leonard says that he was “disappointed that rather than engage on the substance of an issue, some people would resort to that.” Leonard says he was frustrated when President Bush announced that he never intended for Cheney’s office to have to comply with classification reporting rules: “I’ve had 34 years of frustration. That’s life in the big city. I also accept that I’m not always right…. But this was a big thing as far as I was concerned.”
Possible Connection to Plame Affair - Leonard refuses to say whether he believes the timing of Cheney’s decision—the fall of 2003, the same time as the media began paying attention to the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson—is significant, but “some of the things based on what I’ve read [have] given me cause for concern.” Leonard says that some of the exhibits in the trial of former Cheney chief of staff Lewis Libby were annotated “handle as SCI,” or “sensitive compartmentalized information,” including an unclassified transcript of a conversation between Cheney and his staff members about concocting a plan to respond to the media over the allegations of Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson.
National Security vs. National Security - Leonard believes that the government needs to “introduce a new balancing test” for deciding whether to classify information. “In the past, we’ve looked at it as, ‘we have to balance national security against the public’s right to know or whatever.’ My balancing test would be national security versus national security: yes, disclosing information may cause damage, but you know what, withholding that information may even cause greater damage…. And I don’t think we sufficiently take[…] that into greater account. The global struggle that we’re engaged in today is more than anything else an ideological struggle. And in my mind… that calls for greater transparency, not less transparency. We’re in a situation where we’re attempting to win over the hearts and minds of the world’s population. And yet, we seem to have a habit—when we restrict information, we’re often times find ourselves in a position where we’re ceding the playing field to the other side. We allow ourselves to be almost reduced to a caricature by taking positions on certain issues, oh, we simply can’t talk about that.” [Newsweek, 12/27/2007]
Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Office of the Vice President, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joseph C. Wilson, David S. Addington, National Archives and Records Administration, Allen Weinstein, J. William Leonard, Information Security Oversight Office, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Center for Public Integrity logo. [Source: Center for Public Integrity]The Center for Public Integrity (CPI), a non-profit, non-partisan investigative journalism organization, releases an analysis of top Bush administration officials’ statements over the two years leading up to the March 18, 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Significance - Analysts and authors Charles Lewis and Mark Reading-Smith state that the analysis proves that the Bush administration engaged in deliberate deception to lead the country into war with Iraq, and disproves the administration’s contention that its officials were the victims of bad intelligence. CPI states that the analysis shows “the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.” According to CPI’s findings, eight top administration officials made 935 false statements concerning either Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction or Iraq’s links to al-Qaeda, between September 11, 2001 and the invasion itself. These statements were made on 532 separate occasions, by the following administration officials: President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and former White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan.
Foundation of Case for War - These deliberate falsehoods “were the underpinnings of the administration’s case for war,” says CPI executive director Bill Buzenberg. Lewis says, “Bush and the top officials of his administration have so far largely avoided the harsh, sustained glare of formal scrutiny about their personal responsibility for the litany of repeated, false statements in the run-up to the war in Iraq.” According to the analysis, Bush officials “methodically propagated erroneous information over the two years beginning on September 11, 2001.” The falsehoods dramatically escalated in August 2002, just before Congress passed a war resolution (see October 10, 2002). The falsehoods escalated again in the weeks before Bush’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) and Powell’s critical presentation to the United Nations (see February 5, 2003). All 935 falsehoods are available in a searchable database on the CPI Web site, and are sourced from what the organization calls “primary and secondary public sources, major news organizations and more than 25 government reports, books, articles, speeches, and interviews.” CPI finds that “officials with the most opportunities to make speeches, grant media interviews, and otherwise frame the public debate also made the most false statements.”
Breakdown - The tally of falsehoods is as follows:
Bush: 260. 232 of those were about Iraqi WMD and 28 were about Iraq’s ties to al-Qaeda.
Powell: 254, with 244 of those about Iraq’s WMD programs.
Rumsfeld and Fleischer: 109 each.
The analysis only examines the statements of these eight officials, but, as CPI notes, “Other administration higher-ups, joined by Pentagon officials and Republican leaders in Congress, also routinely sounded false war alarms in the Washington echo chamber.”
An 'Impenetrable Din' - Lewis and Reading-Smith write that the “cumulative effect of these false statements,” amplified and echoed by intensive media coverage that by and large did not question the administration’s assertions, “was massive, with the media coverage creating an almost impenetrable din for several critical months in the run-up to war.” CPI asserts that most mainstream media outlets were so enthusiastically complicit in the push for war that they “provided additional, ‘independent’ validation of the Bush administration’s false statements about Iraq.” Lewis and Reading-Smith conclude: “Above all, the 935 false statements painstakingly presented here finally help to answer two all-too-familiar questions as they apply to Bush and his top advisers: What did they know, and when did they know it?” [Center for Public Integrity, 1/23/2008; Center for Public Integrity, 1/23/2008] The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin approvingly calls the study “old-fashioned accountability journalism.” [Washington Post, 1/23/2008]
Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Charles Lewis, Center for Public Integrity, Bush administration (43), Bill Buzenberg, Ari Fleischer, Al-Qaeda, Colin Powell, Dan Froomkin, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Saddam Hussein, Condoleezza Rice, Scott McClellan, Paul Wolfowitz, George W. Bush, US Department of Defense, Mark Reading-Smith
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
White House press secretary Dana Perino dismisses a study by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) that found 935 false statements made by President Bush and seven of his top officials before the invasion of Iraq that helped mislead the country into believing Iraq was an imminent threat (see January 23, 2008). Perino responds: “I hardly think that the study is worth spending any time on. It is so flawed in terms of taking anything into context or including—they only looked at members of the administration, rather than looking at members of Congress or people around the world, because, as you’ll remember, we were part of a broad coalition of countries that deposed a dictator based on a collective understanding of the intelligence.”
CPI Response - CPI’s Charles Lewis, a co-author of the study, retorts that Perino has little credibility because “this is the press secretary who didn’t know about the Cuban Missile Crisis until a few months ago.… [S]he made a reference that she had—actually didn’t know about the Cuban Missile Crisis back in the ‘60s. For a White House press secretary to say that is astonishing to me.” Lewis calls Perino’s comment “predictable,” and cracks, “At least she didn’t call this a third-rate burglary” (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). “If my administration, that I’m the flack for, made 935 false statements, I would want to say, ‘Go do another study and take ten years and look at the world and Congress.’ The fact is, the world was rallied, as was the compliant Congress, into doing exactly what the administration wanted. And the bottom line is, she didn’t say that they were not false statements. Basically, they acknowledged they were false statements without her saying it. They have essentially said, ‘Gosh, I guess there weren’t any WMDs in Iraq,’ in other statements they’ve made, ‘it’s all bad intelligence.’”
Defense of Analysis - Far from being a flawed and superficial analysis, Lewis says, the analysis supplies “400,000 words of context, weaving in all of this material, not just what they said at the time, but what has transpired and what has tumbled out factually in the subsequent six years. So we actually have as much context so far as anyone has provided in one place. It’s searchable for all citizens in the world and for Congress and others that want to deal with this from here on.” [Democracy Now!, 1/24/2008]
Reporter Amy Goodman interviews Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), the co-author of a study that documents 935 false statements made by President Bush and seven of his top advisers in the two years before the Iraq invasion (see January 23, 2008). Lewis says that, after the raft of government reports that admitted Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and no links to al-Qaeda, he and his fellow researchers became interested in who stated those falsehoods, how they did so, and how often: “In other words, how did we get from this not being true to it being a war and what happened there?” Goodman asks if “what [the administration officials] knew behind the scenes and what they were saying publicly” is so different, then “aren’t you talking about lies?” Lewis is more diplomatic, replying that Bush and his seven officials chose “certain information over other information.” What interested him and his fellow researchers was “the process inside the White House… how this campaign was orchestrated.” The White House has apparently destroyed much of the documentary and electronic trail surrounding the run-up to war, he notes, and Congress has not held any hearings on the decision to invade Iraq. Perhaps, Lewis says, this analysis will be the beginning of a better understanding of that process and even the precursor to a real investigation. Lewis says that without interviewing the people involved, he must hesitate to call the 935 statements outright lies. Reporter Bob Drogin, author of the book Curveball that examines one of the linchpin sets of falsehoods that drove the US into war, says he is not sure what to think about the discussion over whether or not the 935 falsehoods are actually lies. “I mean, it’s sort of like asking, to me, whether they, you know, forgot to put their turn signal on before they drove off a bridge. I mean, they took us into the midst of a—you know, a terrible, a horrific, tragic war, and they did it on the basis of ponied-up false intelligence. And sort of where they pushed the evidence here or there is sort of—to me, is sort of secondary. The fact is, they got it absolutely wrong on every single quarter.” [Democracy Now!, 1/24/2008]
George W. Bush delivering his State of the Union address. [Source: US Department of Defense]President Bush gives his final State of the Union address. During the speech, Bush calls on Congress to immediately pass legislation awarding retroactive immunity to US telecommunications firms that may have illegally cooperated with the NSA and other US intelligence agencies to eavesdrop on the electronic communications of US citizens (see November 7-8, 2007). Bush says of those agencies: “[O]ne of the most important tools we can give them is the ability to monitor terrorist communications. To protect America, we need to know who the terrorists are talking to, what they are saying, and what they’re planning. Last year, Congress passed legislation to help us do that. Unfortunately, Congress set the legislation to expire on February the 1st. That means if you don’t act by Friday, our ability to track terrorist threats would be weakened and our citizens will be in greater danger. Congress must ensure the flow of vital intelligence is not disrupted.” He then says of the telecoms involved in domestic surveillance: “Congress must pass liability protection for companies believed to have assisted in the efforts to defend America. We’ve had ample time for debate. The time to act is now.” (In this statement, Bush refuses to admit that the telecoms have actually cooperated with US surveillance operations; two days later, Vice President Dick Cheney will make just such an admission (see January 30, 2008).) [White House, 1/28/2008; New York Times, 1/29/2008] Bush says that while the nation is at risk of terrorist attack if this legislation is not enacted, he will veto such legislation if it does not contain provisions to protect the telecom industry from civil and criminal prosecution. Harpers commentator Scott Horton calls Bush’s rhetoric a “squeeze play… an exercise in fear-mongering of the purest, vilest sort.” Horton boils down Bush’s comments to say, “‘If Congress doesn’t give me just what I want, then Congress will be responsible for whatever attacks befall the country,’ he reasons.” [Harper's, 1/29/2008]
Vice President Dick Cheney calls in to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh’s broadcast. Cheney argues in favor of the administration’s push for Congress to grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications firms suspected of cooperating with US intelligence agencies in illegally monitoring the telephone and e-mail communications of US citizens (see November 7-8, 2007). In his recent State of the Union address, President Bush made the same call, but refused to admit that the telecoms had actually participated in such actions (see January 28, 2008). Cheney is more forthcoming. He tells Limbaugh that the proposed legislation is about “retroactive liability protection for the companies that have worked with us and helped us prevent further attacks against the United States.” [MSNBC, 1/31/2008]
MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann lambasts President Bush’s State of the Union call to protect US telecom firms from liability in their cooperation with government surveillance of US citizens (see January 28, 2008): “President Bush has put protecting the telecom giants from the laws ahead of protecting you from the terrorists. He has demanded an extension of the FISA law—the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—but only an extension that includes retroactive immunity for the telecoms who helped him spy on you.… This, Mr. Bush, is simple enough even for you to understand: If Congress approves a new FISA act without telecom immunity and sends it to your desk and you veto it—you, by your own terms and your own definitions, you will have just sided with the terrorists. Ya gotta have this law, or we’re all gonna die. But you might veto this law!” Olbermann terms Bush’s call for telecom immunity a “shameless, breathless, literal, textbook example of fascism—the merged efforts of government and corporations who answer to no government.” With heavy sarcasm Olbermann says: “[The telecom immunity] isn’t evil, it’s ‘to protect America.’ It isn’t indiscriminate, it’s ‘the ability to monitor terrorist communications.’ It isn’t unlawful, it’s just the kind of perfectly legal thing, for which you happen to need immunity.… This is not a choice of protecting the telecoms from prosecution, or protecting the people from terrorists, sir. It is a choice of protecting the telecoms from prosecution, or pretending to protect the people from terrorists.… The eavesdropping provisions of FISA have obviously had no impact on counter-terrorism, and there is no current or perceived terrorist threat, the thwarting of which could hinge on an e-mail or a phone call going through room 641-A at AT&T in San Francisco next week or next month. Because if there were, Mr. Bush, and you were to, by your own hand, veto an extension of this eavesdropping, and some terrorist attack were to follow, you would not merely be guilty of siding with the terrorists, you would not merely be guilty of prioritizing the telecoms over the people, you would not merely be guilty of stupidity, you would not merely be guilty of treason, but you would be personally, and eternally, responsible.” [MSNBC, 1/31/2008]
President Bush makes racially charged statements while addressing an audience at a Republican fundraiser in Hillsborough, California, outside San Francisco. The fundraiser, hosted by the chairman of an investment firm, raises $1.5 million for the Republican National Committee. [San Francisco Chronicle, 1/31/2008] The media will not learn about Bush’s remarks until late 2009, when former Bush administration speechwriter Matt Latimer publishes his book, Speechless: Tales of a White House Survivor. Latimer will write: “He talked about his own failings with alcoholism as the reason he supported his faith-based initiative. ‘My philosophy is, find somebody who hurts and do something about it,’ he said. ‘Don’t wait for government to tell you what to do.’ He bluntly talked about his own situation. ‘I was beginning to love alcohol over my wife and kids. It got to a point when Billy Graham came into my life. But I was hardheaded and didn’t want to listen for a while. And then I stopped drinking overnight. I am a one-man faith-based initiative. Alcohol was competing for my affections. And it would have ruined me.’ He said things that could ruffle feathers, such as how he’d recently gone to a faith-based program run by ‘former drunks.’ He said he went to see a prison ministry program, noting that ‘everyone was black, of course.’ All eyes turned in search of the sole African American in the audience of donors. They wanted to see if he was offended.” Latimer will write that the sole African-American donor did not “appear to be” offended, and will defend Bush, writing that he “didn’t mean it in a derogatory way. He just liked making blunt observations to shock his audience.” [Think Progress, 9/23/2009]
Dick Cheney addressing the CPAC audience. [Source: AP / Evan Vucci]An unrepentant Vice President Dick Cheney tells an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that he is proud of his administration’s actions in Iraq. “I have been proud to stand by” President Bush in the war on Iraq and other policy decisions. “And would I support those same decisions today? You’re damn right I would.” Cheney says, “We’re not going to waste a moment” of his and Bush’s last year in office, and promises to “revitalize” the US economy and continue to aggressively pursue the administration’s “war on terror.” Cheney’s speech is a grab-bag of ideas and policies, all extolling the virtues of the current administration. He pushes for making the Bush tax cuts permanent, saying, “Letting the Bush tax cuts expire would be one of the largest government money grabs in American history, and we must not let it happen.” He credits Bush with preventing another massive terrorist attack: “The absence of another 9/11 is not an accident. It is an achievement.” Cheney says that the US’s telecommunications industry must be granted retroactive immunity for civil and criminal claims in its cooperation with the government’s domestic spying program. He claims that the administration’s support of “enhanced” interrogation tactics against suspected terrorists has gleaned critically useful information while avoiding illegal torture tactics. The US “takes human rights seriously” and does “not torture,” he claims. He concludes to riotous applause, “When the last chapter [of history] is written, it will be said that our nation became more prosperous and more secure because George Bush was the president of the United States.” [Chicago Tribune, 2/7/2008]
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the presumptive Republican nominee for president, urges President Bush to veto an upcoming bill prohibiting waterboarding and other extreme methods of interrogation after himself voting against the bill. The bill passes the Senate on a largely partisan 51-45 vote. It has already passed the House on a similar party-line vote, and Bush has already announced his intention to veto the bill. McCain has won a reputation as an advocate of prisoner rights and a staunch opponent of torture; his five-year stint as a POW in North Vietnam is well-known. But McCain voted against the legislation when it came up for a vote in the Senate, and he opposes the bill now. McCain says he is opposed to waterboarding, but does not want the CIA restricted to following the practices outlined in the US Army Field Manual, as the legislation would require. McCain says: “I knew I would be criticized for it. I think I can show my record is clear. I said there should be additional techniques allowed to other agencies of government as long as they were not” torture. “I was on the record as saying that they could use additional techniques as long as they were not cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. So the vote was in keeping with my clear record of saying that they could have additional techniques, but those techniques could not violate” international rules against torture. McCain has said he believes waterboarding is already prohibited by the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (see December 30, 2005). And CIA director Michael Hayden has said that current law may well prohibit waterboarding; he claims to have stopped CIA agents from waterboarding detainees in 2006, and also claims that the technique was not used later than 2003. McCain’s Senate colleague, Charles Schumer (D-NY) says that if Bush vetoes the bill, then he in essence “will be voting in favor of waterboarding.” [New York Times, 2/13/2008; Associated Press, 2/21/2008] Bush will indeed veto the bill (see March 8, 2008).
Admiral Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, admits during a radio interview that the main issue over the renewal of the Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007) is not the security and safety of the nation, but the need to extend liability immunity to the nation’s telecommunications firms. In recent days, President Bush has said that unnamed terrorists are planning attacks on the US that will make 9/11 “pale by comparison,” and the only way to stop those attacks is to renew the PAA with new provisions that will grant telecommunications firms such as BellSouth, Verizon, and AT&T retroactive immunity from prosecution. Those firms are accused of illegally aiding the government in electronically monitoring the telephone and e-mail conversations of US citizens (see February 5, 2006). The PAA expires on February 16, but the government can operate under its provisions for another year. McConnell tells a National Public Radio reporter that the biggest issue surrounding the legislation is liability protection for the telecom firms. “We can’t do this mission without their help,” he says. “Currently there is no retroactive liability protection for them. They’re being sued for billions of dollars.” They did not break the law, McConnell asserts, but the lawsuits are curtailing their willingness to cooperate with the government. “The Senate committee that passed the bill examined the activities of the telecom companies and concluded they were not violating the law,” he says. By not extending retroactive immunity, McConnell says, “we’d lose the capability to protect the country.” [National Public Radio, 2/15/2008] Two days later, McConnell echoes his unusually frank admission. Interviewed on Fox News, he says: “Let me make one other point just—very important. The entire issue here is liability protection for the carriers. And so the old law and extended law are an expired law if we don’t have retroactive liability protection for the carriers. They are less inclined to help us, and so their support.… And therefore, we do not have the agility and the speed that we had before to be able to move and try to capture [terrorists’] communications to thwart their planning.” He also implies that the argument against granting immunity—if the telecoms’ actions were legal in the first place then they wouldn’t need immunity—is valid. Interviewer Chris Wallace says: “Isn’t the central issue here that you’ve lost your power to compel telecommunications companies to cooperate with you and also your ability to offer them legal immunity? Again, the Democrats would say, ‘Look, if the cooperation is legal, they don’t need legal immunity.’” McConnell replies: “Exactly right. The issue now is there’s uncertainty because the law has expired and the law of August, the Protect America Act, allowed us to compel—compel—support from a private carrier. That’s now expired.… [T]he private sector, although willingly helped us [sic] in the past, are now saying, ‘You can’t protect me. Why should I help you?’” Interestingly, after all of the talk of imminent terror attacks, when Wallace asks, “Do you believe al-Qaeda is more of a threat now than any time since 9/11?” McConnell says flatly: “No. Following 9/11, al-Qaeda’s leadership and operatives were degraded probably two-thirds or three-quarters.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) responds that the administration’s attempt to tie the renewal of the PAA into the threat of future terrorist attacks is “wrong, divisive and nothing but fear-mongering.” Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) adds that McConnell’s “latest comments show yet again the shamelessness of the administration’s tactics.” [Fox News, 2/17/2008]
The Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) expires today. Congress has refused to pass a reauthorization of the legislation that contains a provision to grant retroactive immunity to US telecommunications firms to protect them from lawsuits arising from their previous cooperation with government eavesdroppers (see February 5, 2006). President Bush has warned for days that by refusing to reauthorize the bill, Congress is leaving the US “more in danger of attack.” The surveillance elements of the PAA will continue in force for another year after its passage even as the PAA itself expires, so the government’s capability to use electronic surveillance against suspected terrorists and citizens alike continues unabated through August 2008.
Republican Reaction - House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) warns, “This is a grave problem, and the Democrat leaders ought to be held accountable for their inaction.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says, “The companies have been waiting for six months for retroactive liability” protection. “They are under pressure from their directors, pressure from their shareholders, and you’re jeopardizing the entire existence of the company by continuing to do this.”
Democratic Reaction - But House Democrats seem to be in no mood to give in to Bush’s rhetoric. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says Bush is “misrepresenting the facts on our nation’s electronic-surveillance capabilities.” “There is no risk the program will go dark,” says Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Many Democrats accuse the administration of putting the interests of telecom firms over national security—accusations that intensify after Bush’s Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, admitted that the real issue behind the reauthorization is the immunity for telecoms (see February 15-17, 2008). Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) says that the entire argument is “nothing more than a scare tactic designed to avoid legal and political accountability and keep Americans in the dark about the administration’s massive lawbreaking.” House member Tim Walz (D-MN) says, “Coming from a military background, I sure don’t downplay that there are threats out there, but the president’s demagoguery on this is the equivalent of the boy crying wolf.” And Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), the head of the House Democratic Caucus, says bluntly: “This is not about protecting Americans. The president just wants to protect American telephone companies.”
Previous Depiction - When the law was signed into effect August 5, 2007, it was portrayed by the White House as “a temporary, narrowly focused statute to deal with the most immediate needs of the intelligence community to protect the country.” Now it is being portrayed by Bush officials as the cornerstone of the nation’s terrorist-surveillance program. The issue is sure to resurface when Congress returns from a week-long break in late February. [Associated Press, 2/14/2008; Washington Post, 2/16/2008]
With the Protect America Act expiring amid warnings of imminent terror attacks from Bush administration officials and Congressional Republicans (see February 16, 2008 and February 15-17, 2008), most experts outside the administration say its expiration will have little effect on national security. Under the PAA, the government could wiretap domestic phones and computer systems without a warrant, but the legislation was considered a temporary stopgap measure to give Congress and the White House a chance to work together to create new, permanent regulations covering domestic surveillance. The government’s domestic wiretapping program now reverts to the procedures followed for 30 years under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which requires warrants from the FISA Court to engage in surveillance inside the US. Despite administration claims that the paperwork for those warrants is too cumbersome, many experts say that FISA gives the government the tools it needs to spy on terrorists. Timothy Lee from the conservative Cato Institute recalls that the last time FISA was revamped, after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush praised the overhaul, saying it “recognizes the realities and dangers posed by the modern terrorist.” Lee observes: “Those are the rules we’ll be living under after the Protect America Act expires this weekend. There’s no reason to think our nation will be in any more danger in 2008 than it was in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, or 2006.” Ben Wittes of the centrist Brookings Institution says that because existing warrantless surveillance begun under the temporary laws could continue for up to a year, the “sky is not falling at all.” Wittes says he is “somewhat bewildered by the apocalyptic rhetoric” of the Bush administration. Many experts note that emergency FISA warrants can, and have, been granted in a matter of minutes, and government eavesdroppers have up to three days to wiretap a phone or computer and then retroactively acquire a warrant. But administration officials have a different view. White House press secretary Dana Perino says the PAA’s expiration “will harm our ability to conduct surveillance to detect new threats to our security, including the locations, intentions and capabilities of terrorists and other foreign intelligence targets abroad.” Perino says that the PAA “temporarily closed” a “dangerous intelligence gap.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) calls that warning “categorically false.” Hoyer continues: “In fact, a wide range of national security experts has made clear that the president and our intelligence community have all the tools they need to protect our nation, if the Protect America Act—temporary legislation passed last August—expires.… We believe the president’s rhetoric is inaccurate and divisive, and an attempt to stampede the House of Representatives to rubber-stamp legislation by stoking the fears of the American people. We will not be stampeded.” [Washington Times, 2/16/2008]
President Bush again demands that Congress reinstate the Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007), with new provisions providing the nation’s telecommunications industry retroactive legal immunity from criminal and civil prosecution for possible crimes committed in the administration’s domestic wiretapping program (see May 12, 2006). Bush says that without such immunity, US telecom firms will be reluctant to help the administration spy on potential terrorists. The PAA is a central part of the legislative update of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) (see 1978) which mandates that any wiretaps must receive the approval of the FISA Court. Bush insists that he will veto an update to FISA without the immunity provisions, even as he asserts the country is at risk of further terrorist attacks without the FISA updates, and after letting the PAA lapse without signing an extension of the legislation into law. However, Bush blames Congress for not passing the FISA update with an immunity clause: “Congress’ failure to pass this legislation was irresponsible,” he says. “In other words, the House’s refusal to act is undermining our ability to get cooperation from private companies. And that undermines our efforts to protect us from terrorist attack.” He explains why the Democrats don’t want his bill: “House leaders are blocking this legislation, and the reason can be summed up in three words: class action lawsuits.” A spokesman for Congressional Democrats retorts: “They cannot have it both ways. If it is true that the expiration of the [surveillance law] has caused gaps in intelligence, then it was irresponsible for the president and Congressional Republicans to openly oppose an extension of the law.”
Democrats Put Trial Lawyers Before National Security? - Bush says: “The Senate bill would prevent plaintiffs’ attorneys from suing companies believed to have helped defend America after the 9/11 attacks. More than 40 of these lawsuits have been filed, seeking hundreds of billions of dollars in damages from these companies.… It is unfair and unjust to threaten these companies with financial ruin only because they are believed to have done the right thing and helped their country.” The lawsuits (see June 26, 2006) seek damages based upon violations of FISA, the Wiretap Act, the Communications Act, and the Stored Communications Act, among other laws. Bob Edgar of Common Cause says neither money nor punishment is the issue: “Innocent Americans who have had their rights violated by the telecoms deserve their day in court. If these companies did nothing wrong, then they have nothing to fear.” Bush is apparently attempting to refocus the issue as an attack on trial lawyers—traditionally a group supportive of Democrats—in saying: “Members of the House have a choice to make: They can empower the trial bar—or they can empower the intelligence community. They can help class action trial lawyers sue for billions of dollars—or they can help our intelligence officials protect millions of lives. They can put our national security in the hands of plaintiffs’ lawyers—or they can entrust it to the men and women of our government who work day and night to keep us safe.” House member John Conyers (D-MI) calls such characterizations “irresponsible” and “inaccurate.” [CBS News, 2/23/2008]
Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) pens a blistering op-ed for the conservative National Review that accuses House Democrats of allowing the Protect America Act to expire (PAA—see February 16, 2008) and thereby endangering the country by leaving it unprotected against terrorist attacks. This is the same argument President Bush and Republicans have advanced in recent days in favor of continued warrantless wiretapping (see February 23, 2008). Hoekstra calls the Democrats’ action “unprecedented irresponsibility.” The “burdensome paperwork, government lawyers, and court orders” that implementing wiretaps will now engender, Hoekstra writes, “could mean the difference in stopping a terrorist plot or saving the life of an American soldier.” Hoekstra quickly turns to another key agenda for reauthorizing the PAA—providing retroactive immunity from lawsuits for American telecommunications firms. He echoes the arguments of Bush and other officials such as Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell (see February 22, 2008) by writing that without such immunity, “these companies obviously will be reluctant to cooperate with the government in the future.” But Hoekstra takes the argument even farther, equating the Democrats’ refusal to reauthorize the PAA with their support from trial lawyers, who “have contributed more $1.5 million to Democrat coffers.” He then says that US intelligence agents will suffer because, he asserts, “many of [them] have been forced to take out professional liability insurance to protect them from the actions of the Democratic Congress.” Hoekstra claims that Democrats consistently favor working to investigate global warming over protecting the nation. [National Review, 2/25/2008] Hoekstra continues the attack the next day with a piece in the Wall Street Journal co-authored with his House colleague Lamar Smith (R-TX) and his Senate colleague Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO). The three open this column with the rhetorical question, “Are Americans as safe today as they were before Congress allowed the Protect America Act to expire on Feb. 16?” and answer it with much the same arguments that Hoekstra advanced the day before. “We are less safe today and will remain so until Congress clears up the legal uncertainty for companies that assist in collecting intelligence for the government—and until it gives explicit permission to our intelligence agencies to intercept, without a warrant, foreign communications that pass through the US,” they claim. They also echo the claim asserted by McConnell and Mukasey that the nation’s intelligence community has lost valuable intelligence because of the lapse in legislation—without acknowledging that McConnell and Mukasey withdrew that claim within hours (see February 23, 2008). [Wall Street Journal, 2/26/2008]
Attorney General Michael Mukasey refuses to refer a House contempt citation against two of President Bush’s top officials to a federal grand jury. The House has found former White House counsel Harriet Miers and White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer Congressional subpoenas (see February 14, 2008), but Mukasey says neither Bolten nor Miers have committed any crimes. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has, in return, given the House Judiciary Committee the authority to file a lawsuit against Miers and Bolten in federal court. Mukasey says Bolten and Miers were right to ignore the subpoenas because both were acting at President Bush’s behest. Pelosi retorts: “The American people demand that we uphold the law. As public officials, we take an oath to uphold the Constitution and protect our system of checks and balances and our civil lawsuit seeks to do just that.” Democrats want the filing to move swiftly so that a judge might rule before the November elections; a key tenet of Democratic political strategy is the accusation that the Bush administration has abused its executive powers and considers itself above the law. Bolten and Miers were subpoenaed to testify about the possible political motivations behind the 2006 firings of nine US attorneys. Mukasey agrees with the Bush administration in saying that neither Miers nor Bolten, as officials of the executive branch, are required to answer to Congress for their actions, “The contempt of Congress statute was not intended to apply and could not constitutionally be applied to an executive branch official who asserts the president’s claim of executive privilege,” he writes. “Accordingly, the department has determined that the noncompliance by Mr. Bolten and Ms. Miers with the Judiciary Committee subpoenas did not constitute a crime.” Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) says of Mukasey’s decision: “Today’s decision to shelve the contempt process, in violation of a federal statute, shows that the White House will go to any lengths to keep its role in the US attorney firings hidden. In the face of such extraordinary actions, we have no choice but to proceed with a lawsuit to enforce the committee’s subpoenas.” [Associated Press, 2/29/2008]
President Bush vetoes legislation passed by Congress that would have banned the CIA from using waterboarding and other “extreme” interrogation techniques. The legislation is part of a larger bill authorizing US intelligence activities. The US Army prohibits the use of waterboarding and seven other interrogation techniques in the Army Field Manual; the legislation would have brought the CIA in line with US military practices. Waterboarding is banned by many countries and its use by the US and other regimes has been roundly condemned by US lawmakers and human rights organizations. The field manual also prohibits stripping prisoners naked; forcing them to perform or simulate sexual acts; beating, burning, or otherwise inflicting harm; subjecting prisoners to hypothermia; subjecting prisoners to mock executions; withholding food, water, or medical treatment; using dogs to frighten or attack prisoners; and hooding prisoners or strapping duct tape across their eyes.
Reasoning for Veto - “Because the danger remains, we need to ensure our intelligence officials have all the tools they need to stop the terrorists,” Bush explains. The vetoed legislation “would diminish these vital tools.” Bush goes on to say that the CIA’s interrogation program has helped stop terrorist attacks on a US Marine base in Djibouti and the US consulate in Pakistan, as well as stopped plans for terrorists to fly hijacked planes into a Los Angeles tower or perhaps London’s Heathrow Airport. He gives no specifics, but adds, “Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al-Qaeda and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland.” John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, disagrees, saying he knows of no instances where the CIA has used such methods of interrogation to obtain information that led to the prevention of a terrorist attack. “On the other hand, I do know that coercive interrogations can lead detainees to provide false information in order to make the interrogation stop,” he says. CIA Director Michael Hayden says that the CIA will continue to work within both national and international law, but its needs are different from those of the Army, and it will follow the procedures it thinks best. Bush complains that the legislation would eliminate not just waterboarding, but “all the alternative procedures we’ve developed to question the world’s most dangerous and violent terrorists.” [Reuters, 3/8/2008; Associated Press, 3/8/2008]
Criticism of Veto - Democrats, human rights leaders, and others denounce Bush’s veto. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says, “This president had the chance to end the torture debate for good, yet he chose instead to leave the door open to use torture in the future.” Feinstein notes that Bush ignored the advice of 43 retired generals and admirals, and 18 national security experts, who all supported the bill. “Torture is a black mark against the United States,” she says. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says she and fellow Democrats will try to override the veto and thus “reassert [the United States’s] moral authority.” Elisa Massimino of Human Rights First says, “The president’s refusal to sign this crucial legislation into law will undermine counterterrorism efforts globally and delay efforts to rebuild US credibility on human rights.” [Associated Press, 3/8/2008] New York Times journalist Steven Lee Myers writes that Bush vetoes the bill not just to assert his support for extreme interrogation techniques or to provide the government everything it needs to combat terrorism, but as part of his ongoing battle to expand the power of the presidency. Myers writes, “At the core of the administration’s position is a conviction that the executive branch must have unfettered freedom when it comes to prosecuting war.” [New York Times, 3/9/2008]
Entity Tags: Nancy Pelosi, Human Rights First, George W. Bush, Elisa Massimino, Dianne Feinstein, Central Intelligence Agency, John D. Rockefeller, Michael Hayden, US Department of the Army, Senate Intelligence Committee, Steven Lee Myers
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
In remarks to the National Religious Broadcasters Association, President Bush misrepresents two important aspects of the US-led occupation of Iraq.
Misrepresenting the 'Surge of Their Own' - Referring to the so-called “surge” of US troops into Iraq (see January 10, 2007), Bush says: “As you can imagine, during that period of time a lot of folks were wondering, is America going to stay with us? Do they understand our deep desire to live in freedom? Can we count on them? And when they found out they could, they launched a surge of their own. Increasing numbers of Sunni leaders have turned against the terrorists and begun to reclaim their communities… . Folks who were involved in the insurgency have now decided they want to be a part of their government… . I strongly believe the surge is working, and so do the Iraqis.” Bush is referring to the Iraqi counterattack against al-Qaeda in Iraq and other Islamist terrorists—the so-called “Anbar Awakening.” He is wrong in saying that the Iraqis “launched a surge of their own” in response to the US troop escalation. The “Iraqi surge” against al-Qaeda in Iraq predates the US surge by months. In fact, two years before the “Iraqi surge,” Bush had rejected offers of similar assistance from Sunni leaders eager to bring Sunni-led terrorism in Iraq to a close. Instead, the Sunni leaders took action without US approval. Bush is now linking the Sunni initiative to the US “surge,” and in the process misrepresents both the chronological chain of the events and the forces driving the “Iraqi surge.”
Misrepresenting the Effectiveness of the US 'Surge' - Bush also says that some US forces are coming home as “a return on our success” in the surge. That implies that because the “surge” is successful, Bush and US military commanders are beginning to bring some troops home. “And as a return on our success, as we get more successful, troops are able to come home,” he says: “They’re not coming home based upon defeat, or based upon opinion polls, or based upon focus groups, or based upon politics. They’re coming home because we’re successful.” In reality, Bush has been quite reluctant to bring any troops home, only grudgingly giving way to the recommendations of US commanders such as General David Petraeus, the head of military operations in Iraq, and Admiral Michael Mullen, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Petraeus, Fallon, and other US military commanders have long said that the surge is designed to be temporary, with drawdown dates of early 2008 built into the planning from the outset. [Salon, 3/11/2008]
President Bush, in a videoconference with US military and civilian personnel on the problems in Afghanistan, says that he is “envious” of those working in the war-torn country. “I must say, I’m a little envious,” he says. “If I were slightly younger and not employed here, I think it would be a fantastic experience to be on the front lines of helping this young democracy succeed.… It must be exciting for you… in some ways romantic, in some ways, you know, confronting danger. You’re really making history, and thanks.” [Reuters, 3/13/2008] As of March 12, 2008, at least 418 US soldiers have died in Afghanistan as a result of hostilities there. [Associated Press, 3/12/2008]
William Delahunt. [Source: US House of Representatives]Democratic House members William Delahunt (D-MA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) announce legislation that will prohibit the use of federal funds to implement any long-term diplomatic and security agreement the Bush administration may enter into with the Iraqi government (see March 7, 2008). The Bush administration has not yet acknowledged that such a pact requires the approval of Congress; Delahunt and DeLauro say that such approval is mandated by the Constitution. The White House disagrees, saying that the entire controversy was triggered by what it calls a sloppy Arabic-to-English translation of the “Declaration of Principles” agreed to by President Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (see November 26, 2007); the declaration serves as the basis for the proposed agreement. The declaration states that the US will provide “security assurances and commitments to the Republic of Iraq to deter foreign aggression against Iraq that violates its sovereignty and integrity of its territories, waters or airspace.” Such an agreement would be a long-term military commitment in Iraq and would, therefore, be a treaty. Treaties must be ratified by a two-thirds vote of the Senate. But a senior administration official says the translation of the “security assurances” phrase “was something we struggled with.” He says the original Arabic phrase was “translated in kind of an interesting way,” and a better translation might have been, “We’ll consult.” Democrats are skeptical of the White House explanation. Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) says that when senators were recently briefed on the planned agreement, they “certainly did not speak to this unfortunate translation from Arabic.” Delahunt, who has co-chaired several hearings on the legality of the agreement, says he hasn’t heard this either, and says, “If it’s sloppy language, it borders on irresponsible to use words like ‘security assurances’ or ‘security commitments’ [when] their customary interpretation would be binding.” Bush officials say that Congress was indeed told about the problematic translation. Delahunt says he believes that the administration, having been “outed, if you will” by Congressional oversight, has decided that it is the “safe course” to argue that the words are not what they appear to be. And Webb’s spokeswoman, Jessica Smith, wonders why the White House did not “retranslate” the troublesome phrase before releasing the declaration. A Bush official says that the final version of the agreement will use the phrasing “consult” rather than “security assurances.” “There aren’t many countries that we give security guarantees to,” he says. [Politico, 3/13/2008]
Vice President Dick Cheney says that President Bush, not the US soldiers serving in Iraq, bears “the biggest burden” of the war. ABC reporter Martha Raddatz asks Cheney about what effect he believes the “milestone” of 4,000 US soldiers killed in Iraq has on the country. Cheney answers: “Well, it obviously brings home, I think for a lot of people, the cost that’s involved in the global war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. It places a special burden, obviously, on the families. We recognize, I think—it’s a reminder of the extent to which we’re blessed with families who have sacrificed as they have. The president carries the biggest burden, obviously; he’s the one who has to make the decision to commit young Americans. But we are fortunate to have the group of men and women, the all-volunteer force, who voluntarily put on the uniform and go in harm’s way for the rest of us. You wish nobody ever lost their life, but unfortunately it’s one of those things that go with living in the world we live in. Sometimes you have to commit military force, and when you do, there are casualties.” [White House, 3/24/2008]
'Jaw-Dropping' Insensitivity - The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin writes that Cheney’s statement “crystallizes [his and Bush’s] detachment and self-involvement” quite vividly, illuminating the “bubble of flattery and delusion” in which he says they live. Froomkin adds: “And in an era where failing to support the troops is the ultimate political sin, Cheney’s breezy dismissal of their sacrifice—heck, they’re volunteers, and dying goes with the territory—was jaw-dropping even by the vice president’s own tone-deaf standards. Does Cheney really believe that Bush’s burden is so great? The president tells people he’s sleeping just fine, thank you, and in public appearances appears upbeat beyond all reason. Or does Cheney simply have no idea what it means to go to war? He and Bush, after all, famously avoided putting themselves in the line of fire when it was their time. Or are they just so wrapped up in themselves they can’t see how ridiculous it is to even suggest such a thing?”
Backhanded Agreement - Retired General Wesley Clark agrees with Cheney, in a backhanded fashion: “Well, I guess you could say [Bush] does bear an enormous burden of guilt and responsibility, for misdirecting the resources of the United States and for the travesty of going to war in Iraq.… But that’s not a burden that’s anything like the burden these families bear when their loved ones are overseas, and they suffer losses, or they come back home and they’ve got post-traumatic stress disease and other problems, when the little kids don’t recognize the parents when they come in the door because of the frequent deployments and so forth. This is an entirely different kind of burden. So I think that Vice President Cheney is not being fair to the men and women who serve. He should recognize the enormous sacrifices they’re making.” [Washington Post, 3/25/2008]
Navy Lieutenant Commander Brian Mizer, the lawyer for Guantanamo detainee Salim Hamdan, says that senior Pentagon officials are orchestrating war crimes prosecutions for the 2008 presidential campaign. In a court brief filed on this day, Mizer describes a September 29, 2006 meeting at the Pentagon where Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England asked lawyers to consider 9/11-related prosecutions in light of the upcoming presidential campaign. “We need to think about charging some of the high-value detainees because there could be strategic political value to charging some of these detainees before the election,” England is quoted as saying (see September 29, 2006). Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman refuses to discuss specifics of the case, but says that the Pentagon “has always been extraordinarily careful to guard against any unlawful command influence” in upcoming military commissions trials. Mizer says that because of England’s instructions, and other examples of alleged political interference, his client cannot get a fair trial. Three weeks before England’s observation about the “strategic political value” of the trials, President Bush disclosed that he had ordered the CIA to transfer “high-value detainees” from years of secret custody to Guantanamo for trial.
Issues 'Scrambled' - Attorney Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, says the Hamdan motion exposes the problem of Pentagon appointees’ supervisory relationship to the war court. “It scrambles relationships that ought to be kept clear,” he says. England’s statement, says Fidell, is “enough that you’d want to hold an evidentiary hearing about it, with live witnesses. It does strike me as disturbing for there to be even a whiff of political considerations in what should be a quasi-judicial determination.” Susan Crawford is the White House-appointed supervisor for the court proceedings; England is a two-term White House appointee who has supervised the prison camps’ administrative processes. Crawford, England, and other White House officials have crossed the legal barriers that separate various functions of a military court, Mizer argues. Mizer plans to call the former chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo trials, Morris Davis (see October 4, 2007), who first brought the England remark to light. Davis resigned his position after contending that political influence was interfering with the proper legal procedures surrounding the prosecution of accused war criminals.
Motion for Dismissal - Mizer’s motion asks the judge, Navy Captain Keith Allred, to dismiss the case against Hamdan as an alleged 9/11 co-conspirator on the grounds that Bush administration officials have exerted “unlawful command influence.” Hamdan is a former driver for Osama bin Laden whose lawyers successfully challenged an earlier war court format (see June 30, 2006). Hamdan’s case is on track to be the first full-scale US war crimes tribunal since World War II. [Miami Herald, 3/28/2008]
Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Eugene R. Fidell, Central Intelligence Agency, Bryan Whitman, Brian Mizer, George W. Bush, Gordon England, Keith Allred, US Department of Defense, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Susan Crawford, Morris Davis, Osama bin Laden
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections
Attorneys for US soldiers charged with abuse at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison say they will use the recently released Justice Department torture memo (see March 14, 2003 and April 1, 2008) to show that the highest levels of government condoned the harsh interrogations and brutality used against prisoners in US detention facilities. The government argues that the brutal treatment meted out to detainees in Abu Ghraib was performed by low-ranking soldiers without military or government authorization. The Justice Department has already dropped 22 of 24 cases of detainee abuse against civilian employees and contractors referred by the CIA and Defense Department, and a US official says the torture memo’s legal arguments—interrogators are exempt from criminal liability—may have been part of the reason why those cases were dropped. A law enforcement official involved in the decisions says: “Could it conceivably have played a role in deciding whether to prosecute or not? Certainly, in theory. If there was a memo blessing behavior at a certain point in time, and someone relied on legal guidance, could they have formed the necessary intent” to break the law? Lawyer Charles Gittins, representing Army Private Charles Graner Jr. in Graner’s appeal of his convictions stemming from his abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, says the memo seems to show that President Bush suspended maltreatment laws for the military during a time of war. Gittins will submit the document to Graner’s parole board when it meets in May. [Washington Post, 4/4/2008]
Author and former civil litigator Glenn Greenwald writes that he is angered, but not particularly shocked, at the US mainstream media’s failure to provide in-depth, extensive coverage of the recently released 2003 torture memo (see March 14, 2003 and April 1, 2008) and another memo asserting that the Bush administration had declared the Fourth Amendment null and void in reference to “domestic military operations” inside the US (see April 2, 2008). Greenwald also notes the lack of coverage of a recent puzzling comment by Attorney General Michael Mukasey about 9/11 (see March 27, 2008). Instead, Greenwald notes, stories about the Democratic presidential campaign (including criticism over Barack Obama’s relationship with his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, and Obama’s recent bowling scores) have dominated press coverage. According to a recent NEXIS search, these various topics have been mentioned in the media in the last thirty days:
“Yoo and torture” (referring to John Yoo, the author of the two memos mentioned above)—102.
“Mukasey and 9/11”—73.
“Yoo and Fourth Amendment”—16.
“Obama and bowling”—1,043.
“Obama and Wright”—More than 3,000 (too many to be counted).
“Obama and patriotism”—1,607.
“Clinton and Lewinsky”—1,079. [Salon, 4/5/2008]
(For the record, on March 30, Obama went bowling in Pennsylvania during a campaign stop, in the company of Senator Bob Casey (D-PA). Newsmax is among the many media outlets that provided play-by-play coverage of Obama’s abysmal performance on the lanes—he scored a 37. The site reported that Obama lost “beautifully” and was “way out of his league.”) [NewsMax, 3/31/2008]
Media Attacks Obama's 'Elitism' - The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz gives over much of his column to a discussion of Obama’s eating and bowling habits, making the argument, according to Greenwald, that Obama is “not a regular guy but an arrogant elitist.” Kurtz defends his argument by compiling a raft of “similar chatter about this from Karl Rove” and others. Bloomberg’s Margaret Carlson spent a week’s worth of columns calling Obama’s bowling his biggest mistake, a “real doozy.” MSNBC reported that Obama went bowling “with disastrous consequences.” Greenwald notes that the media “as always,” takes “their personality-based fixations from the right, who have been promoting the Obama is an arrogant, exotic, elitist freak narrative for some time.” In this vein, Time’s Joe Klein wrote of what he called Obama’s “patriotism problem,” saying that “this is a chronic disease among Democrats, who tend to talk more about what’s wrong with America than what’s right.” Greenwald notes, “He trotted it all out—the bowling, the lapel pin, Obama’s angry, America-hating wife, ‘his Islamic-sounding name.’” Greenwald calls the media fixation on Obama’s bowling and his apparent failure to be a “regular guy” another instance of their “self-referential narcissism—whatever they sputter about is what ‘the people’ care about, and therefore they must keep harping on it, because their chatter is proof of its importance. They don’t need Drudge to rule their world any longer because they are Matt Drudge now.” [Salon, 4/5/2008]
Entity Tags: Michael Mukasey, Matt Drudge, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, MSNBC, Joe Klein, Barack Obama, Bob Casey, Jr, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Glenn Greenwald, Margaret Carlson, Jeremiah A. Wright Jr, Howard Kurtz, NewsMax
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections
President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently issued a “Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship” (see November 26, 2007) that would entail a possibly permanent US military presence in Iraq (see March 7, 2008). Although the Constitution requires Congressional approval to commit any US forces to a battle zone, Bush officials have refused to address that concern (see March 13, 2008). In a Senate hearing on April 8, 2008, US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker says that the Bush administration has no plans to ask Congress for such permission—although the agreement would need to be ratified by the Iraqi Parliament. Crocker is asked by Hillary Clinton (D-NY) if an agreement would be submitted to the Iraqi Parliament, and Crocker replies: “The Iraqi government has indicated it will bring the agreement to the Council of Representatives. At this point, it is not clear, at least to me, whether that will be for a formal vote or whether they will repeat the process they used in November with the Declaration of Principles in which it was simply read to the members of the Parliament.” Clinton asks, “Does the administration plan to submit this agreement to our Congress?” and Crocker responds: “At this point, Senator, we do not anticipate the agreements will have within them any elements would require the advice and consent procedure. We intend to negotiate this as an executive agreement.” Yale law professor Oona Hathaway notes that such an agreement must be approved by Congress “either as a treaty or as a congressional-executive agreement.” [Think Progress (.org), 4/8/2008] Representative William Delahunt (D-MA) releases a letter from 31 Iraqi legislators to coincide with concurrent hearings in the House; the letter asserts that the Iraqi Parliament will not ratify any deal that does not provide a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops (see May 29, 2008).
John Conyers. [Source: Public domain / US Congress]Democrats in Congress lambast the Bush administration over recent disclosures that senior White House officials specifically approved the use of extreme interrogation measures against suspected terrorists (see April 2002 and After). Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) calls the news “yet another astonishing disclosure about the Bush administration and its use of torture.… Who would have thought that in the United States of America in the 21st century, the top officials of the executive branch would routinely gather in the White House to approve torture? Long after President Bush has left office, our country will continue to pay the price for his administration’s renegade repudiation of the rule of law and fundamental human rights.” [Associated Press, 4/10/2008] John Conyers (D-MI), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, calls the actions “a stain on our democracy.” Conyers says his committee is considering subpoenaing members of the Principals, and perhaps the author of the torture memo, John Yoo (see August 1, 2002), to testify about the discussions and approvals. [Progressive, 4/14/2008]
President Bush admits he knew about his National Security Council Principals Committee’s discussion and approval of harsh interrogation methods against certain terror suspects (see April 2002 and After). Earlier reports had noted that the Principals—a group of top White House officials led by then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice—had deliberately kept Bush “out of the loop” in order for him to maintain “deniability.” Bush tells a reporter: “Well, we started to connect the dots in order to protect the American people. And yes, I’m aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved.” Bush says that the news of those meetings to consider extreme interrogation methods was not “startling.” He admitted as far back as 2006 that such techniques were being used by the CIA (see September 6, 2006). But only now does the news of such direct involvement by Bush’s top officials become public knowledge. The Principals approved the waterboarding of several terror suspects, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003 and March 10, 2007); Bush defends the use of such extreme measures against Mohammed, saying: “We had legal opinions that enabled us to do it. And no, I didn’t have any problem at all trying to find out what Khalid Shaikh Mohammed knew.… I think it’s very important for the American people to understand who Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was. He was the person who ordered the suicide attack—I mean, the 9/11 attacks.” [ABC News, 4/11/2008] Bush’s admission is no surprise. The day before Bush makes his remarks, law professor Jonathan Turley said: “We really don’t have much of a question about the president’s role here. He’s never denied that he was fully informed of these measures. He, in fact, early on in his presidency—he seemed to brag that they were using harsh and tough methods. And I don’t think there’s any doubt that he was aware of this. The doubt is simply whether anybody cares enough to do anything about it.” [MSNBC, 4/10/2008]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) calls for an independent counsel to investigate President Bush and his current and former top officials over their involvement in approving torture against terror suspects held captive by US military and intelligence personnel (see April 2002 and After and April 11, 2008). The ACLU’s executive director, Anthony Romero, says: “We have always known that the CIA’s use of torture was approved from the very top levels of the US government, yet the latest revelations about knowledge from the president himself and authorization from his top advisers only confirms our worst fears. It is a very sad day when the president of the United States subverts the Constitution, the rule of law, and American values of justice.” The ACLU’s Caroline Frederickson adds: “No one in the executive branch of government can be trusted to fairly investigate or prosecute any crimes since the head of every relevant department, along with the president and vice president, either knew [of] or participated in the planning and approval of illegal acts. Congress cannot look the other way; it must demand an independent investigation and independent prosecutor.” Romero says the ACLU is offering legal assistance to any terrorism suspect being prosecuted by the US: “It is more important than ever that the US government, when seeking justice against those it suspects of harming us, adhere to our commitment to due process and the rule of law. That’s why the ACLU has taken the extraordinary step to offer our assistance to those being prosecuted under the unconstitutional military commissions process.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/12/2008]
The Justice Department launches an investigation into whether its former officials acted properly in advising President Bush that his wartime authority trumped domestic law, United Nations treaties, and international bans on torture. The investigation hinges on a March 2003 memo written by then-Office of Legal Counsel lawyer John Yoo that approved of Bush officials’ intent to use torture (see March 14, 2003). Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) says the investigation will “help us discover what went wrong and how to put it right.” Whitehouse continues, “The abject failure of legal scholarship in the Office of Legal Counsel’s analysis of torture suggests that what mattered was not that the reasoning was sound, or that the research was comprehensive, but that it delivered what the Bush administration wanted.” Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says that the investigation is part of an overall investigation that has been underway for years. [Associated Press, 4/17/2008]
Matthew Yglesias, the associate editor of the Atlantic Monthly, notes that the Bush administration and Defense Department have very good reasons for instituting a systematic campaign of media manipulation and disinformation about their Iraq policies (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Yglesias writes, “If you think, as John McCain and George Bush and about 30 percent of Americans do, that an indefinite American military operation in Iraq is a good idea then you need to engage in a lot of propaganda operations. After all, realistically we are much more likely to leave Iraq because politicians representing the views of the 70 percent of the public who doesn’t think that an indefinite American military operation in Iraq is a good idea than we are to be literally driven out by Iraqis who oppose the US presence.” [Atlantic Monthly, 4/21/2008]
Jon Kyl. [Source: ViewImages.com]The Senate passes by unanimous consent the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008, a law designed to boost the independence of the inspectors general of various federal agencies. However, the law only passes after Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) adds an amendment that deletes a key provision giving the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) jurisdiction to investigate misconduct allegations against Justice Department attorneys and senior officials. OIGs for all other agencies can, under this law, investigate misconduct within their entire agency. The Justice Department’s OIG must now refer allegations against department officials to the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), which is not statutorily independent and reports directly to the attorney general and deputy attorney general. A House bill passed last October has no such requirement. Usually a bill with such a discrepancy would be referred to a joint House-Senate conference to resolve the difference, but Congressional sources say in this case there will be no such conference; the House is likely to accept the Senate version. Many observers believe that the Kyl amendment was added at the White House’s behest after President Bush had threatened to veto the House bill. Representative James Cooper (D-TN), the sponsor of the House bill, says: “The Kyl amendment took out a lot of the substance of the bill, but it didn’t kill the bill. I think we should lock in these improvements and leave to a future Congress further improvements.” Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, agrees, saying that the Justice Department issue is a “lingering problem that has got to be addressed.” There is a “clear conflict, a real problem,” with the OPR investigating allegations against the officials to whom it reports, she says. Former Justice Department Inspector General Michael Bromwich says that the Kyl amendment sets the Justice Department apart from all other agencies. The amendment gives Justice Department lawyers what Bromwich calls a “privileged status” to be reviewed by the OPR, which lacks the OIG’s independence. Bromwich says that the amendment “either has to be based on a misunderstanding of what the IG is seeking or on an attempt by people in the department to keep certain kinds of investigations away from the IG for reasons they should articulate.” The issue garnered public attention when former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales directed OPR to investigate the firings of eight US attorneys, a matter directly involving Gonzales and his deputies. Inspector General Glenn Fine objected, and eventually the Justice Department’s OIG and OPR agreed to a joint investigation. “The whole bill was held up because of this issue,” Brian says. “We hope the Justice Department problem is not forgotten now that the legislation is passing.” [National Law Journal, 5/5/2008]
Entity Tags: Office of the Inspector General (DOJ), US Department of Justice, Office of Professional Responsibility, Project on Government Oversight, Michael Bromwich, James Cooper, Inspector General Reform Act of 2008, Alberto R. Gonzales, George W. Bush, Glenn Fine, Jon Kyl, Danielle Brian
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Republican National Committee (RNC) demands that the Democratic Party stop running a political ad that it says misconstrues Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s words. The ad says that President Bush has talked about staying in Iraq for 50 years, then plays a clip of McCain saying: “Maybe 100. That’d be fine with me.” The announcer then says, “If all he offers is more of the same, is John McCain the right choice for America’s future?” RNC chairman Mike Duncan says the ad deliberately distorts what McCain actually said. RNC lawyer Sean Cairncross says he has written to NBC, CNN, and MSNBC demanding that those networks stop airing the commercial. Interestingly, the Associated Press, in reporting the story, seems to concur with the RNC’s position: its story lede is, “The Republican National Committee demanded Monday that television networks stop running a television ad by the Democratic Party that falsely suggests John McCain wants a 100-year war in Iraq.” But in fact, McCain said just those words in January, and has repeated them since (see January 3-27, 2008). McCain said in response to a question about Bush’s claim of US troops being in Iraq for the next fifty years: “Maybe 100. As long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed, that’d be fine with me, and I hope it would be fine with you, if we maintain a presence in a very volatile part of the world where al-Qaeda is training, recruiting, equipping, and motivating people every single day.” Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean says “there’s nothing false” about the ad. “We deliberately used John McCain’s words. This isn’t some ominous consultant’s voice from Washington. This is John McCain’s own words. And we’ve been very upfront about everything that he’s said.” [Associated Press, 4/28/2007]
In recent letters to Congress, the Justice Department has suggested that the Geneva Conventions’ ban on “outrages against personal dignity” does not automatically apply to terrorism suspects in the custody of US intelligence agencies (see August 8, 2007 and March 6, 2008). The letters are just now being made public, with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) making them available to the Washington Post. Last year, Wyden asked the Justice Department to provide an explanation for President Bush’s 2007 executive order authorizing the CIA to continue using so-called “harsh interrogation techniques” on detainees (see July 20, 2007) even as Bush claimed US interrogators would always observe Geneva restrictions. The department responded with several letters that reasserted the Bush administration’s contentions that it is not bound by domestic law or international treaties in deciding how the Geneva Conventions apply to the interrogation of terror suspects. [Washington Post, 4/27/2008; Voice of America, 4/27/2008]
'Humane Treatment' Subject to Interpretation, Circumstances - The Justice Department acknowledges that the US is bound by Common Article 3 of the Conventions, which requires that a signatory nation treat its detainees humanely; however, the letters say that the definition of “humane treatment” can be interpreted in a variety of ways, and can depend on the detainee’s identity and the importance of the information he possesses. In a letter written to a Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, the principal deputy assistant attorney general, Brian Benczkowski, wrote, “Some prohibitions… such as the prohibition on ‘outrages against personal dignity,’ do invite the consideration of the circumstances surrounding the action.” The government can weigh “the identity and information possessed by a detainee” in deciding whether to use harsh and potentially inhumane techniques, according to Benczkowski. A suspect with information about a future attack, for example, could and possibly would be subjected to extreme treatment, he says, and notes that a violation of the Geneva Conventions would only occur if the interrogator’s conduct “shocks the conscience” because it is out of proportion to “the government interest involved.” He continued, “The fact that an act is undertaken to prevent a threatened terrorist attack, rather than for the purpose of humiliation or abuse, would be relevant to a reasonable observer in measuring the outrageousness of the act.” Furthermore, any action defined as an “outrage upon personal dignity” must be deliberate and involve an “intent to humiliate and degrade.”
Government Arguments 'Appalling,' Says Senator - A spokeswoman for Wyden, Jennifer Hoelzer, says that the administration’s contention that the Geneva Conventions can be selectively applied is “stunning.” Hoelzer says: “The Geneva Convention in most cases is the only shield that Americans have when they are captured overseas. And for the president to say that it is acceptable to interpret Geneva on a sliding scale means that he thinks that it is acceptable for other countries to do the same. Senator Wyden—and I believe any other reasonable individual—finds that argument appalling.” Law professor Scott Silliman, who teaches national security law at Duke University, agrees with Wyden’s assessments. He notes, “What they are saying is that if my intent is to defend the United States rather than to humiliate you, than I have not committed an offense.” An anonymous Justice Department official disagrees. “I certainly don’t want to suggest that if there’s a good purpose you can head off and humiliate and degrade someone. The fact that you are doing something for a legitimate security purpose would be relevant, but there are things that a reasonable observer would deem to be outrageous.” However, he adds, “there are certainly things that can be insulting that would not raise to the level of an outrage on personal dignity.” Wyden states that if the US is subjective in deciding what is and isn’t compliant under Geneva, then other countries will do the same to US prisoners in their custody. “The cumulative effect in my interpretation is to put American troops at risk,” he says. [Washington Post, 4/27/2008; New York Times, 4/27/2008] He adds that the letters help make the case for a law that explicitly puts the CIA interrogations under the same restrictions as the military, or another set of clear standards. [Wall Street Journal, 4/27/2008]
'Full Compliance' - The CIA refuses to comment on Benczkowski’s memo, but spokesman Mark Mansfield says the CIA’s detainee program “has been and continues to be in full compliance with the laws of our country.” He adds, “The program has disrupted terrorist plots and has saved lives.” [Washington Post, 4/27/2008; New York Times, 4/27/2008]
Entity Tags: Geneva Conventions, Mark Mansfield, Brian A. Benczkowski, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, Ron Wyden, Senate Intelligence Committee, Jennifer Hoelzer
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Author Tom Engelhardt explores the connections between the retired military analysts recently exposed as part of a Pentagon propaganda operation to manipulate public opinion regarding the war and occupation of Iraq (see Early 2002 and Beyond) and “America’s General,” David Petraeus. Petraeus, slated to become the commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM), has long been a media darling, Engelhardt notes. For the last three years, Petraeus has been touted as virtually the only hope for an American victory in Iraq. Engelhardt writes, “Petraeus is the president’s anointed general, [President] Bush’s commander of commanders, and (not surprisingly) he exhibits certain traits much admired by the Bush administration in its better days.”
Petraeus Turns to Analysts to Promote Surge - In the New York Times article exposing the Pentagon propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008, one event has as yet gotten little attention: the fact that when Petraeus was appointed the commanding general in Iraq in January 2007, one of his first acts was to meet with a group of the Pentagon’s military analysts (see January 2007). Engelhardt explains, “In other words, on becoming US commander in Iraq, he automatically turned to the military propaganda machine the Pentagon had set up to launch his initial surge—on the home front.” Petraeus was by then a willing, and a key, participant in the Pentagon’s propaganda operation, which itself dovetailed with the Bush administration’s attempt to market the escalation of US troops—the “surge” (see January 10, 2007)—as the latest attempt to turn the corner in Iraq. President Bush himself was, by that point, “a thoroughly tarnished brand,” Engelhardt writes, not the person to launch such a marketing campaign.
Petraeus Is Administration's "Face" - Bush and the Pentagon both looked to Petraeus, who quickly “became the ‘face’ of the administration (just as American military and civilian officials had long spoken of putting an ‘Iraqi face’ on the American occupation of that country).” In the following months, Bush cited Petraeus over 150 times as part of his attempts to paint the US occupation as a success. Petraeus himself quickly turned to the Pentagon’s cadre of retired military officers, now network analysts reliably providing the administration’s talking points on the news broadcasts, to help him promulgate the surge. Engelhardt notes that one of those analysts, retired Army general and ABC News analyst Jack Keane, was himself the co-author of the “surge” strategy (see January 2007). Between the president, the administration officials, the military analysts, and the enthusiastic media reporters and talking heads, establishing the surge as a putative success and Petraeus as a name brand with a positive image was achieved in relatively short order. [Asia Times, 4/29/2008]
Bush, wearing his flight suit, before giving the ‘Mission Accomplished’ speech. [Source: MSNBC]Reporter Helen Thomas, the grande dame of Washington reporters who is not popular with the Bush administration, asks White House spokesman Dana Perino about the five-year anniversary of President Bush’s declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Thomas asks, “How does the president intend to commemorate ‘Mission Accomplished’ after five years of death and destruction?” Perino responds with the explanation that the banner was merely to acknowledge the completion of the mission of the aircraft carrier on which the ceremony was conducted. “President Bush is well aware that the banner should have been much more specific and said ‘mission accomplished for these sailors who are on this ship on their mission,’” Perino says. “And we have certainly paid a price for not being more specific on that banner. And I recognize that the media is going to play this up again tomorrow, as they do every single year.” [CBS News, 10/29/2003; White House, 4/30/2008]
Former Bush administration press secretary Scott McClellan, reflecting on the buildup to the Iraq invasion, says that President Bush “managed the [Iraq] crisis in a way that almost guaranteed that the use of force would become the only feasible option.” Between the increasingly belligerent rhetoric, the UN ultimatum (see September 12, 2002), and the “massive buildup of American arms and military forces in the region, which, for logistical reasons, couldn’t remain in the area indefinitely without being used,” war became the only viable option. McClellan blames Bush’s advisers as much as Bush, and observes: “[D]uring the buildup to war, the president’s advisers allowed his own hands to be tied, putting Bush in a position where avoiding conflict was more difficult than launching it. By creating this enormous momentum for war, the president and his advisers achieved several things. He made the job of his political opponents extraordinarily difficult, putting those who opposed the war in the position of arguing against what was almost a fait accompli. He trapped Saddam Hussein in a shrinking box, making it less and less acceptable for the dictator to continue to temporize and play games with his neighbors. He forced other countries… to make hard decisions as to whether or not they would permit a US-led invasion absent a clear imminent threat. Most important, the White House forestalled any debate about the fundamental goals and long-term plans for such an invasion. By pushing so hard on the WMD issue, reducing the larger issue of the future of the Middle East into a short-term emergency threat that must be dealt with now, the president and his advisers avoided having to discuss the big issues of what would happen after the invasion. Who would rule Iraq? How would the region respond? How long would the United States have to remain on the ground? How would tensions among the nation’s ethnic and religious groups be resolved? Few of these questions ever appeared on the national radar screen during the run-up to war. But they would come back to haunt the president, and the nation, in years to come, when it became clear that the stated rationales for war—the WMD threat and Iraq’s link to terrorism—were less than convincing. The lack of candor underlying the campaign for war would severely undermine the president’s entire second term in office.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 142-144]
Former Bush White House press secretary Scott McClellan, in his book What Happened, reflects on what he considers to be the biggest mistakes of President Bush’s presidency: the rush to war with Iraq, and the unwillingness to admit that rushing to war was an error. McClellan writes: “The first grave mistake of Bush’s presidency was rushing towards military confrontation with Iraq. It took his presidency off course and greatly damaged his standing with the public. His second grave mistake was his virtual blindness about his first mistake, and his unwillingness to sustain a bipartisan spirit during a time of war and change course when events demanded it.” McClellan writes that his own views of the Iraq war “have evolved in parallel to those of most Americans.” Before the invasion, McClellan writes that he was torn between uncertainty over launching an unprecedented pre-emptive strike on a nation that had not attacked us, and a desire to avenge the 9/11 attacks. Now, he has “been forced to conclude that we should never have rushed to war in the first place.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 210]
A front-page Washington Post story reveals that, eight years after al-Qaeda bombed the USS Cole just off the coast of Yemen and killed 17 US soldiers (see October 12, 2000), “all the defendants convicted in the attack have escaped from prison or been freed by Yemeni officials.”
Two Key Suspects Keep Slipping from Yemeni Prisons - For instance, Jamal al-Badawi, a Yemeni and key organizer of the bombing, broke out of Yemeni prisons twice and then was secretly released in 2007 (see April 11, 2003-March 2004, February 3, 2006 and October 17-29, 2007). The Yemeni government jailed him again after the US threatened to cut aid to the country, but apparently he continues to freely come and go from his prison cell. US officials have demanded the right to perform random inspections to make sure he stays jailed. Another key Cole suspect, Fahad al-Quso, also escaped from a Yemeni prison and then was secretly released in 2007 (see May 2007). Yemen has refused to extradite al-Badawi and al-Quso to the US, where they have been indicted for the Cole bombing. FBI Director Robert Mueller flew to Yemen in April 2008 to personally appeal to Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh to extradite the two men. However, Saleh has refused, citing a constitutional ban on extraditing its citizens. Other Cole suspects have been freed after short prison terms in Yemen, and at least two went on to commit suicide attacks in Iraq.
US Unwilling to Try Two Suspects in Its Custody - Two more key suspects, Khallad bin Attash and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, were captured by US forces and have been transferred to the US-run Guantanamo prison. Al-Nashiri is considered the mastermind of the Cole bombing, but the US made the decision not to indict either of them because pending criminal charges could have forced the CIA or the Pentagon to give up custody of the men. Al-Quso, bin Attash, and al-Nashiri all attended a key 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia where the 9/11 attacks were discussed (see January 5-8, 2000).
'The Forgotten Attack' - A week after the Cole bombing, President Bill Clinton vowed to hunt down the plotters and promised, “Justice will prevail.” But less than a month after the bombing, George W. Bush was elected president. Roger Cressey, a former counterterrorism official in the Clinton and Bush administrations who helped oversee the White House’s response to the Cole bombing, says, “During the first part of the Bush administration, no one was willing to take ownership of this. It didn’t happen on their watch. It was the forgotten attack.”
'Back to Square One' - Former FBI agent Ali Soufan, a lead investigator into the bombing, complains,
“After we worked day and night to bring justice to the victims and prove that these Qaeda operatives were responsible, we’re back to square one. Do they have laws over there or not? It’s really frustrating what’s happening.” The Post comments, “Basic questions remain about which individuals and countries played a role in the assault on the Cole.”
Possible Government Complicity - One anonymous senior Yemeni official tells the Post that al-Badawi and other al-Qaeda members have had a long relationship with Yemen’s intelligence agencies and have targeted political opponents in the past. For instance, in 2006, an al-Qaeda suicide attack in Yemen came just days before elections there, and Saleh tried to link one of the figures involved to the opposition party, helping Saleh win reelection (see September 15, 2006). Furthermore, there is evidence that figures within the Yemeni government were involved in the Cole bombing (see After October 12, 2000), and that the government also protected key bombers such as al-Nashiri in the months before and after the bombings (see April 2000 and Shortly After October 12, 2000).
Bush Unwilling to Meet with Victims' Relatives - Relatives of the soldiers killed in the bombing have attempted to meet with President Bush to press for more action, to no avail. John P. Clodtfelter Jr., whose son died on the Cole, says, “I was just flat told that he wouldn’t meet with us. Before him, President Clinton promised we’d go out and get these people, and of course we never did. I’m sorry, but it’s just like the lives of American servicemen aren’t that important.” [Washington Post, 5/4/2008]
Entity Tags: John P. Clodtfelter Jr., Ali Soufan, Ali Abdallah Saleh, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Fahad al-Quso, Jamal al-Badawi, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Yemen, Khallad bin Attash, Roger Cressey, Robert S. Mueller III, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Bush playing golf, presumably before August 19, 2003. [Source: Raw Story]President Bush says he gave up golfing almost five years ago as a way to honor America’s servicemen. Reporter Mike Allen asks: “Mr. President, you haven’t been golfing in recent years. Is that related to Iraq?” Bush replies: “Yes, it really is. I don’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf. I feel I owe it to the families to be as—to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal.” Bush says he stopped playing golf after August 19, 2003, when the UN offices in Baghdad were bombed and UN special representative Sergio Vieira de Mello was killed. “And I was playing golf—I think I was in central Texas—and they pulled me off the golf course and I said, it’s just not worth it anymore to do.” [Associated Press, 5/13/2008]
Played Golf Months after Supposedly Giving It Up - Bush’s claim of giving up golf after the UN bombing is untrue. The Associated Press reported on October 13, 2003, almost two months after the bombing, that Bush spent a “cool, breezy Columbus Day” playing “a round of golf with three long-time buddies.” On that afternoon, Bush joked with reporters: “Fine looking crew you got there. Fine looking crew. That’s what we’d hope for presidential coverage. Only the best.”
'Insipid,' 'Shallow' - The press is critical of Bush’s statement. Washington Post columnist Dan Froomkin mocks Bush’s idea of giving up golf as a “personal sacrifice on account of the war.… [H]is decision to stop playing golf five years ago wasn’t just an exercise in image control or a function of his bum knee—it was an act of solidarity with the families of the dead and wounded.” Froomkin calls Bush’s claim “the latest in a series of statements by Bush, the first lady and Vice President Cheney illustrating how far removed they are from the consequences of the decision to go to war—and stay at war… a hollow, trivial sacrifice at best.” Presidential historian Robert Dallek says Bush’s claims about Iraq “speak to his shallowness.… That’s his idea of sacrifice, to give up golf?” Golf blogger William Wolfrum calls the entire interview with Bush “insipid” and notes sarcastically that for Bush to continue golfing “would just send the wrong signal to the thousands killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families. War supporters take note—put away your golf clubs. It’s just disrespectful.” Kevin Hayden writes: “Military funerals he’s attended: 0. Annual National Press Club comedy routines he’s participated in: All of them. Times he played guitar while the Gulf Coast was drowning: 1. Estimated number of returning veterans not being treated for PTSD and other disorders: tens of thousands. He’s biked, run, worked out, met with members of athletic teams, thrown out first pitches, dismissed the importance of finding Osama bin Laden, opposed expanding the GI Bill, but our troops and country can go to sleep happily assured that their commander in chief is not dissing their sweat and sacrifice, blood and tears by playing any of that dastardly golf stuff.” [Washington Post, 5/14/2008]
'Slap in the Face' - More seriously, US infantry officer Brandon Friedman, a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns, calls Bush’s claim that he sacrificed golf for the war a “slap in the face” to US soldiers and their families, and an “insult to all Americans.” “Thousands of Americans have given up a lot more than golf for this war,” Friedman says. “For President Bush to imply that he somehow stands in solidarity with families of American soldiers by giving up golf is disgraceful.… It just shows he’s a guy who doesn’t understand the idea of sacrifice for your country and military service. Giving up golf is not a sacrifice. It shows how disconnected he is from everyday Americans, especially those who are serving in Iraq and their families.” [Press Association (London), 5/14/2008; Guardian, 5/15/2008]
President Bush says that the election of a Democrat in 2008 might lead to another 9/11-like attack on the US. Reporter Mike Allen asks: “I wonder if you—various people and various candidates talk about pulling out next year. If we were to pull out of Iraq next year, what’s the worst that could happen, what’s the doomsday scenario?” Bush replies, “Doomsday scenario of course is that extremists throughout the Middle East would be emboldened, which would eventually lead to another attack on the United States.” After making this statement, Bush repeats several statements that he has been making for years: Iraq “just happens to be” part of the global war on terror, Iraq “is the place where al-Qaeda and other extremists have made their stand,” and terrorists “can’t stand to live in a free society, that’s why they try to fight free societies.” [Associated Press, 5/13/2008] MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann calls Bush’s claim “ludicrous, infuriating, holier-than-thou and… bone-headedly wrong,” and says, “Terrorism inside Iraq is your creation, Mr. Bush.” [MSNBC, 5/14/2008]
Keith Olbermann, the host of MSNBC’s Countdown, gives over a portion of his broadcast to savage President Bush’s recent claim that he gave up golf as his personal sacrifice for the Iraq war (see May 13, 2008). After lambasting Bush for his doomsday rhetoric over the possibility that electing a Democratic president would lead to another 9/11-like attack on the US (see May 13, 2008), Olbermann calls Bush’s golf claim his “final blow to our nation’s solar plexus, his last reopening of our common wounds, his last remark that makes the rest of us question not merely his leadership or his judgment but his very suitability to remain in office.” Olbermann then asks incredulously: “Golf, sir? Golf sends the wrong signal to the grieving families of our men and women butchered in Iraq? Do you think these families, Mr. Bush, their lives blighted forever, care about you playing golf? Do you think, sir, they care about you? You, Mr. Bush, let their sons and daughters be killed. Sir, to show your solidarity with them you gave up golf? Sir, to show your solidarity with them you didn’t give up your pursuit of this insurance-scam, profiteering, morally and financially bankrupting war. Sir, to show your solidarity with them you didn’t even give up talking about Iraq, a subject about which you have incessantly proved without pause or backwards glance, that you may literally be the least informed person in the world?… Four thousand Americans give up their lives and your sacrifice was to give up golf!” [MSNBC, 5/14/2008; Raw Story, 5/15/2008]
President Bush, speaking to the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s founding, accuses Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and other Democrats of favoring “appeasement” of terrorists in the same way some Western leaders “appeased” Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler in the days before World War II. Bush does not name Obama or any other official specifically, but White House aides soon acknowledge Bush intended the remarks to apply to Obama. Bush tells the Knesset: “Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared, ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is—the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.… There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain their words away. This is natural. But it is deadly wrong. As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.” CNN calls the remarks “a not-so-subtle attempt to continue to raise doubts about Obama with Jewish Americans,” and a follow-up to similar remarks made by Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who has charged that Obama enjoys the support of Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas. Obama called McCain’s Hamas allegation a “smear” and says of Bush’s remarks: “It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence to launch a false political attack. It is time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and failed to secure America or our ally Israel.… George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the president’s extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel.” Obama’s campaign says Obama favors “tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions, and is willing to meet with the leaders of all nations, friend and foe.” Obama has never said he favors talks with any radical group such as Hamas, which both he and the US State Department have labeled a terrorist organization. [CNN, 5/15/2008]
Angry Responses from Democratic Lawmakers - The response from Democratic lawmakers, Bush administration critics, and Democratic supporters is quick and angered. One of the harshest responses is from Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a former presidential contender himself. Biden minces few words by saying: “This is bullsh_t, this is malarkey. This is outrageous, for the president of the United States to go to a foreign country, to sit in the Knesset… and make this kind of ridiculous statement.” Of Bush, Biden says: “He is the guy who has weakened us. He has increased the number of terrorists in the world. It is his policies that have produced this vulnerability that the US has. It’s his [own] intelligence community [that] has pointed this out, not me.” He also notes that Bush’s Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have both suggested opening dialogues with their enemies. “If he thinks this is appeasement, is he going to come back and fire his own cabinet?” Biden asks. “Is he going to fire Condi Rice?” Biden later says he regrets the use of the profanity, but then says that Bush is engaging in “long-distance swiftboating” of Obama, referring to Bush’s 2004 campaign strategy of telling false stories about his Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Kerry’s Vietnam service. Kerry says that Bush “is still playing the disgusting and dangerous political game Karl Rove perfected, which is insulting to every American and disrespectful to our ally Israel. George Bush should be making Israel secure, not slandering Barack Obama from the Knesset.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says: “Not surprisingly, the engineer of the worst foreign policy in our nation’s history has fired yet another reckless and reprehensible round. For the president to make this statement before the government of our closest ally as it celebrates a remarkable milestone demeans this historic moment with partisan politics.” For a brief time, the White House attempts to deny that Bush was referring to Obama, a denial that Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) does not believe. “There is no escaping what the president is doing,” he says. “It is an attack on Senator Obama’s position that we should not be avoiding even those we disagree with when it comes to negotiations and diplomacy.” Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), also a Democratic presidential contender, says: “President Bush’s comparison of any Democrat to Nazi appeasers is both offensive and outrageous on the face of it, especially in light of his failures in foreign policy. This is the kind of statement that has no place in any presidential address and certainly to use an important moment like the 60th anniversary celebration of Israel to make a political point seems terribly misplaced. Unfortunately, this is what we’ve come to expect from President Bush. There is a very clear difference between Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy and that difference will be evident once we take back the White House.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says that Bush’s remarks are “beneath the dignity of the office of the president and unworthy of our representation” at the celebration of Israel’s 60th anniversary. Referring to McCain, Pelosi says, “I would hope that any serious person that aspires to lead the country, would disassociate themselves from those comments.” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) says: “The tradition has always been that when a US president is overseas, partisan politics stops at the water’s edge. President Bush has now taken that principle and turned it on its head: for this White House, partisan politics now begins at the water’s edge, no matter the seriousness and gravity of the occasion. Does the president have no shame?” [Politico, 5/15/2008; Politico, 5/15/2008; Politico, 5/15/2008]
Other Responses - Democratic columnist and political strategist Paul Begala writes: “George W. Bush is unworthy of the presidency. He is a disgrace to himself, our nation, and the high office he holds.” Bush “dishonor[ed] himself”, Begala continues, “by using one of the world’s most important pulpits to launch a false and vicious political attack against Barack Obama.” Begala notes that he is a staunch supporter of Israel, and writes: “It is especially appalling to supporters of Israel that Mr. Bush would stand on a hilltop in Jerusalem to invoke the Holocaust in order to make a cheap and deeply dishonest political point. I am a person of faith, so it is especially galling that a man who calls himself a brother in faith would stand in the Holy Land and violate one of the Commandments God gave to Moses: ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.‘… As an American I am ashamed that such a man represents me.” [Huffington Post, 5/15/2008] The Boston Globe publishes an editorial accusing Bush of breaking “an unwritten rule against partisan politicking on foreign shores. He also displayed confusion about his own policies—and about the cause of his calamitous foreign policy failures.” Like others, the Globe notes that Bush officials have engaged in talks with Iran, and says that by overthrowing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration has done a great deal “to enable Iran.” The Globe compares Obama’s foreign policy to the “tough and prudent statecraft in the mold of Bush’s father and his secretary of state, James Baker.” The Globe concludes: “Maybe the worst thing about Bush’s Knesset attack on Obama is that it shows how oblivious Bush still is to his own failings. His unilateral military ventures, his disdain for international treaties and organizations, his refusal to negotiate with Iran when the regime in Tehran was eager to cut a deal with the United States—these mistakes produced the disasters that Obama or another successor will have to overcome.” [Boston Globe, 5/16/2008] Columnist Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes: “President Bush went on foreign soil today, and committed what I consider an act of political treason: Comparing the candidate of the US opposition party to appeasers of Nazi Germany—in the very nation that was carved out from the horrific calamity of the Holocaust. Bush’s bizarre and beyond-appropriate detour into American presidential politics took place in the middle of what should have been an occasion for joy.” As others observe, Bunch writes that Bush crossed a line that previous presidents have tried to avoid: criticizing members of the opposing party on foreign soil. He writes: “As a believer in free speech, I think Bush has a right to say what he wants, but as a president of the United States who swore to uphold the Constitution, his freedom also carries an awesome and solemn responsibility, and what this president said today is a serious breach of that high moral standard.… [W]hat Bush did in Israel this morning goes well beyond the accepted confines of American political debate. When the president speaks to a foreign parliament on behalf of our country, his message needs to be clear and unambiguous. Our democracy may look messy to outsiders, and we may have our disagreements with some sharp elbows thrown around, but at the end of the day we are not Republicans or Democrats or liberals or conservatives. We are Americans.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/15/2008]
Republican Responses - Few Republicans speak publicly regarding Bush’s comments. One who is willing to do so is Ed Gillespie, an advisor to the White House. He attempts to deny that Bush meant the remarks to apply to Obama—a denial soon contradicted by other White House officials—then claims that Bush and the White House want to stay out of the presidential campaign. Instead, Gillespie says: “The president is stating American policy and his policy toward Iran and toward Hezbollah and toward al-Qaeda.… We are happy to allow for Senator Obama and others to express their own points of view on these things.” McCain refuses to distance himself from the remarks, and instead attacks Obama for expressing a willingness to open talks with Iran. McCain does not note that Bush administration diplomats have held three rounds of discussions with Iranian officials in the last year. [CNN, 5/16/2008]
Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Boston Globe, Hamas, Harry Reid, Condoleezza Rice, Ed Gillespie, CNN, Will Bunch, Hillary Clinton, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Joseph Biden, John McCain, John Kerry, Robert M. Gates, Nancy Pelosi, George W. Bush, Paul Begala, Rahm Emanuel
Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections
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