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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 16 of 17 (1602 events)previous
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
Tom Brokaw. [Source: David Shankbone]NBC anchor emeritus Tom Brokaw defends the media’s performance during the run-up to the Iraq war, and says that it was too much to expect that the media be able to cut through what he calls “the fog of war,” even before the war. In an interview with his successor, Brian Williams, Brokaw says that the coverage “needs to be viewed in the context of that time. When a president says we’re going to war, that there’s a danger of the mushroom crowd. We know there had been experiments with Iraqi nuclear programs in the past. Honorable people believed he had weapons of mass destruction. But there’s always a drumbeat that happens at that time. And you can raise your hand and put on people like Brent Scowcroft, which we did, a very creditable man who said this was the wrong decision.… There was this feeling, that this was a bad man, he had weapons of mass destruction, we couldn’t make the connection that he was sponsoring terrorists or harboring them, we raised that question day after day. But this president was determined to go to war. It was more theology than it was anything else. That’s pretty hard to deal with.… [T]here is a fog of war, Brian, and also the fog in covering war.” Many Democrats, too, went along with the Bush administration’s push to war, Brokaw adds.
Brokaw Considers War Propaganda Standard Procedure - Williams notes that former press secretary Scott McClellan has said that the war was “based on propaganda.” Brokaw replies: “All wars are based on propaganda. John Kennedy launched the beginning of our war in Vietnam by talking about the domino theory and embracing the Green Berets. Lyndon Johnson kept it up and so did Richard Nixon. World War II—a lot of that was driven by propaganda, and suppressing things that people should have known at the time. So people should not be surprised by that. In this business we often bump up against what I call the opaque world. The White House has an unbelievable ability to control the flow of information at any time but especially at a time when they are planning to go to war.”
Rebutting Brokaw - Editor & Publisher’s Greg Mitchell calls Brokaw’s arguments “bankrupt,” and counters several specifics. For Brokaw to say that it was “hard to deal with” the administration’s “drumbeat” for war is specious, Mitchell says: “NBC and others chose to focus on the ‘evidence’ of WMD rather than the evidence that the administration was simply bent on going to war, WMD or not.” Neither Brokaw nor most of his colleagues spent much time focusing on the fact that UN inspectors had found no evidence whatsoever of the WMD programs being hyped by the administration. Mitchell finds Brokaw’s dismissal of the administration’s propaganda efforts disturbing, and writes: “For Brokaw, who has embraced the notion of [World War II] being the ‘good war,’ to put the Iraq invasion in the same class is outrageous. There is a huge difference between admitting that there is a propaganda element to every war—and pointing out that certain wars are mainly based on propaganda and that a country has been misled, or lied, into war. Surely, Brokaw doesn’t think FDR hyped the Japanese and German threat—or was hellbent on war.” Mitchell finds Brokaw’s note that NBC allowed war critic Brent Scowcroft on the air to be disingenuous: “Studies… have shown that such critics were vastly—hideously—outnumbered by war supporters who got face time.” As for Democratic complicity, Mitchell retorts, “What kind of journalist explains a failure to probe the real reasons for a war on others who may not be doing their own due diligence?” [Editor & Publisher, 5/31/2008]
Henry Waxman (D-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, writes to Attorney General Michael Mukasey requesting access to the transcripts of interviews by President Bush and Vice President Cheney regarding the “outing” of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). The interviews were conducted as part of the investigation of former Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Waxman notes that he made a similar request in December 2007 which has gone unfulfilled (see December 3, 2007). Waxman wants the reports from Bush and Cheney’s interviews, and the unredacted reports from the interviews with Libby, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, former White House aide Cathie Martin, “and other senior White House officials.” Information revealed by McClellan in conjuction with his new book What Happened, including McClellan’s statement that Bush and Cheney “directed me to go out there and exonerate Scooter Libby,” and his assertion that “Rove, Libby, and possibly Vice President Cheney… allowed me, even encouraged me, to repeat a lie,” adds to evidence from Libby’s interviews that Cheney may have been the source of the information that Wilson worked for the CIA. For Cheney to leak Wilson’s identity, and to then direct McClellan to mislead the public, “would be a major breach of trust,” Waxman writes. He adds that no argument can be made for withholding the documents on the basis of executive privilege, and notes that in 1997 and 1998, the Oversight Committee demanded and received FBI interviews with then-President Clinton and then-Vice President Gore without even consulting the White House. [US House of Representatives, 6/3/2008; TPM Muckraker, 6/3/2008]
Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Henry A. Waxman, Condoleezza Rice, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Scott McClellan, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Michael Mukasey
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The British newspaper The Independent reports on a secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad that would indefinitely perpetuate the American occupation of Iraq, no matter who wins the US presidential elections in November. Under the accord, US troops and private contractors will occupy over 50 permanent military bases, conduct military operations without consulting the Iraqi government, arrest Iraqis at will, control Iraqi airspace, and be immune from Iraqi law. The agreement goes much farther than a previous draft agreement created between the two countries in March (see March 7, 2008). It is based on a so-called “Declaration of Principles” issued by both governments in November 2007 (see November 26, 2007). The US says it has no intention of entering into a permanent agreement (see June 5, 2008).
Forcing Agreement Over Iraqi Opposition - President Bush intends to force the so-called “strategic alliance” onto the Iraqi government, without modifications, by the end of July. Inside sources believe that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki opposes the deal, but feels that his government cannot stay in power without US backing and therefore has no power to resist. Iraqi ministers have said they will reject any agreement that limits Iraqi sovereignty, insiders believe that their resistance is little more than bluster designed to shore up their credentials as defenders of Iraqi independence; they will sign off on the agreement in the end, observers believe. The only person with the authority to block the deal is Shi’ite religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. But al-Sistani is said to believe that the Shi’a cannot afford to lose US support if they intend to remain in control of the government. Al-Sistani’s political rival, cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, has exhorted his followers to demonstrate against the agreement as a compromise of Iraqi sovereignty. As for the other two power blocs in the country, the Kurds are likely to accept the agreement, and, interestingly, so are many Sunni political leaders, who want the US in Iraq to dilute the Shi’ites’ control of the government. (Many Sunni citizens oppose any such deal.) While the Iraqi government itself is trying to delay the signing of the accord, Vice President Dick Cheney has been instrumental in pushing for its early acceptance. The US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, has spent weeks trying to secure the agreement.
'Explosive Political Effect' - Many Iraqis fear that the deal will have what reporter Patrick Cockburn calls “an explosive political effect in Iraq… [it may] destabilize Iraq’s position in the Middle East and lay the basis for unending conflict in their country.” Cockburn writes that the accords may provoke a political crisis in the US as well. Bush wants the accords pushed through “so he can declare a military victory and claim his 2003 invasion has been vindicated.” The accord would also boost the candidacy of John McCain (R-AZ), who claims the US is on the brink of victory in Iraq. It would fly in the face of pledges made by McCain’s presidential opponent Barack Obama (D-IL), who has promised to withdraw US troops from Iraq if elected. McCain has said that Obama will throw away a US victory if he prematurely withdraws troops. An Iraqi politician says of the potential agreement, “It is a terrible breach of our sovereignty.” He adds that such an agreement will delegitimize the Iraqi government and prove to the world that it is nothing more than a puppet government controlled by the US. While US officials have repeatedly denied that the Bush administration wants permanent bases in Iraq, an Iraqi source retorts, “This is just a tactical subterfuge.”
Exacerbating Tensions with Iran - Iranian leader Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani says that the agreement will create “a permanent occupation.… The essence of this agreement is to turn the Iraqis into slaves of the Americans.” The deal may also inflame tensions between Iran and the US; currently the two countries are locked in an under-the-radar struggle to win influence in Iraq. [Independent, 6/5/2008]
Entity Tags: Moqtada al-Sadr, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Hashemi Rafsanjani, John McCain, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Ryan C. Crocker, Sayyid Ali Husaini al-Sistani, Patrick Cockburn, Nouri al-Maliki, Independent
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
The Senate Intelligence Committee releases its long-awaited “Phase II” report on the Bush administration’s use of intelligence in convincing the country that it was necessary to invade Iraq. According to the report, none of the claims made by the administration—particularly that Iraq had WMD and that its government had working ties with Islamist terror organizations such as al-Qaeda—were based in any intelligence reporting. The committee released “Phase I” of its report in July 2004, covering the quality of intelligence used in making the case for war; the second phase was promised “soon afterwards” by the then-Republican leadership of the committee, but nothing was done until after Democrats took over the committee in November 2006. The report is the product of what the Associated Press calls “nasty partisan fight[ing]” among Republicans and Democrats, and largely fails to reveal much information that has not earlier been reported elsewhere. [Associated Press, 6/5/2008] The report is bipartisan in that two Republican committee members, Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE), joined the committee’s Democrats to sign the report. [Hill, 6/5/2008]
False Linkages between Iraq, Al-Qaeda - Time magazine notes that the report “doesn’t break any new ground,” but tries “to make the case that President Bush and his advisers deliberately disregarded conflicting intel and misled Americans on the severity of the Iraqi threat.” Committee chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) says: “It is my belief that the Bush administration was fixated on Iraq, and used the 9/11 attacks by al-Qaeda as justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. To accomplish this, top administration officials made repeated statements that falsely linked Iraq and al-Qaeda as a single threat.” [Time, 6/6/2008]
Examination of Five Speeches - The report looks at the statements of current and former Bush administration officials such as President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, between October 2002 and the actual invasion of Iraq in March 2003 (see January 23, 2008), largely focusing on five speeches:
Cheney’s speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention (see August 26, 2002);
Bush’s statement to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002);
Bush’s speech in Cincinnati (see October 7, 2002);
Bush’s State of the Union speech (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003);
and Powell’s presentation to the United Nations Security Council (see February 5, 2003).
The report contrasts these speeches and statements to intelligence reports that have since then been released. The report only assesses the veracity of public comments made by Bush officials, and does not delve into any possible behind-the-scenes machinations by those officials or their surrogates. Some of the report’s conclusions:
“Statements which indicated that [Saddam] Hussein was prepared to give WMDs to terrorists were inconsistent with existing intelligence at the time, as were statements that suggested a partnership between the two.”
“Claims that airstrikes on their own would not be sufficient to destroy purported chemical and biological weapons in Iraq were unsubstantiated.”
“Most statements that supported the theory that Hussein had access to or the capacity to build chemical, biological, or even nuclear weapons did not take into account the disagreements between intelligence agencies as to the credibility of the WMD allegations.”
'Statements beyond What the Intelligence Supported' - Rockefeller says the administration concealed information that contradicted their arguments that an invasion was necessary. “We might have avoided this catastrophe,” he says. The report finds that while many of the administration’s claims were supported by at least some intelligence findings, the administration routinely refused to mention dissents or uncertainties expressed by intelligence analysts about the information being presented. The committee’s five Republicans assail the report as little more than election-year partisanship, and accuse Democrats of using the report to cover for their own members, including Rockefeller and Carl Levin (D-MI), who supported the administration’s push for war at the time. [Senate Intelligence Committee, 6/5/2008 ; Associated Press, 6/5/2008; Time, 6/6/2008] Rockefeller answers the Republican charges by saying, “[T]here is a fundamental difference between relying on incorrect intelligence and deliberately painting a picture to the American people that you know is not fully accurate.” Committee member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) writes in a note attached to the report: “Even though the intelligence before the war supported inaccurate statements, this administration distorted the intelligence in order to build its case to go to war. The executive branch released only those findings that supported the argument, did not relay uncertainties, and at times made statements beyond what the intelligence supported.” [Huffington Post, 6/5/2008]
Entity Tags: Chuck Hagel, John D. Rockefeller, Colin Powell, Dianne Feinstein, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Carl Levin, Olympia Snowe, Al-Qaeda, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Senate Intelligence Committee, Saddam Hussein
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
The US is pressuring the Iraqi government to accept a military agreement for permanent US bases in Iraq (see March 7, 2008 and June 5, 2008) by using some $50 billion of Iraqi money being kept in the US Federal Reserve Bank as a negotiating tool. About $20 billion in outstanding court judgments exist against Iraq in the US. A presidential order currently gives that money protection from judicial attachment. But, US officials have told Iraqi lawmakers, if they do not sign the accord with the US, President Bush will lift that immunity and the $20 billion will be confiscated by the US court system. [Independent, 6/6/2008; Xinhua News Agency (Beijing), 6/6/2008] Reporter Patrick Cockburn writes: “The US is able to threaten Iraq with the loss of 40 percent of its foreign exchange reserves because Iraq’s independence is still limited by the legacy of UN sanctions and restrictions imposed on Iraq since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in the 1990s. This means that Iraq is still considered a threat to international security and stability under Chapter Seven of the UN charter. The US negotiators say the price of Iraq escaping Chapter Seven is to sign up to a new ‘strategic alliance’ with the United States.” Cockburn writes that regardless of the financial “blackmail,” Iraqis are resistant to the agreement because they fear it will make their nation a perpetual “client state” of the US. [Independent, 6/6/2008]
Bill Moyers, John Walcott, Jonathan Landay, and Greg Mitchell on PBS’s ‘Journal.’ [Source: PBS]In his regular “Journal” broadcast, PBS political commentator Bill Moyers focuses on the role of the media in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. “America was deceived, with the media’s help,” Moyers declares, and interviews three media figures to help explain how: John Walcott, Washington bureau chief of McClatchy News; Jonathan Landay, one of Walcott’s “ace reporters;” and Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher, “known to many of us as the watchdog’s watchdog.” Part of the discussion focuses on the failure of most media reporters and broadcasters to question the Bush administration’s assertions about the Iraq war. Landay says, “I was just I was left breathless by some of the things that I heard where you heard correspondents say, ‘Well, we did ask the tough questions. We asked them to the White House spokesmen,’ Scott McClellan and others. And you say to yourself, ‘And you expected to get real answers? You expected them to say from the White House podium—“Yeah, well, there were disagreements over the intelligence, but we ignored them”’ when the President made his speeches and the Vice President made his speeches. No, I don’t think so.” Mitchell agrees, noting that ABC reporter Charles Gibson said that we “wouldn’t ask any different questions.” Mitchell says he found Gibson’s remarks “shocking.” Mitchell continues: “[T]hat someone would say we would even with the chance to relive this experience and so much we got wrong—going to war is—which is still going on over five years later, all the lost lives, all the financial costs of that. And then to look back at this, you know, this terrible episode in history of American journalism and say that if I could do it all over again, I’m not sure we would ask any different questions.” Walcott takes a different tack, saying that reporters “may have asked all the right questions. The trouble is they asked all the wrong people.” Landay notes that “you have to take the time to find those people,” and Mitchell adds that when you do find real information, “[y]ou can’t bury it.” Landay adds that some powerful, public admission of error and self-examination might go far to counter the perception that the media is just as untrustworthy as the government.
Drowned Out - Walcott notes that even when reporters found informed sources willing to talk about the realities behind the push for war, they were drowned out by “Donald Rumsfeld at the podium or Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice saying, ‘We can’t allow the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud’” (see September 4, 2002 and September 8, 2002). “Over and over again,” Moyers notes. “Over and over again on camera,” Walcott continues. “[T]hat trumps the kind of reporting that John and [Landay’s partner] Warren Strobel did from these mid-level guys who actually know that there’s no prospect of any smoking gun let alone a mushroom cloud. And so when it gets to packaging television news, it’s picture driven, it’s celebrity driven, and that doesn’t allow much room for this kind of hard-nosed reporting under the radar.” Mitchell says, “There’s been at least six opportunities in the last two months for the media to do this long delayed and much needed self-assessment, self-criticism to the American public and it hasn’t happened.”
Liberal vs. Conservative Media - Moyers notes that many conservative media outlets “do not believe they got it wrong. I mean, Fox News was reinforcing the administration’s messages back then and still does today.” Walcott notes, “You know, if Fox News’s mission is to defend Republican administrations then they’re right, they didn’t fail.” He notes that in his book, McClellan draws a distinction between the conservative and the “liberal” media (presumably the New York Times, Washington Post, etc). “I don’t understand what liberal versus conservative has to do with this,” Walcott says. “I would have thought that conservatives would be the ones to ask questions about a march to war. How much is this gonna cost us? What’s the effect of this gonna be on our military, on our country’s strength overseas? I don’t think it’s a liberal conservative question at all. I think that’s, frankly, a canard by Scott.”
Celebrity 'Experts' - Moyers asks about the “experts” who predicted that the war would be quick, bloodless, and successful. Even though they were “terribly wrong,” Moyers notes that most of them are “still on the air today pontificating. I mean, there seems to be no price to be paid for having been wrong about so serious an issue of life and death, war and peace.” Walcott says they are not news analysts so much as they are celebrities. Big name actors can make bad movies and still draw million-dollar salaries for their next film: “It’s the same phenomenon. A name is what matters. And it’s about celebrity. It’s about conflict. It’s about—” Landay completes Walcott’s sentence: “Ratings.”
'Skunks at the Garden Party' - Perhaps the most disturbing portion of the discussion is when Walcott notes that the kind of old-fashioned investigative reporting exemplified by Landay and Strobel is “by definition… unpopular.… Because the public doesn’t wanna hear it.… Doesn’t wanna hear the President lied to them. Doesn’t wanna hear that the local police chief is on the take. You know, people don’t like necessarily to hear all that kind of stuff. And when you’re worried about, above all, your advertising revenue, you become more vulnerable to those kinds of pressures.… Well, the skunks don’t get invited to the garden party. And part of our job is to be the skunks at the garden party.” [PBS, 6/6/2008]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Charles Gibson, Bush administration (43), Bill Moyers, ABC News, Fox News, Washington Post, Public Broadcasting System, Editor & Publisher, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, McClatchy News, Warren Strobel, Jonathan Landay, Greg Mitchell, Scott McClellan, John Walcott, New York Times
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
During a PBS broadcast of a panel discussion about US interventions in the Middle East, host Bill Moyers observes that the hidden costs of the Iraq war are staggering. He notes that the huge number of suicides among US soldiers in Iraq as well as those who have come home is “the dirty little secret of this war.” The broken Veterans Administration, and its inability to provide decent medical care for the troops, is another, he says. Not only are these underreported in the US media, he says, even the economic costs get relatively little play, despite the fact that “The war’s costing us $5,000 a second, $12 1/2 billion to $13 billion a month,” with the costs ultimately soaring into the trillions of dollars. “[T]hat would seem to hit people in the viscera,” he says. Guest Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher says that the economic issues of the war are one of the biggest reasons why President Bush’s approval ratings stay below 30 percent, even as the media touts the “surge” (see January 2007 and January 10, 2007) as such a success. “[T]he reason is the people figured out long ago, long ago that the war was a mistake and that it’s incredibly costly in the human and financial and even moral terms.” [PBS, 6/6/2008]
The Supreme Court rules 5-4 that foreign terror suspects held without charge at Guantanamo Bay have the Constitutional right to challenge their detention in US civilian courts. The Court splits along ideological lines, with the more liberal and moderate members supporting the finding, and the more conservative members opposing it. Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered a centrist, writes the ruling. He writes, “The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times.” The ruling specifically strikes down the portion of the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006) that denies detainees their habeas corpus rights to file petitions. [Associated Press, 6/12/2008; Associated Press, 6/12/2008] The case is Boumediene v. Bush, and was filed in the Supreme Court in March 2007 on behalf of Lakhdar Boumediene, a Bosnian citizen held in the Guantanamo camp since 2002 (see January 18, 2002). It was combined with a similar case, Al Odah v United States (see October 20, 2004). [Oyez (.org), 6/2007; Jurist, 6/29/2007]
'Stinging Rebuke' for Bush Administration - The ruling is considered a serious setback for the Bush administration (a “stinging rebuke,” in the words of the Associated Press), which insists that terror suspects detained at Guantanamo and elsewhere have no rights in the US judicial system. It is unclear whether the ruling will lead to prompt hearings for detainees [Associated Press, 6/12/2008; Associated Press, 6/12/2008] ; law professor James Cohen, who represents two detainees, says, “Nothing is going to happen between June 12 and January 20,” when the next president takes office. Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr says the decision will not affact war crimes trials already in the works: “Military commission trials will therefore continue to go forward.”
Scalia: Ruling Will 'Cause More Americans to Be Killed' - President Bush says he disagrees with the ruling, and says he may seek new legislation to keep detainees under lock and key. Justice Antonin Scalia, the leader of the Court’s ideological right wing, agrees; in a “blistering” dissent, he writes that the decision “will make the war harder on us. It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.” In his own dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts argues that the ruling strikes down “the most generous set of procedural protections ever afforded aliens detained by this country as enemy combatants.” Joining Scalia and Roberts in the minority are Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. Voting in the majority are Kennedy and Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter, and John Paul Stevens.
Military Tribunals 'Doomed,' Says Navy Lawyer - Former Navy lawyer Charles Swift, who argued a similar case before the Supreme Court in Hamdan v Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), says he believes the ruling removes any legal basis for keeping Guantanamo open, and says that military tribunals are “doomed.” The entire rationale for Guantanamo and the tribunals, Swift says, is the idea that “constitutional protections wouldn’t apply.” But now, “The court said the Constitution applies. They’re in big trouble.” Democrats and many human rights organizations hail the ruling as affirming the US’s commitment to the rule of law; some Republican lawmakers say the ruling puts foreign terrorists’ rights over the safety of the American people. Vincent Warren, the head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, says: “The Supreme Court has finally brought an end to one of our nation’s most egregious injustices. By granting the writ of habeas corpus, the Supreme Court recognizes a rule of law established hundreds of years ago and essential to American jurisprudence since our nation’s founding.” [Associated Press, 6/12/2008]
Entity Tags: Stephen Breyer, Vincent Warren, US Supreme Court, Samuel Alito, Military Commissions Act, Peter Carr, Bush administration (43), Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Charles Swift, Clarence Thomas, David Souter, George W. Bush, Lakhdar Boumediene, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, James Cohen, John G. Roberts, Jr, US Department of Justice
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The annual summit of the G-8 nations, an informal association of the Northern Hemisphere’s eight largest industrialized nations—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Britain, and the United States—concludes with what Vanity Fair will call “a tepid pledge to cut greenhouse gases by 50 percent by the year 2050.” President Bush lets his feelings about global warming and the US’s role in dealing with the issue show when, bidding farewell to his fellow heads of state, he says, “Goodbye from the world’s greatest polluter.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
President Bush signs the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA), a revamping and expansion of the original Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). The legislation passed the House by a sweeping 293 to 129 votes, with most Democratic Congressional leaders supporting it over the opposition of the more liberal and civil liberties-minded Democrats. Republicans were almost unanimously supportive of the bill. Though Democratic Senators Russell Feingold (D-WI) and Christopher Dodd (D-CT) managed to delay the bill’s passage through the Senate, their attempt to modify the bill was thwarted by a 66-32 margin. (Dodd credits AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009) as one of the very few people to make the public aware of the illegal NSA wiretapping program, which the FISA amendment would protect. Without Klein, Dodd states, “this story might have remained secret for years and years, causing further erosion of our rights.”) Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, gave his qualified support to the bill, stating: “Given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as president, I will carefully monitor the program.” Obama had opposed an earlier Senate version that would have given “blanket immunity” to the telecommunications companies for their participation in the illegal NSA wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who organized Democratic support for the bill in the House, said that she supported the bill primarily because it rejects Bush’s argument that a wartime chief executive has the “inherent authority” to conduct some surveillance activity he considers necessary to fight terrorism. It restores the legal notion that the FISA law is the exclusive rule on government spying, she said, and added: “This is a democracy. It is not a monarchy.” Feingold, however, said that the bill granted “retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies that may have engaged in President Bush’s illegal wiretapping program.” The amendments restore many of the provisions of the expired Protect America Act (PAA—see August 5, 2007) that drastically modify the original FISA legislation and grant the government broad new surveillance powers. Like the PAA, the FAA grants “third parties” such as telecommunications firms immunity from prosecution for engaging in illegal surveillance of American citizens if they did so in partnership with government agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA). [Washington Post, 6/20/2008; CNN, 6/26/2008; US Senate, 7/9/2008; White House, 7/10/2008; Klein, 2009, pp. 95-97] Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) actually refused to honor a “hold” placed on the bill by Dodd, a highly unusual move. Klein will later note that Reid has in the past always honored holds placed on legislation by Republicans, even if Democrats were strongly supportive of the legislation being “held.” Klein will write that Pelosi crafted a “showpiece” FISA bill without the immunity provisions, garnering much praise for her from civil liberties organizations; however, Pelosi’s colleague House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) had secretly worked with the White House to craft a bill that preserved immunity for telecoms, and on June 10, Pelosi “rammed” that bill through the House. The final bill actually requires the judiciary to dismiss lawsuits brought against telecom firms if those firms can produce evidence that they had worked in collusion with the NSA. Feingold later observes that the final bill is not a “compromise, it is a capitulation.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 101-103] Klein will write that Democrats and Republicans have worked together to “unw[ind] one of the main reforms of the post-Watergate era and accepted the outrageous criminal rationalizations of [President] Nixon himself.” Klein will quote Nixon as saying, “If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal” (see April 6, 1977), and will say that is “the essence of the FISA ‘compromise’” and turned Congress into the White House’s “rubber stamp.… It is the twisted judicial logic of a dictatorship.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 107]
Entity Tags: Nancy Pelosi, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA Amendments Act of 2008, Christopher Dodd, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Mark Klein, Russell D. Feingold, Richard M. Nixon, Harry Reid, Steny Hoyer, National Security Agency, Protect America Act
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Yousaf Raza Gillani. [Source: Public Domain]Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, visits the US and meets with President George Bush in Washington, D.C. Bush privately confronts Gillani with evidence that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, has been helping the Taliban and al-Qaeda. US intelligence has long suspected that Pakistan has been playing a “double game,” accepting over a billion dollars of US aid per year meant to help finance Pakistan’s fight with Islamic militants, but at the same time training and funding those militants, who often go on to fight US soldiers in Afghanistan. The London Times reports that Gillani “was left in no doubt that the Bush administration had lost patience with the ISI’s alleged double game.” Bush allegedly warned that if one more attack in Afghanistan or elsewhere were traced back to Pakistan, the US would take “serious action.” The key evidence is that US intelligence claims to have intercepted communications showing that the ISI helped plan a militant attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier in the month (see July 7, 2008). US officials will leak this story of ISI involvement to the New York Times several days after Bush’s meeting with Gillani (see August 1, 2008). Gillani also meets with CIA Director Michael Hayden, who confronts him with a dossier on ISI support for the Taliban. Pakistanis officials will claim they were shocked at the “grilling” they received. One Pakistani official who came to the US with Gillani will say, “They were very hot on the ISI. Very hot. When we asked them for more information, Bush laughed and said, ‘When we share information with your guys, the bad guys always run away’.” When the story of Bush’s confrontation with Gillani is leaked to the press, Pakistani officials categorically deny any link between the ISI and militants in Afghanistan. But senior British intelligence and government officials have also told the Pakistanis in recent days that they are convinced the ISI was involved in the embassy bombing. This is believed to be the first time the US has openly confronted Pakistan since a warning given several days after 9/11 (see September 13-15, 2001). The US is said to be particularly concerned with the ISI’s links to Jalaluddin Haqqani, who runs a militant network that the US believes was involved in the bombing. And the US is worries about links between the ISI and Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistan-based militant group that is said to have been behind a recent attack against US forces in Afghanistan that killed nine. [London Times, 8/3/2008]
Cover of ‘The Obama Nation’ [Source: Threshold / FactCheck (.org)]Dr. Jerome Corsi, a conservative author and blogger who was deeply involved in the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign to besmirch presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), publishes a book, The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality. The title is a play on the word ‘abomination.’ In his book, Corsi, who writes for the conservative Web site WorldNetDaily and blogs at the extremist Free Republic, attacks Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in a fashion similar to that used against Kerry—combining fact, hyperbole, speculation, and outright falsehoods in an attempt to demean and disparage Obama’s character and professional career. The publisher, Threshold (a division of Simon and Schuster devoted to publishing conservative political works), calls the book “[s]crupolously sourced” and “[m]eticulously researched and documented…” Among other allegations, Corsi accuses Obama of growing up under the influence of Communist, socialist, and radical Islamic mentors; of deep and secretive affiliations with ‘60s radicals William Ayers and Bernadette Dohrn; of espousing what he calls “black liberation theology” through his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright; connections to socialists and radical Islamists in Kenya, his father’s home country; deep and criminal ties to Chicago real-estate mogul Tony Rezko; and an intent to, if elected president, implement what Corsi calls “far-left” domestic and foreign policies. [Simon and Schuster, 8/1/2008; New York Times, 8/12/2008; St. Petersburg Times, 8/20/2008] The book debuts as number one on the New York Times bestseller list, propelled by large bulk sales (large buys by particular organizations designed to artificially elevate sales figures) and an intensive marketing campaign carried out on conservative talk radio shows. “The goal is to defeat Obama,” Corsi says. “I don’t want Obama to be in office.” [New York Times, 8/12/2008]
Allegations Roundly Debunked - Unfortunately for Corsi, his allegations do not stand up to scrutiny. FactCheck.org, a non-partisan “‘consumer advocate’ for voters” site run by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, finds that Corsi’s book “is a mishmash of unsupported conjecture, half-truths, logical fallacies and outright falsehoods.” It “is not a reliable source of facts about Obama.” FactCheck notes: “Corsi cites opinion columns and unsourced, anonymous blogs as if they were evidence of factual claims. Where he does cite legitimate news sources, he frequently distorts the facts. In some cases, Corsi simply ignores readily accessible information when it conflicts with his arguments.” The organization notes that Threshold’s chief editor, Republican operative Mary Matalin, said the book was not political, but rather “a piece of scholarship, and a good one at that.” FactCheck responds: “The prominent display of Corsi’s academic title (he holds a Ph.D. in political science) seems clearly calculated to convey academic rigor. But as a scholarly work, The Obama Nation does not measure up. We judge it to be what a hack journalist might call a ‘paste-up job,’ gluing together snippets from here and there without much regard for their truthfulness or accuracy.” [FactCheck (.org), 2008; FactCheck (.org), 9/15/2008] The St. Petersburg Times’s PolitiFact finds, “Taken as a whole, the book’s primary argument is that Obama is a likely communist sympathizer with ties to Islam who has skillfully hidden his true agenda as he ruthlessly pursues elected office,” an argument that the organization concludes is wholly unsupported by Corsi’s arguments and sources. [St. Petersburg Times, 8/1/2008] And an Associated Press article finds the book a “collect[ion of] false rumors and distortions [designed] to portray Obama as a sort of secret radical who can’t be trusted.” [Associated Press, 8/16/2008]
Unreliable Sources - As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, Corsi’s sources are often unreliable: for example, his allegation that Obama’s father divorced his mother according to “Islamic sharia law” is based on a single and unverifiable post made by an anonymous blogger. [Media Matters, 8/4/2008] FactCheck notes that although Corsi points to his over 600 endnotes as proof of his “rigorous” sourcing, many of those endnotes refer to obscure, unverifiable Internet postings, blog posts, and opinion columns. Four of Corsi’s sources refer to his own work. “Where Corsi does cite news sources,” the site says, “he sometimes presents only those that are consistent with his case while ignoring evidence that doesn’t fit the picture he paints.” [FactCheck (.org), 9/15/2008]
Demonstrably False Claims - Some of Corsi’s claims are completely false: his statement that Obama did not dedicate his 2004 memoir, Dreams from My Father, to his parents or grandparents is easily debunked merely by reading the book’s introduction, in which Obama wrote, “It is to my family, though—my mother, my grandparents, my siblings, stretched across oceans and continents—that I owe the deepest gratitude and to whom I dedicated this book.” [Media Matters, 8/4/2008; St. Petersburg Times, 8/20/2008] Corsi also claims, falsely, that Obama holds dual citizenship in the US and Kenya, though the Kenyan Constitution specifically prohibits dual citizenship. [FactCheck (.org), 9/15/2008] Corsi goes on to claim that Obama has long rejected his white family members from his mother’s side, including his grandparents in Hawaii who raised him for much of his childhood. This is part of Corsi’s argument about Obama’s secret embrace of the so-called “radical black rage” teachings of American activist Malcolm X. According to Corsi’s reading of Obama’s memoir: “His race, he self-determines, is African-American. In making that determination, he rejects everyone white, including his mother and his grandparents. We do not have to speculate about this. Obama tells this to us outright; his words are direct, defying us to miss his meaning.” But PolitiFact calls this “a significant misreading of Obama’s memoir,” and notes that Corsi ignores a large amount of evidence that points to Obama’s continued close relationship with his white family members throughout his life. PolitiFact concludes, “To conclude that Obama rejects everyone white, including his mother and his grandparents, Corsi has to significantly read against the memoir’s stated meaning. We find factual evidence also contradicts this statement, indicating that Obama maintained lifelong relations with his white relatives.” [St. Petersburg Times, 8/1/2008]
Insinuations and Leading Questions - Many of Corsi’s allegations are based on little more than questions and insinuations: for example, Corsi insinuates that Obama may not have stopped using marijuana and cocaine, as he admitted to doing during his high school years. Corsi writes: “Still, Obama has yet to answer questions whether he ever dealt drugs, or if he stopped using marijuana and cocaine completely in college, or whether his drug usage extended into his law school days or beyond. Did Obama ever use drugs in his days as a community organizer in Chicago, or when he was a state senator from Illinois? How about in the US Senate? If Obama quit using drugs, the public inquiry certain to occur in a general election campaign for the presidency will most certainly aim at the when, how and why…?” According to Media Matters, Obama wrote in his book Dreams from My Father that he stopped using drugs shortly after beginning college. [Media Matters, 8/4/2008] FactCheck notes: “Corsi… slyly insinuates—without offering any evidence—that Obama might have ‘dealt drugs’ in addition to using them. And he falsely claims that Obama has ‘yet to answer’ whether he continued using drugs during his law school days or afterward.… In fact, Obama has answered that question twice, including once in the autobiography that Corsi reviews in his book.”
Guilt by Association - Corsi alleges that Obama has links to Kenyan presidential candidate Raila Odinga, and claims that Obama is somehow linked to the violence surrounding the 2007 Kenyan presidential election. He bases his claim on a single visit by Obama and his wife, Michelle, to Kenya, where they publicly took AIDS tests to demonstrate the tests’ safety. In the testing process, Obama spoke briefly to the crowd. Odinga was on stage while Obama spoke. Corsi construes the speech as an Obama endorsement of Odinga, and, as FactCheck writes, “[h]e goes on to attribute all the violence in Kenya to an elaborate Odinga plot.” Corsi ignores the fact that during that trip, Obama also met with the other Kenyan presidential candidate, Mwai Kibaki, and with opposition leader Uhuru Kenyatta. Human Rights Watch blamed the violence following the election on both Odinga and Kibaki and their followers. FactCheck notes that Corsi uses the logical fallacy of “guilt by association” to fill Chapters 3 through 7. [FactCheck (.org), 9/15/2008]
Misquoting Other Sources - Media Matters finds that Corsi sometimes misquotes and rewrites source material, as when he attributed a claim concerning Obama’s supposedly untoward business relationship with Rezko to articles in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Boston Globe, and Salon (.com) that made none of the claims Corsi attributes to them. Corsi also misquoted the conservative Web site NewsMax when he used one of its articles to falsely claim that Obama had been present at Chicago’s Trinity United Church during Reverend Wright’s denunciation of America’s “white arrogance.” (Obama was actually in Miami during Wright’s sermon.) [Media Matters, 8/4/2008] Corsi uses a man he calls one of Obama’s “closest” childhood friends, Indonesian Zulfan Adi, to back his assertion that Obama was once a practicing Muslim. However, Corsi does not report that Adi later retracted his claims about Obama’s religious practices, and admitted to knowing Obama for only a few months. Corsi also ignores a Chicago Tribune story that contains interviews with “dozens of former classmates, teachers, neighbors and friends [who] show that Obama was not a regular practicing Muslim when he was in Indonesia,” and other media reports that have conclusively proven Obama was never a Muslim (see January 22-24, 2008).
Ignoring the Obvious - Corsi repeatedly claims that Obama is a master speaker who bedazzles crowds with soaring flights of rhetoric, but never actually gives any specifics of what he intends to do as president. He writes: “At the end of every rhetorically uplifting speech Obama gives about the future of hope, millions of listeners are still left pondering, ‘Now what exactly did he say?’ If the politician is the message, as [campaign manager David] Axelrod and Obama have proclaimed, they can’t forever avoid telling us what precisely that message is.” But FactCheck notes that “Obama’s Web site is packed with details of what he proposes to do if elected. He lays out descriptions of his policy proposals, including tax cuts for most families and increases for those making more than $250,000 per year; a $150 billion, 10-year program to develop alternative energy sources and more efficient vehicles; a proposal to increase the size of the Army by 65,000 troops and another to create a public health insurance plan for those whose employers don’t offer health coverage. Whether or not one agrees with them, Obama has indeed presented detailed plans for dozens of policies. It’s hard to see how anyone writing a book on Obama could fail to acknowledge their existence.”
Conspiracy Theorist, 'Bigot,' and Veteran Liar - FactCheck notes: “Corsi is a renowned conspiracy theorist who says that [President] George Bush is attempting to create a North American Union… and that there is evidence that the World Trade Center may have collapsed [after the 9/11 attacks] because it was seeded with explosives. More recently, Corsi claimed that Obama released a fake birth certificate. We’ve debunked that twice now. [M]any of the themes in The Obama Nation are reworked versions of bogus chain e-mail smears.” [FactCheck (.org), 9/15/2008] In August 2004, Media Matters found that Corsi routinely embraced both extremist opinions and personal invective. Corsi called Islam “a worthless, dangerous Satanic religion.” Of Catholicism, he wrote, “Boy buggering in both Islam and Catholicism is okay with the Pope as long as it isn’t reported by the liberal press.” Of Muslims themselves, he wrote, “RAGHEADS are Boy-Bumpers as clearly as they are Women-Haters—it all goes together.” And of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), he wrote: “Anybody ask why HELLary couldn’t keep BJ Bill [former President Clinton] satisfied? Not lesbo or anything, is she?” [Media Matters, 8/6/2004] (Corsi posted these comments on the Free Republic under the moniker “jrlc,” and identified himself as “jrlc” on March 19, 2004.) [Free Republic, 3/18/2004; Jerome Corsi, 8/7/2004] An Obama campaign spokesman calls Corsi “a discredited, fringe bigot.” [Associated Press, 8/16/2008] FactCheck concludes, “In Corsi’s case, we judge that both his reputation and his latest book fall short when measured by the standards of good scholarship, or even of mediocre journalism.” [FactCheck (.org), 9/15/2008] PolitiFact concludes: “A reader might think that because the book is printed by a mainstream publishing house it is well-researched and credible. On the contrary—we find The Obama Nation to be an unreliable document for factual information about Barack Obama.” [St. Petersburg Times, 8/20/2008]
Entity Tags: Mwai Kibaki, NewsMax, Salon (.com), Raila Odinga, Simon and Schuster, Trinity United Church of Christ, Tony Rezko, Michelle Obama, St. Petersburg Times, Zulfan Adi, Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ayers, Media Matters, Hillary Clinton, Malcolm X, Boston Globe, Bernadette Dohrn, Barack Obama, Associated Press, Annenberg Public Policy Center, Chicago Sun-Times, Mary Matalin, Chicago Tribune, FactCheck (.org), John Kerry, Jerome Corsi, David Axelrod, Jeremiah A. Wright Jr, Free Republic, WorldNetDaily, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections
Sean Hannity. [Source: Halogen Guides (.com)]Conservative radio show host Sean Hannity tells his listeners that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama “can’t point to a single instance in which President Bush or [Republican candidate John] McCain or [Bush political adviser] Karl Rove or Sean Hannity or talk radio or any other major Republican has made an issue of Obama’s race.” Hannity’s claim is proven false by data collected by progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters. Hannity himself asked his audience on March 2, 2008, “Do the Obamas have a race problem of their own?” He has also repeatedly distorted the content of Michelle Obama’s 1985 Princeton University senior thesis to suggest that Mrs. Obama believes, in Hannity’s words, “blacks must join in solidarity to combat a white oppressor.” (Mrs. Obama was documenting the attitudes of some black Princeton alumni from the 1970s and not expressing her own views.) [Media Matters, 8/7/2008] Media Matters has also documented numerous examples of other radio and TV personalities making “an issue of Obama’s race” (see January 24, 2007, February 1, 2008, May 19, 2008, June 2, 2008, June 26, 2008, and August 1, 2008 and After). The issue of race will continue with conservative pundits and radio hosts (see August 25, 2008, September 22, 2008, October 7, 2008, October 20, 2008, October 22, 2008, October 28, 2008, and November 18, 2008).
The US dramatically increases the number of CIA drone attacks on Islamist militant targets in Pakistan, and no longer relies on permission from the Pakistani government before striking. Bush administration officials had been increasingly concerned about al-Qaeda’s resurgence in Pakistan’s tribal region. A 2006 peace deal between Islamist militants and the Pakistani government gave al-Qaeda and other militant groups a chance to recover from earlier pressures (see September 5, 2006). However, the Bush administration had close ties with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who did not want more aggressive US action. But Musharraf resigns on August 18, 2008 (see August 18, 2008), and within days, President Bush signs a secret new policy.
More Drone Strikes - From August 31, 2008, until late March 2009, the CIA carries out at least 38 drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal region. By contrast there were only 10 known drone strikes in 2006 and 2007 combined. There were three strikes in 2006, seven strikes in 2007, and 36 in 2008 (all but seven of those took place after Musharraf resigned in August). Drone capabilities and intelligence collection has improved, but the change mainly has to do with politics. A former CIA official who oversaw Predator drone operations in Pakistan will later say: “We had the data all along. Finally we took off the gloves.”
Permission No Longer Needed - Additionally, the US no longer requires the Pakistani government’s permission before ordering a drone strike. US officials had suspected that many of their targets were tipped off by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Now this is no longer a concern. Getting permission from Pakistan could take a day or more. Sometimes this caused the CIA to lose track of its target (see for instance 2006). [Los Angeles Times, 3/22/2009]
In his last full year in office, President Bush announces that he is again renewing the national emergency he proclaimed in response to the 9/11 attacks (see September 14, 2001). Bush issues a notice that states: “Because the terrorist threat continues, the national emergency declared on September 14, 2001, and the powers and authorities adopted to deal with that emergency, must continue in effect beyond September 14, 2008. Therefore, I am continuing in effect for an additional year the national emergency I declared on September 14, 2001, with respect to the terrorist threat.” [White House, 8/28/2008] The national emergency has been renewed on a yearly basis since 2001. [US President, 9/16/2002; White House, 9/10/2004; White House, 9/8/2005; White House, 9/5/2006; White House, 9/12/2007]
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) files a lawsuit against the National Security Agency (NSA), President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, former Attorney General and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, former Cheney chief of staff David Addington, and other members of the Bush administration. The EFF claims the lawsuit is “on behalf of AT&T customers to stop the illegal unconstitutional and ongoing dragnet surveillance of their communications and communications records.” The EFF is referring to its ongoing lawsuit against AT&T and other telecommunications firms, which it accuses of colluding with the NSA to illegally monitor American citizens’ domestic communications (see December 15, 2005). The case, the EFF writes, “is aimed at ending the NSA’s dragnet surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans and holding accountable the government officials who illegally authorized it.” After January 2009, the newly elected Obama administration will challenge the lawsuit, Jewel v. NSA, on the grounds that to defend itself against the lawsuit, the government would be required to disclose “state secrets” (see Late May, 2006). The government used similar arguments to quash the EFF’s lawsuit against AT&T (see April 28, 2006), arguments which were rejected by a judge (see July 20, 2006). [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2009] The suit will be dismissed (see January 21, 2010).
House of Representatives bill 1424, known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), passes by a slim margin in both Congressional houses, and is immediately signed into law by President Bush. [White House, 10/3/2008]
As reported by progressive media watchdog Media Matters, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh distorts and misstates comments by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama from 2001, asking listeners how Obama can be sworn in as president if he “flatly rejected” the Constitution. Limbaugh tells his listeners that Obama “calls himself a constitutional professor or a constitutional scholar. In truth, Barack Obama was an anti-constitutional professor. He studied the Constitution, and he flatly rejected it. He doesn’t like the Constitution, he thinks it is flawed, and now I understand why he was so reluctant to wear the American flag lapel pin. Why would he?… I don’t see how he can take the oath of office” because “[h]e has rejected the Constitution.” Obama said during a September 6, 2001 panel discussion on Chicago’s WBEZ radio that the Constitution “reflected the fundamental flaw of this country that continues to this day.” Obama’s criticism was directed at the Founding Fathers’ handling of the issue of slavery in the Constitution. Later in the discussion, Obama said that the Constitution is “a remarkable political document that paved the way for where we are now.” Limbaugh plays carefully edited clips from the WBEZ program but does not play the larger portion of Obama’s remarks that give a fuller picture of his meaning. Instead, he falsely accuses Obama of saying that the Constitution cannot “be fixed,” and asks: “How is he going to… how is he gonna place his hand on the Bible and swear that he, Barack Hussein Obama, will uphold the Constitution that he feels reflects the nation’s fundamental flaw. Fundamental. When he talks about a fundamental flaw, he’s not talking about a flaw that can be fixed. Fundamental means that this document is, from the get-go, wrong.” Media Matters notes that “several influential Republicans,” including President Bush, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Chief Justice John Roberts, “have articulated a similar view” to Obama’s. [Media Matters, 10/28/2008]
Norm Coleman (l) and Al Franken (r) are locked in a recount battle for a US Senate seat representing Minnesota. [Source: MediaBistro (.com)]The US Senate race in Minnesota, between incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) and challenger Al Franken (D-MN), concludes with Coleman enjoying a razor-thin margin of victory and declaring himself the victor. However, Franken (running as the candidate for the “Democratic-Farmer-Labor” party, or DFL, Minnesota’s version of the state Democratic Party) says he will ask for a recount, as is his right under Minnesota law. Minnesota officials say the recount could delay the final result of the race until December. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune characterizes the race between Coleman and Franken as “one of the most bitter… in Minnesota history.” The initial results show Coleman in the lead by 215 votes, though he was adjudged to lead by as much as 725 votes in early estimates. The Associated Press previously called Coleman the winner, but has now withdrawn that call, labeling the race as too close to judge. Franken says his campaign is investigating alleged voting irregularities at a number of polling places, and adds: “[A] recount could change the outcome significantly.… Let me be clear: Our goal is to ensure that every vote is properly counted.” Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) says a recount would not begin until the middle of the month and would likely stretch into December. “No matter how fast people would like it, the emphasis is on accuracy,” he says. The vote is split three ways, with Coleman and Franken each having 42 percent of the vote and Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley having 15 percent. Exit polls show Franken rode a wave of Democrats voting for Barack Obama (D-IL) as president, including a large number of first-time voters. Minnesota delivered its electoral votes for Obama. However, Barkley drained a significant amount of votes away from Franken. Franken had trouble convincing some voters of his credibility, in light of his career as an overtly liberal comedian and author, while Coleman was hurt by being connected with the poorly performing US economy under President Bush. Franken caught up with Coleman in polling after the stock market almost collapsed in September. Franken says that like the just-elected Obama, “I believe we’re going to celebrate a victory in this race, too.” Coleman tells supporters that he “feels good” about the ultimate results. Both Franken and Coleman engaged in harshly negative campaign advertising, which drove a large number of voters to choose Barkley in the race. National Republicans called Franken “unfit for office” because of his liberalism, while Franken attacked Coleman by pairing him with Bush, telling voters that Coleman helped Bush “drive the economy right into the ditch.” The two campaigns together spent almost $50 million, making it by far the most expensive Senate race in the country. Franken was dogged by allegations that he did not pay the proper income taxes, and embarrassed by examples of “lewd” humor from his past comedy engagements, leading him to apologize for some of his humor to his supporters. Coleman dealt with questions about his payment of artificially low rent on an exclusive Capitol Hill rowhouse, and questionable contributions from wealthy benefactors. Coleman asks Franken to waive the recount in the interest of saving Minnesota taxpayers the cost of the procedure, and so that “healing” from the hotly contested race can begin. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/5/2008; Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 11/6/2008; Associated Press, 1/6/2009]
After President Bush and US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson push through a long-sought change in how bank mergers are taxed, Bloomberg News sues the Federal Reserve for failing to reveal loan recipients. The change will deprive US taxpayers of as much as $140 billion in tax revenue. As the economy continues its downward spiral into what is called the worse economic crisis since the Great Depression, sources say that a late September $700 billion bailout is “a quiet windfall for US banks.” [Washington Post, 11/10/2008] The legality of Treasury-negotiated equity deals for many US banks is questioned by tax attorneys, as well as nearly $2 trillion that Ben Bernanke of the Federal Reserve handed out in emergency loans before the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, was enacted (see October 3, 2008). The Fed refuses to reveal which corporations received loans, or what collateral has been presented. Sources say that this secrecy is a legal violation. The Federal Reserve’s lending is significant because the central bank has stepped into a rescue role that was also the purpose of the TARP bailout plan, although without safeguards put into the TARP legislation by Congress. Total Fed lending topped $2 trillion for the first time and has risen by 140 percent, or $1.172 trillion, in the weeks since Fed governors relaxed the collateral standards on September 14. The difference includes a $788 billion increase in loans to banks through the Fed and $474 billion in other lending, mostly through the central bank’s purchase of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bonds. [Bloomberg News, 11/10/2008; AlterNet, 11/14/2008]
Paul Broun. [Source: Associated Press / Washington Blade]Responding to President-elect Barack Obama’s proposal for a “civilian national security force,” an idea supported by President Bush and designed in part to revive the moribund Americorps (see March 31, 2009), Representative Paul Broun (R-GA) accuses Obama of wanting to establish a Gestapo-like security force to impose a Marxist dictatorship. “It may sound a bit crazy and off base, but the thing is, he’s the one who proposed this national security force,” Broun says. “I’m just trying to bring attention to the fact that we may—may not, I hope not—but we may have a problem with that type of philosophy of radical socialism or Marxism.… That’s exactly what Hitler did in Nazi Germany and it’s exactly what the Soviet Union did. When he’s proposing to have a national security force that’s answering to him, that is as strong as the US military, he’s showing me signs of being Marxist.” Obama campaign spokesman Tommy Vietor says the candidate was referring to a “civilian reserve corps” that could handle postwar reconstruction efforts in lieu of the military. The idea has been endorsed by the Bush administration. Broun also says that if elected, Obama will ban gun ownership among American citizens. Obama has repeatedly says he respects the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms, and favors “common sense” gun laws. Some gun advocates fear that Obama will curb ownership of assault weapons and concealed weapons. “We can’t be lulled into complacency,” Broun says. “You have to remember that Adolf Hitler was elected in a democratic Germany. I’m not comparing him to Adolf Hitler. What I’m saying is there is the potential of going down that road.” [Associated Press, 11/11/2008; Think Progress, 11/11/2008]
WTMJ-AM logo. [Source: Ignite Your Life (.org)]Dan Shelley, the former news director/assistant program director at Milwaukee’s WTMJ AM talk radio station, writes of the methodologies he and other programming experts used to make their talk show hosts popular. Like many other radio stations, WTMJ hosts primarily conservative broadcasters, though its only nationally syndicated host with a political bent is former comedian Dennis Miller. Two of its most popular local broadcasters are conservatives Charlie Sykes and Jeff Wagner. (Shelley is quite complimentary of Sykes in particular as a top-flight talk show host.) Shelley notes: “I was often angrily asked, once by then-Mayor John Norquist, why we just didn’t change our call letters to ‘WGOP.’ The complaints were just another sign of our impact.”
'Differentiating' - Shelley writes that Sykes and Wagner “are popular and powerful because they appeal to a segment of the population that feels disenfranchised and even victimized by the media. These people believe the media are predominantly staffed by and consistently reflect the views of social liberals. This view is by now so long-held and deep-rooted, it has evolved into part of virtually every conservative’s DNA.” Hosts such as Sykes and Wagner “must perpetuate the notion that his or her listeners are victims,” he writes, “and the host is the vehicle by which they can become empowered. The host frames virtually every issue in us-versus-them terms. There has to be a bad guy against whom the host will emphatically defend those loyal listeners. This enemy can be a politician—either a Democratic officeholder or, in rare cases where no Democrat is convenient to blame, it can be a ‘RINO’ (a ‘Republican In Name Only,’ who is deemed not conservative enough). It can be the cold, cruel government bureaucracy. More often than not, however, the enemy is the ‘mainstream media’—local or national, print or broadcast.… In the talk radio business, this concept, which must be mastered to be successful, is called ‘differentiating’ yourself from the rest of the media. It is a brilliant marketing tactic that has also helped Fox News Channel thrive. ‘We report, you decide’ and ‘Fair and Balanced’ are more than just savvy slogans. They are code words signaling that only Fox will report the news in a way conservatives see as objective and truthful.”
Vicitimization - One of their most successful strategies is to play into the perception that hosts and audience alike are “victims” of what Shelley sardonically calls “the left-wing spin machine.” Any criticism, especially personal epithets such as “right-winger” or “radio squawker” merely plays into those hosts’ hands, Shelley notes. “This allows a host like Sykes to portray himself as a victim… and will leave his listeners, who also feel victimized, dying to support him.”
One-Sided Discussions - However, talk show hosts rarely, if ever, present “fair, evenhanded discussions featuring a diversity of opinions.… Programmers learned long ago that benign conversations led by hosts who present all sides of an issue don’t attract large audiences.… Pointed and provocative are what win.” Shelley writes that callers never “win a disagreement” with Sykes or Wagner. Calls from listeners who disagree with them do not get on the air “if the show’s producer, who generally does the screening, fears they might make [the host] look bad. Sykes’s producer even denied calls from US Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), the current and former mayors of Milwaukee, and other prominent figures. However, callers with dissenting points of view would get on the air if the host could “use the dissenting caller to reinforce his original point… [b]y belittling the caller’s point of view.” Shelley notes of Sykes: “You can always tell, however, when the antagonist has gotten the better of Charlie. That’s when he starts attacking the caller personally.”
More Diversity in Audience than Readily Acknowledged - Shelley writes that many liberals believe talk radio audiences are composed of “angry, uneducated white men.” Such is not the case, he writes. “Many are businesspeople, doctors, lawyers, academics, clergy, or soccer moms and dads. Talk show fans are not stupid. They will detect an obvious phony. The best hosts sincerely believe everything they say. Their passion is real. Their arguments have been carefully crafted in a manner they know will be meaningful to the audience, and that validates the views these folks were already thinking.”
Shaping Opinion - Listeners cannot be “led like lemmings” to a particular conclusion, Shelley writes, but “they can be carefully prodded into agreement with the Republican views of the day.” Conservative talk show hosts, both national and local, receive “daily talking points emails from the Bush White House, the Republican National Committee, and, during election years, GOP campaign operations. They’re not called talking points, but that’s what they are. I know, because I received them, too.” Shelley writes that Sykes would “mine the emails, then couch the daily message in his own words.… Wagner would be more likely to rely on them verbatim.” Both Sykes and Wagner keep abreast of what other conservative hosts are saying: “Rush Limbaugh’s Web site was checked at least once daily. Atlanta-based nationally syndicated talker Neal Boortz was another popular choice.”
Strategic Disagreement - On occasion, Shelley writes, “[a] smart talk show host will, from time to time, disagree publicly with a Republican president, the Republican Party, or some conservative doctrine.” President Bush’s selection of his own lawyer, Harriet Miers, for the Supreme Court gave Sykes, Wagner, and other conservatives the chance to disagree vehemently with the administration. But, Shelley notes, “these disagreements are strategically chosen to prove the host is an independent thinker, without appreciably harming the president or party. This is not to suggest that hosts don’t genuinely disagree with the conservative line at times. They do, more often than you might think. But they usually keep it to themselves.”
Selective Facts - Shelley notes that it is often difficult to refute the arguments of a host such as Sykes, who builds “strong case[s] with lots of supporting facts.” Shelley notes that usually “those facts have been selectively chosen because they support the host’s preconceived opinion, or can be interpreted to seem as if they do.… Hosts… gather evidence, but in a way that modifies the old Joe Friday maxim: ‘Just the facts that I can use to make my case, ma’am.’”
Rhetorical Strategies - Shelley writes of the two main strategies conservatives (and presumably other talk show hosts of other political stripes) use to bolster weak arguments or refute strong opposing points of view. He calls them “You Know What Would Happen If” and “The Preemptive Strike.”
Shelley writes: “Using the first strategy, a host will describe something a liberal has said or done that conservatives disagree with, but for which the liberal has not been widely criticized, and then say: ‘You know what would happen if a conservative had said (or done) that? He (or she) would have been filleted by the “liberal media.”’ This is particularly effective because it’s a two-fer, simultaneously reinforcing the notion that conservatives are victims and that ‘liberals’ are the enemy.”
He then notes: “The second strategy, The Preemptive Strike, is used when a host knows that news reflecting poorly on conservative dogma is about to break or become more widespread. When news of the alleged massacre at Haditha first trickled out in the summer of 2006, not even Iraq War chest-thumper Charlie Sykes would defend the US Marines accused of killing innocent civilians in the Iraqi village. So he spent lots of air time criticizing how the ‘mainstream media’ was sure to sensationalize the story in the coming weeks. Charlie would kill the messengers before any message had even been delivered.”
Such strategies, and others, are reliable and effective, Shelley notes.
Double Standards - Shelley gives numerous examples of the hosts’ double standards with various issues.
“In the talk show world, the line-item veto was the most effective way to control government spending when Ronald Reagan was president; it was a violation of the separation of powers after President Clinton took office.”
“Perjury was a heinous crime when Clinton was accused of lying under oath about his extramarital activities. But when [Lewis ‘Scooter’] Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s top aide, was charged with lying under oath, it was the prosecutor who had committed an egregious act by charging Libby with perjury.”
“‘Activist judges’ are the scourge of the earth when they rule it is unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the rights heterosexuals receive. But judicial activism is needed to stop the husband of a woman in a persistent vegetative state—say Terri Schiavo—from removing her feeding tube to end her suffering.”
Shelley adds: “To amuse myself while listening to a talk show, I would ask myself what the host would say if the situation were reversed. What if alleged DC Madam client Senator David Vitter [R-LA] had been a Democrat? Would the reaction of talk show hosts have been so quiet you could hear crickets chirping? Hardly. Or what if former Representative Mark Foley [R-FL] had been a Democrat? Would his pedophile-like tendencies have been excused as a ‘prank’ or mere ‘overfriendly emails?’ Not on the life of your teenage son. Suppose Al Gore was president and ordered an invasion of Iraq without an exit strategy. Suppose this had led to the deaths of more than 4,000 US troops and actually made that part of the world less stable. Would talk show hosts have dismissed criticism of that war as unpatriotic? No chance. Or imagine that John Kerry had been president during Hurricane Katrina and that his administration’s rescue and rebuilding effort had been horribly botched. Would talk show hosts have branded him a great president? Of course not.”
Katrina an Epiphany - Shelley notes that it was Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath of that disaster that convinced him conservative talk show hosts such as Sykes and Wagner were extremists, and not merely a counterbalance to a left-skewed national media. Shelley was horrified when Sykes and Wagner, emulating their more prominent nationally syndicated colleagues such as Limbaugh and Miller, did not criticize the government’s lethally slow and callous response, but instead attacked the journalists who were obviously part of an “angry left” conspiracy to unfairly smear the Bush administration.
Conclusion - Shelley writes: “[T]he key reason talk radio succeeds is because its hosts can exploit the fears and perceived victimization of a large swath of conservative-leaning listeners. And they feel victimized because many liberals and moderates have ignored or trivialized their concerns and have stereotyped these Americans as uncaring curmudgeons. Because of that, there will always be listeners who believe that Charlie Sykes, Jeff Wagner, and their compatriots are the only members of the media who truly care about them.” [Milwaukee Magazine, 11/13/2008; WTMJ-AM, 11/13/2008]
Entity Tags: David Vitter, Russell D. Feingold, Rush Limbaugh, Terri Schiavo, WTMJ-AM, Charlie Sykes, Dan Shelley, Ronald Reagan, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Bush administration (43), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Neal Boortz, Fox News, Harriet E. Miers, Republican National Committee, Dennis Miller, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Jeff Wagner, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, John Norquist, Mark Foley
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
In a speech at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington, outgoing President Bush discusses his decision to invade Iraq. “It is true, as I have said many times, that Saddam Hussein was not connected to the 9/11 attacks,” he says. “But the decision to remove Saddam from power cannot be viewed in isolation from 9/11. In a world where terrorists armed with box cutters had just killed nearly 3,000 people, America had to decide whether we could tolerate a sworn enemy that acted belligerently, that supported terror, and that intelligence agencies around the world believed had weapons of mass destruction. It was clear to me, to members of both political parties, and to many leaders around the world that after 9/11, this was a risk we could not afford to take. So we went back to the UN Security Council, which unanimously passed Resolution 1441 calling on Saddam Hussein to disclose, disarm, or face serious consequences (see November 8, 2002). With this resolution, we offered Saddam Hussein a final chance to comply with the demands of the world. When he refused to resolve the issue peacefully, we acted with a coalition of nations to protect our people and liberated 25 million Iraqis.” Amanda Terkel, a writer for the liberal website Think Progress, notes that all of Bush’s acknowledgments that Iraq had no connections to 9/11 came after the war began; in the months prior to the invasion, Bush and his top officials strove to create the impression that Hussein had close links to al-Qaeda and the 9/11 planners (see (Between 10:30 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, Mid-September, 2001, September 17, 2001, September 19, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 28, 2001, November 6-8, 2001, December 9, 2001, 2002-March 2003, March 19, 2002, June 21, 2002, July 25, 2002, August 2002, August 20, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 16, 2002, September 21, 2002, September 25, 2002, September 26, 2002, September 27, 2002, September 28, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 15, 2002, December 2, 2002, December 12, 2002, January 26, 2003, January 28, 2003, Early February 2003, February 5, 2003, (2:30 a.m.-9:00 a.m.) February 5, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 6, 2003, February 11 or 12, 2003, and February 17, 2003). Terkel writes, “Bush still embraces his pre-war lies, as he admitted in his Saban address today, because without them, the public wouldn’t have supported his case for war.” [USA Today, 12/5/2008; Think Progress, 12/5/2008]
General Eric Shinseki looks on as President-elect Obama announces his choice to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. [Source: Los Angeles Times]President-elect Barack Obama selects retired General Eric Shinseki to be the new head of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Shinseki, a decorated Vietnam veteran, was the Army Chief of Staff when, months before the launch of the Iraq invasion, the US would need to send far more troops into Iraq than were allocated (see February 25, 2003). He also warned of the possibility of ethnic rivalries erupting into violent confrontations, and of the difficulties faced by a US-led reconstruction. Shinseki was ridiculed by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his then-deputy, Paul Wolfowitz (see February 27, 2003). Obama now says of Shinseki, “He was right.” Obama adds, “We owe it to all our veterans to honor them as we honored our Greatest Generation,” referring to World War II-era veterans. “Not just with words, but with deeds.” The announcement is made on the 67th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor; Shinseki is of Japanese ancestry. Shinseki says, “Even as we stand here today, there are veterans who have worried about keeping their health care or even their homes, paying their bills or finding a good job when they leave the service.” He promises to run a “21st century VA.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 12/8/2008; Democratic National Committee, 12/8/2008]
'Straight Shooter,' 'Stinging Rebuke' of Bush Policies - Responses to Shinseki’s impending appointment focus on Shinseki’s competence and the implied repudiation of Bush-era policies towards the military. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) calls Shinseki “a straight shooter and truth talker,” and says that his is the kind of leadership the VA needs after what he calls years of neglect of the agency by the Bush administration. [Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, 12/7/2008] The Boston Globe echoes Leahy’s characterization, calling Shinseki a “truth teller,” and writes: “The choice is a stinging rebuke not just of Rumsfeld and President Bush for failing to take Shinseki’s advice on the Iraq war, but also of the administration’s weak effort to solve the medical, educational, emotional, and employment problems that veterans are having in returning to civilian life. Just as the Bush administration thought it could oust Saddam Hussein and create a peaceful, democratic Iraq with a bare-bones force, it has tried to skimp on veterans services.” [Boston Globe, 12/9/2008] And the Washington Post’s E. J. Dionne adds, “In naming Shinseki to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, Obama implicitly set a high standard for himself by declaring that truth-tellers and dissenters would be welcome in his administration.” [Washington Post, 12/9/2008] The chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Bob Filner (D-CA), says that Shinseki faces a daunting task: “The stakes are high at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Our veterans need to know that their service to our country is respected and honored. A new basis of stable funding must be developed. The claims backlog must be attacked in a new and dynamic way. And the mental health of our veterans—from every conflict and each generation—must remain a high priority.” John Rowan of the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) believes Shinseki is up for the challenge: “We have no doubt that General Shinseki has the integrity and personal fortitude to usher in the real changes needed to make the VA a true steward of our nation’s veterans and their families. His selection certainly lives up to Mr. Obama’s promise to bring change and hope to Washington. VA bureaucrats, for whom ‘change’ is a dirty word, will learn that there really is a new game in town. Veterans of all political persuasions should take heart and applaud this choice.” [Washington Times, 12/8/2008]
'Lionized by Wounded Warriors' - Thomas DeFrank of the New York Daily News writes: “By restoring to grace a retired four-star general whose career was vaporized by… Rumsfeld for daring to tell the truth, Obama has delivered a powerful symbolic statement that his government will indeed be different from the last. Shinseki’s treatment at the hands of Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz is a classic of petty, meanspirited retribution.… By rehabilitating him… Obama has signaled he’s not interested in surrounding himself with toadies and yes-men. A president-elect determined to withdraw from Iraq has also helped himself with veterans. [Shinseki] is lionized by wounded warriors for his grit in persuading Army brass to let him stay on active duty after losing part of a foot in Vietnam.” [New York Daily News, 12/7/2008] And the New York Times writes, “It is heartening to know that [Shinseki] has been chosen to lead the agency charged with caring for America’s veterans, who deserve far better treatment than the country has given them.” [New York Times, 12/9/2008]
Anonymous Criticism - One of the few sour notes is sounded by the conservative Washington Times, which quotes an anonymous “high-ranking retired officer” as saying: “How much time has he spent visiting the PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] wards, the multiple-amputee wards, the burn wards? The major question I have is: Just what has he done for the past five years to show any concern for our veterans? I do not see any evidence of Shinseki being an agent for change.” [Washington Times, 12/8/2008]
Entity Tags: Boston Globe, Vietnam Veterans of America, Washington Times, Barack Obama, Robert Earl (“Bob”) Filner, US Department of the Army, Thomas DeFrank, US Department of Veterans Affairs, Patrick J. Leahy, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Eric Shinseki, E. J. Dionne, John Rowan, New York Times, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: US Military
An Iraqi journalist hurls a shoe at President Bush. [Source: BBC]An Iraqi journalist throws a pair of shoes at President Bush during a press conference in Baghdad. In Arab culture, throwing shoes at a person, or showing them the sole of your shoe, is considered a grave insult—shoes are considered ritually unclean. During the conference, Muntadar al-Zaidi, a correspondent for Cairo-based al-Baghdadiya TV, stands up, shouts, “This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog!” and hurls the first shoe. He then shouts, “This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq!” and hurls the second shoe. Bush ducks away from the thrown shoes, and both miss their target. Al-Zaidi is wrestled to the floor by security guards within seconds of throwing the second shoe, removed from the room and beaten, and taken into custody where he is soon arrested. Bush brushes aside the incident, telling the remaining journalists, “That’s what people do in a free society, draw attention to themselves,” as al-Zaidi’s screaming can be heard from outside the conference room. Bush flew to Baghdad for a surprise visit. During the momentary chaos after the shoes are hurled, his press secretary, Dana Perino, is struck in the eye with a microphone stand; the blow is accidental. Bush, in the last weeks of his presidency, says that the war in Iraq is not yet over, and more work remains to be done. He will later joke, “If you want the facts, it’s a size 10 shoe that he threw.” Other Iraqi journalists say the attack was symbolic, and note that Iraqis threw shoes and used them to beat statues of Saddam Hussein after his overthrow. Bush says being pelted with shoes may be one of the “weirdest” moments of his presidency. He is accompanied to the press conference by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. [New York Times, 12/14/2008; BBC, 12/15/2008; BBC, 12/15/2008; USA Today, 12/15/2008] Bush later compares the incident to the disruption of an earlier White House press conference with Chinese President Hu Jintao by a Falun Gong follower, and says it would be wrong to read the feelings of an entire country into the single instance. “I don’t think you can take one guy and say this represents a broad movement in Iraq,” he says. He notes that the other Iraqi journalists in the room “were very apologetic and said this doesn’t represent the Iraqi people.” [USA Today, 12/15/2008]
Others' Reactions - A former colleague of Al-Zaidi, Haider Nassar, explains, “He had bad feelings about the coalition forces.” Of al-Zaidi’s actions, Nassar says it is a poor way to establish his points. “This is so silly; it’s just the behavior of an individual,” Nassar says. “He destroyed his future.” [New York Times, 12/14/2008] Adil Shamoo, an Iraqi analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, says of the incident: “I think we should go beyond the shoe and think about the fact that the US should respect Iraq’s sovereignty in order to regain respect of the Iraqi people and the Arab world. I think Bush has increased terrorism against the United States and instablity in the Middle East because of his policies.” [Al Jazeera, 12/15/2008]
History of Shoes Used to Insult Americans - This is not the first time Iraqis have used shoes to insult American officials. Until the 2003 invasion, a likeness of Bush’s father, former President George H. W. Bush, was prominently featured in a floor mosaic near the front door of Baghdad’s Rashid Hotel; visitors would tread on it in symbolic punishment for alleged “war crimes” committed during the 1991 Gulf War. (The likeness has since been removed.) In 2004, the corpses of four American mercenaries killed and strung up on a bridge in Fallujah (see March 31, 2004) were beaten with shoes by local citizens. Posters of the current president, adorned with shoes, are common sights in many parts of Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries. And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been given the insulting nickname of “Kundera,” meaning shoe, by many Middle Easterners. [BBC, 12/15/2008; USA Today, 12/15/2008] In late January, an Iraqi orphanage will unveil a “shoe monument” in honor of al-Zaidi’s act (see January 29, 2009). Al-Zaidi will be freed from prison in September 2009 (see September 14, 2009).
Vanity Fair reporter David Rose publishes an extensive examination of the US’s use of torture to extract information from a number of suspected militant Islamists, focusing on three subjects: Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002, Mid-April-May 2002, May 2002-2003, Mid-May, 2002, Mid-May 2002 and After, June 2002, and December 18, 2007), Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see May 2002-2003, March 7 - Mid-April, 2003, After March 7, 2003, and August 6, 2007), and Binyam Mohamed (see May 17 - July 21, 2002, July 21, 2002 -- January 2004, and January-September 2004). The conclusion he draws, based on numerous interviews with current and former CIA, military, and administration sources, is that torture not only does not work to provide reliable intelligence, it provides so much false information that it chokes the intelligence system and renders the intelligence apparatus unreliable. One CIA official tells Rose: “We were done a tremendous disservice by the [Bush] administration. We had no background in this; it’s not something we do. They stuck us with a totally unwelcome job and left us hanging out to dry. I’m worried that the next administration is going to prosecute the guys who got involved, and there won’t be any presidential pardons at the end of it. It would be okay if it were [former Attorney Generals] John Ashcroft or Alberto Gonzales. But it won’t be. It’ll be some poor GS-13 who was just trying to do his job.”
Enormous Waste of Resources - A veteran FBI counterterrorism agent says the waste of time and resources on false leads generated through torture has been enormous. “At least 30 percent of the FBI’s time, maybe 50 percent, in counterterrorism has been spent chasing leads that were bullsh_t,” he says. “There are ‘lead squads’ in every office trying to filter them. But that’s ineffective, because there’s always that ‘What if?’ syndrome. I remember a claim that there was a plot to poison candy bought in bulk from Costco. You follow it because someone wants to cover himself. It has a chilling effect. You get burned out, you get jaded. And you think, ‘Why am I chasing all this stuff that isn’t true?’ That leads to a greater problem—that you’ll miss the one that is true. The job is 24-7 anyway. It’s not like a bank job. But torture has made it harder.”
No Proof of Efficacy of Torture - Former FBI counterterrorism specialist Dan Cloonan points to the near-total lack of proof the administration has been able to advance to show that torture works. “The proponents of torture say, ‘Look at the body of information that has been obtained by these methods,’” he says. “But if KSM [Khalid Shaikh Mohammed] and Abu Zubaida did give up stuff, we would have heard the details. What we got was pabulum.” A former CIA officer says: “Why can’t they say what the good stuff from Abu Zubaida or KSM is? It’s not as if this is sensitive material from a secret, vulnerable source. You’re not blowing your source but validating your program. They say they can’t do this, even though five or six years have passed, because it’s a ‘continuing operation.’ But has it really taken so long to check it all out?”
Propaganda Value - Officials who analyzed Zubaida’s interrogation reports say that his reports were given such credence within the White House not because of the American lives they would supposedly save, but because they could be used to rebut those who criticized the Iraq invasion. “We didn’t know he’d been waterboarded and tortured when we did that analysis, and the reports were marked as credible as they could be,” says a former Pentagon analyst. “The White House knew he’d been tortured. I didn’t, though I was supposed to be evaluating that intelligence.” He was unable to draw valid conclusions about the importance of Zubaida’s confessions without knowing how the information was extracted. “It seems to me they were using torture to achieve a political objective,” he says. “I cannot believe that the president and vice president did not know who was being waterboarded, and what was being given up.”
False Claims of Preventing London Attack - President Bush has claimed that secret CIA black site interrogations “helped foil a plot to hijack passenger planes and fly them into Heathrow [Airport] and London’s Canary Wharf” (see October 6, 2005). The former head of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist branch, Peter Clarke, who served through May 2008 and helped stop several jihadist attacks, says Bush’s claim is specious. Clarke says it is possible that al-Qaeda had considered some sort of project along the lines of Bush’s assertion, but if it had, it was nowhere near fruition. “It wasn’t at an advanced stage in the sense that there were people here in the UK doing it,” he says. “If they had been, I’d have arrested them.” No terror plot of which Clarke is aware has been foiled due to information gathered due to torture.
FBI Director Confirms No Plots Disrupted by Torture Interrogations - Rose concludes by quoting an interview he held with FBI Director Robert Mueller in April 2008. Rose lists a number of plots disrupted by the FBI, all “foiled by regular police work.” He asked Mueller if he was aware of any attacks on America that had been disrupted thanks to what the administration calls “enhanced techniques.” Mueller responded, “I’m really reluctant to answer that.” He paused, looked at an aide, then said quietly, “I don’t believe that has been the case.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008] On April 21, 2009, a spokesman for Mueller will say, “The quote is accurate.” [New York Times, 4/22/2008]
Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, Abu Zubaida, US Department of Defense, Robert S. Mueller III, Peter Clarke, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Rose, George W. Bush, Dan Cloonan, John Ashcroft, Binyam Mohamed
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Newsweek reveals that Thomas Tamm, a former high-level Justice Department official, was one of the whistleblowers who revealed the government’s illegal domestic wiretapping program, known as “Stellar Wind,” to the New York Times (see December 15, 2005). Tamm, an ex-prosecutor with a high security clearance, learned of the program in the spring of 2004 (see Spring 2004).
Intense FBI Scrutiny - As of yet, Tamm has not been arrested as one of the leakers in the criminal leak investigation ordered by President Bush (see December 30, 2005), though since the December 2005 publication, Tamm has remained under Justice Department suspicion—FBI agents have raided his home, hauled away his personal possessions, and relentlessly questioned his family and friends (see August 1, 2007). He no longer has a government job, and is having trouble finding steady work as a lawyer. He has resisted pressure to plead to a felony charge of divulging classified information. Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff writes, “[H]e is living under a pall, never sure if or when federal agents might arrest him.” Perhaps his biggest regret is the impact the FBI investigation has had on his wife and children. “I didn’t think through what this could do to my family,” he says. But, “I don’t really need anybody to feel sorry for me,” he says. “I chose what I did. I believed in what I did.”
No Decision to Prosecute Yet - The Justice Department has deferred a decision over whether to arrest and prosecute Tamm until after the Bush administration leaves office and a new attorney general takes over the department. Both President-elect Barack Obama and the incoming Attorney General, Eric Holder, have denounced the warrantless wiretapping program. In one speech Holder gave in June 2008, he said that President Bush had acted “in direct defiance of federal law” by authorizing the NSA program. Former US Attorney Asa Hutchinson, who is helping in Tamm’s defense, says: “When I looked at this, I was convinced that the action he took was based on his view of a higher responsibility. It reflected a lawyer’s responsibility to protect the rule of law.” Hutchinson has no use for the idea, promulgated by Bush officials and conservative pundits, that the Times story damaged the “war on terror” by alerting al-Qaeda terrorists to Stellar Wind and other surveillance programs. “Anybody who looks at the overall result of what happened wouldn’t conclude there was any harm to the United States,” he says. Hutchinson is hopeful that Holder’s Justice Department will drop its investigation of Tamm.
The Public 'Ought to Know' about NSA Eavesdropping - Recently Tamm decided to go public with his story, against the advice of his lawyers. “I thought this [secret program] was something the other branches of the government—and the public—ought to know about,” he tells Isikoff. “So they could decide: do they want this massive spying program to be taking place?… If somebody were to say, who am I to do that? I would say, ‘I had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution.’ It’s stunning that somebody higher up the chain of command didn’t speak up.” Tamm also admits that he leaked information to the Times in part over his anger at other Bush administration policies for the Justice Department, including its aggressive pursuit of death penalty cases, and its use of “renditions” and “enhanced” interrogation techniques against terrorist suspects. He insists that he divulged no “sources and methods” that might compromise national security when he spoke to the Times. He could not tell the Times reporters anything about the NSA program, he says, because he knew nothing specific about the program. As Isikoff writes, “All he knew was that a domestic surveillance program existed, and it ‘didn’t smell right.’” (Times reporter Eric Lichtblau refuses to confirm if Tamm was one of his sources for the stories he wrote with fellow Times reporter James Risen.) [Newsweek, 12/22/2008]
Entity Tags: Michael Isikoff, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Asa Hutchinson, ’Stellar Wind’, Eric Holder, Eric Lichtblau, Newsweek, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Thomas Tamm, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Susan Crawford. [Source: Susan Crawford / Washington Post]The senior Bush administration official in charge of bringing Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial rules that the US military tortured a detainee, and therefore the US cannot try him. Susan Crawford, the convening authority of military commissions, says that the US tortured Mohamed al-Khatani, a Saudi national accused of planning to participate in the September 11 attacks (see August 4, 2001). Crawford says al-Khatani was interrogated with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, and which cumulatively left him in a “life-threatening condition.” Crawford says: “We tortured [al-]Khatani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution. Crawford is a retired judge who served as the Army’s general counsel during the Reagan administration and the Pentagon’s inspector general during the first Bush administration. She is the first senior official of the current Bush administration to publicly state that a detainee was tortured while in US custody.
Cumulative Effect Equals Torture - None of the individual techniques used against al-Khatani were torturous in and of themselves, Crawford says, but the cumulative effect—particularly their duration and the deleterious effect on al-Khatani’s health—combined to constitute torture. “The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent,” she says. “You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge” to call it torture. Al-Khatani has been in US custody since December 2001 (see December 2001), and was interrogated from November 2002 through January 2003 (reports of the exact dates vary—see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003 and October 11, 2002). He was held in isolation until April 2003. “For 160 days his only contact was with the interrogators,” Crawford says. “Forty-eight of 54 consecutive days of 18-to-20-hour interrogations. Standing naked in front of a female agent. Subject to strip searches. And insults to his mother and sister.” He was threatened with a military dog named Zeus. He “was forced to wear a woman’s bra and had a thong placed on his head during the course of his interrogation,” Crawford says, and “was told that his mother and sister were whores.” With a leash tied to his chains, he was led around the room “and forced to perform a series of dog tricks,” according to reports from his interrogations. He was twice hospitalized with bradycardia, a potentially lethal condition where the heartbeat drops to abnormally low levels.
Ruling Halts Future Prosecution against al-Khatani - Crawford dismissed war crimes charges against al-Khatani in May 2008 (see May 13, 2008). In November, military prosecutors said they would refile charges against al-Khatani, based on subsequent interrogations that did not employ harsh techniques (see November 18, 2008). But Crawford says that she would not let any such prosecutions go forward. However, Crawford is not unaware of the potential danger posed by letting him go free. “There’s no doubt in my mind he would’ve been on one of those planes had he gained access to the country in August 2001,” Crawford says. “He’s a muscle hijacker.… He’s a very dangerous man. What do you do with him now if you don’t charge him and try him? I would be hesitant to say, ‘Let him go.’” Al-Khatani’s civilian lawyer, Gitanjali Gutierrez, says, “There is no doubt he was tortured.” Gutierrez says: “He has loss of concentration and memory loss, and he suffers from paranoia.… He wants just to get back to Saudi Arabia, get married and have a family.” Al-Khatani “adamantly denies he planned to join the 9/11 attack,” she adds. “He has no connections to extremists.” Gutierrez says she thinks Saudi Arabia has an effective rehabilitation program and Khatani ought to be returned there. [Washington Post, 1/14/2009; New York Times, 1/14/2009] His lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights describe him as a broken, suicidal man who can never be prosecuted because of his treatment at the hands of his captors. [New York Times, 1/14/2009]
Sympathetic but Unbending - Crawford, a lifelong Republican, says she sympathizes with the situation faced by the Bush administration and the CIA after the 9/11 attacks. “I sympathize with the intelligence gatherers in those days after 9/11, not knowing what was coming next and trying to gain information to keep us safe,” she acknowledges. “But there still has to be a line that we should not cross. And unfortunately what this has done, I think, has tainted everything going forward.” Noting that the 2006 Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case (see June 30, 2006) disallowed torture but allowed for “coercive interrogation techniques,” Crawford says even those techniques should not be allowed: “You don’t allow it in a regular court.” Crawford says she is not yet sure if any of the other five detainees accused of participating in the 9/11 plot, including their leader, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were tortured, but she believes they may have been. “I assume torture,” she says, and notes that CIA Director Michael Hayden has publicly confirmed that Mohammed was one of three detainees subjected to waterboarding, a technique classified by law as torture. Crawford has not blocked prosecution of the other five detainees. Ultimately, she says, the responsibility for the farrago of illegal detentions and torture rests with President Bush. He was right to create a system to try suspected terrorists, she says, but the implementation was fatally flawed. “I think he hurt his own effort.… I think someone should acknowledge that mistakes were made and that they hurt the effort and take responsibility for it.… We learn as children it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is for permission. I think the buck stops in the Oval Office.” [Washington Post, 1/14/2009]
Rules Change - Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says that the Hamdan case changed the rules, and thus retroactively classified al-Khatani’s treatment as torture. “The [Defense] Department has always taken allegations of abuse seriously,” he says. “We have conducted more than a dozen investigations and reviews of our detention operations, including specifically the interrogation of Mohamed al-Khatani, the alleged 20th hijacker. They concluded the interrogation methods used at [Guantanamo], including the special techniques used on Khatani in 2002, were lawful. However, subsequent to those reviews, the Department adopted new and more restrictive policies and procedures for interrogation and detention operations. Some of the aggressive questioning techniques used on al-Khatani, although permissible at the time, are no longer allowed in the updated Army field manual.” [Washington Post, 1/14/2009]
Prosecutors Unprepared - When Crawford came to Guantanamo as convening authority in 2007, she says “the prosecution was unprepared” to bring cases to trial. Even after four years of working possible cases, “they were lacking in experience and judgment and leadership.” She continues: “A prosecutor has an ethical obligation to review all the evidence before making a charging decision. And they didn’t have access to all the evidence, including medical records, interrogation logs, and they were making charging decisions without looking at everything.” It took over a year, and the intervention of Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, for prosecutors to turn over possibly exculpatory evidence to defense lawyers, even though the law requires that such evidence be turned over immediately. The entire system at Guantanamo is a blot on the reputation of the US and its military judicial system, she says: “There’s an assumption out there that everybody was tortured. And everybody wasn’t tortured. But unfortunately perception is reality.” The system she oversees cannot function now, she believes. “Certainly in the public’s mind, or politically speaking, and certainly in the international community” it may be forever tainted. “It may be too late.” [Washington Post, 1/14/2009]
Entity Tags: Susan Crawford, Gordon England, Gitanjali Gutierrez, George W. Bush, Geoff Morrell, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Bush administration (43), Center for Constitutional Rights, Mohamed al-Khatani, US Department of Defense, Michael Hayden
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
As one of its last official acts, the Bush administration asks federal judge Vaughn Walker to stay his ruling that keeps alive a lawsuit testing whether a sitting president can bypass Congress and eavesdrop on Americans without warrants. The request, filed at 10:56 p.m. on President Bush’s last full day in office, asks Walker to stay his ruling and allow the federal government to appeal his ruling that allows the al-Haramain lawsuit to proceed (see February 28, 2006). The warrantless wiretapping alleged in the lawsuit took place in 2004, well before Congress’s 2008 authorization of the government’s spy program. The Obama administration’s incoming Attorney General, Eric Holder, says the Justice Department will defend the spy program because Congress made it legal (see January 15, 2009). It is not clear whether the Justice Department under Holder will continue to fight the Al Haramain lawsuit. The Bush administration wants Walker to reverse his decision to let plaintiffs’ lawyers Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoo use a Top Secret document that was accidentally disclosed to them in 2004 (see January 5, 2009); that document, which allegedly proves the warrantless and illegal nature of the wiretapping performed against the Al Haramain charity, is at the center of the lawsuit. Previous rulings disallowed the use of the document and forced the defense lawyers to return it to the government, but Walker ruled that other evidence supported the claim of warrantless wiretapping, and therefore the document could be used. In its request for a stay, the Bush administration asserts that allowing the document to be used in the lawsuit would jeopardize national security, and that the document is protected under the state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953). Administration lawyers say that Walker should not be allowed to see the document, much less the defense lawyers. “If the court were to find… that none of the plaintiffs are aggrieved parties, the case obviously could not proceed, but such a holding would reveal to plaintiffs and the public at large information that is protected by the state secrets privilege—namely, that certain individuals were not subject to alleged surveillance,” the administration writes in its request. If the lawsuit continues, the government says, that decision “would confirm that a plaintiff was subject to surveillance” and therefore should not be allowed: “Indeed, if the actual facts were that just one of the plaintiffs had been subject to alleged surveillance, any such differentiation likewise could not be disclosed because it would inherently reveal intelligence information as to who was and was not a subject of interest, which communications were and were not of intelligence interest, and which modes of communication were and were not of intelligence interest, and which modes of communication may or may not have been subject to surveillance.” Jon Eisenberg, the lawyer for Belew and Ghafoo, says: “We filed this lawsuit to establish a judicial precedent that the president cannot disregard Congress in the name of national security. Plaintiffs have a right to litigate the legality of the surveillance.” [Wired News, 1/20/2009]
The Swiss government says it will consider allowing Guantanamo detainees to be repatriated to Switzerland if it will help shut down that detention facility. In a statement, the Swiss government says: “For Switzerland, the detention of people in Guantanamo is in conflict with international law. Switzerland is ready to consider how it can contribute to the solution of the Guantanamo problem.” The Swiss government says it welcomes the expressed intention of President Obama to close the prison, and says it will investigate the security and legal implications of possibly taking in detainees. After calling for years for the detention camp to be shut down, European governments are now under some pressure to help find a home for the approximately 245 detainees. Many of the detainees’ home countries are refusing to take them back, and the US under former President Bush says it will not allow them to remain in the US if released. Switzerland is a traditional supporter of refugees, and the home of international organizations such as the Red Cross and the United Nations’s refugee agencies. At least two other European nations, Portugal and France, have stated their willingness to accept detainees. [Reuters, 1/21/2009]
President Barack Obama issues an executive order limiting the ability of former presidents to block the release of records from their time in the White House. Obama’s order overturns an executive order from former President Bush (see November 1, 2001) that is currently the subject of a federal lawsuit, and was found in part illegal by a federal judge in 2007. Obama’s order invalidates Bush’s order entirely. Obama’s order allows former presidents to ask the National Archives to keep certain documents private, but strips their power to compel the Archives to do so. The order also covers former vice presidents and the families of deceased presidents. “It’s a great signal to send on the president’s first day in office,” says Scott Nelson, a lawyer with the civil liberties group Public Citizen, which led the challenge to Bush’s order. Nelson says the order will make it easier for researchers to gain access to White House records.
Strips Power from Former Executives - Under the Presidential Records Act, former presidents can restrict access to some of their records, including confidential communications with advisers, for up to 12 years. Bush’s order extended that restriction indefinitely, and gave former vice presidents and even the families and heirs of deceased presidents the same power to restrict documents. Obama’s order limits claims of executive privilege to records concerning national security, law enforcement or internal communications; it also specifies that only living former presidents may request that papers not be made public, and gives them 30 days to say so once they get word of the archivist’s intention to release records. The order gives the Obama administration and the National Archives, not the former executives, the final decision-making power. Under Obama’s order, former Vice President Dick Cheney can no longer block access to records from his records during his eight years in the White House. Cheney is engaged in a lawsuit to block access to his vice-presidential records. [Washington Post, 1/21/2009]
Wide-Ranging Impact - Experts agree that the executive order could have wide-ranging impacts on a number of issues relating to the Bush administration. Douglas Kmiec, a conservative law professor and an expert on executive privilege, says the order could strongly impact current battles over Bush’s records, “whether it be the dismissal of US attorneys, whether it be other assertions of executive privilege dealing with White House emails and the like.” It could also affect investigations into the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, and the Bush administration’s efforts to precipitate a war with Iraq. [TPM Muckraker, 1/22/2009] Neil Eggleston, who served as White House counsel in the Clinton administration, says he believes the Obama order is specifically designed to pry loose information from the Bush administration about such issues. “This is absolutely about all those issues,” he says. In a sense, Eggleston continues, it is an order to the National Archivist: “It says, ‘Archivist—if Bush calls up and says don’t release certain papers, don’t listen to what he says, listen to what I say.’” [TPM Muckraker, 1/23/2009]
In an interview for the German television program Frontal 21, broadcast on ZDF, Professor Manfred Nowak, the United Nations rapporteur responsible for torture, states that with George W. Bush’s head of state immunity now terminated, the new government of Barack Obama is obligated by international law to commence a criminal investigation into Bush’s torture practices. “The evidence is sitting on the table,” Nowak says. “There is no avoiding the fact that this was torture.” Nowak cites the Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994), which obligates a signatory country such as the US to criminally prosecute anyone who tortures a person, or extradites a person to a country which will torture him. “The government of the United States is required to take all necessary steps to bring George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld before a court,” Nowak says. Nowak headed a 2006 study of conditions at Guantanamo that concluded the practices used at that facility and approved by the Bush administration violated human rights norms and constituted torture. ZDF also interviews attorney Wolfgang Kaleck, who brought charges against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld before German prosecutors. The Obama administration is “off to a good beginning” with its explicit renunciation of torture, Kaleck says, but has yet to show how it will hold Bush, Rumsfeld, and others accountable for their crimes, nor has it demonstrated its legally obligated duty to provide compensation to torture victims. Lastly, law professor Dietmar Herz confirms that Bush bears personal responsibility for the introduction and use of torture. Herz confirms that once Bush lost his immunity from prosecution as a head of state, the US is obligated to prosecute him for crimes against humanity. [Harper's, 1/21/2009]
Washington Post reporter Dana Priest, in a news analysis, writes that by signing executive orders to close Guantanamo (see January 22, 2009), stop torture of terror suspects, and void Justice Department legal orders concerning torture and interrogations (see January 22, 2009), President Obama has “effectively declared an end to the ‘war on terror,’ as [former] President George W. Bush had defined it, signaling to the world that the reach of the US government in battling its enemies will not be limitless.” She continues: “While Obama says he has no plans to diminish counterterrorism operations abroad, the notion that a president can circumvent long-standing US laws simply by declaring war was halted by executive order in the Oval Office.… It was a swift and sudden end to an era that was slowly drawing to a close anyway, as public sentiment grew against perceived abuses of government power.” [Washington Post, 1/23/2009]
Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tells an NPR reporter that he never allowed the Justice Department (DOJ) to become politicized, and that he believes the historical judgment of his tenure in the department will be favorable. He acknowledges making some errors, including failing to properly oversee the DOJ’s push to fire nine US attorneys in 2008, a process many believe was orchestrated by the White House with the involvement of Gonzales and then-White House political guru Karl Rove.
Failure to Engage - “No question, I should have been more engaged in that process,” he says, but adds that he is being held accountable for decisions made by his subordinates. “I deeply regret some of the decisions made by my staff,” he says, referring to his former deputy Paul McNulty, who resigned over the controversy after telling a Senate committee that the attorney firings were performance-related and not politically motivated. Gonzales says his then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, was primarily responsible for the US attorney review process and for working with McNulty. “If Paul McNulty makes a recommendation to me—if a recommendation includes his views—I would feel quite comfortable that those would be good recommendations coming to me” about the qualifications of the US attorneys under question, Gonzales says. He adds that he has “seen no evidence” that Rove or anyone at the White House tried to use the US attorneys to politicize the work at the DOJ. A review by the DOJ’s Inspector General found that the firing policy was fundamentally flawed, and that Gonzales was disengaged and had failed to properly supervise the review process.
Claims He Was Unfairly Targeted by 'Mean-Spirited' Washington Insiders - Gonzales says he has been unfairly held responsible for many controversial Bush administration policies, including its refusal to abide by the Geneva Conventions (see Late September 2001, January 9, 2002, January 18-25, 2002, January 25, 2002, August 1, 2002, November 11, 2004, and January 17, 2007) and its illegal eavesdropping on US citizens (see Early 2004, March 9, 2004, December 19, 2005, Early 2006, and February 15, 2006), because of his close personal relationship with former President Bush. Washington, he says, is a “difficult town, a mean-spirited town.” He continues: “Sometimes people identify someone to target. That’s what happened to me. I’m not whining. It comes with the job.”
Visiting Ashcroft at the Hospital - In 2004, Gonzales, then the White House counsel, and White House chief of staff Andrew Card raced to the bedside of hospitalized Attorney General John Ashcroft to persuade, or perhaps coerce, Ashcroft to sign off on a secret government surveillance program (see March 10-12, 2004). The intervention was blocked by Deputy Attorney General James Comey (see March 12-Mid-2004). Gonzales says he has no regrets about the incident: “Neither Andy nor I would have gone there to take advantage of somebody who was sick. We were sent there on behalf of the president of the United States.” As for threats by Justice Department officials to resign en masse over the hospital visit (see Late March, 2004), Gonzales merely says, “Lawyers often disagree about important legal issues.”
Warning about Plain Speaking - Gonzales says Obama’s attorney general nominee, Eric Holder, should refrain from making such statements as Holder made last week when he testified that waterboarding is torture. “One needs to be careful in making a blanket pronouncement like that,” Gonzales says, adding that such a statement might affect the “morale and dedication” of intelligence officials and lawyers who are attempting to make cases against terrorism suspects. [National Public Radio, 1/26/2009]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Eric Holder, Bush administration (43), Andrew Card, Alberto R. Gonzales, Geneva Conventions, George W. Bush, James B. Comey Jr., Karl C. Rove, Paul J. McNulty, D. Kyle Sampson
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Bush ‘shoe monument,’ unveiled at an orphanage in Tikrit. [Source: CNN]A monument to the shoes thrown at President Bush (see December 14, 2008) is unveiled during a ceremony at an orphanage in Tikrit, Iraq. The monument is a sculpture created by Laith al-Amiri with the assistance of the orphans at the facility. Many people in Iraq and throughout the Arab world regard the shoe thrower, journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi, as a hero, and many are calling for his release from prison. The monument is, essentially, a fiberglass shoe nearly 12 feet high and coated with copper. Faten Abdulqader al-Naseri, the orphanage director, says: “Those orphans who helped the sculptor in building this monument were the victims of Bush’s war. The shoe monument is a gift to the next generation to remember the heroic action by the journalist. When the next generation sees the shoe monument, they will ask their parents about it. When their parents will start talking about the hero Muntadar al-Zaidi, who threw his shoe at George W. Bush during his unannounced farewell visit.” [CNN, 1/29/2009]
The New York Times, in an editorial, condemns the “nativist” anti-immigrant movement (see February 2009) as having what it calls “a streak of racialist extremism” and being far on the fringe of the American body politic. The editorial comes days after a presentation by the anti-immigration group American Cause at the National Press Club (see January 29, 2009). American Cause was founded by MSNBC contributor Pat Buchanan and is headed by Marcus Epstein, a young activist with a raft of ties to racist and white supremacist groups (see October 8, 2007). Epstein also releases a report to go with the presentation that claims the federal government has been far too soft on would-be immigrants, and blames the November 2008 defeats of Republican candidates on the party’s unwillingness to stand up for an absolute ban on immigration. Epstein accuses former President Bush and his political advisor Karl Rove of “pander[ing] to pro-amnesty Hispanics and swing voters,” and urges Republicans to work to completely seal the US borders and drive immigrants out. The Times observes: “This is nonsense, of course. For years Americans have rejected the cruelty of enforcement-only regimes and Latino-bashing, in opinion surveys and at the polls. In House and Senate races in 2008 and 2006, ‘anti-amnesty’ hard-liners consistently lost to candidates who proposed comprehensive reform solutions.… Americans want immigration solved, and they realize that mass deportations will not do that. When you add the unprecedented engagement of growing numbers of Latino voters in 2008, it becomes clear that the nativist path is the path to permanent political irrelevance. Unless you can find a way to get rid of all the Latinos.” Participants in Epstein’s presentation included Bay Buchanan, Pat Buchanan’s sister and the director of an anti-immigrant political action committee, Team America PAC; James Pinkerton, a Fox News contributor; and Peter Brimelow, an outspoken white supremacist who founded the racist VDare.com. The Times warns: “It is easy to mock white-supremacist views as pathetic and to assume that nativism in the age of Obama is on the way out. The country has, of course, made considerable progress since the days of Know-Nothings and the Klan. But racism has a nasty habit of never going away, no matter how much we may want it to, and thus the perpetual need for vigilance.” [New York Times, 1/31/2009]
Reflecting on the tenure of his former boss, Secretary of State Colin Powell, former chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson recalls: “I’m not sure even to this day that he’s willing to admit to himself that he was rolled to the extent that he was. And he’s got plenty of defense to marshal because, as I told [former defense secretary] Bill Perry one time when Bill asked me to defend my boss—I said, ‘Well, let me tell you, you wouldn’t have wanted to have seen the first Bush administration without Colin Powell.’ I wrote Powell a memo about six months before we were leaving, and I said, ‘This is your legacy, Mr. Secretary: damage control.’ He didn’t like it much. In fact, he kind of handed it back to me and told me I could put it in the burn basket. But I knew he understood what I was saying. ‘You saved the China relationship. You saved the transatlantic relationship and each component thereof—France, Germany.’ I mean, he held [then-German Foreign Minister] Joschka Fischer’s hand under the table on occasions when Joschka would say something like, ‘You know, your president called my boss a f_cking _sshole.’ His task became essentially cleaning the dogsh_t off the carpet in the Oval Office. And he did that rather well. But it became all-consuming. I think the clearest indication I got that [former Deputy Secretary of State] Rich [Armitage] and he both had finally awakened to the dimensions of the problem was when Rich began—I mean, I’ll be very candid—began to use language to describe the vice president’s office with me as the Gestapo, as the Nazis, and would sometimes late in the evening, when we were having a drink—would sometimes go off rather aggressively on particular characters in the vice president’s office.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Conservative columnist Thomas P. Kilgannon, the president of Freedom Alliance, writes in a piece for the online news magazine Human Events: “Globalists were dismayed because [President] Bush’s rejection of the ICC [International Criminal Court] was a vote for American sovereignty—a refusal to cede authority to international government and a court that is not bound to the principles of the US Constitution, far less our laws. That could change under the Obama administration. Two weeks ago, hope returned to the House of Hammarskjold [referring to the United Nations] when US Ambassador Susan Rice, in a closed [UN] Security Council meeting, voiced support for the ICC.” [Human Events, 2/10/2009; Media Matters, 4/10/2009]
In a speech at the Nixon Center, neoconservative guru Richard Perle (see 1965 and Early 1970s) attempts to drastically rewrite the history of the Bush administration and his role in the invasion of Iraq. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank writes that listening to Perle gave him “a sense of falling down the rabbit hole.” Milbank notes: “In real life, Perle was the ideological architect of the Iraq war and of the Bush doctrine of preemptive attack (see 1987-2004, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, March, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 15, 2001, September 19-20, 2001, November 14, 2001, November 14, 2001, November 18-19, 2001, May 2002, August 16, 2002, November 20, 2002, January 9, 2003, February 25, 2003, and March 27, 2003). But at yesterday’s forum of foreign policy intellectuals, he created a fantastic world in which:
Perle is not a neoconservative.
Neoconservatives do not exist.
Even if neoconservatives did exist, they certainly couldn’t be blamed for the disasters of the past eight years.” [Washington Post, 2/20/2009]
Perle had previously advanced his arguments in an article for National Interest magazine. [National Interest, 1/21/2009]
'No Such Thing as a Neoconservative Foreign Policy' - Perle tells the gathering, hosted by National Interest: “There is no such thing as a neoconservative foreign policy. It is a left critique of what is believed by the commentator to be a right-wing policy.” Perle has shaped the nation’s foreign policy since 1974 (see August 15, 1974, Early 1976, 1976, and Early 1981). He was a key player in the Reagan administration’s early attempts to foment a nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union (see Early 1981 and After, 1981 and Beyond, September 1981 through November 1983, May 1982 and After, and October 11-12, 1986). Perle denies any real involvement with the 1996 “Clean Break” document, which Milbank notes “is widely seen as the cornerstone of neoconservative foreign policy” (see July 8, 1996 and March 2007). Perle explains: “My name was on it because I signed up for the study group. I didn’t approve it. I didn’t read it.” In reality, Perle wrote the bulk of the “Clean Break” report. Perle sidesteps questions about the letters he wrote (or helped write) to Presidents Clinton and Bush demanding the overthrow of Saddam Hussein (see January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998, and September 20, 2001), saying, “I don’t have the letters in front of me.” He denies having any influence on President Bush’s National Security Strategy, which, as Milbank notes, “enshrin[ed] the neoconservative themes of preemptive war and using American power to spread freedom” (see May 1, 2001), saying: “I don’t know whether President Bush ever read any of those statements [he wrote]. My guess is he didn’t.” Instead, as Perle tells the audience: “I see a number of people here who believe and have expressed themselves abundantly that there is a neoconservative foreign policy and it was the policy that dominated the Bush administration, and they ascribe to it responsibility for the deplorable state of the world. None of that is true, of course.” Bush’s foreign policy had “no philosophical underpinnings and certainly nothing like the demonic influence of neoconservatives that is alleged.” And Perle claims that no neoconservative ever insisted that the US military should be used to spread democratic values (see 1965, Early 1970s, Summer 1972 and After, August 15, 1974, 1976, November 1976, Late November, 1976, 1977-1981, 1981 and Beyond, 1984, Late March 1989 and After, 1991-1997, March 8, 1992, July 1992, Autumn 1992, July 8, 1996, Late Summer 1996, Late Summer 1996, 1997, November 12, 1997, January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998, May 29, 1998, July 1998, February 1999, 2000, September 2000, November 1, 2000, January 2001, January 22, 2001 and After, March 12, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 24, 2001, September 25-26, 2001, October 29, 2001, October 29, 2001, November 14, 2001, November 20, 2001, November 29-30, 2001, December 7, 2001, February 2002, April 2002, April 23, 2002, August 6, 2002, September 4, 2002, November 2002-December 2002, November 12, 2002, February 2003, February 13, 2003, March 19, 2003, December 19, 2003, March 2007, September 24, 2007, and October 28, 2007), saying, “I can’t find a single example of a neoconservative supposed to have influence over the Bush administration arguing that we should impose democracy by force.” His strident calls for forcible regime change in Iran were not what they seemed, he says: “I’ve never advocated attacking Iran. Regime change does not imply military force, at least not when I use the term” (see July 8-10, 1996, Late Summer 1996, November 14, 2001, and January 24, 2004).
Challenged by Skeptics - Former Reagan administration official Richard Burt (see Early 1981 and After and May 1982 and After), who challenged Perle during his time in Washington, takes issue with what he calls the “argument that neoconservatism maybe actually doesn’t exist.” He reminds Perle of the longtime rift between foreign policy realists and neoconservative interventionists, and argues, “You’ve got to kind of acknowledge there is a neoconservative school of thought.” Perle replies, “I don’t accept the approach, not at all.” National Interest’s Jacob Heilbrunn asks Perle to justify his current position with the title of his 2003 book An End to Evil. Perle claims: “We had a publisher who chose the title. There’s hardly an ideology in that book.” (Milbank provides an excerpt from the book that reads: “There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust. This book is a manual for victory.”) Perle blames the news media for “propagat[ing] this myth of neoconservative influence,” and says the term “neoconservative” itself is sometimes little more than an anti-Semitic slur. After the session, the moderator asks Perle how successful he has been in making his points. “I don’t know that I persuaded anyone,” he concedes. [Washington Post, 2/20/2009]
'Richard Perle Is a Liar' - Harvard professor Stephen Walt, a regular columnist for Foreign Policy magazine, writes flatly, “Richard Perle is a liar.” He continues: “[K]ey neoconservatives like Douglas Feith, I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, and others [were] openly calling for regime change in Iraq since the late 1990s and… used their positions in the Bush administration to make the case for war after 9/11, aided by a chorus of sympathetic pundits at places like the American Enterprise Institute, and the Weekly Standard. The neocons were hardly some secret cabal or conspiracy, as they were making their case loudly and in public, and no serious scholar claims that they ‘bamboozled’ Bush and Cheney into a war. Rather, numerous accounts have documented that they had been openly pushing for war since 1998 and they continued to do so after 9/11.… The bottom line is simple: Richard Perle is lying. What is disturbing about this case is is not that a former official is trying to falsify the record in such a brazen fashion; Perle is hardly the first policymaker to kick up dust about his record and he certainly won’t be the last. The real cause for concern is that there are hardly any consequences for the critical role that Perle and the neoconservatives played for their pivotal role in causing one of the great foreign policy disasters in American history. If somebody can help engineer a foolish war and remain a respected Washington insider—as is the case with Perle—what harm is likely to befall them if they lie about it later?” [Foreign Policy, 2/23/2009]
Entity Tags: Richard Perle, Jacob Heilbrunn, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, George W. Bush, Douglas Feith, Dana Milbank, Bush administration (43), Stephen Walt, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Burt
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence
Coffins of US war dead are shipped through Dover Air Force Base. [Source: Los Angeles Times]The Obama administration announces that the media can now photograph the flag-draped coffins of US soldiers killed in combat as they return through Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Under a ban begun by the first Bush administration in 1991, news photographers were prohibited from taking pictures, journalists were prevented from interviewing families of the war dead, and, as the Los Angeles Times notes, “no public record was made about the personal toll exacted by Washington’s policies on individual soldiers and their families.” President George W. Bush claimed the policy was to protect the privacy of military families; critics said that the policy was a public relations ploy to avoid bad publicity by personalizing the cost of war. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that if military families object, the coffins of their loved ones will not be photographed. [Los Angeles Times, 2/26/2009; Associated Press, 2/26/2009]
According to media reports, the Obama administration intends to reverse the “right of conscience rule,” formally called the Provider Refusal Rule, for health care workers enacted by President Bush in the last weeks of his term. In December 2008, Bush issued an executive order allowing health care workers to deny care based on their personal beliefs. The order was issued to target doctors and nurses who do not want to provide abortions, even if they work in a facility that offers abortions to clients. Specifically, the rule denies Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) funding to institutions that do not allow workers to refuse care that goes against their beliefs. Now the Obama administration says President Obama will override that order. Seven states have already challenged the rule, claiming it sacrifices the health of patients in order to satisfy the religious or moral beliefs of medical personnel. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has reported cases such as that of a Virginia mother of two who became pregnant because she was denied emergency contraception; in Texas, the group said, a rape victim had her prescription for emergency contraception rejected by a pharmacist. Obama has already overturned a ban on US funding for international aid groups that provide abortion services. However, administration officials say the administration may consider a rule that would clarify what health care workers can reasonably refuse. An HHS spokesman says: “We recognize and understand that some providers have objections to providing abortions. But we do not want to impose new limitations on services that would allow providers to refuse to provide to women and their families services like family planning and contraception that would actually help prevent the need for an abortion in the first place.” Dr. Suzanne Poppema of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health praises Obama “for placing good health care above ideological demands,” and says: “Physicians across the country were outraged when the Bush administration, in its final days, limited women’s access to reproductive health care. Hundreds of doctors protested these midnight regulations and urged President Obama to repeal them quickly. We are thrilled that President Obama took the first steps today to ensure that our patients’ health is once again protected.” Tony Perkins of the anti-abortion Family Research Council (FRC) counters: “Protecting the right of all health care providers to make professional judgments based on moral convictions and ethical standards is foundational to federal law and is necessary to ensure that access to health care is not diminished, which will occur if health care workers are forced out of their jobs because of their ethical stances. President Obama’s intention to change the language of these protections would result in the government becoming the conscience and not the individual. It is a person’s right to exercise their moral judgment, not the government’s to decide it for them.” [Chicago Tribune, 2/27/2009; CNN, 2/27/2009; New York Times, 2/27/2009] The liberal Center for American Progress (CAP) writes in April 2009: “Conservatives have criticized the Obama administration for infringing upon the conscience of health care professionals and ‘forcing’ them to provide abortion services.… Yet this assertion could not be further from the truth. President Obama’s proposal to rescind Bush’s last-minute rule restores the pre-existing compromise established through decades of debate.” CAP notes that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act disallows employers from firing or harassing workers who decline to fulfill assigned tasks due to moral or religious objections. “Obama’s proposal to rescind the Bush ‘conscience’ rule simply restores the prior balance that existed on matters of conscience,” CAP concludes. “It once again guides the health care system to value the consciences of health care providers and patients.” [Jessica Arons and Sarah Dreier, 4/28/2009] However, for reasons never made publicly clear, the Obama administration will never actually rescind the order. It is possible that Obama or HHS officials bow to pressure from a number of organizations such as the FRC and the Christian Medical Association, which have continually pressured the administration not to rescind the order. [Fox News, 4/8/2009; Time, 2/4/2010; Megan Sullivan, 7/13/2010]
Entity Tags: American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Family Research Council, Christian Medical Association, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), Center for American Progress, Tony Perkins, George W. Bush, US Department of Health and Human Services, Obama administration, Provider Refusal Rule, Suzanne Poppema
Timeline Tags: US Health Care
Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean says that after reading the nine newly released Bush-era Justice Department memos that asserted sweeping powers for the president not granted by the Constitution (see March 2, 2009), “you’ve gotta almost conclude we had an unconstitutional dictator. It’s pretty deadly and pretty serious, what’s in these materials.” Anyone deemed a terrorist by President Bush could be kidnapped, incarcerated, and tortured, all without any legal recourse. “Who in this formula was supposed to decide that these were terrorists?” asks MSNBC host Keith Olbermann. Dean replies: “Well, according to these memos, that was rather limited to the president of the United States and there are no guidelines as to how he might describe who was or was not a terrorist. The president can unilaterally or, theoretically, even somebody he delegates can decide who indeed can be incarcerated, who can not. That is why I say, this is pretty close to being an unconstitutional dictator, in any definition under the law of this country.” [MSNBC, 3/2/2009; Raw Story, 3/3/2009]
Columnist and international law expert Scott Horton writes of his horror and shock at the nine just-released Bush administration memos from the Justice Department designed to grant President Bush extraordinary executive authority (see March 2, 2009).
'Disappearing Ink' - Horton writes: “Perhaps the most astonishing of these memos was one crafted by University of California at Berkeley law professor John Yoo. He concluded that in wartime, the president was freed from the constraints of the Bill of Rights with respect to anything he chose to label as […] counterterrorism operations inside the United States” (see October 23, 2001, and October 23, 2001). Horton continues: “John Yoo’s Constitution is unlike any other I have ever seen. It seems to consist of one clause: appointing the president as commander in chief. The rest of the Constitution was apparently printed in disappearing ink.”
Timing of Repudiation Proves Bush Officials Found Claims Useful - Horton has no patience with the claims of former Office of Legal Counsel chief Steven Bradbury that the extraordinary powers Yoo attempted to grant Bush were not used very often (see January 15, 2009). “I don’t believe that for a second,” Horton notes, and notes Bradbury’s timing in repudiating the Yoo memos: five days before Bush left office. “Bradbury’s decision to wait to the very end before repealing it suggests that someone in the Bush hierarchy was keen on having it,” Horton asserts.
Serving Multiple Purposes - The memos “clear[ly]” served numerous different purposes, Horton notes. They authorized, or provided legal justification for, the massive domestic surveillance programs launched by military agencies such as the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency (see September 25, 2001). But the memos went much farther, Horton says: “[T]he language of the memos suggest that much more was afoot, including the deployment of military units and military police powers on American soil. These memos suggest that John Yoo found a way to treat the Posse Comitatus Act as suspended.” They also gave Bush the apparent legal grounds to order the torture of people held at secret overseas sites (see March 13, 2002), and to hold accused terrorist Jose Padilla without charge or due process, even though the administration had no evidence whatsoever of the crimes he had been alleged to commit (see June 8, 2002).
American Dictatorship - Horton’s conclusion is stark. “We may not have realized it at the time, but in the period from late 2001-January 19, 2009, this country was a dictatorship,” he writes. “The constitutional rights we learned about in high school civics were suspended. That was thanks to secret memos crafted deep inside the Justice Department that effectively trashed the Constitution. What we know now is likely the least of it.” [Harper's, 3/3/2009]
President Barack Obama orders a review of former President Bush’s signing statements. Bush often used signing statements to instruct administration officials how to implement, or to ignore, Congressional legislation and other laws (see Early 2005, January 13, 2006, and September 2007). Obama has sent memos to numerous federal agencies directing them to review Bush’s signing statements. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says that other presidents have used signing statements to note potential problems and conflicts, and says Obama will continue that practice. But, Gibbs says, Obama will not use signing statements to disregard Congress’s intent in its legislation. [Associated Press, 3/9/2009]
Reporter Seymour Hersh speaking at a 2007 forum on the media in Doha, Qatar. [Source: Reuters / Fadi Al-Assaad / MinnPost (.com)]In a wide-ranging seminar with former Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale and investigative journalist Seymour Hersh at the University of Minnesota, Hersh claims that he has evidence that the US operated what he calls an “executive assassination wing” during the Bush administration, perhaps controlled by the office of then Vice President Dick Cheney. [MinnPost (.com), 3/11/2009] (Hersh will later say he used the word “wing,” but it was widely misreported as “ring” in the media.) [CNN, 3/30/2009] Hersh says he will explain his charges more fully in an upcoming book. When asked about recent instances of a president exceeding his constitutional authority, Hersh gives a response that moves from CIA activities, through the Joint Special Operations Command, to the alleged “assassination wing”: “After 9/11, I haven’t written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet. Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command—JSOC it’s called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him.… Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination wing essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths. Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us. It’s complicated because the guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they are committing what we would normally call murder. It’s a very complicated issue. Because they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you’ve heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized. In many cases, they were the best and the brightest. Really, no exaggerations. Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find themselves torturing people. I’ve had people say to me—five years ago, I had one say: ‘What do you call it when you interrogate somebody and you leave them bleeding and they don’t get any medical committee and two days later he dies. Is that murder? What happens if I get before a committee?’ But they’re not gonna get before a committee.” Mondale says of Cheney and his office that “they ran a government within a government.” Hersh adds, “Eight or nine neoconservatives took over our country.” Mondale notes that the precedents of abuse of vice presidential power by Cheney would remain “like a loaded pistol that you leave on the dining room table.” [MinnPost (.com), 3/11/2009] CIA spokesman George Little responds to Hersh’s allegation by writing: “I saw your story on Seymour Hersh’s recent allegations regarding CIA activities since 9/11. If you wish, you can attribute the quoted portion that follows to me, in name, as a CIA spokesman: ‘This is utter nonsense.’” [MinnPost (.com), 3/12/2009]
The New York Review of Books publishes a lengthy article documenting the Red Cross’s hitherto-secret report on US torture practices at several so-called “black sites.” The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a report on “The Black Sites” in February 2007 (see October 6 - December 14, 2006), but that report has remained secret until now. These “black sites” are secret prisons in Thailand, Poland, Afghanistan, Morocco, Romania, and at least three other countries (see October 2001-2004), either maintained directly by the CIA or used by them with the permission and participation of the host countries.
Specific Allegations of Torture by Official Body Supervising Geneva - The report documents the practices used by American guards and interrogators against prisoners, many of which directly qualify as torture under the Geneva Conventions and a number of international laws and statutes. The ICRC is the appointed legal guardian of Geneva, and the official body appointed to supervise the treatment of prisoners of war; therefore, its findings have the force of international law. The practices documented by the ICRC include sleep deprivation, lengthy enforced nudity, subjecting detainees to extensive, intense bombardment of noise and light, repeated immersion in frigid water, prolonged standing and various stress positions—sometimes for days on end—physical beatings, and waterboarding, which the ICRC authors call “suffocation by water.” The ICRC writes that “in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they [the detainees] were subjected while held in the CIA program… constituted torture.” It continues, “In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” Both torture and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” are specifically forbidden by Geneva and the Convention Against Torture, both of which were signed by the US (see October 21, 1994). The 14 “high-value detainees” whose cases are documented in the ICRC report include Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), and Tawfiq bin Attash (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004). All 14 remain imprisoned in Guantanamo. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009 ; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] Based on the ICRC report and his own research, Danner draws a number of conclusions.
The US government began to torture prisoners in the spring of 2002, with the approval of President Bush and the monitoring of top Bush officials, including Attorney General John Ashcroft. The torture, Danner writes, “clearly violated major treaty obligations of the United States, including the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, as well as US law.”
Bush, Ashcroft, and other top government officials “repeatedly and explicitly lied about this, both in reports to international institutions and directly to the public. The president lied about it in news conferences, interviews, and, most explicitly, in speeches expressly intended to set out the administration’s policy on interrogation before the people who had elected him.”
Congress was privy to a large amount of information about the torture conducted under the aegis of the Bush administration. Its response was to pass the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006), which in part was designed to protect government officials from criminal prosecutions under the War Crimes Act.
While Congressional Republicans were primarily responsible for the MCA, Senate Democrats did not try to stop the bill—indeed, many voted for it. Danner blames the failure on its proximity to the November 2006 midterm elections and the Democrats’ fear of being portrayed as “coddlers of terrorists.” He quotes freshman Senator Barack Obama (D-IL): “Soon, we will adjourn for the fall, and the campaigning will begin in earnest. And there will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be criticized as caring more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans. And I know that the vote before us was specifically designed and timed to add more fuel to that fire.” (Obama voted against the MCA, and, when it passed, he said, “[P]olitics won today.”)
The damage done to the US’s reputation, and to what Danner calls “the ‘soft power’ of its constitutional and democratic ideals,” has been “though difficult to quantify, vast and enduring.” Perhaps the largest defeat suffered in the US’s “war on terror,” he writes, has been self-inflicted, by the inestimable loss of credibility in the Muslim world and around the globe. The decision to use torture “undermin[ed] liberal sympathizers of the United States and convinc[ed] others that the country is exactly as its enemies paint it: a ruthless imperial power determined to suppress and abuse Muslims. By choosing to torture, we freely chose to become the caricature they made of us.”
A Need for Investigation and Prosecution - Danner is guardedly optimistic that, under Democratic leadership in the White House and Congress, the US government’s embrace of torture has stopped, and almost as importantly, the authorization and practice of torture under the Bush administration will be investigated, and those responsible will be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. But, he notes, “[i]f there is a need for prosecution there is also a vital need for education. Only a credible investigation into what was done and what information was gained can begin to alter the political calculus around torture by replacing the public’s attachment to the ticking bomb with an understanding of what torture is and what is gained, and lost, when the United States reverts to it.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]
Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Abu Zubaida, New York Review of Books, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, John Ashcroft, International Committee of the Red Cross, Mark Danner
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
The F-22 Raptor. [Source: AeroSpaceWeb (.org)]According to the Boston Globe, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is preparing to announce sweeping cuts in weapons programs over the following months. Gates, the only holdover in the Obama administration from the Bush cabinet, said before President Bush left office that the US “cannot expect to eliminate national security risks through higher defense budgets, to do everything and buy everything.” Whoever President Obama’s new defense secretary might be, he then said, would have to eliminate some costly hardware and invest in new tools for fighting insurgents. At that point, Gates did not know that he would be asked to stay on as defense secretary.
Scope of Cuts - Senior defense officials say that the impending program cuts will be the largest since the end of the Cold War, during the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. About a half-dozen programs will be canceled, including the Air Force’s F-22 fighter jet, a new Navy destroyer, Army ground combat vehicles, and other programs such as aircraft carriers and new nuclear weapons.
Gates' Role - The Globe reports: “As a former CIA director with strong Republican credentials, Gates is prepared to use his credibility to help Obama overcome the expected outcry from conservatives. And after a lifetime in the national security arena, working in eight administrations, the 65-year-old Gates is also ready to counter the defense companies and throngs of retired generals and other lobbyists who are gearing up to protect their pet projects.” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says, “He has earned a great deal of credibility over the past two years, both inside and outside the Pentagon, and now he is prepared to use it to lead the department in a new direction and bring about the changes he believes are necessary to protect the nation’s security.”
Support - James Shinn, who served under Gates as an assistant defense secretary in the Bush administration, says Gates is perhaps the only person in Washington who can make such drastic cuts happen: “He obviously has huge credibility as something of a hawk. No one can even remotely challenge Gates in terms of his well-informed and conservative approach toward threats and the weapon systems associated with threats.” Longtime Washington official Brent Scowcroft, one of Gates’ closest friends and mentors, says: “He is going to have a hard time. The resistance in the system is heavy. But that what Bob is trying to take on.”
Potential Opposition - However, any cuts will face strong opposition from defense contractors and members of Congress whose districts rely on defense monies. “There are so many people employed in the industry and they are spread across the country,” says William Cohen, a Republican who served as defense secretary in the Clinton administration. “Even though members of Congress may say, ‘It’s great that you are recommending the termination of X, Y, and Z,’ they will also say ‘that means 4,000 jobs in my state. Frankly, I can’t go along with that.’” The declining economy makes such arguments even more compelling, Cohen adds. [Boston Globe, 3/17/2009]
Condoleezza Rice on the Charlie Rose show. [Source: PBS]Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tells PBS’s Charlie Rose that “no one” in the White House ever asserted that Saddam Hussein had any connections to 9/11. Rose says, “But you didn’t believe [the Hussein regime] had anything to do with 9/11.” Rice replies: “No. No one was arguing that Saddam Hussein somehow had something to do with 9/11.… I was certainly not. The president was certainly not.… That’s right. We were not arguing that.” Rice refuses to answer Rose’s question asking if former Vice President Dick Cheney ever tried to make the connection. In reality, former President Bush and his top officials, including Cheney and Rice, worked diligently to reinforce a connection between Iraq and 9/11 in the public mind before the March 2003 invasion (see (Between 10:30 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, Mid-September, 2001, September 17, 2001, September 19, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 28, 2001, November 6-8, 2001, December 9, 2001, 2002-March 2003, March 19, 2002, June 21, 2002, July 25, 2002, August 2002, August 20, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 16, 2002, September 21, 2002, September 25, 2002, September 26, 2002, September 27, 2002, September 28, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 15, 2002, December 2, 2002, December 12, 2002, January 26, 2003, January 28, 2003, Early February 2003, February 5, 2003, (2:30 a.m.-9:00 a.m.) February 5, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 6, 2003, February 11 or 12, 2003, and February 17, 2003). [Think Progress, 3/19/2009]
Fox News on-screen chyron falsely claiming Obama’s 2010 budget is four times larger than biggest Bush budget. [Source: Media Matters]Fox News’s flagship morning news broadcast, America’s Newsroom, displays an on-screen “chyron” that falsely claims the 2010 budget proposed by President Obama—$3.6 trillion—is four times the largest budget ever submitted by former President Bush. As progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters notes, Bush submitted a $3.1 trillion budget for 2009 and a $2.9 trillion budget for 2008 (see October 13, 2009). [Media Matters, 4/3/2009]
Johnny Lee Clary. [Source: Christian Family Churches of Australia (.com)]The Reverend Johnny Lee Clary, who describes himself as a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan who abandoned his allegiance to white supremacist ideology after converting to Christianity and now preaches against racism and white separatism, answers a number of questions about the Klan and related organizations on his Web site.
The John Birch Society - According to Clary, the John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961 and December 2011) “is just a political version of the KKK, without the name of the KKK. They center on the political ideas of the Klan and are not as vocal in public on the ideas of the racial superiority, but they attract the same people and say the same things behind closed doors.… The John Birch Society is the Klan.… They are racist, and full of hate and are officially listed as a hate group with several civil rights organizations throughout the USA.” Tom Metzger, the founder and leader of the White Aryan Resistance (WAR), is an active leader of a California chapter of the JBS, Clary writes, as are many other members of the Klan and various neo-Nazi and white supremacist militia groups. Clary explains why the Klan is openly racist and the JBS is not, stating: “The John Birch Society’s function is to recruit professional people into their ranks of anti-government conspiracy freaks, that would be too afraid to join an organization with the name of the KKK. They suck these people into their ranks and use the donations to further the cause of radical un-American fascist racist KKK activities. This is a ploy for the KKK to get funding to help spread their agenda.” In response to an email from a JBS member portraying his organization as “conservative,” Clary writes: “Please do not try to represent your organization as ‘conservative.’ You are not conservative, and are disowned by the Republican Party and are considered a disgrace to true conservatives everywhere. Ronald Reagan, the greatest conservative American ever, would have nothing to do with any of you. Neither will President Bush for that matter.”
Positive Aspects of the Klan - While Clary repudiates the Klan’s racism, he says there are some “good” aspects to the organization: it “stands against abortion, homosexuality, and drug dealers. They are for prayer in the schools and the use of the Bible in the classroom. These are good things that would entice some people into joining the Klan, however, if someone joined because of these reasons they would soon see that the evil the Klan does is so sinister that it far outweighs the good. The Klan is guilty of bombings, murder, and hatred of their fellow man because of the shade of their skin.”
Why the KKK Hates African-Americans - In response to a letter from an African-American student asking this question, Clary writes: “I believe that one of the reason’s the Klan hates African-Americans so much is because they look different [from whites]. By putting others down they make themselves feel superior. One who hates so much really does not like his or her own self. They know deep down inside that they are a loser in society and they are searching for some way to try to achieve some sort of superiority. You have to remember also that the majority of KKK members are what would be classified as ‘poor white trash.’ Very few Klan members come from upper middle class backgrounds or even middle class for that matter. They come from backgrounds that are poor and down trodden. Instead of doing something to better themselves they build up resentment until it turns into hatred. They blame the Jews, blacks, and others for their own failures in life and they are a product of a learned response. That is, they are taught to hate.… If the blacks were not around for Klansmen to hate, it would be the Jews and if they were not around it would be the Native American Indians and if not them then someone else. When no one else that appears to be different is around then they start hating and bickering with each other. Many of them are crying out for a separate ‘Aryan’ homeland. They scream for a place where people that believe like they do can all go and live and not have to be around other races. That could be a solution that would benefit everybody. Even if there were no other races around them, their hatred is so deeply imbedded within them that they would start hating each other and finally destroy one another.” [Johnny Lee Clary, 2007; Johnny Lee Clary, 4/13/2009]
President Barack Obama implements a home mortgage rescue plan that he says will prevent as many as 9 million Americans from losing their homes to foreclosure. Obama says that turning around the battered economy requires stemming the continuing tide of foreclosures. He says that the housing crisis that began last year set many other factors in motion and helped lead to the current, widening recession. “In the end, all of us are paying a price for this home mortgage crisis,” Obama says. “All of us will pay an even steeper price if we allow this crisis to deepen. The American dream is being tested by a home mortgage crisis that not only threatens the stability of our economy but also the stability of families and neighborhoods. While this crisis is vast, it begins just one house and one family at a time.” Of the nearly 52 million US homeowners with a mortgage, about 13.8 million, or nearly 27 percent, owe more on their mortgage than their home is currently worth. Obama’s plan contains three initiatives:
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac homeowners owing between 80 and 105 percent of what their homes are worth can refinance their mortgage. Prior to implementation of the rescue plan, only those borrowers with at least 20 percent home equity could refinance. Refinancing at a lower rate may save borrowers thousands of dollars yearly on their mortgage payments.
Banks will be encouraged to work with homeowners to modify existing mortgages, which is different from refinancing. The Bush administration plan, “Hope for Homeowners,” passed late in 2008, tried to do what Obama has now accomplished, but, since banks were not eager to modify terms to help people stay in their houses, the Bush plan is considered a failure. Under Obama’s plan, banks who received TARP funding will have to participate and, if they do not, Obama may request that the Congress allow bankruptcy judges to modify mortgage terms. Before Obama’s new plan, judges already had the power to modify mortgage terms on a homeowner’s second and third homes, although not on their primary residences.
Interest rates will be kept low by having the Treasury Department buy up mortgage-backed securities from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, in the hope of re-inflating the market for mortgage-related products, even if Treasury may be overpaying for toxic assets in a market with few, if any, other buyers. [Mother Jones, 2/18/2009; CNN, 4/16/2009]
ProPublica reporter Dafna Linzer discovers that one of the CIA torture memos released on this day by the Obama administration (see April 16, 2009) inadvertently identifies one of the so-called CIA “ghost detainees” being held in an agency “black site.” The May 30, 2005 memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see May 30, 2005) was redacted before its release, but it identifies one detainee as “Gul.” This apparently refers to Hassan Ghul, arrested in northern Iraq in early 2004 (see January 23, 2004). At the time of his capture, President Bush stated: “Just last week we made further progress in making America more secure when a fellow named Hassan Ghul was captured in Iraq. Hassan Ghul reported directly to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was the mastermind of the September 11 attacks. He was captured in Iraq, where he was helping al-Qaeda to put pressure on our troops.” US officials, including then-CIA Director George Tenet, described Ghul as an al-Qaeda facilitator who delivered money and messages to top leaders. Those were the last references any US official made to him, except a brief reference in the 9/11 Commission report, which noted that Ghul was in “US custody.” The CIA has never acknowledged holding Ghul. In late 2006, human rights groups were surprised when Ghul was not one of a group of 14 “high-value” detainees sent from secret CIA prisons to Guantanamo (see September 2-3, 2006). Since then, Ghul has been considered a missing, or “ghost” detainee (see June 7, 2007). The May 30 memo notes that he was one of 28 CIA detainees who were subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques.” It says that he was subjected to the following interrogation methods: “facial hold,” “facial slap,” “stress positions,” “sleep deprivation,” “walling,” and the “attention grasp.” There is no mention in the unredacted portions of the memo as to when or where Ghul was in CIA custody, or where he is today. [ProPublica, 4/16/2009] Apparently, the CIA transferred Ghul to Pakistani custody in 2006 so he would not have to join other prisoners sent to the Guantantamo prison (see (Mid-2006)), and Pakistan released him in 2007, allowing him to rejoin al-Qaeda (see (Mid-2007)).
Carl Levin (D-MI), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, pens a lengthy op-ed for the Huffington Post to coincide with his committee’s release of a report documenting the abuse of prisoners under Bush administration policies (see April 21, 2009). Levin calls the report “a condemnation of both the Bush administration’s interrogation policies and of senior administration officials who attempted to shift the blame for abuse—such as that seen at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and Afghanistan—to low-ranking soldiers. Claims, such as that made by former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, that detainee abuses could be chalked up to the unauthorized acts of a ‘few bad apples,’ were simply false. The truth is that, early on, it was senior civilian leaders who set the tone.” Levin cites numerous statements and actions by President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, among others, but the ultimate responsibility for the torture program, he writes, must lie with Bush and Cheney. Levin writes that many high-ranking officials who must be counted as supporters of the administration, such as Iraq commander General David Petraeus, opposed the use of torture and abusive interrogation methods on detainees. Levin concludes: “If we are to retain our status as a leader in the world, we must acknowledge and confront the abuse of detainees in our custody. The committee’s report and investigation makes significant progress toward that goal. There is still the question, however, of whether high level officials who approved and authorized those policies should be held accountable.” Levin has recommended that Attorney General Eric Holder appoint a special investigator “to look at the volumes of evidence relating to treatment of detainees, including evidence in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s report, and to recommend what steps, if any, should be taken to establish accountability of high-level officials—including lawyers.” [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
A newly declassified Senate Intelligence Committee chronology discloses that the small group of Bush-era Justice Department lawyers who wrote memos authorizing the torture of enemy detainees (see April 16, 2009 and April 9, 2008) did not operate on their own, but were authorized by top White House officials such as then-Vice President Dick Cheney and then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see April 2002 and After). Other top officials, such as then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, were apparently left out of the decision-making process. Former committee chairman John Rockefeller (D-WV) says the task of declassifying interrogation and detention opinions “is not complete,” and urges the prompt declassification of other Bush-era documents that, he says, will show how the Bush administration interpreted the laws governing torture and war crimes. The committee report began in the summer of 2008, at Rockefeller’s behest, and was drafted by committee staffers with heavy input from Bush officials. The entire effort was coordinated through the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. President Bush’s National Security Council refused to declassify the report; President Obama’s National Security Adviser, James Jones, signed off on its release and the committee clears it for release today. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009; McClatchy News, 4/22/2009] The Intelligence Committee report dovetails with a report issued by the Senate Armed Forces Committee that showed Defense Department officials debated torture methods months before the Justice Department authorized such methods (see April 21, 2009). The report also shows:
The CIA thought al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida was withholding information about an imminent threat as early as April 2002 (see March 28-August 1, 2002), but did not receive authorization to torture him until three months later.
Some Senate Intelligence Committee members were briefed on the torture of Zubaida and 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in 2002 and 2003.
CIA Director George Tenet, in the spring of 2003, asked for a reaffirmation of the legality of torture methods (perhaps this memo—see June 1, 2003). Cheney, Rice, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, and then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales were among the participants at a meeting where it was decided that the torture policies would continue. Rumsfeld and Powell were not present.
The CIA briefed Rumsfeld and Powell on interrogation techniques in September 2003.
Administration officials had lasting concerns about the legality of waterboarding as they continued to justify its legitimacy.
Reactions among other senators is divided, with John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) asking Obama not to prosecute Bush officials who authorized or gave advice concerning torture, and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) reiterating his support for an independent “truth commission” to investigate the interrogations. [McClatchy News, 4/22/2009; Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 ] In 2008, Bush admitted approving of his administration’s authorization of torture (see April 11, 2008).
Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice, Colin Powell, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency, Abu Zubaida, Alberto R. Gonzales, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Patrick J. Leahy, Lindsey Graham, George W. Bush, James L. Jones, John Ashcroft, John D. Rockefeller, George J. Tenet, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Council, John McCain, Joseph Lieberman
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announces that, in line with a judge’s recent ruling, it will approve the sale of the so-called “morning-after” emergency contraception pill to 17-year olds without a doctor’s prescription. A judge recently ruled in favor of the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) in a lawsuit against the FDA (see January 21, 2005 and After). Under the Bush administration, the FDA ruled that the pill, called “Plan B,” could not be sold without a prescription (see May 6, 2004 and After), a decision partially reversed in 2006. Conservative groups say the decision will make it more difficult for parents to supervise their teens; women’s rights groups say the decision strengthens the rights of women. District Judge Edward Korman ruled that the FDA’s political appointees placed politics over science in its decision to restrict over-the-counter (OTC) sales of the drug; he wrote that evidence showed White House officials pressured the FDA to reject the drug’s OTC sales. His ruling orders the FDA to allow OTC sales to 17-year olds, and to evaluate whether all age restrictions should be lifted. CRR’s Nancy Northrup says, “It’s a good indication that the agency will move expeditiously to ensure its policy on Plan B is based solely on science.” Wendy Wright of the conservative action group Concerned Women for America says, “Parents should be furious at the FDA’s complete disregard of parental rights and the safety of minors.” In 2008, a judge ruled that conservative groups had failed to prove that the drug posed a risk to anyone (see March 4, 2008). Former FDA official Susan Wood, who resigned in 2005 over the issue, says the battle over Plan B came to symbolize just how politicized the agency became under President Bush. “The FDA got caught up in a saga, it got caught up in a drama,” she says. “This issue served as a clear example of the agency being taken off track, and it highlighted the problems FDA was facing in many other areas.” [Associated Press, 4/22/2009; Washington Post, 4/23/2009] “We need to have a very strong and science-based agency, and this is one of those steps that will help strengthen it,” Wood says. [USA Today, 3/23/2009]
Journalist Steve Benen notes that former President Bush promised that any American who performed torture on prisoners would be prosecuted (see May 5, 2004). In light of Bush’s statement, Benen writes: “‘Full investigation.’ We want to know ‘the truth.’ We believe in ‘justice.’ ‘We act’ in response to allegations of torture. We’re transparent and discuss developments ‘with the media.’ To fail to answer questions is to act like a ‘dictatorship.’ It seems to me if Democrats are looking for an excuse to do the right thing, they don’t have to say much more than, ‘We’re doing what Bush told us to do.’” [Washington Monthly, 4/27/2009]
Former Bush National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has returned to Stanford University to teach political science and serve as a senior fellow at the university’s conservative Hoover Institute [Stanford University News, 1/28/2009] , refuses to take any responsibility for the Bush administration’s torture policies. All she ever did, she tells students, was “convey… the authorization of the administration” (see Late 2001-Early 2002, April 2002 and After, Mid-May, 2002, July 17, 2002, September or October 2002, Summer 2003, May 3, 2004, and April 9, 2008). However, Rice adds, since President Bush authorized the torture program, it was by definition legal, no matter what domestic law or international treaties stipulated. “The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations under the Convention Against Torture” (see October 21, 1994), she says. “So that’s—and by the way, I didn’t authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency, that they had policy authorization, subject to the Justice Department’s clearance. That’s what I did.” Asked if waterboarding constitutes torture, Rice responds: “I just said, the United States was told, we were told, nothing that violates our obligations under the Convention Against Torture. And so by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.” Ali Frick, a reporter with the progressive news Web site Think Progress, writes in response: “Rice is attempting to hide her central role in approving torture.… Rice’s opinion that a presidential authorization—‘by definition’—grants something legality is deeply disturbing. In fact, the United States—and its president—are bound by US statute and international treaties that ban the use of cruel, humiliating, degrading treatment, the infliction of suffering, and the attempt to extract coerced confessions. Memo to Rice: Bush may have been ‘the Decider,’ but he didn’t have the authority to make an illegal act magically legal.” [Think Progress, 4/30/2009] In the same conversation, Rice seems to say that al-Qaeda poses a greater threat to the US than did Nazi Germany, and again denies that the US ever tortured anyone. A student asks, “Even in World War II facing Nazi Germany, probably the greatest threat that America has ever faced—” and Rice interjects, “Uh, with all due respect, Nazi Germany never attacked the homeland of the United States.” “No, but they bombed our allies—” the student replies, and Rice once again interrupts: “No, just a second, just a second. Three thousand Americans died in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon [referring to the 9/11 attacks].” The student observes, “500,000 died in World War II—” to which Rice replies, “Fighting a war in Europe.” The student continues, ”—and yet we did not torture the prisoners of war.” Rice says, “We didn’t torture anybody here either.” [Think Progress, 4/30/2009]
Georgetown University law professor Jonathan Turley writes of the “interesting” statement then-President Bush made in the days preceding the US invasion of Iraq. Bush told the Iraqi military and its citizenry, “War crimes will be prosecuted, war criminals will be punished, and it will be no defense to say, ‘I was just following orders’” (see March 17, 2003). Turley also notes Bush’s statement against torture made three months after the invasion (see June 26, 2003). According to Turley, “Bush gave a standard that showed that he and his administration knew that there is no ‘good faith defense’ in committing war crimes.” [Jonathan Turley, 4/29/2009]
A photo from Glenn Beck’s ‘The Civilest War’ broadcast on Fox News. Beck is at far left. [Source: Fox News]Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck writes an article for Fox News promoting his upcoming special program The Civilest War, which he says is an expose of the “tyranny” of the Federal Reserve over the American economy. Beck compares the program to the popular science fiction movie The Matrix, explaining that in the movie: “Nothing was real, the world people lived in was a fabrication—a computer program. Our lives have been like that movie and it is not about Barack Obama. It’s about Obama and [George W.] Bush and [Bill] Clinton and [George H. W.] Bush. It has been going on for years, it is just a play and it goes back to the progressive movement—on both sides of the aisle. In the movie the hero is offered two pills: red to learn the truth about the Matrix; blue to go on living blissfully ignorant to what is really going on. The way to take our country back will short-circuit the Matrix we are living in. And it has to do with gun rights, state’s rights, and what I call the civilest war. It is too much to get into now—but next week take the ‘red pill’ and get the truth.” The hour-long program begins with an adaptation of the famous poem by Martin Niemoller, rewritten by Beck as follows: “I think this is the problem. First they came for the banks. I wasn’t a banker, I didn’t really care. I didn’t stand up and say anything. Then they came for the AIG executives. Then they came for the car companies. Until it gets down to you. Most people don’t see—they are coming for you at some point! You’re on the list! Everybody’s on the list. You may not be rich—as currently defined.” The show features a Utah Republican legislator accusing the federal government of imposing “tyranny” on the citizenry, neo-Confederate historian Kevin Gutzman who gives a very different explanation of the meaning of “constitutional” liberties that would abolish suffrage for women and rights for minorities, and a Montana militia member, Gary Marbut, who concludes that the most sacred rights of the US citizen are to keep and bear arms. [Fox News, 5/2009; Fox News, 5/8/2009; Crooks and Liars, 5/15/2009] Author David Neiwert, an expert on right-wing extremism, notes that the ideas Beck is promoting in The Civilest War are identical to those promulgated by far-right “Patriot” and militia movements in the 1990s, including the idea of absolute “state sovereignty” (see 1983-1995). The ultimate idea behind Beck’s proposals, Neiwert writes, is the dissolution of the federal government and the transformation of the United States into 50 independent and disparate national entities. One of the earliest proponents of Beck’s ideas, Neiwert writes, was former Colorado state legislator Charles Duke (R-CO—see May 15-21, 1996), who still has deep ties to militia and anti-government organizations in the Western states. [Crooks and Liars, 5/15/2009; Crooks and Liars, 5/15/2009]
Entity Tags: Gary Marbut, Charles Duke, Barack Obama, Fox News, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Martin Niemoller, David Neiwert, Glenn Beck, US Federal Reserve, George W. Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush, Kevin Gutzman
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
In an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation, former Vice President Dick Cheney acknowledges that President Bush knew of the torture program as performed under his administration. However, he again says that in his view the practices employed by the US on enemy detainees did not constitute torture (see December 15, 2008). He also reiterates earlier claims that by dismantling Bush-era policies on torture and warrantless wiretapping, the Obama administration is making the country more vulnerable to terrorist attacks (see January 22, 2009, January 22, 2009, January 23, 2009, February 2009, March 17, 2009, March 29, 2009, April 20, 2009, April 21, 2009, April 22, 2009, April 22, 2009, April 22, 2009, April 23, 2009, and April 26, 2009), and reiterates his claim that classified documents will prove that torture was effective in producing actionable intelligence (see April 20, 2009).
Claims Documents Prove Efficacy of Torture - Cheney says: “One of the things that I did six weeks ago was I made a request that two memos that I personally know of, written by the CIA, that lay out the successes of those policies and point out in considerable detail all of—all that we were able to achieve by virtue of those policies, that those memos be released, be made public (see April 22, 2009). The administration has released legal opinions out of the Office of Legal Counsel. They don’t have any qualms at all about putting things out that can be used to be critical of the Bush administration policies. But when you’ve got memos out there that show precisely how much was achieved and how lives were saved as a result of these policies, they won’t release those. At least, they haven’t yet.” Host Bob Schieffer notes that Attorney General Eric Holder has denied any knowledge of such documents, and that other administration officials have said that torture provided little useful information. Cheney responds: “I say they did. Four former directors of the Central Intelligence Agency say they did, bipartisan basis. Release the memos. And we can look and see for yourself what was produced.” Cheney says the memos specifically discuss “different attack planning that was under way and how it was stopped. It talks [sic] about how the volume of intelligence reports that were produced from that.… What it shows is that overwhelmingly, the process we had in place produced from certain key individuals, such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaida (see After March 7, 2003), two of the three who were waterboarded.… Once we went through that process, he [Mohammed] produced vast quantities of invaluable information about al-Qaeda” (see August 6, 2007). Opponents of Bush torture policies, Cheney says, are “prepared to sacrifice American lives rather than run an intelligent interrogation program that would provide us the information we need to protect America.”
Bush Knew of Torture Program - Cheney also acknowledges that then-President Bush knew of the torture program, saying: “I certainly, yes, have every reason to believe he knew—he knew a great deal about the program. He basically authorized it. I mean, this was a presidential-level decision. And the decision went to the president. He signed off on it.” Cheney concludes by saying that he would be willing to testify before Congress concerning the torture program and his administration’s handling of its war on terror, though he refuses to commit to testifying under oath. [Congressional Quarterly, 5/10/2009; CBS News, 5/10/2009 ]
A press investigation reveals that corporate interests are behind a supposedly grassroots effort to block Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) from ascending to the high court. Raw Story reporters Larisa Alexandrovna and Muriel Kane have learned that the Committee for Justice (CFJ), an organization they call “an astroturf group established by big business in July 2002 to create an appearance of popular support for President Bush’s judicial nominees,” is taking the lead in the effort to oppose the Sotomayor nomination. The head of the CFJ, Curt Levey, lambasted Sotomayor as an “intellectual lightweight” the day of her nomination (see May 26, 2009), and has made regular media appearances since then attacking her as racist and biased. CFJ was created in 2002 by Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), who recruited Washington lawyer C. Boyden Gray to “create a fake grassroots organization” to support conservative, pro-business jurists such as Charles Pickering and Chief Justice John Roberts. Gray, a former White House counsel, received the support of former President George H. W. Bush, Republican political adviser Karl Rove, and former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour. Gray has a strong history of creating “astroturf” organizations, which are lobbying and activist groups supposedly founded and led by ordinary citizens but that in fact are created and funded by large political and corporate interests. CFJ is one of the most successful of these creations, and has often been successful in placing pro-business judges on the bench. CFJ and other astroturf organizations founded or assisted by Gray have been funded by, among other firms, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, insurance giant AIG, and the Ameriquest Capital Corporation, receiving over $100 million since 1998. CFJ’s board includes Stan Anderson, the legal advisor to the Chamber of Commerce; John Engler, the president of the National Association of Manufacturers; former Republican governor Frank Keating, now president of the American Council of Life Insurers; and former Republican Senator Connie Mack. [Raw Story, 6/5/2009]
Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, National Association of Manufacturers, Sonia Sotomayor, Stan Anderson, Trent Lott, US Chamber of Commerce, Muriel Kane, Wal-Mart, Larisa Alexandrovna, John Engler, AIG (American International Group, Inc.), Karl C. Rove, Committee for Justice, Charles Pickering, Clayland Boyden Gray, Connie Mack, Curt Levey, Frank Keating, John G. Roberts, Jr, Home Depot, Haley Barbour, George W. Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush, Ameriquest Capital Corporation, American Council of Life Insurers
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
The bust of Winston Churchill, loaned to the White House by the British government. [Source: WorldMeets (.us)]Conservative radio host Glenn Beck tells his listeners that President Obama recently returned a bust of Winston Churchill to Great Britain because of his secret hatred of the British. Britain gave President Bush a bust of Churchill to display in the Oval Office during his term of office. In February 2009, Obama returned the bust and replaced it with a bust of President Abraham Lincoln; he added a bust of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the display. At the time, London’s Daily Telegraph reported that the bust had only been lent to the White House: according to the British Embassy, it had been “uniquely lent to a foreign head of state, President George W. Bush,” not given in perpetuity to the US government. A British Embassy spokesman told the Telegraph: “The bust of Sir Winston Churchill by Sir Jacob Epstein was uniquely lent to a foreign head of state, President George W. Bush, from the Government Art Collection in the wake of 9/11 as a signal of the strong transatlantic relationship. It was lent for the first term of office of President Bush. When the president was elected for his second and final term, the loan was extended until January 2009. The new president has decided not to continue this loan and the bust has now been returned. It is on display at the ambassador’s residence.” The White House curator, William Allman, said at the time, “It was already scheduled to go back.” However, Beck explains that Obama returned the bust because he harbors a secret hatred for the British. Beck tells his listeners that Obama’s paternal grandfather, a Kenyan, was tortured by the British during the Mau Mau Uprising in the 1950s, and that is the source of Obama’s supposed hatred. Beck presents no other evidence that Obama holds any sort of grudge or negative feelings towards the British, and ignores the fact that the Churchill bust had been slated to be returned to Britain at the end of Bush’s second term. Beck also fails to inform his listeners that Obama keeps a British treasure on his desk: a wooden penholder made from wood taken from a British sailing ship and given to him by former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Instead, Beck tells his listeners: “Why does Obama harbor animosity towards the British?… A listener called me this morning. Said he had found information about Barack Obama’s grandfather in an old Irish newspaper but couldn’t verify it. I said okay, what is it? We looked into it. The information, took us about 20 minutes to find. It was out there, but until today I never heard about this information, and I’m kind of in the Barack Obama business, you know what I mean? I don’t think you have. Maybe you have. What puts you in a position to act unexplainably in weird ways toward the ally? Something must have happened in your life and maybe this is a part of it.” The news report apparently carried an account from Obama’s Kenyan step-grandmother, who told of her husband being tortured by British soldiers during the 1950s. In light of this information, Beck says it “sure makes sense” that Obama would hate the British, and adds that if it had been his grandfather who was mistreated, “I certainly wouldn’t want someone like me dealing with longtime allies.” [Daily Telegraph, 2/14/2009; Associated Press, 1/5/2010; Media Matters, 6/29/2010] Beck is echoing themes advanced by a Nigerian-American conservative in a recent Internet publication, who claimed that Obama is secretly an “African colonial” (see June 25, 2009).
Screenshot of the bottom of Recess Rally’s home page, taken August 22, 2009. [Source: Recess Rally (.com)]MSNBC host Rachel Maddow examines an organization called “Recess Rally,” which is promoting anti-health care protests over the Internet, providing information about upcoming “town hall” forums hosted by Democratic lawmakers, and proclaiming, “We the people say no to socialized health care.” Maddow gives some information on who is organizing Recess Rally. At the bottom of Recess Rally’s home page, a number of sponsors are listed, including conservative blogger and Fox News commentator Michelle Malkin, and conservative blogs such as RedState and Smart Girl Politics.
Funded by Corporate Lobbying Firms, Corporate Interests - Other sponsoring organizations are less easily identifiable as citizen organizations. American Majority is a lobbying organization headed by Ned Ryun, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush; many of the organization’s senior officials are veterans of the Bush-Cheney 2004 presidential campaign, former Republican lawmakers, and conservative lobbyists. American Majority is itself an offshoot of another organization, the Sam Adams Alliance. That organization is headed by a former executive director of the Illinois State Republican Party, and by a former Dow Chemicals engineer who also heads a large conservative think tank. Another sponsor of Recess Rally is a group called Let Freedom Ring, whose founder provided the funding for the 2008 Republican campaign ads that used footage of the 9/11 attacks to promote the Iraq war. Another sponsor was responsible for the 2004 “Swift Boat” campaign advertisements that besmirched then-presidential candidate Senator John Kerry (D-MA). Two other groups sponsor Recess Rally: Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, and August 1, 2009) and its subsidiary, Patients First (see July 23, 2009, July 27, 2009, and August 6, 2009). AFP runs Patients First, which is busing people around the country to demonstrate against health care reform, and another “grassroots” organization, Patients United Now (PUN). Maddow says that groups like these are “experts at fake grassroots campaigns that promote corporate interests.” (AFP president Tim Phillips will call the buses “really good props”—see August 6, 2009.)
Sincere Americans Protesting at Direction of Corporate Interests, PR Firms - Noting that AFP is headed by, among others, oil billionaire David Koch and longtime Republican fund-raiser Art Pope, Maddow says: “This oil industry and Republican operative millionaires’ club is, according to the Republican Party… just average, middle-class Americans—just regular American folks sitting around the kitchen table, thinking about whether they can get away with saying that the government continuing its long standing policy of encouraging living wills is really a secret plot to kill old people (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, and July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009). Americans are showing up at these events to shout down the discussion and to chase their congressmen and they are enraged. And they’re enraged at least in part because they’re being riled up by over-the-top, fabricated conspiracy theories about health care. And they’re being directed and orchestrated by the corporate interests that do this for a living and do it very well. RecessRally.com is not some organic outgrowth of American anger. This is how corporate America creates the illusion of a grassroots movement to support their own interests. This is what they do. They are professionals. This is an industry. To talk about these town hall events as some organic outpouring of average American folks who have concerns about health care is to be willfully blind as to what is really going on—which is professional PR operatives generating exploitive, manufactured, strategically deployed outrage in order to line their own pockets. These PR spinmeisters get paid a lot of money for doing it. The corporations they work for get to kill legislation that would hurt their profits. And the real people who they launch into these town hall settings after they’re told that health care reform is a secret commie plot to kill old people and to mandate sex changes—those real people get more and more and more angry, and more and more and more alienated. And ultimately, they get left, like the rest of us, with a health care system that is broken and doesn’t work in the interests of the American people, but does work in the interests of the corporations that profit from the way the system is now. This is professional, corporate-funded, Republican staffed PR, and it should be reported as such.” [Recess Rally, 8/2009; MSNBC, 8/6/2009]
Entity Tags: Sam Adams Alliance, RedState (.com), Tim Phillips, Smart Girl Politics, Recess Rally, Patients First, Patients United Now, David Koch, Art Pope, Americans for Prosperity, Let Freedom Ring, Michelle Malkin, Rachel Maddow, American Majority, Ned Ryun, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) says the Senate should not pass a health care reform bill unless it garners “bipartisan” support. Hatch goes on to say that such a bill would not be bipartisan unless it could win “somewhere between 75 and 80 votes.” Two of Hatch’s colleagues, Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Mike Enzi (R-WY), have made similar statements, with Enzi demanding “a bill that 75 or 80 senators can support.” Progressive news and advocacy Web site Think Progress notes that all three senators have made very different claims in the past:
In 2001, all three boasted that then-President Bush’s $1.35 trillion tax-cut bill was “built upon bipartisanship” after it passed the Senate with 58 votes.
In November 2003, after the Senate passed a prescription drug plan for seniors that was heavily favored by pharmaceutical firms, Grassley praised himself as the “lead Senate architect of the bipartisan legislation.” The bill passed with 54 votes.
In 2005, Senate Republicans harshly criticized Senate Democrats for filibustering seven of President Bush’s 205 nominees to the federal judiciary. Hatch and Grassley argued strongly against those nominees needing to be confirmed by a 60-vote “supermajority.” Hatch called the filubuster “unconstitutional,” and Grassley described judicial filibusters as “an abuse of our function under the Constitution.” [Fox News, 8/20/2009; Think Progress, 8/20/2009]
Tom Ridge and Rachel Maddow. [Source: Armchair Generalist]Former Homeland Security head Tom Ridge is interviewed by progressive television host Rachel Maddow. Ridge has authored a book, The Test of Our Times, a memoir of his tenure in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from October 2001 through the end of President Bush’s first term. Maddow notes that 22 federal agencies were incorporated under the leadership of DHS, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Border Patrol to the Coast Guard and the Secret Service, “the biggest change in what we pay federal tax dollars for since we got a unified Defense Department in 1947.” She goes on to note that one of the new agency’s biggest failures was its lackadaisical and incompetent response to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, though the Coast Guard, one of DHS’s daughter agencies, did eventually deliver what she calls “belated but frankly relatively competent aid,” and Ridge was not DHS secretary when Katrina struck.
Raising the Threat Level - Maddow’s primary focus during much of the interview is the Bush administration’s raising of the so-called “threat level” during 2004, as the presidential elections heated up (see July 8, 2004, for example). In his book, Ridge noted that he wasn’t sure events justified the raising of the threat level.
October 2004 Threat Level Escalation 'Not Political,' Ridge Says - In his book, Ridge wrote that the administration tried to raise the threat level to “orange” just days before the presidential election, on October 29, 2004 (see October 29, 2004). However, when pressed on the subject, Ridge backs away from the implications he raised in his book that politics, not national security, prompted the escalation. “Well, that’s not quite the argument that I put in here,” he tells Maddow. “That passage has generated a lot of heat, so I would like to generate a little light on it.… Further in the book, I remind everybody that the system we designed to raise the threat level could not be manipulated, could not be orchestrated, directed, or pressured by any single individual. Regardless of what anybody says, the system was designed by the president to include the homeland security cabinet group sitting around from time to time when the intelligence warranted that group discussion. If you had a YouTube video of it, you would see the secretary of defense, the attorney general, the secretary of state, and others, having a conversation as to whether the intelligence generates enough concern that we want to raise the threat level. That happened many, many times. This is a particularly dramatic moment, because it is the weekend before the election.… We don’t see anything in the department that generates it, and certainly other people agreed with us. But Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft, very strong in their opinions, as everybody had expressed opinions on any other occasions that you never heard about because we never—we never raised the threat level. At the end of the day, I am using in the book, is there more intelligence, is there something—that is new.… [A]t no time—at no time—at no time did politics enter in my judgment, anybody’s equation. These are tough judgment calls. We made them on a series of occasions throughout two years. Rarely did we make those decisions to go up. Politics was not involved.” Ridge says flatly, “I was not pressured” to raise the threat level. Maddow reads from the fly leaf of Ridge’s book, “He recounts episodes such as the pressure that the DHS received to raise the security alert on the eve of the ‘04 presidential election,” to which Ridge retorts: “Those aren’t my words.… It’s the dust jacket.”
Raising the Threat Level for Political Reasons - Maddow reminds Ridge that both in interviews and his book, he has frequently asked the question of whether the decision to raise the threat level during his tenure was made for political reasons, and notes: “I think that I am persuaded by the argument that I think you make in the book, and you may not have intended it from what you said earlier, that it is a pernicious thing for the American people to perceive that the parts of our government responsible for ensuring our security are actually making decisions that aren’t about our security at all. They’re telling us it’s about security and it’s not.” In 2005, she notes, “you said at a forum about the terror alert level, you said there were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, ‘for that?’ (see May 10, 2005) Were there times—were there times when you felt like people were wanting to raise it for reasons that weren’t about the country’s safety?” Ridge denies ever raising the question, and explains: “I do admit, there were some times when we took a look at the intelligence. Some of my colleagues said, ‘Yes, I think we better go up.’ But none of those colleagues had the responsibility of dealing with the consequences of taking the country to a higher level. And so we were always very modest.… I don’t doubt for a moment that any of my colleagues who were involved in those discussions felt the reason we should either go up or not go up, add more security or reduce the security, was based on what they thought was in the best interest of the security of the country, period.… When I said, ‘for what?’ I must tell you, a couple of times I would come back to the office and say, ‘I don’t get it.‘… I don’t think that’s enough to go up. And part of that is yours truly saying to his leadership team who has responsibilities to oversee what’s going to go on, there’s not enough here to tell the governors and the mayors and the security professionals, you have got to raise another level, you have got to increase expenses, you have got to call in personnel. In my judgment, it wasn’t enough. And by the way, at the time we made the right decision, I believe.” Maddow reminds Ridge that in his book he wrote: “[I]t seemed possible to me that something could be afoot. I wondered, is this about security or politics?” She asks, “You’re saying now that you wondered that and you shouldn’t have?” Ridge replies: “No. I mused at the time, ‘Is there something else here?’ I said, ‘Is it politics? Is it security?‘… But there wasn’t anything there.”
Praising the President in 2004 - After a brief discussion of DHS’s response to Hurricane Katrina, Maddow asks about an incident in August 2004, when Ridge praised President Bush’s leadership in the Middle East. As Maddow describes it, Ridge was asked to praise Bush’s leadership. During a subsequent press conference, Ridge said that Bush’s leadership “was causing us to better target our defensive measures here and away from home. And the implication was that going to war in Iraq was a defensive measure like homeland security stuff that we do here at home.” She asks if he regrets making that statement. Ridge says he agrees with his 2004 assessment, and says he merely “threw the sentence into the press conference.” He says his comment became a “sideshow” that “marginalized the process” and caused people to question his objectivity. Ridge tries to deny that he was specifically talking about the war effort in Iraq, though, as Maddow notes, “[W]hen you said ‘targeting our defensive measures away from home,’ this is August ‘04, so we are more than a year into the war in Iraq with the implication there was that you were talking about Iraq.” Ridge now says that he meant the general war against terrorism. “I should have never mentioned the president’s name,” he says, “because it, again, created a perception—we talked about this earlier—that somehow politics were involved, but and politics was not involved in that decision. It was driven by intelligence.”
Making the Case for War with Iraq - Maddow segues into a statement Ridge made in February 2003, when he said on ABC: “I agree that as the president has said, the world community has said this is a rogue regime that has chemical biological weapons, trying to develop nuclear weapons, has means of delivery. That’s the reason this individual needs to be disarmed. The point in fact is that the world community has known for 12 years he’s got chemical biological weapons, means of delivery, and that’s precisely the reason of the United States and its partners are trying to disarm Saddam Hussein. He’s a threat to his region, he’s a threat to our allies. He’s a threat to us.” Maddow notes: “You were a crucial authoritative part of making what turned out to be a false case to the American people about Iraq being a threat, and us needing to attack them.… You made that case on national television a month before we started invading. Do you regret that?” Ridge replies: “No.… At the time, I think [sic] it’s true, and subsequent to that, the president’s leadership and the things we have done have kept America safe.” Ridge goes on to note that “everyone” believed the intelligence showed Iraq was an imminent threat to the US at the time the invasion was being considered. “You believed it at the time,” Maddow confirms, and then asks, “You don’t still believe it, do you?” Ridge replies: “Well, it’s pretty clear that the intelligence communities of several countries who had assessed his—who claimed that he had weapons of mass destruction, we haven’t found them.… But there were other reasons to go in. That was the one that was—that everybody focused on, and everyone who has been critical of the president for going into Iraq said we never found them. But I think the president made the decisions based on the facts and the intelligence as he knew it at the time, and I think it was the right decision at the time.” He denies that anyone in the administration did anything to “skew” or politicize the intelligence on Iraq’s WMD programs. “There’s no way that anybody in that group—I just—they would commit our blood and our treasure to a cause if they didn’t think it was necessary to commit our blood and treasure to a cause to keep America safe. The intelligence may have proven to be false, but there was no doubt in my mind that they were motivated to keep America safe. In retrospect, we can say that the intelligence was faulty.”
Maddow: No Credibility on National Security until GOP Admits Fault - Maddow tells Ridge: “I think you making that argument right now is why Republicans after the Bush and Cheney administration are not going to get back the country’s trust on national security. To look back at that decision and say, we got it wrong but it was in good faith and not acknowledge the foregone conclusion that we are going to invade Iraq that pervaded every decision that was made about intelligence—looking back at that decision-making process, it sounds like you’re making the argument you would have made the same decision again. Americans need to believe that our government would not make that wrong a decision, that would not make such a foregone conclusion—take such a foregone conclusion to such an important issue, that the intelligence that proved the opposite point was all discounted, that the intelligence was combed through for any bit that would support the foregone conclusion of the policy makers. The system was broken. And if you don’t see that the system was broken and you think it was just that the intel was wrong, I think that you’re one of the most trusted voices on national security for the Republican Party, and I think that’s the elephant in the room. I don’t think you guys get back your credibility on national security until you realize that was a wrong decision made by policy makers. It wasn’t the spies’ fault.” Ridge says any suggestion that anyone would have deliberately skewed or misinterpreted the intelligence on Iraq is “radical.… Later on, it may have proven that some of the information was inaccurate, but there were plenty of reasons to go into Iraq at the time; the foremost was weapons of mass destruction. That obviously proven [sic] to be faulty. But the fact of the matter is, at that time, given what they knew—and they knew more than you and I did—it seemed to be the right thing to do, and the decision was made in what they considered to be the best interests of our country.” When democracy in Iraq is finally established, Ridge says, “the notion that we went in improperly will be obviously reversed, and the history has yet to be written.” Maddow replies: “If you can go back in time and sell the American people on the idea that 4,000 Americans ought to lose their lives and we ought to lose those trillions of dollars for democracy in Iraq, you have a wilder imagination than I do. We were sold that war because of 9/11. We were sold that war because of the threat of weapons of mass destruction from this guy who didn’t have them, and our government should have known it. And, frankly, a lot of people believe that our government did know it, and that it was a cynical decision. And maybe everybody wasn’t in on it, maybe that is a radical thing to conclude, but I think that…” Ridge interjects: “I don’t share that point of view. You do.” [MSNBC, 9/2/2009]
Reactions - Reactions to the interview are predictably split, with progressives noting how much Ridge backpedals on questions he himself raised, and conservatives declaring victory for Ridge. Talking Points Memo notes the irony in Ridge’s claim that while his words should be trusted, the words on the dust jacket of his book should not be. [TPM LiveWire, 9/2/2009] Posters on the conservative blog Free Republic write that Ridge “pwned” Maddow, video game slang for dominating or “owning” someone. [Free Republic, 9/1/2009]
Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Free Republic, Talking Points Memo, George W. Bush, US Secret Service, John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Republican Party, Tom Ridge, Rachel Maddow, US Border Patrol, US Department of Homeland Security, US Coast Guard
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Federal judge Emmet Sullivan rules that the FBI must publicly reveal information from its 2004 interview with then-Vice President Dick Cheney during the Valerie Plame Wilson leak investigation (see May 8, 2004). The information has been kept classified by both the Bush and Obama administrations, who have argued that future presidents, vice presidents, and their senior staff may not cooperate with criminal investigations if they know what they say could became public. Sullivan rules that there is no justification to withhold the FBI records of Cheney’s interview, since the leak investigation has long since concluded. Further, the idea that such a judgment may lead to future reluctance to cooperate with investigations is ‘incurably speculative’ and cannot affect his judgment. To rule in favor of the Bush and Obama administrations, Sullivan says, would be “breathtakingly broad” and “be in direct contravention of ‘the basic policy’ of” the Freedom of Information Act. He does allow some portions, affecting national security and private communications between Cheney and former President Bush, to be redacted. Those portions include details about Cheney’s talks with then-CIA Director George Tenet about Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), talks with then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, discussions about Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), discussions about how to respond to press inquiries about the leak of Plame Wilson’s identity, and Cheney’s involvement in declassification discussions. The Justice Department has previously indicated that it would appeal any ruling allowing the information of Cheney’s testimony to be made public. The declassification was sparked by a July 2008 lawsuit filed by the watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), who filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Justice Department seeking records related to Cheney’s interview in the investigation. In August, CREW sued for the records. CREW’s Melanie Sloan says the group hopes the Obama administration will reveal the entire record in the interest of transparency. “The American people deserve to know the truth about the role the vice president played in exposing Mrs. Wilson’s covert identity,” she says. “High-level government officials should not be permitted to hide their misconduct from public view.” [Associated Press, 10/1/2009; Politico, 10/1/2009]
Conservative lobbyists cheer the IOC’s decision not to give the 2016 Olympics to Chicago. [Source: MSNBC / Towleroad (.com)]While many Americans are shocked and upset by the decision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) not to award the 2016 Olympics to Chicago (see October 2, 2009), some conservatives cheer the decision as a personal defeat for President Obama, who spoke to the IOC on Chicago’s behalf. The conservative Web site Drudge Report blasts a large headline: “THE EGO HAS LANDED; WORLD REJECTS OBAMA: CHICAGO OUT IN FIRST ROUND.” [Huffington Post, 10/2/2009] A gathering of conservative lobbyists and officials at Americans for Prosperity erupts in cheering and applause when the news of Chicago’s loss is announced; the video of the reaction quickly makes the rounds of cable news and Internet outlets. [National Journal, 10/2/2009] Conservative blogger Erick Erickson of RedState.com, one of the right’s most influential Internet commentators, celebrates the loss: “Hahahahaha,” he posts. “I thought the world would love us more now that Bush was gone. I thought if we whored ourselves out to our enemies, great things would happen. Apparently not. So Obama’s pimped us to every two-bit thug and dictator in the world, made promises to half the Olympic committee, and they did not even kiss him.” [Erick Erickson, 10/2/2009] Fellow conservative blogger Michelle Malkin writes that the IOC decision effectively ends the Obama campaign motto of “Yes We Can” by introducing a new slogan: “No, You Can’t.” Malkin continues: “Like Icarus, President Obama’s giddy ego flight has ended with melted wax and fallen wings. This is a big win and a massive relief for taxpayers. But Chicago cronies are not going to take this well. Gird your loins. Who will be first to cry RAAAAAACIST?” [Michelle Malkin, 10/2/2009] The National Review calls the decision an “embarrassment for Obama,” and adds, “If he can’t work his personal magic with the Olympians, why does he expect it to work with the Iranians?” [National Review, 10/2/2009] Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh gleefully echoes Drudge’s “the ego has landed” headline, and says the decision makes this “the worst day of [Obama’s] presidency.” He claims that Obama “has failed.… We’ve got a two-year-old manchild with a Mars-sized ego, which today crashed and burned.” The loss of the Olympics is a direct reflection of Obama’s foreign policy, Limbaugh claims: “Our president, Barack Hussein Obama, has been running around the world for nine months telling everybody how much our country sucks.… Why would anybody award the Olympics to such a crappy place?… This is a moment of weakness, and weakness invites trouble. You think I’m laughing? What do you think’s happening in Tehran?” And he says, in apparent jest, “Who knew the Olympic Committee was a bunch of racists?” [ABC News, 10/2/2009] The Huffington Post counters that “if Democrats had attacked [former President] George W. Bush for pushing Dallas as an Olympics host, they would immediately have been branded as unpatriotic.” [Huffington Post, 10/2/2009]
Conservative author Patrick Buchanan, in a syndicated column reprinted on the news blog Human Events and other venues, says that President Obama received what he calls an “affirmative action Nobel Prize.” Buchanan is referring to the recent granting of the Nobel Peace Prize to Obama, in what the Nobel committee called recognition of “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” Buchanan notes that former President Ronald Reagan never received the Peace Prize for concluding a historic arms-reduction treaty with the Soviet Union (see December 7-8, 1987). Nor did Pope John Paul II, for his role in ending the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union. He lists other presidents who have won the Peace Prize, and asks, “What has Obama accomplished to compare with what the other sitting presidents to receive the Nobel Prize accomplished?” Buchanan says that since the news of Obama’s Peace Prize has been reported, Obama “has been a national object of mockery and mirth. In fairness, this is not his fault. There is no evidence he lobbied for the prize; no evidence he knew it was coming.” Buchanan calls the award “ridiculous,” says the Nobel committee “made fools of themselves” by giving Obama the award, and says the committee gave Obama the award mainly for not being George W. Bush. [Nobel Prize (.org), 4/29/2009; Human Events, 10/13/2009]
Former Bush administration press secretary Dana Perino tells a Fox News audience that no terrorist attacks took place on American soil during President Bush’s two terms. Perino is forgetting, or ignoring, the 9/11 attacks, the most lethal and costly attacks in US history. On Sean Hannity’s Fox show, Hannity asks Perino if President Obama “really understand[s]” that the US has a national security concern about terrorism. Perino begins by denying that her remarks are political, then says that the US recently suffered “a terrorist attack on our country,” obviously referring to the 9/11 attacks. The Obama administration is loath to call the US’s involvement a “war on terror,” Perino says, when it should be labeled as such “because we need to face up to it so we can prevent it from happening again.” She says she does not know what thinking is going on in the Obama administration, “but we did not have an attack on our country during President Bush’s term. I hope they’re not looking at this politically. I do think we owe it to the American people to call it what it is.” Neither Hannity nor his other guest, Fox Business personality Stuart Varney, correct Perino’s statement; instead Varney begins questioning Obama’s commitment to fighting terrorism. [Media Matters, 11/24/2009] Perino had not yet joined the Bush administration in 2001, but was working as a public relations representative for a high-tech firm in San Diego. [Austin Chronicle, 9/21/2007]
ANSWP leader Bill White giving a Nazi salute. [Source: SPLC / Roanoke Times]Bill White, the leader of the American National Socialist Workers Party (ANSWP), is convicted in Roanoke, Virginia, of issuing death threats to several people, including Citibank employee Jennifer Petsche, a university administrator, and a human rights lawyer, and of intimidating tenants in Virginia Beach who had filed a lawsuit against their landlord. A judge will dismiss the charge of threatening the lawyer, but will uphold the other convictions. On March 22, 2007, White left a voicemail message for Petsche on her home phone informing her of his identity and saying that he had sent her an email concerning a credit card dispute he was having with Citibank. The email contained her current and former address, including the location of her parents’ home, and compared her to Chicago judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow, whose husband and mother were murdered (see February 28, 2005) after a neo-Nazi had posted Lefkow’s home address on a Web site. “I must admit I have run out of patience with you and your smug attitude,” White wrote. “I hope the fact that I’ve obviously paid someone to find you conveys the seriousness with which I take your current attitude.” Petsche informed authorities and White was placed under surveillance. White was arrested in October 2008; his arrest forced the shutdown of the ANSWP blog and led to the collapse of the entire organization, which in 2008 had 35 chapters in 28 states. Before his trial, White complained that “the federal government has launched a massive effort to ‘decapitate’ white organizations.” During his trial, White was found to have posted personal information on a large number of persons on the ANSWP Web site, in many cases calling for his followers to track them down and attack them. Brian Levin of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism says: “We live in a world where rhetoric is increasingly tilting toward violence, where extremists are becoming adept at going up to the line but not crossing it. The law is struggling to untangle protected hate speech from unprotected violence and threats, which often come in the same package. These trials put hate-mongers on notice: If they target their venom too narrowly, too violently, and too explicitly, they run the risk of crossing from political discourse to prison.” White has used the Internet to harass and threaten people since 1996, when he posted the name and phone number of a woman whom he believed was abusing her teenage daughter. “You should be able to write what you want on the Internet, whether it’s true or not,” he told a reporter at the time. For years, White ran Overthrow.com, a popular neo-Nazi Web site. In September 2007, after six black teenagers beat a white teenager in Jena, Louisiana, he posted five of their addresses and phone numbers under a banner that proclaimed, “Lynch the Jena 6!” He advised his readers to “get in touch and let them know justice is coming.” Local police provided the teens’ families with protection. White has long posted virulently racist material on his Web site, frequently using racial slurs and calling African-Americans “nig-rats” and “vermin.” White did not restrict his rhetoric to blacks; in 2007, he advocated the assassination of George W. Bush, writing that “a well-placed bullet can solve a lot of problems,” and has advised that “we need to start SHOOTING AND KILLING Mexicans as they cross the border.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 3/2010]
Legatus logo. [Source: ProLife Dallas (.org)]Former President George W. Bush is honored by Legatus, a Florida-based Catholic group for business and civic leaders, for his opposition to reproductive rights during his presidency. Bush receives the “Cardinal John J. O’Connor Pro-Life Award,” named for the famously anti-abortion Catholic leader. The organization notes Bush’s opposition to stem-cell research, his executive order banning the use of federal funds for abortions (see November 5, 2003), his appointment of anti-abortion advocates to the Supreme Court (see October 31, 2005 - February 1, 2006 and September 29, 2005), and his designation of January 18, 2009 as “National Sanctity of Human Life Day.” The award is given at a private meeting in Dana Point, California. The event is only open to members of Legatus and their guests, and the registration fee is $1,475 per person. A Legatus official tells a reporter: “His appearance is going to be a private appearance on behalf of our organization. He will be delivering remarks for us and all of that will be a private presentation.” Event chairperson Kathleen Eaton says: “I’ve been speaking to a number of Legatus chapters about the summit, and people are really excited. It’s been a rough year on a number of fronts and they really need this shot in the arm. They want to come together to pray and learn more about what the church is saying on different issues.” Local pro-choice and peace groups mount a protest; one organizer, Sharon Tipton, tells a reporter: “Over one million Iraqi people have been killed, mostly women and children. Bush is responsible for over 5 million new orphans, and we just found out that Bush is receiving a pro-life award? This is outrageous!” [Catholic News Agency, 1/8/2010; Orange County Weekly, 2/3/2010]
Private Lee Pray, a member of the Oath Keepers. His finger tattoo spells out ‘THOR.’ [Source: Mother Jones]The progressive news magazine Mother Jones publishes a detailed examination of the Oath Keepers (see March 9, 2009), one of the fastest-growing “patriot” groups on the far right. The group was founded in April 2009 by Stewart Rhodes, a lawyer who once served as an aide to libertarian US Representative Ron Paul (R-TX). According to author Justine Sharrock, it has become “a hub in the sprawling anti-Obama movement that includes Tea Partiers, Birthers, and 912ers.” (Sharrock is referring to the burgeoning “tea party” movement, the people who believe President Obama is not an American citizen (see August 1, 2008 and After and October 8-10, 2008), and the “9/12” organization formed by lobbying organization FreedomWorks and Fox News host Glenn Beck—see March 13, 2009 and After.) Beck, MSNBC commentator Pat Buchanan (see May 28, 2009, June 20, 2009, and July 16, 2009), and CNN host Lou Dobbs have publicly praised the organization. In December 2009, a grassroots summit organized by the Oath Keepers drew lawmakers such as US Representatives Phil Gingrey (R-GA) and Paul Broun (R-GA). Sharrock’s profile is based on research and interviews with Rhodes, other Oath Keeper leaders, and ordinary members such as Private Lee Pray, who is stationed at Fort Drum, New York.
Group Made Up of Uniformed Citizens - What sets the group apart from others on the far-right fringe is that its membership is restricted to US citizens in uniform—soldiers, police officers, and veterans. At its ceremonies, members reaffirm their official oaths of service, pledging to protect the Constitution, but then go a step further, vowing to disobey “unconstitutional” orders from what they view as an increasingly tyrannical government. Pray says he knows of five fellow Oath Keepers at Fort Drum.
Preparing for Tyranny, Martial Law - He and other members are actively recruiting, arguing that under Obama, the US government is turning increasingly tyrannical and must be opposed, violently if need be. Pray says that many Oath Keepers had problems with some government policies under President Bush, but those reservations have grown with Obama’s ascension to power. Rhodes tells Sharrock: “Too many conservatives relied on Bush’s character and didn’t pay attention. Only now, with Obama, do they worry and see what has been done. Maybe you said, ‘I trusted Bush to only go after the terrorists.’ But what do you think can happen down the road when they say, ‘I think you are a threat to the nation?’” Pray, like many members, believes it will be a year at most before Obama declares martial law, perhaps under the pretext of a natural disaster or another 9/11-level terror attack, and begin detaining citizens en masse and banning interstate travel. Another Oath Keeper advises Sharrock to prepare a “bug out” bag with 39 items including gas masks, ammunition, and water purification tablets, so that she will be prepared “when the sh_t hits the fan.” Pray and his friends have a “fortified bunker” at one of their member’s parents’ home in rural Idaho, where they have stashed survival gear, generators, food, and plenty of weapons. If need be, they say, they will attack their fellow soldiers. Pray describes himself as both a “birther” and a “truther,” believing that Obama is an illegitimate president installed by a government that launched the 9/11 attacks on its own soil to drive the country further down the road towards tyranny. Pray has suffered demotion for a drinking problem, and was denied deployment to Iraq when he injured his knees in a fall. Right now his job involves operating and maintaining heavy equipment on base, and he is listed currently as “undeployable.” He and his fellow Oath Keepers on base spend their free time researching what they call the “New World Order” (see September 11, 1990) and conspiracies about detention camps. Pray is one of the few active-duty members who will agree to have his name made public; Rhodes encourages active-duty soldiers and police officers to hide their membership in the group, saying a group with large numbers of anonymous members can instill in its adversaries the fear of the unknown—a “great force multiplier,” he calls it. Pray worries that the CIA is monitoring his phone calls and insists that unmarked black cars follow him when he drives. A fellow Fort Drum Oath Keeper who only allows his first name of Brandon to be used, and who is also “undeployable” due to his own injuries, says that the off-limits areas of Fort Drum contain concentration camps. Sharrock notes that the soldiers’ behavior might be considered “paranoid,” but writes, “Then again, when you’re an active-duty soldier contemplating treason, some level of paranoia is probably sensible.”
Stewart Rhodes - Rhodes, a Yale graduate and constitutional lawyer, is working on a book currently titled We the Enemy: How Applying the Laws of War to the American People in the War on Terror Threatens to Destroy Our Constitutional Republic. He is an Army veteran who was honorably discharged after injuring his spine in a parachute jump, and worked for a time supervising interns in Ron Paul’s Congressional office. He briefly practiced law in Montana, has worked as a sculptor and a firearms instructor, and writes a gun-rights column for SWAT magazine. He describes himself as a libertarian, a staunch constitutionalist, and a devout Christian. He decided to abandon electoral politics in 2008 after Paul’s presidential bid failed, and turned instead to grassroots organizing. In college, he became fascinated with the idea that had German soldiers and police refused to follow orders in the 1930s, Adolf Hitler could have been stopped. In early 2008, he read a letter in SWAT magazine declaring that “the Constitution and our Bill of Rights are gravely endangered” and that service members, veterans, and police “is where they will be saved, if they are to be saved at all!” Rhodes responded with a column predicting a future President Hillary (“Hitlery”) Clinton turning the US into a despotism while dressed in her “Chairman Mao signature pantsuit.” He asked readers if they intended to follow this “dominatrix-in-chief,” hold militia members as enemy combatants, disarm citizens, and shoot all resisters. If “a police state comes to America, it will ultimately be by your hands,” he wrote. You had better “resolve to not let it happen on your watch.” Shortly thereafter, he set up a blog he called “Oath Keepers,” asking for testimonials from soldiers and veterans, and began gaining popularity. Military officers offered assistance. A Marine Corps veteran invited Rhodes to speak at a local tea party event. Paul campaigners provided strategic advice. In March 2009, Rhodes attended a rally staged by a pro-militia group, and in front of the crowd of some 400 participants, officially launched the Oath Keepers movement (see March 9, 2009). Buchanan and Beck have praised Rhodes, with Buchanan predicting that he “is headed for cable stardom.” Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones of Infowars.com has repeatedly featured Rhodes and the Oath Keepers on his radio talk show.
Attracts Attention of Anti-Hate Organizations - The Oath Keepers has come to the attention of anti-hate organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which have cited the group in their reports on rising anti-government extremism. Rhodes has accused the SPLC of trying “to lump us in with white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and of course make the insinuation that we’re the next McVeigh,” referring to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Author David Neiwert, an expert on right-wing groups, tells Sharrock that it would be a mistake to term them another amalgamation of “right-wing crackpots” or “extremist nimrods,” as other press outlets have done. “[T]he reality is a lot of them are fairly intelligent, well-educated people who have complex worldviews that are thoroughly thought out,” Neiwert says. Neiwert and Sharrock tie Rhodes’s message to the much earlier views expressed by members of the now-defunct Posse Comitatus (see 1969), and note that the last reemergence of this brand of rhetoric took place during the last time a Democrat, Bill Clinton, was in the White House. Today, groups like the Oath Keepers use the Internet, particularly Facebook and YouTube, and cable news networks, to connect with like-minded citizens around the world. “The underlying sentiment is an attack on government dating back to the New Deal and before,” Neiwert says. “Ron Paul has been a significant conduit in recent years, but nothing like Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann [R-MN] and Sarah Palin (see October 10, 2008)—all of whom share that innate animus.” While Rhodes and most Oath Keepers say they will only begin active disobedience under the delineated circumstances laid out by the group, some members have gone down their own paths of violence. Oath Keeper Daniel Knight Hayden set off a controversy last April 15 with a barrage of messages on Twitter stating his intention to “START THE KILLING NOW!” by engaging in a gun battle at the Oklahoma State Capitol and urging other Oath Keepers to join him (see April 14-15, 2009). Rhodes denounced Hayden, but Neiwert notes that Rhodes’s inflammatory and inciteful rhetoric can have what he calls “an unhinging effect” on people inclined toward violent action. “It puts them in a state of mind of fearfulness and paranoia, creating so much anger and hatred that eventually that stuff boils over.” In January, ex-Marine and Oath Keeper spokesman Charles Dyer, who beat a treason charge for advocating armed resistance to the government, was arrested on charges of raping a 7-year-old girl, and authorities found stolen military weaponry at his home; some militia groups have hailed Dyer as “the first POW of the second American Revolution,” but Rhodes removed information about him from the organization’s Web sites and now denies he was ever a member (see January 21, 2010). Rhodes says he and his Web staff are “overwhelmed” with the need to delete messages encouraging racism and violence from their blog, and recently he shut down one Internet forum because of members’ attempts to use it to recruit for militia organizations. Chip Berlet of the watchdog group Political Research Associates and an expert on far-right movements equates Rhodes’s rhetoric to yelling fire in a crowded theater. “Promoting these conspiracy theories is very dangerous right now because there are people who will assume that a hero will stop at nothing.” What will happen, he adds, “is not just disobeying orders but harming and killing.” Rhodes acknowledges that to follow through on his rhetoric could be risky, and reminds Sharrock that freedom “is not neat or tidy, it’s messy.”
Gold Standards, Muslim Rights, and Treasonous Federal Institutions - During a recent meeting at a North Las Vegas casino, Sharrock took part in discussions of whether Muslim citizens had rights under the Constitution, why the Federal Reserve was a treasonous institution, why the government should be run under Biblical law and a gold standard, and how abortion-rights advocates are part of a eugenics plan targeting Christians. The group takes no official stance on the US’s war on terror or its foreign engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, but a recent Oath Keeper member who promoted his dual membership in the Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) on the Oath Keepers blog had his post removed by Rhodes, who called the IVAW a “totalitarian” and “communist” organization.
Expanding Membership - Rhodes says the group has at least one chapter in each of the 50 states, and claims the group has some 29,000 members, not counting the ones who keep their membership off the computer lists. Volunteers are preparing a large “outreach” to soldiers serving overseas. The organization has worked hard to become a staple of tea party events, and tells tea partiers that bringing guns to those events reminds participants of their constitutional rights. The organization has made strong connections with groups such as the Constitution Party and Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, and national figures such as Ralph Reed, the former director of Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, and Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America. Elected officials such as Broun, Gingrey, Bachmann, and Steve King (R-IA) have expressed their interest in sponsoring legislation crafted by Oath Keeper leaders. [Mother Jones, 3/2010]
Entity Tags: David Neiwert, Daniel Knight Hayden, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, Steve King, Stewart Rhodes, Timothy James McVeigh, Chip Berlet, Alex Jones, Ralph Reed, Anti-Defamation League, Charles Alan Dyer, Barack Obama, Posse Comitatus, Southern Poverty Law Center, Paul Broun, Justine Sharrock, Glenn Beck, George W. Bush, FreedomWorks, Eagle Forum, Larry Pratt, Phil Gingrey, Patrick Buchanan, Lee Pray, Mother Jones, Oath Keepers, Constitution Party, Michele Bachmann, Lou Dobbs
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
A US District Court judge awards damages in a lawsuit, finding the NSA illegally monitored the calls of the plaintiffs. The Al Haramain Islamic Foundation and two of its lawyers, Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor, sued the US government in 2006 based on evidence that their calls had been monitored; the US Treasury Department inadvertently provided them with an NSA log in August 2004 showing their calls had been monitored in May of that year (see February 28, 2006). In defending against the suit, the Justice Department argued, first under President Bush and then under President Obama, that the case should be dismissed based on the government’s invocation of the state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953) concerning the NSA log, and that the plaintiffs could not otherwise demonstrate that surveillance had occurred, meaning the plaintiffs had no standing to bring suit. Judge Vaughn Walker rejected these arguments, noting that the plaintiffs had introduced into evidence a speech posted on FBI’s Web site by FBI Deputy Director John Pistole to the American Bankers Association (ABA), in which he said that surveillance had been used to develop a case by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) against Al-Haramain, and Congressional testimony by Bush administration officials that disclosed the manner in which electronic surveillance was conducted. In the summary of his decision, Vaughn wrote, “[The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] FISA takes precedence over the state secrets privilege in this case,” and “defendants have failed to meet their burden to [provide] evidence that a FISA warrant was obtained, that plaintiffs were not surveilled or that the surveillance was otherwise lawful.” [Al-Haramain v. Obama, 3/31/2010; Washington Post, 4/1/2010, pp. A04]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Asim Ghafoor, Anthony J. Coppolino, Alberto R. Gonzales, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (Oregon branch), “Justice Department”, Barack Obama, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, Suliman al-Buthe, Keith Alexander, Eric Holder, US Department of the Treasury, Wendell Belew, Vaughn Walker, National Security Agency
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
A New York Times/CBS News poll shows that the 18 percent of Americans identifying themselves as tea party supporters are wealthier and more well-educated than the general public. They tend to be Republican, white, male, married, and older than 45. They tend to be more conservative than “mainstream” Republicans, and describe themselves as “very conservative” and President Obama as “very liberal.” Most Republicans term themselves as “dissatisfied” with Washington, but tea party supporters tend to classify themselves as “angry.” Most tea partiers tend to describe their individual or household tax burden as “fair,” though they tend to dislike taxation in general. Most send their children to public schools. Most support Medicare and Social Security, though they support the idea of smaller government. Where they tend to diverge from the general public is in their deep pessimism about the direction of the country, and their conviction that the Obama administration is bent on helping the poor at the expense of the middle class and the wealthy. The vast majority of tea party supporters say Obama does not share American values and knows little about the problems of people like themselves. A quarter of the responding supporters say that Obama favors blacks over whites, as opposed to 11 percent of the general public, and they are more likely than the general public to believe that “too much has been made of the problems facing black people.” Three things primarily fuel their anger at Washington: health care reform, government spending, and their feeling that Washington lawmakers ignore their concerns. Retired Florida lawyer Elwin Thrasher says in an interview: “The only way they will stop the spending is to have a revolt on their hands. I’m sick and tired of them wasting money and doing what our founders never intended to be done with the federal government.” Over 90 percent of tea party supporters believe the country is heading down the wrong path, as contrasted with some 60 percent of the general population, and almost 90 percent say Obama is doing a poor job heading the country. That same percentage say he has mishandled health care, the economy, and the federal deficit. Ninety-two percent say Obama wants to make the US a socialist state. Retired medical transcriber Kathy Mayhugh says: “I just feel he’s getting away from what America is. He’s a socialist. And to tell you the truth, I think he’s a Muslim and trying to head us in that direction, I don’t care what he says” (see October 1, 2007, December 19, 2007, January 11, 2008, January 22-24, 2008, April 18, 2008, June 27, 2008, October 10-11, 2008, September 24, 2010, and April 27, 2011). While most Americans blame the Bush administration or Wall Street for the current economic status, a majority of tea party supporters blame Congress, focusing much of that blame on Congressional Democrats. They vote almost unanimously Republican. Fifty-seven percent of tea party supporters say they hold a favorable opinion of former President George W. Bush, while almost the same percentage of the general public see Bush unfavorably. Most tea party supporters say they want to focus on economic issues ahead of social issues such as gay rights and abortion restrictions, and say the movement should focus first on shrinking the federal government, ahead of reducing the deficit or lowering taxes. Almost 75 percent of tea party supporters say domestic program spending should be reduced, though most do not want Medicare or Social Security cut. California tea party supporter Jodine White, 62, says of her view on federal spending: “That’s a conundrum, isn’t it? I don’t know what to say. Maybe I don’t want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security.… I didn’t look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I’ve changed my mind.” [New York Times, 4/14/2010]
Laura Bush, during her interview with Larry King. [Source: CNN / Mediaite]Former First Lady Laura Bush tells CNN talk show host Larry King that she supports the right of women to choose abortions. She also supports the principle of gay marriage. Bush is on King’s show to discuss her new biography, Spoken from the Heart, in which she recalls asking her husband, then-President Bush, not to make gay marriage a “hot button” issue in the 2004 election. Asked by King if she supports gay marriage, Bush tells him: “Well, I think that we ought to definitely look at it and debate it. I think there are a lot of people who have trouble coming to terms with that because they see marriage as traditionally being between a man and a woman. But I also know that when couples are committed to each other and love each other, that they ought to have, I think, the same sort of rights that everyone has.” Of abortion, Bush says, “I think it’s important that it remain legal, because I think it’s important for people for medical reasons and other reasons.” Her husband does not agree with her, she says: “I understand totally what George thinks and what other people think about marriage being between a man and a woman. I guess that would be an area that we disagree” on. “I understand his viewpoint and he understands mine.” [Los Angeles Times, 5/12/2010; Mediaite, 5/12/2010; CBS News, 5/13/2010]
A sign outside Terry Jones’s Florida church. [Source: Gainesville Sun]Pastor Terry Jones of a small Gainesville, Florida, church called the Dove World Outreach Center sends a barrage of posts on Twitter, called “tweets,” that call Islam a “fascist” religion and lambast President Obama’s support for a new Kenyan constitution that could permit abortion and codify Islamic law. His final one reads, “9/11/2010 Int Burn a Koran Day.” [Washington Post, 9/10/2010] In the hours that follow, Jones begins a Facebook campaign he calls “International Burn a Koran Day.” Jones says that on September 11, 2010, he and his congregation intend to burn “a few hundred Korans” in a massive bonfire on his church’s grounds, and he expects a crowd of “several hundred” to join him. He also says that others will undoubtedly join him by burning Korans on their own. Jones says that he intends to burn the Korans because Islam is an “evil” religion and a sponsor of worldwide terrorism, and it is time for Christians to “stand up” to Muslims. He says Islam promotes violence and that Muslims want to impose Shari’a law in the United States. He has acknowledged that he and his wife Sylvia learned what they know of Islam by watching YouTube videos, and has admitted never actually meeting a Muslim. He has said publicly that other religions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism, are all “of the devil.” He says he has refused to take part in any interfaith discussions, explaining: “Because I’m not interested in interfaith discussions. That’s part of our problem.” [ABC News, 9/7/2010; Gainesville Sun, 9/11/2010; Daily Mail, 4/2/2011] He claims to have over 700 “friends” on Facebook by July 23, only two days after the “tweet” barrage, though most of the comments on the page are quite negative. [Washington Post, 9/10/2010; The Age, 9/12/2010] The Dove Center is a nondenominational church that practices charismatic, evangelical Christianity, and supplies free food and clothing to indigent citizens through its Lisa Jones House, an organization named after Jones’s first wife, who died in 1999. [Gainesville Sun, 7/8/2009] Within days of the Facebook campaign launch, EuroIslam (.info), a Web site that collects news and analysis headed by a Harvard professor of divinity, picks up the Dove World mission statement—“To bring to awareness to the dangers of Islam and that the Koran is leading people to hell”—and posts it on its “Islamaphobia Observatory” section. Jones begins posting videos on YouTube promoting his intentions to burn Korans. By July 21, the Council on American-Islamic Relations is calling for Koran education sessions to refute the burnings. Jones soon appears on CNN, and on July 30, is asked by the National Association of Evangelicals to call off the planned Koran-burning. In August, a Sunni scholars’ center at al-Azhar University in Cairo issues a statement condemning the plan to burn Korans and warning that doing so could have “dangerous consequences.” By early September, protesters in Indonesia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are taking to the streets in opposition to Jones. [Washington Post, 9/10/2010]
History of Controversy in Germany and Florida - Jones calls himself a doctor and claims he was awarded an honorary doctorate of theology degree from the unaccredited California Graduate School of Theology in Rosemead in 1983, but the university has never confirmed this, and later says the degree it awarded to Jones is strictly honorary. Jones, a native of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and a high-school classmate of conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, is a former hotel manager and Christian missionary. He and his wife Sylvia were asked to leave Germany in 2008, where he and Lisa Jones had established a small church in Cologne, the Christliche Gemeinde Koln. One of his three children accused them of “financial and labor abuses,” and told authorities that “the workforce was comprised of the Jones’s disciples, who work for no wages and live cost-free in tatty properties owned by the couple.” People who listened to some of Jones’s sermons in the Cologne church later recall them as “hate-filled.” Jones became involved in the Dove Center in 2003, when it was led by Dennis Watson, and for five years shuttled between the US and Germany to work at both sites. In 2008, after being forced to leave Germany, he took over the leadership of the Dove Center fulltime. When Jones took over the leadership, the church had about 100 members; that number has dwindled to between 30 and 50 now. A former employee expelled from the Dove Center later tells reporters that punishments for disobedience in the church include carrying a life-size wooden cross, writing out all of Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, or cleaning the barnacles off Jones’s boat in Tampa. Jones’s daughter Emma, a child from his first marriage, still lives in Germany and has no contact with her father, but reportedly contacts him and asks him not to carry out his threats to burn Korans. She told a German reporter that her father’s church was little more than “a cult.” Andrew Schafer, a Protestant Church official responsible for monitoring sects in the region where Cologne is located, will say that Jones has a “delusional personality.” [Der Spiegel, 9/8/2010; Gainesville Sun, 9/11/2010; Daily Mail, 4/2/2011]
For-Profit Activities - Jones also runs an antique and used furniture store, TS and Company, on the grounds of the church; the company had its tax-exempt status revoked in 2009 when Alachua County tax officials determined that it was a for-profit organization masquerading as a non-profit religious entity; his bank will soon demand he repay the church’s $140,000 mortgage. Former members who were brought to the United States on religious visas have said they were made to work as many as 12 hours a day packing furniture (religious visas do not allow work at for-profit companies). He also runs the “Dove World Academy,” a six-month-long boot camp-esque regiment of discipline and working without pay. Those who are enrolled are not allowed contact with family members for six months and are required to wear khaki uniforms and address church leaders as sir or ma’am. The tuition costs $500. [ABC News, 9/7/2010; Gainesville Sun, 9/11/2010; Daily Mail, 4/2/2011]
'Islam Is the Devil - Jones is the author of a book, Islam is the Devil, a phrase often used on church property. In August 2009, two children who are members of the church were sent home from school after coming to class wearing T-shirts reading “Islam is the Devil.” Jones is often seen on the 20-acre church compound with a pistol strapped to his hip. Of the phrase, Jones says: “It’s an act of saying there is only one way, and that is actually what Christianity is about. It is about pointing the people in the right direction, and that right direction is Jesus and only Jesus. We feel the sign is an act of giving the people a chance.… I think every pastor, every Christian pastor in this city, must be in agreement with the message. They might find the message a little bit too direct, but they must be in agreement with the message because the only way is the Bible and Jesus.” The sign is regularly vandalized, Jones says, and is repaired and replaced when it is damaged. Neighbor Aubrey Davies tells a reporter: “When we originally saw it, we were initially very offended.… We’re sad it is up. It is such a divisive message when it could be used to put out a statement of unity.” Saeed Khan, a University of Florida professor and a practicing Muslim, says it is important not to overreact to the sign. “There are a couple of things on this that come to mind, and first there is freedom of speech,” he says. “People are free to say, but then society has to think about it. When it becomes inflamed, the reaction on both sides can be detrimental to the people that live there. You have to make some kind of balance.” Jones says future signs may express his opposition to same-sex marriage or abortion. [Gainesville Sun, 7/8/2009; ABC News, 9/7/2010; Gainesville Sun, 9/11/2010; Daily Mail, 4/2/2011]
'The Braveheart Show' - Jones spends much of his time in his office, which is adorned with a poster from the movie Braveheart and a photograph of former US President George W. Bush. He has launched a series of YouTube videos he calls the “Braveheart Show,” which feature anti-Islamic diatribes. [Christian Science Monitor, 9/7/2010; ABC News, 9/7/2010]
False Rumor of Child Porn Conviction - Rumors circulating on the Internet and repeated by some media outlets that Jones was convicted on child pornography charges have proven to be false. [ABC News, 9/7/2010]
Entity Tags: Dennis Watson, TS and Company, Andrew Schafer, Barack Obama, Aubrey Davies, Sylvia Jones, Terry Jones (pastor), National Association of Evangelicals, Dove World Academy, Saeed Khan, Dove World Outreach Center, Christliche Gemeinde Koln, EuroIslam (.info), George W. Bush, Emma Jones
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism
Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL), speaking on MSNBC’s The Ed Show to host Ed Schultz, criticizes former President Bush while discussing a current controversy regarding a combined mosque and Islamic community center being built near the ruins of the World Trade Center. Grayson says: “If we are going to talk about 9/11, why don’t we talk about how not so much the people who died on 9/11 were disgraced by the possibility of an Islamic athletic center several blocks away; how about the fact that they were disgraced by a president who let it happen? Who went on vacation for the entire month of August after he was warned in writing that Osama bin Laden was actually finding targets in NYC and learning how to take these planes and do terrible things with them? The [warning] itself said ‘hijacking’ and they did nothing about it” (See August 6, 2001, (August 4-5, 2001), and Between August 6 and September 10, 2001). [Raw Story, 8/21/2010]
House Republicans rush a bill to the floor for a vote to eliminate all public funding of the presidential election. The bill, if passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Obama, would eliminate one of the few remaining public funding methodologies for federal elections, and, critics say, give wealthy corporate and individual donors even more influence over elections. Public financing of presidential elections was made law by the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972 and 1974) and upheld by the Supreme Court (see January 30, 1976). The bill comes to a vote almost exactly a year after the Supreme Court allowed corporations and labor unions to make unlimited donations to political organizations (see January 21, 2010). The bill, HR 359, was sponsored by Representative Tom Cole (R-OK) in June 2009 and cosponsored by 17 other House members, all Republicans. It would eliminate the Presidential Election Campaign Fund and the Presidential Primary Matching Payment Account. The Republican House leadership did not hold hearings on the bill, nor allow it to be debated in committee. Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) calls the bill “a sneak attack on the system,” and notes that the Republicans had pledged to observe “transparency and openness,” but instead are pushing through such a transformative bill without allowing debate. The bill passes the House on a 239-160 vote, with the Republican majority overriding the Democratic minority. Ten Democrats vote for the bill and one Republican votes against it. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has already introduced his version of the bill in the Senate, though Senate Democrats say the bill has no chance of passing; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says through a spokesperson that the bill will never be brought up for a vote. [Mother Jones, 1/24/2011; Raw Story, 1/25/2011; CNN, 1/26/2011; National Public Radio, 1/27/2011; Bloomberg, 1/27/2011]
Repair or Eliminate? - Presidential candidates who accept public funding must agree not to accept private donations in the fall campaign. Every presidential candidate from 1976 to 2008 has accepted public funding. In 2000, George W. Bush (R-TX) did not take public financing for his primary campaign, and in subsequent years no presidential nominee has taken such funding. In 2008, Barack Obama (D-IL) declined to take public financing for his general election, the first presidential nominee to do so. Republicans claim the elimination of the public funding program would save the government between $520 and $617 million over the next 10 years. Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, says the public financing system needs to be updated. It was created in 1976, she notes, and does not reflect the needs of 21st-century candidates. Lawmakers from both parties have attempted, without success to introduce legislation to update the system. McConnell says that Americans do not believe in the PECF, citing declining public participation. The program is funded by a $3 check-off on individual tax returns; in 1980, almost 29 percent of tax returns carried the check-off, while in 2007 only 8.3 percent of tax returns checked off the donation. “In a time of exploding deficits and record debt, the last thing the American people want right now is to provide what amounts to welfare for politicians,” McConnell says. House Democrats have introduced legislation that would modify and update the PECF instead of end it. One of that legislation’s sponsors, David Price (D-NC), says, “Dare we forget what Watergate was all about?” (Price is referring to the post-Watergate origins of the PECF.) “President Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President, fueled by huge quantities of corporate cash, paid for criminal acts and otherwise subverted the American electoral system. Let’s not return to the darkest days of our democracy.” [Mother Jones, 1/24/2011; CNN, 1/26/2011; National Public Radio, 1/27/2011; Bloomberg, 1/27/2011]
Obama Administration Opposes Bill - The Obama administration strongly opposes the bill, saying that the public financing system should be improved rather than eliminated. In a statement, the White House says: “The presidential election public financing system was enacted in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal to free the nation’s elections from the influence of corporations and other wealthy special interests. Rather than candidates having to rely on raising large sums of private money in order to run, the system provides qualifying presidential candidates with the option of accepting matching funds in the primary and a public grant in the general election.… H.R. 359 would kill the system, not strengthen it. Its effect would be to expand the power of corporations and special interests in the nation’s elections; to force many candidates into an endless cycle of fundraising at the expense of engagement with voters on the issues; and to place a premium on access to large donor or special interest support, narrowing the field of otherwise worthy candidates.” [Raw Story, 1/25/2011]
Divided Response from Lawmakers - Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA) says after the bill passes that voting it into effect “should be a no-brainer.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says that Congress “should come together to ensure that the American people are heard, that they are heard and that they are not drowned out by special interest dollars.” Republicans such as Aaron Schock (R-IL) call Democrats and the Obama administration “hypocrites” because in 2008, Obama turned down public financing. Schock says, “It was President Obama who killed it and made a mockery of public financing of president campaigns with his arrogant pressing of self advantage.” David Price (D-NC) makes an angry rejoinder, saying: “Talk about having it both ways. [Schock] comes onto this floor to condemn President Obama for opting out of the system, and then he proposes to abolish the system so that everybody has to opt out.” Cole also condemns Obama for not taking public financing in 2008, and says he believes public financing of elections should be illegal, but goes on to say that he supports Republicans who take public financing because it is a legal option. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) says: “Special interest money is having a corrosive effect on our democracy, eating away at the people’s confidence in their government and their elected representatives. The one beacon of light in this system is the public financing of presidential campaigns. It is, I would remind everyone, a voluntary system.” “This is an attempt to finish the job that the Supreme Court started with the Citizens United decision,” says Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). Schumer chairs the Senate Rules Committee, which has jurisdiction over campaign finance legislation. “It would bust one of the last dams protecting our election system from an uncontrolled flood of special-interest money.” [CNN, 1/26/2011; National Public Radio, 1/27/2011; Bloomberg, 1/27/2011]
Campaign Finance Reform Advocates Critical of Bill - David Arkush of the citizens advocacy group Public Citizen says in a statement, “A vote for HR 359 is a great way to tell the American people that you want to give corporations more power over our government rather than make democracy work for ordinary Americans.” Craig Holman of Public Citizen says of the bill: “Make no mistake about it: The Republican leadership’s legislation to eliminate public financing is an attack not just on the presidential public financing system, but also an attack on congressional public financing proposals. To ensure that the public’s voice can be heard against the corporate onslaught, we need to expand public financing of elections, not kill it.” Campaign finance reform advocate Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 calls the bill “a gross abuse of the legislative process.” [Mother Jones, 1/24/2011; Raw Story, 1/25/2011] The nonpartisan Public Finance Action Fund, which advocates for public financing of state and federal elections, says in a statement: “These efforts are not about saving taxpayer money, they are about giving corporate donors even more access than they enjoy today. We hope these measures don’t advance any further.” [CNN, 1/26/2011]
Bill Dies in Senate - The bill will, as expected, not pass the Senate, which is under Democratic control. A similar bill will be introduced in December 2011 (see December 1, 2011), again pass the House, and die in the Senate. [Real Clear Politics, 12/1/2011]
Entity Tags: David E. Price, US Senate, US House of Representatives, Craig Holman, Aaron Schock, Barack Obama, Chris Van Hollen, David Arkush, Charles Schumer, Thomas Jeffery Cole, Public Finance Action Fund, US Supreme Court, Presidential Election Campaign Fund, Presidential Primary Matching Payment Account, Federal Election Campaign Act of 1972, Eric Cantor, Fred Wertheimer, George W. Bush, Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, Lynn Woolsey, Obama administration, Meredith McGehee, Nancy Pelosi
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The media reports that Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, a former Republican campaign operative and the former head of a tea party organization, has become the head of a lobbying and political consulting firm, Liberty Consulting. The firm boasts that Thomas’s “experience and connections” will assist clients with “governmental affairs efforts” and political donation strategies. Critics say Thomas is in the midst of an enormous conflict of interest, because her husband, Clarence Thomas, is a Supreme Court justice. She left the tea party group in November 2009 because of questions that her leadership of the group, Liberty Central, which actively worked to defeat Democrats, was not appropriate for the wife of a sitting Court justice. Thomas has met with almost half of the 99 Republican freshmen in the House and Senate, according to an email she sent out to congressional chiefs of staff last week in which she called herself “a self-appointed ambassador to the freshmen class and an ambassador to the tea party movement.” Ann Pearson of the government watchdog organization Common Cause says that Thomas’s position at a lobbying and consulting firm “show[s] a new level of arrogance of just not caring that the Court is being politicized and how that undermines the historic image of the Supreme Court as being above the political fray.… It raises additional questions about whether Justice Thomas can be unbiased and appear to be unbiased in cases dealing with the repeal of the health care reform law or corporate political spending when his wife is working to elect members of the tea party and also advocating for their policies.” Some Republican lawmakers are uncomfortable with Thomas’s new position, with one senior House Republican aide criticizing Thomas for attempting to “cash in” on her ties to the tea party movement. Republican House freshman David Schweikert (R-AZ), who won his election in part because of support from tea party groups and was endorsed by Liberty Central, says he has not met Thomas and knows nothing of her background. “This is the spouse of Justice Thomas?” he says when asked about the situation by a reporter. “No, I’ve never met her. It’s not something I’ve heard about. And I hang out with a lot of freshman.” So far, only one Republican freshman will publicly admit to scheduling a meeting with Thomas. Thomas used to be an aide to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), who until recently headed the tea party financing organization FreedomWorks (see August 14, 2009). She has also worked as a staffer at the US Chamber of Commerce, a trade organization that contributes heavily to Republican causes (see January 21-22, 2010), and at the conservative Heritage Foundation. In 2009 she founded Liberty Central, which she described as a group that would bridge the gap between the conservative Republican establishment and the anti-government tea party movement. She eventually stepped down after questions were raised about her position’s impact on her husband’s appearance of impartiality, and the group was merged into another tea party organization (see November 2009 - November 2010). She filed incorporation papers for Liberty Consulting within a day of news reports about her departure from Liberty Central. She has told conservative news source Daily Caller that she intends to continue working for the group that bought Liberty Central, the Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty, and will “help them in any way I can think of, whether it’s lobbying on the Hill or connecting with the grass roots, or helping speak or write or fundraise.” However, lobbying records show no registration for Thomas, Liberty Consulting, Liberty Central, or the Patrick Henry Center. Liberty Central general counsel Sarah Field refuses to answer questions about whether Thomas is being paid through Liberty Consulting as a consultant. A source familiar with the Thomases and with Capitol Hill Republicans says her sojourn from Liberty Central to Liberty Consulting has damaged her reputation among some conservatives. “Ginni’s reputation around town is now even more of a fake entitled woman who is only here because of her husband,” the source tells a reporter. “Now she has opened her own lobbying shop… not sure how [the] conservative circle will feel when they find that out, or if they’ll care or not.” [Politico, 2/4/2011]
Previous Conflicts of Interest - Virginia Thomas has weathered criticisms of conflict of interest before. In late 2000, as a Heritage Foundation staffer, she was helping select key members for the Bush administration even as her husband was engaged in deliberating the Bush v. Gore Court decision that installed George W. Bush as president (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000). At the time she waved off criticisms, saying that she and her husband conducted “separate professional lives.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/14/2010]
'Cloud of Corruption' Surrounding Justice Thomas? - Legal analyst Ian Millhiser of the liberal news Web site Think Progress is far more blunt in his assessment than some more cautious critics, writing: “Now, Ginni Thomas appears to have found a way to earn money off her husband’s actions as a justice. Clarence Thomas released countless amounts of corporate spending on US elections [by voting with the majority in Citizens United], and Ginni Thomas can get rich advising those corporate clients on how to direct that spending. To be sure, it is possible that Ginni is somehow limiting her advice to ‘political investments’ that were legal before Clarence gave businesses like hers so many new potential customers. But if this is the case, Ginni has an obligation to explain just how she is limiting her advice—it’s the only way to remove the obvious cloud of corruption her actions have created around her husband.” [Think Progress, 2/4/2011]
Entity Tags: Heritage Foundation, David Schweikert, Clarence Thomas, Ann Pearson, Dick Armey, George W. Bush, Sarah E. Field, FreedomWorks, Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty, Virginia (“Ginni”) Thomas, Liberty Consulting, Ian Millhiser, Liberty Central, US Chamber of Commerce
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Jonathan Martin and John F. Harris, writing for the online news outlet Politico, say that President Obama’s decision to present his “long form” birth certificate as proof of his US citizenship (see April 27, 2011) is a “decisive new turn in the centuries-long American history of political accusation and innuendo. By directly and coolly engaging a debate with his most fevered critics, Obama offered the most unmistakable validation ever to the idea that we are living in an era of public life with no referee—and no common understandings between fair and unfair, between relevant and trivial, or even between facts and fantasy.” The authors note that presidents have been pursued by “[l]urid conspiracy theories” for centuries. However, until now, those presidents have “benefited from a widespread consensus that some types of personal allegations had no place in public debate unless or until they received some imprimatur of legitimacy—from an official investigation, for instance, or from a detailed report by a major news organization.” That is no longer the case, they say (see April 27, 2011). Former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says: “There are no more arbiters of truth. So whatever you can prove factually, somebody else can find something else and point to it with enough ferocity to get people to believe it. We’ve crossed some Rubicon into the unknown.” The writers note their difficulty in envisioning former President Clinton “coming out to the White House briefing room to present evidence showing why people who thought he helped plot the murder of aide Vincent Foster—never mind official rulings of suicide—were wrong” (see April 27, 2011), or former President George W. Bush giving a press conference denying allegations that “he knew about the Sept. 11 attacks ahead of time and chose to let them happen.” Obama’s choice to release the documentation and even to make a personal appearance to announce it are a powerful indication that the political dynamic has changed. Obama advisers explain that he made the decision to do so “because of the radical reordering of the political-media universe over the past 15 years, or so. The decline of traditional media and the rise of viral emails and partisan Web and cable TV platforms has meant the near-collapse of common facts, believed across the political spectrum.” Debunking the myth of Obama’s “foreign birth” means nothing to a large percentage of Americans who still remain unconvinced, or firmly believe the myth, the authors write. After trying to ignore it and mock it into irrelevance, they write, Obama “finally gave in and affirmed a new truth of politics in the Internet era: Nothing can be dismissed and anything that poses a political threat must be confronted directly.” White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer says: “We’re dealing with a lot of the same things Clinton and frankly Bush dealt with, but we’re dealing with them at 1,000 times the speed and with fewer referees. That is the downside of the disaggregation of the media. If you don’t want to believe what someone is telling you, you can go somewhere else. If you believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that the president is not American, you can go somewhere to find somebody to validate that.” Another Obama adviser, who remains anonymous, adds: “Clinton never had to deal with a fully formed Internet. [Conservative Web gossip Matt] Drudge’s power was born out of the revelations of 1998. A fully automated cable TV universe with the Internet is something that [Clinton] never had to deal with.” Clinton’s press secretary Joe Lockhart says: “You’ve lost the ability to starve a story to death. So what you have to do is raise the price of those who are making the charges. If Donald Trump is out there saying this, you’ve got to make him pay a price for throwing a bomb before too much collateral damage is done.… You literally can’t laugh anything off. There’s nothing neutral in politics. It’s either helping you or hurting you. You’ve got to make sure it’s helping you or you’re going to lose.” The authors note that politicians are learning to use this phenomenon to their own advantage. While Washington Republicans often bemoan the ascendancy of “fringe” pundits like Fox News’s Glenn Beck, the authors write, “they relish the way Beck and ideological confederates excite the GOP base, a contributing factor in the party’s strong performance in 2010.” The authors also point to Democrats’ willingness to allow “liberal commentators” to push for the truth behind George W. Bush’s Vietnam-era service in the National Guard. The authors claim that the Obama team “enjoys giving the stage to the GOP’s most divisive voices,” noting that Gibbs and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel often called conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh “the de facto leader of the Republican Party.” Obama, and his successors, will have to do things previous presidents have never considered, from appearing on less “serious” talk shows such as those hosted by Oprah Winfrey and David Letterman, or making appearances on networks such as the sports broadcaster ESPN. “It’s hard to see a president doing those things 10 or 20 years ago, but it’s become almost a requirement now,” Gibbs says. It is hard to know where to draw the line, Gibbs continues. “Does it become incumbent to prove everything wrong? You have to be very careful to not fall into that trap because you’ll spend all of your time and energy chasing your own tail.” Pfeiffer says most open-minded Americans will take the “long form” certificate as the evidence required to settle the issue: “There will be some segment of the population who will believe what they’re going to believe, regardless of anything else. But for the majority of the country, we have the capacity to correct the record and convince people of the truth. It’s not as easy as it used to be, but it’s possible.” Pfeiffer notes the “huge amount of time and energy” spent on dealing with the “birther” issue, time better spent, he says, on issues confronting the country. Former Bush administration political adviser Karl Rove says the Obama administration has attempted to use the “birther” controversy against Republicans: “The president himself has hoped Republicans would continue to talk about it, thereby damaging their own credibility. It was a useful diversion (see April 27, 2011). But take a look at recent polls. The problem was the view was taking hold among independents. He got worried it was about to spin out of control” (see April 27, 2011). Rove says Obama was attempting to “play rope-a-dope with Republicans,” a charge Pfeiffer denies (see April 28, 2011). “Up until a month ago, nobody really asked for the long form. It was fringe. It was a settled issue for 99 percent of the country.” Former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer says: “It’s a terrible problem for the body politic. People like me who have been or are in the arena have an obligation to speak out against people in both parties who push untruths” (see January 25, 2001, January 25-27, 2001, and April 18, 2001). “The political discourse is much worse now, but that’s not always to the detriment of the so-called victim. In this case, President Obama came out looking better.” Lockhart agrees, saying: “Look at the rogue’s gallery of Clinton accusers. Most of them blew themselves up.” Lockhart acknowledges that for some, the issue will never be settled (see April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 28, 2011, and April 29, 2011). “They’ll probably ask for the first diaper. They’ll want to see the DNA.” [Politico, 4/28/2011]
Entity Tags: Joe Lockhart, Donald Trump, Dan Pfeiffer, Barack Obama, Ari Fleischer, Glenn Beck, Vince Foster, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Robert Gibbs, John F. Harris, George W. Bush, Karl C. Rove, Matt Drudge, Rahm Emanuel, Rush Limbaugh, Jonathan Martin
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Rolling Stone reporter Ari Berman writes that Republican lawmakers across the nation have launched “an unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the elements of the Democratic vote that helped elect Barack Obama in 2008. Just as Dixiecrats once used poll taxes and literacy tests to bar black Southerners from voting, a new crop of GOP governors and state legislators has passed a series of seemingly disconnected measures that could prevent millions of students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly from casting ballots.” The initiative is ostensibly to counter the “epidemic” of “voter fraud” that Republicans insist is not only plaguing the nation, but affecting the outcome of elections. (In 2007, the Brennan Center released a report that found the instance of voter fraud vanishingly small, and concluded that more people die by lightning strikes than commit voter fraud—see 2007). Judith Browne-Dianis of the Advancement Project tells Berman, “What has happened this year is the most significant setback to voting rights in this country in a century.” As far back as 1980, powerful Republican operative Paul Weyrich told evangelical leaders: “I don’t want everybody to vote. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” In 2010, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group founded by Weyrich and funded in part by the billionaire Koch brothers (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, December 6, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 4, 2011, and February 14, 2011), began working to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of legitimate voters, almost of all identified as being part of ethnic or gender groups that are more likely to vote Democratic. Thirty-eight states have submitted legislation designed to impede voting “at almost every step of the electoral process.”
Requiring Proof of Citizenship - Kansas and Alabama now require would-be voters to show proof of US citizenship before being allowed to vote.
Impeding Voter Registration - Florida and Texas have passed legislation making it more difficult for groups like the League of Women Voters, an organization widely considered to lean Democratic, to register new voters. Maine repealed same-day registration, which had been in effect since 1973 and had worked to significantly increase voter participation. The Florida legislature passed a law requiring groups to hand in voter registration forms within 48 hours of collection, and imposed what Berman calls “a barrage of onerous, bureaucratic requirements” and serious criminal penalties for those who fail to comply. As a result, many people who once volunteered to help register voters are afraid to do so again. The League of Women Voters says it will no longer operate in Florida, and called Florida’s efforts “good old-fashioned voter suppression.” The Florida statute took effect one day after its passage, under an emergency statute designed for “an immediate danger to the public health, safety or welfare.” Since 2009, Florida has arrested a total of three people for suspected voter fraud. Republican state senator Mike Fasano, one of the few in his party to oppose the restrictions on registrations, says, “No one could give me an example of all this fraud they speak about.”
Curbing Early Voting - Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia have cut short early-voting periods. Six states have moved to impose new restrictions on voter registration drives. In 2004, then-Florida governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) said he thought early voting was “great.… It’s another reform we added that has helped provide access to the polls and provide a convenience. And we’re going to have a high voter turnout here, and I think that’s wonderful.” However, his successor Rick Scott (R-FL) does not agree, and neither do most Republicans. After analysis showed what a benefit early voting was for Obama’s numbers, early voting became a key target. Florida has cut early voting days from 14 to 8 days. Ohio, where early voting numbers gave Obama a narrow victory in 2008, has cut its early voting days from 35 to 11, with only limited hours on weekends. Both states have banned voting on the Sunday before elections, when many black churches historically mobilize their constituents. The Early Voting Information Center at Reed College states, “There is no evidence that any form of convenience voting has led to higher levels of fraud.”
Denying Convicted Felons the Right to Vote - Florida and Iowa have passed laws denying convicted felons the right to vote, disenfranchising thousands of previously eligible voters even if they have already served their sentences and have returned to society. Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist (R-FL) restored the voting rights of 154,000 felons convicted of non-violent crimes. In March 2011, after 30 minutes of public debate, Governor Scott overturned that decision, instantly disenfranchising almost 98,000 citizens and prohibiting another 1.1 million convicts from being allowed to vote after they are released from prison. Former President Bill Clinton asked in July: “Why should we disenfranchise people forever once they’ve paid their price? Because most of them in Florida were African-Americans and Hispanics and would tend to vote for Democrats—that’s why.” Iowa Governor Terry Branstad (R-IA) recently took a similar action, overturning his predecessor’s decision to restore voting rights to some 100,000 ex-felons. Until recent years, Iowa saw up to five percent of its residents ineligible to vote, including 33 percent of its African-American residents. Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia require former felons to apply for the right to vote to be restored.
Voter Identification - Six states—Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin, all controlled by Republican governors and legislatures—have passed laws requiring an official government ID to cast a ballot. Berman notes that some 10 percent of US citizens lack such identification, and the number of young and black voters, groups that traditionally lean Democratic, are much higher. The turn towards voter ID requirements began in 2008, when the US Supreme Court upheld an Indiana photo-ID requirement even though state lawyers could not produce a single instance of the kind of voter fraud that photo ID laws are designed to prevent. After the ruling, ALEC orchestrated a nationwide move towards photo ID requirements. ALEC wrote draft legislation for Republican legislators based on Indiana’s ID requirement. Five of the states that passed those laws had their legislation submitted by legislators who belong to ALEC. Heather Smith, president of the voter-registration group Rock the Vote, says: “We’re seeing the same legislation being proposed state by state by state. And they’re not being shy in any of these places about clearly and blatantly targeting specific demographic groups, including students.” In Texas, the Republican-dominated legislature passed “emergency” legislation that was signed into law by Governor Rick Perry saying that a concealed-weapons permit is acceptable ID, but a college ID is not. Republicans in Wisconsin effectively disenfranchised every college student by requiring that acceptable IDs contain information that no colleges put on their IDs. Dane County board supervisor Analiese Eicher says, “It’s like creating a second class of citizens in terms of who gets to vote.” In Wisconsin, for example, about half of African- and Hispanic-American citizens do not have a driver’s license, and the state has an extremely small number of Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices—some of which are only open one day a month. Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) attempted to close 16 DMV offices, all in heavily Democratic-voting areas. Berman notes, “Walker planned to close a DMV in Fort Atkinson, a liberal stronghold, while opening a new office 30 minutes away in the conservative district of Watertown.” Democratic governors in five states—Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, and North Carolina—have all vetoed ID laws. Voters in Mississippi and Montana are considering ballot initiatives requiring voter IDs. Legislation is currently pending in Pennsylvania. Perhaps the most restrictive law was signed into effect by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R-SC). Voters must have a free state ID to vote—but they must pay for a passport or birth certificate. Brown-Dianis says, “It’s the stepsister of the poll tax.” Many elderly black residents who were born at home in the segregated South and were never issued birth certificates can no longer vote unless they go to family court to prove their identity.
Significant Impact on 2012 Voting - Berman writes that when these measures are taken in the aggregate, the turnout of Democrats to the 2012 votes will be significantly smaller, perhaps enough to throw races to Republican candidates. In July, Clinton told a group of student activists: “One of the most pervasive political movements going on outside Washington today is the disciplined, passionate, determined effort of Republican governors and legislators to keep most of you from voting next time. Why is all of this going on? This is not rocket science. They are trying to make the 2012 electorate look more like the 2010 electorate than the 2008 electorate.” Clinton was referring to the 2010 elections, widely considered a Republican “wave” election in part because of far smaller turnouts among young and minority voters than in 2008, and because of a large number of “tea party” voters. Clinton added, “There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today.”
Cracking Down on Voter Fraud? - Republicans insist that voter fraud is rampant in America. Since George W. Bush took office in 2001 after losing the popular vote (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000), his administration made “voter fraud” a top priority for Justice Department prosecutors. In 2006, the DOJ fired two US Attorneys who refused to prosecute patently fraudulent voter fraud allegations. Bush advisor Karl Rove called voter fraud “an enormous and growing problem.” He told the Republican National Lawyers Association that America is “beginning to look like we have elections like those run in countries where the guys in charge are colonels in mirrored sunglasses.” The Republicans successfully destroyed the community activism group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) after false allegations were made that it was, as Berman writes, “actively recruiting armies of fake voters to misrepresent themselves at the polls and cast illegal ballots for the Democrats.” A massive DOJ probe in 2006 and 2007 failed to prosecute a single person for intentionally impersonating another person at the polls, an action that the DOJ claimed was at the heart of the voter fraud investigation. Eighty-six cases of voter fraud did win convictions, but most of those were immigrants and former felons who did not intentionally cast illegal votes. An enormous investigation in Wisconsin resulted in 0.0007 percent of the electorate being prosecuted for voter fraud. And the Brennan Center report found the instance of voter fraud in America extraordinarily small (see 2007).
Voter Fraud Allegations Dog Obama Victory - Republican lawmakers and activists made a raft of allegations after the November 2008 elections that placed the White House in the hands of Barack Obama (D-IL). The 29 states that register voter affiliation showed a roughly 2-1 increase in new Democratic voters over Republicans for 2008, and Obama won almost 70 percent of those votes. Election reform expert Tova Wang says flatly, “This latest flood of attacks on voting rights is a direct shot at the communities that came out in historic numbers for the first time in 2008 and put Obama over the top.” Berman cites Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as emblematic of the Republican pushback against the Obama victory. Kobach is a former Bush-era Justice Department advisor who helped push through his state’s requirement that every voter prove his or her citizenship, ignoring the fact that Kansas has prosecuted exactly one case of voter fraud since 2006. Kobach used fear of illegal immigrants to help push his requirement through, stating without evidence, “In Kansas, the illegal registration of alien voters has become pervasive.” He also stated that many people were casting ballots in the name of dead voters, and cited the example of Alfred K. Brewer as a dead voter who mysteriously voted in 2008. However, as the Wichita Eagle showed, Brewer is very much alive. “I don’t think this is heaven,” Brewer told the Eagle, “[n]ot when I’m raking leaves.” Representative John Lewis (D-AL), a civil rights crusader who was brutally beaten during the 1960s effort to win voting rights for African-Americans, says bluntly, “Voting rights are under attack in America.” On the House floor in July, Lewis told the assemblage, “There’s a deliberate and systematic attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students, minority and low-income voters from exercising their constitutional right to engage in the democratic process.”
Fighting Voter Disenfranchisement - Voting-rights organizations are fighting back as best they can. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is challenging several of the new voter-restriction laws in court. Congressional Democrats are pushing the Department of Justice to block or weaken laws that impede minority voters from exercising their rights. Lewis says, “The Justice Department should be much more aggressive in areas covered by the Voting Rights Act.” Meanwhile, many voting-rights experts predict chaos at the polls in November 2012, as voters react with confusion, frustration, and anger at being barred from voting. “Our democracy is supposed to be a government by, of, and for the people,” says Browne-Dianis. “It doesn’t matter how much money you have, what race you are, or where you live in the country—we all get to have the same amount of power by going into the voting booth on Election Day. But those who passed these laws believe that only some people should participate. The restrictions undermine democracy by cutting off the voices of the people.” [Rolling Stone, 8/30/2011]
Entity Tags: Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Scott Kevin Walker, Rick Scott, Republican Party, Ari Berman, Tova Wang, US Department of Justice, US Supreme Court, Alfred K. Brewer, Paul Weyrich, American Civil Liberties Union, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, American Legislative Exchange Council, Analiese Eicher, Terry Branstad, League of Women Voters, Mike Fasano, Charles Koch, Charles Joseph (“Charlie”) Crist, Jr, Brennan Center for Justice, Barack Obama, David Koch, Early Voting Information Center, Nikki Haley, Heather Smith, John Lewis, Judith Browne-Dianis, John Ellis (“Jeb”) Bush, George W. Bush, Kris Kobach, Karl C. Rove
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Congress passes a defense spending bill with controversial provisions authorizing the indefinite military detention, or rendering to a foreign country or entity, without charge or trial, of any person, including US citizens, detained, arrested, or captured anywhere in the world, including the US. The bill is the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (H.R. 1540 and S. 1867). [GovTrack, 12/31/2012] The NDAA created controversy soon after the indefinite detention provisions were revealed (see July 6, 2011 and after). Civil liberties and human rights advocates raised concerns about sections 1026, 1027, and 1028, which restrict transfers and releases of prisoners from the US prison at Guantanamo, including those found to be innocent, but the most controversial parts of the bill are Sections 1021 and 1022, which provide for indefinite military detention. A federal judge will later issue a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of Section 1021, finding it unconstitutional (see May 16, 2012). [Verdict, 12/21/2011]
Detention Authorities Currently Unclear, Not Settled by NDAA - The Supreme Court ruled by plurality in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004) (see June 28, 2004 that Yaser Esam Hamdi, a US citizen captured by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and alleged to have been armed and traveling with a Taliban unit (see December 2001), could be held by the military without charge or trial until the end of hostilities authorized by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). In other circumstances, such as persons not engaged in armed combat with US forces, or persons arrested or captured away from a battlefield, or inside the United States, the rights of prisoners and the legality of indefinite military detention are unsettled issues, and the NDAA provides no clarification. The AUMF makes no reference to the detention of prisoners or military operations inside the United States, but both the Bush and Obama administrations have consistently interpreted language giving the president authority to use “all necessary and appropriate force” to include broad powers of detention. Due to the lack of clear expression of the scope of these authorities in the AUMF, as well as potential conflicts with the Constitution, related case law includes differing judicial opinions. Supreme Court rulings have not addressed all the questions raised by the complexity of the issues involved. [New York Times, 12/1/2011; Secrecy News, 2/6/2012; Elsea, 6/11/2012 ; Salon, 12/15/2012] The NDAA states in 1021(d), “Nothing in this section is intended to limit or expand the authority of the president or the scope of the [AUMF],” and (e): “Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.” [Public Law 112 81 ] This language was included following the nearly unanimous passage of Senate Amendment (SA) 1456. It was a compromise, following the defeat of three other amendments proposed by members of Congress concerned about the NDAA’s blanket detention authority: SA 1107, introduced by Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), which would have removed detention provisions from the bill and required the executive branch to submit a report to Congress on its interpretation of its detention powers and the role of the military; SA 1125, introduced by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), which would have limited the definition of covered persons to those captured outside US borders; and SA 1126, also introduced by Feinstein, which would have would have excluded US citizens from indefinite detention provisions. [Senate, 12/1/2011; The Political Guide, 12/31/2012] Supporters of broad detention authority say the entire world is a battlefield, and interpret Hamdi to mean any US citizen deemed an enemy combatant can legally be detained indefinitely by the military. Opponents point out that Hamdi was said to have been fighting the US in Afghanistan, and that military detention without trial is limited to those captured in such circumstances. Opponents also say the 1971 Non-Detention Act outlawed indefinite detention of US persons arrested in the US. Feinstein, who submitted SA 1456 inserting the compromise language, states: “[T]his bill does not change existing law, whichever side’s view is the correct one. So the sponsors can read Hamdi and other authorities broadly, and opponents can read it more narrowly, and this bill does not endorse either side’s interpretation, but leaves it to the courts to decide.” Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), sponsor of the original NDAA in the Senate, agrees, saying: “[W]e make clear whatever the law is. It is unaffected by this language in our bill.” [Senate, 12/1/2011]
NDAA 'Affirms' Authority Not Expressly Granted in AUMF, Further Muddies Already Unclear Powers - In the NDAA, Congress attempts to settle some of the aforementioned legal questions by asserting in the NDAA that these authorities were included in the AUMF or that the president already possessed them (unless the courts decide otherwise). Section 1021(a) states: “Congress affirms that the authority of the president to use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the [AUMF]… includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in sub-section (b)) pending disposition under the law of war… (c)(1) until the end of the hostilities authorized by the [AUMF].” This clear statement regarding detention authority is an implicit acknowledgment that the AUMF neither explicitly authorizes indefinite military detention, nor spells out the scope of such authority. As noted above, both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, citing the AUMF, have claimed this authority, and some courts have upheld their interpretation. However, as noted by critics of the bill such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and constitutional scholar Glenn Greenwald, this is the first time Congress has codified it. Also, despite Congress’s assertion in the NDAA that it does not “expand… the scope of the [AUMF],” the language in the bill does exactly that. The AUMF pertained only to those responsible for the 9/11 attacks, or those who harbored them. Subsection (b)(2) of the NDAA expands the definition of covered persons and activities to include “[a] person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.” Terms such as “substantially supported,” “directly supported,” and “associated forces” are not defined in the NDAA and are thus subject to interpretation, introducing new ambiguities. In addition, though the AUMF does not explicitly authorize it, the NDAA clearly covers any person, including US persons, “captured or arrested in the United States,” should the courts decide that the AUMF did, in fact, authorize this, or that it is otherwise constitutional. A federal judge will later issue a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of this section of the NDAA, in part because of its conflicting, vague language but also because of her finding that it infringes on the right to due process, and to freedom of speech and association (see May 16, 2012). [Public Law 112 81 ; American Civil Liberties Union, 12/14/2012; Human Rights Watch, 12/15/2012; Salon, 12/15/2012]
Section 1022: Mandatory Military Custody for Non-US Citizen Members of Al-Qaeda - Section 1022 requires that those determined to be members of al-Qaeda or “an associated force” and who “participated in the course of planning or carrying out an attack or attempted attack against the United States or its coalition partners” be held in “military custody pending disposition under the law of war.” This section is somewhat less controversial than section 1021 as it is more specific and limited in scope, and contains an exemption for US citizens, such that section 1022 may be applied to US citizens, but is not required to be: (b)(1) “The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States.” [Public Law 112 81 ]
Obama Administration Insisted on Broad Detention Authority - According to Senators Levin and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the Obama administration required that detention authorities be applicable to US citizens, including those arrested in the US. Levin says that “language which precluded the application of section 1031 [1021 in the final bill] to American citizens was in the bill we originally approved in the Armed Services Committee, and the administration asked us to remove the language which says that US citizens and lawful residents would not be subject to this section.” [Senate, 11/17/2011] Graham says: “The statement of authority I authored in 1031 [1021 in final bill], with cooperation from the administration, clearly says someone captured in the United States is considered part of the enemy force regardless of the fact they made it on our home soil. The law of war applies inside the United States not just overseas.” [Senate, 11/17/2011]
How Congress Votes - With President Obama having signaled he will sign the bill, the Senate votes 86-13 in favor, with one abstention. Six Democrats and six Republicans vote against it, along with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). [Open Congress, 12/15/2011] The House votes 283-136 in favor of the bill, with 14 abstentions. Democrats are evenly divided, with 93 voting for the NDAA and 93 against. Republicans voting are overwhelmingly in favor: 190-43, almost four out of five. Obama will sign the NDAA into law by December 31, 2011 (see December 31, 2011). [Open Congress, 12/14/2011]
Fallout over Bill - The same day Congress votes to pass the bill, two senators who voted for it, Feinstein and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), introduce a bill to restrict presidential authority to indefinitely detain US citizens (see December 15, 2011). A poll that will be conducted shortly after the bill is passed finds that only one in four “likely voters” approve of it (see December 22-26, 2011). Less than six months after the bill is signed into law, a federal judge will issue a preliminary injunction barring enforcement under section 1021 (see May 16, 2012), in response to a lawsuit that will be filed by seven activists and journalists (see January 13, 2012).
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA), continuing his rhetorical attacks on President Obama, singles out African-Americans as largely dependent on “food stamps.” Appearing at campaign rallies in New Hampshire, Gingrich repeatedly calls Obama “the best food stamp president in history,” says he would be “the best paycheck president in American history,” and says of African-Americans that he wants to tell them why they should “not be satisfied with food stamps.” Gingrich says he would be willing to discuss the topic at the next NAACP convention. Gingrich says: “More people are on food stamps today because of Obama’s policies than ever in history. I would like to be the best paycheck president in American history. Now, there’s no neighborhood I know of in America where if you went around and asked people, ‘Would you rather your children had food stamps or paychecks?’ you wouldn’t end up with a majority saying they’d rather have a paycheck. And so I’m prepared, if the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention and talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps. And I’ll go to them and explain a brand new Social Security opportunity for young people, which should be particularly good for African-American males—because they’re the group that gets the smallest return on Social Security because they have the shortest life span.” Think Progress reporter Tanya Somanader calls Gingrich’s take on food stamp recipients both “prejudicial” and “false.” The food stamp program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), has white Americans as the majority of its recipients. Most Americans receiving food stamps are either children or elderly retirees. Working-age women of all races represent only 28 percent of SNAP beneficiaries, and working-age men represent only 17 percent. Many SNAP beneficiaries actually have jobs and bring home paychecks that are their primary source of income; 85 percent of those recipients live below the poverty line. Somanader writes, “Thus, SNAP benefits provide a necessary safety net to families trying to stay afloat in a sluggish economy.” [ABC News, 1/2/2012; Think Progress, 1/5/2012] NAACP president Benjamin Jealous will note that Gingrich rejected multiple invitations to speak at the NAACP convention in past years. [MSNBC, 1/5/2012] Gingrich’s fellow Republican candidate Rick Santorum (R-PA) recently said that he wanted to end the cycle of blacks “taking someone else’s money” via SNAP and other federal safety-net programs (see January 1-3, 2012). Gingrich recently advocated firing most school custodial and maintenance workers and forcing poor children (presumably federal aid recipients) to fill the positions instead (see November 18, 2011 and After and December 1-2, 2011). Previously, Gingrich has accused food stamp recipients of being millionaires and using the money to “go to Hawaii” (coincidentally Obama’s home state). Government and independent experts say that the surge in federal aid recipients—higher now than in any time in US history—is because of policies instituted under George W. Bush and, in some cases, continued by Obama. The stories Gingrich tells of millionaire food stamp recipients vacationing in Hawaii have been shown to be false (see November 30 - December 2, 2011), though under a now-obsolete form of food stamp distribution, some recipients were able to use the proceeds to buy beer or trade them for small amounts of cash. [ABC News, 1/2/2012]
The nonpartisan FactCheck.org finds that recent claims by presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA) that “more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history” are wrong. In fact, far more Americans were added to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) rolls under President George W. Bush than under Obama. Gingrich has made the claim in a number of political speeches (see November 30 - December 2, 2011 and January 5, 2012), but his reiteration of the claim during a recent Republican debate in South Carolina has drawn a great deal of media attention (see January 16, 2012). FactCheck finds: “Gingrich would have been correct to say the number now on food aid is historically high. The number stood at 46,224,722 persons as of October, the most recent month on record. And it’s also true that the number has risen sharply since Obama took office. But Gingrich goes too far to say Obama has put more on the rolls than other presidents.” Information from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)‘s Food and Nutrition Service going back to January 2001 “show[s] that under President George W. Bush the number of recipients rose by nearly 14.7 million. Nothing before comes close to that.” Moreover, “the program has so far grown by 444,574 fewer recipients during Obama’s time in office than during Bush’s.” The trend in recent months has been for the number of food-stamp recipients to decline, another fact Gingrich fails to note. FactCheck finds that the rise in the number of Americans on food stamps—currently one out of seven—began during the second term of the Bush presidency. “In the 12 months before Obama was sworn in, 4.4 million were added to the rolls, triple the 1.4 million added in 2007,” the organization writes. “To be sure, Obama is responsible for some portion of the increase since then. The stimulus bill he signed in 2009 increased benefit levels, making the program more attractive. A family of four saw an increase of $80 per month, for example.… The stimulus also made more people eligible. Able-bodied jobless adults without dependents could get benefits for longer than three months.” Part of the reason for the higher number of recipients under Obama is the new outreach to eligible citizens by state governments, according to the USDA; many state governments have worked harder to inform eligible citizens of their right to apply for government assistance, and have reduced the amount of information that claimants must provide to receive assistance. FactCheck concludes: “We don’t argue that the program is either too large (as Gingrich does) or too small. It has certainly reached a historically high level, and may or may not grow even larger in the months to come. But the plain fact is that the growth started long before Obama took office, and participation grew more under Bush.” And it quotes the USDA’s Kevin Concannon, who recently told a Wall Street Journal reporter, “I realize Mr. Gingrich is a historian, but I’m not sure he’d get very high marks on that paper.” [USA Today, 1/17/2012] CBS News notes that the White House has called Gingrich’s claims “crazy,” and finds: “While the number of people on food stamps is indeed at a record level, that’s in part because of eligibility rules being relaxed under the administration of George W. Bush. It’s also due in part to the economic downturn that began under Mr. Bush.… [T]hat percentage increase hardly makes Obama the ‘best food stamp president in American history,’ at least when you look at the question proportionally. The percent increase in beneficiaries during Mr. Bush’s presidency was higher than it has been under Mr. Obama: The number of beneficiaries went from 17.3 million in 2001 to 28.2 million in 2008—an increase of 63 percent in years that are mostly considered non-recessionary.” [CBS News, 1/17/2012] US News and World Report agrees with FactCheck, finding that “SNAP participation has been on the rise since well before President Obama took office. Nearly 17.2 million people in FY 2000 participated in the program, a figure that increased by nearly 64 percent by 2008.” [US News and World Report, 1/17/2012] The Associated Press accuses Gingrich of distorting the facts and notes: “It’s gotten easier to qualify for food stamps in the past decade but that is because of measures taken before Obama became president. It’s true that the number of people on food stamps is now at a record level. That’s due mainly to the ailing economy, which Republicans blame on Obama, as well as rising food costs. The worst downturn since the Great Depression wiped out 8.7 million jobs, pushed the unemployment rate to a peak of 10 percent in October 2009, and increased poverty.” [Associated Press, 1/17/2012] The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has found that SNAP is a critical element in keeping poverty-stricken Americans, particularly children and the elderly, from starving during the economic recession (see January 9, 2012).
Entity Tags: Kevin Concannon, CBS News, Barack Obama, Associated Press, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, George W. Bush, US News and World Report, Obama administration, FactCheck (.org), US Department of Agriculture, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Newt Gingrich
Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises, Domestic Propaganda, 2012 Elections
Fox News begins adopting the characterization of President Obama as “the food stamp president” currently being used by Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich (see November 30 - December 2, 2011, January 5, 2012, and January 16, 2012). On January 17, Fox host Eric Bolling says of Obama: “But he is the food stamp president. There[.] I have no problem with this.… Obama has presided—presided over the biggest expansion in food stamp usage, in numbers: in pure dollar amount, it went from $60 billion to an $83 billion program—the fourth-largest entitlement program in America. Under Obama, it’s exploded. Why can’t he be—and by the way, food stamps, there are more white people on food stamps than black people. So it’s not a racial issue.” [Media Matters, 1/17/2012; Media Matters, 1/31/2012] The same day, Fox pundit Tucker Carlson says on Sean Hannity’s show that Gingrich is doing a “great job” explaining why Obama is “the food stamp president,” adding, “And more people have joined the food stamp program under Obama than any other president.” The day after, Fox pundit Dick Morris says on Hannity’s show: “Newt is totally right. When Obama took office, there were 32 million people on food stamps. Now, there are 46 million. What Obama has done is, under [former President] Clinton, he cut the welfare rolls in half, and now Obama has basically put everybody in the country on welfare.” Another of Hannity’s guests, former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), criticizes the White House for challenging Gingrich’s characterizations, saying “they protest too much because the facts are what they are—and that’s hundreds of thousands of more Americans are now on food stamps than before Barack Obama took over.” Hannity agrees, saying: “He is the food stamp president. Look at the numbers, they speak for themselves—32 million to 46 million, 12 million increase. Obama’s policies have resulted in a lot more people being on food stamps. What’s the problem?” Fox’s “straight news” anchor Monica Crowley reiterates the characterization on Fox News’s America Live, telling viewers: “At this point, what Newt is saying is that this administration took a bad economy and made it so much worse, with polices that have really oppressed job creation, suppressed economic growth, to the point where people cannot find jobs. And also, you know, one thing he didn’t say, which is the extension of unemployment benefits to 99 weeks and so on. You know how the situation in America… where you have record numbers of people not just on food stamps, 46 million, but record numbers of people on at least one or more social welfare programs, and that’s a direct result of the Obama administration’s policies.” [Media Matters, 1/19/2012; Media Matters, 1/31/2012] The liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters notes that according to the statistics, the number of food stamp recipients went up far more under President George W. Bush than under Obama, rendering the claims of Gingrich and the Fox News commentators inaccurate (see January 17, 2012). [Media Matters, 1/31/2012]
Entity Tags: Newt Gingrich, Eric Bolling, Dick Morris, Barack Obama, Fox News, Media Matters, Tucker Carlson, Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2012 Elections
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