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Senator John McCain (R-AZ) physically assaults a Nicaraguan official during a diplomatic mission by US lawmakers to Managua. According to a witness, fellow senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), McCain is the co-chair, with Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), of the bipartisan Central American Negotiations Observer Group; Cochran is a member of the group. They are in a meeting with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, the leader of the ruling Sandinistas, and several Nicaraguan diplomats, discussing tensions between the two countries. A number of armed Nicaraguan soldiers are also in the room. Cochran recalls that tensions in the room are high due to the heavy pressure being brought to bear by the US against the Nicaraguans. The American lawmakers are pressing “pretty hard,” Cochran will recall. During the discussions, “McCain was down at the end of the table and we were talking to the head of the guerrilla group here at this end of the table and I don’t know what attracted my attention,” Cochran later says. “But I saw some kind of quick movement at the bottom of the table and I looked down there and John had reached over and grabbed this guy by the shirt collar and had snatched him up like he was throwing him up out of the chair to tell him what he thought about him or whatever. I don’t know what he was telling him but I thought, good grief, everybody around here has got guns and we were there on a diplomatic mission. I don’t know what had happened to provoke John but he obviously got mad at the guy and he just reached over there and snatched him.” McCain does not actually strike the Nicaraguan, and the two eventually retake their seats. Cochran will recall that the Nicaraguan appears “ruffled” after the incident. (Biloxi Sun-Herald 6/30/2008; Biloxi Sun-Herald 7/1/2008; Associated Press 7/2/2008) In 2008, McCain will call Cochran’s story “simply untrue.” (Halperin 7/2/2008) “I had many, many meetings with the Sandinistas,” McCain will say. “I must say, I did not admire the Sandinistas much. But there was never anything of that nature. It just didn’t happen.” (Associated Press 7/2/2008)
Texas governor and possible presidential candidate George W. Bush’s “Iron Triangle” of (four, not three) political advisers—Karen Hughes, Karl Rove, Donald Evans, and Joe Allbaugh—are preparing for Bush’s entry into the 2000 presidential campaign. His biggest liability is foreign affairs: despite his conversations with Saudi Prince Bandar (see Fall 1997) and former security adviser Condoleezza Rice (see August 1998), he is still a blank slate (see Early 1998). “Is he comfortable with foreign policy? I should say not,” observes George H. W. Bush’s former national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, who is not involved in teaching the younger Bush about geopolitics. Bush’s son’s only real experience, Scowcroft notes, “was being around when his father was in his many different jobs.” Rice is less acerbic in her judgment, saying: “I think his basic instincts about foreign policy and what need[…] to be done [are] there: rebuilding military strength, the importance of free trade, the big countries with uncertain futures. Our job [is] to help him fill in the details.” Bush himself acknowledges his lack of foreign policy expertise, saying: “Nobody needs to tell me what to believe. But I do need somebody to tell me where Kosovo is.” Rice and former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney assemble a team of eight experienced foreign policy advisers to give the younger Bush what author Craig Unger calls “a crash course about the rest of the world.” They whimsically call themselves the “Vulcans,” (Carter 2004, pp. 269; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 117; Unger 2007, pp. 161-163) which, as future Bush administration press secretary Scott McClellan will later write, “was based on the imposing statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and metalworking, that is a landmark in Rice’s hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 85) The eight are:
Richard Armitage, a hardliner and Project for a New American Century (PNAC) member (see January 26, 1998) who served in a number of capacities in the first Bush presidency;
Robert Blackwill, a hardliner and former Bush presidential assistant for European and Soviet Affairs;
Stephen Hadley, a neoconservative and former assistant secretary of defense;
Richard Perle, a leading neoconservative and another former assistant secretary of defense;
Condoleezza Rice, a protege of Scowcroft, former oil company executive, and former security adviser to Bush’s father;
Donald Rumsfeld, another former defense secretary;
Paul Wolfowitz, a close associate of Perle and a prominent neoconservative academic, brought in to the circle by Cheney;
Dov Zakheim, a hardline former assistant secretary of defense and a PNAC member;
Robert Zoellick, an aide to former Secretary of State James Baker and a PNAC member.
McClellan will later note, “Rice’s and Bush’s views on foreign policy… were one and the same.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 85) Their first tutorial session in Austin, Texas is also attended by Cheney and former Secretary of State George Schulz. Even though three solid neoconservatives are helping Bush learn about foreign policy, many neoconservatives see the preponderance of his father’s circle of realpolitik foreign advisers surrounding the son and are dismayed. Prominent neoconservatives such as William Kristol, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and James Woolsey will back Bush’s primary Republican opponent, Senator John McCain (R-AZ). (Carter 2004, pp. 269; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 117; Unger 2007, pp. 161-163) Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay, both former National Security Council members, write in the book America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy, that under the tutelage of the Vulcans, Bush adopts a “hegemonist” view of the world that believes the US’s primacy in the world is paramount to securing US interests. As former White House counsel John Dean writes in 2003, this viewpoint asserts, “[S]ince we have unrivalled powers, we can have it our way, and kick ass when we don’t get it.” (Dean 11/7/2003; Carter 2004, pp. 269)
A group called “Republicans for Clean Air” begins running ads attacking Republican presidential candidate John McCain in New York. The ads accuse McCain of voting against alternative energy sources. At the same time, ads paid for by the campaign of Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush accuse McCain of labeling breast cancer programs as wasteful. Governor George Pataki (R-NY) accuses McCain of voting “anti-New York” in the Senate, while Representative John Sweeney (R-NY) says McCain was wrong to vote for raising heating oil taxes, a major issue in cold-weather states such as New York. (Garrone 3/2/2000) The group also runs ads in primary states claiming that Bush, as Texas governor, passed laws intended to reduce air pollution in Texas by over a quarter-million tons a year. The evidence does not support the claim; what few anti-pollution laws have taken effect in Texas were written mostly by Democratic state legislators and signed into law, often reluctantly, by Bush.
RFCA Consists of Two Texas Billionaires - An investigation by the New York Times soon proves that “Republicans for Clean Air” (RFCA) is funded by Dallas billionaire Sam Wyly, a Bush supporter, who has contributed $2.5 million to the group. Wyly and his brother Charles Wyly, also a RFCA contributor, are the co-founders of Sterling Software in Dallas. They are also owners, founders, or executives in firms that own Bonanza Steakhouse, the “Michael’s” chain of arts and craft stores, the hedge fund Maverick Capital, and more. Both are heavy Bush campaign donors, having donated over $210,000 to the Bush gubernatorial campaigns. They are apparently the only two members of the RFCA. Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice says of Sam Wyly: “He’s one of the elite. He’s one of the movers and shakers. He’s very big money in the state.” McCain’s campaign accuses the Bush campaign of being responsible for the advertising, and says the Bush campaign is trying to evade campaign finance laws (see February 7, 1972 and May 11, 1992). The McCain campaign complains that the Bush campaign is using unethical and possibly illegal campaign tactics to “steal” the primary election by saturating New York, California, and Ohio with anti-McCain ads just days before the primary elections in those critical states. “There is no question in our campaign’s mind that the ads are being sponsored, coordinated, and managed by the George Bush for President campaign,” says McCain’s campaign manager Rick Davis. “I think it’s incumbent on the Bush campaign to prove somehow that they are not involved in this incredible act.” Davis has no direct evidence for his claim, but cites what the Times calls “a tangle of personal, business, and political relationships between Mr. Wyly and his family and the Bush campaign to suggest that their interests were so close as to be indistinguishable.” One of those relationships cited by Davis is the fact that RFCA uses the same public relations firm, Multi Media Services Corporation, as Pataki, who chairs the Bush campaign in New York and who appears in Bush campaign ads. Bush himself denies any connection with RFCA, and says: “There is no coordination.… I had no idea the ad was going to run.” Wyly also disclaims any coordination with the Bush campaign. He says he laughed during the production of the commercials, and mused over how “surprised” the Bush campaign would be to see them on the airwaves. McCain uses the ads to draw attention to one of his favorite campaign themes, campaign finance reform. On a recent morning talk show, McCain said: “I think maybe the Bush campaign is out of money and somebody’s putting in $2 million to try to hijack the campaign here in New York. Nobody knows where it came from. [When McCain filmed the interview, Wyly’s identity had not been revealed.] We’ll probably find out, but probably too late. This is why campaign finance reform is so important.” (Perez-Pena 3/3/2000; Stevenson and Perez-Pena 3/4/2000; Oppel and Perez-Pena 3/5/2000; Ivins 3/6/2000; Scott E. Thomas and Danny Lee McDonald 4/2002; New York Times 8/23/2010) The press soon learns that Charles Wyly is an official member of the Bush presidential campaign, as a “Pioneer” donor, and has contributed the maximum amount under the law. (Stevenson and Perez-Pena 3/4/2000) It also learns that RFCA’s stated address is a post office box in Virginia belonging to Lydia Meuret, a consultant who runs a political action committee headed by Representative Henry Bonilla (R-TX), a Bush ally. Meuret denies any connection between RFCA and Bonilla or Bonilla’s PAC, but admits she is a consultant to both. (Perez-Pena 3/3/2000)
'527' Group Operates in Campaign Finance Law 'Gray Areas' - RFCA is a “527” group (see 2000 - 2005); such groups operate in a “gray area” of campaign law, as the monies they use are not contributed directly to a candidate or a political party. However, they are banned from coordinating their efforts with candidate campaigns. Their ads must not make direct appeals to voters in support of, or opposition to, a particular candidate. If they comply with this portion of the law, the donors behind the ads, and the amounts they contribute, do not have to be identified. The law does not even require the groups to declare their existence, as was the case for a time with RFCA. The Times reports, “While some of the groups behind issue advertising are vague about their membership, Mr. Wyly’s effort was a rare instance in which commercials were aired without any hint of their origin.” Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, a group advocating campaign finance reform, says of so-called “issue” ads such as these: “The secrecy aspects of this are taking campaign finance problems to yet another new and dangerous level. What we’re seeing here is the use of unlimited, undisclosed money to influence a federal election, and that’s totally at odds with the whole notion of campaign finance disclosure.” (Perez-Pena 3/3/2000; Ivins 3/6/2000; Broder and Bonner 3/29/2000; New York Times 8/23/2010) Progressive columnist Molly Ivins calls the RFCA ads examples of “sham issue” advertisements. (Ivins 3/6/2000)
Bush Claims RFCA Ads Not Helpful - After Bush secures the nomination over McCain, he tells a reporter, “I don’t think these [Republicans for Clean Air] ads are particularly helpful to me.” But Slate reporter Chris Suellentrop writes: “Of course they were helpful. Otherwise Bush would have called the group and told them to call off the dogs.” (Suellentrop 8/25/2000)
Wyly Brothers Will Fund 2004 'Swift Boat' Campaign, Later Charged with Securities Fraud, Insider Trading - A month after the ads air, Sam Wyly says he will no longer involve himself in politics. Wyly, who says he is a staunch environmentalist, says he admires Bush’s Democratic challenger, Vice President Al Gore (whom Wyly has called a regulation-happy environmentalist, and whom Wyly has considered attacking with television ads). Of his foray into the presidential campaign, Wyly says: “I learned from it. Many of you are aware of my recent foray into presidential politics. It is to be my last.” In 2004, the Wyly brothers will be two of the primary donors behind the “Swift Boat” campaign that will slander and impugn the character and military service of presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA). In 2010, the Wyly brothers will be charged with securities fraud and insider trading that netted them at least $581 million in illegal gains, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission. (Ayres 4/5/2000; New York Times 8/23/2010)
The New York Times publishes an unsigned editorial criticizing the recent use of campaign ads by the George W. Bush presidential campaign against Bush’s Republican rival, John McCain. “[T]he tactics being employed by supporters of George W. Bush against Senator John McCain should be of serious concern to every New Yorker in regard to the integrity of politics in this state and in regard to the nation’s inadequate campaign-finance laws,” the editorial states. It refers to a recent spate of “purportedly independent television ads” aired in New York and elsewhere by a group called “Republicans for Clean Air” (see March 2000 and After). Those ads were paid for by Texas billionaire Sam Wyly, a close political friend and donor of the Bush family. The Times does not believe the Bush campaign’s contention that the airing, and the timing, of the Wyly ads was nothing more than “a happy accident,” and calls for an investigation by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Moreover, the ad campaign “points up a fundamental flaw in the nation’s election laws,” the Times says. The 1996 presidential campaign was marred by questionable expenditures by groups on behalf of both the Democratic and Republican campaigns. While the Clinton and Dole campaigns both disavowed any knowledge of or coordination with those groups, and the ads left out what the Times calls “the magic words ‘vote for‘… any reasonable viewer” would discern that the ads were promoting the sponsoring group’s candidate. The Times calls the practice a “subterfuge” that threatens “the integrity of future elections.” It concludes, quoting McCain: “[A]llowing wealthy individuals to flood the airwaves with ads promoting their chosen candidates in the final days of a campaign ‘distorts the process’ and gives a small class of wealthy Americans a financial license to sway close elections without being accountable to the public.… [I]n the long run, the country needs full public financing. (New York Times 3/6/2000)
The presidential campaign of Senator John McCain (R-AZ) files a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging improper campaign contributions by two of the biggest financial backers of McCain’s rival presidential primary contender, Governor George W. Bush (R-TX). The backers, Texas billionaires Charles and Sam Wyly, spent $2.5 million on television ads airing in New York, Ohio, and California created by a group called “Republicans for Clean Air” (RFCA—see March 2000 and After). McCain’s campaign alleges that the Bush campaign illegally coordinated its efforts with RFCA to air the ads in the days before critical primary elections. Bush has denied any knowledge of the ads, and has said his campaign had no contact with the group. McCain’s complaint notes that Charles Wyly has already contributed the maximum amount allowed by law and holds an official position in the Bush campaign. McCain says at a campaign rally in California, “We ask Governor Bush to do what he refused to do, tell his sleazy Texas buddies to stop these negative ads and take their money back to Texas where it belongs, and don’t try to corrupt American politics with your money.” The McCain campaign also files an emergency complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which McCain oversees as chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, asserting that the advertisements violate the Communications Act by failing to properly identify the true sponsor. The FCC declines to intervene. Bush campaign spokesperson Karen Hughes says McCain’s complaints are “irresponsible” and “shameful. He should be ashamed. He has not one shred of evidence. The governor has personally said our campaign did not coordinate, our campaign knew nothing about the ad until a member of the media asked us about the ad, and Senator McCain should be ashamed of tossing around scurrilous accusations like that.” (Purdum and Mitchell 3/7/2000) The FEC will vote not to investigate the complaint. (Scott E. Thomas and Danny Lee McDonald 4/2002)
The Senate approves bipartisan legislation, the so-called “Stealth PAC” bill, that requires secretive tax-exempt organizations that raise and spend money on political activities to reveal their donors and expenditures. The so-called “527” organizations have flourished because until now, Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code has protected both their nonprofit status and their right to keep their donors and funding information secret (see 2000 - 2005). President Clinton will sign the bill into law. It is the first major legislative change in American campaign finance law in two decades (see January 8, 1980). Under the new law, Section 527 organizations raising over $25,000 a year must comply with federal campaign law, file tax returns, disclose the identities of anyone contributing over $200, and report expenditures in excess of $500. That information will be reported to the IRS every three months during an election year, and the information will be posted on the Internet. The bill takes effect as soon as Clinton signs it into law.
Passed Despite Republican Opposition - The House passed the bill on a 385-39 vote; only six Senate Republicans vote against the bill. Senate and House Republican leaders have blocked the bill for months. Clinton says, “Passage of this bill proves that public interest can triumph over special interests,” and urges Congress to pass a more comprehensive overhaul of campaign finance law. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) says, “I’m not pretending we don’t have other loopholes to close, but those groups that have found this an easy, painless way to go on the attack are now going to have to scramble to figure out different ways.” Some ways that groups will avoid the requirements of the new law are to reorganize themselves as for-profit organizations—thus losing their tax exemptions—or trying to reorganize as other types of nonprofits. Many expect donors to rush big contributions to these 527 groups before the new law takes effect. Mike Castle (R-DE), a House Republican who supports the bill, says, “I am sure that the phones are ringing over on K Street right now about how to get money into the 527s before they are eliminated.” Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who helped Senate Republicans block the bill and who voted no on its passage, now calls it a “relatively benign bill,” downplaying his stiff opposition to the bill and to campaign finance regulation in general. McConnell advised Republicans up for re-election in November 2000 to vote yes for the bill “to insulate them against absurd charges that they are in favor of secret campaign contributions or Chinese money or Mafia money.” McConnell explains that he voted against the bill because it infringes on freedom of speech (see December 15, 1986). Governor George W. Bush (R-TX), the GOP’s presidential candidate, issues a statement supporting the bill: “As I have previously stated, I believe these third-party groups should have to disclose who is funding their ads. As the only candidate to fully disclose contributors on a daily basis, I have always been a strong believer in sunshine and full disclosure.” Bush defeated Republican challenger John McCain (R-AZ) in part because of the efforts of Republicans for Clean Air, a 527 group headed by Bush financier Sam Wyly and which spent $2.5 million attacking McCain’s environmental record (see March 2000 and After). McCain helped push the current bill through the Senate, and says: “This bill will not solve what is wrong with our campaign finance system. But it will give the public information regarding one especially pernicious weapon used in modern campaigns.”
527s Used by Both Parties - Both Democrats and Republicans have created and used 527 groups, which are free from federal oversight as long as they do not advocate for or against a specific candidate. The organizations use donations for polling, advertising, telephone banks, and direct-mail appeals, but are not subject to federal filing or reporting rules as long as they do not advocate the election or defeat of a specific candidate. Some groups, such as the Republican Majority Issues Committee, a 527 organization aligned with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), intend to continue functioning as usual even after the bill is signed into law, while they examine their legal options. The committee head, Karl Gallant, says his organization will “continue on our core mission to give conservative voters a voice in the upcoming elections.” The Republican Majority Issues Committee is considered DeLay’s personal PAC, or political action committee; it is expected to funnel as much as $25 million into closely contested races between now and Election Day. Gallant says the organization will comply with the new law, but complains, “We are deeply concerned that Congress has placed the regulation of free speech in the hands of the tax collectors.” He then says: “We’re not going anywhere. You will have RMIC to amuse and delight you throughout the election cycle.” The Sierra Club’s own 527 organization, the Environmental Voter Education Campaign, says it will also comply “eagerly” with the new law, and will spend some $8 million supporting candidates who match the Sierra Club’s pro-environmental stance. “We will eagerly comply with the new law as soon as it takes effect,” says the Sierra Club’s Dan Weiss. “But it’s important to note that while we strongly support the passage of this reform, 527 money is just the tip of the soft-money iceberg. Real reform would mean banning all soft-money contributions to political parties.” Another 527 group affected by the new law is Citizens for Better Medicare, which has already spent $30 million supporting Republican candidates who oppose a government-run prescription drug benefit. Spokesman Dan Zielinski says the group may change or abandon its 527 status in light of the new law. “The coalition is not going away,” he says. “We will comply with whatever legal requirements are necessary. We’ll do whatever the lawyers say we have to do.” A much smaller 527, the Peace Voter Fund, a remnant of the peace movement of the 1970s and 80s, says it intends to engage in voter education and issue advocacy in about a dozen Congressional races. Executive director Van Gosse says the group will follow the new law and continue as before: “Disclosure of donors is not a major issue for us. So we’ll just say to donors in the future that they will be subject to federal disclosure requirements. It’s no biggie.” (Schmitt and Broder 6/30/2000; OMB Watch 4/1/2002; Wertheimer 9/28/2010)
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks begin, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), at his Senate office, reportedly tells his aides, “This is war.” Within hours, McCain begins frequently appearing on television to discuss responding to the attacks. The New York Times will later say that McCain becomes “the leading advocate of taking the American retaliation against al-Qaeda far beyond Afghanistan. In a marathon of television and radio appearances, Mr. McCain recited a short list of other countries said to support terrorism, invariably including Iraq, Iran and Syria.” For instance, on the morning of September 12, he says on ABC News, “There is a system out there or network, and that network is going to have to be attacked.” He adds on MSNBC, “It isn’t just Afghanistan.” In a CNN interview some days later, he says, “Very obviously Iraq is the first country.” (Kirkpatrick 8/16/2008)
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) appears on the Late Show with David Letterman. Asked on how the recent US invasion of Afghanistan is progressing, McCain says, “I think we’re doing fine… The second phase… the second phase is Iraq. There is some indication, and I don’t have the conclusions, but some of this anthrax may—and I emphasize may—have come from Iraq.… If that should be the case, that’s when some tough decisions are gonna have to be made.” (McCain 8/1/2008)
In a television interview, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) supports the allegation that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague. McCain says, “The evidence is very clear.” This comment comes several days after a Czech government official claimed that the meeting took place (see October 26, 2001). McCain makes other comments around the same time also trying to link Iraq to the 9/11 attacks. For instance, in mid-September 2001, he told television host Jay Leno that he believes “some other countries” had assisted al-Qaeda, suggesting Iraq, Iran, and Syria as potential suspects. McCain also relies on dubious claims made by Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress (INC). For instance, in a television interview, McCain echoes the INC’s claim that two Iraqi defectors know about terrorist training camps in Iraq (see November 6-8, 2001). McCain claims there are “credible reports of involvement between Iraqi administration officials, Iraqi officials and the terrorists.” In 2006, McCain will admit that he had been “too enamored with the INC.” (Kirkpatrick 8/16/2008)
Paul Charlton is sworn in as the US Attorney for Arizona. (CBS News 2007; Thomas 2011) An experienced prosecutor, Charlton was recommended for the position by Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and John McCain (R-AZ). He began as an interim US Attorney, and was reappointed to the position after 120 days by the federal district court, as the law provides. President Bush nominated him for the position in July 2001, and he was confirmed by the Senate. He will go on to chair the Border and Immigration Subcommittee of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee (AGAC), replacing US Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico (see October 18, 2001). He will also create a program to protect crime victims, praised by the Justice Department as a “model program” in 2006. He and his staff will consistently be ranked in the top three US Attorneys’ offices in number and quality of prosecutions and convictions, and have notably high rates of convictions in the targeted areas of drugs, weapons, and immigration crimes. Charlton will also establish the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council (ATAC), which will successfully improve communications and coordination between numerous law enforcement agencies. There are 93 US Attorneys serving in the 50 states as well as in Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Marianas. All US Attorneys are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, and serve under the supervision of the Office of the Attorney General in the Justice Department. They are the chief law enforcement officers for their districts. They serve at the pleasure of the president, and can be terminated for any reason at any time. Typically, US Attorneys serve a four-year term, though they often serve for longer unless they leave or there is a change in presidential administrations. (Iglesias and Seay 5/2008, pp. 119; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General 9/29/2008)
US Congressmen write a letter to President Bush urging him to take military action against Iraq. Among those who sign the letter are Jesse Helms (R-NC), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), John McCain (R-AZ), Henry Hyde (R-IL), and Trent Lott (R-MS). The letter states, “As we work to clean up Afghanistan, it is imperative that we plan to eliminate the threat from Iraq. This December will mark three years since United Nations inspectors last visited Iraq. There is no doubt that since that time, Saddam Hussein has reinvigorated his weapons programs.… Reports indicate that biological, chemical and nuclear programs continue apace and may be back to pre-Gulf War levels. We believe we must directly confront Saddam, sooner rather than later.” (Kristol 12/6/2001; Jensen 12/15/2001)
Two bipartisan pairs of senators introduce legislation to create independent 9/11 commissions. Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and John McCain (R-AZ) propose to create a 14-member, bipartisan commission with subpoena power. At the same time, Robert Torricelli (D-NJ) and Charles Grassley (R-IN) propose to create a 12-member board of inquiry with subpoena power. White House spokeswoman Anne Womack is noncommittal about the proposals, saying, “We look forward to reviewing them. Right now, the president is focused on fighting the war on terrorism.” (Mitchell 12/21/2001)
While detailed plans for the upcoming invasion of Iraq are well underway, the administration realizes that the American people are not strongly behind such an invasion. They aren’t convinced that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and unsure about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. White House and Pentagon officials decide that using retired military officers as “independent military analysts” in the national media can help change hearts and minds (see April 20, 2008). Assistant secretary of defense for public affairs Victoria “Torie” Clarke, a former public relations executive, intends to achieve what she calls “information dominance.” The news culture is saturated by “spin” and combating viewpoints; Clarke argues that opinions are most swayed by voices seen as authoritative and completely independent. Clarke has already put together a system within the Pentagon to recruit what she calls “key influentials,” powerful and influential people from all areas who, with the proper coaching, can generate support for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s agenda. After 9/11, when each of the news networks rushed to land its own platoon of retired military officers to provide commentary and analysis, Clarke saw an opportunity: such military analysts are the ultimate “key influentials,” having tremendous authority and credibility with average Americans. They often get more airtime than network reporters, Clarke notes. More importantly, they are not just explaining military minutiae, but telling viewers how to interpret events. Best of all, while they are in the news media, they are not creatures of the media. Reporter David Barstow will write in 2008, “They were military men, many of them ideologically in sync with the administration’s neoconservative brain trust, many of them important players in a military industry anticipating large budget increases to pay for an Iraq war.” And even those without such ties tended to support the military and the government. Retired Army general and ABC analyst William Nash will say: “It is very hard for me to criticize the United States Army. It is my life.”
'Writing the Op-Ed' for the War - As a result, according to Clarke’s aide Don Meyer, Clarke decides to make the military analysts the main focus of the public relations push to build a case for invading Iraq. They, not journalists, will “be our primary vehicle to get information out,” Meyer recalls. The military analysts are not handled by the Pentagon’s regular press office, but are lavished with attention and “perks” in a separate office run by another aide to Clarke, Brent Krueger. According to Krueger, the military analysts will, in effect, be “writing the op-ed” for the war.
Working in Tandem with the White House - The Bush administration works closely with Clarke’s team from the outset. White House officials request lists of potential recruits for the team, and suggests names for the lists. Clarke’s team writes summaries of each potential analyst, describing their backgrounds, business and political affiliations, and their opinions on the war. Rumsfeld has the final say on who is on the team: “Rumsfeld ultimately cleared off on all invitees,” Krueger will say. Ultimately, the Pentagon recruits over 75 retired officers, though some only participate briefly or sporadically.
Saturation Coverage on Cable - The largest contingent of analysts is affiliated with Fox News, followed by NBC and CNN, the networks with 24-hour cable news coverage. Many analysts work for ABC and CBS as well. Many also appear on radio news and talk broadcasts, publish op-ed articles in newspapers, and are quoted in press reports, magazine articles, and in Web sites and blogs. Barstow, a New York Times reporter, will note that “[a]t least nine of them have written op-ed articles for The Times.”
Representing the Defense Industry - Many of the analysts have close ties with defense contractors and/or lobbying firms involved in helping contractors win military contracts from the Pentagon:
Retired Army general James Marks, who begins working as an analyst for CNN in 2004 (until his firing three years later—see July 2007) is a senior executive with McNeil Technologies, and helps that firm land military and intelligence contracts from the government.
Thomas McInerney, a retired Air Force general and Fox News analyst, sits on the boards of several military contractors.
CBS military analyst Jeffrey McCausland is a lobbyist for Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a major lobbying firm where he is director of a national security team that represents several military contractors. His team proclaims on the firm’s Web site, “We offer clients access to key decision makers.”
Shortly after signing with CBS, retired Air Force general Joseph Ralston became vice chairman of the Cohen Group, a consulting firm headed by former Defense Secretary William Cohen (also an analyst for CNN). The Cohen Group says of itself on its Web site, “The Cohen Group knows that getting to ‘yes’ in the aerospace and defense market—whether in the United States or abroad—requires that companies have a thorough, up-to-date understanding of the thinking of government decision makers.”
Ideological Ties - Many military analysts have political and ideological ties to the Bush administration and its supporters. These include:
Two of NBC’s most familiar analysts, retired generals Barry McCaffrey and Wayne Downing, are on the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, an advocacy group created with White House encouragement in 2002 to push for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. (Barstow 4/20/2008) Additionally, McCaffrey is chief of BR McCaffrey Associates, which “provides strategic, analytic, and advocacy consulting services to businesses, non-profits, governments, and international organizations.” (Kurtz 4/21/2008) Other members include senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), and prominent neoconservatives Richard Perle and William Kristol. (Cohen 4/28/2008) Both McCaffrey and Downing head their own consulting firms and are board members of major defense contractors.
Retired Army general Paul Vallely, a Fox News analyst from 2001 through 2007, shares with the Bush national security team the belief that the reason the US lost in Vietnam was due to negative media coverage, and the commitment to prevent that happening with the Iraq war. In 1980, Vallely co-wrote a paper accusing the US press of failing to defend the nation from what he called “enemy” propaganda—negative media coverage—during the Vietnam War. “We lost the war—not because we were outfought, but because we were out Psyoped,” he wrote. Vallely advocated something he called “MindWar,” an all-out propaganda campaign by the government to convince US citizens of the need to support a future war effort. Vallely’s “MindWar” would use network TV and radio to “strengthen our national will to victory.” (Barstow 4/20/2008)
Ironically, Clarke herself will eventually leave the Pentagon and become a commentator for ABC News. (Goodman 4/22/2008)
Seducing the Analysts - Analysts describe a “powerfully seductive environment,” in Barstow’s words, created for them in the Pentagon: the uniformed escorts to Rumsfeld’s private conference room, lavish lunches served on the best government china, embossed name cards, “blizzard[s] of PowerPoints, the solicitations of advice and counsel, the appeals to duty and country, the warm thank you notes from the secretary himself.” Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard, who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, says: “[Y]ou have no idea. You’re back. They listen to you. They listen to what you say on TV.” Allard calls the entire process “psyops on steroids,” using flattery and proximity to gain the desired influence and effect. “It’s not like it’s, ‘We’ll pay you $500 to get our story out,’” Allard says. “It’s more subtle.”
Keeping Pentagon Connections Hidden - In return, the analysts are instructed not to quote their briefers directly or to mention their contacts with the Pentagon. The idea is always to present a facade of independent thought. One example is the analysts’ almost perfect recitation of Pentagon talking points during a fall and winter 2002 PR campaign (see Fall and Winter 2002). (Barstow 4/20/2008)
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), speaking before US troops on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Arabian Sea, shouts out, “Next stop, Baghdad!” (Kirkpatrick 8/16/2008)
At a NATO security conference in Munich, Germany, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) publicly argues that the US should invade Iraq. He says: “A terrorist resides in Baghdad.… A day of reckoning is approaching.” He argues that attacking Iraq in addition to Afghanistan would force other state sponsors of terrorism to stop supporting terrorists, “accomplishing by example what we would otherwise have to pursue through force of arms.” According to a later account by the New York Times, McCain “[urges] the Europeans to join what he portrayed as an all but certain assault on Saddam Hussein.” McCain concludes: “Just as Sept. 11 revolutionized our resolve to defeat our enemies, so has it brought into focus the opportunities we now have to secure and expand our freedom.… A better world is already emerging from the rubble.” (Kirkpatrick 8/16/2008)
After years of battling Republican filibuster efforts and other Congressional impediments, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 is signed into law. Dubbed the “McCain-Feingold Act” after its two Senate sponsors, John McCain (R-AZ) and Russ Feingold (D-WI), when the law takes effect after the 2002 midterm elections, national political parties will no longer be allowed to raise so-called “soft money” (unregulated contributions) from wealthy donors. The legislation also raises “hard money” (federal money) limits, and tries, with limited success, to eliminate so-called “issue advertising,” where organizations not directly affiliated with a candidate run “issues ads” that promote or attack specific candidates. The act defines political advertising as “electioneering communication,” and prohibits advertising paid for by corporations or by an “unincorporated entity” funded by corporations or labor unions (with exceptions—see June 25, 2007). To a lesser extent, the BCRA also applies to state elections. In large part, it supplants the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972, 1974, May 11, 1976, and January 8, 1980). (Federal Election Commission 2002; Center for Responsive Politics 2002 ; Geraci 2006 )
Bush: Bill 'Far from Perfect' - Calling the bill “far from perfect,” President Bush signs it into law, taking credit for the bill’s restrictions on “soft money,” which the White House and Congressional Republicans had long opposed. Bush says: “This legislation is the culmination of more than six years of debate among a vast array of legislators, citizens, and groups. Accordingly, it does not represent the full ideals of any one point of view. But it does represent progress in this often-contentious area of public policy debate. Taken as a whole, this bill improves the current system of financing for federal campaigns, and therefore I have signed it into law.” (Center for Responsive Politics 2002 ; White House 3/27/2002)
'Soft Money' Ban - The ban on so-called “soft money,” or “nonfederal contributions,” affects contributions given to political parties for purposes other than supporting specific candidates for federal office (“hard money”). In theory, soft money contributions can be used for purposes such as party building, voter outreach, and other activities. Corporations and labor unions are prohibited from giving money directly to candidates for federal office, but they can give soft money to parties. Via legal loopholes and other, sometimes questionable, methodologies, soft money contributions can be used for television ads in support of (or opposition to) a candidate, making the two kinds of monies almost indistinguishable. The BCRA bans soft money contributions to political parties. National parties are prohibited from soliciting, receiving, directing, transferring, and spending soft money. State and local parties can no longer spend soft money for any advertisements or other voter communications that identify a candidate for federal office and either promote or attack that candidate. Federal officeholders and candidates cannot solicit, receive, direct, transfer, or spend soft money in connection with any election. State officeholders and candidates cannot spend soft money on any sort of communication that identifies a candidate for federal office and either promotes or attacks that candidate. (Legal Information Institute 12/2003; ThisNation 2012)
Defining 'Issue Advertisements' or 'Electioneering Communications' - In a subject related to the soft money section, the BCRA addresses so-called “issue advertisements” sponsored by outside, third-party organizations and individuals—in other words, ads by people or organizations who are not candidates or campaign organizations. The BCRA defines an “issue ad,” or as the legislation calls it, “electioneering communication,” as one that is disseminated by cable, broadcast, or satellite; refers to a candidate for federal office; is disseminated in a particular time period before an election; and is targeted towards a relevant electorate with the exception of presidential or vice-presidential ads. The legislation anticipates that this definition might be overturned by a court, and provides the following “backup” definition: any broadcast, cable, or satellite communication which promotes or supports a candidate for that office, or attacks or opposes a candidate for that office (regardless of whether the communication expressly advocates a vote for or against a candidate).
Corporation and Labor Union Restrictions - The BCRA prohibits corporations and labor unions from using monies from their general treasuries for political communications. If these organizations wish to participate in a political process, they can form a PAC and allocate specific funds to that group. PAC expenditures are not limited.
Nonprofit Corporations - The BCRA provides an exception to the above for “nonprofit corporations,” allowing them to fund electioneering activities and communications from their general treasuries. These nonprofits are subject to disclosure requirements, and may not receive donations from corporations or labor unions.
Disclosure and Coordination Restrictions - This part of the BCRA amends the sections of FECA that addresses disclosure and “coordinated expenditure” issues—the idea that “independent” organizations such as PACs could coordinate their electioneering communications with those of the campaign it supports. It includes the so-called “millionaire provisions” that allow candidates to raise funds through increased contribution limits if their opponent’s self-financed personal campaign contributions exceed a certain amount.
Broadcast Restrictions - The BCRA establishes requirements for television broadcasts. All political advertisements must identify their sponsor. It also modifies an earlier law requiring broadcast stations to sell airtime at its lowest prices. Broadcast licensees must collect and disclose records of purchases made for the purpose of political advertisements.
Increased Contribution Limits - The BCRA increases contribution limits. It also bans contributions from minors, with the idea that parents would use their children as unwitting and unlawful conduits to avoid contribution limits.
Lawsuits Challenge Constitutionality - The same day that Bush signs the law into effect, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and the National Rifle Association (NRA) file lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the BCRA (see December 10, 2003). (Legal Information Institute 12/2003)
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) says of Pat Tillman’s enlistment (see May 23-June 1, 2002), “Perhaps [those] last vestiges of the Vietnam War have disappeared in the rubble of the World Trade Center.” Recalling when it was “uncool” to join the military, McCain notes Tillman’s potential as a “recruiting tool,” saying that he will “motivate other young Americans to serve as well.” (Farmer 5/31/2002)
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld writes to Pat Tillman, a former NFL star, congratulating his choice to leave a $3.6 million contract behind to join the Army (see May 23-June 1, 2002) and calling it “proud and patriotic.” Tillman had received laudatory press coverage worldwide and been noticed by Senator John McCain (R-AZ—see May 31, 2002). The letter will surface five years later, when a congressional hearing is held to ascertain if Rumsfeld was involved in the effort to conceal the true circumstances of Tillman’s death in Afghanistan. (House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform 8/16/2009)
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has so far hired “32 appointees to top policymaking positions who were former executives, paid consultants, or major shareholders of top defense contractors,” according to author William Hartung, writing for the Los Angeles Times. Hartung says Rumsfeld came into office determined to hire a “core group of corporate executives to run the Pentagon in what one commentator describe[s] as ‘Department of Defense Inc.’” Rumsfeld placed executives in charge of three of the military’s five branches—Northrop Grumman’s James Roche for the Air Force, General Dynamics’s Gordon England for the Navy, and Enron’s Thomas White for the Army. Since their ascension to power, the military has been accused by such critics as Senator John McCain (R-AZ) of stunning levels of “war profiteering.” Hartung writes that the Pentagon is suffering from a severe case of “ethical rot” under Rumsfeld, and says that the Pentagon is experiencing “decreased accountability and a level of cronyism… more reminiscent of Indonesia under Suharto than anything Washington has seen in recent memory.” (Hartung 12/10/2003; Carter 2004, pp. 72)
The Washington Post reveals that FBI agents have questioned nearly all 37 senators and congresspeople making up the 9/1 Congressional Inquiry about 9/11-related information leaks. In particular, in June 2002 the media reported that the day before 9/11 the NSA intercepted the messages “The match is about to begin” and “Tomorrow is zero hour”(see September 10, 2001). The FBI has asked the members to submit to lie detector tests but most have refused. Congresspeople express “grave concern” for this historically unprecedented move. A law professor states: “Now the FBI can open dossiers on every member and staffer and develop full information on them. It creates a great chilling effect on those who would be critical of the FBI.” (Priest 8/2/2002) Senator John McCain (R-AZ) suggests that “the constitutional separation of powers is being violated in spirit if not in the letter. ‘What you have here is an organization compiling dossiers on people who are investigating the same organization. The administration bitterly complains about some leaks out of a committee, but meanwhile leaks abound about secret war plans for fighting a war against Saddam Hussein. What’s that about? There’s a bit of a contradiction here, if not a double standard.’” (Priest and Dewar 8/3/2002) Later the search for the source of the leak intensifies to unprecedented levels as the FBI asks 17 senators to turn over phone records, appointment calendars, and schedules that would reveal their possible contact with reporters. (Priest 8/24/2002) Most, if not all, turn over the records, even as some complain that the request breaches the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. One senator says the FBI is “trying to put a damper on our activities and I think they will be successful.” (Guggenheim 8/29/2002) In January 2004, it will be reported that the probe is focusing on Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL). He will not be charged with any crime relating to the leak. (Priest and Lengel 1/22/2004) In November 2005, the Senate Ethics Committee will announce it has dropped a probe of Shelby, citing insufficient evidence. (Reuters 11/13/2005) Inquiry co-chair Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) will write in a book in late 2004 that, at the time, he guessed “the leak was intended to sabotage [the inquiry’s] efforts. I am not by nature a conspiracy theorist, but the fact that we were hit with this disclosure at the moment we began to make things uncomfortable for the Bush administration has stuck with me. Over a year later, I asked [inquiry co-chair] Congressman [Porter] Goss (R-FL) whether he thought we had been set up. Nodding, he replied, ‘I often wonder that myself.’” (Graham and Nussbaum 2004, pp. 140) Author Philip Shenon will observe that this tactic of intimidation worked, as “Members of the joint committee and their staffs were frightened into silence about the investigation.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 55)
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld holds a “top secret” briefing on Iraq for selected Congressional members, including, among others, Senator John McCain (R-AZ). The briefing takes place in the most secure room in the Capitol, a small, windowless chamber that is ostentatiously swept for bugs before the briefing. At the outset, the lawmakers are sworn to deepest secrecy. But during the briefing, Rumsfeld tells the assembled members nothing they couldn’t learn by watching the nightly news. McCain abruptly leaves the meeting, and later says, “It was a joke.” Vice President Cheney has said that the administration doesn’t trust the 535 members of Congress not to leak classified information, and therefore they must make their decisions concerning war with Iraq without the benefit of complete intelligence briefings (see Before September 9, 2002 and After). McCain reflects the feelings of many members in expressing his aggravation with the administration. “It becomes almost insulting after a while,” he says. “Everyone that goes to them is frustrated.” Rather than give “pretend” briefings that convey little information, McCain says, President Bush should just suspend the briefings entirely. House member Robert Menendez (D-NJ) says many members are skipping the briefings entirely to avoid signing a secrecy pledge that restricts what they can and cannot talk about. Menendez, briefed earlier by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet, says, “I heard nothing that was new, compelling, or that I have not heard before.” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says, “The White House will continue to as fully inform as possible members of Congress, while also preserving sensitive intelligence information so no inadvertent disclosure jeopardizes sources or methods or missions.” The White House has had some success with Democrats who might be resistant to its arguments for war by choosing to give more complete briefings to a few selected Democratic leaders, including House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO). As a result, Democratic leaders in Congress are more supportive of the push towards war than many of their rank-and-file colleagues. (VandeHei 9/15/2002)
Newsweek reports that hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar may have received money from Saudi Arabia’s royal family through two Saudis, Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan. Newsweek bases its report on information leaked from the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry in October. (Isikoff 11/22/2002; Isikoff 11/22/2002; Johnston and Risen 11/23/2002; Farah 11/23/2003) Al-Bayoumi is in Saudi Arabia by this time. Basnan was deported to Saudi Arabia just five days earlier. Saudi officials and Princess Haifa immediately deny any connections to Islamic militants. (Serrano, McManus, and Krikorian 11/24/2002) Newsweek reports that while the money trail “could be perfectly innocent… it is nonetheless intriguing—and could ultimately expose the Saudi government to some of the blame for 9/11…” (Isikoff 11/22/2002) Some Saudi newspapers, which usually reflect government thinking, claim the leak is blackmail to pressure Saudi Arabia into supporting war with Iraq. (MSNBC 11/27/2002) Senior US government officials claim the FBI and CIA failed to aggressively pursue leads that might have linked the two hijackers to Saudi Arabia. This causes a bitter dispute between FBI and CIA officials and the intelligence panel investigating the 9/11 attacks. (Johnston and Risen 11/23/2002) A number of senators, including Richard Shelby (R-AL), John McCain (R-AZ), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Bob Graham (D-FL), Joseph Biden (D-DE), and Charles Schumer (D-NY), express concern about the Bush administration’s action (or non-action) regarding the Saudi royal family and its possible role in funding Islamic militants. (Reuters 11/24/2002; Johnston and Shenon 11/25/2002) Lieberman says, “I think it’s time for the president to blow the whistle and remember what he said after September 11—you’re either with us or you’re with the al-Qaeda.” (ABC News 11/25/2002) FBI officials strongly deny any deliberate connection between these two men and the Saudi government or the hijackers (Shannon, Zagorin, and Duffy 11/24/2002) , but later even more connections between them and both entities are revealed. (US Congress 7/24/2003 )
The 10 members of the new 9/11 Commission are appointed by this date, and are: Republicans Thomas Kean (chairman), Slade Gorton, James Thompson, Fred Fielding, and John Lehman, and Democrats Lee Hamilton (vice chairman), Max Cleland, Tim Roemer, Richard Ben-Veniste, and Jamie Gorelick. (Kemper and Zuckman 12/12/2002; Associated Press 12/16/2002; Shenon 12/17/2002) Senators Richard Shelby (R-AL) and John McCain (R-AZ) had a say in the choice of one of the Republican positions. They and many 9/11 victims’ relatives wanted former Senator Warren Rudman (R-NH), who co-wrote an acclaimed report about terrorism before 9/11 (see January 31, 2001). But, possibly under pressure from the White House, Senate Republican leader Trent Lott (R-MS) blocked Rudman’s appointment and chose John Lehman instead. (Jacoby 12/12/2002; Fournier 12/13/2002; Zabarenko 12/16/2002; Shenon 2008, pp. 55-56) It will slowly emerge over the next several months that at least six of the 10 commissioners have ties to the airline industry. (CBS News 3/5/2003) Henry Kissinger (see December 13, 2002) and his replacement Thomas Kean (see December 16, 2002) both caused controversy when they were named. In addition, the other nine members of the Commission are later shown to all have potential conflicts of interest. Republican commissioners:
Fred Fielding also works for a law firm lobbying for Spirit Airlines and United Airlines. (Associated Press 2/14/2003; CBS News 3/5/2003)
Slade Gorton has close ties to Boeing, which built all the planes destroyed on 9/11, and his law firm represents several major airlines, including Delta Air Lines. (Guggenheim 12/12/2002; CBS News 3/5/2003)
John Lehman, former secretary of the Navy, has large investments in Ball Corp., which has many US military contracts. (Associated Press 3/27/2003)
James Thompson, former Illinois governor, is the head of a law firm that lobbies for American Airlines and has previously represented United Airlines. (Associated Press 1/31/2003; CBS News 3/5/2003) Democratic commissioners:
Richard Ben-Veniste represents Boeing and United Airlines. (CBS News 3/5/2003) He also has other curious connections, according to a 2001 book on CIA ties to drug running written by Daniel Hopsicker, which has an entire chapter called “Who is Richard Ben-Veniste?” Lawyer Ben-Veniste, Hopsicker says, “has made a career of defending political crooks, specializing in cases that involve drugs and politics.” He has been referred to in print as a “Mob lawyer,” and was a long-time lawyer for Barry Seal, one of the most famous drug dealers in US history who is also alleged to have had CIA connections. (Hopsicker 2001, pp. 325-30)
Max Cleland, former US senator, has received $300,000 from the airline industry. (CBS News 3/5/2003)
James Gorelick is a director of United Technologies, one of the Pentagon’s biggest defense contractors and a supplier of engines to airline manufacturers. (Associated Press 3/27/2003)
Lee Hamilton sits on many advisory boards, including those to the CIA, the president’s Homeland Security Advisory Council, and the US Army. (Associated Press 3/27/2003)
Tim Roemer represents Boeing and Lockheed Martin. (CBS News 3/5/2003)
EPA staffers are instructed by higher-ups not to analyze any mercury or carbon dioxide reduction proposals that conflict with the president’s “Clear Skies” bill or, if they do, to keep the results under wraps. For example, an alternative proposal sponsored by senators Thomas R. Carper and Lincoln Chaffee is analyzed by the EPA but its conclusions—showing that the Carper-Chaffee plan has some advantages over Clear Skies—are not released. According to one EPA staffer later interviewed by the New York Times, Jeffrey Holmstead, the assistant administrator for air programs, wondered out loud during a May 2 meeting, “How can we justify Clear Skies if this gets out?” And in June, EPA administrator Christie Whitman sends a letter to senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman, informing them that the EPA will not do economic analysis on their alternative plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions as they requested. Senator McCain later tells the New York Times that he did “not feel it was normal procedure to refuse to analyze a bill that is under the agency’s jurisdiction.” (Lee 7/14/2003)
ABC’s Nightline hosts a “town meeting” panel discussion with a number of experts and pundits on the subject of the impending invasion of Iraq. The proponents of the war include Senator John McCain (R-AZ), former CIA Director James Woolsey, and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention. Arguing against the war are the former deputy chief of mission to Iraq, Joseph Wilson; Senator Carl Levin (D-MI); and the Reverend Susan Thistlewaite of the Chicago Theological Seminary. The advocates of the war had prepared for the discussion, even holding a mock debate the night before with Randy Schoeneman of the Iraqi Liberation Front. The anti-war panelists did not discuss their remarks until minutes before the broadcast. “[W]e were disadvantaged by our comparative lack of preparation,” Wilson will later recall in his 2004 book The Politics of Truth. He remembers the panel discussion as “unpleasant,” not the least because, during his remarks about achieving disarmament without occupation (see February 13, 2003 and February 28, 2003), McCain interrupts him and accuses him of “appeasement.” Wilson will later write: “I take great offense at having my patriotism questioned by anyone. John McCain’s service to his country is unimpeachable but that does not give him a monopoly on loyalty, nor is it equatable with wisdom on national security issues.” Woolsey piles on, accusing Wilson of racism when Wilson notes that implementing democracy in Iraq would be “a stiff challenge.” Wilson will write that the accusation, which he will term “an outrageously provocative insult,” angers many of the African-American audience members, including “several members of the House of Representatives who had known me from my White House days managing African Affairs” for the State Department. Wilson will note, “The remark went over with a thud and was subsequently dropped from the standard set of neoconservative talking points spouted against me.” At the end of the debate, host Ted Koppel tells the threesome in favor of war, “You have made some important points, gentlemen, but you have not made your case that war with Iraq now is necessary.” Wilson calls it “a pyrrhic victory,” in part because “the one person whom we would have liked most to influence by our arguments—George W. Bush—was probably already asleep. But then, as he later told Brit Hume of Fox, he gets his information straight from his advisers rather than from newspapers and broadcast outlets.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 321-323)
Recent remarks by Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) alleging that granting rights to homosexuals would also grant Americans the right to commit incest, child rape, and bestiality (see April 7, 2003) draw heavy criticism from both pro-gay organizations and political opponents. Winnie Stachelberg of the gay advocacy organization Human Rights Campaign says: “Senator Santorum’s remarks are deeply hurtful and play on deep-seated fears that fly in the face of scientific evidence, common sense, and basic decency. Clearly, there is no compassion in his conservatism.” Stachelberg asks Republican Congressional leaders to repudiate Santorum’s remarks. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) calls on Santorum to resign as chairman of the Republican Senate Caucus, the number three position in the GOP leadership; Santorum does not do so. The DSCC’s Brad Woodhouse says, “Senator Santorum’s remarks are divisive, hurtful, and reckless and are completely out of bounds for someone who is supposed to be a leader in the United States Senate.” Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) says Santorum’s position is “out of step with our country’s respect for tolerance.” Senator John Kerry (D-MA), a Democratic presidential contender, criticizes the White House for not speaking out against Santorum’s statements, saying, “The White House speaks the rhetoric of compassionate conservatism, but they’re silent while their chief lieutenants make divisive and hurtful comments that have no place in our politics.” Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean (D-VT) joins in calls for Santorum to step down from the RSC post, saying: “Gay-bashing is not a legitimate public policy discussion; it is immoral. Rick Santorum’s failure to recognize that attacking people because of who they are is morally wrong makes him unfit for a leadership position in the United States Senate. Today, I call on Rick Santorum to resign from his post as Republican Conference chairman.” Patrick Guerriero of the Republican pro-gay group, the Log Cabin Republicans, says that Santorum should either apologize or step down from his post as RSC chair: “If you ask most Americans if they compare gay and lesbian Americans to polygamists and folks who are involved in incest and the other categories he used, I think there are very few folks in the mainstream who would articulate those views.” Santorum’s remarks make it difficult to characterize the GOP as inclusive, Guerriero adds. (Loughlin 4/23/2003; CNN 4/23/2003) Guerriero later tells a gay advocacy newspaper: “Log Cabin Republicans are entering a new chapter. We’re no longer thrilled simply about getting a meeting at the White House. We’re organized enough to demand full equality. I’ve heard that vibration since I’ve been in Washington—that people in the party are taking us for granted. To earn respect, we have to start demanding it.… One of the most disappointing things about this episode is that we’ve spent a lot of time with the senator trying to find common ground. This is how he repays us? There is a sad history of Republican leaders choosing to go down this path, and he should’ve known better.” Another, less prominent Republican pro-gay organization, the Republican Unity Coalition, denounces Santorum’s views but stands by his right to hold them. (Bull 6/10/2003) Some Republican senators join in criticizing Santorum. Susan Collins (R-ME) says Santorum’s choice of words is “regrettable” and his legal analysis “wrong.” Olympia Snowe (R-ME) says, “Discrimination and bigotry have no place in our society, and I believe Senator Santorum’s remarks undermine Republican principles of inclusion and opportunity.” Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) says: “I thought his choice of comparisons was unfortunate and the premise that the right of privacy does not exist—just plain wrong. Senator Santorum’s views are not held by this Republican and many others in our party.” Gordon Smith (R-OR) says that “America and the Republican Party” no longer equate “sexual orientation with sexual criminality. While Rick Santorum intended to reiterate the language of an old Supreme Court decision, he did so in a way that was hurtful to the gay and lesbian community.” And John McCain (R-AZ) says: “I think that he may have been inartful in the way that he described it. I believe that—coming from a person who has made several serious gaffes in my career—that the best thing to do is to apologize if you’ve offended anyone. Because I’m sure that Rick did not intend to offend anyone. Apologize if you did and move on.” (Salon 4/26/2003) The only openly gay member of the House of Representatives, Barney Frank (D-MA), says of Santorum: “The only surprise is he’s being honest about it. This kind of gay bashing is perfectly acceptable in the Republican Party.” Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), calls Santorum’s remarks “stunning” and adds: “Rick Santorum is afflicted with the same condition as Trent Lott—a small mind but a big mouth. [Gandy is referring to Lott’s forcible removal from his position as Senate majority leader in 2002 after making pro-segregation remarks.] He has refused to apologize and Republican leaders have either supported or ignored Santorum’s rants blaming societal ills on feminists, liberals, and particularly gays and lesbians. Far from being a compassionate conservative, Santorum’s lengthy and specific comments expose him as abusive, intolerant, and downright paranoid—a poor combination for a top Senate leader.” (People's World 5/7/2003)
Santorum: AP Story 'Misleading' - Santorum says the Associated Press story reporting his remarks was “misleading,” and says he was speaking strictly about a recent Supreme Court case striking down a Texas anti-sodomy law. “I am a firm believer that all are equal under the Constitution,” he says. “My comments should not be construed in any way as a statement on individual lifestyles.” When questioned by a gay Pennsylvanian about his remarks, he says his words were “taken out of context.” (The questioner says to Santorum: “You attacked me for who I am.… How could you compare my sexuality and what I do in the privacy of my home to bigamy or incest?” Santorum denies being intolerant of homosexuality, but repeats his stance that if states were not allowed to regulate homosexual activity in private homes, “you leave open the door for a variety of other sexual activities to occur within the home and not be regulated.”) However, CNN reports that, according to unedited excerpts of the audiotaped interview, “Santorum spoke at length about homosexuality and he made clear he did not approve of ‘acts outside of traditional heterosexual relationships.’ In the April 7 interview, Santorum describes homosexual acts as a threat to society and the family. ‘I have no problem with homosexuality,’ Santorum said, according to the AP. ‘I have a problem with homosexual acts.’” (Loughlin 4/23/2003; CNN 4/23/2003) In an interview on Fox News, Santorum says: “I do not need to give an apology based on what I said and what I’m saying now—I think this is a legitimate public policy discussion. These are not, you know, ridiculous, you know, comments. These are very much a very important point.… I was not equating one to the other. There is no moral equivalency there. What I was saying was that if you say there is an absolute right to privacy for consenting adults within the home to do whatever they want, [then] this has far-reaching ramifications, which has a very serious impact on the American family, and that is what I was talking about.… I am very disappointed that the article was written in the way it was and it has been construed the way it has. I don’t believe it was put in the context of which the discussion was made, which was rather a far-reaching discussion on the right to privacy.” (Salon 4/26/2003; Fox News 4/28/2003)
Bush Defends Santorum - After three days of remaining silent, President Bush issues a brief statement defending Santorum’s remarks, calling Santorum “an inclusive man.” In response, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) issues the following statement from chairman Terry McAuliffe: “President Bush is awfully selective in which American values he chooses to comment on. Rick Santorum disparaged and demeaned a whole segment of Americans and for that President Bush praises him. Three young women in the music business expressed their views and it warrants presidential action. I would suggest that rather than scold the Dixie Chicks (see March 10, 2003 and After), President Bush would best serve America by taking Rick Santorum to the woodshed.” (People's World 5/7/2003; Bull 6/10/2003)
Other Support - Some senators come to Santorum’s defense. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) says in a statement, “Rick is a consistent voice for inclusion and compassion in the Republican Party and in the Senate, and to suggest otherwise is just politics.” Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) blames the media for the controversy, saying: “He’s not a person who wants to put down anybody. He’s not a mean-spirited person. Regardless of the words he used, he wouldn’t try to hurt anybody.… We have 51 Republicans [in the Senate] and I don’t think anyone’s a spokesman for the Republican Party. We have a double standard. It seems that the press, when a conservative Republican says something, they jump on it, but they never jump on things Democrats say. So he’s partly going to be a victim of that double standard.” Santorum’s Pennsylvania colleague, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), says, “I have known Rick Santorum for the better part of two decades, and I can say with certainty he is not a bigot.” Asked if Santorum’s comments will hurt his re-election prospects, Specter says: “It depends on how it plays out. Washington is a town filled with cannibals. The cannibals devoured Trent Lott without cause. If the cannibals are after you, you are in deep trouble. It depends on whether the cannibals are hungry. My guess is that it will blow over.” Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) says, “Rick Santorum has done a great job, and is solid as a rock, and he’s not going anywhere.” A number of Republican senators, including Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), the only openly gay Republican in Congress, refuse to comment when asked. (Salon 4/26/2003) Gary Bauer, a powerful activist of the Christian Right who ran a longshot campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, says that “while some elites may be upset by [Santorum’s] comments, they’re pretty much in the mainstream of where most of the country is.” (Bull 6/10/2003) The conservative advocacy group Concerned Women for America says Santorum was “exactly right” in his statements and blames what it calls the “gay thought police” for the controversy. Genevieve Wood of the Family Research Council agrees, saying, “I think the Republican Party would do well to follow Senator Santorum if they want to see pro-family voters show up on Election Day.” (Loughlin 4/23/2003) Joseph Farah, the publisher of the conservative online news blog WorldNetDaily (WND), says that Santorum was the victim of a “setup” by the Associated Press, and Lara Jakes Jordan, the reporter who wrote the story should be fired. Santorum’s remarks “were dead-on target and undermine the entire homosexual political agenda,” Farah writes. “Santorum articulated far better and more courageously than any elected official how striking down laws against sodomy will lead inevitably to striking down laws against incest, bigamy, and polygamy. You just can’t say consenting adults have an absolute right to do what they want sexually without opening that Pandora’s box.” He accuses the AP of launching what he calls a “hatchet job” against Santorum, designed to take down “a young, good-looking, articulate conservative in the Senate’s Republican leadership.” The AP reporter who interviewed Santorum, Lara Jakes Jordan, is, he says, “a political activist disguised as a reporter.” Farah notes that Jordan is married to Democratic operative Jim Jordan, who works for the Kerry campaign, and in the past Jordan has criticized the AP for not granting benefits to gay domestic partners. Thusly, Farah concludes: “It seems Mrs. Jordan’s ideological fervor is not reserved only for her private life and her corporate politicking. This woman clearly ambushed Santorum on an issue near and dear to her bleeding heart.” (Farah 4/28/2003)
Former New York City police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, the newly appointed head of Iraq’s Interior Ministry and the man chosen to rebuild Iraq’s police forces (see Early May, 2003), does not make a strong impression on the State Department’s Robert Gifford, a senior adviser to the Interior Ministry and an expert on international law enforcement. Kerik is in Iraq to take over Gifford’s job. He tells Gifford that his main function is to “bring more media attention to the good work on police,” and he doubts “the situation is… as bad as people think it is.” When Gifford briefs Kerik, he quickly realizes that Kerik isn’t listening. “He didn’t listen to anything,” Gifford will later recall. “He hadn’t read anything except his e-mails. I don’t think he read a single one of our proposals.” Kerik is not in Baghdad to do the heavy lifting of leading the rebuilding. He intends to leave that to Gifford. Kerik will brief American officials and reporters. And, he says, he will go out on some law enforcement missions himself. Kerik garners much network air time by telling reporters that he has assessed the situation in Iraq and it is improving. Security in Baghdad, he says, “is not as bad as I thought. Are bad things going on? Yes. But is it out of control? No. Is it getting better? Yes.” He tells a Time reporter that “people are starting to feel more confident. They’re coming back out. Markets and shops that I saw closed one week ago have opened.” Kerik parades around the Green Zone with a team of South African mercenaries as his personal bodyguard force, and packs a 9mm handgun under his safari vest.
Ignoring Basic Processes - The first few months after the overthrow of the Hussein government are a critical time. Police officers need to be called back to work and screened for Ba’ath Party connections. They must be retrained in due process, in legal (non-torture) interrogation procedures, and other basic law enforcement procedures. New police chiefs need to be selected. Tens of thousands of new police officers must be hired and trained. But Kerik has no interest in any of this. He only holds two staff meetings, and one of these is a show for a New York Times reporter. Kerik secures no funding for police advisers. He leaves the chores of organizing and training Iraqi police officers to US military policemen, most of whom have no training in civilian law enforcement. Gerald Burke, a former Massachusetts State Police commander who participated in the initial Justice Department assessment mission, will later say: “He was the wrong guy at the wrong time. Bernie didn’t have the skills. What we needed was a chief executive-level person.… Bernie came in with a street-cop mentality.”
Night Adventures - What Kerik does do is organize a hundred-man Iraqi police paramilitary unit to chase down and kill off members of the black market criminal syndicates that have sprung up after the invasion. He often joins the group on nighttime raids, leaving the Green Zone at midnight and returning at dawn, appearing at CPA administrator L. Paul Bremer’s morning staff meetings to regale his audience with tales of the night’s adventures. Kerik’s hit squad does put a few car-theft and kidnapping gangs out of business, and Kerik makes sure to get plenty of press coverage for these successes. But he leaves the daily work of rebuilding the Iraqi police to others: he sleeps during the day so he can go out at night. Many members of the Interior Ministry become increasingly distressed at Kerik’s antics and his systematic ignorance of his duties, but realize that they can do nothing. “Bremer’s staff thought he was the silver bullet,” a member of the Justice Department assessment mission will later say. “Nobody wanted to question the [man who was] police chief during 9/11.” When Kerik leaves three months later, virtually nothing has been done to rebuild Iraq’s police forces. (Kerik will blame others for the failures, saying he was given insufficient funds to hire police advisers or to establish large-scale training programs.) He will later recall his service in Baghdad: “I was in my own world. I did my own thing.” (Chandrasekaran 9/17/2006)
'Irresponsible' - In 2007, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) will say that Kerik was “irresponsible” in his tenure as head of Iraq’s Interior Ministry (see November 9, 2007). “Kerik was supposed to be there to help train the police force,” McCain will say. “He stayed two months and one day left, just up and left.” (Associated Press 11/9/2007)
According to anonymous White House sources, the Bush administration is using a two-track political strategy to counter fallout from the Plame Wilson investigation. White House officials are encouraging Republicans to attack the credibility and impartiality of Joseph Wilson, the husband of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, and portray him as a partisan Democrat with a bent towards smearing the administration; the Republicans are also being encouraged to portray Democrats as politically driven scandalmongers hoping to use the investigation to influence the 2004 presidential election. Simultaneously, White House officials, in conjunction with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, are scrambling to ensure that no Congressional Republicans break ranks and call for an independent inquiry into the leak that would not fall under the direct control of the Justice Department. The White House is resisting Democratic calls for an independent special counsel to handle the investigation (see October 1, 2003). One Republican Congressional aide calls the strategy “slime and defend,” referring to the White House’s attempt to besmirch Wilson’s motivations and simultaneously shore up Republican support. The strategy seems to be working, the aide says: “So far so good. There’s nervousness on the part of the party leadership, but no defections in the sense of calling for an independent counsel.” A Republican National Committee memo distributed to Congressional Republicans gives one suggested talking point on attacking Democrats: “Lacking a positive issue agenda to offer the American people, the Democratic Party now returns to what they have long seen as their best opportunity to defeat President Bush and Republicans—scandalmongering.” House Republicans are passing out white paper bags labeled “Leak Hyperventilation Bag,” explaining that the bags are for Democrats who might be having trouble catching their breath over the subject. House Democrats have canceled a planned closed-door meeting with Wilson, fearing that they might be accused of playing politics on the investigation. The White House is closely monitoring five Congressional Republicans known for having something of an independent streak: Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Richard Lugar (R-IN), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), and John Warner (R-VA), and Representative Porter Goss (R-FL). The White House is working to keep these five, in particular, in line with its desired responses. (Stevenson and Lichtblau 10/1/2003)
The White House responds aggressively to comments made the previous day by former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke (see March 24, 2004), who accused the Bush administration of doing little about terrorism prior to 9/11 (see March 21, 2004). Author Philip Shenon will characterize the situation at the White House following the comments as a “near panic” and “genuine alarm,” because Clarke’s allegations are “a direct threat to [President] Bush’s reelection hopes.”
Rice Leads Response - White House chief of staff Andy Card will say that the most upset person is Clarke’s former boss Condoleezza Rice, who takes the lead in responding. She appears on several television shows, claiming—in what Shenon calls a “remarkably angry tone”—on 60 Minutes: “Dick Clarke just does not know what he’s talking about.… Richard Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell us in the administration that he thought the war on terrorism was moving in the wrong direction, and he chose not to.” Vice President Dick Cheney says that Clarke has a “grudge” against the administration because he did not get a position at the Department of Homeland Security that he wanted, adding that Clarke “wasn’t in the loop, frankly” and “clearly missed a lot of what was going on.” Shenon will comment, “Cheney’s remarks had unintentionally proved exactly what Clarke was saying—that his authority was so diminished in the Bush administration that he had no ability to reach the decision makers in the White house when threats emerged.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 277-279)
Having It Both Ways? - “You can’t have it both ways,” adds retired General Wesley Clark, the former commander of NATO forces in Bosnia. He was “either the counterterrorism czar and was responsible and knew what was going on, or the administration gave him a title and didn’t put any emphasis on terrorism and that’s why he wasn’t in the loop.” (Rich 2006, pp. 114-119)
Surrogate Smears - Surrogates try dirty tactics, for example conservative columnist Robert Novak suggests that Clarke is motivated by racial prejudice against Rice, a “powerful African-American woman,” and conservative commentator Laura Ingraham asks why “this single man” is such a “drama queen.” Although Clarke anticipated attacks, he is surprised at their ferocity. (Shenon 2008, pp. 277-279) Former White House communications director Karen Hughes interrupts her book tour to criticize Clarke for supposedly promoting his own book, Against All Enemies. Right-wing bloggers, perhaps given direction by White House officials, begin swapping lascivious and baseless rumors about Clarke’s sexual orientation. (Rich 2006, pp. 114-119) The Washington Times accuses Clarke of being “a political chameleon who is starved for attention after years of toiling anonymously in government bureaucracies.” Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer calls Clarke “a partisan perjurer.” At the extreme edge of the attack is conservative author Ann Coulter, who with no evidence whatsoever, accuses Clarke of racism: she portrays him as thinking of Condoleezza Rice, “[T]he black chick is a dummy” whom Bush promoted from “cleaning the Old Executive Office Building at night.” (Pinkerton 3/29/2004) Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls the attacks “the most vigorous offensive I’ve ever seen from the administration on any issue.” (Allen 3/28/2004)
Clarke's Counters - Republican leaders also threaten to release testimony Clarke gave in 2002, and Clarke says he welcomes the release. The testimony remains classified. (Shrader 3/26/2004; Associated Press 3/28/2004) Clarke calls on Rice to release all e-mail communications between the two of them before 9/11; these are not released either. (Goldenberg and McGreal 3/29/2004) Despite the attacks, Clarke’s partners in a consulting business stick with him, as does ABC News, which recently hired him as a terrorism consultant. (Shenon 2008, pp. 277-279)
Mishandled Response? - According to Reuters, a number of political experts conclude, “The White House may have mishandled accusations leveled by… Clarke by attacking his credibility, keeping the controversy firmly in the headlines into a second week.” (Elsner 3/29/2004)
No Evidence of Contradiction - However, a review of declassified citations from Clarke’s 2002 testimony provides no evidence of contradiction, and White House officials familiar with the testimony agree that any differences are matters of emphasis, not fact. (Pincus and Milbank 4/4/2004)
ABC News reporter Ted Koppel, the anchor of the network’s late-night news show Nightline, marks the first anniversary of the end of what President Bush called “major combat operations” (see May 1, 2003) by reading alound the names of the US troops who have died in Iraq, and showing their pictures as he goes through the list. After the 35-minute segment, which Koppel titles “The Fallen,” he explains the rationale behind it. “Our goal tonight was to elevate the fallen above the politics and the daily journalism,” he says. “The reading tonight of those 721 names was neither intended to provoke opposition to the war nor was it meant as an endorsement. Some of you doubt that. You are convinced that I am opposed to the war. I am not, but that’s beside the point. I am opposed to sustaining the illusion that war can be waged by the sacrifice of the few without burdening the rest of us in any way.” (CNN 5/1/2004)
Heavy Conservative Criticism - Author and media critic Frank Rich will call it “an unbelievably poignant roll call.” Others, mostly conservative pundits and lawmakers, disagree. Neoconservative pundit and editor William Kristol calls Koppel’s tribute a “stupid statement.” Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly says the show might undermine morale if it tries to “exploit casualties in a time of war,” but fails to mention his own tribute to slain soldier Pat Tillman (see April 23, 2004 and April 29, 2004) the night before. (Rich 2006, pp. 125) Brent Bozell, president of the conservative Media Research Center, criticizes what he calls the program’s “partisan nature,” and says its only goal is “to turn public opinion against the war.” (Associated Press 5/1/2004)
Station Owners Order Broadcast Censored - The Sinclair Broadcast Group, a large regional consortium of local television stations whose executives are heavy donors to Republican campaigns, orders its eight ABC affiliates not to air Koppel’s broadcast. In its statement, Sinclair writes: “The action appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq.… Mr. Koppel and Nightline are hiding behind this so-called tribute in an effort to highlight only one aspect of the war effort and in doing so to influence public opinion against the military action in Iraq.” The statement goes on to ask why ABC does not read the names of the thousands of Americans killed in the 9/11 attacks. Sinclair spokesman Mark Hyman says the broadcast is irrelevant: “Someone who died 13 months ago—why is that news? Those people did not die last week. It’s not an anniversary of the war, it’s not Memorial Day—so why this day? If this is Memorial Day, then go ahead and do it.” Hyman goes on to say of Koppel, “I think clearly here’s a guy who is opposed to the war and is trying to stir up public opposition to it,” and says that ABC is obviously trying to boost its ratings. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls the Sinclair decision “deeply offensive,” writing in a letter to Sinclair Broadcast Group president and CEO David Smith: “Your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of war’s terrible costs, in all their heartbreaking detail, is a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. It is, in short, sir, unpatriotic. I hope it meets with the public opprobrium it most certainly deserves.” Smith replies: “Our decision was based on a desire to stop the misuse of their sacrifice to support an anti-war position with which most, if not all, of these soldiers would not have agreed. While I don’t disagree that Americans need to understand the costs of war and sacrifices of our military volunteers, I firmly believe that responsible journalism requires that a discussion of these costs must necessarily be accompanied by a description of the benefits of military action and the events that precipitated that action.” (Rizzo 4/30/2004; CNN 5/1/2004; Jay Rosen 5/1/2004; Associated Press 5/1/2004; Rich 2006, pp. 125) Jane Bright, who lost her son Sergeant Evan Ashcraft, writes in response: “The Sinclair Broadcast group is trying to undermine the lives of our soldiers killed in Iraq. By censoring Nightline they want to hide the toll the war on Iraq is having on thousands of soldiers and their families, like mine.” (Associated Press 5/1/2004) Koppel says that any suggestion by Sinclair that he is “unpatriotic” or trying to “undermine the war effort” is “beneath contempt.” (CNN 5/1/2004)
Media Watchdog Group Alleges Underlying Agenda - Robert McChesney of the media reform group Free Press says that Sinclair has an underlying motive in censoring the Nightline broadcast: “No one thinks for a second this decision has anything to do with journalism. It’s a politics-slash-business decision that Sinclair made because they don’t want to [anger] the White House.” Sinclair, a political supporter of the Bush administration, is trying to curry favor with the White House to bolster chances of gaining changes in station ownership rules, McChesney says. “The stench of corruption here is extraordinary.” (Associated Press 5/1/2004)
Political Statement? - Koppel says he has no intention of making any sort of “political statement” by airing the segment. “I don’t want it to make a political statement. Quite the contrary,” he says. “My position on this is I truly believe that people will take away from this program the reflection of what they bring to it.… Why, in heaven’s name, should one not be able to look at the faces and hear the names and see the ages of those young people who are not coming back alive and feel somehow ennobled by the fact that they were willing to give up their lives for something that is in the national interest of all of us?” New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen disagrees. “Despite what he said about it,” Rosen writes, “Ted Koppel and Nightline were making a political statement last night by reading the names of ‘the fallen’ in Iraq. And there is nothing wrong with that—although it is risky because many will object.… By refusing to air the show… Sinclair Broadcasting, the country’s largest owner of television stations, was making a political statement right back.… Nothing intrinsically wrong with that, either, although it is risky and many will object.” ABC makes a political statement by choosing to air the segment, not only on the airwaves, but on the Jumbotron in New York City’s Times Square. And ABC affiliates who decide to ignore Sinclair’s order and air the broadcast are making their own political statement. (Al Tompkins 4/30/2004; Jay Rosen 5/1/2004)
Undermining Public Support of War? - Many pundits who argue against the Nightline memorium say that to air such a segment would undermine public support for the war, an argument which Rich later answers: “If the country was as firmly in support of this war as Bush loyalists claimed, by what logic would photographs of its selfless soldiers, either of their faces or their flag-draped coffins (see April 18, 2004 and After), undermine public opinion?” (Rich 2006, pp. 125) Sue Niederer, who lost her son, Second Lieutenant Seth Dvorin, to a roadside bomb, says: “I feel it’s extremely important that the American people put a face and a name to the dead. When you just listen to a number, you don’t think about what may be behind that—that there’s a family, that there’s actually a person who has lost their life.” (CNN 5/1/2004) Tim Holmes, who lost his son, Specialist Ernest Sutphin, says of Koppel’s broadcast: “That’s something I’d like to see. I feel like people have a right to see something like that—what’s going on over there.” Marine reservist Chief Warrant Officer David Dennis adds: “Let the American people know the Marines who have died, and everyone who has died. The people need to know who it is that is going out there and making the ultimate sacrifice for them.” (Rizzo 4/30/2004) “We should be honoring all the men and women who have served,” says Ivan Medina, who lost his twin brother, Irving Medina. “My hat goes off to Nightline.” (Associated Press 5/1/2004)
Fox News Responds - Fox News reporter and anchor Chris Wallace says his network will “answer” Koppel’s broadcast by airing its own segment: “[W]e here at Fox News Sunday are going to put together our own list, a list of what we’ve accomplished [in Iraq], with the blood, sweat, and yes, lives of our military.” (Jay Rosen 5/1/2004)
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) says, “[Osama] bin Laden may have just given us a little boost. Amazing, huh?” He is referring to the videotape of bin Laden giving a speech that was released just four days before the 2004 US presidential elections (see October 29, 2004), and two days prior to his comment. McCain clarifies, “[The video] is helpful to President Bush because it puts the focus on the war on terrorism.” The CIA and other intelligence agency analysts also agree that the video helps Bush win reelection, and that that was bin Laden’s intention (see October 29, 2004). (Ragouzeos 10/31/2004)
Sixty-six of ABC’s 225 affiliated stations choose not to air the World War II film Saving Private Ryan on Veterans Day. ABC aired the film, widely considered a homage to American soldiers, on Veterans Day in 2001 and 2002 without complaint. But with new concerns that the Bush administration, and the American electorate, is energized by a passion for “moral values” (see November 3, 2004), the stations’ executives believe they may risk fines from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The film opens with a graphic depiction of the famous D-Day invasion of Normandy by US, British, and Canadian forces, and the entire film contains a significant amount of profanity. The FCC could impose fines of up to $32,500 on a station if it finds the film violates moral and ethical standards. The FCC says it has received complaints, but has not yet decided to mount any sort of investigation. Many stations choosing not to air the film say that if their viewers are angry at the decision, they should call the FCC themselves. ABC spokeswoman Susan Sewell says the “overwhelming majority” of viewers are comfortable with their decision to broadcast the film. Some of the stations choosing not to air the film point to a recent FCC decision to fine CBS stations up to $500,000 for airing a Super Bowl halftime show in which entertainer Janet Jackson exposed her right breast for a moment. ABC’s contract with DreamWorks, the film studio who produced Saving Private Ryan, does not allow the network or its stations to edit the film. ABC shows an introduction by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a prisoner of war during Vietnam. Jack Valenti, the former head of the Motion Pictures Association of America, says that he cannot imagine the FCC fining any station for showing the film: “I think that this planet would collide with Saturn before that happens.” (Associated Press 11/12/2004; BBC 11/13/2004) In 2006, author and media critic Frank Rich will write that “merely the fear of reprisals was enough to push television stations… onto the slippery slope of self-censorship before anyone in Washington even bothered to act.” Rich asks if such self-censorship might extend into these stations’, and networks’, coverage of the Iraq war: “If these media outlets were afraid to show a graphic Hollywood treatment of a 60-year old war starring the beloved Tom Hanks because the feds might fine them, toy with their licenses, or deny them regulatory permission to expand their empires, might they curry favor with Washington by softening their news divisions’ efforts to present the ugly facts of an ongoing war? The pressure groups that were incensed by both Saving Private Ryan and risque programming were often the same ones who campaigned against any news organization that was not toeing the administration political line in lockstep with Fox [News].” (Rich 2006, pp. 153-154)
Five US senators—John McCain (R-AZ), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Russ Feingold (D-WI)—visit Kabul. McCain tells reporters that he is committed to a “strategic partnership that we believe must endure for many, many years.” He says that as part of this partnership, the US would provide “economic assistance, technical assistance, military partnership,… and… cultural exchange.” He also adds that in his opinion, this would mean the construction of “permanent bases.” The bases would help the US protect its “vital national security interests,” he explains. However, a spokesman for Afghan president Hamid Karzai reminds the press that the approval of a yet-to-be-created Afghan parliament would be needed before the Afghan government could allow the bases to be built. McCain’s office will later amend the senator’s comments, saying that he was advocating a long-term commitment to helping Afghanistan “rid itself of the last vestiges of Taliban and al-Qaeda.” That does not necessarily mean that the US will have to have permanent bases, the office explains. (Graham 2/22/2005)
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gathers a group of senior subordinates and warns them to stay away from three senators—John McCain (R-AZ), John Warner (R-VA), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC)—who are drafting a bill to govern the handling of terrorism suspects (see December 30, 2005). A Pentagon official with direct knowledge of the meeting will later recall, “Rumsfeld made clear, emphatically, that the vice president had the lead on this issue.” Though Vice President Dick Cheney has, as he so often has done in the past, ensured that his bureaucratic fingerprints are not on the issue, he has already staked out a hardline position for the White House. This time, it came as a last-minute insert in a July 2005 “statement of administration policy” by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), where Nancy Dorn, Cheney’s former chief of legislative affairs, is deputy director. Cheney’s staff adds, without the required staff clearance, a paragraph to the OMB’s guidance for the 2006 defense appropriations bill (see July 21, 2005). Among those surprised by the position is Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, who for a year has advocated that the US issue clear rules about detention and interrogation of terror suspects. England attempts to clarify the issue (see Late 2005). (Gellman and Becker 6/25/2007)
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) introduces an amendment to the annual legislation to fund the Defense Department. McCain’s amendment, co-sponsored by Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John Warner (R-VA) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a former military lawyer, states that military interrogators cannot exceed the limits on detainee treatment set forth in the US Army Field Manual. In essence, the amendment would prohibit the use of harsh interrogation techniques that many, including McCain, feel constitute torture. The Field Manual limits were specifically written to comply with the Geneva Conventions. The amendment also prohibits US officials, including CIA agents, from inflicting not just torture but any form of “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” on anyone in their custody, no matter where in the world the prisoner is being kept. The amendment, later known as the McCain Amendment or the McCain Torture Ban, becomes the subject of fierce, largely private negotiations between McCain and the White House. Vice President Cheney quickly lobbies friendly Republicans in Congress to oppose the amendment, and has private meetings with Warner and McCain. At Cheney’s behest, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) withdraws the entire bill from consideration rather than allow it to pass with the McCain amendment attached. (Savage 2007, pp. 220-221)
President Bush arrives in Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix, Arizona, for a previously scheduled public appearance in El Mirage. While at the base, Bush joins Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) in a small celebration of McCain’s 69th birthday. (White House 8/28/2005)
In an essay for the Virginia Law Review entitled “Liberalism, Torture, and the Ticking Bomb,” Georgetown law professor David Luban dismantles the familiar argument that torture of a detainee might be necessary to stop the so-called “ticking bomb scenario.” Author and former White House counsel John Dean, who quotes Luban in his 2006 book Conservatives Without Conscience, will describe the scenario and its ramifications thusly: “A nuclear bomb has been planted in the heart of a major American city and authorities have in custody a person who knows where it is located. To save possibly millions of lives, would it not be justified to torture this individual to get the necessary information to stop it? Absolutely. Is not this lesser evil justified? Of course it is. And this argument is a wonderful means to comfort those who have moral problems with torture. Its beauty is that once you concede there are circumstances in which torture might be justified, morally and legally… you are on the other side of the line. You’ve joined the torture crowd. To paraphrase [George W.] Bush, you’ve joined the evildoers.” Dean calls it “a bogus argument, a rhetorical device. It is seductively simple, and compellingly logical. But it is also pure fantasy.” The likelihood of such conditions are extremely remote, Dean writes, on the order of a giant meteor striking the Earth. Dean will cite Luban’s arguments as counters to the scenario. Luban writes, “[T]here are certain situations so monstrous that the idea that the processes of moral rationality could yield an answer in them is insane… to spend time thinking what one would decide if one were in such a situation is also insane, if not actually frivolous.” Luban notes that Senator John McCain (R-AZ), himself a victim of torture during the Vietnam War (see October 1, 2005 and November 21, 2005), “has said that ultimately the debate is over who we are. We will never figure that out until we stop talking about ticking bombs, and stop playing games with words.” (Dean 2006, pp. 165)
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), an ardent opponent of torture by US officials (see November 21, 2005), continues to press an amendment to a $440 billion defense appropriations bill that prohibits cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners held in US captivity (see July 24, 2005 and After). The bill also posits the US Army Field Manual as the uniform standard for interrogations by any Defense Department personnel. The Field Manual is being revised, and Pentagon sources have claimed the revisions will include a section on the importance of following the Geneva Conventions. The amendment is facing stiff opposition from the White House, which asserts that it would encroach on the power of the president as the commander in chief, and would threaten national security by reducing the ability of military interrogators to obtain critical intelligence from prisoners. On the floor of the Senate, McCain reads a letter from former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had opposed Vice President Cheney on the issue of torture. Powell writes: “Our troops need to hear from Congress. The world will note that America is making a clear statement with respect to the expected future behavior of our soldiers.” McCain himself calls the White House’s legal theories on torture “strange,” and warns that enemies could use America’s justifications of torture as justifications for the torture of US captives. “We are Americans and we hold ourselves to humane standards of treatment of people no matter how evil or terrible they may be,” he says. Terrorists “don’t deserve our sympathy. But this isn’t about who they are. This is about who we are. These are the values that distinguish us from our enemies.” The White House continues to oppose the amendment. President Bush threatens to veto the entire bill, and Cheney circulates pro-torture talking points to friendly Congressional Republicans. Cheney, with CIA Director Porter Goss in tow, asks McCain to exempt CIA officials from the anti-torture amendment at the discretion of the president; McCain refuses. McCain is bolstered by a letter signed by over two dozen retired generals urging Congress to pass the amendment, including Powell and former Joint Chiefs chairman General John Shalikashvili. The amendment passes the Senate 90 to nine. However, the House leadership, steered by Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), refuses to allow the amendment into the House version by refusing to let the House vote on it at all. It will take a House-Senate conference committee to decide the fate of the amendment. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 195; Savage 2007, pp. 221)
The White House continues to fight against the McCain anti-torture amendment (see October 1, 2005). Vice President Cheney and CIA Director Porter Goss meet privately with Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the primary sponsor of the amendment, for 45 minutes to push a change in the language that would exempt CIA interrogators from the amendment’s restrictions. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write on the remarkable aspects of Cheney’s requests. For the first time, the CIA would be “clearly authorize[d] to engage in abusive interrogations. In effect, it would legalize the abuse of detainees in CIA prisons, a matter that had previously been a gray area at best.” McCain flatly rejects Cheney’s proposal, and later says: “I don’t see how you could possibly agree to legitimizing an agent of the government engaging in torture. No amendment at all would be better than that.” (Savage 2007, pp. 220)
Vice President Cheney appears at the weekly Republican senatorial luncheon in the Capitol and speaks against the McCain anti-torture amendment (see October 1, 2005 and October 20, 2005). He argues that CIA interrogations of high-value al-Qaeda prisoners have produced valuable information, and the president needs the power and flexibility to use torture against prisoners in order to fight terrorism and protect the nation. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the primary sponsor of the amendment, counters Cheney’s arguments during the same luncheon, arguing that the idea of the US torturing prisoners damages its standing with its international allies. (Savage 2007, pp. 220) The next day, the Washington Post will publish an expose of the CIA’s secret prison network (see November 2-18, 2005), causing a firestorm of criticism and sparking a former Bush administration official to say that the “philosophical guidance” behind the torture of prisoners comes directly from Cheney’s office (see November 3, 2005).
The White House continues to battle a Senate-approved amendment against torture (see October 1, 2005). Vice President Cheney, the administration’s strongest voice in favor of torture, gathers a group of Republican senators and gives what is later described as an impassioned plea to let the CIA torture when necessary. President Bush needs that option, Cheney argues, and a prohibition against torture may eventually cost the nation “thousands of lives.” He cites alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed as one of torture’s success stories (see February 29 or March 1, 2003, Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003, and June 16, 2004). Cheney fails to tell the gathering that the US has overseen the torture of Mohammed’s wife and children, and that Mohammed was told that if he didn’t cooperate, his children would be subjected to further abuse (see After September 11, 2002). He also fails to tell them that the information elicited from Mohammed was considered unreliable (see Summer 2003), and that many of Mohammed’s interrogators felt that torture merely hardened his resistance. During the meeting, John McCain (R-AZ), the author of the anti-torture amendment, tells Cheney, “This is killing us around the world.” On November 4, the Republican House leadership postpones a vote on the amendment when it realizes the amendment will pass overwhelmingly. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 196)
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a former prisoner of war during the Vietnam War and a victim of torture, writes an impassioned op-ed for Newsweek exhorting the US not to resort to torture in its interrogations of terror suspects. He writes: “I do, respectfully, take issue with the position that the demands of this war require us to accord a lower station to the moral imperatives that should govern our conduct in war and peace when they come in conflict with the unyielding inhumanity of our vicious enemy.… We should not torture or treat inhumanely terrorists we have captured. The abuse of prisoners harms, not helps, our war effort.”
Produces False Information - He gives numerous reasons: abusing prisoners does not produce reliable information, but instead “often produces bad intelligence because under torture a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear—whether it is true or false—if he believes it will relieve his suffering.” McCain recounts his own example of providing false information under torture, giving his captors the names of the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line instead of the names of his flight squadron. “It seems probable to me that the terrorists we interrogate under less than humane standards of treatment are also likely to resort to deceptive answers that are perhaps less provably false than that which I once offered.”
Betrays America's 'Commitment to Basic Humanitarian Values' - Moreover, McCain writes, America’s “commitment to basic humanitarian values affects—in part—the willingness of other nations to do the same. Mistreatment of enemy prisoners endangers our own troops who might someday be held captive.” We cannot expect al-Qaeda and other such enemies to be “bound by the principle of reciprocity,” but “we should have concern for those Americans captured by more traditional enemies, if not in this war then in the next.” Global public criticism of North Vietnam’s brutality towards US prisoners resulted in a substantial decrease in their abuse of POWs. The war against terrorism is “a war of ideas,” he writes, “a struggle to advance freedom in the face of terror in places where oppressive rule has bred the malevolence that creates terrorists. Prisoner abuses exact a terrible toll on us in this war of ideas. They inevitably become public, and when they do they threaten our moral standing, and expose us to false but widely disseminated charges that democracies are no more inherently idealistic and moral than other regimes.” To defeat the idea of terrorism, “we must prevail in our defense of American political values as well. The mistreatment of prisoners greatly injures that effort.”
'We Are Different and Better than Our Enemies' - McCain writes that while he does not “mourn the loss of any terrorist’s life… [w]hat I do mourn is what we lose when by official policy or official neglect we allow, confuse, or encourage our soldiers to forget that best sense of ourselves, that which is our greatest strength—that we are different and better than our enemies, that we fight for an idea, not a tribe, not a land, not a king, not a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion, but for an idea that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights.”
Waterboarding Is Torture - McCain states flatly that any interrogation technique that simulates an execution, including waterboarding, is torture. “[I]f you gave people who have suffered abuse as prisoners a choice between a beating and a mock execution, many, including me, would choose a beating. The effects of most beatings heal. The memory of an execution will haunt someone for a very long time and damage his or her psyche in ways that may never heal. In my view, to make someone believe that you are killing him by drowning is no different than holding a pistol to his head and firing a blank. I believe that it is torture, very exquisite torture.”
Exceptions Do Not Require New Laws - There is always the extreme circumstance bandied about in discussions: what should be done with a terror suspect who holds critical information about an imminent terrorist attack? While such an extreme circumstance may well require extreme interrogation methods, McCain writes, “I don’t believe this scenario requires us to write into law an exception to our treaty and moral obligations that would permit cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment. To carve out legal exemptions to this basic principle of human rights risks opening the door to abuse as a matter of course, rather than a standard violated truly in extremis. It is far better to embrace a standard that might be violated in extraordinary circumstances than to lower our standards to accommodate a remote contingency, confusing personnel in the field and sending precisely the wrong message abroad about America’s purposes and practices.” (McCain 11/21/2005)
The Army adopts a new, classified set of interrogation methods that some feel may change the nature of the debate over cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees in US custody. The Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 30, 2005), which bases its definition of torture in part on Army standards, is currently wending its way through Congress. The new set of instructions are being added to the revised Army Field Manual, after they are approved by undersecretary of defense Stephen Cambone. The addendum provides exact details on what kinds of interrogation procedures can and cannot be used, and under what circumstances, pushing the legal limit of what interrogations can be used in ways that the Army has never done before. Some military observers believe that the new guidelines are an attempt by the Army to undercut the DTA, and many believe the bill’s sponsor, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) will be unhappy with the addendum. “This is a stick in McCain’s eye,” one official says. “It goes right up to the edge. He’s not going to be comfortable with this.” McCain has not yet been briefed on the contents of the new guidelines. McCain spokesman Mark Salter says, “This is politically obtuse and damaging. The Pentagon hasn’t done one molecule of political due diligence on this.” One Army officer says that the core of the definition of torture—what is and is not “cruel, inhumane, and degrading” treatment—“is at the crux of the problem, but we’ve never defined that.” The new Army Field Manual specifically prohibits such tactics as stress positioning, stripping prisoners, imposing dietary restrictions, using police dogs to intimidate prisoners, and sleep deprivation. The new manual is expected to be issued before the end of the year. (Schmitt 12/14/2005) The day after this is reported, President Bush agrees not to veto the DTA (see December 15, 2005).
The Bush administration relents in its opposition to the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA), which would ban torture of prisoners by US personnel (see July 24, 2005 and After and December 30, 2005). President Bush meets with the bill’s primary sponsor, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and John Warner (R-VA), chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, in a press conference to praise the bill. McCain says after the conference that the bill “is a done deal.” The bill still faces some opposition from Congressional Republicans such as House Armed Services Committee chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who says he won’t vote for the bill unless it can be amended to ensure that the nation’s ability to gather intelligence is not diminished. Both the House and Senate have voted by veto-proof margins to accept the bill, which is actually an amendment to a defense appropriations bill. McCain says after the conference with Bush and Warner, “We’ve sent a message to the world that the United States is not like the terrorists. We have no grief for them, but what we are is a nation that upholds values and standards of behavior and treatment of all people, no matter how evil or bad they are.” Bush says the ban “is to make it clear to the world that this government does not torture and that we adhere to the international convention of torture, whether it be here at home or abroad.” McCain has been the target of months of vilification and opposition from the White House over the bill, which argued that the bill would limit Bush’s authority to protect the US from terrorist attacks, and that the bill is unnecessary because US officials do not torture. (CNN 12/15/2005)
Loopholes - But the bill contains key loopholes that some experts believe significantly waters down the bill’s impact. Author Alfred McCoy, an expert on the CIA, notes that the bill as revised by White House officials does not give any real specifics. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will assert that the only restrictions on prisoner interrogations are the ban on “severe” psychological or physical pain, “the same linguistic legerdemain that had allowed the administration to start torturing back in 2002” (see August 1, 2002). Gonzales also implies that practices such as waterboarding are not prohibited. (McCoy 2/8/2006)
Legal Cover - A provision of the bill inserted after negotiation with White House officials says that CIA and military officials accused of torture can claim legal protection by arguing that they were simply following the orders of their superiors, or they have a reasonable belief that they are carrying out their superiors’ wishes. McCain dropped the original provision that all military personnel must follow the stringent guidelines for interrogation laid out in the Army Field Manual; the bill now follows the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which says that anyone accused of violating interrogation rules can defend themselves if a “reasonable” person could conclude they were following a lawful order. McCain resisted pressure from the White House to include language that would afford interrogators accused of torture protection from civil or criminal lawsuits. (CNN 12/15/2005; Associated Press 12/15/2005)
Controversial Amendment - Perhaps even more troubling is an amendment to the bill that would essentially strip the judiciary’s ability to enforce the ban. The amendment, originally crafted by senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and added to by Carl Levin (D-MI), denies Guantanamo detainees the right to bring legal action against US personnel who torture or abuse them—effectively denying them the fundamental legal right of habeas corpus. It also gives the Defense Department the implicit ability to consider evidence obtained through torture or inhumane treatment in assessing detainees’ status. Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that the DTA marks the first time in history that Congress would allow the use of evidence obtained through torture. HRW’s Tom Malinowski says, “With the McCain amendment, Congress has clearly said that anyone who authorizes or engages in cruel techniques like water boarding is violating the law. But the Graham-Levin amendment leaves Guantanamo detainees no legal recourse if they are, in fact, tortured or mistreated. The treatment of Guantanamo Bay detainees will be shrouded in secrecy, placing detainees at risk for future abuse.… If the McCain law demonstrates to the world that the United States really opposes torture, the Graham-Levin amendment risks telling the world the opposite.” (Human Rights Watch 12/16/2005) Geoffrey Corn, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Judge Advocate General lawyer, agrees. In January 2006, he will write that the “recent compromise inclusion of an ‘obedience to orders’ defense… has effectively undermined the goal Senator John McCain fought so long to achieve. Instead of sending a clear message to US forces that cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment of detainees is never permissible, the compromise has validated President Bush’s belief that the necessities of war provide the ultimate ‘trump card’ to justify ‘whatever it takes’ in the war on terror.” (Corn 1/6/2006)
The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approves the Senate’s amendment to a defense appropriations bill that outlaws torture (see October 1, 2005 and November 1-4, 2005), 308-122, after the Republican House leadership stops blocking a vote on the amendment (see October 1, 2005). The next day, President Bush meets privately with the author of the amendment, Senator John McCain (R-AZ). In a surprising reversal of the White House’s opposition to the bill, Bush now says he supports the amendment—or will if McCain makes some changes. Bush asks McCain to alter the language of the amendment so that US intelligence officers, if charged with war crimes due to their abuse of a prisoner, can offer a defense that a “reasonable” person could conclude they were following a lawful order. McCain agrees. Bush and McCain hold a joint press conference to announce the White House’s support for the amendment (see December 15, 2005). The press bills the agreement between Bush and McCain as a serious setback for Vice President Cheney, the leader of the White House’s opposition to the bill, with the New York Times calling the vote a “stinging defeat” for Bush and a “particularly significant setback for Vice President Dick Cheney, who since July has led the administration’s fight to defeat the amendment or at least exempt the Central Intelligence Agency from its provisions” (see October 20, 2005). (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 196; Savage 2007, pp. 223)
The three Republican senators who co-sponsored the recently passed Detainee Treatment Act prohibiting torture (see December 15, 2005) criticize President Bush for his signing statement indicating that he would not follow the law if he sees fit (see December 30, 2005). Senators John McCain (R-AZ), the primary sponsor of the bill, and John Warner (R-VA) issue a statement rejecting Bush’s signing statement. “We believe the president understands Congress’s intent in passing, by very large majorities, legislation governing the treatment of detainees,” the senators write. “The Congress declined when asked by administration officials to include a presidential waiver of the restrictions included in our legislation. Our committee intends through strict oversight to monitor the administration’s implementation of the new law.” The third co-sponsor, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), says he agrees with the letter, “and would go a little bit further.” Graham says: “I do not believe that any political figure in the country has the ability to set aside any… law of armed conflict that we have adopted or treaties that we have ratified. If we go down that road, it will cause great problems for our troops in future conflicts because [nothing] is to prevent other nations’ leaders from doing the same.” The White House refuses to respond to the senators’ comments. Law professor David Golove, a specialist in executive power issues, says the senators’ statements “mean that the battle lines are drawn” for an escalating fight over the balance of power between the two branches of government. “The president is pointing to his commander in chief power, claiming that it somehow gives him the power to dispense with the law when he’s conducting war,” Golove says. “The senators are saying: ‘Wait a minute, we’ve gone over this. This is a law Congress has passed by very large margins, and you are compelled and bound to comply with it.’” Elisa Massimino of Human Rights First says the senators’ statements should warn military and CIA interrogators that they could be subject to prosecution if they torture or abuse a detainee, regardless of Bush’s signing statement. “That power [to override the law] was explicitly sought by the White House, and it was considered and rejected by the Congress,” she says. “And any US official who relies on legal advice from a government lawyer saying there is a presidential override of a law passed by Congress does so at their peril. Cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment is illegal.” Golove notes that it is highly unlikely that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would prosecute anyone for performing actions Bush had authorized. (Savage 1/5/2006; Savage 2007, pp. 225-226)
General John Abizaid, the commander of US forces in the Middle East, tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that sectarian violence in Iraq, especially in and around Baghdad, has grown so severe that the nation may be on the brink of civil war. “A couple of days ago, I returned from the Middle East,” he says. “I’ve rarely seen it so unsettled or so volatile. There’s an obvious struggle in the region between moderates and extremists that touches every aspect of life.” He continues, “I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I’ve seen it, in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war.” The New York Times reports that “the tone of the testimony at the Armed Services Committee’s three-and-a-half-hour hearing was strikingly grimmer than the Pentagon’s previous assessments, which have sought to accentuate the positive even as officials acknowledged that Iraq’s government was struggling to assert authority and assure security amid a tide of violence.” (Shankar 8/4/2006; Branigan and Jordan 8/4/2006)
Harsh Criticism of Rumsfeld - Abizaid is joined by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Rumsfeld had initially refused to attend the hearing, but agreed to attend after Senate Democrats criticized his refusal. Neither Rumsfeld nor Pace contradict Abizaid’s assessments, though Rumsfeld emphasizes that the war must not be lost. Pace notes that while civil war is possible, he does not believe it is “probable,” and Abizaid says he is “optimistic that that slide [into civil war] can be prevented.” Some of the harshest criticism of Rumsfeld comes from committee member Hillary Clinton (D-NY), who tells him that he failed to send enough troops to Iraq in the 2003 invasion “to establish law and order,” he erred by disbanding the Iraqi army, he failed to plan adequately for the occupation phase, and he “underestimated the nature and strength of the insurgency, the sectarian violence, and the spread of Iranian influence.” Now, she says, “we hear a lot of happy talk and rosy scenarios, but because of the administration’s strategic blunders and, frankly, the record of incompetence in executing, you are presiding over a failed policy. Given your track record, Secretary Rumsfeld, why should we believe your assurances now?” Rumsfeld responds, “My goodness,” and then says: “First of all, it’s true, there is sectarian conflict in Iraq, and there is a loss of life. And it’s an unfortunate and tragic thing that that’s taking place. And it is true that there are people who are attempting to prevent that government from being successful. And they are the people who are blowing up buildings and killing innocent men, women and children, and taking off the heads of people on television. And the idea of their prevailing is unacceptable.” Clinton will call for Rumsfeld’s resignation later in the day (see August 3, 2006). (Shankar 8/4/2006; Branigan and Jordan 8/4/2006)
'Whack-a-Mole' - Because of the continued instability in Iraq, Abizaid says, there is little possibility that US troops will be able to return home in any significant numbers before at least the end of the year. Instead, he says, more US troops will be deployed in and around Baghdad to contain the worsening violence in the capital, and warns that the US will undoubtedly suffer serious casualties in that operation. Acknowledging the necessity for US soldiers to stay in Iraq for the immediate future, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) finds the military’s practice of moving those soldiers from one violence-ridden part of Iraq to another little more than playing a game of “whack-a-mole.” McCain says, “What I worry about is we’re playing a game of whack-a-mole here,” with insurgent activity popping up in places that troops have vacated. “Now we’re going to have to move troops into Baghdad from someplace else. It’s very disturbing.” McCain will wholeheartedly endorse the idea of a “surge” of more American troops into Iraq (see January 2007 and January 10, 2007). (Shankar 8/4/2006; Branigan and Jordan 8/4/2006)
In a major policy speech regarding Iraq, President Bush announces that he will order 21,500 more US combat troops to Iraq, in a troop escalation he calls a “surge.” The bulk of the troops will be deployed in and around Baghdad. In addition, 4,000 Marines will go to the violent al-Anbar province. In announcing the escalation, he concedes a point he has resisted for over three years, that there have not been enough US troops in Iraq to adequately provide security and create conditions favorable for an Iraqi democracy to take hold. He admits that his previous strategy was based on flawed assumptions about the unstable Iraqi government. “Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility lies with me,” he says. Bush says that to consider any withdrawals of American troops would be a grave mistake, and that by increasing the number of troops in Iraq now, conditions will improve to a point at which troops can be withdrawn. “To step back now would force a collapse of the Iraqi government,” he says. “Such a scenario would result in our troops being forced to stay in Iraq even longer, and confront an enemy that is even more lethal. If we increase our support at this crucial moment, and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home.” Bush also commits the Iraqi government to meeting a series of “benchmarks,” tangible indicators of progress being made, that include adding a further 8,000 Iraqi troops and police officers in Baghdad, passage of long-delayed legislation to share oil revenues among Iraq’s ethnic groups, and a $10 billion jobs and reconstruction program, to be financed by the Iraqis. Bush aides insist that the new strategy is largely the conception of the Iraqi government, with only limited input from US planners. If successful, he says, the results will be a “functioning democracy” that “fights terrorists instead of harboring them.” (Sanger 1/10/2007; Karl 1/10/2007; White House 1/10/2007) While no one is sure how much the new policies will cost, Bush is expected to demand “billions” from Congress to fund his new escalation in the weeks ahead. (Marketwatch 1/5/2005)
'New Way Forward' - The surge has a new marketing moniker, the “New Way Forward.” Some believe that the surge is more for political and public relations purposes than any real military effectiveness. “Clearly the deteriorating situation in Iraq is the overall background,” says political scientist Ole Holsti. The changes may indicate “they are looking for new bodies bringing fresh thinking…or you may have a kind of public-relations aspect,” to show Bush’s change in course is “more than just words.” (Wolfson 1/5/2007; USA Today 1/5/2007)
Surge Already Underway - Interestingly, while Bush announces the “new” strategy of escalating the US presence in Iraq tonight, the escalation is already well underway. 90 advance troops from the Army’s 82nd Airborne are already in Baghdad, and another 800 from the same division are en route. The escalation will necessitate additional call-ups from the National Guard as well as additional reactivation of troops who have already toured Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, the naval group spearheaded by the aircraft carrier USS Stennis will shortly be en route to the Persian Gulf. Whether the new plan will work is anyone’s guess, say military commanders in Iraq. The escalation will take several months to implement and longer to see tangible results. One military official says, “We don’t know if this will work, but we do know the old way was failing.”
Contradicting Previous Assertions - In announcing the surge, Bush contradicts the position he has asserted since the March 2003 invasion—that military commanders were determining the direction of the war effort. Bush has repeatedly spoken of his disdain for micromanaging the war effort, and has said that he won’t second-guess his commanders. “It’s important to trust the judgment of the military when they’re making military plans,” he said in December 2006. “I’m a strict adherer to the command structure.” However, Bush balked at following the advice of many top military officials and generals, who have recommended a gradual drawdown in troop strengths, and in recent weeks replaced several top military officials who expressed doubts about the need or efficacy of new troop deployments in Iraq (see January 5, 2007). Instead, Bush believes the escalation will alleviate the drastically deteriorating security situation in Iraq. According to Pentagon officials, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who oppose the surge, have agreed to support it only grudgingly, and only because Bush officials have promised a renewed diplomatic and political effort to go along with the escalation. Outgoing Central Command chief General John Abizaid said in November that further troop increases were not a viable answer to the Iraq situation, and in their November 30 meeting, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki did not ask Bush for more troops, instead indicating that he wanted Iraqi troops to take a higher profile. Viewpoints differ on Bush’s interaction with his commanders up to this point—some have seen him as too passive with the generals and military advisers, allowing them almost free rein in Iraq, while others see him as asserting himself by forcing the retirements or reassignments of generals who disagree with his policies.
Rebuffing the ISG - Many observers believe the surge is a backhanded rebuff to the Iraq Study Group (see January 10, 2007).
Surge Plan Concocted at Right-Wing Think Tank - Interestingly, the surge plan itself comes largely from neoconservative planners at the American Enterprise Institute (see January 2007).
Long-Term Ramifications - The Joint Chiefs worry that a troop escalation will set up the US military for an even larger failure, without having any backup options. The Iraqis will not deliver the troops necessary for their own security efforts, they believe, and worry that US troops will end up fighting in what amounts to a political vacuum unless Bush comes up with a plan for dramatic political and economic changes to go along with the military effort. A surge could lead to increased attacks by Iraqi al-Qaeda fighters, open the troops up to more attacks by Sunni insurgents, and fuel the jihadist appeal for more foreign fighters to battle US forces in Iraq. And the escalation’s short-term conception—to last no more than six to eight months—might well play into the plans of Iraq’s armed factions by allowing them to “game out” the new strategy. The JCS also wonder just where Bush will find the troops for the surge. Frederick Kagan, one of the architects of the surge plan, and Republican presidential candidate John McCain want far more than 20,000 troops, but the Joint Chiefs say that they can muster 20,000 at best, and not all at once. Rumsfeld’s replacement, Robert Gates, played a key role in convincing the Joint Chiefs to support the escalation. The biggest selling point of the escalation is the White House’s belief that it will portray the administration as visibly and dramatically taking action in Iraq, and will help create conditions that will eventually allow for a gradual withdrawal of US troops: Bush says, “[W]e have to go up before we go down.” (Abramowitz, Wright, and Ricks 1/10/2007)
General George Casey, the outgoing commander of US forces in Iraq, faces criticism from both Republican and Democratic Senators during his testimony before the Armed Services Committee. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) tells Casey that “things have gotten markedly and progressively worse” during Casey’s 2 1/2-year tenure, “and the situation in Iraq can now best be described as dire and deteriorating. I regret that our window of opportunity to reverse momentum may be closing.” Casey is slated to become the Army Chief of Staff. McCain, a strong supporter of the “surge” of US forces into Iraq, has proposed a Senate resolution including stringent benchmarks to gauge the progress of the Iraqi government and military. McCain’s resolution and other nonbinding, bipartisan proposals that would express varying degrees of disapproval of Bush’s plan will soon be debated on the Senate floor. (Washington Post 2/2/2007)
After Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a presidential candidate, told reporters that the Senate debate over a phased withdrawal plan for Iraq is aiding the enemies of the US—saying, “I mean, a second-year cadet at West Point will tell you you don’t win wars by telling the enemy when you’re leaving”—Defense Secretary Robert Gates contradicts his assertions. Gates tells the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee that the debate has been “helpful in bringing pressure to bear on the Maliki government.” Gates adds that the congressional debate lets Iraqis know that “there is a very real limit to American patience in this entire enterprise.” (Think Progress 3/30/2007)
CBS News fires retired Army Major General John Batiste as a paid “military analyst” after Batiste takes part in an advertisement that criticizes the Iraq strategy of President Bush. CBS says Batiste’s participation violates the network’s standards of not being involved in advocacy. CBS spokeswoman Linda Mason says if Batiste had appeared in an advertisement promoting Bush’s policies, he would have been fired as well. “When we hire someone as a consultant, we want them to share their expertise with our viewers,” she says. “By putting himself… in an anti-Bush ad, the viewer might have the feeling everything he says is anti-Bush. And that doesn’t seem like an analytical approach to the issues we want to discuss.” Batiste retired from the military in 2003, and since then has been an outspoken critic of the conduct of the war. In the advertisement, for the VoteVets Political Action Committee, Batiste said: “Mr. President, you did not listen. You continue to pursue a failed strategy that is breaking our great Army and Marine Corps. I left the Army in protest in order to speak out. Mr. President, you have placed our nation in peril. Our only hope is that Congress will act now to protect our fighting men and women.” (United Press International 5/11/2007; Montopoli 5/11/2007) Two days after the ad aired, CBS fires Batiste. (Oregon Salem-News 5/16/2007) Batiste, an Iraq veteran who describes himself as a “diehard Republican,” tells MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann that he and his colleagues at VoteVets are “patriots… VoteVets is not an antiwar organization. We’re focused on what’s best for this country. We’re focused on being successful and winning the effort against global terrorism.” He says he agreed to make the ad with VoteVets “because I care about our country, and I care about our soldiers and Marines and their families.” He says that because he is retired, he has the freedom to speak out. (MSNBC 5/10/2007) The progressive political organization MoveOn.org calls the firing “censorship, pure and simple.” The Oregon Salem-News notes that CBS routinely employs analysts and commentators who advocate for the Bush administration, including former White House communications director Nicolle Wallace, who is, the Salem-News writes, “known for using her position to push White House talking points.” Wallace is also a consultant for the presidential campaign for Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and according to the Salem-News, CBS did not object when Wallace appeared on its broadcasts to promote his candidacy. (Oregon Salem-News 5/16/2007) Batiste is not a participant in the Pentagon’s propaganda operation to promote the Iraq war that uses retired military officers as “independent analysts” to echo and elaborate on Pentagon and White House talking points (see April 20, 2008, Early 2002 and Beyond, and May 1, 2008).
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales comes under fire from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the National Security Agency’s domestic warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005. Testimony from the day before by former deputy attorney general James Comey (see May 15, 2007) showed that White House and Justice Department officials were, and still are, deeply divided over the legality and efficacy of the program. But Gonzales has said repeatedly, both under oath before Congress and in other venues, that there is little debate over the NSA surveillance program, and almost all administration officials are unified in support of the program. In February 2006, he told the committee, “There has not been any serious disagreement about the program that the president has confirmed. There have been disagreements about other matters regarding operations, which I cannot get into.” Gonzales’s veracity has come under question before, and many senators are disinclined to believe his new testimony. Committee Democrats point out that Comey’s testimony flatly contradicts Gonzales’s statements from that February session. A letter from Senators Russ Feingold, Charles Schumer, Edward Kennedy, and Richard Durbin asks Gonzales, “In light of Mr. Comey’s testimony yesterday, do you stand by your 2006 Senate and House testimony, or do you wish to revise it?” And some Senate Republicans are now joining Democrats in calling for Gonzales’s removal. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) says, “The American people deserve an attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of our country, whose honesty and capability are beyond question. Attorney General Gonzales can no longer meet this standard. He has failed this country. He has lost the moral authority to lead.” White House press secretary Tony Snow says of Hagel’s statement, “We disagree, and the president supports the attorney general.” Hagel joins three other Republican senators, John Sununu, Tom Coburn, and presidential candidate John McCain, and House GOP Conference Chairman Adam Putnam, in calling for Gonzales’s firing. Former Senate Intelligence Commitee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) says that Gonzales should consider resigning, a stance echoed by fellow Republican senators Arlen Specter and Gordon Smith. (Kellman 5/17/2007) Gonzales’s defenders say that his testimony to the committee, while legalistic and narrowly focused, is technically accurate, because the NSA program also involves “data mining” of huge electronic databases containing personal information on millions of US citizens, and that program is not exactly the same as the so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” as the NSA’s wiretapping program is now called by White House officials (see Early 2004). But Feingold disagrees. “I’ve had the opportunity to review the classified matters at issue here, and I believe that his testimony was misleading at best.” (Shane and Johnston 7/29/2007)
Defense Department General Counsel William J. Haynes assumes command of the military prosecutions at Guantanamo, a decision that infuriates lead prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis. Haynes is promoted by Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England; Haynes, a civilian lawyer, was blocked in his bid for a seat on an appellate court because of his connection to the now-infamous torture memos (see November 27, 2002). Davis, who opposes the use of such techniques as waterboarding and other “extreme interrogation techniques,” resigns within hours of Haynes’s promotion. Davis will later say that Haynes’ expanded powers were a key reason for his decision (see October 4, 2007). “[T]he decision to give him command over the chief prosecutor’s office, in my view, cast a shadow over the integrity of military commissions,” he will write in a December 2007 op-ed explaining his decision (see December 10, 2007). Davis will also write that he has no confidence that military commissions can be used for fair trials if “political appointees like Haynes and [convening authority Susan] Crawford” are in charge: “The president first authorized military commissions in November 2001, more than six years ago, and the lack of progress is obvious. Only one war-crime case has been completed. It is time for the political appointees who created this quagmire to let go. Sen[ators] John McCain and Lindsey Graham have said that how we treat the enemy says more about us than it does about him. If we want these military commissions to say anything good about us, it’s time to take the politics out of military commissions, give the military control over the process and make the proceedings open and transparent.” (Davis 12/10/2007) In 2009, one of Davis’s subordinates, prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld, will confirm Davis’s story (see January 18, 2009). He will recall Davis complaining of “being bullied by political appointees in the Bush administration.” Vandeveld will write that Davis resigned rather than bring prosecutions before they were ready to proceed, especially since, as Davis believed, the prosecutions were for political purposes. (Vandeveld 1/18/2009)
The White House denies reports that a secret Justice Department opinion in 2005 authorized the use of torture against detainees suspected of terrorist connections, or superseded US anti-torture laws (see February 2005). Press secretary Dana Perino tells reporters: “This country does not torture. It is a policy of the United States that we do not torture and we do not.” The existence of the 2005 memo, signed by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, was revealed by the New York Times. It apparently superseded a late 2004 memo that characterized torture as “abhorrent” and limited the use of “harsh interrogation techniques” (see December 30, 2004). Perino confirms the existence of the 2005 memo, but will not comment on what techniques it authorized. She merely says that the memo did not reinterpret the law. Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says the 2004 opinion remains in effect and that “neither Attorney General Gonzales nor anyone else within the department modified or withdrew that opinion. Accordingly, any advice that the department would have provided in this area would rely upon, and be fully consistent with, the legal standards articulated in the December 2004 memorandum.” Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a consistent opponent of torture, says he was “personally assured by administration officials that at least one of the techniques allegedly used in the past, waterboarding, was prohibited under the new law.” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) calls the 2005 memo and other Justice Department memos authorizing torture “cynical attempt[s] to shield interrogators from criminal liability and to perpetuate the administration’s unlawful interrogation practices.” House Democrats want Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), to “be made available for prompt committee hearings.” Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a presidential candidate, says: “The secret authorization of brutal interrogations is an outrageous betrayal of our core values, and a grave danger to our security. We must do whatever it takes to track down and capture or kill terrorists, but torture is not a part of the answer—it is a fundamental part of the problem with this administration’s approach.” Perino does not comment on another secret memo that apparently concluded all of the CIA’s torture methodologies were legal (see Late 2005). (Associated Press 10/4/2007)
Republican presidential candidates Rudolph Giuliani (R-NY), John McCain (R-AZ), and Mitt Romney (R-MA) come out against the Law of the Sea treaty, saying that the treaty infringes on the natural rights of the United States. That treaty, signed in 1982, is supported by organizations and government entities as disparate as the Sierra Club and the US Navy, and provides what author J. Peter Scoblic will call “a commonsense agreement… that define[s] national responsibilities governing use of an international resource, the oceans.” Explaining his stance, Giuliani says, “I cannot support the creation of yet another unaccountable international bureaucracy that might infringe on American sovereignty and curtail America’s freedoms.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 267)
US officials hail a marked drop in casualties in Iraq in recent weeks. One major reason for the drop seems to be the recent decision by Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army to observe a six-month ceasefire (see August 30, 2007), but Pentagon and White House officials instead credit it to the recent “surge” of US troops into the country (see January 10, 2007), and do not mention the ceasefire at all.
Number of Explosively Formed Projectiles Decreasing - The number of deadly explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) coming into the country seems to be dropping as well, with 99 being detonated or found in July 2007 and 53 in October, according to Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, the commander of day-to-day military operations in Iraq. Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army has been alleged to be a major recipient and user of EFPs. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will not yet declare “victory” in Iraq, saying that use of terms like “victory” or “winning” are “loaded words.” However, Gates says: “We have been very successful. We need to continue being successful.” Iran has promised to help curtail the flow of EFPs into Iraq; some believe that Iran is the source of most EFPs used in Iraq, and some US officials do not yet believe the Iranians. Odierno says: “In terms of Iran… it’s unclear yet to me whether they have slowed down bringing in weapons and supporting the insurgency or not. I’ll still wait and see.” (Tyson 11/2/2007)
Bush, Others Claim Surge a Success - President George Bush says the strategy is successful; at Fort Jackson, SC, he says, “Slowly but surely, the people of Iraq are reclaiming a normal society.” White House national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe adds, “The purpose of the strategy is to make the lull a trend,” and says the trend suggests “steady forward movement on the security front.” (Gerstenzang 11/3/2007) Presidential candidate and senator John McCain (R-AZ), an advocate of increasing the US presence in Iraq, says that the US is experiencing “astonishing success” in Iraq because of the surge: “Things are dramatically better, particularly since Gen. Petraeus went before the Congress of the United States and Americans had a chance to see what a great and dynamic leader he is.” (Memmott and Lawrence 11/1/2007) The London Times agrees, writing, “[O]n every relevant measure, the shape of the Petraeus curve is profoundly encouraging.” The Times goes even further, avowing: “As the pace of reconstruction quickens, the prospects for economic recovery will be enhanced yet further. With oil at record high prices, Iraq should be an extremely prosperous nation and in a position to start planning for its future with confidence.” The editors dismiss the opposition to the war by British and American politicians alike as “outdated.” (London Times 11/3/2007)
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), considered a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, says former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik did an irresponsible job training police officers in Iraq (see May 2003 - July 2003). McCain’s criticism of Kerik is an indirect means of attacking former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, another Republican presidential contender. Kerik withdrew his name from consideration for head of the Department of Homeland Security—a position Giuliani recommended him for—amid questions about his corrupt business practices (see December 13, 2004). McCain, whose comments are made the same day Kerik surrenders to face federal corruption charges in New York, says Giuliani’s longtime friendship and business relationships with Kerik are reason to doubt Giuliani’s judgment. McCain says of Kerik’s job performance in Iraq: “I don’t know Mr. Kerik. I do know that I went to Baghdad shortly after the initial victory and met in Baghdad with [then-ambassador Paul] Bremer and [Lieutenant General Ricardo] Sanchez. And Kerik was there. Kerik was supposed to be there to help train the police force. He stayed two months and one day left, just up and left.… That’s why I never would’ve supported him to be the head of homeland security because of his irresponsible act when he was over in Baghdad to try and help train the police. One of the reasons why we had so much trouble with the initial training of the police was because he came, didn’t do anything, and then went out to the airport and left.” McCain is joined on the campaign trail by former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge, who says of Giuliani: “It was clear the mayor and I had a different view what the department does and the kind of leadership it needed. His judgment would’ve been different than mine.… We’re not talking about some urban city patronage job. That’s not what a Cabinet secretary’s about.” (Associated Press 11/9/2007)
Republican senator and presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ) says that during World War II, Japanese soldiers were tried and hanged for war crimes involving the waterboarding of American prisoners of war. “There should be little doubt from American history that we consider that [waterboarding] as torture otherwise we wouldn’t have tried and convicted Japanese for doing that same thing to Americans,” McCain says. He notes that he forgot to bring this piece of information up during the previous night’s debate with fellow Republican candidates; during the debate, he criticized former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) for refusing to say what interrogation techniques he would rule out if president. “I would also hope that he would not want to be associated with a technique which was invented in the Spanish Inquisition, was used by Pol Pot in one of the great eras of genocide in history, and is being used on Burmese monks as we speak,” McCain says. “America is a better nation than that.” Waterboarding is banned by US law and international treaties. “If the United States was in another conflict, which could easily happen, with another country, and we have allowed that kind of torture to be inflicted on people we hold captive, then there’s nothing to prevent that enemy from also torturing American prisoners,” McCain adds. (Associated Press 11/29/2007)
Presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ) says the US could have a military presence in Iraq for “maybe a hundred years,” and that “would be fine with me.” Speaking to a campaign rally audience in New Hampshire, McCain elaborates on his statement, saying that the US still maintains troops in South Korea, Japan, and other nations, and he has no problem with US soldiers remaining in Iraq for decades “as long as Americans are not being injured, harmed or killed.” McCain continues the thread of his assertion after the rally, in an interview with reporter and author David Corn. Corn writes: “I asked McCain about his ‘hundred years’ comment, and he reaffirmed the remark, excitedly declaring that US troops could be in Iraq for ‘a thousand years’ or ‘a million years,’ as far as he was concerned. The key matter, he explained, was whether they were being killed or not: ‘It’s not American presence; it’s American casualties.’” (Corn 1/3/2008) McCain’s statement is not a “one-time gaffe,” as some claim. His repetitions include:
January 3, 2008: To a Detroit reporter, McCain says: “We’re still in Kuwait since the first Gulf War. If we can continue to show this progress, we could be there for 100 years, for all I know, as long as Americans are not dying. It’s not a matter of American presence; it’s a matter of success so we can beat back this adversary.”
January 6, 2008: On CBS’s Face the Nation, McCain says: “We’ve got to get Americans off the front line, have the Iraqis as part of the strategy, take over more and more of the responsibilities. And then I don’t think Americans are concerned if we’re there for 100 years or 1,000 years or 10,000 years.”
In a New Hampshire speech on January 7, 2008: “We are in two wars. We are in a greater struggle that is going to be with us for the rest of this century.… These young people that are in this crowd, my friends, I’m going to be asking you to serve. I’m gonna be asking you to step forward and serve this nation in difficult times.”
At a Florida town hall rally on January 26, 2008: “I’d like to look you in the eye and tell you there’s not gonna be any more wars. I’d like to look you in the eyes and tell you that this terrible evil called radical Islamic extremism is defeated. I can’t do that. I’ve got to tell you that we’re gonna be in this struggle for the rest of this century because it’s a transcendent evil.” (Stein 4/29/2008)
The conservative lobbying group Citizens United (CU—see May 1998 and (May 11, 2004)) releases a film entitled Hillary: The Movie. The film is a lengthy diatribe attacking the character and career of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Large portions of the film are comprised of conservative critics launching attacks against the personalities and character of Clinton and her husband, former President Clinton. CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) says he based his film on a documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, released in 2004 by liberal filmmaker Michael Moore (see August 6, 2004), and calls it “a rigorously researched critical biography” comparable to the material presented on political talk shows such as Meet the Press. (Barnes 3/15/2009; Moneyocracy 2/2012) Bossie intended for the film to be released in late 2007 and impact the 2008 race in the same way that he believes Fahrenheit 9/11 impacted the 2004 race. A cable company made the film, at a cost of $1.2 million, available for free to viewers on “video on demand.” Bossie also scheduled a small theater run for the film, but his primary focus was always cable television and the accompanying television advertisements. Knowing the film will probably run afoul of campaign law, he hired lawyers, first James Bopp Jr. (a former member of the far-right Young Americans for Freedom—YAF—and the former general counsel for the National Right to Life Committee—see November 1980 and After) (Toobin 5/21/2012) and later Theodore B. Olson, the former solicitor general under the Bush administration. Olson will later say the film is “a critical biographical assessment” that provides “historical information about the candidate and, perhaps, some measure of entertainment as well.” The New York Times calls it “a scathingly hostile look at Mrs. Clinton” replete with “ripe voice-overs, shadowy re-enactments, and spooky mood music.” The film also contains interviews and material from mainstream media reporters, and interviews with figures such as former CIA agent Gary Aldrich, who wrote a “tell-all” book about the Clinton administration, and with Kathleen Willey, who has claimed that Bill Clinton once made an unwelcome sexual advance towards her. Reviewer Megan Carpentier of Radar Online will trounce the movie, saying that it “scrolls through more than a decade of press clippings and a treasure trove of unflattering pictures in its one-sided romp” and will advise potential viewers to watch it “while inebriated in the manner of your choosing, and only if you don’t pay $10 for the privilege.” (Liptak 3/5/2009) Bossie claims the movie has nothing to do with the impending primary elections. CU intends to show the movie in a small number of theaters but primarily on “video on demand” cable broadcasts, with accompanying television advertisements. In return for a $1.2 million fee, a cable television consortium has agreed to make the movie freely available to its customers as part of what CU calls its “Election ‘08” series. (CU has another negative documentary on Clinton’s Democratic challenger Barack Obama in the works—see October 28-30, 2008—but apparently has no plans to air any documentaries on Republican candidate John McCain or any other Republican presidential candidates.) However, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) refuses to allow the film to be aired on cable channels, or advertised for theater release, because the FEC considers the film “electioneering” and thus subject to campaign finance law (see March 27, 2002) restrictions. Moreover, the film and its planned distribution are funded by corporate donations. (United States District Court for the District Of Columbia 1/15/2008; Richard Hasen 1/15/2008; Toobin 5/21/2012) Bossie claims the film takes no position on Clinton’s candidacy, and says that if he had to vote between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, he would vote for Clinton. (Liptak 3/5/2009)
Court Fight - Bopp, CU’s original lawyer, decides to pursue the same general aggressive course that he took in a recent successful Supreme Court campaign finance case, the Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL) decision (see Mid-2004 and After). The Hillary film was envisioned from the outset to serve multiple purposes: to advance conservative ideology, damage Clinton’s presidential chances (despite Bossie’s claims), and generate profits. Bopp knows that the FEC would likely classify the film as a political advertisement and not a work of journalism or entertainment (see August 6, 2004), and therefore would fall under campaign law restrictions. Before the film is officially released, Bopp takes the film to the FEC for a ruling, and when the FEC, as expected, rules the film to be “electioneering communication” that comes under campaign law restrictions, Bopp files a lawsuit with the Washington, DC, federal district court. The court rules in favor of the FEC judgment, denying CU its request for a preliminary injunction against the FEC’s ruling. The court specifically finds that the WRTL decision does not apply in this case. “[I]f the speech cannot be interpreted as anything other than an appeal to vote for or against a candidate, it will not be considered genuine issue speech even if it does not expressly advocate the candidate’s election or defeat,” the court states. The court also questions CU’s statement that the film “does not focus on legislative issues.… The movie references the election and Senator Clinton’s candidacy, and it takes a position on her character, qualifications, and fitness for office.” Film commentator Dick Morris has said of the film that it will “give people the flavor and an understanding of why she should not be president.” The court rules, “The movie is susceptible of no other interpretation than to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her.” (During arguments, Bopp says that the film is much like what a viewer would see on CBS’s evening news show 60 Minutes, and Judge Royce Lamberth laughs aloud, saying: “You can’t compare this to 60 Minutes. Did you read this transcript?” Other judges find it problematic that one of the film’s central “issues” is its assertion that Clinton is, in Bopp’s words, “a European socialist,” but still claims not to be overtly partisan.) (Mencimer 1/13/2008; United States District Court for the District Of Columbia 1/15/2008; Richard Hasen 1/15/2008; Toobin 5/21/2012)
Supreme Court Appeal - CU appeals the court’s decision directly to the Supreme Court. Bossie soon decides to replace Bopp with Olson, a far more prominent figure in conservative legal circles. Toobin will write: “Ted Olson had argued and won Bush v. Gore (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000), and was rewarded by President Bush with an appointment as solicitor general. Olson had argued before the Supreme Court dozens of times, and he had a great deal of credibility with the justices. He knew how to win.” (Richard Hasen 1/15/2008; Toobin 5/21/2012)
Previous Attempt - In September 2004, Bossie and CU attempted, without success, to release a similar “documentary” supporting President Bush and attacking Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) on television, just weeks before the presidential election. The FEC turned down the group’s request. The FEC did allow the film to be shown in theaters (see September 8, 2004 and September 27-30, 2004).
'Ten-Year Plan' - Bopp will later reveal that the lawsuit is part of what he will call a “10-year plan” to push the boundaries of campaign finance law, and that he urged Bossie and other CU officials to use the documentary as a “test case” for overturning the body of law (see January 25, 2010).
Presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ) tells an audience that Iraq is only the first of other wars the US will be forced to fight. “It’s a tough war we’re in,” he says. “It’s not going to be over right away. There’s going to be other wars.… I’m sorry to tell you, there’s going to be other wars. We will never surrender but there will be other wars.” McCain does not say who exactly the US will be fighting in the near future. He does say: “And right now—we’re gonna have a lot of PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] to treat, my friends. We’re gonna have a lot of combat wounds that have to do with these terrible explosive IEDs that inflict such severe wounds. And my friends, it’s gonna be tough, we’re gonna have a lot to do.” McCain has already said that the US could be in Iraq for the next hundred years (see January 3-27, 2008). (Stein 1/27/2008)
The Defense Department announces that it is bringing death penalty charges against six high-value enemy detainees currently being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The six, all charged with involvement in the 9/11 attacks, will be tried under the much-criticized military tribunal system (see October 17, 2006) implemented by the Bush administration. They are:
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a Pakistani who claims responsibility for 31 terrorist attacks and plots, is believed to have masterminded the 9/11 attacks, and claims he beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (see January 31, 2002). Mohammed was subjected to harsh interrogation tactics by the CIA, including waterboarding.
Ali Adbul Aziz Ali, Mohammed’s nephew and cousin of jailed Islamist terrorist Ramzi Yousef. He is accused of facilitating the attacks by sending $120,000 to US-based terrorists, and helping nine of the hijackers enter the US.
Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, accused of being a link between al-Qaeda and the 9/11 hijackers. Bin al-Shibh is accused of helping some of the hijackers obtain flight training.
Khallad bin Attash, who has admitted planning the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and is accused of running an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. He claims to have helped in the bombing of the US embassy in Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).
Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, accused of being a financier of the 9/11 attacks, providing the hijackers with cash, clothing, credit cards, and traveller’s checks.
Mohamed al-Khatani, another man accused of being a “20th hijacker;” al-Khatani was stopped by immigration officials at Orlando Airport while trying to enter the US. He was captured in Afghanistan.
Many experts see the trials as part of an election-year effort by the Bush administration to demonstrate its commitment to fighting terrorism, and many predict a surge of anti-American sentiment in the Middle East and throughout the Islamic world. Some believe that the Bush administration is using the trials to enhance the political fortunes of Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who has made the US battle against al-Qaeda a centerpiece of his campaign. “What we are looking at is a series of show trials by the Bush administration that are really devoid of any due process considerations,” says Vincent Warren, the executive director head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many Guantanamo detainees. “Rather than playing politics the Bush administration should be seeking speedy and fair trials. These are trials that are going to be based on torture as confessions as well as secret evidence. There is no way that this can be said to be fair especially as the death penalty could be an outcome.”
Treatment of Detainees an Issue - While the involvement of the six detainees in the 9/11 attacks is hardly disputed, many questions surround their treatment at Guantanamo and various secret “black sites” used to house and interrogate terror suspects out of the public eye. Questions are being raised about the decision to try the six men concurrently instead of separately, about the decision to seek the death penalty, and, most controversially, the admissibility of information and evidence against the six that may have been gathered by the use of torture.
Details of Forthcoming Tribunals - While the charges are being announced now, Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann, the Pentagon official supervising the case, acknowledges that it could be months before the cases actually begin, and years before any possible executions would be carried out. Hartmann promises the trials will be “as completely open as possible,” with lawyers and journalists present in the courtroom unless classified information is being presented. Additionally, the six defendants will be considered innocent until proven guilty, and the defendants’ lawyers will be given “every stitch of evidence” against their clients.
'Kangaroo Court' - British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, who has worked with “enemy combatants” at Guantanamo, believes nothing of what Hartmann says. The procedures are little more than a “kangaroo court,” Stafford Smith says, and adds, “Anyone can see the hypocrisy of espousing human rights, then trampling on them.” Despite Hartmann’s assurances, it is anything but clear just what rights the six defendants will actually have. (Gumbel 2/12/2008) The charges against al-Khahtani are dropped several months later (see May 13, 2008).
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the presumptive Republican nominee for president, urges President Bush to veto an upcoming bill prohibiting waterboarding and other extreme methods of interrogation after himself voting against the bill. The bill passes the Senate on a largely partisan 51-45 vote. It has already passed the House on a similar party-line vote, and Bush has already announced his intention to veto the bill. McCain has won a reputation as an advocate of prisoner rights and a staunch opponent of torture; his five-year stint as a POW in North Vietnam is well-known. But McCain voted against the legislation when it came up for a vote in the Senate, and he opposes the bill now. McCain says he is opposed to waterboarding, but does not want the CIA restricted to following the practices outlined in the US Army Field Manual, as the legislation would require. McCain says: “I knew I would be criticized for it. I think I can show my record is clear. I said there should be additional techniques allowed to other agencies of government as long as they were not” torture. “I was on the record as saying that they could use additional techniques as long as they were not cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. So the vote was in keeping with my clear record of saying that they could have additional techniques, but those techniques could not violate” international rules against torture. McCain has said he believes waterboarding is already prohibited by the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (see December 30, 2005). And CIA director Michael Hayden has said that current law may well prohibit waterboarding; he claims to have stopped CIA agents from waterboarding detainees in 2006, and also claims that the technique was not used later than 2003. McCain’s Senate colleague, Charles Schumer (D-NY) says that if Bush vetoes the bill, then he in essence “will be voting in favor of waterboarding.” (Herszenhorn 2/13/2008; Quaid 2/21/2008) Bush will indeed veto the bill (see March 8, 2008).
As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, syndicated conservative radio host Michael Savage, continuing the well-debunked assertion that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is a Muslim (see January 22-24, 2008), says that American voters “have a right to know if he’s a so-called friendly Muslim or one who aspires to more radical teachings.” The media should not worry about Republican candidate John McCain’s connections to lobbyists, Savage says, and instead should be more concerned with “the Muslim connection to Obama.” Savage says: “Barack Hussein Obama. Father Muslim, grandfather Muslim. Nothing wrong with that. But we, the American people, being at war with radical Islam have a—have a need to know just exactly what kind of Muslim he was exposed to, what kind of Muslim he is, what kind of Muslim teachings he’s—he’s friendly to. We have a right to know if he’s a so-called friendly Muslim or one who aspires to more radical teachings.” (Media Matters 2/22/2008)
Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) makes a videotaped address to the annual convention of the Alaskan Independence Party (AIP), a far-right, secessionist third party that has had considerable success in state and local politics. Palin’s husband Todd was a member of the AIP from 1995 through 2002, when he reregistered his voter status as “undecided.” Palin’s address steers clear of racist and secessionist rhetoric, but is very complimentary. She tells the assemblage: “I share your party’s vision of upholding the Constitution of our great state. My administration remains focused on reining in government growth so individual liberty can expand. I know you agree with that.… Keep up the good work and God bless you.” Palin has been given tremendous, if behind-the-scenes, support from former AIP chairman Mark Chryson throughout her political career (see October 10, 2008). Her attendance at the 1994 and 2006 AIP conventions, her address to the 2008 convention, and her husband’s membership in the AIP, will become a minor issue when she is named as the running mate for presidential contender John McCain (R-AZ). Chryson will insist that neither of the Palins had any real dealings with the AIP. “Sarah’s never been a member of the Alaskan Independence Party,” he will say. “Todd has, but most of rural Alaska has too. I never saw him at a meeting. They were at one meeting I was at. Sarah said hello, but I didn’t pay attention because I was taking care of business.” This contradicts Chryston’s near-boasting of his access to, and influence with, Palin during her tenure on the Wasilla City Council, as mayor of Wasilla, and as governor. And Dexter Clark, the current vice chairman of the AIP, will claim that Palin was an AIP member while she was Wasilla’s mayor, though she switched to the Republican Party to run for governor so as to have a broader appeal to the electorate. The McCain-Palin campaign will produce documentation that shows Palin registered as a Republican in 1988, and was never an official AIP member. (Blumenthal and Neiwert 10/10/2008) The AIP Web site’s convention page touts Palin’s videotaped message; the message is the only thing on the convention page. (Alaskan Independence Party 2008)
Fred Hollander, a New Hampshire resident, files a lawsuit challenging presidential contender John McCain (R-AZ)‘s ability to serve as president. Hollander names the Republican National Committee (RNC) as a co-defendant. (Hollander v. McCain et al 3/14/2008) Hollander’s challenge hinges on a February 2008 report from conservative news blog News Busters that said since McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936 (his parents, both US citizens were stationed on a Navy base in Panama at the time), he may not be eligible under Article II of the Constitution to be president. News Busters went on to report that McCain’s claim to have been born in the Coco Solo Naval Hospital in the Canal Zone was false, since that hospital was not built until 1941, and the nearest hospital at the time of his birth was not on a US military base, but in the Panamanian city of Colon. Therefore, the report concluded, “we were lied to” about McCain’s birthplace, and News Busters speculated that McCain’s citizenship was in question. However, News Busters was in error. According to subsequent investigations by the press, the Panama Canal Zone did contain a small hospital at the Coco Solo submarine base in 1936, and McCain was born in that hospital. Archival records also show the name of the Naval doctor who signed McCain’s birth certificate, Captain W. L. Irvine, the director of the facility at the time. News Busters, and Hollander, are in error in their reading of the law. Both of McCain’s parents were US citizens, and McCain was born on a US military base, which qualifies under the Constitution as “US soil.” The McCain presidential campaign has refused to release a copy of McCain’s birth certificate, but a senior campaign official shows Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs a copy of the McCain birth certificate issued by the Coco Solo Naval hospital. (News Busters (.org) 2/21/2008; Dobbs 5/20/2008) Additionally, the Panama American newspaper for August 31, 1936 carried an announcement of McCain’s birth. (Washington Post 4/17/2008 ) Two lawyers interviewed by CBS News concur that under the law, McCain is a “natural born citizen” and eligible to serve as president. Theodore Olson, the solicitor general for the Bush administration, and Laurence Tribe, a Harvard law professor generally considered to be a liberal, agree that challenges to McCain’s citizenship are specious. (CBS News 3/28/2008) Hollander files what is later determined to be a fake birth certificate with the court that purports to prove McCain has Panamanian citizenship. The court throws Hollander’s lawsuit out on the grounds that Hollander has no standing to challenge McCain’s citizenship. (US District Court, District of New Hampshire 7/24/2008 ; Obama Conspiracy (.org) 2/27/2009; Obama Conspiracy (.org) 4/24/2010) The lawsuit is similar in nature to numerous court challenges to McCain’s Democratic opponent, Senator Barack Obama (see August 21-24, 2008, October 9-28, 2008, October 17-22, 2008, October 21, 2008, October 31 - November 3, 2008, October 24, 2008, October 31, 2008 and After, November 12, 2008 and After, November 13, 2008, and Around November 26, 2008).
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the presumptive Republican nominee for president, repeatedly conflates the two main warring branches of Islam in statements made while visiting the Middle East. The quickly planned trip was designed to showcase McCain’s foreign policy sagacity, and contrast him with his Democratic opponents Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL), whose relative lack of experience in foreign policy is being negatively portrayed by the McCain campaign.
Allegations of Cooperation between Iran and al-Qaeda - McCain twice says while in Jordan that it is “common knowledge” that Iran, a Shi’ite-led theocracy, is training al-Qaeda terrorists and sending them into Iraq to wreak havoc. Al-Qaeda is a Sunni organization. Sunni Muslims have contended for primacy with Shi’ite Muslims for centuries; much of the violence in Iraq is between Sunni and Shi’ite insurgents. “We continue to be concerned about Iranian[s] taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back,” he says in one instance, and adds: “Well, it’s common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran. That’s well known. And it’s unfortunate.” His traveling companion, Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), whispers a correction in McCain’s ear, and McCain promptly corrects himself, “I’m sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda.”
Criticism of McCain - The Democratic National Committee responds to McCain’s statements by saying: “After eight years of the Bush administration’s incompetence in Iraq, McCain’s comments don’t give the American people a reason to believe that he can be trusted to offer a clear way forward. Not only is Senator McCain wrong on Iraq once again, but he showed he either doesn’t understand the challenges facing Iraq and the region or is willing to ignore the facts on the ground.” (Cooper 3/18/2008; Edwards 3/18/2008)
Previous Similar Comments - McCain made a similar statement the day before while calling in to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s talk show, saying, “As you know, there are al-Qaeda operatives that are taken back into Iran, given training as leaders, and they’re moving back into Iraq.” Hewitt did not correct the error. (Town Hall (.com) 3/17/2008) And on February 28, McCain told an audience in Texas, “But al-Qaeda is [in Iraq], they are functioning, they are supported in many times, in many ways by the Iranians.” (ThinkProgress (.org) 3/20/2008) McCain’s own campaign notes that McCain “immediately corrected” the error—a misstatement, as McCain made the mistake three different times in two days—and attacks the Democrats for McCain’s blunder by stating, “Democrats have launched political attacks today because they know the American people have deep concerns about their candidates’ judgment and readiness to lead as commander in chief.”
Media Reaction - Many in the mainstream media forgive or ignore McCain’s repeated gaffe. The Atlantic Monthly’s Marc Ambinder calls it “momentary confusion” on McCain’s part, again ignoring the fact that McCain made the same mistake three times in two days. (Ambinder 3/18/2008) ABC’s Jake Tapper blames the blunder on “jet lag.” (Tapper 3/18/2008) Both the Associated Press and CNN misreport McCain’s statement. Associated Press reporter Alfred de Montesquiou inaccurately reports that McCain “voiced concern that Tehran is bringing militants over the border into Iran for training before sending them back to fight US troops in Iraq, and blamed Syria for allegedly continuing to ‘expedite’ a flow of foreign fighters.” (de Montesquiou 3/18/2008) And CNN’s Emily Sherman rewrites McCain’s statement, reporting, “During a press conference in Amman, Jordan, the Arizona senator also said there is a continued concern that Iran may be training Iraqi extremists in Iran and then sending them back into Iraq.” (Sherman 3/18/2008)
After the State Department reveals that Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama’s passport file had been inappropriately accessed three times between January and March (see March 20, 2008), the department also reveals that the passport files of the other two major presidential candidates, Democrat Hillary Clinton (see March 21, 2008) and Republican John McCain, have also been breached. The same State Department contract employee who accessed Obama’s file also accessed McCain’s file, says department spokesman Sean McCormack. McCormack says that the department learned of the McCain breach “earlier this year.” He says that employee has been reprimanded but not yet fired. “We are reviewing our options with that person” and their employment status, he says. McCain says that any breach of passport privacy deserves an apology and a full investigation, and “corrective action should be taken.” (Butler and Flaherty 3/21/2008; BBC 3/21/2008) It is not known what information, if any, was obtained from McCain’s file, though the file contains a trove of private data (see March 21, 2008).
Two of the government contractors who improperly accessed Senator Barack Obama’s (D-IL) passport records (see March 20, 2008) are revealed to have worked for a Virginia-based firm, Stanley, Inc, before being fired. A third, who accessed both Obama’s and Senator John McCain’s (R-AZ) records (see March 21, 2008), worked for the Analysis Corporation. Both Obama and McCain are presidential candidates. Their files were improperly accessed by contractors working for the State Department.
Stanley, Inc - Both of the Stanley contractors were fired the same day they performed the unauthorized search, according to a Stanley spokeswoman, who refuses to identify the contractors or explain why either of them accessed Obama’s files. In 2006, the State Department awarded Stanley a $164 million contract to print and mail millions of new US passports. Just this week, the firm was awarded a $570 million contract to “continue support of the US Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs/Passport Services Directorate.” Stanley does almost all of its business with the State Department; all of its employees are trained on the Privacy Act and must sign a Privacy Act acknowledgment before beginning work. The two contractors may have violated the Privacy Act when they broke into Obama’s files.
Analysis, Inc - The Analysis contractor who accessed Obama’s and McCain’s files has not yet been fired; that contractor is described as a veteran State Department contractor and an otherwise “terrific” employee. Analysis is staffed with an array of former intelligence-community officials. Its CEO is John Brennan, the former head of the National Counterterrorism Center and a former deputy executive director of the CIA. Stanley’s chairman and CEO, Philip Nolan, has made campaign contributions to Republicans and Democrats alike, including to Obama’s Democratic rival, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY). Interestingly, Brennan advises Obama on foreign policy and intelligence issues, and has donated to Obama’s campaign. (Popkin and Leist 3/21/2008; Bolduan 3/22/2008)
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.” (Yglesias 4/21/2008)
Former Washington Post editor Barry Sussman, the head of the Nieman Watchdog project at Harvard University, asks a number of pertinent questions about the recently exposed Pentagon propaganda operation that used retired military officers to manipulate public opinion in favor of the Iraq occupation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Sussman notes that “[t]he story has implications of illegal government propaganda and, possibly, improper financial gains,” and asks the logical question, “So what happened to it?” It is receiving short shrift in the mainstream media, as most newspapers and almost all major broadcast news operations resolutely ignore it (see April 21, 2008, April 24, 2008, and May 5, 2008). Sussman asks the following questions in hopes of further documenting the details of the Pentagon operation:
Does Congress intend to investigate the operation?
Do the three presidential candidates—Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and Republican John McCain, have any comments (see April 28, 2008)?
Since the law expressly forbids the US government to, in reporter David Barstow’s words, “direct psychological operations or propaganda against the American people,” do Constitutional attorneys and scholars have any opinions on the matter? Was the operation a violation of the law? Of ethics? Of neither?
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld created the Office of Strategic Influence in 2001 (see Shortly after September 11, 2001), which was nothing less than an international propaganda operation. Rumsfeld claimed the office had been closed down after the media lambasted it, but later said the program had continued under a different name (see February 20, 2002). Does the OSI indeed still exist?
Did the New York Times wait an undue period to report this story? Could it not have reported the story earlier, even with only partial documentation? Sussman notes: “Getting big stories and holding them for very long periods of time has become a pattern at the Times and other news organizations. Their rationale, often, is that the reporting hasn’t been completed. Is reporting ever completed?”
Many of the military analysts cited in the story have close ties to military contractors and defense firms who make handsome profits from the war. Is there evidence that any of the analysts may have financially benefited from promoting Pentagon and Bush administration policies on the air? Could any of these be construed as payoffs? (Barry Sussman 4/23/2008)
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)
Two of the three major presidential candidates speak out against the Pentagon’s propaganda campaign to manipulate public opinion about Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond).
Clinton - Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) says the program raises questions of “credibility and trust at the Pentagon,” and calls for an investigation by the Defense Department’s inspector general. The Clinton campaign says that, considering the Bush administration’s record on intelligence and misinformation, an investigation of the operation is necessary to determine how the Pentagon manipulated the “commentary of putatively independent television military analysts” for “‘selling’ the Iraq war and our country’s defense policy now.” The campaign also says that “serious questions” have been raised “about the potential linkage of government contracts to favorable public commentary by military analysts.”
Obama - Democratic Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) says he is “deeply disturbed” that the administration “sought to manipulate the public’s trust,” and says the program “deserves further investigation to determine if laws or ethical standards were violated.” The Obama campaign calls for “greater transparency to ensure that those who lobby the Pentagon are not rewarded for favorable commentary about the administration’s policies.”
McCain - Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has as yet said nothing about the program. (Melber 4/28/2008)
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.” (Begala 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.” (Bunch 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. (Henry 5/16/2008)
The campaign of Republican presidential nominee John McCain (R-AZ) says that if elected, McCain would retain the right to operate his own warrantless wiretapping program against Americans. Like President Bush, McCain believes that the president’s “wartime” powers trump federal criminal statutes and court oversight. McCain’s campaign is also backing off on earlier assertions that more oversight is needed for telecom companies accused of illegally cooperating with the NSA’s domestic spying program; the campaign now says that McCain is for “unconditional immunity” from prosecution for telecoms. Campaign spokesman Doug Holtz-Eakin says: “[N]either the administration nor the telecoms need apologize for actions that most people, except for the ACLU and the trial lawyers, understand were Constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001.… We do not know what lies ahead in our nation’s fight against radical Islamic extremists, but John McCain will do everything he can to protect Americans from such threats, including asking the telecoms for appropriate assistance to collect intelligence against foreign threats to the United States as authorized by Article II of the Constitution.” The Article II citation has long been used by Bush officials to justify their contention that a president’s wartime powers are virtually unlimited. McCain’s stance directly contradicts a statement he made in December 2007, when he told Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage: “I think that presidents have the obligation to obey and enforce laws that are passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, no matter what the situation is.… I don’t think the president has the right to disobey any law.” McCain’s campaign is so far refusing to respond to requests to explain the differences between his December assertions and those made today. (Singel 6/3/2008)
As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, nationally syndicated radio host Mark Levin tells his listeners that presidential candidate Barack Obama “lied to” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) when he “told them today that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards should be designated a terrorist group after voting against a bill designating them a terrorist group a year ago.” Fox News anchor Martha McCallum echoes the accusation a day later on her show The Live Desk, saying that Obama “seems to be changing his tune on the significant issue.” Both Levin and McCallum are misrepresenting Obama’s voting record. He has consistently voted to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, and co-sponsored a November 2007 bill to do just that. Levin and McCallum are referencing a 2007 bill that Obama says he would have voted against, a bill that, Obama said, “states that our military presence in Iraq should be used to counter Iran.” Obama disagreed with that portion of the resolution, not another section that advocated for the designation of the Guards as a terrorist organization. The false characterization of Obama’s stance on the Guards may originate with Obama’s opponent John McCain, who says just before Levin’s broadcast that Obama “was categorical in his statement when he opposed that legislation. Then he goes before AIPAC and supports it. I know he’s changing on the surge, he’s trying to change on his pledge to negotiate with dictators without preconditions.” Levin flatly calls Obama “a liar… he’s a radical extremist and he’s a liar.” (Media Matters 6/6/2008)
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. (Cockburn 6/5/2008)
Conservative radio host Michael Savage repeatedly refers to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama as an “Afro-Leninist.” As reported by the progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, Savage asserts: “If the other side [the Republican Party] had one decent candidate, one real conservative, he would win 70-30. But because we have a retread, a Bush III [referring to Republican candidate John McCain], it’s going to be very doubtful as to whether or not we can avoid outright Marxism and Afro-Leninism running this country.” Later in the broadcast, he calls Obama “[a]n Afro-Leninist who’s achieved nothing” and “the most narcissistic candidate in the history of the presidency.” (Media Matters 6/10/2008)
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh tells his audience that the Islamic terrorist organization Hamas has endorsed Democratic candidate Barack Obama. A Hamas spokesman had made positive comments about Obama in April, but after Obama stated his support for Israel against Hamas and other Islamist terror organizations, a Hamas spokesman stated that his organization “does not differentiate between the two presidential candidates, Obama and [Republican John] McCain, because their policies regarding the Arab-Israel conflict are the same and are hostile to us, therefore we do have no preference and are not wishing for either of them to win.” As reported by progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, Limbaugh says: “I will guaran-damn-tee you there will not be a terrorist attack before the election. And you know why there won’t be one? Because they want Obama elected.… Hamas has endorsed Obama. Hamas has endorsed Obama. Do you think they’re going to do anything to upset the apple cart of Obama’s election? Why do you think they’ve endorsed Obama? Because they want a very strong ally for Israel in the White House?” Limbaugh expands his rhetoric to equate Democrats with Islamic terrorists: “[E]very time I hear [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad speak, every time I hear a tape from [al-Qaeda leader] Ayman al Zawahiri or a so-called dispatch from [Osama] bin Laden, whenever I hear from any of these Middle East al-Qaeda terrorists, I think I’m hearing Democrat [sic] Party talking points.… Am I politically incorrect for saying this? We all know it to be true.” Limbaugh has previously asserted that “Islamofascists are actively campaigning for the election of Democrats.” (Reuters 6/4/2008; Media Matters 6/24/2008)
Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) is retracting previous comments he made about Republican presidential candidate and fellow senator John McCain (R-AZ). Cochran recently recounted the story of McCain physically assaulting a Nicaraguan official in 1987 (see Fall 1987). He has said: “The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine. He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me.” Cochran has now backed off of his characterization somewhat, and says that McCain has learned to control his temper since 1987. A Cochran spokesperson says: “I think Senator Cochran went into as much detail yesterday as is necessary to make the point that, though Senator McCain has had problems with his temper, he has overcome them. Though Senator Cochran saw the incident he described to you, decades have passed since then and he wanted to make the point that over the years he has seen Senator McCain mature into an individual who is not only spirited and tenacious but also thoughtful and levelheaded.” Cochran supports McCain’s bid for the presidency. (Biloxi Sun-Herald 7/1/2008)
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).
As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host Neal Boortz, falsely claiming Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is a Muslim, suggests asking Obama “how many prayer rugs he has.” Boortz is attacking Obama in response to a recent gaffe by Republican contender John McCain, who seemingly could not remember how many homes he owns. After calling McCain, who is 72, “senile… he keeps going to the wrong home, too, at night,” he then adds, “Let’s ask Obama how many prayer rugs he has.” When Cox Radio correspondent Jamie DuPree says: “See? And, you know, somebody would say that’s not fair,” Boortz responds, “Well, I’m not trying to be fair.” (Media Matters 8/25/2008) Boortz is repeating the debunked assertion that Obama is a Muslim (see January 22-24, 2008).
Attorney Philip J. Berg files a lawsuit alleging that Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) is not an American citizen and is therefore ineligible to hold the office of president (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, July 2008, and August 21, 2008). Berg’s lawsuit is dismissed three days later by Federal Judge R. Barclay Surrick on the grounds that Berg lacks the standing to bring the lawsuit. Berg names Obama as a defendant in the lawsuit under his given name of Barack Hussein Obama and under three alleged “pseudonyms,” “Barry Soetoro,” “Barry Obama,” and “Barack Dunham.” Berg alleges that Obama “cheated his way into a fraudulent candidacy and cheated legitimately eligible natural-born citizens from competing in a fair process.” Surrick rules that ordinary citizens cannot sue to ensure that a presidential candidate actually meets the constitutional requirements of the office. Instead, Surrick writes, Congress could determine “that citizens, voters, or party members should police the Constitution’s eligibility requirements for the presidency,” but it would take new laws to grant individual citizens that ability. “Until that time, voters do not have standing to bring the sort of challenge that Plaintiff attempts to bring.” Surrick cites Article III of the Constitution in ruling that Berg has no standing to bring his lawsuit. He also criticizes Berg’s premise, noting that it is unlikely in the extreme that Obama could have gone so long without being discovered as a foreign-born alien. “Plaintiff would have us derail the democratic process by invalidating a candidate for whom millions of people voted,” Surrick rules, “and who underwent excessive vetting during what was one of the most hotly contested presidential primary [sic] in living memory.” Surrick cites a similar case, Hollander v. McCain, which failed to find that presidential contender John McCain (R-AZ) is not an American citizen. McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone to American parents serving in the military, and thusly is a US citizen (see March 14 - July 24, 2008). After the dismissal, Berg tells a conservative blogger: “This is a question of who has standing to stand up for our Constitution. If I don’t have standing, if you don’t have standing, if your neighbor doesn’t have standing to ask whether or not the likely next president of the United States—the most powerful man in the entire world—is eligible to be in that office in the first place, then who does?” Berg says he will appeal the decision. (Berg v. Obama et al 8/21/2008; US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania 8/24/2008 ; Zahn 10/25/2008; Amerman 1/16/2009)
McCain Lawyer Calls Lawsuit 'Idiotic' - A lawyer for the McCain-Palin campaign, reading over the filing before Surrick issues his ruling, assesses it as “idiotic” and determines that it will certainly be dismissed. The McCain-Palin campaign will begin investigating the claims of Obama’s “non-citizenship,” and determine them to be groundless (see July 29, 2009). (Weigel 7/24/2009)
Injunction to Supreme Court Requested - Berg will also file an injunction asking the Supreme Court to block Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency. “I am hopeful that the US Supreme Court will grant the injunction pending a review of this case to avoid a constitutional crisis by insisting that Obama produce certified documentation that he is or is not a ‘natural born’ citizen and if he cannot produce documentation, that Obama be removed from the ballot for president,” Berg writes in a press release. (Smith 10/31/2008)
Appeal Built on Fraudulent Evidence - In his appeal, Berg will introduce a fraudulently edited audiotape purporting to provide evidence that Obama was born in a Kenyan hospital (see October 16, 2008 and After); Berg will write in a filing: “Obama’s grandmother on his father’s side, half brother, and half sister claim Obama was born in Kenya. Reports reflect Obama’s mother went to Kenya during her pregnancy.… Stanley Ann Dunham (Obama) gave birth to Obama in Kenya, after which she flew to Hawaii and registered Obama’s birth.” (Greg Doudna 12/9/2008 ) Berg will also include incorrect and falsified citations of American and international law drawn from such sources as “Wikipedia Italian version” and “Rainbow Edition News Letter.” He alleges, without real proof, that Obama had lied or been unclear about what hospital he was born in, and that he had been adopted by his stepfather Lolo Soetoro. Berg’s “proof” of the Soetoro “adoption” comes from an incorrect record made by an Indonesian grade school which listed Obama’s name as “Barry Soetoro” and listed his nationality as “Indonesian.” Berg writes that obviously Obama had “renounced” his American citizenship, and, thusly, there is “absolutely no way Obama could have ever regained ‘natural born’ status.” Immigration lawyer Mitzi Torri later calls Berg’s assertion “completely wrong,” citing the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act, which would have precluded a child of Obama’s age from renouncing his citizenship even had he wanted to do so. Torri will note, “Berg wants to say that this document from a school in Indonesia, which has no signature, which has no standing whatsoever, is more important than Obama’s birth certificate or our immigration law.” Berg will also make the false claim that because Obama went to Pakistan in 1981 when, he will claim, the US had a travel ban in effect, Obama could not have done so on an American passport and therefore must have used a passport drawn on his “foreign” citizenship. The claim is fraudulent; no such travel ban existed in 1981 (see Around June 28, 2010). Berg will later say of the Pakistan claim, “We got that from someplace.” (BERG v. OBAMA et al (second filing) 9/29/2008; Weigel 7/24/2009) Berg’s lawsuit was not helped by his submission of an obviously fraudulent Canadian birth certificate that purported to prove Obama was born in Vancouver, Canada. The certificate lists Obama as “Barack Hussein Mohammed Obama Jr.,” and the registrar is listed as “Dudley DoRight,” a famous Canadian cartoon character. (Obama Conspiracy (.org) 8/2/2009)
Appeal Rejected - The Supreme Court will refuse to hear the appeal. Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller will say Berg’s lawsuit is “dead in the water,” but Berg will promise, “We’re not going to give up on this.” (Amerman 1/16/2009)
Amy Kremer, a former flight attendant who wil go on to found the Atlanta Tea Party and become the chair of the Tea Party Express, writes of Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain (R-AZ), “he needs to tell Nobama [referring to presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-IL)] to bring his authentic birth certificate to the debate. I am so tired of the spin from his spinmeisters! Johnny Mac… just go straight to the source!” Kremer is referring to questions some have raised about Obama’s supposed lack of a valid birth certificate (see June 13, 2008) and accusations that he is not an American citizen. Authors Devin Burghart and Leonard Zeskind later write of Kremer’s “birther” beliefs, “Much of this sentiment predates the actual formation of tea parties.” (Politico 2010; Burghart and Zeskind 10/19/2010)
Republican presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ)‘s running mate, Sarah Palin (R-AK), accuses Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-IL) of advocating socialism as an economic plan. “[N]ow is no time to experiment with socialism,” Palin says, referring to Obama’s proposal to offer tax credits to those paying no income taxes. Palin echoes comments made by Pennsylvania resident Samuel Wurzelbacher, known to the media as “Joe the Plumber,” in which he said Obama’s tax plan sounded like socialism to him. Palin tells a crowd in New Mexico: “Senator Obama said he wants to quote ‘spread the wealth.’ What that means is he wants government to take your money and dole it out however a politician sees fit.” Referring to a man in the crowd holding up a sign identifying himself as “Ed the Dairy Man,” Palin adds, “But Joe the Plumber and Ed the Dairy Man, I believe that they think that it sounds more like socialism.” She continues: “Friends, now is no time to experiment with socialism. To me, our opponent plans sounds more like big government, which is the problem. Bigger government is not the solution.” She calls Obama’s tax plan “a government giveaway,” and says the plan will raise taxes on those who already pay taxes: “He claims that he’ll cut income taxes for 95 percent of Americans, but the problem is, more than 40 percent of Americans pay no income taxes at all,” she says. “Since he can’t reduce taxes on those who pay zero, he wants the government to send them a check that’s called a tax credit. And where is he gonna get the money for all those checks that he will cut? By raising taxes on America’s hard-working families and our small businesses.” Later, at an airport in Colorado Springs, Palin tells a reporter, “There are socialist principles to [Obama’s tax plans], yes.” She continues, “Taking more from a small business or small business owners or from a hard-working families and then redistributing that money according to a politician’s priorities—there are hints of socialism in there and that’s why I don’t fault or discredit Joe the Plumber for bringing that up, asking if that is socialism.” Palin says that the $700 billion White House bailout of failing banks and other financial institutions is not socialism: “I believe that there are those measures that had to be taken by Congress to shore up not only the housing market but the credit markets, also to make sure that that’s not frozen, so that our small businesses have opportunities to borrow and that was the purpose, of course, of that part of the bailout and the shoring of the banks.” (Delawala 10/20/2008)
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the Republican candidate for president, draws boos and catcalls from his own supporters when he defends opponent Barack Obama (D-IL) from charges that he is an Arab. Obama has been accused of being Arabic, Muslim, and not a US citizen by opponents (see October 1, 2007, April 18, 2008, July 20, 2008, August 15, 2008, and October 8-10, 2008). At a town hall in Minnesota, McCain takes questions from selected members of the audience; in recent days, spurred by accusations from McCain and his running mate, Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), that Obama is a close ally of “terrorist” William Ayers (see October 4-5, 2008), McCain rallies have been marked by screams and cries of “Terrorist!” and “Traitor!” hurled against Obama. According to McClatchy reporters, at a rally in New Mexico earlier in the week, McCain “visibly winced” when he heard one supporter call Obama a “terrorist,” but said nothing in response. In today’s town hall, supporters pressure McCain to attack Obama even more fiercely. Instead, when one supporter tells McCain he fears the prospect of raising his young son in a nation led by Obama, McCain replies, “I have to tell you, he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States.” The comment draws boos and groans from the crowd. McCain continues: “If you want a fight, we will fight. But we will be respectful. I admire Senator Obama and his accomplishments.… I don’t mean that has to reduce your ferocity, I just mean to say you have to be respectful.” Later in the town hall, an elderly woman tells McCain: “I don’t trust Obama.… He’s an Arab.” McCain shakes his head during her comment, then takes the microphone from her and says: “No, ma’am. He’s a decent, family man, a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with.” Obama and his supporters have acknowledged that the rhetoric in the final weeks of the campaign is likely to get even more heated. He tells crowds in Ohio, “We know what’s coming, we know what they’re going to do.” In recent rallies, McCain has stepped back from the more heated rhetoric, refusing to talk about Ayers and instead calling Obama a “Chicago politician.” Palin, however, has continued the attacks on Obama via the Ayers association. Recent McCain-Palin television ads asking, “Who is the real Barack Obama?” have been taken by some as insinuating that Obama may be a Muslim. Obama has been a practicing Christian for decades (see January 6-11, 2008). Former Governor William Milliken (R-MI) has said, “I’m disappointed in the tenor and the personal attacks on the part of the McCain campaign.” (Talev and Douglas 10/10/2008; Nicholas and Mehta 10/11/2008) The next day, Obama thanks McCain. “I want to acknowledge that Senator McCain tried to tone down the rhetoric yesterday, and I appreciated his reminder that we can disagree while still being respectful of each other,” he tells a crowd in Philadelphia. Referencing McCain’s military service, he says McCain “has served this country with honor and he deserves our thanks for that.” He then returns to his standard campaign broadsides against McCain’s economic proposals. (Dade 10/11/2008)
Author and reporter David Neiwert appears on CNN’s Newshour program to discuss a recent article he co-wrote for Salon that revealed details of Governor Sarah Palin’s (R-AK) support from far-right militia and secessionist groups in Alaska (see October 10, 2008). Palin is now running on the Republican presidential ticket with John McCain (R-AZ). CNN interviewer Rick Sanchez is particularly interested in discussing Palin’s connections with the Alaskan Independence Party (AIP), a political third party in Alaska that advocates an array of far-right initiatives, including the secession of Alaska from the United States. Sanchez notes that between 1995 and 2002 Palin’s husband Todd was a member of the AIP, and according to Neiwert’s article Sarah Palin has had her political career shaped by AIP leaders such as Mark Chryson. Neiwert explains the AIP to Sanchez, saying, “Well, what we have known about the AIP for some time is that they were basically the Alaskan contingent and the ‘Patriot Movement,’ which, in the lower 48 states, manifested itself as people who form militias, tax protesters, constitutionalists, and that sort of thing.” Neiwert refuses to directly compare the AIP to the ideology of the far-right militia groups that spawned Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), as Sanchez asks, but says that McVeigh and the AIP “basically come from the same sort of ideological background.” Neiwert does not consider the AIP a particularly violent group, and calls it “a pretty benign organization,” but affirms that most AIP members “despise” the US government. He notes that Chryson told him and co-author Max Blumenthal that Todd Palin was never particularly active in the AIP, saying, “Basically, he signed up, joined the party, and then was not active at all.” He also confirms that Sarah Palin was most likely not a member of the AIP, but, as Sanchez says, “[S]he does have some ties to either members or its causes.” Palin rose to power in Wasilla, Alaska, through the auspices of the AIP, Neiwert says, both as a city council member and later as mayor (see Mid and Late 1996). Sanchez runs a video clip of Palin’s videotaped address to the AIP convention in 2008 (see March 2008). Sanchez confirms that Palin attended the convention personally in 2006, because, Neiwert says, “she was campaigning there for governor. And the AIP did not have a gubernatorial candidate that year. And its members essentially endorsed Sarah as their party’s standard-bearer.” Neiwert then explains Chryson’s program of “infiltrating” AIP members into positions of power in both Republican and Democratic parties, and notes that the Salon article quoted Chryson as being particularly proud of having “infiltrated” Palin into such a high level of influence. “[T]he AIP has specifically had a program of infiltration aimed at getting members and their sort of camp followers promoting within the other political parties,” he says. “And, obviously, the Republican Party is a lot closer in Alaska to the AIP than the Democratic Party is.” The McCain campaign sends a message to CNN during the Neiwert interview from campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb that reads: “CNN is furthering a smear with this report, no different than if your network ran a piece questioning Senator [Barack] Obama’s religion. No serious news organization has tried to make this connection. And it is unfortunate that CNN would be the first.” Sanchez notes that CNN has been trying for hours to get the McCain-Palin campaign to prepare a response to the Neiwert interview, which begins after 3:00 p.m. EST. Neiwert notes that the AIP is not a religious organization, saying: “Some of the members are very definitely fundamentalist Christians, but the AIP, itself, is not involved in religious issues, except to the extent that it is involved with the Constitution Party of the United States. This is the larger national umbrella that they organize under. And the Constitution Party is definitely a theocratic party.” (CNN 10/14/2008) After the interview, Neiwert posts on a liberal blog, Crooks & Liars, that like CNN, he attempted to elicit a response or rejoinder from the McCain-Palin campaign and received no response until the broadcast. Neiwert notes that his interview was not in any way a “smear,” because “[a] smear by definition is untrue. However, everything in our story is fully documented. We’ve even posted the relevant documents here so readers can judge the accuracy of the story for themselves.” He also notes that the interview said nothing about Palin’s faith or religious beliefs, but was strictly “about her conduct as a public official.” He concludes, “If Team McCain wants to convince anyone this is merely a ‘smear,’ they’re going to have to demonstrate some falsity or distortion first.” Neiwert says that some Palin defenders respond with the accusation that he is attempting to find Palin “guilt[y] by association.” He counters: “But ‘guilt by association,’ by definition, involves an entirely irrelevant association.… Palin’s associations with the ‘Patriot’ right, however, are entirely relevant, because they reflect directly on her conduct as a public official and her judgment. They also, I should add, reflect on a deeper level the kind of right-wing populism she’s been indulging in recent weeks.” (Neiwert 10/14/2008) In the days after this interview appears, the McCain-Palin campaign will confirm that Sarah Palin has been a registered Republican since 1982, and claim that she was never a member of AIP. AIP chairperson Lynette Clark will later say that AIP party officials’ recollection of Palin as an official AIP member is mistaken, and will reiterate that she and AIP support Palin fully in her bid for the vice presidency. (Tapper 9/1/2008; Alaskan Independence Party 9/3/2008)
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) defends itself against allegations of voter fraud and attempting to overthrow America’s democratic system, allegations stemming largely from Republicans, conservative news organizations, and right-wing talk show hosts. The Associated Press reports that Republican lawmakers are calling for a federal investigation into ACORN’s practices of registering Americans to vote, and cites examples of ACORN filing questionable voter registration forms (see October 14, 2008). Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the Democratic presidential contender, says Republicans should not use any issues with ACORN as an excuse to stop people from voting on Election Day. ACORN has registered some 1.3 million voters, many of them young, minority, or poor citizens, and all of whom tend to vote Democratic. Elections officials in at least eight states are looking into voter fraud allegations leveled against the organization. ACORN spokesperson Kevin Whelan tells reporters that the organization is proud of “the vast, vast majority” of its over 13,000 paid canvassers who worked in 21 states to register voters. “They did something remarkable in bringing all these new voters,” he says. The group has acknowledged that some of its employees may have turned in questionable forms in order to meet their registration goals and continue working with the group, but says it has worked to weed out such problematic forms and has alerted county election officials to potential problems. Whelan says ACORN does not hesitate to fire employees who turn in fraudulent registration forms. Most states require third-party registration organizations such as ACORN to turn in even blatantly fraudulent forms under penalty of law. House Republicans have written to Attorney General Michael Mukasey demanding a Justice Department investigation, and requesting Justice Department help in making sure ballots by what they call “ineligible or fraudulent voters” are not counted on Election Day. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Obama’s Republican opponent, says the Obama campaign should take action to rein in ACORN’s registration efforts in order to combat what he calls “voter fraud,” and notes that Obama represented ACORN in a 1995 lawsuit in Illinois. McCain’s running mate, Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), says, “Obama has a responsibility to rein in ACORN and prove that he’s willing to fight voter fraud.” McCain has joined his House Republican colleagues in demanding a federal investigation. Obama says his campaign has no ties to ACORN, and says, “This is another one of those distractions that get stirred up during the campaign.” Recently a conservative Ohio think tank, the Buckeye Institute, filed a lawsuit against ACORN, charging it with criminal corruption under a civil provision of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, which is usually employed against alleged members of organized crime. (Sanner 10/14/2008) The liberal media watchdog Media Matters notes that the Associated Press and CNN have both failed to report that Obama was joined by the Justice Department, the League of Women Voters, and the League of United Latin American Citizens in the 1995 lawsuit. The lawsuit was intended to force Illinois to implement the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA—see May 20, 1993), and was found in favor of ACORN and the other plaintiffs. (Auerbach and Hananoki 10/15/2008) Recently, officials raided the Nevada offices of ACORN in a fruitless attempt to find evidence of voters being fraudulently registered (see October 7, 2008). Independent fact-checkers will soon find allegations of voter registration fraud leveled against ACORN to be entirely baseless (see October 18, 2008).
Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), the Republican candidate for vice president with presidential contender John McCain (R-AZ), learns of a recent CNN report about her ties with the secessionist Alaskan Independence Party (AIP—see October 14, 2008) and the Salon.com article that sparked the report (see October 10, 2008). Palin is on a campaign jet en route to New Hampshire when she sees part of the segment, along with a graphic on the bottom of the screen touting “The Palins and the Fringe.” The segment discusses her husband Todd Palin’s former membership in the AIP, and her own videotaped message to the 2008 AIP convention (see March 2008). During a rally this afternoon, someone on the rope line shouts a question about the AIP. Palin determines that the campaign is not working hard enough to downplay her connections to the AIP, and quickly sends an email to Steve Schmidt, the campaign’s chief strategist, and to campaign manager Rick Davis and senior adviser Nicolle Wallace. The email, titled simply “Todd,” reads: “Pls get in front of that ridiculous issue that’s cropped up all day today—two reporters, a protestor’s sign, and many shout-outs all claiming Todd’s involvement in an anti-American political party. It’s bull, and I don’t want to have to keep reacting to it.… Pls have statement given on this so it’s put to bed.” Palin is worried in part because her vice-presidential debate with Democratic contender Joseph Biden (D-DE) is coming up in hours, and she has no desire to delve into the Palins’ associations with the AIP during it. Five minutes after Palin sends the email, she receives a reply from Schmidt, saying: “Ignore it. He [Todd Palin] was a member of the aip? My understanding is yes. That is part of their platform. Do not engage the protestors. If a reporter asks say it is ridiculous. Todd loves america.” Palin is unsatisfied, sending another email to the three original recipients and cc’ing it to five other campaign staffers, including her personal assistant. CBS News will later report: “Palin’s insertion of the five additional staffers in the email chain was an apparent attempt to rally her own troops in the face of a decision from the commanding general with which she disagreed. Her inclusion of her personal assistant was particularly telling about her quest for affirmation and support in numbers, since the young staffer was not in a position to have any input on campaign strategy.” Palin writes: “That’s not part of their platform and he was only a ‘member’ bc independent alaskans too often check that ‘Alaska Independent’ box on voter registrations thinking it just means non partisan. He caught his error when changing our address and checked the right box. I still want it fixed.” Palin is misrepresenting the nature of Alaskan voter registration documents: they contain the full name of the Alaskan Independence Party, not “Alaska independent,” as she seems to assert. Schmidt sees Palin’s second email as an attempt to mislead the campaign and sends a longer response about the AIP, which says: “Secession. It is their entire reason for existence. A cursory examination of the website shows that the party exists for the purpose of seceding from the union. That is the stated goal on the front page of the web site. Our records indicate that todd was a member for seven years. If this is incorrect then we need to understand the discrepancy. The statement you are suggesting be released would be innaccurate. The innaccuracy would bring greater media attention to this matter and be a distraction. According to your staff there have been no media inquiries into this and you received no questions about it during your interviews. If you are asked about it you should smile and say many alaskans who love their country join the party because it speeks to a tradition of political independence. Todd loves his country[.] We will not put out a statement and inflame this and create a situation where john has to adress this.” CBS will call Schmidt’s pushback against Palin’s insistence on a correction “particularly blunt in that it implicitly questioned her truthfulness. Furthermore, his unwillingness to budge an inch on the matter was a remarkable assertion of his power to pull rank over the candidate herself.” Palin does not respond to the email. (CBS News 7/1/2009) The McCain-Palin campaign will issue a brief statement denying that Palin was ever a registered member of the AIP. “Governor Palin has been a registered Republican since 1982,” campaign spokesman Brian Rogers will say. “As you know, if she changed her registration, there would have been some record of it. There isn’t.” AIP chairperson Lynette Clark will confirm Rogers’s statement. (Tapper 9/1/2008; Alaskan Independence Party 9/3/2008)
Senior Bush administration officials meet in secret together with Afghanistan experts from NATO and the United Nations to brief advisers from the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Barack Obama on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. The meetings take place over two days and are held at an exclusive Washington club a few blocks from the White House. The briefing is part of an effort by the departing Bush administration to smooth the transition to the next team, according to a New York Times report. At the meetings, Bush administration officials reportedly press the need for the incoming president to have a plan for Afghanistan ready before taking office. The sessions are unclassified, but the participants agree not to discuss the content of the briefings or discussions publicly. Some participants, however, will later disclose some meeting details to the Times. Among issues reportedly discussed are:
Negotiating with the Taliban; and
Expanding the war in Pakistan.
The meetings are organized by New York University professor Barnett Rubin, an expert on Afghanistan. Participants include John K. Wood, the senior Afghanistan director at the National Security Council; Lieutenant General Karl W. Eikenberry, a former American commander in Afghanistan who will later become the next US ambassador to Afghanistan (see April 29, 2009); and Kai Eide, the United Nations representative in Afghanistan. The Obama campaign sends Jonah Blank, a foreign policy specialist for Senator Joe Biden, and Craig Mullaney, an Afghanistan adviser to Obama. The McCain campaign is represented by Lisa Curtis and Kori Schake, two former State Department officials. The New York Times suggests that the briefing on Afghanistan and Pakistan appears to have been the most extensive that Bush administration officials have provided on any issue to both presidential campaigns. It further notes that both Obama and McCain have promised to increase the number of American troops in Afghanistan. (Mazzetti and Schmitt 10/30/2008)
The non-partisan FactCheck.org, an organization sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, runs an article that discusses the ACORN “voter fraud” issue in depth. It states that there is no evidence of the “democracy-destroying fraud” that Republican presidential candidate John McCain accused ACORN of, draws a distinction between voter registration fraud and voter fraud, and acknowledges that true voter fraud is relatively rare, citing a five-year investigation by the Bush administration Department of Justice that found no evidence of organized voter fraud. Dan Satterberg, the Republican prosecutor who handled the largest ACORN voter registration case in the nation, in King County, Washington, in 2006, is quoted saying “this scheme was not intended to permit illegal voting,” and “ACORN is a victim of employee theft.” In its headline and lede, however, the FactCheck article says that McCain’s Democratic rival Barack Obama is “soft-pedal[ing]” his ties with ACORN, placing this on the same level as John McCain’s statement that ACORN “is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.” (Lampard 10/18/2008) The article is also run by Newsweek. (Henig 10/18/2008)
General Colin Powell, the former secretary of state under President George W. Bush, endorses Barack Obama (D-IL) for president. In his endorsement speech, Powell criticizes those who try to label Obama as a Muslim. Powell says in part: “I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says [referring to John McCain (R-AZ), Obama’s opponent in the race], but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, ‘Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.’ Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim; he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, ‘What if he is?’ Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, ‘He’s a Muslim and he might be associated [with] terrorists.’ This is not the way we should be doing it in America.” (Farrell 10/20/2008)
The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism releases a study that finds that, by and large, the media coverage for Republican presidential candidate John McCain has been more negative than that for his opponent, Democrat Barack Obama. The Center writes: “Press treatment of Obama has been somewhat more positive than negative, but not markedly so. But coverage of McCain has been heavily unfavorable—and has become more so over time.” The study also finds: “Much of the increased attention for McCain derived from actions by the senator himself, actions that, in the end, generated mostly negative assessments. In many ways, the arc of the media narrative during this phase of the 2008 general election might be best described as a drama in which John McCain has acted and Barack Obama has reacted.” The study also notes that coverage for McCain’s running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, “had an up and down trajectory, moving from quite positive, to very negative, to more mixed. What drove that tone toward a more unfavorable light was probing her public record and her encounters with the press. Little of her trouble came from coverage of her personal traits or family issues. In the end, she also received less than half the coverage of either presidential nominee, though about triple that of her vice presidential counterpart, Joe Biden. The findings suggest that, in the end, Palin’s portrayal in the press was not the major factor hurting McCain. Her coverage, while tilting negative, was far more positive than her running mate’s.” (Pew Research Center Project for Excellence in Journalism 10/22/2008) The progressive media watchdog site Media Matters will call the study “arguabl[y] flaw[ed]” and will note that it does not include conservative talk radio, whose coverage of the presidential campaign has amounted to what the site calls “an all-out effort to foment hate and suspicion of Obama among their listeners, promoting the most baseless and farfetched of smears and advancing falsehoods—including about Obama’s religion and background—that have taken hold among a substantial percentage of the electorate” (see July 9, 2008, August 1, 2008 and After, and November 10, 2008). (Media Matters 11/6/2008)
Twenty-year-old Ashley Todd, a volunteer for the presidential campaign of John McCain (R-AZ), tells Pittsburgh police she was attacked, beaten, and robbed by an African-American male who claimed to be a Barack Obama (D-IL) supporter. According to Todd, the man accosted her at a Citizens Bank ATM in Bloomfield, Pennsylvania. He was brandishing a knife, Todd claims. Todd gave him $60. When the man saw a bumper sticker on her car supporting McCain, she says, he punched her in the back of the head, knocked her down, and beat her, saying, “You are going to be a Barack supporter.” He then pinned her down and used the knife to scratch a “B” (for Barack) into her right cheek; she attempted to fight back, but he said he was going “to teach her a lesson for being a McCain supporter” before actually cutting her. He then fled, Todd says. Todd’s left eye is also bruised. The attack happened around 8:50 p.m.; Todd calls the police around 9:30 p.m., after the attack. She initially refuses medical attention. The next day, however, she will receive a full checkup at a local hospital, including an MRI. Todd says she is not a member of the McCain campaign, but went to Washington, DC, in June for training with the College Republicans. She posted pro-McCain and anti-Obama comments on Twitter in the hours preceding the attack, the last one coming just minutes before she alleges she was accosted. She describes her alleged assailant as a dark-skinned black man, 6 feet 4 inches tall, 200 pounds with a medium build, short black hair and brown eyes, wearing dark-colored jeans, a black undershirt, and black shoes. She emphasizes that her assailant is an Obama supporter. Within hours of the alleged attack, Todd posts comments on Twitter about it, along with allegations that she was targeted deliberately by members of the local Obama campaign and exhortations to support McCain in the upcoming elections (see October 23-24, 2008). The Hollywood Grind, reporting on the incident, observes: “Despite the information we’ve gathered above, there are three things that make us skeptical. First, Ashley is a hardcore McCain supporter, as evidenced by her Twitter updates… that show her posting Twitter updates right up until the alleged attack, then the last post three hours after the attack. Second, she initially refused medical attention, but finally got it the next morning. Third, the ‘B’ scratched on her face is backwards, making it look like it was done in a mirror.” (Associated Press 10/23/2008; Hollywood Grind 10/23/2008; Fox News 10/24/2008; Strange 10/25/2008) Todd acts suspiciously almost from the moment the police respond to her complaint. She goes to the house of a friend and fellow College Republican, Dan Garcia, a University of Pittsburgh law student. After being told of the alleged attack, Garcia treats her wounds and contacts the police. When an officer arrives at Garcia’s house, Todd becomes belligerent when asked where the attack took place. “I don’t know!” she shouts, using an expletive. “I’m not from here.” Todd, Garcia, and the officer then drive through Bloomfield, the town where Todd alleges the attack occurred, until they arrive at the Citizens Bank on Liberty Avenue. Todd then tells the officer that the Citizens Bank ATM is where she was attacked. She refuses medical attention offered by the officer, and instead leaves with Garcia to go eat at a diner, apparently making some of her Twitter posts during her time at the diner. It is during this time that Garcia takes the photograph of Todd with the scratched “B” on her face. Garcia then persuades her to go to a nearby hospital. (Fuoco, Sherman, and Gurman 10/24/2008) The next day, Todd will admit to lying about the incident, and will admit to inflicting the “B” on herself (see October 24, 2008). It is unclear how much of her story as reported in the press comes from Todd, and how much of it is embellished by a McCain campaign operative (see October 23-24, 2008).
Within hours of Pittsburgh resident Ashley Todd’s claim that she was attacked by a black Barack Obama supporter whom, she says, carved a “B” (for “Barack”) into her face during the attack (see October 22, 2008), conservative blogs and political Web sites begin an outpouring of enraged and supportive posts and articles supporting Todd and lambasting the Obama campaign and the “liberal media” which, they say, will do its best to cover up the alleged attack. Todd uses her Twitter account, and her connections as a member of the College Republicans and a McCain campaign volunteer, to spread the word about her alleged attack. The photograph of her and her wounds, taken by her friend Dan Garcia and given to police and the College Republicans, is quickly posted on the popular conservative news and gossip site Drudge Report, which calls the attack a “mutilation.” The Drudge article takes the controversy to a national level. (Fuoco, Sherman, and Gurman 10/24/2008; Sargent 10/24/2008; Dupuy 10/24/2008)
Bloggers Respond - Conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds, writing for the popular blog Instapundit, uses the Drudge article for the basis of his own post (repeating the claim that Todd was “mutilated”), and writes, “This is so serious that I predict it will get almost one-tenth as much national coverage as something some guy may have yelled at a Palin rally once.” He repeats a comment from another blog that says, “But, were it a black woman with an ‘M’ carved in her cheek [presumably for ‘McCain’], we’d be getting 24/7 coverage.” (Glenn Reynolds 10/23/2008) Conservative blogger Ed Morrissey, writing for another popular blog, Hot Air, calls the attack a “maiming,” though he does not blame the Obama campaign for it, instead writing that “this particular criminal sounds like he’s a couple of bricks short of a load even for that crowd.” Morrissey initially resists the idea that Todd may be perpetuating a hoax, writing, “Not too many young women would scar their faces just to create a political hoax,” but later admits that Todd lied and calls her a “very, very disturbed young woman.” (Ed Morrissey 10/23/2008) A blogger for College Politico calls the attack “horrifying” and derides bloggers at the liberal Daily Kos for being “unsympathetic,” citing comments that expressed doubts about Todd’s veracity, calling them “deprived” (apparently intending to call them “depraved”) and saying that the Kos bloggers “have absolutely no reason to doubt her.” He goes on to criticize conservative bloggers who also express their doubts about Todd’s story, calls some of the skepticism “idiotic,” and says the fact that the “B” is carved backwards “MEANS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING” (caps in the original). The blogger later posts updates acknowledging that the story is a hoax, and calls Todd “the lowest level of scum.” (College Politico 10/24/2008; College Politico 10/24/2008) A blogger calling himself “Patrick” for the conservative Political Byline posts the picture of Todd and writes, “So, this is what they do to people who support McCain.” In his title, he says Todd’s attacker is “One of Barry’s fans, I’m sure,” referring to Senator Obama, and calls Obama the “Marxist Magic Negro.” Like the others, he eventually acknowledges that the story is a hoax. (Political Byline 10/24/2008)
Malkin Expresses Doubts - One conservative blogger who does not immediately leap on the Todd story is Michelle Malkin. When the story breaks, she writes of her suspicions about the “B” being carved so neatly into Todd’s face, and carved backwards, and how she finds Todd’s initial refusal to accept medical treatment questionable. Before Todd admits to the fraud, Malkin writes: “We have enough low-lifes and thugs in the world running loose and causing campaign chaos and fomenting hatred without having to make them up. I’ve been blowing the whistle on the real, left-wing rage not on the front page and in-your-face tactics throughout the election season. Hate crimes hoaxes—by anyone, of any political persuasion, and of any color—diminish us all.” (Michelle Malkin 10/23/2008)
Presidential Campaigns Respond - The McCain campaign issues a statement denouncing the attack as “sick and disgusting”; the Obama campaign issues a statement deploring the attack and demanding that Todd’s assailant be quickly brought to justice. Both McCain and his running mate, Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), telephone Todd with expressions of concern and support. The Pennsylvania communications director for the McCain campaign, Peter Feldman, quickly spreads the story, along with the photo of Todd, to reporters around the state, along with what reporter Greg Sargent will call “an incendiary version of the hoax story about the attack on a McCain volunteer well before the facts of the case were known or established.” Apparently Feldman is the person who first tells reporters that the “B” stands for “Barack.” (Sargent 10/24/2008; Dupuy 10/24/2008; Strange 10/25/2008)
Obama Campaign Demands Explanation, Corrections - Todd soon admits that she lied about the attack, and though she claims her memory does not well serve her, says she probably scratched the “B” into her cheek herself (see October 24, 2008). When the national press learns that Todd lied about her attack, the Obama campaign becomes incensed, demanding that the McCain campaign explain why it was pushing a version of the story that was, in Sargent’s words, “far more explosive than the available or confirmed facts permitted at the time.” The Obama campaign also pressures some news outlets, including KDKA-TV and WPXI-TV, to rewrite their reports to remove the inflammatory and “racially charged” information concocted by Feldman, including claims that the alleged attacker told Todd he would “teach [her] a lesson” about supporting McCain, and that the “B” stood for “Barack.” There is no evidence of the national McCain campaign becoming involved in promulgating the falsified Todd story. (Sargent 10/24/2008)
'Okay Obama Frame-Job. ... I'd Give You a 'B' - After the story is exposed as a fraud, many post irate or sarcastic rejoinders on Twitter, using the hash tag ”#litf08” to ensure their viewing on the College Republican Twitter account, “Life in the Field,” where Todd made many of her Twitter posts. A former blogger for the Senate campaign of Christopher Dodd (D-PA), Matt Browner-Hamlin, asks: “Anyone know which Rove protege is responsible for #litf08? Because they lack the execution skills of the man himself.” Browner-Hamlin is referring to former Bush administration campaign manager Karl Rove. Another commenter writes: “Hmm, it was an okay Obama frame-job, just a few inconsistencies snagged you. Overall I’d give you a ‘B.’” And another commenter asks, “Do 50 College Republicans [the description of the ‘Life in the Field’ volunteers] try this kind of stunt often?” College Republicans executive director Ethan Eilon claims his organization “had no idea” Todd “was making this story up.” (Wired News 10/24/2008)
Pittsburgh Councilman Demands Apology from McCain Campaign - The Reverend Ricky Burgess, a Pittsburgh City Council member, will demand an apology from the McCain campaign for deliberately spreading a story it had not confirmed, and for embellishing it to make it even more racially inflammatory. “That one of your campaign spokespersons would spread such an incendiary story before any confirmation of the facts is both irresponsible and runs counter to our nation’s constitutional guarantee that no one be denied life, liberty, or property without due process,” Burgess writes. He demands an apology for “inflaming the divisions of this country,” and later says: “I don’t know why they chose to push this story. But it just seems suspicious to me that they would target this story, which has a fictional African-American person harming a non-African-American person in this city.” A McCain campaign spokesman initially derides Burgess and his source, the progressive news blog TPM Election Central, writing: “The liberal blog post that the councilman cites has no basis in fact. The McCain campaign had no role in this incident. We hope the young woman involved in the incident gets the help that she needs. It’s disappointing that Pittsburgh law enforcement time and resources were wasted by her false allegations.” (WTAE-TV 10/27/2008; Burgess 10/27/2008 ; Burgess 10/27/2008 )
Ashley Todd, the Pittsburgh woman who told police she was beaten by an African-American Obama supporter who carved a “B” (for “Barack”) into her face (see October 22, 2008), admits she lied about the incident. She was never attacked, she admits, and cut the “B” into her right cheek herself, though she says her memory is faulty on the subject.
Serious Inconsistencies Lead to Polygraph, Questioning - Though Pittsburgh police began by treating Todd as the victim of a crime, they noted serious inconsistencies in her story from the outset. Originally she told a story of being mugged by a black man who, after threatening her with a knife, then struck her in the back of the head with an unknown object and knocked her to the ground, where he punched, kicked, and threatened to “teach [her] a lesson” for being a McCain supporter before kneeling and scratching the “B” into her face. Police administered a polygraph test to Todd, though they have refused to release the results of that test; police spokeswoman Diane Richard says Todd’s story began to change after the polygraph was administered. Photographs from the Citizens Bank ATM that she claimed was the site of the attack do not verify her claim. Lieutenant Kevin Kraus, who heads the major crime squad for the Pittsburgh Police Department, says, “She told lie after lie, and the situation compounded to where we are right now.” He says Todd is being kept in custody for her own protection, and says the police are considering whether she may need a psychiatric evaluation. “We don’t feel she should be able to walk out onto the street,” says Pittsburgh Assistant Police Chief Maurita Bryant. “We wouldn’t want any further harm to come to her.” Kraus says: “She hasn’t really shown any obvious remorse. She’s certainly surprised that it snowballed to where it is today.” Kraus says she is angry with the media for blowing the story out of proportion (see October 23-24, 2008). Bryant says: “The backwards ‘B’ was the obvious thing to us when we first saw her. Something just didn’t seem right. And, first of all, with our local robbers, they take the money [and flee]. They’re in and out. They’re not stopping to do artwork.… We suspect she may have inflicted the injuries herself. We don’t think anyone else is involved.” Bryant says that Todd’s story changed more than once while she was with police. During points in the questioning, she said, among other things: she was attacked before, not during, her visit to the ATM; she was hit from behind and rendered unconscious; she didn’t know she had been cut or robbed until she went to the apartment of a friend, Dan Garcia; the attacker sexually fondled her. “After a while, she just simply stated that she wanted to tell the truth,” Bryant says. Under questioning, Todd abandoned her story of being brutalized by a black Obama supporter, and then told police she was driving alone, looked in the rearview mirror, saw her black eye and the “B” on her face, and didn’t know how they got there. She assumed she could have done it herself, she said, and then she made up the story about the attacker as she was driving to Garcia’s house. “She saw the ‘B’ on her face, and she immediately thought about Barack,” Bryant says. Kraus says the letter’s appearance made him instantly suspicious, both because of it’s being backwards—as if it were done by Todd while looking in a mirror—and because of its unusual neatness. (Fuoco, Sherman, and Gurman 10/24/2008; Fox News 10/24/2008; Hollywood Grind 10/24/2008; WTAE-TV 10/27/2008) Richard says: “Miss Todd stated she made up the story, which snowballed and got out of control. Miss Todd stated she was not robbed and there was no 6-foot-4 black male attacker.” (WTAE-TV 10/27/2008) Garcia says while he initially supported Todd, he is now furious with her and wants no more contact with her. “I don’t know why she would do this,” he says. “I would think that she needs help. I had red flags going up, but I didn’t think it was prudent of me to ask the truth. I wanted to make sure she was OK.” (Fuoco, Sherman, and Gurman 10/24/2008)
Area of Alleged Attack Heavily Traveled - The area at Liberty Avenue and Pearl Street where Todd had said the attack took place is heavily traveled in the daytime, full of traffic, pedestrians, restaurants, and stores. Doug Graham, a local resident, says it is unlikely any such assault at the Citizens Bank would go unnoticed, as Todd originally claimed. “There ain’t no way nobody saw that,” he says. “It’s always hopping up there. Something fishy, I knew the first second I saw [her story]. Something fishy.” (Fox News 10/24/2008)
Huge Waste of Money, Man-Hours - Bryant says Todd’s false report created “a huge waste of time, with many man-hours and people coming in on overtime just to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible.” Kraus adds: “It created intensive national and international attention. We’ve had detectives working around the clock since she made the bogus allegation. The cost to the city of Pittsburgh has been many, many dollars and resources.” (Fuoco, Sherman, and Gurman 10/24/2008)
Todd a McCain Campaign Employee - Ethan Eilon, executive director of the College Republican National Committee, acknowledges that Todd is working as a field representative on behalf of the McCain-Palin presidential campaign, and has taken a year off from her studies at Blinn College to work on the campaign. (Fox News 10/24/2008) Ashley Barbera, the communications director for the College Republicans, says: “We are as upset as anyone to learn of her deceit. Ashley must take full responsibility for her actions.” McCain-Palin campaign spokesman Peter Feldman says in a statement: “This is a sad situation. We hope she gets the help she needs.” (Fuoco, Sherman, and Gurman 10/24/2008; Fox News 10/24/2008) However, it later emerges that Todd is not just a volunteer, but a paid campaign worker earning a stipend of $3,600 from the College Republican National Committee (CRNC). The CRNC will announce Todd’s employment in a statement announcing her termination from the organization, but will later remove the statement from its Web site. The liberal news and opinion Web site Buzzflash will preserve a portion of the CRNC’s statement. (Buzzflash 10/24/2008)
Previous Incidents - In March 2008, Todd was asked to leave a group of Ron Paul (R-TX) supporters in Texas after using dishonest campaign tactics (see March 2008).
'MySpace' Description - Todd has a MySpace profile under the screen moniker “Italian Pajamas.” She lists her occupation as “Being a bad_ss.” Next to her picture, she references the title of a song by the group Panic at the Disco, “Lying is the most fun a girl can have without taking her cloths [sic] off,” but adds to it “but its [sic] better if you do.” She lists as one of her favorite books The Scarlet Letter. (Fuoco, Sherman, and Gurman 10/24/2008)
Faces Charges of Filing False Police Report - Police say that Todd faces criminal charges for making a false police report, and is being held in the Allegheny County Jail in lieu of a $50,000 bond. (Fuoco, Sherman, and Gurman 10/24/2008; Fox News 10/24/2008) The next day, Todd is charged (see October 25-30, 2008).
The conservative lobbying group Citizens United (CU) distributes hundreds of thousands of DVDs in newspapers throughout Ohio, Florida, and Nevada, all considered “swing states” in the upcoming presidential election. The DVDs contain a “documentary” entitled Hype: The Obama Effect and are characterized by CU as “truthful attack[s]” on Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). Previous advertisements for the film said the film portrays Obama as an “overhyped media darling,” and quoted conservative pundit Tucker Carlson as saying: “The press loves Obama. I mean not just love, but sort of like an early teenage crush.” The DVD distribution takes place just days before the November 4 election. CU says it is spending over a million dollars to distribute around 1.25 million DVDs, which are included with delivery and store-bought copies of five newspapers: the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Palm Beach (Florida) Post, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The film attacks Obama’s record on abortion rights, foreign policy, and what the Associated Press calls his “past relationships” with, among others, his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright (see January 6-11, 2008). The DVD also attempts to tie Obama to political corruption in Illinois, and lambasts the news media for what CU calls its preferential treatment of Obama. CU president David Bossie says: “We think it’s a truthful attack. People can take it any way they want.” Bossie was fired from his position on a Republican House member’s staff in 1998 for releasing fraudulently edited transcripts of a former Clinton administration official to falsely imply that then-First Lady Hillary Clinton had committed crimes (see May 1998). Among those interviewed about Obama for the film are conservative columnist Robert Novak, conservative pundit Dick Morris, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), and author and pundit Jerome Corsi, whom the AP terms a “discredited critic” of Obama. Obama campaign spokesman Isaac Baker calls the DVD “slash and burn politics,” and says the DVD is another tactic of the presidential campaign of John McCain (R-AZ) to “smear” Obama with “dishonest, debunked attacks from the fringes of the far right.” (Falcone 7/22/2008; Elliott 10/28/2008; Schulman 10/29/2008)
Newspaper Official Defends Decision to Include DVD - Palm Beach Post general manager Charles Gerardi says of his paper’s decision to include the DVD in its Friday distribution: “Citizens United has every right to place this message as a paid advertisement, and our readers have every right to see it, even if they don’t agree with it. That we accepted it as a paid advertisement in no way implies that this newspaper agrees or disagrees with its message.” (Palm Beach Post 10/31/2008)
Falsehoods, Misrepresentations, and Lies - Within days, the liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters finds that the DVD is riddled with errors, misrepresentations, and lies.
Claim that Obama 'Threw' Illinois State Senate Election - On the DVD, author David Freddoso claims that in 1998, Obama managed to “thr[o]w all of his opponents off the ballot” to win an election to the Illinois State Senate, a claim that has been disproved.
Claim that Obama Refuses to Work with Republicans - Freddoso also asserts that there are no instances of Obama’s stints in the Illinois State Senate nor the US Senate where he was willing to work with Republicans on legislation, an assertion that Freddoso himself inadvertently disproves by citing several instances of legislation Obama joined with Republicans to pass.
Claim that Obama Wants to Raise Taxes on Middle Class and Small Business - The DVD’s narrator misrepresents Obama’s campaign statements to falsely claim that Obama has promised to “irrevocabl[y]” raise taxes on citizens making over $100,000 to fund Social Security; the reality is that Obama’s proposed tax increase would affect citizens making $250,000 or more. The DVD narrator makes similarly false claims about Obama’s stance on raising the capital gains tax, and on raising taxes on small business owners. Conservative radio host Armstrong Williams tells viewers that Obama will raise taxes on small businesses that employ only a few workers, when in fact Obama has repeatedly proposed cutting taxes on most small businesses. Huckabee makes similar claims later in the DVD.
Claim that Obama Supports Immigration 'Amnesty' - The narrator misrepresents Obama’s stance on immigration reform as “amnesty for the 12 to 20 million people who violated US immigration law,” a position that Obama’s “Plan for Immigration” rejects.
Claim that Obama Wants 'Centralized Government' Health Care - Blackwell, now a contributing editor for the conservative publication TownHall, falsely claims that Obama wants to implement what he calls “a centralized government program that hasn’t worked in Canada, hasn’t worked in England, that has actually taken the freedom from the consumer and limited the choices.” Organizations such as PolitiFact and the New York Times have called claims that Obama supports government-run “single payer” health care false.
Claim that Obama Refused to Protect Lives of Infants - Conservative columnist and anti-abortion activist Jill Stanek claims that Obama opposed legislation that would have protected the lives of babies “born alive” during botched abortion efforts, when in fact no such legislation was ever proposed—the law already protects babies in such circumstances—and the Illinois Department of Public Health has said no such case exists in its records. (Stanek has claimed that she has witnessed such incidents during her time as an Illinois hospital worker.) Stanek has said that she believes domestic violence against women who have had abortions is acceptable, claimed that Chinese people eat aborted fetuses as “much sought after delicacies,” and claimed that Obama “supports infanticide.”
Claim that Obama Supported Attack on Petraeus - The DVD narrator claims that as a US senator, Obama refused to vote for a bill that condemned an attack by liberal grassroots activist organization MoveOn.org on General David Petraeus. In reality, Obama did vote to support an amendment that condemned the MoveOn advertisement.
Claim that Obama Supported Award for Farrakhan - The DVD narrator claims that Obama has aligned himself with the controversial head of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, and cites the 2007 decision by Obama’s then-church, Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, to award a lifetime achievement award to Farrakhan. In reality, Obama denounced Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism, and stated that he did not agree with the Trinity decision to give Farrakhan the award.
Claim of Suspiciously Preferential Loan Rate - The DVD narrator claims that Obama received a suspiciously “preferential rate on his super-jumbo loan for the purchase” of a “mansion” in Hyde Park, Illinois, from Northern Trust, an Illinois bank. A Washington Post reporter did make such a claim in a report, but subsequent investigation by Politico and the Columbia Journalism Review showed that the rate Obama received on the loan was consistent with other loans Northern Trust made at the time and not significantly below the average loan rate.
'Citizen of the World' - Corsi claims that Obama does not consider himself an American, but a “citizen of the world.” Media Matters has found numerous instances where Obama proclaims himself a proud American as well as “a fellow citizen of the world.” In 1982, Media Matters notes, then-President Reagan addressed the United Nations General Assembly by saying, “I speak today as both a citizen of the United States and of the world.” Media Matters notes that Corsi’s anti-Obama book Obama Nation was widely and thoroughly debunked (see August 1, 2008 and After), and since its publication, Corsi has made a number of inflammatory and false accusations about Obama and his family (see August 15, 2008, August 16, 2008, September 7, 2008, October 8, 2008, October 9, 2008, July 21, 2009, and September 21, 2010). (Media Matters 10/30/2008)
Retired New Jersey attorney, professional gambler, and conservative blogger Leo C. Donofrio files a lawsuit asking the State Supreme Court to prohibit three candidates from appearing on New Jersey’s presidential ballot: Barack Obama (D-IL), John McCain (R-AZ), and Socialist Worker’s Party candidate Roger Calero. Donofrio claims that none of the three have proven to his satisfaction that they are “natural born citizens,” as the Constitution requires to serve as president (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, July 2008, August 21, 2008, and October 30, 2008). The lawsuit asks Secretary of State Nina Mitchell Wells to intervene in the elections process. In his filing, Donofrio writes that Obama is not eligible for the presidency “even if it were proved he was born in Hawaii, since… Senator Obama’s father was born in Kenya and therefore, having been born with split and competing loyalties, candidate Obama is not a ‘natural born citizen.’” Obama has long ago posted his authentic birth certificate stating he was born in Hawaii and therefore is a US citizen (see June 13, 2008). McCain’s birth in the Panama Canal Zone (see March 14 - July 24, 2008) and Calero’s birth in Nicaragua, Donofrio continues, invalidate their ability to be president as well, even though the Constitution states otherwise. With three ineligible presidential candidates on ballots, Donofrio warns, New Jersey voters will “witness firsthand the fraud their electoral process has become.” After being rejected by the New Jersey Court, US Supreme Court Justice David Souter rejects the lawsuit’s appearance on the Court docket. Justice Clarence Thomas allows the case to be submitted for consideration, but the Court rejects it. (Leo C. Donofrio v. Nina Mitchell Wells, Secretary of State of the State of New Jersey 10/31/2008; Schilling 11/13/2008; Obama Conspiracy (.org) 12/21/2008; St. Petersburg Times 6/28/2010) After his case is thrown out, Donofrio will write on his blog that “you have no Constitution and you have no ‘Supreme’ court. You have a filthy corrupted snake pit which tried to protect itself from responsibility for this issue by using clerks like brutal praetorian guards.” (Obama Conspiracy (.org) 12/21/2008) An Internet rumor that Justice Antonin Scalia will “quietly” place the case on the Court docket is later proven entirely false (see June 28, 2010).
Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) wins the 2008 election for US president. He replaces President George W. Bush, a Republican. Obama becomes the first African-American president in the history of the US. He defeats Senator John McCain (R-AZ) by a 52 percent to 46 percent margin in the national popular vote, and by a 365-173 margin in the electoral vote. The Democratic Party also increases its lead in the Senate, with a 56-41 margin, and a 255-175 margin in the House of Representatives. Finally, Democrats gain a +1 margin in the nation’s 11 gubernatorial elections. (National Public Radio 11/2008; Sieff 11/5/2008) Obama will begin his four year term as president on January 20, 2009, after a transition period (see January 20-21, 2009).
Salon columnist Alex Koppelman explores the widening sets of claims that purport to prove President Barack Obama is not a US citizen—the heart of the so-called “birther” conspiracy theory. The Obama campaign long ago produced a valid birth certificate that allowed Obama to run legitimately as a presidential candidate (see June 13, 2008), Obama’s mother Ann Dunham has also affirmed her son’s citizenship, and Hawaiian officials have confirmed that Obama was indeed born in a hospital in Honolulu (see October 30, 2008). However, some on the right continue to promulgate the tale of Obama’s supposed Kenyan citizenship, or Indonesian citizenship, or British citizenship. The Chigago Tribune recently ran a paid advertisement questioning Obama’s citizenship (see December 3, 2008). Conservative news and opinion blogs such as WorldNetDaily run stories on a near-daily basis challenging Obama’s citizenship, or producing hoax “birth certificates” that “prove” Obama was born in Mombasa, Kenya, or other locales (see July 20, 2008). Plaintiffs have filed lawsuits challenging Obama’s citizenship in a number of state courts, all of which have been rejected (see March 14 - July 24, 2008, August 21-24, 2008, October 9-28, 2008, October 17-22, 2008, October 21, 2008, October 31 - November 3, 2008, October 24, 2008, October 31, 2008 and After, November 12, 2008 and After, November 13, 2008, and Around November 26, 2008), and a similar case goes up for review in the Supreme Court (that case also challenges Republican presidential contender John McCain’s citizenship, as McCain was born in the former Panama Canal Zone to parents serving in the US military, another legitimate way of securing citizenship—see March 14 - July 24, 2008 and August 21-24, 2008). Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine and a columnist for Scientific American, notes that some people will never let go of the idea that Obama is not a citizen, no matter what level of proof is provided. “There’s no amount of evidence or data that will change somebody’s mind,” he says. “The more data you present a person, the more they doubt it.… Once you’re committed, especially behaviorally committed or financially committed, the more impossible it becomes to change your mind.” Any inconvenient facts are irrelevant, he says. Chip Berlet, a senior analyst with Political Research Associates, agrees. People who believe in a conspiracy theory “develop a selective perception, their mind refuses to accept contrary evidence,” Berlet says. “As soon as you criticize a conspiracy theory, you become part of the conspiracy.” Social psychologist Evan Harrington adds: “One of the tendencies of the conspiracy notion, the whole appeal, is that a lot of the information the believer has is secret or special. The real evidence is out there, [and] you can give them all this evidence, but they’ll have convenient ways to discredit [it].” Koppelman notes that during the presidential election, so-called “birthers” said that they would drop their claims if only Obama would release the “long form” of his birth certificate, even though to do so would be to violate Hawaii’s privacy laws, which keep all such documents under lock and key. During the campaign, Dr. Chiyome Fukino, the director of Hawaii’s Department of Health, released a statement saying she had verified that the state has the original birth certificate on record (see October 30, 2008), and that Obama’s Hawaiian birth is a matter of state record. Experts with the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, part of the FactCheck (.org) organization, have examined the certificate and verified its authenticity (see August 21, 2008), as has PolitiFact (see June 27, 2008). Koppelmann notes that the conspiracy theory has grown to the point where talk-show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage have suggested that Obama used the occasion of his grandmother’s death to go to Hawaii to alter the record (see November 10, 2008). Koppelman notes that many who align themselves with the “birther” movement are well-known conspiratorists. Author Jerome Corsi, who attacked Obama’s citizenship in a pre-election book (see August 1, 2008 and After), has spoken of “secret government plans” to form a “North American Union” with Canada and Mexico. Philip Berg, who filed the lawsuit that had until now drawn the most public attention, asserts that the 9/11 attacks were staged by the US government (so-called “trutherism”). Another critic, Andy Martin, who seems to be the source of the rumor that Obama is a Muslim and is a strong “birther” proponent, was denied an Illinois law license on the grounds that he was mentally unfit to practice law (see October 17-22, 2008). Robert Schulz, who ran the Tribune ads, is a well-known tax protester and anti-government rhetorician. (Koppelman 12/5/2008)
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