Newsweek was a participant or observer in the following events:
Waco Tribune-Herald headline for its ‘Sinful Messiah’ series, with a photo of Davidian leader David Koresh. [Source: Pyreaus (.com)]The Waco Tribune-Herald begins what it calls the “Sinful Messiah” series of articles on Branch Davidian leader David Koresh, formerly Vernon Howell (see November 3, 1987 and After). Based on interviews with former members of the sect, the series accuses Koresh of being a “cult leader” who physically abuses children and takes underage brides, even raping one of them. [Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/3/1993; XTimeline, 7/2010] Two weeks into the standoff, Newsweek will publish an article on Koresh and the Davidians that draws heavily on the Waco Tribune-Herald series. [Newsweek, 3/15/1993] An August 1992 investigation by the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (DPRS) found no evidence of such claims (see April 1992).
Sexual Abuse Claims - Koresh, the series claims, advocates polygamy for himself, declaring himself the husband of multiple females of the community. The articles say he claims to be entitled to 140 wives or more, can legitimately claim any of the women in the community, has fathered at least a dozen children, and that some of his brides are as young as 12 or 13. The sources claim that Koresh annulled all the marriages among the Davidians, and told the men that they would receive their “perfect mates” in heaven. For the time they are on Earth, he told them, only he would have wives. Koresh keeps the men and women rigidly separated except during Bible studies. [Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/3/1993; XTimeline, 7/2010]
Physical Abuse Claims - The articles claim that Koresh beats children as young as eight months of age. Former Davidian Michelle Tom testified in a Michigan court custody case that Koresh beat her daughter Tarah Tom with a wooden spatula until the girl’s bottom was bruised and bloody. The girl had cried when placed on Koresh’s lap, Tom testified. A former Davidian who refuses to be identified confirms Tom’s story, saying that the little girl’s “bottom was completely black and blue.” During the same court case, Tom and other former Davidians claimed that Koresh was particularly harsh with his own son Cyrus. When Cyrus was three and living with Koresh (then Howell) in Pomona, California, Koresh once tied him to the garage for the night, after telling him that there were rats in the garage who liked to eat children. Tom and others recall hearing Cyrus scream as his father beat him.
Bringing the Apocalypse - Koresh, according to the articles, claims to be the Lamb of Heaven whose mystical task it is to open the Seven Seals of the Biblical Apocalypse, thus bringing about the end of the world. The Davidians, according to the articles, intend to slay all non-believers (whom Koresh calls “the Babylonians”) once the Apocalypse begins, and Koresh’s male children will rule at his side thereafter. Koresh says: “If the Bible is true, then I’m Christ. But so what? Look at 2,000 years ago. What’s so great about being Christ? A man nailed to the cross. A man of sorrow acquainted with grief. You know, being Christ ain’t nothing. Know what I mean?… If the Bible is true, I’m Christ. If the Bible is true. But all I want out of this is for people to be honest this time.” The sources say Koresh uses “mind control” techniques to indoctrinate his followers, including marathon sermons and Bible study sessions lasting up to 15 hours at a stretch. One former member who refuses to be named says of the sessions: “You don’t have time to think. He doesn’t give you time to think about what you’re doing. It’s just bang, bang, bang, bang, bang.” Other methods employed by Koresh include confusing, rapid-fire discourses about abstruse Biblical topics, and a propensity to force community members to listen to sermons at odd hours of the night. Another former member, also refusing to be named, says: “You felt like you were in the know. Others in the world might consider you average. Let them. They were unbelievers. But you knew something they didn’t—something that put you into the ultimate In Crowd, the ones who wouldn’t be taking a dip in the Lake of Fire.”
Sources - The sources for the article include Australians Marc Breault, described as a former “confidant” of Koresh’s who has spoken against Koresh since 1990; Breault’s wife Elizabeth Baranyi; and Jean Smith. Breault, an aspiring musician, admits to feeling resentment towards Koresh—he joined the group in hopes that he and Koresh, himself an accomplished musician, would form a successful rock band, an aspiration that would not be fulfilled. They are joined by former Indiana disk jockey David Jewell, who was never a member of the sect but who sued his ex-wife, Davidian Sherri Jewell, for custody of their daughter Kiri. Breault and other former members say Sherri Jewell was one of Koresh’s wives. Kiri lives in Michigan with her father, while Sherri remains with Koresh. (In 1995, Kiri Jewell will testify that she was raped by Koresh between the ages of 10 and 14—see July 21, 1995). Other sources include Robyn Bunds, one of Koresh’s first “wives” among the community (married to him at age 17, she says, when Koresh and his small group of followers lived in Pomona and La Verne, California). Bunds claims that Koresh told her he raped the 12-year-old sister of his wife Rachel Howell, who, Bunds says, crawled into bed with him to “get warm” and was forced to have sex with him. Koresh has denied the story, and claims to have had only two children, Cyrus and Star, both with his wife Rachel. However, birth certificates for many Davidian children are incomplete; the sources say that Koresh is the father of many of the children, and routinely has the mothers leave his name off the certificates. Bunds tells reporters: “When Vernon came along, he… said you had to give him all your money. You had to live on the property. You had to give up everything else. You had to give him your mind… your body.” She claims her parents gave well over $10,000 to Koresh’s sect and bought a house in Pomona for $100,000 in Koresh’s name (then Howell). She admits to having been jealous over having to share Koresh with his other wives, and says Koresh is the father of her son Shaun, whose birth name was Wisdom Bunds; she says Shaun is terrified of Koresh because he beat him. (Koresh says Bunds, not him, beat her son, an allegation which she admits, though she says Koresh also beat the child.) She says she left Koresh in Pomona after he began having sex with her mother Jeannine, and when he attempted to kidnap Shaun and raise him among the Waco Davidians. Jeannine Bunds is also a source, having left the Waco community shortly after her daughter left Koresh. (Don Bunds, Jeannine’s husband and Robyn’s father, remains in Waco with the Davidians.) Another source is Karl Henning or Hennig (the article uses both spellings), a Vancouver teacher who lived with the sect for two months. He says Koresh holds a “truly amazing accumulation of knowledge.” Also, the article relies on the recollections of Bruce Gent, a former Davidian who says he allowed Koresh to sleep with his teenaged daughter Nicole. Yet another source is Barbara Slawson, a member during the time of Koresh’s predecessors Lois and George Roden, who says she was never impressed with Koresh and left during the time he was solidfying his grasp on the leadership of the group. Slawson says she has two grandchildren in the group. “My primary reason for trying to help is the children,” Breault says. “They have no one else to help them. If people say we were stupid, well, that may be true. But the children aren’t.” Breault says he finally left the group after Koresh had sex with a 13-year-old Australian girl he had brought to Waco merely for sexual purposes. “I realized it wasn’t a matter of Biblical anything,” Breault later testifies during the Jewell custody case. “He just wanted to have sex with her.” Koresh says that Breault sees himself as a rival prophet attempting to convince his followers to join with him against Koresh, and says that Breault is the source of the stories of his alleged sexual relations with underage girls. Breault admits telling Australian Davidians that he, too, is a prophet, though he says he eventually confessed that he had lied to get the Davidians away from Koresh, and that for a time he attempted to create a breakaway, rival sect of the Davidians.
Emotional Control - Jeannine Bunds says Koresh does not physically restrain his members. “I’m over 21, intelligent,” she says. “I could have walked at any time. I chose to stay. He doesn’t keep you. You can leave. What you have to understand, though, is he keeps you by emotion. When you’re down there, it’s all so exciting. You don’t know what he’ll come up with next. I guess everyone is looking for Utopia, Shangri-La. You don’t want any problems. It wasn’t all bad times, you know. The people in this are great. They’ll give you the shirt off their back. They’re nice, like everyone else in the world. Except they believe this.”
Newspaper Asked to Hold Off Publishing Stories - Tribune-Herald managing editor Barbara Elmore says the newspaper put eight months of research into the stories, and held off printing them after federal authorities asked her “not to run anything.” The head of the BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) task force investigating Koresh (see June-July 1992) says the stories did not influence the agency’s decision to raid the Davidian compound near Waco (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). [Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/3/1993] After the BATF raid, Tribune-Herald editor Bob Lott defends his newspaper’s decision to publish the story, saying: “We’d been working on this story for eight months. It contained a lot of information the public ought to know. We decided it was time to let the public know about this menace in our backyard.… I’m under siege. There has been the suggestion that somehow we are responsible for this tragedy.” BATF spokeswoman Sharon Wheeler says the bureau has no complaints about Lott or the Tribune-Herald, but an unidentified BATF agent has allegedly said part of the responsibility for the deaths of four BATF agents during the raid rests on the local press. The bureau asked Lott to hold off publishing the series a month before the raid; the newspaper gave the bureau a day’s warning before running the first installment. [New York Times, 3/1/1993; Newsweek, 3/15/1993]
Entity Tags: David Jewell, Bruce Gent, Star Howell, Sherri Jewell, Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Waco Tribune-Herald, Cyrus Howell, Barbara Elmore, Shaun Bunds, Barbara Slawson, Branch Davidians, Bob Lott, Sharon Wheeler, Tarah Tom, Rachel Howell, Elizabeth Baranyi, Don Bunds, George Roden, Robyn Bunds, Jean Smith, Jeannine Bunds, David Koresh, Kiri Jewell, Nicole Gent, Karl Henning, Michelle Tom, Newsweek, Lois Roden, Marc Breault
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
Robert Millar, the 69-year-old leader of the militantly religious, white supremacist community Elohim City in eastern Oklahoma (see 1973 and After), tells New York Times reporters that he and his community had nothing to do with accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, April 21, 1995, and April 24, 1995). The press has learned that some members of the Elohim City community may have devised the original Oklahoma City bomb plot (see 1983 and August 1994 - March 1995); McVeigh is suspected of having some ties with Elohim City community members (see January 23, 1993 - Early 1994, October 12, 1993 - January 1994, September 12, 1994 and After, November 1994, December 1994, February 1995, April 5, 1995, and April 8, 1995); and some sources claim federal agents were warned about the bombing from an informant in the community (see August 1994 - March 1995). Millar insists that no one in Elohim City knew who McVeigh was until they read about him in the papers. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him,” Millar says. “I don’t think he’s ever been in any of my audiences to the best of my knowledge. He may have gotten our telephone number from someone if he used our telephone number. And if he phoned here, nobody here has any knowledge of ever talking to him.” Newsweek has reported that McVeigh called someone in Elohim City two weeks before the bombing (see April 5, 1995). Asked by a reporter if he had heard of McVeigh, if McVeigh called or visited the community, and whether he condoned the bombing, Millar says, “No, no, no, and no.” To another reporter asking about McVeigh’s alleged visit, he replies, “I imagine that your unnamed government sources are manipulating you.” Millar served as a “spiritual advisor” to Richard Snell, who was executed the day of the bombing for murdering a state trooper and a shopkeeper in Arkansas (see 9:00 p.m. April 19, 1995). Asked if he continues to espouse the racist and anti-Semitic ideals that have marked his community for years, Millar produces a careful answer: “I think the least-gifted black person has divinely endowed intellectual and physical capabilities that the most sophisticated robot we can produce is not able to equal. So what I’m saying is, I think all of God’s creation is special and gifted and I’m not interested in denigrating or belittling or misusing any part of God’s creation. That should be a sufficient answer.” He portrays Elohim City as a small village of “less than 100 people” whose inhabitants desire to be left alone, have little money, and little need for money. The community supports itself, he says, on the labor of some of the men, who “do logging; they also haul hay for the neighbors.” District Attorney Dianne Barker Harrold tells reporters that she does not believe the community is a threat: “I have no reason to foresee any problems. They’ve been here 22 years, and there haven’t been any problems.” Millar also announces that his granddaughter Angela Millar is marrying James Ellison, the former leader of the now-defunct Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord. Ellison served a prison term for racketeering, and has claimed to have been involved in the 1983 Elohim City bomb plot (see 1983). [New York Times, 5/24/1995]
Entity Tags: Elohim City, Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord, Angela Millar, Dianne Barker Harrold, James Ellison, New York Times, Timothy James McVeigh, Newsweek, Richard Wayne Snell, Robert Millar
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
Accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, April 21, 1995 and April 24, 1995) gives an interview to Newsweek, saying he intends to plead not guilty to all charges; the interview quickly makes headlines around the country. In a cover story entitled “The Suspect Speaks,” McVeigh tells interviewer Colonel David Hackworth (see June 26, 1995) that the first he knew of the bombing was when a state trooper pulled him over driving north from Oklahoma City some 90 minutes after the blast (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995). McVeigh says he was “horrified” by the deaths of 19 children in the explosion, and adds: “And you know, that was the number one focal point of the media at the time, too, obviously—the deaths of the children. It’s a very tragic thing.” He refuses to directly confirm or deny any involvement in the bombing, saying, “The only way we can really answer that is that we are going to plead not guilty.” The interviewer tells him, “But you’ve got a chance right now to say, ‘Hell no!’” McVeigh replies, “We can’t do that.” McVeigh goes into some detail about his “average childhood” (see 1987-1988); his lawyer Stephen Jones (see May 8, 1995), present for the interview, tells the interviewer that McVeigh is “the boy next door, a boy wonder.” Newsweek records McVeigh’s appearance as “a little nervous, maybe, but good humored and self-aware. Normal.” The interview is held in a conference room at the El Reno Federal Corrections Center about 25 miles west of Oklahoma City. Jones has released pictures and an audio-less videotape of McVeigh laughing and smiling while talking to his lawyers, in an apparent attempt to soften his image. Of the video, Jones says, “We want to present our client to the public as we believe he really is.” The country is most familiar with the image of McVeigh being led away from an Oklahoma County Jail in handcuffs (see April 21, 1995). Jones also emphasizes McVeigh’s solid military record (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990 and January - March 1991 and After). Jones placed heavy restrictions on the interview with McVeigh, and thusly little new material is given. McVeigh will not discuss any evidence that prosecutors say shows his guilt, and Jones refuses to allow McVeigh to answer questions about whether he committed the bombing. Though in May the press reported that sources had said McVeigh confessed to the bombing in prison (see May 16, 1995), Jones says: “I’m not aware of anything he said in the interview that is inconsistent with what has been reported up to this point by the New York Times and every other newspaper in the country. If you’re trying to suggest that there may have been anything inconsistent, may I respectfully suggest that you may have not read the interview carefully.” Jones later disputes one quote attributed to him of McVeigh, where Jones supposedly told the interviewer, “He’s innocent.” Jones says, “I frankly don’t remember saying that he’s innocent and I do not think that is something I would have said.” McVeigh also denies any affiliation with militia groups or attending meetings of such groups (see 1992 - 1995, January 23, 1993 - Early 1994, October 12, 1993 - January 1994, April 1994, September 12, 1994 and After, November 1994, January 1995, and April 5, 1995), and denies reports that he had called himself a “prisoner of war” and refused to state anything but his name, rank, and serial number (see April 21, 1995). He acknowledges setting off small explosions on a farm in Michigan with his accused co-conspirator Terry Nichols (see October 12, 1993 - January 1994), but says they were little more than plastic Pepsi bottles “that burst because of air pressure,” adding, “It was like popping a paper bag.” He refuses to go into details about his political views, saying merely that he was “bothered” by the 1993 Branch Davidian debacle (see March 1993, April 19, 1993, and April 19, 1993 and After), and acknowledges visiting the site after the final raid by FBI agents. He admits to having “been through Oklahoma City,” but when asked if he and his friend Michael Fortier (see May 19, 1995) had “cased” the Murrah Federal building in the days before the attack, replies, “I think I’d rather not answer that.” He says that the government has “[m]ost definitely” made “mistakes,” but does not characterize himself as an anti-government person. [New York Times, 6/26/1995; Serrano, 1998, pp. 225]
Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, posing as Jamal al-Ghurairy for Frontline. [Source: PBS]An Iraqi defector identifying himself as Jamal al-Ghurairy, a former lieutenant general in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence corps, the Mukhabarat, tells two US reporters that he has witnessed foreign Islamic militants training to hijack airplanes at an alleged Iraqi terrorist training camp at Salman Pak, near Baghdad. Al-Ghurairy also claims to know of a secret compound at Salman Pak where Iraqi scientists, led by a German, are producing biological weapons. Al-Ghurairy is lying both about his experiences and even his identity, though the reporters, New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges and PBS’s Christopher Buchanan, do not know this. The meeting between al-Ghurairy and the reporters, which takes place on November 6, 2001, in a luxury suite in a Beirut hotel, was arranged by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC). Buchanan later recalls knowing little about al-Ghurairy, except that “[h]is life might be in danger. I didn’t know much else.” Hedges recalls the former general’s “fierce” appearance and “military bearing.… He looked the part.” Al-Ghurairy is accompanied by several other people, including the INC’s political liaison, Nabeel Musawi. “They were slick and well organized,” Buchanan recalls. Hedges confirms al-Ghurairy’s credibility with the US embassy in Turkey, where he is told that CIA and FBI agents had recently debriefed him. The interview is excerpted for an upcoming PBS Frontline episode, along with another interview with an INC-provided defector, former Iraqi sergeant Sabah Khodada, who echoes al-Ghurairy’s tale. While the excerpt of al-Ghurairy’s interview is relatively short, the interview itself takes over an hour. Al-Ghurairy does not allow his face to be shown on camera.
Times Reports Defectors' Tale - Two days later, on November 8, Hedges publishes a story about al-Ghurairy in the New York Times Times. The Frontline episode airs that same evening. [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges does not identify al-Ghurairy by name, but reports that he, Khodada, and a third unnamed Iraqi sergeant claim to have “worked for several years at a secret Iraqi government camp that had trained Islamic terrorists in rotations of five or six months since 1995. They said the training at the camp, south of Baghdad, was aimed at carrying out attacks against neighboring countries and possibly Europe and the United States.” Whether the militants being trained are linked to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, the defectors cannot be sure, nor do they know of any specific attacks carried out by the militants. Hedges writes that the interviews were “set up by an Iraqi group that seeks the overthrow of… Hussein.” He quotes al-Ghurairy as saying, “There is a lot we do not know. We were forbidden to speak about our activities among each other, even off duty. But over the years, you see and hear things. These Islamic radicals were a scruffy lot. They needed a lot of training, especially physical training. But from speaking with them, it was clear they came from a variety of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. We were training these people to attack installations important to the United States. The Gulf War never ended for Saddam Hussein. He is at war with the United States. We were repeatedly told this.” He uses Khodada’s statements as support for al-Ghurairy’s, identifies Khodada by name, and says that Khodada “immigrated to Texas” in May 2001 “after working as an instructor for eight years at Salman Pak…” He quotes the sergeant as saying, “We could see them train around the fuselage. We could see them practice taking over the plane.” Al-Ghurairy adds that the militants were trained to take over a plane without using weapons. Hedges reports that Richard Sperzel, the former chief of the UN biological weapons inspection teams in Iraq, says that the Iraqis always claimed Salman Pak was an anti-terror training camp for Iraqi special forces. However, Sperzel says, “[M]any of us had our own private suspicions. We had nothing specific as evidence.” The US officials who debriefed al-Ghurairy, Hedges reports, do not believe that the Salman Pak training has any links to the 9/11 hijackings. Hedges asks about one of the militants, a clean-shaven Egyptian. “No, he was not Mohamed Atta.” Atta led the 9/11 hijackers. Hedges notes that stories such as this one will likely prompt “an intense debate in Washington over whether to extend the war against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government of Afghanistan to include Iraq.” [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
Heavy Press Coverage - The US media immediately reacts, with op-eds running in major newspapers throughout the country and cable-news pundits bringing the story to their audiences. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice says of the story, “I think it surprises no one that Saddam Hussein is engaged in all kinds of activities that are destabilizing.” The White House will use al-Ghurairy’s claims in its background paper, “Decade of Deception and Defiance,” prepared for President’s Bush September 12, 2002 speech to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002). Though the tale lacks specifics, it helps bolster the White House’s attempts to link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 hijackers, and helps promote Iraq as a legitimate target in the administration’s war on terror. (Five years later, the reporters involved in the story admit they were duped—see April 2006.)
Complete Fiction - The story, as it turns out, is, in the later words of Mother Jones reporter Jack Fairweather, “an elaborate scam.” Not only did US agents in Turkey dismiss the purported lieutenant general’s claims out of hand—a fact they did not pass on to Hedges—but the man who speaks with Hedges and Buchanan is not even Jamal al-Ghurairy. The man they interviewed is actually a former Iraqi sergeant living in Turkey under the pseudonym Abu Zainab. (His real name is later ascertained to be Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, and is a former Iraqi general and senior officer in the Mukhabarat.) The real al-Ghurairy has never left Iraq. In 2006, he will be interviewed by Fairweather, and will confirm that he was not the man interviewed in 2001 (see October 2005). [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges and Buchanan were not the first reporters to be approached for the story. The INC’s Francis Brooke tried to interest Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff in interviewing Khodada to discuss Salman Pak. Isikoff will recall in 2004 that “he didn’t know what to make of the whole thing or have any way to evaluate the story so I didn’t write about it.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
"The Perfect Hoax" - The interview was set up by Chalabi, the leader of the INC, and former CBS producer Lowell Bergman. Bergman had interviewed Khodada previously, but was unable to journey to Beirut, so he and Chalabi briefed Hedges in London before sending him to meet with the defector. Chalabi and Bergman have a long relationship; Chalabi has been a source for Bergman since 1991. The CIA withdrew funding from the group in 1996 (see January 1996) due to its poor intelligence and attempts at deception. For years, the INC combed the large Iraqi exile communities in Damascus and Amman for those who would trade information—real or fabricated—in return for the INC’s assistance in obtaining asylum to the West. Helping run that network was Mohammed al-Zubaidi, who after 9/11 began actively coaching defectors, according to an ex-INC official involved in the INC’s media operations (see December 17, 2001 and July 9, 2004). The ex-INC official, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, did everything from help defectors brush up and polish their stories, to concocting scripts that defectors with little or no knowledge could recite: “They learned the words, and then we handed them over to the American agencies and journalists.” After 9/11, the INC wanted to come up with a big story that would fix the public perception of Saddam Hussein’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Al-Zubaidi was given the task. He came up with al-Ghurairy. He chose Zainab for his knowledge of the Iraqi military, brought him to Beirut, paid him, and began prepping him. In the process, al-Zainab made himself known to American and Turkish intelligence officials as al-Ghurairy. “It was the perfect hoax,” al-Haideri will recall in 2006. “The man was a born liar and knew enough about the military to get by, whilst Saddam’s regime could hardly produce the real Ghurairy without revealing at least some of the truth of the story.” Al-Haideri will say that the reality of the Salman Pak story was much as the Iraqis claimed—Iraqi special forces were trained in hostage and hijack scenarios. Al-Zubaidi, who in 2004 will admit to his propaganda activities, calls Al-Zainab “an opportunist, cheap and manipulative. He has poetic interests and has a vivid imagination in making up stories.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006]
Stories Strain Credulity - Knight Ridder reporter Jonathan Landay later says of al-Qurairy, “As you track their stories, they become ever more fantastic, and they’re the same people who are telling these stories, until you get to the most fantastic tales of all, which appeared in Vanity Fair magazine.” Perhaps al-Qurairy’s most fabulous story is that of a training exercise to blow up a full-size mockup of a US destroyer in a lake in central Iraq. Landay adds, “Or, jumping into pits of fouled water and having to kill a dog with your bare teeth. I mean, and this was coming from people, who are appearing in all of these stories, and sometimes their rank would change.… And, you’re saying, ‘Wait a minute. There’s something wrong here, because in this story he was a major, but in this story the guy’s a colonel. And, in this story this was his function, but now he says in this story he was doing something else.’” Landay’s bureau chief, John Walcott, says of al-Qurairy, “What he did was reasonably clever but fairly obvious, which is he gave the same stuff to some reporters that, for one reason or another, he felt would simply report it. And then he gave the same stuff to people in the Vice President’s office [Dick Cheney] and in the Secretary of Defense’s office [Donald Rumsfeld]. And so, if the reporter called the Department of Defense or the Vice President’s office to check, they would’ve said, ‘Oh, I think that’s… you can go with that. We have that, too.’ So, you create the appearance, or Chalabi created the appearance, that there were two sources, and that the information had been independently confirmed, when, in fact, there was only one source. And it hadn’t been confirmed by anybody.” Landay adds, “[L]et’s not forget how close these people were to this administration, which raises the question, was there coordination? I can’t tell you that there was, but it sure looked like it.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
No Evidence Found - On April 6, 2003, US forces will overrun the Salman Pak facility. They will find nothing to indicate that the base was ever used to train terrorists (see April 6, 2003).
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Sperzel, Newsweek, Saddam Hussein, Taliban, New York Times, Sabah Khodada, Washington Post, United Nations, Vanity Fair, Nabeel Musawi, Public Broadcasting System, Mother Jones, Ahmed Chalabi, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, Chris Hedges, Al-Qaeda, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Mukhabarat, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Francis Brooke, Lowell Bergman, Michael Isikoff, Mohammed al-Zubaidi, Jonathan Landay, John Walcott, Jamal al-Ghurairy, Jack Fairweather, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Christopher Buchanan, Iraqi National Congress
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
President Bush holds a press conference—only his eighth since taking office—in which he conflates Iraq and Saddam Hussein with the 9/11 attacks and the global war on terror at least 12 times. For instance, he says: “Iraq is a part of the war on terror. It’s a country that trains terrorists; it’s a country that could arm terrorists. Saddam Hussein and his weapons are a direct threat to this country.” Perhaps his most alarming statement is, “September the 11th should say to the American people that we’re now a battlefield.” [White House, 3/6/2003; Salon, 5/4/2006; PBS, 4/25/2007] Bush insists that he has not yet decided to take military action against Iraq (see March 6, 2003). [Salon, 5/4/2006]
Scripted and Orchestrated - Oddly, none of the 94 assembled journalists challenge Bush’s conflations, no one asks about Osama bin Laden, and no one asks follow-up questions to elicit information past the sound bites Bush delivers. There is a reason for that. In 2007, PBS’s Bill Moyers will report that “the White House press corps will ask no hard questions… about those claims,” because the entire press conference is scripted. “Sure enough, the president’s staff has given him a list of reporters to call on,” Moyers will report. Press Secretary Ari Fleischer later admits to giving Bush the list, which omits reporters from such media outlets as Time, Newsweek, USA Today, and the Washington Post. After calling on CNN reporter John King, Bush says, “This is a scripted—” and then breaks into laughter. King, like his colleagues, continues as if nothing untoward is happening. Author and media commentator Eric Boehlert will later say: “[Bush] sort of giggled and laughed. And, the reporters sort of laughed. And, I don’t know if it was out of embarrassment for him or embarrassment for them because they still continued to play along after his question was done. They all shot up their hands and pretended they had a chance of being called on.” Several questions later, Bush pretends to choose from the available reporters, saying: “Let’s see here… Elizabeth… Gregory… April.… Did you have a question or did I call upon you cold?” The reporter asks, “How is your faith guiding you?” Bush responds: “My faith sustains me because I pray daily. I pray for guidance.” Boehlert will later say: “I think it just crystallized what was wrong with the press coverage during the run up to the war. I think they felt like the war was gonna happen and the best thing for them to do was to get out of the way.” [White House, 3/6/2003; Salon, 5/4/2006; PBS, 4/25/2007]
Defending the Press's Complicity - New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller, a participant in the conference, will later defends the press corps’ “timid behavior,” in Boehlert’s characterization, by saying: “I think we were very deferential because… it’s live, it’s very intense, it’s frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you’re standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country’s about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time.” [Salon, 5/4/2006]
Compliant Media Coverage - The broadcast news media, transmitting the live feed of the conference, could not have been more accommodating, author and media critic Frank Rich will later note. “CNN flashed the White House’s chosen messages in repetitive rotation on the bottom of the screen while the event was still going on—‘People of good will are hoping for peace’ and ‘My job is to protect America.’” After the conference, Fox News commentator Greta van Susteren tells her audience, “What I liked tonight was that in prime time [Bush] said to the American people, my job is to protect the American people.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 70]
Follow-Up Coverage Equally Stage-Managed - Boehlert notes that the post-conference coverage is equally one-sided. On MSNBC’s flagship news commentary show, Hardball, host Chris Matthews spends an hour discussing the conference and the upcoming invasion. Matthews invites six guests on. Five are advocates of the war, and one, given a few moments for “balance,” questions some of the assumptions behind the rationale for war. The five pro-war guests include an “independent military analyst,” retired General Montgomery Meigs, who is one of around 75 retired military officers later exposed as participants in a Pentagon propaganda operation designed to promote the war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). [Salon, 5/4/2006]
Some Criticism Leveled - Several journalists later write harsh critiques of the conference and the media’s complicity (see March-April 2003).
Entity Tags: Montgomery Meigs, USA Today, Washington Post, Time magazine, MSNBC, George W. Bush, Greta Van Susteren, Ari Fleischer, Bill Moyers, CNN, Chris Matthews, Elisabeth Bumiller, John King, Frank Rich, Eric Boehlert, Newsweek
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
Newsweek cover featuring Jessica Lynch. [Source: Newsweek]The American US edition of Newsweek released this day features a cover story about US Army Private Jessica Lynch, recently rescued from captivity by US forces (see April 1, 2003). While the story mentions her doctors’ statements that she was not shot (see April 4, 2003), it focuses on the accounts of some of her family members (including members in West Virginia who have not seen Lynch). The Newsweek story repeats a cousin’s claim of gunshot wounds from “low-velocity small arms,” and goes on to say, “The unpleasant implication was that she might have been shot after she’d been captured, rather than wounded in combat.” The account also questions her treatment at the Iraqi hospital, alleging the possibility of mistreatment and quotes her father as saying “she survived for part of her time in the hospital on nothing but orange juice and crackers.” [Newsweek, 4/14/2003; Project for Excellence in Journalism, 6/23/2003] An unnamed senior administration official says, “The possibility of mistreatment has been very much on the mind of President Bush.” Author and media critic Frank Rich later writes that the Newsweek story is an illustration of the saying, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 81-82]
Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh dismisses photos taken of prisoners at Abu Ghraib over the course of several broadcasts. The excerpts are collected by Newsweek, researchers from the Annenberg Public Policy Center, and the progressive media watchdog site Media Matters. On May 3, he tells his listeners, “You know, if you look at—if you really look at these pictures, I mean, I don’t know if it’s just me, but it looks just like anything you’d see Madonna or Britney Spears do onstage—maybe I’m, yeah—and get an NEA [National Education Association] grant for something like this” (see October 2003, October 17-22, 2003, October 24, 2003, Evening October 25, 2003, November 4, 2003, November 4-December 2, 2003, and Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003, among others). On May 4, he says: “You know, those [US soldiers in Iraq] are being fired at every day. I’m talking about people having a good time. These people—you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of needing to blow some steam off? … It is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation.” On May 5, he says: “I think a lot of the American culture is being feminized. I think the reaction to the stupid torture is an example of the feminization of this country.” On May 6: he says, “The thing, though, that continually amazes—here we have these pictures of homoeroticism that look like standard good old American pornography, the Britney Spears or Madonna concerts or whatever.… I mean, this is something that you can see onstage at Lincoln Center from an NEA grant, maybe on Sex and the City.” In that same broadcast, he praises the torturers by saying: “And we hear that the most humiliating thing you can do is make one Arab male disrobe in front of another. Sounds to me like it’s pretty thoughtful.… Maybe the people who executed this pulled off a brilliant maneuver. Nobody got hurt. Nobody got physically injured.… Sounds pretty effective to me if you look at us in the right context.” And on May 11, he says, “If you take these pictures and bring them back and have them taken in an American city and put on an American Web site, they might win an award from the pornography industry.” [Media Matters, 5/6/2004; Newsweek, 5/13/2004; Boehlert, 2006, pp. 118; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 160]
Secretary of State Colin Powell testifies before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher will confirm Powell’s testimony in early August after Newsweek reports on it. No details are made public about Powell’s testimony; Boucher will merely say that Powell was “pleased to cooperate with the grand jury,” and that Powell is not personally the subject of its inquiry. Newsweek will report that the jury is interested in Powell’s July 2003 trip to Africa with President Bush, and his possession of a State Department memo discussing the Iraq-Niger uranium claim and Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status (see June 10, 2003 and July 7, 2003). Boucher will say, “As grand jury matters are secret, any further questions must be referred to the Department of Justice.” [Washington Post, 8/4/2004]
Newsweek reports that the Pentagon is considering a new approach to dealing with the insurgency in Iraq, one defense officials call the “Salvador Option.” During the 1980s, the US, primarily through the CIA, funded and supported paramilitary units, often called “death squads” by the citizenry and various human rights organizations which monitored their activities, in El Salvador and other Central American nations. These death squads carried out numerous assassinations and kidnappings, including the murder of four American nuns in 1980. Many US conservatives consider the Salvadoran operation a success, though many innocent Salvadorans died, some under torture, and the operation fomented the US government policies that became known collective as “Iran-Contra.” Now the Pentagon is debating whether the same tactics should be used in Iraq. “What everyone agrees is that we can’t just go on as we are,” says a senior military official. “We have to find a way to take the offensive against the insurgents. Right now, we are playing defense. And we are losing.” Another military source contends that Iraqis who sympathize with the insurgents need to be targeted: “The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists. From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation.” One proposal would “send [US] Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria.” Among the proposal’s supporters is Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. But other Pentagon officials are shy of running any operation that might contravene the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and prefer the CIA to run the proposed operation. And many lawmakers, Pentagon officials, and military experts are wary of expanding the role of US Special Forces operations in such a legally and morally dubious direction. They also worry about the ramifications of using Iraqi Kurds and Shi’ite militia members against Iraqi Sunnis in potential death squads, characterized by investigative reporter Robert Parry as “a prescription for civil war or genocide.” Some speculate that this operation might be one of the reasons John Negroponte was recently named US ambassador to Iraq. Negroponte served as US ambassador to Honduras during the 1980s, and many feel Negroponte was a key figure in the establishment and operations of the Central American death squads. Other Bush officials active in the Central America program include Elliott Abrams, who oversaw Central American policies at the State Department and who is now a Middle East adviser on Bush’s National Security Council staff, and Vice President Dick Cheney, who was a powerful defender of the Central American policies as a member of the House of Representatives. Negroponte denies any involvement in any such program operating in Iraq. [Newsweek, 1/8/2005; Consortium News, 1/11/2005] Christopher Dickey, a Newsweek reporter with personal experience in El Salvador during the time of the death squads, writes that he is “prepared to admit that building friendly democracies sometimes has to be a cold-blooded business in the shadowland of moral grays that is the real world,” but says that the idea of US-formed death squads in Iraq, and the corollary idea of sending US Special Forces teams into Syria and perhaps other Middle Eastern countries is not only potentially a mistake, but one that is little more than “a formalization of what’s already taking place.” Former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst and Middle East specialist Patrick Lang says, “We are, of course, already targeting enemy cadres for elimination whether by capture or death in various places including Afghanistan and Iraq.” So many Special Forces personnel are already involved in such operations, Lang says, that there is an actual shortage of Green Berets to perform their primary task: training regular Iraqi troops. The operation could benefit the US presence in two ways: helping win the hearts and minds of the ordinary citizenry by successfully eliminating insurgents, or just by making the citizenry “more frightened of [the US] than they are of the insurgents.” [Newsweek, 1/11/2005]
Entity Tags: Robert Parry, Patrick Lang, US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Iyad Allawi, Contras, Christopher Dickey, Central Intelligence Agency, John Negroponte, Newsweek, Elliott Abrams, Donald Rumsfeld
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation
Newsweek prints an item in its “Periscope” section that reports an American guard at Guantanamo Bay flushed a detainee’s Koran down a toilet. According to the report, the US Southern Command intends to mount an investigation into the desecration, which violates US and international laws. The report sparks widespread rioting in Pakistan and Afghanistan that results in the deaths of at least 17 people. The Pentagon and the Bush administration immediately blame Newsweek for the riots and the deaths; Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, the senior commander of US forces in Afghanistan, says the report did not spark the Afghan rioting, as does Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Newsweek says the information came from an American official who remains unidentified. “We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the US soldiers caught in its midst,” Mark Whitaker, Newsweek’s editor, writes in a subsequent article. Whitaker adds: “We’re not retracting anything. We don’t know what the ultimate facts are.” The Pentagon denies the report; spokesman Bryan Whitman says: “Newsweek hid behind anonymous sources, which by their own admission do not withstand scrutiny. Unfortunately, they cannot retract the damage they have done to this nation or those that were viciously attacked by those false allegations.” The report is “demonstrably false” and “irresponsible.” Whitman says the report has “had significant consequences that reverberated throughout Muslim communities around the world.” Senior Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita calls Whitaker’s note “very tepid and qualified.… They owe us all a lot more accountability than they took.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan says, “Our United States military personnel go out of their way to make sure that the Holy Koran is treated with care.” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says Newsweek is wrong to use “facts that have not been substantiated.” And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld issues the admonishment, “[P]eople need to be careful what they say… just as people need to be careful what they do.” According to Whitaker, while the magazine tries to avoid using unnamed sources when it can, there are instances where sources will not speak to reporters unless their anonymity is guaranteed. The administration source has been reliable in the past, Whitaker says, and, moreover, the reporters of the story, Michael Isikoff and John Barry, received confirmation from both the source and a senior Pentagon official. Whitaker’s explanation notes that Newsweek has chosen not to publish previous reports of Koran desecration at Guantanamo because the sources are former detainees whom it considers unreliable. General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that guards and officials at Guantanamo have looked for documentation of the reported Koran-flushing and cannot find it. [New York Times, 5/16/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 164] The Pentagon will conclude that the Newsweek report is indeed responsible for the riots; Isikoff and Barry’s source for the story will back off on his original claim (see May 15, 2005). A month later, the Pentagon will confirm that at least five instances of Koran desecration at Guantanamo did indeed occur (see June 3, 2005).
Entity Tags: Richard B. Myers, John Barry, Hamid Karzai, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Bryan Whitman, Karl Eikenberry, Lawrence Di Rita, Mark Whitaker, Michael Isikoff, Scott McClellan, US Department of Defense, US Southern Command, Richard A. Boucher, Newsweek
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
The Pentagon reports that an internal investigation shows no US guard at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility ever flushed a Koran down a toilet, as Newsweek recently reported. Furthermore, the rioting in Pakistan and Afghanistan that broke out after the report was released and claimed the lives of 17 people was directly sparked by the Newsweek report (see May 6-9, 2005). Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita informs Newsweek that its report is wrong. Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff, the co-author of the report, goes back to his anonymous administration source to confirm the story. However, “the official, still speaking anonymously, could no longer be sure that these concerns had surfaced in the [US Southern Command] report [on prisoner abuse],” Newsweek writes. The story of the Koran being desecrated might have been in other reports, the source tells Isikoff. “Told of what the Newsweek source said, Di Rita explode[s],” the magazine writes. “‘How could he be credible now?’ Di Rita thunders.” National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley says the White House is “vigorously” investigating the report; if true, Hadley says, stern disciplinary action will be taken. Hadley adds that radical Islamic elements in Pakistan and Afghanistan are using the report as an excuse to incite violence. [New York Times, 5/16/2005] Three weeks later, the Pentagon will confirm that at least five instances of Koran desecration at Guantanamo did indeed occur (see June 3, 2005).
A Koran kept for detainees’ use at Guantanamo. The surgical mask is provided to keep the Koran off the floor, and the guards from touching the book. [Source: GlobalSecurity (.org)]The Pentagon confirms that at least five incidents of deliberate and accidental Koran desecration have occurred at Guantanamo Bay. The Pentagon and White House recently denied a Newsweek report of one such incident. Both lambasted the news magazine for printing the claim without what it called sufficent proof, and blamed Newsweek’s reporting for sparking lethal riots in Pakistan and Afghanistan (see May 6-9, 2005 and May 15, 2005). While the Pentagon and White House denunciations of the Newsweek report were timed to garner extensive media attention, the Pentagon report is released to the press and the public at 7:15 p.m. on a Friday, ensuring that it will not make Friday evening newscasts and, as author Frank Rich will later write, “be buried in the weekend papers.” (The Pentagon denies trying to downplay the report.) In the documented incidents, guards stepped on, kicked, and in one case urinated on Korans owned by the detainees. The urination incident is described as accidental—according to the report, a guard urinated near an outside air vent and his urine was caught in the airstream and carried into a prisoner’s cell. The detainee, who was also splashed, was given a fresh garment and a new Koran, and the guard was reprimanded. In another instance, guards throwing water balloons got detainees’ Korans wet. In a third instance, a two-word obscenity in English was written on the inside cover of a Koran, though the investigation could not determine whether a guard or a detainee wrote the phrase. In a fourth incident, an interrogator kicked a detainee’s Koran (see February 26, 2002-March 7, 2002). In a fifth incident, a contract interrogator stepped on a detainee’s Koran during questioning; the contractor is later fired for misconduct. Four other complaints of Koran desecration are not confirmed. “Mishandling a Koran at Guantanamo Bay is a rare occurrence,” says Brigadier General Jay Hood, commander of the Guantanamo Joint Task Force. “Mishandling of a Koran here is never condoned.” Hood says that no evidence of a Koran being flushed down a toilet, as Newsweek reported, has been found. Hood has already been caught in at least one misstatement; he claimed before the report that four of the five instances took place before January 2003, when written procedures covering handling of religious materials were implemented. The report says that four of those five incidents actually took place after January 2003. Captain Jeffrey Weir, a spokesman for the task force, says he cannot explain Hood’s contradictory statement. “Maybe he misspoke,” Weir says. “I’m not sure why he would have put it that way.” Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita says that the Hood report confirms that US guards handle the Koran with respect and dignity. “The Southern Command policy of Koran handling is serious, respectful, and appropriate,” he says. “The Hood inquiry would appear to affirm that policy.” [New York Times, 5/16/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 166]
Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel. [Source: PBS]John Walcott, the bureau chief of Knight Ridder Newspapers (now McClatchy), recalls that he and his colleagues did not believe the Bush administration’s assertions of the connections between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks. “It was not clear to us why anyone was asking questions about Iraq in the wake of an attack that had al-Qaeda written all over it,” he recalls. He assigned his two top foreign affairs and national security reporters, Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay, veterans with more than 40 years’ experience between them, to investigate the claims. Strobel recalls, “We were basically, I think, hearing two different messages from—there’s a message, the public message the administration was giving out about Iraq—it’s WMD, the fact there was an immediate threat, grave threat, gathering threat—but that was so different from what we were hearing from people on the inside, people we had known in many cases for years and trusted.” Strobel and Landay learned from reliable sources inside the US intelligence community that few outside the White House believed the assertions of an Iraq-9/11 connection. “When you’re talking to the working grunts, you know, uniform military officers, intelligence professionals, professional diplomats, those people are more likely than not—not always, of course, but more likely than not—to tell you some version of the truth, and to be knowledgeable about what they’re talking about when it comes to terrorism or the Middle East, things like that,” says Strobel. He and Landay wrote numerous articles detailing the skepticism about the administration’s claims, but, in many cases, editors chose not to use their work. “There was a lot of skepticism among our editors because what we were writing was so at odds with what most of the rest of the Washington press corps was reporting and some of our papers frankly, just didn’t run the stories,” Strobel says. “They had access to the New York Times wire and the Washington Post wire and they chose those stories instead.” Walcott explains his own rationale: “A decision to go to war, even against an eighth-rate power such as Iraq, is the most serious decision that a government can ever make. And it deserves the most serious kind of scrutiny that we in the media can give it. Is this really necessary? Is it necessary to send our young men and women to go kill somebody else’s young men and women?”
Outside the Beltway - Knight Ridder did not have newspapers in either Washington or New York City, and therefore was viewed by many insiders as “out of the loop.” Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus says: “The administration can withstand the Knight Ridder critique because it wasn’t reverberating inside Washington. And therefore people weren’t picking it up.” Walcott describes Knight Ridder as “under the radar most of the time.… We were not a company that, I think, Karl Rove and others cared deeply about, even though in terms of readers, we’re much bigger than the New York Times and the Washington Post. We’re less influential. There’s no way around that.” Strobel half-humorously asks: “How many times did I get invited on the talk show? How many times did you [Landay] get invited on a talk show?” Landay replies: “You know what? I’ll tell you who invited me on a talk show. C-SPAN.”
Self-Doubts - Strobel says of that time period: “But there was a period when we were sittin’ out there and I had a lot of late night gut checks where I was just like, ‘Are we totally off on some loop here?‘… ‘Are we wrong? Are we gonna be embarrassed?’” Landay adds, “Everyday we would look at each other and say—literally one of us would find something out—and I’d look at him and say, ‘What’s going on here?’” Media analyst Eric Boehlert says: “But I think it’s telling that they didn’t really operate by that beltway game the way the networks, the cable channels, Newsweek, Time, New York Times, Washington Post. They seem to sort of operate outside that bubble. And look at what the benefits were when they operated outside that bubble. They actually got the story right. What’s important is it’s proof positive that that story was there. And it could have been gotten. And some people did get it. But the vast majority chose to ignore or not even try.” Former CNN news chief Walter Isaacson confirms the solid reporting of Strobel and Landay: “The people at Knight Ridder were calling the colonels and the lieutenants and the people in the CIA and finding out, ya know, that intelligence is not very good. We should’ve all been doing that.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Entity Tags: Walter Pincus, Washington Post, Walter Isaacson, Warren Strobel, Newsweek, Eric Boehlert, John Walcott, C-SPAN, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Jonathan Landay, Karl C. Rove, New York Times, Time magazine, Knight Ridder Newspapers
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
Newsweek’s Jonathan Darman reports that Citizens United (CU), a conservative lobbying and advocacy group headed by activist David Bossie, is producing an unflattering documentary on Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), the current frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. The title of the story highlights Clinton’s “likability gap,” but the story itself focuses on the “grudge” borne by Bossie and CU against Clinton and the presidency of her husband, Bill Clinton. The documentary is scheduled for release in theaters in the fall of 2007, Darman reports. One of its potential targets is a generation of young voters who know little about the Whitewater and Lewinsky scandals that dogged the Clinton administration. Bossie says, “There’s an enormous market for Hillary Clinton information.” R. Emmett Tyrell Jr., the editor of the American Spectator and the author of numerous books purporting to tell the truth behind the Clinton allegations, says there are “active research teams” working to expose Clinton. “They’re out there,” he says. “I get calls all the time.” Clinton’s campaign says the documentary is “old news” and “cash for rehash.” Darman notes: “For all the charges through the years, none has ever stuck. Arguably the most-investigated woman in contemporary American life moved from tabloid target in the White House to winning a Senate seat in one of the nation’s most contentious states. It’s her resilience and capacity to survive and thrive against all comers that partly fuels the haters’ fury.” However, some voters still harbor distrust and resentment towards Clinton, stemming in part from her reputation as “secretive, controlling, and paranoid,” as Darman characterizes her critics’ feelings towards her, as first lady. Her negative perception polling is remarkably high for a potential presidential candidate. Darman writes: “[T]he real problem many Democratic voters have with Clinton is the sneaking suspicion that with so much of the country against her, she can never win a general election. Clinton’s fate may well come down to her ability to deal with a vexing question: what is it about me that so many people don’t like?” Clinton is, Darman writes, “a comic-book villain for her detractors—a man-eating feminist, they claimed, who allegedly threw lamps at her husband, communed psychically with Eleanor Roosevelt, and lit a White House Christmas tree adorned with sex toys. The narrative of depravity—a tissue of inventions by conservatives—was often hard to follow. Was she, as they imagined her, a secret lesbian who fostered a West Wing culture of rampant homosexuality? Or was she the duplicitous adulteress who slept with former law partner Vincent Foster, ordered his death, and then made it look like a suicide? Disjointed as they may have been, Hillary horror tales soon became big business on talk radio.” But the attacks have not weakened her appreciably, and may have strengthened her as a candidate. [Newsweek, 6/17/2007] The liberal watchdog organization Media Matters notes that Darman fails to alert his readers to what it calls Bossie’s past “slimy tactics” (see May 1998). [Media Matters, 6/11/2007] The documentary will not be released until the summer of 2008 (see January 10-16, 2008), and will become the focus of a landmark Supreme Court decision regarding campaign finance (see January 21, 2010).
David Wurmser. [Source: ThinkProgress.org]Vice-President Dick Cheney is reportedly considering asking Israel to launch limited missile strikes against the Iranian nuclear site at Natanz in order to provoke an Iranian counterattack. The Iranian retaliation would then give the US an excuse to launch its own air strikes against nuclear and military targets in Iran. Cheney’s Middle East adviser, well-known neoconservative and war proponent David Wurmser, tells a small group of unidentified officials that Cheney is considering such a request. Meyrav Wurmser, the wife of Cheney’s adviser and a member of the neoconservative Hudson Institute, later denies the story, which is reported in late September 2007 by Newsweek, from two unidentified sources. [Reuters, 9/23/2007; Ha'aretz, 9/23/2007; Newsweek, 10/1/2007]
Newsweek reveals that Thomas Tamm, a former high-level Justice Department official, was one of the whistleblowers who revealed the government’s illegal domestic wiretapping program, known as “Stellar Wind,” to the New York Times (see December 15, 2005). Tamm, an ex-prosecutor with a high security clearance, learned of the program in the spring of 2004 (see Spring 2004).
Intense FBI Scrutiny - As of yet, Tamm has not been arrested as one of the leakers in the criminal leak investigation ordered by President Bush (see December 30, 2005), though since the December 2005 publication, Tamm has remained under Justice Department suspicion—FBI agents have raided his home, hauled away his personal possessions, and relentlessly questioned his family and friends (see August 1, 2007). He no longer has a government job, and is having trouble finding steady work as a lawyer. He has resisted pressure to plead to a felony charge of divulging classified information. Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff writes, “[H]e is living under a pall, never sure if or when federal agents might arrest him.” Perhaps his biggest regret is the impact the FBI investigation has had on his wife and children. “I didn’t think through what this could do to my family,” he says. But, “I don’t really need anybody to feel sorry for me,” he says. “I chose what I did. I believed in what I did.”
No Decision to Prosecute Yet - The Justice Department has deferred a decision over whether to arrest and prosecute Tamm until after the Bush administration leaves office and a new attorney general takes over the department. Both President-elect Barack Obama and the incoming Attorney General, Eric Holder, have denounced the warrantless wiretapping program. In one speech Holder gave in June 2008, he said that President Bush had acted “in direct defiance of federal law” by authorizing the NSA program. Former US Attorney Asa Hutchinson, who is helping in Tamm’s defense, says: “When I looked at this, I was convinced that the action he took was based on his view of a higher responsibility. It reflected a lawyer’s responsibility to protect the rule of law.” Hutchinson has no use for the idea, promulgated by Bush officials and conservative pundits, that the Times story damaged the “war on terror” by alerting al-Qaeda terrorists to Stellar Wind and other surveillance programs. “Anybody who looks at the overall result of what happened wouldn’t conclude there was any harm to the United States,” he says. Hutchinson is hopeful that Holder’s Justice Department will drop its investigation of Tamm.
The Public 'Ought to Know' about NSA Eavesdropping - Recently Tamm decided to go public with his story, against the advice of his lawyers. “I thought this [secret program] was something the other branches of the government—and the public—ought to know about,” he tells Isikoff. “So they could decide: do they want this massive spying program to be taking place?… If somebody were to say, who am I to do that? I would say, ‘I had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution.’ It’s stunning that somebody higher up the chain of command didn’t speak up.” Tamm also admits that he leaked information to the Times in part over his anger at other Bush administration policies for the Justice Department, including its aggressive pursuit of death penalty cases, and its use of “renditions” and “enhanced” interrogation techniques against terrorist suspects. He insists that he divulged no “sources and methods” that might compromise national security when he spoke to the Times. He could not tell the Times reporters anything about the NSA program, he says, because he knew nothing specific about the program. As Isikoff writes, “All he knew was that a domestic surveillance program existed, and it ‘didn’t smell right.’” (Times reporter Eric Lichtblau refuses to confirm if Tamm was one of his sources for the stories he wrote with fellow Times reporter James Risen.) [Newsweek, 12/22/2008]
Entity Tags: Michael Isikoff, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Asa Hutchinson, ’Stellar Wind’, Eric Holder, Eric Lichtblau, Newsweek, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Thomas Tamm, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Newsweek publishes a range of responses to its article about Justice Department whistleblower Thomas Tamm (see December 22, 2008), who alerted the New York Times to the Bush administration’s illegal domestic wiretapping program “Stellar Wind” (see Spring 2004 and December 15, 2005). Most are extremely supportive of Tamm; Newsweek writes, “Nearly all labeled Tamm a hero.” One reader wonders why “few in the Justice Department were as troubled as Tamm about the illegality of the secret domestic wiretapping program or had the courage of his convictions.” Another notes, “Whistle-blowers like him are heroes because they are protecting ‘We the people.’” A Milwaukee reader, Harvey Jay Goldstein, suggests that President-elect Obama honor Tamm’s courage and service by “issuing him a pardon” and then “seek indictments against those involved in authorizing and carrying out the illegal program, including President Bush and Vice President Cheney.” The reader is “appalled” that Tamm “is being harassed and persecuted by the FBI (see August 1, 2007) for his part in disclosing the coverup of a program that originated in the Oval Office.” He calls Tamm “a national hero who had the guts to do what he thought was right and wasn’t intimidated by the power of the presidency.” Goldstein accuses Bush and Cheney of “undermining and circumventing the protections of the First and Fourth amendments [in what] are perhaps the most egregious attempts to consolidate absolute power within the executive branch since the dark days of Richard Nixon.” Illinois reader Leonard Kliff, a World War II veteran, writes: “It is disgusting that this man is on the run when he should be receiving a medal for his actions. I am sure the majority of Americans fully support him.” The Reverend Joseph Clark of Maryland calls Tamm “a common man doing his job—upholding the Constitution of the United States and the rule of law.… Thank God for people like Thomas Tamm who spoke when no one else was finding a voice.… This nation is made up of people like Tamm, and that is our strength.” And a former schoolmate of Tamm’s, Peter Craig, writes: “No one who attended Landon School in Bethesda, Md., in the late 1960s, as I did, will be at all surprised to learn that Tom Tamm ended up risking it all to do the right thing. In his senior year, for instance, Tom, then the president of the student council, decided to turn himself in to the rest of the council for some minor infraction unknown to anyone else (and ultimately warranting no punishment). It showed the same character and a burgeoning morality that years later would compel him to do what he did.” Only one published letter, from Bob Spickelmier, expresses the view that Tamm should go to jail for his actions. [Newsweek, 1/10/2009]
Newsweek publishes an extensive article detailing what it calls “the five biggest lies in the health care debate.” Despite the title, the article actually debunks seven.
The government will have electronic access to your bank accounts and steal citizens’ money (see (July 30, 2009) and After). The bill passed by the House Ways and Means Committee indeed calls for electronic fund transfers, but only from insurers to doctors and other providers. Patients are not involved in such transactions.
You’ll have no choice in what health benefits you receive. This story seems to originate from a blog, Flecks of Life, which features a picture of President Obama made up as the Joker from the Batman films. The House bill provides for a “health care exchange,” including a list of private insurers and a single government plan, allowing people without health insurance to choose from the list. The government will prevent insurers from refusing clients with “preexisting conditions,” and require them to offer at least minimum coverage. However, Newsweek observes, “The requirements will be floors, not ceilings, however, in that the feds will have no say in how generous private insurance can be.”
No chemo for older Medicare patients. Newsweek calls this a “vicious” rumor coming from the so-called “deather” camp (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 12, 2009, August 13, 2009, August 12-13, 2009, August 13, 2009, August 15, 2009, August 18, 2009, and August 23-24, 2009). The claim is that Medicare will refuse cancer patients over 70 years of age anything other than end-of-life counseling, including chemotherapy and other life-extending treatments. The claim, Newsweek says, “has zero basis in fact. It’s just a vicious form of the rationing scare.”
[H]ealth-care reform will be financed through $500 billion in Medicare cuts. Again, nothing in the House bill or anything being considered in the Senate exists to back this claim. There are proposed decreases to increases in future Medicare funding, essentially reducing Medicare expenditures from the forecast of $803 billion by 2019. $560 billion would be removed from future Medicare increases over the next 10 years, and would not come from funds slated to provide actual care to seniors. And the House bill proposes increasing Medicare funding by $340 billion over the next 10 years. According to Medicare expert Tricia Newman of the Kaiser Family Foundation, the money would pay for office visits, eliminate copays and deductibles, and close the so-called “donut hole” in Medicare drug benefits.
Illegal immigrants will get free health insurance. While a 1986 law allows illegal immigrants to receive free emergency care through emergency room clinics like everyone else in America, the House bill does not give anyone free health care. Illegal immigrants will not be eligible for subsidies to buy health insurance. In July, the House defeated a Republican-sponsored amendment to require anyone enrolling in a public plan or seeking subsidies to purchase health insurance to provide proof of citizenship. After the amemdment was defeated, Representative Steve King (R-IA) began spreading the false claims that since proof of citizenship would not be mandated, illegal immigrants would indeed be able to obtain government-funded health insurance. Newsweek writes: “Can we say that none of the estimated 11.9 million illegal immigrants will ever wangle insurance subsidies through identity fraud, pretending to be a citizen? You can’t prove a negative, but experts say that Medicare—the closest thing to the proposals in the House bill—has no such problem.”
Death panels will decide who lives. So-called “death panels” form the heart of the “deather” claims that the government would mandate “end of life counseling sessions” that would encourage elderly and seriously ill patients to allow themselves to die. Newsweek calls the claim a “lie” that “springs from a provision in the House bill to have Medicare cover optional counseling on end-of-life care for any senior who requests it. This means that any patient, terminally ill or not, can request a special consultation with his or her physician about ventilators, feeding tubes, and other measures. Thus the House bill expands Medicare coverage, but without forcing anyone into end-of-life counseling.”
The government will set doctors’ wages. This is another claim that seems to have originated on the Flecks of Life blog. Like the earlier claim, it is false. The House bill, according to Newsweek, “says that physicians who choose to accept patients in the public insurance plan would receive five percent more than Medicare pays for a given service, [but] doctors can refuse to accept such patients, and, even if they participate in a public plan, they are not salaried employees of it any more than your doctor today is an employee of, say, Aetna.” Amitabh Chandra of Harvard University says, “Nobody is saying we want the doctors working for the government; that’s completely false.” [Newsweek, 8/29/2009]
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