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The conservative supporters of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas (see October 13, 1991) ferociously respond to charges of sexual harassment against Thomas (see October 8, 1991 and October 11-12, 1991) by former employee Anita Hill. According to David Brock, a right-wing reporter who will write a scathing “biography” of Hill after the hearings, Thomas’s supporters quickly devise a strategy to counter the charges. They decide to portray the entire affair as a conspiracy by liberals to besmirch Thomas in order to keep a conservative off the Court. A team of Federalist Society lawyers works feverishly to find, or concoct, evidence to discredit Hill. One of the most effective counters comes from a story which Hill related to the committee, that Thomas had once turned to her and asked, “Who put this pubic hair on my Coke?” Federalist Society member Orrin Hatch (R-UT), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is told by a staff member that a similar scene involving pubic hair and a glass of gin appears in the novel The Exorcist, and accuses Hill of lifting the scene from the novel and retelling it for her story of harassment. (Dean 2007, pp. 146-153) Hatch also accuses Hill of working with “slick lawyers” in a conspiracy to destroy Thomas’s nomination. Thomas supports that view; when asked if he believed Hill fabricated her story, Thomas replies, “Some interest groups came up with this story, and this story was developed specifically to destroy me.” (Smolowe 10/21/1991) Fellow committee member Arlen Specter (R-PA) excoriates Hill in a long and brutal round of questioning, at one point accusing her of perjury. He even submits a psuedo-psychological analysis of Hill to the committee that portrays her as imagining the events she is testifying towards. Committee member Alan Simpson (R-WY) suggests that he has damaging information about Hill’s own sexual proclivities, although he never provides that material for examination. Four witnesses testify to the accuracy of Hill’s charges; a string of character witnesses testify on behalf of Thomas. (Dean 2007, pp. 146-153) One of them testifies that he believes Hill was “unstable” and indulged in romantic fantasies about him. (Smolowe 10/21/1991) Democratic chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and other committee Democrats do virtually nothing to defend Hill. Not only do they allow their Republican colleagues to “savage her,” in Dean’s words, but they refuse to release evidence they have compiled that supports Hill’s charges, including records of Thomas’s regular purchase of pornography and the statements of numerous other witnesses who have given statements in support of Hill, two even stating that they were also harassed by Thomas. They also fail to tell the committee that Hill has passed a polygraph test about her allegations. (Dean 2007, pp. 146-153)
AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth all cooperate with the NSA in monitoring US citizens’ phone and Internet communications (see October 2001). Qwest, however, refuses to cooperate (see February 27, 2001). Qwest officials are unsure that it is legal to hand over customer information to the government without court warrants. The firm’s refusal to participate in the program leaves a gaping hole in the NSA’s database, with the NSA only getting partial coverage of US citizens in the West and Northwest. Until recently, AT&T and other phone companies have routinely insisted on court warrants before turning over call data to government agencies, protocols growing out of the historical concerns of the Bell Telephone system for customer service and privacy. Gene Kimmelman of the Consumers Union will say in 2006 that such insistence on court warrants was a bedrock principle of the Bell systems. “No court order, no customer information—period.” he says. “That’s how it was for decades.” The Bell system was also concerned with following the law, specifically the Communications Act of 1934, which prohibits telephone companies from giving out such information without court orders. President Bush and other government officials will later say that his 2002 executive order allowing the NSA to wiretap American phones without warrants (see Early 2002) gives the telephone companies legal cover, but many legal experts and civil liberties groups disagree. After 9/11, the NSA approaches the four companies with offers to pay for US citizens’ call histories and for updates, which would allow the agency to track citizens’ phone habits. Three of the four agree to the NSA proposal, but again Qwest does not. An AT&T spokesman will say in May 2006, “We do not comment on matters of national security, except to say that we only assist law enforcement and government agencies charged with protecting national security in strict accordance with the law.” BellSouth will say that the company “does not provide any confidential customer information to the NSA or any governmental agency without proper legal authority.” Verizon will add that the company acts “in full compliance with the law and we are committed to safeguarding our customers’ privacy.” Neither AT&T nor Qwest will comment at all. (Cauley 5/11/2006) The NSA asks Qwest to install monitoring equipment on its “Class 5” switching facilities, which monitor the most localized calls as well as some international traffic. The NSA claims it will only single out foreigners on Qwest’s network. In 2006, a government official will say that the CEO of Qwest, Joe Nacchio, misunderstood what the agency was asking. (Lichtblau, Risen, and Shane 12/16/2007)
Qwest Refuses to Cooperate - In 2006, sources will recall that at the time of the NSA requests, Nacchio is so disturbed by the idea of the NSA wiretapping phones without warrants, and is so unsure of what information would be collected and how it might be used, that he decides the company will not cooperate. The NSA tells Qwest and the other companies that not only would it compile and maintain data on US citizens’ phone habits, but it may well share that information with other US government agencies, including the CIA, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the FBI. Indeed, the NSA shares what it calls “product” with other intelligence agencies, and perhaps with other governmental agencies. After Nacchio decides not to comply with the NSA’s request, the agency begins pressuring the firm, accusing it of threatening national security and implying that Qwest might not be eligible for future governmental contracts. When Qwest asks the NSA to take its proposal to the FISA Court (FISC), the agency refuses, making Qwest that much more dubious about the NSA operation, especially when NSA lawyers say they won’t take the proposal to FISC because that court “might not agree with them.” The NSA also refuses to ask for authorization from the attorney general’s office. Nacchio will leave Qwest under fire for allegedly misleading shareholders about the company’s financial prospects, but his successor, Richard Notebaert, continues to refuse to cooperate with the NSA. (Cauley 5/11/2006; USA Today 5/11/2006) Interestingly, by 2004 the Federal Communications Commission will list Qwest and Verizon as essentially the same company. (Federal Communications Commission 12/10/2004)
Other Firms Deny Participation - In May 2006, after USA Today reports on the telecom firms’ participation in the surveillance (see May 11, 2006), both Verizon and BellSouth will deny providing the NSA with data on their customers, though they have previously acknowledged their cooperation (see February 5, 2006). A BellSouth spokesman will say, somewhat ingenuously, “We’re not aware of any database that NSA has, so we’re not aware of our customer information being there at all.” And Verizon conspicuously fails to mention possible data from MCI, the long-distance provider it has recently bought. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will say of the various companies’ participations, “The thing that concerns me is some [companies] said yes and some said no” when asked to participate. “If the government really thought this was legal and necessary, why let some say yes and some say no? It’s either legal and necessary, or it’s not.” (Drinkard 5/16/2006)
Just prior to 9/11, the CIA and FBI do not have enough staff working on al-Qaeda. Only 17 to 19 people are working in the FBI’s special unit focusing on bin Laden and al-Qaeda. (US Congress 9/18/2002) The FBI has a $4.3 billion anti-terrorism budget, but of its 27,000 employees, just 153 are devoted to terrorism analysis. (Alcorn 6/8/2002) The FBI’s “analytic expertise has been ‘gutted’ by transfers to operational units” and only one strategic analyst is assigned full time to al-Qaeda. The FBI office in New York is very aware of the threat from bin Laden, but many branch offices remain largely unaware. (US Congress 9/18/2002) A senior FBI official later tells Congress that there are fewer FBI agents assigned to counterterrorism on this day than in August 1998, when the US embassy bombings in Africa made bin Laden a household name. (Risen 9/22/2002) The CIA has only about 35 to 40 people assigned to their special bin Laden unit. It has five strategic analysts working full time on al-Qaeda. (US Congress 9/18/2002) The CIA and FBI later complain that some of these figures are misleading. (Risen 9/18/2002) “Individuals in both the CIA and FBI units… reported being seriously overwhelmed by the volume of information and workload prior to September 11, 2001.” Despite numerous warnings that planes could be used as weapons, such a possibility was never studied, and a congressional report later blames lack of staff as a major reason for this. (US Congress 9/18/2002) Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) also notes, “Between the Department of Justice and the FBI, they had a whole task force working on finding a couple of houses of prostitution in New Orleans. They had one on al-Qaeda.” (CBS News 9/25/2002)
The “anti-terrorism” Patriot Act is introduced in Congress on October 2, 2001 (see October 2, 2001), but it is not well received by all. (US Congress 10/2/2001) One day later, Senate Majority Leader and future anthrax target Tom Daschle (D-SD) says he doubts the Senate will take up this bill in the one week timetable the administration wants. As head of the Senate, Daschle has great power to block or slow passage of the bill. Attorney General John Ashcroft accuses Senate Democrats of dragging their feet. (Lancaster 10/3/2001) On October 4, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman and future anthrax target Patrick Leahy (D-VT) accuses the Bush administration of reneging on an agreement on the bill. Leahy is in a key position to block or slow the bill. Some warn that “lawmakers are overlooking constitutional flaws in their rush to meet the administration’s timetable.” Two days later, Ashcroft complains about “the rather slow pace…over his request for law enforcement powers… Hard feelings remain.” (Lancaster 10/4/2001) The anthrax letters to Daschle and Leahy are sent out between October 6-9 as difficulties in passing the Patriot Act continue (see October 6-9, 2001).
The first case of anthrax infection, of Robert Stevens in Florida, is reported in the media (see October 3, 2001). Letters containing anthrax will continue to be received until October 19. After many false alarms, it turns out that only a relatively small number of letters contain real anthrax (see October 5-November 21, 2001). (South Florida Sun-Sentinel 12/8/2001) In 2004, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen will recall how a widespread sense of panic spread across the US over the next few weeks, as millions felt the anthrax could target them next. He will write, “People made anthrax-safe rooms, and one woman I know of had a mask made for her small dog. I still don’t know if that was a touching gesture or just plain madness.” He says, “The [9/11] terrorist attacks coupled with the anthrax scare unhinged us a bit—or maybe more than a bit.” But he will also mention that the panic quickly passed and was largely forgotten by most people. (Cohen 7/22/2004) Columnist Glenn Greenwald will later comment in Salon, “After 9/11 itself, the anthrax attacks were probably the most consequential event of the Bush presidency. One could make a persuasive case that they were actually more consequential. The 9/11 attacks were obviously traumatic for the country, but in the absence of the anthrax attacks, 9/11 could easily have been perceived as a single, isolated event. It was really the anthrax letters—with the first one sent on September 18, just one week after 9/11—that severely ratcheted up the fear levels and created the climate that would dominate in this country for the next several years after. It was anthrax… that created the impression that social order itself was genuinely threatened by Islamic radicalism.” (Greenwald 8/1/2008)
Two waves of letters containing anthrax are received by media outlets including NBC and the New York Post (see September 17-18, 2001), and Democratic senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy (see October 6-9, 2001). The letters sent to the senators both contain the words “Death to America, Death to Israel, Allah is Great.” Five people die:
October 5: Robert Stevens, 63, an employee at the Sun, a tabloid based in Florida.
October 21: Thomas Morris Jr., 55, a postal worker in Washington, DC.
October 22: Joseph Curseen Jr., 47, a postal worker in Washington, DC.
October 31: Kathy Nguyen, 61, a hospital employee in New York City.
November 21: Ottilie Lundgren, 94, of Oxford, Connecticut.
At least 22 more people get sick but survive. Thirty-one others test positive for exposure. As a result of these deaths and injuries, panic sweeps the nation. On October 16, the Senate office buildings are shut down, followed by the House of Representatives, after 28 congressional staffers test positive for exposure to anthrax (see October 16-17, 2001). A number of hoax letters containing harmless powder turn up, spreading the panic further. (South Florida Sun-Sentinel 12/8/2001; Associated Press 8/7/2008) Initially it is suspected that either al-Qaeda or Iraq are behind the anthrax letters (see October 14, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 17, 2001, and October 18, 2001). (Rose 10/14/2001; BBC 10/16/2001) However, by November, further investigation leads the US government to conclude that, “everything seems to lean toward a domestic source.… Nothing seems to fit with an overseas terrorist type operation (see November 10, 2001).” (Washington Post 10/27/2001; St. Petersburg Times 11/10/2001)
On October 9, two letters containing deadly anthrax spores are postmarked. One letter is sent to Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) and the other is sent to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The letters are sent from a mailbox in Trenton, New Jersey. They could be sent any time after 5 p.m. on October 6 (the last pick up on the day, a Saturday), and before 5 p.m. on October 9. (There is no pickup on October 7, a Sunday, and October 8 is Columbus Day.) The letter to Daschle is opened by one of his staffers on October 15 (see October 15, 2001). It contains the message:
YOU CAN NOT STOP US.
WE HAVE THIS ANTHRAX.
YOU DIE NOW.
ARE YOU AFRAID?
DEATH TO AMERICA.
DEATH TO ISRAEL.
ALLAH IS GREAT.
The writing is the same slanted, block style used in the earlier wave of anthrax letters (see September 17-18, 2001), and the content of the message is very similar. The letter to Leahy is mis-routed and not discovered until mid-November (see October 15, 2001). It contains the exact same message. Unlike the earlier wave of letters, both of these letters contain return addresses, but to bogus addresses in other New Jersey towns. The anthrax in the letters is also deadlier than the anthrax in the earlier letters. (Foster 9/15/2003)
The House of Representatives passes the final version of the Patriot Act and other previously unpopular Bush administration projects: Alaska oil drilling, $25 billion in tax cuts for corporations, taps into Social Security funds, and cuts in education. (CNN 10/25/2001) Republican Congressman Ron Paul states: “It’s my understanding the bill wasn’t printed before the vote—at least I couldn’t get it. They played all kinds of games, kept the House in session all night, and it was a very complicated bill. Maybe a handful of staffers actually read it, but the bill definitely was not available to members before the vote.” It is later found that only two copies of the bill were made available in the hours before its passage, and most House members admit they voted for the act without actually reading it first. (O'Meara 11/9/2001) Two days later, the Senate will pass the final version of the Patriot Act. Anthrax targets Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy (see October 15, 2001) now support the bill. President Bush signs it into law the same day (see October 26, 2001). (Rosen et al. 10/26/2001)
Attorney General John Ashcroft announces that the Justice Department is now on what he calls a “wartime footing.” The agency is revamping its priorities to refocus its efforts on battling terrorism. According to Ashcroft, a plan, which he intends to submit to Congress, mandates a reorganization of the Justice Department, as well as component agencies such as the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), both of which will be overhauled to take a more aggressive stance in the effort to ward off terrorism. The plan will take five years to fully implement. Ashcroft is reticent about the details of the plans, but some proposals include:
Allowing federal prison authorities to eavesdrop on prisoners conferring with their attorneys, effectively voiding the attorney-client privilege, if those prisoners are considered to be a threat to national security;
Redirecting 10 percent of the Justice Department’s budget, or about $2.5 billion, to counterterrorism efforts;
Restructuring the INS to focus on identifying, deporting, and prosecuting illegal aliens, with a special focus on potential terrorists.
The eavesdropping privilege causes an immediate stir among civil libertarians and Constitutional scholars. Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker notes that the order has already been published in the Federal Register and is, essentially, the law. Information gathered by authorities during such eavesdropping sessions would not be used in criminal prosecutions of the suspects, Tucker promises. “The team that listens is not involved in the criminal proceedings,” she says. “There’s a firewall there.” Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he agrees with the general idea of refocusing the agency on terrorism, but suggests Ashcroft’s plan be reviewed by an existing commission that is now examining the FBI’s counterintelligence operations. That commission is headed by former FBI Director William Webster. Leahy’s fellow senator, Charles Grassley (R-IA), says: “As with any reorganization, the devil will be in the details. I hope for new accountability measures, not just structural changes.” Ashcroft says: “Defending our nation and defending the citizens of America against terrorist attacks is now our first and overriding priority. To fulfill this mission, we are devoting all the resources necessary to eliminate terrorist networks, to prevent terrorist attacks, and to bring to justice all those who kill Americans in the name of murderous ideologies.” (Johnston 11/3/2001; Rich 2006, pp. 35) “It is amazing to me that Ashcroft is essentially trying to dismantle the bureau,” says a former FBI executive director. “They don’t know their history and they are not listening to people who do.” (Hodge 12/4/2001)
In February 2002, Dr. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg claims in a public speech at Princeton University that she knows the identity of the killer behind the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Rosenberg is a professor of molecular biology at the State University of New York at Purchase, and a biological arms control expert. She states: “There are a number of insiders—government insiders—who know people in the anthrax field who have a common suspect. The FBI has questioned that person more than once… so it looks as though the FBI is taking that person very seriously.” She also claims that the FBI is not that interested in going after this suspect because “[t]his guy knows too much, and knows things the US isn’t very anxious to publicize” (see February 8, 2002). In June 2002, she puts out a paper that details her theory about this suspect. She states that “a number of inside experts (at least five that I know about) gave the FBI the name of one specific person as the most likely suspect.” That same month, she presents her ideas to Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy, both of whom had been targeted in the anthrax attacks. She also is invited to brief the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee (see June 24, 2002). Immediately after this, the FBI searches Hatfill’s home while reporters watch, putting him in the public eye as a possible suspect (see June 25, 2002). Rosenberg later denies ever mentioning Hatfill by name. However, one reporter later claims that Rosenberg had specifically given Hatfill’s name as the lead suspect. Furthermore, the description of her suspect exactly matches Hatfill. Hatfill will later blame Rosenberg for the FBI’s interest in him. He will say: “She’s crazy. She caused it.” (Cherkis 7/25/2003) In 2008, Hatfill will be officially cleared of any involvement in the anthrax attacks (see August 8, 2008).
FBI translator Sibel Edmonds writes letters to the Justice Department’s internal affairs division, known as the Office of Professional Responsibility, and its office of inspector general, describing her allegations against co-worker Melek Can Dickerson (see Afternoon February 12, 2002). Edmonds also sends faxes alleging possible national security breaches to the Senate Intelligence Committee and Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), both of whom sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Rose 9/2005)
Several members of Congress submit a list of 50 questions to Attorney General Ashcroft, asking him how the Patriot Act is being implemented (see October 26, 2001). (Clymer 7/14/2002) For instance, they ask, “How many times has the department requested records from libraries, bookstores and newspapers? How many roving wiretaps has the department requested?” Ashcroft refuses to answer many of the questions, even though he is legally required to do so. (Rosenfeld 9/8/2002) Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT) fails to receive any response to dozens of letters he writes to Ashcroft, and other senators complain of a complete stonewall from Ashcroft. (Eggen 8/21/2002) In March 2003, senators continue to complain that Ashcroft still has not provided the oversight information about the Patriot Act that he is required to give by law. (Schabner 3/12/2003)
On August 31, 2002, a group mostly made up of American teachers near a mine owned by the US company Freeport-McMoRan are ambushed in the jungles of the Indonesian province of Papua; 3 teachers are killed and 12 injured (see August 31, 2002). According to a Washington Post article published on November 2, 2002, a US intelligence report two weeks later strongly suggests the Indonesian military is behind the killings. According to a US official and another US source, shortly before the ambush, a discussion involving the top ranks of Indonesia’s military (the TNI) take place. Influential commander-in-chief Endriartono Sutarto is involved. Sutarto and the other military leaders discuss discrediting a Papuan separatist group, the Free Papua Movement (OPM). This information is based on a “highly reliable” source said to be knowledgeable about the high-level military conversations, as well as communications intercepts by the Australian government. The discussions do not detail a specific attack nor do they call explicitly for the killing of foreigners, but they clearly target the Freeport company. Subordinates could understand the discussions as an implicit command to take violent action against Freeport. The report suggest the Indonesian military may have wanted to blame an attack on the OPM in order to prod the US to declare the OPM a terrorist group.
FBI Reaches Similar Conclusions - In early October, the FBI briefs State Department and US embassy officials in Indonesia and reveal that their investigation indicates the Indonesian military was behind the ambush, although the determination is not conclusive.
Later Reactions in US - Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) will later say, “It should surprise no one that the Indonesian army may have been involved in this atrocity. It has a long history of human rights violations and obstruction of justice. The fact that the perpetrators apparently believed they could murder Americans without fear of being punished illustrates the extent of the impunity.” Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz will say he is concerned about the allegations, but suggests the US should nonetheless reestablish ties with the Indonesian military, which had been suspended due to human rights violations. The Indonesian military will later deny any involvement in the killings. (Nakashima and Sipress 11/3/2002)
Indonesian Police also Blame Military - However, the Washington Post also reports around the same time that the Indonesian police have concluded in a secret report that the Indonesian military is responsible. They blame Kopassus, the military’s special forces unit, for carrying out the ambush. (Nakashima and Sipress 10/27/2002)
No Warnings before Bali Bombings - But neither the US nor Australian governments give any kind of public warning that the Indonesian military could be targeting and killing Westerners, and no known action is taken against the Indonesian government. On October 12, 2002, over 200 people, mostly Westerners, will be killed in bombings on the island of Bali (see October 12, 2002). While the al-Qaeda affiliate group Jemaah Islamiyah will be blamed for the bombings, a retired Indonesian military officer will allegedly confess to having a role but not be charged (see October 16, 2002), and several top Indonesian military generals will also be suspected in media reports (see October 28, 2002).
The Senate Judiciary Committee issues an interim report titled “FISA Implementation Failures” that finds the FBI has mishandled and misused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in its anti-terrorism measures. The report is written by Arlen Specter (R-PA), Charles Grassley (R-IA), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT). (US Congress 2/2003) Committee chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) not only refused to take part in the report, he issues a letter protesting the report’s findings. Other committee members were invited to take part in drafting the report, but none did so. (Tapper 3/3/2003) Specter says just after the report is issued, “The lack of professionalism in applying the law has been scandalous. The real question is if the FBI is capable of carrying out a counterintelligence effort.” According to the report, both the FBI and the Justice Department routinely employ excessive secrecy, suffer from inadequate training, weak information analysis, and bureaucratic bottlenecks, and will stifle internal dissent to excess as part of their usage of the expanded powers provided under FISA. The report uses as a case study the instance of suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001), who stands accused of conspiring with the 9/11 hijackers. FBI officials in Washington impeded efforts by its agents in Minneapolis, most notably former FBI agent Coleen Rowley, to secure a FISA warrant that would have allowed those agents to search Moussaoui’s laptop computer and belongings before the attack. (US Congress 2/2003; Associated Press 2/25/2003) “September 11 might well have been prevented,” says Specter. “What are they doing now to prevent another 9/11?” Grassley adds that in closed Senate hearings, they learned that two supervisors who handled the case did not understand the basic elements of FISA, and a senior FBI attorney could not provide the legal definition of “probable cause,” a key element needed to obtain a FISA warrant. (Associated Press 2/25/2003) “I hate to say this,” Leahy observes, “but we found that the FBI is ill-equipped” to conduct surveillance on those in the United States possibly plotting terrorist acts on behalf of foreign powers. (Tapper 3/3/2003)
Lack of Cooperation from FBI, Justice Department - The report says that neither the FBI nor the Justice Department were cooperative with the Judiciary Committee in the committee’s efforts to investigate either agency’s actions under FISA, routinely delaying their responses to Congressional inquiries and sometimes ignoring them altogether. The report says that perhaps the most troubling of its findings is “the lack of accountability that has permeated the entire application procedure.” The report notes that although Congressional oversight is critical to ensure a transparent, effective usage of FISA powers (augmented under the USA Patriot Act) that do not stray from legal boundaries, such oversight has been discouraged by both the FBI and the Justice Department. (US Congress 2/2003) The Justice Department dismisses the report as “old news.” (Leahy 2/27/2003) Grassley says, “I can’t think of a single person being held accountable anywhere in government for what went on and what went wrong prior to Sept. 11. It seems that nobody in government makes any mistakes anymore.” (Tapper 3/3/2003)
Spark for New Legislation - The three senators use the report as a springboard to introduce a bill, the “Domestic Surveillance Oversight Act,” which will allow Congress to more closely oversee oversee FBI surveillance of Americans and government surveillance of public libraries, would supervise FISA usage in criminal cases, and disclose the secret rules of the FISA court to Congress. (Associated Press 2/25/2003) Even though all three senators support a lowering of the standards by which a FISA warrant can be issued, the American Civil Liberties Union says it supports the bill, with reservations. “There’s a lot of concern in this country that, especially with the USA PATRIOT Act, FISA has become a massive tool for secret surveillance,” says ACLU lawyer Timothy Edgar. “One way to assuage those concerns—or show that they’re true—is to have more reporting.” Edgar says that the ACLU worries about the lowering of the standards for such warrants, but as long as the bill implement. (Tapper 3/3/2003) The question of the bill becomes moot, however, as it will never make it out of committee. (US Congress - Senate Judiciary Committee 3/2003)
Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, sends letters to the White House, the CIA, and the Pentagon with complaints about the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan and “other locations outside the United States.” He writes that according to unnamed officials, the prisoners are being subjected to beatings, lengthy sleep- and food-deprivation, and other “stress and duress” techniques (see April 16, 2003). He asks if these techniques are indeed being employed and urges the administration to issue a clear statement that cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of detainees will not be tolerated. The Pentagon and CIA respond with denials that the United States is torturing its prisoners. (Human Rights Watch 5/7/2004; Moniz 5/13/2004)
Beginning in 1999, the FBI had conducted five disciplinary investigations of FBI agent Robert Wright and failed to find any wrongdoing. But within days of Wright’s second press conference (see June 2, 2003), they launch yet another investigation about him, claiming his media appearances show he was insubordinate. (Lighty 4/22/2005) Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) quickly hear of this new investigation and co-author a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller on July 12. The letter states, “We are troubled by the FBI’s apparent haste to launch [a disciplinary] investigation every time an agent speaks publicly about problems within the FBI… The FBI should worry more about catching terrorists than gagging its own agents.” The senators demand a briefing on what is happening. (Novak 6/19/2003; Lighty 7/13/2004) In July 2003, FBI agent Royden Rice speaks to a reporter from the LA Weekly. Wright will later sue the FBI, alleging that Rice disclosed classified information to the reporter in an attempt to smear him. Rice denies the charges and the case is still pending. (Anderson 7/22/2005) In December 2003, John Roberts, the third highest ranking official in the FBI’s disciplinary office, writes a memo about FBI Assistant Director Robert Jordan and Deputy Assistant Director Jody Weis. The memo claims that Jordan and Weis were overheard saying that Wright’s second press conference (see June 2, 2003) would give them an opportunity to “take him out.” Roberts also refers to an e-mail from a higher up in the Chicago FBI office asking for permission to do a media smear job on Wright (it is not known if this agent is Rice or someone else). Roberts claims that Jordan and Weis are misusing the FBI’s disciplinary process to silence and punish whistleblowers like Wright. He also claims that the allegations against Wright were not serious enough for a disciplinary investigation and at most Wright should have faced a written reprimand, since no classified information was disclosed. Roberts says, “I was left with the clear understanding that I was to… deceive, misrepresent, and hide… the facts of this matter.” (Lighty 7/13/2004; Schlussel 7/14/2004) Even though details of Roberts’ memo will be revealed to the press in 2004, the investigation into Wright will continue and result in him being fired in 2005. Senators Grassley and Leahy will write at least three more letters to Mueller demanding explanations, but still will receive no answer. Later in 2005, Wright’s dismissal will be overruled by the Justice Department and he will be reinstated (see April 30, 2005-October 19, 2005). There appears to have been no investigation into the behavior of Jordan and Weis. (Anderson 7/22/2005)
Department of Defense General Counsel William J. Haynes responds to a letter from Senator Patrick Leahy which asked for clarification on the administration’s interrogation policy (see June 2003). Haynes replies that “it is the policy of the United States to comply with all its legal obligations in its treatment of detainees [and]… to treat all detainees and conduct all interrogations, wherever they may occur” in a manner consistent with US obligations under the Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994). He adds that the US “does not permit, tolerate, or condone any such torture by its employees under any circumstances.” He also says that the Fifth, Eighth, and/or Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution require the US “to prevent other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment which do not amount to torture.” Notably, he does not provide information about the specific interrogation tactics that US forces are permitted to use. “It would not be appropriate to catalogue the interrogation techniques used by US personnel thus we cannot comment on specific cases or practices,” Haynes says. (Human Rights Watch 5/7/2004; Bravin 6/7/2004)
Senator Patrick Leahy responds to Department of Defense William J. Haynes’s letter of June 25, 2003 (see June 25, 2003). He asks him to explain how the standards he outlined are implemented and communicated to US soldiers and asks for assurances that other agencies, including the CIA, abide by the same standards as the US military. (Human Rights Watch 5/7/2004)
Department of Defense Principal Deputy General Counsel Daniel Dell’Orto writes to Senator Patrick Leahy and confirms that earlier Pentagon statements (see June 25, 2003) about the treatment of detainees bind the entire executive branch. But he fails to answer specific questions about interrogation guidelines and adds that articles reporting improper treatment of detainees “often contain allegations that are untrue.” (Human Rights Watch 5/7/2004)
Attorney General John Ashcroft again invokes the “state secrets” privilege (see March 9, 1953), forbidding former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds from testifying in a case brought by hundreds of families of September 11 victims (see October 18, 2002). (Lichtblau 5/20/2004) Four weeks earlier, on April 26, the Justice Department had obtained a temporary court order preventing her from testifying before the court. (Buncombe 4/2/2004; Strohm 4/30/2004) The families, represented by the law firm Motley-Rice, allege that a number of banks and two members of the Saudi royal family provided financial support to al-Qaeda. (Lichtblau 5/20/2004) Ashcroft’s order retroactively classifies information it provided Senators Chuck Grassley and Patrick Leahy (see June 17, 2002) concerning former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds and her allegations. Among the documents to be “reclassified” are the follow-up letters sent by Grassley and Leahy to the FBI which they posted on their website. Their staff members are prohibited from discussing the information, even though it is now public knowledge. The order bars Edmonds from answering even simple questions like, “When and where were you born?” “What languages do you speak?” and “Where did you go to school?” (Lichtblau 5/20/2004; Kornblut 7/5/2004; Goldstein 8/6/2004; Rose 9/2005) In response to the announcement, Grassley says: “I think it’s ludicrous, because I understand that almost all of this information is in the public domain and has been very widely available. This classification is very serious, because it seems like the FBI would be attempting to put a gag order on Congress.” (Risen 6/7/2004)
Critics in the Senate argue that the Bush administration created an atmosphere of legal permissiveness that led to the abusive treatment of detainees. Senator Edward Kennedy says he believes that the April 2003 Pentagon memo laid the foundations for abuse. “We know when we have these kinds of orders what happens,” he says, “we get the stress test, we get the use of dogs, we get the forced nakedness that we’ve all seen and we get the hooding.” (Goldenberg 6/9/2004) Senator Patrick Leahy, the Democrat member of the Senate subcommittee on foreign operations, says, the “cruel and degrading treatment” in Afghanistan “were part of a wider pattern stemming from a White House attitude that ‘anything goes’ in the war against terrorism, even if it crosses the line of illegality.” (Campbell and Goldenberg 6/23/2004)
The Associated Press reports that both Republicans and Democrats have expressed outrage that Nabil al-Marabh was deported in January 2004 (see January 2004). Several senators have written letters to Attorney General John Ashcroft, demanding an explanation. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IN) states that the circumstances of al-Marabh’s deportation—who was “at one time No. 27 on the [FBI] list of Most Wanted Terrorists”—are “of deep concern and appear to be a departure from an aggressive, proactive approach to the war on terrorism.” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) wrote to Ashcroft, “The odd handling of this case raises questions that deserve answers from the Justice Department.… Why was a suspected terrorist returned to a country that sponsors terrorism? We need to know that the safety of the American people and our strategic goals in countering terrorism are paramount factors when decisions like this are made.” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) says, “It seems that pursuing a military tribunal, a classified criminal trial, or continued immigration proceedings would have made more sense than merely deporting a suspected terrorist.” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has also made inquiries into the case. Prosecutors in several US cities sought to bring criminal cases against al-Marabh and a US attorney in Chicago drafted an indictment against him, which he apparently was not allowed to pursue (see January-2002-December 2002). (Solomon 6/30/2004) Apparently, no explanation from Ashcroft is ever given. The 9/11 Commission Final Report, released a couple of months later, will fail to mention al-Marabh at all.
In November 2002, as the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry was finishing its investigation, it had formally asked for a report by the Justice Department (which oversees the FBI) to determine “whether and to what extent personnel at all levels should be held accountable” for the failure to stop the 9/11 attacks. An identical request was made to the CIA (see June-November 2004). (Jehl and Lichtblau 9/14/2004) The Justice Department report, titled “A Review of the FBI’s Handling of Intelligence Information Related to the September 11 Attacks,” is completed this month. (Eggen 4/30/2005) It centers on three FBI failures before 9/11: the failure to follow up on the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui in August 2001 (see August 16, 2001), the failure to follow up on FBI agent Ken Williams’ memo (see July 10, 2001) warning about Islamic militants training in US flight schools, and the FBI’s failure to follow up on many leads to hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar. The report provides some new details about miscommunications, inaction, and other problems. (Jehl and Lichtblau 9/14/2004) The report remains classified. Senior Senate Judiciary Committee members Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) call for its release. The senators state, “While the needs of national security must be weighed seriously, we fear the designation of information as classified, in some cases, serves to protect the executive branch against embarrassing revelations and full accountability. We hope that is not the case here.” (Seper 7/12/2004; Jehl and Lichtblau 9/14/2004) One problem complicating the issuing of even a declassified version is the possibility that the material would taint the criminal proceedings against Zacarias Moussaoui. In early 2005, the Justice Department inspector general’s office will ask the judge presiding over Moussaoui’s case for permission to release a declassified version of the report. But the judge will turn down the request in April 2005, even after Moussaoui pleads guilty (see April 30, 2005). The report will finally be released in June 2005 without the section on Moussaoui (see June 9, 2005). (FBI 2/13/2005)
Senator Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, releases a statement condemning the allegations of the abuse and torture of Iraqi and Afghan detainees; the statement coincides with a letter Leahy sends to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. (Pyes 9/20/2004) In the statement, Leahy says that committee chairman Sen. John Warner’s efforts to investigate the scandals "remain… hampered by the leadership of his own party and an Administration that does not want the full truth revealed.… Despite calls from a small handful of us who want to find the truth, Congress and this Administration have failed to seriously investigate acts that bring dishonor upon our great Nation and endanger our soldiers overseas.… The Bush Administration circled the wagons long ago and has continually maintained that the abuses were the work of ‘a few bad apples.’ I have long said that somewhere in the upper reaches of the executive branch a process was set in motion that rolled forward until it produced this scandal. Even without a truly independent investigation, we now know that the responsibility for abuse runs high up into the chain of command." He accuses the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the Senate as a whole, of falling “short in its oversight responsibilities.” He calls for a truly independent investigation into the torture allegations, along the lines of the 9/11 Commission. He also calls for the US to once again begin following the guidelines of the Geneva Conventions. (US Senate 10/1/2004) Sen. Warner’s office will later admit that Warner was pressured by unnamed Bush administration officials to “back off” investigating the Abu Ghraib abuses (see May 2004).
White House counsel Alberto Gonzales testifies before the US Senate as part of his confirmation as the Bush administration’s new attorney general. Much of the seven hours of testimony focuses on Gonzales’s position on torturing terrorist suspects. He is specifically questioned on the August 2002 Justice Department memo requested by Gonzales that outlined how US officials could interrogate subjects without violating domestic and international laws against torture by setting unusually high standards for the definition of torture (see August 1, 2002). (Goodman and Gonzales 1/7/2005) Arlen Specter (R-PA) asks Gonzales if he approves of torture. Gonzales replies, “Absolutely not,” but refuses to be pinned down on specifics of exactly what constitutes torture.
Equivocating on the Definition of Torture - Gonzales says he “was sickened and outraged” by the photographs of tortured Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison (see Evening November 7, 2003), but refuses to say whether he believes any of that conduct is criminal, citing ongoing prosecutions. Joseph Biden (D-DE) retorts: “That’s malarkey. You are obliged to comment. That’s your judgment we’re looking at.… We’re looking for candor.” (CNN 1/7/2005) When asked whether he agrees with the August 2002 memo that said, “[F]or an act to violate the torture statute, it must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death,” Gonzales says: “We were trying to interpret the standard set by Congress. There was discussion between the White House and Department of Justice as well as other agencies about what does this statute mean? It was a very, very difficult—I don’t recall today whether or not I was in agreement with all of the analysis, but I don’t have a disagreement with the conclusions then reached by the department.” He says that the standard “does not represent the position of the executive branch” today. Author and torture expert Mark Danner calls the standard “appalling… even worse the second time through.” Gonzales was obviously prepped for this line of questioning, Danner says: “He sat in front of the committee and asserted things, frankly, that we know not to be true.… He was essentially unwilling to say definitively there were no situations in which Americans could legally torture prisoners.… [T]here’s an assumption behind [this performance] that we have the votes. We’re going to get through. I just have to give them nothing on which to hang some sort of a contrary argument.”
Equivicating on Techniques - Edward Kennedy (D-MA) questions Gonzales about what techniques are defined as torture, including “live burial” (see February 4-5, 2004) and waterboarding. Kennedy says that, according to media reports, Gonzales never objected to these or other techniques. Gonzales does not have a “specific recollection” of the discussions or whether the CIA ever asked him to help define what is and is not torture. He also says that in “this new kind of” war against “this new kind of enemy, we realized there was a premium on receiving information” the US needs to defeat terrorists. Agencies such as the CIA requested guidance as to “[w]hat is lawful conduct” because they did not “want to do anything that violates the law.” Kennedy asks if Gonzales ever suggested that the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) ever “lean forward on this issue about supporting the extreme uses of torture?” Gonzales focuses on Kennedy’s phrasing: “Sir, I don’t recall ever using the term sort of ‘leaning forward,’ in terms of stretching what the law is.” He refuses to admit giving any opinions or requesting any documents, but only wanted “to understand [the OLC’s] views about the interpretation” of torture. Danner notes that Justice Department officials have told reporters that Gonzales pushed for the expansive definition of torture in the memos, but Gonzales refuses to admit to any of that in the questioning.
Ignoring the Uniform Code of Military Justice - Lindsey Graham (R-SC) tells Gonzales that the Justice Department memo was “entirely wrong in its focus” because it excluded the Uniform Code Of Military Justice, and that it “put our troops at jeopardy.” Gonzales replies that he does not think that because of the memo the US has lost “the moral high ground” in the world. Danner says, “[Graham] is arguing that these steps weakened the United States, not only by putting troops at risk, but by undermining the US’s reputation in the world, undermining the ideological side of this war… Graham is saying very directly that by torturing, and by supplying images like that one, of… a hooded man, the man with the hood over his head and the wires coming out of his fingers and his genitals which is known far and wide in the Arab world in the Middle East it’s become highly recognizable by supplying that sort of ammunition, you’re giving very, very strong comfort and aid to the enemy in fact.” (Goodman and Gonzales 1/7/2005)
Conservative radio host and former Secretary of Education William Bennett is castigated by both liberals and conservatives for his statement that aborting all black children would lower the US crime rate (see September 28-October 1, 2005). President Bush’s press secretary, Scott McClellan, tells reporters that Bush “believes the comments were not appropriate,” though he does not actually condemn Bennett’s words, as requested by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Pelosi says: “What could possibly have possessed Secretary Bennett to say those words, especially at this time? What could he possibly have been thinking? This is what is so alarming about his words.” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says he is “appalled” by Bennett’s remarks. “The Republican Party has recently taken great pains to reach out to the African-American community, and I hope that they will be swift in condemning Mr. Bennett’s comments as nothing short of callous and ignorant,” he adds. Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL), an African-American, says, “This is precisely the kind of insensitive, hurtful, and ignorant rhetoric that Americans have grown tired of.” Rush asks “my friends, the responsible Republicans” to pass a House resolution condemning Bennett’s remarks as “outrageous racism of the most bigoted and ignorant kind.” He asks: “Where is the indignation from the GOP, as one of their prominent members talk about aborting an entire race of Americans as a way of ridding this country of crime? How ridiculous! How asinine! How insane can one be?” Instead, Rush calls for the “aborting” of Republican policies, “which have hurt the disadvantaged, the poor average Americans for the benefit of large corporations.” Bruce Gordon, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), says Bennett and his employer, the Salem Radio Network, owe the nation an apology. “In 2005, there is no place for the kind of racist statement made by Bennett,” he says in a statement. “While the entire nation is trying to help survivors, black and white, to recover from the damage caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it is unconscionable for Bennett to make such ignorant and insensitive comments.” (CNN 9/30/2005)
Ignorance, Stereotyping Blacks as Born Criminals - In a press release, Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), says: “Are these the values of the Republican Party and its conservative allies? If not, President Bush, Ken Mehlman [Dean’s Republican counterpart], and the Republican Leadership should denounce them immediately as hateful, divisive, and worthy only of scorn. This kind of statement is hardly compassionate conservatism; rather, Bennett’s comments demonstrate a reprehensible racial insensitivity and ignorance. Bill Bennett’s hateful, inflammatory remarks regarding African Americans are simply inexcusable. They are particularly unacceptable from a leader in the conservative movement and former secretary of education, once charged with the well-being of every American school child. He should apologize immediately. As Americans, we should focus on the virtues that bring us together, not hatred that tears us apart and unjustly scapegoats fellow Americans.” (Democratic National Committee 9/29/2005) Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), says: “I’m not even going to comment on something that disgusting. Really, I’m thinking of my black grandchild and I’m going to hold [off].” (Tapper 9/29/2005) The Reverend Jesse Jackson, a former Democratic presidential candidate and former associate of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, says: “Republicans, Democrats, and all Americans of goodwill should denounce this statement, should distance themselves from Mr. Bennett. And the private sector should not support Mr. Bennett’s radio show or his comments on the air.” (Glaister 10/1/2005)
Civil Rights Leader: Bennett's Show Should be Canceled - Wade Henderson, the executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, says an apology is insufficient; Bennett’s radio program should be canceled. Referring to inaccurate news reports that blacks were responsible for a “crime wave” in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Henderson says, “I think African-Americans are certainly tired of being stereotyped as being responsible for the majority of crime in American society when the facts simply don’t bear that assumption out.” (CBS News 9/30/2005)
President Bush signs the USA Patriot Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 into law. The bill, which extends and modifies the original USA Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001), was driven through Congress primarily by the Republican majorities in both Houses. However, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) cosponsored the Senate bill, numerous Democrats in both Houses voted with the Republicans in favor of the bill, and the final bill sailed through the Senate by an 89-10 vote on March 2. (GovTrack 3/9/2006; Library of Congress 3/9/2006) In the signing ceremony, Bush calls the Reauthorization Act “a really important piece of legislation… that’s vital to win the war on terror and to protect the American people.” He repeatedly evokes the 9/11 attacks as a reason why the new law is needed. (Government Printing Office 3/9/2006)
Provisions for Oversight Added - One of the reasons why the reauthorization bill received such support from Congressional moderates on both sides of the aisle is because Congress added numerous provisions for judicial and Congressional oversight of how government and law enforcement agencies conduct investigations, especially against US citizens. Representative Butch Otter (R-ID) said in 2004 that Congress came “a long way in two years, and we’ve really brought an awareness to the Patriot Act and its overreaches that we gave to law enforcement.” He adds, “We’ve also quieted any idea of Patriot II, even though they snuck some of Patriot II in on the intelligence bill” (see February 7, 2003). (Holland 1/23/2004)
Opposition From Both Sides - Liberal and conservative organizations joined together in unprecedented cooperation to oppose several key provisions of the original reauthorization and expansion of the Patriot Act, including easing of restrictions on government and law enforcement agencies in obtaining financial records of individuals and businesses, “sneak-and-peek” searches without court warrants or the target’s knowledge, and its “overbroad” definition of the term “terrorist.” Additionally, lawmakers in Congress insisted on expiration dates for the various surveillance and wiretapping methodologies employed by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies (see Early 2002). (Associated Press 5/23/2005) The final bill mandates that anyone subpoenaed for information regarding terrorist investigations has the right to challenge the requirement that they not reveal anything about the subpoena, those recipients will not be required to tell the FBI the name of their lawyer, and libraries that are not Internet service providers will not be subject to demands from “national security letters” for information about their patrons. Many of the bill’s provisions will expire in four years. (Grier 3/3/2006)
Reauthorizing Original Provisions - The bill does reauthorize many expiring provisions of the original Patriot Act, including one that allows federal officials to obtain “tangible items,” such as business records from libraries and bookstores, in connection with foreign intelligence and international terrorism investigations. Port security provisions are strengthened, and restrictions on the sale of over-the-counter cold and allergy medicine that can be used in the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine are imposed, forcing individuals to register their purchases of such medicines and limiting the amounts they can buy. (CBS News 3/9/2006)
Bush Signing Statement Says He Will Ignore Oversight Mandates - But when he signs the bill into law, Bush also issues a signing statement that says he has no intention of obeying mandates that enjoin the White House and the Justice Department to inform Congress about how the FBI is using its new powers under the bill. Bush writes that he is not bound to tell Congress how the new Patriot Act powers are being used, and in spite of what the law requires, he can and will withhold information if he decides that such disclosure may “impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative process of the executive, or the performance of the executive’s constitutional duties.” (Statement on Signing the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act 3/9/2006; Savage 3/24/2006) Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says that Bush’s assertion that he can ignore provisions of the law as he pleases, under the so-called “unitary executive” theory, are “nothing short of a radical effort to manipulate the constitutional separation of powers and evade accountability and responsibility for following the law.” Law professor David Golove says the statement is illustrative of the Bush administration’s “mind-bogglingly expansive conception” of executive power, and its low regard for legislative power. (Savage 3/24/2006) Author and legal expert Jennifer Van Bergen warns of Bush using this signing statement to avoid accountability about the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, writing: “[I]t is becoming clearer every day that Bush has no qualms about violating either international laws and obligations or domestic laws. The recent revelations about the secret NSA domestic surveillance program revealed Bush flagrantly violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which was specifically enacted to prevent unchecked executive branch surveillance. … His signing statements, thus, are nothing short of an attempt to change the very face of our government and our country.” (Institute for Public Accuracy 3/27/2006)
Request to Rescind Signing Statement - In late March, Democratic House members Jane Harman and John Conyers will write to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales requesting that the administration rescind the signing statement, writing: “As you know, ‘signing statements’ do not have the force of law. Legislation passed by both Houses and signed by the president does. As Article 1, Section 7, of the Constitution states: ‘Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it.’” Bush and Gonzales will ignore the request. (US House of Representatives 3/29/2006)
Shortly after the Supreme Court rules that the Geneva Conventions apply to detainees suspected of terrorist affiliations (see June 30, 2006), the Bush administration publicly agrees to apply the Conventions to all terrorism suspects in US custody, and the Pentagon announces that it is now requiring all military officials to adhere to the Conventions in dealing with al-Qaeda detainees. The administration says that from now on, all prisoners in US custody will be treated humanely in accordance with the Conventions, a stipulation that would preclude torture and “harsh interrogation methods.” Until the ruling, the administration has held that prisoners suspected of terrorist affiliations did not have the right to be granted Geneva protections (see February 7, 2002). Lawyer David Remes, who represents 17 Guantanamo detainees, says, “At a symbolic level, it is a huge moral triumph that the administration has acknowledged that it must, under the Supreme Court ruling, adhere to the Geneva Conventions. The legal architecture of the war on terror was built on a foundation of unlimited and unaccountable presidential power, including the power to decide unilaterally whether, when and to whom to apply the Geneva Conventions.” But in the wake of the ruling the administration is pressuring Congress to introduce legislation that would strip detainees of some of the rights afforded them under the Conventions, including the right to free and open trials, even in a military setting. “The court-martial procedures are wholly inappropriate for the current circumstances and would be infeasible for the trial of these alien enemy combatants,” says Steven Bradbury, the acting chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Bradbury and Daniel Dell’Orto, the Defense Department’s principal deputy attorney general, have repeatedly urged lawmakers to limit the rights of detainees captured in what the administration terms its war on terrorism. Dell’Orto says Congress should not require that enemy combatants be provided lawyers to challenge their imprisonment. Congressional Democrats have a different view. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says, “I find it hard to fathom that this administration is so incompetent that it needs kangaroo-court procedures to convince a tribunal of United States military officers that the ‘worst of the worst’ imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay should be held accountable” for crimes. “We need to know why we’re being asked to deviate from rules for courts-martial.” (Babington and Abramowitz 7/12/2006)
President Bush signs the 2007 Defense Authorization Act into law. The bill contains a provision that allows the president to more easily declare “martial law” in the US. If Bush or a successor does so, the bill gives the administration the ability to strip much of state governors’ powers over their National Guards and relegate that authority to the federal government. Congress is likely to challenge that provision in the future. The bill makes significant changes to the Insurrection Act that allows the president to invoke the Act during events such as natural disasters, and thereby suspend the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act that prevents the US military from acting in a law enforcement capacity. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says, “[W]e certainly do not need to make it easier for Presidents to declare martial law. Invoking the Insurrection Act and using the military for law enforcement activities goes against some of the central tenets of our democracy.” (US Senate 9/19/2006) The relevant section of the bill is entitled “Use of the Armed Forces in Major Public Emergencies.” This section states that “the President may employ the armed forces, including the National Guard in Federal service, to restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition in any State or possession of the United States, the President determines that domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of… maintaining public order, in order to suppress, in any State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy.” (US Congress 9/19/2006) GlobalResearch’s Frank Morales will write that the new law allows the federal government to, if it chooses, “commandeer guardsmen from any state, over the objections of local governmental, military, and local police entities; ship them off to another state; conscript them in a law enforcement mode; and set them loose against ‘disorderly’ citizenry….” Under the new law, the federal government may more easily order National Guard troops to round up and detain protesters, illegal aliens, “potential terrorists,” and just about anyone else, and ship them off to detention facilities. Those facilities were contracted out for construction to KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton, in January 2006, according to the Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security International, at a cost of $385 million over five years. The Journal noted that “the contract is to be executed by the US Army Corps of Engineers… for establishing temporary detention and processing capabilities to augment existing [immigration] Detention and Removal Operations (DRO)—in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the US, or to support the rapid development of new programs.” (Morales 10/29/2006) Virtually no Congressional lawmakers seriously objected to the bill’s provision during debate. One of the few exceptions is Leahy, who will, six weeks later, sharply criticize the provision during debate over a separate piece of legislation. Leahy will say, “Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy, and it is for that reason that the Insurrection Act has only been invoked on three—three—[occasions] in recent history. The implications of changing the Act are enormous, but this change was just slipped in the defense bill as a rider with little study. Other congressional committees with jurisdiction over these matters had no chance to comment, let alone hold hearings on, these proposals.… This is a terrible blow against rational defense policy-making and against the fabric of our democracy. Since hearing word a couple of weeks ago that this outcome was likely, I have wondered how Congress could have gotten to this point.… [I]t seems the changes to the Insurrection Act have survived… because the Pentagon and the White House want it.… Because of this rubberstamp Congress,… [w]e fail the National Guard, which expects great things from us as much as we expect great things from them. And we fail our Constitution, neglecting the rights of the States, when we make it easier for the president to declare martial law and trample on local and state sovereignty.” (US Senate 10/29/2006)
During an interview with Amy Goodman on the radio program Democracy Now!, long-time Democratic senator Patrick Leahy says Congress is not asking two essential questions about the Bush administration’s failure to heed pre-9/11 warnings and to get Osama bin Laden after the attacks: “And, of course, the two questions that the Congress would not ask, because the Republicans won’t allow it, is, why did 9/11 happen on George Bush’s watch when he had clear warnings that it was going to happen? Why did they allow it to happen? And secondly, when they had Osama bin Laden cornered, why didn’t they get him? Had there been an independent Congress, one that could ask questions, these questions would have been asked years ago. We’d be much better off. We would have had the answers to that.” (Leahy 9/29/2006)
President Bush signs the Military Commissions Act (MCA) into law. (White House 10/17/2006) The MCA is designed to give the president the authority to order “enemy detainees” tried by military commissions largely outside the scope of US civil and criminal procedures. The bill was requested by the Bush administration after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (see June 28, 2004) that the US could not hold prisoners indefinitely without access to the US judicial system, and that the administration’s proposal that they be tried by military tribunals was unconstitutional (see June 28, 2004). (Mariner 10/9/2006) It is widely reported that the MCA does not directly apply to US citizens, but to only non-citizens defined as “enemy combatants. (Cohen 10/19/2006) However, six months later, a Bush administration lawyer will confirm that the administration believes the law does indeed apply to US citizens (see February 1, 2007).
Sweeping New Executive Powers - The MCA virtually eliminates the possibility that the Supreme Court can ever again act as a check on a president’s power in the war on terrorism. Similarly, the law gives Congressional approval to many of the executive powers previously, and unilaterally, seized by the Bush administration. Former Justice Department official John Yoo celebrates the MCA, writing, “Congress… told the courts, in effect, to get out of the war on terror” (see October 19, 2006). (Savage 2007, pp. 319, 322)
'Abandoning' Core 'Principles' - The bill passed the Senate on a 65-34 vote, and the House by a 250-170 vote. The floor debate was often impassioned and highly partisan; House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) called Democrats who opposed the bill “dangerous,” and Senate Judiciary Committee member Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said this bill showed that the US is losing its “moral compass.” Leahy asked during the debate, “Why would we allow the terrorists to win by doing to ourselves what they could never do, and abandon the principles for which so many Americans today and through our history have fought and sacrificed?” Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) had said he would vote against it because it is “patently unconstitutional on its face,” but then voted for it, saying he believes the courts will eventually “clean it up.” Specter’s attempt to amend the bill to provide habeas corpus rights for enemy combatants was defeated, as were four Democratic amendments. Republicans have openly used the debate over the MCA as election-year fodder, with House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) saying after the vote that “House Democrats have voted to protect the rights of terrorists,” and Boehner decrying “the Democrats’ irrational opposition to strong national security policies.” Democrats such as Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) say they will not fight back at such a level. “There will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be called everything from cut-and-run quitters to Defeatocrats, to people who care more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans,” Obama says. “While I know all of this, I’m still disappointed, and I’m still ashamed, because what we’re doing here today—a debate over the fundamental human rights of the accused—should be bigger than politics.” (Babington and Weisman 10/19/2006) After winning the vote, Hastert accused Democrats who opposed the bill of “putting their liberal agenda ahead of the security of America.” Hastert said the Democrats “would gingerly pamper the terrorists who plan to destroy innocent Americans’ lives” and create “new rights for terrorists.” (New York Times 10/19/2006)
Enemy Combatants - The MCA applies only to “enemy combatants.” Specifically, the law defines an “unlawful enemy combatant” as a person “who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents,” and who is not a lawful combatant. Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch says the definition far exceeds the traditionally accepted definition of combatant as someone who directly participates in hostilities. But under the MCA, someone who provides “material support” for terrorists—whether that be in the form of financial contributions or sweeping the floors at a terrorist camp—can be so defined. Worse, the label can be applied without recourse by either Bush or the secretary of defense, after a “competent tribunal” makes the determination. The MCA provides no guidelines as to what criteria these tribunals should use. Taken literally, the MCA gives virtually unrestricted power to the tribunals to apply the label as requested by the president or the secretary. Mariner believes the definition is both “blatantly unconstitutional” and a direct contradiction of centuries of Supreme Court decisions that define basic judicial rights. (Mariner 10/9/2006) Under this definition, the president can imprison, without charge or trial, any US citizen accused of donating money to a Middle East charity that the government believes is linked to terrorist activity. Citizens associated with “fringe” groups such as the left-wing Black Panthers or right-wing militias can be incarcerated without trial or charge. Citizens accused of helping domestic terrorists can be so imprisoned. Law professor Bruce Ackerman calls the MCA “a massive Congressional expansion of the class of enemy combatants,” and warns that the law may “haunt all of us on the morning after the next terrorist attack” by enabling a round of mass detentions similar to the roundup of Japanese-American citizens during World War II. (Savage 2007, pp. 322)
Military Commissions - The MCA mandates that enemy combatants are to be tried by military commissions, labeled “regularly constituted courts that afford all the necessary ‘judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples’ for purposes of common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.” The commissions must have a minimum of five commissioned military officers and a military judge; if death is a possible penalty, the commissions must have at least 12 officers. The defendant’s guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt; convictions require a two-thirds vote. Sentences of beyond 10 years require a three-quarters vote, and death penalties must be unanimously voted for. Defendants may either represent themselves or by military or civilian counsel. The court procedures themselves, although based on standard courts-martial proceedings, are fluid, and can be set or changed as the secretary of defense sees fit. Statements obtained through methods defined as torture are inadmissible, but statements take by coercion and “cruel treatment” can be admitted. The MCA sets the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 15, 2005) as a benchmark—statements obtained before the December 30, 2005 enactment of that law can be used, even if the defendant was “coerced,” if a judge finds the statement “reasonable and possessing sufficient probative value.” Statements after that date must have been taken during interrogations that fall under the DTA guidelines. Defendants have the right to examine and respond to evidence seen by the commission, a provision originally opposed by the administration. However, if the evidence is classified, an unclassified summary of that material is acceptable, and classified exculpatory evidence can be denied in lieu of what the MCA calls “acceptable substitutes.” Hearsay evidence is admissible, as is evidence obtained without search warrants. Generally, defendants will not be allowed to inquire into the classified “sources, methods, or activities” surrounding evidence against them. Some human rights activists worry that evidence obtained through torture can be admitted, and the fact that it was obtained by torture, if that detail is classified, will not be presented to the court or preclude the evidence from being used. Public access to the commissions will be quite limited. Many experts claim these commissions are illegal both by US constitutional law and international law. (Mariner 10/9/2006)
Secret Courts - The military tribunals can be partially or completely closed to public scrutiny if the presiding judge deems such an action necessary to national security. The government can convey such concerns to the judge without the knowledge of the defense. The judge can exclude the accused from the trial if he deems it necessary for safety or if he decides the defendant is “disruptive.” Evidence can be presented in secret, without the knowledge of the defense and without giving the defense a chance to examine that evidence, if the judge finds that evidence “reliable.” And during the trial, the prosecution can at any time assert a “national security privilege” that would stop “the examination of any witness” if that witness shows signs of discussing sensitive security matters. This provision can easily be used to exclude any potential defense witness who might “breach national security” with their testimony. Author and investigative reporter Robert Parry writes, “In effect, what the new law appears to do is to create a parallel ‘star chamber’ system for the prosecution, imprisonment, and elimination of enemies of the state, whether those enemies are foreign or domestic.” (Parry 10/19/2006)
Appeals - Guilty verdicts are automatically appealed to a Court of Military Commission Review, consisting of three appellate military justices. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals has extremely limited authority of review of the commissions; even its authority to judge whether a decision is consistent with the Constitution is limited “to the extent [that the Constitution is] applicable.”
Types of Crimes - Twenty-eight specific crimes fall under the rubric of the military commissions, including conspiracy (not a traditional war crime), murder of protected persons, murder in violation of the bill of war, hostage-taking, torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, mutilation or maiming, rape, sexual abuse or assault, hijacking, terrorism, providing material support for terrorism, and spying. (Mariner 10/9/2006)
CIA Abuses - The MCA, responding to the recent Supreme Court decision of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006) that found the CIA’s secret detention program and abusive interrogation practices illegal, redefines and amends the law to make all but the most pernicious interrogation practices, even those defined as torture by the War Crimes Act and the Geneva Conventions, legal. The MCA actually rules that the Geneva Conventions are all but unenforceable in US courts. It also provides retroactive protection under the law to all actions as far back as November 1997. Under the MCA, practices such as waterboarding, stress positioning, and sleep deprivation cannot be construed as torture. (Mariner 10/9/2006) The MCA even states that rape as part of interrogations cannot be construed as torture unless the intent of the rapist to torture his victim can be proven, a standard rejected by international law. The MCA provides such a narrow definition of coercion and sexual abuse that most of the crimes perpetrated at Abu Ghraib are now legal. (Goodman 10/4/2006) Although the MCA seems to cover detainee abuse for all US agencies, including the CIA, Bush says during the signing of the bill, “This bill will allow the Central Intelligence Agency to continue its program for questioning key terrorist leaders and operatives.” International law expert Scott Horton will note, “The administration wanted these prohibitions on the military and not on the CIA, but it did not work out that way.” Apparently Bush intends to construe the law to exempt the CIA from its restrictions, such as they are, on torture and abuse of prisoners. (Benjamin 5/22/2007)
No Habeas Corpus Rights - Under the MCA, enemy combatants no longer have the right to file suit under the habeas corpus provision of US law. This means that they cannot challenge the legality of their detention, or raise claims of torture and mistreatment. Even detainees who have been released can never file suit to seek redress for their treatment while in US captivity. (Mariner 10/25/2006)
Retroactive Immunity - The administration added a provision to the MCA that rewrote the War Crimes Act retroactively to November 26, 1997, making any offenses considered war crimes before the MCA is adopted no longer punishable under US law. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2007 that the only reason he can fathom for the change is to protect administration officials—perhaps including President Bush himself—from any future prosecutions as war criminals. Dean will note that if the administration actually believes in the inherent and indisputable powers of the presidency, as it has long averred, then it would not worry about any such criminal liability. (Dean 2007, pp. 239-240)
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales stuns Senate Judiciary Committee questioners when he says that the fundamental right of habeas corpus, the right for an accused person to go to court and challenge his or her imprisonment, is not protected by the Constitution. Gonzales, in response to questions by Arlen Specter (R-PA), says: “The Constitution doesn’t say every individual in the United States or every citizen is hereby granted or assured the right of habeas.… There is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution. There’s a prohibition against taking it away.” Specter is incredulous, asking how the Constitution could bar the suspension of a right that didn’t exist—a right, he notes, that was first recognized in medieval England as protection against the king’s power to send subjects to royal dungeons. Gonzales does say that habeas corpus is “one of our most cherished rights,” and admits that Congress has protected that right. But Gonzales refuses to acknowledge that the Constitution itself protects the right. If the Constitution does not, then Congress would be able to limit or nullify habeas corpus rights if it so chooses. Congress has not passed such an all-encompassing law yet, but it has passed a law, the Military Commissions Act, that strips the courts of any authority to hear habeas corpus suits filed by “enemy combatants.”
Experts Fear Government Encroachment on Civil Liberties - But constitutional experts on both the left and the right say that Gonzales’s position implies a far broader power. Erwin Chemerinsky, a law professor who has frequently criticized the Bush administration, says: “This is the key protection that people have if they’re held in violation of the law. If there’s no habeas corpus, and if the government wants to pick you or me off the street and hold us indefinitely, how do we get our release?” Former Reagan Justice Department official Douglas Kmiec agrees. If Gonzales’s view prevails, Kmiec says, “one of the basic protections of human liberty against the powers of the state would be embarrassingly absent from our constitutional system.” A Justice Department spokesman says that Gonzales is only noting the absence of a specific constitutional guarantee for habeas corpus, and acknowledges that the Supreme Court has declared “the Constitution protects [habeas corpus] as it existed at common law” in England. These rights, the spokesman says, do not apply to foreigners held as enemy combatants. (Egelko 1/24/2007)
Habeas Protected in Constitution - The right of habeas corpus is clear in Article I, Section 9, Clause 2 of the Constitution: “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” (Think Progress 1/19/2007)
Expansion of Presidential Powers - Former Reagan Justice Department attorney Bruce Fein says that Gonzales’s stance on habeas corpus is an underpinning of the Bush administration’s attempt to advocate the “unitary executive” theory of presidential power. Gonzales’s statements contain a message: “Congress doesn’t have to let [judges] decide national security matters. It’s part of an attempt to create the idea that during conflicts, the three branches of government collapse into one, and it is the president.” (Egelko 1/24/2007)
Critics say that the legal pursuit of former Wisconsin state purchasing official Georgia Thompson, whose conviction on corruption charges was overturned by a federal appeals court (see April 5, 2007), may have been politically motivated. State Representative David Travis (D-Westport) says Thompson was persecuted by US Attorney Steven Biskupic, a Bush administration appointee. “I think it’s right out of the Karl Rove playbook,” he says, referring to White House political chief Karl Rove. “I never thought I’d see a prosecution like this. That woman is innocent. He’s ruined her life.” Republicans used Thompson’s prosecution and conviction (see June 13, 2006) as a centerpiece of their attempt to thwart the re-election attempts of Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI), who survived a 2006 challenge by Mark Green (R-WI), who accused Doyle of corruption throughout the campaign. Representative Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) calls on Congress to investigate the prosecution, saying the prosecution ties into Congress’s investigation into the firing of eight US Attorneys (see December 7, 2006 and December 20, 2006). “Congress should also look into whether partisan politics influenced, or even dictated, the investigations conducted by the US Attorneys’ offices in order to stay in the [Bush] administration’s good graces,” Baldwin says. “The 7th Circuit acquittal of Georgia Thompson, after a widely publicized pre-election prosecution, certainly raises serious questions about the integrity and motivation of the prosecutor.” Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asks Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to turn over all of the Justice Department’s records in the Georgia Thompson case to the committee, “including any communications between the Justice Department, the White House, and any other outside party, including party officials.” Leahy, joined by Wisconsin’s two senators Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Russell Feingold (D-WI), also asks Gonzales to turn over records related to voter fraud investigations in Wisconsin (see Early 2005) and any records pertaining to Biskupic’s possible firing. Wisconsin Democrats have long considered Thompson’s prosecution an attempt to besmirch Doyle before the 2006 election, and have accused Biskupic of mounting a politically motivated pursuit of an innocent government official. (Marley and Walters 4/7/2007; Frommer 4/10/2007; Rourke 4/10/2007) Feingold says in a statement that Thompson was the victim of a “miscarriage of justice,” and adds, “In light of ongoing concerns about the politicization of US Attorneys’ offices around the country, I am seeking further information from the Department of Justice on how this case and voter fraud cases after the 2004 election came about and whether there was improper political pressure to pursue them.” (Federal Document Clearing House 4/10/2007)
Denials of Political Motivations - Biskupic’s First Assistant US Attorney (FAUSA) Michelle Jacobs says that the prosecution of Thompson was not politically motivated, and the office received no contact from the White House or the Justice Department. “They acted on the evidence as they found it, convinced a jury of 12 that there was criminal conduct, convinced a judge who has been sitting on a state and federal bench for 33 years that the verdict was sound,” Jacobs says. “But we just did not convince the court of appeals, and we’ll respect the court of appeals decision.” Andy Gussert, president of the state employees union AFT-Wisconsin, says Congress should look into the Thompson case because servants should “not become political footballs to be kicked around.” He adds: “This prosecution raises additional questions that resonate with concerns about the recent firings of US Attorneys. If people are to have faith in our judicial system, those questions will need answers.” Former State Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, who was involved in the Thompson investigation, says the investigation was not politically motivated. Lautenschlager is a Democrat, but is considered a political enemy of Doyle’s.
Thompson Nearly Destitute - Thompson’s lawyer, Stephen Hurley, says Thompson has been left almost entirely penniless by the case. She lost her $77,300-a-year state job, about $60,000 in back wages, and owes somewhere between $250,000 and $400,000 in legal fees. She was forced to cash in her state pension and sell her $264,700 condominium, which she had paid off entirely. Travis says the federal government should pay her lost wages and legal costs, and compensate her for her time in prison. State officials say they are prepared to offer Thompson her old job or a similar position at the same salary, and are investigating whether they can reimburse her back wages and pay her legal bills. Thompson says she does not want her old job back, but would like another job in the same division. She is very concerned with staying out of the public spotlight. (Marley and Walters 4/7/2007; Rourke 4/10/2007)
Biskupic Considered for Firing - Unbeknownst to Congress or the press, Biskupic was considered for firing in 2005 (see March 2, 2005), but was later removed from the list of people to be fired. Biskupic himself will soon claim that he did not prosecute Thompson for political purposes (see April 14, 2007).
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee concerning his 2004 visit to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room to pressure Ashcroft into signing a recertification of the NSA’s secret domestic wiretapping program (see March 10-12, 2004). Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey has already testified before the same committee (see May 15, 2007) that Gonzales, then White House counsel, and then-chief of staff Andrew Card tried to pressure Ashcroft, then just hours out of emergency surgery, to overrule Comey, who was acting attorney general during Ashcroft’s incapacitation. Gonzales and Card were unsuccessful, and Comey, along with Ashcroft, FBI director Robert Mueller, and others, threatened to resign if the program wasn’t brought into line with the Constitution. But today Gonzales tells a quite different story. Gonzales tells the committee that he and Card only went to Ashcroft because Congress itself wanted the program to continue (see March 10, 2004), and he and Card merely intended to “inform” Ashcroft about Comey’s decision, and not to try to get Ashcroft to overrule Comey. Many of the senators on the committee are amazed at Gonzales’s contention that Congress wanted Comey overruled. And they are equally appalled at Gonzales’s seemingly cavalier explanation that he and Card were not, as Comey has testified, trying to pressure a sick man who “wasn’t fully competent to make that decision” to overrule his deputy in such a critical matter: Gonzales’s contention that “there are no rules” governing such a matter does not carry much weight with the committee. Many senators, including Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), simply do not believe Gonzales’s explanations; she says that to secure Ashcroft’s reversal was “clearly the only reason why you would go see the attorney general in intensive care.” Gonzales replies that he and Card were operating under what he calls “extraordinary circumstances,” in which “we had just been advised by the Congressional leadership, go forward anyway, and we felt it important that the attorney general, general Ashcroft, be advised of those facts.” Only later in the hearing does Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) force Gonzales to admit that he was indeed carrying a reauthorization order from the White House, something that he likely would not have had if he were not there to secure Ashcroft’s signature. (Ackerman 7/24/2007) Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says in his opening statement that Gonzales has “a severe credibility problem,” and continues, “It is time for the attorney general to fully answer these questions and to acknowledge and begin taking responsibility for the acute crisis of leadership that has gripped the department under his watch.” He goes on to note that the Bush administration has squandered the committee’s trust “with a history of civil liberty abuses and cover-ups.” Gonzales garners little trust with his own opening, which states in part, “I will not tolerate any improper politicization of this department. I will continue to make efforts to ensure that my staff and others within the department have the appropriate experience and judgment so that previous mistakes will not be repeated. I have never been one to quit.” (USA Today 7/24/2007)
'I Don't Trust You' - Arlen Specter (R-PA) is another senator who questions Gonzales’s veracity. “Assuming you’re leveling with us on this occasion,” he says, “…I want to move to the point about how can you get approval from Ashcroft for anything when he’s under sedation and incapacitated—for anything.” Gonzales replies, “Senator, obviously there was concern about General Ashcroft’s condition. And we would not have sought nor did we intend to get any approval from General Ashcroft if in fact he wasn’t fully competent to make that decision. But General—there are no rules governing whether or not General Ashcroft can decide, ‘I’m feeling well enough to make this decision.’” Gonzales adds that the fact that Comey was acting attorney general was essentially irrelevant, as Ashcroft “could always reclaim that. There are no rules.” “While he’s in the hospital under sedation?” Specter asks incredulously. (Ackerman 7/24/2007) “It seems to me that it is just decimating, Mr. Attorney General, as to both your judgment and your credibility. And the list goes on and on.” (USA Today 7/24/2007) After Gonzales’s restatement of his version of events, Specter observes tartly, “Not making any progress here. Let me go to another topic.” Gonzales goes on to say that he and Card visited Ashcroft hours after they had informed the so-called “Gang of Eight,” the eight Congressional leaders who are sometimes briefed on the surveillance program, that Comey did not intend to recertify the program as legal, “despite the fact the department had repeatedly approved those activities over a period of over two years. We informed the leadership that Mr. Comey felt the president did not have the authority to authorize these activities, and we were there asking for help, to ask for emergency legislation.” Gonzales claims that the Congressional leaders felt that the program should be reauthorized with or without Comey’s approval, and that since it would be “very, very difficult to obtain legislation without compromising this program…we should look for a way ahead.” Gonzales confirms what Comey has already said, that Ashcroft refused to overrule Comey. “…I just wanted to put in context for this committee and the American people why Mr. Card and I went. It’s because we had an emergency meeting in the White House Situation Room, where the congressional leadership had told us, ‘Continue going forward with this very important intelligence activity.’” Feinstein is also obviously impatient with Gonzales’s testimony, saying, “And I listen to you. And nothing gets answered directly. Everything is obfuscated. You can’t tell me that you went up to see Mr. Comey for any other reason other than to reverse his decision about the terrorist surveillance program. That’s clearly the only reason you would go to see the attorney general in intensive care.” Gonzales says that he and Card were only interested in carrying out the will of the Congressional leadership: “Clearly, if we had been confident and understood the facts and was inclined to do so, yes, we would have asked him to reverse [Comey’s] position.” When Feinstein confronts Gonzales on the contradictions between his own testimony’s and Comey’s, Gonzales retreats, claiming that the events “happened some time ago and people’s recollections are going to differ,” but continues to claim that the prime purpose of the visit was merely to inform Ashcroft of Comey’s resistance to reauthorizing the program. Like some of his fellows, Leahy is reluctant to just come out and call Gonzales a liar, but he interrupts Gonzales’s tortured explanations to ask, “Why not just be fair to the truth? Just be fair to the truth and answer the question.” (Ackerman 7/24/2007) Leahy, out of patience with Gonzales’s evasions and misstatements, finally says flatly, “I don’t trust you.” (CNN 7/24/2007)
Whitehouse Grills Gonzales - Whitehouse wants to know if the program “was run with or without the approval of the Department of Justice but without the knowledge and approval of the attorney general of the United States, if that was ever the case.” Gonzales says he believes the program ran with Ashcroft’s approval for two years before the hospital incident: “From the very—from the inception, we believed that we had the approval of the attorney general of the United States for these activities, these particular activities.” It is now that Gonzales admits, under Whitehouse’s questioning, that he indeed “had in my possession a document to reauthorize the program” when he entered Ashcroft’s hospital room. He denies knowing anything about Mueller directing Ashcroft’s security detail not to let him and Card throw Comey out of the hospital room, as Comey previously testified. Whitehouse says, “I mean, when the FBI director considers you so nefarious that FBI agents had to be ordered not to leave you alone with the stricken attorney general, that’s a fairly serious challenge.” Gonzales replies that Mueller may not have known that he was merely following the wishes of the Congressional leadership in going to Ashcroft for reauthorization: “The director, I’m quite confident, did not have that information when he made those statements, if he made those statements.” (Ackerman 7/24/2007; CNN 7/24/2007)
'Deceiving This Committee' - Charles Schumer (D-NY), one of Gonzales’s harshest critics, perhaps comes closest to accusing Gonzales of out-and-out lying. Schumer doesn’t believe Gonzales’s repeated assertions that there was little or no dissent among White House and Justice Department officials about the anti-terrorism programs, and what little dissent there is has nothing to do with the domestic surveillance program. “How can you say you haven’t deceived the committee?” Schumer asks. Gonzales not only stands by his claims, but says that the visit to Ashcroft’s hospital bed was not directly related to the NSA program, but merely “about other intelligence activities.” He does not say what those other programs might be. An exasperated Schumer demands, “How can you say you should stay on as attorney general when we go through exercises like this? You want to be attorney general, you should be able to clarify it yourself.” (Associated Press 7/24/2007) Specter does not believe Gonzales any more than Schumer does; he asks Gonzales tartly, “Mr. Attorney General, do you expect us to believe that?” (CNN 7/24/2007) In his own questioning, Whitehouse says that he believes Gonzales is intentionally misleading the committee about which program caused dissent among administration officials. Gonzales retorts that he can’t go into detail in a public hearing, but offers to provide senators with more information in private meetings. (Associated Press 7/24/2007) Gonzales’s supporters will later claim that Gonzales’s characterization of little or no dissent between the White House and the Justice Department is technically accurate, because of differences between the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program and that agency’s data mining program, but Senate Democrats do not accept that explanation (see Early 2004, May 16, 2007).
Executive Privilege Undermines Congressional Oversight? - Specter asks Gonzales how there can be a constitutional government if the president claims executive privilege when Congress exerts its constitutional authority for oversight. Gonzales refuses to answer directly. “Senator, both the Congress and the president have constitutional authorities,” Gonzales says. “Sometimes they clash. In most cases, accommodations are reached.” “Would you focus on my question for just a minute, please?” Specter retorts. Gonzales then replies, “Senator, I’m not going to answer this question, because it does relate to an ongoing controversy in which I am recused,” eliciting a round of boos from the gallery. (CNN 7/24/2007)
Mueller Will Contradict Gonzales - Mueller will roundly contradict Gonzales’s testimony, and affirm the accuracy of Comey’s testimony, both in his own testimony before Congress (see July 26, 2007) and in notes the FBI releases to the media (see August 16, 2007).
Impeach Gonzales for Perjury? - The New York Times writes in an op-ed published five days after Gonzales’s testimony, “As far as we can tell, there are three possible explanations for Mr. Gonzales’s talk about a dispute over other—unspecified—intelligence activities. One, he lied to Congress. Two, he used a bureaucratic dodge to mislead lawmakers and the public: the spying program was modified after Mr. Ashcroft refused to endorse it, which made it ‘different’ from the one Mr. Bush has acknowledged. The third is that there was more wiretapping than has been disclosed, perhaps even purely domestic wiretapping, and Mr. Gonzales is helping Mr. Bush cover it up. Democratic lawmakers are asking for a special prosecutor to look into Mr. Gonzales’s words and deeds. Solicitor General Paul Clement has a last chance to show that the Justice Department is still minimally functional by fulfilling that request. If that does not happen, Congress should impeach Mr. Gonzales.” (New York Times 7/29/2007) A Washington Post editorial from May 2007 was hardly more favorable to Gonzales: “The dramatic details should not obscure the bottom line: the administration’s alarming willingness, championed by, among others, Vice President Cheney and his counsel, David Addington, to ignore its own lawyers. Remember, this was a Justice Department that had embraced an expansive view of the president’s inherent constitutional powers, allowing the administration to dispense with following the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Justice’s conclusions are supposed to be the final word in the executive branch about what is lawful or not, and the administration has emphasized since the warrantless wiretapping story broke that it was being done under the department’s supervision. Now, it emerges, they were willing to override Justice if need be. That Mr. Gonzales is now in charge of the department he tried to steamroll may be most disturbing of all.” (Washington Post 5/16/2007)
New documents contradict Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s recent sworn testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, indicating that Gonzales may have committed perjury before the panel.
Lied About Congressional Briefing - In testimony before the committee (see July 24, 2007), Gonzales told senators that a March 10, 2004 emergency briefing with the so-called “Gang of Eight,” comprised of the Republican and Democratic leaders of the two houses of Congress and the ranking members of both houses’ intelligence committees (see March 10, 2004), did not concern the controversial NSA warrantless domestic surveillance program, but instead was about other surveillance programs which he was not at liberty to discuss. But according to a four-page memo from the national intelligence director’s office, that briefing was indeed about the so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” or TSP, as it is now being called by White House officials and some lawmakers. The memo is dated May 17, 2006, and addressed to then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. It details “the classification of the dates, locations, and names of members of Congress who attended briefings on the Terrorist Surveillance Program,” wrote then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte. The DNI memo provides further evidence that Gonzales has not been truthful in his dealings with Congress, and gives further impetus to a possible perjury investigation by the Senate. So far, both Gonzales and Justice Department spokesmen have stood by his testimony. The nature of the March 2004 briefing is important because on that date, Gonzales and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card tried to pressure then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, while Ashcroft was recuperating from emergency surgery in the hospital, to reauthorize the domestic wiretapping program over the objections of acting Attorney General James Comey, who had refused to sign off on the program due to its apparent illegality (see March 10-12, 2004). Comey’s own testimony before the Senate has already strongly contradicted Gonzales’s earlier testimonies and statements (see May 15, 2007). The entire imbroglio illustrates just how far from legality the NSA wiretapping program may be, and the controversy within the Justice Department it has produced. Gonzales flatly denied that the March 2004 briefing was about the NSA program, telling the panel, “The dissent related to other intelligence activities. The dissent was not about the terrorist surveillance program.”
Grilled By Senators - Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) pressed Gonzales for clarification: “Not the TSP? Come on. If you say it’s about other, that implies not. Now say it or not.” Gonzales replied, “It was not. It was about other intelligence activities.” Today, with the DNI documents in hand, Schumer says, “It seemed clear to just about everyone on the committee that the attorney general was deceiving us when he said the dissent was about other intelligence activities and this memo is even more evidence that helps confirm our suspicions.” Other senators agree that Gonzales is not telling the truth. “There’s a discrepancy here in sworn testimony,” says committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT). “We’re going to have to ask who’s telling the truth, who’s not.” And committee Democrats are not the only ones who find Gonzales’s testimony hard to swallow. Arlen Specter (R-PA) told Gonzales yesterday, “I do not find your testimony credible, candidly.” The “Gang of Eight” members disagree about the content of the March briefing. Democrats Nancy Pelosi, Jay Rockefeller, and Tom Daschle all say Gonzales’s testimony is inaccurate, with Rockefeller calling Gonzales’s testimony “untruthful.” But former House Intelligence chairman Porter Goss and former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, both Republicans, refuse to directly dispute Gonzales’s claims. (Associated Press 7/25/2007)
Mueller Will Contradict Gonzales - Three weeks later, notes from FBI director Robert Mueller, also present at the Ashcroft meeting, further contradict Gonzales’s testimony (see August 16, 2007).
Four Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee request that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales be investigated for perjury in light of his contradictory testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the NSA warrantless wiretapping program (see July 24, 2007). “It has become apparent that the attorney general has provided at a minimum half-truths and misleading statements,” the four senators—Charles Schumer (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Russ Feingold (D-WI), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)—write in a letter to Solicitor General Paul Clement calling for a special counsel to investigate. “We ask that you immediately appoint an independent special counsel from outside the Department of Justice to determine whether Attorney General Gonzales may have misled Congress or perjured himself in testimony before Congress.” (Senate Judiciary Committee 7/26/2007) (The letter is sent to Clement because he would be the one to decide whether to appoint a special counsel. Gonzales and outgoing Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty have recused themselves from any such investigation due to their own involvement in the incidents. The next person in line at the Justice Department, acting Associate Attorney General William Mercer, lacks the authority to make such a decision.) (CBS News 7/26/2007) Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who did not sign the letter but supports the request for a special counsel, says, “I’m convinced that he’s not telling the truth.” The call for a special counsel follows earlier testimony by FBI director Robert Mueller that flatly contradicted Gonzales’s testimony (see July 26, 2007), though White House spokespersons denied that Mueller contradicted Gonzales.
White House Denies Perjury Allegation - White House press secretary Tony Snow says the apparent contradictions stem from Gonzales’s and Mueller’s restrictions in testifying in public about the classified program. “The FBI director didn’t contradict the testimony,” Snow says. “It is inappropriate and unfair to ask people to testify in public settings about highly classified programs. The president, meanwhile, maintains full confidence in the attorney general.” And Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse insists that Gonzales was referring during his testimony to a separate intelligence operation that has not yet been revealed, though numerous other sources have contradicted that position (see July 25, 2007). “The disagreement that occurred in March 2004 concerned the legal basis for intelligence activities that have not been publicly disclosed and that remain highly classified,” Roehrkasse says.
Further Instances of Misleading Testimony - Senate Democrats also assert that Gonzales has repeatedly given false and misleading testimony about the US attorney firings, has been part of a White House program to encourage White House aides to ignore Congressional subpoenas, has falsely claimed that he has never discussed the firings with other witnesses (including White House aide Monica Goodling, who recently testified that she discussed the firings with Gonzales), and other instances of deception. Schumer says, “There’s no wiggle room. Those are not misleading [statements]. Those are deceiving. Those are lying.” (Kellman and Jordan 7/26/2007) Schumer says at a press conference later in the day, “The attorney general took an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Instead, he tells the half-truth, the partial truth and everything but the truth. And he does it not once, and not twice, but over and over and over again. His instinct is not to tell the truth but to dissemble and deceive.…I have not seen anything like it from a witness in the 27 years that I have been in Congress.” Feingold adds, “Based on what we know and the evidence about what happened in terms of the gang of eight and what he said in that sworn testimony in the committee, I believe it’s perjury.…Not just misleading—perjury.” (US Senate 7/26/2007) Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) does not sign the letter asking for the investigation, and has instead sent his own letter to Gonzales giving him a week to resolve the inconsistencies in his testimony. “The burden is on him to clear up the contradictions,” Leahy says. Leahy is joined by ranking Republican committee member Arlen Specter (R-PA), who says the call for a special counsel is premature. Specter accuses Schumer of “throwing down the gauntlet and making a story in tomorrow’s newspapers.” (Kellman and Jordan 7/26/2007) Specter has suggested that Gonzales resign instead of continuing as attorney general. (USA Today 7/26/2007)
'Linguistic Parsing' - Justice Department aides acknowledge that Gonzales’s self-contradictory testimonies have caused confusion because of his “linguistic parsing.” (Stout 7/26/2007)
Notes made by FBI Director Robert Mueller about the 2004 attempt by then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and then-chief of staff Andrew Card to pressure ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft to reauthorize the secret NSA warrantless wiretapping program contradict Gonzales’s July testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the events of that evening (see March 10-12, 2004 and July 24, 2007). Gonzales’s testimony was already at odds with previous testimony by former deputy attorney general James Comey (see May 15, 2007). Gonzales testified that Ashcroft was lucid and articulate, even though Ashcroft had had emergency surgery just hours before (see March 10-12, 2004), and he and Card had merely gone to Ashcroft’s hospital room to inform Ashcroft of Comey’s refusal to authorize the program (see May 15, 2007). But Mueller’s notes of the impromptu hospital room meeting, turned over to the House Judiciary Committee today, portray Ashcroft as “feeble,” “barely articulate,” and “stressed” during and after the confrontation with Gonzales and Card. (US Department of Justice 8/16/2007; Eggen 8/17/2007; Associated Press 8/17/2007) Mueller wrote that Ashcroft was “in no condition to see them, much less make decision [sic] to authorize continuation of the program.” Mueller’s notes confirm Comey’s testimony that Comey requested Mueller’s presence at the hospital to “witness” Ashcroft’s condition. (Roh 8/16/2007)
Mueller Directed FBI Agents to Protect Comey - The notes, five pages from Mueller’s daily log, also confirm Comey’s contention that Mueller had directed FBI agents providing security for Ashcroft at the hospital to ensure that Card and Gonzales not be allowed to throw Comey out of the meeting. Gonzales testified that he had no knowledge of such a directive. Mueller’s notes also confirm Comey’s testimony, which held that Ashcroft had refused to overrule Comey’s decision because he was too sick to resume his authority as Attorney General; Ashcroft had delegated that authority to Comey for the duration of his hospital stay. Gonzales replaced Ashcroft as attorney general for President Bush’s second term. Representative John Conyers (D-MI), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, says that Mueller’s notes “confirm an attempt to goad a sick and heavily medicated Ashcroft to approve the warrantless surveillance program. Particularly disconcerting is the new revelation that the White House sought Mr. Ashcroft’s authorization for the surveillance program, yet refused to let him seek the advice he needed on the program.” (Ashcroft had previously complained that the White House’s insistence on absolute secrecy for the program had precluded him from receiving legal advice from his senior staffers, who were not allowed to know about the program.)
Notes Contradict Other Testimony - Mueller’s notes also contradict later Senate testimony by Gonzales, which he later “clarified,” that held that there was no specific dispute among White House officials about the domestic surveillance program, but that there was merely a difference of opinion about “other intelligence activities.” (Johnston and Shane 8/16/2007; Eggen 8/17/2007) In his earlier Congressional testimony (see July 26, 2007), which came the day after Gonzales’s testimony, Mueller said he spoke with Ashcroft shortly after Gonzales left the hospital, and Ashcroft told him the meeting dealt with “an NSA program that has been much discussed….” (Frieden 7/25/2007) Mueller did not go into nearly as much detail during that session, declining to give particulars of the meeting in Ashcroft’s hospital room and merely describing the visit as “out of the ordinary.” (House Judiciary Committee 7/26/2007; Johnston and Shane 8/16/2007) Mueller’s notes show that White House and Justice Department officials were often at odds over the NSA program, which Bush has lately taken to call the “Terrorist Surveillance Program.” Other information in the notes, including details of several high-level meetings concerning the NSA program before and after the hospital meeting, are redacted.
Call for Inquiry - In light of Mueller’s notes, Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has asked the Justice Department’s inspector general, Glenn Fine, to investigate whether Gonzales has misled lawmakers—in essence, committed perjury—in his testimony about the NSA program as well as in other testimony, particularly statements related to last year’s controversial firings of nine US attorneys. Other Democrats have asked for a full perjury investigation (see July 26, 2007). (Eggen 8/17/2007) Leahy writes to Fine, “Consistent with your jurisdiction, please do not limit your inquiry to whether or not the attorney general has committed any criminal violations. Rather, I ask that you look into whether the attorney general, in the course of his testimony, engaged in any misconduct, engaged in conduct inappropriate for a Cabinet officer and the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, or violated any duty.” (Associated Press 8/17/2007)
The Office of the Vice President (OVP) says it is not part of the Executive Office of the President. It had previously argued it was not part of the executive branch at all (see 2003 and June 21, 2007), but had abandoned that claim two months before (see June 26, 2007). In a letter from Vice President Cheney’s counsel Shannen Coffin to Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Coffin asks for more time to produce documents related to the NSA’s domestic surveillance program. In her letter, Coffin writes that the “committee authorized the chairman to issue subpoenas to the Executive Office of the President and Department of Justice, but did not authorize issuance of a subpoena to the Office of the Vice President.” (Office of the Vice President 8/20/2007 ) Leahy responds, “The administration’s response today also claims that the Office of the Vice President is not part of the Executive Office of the President. That is wrong. Both the United States Code and even the White House’s own web site say so—at least it did as recently as this morning.” (US Senate 8/20/2007) The National Journal’s Jane Roh writes, “Any constitutional lawyer worth his or her salt will tell you this line of argument ends badly for Cheney.” (Roh 8/21/2007)
After it is revealed that the CIA has destroyed tapes showing detainee interrogations (see November 2005), congressional leaders Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) ask Attorney General Michael Mukasey for “a complete account of the Justice Department’s own knowledge of and involvement with” the tape destruction. News reports indicate the Justice Department did advise the CIA not to destroy the tapes as far back as 2003 (see 2003). The Justice Department is also asked whether it offered legal advice to the CIA or communicated with the White House about the issue. However, Mukasey refuses to answer any of the questions, replying that the Justice Department “has a long-standing policy of declining to provide non-public information about pending matters. This policy is based in part on our interest in avoiding any perception that our law enforcement decisions are subject to political influence.” (Eggen and Warrick 12/15/2007) According to the New York Times, Justice Department officials describe this and another rebuff to congress (see December 14, 2007) as “an effort to caution Congress against meddling in the tapes case and other politically explosive criminal cases.” (Johnston and Mazzetti 12/15/2007)
Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella, authors of the media study Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment, find that conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh excels at using what they call “insider language” for his listeners “that both embeds definitional assumptions hospitable to his conservative philosophy and makes it difficult for those who embrace the language to speak about Democrats and the presumed Democratic ideology without attacking them.” They cite three examples from Limbaugh’s June 2005 newsletter which contains the following statements:
“Democrats are the enemy.”
“When she first ran for her Senate seat, Hillary Rodham Clinton told citizens of the Empire State [New York] that she had been endorsed by environmental wacko-groups because… in her words, ‘I’ve stood for clean air.’”
After Harvard president Lawrence Summers commented on the intrinsic differences between the sexes, Limbaugh wrote, “Led by foaming-at-the-mouth feminists, the liberal elite experienced a mass politically correct tantrum.”
Jamieson and Cappella write: “Identifying terms such as ‘foaming-at-the-mouth feminists,’ ‘liberal elite,’ ‘enemy,’ and ‘environmental wacko-groups’ both create an insider language and distance those who adopt the labels from those labeled. One of the ways Limbaugh’s supporters telegraph their identification with him is by adopting his language.”
Identifying Nicknames - They cite the 1995 statement of freshman House Representative Barbara Cubin (R-WY), who proudly proclaimed of her fellow female Republicans, “There’s not a femi-Nazi among us,” using one of Limbaugh’s favorite terms for feminists. “Listeners say ‘Ditto’ or ‘megadittoes’ to telegraph their enthusiasm for Limbaugh, his latest argument, or his show in general,” they write. Limbaugh refers to himself as “the MahaRushie” with “talent on loan from God.” Callers often refer to Limbaugh as “my hero.” Denigrating nicknames for Limbaugh’s targets of derision work to bring listeners into the fold: the new listener must labor to identify the people termed (and thusly become part of the Limbaugh community): “Clintonistas” (supporters of Bill and/or Hillary Clinton), “Sheets” (Senator Robert Byrd, D-WV), who in his youth wore ‘sheets’ as a Ku Klux Klan member), “the Swimmer” (Senator Edward Kennedy, D-MA, in reference to his involvement in the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident), “Puffster” (former Senator Tom Daschle, D-SD), “the Breck Girl” (former Senator John Edwards, D-NC), and “Ashley Wilkes” (retired General Wesley Clark, in a reference to what Limbaugh called “the wimpy, pathetic Gone with the Wind character”). Some of the nicknames are physically derogatory: Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) became “Senator Leaky, a.k.a. Senator Depends,” and former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) became “‘Little Dick’ Gephardt.” Such use of “insider” nicknames indicates an identification between the listener and Limbaugh, and an affiliation with the Limbaugh community of supporters.
Redefining and Relabeling - Limbaugh routinely redefines and relabels his political enemies in the most derogatory terms. Pro-choice supporters are termed “pro-aborts,” and Democrats are supported by “beggar-based constituencies.” As noted above, feminists are “femi-Nazis” (though Jamieson and Cappella note that Limbaugh has used the term less often since it became a topic of criticism in the mainstream media).
Gender Identification - One of Limbaugh’s strongest attacks is on gender roles. In Limbaugh’s continuum, Democratic women are, the authors write, “either sexualized manipulators or unattractive man haters.” A 1994 Clinton tribute to women’s accomplishments became, in Limbaugh’s words, “Biddies’ Night Out.” Other times, Democratic women become “babes,” as in “Congressbabe Jane Harman.” (On his Web site, Limbaugh often shows Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)‘s head affixed to the body of a Miss America contender.) The authors note, “Neither label invites the audience to take these leaders seriously.” Women with whom he disagrees, such as liberal blogger Arianna Huffington, are “screeching,” and others are “broads,” “lesbians,” or “femi-Nazis.” The National Organization for Women (NOW) becomes, in Limbaugh’s vocabulary, the NAGS. Attacks and innuendo about women’s sexuality are frequently used by Limbaugh: during the Clinton administration, for example, Limbaugh often implied that Hillary Clinton and then-Attorney General Janet Reno were closeted lesbians. On the other hand, Democratic men are routinely portrayed as “two-inchers,” derogatory references to their physical attributes and sexual capabilities (as with the Gephardt nickname above). Jamieson and Cappella note that “Limbaugh’s attempts at gender-based humor are of the locker room variety,” noting several references to California Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante as a Democrat whose name translates into “large breasts,” and referring to pop singer Madonna’s 2004 endorsement of General Wesley Clark for president by saying she had “opened herself” to Clark. In 2004, he said that Democratic presidential contender John Kerry, married to wealthy heiress Teresa Heinz-Kerry, “does his fundraising every night when he goes to bed.” (The authors write, “Why the vulgarity in this message does not alienate the churchgoing conservatives in his audience is a question for which we have no ready answer.”)
Impact - Far from merely giving a laundry list of Limbaugh’s derogatory and offensive characterizations, Jamieson and Cappella note how Limbaugh and the conservative media “wrap their audiences in a conversation built on words and phrases that embody conservatism’s ideological assumptions,” using “naming and ridicule to marginalize those named as part of an out-group,” and using “coherent, emotion-evoking, dismissive language” to denigrate and dismiss the liberals he routinely attacks. “Because language does our thinking for us,” they write, “this process constructs not only a vocabulary but also a knowledge base for the audience. That language and the view of the world carried by it are presumed by loyal conservatives and alien to the nonconservative audience. These interpretations of people and events also reinforce Limbaugh’s defense of conservatism and its proponents.” (Merida 2/15/1995; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 184-190)
President-elect Barack Obama selects retired General Eric Shinseki to be the new head of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Shinseki, a decorated Vietnam veteran, was the Army Chief of Staff when, months before the launch of the Iraq invasion, the US would need to send far more troops into Iraq than were allocated (see February 25, 2003). He also warned of the possibility of ethnic rivalries erupting into violent confrontations, and of the difficulties faced by a US-led reconstruction. Shinseki was ridiculed by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his then-deputy, Paul Wolfowitz (see February 27, 2003). Obama now says of Shinseki, “He was right.” Obama adds, “We owe it to all our veterans to honor them as we honored our Greatest Generation,” referring to World War II-era veterans. “Not just with words, but with deeds.” The announcement is made on the 67th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor; Shinseki is of Japanese ancestry. Shinseki says, “Even as we stand here today, there are veterans who have worried about keeping their health care or even their homes, paying their bills or finding a good job when they leave the service.” He promises to run a “21st century VA.” (Pallasch 12/8/2008; Democratic National Committee 12/8/2008)
'Straight Shooter,' 'Stinging Rebuke' of Bush Policies - Responses to Shinseki’s impending appointment focus on Shinseki’s competence and the implied repudiation of Bush-era policies towards the military. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) calls Shinseki “a straight shooter and truth talker,” and says that his is the kind of leadership the VA needs after what he calls years of neglect of the agency by the Bush administration. (Barre-Montpelier Times Argus 12/7/2008) The Boston Globe echoes Leahy’s characterization, calling Shinseki a “truth teller,” and writes: “The choice is a stinging rebuke not just of Rumsfeld and President Bush for failing to take Shinseki’s advice on the Iraq war, but also of the administration’s weak effort to solve the medical, educational, emotional, and employment problems that veterans are having in returning to civilian life. Just as the Bush administration thought it could oust Saddam Hussein and create a peaceful, democratic Iraq with a bare-bones force, it has tried to skimp on veterans services.” (Boston Globe 12/9/2008) And the Washington Post’s E. J. Dionne adds, “In naming Shinseki to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, Obama implicitly set a high standard for himself by declaring that truth-tellers and dissenters would be welcome in his administration.” (Dionne 12/9/2008) The chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Bob Filner (D-CA), says that Shinseki faces a daunting task: “The stakes are high at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Our veterans need to know that their service to our country is respected and honored. A new basis of stable funding must be developed. The claims backlog must be attacked in a new and dynamic way. And the mental health of our veterans—from every conflict and each generation—must remain a high priority.” John Rowan of the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) believes Shinseki is up for the challenge: “We have no doubt that General Shinseki has the integrity and personal fortitude to usher in the real changes needed to make the VA a true steward of our nation’s veterans and their families. His selection certainly lives up to Mr. Obama’s promise to bring change and hope to Washington. VA bureaucrats, for whom ‘change’ is a dirty word, will learn that there really is a new game in town. Veterans of all political persuasions should take heart and applaud this choice.” (Washington Times 12/8/2008)
'Lionized by Wounded Warriors' - Thomas DeFrank of the New York Daily News writes: “By restoring to grace a retired four-star general whose career was vaporized by… Rumsfeld for daring to tell the truth, Obama has delivered a powerful symbolic statement that his government will indeed be different from the last. Shinseki’s treatment at the hands of Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz is a classic of petty, meanspirited retribution.… By rehabilitating him… Obama has signaled he’s not interested in surrounding himself with toadies and yes-men. A president-elect determined to withdraw from Iraq has also helped himself with veterans. [Shinseki] is lionized by wounded warriors for his grit in persuading Army brass to let him stay on active duty after losing part of a foot in Vietnam.” (DeFrank 12/7/2008) And the New York Times writes, “It is heartening to know that [Shinseki] has been chosen to lead the agency charged with caring for America’s veterans, who deserve far better treatment than the country has given them.” (New York Times 12/9/2008)
Anonymous Criticism - One of the few sour notes is sounded by the conservative Washington Times, which quotes an anonymous “high-ranking retired officer” as saying: “How much time has he spent visiting the PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] wards, the multiple-amputee wards, the burn wards? The major question I have is: Just what has he done for the past five years to show any concern for our veterans? I do not see any evidence of Shinseki being an agent for change.” (Washington Times 12/8/2008)
The Department of Justice releases nine memos written after the 9/11 attacks that claimed sweeping, extraconstitutional powers for then-President Bush. The memos, written primarily by John Yoo of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), claim that Bush could, if he desired, order military raids against targets within the US, and order police or military raids without court warrants (see October 23, 2001). The only justification required would be that Bush had declared the targets of such raids to be suspected terrorists. Other powers the president had, according to the memos, were to unilaterally abrogate or abandon treaties with foreign countries, ignore Congressional legislation regarding suspected terrorists in US detention (see March 13, 2002), suspend First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and information dissemination (see October 23, 2001), and conduct a program of warrantless domestic surveillance (see September 25, 2001). In January, an opinion issued by the OLC claimed that the opinions of the earlier memos had not been acted upon since 2003, and were generally considered unreliable (see January 15, 2009). Attorney General Eric Holder, who signed off on the release of the memos, says: “Too often over the past decade, the fight against terrorism has been viewed as a zero-sum battle with our civil liberties. Not only is that thought misguided, I fear that in actuality it does more harm than good.” (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 ; US Department of Justice 3/2/2009; US Department of Justice 3/2/2009; Lewis 3/2/2009)
Memos Laid Groundwork for Warrantless Wiretapping - Though many of the powers said to belong to the president in the memos were never exercised, the assertions led to the warrantless wiretapping of US citizens (see December 15, 2005 and Spring 2004) and the torture of detained terror suspects. (Isikoff 3/2/2009)
'How To ... Evade Rule of Law' - Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says the memos begin “to provide details of some of the Bush administration’s misguided national security policies” that have long been withheld from public scrutiny. Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch says the memos collectively “read like a how-to document on how to evade the rule of law.” (Smith and Eggen 3/3/2009) Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies says that the memos were part of a larger effort “that would basically have allowed for the imposition of martial law.” (Isikoff 3/2/2009)
'Tip of Iceberg' - The memos are, according to a former Bush administration lawyer, “just the tip of the iceberg” in terms of what the Bush administration authorized. Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says the Bush administration memos “essentially argue that the president has a blank check to disregard the Constitution during wartime, not only on foreign battlefields, but also inside the United States.” (Meyer and Barnes 3/3/2009) The ACLU, which has sued to obtain these and other memos, applauds the release of the documents, and says it hopes this is the first step in a broader release. (Mikkelson 3/2/2009)
David Rivkin, a lawyer in the Justice Department during the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations, testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Rivkin is testifying in regards to committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT)‘s proposal to form a Congressional “Truth Commission” to investigate the Bush administration’s conduct of its “war on terror.” Rivkin, like many other Bush supporters, is opposed to such a commission. He tells the committee: “Yes, mistakes were made. Yes, some bad things happened. But compared with the historical baseline of past wars, the conduct of the United States in the past eight years… has been exemplary.” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) disagrees. He responds, “I would suggest, Mr. Rivkin, that until you know, and we all know, what was done under the Bush administration, you not be so quick to throw other generations of Americans under the bus, and assume that they did worse.” (Roth 3/4/2009)
The White House releases four key Justice Department memos documenting the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation methods—torture—against suspected terrorists. The memos were released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The documents show that two high-level detainees were subjected to waterboarding at least 266 times between them. Al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida was waterboarded at least 83 times in August 2002, contradicting earlier CIA reports that he “broke” after a single waterboarding session (see December 10, 2007). Confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded at least 183 times in March 2003. The so-called “insect” technique—exposure to insects within an enclosed box—was approved for use on Zubaida, but apparently never used. Numerous prisoners were subjected to “walling” and “sleep deprivation,” with at least one detainee subjected to the technique for 180 hours (over seven days). Three of the memos were written by then-Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) chief Steven Bradbury in May 2005 (see May 10, 2005, May 10, 2005, and May 30, 2005), and the fourth by Bradbury’s predecessor, Jay Bybee, in August 2002 (see August 1, 2002). (American Civil Liberties Union 4/16/2009; Shane 4/19/2009; BBC 4/23/2009) Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says: “These legal memoranda demonstrate in alarming detail exactly what the Bush administration authorized for ‘high value detainees’ in US custody. The techniques are chilling. This was not an ‘abstract legal theory,’ as some former Bush administration officials have characterized it. These were specific techniques authorized to be used on real people.” (CNN 4/17/2009) House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) agrees, saying: “This release, as well as the decision to ban the use of such techniques in the future, will strengthen both our national security and our commitment to the rule of law and help restore our country’s standing in the international community. The legal analysis and some of the techniques in these memos are truly shocking and mark a disturbing chapter in our nation’s history.” (Powers 4/16/2009) Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), whose committee is conducting an investigation of abusive interrogation methods used during the Bush administration, says Bush officials “inaccurately interpreted” the Geneva Conventions prohibiting torture. “I find it difficult to understand how the opinions found these interrogation techniques to be legal,” she says. “For example, waterboarding and slamming detainees head-first into walls, as described in the OLC opinions, clearly fall outside what is legally permissible.” (United Press International 4/16/2009)
White House Condemns Methods, Opposes Investigations - Attorney General Eric Holder says of the memos: “The president has halted the use of the interrogation techniques described in these opinions, and this administration has made clear from day one that it will not condone torture. We are disclosing these memos consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.” Holder adds that, according to a Justice Department statement, “intelligence community officials who acted reasonably and relied in good faith on authoritative legal advice from the Justice Department that their conduct was lawful, and conformed their conduct to that advice, would not face federal prosecutions for that conduct.” Holder states, “It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department.” (US Department of Justice 4/16/2009) President Obama condemns what he calls a “dark and painful chapter in our history,” and promises that such torture techniques will never be used again. However, he restates his opposition to a lengthy investigation into the program, saying that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” In contrast, Leahy says that the memos illustrate the need for an independent investigation. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, points out that the memos were written at a time when the CIA was working to prevent a repeat of the 9/11 attacks. “Those methods, read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing,” he says. “But we will absolutely defend those who relied on these memos.” (Shane 4/19/2009) The ACLU demands criminal prosecution of Bush officials for their torture policies (see April 16, 2009). (American Civil Liberties Union 4/16/2009)
Techniques Include Waterboarding, Insect Exposure, 'Walling' - The memos show that several techniques were approved for use, including waterboarding, exposure to insects within a “confinement box,” being slammed into a wall, sleep deprivation, stress positions, forced nudity, and others. (American Civil Liberties Union 4/16/2009; Shane 4/19/2009; BBC 4/23/2009)
Waterboarded Well beyond Allowed Procedures - Because the information about the waterboarding of Zubaida and Mohammed comes from the classified and heavily redacted CIA’s inspector general report, which has not yet been released to the public, the information is at least in part based on the videotapes of Zubaida’s interrogation sessions that were later destroyed by CIA officials (see March 6, 2009). The CIA memo explained that detainees could be waterboarded between 12 and 18 times in a single day, but only on five days during a single month—which mathematically only adds up to 90 times in a month, and thus does not explain how Mohammed could have been waterboarded 183 times in a month if these procedures were being followed. The memos also reveal that in practice, the waterboarding went far beyond the methodologies authorized by the Justice Department and used in SERE training (see December 2001 and July 2002).
Information Unearthed by Blogger - Initial media reports fail to divulge the extraordinary number of times Zubaida and Mohammed were waterboarded. It falls to a blogger, Marcy Wheeler, to unearth the information from the CIA memo and reveal it to the public (see April 18, 2009). (Marcy Wheeler 4/18/2009)
A newly declassified Senate Intelligence Committee chronology discloses that the small group of Bush-era Justice Department lawyers who wrote memos authorizing the torture of enemy detainees (see April 16, 2009 and April 9, 2008) did not operate on their own, but were authorized by top White House officials such as then-Vice President Dick Cheney and then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see April 2002 and After). Other top officials, such as then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, were apparently left out of the decision-making process. Former committee chairman John Rockefeller (D-WV) says the task of declassifying interrogation and detention opinions “is not complete,” and urges the prompt declassification of other Bush-era documents that, he says, will show how the Bush administration interpreted the laws governing torture and war crimes. The committee report began in the summer of 2008, at Rockefeller’s behest, and was drafted by committee staffers with heavy input from Bush officials. The entire effort was coordinated through the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. President Bush’s National Security Council refused to declassify the report; President Obama’s National Security Adviser, James Jones, signed off on its release and the committee clears it for release today. (Smith and Finn 4/22/2009; Talev 4/22/2009) The Intelligence Committee report dovetails with a report issued by the Senate Armed Forces Committee that showed Defense Department officials debated torture methods months before the Justice Department authorized such methods (see April 21, 2009). The report also shows:
The CIA thought al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida was withholding information about an imminent threat as early as April 2002 (see March 28-August 1, 2002), but did not receive authorization to torture him until three months later.
Some Senate Intelligence Committee members were briefed on the torture of Zubaida and 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in 2002 and 2003.
CIA Director George Tenet, in the spring of 2003, asked for a reaffirmation of the legality of torture methods (perhaps this memo—see June 1, 2003). Cheney, Rice, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, and then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales were among the participants at a meeting where it was decided that the torture policies would continue. Rumsfeld and Powell were not present.
The CIA briefed Rumsfeld and Powell on interrogation techniques in September 2003.
Administration officials had lasting concerns about the legality of waterboarding as they continued to justify its legitimacy.
Reactions among other senators is divided, with John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) asking Obama not to prosecute Bush officials who authorized or gave advice concerning torture, and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) reiterating his support for an independent “truth commission” to investigate the interrogations. (Talev 4/22/2009; Senate Intelligence Committee 4/22/2009 ) In 2008, Bush admitted approving of his administration’s authorization of torture (see April 11, 2008).
As calls mount for the impeachment of Judge Jay Bybee (see April 21, 2009), who signed off on two key Bush-era torture memos as the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Counsel (see August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2002), some friends of Bybee’s say that he now regrets signing the memos. “I’ve heard him express regret at the contents of the memo,” says a fellow legal scholar who refuses to allow his name to be published. “I’ve heard him express regret that the memo was misused. I’ve heard him express regret at the lack of context—of the enormous pressure and the enormous time pressure that he was under. And anyone would have regrets simply because of the notoriety.” The scholar adds: “On the primary memo, that legitimated and defined torture, he just felt it got away from him. What I understand that to mean is, any lawyer, when he or she is writing about something very complicated, very layered, sometimes you can get it all out there and if you’re not careful, you end up in a place you never intended to go. I think for someone like Jay, who’s a formalist and a textualist, that’s a particular danger.” Democratic lawmakers complain that Bybee won quick Senate confirmation for his judgeship (see February 5, 2003) in part because he did not discuss the memos during his confirmation hearings. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says, “If the Bush administration and Mr. Bybee had told the truth, he never would have been confirmed.” Leahy says that now, “the decent and honorable thing for him to do would be to resign.” ACLU senior official Jameel Jaffer says that whatever regrets or caveats Bybee may be experiencing are moot. “I don’t think the August 2002 memos reflect serious attempts to grapple in good faith with the law,” Jaffer says. “These are documents that are meant to justify predetermined ends. They’re not objective legal memos at all.” (Vick 4/25/2009; Shakir 4/25/2009)
The US Senate confirms Judge Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) as Supreme Court Justice in a 68-31 vote. Nine Republicans and 59 Democrats vote for her confirmation (four of the Republicans who voted to confirm her are retiring from the Senate after the completion of their terms, and will not face questions about their vote during re-election battles). Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who supports Sotomayor, did not vote due to illness. Sotomayor will be sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts on August 8. President Obama says he is “deeply gratified” by the Senate vote, and adds, “This is a wonderful day for Judge Sotomayor and her family, but I also think it’s a wonderful day for America.” Senator Patrick Leahy closed the final day of debate over Sotomayor’s confirmation by saying: “It is distinctively American to continually refine our union, moving us closer to our ideals. Our union is not yet perfected, but with this confirmation, we will be making progress.… Years from now, we will remember this time, when we crossed paths with the quintessentially American journey of Sonia Sotomayor, and when our nation took another step forward through this historic confirmation process.” At a watch party in the Washington Court Hotel, when the final tally is announced, supporters begin chanting, “Si, se puerde,” the Spanish translation of the 2008 Obama campaign slogan of “Yes, we can.” (CNN 8/6/2009; Phillips 8/6/2009)
The response by media and public officials to the announcement of a preliminary investigation by the Justice Department into whether crimes were committed in the course of a small number of detention and interrogation cases by the CIA (see August 24, 2009) is mixed. The investigation is headed by special prosecutor John Durham. Reporter Michael Isikoff says that it will be “difficult to bring cases against agency operatives when you have the [former] attorney general of the United States [John Ashcroft] saying repetitive use of waterboarding is okay with him. He has no problem with it. The Justice Department has no problem with it—which is why some people say if we’re not going to have criminal investigations at the very top, the leadership that authorized these programs, at least have full disclosure so the American public can know the full story of what happened.” Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) criticizes the potential focus on interrogators and says the inquiry should focus on former Bush administration officials and Justice Department lawyers; he says the investigation could echo the Abu Ghraib investigation, where “lower ranking troops who committed abuses were hung out to dry.” Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, says the Justice Department inquiry risks disrupting current counterterrorism operations, and claims that abuse charges have already been “exhaustively reviewed.” (Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009; MSNBC 8/25/2009)
Lack of Accountability? - Joanne Mariner, the terrorism and counterterrorism program director at Human Rights Watch, says: “It’s heartening that the attorney general has opened a preliminary investigation of these crimes, but it’s crucial that its scope include senior officials who authorized torture. Lower-level CIA operatives—even if using so-called ‘unauthorized’ techniques—may still have relied on the letter or the spirit of high-level authorizations.” Human Rights Watch warns that if the investigation focuses solely on so-called “rogue” interrogators who acted without official authorization, but fails to investigate senior officials with responsibility for the interrogation program, it will lack credibility. The organization writes, “Such an approach would validate the Bush-era Justice Department memoranda that authorized torture.” It calls the US’s record on accountability for detainee abuse “abysmal.” (Human Rights Watch 8/24/2009)
Focusing on 'Low-Level Operatives'? - The American Civil Liberties Union’s Jameel Jaffer later says that Durham’s investigation seems to be far too narrow in scope, focusing solely on CIA interrogators and ignoring Bush administration officials who authorized torture and other abusive actions. (Roth 8/31/2009) This position is echoed by the Center for Constitutional Rights, which states: “Responsibility for the torture program cannot be laid at the feet of a few low-level operatives. Some agents in the field may have gone further than the limits so ghoulishly laid out by the lawyers who twisted the law to create legal cover for the program, but it is the lawyers and the officials who oversaw and approved the program who must be investigated.” The center demands the appointment of “an independent special prosecutor with a full mandate to investigate those responsible for torture and war crimes, especially the high ranking officials who designed, justified, and orchestrated the torture program.” Another organization, Physicians for Human Rights, says that it “urges the administration to pursue any investigation up the chain of command to those officials who authorized and supervised the use of illegal techniques.” (Roth 8/24/2009) Several Democrats, including Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and two members of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and John Conyers (D-MI), issue statements urging the investigation to go beyond looking into the actions of CIA interrogators, and investigate the officials who authorized those actions. (Roth 8/24/2009)
Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC), who shouted “You lie!” at President Obama during his speech to a joint session of Congress earlier in the evening (see September 9, 2009), apologizes publicly for his behavior during the speech. In an e-mail to reporters, he writes: “This evening, I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the president’s remarks regarding the coverage of illegal immigrants in the health care bill. While I disagree with the president’s statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the president for this lack of civility.” He also apologizes to White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. (Thrush 9/9/2009; Thrush 9/9/2009)
Slammed by Republicans and Democrats - Before Wilson makes his apologies, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls his actions “totally disrespectful,” and adds, “There is no place for it in that setting, or any other, and he should apologize for it immediately.” Vice President Joe Biden, a longtime senator, says the next morning: “I was embarrassed for the chamber and a Congress I love. It demeaned the institution.” Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA) says after the speech: “Obviously, the president of the United States is always welcome on Capitol Hill. He deserves respect and decorum. I know that Congressman Wilson has issued an apology and made his thoughts known to the White House, which was the appropriate thing to do.” Cantor spent much of the speech ostentatiously texting on his Blackberry, and later claimed to be taking notes on the proceedings. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says angrily upon leaving the House chambers: “I’ve been here for 35 years. I’ve been here for seven presidents. I’ve never heard anything like that.… It strengthens the president, because it demonstrates what he is facing. Most people have respect for the president.” Wilson’s fellow South Carolinian James Clyburn (D-SC) says the outburst is just another in a long line of political attacks by Wilson. “Joe Wilson took our state’s reputation to a new low,” he says. “I thought [Governor] Mark Sanford had taken it as low as it could go, but this is beyond the pale.” (Sanford is under fire for having a long-term affair and spending state tax monies on visiting his paramour in Argentina.) “To heckle is bad enough, but to use that one word, the one three-letter word that was not allowed to be used in my house while I was growing up, is beyond the pale.” Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) says of Wilson’s outburst: “It was just something that nobody had ever witnessed before. We all felt embarrassed.” Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) predicts Wilson’s outburst will have political consequences: “The person who said it will pay a price. I think the average American thinks that the president and the office deserve respect, and that was a disrespectful comment. They’ll pay a price in the court of public opinion.” (Thrush 9/9/2009; Associated Press 9/10/2009; Kellman 9/10/2009; Scherer 9/10/2009)
Acceptance - The White House quickly accepts Wilson’s apology. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agrees, saying, “It’s time for us to talk about health care, not Mr. Wilson.” (Kiely 9/10/2009)
Resolution of Disapproval - House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) says the House may call for a rebuke of some sort against Wilson. “There’ll be time enough to consider whether or not we ought to make it clear that that action is unacceptable in the House of Representatives,” he says after the speech. “I’ve talked to Republican members who share that view.” (Associated Press 9/10/2009) On September 15, the House will pass a “resolution of disapproval” against Wilson, with only six Republicans voting for the resolution. (Rosen 10/4/2009) The resolution is brought in part due to Wilson’s refusal to apologize to either Obama or to the House of Representatives on the floor of the House. (Kiely 9/10/2009)
Using Wilson's Outburst against the GOP - The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent writes that Democratic strategists will use Wilson’s outburst to portray the Republican opposition to reform “as obstinate, angry, and irrevocally hostile towards Obama and his agenda.” (Sargent 9/10/2009) In the weeks after the speech, the Republican Party will use Wilson’s outburst as the centerpiece of a fundraising effort around the nation. The National Republican Congressional Committee will call Wilson a “national figure” who is raising important concerns about health care reform. The House Democratic campaign organization will respond, saying of Wilson and his Republican supporters, “[T]he very liars who heckled President Obama for calling them out are raising millions of dollars off of their rude, dishonest attack.” (Fox News 9/26/2009) Salon’s Joan Walsh asks: “How is it that Obama hasn’t faced a single heckler in his own health care town halls, but he’s not safe from the angry, uninformed mob when he speaks to Congress? The next time you see an important Republican leader claim the town-hell hecklers are just fringe elements and bad apples, remind them of Rep. Wilson.” (Walsh 9/9/2009)
Raising Millions - In the days after the speech, Wilson will send e-mails to his supporters claiming to be the target of “liberals who want to give health care to illegals” for his outburst, and asking for donations. Wilson’s campaign will claim that it raises over $1 million in donations in the first 48 hours after the speech. (CNN 9/12/2009) By the time the September 30 deadline passes, Wilson and the challenger for his House seat, Rob Miller (D-SC), a retired Marine, will have raised over $4 million between them. Wilson will attend fundraisers as far afield as Michigan and Missouri. When Wilson boasts of being given “hundreds of invitations” to appear with Republicans in other states, Miller will retort: “He’s out there on his ‘thank you tour.’ He should be doing an apology tour. He should be apologizing to every teacher, every law enforcement official, every man, woman, and child in South Carolina for being disrespectful to the president.” (Rosen 10/4/2009)
Congress passes a defense spending bill with controversial provisions authorizing the indefinite military detention, or rendering to a foreign country or entity, without charge or trial, of any person, including US citizens, detained, arrested, or captured anywhere in the world, including the US. The bill is the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (H.R. 1540 and S. 1867). (GovTrack 12/31/2012) The NDAA created controversy soon after the indefinite detention provisions were revealed (see July 6, 2011 and after). Civil liberties and human rights advocates raised concerns about sections 1026, 1027, and 1028, which restrict transfers and releases of prisoners from the US prison at Guantanamo, including those found to be innocent, but the most controversial parts of the bill are Sections 1021 and 1022, which provide for indefinite military detention. A federal judge will later issue a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of Section 1021, finding it unconstitutional (see May 16, 2012). (Mariner 12/21/2011)
Detention Authorities Currently Unclear, Not Settled by NDAA - The Supreme Court ruled by plurality in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004) (see June 28, 2004 that Yaser Esam Hamdi, a US citizen captured by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and alleged to have been armed and traveling with a Taliban unit (see December 2001), could be held by the military without charge or trial until the end of hostilities authorized by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). In other circumstances, such as persons not engaged in armed combat with US forces, or persons arrested or captured away from a battlefield, or inside the United States, the rights of prisoners and the legality of indefinite military detention are unsettled issues, and the NDAA provides no clarification. The AUMF makes no reference to the detention of prisoners or military operations inside the United States, but both the Bush and Obama administrations have consistently interpreted language giving the president authority to use “all necessary and appropriate force” to include broad powers of detention. Due to the lack of clear expression of the scope of these authorities in the AUMF, as well as potential conflicts with the Constitution, related case law includes differing judicial opinions. Supreme Court rulings have not addressed all the questions raised by the complexity of the issues involved. (Savage 12/1/2011; Aftergood 2/6/2012; Elsea 6/11/2012 ; Greenwald 12/15/2012) The NDAA states in 1021(d), “Nothing in this section is intended to limit or expand the authority of the president or the scope of the [AUMF],” and (e): “Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.” (Public Law 112 81 ) This language was included following the nearly unanimous passage of Senate Amendment (SA) 1456. It was a compromise, following the defeat of three other amendments proposed by members of Congress concerned about the NDAA’s blanket detention authority: SA 1107, introduced by Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), which would have removed detention provisions from the bill and required the executive branch to submit a report to Congress on its interpretation of its detention powers and the role of the military; SA 1125, introduced by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), which would have limited the definition of covered persons to those captured outside US borders; and SA 1126, also introduced by Feinstein, which would have would have excluded US citizens from indefinite detention provisions. (Senate 12/1/2011; The Political Guide 12/31/2012) Supporters of broad detention authority say the entire world is a battlefield, and interpret Hamdi to mean any US citizen deemed an enemy combatant can legally be detained indefinitely by the military. Opponents point out that Hamdi was said to have been fighting the US in Afghanistan, and that military detention without trial is limited to those captured in such circumstances. Opponents also say the 1971 Non-Detention Act outlawed indefinite detention of US persons arrested in the US. Feinstein, who submitted SA 1456 inserting the compromise language, states: “[T]his bill does not change existing law, whichever side’s view is the correct one. So the sponsors can read Hamdi and other authorities broadly, and opponents can read it more narrowly, and this bill does not endorse either side’s interpretation, but leaves it to the courts to decide.” Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), sponsor of the original NDAA in the Senate, agrees, saying: “[W]e make clear whatever the law is. It is unaffected by this language in our bill.” (Senate 12/1/2011)
NDAA 'Affirms' Authority Not Expressly Granted in AUMF, Further Muddies Already Unclear Powers - In the NDAA, Congress attempts to settle some of the aforementioned legal questions by asserting in the NDAA that these authorities were included in the AUMF or that the president already possessed them (unless the courts decide otherwise). Section 1021(a) states: “Congress affirms that the authority of the president to use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the [AUMF]… includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in sub-section (b)) pending disposition under the law of war… (c)(1) until the end of the hostilities authorized by the [AUMF].” This clear statement regarding detention authority is an implicit acknowledgment that the AUMF neither explicitly authorizes indefinite military detention, nor spells out the scope of such authority. As noted above, both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, citing the AUMF, have claimed this authority, and some courts have upheld their interpretation. However, as noted by critics of the bill such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and constitutional scholar Glenn Greenwald, this is the first time Congress has codified it. Also, despite Congress’s assertion in the NDAA that it does not “expand… the scope of the [AUMF],” the language in the bill does exactly that. The AUMF pertained only to those responsible for the 9/11 attacks, or those who harbored them. Subsection (b)(2) of the NDAA expands the definition of covered persons and activities to include “[a] person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.” Terms such as “substantially supported,” “directly supported,” and “associated forces” are not defined in the NDAA and are thus subject to interpretation, introducing new ambiguities. In addition, though the AUMF does not explicitly authorize it, the NDAA clearly covers any person, including US persons, “captured or arrested in the United States,” should the courts decide that the AUMF did, in fact, authorize this, or that it is otherwise constitutional. A federal judge will later issue a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of this section of the NDAA, in part because of its conflicting, vague language but also because of her finding that it infringes on the right to due process, and to freedom of speech and association (see May 16, 2012). (Public Law 112 81 ; American Civil Liberties Union 12/14/2012; Human Rights Watch 12/15/2012; Greenwald 12/15/2012)
Section 1022: Mandatory Military Custody for Non-US Citizen Members of Al-Qaeda - Section 1022 requires that those determined to be members of al-Qaeda or “an associated force” and who “participated in the course of planning or carrying out an attack or attempted attack against the United States or its coalition partners” be held in “military custody pending disposition under the law of war.” This section is somewhat less controversial than section 1021 as it is more specific and limited in scope, and contains an exemption for US citizens, such that section 1022 may be applied to US citizens, but is not required to be: (b)(1) “The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States.” (Public Law 112 81 )
Obama Administration Insisted on Broad Detention Authority - According to Senators Levin and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the Obama administration required that detention authorities be applicable to US citizens, including those arrested in the US. Levin says that “language which precluded the application of section 1031 [1021 in the final bill] to American citizens was in the bill we originally approved in the Armed Services Committee, and the administration asked us to remove the language which says that US citizens and lawful residents would not be subject to this section.” (Senate 11/17/2011) Graham says: “The statement of authority I authored in 1031 [1021 in final bill], with cooperation from the administration, clearly says someone captured in the United States is considered part of the enemy force regardless of the fact they made it on our home soil. The law of war applies inside the United States not just overseas.” (Senate 11/17/2011)
How Congress Votes - With President Obama having signaled he will sign the bill, the Senate votes 86-13 in favor, with one abstention. Six Democrats and six Republicans vote against it, along with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). (Open Congress 12/15/2011) The House votes 283-136 in favor of the bill, with 14 abstentions. Democrats are evenly divided, with 93 voting for the NDAA and 93 against. Republicans voting are overwhelmingly in favor: 190-43, almost four out of five. Obama will sign the NDAA into law by December 31, 2011 (see December 31, 2011). (Open Congress 12/14/2011)
Fallout over Bill - The same day Congress votes to pass the bill, two senators who voted for it, Feinstein and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), introduce a bill to restrict presidential authority to indefinitely detain US citizens (see December 15, 2011). A poll that will be conducted shortly after the bill is passed finds that only one in four “likely voters” approve of it (see December 22-26, 2011). Less than six months after the bill is signed into law, a federal judge will issue a preliminary injunction barring enforcement under section 1021 (see May 16, 2012), in response to a lawsuit that will be filed by seven activists and journalists (see January 13, 2012).
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), joined by 13 Democrats and Republicans as co-sponsors, sponsors a bill to ban indefinite detention of US citizens and legal residents arrested in the United States. Feinstein does this on the same day that she and a number of her co-sponsors vote for the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), an annual ‘must pass’ defense spending bill that contains controversial provisions authorizing indefinite military detention of anyone, including US citizens arrested in the United States, accused of supporting groups hostile to the United States. Only 13 senators vote against the NDAA (see December 15, 2011). President Obama will sign the NDAA into law on December 31 (see December 31, 2011). The bill sponsored by Feinstein, S. 2003: Due Process Guarantee Act (DPGA), only exempts US citizens and legal residents from indefinite detention if arrested in the United States: “An authorization to use military force, a declaration of war, or any similar authority shall not authorize the detention without charge or trial of a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States apprehended in the United States, unless an act of Congress expressly authorizes such detention.” The NDAA also authorizes prisoners to be rendered and transferred to the custody of foreign countries and entities. As the DPGA does not explicitly ban this practice concerning US citizens and legal residents arrested in the United States, it is unclear what impact it would have, if any, on this particular aspect of the NDAA. (GovTrack.us 12/15/2011) Feinstein says in a press release issued the same day: “We must clarify US law to state unequivocally that the government cannot indefinitely detain American citizens inside this country without trial or charge. I strongly believe that constitutional due process requires US citizens apprehended in the US should never be held in indefinite detention. And that is what this new legislation would accomplish.” (US Senator 12/15/2011) According to a press release issued by co-sponsor Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the purpose of the DPGA is to “make clear that neither an authorization to use military force nor a declaration of war confer unfettered authority to the executive branch to hold Americans in indefinite detention.” In the 2004 Supreme Court opinion in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor stated unequivocally, “We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation’s citizens.” (US Senator 12/15/2011) As of August 2012, the DPGA will have a total of 30 co-sponsors. (GovTrack.us 12/15/2011)
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