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John Baptiste, appearing on a CBS News broadcast. [Source: CBS News]CBS News fires retired Army Major General John Batiste as a paid “military analyst” after Batiste takes part in an advertisement that criticizes the Iraq strategy of President Bush. CBS says Batiste’s participation violates the network’s standards of not being involved in advocacy. CBS spokeswoman Linda Mason says if Batiste had appeared in an advertisement promoting Bush’s policies, he would have been fired as well. “When we hire someone as a consultant, we want them to share their expertise with our viewers,” she says. “By putting himself… in an anti-Bush ad, the viewer might have the feeling everything he says is anti-Bush. And that doesn’t seem like an analytical approach to the issues we want to discuss.” Batiste retired from the military in 2003, and since then has been an outspoken critic of the conduct of the war. In the advertisement, for the VoteVets Political Action Committee, Batiste said: “Mr. President, you did not listen. You continue to pursue a failed strategy that is breaking our great Army and Marine Corps. I left the Army in protest in order to speak out. Mr. President, you have placed our nation in peril. Our only hope is that Congress will act now to protect our fighting men and women.” [United Press International, 5/11/2007; CBS News, 5/11/2007] Two days after the ad aired, CBS fires Batiste. [Oregon Salem-News, 5/16/2007] Batiste, an Iraq veteran who describes himself as a “diehard Republican,” tells MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann that he and his colleagues at VoteVets are “patriots… VoteVets is not an antiwar organization. We’re focused on what’s best for this country. We’re focused on being successful and winning the effort against global terrorism.” He says he agreed to make the ad with VoteVets “because I care about our country, and I care about our soldiers and Marines and their families.” He says that because he is retired, he has the freedom to speak out. [MSNBC, 5/10/2007] The progressive political organization MoveOn.org calls the firing “censorship, pure and simple.” The Oregon Salem-News notes that CBS routinely employs analysts and commentators who advocate for the Bush administration, including former White House communications director Nicolle Wallace, who is, the Salem-News writes, “known for using her position to push White House talking points.” Wallace is also a consultant for the presidential campaign for Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and according to the Salem-News, CBS did not object when Wallace appeared on its broadcasts to promote his candidacy. [Oregon Salem-News, 5/16/2007] Batiste is not a participant in the Pentagon’s propaganda operation to promote the Iraq war that uses retired military officers as “independent analysts” to echo and elaborate on Pentagon and White House talking points (see April 20, 2008, Early 2002 and Beyond, and May 1, 2008).
Entity Tags: CBS News, George W. Bush, John Batiste, Bush administration (43), Linda Mason, John McCain, Move-On [.org], Nicolle Wallace, VoteVets, Keith Olbermann
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
The trial of suspected al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla begins in a Miami criminal court. Padilla is charged with conspiring to “murder, kidnap, and maim” people overseas. The charges include no allegations of a “dirty bomb” plot or other plans for US attacks, as have been alleged by Bush administration officials (see June 10, 2002). Two co-defendants, Adham Amin Hassoun (see 1993) and Kifah Wael Jayyousi (see (October 1993-November 2001)), also face charges of supporting terrorist organizations. “The defendants were members of a secret organization, a terrorism support cell, based right here in South Florida,” says prosecutor Brian Frazier in his opening statement. “The defendants took concrete steps to support and promote this violence.” Defense attorneys argue that Padilla, Hassoun, and Jayyousi are peaceful Muslims interested in studying their religion and helping their fellow Muslims in war-ravaged areas of the world. Padilla’s attorney, Anthony Natale, calls the case against his client the product of “the politics of fear” in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. “Political crises can cause parts of our government to overreach. This is one of those times,” he says. “He’s a young man who has been wrongly accused.” Hassoun’s attorney, Jeanne Baker, says: “The government really is trying to put al-Qaeda on trial in this case, and it doesn’t belong in this courtroom. There’s a lot of rhetoric, but there’s no evidence.” Much of the evidence against the three consists of FBI wiretaps, documents, and witness statements. One of the strongest pieces of evidence against Padilla is his application to attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in July 2000 (see September-October 2000). Prosecutors say Hassoun recruited Padilla when they met in a Florida mosque. “Jose Padilla was an al-Qaeda terrorist trainee providing the ultimate form of material support—himself,” says Frazier. “Padilla was serious, he was focused, he was secretive. Padilla had cut himself off from most things in his life that did not concern his radical view of the Islamic religion.” [Associated Press, 5/14/2007]
Russia strenuously objects to US plans to deploy 10 missile interceptors and an advanced radar system in Eastern Europe—in essence creating a missile defense system in several former Soviet satellite states. Russia says that those installations will be targeted by Russian nuclear weapons, and hints that it will accelerate its development of new ICBMs and new submarine-launched ballistic missiles, threatening a new, post-Cold War arms race. The US protests that the weapons systems are not intended for use against Russian targets, but the Russian government is not mollified. “In questions of military-strategic stability there are… immutable laws, actions, counteractions, defense, offensive systems,” says Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “These laws operate regardless of how somebody would like to see this or that situation. The military has its own duty, to figure out threats and take countermeasures.” Russian President Vladimir Putin says that the US missile defense system plans are “destroying the strategic equilibrium in the world,” and adds, “In order to restore that balance without setting up a missile defense system, we will have to create a system to overcome missile defense, and that is what we are doing now.” If the US continues with its planned deployment, Russia says it will stop observing the limits on conventional arms in Europe, an agreement negotiated by George H. W. Bush, and will consider withdrawing from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (see December 7-8, 1987). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 190-191]
Senator Hillary Clinton. [Source: Salon]Senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-NY), a member of the Armed Forces Committee, calls on the Pentagon to brief Congress on any existing plans for withdrawing US forces from Iraq, or explain why those plans have not yet been created. Clinton meets privately with General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and writes a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. In her letter, she writes in part: “The seeds of many problems that continue to plague our troops and mission in Iraq were planted in the failure to adequately plan for the conflict and properly equip our men and women in uniform. Congress must be sure that we are prepared to withdraw our forces without any unnecessary danger.” [US Senate, 5/23/2007] “Withdrawal is very complicated. It doesn’t happen overnight,” Clinton says. Her understanding is that there has been “no, or very limited, planning” for a pullout. “If they’re not planning for it, it will be difficult to execute it in a safe and efficacious way,” she says. Gates said earlier in the month that the Pentagon’s planning for any possible withdrawal or redeployment was “more of just broader conceptual thinking” than anything specific. [New York Sun, 5/24/2007]
Agents from MI6 engage in secret talks with Taliban leaders despite the British government’s claims that there are no negotiations with terrorists. The Daily Telegraph cites intelligence sources who say that British intelligence agents have been staging discussions known as “jirgas” with senior insurgents on several occasions over the summer. “The [MI6] officers were understood to have sought peace directly with the Taliban with them coming across as some sort of armed militia. The British would also provide ‘mentoring’ for the Taliban,” says one intelligence source. There have reportedly been up to half a dozen meetings between MI6 agents and the Taliban, taking place at housing compounds on the outskirts of Lashkah Gah and in villages in the Upper Gereshk valley, which is to the northeast of the main town in Helmand province. During the talks, the compounds are surrounded by a force of British infantry providing a security cordon. Afghan officials are reported to be present at the clandestine meetings to show that President Hamid Karzai’s government was leading the negotiations. “These meetings were with up to a dozen Taliban or with Taliban who had only recently laid down their arms,” another intelligence source says. “The impression was that these were important motivating figures inside the Taliban.” Helmand province produces most of Afghanistan’s opium, which accounts for up to 90 percent of the world’s supply of heroin. The United Nations has reported that the Taliban derive funding from the trafficking of Afghan opium. [Daily Telegraph, 12/26/2007; United Nations, 11/27/2008]
Brigadier General Lawrence Stutzriem. [Source: US Air Force]The US Air Force sets up a secret strategic planning group, nicknamed “Project Checkmate,” tasked with “fighting the next war” against Iran. Project Checkmate, a successor to the group that planned the 1991 Gulf War’s air campaign, reports directly to the Air Force’s commander, General Michael Moseley, and consists of twenty to thirty senior USAF officials as well as defense and cyberspace experts with strong access to the White House, the CIA, and other intelligence agencies. While planning for war with Iran began two years ago in Washington, the strategic planning group represents a serious escalation of planning and perhaps intent by the Bush administration and the US military. Checkmate is envisioned to modernize the stratified strategic thinking that often results in the US military “fighting the last war” over again, and intends to provide innovative strategies for tactical battles using air, space, and even cyberwarfare. The leader of Checkmate is Brigadier General Lawrence “Stutz” Stutzriem, and is assisted by former Israeli military officer Dr. Lani Kass, an expert on cyberwarfare. George W. Bush has said repeatedly that he prefers diplomacy with Iran over military action, but if Iran continues to work towards developing a nuclear weapon, as he and his top advisers believe, then he will consider aggressive, pre-emptive military action. However, Bush faces strong opposition from his own Joint Chiefs of Staff: “None of them think it is a good idea, but they will do it if they are told to,” says one senior defense source.
Aftermath the Biggest Problem - Retired Air Force Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney warns that the administration must seriously consider the aftermath of such a military offensive against Iran. “There is no question that we can take out Iran,” he says. “The problem is the follow-on, the velvet revolution that needs to be created so the Iranian people know it’s not aimed at them, but at the Iranian regime.” Checkmate, which is also looking at military contingencies against China and North Korea, was originally formed in the 1970s to counter threats from the then-Soviet Union, but fell into disuse in the 1980s when the Soviet Union began showing signs of internal collapse. Checkmate was revived under Colonel John Warden in 1990 to draw up plans for air strikes against Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War. “When Saddam [Hussein] invaded Kuwait, we had access to unlimited numbers of people with expertise, including all the intelligence agencies, and were able to be significantly more agile than Centcom,” Warden says, referring to the US Central Command in Florida. Warden says Checkmate’s primary role is to develop the necessary expertise so that “if somebody says Iran, it says: ‘here is what you need to think about.’ Here are the objectives, here are the risks, here is what it will cost, here are the numbers of planes we will lose, here is how the war is going to end and here is what the peace will look like.” [London Times, 9/27/2007]
Entity Tags: US Central Command, US Department of the Air Force, Saddam Hussein, Thomas G. McInerney, Michael Moseley, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), John Warden, Project Checkmate, Lani Kass, Lawrence Stutzriem, Joint Chiefs of Staff
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
The Al-Askari Golden Mosque in Samarra, one of the holiest of Shi’ite shrines, is attacked for a second time, apparently by Sunni insurgents. The mosque was partially destroyed in a massive bombing attack over a year ago (see February 22, 2006), sparking a calamitous increase in sectarian violence that claimed at least 10,000 lives. Both US and Iraqi officials fear a similar outbreak of violence following this bombing. President Bush says the attack is “clearly aimed at inflaming sectarian tensions.” Additional US forces are sent to Samarra to enforce security. US and Iraqi officials blame al-Qaeda in Iraq, an extremist Sunni group with loose ties to the larger al-Qaeda network, but as with the February 2006 bombings, that assertion cannot be proven. In what are apparently retaliatory strikes, Shi’ite members of the Mahdi Army destroy the Sunni Grand Mosque in Iskandariyah, and attack another Sunni mosque in the same city. Mahdi leader Moqtada al-Sadr blames the Golden Mosque attack on “the hidden hands of the occupiers,” his term for the US military, but calls for peaceful protests instead of violent responses to the attacks. Al-Maliki says that Sunni security forces responsible for guarding the mosque may have been involved in the attack; until very recently, Sunni forces were the only ones delegated to guard the Shi’ite mosque. Iraqi authorities believe those forces may have been infiltrated by al-Qaeda operatives. One day prior, a Shi’ite force from Baghdad was deployed to the mosque. According to a resident, the Sunni and Shi’ite forces engaged in “some disagreement and fighting…because the previous force did not want to leave their position, but later they had to.” It is possible that the conflict between the two Iraqi forces precipitated the attack. [Washington Post, 6/13/2004] Many Iraqis feel that the latest attacks could carry Iraq to the brink of an all-out civil war. A Shi’ite graduate student says, “The problem is that ignorant people carry out the orders of those who want to arm Iraq. We have some of those, and some of the Sunnis also have some among them. We are on the edge of a catastrophe.” A Sunni housewife says, “We feel that the gap is getting bigger and bigger between us and the Shiites.” [New York Times, 6/13/2007]
George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert. [Source: White House]During a press briefing with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, President Bush accuses Iran of actively developing nuclear weapons, and warns of the ramifications of that activity. He warns of the “consequences to the Iranian government if they continue to pursue a nuclear weapon, such as financial sanctions, or economic sanctions.… Now, whether or not they abandon their nuclear weapons program, we’ll see.” [White House, 6/19/2007]
Henry Waxman (D-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, writes to Vice President Cheney demanding an explanation for his decision not to comply with executive orders (see 2003). Cheney’s office, like other executive branch entities, is required to annually report on the amount of documents it is classifying, and how those documents are being kept secure. The annual requests are made in pursuance of an executive order, last updated by President Bush in 2003. The order states that it applies to any “entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information.” Cheney has justified the decision by saying that because the Vice President is also the president of the Senate, the vice president’s office is not strictly a part of the executive branch, and therefore is not subject to the president’s executive orders; he cites as evidence his Constitutional role as a tie breaker in the Senate. Waxman writes, “Your decision to exempt your office from the President’s order is problematic because it could place national security secrets at risk. It is also hard to understand given the history of security breaches involving officials in your office.” Waxman’s point is that, if Cheney’s office is not part of the executive branch, then it is not authorized to view many of the classified documents it routinely receives; therefore the viewing of these documents by Cheney and his officials constitutes a breach of security. Waxman writes, “I question both the legality and the wisdom of your actions. In May 2006, an official in your office [Leandro Aragoncillo] pled guilty to passing classified information to individuals in the Philippines [as part of a plot to overthrow President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo… Aragoncillo reportedly disclosed numerous secret and top secret documents to Philippine officials over several years while working in your office.… In March 2007, your former chief of staff, Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice, and false statements for denying his role in disclosing the identity of a covert CIA agent (see November 20, 2007). In July 2003, you reportedly instructed Mr. Libby to disclose information from a National lntelligence Estimate to Judith Miller, a former New York Times reporter. This record does not inspire confidence in how your office handles the nation’s most sensitive security information. Indeed, it would appear particularly irresponsible to give an office with your history of security breaches an exemption from the safeguards that apply to all other executive branch officials.… Your office may have the worst record in the executive branch for safeguarding classified information.” Waxman notes that Cheney’s office is notorious for declassifying information for purely political reasons, as in the Libby case. Waxman concludes, “Given this record, serious questions can be raised about both the legality and the advisability of exempting your office from the rules that apply to all other executive branch officials.” [Congress Committee On Oversight And Government Reform, 6/21/2007; New York Times, 6/22/2007] The next day, when asked what he believes about Cheney’s position, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will quip, “I always thought that he was president of this administration.” [Cox News Service, 6/22/2007] Five days later, Waxman will say, “I know the vice president wants to operate with unprecedented secrecy, but this is absurd. This order is designed to keep classified information safe. His argument is really that he’s not part of the executive branch, so he doesn’t have to comply.… He doesn’t have classified information because of his legislative function. It’s because of his executive function.” [New York Times, 6/22/2007]
Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) enter North Korea to inspect the North Koreans’ promised shutdown of their nuclear program (see February 8, 2007 and After). It is the first time inspectors have been in North Korea in nearly five years (see December 31, 2002). [BBC, 12/2007]
Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan says in an interview: “Iraq was more than just a major distraction to Afghanistan. Huge resources were devoted to Iraq, which focused away from nation building in Afghanistan. The billions spent in Iraq were the billions that were not spent in Afghanistan.” Annan was the UN secretary general from 1997 until the end of 2006. [Rashid, 2008, pp. xli, 401]
Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid writes an editorial in the Washington Post entitled, “America’s Bad Deal With Musharraf, Going Down in Flames.”
Cheney in Control - Rashid reveals, “Current and past US officials tell me that Pakistan policy is essentially being run from [Dick] Cheney’s office. The vice president, they say, is close to [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf and refuses to brook any US criticism of him. This all fits; in recent months, I’m told, Pakistani opposition politicians visiting Washington have been ushered in to meet Cheney’s aides, rather than taken to the State Department.” The State Department seems acquiescent to this policy, and is refusing to even consider alternative policies if Musharraf were threatened with being ousted. But the CIA and Defense Department are more resistant, and worry about the lack of an alternative to fully supporting Musharraf. Officials in these agencies, “many of whom have served in Islamabad or Kabul, understand the double game that Musharraf has played—helping the United States go after al-Qaeda while letting his intelligence services help the Taliban claw their way back in Afghanistan.”
Lack of Expertise - Due to recent turnover, there has been a “dramatic drop-off in US expertise on Pakistan. Retired American officials say that, for the first time in US history, nobody with serious Pakistan experience is working in the South Asia bureau of the State Department, on State’s policy planning staff, on the National Security Council staff or even in Vice President Cheney’s office.” One former senior US diplomat says, “They know nothing of Pakistan.”
US Policy Making Matters Worse - Rashid concludes that instead of confronting the Islamist militant threat, the Pakistani army “has focused on keeping Musharraf in power—negotiating with extremists, letting radical Islamic students set up a base in Islamabad, and so forth. Meanwhile, to spook the West into continuing to support him, Musharraf continues to grossly exaggerate the strength of the Islamic parties that he warns might take over his nuclear-armed country. In fact, the United States would be far safer if it pushed for a truly representative Pakistani government that could marginalize the jihadists, rather than placing all its eggs in Musharraf’s basket.” He speculates that the US’s blind support of Musharraf allows Musharraf to continue to resist democratization and sharing power, exacerbating the crisis. “The message to the Pakistani public is clear: To the Bush White House, the war on terrorism tops everything, and that includes democracy.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2007]
John Bolton, the former head of the Bush administration’s arms control agency and the former US ambassador to the United Nations, tells author J. Peter Scoblic that he and his fellow neoconservatives continually warned administration officials of the dangers of “nation-building” in Iraq that would occur if the US kept forces inside that country for too long. He says, “My thought was—and this is exaggerating—we hand ‘em a copy of the Federalist Papers, say good luck, and then we’re out of there.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 229]
David Wurmser. [Source: ThinkProgress.org]Vice-President Dick Cheney is reportedly considering asking Israel to launch limited missile strikes against the Iranian nuclear site at Natanz in order to provoke an Iranian counterattack. The Iranian retaliation would then give the US an excuse to launch its own air strikes against nuclear and military targets in Iran. Cheney’s Middle East adviser, well-known neoconservative and war proponent David Wurmser, tells a small group of unidentified officials that Cheney is considering such a request. Meyrav Wurmser, the wife of Cheney’s adviser and a member of the neoconservative Hudson Institute, later denies the story, which is reported in late September 2007 by Newsweek, from two unidentified sources. [Reuters, 9/23/2007; Ha'aretz, 9/23/2007; Newsweek, 10/1/2007]
Conversations between Iranian military commanders indicate that Iran’s nuclear weapons program has been shut down for years. The calls are intercepted by the US and lead to the realization that the program was halted in 2003 (see December 3, 2007). However, when they first learn of them, senior White House officials will balk at accepting those calls, with some suggesting that the secretly intercepted calls are part of a clever Iranian disinformation campaign. Intelligence officers will spend months validating the new information before determining it is real. [Washington Post, 12/4/2007]
James Marks. [Source: Military Information Technology]CNN fires one of its “independent military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), retired Army general James “Spider” Marks, for using his position to help secure government contracts for his business. In 2004, Marks was hired as an analyst by CNN; about the same time, he took a senior management position at McNeil Technologies, where his job is to land military and intelligence contracts. As per CNN’s requirements, Marks disclosed that he received income from McNeil. But he was not required to describe what his job entailed, and CNN did not check any further. “We did not ask Mr. Marks the follow-up questions we should have,” CNN will admit in a written statement. For himself, Marks will say that it was no secret at CNN that his job at McNeil is about landing government contracts. “I mean, that’s what McNeil does,” he will say. But CNN will deny being aware of McNeil’s military business or what Marks does for the company. Marks was bidding on Pentagon contracts at the same time he was analyzing and commenting on the Pentagon’s military strategies for CNN, a clear conflict of interest. CNN will say that Marks should have been disqualified from working for the network as an analyst. During the summer and fall of 2006, for example, Marks regularly commented on the conditions in Iraq—lavishing glowing praise on the US military and the White House—while working to secure a $4.6 billion Pentagon contract for McNeil. In December 2006, Marks became president of a McNeil spin-off that won the huge contract. Marks will claim that he kept his analysis separate from his contracting work—“I’ve got zero challenge separating myself from a business interest”—but when CNN learns about his role in landing the contract, the network fires him. CNN will say, “We saw the extent of his dealings and determined at that time we should end our relationship with him.” [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
Private contractors in Iraq. [Source: NBC]The New York Times reports that private contract employees who have worked in Iraq often return home with the same kinds of combat-related mental health problems that affect US troops and military personnel, but these private workers are largely left on their own to find care. Their disorders and traumas often go untreated. Unlike US soldiers, private employees are at the mercy of their corporate health care systems, or in some cases, are left to fend entirely for themselves. There is no widespread screening for returning contract workers, and many who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other disorders go unidentified. And many others receive poor-quality treatment because of limited civilian expertise in combat-related disorders. "I think the numbers are in the thousands, maybe tens of thousands," says psychologist Paul Brand. "Many are going undiagnosed. These guys are fighting demons, and they don’t know how to cope." The federal government, which has paid billions of dollars to corporations for services in Iraq since the war began, has so far failed to address the issue of mental health problems among private workers, according to Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officials. "To my knowledge, it has not been looked at systematically," says VA official Dr. Matthew J. Friedman. [New York Times, 7/5/2007]
In a press briefing, President Bush says, “The fight in Iraq is part of a broader struggle that’s unfolding across the region. The same region in Iran—the same regime in Iran that is pursuing nuclear weapons and threatening to wipe Israel off the map is also providing sophisticated IEDs to extremists in Iraq who are using them to kill American soldiers.” [White House, 7/12/2007]
George W. Bush, defying calls to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, says, “The same folks that are bombing innocent people in Iraq were the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th, and that’s why what happens in Iraq matters to the security here at home.” Critics say Bush is grossly oversimplifying the nature of the Iraq insurgency and its putative, unproven links with al-Qaeda, and is attempting to exploit the same kinds of post-9/11 emotions that helped him win support for the invasion in the months preceding the Iraqi offensive. The al-Qaeda affiliate group in Iraq called al-Qaeda in Iraq (or al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia) did not exist at all before the March 2003 invasion, and since then, it has thrived as a magnet for recruiting and for violence largely because of the invasion. While US military and intelligence agencies contend that al-Qaeda in Iraq is responsible for a disproportionately large share of the suicide car bomb attacks that have stoked sectarian violence, the organization is uniquely Iraqi in origin and makeup, with few operational ties to the overall terrorist group. Bruce Riedel, a Middle East expert and former CIA official, says, “The president wants to play on al-Qaeda because he thinks Americans understand the threat al-Qaeda poses. But what I don’t think he demonstrates is that fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq precludes al-Qaeda from attacking America here tomorrow. Al-Qaeda, both in Iraq and globally, thrives on the American occupation.” Counterterrorism expert Bruce Hoffman says that if US forces were to withdraw from Iraq, the indigeneous al-Qaeda fighters would focus much more on battling Shi’ite militias in the struggle for dominance in Iraq than on trying to follow US troops home. Al-Qaeda in Iraq “may have more grandiose expectations, but that does not mean [it] could turn al-Qaeda of Iraq into a transnational terrorist entity,” he says. [International Herald Tribune, 7/13/2007]
Former KBR subcontract administrator Anthony J. Martin pleads guilty to violating the Anti-Kickback Act. Martin admits to taking bribes from a Kuwaiti company in 2003 in return for granting a $4.67 million contract to the firm. Although the Justice Department does not identify the Kuwaiti firm, other court documents subsequently name the firm as First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting (see September 21, 2007). Martin worked from February 2003 through February 2004 in Kuwait, where he solicited bids from prospective subcontractors under KBR’s largest contract with the US Army, the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP III). Martin’s conviction is part of a much larger investigation mounted by the Justice Department in Rock Island, Illinois, investigating corporate fraud in the provision of logistics to the US military deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan (see October 2006 and Beyond). Martin has admitted to accepting $10,000 from the managing partner of First Kuwaiti, Lebanese businessman Wadih Al Absi. He was to receive almost $200,000 more, but testified in his plea bargain agreement that he felt guilty about taking the $10,000 and subsequently refused to take any more. Martin faces up to ten years in prison and possible restitution. [PR Newswire, 7/13/2007; Associated Press, 9/21/2007]
Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan. [Source: Agence France-Presse / Getty Images]Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, an al-Qaeda computer expert, is released in Pakistan. He had been arrested in July 2004 (see July 13, 2004) and was quickly turned, sending out e-mails to help out dozens of al-Qaeda operatives around the world before his name was leaked to the press (see July 24-25, 2004 and August 2, 2004). He was held for three years by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. He was never charged with any crime and apparently there are no plans to charge him in the future. He is said to be living with his parents in Karachi, Pakistan. He is being closely monitored and the media is not allowed to speak with him. US and British officials and analysts express dismay at Noor Khan’s quick release. Seth Jones of the Rand Corporation says, “I find it strange and baffling.… He presents a major threat to the West.” [Guardian, 8/23/2007] Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says, “Khan may have bargained for an early release because he cooperated.” [ABC News, 8/21/2007] But his release also comes at a time when Pakistan’s judiciary is releasing dozens of suspected Islamic militants and government critics who have been held without trial. This is seen as a sign of President Pervez Musharraf’s eroding influence after public protests forced him to reinstate Pakistan’s chief justice. [London Times, 8/23/2007] One former intelligence official says that Khan’s case is a “murky tale” in which there are “no clear answers.” [Guardian, 8/23/2007]
Rudolph Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who is running a campaign for the Republican presidential nomination centered on strong national security and aggressive foreign policy, surrounds himself with a group of hardline neoconservative advisers:
Neoconservative eminence Norman Podhoretz (see October 28, 2007). Podhoretz says, “I decided to join Giuliani’s team because his view of the war [on terror]—what I call World War IV—is very close to my own.” Podhoretz has said he “hopes and prays” President Bush attacks Iran. [Newsweek, 10/15/2007] Giuliani says of Podhoretz’s advocacy of US military action against Iran, “From the information I do have available, which is all public source material, I would say that that is not correct, we are not at that stage at this point. Can we get to that stage? Yes. And is that stage closer than some of the Democrats believe? I believe it is.” [New York Times, 10/25/2007]
Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official and current American Enterprise Institute scholar who argues that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s diplomacy is “dangerous” and signals American “weakness” to Tehran and advocates revoking the US ban on assassination;
Stephen Rosen, a Harvard hawk who wants major new defense spending and has close ties to prominent neoconservative Bill Kristol;
Former senator Bob Kasten (R-WI), who often sided with neocons during the Reagan years; and
Daniel Pipes, who opposes a Palestinian state and believes America should “inspire fear, not affection.” Pipes has advocated the racial profiling of Muslim-Americans, argued that the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was not morally offensive, and has, in his own words, advocated “razing [Palestinian] villages from which attacks are launched” on Israel. [Newsweek, 10/15/2007; New York Times, 10/25/2007; Daily Telegraph, 11/1/2007] Pipes is even “further out ideologically than Norman Podhoretz,” writes Harper’s Magazine reporter Ken Silverstein. [Harper's, 8/28/2007]
Support for Israel's Likud - Some Giuliani advisers, including Kasten, former State Department aide and political counselor Charles Hill, and Islam expert Martin Kramer (who has attacked US Middle East scholars since 9/11 for being soft on terrorism) indicate Giuliani’s alignment with the right-wing hawks of Israel’s Likud Party, notes Forward Magazine: pro-Israeli lobbyist Ben Chouake says Giuliani is “very serious about his approach to ensuring the security and safety of Israel.” [Forward, 7/18/2007] Giuliani has a long record of supporting Israel’s right wing; as early as 1995, he publicly insulted Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and in 2001, told an Israeli audience that the US and Israel are “bound by blood.” [Newsweek, 10/15/2007] Giuliani says he wants to expand the North American Treaty Organization (NATO) and invite Israel to join. [New York Times, 10/25/2007] A Republican political operative calls Giuliani’s advisers “red-meat types” chosen to cloak Giuliani’s near-complete lack of foreign experience. The operative says that Giuliani is also trying to head off criticism for his departure from the Iraq Study Group (see December 2006) before it finished its report. Republican attorney Mark Lezell, who supports Giuliani opponent Fred Thompson, says, “The concern with that particular team is that they have been at the forefront of policies that have yet to succeed and could well qualify as political baggage.” [Forward, 7/18/2007]
'Out-Bushing Bush' - Not all of Giuliani’s foreign affairs advisers are neocons. His policy coordinator, Hill, takes a more centrist view and says, perhaps disingenuously, “I don’t really know much about neoconservatives,” adding, “I don’t know of a single person on the campaign besides Norman [Podhoretz] who is a self-identified, card-carrying member of this neocon cabal with its secret handshakes.” Hill says the US should “deliver a very clear message to Iran, very clear, very sober, very serious: they will not be allowed to become a nuclear power,” but stops short of advocating a military solution. Richard Holbrooke, a foreign policy adviser to Democratic candidate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), says jocularly that Giuliani is “positioning himself as the neo-neocon.” Dimitri Simes of the Nixon Center says of Giuliani’s team, “Clearly it is a rather one-sided group of people. Their foreign-policy manifesto seems to be ‘We’re right, we’re powerful, and just make my day.’ He’s out-Bushing Bush.” [Newsweek, 10/15/2007; New York Sun, 10/25/2007]
Entity Tags: Bob Kasten, Ken Silverstein, Charles Hill, Daniel Pipes, Steve Rosen, Ben Chouake, Richard Holbrooke, Mark Lezell, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Martin Kramer, Dimitri Simes, Norman Podhoretz, Michael Rubin
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA—see June 26, 2007) confirm that North Korea has shut down its nuclear facility at Yongbyon. Pyongyang has just received the first fuel oil shipment as promised in earlier negotiations (see February 8, 2007 and After). [BBC, 12/2007]
Eric Edelman. [Source: BBC]Seven weeks after Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates calling for Congressional briefings on Pentagon plans to withdraw troops from Iraq or explanations as to why those plans do not exist (see May 23, 2007), Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman responds to Clinton in a letter of his own. After giving a brief overview of the current military and political situation in Iraq, Edelman says: “Premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia.…[S]uch talk understandably unnerves the very same Iraqi allies we are asking to assume enormous personal risks.” [US Department of Defense, 7/16/2007 ] Some observers are surprised by Edelman’s language as Clinton is not only a senator, but a member of the Armed Services Committee. The New York Times’s Kate Phillips terms the letter “a stunning rocket.” [New York Times, 7/19/2007] The letter also directly contradicts Gates, who said earlier that the Senate debate on withdrawing from Iraq was “helpful in bringing pressure” on the Iraqi government to work towards peace and unity (see March 30, 2007).
'Impugning the Patriotism of Any of Us Who Raise Questions' - Clinton fires back four days later, accusing Edelman of dodging her questions. Instead, she says, Edelman “made spurious arguments to avoid addressing contingency planning.… Undersecretary Edelman has his priorities backward.” [USA Today, 7/20/2007] Edelman, Clinton says, is “impugning the patriotism of any of us who raise serious questions.” [Army Times, 8/6/2007] Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines says, “We sent a serious letter to the secretary of defense, and unacceptably got a political response back.” Clinton again asks for a briefing on end-of-war planning, classified if necessary. Edelman does imply that the Pentagon is formulating such plans in his letter, but says that the Pentagon will not divulge any such planned operations. [USA Today, 7/20/2007]
Democrats Defend Clinton - Fellow Democratic senator John Kerry joins in criticizing Edelman’s response. “This administration reminds us every day that they will say anything, do anything, and twist any truth to avoid accountability,” Kerry says in a statement. [US Senate, 7/19/2007] Clinton’s husband, former president Bill Clinton, calls Edelman “one of the more ideological holdovers” in the Defense Department from President Bush’s first term in office. Edelman, who replaced Douglas Feith in the Pentagon, is a former national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. [Think Progress, 7/22/2007]
Conservatives Weigh In - On the other side, conservative blogger and Fox News pundit Michelle Malkin asks rhetorically, “Wasn’t this a case of Hillary putting on her little imaginary four stars on her sleeve and playing armchair general?” [Media Matters, 7/23/2007] But an Army Times writer, Air Force veteran Robert Dorr, calls Edelman’s letter “disrespectful” and writes: “No matter what you think of the war or of Clinton, Edelman’s response was unusually harsh. Senators hold their jobs because people voted for them. Appointees such as Edelman, who weren’t elected by anyone (and in the case of Edelman, received a recess appointment and wasn’t confirmed by the Senate), should be responsive to lawmakers’ concerns.” [Army Times, 8/6/2007]
Entity Tags: Eric Edelman, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Douglas Feith, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Kate Phillips, Robert M. Gates, Philippe Reines, US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Michelle Malkin, Robert Dorr
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
President Bush signs Executive Order 13440, which authorizes the CIA to continue using so-called “harsh” interrogation methods against anyone in US custody suspected of being a terrorist, or having knowledge of terrorist activities. The order relies on, and reaffirms, Bush’s classification of “al-Qaeda, Taliban, and associated forces” as “unlawful enemy combatants” who are not covered under the Geneva Conventions. The order also emphasizes that the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) “reaffirms and reinforces the authority of the president to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions.” The order does not include “murder, torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, mutilation or maiming, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, rape, sexual assault or abuse, taking of hostages, or performing of biological experiments… other acts of violence serious enough to be considered comparable to murder, torture, mutilation, and cruel or inhuman treatment… any other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment prohibited” by law. It also precludes acts of extreme humiliation “that any reasonable person, considering the circumstances, would deem the acts to be beyond the bounds of human decency, such as sexual or sexually indecent acts undertaken for the purpose of humiliation, forcing the individual to perform sexual acts or to pose sexually, [or] threatening the individual with sexual mutilation, or using the individual as a human shield.” The order also excludes acts that denigrate a detainee’s religion or religious practices. [White House, 7/20/2007] The order does not apply to the Army, which has numerous interrogators operating at Guantanamo and other US detention facilities. [Social Science Research Network, 3/18/2008] CIA Director Michael Hayden says, “We can now focus on our vital work, confident that our mission and authorities are clearly defined.” Administration officials say that because of the order, suspects now in US custody can be moved immediately into the “enhanced interrogation” program. Civil libertarians and human rights advocates are much less enamored of the new order. Human Rights Watch official Tom Malinowski says, “All the order really does is to have the president say, ‘Everything in that other document that I’m not showing you is legal—trust me.’” [Washington Post, 7/21/2007] In January 2009, President Obama will withdraw the order. [Washington Independent, 4/21/2009]
Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, Tom Malinowski, Taliban, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, Al-Qaeda, Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency, Military Commissions Act, Michael Hayden
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Steven Bradbury, the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a classified memo on what a new interpretation of the Geneva Conventions’ Common Article 3 means for the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program.” The Bradbury memo, released after months of debate among Bush officials regarding the ramifications of the recent Supreme Court decision extending Geneva protections to enemy combatants in US custody (see June 30, 2006), new legislation following the Court’s decision (see October 17, 2006), and an executive order on interrogations (see July 20, 2007), spells out what interrogation practices the CIA can use. The memo’s existence will not become known until after the 2009 release of four Justice Department torture memos (see April 16, 2009). Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights will say upon learning of the memo, “The CIA still seems to want to get authority to interrogate people outside of what would be found to be a violation of the Geneva Conventions and the law.” Ratner will add that the memo raises questions about why the CIA felt it needed expanded authorities for interrogations. “What we don’t know is whether, after Hamdan, that 2007 memo modifies what the CIA is able to do in interrogation techniques,” he will say. “But what’s more interesting is why the CIA thinks it needs to use those interrogation techniques. Who are they interrogating in 2007? Who are they torturing in 2007? Is that they’re nervous about going beyond what OLC has said? These are secret-site people. Who are they? What happened to them?” [Washington Independent, 4/21/2009]
A Rapid City Journal article uses interviews with the families of three soldiers to illustrate the harm and suffering inflicted on military personnel and their families by the Army’s controversial stop-loss program (see November 2002 and November 13, 2003). One of the three soldiers is Sergeant Mason Lockey, who has been forced to redeploy to Iraq due to stop-loss. Lockey saw his daughter Brianna for the first time about three weeks after her birth, in November 2006; he took part in her delivery via cell phone from Iraq. He had planned on returning home on July 19, 2007, a year after his deployment, in time to help her learn to speak and walk. Instead, under stop-loss, Lockey is forced to remain in Iraq until at least October 15, and perhaps longer.
Three Sons in Service - Deb Halen-Boyd, whose two sons served in Iraq as Army troops, calls the stop-loss program an example of the government breaking faith with its soldiers. “You fulfill your obligation, you should be done,” she says. “They’ve done what they’ve signed up to do.” One of Halen-Boyd’s sons has had to remain in Iraq due to stop-loss. She had a third son in the Army who died in a truck accident in Minnesota; her fourth son has now enlisted in the National Guard, with the government’s promise that he wouldn’t be deployed. But Halen-Boyd doesn’t believe the government will keep its word. “Nothing with the Army is a guarantee,” she says.
Missing Daughter's First Three Years - Barb Pierce, whose son Ryan served in Kosovo and twice in Iraq as a member of his Army unit, agrees. “It should be fair.… They’ve done their part. Let them come home.” Sergeant Ryan Pierce has been forced to remain in Iraq due to the stop-loss policy until at least January 2008. Pierce missed the birth of his daughter and the death of his wife’s grandmother and aunt. He was unable to attend his grandmother’s funeral. He has missed every wedding anniversary. He has missed two of his daughter’s three birthdays.
No Re-enlistments, Anger at Government - None of the soldiers cited in the Rapid City Journal article plan on rejoining the Army after they are finally allowed to come home. Vanessa Lockey, whose husband has six more years to go on his re-enlistment, says, “Mason and I are strong Republicans, but it is hard to support a government that is willing to do this to a family. How is it fair?… Mason’s very supportive of the military. We grew up military, we love the military lifestyle, and we were very pro-Bush and that, but the more you see them acting like these soldiers are nothing but a game to them… it’s just hard to support that and know that’s who you’re defending.… It really does feel like they forgot about us.… I’ll support [President] Bush when he sends his daughters to Iraq.” Barb Pierce echoes Halen-Boyd’s sentiments. She is proud of her son’s service as she is of other soldiers’ service. She is proud to be an American, she says. But, “I want to be proud of my country, too. And right now I’m not.” Halen-Boyd wears a bumper sticker on her car that reads, “‘We Love Our Troops. Bring Them Home.” [Rapid City Journal, 7/24/2007]
Vice President Dick Cheney reignites the controversy over a request by Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) that the Pentagon begin planning for withdrawal from Iraq (see May 23, 2007). On July 16, Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman sent Clinton a response that accused her of reinforcing “enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies” (see July 16-20, 2007). Edelman contradicted the stance of his boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who recently said that Congressional debates on withdrawal were useful and positive (see March 30, 2007). But on July 31, Cheney tells CNN talk show host Larry King that Edelman, his former foreign policy adviser, had written Clinton a “good letter.” Cheney implies that Clinton had asked for operational plans from the Pentagon, a suggestion that Clinton dismisses in a letter to Cheney. “Your comments, agreeing with Under Secretary Edelman, not Secretary Gates, have left me wondering about the true position of the administration,” Clinton writes, adding she will write to President George Bush to ask he “set the record straight” about the administration’s position regarding Congressional oversight of the war. It is unclear whether Bush ever replies to Clinton’s letter. [Washington Post, 8/1/2007]
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband formally asks the Bush administration to release five British citizens from detention at Guantanamo. The administration will release three, but refuse to release Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001 and November 4, 2005) and Shaker Aamer, citing security concerns. [Guardian, 2/5/2009]
Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), while running for US president, says in a speech, “There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again… If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and [Pakistani] President [Pervez] Musharraf won’t act, we will.” This is in response to a recent comment made by his main opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY). She said, “If we had actionable intelligence that Osama bin Laden or other high-value targets were in Pakistan, I would ensure that they were targeted and killed or captured.” The difference between the comments is Obama’s willingness to attack inside Pakistan without approval from the Pakistani government. [Reuters, 7/1/2007; ABC News, 6/9/2011]
Mitch McConnell. [Source: US Senate]President Bush signs the controversial Protect America Act (PAA) into law. The bill, which drastically modifies the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 (see 1978), was sponsored by two Senate Republicans, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Christopher Bond (R-MO), but written by the Bush administration’s intelligence advisers. [US Senate, 8/5/2007; Washington Post, 8/5/2007] It passed both houses of Congress with little debate and no hearings (see August 1-4, 2007). “This more or less legalizes the NSA [domestic surveillance] program,” says Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies. [New York Times, 8/6/2007] Slate’s Patrick Radden Keefe adds ominously, “The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is now dead, and it’s never coming back.” [Slate, 8/6/2007] The PAA expires in six months, the only real concession Congressional Democrats were able to secure. Though the Bush administration and its allies in Congress insist that the law gives the government “the essential tools it needs” to conduct necessary surveillance of foreign-based terrorists while protecting Americans’ civil liberties, many Democrats and civil liberties organizations say the bill allows the government to wiretap US residents in communication with overseas parties without judiciary or Congressional oversight. Bush calls the bill “a temporary, narrowly focused statute to deal with the most immediate shortcomings in the law” that needs to be expanded and made permanent by subsequent legislation. The administration says that the lack of judiciary oversight in the new law will be adequately covered by “internal bureaucratic controls” at the National Security Agency. [Associated Press, 8/5/2007; Washington Post, 8/5/2007]
Reining in FISA - The PAA allows FISA to return “to its original focus on protecting the rights of Americans, while not acting as an obstacle to conducting foreign intelligence surveillance on foreign targets located overseas.” Before the PAA, the White House says, FISA created unnecessary obstacles in allowing US intelligence to “gain real-time information about the intent of our enemies overseas,” and “diverted scarce resources that would be better spent safeguarding the civil liberties of people in the United States, not foreign terrorists who wish to do us harm.” The PAA no longer requires the government to obtain FISA warrants to monitor “foreign intelligence targets located in foreign countries” who are contacting, or being contacted by, US citizens inside US borders. FISA will continue to review the procedures used by US intelligence officials in monitoring US citizens and foreign contacts by having the attorney general inform the FISA Court of the procedures used by the intelligence community to determine surveillance targets are outside the United States.”
Allows Third Parties to Assist in Surveillance, Grants Immunity - The PAA also allows the director of national intelligence and the attorney general to secure the cooperation of “third parties,” particularly telecommunications firms and phone carriers, to “provide the information, facilities, and assistance necessary to conduct surveillance of foreign intelligence targets located overseas.” It provides these firms with immunity from any civil lawsuits engendered by such cooperation.
Short Term Legislation - The White House says that Congress must pass further legislation to give telecommunications firms permanent and retroactive immunity against civil lawsuits arising from their cooperation with the government’s domestic surveillance program. [White House, 8/6/2006]
Temporary Suspension of the Constitution? - Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says: “I’m not comfortable suspending the Constitution even temporarily. The countries we detest around the world are the ones that spy on their own people. Usually they say they do it for the sake of public safety and security.” [Washington Post, 8/5/2007]
Entity Tags: Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, National Security Agency, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Mitch McConnell, Al-Qaeda, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Kate Martin, Patrick Radden Keefe, Rush Holt, Protect America Act
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
President Bush says, “[I]t’s up to Iran to prove to the world that they’re a stabilizing force as opposed to a destabilizing force. After all, this is a government that has proclaimed its desire to build a nuclear weapon. This is a government that is in defiance of international accord, a government that seems to be willing to thumb its nose at the international community… [T]he burden of proof is on the Iranian government to show us that they’re a positive force. And I must tell you that this current leadership there is a big disappointment to the people of Iran. The people of Iran could be doing a lot better than they are today. But because of the actions of this government, this country is isolated. And we will continue to work to isolate it, because they’re not a force for good, as far as we can see. They’re a destabilizing influence wherever they are.” [White House, 8/6/2007]
Ron Wyden. [Source: Public domain / US Congress]Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) writes to the Justice Department’s acting head of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Steven Bradbury, asking for clarification of the Bush administration’s stance on the Geneva Conventions as they apply to the interrogation of detainees. Wyden notes that President Bush has recently affirmed that the US would observe the conventions’ standards on humane treatment of all prisoners, and asks precisely how the OLC defines the concept of “humane treatment.” Wyden wants to know what circumstances definitions of that term might vary under, and asks the same questions of the term “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” The principal deputy assistant attorney general, Brian Benczkowski, will answer Wyden’s letter on September 27, 2007 (see September 27, 2007). [US Senate, 8/8/2007 ]
President Bush’s rhetoric towards Iran’s supposed nuclear program shifts from flat assertions that Iran is definitely working for a nuclear bomb (see January 26, 2007, March 31, 2007, June 19, 2007, July 12, 2007, and August 6, 2007) to a more nuanced approach. In a press briefing, Bush now asserts that Iran is taking measures to have a nuclear weapons program: “They have expressed their desire to be able to enrich uranium, which we believe is a step toward having a nuclear weapons program. That, in itself, coupled with their stated foreign policy, is very dangerous for world stability.… It’s a very troubling nation right now.” [White House, 8/9/2007] Journalist Dan Froomkin, and others, later believe that Bush was informed a day or two before he made this comment that the US intelligence community has found that Iran stopped work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003. But instead of reversing course, Froomkin will write, Bush merely adjusts his rhetoric and continues to insist that Iran is a danger to the Middle East because of its nuclear ambitions (see December 5, 2007). “[I]t certainly didn’t tame the overall message,” Froomkin will observe. [Washington Post, 12/5/2007]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases documents that provide evidence of a possible cover-up of Iraqi prisoner abuse by American personnel in 2003. The documents detail US Army Office of Inspector General investigations by three high-ranking Army officials: Major General Barbara Fast, then the top intelligence officer in Iraq (see December 2003); Major General Walter Wojdakowski; and former CENTCOM head Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. The documents suggest that these three flag officers failed to act promptly when informed of the abuses at Abu Ghraib. They also show that an Army investigator found that the conditions of prisoners held in isolation at the Iraqi prison qualified as torture. “These documents make clear that prisoners were abused in US custody not only at Abu Ghraib, but also in other locations in Iraq,” says ACLU official Amrit Singh. “Rather than putting a stop to these abuses, senior officials appear to have turned a blind eye to them.” The documents also show that Major General George Fay (see August 25, 2004) found the conditions of prisoners held in isolation at Abu Ghraib to be torture: “[W]hat was actually being done at Abu Ghraib was they were placing people in their cells naked and they were—those cells they were placing them in, in many instances were unlit. No light whatsoever. And they were like a refrigerator in the wintertime and an oven in the summertime because they had no outside form of ventilation. And you actually had to go outside the building to get to this place they called the ‘hole,’ and were literally placing people into it. So, what they thought was just isolation was actually abuse because it’s—actually in some instances, it was torturous. Because they were putting a naked person into an oven or a naked person into a refrigerator. That qualifies in my opinion as torture. Not just abuse.” Fay also noted in the document that a memo from then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorizing removal of clothing created a ‘mindset’ in which that kind of humiliation was considered an “acceptable technique.” He noted that even though Rumsfeld later rescinded the memo (see August 25, 2004), not everyone received notice that the interrogation of naked prisoners was no longer permissible. [American Civil Liberties Union, 8/15/2007]
Retired General Joseph Hoare, a former commander of US CENTCOM, says: “The idea that [Iraq] is going to go the way the guys [in the Bush administration] planned (see January 2007) is ludicrous. There are no good options.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 317]
Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr orders his militia, the Mahdi Army, to suspend offensive operations for six months following the deaths of over 50 Shi’ite Muslims during recent sectarian fighting in the holy city of Karbala. “I direct the Mahdi army to suspend all its activities for six months until it is restructured in a way that helps honor the principles for which it is formed,” al-Sadr says in a statement issued by his office in the nearby city of Najaf. The statement continues, “We call on all Sadrists to observe self-restraint, to help security forces control the situation and arrest the perpetrators and sedition mongers, and urge them to end all forms of armament in the sacred city.” Asked if the unexpected order meant no attacks on American troops, as well as a ban on Shia infighting, a senior Sadr aide says, “All kinds of armed actions are to be frozen, without exception.” [Daily Telegraph, 8/31/2007] Just three weeks before, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno talked of the US concerns over heavy casualties inflicted on US troops by Shi’ite militia fighters using new roadside bombs called explosively formed penetrators (EFPs). [New York Times, 8/8/2007] US, British, and Iraqi officials are apparently surprised by the sudden announcement, and military officials are cautious about accepting the truth of al-Sadr’s ceasefire order. British military spokesman Major Mike Shearer says, “We don’t know how real this is and I suspect it will take some significant time to see if violence against us does diminish as a result.” But, two days after the announcement, the US military puts out a statement that calls the ceasefire order “encouraging,” and says it will allow US and Iraqi forces to “intensify their focus on al-Qaeda in Iraq… without distraction from [Mahdi Army] attacks.” It adds: “Moqtada al-Sadr’s declaration holds the potential to reduce criminal activity and help reunite Iraqis separated by ethno-sectarian violence and fear. [The ceasefire] would also be an important step in helping Iraqi authorities focus greater attention on achieving the political and economic solutions necessary for progress and less on dealing with criminal activity, sectarian violence, kidnappings, assassinations, and attacks on Iraqi and coalition forces.” Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubbaie is carefully optimistic: “I will see on the ground what is going to happen. It is good news if it is true. If it happens it will reduce violence in the country a great deal.” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office says, “This initiative is an encouraging step toward consolidating security and stability throughout the country and an opportunity for the suspension of the work of the rest of the militias in various political and ideological affiliations to preserve the unity, independence and sovereignty of Iraq.” Al-Sadr does not control all of the Shi’ite militias in the country; those groups do not follow al-Sadr’s lead in suspending hostilities. However, the Mahdi Army is considered by the Pentagon to be the biggest threat to stability in Iraq, even more so than al-Qaeda. In recent months, Mahdi-inflicted casualties have dropped in and around Baghdad, as al-Sadr’s fighters have left the capital to avoid the military crackdown, and gone to Shi’a-dominated southern Iraq. [Daily Telegraph, 8/31/2007; CNN, 9/1/2007] In the weeks and months that follow, US casualties indeed drop; administration and military officials do not credit the ceasefire, but instead showcase the drop in casualties as proof the surge is working (see Early November, 2007).
The Pentagon has drawn up plans for massive air strikes against 1,200 targets in Iran, with the goal of annihilating Iran’s military capabilities in three days, according to Alexis Debat, the director of terrorism and national security at the conservative Nixon Center. Unfortunately, Debat’s credentials as a reporter and a reliable source of information have been seriously discredited (see September 12, 2007), so it is hard to tell how much credence to give Debat’s warnings. Debat, an ardent neoconservative, says the US military has concluded, “Whether you go for pinprick strikes or all-out military action, the reaction from the Iranians will be the same.” Therefore, he says, such massive air strikes make up “very legitimate strategic calculus.” Debat’s statements come on the heels of George W. Bush’s assertion that Iran is forcing the Middle East to live “under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.” Bush said that the US and its allies will confront Iran “before it is too late.” (The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says that Iran is cooperating with the agency over its nuclear program.) A Washington source says the “temperature [is] rising” inside the administration. Bush is “sending a message to a number of audiences,” he says—to the Iranians and to members of the UN Security Council who are trying to weaken a proposed third resolution on sanctions against Iran for flouting a UN ban on uranium enrichment. If Bush’s present commitment to diplomacy with Iran flags, his administration believes it would be prudent to use rapid, devastating force against Iran. [London Times, 9/2/2007] Three weeks later, the British media reports on “Project Checkmate,” an Air Force strategic planning group that is developing plans for a crushing air strike against Iran’s military capabilities (see June 2007).
Bilateral negotiations between the US and North Korea result in Pyongyang agreeing to declare and disable all of its nuclear facilities by the end of the year. The nation has already shut down its main nuclear facility at Yongbyon (see July 16, 2007). In return, the US agrees to take North Korea off its list of nations that sponsor terrorism. [BBC, 12/2007]
Alexis Debat. [Source: PBS]Conservative security consultant Alexis Debat, a former French military official often used by ABC News and other US media outlets, admits that he published an interview with Democratic senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama that he never conducted. In the interview, Obama supposedly said that Iraq was “already a defeat for America” and that the US has “wasted thousands of lives.” Debat claims that he signed off on the article, published in the Summer 2007 issue of the French magazine Politique Internationale, but did not write it, instead farming it out to a freelance journalist, Rob Sherman, and having it published under Debat’s name. Sherman concocted the interview, says Debat, who says both he and Obama are victims. [Washington Post, 9/13/2007] “Rob Sherman asked me to remove his name from the interview, and my mistake was to put my name on it,” says Debat. [ABC News, 9/12/2007] “I was scammed. I was very, very stupid. I made a huge mistake in signing that article and not checking his credentials.” [Washington Post, 9/13/2007]
Greenspan: No Such Interview - Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan said on September 7 that an interview with him, conducted by Debat and published in the same magazine, also never happened. [Rue 89, 9/7/2007]
Many US Officials Also Not Interviewed - Hours after Obama’s campaign disavowed the Debat interview, numerous other US politicians and business figures also say they were victimized by fake interviews supposedly conducted by Debat. Those figures include former President Bill Clinton, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Politique Internationale editor Patrick Wajsman says “This guy is just sick,” and says his magazine is removing all of Debat’s work from its Web site. Annan’s deputy communications director, Stephane Dujarric, says he warned the magazine that the Annan interview was a fabrication back in June 2005, and said that if the magazine published it—which it did—Annan’s office would “denouce the interview as a fake. This was not some obscure guy. This was the sitting secretary-general of the UN, and the magazine was told it was a fake.” Nevertheless, ABC News and Politique Internationale continued to rely on Debat as a source of information and a regular contributor of “interviews” with a variety of influential Americans. The magazine published a second interview with Annan earlier this year, but it, too, was a fabrication, apparently culled from a speech Annan gave at Princeton University. Wajsman calls the publications of the Annan interviews either a “technical” error or a misunderstanding. “I was a victim of this man. I had no reason to suspect someone like him could lie,” Wajsman says. So why did Wajsman continue to rely on Debat after the UN protests? “Everybody can be trusted once,” Wajsman says. “He seemed to be well-connected in Washington, working for ABC and the Nixon Center.” Debat admits he never interviewed any of the above-named figures, but explains: “The magazine asked me to send questions. They got the answers, and then I edited and translated them and put my name on it.” Wajsman retorts, “That is an outright lie.” [ABC News, 9/13/2007]
Debat Frequent Source of Unreliable Information on Iran - Debat has been a frequent source of incendiary information and commentary about the US’s need to invade Iran; on September 2, The Times of London published commentary from Debat in which he claimed the US is planning massive, systematic air strikes against Iran, and called it a “very legitimate strategic calculus” (see Late August, 2007). Recent reports have claimed that an organized campaign to insert reports and commentary in the US and European media drumming up support for a US attack against Iran is being orchestrated by the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. [Attytood, 9/13/2007]
Debat Falsified University Record - Debat’s other reports are now being scrutinized for possible fabrications. ABC News fired Debat in June 2007 after finding that Debat lied about his background: Debat claimed he has a Ph.D from the Sorbonne, when in fact he does not. (Debat claims he earned his Ph.D, but the university hasn’t granted him the degree because of an “administrative issue.”) ABC’s chief investigative reporter Brian Ross, who has worked closely with Debat and has high praise for his work, now says: “I was angry with him because it called into question, of course, everything he had done. He could never satisfy us that he had the Ph.D.… I was very upset.” Debat has specialized in reports on terrorism and national security for the last six years. ABC spokesman Jeffrey Schnieder says that while it has so far verified all of Debat’s reporting: “There are some very serious questions about exactly who he is and how he works. We want nothing more than to get to the absolute bottom of that.” Debat directed the terrorism and national security program from Washington’s Nixon Center, a conservative think tank set up by former President Richard Nixon. He wrote for the conservative political journal National Interest, which is chaired by Henry Kissinger. Debat has now resigned both positions. His position as a regular contributor to Politique Internationale has also probably ended, Debat admits. [Washington Post, 9/13/2007]
'Never Spoke with Your Alexis What's-His-Name' - The French magazine Rue 89 exposed Debat earlier this week, calling him a “strange character” and questioning his credibility. It interviewed the purported freelance journalist, Rob Sherman, who is not a journalist but a radio talk show host in Chicago; according to Sherman, he “never spoke with your Alexis what’s-his-name.” It also reports that Debat once claimed to have earned a Ph.D from Edenvale University, in Britain, an institution that does not exist. He has also claimed to be the director of the scientific committee for the Institut Montaigne in Paris, which denies Debat ever worked with it; he has appeared on French television news claiming to be a former social worker and to be a former French commando who fought against Serbian soldiers in Yugoslavia, claims which have not been confirmed. As for his service in the French military, the French government confirms that Debat indeed held a desk job in its Ministry of Defense for a few months. [Rue 89, 9/7/2007]
'Lone Wolf' or Disinformation Source? - Philadelphia Daily News journalist Will Bunch observes: “[T]here are two radically different ways to look at this scandal. Either Debat is a lone wolf, a deluded self-aggrandizer whose main agenda is promoting himself. Or he is acting in his role at the Nixon Center as a conduit, spreading information and occasional disinformation at the behest of others.” [Attytood, 9/13/2007]
ABC News Also to Blame - Reporter Laura Rozen, a regular contributor to numerous high-end US media outlets such as the Boston Globe and Mother Jones, is unforgiving of both Debat and ABC News: “My own feeling as primarily a print world reporter… is that it is deeply problematic for a news organization to have a paid source/consultant to sometimes put on the reporter hat and act as the reporter too.… Seriously, imagine if a New York Times reporter put an ex-NSC or CIA operative on the payroll for about $2,000 to $4,000 a month as a source, cited in articles as a source, and then sometimes let him or her report news stories with a byline, without glaringly indicating to readers what was going on. But this is what ABC was doing with Debat. ABC must have known they were stretching the rules on this one. For instance, their consultant Richard Clarke is never presented as the reporter. But ABC changed the rules in the Debat case, presumably because he was bringing them such sexy scoops, that they loved flacking at the time. Now they insist the scoops were solid, but Debat misrepresented his credentials. They’re blameless.… [D]id ABC bend the rules by paying a source who also served as their reporter while having a full time appointment elsewhere, smoothing over any complications by calling him an all purpose ‘consultant?’ How much did Brian Ross approve the unusual arrangement and independently verify the information Debat was bringing from the dark corners of Pakistan? [If] Debat faked interviews for a French journal, what was to keep him from faking interviews that informed multiple stories for ABC? I find it implausible that ABC has independently re-reported all that stuff so quickly and determined it’s kosher.” [Laura Rozen, 9/12/2007]
Entity Tags: Politique Internationale, Philadelphia Daily News, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard A. Clarke, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Will Bunch, Stephane Dujarric, Patrick Wajsman, William Gates, Nixon Center, Richard M. Nixon, Michael R. Bloomberg, Brian Ross, Barack Obama, ABC News, Alexis Debat, Alan Greenspan, French Ministry of Defense, Colin Powell, Nancy Pelosi, Laura Rozen, London Times, Jeffrey Schnieder, Henry A. Kissinger, Kofi Annan
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
Former ABC News source and sometime reporter Alexis Debat, whose career as a media commentator and information source is in shambles due to his exposure as a fabricator of numerous interviews with US political and business figures (see September 12, 2007), has a number of close ties with US neoconservatives, according to research by Philadelphia Daily News reporter Will Bunch. Debat has had a strong influence on the US media’s slant on both the Iraq occupation and the envisioned war with Iran, particularly with his frequent contributions to ABC News reports and commentary. Debat has also provided sensational, and often unconfirmed, “information” about the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Several “scoops” from Debat and published by ABC News about Pakistan had to be either corrected or suffered contradiction by Pakistani officials. Debat also has close, if murky, ties with a number of prominent neoconservatives and right-wing Middle East figures. Iranian-born Amir Taheri was listed as an editor of Debat’s primary European press outlet, Politique Internationale, from 2001 through 2006. Taheri’s work has been promoted by a New York public-relations firm, Benador Associates, which specializes in Middle Eastern affairs and boasts a number of neoconservatives on its website, including former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle and former CIA director James Woolsey. Taheri is often published in newspapers owned by conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch. And, like Debat, Taheri’s work has been called into question in recent years. A May 2006 column printed in a Canadian newspaper that alleged Iran was forcing Jews and other religious minorities to wear colored badges was proven false. And a 1988 book by Taheri, Nest of Spies, purporting to give inside details about Islamic terrorism, has been shown to contain a raft of inaccuracies and misstatements. Taheri’s connections with Benador gives him prime entry to conservative media outlets, which seem to sometimes ignore the rampant problems with his reporting. [Attytood, 9/14/2007]
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Amir Taheri, Alexis Debat, ABC News, Benador Associates, James Woolsey, Politique Internationale, Will Bunch, Philadelphia Daily News, George W. Bush, Rupert Murdoch, Richard Perle
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Neoconservative Influence, Domestic Propaganda
Alan Greenspan, the former head of the US Federal Reserve, charges in his newly published memoir that the US invasion of Iraq was largely driven by the Bush administration’s desire to control Iraq’s oil reserves. Greenspan says in his book The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World, that he is “saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows—the Iraq war is largely about oil.” [Agence France-Presse, 9/16/2007; Sunday Times (London), 9/16/2007] In subsequent interviews with the press, though, Greenspan has backed off of his assertion a bit. Iraq’s oil was “not the administration’s motive,” he now says, and goes on to say that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was essential for the US’s economic stability. “I’m just saying that if somebody asked me, ‘Are we fortunate in taking out Saddam?’ I would say it was essential.” He adds, “I have never heard them basically say, ‘We’ve got to protect the oil supplies of the world,’ but that would have been my motive.” He says he made that argument to White House officials, and one of them told him, “Well, unfortunately, we can’t talk about oil.” [Washington Post, 9/17/2007] Greenspan says he advocated the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, not because of weapons of mass destruction, but because he was convinced Hussein wanted to control the Strait of Hormuz, through which much of the world’s oil passes. That would enable Hussein to threaten the US and its allies, a situation Greenspan found untenable. [Columbia Journalism Review, 9/17/2007] “Iraq was a far greater threat than Iran to the world scene,” he says. [New York Times, 9/17/2007] Greenspan says he believed Hussein should go, but not necessarily through military action. “I wasn’t arguing for war per se. [But] to take [Hussein] out, in my judgment, it was something important for the West to do and essential, but I never saw Plan B”—an alternative to war. In August 2002, seven months before the invasion of Iraq, a National Security Presidential Directive signed by Bush stated as one of the objectives of the invasion was “to minimize disruption in international oil markets.” Greenspan says, “If Saddam Hussein had been head of Iraq and there was no oil under those sands, our response to him would not have been as strong as it was in the first Gulf War. And the second Gulf War is an extension of the first. My view is that Saddam, looking over his 30-year history, very clearly was giving evidence of moving towards controlling the Straits of Hormuz, where there are 17, 18, 19 million barrels a day” passing through. Disruption of even 3 to 4 million barrels a day could have translated into oil prices as high as $120 a barrel, Greenspan now says, and that would have triggered “chaos” in the global economy. Ousting Hussein achieved the purpose of “making certain that the existing system [of oil markets] continues to work, frankly, until we find other [energy supplies], which ultimately we will.” [Washington Post, 9/17/2007]
First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting, the Kuwaiti firm building the US embassy in Baghdad, is accused of agreeing to pay $200,000 in kickbacks in return for two unrelated Army contracts in Iraq. According to now-sealed court documents, First Kuwaiti worked with a manager for KBR, the US contracting firm that handles logistics for the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. The document is based on grand jury testimony from the former KBR manager, Anthony J. Martin, who pled guilty in July to taking bribes from First Kuwaiti in 2003 (see July 13, 2007). The US government has tried to keep First Kuwaiti’s name out of public records related to Martin’s case. Martin told the grand jury that he took part in a bribery scheme with Lebanese businessman Wadih Al Absi, the controlling official of First Kuwaiti. That firm has done a large amount of work for US government entities, including the Army Corps of Engineers and the US Marine Corps. It is under investigation by Congress for its allegedly illegal labor practices, and the Justice Department is investigating the firm for alleged contract fraud on the embassy project. J. Scott Arthur, one of Martin’s defense lawyers, says the US government is improperly withholding evidence about Martin and his relationship with Al Absi and First Kuwaiti. Martin has said that he took kickbacks in return for his awarding a $4.6 million contract to First Kuwaiti to supply 50 semi-tractors and 50 refrigeration trailers for six months. A month later, Martin awarded First Kuwaiti an additional $8.8 million subcontract to supply 150 more semi-tractors for six months. In return, First Kuwaiti agreed to pay him $200,000. Martin says he took $10,000, then refused to take any more money. Martin will testify in the trial of former KBR procurement manager Jeff Mazon (see June 2003). First Kuwaiti denies any wrongdoing, and KBR says through a spokesperson that it “in no way condones or tolerates unethical behavior,” adding, “We have fully cooperated with the Department of Justice.” [Associated Press, 9/21/2007]
Newt Gingrich. [Source: Public domain]Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich says that the US should sabotage Iran’s gasoline refinery as part of its efforts to bring down the Iranian government. Gingrich also is harshly critical of the Bush administration for its failure to deal more strongly with Iraq, saying, “I can’t imagine why they put up with this. I mean, either General Petraeus is wrong and the military spokesman’s wrong, or the current policies we have are stunningly ineffective.” He then gives his own prescription for regime change in Iran: “We should finance the students. We should finance a Radio Free Iran. We should covertly sabotage the only gasoline refinery in the country. We should be prepared, once the gasoline refinery is down, to stop all of the gasoline tankers and communicate to the Iranian government that if they want to move equipment into Iran—into Iraq, they’re going to have to walk.” Gingrich adds, “I think we are currently so timid and our bureaucracies are so risk-avoiding—it took enormous leadership by President Reagan and by Bill Casey to reenergize the CIA in the early ‘80s. And we’ve now been through a long period of beating up the intelligence community and having lawyers say, You can’t do this, you can’t do that.” [Fox News, 9/25/2007]
Laurie Mylroie, a neoconservative author whose theories that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see October 2000) and the 9/11 attacks (see September 12, 2001 and July 2003) have been repeatedly discredited (see February 2003, July 9, 2003, and December 2003), produces a report on Iraq for the Pentagon. Reporter Justin Elliott, learning about Mylroie’s position with the Defense Department in 2009, cites Mylroie as an example of “neoconservatives… falling upward,” or “repeatedly getting important things wrong and… being handed new opportunities to pursue their work.” Mylroie’s report, “Saddam’s Foreign Intelligence Service,” follows her February 2007 study entitled “Saddam’s Strategic Concepts: Dealing With UNSCOM.” Both were produced for the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment [ONA], which the Washington Post has described as an “obscure but highly influential” bureau within the department. In 2009, Jacob Heilbrunn, who has written a book about neoconservatives, will say: “It’s kind of astonishing that the ONA would come even within a mile of her. I think she is completely discredited.” The New America Foundation’s Steve Clemons will add: “I’m shocked. If this came out in 2007, she was presumably working on it in 2006, and, by that time, the fate and fortunes of a lot of these people was already switching.” Heilbrunn will explain why Mylroie’s opinions are so sought after within the Pentagon, even though she has been roundly discredited: “She was one of the original fermenters of the idea that Saddam Hussein had these intimate ties with al-Qaeda.” A Defense Department spokesperson will explain Mylroie’s selection as an ONA researcher by saying, “All aspects of researchers and research institutions are considered, with an emphasis on obtaining the widest range of possible intellectual approaches in order to provide a fully balanced approach to the analysis of future developments.” As for her work with ONA, the Defense Department says, “These reports were part of a multi-scope research effort to identify the widest possible range of analysts whose expertise was likely to generate insights and concepts which would contribute to Net Assessments’ ongoing work to develop and refine trends, risks, and opportunities which will shape future (2020) national security environments.” [TPM Muckraker, 1/29/2009]
The Washington Post’s editorial page, headed by Fred Hiatt, denounces Iran’s “race for a bomb,” writing: “[T]he danger is growing that the United States and its allies could face a choice between allowing Iran to acquire the capacity to build a nuclear weapon and going to war to prevent it. The only way to avoid facing that terrible decision is effective diplomacy—that is, a mix of sanctions and incentives that will induce [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad’s superiors to suspend their race for a bomb.… Even if [Iran] provides satisfactory answers, its uranium enrichment—and thus its progress toward a bomb—will continue. That doesn’t trouble [the IAEA’s Mohamed] ElBaradei, who hasn’t hidden his view that the world should stop trying to prevent Iran from enriching uranium and should concentrate instead on blocking US military action… European diplomats say they are worried that escalating tensions between the United States and Iran, if fueled by more sanctions, could lead to war. What they don’t make clear is how the government Mr. Ahmadinejad represents will be induced to change its policy if it has nothing to fear from the West.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]
The Justice Department’s Brian Benczkowski answers Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)‘s request for clarification of the terms “humane treatment” and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” as it applies to suspected terrorists in US custody. Benczkowski writes that the government uses the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) and a recent executive order, Order #13440 (authorizing the continued use of harsh interrogation methods—see July 20, 2007) to determine how the US will comply with the Geneva Conventions. Benczkowski writes that Order 13440 and the Army Field Manual, among other guidelines, ensure that any interrogations carried out by US personnel comply with Geneva.
Geneva Does Not Clearly Define 'Humane Treatment' - He goes on to note that the term “humane treatment” is not directly defined by Geneva, but “rather provides content by enumerating the specific prohibitions that would contravene that standard.” Common Article 3, the statute in the Conventions that specifically addresses the treatment of prisoners, expressly prohibits “violence” including “murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture.” It also prohibits “outrages upon personal dignity,” including “humiliating and degrading treatment.” Benczkowski writes that there is no accepted international standard as to what is defined as “humane treatment” and what is not, outside of the basic provisions of food, water, clothing, shelter, and protection from extremes of temperature. Given this standard, he writes, the Bush administration does ensure that “all detainees within the CIA program shall be treated humanely.”
Defined by Circumstances - He goes on to note that Geneva seems to grant some leeway for interpretation as to what complies with its standards, particularly in the area of “outrages upon personal dignity.” Citing a previous international tribunal, he writes, “To rise to the level of an outrage, the conduct must be ‘animated by contempt for the human dignity of another person’ and it must be so deplorable that the reasonable observer would recognize it as something that must be universally condemned.” None of the methods used by US interrogators contravenes any of these standards as the Justice Department interprets them, Benczkowski concludes. As for the question of “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” or as he abbreviates it, “CIDT,” Benczkowski writes that such treatment is prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution. However, circumstances determine what is and is not CIDT, he writes; even “in evaluating whether a homicide violates Common Article 3, it would be necessary to consider the circumstances surrounding the act.” The CIA interrogation program fully complies with Common Article 3, various statutes and Supreme Court decisions, and the Bill of Rights, Benczkowski asserts. [US Department of Justice, 9/27/2007 ]
David Miliband (L), Manouchehr Mottaki (R). [Source: Press TV]Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki criticizes ongoing talks between British officials and the Taliban in Afghanistan, characterizing them as the wrong approach. “Such moves indicate the continuation of the wrong policies which will only strengthen the Taliban and undermine Afghanistan’s government,” he says at a meeting with his British counterpart David Miliband in New York. He also slams Britain’s counter-narcotics efforts, pointing out that the production of narcotics has been increasing in Afghanistan despite British presence in areas of the country central to opium production, such as Helmand province. [Press TV, 10/2/2007]
The White House denies reports that a secret Justice Department opinion in 2005 authorized the use of torture against detainees suspected of terrorist connections, or superseded US anti-torture laws (see February 2005). Press secretary Dana Perino tells reporters: “This country does not torture. It is a policy of the United States that we do not torture and we do not.” The existence of the 2005 memo, signed by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, was revealed by the New York Times. It apparently superseded a late 2004 memo that characterized torture as “abhorrent” and limited the use of “harsh interrogation techniques” (see December 30, 2004). Perino confirms the existence of the 2005 memo, but will not comment on what techniques it authorized. She merely says that the memo did not reinterpret the law. Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says the 2004 opinion remains in effect and that “neither Attorney General Gonzales nor anyone else within the department modified or withdrew that opinion. Accordingly, any advice that the department would have provided in this area would rely upon, and be fully consistent with, the legal standards articulated in the December 2004 memorandum.” Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a consistent opponent of torture, says he was “personally assured by administration officials that at least one of the techniques allegedly used in the past, waterboarding, was prohibited under the new law.” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) calls the 2005 memo and other Justice Department memos authorizing torture “cynical attempt[s] to shield interrogators from criminal liability and to perpetuate the administration’s unlawful interrogation practices.” House Democrats want Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), to “be made available for prompt committee hearings.” Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a presidential candidate, says: “The secret authorization of brutal interrogations is an outrageous betrayal of our core values, and a grave danger to our security. We must do whatever it takes to track down and capture or kill terrorists, but torture is not a part of the answer—it is a fundamental part of the problem with this administration’s approach.” Perino does not comment on another secret memo that apparently concluded all of the CIA’s torture methodologies were legal (see Late 2005). [Associated Press, 10/4/2007]
In light of new disclosures that the Justice Department endorsed torture in 2005 (see October 4, 2007), President Bush says the CIA broke no laws in its interrogations of prisoners, and reiterates his oft-stated assertion that the US “does not torture people.” In a brief appearance at the White House, Bush says, “We stick to US law and our international obligations.” But when the US finds a terrorism suspect: “You bet we’re going to detain them, and you bet we’re going to question them—because the American people expect us to find out information, actionable intelligence so we can help protect them. That’s our job.” Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says in response: “The administration can’t have it both ways. I’m tired of these games. They can’t say that Congress has been fully briefed while refusing to turn over key documents used to justify the legality of the program.” Rockefeller is referring to attempts by the White House and its defenders to assert that Congress knew as much about the CIA’s torture policies as did the White House, and its simultaneous refusal to turn over to Congress Justice Department and other documents used in the Bush administration’s assertions of legality. [Los Angeles Times, 10/6/2007]
NBC correspondent Howard Fineman says that the US intelligence community will release “three different reports” in upcoming weeks to “slow down” the administration’s push for war with Iran. Fineman says, “The intelligence community over the next few months is going to come out with three different reports on Iran about internal political problems of Iran, about the economy, and about their nuclear capability. Those are going to be key to decide what the Bush administration is going to do, and it’s the intelligence community I think trying to slow down what the president, most particularly the vice president, want to do in Iran.” [MSNBC, 10/7/2007] In fact, the intelligence community will release a National Intelligence Estimate in December that concludes Iran stopped working on a nuclear weapon in 2003, and is not a danger of having a nuclear weapon until at least 2013 (see December 3, 2007).
After almost five years in US custody, Mohammed Jawad (see December 17, 2002) is charged with attempted murder in violation of the law of war and intentionally causing serious bodily injury. Jawad is alleged to have thrown a hand grenade into a US military vehicle in Kabul, Afghanistan, but denies the charges. [Human Rights First, 9/2008]
Christina Rocca. [Source: US State Department]Christina Rocca, the US representative to the UN’s Conference on Disarmament, makes a statement to the conference members on the US’s attempts to “reduce the threat of nuclear war and armed conflict.” Rocca refers to the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) (see December 31, 2001) as part of her claim that the US is reducing its reliance on nuclear weapons as part of its counterstrike options. Rocca says the “new thinking embodied in” that policy review has allowed for steady progress in nuclear disarmament among the US, Russia, and other countries formerly involved in the Cold War. [United States Mission to the United Nations, 10/9/2007] Unfortunately, Rocca is misrepresenting the actual thrust of the NPR. In point of fact, the NPR spearheaded a new operational policy that plans for pre-emptive nuclear strikes against countries attempting to create weapons of mass destruction, if the White House deems such strikes necessary. The NPR mandates a greater, not a lesser, reliance on nuclear arms for pre-emptive and retaliatory strikes. [Federation of American Scientists, 11/5/2007]
CIA Director Michael Hayden orders an unusual internal investigation of the agency’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the press will later learn. The OIG, led by Inspector General John Helgerson, has conducted aggressive investigations of the CIA’s detention and interrogation programs (see May 7, 2004). Current and former government officials say that Hayden’s probe has created anxiety and anger in the OIG, and has sparked questions in Congress of possible conflicts of interest. The review is focusing on complaints that the OIG has not been, as the New York Times reports, a “fair and impartial judge of agency operations,” but instead has “begun a crusade against those who have participated in controversial detention programs.” Some current and former officials say that such a probe threatens to undermine the independence of the office. Former CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz, who served from 1990 through 1998, says any move by Hayden to conduct a probe into the OIG would “not be proper.” Hitz calls it “a terrible idea,” and adds: “Under the statute, the inspector general has the right to investigate the director. How can you do that and have the director turn around and investigate the IG?” A CIA spokesman says Hayden’s only motive is “to help this office, like any office at the agency, do its vital work even better.” The investigation is being overseen by Robert Deitz, a trusted aide to Hayden who served with him when he ran the National Security Agency. Another member of the investigating group is Associate Deputy Director Michael Morrell. Under the law, the proper procedure for Hayden would be to file complaints with the Integrity Committee of the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency, which oversees all the inspectors general, or to go directly to the White House. For an internal inquiry to be launched against an agency’s OIG by the agency head violates the independence and the position of the OIG. Critics say that the timing of Hayden’s investigation is more than coincidental, as Helgerson’s office is readying a number of reports on CIA detention, interrogation, and rendition practices. [New York Times, 10/11/2007]
Chart showing default rate since beginning of surge. [Source: Wall Street Journal]A Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist writes that according to economic indicators, the US military surge in Iraq is not working, and actually may be undermining US military efforts to bring order to that ravaged nation. Until now, few have tried to measure the success of the surge by using financial indicators, in part because of the lack of usable economic data available from Iraq, but Michael Greenstone of MIT’s economics department has made just such an attempt, using the long-term performance of Iraq state bonds to gauge how investors believe the prospects in Iraq are shaping up. Greenstone is not optimistic. “After the surge, there was a sharp decline in the price of those bonds, relative to alternative bonds,” Greenstone writes. He judges the performance of Iraq state bonds and credit default swaps against benchmark performers such as the Lehman Brothers emerging markets bond index, and against bonds issued in Qatar. Greenstone draws the conclusion that the global market is betting more and more on the likelihood that Iraq will default on its bonds, and concludes, “This finding suggests that, to date, the surge is failing to pave the way toward a stable Iraq and may in fact be undermining it.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/11/2007]
Dissent among CIA personnel, brewing for well over a year (see April 19, 2006), has become even more intense in recent months, according to reporter Ken Silverstein. Some CIA employees, increasingly disgusted with the Bush administration’s torture and rendition policies, have taken their complaints directly to Inspector General (IG) John Helgerson. In response, CIA Director Michael Hayden has launched an internal inquiry into Helgerson’s office (see Before October 11, 2007). Silverstein reports that on top of internal dissent and complaints to Helgerson’s office, a former senior legal official quit in protest over the administration’s torture policies. Silverstein is not at liberty to reveal the name of the official, but says he worked as a deputy inspector general under former IG Frederick Hitz, who left the position in 1998, and after that worked in the CIA’s office of general counsel. Silverstein says the official had the reputation of being a “hardliner” on terrorism and prisoner interrogations. According to Silverstein, “sources tell me he couldn’t stomach what he deemed to be abuses by the Bush administration and stepped down from his post.” [Harper's, 10/12/2007]
Part of the White House’s $196 billion emergency funding request for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is $88 million for modifying B-2 stealth bombers to carry “Massive Ordnance Penetrator,” or bunker-busting, bombs. Many both in and out of government believe that the order has nothing to do with Iraq or Afghanistan, but is part of the Bush administration’s plans for attacking Iran. The 30,000-pound bombs, called MOPs, are the largest conventional bombs in the military’s arsenal, designed to penetrate up to 200 feet underground before exploding. The only explanation given in the White House’s budget request is that it comes in response to “an urgent operational need from theater commanders.” But no one at the Pentagon or the US Central Command has, so far, been able or willing to identify that need. Military experts say that there is no need for MOPs in Iraq. They could potentially be useful in Afghanistan to destroy Taliban or al-Qaeda hideouts in the mountainous, cave-riddled border area of Afghanistan and Pakistan, but there is no need to use stealth bombers to deploy such weapons. But MOPs are ideal for a strike at Iraq’s heavily fortified, deeply buried nuclear facility in Natanz. John Pike of Globalsecurity.org says, “You’d use it on Natanz. And you’d use it on a stealth bomber because you want it to be a surprise. And you put in an emergency funding request because you want to bomb quickly.” Pike says he does not fully understand the rationale behind the public funding request. “It’s kind of strange,” he says. “It sends a signal that you are preparing to bomb Iran, and if you were actually going to bomb Iran I wouldn’t think you would want to announce it like that.” [ABC News, 10/24/2007] The request for the bomber modifications comes simultaneously with one of Vice President Dick Cheney’s most belligerent challenges towards Iran (see October 21, 2007).
Lord Paddy Ashdown, the former United Nations high representative and European Union special representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, says that international forces are unlikely to win the war in Afghanistan, risking to set off a regional conflict that could match the scale and magnitude of World Wars I and II. “I think we are losing in Afghanistan now, we have lost I think and success is now unlikely,” Ashdown says in an interview with Reuters. “Some people refer to the First and Second World Wars as European civil wars and I think a similar regional civil war could be initiated by this (failure) to match this magnitude,” he says. Ashdown warns that failure of international forces in Afghanistan would have wider repercussions than any loss in Iraq. “I believe losing in Afghanistan is worse than losing in Iraq. It will mean that Pakistan will fall and it will have serious implications internally for the security of our own countries and will instigate a wider Shiite, Sunni regional war on a grand scale.” Ashdown then ties impending catastrophe in Afghanistan with the lack of a powerful, high-level coordinator to lead the foreign mission there. “Unless somebody has the power genuinely to coordinate and unify the international approach, we will lose and I think that is happening,” he says. Ashdown, who currently heads the EU-Russia Centre think tank in Brussels, has been tipped and promoted for such a role by some US and UK officials, but says he has ruled himself out of the job. [Reuters, 10/17/2007] Ashdown will later interview for the position of United Nations “super envoy” to Afghanistan. However, Afghan president Hamid Karzai will oppose Ashdown’s candidacy, forcing him to withdraw his name from consideration, something he will say he did “reluctantly.” [UN Elections.org, 1/30/2008]
Jamal al-Badawi in a Yemeni prison in 2005. [Source: Associated Press / Muhammed Al Qadhi]Al-Qaeda operative Jamal al-Badawi, considered one of the main planners of the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000), turns himself in to Yemeni authorities on October 17, 2007. He had escaped a Yemeni prison the year before and had been sentenced to death in Yemen for his role in the bombing (see February 3, 2006). But on October 26, Yemeni authorities release him again in return for a pledge not to engage in any violent or al-Qaeda-related activity. Yemen often lets militants go free if they pledge not to attack within Yemen (see 2002 and After). The US has issued a $5 million reward for al-Badawi’s capture, but the Yemeni government refuses to extradite him. US officials are furious about the release, which is particularly galling because it comes just two days after President Bush’s top counterterrorism adviser Frances Townsend visits Yemen and praises the Yemeni government for their cooperation in fighting terrorism. The US had also just announced $20 million in new aid for Yemen, but threatens to cancel the aid due to al-Badawi’s release. Al-Badawi is put back in prison on October 29 and the aid program goes forward. However, US officials are dubious about al-Badawis’ real status. One official who visits him in prison gets the impression he was put in a prison cell just in time for the visit. [Newsweek, 10/27/2007; Newsweek, 10/31/2007; New York Times, 1/28/2008] In December 2007, a Yemeni newspaper reports that al-Badawi has again been seen roaming free in public. One source close to the Cole investigation will tell the Washington Post in 2008 that there is evidence that al-Badawi is still allowed to come and go from his prison cell. US officials have demanded to be able to conduct random inspections to make sure he stays in his cell, but apparently the Yemeni government has refused the demand. [Washington Post, 5/4/2008]
In a setback for the Justice Department, a mistrial is declared in the government’s attempted prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (see 1989), a now-defunct Muslim charity that the government accused of sponsoring terrorism back in 2001. The mistrial was not the first verdict sent down; the judge originally announced a near-complete acquittal of Holy Land’s top officials on terrorist financing charges. However, three jurors stated in court that the verdict was incorrect, the judge sent the jury back into chambers for further deliberations. A mistrial of four Holy Land officials is declared after the jury declares itself locked, and a fifth official is declared innocent of all but one charge, where the jury again finds itself unable to render a verdict. The mistrials and acquittals are a blow to the Justice Department and the White House, both of which have billed the prosecution of Holy Land as the best efforts in years to secure a clear victory against terrorism. “It’s a major loss for the government,” says law professor Jonathan Turley, who has himself represented alleged terrorist financiers against the Justice Department. The case was never as solid as it was presented by government officials. In 2001, after Holy Land was declared a terrorist sponsor by the Bush administration and its funds were frozen (see February 19, 2000 and December 4, 2001), civil libertarians called the government’s definition of sponsorship of terrorism overly broad, and Holy Land fought back in court. In 2004, the government indicted Holy Land and its top leaders, leveling accusations that the charity and its officials had funnelled $12 million to the terrorist group Hamas through secondary charities (see October 1994-2001, May 12, 2000-December 9, 2004 and December 18, 2002-April 2005). A summary of wiretapped conversations between charity officials contained inflammatory anti-Semitic statements, which bolstered the government’s case in the public eye, but when the actual transcripts were examined, no such anti-Semitic statements could be found. And the government’s strategy of adding a long list of “unindicted co-conspirators” to its allegations against Holy Land, a list which includes many prominent Muslim organizations still legally operating inside the US, has caused many to accuse the government of conducting a smear campaign (see December 3-14, 2001 and August 21, 2004). While the Justice Department may well retry the case, the verdict, which seems to favor the defendants, “doesn’t bode well for the government’s prosecution” of this and other similar cases, says export controls lawyer Judith Lee. [US News and World Report, 10/22/2007]
George W. Bush warns that world leaders are risking World War III unless they work to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Bush makes his remarks at the White House, remarks timed to coincide with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tehran. Russia has in recent weeks warned the US about moving too quickly towards a violent confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program; Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and other Bush officials have responded by escalating their rhetoric towards Iran (see October 21, 2007) and requesting funding for weapons that could be used against Iran’s nuclear facilities (see Mid-October, 2007). “We’ve got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel,” Bush says. “So I’ve told people that, if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” In fact, Putin and Russian officials have repeatedly said that Iran is not building nuclear weapons, Russia has pledged to continue helping Iran develop its nuclear power technology, and Russia has led a coalition of Caspian nations who vow to prevent the US from using that region to launch any attacks against Iran. [Daily Telegraph, 10/20/2007]
In some of his most challenging and belligerent statements yet on Iran, Vice President Dick Cheney says flatly that Iran will not be allowed to pursue its nuclear program. He dismisses Iran’s claims that its nuclear program is intended for peaceful use only, and accuses Iranian leaders of pursuing a practice of “delay and deception in an obvious effort to buy time.… Our country, and the entire international community, cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its grandest ambitions. The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences.” Cheney does not specify what those “serious consequences” are, but many inside and outside the government believe that Cheney is signaling the administration’s intent to use military force against Iran before Cheney and President Bush leave office in January 2009. Michael O’Hanlon of the centrist Brookings Institution says, “That’s pretty firm, clear language. And it raises more clearly the specter of military action. That is much more than saying this isn’t just an option that we’ve taken off the table.” Cheney’s office says that his statements are in line with earlier statements that warn of possible military confrontations with Iran. In March 2006, he said, “We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.” In May 2007, he said, “We’ll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region.” However, analysts say that the rhetoric from Cheney and Bush has recently escalated to a point where military action seems more likely than ever before. [ABC News, 10/21/2007]
Bob Drogin. [Source: CBS News]Reporter Bob Drogin, discussing his new book Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, reflects on the opposing views surrounding the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq based on misinformed and sometimes fraudulent information about Iraq’s supposed WMD programs. The Bush administration has repeatedly blamed its erroneous claims of Iraqi WMDs on “bad intelligence,” and administration critics have stated that Bush officials “manipulated” and “cherry-picked” the intelligence they wanted to justify their push for war, and ignored the rest. Drogin says that both descriptions are accurate. “I don’t see that as an either-or proposition. Both happened,” he says. “The White House clearly manipulated information to make its case for war. It exaggerated the supposed link between Saddam [Hussein] and 9/11, for example, going far beyond what the CIA believed.… [T]he White House didn’t need to ‘cherry pick’ intelligence on Saddam’s WMD because the CIA stuff was all wrong. And it flowed into the White House by the truckload. Go back and read [Colin] Powell’s 2003 UN speech, or the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, the so-called gold standard of the US intelligence community. Virtually every sentence is wrong. That was the official view. It gave them the pretext for war.… I wanted to understand how an intelligence system that spends about $50 billion a year could produce the worst intelligence disaster in our history. The cascade of mistakes in the Curveball case is a big part of the answer.” He continues, “It was like witchcraft—the failure to find proof [of WMDs] was considered proof itself. So it became ‘not only does he have them, but look at how good he is at hiding them.’ So the threat was even greater. Our fears blinded us, I think—and the politicians used that to engender a state of national concern.” Drogin puts much of the blame, not on the media for conflating the story into a “crisis,” but on Congress for not standing up and demanding real answers and real proof. “I mean, I was in Washington and there was no debate. Democrats were running absolutely scared, running with their tails between their legs and the Republicans all lined up behind Bush. And the press can only do so much—in the end, I’m a reporter and I can’t prove a negative. I’m not going to go out and say he doesn’t have weapons, I don’t see the intelligence, I don’t know… [I]f members of Congress had fought that battle then it would have been covered and the debate would have been there. There’s only so much you can do as a reporter to create a debate.” [Alternet, 10/22/2007]
The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen writes: “Sadly, it is simply not possible to dismiss the Iranian threat. Not only is Iran proceeding with a nuclear program, but it projects a pugnacious, somewhat nutty, profile to the world.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]
Russian President Vladimir Putin says, rhetorically, that the new US sanctions against Iran are the work of a “madman.” Responding to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s announcement of the harsh new sanctions, Putin asks, “Why worsen the situation and bring it to a dead end by threatening sanctions or military action? Running around like a madman with a razor blade, waving it around, is not the best way to resolve the situation.” Instead, Putin says, the standoff between Iran and the US needs to be resolved diplomatically. He points to the recent agreement over North Korea’s nuclear program as an example. “Not long ago it didn’t seem possible to resolve the situation with North Korea’s nuclear program, but we have practically solved it relying on peaceful means.” The US insists the sanctions are warranted by what they call Iran’s refusal to shelve its nuclear program, and its support of Islamist terrorism. Russia is providing critical assistance in the construction of Iran’s first nuclear power plant, and has actively opposed further UN sanctions against that nation. [Associated Press, 10/25/2007; Press Association Group, 10/26/2007]
Neoconservative founder Norman Podhoretz, a senior foreign adviser to Republican presidential frontrunner Rudolph Giuliani, says the US has no other choice than to bomb Iran. Podhoretz says heavy and immediate strikes against Iran are necessary to prevent that country from developing nuclear weapons. “None of the alternatives to military action—negotiations, sanctions, provoking an internal insurrection—can possibly work,” Podhoretz says. “They’re all ways of evading the terrible choice we have to make which is to either let them get the bomb or to bomb them.” Podhoretz says that such strikes would be effective: “People I’ve talked to have no doubt we could set [Iran’s nuclear program] five or 10 years. There are those who believe we can get the underground facilities as well with these highly sophisticated bunker-busting munitions.” (Podhoretz does not identify the people he has “talked to.”) “I would say it would take five minutes. You’d wake up one morning and the strikes would have been ordered and carried out during the night. All the president has to do is say go.” Giuliani has echoed Podhoretz’s belligerence towards Iran; last month, Giuliani told a London audience that Iran should be given “an absolute assurance that, if they get to the point that they are going to become a nuclear power, we will prevent them or we will set them back five or 10 years.” Podhoretz says he was pleasantly surprised to hear Giuliani make such assertions: “I was even surprised he went that far. I’m sure some of his political people were telling him to go slow…. I wouldn’t advise any candidate to come out and say we have to bomb—it’s not a prudent thing to say at this stage of the campaign.” Podhoretz has given President Bush much the same advice (see Spring 2007).
'Irrational' 'Insanity' - Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel blasts the “immorality and illegality” of Podhoretz’s “death wish,” and notes that such “military action would be irrational for both sides. The US military is already stretched to the breaking point. We’d witness unprecedented pandemonium in oil markets. Our troops in Iraq would be endangered.” Vanden Heuvel cites the failure to destroy Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles during six weeks of bombings in 1991 (see January 16, 1991 and After), and the failure of the Israeli bombing of Iraq’s Osirak reactor (see June 7, 1981) to curb “regional [nuclear] proliferation.” She concludes, “Podhoretz and his insanity will embolden Iranian hardliners, plunge the region into even greater and darker instability and undermine our security.” [Nation, 10/28/2007]
Giuliani's Stable of Neocons - Since July 2007, Giuliani has surrounded himself with a group of outspoken hardline and neoconservative foreign policy advisers (see Mid-July 2007).
On the eve of a visit to London, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia says that his intelligence service warned Britain of an impending plot before the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), but that British authorities failed to act on the warning. King Abdullah says, “We sent information to [Britain] before the terrorist attacks in Britain but unfortunately no action was taken. And it may have been able to maybe avert the tragedy.” He also says that Britain did not take terrorism seriously for a while. However, British authorities deny all this. [BBC, 10/29/2007] Details of the warning are not specified. However, this may be a reference to one or two discussions between Saudi Arabia and Britain in early 2005 about information indicating there was to be an attack in London (see December 14, 2004-February 2005 and April 2005 or Shortly Before).
Republican presidential candidates Rudolph Giuliani (R-NY), John McCain (R-AZ), and Mitt Romney (R-MA) come out against the Law of the Sea treaty, saying that the treaty infringes on the natural rights of the United States. That treaty, signed in 1982, is supported by organizations and government entities as disparate as the Sierra Club and the US Navy, and provides what author J. Peter Scoblic will call “a commonsense agreement… that define[s] national responsibilities governing use of an international resource, the oceans.” Explaining his stance, Giuliani says, “I cannot support the creation of yet another unaccountable international bureaucracy that might infringe on American sovereignty and curtail America’s freedoms.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 267]
General John Abizaid. [Source: US Centcom]Gen. John Abizaid, the recently retired commander of US forces in the Middle East, says it might take half a century before US troops can leave the Middle East. “Over time, we will have to shift the burden of the military fight from our forces directly to regional forces, and we will have to play an indirect role, but we shouldn’t assume for even a minute that in the next 25 to 50 years the American military might be able to come home, relax and take it easy, because the strategic situation in the region doesn’t seem to show that as being possible.” He says the rise of Sunni extremism, expanding Shi’ite extremism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the world economy’s dependency on Mideast oil will keep Americans in the Middle East for a long time. “I’m not saying this is a war for oil, but I am saying that oil fuels an awful lot of geopolitical moves that political powers may have there.” [Associated Press, 11/1/2007]
US officials hail a marked drop in casualties in Iraq in recent weeks. One major reason for the drop seems to be the recent decision by Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army to observe a six-month ceasefire (see August 30, 2007), but Pentagon and White House officials instead credit it to the recent “surge” of US troops into the country (see January 10, 2007), and do not mention the ceasefire at all.
Number of Explosively Formed Projectiles Decreasing - The number of deadly explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) coming into the country seems to be dropping as well, with 99 being detonated or found in July 2007 and 53 in October, according to Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, the commander of day-to-day military operations in Iraq. Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army has been alleged to be a major recipient and user of EFPs. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will not yet declare “victory” in Iraq, saying that use of terms like “victory” or “winning” are “loaded words.” However, Gates says: “We have been very successful. We need to continue being successful.” Iran has promised to help curtail the flow of EFPs into Iraq; some believe that Iran is the source of most EFPs used in Iraq, and some US officials do not yet believe the Iranians. Odierno says: “In terms of Iran… it’s unclear yet to me whether they have slowed down bringing in weapons and supporting the insurgency or not. I’ll still wait and see.” [Washington Post, 11/2/2007]
Bush, Others Claim Surge a Success - President George Bush says the strategy is successful; at Fort Jackson, SC, he says, “Slowly but surely, the people of Iraq are reclaiming a normal society.” White House national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe adds, “The purpose of the strategy is to make the lull a trend,” and says the trend suggests “steady forward movement on the security front.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/3/2007] Presidential candidate and senator John McCain (R-AZ), an advocate of increasing the US presence in Iraq, says that the US is experiencing “astonishing success” in Iraq because of the surge: “Things are dramatically better, particularly since Gen. Petraeus went before the Congress of the United States and Americans had a chance to see what a great and dynamic leader he is.” [USA Today, 11/1/2007] The London Times agrees, writing, “[O]n every relevant measure, the shape of the Petraeus curve is profoundly encouraging.” The Times goes even further, avowing: “As the pace of reconstruction quickens, the prospects for economic recovery will be enhanced yet further. With oil at record high prices, Iraq should be an extremely prosperous nation and in a position to start planning for its future with confidence.” The editors dismiss the opposition to the war by British and American politicians alike as “outdated.” [London Times, 11/3/2007]
Rafid Ahmed Alwan. [Source: CBS News]CBS News reveals the identity of the infamous Iraqi defector, “Curveball,” whose information was used by the Bush administration to build its case for Iraqi biological weapons. Curveball’s real identity is Rafid Ahmed Alwan, an Iraqi who defected to Germany in November 1999, where he requested asylum at a refugee center near Nuremberg (see November 1999). The evidence Curveball provided was detailed, compelling, and completely false, but instrumental in driving the US towards invading Iraq. Former senior CIA official Tyler Drumheller, who was unable to convince either his superiors in the agency or senior officials in the White House that Curveball was untrustworthy (see September 2002), says of Curveball’s contribution to the rhetoric of war, “If they [the Bush administration] had not had Curveball they would have probably found something else. ‘Cause there was a great determination to do it. But going to war in Iraq, under the circumstances we did, Curveball was the absolutely essential case.” CBS reporter Bob Simon says Curveball is “not only a liar, but also a thief and a poor student instead of the chemical engineering whiz he claimed to be.” The CIA eventually acknowledged Alwan as a fraud. The question remains, why did he spin such an elaborate tale? Drumheller thinks it was for the most prosaic of reasons. “It was a guy trying to get his Green Card, essentially, in Germany, playing the system for what it was worth. It just shows sort of the law of unintended consequences.” Alwan is believed to be still living in Germany, most likely under an assumed name. [CBS News, 11/4/2007]
While the Bush administration claims that Iran is risking “World War III” by continuing to pursue nuclear weapons (see October 20, 2007), an array of experts inside and outside the government quoted in a McClatchy News article say that there is no conclusive evidence that Iran is actively pursuing such weapons. The story, and the alleged facts, change depending on which administration official is doing the speaking. President Bush and Vice President Cheney use harsh, bellicose rhetoric reminiscent of the rhetoric used in the run-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, but others, such as Bush’s “point man” on Iran, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, is attempting to tone down the rhetoric. Burns recently told reporters, “Iran is seeking a nuclear capability… that some people fear might lead to a nuclear-weapons capability.” Another US official says more directly, “I don’t think that anyone right today thinks [Iran is] working on a bomb.” Iran has the capability to continue working on producing a nuclear weapon, experts note, and could transform its current uranium-enrichment program into a weapons program if it so desired. But as of now, US experts have an amalgamation of circumstantial evidence and supposition, and no real proof; reporter Jonathan Landay observes, “Bush’s rhetoric seems hyperbolic compared with the measured statements by his senior aides and outside experts.” The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency agrees. With four years of inspections of Iran’s nuclear energy program behind it, the IAEA says it has no information that would show Iran has an active nuclear weapons program. The circumstantial evidence that leads some to assert the reality of Iran’s active nuclear weapons program is extensive, but not always solid. In 2006, the CIA gave the IAEA thousands of pages of computer simulations and documents that it claimed it took from a defector’s laptop; those documents showed that Iranian experts were working on mounting a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile, and working on developing nuclear “triggers,” or detonators. The CIA calls all of this Project 111. The Iranians denounced the materials as “politically motivated and baseless,” and have promised to cooperate with an IAEA investigation into the matter. Many Western intelligence officials and outside experts believe the materials are genuine—“I wouldn’t go to war over this, but it’s reason for suspicion,” says one—but Dr. Muhammad Sahimi, an Iranian defector who has closely monitored Iran’s nuclear program for decades, dismisses the materials as “totally not believable,” observing, “If the laptop did exist, I find it hard to believe that its absence wasn’t noticed for so long that somebody could take it out of Iran.” The IAEA has other questions as well, including a document from the nuclear black-market program of Dr. A. Q. Khan that shows how to form uranium into explosive cores, Iran’s experiments with radioactive materials used primarily in nuclear warheads, Iranian involvement with a uranium mine, and Iran’s claim that it needs large amounts of nuclear energy to feed its energy needs when it sits on such large reserves of oil and gas. Sahimi answers this last point by noting Iran would, in his opinion, do better to sell its petroleum on the global market and rely on nuclear energy for its own needs. [McClatchy News, 11/4/2007] A month after this article is published, the administration will release an intelligence report that concludes Iran stopped work on nuclear weapons in 2003 (see December 3, 2007).
After spending a year traveling through the Middle East and writing about his experiences, Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland says there is an “unmistakable effort by Iran to develop nuclear weapons.” He adds: “That Iran has gone to great, secretive lengths to create and push forward a bomb-building capability is not a Bush delusion.… [T]ime is running out on the diplomatic track.” In late October, Hoagland dismissed Russian Premier Vladimir Putin’s doubt that Iran would be able to turn enriched uranium into a usable weapon (see October 26, 2007) as “implausible.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]
Evan Wallach, a New York judge who teaches the law of war at two New York City law schools, pens an editorial for the Washington Post protesting the argument that waterboarding has somehow become legal. Wallach, a former Judge Advocate General officer in the Nevada National Guard, recalls routinely lecturing military policemen about their legal obligations towards their prisoners. He writes that he always concluded by saying: “I know you won’t remember everything I told you today, but just remember what your mom told you: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” He is proud to note that the unit he was with, the 72nd Military Police Company, “refused to participate in misconduct at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.”
Waterboarding Is Real, Not Simulated, Drowning - Wallach then explains what waterboarding is. It is not “simulated drowning,” as many media reports characterize it: “That’s incorrect. To be effective, waterboarding is usually real drowning that simulates death. That is, the victim experiences the sensations of drowning: struggle, panic, breath-holding, swallowing, vomiting, taking water into the lungs, and, eventually, the same feeling of not being able to breathe that one experiences after being punched in the gut. The main difference is that the drowning process is halted. According to those who have studied waterboarding’s effects, it can cause severe psychological trauma, such as panic attacks, for years.”
Prosecution of Waterboarding as Torture Goes Back to 1898 - Wallach notes that after World War II, several Japanese soldiers were tried and executed for waterboarding American and Allied prisoners of war. One former POW, Lieutenant Chase Nielsen, testified: “I was given several types of torture.… I was given what they call the water cure.… Well, I felt more or less like I was drowning… just gasping between life and death.” The waterboarding of POWs was one of the driving forces behind the US’s organization of war crimes trials for senior Japanese military and civilian officials. Wallach writes: “Leading members of Japan’s military and government elite were charged, among their many other crimes, with torturing Allied military personnel and civilians. The principal proof upon which their torture convictions were based was conduct that we would now call waterboarding.” (Weeks later, torture opponent Senator John McCain will cite the Japanese prosecutions in a presidential debate—see November 29, 2007). Wallach notes that as far back as 1898, US soldiers were court-martialed for waterboarding Filipino guerrillas during the Spanish-American War. More recently, a group of Filipino citizens sued, in a US district court, the estate of former Phillipine President Ferdinand Marcos, claiming they had been waterboarded and subjected to other tortures. The court awarded the plaintiffs $766 million in damages, and wrote: “[T]he plaintiffs experienced human rights violations including, but not limited to… the water cure, where a cloth was placed over the detainee’s mouth and nose, and water producing a drowning sensation.” In 1983, a Texas sheriff and three of his deputies were convicted of violating prisoners’ civil rights by subjecting them to a procedure similar to waterboarding (see 1983). Wallach concludes: “We know that US military tribunals and US judges have examined certain types of water-based interrogation and found that they constituted torture. That’s a lesson worth learning. The study of law is, after all, largely the study of history. The law of war is no different. This history should be of value to those who seek to understand what the law is—as well as what it ought to be.” [Washington Post, 11/4/2007]
Curveball, a.k.a. Rafid Ahmed Alwan. [Source: CNN]Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress releases a statement in response to CBS’s 60 Minutes segment revealing the name of discredited Iraqi defector “Curveball” (see November 4, 2007). (Note: the CBS report did not mention Curveball’s alleged INC affiliations.) The INC says that the segment proves once and for all that there is no link between the INC and Curveball: “The INC can state categorically that there has never been any person at any level of the INC who is related to anyone named Rafid Ahmed Alwan.” The statement continues, “The CIA engaged in a smear campaign to link Curveball to the INC in order to deflect blame from its own failures in Iraq.” It calls on the US media to correct the “false information that has misled their readers.” [Iraqi National Congress, 11/4/2007] The INC’s blanket denial may not be entirely accurate (see 2001, February 5, 2003, and October 22, 2007).
The US military releases nine Iranian prisoners, including two captured when US troops stormed an Iranian government office in the Iraqi city of Irbil (see January 11, 2007). The office was shut after the raid, but has now reopened as an Iranian consulate. The US had one of the freed Iranians in custody for three years, and some of the released detainees are thought to be affiliated with al-Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni insurgent organization. Iran is believed to be helping Iraqi Shi’ites, not Sunnis; however, US military officials say Iran may be arming Sunni organizations also, though not to the extent it is allegedly arming Shi’ite groups. Military spokesman Rear Admiral Gregory Smith says the identities of the nine Iranian prisoners will be released later, and says that many of the Iranians had been taken prisoner through the course of the US occupation. Kurdish forces have already released another Iranian soldier captured in September. Smith says Iran seems to be keeping its promise, made to the Iraqi government, to halt the flow of bomb-making materials and weaponry into Iraq. Recently captured caches of roadside bombs “do not appear to have arrived here in Iraq after those pledges were made,” Smith says. The second highest-level commander of US forces in Iraq, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, said last week that over the last three months there has been a sharp decline in the number of explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) found in Iraq during the last three months. At least five other Iranians, also captured in the Irbil office, remain in custody, facing accusations of being members of the paramilitary al-Quds force, which the US says funnels weapons to Shi’ite militias in Iraq. The US says it is still holding eleven Iranians in total, but the Iranian ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, says the number is 25, and demands their release as well. [Associated Press, 11/6/2007; McClatchy News, 11/9/2007]
Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, breaches the rule of secrecy in revealing information about classified briefings to object to what he says are mischaracterizations of his and other Congressional lawmakers’ support for the administration’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” against terror suspects. In a statement on the floor of the Senate opposing the nomination of Judge Michael Mukasey to become Attorney General (see November 8, 2007), Feingold says, “Last week the White House press secretary again implied the members of Congress who have been briefed in the CIA’s interrogation program have approved it or consented to it. That is not the case. I have vigorously opposed the program and continue to do so. The program is of highly questionable legality, it is inconsistent with our values as a nation, and it does not make our nation any safer. In fact, I believe it may have the effect of exposing Americans, including other US personnel, to greater risk.” Feingold and other lawmakers are bound not to reveal the nature of such classified briefings, or even that they participated in them. Feingold reveals his own participation in some of the briefings because he believes that the administration is taking advantage of that secrecy restriction to “spin” the issue as regards the members’ reactions and levels of support. Feingold continues, “I have detailed the reasons for my strong objections to the CIA’s program in classified correspondence sent very shortly after I was first briefed on it (see May 1-10, 2007). More recently I’ve stated my opposition publicly, although I am prohibited by classification rules from providing further details about my concerns in a public setting.” Feingold calls one of the most notorious techniques employed by the CIA, waterboarding, “barbaric,” notes that it “has been used by some of the most evil regimes in history” and “has been considered torture in this country for over a century,” and asks, “If Judge Mukasey won’t say the simple truth—that this barbaric practice is torture—how can we count on him to stand up to the White House on other issues?” [US Senate, 11/7/2007; Washington Post, 12/9/2007]
Vice President Cheney’s office has been holding up the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran for over a year, while pressuring the intelligence community to remove dissenting judgments on Iran’s nuclear program, two former CIA officers now reveal. So far the intelligence community has not bowed to Cheney’s pressure, and the White House has apparently decided to release the “unsatisfactory” draft NIE—but not make its key findings public. NIEs are the product of the 16 US intelligence agencies, and usually focus on a single nation or issue. According to one former CIA officer, the Iran NIE was ready to be published a year ago, but was delayed then because the Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, wanted the NIE to reflect a consensus on key conclusions, especially on Iran’s nuclear program (see February 20, 2007). The US intelligence community is split on its view of Iran’s nuclear program, with less independent-minded analysts willing to embrace Cheney’s alarmist positions, and others rejecting that view. The first draft was unacceptable to the White House; according to the former CIA officer, “They refused to come out with a version that had dissenting views in it.” Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi agrees with the unnamed officer’s assessment. “The White House wants a document that it can use as evidence for its Iran policy,” Giraldi says. Giraldi wrote in October 2006 that the Iran NIE was being held up by Cheney’s office, which objected to its findings on both Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s putative role in arming Iraq. The White House then chose to delay any decision on the internal release of the NIE until after the November 2006 Congressional elections (see October 2006). In April 2007, Thomas Fingar, the chairman of the National Intelligence Council, said that the report would be delayed while the intelligence community evaluated “new reporting” from the International Atomic Energy Agency and other sources, as well as “reexamining old evidence.” According to the two former CIA officers, Fingar’s statement sent a powerful signal to the intelligence community that the White House wanted the NIE to be specific, focused, and alarming in its conclusions. In past weeks, officials involved in producing the NIE have been “throwing their hands up in frustration” over the refusal of the administration to allow the estimate to be released, according to the former intelligence officer. [Inter Press Service, 11/10/2007]
A federal appellate court bars an Islamic charity accused of assisting terrorists from using a US government document to prove that it had been illegally spied upon (see February 28, 2006). The charity, the now-defunct Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (see Late May, 2004), has been accused by the government and the UN Security Council of being affiliated with al-Qaeda; the charity’s officials deny the charges. In its finding, the three-judge panel rules in favor of the government’s argument that protecting “state secrets” (see March 9, 1953) is of overriding importance in the case. Other courts have ruled that the Bush administration can refuse to disclose information if “there is a reasonable danger” it would affect national security. Al Haramain’s lawyers argued that the document is necessary to prove that it was illegally monitored. According to the ruling, the judges accept “the need to defer to the executive on matters of foreign and national security and surely cannot legitimately find ourselves second-guessing the executive in this arena.”
Reaction Divided - Opinion is divided on the ruling. Constitutional law professor Erwin Chemerinsky of Duke University says the court’s deference to the “executive branch in situations like this [is] very troubling.” Another constitutional law professor, Douglas Kmiec of Pepperdine, says “the opinion is consistent with” an earlier ruling that struck down a challenge to the government’s surveillance program filed by the American Civil Liberties Union; Kmiec says the rulings indicate that “federal courts recognize that the essential aspects of the Terrorist Surveillance Program both remain secret and are important to preserve as such.”
Mixed Results - The appellate court does not give the government everything it asked for. It rejects the Justice Department’s argument that “the very subject matter of the litigation is a state secret.” That finding may prove important in the other surveillance cases where the government is arguing that even to consider legal challenges to warrantless wiretapping endangers national security. The appeals court sends the case back to a lower court to consider whether or not the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires approval by a special court for domestic surveillance, preempts the state secrets privilege. The court also severs the Al Haramain case from other, similar lawsuits challenging the government’s secret surveillance program. [Los Angeles Times, 11/17/2007]
Former British prime minister Tony Blair admits that he brushed off pleas from his ministers and advisers to try to prevent President Bush from going to war with Iraq, and that he turned down an eleventh-hour offer from Bush to pull Britain out of the conflict. Blair says he was convinced that Bush was doing the right thing in invading Iraq. He also says he wished he had published the full reports from the Joint Intelligence Committee instead of the cherry-picked “September dossier” that made false accusations about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction—a dossier that Blair says was one of the main factors in his losing the leadership of his country (see September 24, 2002). Blair, speaking as part of a BBC documentary, confirms what many people already believe: that he never used his influence as the leader of America’s strongest ally to try to force Bush away from military confrontation with Iraq. Instead, the invasion “was what I believed in, and I still do believe it.” The documentary shows that many of Blair’s closest advisers in and out of government, including foreign policy adviser David Manning, UN ambassador Jeremy Greenstock, foreign secretary Jack Straw, and even the US’s Secretary of State, Colin Powell, all had serious doubts about the rush to war. But Blair says of his position, “In my view, if it wasn’t clear that the whole nature of the way Saddam was dealing with this issue had changed, I was in favor of military action.” Blair says he and Bush affirmed their intentions to invade Iraq in September 2002, during meetings at Camp David (see September 7, 2002). Bush promised to try to get a second resolution against Iraq in the UN; in return, Blair promised to support Bush in his planned invasion should the UN resolution not pass. Blair also says that, just before the House of Commons voted to authorize Britain to use military force against Iraq (see March 18, 2003), Bush called Blair to offer him the opportunity to withdraw. Blair declined. “He was always very cognizant of the difficulty I had,” Blair recalls. “He was determined we should not end up with the regime change being in Britain and he was saying to me, ‘Look I understand this is very difficult and America can do this militarily on its own and if you want to stick out of it, stick out of it,’ and I was equally emphatic we should not do that.” [London Times, 11/17/2007]
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell says Iran is nowhere near acquiring a nuclear weapon, and though the US is concerned about that country’s nuclear ambitions, it is unlikely the US will launch a military strike to curb Iran’s nuclear program. “I think Iran is a long way from having anything that could be anything like a nuclear weapon,” Powell says. He adds that while the military option is not “off the table” for the US, there is no support for such a move among the American populace, and the US military already has enough to handle in Iraq and Afghanistan. [Associated Press, 11/19/2007]
Journalist Seymour Hersh says that a new CIA assessment concludes, in his words, that “there’s no evidence Iran is doing anything that puts them close to a bomb. There’s no secret program of significant bomb making.” However, the White House is ignoring that assessment and still moving forward with plans to launch a military strike against Iran.
'Stovepiping' - Hersh says that President Bush and Vice President Cheney are “stovepiping” intelligence [funnelling selected intelligence directly to top officials] and keeping information provided by the Israelis hidden from the CIA. According to Hersh, the Israelis have informed White House officials that Israel has a reliable agent inside Iraq, and that agent reports that Iran is working on a trigger for a nuclear device (see November 2005). “[T]he CIA isn’t getting a good look at the Israeli intelligence. It’s the old word, stovepiping. It’s the President and the Vice President, it’s pretty much being kept in the White House. Of course the people in the CIA want to know who [the agent] is, obviously,” Hersh tells a reporter. “They certainly want to know what other evidence he has of actual making of a warhead. This is the internecine fight that’s going on—the same fight, by the way, that we had before Iraq.” The CIA has no way of verifying the Israeli intelligence claims, but in light of recent events with unverifiable evidence such as the “Curveball” debacle (see November 1999), that agency is understandably wary of such dramatic claims that contradict their own findings. [CNN, 11/19/2007]
Israeli Claims Unverifiable - A former senior intelligence official says of the Israeli’s claim: “The problem is that no one can verify it. We don’t know who the Israeli source is. The briefing says the Iranians are testing trigger mechanisms,” simulating a zero-yield nuclear explosion without any weapons-grade materials, “but there are no diagrams, no significant facts. Where is the test site? How often have they done it? How big is the warhead—a breadbox or a refrigerator? They don’t have that.” But the report is being used by the White House to “prove the White House’s theory that the Iranians are on track. And tests leave no radioactive track, which is why we can’t find it.” Another problem that evokes the “stovepiping” of pre-war Iraq intelligence is the fact that White House officials have asked the Israelis for the raw intelligence, the original, unanalyzed, and unvetted material. Similar requests were used to draw false conclusions about Iraq’s WMD program before the US invasion of that country. A Pentagon consultant says, “Many presidents in the past have done the same thing, but intelligence professionals are always aghast when presidents ask for stuff in the raw. They see it as asking a second grader to read Ulysses.” [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]
Similar to Iraq Intelligence Problems - Former State Department intelligence expert Greg Thielmann noted in October 2003 that before the Iraq war, “garbage was being shoved straight to the President.” [New Yorker, 10/27/2003] Hersh suggests the same effect is happening now. [CNN, 11/19/2007]
White House Hostile to CIA Analysis - According to a current senior intelligence official, the White House is actively hostile to the CIA analysis, which is based on satellite imagery and other empirical evidence such as measurement of the radioactivity of water samples and highly classified radiation-detection devices surreptitiously placed near the Iranian nuclear facilities. Empirical data or not, the CIA analysis does not fit the White House’s needs, the intelligence official says. In its analysis, the CIA specifically warns that it would be a mistake to conclude that the failure to find a secret nuclear-weapons program in Iran is evidence that the Iranians are hiding it well. According to a former senior intelligence official, at the height of the Cold War, the Soviets were quite effective at deception and misdirection, but the US intelligence community was readily able to discern the details of their nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs. But, the former official says, many in the White House, particularly in Cheney’s office, are making just such an assumption: “the lack of evidence means they must have it.” [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]
President Bush and Karl Rove. [Source: New York Times]Former White House political adviser Karl Rove says that the Bush administration was opposed to holding the Congressional vote on authorizing force against Iraq before the 2002 midterm elections, a claim that is demonstrably false (see September 3, 2002 and September 24, 2002). “The administration was opposed to voting on it in the fall of 2002,” Rove says, adding that his forthcoming book will make the same claim. Talk show host Charlie Rose says, “But you were opposed to the vote.” Rove replies, “It happened. We don’t determine when the Congress vote on things. The Congress does.” [Think Progress, 11/21/2007]
Scott McClellan. [Source: White House]Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan says he “passed along false information” at the behest of five top Bush administration officials—George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Lewis Libby, and Andrew Card—about the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson during his time in the White House. McClellan is preparing to publish a book about his time in Washington, to be titled What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and What’s Wrong With Washington and available in April 2008. [Editor & Publisher, 11/20/2007] According to McClellan’s publisher Peter Osnos, McClellan doesn’t believe that Bush deliberately lied to him about Libby’s and Rove’s involvement in the leak. “He told him something that wasn’t true, but the president didn’t know it wasn’t true,” Osnos says. “The president told him what he thought to be the case.” [Bloomberg, 1/20/2007] Early in 2007, McClellan told reporters that everything he said at the time was based on information he and Bush “believed to be true at the time based on assurances that we were both given.” [Associated Press, 11/21/2007] In his book, McClellan writes: “Andy Card once remarked that he viewed the Washington media as just another ‘special interest’ that the White House had to deal with, much like the lobbyists or the trade associations. I found the remark stunning and telling.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 155]
White House Denials; Outrage from Plame, Democrats - White House press secretary Dana Perino says it isn’t clear what McClellan is alleging, and says, “The president has not and would not ask his spokespeople to pass on false information,” adding that McClellan’s book excerpt is being taken “out of context.” Plame has a different view. “I am outraged to learn that former White House press secretary Scott McClellan confirms that he was sent out to lie to the press corps,” she says. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) adds, “If the Bush administration won’t even tell the truth to its official spokesman, how can the American people expect to be told the truth either?” [Bloomberg, 1/20/2007; Associated Press, 11/21/2007] Senator and presidential candidate Christopher Dodd (D-CT) calls for a Justice Department investigation into Bush’s role in the Plame outing, and for the new attorney general, Michael Mukasey, to lead the investigation. [Raw Story, 11/21/2007]
Alleged Criminal Conspiracy - Investigative reporter Robert Parry writes: “George W. Bush joined in what appears to have been a criminal cover-up to conceal the role of his White House in exposing the classified identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson. That is the logical conclusion one would draw from [McClellan’s book excerpt] when it is put into a mosaic with previously known evidence.” [Consortium News, 11/21/2007] Author and columnist John Nichols asks if McClellan will become the “John Dean of the Bush administration,” referring to the Nixon White House counsel who revealed the details of the crimes behind the Watergate scandal. Nichols writes: “It was Dean’s willingness to reveal the details of what [was] described as ‘a cancer’ on the Nixon presidency that served as a critical turning point in the struggle by a previous Congress to hold the 37th president to account. Now, McClellan has offered what any honest observer must recognize as the stuff of a similarly significant breakthrough.” Former Common Cause President Chellie Pingree says: “The president promised, way back in 2003, that anyone in his administration who took part in the leak of Plame’s name would be fired. He neglected to mention that, according to McClellan, he was one of those people. And needless to say, he didn’t fire himself. Instead, he fired no one, stonewalled the press and the federal prosecutor in charge of the case, and lied through his teeth.” [Nation, 1/21/2007]
Entity Tags: Peter Osnos, Public Affairs, Michael Mukasey, Scott McClellan, Robert Parry, Richard M. Nixon, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Nichols, Central Intelligence Agency, Andrew Card, Bush administration (43), Charles Schumer, Joseph C. Wilson, Christopher Dodd, George W. Bush, Dana Perino, Chellie Pingree
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Joseph Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, jointly respond to former White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s revelation that he had unknowingly misled the public as part of a White House campaign of deception surrounding the “outing” of Plame Wilson, then an undercover CIA agent (see November 20, 2007). The Wilsons quote the words of former President George H. W. Bush in labeling the Bush administration officials they believe betrayed Plame’s identity—Lewis Libby, Karl Rove, Richard Armitage, and Ari Fleischer—as “the most insidious of traitors” (see April 26, 1999). McClellan’s naming of George W. Bush as being “involved” in orchestrating the campaign of deception makes Bush, they write, a “party to a conspiracy by senior administration officials to defraud the public.” The two continue: “If that isn’t a high crime and misdemeanor then we don’t know what is. And if the president was merely an unwitting accomplice, then who lied to him? What is he doing to punish the person who misled the president to abuse his office? And why is that person still working in the executive branch?”
Criticism of Mainstream Media - The Wilsons are particularly irate at the general failure of the mainstream media, with the exception of several MSNBC pundits and reporters, to pay much attention to McClellan, instead dismissing it as “old news.” The Wilsons write: “The Washington press corps, whose pretension is to report and interpret events objectively, has been compromised in this matter as evidence presented in the courtroom demonstrated. Prominent journalists acted as witting agents of Rove, Libby and Armitage and covered up this serious breach of US national security rather than doing their duty as journalists to report it to the public.” They quote one reporter asking if McClellan’s statement was not anything more than “another Wilson publicity stunt.” The Wilsons respond: “Try following this tortuous logic: Dick Cheney runs an operation involving senior White House officials designed to betray the identity of a covert CIA officer and the press responds by trying to prove that the Wilsons are publicity seekers. What ever happened to reporting the news? Welcome to Through the Looking Glass.” They conclude with the question, again using the elder Bush’s words: “Where is the outrage? Where is the ‘contempt and anger?’” [Huffington Post, 11/22/2007]
Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Valerie Plame Wilson, Richard Armitage, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Ari Fleischer, MSNBC, George Herbert Walker Bush, Joseph C. Wilson, George W. Bush, Karl C. Rove
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
President Bush signs the ‘Declaration of Principles’ as part of a teleconference with Prime Minister al-Maliki. [Source: White House]The White House issues a “Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America.” The “Declaration of Principles” is signed by both President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. According to the White House press release, the declaration will affirm the “long-term relationship [of] two fully sovereign and independent states with common interests… based on the heroic sacrifices made by the Iraqi people and the American people for the sake of a free, democratic, pluralistic, federal, and unified Iraq.” The principles, as enumerated by the White House, include the following:
Supporting the Republic of Iraq in defending its democratic system against internal and external threats;
Defending of the Iraqi constitution;
“Providing security assurances and commitments to the Republic of Iraq to deter foreign aggression against Iraq that violates its sovereignty and integrity of its territories, waters, or airspace”;
Helping Iraq combat “all terrorist groups, at the forefront of which is al-Qaeda, Saddamists, and all other outlaw groups regardless of affiliation, and destroy[ing] their logistical networks and their sources of finance, and defeat[ing] and uproot[ing] them from Iraq”;
Supporting and training the Iraq Security Force;
Supporting efforts to achieve national reconciliation;
Supporting Iraq’s attempts to “enhance its position in regional and international organizations and institutions so that it may play a positive and constructive role in the region and the world,” as well as assisting it in joining the World Trade Organization and achieving “most favored” trading status with the US;
Helping Iraq achieve peaceful relations with its neighboring countries;
Promoting “cultural, educational, and scientific exchanges between” Iraq and the US;
Helping Iraq in its “transition to a market economy”;
Building Iraq’s economic infrastructure and institutions;
Encouraging foreign investment, “especially American investments, to contribute to the reconstruction and rebuilding of Iraq”;
Helping Iraq recover funds and properties illegally hidden away by the family and associates of former dictator Saddam Hussein, “as well as antiquities and items of cultural heritage, smuggled before and after April 9, 2003” (see April 9, 2003);
Helping Iraq secure “forgiveness of its debts and compensation for the wars waged by the former regime.”
The declaration states that Iraq will request a final extension of the UN-mandated Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I); after that extension expires, Iraq’s UN status will revert to the levels enjoyed before August 1990’s UN Resolution 661 that determined the country was “a threat to international peace and security.” Iraq will, in the eyes of the UN, then enjoy “the full sovereignty of Iraq over its territories, waters, and airspace, and its control over its forces and the administration of its affairs.” The White House wants a formal agreement to this end signed by July 31, 2008. [White House, 11/26/2007]
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice convenes a Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland. It is one of the few Bush administration attempts to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and like the other attempts, the Annapolis conference will bear little fruit. Reflecting on the conference and on the Bush administration’s approach to the conflict in general, national security expert Anthony Cordesman will say: “In reality, a great deal of what Secretary Rice did seems to have been based as much on a search for visibility as any expectation of real progress. The fact was that you did not have to contend with [Palestinian] Chairman [Yasser] Arafat, but you did have to contend with a deeply divided Israel, which was far less willing to accept or make compromises over peace. And with the Palestinian movement, which was moving toward civil war. The United States can only make serious progress when both the Israelis and Palestinians are ready to move toward peace. Setting artificial deadlines and creating yet another set of unrealistic expectations [as is done at the Annapolis conference] did not lay the groundwork for sustained real progress. It instead created new sources of frustration and again made people throughout the Arab and Muslim world see the United States as hypocritical and ineffective.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
According to national security director Stephen Hadley (see December 3, 2007) and President Bush himself (see December 3-4, 2007), Bush will not be informed about the findings of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) showing that Iran stopped work on its nuclear program until November 28. But that may be false. On December 4, journalist Seymour Hersh will tell a CNN reporter, “Israel objects to this report. I’m told that [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert had a private discussion with Bush about it during Annapolis—before Annapolis [where Israel and the US engaged in preliminary peace talks over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict]. Bush briefed him about it. The Israelis were very upset about the report. They think we’re naive, they don’t think we get it right. And so they have a different point of view.” If Hersh is correct, then Bush discussed the NIE’s findings with Israel’s Olmert on November 26, two days before he supposedly learns of them. [CNN, 12/4/2007] According to the Israeli news outlet Ha’aretz, “Israel has known about the report for more than a month. The first information on it was passed on to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and to Shaul Mofaz, who is the minister responsible for the strategic dialog with the Americans. The issue was also discussed at the Annapolis summit by Barak and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and it seems also between Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.” [Ha'aretz, 12/5/2007]
Republican senator and presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ) says that during World War II, Japanese soldiers were tried and hanged for war crimes involving the waterboarding of American prisoners of war. “There should be little doubt from American history that we consider that [waterboarding] as torture otherwise we wouldn’t have tried and convicted Japanese for doing that same thing to Americans,” McCain says. He notes that he forgot to bring this piece of information up during the previous night’s debate with fellow Republican candidates; during the debate, he criticized former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) for refusing to say what interrogation techniques he would rule out if president. “I would also hope that he would not want to be associated with a technique which was invented in the Spanish Inquisition, was used by Pol Pot in one of the great eras of genocide in history, and is being used on Burmese monks as we speak,” McCain says. “America is a better nation than that.” Waterboarding is banned by US law and international treaties. “If the United States was in another conflict, which could easily happen, with another country, and we have allowed that kind of torture to be inflicted on people we hold captive, then there’s nothing to prevent that enemy from also torturing American prisoners,” McCain adds. [Associated Press, 11/29/2007]
The Iran NIE. [Source: Office of the Director of National Intelligence]The newly released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) for Iran’s nuclear weapons program concludes that Iran stopped working on nuclear weapons in 2003, and that the program remains on hold today. The Bush administration has repeatedly claimed that Iran is on the verge of acquiring nuclear arms, and has intimated that it is ready to attack that nation to prevent such an event from happening (see October 20, 2007). Interestingly, the administration has tried to have the NIE rewritten to more suit their view of Iran, an effort spearheaded by Vice President Dick Cheney (see October 2006). The findings of the NIE are expected to have a large impact on the negotiations between Iran and several Western countries, including the US, aimed at pressuring and cajoling Iran into giving up its nuclear energy program. The NIE, an assessment representing the consensus of the US’s 16 inteligence agencies, finds that while Iran’s ultimate ambitions towards becoming a nuclear-armed power remain unclear, Iran’s “decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs.… Some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program.” The NIE says that even if Iran were to restart development of its nuclear weapons program today, it would be at least two years at a minimum before it would have enough enriched uranium to produce a single bomb. The report says that Iran is more likely to develop a nuclear weapon by no earlier than 2013, “because of foreseeable technical and programmatic problems.” The report flatly contradicts the assessment made by a 2005 NIE that concluded Iran had an active nuclear weapons program and was determined to create them as quickly as possible. “We felt that we needed to scrub all the assessments and sources to make sure we weren’t misleading ourselves,” says one senior intelligence official. [New York Times, 12/3/2007; Director of National Intelligence, 12/3/2007 ] There is no official word as to why the NIE has been publicly released by the White House when it so transparently contradicts the stance of the Bush administration, but Cheney implies the decision stems from a fear that it would be leaked anyway: “[T]here was a general belief that we all shared that it was important to put it out—that it was not likely to stay classified for long, anyway.” [Politico, 12/5/2007] The NIE is compiled from information gathered since 2004; one of the key intelligence findings is from intercepted phone calls between Iranian military commanders indicating that the nuclear program has been halted (see July 2007).
Following the release of an intelligence estimate showing Iran shut down its nuclear program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley defends President George Bush’s recent statements about a possible “World War III” (see October 20, 2007). Hadley says that Bush was not told to tone down his rhetoric about Iran’s nuclear program after he was advised that the intelligence community was in the process of revising its estimate and that Bush would have made his “World War III” remarks anyway. “It was making a point that the president and we have been making for two or three years—that the international community has to exert more pressure, because Iran needs to suspend [its] enrichment program,” Hadley says. “That continues to be our policy after this latest National Intelligence Estimate.” [CNN, 12/5/2007]
Stephen Hadley briefing reporters on the new NIE. [Source: New York Times]Following the release of the the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran that concludes Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley portrays the NIE as reflective of the Bush administration’s views. Hadley says that it “offers some positive news,” adding that the NIE “confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons.” Perhaps the most illuminating portion of Hadley’s interpretation reads: “The estimate offers grounds for hope that the problem can be solved diplomatically—without the use of force—as the administration has been trying to do. And it suggests that the president has the right strategy: intensified international pressure along with a willingness to negotiate a solution that serves Iranian interests while ensuring that the world will never have to face a nuclear armed Iran.” [New York Times, 12/3/2007] President Bush has apparently not changed his views because of the NIE. He says: “Iran was dangerous. Iran is dangerous. And Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.… I view this report as a warning signal that they had the program, they halted the program. The reason why it’s a warning signal is they could restart it.… To me, the NIE provides an opportunity for us to rally the international community—to continue to rally the community—to pressure the Iranian regime to suspend its program. What’s to say they couldn’t start another covert nuclear weapons program.” When asked if he had been “hyping” the threat from Iran in view of the NIE’s findings, Bush claims that he was only made aware of the NIE’s conclusions last week, a claim that does not stand up to examination (see December 3-4, 2007). [Associated Press, 12/4/2007; Guardian, 12/4/2007]
Author and Hoover Institute fellow Victor Davis Hanson takes a different tack in his contribution to the neoconservative attack (see December 3-6, 2007) on the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (see December 3, 2007). Hanson says the NIE is a victory for the Bush administration and a conundrum for Democrats, who, Hanson asserts, must now accept that Bush has successfully headed off two separate nuclear threats to the US: “The latest news from Iran about the supposed abandonment in 2003 of the effort to produce a bomb—if even remotely accurate—presents somewhat of a dilemma for liberal Democrats. Are they now to suggest that Republicans have been warmongering over a nonexistent threat for partisan purposes?… After all, what critic would wish now to grant that one result of the 2003 war—aside from the real chance that Iraq can stabilize and function under the only consensual government in the region—might have been the elimination, for some time, of two growing and potentially nuclear threats to American security, quite apart from Saddam Hussein?” [National Review, 12/3/2007]
Neoconservative eminence grise Norman Podhoretz, who recently advocated an all-out military strike against Iran (see October 28, 2007), claims that the recently released National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (see December 3, 2007) is an attempt by the US intelligence community to avoid making the same mistakes with weapons of mass destruction that it made in Iraq. Podhoretz rightly notes that in May 2005, the intelligence community assured the administration in an NIE that Iraq was pushing towards developing a nuclear weapon. Podhoretz writes that he suspects the intelligence community, “having been excoriated for supporting the then universal belief that Saddam [Hussein] had weapons of mass destruction, is now bending over backward to counter what has up to now been a similarly universal view… that Iran is hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons.” Podhoretz then presents what he calls “an even darker suspicion… that the intelligence community, which has for some years now been leaking material calculated to undermine George W. Bush, is doing it again.” [Commentary, 12/3/2007]
George W. Bush, apparently taken somewhat aback by the US intelligence community’s findings released on December 3, 2007, that Iran halted its work on a nuclear bomb four years ago (see December 3, 2007), claims that he only learned about the findings on November 28. The intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) has been in production for some 18 months. According to National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were first given initial briefings in either August or September. [White House, 11/28/2007; Washington Post, 12/4/2007] Bush tells reporters he wasn’t even aware of the evidence showing Iran had halted its nuclear program, “I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was [Director of National Intelligence] Mike McConnell [who] came in and said, ‘We have some new information.’ He didn’t tell me what the information was. He did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze.… And it wasn’t until last week that I was briefed on the NIE that is now public.” A clearly incredulous reporter follows up by asking, “I understand what you’re saying about when you were informed about the NIE. Are you saying at no point while the rhetoric was escalating, as World War III was making it into conversation—at no point, nobody from your intelligence team or your administration was saying, ‘Maybe you want to back it down a little bit?’” Bush answers, “No—I’ve never—nobody ever told me that.” [CNN, 12/4/2007] From Hadley’s words, the date that Bush knew of the NIE findings may be much earlier. Hadley tells reporters attempting to pin him down on the exact date when Bush was told of the findings, “[W]hen was the president notified that there was new information available? We’ll try and get you a precise answer. As I say, it was, in my recollection, is in the last few months. Whether that’s October—August-September, we’ll try and get you an answer for that.” All told, Hadley says that Bush was told of the findings within “the last few months” five different times during the press conference. [Think Progress, 12/3/2007] By December 5, the White House will begin refusing to answer the question at all. White House spokesman Tony Fratto will tell reporters, “I don’t have anything on that.… I can’t give you more detail on what Director McConnell said to the President.” [White House, 12/5/2007]
Bush Either 'Lying' or 'Stupid' - Many find Bush’s claim hard to accept. Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) notes that he and ranking committee member Kit Bond (R-MO) received a briefing on the NIE’s intelligence “several months ago,” and says, “I was really struck when the president said that he only got the final judgments on Tuesday.” He cannot imagine that he and Bond received information months in advance of Bush. Rockefeller says he “can’t believe” that McConnell’s indication of new information didn’t prevent Bush from “talking about a nuclear holocaust.” [PBS, 12/4/2007] Former National Security Council official Flynt Leverett says the White House is probably being dishonest about what Bush knew and when he knew it. “I can’t imagine that McConnell… would tell the president about this and not tell him what the information actually said,” Leverett observes. [CNN, 12/5/2007] Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) says, “What’s shocking today is that apparently he knew about this estimate a month or more before he made those statements. I don’t think that shows a responsible use of intelligence.” [Reuters, 12/5/2007] And MSNBC talk show host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican Congressman, says flatly, “We are left with only two options here. Either the President of the United States is lying to the American people about what happened during that meeting, or the President of the United States is stupid.” [MSNBC, 12/5/2007]
Cheney Not Hampered by Lack of Intelligence - If Bush was indeed ignorant of the intelligence findings, as he asserts, it is not likely that his vice president labored under the same lack of information, judging from the fact that Cheney’s office has been involved in trying to suppress the NIE for over a year (see October 2006).
Entity Tags: Mike McConnell, Joseph Scarborough, Stephen J. Hadley, John D. Rockefeller, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jack Reed, Bush administration (43), Flynt Leverett, George W. Bush, Senate Intelligence Committee, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, Tony Fratto
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
Responses from outside the White House (see December 3, 2007) to the newly released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, which states that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), are largely marked by relief that the US will now probably take a less aggressive position on Iran. Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki says he welcomes the US move to “correct” its previous assertions, adding: “It’s natural that we welcome it when those countries who in the past have questions and ambiguities about this case… now amend their views realistically. The condition of Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities is becoming clear to the world.” However, a statement from the Israeli government says that Israel believes Iran is still working on developing nuclear weapons. [Guardian, 12/4/2007] Congressional lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say that the NIE has removed much of the immediacy from the possibility of US military intervention in Iraq. “[I]f nothing else, the urgency that we have to attack Iran, or knock out facilities” is no longer there, says Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE). “I don’t think you can overstate the importance of this.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says that, in light of the new intelligence report, the White House should adjust its policy and pursue “a diplomatic surge” to engage with Iran. Reid suggests that the administration “[f]ollow the Ronald Reagan theory of diplomacy.… What did Ronald Reagan do? He started his diplomats working with the evil people in the Soviet people, as he referred to, to work something out. And he did. He met with the leaders of the Soviet Union he didn’t particularly like. And that’s what we should be doing with Iran. We should be having a surge of diplomacy with Iran. And based upon this, I think it would be a pretty good idea.” [Think Progress, 12/3/2007; Guardian, 12/4/2007] Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says, “The key judgments show that the intelligence community has learned its lessons from the Iraq debacle. [The community] has issued judgments that break sharply with its own previous assessments, and they reflect a real difference from the views espoused by top administration officials.” [Washington Post, 12/4/2007]
While President Bush takes something of the high road (see December 5, 2007) in reacting to the newly released National Intelligence Estimate saying that Iran shut down its nuclear program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), neoconservatives and other right-wing figures throw an entire array of accusations—some directed at Democrats, some at the State Department officials who compiled the report, and some at the US intelligence community itself, in an attempt to discredit the report (see December 3, 2007, December 3, 2007, December 4, 2007, December 4, 2007, December 4, 2007, December 4-6, 2007, December 5, 2007, and December 6, 2007). [Los Angeles Times, 12/4/2007]
Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), a presidential candidate and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says that President Bush deliberately misled the American people over the danger posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and that if Bush initiates an attack on Iran without the approval of Congress, he will call for Bush’s impeachment. Biden tells reporters, “After all we’ve been through, for this president to knowingly disregard or once again misrepresent intelligence about an issue of war and peace, I find outrageous.” Biden is referring to the faulty and deceptive intelligence presented by the Bush administration to justify invading Iraq. The US intelligence community recently released a National Intelligence Estimate (see December 3, 2007) that concluded Iran shut down its nuclear program in 2003, and Bush has asserted that he himself only learned about the shutdown in late November (see December 3-4, 2007). Biden doesn’t believe Bush’s tale of ignorance: “Are you telling me a president who’s briefed every single morning, who’s fixated on Iran, is not told back in August that the tentative conclusion of 16 intelligence agencies of the United States government said [Iran] had abandoned their effort for nuclear weapons in 2003?” Biden says if Bush’s assertion of ignorance is true, then he and his staff are thoroughly incompetent. “You cannot trust this president,” Biden states. [ABC News, 12/4/2007] Biden is joined by other Democratic presidential candidates, although they use less “heated rhetoric” than Biden. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) says, “I think we do know that pressure on Iran does have an effect. I think that is an important lesson. But we’re not going to reach the kind of resolution that we should seek unless we put that into the context of a diplomatic process.” And Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) notes that Bush “continues to not let facts get in the way of his ideology.… They should have stopped the saber rattling; should have never started it. And they need, now, to aggressively move on the diplomatic front.” [CNN, 12/5/2007]
Eleven US veterans who served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan demand that Congress open hearings on the pro-war rhetoric of the Bush administration in light of the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran that concluded Iran stopped work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007). The veterans, leaders and members of the antiwar group VoteVets, write a letter to the chairmen of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Silvestre Reyes (D-TX). The letter reads in part, “[W]e are extremely concerned about news that has emerged over the past few days regarding the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, what it says, and when the President knew about it. We believe the mass confusion over when the President knew of the report’s findings, and whether he continued to ramp up Iran war rhetoric anyway, warrants an immediate investigation by your committees. Our concern, primarily, is that such rhetoric only serves to stoke hostility towards our troops currently in Iraq, and that, if military action against Iran is launched, it has serious repercussions on the lives of our troops and our very military.… Despite the White House having [the information behind the NIE] administration officials continued to use rhetoric designed to sell the American public on the idea of taking military action against Iran.” The veterans note that President Bush apparently lied about when he became aware of the intelligence behind the NIE (see December 3-4, 2007). The veterans ask that the two committees find out the truth behind what Bush knew and when he knew it, and if Bush was aware that the rhetoric from himself and his officials could increase the danger faced by US troops in Iraq. “These questions must be examined and a determination must be made as to why comments such as the ones above were made. If not for legitimate security reasons, did the administration put our troops at increased risk for domestic political reasons?” [VetVoice, 12/4/2007]
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